OSHA and EEOC regulatory updates and enforcement stats on first year of Trump administration

OSHA

Rule and policy status

  • Maximum penalties for violations increased to adjust for inflation as of Jan. 2, 2018.OSHA is required to annually adjust civil penalties under a 2015 law that significantly increased the maximum penalties allowed for violations. In January, the maximum penalty for willful and repeat violations increased from $126,749 to $129,336. The maximum fines for other-than-serious, serious, and failure to abate violations rose from $12,615 to $12,934 per violation.
  • General industry compliance date for Beryllium Standard – March 12, 2018
  • General industry compliance date for Silica rule – June 23, 2018
  • Certification of crane operators – Nov. 10, 2018
  • Elements of Walking-Working Surfaces & Fall Protection – Nov. 19, 2018
  • Rewrite of Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) remains active in the final rule stage under the Standards Improvement Project to make non-controversial changes to confusing or outdated standards. The proposal is to remove “unexpected energization” language from the standard.
  • Injury Data Electronic Submission. OSHA is working on a draft of a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) to “reconsider, revise, or remove provisions of the “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses” final rule. While July 1, 2018 remains the deadline for the next data submission, OSHA recently changed its website to read: “Covered establishments with 250 or more employees are only required to provide their 2017 Form 300A summary data. OSHA is not accepting Form 300 and 301 information at this time.” Pundits are speculating that changes will include increasing the thresholds for high hazard industries and small employers, limiting submission to Form 300A, and eliminating the Anti-Retaliation provisions.
  • There has been no pullback in the criminal prosecution of employers for willful violations that result in a fatality. A.G. Sessions has not archived the Yates memo, which was issued under the Obama administration and expanded individual accountability for corporate wrongdoing and encouraged use of the tougher environmental statutes. Many expect continued criminal prosecutions.
  • There has been a shift away from the enforcement-heavy philosophy of the Obama administration and an increase in compliance assistance programs and alliances. NBC News recently reported that the number of OSHA inspectors fell 4 percent over the first nine months of 2017; 40 inspectors had left the agency and not been replaced. Impact varied by region, with the Southeast region losing 10 inspectors and experiencing a 26% decline in inspections in the first eight months of the Trump administration. However, inspections in 2017 did increase overall.
  • To date, there has been no change to the expanded scope of the Obama administration’s repeat violation policies. However, this should be watched as many expect a return to the treatment of individual, independent workplaces rather than an umbrella corporate approach and a lookback period of three, rather than five years.
  • There is an effort underway to revitalize the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP).
  • There was a significant shift away from public shaming. Only 45 press releases related to fines were published in 2017, compared to an average of 463/year for the previous five years. (Conn Maciel Carey L.L.P.)
  • Even though Fed OSHA is reducing the emphasis on enforcement, some state OSH programs, such as California, are increasing enforcement.

Enforcement stats

A recent webinar by the law firm, Washington-based Conn Maciel Carey L.L.P. took a look at OSHA enforcement action in 2017 and the results may surprise you:

  • While the number of OSHA inspections declined each year from 2012 to 2016, they increased 1.4% from 31,948 in 2016 to 32,396 in 2017
  • The number of violations issued has declined since 2010. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of violations declined from 59,856 to 52,519 or 12.2%
  • The percentage of inspections that resulted in no citations issued has remained relatively stable – between 23% and 27%
  • The average penalty per serious violation was $3,645 in 2017, up from $3,415 in 2016
  • The cases with proposed penalties of $100,000 of more jumped dramatically from 154 in 2016 to 218 in 2017, but million-dollar cases fell from an average of 8.4 per year to 6 in 2017
  • The number of repeat violations dropped from 3,146 in 2016 to 2,771 in 2017

 

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Rule and policy status

  • The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has vacated the EEOC’s wellness rule effective Jan. 1, 2019, instructing the agency that its goal of revising the rule by 2021 is too slow
  • The Obama rule for large companies to report wages by race and gender on the EEO-1 form was stayed by the Office of Management and Budget in August 2017, except for the new March 31 filing deadline. Covered employers must file their 2017 Form EEO-1 no later than March 31, 2018 and the snapshot period used to compile data should be one pay period during the period from October 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017
  • A pullback on efforts to expand Title VII to cover sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination is expected

