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HAPPY HALLOWEEN

Have a happy and safe Halloween!

 

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NEW JERSEY BILL TO PROTECT EMPLOYEES AND APPLICANTS ADVANCES

TRENTON — The days of employers forcing workers to grant them access to their Facebook accounts may be numbered.

The state Senate today passed a bill (A2878) that would fine companies $1,000 if they request or demand access to workers’ or potential employees’ accounts on social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Workers would also get the option to sue for money lost if they fail to get hired or lost their jobs or promotions because of the employer’s prying. Companies that violate the law a second time would face a $2,500 fine. Only law enforcement agencies would be exempt.

“…I have been reading more and more about how businesses and corporations, and schools as a matter of fact, are requiring your facebook information,” said Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), a sponsor of the bipartisan measure. “They’re not entitled to that. You’re entitled to some privacy.”

Maryland and Illinois both have recently enacted laws on the books that apply to employers.

“It is illegal to invade someone’s house for personal properties and open another person’s mail. So, what gives an employer the right to forcibly access such a broad scope of personal information against an applicant’s will?” said another sponsor, state Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington).

The Senate also passed a bill (A2879) that would ban colleges and universities from requiring prospective and current students to turn over their usernames and passwords. The students could sue, but the bill does not include a fine against the colleges.

While both bills passed in 38-0 votes, they have their critics.

Stefanie Riehl, assistant vice president for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said her organization does not oppose banning employers from requiring employees to give up their usernames and passwords. But she said the bill is too vague and should not allow employees to sue.

“Even if a claim against an employer is without merit and the employer has done nothing wrong, they’re still going to have to spend time and money defending against it,” she said.

Riehl said the bill’s language is so broad that simply asking someone an employer is interviewing for a position about their social media experience could lead to a violation.

“If I’m interviewing someone right out of college because I have, say, an entry level PR or marketing job, and ask ‘What experience do you have with social media?’ it could come up that the person has a personal account, and that could be asking,” she said.

Christopher Mills, a labor attorney, said the legislation is essentially “fixing a problem that doesn’t exist.”

While employers may occasionally ask employees for their social networking information, he said the practice is far from widespread and usually frowned upon in the business community.

“Most attorneys who represent sophisticated employers and are talking about what their clients are doing are saying they’re not doing this,” said Mills, who said he advises his own clients against it. “I couldn’t speak for the extraordinarily unsophisticated small employer, because those are the folks who typically don’t consult lawyers before they do something.”

Sweeney, however, said the bill is worth passing even if the practice is uncommon.

“If it’s one person, it’s one person too much,” he said.

The bill that applies to college students advances to Gov. Chris Christie, while the one that applies to employers needs a another Assembly vote because it was changed slightly since the lower house first passed it.

 

To read more, visit: http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2012/10/senate_bills_bans_employers_fr.html

STATE E-VERIFY LAW BEGINS TO TAKE EFFECT

A North Carolina law requiring employers to verify their workers legal status is beginning to roll out, the Winston-Salem Journal reports.

The free online system is operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and is in addition to the I-9 form each employee must complete when hired.

Federal contractors have been required to use the system since 2009 and the state passed a law in 2011 requiring private employers to begin using it.

Companies with more than 500 employers had to comply beginning Oct. 1, while the law will roll out to smaller companies throughout the next year.

 

To read more, visit: http://www.bizjournals.com/triad/blog/morning-edition/2012/10/nc-law-requiring-e-verify-checks-for.html

MANAGER FIRED AFTER ESCAPING ROBBERY

An Arby’s Restaurant in Dayton, Ohio, has fired its assistant general manager after she had to jump through the store’s drive-through window to escape a knife-wielding robber. What’s Arby’s beef? Archer, the company says, violated a company rule.

According to the Dayton Daily News, assistant manager Mary Archer had been closing up the store when the incident occurred. In an exclusive interview with ABC affiliate WHIO-TV of Dayton, Archer said her last co-worker had just left for the night when she heard the doorbell ring.

