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.

  1. 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.


Continue Reading “If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…” Keep These Tips in Mind When Using Nondisparagement Clauses in Settlement Agreements with Employees

Many thanks to our colleague in London, Julia Wilson, for co-presenting.

An influx of high profile whistleblowing cases have made headlines in recent years, and claims (and awards) are on the rise. At the same time, more defined and greater protections for whistleblowers are coming into play in the US, UK and

Whether you need information about a specific US visa type, or are looking for a high-level overview of employer obligations related to the movement of foreign nationals under US immigration and employment law, this handbook covers a wide range of topics and serves as a go-to, desk-side guide for US employers.

The publication is available

Wary of wage and hour class actions, many employers have been grappling with whether and how to compensate employees for activities related to COVID-19. After nearly two years of guessing, on January 20, 2022, the US Department of Labor (DOL) posted Fact Sheet #84, “Compensability of Time Spent Undergoing COVID-19 Health Screenings, Testing, and Vaccinations Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA),” on its website. The next day, and with no explanation, Fact Sheet #84 disappeared.

Before it disappeared, Fact Sheet #84 addressed the compensability of time spent undergoing those COVID-19 activities with reference to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (the OSHA ETS). Given that the OSHA ETS had been stayed just a week earlier by the US Supreme Court and then was subsequently withdrawn by OSHA on January 26, Fact Sheet #84’s sudden disappearance is perhaps not surprising. Nevertheless, employers should keep their eyes peeled for an updated Fact Sheet #84 that addresses compensability of testing and vaccination time without references to the OSHA ETS, especially since the advice in the now withdrawn Fact Sheet #84 is in line with other prior DOL advice on compensable time for employer-required testing and medical procedures under the FLSA.

What Fact Sheet #84 Said Before It Was Withdrawn

The guidance in Fact Sheet #84 distinguished between testing and vaccination that occurs during regular work hours and after regular hours:

Activities that occur during normal working hours

  • Under the FLSA, employer-required activities during normal working hours are compensable, unless the activity falls within one of the exceptions stated in 29 C.F.R. Part 785 (e.g., bona fide meal breaks and off-duty time).
  • Employees must be paid for time they spend going to, waiting for, and receiving medical attention required by the employer or on the employer’s premises during normal working hours-including COVID-19 related medical attention. Therefore, if an employer requires an employee to engage in COVID-19 activities (such as receiving a COVID-19 vaccine dose, taking a COVID-19 test, or undergoing a COVID-19 health screening or temperature check) during the employee’s normal working hours, the time is compensable time-regardless of where the activity occurs.


Continue Reading Compensability of COVID-related Activities | The DOL May Have Weighed In to Help Employers Avoid Class Actions

On January 13, 2022, the Supreme Court issued two opinions in which the Court (1) blocked enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (OSHA ETS) and (2) allowed enforcement of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) vaccine mandate for healthcare workers at Medicare and Medicaid covered facilities.

While the federal contractor vaccination mandate (Contractor Mandate) was not the subject of those cases, the Supreme Court’s decisions hint at its future–and it’s grim.

The Contractor Mandate is Currently Stayed

The Contractor Mandate is currently stayed by multiple district courts. And the 6th Circuit and the 11th Circuit have both declined to lift those stays. There are two more appeals pending in the 5th and 8th Circuits. Resolution of these cases will take months. In the meantime, the federal government cannot enforce the Contractor Mandate. Therefore, the likeliest option is that the Supreme Court simply lets the various Contractor Mandate cases run their course.

However, there’s always a chance the Supreme Court decides to intervene and hear appeals on the stays – as it did with the OSHA ETS and CMS vaccine mandate. If this happens, the Contractor Mandate is in trouble. Here’s why.

The OSHA Opinion (NFIB v. OSHA): OSHA Is Not Authorized to Regulate Public Health

First, an overview of the Supreme Court’s OSHA opinion. On January 13, 2022, the conservative majority of Supreme Court ruled that the parties challenging the ETS are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that OSHA lacked statutory authority to impose the ETS. The majority held that while OSHA is empowered by statute to regulate workplace safety standards and occupational hazards, it has not been authorized to regulate “public health standards” and “the hazards of daily life” more broadly.

