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Want to Protect Your Trade Secrets? Update Your Employment Agreements!

October 11, 2019

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Since 2016, the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) has provided employers with a federal cause of action against employees, former employees and other bad actors who misappropriate trade secrets.  In addition to injunctive relief, DTSA remedies include civil seizure, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney fees.  However, in order to preserve the right to seek punitive damages and attorney fees from an employee or former employee, the employer must have provided notice of the whistleblower-protection provisions of the Act.  Those provisions protect employees and former employees from criminal or civil liability for disclosure of trade secrets made (a) in confidence to a government official or an attorney for the purpose of reporting or investigating a suspected violation of law, or (b) under seal in a judicial proceeding.

Notice of the whistle-blower protection provisions must be included “in any contract or agreement with an employee that governs the use of a trade secret or other confidential information.”  This would commonly include, for example, employment agreements, confidentiality or nondisclosure agreements, noncompetition agreements, and separation agreements.  The notice requirement applies to all such contracts entered into or revised after May 11, 2016.

The notice may be provided by including the whistleblower-protection provision in the agreement or by cross-referencing a policy that contains the required disclosure.  It is unclear whether paraphrasing the statutory language will be sufficient.  Therefore, the safer course is to quote the pertinent text, such as:

Notwithstanding the foregoing, 18 U.S.C. §1833(b) provides, in part: “(1) An individual shall not be

UK HR Two Minute Monthly: whistleblowing; religion or belief discrimination; employment status

October 9, 2019

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Our October update considers recent developments in employment law, including cases on the whistleblowing public interest test, whether vegetarianism is a protected belief under discrimination law, and employment status. We also outline other points of note, including guidance published by the Banking Standards Board on regulatory references, the latest employment tribunal statistics and revised immigration arrangements in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Raising data protection concerns was sufficient to satisfy the whistleblowing public interest test

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has confirmed that an employee was entitled to whistleblowing protection when she had a reasonable belief that alleged data protection breaches by her employer were in the public interest.

The employee worked for a small charity which among other things supports victims of domestic violence. Due to performance concerns, the employee’s probationary period was extended. The employee subsequently raised concerns that, given the nature of the sensitive and confidential personal information she dealt with, the charity was in breach of data protection legislation by failing to provide her with her own mobile phone and also with secure storage facilities to hold client records. The employer subsequently terminated her employment on performance grounds. The employee brought a claim that she had been automatically unfair dismissed for blowing the whistle.

The employment tribunal found that the complaints raised by the employee were not in the public interest as they concerned her own contractual position, which prevented her from succeeding in her whistleblowing claim. However, on appeal, the EAT disagreed. The employment

Asset Purchasers: Beware Bans on Salary History Inquiries

When one employer purchases the assets of another and intends to employ some or all of the seller’s employees, it is very common for the asset purchase agreement to require the seller to disclose certain personnel information regarding those employees.  Often this disclosure includes such items as name, title, hire date, current salary, and other compensation and benefit information.  However, such provisions may violate state and local bans on salary history inquiries.

To date, fourteen states and Puerto Rico have prohibited or restricted private sector employers from seeking information about a prospective employee’s past compensation.  In some of those states, employers are permitted to ask about compensation history only at a certain point in the hiring process.  But in most, employers are never allowed to seek this information.  Many local governments have also enacted their own bans.

Colorado’s new statute is typical.  Effective January 1, 2021, it will be unlawful for employers to “seek the wage rate history of a prospective employee or rely on the wage rate history of a prospective employee to determine a wage rate.”  The statute defines “wage rate” broadly to mean (a) for hourly employees, the hourly rate plus the value per hour of all other compensation and benefits received, and (b) for salaried employees, the total of all compensation and benefits received.  Given the remedial purpose of the statute – to eliminate pay gaps based on gender and race – it is likely that courts will construe the statute broadly in favor of employees

Medium and large businesses getting ready for private sector off-payroll working rules in the UK

Despite calls for the start date to be delayed, it appears that the extension of the off-payroll working rules to private sector engagements will go ahead in April 2020.

Under the draft legislation, responsibility for determining whether engagements with individuals who provide their services through an intermediary (typically a “PSC”) are within the off-payroll working rules shifts to the client, with the burden of operating PAYE and collecting National Insurance Contributions (“NICs”) falling on the relevant “fee payer” in the work supply chain. More detail about the requirements under the draft legislation can be found in our earlier blog.

As they prepare for the changes, many medium and large businesses are taking the opportunity to review their use of consultants and the terms of their contractor services more widely, in some cases leading to a major shake-up in engagement models. In addition to reviewing the terms which apply where a business contracts directly with a PSC, it is also important to consider the terms on which employment agencies provide contractor services.  With only six months to go until the changes go live, businesses which have not started the review process should act now.

New Overtime Rule More Employer-Friendly Than Last Attempt

Today, the U.S. Department of Labor finally announced its long-awaited changes to the regulations regarding overtime compensation. Effective January 1, 2020, the minimum salary required for most exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act will rise from $455 per week to $684 per week (or from $23,660 to $35,568 annualized). The minimum salary for the “highly compensated employee” exemption will rise from $100,000 to $107,432 per year.

Additionally, employers will be permitted to use nondiscretionary bonuses and other incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to ten percent (10%) of the required minimum salary, as long as that compensation is paid at least annually. And if an employee fails to earn sufficient incentive compensation in a 52-week period to maintain “exempt” status, the employer may make up the shortfall (up to 10% of the minimum required salary) in a one-time payment in the first pay period after the end of the 52-week period.