Enforcement stats

  • Retaliation charges accounted for the largest number of charges (41,097) filed in fiscal year 2017 for the seventh consecutive year and represented 48.8% of all charges
  • While the overall number of charges filed declined by 7.9%, there was only a slight decline in retaliation charges
  • Following retaliation, race was the second most frequent charge filed with the agency in fiscal year 2017 (28,528) – 33.9% of the total. This was followed by disability, 26,838, or 31.9% of the total; sex, 25,605, or 30.4% and age, 18,376, or 21.8%.
  • The agency also received 6,696 sexual harassment charges and obtained $46.3 million in monetary benefits for victims of sexual harassment

According to the 14th annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report issued by Chicago-based law firm Seyfarth Shaw L.L.P, key 2017 trends were:

  • The monetary value of top workplace class action settlements rose dramatically, with the top 10 settlements in various employment-related class action categories totaling $2.27 billion, an increase of more than $970 million from 2016’s $1.75 billion
  • Evolving case law precedents and new defense approaches resulted in better outcomes for employers in opposing class certification requests
  • There was no “head-snapping pivot” in filings and settlement of government enforcement litigation despite the change in administration. In fact, government enforcement litigation increased in 2017
  • Several key U.S. Supreme Court rulings over the past year were arguably more pro-business than past year’s decisions

Despite the change in the administration and the Trump deregulatory agenda, the enforcement stats suggest workplace issues are still a high priority for OSHA and the EEOC. Some speculate this will change when new leadership is fully in place. Others suggest that significant enforcement will continue since the language and requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act make deregulation difficult without legal challenges and even if the risk of being subjected to systemic EEOC litigation lessens, employers who do not have robust and effective anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and practices will remain at significant risk of litigation from private attorneys.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Things you should know

Fatal work injuries reach highest level since 2008

Workplace fatalities increased for the third year in a row in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, rising to 5,190, a 7% increase from the 4,836 fatal injuries reported in 2015. Double-digit increases were reported in workplace violence and overdose fatalities.

Work injuries involving transportation incidents remained the most common fatal event in 2016, accounting for 2,083 fatalities, or 40% of the overall total. But violence and other injuries by persons or animals increased 23% to 866 cases, becoming the second-most common fatal event in 2016. Fatal work injuries from slips, trips and falls were the third-most common fatal event last year.

Texas was the state with the highest number of worker deaths (545), followed by California (376), Florida (309) and New York (272). In all, 36 states experienced increases in deaths due to workplace injuries in 2016.


Operation Airbrake puts 2,700 CMVs out of service for brake-related violations

An unannounced inspection blitz of commercial motor vehicles resulted in 14 percent being placed out of service for brake-related violations, according to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. On Brake Safety Day, which took place Sept. 7, CVSA inspectors checked 7,698 trucks and buses in the United States and Canada. The inspections resulted in 1,064 vehicles being taken out of service for brake violations and 1,680 (22 percent) for other infractions.


New video for tower workers: Safe use of snow-tracked vehicles

A new video highlights the proper operation of snow-tracked vehicles when accessing remote tower locations.


NIOSH withdraws proposed rule on respirator leakage standards

NIOSH has withdrawn a notice of proposed rulemaking that would have established standards for total inward leakage of half-mask air-purifying particulate respirators. According to NIOSH, the public comment period produced enough evidence to convince the agency to rescind the notice.

 

 

State News

California

  • A new law lowering the corporate officers’ ownership threshold for opting out of work comp coverage to 10%, from a current 15%, will be effective July 1.
  • The closed drug formulary for workers’ compensation will be updated quarterly by a committee of three doctors and three pharmacists who will meet several times a year, according to the Division of Workers Compensation.
  • The Department of Industrial Relations announced 376 workers died on the job in 2016, down slightly from 388 deaths in 2015 but still higher than the most recent low of 344 in 2014.

Florida

  • The Office of Judges of Compensation Claims reported that claimants’ attorney fees increased 36% in the latest fiscal year, following the state Supreme Court’s April 2016 decision in Castellanos v. Next Door Co., which reinstated hourly fees for claimants’ attorneys.

Illinois

  • Medical payments per workers compensation claim were 24% higher than the median for other states examined in a new study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI).

Kansas

  • In 2016, there were 74 fatal work-related injuries according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), 50% of which were transportation incidents.

Michigan

  • Workers’ compensation medical payments are among the lowest in the country, according to a WCRI study medical payments per claim, limited to 2.2% per year, due in part to lower prices paid for professional services as well as lower payments per service for hospital outpatient services.

