Thursday, January 31, 2008

FMLA Amendments Signed - Leave for Relatives of Military

Congress passed FMLA amendments expanding FMLA protection leave taken under certain circumstances by relatives of soldiers. We covered the amendments here. The president initially vetoed the law in which the FMLA amendments were contained. Now he has signed them. They are included within HR 4986, as section 585. (It's a big bill, concerning a number of issues related to defense; so, please scroll to that section). We will be writing an article regarding compliance with this new law over the next couple of weeks.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Court of Appeal: Stock Options OK Form of Payment

The Court of Appeal upheld a stock option plan against a claim that it worked illegal forfeitures under the California Labor Code. The Court held that Citigroup's stock option plan was valid because, in a "two-step" transaction, it gave employees cash with the right to buy options at a heavily discounted price. The catch was they forfeited it if they did not remain employed.
The Court held this plan, as drafted, was not an illegal forfeiture.

The Court also noted even if the options were granted directly, the forfeiture would be valid because it was express and clear.
Of significance to wage and hour wonks, like me, the court also addressed whether payment in stock options was a violation of the Labor Code's requirement of the form of payment. I once posited that issue to a DLSE official and received a chilling answer. But no. The court said Section 212 does not apply when payment is made in stock options. That should give everyone a sigh of relief. ::Sigh::: The case is Schachter v. Citigroup and the opinion is here.

Ninth Circuit: Cab Operators Were Employees, Not Independent Contractors

When a union organizes an employer's workers, the National Labor Relations Act governs the union election. Independent contractors cannot be organized because they are not considered "employees." When an employer claims that workers are independent contractors as a defense to union organizing, the NLRB (and a reviewing court) will apply federal law. In NLRB v. Friendly Cab Co., opinion here, the Ninth Circuit held that Friendly's cab drivers were employees, not independent contractors, and therefore were properly organized by the union. The opinion thoroughly discusses the criteria federal courts apply to independent contractor analysis in the labor law context.

February 1 Is OSHA Log Day!

February 1 is when all good employers' thoughts turn to their OSHA 300 logs.
Here is a helpful reminder from our friends at the California Chamber of Commerce.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

California Supreme Court: No Accommodation for Medical Marijuana

The California Supreme Court decided today that there is no duty under the Fair Employment and Housing Act to "reasonably accommodate" medical marijuana use as treatment for a "disability." The Court also held the plaintiff could not state a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy based on California's Compassionate Use Act, aka Prop. 215. The Legislature may pass a law amending FEHA to require accommodation of medical marijuana use, assuming the Governor would sign such a bill. Or, another initiative may be presented to the voters. Until then, though, employers may deny employment based on positive drug tests for marijuana, medical or otherwise. The case is Ross v. RagingWire Telecomm., Inc. The opinion is here.

I admit this is an especially nice post to write, considering I principally authored the employer's briefs at the Court of Appeal and in the Supreme Court. Shameless plug, I know, but this has been a long time coming! And a thank you to my former colleagues Marlena (Ct.App.) and Tim (S.Ct.) for their hard work on the briefs, and to my former partner, Rob, for arguing at the Supreme Court.


No Workers' Compensation Benefits for Mean Employee

So Verga is a United Airlines employee. She is tough on her co-workers. They resent it and are mean to her. Verga files a workers' compensation claim for "stress" caused by the co-workers' "disdain." The Court of Appeal, agreeing with the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, held: "No benefits for you!"

Here is the gist of it:

The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (the WCAB) concluded that Rosemary
Verga was not entitled to compensation for psychiatric injury while employed by United Airlines. According to Verga, her psychiatric injury was the result of harassment and persecution by her supervisor and co-workers. However, the WCAB found “the true fact remains that [Verga] was not actually subject to harassment or persecution, she instead brought upon herself the disdain of her co-workers” because Verga was “a difficult person to get along with”; she was impolite, unpleasant, and co-workers “never knew when [she] might get upset.” The WCAB held: “That disdain is not an actual event of employment” within the meaning of the statute. [par.] We issued a writ of review and shall now affirm the WCAB order.

