An increasing number of large, prominent companies are recognizing the value of encouraging diversity in the workplace, even when that involves taking public stands on controversial issues. Case in point: General Mills recently voiced its opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment in Minnesota that would ban same-sex marriage.
Federal law makes it illegal to treat workers over 40 differently than workers under 40 when it comes to any terms or conditions of employment. This was illustrated recently in the unusual case of a 71-year-old lifeguard who was fired after failing a swimming test. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued the employer, claiming the employer suspended the lifeguard when he failed the test and then fired him before he had a chance to take a retest, while it allowed younger workers who failed the same test to keep their jobs. The lawsuit recently settled, with the employer paying the lifeguard $65,000.
The giant corporations of the technology world are clashing over so-called “patent trolls” — companies that buy up patents that they didn't create and that they don't plan to use themselves — in order to receive licensing fees and royalties. Google recently complained to regulators in the European Commission and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, accusing Microsoft and Nokia of colluding with patent trolls in order to discourage device makers from using Android, the operating system that Google uses in its mobile devices. Microsoft and Nokia both use Windows as the operating system on their phones.
Failure to make reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious beliefs can be costly for employers. Wal-Mart recently settled a religious-discrimination lawsuit filed against it by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by agreeing to pay $70,000 and to train its human resource personnel on accommodating religion and avoiding retaliation.
What rights do employers have to limit the social-media use of their employees? The law addressing that question is rapidly evolving. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently published a report on employers’ social-media policies, the third report on the subject in less than a year.
Several recent guilty pleas in a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) case gave prosecutors a “rare victory following a string of defeats in similar bribery investigations,” according to the National Law Journal. The case involved a California-based company, Control Components Inc. (CCI), which designs and manufactures valves for the worldwide nuclear, gas and oil industries. Federal prosecutors charged several of CCI’s executives with paying $4.9 million in bribes to officials in various countries, including China, Malaysia, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates, in order to get contracts for CCI.
Federal law prohibits treating job applicants and employees differently based on their citizenship status, as long as the applicants and employees are authorized to work in the United States. The Department of Justice recently filed a lawsuit against a Las Vegas casino, alleging that it required non-citizen employees to produce more — or different — documents and information than the law required them to produce. The lawsuit also alleges that the casino required employees who were lawful permanent residents to undergo unnecessary reverification procedures. The suit asks for “full remedial relief to work-authorized non-U.S. citizen employees for the losses they have suffered, including back pay and reinstatement,” as well as an unspecified fine.
Companies with valuable intellectual property have to protect their assets, in part by keeping up with the changing domestic and international laws that regulate copyrights, trademarks and patents. In a recent lawsuit ,TF1, a popular French television station, sued Google in a French court. The lawsuit hinged on the question of who was responsible for copyright-infringing material posted on the Internet. TF1 claimed that Google should be liable for copyright infringement for copies of its television shows that users had posted on YouTube, which Google owns. The court, however, found in Google’s favor and dismissed the television company’s claims. TF1 is considering an appeal, calling the decision “surprising in several respects.”
New York's at-will employment doctrine survived scrutiny by the state's highest court in a case that affirmed the termination of the chief compliance officer of a hedge fund. J. Sullivan was fired after he confronted the company's CEO about the timing of stock trades made in the accounts of the CEO and his relatives. The New York State Court of Appeals ruled that the circumstances of Sullivan's termination did not meet New York's narrow exception to the at-will employment rule.
Liking a Facebook page can get employees in trouble at work, and clicking the "like" button isn't the only social-media move that's off limits for employees. Increasingly, employers are adopting social-media policies that set boundaries for employees' online behavior. For those who don't, employees may push those boundaries to their limits.