Bejamin Ebbink (left) and Rick Grimaldi Benjamin Ebbink (left) and Rick Grimaldi of FP Advocacy

National labor & employment firm Fisher & Phillips has launched a lobbying subsidiary, FP Advocacy, expanding its client services beyond advising on new laws and regulations to helping shape them.

Ben Ebbink in Sacramento and Rick Grimaldi in Philadelphia, both members of the firm’s 14-lawyer government relations practice, are heading the shop.

“We want to be more engaged in the process in real-time—letting clients know what’s coming and having the ability to influence things—for instance, if a bill is coming down the pike that affects a certain industry,” Ebbink said. “It gives us the ability to engage in legislative advocacy in a whole new realm, which is something the firm hasn’t really done before.”

Ebbink and Grimaldi both have regulatory and public policy experience in labor and employment issues. Ebbink joined Fisher Phillips last year as of counsel after 14 years as the chief consultant to the California State Assembly’s Labor and Employment Committee, where he negotiated and drafted legislation.

Grimaldi co-chairs the firm’s government relations practice and was formerly chief counsel for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry as well as deputy chief counsel to former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.

For now, Ebbink said, FP Advocacy’s primary focus will be on state legislation in California and federal regulation in Washington. “California is just so active, so we felt it made sense to put a lot of emphasis there. It seems like the tail that wags the dog,” he said, noting that labor and employment laws initially passed in California often get adopted in other states.

Right now, the biggest employment-related public policy issue in California by far is sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement, Ebbink added.

“We’re calling it the ‘Weinstein effect.’ We’re seeing more litigation and more complaints being filed, and the legislative side is definitely cranking up,” he said, adding that there are almost two-dozen bills addressing the issue before the California State Legislature this year, with the majority placing new requirements or liability on employers.

Ebbink has summarized the proposals on the California Employers Blog that he writes for Fisher Phillips.

The proposal include:

  • Prohibiting mandatory arbitration clauses for workplace sexual harassment claims;
  • Extending the time for employees to file claims with the state; and
  • Presuming employer retaliation for any negative job actions that occur within 90 days of an employee reporting sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment prevention training and restricting the use of confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements also are on the table.

Currently there is not a lot of federal legislative activity around labor and employment law, Ebbink said, but a lot is happening at federal regulatory agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“We’re seeing more activity at the state level, especially in blue states trying to respond to the Trump administration,” he said, such as on immigration. The Department of Justice sued California earlier this month, challenging sanctuary laws that restrict private employers and local enforcement agencies from sharing information about undocumented immigrants with federal enforcement agencies.

“It’s an uphill battle for employers in California,” Ebbink said. “There’s an opportunity for them to weigh in with their concerns and to say what does and doesn’t work [during the legislative process],” he said. “We want to be more proactively engaged in that process, as opposed to sitting back and waiting to see what happens, and letting clients know [about laws] for next year.”

While Ebbink and Grimaldi are both attorneys, FP Advocacy is a wholly owned but separate subsidiary of Fisher Phillips. That gives them the flexibility to add nonlawyer professionals, such as lobbyists. “We want to attract people with experience in labor and employment issues who fill the need—who may not be attorneys,” Ebbink said.