As volatility and uncertainty in the global economy continues, many multinationals are taking (or considering) major changes to their workforce composition. Labor costs are typically the largest cost center for any company, so of course businesses need to understand how best to flex up and down as markets change. At the same time, a company’s
Navigating Fallout From a Bank Receivership | Practical Tips for US Employers
Together we navigated operational challenges caused by the pandemic, and together we will weather this. What follows is information and practical advice for employers concerned with satisfying their payroll obligations in the near term in the face of their bank falling into receivership.
- Identify the “universe” of employment-related expenses. This will include payroll, benefits, bonus and commission comp, insurance, and severance obligations.
- Understand that liability for unpaid wages can be significant. For example, liability in California includes:
- Back payment of any unpaid wage amounts that employees prove they were legally entitled to.
- Interest of up to 10% of the unpaid wages.
- Penalties for late payment of wages equal to: (i) $100 for the first violation; and (ii) for each subsequent violation, $200 plus 25% of the amount unlawfully withheld. Penalties may apply for each pay period that wages remain unpaid.
- If any employees leave the company after the payday date, the company can be liable for waiting time penalties for late payment of final wages. Waiting time penalties are equal to 1 day’s wages for each day an employee’s final wages are unpaid, up to a maximum penalty of 30 days’ wages.
- Companies may be required to pay employees’ attorney’s fees if the employees prevail in litigation.
- Criminal liability for wage theft if the act is “intentional.” Felony cases are punishable by up to 3 years in prison.
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You’ve Heard That The NLRB Restricted The Use of Confidentiality & Non-Disparagement Provisions In Separation Agreements. Here’s What Employers Need To Do About It.
On February 21, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a decision in McLaren Macomb holding that employers may not offer employees separation or severance agreements that require employees to broadly waive their rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). In McLaren, a hospital furloughed 11 employees, presenting each with a severance agreement and general release that contained confidentiality and non-disclosure provisions. (See the exact provisions copied below.) The Board majority held that merely “proffering” a severance agreement containing unlawful confidentiality and non-disparagement provisions violated the NLRA because conditioning the receipt of benefits on the “forfeiture of statutory rights plainly has a reasonable tendency to interfere with, restrain, or coerce the exercise of those rights.”
At first blush, this may feel like a sweeping change requiring immediate action. However, it is important to consider this decision with a grain (or two) of salt, breathe and thoughtfully plan your next steps. The key points identified below are designed to help you think through a tailored approach for your organization¾there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Your approach will depend on the type of workforce you have, your risk tolerance and what you are trying to protect. We are standing by, ready to assist, should you need further guidance.
- For most private, nonunion employers, the risk of an unfair labor practice charge is relatively low. While it is absolutely true that the NLRA does indeed apply to most private sector employers, the NLRB and unions tend to focus more on unionized workplaces. (If you have a unionized or partially unionized workforce, the risk is higher but read on.)
Continue Reading You’ve Heard That The NLRB Restricted The Use of Confidentiality & Non-Disparagement Provisions In Separation Agreements. Here’s What Employers Need To Do About It.
Next Month NJ Employers Must Comply With New Not-So-Mini Obligations Under Its Mini-WARN Act
Effective April 10, covered New Jersey employers must comply with new requirements under the New Jersey mini-WARN Act. New Jersey will join New York and Maine as one of three jurisdictions where employers are required to provide 90 days’ advanced notice to affected employees. (See our prior blog here).
Key changes to NJ-WARN include the following:
- The employers covered by NJ-WARN has been expanded by the amendments, to include any employer who employs 100 or more employees, whether full-time or not (previously it required employment of 100 or more full-time employees).
- The threshold for a “mass layoff” triggering NJ-WARN has been reduced significantly. Under the amended law, a “mass layoff” means the termination of 50 or more employees at a covered establishment in a 30-day period. Previously, a mass layoff meant (i) the termination of 50 or more employees comprising 1/3 of the workforce at the establishment, or (ii) the termination of 500 or more employees.
- The scope of employees that count toward the 50-employee threshold for a “mass layoff” has been expanded:
- Both employees “at” the establishment and “reporting to” the establishment are counted, which may include remote employees in New Jersey as well as other states. Prior to the amendments, the threshold for a mass layoff included 50 or more employees “at” the establishment.
- Both part-time and full-time employees must be counted toward the threshold. Previously, only full-time employees counted toward the threshold.
- The definition of a covered “establishment” has been expanded to include a non-contiguous group of locations / facilities of an employer within the State (previously it applied to contiguous worksites / office parks of an employer). Based on the amendment’s legislative history, this appears to be aimed at retail companies with multiple locations in the State. However, it is unclear how this could apply to largely or entirely remote workforces, and how it “squares” with the inclusion of remote, out of state, employees in the 50 employee threshold.
- Covered employers will be required to provide at least 90 days’ notice (as opposed to the prior 60 days’ notice) before the first termination of employment occurs in connection with a termination or transfer of operations, or mass layoff. If the employer fails to provide 90 days’ notice, the employer is required to provide the terminated employee with four weeks of pay (which is a new requirement) in addition to statutory severance (see next bullet point).
