Looking for the perfect gift for your employees this holiday season? Consider giving the gift of feedback (although turkeys and bonuses are certainly good, too!). An overwhelming amount of information has been published on the benefits of feedback in the workplace in recent years. Studies consistently show that employees crave more, real-time feedback and have become dissatisfied with the traditional annual review process.
Under the National Labor Relations Act, the National Labor Relations Board (the Board) has jurisdiction over the process by which employees decide whether to select union representation for their workplace. The Board will get involved in response to a petition filed by an employer or union requesting it to conduct a secret ballot election in which the employees vote for or against representation by a particular union. To encourage stability in labor relations and to avoid a merry-go-round on the question of whether employees wish to be represented by a union, the Board has established various rules setting forth the circumstances under which it will or will not conduct an election. The Election Year Bar Rule provides that the Board will not conduct an election in the same bargaining unit within one year of a previous election. The Contract Bar Rule provides that a written, signed collective bargaining agreement with an effective date will prevent the holding of an election for the duration of that agreement or up to three years; whichever time period is shorter.
As a result of numerous security issues in this day and age, employers are looking into new technological ways to counteract security risks. One such way is the use of various types of employee biometric data to confirm the identity of an individual before giving him access to the physical or intellectual property of the employer. The obvious advantages to employers are that this data is unique to the known/approved individual and may not be duplicated. The mandatory use of such data, however, creates another, non-security-related legal issue for employers.
Employers defend harassment claims not involving a loss of tangible employment benefits (i.e., hiring/firing, promotion, reassignment, changes in benefits) with a two-prong defense. First, they show that they exercised reasonable care to avoid such conduct and eliminate it if it occurs (an effective policy and prompt corrective action). Second, employers show that the complaining employee failed to act with reasonable care to take advantage of the policy. Employers are successful in obtaining summary judgments in such scenarios where the employee flounders on the second prong by either totally failing to use the policy or doing so belatedly – even as short as two to four months after the incident occurred. Complaining employees try to keep their claims alive, often by claiming that their failure to promptly invoke the harassment policy was not unreasonable. A generalized fear of retaliation, unsupported by specific evidence, has not carried the day for employees, and employers have successfully disposed of such cases on summary judgment.
Last week, the Third Circuit released an opinion in Minarsky v. Susquehanna County, et al., in which it reversed the district court’s award of summary judgment to Susquehanna County and remanded the case for a jury trial on the merits. What is significant about this opinion is the impact that the #MeToo movement has seemingly had on the decision. In a page-long footnote, the Court discusses the #MeToo movement, the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the workplace, and comments on why sexual harassment victims may not, even with proper mechanisms in place, reasonably be willing to report harassment.
On June 8, 2018, the Business Liability Protection Act (a.k.a “the Parking Lot Gun Bill”) goes into effect and creates a series of new standards which prohibit employers from maintaining or establishing “no firearms” policies in vehicles on company-owned parking lots and property where vehicles are parked.
Despite the “#MeToo” Movement, it’s still not uncommon for workers to make comments concerning a co-worker’s sexual practices. Nor is it uncommon for employers to successfully defeat sexual harassment claims based on such conduct by citing the well-established case law that discrimination statutes do not mandate a pristine work environment – shop-talk is not actionable.
Personnel policies are designed to inform employees of the types of conduct that are acceptable or unacceptable. They, obviously, can only give a general overview and are subject to interpretation and application by the employer on a case-by-case basis. A recent decision arising out of a Tweet by a Vice President of Human Resources shows that such policies will be strictly construed against employers in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court recently issued an opinion, which, while arising in the unemployment compensation arena, may have broader implications for today’s contingent workforce. In Lowman v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (January 24, 2018), the Court was called upon to decide whether a claimant, who had been laid off from his job as a behavioral health specialist, engaged in self-employment by becoming a driver for Uber. To perform his duties for Uber, the Claimant used his own phone and car, paid for all related expenses (fuel and maintenance), had to have insurance, a driver’s license, and vehicle registration, set his own hours, could refuse assignments, and could drive for others. Additionally, he earned approximately $350 per week, showing a frequent and prolonged relationship with Uber—not occasional and limited to earning some extra money on the side.