Connecticut Update: Recreational Marijuana, Captive Audience Meetings, and Leave Notices Requirements Take Effect July 1, 2022

The Connecticut legislature has been busy in 2021 and 2022. Approximately twelve months ago, it passed legislation effectively legalizing recreational marijuana under Connecticut state law. Very recently, it amended Connecticut’s employee free speech statute to, among other things, prohibit employers from convening what organized labor often refers to as “captive audience meetings” with employees to address unionization efforts. Also, effective January 1, 2022, many employees became eligible for Connecticut Paid Family and Medical Leave benefits, and the legislature amended the Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Act (CTFMLA) to apply to almost all private sector Connecticut employers.

Employee Activism, Safety, and Support Amid Difficult Issues

Recent social and political controversies, such as rulings from the Supreme Court of the United States, international conflicts, and mass shootings, are likely to cause more employees to voice their opinions and frustrations both in and outside the workplace, whether through conversations, social media, or participation in marches, protests, and similar events.

COVID-19–Driven Layoffs Are Not a ‘Natural Disaster’ Under WARN Act, Fifth Circuit Rules

In the first ruling from a federal appellate court examining COVID-19–related layoffs and the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held in Easom v. US Well Services, Inc., No. 21-20202 (June 15, 2022), that a mass layoff resulting in part from the economic impact of COVID-19 did not qualify for the “natural disaster” exemption to the WARN Act’s sixty-day notice requirement for mass layoffs. The court also held that for an employer to rely on the exemption, the mass layoff (or plant closing) must be the “direct result” of the natural disaster. This is an important ruling for employers in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

New Mexico’s Paid Sick Leave Law Becomes Effective on July 1, 2022

Beginning on July 1, 2022, New Mexico’s Healthy Workplaces Act (HWA) requires private employers with even one employee working in New Mexico to provide paid sick leave (PSL) to eligible employees. The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS) recently published HWA guidance, in the form of answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs), and regulations to provide guidance and clarity on various issues as the effective date approaches, including the definition of “covered employees”; rules for accrual, use, and carryover of paid sick leave; frontloading; and employee documentation and employer notification requirements.

MSHA Accident Investigation Reports: Should They Tell the Whole Story?

Several years ago, we helped a mine operator through a difficult accident investigation. During the investigation, a toxicology report was received that indicated the presence of a narcotic in the victim’s bloodstream. There was a great deal of debate with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) about whether the amount identified could have impaired the victim’s motor skills and judgment, possibly contributing to the accident.

California Department of Public Health Issues COVID-19 Guidance on Expanded Definition of ‘Close Contact’

On June 20, 2022, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued COVID-19 guidance, titled “Isolation and Quarantine Q&A,” that offers insight into the recent change to the definition of “close contact.” On June 8, 2022, the CDPH issued a revised order with new definitions of “close contact” and “infectious period.” Because the June 8 order was an “order of the CDPH,” these revised definitions were immediately incorporated into the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (Cal/OSHA) COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) requirements for exclusion of close contacts, which in turn impacted employers’ obligations under the ETS.

Medical Travel Reimbursement Benefits Under the Supreme Court’s New Dobbs Decision

On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its highly anticipated decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, No. 19-1392. The Dobbs decision expressly overrules the two key precedents that established and upheld a constitutional right to abortion and gives states the authority to regulate abortion.

The Hazards of Remote Employee Layoffs: Wage and Hour Issues, Severance Agreements, and Unemployment Claims

Remote work has exploded since the COVID-19 pandemic began, with some employers hiring employees to work remotely anywhere in the United States. With the recent economic downturn, layoffs are beginning to occur, and for the first time a significant number of remote employees may be included in layoffs. Layoffs of remote employees present unique legal hazards for employers.

Eleventh Circuit Limits Reach of OSHA’s ‘HazWoper’ Standard

On June 15, 2022, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a decision limiting the reach of the emergency response provisions of 29 C.F.R. § 1910.120, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard—the so-called “HazWoper” (or “HAZWOPER”) standard.

