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The Modern Workplace

The Modern Workplace

Posts in Investigations & Training.
Whether we realize it or not, we all have unconscious biases - even scientists who are trained to overcome them. Events of the last year have riveted our attention not only on a global pandemic, but also on race relations. Addressing this topic is important to us all - in our businesses and beyond. Unconscious bias training helps us understand why we harbor biases, how to avoid bad decision-making associated with those biases and how to promote greater inclusivity. 
The problem with unconscious biases is we don't see them. As Henry Thoreau said, "Many an object is not seen, though it falls ...
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On Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that significantly narrows the category of employees who may be protected whistleblowers under the Dodd-Frank Act.1 In a case entitled Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers, the Court held that Dodd-Franks prohibition on employer retaliation against whistleblowers only covers individuals who made reports of suspected violations of the securities laws to the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC).

Paul Somers was an employee of Digital Realty Trust, a San-Francisco based realty firm, whose employment was ...
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Sadly, the concerning news that's recently surfaced about sexual harassment and assault allegations in Hollywood is all too familiar. This year, we've seen a number of high-profile sexual harassment stories go viral involving the ride-sharing, music, Hollywood, and news media industries. These high profile stories should serve as a reminder to employers of the importance of having sound policies and practices in harassment prevention and response. Below are some suggested best practices for employers to consider.
1.  Implement and Effectuate a Sound Policy
 
Employers should ...
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It has become a bit easier for Minnesota employees to blow the whistle against their employers due to a recent decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court. In the case of Friedlander v. Edwards Lifesciences, LLC, et al., the Minnesota Supreme Court eliminated the previous requirement under Minnesota law that in order to establish a claim for a violation of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, it must be shown that in blowing the whistle the employee was acting with the purpose of exposing illegal activity by the employer.  The net effect of this judicial ruling may be a relaxation of the proof ...
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In a recent ruling, the White case, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that an employee who has been terminated for misconduct caused by mental illness, such as depression, may nevertheless be eligible for Minnesota unemployment benefits.   Notably, the Court also ruled that an unemployment judge has an affirmative duty to help such a claimant present relevant evidence if the claimant is unrepresented by counsel.
 

The Minnesota unemployment law generally provides that employees terminated through no fault of their own are entitled to benefits.  Individuals who voluntarily quit ...

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The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has just approved a ruling that certain employees (in this instance, tugboat captains) are not supervisors within the meaning of the federal labor law (the National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA). The NLRB said it drew this conclusion because the employer did not show the employer held the captains accountable for the performance of the mates whom they directed. A dissenting NLRB member complained that the Boards conclusion in this case fails the test of common sense.

The tugboat captains case makes painfully clear that identifying and ...
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Nearly every employer has dealt with a difficult employee, a tense termination, or a particularly serious workplace conflict. In the wake of a tragic event like the recent Roanoke news station shooting, many employers are looking for better ways to handle employee conflicts and protect employees. According to OSHA statistics, each year nearly two million Americans report being victims of workplace violence (which includes physical violence, threats, harassment, and abuse). While no policy, procedure, or safety measure can guarantee security, employer policies and ...
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Much has been written in recent months about the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) standard for joint employment liability between separate businesses, especially with respect to franchisor McDonalds Corporation, which is facing dozens of cases in which it has been named as a respondent along with its franchisees. The NLRBs General Counsel has been advocating for a change to the joint employer test currently used by the NLRB.  An arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently published a 40-page report on how the NLRBs proposed new joint employer test threatens small ...
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I recently read an article about how college football recruiters are using twitter to screen out potential players for their teams. Its becoming a somewhat common practice for recruiters to monitor the twitter accounts of high school players that they are scouting to see whether any red flags are raised. Based on some of the inappropriate tweets, colleges have decided not to pursue particular players and, in at least one instance, have even withdrawn a scholarship offer. Some of these college coaches are encouraging high school coaches to teach players that they need to be careful ...

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Technology's impact on privacy took center stage in news headlines this week. The New York Times and National Public Radio (NPR) both reported on alternative software tools to track employees in the workplace - one tool identifies inside security threats and another tracks employee productivity. Our blog post earlier this week also discussed this issue, highlighting both upsides to employee monitoring and some of the downsides and risks. In addition, there was big privacy news coming out of the United States Supreme Court this week. In a highly anticipated ruling, the Court ruled ...

