It seems like we spent the better part of 2016 getting ready to comply with the new overtime regulations that had been set to go into effect December 1, 2016 — until a federal judge in Texas issued a last-minute injunction. The Texas court’s injunction meant that the new overtime standards — including a much higher minimum salary requirement — did not go into effect as planned, even though many employers had already made changes to comply with them. That injunction is currently being appealed before the 5th Circuit, but the new Department of Labor’s positioning in that appeal is raising the potential that the 2016 rules could come back to life — at least until a new, replacement rule can get through the rule making process.
The issue here is that while the new Secretary of Labor has taken steps toward revising the overtime regulations (with an eye toward making them more employer-friendly), the DOL has not asked the appellate court to uphold the injunction that was issued late last November. This sets up a situation where the 5th Circuit could rule to dissolve the injunction — allowing the Obama administration’s rule to go into effect — before the agency has a replacement rule ready via the regulatory process.
Were this to occur, it would create a very difficult situation for the DOL and employers alike. The current DOL would be charged with implementing a rule that it plans to do away with, and employers would have to figure out how to comply with a rule that will likely change in the near future.
We suggest that employers hold tight until more information is known. Given the last-minute nature of the injunction, many employers had already taken steps to comply with the new overtime rules before they were stayed, so if the injunction is dissolved, those employers should be able to pick the process back up where they left off.
It is not clear when the 5th Circuit will issue its decision on the fate of the regulations and injunction, but we will alert you when it does.
On 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.