As a Hospitality employer, you've probably heard or asked yourself some of these questions:
- How can I make sure we're complying with the various state laws on wages for tipped employees and breaks and meals?
- My establishment is currently non-union. How can I best stay that way?
- ICE just showed up and wants to see all my I-9's, right now. What do I do?
- Can I fire that server or valet with the skull and crossbones tattoo on his neck?
- Do I have to accommodate religious dictates that interfere with the smooth operation of my establishment?
- My union contract is up for negotiation. How can I get the concessions I need to stay competitive?
- How will my company survive this nationwide class/collective/EEOC lawsuit?
The hospitality industry has a diverse, young, and high-turnover workforce. Because hospitality providers rely on positive customer relations, effective management of the workforce can be as important to guest satisfaction, quality assurance, and company profitability as the food you serve or the rooms you rent. FordHarrison's Hospitality Industry Team members are committed to servicing these employers and this industry.
WE KNOW HOSPITALITY. FordHarrison's Hospitality Industry Team combines the resources of our over 200 lawyers in 29 offices throughout the country, including five of counsel affiliates, who practice exclusively in labor/employment law with the approximately two dozen lawyers with extensive knowledge and experience working with hospitality clients. This unique knowledge and insight into the industry enables us to provide clients with legal advice specific to their demands, whether they are a nationwide multi-unit operator, a regional franchisee or a family-owned single establishment. In addition, our lawyers are active in hospitality trade associations, such as the National Restaurant Association, HR in Hospitality, American Hotel and Lodging Association, HospitalityLawyer.com, Latino Hotel Association, and visitor and convention bureaus in our individual office markets, and thus, are acutely aware of the unique trends and issues facing the hospitality industry. This depth of experience and industry knowledge allows us to "hit the ground running" on hospitality labor and employment matters. Simply put, our hospitality attorneys speak the language of the hospitality industry.
NATION-WIDE FOOTPRINT; LOCAL PRESENCE. FordHarrison's Hospitality Team is positioned to effectively and economically assist hospitality employers of all sizes wherever located. Our larger clients recognize the advantage of having one go-to law firm for all labor and employment matters to assure quality and consistency, and our smaller clients understand that the expertise of a labor/employment "boutique" firm cannot be matched by "general practice" firms. Our nationwide team of lawyers with specific industry experience and client institutional knowledge provides a broad base of resources for servicing our clients. Our firm technology allows us to communicate with and share information among attorneys and clients across the country, and at the same our national geographic footprint means we can have "boots on the ground" anywhere in the country within hours.
Our Hospitality Team partners with Hospitality Clients on the following Labor & Employment issues:
Labor Relations. The "Change to Win Coalition" (SEIU, UFW, IBT, UFCW) - which consists of the four unions with the highest representation among hospitality employers - presents a formidable challenge for hospitality employers. Recent significant NLRB rules and decisions less favorable to management also make it important for hospitality employers to stay informed and think strategically. We recognize that maintaining consistently high guest service is a priority for hospitality employers, and that service may be adversely affected if your restaurant, hotel or casino is faced with organizing efforts, difficult negotiations, or other union activity. We can help you maintain a union-free workplace through positive employee relations training, best practices, and strategic winning campaigns. For unionized hospitality employers, we effectively negotiate favorable terms for collective bargaining agreements, handle arbitrations, help deal with work stoppages or strikes, and defend against unfair labor practice charges.
Employment Discrimination Claims. With their diverse workforces, compliance with employment discrimination statutes can be a major concern for hospitality employers. We represent employers before local, state and federal agencies and courts across the country, including defense of claims of discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age, disability, and other protected classifications. We also assist clients in responding to and investigating employee claims of discrimination, sexual or other harassment, and retaliation.
Wage and Hour. Perhaps no industry must be more attuned to the intricacies of federal and state wage and hour regulations than the hospitality industry. We help to ensure compliance with regulations regarding minimum wage, tip credit, tip outs/pools, service charges, overtime, working off the clock, meals and breaks, waiting and "on call" time, reporting time pay, split shifts, uniforms/dress codes/appearance standards, child labor, wage deductions, employee classifications and exempt status issues. If faced with a DOL audit or complaint, our attorneys have successfully helped clients avoid liability and, when appropriate, negotiated liability-limiting settlements. See also discussion of FLSA collective actions in Complex Litigation.
