Quirky Questions

Real Life Employment Law

Disparaging Comments on Web, Quirky Question # 14

Quirky Question # 14:

One of our employees discovered fortuitously (by Googling his own name) that a co-worker down the hall has been posting messages to a Web-blog, in which he identified the employee by name and made graphic, negative sexual observations about him.  Not surprisingly, the two employees are not friends.  The subject of the comments had no idea that this conduct was going on and is worried about how these comments already have or will affect his reputation (both within the company and outside of it).

We intend to terminate the employee who placed the comments on the Blog.  Are there any risks associated with that discharge?  We also wonder what actions, if any, the company should take vis-’a-vis the employee about whom the comments were made?  Does that employee have any legal rights that could be asserted against either the company or the employee we expect to terminate? Answer→

Drug & Alcohol Testing, Employment of Minors, Quirky Question # 13

Quirky Question # 13:

I read your Quirky Question # 12 regarding sexual harassment and the issue of whether the policies need to be tailored to minors.  Your question alerted me to a related issue.  Like the company described in your last question, our firm also employs a number of minors under age 18.  We have a pre-employment and post-accident drug and alcohol testing policy.

We are wondering whether the minors’ parents have to sign the authorization for the drug testing?  Do the minors themselves?  Is a drug-testing authorization signed by the parents at the start of the minors’ employment sufficient to cover all future drug and alcohol testing of the minors? Answer→

Sexual Harassment — Employment of Minors, Quirky Question # 12

Quirky Question # 12:

Our company employs a lot of minors.  We have a policy prohibiting sexual harassment.  It is written for our work force as a whole and is not tailored toward the high school students we employ.  A friend of mine recently told me that our policy has to be understandable by the high school students for it to be valid.  Is that true?  Also, we occasionally get complaints from the parents of the kids who work at our firm.  I don’t pay much attention to those complaints since some of these parents are overprotective and I figure that kids will let me know if they truly have a concern.  In your view, are there any problems with this approach? Answer→

Restrictive Covenants; Interference with Contract: Quirky Question # 11

Quirky Question # 11:

Our firm uses non-competition agreements for a number of our key employees.  The non-competition agreement was drafted by our outside counsel who tells us that it is enforceable.  One of our managers who had signed such an agreement recently resigned.  We just learned that she will be starting employment at our primary competitor, in a role nearly identical to that which she performed for our company.  If I contact her new employer to inform it of our manager’s non-compete, and her new employer withdrew her job offer, could she sue us for interfering with her prospective employment relationship? Answer→

Employer Notice of Mental Disability, Quirky Question # 10

Quirky Question # 10:

Not long ago, a stray dog wandered into our warehouse.  It did not hurt anyone but it apparently frightened one of our employees.  In the days and weeks after the incident, our employee began behaving more and more bizarrely.  She yelled at her supervisors and co-employees.  In a conversation with our company’s President, she began yelling at him about the “f***ing dog.”  During this time, she also missed a fair amount of work.  Sometimes she would show up and then leave soon thereafter.  On other days, she simply did not show up.  One day, she called the police to complain of harassment because her supervisor had moved her belongings into a nearby office.  After she had used up her paid leave, we notified her how to apply for FMLA leave.  She never did so and not long thereafter, we discharged her.  She now has sued our firm for violating the FMLA.  Did we do something wrong? How can she sue us for an FMLA violation if she never notified us that she needed to take FMLA leave? Answer→

Employee Cooperation in Investigations, Quirky Question # 9

Quirky Question # 9:

Two of our employees are involved in a romantic relationship.  We recently learned that our male employee assaulted our female employee at her apartment.  He was charged with domestic assault based on her report and convicted.

We then tried to elicit information from our female employee about whether she felt her paramour posed a risk of violence to her or any of her co-workers.  She refused to answer our questions, claiming they invaded her privacy.  We do have a policy that requires cooperation with our investigations.  What options do we have?  Can we fire her for refusing to assist in our investigation? Answer→

Drug Testing Drivers, Quirky Question # 8

Quirky Question # 8:

We provide a number of our sales employees with company automobiles.  We were wondering whether we could randomly test these individuals for alcohol or drug use.  Needless to point out, we would like to ensure that employees driving our company vehicles do not endanger either themselves or members of the public. Answer→

A New Question Every Week

Nearly every day, executives and managers, and the in-house counsel and Human Resources professionals who work with them, are confronted with unanticipated questions regarding the workforce. Just when they think they have "seen it all," along comes a new and often stranger scenario involving an odd twist to an area they thought they fully understood. These individuals often find themselves back at square one when trying to construct an appropriate response and devise a creative solution to the problem presented. Sometimes these "Quirky Questions" can be resolved easily; other times, they implicate practical and legal issues that are not immediately apparent. This Quirky Questions blog addresses these unanticipated employment questions.

We encourage you to submit your thoughts and reactions to the questions presented. We also encourage you to submit questions that you would like to see addressed, subject to these guidelines.