Five Important Things to Know Going into 2023
By Amelia J. Holstrom, Esq. and John S. Gannon, Esq.
Massachusetts employers are used to the ever-changing employment-law landscape. As we close out another year and ring in a new one, it is clear that 2023 will bring new challenges and new requirements for employers throughout the Commonwealth.
We’ve rounded up the top five things employers need to know and keep an eye on as we turn the page to 2023.
Decision on Micro-units May Be Troubling for Employers
When a union attempts to organize a group of employees at a business, it files a representation petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), identifying the proposed bargaining unit, which is the group of employees the union seeks to represent and who will be eligible to vote on whether it gets to do so. Sometimes, employers will seek to add additional employees to the union’s proposed bargaining unit, as larger proposed bargaining units may be favorable for employers in representation elections.
In a recent decision, American Steel Construction, the NLRB, which interprets and enforces the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), gave a powerful tool to unions by clearing the way for small bargaining units, often called ‘micro-units.’ Specifically, the board decided that it will approve a smaller subdivision of employees as a bargaining unit if they meet certain criteria.
Under this standard, unions are likely to be very successful in getting the NLRB to approve micro-units. As a result, employers are placed at risk of having to bargain with several small units of employees in one workplace.
NLRB to Surveil Employers’ Surveillance Measures
Businesses regularly monitor employees in the workplace. For example, employers may monitor telephone calls for quality-assurance purposes, install cameras in the workplace or dashcam systems in vehicles, or monitor communications sent and received on employer-owned devices. Such monitoring appears be under attack by the NLRB.
In early November 2022, the general counsel of the NLRB issued a memorandum regarding employee surveillance, in which she urges the NLRB to adopt a “new framework” for determining whether employer surveillance violates the law. Under this framework, violations may occur when the surveillance would tend to interfere with an employee’s rights under the NLRA or “prevent a reasonable employee from engaging” in activity protected by the NLRA.
“In a recent decision, American Steel Construction, the NLRB, which interprets and enforces the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), gave a powerful tool to unions by clearing the way for small bargaining units, often called ‘micro-units.’.”
This could involve employee surveillance of suspected organizing activity. The employer will then get the opportunity to explain their legitimate, business-based reasons for the surveillance. At that point, the new proposed framework would require the NLRB to weigh the employer’s business needs for the surveillance against the rights afforded to employees under the NLRA. If the NLRB determines that the employer’s reasons outweigh the rights of employees, the NLRB will require the employer to disclose all electronic monitoring, the reasons for doing so, and how the employer uses the information it obtains. This crackdown on employee surveillance impacts unionized and non-unionized workplaces alike.
Update That Handbook for New Protected Characteristics
Massachusetts law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on a number of protected characteristics, including but not limited to race, color, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Effective Oct. 24, 2022, Massachusetts added natural and protective hairstyles to the list of protected characteristics under the law.
Accordingly, employers need to update their handbooks and other policies to reflect the additions. Your handbook should also include language on many other employment laws, including the state Paid Family and Medical Leave Act.
Changes to Paid Family and Medical Leave
Speaking of the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, last month the Department of Family and Medical Leave released updated model notices reflecting new contribution rates effective January 1, 2023. If you have not already done so, those new notices need to be distributed to your entire workforce as soon as possible. Employers should also ensure that their payroll providers are planning to implement this change.
The department also updated the mandatory PFML workplace poster, which should be posted in a location where it can be easily read by your workforce. The poster must be available in English and each language which is the primary language of five or more individuals in your workforce, if these translations are available from the department.
The department is also considering changes to the PFML regulations intended to clarify employer obligations to maintain employment-related health-insurance benefits while employees are out on leave. Stay tuned in 2023 for developments on these proposed regulations.
Speak Out Act Requires Changes to Employment Agreements
On Dec. 7, 2022, President Biden signed the Speak Out Act into law (see story on page 27). The new law prohibits employers from including non-disclosure and non-disparagement provisions applicable to sexual-assault and sexual-harassment allegations and claims in agreements executed before the allegation or claim arises. It does not impact agreements with those provisions entered into after such a claim arises.
Although it may seem insignificant because it only applies to pre-dispute agreements, employers need to carefully review their confidentiality, employment, and other agreements executed by employees and ensure that the non-disclosure and non-disparagement paragraphs in those agreements do not prohibit the employee from disclosing or discussing sexual-assault or sexual-harassment allegations or claims. Employers would be prudent to include language carving out those claims.
Businesses are encouraged to continue to consult with counsel regarding these changes in labor and employment laws. The team at Skoler Abbott also wishes readers a happy and prosperous new year.
Amelia Holstrom and John Gannon are attorneys at Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C. in Springfield; (413) 737-4753; [email protected]; [email protected]