Labor and Employment
In the last few years, especially after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a noticeable growth in US labor organizing. Workers all over the country, from both large corporations and small companies, have gone on strikes and began forming labor unions in an effort to get better wages, working conditions, and benefits. Most recently, employees at large rail unions rejected a tentative deal to avert a walkout in September 2022 after it failed to adequately address their concerns. This is the latest, but certainly not the only, instance of workers demonstrating their increased bargaining power. We have also seen increased unionization movements by corporate employees at corporations like Amazon, Google, and Starbucks. However, as more corporate employees attempt to unionize, corporations have begun to push back, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has stepped in to put a stop to blatant anti-unionization efforts.
On October 11, 2022, the Department of Labor released a proposal to redefine independent contractor classifications under the Fair Labor Standards act. The change in definition, if approved, will have major implications for gig workers and companies such as Uber, Doordash, Grubhub, etc. These companies have already had a drop in stock value because of the announcement and the companies are at risk of losing more value as the gig economy destabilizes.
The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (the Commission) recently issued interim guidance on the workplace drug testing provisions of the state’s recreational cannabis law. The guidance is meant to act as a placeholder until the standards for Workplace Impairment Recognition Expert (WIRE) certification are published, which outlines how employers should respond when employees are suspected of marijuana impairment. The interim guidance confirms that an employee’s off-duty use of cannabis cannot be the reason for any adverse employment action, but employers are allowed to terminate workers who are under the influence during work hours.
The pandemic overloaded hospitals with increased patient volume, and after almost two years of battling COVID-19, health care worker burnout is at an all-time high. As a result of burnout, the healthcare industry is suffering from worker shortages, especially among nurses. Nursing shortages are straining hospital profitability, care delivery, and efficiency. Competition for labor will likely continue even after the pandemic. The healthcare labor shortage has attracted significant interest from venture capital. Venture capitalists are pouring millions into new healthcare worker staffing platforms. This week, a proposed measure was filed with the California attorney general’s office that could be on the ballot for the state’s voters this fall. The proposal seeks to classify certain healthcare workers as independent contractors, so that workers can find work online or through apps. The proposal to include health care in the gig economy presents the question of whether nurse staffing platforms will be the next Uber.
The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) has recently proposed a rule change that would revise its interpretation of “independent contractor” under the Fair Labor Standard Act (“FLSA”). According to DOL, which has the power to investigate worker complaints about misclassifications, this change is needed to promote certainty for stakeholders, reduce litigation, and encourage innovation in the economy. However, this proposed rule could also diminish employee rights because independent contractors have fewer protections under FLSA. This rule widens the scope of who can be considered an independent contractor. Thus, many workers classified as employees could be reclassified as independent contractors and lose protections under FLSA.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) recently announced alterations to its previous regulations which expanded family and medical leave provisions and paid sick leave of April’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”). These revisions serve to clarify the responsibilities of employers and the rights of workers as they relate to the paid leave of FFCRA. These revisions come after a decision from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York which invalidated portions of the initial regulations. The WHD’s revisions are an example of the lack of clarity and adequate response from regulations designed to protect workers during the current pandemic.
On June 25, 2019 Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, “The Cannabis Act” which legalized recreational cannabis beginning January 1, 2020 for adults aged 21 years and older. Illinois residents are permitted to possess 30 grams of cannabis flower, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate, and 500 milligrams of THC contained in a cannabis-infused product. The possession limits are to be considered cumulative. The legalization of adult-use marijuana for recreational purposes in Illinois does not modify the state’s medical cannabis pilot program.
On July 31, 2019, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed House Bill 834 into law amending the Illinois Equal Pay Act of 2003. The law, which will go into effect on September 29, 2019, makes it unlawful for employers to ask applicants about their salary history. Governor Pritzker signed the Bill with the intention of eliminating the wage gap that exists between men and women in Illinois. In 2019, half of the Illinois workforce is women, but women working in Illinois earn 79 percent of what men earn. The wage gap is exacerbated for women of color. According to The American Association of University Women, Black women in the United States are paid 61 cents for every dollar paid to a white man. As a result of the amended law, Illinois employers will need to act quickly to make changes to their hiring procedures.