Thinking it was her co-worker returning to pick up something she’d forgotten, Archer unlocked the door, only to find herself confronted by a robber with a knife who repeatedly shouted, “Give me the money.”

“I really thought I was going to die,” Archer, 56, told WHIO. She did her best to defend herself, she says, pushing the man away while she told herself, “I’m not going to die at Arby’s tonight. I’m just not.”

Mary Archer, an assistant manager at a Dayton, Ohio Arby’s, was fired for slipping out of a drive-thru window to get away from an armed robber, Oct. 19, 2012.

She was able to evade the attacker and jump through the drive-through window. Her cries for help then brought the police.

Archer, who says she has worked for Arby’s for 23 years, says she was flabbergasted to find the next day, when she returned to work, that she’d been fired. “I just never thought that would happen to me, since my life was at stake,” she told her television interviewer.

“I don’t want my job back,” she says. “I just want everybody to know what kind of company this is. They said I was not supposed to have been alone in the store.”

That, indeed, is Arby’s position. In answer to a request for comment from ABC News, a spokesperson for Arby’s Restaurant Group says in an email:

“We consider the safety and security of our guests and employees to be of utmost importance. We’re extremely thankful that no one was injured during this incident. While this did not occur in a company-owned restaurant, we understand from our franchisee that the employee was terminated for her second violation of an important safety and security policy; namely, being alone in a restaurant afterhours.”

Arby’s rule says at least two employees are to be on duty at any time. Efforts by ABC News to contact Archer were not successful.

Archer said in her television interview that this was the third time thieves had attempted to rob the store. After their first attempt, she says, precautions should have been taken, but they were not.

“We have no alarms, no cameras. That should have been nipped in the bud the very first attempt.” The only bright spot, she says, is, “My life was spared.”

The suspect in the robbery at Arby’s is still at large.

 

To read more, visit: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/arbys-fires-ohio-manager-fled-robber/story?id=17535661

BANK WORKER FIRED, HAS TO RE-APPLY FOR HIS OWN JOB

Trying to save a dime is costing one former Wells Fargo employee a lot.

Robert Eggers, of Des Moines, Iowa, was fired from his job as a customer service representative at Wells Fargo after the bank discovered he was convicted of a minor crime for trying to put a cardboard dime in a laundromat washing machine in 1963. The FDIC granted him a waiver allowing him to legally work in the banking industry again, according to the Des Moines Register. But that doesn’t mean he’ll get his job back.

Eggers was fired under regulations that prohibit banks from hiring workers who’ve been convicted of dishonest crimes, but after appealing to the FDIC for a waiver, he’s elgible to return to work. Problem is, Wells Fargo is making him reapply to get his old job back, The Des Moines Register reports.

Eggers isn’t the only worker to be a victim of the rule that’s primarily been affecting lower level employees. In fact, the FDIC is set to approve 74 waivers allowing workers to get around the regulations this year, a 252 percent increase from 2009, according to USA Today. Another Wells Fargo staffer, Yolanda Quesada, was fired in May when a background check revealed a shoplifting charge from 1972.

 

To read more, visit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/11/robert-eggers-wells-fargo-reapply_n_1958150.html 

INADEQUATE BACKGROUND CHECKS OF STUDENT EXCHANGE HOST FAMILIES

JACKSON, Miss.    – An organization suspended from bringing foreign exchange students to the U.S. was hounded in recent years by allegations of mismanagement, with complaints ranging from sexual abuse by host fathers to urging a host family to lie about company mistakes, an Associated Press review shows.

San Diego-based Pacific Intercultural Exchange, or PIE, is appealing this year’s suspension from its role as one of the State Department’s sponsors for the high school exchange program. The company has said it’s being treated unfairly.

The State Department won’t say exactly why PIE was suspended, but AP has reviewed emails, court documents and school board records that show the company has been accused of mismanagement involving dozens of teenagers in recent years.

