Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Lyfting independent contractor status

If I asked you to identify Lyft's business, how would you answer? 

"They're a transportation company," you'd say. There's no other correct answer … unless you ask Lyft. 

Lyft will tell you that it's a tech company, not a provider of transportation.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The 10th nominee for the “Worst Employer of 2022” is … the sex offender supervisor

The most disturbing case I ever handled involved a company that hired a registered sex offender as a supervisor, who then raped a female subordinate.

Today’s “Worst Employer” nominee is very much in that tragic and devastating vein.

Vice provides the details, which it confirmed with Claire, he co-workers, court records, and even Starbucks itself.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Spotting the employment law issues in “She-Hulk"

Donny Blaze was a former student of Kamar-Taj, having dropped out after failing to adhere to their strict teachings. He left, however, with a souvenir, a sling ring, which sorcerers use to open mystic portals. Blaze then uses the sling ring, along with what he learned during his time at Kamar-Taj, to spice up his otherwise very pedestrian cabaret magic act.

Wong, the Sorcerer Supreme, seeks your legal counsel to file suit against Blaze to enjoin his use of Kamar-Taj's mystic arts. 

What are the potential claims? Let's explore.

Friday, September 9, 2022

WIRTW #641: the “slim shady” edition

Guess who's back, back again…

After a semi-intentional summer break, The Norah and Dad Show — the podcast I host and produce along with my 16-year-old daughter — is back for Season 2. You find us everywhere podcasts are available, including Apple, Spotify, Google, Overcast, AmazonStitcher, and via our website. If you're new to the show, please make sure you go back and check out all of Season 1.

While I'm talking about Norah, she has some gigs coming up over the next several weeks: this Sunday, Sept. 11, at the Berea Arts Festival (from 2–3p); Sept. 23 at Baxter's Speakeasy in Akron supporting Chanilla and Sad Harris (8p); and September 30 at The Olde Wine Cellar (starting at 6p). All shows are free, although Baxter's does have a one-drink minimum. Please stop and say hello. 

Here's what I read and listened to this past week that I think you should be reading and hearing, too.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

How broad is potential liability for retaliation? THIS broad.

In 2016, Tom Pettay sued his former employer, DeVry University, for age discrimination. The trial court dismissed Pettay's lawsuit on summary judgment. Following that dismissal, the employer filed a motion asking the trial court to award them $4,004.39 for the cost of deposition transcripts used in support of the summary judgment motion. While Pettay's appeal of the court's award of costs was pending, the Ohio Supreme Court held that a prevailing party cannot recover the costs of deposition transcripts. 

As a result, Pettay again sued DeVry (or, more accurately, its successor in interest, Cogswell Education), claiming that it retaliated against him by pursuing a frivolous motion for the costs of the deposition transcripts. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Like herpes, the NLRB’s efforts to liberalize its joint employer standard just won’t go away

Joint employment under the NLRA has a tortured history over the past seven years. 

Yesterday, the NLRB released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to rewrite the standard for determining joint-employer status under the National Labor Relations Act.

Under the current joint employer standard — to which the NLRB adhered until the Browning-Ferris decision in Aug. 2015, and to which it formally reverted in Apr. 2020 — one employer is only a joint employer with another employer if it possesses and exercises "substantial direct and immediate control" over the terms and conditions of employment of another employer's employees.

Joint employment matters … a lot … because if you're a joint employer over the employees of another employer you are jointly and severally liable for the legal wrongs committed by the primary employer. Under the NLRA you also would share collective bargaining responsibility.

Friday, September 2, 2022

WIRTW #640: the “Wickens Workshop” edition

When you take over a practice group and are tasked with building it, you naturally have to think of ways to market and grow it. Presenting semi-regular seminars for clients, prospective clients, and referral sources was low hanging fruit. I can talk about employment law all day long. Just give me a topic, a microphone, and an audience, wind me up, and let me go to work. Thankfully, my cohorts in our Employment & Labor Practice Group feel the same way. 

Thus, Wickens Workshops were born. (Full credit to Matt Danese for the alliterative branding.) Our next event, discussing employee leave of absence issues, will take place on Oct. 20 from 8–10 am.

While imitation is always the sincerest form of flattery, sharing this idea with my co-workers is hardly imitation. It's just smart business. Thus, the Wickens Workshops branding has expanded to include our Business Restructuring & Bankruptcy and Intellectual Property practice groups, which will hold events on the mornings of Nov. 15 and Jan. 18, 2023, respectively. We now have a full-blown series of panel discussions covering a variety of legal areas and topics. 

