NLRB Reverses Course on Browning-Ferris Standard for Defining “Joint Employers”

Last Thursday, the NLRB overruled the Obama-era NLRB’s decision in Browning-Ferris Industries, a 2015 ruling that loosened the standard for determining how much control over employees is required before a business entity can be held liable for infractions of federal labor law as a joint employer. Prior to Browning-Ferris, for two or more entities to constitute joint employers of a workforce, they had to share the ability to control only the essential terms and conditions of employment like hiring, firing, and directing employees. Further, this control must have been direct and immediate, and must have actually been exercised before an entity would be found a joint employer. Browning-Ferris changed that to a standard where “two or more entities are joint employers of a single work force if they are both employers within the meaning of the common law, and if they share or codetermine those matters governing the essential terms and conditions of employment.” How much of a departure this was from the previous standard only became clear as Browning-Ferris was applied and interpreted in successive Board decisions. Under these decisions, the Browning-Ferris standard would consider as a joint employer any entity with even indirect or unexercised-but-reserved authority to control or affect “essential terms and conditions of employment” reaching beyond the basics of hiring, firing,…

Google Defeats Equal Pay Act Class Action – For Now

Last week, in Ellis v. Google, Inc. a California judge dismissed a class action lawsuit against Google brought on behalf of its female employees, alleging that Google violated the California Equal Pay Act (Labor Code §§ 1197.5, 1194.5) by systematically paying them lower wages than those paid to male employees performing “substantially similar work under similar working conditions.” The complaint also alleged that Google discriminates against its female employees by paying women less than men with similar skills, experience, and duties, by assigning and keeping women in “job ladders and levels with lower compensation ceilings and advancement opportunities,” and promoting women at a slower rate than it does men. While claims of gender bias in tech are not new, this is the first such case brought against Google. The lawsuit was dismissed on the grounds that the allegations of the complaint were not specific enough to justify a class-action. In other words, by purporting to bring the action on behalf of “all women employed by Google in California” the complaint was simply too broad. Class actions require that the individual named plaintiffs bring claims that are representative of the group as a whole. The defendant’s liability must be able to be determined by issues common to all class members. Here, because plaintiffs defined their class…

Holiday Party Tea

Is Your Office Holiday Party On The Chopping Block?

Major news outlets like Time Magazine and the Chicago Tribune have recently reported that one of the fall outs of the recent sexual harassment scandals is that many companies have decided to forego their annual holiday parties.  At the very least, some companies are cutting out the free flow of alcohol at their annual festivities since alcohol is thought to be a risk factor for inappropriate behavior. Before you cancel your group’s restaurant reservation or caterer and officially kill the holiday spirit for your employees, consider the employer’s legal obligations for employee misconduct at office functions and some suggestions for how to ensure your employees can safely and appropriately celebrate the holidays with their colleagues. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act imposes two standards of liability for sexual harassment, depending on whether the alleged harasser is a co-worker or a supervisor.  An employer is liable for harassment by a non-supervisory employee if the employer knew or should have known of the harassing conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.  (California Government Code section 12940, subdivision (j)(1).)  If a supervisor engages in sexual harassment, however, an employer is strictly liable for his or her conduct, which means liability does not rest on whether the employer was negligent. The employer can only avoid absolute…