Missouri

  • The Department of Insurance is recommending a 3% decrease in workers’ compensation insurance loss costs for 2018, on top of a 4% decrease that took effect on Aug. 1.

Minnesota

  • Minnesota experienced 92 workplace fatalities in 2016, a 24.3% increase over the prior year and 48.3% above the 2015 rate. Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting accounted for the most deaths, followed by construction.
  • The Workers’ Compensation Assigned Risk Plan has issued a notice regarding rates for new and renewal policies, effective Jan. 1 through March 31. Because certain classification codes have been eliminated and two new classification codes created, MWCARP is publishing new rate pages, effective Jan. 1. The eliminated classification codes are 1655, 1853, 3175, 3223, 4053, 4061, 4101, 6017, 7228, 7229 and 9149.The new classification codes are 7219 and 7225.

Mississippi

  • Workers die on the job at a rate double that of the national average, according to the National Employment Law Project. The national average is 3.4 deaths per 100,000 workers, while Mississippi’s rate is 6.8, the fourth highest number in the country for 2015, behind North Dakota’s more than 12, Wyoming’s 10 and Montana’s 7.5. The leading fatal work injuries by occupation were 35% for transportation/material moving and 17% for construction/extraction.

New York

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation that will require workers’ compensation insurers to notify policyholders 30 days before hiking their renewal premiums by more than 10%.
  • The medical share of total workers’ compensation benefit costs dropped to 37% in 2015 and 2016 from a high of 42% in 2007, while the national average is 51.4%, according to a report by the New York Compensation Insurance Rating Board.

North Carolina

  • Medical payments per workers compensation claim decreased 6% per year from 2013 through 2015, according to the WCRI, likely due to fee schedule rules.
  • The Industrial Commission reminds stakeholders of a new employee misclassification statute that went into effect Dec. 31.

Pennsylvania

  • Acting Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman has approved an emergency loss cost increase of 6.06%, effective Feb. 1, in response to the state Supreme Court’s Protz decision.

 

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Legal Corner

FMLA
Employee can be terminated for unexcused absences while entitled to FMLA absences

In Bertig v. Julia Ribaudo Healthcare Group, a nurse was certified for FMLA leave for cancer and asthma. Her employer, a local hospital, had a policy that employees are subject to termination when they accrue seven absences in a rolling 12-month period. She incurred a total of 13 intermittent absences in a 12-month period, only three of which were related to her cancer or asthma.

The hospital had thoroughly documented the reasons for each absence, made its expectations clear, and the nurse acknowledged most of her absences were not related to her cancer or asthma. The court found that she was properly terminated.

Workers’ Compensation
Exclusive remedy does not bar suit against employer under Insurance Fraud Prevention Act (IFPA) – California

In The People ex rel. Mahmoud Alzayat v. Gerald Hebb et al., the 4th District Court of Appeals’ Second Division allowed a workers’ IFPA claim to proceed, noting the act contains qui tam provisions, which allow private citizens to file civil suits on behalf of the state. In this case, an employee argued he suffered a legitimate workplace injury, but his supervisor lied on the reports causing the claim denial. While the company argued that the suit was barred based on the litigation privilege of a workers’ compensation proceeding, the Court of Appeal reversed and found in favor of the worker, holding that the IFPA is an exception to the litigation privilege.

Exclusive remedy doesn’t protect supervisor from assault claim – California

In Lee v. Lang, three employees of the Christian Herald filed suit against the director of the publication for multiple wage-and-hour violations and one asserted claims for assault, battery and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Court of Appeals reversed in part the judgement in favor of the director, noting “the Labor Code provides an employee may sue his or her employer, notwithstanding the exclusive remedy provision of workers’ compensation, ‘[w]here the employee’s injury – is proximately caused by a willful physical assault by the employer.”

Injuries in vanpool accident limited to workers’ comp – Illinois

In Peng v. Nardi, a buffet restaurant provided a 15-passenger van for workers, which an employee drove and was paid for his driving duties. He wasn’t allowed to use the vehicle for personal errands and he was not allowed to let anyone else drive. A passenger suffered a pelvic fracture in an accident and filed a negligence suit against her co-worker and the other two drivers involved in the accident.

While the court noted accidents when an employee is traveling to or from work generally are not treated as occurring within the course of employment, there is an exception when the employer provides a means of transportation or controls the method of the worker’s travel. Although the injured worker was not required to use the van, she relinquished control over the conditions of transportation and, thus, the exclusive remedy of workers’ comp applies.

