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January 2015 Archives

Wage and hour lawsuits can be very complex

Employment law is a complicated area, not least of which for the employers who have to make sure everything is in line and that the company is compliant with all of the rules and regulations -- in addition to overseeing the continued success of the company. So when it comes to serious legal issues that your company faces from an employee, you need to be prepared for all of the complexities it can present.

One common form of lawsuit filed by an employee against his or her current or former employer is a wage and hour lawsuit. These tend to be very complicated because the issue at hand could deal with many variables. Of course, the most obvious is the individual's pay. But it can also entail other forms of compensation, benefits, retirement accounts, and other elements.

This is why it is so important that all companies have an organized and well-maintained record system that keeps track of all the time that people have worked, in addition to how their benefits and compensation is supposed to be handled. Improper record keeping is a major reason that companies get into trouble for wage and hour violations.

If your company is in the Pittsburgh area and you are in need of legal counsel as a result of a lawsuit filed by one of your current or former employees, then please consider us at Kisner Law Firm. We have the experience and the knowledge to help out many different companies with their wage and hour lawsuit.

Social Media, E-mail and the Work Place, What's Not to "Like"?

BW Sq Chairs.jpgSocial media has evolved into an ever-growing part of life for many employers and employees. Companies and individuals can benefit both professionally and personally from their use of social media. Advertising and networking with previously unavailable contacts can now be done in real time with little to no cost. However, along with these benefits comes substantial risk. Social media's instant and public display means that users can easily (perhaps too easily) voice their opinions, and those opinions are forever memorialized in cyberspace. Just as things can be said in the heat of the moment, they can also be posted, tweeted, texted or updated in the heat of the moment. The difference is that when spoken, your audience is limited and your words are not often memorialized. On the other hand, when using social media, your audience can be unlimited (see, e.g., reposting and re-tweeting) and everything that you share, whether it is edited or later deleted, can be captured, saved and later reproduced.

Employer Liability

The public display and permanency of social media posts can become particularly troublesome when an employee chooses to discuss matters relating to their employment. Even if they post as an individual in their own capacity and on their own time, employee posts can lead to trouble for an employer. These issues can arise in a variety of situations. The most frequently occurring: the employee makes disparaging comments about the employer or their practices, reveals private business matters or confidential information about clients, harasses fellow employees, or makes inappropriate contact with clients or competitors. What complicates matters for employers is that despite all of the potential risks associated with employee social media usage, they cannot place an outright ban on employee usage in connection with employment.

Protected Speech and Freedom of Expression

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined that even if comments are potentially harmful to a company, if they relate to certain protected activities, such as organization or voicing concerns over wages or conditions, the employer cannot hold the activity against an employee. Overly broad social media policies, particularly those that appear to curtail or discipline most, if not all, of any employees' private use of social media, have been found to violate labor laws. However, even those jurisdictions restricting a company's social media policy generally agree that policies can restrict employees from posting that which disparages the company or violates harassment or similar existing company policies.

Employer Provided Email Usage May Be Protected Too

A recent decision by the NLRB may mean that employer-provided email might also be protected for use in connection with concerted activities. In Purple Communications, Inc. (21-CA-095151 and 21-RC-091531 and 21-RC-091584; 361 NLRB No. 126), the Board determined that unless an employer could show special circumstances, there was a presumption that an employer must permit employees to use its company email system, to which employees otherwise have access, for the purpose of conducting protected communication activities during breaks and after work time. The Board remanded the case to allow the employer to show why the restriction on the activity was necessary to "maintain production and discipline", the criteria necessary to rebut the presumption.

Social Media and Discrimination

Social media sites have helped many employees not only network, but find jobs. The multi-depth and interactive properties of social media also provide employers with insight into potential candidates like never before. This wealth of information allows employers to better discern potential workers' skills, experiences and even personalities before ever conducting an interview. The collection of information can be quicker, less expensive and more accurate than traditional paper applications. However, some are questioning whether this peek behind the curtain is being used in a discriminatory fashion. After all, in addition to a person's professional experiences and educational background, employers become privy to information about a candidate's race, gender, age, nationality, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities and other federal, state and locally protected class information.

