Tag Archives: collective bargaining agreement

Are You Really An At-Will Employer?

The vast majority of private employers in California desire an at-will employment relationship with employees.  The vast majority also believe they are at-will employers.  They may be, but for a great many, it will take three years of litigation and several hundred thousand dollars to prove it.

It is often said that there are two types of employment: at-will employment and employment by contract.  This is actually a misnomer.  All employment is by contract.  It is either a contract for at-will employment or a contract for something else.  The most common alternatives to at-will employment are collective bargaining agreements in the union environment and individual employment agreements that provide for “good cause” termination.  In the at-will employment relationship, the employer is not required to provide advance notice of a termination decision and is not required to justify the decision with “good cause.”

It is also often said that in the absence of a written employment contract, all employment in California is at-will.  This is also a misnomer.  It is true that the Labor Code specifies at-will employment as the default employment relationship, but a written agreement is not necessary to overcome the default.  Oral agreements and implied-in-fact agreements can be entered which limit the employer’s rights to end the employment relationship.  Implied-in-fact agreements are the most problematic because the employer will not even know that it has entered into the agreement until the question is litigated and the court renders a decision.  A properly structured at-will employment relationship permits the employer to avoid this litigation.  It also provides the employer with flexibility in making decisions for operational reasons, and ensures that no judge or jury will later be called upon to second-guess the wisdom or fairness of the employer’s business decisions.

It is likely at least one half of the employers in California who think they are at-will employers are not.  Or, at least they are not in the sense that they can avoid extensive litigation by using the legal process of summary judgment to have wrongful termination lawsuits dismissed.  The problem arises because many employers, even the big ones, use borrowed or template documents.  Unfortunately, many of the attorneys and human resource professionals who write the documents lack a complete understanding of the law on at-will employment and they utilize documents which fail to properly establish the at-will relationship.  Employers who create documents on their own are at even greater risk for errors.  This is an area where the words and their precise placement really matters.

The most common errors made that interfere with the proper establishment of an at-will employment relationship are summarized below.

  • Relying exclusively upon at-will policy statements and agreements in employment application forms.  Courts have ruled that statements in employment applications are insufficient to prove at-will employment.
  • Relying upon at-will policy statements.  Courts have ruled that because policy statements are generally non-binding they cannot conclusively prove an at-will relationship.
  • Utilizing employee handbook language stating that the handbook is not intended to create a contract or contractual rights.  While that may be appropriate for most of the policies in the handbook, it can effectively wipe out any attempt in the handbook to create or confirm an at-will relationship.
  • Failing to utilize documents which create an at-will employment agreement. A key court decision that can be used to obtain summary judgment requires that the at-will nature of the employment relationship be set forth in an “employment agreement.”
  • Failing to control modification to the at-will employment agreement.  If a properly written at-will agreement can be modified without specific controls, the employer may be put to the burden and cost of litigation to prove that it was not modified.
  • Failing to integrate the at-will agreement.  Agreements that are integrated are much less likely to be subject to lawyers’ arguments and extensive litigation.
  • Failing to coordinate the numerous documents that may impact the at-will analysis. When the documents are not properly structured to work together in establishing the at-will relationship, there is an opportunity for lawyers’ arguments and litigation.
  • Failing to get good documents signed and failing to securely maintain them once signed.  Even the best designed documents are of limited value if they cannot be produced when needed.

Avoiding these errors can literally save years of litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in a typical wrongful termination case.  Even where an at-will employment relationship is not desired, these same types of errors can result in unnecessary litigation. 

Fortunately, the errors and litigation can be avoided.  Employers should start by taking the time to really understand the various forms of employment.  This includes the pros and cons of each form, and the elements necessary to properly establish each.  Regardless of the form desired, employers should take a comprehensive approach.  All of the documents which refer to or which may relate to the employment relationship should be audited. 

Once the audit is complete and the documents have been revised properly, attention should be turned to employee training.  Employees involved in the on-boarding process should understand the type of employment relationship being created and should be trained to avoid communications in interviews and communications in initial emails that may conflict with the desired relationship.  By following these steps employers will have surety in the type of relationship created and will avoid unnecessary litigation.

Thorny FMLA Eligibility Issue: Counting Hours Worked To Meet the 1250 Hour Threshold

Donnelly v. Greenburgh Central School District, a recent federal court decision, addresses one of the core eligibility issues under the Federal Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The court focused on what hours must be counted toward the 1,250 hours of actual work when determining whether an employee is eligible for leave under the FMLA leave. In particular, the court focused on counting work from home or away from the workplace. The former high school teacher alleged that he was denied tenure in retaliation for taking FMLA leave. The district defended by arguing that Donnelly was not eligible for FMLA leave because he had not worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months.

