Wisconsin becomes the latest “right-to-work” state

wisconsin-webOn March 9th, Wisconsin passed right-to-work legislation banning collective bargaining agreements that require private-sector workers to pay labor fees. The law, which makes Wisconsin the 25th state to pass such legislation, becomes effective immediately.

The legislation bans “union security clauses” — clauses that provide for the termination of an employee who fails to join and pay labor fees to the union — from being included in collective bargaining agreements.

Although this type of legislation started in the southern and western states, in recent years, Indiana and Michigan, traditionally union-friendly states, passed similar right-to-work laws. This type of legislation has proven to reduce state-wide union membership.

It seems unlikely that Illinois will implement right to work legislation in the private sector (at least with the current makeup of the legislature), but it is definitely on the forefront in the public sector.  Last month, Illinois governor, Bruce Rauner, announced a controversial executive order that would prohibit unions from requiring state workers to pay union fees.

2015 Check-In — Have you updated your policies and documents?

Echeckarlier this year, we posted a checklist outlining key issues and action items for compliance in 2015. With the first quarter coming to a close, we want to remind you of a few important items from that checklist that required changes to your policies and practices, as well as alert you to a new item that requires immediate action.

Change FMLA policy to reflect same-sex spouses.

Effective March 27, 2015, the definition of “spouse” under the FMLA will be amended so that an eligible employee in a legal same-sex marriage will be allowed to take FMLA leave for his or her spouse. Make sure that you change your FMLA policies and practices to reflect this new definition.

Confirm employment applications and processes comply with “Ban the Box.”

As of the first of this year, Illinois employers must wait until an interview has been granted (or, if no interview, until a conditional offer of employment has been made) before asking about criminal history. New Jersey’s new law, effective earlier this month, requires companies to wait even longer. Employers hiring in these states — as well as in other states with similar laws — should ensure that employment applications do not contain criminal background questions and that questions regarding criminal background are not asked until it’s legal to do so.

Comply with new Illinois pregnancy accommodation rules and notice requirements.

As of January 1st, Employers in Illinois are required to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees and applicants who ask for them, to post a notice in the workplace regarding pregnancy accommodation rights, and to include language relating to such rights in their handbooks. Make sure your team is aware of these requirements and that any necessary changes to policies and practices have been made.

FLSA lawsuits on the rise

arrow-riseStatistics released earlier this month by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts show an 8.8% increase in the number of Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) cases in the year ending in September 2014 as compared to the prior year.

This dramatic increase is the result of a variety of factors. First, the law itself has many ambiguities in its terms and definitions. Although the Department of Labor has attempted to reduce ambiguity in its guidance and regulations, many terms and issues are still unresolved and leave open the potential for legal claims. Also, the law is old. Applying a law passed in 1938 to the modern workplace, with drastic advances in technology, can be very difficult and often times leads to confusion. Finally, both employees and the attorneys to whom they may go to challenge a termination are becoming more savvy regarding wage and hour issues. As a result, we are seeing many cases where a terminated employee who comes into an attorney’s office looking to sue for “wrongful termination” walks out with a wage and hour claim – potentially even a class claim.

Employers should continue to review wage and hour practices to make sure that employees are properly classified as exempt or non-exempt and are being paid in accordance with local requirements. In addition, employers with specific concerns about class or collective actions should consider an arbitration program, which would require all claims to be dealt with in arbitration on an individual – not class or collective – basis.

Temporary Waiver of ACA Penalties for Small Employers’ Individual Insurance Premium Reimbursement Plans

affordable-care-act-generic-graphic-hearstLast week, the IRS announced the waiver (for 2014 and the first half of 2015) of the penalty for “small” employers that reimburse employees for individual health insurance premiums. To the IRS, “small employer” means an employer that normally employs fewer than the equivalent of 50 full-time (30 hours/week) employees. You can read the entire notice here.

We have previously posted about the IRS and DOL position that employer reimbursement of employees’ individual health insurance premiums—either inside or outside of a public exchange—are “group health plans” that violate the Affordable Care Act’s insurance market reforms (links to our related posts follow this one). This latest IRS notice confirms their previously announced position, and clarifies that even a reimbursement program that treats the reimbursement as taxable gross income to employees (“after-tax”) violates the ACA if the employer makes the payment only as reimbursement for health care and not to employees who do not have those expenses.