I hope you can join us. Stay tuned for registration information for each of these events.

Also, if you'd like to hear me speak before our Oct. 20th Workshop, tune in to Lunch Conversations with Randy & Teddy on Wednesday, Sept. 7, from noon to 1 pm, when I'll be discussing all things labor and employment law.

Here's what I read this past week that I think you should be reading, too.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Checking the pulse of the American worker on labor unions as we enter Labor Day Weekend

The following stats should be eye-opening for any business owner, CEO, or board of directors.
  • 71 percent of Americans "approve" of labor unions, the highest reported approval rating since 1965.
  • 70 percent of non-union employees say that they would consider joining a union, up 141% in just three years.
  • Unions win approximately 75 percent of all representation elections.

What does all of these stats mean? If a union organizer starts talking to your employees about unionizing, the odds are high that your business will end up unionized. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Pizza shop closure is a teachable lesson on union avoidance

We are truly heartbroken to announce that we've made the difficult decision to permanently close both Knead Slice Shop and Knead Market effective immediately (August 23, 2022), regardless of the outcome or the occurrence of the requested union election.

We respect the right of workers to organize under the National Labor Relations Act or other appropriate laws. We hope our workers will recognize our related right as an employer, especially a small employer, during these extremely difficult operational times, to close our entire business operation.

We continue to wish our employees well. 

That's what a pizza shop posted to its Instagram last week, announcing its decision to shutter all of its operations, permanently.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

NLRB re-writes law on employees displaying union logos at work

Tesla's General Assembly plant maintained the following dress code: "It is mandatory that all Production Associates and Leads wear the assigned team wear." For production associates, "team wear" consists of a black cotton shirt with the Tesla's logo and black cotton pants with no buttons, rivets, or exposed zippers, all which Tesla provides.

In the Spring of 2017, however, certain production associates started wearing black t-shirts with the phrase, "Driving a Fair Future at Tesla," along with the logo for the United Auto Workers.

Tesla banned the UAW shirts under its "Team Wear" policy, claiming that the ban limited the risk of alternative clothing damaging vehicles on the production line and made it easier to keep track of employees on the shop floor.

In a split 3-2 decision, the NLRB held that Tesla unlawfully prohibited its employees from wearing shirts with the UAW's logo. 

Monday, August 29, 2022

The 9th nominee for the “Worst Employer of 2022” is … the active shooter

“This is it. I’m done.”

That’s how one elderly employee described to police her recent experience in an active shooter drill conducted by her employer, Catholic Charities of Omaha, that went as planned but also went very, VERY wrong.

The employer hired John Channels to stage the exercise. It did not tell its employees: (1) that the drill was planned or happening; (2) that Channels would be using a real assault rifle loaded with blanks; (3) or that Channels would stage victims (actors covered in fake blood) around the building for added realism. It also failed to inform the local authorities of the drill, who responded as if it was a real and legitimate active shooter situation.

Friday, August 26, 2022

WIRTW #639: the “Gr8” edition

How does your organization help build collegiality among employees?

At my kids' school they do it in the Lower and Middle School with Family Groups, and in the Upper School with Houses (just like in Harry Potter, complete with a year-long House Cup competition). 

Each Family Group or House is comprised of a cross-grade mix of students. The goal is to build school spirit, classmate and faculty camaraderie, and student leadership skills.

One of the Middle School's best traditions is Community Building Days, two days of non-academic activities shortly after the start of the school year to help everyone get to know one another better. It always takes place on the Thursday and Friday of the second week of school (yesterday and today), and the entire Middle School sleeps over at school on Thursday night.

One additional rite of passage for the middle schoolers is what's known as "Gr8 Night." They sleep over at school for one additional night, the Wednesday night leading into Community Building Days, to further build their leadership skills and to decorate the Middle School in preparation for the arrival of the 6th and 7th graders the next day.

Yesterday morning, the 8th graders welcomed everyone driving onto campus (that's Donovan, in yellow on the left). He looked excited and happy, (relatively) well rested, and ready to tackle what the faculty has to throw at him over the next two days. I can't wait to hear all about it.

Employers, what are you doing to help build camaraderie and collegiality among your employees? The past two and a half pandemic years have been rough on workplace morale and teamwork. I'm curious to learn what you're doing to help bring back some of the sense of "team" that the pandemic and remote work stole from us? Drop a note in the comments below and I'll share some the best or more interesting ideas in a future post.

