Button Up Restrictive Covenants before Employees Start in New Positions

Kevin M. Passerini and Oliver R. Katz

Pennsylvania law has long required that a restrictive covenant agreement be signed prior to or at the start of employment for it to be enforceable. By extension, Pennsylvania law has also required consideration beyond continued employment—a promotion, bonuses or stock options, severance, or other meaningful consideration—to support a restrictive covenant agreement with an existing employee. Those requirements left a somewhat gray area where a newly hired employee (or an internal employee elevated to a new position) does not sign a restrictive covenant agreement until shortly after starting in the new role and does so without receiving any consideration distinct from the new employment position itself.

In its June 16, 2020 decision in Rullex Co., LLC v. Tel-Stream, Inc., 27 EAP 2019 (Pa. 2020), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court waded into that gray area to consider whether new or “fresh” consideration must be provided any time a restrictive covenant agreement is executed after an employee’s first day in a new role. The court rejected the exclusive use of a bright-line rule requiring execution at or prior to the commencement of employment. Instead, relying in part on a decision from 50 years ago, it left the door slightly open so that restrictive covenants signed after employment has already commenced may be enforced where there was a meeting of the minds on the substance of the restrictive covenants at or prior to the start of employment. As the court noted, the critical inquiry is whether the parties had agreed to the “essential provisions” when the relationship began, such that the restrictive covenant agreement was ancillary to the taking of employment, or whether there was no meeting of the minds such that the restrictive covenants were a “belated addition” to their relationship, requiring additional consideration. In applying its standard to the facts of the case, the court held that there was no meeting of the minds at the start of the relationship based on the delay of at least two months before the signing of the agreement and Rullex’s willingness to consider and accommodate revisions to the original draft.

With the clarity provided in Rullex, employers likely cannot rely on the mere circulation of a restrictive covenant agreement prior to the start of a new employment position to ensure its enforceability. And employers must also be wary of continued negotiations with prospective employees (or existing employees who are candidates for promotions) after having presented an agreement containing restrictive covenants.

Going forward, the most obvious (and best) way to avoid a dispute over whether the parties had a “meeting of the minds” is to have a restrictive covenant agreement signed before a new employee commences work in the new role and before an existing employee assumes a new role within the company. Another good option is for an employer to attach the restrictive covenant agreement to an offer letter that conditions employment (or any promotion or other new position) on the execution of the agreement and to require the individual to sign that offer letter in advance of starting in the new position with an acknowledgment that he or she has received and reviewed the agreement and accepted all of the terms of the offer. Anything less is likely to leave employers in the gray area, fighting it out in court or in arbitration.

NJ WARN Amended in Light of COVID-19 Pandemic

Asima J. Ahmad

On April 14, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill 2353 into law, which excludes mass layoffs resulting from the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic from the notice and severance pay requirements contained in the Millville Dallas Airmotive Plant Job Loss Notification Act (“NJ WARN”). Prior to this change, employers faced uncertainty on whether they would be obligated to provide notice and severance pay to each full-time employee that was terminated with less than the required 60-days’ notice due to the pandemic.

Specifically, SB 2353 revises the definition of “mass layoff” to mirror the exceptions that are already contained in NJ WARN’s definition of “termination of operations.” As a result, a mass layoff which would otherwise require notice shall not include one “made necessary because of a fire, flood, natural disaster, national emergency, act of war, civil disorder or industrial sabotage, decertification from participation in the Medicare and Medicaid programs as provided under Titles XVIII and XIX of the federal “Social Security Act,” Pub.L. 74-271 (42 U.S.C. s.1395 et seq.) or license revocation pursuant to P.L.1971, c.136 (C.26:2H-1 et al.).” These changes go into effect immediately and are retroactive to March 9, 2020, the date that Governor Murphy declared a COVID-19-based state of emergency and public health emergency in New Jersey via Executive Order 103. Continue reading “NJ WARN Amended in Light of COVID-19 Pandemic”

City of LA Publishes Rules and Regulations Clarifying COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave Order

Caitlin I. Sanders

As we previously reported, on April 7, 2020, Los Angeles City Mayor Garcetti issued an emergency order calling for supplemental paid sick leave for City employees who are not covered by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act and who must miss work for reasons related to COVID-19. On April 11, 2020, the Los Angeles Office of Wage Standards (“OWS”) issued rules and regulations clarifying Mayor Garcetti’s supplemental paid sick leave order. The rules and regulations can be found on the OWS website here.

