Ithaca, NY, August 22, 2016 – Tighter interpretations of labor regulations by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) engaged participants in the 14th annual Labor and Employment Roundtable, hosted by the Cornell Institute for Hospitality Labor and Employment Relations (CIHLER) at the School of Hotel Administration. A full explanation of the roundtable’s deliberations is found in a report that is available at no charge from CIHLER and Cornell’s Center for Hospitality Research, CIHLER Roundtable Highlights: Dealing with Shifting Labor Employment Sands, by David Sherwyn.

Roundtable chair and CIHLER Director David Sherwyn focused the discussion on the potential effects of the NLRB’s ruling regarding potential joint employer status of franchisors and franchisees. At issue is the level of control that each party maintains over the employees’ working conditions. In one ruling, the NLRB determined that Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI) was a joint employer of certain employees that BFI had leased from another firm. The NLRB determined that BFI had maintained control over some of those employees’ working conditions—making it a joint employer. Roundtable participants then looked at the implications of that case for franchisors, since NLRB has also turned its attention to McDonald’s. This is a complicated matter, and the situation is still in flux, since merely enforcing franchise system standards could be interpreted as exerting control over a franchisee’s employees.

The roundtable also reviewed changes in union organizing rules. Another ruling by the National Labor Relations Board has shortened the campaign time for union elections. The telescoped union campaigns are supposed to benefit the unions, but a CIHLER analysis found that so far there’s no indication that the change has affected the overall outcome of union election campaigns. Additionally, organizers of hotel union campaigns seek to avoid outright voting in favor of a card-check approach.

Finally, the roundtable members examined the effects of two rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court. In both cases, the Court affirmed the importance of appropriate accommodations for protected workers. While this is not a new law, the Court addressed protection of pregnant workers and those whose religious beliefs require modest accommodations. When employers implement policies for those with illness or medical conditions, the Court affirmed that policies must be consistent with regard to how on-job and off-job health issues are treated. In the other case, the Court looked at a situation where an employer declined to hire a woman wearing a headscarf on the assumption that she would need a religious accommodation. The Court frowned on the idea that the employer would take religious accommodations into account when deciding whether to hire a person.