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Delaware Joins the Ban-the-Box Bandwagon

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn May 6, 2014In: Background Checks, Hiring, Legislative Update

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Criminal histories and credit scores will soon be an off-limit topic for job applications in Delaware’s public sector.  HB 167 passed the Delaware Senate on May 1, 2014, and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Markell soon.  Criminal Background Checks

As we previously reported, the bill would prohibit public employers and contractors with State agencies from:

inquiring into or considering the criminal record, criminal history, or credit history or score of an applicant before it makes a conditional offer to the applicant.

Once a conditional offer of employment has been made, the employer may perform a background check but, even then, 

may only consider felonies for 10 years from the completion of the sentence, and misdemeanors for 5 years from the completion of the sentence.

The bill would also require employers to "several enumerated factors” (i.e., the EEOC’s factors) when deciding whether to revoke a conditional offer based on the results of a background check.

The scope of the bill is broader than you may suspect.  It would apply not only to public employers (i.e., State government), but also to “contractors with State agencies.”  It does, however, provide for an exception for contractors who are subject to conflicting State or federal laws.  For example, a child-care facility that contracts with the State would not be subject to the new law because it is obligated by other State laws to comply with certain background-screening requirements. 

The trend towards prohibiting employers from inquiring into an applicant’s criminal history or credit score does not appear to be going away any time soon.  Although, for now, only public employers in Delaware will be subject to this ban-the-box law, it may be just a matter of time before the scope is expanded to include private-sector employers, as well. 

See also

Bill Would Limit Use of Criminal Histories for Delaware Employers

Wilmington Joins the Ban-the-Box Bandwagon

Other posts on criminal-history checks for potential employees

Bill Would Limit Use of Criminal Histories for Delaware Employers

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn January 17, 2014In: Background Checks, Delaware Specific, Hiring, Legislative Update

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So-called “ban-the-box” initiatives, which limit employers’ inquiries into an applicant’s criminal history, have been adopted by several cities and municipalities.  Philadelphia adopted such a law in the Spring of 2011.  The City of Wilmington joined the ban-the-box bandwagon in Fall 2012, when then-Mayor Baker signed an executive order that removed a question about criminal convictions from job applications.  But that executive order applied only to applicants seeking work with the City of Wilmington.  Other Delaware employers have not been subject to these restrictions.

A bill is pending in the Delaware legislature, though, would change that and more if passed.

H.B. 167 proposes to limit when public employers and government contractors may inquire about or consider the criminal background or credit history.   The employer would not be permitted to ask about this information until “after it has determined that the applicant is otherwise qualified and has conditionally offered the applicant the position.”  Thus, a covered employer would be prohibited from asking about criminal or credit history until at least the first interview—no more checkboxes on job application.

The bill also proposes to limit the specific types of information that can be requested. Covered employers would be permitted to ask only about: (a) felony convictions in the past 10 years; and (b) misdemeanor convictions in the past 5 years.

This means that questions about arrests would be totally off limits—both on applications and in in-person interviews.

Finally, the bill proposes to limit how the information that the employer obtains will impact the hiring decision.  The bill basically adopts a scaled-down version of the EEOC’s multi-factor analysis whereby employers would be required to consider the nature of the crime and its relationship to the position sought, how much time has passed, etc. 

Oddly, the bill offers no specific limits on the use of credit history information other than timing.  In other words, the bill prohibits covered employers from obtaining a credit report for the candidate until a conditional offer has been made.

Even for private-sector employers who do no business with the State or any State agency, the use of background checks as part of the screening process continues to warrant consideration.  Particularly since the laws around the country are still developing, employers should weigh the benefits of this checks against the risks.  (See 5 Reasons Why Criminal Background Checks Are a Perfect Storm for a Lawsuit).  And, if nothing else, employers should evaluate the process and policies in place for conducting such checks.

Winter Woes: Employment Discrimination Via Facebook

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn November 24, 2013In: Hiring, Social Media in the Workplace

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Do employers search social-media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, before hiring a potential employee?  Yes.  Like it or not, they do.  Sometimes as part of an official screening process but, more often than not, the act of Googling is simply second nature and is done without any advance planning or thought. Cold weather woes

And, as a result of these online searches, do employers screen out candidates for unlawful reasons, such as race, religion, or pregnancy?  Yes, says the results of a recent survey reported by the Wall Street Journal

According to the study, as many of one-third of employers search for a job applicant’s online activity early in the hiring process.  The survey also claims that candidates whose public Facebook profiles indicated that they were Muslim were less likely to be called for interviews than Christian applicants. 

