Construction Law Blog
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Waiving Workers’ Compensation Immunity for Indemnity: Demystifying a Common and Scary-Looking Contract Term
Parties to a construction contract are often skeptical of terms in bold fonts, capital letters, or underlining, and especially terms requiring separate signatures or initials. A natural assumption is that such terms must be harmful if they require such emphasis. This concern is further heightened when the term involves complex areas of law, or waivers of rights that the party may not fully understand. In such cases, a little knowledge can go a long way.
On May 18, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced the new federal overtime rule under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). As a result of the new rule, over 4,000,000 workers will become entitled to overtime pay when they work extra hours. The rule becomes effective December 1, 2016.
The rule focuses primarily on updating the salary and compensation levels needed for Executive, Administrative, and Professional workers to be exempt, and changes the salary level that must be met before an employee can be exempt from overtime. The new minimum salary threshold will increase to $913 per week, $47,476 annually, and will apply to nearly all employees — an employee paid less than this threshold amount will be guaranteed overtime pay. The new federal threshold of $47,476 annually is more than double the current threshold of $23,660 annually ($455 a week), which has been in place since 2004.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
On March 25, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) published its final rule on occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica (the “Silica Rule”). Crystalline silica is a basic component of soil, sand, granite, and many other materials. Silica exposure is classified as a human lung carcinogen and can cause lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease. Approximately two million construction workers nationwide are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplace as a result of drilling, cutting, crushing, or grinding silica-containing material, such as concrete and stone.
Even the most altruistic employers, at one point or another, will likely face an employment discrimination complaint against their company. Even meritless discrimination claims can cause potential exposure to costly attorney fees and/or significant settlement amounts to the complainant. Juries are unpredictable and litigants often use this fact to extract large settlement sums from employers trying to avoid the costs and unpredictability of litigation. If claims are handled appropriately, costly results can often be avoided (or at least minimized).
As construction lawyers, we rarely have an opportunity to dabble in the area of immigration law, but immigration affects contractors. For example, the SkyRise Tower (“SkyRise”) stands at the center of Biscayne Bay in Miami, and is being financed by foreign investors who have at least $500,000 to fund the project. Similar to the Statue of Liberty, SkyRise will be the gateway to U.S. Citizenship – not for the tired, poor, and huddled masses, but for rich foreign investors seeking a green card.
Minimum Wage Increases in 20 States: On January 1, 2015, employers in 20 states and the District of Columbia, as well as those who perform work on federal contracts and subcontracts, will see an increase in the minimum wage. In nine states which make adjustments to keep up with rising inflation (i.e. Washington), the increase is automatic. In 11 other states and the District of Columbia, the minimum wage is being raised as a result of new laws approved by the legislatures or by vote of referendum. To assist you in determining which states have raised the minimum wage and what the minimum wage is in those states, the U.S. Department of Labor provides an interactive map and state-by-state report (available here), which employers can use to determine the applicable minimum wage in a state. Also, as previously reported in this blog (available here), the new minimum wage for federal contractors and subcontractors is $10.10 as a result of an interim final rule issued on December 15, 2014.
OSHA Reporting Requirements: Beginning January 1, 2015, employers covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") are required to report all work-related fatalities within eight hours, and all inpatient hospitalizations, amputations and losses of an eye within 24 hours. Previously, employers were required to report all workplace fatalities and when three or more workers were hospitalized in the same incident. Employers may report these serious incidents to OSHA by calling the nearest OSHA area office during normal business hours (list available here); calling the 24-hour OSHA hotline at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742); or reporting online here.
The Washington State Department of Transportation ("WSDOT") is moving forward with its proposal to exclude non-minority women-owned businesses from Washington's Disadvantaged Business Enterprise ("DBE") program goals for federally-funded contracts. In early March 2014, WSDOT submitted its proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration ("FHWA"). If approved by FHWA, this significant change will go into effect in Washington for the rest of federal fiscal year (FFY) 2014 and remain in place through FFY 2017. WSDOT's proposal was originally reported on the Ahlers & Cressman blog on January 9, 2014. Read our original article here.
Washington Supreme Court Overturns 30-Year Law Protecting General Contractors From Trust Fund Liens on Public Works Projects
Under Washington’s Public Works Statutes (RCW 39.08 and 60.28), general contractors who perform public works are legally required to post payment bonds and have retainage withheld from progress payments. The purpose of these laws is to protect the public entity (owner) from subcontractor and supplier claims against the public project, while preserving the interests of mechanic’s lien rights (subcontractors and suppliers are provided bond claim and retainage rights, but have no lien rights in the public property).
We regularly report on major construction projects in the Pacific Northwest to keep our readers informed of upcoming opportunities in the region. Two upcoming projects fit this category: