Settlement of OFCCP Employment Discrimination Charge Reminder To ARRA, Other Government Contractors Of Heightened Enforcement Risks

September 29, 2012

Federal contractor Nash Finch Co. (Nash Finch) will pay $188,500 in back wages and interest and offer jobs to certain women applicants who the U.S Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) charged Nash rejected for the entry-level position of order selector at the company’s distribution facility in Lumberton, Minnesota under a consent decree approved by an OFCCP administrative law judge this week.

Nash Finch Settlement Highlights

Minneapolis-based and the second-largest wholesale food distributor in the U.S., Nash Finch distributes food products to military commissaries around the world. Since the start of the OFCCP review period on May 1, 2005, Nash Finch has received payments of more than $14 million from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The consent decree resolves an OFCCP administrative action commenced after OFCCP investigators conducted a review of Nash Finch’s employment practices at the Lumberton facility from May 1, 2005, to Dec. 31, 2006. OFCCP asserted that Nash Finch had failed to ensure qualified female job applicants received equal consideration for employment without regard to sex as required by Executive Order 11246. OFCCP filed a complaint with the Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges on Nov. 30, 2010, alleging that Nash Finch systematically had discriminated against women who applied for jobs as order selectors during a nine-month period in 2006. See Solis v. Nash Finch Co., OFCCP Case Number: 2011-OFC-00004.  Under the consent decree, Nash Finch will pay $188,500 in back pay and interest to the 84 women.  In addition to the financial remedies, the settlement requires Nash Finch to extend job offers to up to 12 women in the original class as order selector positions become available. The company must also submit progress reports to OFCCP for the next two years.

Reflective of the growing emphasis of OFCCP and other federal agencies on audit and enforcement of compliance with federal employment discrimination and affirmative action laws, the Nash Finch charges and resultant settlement highlight that the Obama Administration’s emphasis on employment discrimination and other civil rights laws expansion and enforcement is resulting in increased liability for employers that fail to take appropriate steps to manage compliance related risks.

Settlements Remind ARRA & Other Federal Government Contractors To Act To Defend Against Heightened Requirements & Enforcement

The OFCCP action and settlement against Nash Finch and other recent OFCCP and other employment discrimination law enforcement actions and settlements against government contractors and other U.S. employers remind U.S. businesses that provide services or supplies directly or as subcontractors on federally funded projects or contracts to review and tighten their employment discrimination, affirmative action and other employment practices in light of the Obama Administration’s heightened emphasis on auditing and enforcing OFCCP and other nondiscrimination and affirmative action rules.

While all U.S businesses face heightened exposures to discrimination-related enforcement risks and liability under the Obama Administration’s enforcement policies, businesses providing services or supplies directly or as subcontractors on projects funded in whole or in part by monies provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“ARRA”) or other federally funded projects or contracts are particularly at risk.  See e.g.,  Leprino Foods To Pay $550K To Settle OFCCP Charge Pre-Hire Screening Test Illegally Discriminated « As EEOC Steps Up ADA Accommodation Enforcement, New DOD Apple App, Other Resources Released; Wal-Mart Settlement Shows ADA Risks When Considering Employee Return To Work Accommodation Requests & Inquiries; Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Worker’s.

Subject to limited exceptions, government contractors providing services or supplies on ARRA or other government funded contracts or projects must comply both with generally applicable employment discrimination requirements and special statutory and contractual nondiscrimination, affirmative action, and recordkeeping requirements applicable government contractors. For instance, federal law generally requires government contractors to comply with the special equal employment opportunity requirements of  Executive Order 11246 (EO 11246); Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 503); and the Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA).   Pursuant to these laws, business with the federal government, both contractors and subcontractors, generally must follow a number of statutory and contractual requirements to follow the fair and reasonable standard that they not discriminate in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability or status as a protected veteran. OFCCP generally audits and enforces these requirements. Memo to Funding Recipients: Compliance with Applicable Nondiscrimination and Equal Opportunity Statutes, Regulations, and Executive Orders.  OFCCP has made clear that it will conduct compliance evaluations and host compliance assistance events to ensure that federal contractors comply and are aware of their responsibilities under EO 11246, Section 503 and VEVRAA.  While many government contractors may be tempted to become complacent about OFCCP exposures based on reports of the OFCCP’s relatively low enforcement in the past, see Report Says OFCCP Enforcement Data Show Infrequent Veteran, Disability Bias Findings | Bloomberg BNA recent enforcement data documents OFCCP is getting much more serious and aggressive about auditing and enforcing compliance with its affirmative action and other requirements against government contractors under the Obama Administration.  See, OFCCP Enforcement Data is Available on a New DOL Website. See also, Affirmative Action Update: OFCCP Enforcement Statistics Show Increase in Violations

  • Government Contractors On ARRA Funded Projects Particularly Exposed

When the contract or project in question receives any funding out of the $787 billion of stimulus funding provided by ARRA, special OFCCP rules applicable to ARRA funded projects necessitates that federal contractors exercise special care to understand and meet their responsibilities and manage associated exposures. 

