RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Optional removal of materials from personnel records - 6/29/2020
The library is using NYS Archives and Civil Service references to set personnel and payroll files ...
Posted: Monday, June 29, 2020 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

The library is using NYS Archives and Civil Service references to set personnel and payroll files records retention and disposition.

A question arose regarding employee rights to request removal of materials from personnel records.

The committee’s question was specifically about removal of a negative matter after the minimum required retention time had elapsed.

In this instance there was no question about the accuracy of the record nor was there litigation involved or anticipated.

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

There are a lot of little details to address in considering this question, but first, there is one big principle I must emphasize. When it comes to records retention—and especially when it comes to employee-related records—nothing should be discretionary.

In other words, if an employer wants to create a process where every corrective action plan,[1] performance evaluation, employment-related investigation, or incident report is removed after its minimum retention period has elapsed, that is fine. However, unless it is a benefit that has been carefully negotiated and confirmed in a contract,[2] there should be no process for an employee to initiate optional removal of materials, and by no means should that process require the employer to make a “yes” or “no” decision.

The moment personnel records that could be interpreted as “negative” become subject to an employee-initiated, optional procedure, the employer, simply by having such a procedure, has: 1) admitted that possibility that the materials could have a negative impact on the employee; 2) created a system where such material could be retained inadvertently; and 3) set up a scenario where such a request could accidentally or deliberately be denied or perceived as somehow subject for debate, potentially triggering the possibility of a complaint, litigation, or a damage claim.[3]

Unless retention is being considered for historic/archival purposes, record retention or destruction should never be discretionary (and of course, the decision to retain certain records for historic/archival purposes should be based on objective criteria).  The best approach for management of employee performance-related records is simply that they be retained as required, or be purged when no longer needed, based purely on the category (not the substance) of the records’ content.[4]

So, my answer to this question is: there should be no process for an employee to request optional removal of negative materials from a personnel file. Rather, the removal of material from personnel files should only happen per uniformly and routinely applied policy.[5]  If a negative review or incident report has served its purpose and is no longer needed,[6] it may be removed as part of the routine purging policy and process. If it is still needed, it should be retained.  There should be no middle ground; it creates risk.  If your library is part of a collective bargaining agreement or uses contracts that include this approach, employees should all be notified and trained on how to exercise these rights.

Thank you for an insightful question.



[1] Just in case you are new to the Human Resources world, a “corrective action plan” is a time-limited plan with a clearly articulated goal and measurable steps to address a performance concern.  Here is an example of a properly formulated Corrective Action Plan, taken from my domestic life: “To ensure optimal vegetable growth and family cohesion, for the next eight weeks, every family member will spend no less than ten minutes weeding per day.  To enable verification, family members will place uprooted weeds on the Stick Pile.”  Now, here is an improperly formulated version: “If you Ingrates don’t help me in the garden today, I will put a dead thistle by your pillow tonight.”  Both techniques can, of course, yield results, but only one wins the “Happiest Workplace” award.

[2] Of course, a collective bargaining agreement could create the right to request removal of accurate information from a personnel file.  Again, however, because such a discretionary approach might not be exercised or even known by all employees, I don't see this as a fair or helpful clause (to either employees, or the employer).  A better option would be a simple records purge, or a purge tied to an objective performance metric (“after three years of ‘satisfactory’ reviews, this Corrective Action Plan will be removed from the employee’s record”).

[3] These are all the “little details” I mention in the opening sentence, but as you can see, they aren’t so little.

[4] With all due consideration of privacy.

[5] This could include, by the way, a Corrective Action Plan process with a “self-destruct” measure for the guts of the “negative” issue.  In other words, the CAP policy itself could say “Upon satisfactory completion of a Corrective Action Plan, after # years, the only record retained will be the summary note confirming successful completion of a Plan of Improvement.”  But again, this should be per a uniformly applied policy, not a discretionary request.

[6] By “needed,” I mean, among other things, that proof of the remedial action taken by the employer is no longer required to protect the employer.  While many policies base this on statutes of limitations, most only start the clock after the employee’s period of employment is over, and that, in my view, is generally the most prudent choice.

Tags: Employee Rights, Management, Policy, Retention, Personnel Records

Topic: Friends of the Library not being friendly - 1/30/2020
Is it legal for a Friends of the Library group to hold their funds and not to use those funds to s...
Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2020 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Is it legal for a Friends of the Library group to hold their funds and not to use those funds to support the library's mission? OR refuse to pay for library program and services when ask by library staff?
Can they lose their 501c3 status, if it is proven that the funds are not being used to benefit the library?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Before we address what may be the clear signs of a dysfunctional relationship between a library and its "Friends," let's explore the basis for the Library-Friends arrangement.