The district relied on the certificated collective bargaining agreement to calculate the number of hours Donnelly actually worked. The collective bargaining agreement provided that the maximum work day for a teacher was 7.5 hours, which is one hour longer than the school day. The district multiplied this number by the number of days Donnelly worked during the previous year and found that he worked 1,247 hours (only three hours shy of qualifying for FMLA leave).

Donnelly argued that he typically worked 1.5 hours before and after class and that additional time should be included in calculating his FMLA eligibility. A judge disagreed and relied upon the maximum work day in the collective bargaining agreement in finding that Donnelly was not eligible for FMLA leave because he could not produce reliable evidence showing that he actually worked 1.5 hours each day before and after class performing work that was integral to his teaching job. Accordingly, the judge dismissed his FMLA retaliation claim.

The Federal Appeals Court reversed, finding that a jury should decide whether Donnelly worked enough hours to qualify for FMLA leave.

The Court first noted that under the FMLA regulations, because the school district did not maintain accurate records of the actual hours Donnelly worked, the district had the burden of proving that Donnelly did not work 1,250 hours and was, therefore, ineligible for FMLA leave. The Court further held that the collective bargaining agreement did not govern how many hours Donnelly worked for purposes of FMLA eligibility. The Court emphasized that all of the hours Donnelly worked performing activities that were an integral and indispensable part of his job as a teacher should be counted, regardless of the work day provision in the collective bargaining agreement.

The most important part of the Court's ruling deals with counting work performed from home. The Court held that, especially in the case of teachers who grade papers and plan lessons from home during “off duty” hours, there is no preclusion from counting that time when calculating FMLA eligibility, as long as the work is an integral and indispensable part of the job.

What This Means for Employers

  1. If an employer does not have an accurate and reliable way of accounting for an employee's hours, the employer will bear the burden on summary judgment of proving that the employee did not meet the eligibility requirement, which is a very difficult burden. This will be especially difficult when dealing with salaried employees and those exempt from overtime, because under separate wage and hour laws you cannot require them to record their hours or clock in and out.
  2. Work from home may be counted in determining FMLA eligibility. We live in an era when employers expect employees to be accessible at all times because of cell phones and smart phones. If you expect an employee to respond to email or calls after hours, you may be required to count those hours in determining FMLA eligibility. Furthermore, even if an employer has no way of accounting for work from home, that work may nonetheless be counted in determining FMLA eligibility.

Involuntary Reassignments And Transfers As An Unlawful Employment Practice

Effective December 30, 2012, the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing has a whole new set of disability discrimination regulations to enforce under the Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA). The regulations govern the rights of job applicants and employees with disabilities in every aspect of the employment relationship, from recruiting and hiring, to terms and conditions of employment, performance management, discipline, and discharge. And of course a primary focus is the mandated timely, good faith interactive process for evaluating and implementing reasonable accommodations in the workplace.

A significant emphasis in the FEHA, and the new regulations, involves defining unlawful employment practices — particularly those that result in adverse employment consequences to an applicant or employee based on a disability. The new FEHA regulations add “involuntary transfer or reassignment” to the list of potential adverse employment actions for which an employee can make a disability discrimination claim, which may have a significant impact on school districts as employers.

Administrators will soon begin making staffing decisions that involve involuntary reassignments for the coming school year. They should be aware of the impact the disability regulations may have on their decision making process. This is particularly important in situations where the district either has been on notice that the affected employee has a disability, or one of the factors in choosing the employee for the reassignment involves disability-related issues (such as erratic attendance due to the condition, prior use of medical leave, or prior requests for accommodation).

This article provides further explanation about this issue and the anticipated impact on California school districts. In addition, this article draws a distinction between involuntary reassignments and reassignments that are offered during an interactive process as a reasonable accommodation.

What Is An “Adverse Employment Action?”
An employer may not take any “adverse employment action” against an employee on the basis of a “protected characteristic” such as race, gender or sex, religion, national origin, pregnancy, physical or mental disability, or medical condition. Adverse employment actions consist of decisions that materially affect the terms and conditions of the individual’s employment. Common adverse employment actions include:

  • Refusal to hire an otherwise qualified job applicant because of the protected characteristic;
  • Disciplinary action that leads to suspension, loss of pay or benefits, or job status change;
  • Demotion or an unfavorable transfer to a materially different position;
  • Denial of promotion or advancement;
  • Failure to engage in an interactive process to evaluate reasonable accommodations;
  • Failure to make a reasonable accommodation; and
  • Termination or discharge.

