On January 25, 2019, the National Labor Relations Board reaffirmed its adherence to the traditional common law independent contractor test for determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor under the National Labor Relations Act.

In SuperShuttle DFW, Inc., the Board expressly overruled its 2014 FedEx Home Delivery decision. In FedEx, the Board drastically reduced the significance of entrepreneurial opportunity in the determination of independent contractor status. FedEx emphasized the right to control factors relevant to the so-called “economic realities” test and gave weight to whether a worker was in fact “seizing” actual opportunities and rendering services as part of their own independent business.

SuperShuttle DFW, Inc. is significant as it abandons the Obama-era standard and gives a boost to companies using contract labor by elevating the importance of entrepreneurial opportunity in the independent contractor analysis. Insodoing, the Board returns the legal framework to its traditional common law roots and adds the examination of entrepreneurial opportunity. The decision suggests that moving forward, the Board “evaluate the common-law factors through the prism of entrepreneurial opportunity when the specific factual circumstances of the case make such an evaluation appropriate.”


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The NLRB closed out its busy week of reversing Obama-era standards in two more high-profile decisions, this time addressing the duty to bargain and bargaining unit determination (see our previous post covering work rule and joint employer standards). On Chairman Phillip Miscimarra’s final day in office, the Board’s two key decisions: (1) returned to a standard returning to broader employer rights to make unilateral changes without providing a union notice and an opportunity to bargain; and (2) eliminated the “micro-unit” bargaining unit standard that constricted employers’ ability to expand proposed bargaining units to include other employees who share a community of interest with those of the proposed unit.

Impact on Employers

The return to previous standards of unilateral change analysis will allow employers more discretion in changing terms of employment consistent with past practice. This benefit to employers most commonly arises with company-wide changes to health insurance plans. Under the previous standard, an employer could be forced to delay implementation of health insurance changes until it had provided notice to the union and an opportunity to bargain, even in the face of longstanding past practice. Many employers with medical plans covering union and non-union employees will have less interruption during open enrollment plan changes.

Elimination of the “micro-unit” standard of bargaining unit appropriateness substantially reduces a union’s ability to cherry pick favorable groups of employees to win elections. Unit determination will return to a more holistic review of shared “community of interest” rather than proceeding based on the union’s extent of organizing. Ultimately, the decision will give employers more ability to defend against union organizing campaigns and keep unions from obtaining representation through small pockets of employees amongst a larger department or facility.


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In a flurry of high-profile decisions issued on the eve of NLRB Chairman Phillip Miscimarra’s term’s expiration, the NLRB has announced employer-friendly standards reversing recently adopted analyses and restoring the historical analyses in perhaps the two most watched (and criticized) categories of employer unfair labor practice (ULP) charges: (1) evaluating work rules for impact on protected concerted activity (formerly the Lutheran Heritage analysis); and (2) joint employer liability (formerly the Browning-Ferris analysis).

Impact on Employers:

As a result of the “new” work rule analysis, employers will be less likely to face scrutiny of employee handbook provisions. Employers now have broader discretion to implement and enforce handbook provisions relating to civility in the workplace and workplace safety (i.e., no cell phone/camera policies, social media). Employers who have dramatically trimmed employee conduct policies have some freedom to reinstate more usable and effective rules, but should note that this area of law is almost certain to fluctuate based on the presidential administration in power.

With the reversal of the joint employer analysis, employers will have less labor risk (bargaining obligations and strikes) when engaging third parties like staffing companies, temporary workers, or co-located workers. Critically, the prospect of becoming bound to a bargaining obligation with  another entity’s employees will be substantially less likely. Avoiding joint employer liability will focus more limiting actual control and direction of non-employees and less on the contractual arrangements with other entities supplying those employees. While this change is unlikely to dramatically change the scope of outsourcing, employers can have more certainty of the scope of potential ramifications and liability in using third party workers.


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On Monday, September 26, the U.S. Senate voted and confirmed William Emanuel as the newest member of the National Labor Relations Board.  Emanuel is a long-time management-side labor and employment attorney, who was nominated by President Trump in June to fill the vacant NLRB seat.  With Emanuel’s confirmation, the NLRB has a Republican majority for

On January 13, 2017, the US Supreme Court agreed to determine whether arbitration agreements that include class action waivers are legally enforceable under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). In doing so, the Court granted the petitions for certiorari, and consolidated, three cases from the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth, Seventh and Ninth

The National Labor Relations Board’s aggressive scrutiny of employer handbook policies does not appear to be coming to an end any time soon.  As such, employers (even those without unionized workforces) should ensure their policies are free from language that may discourage employees from exercising their rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act to engage in “protected concerted activity.”

While the NLRB General Counsel’s recent memorandum provides various examples of lawful and unlawful handbook provisions, the rationale provided for finding certain provisions acceptable or unacceptable is not always clear.  Regardless of any confusion cleared up (or caused) by the memo, the following five provisions are a good place to start when reviewing your employee handbook:
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