High Court Ends Term With Two Labor Rulings

The U.S. Supreme Court ended its 2014 term today with a pair of 5-4 rulings certain to reverberate throughout the workplace.

In one ruling, the majority held that for-profit closely-held companies do not have to comply with the requirement in the Affordable Care Act to provide free contraception coverage to their employees under their health plans. The court held that these companies are “persons” protected from a substantial infringement on their owners’ religious beliefs under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Any burdens the government places on these companies must, therefore, be justified by a compelling government interest and be advanced through the least restrictive means. The majority agreed with the Obama administration that providing free contraception coverage to female employees is a compelling government interest, but said that the government didn’t use the least restrictive means to advance it.

In the second, the same five justice majority held that personal care assistants who are paid by the state of Illinois but mostly supervised by the home-care recipients can’t be compelled to pay union dues. The court said that these assistants were not “full-fledged” public employees.

The court questioned but ultimately didn’t disturb a 1976 ruling that permits “fair share” agreements for public employees. But the majority questioned the ruling and said it didn’t apply to this situation because the union the state assigned to bargain for the assistants had little authority to negotiate benefits for them.

The rulings are Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn. You can access them on the U.S. Supreme Court’s website.

For more background on the cases, check out my prior blog posting here on the Hobby Lobby case and here on the Harris case.



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