A public library, hemmed in by many laws, regulations and pressures governing fiscal operations, often enters into a cooperative agreement with a "Friends" group--an independent, usually "501(c)(3)"[1] corporation who can raise and spend money unburdened by such obligations.

Here's an example of how this works:

A town's library wants to create a special collection on "Local African-American Heritage"…a project that will be done in collaboration with a noted Black historian, the Black Studies department of a nearby college, and the archivist of a historically Black church in the town.  The initial $10,000.00 donation to kick off the collection was left to the Friends by a donor in their will.

The Library and Friends create a joint committee to make the special collection happen.  As envisioned by the joint committee, the project will involve renovation of a room in the library previously used for community meetings, as well as the acquisition of a wide range of books, museum-quality and ADA-compliant signage for the walls, and an oral history project housed on special interactive technology.  The library's staff will receive special training on the resources and the room.

The new section's "Grand Opening" will feature a keynote speaker who some town residents find controversial.  After the ribbon is cut (the Friends already own giant scissors) the Friends will host an off-site catered reception featuring a local rapper, which donors, trustees, project collaborators, staff and the media can attend for free.

Through careful planning by the joint committee, the details, budget, procurement procedures, and contracts for the room and opening events have been determined, and the bills are being paid entirely by the Friends.  However, the contracts involved are not so simple.

The construction contracts were bid and had to follow all applicable procurement laws and regulations.  The invoices for the new books are only in the name of the library.  The off-site venue and catering contracts are only in the name of the Friends, but the contract expressly "holds harmless" the library.[2]  And although her speech will be in the new room, the contract for the speaker is only in the name of the Friends…a tactic used to avoid community accusations that taxpayer money was spent to generate controversy.[3]

How does a library and its Friends reach this high-functioning ideal of collaboration?  It takes a well-crafted (and periodically re-evaluated) Collaboration Agreement,[4] sound policies, and  routine, informed communication by both sides.  This isn't to say there won't be a spat or two.  But with a commitment to those things, a library-Friends relationship can be appropriately challenging, while reaching a productive ideal.

The questions posed by the member show what can happen when things are less than "productively ideal."  They sound like symptoms of a problem I call "Friends Drift."

"Friends Drift" is where a previously strong relationship (or perhaps one that was never so strong), leads a library and its Friends to drift so far apart, they cease to collaborate effectively.  As a result, the types of great programming and support the relationship was forged to create cease to materialize.

What does "Friends Drift" look like?  It can have any number of causes and symptoms, but here are some solid hallmarks:

  • Collaboration Agreement doesn't exist;
  • Collaboration Agreement is over 7 years old without any revision in the past 7 years;
  • Collaboration Agreement can't be found by newer leadership and no one has initiated a step to draft a new one;
  • Prior operations depended solely on personal relationships and not written policy, so new members don't have a roadmap to proceed;
  • Lack of policy between the two groups for approving expenditures and fiscal planning;
  • Lack of routine productive meetings between the two groups;[5]
  • Lack of separate but coordinated strategic planning;
  • Lack of clarity about payment and fund-raising procedures;
  • Friends board making decisions that are the purview of the library board (or visa-versa);
  • Distrust and questioning propriety of the other's operations (as seen in the member's questions).

In the example provided by the member, the "Friends Drift" is so serious, the library is even wondering if the Friends are in compliance with State and Federal laws. 

This is particularly worrisome because as not-for-profit, charitable organizations, the fiscal and operational integrity of both a library and its Friends should NEVER be something one has to speculate about.  In New York, a public library must file an annual report with the Comptroller, while its Friends group must file both a "CHAR500" with the New York Attorney General and a form 990 with the IRS.[6]

Those mandatory filings should provide everything needed for mutual assurance fiscal responsibility and transparency.  If there is uncertainly even if those things are done, something has gone astray.

Which brings us to the member's specific questions, which I need to modify a bit, in order to provide accurate answers.

The first question is about whether a Friends group can withhold money from the library when the library asks for it. 

The answer to that is: YES, that might be okay.  In fact, it is often perfectly appropriate (and sometimes, highly advisable) for a Friends group not to pay for certain things for its affiliated library.  For instance, while this is a critical factor to be decided only by the library and agreed to by the Friends, I would encourage any library to think twice (and twice again) before using a Friends group to routinely supplement an annual operating budget.  In that same vein, a Friends group shouldn't pay (at least, not before deep and critical policy and fiscal analysis) a regular cost-of-living adjustment for staff salaries. 