An adverse employment action is an action that materially affects the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. Whether the action is “material” is viewed from an objective perspective. Relatively minor actions that are reasonably likely to simply anger or upset an employee do not constitute an adverse action. An adverse employment action is adverse treatment that is reasonably likely to impair a reasonable employee’s job performance or prospects for advancement or promotion.

In retaliation cases, both federal and state courts have broadened the range of what constitutes an adverse action, concluding that an action is also material if it is reasonably likely to deter an employee from engaging in protected activity. In Yanowitz v. L’Oreal USA, Inc., the California Supreme Court reviewed an employee’s unlawful retaliation claim under the FEHA. In Yanowitz, the alleged retaliatory conduct included unwarranted negative performance evaluations, unwarranted criticism voiced by a supervisor in front of other employees, and a supervisor’s solicitation of negative feedback from the plaintiff’s staff. Thus, depending on the circumstances, lateral transfers, unfavorable job references, and changes in work schedules may constitute adverse employment actions.

Involuntary Transfer Or Reassignment Is An Adverse Employment Action

Prior to the recent adoption of new regulations, the list of potential “adverse actions” did not specifically include involuntary transfers or involuntary reassignments. The Fair Employment & Housing Commission added this as a specified unlawful employment action based largely on the case law that has emerged over the last few years. The Department of Fair Employment & Housing observed that many times employees claimed that they were transferred or reassigned against their will to less desirable positions because of their protected characteristic (e.g. gender, race, religion, age, disability, etc.) or in retaliation for engaging in protected activity.

A retaliation lawsuit in San Diego specifically focused on an involuntary transfer as an “adverse employment action.” In Coyne v. County of San Diego, the employee sued for discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII and the California FEHA. The plaintiff claimed that she was transferred to a lateral position in a different division because of her gender and because she actively supported the gender discrimination claims of other employees. The County conceded that the plaintiff had engaged in protected activity, and the issues were whether the transfer constituted a materially adverse employment action and whether the transfer was justified by legitimate non-discriminatory reasons.

In analyzing the facts, the district court concluded that that a jury should decide whether the transfer was an adverse employment action. First, assignment to the new division was perceived by the County’s employees as less prestigious, unfavorable and, at times, punitive. Second, the transfer interfered with the plaintiff’s ability to care for her disabled son because it lengthened her commute. The judge found that the County knew that the plaintiff needed to care for her disabled son and that her current assignment was more conducive to that need. Because the plaintiff met her initial burden of proving the elements of retaliation, the burden shifted to the County to offer a legitimate non-discriminatory reason. The County offered more than one legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the transfer. The plaintiff, however, offered evidence that the County’s reason for the transfer shifted over time from one reason to another. The court concluded that the shift from one reason to another was sufficient to create an issue of fact for a jury about whether the non-discriminatory reasons offered by the County were pretexts for unlawful discrimination and retaliation.

It is clear that any “involuntary” transfer or reassignment will now be subject to an employee claiming that the decision was made, in whole or in part, for discriminatory motives and not for legitimate non-discriminatory business reasons. With the very broad definition of disability, it is likely that many certificated and classified employees fall within the protections FEHA offers for disability and medical conditions. Given the fluctuating needs of California school districts to make staffing decisions based on budgetary, enrollment and other key criteria, we can also anticipate that more reassignments and transfers will be necessary. Accordingly, this will have an immediate impact on districts as they staff for the next school year.

Impact On School Districts With Involuntary Transfer/Reassignments
Most school district collective bargaining agreements have provisions addressing criteria for transfers or reassignments. Bargaining unit members are eligible for any position for which they are appropriately credentialed or qualified using the process outlined in the collective bargaining agreement. And, most provide that any reassignment or transfer is subject to the District finding an appropriately credentialed teacher or qualified individual to fill his/her position.

The agreements also typically address the circumstances under which an involuntary transfer (to another site) or reassignment (to a different position at the same site) may be made. A reassignment or transfer may be necessary due to a shift in student population resulting in a decline or increase of enrollment at grade levels or departments, reduction of programs, initiation or expansion of programs, opening of a new school, or for the legitimate needs of a specific program. The criteria set forth in the contract are very important because they will form the criteria for defending an involuntary reassignment as a legitimate, non-discriminatory decision.

