Downton Abbey: Handling an employee resignation with class

February 21, 2014 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 2 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

Although Downton Abbey focuses on the upstairs/downstairs dynamics of the fictional aristocratic Crawley familshutterstock_170276813y and their staff, there are still some lessons that contemporary employers may take from the show. For instance, in a recent episode, the staff dealt with the sudden resignation of second footman Alfred, as he was accepted into the Ritz cooking course and decided to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. Just as butler Carson was faced with the prospect of an unexpected, voluntary staff departure, so are many employers in modern society. There are certain steps employers can take to help make such transitions smoother.

1. Two-week notice. Consider whether to include a section addressing employee notices in the handbook. You should beware of making it mandatory for employees to provide advance notice, given that some courts have found this to alter their at-will status and have even interpreted such notice requirements as reciprocal for the employers.

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“You’ve got mail! And it just might be a warrant for your arrest”

February 13, 2014 - by: Andy Tanick 0 COMMENTS
Andy Tanick

You don’t have to try very hard these days to find employment law references in pop culture. Movies and TV shows examine issues of employment discrimination, politicians seem unable to resist the urge to text photos of their private parts to their disgusted subordinates, and professional athletes provide ample fodder for lawyers in desperate search of HR blog topics. But when’s the last time a major news story emerged about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA? Now it is true that HIPAA made the news when it was initially signed into law by President Clinton, because (to greatly oversimplify) it served the laudable goal of guaranteeing continued health insurance coverage for employees who change jobs, without regard to preexisting conditions. But since those initial kudos, publicity about HIPAA has been about as hard to find as a day of calm weather in the American winter of 2013-14. AOL

That all changed last week, when the CEO of AOL, Tim Armstrong, publicly blamed unpopular changes to the company’s 401(k) policy on costs AOL had incurred because of two employees’ “distressed babies.” Specifically, Armstrong stated that AOL had to enact the new policy because, in part, “We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born, that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK  in general. And those are the things that add up into our benefits cost.”  Suddenly, every pundit and commentator in the country became a HIPAA expert.

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Is age just a number? Lessons from Jay Leno’s departure

February 09, 2014 - by: Matt Gilley 1 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

I’m beginning to feel my age. Last night, a good friend celebrated a milestone birthday (I won’t say which milestone, but you can probably guess). His wife asked everyone to come in 1970s garb or as a character from the decade, so I went as J.R. Ewing. Our babysitter (born in 1995) had no idea who J.R. was. Deflated, I sighed and quoted Journey’s classic rock ballad, “The Wheel in the Sky Keeps on Turning.”    shutterstock_96916121

She didn’t get that one, either.

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From Gattaca to GINA: Use of genetic information in workplace is problematic

February 03, 2014 - by: Josh Sudbury 0 COMMENTS
Josh Sudbury

If there is one thing that is universal about the entertainment world, it’s that it makes us all feel inadequate. Yes, with the airbrushed photos and the digital editing techniques, the stars and starlets who grace the covers of magazines and show up on the big screen all seem to have something (or multiple things) that we regular folk just don’t. I’d even bet most of the beautiful people look better rolling out of bed in the morning than I do on my best day.   GeneticEngineering

It’s true that in certain ways we are not all created equal. Each of us has our own genetic make-up, which is little more than the pooling of the genes—both good and bad—from our parents, and their parents, and so on. The combination of these genes determines things like our height, athletic ability, and our predisposition to certain medical conditions such as cancer. read more…

Rah rah ree! Pay our salary!

January 24, 2014 - by: Brian Kurtz 0 COMMENTS
Brian Kurtz

If your Google search for “California cheerleaders illegal” led you here, our apologies for your initial disappointment. But, please, stay a while, because the recently filed class action lawsuit by the Raiderette cheerleaders against the NFL’s Oakland Raiders is instructive as to the types of issues that can lead to wage-and-hour litigation.  Do we have your rapt attention now?  Good, let’s delve.

