NLRB Proposes New Definition of Joint Employer; 60-Day Comment Period Starts Now

NLRB logoWhen seeking musical inspiration for a post on the NLRB’s joint employment standard, look no further than the Barenaked Ladies’ 1994 album, Maybe You Should Drive. Like an on-again, off-again relationship, the Board keeps changing its joint employment standard. Between 2015 and today, the test has been, at various times:

  • Direct control (pre-Browning-Ferris, 1984-2015),
  • Indirect control (Browning-Ferris, 2015-Dec. 2017),
  • Direct control (Hy-Brand overrules Browning-Ferris, Dec. 2017-Feb. 2018), and
  • Indirect control (Board vacates Hy-Brand, restoring Browning-Ferris, Feb 2018-present).

But with this newest change coming in the form of a proposed regulation, the proposed change can be expected, once it’s enacted, to remain in effect long term.

Cue the Barenaked Ladies, in “Everything Old Is New Again” (1994):

Everything old is new again, everything under the sun.

Now that I’m back with you again,

We hug and we kiss, we sit and make lists,

We drink and I bandage your wrists.

The proposed new standard would make it much more difficult to establish that a business is a joint employer.

The new test will help franchisors, who need to protect their brand and marks, but do not exercise day-to-day control over hiring and scheduling of a franchise owner’s employees. The new test will help businesses that subcontract labor and that want to ensure certain tasks are performed but do not exercise day-to-day control over how the work is performed or over how subcontractor hires, schedules, and supervises its employees.

In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released late last week, the NLRB proposes a new regulation to interpret the National Labor Relations Act. New 29 CFR §103.40,which would define joint employer.

Under the proposed regulation, an employer may be considered a joint employer of a separate employer’s employees only if the two employers share or codetermine the employees’ essential terms and conditions of employment, such as hiring, firing, discipline, supervision, and direction. A putative joint employer must possess and actually exercise substantial direct and immediate control over the employees’ essential terms and conditions of employment in a manner that is not limited and routine.

There’s a lot packed into that definition:

  • The proposed joint employer must share or codetermine the workers’ terms and conditions of  employment;
  • These terms have to be essential terms of employment, such as hiring, firing, discipline, supervision, and direction;
  • It is not enough to have the right to control these terms; the proposed joint employer must actually exercise this control;
  • The control must be direct, substantial, and immediate; and
  • It is not sufficient to exert control that is limited and routine.

“Limited and routine” control means directing another business’s employees as to what work to perform, or where and when to perform it. Under the new rule, that will not be enough to show joint employment. Control that is not “limited and routine” would include providing direction on how to do the work — in other words, supervision.

For those of you asking, “So what? Who cares?” (my parents, for example), here’s why the change matters.

Under the new rule, a business that retains another company to perform work but has no control over that company’s hiring, compensation, scheduling, or supervision:

  • Will no longer be obligated to collectively bargain with that other company’s unionized workers;
  • Will no longer be held jointly liable for that other company’s unfair labor practices; and
  • Will no longer be drawn into collective bargaining or unfair labor practice disputes with that other company’s employees.

It’s a big deal. Unions won’t like it since the new rule will reduce their influence, but the new rule is a common sense, pro-business proposal that will add predictability and certainty to economic and legal relationships.

So what’s next?

There is a now a 60-day period for comment. The Board will then have the opportunity to consider the comments and revise or reject the proposed rule.  The soonest the rule can be implemented is late 2018 but more likely early 2019.

Then, assuming the rule is implemented, we go back to the standard that existed before Browning-Ferris, but with a lot more clarity and permanence. Everything old is new again. But this time, the change should be long-term since it will be memorialized in a  federal regulation.

© 2018 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Is It Legal to Subcontract Out Union Work? (Ask a Song Title)

Subcontract union workI like similar but contradictory song titles. Pink Floyd has Wish You Were Here. But REO Speedwagon has Wish You Were There.

For one Puerto Rican company in the injection-molded products business, the message to its union was Wish You Were Gone (that’s Cosmo Pyke, 2017).  The company decided to outsource a portion of its injection mold production to a subcontractor but otherwise stayed in the business. The union filed an unfair labor practice charge.

