One day before the U.S. Department of Labor’s Family & Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) same-sex spouse final rule took effect on March 27, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ordered a preliminary injunction in Texas v. U.S., staying the application of the Final Rule for the states of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Nebraska.  This ruling directly impacts employers within the retail industry who are located or have employees living in these four states.

Background

In United States v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) as unconstitutional, finding that Congress did not have the authority to limit a state’s definition of “marriage” to “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”  Significantly, the Windsor decision left intact Section 2 of DOMA (the “Full Faith and Credit Statute”), which provides that no state is required to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.  Further to the President’s directive to implement the Windsor decision in all relevant federal statutes, in June 2014, the DOL proposed rulemaking to update the regulatory definition of spouse under the FMLA. The Final Rule is the result of that endeavor.

As we previously reported, the Final Rule adopts the “place of celebration” rule, thus amending prior regulations which followed the “place of residence” rule to define “spouse.”  For purposes of the FMLA, the place of residence rule determines spousal status under the laws where the couple resides, notwithstanding a valid out-of-state marriage license.   The place of celebration rule, on the other hand, determines spousal status by the jurisdiction in which the couple was married, thus expanding the availability of FMLA leave to more employees seeking leave to care for a same-sex spouse.

The Court’s Decision

Plaintiff States Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Nebraska sued, arguing the DOL exceeded its authority by promulgating a Final Rule that requires them to violate Section 2 of the DOMA and their respective state laws prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.  The Texas court ordered the extraordinary remedy of a preliminary injunction to stay the Final Rule pending a full determination of the issue on the merits.

The court first found that the Plaintiff States are likely to succeed on at least one of their claims, which assert that the Final Rule improperly conflicts with (1) the FMLA, which defines “spouse” as “a husband or wife, as the case may be” and which the court found was meant “to give marriage its traditional, complementarian meaning”; (2) the Full Faith and Credit Statute; and/or (3) state laws regarding marriage, which may be preempted by the Final Rule only if Congress intended to preempt the states’ definitions of marriage.

The court then held that the Final Rule would cause Plaintiff States to suffer irreparable harm because, for example, the Final Rule requires Texas agencies to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages as valid in violation of the Texas Family Code.

Lastly, although finding the threatened injury to both parties to be serious, the court decided that the public interest weighs in favor of a preliminary injunction against the DOL.  The court found in favor of upholding “the stability and consistency of the law” so as to permit a detailed and in-depth examination of the merits.  Additionally, the court pointed out that the injunction does not prohibit employers from granting leave to those who request leave to care for a loved one, but reasoned that a preliminary injunction is required to prevent the DOL “from mandating enforcement of its Final Rule against the states” and to protect the states’ laws from federal encroachment.

What This Means for Employers

Although the stay of the Final Rule is pending a full determination of the issue on the merits, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges likely will expedite and shape the outcome of the Texas court’s final ruling.  In Obergefell, the Supreme Court will address whether a state is constitutionally compelled under the Fourteenth Amendment to recognize as valid a same-sex marriage lawfully licensed in another jurisdiction and to license same-sex marriages.  Oral arguments in Obergefell are scheduled for Tuesday, April 28, 2015, and a final ruling is expected in late June of this year.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court decides Obergefell, however, employers in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Nebraska are advised to develop a compliant strategy for implementing the FMLA—a task that may be easier said than done.  Complicating the matter is a subsequent DOL filing in Texas v. U.S. where the DOL contends that the court’s order was not intended to preclude enforcement of the Final Rule against persons other than the named Plaintiff States, and thus applies only to the state governments of the states of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Nebraska.

While covered employers are free to provide an employee with non-FMLA unpaid or paid job-protected leave to care for their same-sex partner (or for other reasons), such leave will not exhaust the employee’s FMLA leave entitlement and the employee will remain entitled to FMLA leave for covered reasons.  We recommend that covered employers that are not located and do not have employees living in one of the Plaintiff States amend their FMLA-related documents and otherwise implement policies to comport with the Final Rule, as detailed in EBG’s Act Now Advisory, DOL Extends FMLA Leave to More Same-Sex Couples.  Covered employers who are located or have employees living in one of the Plaintiff States, however, should confer with legal counsel to evaluate the impact of Texas v. U.S. and react accordingly, which may depend on the geographical scope of operations.

