The practice area of labor and employment presents a number of unique challenges for lawyers. Both inside and outside attorneys need to remain abreast of developments in workplace law if they’re to succesfully handle issues. Likewise, employers who have been tasked with keeping employees safe and comfortable are under scrutiny from both federal and state agencies as well as the plantiff’s bar looking for opportunities to file suit. Here we’ve collected four issues that are currently top-of-mind for attorneys.

EB-5 immigrant investor visas in high demand

“Chinese nationals seeking permanent residence (green cards) through investing in the United States are facing longer wait times as a result of increased demand for EB-5 immigrant visas. 10,000 EB-5 visas are available every fiscal year to foreign nationals who invest either $500,000 or $1 million in the United States. No country is allocated more than 7 percent of these unless the balance remains unused by citizens of other countries. Even when Chinese investors use these remaining visas, demand for them continues to outstrip U.S. supply. In the last three years, almost 70 percent of EB-5 applications have come from China, and demand from China has increased 700 percent since 2007. The Department of State has announced China has, in effect, used up its quota of these for FY2014. Since another 10,000 became available on Oct.1, 2014, this should not affect processing for those applications already filed. However, the Department expects them to again become unavailable by May 2015.”

—James Aldrich, member (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), Dykema Gossett PLLC

Everyone is liable

“The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is on a real push right now to expand the scope of liability in unfair labor practice cases. The NLRB increasingly and aggressively views routine arm’s-length business relationships as joint employer relationships that can subject both parties to liability for the actions of only one party. Franchisors and their franchisees, property owners and their managing agents, principals and their subcontractorsnone are safe from NLRB scrutiny in the current labor environment. As the law on this issue develops, employers are encouraged to take a fresh look at their business relationships and accompanying agreements with an eye toward minimizing joint liability wherever possible.”

— Brian Kurtz, partner (Chicago), FordHarrison LLP

Ebola and the workplace

“With recent news of the first Ebola patient to die in the U.S., employers are asking if and how they should prepare and protect their workers. Healthcare workers especially should be brought up to speed on how Ebola is transmitted, and follow recommended infection control precautions carefully. For other workplaces, any travelers returning from affected countries should look for Ebola symptoms arising within 21 days after their return. Remember, too, that healthcare and other employees may remove themselves from any work environment that they reasonably believe presents an imminent and serious danger to their life or health; an employee may not be retaliated against for raising a safety concern. And while the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission permits an employer’s legitimate inquiry into and reporting of communicable illness, in the unlikely event of actual Ebola diagnosis, any sick employee’s medical privacy must still be safeguarded.”

—Thomas Benjamin Huggett, shareholder (Philadelphia) and Catherine Rombeau, attorney (New Haven, Conn.), Littler Mendelson LLP

Ban the box

“Beginning in 2015, Illinois will join the growing number of states and municipalities that have enacted ‘ban the box’ legislation prohibiting private-sector employers from asking prospective employees at the application stage if they have ever been convicted of a crime. Covered employers (in Illinois, those with 15 or more employees) must revise their hiring policies, forms and procedures to reduce the risk of liability. Employers in these states will no longer be able to routinely run criminal background checks on all job applicants; nor will they be able to ask candidates to list criminal convictions on the application form (and fire them if they omit any). Now, both in-house hiring and outsourced recruitment processes must become more nuanced. Employers, recruiters and staffing vendors face increased exposure to liability and heightened scrutiny from governmental agencies. Ultimately, employers must balance hiring and new laws with the need to develop a productive workforce in a competitive marketplace while avoiding the ever-increasing threat of workplace violence.”

— Paul Starkman, head of Labor & Employment group (Chicago), Pedersen & Houpt