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NLRB Reinstates Browning-Ferris Joint-Employer Standard . . . For Now

On February 26, 2018, in a unanimous decision by Chairman Marvin Kaplan and Members Mark Pearce and Lauren McFerren, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or the “Board”) reversed and vacated its December 2017 decision in Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd. (“Hy-Brand”), which had overruled the joint-employer standard set forth in the 2015 Browning-Ferris Industries (“Browning-Ferris”) decision. The decision followed the release of a finding that a potential conflict-of-interest had tainted the Board’s 3-2 vote. What this means, at least for the moment, is that the lower standard for determining joint-employer status in Browning-Ferris is the law once again.

What Is The Browning-Ferris Standard?

As we previously reported, under the Browning-Ferris standard, “[t]he Board may find that two or more entities are joint employers of a single work force if they are both employers within the meaning of the common law, and if they share or codetermine those matters governing the essential terms and conditions of employment.”  Under Browning-Ferris, the primary inquiry is whether the purported joint-employer possesses the actual or potential authority to exercise control over the primary employer’s employees, regardless of whether the company has in fact exercised such authority.  This standard is viewed as employee and union-friendly, and led to the issuance of complaints alleging joint-employer status in an increased number of circumstances.

What Did Hy-Brand Set As the Test for Joint-Employer Status?

Later, in Hy-Brand, as we noted, the Board rejected the Browning-Ferris standard and returned to a more employer-friendly standard, based on the common law test for determining whether an employer-employee relationship exists as a predicate to finding a joint-employer relationship and adding more than just the right to exercise control.  Under Hy-Brand, a finding of joint-employer status would require proof that putative joint employer entities have actually exercised joint control over essential employment terms (rather than merely having “reserved” the right to exercise control), the control must be “direct and immediate” (rather than indirect), and joint-employer status will not result from control that is “limited and routine.”  This decision had stopped at least some cases relying on Browning-Ferris in their tracks.

What Happens Next?

While Hy-Brand has been reversed for the time being, we expect the Board, once the Senate acts on President Trump’s nomination of John Ring to fill the seat vacated this past December by then Chairman Philip Miscimarra, to reinstate the joint-employment standard articulated in Hy-Brand or a similar standard.

As noted above, the reversal of Hy-Brand follows the ethics memo published by NLRB Inspector General David Berry finding that Member William Emanuel should have abstained from the decision in Hy-Brand because of the fact that the law firm of which he was a member was involved in the case.  There are a number of other cases in which similar conflict issues have arisen, also arguing that Member Emanuel should recuse himself.

Congress May Act

Separate and part from a future Board decision, as we noted in November, the House of Representatives passed the Save Local Business Act (H.R. 3441) which, if enacted, would amend the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act to establish a Hy-Brand-like direct control standard for joint employer liability.  The reversal of Hy-Brand may now put increased pressure on the Senate to pass the bill.

What Should Employers Do Now?

Employers and other parties with matters before the Board involving joint-employer issues now, whether in the context of unfair labor practice cases or representation cases, now will need to focus on both the Browning-Ferris standard and the Hy-Brand test to ensure that they preserve all arguments and issues recognizing the likelihood that sooner rather than later the Board will adopt a test that requires more than is required under Browning-Ferris to establish the existence of a joint-employer relationship, with all of the attendant responsibilities.  We will continue to follow this issue and report on developments.

©2019 Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved.

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Adam C. Abrahms Labor Management Relations attorney Healthcare law lawyer
Member

ADAM C. ABRAHMS is a Member of the Firm in the Labor and Employment and Health Care and Life Sciences practices, in the firm's Los Angeles office, where he serves as a member of the firm's Labor Management Relations practice group. He has devoted his practice almost exclusively to aiding employers in developing strategies to remain union-free and, in organized operations, to securing and expanding management rights.

Mr. Abrahms:

  • Represents clients before the National Labor Relations Board and other federal and state agencies, and in federal and state...
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Steven M. Swirsky labor employment lawyer health care and life sciences attorney
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STEVEN M. SWIRSKY is a Member of the Firm in the Labor and Employment and Health Care and Life Sciences practices, in the firm's New York office. He regularly represents employers in a wide range of industries, including retail, health care, manufacturing, banking and financial services, manufacturing, transportation and distribution, electronics and publishing. He frequently advises and represents United States subsidiaries and branches of Asian, European and other foreign-based companies.

Mr. Swirsky:

  • Advises employers on a full range of labor and employment matters involving labor and employment issues in transactional matters
  • Represents employers in union avoidance, organizing campaigns, and related proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board
  • Represents employers in collective bargaining and in connection with strikes, picketing and arbitration proceedings
  • Handles grievances and arbitrations concerning work rule disputes and discharges, for both unionized and non-unionized employers
  • Assists with employment litigation, including Title VII, ADEA, ADA and other employment discrimination matters before state and federal courts and administrative tribunals including the EEOC, and the New York State Division of Human Rights
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Kate Rhodes, Epstein Becker Green, Labor and Employment Lawyer,
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KATE B. RHODES is a Memebr in the Labor and Employment practice, in the New York office of Epstein Becker Green.

Ms. Rhodes:

  • Counsels clients on the termination and discipline of employees, effective employee misconduct investigations, disability accommodations, state and federal leave laws, the use and payment of interns, the classification of employees, the legality of incentive compensation policies, responses to union organizing efforts, and conduct during strikes and lockouts

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Judah Rosenblatt, attorney
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JUDAH L. ROSENBLATT is an Associate in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the New York office of Epstein Becker Green.

Mr. Rosenblatt:

Assists in defending clients in labor and employment-related litigation in a broad array of matters, such as discrimination, harassment, breach of contract, retaliation, and wage and hour disputes

Audits employers’ employment policies, procedures, and handbooks to ensure compliance with applicable laws and best practices

Drafts and assists in negotiating employment agreements, severance...

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