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December 1, 2016

DOL Appeals Overtime Rule Injunction: Webinar At Noon (MT) Today

6a013486823d73970c01b8d1dc5d4a970c-120wiBy Mark Wiletsky

On the very day that its final overtime rule was supposed to go into effect, the U.S. Department of Labor filed an appeal of last week’s preliminary injunction that temporarily halted the rule. The appeal will be heard by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is located in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Will Appeal Be Expedited?

Appellate rules for the Fifth Circuit permit parties to file a motion for an expedited appeal, which means the appeal would be heard and ruled upon in a much shorter timeframe than normal, e.g., the normal timeframe for an appeal can be a year to 18 months. The court will grant such motion only for good cause. We expect that the DOL might try to expedite its appeal, especially given the change in administration coming in late January. As of this morning, however, there is no indication that the DOL has moved for an expedited appeal, but it is possible that it hasn’t been listed on the docket or otherwise been made public yet.

The DOL could also ask the district court to stay the preliminary injunction pending the appeal – in other words, to allow the new overtime rules to go into effect pending the outcome of the appeal. It is unlikely that the district court judge would grant a stay, but it would be a logical next step. Again, no motion to stay the injunction is yet listed on the court’s docket.

Webinar At Noon To Discuss Injunction and Appeal

Please join our free webinar at noon (MT) today (December 1, 2016) as I discuss what the preliminary injunction of the DOL’s overtime rule and the pending appeal mean for employers. I’ll also discuss options for employers who have been considering, or may even have implemented pay practices in anticipation of the overtime rule changes. Register for the webinar here. We will record the webinar for those unable to attend.

November 28, 2016

Dora Lane and Steve Gutierrez Discuss Impacts of Hold on Proposed Overtime Rule

pay-stub-and-money-shutterstock_373813009Holland & Hart labor and employment attorneys Dora Lane and Steve Gutierrez discuss potential impacts on employers and employees of the hold on the proposed Overtime Rule. Dora Lane was interviewed on Reno’s Channel 2 News.  Steve Gutierrez talked with KDVR Fox 31 in Denver.

Watch the Reno interview 

Watch the Denver interview

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November 23, 2016

DOL’s Overtime Salary Threshold Increase Is On Hold – Now What?

6a013486823d73970c01b8d1dc5d4a970cBy Mark Wiletsky

Many human resource professionals got into the office today not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Most are happy that the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) new overtime salary requirement will not go into effect next Thursday, December 1, 2016, due to a federal judge’s grant of a nationwide preliminary injunction which prevents the DOL from implementing and enforcing the new rule. (See our post yesterday reporting on the injunction.) Yet, many organizations have already spent countless hours preparing for the new rule to go into effect next week and are wondering what to do now. Let’s review where things stand and your best options going forward.

Nationwide Injunction Delays Final Overtime Rule 

In September, twenty-one states sued the DOL in federal court in Texas seeking to stop the DOL’s final rule that more than doubles the salary threshold for the so-called white collar exemptions and calls for automatic increases every three years. Business groups and industry associations also filed suit in the same Texas court seeking a similar outcome. The state-plaintiffs filed an emergency motion for a preliminary injunction. Shortly thereafter, the business-plaintiffs filed an expedited motion for summary judgment. The two cases were consolidated under Judge Amos L. Mazzant, III.

On November 16, 2016, Judge Mazzant heard oral argument on the state-plaintiffs’ emergency preliminary injunction motion. He issued his ruling yesterday, granting the preliminary injunction on a nationwide basis.

To prevail on their preliminary injunction motion, the states needed to show, among other things, that they would have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their case. The court ruled that the states met that burden, finding that the plain meaning of the executive, administrative, and professional exemptions in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) focused only on the duties of such positions, without a minimum salary level. The court stated that although the FLSA delegated authority to the DOL to establish the types of duties that might qualify an employee for these exemptions, it did not authorize the Department to disqualify employees who meet the duties requirements but do not meet the salary level established in the DOL’s final rule. The court concluded that the DOL exceeded its delegated authority and ignored Congress’s intent by raising the minimum salary level so that it “supplants the duties test.”

