PHMSA Raises Random Drug Testing Rate to 50% for 2018

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration announced December 8, 2017 that during calendar year 2018, the minimum random drug testing rate will be increased to 50%.

Operators of gas, hazardous liquid, and carbon dioxide pipelines and operators of liquefied natural gas facilities must randomly select and test a percentage of all covered employees for prohibited drug use. The minimum annual random drug testing rate was 25% of all covered employees for calendar year 2017.  However, the PHMSA regulations require the Administrator to raise the minimum annual random drug testing rate from 25% to 50% of all covered employees when the data obtained from the Management Information System reports (required to be filed by covered entities under PHMSA regulations) indicate the positive test rate is equal to or greater than 1%.  In calendar year 2016, the random drug test positive test rate was greater than 1%.  Therefore, the PHMSA minimum annual random drug testing rate shall be 50% of all covered employees for calendar year 2018.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2017
This post was written by Kathryn J. Russo of Jackson Lewis P.C.
Check out the National Law Review Labor and Employment page for more information.

How Prevalent is Harassment in Organizations?

Recently it seems that we are constantly learning about another high profile individual who has allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct / harassment in the workplace.  These disclosures beg the question of how prevalent is sexual (or other forms of unlawful) harassment in our workplaces.  It is easy to believe that for every high profile individual who has misbehaved, there are countless of other employees who have similarly misbehaved.  Moreover, many of the recent disclosures suggest that the employer in question knew or had reason to know of the alleged misconduct, which had occurred over an extended period, but failed to take any prior action.  So what should organizations do now?

First, organizations should ensure that they have a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy, which includes a procedure for employees to share any concerns about harassment.  Second, organizations must educate its employees at all levels of the organization of its policy and procedure so that they become part of the organization’s culture.  Third, organizations can conduct training on its policy and the law prohibiting harassment.

Supervisors need to be regularly trained to identify conduct that could be considered harassment and how to address it, not ignore it.

Employees need to know that they are entitled to work in a harassment free environment, that they will be held accountable for their behavior at work and for their behavior out of work that can affect the work environment, and that the organization wants them to report any concerns regarding harassment so that they can be addressed.  With these steps, an organization should be able to create a culture that can quickly deal with any concerns of harassment before they present legal liability.

Authored by:  Michael Colgan Harrington of Murtha Cullina 

 © Copyright 2017 Murtha Cullina

Go to the National Law Review’s Labor & Employment Page for more information.

Illinois Employers Face A Recent Rash of Class Action Lawsuits Filed Under State Biometric Information Privacy Law

Illinois enacted its Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”) in 2008 to regulate, among other things, employer collection and use of employee biometric information.  Biometrics is defined as the measurement and analysis of physical and behavioral characteristics.  This analysis produces biometric identifiers that include things like fingerprints, iris or face scans, and voiceprints, all of which can be used in a variety of ways, including for security, timekeeping, and employer wellness programs.

Illinois is not the only state with a biometrics privacy law on its books, however, its version is considered the nation’s most stringent.  BIPA requires a business that collects and uses biometric data to protect the data in the same manner it protects other sensitive or confidential information; to establish data retention and destruction procedures, including temporal limitations of three years; to publish policies outlining its biometric data collection and use procedures; and to obtain prior, informed consent from any individuals from whom it plans to obtain and use biometric data.   The statute also requires  businesses to notify employees in the event of a data breach.

Protection of biometric data is viewed as critical because, unlike passwords comprised of letters, numbers, or typographical characters, biometric data is unique and cannot be replaced or updated in the event of a breach.  Technology now allows biometric data to be captured surreptitiously, such as recording a voice over the phone, or face mapping individuals in a crowd or through photographs, increasing the risk for its theft or unauthorized or at least, unknown, use.  In fact, these more furtive methods of collecting and using biometric data is what led to the filing of five BIPA class action lawsuits in 2015 – four against Facebook, and one against online photo website Shutterfly – that alleged these companies used facial recognition software to analyze online posts, but did not comply with BIPA’s consent or other procedural requirements.  These first lawsuits brought attention to the private right of action authorized under BIPA, which provides that any “aggrieved” person may sue and recover $1,000 for each negligent violation and $5,000 for each intentional or reckless violation, or, in both circumstances, actual damages if greater than the statutory damages.  Prevailing parties may also recover their attorneys’ fees and costs.

The plaintiffs’ employment bar recently has gotten seriously into the BIPA class action game; since August 2017, approximately 30 lawsuits have been filed in Cook County, Illinois (where Chicago is), alone.  These putative class actions have been filed against employers in many industries including gas stations, restaurants, and retail, and typically involve the employer’s use of fingerprint operated time clocks.  The cases allege that the defendant employers failed to obtain proper informed consent or fail to maintain and inform employees about policies on the company’s use, storage, and destruction of biometric data.  Many of these lawsuits also allege the employer companies have improperly shared employee biometric data with third-party time clock vendors, and some even name the vendor as a defendant.

In addition to the obvious cost of class action litigation, these suits present additional legal challenges because many aspects of BIPA remain untested.  For example, the statutory term “aggrieved” person leaves open the question whether a plaintiff must be able to prove actual harm in order to recover.  The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York both have dismissed BIPA suits for lack of standing where the plaintiffs did not allege actual harm.  The latter case, Santana v. Take-Two Interactive Software, is currently before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which heard oral argument in October 2017, but has not yet issued its ruling.   Other aspects of BIPA also remain in flux – such as whether facial recognition through photography is biometric data, as defined under the statute, and what forms of consent are compliant.  On the other side, defendants are challenging the constitutionality of the damages provisions, arguing that their potentially disproportionate nature to any actual harm violates due process.  As these issues are flushed out under BIPA, they are certain to affect other states who have already enacted, or may seek to enact, laws regarding use of biometric data.

This post was written by Daniel B. Pasternak of Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP., © Copyright 2017
For more Labor & Employment legal analysis go to The National Law Review 

Haitian TPS Program Will End in July 2019

Six months after then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly announced the extension of Haitian Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for only six months (until January 2018, when he would reevaluate the determination), Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke announced her decision to terminate the designation with a delayed effective date of 18 months.  She said this would allow for an orderly transition before the designation terminates on July 22, 2019.

Haitians with TPS will be required to reapply for Employment Authorization Documents in order to legally work in the United States until the end of the period. Further details about this termination for TPS will appear in a Federal Register notice. Termination of TPS will affect not only some 50,000-60,000 Haitians who are in the U.S. on TPS, but also their families, including approximately 30,000 U.S.-citizen children born in the U.S. to Haitians in TPS status since 2010 (when TPS was conferred after the earthquake that killed thousands on the island).

A number of advocacy groups, members of Congress, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had been urging a further extension based on ongoing problems from the devastating 2010 earthquake and Haiti’s limited capacity to reabsorb these nationals and family members.  They also highlighted that termination will create labor dislocations in certain construction, food processing, hospitality, and healthcare industries that have relied on Haitian TPS workers since 2010. Florida and Texas may be particularly hard hit as they continue to recover from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

This post was written by Michael H. Neifach of Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2017
For more Immigration legal analysis go to The National Law Review 

Yoga and Massage Therapist Fired for Being “Too Cute” Sees Gender Discrimination Revived on Grounds of Unjustified Spousal Jealousy

A New York appeals court recently ruled in Edwards v. Nicolai (153 A.D.3d 440 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep’t 2017)) that an employment termination motivated by the sexual jealousy of an employer’s spouse may support a claim for gender discrimination under the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”) and the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”).

Defendants Charles Nicolai and his wife Stephanie Adams – a former Playboy model – were co-owners of a chiropractic center located in New York City. In 2011, Nicolai hired plaintiff Dilek Edwards, a female yoga and massage therapist, and was her direct supervisor. Edwards’s complaint alleged that during the course of her employment, her relationship with Nicolai was “purely professional” and that Nicolai “regularly praised [her] work performance.”

However, in June 2013, Nicolai purportedly told Edwards “that his wife might become jealous of [her], because [Edwards] was too cute.” Several months later, Adams sent plaintiff a text message saying, “You are NOT welcome any longer at Wall Street Chiropractic, DO NOT ever step foot in there again, and stay the [expletive] away from my husband and family!!!!!!! And remember I warned you.” A few hours later, Edwards allegedly received an email from Nicolai stating, “You are fired and no longer welcome in our office. If you call or try to come back, we will call the police.” One day later, Adams filed an allegedly false complaint with the New York City Police Department claiming that Edwards placed “threatening” phone calls to Adams which caused Adams to change the locks at her home and business. Edwards’s complaint alleges that she has “no idea what sparked . . . Adams’ [sic] suspicions.”

Edwards’s NYSHRL and NYCHRL gender discrimination claims were dismissed at the trial court level. However, that decision was overturned on appeal, with the court holding that “adverse employment actions motivated by sexual attraction are gender-based, and therefore, constitute unlawful gender discrimination.” The court explained that while Edwards does not allege that she was subjected to sexual harassment, it can be inferred that Nicolai was motivated to terminate Edwards “by his desire to appease his wife’s unjustified jealousy.” Further, it can also be inferred that Adams was motivated to terminate Edwards based on Adams’s own jealousy. Accordingly, the court found it plausible that each defendant’s motivation to terminate Adams was sexual in nature and therefore unlawful.

