February 3, 2016

“Boys are Boys” No Defense to Workplace Violence Claims

Posted in Application Process, Arrest records, Background Checking, Conviction Records, Criminal History, Negligence, Negligent Hiring, Negligent Retention, Negligent Supervision tagged , , , , , at 7:03 pm by Tom Jacobson

workplace violence

Reduce the risk of negligent hiring and negligent retention claims by adopting and following proper screening and workplace violence policies.

Employers can be held liable for injuries suffered by employees who are assaulted by their co-workers, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reiterated in a recent case. The decision highlights the importance of reducing the risk of workplace violence by conducting background checks of potential employees and enforcing anti-violence policies with existing employees.

The case, Hartfiel v. Allison (Jan. 25, 2016), started when an employee of T.J. Potter Trucking, Inc., Raymond Allison, hit co-worker Richard Hartfiel with a three-foot long steel bar while Hartfiel was sitting in his truck. Hartfiel suffered broken bones and other injuries and incurred over $75,000 in medical expenses.

In the resulting lawsuit, Hartfiel claimed that Potter Trucking was liable to him because it negligently hired and retained Allison. In support of his negligent hiring claim, Hartfiel pointed to the fact that Allison had a criminal history that included multiple assault convictions. He alleged that had Potter Trucking done a criminal background check and followed its own standard hiring procedures, they would have known to not hire Allison.

The court acknowledged that Minnesota employers may be held liable for negligent hiring if they fail to use reasonable care in hiring individuals who, through the employment, may pose a threat of injury to members of the public. This means that the scope of pre-employment investigations must be directly related to the severity of risk third parties are subjected to by an incompetent employee (the greater the risk, the more intensive the pre-employment screen should be). However, the court also noted that employers do not, as a matter of law, have a duty to conduct a criminal background check on prospective employees.

The court then rejected Hartfiel’s negligent hiring claim on the basis that Potter Trucking’s pre-employment inquiry was adequate:

Here, the unchallenged evidence shows that, although Allison provided Potter Trucking a release to perform a background check, Potter Trucking checks applicants’ driving records but does not conduct criminal background checks. Typically, Potter Trucking hires people on referral. Potter Trucking followed its standard procedures—it required Allison to submit an application, interviewed him, required him to submit to drug testing, obtained a release for a background check, and relied on a referral from Allison’s previous employer…. The record contains no evidence to suggest that Potter Trucking knew or should have known of Allison’s violent propensities when it hired him.

However, the court allowed Hartfiel’s negligent retention claim to proceed. Quoting a 1993 Minnesota Supreme Court case (Yunker v Honeywell), the court defined negligent retention:

Negligent retention … occurs when, during the course of employment, the employer becomes aware or should have become aware of problems with an employee that indicated his unfitness, and the employer fails to take further action such as investigating, discharge, or reassignment.

Applying that standard to Hartfiel’s claim, the court noted there was evidence that after Allison was hired, he assaulted a subcontractor, but the owner minimized it “because it ‘[was not] work related’ and because ‘boys are boys.'” Other evidence suggested that when Allison thought a foreman had been rude to him, he threatened, “it’s no secret where I live, come on over there and I’ll . . . kick your ass all over the yard.” Because of that evidence, the court allowed the negligent retention claim to proceed to trial:

The previously discussed evidence of Allison’s violent behavior against a Potter Trucking subcontractor in a tavern and threatening behavior toward a Potter Trucking foreman is the type of evidence on which a jury could find that Allison had violent propensities about which Potter Trucking knew or should have known.

The Hartfiel case reminds us that when hiring, employers should conduct pre-employment background checks that are sufficient to determine whether a candidate would pose a threat if hired. The greater the risk, the more intensive the background check should be. The depth of that investigation should be set well before the hiring process begins, and it should be consistently applied.

Moreover, the case reminds us that ignoring acts of workplace violence and threats of harm will subject an employer to liability for negligent retention. Thus, employers should adopt and enforce policies against workplace violence, and they should not brush off misconduct just because they think “boys are boys.”