Seattle Enacts First-of-Its-Kind Ordinance to Provide Minimum Wage and Other Protections for App-Based Delivery Workers

On June 13, 2022, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell signed into law CB 120294, a measure intended to ensure app-based delivery drivers are paid a minimum wage plus tips and compensation for expenses, increase transparency related to offers for work, and preserve worker flexibility. The App-Based Worker Minimum Payment Ordinance is part of a collection of six legislative proposals known as “PayUp,” and it is the first in the policy package to pass.

Fifth Circuit Finds Specific Allegation of One-Time Use of Racial Slur Sufficient to Preclude Dismissal Under Rule 12(b)(6)

On March 24, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed a district court’s Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) dismissal for failure to state a claim on a pro se plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, holding that the plaintiff’s specific allegation—that his supervisor, in the presence of other employees, called him a derogatory racial epithet—was sufficient to give rise to a viable claim.

OSHA Reminds Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas Employers to Protect Workers From Heat-Related Illness

High temperatures in the Southwestern United States have and continue to break records. In Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, the heat index could reach triple digits and in some cases exceed 110°F. These elevated temperatures pose a serious risk to employees exposed to heat due to the nature of their jobs. As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is aggressively enforcing its national and regional programs aimed at preventing heat-related illnesses and fatalities.

A Lesson from the Fifth Circuit About Louisiana Noncompete Agreements: Establish the Employment Relationship First

A recent opinion from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit applying Louisiana’s restrictive law governing noncompetition agreements, reminds employers of the importance of establishing an employee-employer relationship before entering into noncompetition agreement.

CDC Rescinds COVID-19 Testing Requirement for International Airline Passengers Entering the United States

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that as of June 12, 2022, international airline passengers (regardless of citizenship or vaccination status) are no longer required to provide proof of a negative viral COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding a flight to the United States.

CDPH Issues Updated Order Drastically Changing Employers’ Obligations Under Cal/OSHA COVID-19 ETS

Currently, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (Cal/OSHA) COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) requires employers to review and use current California Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidance for persons who had close contact to an individual with COVID-19, including any guidance regarding quarantine or other measures after a close contact to reduce COVID-19 transmission. On June 8, 2022, the CDPH issued a revised order with new definitions. These revised definitions are therefore immediately incorporated in to the Cal/OSHA ETS requirements for exclusion of close contacts, which in turn impact employers’ obligations under the ETS.

Canadian Government Suspends Vaccination Mandate for Domestic Travel and Federal Workers

On June 14, 2022, the Government of Canada announced that it would suspend vaccination requirements for domestic travelers, certain federally regulated workers, and federal public service employees, effective June 20, 2022. In support of this measure, the government has cited the successful vaccination campaign and low COVID-19 case counts.

Updates to Illinois’s Bereavement Leave and Employee Sick Leave Laws

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker recently signed into law two bills addressing employee leave. The Family Bereavement Leave Act (FBLA) provides eligible employees with unpaid time off to grieve the death of a family member covered by the act, and it provides employees with time off due to certain pregnancy- or adoption-related events.

Illinois Governor Signs Bills Expanding Contractors’ Liability for Unpaid Wages of Subcontractors’ Workers

On June 10, 2022, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed House Bill 5412 and its trailer bill, House Bill 4600, into law. Both bills amend the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (WPCA) to make certain primary contractors liable for any debt owed by a subcontractor—at any tier— relating to the wage claimant’s performance of labor for contracts entered into on or after July 1, 2022.

Supreme Court Sides With Viking River Over Arbitration of California PAGA Claims

On June 15, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of Viking River Cruises Inc. in a case over whether it could use an arbitration agreement to force a lawsuit brought under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) on behalf of aggrieved employees into arbitration. In Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana, No. 20-1573, the Supreme Court’s highly anticipated decision, the Court reasoned that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) requires the enforcement of an arbitration agreement that waived an employee’s right to bring individual claims through PAGA and that once those individual claims are sent to arbitration there is no standing to bring representative claims for violations of the California Labor Code on behalf of other aggrieved employees.

Des Moines Passes ‘Ban the Box’ Law Prohibiting Criminal Inquiries on Job Applications

On November 15, 2021, the city of Des Moines, Iowa, passed a “ban-the-box” law that will limit employer inquiries and background checks into an applicant’s criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment. Though the law was passed and has already taken effect, it has received little fanfare and media attention despite its implications for employers.