Welcome Pennsylvania and New Jersey employers.

Settle in and read on for easy-to-navigate, clear and concise summaries of the employment-law landscape in PA and NJ. Plus, we highlight the latest legal trends and changes in the law. You can even improve the way you and your employees conduct business with our featured guest commentary and insights from other management-side employment lawyers and human resources professionals.

This isn't your average blog; this is The Employer Handbook. Read it cover to cover.

May 16, 2014

Tennessee has a social media workplace privacy law now, y'all

Here are some Tennessee fun facts:

  • The city of Kingston served as Tennessee's state capital for one day (September 21, 1807)

  • There are more horses per capita in Shelby County than any other county in the United States.

  • Tennessee ties with Missouri as the most neighborly state in the union. It is bordered by 8 states.

  • The name "Tennessee" was chosen to support the pick-up line, "Are you from Tennessee? Because you're the only Ten I see."

And now Tennessee becomes the latest state to have a social media workplace privacy law.

You know the drill:

  1. No asking for employee or applicant social media passwords

  2. No forcing an employee or applicant to friend you

  3. No should surfing

  4. No adverse action based on the failure to do 1-3

The new law contains some exceptions to allow employers to gain access to an employee's private social media content (e.g., to support a workplace investigation). 

It takes effect on 1/1/15.

But, this is all so 2013.

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May 15, 2014

PA Superior Court closes non-competition-agreement loophole

In Pennsylvania, a company and an employee can enter into an agreement whereby, in exchange for some form of consideration, the employee agrees not to compete with the company after the employment ends.

Consideration can come in a variety of forms; for example, a raise, bonus, promotion, or sugar. Initial employment can also be sufficient consideration.

However, in Pennsylvania, continued employment won't cut it. That is, a non-competition agreement will be invalid if an employee signs it after commencing employment -- even if you tell the employee that he/she will lose his job by not signing.

However, some smart lawyer out there -- even smarter than I am -- figured out that, by inserting the language "intending to be legally bound" into a non-competition agreement, Pennsylvania's Uniform Written Obligations Act ("UWOA") would validate the agreement -- even without any additional consideration.

Until now, son.

Earlier this week, in Socko v. Mid-Atlantic Systems of CPA, Inc. (opinion here; Socko here), the Pennsylvania Superior Court said the UWOA exception be like this won't save a non-competition agreement otherwise lacking in consideration:

"Language in an employment contract that the parties intend to be legally bound does not constitute valuable consideration in this context....Contractual language satisfying the UWOA does not provide the employee with any actual benefit, and thus cannot suffice as a form of consideration that is adequate to support the later enforcement of the covenant not to compete against the employee."

While the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on this issue, employers would be wise to play it safe and offer employees sufficient consideration to support a covenant not to compete: either initial employment or, if the employee signs the agreement after employment begins, something else of sufficient value.

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If you're on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell 'em Meyer sent you.

May 14, 2014

You've heard of the "one-free-grope" rule. How about the "two-free-slurs" rule?

It was Gloria Steinem who, in discussing President Bill Clinton's indiscretions with Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey, fashioned the "one free grope" rule. That is, while not condoning President Clinton's actions, Steinem concluded that one touching is not sexual harassment -- at least as a matter law.

Well, yesterday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, saw Steinem's "one-free-grope" rule and raised her a "two-free-slurs" rule.

In Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleu Corp., (opinion (here), a black plaintiff alleged that her co-worker referred to her as a "porch monkey" twice in two days, from which she claimed to have been subjected to a racially hostile work environment. 

The United States Court for the District of Maryland disagreed. 

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that "the 'porch monkey' term ... was indeed racially derogatory and highly offensive, and nothing we say or hold condones it."

Now, before I discuss the Fourth Circuit's opinion, I note that, in some states, like New Jersey for example, a single slur create a hostile work environment. And Steinem's "one grope rule" notwithstanding, a New York court noted that a single incident -- albeit a forcible kiss -- could be enough to demonstrate actionable sexual harassment.

But those opinions are further up I-95. Further south, y'all, not only is a single slur hardly enough to create a hostile work environment, but, according to the Fourth Circuit, neither are two racial epithets:

"A single racist statement [is] a far cry from alleging a [hostile work] environment of crude and racist conditions so severe or pervasive....[And] "a coworker's use of [porch monkey] twice in a period of two days ... as a matter of law, [is not] so severe or pervasive as to change the terms and conditions of [a black plaintiff's] employment so as to be legally discriminatory."

