david foleys blog

David Foley's Labor and Employment Law Blog

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Technology in Labor and Employment Law Symposium

The Technology in Labor and Employment Law Symposium kicked off this morning and has so far been quite worthwhile.  The symposium packed a lot of information and discussion into the day, and I can't hope to capture it all.  Here are small summaries and some of my own scattered thoughts on the speakers from today:

The first session began with Wendi Lazar moderating "Are you Protected? Privacy, Intellectual Property, Trade Secrets and Non-Competes in Web 2.0" where panelists Gary Glaser, Christopher Jordan (in from Germany), and Arnie Pedowitz weighed in on the ways that the increasingly global workplace is changing the landscape in this area.   I enjoyed the group especially because of its balance of employee and management-side attorneys.  A main concern addressed by the panel was that there are very different laws governing various jurisdictions and technological developments are such that a person can work from just about anywhere in the world (including jurisdictions where noncompetes might not be enforced).  The panel adressed issues such as whether a departing employee's facebook status and LinkedIn messages about his change of employer could violate nonsolicitation provisions; the blurring of the line between personal and professional use of social media made these issues nettlesome.  Additionally the panel addressed causes of action under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as the Stored Communications Act.

Next was "What You Really Need To Know: The Top 5 Legal and Legislative Technology Developments Impacting the Practice and the Workplace" moderated by Cynthia Nance with panelists Lewis Maltby, Anthony Oncidi, and Kristin Mathews.  This group covered a lot including the following:
-Social Media as a tool in hiring and firing.  Regarding hiring, I was surprised by the group's consensus that it is probably not a good idea for hiring managers to facebook stalk (not the phrase used by the panelists) job candidates.  The problem as they saw it was that the manager would become pregnant with knowledge that he could not legally use but would use anyway or at least would be accused of using.  The panelists offered the alternatives of outsourcing such background checks to third parties or having it done by a clean team within the company.  The panel was cleary concerned with the erosion of privacy, and I am sympathetic to their concerns.  I wonder though if there can really be any way to actually stop people from performing these kinds of searches.  My feeling is that the writing on the wall is that everybody will be googling, facebook stalking, etc. everybody, and that doing so will just increasingly be part of the process of getting to know people.  As GI Joe and Bill Belichick might tell you "knowing is half the battle" and people want information.  Keeping them from illegally obtaining it is one thing, but I have trouble believing that lawyers will successfully keep curious hiring managers out of facebook searches (I don't have any experience trying to do so, and so I could be dead wrong on this issue).  I am not celebrating the trend  but I think the real question is how to restrict use of the data, or how to keep it private to begin with, but not how to keep people from looking for it.
(list of topics this group covered continued)
-Social media as a way for employers to advertise
-Social networking as protected activity
-Employer monitoring of email, internet usage
-The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
-Electronic Communications Privacy Act
-Personal smartphone issues including distracted driving, wage and hour, and yes personal smartphone data is discoverable. 
-GPS tracking
-Social networking as evidence
-Employer liability for employee's online activity (child porn)
-Employee blogs that potentially harass their coworkers or cause a hostile work environment.

(I told you they covered a lot)

Over lunch, we had an interesting interlude from Rosanne M. Siino, Ph.D, Stanford, regarding “telepresence” and robots being used in the workplace.  Siino brought us the news that the future is here, and robots will be coming to a workplace near you.  Fascinating issues arose, but my hands were occupied with a good New York roast beef sandwich and they escaped me.  I did think about the slight irony of labor and employment lawyers working through their lunch break...

Following lunch was "Social Media and the Global Workplace" moderated by Allan Dinkoff, with panelists Paul Callaghan (in from London), Carsten Domke (in from Germany), Brian M. Flock, Hanan B. Kolko, and Ginger McCall.  It was another interesting panel.  Flock surveyed the various state statutes that limit an employer's ability to take adverse actions against employees for lawful off-duty conduct, with the summary being that those statutes have largely not tackled social media use yet.  Kolko summarized cases where the NLRB has taken actions in response to employer limitations on social media use.  McCall summarized data privacy laws and their application.  Callaghan and Domke gave us the English and German perspective on the issues.  The group wrestled with a hypo involving a male employee who facebook friends a female coworker, discovers a topless picture of the coworker in her facebook pictures and thereupon emails the picture to other coworkers through his private email account, who in turn email it to other coworkers through the employer's email system.  The female employee is upset and wants the employer to do something about it...

Finally there was "Public Sector Employment: Emerging Issues and their Potential Private Sector Impact" moderated by William A. Herbert with panelists Steven M. Klein and Norma Meacham.  This thought provoking session included information about the use of "virtual" step 1 and step 2 grievance meetings, discussion of electronic posting, FOIA-style requests and the right of confidentiality where employees communicate with their union reps, and interesting First Amendment issues.
I'm looking forward to day two.

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