The “final rule” announced today is more employer-friendly than the Department’s last attempt to update the overtime regulations, which was enjoined by a federal court in 2016 before the changes could take effect. The final rule issued in 2016 would have raised the minimum salaries for exemption considerably higher, making an estimated 4 million workers eligible for overtime pay, and it would have provided for automatic increases in the salary thresholds going forward. The final rule announced today is predicted to make 1.3 million workers overtime-eligible and does not provide for any automatic adjustments in the future.

Holiday pay; non-party access to court documents

September 20, 2019

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Our September update considers recent key developments in UK employment law, including a case on calculating holiday pay for irregular workers and a Supreme Court decision on non-party access to court documents. We also outline other points of note, including developments relating to non-disclosure agreements and gender pay gap reporting.

Read more here

 

Preparation and Training Critical as Illinois Employers Face New Legal Landscape

Illinois employers must begin preparing now for the host of new legal requirements impacting the workplace beginning in 2020.  With legal changes on topics ranging from hiring practices and pay equity to drug testing and severance agreements, employers should not only review and revise their policies, practices and expectations, but also ensure that their Human Resources and management personnel receive training to ensure compliance.

Amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”)

Under new amendments to the IHRA, more employers are now subject to the IHRA, more protections are now provided to employees (and others), sexual harassment training is now a requirement, and employers now have reporting obligations to the Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR”) regarding adverse judgments, administrative rulings, and settlements.  Specifically:

  • Beginning July 1, 2020, rather than applying only to employers with 15 or more employees, the IHRA applies to all employers with one or more employees in Illinois during 20 or more calendar weeks. Newly covered employers should ensure that HR personnel and managers are aware of the areas in which the IHRA is broader than federal anti-discrimination laws, including but not limited to: (1) pregnancy accommodation requirements; (2) prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, marital status, and order-of-protection status; and (3) the potential for individual liability of harassers.
  • Beginning January 1, 2020, the scope of protection provided by the IHRA will expand. HR personnel and managers must be aware of the new protections so that they appropriately recognize and respond to concerns. 

Colorado Employees Lose it Over Use-It-Or-Lose-It Vacation Policies

Colorado employees are pushing back against the recent decision allowing use-it-or-lose vacation policies in Colorado.

In Nieto v. Clark’s Market, Inc., 2019 COA 98 (Colo. App. June 27, 2019), a division of the Colorado Court of Appeals held that the Colorado Wage Claim Act does not prohibit employers from imposing conditions on the right to be paid for accrued but unused vacation upon termination.   In that case, the employer’s policy provided that terminating employees would not be paid for accrued but unused vacation if they were discharged or if they resigned with less than two weeks’ notice.  The Court held that the Wage Claim Act only requires payment of vacation that has been “earned in accordance with the terms of any agreement” and that employers and employees may agree to impose conditions on payment for accrued but unused vacation.  Therefore, under Nieto, use-it-or-lose-it vacation polices are now permissible in Colorado.

Not surprisingly, employees (and their lawyers) are pushing back, focusing on two unanswered questions in the Nieto decision.

Seizing upon the word “agreement” in the statute, some employees contend that Nieto applies only to actual contracts between the employer and the employee and not to policies unilaterally imposed by the employer.   The Court in Nieto expressly declined to address this issue because neither party had raised it.  While individual vacation agreements with each employee would be unwieldy and impractical in most cases, employers should at least consider ensuring that all employees have received a copy of the vacation policy –

Sixth Circuit Holds Nonmember of Credit Union Lacks Standing to Bring ADA Claim Based on Allegedly Inaccessible Website

In Brintley v. Aeroquip Credit Union et al., Case Nos. 18-2326/2328 (August 8, 2019), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order dismissing an Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) claim alleging that the defendant credit union’s website was not accessible to the blind.  The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision allowing the case to proceed, finding that Brintley had failed to allege either that she was eligible for membership in the credit union or had a present intent to make herself eligible, and therefore lacked standing.  In so doing, the Court joined two other appellate courts that have similarly held that an individual who is ineligible for membership in a credit union fails to allege an injury in fact despite alleging visits to an inaccessible website.

Read the full article here.

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner has extensive experience defending companies against website accessibility claims and regularly offers webinars on the topic to assist our clients in assessing compliance with the ADA. If you would like to schedule a similar webinar or presentation, or for more information on website accessibility or defending against such claims, please contact any of the attorneys listed.

A €150k warning to employers – don’t ask your employees to consent to your privacy policy!

August 23, 2019

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The Greek data protection authority (“DPA”) recently announced a €150,000 fine against a company that required its employees “to provide consent to the processing of their personal data.”[1] According to the DPA, as the “[c]onsent of data subjects in the context of employment relations cannot be regarded as freely given due to the clear imbalance between the parties,”[2] by asking for consent the employer had failed to identify the correct legal basis for processing which in turn caused the employer to issue an incorrect privacy notice to its employees (i.e., the privacy notice identified consent as the basis for processing instead of a basis approved by the DPA).  While the amount of the fine fell well below the 4% of annual turnover maximum penalty theoretically permitted under the GDPR, its size has sent shockwaves through the human resource community as it represents one of the largest fines issued in the context of employment data.  The overall message from the DPA was unmistakable – employers should stop asking their employees to broadly consent to a company’s privacy practices.

While technically the DPA’s holding only applies to data that is subject to Greek labor and employment laws, the DPA’s viewpoint is likely consistent with that of many supervisory authorities in the other Member States.  In terms of understanding the larger context, the GDPR states that a company may process personal data so long as one (or more) of the following six situations applies:[3]

  • A data subject has
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