Anticipating The Next Legal Move

The preliminary injunction is only the first step in this legal challenge to the DOL’s final overtime rule, but it provides a huge blow to the Obama administration’s efforts to raise wages for U.S. workers. The DOL could appeal the court’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but according to a DOL statement, the agency is still “considering all of [its] legal options.” Whether an appeal would be successful is unknown. Absent an appeal, the Texas lawsuits continue, with a permanent resolution still to be decided. Read more >>

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November 22, 2016

Overtime Rule Put On Hold: Court Grants Nationwide Injunction

6a013486823d73970c01b8d1dc5d4a970cBy Mark Wiletsky

The new overtime salary requirement will not go into effect on December 1, 2016. A federal judge in Texas today issued a preliminary injunction in a challenge to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) new overtime salary threshold. Judge Amos L. Mazzant, III, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Sherman division, ruled that the DOL does not have the authority to utilize a salary-level test or an automatic updating mechanism under the final rule.

The nationwide injunction means that the DOL rule which doubled the salary requirement for the white collar exemptions from $455 to $913 per week will not go into effect on December 1, 2016, as scheduled.

OT Changes Are Delayed, Not Necessarily Dead

Two lawsuits were filed in the Texas court seeking to stop the new overtime rule from becoming effective. The first one was brought by twenty-one states and the second by numerous business associations. The two cases were consolidated and will proceed before Judge Mazzant.

By granting the preliminary injunction, the judge has delayed the rule from becoming effective until further legal proceedings may occur. The court will need to rule on whether the injunction becomes permanent. The business parties’ motion for summary judgment, which seeks to throw out the final rule for good, has already been briefed and may be decided on an expedited basis.

Stay tuned as we will provide further analysis of the court’s ruling.

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November 21, 2016

New Form I-9 Must Be Used By January 22, 2017

6a013486823d73970c01b8d1be606f970c-120wiBy Roger Tsai

This week, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a new version of its Form I-9, the Employment Eligibility Verification form. All U.S. employers must begin using the new Form I-9 after January 22, 2017.

Currently, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducts over 3,000 I-9 employer audits annually, and immigration enforcement is anticipated to increase due to the Trump presidency. In January, Holland & Hart will host a webinar explaining the changes to the Form I-9 and discussing what immigration reforms employers should expect in a Trump presidency.

Form I-9 Changes

The new version of the Form I-9 includes some clarifications as well as some changes designed to make the form easier to fill out electronically. Completing the Form I-9 electronically will require downloading the latest version of Adobe Reader. Form I-9s completed electronically will still need to be printed and signed by the employee and employer agent by hand. One of the changes is in Section 1 which now asks for “other last names used” rather than “other names used.”

Enhancements for easier completion of the form include drop-down lists and calendars for entering dates, the addition of prompts to help ensure that information is entered properly, on-screen instructions for each field, and easy access to the full instructions. It also includes an option to clear the form and start over. Other changes you’ll find on the new I-9 include:

  • Question regarding whether a preparer or translator was used
  • Space to enter multiple preparers and translators
  • A supplemental page for the preparer/translator
  • Creation of a QR code once the Form I-9 is completed electronically
  • A field to enter additional information such as E-Verify confirmation numbers, termination dates and correction notes, and
  • Separating the full instructions from the form itself.

Reminder of I-9 Process

As you may know, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), prohibits employers from hiring employees, including U.S. citizens, without first verifying their identity and checking that they have proper authorization to work in the United States. The Form I-9 ensures that you have completed this necessary verification for all new hires. The proper timing and process for completing Form I-9s for each newly hired employee is:

  1. Employee accepts offer for employment.
  2. Employee completes Section 1 of the I-9 form no later than the first day of work for pay.
  3. Employee provided documents showing identity and employment authorization to employer.
  4. Employer completes Section 2 of the I-9 form no later than the third business day after the employee starts work for pay.

What You Need To Do

You have just over two months to switch to the new Form I-9, so it is best to put procedures in place now to make that switch for all new hires to ensure compliance.

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November 16, 2016

Judge Declares Persuader Rule Unlawful With Permanent Nationwide Injunction

6a013486823d73970c01b8d1fb4b76970c-120wiBy Brian Mumaugh

The U.S. Department of Labor’s final persuader rule was dealt yet another blow today as federal Judge Sam Cummings of the Northern District of Texas issued a permanent injunction declaring the rule unlawful. The ruling will prevent the persuader rule from being enforced anywhere in the nation.