But, look folks, as I've said before, even if a single incident (or two incidents) is not enough to create a winning lawsuit, it may be enough to create a lawsuit that you'll have to spend valuable time, money, and resources defending.

So, don't condone this behavior in your workplace -- ever.

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If you're on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell 'em Meyer sent you.

May 13, 2014

My employee deleted all of her work emails and quit. Can I sue her for that?

Well, sure, you can.

But winning that case -- especially if you're thinking about a claim under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act -- may be another story.

email.png

The CFAA is designed to prevent unauthorized access or malicious interference with a computer system. Often used as an employer-sword, to state a claim for a violation of the CFAA, a company must prove that an employee actually caused damage to its computer system or data. The CFAA defines "damage" as "any impairment to the integrity or availability of data, a program, a system, or information."

In Instant Technology, LLC v. DeFazio (opinion here), the former employee deleted all of her work emails from her inbox.

Well, damn, that sure sounds like an impairment to the availability of data.

Yeah, except, in this case, all those "deleted" emails remained in two places: (i) the former employee's email trash folder and (ii) on the company's email server. Therefore, because the company did not show that any data was lost or impaired, it could not demonstrate "damage" and, therefore, lost its CFAA claim.

But, had the former employee double-deleted her email -- like any good scoundrel -- and the company's email server been wiped, there could have been a CFAA violation.

To avoid these problems, as a best practice, be sure to remind your employees that any work emails are company property and should be held/deleted consistent with your company's computer use/email policy.

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If you're on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell 'em Meyer sent you.

May 12, 2014

Minimum wage bump coming for employees of many Philly contractors

Thumbnail image for philadelphia.jpgLast week, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed this Executive Order, which will require that many city contractors provide a minimum wage of $12/hour beginning January 1, 2015. (Although, the Order will also apply to bids and proposals issued May 20, 2014).

The Executive Order also requires that contractors meet that same minimum wage standard for their first-tier subcontractors.

For more on which employers/employee qualify, read the Executive Order.

(Ordinarily, I'd include those requirements in this post. However, cut-and-paste from the Executive Order flipped me the bird).

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If you're on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell 'em Meyer sent you.


May 9, 2014

Survey shows that working moms earns less, but are satisfied with their jobs

This according to this survey released yesterday from CareerBuilder.com.

Working dads who were the sole breadwinners in their household were four times as likely to earn six figures, while working moms who are the sole breadwinners were nearly twice as likely to earn less than $35,000.

However, money may not be everything. That is, 78% of working moms reported they are happy in their current roles at work, with about 2/3rds of working moms having enjoyed the full amount of maternity leave available to them following childbirth.

[How much paternity leave are the new dads taking? According to the survey, half of working dads (49%) took two weeks of paternity leave or less, 21% took five weeks or more while 22% didn't take any time off.]

But let's go back to the $$$, while there may be legitimate business reasons to explain a disparity in pay between men and women, men and women with the same experience and qualifications who perform the same work at the same level should be paid the same amount.

So consider a self-audit to make sure that you're providing equal pay where appropriate.

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If you're on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell 'em Meyer sent you.

May 8, 2014

Social media in the workplace: what's legal; what's not? #nextchat

Thumbnail image for weknownext.pngYesterday, my buddy Jonathan Segal and I joined forces on Twitter to answer eight questions from SHRM's We Know Next about the state of the law governing social media and the workplace.

A big thank you to SHRM and to those who were able to join us and participate. 

ICYMI, here is a full recap.

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If you're on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell 'em Meyer sent you.

May 7, 2014

Yes, you can have a hostile work environment based on sexual stereotyping.

We've talked a fair amount about sexual stereotyping at the ole Handbook.

Here I discussed the cluster created by offering crap assignments to a male employee because he fails to conform to a male stereotype.

And of course, we have my "Ravishing Rick Rude" theory of same-sex harassment, which a federal appellate court crapped all over.

And on Monday, while some of you were out celebrating Cinco de Mayo -- I'm a Siete de Mayo guy myself, so hold my calls -- a federal court in Pennsylvania determined (here) that a male plaintiff can state a valid sexual stereotyping claim by alleging that his same-sex harasser believed that the plaintiff did not conform to the stereotype of a heterosexual male.

Put another way, the plaintiff claimed that his failure to laugh at his co-worker's infantile penis jokes and other oversexed comments, in conformity with how a "real man" should react, caused his co-worker to make additional lewd, hostile and unwelcome actions and comments.

Well, are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Putting sea salt on the fried Oreos I had for breakfast was a master stroke of genius.

Why did the Defendants argue that, because the harasser allegedly told plaintiff "you gotta get it in," he was "attempting to encourage and support plaintiff, not demean or tease him?"

(Yeah, no strikethrough there. The defendants actually made that argument with a straight face. ***facepalm***)

How is it that the plaintiff here is being sexually harassed "because of" his gender -- especially if the co-worker makes the similar sexual comments to other female co-workers?

Ah yes, the old equal-opportunity-pervert defense. Perfectly viable. 

But, the plaintiff in this case did not allege that his harasser was bringing sexy back with both men and women. Rather, he alleged that his male-coworker's comments and behavior were heterosexual in nature, but that he expected men, such as the plaintiff, to join in the lewd, promiscuous and predatory talk.

Add in allegations that the comments were pervasive and offensive and that complaints to management went unanswered and that, my friends, was enough to survive a motion to dismiss.

On a more complete record, the plaintiff's case may well fall apart. However, employers should use this decision as a reminder to their workforce that lewd comments of any kind, directed at any person, are forbidden.

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If you're on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell 'em Meyer sent you.

May 6, 2014

Your contractor is a sexual harasser? You may still be on the hook.

Generally, a typical sexual harassment claim involves a supervisor or manager or co-worker making unwelcome sexual advances towards another employee.

But what if, instead of the harasser being one of your employees, it's an independent contractor.

Does that absolve your company from liability? Is it a valid defense if one of your employees sues you for sexual harassment to point the finger outside of the company?

Yeah, well, if you knew about the harassment, and did nothing about it, then prolly not.

Consider this recent decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which serves as a reminder for employers that they cannot avoid liability for third-party harassment by adopting a "see no evil, hear no evil strategy."

What this means is that an employer will be responsible for a hostile work environment a third party (e.g., an independent contractor) creates if the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed "to take prompt remedial action reasonably calculated to end the harassment."

It's basically the same standard as would apply if the harasser was your own supervisor or manager

So, please do not tolerate offensive third-party conduct in your workplace. And encourage your employees to report it, so that it may be addressed promptly.

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If you're on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell 'em Meyer sent you.

May 5, 2014

FACT OR FICTION: There is such a thing as a reverse-disability claim?

Fact or Fiction?That's right folks. It's time for another edition of "Fact or Fiction" a/k/a "Quick Answers to Quick Questions" a/k/a QATQQ f/k/a "I don't feel like writing a long blog post."

Try this one for size, folks.

In this case, an employee argued that her former employer retaliated against her, by terminating her for complaining about the favorable treatment a co-worker with a special needs child received.

Oh, for the love of God, please let the answer to today's "Fact or Fiction" be the latter.

Pretty please...

The ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating against an a qualified individual (i.e., a disabled individual who can perform the essential functions of her job with or without a reasonable accommodation). However, if you are not disabled, you're not covered under the ADA.

Indeed, the ADA provides that "[n]othing in this chapter shall provide the basis for a claim by an individual without a disability that the individual was subject to discrimination because of the individual's lack of disability."

Therefore, an individual who gets all bent out of shape because her employer shows compassion toward employees with disabilities (or employees who have children with disabilities), has no claim under the ADA.

The answer to today's question is fiction.

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If you're on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell 'em Meyer sent you.

May 2, 2014

Withdrawing a job offer because of an applicant's prior injury may violate the ADA

Two big EEOC pet peeves right now are:

  1. employers who discriminate in the hiring process; and

  2. employers who violate the Americans with Disabilities Act based on misconceived notions about how an individual's health could impact that person's ability to perform essential job functions.

So, you've really got to be pushing your luck by betting the daily double and avoiding EEOC backlash.

Last week, Florida-based company's gamble didn't pay off as a federal court granted summary judgment in favor of the EEOC (opinion here) based on allegations that the employer violated the ADA by withdrawing a job offer because of the plaintiff's old back injury.

