The Inbox: July 18, 2014

| O'Neill, Ashley

We’re in the midst of summer and the news outlets are replete with anti-compete and whistleblower developments.  But before we get to those, let’s turn our attention to China:

If the dog days of summer here in the U.S. aren’t sweltering enough, imagine what they must feel like in the bustling, smog-laden cities of China. The Wall Street Journal reports that Coca- Cola Co. offers “environmental hardship pay” to some employees as a condition for relocating to some of China’s cities. Ed Hannibal of the HR consulting firm, Mercer LLC, indicates that it is not uncommon for multinational companies to offer the extra pay to incentivize workers to relocate to polluted cities. It helps to offset severe living conditions and ensure the company’s continued presence on the ground. 

These days it seems employers face an uphill battle to see non-compete agreements prevail in court.  Recently, a Louisiana state court carefully examined the terms of a non-compete in Gulf Industries, Inc. v. Boylan (La. App. 1 Cir. June 6, 2014).  The National Law Review reports that the employer in this case inserted a two year non-compete provision into a one-year employment contract. According to the Court, even though Boylan’s employment extended two years past the date specified in the employment contract, the non-compete provision kicked in when the one year employment term was satisfied. The employer sought to extend the non-compete, arguing that it did not take effect until Boylan resigned. The Court disagreed and held that the non-compete had run during Boylan’s continued employment with the company. Little did he realize at the time, but Boylan was quite the multi-tasker.

In the name of economic development, the Massachusetts Senate has introduced legislation designed to protect workers from the limitations imposed by non-compete agreements. The Boston Globe opines that the Senate bill goes a step further than state House legislation by barring the use of non-compete agreements for hourly workers and short-term employees. The bill also requires employers to inform prospective employees, at the recruitment stage, of its intention to insert non-compete provisions into the employment agreement.

Despite being under the close scrutiny of Congress these days, The Department of Veterans Affairs is doing little to improve its reputation with the committee members responsible for investigating it. The Washington Examiner reported that congressional staffers sent to investigate charges of whistleblower retaliation and data falsification were placed in a room with active audio and video recording devices.  It was also reported that a VA regional director issued written instructions to her employees to ignore the staffers’ requests for information.

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, in response to a growing number of accusations of whistleblower retaliation in the VA, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., introduced legislation that would mandate the firing of employees found guilty of retaliating against whistleblowers.  Government Executive notes that while retaliation is a fireable offense in the VA, wrongdoers are more often issued fines and reprimands.