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“Our Commitment to Respond”: Iowa Law Alum Talks Labor and Employment Law in the Wake of COVID-19

COVID-19 has brought with it a host of labor and employment issues for both employers and employees.

 

By: Molly Hill  |  May 7, 2020

 

Now more than ever, businesses are asking: How do we keep our employees safe? How do we keep our business viable? And, employees want to know their rights in this unprecedented time of safety concerns, forced closures, and unemployment.

Jeremy Glenn (IA Law ’97), a member of the national labor and employment practice at the law firm of Cozen O’Connor, and Chicago Office Managing Partner, actively engages with companies across the country interested in answering these questions.

He recently sat down with us to discuss labor and employment law in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

What is your perspective on how COVID-19 has affected the legal profession, particularly labor and employment law?

The need for labor and employment lawyers has never been greater because companies are dealing with safety issues, the workplace environment, and needing to be flexible with policies due to the health pandemic.

Unfortunately, we're seeing from the rising number of unemployment claims that businesses have made difficult choices in downsizing their workforce. There are lots of questions from employers about how they should manage that process.

And that is only one aspect of my particular practice.  On the other side, the employees are also searching for information – asking questions like: what rights to safety and protection do I have in the workplace? What rights do I have if I am temporarily absent from  the workplace based on my personal or my family needs? And, what benefits are available to me, either through my employer, the federal government relief acts, or the state unemployment regime?

Balancing both sides of the employer/employee relationship is one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of my field of practice.

 

How did your early experiences shape your interest in labor and employment law?

I grew up in Guthrie Center, Iowa which is about an hour west of Des Moines. My father was the county veterinarian and his practice had employees so he was a small business owner. My mother was a teacher and then she began to manage the county extension office through Iowa State University.

I grew up in a house where small business concerns were prevalent, and we wanted to not only serve clients but also provide jobs and opportunities for our community. We wanted to employ as many people as possible, but we also had to balance that against the desire to grow the business and be profitable. I was drawn to labor and employment law because I grew up in that environment.

When I was young, my father was disabled in an accident. He was responding to a call on a farm during the evening and his truck went off the road and he was severely injured. In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, and for my father, the world was opened again.

There were accessibility requirements for movie theaters, stadiums, and all the places he wanted to go to. For small businesses, however, it created challenges to address and overcome . I wanted to take part in resolving those challenges and find common ground  for employers and employees.

It all came together for me; my personal background and what the University of Iowa College of Law had to offer.

I thought Iowa Law provided the perfect blend of a theoretical understanding of the law with the practical skills on how to be a lawyer. You are prepared to practice law at the highest level upon graduating.

Since graduating in 1997, I have focused solely on Labor and Employment litigation handling wage/hour and overtime disputes and EEO class actions, and have tried dozens of labor arbitrations. I have also led collective bargaining negotiations for employers and employee associations covering thousands of employees.

 

Speaking of your experience at Iowa Law, what is your advice for students who are interested in labor and employment law?

My advice is threefold: clinical experience, human relations knowledge, and public sector employment opportunities.

Clinical experience is particularly helpful for a labor and employment lawyer because it provides one-on-one counseling and relationship experience. Experience in the clinic setting equips you to be a legal counselor. Whether you represent individual employees or businesses, so much of what we do is counseling. Learning those skills at an early stage in your career is very beneficial.

I also think that a student who wants to go into labor and employment law can best serve  themselves by learning as much as they can about human resources. Much of what we do as labor and employment lawyers is advising businesses on how to interact with their employees. The more experience an attorney has in personnel management and human resources management, the more effective they will be. Similar to an intellectual property lawyer having a science, math, or engineering background, I think labor and employment lawyers really benefit from having a human resources background.

In addition to having pertinent knowledge in the field, I highly recommend relevant public sector employment opportunities. I tell any law student or young lawyer interested in this field that so much of what we do is regulated by the federal, state, and local governments. It’s important to look for opportunities to work in an agency role as a lawyer because they provide tremendous experience with the law and with how the law is enforced.

So, for example, looking for opportunities with federal agencies like the Department of Labor, or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the National Labor Relations Board. Or on the state level, agencies like the Workforce Development Agency, the unemployment insurance agency, or the public labor relations board. I see experience with an employment law enforcement agency as a great launching pad into the practice of labor and employment law.

 

This time is unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetime. How have the challenges around COVID-19 shaped your outlook on labor and employment law?

During this time, I have valued more than ever being able to give advice that's beneficial for both employers and employees because there is an unprecedented amount of confusion and need for clarification from both perspectives.

This is one of the things I love about labor and employment law. My knowledge and skills are helpful to everybody who is either an employer or an employee, an independent contractor, a gig worker, or self-employed.

As a labor and employment attorney, the answer to questions are not always black and white, yet we must be committed to respond, and push for clarification, compromise and resolution even when matters are gray.

 

Thank you, Jeremy, for your insights and time today. We look forward to following your work as these issues continue to unfold.

 

Additional Resources:

COVID-19 Fact Sheets for Iowa Workers from University of Iowa College of Law’s Labor Center are available here. The Center for Human Rights has also put together a three-part webinar series related to worker’s rights during the pandemic here.

For more information on the current issues and frequently asked questions related to COVID-19 visit the Cozen O’Connor Coronavirus Task Force page here.

To learn more about Jeremy Glenn, including many of his authored and expert source articles, as well as his further profile and accolade information, see his online bio here.

 

Molly Hill is a Student Employee for the College of Law in External Relations. She majors in English Literature and writes and edits alumni news content. Molly spent a year abroad studying British Literature at Oxford University and will graduate from the University of Iowa with Honors in December 2020.

Jeremy Glenn IA Law '97