In many employment cases, the parties engage in a battle over content in the plaintiff’s private social media accounts. The recent decision from the U.S. District Court in Eastern District of Michigan in Robinson v. MGM Grand Detroit, LLC, Case No. 17-CV-13128 (E.D. Mich. 1/17/2019) illustrates well how an employer can demonstrate its right

In November 2016, a Boeing employee experiencing difficulty formatting an Excel spreadsheet. Not realizing that hidden columns included birth dates and social security numbers for 36,000 Boeing employees, he emailed the spreadsheet to his wife, who was not a Boeing employee, so she could help. This seemingly innocent act prompted Boeing to launch an investigation

2016 has arrived, marking the beginning of a year of political transition. While we cannot be certain what the upcoming Presidential election holds for 2017, we can expect to see at least seven employment law trends as we move through this year.

1. Increase in Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) initiatives and enforcement

The Department

Naked pictures? Drunken celebrations? Sexist comments? A click of a button and all evidence of your “Weekend at Bernie’s” can disappear. Job seekers know to scrub clean their Facebook pages before they connect with potential employers, to remove all trace of their off-color on-line life. But here in Ohio you can’t delete your way out

According to a news release issued by the university, a Kansas State University study to be published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior concludes that between 60 and 80% of the time spent by people on the internet at work has "nothing to do with work." The study, which was profiled this morning on

The U.S. Supreme Court today issued its decision in NASA v. Nelson, a case that we previewed back in October.   As you will recall, the respondents in Nelson were a group of California Institute of Technology employees who worked under a contract with NASA at its Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  Pursuant to a Presidential directive, the Department of Commerce required all contract employees with long-term access to federal facilities to complete a standard background check by no later than October 2007.  NASA modified its contract with Cal Tech to reflect this requirement, but shortly before the deadline, the respondents filed their lawsuit.  

Respondents contended that two specific aspects of the background check process violated their constitutional right to “informational privacy.”  Specifically, they challenged a question asking them to state whether they had received treatment or counseling in the last year for illegal drug use and a questionnaire that would be sent to the employees’ references asking open-ended questions about their suitability for federal government employment.

In a unanimous decision (with Justice Kagan not participating), the Supreme Court assumed, without actually finding, that a constitutional right to informational privacy exists.  The Court then upheld the background checks as a reasonable exercise of  the government’s right to “reasonably investigate applicants and employees to aid in ensuring the security of its facilities and in employing a competent, reliable work force.”  Not only were the disputed background check inquiries reasonable, but the Court also found that the respondents’ rights were substantially protected against public disclosure by the federal Privacy Act.

 

Not surprisingly, the Court was swayed by the fact that the inquiries at issue are “similar to those (that) became mandatory for all candidates for the federal civil service in 1953” and are “part of a standard employment background check of the sort used by millions of private employers.”  With respect to the inquiry regarding treatment or counseling for the use of illegal drugs, the Court noted that it was a reasonable follow-up to the prior question about using, possessing, supplying or manufacturing drugs during the previous year and, importantly, that the government used the response to the “treatment or counseling” question as a mitigating factor.  Similarly, the Court held that the open-ended inquiries made to the employees’ references were “reasonably aimed at identifying capable employees who will faithfully conduct the Government’s business.” 

 


Continue Reading Supreme Court Upholds Constitutionality of Government Background Screens in NASA v. Nelson

In the day-to-day administration of their Ohio workers’ compensation programs, self-insured employers (or a TPA or law firm on their behalf) often will obtain a medical authorization from the injured worker and then obtain medical records as part of the employers’ medical investigation. Though the authorization is often limited to specific injuries or body parts, they are just as likely not to be so limited. In addition, despite HIPAA requirements, healthcare providers often produce records in excess of what has been authorized (presumably because they don’t want to take the time or effort to cull through the records and produce only what has been asked for.)  As a result, the records obtained frequently will include medical information wholly unrelated to the alleged workers’ compensation injuries and sometimes that information reveals genetic information, such as whether an individual had a test done to determine whether she is at greater risk for breast cancer.  Hospital records are notorious for including family history information that may reflect, for instance, that a parent died of cancer or a heart attack at a relatively young age, even when the individual went to the hospital only to have an injured knee looked at.

As a result, in the workers’ compensation context, employers are frequently obtaining genetic information even though they really haven’t asked for it.  Should the EEOC’s final rule on Title II of GINA then have any impact on employers’ approaches to their medical investigations conducted in the defense of workers’ compensation claims?  Though the rule states that GINA is not intended to “limit or expand the protections, rights, or obligations of employees or employers under applicable workers’ compensation laws,” does that language provide clearance to employers to obtain through its workers’ compensation administration what otherwise would be protected genetic information?  According to the EEOC, “genetic information” does not include the fact that an individual has a diagnosed disease, disorder, or pathological condition, so it is difficult (at least for me) to come up with examples of situations when an employer would need genetic information on an employee to assist in the defense of a workers’ compensation claim.  Therefore, one could argue that application of GINA to an employer’s medical inquiries and examinations for workers’ compensation purposes does not limit an employer’s rights or expand an employee’s protections under the workers’ compensation laws.

 


Continue Reading Will GINA Impact Ohio Employers’ Ability to Conduct Medical Investigations In Workers’ Compensation Claims?

While most employment lawyers, myself included, have been focusing lately on the opportunities and risks associated with monitoring new technologies such as social media and GPS devices, the Seventh Circuit reminds us that employers also need to remember that “low-tech” monitoring of employees can result in unexpected liability as well.
Continue Reading Low-Tech Monitoring of Employees Can Result In Employer Liability

While many human resources managers spend sleepless nights worrying about the negative things employees may be posting on the Internet about them, this post from our sister blog technologylawsource.com reminds us that the nice things they have to say can get employers into trouble as well. Lesson for employers: Make sure your social media policy