On February 23, 2017 the National Labor Relations Board (“Board” or “NLRB”) made public a proposed Final Rule to revise its Rules and Regulations “ (the “Rules”) to reflect modern technology, such as E-Filing, and eliminate references to telegraphs, carbon copies, and the requirements for hard copy submissions and multiple copies, and to eliminate legalistic terms” from the Rules.
Because the Board contends these amendments to its Rules as “procedural rather than substantive,” it has taken the position that it is not obligated to allow for comment before the amended rules are formally adopted and take effect, and that the amendments to the Rules and Regulations will take effect ten days after their publication in the Federal Register. The Board then published the amendments on Friday February 24th, which means they are to take effect on March 7, 2017, absent any judicial intervention.
An initial reading of the amended Rules and the Board’s summary suggests that most of the changes really are procedural in nature and unlikely to have a material impact on the outcome of representation or unfair labor practice proceedings before the Board. However, given the fact that the Board has demonstrated an increasing tendency in recent actions, particularly since it amended its Rules in representation cases in 2014 to hold parties to increasingly strict compliance standards that can impact substantive rights, it is important for employers who participate in proceedings before the Board and those who represent and counsel them to become familiar with the amended Rules and the changes they include. For that reason we have prepared this summary of what we think are the potentially most significant changes in the Board’s Rules.
Why the Board says it is amending its Rules
The Board has summarized the announcement of its proposed amendments to the Rules and Regulations as being intended to
reorganize the Rules and add headings so that the subject matter is easier to find; incorporate current practices that had not been included in the published Rules, such as the Board’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Program; and update and streamline provisions of the FOIA regulations, . . . clarify the means by which documents are filed and service is made by the parties and the Board, . . .(and) promote the parties’ use of E-Filing, which will facilitate sharing documents with the public.
A Summary of Principal Changes in the These Amendments
The Board has characterized the changes to its Rules in these amendments as falling into five broad categories: I Global Changes, II Definitions, Filing and Service, III “Unfair Labor Practice Cases, IV FOIA, and V Other Sections.
The amended Rules and the Board’s description of the changes run to 167 pages and given the fact that the Board in many circumstances holds the employers, unions and employees who appear before the Board in unfair labor practice and representation cases to strict compliance with its Rules, we have prepared this Act Now Advisory to summarize for readers what, as of now, appear to be the principle changes in the amended Rules.
Notably, although when the Board adopted amendments to the Rules and its procedures in representation cases that took effect in April 2015, the Board published extensive comparative materials for practitioners and members of the public describing how those amendments changed requirements and practice, as of yet no similar analysis has been released by the Board concerning the new amendments to the Rules.
Our review and comments in this Advisory follow the Board’s five categories: Global Changes, Definitions, Filing, and Service, Unfair Labor Practice (“ULP”) Cases, Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) matters, and Other Sections of the Board’s Rules.
Notably, and perhaps not surprising given that the existing rules concerning Representation Proceedings were adopted by the Board in 2014 and implemented in 2015, after extensive review and comment, the amended Rules do not specifically address any of the sections of the Rules concerning Representation Cases.
I Global Changes
These changes to the Board’s Rules apply to all types of cases and proceedings. Key changes are as follows:
- All requirements for filing multiple copies of documents have been removed from the Rules. Under the existing Rules, there were numerous circumstances where parties were required to submit multiple copies of documents. This often caused confusion when a party used the Board’s E-Filing system to electronically file documents.
- The amended Rules use plain English. The amended Rules have been revised “to use plain English and eliminate terms such as “therefrom,” “thereupon,” “therein,” “herein” and “said.”
- Time periods have been changed to multiples of 7. While the Summary suggests that all time period calculations have been changed to multiples of 7, this is not actually so. For example, in representation cases, there are still numerous requirements that filings be made and actions taken in shorter time frames. Parties will need to consult the actual section of the Rules to determine what the applicable time requirements are
- Gender specific language is eliminated in many cases.
- Ambiguous words are replaced. The word “shall” has been replaced with either the word “must,” ”will” or “may” to make clear whether a particular action is required or discretionary.
II Changes Concerning Definitions, Filing and Service
The Board’s filing and service requirements, contained in Sections 102.111 through 102.114 of the Rules have been reorganized and modified. Rather than placing filing and service requirements in the portions of the Rules that addressed particular types of cases and proceedings, all filing and service requirements are consolidated in Section 102 of the amended Rules.
- Separate sections for definitions and service and filing.
- New provisions addressing notice to the Board of “supplemental authority and signatures on E-filed documents. See Sections 102.6 and 102.7.
- Time requirements for filings in Board cases have been reorganized. See Section 102.2.
- The Board has changed the Rules’ “time computation” provisions for filing “responsive documents.” Under the amended Rules, “the designated period” for filing a responsive document will now begin to run “on the date the preceding document was received by the Agency, even if the preceding document was filed prior” to the date it was due to be filed.
- Calculation of when an E-Filed document must be filed. Under the amended Rules, E-Filed documents must now be filed and received on the due date “by 11:59 p.m. of the receiving office’s time zone.”