For one thing, the range of businesses required to comply with OFCCP’s equal employment opportunity requirements for government contractors is broader.  Government contractors who sometimes qualify as exempt from certain OFCCP rules may not qualify as exempt when working on ARRA funded projects.  Government contractors that on other types of federally-funded projects might qualify as exempt from certain OFCCP requirements often are unaware that the range of federal contractors required to comply with the OFCCP equal employment opportunity and related rules of ARRA is much broader than often applies for federal projects funded from other sources. Smaller government contractors run the risk of unknowingly incurring liability by mistakenly assuming that the small size of their contract exempts them from otherwise applicable OFCCP requirements. Consequently, before relying on any assumed exemption, a government contractor providing goods or services for ARRA-funded project directly or as a subcontractor should specifically verify the applicability of those exemptions and document that analysis.  

Furthermore, all government contractors on ARRA-funded projects need to understand that they operate subject to heightened compliance and enforcement scrutiny.  The OFCCP particularly scrutinizes government contractor equal employment opportunity and other civil rights requirements on ARRA funded projects.  The “Procedures for Scheduling and Conducting Compliance Evaluations of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) Funded Contractors” issued July 7, 2009.  See OFCCP Order No. ADM 0901/SEL the “ARRA Procedures”) subject government contractors on ARRA funded projects to special rules and heightened OFCCP oversight.  OFCCP has established separate scheduling procedures to provide for compliance evaluations of ARRA funded contractors separate from those usually applicable to government contractors because ARRA also obligates OFCCP separately to track its ARRA-related and non-ARRA-related enforcement activities. 

The ARRA Procedures require that Regional, District and Area offices conduct a full compliance evaluation, including a full desk audit and onsite review, of every ARRA funded contractor establishment scheduled, even in the absence of systemic discrimination indicators. Normally applied by OFCCP to non-ARRA government contract reviews, Active Case Management (ACM) procedures normally allow OFCCP to conduct only an abbreviated desk audit in the absence of systematic discrimination indicators in non-ARRA compliance evaluations.  These ACM procedures will not be used in ARRA compliance evaluations. 

Due to the special nature of ARRA, OFCCP also has indicated that the ARRA compliance evaluations will not apply the following scheduling exceptions typically applicable in non-ARRA contract compliance reviews.  For instance, OFCCP ARRA procedures state:

  • No more than 25 establishments per contractor exception: Presently, for contractors with multiple establishments, the Federal Contractor Scheduling System (FCSS) limits the number of compliance evaluations scheduled to 25 new evaluations during a scheduling cycle. The 25-establishment limit does not apply to ARRA compliance evaluations.
  • Two year exception: Traditionally, contractor establishments that have been reviewed by OFCCP are excepted from further review for a 24-month period. Under ARRA scheduling procedures, ARRA funded contractor establishments may be eligible for an ARRA compliance evaluation even if they have been reviewed within the previous 24 months. However, pre-award clearance is not required for contractor establishments reviewed by OFCCP within the past 24 months.

However, ARRA scheduling procedures will apply the following scheduling exceptions:

  • ARRA funded contractor establishments that have undergone an FCSS compliance evaluation will be excepted from scheduling and review under ARRA procedures for six months from the date of the FCSS case closure.
  • ARRA funded contractor establishments that have undergone an ARRA compliance evaluation will not be subject to another ARRA evaluation.
  • ARRA funded contractor establishments that have undergone an ARRA evaluation will also be excepted from scheduling for a standard OFCCP compliance evaluation, pursuant to FCSS, for 24 months from the date of closure of the ARRA compliance evaluation.

ARRA funded contractors also are subject to other special pre-award clearance, pre-award intake, pre-award classification and other special procedures.  The ARRA Procedures also set for special requirements particularly applicable to construction contracts funded by ARRA.

The special procedures and heightened compliance review procedures provided for under the ARRA Procedures indicate that government contractors or subcontractors providing services or supplies on projects funded with ARRA funds will want to place special attention on compliance with OFCCP and other federal equal employment opportunity and other employment regulation compliance.

Government Contractors, Other US Employers Urged To Act To Manage Exposures

In the face of the rising emphasis of OFCCP, the EEOC and other federal and state agencies on these audit and enforcement activities, government contractors and other U.S. businesses should act to position themselves to defend against likely challenges and scrutiny.  All government contractors and other businesses should review and tighten the adequacy of their existing compliance and risk management practices to promote and document compliance.  These efforts should focus on all relevant hiring, recruitment, promotion, compensation, recordkeeping and reporting policies and practices internally, as well as those of any recruiting agencies, subcontractors or other business partners whose actions might impact on compliance. Among other things, these steps should include the following:

  • Government contractors and subcontractors should specifically review their existing or proposed contracts and involvements to identify projects or contracts which may involve federal or state contracts or funding that could trigger responsibility.  In this respect, businesses should conduct well-documented inquiries when proposing and accepting contracts to ensure that potential obligations as a government contractor are not overlooked because of inadequate intake procedures. Businesses also should keep in mind that ARRA and other federal program funds often may be filtered through a complex maze of federal grants or program funding to states or other organizations, which may pass along government contractor status and liability when subcontracting for services as part of the implementation of broader programs.  Since the existence of these obligations often is signaled by contractual representations in the contracts with these parties, careful review of contractual or bid specifications and commitments is essential.  However, it also generally is advisable also to inquire about whether the requested products or services are provided pursuant to programs or contracts subject to these requirements early in the process. 
  • In addition to working to identify contracts and arrangements that are covered by OFCCP or other requirements, government contractors and other businesses also should reconfirm and continuously monitor the specific reporting, affirmative action, and other requirements that apply to any programs that may be subject to OFCCP requirements to ensure that they fully understand and implement appropriate procedures to comply with these conditions as well as pass along  the obligation to make similarly necessary arrangements to any subcontractors or suppliers that the government contractor involves as a subcontractor. 
  • Throughout the course of the contract, the government contractor also should take steps to maintain and file all required reports and monitor and audit operational compliance with these and other requirements.  
  • The organization should develop and administer appropriate procedures for monitoring and investigating potential compliance concerns and maintaining documentation of that activity.  Any known potential deficiencies or complaints should be promptly investigated and redressed with the assistance of qualified counsel in a prompt manner to mitigate potential risks.
  • Documentation should be carefully retained and organized on a real time and continuous basis to faciliate efficiency and effectiveness in completing required reports, monitoring compliance indicators and responding to OFCCP, EEOC or private plaintiff charges as well as other compliance inquiries.
  • Any audit inquiries or charges should be promptly referred to qualified legal counsel for timely evaluation and response.
  • When available and affordable, management should consider securing appropriate employment practices liability coverage, indemnification from business partners and other liability protection and assurance to help mitigate investigagtion and defense costs.
  • Board members or other senior management should include periodic review of compliance in their agenda.

If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment, employee benefits, contracting or other risk management or internal controls compliance practices, responding to an OFCCP, EEOC or other government or private plaintiff charge or investigation, or if we may be of assistance with regard to any other workforce or compliance management, employee benefits, compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

About The Author

Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 20 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mail to cstamer@solutionslawyer.net.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources at www.solutionslawpress.com including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile at here or e-mailing this information here.   

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

 


$1.25M NLRB Backpay Order Highlights Risks of Mismanaging Union Risks In Health Care & Others M&A Deals

September 23, 2012

California nursing home buyer must pay estimated $1.25 million in backpay and interest, recognize union & hire 50 employees of seller following purchase

Last week’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) order requiring the buyer of a California nursing home to pay approximately $1.25 million in backpay and interest, rehire 50 employees and recognize the seller’s union reminders buyers of union-organized businesses of some of the significant risks of mishandling union-related obligations in merger and acquisition, bankruptcy and other corporate transactions under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and other federal labor laws.  

Buyer’s Obligations To Honor Seller’s Collective Bargaining Obligations

Under the NLRA, new owners of a union facility that are “successors” of the seller generally must recognize and bargain with the existing union if “the bargaining unit remains unchanged and a majority of employees hired by the new employer were represented by a recently certified bargaining agent.”  See NLRB v. Burns Sec. Servs., 406 U.S. 272, 281 (1972).   

In assembling its workforce, a successor employer also generally “may not refuse to hire the predecessor’s employees solely because they were represented by a union or to avoid having to recognize a union.” U.S. Marine Corp., 293 NLRB 669, 670 (1989), enfd., 944 F.2d 1305 (7th Cir. 1991).   

Nasaky, Inc. NLRB Order

Last week’s  NLRB Order requires Nasaky, Inc., the buyer of the Yuba Skilled Nursing Center in Yuba City, California, to recognize and honor collective bargaining obligations that the seller Nazareth Enterprises owed the before the sale and rehire and pay backpay and interest to make whole 50 of the seller’s former employees who the NLRB determined Nasaky, Inc. wrongfully refused to hire when it took over the facility from the prior owner, Nazareth Enterprises. 

Before Nasaky, Inc. bought the nursing home, many of the employees at the nursing home were represented by the Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers West (Union).    After Nasaky, Inc. agreed to buy the facility but before it took control of its operations, Nasaky, Inc. advertised in the media for new workers to staff the facility and told existing employees at the facility that they must reapply to have a chance of keeping their jobs under the new ownership.  

When Nasaky, Inc. took operating control of the Facility, facility operations continued as before with the same patients receiving the same services.  The main difference was the workforce.  The new staff included 90 employees in erstwhile bargaining unit positions, of which forty were former employees of the predecessor employer and fifty were newcomers.  Nasaky, Inc. then took the position that the change in the workforce excused it from responsibility for recognizing or bargaining with the Union or honoring the collective bargaining agreement between the Union and seller Nazareth Enterprises.

When the union demanded that Nasaky, Inc. recognize the Union and honor the Union’s collective bargaining agreement with Nazareth Enterprises, Nasaky, Inc. refused.  Instead, Nasaky, Inc. notified the union that it would not allow the Union on its premises, would not honor the Union’s collective bargaining agreement with the seller, and did not accept any of the predecessor’s terms and conditions of employment.  The Union then filed charges with the NLRB, charging that Nazareth Enterprises had breached its obligations as a successor under the NLRA.  

After NLRB Regional Director Joseph F. Frankl agreed and issued a complaint, California Administrative Law Judge Gerald Etchingham found all the allegations true based on a two-day hearing.  He rejected all of Nasaky’s explanations for why it declined to hire most of those who had worked for the previous employer.  See ALJ Decision.  Since Nasaky, Inc did not file exceptions, the NLRB ordered Nasaky, Inc. immediately to recognize and bargain with the Union, hire the former employees and make them whole.  The amount of backpay and interest is expected to approximate $1.25 million.  