Our colleagues Adam Abrahms, Steven Swirsky, and Martin Stanberry at Epstein Becker Green have a Management Memo blog post that will be of interest to many of our readers: “NLRB Issues 13 Complaints Alleging McDonald’s and Franchisees Are Joint-Employers.”

Following is an excerpt:

While the General Counsel’s actions are alarming, particularly for businesses that rely upon a franchise model, the issuance of these complaints comes as little surprise because, as we reported in July of this year, the General Counsel had previously announced the decision to take this action and pursue claims of joint-employer liability. What is somewhat surprising about the announcement is its timing because the Board has not yet issued its decision in Browning-Ferris, 32-RC-109684, where the Board invited interested parties to opine in amici briefs on the benefits and drawbacks of the current standard relied upon by the Board to determine if two employers are a joint-employer and to propose a new standard and factors the Board should consider in such cases. Similar to its recent repudiation of Register Guard, the Board may use Browning-Ferris to moot the thirty years of joint-employer case law that followed TLI, Inc. 271 NLRB 798 (1984).

On the Wage & Hour Defense Blog, coauthor Steven Swirsky comments:

The National Labor Relations Board continues to focus on the changes in the nature of the employer-employee relationship, and the question of what entity or entities are responsible to a company’s employees for compliance with the range of federal, state, and local employment laws, including wage payment and overtime laws.

The Board’s General Counsel has now taken another big step in his effort to broaden the definition of “employer,” issuing a series of 13 complaints alleging that McDonald’s shares responsibility for franchisees’ employees. At the same time, the Board is poised to answer the question of whether the long standing test that the NLRB has relied on for more than 30 years to determine joint employer status should be replaced with a broader definition, and if so what it should be.

Read the full original post here.

Regarding the Supreme Court’s Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk opinion, issued today, our colleague Michael Kun at Epstein Becker Green has posted “Supreme Court Holds That Time Spent in Security Screening Is Not Compensable Time” on one of our sister blogs, Wage & Hour Defense.

Following is an excerpt:

In order to prevent employee theft, some employers require their employees to undergo security screenings before leaving the employers’ facilities. That is particularly so with employers involved in manufacturing and retail sales, who must be concerned with valuable merchandise being removed in bags, purses or jacket pockets.

Often in the context of high-stakes class actions and collective actions, parties have litigated whether time spent undergoing a security screening must be compensated under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). On December 9, 2014, a unanimous United States Supreme Court answered that questionno.

The Court’s decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk may have a far-reaching practical and legal impact. Not only may it make more employers comfortable conducting security screenings of their employees, but it may bring an end to most class actions and collective actions filed against employers seeking compensation for employees’ time spent in such screenings.

By Nancy L. Gunzenhauser

Election Day 2014 proved to be a big win for employees who earn minimum wage.  Several states and cites approved measures to increase the minimum wage.  The city of Oakland, CA established its first ever minimum wage at $12.25/hour, which will go into effect on March 2, 2015.  Over the past few years, many states and cities have passed legislation that will increase minimum wage based on inflation rates, as tied to the Consumer Price Index.  While some states have not yet announced the new minimum wage, they may still see increases in the new year (e.g. Colorado).  Below is a chart with the minimum wage increases that are currently set to begin in 2015.

We may also soon see an increase in Illinois.  The state ballot had a nonbinding referendum question asking voters whether the minimum wage should be raised from $8.25/hour to $10/hour January 1, 2015.  Voters overwhelmingly voted “yes.”  Increase to the minimum wage, however, will require legislative approval.

Make sure to check back in a few weeks, and we’ll announce if any new minimum wage increases are set to hit your state or city.

*The minimum wage in Seattle will depend on the number of employees in the company and whether the company provides health benefits to its employees.