Most agreements also have a provision that first seeks voluntary requests for a transfer or reassignment to a posted vacant position. If there is no interest, then the district has the right to invoke the involuntary transfer or reassignment process. The very nature of “involuntary” suggests that the person who is reassigned (who expressed no interest in the position when posted) will be unhappy. In the past, employees and their union representatives generally invoked whatever remedies the collective bargaining agreement provided to contest an involuntary transfer. Now, districts can expect that when an unhappy employee is involuntary transferred or reassigned, even within the boundaries of a governing collective bargaining agreement, s/he may also claim that the decision was made in whole or in part, on a disability, medical condition or perceived disability and not non-discriminatory business reasons.

The Employee’s Initial Burden Of Proof
If an employee sues for disability discrimination alleging that an involuntary reassignment was based on disability, s/he must provide evidence that the disability played some role in the decision. Once that initial burden is met, the burden of proof shifts to the district to prove that the business decision was based on objective job-related criteria and that it was a legitimate non-discriminatory decision. It will, therefore, be very important for districts to establish, with clear and objective evidence, the business-related basis for involuntary reassignments.

To establish a disability discrimination claim in California, the employee must have a covered disability and must still be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodation. Treating an employee adversely in hiring, advancement, performance appraisal, termination, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment because of a disability violates the California FEHA. Also, taking adverse employment actions against an employee because of a perceived disability or limitation violates FEHA, whether or not the impairment actually limits a major life activity.

To prove disability discrimination, the employee must prove the following elements:

  1. S/he has a physical or mental disability or medical condition, as those terms are defined in the law (and the new regulations);
  2. S/he is qualified for the position she seeks or holds, meaning that s/he is able to perform the essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodation;
  3. The district denied an equal employment opportunity by taking an adverse action against him/her; and,
  4. A “causal connection” between the individual’s disability or perceived disability and the denial of an employment opportunity. In other words, the decision was based, at least in part, on the disability, medical condition or perceived disability.

An adverse employment action can be proven through direct evidence or by inference. For example, when an employee alleges she was involuntarily reassigned because of her disability, the employer’s discriminatory motive can be shown by establishing that the employee was reassigned due to factors related to his/her disability (such as irregular attendance due to the condition or other factors involving physical capacity, etc.). The evidence need not show that the disability or medical condition was the sole, or even the dominant motivation for the adverse action. Rather, discrimination is established if the preponderance of the evidence indicates that the claimant’s disability or medical condition was at least one of the factors that motivated the decision that led to an adverse employment action.

The District’s Burden Of Proof To Defend An Involuntary Reassignment
As noted above, FEHA provides a “mixed motive” basis for establishing discrimination claims. Once the plaintiff provides “some evidence” that one or more of the reasons for an adverse employment decision was based on a protected characteristic, the burden shifts to the defendant to prove that it had a legitimate non-discriminatory reason. These reasons can vary with the individual circumstances. The criteria for making involuntary transfers or reassignments set forth in a collective bargaining agreement will certainly be a starting point — particularly since they apply to all similarly situated members of the bargaining unit.

Districts should be prepared to produce concrete, objective reasons for making an involuntary transfer and why the particular employee with a disability was the appropriate person to select. Often, this can be based on factors such as appropriate credentials, seniority, or other objective factors.

Also, if the decision makers on the reassignment were unaware of the individual’s disability, then the district can defend by establishing that the decision could not have been based on the disability or aspects of the disability. However, districts should also be prepared for the potential that an involuntarily reassigned individual with a previously undisclosed disability requests a reasonable accommodation that would: (a) invalidate the reassignment or transfer so the employee can remain in the current assignment; (b) seek to identify modifications or adjustments needed to perform in the new position or at the new site; (c) seek to identify a different reassignment (to a different vacant position) be considered as a reasonable accommodation; or, (d) request leave as a reasonable accommodation rather than to complete the involuntary reassignment or transfer.

All of these requests will trigger an interactive process that must be completed and well documented. It will not be sufficient to assert that the collective bargaining agreement provisions on involuntary transfer or reassignment is controlling. Remember that modifying or bypassing a provision of a collective bargaining agreement to make a reasonable accommodation must at least be considered as part of an interactive process. And, when the collective bargaining agreement states that seniority is “one factor” to consider in making an involuntary reassignment, it does not constitute a “bona fide seniority system” because it leaves some discretion and flexibility to balance a number of legitimate business factors in making staffing decisions.