According to the complaint filed this week in Alameda County, California, the Raiders are in violation of numerous California Labor Code provisions dealing with employer wage-and-hour requirements. The problems appear to originate in the Raiderette Agreement that the football club requires its cheerleaders to sign. According to the agreement, which states that each Raiderette is an at-will employee of the Raiders, a cheerleader earns $125 for every home game. That money allegedly isn’t paid, however, until January when the Raiders’ season is over. This is potentially problematic  for a number of reasons (not least of which is  that the Raiders’ season is generally de facto over in November). read more…

Say it ain’t so, A-Rod?

January 20, 2014 - by: David Kim 0 COMMENTS
David Kim

Back in August 2013, I wrote about the Biogenesis scandal that resulted in the suspension of 13 major and minor league baseball players, including a 211-game suspension for Alex Rodriguez. Well, thanks to A-Rod, this story has become the gift that keeps on giving.gummy bears

On January 11, 2014, Arbitrator Frederic R. Horowitz issued his decision with respect to A-Rod’s grievance challenging his suspension. While the Arbitrator reduced A-Rod’s suspension to 162 games, plus the postseason (the entirety of the 2014 season), the decision largely cuts against A-Rod and is viewed as a big win for MLB. While the decision itself would have remained confidential under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association, it is now a matter of public record as a result of A-Rod’s latest Hail Mary, a federal lawsuit seeking to throw out the arbitrator’s award.

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Punter’s legal claims may be blocked

January 10, 2014 - by: Andy Tanick 3 COMMENTS
Andy Tanick

When they asked me to join the rotation of writers for Ford Harrison’s EntertainHR blog, I was a little nervous. After all, while we Minnesotans make headlines for things like our weather (the high temperature here last Monday was 13 degrees below zero) and electing professional wrestlers to high political office, we haven’t had a juicy HR story up here since Lou Grant paid Mary Richards less than her male colleague Murray because she didn’t have a family to support. And that was fictional. Then it happened, just as my deadline was fast approaching: the Deadspin.com headline, dateline Minneapolis. “I was an NFL Player until I Was Fired by Two Cowards and a Bigot.” Thank you, Chris Kluwe.  As both an employment law attorney and the newly crowned champion of my fantasy football league, I might just be qualified to write about this. For those who haven’t heard, Kluwe was the Minnesota Vikings’ punter for eight years, until the team released him in May 2013. In the fall of 2012, Kluwe had become a media sensation due to his outspoken opposition to a proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would have defined marriage as “only a union of one man and one woman.” Many observers gave Kluwe part of the credit for the eventual defeat of that proposed constitutional amendment, which would have prevented the Minnesota legislature from legalizing same-sex marriage. Just a few months later, the legislature–encouraged by the defeat of the proposed constitutional amendment–did just that.football Now, Kluwe claims the Vikings “fired” him because of the allegedly homophobic views of his Special Teams Coach (the “bigot”) and the alleged failure of his Head Coach and General Manager (the “two cowards”) to stand up to those views. To nobody’s surprise, he has also announced that he’s hired a lawyer. And pundits, fans, and observers everywhere are asking the same question: “Is Kluwe going to sue the Vikings?” While at first glance it certainly seems like Kluwe’s claims, if proven, would support some claim under federal or state law, it’s actually not all that clear. Let’s take a look at the most likely legal theories. Discrimination? Not really. Kluwe doesn’t claim that the Vikings cut him because he belongs to any protected class. He doesn’t profess to be gay himself–indeed, he has stated that he is not, and his wife would likely corroborate that. A more likely legal theory would be retaliation. State and federal discrimination laws prohibit employers from taking adverse action against an employee because the employee engaged in “protected activity.” Protected activity in this context means either opposing a practice believed to violate those same discrimination laws, or participating in an employment discrimination proceeding. Kluwe never did the latter, so he would have to prove the former: that the Vikings released him because he opposed a practice prohibited under state or federal discrimination laws. As Kluwe describes it himself, however, the Vikings replaced him because he supported marriage equality, not because he opposed anything prohibited by anti-discrimination laws. Certainly, by supporting same-sex marriage, Kluwe was implicitly opposing the state law that, at the time, banned such unions. But opposing an existing law that some believe to be discriminatory isn’t really the same as opposing a practice or act that is specifically forbidden by civil rights laws, e.g., employment discrimination, sexual harassment, failing to accommodate a disabled employee, etc. What about Kluwe’s right to free speech, you may ask. The Vikings couldn’t fire the man just for speaking his mind on a highly charged political issue, could they? Well, actually, yes, they could.  Despite what TV and radio pundits might think, the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech doesn’t apply to private employers such as a football team. While the law protects some types of speech, such as organizing a union, most speech by private employees is not protected. Indeed, exercising their nonexistent right to “free speech” has been the downfall of many employees. Chris Kluwe, of course, was not a typical “at will” employee; as an NFL player, he belonged to a union, and it’s possible (albeit unlikely) that his union’s collective bargaining agreement protects players from being released due to their political statements. But even if that were the case, Kluwe would probably have to pursue his claim initially through a union grievance, not a lawsuit. Plaintiff’s employment lawyers, of course, are nothing if not creative, and win or lose, Kluwe’s case would provide his lawyer with a lot of irresistible free publicity. And many people would find it objectionable if the Vikings really did let Kluwe go because of his political views. But being a victim of an unfair employment practice, no matter how troubling, doesn’t necessarily translate into having an actionable legal claim. So while Chris Kluwe’s situation may have saved this new blogger from having to write about Minnesota weather for the time being, when it comes to legal action, Kluwe may be forced to … punt.

