January 29, 2015

Hit-men, harassment & the perils of office romance

Posted in Discrimination, Employee Handbooks, Gender / Sex, Harassment, Harassment, Hostile Work Environment, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Office Dating, Office Romance - Dating, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Workplace Romance tagged , , , , , , , at 11:09 am by Tom Jacobson

office romanceWith Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it seems like a good time to remind everyone that office romance is generally a very bad idea. After all, it might lead to murder-for-hire plots, ugly custody fights, and the occasional sexual harassment suit.

Take the recent Stearns County, Minnesota case involving Nomad Pipeline Services CEO Robert Schueller. He was charged with orchestrating a murder-for-hire plot where it’s alleged that he tried to hire a hit man to kill the fiance’ of an employee with whom he had an affair (see MyFox9, Charges: Office affair break-up, murder-for-hire plot). Mr. Schueller ultimately pled guilty to one count of sending threatening communication (See WCCO TV, Company President Pleads Guilty in Plot Involving Employees).

Or, there’s the case that fellow blawger Eric Meyer recently noted where an office affair apparently resulted in pregnancy, a custody battle, and a sexual harassment claim.

Those are extreme examples of love gone bad, but I’ve seen office romance cases that have taken a big toll, albeit without the intrigue. Co-workers perceive favoritism toward the boss’s paramour. Jilted lovers persist in their advances, which are then perceived as hostile. Encounters that were once consensual are suddenly claimed to be unwelcome. Employees struggle to know how to end a personal relationship when they have to continue working with their former significant other. What was once romance becomes harassment that ends up in court.

Of course, there are examples where office dating blossoms into healthy relationships. However, no one can predict where a new romance will lead. To mimimize the risk that it will lead to the courthouse, see my prior article, Big Bang and the Office Dating Game.

Have you taken my poll on President Obama’s mandatory paid sick leave proposal? If not, click here. Poll closes January 30.

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or  taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

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.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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January 16, 2015

Poll: Obama’s push for mandatory paid sick leave is not a good idea

Posted in Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Leaves of Absence, Sick Leave, Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:08 am by Tom Jacobson

paid sick leavePresident Barack Obama has recently pushed for mandatory paid sick leave for American workers. He asked for federal, state and local measures that would allow workers to earn up to a week of paid sick time annually. His proposals include a request for more than $2 billion in new spending to urge states to create paid family and medical leave programs.

For more details on his proposal, see reports by the Washington Post, USA Today, Baltimore Sun, Fox News and numerous other media outlets.

I asked my readers what think about this idea. Their response? They don’t like it:

Mandatory Paid Sick Leave Poll Results

Only time and politics will tell whether their views are reflected in Washington.

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

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.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

January 5, 2015

MDHR Mediation — a Cautionary Tale

Posted in Alternative Dispute Resolution, Discrimination, MDHR Mediation, Mediation, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:33 am by Tom Jacobson

Mediated Settlement AgreementI am a strong advocate for mediation as a form of alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”). However, a recent Minnesota Department of Human Rights (“MDHR”) case should cause anyone with charges pending before that agency to think twice before participating in MDHR mediation.

For the uninitiated, mediation is an ADR process where someone trained as a neutral (usually an attorney) is hired to meet with the parties and facilitate a discussion which, in the majority of cases, results in settlement of the dispute. It is a highly effective form of ADR.

When employment discrimination charges are filed with MDHR, the agency will often offer to mediate the dispute. Parties who agree to MDHR mediation hope for the same outcomes to be achieved as in private mediation; that is, saving the expense and delay of litigation, fashioning their own relief, maintaining a level of confidentiality, and avoiding the risk of a judge or jury publicly deciding their fate. An additional benefit of MDHR mediation is that the agency provides the mediator at no cost to the parties, whereas the parties typically share the cost of a privately retained mediator.

One recent MDHR case highlights the potential for unintended consequences of MDHR mediation. The case involved discrimination charges filed against Alexandria Light and Power (“ALP”) by an employee who had resigned. The case was settled through MDHR mediation with an agreement for the claimant to paid $65,000.00 by ALP’s insurer and with no admission of liability or findings of wrongdoing by ALP. This part of the process seemed to accomplish the parties’ goals of saving costs and minimizing risk.

However, after the settlement was reached, MDHR publicized the outcome with a press release that was posted on its website and then re-distributed by local and statewide media. The problem with the MDHR press release was that it did not accurately describe the case or the settlement. Consequently, ALP issued its own statement to correct the misinformation.

Because ALP is a municipally owned utility, state law required that the settlement be public information; therefore, the parties did not expect the settlement to remain confidential. However, having the settlement inaccurately described in an MDHR press release was an unexpected twist.

Thus, parties facing MDHR charges should bear in mind the possibility of the agency publicizing the outcome of a settlement. To minimize that risk, consider using a private mediator, include confidentiality clauses (to the extent allowed by law), and if utilizing MDHR mediation, discuss beforehand with the agency any publicity limits that may be imposed.

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or  taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

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.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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