Thursday, March 28, 2013

Week in Review

Spring is in the air, and changing seasons sometimes bring a change in perspective. This week, we see both individuals and the government looking for new ways to deal with old problems.
Since the advent of social media, we've seen the problems it can create in the workplace. Now, individuals looking to avoid such problems can use the new app FireMe! It has a "Check Yourself" tool that analyzes a username's tweets and calculates the likelihood that the tweets will get the author fired.  We're guessing it doesn't come with a guarantee.

The government is also rethinking how the internet can help solve some of its problems. The U.S. Senate has just passed a bill that would levy a national tax on Internet sales. Additionally, a California city councilman is advocating taking an Internet sales tax one step further by imposing a tax on emails. He claims the profits could be used to help save local post offices, but critics question the practicality and desirability of such a tax.

Technology and the Workplace
Will This Tweet Get You Fired? Ask FireMe! (WSJ) (NBC)
NJ Bill to Protect Workers' Facebook Info Heads to Governor (Law 360)
Techie Adria Richards Fired After Tweeting About Men's Comments (CBS) (ARS Technica)
Your Employees Are Stealing Your Data (DE Employment Law Blog)

Technology and the Law
Are Shopping Websites Covered by Disability Law? The Answer Could Be "Yes" in New DOJ Regs (ABA Journal) (WSJ)
Senate Embraces Internet Sales Taxes (CNET)
Feds Use Little-Known StingRay Device to Track Cell Phones; Is a Warrant Required? (ABA Journal) (WA Post)
IL: Young People's Tweets Aren't Statements of Fact (IT-Lex)
Should the Government Tax Your Email? One CA Official Thinks So (FOX)

There's an App for That
Can an App Help You Invest Like a Billionaire? (WSJ)
This Smartphone Knows When You're Going to Die -- and Could Save Your Life (FOX)
Spring Cleaning: 8 Home Inventory Apps to Log Your Stuff (Mashable)
Exec, Your Online Personal Assistant (WSJ)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sexual Orientation Protection from Discrimination in Minnesota

The Supreme Court hears arguments today in the second of two landmark cases involving the national same-sex marriage discussion. The arguments are timely in the state of Minnesota, where an amendment to define marriage as solely between a man and a woman was defeated this past November and a same-sex marriage bill was recently introduced in the state legislature. 

As the Supreme Court wrestles with the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, it is important for employers in Minnesota to remember that although Minnesota does not recognize same-sex marriage, it has, since 1993, recognized sexual orientation as a protected class for purposes of discrimination law. While the majority of states do not recognize sexual orientation as a protected class, Minnesota’s definition of “sexual orientation” is the broadest in the nation: “having or being perceived as having an emotional, physical, or sexual attachment to another person without regard to the sex of that person or having or being perceived as having an orientation for such attachment, or having or being perceived as having a self-image or identity not traditionally associated with one’s biological maleness or femaleness.” This definition protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals from discrimination in the workplace. It also protects individuals who associate with members of the LGBT community. 

At the same time that Minnesota’s definition of “sexual orientation” provides broad protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation, the Minnesota Human Rights Act also includes various exemptions from its provisions. Private organizations providing services to minors – think Boy Scouts, recreational soccer leagues, 4-H clubs, and summer camps – may consider sexual orientation in hiring. Furthermore, the MHRA provides an exemption to religious or fraternal organizations.

Since the inception of “sexual orientation” as a protected status in 1993, discrimination cases brought under this status have accounted for about 3% of the total charges filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.  Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the same-sex marriage issue, employers should be aware of whether sexual orientation is a protected status in their state and should ensure their training materials and policies comply with state law.

Friday, March 22, 2013

How Long Do Unemployment Benefits Last?

Legislative efforts at the state and federal level, particularly those related to efforts to stimulate the economy, have changed the length of time that unemployment benefits are available. They also created significant variation in the length of benefits among the states, making it difficult to keep track of what terminated employees can expect and what employers are responsible for around the country. The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article (subscription may be required) on the quantity of benefits available in different states. Currently, the newly unemployed in Minnesota may receive up to 40 weeks of regular and extended unemployment benefits.  The Journal’s article provided a summary of the number of weeks of benefits available in the 50 states:

HI, IA, KS, MN, NB, ND, NH, OK, SD, UT, VA, VT, and WY
DE, ID, LA, MA, MD, NM, OH, TX, and WI
AL, AZ, CO, CT, DC, IN, KY, ME, MS, NY, OR, PA, TN, WA, and WV
CA, NJ, NC, NV, and RI

Week in Review

With more and more of our lives occurring online, it is often difficult to keep sensitive information private. This week, there are indications that this task is not likely to get easier anytime soon. There has been an uptick in hacking activity on many fronts. On the employment front, an ex-Reuters employee is facing federal charges for giving the hacking group "Anonymous" a username and password to access the company's system. If convicted, the employee could be imprisoned for up to 30 years and be fined up to $750,000. On the election front, a recent grand jury report shows that a Florida primary election was compromised by a computer program that rapidly and systematically sent bogus online requests for absentee ballots. The attack is leaving cybersecurity experts questioning the role technology should be playing in elections. Lastly, on the international front, a new war rulebook has been released. The book, called the Tallinn Manual, purports to set out the rules for state-sponsored hacking in time of war.