Managing Labor Exposures In Business Transactions

The NLRB’s order against Nasaky, Inc. highlights some of the business and operational risks that buyers and sellers can face if labor-management relations are misperceived or mismanaged in connection with business transactions.  Because the existence of collective bargaining agreements or other labor obligations can substantially affect the operational flexibility of a buyer, buyers need to investigate and carefully evaluate the potential existence and nature of their obligations as part of their due diligence strategy before the transaction.  A well-considered understanding of whether the structure of the transaction is likely to result in the buyer being considered a successor for purposes of union organizing and collective bargaining obligations also is very important so that the buyer and seller can properly appreciate and deal with any resulting responsibilities.

Beyond the potential duty to recognize a seller’s collective bargaining obligations, buyers and sellers also should consider the potential consequences of the proposed transaction on severance, pension, health, layoff and recall and other rights and obligations that may arise.  At minimum, the existence of these responsibilities and their attendant costs are likely to impact the course of the negotiations.

When a worksite is union organized, for instance, additional obligations may arise in the handling of reductions in force or other transactions as a result of the union presence.  For example, in addition to otherwise applicable responsibilities applicable to non-union affected transaction, the Worker Adjustment Retraining Act (WARN) and other plant closing laws and/or collective bargaining agreements may impose special notification or other requirements before a reduction in force or other transaction related activities. 

Similarly, the existence of collective bargaining agreements also may trigger obligations for one or both parties to engage in collective bargaining over contemplated changes in terms and conditions of employment, to provide severance, to accellerate or fund severance, benefits or other obligations, to provide continued health or other coverage, to honor seniority, recall or other rights or deal with a host of other special contractual obligations.

Where the collective bargaining arrangements of the seller currently or in the past have included obligations to contribute to a multiemployer, collectively bargained pension or welfare plan, the buyer and seller also need to consider both the potential for withdrawal liability or other obligations and any opportunities to minimize these exposures in structuring the allocation of the arrangement. In this case, both parties need to recognize that differences exist between the federals for determining when successor liability results under the withdrawal liability rules than typically apply other labor and employment law purposes.  While buyers and sellers often presume that the stock versus assess sale distinction that typically applies for many other legal purposes will apply, this can be an expensive mistake in the case of determining a buyer’s obligation to honor the seller’s collective bargaining obligations post deal.  Likewise, buyers can be exposed to multiemployer successor liability from asset transactions, although it may be possible to mitigate or avoid such liabilities by incorporating appropriate representations in the sale documents or through other steps.  Since these multiemployer withdrawal and contribution liabilities generally attach on a controlled group basis, both parties need to properly appreciate and address these concerns early in the transaction to mitigate their risks and properly value the transaction.

In light of these and other potential labor-related risks that may affect corporate and other business transactions, parties contemplating or participating in these transactions are urged to engage and consult with competent legal counsel with specific experience in such labor management relations and multiemployer benefit plan matters early in the process.

About The Author

Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 25 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate labor and employment, human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer’s experience includes significant experience  advising and representing buyers, sellers, their commonly controlled and affiliated entities, lenders, bankruptcy trustees and committees and others regarding labor-management relations, employment, compensation, employee benefits and other human resources related exposures, strategies and negotiations.  She also has served as counsel to multiemployer and single employer pension, profit-sharing and other retirement, health and welfare, severance and other plans and their fiduciaries and sponsors in relation to these and other transactions.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mail to cstamer@solutionslawyer.net.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources at www.solutionslawpress.com including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile at here or e-mailing this information here.   

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

 


As EEOC Steps Up ADA Accommodation Enforcement, New DOD Apple App, Other Resources Released

September 18, 2012

With the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other federal agencies prioritizing disability discrimination law enforcement, businesses and individuals looking to find solutions to help accommodate persons with disabilities may find a new free app for Apple Devices from the Department of Defense (DOD) Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program helpful. 

New DOD Accommodation Apple App & Other Accommodation Aids

The DOD Apple application is an example of the many new resources that the federal government is providing to promote compliance with disability discrimination laws and to help people with disabilities under the Obama Administration. 

The DOD Apple application now available in the iTunes App Store lets users browse the latest news and tips on assistive technology, scan CAP’s calendar of events and stay connected to the disability community. DOD says an Android version is coming soon. 

CAP works to make the Federal Government a model employer of people with disabilities by providing job accommodations and equal access to electronic and information technology.  With disabilities and other discrimination law compliance audit and enforcement rising, this new application provides another timely resource for government contractors and agencies, and other businesses looking to provide accommodations and manage disability risks.

The DOD application is just one of many emerging training and other tools that the agencies are rolling out to promote employment and other opportunities for people with disabilities.  The Federal Government is devoting increasing resources to educating the disabled about resources including employment discrimination protections and other aids.  The October 10  Work Incentive Seminar Event webinar is another example.  To be held on October 10, 2012 from 3 – 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time, the webinar is for people who receive Social Security disability benefits and want to learn how the Ticket to Work program can help them earn money and become financially independent. It also will discuss  writing a resume, job interview tips, whether or not to discuss your disability with a potential employer and tips for on the job success. Officials invites interested parties to register online or call 1-866-968-7842 (V) or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY/TDD).

Rising Liability & Enforcement Make Accommodation & Other Disability Law Risk Management Critical

Managing disability risks and meeting accommodation obligations is increasingly important as US government agencies place growing emphasis on enforcing disability discrimination laws and regulations that increasingly result in significant liability for U.S. businesses.

