Employee Complains About Sexual Jokes On Twitter, Then Fired

Posted on Wed, Mar 27, 2013

A tech company, SendGrid, recently fired a female employee, Adria Richards, who used Twitter to complain about sexual jokes made by male employees from a different company.

During a conference in San Francisco, Richards tweeted that it was “Not cool” that the men were making inappropriate sexual jokes. She used her phone to take a picture of the men sitting behind her and then used Twitter to post the picture.

One of the men in the photo was terminated by his employer, San-Francisco based PlayHaven.

But Richards also found herself in the middle of a social media storm and was ultimately fired by her employer. SendGrid CEO Jim Franklin blogged that Richards was not fired because she reported offensive conduct, but because of how she reported it – using Twitter to post photographs and “publicly shaming” the offenders.

Franklin also went on to say that Richard’s actions caused division amongst the developer community that Richards serves as part of her job and that she can no longer be effective. 

But this is what often happens when an employee complains of inappropriate conduct: A complaint is made, which may create division at work and with customers; people may take sides. Regardless of such division and the ultimate outcome of any investigation, the employee is supposed to be protected from retaliation for complaining of harassment or discrimination.

This situation poses difficult questions: Can an employee complain in any manner he/she sees fit? Airing information across social media platforms and posting pictures of co-workers, customers or collaborators? 

The law provides strong protections for those who complain about harassment or discrimination. As demonstrated by recent decisions by the National Labor Relations Board, the law also protects employees who engage in concerted activity with other employees to improve their working conditions — which may include employees complaining to each other over social media.

The San Jose Mercury News 
explored the legal ramifications of the situation. Discussing the incident, Rob Pattinson, a Jackson Lewis attorney who represents employers, remarked, “It’s a tough one … The law is strong in protecting people who make complaints of harassment, or who participate in an investigation about complaints of harassment.”
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Tags: Retaliation, sexual harassment, protected activity, employees, HR Allen Consulting Services, Employers, HR Informant, NLRB, social media

Sexual Harassment Must be Implemented

Posted on Fri, Feb 03, 2012

Employers in California know they need to publish anti-harassment policies and provide harassment-prevention training to their employees. A recent federal court decision emphasizes that merely going through the motions of posting policies and providing training is not enough if the policies and training are inadequate or never fully implemented.

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Tags: sexual harassment, labor law, Human Resource, harassment

When planning a company holiday party are there any legal issues to consider?

Posted on Fri, Dec 02, 2011

Holiday parties can raise legal issues for employers, including liability for serving alcohol, wage-and-hour violations, workers' compensation, and religious discrimination.

Libations = Liability

Holiday frivolity easily can become holiday liability when alcohol is served at a company party. Employers can be held liable if employees are involved in auto accidents after drinking too much at a company function.

Consider serving only non-alcoholic beverages, or give each employee a limited number of tickets to be used for alcoholic beverages. If an employee or guest is inebriated, pay for a cab or arrange another ride home. Enlist the help of company managers to keep an eye on how much employees are drinking.

A party with too much alcohol is also the perfect breeding ground for sexual harassment claims. Redistribute the company's sexual harassment and substance abuse policies to everyone a week or so before the party to remind them that their liability for sexual harassment applies at all times, including during the party.

Party Time Can Be Work Time

If you put on a company holiday luncheon during a work day, you may be liable for meal break penalties if employees are required to attend the party. Employees generally are entitled to a meal break of at least one-half hour where they are free to leave the premises, and if employees are required to attend the lunchtime party and then go straight back to work, they have missed their meal break, even though they were not performing any work and you fed them lunch.

If attendance at the party is purely voluntary, be sure to let employees know this in writing when you invite them to the party. When attendance is voluntary, there are no meal break penalties because employees had the option to leave the premises.

If the party is not during regular working hours, again be sure to let employees know attendance is purely voluntary. If you require non-exempt employees to attend the party then they are “on the clock” and must be paid for their time. If the party is after a work day, this could result in overtime pay obligations as well.

Some employers allow employees who are attending a holiday party on the evening of a work day to go home early, while those who are not attending work their regular schedule. As long as all employees are paid for the number of hours they work that day, this is a legal practice, although it may cause morale issues for those who don't get to leave early.


Even though there's no work involved, an employee who gets hurt at the party can file a workers' compensation claim unless you've made it clear that attendance at the event is strictly voluntary.

Religious Beliefs

Before you deck the halls only with boughs of holly, consider your employees' religious beliefs. Instead of limiting decorations to the usual Christmas tree and Santa motif, let employees know they are welcome to bring decorations for their winter holidays as well. Make room for a Hanukkah menorah, the red, green and black candles of the Kwanzaa kinara, and any other winter holiday decorations employees would like to contribute to party decor.

Be sensitive to employees who do not wish to celebrate religious holidays. Equal employment laws require reasonable accommodation of employees' religious beliefs, so an employee who does not wish to attend a holiday party should be excused from taking part in the festivities.

By: HRC/Cal Chamber

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Tags: employer, holiday, holiday office, holiday office celebrations, sexual harassment, holiday parties, employees, Employers, harassment, employee

Bad Santa

Posted on Fri, Dec 02, 2011

Employers commonly throw holiday office celebrations this time of year to show employees that they’re appreciated. However, a recent case from a California appellate court demonstrates the problems that can also arise when conduct crosses the line. Brennan v. Townsend & O’Leary Enterprises, Inc., 199 Cal.App.4th 1336 (2011).

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Tags: employer, holiday, holiday office, holiday office celebrations, sexual harassment, holiday parties, employees, Employers, harassment, employee