H-1b petition

Suspension of Visa Operations in Russia

The U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Russia announced that “[a]s a result of the Russian government’s personnel cap imposed on the U.S. Mission, all nonimmigrant visa (NIV) operations across Russia will be suspended beginning August 23, 2017.”

This is the most recent volley in the diplomatic back-and-forth that started with the reports of possible Russian involvement in U.S. elections. Following U.S.-imposed sanctions, Russia ordered the withdrawal of 755 U.S. diplomatic personnel from Russia.

Generally, the announcement means:

  • The U.S. Mission has begun cancelling current nonimmigrant visa appointments countrywide.
  • As of September 1, nonimmigrant visa interviews will be conducted only at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
  • NIV applicants whose appointments are cancelled can reschedule for a later date in Moscow.
  • Some immigrant visa interviews also will be affected.
  • The Embassy in Moscow and the Consulate in St. Petersburg will no longer accept new visa applications from residents of Belarus, who are encouraged to schedule NIV appointments in Warsaw, Kyiv (Kiev), or Vilnius.
  • The current plan is to offer a block of visa appointments for students in early September.
  • The Embassy in Moscow will continue to process NIV applications without an interview for those who qualify.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow and the three consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok will continue to provide emergency and routine services to American citizens, although hours may change.

This post was written by Michael H. Neifach  of Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2017

For more Immigration Legal News go to The National Law Review

Regulation, Green Energy

U.S. Court of Appeals Rules on Renewable Fuel Standard Battle

In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favor of renewable fuels advocates, including the Americans for Clean Energy and the National Corn Growers Association, agreeing with the petitioners that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) erred in how it interpreted and used the “inadequate domestic supply” waiver in the Renewable Fuel Standard law in setting low renewable fuel volumes for 2014-2016.

The National Corn Growers Association stated that the “court decision is a win for farmers, the biofuels industry, and consumers. This ruling affirms our view that the EPA did not follow the law when it reduced the 2014-2016 renewable fuel volumes below levels intended by Congress. The court held that EPA was wrong to interpret the phrase ‘inadequate domestic supply’ to mean ‘inadequate domestic supply and demand.’ We agree with the Court that effectively adding words to the law through this interpretation simply exceeds EPA’s authority.”

U.S. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote that the EPA isn’t allowed “to consider the volume of renewable fuel that is available to ultimate consumers or the demand-side constraints that affect the consumption of renewable fuel by consumers.”

The court ruling is a blow to oil refiners, who have argued that there are constraints to blending the fuels into petroleum. The American Petroleum Institute said in a statement it was “disappointed” with the court’s decision, which the trade group said highlighted the need for congressional action to reform the renewable fuel standard – a move congressional analysts have said is unlikely to happen.

This post was written by Aaron M. Phelps of Varnum LLP.
For more Environmental & Energy Legal News go to the National Law Review.
Environmental Activism

Back to School: Preparing for Campus Unrest

In the wake of the deadly Charlottesville protests, institutions of higher education are under heightened pressure to prepare their campuses for disruption and unrest.  Many colleges and universities have open campuses, enjoy historic visibility in their communities, and place a high value on free speech, expression, and the exchange of ideas, exposing them to unique challenges in planning for protests and civil disobedience.  As this academic year begins, it is critical that campus administrators equip themselves and their communities to manage and, when appropriate, to take affirmative steps to prevent campus unrest, whether initiated by student groups or third parties.

The proactive development of sound and well-thought out policies that balance the value of speech with the institution’s compelling interests in safety and preventing the disruption of campus operations is the foundation for successful management of these situations.  Now more than ever, it is important, even for institutions that have not experienced significant campus unrest in the past, to develop a model response to campus unrest and determine whether institutional policies permit and support this model.