The OWS anticipates updating these rules and regulations, and we will continue to monitor the OWS for the latest guidance.

For the latest updates, please visit Blank Rome’s Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) Task Force page.

Emergency COVID-19 Order Issued in City of Los Angeles: Additional Paid Sick Leave Requirements for Large LA Employers

Caitlin I. Sanders

On April 7, 2020, Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an Emergency Order requiring certain employers to provide up to 80 hours of supplemental paid sick leave to employees who are not covered by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act for reasons related to COVID-19. The Emergency Order can be found on Mayor Garcetti’s website here.

Here are the basic provisions of Mayor Garcetti’s COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Leave Order (“Order”):

Who Is Covered by the Supplemental Paid Sick Leave Order?

Employers with 500 or more employees within the City of Los Angeles or 2,000 or more employees nationally may be required to provide supplemental paid sick leave to employees who are unable to work or telework if they meet the following criteria: (i) they have worked for the same employer from February 3, 2020, through March 4, 2020, and (ii) they perform work in the City of Los Angeles.

Emergency and health services, parcel delivery services, and government agency employees are expressly exempt from the Order. Continue reading “Emergency COVID-19 Order Issued in City of Los Angeles: Additional Paid Sick Leave Requirements for Large LA Employers”

California Suspends WARN 60-day Notice Requirement for COVID-19-Related Layoffs

Michael L. Ludwig

Citing the need to prevent or mitigate the spread of COVID-19, California Governor Newsom acknowledged that California employers have had to close rapidly without providing their employees the advance notice required under California law. Generally, the California WARN Act requires employers to give a 60-day notice to affected employees and both state and local representatives prior to a plant closing or mass layoff.

By Executive Order (see https://www.gov.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/3.17.20-EO-motor.pdf), California is suspending the 60-day notice requirement for an employer that orders a mass layoff, relocation, or termination at a covered establishment on the condition that the employer:

    1. provides the affected employees with a notice as described by the California WARN Act;
    2. provides as much notice as is practicable, including a brief statement of the basis for the reduced notice;
    3. undertakes the mass layoff, relocation, or termination because of COVID-19-related business circumstances that were not reasonably foreseeable; and
    4. includes specified language in the notice advising affected employees that they may be eligible for unemployment insurance.

The Labor and Workforce Development Agency will be providing guidance regarding implementation of the Order by March 23, 2020.

For the latest updates, please visit Blank Rome’s Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) Task Force page.

California Corner: The Employee v. Contractor Saga Continues as Uber and Postmates Face First Defeat in Attempt to Enjoin AB5

Caroline Powell Donelan and Natalie Alameddine

The hopes of California gig economy companies to retain the flexibility to classify workers as independent contractors were dashed this week when a federal district court judge refused to enjoin Assembly Bill 5 (“AB5”), which codifies the “ABC” test for most independent contractor classifications.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB5 into law last fall, effecting a seismic change on California’s legal landscape. Effective January 1, 2020, the law makes it nearly impossible for companies to lawfully classify most workers as independent contractors (rather than employees). The bill expands on California Supreme Court’s three-prong “ABC” test from its 2018 Dynamex decision for determining how workers can be classified, which you can read about here. With certain limited statutory exceptions, AB5 provides that, to properly classify a worker as an independent contractor in California, an employer must demonstrate that the worker: (A) is free from the company’s control and direction; (B) performs work outside of the company’s usual course of business; and (C) is customarily engaged in independent work of the same nature as the work performed. There is no balancing, as all three factors must be met. Continue reading “California Corner: The Employee v. Contractor Saga Continues as Uber and Postmates Face First Defeat in Attempt to Enjoin AB5”

Shocker!? Scary New California Employment Laws – Coming to You January 1!

Caroline Powell Donelan and Taylor C. Morosco

California Governor Gavin Newsom went on a bill-signing frenzy earlier this month, enacting 17 new bills into law. Below, we highlight the “Big Five” which will have a certain and critical impact on any business with workers in the Golden State.