For more information about workplace violence or guidance on how to develop or enforce policies and procedures to address these issues, please contact me at 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 2016 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA

May 26, 2015

Registration Deadline is June 1 for Employment Law Update

Posted in Americans with Disabilities Act, Application Process, Arrest records, Background Checking, Ban the Box, Conviction Records, Credit Checks, Criminal History, Disability, Discrimination, Fair Credit Reporting Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Form I-9, Interactive Process, Leaves of Absence, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minnesota Parenting Leave Act, Parenting Leave, Pregnancy Leave, Reasonable Accommodation, Recruiting, Safety Leave, Sick Leave, Sick or Injured Child Care Leave, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Training, Unexcused Absence, Voting Rights, Women's Economic Security Act tagged , , , , , at 4:20 pm by Tom Jacobson

attorney Tom Jacobson alexandria mn

Tom Jacobson

The registration deadline for the Twelfth Annual West Central Minnesota Employment Law Update is June 1. Seating for the June 11, 2015 event is limited, so please register soon if you plan to attend.

For more details and registration forms, please see Registration Open for Twelfth Annual West Central MN Employment Law Update, or contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com or 320-763-3141.

I hope to see you on June 11!

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

April 17, 2015

Registration Open for Twelfth Annual West Central MN Employment Law Update

Posted in Americans with Disabilities Act, Application Process, Arrest records, Background Checking, Ban the Box, Conviction Records, Credit Checks, Criminal History, Disability, Discrimination, Fair Credit Reporting Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Form I-9, Interactive Process, Leaves of Absence, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minnesota Parenting Leave Act, Parenting Leave, Pregnancy Leave, Reasonable Accommodation, Recruiting, Safety Leave, Sick Leave, Sick or Injured Child Care Leave, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Training, Unexcused Absence, Voting Rights, Women's Economic Security Act tagged , , , , , at 9:19 am by Tom Jacobson

attorney Tom Jacobson alexandria mn

Tom Jacobson

Registration is now open for the Twelfth Annual West Central Minnesota Employment Law Update to be held Thursday, June 11, 2015. The event is sponsored by West Central Minnesota SHRM, and it will be held at Alexandria Technical and Community College.

The morning session is designed to inform employers about developing areas of employment law, and it will be presented by four attorneys who practice extensively in that area of the law: Tom Jacobson, Mike Moberg, Sara McGrane and Penelope Phillips. Topics for this year’s event will include:

  • An update on significant employment law developments since last year’s event
  • How to apply the myriad of leave / time off entitlements required by Minnesota law
  • What to do when the ADA, FMLA and worker’s compensation collide due to an employee’s medical condition
  • Legal traps in recruiting

The afternoon session will feature award-winning speaker Andy Masters. Masters is an award-winning author and international speaker who provides attendees with not only a memorable multi-media experience, but also immediate “take-home” value for all levels of HR leadership to help them develop and empower a workforce of future leaders.

Click on the following links for more information and the registration form:

Comments from prior years:

  • “Great event!”
  • “Excellent – would highly recommend!”
  • “I go to several conferences/seminars every year & this is the most informative of all.  Plus, the group is open & friendly — very nice! Thank you!”
  • “Overall — great day & worth the time!”
  • “Excellent program for the price.”

Contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com or 320-763-3141 if you need more information. We hope you can join us on June 11!

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

March 20, 2015

Save the Date for Twelfth Annual West Central MN Employment Law Update

Posted in Americans with Disabilities Act, Application Process, Arrest records, Background Checking, Ban the Box, Conviction Records, Credit Checks, Criminal History, Disability, Discrimination, Fair Credit Reporting Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Form I-9, Interactive Process, Leaves of Absence, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minnesota Parenting Leave Act, Parenting Leave, Pregnancy Leave, Reasonable Accommodation, Recruiting, Safety Leave, Sick Leave, Sick or Injured Child Care Leave, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Training, Unexcused Absence, Voting Rights, Women's Economic Security Act tagged , , , , at 9:04 am by Tom Jacobson

The twelfth annual West Central Minnesota Employment Law Update will be held Thursday, June 11, 2015 at Alexandria Technical and Community College. The morning session is designed to inform employers about developing areas of employment law, and it will be presented by four attorneys who practice extensively in that area of the law: Tom Jacobson, Mike Moberg, Sara McGrane and Penelope Phillips. Topics for this year’s event will include:

  • An update on significant employment law developments since last year’s event
  • How to apply the myriad of leave / time off entitlements required by Minnesota law
  • What to do when the ADA, FMLA and worker’s compensation collide due to an employee’s medical condition
  • Legal traps in recruiting

The afternoon session will feature award-winning speaker Andy Masters.

