On April 1, 2021, the government of Ontario activated its pandemic “emergency brake,” sending the entire province out of the five-tiered colour-coded framework and into the “shutdown” zone. The province implemented these shutdown zone measures on April 3, 2021, and they will remain effective “for at least four weeks.”
The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has held in Asda Stores Ltd v. Brierley and others that Asda supermarket retail employees can appoint Asda depot workers as their comparators in an equal pay claim despite their working in different ‘establishments’ of the business.
On April 7, 2021, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals rendered its long-awaited opinion in Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., reversing a trial court’s decision against Winn-Dixie, holding that websites are not places of public accommodation under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and that Winn-Dixie’s website does not violate 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(iii).
On March 16, 2021, the City Council of Costa Mesa, California, passed an urgency ordinance establishing premium pay for retail grocery and pharmacy workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Costa Mesa is a large city in Orange County located southeast of Los Angeles. The ordinance requires that large retail establishments that sell groceries or prescription and nonprescription drugs in Costa Mesa provide their workers with premium pay of $4.00 for each hour worked. The ordinance took effect immediately and will expire 120 days from its effective date.
On March 12, 2021, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz dialed back Minnesota’s COVID-19–related restrictions by issuing Emergency Executive Order (EO) 21-11, “Adjusting Limitations on Certain Activities and Taking Steps Forward.” Most provisions of the executive order went into effect on March 15, 2021, and relate to activities outside of the home, including relaxing restrictions on specific businesses (e.g., restaurants, bars, indoor gyms, and entertainment venues).
On March 15, 2021, the City Council of West Hollywood added new categories of workers to its existing hero pay mandate of $5.00 per hour worked for large-chain grocery store employees. The new ordinance goes into effect on April 16, 2021, and expires on August 16, 2021.
On March 1, 2021, the City Council of San Mateo, California, adopted “An Emergency Ordinance Requiring Large Grocery Stores and Large Drugstores to Provide Hazard Pay to their Employees” to ease the burdens caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. San Mateo is an incorporated city located in the San Francisco Bay Area.
On March 11, 2021, President Joe Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021—a $1.9 trillion economic relief package. While the legislation marks the first major legislative victory for President Biden and the administration, it is the sixth federal legislative relief package aimed at addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. The legislation continues some programs established in these previous efforts, but it also adds some important components. Set forth below are some of the major provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act.
On March 1, 2021, the City Council of Pomona, California, passed an ordinance that establishes premium pay for retail food workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pomona is an incorporated city located in Los Angeles County and is not subject to the county’s hero pay ordinance.
On March 2, 2021, the City Council of Santa Ana, California, passed an urgency ordinance establishing premium pay for grocery and retail pharmacy workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Santa Ana is the county seat of Orange County, located southeast of Los Angeles.
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.
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.
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.
On February 16, 2021, the City Council of West Hollywood, California, passed an urgency ordinance establishing premium pay for grocery workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On January 27, 2021, the City Council of Montebello, California, passed an ordinance titled “Premium Pay for Grocery and Drug Store Workers Ordinance.” Montebello is an incorporated city located in Los Angeles County, California. The ordinance requires employers to provide grocery and drug store workers with premium pay of $4.00 for each hour worked. The ordinance took effect immediately and expires in 180 days, unless otherwise extended.
On February 10, 2021, the City Council of Coachella, California, passed the “Premium Pay for Agricultural, Grocery, Restaurant, and Retail Pharmacy Workers Ordinance.” Coachella is located in Riverside County, California. Other cities in the state that have enacted similar measures in 2021 include Montebello, in Los Angeles County, and Oakland, in Alameda County.
On February 2, 2021, the City Council of Oakland, California, passed the “Grocery Worker Hazard Pay Emergency Ordinance” to provide a boost in pay for frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On February 8, 2021, the Government of Ontario announced the upcoming end to its state of emergency, as regions will begin reopening according to Ontario’s colour-coded COVID-19 restriction framework. The Government of Ontario also announced amendments to this framework.
Now that the inauguration has passed and the Biden administration has begun its work, it is a good time for retailers to take stock of the labor and employment issues that are likely to assume prominence in 2021, and to consider preparing to meet the challenges each of these issues pose. In no particular order, below are the top 10 issues that are likely to keep retail employers up at night in 2021.
Over 1,500 COVID-19–related employment lawsuits were filed in the United States in 2020. Ogletree Deakins’ Interactive COVID-19 Litigation Tracker highlights the industries impacted, locations, and types of claims in these matters.
On January 25, 2021, the Seattle City Council approved Council Bill 119990 (also referred to as the “hazard pay ordinance”), which establishes $4 per hour COVID-19 hazard pay for grocery employees working in the City of Seattle. Below is a chart summarizing the key provisions of the hazard pay ordinance.
On January 14, 2021, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law an economic stimulus bill, H.5250, An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth, which includes two significant changes to Massachusetts wage and hour laws. First, the new legislation amended the law pertaining to holiday premium pay on New Year’s Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day (M.G.L. c. 136 § 16) to phase out the premium pay requirement by 2023. Second, the legislation enacted a sweeping amendment to the Massachusetts Tips Act (M.G.L. c. 149 § 152A) to broaden significantly the definition of “wait staff employee.” These changes will offer significant economic relief to the retail and hospitality industries.
Effective January 20, 2021, the Ontario government is increasing workplace inspections of retailers and other workplaces as part of a crackdown on compliance to ensure COVID-19 safety protocols are being followed and enforced.
On January 6, 2021, the Québec government announced new COVID-19 restrictions that will take effect from January 9, 2021, through February 8, 2021.
A Pennsylvania district court delivered good news for retailers struggling to balance enforcement of their face mask policies against the rights of customers who assert that their disabilities (or other factors) excuse them from wearing masks.
On September 25, 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis announced Florida’s entry into Phase 3 of its coronavirus pandemic reopening plan and issued Executive Order 20-244.
On August 31, 2020, the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued four opinion letters, one of which, Opinion Letter FLSA2020-11, addressed whether certain employees in the oilfield services industry were exempt from the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The specific question answered by the DOL in FLSA2020-11 involved truck drivers of an oilfield waste-removal company and the “retail or service establishment” overtime exemption of the FLSA (29 U.S.C. § 207(i), better known as the “Section 7(i) exemption”).
Since March 2020, St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page, and the county’s acting director of the Department of Public Health (DPH), Dr. Emily Doucette, have issued more than 20 orders and “safe operating guidelines” regarding COVID-19. On July 29, 2020, with an effective date of July 31, 2020, the DPH issued its third amended public health order setting forth its current “Business and Individual Guidelines for Social Distancing and Re-Opening.” In some respects, this third amended order is a significant step backwards toward stricter requirements compared with the county’s original reopening guidelines.
Beginning on June 15, 2020, at 8:00 a.m., Delaware will move into the second phase of its three-phase reopening plan following the recent lifting of the state’s stay-at-home order. In Phase 2, retail establishments, restaurants, and other businesses that were previously permitted to reopen at 30 percent of fire occupancy requirements will be allowed to expand to 60 percent of the fire occupancy limits for their premises.