New York City employers can breathe a short sigh of relief. On May 12, 2022, New York City Mayor Eric Adams signed a bill into law amending New York City’s pay transparency law (Local Law 32 for 2022, which we previously blogged about here, here, here and here), postponing the
Nondisparagement clauses have long been a staple in settlement agreements between employers and employees as a way to discourage disgruntled employees from debasing the company after they have departed. Nondisparagement clauses often require employees to refrain from saying anything negative about their former employer at all. But employers should keep a few things in mind to ensure that the use of a nondisparagement clause does not create additional risk for the company.
Keep an Eye Out for Activity by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)
The NLRB has signaled it may revisit current Board precedent holding nondisparagement agreements in employee settlement agreements are legal-meaning employers should watch out for Board action or decisions reverting to restrictions on nondisparagement agreements. On August 12, 2021, in her first memo as NLRB General Counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo issued a Mandatory Submissions to Advice Memorandum, setting forth that NLRB Regional Directors, Officers-in-Charge, and Resident Officers must submit certain types of cases to the NLRB Division of Advice (“Advice”) (which, in addition to other duties, provides guidance to the NLRB’s Regional Offices regarding difficult and novel issues arising in the processing of unfair labor practice charges).
Abruzzo identified 11 areas of Board case law involving doctrinal shifts from previous Board precedent that the Board, through submissions to Advice, would be examining-including “cases finding that separation agreements that contain…nondisparagement clauses…lawful.”
Abruzzo highlighted cases involving the applicability of Baylor University Medical Center, 369 NLRB No. 43 (2020), overruling Clark Distribution Systems, 336 NLRB 747 (2001), and International Game Technology, 370 NLRB No. 50 (2020) to be submitted to Advice for review.
Before it was overruled, Clark Distribution Systems stated that a provision in the confidentiality clause of a severance agreement prohibiting the employee from voluntarily appearing as a witness, voluntarily providing documents or information, or otherwise assisting in the prosecution of any claims against the company unlawfully chilled the employees’ Section 7 rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)(which guarantees employees “the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection,” as well as the right “to refrain from any or all such activities.”)
The provisions at issue in the severance agreements in Baylor University Medical Center included a “No Participation in Claims” provision in which the departing employee agreed not to assist or participate in any claim brought by a third party against Baylor (unless compelled by law to do so), and a “Confidentiality” provision in which the employee agreed to keep confidential any of Baylor’s confidential information made known to the employee during their employment. The complainants alleged that by offering the severance agreements with these provisions, Baylor violated Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA (which makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer “to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7” of the Act). The Board disagreed, in part because the severance agreement only pertained to postemployment activities having no impact on terms and conditions of employment. The Board also found that Baylor’s mere offer of the separation agreement was not coercive or otherwise unlawful, and that there was no sign that the agreement was offered under circumstances that would tend to infringe on the separating employees’ exercise of their own or their co-workers’ Section 7 rights.
International Game Technology (IGT) applied Baylor to a separation agreement with a nondisparagement clause, finding in that case that the severance agreement at issue was entirely voluntary, did not affect pay or benefits that were established as terms of employment, and was not offered coercively-and the nondisparagement provision did not tend to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their Section 7 rights under the Act.
What to do?
What should employers do now given the NLRB review of cases applying Baylor and International Game Technology to ensure they don’t run afoul of the NLRA when using nondisparagement clauses in settlement agreements with employees? Employers should:
- Keep an eye out for changes in the law stemming from the NLRB’s review of cases applying Baylor and International Game Technology.
- Use precise language to make it clear that a nondisparagement clause only applies at the time of and after termination, to avoid claims that the terms of the clause interfere with an employee’s Section 7 rights under the NLRA.
- Consult with counsel regarding the possibility of using a savings clause stating that the severance agreement, and specifically the nondisparagement clause, are not intended to prevent the employee from engaging in protected activity under the NLRA.
New York City employers are one step closer to learning the effective date of New York City’s pay transparency law (Local Law 32 for 2022, the “Salary Disclosure Law”). As we blogged about here, the Salary Disclosure Law will have its original May 15, 2022 effective date postponed to November 1, 2022…
New York City’s salary transparency law (Local Law 32 for 2022, the “Salary Disclosure Law,” which we previously blogged about here and here)–originally set to take effect on May 15, 2022–could now take effect November 1, 2022 if a new bill is signed into law by New York City Mayor Eric Adams.…
New state and federal limits on post-employment restrictive covenants mean employers must stay on top of more than just vaccination policies or the logistics of office reopenings. The swath of new and on-the-horizon legislation aimed at limiting the enforceability of post-employment non-compete agreements deserves employers’ attention too. Part One of our blog post series on restrictive covenants addressed the intersection of remote work and state non-compete laws. Now, in Part Two, we summarize recent updates to state non-compete laws, pending state legislation that could impact non-competes, and new federal-level activity aimed at limiting non-competes.