Why? Because this type of predictable, routine expense is something that should be built into the base operating budget, and supported by the sponsoring tax base(s).[7]  While community budget battles aren't always pretty, they are an essential connection to your area of service.  Having Friends underwrite routine expenses to meet the library's basic Plan of Service is a potentially bad habit.  In my opinion, it is something an experienced Friends group will meet with resistance.

So, what are Friends for?  To put it in baking terms, they are for two things: whipping up delicious and beautiful frosting, and going from cupcake to cake.

The "frosting," is all the "extras" that are really flavorful essentials: speakers, new collections, special programming, or perhaps a really cool new set of carts or 3-D printer.  They should be highly visible and make things better…just like lovely pink frosting on top of a chocolate cupcake (and just like the frosting, they could actually be a huge factor in the appeal of the cupcake, and have more calories - I mean, cost more money).

And the journey from "cupcake to cake"?  That's a capital campaign.  Need a new building?  Hoping to expand?  Want to build a green roof with solar?  One-time physical upgrades are great candidates for "Friends" generosity and work, where the money can supplement a state grant or bond issue, or even take on the whole nut.

That's what Friends are for.[8]

Which bring us to the next (slightly modified) question: what if "Friends" funds aren't being released at all?  Can that risk their status at a not-for-profit?

Although there are some things Friends might not pay for, I can say with just as much assurance that any organization built solely around the well-being of a library, that does not use its resources for its not-for-profit purpose, is going to have some serious concerns.  And yes, those concerns could impact its charitable and 501(c)(3) status.

To diagnose those concerns, an attorney for the library (or the Friends) would need to review the group's charter, bylaws, recent CHAR500's and 990's, and (if possible) board minutes and correspondence with the sponsored library.  If there is a Cooperation Agreement, that should be reviewed.  The method of requesting funds, and the basis for the refusal should be assessed.  And of course, any exigent circumstances (were the Friends the victim of a theft?  Did they not meet their fund-raising goals?  Did they not yet conduct their audit?) would have to be considered.

Depending on what was found, legal action based on a violation of the Agreement could be threatened/brought by the sponsored Library, or a complaint to the New York Attorney General Charities Bureau or the IRS could be lodged.  If things get to that point, it's likely the relationship is highly adversarial, and each party would have brought in a lawyer. 

Now, I like lawyers.  Being one, I see their value, and I never hesitate to recommend when I think a party needs to consult one.  After all, it's how I make my living.

That said, if a library and their Friends are experiencing "Friends Drift" of the type discussed above, and its looking like things will get ugly, I recommend after initially working with their lawyers, the two groups consider using a mediator, not two adversarial lawyers, to help sort things out.

Now, when I say "mediator," I don't mean just any nice, neutral person who is willing to listen to both parties and help out. I mean a trained professional who knows the law and the obligations faced by both sides (likely a lawyer with not-for-profit experience), who can help them assess their mutual goals, and get their relationship on the right track. 

In some cases, the mediation could be a respectful, productive "airing of the grievances" used to diagnose the problems and craft a new (or a first) Cooperation Agreement.  In simpler cases, it could mean merely solidifying the functions of the groups' committees or developing some healthy new policies and procedures.

How does a mediation get set up?

A mediation is always conducted per a written "Mediation Agreement" that sets out the obligations of the mediator and the parties (a big one being confidentiality of the proceedings, another being the neutrality of the mediator and the willingness of the parties to proceed "in a spirit of mutual problem-solving").  The Mediation Agreement should also establish clear goals for the process (such as "…in furtherance of the mission of both parties, a session to discover and confirm shared procedures for the planned payment of certain library expenses") and defined results ("…the final product shall be a new/revised Cooperation Agreement to meet the needs of the parties for the next five years.").

A county's local bar association usually maintains a list of trained mediators.  That said, for an exercise like this, not only mediation experience knowledge of libraries and not-for-profits is essential.  The price tag for such a session could be anywhere from $1000-$50000 (with costs shared equally by the parties), but when compared with the costs for one party to hire a lawyer to go on the offensive, and the other to play defense - with nothing created but bad feelings and complaints in the end - as an investment, it may be worthwhile. 

This is especially true since--unless something truly nefarious[9] is suspected - "Friends Drift" is generally the result of good people caught up in the complicated web of not-for-profit operations, and not knowing quite what they can and should do.  But good intentions don't automatically translate into knowing how to run a compliant not-for-profit.  And when people try to wing it, trouble can start.

This is why the library-Friends relationship[10] can be fraught with fiscal drama, and "Drift," even when all good people are involved. 