Technology and the Workplace
Journalist is Federally Charged With Helping Anonymous Hack Into Tribune Company Website (ABA Journal) (LA Times)
Court Decides LinkedIn Ownership Case and Finds for Plaintiff But Refuses to Show Her the Money (Employer Law Report) (Employment Matters)
Study: Your Social Media Policy Hits the Right Legal Issues, But... (Employer Handbook) (Protiviti)
"Bring Your Own Device" Can Trump Privacy Risks, EEOC Says (Law 360)
Houston Police Sergeant Demoted for Posting Racy Photos Online (FOX News Insider)

Technology and the Law
MN Makes License Plate Tracking Data Private (St. Cloud Times)
Brainerd Woman Loses Music Downloading Appeal, Says She Can't Pay (Duluth News Tribune)
New Manual Applies Traditional Rules of War to State-Sponsored Internet Hacking (ABA Journal) (WA Post)
Cyberattack on FL Election Raises Questions (CNN)
Activist Sues San Francisco PD After Warrantless Search of His Phone (ARS Technica)
Hacker Gets 3.5 Years for Stealing iPad Data from 120k Users (NBC)

There's an App for That
Quickly Zeroing in on New Places to Call Home With Zillow Real Estate (NY Times)
3 Apps for March Madness: Watch Games on the Go, Track Brackets (LA Times)
New Theft Tracker is Like LoJack and OnStar for Your Bike (Mashable)
5 Great RSS Reader Alternatives to Google Reader (Forbes)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Capitol Update

The Minnesota Legislature is in full swing, and as always, employers will want to monitor the proposals under consideration at the Capitol. Bills that may impact employers include:

More information regarding these and other bills that may affect employers and businesses in Minnesota is available from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Employers outside of Minnesota will want to monitor their state legislature for bills that may impact them.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Week in Review

It turns out that Facebook can be used for more than just reconnecting with old friends and getting employees in trouble (though there is still plenty of that going on). Now, depending on who you are and where you live, you might be vulnerable to legal service via Facebook. A New York federal court recently ruled that the FTC may serve defendants in India using both email and Facebook. It reasoned that such service was proper under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Hague Service Convention. Similarly, Texas lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow for service via social media if the defendant regularly accesses his or her profile page and actual notice can reasonably be expected.

Facebook is also a useful tool in the discovery phase of investigations, and not even the EEOC can hide from such requests. Last week, the EEOC was sanctioned by a Colorado district court sanctioned for failing to turn over social media login information. The EEOC was ordered by the court to turn over the information last November and now must pay the attorneys' fees associated with its failure to do so.

Technology and the Workplace
Connecticut Proposes Legislation Concerning Employee Passwords (Mondaq)
EEOC Sanctioned for Failure to Produce Social-Media Evidence (DE Employment Law Blog)
Prison Guard Who Made Facebook Threat to OH Governor Gets Job Back (Dayton Daily News)
Rain Tree Supporter Fired Over YouTube Video (Sun Sentinel)
NY Teacher Fired After Caught Sending Racy Hookup Emails From School Account (NY Post)

Technology and the Law
FTC Can Serve Foreign Defendants via Facebook, Federal Judge Rules (ABA Journal) (Reuters)
Proposed TX Legislation Would Allow Defendants to be Served on Facebook (WSJ)
You May Now Kiss the Computer Screen: Internet Marriages on the Rise (NY Times) (ABA Journal)
Gone House Hunting Online? Revived Patent Lawsuit Says You're a "Joint Infringer" (ARS Technica)
Domestic Abuse Law Applies to Online Relationships, MA High Court Says (ABA Journal) (Boston Globe)

There's an App for That
Improving Smartphone Battery Life With Apps (All Things Digital)
Breathometer Introduces Smartphone Breathalyzer (LA Times) (Mashable)
New Netflix Facebook App Lets Users Share Viewing History (CNN)
AAA Says Smartphone May Soon Replace Traditional Car Keys (LA Times)
WebMD Launches Personalized Pregnancy App (Mashable)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Reaction to Email Searches Shows Importance of Policy and Managing Expectations

In the news this week has been a story about a decision by a university to search email accounts of several staff members in an effort to determine the source of a leak to the media. Like many employers, the University did not seek the employees’ permission before reviewing their emails. The employees whose emails were reviewed were not aware of the University’s actions until earlier this month. 
The fallout from this incident is a good reminder that employers and employees may have very different expectations regarding emails and other electronic information stored on the employers' computer systems. To avoid legal and political issues from erupting, it is wise to have a clear policy spelling out the company’s perspective regarding the confidentiality of such information.  Training employees on the details of the policy is also worthwhile.
Because privacy is always a concern, it is important for the policy to spell out whether the employer reserves the right to review employee emails without the employees’ prior notice or consent.  An individual can hardly claim an expectation of privacy if the employer’s policy makes it clear that emails are subject to inspection. Even when a policy makes it clear that the employer may review employee emails, however, employers still need to proceed with caution. As we have noted in a previous post, review of employee emails should occur only when there is a legitimate business purpose. The review should be limited to the extent necessary to determine whether an email is related to the issue being investigated. If possible, all reviews of employee emails should be conducted under the guidance and direction of legal counsel.

