A federal judge in Texas recently issued a temporary injunction against the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order. The order would have required contractors applying for federal contracts to disclose any violations of most federal and state labor and employment laws within the last three years in order to receive a federal contract over $500,000.
In an opinion criticized by employees’ groups and hailed by employers’ groups, U.S. District Judge Marcia Crone criticized that the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order overstepped executive authority on a number of grounds, including the fact that the forced disclosure violated the First Amendment rights of government contractors. The order amounted to defamation of certain contractors, which violated their Fifth Amendment liberty interests, and the order’s restriction on the use of arbitration agreement in employment contracts of federal contractors violated the Federal Arbitration Act.
Crone also wrote that the executive order violated congressional intent in how labor laws were enforced, because it forced contractors to settle labor and employment law issues in order to remain eligible for government contracts.
But in my mind, abstract concerns about the rights of contractors pale once actual people are considered. I represented a gentleman who was fired from a federal contractor after he complained about not being paid properly. In fact, he was chased off the premises by the owner of the company with a stun gun, and the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission found in a public hearing, after hearing evidence from both sides, that the company, Midwest Demolition, had retaliated against my client. Earlier this year, Midwest Demolition paid a settlement through a consent decree to the U.S. Department of Labor for not paying their employees overtime. To me, the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order is perfectly suited to deal with egregious employer misconduct.
Judge Crone did not order an injunction against enforcement of the paycheck transparency parts of the executive order, which would require federal contractors to inform workers if they were independent contractors and to fully and clearly explain deductions.
The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order is the latest example of the use of executive-branch rule-making to expand employee protections. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court upheld a Department of Labor regulation expanding wage and hour protections to home health aides after it withstood a court challenge from employers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s attempt to limit post-work injury drug testing is currently being challenged in federal courts. Executive rule-making is a consequence of partisan gridlock when Democrats control the presidency and Republicans control Congress. Pundits and political forecasters are anticipating more political gridlock after the election, so executive rules that withstand court challenges could be how employee rights expand for the foreseeable future.