Here are the facts of the case (from the EEOC's press release):

"According to the EEOC's suit, ATM made a provisional job offer to Michael Matanic as a process engineer, pending a health release. The company conducted a post-offer medical examination which revealed that Matanic had a successful back surgery six years prior for which he could not provide a medical release indicating he had no restrictions. After ATM's post-offer medical examination provider, Lakeside Occupational Medical Clinic, learned this, it refused to perform a back screen and complete Matanic's physical examination. ATM, falsely regarding Matanic as disabled, withdrew the job offer and terminated his employment. In the meantime, Matanic actually performed the job at ATM for two months while he attempted to obtain the requested medical release. At the time of his termination, Matanic was in good health and had a recent medical examination showing that he had no physical limitations on his ability to perform his job."

Under the ADA, a "disability" is an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. Here, the court concluded that, by requiring the plaintiff to provide a medical release because of a prior back injury, the defendant regarded him as disabled.

Further, the ADA requires an individualized assessment of whether a disabled employee can perform the essential functions of the job. The defendant did not make this assessment. (Much like in this case, which is one my favorites when training employers). Instead, it relied upon "myths and fears" about the prior back injury in denying employment.

Oops. 

Employers need to be very careful when getting into an applicant or employee's medical history. For more on medical-related inquiries and the ADA, check out this guidance from the EEOC.

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If you're on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell 'em Meyer sent you.

May 1, 2014

GUEST POST: 4 Overtime Myths Debunked

guestblogger.jpgToday we have a guest blogger at The Employer Handbook. It's Kimberly Erskine.

Ordinarily, when I'm offered a wage-and-hour guest blog post, I just yawn -- much like you do with the FLSA posts I do myself. But, this one, written from employee's perspective, is a worthwhile read for both employees and employers alike.

(Want to guest blog on an employment-law topic at The Employer Handbook? Email me).

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Continue reading "GUEST POST: 4 Overtime Myths Debunked" »

April 30, 2014

Apparently, selling "Wake The [expletive] Up" coffee raises the "for cause" termination bar

Let this be a lesson to those who are thinking about selling "Wake The F*&k Up" Coffee, "The Hottest F*&king Nuts," or "The Hottest F*&king Sauce."

Recently, I read this article from Clark Kauffman in the Des Moines Register about a cashier at the Last Chance Market in Iowa, who was allegedly fired after she and a customer began discussing various sexual activities in front of other customers. These customers then complained to management about the sexual banter, hence the pink slip.

Not that the employer need a reason to fire the crude cashier. Presumably, she was an at-will employee. But, the stakes are raised when an employee files for unemployment compensation benefits. That is, generally speaking, a terminated employee will receive u/c, unless the termination is for some sort of willful misconduct.

So, you'd think open sexual banter in front of customers would satisfy that requirement.

Yeah, you'd think that.

Well, the cashier had an ace up her sleeve; namely, the aforementioned f*&king products. 

Would you like to read how these products contributed to what the former employee described as an all-around profane and off-color working environment? Sure you would.

From Mr. Kauffman's article:

"There's jelly beans, salsa, hot sauces and all kinds of different things about women's (bodies)," she testified. "There's a whole shelf referring to -- well, excuse me -- but there's one can called 'The Hottest ----ing Nuts.' "
She said the store also sells a brand of coffee named "Wake The ---- Up," the label of which reads: "This coffee makes a seriously strong cup of Joe. It will put some stride in your step and some lead in your pencil -- not to mention that you will probably reorganize the garage and finally get to the lawn. Wake the F up and live!"
State records indicate the store also sells a brand of hot sauce called "The Hottest ----ing Sauce," which is labeled as having an "ass-burning" quality that will inspire the consumer to "scream '(expletive)' at the top of your lungs."

Yep, the former employee got her u/c benefits.

And since I can't beat it, to end this post, I'll quote further from Mr. Kauffman's article:

Shafer said she's still looking for work, adding that Braaksma has banned her from shopping at the Last Chance Market. "And you know, he still has this big sign right where you go in, a metal sign, that says, 'Shirts and shoes are required, but bras and panties are optional,' " she said.
Braaksma would not comment on the case, telling The Des Moines Register, "I don't want my store's name in no (expletive) news story."
April 29, 2014

Teacher can't return to work two weeks after maternity leave ends, but may have an ADA claim

Recently, I gave a webinar about the interplay between the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. One of the takeaways there was that, when an employee's 12 weeks of FMLA leave expire, you need to be thinking about ADA implications rather than processing a pink slip at 12 weeks and a day. This is because additional leave may be a reasonable accommodation.

The same issues can arise if you have a pregnant employee. That is, you need to consider the interplay between the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the ADA.

A recent case shows how the ADA may apply to pregnant employees.