The member's questions show how this drama - and Drift - can take up a lot of staff and volunteer energy, and cause a lot of stress.  Working to maintain good relations, and perhaps using a mediator when relations are strained, can be the best way to harness that energy for the library and its Friends…and thus, for the entire community.

Thank you for a difficult question on an under-discussed topic.



[1] Meaning: donations to the group are tax-deductible, while operations are limited to its not-for-profit purpose.

[2] The library's pesky lawyer insisted on this, since the library is involved in the event.

[3] I know many taxpayers don't really care about the "Friends/Library distinction," but it never hurts to try to keep them distinct.

[4] It doesn’t have to be called a "Collaboration Agreement," but every library and friends combo should have a written contract that addresses how they operate together.

[5] The sad fact is, board committees can meet regularly and get nothing done (in other words, be "unproductive").  Signs of an unproductive board/committee meeting are: 1) big ideas are discussed but nothing is acted upon, 2) there are few if any anticipated resolutions for action items, and 3) a lack of clear objectives set at one meeting for action by the next meeting.

[6] I imagine there are tiny exceptions to this but in such a case, there would be other requirements for fiscal transparency.

[7] I am a lawyer, not a library budget specialist.  This is a good topic to visit with your library system…they are there for you on all things tax levy and budget!

[8] Yes, I have that song stuck in my head now.

[9] By "nefarious" I mean suspected embezzlement, conflicts of interest, fiduciary neglect, or other issues that aren't just disconnects, but possible wrongdoing by a Friends board.  If those are suspected, a Library should work with their lawyer on next steps.

[10] Libraries, you're not alone.  This is a problem in religious organizations, social clubs, and other volunteer-driven organizations…although the people in library disputes might be better at trivia games and have larger vocabularies.

Tags: 501c3, Friends of the Library, Management

Topic: Library Files - 1/24/2020
What recourse may a library board take, if a former director removes all library files from a libr...
Posted: Friday, January 24, 2020 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

What recourse may a library board take, if a former director removes all library files from a library owned computer that relate to the running of the public library?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Every employer struggles with this issue: give employees enough access to electronic information to do their jobs, but protect that information from accidental disclosure, file corruption, and theft.

Solid practices like routine security updates, back-ups, password re-sets, and employee training can help a library avoid the worst IT disasters.  But what if someone in a position of trust simply abuses their access?  What if a scenario like the member's question should arise?

There is a process to address this type of scenario.  In order to ease an adrenalized mind,[1] it is presented below in grid form.

Upon suspicion that files have been removed or inappropriately removed by a former library employee, follow these steps to assess what recourse a board might have:

Action

Why you do this

Results

1.  Upon suspicion that files have been removed, if possible, do not take further steps alone.

Create an "Initial Response Team" of at least two people to do the next four steps, and designate one of them as the note-taker and document-keeper.

If your library's computer system is supplied or supported by a cooperative library system, one of these people should be from the system.[2]

Organizing a time-line and take photos or screenshots of information showing the potential problem.

The facts you assemble and first steps you take may have far-reaching consequences for your library's response and recovery, as well as for the potential wrong doer.

At this stage, however, you'll just be documenting what appears to be missing.  No deep-dive investigation.   It should only take an hour or two.[3]

Initial Response Team formed and responsibilities of team members made clear.

Note-taker assembling information.

2.  Without letting it take more than an hour (or two) and without making any changes to your system, assess and create an informal list of what appears to be missing (file types, specific types of information, locations), when this was noticed, and what the first signs of the concern were.  This will be your "Initial Inventory."

You need to have a foundation for your next steps, so you're creating a quick description of the possible situation.

An Initial Inventory you will use in the next few steps.

Note: The "Initial Inventory" is not an attempt to assess what happened, just to list what might be missing, and a few initial details.

 

3.  Look over the Initial Inventory.  Could any of the missing files contain personal/private information, such as: name, address, date of birth, ssn, library card number, credit card information, contact information, banking information, health-related information, computer use, passwords, or circulation records?

If the answer is "yes," add the phrase "…possibly includes loss or compromise of private information and/or library patron records" to the Initial Inventory.

This part of the Initial Inventory will help those assessing the issue quickly appreciate the possible privacy and confidentiality  implications of the situation.

4.  Contact the library's insurance carrier, and alert them that you may have had a loss of data related to "unauthorized computer access that may involve a former employee."

If your Initial Inventory includes a "yes" to Step #3, also state: "The situation may have involve personal and confidential information."

If your initial contact is by phone, confirm the notice via a letter or e-mail.

Depending on your library's insurance type, you may be covered for this type of event.

