Employment Policies and Practices

On March 27, 2018, the New Jersey Legislature passed the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act (the “Act”), which amends the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”), to strengthen protections against employment discrimination and promote equal pay for women.  A link to the Act can be found by clicking here. Governor Phil Murphy, who campaigned vigorously on a platform of women’s rights and equal pay for equal work leading into last year’s election, has indicated he will sign the legislation when it is presented to him, giving New Jersey one of the nation’s most comprehensive equal pay initiatives.  The Act takes effect on July 1, 2018.

The Act amends the LAD by making it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to pay any employee who is a member of a protected class less than the rate paid to other employees who are not members of that protected class for “substantially similar work when viewed as a composite of skill, effort and responsibility.”  The Act is thus much broader than just advocating gender pay equity.  Instead, the Act expands equal pay on the basis of membership in the protected class which includes, inter alia, race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation, genetic information, pregnancy or breastfeeding, sex, gender identity or expression, disability or atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait of any individual, or liability for service in the armed forces.  With the passage of the Act, the LAD, which was already one of the broadest anti-discrimination laws in the country, only intensifies and strengths the protections afforded to members of protected classes who work and/or live in New Jersey.

The Act does, however, carve out limited exceptions concerning when an employer may pay a different rate of compensation to members of the protected class, including if the pay differential is due to a seniority or merit based system.  An employer may also pay different rates to individuals if they can demonstrate each of the following:

  1. That the differential is based on one or more legitimate, bona fide factors other than the characteristics of members of the protected class, such as training, education or experience, or the quantity or quality of production;
  2. That the factor or factors are not based on, and do not perpetuate differential in compensation based on sex or any other characteristic of members of a protected class;
  3. That each of the factors is applied reasonably;
  4. That one or more of the factors account for the entire wage differential; and
  5. That the factors are job-related with respect to the position in question and based on a legitimate business necessity.

See here

Under the Act, an unlawful employment practice can occur each time an employer’s pay practices discriminate against an employee, and the employee can seek back pay for a six (6) year period.  Thus, the Act lengthens the statute of limitations for claims based on pay equity to a period of six (6) years in contrast to the LAD’s two (2) year statute of limitations.

Lastly, in terms of damages, if an employer is found guilty of violating the pay practices in the Act described above, a judge or jury can award treble damages for the violation.  Treble damages are also available to an employee who can successfully prove that her employer retaliated against her for requesting, discussing, or disclosing to (i) any other employee or former employee of the employer, (ii)  a lawyer from whom the employee seeks legal advice, or (iii) any government agency, information regarding employee compensation/pay practices.  Likewise, treble damages are available to an employee or prospective employee who is asked by the employer to sign a waiver regarding discussing or disclosing pay practices or rates.

Employers should be aware of the July 1, 2018 effective date for the Act.  In the meantime, businesses should carefully review their employee handbooks as well as hiring and compensation practices to insure pay equity for employees who perform “substantially similar work”.

As the winter months bear down on us, many of us find our thoughts wistfully drifting to sun, sand, and all things summer.  Summer months, however, also bring (for most employers) summer interns and one of the more befuddling employment issues: do I have to pay my summer intern?  Stated another way: is my intern, in actuality, an “employee” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and therefore entitled to wages?

This confusion concerning the scope of the FLSA with respect to interns has been driven by the lack of any uniform standard for assessing whether an intern is an “employee.”  Although comprehensive, the FLSA does not define “employee” in any meaningful fashion.  To the contrary, an “employee” is defined in a circular, broad fashion as “any individual employed by an employer.”  29 U.S.C. § 203(e)(1).  To cope, both the courts and the United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) have relied upon a variety of competing analytical frameworks to analyze whether an individual falls within the foregoing definition.  By way of example, the DOL previously relied upon a “rigid” six-factor all-or-nothing test while the Second, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuit Courts (to name a few) have relied upon a more flexible balancing of seven factors, an analysis, referred to as the “primary beneficiary test,” to determine employee status.

Earlier this month, however, some much-needed clarity and uniformity on the issue arrived.  As of January 5, 2018, the DOL abandoned its previous approach to the issue and accepted the “primary beneficiary test” as the standard for determining whether an individual is an employee under the FLSA.  See Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Reminiscent of the colloquial “if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck” mentality, the primary beneficiary test focuses on seven factors aimed at ascertaining the true “reality” of a relationship between the employer and the intern/employee.  As set forth in the DOL’s January 2018 Fact Sheet, these factors include:

  1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee, and vice versa;
  2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions;
  3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit;
  4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar;
  5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning;
  6. The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern; and
  7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

No single factor is dispositive; rather, the test is flexible and intended to accommodate the unique circumstances of each case.  The DOL’s acceptance of this test will likely usher in the beginning of more wide-spread acceptance, use, and perhaps uniformity with regard to the treatment of interns.