In reaching its decision the court observed that, “while it is not necessarily unlawful for an employer to terminate an at-will employee at the urging of the employer’s spouse,” a plaintiff may find relief for such a discharge if the spouse requested the termination for unlawful, gender-related reasons. Here, assuming Edwards’s allegations are true, her termination was unlawful not because Adams asked Nicolai to fire Edwards, but because she did so for no other reason than her belief that Nicolai was sexually attracted to Edwards.

Laura Doyle contributed to this post.

This post was written by Jonathan Sokolowski of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP., Copyright © 2017
For more Labor & Employment legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

Survey Says: Employees Still Value Validation Over Compensation

For decades, survey after survey has shown that recognition, respect, etc., are far more important to employees than compensation. A new survey from Globoforce’s WorkHuman Research Institute confirms that the trend continues. One of the best things about this, in my opinion, is that every manager can impact things like recognition in the workplace in a positive way. In short, there are small things managers can do every day to improve their workplaces, employee morale and engagement.

On the union avoidance front this is key. In many cases, the catalyst for unionization of a workforce is mistreatment of employees by management (including lack of recognition on the job). This latest survey confirms the importance of maintaining positive employee relations. Accordingly, companies should consider ensuring union-free plans contain a strong component of positive employee relations training/planning.

This post was written by David J. Pryzbylski of BARNES & THORNBURG LLP., © 2017
For more Labor & Employment legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

Maryland’s Montgomery County Joins Jurisdictions Increasing Minimum Wage to $15.00

Montgomery County, Maryland, where the minimum wage already is $11.50, is set to join two states (California and New York), the neighboring District of Columbia and at least six local jurisdictions (Flagstaff (Arizona), Los Angeles, Minneapolis, San Francisco, San Jose, SeaTac and Seattle) that have enacted legislation increasing the minimum wage for some or all private sector employees to $15 over the next several years.

On November 7, 2017 the Montgomery County Council unanimously passed Bill 28-17, which increases the minimum wage for “large employers” — those with 51 or more employees in the county — to $15.00 by July 1, 2021, with intermediate increases to $12.25 on July 1, 2018, $13.00 on July 1, 2019, and $14.00 on July 1, 2020.

The bill also increases the minimum wage to $15.00 by July 1, 2023 for “mid-sized employers,” those who (1) employ 11 to 50 employees; (2) have tax exempt status under IRC Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code; or (3) provide “home health services” or “home or community based services,” as defined under federal Medicaid regulations and receive at least 75% of gross revenues through state and federal medical programs.

The bill additionally increases the minimum wage to $15.00 by July 1, 2024 for “small employers” — those with 10 or fewer employee (including non-profits and Medicaid funded home health and home or community based service providers of that size) — with intermediate increases to $12.00 on July 1, 2018, $12.50 on July 1, 2019, $13.00 on July 1, 2020, $13.50 on July 1, 2020, $14.00 on July 1, 2022 and $14.50 on July 1, 2023.

Notably, the rates of increases  is considerably slower than in the neighboring District of Columbia, which is already at $12.50 and will reach $15.00 on July 1, 2020 for all private sector employers.

In addition, the bill includes an “opportunity wage” that allows payment of a wage equal to 85% of the County minimum wage to an employee under the age of 20 for the first six months of employment.

The bill further adopts provisions to automatically adjust the minimum wage rate (1) for large employers annually starting July 1, 2022 to reflect average increases in the CPI-W for Washington-Baltimore for the previous year, and (2) for mid-sized and small employers starting July 1, 2024 and 2025, respectively, to reflect the same CPI-W increase for the previous year, plus one percent of the previous year’s required minimum wage, up to a total increase of $0.50, until the rate is equal to the amount for large employers. An employer’s size is calculated as of the time it first becomes subject to the law, and it remains subject to the applicable schedule regardless of the number of employees employed in subsequent years.

In addition, the Director of Finance must make certifications by January 31 of each year from 2018 through 2022 regarding certain reductions in county private employment, negative growth in the gross domestic product, or whether the U.S. economy is in recession. If certain targets are for that year, for no more than two times.

The bill specifically addresses concerns the County Executive expressed in vetoing a prior version of the bill that passed by a narrow majority in January 2017, by postponing the prior effective dates for large and small employers by one and two years, respectively; increasing from 26 to 51 the number of employees required to be a larger employer; creating a new mid-size employer category of 11 to 50 employees and defining a small employer as one with ten or fewer employees; and adding non-profits and Medicaid funded home health and home health services providers with more than ten employees to the extended schedule for mid-size employers. The County Executive has stated that he will sign the bill.

Notably, it is likely that an effort will be made in the upcoming state legislative session to further increase the state minimum wage, already at $9.25 and set to go to $10.10 on July 1, 2018.

This post was written by Brian W. Steinbach of Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved.,©2017

For more Labor & Employment legal analysis, go to The National Law Review