 

While by most accounts the current term of the Supreme Court is generally uninteresting, lacking anything that the popular media deem to be a blockbuster (the media’s choice being same-sex marriage or Affordable Care Act cases), the docket is heavily weighted towards labor and employment cases and a few that potentially affect retail employers in particular. They are as follows.

The Court already has heard argument in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, No. 13-433, which concerns whether the Portal-to-Portal Act, which amends the Fair Labor Standards Act, requires employers to pay warehouse employees for the time they spend, which in this case runs up to 25 minutes, going through post-shift anti-theft screening. Integrity is a contractor to Amazon.com, and the 9th Circuit had ruled in against it, holding that the activity was part of the shift and not non-compensable postliminary activity. Interestingly, DOL is on the side of the employer, fearing a flood of FLSA cases generated from any activity in which employees are on the employers’ premises.  This case will affect many of our clients and should be monitored carefully.

On December 3rd, the Court will hear argument in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., No. 12-1226, which poses whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires an employer to accommodate a pregnant woman with work restrictions related to pregnancy in the same manner as it accommodates a non-pregnant employee with the same restrictions, but not related to pregnancy. The 4th Circuit had ruled in favor of the company, which offered a “light duty program” held to be pregnancy blind to persons who have a disability cognizable under the ADA, who are injured on the job or are temporarily ineligible for DOT certification. Ms. Young objects to being considered in the same category as workers who are injured off the job. This case, too, will create a precedent of interest to at least some of our clients. Of  note, this week United Parcel Service sent a memo to employees announcing a change in policy for pregnant workers advising that starting January 1, the company will offer temporary light duty positions not just to workers injured on the job, which is current policy, but to pregnant workers who need it as well. In its brief UPS states “While UPS’s denial of [Young’s] accommodation request was lawful at the time it was made (and thus cannot give rise to a claim for damages), pregnant UPS employees will prospectively be eligible for light-duty assignments.”  The change in policy, UPS states, is the result of new pregnancy accommodation guidelines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and a growing number of states passing laws mandating reasonable accommodation of pregnant workers.

On October 2nd, the Supreme Court granted cert. in a Title VII religious accommodation case, EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., No. 14-86. The case concerns whether an employer is entitled to specific notice, in this case  of a religious practice – the wearing of a head scarf —  from a prospective employee before having the obligation to accommodate her.  In this case, the employer did not hire a Muslim applicant. The Tenth Circuit ruled that the employer was entitled to rely upon its “look” policy and would not presume religious bias where the employee did not raise the underlying issue. Retail clients and others will be affected by the outcome.

More will follow as developments warrant.

Wage & Hour Guide App for Employersby Michael Kun

We’re very pleased to announce that a brand-new version of our free, first-of-its-kind app, the Wage & Hour Guide for Employers, is now available for Apple, Android, and BlackBerry devices. The new app takes advantage of a software-as-a-service programming platform developed by Panvista Mobile.

Our newest version of the app is not only available to users of a variety of devices, but it offers simpler, faster, and more useful ways for employers to locate wage and hour information at the touch of a fingertip.  As new issues are constantly emerging in this area, we’re pleased to provide updated information and critical tools to help employers address wage and hour laws and regulations, such as recent minimum wage increases.

Key features of the updated app include:

  • The Android version is now available for the first time on the Google Play store – also it is also available for BlackBerry devices
  • Updated iPhone and iPad versions are now available on the App Store
  • New summaries of wage and hour laws and regulations are included, including recent minimum wage increases in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia, and the District of Columbia
  • Direct feeds of EBG’s Wage & Hour Defense Blog
  • Easy sharing of content via email and social media
  • Access to EBG’s @ebglaw Twitter feed
  • Rich media library of publications from EBG’s Wage and Hour practice
  • Expanded directory of EBG’s Wage and Hour attorneys

Existing iOS users should visit the App Store to download the new iPhone and iPad versions; the previous edition of the app is retired.

