Virginia appears poised to join Maryland and a handful of other states that ban employers from asking current employees and applicants for access to their social media accounts, like Facebook. Earlier this month, the Virginia legislature passed a bill that precludes an employer from requesting or compelling an employee to: 1) divulge passwords or usernames for the employee’s social media accounts; or 2) add the employer to the contacts associated with the employee’s social media accounts. The restrictions also apply to applicants for employment. It is still permissible under the law for an employer to seek access information to an employee’s social media accounts, but only if the information is reasonably needed to investigate allegations of unlawful employee activity or necessary to comply with other laws. Unless vetoed, the law will become effective by the end of March 2015, or sooner.
Effective March 27, 2015, the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, will extend coverage to all legally married same-sex couples to take FMLA leave to provide care for their spouse. FMLA leave entitles eligible employees, as defined by the statute, to take unpaid leave for a “qualifying event” for a period of up to 12 weeks. In addition to serious health conditions of the employee, qualifying events include the care of a spouse or child with a serious health condition and leave due to a spouse’s covered military service.
Selection Sunday has passed, the brackets are set and employers across the US find themselves once again on the eve of March Madness. Businesses are faced with the issue of whether to embrace the “madness” or to strictly enforce office policies, which likely prohibit distractions such as streaming basketball games and participating in bracket pools. While numerous studies indicate that employee productivity is at record lows this Thursday & Friday, there are great benefits to be had if handled correctly.
In a case with potential significance for many Virginia employers, the Court of Appeals of Maryland recently decided in Cunningham v. Feinberg that the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law (“MWPCL”) may be applicable to unpaid wage claims arising from employment agreements entered into in Virginia. Thus, a Virginia employer that does not exercise care in the payment of wages under a contract entered into with an employee who will be performing work in Maryland may find itself embroiled in a claim for unpaid wages, statutory treble damages, attorney’s fees and costs of litigation.
Thirty-five years ago, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) established that it is unlawful for employers with fifteen or more employees to discriminate against pregnant workers “because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.” That remains the basic law of the land today. What has remained unclear, however, is whether Congress, in passing the PDA, meant to compel employers to provide pregnant employees who are not able to work for medical reasons with accommodations, such as a light duty job, to the same extent as similarly situated, non-pregnant employees.
The Supreme Court recently heard oral argument in a case brought by Peggy Young against United Parcel Service (“UPS”) that is expected to provide some guidance as to whether and under what circumstances an employer may be required to accommodate pregnant employees under the PDA. Irrespective of what the court decides, however, covered employers should continue to ask whether such accommodations may still be necessary under recently implemented amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).
The Uniform Trade Secrets Act, adopted by 47 states including Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, generally defines protectable trade secrets as information that derives independent economic value from not being generally known or readily ascertainable and that is subject to reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy. In an age of electronic information storage and immediate communication, and in a world where flash drives, SnapChat and portable electronic devices are common, the business world’s increasing dependence on technology is challenged by the ease of downloading and absconding with essential business information. The Trade Secrets Acts provides a critical tool for avoiding this risk, but security requires careful and proactive monitoring and planning as well as hard-headed practical judgment.
The recent decisions by the Fourth Circuit and the D.C. Circuit address a controversy that could have far-reaching consequences for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”). Under the ACA, states and the District of Columbia are authorized to establish health insurance market places (“exchanges”) where each state’s citizens may purchase health insurance. If a state does not create an exchange, the ACA mandates that the Department of Health and Human Services establish a federal exchange to operate in the state. At this time, fourteen states and the District of Columbia have exchanges, while thirty-six states have federal exchanges.
The ACA also creates a tax credit program that subsidizes the cost of insurance for lower income Americans. The ACA’s individual mandate requires individuals to maintain “minimum essential coverage,” which, in general, is enforced through a tax penalty. However, the individual mandate only applies when an individual’s health insurance premiums (after applying the tax credit subsidy to the premiums) are less than eight percent of their projected household income. Therefore, the tax credit increases the number of Americans who must purchase insurance, and since thirty-six states have a federal exchange, a significant number of Americans receive these tax credits without participating in state exchanges.
On July 21, 2014, President Obama issued an executive order that amends Executive Orders 11478 and 11246 by adding LGBT anti-discrimination protections. President Obama took this action after Congress failed to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would have prohibited all employers with fifteen or more employees from discriminating based on “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.”
Executive Order 11478 protects federal employees against certain types of discrimination. When President Nixon issued Executive Order 11478 in 1969, it barred discrimination “because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, or age.” Subsequently, President Clinton amended Executive Order 11478 to include “sexual orientation.” President Obama’s executive order, which is effective immediately, provides further protections for federal employees by prohibiting discrimination based on “gender identity.”
On March 7, 2014, Judge Raymond Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia denied Dollar Tree’s motion for de-certification of a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) class action case involving between 4,000 and 6,000 current and former employees. The lawsuit alleges that Dollar Tree required or permitted its hourly associates and assistant store managers to work “off the clock” and overtime without compensation. The suit covers employees in Dollar Tree stores located in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Dollar Tree’s headquarters is located in Norfolk, Virginia.
Part 1 of this post discussed a suit brought by Wings LLC to enforce a noncompete against two defector employees. The letter opinion said that the noncompete was unenforceable. In this post, I examine the role of noncompetition agreements and when other agreements may be better options in cases such as this one.
The Role of Noncompetes – Protecting the Investment
A closer look at this case also reveals a common misunderstanding about the purpose of noncompetes. Put simply, a noncompete is designed to protect a business from losing its investment. This can be seen most clearly in the context of a business sale. When one person buys a Pizza Hut franchise from its owner, the person also “purchases” the customer market that comes with it. If the former owner then opens a Little Caesar’s across the street, the purchaser’s investment is severely compromised in the form of lost customers and lost profits. A noncompete prohibiting the former owner from engaging in the same or similar business within the customer market for a sufficient period of time will help protect the purchaser from being undermined by immediate competition. And it prevents the seller from double-crossing the purchaser by profiting twice—once from the sale of the Pizza Hut and again from the profits made from Little Caesar’s.