Category Archives: Employment Practices Liability

What is Work? New Definitions for the New Year

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), employees are entitled to compensation for “hours worked.” However, what is considered compensable work time is a contentious topic for many employers. A recent decision by the Supreme Court is likely to help clarify the test for compensable work under the FLSA and effectively end much of the current litigation faced by employers surrounding back wages and overtime pay. This month, in a rare unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that employees’ time spent waiting for and undergoing security screenings is not compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

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NLRB: Limiting Limits on Employee E-mails

If you frequent Professional Liability Matters than you’ve heard us rant about the importance of up-to-date computer use policies. An employee’s use of workplace computers and other company provided devices may trigger employer liability. As a result, employers must be careful to tailor policies that protect the employer but don’t go too far. It may be tempting for an employer to consider an outright ban of non-work related e-mail use by employees. Tempting, maybe, but improper according to the NLRB. The NLRB’s recent decision very well could have major implications on an employer’s right to restrict employee e-mail communications.

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Tis the Season of Gift Giving (Policies)

Whether it’s a fruit basket from a vendor or an employee gift exchange, it’s that time of year when the approaching holidays can stir up a frenzy of gift giving in the office. Many companies find themselves struggling to define what is appropriate, fair and festive when it comes to holiday gift giving. Certainly no one wants to be a Grinch, but creating a clear gift policy ahead of time is an easy way to avoid controversy and liability. Consider the following tips when creating a company gift policy.

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The Dangers of Using Social Media in Hiring

Hiring a new employee is a major investment. Not surprisingly, many professionals utilize social media to screen potential candidates prior to making a hiring decision. Social media can help to confirm a candidate’s professional qualifications and provide insight whether the candidate is a good fit. At the same time, some employers may use social media to identify potential reasons to reject a candidate, such as posting compromising photographs or making inappropriate statements. Employers may feel justified in disqualifying a candidate based on their social media activity; however, doing so for the wrong reasons could violate a candidate’s rights and give rise to liability.

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Restricting Employee Online Activity? Be Careful

Professionals take great pains to develop a positive reputation. Consequently, like all employers, many professionals monitor employee online activity to ensure that it adheres to internal policies and ethical standards. At times, employers may be justified, or even expected, to take action to limit online activity, such as when an employee makes defamatory statements that could be attributed to the employer. On the other hand, however, employers must take care not to infringe upon an employee’s statutory rights to voice legitimate criticism of their employer or to engage in activity to improve the circumstances of their employment. Doing so could violate federal labor laws. Just ask the NLRB.

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Does the “Private” E-mail Exist?

Innovations in technology have blurred the lines between work and private life. Many professionals regularly utilize personal devices, such as smart phones and tablets, while in the office, and can likewise access company files electronically through work-issued computers while at home. Given the lack of a bright-line distinction between that which is work and that which is private, employees may be tempted to engage in conduct on personal accounts or devices that would otherwise be clearly prohibited in the office.

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Company Image Policy Leads to Discrimination Claim

Successful professionals promote values of cultural diversity, inclusion, and teamwork. However, occasionally a company policy of general application may have the unintended consequence of infringing on the religious practices of individual employees. Professional employers must tread cautiously when such a situation arises. Unintended discrimination may nevertheless violate civil rights laws protecting religious liberty.

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Yellow Flag: Employers Need to Exercise Caution When Disciplining Employees for Off-Duty Conduct

NFL star Ray Rice was the subject of a recent media storm when he was suspended by the NFL due to allegations of domestic violence. Many have questioned the response by the NFL and the Ravens' ownership’s to the Rice saga. This incident provides an opportune time to consider an employer’s obligations when it comes to an employee’s non-work related misconduct and underscores the debate over public and professional spheres. Can an employer discharge an employee for private conduct that has nothing to do with the job? How can an employer discipline an employee for conduct outside of the workplace without running the risk of suit?

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Employer Liability for Employee’s Online Activity

Many employers have made great strides in adapting to the risks posed by online activity. Some maintain employee handbooks with social media and computer use policies. Others provide training and many monitor employee use of employer-provided devices. But risks still remain. Take, for example, the recent Indiana appellate decision regarding potential employer liability for an employee’s online conduct.

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Employer Liability for Conduct of Non-Employees

Part of running a successful professional practice involves fostering a work environment that is free from harassment. Federal law protects employees from harassment in the workplace, which becomes unlawful where the conduct is so pervasive as to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Many employers train employees about the consequences of harassment and have policies to handle employees who violate the rules. However, managing the conduct of employees is not necessarily sufficient to prevent liability.

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