In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

December 2012 Archives

3 Ways Facebook Can Be Used to Investigate, Fire Employees

With the proliferation of social media, more and more employers are turning to Facebook to investigate and fire their employees.

As you may know, there's a huge difference between suspecting that an employee is doing something against the rules and actually proving it.

But thanks to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, GCs and HR managers can now use an employee's own words or images against him. Here are three ways that Facebook has been used to investigate the suspected wrongdoings by employees:

Top 10 Corporate Legal Lessons of 2012

What corporate legal lessons did you learn in 2012?

It's been a busy year for general counsel, as we witnessed an international patent war waged between two of the biggest tech companies in the world and the EEOC having perhaps its busiest year ever enforcing discrimination laws, just to name a few newsworthy developments.

While there are undoubtedly some stories and events you will want to forget from 2012 (such as general counsel salaries falling), here are the Top 10 lessons all GCs will want to remember:

5 In-House Lessons From the Instagram TOS Debacle

No one was jealous of Instagram's in-house counsel after the furor over their new terms of service (TOS), but at least we can all learn from their misery.

This isn't the first time Internet users have panicked over an update of a company's user agreement. Over the past year it's happened several times, and it's often the same or similar terms that upset users again and again.

To prevent an Instagram-style backlash from happening to your client, here are five important things to consider when your company chooses to update its terms of service:

Lump-Sum Benefits May Be Removed in Bankruptcy

Dealing with the possibility of lump-sum pension benefits while going through bankruptcy is a strain on any company.

That's a substantial concern for American Airlines as it tries to find a way to emerge from bankruptcy. The company asked a federal court last month for permission to amend its pension policy and prohibit retirees from taking a lump-sum option, according to Workforce Management.

That filing came shortly after the IRS issued a new ruling on worker benefits after bankruptcy. Looks like the IRS recognized the problem pension plans can create for a company trying to re-establish itself in the market.

Zappos' Online User Agreement Gets the Boot

Like most retailers, Zappos' user agreement included a clause requiring claimants to submit to arbitration. But unlike most situations, it turns out the agreement didn't bind anyone.

The issue came out of a lawsuit against the company following an alleged breach of user privacy. Zappos customers banded together to file a class-action suit against the company. The popular online shoe retailer tried to force them to submit to arbitration.

That move didn't go so well. Not only is the class action going forward, Zappos' entire user agreement was effectively invalidated.

Age Discrimination Lawsuits: What GCs Should Know

When you picture a programmer at a Silicon Valley start-up, you're likely imagining a 20-something-year-old in sneakers and a hoodie, and not a dressed-up adult in his 40s. And apparently many employers have this same impression, as older tech workers say they're experiencing age discrimination and are being squeezed out, reports Reuters.

Based on anecdotal accounts, there may be no other form of illegal discrimination quite like age discrimination, which experts say seems to be ingrained in certain industries.

It's hard to imagine employers blatantly favoring workers of a certain gender, race, or religion, and getting away with it. Yet in places like Silicon Valley, some say that younger workers are favored, and certain recruiters and investors openly discriminate against older workers.

So what do in-house counsel need to know about this problem? Here are a few reminders:

Challenging Class Certification: 5 Potential Strategies

Class action lawsuits may the bane of existence for all in-house attorneys. That's why knowing how to challenge class certifications is so critical.

These lawsuits typically seek millions of dollars, involve hundreds of plaintiffs, and have the potential to disrupt your business for years.

But while class actions can bring together many plaintiffs, defendants also have several tools available to challenge the class both in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (and its state equivalents) as well as the U.S. Constitution, reports Inside Counsel. Here are five potential strategies to challenge a class:

Right-to-Work Laws: What General Counsel Need to Know

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has signed the state's new "right-to-work" bills, making Michigan the 24th state with right-to-work laws on the books.

Supporters say the laws encourage business investments and give workers more freedom. Opponents say the laws will reduce union membership and could potentially cripple organized labor since unions may lose funds if employees opt out.

But love it or hate it, if your client has employees in a so-called "right-to-work state," it's important to know how to deal with them.

How to Get More Out of Employee Reference Checks

How valuable are reference checks for you?

Many companies require that candidates provide a job reference or two. And for the most part, the candidates provide contact information for friends and other colleagues who are guaranteed to say nice things about them.

In fact, even if a reference says something negative, it's doubtful that an employer would change his mind, as the reference check is usually the last step -- when you've already made up your mind that you want to hire the candidate.

However, there are some steps that you can take to make the reference check more meaningful. Here are a few ways to do it:

Lessons Learned: 5 Office Party Lawsuits

Office party lawsuits are just as much a part of holiday traditions as the party itself. But if it's your client that gets slapped with a lawsuit, you're going to be the one dealing with the fallout.

Not only will you have extra work on your plate, your boss probably won't be happy that you weren't able to prevent it from happening. Telling him "I didn't even see this coming" probably won't help your case.

To help you think of every scenario to prevent or at least insulate your client from liability, we've rounded up a number of office party lawsuits, from the typical to the completely ridiculous, that you can learn from:

Is Litigation Actually Cheaper Than Arbitration?

Traditional wisdom says that avoiding trial will help keep costs down, but could it be that litigation is actually cheaper than arbitration?

At least one study indicates that it might be.

The study looked at a small sample of cases from a single company that was assessing whether its arbitration program lowered costs compared to litigation. It looked at a similar number of litigation and arbitration cases, and the results were a little surprising on the surface.

3 Ways to Prevent Workplace Retaliation Lawsuits

Last year, workplace retaliation lawsuits exceeded the number of lawsuits filed for discrimination based on race, sex, disability, or religious discrimination, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Previously, retaliation lawsuits were viewed as a "throw-in" claim to discrimination lawsuits. But retaliation claims are now standing alone, reports Inside Counsel.

And as the number of claims go up, the amount of damages that companies pay out is going up as well. In 2011, the EEOC reported that damages related to retaliation surpassed $100 million for the first time, with employers paying out $147 million.

Don't Let Religious Holidays Get Your Company Sued

The holiday season is upon us -- the season of religious holidays, leaves of absence, and potential discrimination lawsuits. In-house counsel across the country are probably inundated with questions and requests from their human resource departments.

As the holiday season approaches, many employees are likely requesting time off work to celebrate religious holidays. And while most companies do provide time off for Christmas, HR staff may be wondering what do to with requests for time off for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and other religious days.

5 VIPs for an In-House Counsel's Holiday Gift List

The holiday season is upon us and you are likely getting ready to purchase gifts for friends, loved ones, and colleagues. As most in-house counsel know, holiday gift-giving may mean a lot more than simply sending your best wishes to someone else.

Instead, if you forget to send a gift to someone you work closely with, you could get your relationship off to the wrong start for the next year.

You likely encounter a variety of people in your day-to-day work life. While it is nearly impossible to buy gifts for all of them, here are five very important people you should not forget:

GC Salaries at Fortune 1000 Companies Top $1.4M: Survey

Want to become a general counsel, or curious to know how much your peers make? A new GC salary survey by Equilar may be the thing to read as it provides some interesting data and insight into the world of general counsel.

While the most frequently asked question may be how much general counsel get paid, there's other interesting data to be gleaned from the survey, such as which law schools GCs attended, the gender gap in GC salaries, and the best industries for GCs to work in, reports TheCorporateCounsel.net.

Here are four highlights from the general counsel salary survey: