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Umbrella - SeattleInitiative 124 (aka I-124), the ballot measure approved by voters in November 2016 that establishes several new purported "safety and health" standards for hotel employees in the city of Seattle, opens the door for unprecedented exposures for Seattle's hotel operators. Since its enactment last December, Initiative 124 has given rise to several questions about how, if at all, insurance policies might respond to allegations under the new law.

Both the courts and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seem to keep changing the definitions of joint employment. It is no wonder this has left employers scratching their head about the situation. The cause for this itch is the analysis differs depending on the law at issue. For example, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), various state employment laws defining “employees,” common law (guided by the National Labor Relations Act), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and workers’ compensation laws all have joint employer doctrines and associated tests that are slightly different from the others.

To demonstrate these differences, we will look at two of the most recent cases that modify the joint employer analysis under both the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (the FLSA). Both these cases define a test – but it is not the same test. Unfortunately, the lesson is that an employer or putative employer will not know whether a person is an employee for the purposes of a particular law without determining first what test should be applied for that law.

November 2016 held more than one shock for many in America. Not only did the presidential election cycle come to a dramatic close, but the government introduced its new Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification.

First introduced in 1986, the “Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification,” must be completed for every new employee. Over time, it has been expanded from one page to two. And its instructions have grown from less than a page, to six pages for the 2013 edition to 15 pages of Instructions – more than four for the employee section alone – for the 2016 edition in English and in Spanish.

If you had asked me one month ago to predict the winner of the presidential election, I would have been wrong. Therefore, rather than make my own [ill-fated] predictions of the changes that await employers when PEOTUS takes office, I consulted my trusty Magic 8 Ball. Here’s what it predicted:

Will the overtime rule ever become law?     

MY SOURCES SAY NO.

We all have heard by now that the Department of Labor (DOL) rules extending eligibility for time-and-a-half overtime pay to some 4.2 million additional workers (including many employees in the hospitality industry) are on hold thanks to an injunction by a federal court judge in Texas.  So what now?  The DOL under the Obama administration was expected to appeal the ruling to the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, but the Trump administration has different priorities and may decide not to pursue an appeal after all.

On Tuesday, November 22nd, a United States District judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction that blocks the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) from implementing a controversial rule that would have expanded overtime protections from going into effect, at least for now.  The pending regulations were scheduled to go into effect on December 1, 2016 and would have more than doubled the salary level required for employees classified as exempt under the “White Collar” exemptions.  The Department of Labor estimated if the new regulations went in to effect more than 4 million workers would now be eligible for overtime.  The salary level is currently $455 per week or $23,660 per year.  The new regulations would have increased that amount to $913 per week or $47,476 per year.

When we last visited this topic, the proposed regulations revising the overtime exemptions were still very new.  The regulations are due to go into effect on December 1 of this year.  There has been legislation introduced to stop them from being implemented and court cases are pending.  This article will remind you of the obligations, answer some additional questions that keep coming up and will bring you up to date on the efforts to stop the regulations from going into effect.

On Monday, July 25, 2016, the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to place Initiative 124 (“I-124”), entitled the “Seattle Hotel Employees Health and Safety Initiative,” on the November 2016 ballot. Many voters will likely not even bother to look beyond the title before casting their vote. But they should. There is much more to this initiative than the title suggests.

I-124 is comprised of five substantive parts, plus definitions and a “miscellaneous” section (containing perhaps the most important piece of the entire initiative – more on that in the following paragraph). Each of these parts has an admirable statement of purpose (e.g., “Protecting Hotel Employees from Violent Assault and Sexual Harassment”), and a slew of requirements that are allegedly aimed at achieving that purpose. But, as with the title of the entire initiative, each part contains language that prompts countervailing concerns.

Old computer clocking inThe good news is the long awaited rule on overtime has arrived – finally. The proposed rule goes into effect on December 1, 2016. The quick summary is the changes aren’t quite as bad as everyone feared. The long summary is below. We have broken out the rules into specific talking points to try and make them easier to digest. This does not erase the entire prospect of heartburn, however. The Department of Labor has also developed a page of Questions and Answers on the new rule, which includes a comparison between the old rule and the new rule.

Despite lawsuits and persistent legal uncertainties, the “sharing economy” is booming, and the companies at its forefront continue to grow.  Some of these businesses are a natural complement to the hotel industry, while others directly compete with it.  Whatever may become of these companies as they are reined in by regulation, one thing is certain: the rise or fall of the “sharing economy” will define the landscape of the hospitality sector in the decades ahead.

Ridesharing giant Uber raised $2.1 billion in its most recent round of funding, buoyed by a valuation of more than $65 billion – a remarkable ascendance for the five-year-old company.  Its success has attracted a wave of new entrants seeking to gain a foothold in this burgeoning market.  But the road to a share of the sharing economy is fraught with legal peril.

Scales of justiceCharles Hausberg is a guest author and a member of GSB’s Labor and Employment practice group. You can reach Charles at chausberg@gsblaw.com or at 206.816.1525. 

In December 2015, the City of Seattle passed the “Wage Theft Prevention and Harmonization Ordinance,” which made changes to all four of Seattle’s labor standards ordinances—Paid Sick and Safe Time (PSST), Minimum Wage, Wage Theft, and Fair Chance Employment.

Across the board, the new law provides harsher penalties for noncompliance than in the past. For example, there is now a rebuttable presumption that an employer has retaliated if it takes adverse action within 90 days of the employee’s exercise of protected rights. An employer in this situation must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the protected activity was not a factor in the decision to take adverse action. Thus, it is essential to carefully document all responses to concerns about employees’ protected rights as well as reasons for adverse employment actions.

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Greg Duff, Editor
Greg Duff founded and chairs GSB’s national Hospitality, Travel & Tourism group. His practice largely focuses on operations-oriented matters faced by hospitality industry members, including sales and marketing, distribution and e-commerce, procurement and technology. Greg also serves as counsel and legal advisor to many of the hospitality industry’s associations and trade groups, including AH&LA, HFTP and HSMAI.

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