The Court acknowledged that the pandemic is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, but distinguished COVID-19 from the typical occupational hazard because it has spread everywhere “that people gather.” The Court characterized COVID-19 as a “kind of universal risk” that is no different from the “day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution or any number of communicable diseases.” The Court concluded that permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while working would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory purview.

The Court said that “we expect Congress to speak clearly when authorizing an agency to exercise powers of vast economic and political significance.” After reviewing the statutory text, the Court found that the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) does not clearly authorize OSHA to regulate public health through the ETS. The Court further noted that OSHA has “never before adopted a broad public health regulation…addressing a threat that is untethered…from the workplace.” Put simply, the Court decided that the ETS is not “what the agency was built for.”

Continue Reading What Does the Supreme Court’s Stay of the OSHA ETS Mean for the Federal Contractor Vaccine Mandate? Don’t Count On It Surviving Judicial Review.

The US Supreme Court just blocked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (the OSHA ETS), reversing the 6th Circuit and granting an emergency stay of the ETS. The stay is temporary, but effectively spells the end of the ETS.

The Court’s Opinion

In its unsigned opinion issued January

Special thanks to Ginger Partee, John Foerster and Matthew Gorman.

Noncitizen travelers can pack their bags. With certain requirements, noncitizen travelers will be allowed to travel to the US as of November 8, 2021, under President Biden’s Proclamation on Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic. The new

OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) is here, and employers have only about 30 days to start complying. On November 4, 2021, in response to President Biden’s call for an emergency standard (see our prior blog here), OSHA issued the ETS. As expected, the rule requires employers with 100 or more employees to ensure employees are either vaccinated or test weekly for COVID-19 .

Covered employers need to move quickly. First, by December 5th, 2021, employers must comply with several requirements under the ETS, such as providing paid time for employees to get vaccinated and requiring masks for unvaccinated workers in the workplace.

Next, covered employers must decide whether they will mandate vaccination for all employees or instead allow employees to test weekly in lieu of vaccination.  Employers who mandate vaccination must require employees to have their final vaccination dose – either their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, or single dose of Johnson & Johnson – by January 4, 2022. Note that, in a departure from most existing vaccine mandates, employees do not have to be “fully vaccinated” by this deadline, and they just have to have had all required shots.  Employers who elect testing or vaccination must ensure that employees who have not received the necessary doses begin providing a verified negative COVID-19 test on at least a weekly basis after January 4.

Here’s what employers need to know now.

Require vaccines, or test and mask. The ETS requires employers with 100 or more employees to develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy-unless employers instead establish, implement, and enforce a policy allowing employees who are not fully vaccinated to elect to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at the workplace. If an employer implements a mandatory vaccination policy, the policy must require vaccination of all employees except those who have a medical contraindication to vaccination, those for whom a vaccine must be delayed out of medical necessity, or those legally entitled to a reasonable accommodation because they have a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance conflicting with the vaccination requirement. Employees who are granted reasonable accommodations do not have to be permitted to work onsite while masked, as other accommodations such as remote work may exist, but employers can choose to allow them to do so. Employers must ensure each of their workers are fully vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 on at least a weekly basis, and those who aren’t vaccinated must wear face coverings while indoors.

Continue Reading “OSHA ETS Day” Is Finally Here: What Employers Need To Know Now About OSHA’s Vaccinate, or Test and Mask Rule

Federal contractors and subcontractors in the US now have guidance on mandatory vaccines for employees, while private US employers with 100 or more employees are still waiting for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). On September 24, 2021, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force–the task force created by President Biden to provide workplace guidance to heads of federal agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic–released its COVID-19 Workplace Safety: Guidance for Federal Contractors and Subcontractors (the Guidance). The Guidance primarily addresses vaccination requirements for employees of covered federal contractors, but it also imposes mask and physical distancing requirements for covered contractor worksites (including for employees, visitors and others) and requires contractors to designate a person (or persons) to coordinate COVID-19 workplace safety efforts at their workplaces.

Continue Reading No Fair! US Federal Contractors Get Guidance on Mandatory Vaccines While Other Private Employers Continue to Wait

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