Consider a few scenarios:

  • An employee has been injured on the job and unexpectedly fails a post-accident drug test, testing positive for opioids. What do you do?
  • An employee comes into your office, closes the door, and confides in you that she is battling an addiction to opioids and needs help. What policies apply and laws come into play?
  • An employee is increasingly absent from work, appears drowsy and inattentive when he is working, and his performance is slipping. You’ve issued a few verbal disciplinary warnings and have decided it is time for the employee to go, but when you go to put the “pink slip” in the employee’s locker, you find a current prescription for pain killers prescribed to the employee. Do you fire him?
  • A candidate for employment submits an application, has impressive credentials, has relevant job experience and hits a home run at her interview. You make a conditional job offer subject to the candidate passing a comprehensive background check, which turns up a drug possession conviction. You raise the issue with the candidate, who discloses that she had a drug dependency addiction in the past but is clean now and still attending support group meetings to stay clean. Do you hire her?

These are just a few examples of how employers and the workplace can be affected by the opioid crisis. Just about everyone in this day and age has been touched by the opioid epidemic or knows someone who has. Employers similarly are not immune to this sad and sobering reality. The opioid crisis touches many employment law issues, policies and procedures, including background checks, drug testing, medical leave laws, employee benefits and counseling, social media and employee speech, employee privacy and HIPAA, and disability discrimination and accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Continue Reading Opioids, Employees, and Accommodations: an Employer’s Primer on Confronting the Crisis

What is a “hostile work environment?”

This seemingly straightforward three-word phrase has vexed employers, in-house counsel, and HR professionals alike when dealing with employee internal grievances of discrimination and harassment. It’s easy to discipline employees engaged in repetitive discriminatory or harassing behavior in the workplace.

More troublesome for employers, however, is the single racial slur or isolated incident of harassment, which can leave HR directors in search of legal guidance.

Continue Reading Can One Workplace Incident Create a Hostile Work Environment?

The recent turmoil, investigation and controversy surrounding President Donald Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey has thrust the issue of wiretapping into the public and political spotlight. “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!,” President Trump tweeted on May 12, 2017, suggesting that “tapes” of his private conversations with Director Comey might exist. Most recently, the White House, responding to bipartisan criticism, has been pressed to divulge whether there really are any secret recordings of the president’s private conversations with the former FBI Director. Time will tell whether the Trump Administration comes clean and whether any recordings actually do exist (and, if so, what the implications might be).

All of this commotion prompted me to think about wiretapping in the workplace and, specifically, the issue of audio recordings or, as President Trump has expressed, “tapes” of conversations secretly recorded by an employer of its employees. What types of audio or tape recordings are legally permitted in the employment environment?

Continue Reading Wiretapping in the Workplace

To say that Facebook and social media have complicated the relationship between employer and employee and, specifically, what an employee can say or do with respect to his/her work, is an understatement. Social media has added a new dimension to analyzing the intersection between employee speech and protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act (the “NLRA”), and the level of protected activity has reached a new low.

A new line has been drawn in the sand, and the “outer-bounds of protected, union-related” activity has been reestablished by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In National Labor Relations Board v. Pier Sixty, LLC,  the Second Circuit was tasked with the challenge of determining to what extent the NLRA protects an employee’s comments on social media and the point at which an employee’s conduct is so “opprobrious” (i.e. abusive, pejorative, obscene, libelous) as to lose the NLRA’s protection.

In laymen’s terms, the question is: How badly can an employee behave and still keep his job if the employee’s behavior is at least loosely tethered to union-related activity? The answer, as explained below, is very badly.

Continue Reading Say What? The Second Circuit Establishes a New “Outer-Bounds” Limit to Protected Employee Speech

When was the last time you clicked a box indicating your agreement to terms of service without actually reading, let alone understanding, the terms and conditions of service? The use of “clickwrap” whereby users of web-based applications memorialize their acceptance of legal agreements by clicking something, like a check box, is commonplace in the digital world. In the employment arena, however, the use of such web-based platforms and click-to-accept legal agreements is relatively new. Still, courts have not hesitated to apply traditional principles of contract law to these agreements and enforce them against unsuspecting and often oblivious employees, so long as the clickwrap agreements are conspicuously displayed on the web-based platform and reasonably communicate the employer’s terms to its employees.