No loss of wage earning capacity means no benefits – Mississippi

In Pruitt v. Howard Industries, a worker suffered a back injury, received conservative treatment, and returned to work without restrictions in the same plant, with the same job title, and a higher wage. He filed for PPD benefits, but was denied. The Court of Appeals explained that except for scheduled-member cases, indemnity benefits are made for diminished wage-earning capacity and not medical impairment.

Heart attack not accident and not compensable – Missouri

In White v. ConAgra Packaged Foods, a long-term machinery worker collapsed and died on a particularly hot day in the machine shop, which was not air-conditioned. His widow filed a claim for benefits, asserting that his death was the result of heat stroke and/or his physical exertions in the machine shop. While it was acknowledged that the worker had high cholesterol, hypertension, and other risk factors for a heart attack, the question was whether work activities were the prevailing factor that caused the fatal heart attack.

After two denials, the Court of Appeals awarded benefits to the widow, but the Supreme Court reversed. It noted that the worker’s death must have been caused by an “accident.” An accident is defined as an unexpected traumatic event or an unusual strain that is identifiable by time and place of occurrence and that produces objective symptoms of an injury. Further, the law provides that a cardiovascular event is an injury only “if the accident is the prevailing factor in causing the resulting medical condition.”

Long-term exposure to dust leads to PTD benefits – Nebraska

In Moyers v. International Paper Co., a worker suffered respiratory problems over his 42- year employment at a paper company. When a pulmonologist suggested he stop working, he filed for comp. The court found he had a compensable occupational disease and referred him to a vocational counselor who opined that his breathing problems would prohibit working. He was found to be permanently and totally disabled by his occupational disease and this finding was upheld by the Court of Appeals.

Fall while in line for security log in and pass compensable – New York

In Hoyos v. NY-1095 Avenue of the Americas, a worker for a subcontractor slipped and fell off an elevated loading dock while standing in line with other workers at a security check point to obtain a pass to enter the building and get to his job site. Four feet off the ground, the loading dock had no guardrails, chain, rope or other indication where its platform ended and the ledge began.

The court found that even though the worker was not working at the time, he was following the rules of the contractor and had no alternate place to check in. Refusal to treat that spot as a “construction site” under the circumstance of the case would place an “unintended limitation” on the scope of Section 240(1).

Comp claim for PTSD upheld for claims adjuster – New York

In Matter of Kraus v. Wegmans Food Markets, the company had an internal policy that was unpopular with union drivers regarding no-fault benefits. Claims that arose out of a motor vehicle accident were automatically assigned to a workers’ compensation claims service provider that administered the employer’s no-fault claims, but claims that involved the use or operation of a motor vehicle, however, were not.

The in-house adjuster received threats from unionized drivers and was known to be inconsistent in applying the policy, which contributed to his termination. He filed a workers’ comp claim, asserting he had suffered a psychiatric injury from the stress caused by the drivers’ threats and accusations of dishonesty. The case went through several appeals and the Appellate Division’s 3rd Department found he was entitled to benefits for PTSD, noting he was in “an extremely stressful and untenable situation” because of his employer’s “questionable” no-fault policy.

Civil case settlement does not bar workers’ comp claim – North Carolina

In Easter-Rozzelle v. City of Charlotte, the Supreme Court overturned a state appeals decision that questioned whether a worker who sues a third party gives up the right to comp. The case involved a city employee who suffered a work-related injury and was in a serious car accident on his way to a doctor’s appointment to obtain an “out of work” note. He settled his civil suit and the case to continue to collect comp worked its way through a series of appeals.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that pursuing a third-party action does not affect a worker’s ability to bring a comp claim. The law does not require that an employer consent to the worker’s settlement of a third-party action, and the city is entitled to reimbursement of its lien from benefits due to the worker per state law.

Two-year jurisdiction rule includes out-of-state medical care – North Carolina

In Hall v. United States Xpress, Inc., payments to out-of-state medical care providers meet the criteria that a claim must be filed within two years after the last payment of medical compensation when no other compensation has been paid and when the employer’s liability has not otherwise been established. The injured worker met the “no other compensation has been paid” criteria since the benefits he had received, which exceeded $8 million in medical care, were provided under Tennessee’s-not North Carolina’s-Workers’ Compensation Act.

