Employers turn to Gabrielle for guidance on how they can comply with the technical employment laws in California, Montana and nationwide while meeting their business needs. Her successful trial experience in a broad range of employment disputes includes wage and hour, whistleblower, wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, breach of contract, and trade secret/noncompetition cases. She also represents employers before a wide variety of state and federal agencies including the EEOC, OFCCP, state human rights agencies, the Labor Commission, the Employment Development Department and OSHA.
Many employers have offices in multiple states, but want to have one form of employee agreement prohibiting solicitation of employees and customers. Since some state laws, namely California, may be too different to reconcile with other states, what sort of non-solicitation agreements work in California?
In California, non-solicitation agreements are reviewed as contracts which prevent a person from engaging in a profession, trade or occupation which, with limited exceptions, are void under Business and Professions Code section 16600. Thus, recent cases have held that an agreement between an employer and employee prohibiting the solicitation of customers is not enforceable unless tied to the employee’s use of trade secrets or some other legal duty owed by the employee.
Employers have tried to draft enforceable non-solicitation clauses by characterizing customer and employee information as trade secrets. In late 2018, in AMN Healthcare, Inc. v. Aya Healthcare Services, Inc. the Court of Appeal upheld summary judgment in favor of the former employee defendants and their new employer. The former and new employer were competitors providing temporary travel nurses to medical facilities across the U.S.
The employee defendants were recruiters who signed agreements that “during employee’s employment with the Company and for a period of one year after the termination employee shall not directly or indirectly solicit or induce, or cause others to solicitor or induce, any employee of the Company . . . to leave the service of the Company.” AMN claimed that the travel nurses names and contact information were trade secrets. The court concluded that the nurses had applied to AMN years before and that the information was already in AMN’s possession or could have been obtained from other sources such as a public media group network, the Gypsy Nurse Group. For this reason, and because the employee’s profession was the recruitment of other employees, the Court found the non-solicitation agreement unenforceable.
Employers in California must therefore normally tailor any non-solicitation agreements and carefully consider if the employee truly possesses confidential/trade secret information that could be used to solicit customers. To the extent the information the employee would use to solicit is a trade secret, courts have considered the agreement to be valid. Other states may allow broader non-solicitation agreements, therefore you should use different forms to receive the maximum protection in those states.
While portions of California’s Immigrant Worker Protection Act have been enjoined, employers remain subject to notice obligations. California passed a statute limiting the extent to which employers could cooperate with federal immigration officials. Litigation quickly ensued, and a recent decision enjoined enforcement of part of the law, while leaving other provisions unaffected. With the speed of the news cycle, employers may understandably require clarification as to which immigration policies are actually in effect. What portions of the sanctuary state law were enjoined, and what parts remain effective?
The Immigration Worker Protection Act (AB 450), which went into effect in January 2018, imposed three primary obligations on employers:
A prohibition against allowing or consenting to a federal immigration enforcement agent’s request to enter nonpublic areas in the workplace, or to access employee records, without a judicial warrant;
A prohibition against re-verifying the employment eligibility of a current employee outside the time and manner required by federal law; and
A requirement to provide notice to employees upon receipt of a Notice of Inspection of Form I-9, and after the inspection, provide notice regarding the results of the inspection.
Almost immediately, the law was challenged in court, in a case called United States v. California. On July 5, 2018, John A. Mendez of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California issued a preliminary injunction blocking the enforcement of the first two of the above obligations, but not the third obligation concerning notice. The court reasoned that the first prohibition on cooperation with federal immigration officials likely “impermissibly discriminates against those who choose to deal with the Federal Government,” and therefore violates the intergovernmental immunity doctrine. The court also found that the second prohibition on early re-verifications likely violates the Supremacy Clause. The notice obligation, on the other hand, regulates the employer’s “failure to communicate with its employees,” and is therefore likely a permissible exercise of state power.
Accordingly, as it currently stands, the notice provisions are in effect. Under the statute, employers must notify employees and labor union representatives within 72 hours of receiving a Notice of Inspection of Form I-9. Employers must include the name of the federal agency conducting the inspection, the nature of the inspection, the date the employer received the inspection notice, and a copy of the inspection notice. Additionally, within 72 hours after the inspection takes place, employers must also provide affected employees and their labor union representatives with the results of the inspection, a timeframe for correcting any deficiencies found, the date and time of any meetings with the employer to correct any deficiencies found, and a notice to the employees about their rights to representation during any meeting with the employer.