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If you work in HR or Student Services for a college or university, you're likely well aware of the Campus SaVE Act and the fact that it has added a long list of items to your to do list. When the law was first passed a year ago, its March 2014 effective date seemed so far away. Time sure flies! Not only is the Act going into effect, the U.S. Department of Education recently issued draft regulations on the law. The regulations wont be final for some time, but they will provide additional guidance to institutions on complying with the Act.
 
The Campus SaVE Act amends existing law to promote ...
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Last week, this blog featured posts about the growth and reported benefits of workplace surveillance, as well as some of the legal risks that can arise from surveillance. Workplace surveillance can run the gamut from conducting targeted email searches to investigate potential misconduct by a particular employee to using complex software programs designed to detect theft, cyberloafing, or inappropriate internet usage by anyone in the workforce. As discussed in our previous posts, surveillance may create opportunities to decrease employee dishonesty and improve ...

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This week, technology is affecting how we do business, how we plan for the distribution of property at death, and how we enforce the laws. Nevada is the latest state to adopt a social media privacy bill. Businesses are harnessing the power of social media and on-the-go apps, and a new start-up is helping connect foreign farmers to the market place. An Ohio judge upheld the validity of a will that was written and signed on a tablet, finding that it met the state's legal requirements. At the intersection of technology and law enforcement, Montana became the first state to require police to ...
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Technology news was dominated by reports of government snooping this week. The Guardian published a top-secret court order forcing Verizon Wireless to turn over "telephony metadata" (i.e. call details) collected on all of its customers making calls to, from, or within the United States. The Obama Administration defended the order as a counter-terrorism measure, and late Thursday, reports began to surface that the data was used to foil a planned terrorist attack.

Individuals used technology to act in ways that could be seen as offensive, discriminatory, or maybe both, depending on ...

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This was a good week for employers to pay attention to the news about technology and social media. There were a number of important developments that may impact how investigations of applicants or employees are performed.


Utah joined the growing number of states that have passed a ban on employers accessing employees' social media accounts. Washington is debating a similar bill; its version, however, has an exception that would allow employer access during a company investigation. In a similar vein, employers using employee-theft-tracking databases to screen potential hires may ...

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Variety is the spice of life, even when it comes to the legal implications of technology. This week offers a good illustration of the many different areas of the law that technology can impact. Here are some current examples:

Employment Law: A New Mexico judge who violated the court's computer and Internet use policy with his "excessive and improper" instant messaging during court proceedings was forced to resign. A Penn admissions officer who shared on Facebook snippets of admissions essays has sparked debates about online sharing of employment information.

Securities Law: The ...

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I don't know if it's the cold, long winter we've been having, or just the increasing popularity of social media, but this week has been chock-full of internet-induced workplace drama. Take for example, the Applebee's server who was fired after posting a picture of customer's receipt on Reddit. The customer happened to be a pastor whose large dining party had incurred an automatic gratuity charge. He crossed out the added gratuity and wrote "I give God 10%, why do you get 18?" After the waitress shared a picture of the receipt -- signature and all -- with the online community, the pastor ...

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This week, there were a number of interesting developments in the world of employment labor law. A NLRB judge ruled that a union's Facebook page is not an extension of the picket line. The case involved striking workers' threatening comments on the union's Facebook page. The NLRB Acting General Counsel initiated the complaint against the union, arguing that the union, which did nothing to disavow the comments, should be held responsible for them, just like it would be if they were made out on the picket line. The NLRB judge disagreed and dismissed the complaint.

The other two ...

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It seems General Petraeus isn't the only one whose digital footprint has betrayed him. A whole host of other individuals' online antics have landed them in hot water this week. Waffle House Chairman, Joe Rogers, Jr. is also facing a sex scandal. His former housekeeper has come forward with sex tapes which she alleges are proof that she was sexually harassed. Rogers denies the harassment and says that he is being blackmailed. A district court has ordered that the tapes be impounded -- for now.

In Kentucky, a couple of Walmart employees were fired based on an internet video of them throwing ...

