On October 11, 2022, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) issued its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking to undo the Trump administration’s 2021 independent contractor regulations and revert to the six-factor economic realities test. While the test factors remain the same (for the most part), the DOL’s NPRM advances interpretations of the various factors that support employment status at every turn.
A Trump administration-era Medicare program is under increased scrutiny from progressive Democrats. According to this Politico article, the program is a “direct contracting model” that allows private companies to participate in Medicare. Some Democrats, however, say the program is opening up a lane for Medicare privatization.
“There’s a dynamic with the left that [the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation] [has] to deal with for sure,” said McDermott+Consulting’s Mara McDermott.
Throughout US President Joe Biden’s first year in office, the Biden administration reversed numerous Trump-era policies, including those concerning the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, federal contractors, wage data and LGBTQ bias. In this Law360 article, McDermott Partner Rachel Cowen offers insight into how the friction between religious and LGBTQ rights will continue to play out throughout employment law.
The Biden administration is no longer defending a Trump administration H-1B visa regulation that would have made it more challenging for international students to work in the United States. As noted in this Forbes article, McDermott Partner Paul Hughes recently successfully argued on behalf of plaintiffs that the H-1B rule violated current law.
Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Investing for Retirement Plans: Where We’ve Been, and Where We Are Now
Over the past year, the regulatory backdrop around environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing has shifted. As McDermott Partner Brian J. Tiemann explains in these slides, the US Department of Labor (DOL) under the Trump administration dropped ESG terminology and set a high standard for considering factors other than purely financial projections for investment alternatives. However, the Biden administration’s DOL has said that it will not enforce Trump-era regulations or pursue enforcement actions against plan fiduciaries for failure to comply with those regulations.
International students will have an easier time obtaining H-1B status after a federal judge ended a Trump administration regulation that made the process more difficult.
According to this Forbes article, Trump administration officials increased H-1B denial rates via memos and policies that were later ruled unlawful. McDermott Partner Paul Hughes—who represented plaintiffs in an complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief—said a Trump administration move to end H-1B via lottery violated the law.
As US Congressional Democrats continue their advocacy for a pro-worker agenda, multiple bills and rules could bring about sweeping changes to the civil rights and labor protections for millions of workers. These include:
- The Equality Act
- The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act
- The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
- The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act)
- The US Department of Labor’s Overtime Rule
According to McDermott partner Ellen Bronchetti, the PRO Act, for example, would enshrine a strict ABC test into federal law that would analyze whether workers qualify as independent contractors.
“I think that because Biden has promised to strengthen worker protections and strengthen workers’ right to organize, I think employers need to keep a real close eye on this legislation or versions of the legislation or pieces that might get pulled out and put elsewhere,” Bronchetti said in an article published in Law360.
President Biden’s July 9, 2021, Executive Order—which seeks to increase competition throughout the American economy—takes aim at prescription drug prices. In this article, published in Law360, McDermott partner Emily Jane Cook says Biden’s focus on drug prices is unsurprising given the “significant public interest and frustration” with drug costs.
Hurry Up and Wait: Department of Labor Delays Implementation of New Worker Classification Regulations
Businesses strive to draw the line correctly on who is an employee versus who is an independent contractor. New regulations issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) in early January promised to help. See, 29 CFR §§795.100. But by late January, those regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) were frozen.
Unlike laws passed by Congress, administrative regulations are far more easily altered when a new president takes office. The regulations published by President Trump’s DOL in January had an effective date of March 8, 2021. Now, President Biden’s DOL will have an additional 60 days beyond that effective date to announce what will happen next.
Those new regulations provided a much simpler test for classifying workers. While including five factors, the results turned on two of those factors: (1) the nature and degree of the worker’s control over the work and (2) the worker’s opportunity for profit/loss based on personal initiative or investment. Most significantly, those regulations focused on the actual practices, rather than what may be possible.
This same issue may also arise under other federal statutes as well as state laws, including those governing on whom unemployment insurance taxes must be paid. With multiple statutes (each with its own distinctive test), drawing the line between independent contractors and employees correctly turns not only on meeting whatever the ultimate FLSA test turns out to be.
The most difficult is the so-called ABC test:
- The worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the work’s performance, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact.
- The worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.
- The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation or business of the same nature as the work performed.
That is the test that is embedded in proposed federal legislation: the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. That is also now the official test for most jobs under most California laws.
A Momentary Victory for the ACA: Federal Judge Issues a Nationwide Injunction against Trump Administration’s Contraceptive Coverage Carve Outs
On January 14, 2019, US District Judge Wendy Beetlestone in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued a nationwide preliminary injunction blocking the Trump administration’s carveouts to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage mandate. One day prior, US District Judge Haywood Gilliam in the US District Court for the Northern District of California issued a more limited injunction blocking the same carve outs from taking effect in 13 states plus the District of Columbia.
On October 6, 2017, the Trump administration issued rules that are the subject of these two decisions. The rules would have allowed employers to raise religious and moral objections to avoid the ACA’s requirement that contraceptive coverage be provided without cost sharing under their group health plans. Under the ACA, certain contraceptive products and services are included in the list of preventive services that must be covered by most group health plans without cost sharing. The available exemptions to this rule were limited.
Judge Beetlestone reasoned that the loss of contraceptive coverage would have resulted in “significant” and “proprietary harm” to the states by causing increased use of state-funded contraceptive services, along with increased costs associated with unintended pregnancies. Without the preliminary injunction, the Trump administration’s rules would have gone into effect on January 14, 2019. The preliminary injunction does not permanently block the rules, but rather it stops the rules from going into effect while legal challenges are being pursued. Judge Beetlestone indicated that she is likely to invalidate the rules, stating that the US Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury exceeded the scope of their authority under the ACA by issuing the carve outs.
Charnae Supplee, a law clerk in the Firm’s Washington, DC office, also contributed to this post.