Elf: one too many Christmas spirits

December 19, 2014 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 1 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

With Christmas just around the corner, my family and I have begun our yearly ritual of re-watching our favorite holiday films. At the top of the list is a relatively newer addition, Elf.  The comedy stars Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human who crawls into Santa’s sack and ends up being raised by Papa Elf at the North Pole. After learning that he is actually human rather than an elf, Buddy decides to travel to New York to find his biological father, who works at a children’s book company and happens to be on the Naughty List. Much of the film’s comedy and charm comes from Buddy’s child-like innocence and genuine holiday cheer as he tries to navigate the cynical world of New York City. shutterstock_236981068At his father’s office, this same innocence leads Buddy to mistake a mail room worker’s whiskey for delicious maple syrup. As you can imagine, a six-foot tall elf can cause quite a ruckus in the workplace after having too many spirits.

Employers are well aware that illicit drug use and alcohol abuse can be costly in the workplace. Drug-free workplace programs can be powerful tools in spreading prevention messages and intervening early with those who have already begun to use drugs. For many individuals, especially those who may deny that their use of drugs is problematic, workplace-based programs can be a critical step along the road to treatment and recovery. Every workplace is different, and drug-free workplace programs should be tailored to match a company’s individual needs. Here are some general recommendations for such programs: read more…

The naked truth about nude celebrities in your workplace

November 17, 2014 - by: Andy Tanick 2 COMMENTS
Andy Tanick

Celebrities lately seem to be having a hard time keeping their clothes on.

Whether it’s one of the Kardashian sisters baring her bottom or Keira Knightley baring her bosom, you can hardly look at any social media site these days without being assaulted by celebrities in various degrees of naked-idity, as Radar O’Reilly once called it. While the exhibitionism has recently arisen mainly among the ranks of female celebrities, there has been no shortage of male body parts on display in recent years, what with NFL quarterbacks, New York politicians, and others seemingly unable to resist the urge to use their smart phones to do dumb things.  NSFW

All of which raises an interesting employment law issue: How does a company’s policy against sexual harassment deal with conversations that employees might have about current events, when those events can at times be sexually charged? If an employee forwards the Kardashian photo to a co-worker, is he violating the policy? What if he merely references the photo as further proof (as if we needed it) that nothing Kardashian-related has any redeeming social value? What if several coworkers engage in a spirited intellectual debate about the statement of female empowerment that Knightley claims she was making with her revealing photo?

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Halloween tips to avoid a total nightmare

October 27, 2014 - by: Josh Sudbury 2 COMMENTS
Josh Sudbury

It’s that time of year again. Time for Halloween and all the candy, cheesy ghost stories, and inappropriate costumes that come with it. While Halloween can be fun and exciting, the fallout for employers can be all fright.

Office Parties. While workplace costume parties can lighten the mood in the office, employers should be proactive in dealing with the potential issues that can arise.

shutterstock_157867430First and foremost, employers should communicate simple and clear rules or guidelines to their employees in advance of any party. Employees should be reminded that professionalism is still expected of them at work, both in their conduct and their costumes. This is especially important if your employees will interact with customers during the workday, as an offensive or inappropriate costume could cause more than just internal employee relations issues. Employers should give their employees examples of what is potentially inappropriate, so that there is no guesswork involved for the employee.

Inappropriate costumes can include those costumes that reveal too much skin or, depending the type of workplace you operate, those that have the potential to compromise safety. This category can also include costumes that touch on hot-button political or social topics, such as an employee lampooning a high-profile political figure or dressing as a nun or priest. While some employees may be unaffected by these costumes, employers must be sensitive to how all their employees may deal with the notions raised by such costumes. read more…

Breaking Bad: Disciplining employees for off-duty conduct

October 06, 2014 - by: Marilyn Moran 1 COMMENTS
Marilyn Moran

You can hardly get through your morning coffee these days without seeing another story about some athlete, model, or actor who abused his wife, trashed her Beverly Hills hotel room, or went all shutterstock_180348752Archie Bunker in a racist Twitter rampage. Usually, high-profile celebrities are bound by employment contracts that require strict adherence to an impeccable standard of personal conduct. But what can the average employer do if Walter White, the usually quiet and docile chemist with a spotless work history, decides to break bad over the weekend, uses his RV for a meth lab, and has his mug shot splashed all over the news? Like so many legal questions, the answer is “it depends.”

