July 17, 2023

Attorney Spotlight: Nick Reiter on Trends in Labor and Employment Law and the Benefits of the Random Office Encounter

6 min

Nicholas Reiter, chair of Venable's Labor and Employment Practice Group, oversees the firm's national team of management-side labor and employment attorneys. In this recent conversation, Nick discussed Venable's recently opened New York office building, where all of our New York attorneys have been brought together under one roof for the first time. He also shared his thoughts on his journey from associate to partner at Venable, trends in employment law, and what sets his team apart in New York.

Q. Could you talk us through your early legal career and time at Venable?

A. I really wanted to practice labor and employment law because the federal court docket where I clerked had a lot of employment cases, and those cases tended to be more interesting than others. They're often about people and what was going on in someone's head when they made an employment decision, as opposed to, say, a dispute over the meaning of a contractual clause.

Through some networking, I obtained a job at a mid- to large-size labor and employment firm. It wasn't as big a firm as Venable and did not offer an associate the same dynamic, benefits, or growth opportunities that Venable does. Then a law school classmate, who was a summer associate in Venable's Labor and Employment Group, called me up and said the firm was growing its labor group. I interviewed and had a job two weeks later. That was 12 years ago!

Q. How has the New York office evolved in your time at Venable?

A. When I joined the firm in 2011, the New York office had only, I think, about 32 lawyers. It has been a great opportunity to be part of this substantial growth curve for our New York office over the last 12 years. The real inflection point came when we were joined by Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto, a boutique intellectual property (IP) firm, which almost doubled the attorney headcount in New York overnight. That was obviously a big moment for our New York office, and has significantly expanded our IP capabilities while opening doors for servicing more clients' employment law needs.

Q. Any positive developments resulting from all of the New York attorneys being in the same building for the first time?

A. It's much better. There's a little pep in our step, at least in mine when I get off the train and walk into the office, because we have this great new building that fosters more relationships with colleagues.

The new office is a perfect shot in the arm as the pandemic restrictions keep getting lifted and we're trying to get people back in the office more. We went from a place where we didn't see anyone in person on a day-to-day basis to being in an environment full of organic, unplanned collaborative moments between colleagues. Just running into a colleague can lead to interesting conversations that may help us find new ways to serve our clients or learn about new legal developments.

Q. Who are some of your clients, and what would you say are their top concerns right now?

A. Being in New York, naturally we have a lot of financial services clients. They tend to have executive compensation, bonus, or employee trade secret issues. There are also what I'd call employee mobility issues, when an employee is leaving to join a competitor and poaching clients or staff. That's certainly a big focus of ours at the moment.

Another sector that historically has been a focus for our group is hospitality, which includes hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and private clubs around the metropolitan area. They tend to have a healthy blend of what you would think of as traditional employment issues—hiring decisions, wage and hour classification decisions, and so on for the employer to make. A lot of them also have traditional labor work—dealing with unions, organized labor, collective bargaining, and labor arbitrations.

And then finally there is the healthcare sector. We have historically represented hospitals, home healthcare agencies, and medical practices in a wide variety of labor and employment matters.

Q. Are you seeing any trends over the past couple of years in terms of labor and employment laws on the state and federal levels?

A. There's been a big push, certainly in a lot of the states where our clients operate, for pay transparency, particularly requirements for posting job salaries and beefing up their anti-discrimination laws for equal pay. There have also been recent minimum wage hikes in most jurisdictions where our clients operate.

At the federal level, many of us are watching the Federal Trade Commission's next move for its new proposed non-compete rule that substantially narrows the situations in which an employer can enforce a non-competition agreement. Another big development was the National Labor Relations Board's recent ruling that employers can no longer require non-managerial employees to keep the terms of a severance agreement confidential and promise not to disparage the employer as a condition of receiving the severance.

Q. What about New York specifically?

A. In New York, employers should keep an eye on the most recent non-compete law. The New York State Legislature just passed a law that would essentially bring New York into a legal landscape for non-competes that is extremely similar to that of California, which essentially says they're not allowed except in limited circumstances. That hasn't been signed into law yet by the governor, but the early prediction is that it will become law. Once that happens, it will be a seismic shift in the non-compete law for New York employers.

Q. How did the pandemic affect labor practices and labor law?

A. With COVID, there was a boom of new regulations and workplace rules. Many of our clients are now bringing employees back to work four to five days a week, or at least more frequently than they were when they were working remotely full-time. Unsurprisingly, some employees are pushing back on that idea. I've certainly observed an uptick in the number of medical accommodation requests as employers start to bring their workforce back to the office on a more frequent basis. The medical accommodation requests typically allege a medical condition that requires remote work, on either a full-time or part-time basis, more frequently than the employer's policy allows. We've been helping clients navigate those medical accommodation requests, assessing whether the request should be granted, among other questions.

Q. What would you say differentiates you and your team here at Venable from other firms?

A. We do not silo our associates in employment counseling or employment litigation. We intentionally assign our labor and employment associates to do both at the same time, because if you know how to draft an employment agreement from the counseling side, then you know how to use that employment agreement as an exhibit at a deposition when you're litigating. So we think each one makes you better at the other. Some other firms don't do that. They assign their associates to either employment counseling or employment litigation roles, but not always to both.

We also offer a very well-rounded list of labor and employment services. Our traditional labor experience often sets us apart from other firms' employment law practice groups. Our labor lawyers have been in the trenches with clients facing aggressive union activity, whether helping a client respond to a union organization campaign or seeking immediate injunctive relief to enjoin boycotts, strikes, and other work stoppage activities than can otherwise cripple a client's business.

To learn more about Venable's Labor and Employment Practice Group, please reach out to Nick Reiter.