Comments from prior years:

  • “Great event!”
  • “Excellent – would highly recommend!”
  • “I go to several conferences/seminars every year & this is the most informative of all.  Plus, the group is open & friendly — very nice! Thank you!”
  • “Overall — great day & worth the time!”
  • “Excellent program for the price.”

We hope you can join us on June 11! Stay tuned for registration, agenda and other details.

Save the Date

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

October 6, 2014

Disciplining off-duty conduct: why the NFL model doesn’t work in the real world

Posted in Application Process, Arrest records, Background Checking, Ban the Box, Child Abuse and Neglect, Conviction Records, Credit Checks, Criminal History, Discrimination, Fair Credit Reporting Act, Interviewing, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Negligence, Negligent Hiring, Negligent Retention, Negligent Supervision, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 tagged , , , , , , , , at 4:15 pm by Tom Jacobson

Police light122811Imagine that you’re an HR director and a security-cam video supposedly depicting one of your key employees knocking out his girlfriend in an elevator ends up on YouTube for the world to see. Or, imagine that one of your key employees is indicted for abusing his son after photos allegedly depicting the boy’s wounds from his dad’s switch go viral. Imagine further that neither incident occurred on your company’s premises or while the employee was on the job.

Sound familiar?

Fortunately, most of us never have to deal with employees who make headlines like Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson (see Ray Rice Terminated by Team, Suspended by NFL after New Violent Video, CNN Sept. 16, 2014; Minnesota Vikings Reverse Course, Suspend Adrian Peterson, ABC News Sept. 17, 2014). However, all employers must occasionally confront the challenge of what to about an employee’s off-duty misconduct.

With the suspensions of Rice and Peterson fresh in our minds, it may seem like an easy solution: suspend or fire any employee who is charged with or convicted of a crime that we find repulsive or contrary to our organization’s values. That may work in the NFL, but for the rest of the working world, it’s not that simple. There are many laws that limit how employers may use such information.

One example is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Among other things, this law prohibits racial discrimination in employment. Applying Title VII, the courts have said that the overly restrictive use of criminal background information in the workplace is unlawful because it disproportionately excludes certain racial groups from employment.

So, what is too restrictive? There is no hard and fast rule, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces Title VII, has provided some guidance (see Background Checks: What Employers Need to Know). Specifically, the EEOC first stresses that employers who obtain criminal history information about employees or applicants must do so uniformly: doing it for only members of protected classes will violate Title VII.

The EEOC also notes that once such information is obtained, it must be used in a non-discriminatory way:

  • The same standards must be applied to everyone.
  • A policy or practice must not exclude people with criminal records if the policy or practice significantly disadvantages individuals with a protected characteristic and does not accurately predict who will be a responsible, reliable, or safe employee. As stated by the EEOC, the policy or practice is unlawful if it has a “disparate impact” on protected employees and is not “job related and consistent with business necessity.”
  • Be prepared to make exceptions for problems potentially caused by disabilities.

To determine whether a person’s criminal history is “job related and consistent with business necessity” under Title VII, employers need to consider: the nature and gravity of the offense or conduct; the time that has passed since the offense or conduct and/or completion of the sentence; and the nature of the job held or sought (see Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, EEOC April 25, 2012).

Another federal law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, also applies when employers hire a third party to conduct background checks. The FCRA includes requirements about what employers must do before obtaining such information and what they must do before and after taking adverse action based on the reports obtained. The FCRA is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, which has published a summary of employers’ obligations under the law (see Using Consumer Reports: What Employers Need to Know, FTC Jan. 2012).

For Minnesota employers, the state’s “Ban the Box” law (Minn. Stat. Sect. 364.021) presents another challenge. Like Title VII, this law does not prevent an employer from considering a person’s criminal history when making work-related decisions. It does, however, restrict when that information may be obtained or used. Specifically, the law prohibits employers from inquiring into or considering criminal records or history until after applicants have been selected for an interview or, if there is no interview, after a conditional offer of employment is made.

