15 Employment and Labor Resolutions for 2015, part 1 of 3

Now that the new year is well under way and we have all had an opportunity to settle in and organize ourselves for the coming year, I thought I should share some critical chores that need to be attended to keep you safely out of any legal twists.

Here are your first five resolutions as shared by Constangy, Brooks:

1. Make sure your “independent contractors” are really independent contractors. “Independent contractors” are under scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Labor Relations Board, state and local agencies, plaintiffs’ lawyers, and union organizers. A mis-classification can cost you back taxes, back pay (including overtime), and back benefits, as well as penalties and interest. If you determine the manner in which an independent contractor performs his duties, including where and when the duties are performed, then the person is an employee.

2. Review your email policies. The NLRB recently found that employees generally have a right to use employer email systems during non-working time in support of union organizing and concerted activity. The Board’s decision means that many employer email use policies, as currently drafted, would probably be found to violate the National Labor Relations Act if an unfair labor practice charge were filed or a union tried to organize employees and argued that the employer’s email policy interfered with the organizing efforts. In light of the new “quickie election” rule that the NLRB issued last month, both union and non-union employers would be well advised to review their email policies and revise as needed. (The “quickie election” rule is scheduled to take effect on April 14, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other employer groups, including the Society for Human Resources Management, filed suit on Monday seeking to block the rule.)

3. Review your policies on social media, confidentiality, and “courtesy.” The NLRB is going after garden-variety employer policies, taking the position that the policies interfere with and have a chilling effect on employees’ rights to engage in concerted activity. Among the commonplace policies under attack are those requiring that information about the company or employees be kept confidential; policies requiring that employees treat each other with courtesy, respect, and civility; and even some policies requiring that employees not disclose confidential and proprietary information. As with the email policies, a non-compliant policy could result in an unfair labor practice charge or the setting aside of an employer victory in a union election.

4. Review your severance agreements. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken the position that certain standard provisions in employee separation agreements unlawfully interfere with employee rights to bring or cooperate in the investigation of discrimination charges before the EEOC, and has filed suit against some employers using agreements with terms that the EEOC doesn’t like. One of the lawsuits has already been dismissed, but the court in that case did not make a ruling as to whether the EEOC’s position had merit. Even if you decide to take your chances with your current agreement, it’s not a bad idea to consider toning down provisions that you know the EEOC will find objectionable.

5. Review your leave policies and their administration. It’s not just the Family and Medical Leave Act anymore, although that’s enough in itself. You’ve probably seen that a number of states most recently, Massachusetts have enacted paid sick leave laws. Do your leave policies comply with the laws of the all the jurisdictions where you operate? And what do you do when an employee reaches the end of a sick leave or disability leave period? If you automatically terminate, then you could be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as state or local disability rights laws.

This is a lot to take in, I know, but the reviews must be done by either your counsel (who specializes in labor law) or by an experienced human resource professional. Check in next week for another five HR resolutions.

Disclaimer I am not a licensed attorney. My blogs are based on my own experiences, interviews (where credited), and loads of research, and do not represent legal advice.
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15 Employment and Labor Resolutions for 2015, part 1 of 3