It is important to note that at this point the court entered a preliminary injunction; the ultimate enforcement of the statute may change when the case reaches completion, and even then, an appeal to the Ninth Circuit (and perhaps ultimately to the Supreme Court) is likely.
Let’s face it. The hiring process involves mounds of regulations, disclosures, authorizations, and then more disclosures. The last thing an employer – or applicant – wants to see is a higher stack of documents filled with legal jargon. Should employers then consolidate disclosures and authorizations to simplify the hiring process?
Not when doing a credit check pursuant to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Recent cases emphasize the importance of employers allowing disclosures to obtain background checks from consumer reporting agencies to “stand alone” from every other document.
The FCRA mandates that employers who seek to procure a consumer report must present “clear and conspicuous” disclosures that are contained in a document that consists solely of the disclosure. This is known as the “stand alone” requirement.
While the FCRA allows the disclosure form to also include an authorization – which is also required before procuring a report – Courts have recently cracked down on employers who include anything extraneous.
For instance, in Syed v. M-I, Ltd. Liab. Co., 853 F.3d 492 (9th Cir. 2017), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal held that the inclusion of a liability waiver in the same document as the FCRA disclosure violated the FCRA’s “stand alone” requirement.
The Ninth Circuit further held that violation of this technical requirement is enough of a “concrete harm” to allow the case to proceed in Federal Court where the plaintiff alleged he was confused about the excess language and would not have signed the disclosure otherwise.
The Court in Poinsignon underscored the importance of “[p]resenting the disclosure in a separate stand-alone document free from the clutter of other language” to call “consumers’ attention to their rights and to the significant of their authorization.”
And in Lagos v. Leland Stanford Junior Univ., No. 5:15-cv-04524-PSG, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 163119 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 4, 2015), a District Court held that inclusion of seven state law notices and a sentence stating, “I also understand that nothing herein shall be construed as an offer of employment or contract for services,” plausibly violated the FCRA’s “stand alone” requirement.
Employers have also been recent targets of FCRA class action lawsuits alleging violation of the FCRA’s “stand alone” requirement.
For example, on April 20, 2018, Petco Animal Supplies, Inc., asked a Federal Court in the Southern District of California to approve a class-wide settlement of a 2016 lawsuit based on allegations that its web based application contained a FCRA disclosure containing a broad authorization for “any person” to provide “any and all information” to the consumer reporting agency, in addition to information relating to the laws of seven different states. Petco agreed to pay $1.2 million to resolve the claims of approximately 37,000 individuals.
And on April 12, 2018, Frito-Lay, Inc., asked a Federal Court in the Northern District of California to approve a class-wide settlement of a 2017 lawsuit based on allegations that Frito-Lay violated the FCRA’s “stand alone” requirement by including additional language in its FCRA disclosure form including, among other things, a statement that “I have been given a standalone consumer notification that a report will be requested and used [.]” Frito-Lay agreed to a settlement of about $2.4 million to resolve the claims of roughly 38,000 class members.
2018 marks a new opportunity for employers to review and update their hiring forms to ward off FCRA lawsuits.
Question: Some of our retail company’s employees in California are demanding chairs to sit in while they work. Management thinks it appears unprofessional to have workers sitting, but I hear the employees might have a legal right to sit down. Should management take a stand?
Question: Our company offers employees a self-funded and self-insured health plan. We’d now like to implement a wellness program. Can we require employees to complete a health risk assessment which requests personal medical information before they are eligible to participate in the health plan? I’ve heard that asking for employee medical information, even if it’s pursuant to a wellness program, could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Question: We have our electronic handbook and arbitration agreement online, and all employees sign both electronically. I saw a news blurb that a California court last year refused to enforce an arbitration agreement that was electronically signed. Can’t we use electronic signatures in California?
Dorsey is a business law firm with more than 550 attorneys across the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. Our lawyers regularly handle every sort of employment matter, litigated and non-litigated. We have extensive, successful trial experience (including class and collective actions), as well as an outstanding record for obtaining summary judgments. Dorsey also has broad experience in advising, counseling, compliance and development, policy handbook review, training and other measures that can greatly reduce the likelihood of litigation or governmental enforcement actions.