The case is Verga v. WCAB and the opinion is here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

More Discrimination Charges May Be Filed?

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has implemented a new, online system for beginning the process of filing discrimination charges. Read the press release here. The online system actually is a way to set up an appointment for intake. Previously, employees had to scheduled those appointments over the telephone during the day. When they're at work. And when the DFEH representative is available to answer the telephone. The new system does not automate the actual charge-filing process. So, employees who were discouraged from making an appointment during the workday will now be able to do so when they're surfing the internet. That will lead to more appointments scheduled. But the intake process will then continue in the old-fashioned way. So, it's unclear how many new charges will actually be filed as a result of the new system.

Have a nice weekend.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Directors Not "Employees" under Federal Law

The Board of Directors of a non-profit did not count as "employees" under the federal ADEA or ADA. Media Center provides public access programming in Nevada. One of its employees sued under ADEA and ADA for age and disability discrimination. The district court dismissed the case because Media Center did not have sufficient "employees" when one disregarded the directors as well as certain volunteer "producers."

As the court pointed out, whether the directors count as "employees"

is governed by the United States Supreme Court’s analysis in Clackamas
Gastroenterology Associates, P.C. v. Wells, 538 U.S. 440 (2003). In Clackamas, the Court addressed whether physicians that were also directors and shareholders of a clinic were employees for purposes of the ADA. The Court noted that Congress had intended the word “employee” to describe “the conventional master-servant relationship as understood by common-law agency doctrine.” Id. at 445 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The Court then described six factors relevant to determining whether a director is an employee:

• Whether the organization can hire or fire the individual or set the rules and regulations of the individual’s work
• Whether and, if so, to what extent the organization supervises the individual’s work
• Whether the individual reports to someone higher in the organization
• Whether and, if so, to what extent the individual is able to influence the rganization
• Whether the parties intended that the individual be an employee, as expressed in written agreements or contracts
• Whether the individual shares in the profits, losses, and liabilities of the organization.

Applying this test, the Court held directors are not "employees." The case is Fichman v. Media Center and the opinion is here.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ninth Circuit STAYS Injunction, Allowing SF Health Care Ordinance to Go Forward

Stay with me here.....

In late-December, the U.S. District Court enjoined San Francisco's Health Care Security Ordinance. That meant that it could not go into effect. Here is our post on the injunction.

The City appealed. Typically, the injunction remains in effect until the appeal is over.

But the City decided to ask the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to stay the injunction pending resolution of the appeal. That is, the City wants to implement its law that the district court says is illegal.

No way, right? I mean if the stay issues, then the law goes into effect. That's not fair. If the law is later found preempted by the court of appeals, who is going to pay back all those employers who were subjected to an illegal law? (No one.) So, of course, the Ninth Circuit would not engage in an exercise of raw power and basically pre-decide an appeal to facilitate San Francisco's universal health care law, right?

Wrong. The Ninth Circuit just granted the stay based on an expedited motion and an argument on January 3. In granting the stay, the Court basically decided that the city is going to win on appeal. The panel could not have been much stronger in its language. Here is the opinion.

Here's a question the court did not tackle: What's the point of having an full appeal procedure when the court is willing to say, based on an appeal that took less than a week to file, argue, and decide, that there is a "strong likelihood" of reversal? Not much. So, if you ever want to see how well your appeal is going to fare before the Ninth Circuit, apply for a stay!

It seems that if the Golden Gate Restaurant Association intends on winning, it will have to convince the en banc court to decide this case, or the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, the SF Health Care Security Ordinance is going to go into effect. That means we have to read and digest what it requires... which I will do in the future.


Friday, January 04, 2008

FMLA Amendments Vetoed

Proposed amendments to the FMLA, discussed here, intended to expand the law to cover leave to care for members of the military, are on hold. The President vetoed the proposed legislation, which included a bundle of unrelated measures. The FMLA amendments may pass as part of a new bill. Stay tuned.