Institutions should review their policies to determine (1) what procedures are in place for managing and monitoring student protests and demonstrations; and (2) how much authority they have to limit or condition access to their campus by third parties.  Thoughtfully drafted campus facilities use, protest, and demonstration policies can effectively set expectations and establish procedures for regulating picketing, protesting, and demonstrating on campus by students and third parties.  But they are not the only policies that demand attention, review, and coordination.  Other policies that may dictate how and to what extent an institution can control or limit civil disobedience on campus may include:

  • Campus trespass policies;

  • Policies that describe the purpose and use of campus;

  • Facilities use and event policies;

  • Academic freedom and other speech or expression policies;

  • Tabling, bulletin board, leafletting, or chalking policies;

  • Emergency response and other communications policies;

  • Student organization policies;

  • Policies that describe or limit the carrying and use of weapons on campus; and

  • Student codes of conduct.

In reviewing their policies, administrators should consider how they limit access to campus, including the rhetoric used to describe the institution’s values, which groups and individuals can reserve and use delineated spaces, and whether campus streets are publicly accessible or can be limited with regard to pedestrian and automobile traffic.  Institutions should ensure that their facilities use policies contain clear and publicized registration procedures requiring sufficient notice of all pertinent details of a proposed event.  Policies must also permit action to move or shut down an event in the event of an emergency, violation of policy, or disruptive conduct, and to undertake disciplinary and law enforcement action where appropriate.

Any number and configuration of campus constituencies can be affected by regulations on campus speech.  Administrators should be mindful of who their institutional policies are intended to target—students or third parties—and draft their policies to clearly cover only the intended targets.  Administrators should also be aware of unintentional targets, considering, for example, how the policies will apply when a student group brings a third party to campus or when the protesters are alumni.

Institutions should be wary of a one-size-fits-all approach.  While it can be instructive to review other schools’ policies, what works for a large, public institution will almost certainly not work for a small, private institution.  In particular, while public institutions must remain keenly aware of the First Amendment implications of limiting speech on campus, private institutions must be careful that their policies do not inadvertently grant students and third parties “rights” that they are not otherwise due and may be difficult for the institution to support.

Now is the time—even if your academic year has already begun—to examine, revise and coordinate implementation of pertinent policies so that administrators may smoothly, safely, and consistently address campus access, facilities use, and potential unrest as it may develop.

This post was written by  Beth Tyner Jones and Liz LeVan Riley and Rebecca C. Fleishman of  Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC.
More analysis at the National Law Review.
Small Employer Health Reimbursement Accounts

Nursing Home Residents Deprived of Right to Sue for Abuse and Neglect

The current administration has set its sights on another federal rule, seeking to eliminate the ban on pre-dispute arbitration agreements for nursing home residents. Pre-dispute arbitration agreements require elderly adults and individuals with disabilities, as well as their families, to waive their right to file a lawsuit in the courts – before admission to a nursing home. As a condition to entering the nursing home, the prospective resident and his or her representative would be required to submit any dispute, including claims of egregious abuse or neglect, to mandatory arbitration proceedings.

The Current Rule

As the rule currently stands, a nursing home resident cannot be required to waive his or her right to access to the court system. This rule preserves the right of vulnerable nursing home residents to sue for injuries caused by nursing home negligence, abuse, and neglect, including pressure sore infections, suffocation caused by restraints, choking, dehydration-related conditions, gangrene, and even sexual assault.

Decision-making at the Nursing Home Door

Nursing home admission is a stressful and emotional time for the prospective resident and his or her family. Requiring a waiver of rights as a condition of admission, as occurs with pre-admission arbitration agreements, puts the person and his or her family in a time-sensitive quandary, literally at the nursing home door. Under the new amendments, if they refuse to sign away their right to go to court, they can be denied admission to the facility.

Imagine after months of discussions, the decision is finally reached to admit an elderly or disabled individual to a nursing home. This decision often involves the heartache of giving up one’s home and freedom, many possessions, and even treasured pets. The decision is often motivated by a desire to keep the individual safe and ensure that he or she receives required medical care.

But, are nursing home residents safe when they are required to sign away any right to legal accountability for mistreatment or harm in the facility?

How Arbitration is Different than a Lawsuit

Arbitrations take place in private meetings and are confidential. Because arbitrations are not public proceedings like lawsuits and trials, nursing homes have little to fear in terms of lost business or reputation, even if the arbitrator rules against them. To make matters worse, usually the pre-admission arbitration agreements give all the decision-making about the process to the nursing home, including selecting the arbitrator, location, and rules that will govern the proceedings. That removes other safeguards provided by the original rule such as choosing a neutral arbitrator.

