Annual Labor & Employment Law Spring Conference focuses on case updates, workplace violence and whistleblower protections

Issue July 2013 By Marc A. D’Antonio and John. J. Pregmon

The Massachusetts Bar Association held its 34th Annual Labor & Employment Law Spring Conference June 5 at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

The day kicked off with the annual employment and labor case updates. An expert panel of labor lawyers gave attendees an in-depth overview of the year's major decisions including the "Noel Canning" decision where the Supreme Court ruled that appointments made by President Obama to the National Labor Relations Board in January 2012 were not valid because the Senate was in recess at the time of the appointments. As a result, the board lacked the required quorum needed to conduct its business. Employers in more than 70 appeals nationally have argued that the board has lacked a quorum to hear and issue decisions since Jan. 4, 2012.

The employment panel discussed several decisions that have been issued in recent months. The panel highlighted cases in the disability area that show a shift in judicial attitudes towards disability insurance and qualifications in accommodations.

Jonathan B. Kreisberg, regional director for Region 1 of the NLRB delivered this year's keynote address. Serving areas in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island, Kreisberg proclaimed the Region 1 office was now the largest in the country. Kriesberg proceeded to highlight the major board decisions over the last year, discussed budgetary concerns, and gave attendees helpful information on e-filing, saying "e-filing is the future."

Mary E. Hoye, area director for the U.S. Department of Labor-OSHA, in the Springfield-area office, provided attendees with a powerful presentation on workplace violence. Hoye revealed the discordant gender differences surrounding work-related fatal injuries and assailant types. She then explained the four types of workplace violence, offering examples for each, and the risk factors associated with identifiable occupations.

The day concluded with a lively discussion of whistleblower protection laws. Supervisory Investigator for the U.S. Department of Labor-OSHA Michael Mabee, gave an overview of the Whistleblower Protection Program including the recent changes to 806 Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Protections and the Consumer Financial Act (Dodd-Frank). Federal OSHA now enforces 22 whistleblower statutes.

Michael K. Fee of Ropes & Gray LLP and Boston attorney Jeffrey Newman followed Mabee's overview by offering two unique perspectives of whistleblower cases. Newman discussed the evolving issues of law concerning false claims act cases, while Fee questioned whether the "whistle-blowing culture" is one to be fostered and offered defenses to claims brought under federal law as well as employment cases.

The conference was followed by a reception where attendees continued the discussion of the day's agenda as they enjoyed complimentary hors d'oeuvres and cocktails.