For instance, in June, 2012, the U.S. Justice Department announced a $10,250,000  settlement with JPI Construction L.P. (JPI) and six other JPI firms is the largest-ever disability-based housing discrimination settlement.  The settlement resolves Justice Department charges the JPI and its affiliates illegally discriminated on the basis of disability in the design and construction of multifamily housing complexes.

Under the settlement of disability charges initiated against JPI a few years ago, JPI will pay $10,250,000 into an accessibility fund to update properties so they comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and to increase the availability of housing that is accessible to people with disabilities.

The record settlement follows the reaffirmation of the Obama Administration’s continuing committment to find and punish companies that illegally discriminate or fail to provide required accommodations in violation of Federal disability discrimination laws made by President Obama and others to mark the 13th Anniversary of the June 22, 1999 Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C

As part of that anniversary celebration of Olmstead, the Obama Administration reaffirmed its continuing commitment to fight disability discriminated and touted the success of its “significant progress continuing to enforce Olmstead as well as more broadly helping to level the playing field for people with disabilities.”

In Olmstead, the Supreme Court ruled in that the unjustified institutional isolation of people with disabilities is a form of unlawful discrimination under the ADA. 

In marking the 13th anniversary of this decision, President Obama said, “As we mark the anniversary of this historic civil rights decision, we reaffirm our commitment to fighting discrimination, and to addressing the needs and concerns of those living with disabilities.”

In reaffirming this commitment, the Administration highlighted its past and continuing efforts to enforce disability discrimination laws, as well as other activities to support individuals with disability. 

As part of its significant commitment to disability discrimination enforcement, the Civil Rights Division at the Department has been involved in more than 40 Olmstead matters in 25 states.   Recently, in Virginia, the Department entered into a landmark settlement agreement with the Commonwealth, which will shift Virginia’s developmental disabilities system from one heavily reliant on large, state-run institutions to one focused on safe, individualized, and community-based services that promote integration, independence and full participation by people with disabilities in community life. The agreement expands and strengthens every aspect of the Commonwealth’s system of serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in integrated settings, and it does so through a number of services and supports.  The Department has a website dedicated to Olmstead enforcement, which includes links to settlements, briefs, findings letters, and other materials. The settlement agreements are a reminder that private businesses and state and local government agencies alike should exercise special care to prepare to defend their actions against potential disability or other Civil Rights discrimination challenges.  All organizations, whether public or private need to make sure both that their organizations, their policies, and people in form and in action understand and comply with current disability and other nondiscrimination laws.  When reviewing these responsibilities, many state and local governments and private businesses may need to update their understanding of current requirements.  The scope and applicability of disability and various other federal nondiscrimination and other laws have been expanded or modified in recent years by statutory, regulatory or enforcement changes. 

These Justice Department efforts also are reflected in the companion enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute disability discrimination by the Labor Department Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in employment, the HUD and related areas, the Department of Education in education and related fields and a host of other agencies.

The enforcement of disability discrimination and accommodation requirements in the employment space is even more zealous making big dollar EEOC and private plaintiff judgements and settlements increasingly common.  See, e.g. Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Worker’s.

 Where the entity is a private or government agency that is a government contractor or receiving other federal funds or grants, compliance with the ADA and other nondiscrimination and civil rights laws is particularly important as the contracts or regulations pursuant to which these funds are granted typically require compliance with these and other special nondiscrimination rules.  In the case of funds provided under the 2009 Stimulus Bill, the scope of businesses subject to these requirements and the likelihood of audits was specifically increased in many ways, making recipients of these funds at particular risk for failing to fulfill requirements.

These Federal enforcement activities are further heightened by rising private litigation of disability claims.  These public and private actions are encouraged by changes made by Congress to the ADA, which make it easier for plaintiff’s bringing disabilities claims to win, as well as the proactive agenda of the Obama Administration in enforcing disability discrimination laws.

In light of these continuing enforcement efforts, businesses should continue and heighten their diligence against possible disability discrimination exposures by strengthening policies, practices, training and documentation to keep up compliance and to position to defend against possible charges.

About The Author

Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 20 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mail to  cstamer@solutionslawyer.net.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources at www.solutionslawpress.com including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile at here or e-mailing this information here.   

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


$1.5 M HIPAA Security Breach Resolution Agreement Shows Looming HIPAA Risks

September 17, 2012

Health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses and their business associates have yet another $1 million plus reminder of the importance of taking proper steps to secure electronic protected health information and take other steps required to comply with the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Associates, Inc. (collectively referred to as “MEEI”) will pay the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) $1.5 million and take a series of corrective actions to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Security Rule under the resolution agreement available here (“Resolution Agreement”) announced by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on September 17, 2012. 

MEEI Resolution Agreement

The Resolution Agreement settles charges that resulted from an OCR investigation commenced in response to a HIPAA breach report submitted by MEEI reporting the theft of an unencrypted personal laptop containing the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of MEEI patients and research subjects.  The laptop information included patient prescriptions and clinical information. 

OCR’s investigation indicated that MEEI failed to take necessary steps to comply with certain requirements of the HIPAA Security Rule, such as conducting a thorough analysis of the risk to the confidentiality of ePHI maintained on portable devices, implementing security measures sufficient to ensure the confidentiality of ePHI that MEEI created, maintained, and transmitted using portable devices, adopting and implementing policies and procedures to restrict access to ePHI to authorized users of portable devices , and adopting and implementing policies and procedures to address security incident identification, reporting, and response.  OCR’s investigation indicated that these failures continued over an extended period of time, demonstrating a long-term organizational disregard for the requirements of the Security Rule.

