Caroline J. Berdzik

All articles by Caroline J. Berdzik

 

What Does Daylight Saving Mean to Employers

At 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 11, 2018, people across the United States will set their clocks forward one hour to begin Daylight Saving Time (DST). The change is intended to align the average workday more closely with the hours that the sun is visible, which studies have shown to cut energy consumption, reduce instances of seasonal affective disorder, and even boost regional economies. Often perceived as a holdover from a simpler and more agrarian U.S. culture, the practice actually enamors some contemporary lawmakers: the Energy Policy Act of 2005 actually expanded DST by four weeks.  

Electronic Notifications for Affidavits of Merit?

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently declined to dismiss a medical malpractice case for an attorney’s failure to file a timely affidavit of merit (AOM). The court based its decision in large part on the trial court’s failure to schedule a preliminary conference (called a "Ferreira" conference in NJ) to discuss the sufficiency of the AOM. The court further stated that it would order improvements to the courts’ automated case management system to ensure the electronic notification of both the AOM filing obligation and the scheduling of such Ferreira conferences.   

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.  

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.  

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.  

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.  

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.  

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.  

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.  

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.  

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.  

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.  

Alternative Litigation Financing Sparks Malpractice Claim

A modern-day offshoot of the contingency fee arrangement is "alternative litigation financing." Also known as third-party litigation financing, A.L.F. is the practice of making cash advances, usually to a litigant, to be repaid from the proceeds from the litigation. There is plenty of room for debate the pros and cons of this developing trend. Supporters may argue that this practice allows an injured plaintiff to take an “advance” on an anticipated recovery to address financial hardship before reaching a settlement or verdict. This is particularly useful for injured plaintiffs who cannot return to work. But attorneys associated with litigation financing may be susceptible to claims when something goes awry.  

Workplace Bullying: More than a Dolphins’ Problem

Thanks to the developing news regarding the Miami Dolphins, workplace bullying has generated national attention. There has been considerable press of late concerning school bullying and its impact on children but it is now clearer than ever that in some environments, bullying can exist in the workplace and can cause serious damage to professionals and their employers.  

Employee Fired for “Private” Facebook Post

Plaintiff Deborah Ehling thought she could comment freely on Facebook because she limited her posts to a restricted group of her “friends” and her posts were not available to the general public. She was wrong. When her employer learned of her controversial posts and terminated her, she thought she had recourse. She was wrong. In an important ruling for employers, the District Court of New Jersey recently dismissed Ehling v. Monmouth-Ocean Hospital Service Corp., et al., (August 20, 2013). This case put to the test the Federal Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2701-11 (“SCA”) as applied to social media content in the workplace.  

JK Rowling’s Secret Revealed by her Attorney

A prominent British law firm recently admitted that it was responsible for leaking JK Rowling’s pen name in her new mystery novel. The venerable author of the Harry Potter series intended to wear an invisibility cloak of her own, releasing her latest work - the Cuckoo’s Calling - under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Rowling reportedly hoped to “publish without hype or expectation” that would accompany her true identity. But the anonymity did not last long thanks to her attorney’s blunder at a cocktail party.  

Anatomy of a Ponzi Scheme in a Post-Madoff World

The Ponzi scheme expired with the arrest of Bernie Madoff, right? Absolutely not. Ponzi schemes are alive and well. Many of these scams are reported but presumably many go unnoticed as criminals target the unsuspecting of millions. Apparently, Madoff’s 2008 arrest did little to dissuade others from engaging in similar crimes, although on a lesser scale. According to the SEC, which compiles Ponzi scheme data, these crimes continue at a disheartening rate.  

A Case Study for Employers on Whistleblower Laws

Whistleblower laws are generally designed to prohibit employers from taking retaliatory action against an employee because the employee engages in protected conduct. For example, an employer may not retaliate against an employee for disclosing the employer’s violation of laws or ethics, providing testimony about the employer, or refusing to engage in inappropriate conduct. In a recent decision, the New Jersey Superior Court considered whether an employee’s reliance upon a professional code of ethics not applicable to his employer is sufficient to support a claim under…  

The Yahoo! Decision: Telecommuting Issues Facing All Employers

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer recently made headlines for doing away with the company’s telecommuting policy and requiring all employees to report for work at their respective offices. Reportedly, Yahoo! was suffering from “productivity” issues with many of its employees who were working from home. While employee productivity is always of paramount importance to employers, telecommuting also poses a variety of legal risks that can similarly affect an employer’s bottom line. Some of the most common legal issues facing employers will be addressed here.