Although some have pontificated that this change in the DOL’s position may “revive” unpaid internships, the true effect of the shift in position remains to be seen.  While there is now greater uniformity in how the government and courts may view an “employee” under the FLSA, the matter is far from settled.  Indeed, courts have yet to determine a uniform approach to the issue and, as a result, the framework under which an internship program is assessed will still depend on the jurisdiction.  Employers utilizing unpaid internship programs should continue to familiarize themselves with the analysis utilized in their state as well as the primary beneficiary test.  Employers must also remember that each case is, of course, fact-specific and context-driven.

In a monumental decision last week, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or the “Board”) overruled 13 years of precedent and reframed the test for determining whether “facially neutral” employer handbooks, rules, and policies can be “reasonably construed” to violate the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).  A link to the NLRB’s decision can be found by clicking here. Critically, the decision impacts all businesses because it is an unfair labor practice under the NLRA to set workplace rules or take an employment action that restrains or coerces an employee from exercising certain rights under the Act, regardless of whether the employer is a unionized or non-unionized workplace.

In the case of The Boeing Company and Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, 365 NLRB No. 154 (2017)(the “Boeing Company”), the NLRB was confronted with the issue of whether the employer’s policy of restricting the use of camera-enabled devices on its property, which was facially neutral, was lawful under the precedent established in Martin Luther Memorial Home, Inc. d/b/a Lutheran Heritage Village-Livonia and Vivian A. Foreman, 343 N.L.R.B.  646 (2004) (hereinafter, “Lutheran Heritage”).  Under the prior test in Lutheran Heritage, if a rule or regulation didn’t explicitly restrict Section 7 activity under the NLRA (i.e. the right to engage in concerted activities for the purposes of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection), in order to determine whether the rule was unlawful, the NLRB had to examine whether: “(1) employees would reasonably construe the language to prohibit Section 7 activity; (2) the rule was promulgated in response to union activity; or (3) the rule has been applied to restrict the exercise of Section 7 rights.”

Under the new standard announced in the Boeing Company, when the NLRB is presented with a “facially neutral policy, rule or handbook provision” that could potentially interfere with the exercise of NLRA rights, the NLRB will evaluate two things: (i) the nature and extent of the potential impact on NLRA rights, and (ii) the legitimate justifications associated with the rule.  See the Boeing Company decision.  The NLRB anticipates having 3 categories of employer policies:

Category 1 will include rules that the Board designates as lawful to maintain, either because (i) the rule, when reasonably interpreted, does not prohibit or interfere with the exercise of NLRA rights; or (ii) the potential adverse impact on protected rights is outweighed by justifications associated with the rule….Examples of Category 1 rules are the no-camera requirement in this case….

Category 2 will include rules that warrant individualized scrutiny in each case as to whether the rule would prohibit or interfere with NLRA rights, and if so, whether any adverse impact on NLRA-protected conduct is outweighed by legitimate justifications.

Category 3 will include rules that the Board will designate as unlawful to maintain because they would prohibit or limit NLRA-protected conduct, and the adverse impact on NLRA rights is not outweighed by justifications associated with the rule.  An example of a Category 3 rule would be a rule that prohibits employees from discussing wages or benefits with one another.

See the Boeing Company decision (emphasis in original).  The NLRB made clear that the foregoing categories are not technically part of the new test; however, the Board will determine, in future cases, what types of employer rules fall into each category.

In advancing the new test, the NLRB noted inconsistencies in application of the Lutheran Heritage test, and that the prior test failed to take into account legitimate justifications by an employer that might be associated with a particular rule or policy.  The NLRB believes the test set forth in the Boeing Company addresses these concerns, and will lead to predictable and uniform decisions regarding employer policies.

Applying the new standard to the Boeing Company, the NLRB found that the no-camera rule could potentially affect the exercise of Section 7 rights, but the impact was minimal, and it was outweighed by the company’s justifications for the rule (falling into Category 1).  Thus, the NLRB determined that the company lawfully maintained a no-camera rule.

The decision in the Boeing Company case is being viewed by many as a rollback of the “employee-friendly” NLRB policies ushered in during the Obama Administration.  The decision in the case was made by a 3-2 majority of the Board, which fell along party lines despite the NLRB theoretically being a non-partisan body.  Notably, the decision in the Boeing Company case was made just days before the expiration of the term of the Chairman of the NLRB, Philip Miscimarra, who declined to serve a second term.  Mr. Miscimarra’s absence will leave the NLRB with a likely 2-2 deadlock on cases until a new member of the Board is nominated and confirmed.

At press time, no appeal of the decision in the Boeing Company case had yet been filed, and the full impact of the decision remains to be seen.  Employers are well-served to consult with counsel to determine whether any facially neutral policies previously considered to be unlawful under the Lutheran Heritage rule may now survive scrutiny under the new standard in the Boeing Company.