To settle the charges, MEEI will pay a $1.5 million settlement to OCR.  In addition, the Resolution Agreement also requires MEEI to adhere to a corrective action plan which includes reviewing, revising and maintaining policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Security Rule, and retaining an independent monitor who will conduct assessments of MEEI’s compliance with the corrective action plan and render semi-annual reports to HHS for a 3-year period.

Enforcement Actions Highlight Growing HIPAA Exposures For Covered Entities

The MEEI Resolution Agreement follows on the resolution agreements previously announced this year against a health plan and various health care providers, all but one of which resulted in a settlement agreement of more than $1 million.

For instance, earlier this year, OCR required that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST) to pay $1.5 million to resolve HIPAA violations charges.

Like the PCS, BCBST and other announced resolution agreements, the MEEI Resolution Agreement provides more evidence of the growing exposures that health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates need to carefully and appropriately manage their HIPAA responsibilities. See HIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On Website

In response to these expanding exposures, all covered entities and their business associates should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s audit,  investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data, their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses, evolving rules and technology, and other developments to determine if additional steps are necessary or advisable. For tips, see here.

For Representation, Training & Other Resources

If you need assistance monitoring HIPAA and other health and health plan related regulatory policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other health care or health IT related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit & Other Compensation Arrangements Group, Co-Chair and Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plans Committee, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health plan and employee benefit, insurance, financial services, employer and health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers, health plans, their business associates and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health plans, employers, health care providers, professional associations and others.

For the past two years, Ms. Stamer has served as the  scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR.   Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR, FTC, USSS, FBI and state and local law enforcement on privacy, data security, health care, benefits and insurance and other matters, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications. For instance, Ms. Stamer for the second year will serve as the appointed scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR. Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance frequently appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health industry, health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here.

If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

You can review other recent publications and resources and additional information about the other experience of Ms. Stamer here. Examples of some recent publications that may be of interest include:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.   All rights reserved.


Stamer Speaks On “The Practical Nitty Gritty For Coping With Health Care Reform NOW” 9/25 At DFW Web Meeting

September 10, 2012

 

 

Please Join WEB Dallas on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 for:
The Practical Nitty Gritty For Coping With Health Care Reform NOW

To register, please click here .

HRCI (SHRM) and WorldatWork Recertification Credit PENDING

With the initial debate about the Constitutionality of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA) now decided, employer and other health plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators are rushing to finish updating plan documents, communications, processes and procedures to meet current and impending ACA and other federal plan mandates while keeping a close eye out for more changes on the horizon. To help health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and insurers deal with the tough business of implementation, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will:

  • Share Her Practical 12-Step Process For Helping Employers Dealing With Today Health Plan Compliance Challenges
  • Share Key Updates and Tips For Dealing With New Summary of Benefits & Communications (SBC), Claims and Appeals, & Other Mandates
  • Share What To Watch For And Options For Maintaining Flexibility To Respond To Evolving Rules
  • Answer Common Questions That Health Plan Sponsors and Administrators Are Struggling With Submitted By Audience Members

Registrants are encouraged to help shape the program to reflect their questions and concerns by e-mailing their proposed questions prior to the program to cstamer@solutionslawyer.net. The program’s educational* discussion will be tailored taking into account this input with significant time set aside to share practical information and possible approaches for addressing questions and concerns of shared concern identified from this audience input.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, recognized in International Who’s Who, and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, attorney and health benefit consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has 25 years experience advising and representing private and public employers, employer and union plan sponsors, employee benefit plans, associations, their fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors, group health, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, and other insurers, governmental leaders and others on health and other employee benefit. employment, insurance and related matters. A well-known and prolific author and popular speaker Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Ms. Stamer presently serves as Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Representative, an Editorial Advisory Board Member of the Institute of Human Resources (IHR/HR.com) and Employee Benefit News, and various other publications.

Her Solutions Law Press, Inc. HR & Benefits Update publication has been recognized as one of the Top 50 Human Resources Blogs To Watch in 2012. A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security privatization law with extensive domestic and international regulatory and public policy experience, Ms. Stamer also has worked extensively domestically and internationally on public policy and regulatory advocacy on health and other employee benefits, human resources, insurance, tax, compliance and other matters and representing clients in dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, HUD and Justice, as well as a state legislatures attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, and other agencies and regulators. A prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer regularly authors materials and conducts workshops and professional, management and other training on employee benefits, human resources and related topics for the ABA, Aspen Publishers, the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators and many other organizations. She also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees of a multitude of symposium and other educational programs. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s services, experience, presentations, publications, and other credentials or to inquire about arranging counseling, training or presentations or other services by Ms. Stamer, see http://www.CynthiaStamer.com.

* Registrants are reminded that this discussion is provided for general information and educational purposes. Accordingly, registrants are reminded that the discussion does not constitute legal advice, a substitute for legal advice or establish an attorney-client or other professional relationship.

