In April 2022, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed Frontline Worker Payments into law to aid Minnesotans who worked in one of 15 frontline sectors identified in the legislation. The public purpose of the law is to “provide payments to frontline workers whose work put them at risk of contracting COVID-19 during the peacetime emergency declared by the governor in Executive Order 20-01.” After the bill was signed into law, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) was tasked with developing an application process and guidance for employers and employees to facilitate the frontline worker pay program. DOLI opened the application period for the program on June 8, 2022, announcing the period will remain open through July 22, 2022.
On April 4, 2022, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held, in Reuter v. City of Methuen, that employers are strictly liable for treble wages as liquidated damages if they fail to make timely payments upon an employee’s termination of employment in compliance with the Massachusetts Wage Act. With its holding, the Court rejected a longstanding trial court precedent that employers who failed to make timely wage payments were liable only for treble interest.
The Massachusetts Wage Act
Section 148 of the Massachusetts Wage Act requires employers to pay unpaid wages to any employee discharged from employment “in full on the day of [the employee’s] discharge.” Mass. Gen. L. C. 149 § 148. As an enforcement mechanism, the Act provides a private right of action for employees and mandates that employees who prevail on § 148 claims “shall be awarded treble damages, as liquidated damages, for any lost wages and other benefits and shall be awarded the costs of litigation and reasonable attorneys’ fees.” The Act specifically defines “wages” to include, among other things, “any holiday or vacation payments due an employee under an oral or written agreement.”
On March 14, 2022, the 9th Circuit affirmed the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California’s decision in DePuy Synthes Sales, Inc. v. Howmedica Osteonics Corp. and Stryker Corp., that invalidated the New Jersey forum selection clause in the employment contract of Stryker’s former sales associate as a matter of California law and denied Stryker’s motion to transfer the litigation to New Jersey. Though forum selection clauses are generally enforceable under federal law, the 9th Circuit reasoned that deference must be given to state law in determining the validity of a forum selection clause before considering whether the clause is enforceable under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).
The case involved a former Stryker medical device sales associate, Jonathan Waber, who was employed by Stryker in California and who signed an employment contract with Stryker without legal representation. The agreement included non-competition and non-solicitation provisions, and also included forum-selection and choice-of-law clauses requiring adjudication of contract disputes in New Jersey. After less than one year of employment with Stryker, Waber left Stryker to work for one of its competitors, DePuy. After receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Stryker, DePuy and Waber preemptively filed a declaratory judgment action in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against Stryker and its subsidiary, Howmedica.
On January 13, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two significant opinions:
- In Nat’l Fed. of Independent Business v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Supreme Court stayed enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) emergency temporary standard (ETS) related to COVID-19 prevention measures, holding that the groups and businesses challenging the standard were likely to succeed in showing that the ETS requirements exceeded OSHA’s statutory authority.
- In Biden v. Missouri, the Supreme Court lifted the stay of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Interim Final Rule (the CMS Rule) for health facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, holding that the Secretary had statutory authority to issue the mandate.
On Friday, November 12, 2021, in BST Holdings, L.L.C, et al. v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Case # 21-60845, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an order affirming its November 6, 2021 order, staying the implementation and enforcement of OSHA’s November 5, 2021 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). The ETS requires employers with 100 or more employees to ensure that their employees who report to a workplace are vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. The Fifth Circuit, which many consider to be the most politically conservative of all the circuit courts, issued its order following an expedited briefing schedule, prompted by an emergency motion to stay the ETS filed by various individuals, employers, religious groups and states. Pending further judicial review, the order barred OSHA from taking steps to implement or enforce the ETS. In response, OSHA has suspended all activities related to the ETS for the time being, stating: “While OSHA remains confident in its authority to protect workers in emergencies, OSHA has suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the ETS pending future developments in the litigation.” Businesses now face an uncertain future with OSHA conceding that it will abide by the court’s order while pursuing its reversal. Because similar challenges to the ETS have been brought in all but one of the 12 federal circuit courts of appeals, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation will conduct a lottery as required by statute, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. §2112 (a)(3), likely this week, to select which federal circuit will hear appeals in the numerous challenges, including with respect to the Fifth Circuit’s order. Any outcome from the circuit selected in the lottery process may and likely will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed several laws in 2021 that are impacting or will impact how employers interact with and manage their employees. From confidentiality and nondisparagement provisions in settlement agreements to production quotas in warehouses, we examine the laws that have gone into effect and which laws employers need to begin preparing for over the next one to two years.