PIE is part of a network of organizations that brings close to 30,000 high school students to the U.S. annually in a program overseen by the State Department. The program has come under increasing scrutiny, with critics saying that sponsors are more concerned about profits than the participants. The State Department says the safety of the students is its main concern and that it’s working to make the program better. It wouldn’t comment on PIE’s appeal.

Yet emails among State Department officials reviewed by the AP, along with court documents, show a pattern of alleged oversights that one of the officials decried as “lax business practices.” Two of the most serious cases involve PIE host fathers convicted of sexually abusing exchange students, with one spawning a lawsuit that accused the sponsor organization of failing to do an adequate background check.

“They’re getting greedy. They’re getting sloppy. And there’s no room for greed or sloppiness when you’re dealing with children,” said Danielle Grijalva, director of the nonprofit Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students.

The State Department has adopted several rules designed to safeguard students over the years, including requiring background checks, but it scrapped plans for a pilot program that would have required more thorough FBI fingerprint checks like those used by the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Critics say the more thorough background checks would help identify potential host families who may abuse the students.

In one of the abuse cases, 30-year-old PIE host father Shernon James was convicted of molesting a 15-year-old Ukrainian student in 2009 at a hotel in Kissimee, Fla. James had previously been charged with, but acquitted of, possessing child pornography.

Another host father for PIE, 52-year-old Craig Steven Ley, of Beaverton, Ore., pleaded guilty in 2010 to sexually abusing a German boy. PIE didn’t do an adequate background check to find out that Ley had a felony record for using another exchange student in a bogus insurance claim, according to a lawsuit filed over the case.

Another problem for PIE has been accepting more students into the program than there are host families available at the time, Grijalva said.

PIE’s president, John Doty, told his staff in a 2006 email that the company narrowly dodged sanctions for cancelling “a number” of students who signed up to participate in 2005. The email also said Doty went to Washington D.C. in 2006 to meet with State Department officials because he was again faced with canceling participants, this time 113 Korean students.

PIE and other sponsors charge the students’ families thousands of dollars to arrange for them to live in American households and go to school high school. The U.S. government also gives grants to students from some countries.

A number of other sponsors have been accused of violations. An agency review last year found that 15 of the 39 largest such organizations were in “regulatory noncompliance,” according to State Department documents obtained by AP.

Many violations are handled with a reprimand and corrective plan, but it’s unusual for a company as big as PIE to be suspended. The suspension affected a more than 455 students from 18 countries for this school year.

Officials in Louisiana were so alarmed by the living conditions of PIE students that in 2010 the Vermillion Parish School Board banned the company from placing students in the district. A teacher took in one of the students because the teen was being mistreated by the host family, according to Superintendent Randy Schexnayder.

“The whole family was utilizing the student to do their house work,” Schexnayder told AP. “I don’t think they properly screened the host families.”

The company has declined to discuss these and other allegations, some of which are contained in emails among high-ranking State Department officials and court documents reviewed by AP.

Among the allegations investigated by State Department officials, according to the emails, were accusations that PIE tried to falsify records in 2010 to conceal the fact that the company brought a 17-year-old girl from Kazakhstan to Maryland without having her registered for school. The students are supposed to be registered for school before coming to the U.S. The girl ended up going home disappointed and distraught.

Doty, PIE’s president, and a regional manager, Patricia Littrell, asked the host family to lie about the school arrangements in order to cover up their mistake, according to the host mother, Peg Marose. The girl was not allowed into the public school because she missed the registration deadline. Marose said Littrell wanted her to “back date” documents.

Littrell and Doty didn’t respond to messages, and PIE’s attorney said company officials could not comment at this time.

Stanley Colvin, a deputy assistant secretary for the State Department involved in exchange programs, wrote a highly critical email on Sept. 1, 2010, that referenced the Maryland case.

“Given the attempt to fabricate documents and its failure to secure a school placement, and other regulatory violations and lax business practices, my staff no longer considers PIE to be a reputable organization with whom the department should be doing business,” Colvin told other State Department officials in the email.