Notifying your carrier and following up in writing will help the library determine if the carrier will provide coverage and/or assistance for the event.

Timely notice to the library's insurance carrier, enabling your carrier to let you know if you have coverage and if they can provide assistance in recovering from the event.

NOTE:  If the event is covered, some or all of the remaining steps could be impacted by the participation of the carrier.

5.  With the Initial Inventory complete and the carrier on notice, the board (or director, if the board has delegated the right amount of authority to them) must decide who is in charge of next steps: the full board, a board committee, the Director and a team, or any combination of people needed to assess the matter. 

This "Response Team" should have the power to appoint a qualified professional to assess the situation, to retain legal assistance if warranted, and to recommend a final course of action to the board.

In no event should a report to the board (or Executive Committee) extend the timeline for arranging a response beyond 3 business days.

Unauthorized computer access involving a former director (or any employee) is serious enough to warrant board involvement, whether or not personal and confidential information.

This is especially true since, in a worst-case scenario, the library may have to report a data breach, expend resources to re-create or retrieve the information, work with an insurance carrier to recover from the loss, consider if any aspects of the former employee's contract or severance apply (if there was either/or) and based on what is discovered, consider whether or not to file a report with law enforcement.

Clarity as to who is in charge, what level of authority they are working with, and who they will bring on to assist with the investigation and recovery.

6.  Alert the library's lawyer by sending them a copy of the Initial Inventory, and connect them to the Response Team, so they can assist at needed.

 

It will be the lawyer's responsibility to work with the Response Team and others to ensure the library is positioned to seek relief from the carrier or the former employee, to assess any relevant contracts (for instance, if the files were deleted from a cloud server), and to advise the board about filing a report with law enforcement, or pursuing civil remedies.

Attorney-client privileged input to help assess response options in the best interests of the library.

7.  The Response Team should retain a qualified IT/data security professional to assess and develop an "Incident Report" with a Final Inventory of what is confirmed as missing, a conclusion as to how it went missing, and if/how it can be recovered.

This should be done within 3 days of discovery and before there are any changes to the system.   Ideally, this work should only be performed after the library and the IT professional sign a written contract that is reviewed by the lawyer.

A contract with a qualified firm;

A certificate of insurance from the professional firm;

A written Incident Report from the firm.

8. Based on the value, sensitivity, and type of information in the Final Inventory, work with the IT professional and lawyer to assess any legal steps the library must take to recover or to give required notifications of data breach.

Depending on what went missing, the library could have concerns under any number of laws. 

The final recommendation should be a memo to the board, regarding any necessary steps (or confirming not are needed).

9.  Based on the complete Incident Report's assessment of what is  missing, how it went missing, and if/how it can be recovered, and any relevant details about the employee, develop a course of action.

For more on this aspect, see the rest of this RAQ.

Recourse.

What happens as part of number "9," is the actual answer to the member's question.  But until a library follows steps "1" through "8," it can't fully know its options under "9."

And what can happen as part of "9"?  The range of consequences for unauthorized computer access and/or data destruction is vast, running from criminal penalties to civil remedies.  And if considered with solutions for how a library can recover from the loss, there are further possibilities.

If I was on the board where a former director removed all the library files from a library owned-computer that relate to the running of the public library, at the end of the day, here's what I'd want get out of "The Files Are Gone" process:

  • Know if the files were simply removed, or if they were removed and accessed/disclosed beyond the library;
  • If they were disclosed beyond the library, what the library must do to address that (including special considerations if personal or confidential information was accessed);
  • If the files were only removed, know if they can easily be replaced, or if they were the library's only copy;
  • If they can't be easily replaced, how much it will cost to replace them, and any negative impacts we'll experience until we do;
  • How we have concluded the files were removed by the former employee, if they were an employee when they did it, and what the due process is for addressing that;
  • If (based on all the information gathered, and more that will be specific to the situation), the board should contact the police, or consider a civil claim against the former employee.

By demanding solid, well-documented and qualified answer to these questions (What happened?  how does it impact the library?  What can we do?) a board member is being a good fiduciary, and positioning the library to identify the best recourse.

Now let's say that, in the grand scheme of things, the "missing files" appear to be pretty minor (and do not involve private information).  Let's say that, for whatever reason, the outgoing employee deleted all the library's "standard operating procedures." Not the policies--those are on the library's website and backed up in numerous places - but all the details about (as the question says) "running the library:"  How to organize the courier manifest.  The templates for the volunteer letters and community meeting notices.  The budget template and calendar for strategic planning.  Their own emails on their library account.  Nothing private, no circulation or credit card information, but a body of work that represent hundreds of compensated hours…lost.