Perhaps it’s because the weather has turned cold in the Northeast and it’s put me in a cantankerous mood, but I take issue with the implications of these results. 

First, if a hiring manager has a bias, either consciously or subconsciously, against a particular class of candidates, he is no more likely to act on that bias merely because he learns that an applicant falls into the class via Facebook.  There are numerous studies that show that a candidate’s surname can impact whether he is called for an interview. 

Second, this discriminatory screening happens only if a candidate’s online information can be seen by the hiring manager.  The most recent data of which I am aware says that less than 25% of Facebook users maintain a public profile.  Good digital citizens who are seeking employment know not to keep their Facebook page public for all to see. 

Third, the WSJ article concludes with a quote from an employment lawyer, who reports that he "advise[s] employers that it’s not a good idea to use social media as a screening tool.”  Well, I’ve been saying it since 2005 and I’ll continue to say it now, hogwash.  The hiring decision should be made with great care. Internet searches for applicant information can be excellent tools, provided they are conducted in a legally defensible manner.  

Moreover, employers should not deny the reality that their hiring managers are searching online for information about a potential candidate.  Instead of turning a blind eye to this reality, employers are best advised to address it by implementing best practices to prevent unlawful discrimination, while still ensuring the best possible hiring decisions. 

See also, Screening Job Applicants with Facebook: Parts 1, 2, and 3

EEOC Ordered to Pay Big Fees for Pursuing Criminal-History Suit

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 9, 2013In: EEOC Suits & Settlements, Hiring

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The EEOC suffered another defeat this week, being ordered again to pay the fees and costs incurred by an employer after the EEOC’s claims turned out to be without merit.  IN EEOC v. Peoplemark, Inc., A split 6th Circuit affirmed an award of approximately $750,000 in fees and costs incurred by a temp agency in defending against one of the EEOC’s criminal-history cases.  The EEOC contended that the temp agency’s company-wide policy barring employment to individuals with felony records had a disparate impact on Black candidates. Attorney's fees

The temp agency, PeopleMark, had offices in five states.  In 2005, a Black candidate, Sherri Scott filed a Charge of Discrimination, alleging that she had been denied employment because she had a felony conviction.  In fact, Scott had two felony convictions and had been released from prison less than a month before she applied for a job with PeopleMark. 

And it gets worse. 

The EEOC “investigated” the Charge, issuing multiple subpoenas and obtaining more than 15,000 pages of documents.  Although the evidence did not seem to support the allegations in the Charge, EEOC disagreed and filed suit.  The suit, asserted on a class of individuals, alleged that the company's policy prohibited the hiring “of any person with a criminal record,” which disparately impacted Black applicants.

The trouble, though, was that PeopleMark did not have such a policy. Then the EEOC identified approximately 250 individuals it contended to be within the class of aggrieved persons.  Well, as it turned out, PeopleMark had hired 57 of the individuals and some others did not have a criminal background in the first place.

The EEOC eventually agreed to dismiss the case but, as you may imagine, PeopleMark was not exactly satisfied and it sought sanctions in the form of fees and costs incurred in the litigation in the amount of approximately $1.3 million. 

In March 2011, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan granted the motion and awarded approximately $750,000 in fees to PeopleMark.  On appeal, the 6th Cir. affirmed, finding that the employer was entitled to recover fees from the time that the EEOC learned or should have learned that PeopleMark did not have the policy as the EEOC had alleged.

EEOC v. Peoplemark, Inc., No. 11-2582 (6th Cir. Oct. 7, 2013).

See also

EEOC Faces Petition for $5.5m in Fees

W.D. Pa. Finds EEOC Failed to Conciliate

What Does “Good Faith” Mean to the EEOC?

When the EEOC Goes Too Far—Part 2

When the EEOC Goes Too Far

EEOC v. Ruby Tuesday

An Employment-Law Perspective on the Anthony Weiner Story

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn July 29, 2013In: Hiring, Newsworthy

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Anthony Weiner is in the headlines again. Last week, he told reporters that, since he left Congress in 2011, he’s sent salacious messages to numerous women, according to the NY Daily News. This latest revelation has caused quite the stir but Weiner says that he’ll stay in the race for Mayor of New York City.

The dialogue about whether Weiner should withdraw from the race is an interesting one. The conversation seems to focus on the nature of his “mistakes” and whether or not the public should care about the sexual endeavors of elected officials. Some say that private matters and personal affairs should not serve as qualifications for public office. But I think this argument mostly misses the point.

