What Happens in the Workplace No Longer Stays in the Workplace: California SB-331’s New Restrictions against Confidentiality Provisions in Separation Agreements

Nicole N. Wentworth

On October 7, 2021, California Governor Newsom signed SB-331, also known as the “Silenced No More Act.” The Act substantially restricts the right of employers to include confidentiality provisions in separation agreements under existing California law beyond its #MeToo origins. Beginning on January 1, 2022, the new law will prohibit confidentiality provisions in separation agreements involving workplace harassment or discrimination on any protected basis, not just on sex. Any provision in violation of this prohibition will be against public policy and unenforceable.

Expanding #MeToo Protections

In 2018, California passed SB-820, or the STAND (Stand Together Against Non-Disclosure) Act, in response to the #MeToo movement. The law, now California Code of Civil Procedure section 1001, prohibits confidentiality provisions in separation agreements that prevent the disclosure of factual information regarding sexual assault, sexual harassment, workplace harassment, or discrimination based on sex.

Continue reading “What Happens in the Workplace No Longer Stays in the Workplace: California SB-331’s New Restrictions against Confidentiality Provisions in Separation Agreements”

President Biden Announces Sweeping New Requirements Aimed at Combatting the Surging COVID-19 Delta Variant

Oliver R. Katz, Brooke T. Iley, and Jason E. Reisman


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 Navigator blog).
      • 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.
Continue reading “President Biden Announces Sweeping New Requirements Aimed at Combatting the Surging COVID-19 Delta Variant”

Texas Expands Employer—and Individual—Liability for Sexual Harassment Claims

Nikki D. Kessling


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.

Continue reading “Texas Expands Employer—and Individual—Liability for Sexual Harassment Claims”

New York’s HERO Act: What Employers Need to Know; What Employers Need to Do Right Now

William J. Anthony

New York recently amended its Health and Essential Rights Act (“HERO Act”) and published its “Model Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Plan.” While the Model Plan specifies that there is currently no airborne infectious disease outbreak, the HERO Act requires New York employers to take steps now to comply with the statute. “Airborne infectious disease” is defined as any infectious, viral, bacterial, or fungal disease that is transmissible through the air in the form of aerosol particles or droplets and is designated by the Commissioner of Health as a highly communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health. While COVID-19 would have been so designated a year ago, it is not so designated at this time. Likewise, unless designated by the Commissioner of Health, the seasonal flu will not qualify. See the New York Department of Labor Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Standard here: The Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Standard (ny.gov). Nevertheless, employers cannot wait until an outbreak is declared to comply with the statute.

What Employers Need to Know

The Act has broad definitions of “employer,” “employee,” and “work site.” “Employer” includes any person, entity, business, corporation, partnership, limited liability company, or association employing, hiring, or paying for the labor of any individual. “Employee” means any person providing labor or services for remuneration within the state and without regard to immigration status. The definition includes independent contractors. A “work site” means any physical space, including vehicles, where work is performed and the employer has the ability to exercise control. A work site includes employer-provided housing and transportation. Thankfully, employees’ own homes and vehicles are not covered.

The Act prohibits employers from retaliating or taking adverse action against any employee who exercises rights under the statute; reports violations of the statute; reports airborne infectious disease exposure; or refuses to work where the employee reasonably believes, in good faith, that such work exposes employees to an airborne infectious disease due to working conditions inconsistent with the law. The law, however, requires the employee to first notify the employer of the problem and then give the employer an opportunity to cure it.

Continue reading “New York’s HERO Act: What Employers Need to Know; What Employers Need to Do Right Now”

Happy 4th of July, PA Employers! Budget Deal Skewers Planned Overtime Pay Expansion

Jason E. Reisman

As reported by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry (see here), the planned significant increases to the salary threshold for exempt executive, administrative, and professional (“EAP”) employees under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (“PMWA”) will not go into place this fall.