Continue Reading Read Before You Click: The Enforcement of Web-Based Restrictive Covenants and Arbitration Agreements Against Employees

Despite increased efforts to curb it, sexual harassment in the workplace hasn’t gone away. In fact, news reports of allegations of sexual harassment and lewd behavior lodged against media mogul Bill O’Reilly at Fox News and, separately, against transportation network company Uber, have shined a spotlight on the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the workplace. As to O’Reilly, several complaints were raised and settled over several years by Fox News before the company asked O’Reilly to leave the network. With respect to Uber, the company allegedly swept “under the rug” several separate claims of sexual harassment made against a particular manager because the manager was a “high performer.” The sad truisms revealed by both the Uber and O’Reilly matters, clearly, are that money talks and rules can be bent (if not broken) for star performers. But there is a silver lining, as important lessons about the correction and prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace can be learned from these two publicly aired situations involving sex discrimination in the workplace.

Continue Reading Successful Strategies for Preventing and Defending Claims of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

“We must consider what this country has become in deciding what [a statute] has reserved.” So wrote Judge Richard Posner, Circuit Judge of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, quoting Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416, 433-34 (1920), in his concurring opinion of the 7th Circuit’s landmark ruling that a person who alleges employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has put forth a case of sex discrimination under Title VII. That’s right. It finally happened.

On April 4, 2017, in the matter of Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, No. 15-1720 (7th Cir. Apr. 4, 2017), the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from discrimination on the basis of their sex, extends the same protections to employees on the basis of their sexual orientation. The courthouse doors, once closed to homosexual or bisexual employees seeking relief from discrimination under Title VII, have opened. Some might call it judicial activism. Others might call it common sense. Either way, the Title VII landscape has shifted.

Continue Reading Sex Discrimination Includes Sexual Orientation Says the 7th Circuit

An individual who is out of work in New Jersey may qualify for unemployment insurance benefits through the state government. The State of New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development Unemployment Compensation Office is responsible for processing benefit requests and determining whether a former employee is eligible to receive benefits.

Continue Reading Out-of-Work Employees Can Seek Unemployment Compensation Benefits in New Jersey

Several months ago, I blogged about the Rodriguez v. Raymours Furniture Co., 436 N.J. Super. 305 (Super. Ct. 2014)case. The case addressed an important issue – whether or not an employee’s could enter an agreement to shorten the statute of limitations period from 2 years to six months to assert an employment discrimination claim pursuant to New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD). Yesterday, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the statute of limitations period could not be reduced by agreement. Continue Reading NJ Supreme Court Says Employees Can’t Agree to Shorten Statute of Limitations

Last week, former University of Southern California Head Football Coach Steve Sarkisian filed a 31-page lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against his former employer. The lawsuit alleges that Coach Sarkisian’s employment was unlawfully terminated. Furthermore, Coach Sakisian alleges that USC discriminated against him by not making a reasonable accommodation to address his disability – alcoholism. The former USC coach is seeking damages in excess of $30,000,000, plus the reinstatement of his employment.

Coach Sarkisian’s employment with USC was terminated on October 12, 2015, after taking an indefinite leave of absence. Coach Sarkisian took this leave of absence in order to seek treatment for alcoholism.

Alcoholism is a recognized disability under both California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHH) and the federal American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees with disabilities that limit a major life activity. Employers are required to make “reasonable” accommodations in order to help the disabled employee overcome their recognized disability. Often Courts find that an accommodation is unreasonable if it substantially disrupts the employer’s business practice or requires an alteration to any essential job responsibilities.

Continue Reading Analyzing Coach Steve Sarkisian’s Employment Discrimination Lawsuit Against USC