New York employers should be ready to kick-off 2018 with a slew of updated policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the State’s changing legal landscape.  As we say “goodbye” to 2017, New York must say “hello” to the following laws, whose impact will surely be felt in the coming year:

  • The New York Salary History Law went into effect on October 31, 2017, making it illegal for an employer to inquire into a prospective job applicant’s salary or to rely on that history during the hiring process. We previously blogged about The New York Salary History Law (posts available here 4-7-17, 5-17-17, and 10-27-17), and its potential effect on the gender pay gap will certainly be watched with interest by those both within and outside New York.
  • The controversial New York City Fair Workweek Laws went into effect on November 26, 2017, consisting of 5 bills that directly impact New York City fast food restaurants and retailers by curtailing employers’ flexibility to establish and modify employee work schedules. We previously blogged about the New York City Fair Workweek Laws (posts available here 11-6-17 and 6-19-17), and this is another law to keep a close eye on given its wide ranging potential to affect an entire industry.
  • In accordance with legislation signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in April 2016, effective December 31, 2017, small and large employers in New York City will see minimum wages rising to $12.00 and $13.00 per hour, respectively. Likewise, employers in Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk Counties will be subject to a $1.00 per year increase of the minimum wage to $11.00 per hour until it reaches the $15.00 per hour threshold on December 31, 2021.  Additionally, all other employers in New York will be required to raise the minimum wage another $0.70 (to $10.40) until it reaches the minimum wage of $12.50 per hour in December 2020.  We previously blogged about this legislation last year (post available here 4-28-16).
  • Perhaps the most highly anticipated law affecting employers and employees alike is the New York Paid Family Leave Benefits Law, effective on January 1, 2018. The law provides eligible employees with 8 weeks of paid leave per calendar year (increasing to 10 weeks in 2019 and 12 weeks in 2021) for events including: (i) participation in providing care, including physical or psychological care, for a family member with a serious health condition; (ii) bonding with a child during the first 12 months after the child’s birth, or the first 12 months after the child is placed with an employee for adoption or foster care; or (iii) any qualifying exigency as interpreted under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), relating to when a spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent of the employee is on covered active duty or called to active duty status.  The benefits are funded through employee payroll deductions, and employees are entitled to job protection and continuation of certain benefits during family leave.  The impact of the New York Paid Family Leave Benefits Law will surely be felt immediately by employees and employers alike.
  • On May 5, 2018, New York City will expand the types of leave covered by the Paid Sick Leave Law, which will soon be known as the “Earned Safe and Sick Time Act”. The Act will be expanded to cover “safe time” leave which can be used by an eligible employee to: (i) obtain services from a domestic violence shelter, rape crisis center, or other shelter or services program; (ii) participate in safety planning, temporarily or permanently relocate, or take other actions to increase the safety of the employee or employee’s family members; (iii) meet with a civil attorney or other social service provider to obtain information and advice on, and prepare for or participate in, any criminal or civil proceeding, including, but not limited to, matters related to a family offense matter, sexual offense, stalking, human trafficking, custody, visitation, matrimonial issues, orders of protection, immigration, housing, or discrimination in employment, housing or consumer credit; (iv) file a complaint or domestic incident report with law enforcement; (v) meet with a district attorney’s office; (vi) enroll children in a new school; or (vii) take other actions necessary to maintain, improve or restore the physical, psychological, or economic health or safety of the employee or the employee’s family member or to protect those who associate or work with the employee.  The law will still require employers to provide up to 40 hours of paid leave, which employees can now use for “safe time” in addition to sick time under the Act.

The approaching holiday season is a good time for employers to carefully review their handbooks, policies, and procedures to ensure compliance with the labyrinth of New York requirements.  Companies should, at a minimum, ensure that their human resources, benefits coordinators, and other key administrators are familiar with the above laws and their attendant requirements, and that the information is timely communicated to their workforces.

While sexual and other unlawful harassment issues have been present in the workplace for decades, the current news cycle has made the term a household name.  One cannot turn on the television, open a newspaper or surf the web without being inundated with daily reports of sexual harassment.  Politicians, news reporters, entertainers, and others are accused of sexual harassment and sometimes sexual assault, on a daily basis.

Harassment (both sexual harassment and harassment based on national origin, religion, LGBTQ status, etc.) is toxic in the workplace and can lead to a loss of talent, poor morale, negative publicity and, in the case of legal action, monetary damages and legal fees.  Still, many employers overlook the importance of developing and communicating effective anti-harassment policies and procedures and conducting anti-harassment training, often relegating this “compliance” issue to the bottom of the corporate “to do” list.  The current environment presents an opportune time to remind employers of the importance of addressing these issues and ensuring that they are providing a workplace that is free of sexual and other unlawful harassment.  In addition to helping to prevent harassment incidents in the first place, comprehensive anti-harassment policies and training also provide employers with an affirmative defense to any legal claims of harassment under both state and federal law.

The message to employers is clear – ignore these issues at your own peril!  Although the law in this area has been clear for some time, many employers do not appreciate the importance of addressing these issues proactively.  Employers are well served to review their anti-harassment policies and practices in light of the current social climate.