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The Internet can be a great way for companies and professionals to market their products or services and bring in business. But lightning-quick global communication isn't always a good thing, especially when a dissatisfied customer is the one who is doing the talking. This week, a New York lawyer learned that responding to online criticisms may create more problems than it solves. After anonymously being called "the most unscrupulous lawyer" on a review website, the lawyer posted a response saying that he knew who wrote the comment and that the writer, a former client, was ...
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Oh, the joys of technology. It can keep you connected when you're feeling social or provide hours of solo entertainment when you're not. And with new apps coming out every day, it is easy to get lost in a sea of technologically-induced euphoria. But don't let your guard down too quickly, because events this week remind us that where there is technology, there likely is someone -- or something -- watching.

A St. Paul police officer and a Yahoo News reporter learned that lesson the hard way. The officer, who was caught on a bystander's cellphone kicking an arrested suspect, is facing an ...

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Here at the Week in Review, we've seen our fair share of bad employee decisions and the terminations that sometimes follow them. This week, workers around the country found themselves in a whole different kind of trouble for their unwise--and illegal--use of technology. In Texas, a teacher was sentenced to five years in prison for having sexual relationships with five of her students. The relationships began via text message and culminated in a cellphone recording of one of the sexual encounters. In Minnesota, a football coach is facing felony child porn charges after the ...
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Past Weeks in Review have recounted many tales of Facebook-induced terminations. Fired for Facebook comments? Check. Fired for Facebook photos? Check. Fired for Facebook Likes? Check and check below. But fired for "friending" someone on Facebook? That is precisely what happened to a Georgia county deputy who wanted to be "Facebook friends" with an inmate. The two struck up sexually-charged conversations while she was being held in the county jail, and it appears the deputy wanted to keep contact after she was released on bond. Turns out neither the Sheriff's office nor the inmate's ...

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This week, it's all about Facebook again. Except for the news about the Yahoo hack, you'll be hard pressed to find a technological tale that doesn't involve the social media giant. So here it is: the good, the bad, and the ugly of Facebook, all in one convenient location.

The good: the site continues to create useful apps. There is an anti-bullying tool tailored to help teens report harassing behavior, a price alert app that notifies you when items you Like go on sale, and a plan to launch a job posting board. With apps like these, who says time on Facebook is unproductive?

The bad: a yoga ...

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While the powers of technology often spell trouble for employers and employees, they sure do make for interesting Weeks in Review. And this week is no different. Drag-queen Facebook photos, surreptitious surveillance, and anonymous emails all led to employee terminations this week. Perhaps the most noteworthy is the Oklahoma publisher who fired 25 employees over an anonymous, company-wide email that spoke of alleged outsourcing and mass layoffs. Not knowing the exact source of the email, the owner fired those he thought might be involved. To make matters more ...

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As technology continues to change, so too do employers' efforts to keep up. With new laws preventing employers from using passwords to access employees' Facebook pages, employers are finding other ways to monitor employees' online activities.  A new Gartner report predicts that by 2015, 60% of businesses will be using Internet-monitoring technologies to monitor employees' social media use. However, employers must be careful in their quest to control online employee expression. This week, the NLRB issued a social media report cautioning all employers (even those ...

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It has been less than 90 days since the Associated Press ran a story about employers requiring applicants and workers to provide their passwords to social media sites like Facebook, and now a new law makes this illegal. Maryland is the first state to enact a law making it unlawful for employers to ask applicants or employees to provide their log-in information.  Other states have similar bills pending.
In late April, the Social Networking Online Protection Act, or SNOPA, was introduced in Congress. If passed, this law would prohibit current and potential employers from requiring a ...
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This week featured the ongoing battle surrounding technology, the workplace and privacy.  Employees of the Food and Drug Administration sued the agency over its surveillance of their personal e-mail.  A New York judge overturned a teacher's firing that was based on a Facebook posting expressing the wish that her students drown.  Despite the conflicts, a recent report predicts that fewer companies will block social media sites in the workplace by 2014.



Technology and the Workplace
FDA Staffers Sue Agency over Surveillance of Personal E-mail (WashingtonPost)
Companies Opening ...

