Articles Posted in Employment/EEO

Published on:

As we all know, it’s easy to complain about the Federal Government these days given the gridlock that currently exists on Capitol Hill, the Sequester, and the looming debt ceiling battle. But let’s give credit where credit is due.

The FCC has revised its Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) audit letter for all broadcast licensees, and has eased the burden on respondents by eliminating the need to produce copies of each and every job vacancy notice that was sent out to every referral source, allowing stations instead to file only a representative copy of each job opening notice along with a list of the referral sources to which it was sent. In addition, the FCC has changed its audit letter to allow the submission of a single on-air job advertisement log sheet instead of requiring stations to provide multiple log sheets. The letter also states that stations are not required to provide copies of “applicants’ resumes …, company training manuals, posters, employee handbooks, or corporate guidebooks.” While responding to an EEO audit remains a time consuming task, the FCC has at least taken a step in the right direction by better focusing the audit request on the most consequential materials.

The new version of the EEO audit letter was, as required by the FCC’s rules, sent to randomly selected radio and television stations in the past few weeks. The FCC annually audits the EEO programs of approximately five percent of broadcast stations and has released the list of the stations subject to the most recent audit. All stations, whether targeted for this round of audits or not, should carefully review the FCC’s sample audit letter, as it informs stations of what they will need to present when their time comes.

The FCC’s EEO rules require broadcast station employment units with five or more full-time employees to recruit broadly and inclusively for all job openings, and require substantial recordkeeping, periodic reports to the FCC, and the placement of those reports in stations’ public inspection files and on their websites. Broadcasters must also regularly analyze the results of their recruitment efforts to ensure that broad and inclusive outreach is being achieved and must keep detailed records of their recruitment outreach efforts to submit to the FCC in the event of an EEO audit.

For everything you ever wanted to know about ensuring compliance with the FCC’s EEO rules, see our comprehensive and recently updated Client Advisory: “The FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies – A Guide for Broadcasters.”

The fact that stations will no longer need to provide multiple ad log sheets or the corporate materials described above will certainly make responding to an audit easier. That said, the FCC’s EEO rules are, and will continue to be, a significant regulatory burden on broadcasters. While broadcasters will not be required to submit as much material to the FCC as part of an EEO audit, they will continue to be required to maintain records extensively detailing their job recruitment efforts. In addition, stations should take note that the FCC’s Public Notice released with the new version of the EEO audit letter seems to indicate that in exchange for the reduced response burdens, the FCC is raising the bar and now expects stations to adopt a standard of “vigorous recruitment.”

Still, despite concerns as to what the FCC means by “vigorous”, it’s nice to see that the FCC is moving in the direction of simplified audits in an effort to actually ease regulatory filing burdens on broadcasters.

Published on:

Introduction
June 1, 2011 marked the beginning of a four-year cycle during which all commercial and noncommercial radio and television stations in the United States will come under special scrutiny by the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) as the FCC considers whether to renew each station’s license to broadcast.

This is a period of regulatory uncertainty and vulnerability for stations, during which the FCC closely reviews their record of compliance with its rules and service to the public during the license term, and third parties have the opportunity to petition the FCC to deny the station’s license renewal request. One significant focus of the FCC’s and petitioners’ attention will be each station’s performance under the FCC’s rules concerning equal employment opportunity (“EEO”).

In light of the ongoing renewal cycle, this Guide is designed to assist stations in charting a course for full compliance going forward, as well as in evaluating their level of past compliance and the risks the station may face when filing its license renewal application.

Article continues — a full version of this article can be found at The FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies – A Guide for Broadcasters.

Published on:

Being businesses built upon the value of information, and working constantly to create new business models aimed at monetizing that information, the communications industry tends to be very careful about letting any form of information leave the building. That, along with the highly competitive nature of the industry, means many industry players keep a very tight grip on all business-related information. As a result, the communications industry often ranks up there with defense contractors in imposing broad confidentiality restrictions on their employees, either by contract or through general corporate policy.