Distinction: Involuntary Reassignments Versus Reassignments As A Reasonable Accommodation
This article addresses involuntary reassignments or transfers which are made outside of an interactive process. This is very different from making a reassignment to a vacant position as part of a reasonable accommodation, to better suit the employee’s needs for modified schedule or adjustments to physical tasks such as standing, walking, etc. Such decisions are made properly in the context of an interactive process. Although an employee may not “welcome” a reassignment, that isn’t the same as an involuntary reassignment prior to (or in the absence of) a timely good faith interactive process.

In the context of an interactive process, after considering potential alternatives to effectively accommodate an employee with modifications or adjustments to his regular job or other environmental changes, a school district may conclude that a reassignment to a “comparable” vacant position for which he is qualified offers the best opportunity to reasonably accommodate his work restrictions. As long as the interactive process explores in good faith all options for reasonable accommodation, the reassignment can be defended even if this is not the employee’s preferred accommodation. It is important, however, to be sure the reassignment is to a comparable position that the employee can perform and to have a constructive dialogue with the employee to obtain his/her agreement on the reassignment as a reasonable accommodation.

In fact, reassignment to a vacant position as part of a reasonable accommodation is required when the employee cannot perform his own job even with an accommodation. Reassignment as a reasonable accommodation received specific attention in the new regulations. The regulations provide: “As a reasonable accommodation, employer shall ascertain through an interactive process suitable alternate, vacant positions and offer an employee such a position for which the employee is qualified under the following circumstances:

  • Employee can no longer perform essential job functions, even with accommodation;
  • Accommodation of the essential functions of own job creates an undue hardship; and
  • Agreement with employee that reassignment is preferable to accommodation in U&C.

If no funded, vacant comparable positions for which the employee is qualified with or without reasonable accommodation exists, the employer may assign to a lower graded or lower paid position. Although reassignment to a temporary position is not considered a reasonable accommodation under these regulations, an employer may offer and an employee may choose to accept or reject a temporary assignment during the interactive process (Interactive process is continuous — so the intent is to make this a “stop gap”).

Most significantly, the new regulations make it clear that reassignment as a reasonable accommodation is a very high level responsibility for employers. The regulations specify: “The employee with a disability is entitled to preferential consideration of reassignment to a vacant position over other applicants and existing employees. However, ordinarily an employer is not required to accommodate an employee by ignoring a bona fide seniority system absent a showing that special circumstances warrant a finding that the requested accommodation is reasonable on the particular facts, such as where the employer reserves the right to modify its seniority system or the established practice is to allow variations to its seniority system.”

$1.25M Backpay Highlights Risks of Mismanaging Union Risks In Merger & Acquisition Deals

September’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) order requiring the buyer of a California nursing home to pay approximately $1.25 million in backpay and interest, rehire 50 employees and recognize the seller’s union reminds buyers of union-organized businesses of some of the significant risks of mishandling union-related obligations in merger and acquisition, bankruptcy and other corporate transactions under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and other federal labor laws.

Buyer’s Obligations To Honor Seller’s Collective Bargaining Obligations
Under the National Labor Relations Act, new owners of a union facility that are “successors” of the seller generally must recognize and bargain with the existing union if “the bargaining unit remains unchanged and a majority of employees hired by the new employer were represented by a recently certified bargaining agent.” See National Labor Relations Board v. Burns Sec. Servs., 406 U.S. 272, 281 (1972).

In assembling its workforce, a successor employer also generally “may not refuse to hire the predecessor’s employees solely because they were represented by a union or to avoid having to recognize a union.” U.S. Marine Corp., 293 National Labor Relations Board 669, 670 (1989), enfd., 944 F.2d 1305 (7th Cir. 1991).

Nasaky, Inc. National Labor Relations Board Order
September’s National Labor Relations Board Order requires Nasaky, Inc., the buyer of the Yuba Skilled Nursing Center in Yuba City, California, to recognize and honor collective bargaining obligations that the seller Nazareth Enterprises owed before the sale and rehire and pay backpay and interest to make whole 50 of the seller’s former employees who the National Labor Relations Board determined Nasaky, Inc. wrongfully refused to hire when it took over the facility from the prior owner, Nazareth Enterprises.

Before Nasaky, Inc. bought the nursing home, many of the employees at the nursing home were represented by the Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers West (Union). After Nasaky, Inc. agreed to buy the facility but before it took control of its operations, Nasaky, Inc. advertised in the media for new workers to staff the facility and told existing employees at the facility that they must reapply to have a chance of keeping their jobs under the new ownership.