When making a hiring decision, good employers know that what matters is the candidate’s ability to perform the essential functions of the job. For example, an applicant’s race, religion, gender, disability, etc., should play no part in the decision because none of those characteristics have any relationship to the duties. If it doesn’t indicate the ability to perform the job, it shouldn’t matter.

So, how does this apply do Anthony Weiner? Well, many of his defenders argue that his sexual escapades are not indicative of his ability to perform the duties of mayor. And this may well be true.

But think of it like this. Weiner got into trouble the first time around because of certain conduct. He stepped away from the political spotlight but returned shortly thereafter, asking for forgiveness for his indiscretions. He told the voting public that he had recognized that his conduct was wrong and, at least implicitly, that he wouldn’t engage in the conduct again.

From an employment-law perspective, the nature of the conduct is irrelevant. What is relevant is that Weiner didn’t keep his promise to refrain from engaging in the conduct. It’s his apparent inability to learn from his mistakes, and the failure to keep his promise, that reflect on his suitability for the job—not the nature of the conduct itself.

Give Me Some Credit! EEOC Credit-Check Case Dismissed

Posted by Lauren Moak RussellOn February 6, 2013In: Background Checks, EEOC Suits & Settlements, Hiring

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"Give Me Some Credit!" Maybe that's how the EEOC feels these days, after its high-profile suit against Kaplan Higher Education Corp. was dismissed on January 28, 2013. As readers may remember, the EEOC sued Kaplan in 2010, alleging that its pre-employment credit check policies had a disparate impact upon Black job applicants.

In a 23-page opinion, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio dismissed the suit on Kaplan's Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court first excluded the expert witness testimony offered by the EEOC, holding that it was scientifically unsound. Expert witness testimony is key in disparate impact cases, because they rise and fall on the percentage of job applicants from a given classification as compared to the percentage of hires in the same classification. Among the key problems for the EEOC was that Kaplan, like many employers, does not collect demographic information on the race of job applicants. As a result, EEOC struggled to identify the races of those applicants that were rejected due to credit problems. In an effort to remedy the problem, the EEOC subpoenaed records from state DMVs, and used a team of "race raters" to review the DMV photos and assign races to the job applicants. The Court, not surprisingly, rejected this approach and the resulting expert witness analysis.

Next the Court addressed Kaplan's Motion for Summary Judgment. In the absence of any statistical evidence demonstrating an adverse impact caused by the use of credit checks, the Court held that the EEOC's case had to be dismissed.

There are several interesting considerations arising out of this litigation. First, as the Court's decision noted, the EEOC itself uses credit checks to vet job applicants! This should not come as a great surprise, as many employers use credit checks as one of a litany of tools at their disposal to identify the best-qualified candidates. Nonetheless, for an agency that has widely publicized the pitfalls of background checks in the hiring process, its adoption of the practice calls its hardline stance into question.

Second, the EEOC's past enforcement practices gave rise to many of its difficulties in this case. Many employment law attorneys discourage their clients from collecting race, gender, and other protected-characteristic data during the application process. In the past, the EEOC has used such information to support disparate hiring claims. Kaplan, in complying with EEOC best practices, deprived the EEOC of information that it needed to prove its case, thereby leading to the rejected "race rater" approach.

Finally, many employment law experts and EEOC-watchers are wondering if the Court's decision will put a damper on EEOC enforcement efforts directed at background checks. As readers of this blog know, background checks have been in the EEOC's cross-hairs for quite some time, with new guidance issued on the use of criminal background checks in April 2012. In light of the hurdles faced in this case, many are speculating that the EEOC may back off of its efforts to litigate these issues, focusing instead on conciliation efforts.

Only time will tell. In the meantime, employers can rejoice in a victory for the reasoned and supportable use of pre-employment credit checks.

Wilmington Joins the Ban-the-Box Bandwagon

Posted by Adria B. MartinelliOn December 11, 2012In: Background Checks, Hiring

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Employers' Ban-the-Box initiatives are taking hold in many states and municipalities. The City of Wilmington has joined the ranks of employers no longer requiring information on an applicant's criminal history at the time of job application. Mayor Baker signed an executive order on Monday that removes a question about criminal convictions from city job applications.

criminal background.jpg

According to Mayor Baker, the city will now conduct criminal background checks only on applicants who have received a conditional job offer. Public safety jobs in the police and fire departments are the only positions excluded from the order.