With all of these restrictions, why even bother looking into someone’s off-duty conduct?

Despite these challenges, it’s still good business to hire and keep employees who fit well with the organization. And, there are  risk-management reasons for doing background checks.

For example, if a Minnesota employer does not check an applicant’s background thoroughly enough, it can be held liable for negligently hiring someone who later harms another. That was the situation in the case of Ponticas v. K.M.S. Investments where a landlord was held responsible for its property manager’s sexual assault of a tenant.  The landlord had only done a cursory background check on the manager, and a better pre-hire investigation would have revealed the manager’s history of violent crime.

Similarly, if employees start to exhibit behaviors suggesting that they might harm others, their employers can be held liable for failing to protect those who are eventually harmed.  The Minnesota Supreme Court recognized this concept in the case of Yunker v. Honeywell, where an employee murdered a co-worker after a number of post-hire incidents suggested that the employee had violent propensities.

Now imagine again that video or indictment on your desk. Or imagine that your background check has revealed some other off-duty misconduct that you wished you never knew about. Know that the NFL’s model simply does not apply in the real world. Employers facing these situations should think carefully and not automatically leap to the conclusion that the employee should suffer some work-related consequence in addition to whatever sanction s/he got elsewhere.

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 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

April 30, 2014

Registration Open for 11th Annual Employment Law Update

Posted in Americans with Disabilities Act, Application Process, Arrest records, Background Checking, Conviction Records, Credit Checks, Criminal History, Discrimination, Fair Credit Reporting Act, Interactive Process, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Reasonable Accommodation, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Stereotyping, Training tagged , , , , , , , at 11:38 am by Tom Jacobson

Registration is now open for the Eleventh Annual West Central Minnesota Employment Law Update to be held on Thursday, June 12, 2014 at Alexandria Technical and Community College. This year’s event will cover:

  • Hot off the Press — Employment Law News You Can Use: presented by yours truly
  • Reasonable Accommodation and Fitness for Duty: A Practical Guidance on Real Work Problems: presented by attorney Penelope J. Phillips
  • Emerging Discrimination Issues in Employment Law: presented by attorney Mike Moberg
  • Ban the Box and Criminal Background Checks: Putting it All Together So That You Get it Right: presented by attorney Penelope J. Phillips
  • Bonus HR Session: Recruit, Motivate and Retain Your Workforce: presented by humorist and corporate trainer, Ted Schick

The event has been approved for 6.0 HRCI credits. Go to 2014 Employment Law Update Agenda for complete details and to 2014 Employment Law Update Registration to register. I look forward to seeing you on June 12!

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 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

March 26, 2014

Save the date!

Posted in Americans with Disabilities Act, Application Process, Arrest records, Background Checking, Conviction Records, Criminal History, Disability, Discrimination, Family and Medical Leave Act, Interactive Process, Leaves of Absence, Reasonable Accommodation, Sexual Orientation, Sick Leave, Sick or Injured Child Care Leave, Training, Unexcused Absence tagged , , , at 5:18 pm by Tom Jacobson

The eleventh annual West Central Minnesota Employment Law Update will be held Thursday, June 12, 2014 at Alexandria Technical and Community College. The morning session of the event is designed to inform employers about developing areas of employment law, and it will be presented by four attorneys who practice extensively in that area of the law: Tom Jacobson, Mike Moberg and Penelope Phillips.

The afternoon session will feature Ted Schick, who will educate and entertain with his presentation, “Recruit, Motivate and Retain Your Workforce.”

Comments from last year’s event:

  • “I attend yearly and look forward to it! Thanks!”
  • “I go to several conferences/seminars every year & this is the most informative of all.  Plus, the group is open & friendly — very nice! Thank you!”
  • “Overall — great day & worth the time!”
  • “Excellent program for the price.”

We hope you can join us on June 12! Stay tuned for registration, agenda and other details.