LUNCHEON DATE & TIME: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Registration: 11:30 to noon
Program: 12:00 to 1:15 PM
LOCATION: Doubletree Hotel, 4099 Valley View Lane, Dallas, Texas, 75244, 972-385-9000. Located on the NW Corner of Midway and LBJ Freeway (near Wal-Mart and Wendys). Parking is available in the front and back of the hotel.

COST TO ATTEND MEETING:
Member who registers in advance: $25 ($30 if a walk-in)
NonMember who registers in advance: $35 ($40 if a walk-in)
Walk-In Policy: Those without reservations are seated only if space permits. REGISTER BY: Tuesday morning, August 25, 2012. TO CANCEL: email tyneeta.morris@greyhound.com or call 214-849-7366 by noon, Friday, September 21, 2012.

Registration Procedures: . Please register online, whether or not you pay with a credit card. To register for the meeting, click the link at the top of this page. For those who do not want to pay online with a credit card, check the box at the bottom of the online registration form which reads “Check here if you do not wish to pay at this time”. Please do not hit “Reply” to this meeting notice.

If mailing a check, mail at least one week in advance of the meeting and include a copy of the registration form . Make payable to the Dallas Chapter of WEB, and send to: Dallas Chapter of WEB, c/o Carol Parker, Administration & Compliance Manager, Children’s Medical Center Dallas, 1935 Medical District Drive, Dallas, Texas 75235. WEB’s Tax ID# is 52-1360024. When paying at the door, we accept cash or checks, no credit cards are taken at the door.

QUESTION ABOUT THE MEETING? Contact Tyneeta Morris at 214-849-7366, tyneeta.morris@greyhound.com or Carol Parker at 214-456-6953, Carol.Parker@childrens.com.

Questions about membership? Contact Sherlynn at dallaswebmembership@tx.rr.com. To contact members of the Dallas WEB Board, please click here . Our next meeting will be October 30, 2012. Join us for: Benefits Jeopardy Please visit our website for more information on upcoming meetings.

If you are not already a WEB member, we hope you will join. Please visit our website and click Join WEB Now.

A special thanks to our current sponsors. Click their logos below to learn more about them!

 

 

Labor Risks Rising For Employers Despite NLRB Loss Of Arizona Secret Ballot Challenge

September 6, 2012

Businesses concerned about Obama Administration-backed efforts to promote its pro-labor agenda must stay diligent despite the set back suffered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in its attempt to a Federal Judge to challenge state laws that purport to require secret balloting in union elections in NLRB v. State of Arizona.

Federal District Judge Frederick J. Martone handed the NLRB a temporary setback in its campaign to prevent states from enacting legislation that would interfere with NLRB efforts to  strengthen labor organizing powers by restricting secret ballot protections when he rejected the NLRB claims that an Arizona Constitutional Amendment mandating secret balloting in union elections was an unconstitutional infringement on the NLRB’s powers in his September 5, 2012 decision in NLRB v. State of Arizona,  the Court left the door open for a potentially successful challenge to the Arizona secret ballot amendment in the future depending on how Arizona applies the law.  Furthermore, considered in the context of the Obama Administration’s broader pro-union regulatory and enforcement agenda, the NLRB’s challenge to the Arizona and other state secret ballot laws reminds businesses  that their operation face a minefield of mounting labor-management relations risks icluding many that create traps for management sometimes even in the case of non-union workplaces.  In light of these expanding exposures, business leaders should update their policies and practices to mitigate the rising risks while keeping a close eye on the Obama Administration’s ongoing effort to expand the power of organized labor by challenging secret ballot mandates in Arizona and other states and the plethora of other pro-union regulatory and enforcement  efforts.

NLRB Attacks On Workers’ Secret Balloting Rights

Undermining worker’s secret ballot rights is a key initiative that organized labor with the support of the Obama Administration has promoted to help union organization efforts.

Secret balloting of workers in union organizing elections is designed to promote the ability of worker’s to vote their wishes free from the fear of retaliation by unions or management.  It has been a key element of the NLRA since its enactment.

The current method for workers to form a union in a particular workplace generally is a two-step process that begins with the submission by organizers to the NLRB of a petition or authorization card signed by at least 30% of the employees requesting recognition of the union. Under existing law, once the NLRB verifies that the organizers have met the petition or authorization card requirement, it generally orders a secret ballot election unless more than 50% of the workers have signed authorization cards and either:

  • The employer notifies the NLRB that it is waiving the secret ballot and voluntarily recognizing the union; or
  • The NLRB orders the employer to recognize a union based on the NLRB’s determination that the employer has engaged in unfair labor practices that make a fair election unlikely.

Since the Obama Administration came to power, however, labor with the support of the NLRB and the Obama Administration have included efforts to eliminate or get around secret balloting as part of their broader campaign to strengthen and promote unions and their power.  These efforts are reflected in the sharp increase in orders by the NLRB with new Obama appointees that employers recognize unions without balloting,  the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats are pushing to enact the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make union recognition mandatory without any balloting when the NLRB verifies that over 50% of the employees signed authorization cards, and challenges to state laws that would impede these efforts like that brought against the State of Arizona.  While Congressional Democrats and the Administration have thus far failed to get the legislation passed, they continue to voice their support for and intention to pursue its enactment after the elections in November.