Mayor Baker's initiative is a good idea for many reasons. According to the article, nearly one in four job applicants has some kind of criminal past. That is a significant portion of the population who could be automatically denied employment, and deprived of the opportunity to be a productive member of society, by employers taking an inflexible position on criminal background. Moreover, the practice of not hiring applicants with a criminal record disproportionately affects certain segments of the population: predominantly Hispanics and blacks. Because of this adverse impact, the EEOC has taken a particular interest in this practice.

In order to exclude applicants based on a criminal record and successfully defend an EEOC inquiry, the employer must prove that the exclusion was "job-related and consistent with business necessity." In other words, the employer should be able to articulate its logic if it denies employment to an applicant based on criminal history. For example an employer hiring a cashier position who learns that an applicant embezzled from a prior employer five years ago passes the smell test for exclusion. On the other hand, it is much harder to justify excluding an applicant who is going to load pallets in the warehouse, because he wrote a bad check once. The severity of the crime, its relationship to the job, how long ago it was committed, are all factors that should be considered with each decision.

In April of last year, the EEOC issued an Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records. The Guidance laid out the statistical case for a heightened scrutiny of criminal background checks. While it does not outright ban asking about criminal history on a job application, it does strongly discourage the practice, and recommends that the employer wait as late as in the hiring process as possible to request this information. By waiting until an employee has been extended a conditional offer of employment, the City of Wilmington has done just what the EEOC advises.

Previous posts on criminal-history checks for potential employees.

In the U.S. Unlawfully But Eligible for Workers' Comp?

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 25, 2012In: Benefits, Cases of Note, Delaware Specific, Hiring

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Is an employee who is in the country illegally a covered "employee" under the Workers' Compensation laws? That was the question of first impression presented to the Delaware Superior Court in Del. Valley Field Servs. v. Ramirez, (PDF) No. 12A-01-007-JOH (Sep. 13, 2012). The court concluded that the answer is "yes," and ordered that the former employee, who has since been deported to Honduras, is eligible to receive benefits under Delaware's workers-compensation statute.

Facts
The employee, Saul Melgar Ramirez, was hired in April 2010 as an "independent contractor'"--which the term the court uses to say that Ramirez was paid in cash. In January 2011, he was converted to a regular employee and added to the payroll. When told by his boss that he would need a Social Security number for his I-9 documentation, Ramirez bought a fake SSN card for $180. In February, the payroll service informed the employer that the number was false. Ramirez was deported in March.

In late January, shortly after he was converted to employee status, Ramirez fell down six steps and landed on his back. The company's president, who witnessed the fall, reported the accident to the company's workers' compensation carrier and made arrangements for Ramirez to get medical treatment. The treating physician determined that Ramirez was totally disabled.

Issues
The Industrial Board awarded benefits to Ramirez. (See Cassandra Robert's cleverly named post about the Board's decision, The Dearly Deported--Illegal Alien Status Does Not Work a Forfeiture in Delaware). The employer appealed to the Delaware Superior Court, where it made several arguments, including:

  • the employee's "fraudulent inducement" in obtaining the job disqualified him from receiving benefits;
  • because, pursuant to the federal immigration laws, Ramirez could not be lawfully hired, those laws preempted the State's workers' compensation laws; and
  • the employee's exclusion from the U.S. was the equivalent of being incarcerated, which would result in the suspension of benefits.
Judge Herlihy rejected each of the three arguments in turn and concluded that, despite his status as an illegal alien at the time of his employment, Ramirez was not disqualified from receiving workers' compensation benefits.

Nuts and Bolts
Regular readers may be mildly surprised to read that I actually side with the employee in this case. Not so much because of complicated legal reasons but more because of the basic facts. The employer hired Ramirez. The basic employment relationship involves the performance of services by the employee and the provision of certain compensation and benefits by the employer in return. One of those benefits is workers' compensation insurance.

Here, there is no dispute that Ramirez performed the services for which he was hired. Thus, the employer received the bargained-for benefit of the employment relationship. Ramirez, in return, was entitled to receive, in exchange, the benefits for which he had bargained, including wages for work performed and workers' compensation insurance.

There is no dispute that Ramirez was injured during the course and scope of his employment and there appears to be no dispute as to the extent of his injuries. Thus, it seems fair to me that he receive the benefits of the employment relationship, just as his employer did.

Feel free to disagree with me--I'm open to different opinions. Sean O'Sullivan reported the case in an excellent article in the News Journal today and notes that the case has been appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court. So we'll keep you posted.