Massage service covered by comp – Pennsylvania

In Schriver v. WCAB (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation), an injured worker received benefits for treatment of a back injury, including chiropractic services. The chiropractor referred him to a licensed massage therapist within the office, and the worker paid $60 for each massage session, but requested reimbursement. The case made its way to the Commonwealth Court, which reversed lower decisions denying payment for the massage services. It noted workers’ comp obligates an employer to provide payment for all reasonable services that an injured employee receives from “physicians or other health care workers,” including chiropractors and their employees or agents.

Earning power, not employment, determines reduction in benefits – Pennsylvania

In Valenta v. WCAB, a worker was collecting total disability benefits for a back and shoulder injury. The former employer’s comp carrier ordered a labor market survey (LMS) and earning power assessment (EPA) performed and six available jobs were identified. The employer then filed for, and was awarded, a modification of payments.

The Commonwealth Court explained the law does not require a worker be offered a job in order to have “earning power,” but meaningful employment opportunities must be available. The court said failure to be hired did not mean that the positions were not open and available, although the evidence of lack of success was relevant to the issue of earning capacity.

Pressured to quit, employee’s disability claim is upheld – Tennessee

In Alicia Hunt v. Dillard’s Inc., a manager of a makeup counter was denied surgery when her work-related ankle and knee injury did not heal. While working with restrictions, she said her supervisor pressured her to take a lower paying job. She resigned, had surgery, and sought to get her job back, but the company indicated she had voluntarily quit.

A trial court judge’s decision that the worker was pressured to resign and had not had a meaningful return to work at a wage equal to or above her pre-injury wage, was upheld by the Supreme Court. Therefore, she was entitled to permanent partial disability benefits up to six times the medical impairment rating, not, as argued by Dillard’s, the cap of 1.5 times the impairment rating when there is a meaningful return to work.

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OSHA watch

Industry challenge to silica rule rejected by court

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has rejected all industry challenges to the silica rule and ordered the agency to explain why it omitted medical removal provisions. Industry groups had challenged the rule on several points, including whether there was evidence it would reduce a significant risk of material health impairment, whether it was technically and economically feasible, and if it violated the Administrative Procedure Act. It also challenged whether substantial evidence supports two ancillary provisions of the rule: allowing workers who undergo medical examinations to keep the results confidential from their employers; and prohibiting employers from using dry cleaning methods unless doing so is infeasible.

Labor unions challenged two parts of the silica rule: the requirement that medical surveillance for construction workers be provided only if the employee must wear a respirator for 30 days for one employer in a one-year period; and the absence of medical removal protections. The court rejected the first, but asked for an explanation of the second.


New and revised fact sheets on silica now available

More than a dozen fact sheets that provide guidance on the respirable crystalline silica standard for construction have been released.


Redesigned webpages make it easier to find training resources

Employers and employees can get information on job safety classes, trainers, tools, and 10-hour and 30-hour cards on the redesigned training webpage.

Tips to protect workers from winter hazards

The Winter Weather webpage provides information on protecting employees from hazards while working outside during severe cold and snow storms, including information on staying safe while clearing heavy snow from walkways and rooftops.


Alliance participants issue alert on use of multi-gas monitors in the oil and gas industry

A new hazard alert explains how multi-gas monitors can protect workers from atmospheric hazards in oil and gas operations.

Enforcement notes

California

  • Following the collapse of a temporary mold and vertical shoring at an Oakland construction site, which hospitalized 13 workers, Cal/OSHA issued serious and serious accident-related citations to subcontractors Largo Concrete Inc. and N.M.N. Construction Inc. for $73,365 and $70,320, respectively. General citations were issued to general contractor Johnstone Moyer Inc. for $3,630.

Florida

  • Inspected under the NEP on Trenching and Excavation, Tallahassee-based, R.A.W. Construction LLC faces proposed penalties of $148,845 for exposing its employees to trench collapse hazards.

Georgia

  • Inspected under the NEP on Trenching, Dustcom Limited Inc., a Garden City construction company, was cited for failing to protect its employees from trench collapse hazards and faces proposed penalties of $130,552.

Illinois

  • Three companies working on the renovation of Chicago’s Old Post Office were cited for failing to comply with respiratory protection, provide training, and properly handle PPE. American Demolition was also cited for failing to establish a written lead compliance program. Proposed penalties for American Demolition Corporation, Valor Technologies Inc., and Tecnica Environmental Services Inc. are $105,765, $64,538, and $50,194, respectively.