Colorado recently raised the stakes for violations of its non-compete law. Effective March 1, 2022, under SB 21-271, a person who violates Colorado’s non-compete statute commits a class 2 misdemeanor.
Colorado’s non-compete statute (C.R.S. section 8-2-113) voids agreements that restrict trade, such as non-competition and non-solicitation of customers covenants, unless they fall within a specific statutory exception: (i) a contract for the purchase or sale of a business or its assets; (ii) a contract for protecting trade secrets; (iii) a contract provision recovering education or training expenses associated with an employee who has been with an employer for less than two years; or (iv) a restriction on executive or management personnel or each of their professional staff. As of March 1, 2022, a person who violates this statute commits a class 2 misdemeanor punishable by up to 120 days in jail and / or a fine of up to $750.
Many questions remain about the enforcement of this amendment, such as who will face ultimate liability for the employer (e.g., in-house counsel, HR staff, line managers, etc.). And though there is no indication that the new law is retroactive, Colorado employers were subject to criminal penalties for a violation of Colorado’s non-compete law even prior to SB 21-271 being passed, under C.R.S. section 8-2-115. SB 21-271 repealed C.R.S. section 8-2-115 while simultaneously inserting language into the non-compete statute itself making a violation a class 2 misdemeanor. It remains to be seen whether this is simple statutory consolidation, or a signal that Colorado plans to increase enforcement of violations of its non-compete statute. Employers should review their non-compete agreements and internal policies regarding which employees are required to sign such agreements to make sure they are in compliance with this new law.…
Employers across the US are requiring employees to return to the brick and mortar workplace as COVID cases drop, and are looking forward to having employees work together again face-to-face. But employers beware: employees have had little in-person interaction with their colleagues over the past two years, and some employees who were onboarded during the pandemic have only met their coworkers virtually. Employees returning in-person may be rusty when it comes to interacting with others in the same physical space, increasing the risk that lines will be crossed into inappropriate or unlawful behavior. What should employers do as employees return to the office to try to keep claims of discrimination and harassment to a minimum?
Update the company’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies
With a focus on health and safety measures such as mask mandates and vaccine policies for the last two years, updating anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies may not have been front of mind. But employers should review and update these policies now to ensure they comply with any newer laws in the jurisdictions where they have employees-such as Illinois’ Public Act 102-0419, effective January 1, 2022, which specifies that disability discrimination in Illinois now includes discrimination against an individual because of their association with a person with a disability. Updated policies should be distributed to employees, who should be required to acknowledge in writing that they have received and understand them.
Train employees that the company prohibits discrimination and harassment–and requires respect
Employers should also train employees on the company’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies-especially before employees who have been working remotely for months or years return-to increase awareness of what is and is not appropriate workplace behavior. In one study, employees who received sexual harassment training were more likely to indicate that unwanted sexual gestures, touching, and pressure for dates are sexual harassment. Awareness of what is considered unacceptable behavior can help employees think twice before acting, and training showing specific examples of discrimination and harassment-such as actors portraying behavior that could be discrimination or harassment-may help employees understand behavioral boundaries.
Employers should ensure the training covers “to the moment issues” related to discrimination and harassment that may impact the workplace. For example, on March 18, 2021, the US House of Representatives passed the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act (CROWN Act) which would prohibit discrimination based upon hairstyles in employment (as well as in public accommodations, housing, and other venues). Several states already have similar laws in place, including California, New York, Washington and Delaware. Even if the CROWN Act stalls at the federal level, training employees to respect each other-including each other’s hairstyles-can reduce complaints of discrimination.
Another example is microaggressions in the workplace. A recent Future Forum study indicated that only 3% of Black professional workers (compared with 21% of white professional workers) wanted to return to the office full time post-pandemic, after finding they faced fewer microaggressions from colleagues while working remotely. Aside from diversity and inclusion training (which many employers offer to employees), training all employees on the importance of respect in the workplace can keep all employees feeling welcome, included and valuable-whether they’re working remotely or in-person.
Employers should also ensure the training:
- Explains the company’s structure for reporting concerns of discrimination or harassment
- Emphasizes that the company prohibits retaliation for making reports or participating in workplace investigations of alleged harassment or discrimination
- Describes the steps the company takes when handling complaints, and
- Reminds employees they are subject to discipline for violation of the company’s policies relating to harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.