Trevis Reed was a Special Education Teacher in Louisiana, until she was fired from her position. Ms. Reed was pregnant and used all of her allotted leave time from August 2011 from February 2012.

Ms. Reed was scheduled to return to work on February 15, 2011, however her psychiatrist would not clear her to return until two weeks later, on February 28, 2011. The school refused to grant the extra two weeks of leave, and fired Ms. Reed when she failed to return to work on the 15th.

Ms. Reed then sued for violation of the ADA.

Two weeks of additional leave may be a reasonable accommodation.

The school did not challenge that Ms. Reed was disabled. (Note: Pregnancy is not a disability. However, postpartum depression could be). Rather, the school argued that, when it fired Ms. Reed, she was not a qualified individual within the definition of the ADA. That is, she could not perform the essential functions of her job with or without a reasonable accommodation.

Even though the plaintiff's counsel failed to address the school's argument that Ms. Reed was not qualified, the Court, on its own examination, still denied the School's motion for summary judgment. That is, it determined in this opinion that a reasonable jury could conclude that an additional two weeks of leave was a reasonable accommodation for Ms. Reed:

"The Court does not find on this record that Reed's request for the additional leave was improper, or that it fell beyond the bounds of the general rule that a reasonable accommodation may include "providing additional unpaid leave for necessary treatment." Nor does the Court find on the existing record that after February 28, 2011 Reed was inhibited from fulfilling the necessary requirements of the job."

Takeaways for employers

Unfortunately for employers, there is no magic formula to determine how much additional leave, beyond that which an employee has already been allotted, is reasonable. Each case -- and each leave scenario -- stands on its own set of facts. That said, consider these takeways:

  1. The more leave you initially provide, the tougher it will be to argue that a brief period of subsequent leave is unreasonable.

  2. Denying two weeks of additional leave to a new mom who is suffering from doctor-certified postpartum issues is cold as ice. That's a great way to earn yourself a jury trial.

  3. Many of PDA/FMLA leaves of absence will involve ADA issues and, thus, foreshadow an interactive dialogue to discuss reasonable accommodations. Don't wait until leave is about to end to broach this subject. Plan ahead. Communicate with that employee early and often.

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If you're on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell 'em Meyer sent you.

April 28, 2014

Plaintiff demands that a court order her alleged sexual harasser to photograph his penis for inspection

As an employment lawyer, part of my practice involves training employees and supervisors on employee handbooks. Most often, my training focuses on respect in the workplace.

During these sessions, I employ many techniques to discourage the workforce from engaging in behavior that could create a hostile work environment. Usually, I'll put it like this:

"If you would feel uncomfortable sitting in a witness box while having to explain your behavior to a federal jury, then it's not something that you should do in the workplace."

But, now, thanks to this recent decision from a federal judge in Washington, DC, I have a new one.

Think twice before sexting.

Laverne Battle alleged that Sergeant Kevin Pope, her direct supervisor at the Metropolitan Police Department, sexually harassed her. Specifically, Ms. Battle alleged that Sergeant Pope texted her a picture of his left hand holding his penis.

[Editor's Note: Bad. But, could've been worse]

Ms. Battle produced a grainy color copy of the photograph for the court's inspection, and sought to compel Sergeant Pope to produce a photograph of his left hand and penis for the purpose of comparison.

The defendant won't have to produce a penis pic...yet.

As to the left hand, the court granted Ms. Battle's motion and ordered Sergeant Pope to produce to Ms. Battle and allow the court to review a photograph of his left hand (including thumb and forefinger) held in a similar position as that in the photograph at issue.

As to Sergeant Pope's penis, the Court made him SnapChat it to Ms. Battle denied Ms. Battle's request that Sergeant Pope "pose" for "photo-documenting" by plaintiff's counsel. Ewww!

And the Court otherwise held off on requiring him to photo his penis. Something about "the requested photograph is alone dehumanizing and embarrassing, notwithstanding whether the photograph is ever presented to a jury."

However, the Court did not dismiss altogether the possibility of another penis photograph. It deferred ruling on Ms. Battle's motion to compel Sergeant Pope to produce a photograph of his penis until the Court was satisfied that there is no less intrusive alternative to requiring Sergeant Pope to produce a photograph of his penis.

So, what can we learn from this?

Well, I suppose that I'll have to modify my anti-harassment training deterrent to address both testifying from the witness stand and possibly having to produce a picture of your penis.

Or vagina.

We don't discriminate here.

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If you're on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell 'em Meyer sent you.