In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

March 2015 Archives

Is Your Legal Department 'Mature'?

What is "maturity"? In organizational management, it's the degree to which organizational processes are formalized and optimized, meaning they're documented, structured, and being performed as efficiently as possible. High levels of maturity ensure that resources are being spent on the right things, and not being wasted on inefficient processes, like a billing department without a workflow that still uses paper for everything.

Maturity models work especially well for the corporate legal department, where many discrete tasks can be automated and savings analyzed, writes Inside Counsel. And, if you've mastered the Zen of maturity, you can move on to using legal analytics to actually add value to the company.

Putting together the best team possible can require finding not just candidates that are qualified, but who match the personality of a company, office, or management. In other words, hiring for "culture fit."

Increasingly though, corporate emphasis on culture fit has come under fire, as a spate of lawsuits accuse employers of using culture as a cover for discrimination. So, when does hiring someone who "fits in" cross the line into impermissible employment discrimination?

What UPS v. Young Means for Corporate Employment Policies

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court allowed a lawsuit brought by a pregnant driver against UPS to proceed. The driver, Peggy Young, was told by her doctor that she shouldn't be lifting more than 20 pounds. UPS drivers, however, have to lift 70 pounds. She asked for an accommodation, UPS said no, and Peggy was unable to work, eventually losing her medical benefits.

The Supreme Court's decision has wide-ranging implications for pregnancy discrimination and sets out a new test for determining whether an employer action is discriminatory toward a pregnant employee. Here's what GCs need to know.

4 Things to Know About Employee Security While Traveling Abroad

Are employees in your company traveling abroad for work? Depending on how high up they are in the company, what industry you're in, and where they're going, robbery and kidnapping are genuine concerns. So, too, are natural disasters and diseases. Pretty much same as here, but with a different legal system to content with.

Don't worry, though; you can keep them safe! Here are four things in-house legal counsel should know about mitigating the risks to your employees traveling abroad.

For a lot of attorneys, working in-house is an accomplishment in and of itself. But even with highly desired jobs, some places are better than others. What should be an attorneys dream in -house position?

Here's three great places that should count as many lawyer's fantasy employers. Lawyers interested in unique work environments, where employees are both challenged and rewarded, and where the enterprise is at the top of its field, should check out:

The increase in digital devices, cloud-based services and virtual offices have made it less and less necessary to be physically present when conducting business. The emails, reports and business presentations that can be written from a cubical can just as easily be produced from a local coffee shop, often with greater productivity and work satisfaction. It's a great time to be a telecommuter. Or is it?

Telecommuting is common among tech workers and expanding even to entire law firms. Yet, it's not without legal risks. Whether you're reading this from your home office or your office office, here's some things in house counsel should keep in mind when their company considers telecommuting.

Attorneys' Failure to Read a Document Costs AT&T $40 Million

Usually it's clients who suffer because they didn't read something all the way through. This time, though, it's the lawyers who didn't heed that most lawyerly of advice.

Thanks to its lawyers -- the good people at Sidley Austin, LLP -- AT&T has to pay a $40 million jury verdict that would have been appealable, if only they'd filed the notice of appeal on time.

T-Mobile's email and confidentiality policies violate the law by limiting employees' ability to talk about basic work issues and are illegal, an administrative judge with the NLRB ruled Wednesday. The communication giant's copious confidentiality policies were so broad that they illegally chilled employees' right to engage in protected activities, such as discussing workplace wages and conditions.

T-Mobile's policies were so expansive that even its entire employee handbook, with all the terms and conditions of employment, discipline, and performance review, was considered confidential. However, even more tailored policies, such as T-Mobile's requirement that employees refrain from discussing internal investigations, "clearly restrained" employee's rights to engage in Section 7 activity.

What Can GCs Do About an Employee Mass Exodus?

Employees quit all the time, but do you have the sneaking suspicion that several employees are quitting all at once? Maybe you're just paranoid, but as they like to say, just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not watching you.

A mass exodus of employees can and does happen, for a variety of reasons. Here are some common exodus scenarios and what you might be able to do about them:

The EEOC has settled a disability discrimination lawsuit against Gregory Packaging, the manufacturer and distributor of Suncup juice products found in schools and medical institutions throughout the country.

Gregory Packaging has agreed to pay $125,000 to settle charges that it illegally terminated a machine operator at its Newnan, Georgia, packaging plant after learning that he was HIV-positive.

The settlement comes as a reminder that the Americans with Disabilities Act covers a wide range of individuals and conditions, and is not just limited to the most traditional or visible disabilities.