We expect the ACA rules and deadlines to continue to evolve, so we are advising our clients to stay tuned and check in with legal counsel if in doubt over compliance requirements and non-compliance penalties.  We will continue to keep you posted as news develops.

 

 

Illinois Enacts Secure Choice Savings Program

Illinois Secure Choice Savings ProgramOn January 4, 2015, outgoing Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn signed The Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program Act, requiring any business in operation for at least two years that has 25 employees or more in Illinois, and that does not have a qualified retirement plan, to offer its employees an individual retirement savings plan by June 1, 2017.

Covered employers will be required to enroll employees into a newly created, state-sponsored Roth IRA program that comes with a default 3% payroll deduction contribution. Employers will not be required to contribute. Employees will be able to choose a different contribution amount or opt out of the program entirely, though supporters say they expect most employees who currently have no retirement savings option at work will choose to participate.

None of this will happen immediately. The Act contains only an outline of the program and provides for a board to be appointed that will design the final program during a planned 24-month startup period. But before the board can take significant action, it must obtain start-up funding for the program, through future state appropriations or donations. Once the board obtains funding and designs the program, employers will have nine more months to enroll employees before facing penalties.

We will keep you informed once solid information and directives are available.

The Courts Continue to Debate Restrictive Covenant Enforcement in Illinois – UPDATED 2/20

From time to time, other attorneys with our firm will contribute blog posts on items that may be of interest to members of the labor and employment law community. Today, we are fortunate to have a post contributed by Jason Hirsh, a partner in Levenfeld Pearlstein’s Litigation Group. Jason’s post discusses current Illinois cases at the forefront of labor and employment law that frequently come up when employers draft, or seek to enforce, restrictive covenants in their employment agreements in this changing legal climate . . .

employent contract

Courts in Illinois are in the midst of a significant legal debate relative to whether a post-employment restrictive covenant involving an at-will employee can be enforced if the employee has less than two years of continued employment. This two-year bright line rule first blossomed in the often cited Fifield v. Premier Dealer Servs., Inc., 373 Ill.Dec.379 (1st Dist. 2013) decision. The debate continues to play out in the Chicago federal court.

In Montel Aetnastak, Inc. v. Miessen, 998 F.Supp.2d 694, 716 (N.D. Ill. 2014), Judge Castillo refused to apply the two-year bright line rule presumably adopted in Fifield. Judge Holderman, on the other hand, in Instant Technology, LLC v. Defazio, 12 C 491, __ F.Supp.2d __, 2014 WL 1759184 at *14 (N.D. Ill. 2014), took a contrary view.

On February 6, 2015, in Bankers Life and Casualty Company v. Richard Miller, et al., Case No. 14 CV 3165, Judge Shah waded into this controversy and rejected the two-year bright line rule. Instead, Judge Shah concluded that not only has “the Illinois Supreme Court not spoken on this issue”, but that case law does not support the argument that two years of employment is “necessary” to support a restrictive covenant.

This is a critically important issue affecting employers. Given the obvious uncertainty in the area of restrictive covenant enforcement, we recommend other forms of consideration, such as bonus payments, be considered.

Read the Bankers Life and Casualty Company v. Richard Miller, et al., Case No. 14 CV 3165 decision.

UPDATE (2/20/15) 
On the heels of Bankers Life, on February 13, 2015, in Cumulus Radio Corp. v. Olson, et al., Case No. 15-cv-1067 (C.D. Ill.2015), Judge McDade of the federal court in Peoria, Illinois granted an employer’s motion for a temporary restraining order stating “the Court does not believe that the Illinois Supreme Court would adopt the bright-line test announced in Fifield.”  Judge McDade added that the two-year bright line rule “suffers from a number of analytical problems that make it unsatisfying.”  Judge McDade also stated it also suffers from a “failure to give weight to the reason that an employee’s at-will employment ended.”  Favoring a case-by-case analysis, akin to that suggested by Bankers Life, Judge McDade further criticized the two-year bright line rule stating “[s]uch a rule is overprotective of employees, and risks making post-employment restrictive covenants illusory for employers subject completely to the whimsy of the employee as to the length of his employment.”

 

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