- The amended Rules change the requirements concerning requests for extensions of time to file documents with the Board.
- Requests for extension of time must generally be filed no later than the date on which the document is dues, but may be filed within 3 days of the due date in circumstances “not reasonably foreseeable in advance.”
- All requests for extensions of time must be in writing. While such requests have typically been made in writing, the Rules did not actually require this until now.
- The amended Rules add language encouraging parties to seek agreement from other parties for extensions of time and requiring that any request for an extension of time include the positions of all other parties. Hereto, while most practitioners have typically taken these steps and the Board has encouraged them, they have not been required by the Rules before.
- The amended Rules require any party opposing a request for an extension of time to file their opposition in writing “as soon as possible following receipt of the request.”
- Newly added Section 102.2 (d) puts in writing for the first time the Board’s practices and requirements in connection with documents that are not filed or served by the time required and established procedures for requesting permission to file a document after it is due.
- The amended Rules allow for the late filing of certain documents “within a reasonable time after the time” required under the Rules “upon good cause shown based on excusable neglect and when no prejudice would result.” Significantly the term “excusable neglect” is not defined in the Rules or the Act.
- The amended Rules indicate that the types of documents that may be filed late in unfair labor practice proceedings are motions, exceptions, answers to complaints and backpay specifications and briefs.
- The amended Rules indicate that the types of documents that may be filed late in representation cases are exceptions, requests for review, motions, briefs, and responses to each of these types of documents,
- Under the amended Rules, any request to file one of the specified documents must be made by written motion, and the motion must include the document the party is seeking permission to file late and the grounds for the request, which need to include the “good cause” and the reasons the party asserts that no prejudice would result. These facts must be contained in an affidavit and “sworn to by individuals with personal knowledge of the facts.”
- A party opposing a request for permission to late file can file an opposition to the request, but not until after a ruling on the request. In other words, a party cannot oppose a request for permission to file late until after the request has been granted.
- The amended Rules change the methods of service that are permitted.
- Parties can no longer serve papers by telegraph.
- The amended Rules give the Board the right to serve any documents by facsimile or email.
- The amended Rules authorize the service of subpoenas by private delivery service.
- Section 102.5 (c) provides for much greater use of the Board’s E-Filing system for the electronic filing of documents. Under the new rule, the Board adopts the requirement that all documents other than unfair labor practice charges, representation petitions and showings of interest in representation cases must be filed through the Board’s E-Filing system unless a party submits with its hard copy document a written statement explaining why the party does not have access to the means to use E-Filing or why E-Filing would impose an undue burden on the party.
- Section 102.5 (e) restricts the ability of parties to file documents with the Board by facsimile. Under the amended Rules, the only documents that may be filed by facsimile are unfair labor practice charges, representation case petitions, objections to conduct affection the outcome of a representation election, and request for extension of time for filing of documents.
- New provisions for Notice to the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) or Board of Supporting Authority.
- Section 102.6 adds a formal process for the first time enabling a party to make a supplemental submission, after it has filed a brief to the Board or an ALJ, when it becomes aware of “pertinent and significant legal authority.”
- A party may bring such authority to the attention of the ALJ or the Board by “promptly filing a letter with the judge or the Board,” and serving copies of the letter on all other parties.
- The body of such a letter “may not exceed 350 words,” and any reply is subject to the same word limit.
- In an unfair labor practice case, any response must be filed within 14 days, while in a representation proceeding it must be filed within 7 days after service.
- The amended Rules allow for electronic signatures on documents filed with the Board.
- While parties have routinely submitted documents with electronic signatures to the Board in the past, the amended Rules formally recognize the use of electronic signatures and make provision for them.
- Electronic signatures will now have “the same legal effect, validity, and enforceability as if signed manually.” Section 102.7.
- The amended Rules define electronic signature as “an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the document.”
- The Board’s adoption of this rule confirming its acceptance of electronic signatures should come as no surprise, given the announcement by the Board’s General Counsel in September 2015 that the agency would accept employees’ electronic signatures as part of a union’s showing of interest in support of a representation petitions.
III Unfair Labor Practice Cases
- The changes to the Rules concerning Unfair Labor Practice (“ULP”) cases are primarily procedural and consistent with the administrative-type changes described above.
- Under revised Section 102.11, a party filing a charge by facsimile will no longer be required to submit the signed original as well. The Board has explained that this change is intended to prevent the docketing a second time of a charge that was filed by E-Filing or facsimile when the hard copy is received by mail.
- The Board will no longer permit a party filing a charge to submit attachments to the charge form. Section 102.12 (b).
- Revised Section 102.14 (a) eliminates the requirement that before a party filing a charge serves a copy on the respondent that the respondent’s permission be obtained in advance if the charge is going to served by facsimile. Advance permission will still be required before service of a charge by email.
- Regional Offices will now be able to serve charges not only by regular mail or facsimile but also in person, by private delivery service, by email or in any other method permitted by Rules 4 and 5 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or in any other agreed upon manner.
- The amended rules address the question of when service of a charge is considered to have been made when the charge is served by email.