Rule Would Have Expanded Disclosures of Union-Avoidance Activities 

As we’ve reported before, the DOL’s final persuader rule, issued this past March, would have expanded the reporting requirements of both employers and their hired labor consultants who assist with union-avoidance activities. Under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA), when employers hire outside consultants, including attorneys, who are directly involved in  “persuading” workers whether or not to join a union or engage in collective bargaining, they must file a report disclosing the consulting relationship as well as the fees paid to the consultant. Under the now-enjoined  “new rule,” the DOL expanded the scope of reportable activities to include not only those that involved the consultant making direct contact with employees, as was previously included as reportable “advice,” but also those activities where the attorney or labor consultant works with the employer behind the scenes to draft or review documents, presentations, speeches, and other materials to aid the employer in opposing union organizing and other related activities.

Legal Challenge Prevailed 

The DOL’s expansion of the rule as to what constitutes reportable “advice” was highly controversial. The DOL was set to begin enforcing the final rule on July 1, 2016, but numerous business groups filed lawsuits claiming that the DOL overstepped its bounds and that the rule was unlawful. On June 22nd, a Minnesota federal judge declined to issue a preliminary injunction to block the rule, but less than a week later, Judge Cummings in Texas did just that. He issued a preliminary injunction blocking the DOL from enforcing the rule nationwide.

With today’s order, Judge Cummings turned his preliminary injunction into a permanent block on enforcement of the rule. The result is that the employers and labor consultants, including lawyers, will continue to report their persuader activities consistent with the prior rule. In other words, only those activities that meet the “advice” standard under the prior persuader rule are reportable. Such activities generally include only those that involve direct contact between the consultant and the employees.

Is This Rule Dead Forever?

It remains to be seen whether the DOL will appeal this order, but for now, the final persuader rule appears dead. With the new GOP administration taking office in late January, it is unlikely that the DOL, under GOP leadership, would try to advance this union-friendly rule in the years to follow. We’ll keep you posted on any new developments.

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November 16, 2016

OSHA Clarifies Discipline, Retaliation and Drug Testing Commentary

linton_mBy Matt Linton

When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released its 2016 final rule requiring the electronic reporting of workplace injury and illness reports, it included controversial provisions on discriminatory discipline, retaliation, and even post-incident drug testing by employers. The uproar was instantaneous, with industry groups quickly filing lawsuits challenging OSHA’s authority to enforce the rule. Originally scheduled to go into effect on August 10th, the effective date for the new anti-retaliation rule was pushed back by OSHA until November 1st, and more recently, until December 1st.

In the interim, Dorothy Dougherty, OSHA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary, issued an interpretation memorandum designed to explain the anti-retaliation and injury reporting procedures in more detail. The interpretation may help clarify what your organization must do in order to comply with the final rule – even if it doesn’t make the rule more palatable.

Reasonable Procedures For Employees To Report Workplace Injuries/Illnesses 

An employer violates OSHA’s new final rule if it either fails to have a procedure for employees to report work-related injuries or illnesses, or its reporting procedure is unreasonable. OSHA states that this requirement is not new, as it was implicit in the previous version of the rule. But now, it is an explicit employer requirement.

OSHA considers a reporting procedure to be reasonable if it is not unduly burdensome and would not deter a reasonable employee from reporting an injury or illness. Examples of what it considers reasonable and unreasonable are as follows:

Reasonable

  • Requiring employees to report a work-related injury or illness as soon as practicable after realizing they have a reportable incident, such as the same or next business day, when possible
  • Requiring employees to report work-related injuries or illnesses to a supervisor through reasonable means, such as by phone, email or in person.

Unreasonable

  • Requiring ill or injured employees to report in person if they are unable to do so
  • Disciplining employees for failing to report “immediately” if they are incapacitated because of the injury or illness
  • Disciplining employees for failing to report before they realize they have a work-related injury that they are required to report
  • Unnecessarily cumbersome or an excessive number of steps to report a work-related injury or illness

In short, if your procedure allows employees to report workplace injuries and illnesses within a reasonable amount of time after they realize they have experienced a reportable event, and the procedure does not make employees jump through too many hoops, it will be reasonable and comply with the final rule.

Anti-Retaliation Provision Explained

Retaliating against employees for reporting work-related injuries or illnesses has long been unlawful. To issue a citation under section 1904.35(b)(1)(iv), OSHA must have reasonable cause to believe that an employer retaliated against an employee by showing:

  1. The employee reported a work-related injury or illness;
  2. The employer took adverse action against the employee (i.e., action that would deter a reasonable employee from accurately reporting a work-related injury or illness); and
  3. The employer took the adverse action because the employee reported a work-related injury or illness.

As in most employment retaliation cases, the third element on causation is often the toughest to prove. The determination is made on a case-by-case basis, depending on the specifics facts in any particular case.

OSHA has focused its commentary primarily on three types of potentially retaliatory actions —  discipline policies, incentive programs, and post-accident drug testing. OSHA’s recent interpretation helps shed light on how employers should address these three issues to avoid a citation for a violation of the anti-retaliation rule. Read more >>

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November 9, 2016

Colorado Minimum Wage Hike Passes

6a013486823d73970c01b8d1dc5d4a970c-120wiBy Mark Wiletsky

Colorado voters decided to raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour over the next four years. By about a 54-to-46 margin, Colorado passed Amendment 70 which amends the Colorado constitution to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage.

Gradual Increases In Minimum Wage

Amendment 70 raises the hourly minimum wage in Colorado by 90 cents per hour each year, starting from the 2016 minimum wage of $8.31. The annual increases will be as follows:

  • $9.30 in 2017
  • $10.20 in 2018
  • $11.10 in 2019
  • $12.00 in 2020

Tipped employees will continue to be entitled to a minimum wage that is $3.02 per hour less than the regular state minimum wage. The minimum wage for tipped workers is currently $5.29 per hour, plus tips. It will then go up by 90 cents per hour each year until reaching $8.98 in 2020.

After 2020, annual adjustments will be made to reflect increases in the cost of living.

Adjustments Already in Colorado Constitution

This is not the first time that Colorado voters have approved a Constitutional amendment increasing the minimum wage. In 2006, Colorado voters approved Initiative 42 which increased the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.85 per hour, and added a provision to the Colorado Constitution that requires an annual adjustment in the state minimum wage based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). That measure was approved with 53 percent voting “yes” and 47 percent voting “no.” Under that amendment, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment has set the state minimum hourly wage each year, adjusting it either up or down according to the changes in the CPI over the prior year.

Under this year’s Amendment 70, the minimum wage will only be adjusted up for increases in the CPI. It will not go down, even if the cost of living decreases. Read more >>

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November 8, 2016

EEOC Questions Whether “Big Data” Analytics Help or Hinder Workplace Diversity

6a013486823d73970c01b7c85edbc0970bBy Jude Biggs

As more and more employers use new analytical tools for recruiting and hiring, the potential exists for employment decisions to become more fair, objective and unbiased. But could the use of big data and technology-driven decision-making disfavor candidates who lack a robust digital footprint? These are questions that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will continue to explore after an initial “big data” public meeting in Washington, D.C. in October.

What Is “Big Data?”

The EEOC refers to “big data” as the use of algorithms, data scraping of the internet, and other technology-based methods of evaluating huge amounts of information about individuals. Big data can include computer algorithms that are based on various factors designed to correlate to successful characteristics on the job; for instance, a model may look for longevity on the job, degrees from particular institutions, membership in certain organizations, or a multitude of other factors. Computer models then use this seemingly objective criteria to scan the internet for individuals possessing the desired characteristics in “passive” candidate searches. Other types of predictive or talent analytics, based on the harvesting of a wide range of empirical data, are being incorporated into HR recruiting and decision-making platforms.

According to a recent survey of Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) members, about one-third of respondents reported that they use big data in employment. The proportion was even higher among larger employers.

Why Does the EEOC Care About Big Data? 

The EEOC is trying to get ahead of this issue by making sure that employers’ use of technology-driven HR tools does not lead to discrimination in the hiring process. EEOC Chair Jenny Lang noted that while big data has the potential to drive innovations that reduce bias in employment decisions, “it is critical that these tools are designed to promote fairness and opportunity, so that reliance on these expanding sources of data does not create new barriers to opportunity.”

What Are The Potential Advantages of Technology-Based HR Decisions?

Technology is here to stay so the question is not will it be used in the HR context but rather how should it be used to best achieve employers’ goals. Using technology and big data can result in many positive outcomes, including that it:

  • may help identify non-traditional candidates who would not have been considered for a particular job previously
  • can help overcome implicit and explicit prejudice and bias in the workplace
  • can improve person-job fit
  • may increase diversity in the workplace
  • may expand the pool of candidates with the qualities necessary to succeed
  • may reduce employee turnover.

In fact, given the global nature of online data, it is possible for certain types of employers to increase their diversity dramatically, by being able to cast a larger net to find applicants.

What Is The Potential Downside of HR’s Use of Big Data?

As with anything technology-related, the outcome is only as good as the computer program, factors selected, and data used. Many algorithms focus on correlation of successful characteristics without looking to specific job requirements. For example, a set of characteristics of high-performing employees may reflect the group’s demographics (for instance, graduation from an Ivy League school) rather than their skills or abilities to perform certain jobs (for example, leadership shown during a military deployment or creation of a successful program serving the poor). In such cases, algorithms may match people characteristics, but not job requirements.

Using big data may perpetuate past discrimination. If an algorithm is based on looking for applicants with the same characteristics as those possessed by existing managers, secretaries or high-tech programmers in a company, then the algorithm may limit diversity. Similarly, certain talent-seeking algorithms may rely too much on the make-up of the company’s current staff, meaning that minorities or other groups not currently represented in the workforce continue to be passed over.

Think about whether individuals who do not have a robust online presence will be at a disadvantage in the new, data-mining recruiting world. Individuals with lower incomes or in rural areas may not have ready access to computers, lessening their ability to engage digitally. Other individuals may choose not to engage in many online activities. Or, others who are at the start (or end) of their careers may not have established much of an online presence. Employers who focus only on technology-driven programs to identify and hire candidates may miss out on large groups of qualified individuals who simply lack significant online experience that is discoverable by algorithms.

In addition, the collection of other data points, such as attendance or leave-related data, may discriminate against disabled individuals, giving rise to ADA concerns. Moreover, such data, coupled with information about gaps in employment, could disproportionally hurt female candidates who are more likely to have taken time off of work for pregnancy or child-rearing reasons. Read more >>

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November 3, 2016

$4.25M Age Discrimination and Retaliation Verdict Tough Pill For Abbott Laboratories To Swallow

By Steve GutierrezGutierrez_Steven

Four-and-a-quarter million dollars. That is what a federal jury recently awarded an ongoing employee at Abbott Laboratories for her age discrimination and retaliation claims. What caused the jury to award such a large amount in damages? Here is a look at the facts, followed by tips on how to avoid such liability when dealing with older employees.

All Seems Fine—Until Employee Hits Her Fifties

Luz Gonzalez-Bermudez (Gonzalez) has worked for Abbott since 1984, beginning her career as a pharmaceutical representative followed by promotions that ultimately made her the HCP national sales manager. In that role, Gonzalez was classified in Abbott’s compensation system as a Level 18 position, warranting a six-figure salary, an annual incentive bonus, stock options, and a company car.

But, eighteen months after her promotion to the HCP national sales manager, when Gonzalez was about 51 years old, her position was eliminated and she was demoted to a marketing manager position. Her new job was a Level 17 position, but Abbott allowed her to keep her Level 18 compensation and benefits for up to two years.

In the marketing manager position, Gonzalez reported to Kim Perez, the Director of Marketing (and later, the General Manager). Perez evaluated Gonzalez’s performance as a marketing manager negatively. Gonzalez complained internally that Perez was creating a hostile work environment, due to repeatedly asking her about outstanding work, sending a lot of emails following up on pending matters, and a lack of communication about things Gonzalez needed to know to do her job.

When Gonzalez’s two years of Level 18 compensation was up, Perez and the Human Resources Director told her that she had been assigned a Product Manager position, which was a Level 15 classification. At that level, Gonzalez took a pay cut, lowered bonus, loss of stock options, and lowered company car benefits.

Employee Lawyers Up 

About six months later, Gonzalez’s attorneys sent a letter on her behalf to Perez and others at Abbott, notifying them that they had been retained to represent her in any age discrimination claims that Gonzalez may have against them. Despite the letter, Abbott did not conduct an investigation into any possible claims. Shortly thereafter, Gonzalez filed an administrative charge with the Antidiscrimination Unit of the Puerto Rico Department of Labor and Human Resources alleging age discrimination and retaliation. Read more >>