The State Department considered revoking PIE’s sponsor designation effective May 2011, but ended up putting the company on probation and reducing the number of students it could sponsor. The company was told in June of this year that the State Department was taking immediate action and was suspended, the agency has said. The State Department won’t elaborate on the reasons for the suspension other than to say PIE violated program rules.

The company has complained that the State Department is treating it unfairly.

“We stand behind the quality of the program that we have provided for nearly four decades and do not believe that this action by the Department of State is warranted,” PIE said in July in a letter to staff members and host families.

PIE generated nearly $3.5 million from October 2009 to September 2010, according to a 2011 IRS filing required of nonprofit organizations. About $1.26 million was from government contributions or grants, but the majority of the company’s money, about $2.26 million, came from its foreign program fees, according to the document. The company’s website says it has facilitated exchanges for more than 25,000 high school students since the 1970s.

 

To read more, visit: http://www.startribune.com/nation/171793441.html?refer=y

FORMER PRIEST ALLEGED CHILD MOLESTER HIRED BY TSA

About four months after being defrocked by the Diocese of Camden in 2002, Thomas Harkins had a new job as a security officer, including patting down passengers, with the Transportation Security Administration at Philadelphia International Airport.

The TSA hired the former priest before completing a background check, the agency recently confirmed. According to a church document, the diocese revealed to the TSA in 2003 as part of the background check that Harkins had been removed from ministry because of allegations he had molested two grade-school girls. Harkins was never criminally prosecuted, but the diocese settled civil lawsuits for $195,000.

The TSA took no action as a result of the disclosure.

“An allegation alone does not warrant dismissal or automatically disqualify applicants from employment with the TSA,” spokeswoman Ann Davis said.

Over the years, Harkins, 65, who lives in Collingswood, has been promoted within the TSA and now oversees screening operations for checked baggage, earning $75,600. He has not patted down passengers since 2004, the TSA said.

Although Harkins has managed to lead a seemingly quiet life for 10 years, his past has come under scrutiny since May, when a lawsuit was filed against the diocese alleging that church officials concealed allegations against Harkins and allowed him to work with children even though he had been treated for pedophilia.

Harkins was hired at the TSA as Homeland Security was initially staffing up to protect airports from terrorists after the 9/11 attacks. The newly created TSA hired about 50,000 workers, some before full background checks were completed, said a TSA official who did not want to be quoted by name.

Harkins was not excluded from the agency’s applicant pool – which typically includes retired police, veterans, and those with previous security experience – because he passed the TSA’s initial screening, including an interview, Davis said.

Today, the agency no longer does massive hirings. Employment is contingent on a full background check, and those without a positive evaluation from a previous employer are unlikely to pass the agency’s screening, according to the TSA.

Harkins did not respond to repeated calls and messages left at his home seeking comment.

According to a letter written by a diocesan official that The Inquirer recently obtained, the church informed the TSA on Sept. 29, 2003, that Harkins had been accused of sexually abusing two girls. By then, Harkins had been working as a security officer for more than a year.

He began in the priesthood in 1978. In 2002, he was no longer permitted to present himself as a priest or attend church activities because of the alleged sexual abuse, said Peter Feuerherd, spokesman for the Camden diocese.

Harkins remains one of 133 New Jersey priests identified on a website maintained by bishop-accountability.org, a nonprofit that tracks clergy abuse. The list identifies 4,300 priests accused of molestation across the nation.

When Harkins applied for the TSA job in 2002, a widespread church scandal was unfolding. Investigations discovered that a number of abusive priests had been reassigned and never reported to law enforcement by church officials.

After some highly publicized cases, dioceses including Camden’s reviewed their personnel records. According to a 2002 law enforcement record, Harkins was among a number of priests in the diocese who had been accused of abuse.

On May 17 that year, the Camden diocese notified Harkins in writing that he could no longer participate in parish activities there or elsewhere, records show.

That month, Harkins retired. By August, he was working for the TSA. Feuerherd said the diocese was contacted about Harkins for the TSA’s background check.