Fighting Back: Bullies and Obesity

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 3, 2012In: Disabilities (ADA), EEOC Suits & Settlements, Hiring, Jerks at Work, Off-Duty Conduct

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Some people are real jerks. Anyone who deals with the general public for a living knows that this is an indisputable fact. For those who work in sales or service positions know that the theory "the customer is always right" can be a bitter pill to swallow. Every waiter, store clerk, and receptionist has had a moment where they had to swallow very hard to resist firing back at an irate and/or irrational customer who's decided to take out his or her frustrations on whoever happens to be in their line of vision. Most of the time, it is not possible or not wise to fight back.

But, sometimes, it is.

Take, for example, Jennifer Livingston, a TV news anchor in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. A viewer with, apparently, way too much time on his hands, took it upon himself to write Ms. Livingston a note to express his displeasure with her weight. "Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain," wrote the viewer. "I leave you this note hoping that you'll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle."

I think it's fair to say that Ms. Livingston didn't find the viewer's "concern" all that heartwarming. Heck, it may have even hurt her feelings. But, instead of hiding her pain, she elected to take a different approach and responded to the comments on the air. Her response took the form of an articulate call to arms in which she accused the viewer of being a bully.

I think the story is inspiring for a number of reasons but it also highlights a few different current issues in employment law.

First, there's the continuing discussion surrounding bullies in the workplace or, as I like to call them, "jerks at work." Legislation has been introduced in numerous states over the past five or so years that would, in short, make it unlawful to be a jerk at work. I think there are obvious problems with trying to legislate "jerkiness" but I also recognize the high costs that jerks can have on workforce morale, creativity, and overall productivity. This post at Above the Law provides a recent summary of the various legislative efforts.

Second, there's the as-yet-unresolved question of whether obesity is a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Historically, courts have been unwilling to include obesity as a protected disability. With this precedent in mind, some employers have refused to hire applicants who are obese and charge higher health-care premiums for overweight employees. But the EEOC has said that the ADA does protect individuals who are morbidly obese. A case filed last year by the EEOC asserting that "severe" obesity was a protected disability under the ADA, recently resulted in a $55,000 settlement for the employee. And a recent decision by the Montana Supreme Court seems to further support that the trend has shifted towards protecting obesity as a disability.

How to Nail Your Law-Firm Interview

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn August 22, 2012In: Hiring, Purely Legal

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I take very seriously the job of interviewing potential candidates. There are certain things that a candidate can do or say to sabotage their chances at getting an offer. Many of these "offer killers" are more common than you might think. Many of the lawyers I've talked with have expressed frustration about similar behaviors from the candidates they've interviewed. In an effort to help future candidates, I humbly suggest some things to avoid.

Only Fools and Egomaniacs Submit a Less-than-Perfect Resume

No student should ever--and I do mean ever send out a resume that hasn't first been reviewed by several professionals. Whether it's through your school's Career Services department, through a formal resume-review program, or just by the smartest professional adults you know, there are plenty of resources for having your resume reviewed.

When I receive a resume that misses the mark in even the smallest way, I find it difficult to take the candidate seriously. It tells me that the candidate has one of two equally undesirable personality traits. He is either: (1) sloppy and lazy; or (2) thinks he is smarter than everyone else. There are no other explanations for a student who fails to have his resume reviewed (repeatedly) prior to submitting it. I do not want to work with a new lawyer who falls into either category.

One Error In a Cover Letter Is One Error Too Many

The same rules apply with respect to cover letters. I cringe when I think of the number of times I have seen a cover letter that starts with, "I am a second year law student" instead of the properly hyphenated, "I am a second-year law student." It's called a phrasal adjective, kids. It's ok if you don't know what one is but you'd better find someone who does so they can point out your mistake.

If a dork like me receives a cover letter that contains an error in the first sentence, you're facing an uphill battle. And not just because of your claim, two paragraphs later, that you have "outstanding writing skills." For me, the real frustration is that you could have gotten right, you just didn't bother to take the time to ask someone. You have a legal-writing teacher, don't you? Ask him or her to look at your letter and thank him or her profusely if they return it to you covered in red ink.

Get the Name Wrong and You've Got No Chance

The cardinal sin for cover letters, though, is not grammatical. It's far, far worse. Although far less common, I am still amazed when I read a cover letter that, at least once in the body of the letter, makes reference to the wrong firm.

Yes, it happens. Usually right around the third paragraph, which must be when students grow weary of editing their own work, the author reiterates how confident she is that she will be an attribute to Smith, Jones, and Smith, LLP. Except, I don't work for Smith, Jones, and Smith, LLP. Smith, Jones, and Smith, LLP, is my firm's competitor.

To me, this error demonstrates the candidate's lack of editing skills and, more important, lack of interest. Neither of which are positive qualities in a potential new hire.

