In today’s ever-evolving world of employment law, it is far from an easy task for construction industry employers to operate their business while successfully navigating all of the potential legal potholes that continue to abound and multiply seemingly with every passing day. This is particularly true in the face of the onslaught of claims lodged by current and former employees in recent years for alleged unpaid wages. While there may not be a “sure bet” way of avoiding such claims, one tool that employers should strongly consider in their arsenal are arbitration and class action waiver agreements.
To that end, last year, the United States Supreme Court rendered its ground-breaking decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 584 U.S. ___ (2018). In Epic Systems, the Supreme Court held that arbitration agreements containing class and collective action waivers of wage and hour disputes are enforceable. At the time of the decision, a split of authority existed among courts across the country as to whether such agreements were viable. On the one hand, several courts contended that class waivers unfairly violated employees’ rights to collectively bargain under the National Labor Relations Act. On the other hand, many other courts were finding that such agreements were fully enforceable and supported by the policies promoted under the Federal Arbitration Act. The Epic Systems Court sided with this latter viewpoint, concluding that the FAA’s clear policy promoting arbitration as a dispute resolution mechanism and private parties’ rights to freely negotiate contracts outweighed any potential arguments against such agreements under the NLRA.
With wage and hour lawsuits being filed against construction industry employers practically daily, the Epic Systems decision is critically important. Construction employers can now freely enter into arbitration and class waiver agreements with their laborers and thereby potentially limit the cost, expense and exposure of fighting such actions in a public forum on a collective or class-wide basis. To be clear, such agreements will not eliminate employees from bringing such wage and hour claims entirely, nor should the use of those agreements signal to employers that they need not make every good-faith effort to comply with their obligations under the Federal Labor Standards Act and/or any applicable state wage and hour laws. But the reality is that arbitration and class waiver agreements can work to avoid tens or hundreds or even thousands of employees from banding together in some of the massive wage and hour lawsuits being filed across the country. Instead, employers can require that those legal battles be conducted by a single plaintiff in a more controlled environment before an arbitrator (or panel of arbitrators).
Reprinted courtesy of Brian L. Gardner & Jason R. Finkelstein, Construction Executive, a publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. All rights reserved.