AB 51 Prohibiting Mandatory Arbitration. California’s battle against arbitration wages on! For agreements “entered into, modified, or extended” on or after January 1, 2020, AB 51  prohibits employers from requiring current employees or applicants to “waive any right, forum, or procedure for a violation” of the Fair Employment and Housing Act or the California Labor Code. This necessarily means that an employer will not be permitted to require applicants or employees to consent to mandatory arbitration as a condition of employment. Notably, employees may still voluntarily consent to arbitration, and AB 51 does not apply to “postdispute” settlement agreements or “negotiated” severance agreements, terms that beg for clarification. AB 51 prohibits retaliation against individuals who refuse to consent to such agreements and even authorizes injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees to any plaintiff who proves a violation. There is no doubt that this bill will be challenged under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), which preempts any state law that “stands as an obstacle” to enforcing arbitration agreements. While the bill contemplates and tries to avoid preemption by expressly stating it is not “intended to invalidate a written arbitration agreement that is otherwise enforceable under the [FAA],” similar attempts by the state have been rejected. Continue reading “Shocker!? Scary New California Employment Laws – Coming to You January 1!”

California Passes AB 5: The Lawful Use of Independent Contractors in California is Drastically Limited

Caroline Powell Donelan and Caitlin I. Sanders

Just last year, the California Supreme Court in Dynamex Operations West v. Superior Court (2018) 4 Cal. 5th 903 (“Dynamex”) abruptly replaced the longstanding test in California for determining whether a worker is an independent contractor (versus an employee) with a more stringent “ABC” test for purposes of the California Industrial Welfare Commission (“IWC”) Wage Orders.

Under the “ABC” test, a worker is presumed to be an employee unless the hiring entity can prove that the worker is (A) free from control; (B) providing services unrelated to the hiring entity’s business; and (C) holding him or herself out as an independent business. More on the landmark decision in Dynamex can be found here.

Last week, California Governor Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill (“AB”) 5, which codifies and expands the “ABC” test set forth in Dynamex, making it even more difficult for employers to properly classify workers as independent contractors in California.

What are the basic provisions of AB 5? Continue reading “California Passes AB 5: The Lawful Use of Independent Contractors in California is Drastically Limited”

New York Closes in on Comprehensive Employee Wage Lien Law

Mara B. Levin, Anthony A. Mingione, and Stephen E. Tisman

New York is on the precipice of passing a law that would allow employees to easily file liens against an employer’s property in connection with pending wage disputes. The bill also would permit employee access to certain sensitive employer records and expand the scope of personal liability for owners in disputes over wages. Employers should monitor these developments and work with counsel to prepare an action plan should this bill become law.

The New York State Legislature has recently passed a bill that could substantially alter the legal landscape of wage disputes if signed into law by Governor Cuomo. The proposed Employee Wage Lien bill would allow employees to obtain liens against an employer’s real property and personal property based on allegations involving nonpayment of wages. If signed into law, the bill will become effective within 30 days. Similar laws have been enacted on other states.

The law will allow employees to file a notice of a lien up to three years following the end of the employment giving rise to the wage claim. Employees will be able to place liens up to the total amount allegedly owed based on claims relating to overtime compensation, minimum wage, spread of hours pay, call-in pay, uniform maintenance, unlawful wage deductions, improper meal or tip credits or withheld gratuities, unpaid compensation due under an employment contract, or a claim that the employer violated an existing wage order. In addition, the State Attorney General and Department of Labor will be able to obtain a lien on behalf of an individual employee—or a class of employees—against an employer that is the subject of an investigation, court proceeding, or agency action.

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Quick Flashback—NLRB Overruled Obama Board’s “Independent Contractor” Test

Rosemary McKenna

Earlier this year, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “the Board”)—with its 3-to-1 Republican-appointed majority—returned to its long-standing common-law test for determining whether workers are independent contractors (“ICs”) or employees, expressly overruling an Obama-era decision, which it said impermissibly altered the test by severely limiting the significance of “entrepreneurial opportunity” to the analysis. The importance of “independent contractor” status lies in the fact that ICs are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).

In SuperShuttle DFW, Inc. and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1338 (Case No. 16-RC-010963), the Trump Board addressed the issue of whether franchisees who operated shared-ride vans were ICs and thus excluded from coverage under the NLRA. Relying on common-law agency analysis, the Board upheld a regional director’s decision finding the franchisees to be ICs. That traditional common-law analysis involves application and consideration of the following factors: Continue reading “Quick Flashback—NLRB Overruled Obama Board’s “Independent Contractor” Test”