Background on the Rule and Proposed Amendment

On October 4, 2016, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service (CMS) published a final rule entitled “Reform of Requirements for Long-Term Care Facilities.” The 2016 final rule amended 42 CFR 483.70(n), prohibiting long-term care (LTC) facilities from entering into pre-dispute arbitration agreements with residents or their representatives. The final rule also prohibited any requirement that a resident sign an arbitration agreement as a condition of admission to a LTC facility.

That final rule sought to preserve the right of vulnerable nursing home residents to sue in court if they suffered injury or abuse.

The American Health Care Association and a group of nursing homes sued for preliminary and permanent injunction to stop CMS from enforcing that requirement. The court granted a preliminary injunction on November 7, 2016. Thereafter, CMS reviewed and reconsidered the arbitration requirements in the 2016 final rule.

In proposed amendments to the rule under the current administration, CMS now seeks to strip nursing home residents of that right by removing the provisions prohibiting binding pre-dispute arbitration in LTC facilities. CMS provides as a reason for this action that a ban on pre-dispute arbitration agreements would “likely impose unnecessary or excessive costs on providers.”

CMS’s Proposed Revisions to Arbitration Requirements

This proposed rule focuses on the transparency surrounding the arbitration process and includes proposes that:

  • The prohibition on pre-dispute binding arbitration agreements is removed.

  • All agreements for binding arbitration must be in plain language.

  • If signing the agreement for binding arbitration is a condition of admission into the facility, the language of the agreement must be in plain writing and in the admissions contract.

  • The agreement must be explained to the resident and his or her representative in a form and manner they understand, including that it must be in a language they understand.

  • The resident must acknowledge that he or she understands the agreement.

  • The agreement must not contain any language that prohibits or discourages the resident or anyone else from communicating with federal, state, or local officials, including federal and state surveyors, other federal or state health department employees, or representatives of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

  • If a facility resolves a dispute with a resident through arbitration, it must retain a copy of the signed agreement for binding arbitration and the arbitrator’s final decision so it can be inspected by CMS or its designee.

  • The facility must post a notice regarding its use of binding arbitration in an area that is visible to both residents and visitors.

This post was written by Denise Mariani of  Stark & Stark.
Nasdaq Securities Transactions

Will Blockchain Render the Bill of Lading a Relic?

A bill of lading is an old form of legal document.  As merchants in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries ceased accompanying their goods on ships and entrusted their proper delivery to the carrier, a need arose for a tangible and transferable document evidencing which party was entitled to receive the goods at their destination.  The merchants developed a system in which the sender would obtain a receipt from the ship’s master and convey it to the intended recipient of the goods, who would subsequently present the receipt to the carrier upon delivery to prove his title to the goods.

Today, hundreds of years after the introduction of the bill of lading, technological innovation—and of particular interest, the emergence of blockchain technology—is raising new questions about the future of this venerable document of title.  Recent media accounts report collaborative ventures between traders and financial institutions using blockchain solutions to serve the functions of bills of lading.1  Modern bills of lading still perform the same basic functions as their ancient ancestors: they evidence the title to the goods being shipped, the contract of carriage, and the right to receive and direct the disposition of those goods.  The blockchain solutions emerging in commodities trading seem to have the same functions.  It is fair to ask, then, whether blockchain is a new kind of bill of lading – or is something different that will render the bill of lading a relic.

What is Blockchain and How Does It Work?

While there are various potential applications of blockchain technology,2 it may generally be described as a decentralized, automated system for storing information about transactions among its members.  For our current purposes, we envision a hypothetical blockchain (the “Model Blockchain”) that has the following qualities:

  1. It would be “permissioned”—that is, participants in the Model Blockchain must be admitted by the existing members and the general public would not have access. The members would presumably include the relevant merchants buying and selling the goods, the carriers responsible for their shipment and the financial institutions that finance such transactions.

  2. The Model Blockchain would not be anonymous. Each member would be identifiable by its applicable digital signature, which a computer could match to such member’s name.

  3. The system would be decentralized and “trustless,” in that no single party would validate a transaction. Rather, transactions would be validated by the Model Blockchain’s members collectively.  For example, each member would verify (via computer) basic facts about the transaction to protect against fraud or double spending.  After validation, a transaction would be written into a block in the Model Blockchain. Data in a block would be encrypted such that it is nearly impossible to modify.  This decentralized verification system—referred to as a distributed ledger—is the fundamental characteristic common to all blockchain systems.

In practice, the data for any particular transaction in the Model Blockchain would identify the transferor, the transferee, the carrier, the time of the transaction, what is transferred, and any miscellaneous data the transferor decides to include as “metadata.”  Further, we imagine that the legal title to real-world, tangible assets being transferred via the Model Blockchain would be represented as digital coins (“Blockcoins”).  A Blockcoin would be analogous to a Bitcoin, but would have no monetary value and instead would represent the goods themselves.3  Blockcoins and the Model Blockchain would work in tandem to identify electronically who controls the Blockcoin and thus has title to the goods.

Will Blockchain Supplant the Bill of Lading?

As the breadth of the potential applications of blockchain becomes increasingly clear and the technology becomes more widely accepted, the next step is to determine how blockchain can be implemented within the existing legal framework governing bills of lading.  Under U.S. state law, the rules governing bills of lading and other documents of title are housed mainly in Article 7 of the Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”)4.  A gating question, therefore, becomes whether the Model Blockchain system constitutes a bill of lading under the UCC.

As you may expect, the vast majority of the applicable UCC provisions were drafted with paper bills of lading in mind.  While new concepts, such as “electronic documents of title,” have been incorporated into the UCC over time to accommodate technological advances, the basic structure still largely employs concepts foreign to the electronic frontier, such as “bearer,” “issuer,” or “copy.”  The challenge will be to structure the blockchain and draft the accompanying legal documentation in a manner that preserves the parties’ rights and property interests under the UCC.  It appears that, properly designed, a blockchain system can be accommodated in existing UCC provisions governing bills of lading.

Benefits of Blockchain Being Bills of Lading

If blockchain transactions are bills of lading under the UCC, the benefits to transacting parties could be many.  A classification under the UCC would provide clear legal answers regarding how to receive a perfected security interest in the bill of lading (and the underlying assets covered thereby).  We believe that the Model Blockchain bill of lading could be negotiable or non-negotiable, if properly designed.  There are well-understood risks of holding or lending against negotiable or non-negotiable instruments, and corresponding well-developed business practices in the trade and trade finance markets.  For example, the UCC contains various rules on the rights of competing claimants (whether they are direct owners, transferees or secured parties) claiming an interest to a document or the underlying goods.  To the extent that a blockchain transaction fits into an existing paradigm, the legal benefits and risks to transacting parties and creditors will be embedded in, and consistent with, existing frameworks and business considerations, thereby significantly reducing friction when migrating to an electronic blockchain system.

The use of blockchain in lieu of bills of lading remains largely hypothetical at this time, but offers real benefits to market participants (e.g., cost-savings, reduction in fraud, etc.) and appears attainable from a legal perspective. Indeed, it may very well become the industry standard sooner rather than later.


1   See, e.g., “What’s cooking in the blockchain kitchen?” (2017), https://www.ing.com/Newsroom/All-news/Whats-cooking-in-the-blockchain-ki… and Denis Balibouse, Mercuria Introduces Blockchain to Oil Trade with ING, SocGen, Reuters, Jan. 19, 2017,http://www.reuters.com/article/us-davos-meeting-mercuria-idUSKBN1531DJ.

2   For examples of recent endeavors, see Blockchain: A Better Way to Track Pork Chops, Bonds, Bad Peanut Butter?, N.Y. Times,https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/04/business/dealbook/blockchain-ibm-bitc….

3   Bitcoins used for such purposes are called “colored coins.”  Nicolas Dorier, Programming The Blockchain in C# 95,https://www.gitbook.com/download/pdf/book/programmingblockchain/programm….

4   Unless otherwise noted, this article generally refers to the Uniform Commercial Code as in effect in New York.

This post was contributed by Martin Horowitz,Stephen M. Johnson Christopher M. McDermott and Jeffrey Nagle of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP.
Read more legal analysis at the National Law Review.
thought leadership

The Ninth Circuit Asks the California Supreme Court to Weigh in on Bag Checks

On August 16, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order certifying a question regarding an important wage and hour issue to the California Supreme Court: Is time spent on an employer’s premises waiting for and undergoing required exit searches of bags or packages voluntarily brought to work for purely personal convenience by employees compensable as “hours worked” under California law?

The question arose in Frlekin v. Apple, Inc., an appeal in a wage and hour class action brought against Apple, Inc., by current and former nonexempt California retail store employees. In the suit, the plaintiffs sought compensation for time that they spent waiting for and undergoing exit searches whenever they left Apple’s retail store locations, pursuant to the company’s Employee Package and Bag Searches policy. The at-issue policy, which is similar to ones in place at many other large retailers, required that employees undergo unpaid, manager-performed bag/package checks before leaving the stores—at breaks or at the end of their shifts.

In July 2015, a district court certified the case as a class action. However, in November 2015, the district court granted Apple’s motion for summary judgment and denied the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and ruled that time spent by class members waiting for and undergoing exit-related bag searches pursuant to Apple’s policy was not compensable as “hours worked” under California law because such time was neither “subject to the control” of the employer nor time during which the class members were “suffered or permitted” to work.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that employees are under the control of the employer while waiting for and undergoing the bag checks because they are required whenever entering or leaving the premises. Apple countered that the time is not compensable because employees are not required to bring bags to work, and may avoid the searches altogether by not bringing a bag or package to the workplace. In its order certifying the issue for the California Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit noted that Apple’s position “finds strong support” in the seminal California Supreme Court decision Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., 22 Cal. 4th 575 (2000), in which the court held that time spent by employees using employer-mandated transportation to get to a worksite was compensable, while noting that time spent on “optional free transportation” would not be compensable. However, the Ninth Circuit expressed questions about whether differences in context—i.e., employer-provided transport to and from the workplace versus searches at the worksite—rendered Morillion distinguishable.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court previously determined that similar bag checks were not compensable in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, 135 S. Ct. 513 (2014), the California Supreme Court has not addressed the compensability of bag checks under California’s wage and hour laws, which involve a somewhat different definition of compensable work time. As the Ninth Circuit noted in its order, the consequences of any interpretation of California law with respect to bag searches “will have significant legal, economic, and practical consequences for employers and employees” throughout California and will materially affect the outcome of many pending lawsuits. For the time being, employers should consult with qualified employment counsel to mitigate risk while we wait for the California Supreme Court to weigh in.

This post was written by Philippe A. Lebel of  Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP.
Read more on litigation of wage and hour issues at the National Law Review.
pay differential

Potential for more Trucking Accidents in California if New Federal Law Passes

A provision that is included in pending legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives may result in fewer truck drivers in California taking needed rest breaks while they are working. The bill would apply to truck drivers who drive into California from other states while exempting them from California’s mandatory rest break requirements. If this bill passes, truck drivers may be more fatigued and cause more accidents in both California and in the rest of the U.S.

The proposed law

A provision that is included in a House appropriations bill would exempt interstate truck drivers who drive into California from following the strict rest and meal break regulations in the state. Under California law, all workers, including truck drivers, must take one 30-minute meal break every five hours and one 10-minute rest break every four hours of work. Some other states, including Kentucky and Colorado, have similar rest and meal break laws on the books. Federal law only requires that truck drivers take one 30-minute break during the first eight hours of driving. Officials in California are concerned that reducing the amount of time that drivers spend resting may result in increased injury and accident rates in the state.

According to the Truck Safety Coalition, the legislators are attempting to preempt state labor laws that mandate additional meal and rest breaks beyond those that are required under federal law. While the law would apply to interstate drivers who drive into the state, some experts are also concerned that drivers who only drive within the state but who work for interstate trucking companies may fall into a legal loophole. They believe that their companies would likely pressure the drivers to only take the minimally required breaks under federal law instead of following the state’s requirements. The provision was introduced by two California Republicans, including Rep. David Valadao and Rep. Jeff Denham. Denham has received more than $60,000 in contributions to his campaigns from trucking organizations.

