As 2021 begins to unfold, we thought employers might benefit from a glimpse into the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—where it has been and where it is going. We will begin this multi-part blog series with a snapshot of the EEOC’s own fiscal year (FY) 2020 Enforcement and Litigation Statistics, which the agency released
On February 25, 2021, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman denied applications for preliminary injunctions in their entirety requested by two plaintiffs, thus leaving in place the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (Cal/OSHA) COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS). The ETS took effect on November 30, 2020.
On February 25, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California denied a motion for preliminary injunction brought by the California Grocers Association (CGA) against the City of Long Beach. In California Grocers Association v. City of Long Beach, CGA asked the court to stop the city from enforcing its Premium Pay for Grocery Workers Ordinance, one of the many “hero pay” or “hazard pay” ordinances enacted by California localities in the past several weeks.
On March 2, 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued Executive Order No. 34 (GA-34), rescinding most of his earlier executive orders related to COVID-19, including the statewide mask mandate and business occupancy restrictions. GA-34 becomes effective at 12:01 a.m. on March 10, 2021.
Taking a meal break in California is no simple affair. Culminating seven years of litigation involving one California employer, on February 25, 2021, the Supreme Court of California issued its unanimous opinion in Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC, resolving two questions regarding California meal periods. The court’s opinion also raised, but did not resolve, questions regarding meal period compliance that will likely challenge employers and litigants for years.
On 15 February 2021, the UK government imposed stricter requirements on individuals travelling or transiting from any of the 33 countries (‘red list countries’) that have had a travel ban to England applied. Separate advice applies to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Under section 109(1) of the Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010), an employer is liable for acts of discrimination, harassment, and victimisation carried out by its employees in the course of employment: “[a]nything done by a person (A) in the course of A’s employment must be treated as also done by the employer.” Section 109 further states that “[i]t does not matter whether that thing is done with the employer’s … knowledge or approval.” However, under section 109(4) EA 2010, an employer has a defence if it can demonstrate that it “took all reasonable steps” to prevent the employee from carrying out the act of discrimination. When considering an employer’s defence that it took all reasonable steps to prevent an employee from discriminating against another employee, a tribunal will examine how effective the steps were likely to be when they were taken and how effective they proved to be in practice. The decision of Allay (UK) Ltd v Mr S Gehlen looks at the scope of this defence.
On 11 January 2021, the UK Home Office published guidance on the “Covid Visa Concession Scheme (CVCS).” The scheme applies to individuals who left the United Kingdom before 17 March 2020, with permission to live in the UK, whose visas have since expired whilst they were abroad, and are now unable to return to the UK due to coronavirus travel restrictions. The CVCS allows those individuals to enter the UK to make leave to remain (LTR) or indefinite leave to remain (ILR) applications.
On February 25, 2021, Wisconsin joined Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming in enacting a COVID-19 litigation shield law. Governor Tony Evers signed a bill providing entities broad immunity from “civil liability for the death of or injury to any individual or [for] damages caused by an act or omission resulting in or relating to exposure, directly or indirectly, to … COVID-19.”
On February 1, 2021, in an unpublished opinion resolving a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) attorney’s fees dispute, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in Batista v. South Florida Womans Health Associates, Inc., struck another blow against unreasonable plaintiffs’ counsel seeking “reasonable” fees.
On February 24, 2021, the Biden administration issued a proclamation immediately revoking the prior administration’s Proclamation 10014 of April 22, 2020, that blocked individuals from entering the United States on immigrant visas.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), 2021 includes a provision that modified and extended the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Specifically, Section 311 of the Additional Coronavirus Response and Relief provisions of the CAA provides for PPP second draw loans for eligible businesses. Employers seeking a PPP loan may apply through March 31, 2021. Below are answers to some key questions regarding second draw PPP loans.
Certain Canadian provinces have been especially hard hit by COVID-19 outbreaks. Most notably, Ontario and Quebec—two of Canada’s most populated provinces—have experienced the highest number of infection counts among the country’s provinces. While Ontario and Quebec have struggled to contain the spread of COVID-19, other provinces have had a different experience.
On February 3, 2021, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) updated its frequently asked questions (FAQs) to make clear that employers can seek an extension for reporting year 2020—known as a request for an “enforcement deferral period”—as to its newly enacted pay data reporting requirement that reports are otherwise due on March 31, 2021.
On February 24, 2021, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it would expand premium processing services to include change of status or extension of status petitions for E-3 nonimmigrant visa classification. This expanded premium processing option went into effect immediately.
Just as the calendar was turning to 2021, the Council of the District of Columbia threw District of Columbia employers a late-breaking curveball that most did not see coming. The Ban on Non-Compete Agreements Amendment Act of 2020 (D.C. Act 23-563) was passed by the Council on December 15, 2020, and signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser on January 11, 2021. The legislation, which will create a near-total ban on noncompete agreements, took the Washington, D.C., business community by surprise. The final text is substantially broader than the more modest bill that was proposed originally, and the legislation goes well beyond laws enacted in other jurisdictions to curtail the use of post-employment noncompete agreements.
On February 24, 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it reached the H-2B cap for the second half of fiscal year (FY) 2021. The cap was officially reached on February 12, 2021.
On February 18, 2021, U.S. Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) reintroduced the Equality Act (H.R. 5), a bill that would amend federal law (including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Although the U.S. House of Representatives passed a nearly identical version of the Equality Act in 2019, the bill never gained traction in the U.S. Senate and died in committee.
Employers are facing uncertainty as to the expiration of the COVID-19 relief the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued in a joint guidance on May 4, 2020.
A growing trend among employers that are turning to new and updated methods of fostering employee collegiality and team bonding involves e-sports leagues. Similar to the traditional company softball team, e-sports leagues provide a modern method for employees to form teams that compete at video games against squads of workers from other businesses. This competitive medium has gained in prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic as employers seek innovative ways for employees to interact while observing social distancing precautions. Employers can view these competitive outlets as a means of fostering creativity, building rapport, and developing trust among personnel.
On February 16, 2021, the City Council of San Leandro, California, passed an ordinance titled “Retail Food Worker Hazard Pay Ordinance,” which establishes premium pay for retail food workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. San Leandro is an incorporated city located in Alameda County in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Last November, South Dakota voters approved Amendment A, which allowed for the recreational use of marijuana by individuals 21 years and older (and for possession of up to 1 ounce). On February 8, 2021, a South Dakota judge granted summary judgment in favor of law enforcement officers who filed a lawsuit on behalf of Governor Kristi Noem challenging Amendment A.
On February 23, 2021, the City Council of Irvine, California, passed a hero pay ordinance entitling retail grocery store and drug store workers premium pay for hours worked during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the beginning of 2021, extensive changes in German employment law came into effect, including some of particular significance to employers. In addition, on January 19, 2021, the German Federal Government implemented restrictions on public life in order to contain the coronavirus pandemic that affect employers.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay nonexempt employees at least minimum wage for all hours worked up to 40 hours in a workweek and time and one-half for all hours worked over 40 hours in the same workweek. An exception to this rule exists for volunteers, who are not categorized as “employees” under the statute. Typically, volunteers are individuals who donate their time to non-profit, civic, religious, and other charitable organizations.
Employers have been on the lookout for a temporary emergency standard for COVID-19 from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), but what they have thus far received is a proposed rule to update the agency’s Hazard Communication Standard.
On February 22, 2021, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act (CREAMMA). Among other things, the 240-page measure legalizes the recreational use of marijuana for adults age 21 and older and—unfortunately for employers—places significant burdens on companies doing business in New Jersey with respect to marijuana and the workplace.