The union won. The NLRB recently ruled that the company could not subcontract out work that had traditionally been performed by the union — at least not until the company had bargained over it and reached impasse. The Board ruled that once the union is performing a certain kind of work, a company’s decision to reconsider who performs this work is a mandatory subject of bargaining, so long as the company was remaining in the business. (The result likely would have been different if the company was getting out of that line of work.)

The Board noted that the company “remained an active participant in the production of injection-molded products, owned the machinery that manufactured the product, and continued to sell the product directly to the customers it served prior to its transfer of production to Alpla [the subcontractor].”

The moral of the story here is that — whether you wish the union were here, there, or gone — you need to bargain with it before subcontracting out its work. Exceptions may apply, depending on the facts and circumstances, but be cautious.

© 2018 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Rules are Rules: Shetland Islands Should Stay in a Box, but NLRB Should Proceed with Change to Joint Employment Test

Shetland Islands joint employment

From bbc.com, putting a u in “labor” just for you!

Some rules bring clarity, but other rules are plain wacky.

In the second category we introduce Scottish member of Parliament Tavish Scott, who is trying to pass a law requiring maps of Scotland to show the actual location of Shetland, in proportion to its distance, instead of putting it in a box like U.S. maps do for Hawaii and Alaska. The problem is that the Shetland Islands are pretty far north of the rest of Scotland, a 12-hour ferry ride across ancient-sea-monster-infested waters. According to one mapping agency,  Scottish maps would be “mostly sea” under Scott’s idea.

(Danish mapmakers, still angry about the territorial addition of Greenland, could not be reached for comment.)

A better way to use rules is to bring clarity. Scots know that the Shetland Islands are far away. That’s what the box means. Less clear, however, is the meaning of “joint employment” under U.S. labor law. As we’ve seen from several earlier posts (like here, here, and here), the new NLRB is trying to change the test for “joint employment” from the broad Browning-Ferris test (indirect opportunity to control = joint employment) to a tighter, more workable standard (requiring direct control over key terms of employment).

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Inspired by Animal House? NLRB May Force Long-Term Change to Joint Employment Test

Screen Shot 2018-05-12 at 2.00.26 PM

“What? Over? Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!” —Bluto

The Republican-majority NLRB has been trying to figure out how to overturn the Browning-Ferris joint employment standard without running into conflicts of interest. It tried in December 2017, when it set a new test in Hy-Brand, but then backed off a few months later after allegations that Member Emanuel had a conflict of interest and should not have participated. The Browning-Ferris test went back into effect.

Two members of the Board come from large law firms and may face allegations of conflicts of interest if they vote to overturn Browning-Ferris.

But did you say it’s over? Nothing is over until we decide it is!

The Board announced last week that it is not giving up. Instead, it is planning a new way for changing the joint employment test. This plan, if successful, may mean a new test that is not subject to flip-flopping every time the NLRB majority flip-flops between Ds and Rs (as it does whenever there’s a new President from the other party.)

The new plan involves crafting a rule through the administrative rulemaking process. Sounds boring (and it is). The tedious rulemaking process includes issuing a public notice of the proposed new rule and a comment period.  Then, the Board gets to ignore any negative comments and adopt the rule.

The process takes time, but like a tiny water bacterium with a funny name, the new rule would be sticky.

From livescience.com: The tiny water bacterium Caulobacter crescentus secretes a sugary substance so sticky that just a tiny bit could withstand the pull from lifting several cars at once. With an adhesive force of nearly five tons per square inch, this “glue” is one of nature’s strongest.

The new rule would actually go in the books as a regulation, which future Board members would be obligated to follow.

It’s a sound strategy if it works.

The new rule would presumably resemble the rule the Board tries to enact in the Hy-Brand decision, which makes it much harder to show that a business is a joint employer. The new test presumably would require “joint control over essential employment terms” and would require control that is “direct and immediate,” not “limited and routine.”

