Legal environment and ethical environment of business mgmt 518
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Legal Environment and Ethical Environment of Business (Mgmt 518). Agency and Employment Law (Chapters 14, 16 and 17) Professor Charles H. Smith Summer 2012. Introduction to the Law of Agency.

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Legal environment and ethical environment of business mgmt 518

Legal Environment and Ethical Environment of Business (Mgmt 518)

Agency and Employment Law (Chapters 14, 16 and 17)

Professor Charles H. Smith

Summer 2012


Introduction to the law of agency

Introduction to the Law of Agency

  • Agency law involves situations where person or business may be liable for misdeed committed by another person or business.

  • Generic agency relationship is principal-agent; more specific labels are employer-employee and employer-independent contractor; agency relationship is often simply called an “agency.”

  • “Agent” is someone who acts on behalf of a business entity or another person (the “principal”); principal gives directions to agent who tries to fulfill those direction on principal’s behalf; if financial arrangement, principal pays agent for agent’s work on principal’s behalf.


Determining whether an agency exists

Determining Whether an Agency Exists

  • Agency by agreement – most common way to create an agency; can be in writing or oral, though writing may be required by statute of frauds.

    • Example – employment contract, contract between homeowner and plumber for plumbing work.

  • Agency by ratification – principal’s subsequentapproval of action or acceptance of benefits due to action by person claimed to be the principal’s agent.

    • Example – person signs contract on behalf of principal without principal’s knowledge, but principal performs as stated in contract.

  • Agency by estoppel – principal’s act/statement creates appearance of an agency (objective “reasonable person” standard); agent’s act/statement cannot create agency.

    • Example – principal refers to person as “her agent” or “his representative” despite no agency.


Determining the limits on an agent s authority

Determining the Limits on an Agent’s Authority

  • Even if it is clear that agency exists, there are usually limits on an agent’s authority.

  • Actual authority (most common)

    • Express – written or oral instructions by principal to agent; can be general or specific.

    • Implied – usually shown by custom and practice of the particular agency.

  • Apparent authority (not as common but not rare either)

    • Agent’s “appearance of authority” can be based on principal’s act/statement (objective “reasonable person” standard); agent’s act/statement cannot be the basis of apparent authority.


Agent s duties to the principal

Agent’s Duties to the Principal

  • Care (aka “business judgment rule” or “due diligence”) – agent required to use best efforts and act appropriately under the circumstances; focus on effort, not success.

  • Loyalty – agent cannot (1) compete with principal or (2) use confidential information learned during agency for personal profit.

  • Obedience – agent must (1) obey principal’s instructions and (2) obey laws applicable to agency.


Principal s duties to the agent

Principal’s Duties to the Agent

  • Compensation – principal must compensate agent per contract.

  • Reimbursement – principal required to reimburse agent for money spent by agent on principal’s behalf; usually per contract.

  • Indemnification – if agent sued for act done during agency, principal must pay for (1) agent’s defense (e.g., lawyer, costs) and (2) settlement or judgment against agent.

  • Provide safe working conditions – usually covered by safety statutes/rules (e.g., building code, safety regulations for specific workplace such as construction site).


Liability of principal and or agent to plaintiff

Liability of Principal and/or Agent to Plaintiff

  • Contracts – was agency disclosed to the other party to the contract?

    • How to “disclose” the agency?

    • If so – principal, not agent, will be liable/responsible to perform contract.

    • If not – agent, not principal, will be liable/responsible to perform contract.

    • Case study – Yim v. J’s Fashion Accessories, Inc. (Meiners, pages 410-11).

  • Torts – agent always liable; principal may also be liable if

    • Negligence – agent within course and scope of agency (“respondeat superior”); ask if there is a “substantial departure” from job duties (very broad definition).

    • Fraud – (1) agent has principal’s actual or apparent authority and (2) agent in course and scope of agency.

    • Case study – Armstrong v. Food Lion (Meiners, page 424).


Employee vs independent contractor

Employee vs. Independent Contractor

  • Important issue since different rights and responsibilities come into play when a worker is classified as an employee or independent contractor.

  • Some reasons why classifying a worker as an employee or independent contractor is important include

    • Employer’s responsibility for withholding taxes from worker’s paycheck.

    • Employer’s obligation to comply with certain statutes (e.g., legal requirement to carry worker’s compensation insurance).

    • Worker’s right to collect worker’s compensation or unemployment benefits.

  • Classification of worker not done in vacuum; many cases, statutes and other guidelines can be used (see next slide).


Employee vs independent contractor cont

Employee vs. Independent Contractor cont.

  • Three factors in IRS Publication 15A

    • Behavioral control.

    • Financial control.

    • Type of relationship.

    • See http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p15a.pdf for details and examples (pages 7-9 only).

  • If you are unsure about the details of the law, rely on these basic rules based on one word – control

    • More control exercised by employer over worker, more likely worker is employee.

    • Less control exercised by employer over worker, more likely worker is independent contractor.


At will employment rule

At-Will Employment Rule

  • Employment is generally “at-will”

    • Employer or employee may end employment relationship at any time for any legal reason; e.g., incompetence, economics or even a silly reason.

  • Termination usually based on statement(s) and/or act(s) by one or both parties.

  • Constructive termination – employer makes conditions so intolerable that reasonable person would quit; e.g., sexual harassment case.

  • Employment may be terminated due to operation of law; e.g., completion of work or time stated in contract.

  • Two-week notice – required by law or just a good idea?


