Employment Practices Liability
EPL Attorney Hotline &Training
In today’s volatile legal environment, a greater awareness by employees of their legal rights makes it more difficult for JIF members to avoid lawsuits as a result of their employment-related decisions. Consequently, members are often faced with employment decisions that could lead to a lawsuit if not handled “by the book”. Among the most common claims being litigated are those involving allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination and wrongful termination/demotion.
In an effort to prevent and/or reduce the amount of litigation in this area the JIF has developed an employment attorney consultation service for employment related liability questions. The goal of this “EPL Hotline” is to provide our members with legal advice before proceeding with actions that can result in a claim. By discussing the matter with an attorney before taking action, members can obtain valuable guidance and advice that can reduce the likelihood of a claim, or at the very least, provide for a successful defense in the event of a claim.
Members are cautioned not to use this service to second-guess their municipal solicitors. The purpose of this hotline is to provide members easy access to a qualified professional who can render timely legal advice on employment related issues which could lead to potential employment related claims; not to usurp the functions of the municipal solicitor.
The JIF has made arrangements with the law firm of Capehart & Scatchard to provide this telephone consulting service. Capehart & Scatchard is located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey and represents a multitude of municipal clients and has a department that specializes in Labor and Employment Law. Members of the Employment Practice Department include Alan R. Schmoll, Joseph F. Betley and Armando V. Riccio.
Alternatively, the JIF recognizes that some members may have a pre-existing relationship with an attorney who specializes in employment related law. As a result, this service may not be as valuable a tool to these members. Therefore, the JIF allows members to use all or a portion of their share of the funds set aside for this program to pay for “EPL related expenses”. Examples include payment of a guest speaker at an employee “in house” training program on an employment related topic or payment of legal expenses related to the annual review of a member’s EPL Policies.
The following procedures must be followed in order to access the Hotline program:
1. Designation of the hotline Contact Person
In order to maintain management control over the program, each member must designate a specific managerial or supervisory individual or individuals who will be authorized to access the EPL Hotline. This individual or individuals must be approved by the governing body through resolution. Attached is a sample resolution for this purpose. Please execute this resolution and return it to the Fund Administrator’s office to establish your eligibility to participate in the program.
While the member municipality may designate more than one individual, we suggest that you not designate too many persons since employment liability is such a fertile area for lawsuits and central control is important. If there is a Personnel Director or Manager in your municipality, then they would be the most likely choice as your EPL Contact Person. If there is no position like this in your municipality, the designated EPL Contact Person should probably be your Administrator or Manager, the Municipal Clerk, or the Assistant Administrator or Manager, or a combination of these positions.
2. funding Available to Members
The JIF has budgeted $1,450 of EPL consulting funds per member per year. At the current hourly rate of $90.00 per hour, this will enable members to have approximately fifteen (15) hours of telephone consulting time available to them this year. (See #6 EPL Hotline Billing below) Alternatively, those members who use this funding for other EPL related expenses could seek reimbursement of up to $1,450. Members are free to use this funding for any combination of training and/or attorney hotline use they desire.
3. How to Access the hotline Consulting Service
To access the consulting service, the EPL Contact Person shall call Joseph Betley, Esquire at the law firm of Capehart & Scatchard at (856) 234-6800. The contact person should advise Mr. Betley’s office that he/she is seeking the JIF EPL Hotline. Mr. Betley’s office will have a list of authorized EPL Contact Persons.
Mr. Betley will ask preliminary questions of the caller; i.e., your name, the name of your municipality, and your JIF’s name. He will verify that the caller is an authorized contact person for your municipality. Once verification has taken place, Mr. Betley will discuss the specifics of the question with the caller and then:
1. Answer your question directly; or
2. Request additional time to research your question; or
3. Refer your question to another lawyer within his department who has the required expertise.
If Mr. Betley is unavailable to take your call, please ask for another member of the department. If no one is available please leave a message with his office by providing your name, municipality, JIF, and telephone number. You will receive a return phone call from one of the designated employment law attorneys in his office.
4. Conflict Attorney
Because the EPL Consulting Attorney also defends EPL claims against member municipalities, he shall be under an obligation to notify the JIF as soon as a conflict has been identified and surrender the file to the MEL for assignment to another law firm.
5. Member hotline Log Sheet
Since you will have limited access to the EPL Hotline, we have attached a control sheet to help you keep track of your calls. When you access the EPL consulting service, please be certain to track the date(s) of your call(s), the attorney you talked to, and the subject on which you requested assistance, i.e., policy and procedure consultation. We would suggest you not identify the affected employee by name in your log sheet so as to maintain confidentiality.
6. EPL Hotline Billing
Those members utilizing the Hotline will not be billed for this service. The EPL Consulting Attorney will submit itemized statements to the Fund Administrator’s Office on a monthly basis. The billing shall be in tenth (.10) of an hour increments at a rate of $90.00 per hour. The itemized bills shall include the name of the attorney and time billed, name of the municipality, date(s) of service, contact name, and subject.
The Fund Administrator shall review the attorney bills for payment and track the time spent per member. The EPL Attorney Hotline tracking sheet shall be included in the monthly agenda packets.
7. EPL Expense Reimbursement Requests
Members seeking reimbursement of EPL related expenses must complete and submit an ACMJIF voucher, along with detailed supporting documentation, to the Fund Administrator’s office by December 31st of the year in which the expense was incurred to be considered for reimbursement. Reimbursements will be made to the member following the Executive Committee Meeting in which the payment is authorized. Any requests for reimbursements that are deemed by the Fund Administrator’s Office as non EPL related will be forwarded to the Coverage Committee Chair for final determination of payment.
8. Exceeding Member’s Budgeted Allotment
If a member’s use of the Hotline exceeds the member’s annual budgeted allotment, the Fund Administrator shall advise the EPL Consulting Attorney and the member municipality’s EPL Contact Person and Fund Commissioner of the total amount of overage. It shall be the responsibility of the EPL Consulting Attorney to collect any and all overages from the member municipality. Continued services over the allotted amount shall be negotiated between the EPL Consulting Attorney and the individual member. Members submitting EPL related expenses for reimbursement would be reimbursed up to the maximum amount available.
An employer can insure the enforcement of policies and procedures through the education of its work force, primarily its management personnel. Our panel of attorneys tells us that supervisory training is one of the most important areas to address in the prevention of employment related lawsuits. Awareness by management of employment laws and the damages available under various laws is imperative. To that end the MEL and the JIF plan to provide periodic employment practices seminars for our members. Seminars will cover a discussion of the legal, social and workplace issues affecting employment practices liability exposures including discrimination, wrongful termination, sexual harassment, and other less well known tort exposures such as hiring practices, defamation, infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy. Seminars will cover the statutory basis for employment litigation such as the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Whistle Blower Protection Legislation, etc. Additional topics will include the proper use and maintenance of personnel files and the reporting, identification, screening, and investigation of potential or actual EPL claims.
10. Member Concerns
If, at any time, a member has questions or concerns about the handling of an issue, time spent to address the issue, billing, accessibility to the Consulting Attorney, suggestions for improvement, etc., the member is encouraged to contact the Fund Administrator’s office for assistance at (856) 446-9100.