California employers received mostly good news this past month on the arbitration front, with a trio of pro-employer arbitration-related rulings. The California Supreme Court’s recent ruling invalidating an employer’s arbitration agreement (discussed below) is a notable exception.
California Supreme Court Invalidates Employer’s Arbitration Agreement As Unconscionable.
In OTO LLC v. Ken Kho, the California Supreme Court ruled that an Oakland Toyota dealership’s arbitration agreement with a former employee was unenforceable and was so unfair and one-sided that it was procedurally and substantively unconscionable. “Arbitration is premised on the parties’ mutual consent, not coercion, and the manner of the agreement’s imposition here raises serious concerns on that score,” the majority opinion said. (more…)
In 2018, California passed a law that greatly expanded sexual harassment training requirements for employers (see here). Under the law, employers of as few as five people must provide two hours of interactive sexual harassment training to their supervisors and one hour to all non-supervisory employees. The training was to have been completed by January 1, 2020. Just before Labor Day, California Governor Gavin Newsom gave employers a welcome reprieve by extending the deadline to comply with the new training requirements by a year — to January 1, 2021. The bill signed by the Governor that extended the deadline also confirms that those employees who received sexual harassment training in 2019 need not be re-trained again for two years.
As has been widely reported, on Friday, first President Trump announced and then USTR Lighthizer confirmed the 301 tariffs on goods out of China will increase. Specifically, the tariffs on the goods on Lists 1, 2 and 3 will rise from 25% to 30% starting October 1, 2019, while the tariffs on the List 4 products will start at 15% on September 1, 2019 or December 15, 2019, rather than the original 10%, depending on whether your product is on List 4A or List 4B. USTR also acknowledged there will be a notice and comment period provided in the Federal Register notice to follow. While no doubt many American traders hope the possibility exists to remove products from any of the lists, that seems highly unlikely. While this upheaval continues, companies should also keep in mind the ability to seek exclusions for goods on List 3 expires on September 30, 2019. The exclusion process for goods on List 4 has still not been published. (more…)
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) has recently increased site visits for employers who employ F-1 students under STEM OPT (short for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics Optional Practical Training) work authorization. While ICE has had this authority since the STEM regulations were passed in 2016, the agency only recently started conducting site visits to ensure that employers and F-1 students remain in compliance with the regulations governing F-1 STEM OPT work authorization.
What Is STEM OPT?
STEM OPT allows eligible F-1 visa students with STEM degrees from accredited U.S. colleges or universities to apply for an additional 24 months of Occupational Practical Training. This is in addition to the initial, one-year post-completion OPT granted to all non-STEM-degree F-1 students. In addition to the STEM degree requirements, the F-1 visa student must secure employment with a bona fide employer, work a minimum of 20 hours per week for that employer, and the employer must provide a formal, practical training and learning program within the STEM field which is related to the F-1 student’s degree. Details of the training program are outlined by the employer on Form I-983, which is submitted to and approved by the Designated School Official at the F-1 student’s academic institution.
Last week, the California Supreme Court ruled that a former start-up employee could not hold his former boss personally liable for unpaid wages based on the theory of common law conversion. Conversion is a legal term for theft. This is a win for employers as, if the Court had ruled otherwise, employers potentially could be held liable for tort damages (including punitive damages) for failing to pay wages. (more…)
On August 12, 2019, New York Governor Cuomo signed into law legislation that greatly strengthens protections against sexual harassment. The bill, SB 6577, makes sweeping changes to current sexual harassment and discrimination laws. Most will take effect 60 days from the date the Governor signed the bill, or on October 11, 2019. New York State employers should work with employment counsel to alter their policies and practices to comply with these new requirements.
While the Federal Register notice containing all the relevant details has yet to be published, today, the U.S. Trade Representative published an announcement confirming that certain unidentified products were removed from List 4 for health, safety, national security and similar reasons, and those remaining would be rolled out on two different lists with two different effective dates. List 4A will be effective September 1, 2019 and can be found here. List 4B can be found here, and will be effective on December 15, 2019. USTR notes the products on List 4B include “cell phones, laptop computers, video game consoles, certain toys, computer monitors, and certain items of footwear and clothing.” Given the contents of List 4B, one is left to wonder whether USTR was trying to avoid making Christmas too grim for American consumers! (more…)
As has been repeatedly mentioned in the general press, President Trump tweeted on August 1st that the U.S. “will start, on September 1st, putting a small additional Tariff of 10% on the remaining 300 Billion Dollars of goods and products coming from China into our Country.” There are lots of questions about what that short message actually means, and right now, no answers. So far, there is no official notice from the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) for publication in the Federal Register. There is nothing new posted on the USTR website. We know the President said he picked September 1st because there are goods on the water, but we do not know whether September 1st is the date by which the goods must arrive in the U.S., or must be exported from China. Will the products on List 4 change from those originally published? Whatever goods are on the final version of List 4, will at least some of the products be listed to the 10-digit level? Right now, all products are listed to the eight-digit level, but the descriptions assigned to those classifications, in some cases, do not include all the products encompassed by the very different products classified under that eight-digit number. This is typically the case due to either the type of good or its constituent material. (more…)
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published a new rule on July 2, 2019, requiring trademark applicants, registrants, and parties to Trademark Trial and Appeal Board proceedings whose domicile is not located within the United States or its territories to be represented before the USPTO by a U.S.-licensed attorney as of August 3, 2019. Domicile is typically defined as the permanent legal place of residence of an individual or the headquarters of an entity. The rule does not retroactively apply to applications filed before August 3, 2019, but impacts such applications if an office action is issued on or after August 3, 2019, requiring the applicant to designate a U.S.-licensed attorney to respond. This rule is intended to streamline trademark registrations and reduce the potential of invalidations by providing the USPTO a more efficient way to enforce statutory and regulatory requirements.
Within the past two weeks, both California and New York have passed laws prohibiting employers from discriminating based upon hairstyle. Governor Gavin Newsom signed California’s “CROWN Act” (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) on July 3, 2019. The law amends the state’s Education and Government Codes to define “race or ethnicity” as “inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” It takes effect on January 1, 2020. (more…)