On 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.
Earlier 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.
Statistics 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.
Companies devote significant resources to keeping computer networks and information secure, but those efforts can be undone when employees work outside the secure workspace. When an employee downloads a document to a personal laptop, saves information on an unencrypted external storage drive, uses the local coffee shop wi-fi, or – as the headlines have reminded us this week – uses personal email for business purposes, secure information is at risk.
What’s an employer to do? Here are some tips:
- Make sure that your human resources and technology teams are working together on issues relating to network and information security.
- Implement a clear policy prohibiting use of personal email for business purposes and prohibiting employees from using unsecured internet connections and storage drives.
- Only allow employees to access company networks with approved devices and, if you allow employees to use personal mobile devices for business, implement a “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) Policy that sets security requirements (such as requiring strong passwords) and gives the company the right to review and wipe devices.
- Train all employees in security protocols so that they understand not only your requirements but the reasons why they’re necessary. Employees may not think much of using public wi-fi or personal email until you explain the real risk that both raise.
- Make sure that employees who work remotely have secure options for connecting.
- Monitor outgoing email to identify employees who may be emailing confidential information to personal emails.
- If you discover that an employee is violating security requirements — take appropriate action.