Exceptions to at will employment rule

Exceptions to At-Will Employment Rule

  • An exception to the at-will employment rule can support a wrongful termination lawsuit; examples include

    • Termination in violation of public policy when employee fired in retaliation for

      • Refusing to do illegal act.

      • Being a “whistle-blower.”

      • Case study – Ballalatak v. All Iowa Agriculture Association (Meiners, page 459).

    • Based on contract law

      • Employment contract specifies reasons for termination, such as “good cause” or some other limited circumstances.

      • Employer promises “permanent” or “lifetime” job.

      • Process or reasons for termination set forth in union agreement or employee handbook.

      • Case study – Guz v. Bechtel National (Meiners, pages 417-19).


Worker s compensation

Worker’s Compensation

  • Applies to employees only, not independent contractors.

  • Intended to provide injured employee with streamlined procedures and prompt remedy.

  • Employee’s injury must

    • Be the result of an accident no matter who caused accident.

    • Occur in course and scope of employment (broadly defined).

    • If both are present, then worker’s compensation is employee’s exclusive remedy against employer.


Worker s compensation cont

Worker’s Compensation cont.

  • Damages in worker’s compensation normally limited to special damages only (no general damages available) so injured employee may seek ways to get matter out of worker’s compensation and into court by claiming injury

    • Due to intentional tort by employer or co-employee; e.g., workplace fight.

    • Caused by third party (not employer or co-employee); customer, vendor or complete stranger at fault for on-the-job accidental injury; two legal proceedings for same incident.


Employee drug testing

Employee Drug Testing

  • Threshold issue – what is the employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy?

  • Drug testing – generally not allowed but there are some limited exceptions, such as

    • Public safety job.

    • Pre-employment.

    • Employment or union contract.


Title vii federal employment discrimination law

Title VII – Federal Employment Discrimination Law

  • Title VII – federal law passed by Congress as part of Civil Rights Act of 1964; intended to be remedy for people traditionally underrepresented or not represented in the workplace.

  • Prohibits discrimination in employment on the following bases only

    • Race.

    • Color.

    • Religion.

    • National origin.

    • Gender.

    • Note that there can be some overlap/confusion between multiple categories; e.g., race and national origin.


Title vii federal employment discrimination law cont

Title VII – Federal Employment Discrimination Law cont.

  • We will not be covering other types of discrimination, such as discrimination based on age, disability or sexual orientation, that are covered by other federal, state or local laws.

  • Two types of employment discrimination

    • Disparate treatment – “obvious” discrimination.

    • Disparate impact – “hidden” discrimination; case study – EEOC v. Dial Corpoation (Meiners, page 514).


Three step analysis re employment discrimination under title vii

Three-Step Analysis re Employment Discrimination Under Title VII

  • First, plaintiff (person who was fired or not hired or promoted) must prove all four elements of prima facie case.

  • Second, defendant (employer) must present defense based on valid legal reason.

  • Third, plaintiff must show defense not valid legal reason but instead is “pretext” for discrimination.


Plaintiff s prima facie case

Plaintiff’s Prima Facie Case

  • Plaintiff is member of protected class – e.g., woman, person of color or non-European descent.

  • Plaintiff applied and qualified for position.

  • Plaintiff is fired or application rejected – not hired or promoted.

  • Employer continues to seek applications or hires person who is member of unprotected class – e.g., WASP man.

  • If evidence re all four, employer must defend – if all four not proved, employer wins.


Employer s defense

Employer’s Defense

  • Employer must defend by presenting a valid legal reason for firing or not hiring/promoting plaintiff; defenses include

    • At-will employment rule.

    • Good cause/business necessity.

    • Bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ).

    • Bona fide seniority system.

    • After-acquired evidence.

    • Need to be consistent in application – inconsistency can be used against employer in plaintiff’s rebuttal (see next slide).


Plaintiff s rebuttal response

Plaintiff’s Rebuttal/Response

  • Plaintiff must rebut/respond to employer’s valid legal reason defense by showing that the reason is not valid and, in fact, is a pretext for discrimination.


Title vii case studies

Title VII Case Studies

  • Webb v. City of Philadelphia (Halbert, pages 135-37).

  • Maldonado v. City of Aldus (Halbert, pages 138-42).


Sexual harassment

Sexual Harassment

  • Sexual harassment in the workplace involves sex but is really about the employer’s power trip/abuse of authority.

  • Can be man harassing woman, woman harassing man or same-sex harassment.

  • Good summary of progression of sexual harassment law (Halbert, pages 142-46).


Sexual harassment cont

Sexual Harassment cont.

  • Two types of sexual harassment

    • Quid pro quo – typically shown by request by employer/supervisor for sex in exchange for employee’s getting or keeping job, promotion, etc.

    • Hostile environment – usual situation is workplace atmosphere of comments, conduct, decorations, etc. of sexual nature.

    • Case studies – Harris v. Forklift Services (Meiners, page 504); Burlington Industries v. Ellerth (Meiners, pages 511-12).


Sexual harassment cont1

Sexual Harassment cont.

  • Can be difficult to prove since sometimes no other witnesses – credibility contest.

  • Big defense is consent since “unwelcome” conduct is required to prove sexual harassment

    • Also hard to prove, especially when plaintiff does not object and may actually participate in or approve of subject misconduct.

    • “Consenting adults” defense.

    • Can provocative clothing (or lack thereof) be consent?

    • Can plaintiff ever truly give consent due to “superior” position of employer? “Consent” may be given just to get or keep job, be a “team player,” etc.


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