Drowsy driving truck accident statistics

In California, 15,000 large truck crashes happened in 2016. The California Highway Patrol reports that 8,989 of those collisions happened in Los Angeles. Nationally, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that 87,000 injury crashes happened in 2015, and 4,311 trucks and buses were involved in fatal accidents. The FMCSA reports that 55 fatal truck accidents in 2015 were caused by drowsy or fatigued truck drivers and another 71 were caused by driver inattention with unknown causes.

If the proposed law passes in the House and Senate and is signed into law by Trump, many truck drivers may not have to take the rest breaks that they currently have to take. Truck drivers drive for exhaustingly long shifts, and not being able to pull off of the road more frequently may lead them to become exhausted. In Dec. 2016, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the crash risk for drivers spikes for every hour of sleep that they lose. Truck drivers who do not get sufficient sleep and who are also not able to take enough rest breaks may have greatly increased risks. For all drivers, AAA found that the risk of accidents doubles for people who get between five and six hours of sleep each night. When they only get four to five hours of sleep, their risks are four times higher of crash involvement than people who are more rested.

Pressures on truck drivers

Truck drivers report that they are under tremendous pressure by their companies to get their loads delivered on time, according to ABC News. When drivers are pressured to make their deliveries under tight deadlines, they may end up driving while they are fatigued. This pressure may compound the potential problems of having fewer rest breaks under the proposed federal law. If that law passes, it is likely that all interstate companies will force their workers to only follow the federal rules rather than pulling off the road more frequently or whenever they feel tired.

Drowsy driving can have serious or even fatal consequences for drivers and those who are traveling on the roads around them. Enacting federal legislation to preempt California’s meal and rest break requirements could lead to many more injuries and deaths in the state each year. Californians may want to lobby their representatives and senators about this provision in order to protect the general safety of everyone in the state.

This post was written by Steven M. Sweat.
For more legal analysis go to the National Law Review.
Labor Law Hiring

The Consequences of Hate Speech in the Aftermath of Charlottesville: An Employer’s Guide to Handling Rally-Attending Employees

In the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, a Twitter account with the handle @YesYoureRacist began soliciting the assistance of the general public to identify rally attendees based on photographs. “If you recognize any of the Nazis marching in #Charlottesville, send me their names/profiles and I’ll make them famous,” the Twitter-detective tweeted. Not surprisingly, many rally attendees were quickly identified, along with their educational institutions and/or places of employment. For employers this raises an interesting question: “Does my employee who participates in a white supremacist/neo-Nazi rally enjoy any job protections from said participation?” It depends.

In the days following the events in Charlottesville, we have already seen one rally participant resign his employment; three rally participants have been terminated by their respective employers; one university has publicly condemned white supremacy but informed the public they would not expel participating students; one family has publicly disavowed their son; two web-service providers removed a neo-Nazi-themed website from its servers; one Pennsylvania firefighter is under investigation for a distasteful Facebook post directed at an African-American colleague; and two police officers, one in Massachusetts and one in Kentucky, are under scrutiny for making Facebook posts mocking counter-protesters who were run down by a motor vehicle during the rally. In today’s world of mass consumerism, and with the public pressures of social media, this type of public shaming and influence is likely here to stay.

Although public-sector workers generally cannot be terminated for their exercise of speech, many union contracts require “just cause” to terminate, and some employees have employment contracts which control grounds for termination, federal law does not offer any protections for employee hate speech in the private sector, except in limited circumstances discussed later where the employee may otherwise be engaging in protected activity. Thus, for private sector employers not subject to off-duty conduct state law protections, it is not per se illegal to fire workers if what they choose to do or say in their free time reflects poorly on your business.

Employers and employees alike are probably asking: “But what about the Constitutional right to free speech?” The First and Fourteenth Amendments offer little protection for individuals who engage in hate speech and are fired by their private employer. Although “hate speech” in and of itself may be protected (except for fighting words, or true threats of illegal conduct or incitement), a private employer is equally protected when it “speaks” by terminating its employee. Private-sector employers do not have to allow employees to voice beliefs they or other workers may find offensive. While employers in the public sector need to proceed with caution, where a worker attends and participates in something as extreme as a white supremacist/Neo-Nazi rally, the employee will generally lose the protection of the Constitution. For instance, in Lawrenz v. James, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a correctional institution’s interest in the efficient operation of a correctional facility outweighed a public-sector correctional officer’s First Amendment right to wear, off-duty, a T-shirt adorned with a swastika and the words “White Power.”