Generally, under the at-will doctrine, employees can be fired for any reason, or no reason at all, as long as the reason is not illegal. Unfortunately, deciphering whether a reason is “legal” or “illegal”  is not as clear as Walter’s blue crystal. Obviously, it is illegal to discipline or terminate an employee based on the employee’s race, religion, or sex, but most off-duty conduct lies somewhere in the gray area. Until recently, most employers did not give a second thought before disciplining an employee for off-duty criminal conduct, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has loudly condemned the practice. According to the EEOC, some racial minorities are disproportionately more likely to be arrested or convicted of criminal offenses than others, so the agency is critical of employment policies that universally disadvantage applicants or employees based on past criminal conduct.  As a result, the safest bet for disciplining employees for off-duty conduct is to focus on the job-related consequences of the behavior, rather than the behavior itself.

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Some extra points about fantasy football and your workplace

September 15, 2014 - by: Andy Tanick 2 COMMENTS
Andy Tanick

Although the actual games have been overshadowed lately by the off-the-field misbehavior of some of the players, the NFL season opened last week. And if you listened closely enough, you could almost hear HR managers and small business owners across the country yelling at their employees, “Get off your fantasy football website and get back to work!”shutterstock_134095112

Like college basketball’s March Madness, fantasy football’s massive popularity arises in large part from the fact that it gives zealots and non-enthusiasts alike a chance to “get in on the action,” and not just enjoy a sporting event but also win bragging rights over all of their friends. Indeed, anyone who has ever participated in either endeavor is sure to have bitter memories of losing the NCAA pool to someone who picked teams based on uniform colors or mascot cuteness, or losing a fantasy football championship to someone who couldn’t pronounce Tim Biakabatuka’s name if his life depended on it. Let’s just say, there is a certain amount of luck involved (except when I win).

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HR sports roundup: football, futbol, and fireworks

July 02, 2014 - by: Brian Kurtz 0 COMMENTS
Brian Kurtz

As we head into the July 4 weekend, your EntertainHR sports reporters cover America’s favorite pastime–litigation!

The women who cheer football got a boost this week when the Oakland Raiders announced they would pay their Raiderettes the California minimum wage of $9 per hour beginning this coming season.  This blog first covered the story back in January when the lawsuit was filed. football, futbol, fireworksWe would not be surprised to see similar lawsuits from other cheerleading squads, particularly in California or other states with employee-friendly labor laws. The attorneys for the Raiderettes who filed the lawsuit will continue to pursue their action against the team. They seek back pay and attorneys’ fees for the alleged violations from past seasons.

The women who play football have filed a lawsuit of their own. A class of current and former players in the Lingerie Football League–now the Legends Football League–have sued the league in Los Angeles superior court for a litany of wage and hour violations based on the league’s alleged misclassification of them as independent contractors and not employees. Employee misclassification is a hot topic in employment law and has been the reason for a blitz of wage and hour class actions in recent years. The U.S. Department of Labor has devoted an entire section of its website to the topic.

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With pals like this, who needs enemies?

May 12, 2014 - by: Andy Tanick 2 COMMENTS
Andy Tanick

For those entrepreneurs who have struck it rich thanks to the Internet, Al Gore’s invention has been a wonderful thing. But a news story last week illustrated that the Internet also can cause a lot of headaches–even for the same people whose children and grandchildren may never have to work a day in their lives because of the worldwide wealth created by the worldwide web.

This story comes to us courtesy of the Internet payment processing giant, Paypal. According to Paypal, the company’s former director of strategy, Rakesh “Rocky” Agrawal, responded to anshutterstock_166165568 offer to take on a new role at the company last week by “choosing to turn a career-defining moment into career-destroying infamy.” Specifically, “Rocky” responded to the offer by inexplicably posting a series of angry, profane, and bizarrely nonsensical tweets on Twitter. Those tweets that were actually comprehensible included suggestions that Paypal executives perform physically impossible feats that best not be described here. Those tweets that were less decipherable included messages such as, and we quote, “jjjjj 999 I’mk nokkkkkiikkknokkkkkiikkkkkkjjnmo88iok99okkoolooolo.” Rocky has since claimed that his tweets were meant to be private (oh, THAT explains it) and has apologized, but Paypal isn’t buying what he is selling–probably even if he offers to accept payment via Paypal.

