Legal-RoundupMan, last year was a busy one! Lots of developments in employment law, from the ACA to the FMLA to the NLRB, with a brief stop by the FLSA.

Let’s look back:

Of course, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) made the news a lot this year, first when the employer mandate was pushed back another year to 2015, and then, when the official website for signing up for coverage had… let’s say, a significant number of flaws.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision that got the most play in the news this year was the declaration that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, and that same-sex couples could legally marry in states that did not specifically forbid such unions. For employers, one of the main questions following that ruling is: How does this affect the company’s benefits? This article has a great rundown of how those benefits could be affected, especially the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) didn’t have a very good spring. First, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that employers are not required to display the NLRB’s poster highlighting employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The court determined that the requirement would equal “compelled speech” and would violate the NLRA itself. Between the hoist-on-their-own-petard nature of the ruling and how high the court is, we’re likely to have heard the last of the NLRB poster.

But the real hammer drop came in mid-May, when the Third District Court ruled that the appointments to the Board that President Obama made while Congress was on a recess (rather than between sessions) were unconstitutional. With those appointments rendered invalid, the NLRB no longer has enough members to operate officially, so it’s basically dead in the water right now. Like we said, not a great month for them.

One of the many cases involving unpaid interns at a production company revisited the Department of Labor guidelines from 2010 and found in favor of the interns. Basically, if a worker is adding value to your company rather than requiring an investment from it (in the form of training time and supervision, among other things), that worker is entitled to pay.

Criminal background checks have been a major issue for the EEOC lately, but a Maryland federal court recently shot down the agency’s theory that such checks form an unfair barrier to hire. It’s still advisable to tailor your background checks for each individual applicant, and it’s probably more cost-effective, too.

Merrill Lynch made the news this year, but not for forecasting or rating investments. No, the company made headlines for having the largest race bias settlement in US history levied against it. Merrill Lynch was ordered to pay $160 million to a large class of African-American employees for discrimination, including lack of promotions and internal opportunities. Then, less than 2 weeks later, the company was ordered to pay out $39 million in a gender discrimination lawsuit. Ouch.

So here’s to a much better 2014, with clear, equitable laws, where employees and employers are all honest and diligent and give each other the benefit of the doubt. Sorry, we cracked up when we were typing that!

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