When Nasaky, Inc. took operating control of the facility, facility operations continued as before with the same patients receiving the same services. The main difference was the workforce. The new staff included 90 employees in erstwhile bargaining unit positions, of which forty were former employees of the predecessor employer and fifty were newcomers. Nasaky, Inc. then took the position that the change in the workforce excused it from responsibility for recognizing or bargaining with the union or honoring the collective bargaining agreement between the union and seller Nazareth Enterprises.

When the union demanded that Nasaky, Inc. recognize the union and honor the union’s collective bargaining agreement with Nazareth Enterprises, Nasaky, Inc. refused. Instead, Nasaky, Inc. notified the union that it would not allow the union on its premises, would not honor the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the seller, and did not accept any of the predecessor’s terms and conditions of employment. The union then filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, charging that Nazareth Enterprises had breached its obligations as a successor under the National Labor Relations Act.

After National Labor Relations Board Regional Director Joseph F. Frankl agreed and issued a complaint, California Administrative Law Judge Gerald Etchingham found all the allegations true based on a two-day hearing. He rejected all of Nasaky’s explanations for why it declined to hire most of those who had worked for the previous employer. See the Administrative Law Judge Decision. Since Nasaky, Inc did not file exceptions, the National Labor Relations Board ordered Nasaky, Inc. immediately to recognize and bargain with the union, hire the former employees and make them whole. The amount of backpay and interest is expected to approximate $1.25 million.

Managing Labor Exposures In Business Transactions
The National Labor Relations Board’s order against Nasaky, Inc. highlights some of the business and operational risks that buyers and sellers can face if labor-management relations are misperceived or mismanaged in connection with business transactions. Because the existence of collective bargaining agreements or other labor obligations can substantially affect the operational flexibility of a buyer, buyers need to investigate and carefully evaluate the potential existence and nature of their obligations as part of their due diligence strategy before the transaction. A well-considered understanding of whether the structure of the transaction is likely to result in the buyer being considered a successor for purposes of union organizing and collective bargaining obligations also is very important so that the buyer and seller can properly appreciate and deal with any resulting responsibilities.

Beyond the potential duty to recognize a seller’s collective bargaining obligations, buyers and sellers also should consider the potential consequences of the proposed transaction on severance, pension, health, layoff and recall and other rights and obligations that may arise. At minimum, the existence of these responsibilities and their attendant costs are likely to impact the course of the negotiations.

When a worksite is union-organized, for instance, additional obligations may arise in the handling of reductions in force or other transactions as a result of the union presence. For example, in addition to otherwise applicable responsibilities applicable to non-union affected transaction, the Worker Adjustment Retraining Act (WARN) and other plant-closing laws and/or collective bargaining agreements may impose special notification or other requirements before a reduction in force or other transaction related activities.

Similarly, the existence of collective bargaining agreements also may trigger obligations for one or both parties to engage in collective bargaining over contemplated changes in terms and conditions of employment, to provide severance, to accelerate or fund severance, benefits or other obligations, to provide continued health or other coverage, to honor seniority, recall or other rights or deal with a host of other special contractual obligations.

Where the collective bargaining arrangements of the seller currently or in the past have included obligations to contribute to a multiemployer, collectively-bargained pension or welfare plan, the buyer and seller also need to consider both the potential for withdrawal liability or other obligations and any opportunities to minimize these exposures in structuring the allocation of the arrangement. In this case, both parties need to recognize that differences exist between the federals for determining when successor liability results under the withdrawal liability rules than typically apply to other labor and employment law purposes.

While buyers and sellers often presume that the stock versus assets sale distinction that typically applies for many other legal purposes will apply, this can be an expensive mistake in the case of determining a buyer’s obligation to honor the seller’s collective bargaining obligations post deal. Likewise, buyers can be exposed to multiemployer successor liability from asset transactions, although it may be possible to mitigate or avoid such liabilities by incorporating appropriate representations in the sale documents or through other steps. Since these multiemployer withdrawal and contribution liabilities generally attach on a controlled group basis, both parties need to properly appreciate and address these concerns early in the transaction to mitigate their risks and properly value the transaction.

In light of these and other potential labor-related risks that may affect corporate and other business transactions, parties contemplating or participating in these transactions are urged to engage and consult with competent legal counsel with specific experience in such labor-management relations and multiemployer benefit plan matters early in the process.