Copyright 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

January 31, 2014

Ban the box

Posted in Application Process, Arrest records, Background Checking, Conviction Records, Criminal History, Negligence, Negligent Hiring, Workplace Violence tagged , , , , , at 2:56 pm by Tom Jacobson

Crime Scene TapeOne of the more challenging aspects of hiring can be knowing when and how to conduct a criminal background check on a potential employee. In a previous article I noted how asking for such information during the application process is generally a good idea. However, a recent change in the law now prohibits Minnesota employers from inquiring into an applicant’s criminal history until after the candidate is selected for an interview, or if there is not an interview, after a conditional job offer has been made to the candidate. In essence, this change now bans the “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” box on all Minnesota job applications.

Employers wishing to conduct criminal background checks on prospective employees should also familiarize themselves with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions  Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This guidance, which is based on established federal law, confirms that the use of criminal records when making employment-related decisions must be job-related and consistent with business necessity.

Despite these challenges, checking into a prospective employee’s criminal background is still a good idea. Doing so can help an employer avoid hiring an employee whose history indicates a potential threat to the company, its employees, customers, vendors or the general public. The trick is knowing what to ask and when to ask it.

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 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

March 6, 2013

Laws and sausage

Posted in Application Process, Background Checking, Conviction Records, Criminal History, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Hiring and Recruiting, Non-Compete Agreements tagged , , , , at 10:00 am by Tom Jacobson

Laws are like sausages. Better not to see them being made.

John Godfrey Saxe

sausage440It’s that time of year again.  The Minnesota Legislature and Congress are both in session, so that gives us a chance to see what sort of legislation is being ground up and processed into what could become the new law of the land. Here are a couple of work-related bills worth watching.

Minnesota H.F. 506: This proposed law would void non-compete agreements in all but a few limited circumstances.  Generally speaking, it would bar non-competes between employers and employees.  This law would have a tremendous impact on any employer that uses non-competes as a tool for protecting their business interests.

Minnesota H.F. 690 /Minnesota S.F. 523: These bills would amend Minn. Stat. § 364.021 by prohibiting private sector employers from considering an applicant’s criminal record or criminal history until after the applicant has been selected for an interview. This restriction already exists for public employers, but the new law would expand this to private employers as well.

H.R. 675: Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, this bill, dubbed the Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights Act of 2013, would amend the Family and Medical Leave act by removing from the law the requirement that before an employee is eligible for FMLA leave, s/he must work 1,250 hours during the year preceding the request for leave. Thus, if this bill were to become law, virtually any part-time employee with at least one year of service with an employer covered by the FMLA would gain FMLA leave rights.

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or  taj@alexandriamnlaw.com. If you have concerns about the impact of this legislation, please contact your duly elected senators and representatives.

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 2013 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

January 22, 2013

Updating employee handbooks: now is the time

Posted in Acknowledgment, Arrest records, At-will Employment, Background Checking, Computer Use, Confidential Information, Conviction Records, Criminal History, Disclaimers, Employee Handbooks, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Hiring and Recruiting, Internet Policies, Interviewing, Leaves of Absence, Leaves of Absence, Minnesota Parenting Leave Act, National Labor Relations Act, Protected Concerted Activity, Social Media, Social Media in the Workplace, Social Networking tagged , , , , , , , , at 10:47 am by Tom Jacobson

employee handbook1I recently had the privilege of speaking at and moderating a day-long seminar covering recent developments in employment law. Although the topics ranged broadly from background checks to the basics of employee leave, one common theme emerged: employers who have not kept their employee handbooks and other policies up to date are running the increased risk of liability for legal claims brought by their employees.

For example:

  • Some commonly used “at-will” employment acknowledgments, confidentiality clauses, investigation practices, and social medial policies have been deemed to violate the National Labor Relations Act.
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published guidance on how arrest and conviction records may be used when performing background checks on applicants or employees. Among other things, these guidelines address when an individualized assessment of an applicant’s or employee’s arrest or conviction record should be done.
  • One recent litigation trend is employers and employees (or former employees)  fighting over the ownership of social media accounts and followers.
  • Recent court decisions have broadly interpreted employees’ rights to parenting leave under Minnesota law.
  • At least four states (California, Illinois, Maryland and Michigan) have adopted laws regulating employers’ access to employees’ social media sites, and similar legislation has been proposed in Minnesota.

What you need to know: If your employee handbooks and policies have not been reviewed by legal counsel and updated recently, now is the time. For more information about this process, please contact me at 320-763-3141 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 2013 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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