June 18, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court Rules Public Employer’s Search of Text Messages on Employer-Provided Device Was Reasonable.

Posted in Employees' Privacy, Social Media in the Workplace tagged , , , at 3:13 pm by Tom Jacobson

For more details, go to http://bit.ly/9ZxXOE.

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June 16, 2010

Contractual Disclaimer in Employee Handbook Defeats Lund Boat Employees’ Claims

Posted in Contracts, Disclaimers, Employee Handbooks, Vacation Policies tagged , , , , at 10:49 am by Tom Jacobson

In a June 15, 2010 decision the Minnesota Court of Appeals has re-affirmed the importance of contractual disclaimers in employee handbooks.

The case, Roberts v. Brunswick Corp., involved a change in the vacation policy at the Lund Boat Company which is owned by Brunswick. After Brunswick acquired Lund, it implemented a new vacation policy. Several Lund employees were unhappy with the change because they preferred the old policy, and they believed Brunswick was contractually obligated to follow it. The employees also felt that Brunswick breached that contract by refusing to honor a promise to credit them with earned vacation pay.

In the employees’ ensuing class-action lawsuit, the trial court sided with the employees. The trial court concluded that the company’s employee handbook, which included the old vacation policy, created a unilateral employment contract because it referred to vacation pay in the context of a general benefit.

Brunswick appealed, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision on the handbook-as-a-contract issue. Crucial to the appellate court’s decision was the fact that the handbook included a disclaimer establishing that the handbook did not created a contract. Because it did not create a contract, Brunswick was free to modify its vacation policy, and doing so was not, therefore, a breach of contract.

The case stresses the importance of including a properly drafted contractual disclaimer in employee handbooks for Minnesota employers who do not want to be contractually bound to policies and procedures stated in their employee handbooks and policy manuals.

You can read the entire opinion at http://bit.ly/bQT99q.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

June 9, 2010

When “may” means “must” in a progressive discipline policy, according to the Minnesota Court of Appeals

Posted in Contracts, Disclaimers, Employee Handbooks, Misconduct, Progressive Discipline, Unemployment Benefits tagged , , , , , at 11:19 am by Tom Jacobson

In a rare reversal of an unemployment law judge’s decision, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that despite an employee’s “ongoing attendance problems” which had resulted in warnings and a suspension, the employee did not commit employment misconduct, and he is, therefore, eligible for unemployment benefits.

At issue was the employer’s progressive discipline policy which said that for attendance problems, the employee “may” be disciplined in accordance with a schedule that progressed from an oral warning, to a written warning, to 3 and 10 day suspensions, and finally, termination.  The Court of Appeals rejected the argument that by using the word “may” in the policy, the employer retained the discretion to skip certain steps.  The Court reasoned that the employer’s only discretion was whether or not to discipline at all and that once it decided to discipline for the attendance problem, it had to follow each progressive step.  Because the employer in this case skipped the 10 day suspension and fired the employee, the Court ruled that the employee’s absenteeism was not employment misconduct.

The Court also rejected the argument that the employer’s obligation to follow the progressive discipline was nullified by a contractual disclaimer.  The Court noted that this argument might have been successful, but there was no evidence of any such disclaimer in the record.

The case, Stagg v. Vintage Place, Inc., highlights the importance of making sure that when employers want to maintain an at-will workforce, their employee handbooks must contain language that properly disclaims any contractual obligations and maintains the employer’s discretion regarding discipline and discharge policies and procedures.  It also points out how important it is to make sure that critical evidence is part of the record before an unemployment decision is appealed.

You can read this unpublished decision at http://www.lawlibrary.state.mn.us/archive/ctapun/1006/opa090949-0601.pdf.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only.  They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship.  For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

June 2, 2010

LinkedIn Liasons Lead to Lawsuit over Non-compete

Posted in Non-Compete Agreements, Social Media in the Workplace tagged , , , , , , , , at 7:43 am by Tom Jacobson

In a lawsuit filed recently in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, TEKSystems, Inc. alleges, among other things, that a former employee has violated a non-compete agreement by using LinkedIn.  Specifically, TEKSystems claims that the former employee has used LinkedIn to make “connections” with TEKSystems’  customers who were off-limits to her pursuant to the terms of her covenant not to compete.  TEKSystems is seeking money damages, attorney’s fees, court costs, and a court-ordered injunction to stop the alleged violations.

To read the full Complaint, visit http://bit.ly/9dBzHA.

Although it will likely take quite some time for this case to wind its way through the court system, there are lessons to be learned from the case.  First, employers who use non-compete agreements should have them drafted so that they are more likely apply to “cyber” violations as well as more traditional competition and solicitation.  Second, when seeking to enforce such agreements, employers should not overlook the possibility of social media violations.  Third, employees who are subject to such restrictive covenants would be wise to not try to end-run them by doing something on-line that would be prohibited in a more traditional context.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only.  They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship.  For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

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