It's March again, which means everyone's favorite illegal betting racket is about to start back up. March Madness, with its accompanying office pools, live-streamed games, and potential loss of office productivity, can pose particular problems for corporate counsel. First, betting is widespread, with more than 50 million people taking part in office pools, often in violation of state and federal law. Second, even those who are not betting on games may be watching them at work, leading to extra strain on a company's computer system and lost productivity.

Here are some tips for how best to deal with March Madness without losing your mind:

For companies looking to celebrate St. Patrick's Day at work, March 17th can be tricky ground. The holiday, a Catholic feast day for the patron saint of Ireland, has evolved into a celebration of Irish heritage and culture in the United States. Every year, Chicago dyes its river green; New York hosts a parade for 2 million spectators; and Hoboken, New Jersey, gets flooded with publicly urinating binge-drinkers. According to Time, St. Pat's is the drunkest holiday behind New Year's Eve.

A holiday that's as closely tied to four leaf clovers as four pints of Guinness can provide plenty of opportunities for potential legal problems. In-house counsel should be particularly cautious if their office is planning on hosting a St. Patrick's Day celebration.

Instant Messaging at Your Company: Convenient, but Problematic

Despite what you've been hearing for years, email isn't "dead" and it's not "dying." What is happening? Thanks to a bevy of new services, email -- once the universal online communication method -- has a very specific purpose.

The new hotness (which actually isn't that new): chat and instant-messaging programs, which allow employees in the same office to communicate with each other in real-time. There are a lot of different solutions, some corporate, and some not. Should your company try these out?

Juries to Decide Whether Uber, Lyft Drivers Are 'Employees'

Uber and Lyft continue to "disrupt" their way right into court, where drivers for each company allege in separate lawsuits that they're employees, not independent contractors.

The companies, of course, claim that their drivers -- excuse me, "partners" if you're Uber -- are independent contractors, meaning Uber and Lyft don't have to pay the "employer" part of the payroll tax or otherwise abide by wage and hour laws that apply to employees but not contractors.

Franchise Trade Group Sues to Block Seattle Minimum Wage Law

Apparently unfamiliar with The Streisand Effect, the International Franchise Association, along with four owners of various franchises, are suing the City of Seattle to enjoin enforcement of the city's new minimum wage ordinance. The ordinance would take effect April 1 and would raise the city's minimum wage from $9 to $15 an hour.

Despite what The Huffington Post is insinuating, McDonald's isn't suing the city, nor is any McDonald's franchisee. On the other hand, a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would definitely benefit those franchisees. The real issue, though, is whether the ordinance unfairly discriminates against certain kinds of employers.

March is Women's History Month. So it's quite fitting that this month, Michelle Lee joins the league of female pioneers as the first female director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Congratulations Ms. Lee!

But who is Michelle Lee? Here are nine things you may not know about the USPTO's fearless new leader:

GCs: Does Your Company Have (or Need) a Non-Discrimination Policy?

The trial placing one of Silicon Valley's most prestigious venture capital firms in the spotlight has also placed sexual harassment in the spotlight. Last week, we learned that famed venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins didn't even have a non-discrimination policy.

That, in itself, isn't proof of wrongdoing, but it does suggest that Kleiner Perkins may have been taking a casual attitude toward sexual harassment and sex discrimination. Like "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," let Kleiner Perkins' situation be a warning so you don't find yourself in the same situation.

Charles Malik, a Lebanese philosopher and diplomat, once said, "The fastest way to change society is to mobilize the women of the world."

This year, in honor of International Women's Day (March 8), we've rounded up our Top 5 In House blog posts about women mobilizing to create change in the corporate legal department:

7 Ways to Show Workers You Care on Employee Appreciation Day

The first Friday in March is National Employee Appreciation Day, and in honor of the occasion, we've assembled a list of things that your company's employees might appreciate.

Basically, don't violate state and federal labor laws. Your employees would really appreciate that.

Why the Legal Dept. Should Be Best Friends With the IT Dept.

If there's one department that's the thorn in the side of company employees, it's the IT department. Their answer is always "no" and they make you wait on requests for a long time.

Of course, that's equally true of the legal department, too. With Sarbanes-Oxley being what it is, coupled with the dystopian e-discovery future in which we live, the IT department and the legal department should be best buddies. Whose photo do you have in your heart-shaped locket?

Justice Dept. Seeks Clarification on Insider Trading

Last week, the United States went back to the Second Circuit to ask for a rehearing in United States v. Newman, where that court overturned the convictions of two hedge fund managers for trading on inside information.

The Second Circuit rejected Newman and Chiasson's convictions on a "tipper/tippee" theory of liability, prompting onlookers to urge Congress to clarify what the heck qualifies as insider trading.