This may seem like the kind of loss that isn’t dire enough to warrant the steps I have outlined above, but it absolutely is.  First, only a professional can say when data is truly "lost" (especially emails).  And even if, at the end of the day, there is a board decision not to pursue any consequences (privately, civilly or criminally), such (in)action must be based on good information--not just the result of a decision not to investigate in the first place.

The budget for such response, if planned carefully, can be very modest (under $1500).[4]  Reaching out to a library's system and regional council to find the professional you need might help the library get those services at a reasonable price (and again, depending on the system-library service agreement, much more).

Why am I adamant about this follow-through, even for a "small" incident?  Because sometimes a "small" incident is only the tip of a much larger iceberg.  Unauthorized data destruction by a former employee could be a serious breach of their duty, the law--and even their oath of office.  But it might not be.  The right response, and the fair response, can only be formulated through careful documentation and analysis.

This is what positions the board to know what recourse it can take, when presented with such a serious situation.

Thank you for trusting "Ask the Lawyer" with this sensitive question.

 



[1] If you are reading this while working on this type of issue, take a deep breath.  You've got this.

[2] There are too many types of IT supply/support arrangements out there for me to be more precise than this.  Some systems are essentially the IT department for their member libraries. Others are not.  This aspect will be governed by the System's member contract…but generally, a good place to start is on the phone!

[3] In keeping with the question, this chart addresses what to do if the person involved is former employee.  If the person is a current employee, the Response Team should include someone qualified to assess an appropriate response that ensures 1) due process for the employee; 2) security for the investigation; and 3) stability for ongoing operations of the library.

[4] Is this a low-ball figure?  Could it be much bigger?  Yes. But if it gets much bigger, that should be because it's actually a big problem that needs to be solved.

Tags: Data, Ethics, Management, Security Breach

Topic: Employee Rights - 12/12/2019
Hi! What is the order of due process in a local library for employees? Which laws/policies appl...
Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2019 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Hi!

What is the order of due process in a local library for employees?
Which laws/policies apply most in advocating employee rights?

  • Federal Employee Law
  • NYS Civil Service Law
  • County Civil Service Law/policy
  • NYS Public Library Law
  • Individual Library policies and contracts

Please let me know.

Thank you!

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Wow, what a great question: what is the hierarchy of laws impacting the employment conditions of librarians?

The laws impacting the employment conditions of librarians are a complex logic tree with many branches.  When I consider the amount of laws, and the permutations….

Just…wow.[1]

For a lawyer practicing in both library and employment law, this question is the equivalent of someone handing a librarian a huge box of materials while asking: “Can you catalog these, then use them in a ‘Library Employee Rights’ display for the lobby?”

I can’t wait to curate the display, but first, let’s take a look at what’s in the “library employment law” box.  We’ll take them in rough order of hierarchy/priority.

The first item in the box is a huge, grubby tome that lawyers, even younger ones, use every day (if they are at a firm owned by a crusty Gen X lawyer[2]): Black’s Law Dictionary

A legal dictionary is in the collection because, although no lawyer would ever litigate an employment law matter based solely on a dictionary definition, legal concerns often turn on precise word meaning, and employment law certainly does.  In fact, there are at least three different legal definitions of  the word “employee” that apply to library-related issues.[3]

The second is not a book, but a collection of CD’s containing a huge database.  What’s on the database?  It’s the “common law”—a body of case law and rulings that can influence how black-letter laws[4] work together.  The “common law” is a body of shared language and precedent that can influence (sometimes heavily) legal decisions.  It is often the glue that holds legal decisions together.

And now, for a few volumes that are far less esoteric:

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”): Among many other things, this is the law governing who must be paid overtime when they work more than 40 hours in the standard work-week.

Federal Civil Rights Laws: This is a compendium of laws governing rights protecting people under the jurisdiction of the USA from discrimination.  It includes the Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

The New York Human Rights Law: This is a compendium of laws governing rights protecting people from discrimination in New York.  It includes protections on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, gender expression, prior conviction and pre-disposing genetic characteristics (among many other things).  It is why your library recently adopted a sexual harassment report form.[5]

New York Labor Law & Regulations: Among many other things, this is the law that mandates one unpaid break every six hours for certain hourly employees.

New York Civil Service Law: Among many other things, this is the law governing the hiring, advancement, compensation scale, discipline, and termination of most public library employees.

Federal Laws Governing Benefits: This is a compendium of laws governing employee benefits in the USA.  It includes a law called ERISA, and the Affordable Care Act.