Employers must also consider whether the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) offers any protection to both union and non-union employees engaged in this or similar off-duty conduct. While the NLRA’s primary concern is unionized workers, Section 7 also protects nonunion workers when they engage in “concerted activities for the purpose of . . . mutual aid or protection.” As of late, the National Labor Relations Board has taken an expansive view of Section 7, recently commenting that a picketing worker who made racist comments, with no overt gestures, directed towards a group of black replacement workers was protected. The Board reasoned that one of the necessary conditions of picketing is confrontation, and that impulsive behavior on the picket line is expected, particularly when it is directed against non-striking employees. In affirming the Board’s decision in Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v National Labor Relations Board, the Eighth Circuit noted the picketing employee’s statements were not violent in character, did not contain overt or implied threats, and were not accompanied by threatening behavior or intimidating actions toward the replacement workers. The speech was protected because it was non-disruptive and occurred while the employee was engaging in protected activity (picketing). Here, it would be difficult for a Charlottesville rally participant to argue that his or her behavior under the circumstances was non-disruptive, non-threatening and/or not intimidating.

To be certain, private employers have a right to hold employees accountable for their viewpoints and to make employment decisions based on those actions, particularly where employers have a good faith belief that an employee’s viewpoints or actions may create a hostile work environment for other employees. However, as with any termination, employers should proceed with caution. Employers should not blindly trust a Twitter-verse investigation and should instead conduct their own investigation before making any employment-related decisions. Moreover, if you are a public sector employer or operate in a state subject to off-duty conduct statutes or one that does not follow the standard at-will employment doctrine, it is imperative you consult with legal counsel before proceeding with discipline or other employment-related decisions. Last, employers must not forget that if the to-be-disciplined employee also falls into a protected class, you should remain cognizant of the potential exposure with respect to a separate or inter-related discrimination claim.

Now may be as good of time as any to re-visit sensitivity and workplace harassment training.

This post was written by Janay M. Stevens of Dinsmore & Shohl LLP.
Read more employment law at the National Law Review.
Brexit

Brexit Poses Issues For Airports, Airlines

The United Kingdom’s split from the European Union could leave the nation and United States without a trade agreement to manage the aviation industry. The aviation industry currently operates between the two nations under the Open Skies agreement signed by the U.S. and the EU in 2007. However, the U.K. will no longer be covered under the agreement once it leaves the bloc and, while it is still an EU member, cannot negotiate a new agreement either.

Open Skies agreements are bilateral air service agreements (ASAs) the U.S. government negotiates with other countries to provide rights for airlines to offer international passenger and cargo services. Agreements cover a number of significant matters including rights to fly over and land in territories, regulatory requirements, competition, commercial opportunities, customs and duties, and landing charges.

The situation is creating uncertainty and legal challenges in one of the most important components of international trade. Forty percent of the EU’s air traffic to the U.S. departs from U.K. airports and nearly 48,000 flights left the U.S. bound for the U.K. in 2016 alone. Commercial arrangements in the aviation industry including for airlines, air freight companies, airports and all related businesses depend on the Open Skies agreements as a basis for their contractual arrangements. Some U.S. airlines are already seeking to renegotiate deals with U.K. airports to ensure that break clauses and other mechanisms are inserted to deal with any uncertainty following Brexit, which under Article 50 has a deadline of March 30, 2019. Post-Brexit flight bookings may also need some form of provision to deal with contractual rights to hedge against major changes in the event that the Open Skies agreement is terminated for the U.K.

Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, told reporters on Aug. 2 that without some understanding of what a future agreement will look like airlines won’t be able to plan their 2019 flight schedules.

“There is going to be a serious disruption unless the British government can negotiate an agreement by around this time next year,” Ryanair said.