Friday, March 8, 2013

USCIS Has Finally Released the Revised Form I-9

The USCIS has published a Notice in the Federal Register announcing the release of the revised Form I-9.  Employers should begin using the revised form immediately. There is, however, a 60-day grace period before penalties may be imposed for using a previous version of the form. 

The final changes to the form include additional instructions, an expanded two-page layout, and new data fields for employees to list their email addresses and phone numbers.  Employers should be sure that they update their policies and handbooks to reflect the changes in the revised form and instructions.  In addition, employers that use an electronic I-9 system should confirm that their systems are compatible with the revised form. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Week in Review

Variety is the spice of life, even when it comes to the legal implications of technology. This week offers a good illustration of the many different areas of the law that technology can impact. Here are some current examples:

Employment Law: A New Mexico judge who violated the court's computer and Internet use policy with his "excessive and improper" instant messaging during court proceedings was forced to resign. A Penn admissions officer who shared on Facebook snippets of admissions essays has sparked debates about online sharing of employment information.

Securities Law: The rise in hacking of corporate websites and databases has caused some to question the related risk to overall corporate security and profitability, and the responsibility hacked companies have to report hacks to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Family Law: A recent survey finds that dating websites are key sources of evidence in divorce cases.

Constitutional Law: The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a bill that would require the police to obtain a search warrant before searching or tracking email and mobile phones. In a civil case, the court's order to remove a Facebook posting involving McDonald's advertising practices has created push-back from free speech advocates.

Technology and the Workplace
Penn Admissions Officer Too Funny for Facebook (DE Employment Law Blog) (Inside Higher Ed)
Your Company Got Hacked, Must You Disclose to the SEC? (IT-Lex) (CNBC)
Tracking Sensors Invade the Workplace (All Things Digital)
Judge Resigns After Admitting Improper IMs With Wife During Court, But Denies Steamy Content (ABA Journal) (Albuquerque Journal)

Technology and the Law
Police Would Need Warrants for Email, Phone Tracking, Federal Bill Says (CNET) (ARS Technica)
Copyright Alerts Won't Go to Coffee Shop Connections (NBC)
Clampdown on Man's Facebook Page Raises Free-Speech Worries in McDonald's Halal Case (Detroit Free Press)
Dating Websites Providing More Divorce Evidence Says Survey: Nation's Top Matrimonial Lawyers Cite as Most Common Source (AAML)
Woman Who Sued Google Over "Levitra" Link to Her Name Loses in 7th Circuit (ABA Journal) (Reuters)

There's an App for That
Free App Magically Turns Your Pics Into Videos (Mashable)
Apple is Looking to Introduce iWatch This Year, Report Says (LA Times)
Houzz Will Save Your Home (and Perhaps Your Marriage) (Mashable)
These 11 Apps Will Supercharge Your Personal Life (Mashable)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Is it the Beginning of the End for the Flexible Workplace?

Is workplace flexibility a necessary casualty of difficult economic times?  When thinking about the innovations that make up the “modern workplace” for which this blog is named, employers’ embrace of flexible work hours and locations would be very near the top of the list.  Advances in technology – particularly electronic connectivity – have allowed employers to move away from traditional concepts of the workplace and the workday.  More employers permit telecommuting by their employees and allow flexible work hours. There are, however, signs in the business world that employees may have seen the high-water mark for such flexible approaches by employers.

News has just surfaced that Best Buy has decided to scrap its innovative flexible work policy (called the “Results Only Work Environment”). Best Buy’s program allowed its corporate employees significant flexibility in deciding when to work outside the office and what their precise work hours would be.  Best Buy’s decision followed an earlier decision by Yahoo to stop allowing workers to telecommute.  Both employers cited concerns about decreased productivity and creativity as key reasons for their decisions, as well as worries about the impact of telecommuting on team-oriented work. Yahoo’s announcement created a flurry of media reports and commentary reflecting competing points of view.  Some commentators portrayed it as a retreat to antiquated times and an attack on working parents, while others said it was supported by studies suggesting poor productivity from telecommuting workers.
It remains to be seen whether we are hearing the death knell for a more fluid concept of where and when work gets done, or if this will merely be a bump on the road to a more permanent redefinition of our modern workplace.  In any event, given the significant attention paid to Yahoo’s decision, this does appear to be a very polarizing issue for employers and employees.