The New York Laws Governing Employee Benefits and Protections: This is a compendium of laws controlling unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation for work-related injury, insurance for non-work-related injury, retirement benefits, and most recently, the Paid Family Medical Leave Act.

New York Education Law & Regulations/New York Not-for-Profit Corporation Law: These laws are combined in one handy volume to create the rights and duties of a chartered library, and its governing board (who, within a framework of laws, are the ultimate decision-makers regarding employment at their library).

Local Civil Service Rules:  Based on New York’s “Municipal Home Rule Law,” many of the details of Civil Service-controlled employment practices can change from county to county (and municipality to municipality).

Local laws: Some municipalities adopt local law to create further protections for employees.  These laws cannot be contrary to state, federal, and county law, but can expand employee rights further.

Random Authorities:  This book is a vivid graphic novel depicting numerous opinions by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), the U.S. Department of Justice, the National Labor Relations Board, the New York State Comptroller, the New York Attorney General, the New York Committee on Open Government, and the New York Commissioner of Education, regarding matters impacting library employees.  One delightful example of this is an intricate decision by the State Comptroller about how much money could be spent on a party for volunteers.[6]

And finally, some really cool, custom works are in the box… 

A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel called A Journey Through Your Charter and Bylaws.

Why is this a choose-your-own-adventure?  Because while neither a charter nor bylaws can change the above-listed law, the “type” of library an institution is chartered as will impact if and how those laws apply.  And within the framework set by those laws and their application to your library, it is the board—whose composition and functions are controlled by the charter and bylaws—that is the ultimate party responsible for hiring and firing of employees, which sets the stage for all other employment-related actions.

A collection of scrolls labelled “Contracts.”  This could be as simple as a contract with an Executive Director or Book-keeper, or as complex as a “Collective Bargaining Agreement” with an employee union. It is important to note that while a contract can create a great many additional rights, it cannot be contrary to the Charter and Bylaws, nor any of the laws listed above (UNLESS there is not an “exception” in the law, allowing it to be altered by the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, and if your library type means they apply).

And finally, the most valuable part of the collection: a weird device, rather like a flour sifter, that says in big, bronze letters on its handle “IT DEPENDS.”  What does this screen do?

It tells you which laws apply to which libraries, in which order of priority, under which circumstances.[7]  When applied properly, this allows you to create…

Your Institution’s Employee Policies, drafted to comply with the law as it applies to your library, and to support your unique charter and mission.  Such policies should be routinely re-assessed to ensure continued legal compliance and support for your library’s key objectives (like attracting, retaining, and developing the best staff possible).

In other words—and in direct response to part of the member’s question—the purpose of policy is to articulate and apply the law as it governs your library.  No policy should ever contain a provision contrary to a governing law or regulation.  This is why policy must be routinely assessed, revised, and updated.

And that’s the collection.

At this point, I imagine the member who asked this question might be feeling: Whoa, information overload!

Let me show you my display, here….

You probably thought it was going to be a tree, right?  Nope.  It’s a finely balanced array of media stacked to look like librarian assembling a sculpture of…a librarian. 

Why is that?

No other entity created by law(s) has the type of support, mandates, restrictions, and—yes—latitude under the law that libraries do.  Yes, libraries operate with a strict framework created by the laws and regulations listed above,[8] and operate within exacting mandates…but within that framework, libraries have almost limitless discretion with policies.  That is how they function and evolve as reflections of their communities. 

That said, certain things fundamental, and cannot be trumped by much.  Here are a few (with links to the laws that back them up):

 https://www.ny.gov/combating-sexual-harassment-workplace/workers

  • In New York, public library employees serve at the pleasure of their boards, NOT their sponsoring municipality;

https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/NPC/202

  • In New York, public library employees may be indemnified[9] by their governing boards;

https://www.osc.state.ny.us/legal/2001/op2001-12.htm

  • In New York, association library employees may be indemnified by their governing boards;

https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/NPC/202

  • And…while it can be rather a pain to work within, public library employees are protected by the New York Civil Service law:

https://www.nyla.org/a-librarians-guide-to-civil-service-in-nys-2018/[10]

 

How does this play out?

Let’s take breaktimes as an example.

In New York, employees have to take a break every six hours.  It’s the law.  In my office, when a paralegal gets so into the project they don’t want to stop, I have to order them[11] to take a break.  (at which point they do, because otherwise…irony).

