Many thanks to our Franchise, Distribution & Global Brand Expansion colleague Will Woods for co-authoring this post.

On October 25, 2023 the National Labor Relations Board issued a final joint employer rule (accompanied by a fact sheet) making it easier for multiple companies to be deemed “joint employers” under the law. This legal classification can have profound consequence by making independent entities now liable for labor law violations as well as obligations to negotiate with unions.

The new standard casts a wider net for “joint-employer” status

Under the new rule, an entity may be considered a joint employer of a group of employees if the entity shares or codetermines one or more of the employees’ “essential terms and conditions of employment.” The Board defines the essential terms and conditions of employment as:

  1. wages, benefits, and other compensation;
  2. hours of work and scheduling;
  3. the assignment of duties to be performed;
  4. the supervision of the performance of duties;
  5. work rules and directions governing the manner, means, and methods of the performance of duties and the grounds for discipline;
  6. the tenure of employment, including hiring and discharge; and
  7. working conditions related to the safety and health of employees.

How the new rule dramatically shifts away from the 2020 rule

In issuing the final rule, the NLRB rescinded the prior 2020 joint employer rule (a remnant of the Trump-era Board), which provided that a business is a joint employer only if it both possesses and exercises substantial direct and immediate control over one or more essential terms and conditions of employment-with “substantial” meaning control that is not exercised on a “sporadic, isolated, or de minimis basis. ” (For more on the 2020 rule, see our prior blog here.) The 2020 rule’s higher threshold meant a lower likelihood that businesses would be considered joint employers. The new rule’s impact on employers could be wide-ranging, and particularly difficult for non-unionized employers who are not used to navigating typical union activity such as being required to show up at the bargaining table, handling unfair labor practice charges, or dealing with picketing by a vendors’ employees (which would have previously been considered an illegal secondary boycott).

No direct (or even exercised) control required

The new rule rejects the previous rule’s focus on “direct and immediate control.” Instead, now, indirect or reserved control is sufficient to establish joint employer status. Thus, if a company has contractual authority over certain employment terms but never acts on that authority, that may be enough to establish a joint employer relationship. The same goes for a company that exercises authority over another company’s workers through a “go-between” company or intermediary, or a company requiring a vendors’ employees to follow certain health and safety rules while on-premises. In these instances, liability under the National Labor Relations Act, including the requirement to negotiate with a union, could ensue.Continue Reading NLRB Announces Most Expansive Definition of Joint Employment Yet, With Potential Significant Implications for Franchisors, Staffing Agencies and More

Special thanks to co-authors Andrew Shaw, Dave Bushuev and our articling student Ravneet Minhas for sharing this update from Canada.

In the United States, there have been many union-friendly changes at the NLRB and a number of high profile strikes making headlines in 2023. Our neighbors to the north are also experiencing an uptick in union activity.

With pervasive inflation and an uncertain job market, many Canadians are emerging from the pandemic with bolder workforce demands. For example, in the spring of 2023, federal public servants made headlines with the largest strike in Canadian history. More recently, 3,000 Metro grocery store workers went on strike across Toronto, demanding higher wages. In mid-October 2023, GM narrowly averted significant disruptions to its operations by reaching a deal with Unifor, which represents 4,300 workers in Ontario.

Employers are rightly concerned about the potential for increased union activity, which can cause significant disruptions to operations. There are many things employers can do to stay union free, but it requires treading carefully because labour laws offer extensive protections to employees’ right to unionize. One wrong step by an employer can lead to penalties, fines, and potentially automatic certification.

Understanding how quickly the 3-step certification process unfolds

The certification process formalizes the collective bargaining relationship. And, understanding how this process works and appreciating how quickly it can move forward is essential for developing an effective union avoidance strategy.

Generally speaking, the process for certification in Ontario involves three steps:

1. The Organizing Drive

In this first step, to the extent possible, the union will try to keep the organizing drive a secret. During this period, the union will typically attempt to gauge employee interest by having union representatives approach them inside or outside the workplace, as well as online, talking to them about any issues they may have with the workplace, and sharing union information with them. Most union organizing campaigns involve signing up employees as union members and collecting union membership cards. One way that unions target employers for a union drive is by obtaining the names, contact information, and/or home addresses of the employees of a certain workforce, which they use to send them propaganda.