On Sept. 29, 2003, Rod J. Herrera, then director of priest personnel, wrote a one-page letter to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which conducts the TSA’s background checks.

Harkins was “precluded from presenting himself as a priest to anyone, or dressing as a priest,” or participating in parish social and charitable activities, Herrera wrote.

“He was placed on restrictive ministry in 1993, when the diocese received a report of inappropriate sexual conduct on the part of Harkins toward an adolescent female,” Herrera wrote.

“In the same year, the diocese learned of inappropriate sexual conduct on the part of Harkins toward another adolescent female, and he was sent for an evaluation. Upon receipt by the diocese of the report by the evaluators, Mr. Harkins was removed from his post at Camden Catholic High School.”

The letter gave no information about the alleged victims. Feuerherd said they reported that Harkins had abused them in the 1980s at St. Anthony of Padua in Hammonton. Early in his career, Harkins served 18 months at St. Anthony’s, teaching catechism and leading Sunday services for children.

After that, he was transferred to numerous posts before he was assigned in 1990 to Camden Catholic in Cherry Hill, where he served as a teacher, Feuerherd said. There were no allegations by students at Camden Catholic, he said.

Harkins was never prosecuted in the St. Anthony cases. The diocese did not report the allegations to law enforcement until 2002, after the statute of limitations had passed, records show. However, the diocese settled civil lawsuits for $195,000. By that time, Harkins was working for the TSA.

A third lawsuit filed against the diocese this year by a North Carolina woman seeks at least $75,000 in damages and accuses the diocese of concealing molestations in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In her lawsuit, Lisa Shanahan alleges the diocese could have prevented Harkins from molesting her at St. Anthony’s if he had been removed from ministry after other victims complained. She wants the diocese to make Harkins’ personnel file public.

Church officials have said that the diocese should have reported the abuse to law enforcement at the time of the allegations and that Harkins should not have remained in ministry as long as he did.

Davis said she could not discuss specifics about Harkins’ hiring at the TSA, whether he disclosed sexual abuse allegations, or whether the TSA ever asked about the allegations.

“The Privacy Act of 1974 prohibits TSA from disclosing information from our employees’ job applications and employment records,” Davis said. “However, all TSA employees undergo comprehensive background checks, which include criminal history.”

Job qualifications posted on the TSA website for those seeking to become a security officer include a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) credential, or at least one year of full-time work experience in the security industry, aviation screening, or as an X-ray technician.

“Looking to work directly with travelers and being part of our team of Transportation Security Officers?” the website asks. Officers are responsible for screening, patting down passengers, including children.

“Find Your Dream Job,” the website says. In an online video, in which the TSA employees describe their job duties, a female officer says, “Our job requires you touch people, touch their bags.”

To be eligible for the “prestigious group of individuals,” the TSA details that “all applicants must pass a very stringent background review.”

To read more, visit: http://articles.philly.com/2012-10-02/news/34199381_1_tsa-camden-diocese-peter-feuerherd

SEX OFFENDERS SUE CITY OVER HALLOWEEN RESTRICTIONS

An attorney representing five Simi Valley sex offenders who sued the city over limits to their Halloween activities said the lawsuit will be the first of several she expects to file over such restrictions.

Lawyer Janice Bellucci heads the 18-month-old advocacy group California Reform Sex Offender Laws. On Friday, she filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that Simi Valley’s ordinance violates her clients’ First Amendment rights.

The suit seeks a judge’s order prohibiting enforcement of the ordinance in Simi Valley, which has 119 registered sex offenders, according to a city report. Bellucci is representing five unnamed sex offenders, three of their spouses and two minor children, she said.

The ordinance, adopted Sept. 10, prohibits registered sex offenders in the Ventura County city of about 125,000 from displaying Halloween decorations, answering the door to trick-or-treaters or having outside lighting after dark on Oct. 31.

Simi Valley councilman and LAPD officer Mike Judge said the law is modeled after similar Halloween laws enforced in other California cities, and is meant to protect children.

“This law was generated by citizens asking the City Council to do something,” Judge said. “And it didn’t seem unreasonable for the City Council to take it up.

“As far as I’m concerned, our law doesn’t go as far as other laws in the state of California and it still, in our opinion, protects our children a little bit better than not having it.”

Registered sex offenders are also required to post signs with on their front doors reading, in 1-inch letters, “No candy or treats at this residence.” Those offenders visible to the public on the state’s Megan’s Law website and convicted of a crime against a child are required to post the sign.

Sixty-seven of the city’s offenders are listed on the website, according to a city report; the rest are convicted of misdemeanors and don’t have their names on the public list.

Bellucci said the sign-posting requirement was “particularly egregious.”

“We consider that to be a violation of the U.S. Constitution,” Bellucci said Tuesday.

The ordinance both imposes “forced speech” – the sign – and restricts speech by prohibiting Halloween celebrations, she said.

“It’s similar to Jews in Nazi Germany who had to wear the yellow star on their clothing,” Bellucci said.

The Simi Valley measure is part of a trend of increasing strict restrictions on the activities of convicted sex offenders who have “paid their debt to society,” Bellucci said.

Her organization intends to begin filing lawsuits to challenge other statutes, she said.

The office of Simi Valley City Attorney Marjorie Baxter said the city had not been served with Bellucci’s complaint, so it had no comment as of Tuesday afternoon.

Baxter was quoted in the Ventura County Star, which first reported on the lawsuit, as saying: “We thoroughly researched the ordinance and I don’t feel the lawsuit has any merit, and we will defend it vigorously.”

At an Aug. 20 initial City Council hearing on the ordinance, a deputy city attorney told council members that “traditional trick or treat activities associated with Halloween provide have the potential to provide significant opportunities for sex offenders to victimize minors.”

Council members at that time expressed some concern about legal repercussions, as well as worries that residents who decide not to decorate will be thought by neighbors to be sex offenders.

The police chief told the council that he could find no records of a sex crime against a child on Halloween in Simi Valley.

Those who are convicted of violating the ordinance would be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to six months in county jail, according to a city staff report.

California residents who have been convicted of or pleaded no contest or guilty to a sex-related offense must register with local public safety authorities.  Offenders are listed on the registry for life.  

To read more, visit: http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Sex-Offenders-Lawsuit-Simi-Valley-Halloween-Restrictions-172382921.html

LAW RESTRICTS EMPLOYERS TO ACCESS EMPLOYEES’ SOCIAL MEDIA

On September 27, 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 1844, which prohibits employers from requiring or requesting an employee or applicant for employment to: (1) disclose a username or password for personal social media, (2) access their accounts in the presence of employers, or (3) divulge any personal social media. It also makes it illegal to discipline or retaliate against an employee or applicant for not complying with a request or demand for access to personal social media.

The bill carves out two exceptions. First, an employer can require disclosure of usernames and passwords if it is relevant to an investigation of employee misconduct or employee violations of laws or regulations. Second, the bill does not preclude employers from requiring or requesting an employee to disclose a username or password for the purpose of accessing an employer-issued electronic device.

While the bill was largely aimed at protecting the privacy of employees’ social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, its definition of “social media” is broad. The definition includes “videos, still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, instant and text messages, email, online services or accounts, or Internet Web site profiles or locations.”

Finally, this legislation states that the Labor Commissioner is not required to investigate or determine alleged violations of this law. Presumably this will allow employees and applicants to proceed directly to file lawsuits for alleged violations.

This legislation makes California the third state (after Maryland and Illinois) to ban employers from requiring access to employee and applicant social networking sites. At least ten other states and the federal government are currently considering similar legislation.

Employers should evaluate current technology policies and practices to ensure compliance with the new law. The law does not prohibit electronic monitoring of employer-provided electronic devices. Such electronic monitoring, such as key-stroke monitoring for the purpose of reviewing Internet usage, is still permitted.

To read more, visit: http://www.laborlawyers.com/shownews.aspx?Show=15488&Type=1122