Your Resume Is Not the Place to Demonstrate Your Creativity

Creativity is a desirable trait for a lawyer. But resumes are not the place to show us how creative you can be. Save it for your legal analysis. There are two common failures in this regard.

First is the Overly Long Resume. Legal resumes should be one page in length and no more. You are not, I guarantee, so amazing as to require additional pages. Brevity in writing is a skill, so start practicing.

Second is the Oddly Formatted Resume. Lawyers don't use crazy fonts. If you want to demonstrate your prowess for typeface, go into graphic design, not into the practice of law. Your resume is not the place to use distracting borders or other "fun" formatting techniques.

Mind Your Manners

Try to recall every lesson your mother ever taught you about proper etiquette. Then try harder to remember some more. And take them to heart.

My entire interaction with you is limited to a 20-minute interview. None of these 20 minutes should be spent slouched in your chair. Sit up straight. Look me in the eye when you are answering a question. And don't interrupt me when I'm speaking. The same rules apply in the courtroom and I don't want to have to teach these rules to you now--you've got plenty of other things to learn, trust me.

Speak Like a Grown-Up, Even If Your Interviewer Doesn't

Language matters. Word choice matters. We are lawyers and we care how you speak. Do not use any words such as "cool" or "yeah" during your interview. And, I know it's hard but try to limit the amount of times you say the word, "like." You wouldn't believe how many times a candidate utters that word during a short interview. It would make your head spin. I understand that this is a habit that is difficult to break. But try anyway.

Be wary if your interviewer is on the younger, cooler side of the lawyer spectrum. I am sure that I tend to come off as more casual than many of the interviewers that candidates meet. But don't let my preference for pink fool you. I still expect you to conduct yourself in the same way that you would if I was wearing black pinstripes.

I may be partly to blame for this casual leaning because of my inclination to be friendly and my desire to make the interviewee feel comfortable. But being comfortable in an interview is not the same as being comfortable in a college dorm room. Keep this in mind.

Some Parting Thoughts

Candidates of the future, you have been warned. Now that you know what bothers your interviewer, it's up to you to avoid these pitfalls. And, once you land the gig, consider reading this article about ways to make sure you get an offer to return. The cleverly named article was written by Ben Potts, an all-star summer associate who recently finished his first summer in our firm's summer-associate program. Take his advice, he writes from experience and his suggestions are dead-on.

Here's to All the Lovey-Dovey Lawyers!

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn July 12, 2012In: Hiring

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Charlie Plumb, Oklahoma's super-star employment lawyer of the year, ECN rock star, and, according to Jon Hyman, the "world's nicest guy," wrote a great post on his firm's Employer LINC blog yesterday about a Philadelphia case straight from the we-can't-make-this-stuff-up department. In shortened form, the story goes as follows:

Customer goes to KFC for a bucket of chicken and is pistol whipped by a gun-toting employee working behind the counter. What incited the employee to violence? Apparently, Customer took too long to choose which of the mouth-watering sides he wanted with his chicken. And, because nobody likes to get pistol whipped--not even for a bucket of the Colonel's finest--the customer sued the restaurant chain, alleging negligent retention based on its failure to conduct a background search on the pistol-packing employee, who, you may not be surprised to learn, did in fact have a criminal history.

Being the all-around funny man that he is, Charlie tells this saga in a very funny way. But, rightly so, he emphasizes out the importance of the court's decision dismissing the customer's claims. If the court had ruled differently, it could have set precedent that employers must, as a matter of law, conduct a criminal background search on every potential employee, regardless of position.

Now, if I can just figure out how the guy from Tulsa beat me to such a great story in my own backyard . . .

Regarding Jon Hyman's complimentary description of Charlie Plumb, I suppose it would be appropriate to say, "it takes one to know one." On his Ohio Employer Law Blog this week, Jon wrote a great post about the TLC employers should give to new employees during the onboarding process.

And, sticking with the lovey-dovey theme, I'll point you to Dan Schwartz's post from Wednesday, in which he tosses a whole bunch of kudos all around the blogosphere, calling particular attention to 10 of his favorite employment-law bloggers--including me and Jon--thanks, Dan.

Now, one for the haters. Admittedly, there is a time and a place for all of this warm and fuzziness. And that place is not always the workplace. A post on MSNBC.com highlights the problem of the awkward office hug. The post quotes various professionals who lament the awkward moment when they went in for the hug only to realize, mid-embrace, that a handshake definitely would have been the better choice.

Awwwwkward!

