New Minimum Wage Law in Iowa

Iowa enacted a new law, Iowa House File 295, that prohibits counties and cities from regulating certain employment matters that are regulated by the state. On a practical level, for employers, this will reduce some compliance burdens, including eliminating different minimum wage rates across the state. The law, which took effect on March 30, 2017, preempts city and county rules pertaining to minimum wage, employment leave, hiring practices, employee benefits, and similar matters that pertain to terms of employment. For example, Johnson County, Iowa, had a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour, but that has preempted with the new state law, which means the minimum wage in Johnson County is now $7.25 an hour. Now, regardless of the action taken by county or city government, including actions taken prior to the new Iowa law, the state law will preempt and govern practices by employers.

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Employers in Nebraska and Iowa Should be Aware of Changes in Pay Discrimination Lawsuits

A recent court case, stemming from an Iowa employer, may have a significant impact on how employers throughout Nebraska and Iowa view pay differential between employees. On April 3, 2017, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Dindinger v. Allsteel, Inc., a case pertaining to gender based pay discrimination. In the ruling, the Court suggested that market forces and economic conditions, often used as an affirmative defense in pay discrimination claims, may not be sufficient as a defense without a clear connection. The result is that an employer may not be able to assert that economic conditions are the reason for pay differential between men and women without being able to show how the economic conditions caused the pay differential for the specific employees in question.

 

This case stems from an Iowa furniture manufacturer, where three female employees claimed gender based pay discrimination. As an affirmative defense, the business argued that market forces and economic conditions were the reason for the pay differential, not gender discrimination. This affirmative defense is often raised by employers and, generally, does not require a specific correlation between the economic condition and the employee. However, the Court in this case noted that to successfully argue the “factor other than sex” defense, the business must show how economic conditions directly resulted in the pay differential. For employers in the Court’s jurisdiction, including those in Nebraska and Iowa, an increased burden may exist when asserting the market forces affirmative defense and could necessitate taking action before any potential pay discrimination claims arise.

 

Employers should recognize the added challenge of defending pay discrimination lawsuits and, potentially, take preemptive action by auditing current pay and employment practices. A copy of the opinion can be found at the following link:  http://media.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/17/04/161305P.pdf

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Companies Accidentally Waiving Attorney-Client Privilege

In the digital age, most companies rely heavily on email to communicate, even with their attorney. Generally, attorney-client privilege will apply to these emails, but when the client forwards the email, questions about privilege can arise. As several cases in 2016 highlight, many employees will forward an attorney’s email without significant thought, but prior to forwarding the email, care should be taken to avoid inadvertently waiving privilege.

 

As highlighted by AU New Haven, LLC v. YKK Corp., No. 1:15­CV­3411­GHW, (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 28, 2016), when a company employee forwards an attorney communication to non-attorney employees, several rules will apply. As a default, generally, if the email is forwarded to employees of the company, the privilege will be retained. Similarly, if everyone receiving the email is deemed to have a common interest, even if not a direct employee, privilege is often retained. However, if one person doesn’t share the common interest, privilege is broken.  An example of broken privilege, in Newman v. Highland School District No. 203, 381 P.3d 1188 (Wash. 2016), the court refused to uphold privilege because the employee was no longer employed by the company. Thus, the court determined that privilege did not apply because the employee that received the communication was now a former employee.

 

Overall, these two cases highlight the fact specific nature of whether privilege is retained when an employee of a company forwards an email from the company’s attorney. Moreover, the determination of whether privilege was retained will be specific to the state. Thus, employees of a company receiving privileged communication should take steps to retain privilege, including having internal policies about forwarding emails from the company attorney.

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Department of Labor Delays Implementation of the Fiduciary Rule

Last year, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued a final rule, expanding the definition of a fiduciary, making many broker-dealers and insurance agents fiduciaries. This rule, issued April 2016, was set to become effective June 2016, but was then delayed until April 10, 2017, with certain provisions delayed until January of 2018. However, President Trump ordered a review of the new rule and the DOL issued another delay, of 60 days, to complete the review. With the delay, the expanded fiduciary definition will become effective June 9, 2017.

Under the rule, a person or firm that is deemed a fiduciary is required to act in the best interests of their clients. This includes an obligation to avoid conflicts of interests, or otherwise receive compensation that creates a conflict between the interests of the fiduciary and the client. The new rule poses several issues for certain professionals that will be deemed a fiduciary under the new rule. For example, sales commissions would be deemed a conflict of interest, creating an especially problematic situation for broker-dealers that engage in principal transactions with clients. However, the DOL recognized the issue and created several principal transaction exemptions, but the exemptions require additional burdensome steps. This issue, among others, are central to the review causing the rule to be delayed.

Despite this delay, and the DOL admitting the review will not be complete by June 9, 2017, the expanded definition of fiduciary will be implemented at the end of the 60-day delay. Therefore, broker-dealers, insurance agents, and others that will now be deemed a fiduciary, should be prepared for the additional requirements on June 9, 2017.

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New Year, New Requirements – Employers Must Now Use the New Form I-9

One of the changes the new year brought was a new version of I-9 Form.  Beginning on January 22, all employers should now use the newly revised version of the new I-9 Form for verifying employment eligibility.  The form may be found at https://www.uscis.gov/i-9

The latest version of the I-9 Form may be filled out on-line (although it still must be printed out, signed and retained).  The electronic version should help with reducing potential errors due to the new drop-down lists and on-line instructions.  The new I-9 Form can also simply be downloaded from the government website, if you would prefer.

As a reminder, employers are required to complete an I-9 Form for all new employees not later than the third business day of their employment.

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The Saga Continues: The DOL Appeals the Court’s Ruling Halting The New Overtime Rules

In the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of the newly revised (and currently halted) overtime rules, on December 1, the Department of Labor appealed the lower court’s ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

As we previously reported, last week Judge Amos Mazzant issued a temporary injunction stopping the implementation of the revised overtime rules scheduled to go into effect on December 1.  The appeal by the Department of Labor challenges that ruling.

Judge Mazant’s temporary injunction remains in place for now until the Court of Appeals rules on the appeal.  The Court of Appeals’ ruling will likely not come until 2017.  Of course, no matter what the Court of Appeals decides, one of the parties may appeal that ruling to the Supreme Court further prolonging a final resolution of the issue.

However, President-elect Trump has signaled that he is not in favor of the new rule; therefore, the new administration may have little interest in continuing to pursue the matter after he takes office.

The bottom line is, for now, the temporary injunction halting the implementation of the new overtime regulations continues unless and until the higher court rules otherwise.

We will continue to monitor the situation and keep you updated.

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NEW OVERTIME RULES TEMPORARILY SUSPENDED

For employers preparing to comply with the new salary exemption regulations, designated to start on December 1, 2016, the new rules have been temporarily suspended. The new regulation would have increased the minimum salary required to qualify for the executive, professional, and administrative exemptions, increasing the minimum salary from $23,660 to $47,892 annually. These exemptions are often referred to as the “white collar” exemption and if an employer failed to meet the minimum salary requirement, the employer would have to pay the employee overtime for time worked past 40 hours in a week.

The temporary injunction means the rule is suspended and will not affect employers until further hearings are held. However, due to the current political climate, it is unclear whether further hearings will occur. Thus, employers do not have to comply with the new exemption rules, but should remain prepared to implement procedures to pay overtime to employees that would not meet the new white collar exemption rules.

For employers that have already implemented policies and procedures to comply with the pending white collar exemption regulations, or those that have communicated pending changes with employees, please contact Vandenack Weaver, LLC, to discuss your options.

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