Supreme Court favors employer in donning, doffing case

January 29, 2014 - by: Tammy Binford 0 COMMENTS

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the employer in a closely watched donning and doffing case.

The high court ruled on January 27 that U.S. Steel Corp. did not have to pay a group of employees for time spent changing into and out of certain protective gear. In Sandifer v. U.S. Steel Corp., workers sued to be paid for time spent donning and doffing the gear even though the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) says that time spent “changing clothes” at the beginning or end of each workday can be excluded from compensable time unless otherwise negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement.

The workers filing the lawsuit claimed the gear was personal protective equipment rather than clothing. But the Supreme Court ruled that the gear in question could largely be considered clothing, and therefore, they didn’t have to be paid for time spent putting it on and taking it off.

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Indiana AG appeals Lake County judge’s ruling that right-to-work law is unconstitutional

On September 5, Indiana’s right-to-work law was declared unconstitutional by a state trial court judge.  On Thursday, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed a notice of appeal in the case.

Lake County Superior Court Judge John M. Sedia ruled that the right-to-work law violated the Indiana Constitution by requiring unions to provide services without payment. The law prohibits requiring employees to pay dues to a union.  Under federal law, however, unions must represent all workers in a bargaining unit, including nonunion members.  Sedia reasoned that the right-to-work law violated the Indiana Constitution’s provision guaranteeing just compensation for services rendered. Sweeney v. Zoeller, No. 45D01-1305-PK-52 (Superior Court, Sept. 5, 2013).

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Changes to Rhode Island and federal law affect how employers treat same-sex married couples

by Matthew H. Parker

A series of amendments to Rhode Island law and the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 decision in United States v. Windsor have changed how most Rhode Island employers must treat same-sex married couples.

Under the amendments, which go into effect on August 1, anyone who is eligible to marry in Rhode Island will be able to marry any other eligible person “regardless of gender.” Also, Rhode Island will recognize valid same-sex marriages from other states.

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Illinois court makes noncompete agreements harder to enforce

by Steven L. Brenneman

In a decision handed down June 24, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, found a restrictive covenant unenforceable because of a lack of adequate consideration (something given in return for the employee’s agreement not to compete). The court ruled there must be at least two years of continued employment to constitute adequate consideration to support a restrictive covenant. Although this isn’t the first time an Illinois court has ruled that two years of employment are necessary, the ruling in this case is remarkable because of the following:

  • The employee signed the restrictive covenant at the time he commenced employment, yet the court rejected the employer’s argument that the employment offer itself was adequate consideration.
  • The restrictive covenant was the product of negotiations between the employee and the employer and included a proviso that the nonsolicitation and noncompete provisions wouldn’t apply if the employee was terminated without cause during the first year of his employment. Yet the court found this protection was insufficient consideration.
  • The employee voluntarily resigned after three months’ employment, but the court relied on previous decisions holding that an employee’s voluntary resignation, as opposed to an involuntary termination, makes no difference to the consideration analysis.

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Court sets bar high for employer retaliation claims

June 24, 2013 - by: HR Hero 0 COMMENTS

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court made its second pro-employer decision of the day in a case involving the standard of proof an employee must meet in retaliation claims.

In University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, the question was whether an employee must prove that the only reason his employer retaliated against him was because he engaged in protected activity (e.g., reporting harassment or filing a discrimination charge) or if he must prove that the protected activity was simply a “contributing factor” in the retaliation decision.

The Court held that the “but-for” standard of proof applies to retaliation claims, limiting employers’ exposure to liability. The Court issued its first pro-employer case of today in Vance v. Ball State University, which addressed the definition of “supervisor.”

High court agrees to hear NLRB recess appointments case

June 24, 2013 - by: HR Hero 0 COMMENTS

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal in Noel Canning v. NLRB.

In the Noel Canning case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that three of President Barack Obama’s so-called recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) were unconstitutional. Without the three appointees, the Board lacked a necessary quorum to act. Thus, the D.C. Circuit’s ruling raised questions about the validity of hundreds of NLRB actions, including union-friendly decisions on social media, confidentiality rules, and off-duty employees’ access to workplaces.

The U.S. Constitution provides that the Senate must consent to the president’s nominees to federal agencies. The Constitution gives the president the authority to fill vacancies that “may happen” during the Senate’s recess that “shall expire at the end of the next session.”

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Ruling supports firing pot smokers despite Colorado law

April 29, 2013 - by: Tammy Binford 0 COMMENTS

The Colorado Court of Appeals has upheld an employee’s firing for off-duty marijuana use, despite medical and recreational use of the drug being allowed under state law.

A quadriplegic employee who used marijuana under the state’s medical marijuana amendment filed a lawsuit after he tested positive for drugs in violation of company policy and was fired. He claimed his employer violated the Colorado’s lawful off-duty activity statute, which prohibits termination for any “lawful activity” conducted off an employer’s premises during nonworking hours.

In its April 25th ruling, the appeals court held that the employee’s use of marijuana wasn’t lawful activity because “for an activity to be ‘lawful’ in Colorado, it must be permitted by, and not contrary to, both state and federal law.” Since marijuana use is illegal under federal law, the employer didn’t violate the law in terminating the employee.

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Court ruling puts NLRB future in jeopardy

January 25, 2013 - by: Tammy Binford 0 COMMENTS

A court ruling has put the brakes on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and possibly invalidated decisions the Board has made for the last year.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled on January 25 that President Barack Obama acted unconstitutionally when he made three recess appointments to the NLRB on January 4, 2012.

The court’s ruling is seen as good news for employers because it seems to thwart what many in the business community see as the NLRB trying to rewrite labor law to benefit unions.

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Supreme Court ruling bolsters use of mandatory arbitration

by Charles S. Plumb

Employers requiring employees to submit disputes to mandatory arbitration rather than filing a lawsuit got a boost from a November 26 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in an Oklahoma case.

In the case, two employees of Nitro-Lift, a provider of services to oil and gas well operators, left their jobs to work for a competitor. The two had signed confidentiality and noncompetition agreements that included a clause requiring the parties to submit disputes to mandatory arbitration.

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U.S. Supreme Court rules drug reps are exempt as “outside salesmen”

By Nancy Williams

Pharmaceutical representatives who persuade physicians to prescribe specific drugs don’t make any actual sales. They can’t because the products they promote can be sold legally only through a doctor’s prescription to an individual patient. Yet for years, it has been a common industry practice to categorize such employees as outside sales representatives under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and thus exempt from federal overtime pay requirements.

A lawsuit by pharmaceutical reps challenged the practice, raising the specter of huge potential overtime pay liability for the industry. Today that concern evaporated with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that the historical classification of pharmaceutical representatives as outside sales reps is correct under the FLSA.

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