Class & Collective Actions

Employers in the US are more than a little fearful of COVID-19 related class and collective action lawsuits coming their way, and with good reason. Since shelter-in-place orders were imposed in March, US employers have faced class action lawsuits for a variety of COVID-19 related reasons, including the alleged failure to implement proper workplace safety measures or provide appropriate paid sick leave. To keep workers safe from contracting the virus at work, many employers have allowed employees to continue to work from home indefinitely, which likely decreases the odds that an employer will be sued in class action litigation for failing to provide appropriate PPE in the workplace. However, managing employees working from home can create other issues worthy of class-action litigation, including reimbursing those employees for work-related expenses.

What can employers do to ensure they meet reimbursement requirements to steer clear of expense reimbursement class action lawsuits in the US? Go through the four considerations, below.

  1. Know the rules that apply in your jurisdiction

Several jurisdictions have specific rules regarding employee expense reimbursements, so you’ll need to check your local law. In California, an employer must reimburse an employee for all “necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence or discharge of his or her duties.” Cal. Lab. Code § 2802. Similarly, Illinois requires reimbursement of all “necessary expenditures or losses” an employee incurs within the scope of employment that are “directly related to services performed for the employer,” unless the employer has a written reimbursement expense policy and the employee fails to comply with that policy. 820 ILCS 115/9.5. And in the District of Columbia, employers must pay the cost of purchasing and maintaining any tools that the employer requires to perform the employer’s business. D.C. Mun. Reg. tit. 7, § 910.1. If you have operations in several jurisdictions, make sure that you know and follow each applicable jurisdiction’s rules.

In addition, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) may apply. Though the FLSA does not require employers to reimburse their employees, under the FLSA “kickback” rule, employees cannot be required to directly pay business-related expenses or reimburse their employer for such expenses if doing so would cause the employee’s wage rate to fall below the required minimum wage or overtime compensation thresholds. See 29 C.F.R. § 531.35. Remote workers typically earn well-above the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour), so employers don’t need to be as concerned about business expenses causing those employees’ wages to dip below the federal minimum wage. However, employers should be on the lookout for these situations, which require more attention:

  • Where employees are subject to overtime for working more than 40 hours in a workweek;
  • Where a particular pay threshold (whether under federal or state law) must be met for the employee to meet an exemption from overtime (in which case the employee will become nonexempt and must be paid overtime for any work over 40 hours in a workweek); or
  • Where state or local minimum wages are higher (such as Chicago’s $14 per hour or California’s $12 per hour), making it more likely that an employee’s payment of business-related expenses would cause their wages to dip below the minimum wage.

A violation of the FLSA occurs in any workweek in which the cost of the business-related expenses borne by the employee cuts into the minimum or overtime wages required to be paid to the employee. Therefore, employers can more easily run afoul of the FLSA in these scenarios, especially if the business-related expenses paid in any given workweek happen to be hefty.


Continue Reading Want to Avoid Employee Reimbursement Class Actions for Remote Work? Take These Four Steps

We hope you have found our video chat series helpful and informative. We are continuing this series of quick and bite-sized video chats, where our employment partners team up with practitioners in various areas of law to discuss the most pressing issues for employers navigating the return to work. Each 15-minute Q&A session offers targeted

Recently, Southwest Airlines won a second major victory when Northern District of Illinois Judge Seeger granted its motion to dismiss claims brought under Illinois’ unique Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”). Crooms v. Southwest Airlines Co., Case No. 19-cv-2149.

Plaintiffs alleged Southwest violated BIPA by requiring them to scan their fingers when clocking in and out of work without giving them the written notice or receiving their consent as required by BIPA. When initially employed, three of the plaintiffs were represented by the Transportation Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO Local 555 (“TWU”) and were covered by a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”). The CBAs at issue provided Southwest had the “right to manage and direct the work force” and included a mandatory four-step grievance and arbitration procedure for resolution of disputes. Plaintiffs were later promoted to Ramp Supervisors, a non-union position and agreed to comply with Southwest’s Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) Program.  The fourth named plaintiff was never covered by a CBA but was always a party to the ADR Program.


