The year began with the impact of the Trump Administration’s tax “reform” becoming clear. This legislation has amounted to one of the largest redistributions of wealth in the country’s history, giving a windfall to large corporations and extremely wealthy individuals. More unfortunate, the recipients of this enormous and permanent tax break typically have not used the substantial infusion of funds received to increase employee compensation – much less to hire more employees. In other words, the tax legislation has helped those who least need it and left everyone else in the country largely to fend for themselves. Making matters worse, the dramatic reduction in tax revenues caused by the “reform” pushed through by the Republican-controlled Congress will have an increasingly negative impact on the quality and even the availability of vital public services going forward if the revenue shortfalls are not somehow addressed soon.
The year continued with a series of decisions and rule-making by the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) and the United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) that have favored employers over employees. In particular, the NLRB and DOL have acted in multiple ways to limit the ability of labor unions, employees, and other advocates for workplace fairness to hold employers accountable at the Federal level for wage theft, safety violations, and other workplace abuses. As has been explained previously here, both the NLRB and the DOL are narrowing the circumstances in which two or more companies can be held responsible for workplace violations because they are a joint employer. NLRB decisions also have made it more difficult for employees to organize their workplaces and seek representation by a union as well as to address employment issues without being terminated for their efforts to address working conditions.
The year is ending with the Supreme Court considering a number of cases that, if a majority of the Supreme Court rules as it seems inclined to do, will also have serious consequences for employee rights and workplace protections. Specifically, the Supreme Court appears poised to rule in a series of cases that will likely undermine the ability of people experiencing discrimination, harassment, retaliation, or other workplace violations to receive a fair hearing – or even any hearing – about their civil rights or employment claims. The pending cases will decide an array of vital issues, including whether people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are members of a protected class covered by civil rights and employment laws. The Supreme Court will also be deciding this term what legal standard should apply to discrimination claims pursued by members of already recognized protected classes.