There are times, however, when the government has determined that public policy considerations outweigh the need of a business for secrecy. The most obvious exceptions come in the form of subpoenas and search warrants. However, there are also more subtle exceptions, one of which is addressed today in a Pillsbury Client Alert from our employment and litigation practices. The Client Alert addresses a number of decisions that have been coming out of the National Labor Relations Board, several of which found that the respective employer’s confidentiality policies violated the National Labor Relations Act because the policies could be read to prohibit employees from discussing wages, benefits, or other terms and conditions of employment with anyone else.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, such confidentiality restrictions are illegal, largely because they impede employees from engaging in collective bargaining or other employee protection activities. For those who are about to breath a sigh of relief after thinking to themselves “this doesn’t affect me since my business isn’t unionized,” hold that breath for a moment. As the Client Alert points out, while it is true that the National Labor Relations Act, and the National Labor Relations Board, are known mostly for their union-related jurisdiction, the National Labor Relations Act applies to all private employers that affect interstate commerce, not just union shops.

As the federal government’s regulation of much of the communications industry, particularly broadcasting, is based upon the interstate nature of those businesses (even where a station’s service area is entirely within a single state), it is safe to say there are few in the communications industry that are not subject to these recent rulings. In fact, while I won’t attempt to summarize the Client Alert here, as it is brief and well worth taking the time to read, I will note that one of the decisions discussed involves a player in the communications industry whose confidentiality policy was actually found to be acceptable.

In light of these recent decisions, all businesses should take a look at their confidentiality policies to determine whether they can be read to prohibit, for example, employees from discussing their salaries, raises and bonuses with each other. If the confidentiality policy is written so broadly as to unintentionally prohibit such activities, a rewrite of that policy is in order. In contrast, if the very notion of employees discussing their salaries with each other gives you heartburn, and your confidentiality policy is specifically targeted at preventing such conversations, then you have a more extensive policy rewrite ahead of you, and a lot more heartburn coming.

Published on:

With the unprecedented popularity of social media, employees have increasingly used LinkedIn and other online forums to network for business and social purposes. When the line between personal and business use is blurred, litigation may ensue. A federal court recently ruled that an employer did not violate federal computer hacking laws by accessing and altering its recently departed CEO’s LinkedIn account, but that the former CEO could proceed to trial on her state law misappropriation claim. In addition, California, Illinois, and Massachusetts recently joined Maryland in enacting laws prohibiting the practice of requesting access to prospective employees’ password-protected social media accounts.

In Eagle v. Morgan, et al., Linda Eagle, former CEO of Edcomm, Inc. (“Edcomm”), filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania alleging that Edcomm hijacked her LinkedIn social media account after she was terminated. While Eagle was CEO of Edcomm, she established a LinkedIn account that she used to promote Edcomm’s banking education services, to foster her reputation as a businesswoman, to reconnect with family, friends and colleagues, and to build social and professional relationships. Edcomm employees assisted Eagle in maintaining her LinkedIn account and had access to her password. Edcomm encouraged all employees to participate in LinkedIn and contended that when an employee left the company, Edcomm would effectively “own” the LinkedIn account and could “mine” the information and incoming traffic.

After Eagle was terminated, Edcomm, using Eagle’s LinkedIn password, accessed her account and changed the password so that Eagle could no longer access the account, and then changed the account profile to display Eagle’s successor’s name and photograph, although Eagle’s honors and awards, recommendations, and connections were not deleted. Eagle contended that Edcomm’s actions violated the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”), Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, and numerous state and common laws. In an October 4, 2012 ruling on the company’s summary judgment motion, U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter dismissed Eagle’s CFAA and Lanham Act claims against Edcomm but held that Eagle had the right to a trial on whether Edcomm had violated state misappropriation law and other state laws.

The Eagle case is just one example of how the absence of a clear and carefully drafted social media policy can lead to protracted and expensive litigation. This area of law appears to be garnering increasing attention on the legislative front as well as the judicial front, as three more states recently enacted laws prohibiting employers from requiring, or in some cases even requesting, access to prospective employees’ social media accounts. The attached chart includes more detail about the California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland laws and the provisions of similar legislation pending in the various states and in the U.S. Congress.

A common theme connects the Eagle case with the recent password access legislation: the importance of defining the lines of ownership and demarcating the boundary between the professional and the personal. If Edcomm, for example, had established a LinkedIn account for its CEO’s use and had asserted its property interest in the account at the outset of the employment relationship, Edcomm’s CEO would have had no reasonable expectation of ownership in it. Under that scenario, Edcomm likely would not be facing trial on a misappropriation claim. Similarly, the social media password legislation definitively declares that employers and prospective employers have no right to access the social media accounts that applicants and employees have established for their personal use.