Employers are often unaware that this step is occurring even though a union organizing drive can last for months (or, in some cases, even longer). It is important for management to have reliable sources in the workforce to advise them when a union drive is happening. Timing is critical here.Continue Reading Best Practices for Employers Amidst Signs of a Labor Union Resurgence in Canada

The National Labor Relations Board has continued its recent spate of employee-friendly decisions with a new one that will require employers to think through work rules, policies and handbook provisions to determine whether they could–hypothetically, from an employee’s perspective–restrict an employee’s Section 7 rights. 

On August 2, 2023, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “the Board”) issued a 3-1 split decision in Stericycle, Inc., bringing back and modifying a prior standard for assessing whether an employer’s facially neutral work rules and policies unlawfully “chill” an employee’s Section 7 rights. Under the new standard, the NLRB will peer through the lens of a “reasonable employee” (more on that below) to determine whether an employer’s work rules and policies have a tendency to restrict Section 7 rights. For employers, this means a complete reassessment of their workplace rules and policies–and the handbooks that those rules and policies are housed in.

The new standard: reasonable tendency to “chill” Section 7 rights, from the employee’s perspective

The new standard (which is the Board’s prior Lutheran Heritage standard, brought back to life and modified) requires the NLRB General Counsel to prove that a challenged work rule has a reasonable tendency to “chill” employees from exercising their Section 7 rights. (Quick reminder: Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) 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, including the right to form, join or assist labor unions, to bargain collectively and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining.)

How is this done? That’s the rub for employers.

As an initial matter, the Board will interpret the challenged work rule from the perspective of an employee who is (i) subject to the rule, (ii) economically dependent on the employer, and (iii) also contemplates engaging in a protected concerted activity.

In addition:

  • The employer’s intent in maintaining the rule in question is immaterial. (So even if the employer had no  intent to restrict an employee’s Section 7 rights when developing the work rule or policy–which we suspect will usually be the case–it isn’t material.)
  • The General Counsel will carry her burden if an employee (that same employee described above) could reasonably interpret the rule to have a coercive meaning–even if a contrary, non-coercive interpretation of the rule is also reasonable. All emphasis is ours here, to highlight that the General Counsel’s burden is extraordinarily low. If the General Counsel carries her burden, the challenged work rule is presumptively unlawful.
  • BUT, employers have a chance at rebutting the presumption. The presumption can be rebutted if the employer can prove that the rule advances a legitimate and substantial business interest and that the employer cannot advance that interest with a more narrowly tailored rule. If the employer proves this, the work rule will be found lawful.

What does this mean for employers?

The Stericycle standard has the potential to render a multitude of employment policies and workplace rules unlawful, and will be applied retroactively. Employers should review existing (or new) employee work rules, policies, and handbook provisions to ensure:

  • They are tailored as narrowly as possible to advance the employer’s interest, and to refrain from restricting an employee’s Section 7 rights
  • They explicitly state employees have the right to engage in concerted activities under Section 7
  • Where necessary, they provide an explanation of how the rule or policy does not preclude employees from exercising their Section 7 rights
  • Where possible, they include a list of specific rights the employer is not intending to restrict. Talk to us for recommended language.

Continue Reading Handbook Review Takes on a New Meaning: NLRB Adopts “Employee-Friendly” Standard for Evaluating Workplace Rules

It’s one of the hottest summers on record across the US and around the world, and things may be heating up for Illinois employers as well–with pending legislation that, if signed into law, would require employers to include pay scales in job postings and to meet new health and safety-related requirements when using temporary employees. Illinois employers need to be aware of other changes, including possible liability under amendments to the Illinois Gender Violence Act, changes to the Chicago and Cook County minimum wage and new obligations for employers to meet Equal Pay Registration Certificate requirements under the Illinois Equal Pay Act of 2003.

In this blog, we “round up” eight important changes to know and two bills Illinois employers should keep on their radar as we start to round down the summer.

Eight to Know

1. Employers can now face liability under amendments to Illinois Gender Violence Act

On July 28, Governor Pritzker signed HB 1363 into law, which amends the Illinois Gender Violence Act (GVA) effective immediately to impose employer liability in certain circumstances where individuals are victims of gender-related violence. Under the GVA, a person who has been the victim of gender-related violence can sue the person who committed the act of violence and seek damages. Now, not only do perpetrators of gender-related violence face liability under the Act–employers can be liable, too.  