- In addition to notice, covered employers will be required to provide severance pay equal to one week of pay for each full year of employment to each terminated employee. (Previously, the law required one week of severance pay for each year worked only if the employer failed to provide the required 60 days’ notice.)
Overall review of NJ-WARN amendments
Here’s a quick review of what will be required once the amendments take effect.
NJ-WARN applies to employers with 100 or more employees anywhere in the US, when:
- A covered establishment transfers or terminates operations which results, during any continuous period of not more than 30 days, in the termination of 50 or more employees; or
- An employer conducts a mass layoff (i.e., termination of 50 or more employees in a 30-day period) at a covered establishment.
Terminations for cause or poor performance excluded
Although NJ-WARN’s “termination of employment” definition excludes (1) voluntary departures, (2) retirement, and (3) terminations for misconduct, the statute does not clearly specify whether ordinary terminations for cause or poor performance can trigger its requirements. But our research into NJ-WARN’s legislative history strongly suggests that terminations for cause or poor performance are not covered by NJ-WARN. In the February 27, 2006 New Jersey Assembly Labor Committee hearing, NJ-WARN’s lead senate sponsor clarified that the legislation was not intended to apply to employees terminated for poor performance.
Note on aggregation
Under the new amendments, an employer whose layoff decision affects employees at multiple New Jersey worksites may be subject to NJ-WARN’s notice and severance requirements even if less than 50 employees are terminated at each individual worksite.
To determine whether a termination or transfer of operations or mass layoff is subject to NJ-WARN’s notification requirements, employers generally must aggregate any terminations of employment for two or more groups at a single “establishment” occurring within any 90-day period. If the aggregate number of terminations of all the groups is 50 or more, then the terminations are subject to NJ-WARN’s notice and severance requirements (unless the employer can demonstrate that each group’s cause of terminations is separate and distinct from the other groups’ causes). And since the definition of an “establishment” has been expanded to include an employer’s non-contiguous group of locations / facilities within New Jersey, multi-site employers should consider the aggregate impact of any layoff decision affecting multiple worksites.
NJ-WARN’s updated “mass layoff” and “establishment” definitions have also created some ambiguity regarding the statute’s application to remote employees. Specifically, a “mass layoff” now includes employees “at or reporting to” the “establishment.” And since “establishment” has been amended to include “a group of locations,” there is an argument that terminated remote employees should be counted for purposes of determining NJ-WARN applicability. But the legislative history of the NJ-WARN amendments suggests the changes were aimed at retail companies with multiple locations in New Jersey, and therefore NJ-WARN’s application to remote employees remains unclear.…
Continue Reading Next Month NJ Employers Must Comply With New Not-So-Mini Obligations Under Its Mini-WARN Act
Paid Leave For USERRA? We Recommend a Comparability Analysis
The Ninth Circuit recently addressed the issue of whether an employer is required to provide pay for employees taking short-term military leave when it offers other types of short-term paid leave. In Clarkson v. Alaska Airlines, Inc., the Ninth Circuit revived a class action claiming discrimination under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) for the failure to pay short-term military leave.
What is USERRA?
USERRA—a federal law applicable to both private and public employers—provides that a service member employee is entitled to the same “rights and benefits” during a military leave as similarly situated employees on non-military leave. Under USERRA , where the benefits of comparable non-military leaves differ, the employer must give the service member “the most favorable treatment” accorded to any comparable non-military leave.…
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4 Tips To Avoid (Or At Least Dull) Headaches When Conducting Layoffs In The US
As we find ourselves firmly in the middle of Q1 of 2023, the avalanche of layoff headlines that started last quarter just keeps coming. Whether you follow the school of thought that the US entered a recession in summer of 2022 (after two consecutive quarters of negative gross domestic product) or not (given a strong labor market and corporate earnings growth), more and more companies are having to address overzealous pandemic hiring and the backlash from soaring company valuations. One comparatively “easy” place for multinational companies to cut costs — US workforces, where employment is generally “at-will” and absent contractual entitlements or triggering statutory notice requirements, layoffs can be carried out relatively quickly. With that said, as always, moving too quickly can create headaches that actually can be avoided — or at least dulled — with a little planning.
Here are four tips to keep in mind when planning layoffs in the US:
- Beware of the WARN(ings)
Larger layoffs have the potential of triggering the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988 (WARN Act) (and analogous state laws, known as state “mini-WARN acts”) statutes. These statutes impose notice and information obligations, which can be tricky to keep track of, and carry potentially heavy penalties for noncompliance.
Federal WARN requires employers to give advanced notice to affected employees in the event of a covered mass layoff or plant closing. Under the WARN, employers must provide 60 days’ notice of termination to the impacted employees, union representatives (if applicable), and certain government authorities. Under some state mini-WARN acts, 90 days’ notice is required. Click here for more on WARN.
- Tip: WARN should become part of the layoff checklists (again), with teams (re)sensitized to the impact on timing and costs if triggered.