I've had this discussion with female colleagues on many occasions but have never seen any kind of consensus. I tend to just do whatever I'm inclined to do at the moment--I certainly don't give any kind of advance thought to whether I'm going to greet a coworker or client with a handshake, hug, or cheek kiss. I suppose I'm more casual about these interactions than some of my friends. But maybe that's because I've not yet had the unfortunate experience of the awkward office hug.

Here's to hoping you have absolutely no awkward encounters this weekend and that you meet lots of kind and heartwarming folks, including a lawyer or two.

Password-Privacy Bill Approved by N.J. Assembly

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn June 26, 2012In: Hiring, Privacy In the Workplace, Social Media in the Workplace

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The New Jersey Assembly passed that State's version of a password-privacy law yesterday by a vote of 77-0. The Bill, AB 2878, is now sent to the State's Senate, reports NJ.com. Much like the Delaware Workplace Privacy Act, which currently is pending in the Delaware House of Representatives, the New Jersey Bill has some significant flaws.

Like Delaware's Bill, and similar Bills pending in States across the country, the New Jersey Act is being promoted as a "password-privacy" law, intended to prevent employers from asking employees and applicants for their passwords in order to access the individual's social-networking site, such as Facebook or Twitter. However, as I have written about the Delaware Bill, the proposed law goes much farther than that.

In the case of New Jersey's Bill, employers would be prohibited from asking not only for an individual's password, but also for his or her user name and even whether the individual even has a social-networking site in the first place. Even more bizarre is the provision of the law that would prohibit an employer from requiring whether an employee or applicant to provide the employer with "access" to the individual's social-networking site "in any way." It is not clear whether this provision would prohibit a supervisor from sending a Facebook friend request or an invitation to connect via LinkedIn.

This lawmaking trend continues to make the news, despite the continued absence of any stories of employers who engage in the practice. Maryland was the first State to sign a similar law into effect. Illinois was the second State to pass a similar law, which now awaits the Governor's signature. You are welcome to join me for a free webinar on the topic, sponsored by the Employment Law Alliance, on Thursday, July 12.

Taking the Mystery Out of Bad Hiring Practices

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn June 25, 2012In: Age (ADEA), Gender (Title VII), Harassment, Hiring, Interviewing, Jerks at Work

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Want some free anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training? Well, have I got a deal for you! Mystery Diners is a reality show on the Food Network. The show's concept involves a father-daughter team who pretend to be employees and/or customers at a target restaurant in order to help the owner uncover the "leaks in the dam" so to speak.

An episode that aired last week, called, "Managing Disaster," could be used as a workplace best-practices training video. In short, you could use the video to train employees that any of the conduct by the restaurant's manager should be considered prohibited conduct in your workplace.

Yes, it really was that bad. And I mean bad. Let me take a moment to run through just a few examples of conduct that occurred during the hiring process.

Candidate #1: Sarah the "Old Lady"

Two women are sent into the restaurant to interview for a waitress position. One of the women is Sarah, who is in her mid-30s and has lots of waitressing experience. She interviewed with the bad-guy-manager (we'll call him "Manager," despite he did anything but manage the employees).

During the interview, he asked her how old she was. Yes, you read that correctly. When she answered "I'm 35," Manager nearly fell out of his seat. He quickly sent her on her way and told her he'd be in touch. After she was out the door, he ran over to the bar, where he told the bartender that Sarah "was like, in her 30s--she'd be like a mother in here!!"

Candidate #2: Destiney In a Short Skirt
The second candidate was Destiney, the daughter of the father-daughter team, who I'd guess to be maybe 21 years old. Destiney was young and cute and wore a short skirt to herinterview. As if Manager hadn't already shown his true colors during Sarah's interview, he took it to an entirely new level with Destiney. By the end of the "interview," though, you can be sure that Destiney had been offered the job.

For starters, he made her sit on a couch for the interview, which was not only way too informal but also clearly uncomfortable for Destiney in light of her attire. When Destiney admitted that she had no real experience to speak of, Manager assured her that experience was not important--"as long as you're cute."

Ethical Standards Lower than a Short Skirt

Seeing that he couldn't ask her about anything relevant to the duties of the job, I guess it's natural that Manager turned to other topics. In this case, Manager chose "partying," and began a series of questions about Destiney's after-hour activities, such as whether she liked to "party" and whether she liked to go clubbing, which "they" (presumably, Manager and his creepy friends), "did all of the time."

The low point of the "interview" came when Manager touched Destiney's knee as he sat way too close to her on the low-to-the-ground couch and talked about low-life topics like "partying" and assuring her that his standards for hiring were as low as his morals. What a dirt bag. And you can imagine what the father, who sat in a trailer watching the live video stream with the restaurant's owner, must have thought as he saw Manager Creepy touch Daughter Destiney's bare knee. Nice.

