Author Archives: Caroline J. Berdzik

Bad Back? You’re Fired.

Employers rely upon employees to get the job done. Usually, the “job” requires the employee’s physical presence at work. But injuries and medical conditions throw a wrench in the works. Most employers are at least generally aware of the implications of various federal and state laws governing treatment of employees with medical conditions and injuries. Yet, there is plenty of gray area where employers may be subject to liability. Take for example the recent decision in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc. where the Seventh Circuit decided whether an employer could terminate an employee who requested a multi-month leave of absence from employment.

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When There’s Smoke, There’s Fire: Allegations of Harassment Can Point to Liability

The recent departures of high-profile executives and the flurry of harassment lawsuits provide plenty of teaching moments for employers. Notably, these very public exits and lawsuits are a prime example of why employers must act decisively when complaints of harassment arise in the workplace. Unfortunately, this situation is all too familiar for some employers. Some employers may be tempted to overlook the conduct of top performers even though it may open the door to liability. However, it is critical that allegations of harassment be taken seriously and that prompt investigations are conducted by employers. Sometimes it's necessary to bring in third-parties to conduct a thorough investigation particularly if higher level executives are involved or if there is a pattern of troubling allegations.

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Does the A-C Privilege Survive a Company’s Death?

When it comes to interesting ethical quandaries, the case of U.S. v. Martin Shkreli is the gift that keeps on giving. As we discussed in a previous post, Martin Shkreli has asserted the “advice-of-counsel” defense in the securities fraud case he is facing in the Eastern District of New York. Since our last post, Shkreli has served a document subpoena on one of the law firms that represented several of his companies, as well as him personally. What complicates this matter, however, is the fact that many of these companies are now defunct and therefore lack any active individuals who can waive the attorney-client privilege on their behalf.

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Fee Shifting with Non-Lawyers

As a general matter, the Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit lawyers from sharing fees with non-attorneys. However, there are certain exceptions to that rule. Rule 5.4 states that “a lawyer or law firm may include non-lawyer employees in a compensation or retirement plan, even though the plan is based in whole or in part on a profit-sharing arrangement.” A recent case out of Pennsylvania describes how a non-lawyer attempted to put this exception into action, albeit unsuccessfully.

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Final Word on Employer Wellness Plans

Employee wellness plans are a hot item these days. Increasingly, wellness plans are seen as a benefit to both employees and employers alike. As many employers jump on the bandwagon of this growing health trend, they should be aware of the other legal implications of creating and implementing these programs within their company. For example, a popular topic ever since the EEOC issued its proposed regulations last year has been how employee wellness programs can comply with existing regulations such as the ADA and Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Well now it’s time for employers to take note because the EEOC has just finalized its rules in this regard.

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Pitfalls of Arbitration Clauses in Employee Handbooks

An employee handbook is a necessary and familiar workplace fixture. A recent trend among employers is the inclusion of a mandatory arbitration clause, to avoid a jury trial in the event of employment-related litigation. Both state and federal courts have recently grappled with the validity of arbitration clauses in the employment litigation realm, and have both concluded that such clauses are not enforceable. These cases serve as a reminder that an employer must be vigilant should it wish to make such a clause part of its employment policies.

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Liability for Improper Use of Database

Many professionals have access to online databases that store information not readily available to members of the public. These databases are a valuable tool for professionals who need additional information about a person for litigation purposes or for other lawful use within the course and scope of their professional practice. While these databases are only intended to be used for professional use, it is generally possible to access them for non-work-related purposes. This improper use of otherwise legitimate databases raises potential civil and criminal repercussions for the professionals.

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Proposed Regs on Employer Wellness Programs

The vast majority of large employers offer some sort of wellness program, according to a recent survey. We've posted about the risks and benefits of these programs in the past. Now, more than ever, employers with such programs should take note. The EEOC recently issued its highly anticipated proposed regulations amending how the ADA applies to these increasingly popular programs. The proposed rule is designed to provide guidance on the extent to which the ADA permits employers to use incentives to encourage employees to participate in wellness programs. The proposed regulations identify employee health programs, define the nature of a voluntary program, clarify the permissible incentives an employer may offer, and explain the notice and confidentiality requirements.

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My Colleague’s Keeper: Duties of Subordinate Attorneys

Our prior posts in this three part series have explored the benefits of the law firm structure and the responsibilities of supervising attorneys at a firm. In the conclusion of this series, we turn to another integral part of a law firm’s structure: subordinate attorneys and their duties and responsibilities with regard to taking directives from supervisors when ethical questions are implicated.

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Liability to Non-Clients: Rule Put to the Test

The general rule: attorneys are not liable to non-clients. Accordingly, apart from limited exceptions, privity is required to pursue a malpractice claim against an attorney. Despite this rule, plenty of non-clients file suit against attorneys. Are courts receptive to these all-too-common claims? A recent decision reinforces the general principle that privity is a must to proceed against an attorney.

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