Complex Litigation: Class, Collective, Multi-Plaintiff and EEOC-Plaintiff Cases. In recent years, hospitality employers have become a favorite target for class, FLSA collective, and multi-plaintiff lawsuits seeking millions of dollars and often driven by attorneys' fees claims. The EEOC has also targeted hospitality employers as part of its E-Race and Systemic Discrimination initiatives. While such claims are inherently costly and often publicized, utilizing counsel with experience in the industry, experience handling class/collective cases and/or EEOC litigation can minimize the impact of these lawsuits. FordHarrison's Hospitality Industry Team has represented hospitality employers in all of these types of cases. Our team has the knowledge and experience to develop an early strategic plan, the geographic reach to deal with nationwide allegations, and the bench strength to appropriately staff these important cases.
Counseling and Policy Development/Review. Perhaps more than any other industry, hospitality employers are faced with unique and challenging day-to-day employee issues that require quick decision-making and action. Rather than using firms who dabble in employment law or HR consultants with "one size fits all" answers, our clients know their best option is to take advantage of FordHarrison's decades of experience in the hospitality industry, specialized expertise in labor/employment law, and national footprint. FordHarrison helps hospitality employers minimize the risks of liability for labor or employment claims by helping clients at the front-end to make the right decisions and implement the right policies to avoid costly bad decisions and policies that invite problems or don't comply with the law. When issues do arise, our Hospitality Industry Team is accessible to answer questions and provide timely, client-focused advice and solutions.
Training. The actions of a single "rogue" employee in a restaurant or lodging operation can expose the employer to significant liability in today's increasingly regulated and litigious world, and that risk is heightened for multi-unit hospitality operators. The high turnover in the hospitality industry makes it critical to have established, ongoing training programs. To help our clients avoid potential labor and employment claims, FordHarrison provides hospitality-targeted training in key areas such as discrimination and harassment (including specific state-mandated training); diversity and sensitivity in the workplace; effective hiring, discipline and discharge practices; FMLA/ADA/workers compensation interplay; and wage and hour regulations.
Leaves of Absence, Disability Accommodation, ADA Title III Accessibility. Navigating the ADA/FMLA/worker compensation maze is a special challenge for hospitality employers. Our lawyers can help you successfully manage issues such as FMLA and other leave eligibility and rights; disabilities and accommodations; and workers compensation claims. As natural corollary to its disability employment representation, Ford & Harrison provide assistance to hospitality employers faced with ADA Title III accessibility issues and litigation.
Alternative Dispute Resolution Programs. Hospitality employers were some of the first to implement alternative dispute resolution programs as a way to provide employees an alternative to litigation and to reduce legal costs. We have been actively involved in developing these programs and in handling various steps in the procedure such as mediation and arbitration, and in defending the enforceability of such programs when challenged in court. Whether a one paragraph arbitration agreement, a jury waiver provision, or a multi-step ADR procedure, we can tailor an ADR program to your hospitality workforce and company culture. This continues to be an evolving area of the law, with frequent court decisions and proposed legislation. FordHarrison's team stays abreast of all key legal and legislative developments and can review and refine any existing program to ensure ongoing compliance.
Immigration. Foreign workers are a mainstay of the hospitality industry. Our immigration attorneys devote the majority of their time to assisting clients in obtaining temporary visas, permanent resident status, labor certifications and temporary work permits for foreign workers. Our hospitality lawyers also have significant experience with I-9 compliance and responding to ICE audits and investigations, which often require an expedited and expert response.
Affirmative Action Plans/OFCCP Audits. Hospitality employers who provide goods or services to the government may be required to file Affirmative Action Plans. Our AAP/OFCCP attorneys have experience working with clients to draft these plans and update them as needed. In addition, the Department of Labor has increased its use of OFCCP audits to secure large-scale relief for employees who may not qualify to bring a class or collective action. At the same time, the OFCCP has pledged to drastically expand its compliance audits, to include more on-site investigations and to scrutinize more employee-specific compensation data.
Workplace Safety. From OSHA compliance and investigations to workplace violence to emergency preparedness policies and training, FordHarrison can meet your workplace safety challenges.
Employee Benefits. Qualified retirement plans and many types of welfare plans contain discrimination rules that require those plans to cover a broad base of employees and to provide nondiscriminatory benefits. In the hospitality industry, you may find it difficult to satisfy these rules due to high turnover and/or low wages. Our employee benefits attorneys can discuss plan design options and alternatives to help you meet legal requirements. In fact, our employee benefits attorneys can address all of your employee benefits needs, whether they relate to ERISA, COBRA, HIPAA, qualified retirement plans, nonqualified executive compensation or welfare benefits.