Despite the hubbub, a new California law purportedly banning mandatory employment arbitration agreements does not completely change the game, and federal law still allows employers to use such agreements.

On October 10, 2019, Governor Newsom signed AB 51 (to be codified as Cal. Lab. Code § 432.6(c)). The new law on its face prohibits employers from requiring California employees to arbitrate certain employment disputes, even if the employees are given the option of opting out of arbitration. More ominously, AB 51 criminalizes retaliation against employees who refuse arbitration, among other remedies.


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On September 24, 2019, the Department of Labor (finally) issued the final rule on the minimum salary threshold required for employees to qualify for the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “white-collar” exemptions.

The final rule:

  • Raises the new minimum salary threshold to $35,568 per year ($684 per week). The previous salary threshold, which had been in place since 2004, was $23,660 ($455 per week).
  • Raises the “highly compensated” employee salary threshold from $100,000 to $107,432 per year.
  • Allows employers to count certain non-discretionary bonuses, incentives, and commissions to satisfy up to 10% of an employee’s salary level.
  • Does not impact the job duties test.
  • Is estimated to make an additional 1.3 million more workers eligible for overtime.
  • Will take effect quickly — on January 1, 2020.


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Today California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a landmark bill making it more difficult for companies to engage independent contractors. (See our previous coverage HERE.) Assembly Bill 5 “will help reduce worker misclassification — workers being wrongly classified as ‘independent contractors’ rather than employees, which erodes basic worker protections like the minimum wage, paid sick days and health insurance benefits,” Newsom wrote in a statement.

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This week, the National Labor Relations Board finally came to its senses and adopted the contract coverage test for cases alleging an employer had unlawfully, unilaterally changed employees’ terms and conditions of employment. MV Transportation, Inc. 368 NLRB No. 66 (2019). This week’s decision is likely to change the forum unions select for the enforcement of their labor agreements. Ironically, the decision may compel employers to consider additional bargaining rather than litigation before an arbitrator given there is little opportunity to appeal an adverse arbitration award.

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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.


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On July 22, 2019, a three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit withdrew its holding 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. The panel held instead that the question should be decided by the state’s highest court.

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On July 10, 2019, the California Senate Labor Committee voted in favor of Assembly Bill (AB 5). As we previously reported (see HERE), AB 5 would make it harder for companies to rely on independent contractors because it presumes a worker is an employee unless a hiring entity passes a difficult three-part test. Supporters

Historically employers could not restrict labor organizing activity in employer-owned, publicly accessible spaces. But, last month, in UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, 368 N.L.R.B. No. 2 (2019), the NLRB reversed nearly 40 years of precedent holding that employers violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) if they prohibit nonemployee labor organizers from publicly-accessible spaces.

Post UPMC, employers may adopt and implement neutral policies regulating the use of employer-owned spaces open to the public (such as cafeterias) and may lawfully apply those policies to exclude nonemployee union organizers. Employers with spaces open to the public should consider whether to adopt and enforce a content neutral (nondiscriminatory) bar to nonemployee solicitation or distribution in the publicly accessible spaces on their property.


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In June, a federal district court in New York ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts a recent state law prohibiting mandatory arbitration agreements in sexual harassment cases. Latif v. Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC  marks the first time that a federal court has ruled on this issue.

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