As you may recall (see our blog post here), last October, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (“DOLI”) finalized new regulations that set in motion periodic increases in the EAP exempt salary threshold under the PMWA. The goal was to dramatically expand the range of employees eligible for overtime pay. Those PA increases were designed to surpass the current federal salary threshold under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and looked like this:

    • $35,568 ($684 per week) effective 10/3/2020 (which matched the FLSA threshold that was effective 1/1/2020—see our prior post here);
    • $40,560 ($780 per week) to be effective 10/3/2021;
    • $45,500 ($875 per week) to be effective 10/3/2022; and
    • On 10/3/2023, and every third year thereafter, the minimum salary will experience automatic adjustments.

However, as part of an overall budget deal reached last week between Governor Wolf and the Republican-controlled legislature, the DOLI regulations will be repealed. This “gift” comes through a one-sentence provision in the budget-related legislation.

As a result, at least for now, the PA salary threshold will not increase in October (or in the foreseeable future) and will continue to match the current threshold under the FLSA … unless/until the Biden administration’s Department of Labor follows through on its latest plan to further increase the federal salary level for the EAP exemptions.

Stay tuned—you just never know what the government might do, especially in the budget process.

With an Eye Towards Pay Equity Illinois Enters the Wage Data Collection Game

Blair A. Gerold

On March 23, 2021, Illinois amended the state’s Equal Pay Act of 2003 to include additional reporting requirements targeted at identifying gender and racial pay disparities.

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.”

Continue reading “With an Eye Towards Pay Equity Illinois Enters the Wage Data Collection Game”

New! California Provides Additional Guidance on “Big Brother” Pay Data Reporting Requirements

Caroline Powell Donelan and Howard M. Knee

As a reminder, California’s new pay data reporting for employers with 100 or more employees (and at least one employee in California) is due on or by March 31, 2021. You can read more about these new requirements here. California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) has released helpful FAQs to walk employers through the filing requirements and required content. On February 1, 2021, the DFEH also published a 67-page California Pay Data Reporting Portal User Guide. While the portal itself will not be available until February 16, 2021, the user guide contains helpful information on pay data report content, differences and similarities between the California report and the EEO-1 report, and navigating the Pay Data Reporting Portal (once available), as well as sample reports. Please contact us with any questions.

Biden Administration Prioritizing Federal Contractor Workforce Protections

Merle M. DeLancey Jr.

Protection of the workforce is a major focus of the Biden Administration. Rather than attempting to pass new legislation or amend existing statutes, the path of least resistance in the short term appears to be the use of executive orders to implement or, as here, rescind Trump Administration Executive Orders and put into effect many of the same policies as the Obama Administration. The starting point for the Biden Administration is to take the steps to implement rules with respect to the federal workforce and the workforce performing federal government contracts.

One of President Biden’s first actions in office was to direct federal government agencies to start the work to permit implementation of certain changes within the first 100 days of the administration through further executive action. These initiatives most likely will include an increased federal contractor minimum wage, requirements to offer employment to employees of an incumbent contractor, perhaps requiring contractors to disclose labor violations when seeking federal contracts, and increased Service Contract Act (“SCA”) enforcement.

      • President Biden’s Executive Order 14003 on Protecting the Federal Workforce issued on January 22, among other requirements, directed the Office of Management and Budget to make recommendations regarding establishing a $15 minimum wage for federal employees and federal contractors and subcontractors (the current federal contractor minimum wage is $10.95) and to provide employees with emergency paid leave.
      • President Biden’s Executive Order 13985 on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government issued on January 20 revoked President Trump’s controversial Executive Order prohibiting certain types of workplace diversity trainings for federal government contractors.
Continue reading “Biden Administration Prioritizing Federal Contractor Workforce Protections”

EEOC Releases New Guidance on Impact of COVID-19 Vaccinations

Mara B. Levin, Anthony A. Mingione, and Jacob W.E. Kearney






The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) released updated guidance on December 16, 2020, to address the impact of COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace. The guidance indicates that employers may require COVID-19 vaccinations for workers to be able to return to the workplace as long as employers comply with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”), the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”).

Here are a few highlights:

      • Administration of the vaccine by the employer (or a contractor on the employer’s behalf) is not a medical examination and does not implicate the ADA, GINA, or Title VII. Employers must ensure, however, that all vaccine pre-screening questions are “job-related and consistent with business necessity” and do not request genetic information.
      • Asking or requiring employees to show proof of receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination is not a disability-related inquiry under the ADA because it is not likely to reveal information about any disability, nor does it impact GINA. Subsequent questions, such as “why did an employee not receive the vaccine,” would implicate concerns under the ADA and GINA, however. Employers must therefore also ensure that follow-up questions are “job-related and consistent with business necessity” and avoid asking questions about genetic information or family medical history.
      • Employers must provide reasonable accommodations, subject to “undue hardship” analysis, to workers who are unable to get the vaccine because of a disability (under the ADA) or sincerely held religious beliefs (under Title VII).
      • An employer may physically preclude an employee who cannot be vaccinated from entering the workplace when that employee poses a “direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace,” which threat cannot be eliminated by a reasonable accommodation. However, an employer may not automatically terminate the employment of that worker. Employers must consider what protections the employee may have under relevant EEO laws or other federal, state, and local authorities.

We encourage employers working on their return-to-work strategies to review the EEOC guidance as they consider how and whether to implement COVID-19 vaccination requirements. If you have any questions or need guidance specific to your workplace, please do not hesitate to contact Blank Rome for more information.

Large Employers Beware: California’s New Pay Reporting Requirements Will Have the State Looking over Your Shoulder for Years to Come

Caroline Powell Donelan and Howard M. Knee

On or by March 31, 2021, (and each March 31 thereafter), private employers in California with more than 100 full-time and part-time employees that are required to file employer information reports with the federal government (“EEO-1” reports) will be required to submit detailed data to California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) regarding the race, ethnicity, and gender of employees in the 10 job categories used in the federal EEO-1 form. Specifically, SB 973 requires employers to report: (1) the number of employees by race, ethnicity, and gender in each of these job categories (looking at any single pay period between October 1 and December 31 of the preceding year); (2) the number of employees by race, ethnicity, and gender whose annual earnings fall within each of the pay bands used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics; (3) the total number of hours worked by each employee counted in each pay band (despite the fact that this information is not commonly kept for exempt workers); and (4) the employer’s North American Industry Classification System (“NAICS”) code. If an employer has more than one establishment in California, it is required to submit a report for each establishment, as well as a consolidated report that includes all employees.

And, what will the government do with this data? The stated intent of the law is to identify and remedy pay inequities and strengthen current equal pay laws. The new legislation permits the DFEH to use the data collected to prosecute complaints alleging discriminatory wage practices under the Equal Pay Act (California Labor Code § 1197.5). Moreover, the DFEH is authorized to share the reports with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”), so the DLSE can identify wage patterns and institute litigation to challenge suspected discriminatory practices. In other words, rather than the government responding to complaints from employees, or investigating targeted industries, it will now evaluate all data submitted by large employers and decide whether enforcement action is warranted.

The legislation provides that reported data will be kept confidential and not subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act. The DFEH, however, may compile, publish, and publicize aggregate reports based on the data it receives, so long as the aggregate reports are reasonably calculated to prevent the association of any data with any individual business or person. The data may be used for investigation and enforcement proceedings by the DFEH and the DLSE under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and Labor Code, respectively. Of course, parties to private litigation will likely seek discovery of reported data as well.

SB 973 essentially mirrors an Obama-era pay data collection rule issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was later stayed by the Trump administration. Of course, it remains to be seen whether our new administration will revive these collection efforts at the federal level, but for now, California remains willing to carry the torch.

If you have any questions about your pay practices or these new California reporting requirements under SB 973, please contact a member of our Labor & Employment team.