In addition, as explained in our recent Client Alert on enforcement actions under the National Labor Relations Act in connection with employer discipline of employees for social media postings, employer responses to employee use of social media can also result in government agency action against employers. These developments all point to the same message: employers wishing to avoid legal risk should be proactive in implementing well-defined policies and procedures relating to the LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and other social networking and media accounts of prospective, current and former employees, including clearly identifying rights to those accounts when the employee leaves the company.

A PDF version of this article can be found here, which includes a chart summarizing State and Federal Social Media Bills.

To read prior Client Alerts related to this subject, click on the links below:

Client Alert, First NLRB Decisions on Social Media Give Employers Cause to Update Policies, Practices

Client Alert, Employ Me, Don’t Friend Me: Privacy in the Age of Facebook

Published on:

March 2012

This Broadcast Station EEO Advisory is directed to radio and television stations licensed to communities in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas, and highlights the upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule.

Introduction

April 1, 2012 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their public inspection files and post the report on stations’ websites.

Under the FCC’s EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units (“SEUs”), regardless of staff size, must afford equal opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees (“Nonexempt SEUs”) must also comply with the FCC’s three-prong outreach requirements. Specifically, all Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening except in exigent circumstances, (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notifica¬tion, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits, based on participation in various non-vacancy-specific outreach initiatives (“Menu Options”) suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station’s eight-year license term. These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, attending job fairs, and having an internship program.

Nonexempt SEUs must prepare and place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the public inspection files and on the websites of all stations comprising the SEU (if they have a website) by the anniversary date of the filing deadline for that station’s FCC license renewal application. The Annual EEO Public File Report summarizes the SEU’s EEO activities during the previous 12 months, and the licensee must maintain adequate records to document those activities. Stations must also submit the two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports at the midpoint of their license terms and with their license renewal applications.

Exempt SEUs – those with fewer than 5 full time employees – do not have to prepare or file Annual or Mid-Term EEO Reports.

For a detailed description of the EEO rule and practical assistance in preparing a compliance plan, broad¬casters should consult “Making It Work: A Broadcaster’s Guide to the FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies” published by the Communications Practice Group. This publication is available at: http://www.pillsburylaw.com/siteFiles/Publications/CommunicationsAdvisoryMay2011.pdf.

Continue reading →

Published on:

As the Thanskgiving Day tryptophan finally wears off, it’s important not to forget that December 1 is a busy filing day for television and radio broadcasters alike. Below is a brief summary of the FCC’s December 1 filing deadlines, along with links to previous posts describing the filing requirements in more detail.

FCC Form 317 DTV Ancillary/Supplementary Services Report

As we reported last week, commercial television stations must electronically file by December 1 FCC Form 317, the Annual DTV Ancillary/Supplementary Services Report for Commercial Digital Television Stations, even if they have not received any income from ancillary or supplementary services.

FCC Form 323 Commercial Biennial Ownership Report

I wrote back in August that the FCC’s Media Bureau changed the commercial Form 323 filing deadline from November 1, 2011 to December 1, 2011. By December 1, all commercial radio, television, low power television and Class A television stations must electronically file their biennial ownership reports on FCC Form 323 and timely pay the required FCC filing fee.

FCC Form 323-E Non-Commercial Biennial Ownership Report

Noncommercial radio stations licensed to communities in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota (other than sole proprietorships or partnerships composed entirely of natural persons) must electronically file by December 1 their biennial ownership reports on FCC Form 323-E, unless they have consolidated this filing date with that of other commonly owned stations licensed to communities in other states.

Annual EEO Public File Report

Station employment units that have five or more full-time employees and are comprised of radio and/or television stations licensed to communities in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont must by December 1 place in their public inspection files (and post on their station website, if there is one), a report regarding station compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule during the period December 1, 2010 through November 30, 2011.

Pre-filing License Renewal Announcements for Radio Stations

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations licensed to communities in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi must begin on December 1 to air their pre-filing license renewal announcements in accordance with the FCC’s regulations.

Post-filing License Renewal Announcements for Radio Stations

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations licensed to communities in Alabama and Georgia must begin on December 1 to air their post-filing license renewal announcements in accordance with the FCC’s regulations. FM Translator stations must arrange for the required newspaper public notice of their license renewal application filing.

