Are You Ready For Your Company’s Holiday Party?

Many companies start planning their holiday party now.  Employers need to know that an employer can be held liable for accidents and injuries caused by their employees who over indulge themselves with alcohol at the party, even if the employee initially made it home safely!  You read that correctly.  The California Court of Appeal, in Purton v. Marriott International, Inc., recently held that the company was potentially liable for a fatal motor vehicle accident caused by one of its employees who had attended the company’s hosted party.  While the employee arrived home safely, the employee left about 20 minutes later to drive another co-worker home.  The co-worker was also intoxicated.  During this trip the employee struck another car, killing its driver.  The trial court granted summary judgment for the employer on the ground that the employer’s potential liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior ended when the employee arrived home.

The court of appeal reversed and held that an employer may be found liable for its employee’s tortious conduct “as long as the proximate cause of the injury occurred within the scope of employment.  It is irrelevant that foreseeable effects of the employee’s negligent conduct occurred at a time the employee was no longer acting within the scope of his or her employment.”  The court explained that a jury could conclude that the proximate cause of the injury, i.e., the employee’s alcohol consumption, and the negligent conduct, i.e., the car accident, occurred within the scope of his employment.  The court further found that the going and coming rule, which generally exempts an employer from liability for the torts of its employees committed while going to or coming home from their work, was an “analytical distraction” because the “thrust of [plaintiff’s] claim for vicarious liability was that [the employee] was an `instrumentality of danger’ because of what had happened to her at work.”  As such, the court focused on the “act on which vicarious liability is based and not on when the act results in injury.”  The court also stated that the record presented sufficient evidence for a finding that the employee in question breached a duty of due care he owed to the public once he became intoxicated and that the employer “created the risk of harm at its party by allowing an employee to consume alcohol to the point of intoxication.”

This case certainly gives the definition of “within the course and scope of employment” a broader meaning.  That said, the moral of the story: (1) don’t drink and drive; (2) don’t let your employees do so either; and (3) limit your employees’ consumption of alcohol at company events.

Are Partners Protected by the Provisions of FEHA and/or Title VII?

According to the California Court of Appeal, a partner in a partnership is protected under the provisions of the California Fair Employment Housing Act  (“FEHA”)  if the partner complains that the partnership is retaliating against the partner because the partner complained about unlawful discrimination or harassment by the partnership against employees of the partnership.  In Fitzsimons v. California Emergency Physicians Medical Group, the California Court of Appeal drew a distinction between a partner alleging discrimination, harassment or retaliation by the partnership against the partner versus the partner complaining that the partnership is retaliating against the partner because the partner complained about unlawful discrimination or harassment by the partnership against employees of the partnership. Say that again?

Here’s what happened in the Fitzsimons case.  The plaintiff (a woman partner in the medical practice) claimed that she was retaliated against for reporting that certain male officers and agents of the partnership had sexually harassed female employees.  So, the issue was not whether the plaintiff could sue the partnership for sexual harassment against herself as an employee, but whether plaintiff could sue the partnership as a non-employee based on retaliation for complaining that employees of the partnership were sexually harassed.  The Court held that under the FEHA, the partner can maintain such an action, even though the partner is not deemed an employee of the partnership.

The Court drew a distinction between the provisions of Title VII and the FEHA by highlighting that Title VII and the FEHA differ significantly.  The Court explained that Title VII prohibits employers from retaliating against employees or applicants for employment, whereas the FEHA prohibits employers from retaliating against any person who opposes or challenges unlawful employment practices, such as discrimination or harassment.  In Fitzsimons, the plaintiff was regarded  as “any person” who opposed harassment of female employees by the officers and agents of the partnership.

Moral of the story: just because a partner is not regarded as an employee of the partnership, the partner still can sue the partnership for retaliation under the FEHA.  The case is attached here: Fitzsimons v. California Emergency Physicians Medical Group.

How ICE Can Freeze Your Business Operations!

ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was formed in 2003 “as part of the federal government’s response to the 9/11 attacks and its mission is to protect the security of the American people and homeland by vigilantly enforcing the nation’s immigration and customs laws.” With an annual budget of more than $5 billion and more than 19,000 employees in over 400 offices in the U.S. and around the world, ICE is the largest investigative agency in the United States Department of Homeland Security.  ICE may conduct raids or sweeps at a particular place of business. ICE can also send Notices of Inspections to employers to alert them that it will be inspecting their I-9s and hiring records to determine whether or not they are complying with employment eligibility verification laws and regulations.  ICE’s increased focus is on holding employers accountable for their hiring practices and their efforts to ensure a legal workforce.  ICE also seeks to ensure that employers are compliant with I-9 forms and hiring records.

In the event of audits or raids, employers’ non-compliance may result in civil penalties and lay the groundwork for criminal prosecution of employers who have knowingly violated the law.  According to ICE’s Assistant Secretary John Morton, “ICE is focused on finding and penalizing employers who believe they can unfairly get ahead by cultivating illegal workplaces.”  He added that ICE is “increasing criminal and civil enforcement of immigration-related employment laws and imposing smart, tough employer sanctions to even the playing field for employers who play by the rules.”

While the presence of illegal aliens at a business does not necessarily mean the employer is responsible, consulting with legal counsel is paramount to limiting your potential exposure in your hiring practices.