NLRB’s Challenge To Arizona Constitution’s Secret Ballot Provision

In NLRB v. State of Arizona, Judge Frederick J. Martone on September 5, 2012 handed the NLRB a temporary setback in its campaign to prevent states from enacting legislation that would interfere with its efforts to avoid or cut secret ballot protection when it granted the State of Arizona’s motion to dismiss the case but left the door open for future action.

As Federal legislation and enforcement actions that would limit workers’ rights to vote in a secret ballot rights have continued, Arizona and various other states have enacted laws to protect secret ballot rights in their states.

In January 2011, the NLRB advised Arizona and three other states that recently adopted “secret-ballot amendments” conflicted with longstanding federal labor law by restricting the methods by which employees can choose a union. When no agreement could be reached, the NLRB filed suit to have the Arizona amendment declared unconstitutional.

The Arizona lawsuit challenged a 2010 constitutional amendment to the Arizona Constitution that states”[t]he right to vote by secret ballot for employee representation is fundamental and shall be guaranteed where local, state or federal law permits or requires elections, designations or authorizations for employee representation.”  Arizona Constitution, Article 2 § 37.  In its lawsuit, the NLRB asked the Federal Court to declare Article 2 § 37 unconstitutional and preempted to the extent that it applies to private employers, private employees, and labor organizations subject to the NLRA on the grounds that the state secret ballot rule “creates a state forum to protect employee representation rights, a task which Congress assigned exclusively to the NLRB.

Among its other efforts to defend the statute, Arizona argued there was no preemption because the state’s “guarantee” of a secret ballot election would only apply if the voluntary recognition option is not selected.

In reaching its ruling, the Federal Court hung its hat on this argument.  “It is possible that state litigation invoking (the amendment) may impermissibly clash with the NLRB’s jurisdiction to resolve disputes over employee recognition, conduct secret ballot elections, and address unfair labor practices,” Judge Martone wrote.  However, because the amendment has not yet been applied, Judge Martone wrote that he could not assume that it would conflict with the NLRA.

Arizona Decision A Temporary Victory In Battle In Labor-Management Relations War

While the court rejected the NLRB challenge of the Arizona secret ballot requirement this week, the NLRB’s announced disagreement with the decision coupled with the limited scope of the ruling makes clear that businesses watch for another NLRB challenge based on the implementation of the law as well as other new regulatory and enforcement traps for employers. 

The court battle over Arizona’s secret ballot amendment is just one of the many areas where the NLRB under the Obama Administration is pursuing a pro-union agenda.  In addition to challenging state laws that might operate to restrict union organizing or other activities, the NLRB also has adopted and is promoting the adoption of other pro-labor rules as well as stepping up enforcement on behalf of labor. See e.g., NLRB Moves To Promote Non-Union Employee Use of Collective Action Rights By Launching Webpage; NLRB Report Shows Rise In Unfair Labor Practice Complaints  Formal Proceedings Comments Feed; NLRB Settlement Shows Care Necessary When Using Social Networking & Other Policies Restricting Employee Communications.  As part of these efforts, for instance, the NLRB increasingly is challenging the authority of employers to enforce mandatory arbitration provisions in employee handbooks or employment agreements, to regulate social media, and to engage in a broad range of other common employer practices while at the same time, it is using its regulatory powers to promote employer posting and other requirements designed to educate workers about their organizational rights.  As many of these new rules apply both to unionized workplaces and ununionized workplace, these and other evolving rules often leave all employers to significant and often underappreciated labor law risks in a broad range of circumstances.  This risk tends to take on particular significance for unorganized workforces  due to a low awareness or appreciation of these changes or their implications on unorganized workforces by their management team.  Mistakes are increasingly costly in the current enforcement environment.

Costly Consequences For Employers

The statistics show the cost of management mishandling of labor relations in today’s environment is expensive and growing.  This pro-labor regulatory and enforcement agenda as resulted in a significant rise in NLRB unfair labor practice charges in recent years.  According to NLRB statistics, the number of unfair labor practice charges brought by the NLRB steadily rose from 2009 to 2011.  The number of charges filed by was 1,342 in 2011, 1,242 in 2010, 1,166 in 2009 and 1,108 in 2008.  Moreover, NLRB statistics also document that backpay and other remedies also have risen sharply during this period.  For instance, in 2008, the NLRB ordered a total of $68,800,000 in backpay, fees, dues and fines in 9,400 cases.  In contrast, in 2009, the NLRB ordered $77,700,000 in backpay, fees, dues and fines against employers even though the number of cases dropped to 8,700,000 cases.  This trend continued in 2010, where out of 8,300 cases, the NLRB ordered employers to pay $86,100,000 in backpay, fees, dues and fines.  See NLRB Statistics. See also NLRB Case Decisions.

In light of this increased activism, employers should exercise care when using mandatory arbitration, compensation gag rule, or other similar provisions; dealing with requests for employee representation by union and non-union employees in organizing, contracting and even disciplinary actions; establishing and administering social networking, communication and other policies; and a wide range of other situations. In addition, employers concerned about these or other labor activities should consult competent counsel for advice about appropriate options and risks for dealing with these activities. 

If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment and/or employee practices in response to the NLRA or other applicable laws, or if we may be of assistance with regard to any other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

About The Author

Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks.

Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 20 years human resource, labor and employment and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, labor management, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally.

Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mail to  cstamer@solutionslawyer.net

If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of Ms. Stamer’s other recent updates, including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile at here or e-mailing this information here.   

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. All other rights reserved.


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