Employers, Don’t Let Your Guard Down: COVID-19–Related Employment Lawsuits Are in Full Swing

We previously reported on COVID-19–related employment lawsuits that we tracked from late March 2020 through early May 2020. Since then, the number of lawsuits has steadily risen as employers have resumed operations after shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders were lifted and students returned to school in virtual or hybrid environments. To track this litigation and to identify trends, we developed an Interactive COVID-19 Litigation Tracker that details where COVID-19–related litigation is taking place by state, the industries affected, and the types of claims asserted against employers and educational institutions.

Second Circuit Limits Scope of Injunction on Public Charge Rule to Connecticut, New York, and Vermont

On August 12, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit limited the scope of a nationwide injunction that had blocked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from implementing and enforcing the Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds final rule (commonly called the “public charge rule”) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision, which came only days after a series of recent federal court decisions on the controversial rule, restricts the scope of the nationwide injunction to only those states under the jurisdiction of the Second Circuit.

New York Federal Court Says DOL ‘Jumped the Rail’ When It Issued FFCRA Regulations

On August 3, 2020, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York upended several employer-friendly limitations in the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) regulations implementing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Specifically, the court struck down the DOL’s regulations regarding: (1) the requirement that employers actually have work available for employees in order to be eligible for leave; (2) the broad definition of “health care provider” under the final rule; (3) the requirement that employees obtain employer approval for intermittent leave; and (4) the requirement that employees provide documentation prior to taking FFCRA leave.

New York State Imposes Restrictions on Travelers Due to COVID-19 Resurgence

On June 24, 2020, in response to the ongoing risk posed by a resurgence of COVID-19 infections in some states, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued Executive Order (EO) 205 directing the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) to issue a travel advisory for all persons entering New York from states with significant rates of transmission of COVID-19. The travel advisory became effective at 12:01 a.m. on June 25, 2020.

State COVID-19 Orders Regulating Worker Safety—Are They Preempted?

Almost every state has issued closure orders designating certain businesses as “essential” and allowing them to continue to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some states have recently issued orders expressly or implicitly regulating the safety and health of workers at those essential businesses. Are some or all of the provisions in these orders preempted by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act)? It depends.

New York Challenges U.S. Department of Labor’s Final Rule on FFCRA

On April 14, 2020, the State of New York filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) seeking declaratory and injunctive relief in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In the lawsuit, New York challenges the April 1, 2020, final rule that the DOL issued implementing the emergency family leave and paid sick leave requirements of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

Un-PAUSE New York: What Empire State Employers Need to Know About Reopening the Workplace

On April 13, 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Delaware Governor John Carney, and Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo announced the creation of a regional multistate coalition to coordinate and work together to safely reopen the economy and bring employees back to work. Following the announcement, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker also announced that Massachusetts had joined the coalition. The multistate coalition is “comprised of one health expert, one economic development expert and the respective Chief of Staff from each state [and] will work together to develop a fully integrated regional framework to gradually lift the states’ stay at home orders while minimizing the risk of increased spread of the virus.”

New York State Asks Financial Institutions to Provide Assurances on COVID-19 Preparedness

On March 10, 2020, the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYSDFS), which regulates a variety of financial service entities such as banks, credit unions, check cashers, insurance companies, mortgage brokers, investment advisors, and cryptocurrency businesses, issued guidance in a series of “industry letters” and “circular letters” requesting “assurance” of operational preparedness relating to COVID-19. Such operation preparedness plans include a plan to maintain an adequate workforce, including remote work and other strategies to safeguard the workforce.

Tips for Shutting Down in Response to State Shelter-in-Place Orders

California, Connecticut, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York have all issued statewide shelter-in-place orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more states may follow. Employers that do not qualify for an exemption under the applicable state order or that decide to severely curtail or shut down operations may want to consider some of the following issues.

