Back in July, Matt Landis updated us on several of the stories confirming Lancaster’s technology sector continued to thrive in 2018. As we close out the year, let’s look at a few more that made the news in our area during the second half of the year!

We are looking forward to another great year for Lancaster’s technology sector. Best wishes for a safe, happy, and healthy 2019 from all of us here at #RKGTechLaw!

Brandon Harter is litigator and technology guru at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from William & Mary Law School and advises clients on issues of Civil Litigation & Dispute ResolutionMunicipal Law, and chairs the firm’s Tech Law Group.

A few months ago I wrote about the Third Circuit Court of Appeal’s avoidance of ruling on whether employers have a duty to protect their employees’ personal information. We now have an answer to that question (at least in this Commonwealth) from Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court: Yes, yes it does.

On the eve of Thanksgiving the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released its decision in Dittman v. UPMC. This lawsuit was brought by employees of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center over a data breach that leaked the employees’ names, birth dates, social security numbers, and bank account information. But the existence of a duty by UPMC to protect this personal information remained in doubt. The Court ended this debate by ruling:

an employer has a legal duty to exercise reasonable care to safeguard its employees’ sensitive personal information stored by the employer on an internet-accessible computer system.

For employees, this is a decision that should be heralded as an important protection against identity theft. After all, what choice does an employee have but to give personal data to their employer? That the employer must protect that information is just common sense. Continue Reading PA Supreme Court Finds Employers Must Protect Their Employees’ Personal Data

If you’re thinking about starting a business in Pennsylvania, an important part of the financial side of your business plan is to evaluate the impact of taxes on your new business. Your lawyer and your accountant are key members of your business team that can help you evaluate what type of entity to form, how that entity should be taxed, and the taxes applicable to your business.

Part three of this series discusses taxes associated with ownership of real estate and employment taxes. Part one discussed sales and use taxes and others that may apply based on the nature of the goods you sell or the services you provide. Part two discussed taxes that may apply depending on the way your business is organized.

This post is not intended to be a substitute for legal or tax advice from your lawyer or accountant – you should talk to them in order to obtain advice to address your specific situation. Need a lawyer or an accountant? We might be able to help you with that! Continue Reading Pennsylvania Business Taxes – Property and Employment Taxes

With all the uproar about Facebook’s use of our data and businesses bracing to deal with the EU’s GDPR, it is easy to forget there is no general obligation to protect your personal information. The Third Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision last week in Enslin v. Coca-Cola, et al. is the latest reminder of that fact.

Shane Enslin is a former employee of Coca-Cola. As part of his employment, he submitted, as we all do, personal information including his social security number. Coca-Cola discovered that one of its IT staffers was stealing company laptops and taking them home for his own use or giving them to others. Among the devices stolen were machines used by human resources employees that contained sensitive personal information, like Enslin’s social security number. After the devices were stolen, Enslin was the victim of identity theft. Continue Reading Third Circuit Avoids Ruling on a Duty to Protect Employees’ Personal Information

This post is part of our ongoing series exploring the impact of technology on legal issues. For an introduction to the series and a collection of the posts in the series, check out this post.

The hiring process is a key component of operating a successful business and employers do their best to properly vet prospective employees. Many employers conduct searches online through search engines and scour social media profiles as a part of that process, but there are significant legal risks if that process is not conducted with caution. Here is an overview of a few of the potential issues an employer could face with seeking out information online:

Discrimination Claims

Searching social media profiles can reveal all kind of information about an individual, including sensitive information which could identify that person as a member of a protected class. In Pennsylvania, protected classes include race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex (including pregnancy), age, physical or mental disability, use of a guide or support animal, having an association with an individual with a handicap or disability, familial status, education, sexual orientation, veteran/military status and genetic information.

Think about how much of the above information you could learn as a result of a quick review of someone’s Facebook profile. If an employer decides not to hire a prospective employee based on learning some of the above information, the applicant could bring a discrimination claim.

In order to avoid liability for these claims, consider the value of conducting a social media search in the first place. Is there significant job-related information that can be gained from conducting such a search? Employers should carefully document all decisions made in the hiring process and use the same screening process for all applicants.

If you decide that social media searches are useful for identifying job-related characteristics, then consider having one person or a small group conduct the search, and instruct them to filter out all information that is not job-related and pass that on to those with input on the hiring process in order to avoid decision-making based on protected criteria. Continue Reading Use Caution When Using Social Media Searches in the Hiring Process

The Today show announced this week that Matt Lauer has been fired after nearly 24 years on the show following an allegation made by a colleague of “inappropriate sexual behavior.”  I won’t bother linking to any of the news stories as you’ve probably already seen quite a few on this subject.  What made this story more shocking was that Lauer’s termination came less than 48 hours after the allegation was made.  This swift reaction demonstrates how attitudes in the public arena regarding workplace misconduct are beginning to shift.  But power can be exploited at all levels, which is why it’s imperative that every business owner, large or small, is aware of the laws and their responsibility to maintain a workplace that is free of sexual harassment.  An Associated Press article posted on Lancaster Online this morning discusses how Failing to address harassment allegations can cost employers.

