Yet Again with the Unpaid Interns? Fox Searchlight, Hearst, Conde Nast … News from the Unpaid Internship Beat

In June, a ruling from a Federal court in New York, (Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc., S.D.N.Y., No. 11-06784, 6/11/13), made headlines when it determined that unpaid interns were entitled to back pay for their services in connection with the production of various films, including “Black Swan” and “500 Days of Summer.” This case ignited conversation across many industries that have come to rely on unpaid internships, but the decision did not herald a change in the law so much as reiterate the US Department of Labor’s standards for internships, which the court said were essentially identical to New York State’s.

If nothing else, the Glatt case should serve as a reminder to businesses to take care in structuring internship programs.  Using the free labor of non-student adults for regular employee functions is a particularly dangerous practice, as Fox Searchlight found out. Continue reading

Employee Wage Theft Protection, Notice, Employee Anti-Retaliation and NLRA

Last year, effective for 2012, New York State enacted the “Wage Theft Protection Act”, amending wage notice requirements and establishing penalties for failing to comply with the new rules.  The Act expands on ways workers must be notified of wages through wage statements while creating additional protections for workers against retaliation for expressing concerns about working conditions.

Wage Notice Requirements

Starting with 2012, the Act requires that employees must be given a pay notice between January 1 and February 1 of each year or at any time a worker’s wages change.  If an employee is hired after February 1, he or she must still be given notice upon hire as well as the annual notice with other employees.

Notices must provide the following information: An employee’s wage, including the rate of wage including the hour, shift, day, week, salary and frequency of payment.  Additionally, the notice must include allowances and whether or not allowances are included in pay, for example tips, meals and other accommodations.  Lastly, the employer’s name, address, telephone number and other reasonably appropriate information must be included in notices.

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Update: Social Media Policies Violate Federal Labor Law?

Last month I wrote about an NLRB complaint against a Connecticut ambulance company, American Medical Response (AMR), for wrongful termination of an employee who had complained on Facebook about her supervisors and the company. The NLRB had begun proceedings against AMR for violating the employee’s rights under the National Labor Relations Act, specifically rights to take “concerted activity” related to working conditions.

The New York Times reported yesterday that the company had reached a settlement with the NLRB. In particular, The Times reported that the company agreed to modify its workplace policies “to ensure that they do not improperly restrict employees from discussing wages, hours and working conditions with co-workers and others while not at work, and that they would not discipline or discharge employees for engaging in such discussions.”

It is believed that this case was the first of its kind, where the NLRB took action against an employer related to an employee’s comments and conduct on a social media site like Facebook.

According to the San Jose Business Journal, the company reached a separate private settlement with the fired employee, the terms of which were not disclosed by the NLRB, the company or the employee.

Interestingly, while the case obviously did not get to a full precedent-setting decision, a publicly-acknowledged condition to the settlement was the company’s acknowledgment that outside discussions of work conditions could not be acted upon detrimentally by the company. And without explicitly stating so, these outside discussions obviously included facebook and other social media outlets.

Social Media Policies Violate Federal Labor Law?

A Connecticut company suspended and then fired an employee for making disparaging comments on Facebook about the company and about her supervisor.

Not in dispute is that the employee’s actions violated the company’s social media and other personnel policies, which (among other things) prohibited depicting the company ‘in any way’ on Facebook or other social media sites or from “disparaging” or “discriminatory” “comments when discussing the company or the employee’s superiors” and “co-workers.”

In dispute is whether that social media policy – and the company’s actions in enforcing the policy – violated public policy, in particular Federal labor law.  This came into fast relief when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) subsequently filed a complaint against the company, charging the company with violations of the employee’s rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Continue reading