Here's what I read and listened to this past week that I think you should be reading and hearing, too.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

The wage and hour implications of employee electronic surveillance

Every now and again I come across a story that make me question how any in-house counsel blessed a workplace policy or practice.

The following story, taken from yesterday's episode of The Daily on the rise of workplace surveillance, is one of those stories.

Carol works as a Vice President for a bank. Like many white-collar employees these days, she's working remotely from her home. Pretty early on in her employment, she begins to notice that her paychecks are light. Then she figures out why.

Every 10 minutes at random points the company took a screenshot of her computer monitor and a photo of her face. The company was using that information to pay Carol (and every other worker) only for the minutes when they appeared be active according to the photos. If, for example, the photo happened to capture Carol during a moment of inactivity (for example, a 30-second interval when she went to get a cup of coffee), it would dock her for the entire 10-minute span. As you can imagine, the digital tracking actually missed a lot of Carol's work, including any work she did offline. She's working, but the company thinks she's not working, and it's going to dock for that any perceived increments of inactivity. 

There are two HUGE Fair Labor Standards Act red flags here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Pro athletes should never get a pass on harassment

Kenny Lofton is one of the most beloved players in history of the Cleveland Guardians, née Indians. He spent the best years of 17-year career anchoring center field for the Cleveland teams that won six AL Central titles and earned two World Series berths. 

Post-baseball, Lofton founded Centerblock Asset Management LLC, an investment firm and NFT workplace. In addition to his corporate gig, it also appears that Lofton allegedly spends his time messaging women pictures of his Li'l Kenny on Instagram and firing employees to take issue with it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

“Gaslighting” in the workplace

“That’s not how I told you to complete that project. Why did you do it that way? It’s all wrong.”

“Why didn’t you show up to the meeting? Of course I invited you.”

“Harassment complaint? You never made any harassment complaint.”

These are all examples of gaslighting in the workplace.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Lessons from Platform Beer’s mass layoff

According to Scene Magazine, late last week Platform Beer Co. notified between 25 and 30 of its local brewery employees that their employment was no longer needed. They were laid off. 

That facility brews, tests, cans, packages, and warehouses most of Platform's offerings. The impacted employees were offered severance packages in accordance with their age and tenure. 

When I hear "mass layoff," I immediately think of the WARN Act. WARN stands for Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification. It's the federal statute that requires 60 days' advance notice of mass layoff or plant closure (or 60 days' pay in lieu of the notice). But it does not apply to every mass layoff or plant closure, only those of a large enough employer that impacts a large enough number of employees.

Friday, August 19, 2022

WIRTW #638: the “DriveThru” edition

Episode 2 of Labor Relatedly, my new podcast endeavor with Mike VanDervort is live everywhere you listen to podcasts. In this episode we discuss the controversy surrounding the Deshaun Watson arbitration ruling, Chipotle writing a $20 million dollar check to settle a wage and hour case in New York, how the Duty of Fair Representation impacts the relationship between unions and employers, and what some common-sense labor law reform might look like.

Here's what I read this past week that I think you should be reading, too.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

How do you respond when your employees are threatened?

Boston Children's Hospital has a scary situation on its hand. Its hospital staff has received aggressive phone calls, emails, and death threats. It's all in reaction to inaccurate information posted on conservative websites and shared across social media about its transgender surgery program.

The allegations are that its medical staff performs hysterectomies on girls under the age of 18. In reality, the hospital performs hysterectomies on patients age 18 and older, but not on children.

Boston Children's began treating transgender youth in 1998 and opened the first trans health program in the U.S. for adolescents in 2007.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Walmart wins discrimination claim brought on behalf of pregnant employees unable to work

Consider the following two policies:

  • Employees injured on the job will be offered Temporary Alternative Duty ("TAD") — light duty that enables the injured workers to keep working and earning their full wages while complying with any relevant medical restrictions.
  • Pregnant employees with lifting or other physical restrictions related to pregnancy are required to go on an unpaid leave of absence, and no TAD is or will be made available.

In EEOC v. Walmart Stores East, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that despite the existence of the former, the latter did not discriminate against Walmart's pregnant employees.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The CDC is the tail wagging the public’s dog

Last week the CDC updated its Covid isolation guidelines. The agency says it's "to help the public better protect themselves and understand their risk." 

Most importantly, there is no longer any distinction between those who are fully vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated against the virus. Instead, the CDC says anyone can end isolation after five days if asymptomatic or if fever-free for 24 hours and other symptoms are improving. Thereafter, one should mask around others either through day 10 or sooner after two sequential negative tests 48 hours apart.