October 6, 2015

Jack Link’s Missing Link: Company Pays $50K to Settle Claim of Ongoing Sexual Harassment

Posted in Discrimination, Employee Handbooks, Gender / Sex, Harassment, Harassment, Hostile Work Environment, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 10:28 am by Tom Jacobson

A recently settled Minnesota Department of Human Rights charge against Jack Link’s Beef Jerky emphasizes the importance of follow-through when responding to sexual harassment allegations. According to the Department, Jack Link’s initially took the “right step” in disciplining the alleged harasser but then failed to monitor the situation, which included ongoing harassment.

Specifically, MDHR reports that shortly after being hired by Jack Link’s, a female employee’s supervisor made sexual advances toward her, called her “baby,” said she was beautiful, asked if she was single, chanted “pack baby pack,” and asked if he was too old for her. The Department also reports that although Jack Link’s initially disciplined the supervisor, the company then promoted him to be woman’s direct supervisor, after which he continued to harass the employee. Claiming she could no longer tolerate the work environment, the woman quit.

Thus, based on the MDHR’s findings, the missing link in Jack Link’s response was the lack of follow-through and monitoring. As noted by MDHR Commissioner Kevin Lindsey:

This is an unusual case in that the employer took the right step in originally disciplining the supervisor. The employer however undermined its efforts by not subsequently monitoring the actions of the alleged harasser. Employers need to maintain contact with the employee who has complained of sexual harassment to make sure that the measures that they have undertaken are actually working.

To settle the charge, Jack Link’s agreed to pay the victim $50,000.00 and to provide training on the Minnesota Human Rights Act and how to properly respond to sexual harassment allegations.

Generally speaking, employers must first take steps to prevent unlawful workplace harassment. But if, despite those efforts, an employee claims that harassment has occurred, employers must take prompt action to correct and stop that behavior. As the Jack Link’s case points out, this includes careful monitoring and follow-through to make sure the harassment does not continue or recur.

For more information about this article or about the harassment training, policy development, and related services I can provide, 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 Cass, PA

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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

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

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

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

August 1, 2014

Another day, another Executive Order impacting federal contractors

Posted in Age, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Americans with Disabilities Act, Arbitration, Arbitration, Color, Creed, Disability, Discrimination, Fair Labor Standards Act, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Gender / Sex, Harassment, LGBT, Minnesota Human Rights Act, National Labor Relations Act, National Origin, Pregnancy, Race, Religion, Sexual Harassment tagged , , , at 11:23 am by Tom Jacobson

White HouseIn another attempt to flex his regulatory muscle, President Barack Obama on July 31, 2014 issued yet another Executive Order aimed at federal contractors. This one, the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order, requires potential federal contractors to disclose past employment and labor law violations before they can secure federal contracts.

Earlier this month, President Obama issued an Executive Order to protect the rights of LGBT employees of federal contractors (see President Issues Order to Protect LGBT Workers).

Yesterday’s Order requires most potential federal contractors to disclose violations in the past three years of thirteen specified federal labor and employment laws. These laws include the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and any state counterparts of these statutes.

The Order also directs employers with contracts of $1 million or more to “agree that the decision to arbitrate claims arising under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment may only be made with the voluntary consent of employees or independent contractors after such disputes arise.” In other words, the Order will severely limit these federal contractors’ rights to enter into pre-dispute arbitration agreements.

The Order appears to be directed at preventing repeat offenders, but it will have a major impact on employers who will need to overcome this new regulatory hurdle before securing federal contracts.

For more information about the President’s Order, see Obama Signs Executive Order Protecting Federal Contractors’ Employees (CBS News, 7/31/14), President Issues Order Requiring Contractors to Disclose Labor Law Violations When Competing for Federal Contracts (SHRM, 7/31/14), the President’s FACT SHEET: Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order, or 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 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

July 22, 2014

President issues order to protect LGBT workers

Posted in Discrimination, Gender / Sex, LGBT, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Sexual Orientation tagged , , at 2:08 pm by Tom Jacobson

White HousePresident Barack Obama on July 21, 2014 issued an executive order intended to protect the employment rights of LGBT employees of federal contractors.

Although some states, including Minnesota, already prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, not all do.  Therefore, President Obama said during the signing ceremony that he issued the order as a way “to address this injustice for every American.”

Unlike some legislation, such as the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (“ENDA”) which was passed in 2013 by the U.S. Senate but which has since stalled in Congress, this executive order does not contain any exemptions based on religious beliefs.

The President also directed the U.S. Department of Labor to prepare regulations to implement the order. It is anticipated that advocates on all sides of the issue will offer significant input as the regulations are developed.

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

July 1, 2014

Key provisions of WESA take effect July 1

Posted in Care of Relatives Leave, Discrimination, Domestic violence, Employee Handbooks, Employee Privacy, Equal Pay, Gender / Sex, Leaves of Absence, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minnesota Parenting Leave Act, Nursing Mothers, Parenting Leave, Pregnancy, Retaliation, Sick Leave, Sick or Injured Child Care Leave, Wage non-disclosure, Women's Economic Security Act tagged , , , , , at 12:56 pm by Tom Jacobson

2014_05_11_WESA_signingAlthough Gov. Mark Dayton signed it into law on May 11, 2014 the following key provisions of the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) go into effect today:

  • Expansion of Minnesota’s parenting and pregnancy leave laws: More employees are now eligible for this leave, and the amount of available leave has been increased from six to twelve weeks. Applies to Minnesota employers with 21 or more employees.
  • Expansion of permissible use of sick leave: Parents-in-law and grandchildren are now included in the list of persons for whom eligible employees may use their sick leave. Employees may also use sick leave for “safety leave,” which is leave for the purpose of providing or receiving assistance because of sexual assault, domestic abuse, or stalking. Applies to Minnesota employers with 21 or more employees.
  • Wage disclosure prohibitions; employee handbook notice requirement; remedies: Prohibits employers from, among other things, requiring employees to keep their wages confidential. Requires employers to include in their employee handbooks a notice regarding employees’ rights and remedies under the new law. Allows employers to prohibit wage disclosure to competitors and to otherwise protect trade secrets, proprietary and other privileged information. Applies to all Minnesota employers with one or more employees.
  • Clarifies rights of nursing mothers: Clarifies that when making reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location for expressing breast milk in privacy, that space must: be in close proximity to the work area; be somewhere other than a bathroom or a toilet stall; be shielded from view; be free from intrusion from coworkers and the public; and include access to an electrical outlet.  Applies to all Minnesota employers with one or more employees.

This is only a summary of portions of WESA that take effect today. Other provisions of WESA went into effect on May 12, 2014; more will take effect August 1, 2014. To learn how WESA may impact your workplace, 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 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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