Continue Reading “This Case Does Not Belong In Federal Court” — Southwest Secures Dismissal of Illinois Biometric Lawsuit

In jurisdictions across the country — especially COVID-19 “hot spots” — courts have entered emergency orders suspending trials and hearings, tolling the statute of limitations, and shuttering their doors to conducting anything but the most essential business. Non-essential hearings — including hearings related to non-emergency civil matters — are being conducted through Zoom and Skype to continue court proceedings without violating shelter-in-place orders and social distancing guidelines. In jurisdictions where shelter-in-place orders consider certain “legal services” as essential businesses which must remain open, those partaking must still abide by social-distancing guidelines (including six-foot spacing, and not gathering in groups of more than a minimal number such as 5 or 10), which can make something as routine as taking in-person depositions impossible. At the same time, businesses are reeling from the economic impact of COVID-19, and may find it beneficial to slow the pace of pending litigation. Responding to interrogatories, culling through thousands of emails to find responsive documents, and taking the time to prepare for depositions may not be front-of-mind for businesses simply trying to focus on retaining employees and staying afloat.

Continue Reading Emergency Court Rules for COVID-19 Slows Litigation and Provides Choices for Businesses

Last week, in Kim v. Reins International California, Inc., No. S246911, after more than two years on review and extensive briefing by amicus curiae, the California Supreme Court unanimously resolved an issue of first impression concerning the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA): whether settlement of individual Labor Code claims extinguishes PAGA standing.

California’s Labor Code contains a number of provisions designed to protect the health, safety, and compensation of workers. Among those laws, PAGA provides a mechanism for employees to enforce the Labor Code as the state’s designated proxy. In particular, PAGA authorizes “aggrieved employees” to pursue civil penalties on behalf of the state. Those penalties differ from statutory damages or other penalties an employee may recover individually for alleged Labor Code violations because relief under PAGA is intended to benefit the general public, not the party bringing the action.


Continue Reading Employee Remains “Aggrieved” Under PAGA Even After Settling Individual Claims

Ten years from now there may well be no more Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) class actions. The law, like the rest of life, is not immune from disruptive innovations. In our own lifetime, we have seen disruptive innovations from chemical photography to digital photography, from personal computers to smart phones, and from snail

In July, we reported that a three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit withdrew its holding in Vazquez v. Jan-Pro Franchising Int’l that Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court—the landmark California Supreme Court decision that makes it harder for companies to rely on independent contractors—applies retroactively. Rather than answering the question of Dynamexs retroactivity, the Court stated its intent to file an order certifying that question.

Continue Reading The Ninth Circuit Asks The California Supreme Court If Dynamex Applies Retroactively

As previously detailed here, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 Epic Systems decision established that requiring employees to waive their right to pursue collective or class actions does not violate the National Labor Relations Act’s “catchall” protection—the right to engage in “concerted activity”—and courts must enforce arbitration agreements as written.

The Supreme Court not only confirmed the legality of class action waivers under the Federal Arbitration Act, but it also narrowly construed the NLRA’s catchall provision as focused on the right to organize unions and bargain collectively in the workplace.

The Court’s holding that the right to engage in such “concerted activities” does not guarantee collective or class action procedures underpins a recent NLRB decision concerning issues of first impression: imposing and requiring as a condition for continued employment a new class action waiver rule in response to collective action.


Continue Reading Applying Epic Systems, The NLRB Adopts Employer-Friendly Arbitration Stance

As detailed in prior posts, in January, the Illinois Supreme Court held that a plaintiff need not plead an actual injury beyond a per se statutory violation to state a claim for statutory liquidated damages or injunctive relief under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). While recent decisions applying BIPA have been largely Illinois-based, the Ninth Circuit recently applied BIPA in Patel v. Facebook to affirm a lower court’s ruling that plaintiffs in the ongoing Facebook BIPA class action alleged a concrete injury-in-fact to confer Article III standing and that the class was properly certified.

The Ninth Circuit is the first federal circuit court to conclude that a plaintiff alleging a BIPA violation has standing for purposes of Article III of the US Constitution. The ruling makes it easier for plaintiffs to certify BIPA class actions, within and outside of Illinois. 
Continue Reading The Ninth Circuit Clears The Way For BIPA Class Actions

Congratulations and special thanks to Lisa Brogan (Chair), Editor, and Contributors James Baker, Jordan Faykus, and Jenna Neumann for their contributions to the 2019 Edition of The ABA Business Law Section, Recent Developments In Business and Corporate Litigation; Chapter 20: ERISA.

Covered topics include:

  • US Supreme Court on church plan exemptions;
  • The standard of review