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Many companies purchase smartphones or cell phones for employees use, or pay all or part of their employees phone service fees.  Employees see this as a great job perk, and employers like the increased productivity and accessibility that results.
So, what happens when an employer needs to do an investigation -- perhaps because of a complaint of harassment, or worries about leaks of confidential information -- and  wants access to the data? Many employers assume that because they pay for the service, they can gain access to the text messages and emails that have been sent from their ...
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This week two events have dominated the Web:  Facebook filed for a $5 billion initial public offering, and the New York Giants and New England Patriots are preparing to face off in Super Bowl 46.  But don't get so caught up pondering Mark Zuckerberg's net worth that you overlook the other stories this week concerning technology, the law, and the workplace. Get up to speed on all of it and then pick out your favorite apps for Sunday's big game - the kind for your phone, not your stomach. 
Technology and the Law
Facebook Files for $5 Billion IPO (CNNMoney)
Google Defends Privacy ...
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On November 18, 2011, the animal rights group Mercy for Animals released a video that was secretly recorded at several farms owned and operated by Litchfield, Minnesota-based Sparboe Farms, the fifth largest shell egg producer in the United States. The video shows the mistreatment of select hens used in the production of eggs. The video was obtained by ABC News and was used as part of a story for the ABC News Magazine television show 20/20.  That story and the surrounding media attention caused a ripple effect in the food industry. Within days of the release of the video, customers of ...
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This week we see the push and pull between the benefits that new technology can provide and the difficulties it creates when we try to integrate it into our current systems. A number of problems have arisen recently based on the availability of cell phone GPS data and the security of data organizational and protection software. These, and other technological issues affecting our lives, have been collected below.
Technology and the Law
Conflict Between Circuit Courts on Legality of Cellphone Tracking (SecurityNewsDaily)
Legality of Malls Tracking Shoppers Using their ...
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This week a story about workplace violence caught my eye.  More employers are turning to the use of technology--namely video surveillance cameras and similar high-tech security measures--to monitor employees and prevent theft and other kinds of misconduct.  Many employers have relied on this technology to successfully defend against claims of discrimination and wrongful termination when employees are caught on tape violating company policy or stealing.  But this story involves a twist.
In May, pharmacist Jeremy Hoven was working the overnight shift with three other employees at ...
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From Merriam Webster: Luddite -one of a group of early 19th century English workmen destroying laborsaving machinery as a protest; broadly : one who is opposed to especially technological change.

Why do I start with a definition of the word Luddite? Quite simply, I'm probably at least in part a Luddite. I use technology every day; yet, I am reluctant to embrace much of the new technology. That may sound strange coming from a person who is writing on a blog about technology, but alas, it is true. Interestingly, every time I have been forced to use a new technology I have eventually embraced ...
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Last week, I provided some training to a clients HR team on conducting investigations.  As we were working through some hypothetical situations, the discussion turned to accessing employees emails.  The group knew that their company's policy addressed accessing the emails of current employees, clearly warning company email is not private and that it could be accessed or monitored by the company.  That being said, one individual raised concerns about accessing a recently departed employees emails.  She was concerned about who should have access to the email, and for what purpose and ...
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On Monday, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear yet another significant employment law case in its 2010-2011 term.  The case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, addresses the controversial ministerial exception to discrimination laws.


According to the school's petition (via SCOTUS blog), the question presented to the Supreme Court is:
[w]hether the ministerial exception applies to a teacher at a religious elementary school who teaches the full secular curriculum, but also teaches ...
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You may be wondering what cats have to do with employment law. Well, last week the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the cats paw theory of employment discrimination for the first time, making it easier for employees to prove discrimination and for employers to get burned by legal liability. The phrase cats paw stems from an Aesop fable in which a monkey uses flattery to induce a cat to retrieve roasting chestnuts from a hot fire and then absconds with the chestnuts after the cat has burned its paws. Based on the fable, cats paw refers to a person who is unwittingly used to accomplish another's ...

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In my last post, I cautioned employers about using information that it learns about its employees through social networking sites. A few more thoughts on that. With employees posting running accounts of their daily activities on social networking sites, its quite tempting for employers to want to take a peek at what employees are saying about how they are spending their work day or what theyre doing on a day when they are supposedly missing work because of an illness or injury. Its even more tempting for employers to want access to this information when the employee in question has been a ...

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