Last week, the United States Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana (US 20–1573 6/15/22) (“Moriana”). The singular question presented to the Court was whether the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) requires enforcement of arbitration agreements waiving an employee’s right to assert “representative” claims under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”). In response, the Court provided two answers: (1) wholesale waivers of an employee’s right to bring any PAGA claims in any forum will not be enforced; yet (2) arbitration agreements can require an employee to arbitrate their own individual PAGA claims, leaving the absent employees’ claims subject to dismissal.
For context, PAGA is a decades-old law that allows private citizens to step into the shoes of the Labor Commissioner, essentially turning “aggrieved” employees into bounty-hunters for the State’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”). Specifically, PAGA litigants are authorized to recover civil penalties on behalf of the State for certain Labor Code violations, which would otherwise be recoverable only by the Labor Commissioner. If successful, employees receive a 25 percent share of civil penalties recovered, with the remaining 75 percent going to the LWDA. And another thing, PAGA allows for the recovery of attorneys’ fees and costs, which are often exponentially larger than the underlying civil penalties and statutory damages recovered—leaving no surprise as to why PAGA has become such a popular vehicle for plaintiffs’ attorneys.
California is infamous for its hostility towards employers. On May 23, the California Supreme Court continued on its unwavering mission to solidify that well-earned reputation by issuing a 45-page decision in Naranjo et al. v. Spectrum Security Services, Inc., a case we have been closely monitoring at Blank Rome.
For context, the failure to pay wages in California triggers not only an award of those unpaid wages, but potentially steep and costly statutory and civil penalties as well, including so-called: (1) “waiting time penalties”—up to 30 days’ wages for former employees; and (2) “wage statement penalties” when the unpaid wages render the employee’s pay stub inaccurate. Wage statement penalties start at $50 for the first violation and rise to $100 for subsequent violations. When claims are brought on a classwide basis, these penalties can become astronomical, as they are all assessed on a per-employee, per-pay-period basis.
President Biden is expected to soon sign into law the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 (the “Act”), which was recently passed by both houses of Congress. President Biden has long supported measures to limit mandatory arbitration clauses in general and specifically endorsed the Act, which received bipartisan support.
The Act will amend the Federal Arbitration Act to limit every employer’s ability to mandate predispute arbitration of an employee’s claims of sexual harassment or sexual assault. The salient language provides:
Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, at the election of the person alleging conduct constituting a sexual harassment dispute or sexual assault dispute, or the named representative of a class or in a collective action alleging such conduct, no predispute arbitration agreement or predispute joint-action waiver shall be valid or enforceable with respect to a case which is filed under Federal, Tribal, or State law and relates to the sexual assault dispute or the sexual harassment dispute.
On December 15, the U.S. Supreme Court changed course and announced that it would decide whether representative claims brought under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (known as “PAGA”) can be waived by an otherwise enforceable arbitration pact—taking on a years-long conflict between the California Supreme Court’s 2014 Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC decision (holding that arbitration agreements cannot bar PAGA claims) and the U.S. Supreme Court’s own 2018 Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis decision (holding that courts must enforce arbitration agreements under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), including those containing class/collective action waivers). You can read more about the Epic Systems holding in Epic Shift: Supreme Court Enforces Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Agreements and The Epic Systems Decision: Where Do Employers Go from Here?
Critics of Iskanian and its progeny essentially argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that it allowed an end run around the FAA, which preempts any state law that restricts the enforceability of arbitration agreements.
The petition was filed on behalf of Viking River Cruises, one of many filed by employers across the Golden State this year, each asking the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the Iskanian versus Epic Systems PAGA conflict.
The Blank Rome team will be watching this one closely and with bated breath, as the Supreme Court’s ruling will impact thousands of businesses and have fundamental and profound effects on representative litigation both in California and across the United States.
With COVID-19 surging once again across the United States, yesterday, September 9, 2021, President Joe Biden announced a six-part plan for tackling the rising number of COVID-19 cases throughout the country. President Biden’s announcement includes a mandate that large employers require vaccines or weekly COVID-19 testing for their employees, as well as a mandate that all federal workers and contractors be vaccinated. Estimated to affect 100 million American workers, here are some important details employers should know:
All employers with 100 or more employees must ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative COVID-19 test at least on a weekly basis prior to coming to work.
Covered employers are required to provide paid time off to employees to get vaccinated or recover from any side effects of getting vaccinated.
All federal executive branch workers and employees of contractors that do business with the federal government are required to be vaccinated, with no ability to opt out and instead be subject to regular testing (Blank Rome’s government contractor FAQs about the executive order can be found on our Government Contracts Navigatorblog).
Large entertainment venues like sports arenas, large concert halls, and other venues where large groups of people gather are asked to mandate that their patrons are vaccinated or show a negative COVID-19 test for entry.
Healthcare facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, including but not limited to hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings, and home health agencies, must vaccinate their employees.
The vaccination requirement for nursing home facilities will now apply to nursing home staff as well as staff in hospitals and other Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services regulated settings, including clinical staff, individuals providing services under arrangements, volunteers, and staff who are involved in direct patient, resident, or client care.