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Employer WARN-ing: Notice Requirements to Know Before Layoffs (Video)
With concerns intensifying about an economic downturn, unfortunately some layoffs or other reductions-in-force may be necessary for employers to weather the storm.
What’s different now as opposed to early-on in the pandemic? Because of the ups and downs in the market, and phenomena like the “great resignation” and remote work on a scale never seen before…
Employer WARN-ing: Layoffs Could Trigger WARN Notice Requirements this Time Around
Studies show that as many as 98% of CEOs are anticipating a global recession in the next 12-18 months, which means that companies have already started focusing on cutting costs and redistributing resources to best position themselves to survive. One of the largest cost centers on any company’s balance sheet is its workforce. As such, layoffs or other reductions-in-force (RIF) have already started to hit, and will likely continue. What’s different this time around? Because of the ups and downs in the market, and phenomena like the “great resignation” and remote work on a scale never seen before, there is a greater likelihood that more employers will find themselves potentially triggering the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988 (WARN Act) (and analogous state laws, known as state “mini-WARN acts”) statutes. These statutes impose notice and information obligations, which can be tricky to keep track of, and carry potentially heavy penalties for noncompliance.
What to do? Employers who see a layoff on the horizon — and even those who may have already undertaken layoffs — should revisit the requirements of WARN (and state mini-WARNs) now, and keep the following “WARN-ings” and practice tips in mind as they work with counsel.
What is WARN and what WARN-ings should companies watch out for?
In short, WARN requires employers to give advanced notice to affected employees in the event of a covered mass layoff or plant closing. Under the federal WARN, employers must provide 60 days’ notice of termination to the impacted employees, union representatives (if applicable), and certain government authorities. Under some state mini-WARN acts, 90 days’ notice is required.
Which employers are covered?
Under the federal WARN Act, covered employers are employers with:
- 100 or more employees, excluding part-time employees and those with less than 6 months of service in the last 12 months, or
- 100 or more employees, including part-time employees, who collectively work more than 4,000 hours per week, excluding overtime.
WARN-ing: State mini-WARN acts often have lower thresholds for covered employers.
When is notice required?
Under WARN, covered employers need to provide notice if a triggering event–a “mass layoff” or “plant closing”–occurs.
Mass layoff: A mass layoff is a reduction in force that (i) does not result from a plant closing, and (ii) results in an employment loss at the single site of employment during any 30-day period for:
- at least 50-499 covered employees if they represent at least 33% of the total active workforce, or
- 500 or more covered employees.
Plant closing: A plant closing is the permanent or temporary shutdown of a single place of employment or one or more facilities/operating units resulting in an employment loss during a 30-day period for 50 or more covered employees.
How should employers calculate the time frame to determine when WARN notice is required?
WARN always requires aggregating the employment losses that occur over a 30-day period.
WARN also requires aggregation of the employment losses that occur over a 90-day period that did not, on their own, trigger WARN notice, unless the employer can show that the layoffs were the result of separate and distinct causes and are not an attempt to evade WARN.
WARN-ing: Therefore, employers should look ahead and behind 90 days and add up layoffs that have occurred and any planned layoffs to determine whether separate layoffs may trigger notice requirements under WARN.…
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Return to Work (for Real This Time!)
As we pass the 2.5 year mark since many of us were sent to work from home for “two or three weeks” in early 2020, a number of employers are getting closer to having formal policies to address remote work and hybrid work arrangements. One of the more enduring consequences of the pandemic for employers…
Mandating COVID-19 Vaccination? Before You Act, Consider These Key Issues For US and Multinational Employers
Pressure is mounting on U.S. and multinational employers to require COVID-19 vaccines for employees, as the Delta variant spreads voraciously, spiking infections and hospitalizations across the country and forcing employers to once again shutter worksites or change their workplace safety protocols. But can (and should) employers mandate vaccination?
Vaccine mandates received strong support on Thursday, July 29 when President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees and onsite contractors either must be vaccinated or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements, and restrictions on travel. The same day, the U.S. Treasury Department released a policy statement directing state and local governments to use funds from the $350 billion American Rescue Plan to incentivize vaccines by offering $100 to individuals who get vaccinated.
Separately, more than 600 universities have announced mandates for students or employees. And state and local governments have joined in, with California and New York City announcing mandates this week for government employees and certain healthcare workers, and the federal Department of Veterans Affairs announcing that frontline VA health care employees must get vaccinated or face termination.
Large employers are joining the fray, with global technology companies, financial institutions, healthcare systems, retailers, transportation companies and media companies recently announcing that vaccination will be required for everyone in their workplaces.
So can private employers adopt mandatory vaccination policies? What follows is a framework for understanding whether such an approach is permissible both in and outside the US, as well as some of the key considerations for such policies.
Bottom line: in the US, private employers can legally mandate vaccines under federal law, subject to the legal considerations outlined below. State law, however, differs by jurisdiction, with some states authorizing vaccine mandates while at least one has banned them. For illustrative purposes, we discuss California law in the framework below.
Continue Reading Mandating COVID-19 Vaccination? Before You Act, Consider These Key Issues For US and Multinational Employers