In March 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) held a meeting with a panel of experts to better understand how social media impacts anti-discrimination laws and the corresponding enforcement of these laws. The EEOC has not yet released an official opinion or significant guidelines regarding the matter, but employers can still be proactive in protecting themselves. Employers should institute carefully constructed policies for what type of information they research and consider when looking at applicants and employees online. If possible, one person should be in charge of reviewing the online content and writing a summary of the information found. This summary should not contains any information pertinent to a identifying a candidate or employee as part of a protected class. This information should then be passed to the next person in the decision making process. The online reviewer's role should end here to minimize any claims that information discovered during the social media review was used to discriminate against an applicant or employee. If it is not possible to have separate persons complete the review and hiring processes, then the single person in charge must be diligent in keeping the scope of their review to professional qualifications and keeping a record of what considerations were used to make the decision, whether it was positive or negative. The key to avoiding discrimination is a narrow scope, neutrality and record keeping.

Passwords and Privacy Settings

Only a few states (not yet Pennsylvania) have made it unlawful for an employer to request an employee or potential hire's personal login information. However, even though it may be legal to request the information in a majority of jurisdictions, the courts are unclear on whether or not an employee must hand over the requested information and how a refusal to do so can impact their employment.

In contrast, several jurisdictions have determined that despite the use of certain privacy settings, the act of posting information is a public act, which waives an employee's right to claim that their social media activities are private. This means that employers can prohibit certain activities and discipline or terminate employees who violate these policies when posting information.

Carefully Crafted Policies Provide Protection

Employers should carefully craft their social media and electronic communication policies and make sure that they are specific, and not overly restrictive of employees' private lives. The must be tailored so as to not violate labor laws, particularly an employee's right to organize and communicate with one another. At the same time, employers should have a social media policy to protect their reputation and insulate themselves from potential liability for employee's private social media activities. Employers may want to obtain legal counsel before implementing any new policies or to review existing policies.

Contact Kisner Law Firm

Employers must carefully consider policies, posting and privacy settings. Sometimes these complex situations require legal assistance. The Kisner Law Firm advises on all areas of employment law, including social media policies. We serve as general counsel to many companies, helping them plan as they grow and expand. We are available to provide advice whenever workplace issues arise, whether large or small, so employers can craft a careful response. We at Kisner Law Firm understand that employment issues require careful attention, and you will quickly learn why our brand of personal, responsive service is so appreciated by our clients. Contact us today for any and all of your employment law needs.

Ring in the New Year with Lower Taxes (Allegheny County Assessments)

BW RE SQ.jpgWith a new year upon us, it's time to look ahead and prepare for what 2015 has in store. Whether you resolve to lead a healthier lifestyle or to simply make a concerted effort to appreciate the small things, everybody's New Year's resolution is aimed at making this year better than last year.

Homeowners should resolve to see if they can lower their property tax bills by considering an appeal of their current county assessment. Beginning in January, the Allegheny County Board of Property Assessment Appeals and Review is affording Allegheny County property owners and taxing bodies a brief window of opportunity in which to file appeals. The deadline is March 31, 2015.

One of the most notable developments for 2015 tax appeal purposes is that Allegheny County will once again have a useful common level ratio for the current tax year. The ratio - 90.8 percent - can be used as a barometer for property owners considering an appeal. If the assessed value of a particular property is above 90.8 percent of its fair market value, then the property owner should strongly consider filing an appeal.

On the other hand, as an encore to last year, new property owners in Allegheny County can again expect taxing bodies to appeal their assessment. So even though the total number of non-owner appeals will likely drop in 2015, new owners who paid more than the assessed value may find their property subject to an appeal. Challenging such an appeal can result in hundreds or thousands of dollars in tax savings.

Don't delay. Contact the Kisner Law Firm today for a free consultation and ring in the New Year with lower taxes.

Office Location

Kisner Law Firm, LLC
Gulf Tower
707 Grant St., Suite 2646
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Map and Directions

Phone: 412-880-5605
Fax: 412-235-6704

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