Renewal of Licenses for Radio Stations

Full-power AM and FM radio broadcast stations, as well as FM Translator stations, licensed to communities in Alabama and Georgia must electronically file their applications for renewal of license on FCC Form 303-S, along with their Equal Opportunity Employment Reports on FCC Form 396 by December 1, and timely pay their FCC filing fee.

December 1 represents an eventful filing day. Time for everyone to shrug off the Thanksgiving hangover and make sure your filings are prepared and filed on time.

Published on:

This October has more than its share of filing deadlines for broadcasters to worry about. Of course, it is the end of the quarter, so broadcasters should be prepared for their routine quarterly filings. Additionally, certain states will have EEO and noncommercial ownership filing obligations. This year is also a radio license renewal year and a triennial must-carry/retransmission consent election year for television stations. All in all, there are a number of deadlines to keep track of, so read on.

October 1 (weekend)

  • Must-Carry/Retransmission Consent Elections: Deadline for commercial full power television stations to notify by certified mail all cable and satellite providers in their markets of their election between must-carry and retransmission consent for the next three-year period. More information on this election can be found here. Noncommercial stations must make requests for carriage, as they do not have retransmission consent rights.
  • EEO Public File Reports: Deadline for radio and television station employment units with five or more employees in the following states to prepare and place in their public inspection file, and on their website if they have one, their annual EEO Public File Report: Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon, and Washington, as well as American Samoa, Guam, Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands.
  • FCC Form 323-E: Deadline for the following noncommercial stations to electronically file their biennial ownership report on FCC Form 323-E: Radio stations licensed to communities in Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington, as well as American Samoa, Guam, Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands, and television stations licensed to communities in Iowa and Missouri.
  • Pre-filing Renewal Announcements: Date on which radio stations licensed to communities in Alabama and Georgia must begin airing their pre-filing license renewal announcements. The remaining announcements must air on October 16, November 1 and November 16.
  • License Renewal Filing: Deadline for radio stations licensed to communities in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands to electronically file their license renewal applications. These stations must also commence their post-filing renewal announcements to air on October 1 and 16, November 1 and 16, and December 1 and 16.

October 10 (holiday)

  • Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists: Deadline for all radio, full power television and Class A television stations to place their Quarterly Issues/Programs List in their public inspection file.
  • Children’s Television: Deadline for all commercial full power and Class A television stations to electronically file FCC Form 398, the Children’s Television Programming Report, with the FCC and place a copy in their public inspection file. These stations must also prepare and place in their public inspection files their documentation of compliance with the commercial limits in programming for children 12 and under.

October 23 (weekend)

  • License Renewal Documentation: Date on which radio stations licensed to communities in North and South Carolina must place in their public inspection file documentation of having given the required public notice of their August 1st license renewal filing.
Published on:

This Broadcast Station EEO Advisory is directed to radio and television stations licensed to communities in: Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas, and highlights the upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule.

Introduction

April 1, 2011 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in the States/Territories referenced above to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their public inspection files and post the report on their website, if they have one. In addition, certain of these stations, as detailed below, must electronically file their EEO Mid-term Report on FCC Form 397 by April 1, 2011.

Under the FCC’s EEO rule, all radio and television station employment units (“SEUs”), regardless of staff size, must afford equal employment opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees (“Nonexempt SEUs”) must also comply with the FCC’s three-prong outreach requirements. Specifically, all Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening except in exigent circumstances, (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notification, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits, based on participation in various non-vacancy-specific outreach initiatives (“Menu Options”) suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station’s eight-year license term. These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, attending job fairs, and having an internship program.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Given the many distractions during the holiday season, I thought it would be a good idea to remind readers that January 10 represents a busy quarterly deadline for all radio and television stations. Below is a brief summary of the deadlines, as well as links to our Client Alerts describing the requirements in more detail.

Children’s Television Programming Documentation

All commercial full-power television stations and Class A LPTV stations must prepare and file with the FCC an FCC Form 398 Children’s Programming Report for the fourth quarter of 2010, reflecting children’s programming aired during the months of October, November, and December, 2010. The Form 398 must be filed with the FCC and placed in stations’ public inspection files by January 10, 2011.

In addition to requiring stations to air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children, the FCC’s rules limit the amount of commercial material that can be aired during programming aimed at children. Proof of compliance with the children’s television commercial limitations for the fourth quarter of 2010 must be placed in stations’ public inspection files by January 10, 2011.