Effective September 1, 2021, new provisions in the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (“TCHRA”) provide greater protections and remedies for employees alleging sexual harassment. Key changes include the following:
The new provisions set a heightened standard for an employer’s response to a sexual harassment complaint. An employer now “commits an unlawful employment practice if sexual harassment of an employee occurs and the employer or the employer’s agents or supervisors: (1) know or should have known that the conduct constituting sexual harassment was occurring; and (2) fail to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.” This language somewhat (but not exactly) mirrors the Title VII analysis for coworker harassment claims, which considers whether the employer took “prompt” and effective remedial action. The amendments to the TCHRA do not define what amounts to “immediate and appropriate corrective action,” or to what degree “prompt” differs from “immediate,” and this is likely to be a disputed and litigated issue in Texas courts. Additionally, this new standard of proof does not differentiate between coworker and supervisor harassment claims—another potentially significant departure from Title VII, which generally holds employers liable for supervisor harassment unless they are able to establish an affirmative defense.
Unlike the remainder of the TCHRA, which applies to employers with 15 or more employees, the new sexual harassment provisions essentially cover all employers (anyone who “employs one or more employees”) and further opens the door to potential individual liability for managers, coworkers, or HR (someone who “acts directly in an interests of the employer in relation to an employee”). As a result, Texas plaintiffs may begin naming supervisors, HR professionals, and other involved employees as defendants in sexual harassment lawsuits—and those individuals may be held personally liable for damages if the plaintiff is successful.
Earlier this year, Washington, D.C.’s mayor signed legislation, the “Ban on Non-Compete Agreements Amendment Act of 2020” (the “Act”), which imposes sweeping limitations on during-employment and post-employment non-compete agreements for employees in the District of Columbia. We previously reported on this legislation.
Although the Act stated that it was to take effect following its publication in the District of Columbia Register, it also included the following provision: “This act shall apply upon the date of inclusion of its fiscal effect in an approved budget and financial plan.”
In other words, notwithstanding the Act’s definition of an earlier effective date, the Act was not slated to go into effect until the date it was included in D.C.’s 2022 budget—referred to as the “applicability date”—which most expected to occur by October 1, 2021. Shortly after passage, there were rumblings that Council members were considering amendments to the law—ranging from, among other things, a delay in the applicability date to exemptions for bona fide conflict of interest policies to income thresholds for the ban on non-competes, as opposed to an outright ban.
On August 10, 2021, the D.C. Council approved a budget—signed by D.C.’s mayor on August 23, 2021—that delays the applicability date of the Act until April 1, 2022. This postponement is significant because the Act’s limitations on non-competes is not retroactive, which provides employers with more time to continue to enter into non-compete agreements that satisfy the existing standards for determining the enforceability of non-compete restrictions rather than the far more limiting standards included in the Act.
Time will tell whether any substantive amendments materialize and modify the Act’s limitations prior to April 1, 2022.
If an employer does not provide an employee with a compliant meal or rest period, Labor Code section 226.7(c) requires the employer to “pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation.” In Ferra v. Loews Hollywood Hotel, LLC, the California Supreme Court held that the “additional hour of pay” for meal or rest period violations must encompass all non-discretionary payments, as well as hourly wages. Thus, if an employer pays an employee non-discretionary incentive pay or bonuses, or commissions, those amounts must be included in determining the “hour of pay” the employer owes to the employee for a meal or rest period violation. (Note: The same rule applies to a “recovery” period, which is less common and refers to a cooldown period afforded an employee to prevent heat illness.)
Many employers have initiated practices of monitoring time records for apparent meal period violations and automatically paying an hour of pay accordingly. If the hour of pay was paid at an employee’s base hourly rate that did not include non-discretionary payments, then additional amounts may now be owed to the employee. Also, given the increased cost to an employer of a meal period premium, employers who provide employees flexibility regarding the scheduling of their meal periods may want to reconsider that flexibility and instead insist on strict meal period scheduling and reporting to avoid potential exposure.
Under the newly enacted Section 11 of the Equal Pay Act, any private employer with more than 100 employees in Illinois must obtain an “equal pay registration certificate” from the Illinois Department of Labor. Employers must obtain this certificate within three years of the amendment’s effective date—i.e., by March 23, 2024—and then every two years thereafter.
To apply for this certificate, the employer must submit a $150 filing fee, the employer’s most recent EEO-1 report, and a report of all employees from the past calendar year “separated by gender and the race and ethnicity categories as reported in the business’s most recently filed Employer Information Report EEO-1, and report the total wages . . . paid to each employee during the past calendar year.”
Do not be surprised if, before the end of 2021, the federal government begins requiring contractors to certify or represent that their employees have received COVID vaccinations. The federal government has long conditioned contract awards on contractor compliance with emerging social policy mandates. This practice dates backs to the 1960s, when collateral social policy clauses began appearing in federal contracts. The National Emergency created by COVID-19 would appear ripe for a similar federal government action in federal contracting.
Several factors are converging in the United States which signal the potential for a COVID vaccine Certification or Representation. First, the supply issue should be mostly resolved by June 30, 2021. The Biden administration has committed to make enough vaccines available for every adult in the country by the end of May 2021. Second, the administration has been extremely active in making procurement law changes to conform to its policy objectives. Crafting an Executive Order on COVID Vaccines for federal contractor employees is clearly within the administration’s wheelhouse and target zone. Third, as reported in the March 8, 2021, Wall Street Journal, the largest employers in the country, across all sectors, are already engaged in large scale efforts to vaccinate their own employees. Fourth, while the law in this area is still evolving, the prevailing view is that, with certain exceptions, private employers are legally permitted to mandate their employees receive COVID vaccinations as a condition of continuing employment, subject to a variety of considerations related to employee legal, medical, and workplace accommodations. Finally, the federal government might find a federal contractor vaccine mandate a helpful leverage point in the evolving conflict with those states choosing to disregard COVID protections. Continue reading “Will Federal Contractors Be Required to Certify Employee COVID Vaccinations?”