Tag Archives: human resources

Managing Political Activism and Avoiding Unlawful Pitfalls in Employment Relationships

Later this month in Orlando, one of the largest HR conferences in the state will take place, the 2017 HR Florida Conference & Expo*. The conference will be held August 28 – 30. This year, two of Williams Parker’s labor and employment attorneys are scheduled to speak.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes will present two presentations on the opening day of the conference, and she will be featured in one of several “discussion dens.” A discussion den is a 30-minute opportunity for a small group of attendees to have a short conversation with speakers where it is anticipated that participants may want to have an extended conversation about the topic. Jennifer’s presentations are:

  • “Managing Employee Participation in Social Movements: What to do When Political Activism Impacts Your Organization”
  • “HR Professionals Just Want to Have Fun: Weird and Wacky Employment Cases”

Jennifer’s first presentation will address many situations where political activism can impact the workplace and will provide suggested employer responses. In light of ongoing political turmoil that has been in the news, Jennifer’s presentation on employee political activism will be featured in a discussion den following the presentation. Jennifer’s second presentation reviews the legal framework of several employment laws through analysis of some of the more wild and wacky employment cases.

Gail E. Farb will help to bring the event to a great close, and will present on the final day of the conference. Gail’s presentation, “Error-Free Employment Relationships – Avoiding Top Legal Mistakes from Hire to Fire” a/k/a “How to Steer Your Spaceship Away from Employment Law Black Holes” is designed to help employers recognize unlawful pitfalls in the employment relationship and overcome hazards.

If you are interested in the event, you can learn more and register online at hrflorida.org (the link to the registration page is at the bottom left of the webpage, under Quick Links).

*The HR Florida Conference & Expo is the annual conference of the HR Florida State Council, a state affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Each year the event attracts 1,500+ human resource professionals and vendors throughout the state of Florida and across the globe. These individuals represent virtually every industry, and companies ranging from small businesses to large industrial centers. Earn credits for both the HR Certification Institute certification and SHRM Competencies certification.

2016 Overtime Regulations: They Are Still Out There

Like a science fiction television show from the 90s, the 2016 overtime regulations are still out there, as is the injunction preventing their implementation. To bring those that may just be returning from Close Encounters of the Third Kind up to date, in the latter part of 2016 employers rushed to get ready for December 1, 2016, the effective date for the regulations. On November 22, 2016, just days before the effective date and as employers scrambled to make their final preparations for the changes, a federal judge blocked the implementation. With the speed of Quicksilver, the Obama administration initiated an appeal. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted expedited review of the injunction, and many anticipated witnessing The War of the Worlds play out during oral argument. Then, as if a spacecraft had landed in Roswell and this time everyone stopped to watch the aliens disembark, the momentum came to a crashing halt just like a hirsute alien spacecraft piloted by Jeff Goldblum.

Shortly after President Trump took office, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) requested a postponement of its deadline to submit a reply brief. This request was granted. Just as that deadline was filed, the DOL again requested a postponement. Currently, the DOL’s reply brief is due on June 30, 2017. Although the new Administration could have withdrawn the appeal, it has not. Therefore, there still may be a chance for a strategic showdown such as that seen in Pixels.

Offensive Facebook Posts May Be Protected Speech

Human resources experts often recommend a detailed analysis before disciplining an employee for offensive statements. On April 21, 2017, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals highlighted this requirement and forced an employer to reinstate an employee who had been fired for posting highly offensive comments about his supervisor. Although this case, National Labor Relations Board v. Pier Sixty LLC, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 6974 (2d Cir. April 21, 2017), involved a union organizing campaign, such a dispute can arise outside the union context. It can arise in a breakroom conversation, a media interview, a picket sign, or a social media post. If the content involves protected speech, such as criticism of the terms and conditions of the employee’s employment, and especially if the speech purports to speak on behalf of or for the benefit of others, the speech may be protected, whether or not there is a union involved.

In Pier Sixty, the employee posted on Facebook that his supervisor is a “NASTY MOTHER F—ER” and “F—his mother and his entire f—ing family!!!”  The post criticized his supervisor’s communications style, saying, “…don’t know how to talk to people!!!!”  The post also included a pro-union statement, “Vote YES for the UNION!!!!!!”

The court weighed the protections (here, concerted activity) versus how abusive or “opprobrious” the comments were. The court reviewed the context of the statements, including that the employer was found to have permitted past vulgarity and to have engaged in other efforts to impede unionizing efforts. Commenting that these posts fall on the “outer bounds” of protected activity, the court declared the posts to be within the bounds of protected concerted activity and required the employer to bring the discharged employee back to work.

Employers should ensure that workplace rules are consistently enforced and that the reason for discharge does not involve and does not appear to involve a protected reason. Employers should be prepared to articulate and, if required, prove the lawful reason for discharge rather than relying on at-will status.

Kimberly Page Walker
kwalker@williamsparker.com
(941) 329-6628