What to know

  • Under the new law, employers can be liable for gender-related violence committed in the workplace by an employer or agent of the employer (including independent contractors), but only when the interaction giving rise to the gender-related violence arises out of and in the course of employment with the employer–which is undefined and vague, so we’re hoping for guidance on what this means.
    • Note that “workplace” is defined, and includes the employer’s premises (including any building, real property, and parking area under the control of the employer), and any location used by the employee while performing job duties for the employer, as well as activities occurring off-premises at employer-sponsored events where an employee is not performing the employee’s job duties (think holiday parties).
  • For liability to extend to an employer, the gender-related violence must occur (i) while the employee is directly performing the employee’s job duties and the gender-related violence was the proximate cause of (i.e. substantial factor in causing) the injury, or (ii) while the agent of the employer was directly involved in the performance of the contracted work and the gender-related violence was the proximate cause of the injury. In addition, an employer must also act “in a manner inconsistent with how a reasonable person would act under similar circumstances” to be liable.
  • Notwithstanding the above, in order to be liable, employers must:
    • Fail to supervise, train or monitor the employee who engaged in the gender-related violence–but an employer who provides sexual harassment prevention training pursuant to Section 2-109 of the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) has an affirmative defense that adequate training was provided to the employee; or
    • Fail to investigate complaints or reports directly provided to a supervisor, manager, or owner (or another person designated by the employer) of similar conduct by an employee or the employer’s agent–and fail to take remedial measures in response to the complaints or reports.
  • The statute of limitations for an alleged victim of gender-related violence to sue the employer is four years, or within four years of a victim turning 18 if the victim is a minor at the time the cause of action accrues.
  • The amendments also clarify that the Act does not preclude a victim of gender-related violence from pursuing any other right or cause of action created by statute or common law.

Employers should train HR and managers on the new law, and make sure employees receive appropriate sexual harassment prevention training under Section 2-109 of the IHRA to at least have the affirmative defense available should they face employee claims under the new law.Continue Reading Illinois Employer Midsummer “Roundup”: Eight to Know and Two to Watch

Special thanks to Jose (Pepe) Larroque, Salvador Pasquel Villegas, and Martha Mayorga-Luna.

“Nearshoring” in Mexico is a hot topic for multinational companies considering moving business and manufacturing closer to home. COVID-19-era global supply chain disruptions and changes to the global economy are causing companies to reexamine their sourcing options and relocating to Mexico

Special thanks to co-presenters Luis C. Carbajo, Adriana Ibarra-Fernandez, Luis Adrián Jiménez Robles, Jose M. Larroque, Ma. Rosario Lombera González, Manuel Padrón-Castillo, Salvador Pasquel-Villegas, Javiera Medina-Reza, and Reynaldo Vizcarra-Mendez.

This year the Mexican government intends to raise an astonishing amount in revenue from large taxpayers and employers (Grandes Contribuyentes) without increasing tax rates or creating new taxes. To increase revenue, the federal government will significantly increase the number of audits and inspections touching on the areas of tax, customs and employment; accordingly, multinationals operating in Mexico need to prepare now for more intensive audits and inspections. 

This special emphasis on inspections and audits will significantly impact the human and financial resources of Mexican subsidiaries of multinationals. 

We are delighted to come together live in Mexico City with our Tax, Employment and Trade & Customs specialists to share experiences and offer comprehensive advice on this tough environment dealing with Mexican authorities. Our team has deep expertise and strong relationships with the authorities in Mexico and thus can share best practices and advice based on years of experience.

Among other topics, we will cover:Continue Reading Join Us! Preparing for the Significant Increase in 2023 Audits and Inspections from the Mexican Government

As discussed in our blog here, in February the National Labor Relations Board issued the McLaren Macomb decision prohibiting employers from “tendering” to employees separation or severance agreements that require employees to broadly waive their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

Then, on March 22, the NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued guidance addressing

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.

Key Points

  • 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.

Special thanks to Ma. Rosario Lombera, Manuel Antonio Calderón, Marco Rojas and Juan Valles.

In this Quick Chat video, our Labor & Employment and Tax lawyers discuss some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the Subcontracting Reform’s 2022 Inspection Program, through which authorities from the Ministries of Labor, Social Security and