Steve Jobs, ‘product guys’ and ‘sales guys,’ and your payroll

January 05, 2014 - by: Matt Gilley 0 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

I have a complicated relationship with thick biographies. Intellectually, I know I should sit there and wade my way through the thick prose devoted to men and women of great consequence. In a way, it’s like broccoli: “Go on, eat it – it’ll be good for you, and what do you mean, ‘I’m not hungry’?”  Quick fiction is so much more, well … fun. I didn’t have to fight that internal dialogue when I read Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs. I’ve been an Apple consumer for years: My folks bought an Apple II-E in the early ’80s and it stuck with us through thick and thin for the next 15 years. I’m writing this column on a MacBook. Apple fandom, however, is no key to appreciating Isaacson’s masterful treatment of Steve Jobs. Jobs, as you almost certainly know, was a brilliant, complicated, interesting, and often horrifying figure. His polymath and autodidactic approach to life guarantees that just about anyone can take a nugget of something from his biography, and personnel managers are no different. read more…

Categories: Books / Management / Matt Gilley

Robertson a sitting duck after controversial quotes released

December 19, 2013 - by: Josh Sudbury 0 COMMENTS
Josh Sudbury

Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson and his family are most likely not enjoying a Happy Happy Happy Holiday after his recent GQ interview hit newsstands. In the interview, Robertson is quoted as saying:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

When asked what he considered sinful, Robertson elaborated:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men . . . .”

[For greater context and to get Robertson's full quotes on the subject, I encourage you to read the entire GQ article, which you can find here.]

In response, A&E Networks put the eldest Robertson on “indefinite hiatus” from filming, issuing a statement saying the network is “extremely disappointed” to read Robertson’s comments, which A&E notes “are based on his own personal beliefs and not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty.”

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“I meant, are you in here for drugs?”

December 16, 2013 - by: David Kim 0 COMMENTS
David Kim

Drugs are no laughing matter, except of course when it comes to the referenced exchange between Charlie Sheen’s character and Jeannie Bueller in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Yet, when it comes to our celebrity news cycle, drug use is as prevalent as steroid use has become in baseball.

The latest scandal involves Nigella Lawson, most well known as a food writer and television personality for a variety of cooking shows, including the currently running The Taste on ABC. Now, I’m neither a foodie nor a reality TV junkie. In fact, the only reality TV shows I watch are Top Chef, where half the time I have no idea what ingredients they are referring to, and Shark Tank, because I find it entertaining when Mr. Wonderful blasts an entrepreneur’s terrible business idea. And while I had never heard of The Taste, and barely knew of Nigella Lawson, the recent headlines involving her life have come front and center and have taken on a soap opera-ish feel.

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