New California Law Broadens “Equal Pay” Protections

Effective January 1st, California will have one of the toughest pay equality laws in the country.pillars

Existing California and federal law already prohibit employers from paying women less than men for the “same jobs.”  But many feel that these laws were proving ineffective in California – citing data including a U.S. Census Bureau report this year that found that full-time women employees in California are paid substantially less (a median 84 cents for every dollar) than their male counterparts.

The new law, referred to as the California Fair Pay Act, has as its stated purpose attempting to close this gap and broaden the scope of existing equal pay laws by mandating that employers pay male and female employees the same amount for “substantially similar work” under similar working conditions.  So, employees performing “substantially similar work” under similar working conditions must be paid the same amount even if they have different titles or work at different locations.  This new standard will likely make it significantly easier for employees to bring a pay discrimination claim under the California law than under the federal Equal Pay Act.  The law also prohibits retaliation against employees who complain of pay inequities.

California employers should review and update their existing compensation systems and policies to ensure that differences in pay are reasonably related to legitimate business factors (like merit or seniority), and not based on gender.  This is especially important because we anticipate that new legislation will lead to a spike in litigation — especially given that plaintiffs will have an easier task in establishing that they were performing “substantially similar work” rather than the “same job.”

New Overtime Regulations — Mid to Late 2016?

600px-US-DeptOfLabor-Seal_svgThe #1 question we’ve been receiving from our clients this fall is “When will the new overtime regs be issued?”  While previously we were left guessing on the specific timing in 2016, the Wall Street Journal and National Law Review are reporting that the Solicitor of Labor has indicated that the final regulations likely will not be issued until mid-to-late 2016.

It remains to be seen what, exactly, the final regulations include.  Per our blog post when the proposed regulations were first issued, the proposed regulations focused on the minimum salary thresholds, significantly raising those amounts.  However, the DOL also invited comment on the duty rules, so it remains possible that the final regulations may include changes beyond the salary threshold.

We will continue to monitor the status of the regulations and keep you posted on any developments.

Facebook Comments and “Likes” Protected Activity?

Social Media keyboard

Is commenting on a Facebook post protected, concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act?  What about hitting the “Like” button on a post?  The Second Circuit recently agreed with the National Labor Relations Board that they are.

In a decision last year, the Board ruled that a sports bar had unlawfully terminated two employees for their activity on Facebook.  The first employee had commented on a status update of a co-worker stating that the bar’s owners “couldn’t even do the tax paperwork correctly” and that someone should do the owners “a favor” and purchase the business from them.  The employee’s comment stated that she “owed too,” and referred to one of the owners as an “asshole.”  The second employee “liked” the first employee’s status update.  The Board held that both employees’ had engaged in protected, concerted activity under the Act, and that the bar had violated the Act when it terminated their employment.

Last month, the Second Circuit (Connecticut, New York, and Vermont) affirmed the Board’s decision.  The court held that the employees’ actions amounted to a group of employees discussing labor issues and were protected by the Act.  The bar argued that the Facebook comment and “like” were meant to defame the bar – with the use of profanity – and thus brought it outside the protections of the Act.  However, the court reasoned that the Facebook activity at issue was different from obscenities voiced by employees in earshot of customers in a crowded shop (even though customers could view the comments on Facebook).  The court also noted that the bar’s internet and blogging policy could be read as prohibiting employees from protected activity under the Act.

The take-away here?  It’s a good time for employers to review their social media policies.  As we have warned in the past, these policies as written and as enforced must not “chill” employees from engaging in protected, concerted activity.  There is often a fine-line between lawfully prohibiting certain types of activities on the internet and unlawfully interfering with employees’ protected activity.  It’s a good idea to check with counsel on how to best craft the wording of these policies to protect the employer’s interests while not interfering with employees’ rights.

2nd Circuit Speaks On SEC Whistleblower Retaliation

pillarsOn September 10th, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals (New York, Connecticut and Vermont) handed down its decision in Berman v. Neo@Ogilvy, holding that an internal report of what an employee deems to be a securities law violation can protect him from retaliation under the Dodd-Frank Act.

The Act defines “whistleblower” as “any individual who provides … information relating to a violation of the securities laws to the Commission, in a manner established by rule or regulation, by the Commission.” (Emphasis added.)  And retaliation against “whistleblowers” is prohibited by the Act. However, the Act also prohibits retaliation against those making disclosures that are protected by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which provides protection for internal reports.  The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has taken the position (in its regulations and interpretive rules) that although “whistleblower” is defined in the Act as an individual who provides information to the Commission, this other provision of the anti-retaliation section protects individuals who make an internal report to their employer.

In 2013, the 5th Circuit (Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi) rejected the SEC’s position, and ruled that the plain language of the Act requires a covered “whistleblower” – an individual who provides information relating to a violation of the securities laws to the Commission. Thus, under the 5th Circuit’s holding an employee can’t base a retaliation claim on an internal report.

In this case, the 2nd Circuit disagreed with the 5th Circuit, giving deference to the SEC’s interpretation of the Act. According to the 2nd Circuit, employees do not need to report the alleged violations of securities laws to the SEC to be protected from retaliation under the Act.

Given the circuit split, it is quite possible that the issue will find itself before the Supreme Court. Until then, and regardless of what state(s) you operate in, we recommend that you carefully consider any employment action that follows an internal or external complaint of any kind to determine whether the complaint may be considered “protected activity” and whether taking the employment action opens you to a retaliation claim.

NLRB Expands Who May be Considered a “Joint Employer”

National Labor Relations Board Building SignLate last week the NLRB issued its long awaited decision in Browning-Ferris Industries – drastically expanding who may be considered a “joint employer” under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

In Browning-Ferris, the company (“BFI”) had contracted with a labor services company – Leadpoint – to provide workers for BFI’s recycling plant.  The Leadpoint employees were hired and supervised by Leadpoint supervisors.  Their schedules were set by Leadpoint schedulers.  Any discipline was determined by Leadpoint managers.  However, under its contract with Leadpoint, BFI set requirements for candidates and retained the right to refuse or discontinue use of any employee.  Also, because of how the facility worked, BFI set the hours for the various shifts (though Leadpoint determined which workers would work each shift).

The Teamsters decided to organize the Leadpoint workers at the BFI facility.  However, instead of filing their petition for representation solely with regard to Leadpoint, the Teamsters filed their petition also naming BFI as the employees’ employer, on the theory that Leadpoint and BFI were joint employers and, as a result, that BFI could be required to negotiate the union.

The Board agreed with the Teamsters, holding that BFI was a “joint employer” of the Leadpoint employees.  As a result, the union was permitted to move forward with its petition.

In its decision, the NLRB rejected the prior test for joint employment – which required that an entity not only possess the authority to control employees’ terms and conditions of employment but also exercise that authority in a meaningful manner – and set a new rule:  that indirect or reserved authority, even if not exercised, can be sufficient to establish a joint employment relationship.

This ruling is particularly important for companies that work with subcontractors or staffing firms, or are themselves contractors or staffing firms.  Contracts governing staffing and subcontractor relationships regularly include provisions setting minimum standards for the individuals performing the services, the right to refuse workers or discontinue their use, and other requirements relating to the individuals who are performing the services.  There are strong business reasons to include these provisions, but, in light of the Board’s ruling in Browning-Ferris, companies need to be aware that the provisions which keep control over these aspects of the relationship also open the possibility that the company receiving the services will be deemed a joint employer under the NLRA.  Companies entering into these relationships should carefully weigh the benefits of control against the risk of being deemed to be a joint employer and reflect their desired balance in their contract, practice and procedures.

Webinar- Back to School: Employment Law Update

school-suppliesAs fall approaches and students head back to school, The Employment Lawyers are taking a look back and a look ahead at issues in labor and employment law. Join us for an informational webinar to review developments over the past year and discuss tips to keep your workplace practices current in the coming year.

Thursday, September 17, 2015
12:00 pm – 1:30 pm (CDT)


  • Proposed changes to overtime regulations that will make more employees overtime-eligible
  • New standards in accommodating religious practices and pregnancy
  • The NLRB’s “quickie” election rules and what they mean for union organizing efforts
  • Raising the standard to establish that a worker is properly classified as an independent contractor
  • The EEOC’s new position on wellness programs and disability discrimination
  • Expanding employee retaliation and whistleblower claims
  • New state and local laws that impact minimum wage, paid sick leave and accommodation requirements

And more…

CLE Credit Available | This program has been submitted to the HR Certification Institute for review.


Contact Annie Darmofal at 312.476.7626 or

Hiring Preference to Veterans Permitted Under New Illinois Law

pillarsPrivate Illinois employers may now give preference to veterans in their hiring practices.

Governor Bruce Rauner has signed the Veterans Preference in Private Employment Act, which allows private employers to voluntarily implement hiring policies that give preference to individuals who have served in the military, whether on active or reserve duty, including the Illinois National Guard.

Employers wanting to take advantage of this new law  will need to have a written policy and reference it on job applications.  The policy must also be publicly displayed in the employer’s workplace or on the employer’s website.


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