For a detailed discussion of the children’s programming documentation and filing requirements, please see our Client Alert here.

Quarterly Issues Programs Lists

The FCC requires each broadcast station to air a reasonable amount of programming responsive to significant community needs, issues, and problems as determined by the station. All radio and television broadcast stations, whether commercial or noncommercial, must prepare and place in their public inspection files by January 10, 2011, a list of important issues facing their communities, and the programs which aired during the months of October, November, and December, 2010, dealing with those issues. For a detailed discussion of these requirements, please see our Client Alert here.

DTV Quarterly Activity Station Reports

Those television stations that have not yet completed construction or commenced operation of their final post-transition DTV facilities must continue the required general DTV Consumer Education Initiatives until they commence operation on their post-transition DTV facilities. Such stations will be required to file FCC Form 388 by January 10, 2011, providing the Commission with the details of the DTV Consumer initiatives that they performed between October 1 and December 31, 2010. For a detailed discussion of this filing requirement, please see our Client Alert here.

Published on:

A trend we see in FCC enforcement actions is the FCC attributing multiple rule violations to a single act or omission, and then peppering stations with multiple fines. This trend is confirmed in two EEO enforcement actions released in the waning hours of 2010. These cases demonstrate, among other things, why it is a good time for broadcasters to undertake the EEO self-assessment activities required by the FCC’s Rules.

The first of these recent cases resulted from a 2008 random audit of a six-station radio group in Joplin, Missouri. The second case arose from the 2005 license renewal applications of a four-station radio group located in and around Medford and Grant’s Pass, Oregon. Since the license renewal applications remain pending due to an unrelated complaint, the FCC was able to examine these stations’ EEO data from 2003 until 2009.

In each case, the stations relied solely on walk-ins, word-of-mouth, and employee and business referrals as the sources of interviewees for about 25% of their job openings. Based on this, the FCC found that the stations had failed to conduct any recruitment at all for these positions, as they had only used non-public recruitment sources which do not further the FCC’s goal of assuring that stations achieve broad outreach in recruiting. The Joplin stations had also aired generic on-air announcements about broadcast employment and working for the licensee company, but the FCC did not give them any credit for these announcements because they were not specific to a particular job opening. The FCC also found that the Oregon stations did not recruit broadly enough for nearly all of their remaining hires because they relied exclusively on either Internet-based referral sources or on advertisements on their own stations.

Each group of stations also had EEO paperwork and reporting problems. The Joplin stations listed the job title for seven hires as “Other” in an annual EEO public file report. The FCC said that since the EEO public file report was missing the required job title information, the stations’ public inspection files (where the reports are placed) were missing it as well.

Similarly, the FCC found the Oregon stations failed to retain records on the number and referral sources of interviewees for their job openings. As a result of this recordkeeping violation, the FCC said that the stations’ EEO public file report, and by extension, their public inspection files, were incomplete.

To top it all off, the FCC found that “[t]hese failures reveal a continuing lack of self-assessment” of the stations’ recruitment programs, creating yet another rule violation. In all, the Joplin stations were fined $8,000.00, of which $5,000.00 was for the failure to recruit for 25% of their openings, and three fines of $1,000 each were for the stations’ incomplete annual EEO public file report, their incomplete public files, and their failure to self-assess their EEO program. The Oregon stations were fined a total of $20,000, of which $16,000.00 was attributable to their failure to recruit for 25% of their vacancies and their failure to recruit broadly enough for nearly all other vacancies, and four fines of $1,000.00 each were for the stations’ failure to retain required records, failure to have a complete annual EEO public file report, failure to have complete public inspection files, and failure to self-assess their EEO program. All of the stations must, for the next three years, submit to the FCC for scrutiny copies of their annual EEO reports and copies of all job vacancies announcements, advertisements and other evidence of recruitment outreach for the year.

While the stations in these two cases were fined for not undertaking the required self-assessment of the recruitment portion of their EEO programs, broadcasters should remember that the FCC’s Rules also require licensees to regularly examine all of their employment policies to assure that they are not discriminatory. This means examining the processes by which stations recruit, hire, promote, fire, and compensate employees to be sure that they do not have a discriminatory impact.

So while you have the employment files out, and other employment issues like raises and promotions are fresh in your mind, take some extra time to review how you are making those decisions and their impact on your staff. While you’re at it, check the public file and station website to be sure your annual EEO public file reports are up to snuff as well.