Some jurisdictions, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New York State and New York City require employers to train employees on workplace harassment. But even if training is not required, employers should train employees before they return to the office-and regularly thereafter-to remind employees what inappropriate behavior looks like, how to report it, and the consequences for not following company policy.…
Massachusetts’ independent contractor statute applies to the franchisor-franchisee relationship and is not in conflict with the franchisor’s disclosure obligations under the FTC Franchise Rule (the “FTC Rule”), according to…
Last week, New York City employers received more clarification on New York City’s new salary disclosure law (Local Law 32 for 2022, the “Salary Disclosure Law,” which we previously blogged about here). The New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) released a Fact Sheet providing more details on employers’ obligations under…
As the Omicron wave recedes, a raft of states have announced plans to lift their mask mandates.
In the past few days alone, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island have announced changes to their face covering rules. And if the number of Omicron cases continues to dwindle…
Beyond chocolate and conversation hearts, many employers are looking to seriously woo employees this Valentine’s Day, and throughout the year. In fact, for most companies, retaining and attracting the best talent in today’s fierce labor market is a top priority in 2022.
The Great Resignation (aka the “Big Quit”) is in full effect. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report released January 4, 2022, a record 4.5 million Americans left their jobs in November, with the number of private sector quits (not government or farm employees) hitting 4.3 million-and approximately 20 million people quit their jobs in the second half of 2021. And, there are just 0.62 unemployed job seekers for each available job, according to another BLS report. The forecast: employees are likely to continue to have substantial bargaining power in 2022. So employers who want to hold onto the great employees they have-and perhaps take their shot at hiring more- may need to look for creative ways to up the ante this year.
Here are five things employers are doing to retain and hire the best of the best talent in 2022.
Embracing remote work–because it allows for the flexibility some employees are demanding
Remote work was indispensable for many in the early pandemic. Now, having the option to work remotely-at least some of the time-is becoming an expectation. According to a survey of 209,000 people in 190 countries by BCG, 89% of people expect their jobs to be partly remote after the pandemic ends. Hybrid work is now a norm for many employers as they pivot to navigate the ebb and flow of COVID variants, allowing for the flexibility required by the pandemic and meeting employee desires. According to Forbes, in a recent survey of US workers who can work remotely, 74% would prefer to spend at least one day in an office environment post-COVID-19, with 30% looking to work from a space outside the home two or three days per week. Digital nomad visas-which allow employees to work in a different country after an application and a fee-are another lure for some employees who can successfully work away from the office.
What does this mean for employers? In industries and for positions where working remotely is a viable option, employers who don’t offer employees the ability to work remotely-at least part of the week-may see employees jump ship to employers who do. In one report published by Owl Labs, companies that provide the option for remote work have 25% lower turnover than companies that don’t.
But remote work isn’t as easy as just telling employees they can work from home-or wherever they want.
Employers must consider a myriad of employment law issues before crafting any type of remote work policy, including:
- How employers will define “remote” for their workforce–i.e. temporary “short stints,” permanent remote work, hybrid work (working some days from home and others in the office), or some combination of these. And, employers must decide whether employees will be permitted to work remotely only from home, or remotely from anywhere.
- “Guardrails” or boundaries for the workforce. Often, this is based on factors such as whether the company already has a legal presence in the subject jurisdiction and ensuring employees can remain subject to company rules and expectations in the jurisdiction from which the employee is requesting to remotely work. Other factors, such as head count triggers for application of paid sick leave laws, must also be taken into consideration.
- Designing an application process with established criteria. Where used, an application process should cover details such as which job positions can be performed remotely, eligible locations, whether a justification is required, and the objective criteria for accepting / rejecting applications. Decision-makers must be trained on applying the criteria objectively.
- Developing policies to support the remote model, including salary/cost of living adjustments, how necessary equipment will be provided and whether certain costs will be reimbursed, how the company will track hours/overtime/mandatory rest breaks, necessary steps to mitigate increased risks of misappropriation of confidential information and trade secrets, and revising the business travel policy as necessary to apply to remote workers.
- Providing employees with individualized remote work agreements, setting forth important information such as the effective date of the arrangement, expected hours of work, use of equipment, reimbursement/stipends, insurance requirements, and compensation. Agreements should also confirm the work location (to document the employee’s representation of the jurisdiction in which they are working and paying taxes) and protect the company’s right to recall employees to an onsite location.
- Training managers and supervisors on the importance of treating all employees equally, whether they are in the office daily with substantial “face time,” or almost never in the office with only remote meeting “face time,” to avoid discrimination claims.
However employers decide, any type of remote work program raises a plethora of compliance issues-including employment law as mentioned above, as well as benefits and compensation, tax, privacy, and corporate law issues-all of which change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. As employers design and implement remote work programs, they should work with counsel to stay compliant.…