California has created additional protections for unpaid interns and created additional requirements for sexual harassment prevention training.  In addition, California has mandated a new requirement for most employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave.  This new sick-leave requirement will go into effect next summer on July 1, 2015. For a more detailed description of these changes, click here to review the Act Now Advisory written by our colleagues Jennifer L. Nutter and Marisa Ratinoff.

 

On Epstein Becker Green’s Management Memo blog, I review New Jersey U.S. District Court’s ruling in Naik v. 7-Eleven that four franchise owner-operators may pursue overtime and minimum wage claims against franchisor 7-Eleven under both the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (“NJWHL”).

Following is an excerpt from the blog post:

On July 29, 2014 the NLRB’s General Counsel announced a decision to treat McDonald’s, USA, LLC as a joint employer, along with its franchisees, of workers  43 McDonald’s franchised restaurants with regard to unfair labor practices charges filed by unions on behalf of the  workers and authorized charges against of both the franchisees and McDonalds. (See our July 30 blog post  and Aug. 14 blog post)

To access the full blog post, please click here.

By: Amy B. Messigian

In a major blow to California employers who utilize a monthly commission scheme but pay biweekly or semimonthly salary to their commission sales employees, the California Supreme Court ruled earlier this week in Peabody v. Time Warner Cable, Inc. that a commission payment may be applied only to the pay period in which it is paid for the purposes of determining whether an employee is exempt from overtime.  Employers may not divide the commission payment across multiple pay periods in order to satisfy the minimum compensation threshold for meeting the exemption in any earlier pay period.  California employers who classify their commission sales employees as exempt should immediately take action to ensure compliance with the law.

The plaintiff in the case, Susan Peabody, worked approximately 45 hours per week as a commissioned salesperson for Time Warner Cable.  Peabody received biweekly paychecks, which included her salary for the pay period, as well as commission wages on a monthly basis.  After leaving her employment, she sued for a variety of wage and hour violations.  Peabody alleged that Time Warner Cable had misclassified her as an exempt employee for which it was not required to pay overtime.

In order to meet the commission sales exemption under California law, among other things, an employee must earn more than one and one-half times the minimum wage.  Peabody was paid less than one and one-half times the minimum wage in any pay period in which she did not also receive her commission payment; however, she was paid far in excess of one and one-half times the minimum wage on each pay period in which she also received her commission payment and her total monthly wages exceeded one and one-half times the minimum wage.  Based on the fact that the commission payment was reflective of commissions earned over the course of a month, Time Warner Cable argued that it should be permitted to split the commission payment between the pay periods in the month for the purposes of determining Peabody’s exemption from overtime.

The California Supreme Court rejected this approach holding that commission wages paid in one biweekly pay period cannot be attributed to other pay periods for purposes of meeting the exemption.  Rather, whether the minimum earnings prong of the commission sales exemption is satisfied depends on the amount of wages actually paid in a pay period.  “An employer may not attribute wages paid in one pay period to a prior pay period to cure a shortfall.”  This holding further differentiates that California commissioned sales exemption from the federal exemption, which permits employers to defer paying earned commissions so long as the employee is paid the minimum wage each pay period.

The Peabody ruling greatly impacts the manner in which companies structure their commission plans and payroll for commissioned employees.  Because a commission payment may only be allocated to the period in which it is paid for purposes of meeting the exemption, employers should consider adopting biweekly or semimonthly payroll structures for both salary and commission payments or allocating a greater distribution of employee income to base salary as opposed to commissions in order to meet the minimum salary threshold each pay period.

The ruling also forebodes a new wave of misclassification suits for unpaid overtime in cases such as this where an employee may only meet the exemption part of the time.  Of great concern will be the ability of employers to defend such suits where they have not kept good records of the hours worked by the employee, or their meal or rest breaks, due to the mistaken belief that they were exempt from overtime.  Employers with large numbers of commissioned salespeople should consult employment counsel to perform misclassification auditing and assess the risks of class litigation.