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Clip[pers] his tongue!

April 28, 2014 - by: Josh Sudbury 0 COMMENTS
Josh Sudbury

This past week the biggest story in the NBA was not the excitement of the first round of the playoffs, but the comments L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling allegedly made to his girlfriend. In an audiotape released Friday by TMZ, a man (allegedly Sterling) is heard chastising his girlfriend for associating with black people and bringing them to his team’s games.  ThatsRacist Several authors and bloggers have already written about the deplorable worldview espoused by the man in the tape alleged to be Sterling so I won’t rehash the obvious. Indeed, the audio reveals personal views one might expect to be held by resisters of the civil rights movement, but not by that of the owner of an NBA franchise 50 years after the passage of Title VII. But a different lesson about our times can be learned from the incident, which concerns the prevalence of audio and video records in today’s world. In our technology-laden society, every smart phone doubles as a camera, tape recorder, video camera, word processor, etc. You name it, and your phone—and your employees’ phones—can probably do it, including secretly recording conversations between themselves and supervisors. On top of that, it takes almost zero technical savvy for someone to make a recording and post it to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, or any number of social media sites instantaneously. The majority of states permit the secret recording of conversations so long as at least one party to the conversation consents to the recording. In those states, such an audio recording could wind up as evidence against the company in court or before a government agency. In the Clippers’ case, it’s the owner himself who is alleged to have made the statements. So, it’s obvious that his statements reflect directly on the organization. But would the result be any better if one of your mid-level supervisors was caught on tape making an off-color joke or sexually charged comment about another employee? The answer is simply no. In addition to the potential liability that may arise from such statements in a discrimination or harassment lawsuit, the company almost certainly would lose the verdict in the court of public opinion. All hope is not lost, however. Employers can minimize the potential for such occurrences by committing to provide anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training for their managers on at least an annual basis. You should also remain in contact with your workforce and get to know your managers. Many times, when a manager is caught on tape making these kinds of statements, it isn’t the first time. Being present in the workplace will help you identify potential bad apples as well as remind your employees to be on guard because their words and actions are being noticed. Finally, employers can adopt and enforce policies prohibiting employees from making secret records in the workplace. Such policies help foster open communications in the workplace and protect confidential or trade secret information. Employers, however, would be wise to consult with outside counsel before implementing or enforcing such a policy to ensure it doesn’t encroach on employee rights. In the hopefully unlikely event you have an employee who sympathizes with Mr. Sterling’s alleged views, nothing short of a muzzle may be appropriate.

If Bill Cosby is wearing a garish sweater, this must be 1980s TV!

March 27, 2014 - by: Andy Tanick 0 COMMENTS
Andy Tanick

A few weeks ago, I saw a news story about how the last of the baby boomers are turning 50 in 2014. “Wow, that’s old,” I thought, until I realized that I’m 53. Then, as if I needed any further reminders of my elder statesmanship, one of the legal assistants in our office, a 20-something, accused me of “making up” the fact that there used to be a popular singer named Bing. Sigh. (And for the record, he was popular way before my time.)  CosbySweater

That’s it, I decided. Time for a blog post about popular culture from an era that none of those rascally whippersnappers will even remember: the 1980s.  That’ll teach ‘em not to be so darn … er, young. So charge up your brick-sized cellular phone, press “play” and “record” simultaneously on your 150-pound manually-operated VCR, and run your comb through that mullet: We’re going to take a spin through “Employment Law in1980s TV-Land.”

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Selection show: seeding literature’s worst HR nightmares

March 23, 2014 - by: Matt Gilley 6 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

March Madness always brings out our need to sort, rank, and compare. Personnel managers need not be any different and, since I’m nominally in charge of bringing literature to the discussion here and since we trace this blog’s heritage to speculating on Michael Scott’s employment law sins in The Office, let’s begin filling a bracket with the worst HR nightmares in literary history.   Brackets

We should have fertile territory. Literature, after all, is nothing but a retelling of human foibles. HR is nothing if not managing human foibles. I defy any of you to convince me that you don’t draw parallels to your coworkers when you’re making your way through a novel on the evenings and weekends.

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