When Busted, Blame Others
Folks, the take-aways from this episode are, admittedly, obvious to most of us. They weren't, apparently, as obvious to Manager Creepy, who was shocked and appalled that the owner had secretly videotaped these antics. And, in a demonstration of some of the best blame-shifting skills I've perhaps ever seen, Manager Creepy, furious about the intrusion, turned the entire situation around and accused the owner of being an unsupportive boss.

Be sure to catch the show for some free anti-harassment-and-discrimination training.

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn June 4, 2012In: Discrimination, Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Gender (Title VII), Hiring

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Sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll. Employment law can involve any or all three. Which explains why it takes a certain personality to really love this gig. Lately, though, I've seen a bevy of employment-law stories involving claims based on or involving beautiful people.

Last week, for example, I reported on yet another story involving a woman who claims she was fired from her data-entry job in a lingerie warehouse for being too sexy. [Ed. Note: This story, which involves a woman alleging she was too sexy for her job in a lingerie warehouse owned by Orthodox Jews, should clear up any doubt about why I love my job.] This wasn't the first story of this kind, though. I've reported about at least two similar claims in the past couple of years. And I recently reported about a gender-discrimination claim based on the plaintiff's part-time job as a dancer.

Michael Schmidt of the Social Media Employment Law Blog reports a different type of case involving exotic dancers. [Ed. Note: Michael's post is overflowing with hilarity in the form of well-crafted double entendres. For a great read, be sure to jump over to his original post, Slowly Stripping Away Privacy Rights. Brava, Michael!] In In re Penthouse Executive Club Compensation Litigation, No. 10-cv-1145 (KMV) (S.D.N.Y. May 10, 2012), the employer-defendant sought to compel one of the plaintiffs, an "entertainer in the Penthouse Executive Club," to produce nine pages of Facebook messages that she'd exchanged with other plaintiffs and with non-parties about others joining the FLSA suit.

The judge considered the motion in the same way any similar motion would be considered. She found that the Facebook messages sent to non-parties were "prepared in anticipation of litigation" and, as such, were protected by the work-product doctrine because they were "descriptions of conversations with Plaintiffs' counsel regarding litigation strategy, as well as responses to questions about the lawsuit." On the other hand, Facebook messages sent by non-parties to the plaintiff were not subject to the same protections and had to be produced.

And here's a twist on the theme. Instead of claims brought by beautiful people, here's a story brought against beautiful people. The owner of Marylou's, a coffee shop in Rhode Island known for employing beautiful baristas donned in pink shirt, is speaking out against the EEOC. The coffee shop has been under investigation for more than a year by the federal agency, which claims to be investigating the business' hiring practices. There has not been a complaint of discrimination, though, and many members of the community are outraged at the expenditure of federal funds and the cost imposed on the business in the absence of any actual charge of wrongdoing.

Maybe the EEOC is just trying to balance out all of those don't-hate-me-because-I'm-beautiful claims.

Fed. Legislation, SNOPA, Would Prohibit Facebook Snooping

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn April 30, 2012In: Background Checks, Hiring, Social Media in the Workplace

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Employers who request an employee's or job applicant's Facebook password continue to face pushback in legislatures across the country. As I posted last week, several states have introduced bills that would prohibit this type of coerced Facebook access. These states are following Maryland's example--Maryland was the first (and only, at the moment), to pass this type of law.

Two U.S. Senators were the first on the bandwagon, though, but their bill was unsuccessful. But a new version of the bill made its way back to the House of Representatives on Friday, courtesy of New York congressman Eliot Engel (D).

The bill, Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA), which is cosponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), would restrict current or potential employers "from requiring a username, password or other access to online content," reports ZDNet.com. Specifically, the bill would prevent employers from seeking access to social networking sites "to discipline, discriminate or deny employment to individuals, nor punish them for refusing to volunteer the information."

SNOPA, like some of its state-law counterparts, would extend to colleges, universities and K-12 schools.

Stay tuned as this rapidly changing area of the law continues to develop.

See also:
Employers Who Demand Facebook Passwords from Employees. Oy Vey.
Maryland Law Makes It Unlawful to Request Facebook Passwords from Job Applicants
California Law Moves Closer to Prohibiting Employers From Requesting Facebook Passwords From Applicants
Should Cyberscreening by Employers Be Legislated?
Lawfulness of Employers' Demands for Employees' Facebook Passwords