For businesses that use other vendors’ workers (such as staffing agencies) and face the risk of being named a joint employer, this is an important development. Keep an eye on this one.

© 2018 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Pink Floyd or The Who?: NLRB Extends Deadline for Public Input on Important Misclassification Decision

pf photo 1 for nlrb post velox

Roger Waters & the boys, smiling pretty for the camera

Pink Floyd or The Who? Tough call for me, but I generally go with Pink Floyd, unless we’re listening to Tommy. Songs from both bands came to mind last week as I read the NLRB’s update on an important issue relating to independent contractor misclassification.

Who Are You (The Who, 1978)? In this post, we discussed a 2017 ruling, in which an ALJ found that the misclassification of independent contractors, by itself, is a violation of the federal labor law. This decision rejected the pickup basketball rule, “no harm, no foul.” Misclassification was deemed to be an unfair labor practice.

Join Together (The Who, 1990). The full Board then decided to reconsider that decision and invited public input on the question. Non-parties were asked to submit briefs to assist the Board in making its decision. Trade associations and labor groups are filing briefs on both sides of the issue.

Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd, 1975). The Board temporarily lost its 3-2 Republican majority after Member Miscimarra stepped down, but earlier this month, the Senate confirmed John Ring as the third Republican member, restoring a majority and a pro-business slant.

Time (Pink Floyd, 1973). Last week the Board extended the deadline for briefing to April 30th. Any business or trade organization that wishes to provide input to the NLRB on this important issue still has an opportunity. Here are instructions for filing.

Careful with that Axe, Eugene (Pink Floyd, 1969). This is an important issue for businesses using independent contractors. If misclassification by itself violates the NLRA — even with no actual harm to the worker — then businesses may face unfair labor practice charges, even where there’s no union and, even stranger, those ULP charges can come from workers you didn’t even think were your employees.

Take It Back (Pink Floyd, 1994). Hopefully for businesses, the full Board will reverse the ALJ and reinstate the pickup basketball rule. I have High Hopes (Pink Floyd, 1994).

© 2018 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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NLRB Roller Coaster Ride on Joint Employment Rolls On

roller-coaster-NLRB joint employment test

I used to go to summer camp in Georgia, and the highlight of the summer was always a trip to Six Flags, where we would ride the Mindbender roller coaster. My coaster days are over, thanks to two back surgeries and a desire to remain upright and mobile, but watching the NLRB lately brings back memories of the sharp turns, fast drops, and tight spirals.

Yesterday, the Senate approved John Ring’s nomination as the third NLRB member, returning the Board to a Republican majority. (The vote was 50-48, like halftime in the NBA.)

With three Republican members, we can expect the Board to quickly find another opportunity to overturn Browning-Ferris and return the joint employment test to a more rational standard that requires a finding of direct, material control before a company can be deemed a joint employer.

There are a few ways this might happen.

Plan A is that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals could help. In an unusual move, the Court of Appeals agreed late last week to re-open the Browning-Ferris appeal.

The Court of Appeals had dismissed the appeal several weeks ago as moot, after the NLRB issued its Hy-Brand decision, which overturned Browning-Ferris. But after the NLRB said “my bad” and vacated its Hy-Brand decision, the Board asked the Court of Appeals to take the case back and to issue a ruling on what the proper joint employment standard should be. On Friday, the Court of Appeals re-opened the case and will soon issue a decision.

If the Court of Appeals says the Browning-Ferris case was wrongly decided by the Obama Board, then the newly constituted NLRB can hop on that bandwagon and decide to adopt that decision as its new test.

On the other hand, if the Court of Appeals affirms Browning-Ferris, the NLRB will just ignore the decision and move to Plan B or C.

Plan B would be to get Hy-Brand back on the books as good law. That would mean reinstating the Hy-Brand test as the proper standard for determining joint employment. The Hy-Brand test would require direct and material control before a business can be deemed a joint employer under labor law. The NLRB’s General Counsel recently chastised the Board for vacating its own Hy-Brand decision without following the usual rules for recusal.