In late July, Airlines for America, the nation’s largest aviation trade group, issued a formal statement calling for the airline industry to be dealt with immediately and separately from Brexit negotiations. On Aug. 1, Reuters reported that British Transport Secretary Chris Grayling met with White House and airline officials to assure them that an agreement would be in place when the U.K. exits the EU. The Federal Aviation Administration’s chief Michael Huerta has also recently explained the seriousness of the U.K.’s situation with regards to aviation safety. Along with the other EU member states, the U.K. is currently part of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which is responsible for all aspects of civil aviation safety in the EU. Speaking at the UK’s Aviation Club, Huerta pointed out that the U.K. currently benefits from the being part of EASA and that when it leaves the EU it will need to be replaced or there would be the very real possibility of an “interruption of service.”

Faced with uncertainty of legal rights and concerns about ongoing aviation safety regulation, it is important that U.S. airlines as well as U.S. logistics and freight companies monitor the situation and plan for potential disruption. Some comfort can be taken from British Government assurances that open skies agreements and regulations will be in place when the U.K. exits the EU, however, individual commercial agreements should be reviewed to minimize risk of disruption. For instance, U.S. airlines have agreements with U.K. airports for a range of services including landing rights and leases for office outlets. All these agreements may need to be reviewed sooner rather than later so that both parties have contingencies in place to avoid any disruption as much as possible.

This post was written by G. Thomas Lee and David B. Hamilton of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC.
Get more Brexit Analysis at the National Law Review.

High Time for Massachusetts Employers to Consider a Marijuana Use Policy

All employers should maintain an employee handbook or similar policy statement that clearly sets out the employer’s position on drug and alcohol use. While federal laws relating to marijuana possession and use have not changed, many states have revised their statutes to legalize, decriminalize, or otherwise permit marijuana possession and use. This has caused some confusion for employers, who must balance the conflicting state and federal rules.

Over thirty states have enacted legislation allowing marijuana use in certain situations. In some states (California and Massachusetts, for example), medical and recreational use is permitted.  In many other states, such as Connecticut and Rhode Island, only medical use is permitted.  A number of states have also adopted legislation that specifically protects marijuana users from termination from employment based solely on a positive test for marijuana.

Massachusetts does not have such a statute. However, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently issued a ruling that greatly complicates the issue of how to deal with an employee who is using marijuana. In Barbuto vs. Advantage Sales and Marketing (July 17, 2017), the SJC ruled that an employee who had been terminated as a result of a positive marijuana test could bring a claim for handicap discrimination under the Massachusetts anti-discrimination statute.  In Barbuto, the plaintiff was an employee of the defendant, who had a valid prescription for marijuana to help in treating Crohn’s disease.  After the employee was terminated because of a positive marijuana test, she brought a claim against the employer alleging, among other counts, a failure to provide a reasonable accommodation under the Massachusetts anti-discrimination statute.  The trial court dismissed all of the employee’s claims.  On appeal, the SJC upheld the trial court’s dismissal of most of the claims, but held that the employee could bring a claim under the anti-discrimination statute for disability discrimination and a failure to accommodate.  The SJC then reversed the dismissal of that count and sent the matter back to the trial court.

The SJC was careful to point out that employers could limit or defeat such claims by showing that allowing marijuana use would cause an undue hardship on an employer’s business, such as where the permitted use would conflict with other requirements like the Federal Drug Free Workplace Act. The SJC also clearly stated that Massachusetts law does not require any employer to permit on-site marijuana use as an employee accommodation. Even with those limitations, however, the Barbuto ruling does create some landmines for employers.  Massachusetts employers should become very familiar with the marijuana laws applicable in all states in which they have employees, and should enact employment policies consistent with those laws (which may differ significantly from state to state).  In addition, employers should consider and adopt (and consistently apply) policies that address how a positive test is handled (including addressing any reasonable accommodation issues).  For now, in Massachusetts, an employer will need to show how accommodating an employee’s medically prescribed marijuana use creates an undue hardship on the employer, and employers wishing to prohibit all marijuana use will need to be able to show this.

This post was written byMark J. Tarallo of Murtha Cullina.

Read more employment law news at the National Law Review.