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.
I was recently asked if an employer may require an employee who was taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) to return to work after the employee was seen working his second job—refereeing school basketball games—while on leave. In this particular case, the employee was taking FMLA leave to care for his daughter, who had a serious health condition.
On November 28, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Digital Realty Trust Inc. v. Paul Somers, a case that will determine whether employees who report fraud-related conduct internally will be protected by the Dodd-Frank Act’s anti-retaliation provisions or whether the employee must report directly to the government to earn that protection.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is the government agency tasked with the responsibility to enforce the federal laws prohibiting discrimination in all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits. Typically, the first steps for individuals seeking to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC are an initial inquiry and intake interview. These first steps are now made easier through the recently launched EEOC Public Portal. The EEOC Public Portal was piloted in five U.S. cities – Charlotte, Chicago, New Orleans, Phoenix, and Seattle – for six months before it was made available nationwide on November 1, 2017.
As noted in our June 2017 Employment Law Letter, the West Virginia Legislature passed the West Virginia Safer Workplaces Act. The new law, which went into effect on July 7, 2017, generally expands the circumstances under which employers may conduct drug and alcohol testing, with some important limitations. If your business conducts drug or alcohol testing, now is a good time to revisit your policy and consult with your attorney to ensure that it is compliant with the new law. Here, we will summarize the new law, including what it permits and what it prohibits.
The National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) continues its focus on overly-broad work policies – now in a non-union workplace – with a recent decision against Chipotle Mexican Grill. Although the Board found Chipotle violated the National Labor Relations Act (the “Act”) by (1) maintaining overly-broad social media and work policies, (2) ordering an employee to quit circulating a petition, and (3) firing the employee when he refused to do so, it found the employer did not violate the Act by asking the employee to remove certain tweets from his Twitter account. This case provides additional guidance on what is and is not permissible in work rules, particularly as they apply to social media posts by employees.
Pennsylvania recently enacted a medical marijuana statute. This Act clouds the rights of employers and is another hit to Pennsylvania’s employment-at-will doctrine. Nevertheless, even in Pennsylvania, marijuana remains an illegal substance under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, and employers may continue to enforce their drug-free workplace policies for safety and production reasons, as well as compliance with other contractual or statutory obligations. The new Pennsylvania statute does, however, have implications for employers.
The Supreme Court of the United States has historically taken a very narrow view of the free speech protections afforded to public-sector employees under the First Amendment to the Constitution. It has generally held that public-sector employee speech or political activity is protected only if (1) they spoke as a citizen, rather than within the auspices of their official duties; (2) they spoke on a matter of public concern; and, (3) their right to speak on that matter outweighed the government’s interest in curbing their speech to provide effective government service to citizens. Public-sector employees have, more often than not, lost under this framework, most pointedly where there is any kind of concern that the wrong precedent will allow public-sector employees to gum up the public workplace with disruptive speech. (Note that private-sector employees, who do not enjoy the protections of the Constitution absent governmental action, have even less free speech protection than public-sector employees.)