Indiana

  • A Jeffersonville home and farm supply center, Rural King Supply, is facing proposed fines of $14,000 after state safety inspectors allegedly found elevated carbon monoxide levels at the facility due to emissions from improperly maintained forklifts.

Kansas

  • A comprehensive settlement has been reached with Bartlett Grain Company LP requiring the company to implement safeguards, training, and audit procedures at its 20 grain handling facilities in six states.The agreement resolves contested citations issued in April 2012 after six individuals were killed and two injured as a result of an explosion at the Atchison grain elevator. Bartlett Grain has also agreed to pay $182,000 in penalties.

Michigan

  • MIOSHA issued a second Cease Operations Order, the strongest enforcement action the agency can levy, against Sunset Tree Service & Landscaping, LLC of Bay City for continuing to operate without abating hazards on the jobsite.

Missouri

  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC affirmed citations issued against Wentzville-based Auchly Roofing Inc. for failing to use fall protection, but reduced the penalties from $7,482 to $2,494 based on the small size of the employer, good faith safety efforts, and a clean record for 20 years. The company contested the citations, arguing that the violations were de minimis in nature and that compliance with the fall protection standards cited presented a greater hazard to the employees.

New York

  • A jury and judge ordered Albany-based asbestos abatement and demolition company, Champagne Demolition, LLC and its owner, Joseph A. Champagne, to pay $173,793.84 to a former employee who was fired in June 2010 after reporting improper asbestos removal practices at a school worksite in Gloversville.

Pennsylvania

  • US Environmental Inc. was cited for 12 safety violations, including willfully exposing workers to confined space and fall hazards at its Downingtown location. Proposed penalties are $333,756.
  • The owner of Pittsburgh-based, A Rooter Man, pleaded guilty in federal court to a charge of willfully violating an OSHA regulation, resulting in the death of a worker. Sentencing, which could include prison, is scheduled for February 2018.

 

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

HR Tip: NLRB overturns Obama-era rulings related to joint employment and handbooks

A newly appointed Republican majority on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) returned to the standard that companies must have “immediate and direct” control over a worker to be considered a joint employer. Under the Obama rule indirect control by one organization over another was enough to establish a joint employer relationship (Browning-Ferris decision). Applying the reinstated pre-Browning Ferris standard, the Board agreed with an administrative law judge’s determination that Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd. (Hy-Brand) and Brandt Construction Co. (Brandt) were joint employers and, therefore, jointly and severally liable for the unlawful discharges of seven striking employees.

In the employee handbook case, the board overruled a prior decision placing limits on employer handbook policies that could be “reasonably construed” by workers to limit their right to engage in protected concerted activity-so-called Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) rights.

The underlying case in the ruling involved a policy by The Boeing Company that prohibited employees from taking photos on company property “without a valid business need and an approved camera permit.” The company argued this was necessary to protect sensitive information and the NLRB found that the no-camera rule was lawfully maintained.

In this decision, the board replaced the “reasonably construe” standard with a new balancing test that will consider the following factors with regard to a “facially neutral” handbook policy:

  • The nature and extent of the potential impact on NLRA rights.
  • The employer’s legitimate justifications associated with the rule.

The board outlined three categories of employment policies, rules and handbook provisions:

  • “Category 1 will include rules that the Board designates as lawful to maintain, either because (i) the rule, when reasonably interpreted, does not prohibit or interfere with the exercise of NLRA rights; or (ii) the potential adverse impact on protected rights is outweighed by justifications associated with the rule. Examples of Category 1 rules are the no-camera requirement maintained by Boeing, and rules requiring employees to abide by basic standards of civility. Thus, the Board overruled past cases in which the Board held that employers violated the NLRA by maintaining rules requiring employees to foster “harmonious interactions and relationships” or to maintain basic standards of civility in the workplace.”
  • “Category 2 will include rules that warrant individualized scrutiny in each case as to whether the rule would prohibit or interfere with NLRA rights, and if so, whether any adverse impact on NLRA-protected conduct is outweighed by legitimate justifications.”
  • “Category 3 will include rules that the Board will designate as unlawful to maintain because they would prohibit or limit NLRA-protected conduct, and the adverse impact on NLRA rights is not outweighed by justifications associated with the rule. An example would be a rule that prohibits employees from discussing wages or benefits with one another.”

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com