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March 2013 Archives

Can employers ask job applicants for Facebook passwords?

More and more California employers are asking job applicants to provide their Facebook passwords as part of the hiring process. The rationale is to ensure prospective employees do not have a history of dangerous conduct or affiliations, such as gang affiliations. But is such a practice legal? While there are no laws that specifically prohibit an employer from requesting an applicant's social media log-in information, some legal experts say that the practice violates existing employment discrimination laws.Under both California and federal law, it is illegal to base hiring decisions on an applicant's protected class status. Accordingly, during the hiring process, employers must avoid making inquiries about things like an applicant's age, sexual orientation, marital status, and ethnicity. This information could reveal an applicant's protected class status and lead to claims of discrimination. Yet, this is precisely the kind of information that an employer could find on an applicant's Facebook profile.

California health plan sued for sexual harassment

The public health plan that runs Ventura County's Medi-Cal system has been sued again. In an earlier blog post, we reported on a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by two former Gold Coast Health Plan employees who alleged their termination from employment constituted unlawful retaliation. Now, a third former employee has stepped forward claiming that she was sexually harassed by the plan's former CEO. Like the employees in the first lawsuit, the third employee also claims retaliation, saying she was fired after reporting the sexual harassment. The most recent lawsuit was brought by a former administrative assistant for the plan. She alleges that the plan's former chief executive, who resigned in March, engaged in a pattern of sexually harassing behavior that created a hostile work environment. Among other things, the woman claims her former boss sent her sexually explicit emails and text messages, gave her a flash drive containing pornography and spanked her in an elevator. 

California woman fired for out-of-wedlock pregnancy

A woman is claiming she was fired from her position with a California college after she became pregnant. Up until last October, the woman was employed as a financial aid specialist by San Diego Christian College. After stories began circulating campus that the then-unmarried woman was pregnant, her supervisor asked her if the rumors were true. When she said yes, she was given a choice between resigning or being fired. The woman is now suing her former employer for wrongful discharge. College officials say the woman was not fired because she was pregnant but because she violated the terms of a "community covenant" that all employees and students of the school are required to sign. The covenant prohibits use of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes and other behavior viewed as immoral, including premarital sex. The human resources director for the college told the woman she was being fired for engaging in premarital sex.

What constitutes wrongful termination

When someone is fired for a reason that seems unfair, his or her first reaction may be to sue the former employer for wrongful discharge. But upon further review, the discharged employee may be surprised to learn that he or she does not have a viable claim of wrongful termination. Under the employment-at-will doctrine, which applies in California and throughout the United States, an employer generally can fire an employee for any reason or for no reason at all. There are certain exceptions to at-will employment. If an employee is covered by a union contract or other employment agreement that specifies the employer must have just cause for dismissal, the employer is bound by those contractual terms. An employer also may not discharge an employee for a reason that would constitute unlawful discrimination under state or federal law. Accordingly, termination on the basis of race, age, sex or other protected class status would constitute actionable wrongful discharge.

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