New York State Passes Paid Quarantine Leave Law

On March 18, 2020, at Governor Andrew Cuomo’s behest, New York State passed an emergency law that extends paid leave and additional employment protections and benefits immediately to employees involuntarily quarantined in connection with COVID-19. An initial version of the bill also included paid sick leave provisions that were not directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic and were scheduled to take effect January 1, 2021. Those provisions have been stricken from the emergency law but are expected to be passed in separate legislation.

Second Circuit Holds “Delivery Fee” Is Not a Gratuity for Delivery Drivers

In a 5-page summary order issued on March 5, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held in Belizaire v. Ahold U.S.A., Inc., No. 19-457-cv, that the “delivery fee” paid by customers of Peapod LLC, a grocery delivery service, was not a charge purported to be a gratuity for an employee within the meaning of the New York Tip Law, codified as New York Labor Law (NYLL) § 196-d. The court reached its decision by applying the standards enunciated in the seminal Court of Appeals of the State of New York case, Samiento v. World Yacht Inc.

Second Circuit Rejects Proportionality Standard in FLSA Settlement Agreements When Determining Attorneys’ Fees

In a 29-page decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held in Fisher v. SD Protection Inc., No. 18-2504, that a district court had abused its discretion by rewriting a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) settlement agreement to modify the allotment of the settlement funds to dramatically reduce the fees and costs provided to plaintiff’s counsel. In its holding, issued on February 4, 2020, the court determined that the district court had committed three errors requiring that its decision be vacated and remanded for further consideration.

New York State to End Subminimum Wage for Miscellaneous Industries

On December 31, 2019, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he had directed the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) to eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers of all employers covered by the Minimum Wage Order for Miscellaneous Industries and Occupations. The governor’s announcement came on the heels of a recently released NYSDOL report that found that wage underpayment in the tip system disproportionately affected women, minorities, and immigrants. Employers that fall under this wage order include nail salons, hair salons, car washes, parking garages, tow truck companies, pet groomers, and tour guide agencies. The order impacts over 70,000 employees in New York.

New Year, New Minimum Rates: State-by-State Minimum Wage Updates for 2020

In 2020, a number of states’ minimum wage rates will increase. The following chart lists the states’ (and certain major localities’) minimum wage increases for 2020—and future years if available—along with the related changes in the maximum tip credit and minimum cash wage for tipped employees. The federal minimum wage will remain at $7.25 per

New Requirements and Looming Deadlines in October 2019: What New York Employers Need to Know

As we previously reported this past summer, the New York State Senate and Assembly passed Senate Bill 6549, which amended Section 194 of the New York Labor Law to prohibit wage differentials based on any protected class. As we also reported, the State Senate and Assembly also passed an omnibus bill that overhauled New York’s antidiscrimination laws. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed these bills into law on July 10 and August 12, 2019, respectively. As a result, several new laws are slated to take effect in October 2019.

New York State Doubles Down on Data Privacy, Sets High Bar for “Reasonable Safety Standards”

On July 25, 2019, New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law two bills aimed at increasing the obligations of entities handling computerized private data. The Stop Hacks and Improve Electronic Data Security Act (SHIELD Act) expands the requirements for notifying affected parties in the event of a data breach and sets forth a demanding list of security measures that must be implemented to “maintain reasonable safeguards” to protect private information.

California’s New Hairstyle Antidiscrimination Law May Signal the Beginning of a National Trend

Signaling a growing movement to align culturally inclusive practices with legal protections, California has become the first state to expressly ban discrimination based on hairstyle and hair texture associated with a person’s race. On July 3, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsome signed into law Senate Bill No. 188, the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act (CROWN Act).

New York Poised to Enact Tougher Laws on Pay Equity and Salary History Inquiries

Continuing the trend of substantial and expansive legislative changes in employment law, the New York State Senate and Assembly have passed Senate Bill 5248A and Senate Bill 6549. The first bill, S5248A, will prohibit wage differentials based on any protected class and will take effect 90 days after being signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The second, S6549, will prohibit private sector employers from asking for wage or salary history as a requirement for a job interview, job application, job offer, or promotion and will take effect 180 days after being signed by Governor Cuomo. The governor is expected to sign the bills into law.