NLRB Wants New Rule To Prevent Student Teaching Assistants From Joining Unions

Flip flops NLRB union graduate students 2019Summer may be over, but the National Labor Relations Board isn’t ready to put away its flip flops.

It’s been a busy few months, with the NLRB releasing a number of recent decisions that change Obama-era interpretations of federal labor law.

On Friday, the Board released a new proposed rule that would declare college teaching assistants to be non-employees, meaning they cannot form unions. The proposed rule would declare these graduate students to be just students under federal labor law, not both students and employees of their institutions. The new rule would apply even though the students are paid.

The Board’s explanation for the proposed rule is that graduate students are primarily students and the paid work is primarily for an educational purpose.

If this rule were to pass, it would reverse a 2016 NLRB decision, which found that Columbia University students assistants were also employees of the school because “they perform work, at the direction of the university, for which they are compensated.”

The 2016 decision reversed a 2004 George W. Bush-era Board decision, which found that Brown University student assistants were not employees because their relationship to the university was primarily educational.

The 2004 decision reversed a 2000 Clinton-era Board decision finding that NYU graduate student assistants were employees that could form unions.

The 2000 decision reversed a 1974 decision, which found that Stanford University graduate students were not employees because their paid roles as student assistants was primarily educational.

I think you see what’s happening here.

The new development is just that the Board has proposed a new rule. The rule, if enacted, would change the offical interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act to be that graduate student assistants are not employees. Notably, despite the flip flops listed above, the statute has not changed. But depending on which political party has a majority on the 5-member Board (currently 4-member Board), the Board’s interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act changes and changes again.

The current Board seems to think that by making its changes through rulemaking, rather than through Board decisions on actual cases, maybe its interpretation will be stickier in the long run. I doubt it.

Even if the proposed rule passes, it seems inevitable that whenever the next Democratic-majority Board is in place, it will switch back to the view that graduate student assistants are employees and can form unions.

There’s a 60-day comment period on the proposed rule, then the Board can decide whether to pass it as written, modify it, or scrap it.

In any event, students are back in school, and so far the weather seems good enough to keep using flip flops — at least in Washington, D.C., at the National Labor Relations Board.

See you at the beach.

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© 2019 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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Can Study Time be Considered Employment? Yes, Says a Federal Court

Is study time compensable employmentSam Cooke admittedly didn’t know much about history, didn’t know much about biology, didn’t know much about a science book, and didn’t know much about the French he took.

That’s probably because he didn’t study.

Studying can have its rewards, but can those rewards include being paid to study? Yes, says a federal court in Arizona—at least under one set of facts.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), time spent working must be compensated. In Julian v. Swift Transportation, the court had to decide whether study time was working time.

As part of the new hire trainee process, potential new drivers for a transportation company were provided a three-day period of orientation, then were sent for six weeks of paid training with a mentor. During the paid training period, the newbies were required to study in preparation for company-specific new driver tests. Some of the study time was spent on the clock during the 8-hour training day, but some of the required study time was performed while off-the-clock in “sleeper berth” time.

The court ruled that, because the company actively stressed the importance of studying, even during sleeper berth time, this time was compensable “employment.” In this case, the study time had to be paid.

This ruling is limited to the facts of this case and certainly does not mean that all study time for new hires is compensable. Sorry, Sam Cooke. But here, where workers were on the road with a mentor for a six-week training program and were expected to study frequently, the study time was determined to be working time.

Now, I don’t claim to be an A student, but I’m trying to be. For maybe by being an A student, baby, I can win your love for me. (And an extra paycheck?)

© 2019 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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You can’t pay for English whales (the queen owns those), but you should pay summer interns – as employees, not contractors

Whale summer internships paid unpaid employee independent contractorSome things you can’t pay for. All of the whales and sturgeon that live in English waters, for example, belong to the queen. Under an English statute from 1324, “The king shall have wreck of the sea throughout the realm, whales and sturgeons taken in the sea or elsewhere within the realm, except in certain places privileged by the king.”

So if you wanted to buy an English whale this summer, you may be out of luck. U.S. business should be spending their money elsewhere — like on summer interns! Yes, let’s talk about summer interns. Paid or unpaid? Employee or independent contractor? Have I captured your attention? I knew it. Read on.

Paid or unpaid? The rules have been changing to make it easier to have unpaid interns, provided the internships have educational value and are not for the benefit of the business. This post provides some guidelines. The bottom line, though, is that it’s safest to pay your summer interns. Continue reading

Free Bird! Dep’t of Labor Rewrites Test for Unpaid Internships

chicks-2965846_1920Lots of things are free in the world of music. There’s Free Bird (Lynyrd Skynyrd), Free Money (Patti Smith), and according to Dire Straits, you can get your money for nothin’ and your chicks for free.

For the most part, though, you’ve got to pay for your interns. Or do you?

On Friday, the DOL announced it was reversing its 2010 guidance on Internship Programs under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Since 2010, the DOL had been taking the position that unpaid interns are employees and must be paid unless each of six factors were present. Here’s the old DOL fact sheet and six-factor test.

The DOL has now changed course, after four U.S. Court of Appeals decisions rejected the DOL’s test as too strict. The DOL now opted for a balancing test. The balancing test asks whether the intern or the business is the “primary beneficiary” of the internship.

The DOL’s new guidance adopts the same balancing test recently favored by the courts.

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Court Rules That Shadowing Dad at Work Might Require Payment

Shadow - Trainee or Employee  death-2577486_1280In the 1930s, the popular radio program The Shadow featured an invisible avenger who possessed “the mysterious power to cloud men’s minds, so they could not see him.” (He supposedly picked up this power in East Asia, which must have seemed mysterious in an era before Kung Pao Chicken was widely available.)

Eighty years later, “shadowing” has a different meaning. An unpaid trainee follows around a more experienced employee as a way to learn the business. Few trainees have mastered the power of invisibility [Note: only the best ones have, and they’re hard to find … ba-dum-bum], and often the nature of being a trainee involves getting in the way of the real work.

Scott Axel was a trainee who shadowed his father at an automobile wholesaler in Florida. He had no expectation of pay, and the business said it would not hire him. As a favor to his dad, the business let him learn the business by shadowing his dad.

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Can an Intern be an Independent Contractor? (Answers revealed in James Bond movies)

IMG_1068Among James Bond films, Rotten Tomatoes ranks Never Say Never Again 18th out of 26, with a mediocre 63% rating. (Bond movie quiz at the end of this post, for patient readers.)

It’s a cliche saying, I know, but my first reaction when asked this question was, “I’d never say never, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where that would work.” (That was also my second reaction and my third. Let’s just say that’s my reaction.)

Let’s run this through the gauntlet. Remember, it’s not your choice whether an intern is an independent contractor or an employee. The law decides that for you, based on the nature of the relationship.

Test #1: Economic Realities Test. Under federal wage and hour laws, an independent Continue reading

Unpaid Internships: Six Tips For Avoiding Minimum Wage Requirements

student unpaid internship frog-1339892_1920It’s summer intern hiring season. Can your interns be unpaid? If you pay them something, can you pay a small stipend that amounts to less than minimum wage?

Wage and hour laws dictate when a summer intern must be paid like a regular employee, with a required minimum wage and eligibility for overtime. Seasonal amusement and recreational establishments (such as summer camps or some amusement parks) may qualify for a special exemption, but this post is focused on more conventional year-round businesses.

Here are six tips for maintaining unpaid internship status: Continue reading