- When service is by email, “the date the email is sent” will be considered the date of service.
- When service is by mail or private delivery service, the date the charge is deposited with the post office or the other carrier will be considered the date of service.
- In the case of service by facsimile, the date the fax is received will be considered the date of receipt.
- No explanation is offered for the decision to treat facsimile and email so differently.
- The amended Rules address the question of when a Regional Director has the authority to change the date, time and place of a ULP hearing, either on his or her own authority or with the agreement of the parties. Under Section 102.16, these may be changed when
- All parties agree to the change of the hearing date;
- New ULP charges have been filed which, “if meritorious, might be appropriate for consolidation with” the earlier case or cases;
- Where there are ongoing settlement discussions which the Regional Director concludes “could lead to settlement of all or a portion of the complaint;’
- Where there are issues related to the complaint “pending before the General Counsel’s Division of Advice or Office of Appeals;” or
- Where there are more than 21 days remaining before the scheduled start of the hearing.
- Note that this gives the Regional Director great discretion as the provisions concerning postponement because of related issues being under consideration by the Division of Advice or the Office of Appeals is not limited to pending cases involving any of the same parties.
- Section 102.24 (c) codifies what has been the Board’s practice, under D. L. Baker, Inc., 330 NLRB 521, fn. 4(2000) concerning replies to oppositions to motions filed with the Board.
- A party that has filed a motion with the Board will be permitted to submit a reply to any opposition to that motion within 7 days of its receipt of the opposition, but “in the interest of administrative finality,” no further responses are permitted.
- The amended Rule 102.31 (a), which concerns subpoenas in ULP cases, now specifically recognizes that Board subpoenas can require the production of “electronic data.”
- Amended Rule 102.31 (b) codifies that a party adversely affected by a ruling on a petition to revoke a subpoena has the right to make the ruling and related pleadings a part of the record in the ULP hearing.
- Section 102.45 will for the first time make the Board’s existing Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Program, which is really a mediation program, a part of the Rules.
The Board’s summary describes the amendments to the Rules concerning the Board’s processing of requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) as being intended to “update and streamline procedural provisions of the (NLRB’s) FOIA regulations,” and to reflect organizational changes within the Board’s Headquarters and “centralization” of the Board’s FOIA processing formerly located in the regional offices. The Rules changes are also described as intended to make the Board’s FOIA regulations “more readable and requester-friendly.”
- Section 102.117 (c)(1)(ii) codifies the existing requirement that FOIA requests be made to the Board’s FOIA Officer in Washington, rather than to the Regional Office where the case that is the subject of the request was processed.
- The amended Rules express the Board’s “preference” for requests to be made electronically.
- The amended Section 102.117 (a)(4) no longer includes a lost of the records the Board will produce under FOIA. Instead, the Board refers parties to the text of the amended FOIA Improvement Act of 2016.
- Under amended Section 102.117(c)(2)(v), parties will have 90, rather than 28 days to file administrative appeals of adverse determinations on FOIA requests.
V Other Sections
According to the Board’s summary, this group of amendments to the Rules are quite limited.
- The amended Section 102.96 may be of interest to employers as it relates to the circumstances in which the Board, following investigation of a ULP charge alleging unlawful secondary boycott activity by a union in violation of Section 8 (b)(4) of the Act, determines that Section 10(l) injunctive relief is appropriate and should be sought by the Board in district court.
- Amended Section 102.96 mandates that the Regional Director is to “promptly” issue a ULP complaint, “normally within 5 days of the dates when injunctive relief is first sought” in court.
The Board’s Required Findings Concerning the Amended Rules
- While President Trump has spoken repeatedly of his intent to slash the number of rules and regulations under federal law and has called for any new rule or regulation to be offset by the elimination of two existing rules or regulations, the Board has not addressed those mandates in either its summary or the amended Rules themselves. The Board has however made required findings concerning rule making under existing federal laws.
- As required under the Regulatory Flexibility Act, the Board has determined that the amendments to the Rules “will not have a significant impact on a substantial number of small entities.
- In accordance with the requirements of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995, the Board states that the amendments “will not result in the expenditure by state, local, and tribal governments, in the aggregate, or by the private sector, of $100,000,000 or more in any one year.”
- The Board has concluded that the adoption of the amended Rules “is not a major rule as defined under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996.”
What Employers Should Do Now
It is perhaps ironic that the Board, composed of two Democrats and one Republican, all holdovers from the Obama Administration, has chosen this moment, just a month into the Trump Administration and as rumors have begun circulating as to who President Trump will nominate to fill the 2 vacant seats on the Board reserved for members of the President’s own parties, i.e. Republicans.
No doubt, once those seats are filled a new Republican majority on the Board will begin to address far more substantive matters under the Act, including the many changes in the interpretation of the Act of the past 8 years.
Regardless of the substantive decision making of the Board, it remains critical that employers and all others with business before the Board understand the procedural and statutory framework under which the Board conducts its business. Those who do not study these amendments and follow their dictates risk being undone by not knowing the rules that govern all cases.