If that fails, there’s Plan C, which seems more viable now that John Ring has restored the NLRB to a 3-2 Republican majority. The Board can find a new case — other than Hy-Brand — and adopt the revised business-friendly joint employment test that the NLRB tried to adopt in Hy-Brand.

Plan C would require finding a case that allows Board Members Ring and Emanuel to dodge any conflict issues, as they both come from large law firms with lengthy client lists, which is precisely the problem that led to Hy-Brand being vacated in the first place. Too many potential conflicts. They will need to find a clean case with no apparent conflicts, but that can be done.

Meanwhile, this has been a roller coaster ride. The NLRB will eventually settle on a new joint employment standard (I expect), just like the Mindbender eventually settles back down on a straightaway and slows down to let off the riders — who, like NLRB-watchers, are now dizzy and disoriented.

© 2018 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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NLRB Joint Employment Fiasco Grows More Fiasco-ey with General Counsel’s Brief

tennis image NLRB general counsel brief hy-brandWhen watching tennis, it’s best to sit on one of the ends of the court. If you sit in the middle of the court, your head will swivel back and forth on every shot, eventually causing your neck to detach from your shoulders. (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor.)

Watching the NLRB wrestle with joint employment in real time is like watching a long rally from a seat in the middle of the court. My neck hurts just reading this stuff.

The latest development is that the NLRB’s General Counsel, a Presidential appointee who acts as the Board’s chief prosecutor, filed a brief with the Board asking for a decision that the Board’s recent decision to reverse the decision that reversed the Browning-Ferris decision should be reversed. Got that?

Let’s review.

In December 2017, in a case called Hy-Brand, the NLRB reversed the “indirect control” test for joint employment that had been established in the 2015 Browning-Ferris case. The Hy-Brand decision was issued by a 3-2 vote, along party lines.

In February 2018, the NLRB Inspector General (IG) released an opinion suggesting that Member Emanuel should have recused himself from the Hy-Brand decision. Had Emanuel not participated in Hy-Brand, the vote would have been 2-2, and Browning-Ferris could not have been overturned.

The timing of Hy-Brand was important too, since it was issued just before Member Miscimarra stepped down. When Miscimarra stepped down, his absence temporarily left the Board without a Republican majority, which is where things sit today, pending confirmation of John Ring to replace Miscimarra in the third Republican seat.

A few days later, after squinting into my defective crystal ball, I wrote that the IG’s argument in favor of recusal was a bunch of hooey, that Member Emanuel’s participation in the Hy-Brand decision was appropriate, and that the chances of the Board vacating the the Hy-Brand decision was roughly equivalent to the Cleveland Browns’ chances of an undefeated season in 2018. (Ok, I didn’t go that far, but close.)

Hours after my post, the Board vacated the Hy-Brand decision, prematurely ending my lifelong aspirations of becoming a fortune teller. (I really liked the post too. I even commented on the origins of the “The” in The Ohio State University. Click here to satisfy your curiosity.)

The order vacating Hy-Brand was entered into by three members of the Board, without participation by Member Emanuel. He was in time-out. 😢

Ok, now we’re caught up.

The General Counsel’s Brief, filed April 5th, argues that the decision vacating Hy-Brand was bungled and should be undone.

First, he argues that the proper procedure for considering whether a member should recuse himself is for the member at issue to decide whether to recuse himself. That’s been the procedure for approximately forever, except in this instance. Same thing in federal court. That’s how it works. But the normal procedure was not followed.
Second, the GC argued that Hy-Brand (the company) was entitled to a hearing before the full 5-member Board, meaning that Member Emanuel had a duty not to recuse himself.

Got all that?

Now, are you ready for the icing on the pile of poo? 💩

Guess who gets to decide whether three of the four Board members acted improperly when they vacated the Hy-Brand decision without consulting Member Emanuel and without allowing him to evaluate whether he should recuse himself? Yes, this decision will be made by the three members who vacated Hy-Brand, plus Emanuel. Should they recuse themselves? Can they? Should Member Emanuel recuse himself from deciding whether the Board should have allowed him to consider whether to recuse himself earlier?

This is fun!

Go Browns!

© 2018 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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