 

By Jeffrey Landes, Susan Gross Sholinsky, and Nancy L. Gunzenhauser

A hot topic for every summer – but particularly this summer – is the status of unpaid interns. You are probably aware that several wage and hour lawsuits have been brought regarding the employment status of unpaid interns, particularly in the entertainment and publishing industries. The theory behind these cases is that the interns in question don’t fall within the “trainee” exception to the definition of “employee” under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), as well as applicable state laws. If the intern does fall within this exception, he or she is not subject to wage and hour laws (such as minimum wage or overtime) and the unpaid internship is thus permissible.

Federal and New York State Factors

According to the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”), all six of the following factors must be met if an intern can be exempted from wage and hour laws under the “trainee” exception:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment. The more an internship program is structured around a classroom or academic experience as opposed to the employer’s actual operations, the more likely the internship will be viewed as an extension of the individual’s educational experience.
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern. The intern should get more out of the internship than the employer.
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under the close supervision of existing staff. If an employer uses interns as substitutes for regular workers or to increase its existing workforce during certain time periods, then they are more likely to be deemed employees.
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship. The internship should be of a fixed duration, established prior to the outset of the internship, and should not be used as a “long-term job interview” for employment.
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship. The parties should enter into a written agreement on this point.

In addition, the New York State DOL has a five-factor test for whether an intern is not an employee.  According to the New York State DOL, all five of these factors must be met, in addition to the U.S. DOL’s six factors:

  1. Any clinical training is performed under the supervision and direction of people who are knowledgeable and experienced in the activity. The intern should be supervised by a person in that field, not by an administrator or HR.
  2. The trainees or students do not receive employee benefits. The intern should not be eligible for health care, vacation, or discounted services.
  3. The training is general and qualifies trainees or students to work in any similar business.  It is not designed specifically for a job with the employer that offers the program. The training must be useful, transferable to any employer in the field, and not specific to that employer.
  4. The screening process for the internship program is NOT the same as for employment and does not appear to be for that purpose. The screening only uses criteria relevant for admission to an independent educational program. There should be a separate application and selection process for interns and employees.
  5. Advertisements, postings, or solicitations for the program clearly discuss education or training, rather than employment, although employers may indicate that qualified graduates may be considered for employment. It should be obvious that a job posting is for an internship and not for employment.

How Are the Courts Interpreting These Tests?

Several federal circuit courts of appeal have addressed this issue applying various tests. At least one court has used the “all or nothing” test, whereby all six U.S. DOL factors must be met if the interns will be considered “trainees.” Other courts have followed the “totality of the circumstances” test. These courts hold that the six factors are relevant to help determine whether an individual is a trainee, but are not “hard and fast” requirements. Still other courts have used an “economic reality” test, similar to that used in classifying employees and independent contractors under the FLSA. Yet another court created a “primary beneficiary” test, which asks whether the employer or employee is the primary beneficiary of the intern’s labor.

Courts in the Southern District of New York have generally followed the totality of the circumstances test in determining whether an intern is an employee or a trainee, but the scope of the analysis has differed. Currently there are two cases pending in the Second Circuit for a joint decision as to the proper analysis, among other issues. Even after the Second Circuit rules, the Supreme Court will likely weigh in on this topic. However, the Supreme Court recently denied a certiorari requested by a party to an intern case in the Eleventh Circuit.

Practical Considerations in Establishing a Compliant Unpaid Internship Program

  • Even if an intern meets the test of being a “trainee,” who is not subject to the FLSA, interns in New York City (and perhaps in other jurisdictions to come) are afforded the same rights against employment discrimination as employees, under the applicable fair employment practices laws.
  • When recruiting interns, use different postings, applications, and screening processes than when recruiting employees.
  • When drafting an offer letter, ensure that the intern knows that he or she will not be paid, and is not entitled to a job at the end of the internship.
  • Review your policies and other benefit plans (for example, vacation/sick leave, workers’ compensation) to determine if interns are included or excluded from coverage.
  • Structure the unpaid internship to include shadowing and classroom learning, and if possible, have interns receive school credit. While receiving school credit is not determinative under any of the tests, it is one of the best indicators that the intern is not an employee.