This blog is the first in a series focusing on sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace.  Follow up posts will look at what’s important from the employer’s view, the employee’s and that of the accused.  As we become more comfortable having open discussion about workplace conduct, employers and employees need to learn more about this problem.   A key starting point for this discussion is the understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment. Continue Reading Employers and Employees: Do You Understand the Law and Sexual Harassment?

Imagine this scenario: you’re excited about your new job with a large payroll processing company, and as a part of the employment offer, you’re directed to a company website that contains the terms of a stock award program. You quickly skim through it, check the box indicating that you’ve read and accept the terms, and click submit. As you skimmed through it though, you missed that the terms included a non-solicitation clause that restricts you from soliciting clients and prospective clients for one year after you leave the company.

Are you bound by that non-solicitation clause buried in the terms of the stock award program?    Continue Reading Employment Law Update: Court Holds Internet-Based Noncompetition Agreement Enforceable

When I read that Lancaster City Council voted on October 1, 2014 to delete the box inquiring whether an employment applicant had been convicted of a crime from Lancaster City’s employment application form, it reminded me of how conflicted our positions are on criminal activity and employment. 

The “Ban the Box” movement is a nationwide effort to reduce the effects of criminal convictions on employment. At the same time that Council is explaining that taking this action is necessary to give people a fair chance for a job, others are criticizing NFL officials for failing to ban football players from the League when accused of off-field violence, sometimes before they are even charged, much less convicted. Is domestic violence different from other crimes, or are football players different from Lancaster City employees?  What does this mean for other employers?

Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act provides that an employer may consider felony and misdemeanor convictions “only to the extent to which they relate to the applicant’s suitability for employment." The Act is often cited for the proposition that summary offenses and charges that do not rise to convictions may not be considered in hiring. 

Notwithstanding the Criminal History Record Information Act, each body of the Pennsylvania General Assembly has enacted substantially similar legislation that would require an applicant for a position involving direct contact with children to provide a written statement of whether the applicant “has been the subject of an abuse or sexual misconduct investigation by any employer . . . unless the investigation resulted in a finding that the allegations were false.”  Employers will be asked to indicate whether a former employee “was the subject of any abuse or sexual misconduct investigation.”  This legislation, referred to as “Pass the Trash”, has the admirable goal of protecting school children from sexual abuse. But considering an “investigation” conducted by a prior employer and perhaps in the remote past certainly doesn’t comport with the policy requiring consideration only of criminal convictions, not unproven charges.  See my blog post on Employment Law Lessons from the Penn State Scandal.

Now, Lancaster City Council will consider a resolution calling on other employers to “Ban the Box.”  At the same time, the Pennsylvania legislature may in its few remaining session days enact “Pass the Trash” legislation. This is an interesting area where employers’ obligation to protect workers, customers and students, employees’ civil rights and public policy to employ those who have paid their debt to society intersect. 

Christina Hausner is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, PA. She received her law degree from Duquesne University School of Law and has practiced in the area of employment law for over 25 years.

Settlements are the grease that makes the wheels of justice run. Without plea bargains, the criminal court system would grind to a halt.  The civil justice system depends on reliable monetary settlements as well.  Lawyers are used to working within this framework, but every so often, some sand gets thrown in the machinery, and it grinds to a halt. 

With most civil settlements, particularly those involving employment law, confidentiality is key.  Employers don’t want others knowing the payout made to buy peace.  Exceptions may be specified for counsel and tax advisors, but generally litigants cannot discuss the facts or terms of a settlement even with a spouse unless the spouse agrees to maintain confidentiality as well. 

In the old days when oral rumors were the rule, it might be tough to prove a breach of confidentiality.  But in the 21st century, we have social media to establish beyond a reasonable doubt who spilled the beans.

In the age discrimination claim of Patrick Snay v. Gulliver Preparatory School, it was the daughter of the plaintiff who posted to her 1,200 Facebook friends:  “Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. . . . Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer.  SUCK IT.”  The daughter was a student at the school her father had sued, so her post broadcast to current and former students that Gulliver had lost its case with its former headmaster.

Four days after signing an $80,000 settlement agreement, the school cried foul and refused to pay.  Now over two years later and after two court appeals, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal sided with the school and refused to enforce the settlement agreement.  “Snay violated the agreement by doing exactly what he promised not to do. . . . His daughter then did precisely what the confidentiality agreement was designed to prevent,” said Judge Linda Ann Wells in her ruling on February 26, 2014.

Maybe this case will go back to court, and how much impetus will there be for the school to offer a voluntary settlement?  Lots of work for everyone involved just because of a slip of the mouse. 

Always take a confidentiality clause seriously and never document any breach on social media.

Christina Hausner is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, PA. She received her law degree from Duquesne University School of Law and has practiced in the area of employment law for over 25 years