Now, how I choose to support my employees as they take their break is up to me, and may become a matter of policy.  Do I supply a break room?  Do I have a fridge and a policy/procedure for keeping the break room clean and the fridge free of mold?  All of those things are discretionary—and to govern the details, I might have a policy that goes beyond the minimum.  But here is where things get complicated: If an employee doesn’t follow the policy, I may need to follow rules set by Civil Service to discipline them. But if I am selectively enforcing the policy in a discriminatory way, state or federal civil rights law could govern. Or perhaps the employee will first file a union grievance, which we’ll have to arbitrate…

And that is the hierarchy of employment law.  It’s not really a heirarchy…it’s more of a fractal pattern.  The good news is, library leadership gets some say in the pattern.

What shape does your library pick?

 



[1] If I were the sort to write via emoji, I would be using the icon for “Mind.  Blown.”

[2] That’s me.

[3] There is a definition for purposes of liability, a definition for purposes of compensation, and a definition for purposes of copyright ownership of employee work product.  And yes, they are all slightly different.

[4] “Black letter” laws are those “embodied in…statutes.”  Thanks, Black’s Law Dictionary! (Centennial Edition)

[5] Due to changes in 2018.

[6] This opinion is here: https://www.osc.state.ny.us/legal/1990/legalop/op90-63.htm.  The final decision?  “A public library may sponsor a recognition dinner for volunteer library workers, but may not sponsor a party for the senior citizens of the sponsor municipality or school district..

[7] This “screen” is either a lawyer, an HR professional, a civil service professional, or a library system or council working with one of those to support your unique operations.

[8] And more….so many, many more…

[9] In layman’s terms, this means you are protected in the event you are sued for just doing your job.

[10] I was lucky enough to attend an excellent presentation by authors of this Guide at the 2019 NYLA Conference. 

[11] My team is great!  Every employer should have this problem.

 

Tags: Laws, Management, Policy, Employee Rights, Labor

Topic: Policy On Personal Phone Use at Work - 10/18/2019
We have a pretty exhaustive personnel policy on the use/limits of use of Library technology and pr...
Posted: Friday, October 18, 2019 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

We have a pretty exhaustive personnel policy on the use/limits of use of Library technology and property, both for compliant work-related purposes and for personal purposes.

What we do *not* have, and are wondering if we should, is a policy that speaks to the permitted (or restricted) uses of *personal* phones and similar devices while at work.

The question has come up because of supervisors needing to repeatedly remind staff to not use personal phones while on the public service desk, without having an explicit "policy" to fall back on.

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

On the surface, this is a simple issue: if people are using their cell phone for personal use on the job, a simple policy to stop the use should solve the problem, right?

Not these days.

As technology continues to transform the workplace (and the world), “cell phones away, please,” is not as easy as it once was.  People use their cell phones to monitor health, track their steps, and get emergency calls from kids at school.  Some may even use their cell phones to save their lives, serve as a witness to illegal activity, and exercise their right to free speech. 

Many of these functions depend on the proximity of the person to the phone (or the watch that connects them to it), and because of this, cell phones are becoming extensions of the people who own them.  So a policy to keep them stowed and away, or secured in a locker, can be met with resistance. 

Here are a few examples of how this “resistance” can play out on the job:

  • An employee who is the parent of a child with Type 1 Diabetes may want their cell phone on them to keep an eye on their child’s glucose level[1] while the child is at school;
  • An employee who being stalked by an ex may want the phone to record evidence to seek a protective order;
  • An employee trying to lose weight per a doctor’s orders may be using a supportive app and a Fitbit;
  • An employee may want to use their personal camera phone (“it’s better”) to take pictures for the library’s Instagram;
  • An employee may need to text their partner to confirm who is picking up the kids, making dinner, and mowing the lawn before it turns onto a meadow;
  • An employee may really love to play Candy Crush Saga® when things are slow at the reference desk.

As can be seen, many of the reasons to keep a cell phone on one’s person are compelling; other uses may not be.  And many of reasons/uses overlap with other library policies.

The goal, of course, is not to bar an employee from important connections and a tool for their well-being, but to make sure the use of personal electronics does not distract from the library’s professional environment and employee productivity (even on a slow day).  To achieve that, there are two broad solutions: 1) rely on a collection of policies to address the variety of purposes for personal cell phones while at work; or 2) create a catch-all policy. 

In a work environment where consistency for staff members is critical for professionalism and productivity, I prefer a combination of both.  What does that combination look like? 

It starts with policies for:

  • ADA accommodations
  • FMLA
  • Domestic violence victims’ accommodations
  • Workplace violence prevention
  • Communications/media
  • Use of technology
  • Confidentiality of library records and patron privacy
  • Employee conduct

…which should all allow for appropriate use of personal cell phones and electronic devices.  This doesn’t mean the policy has to mention cell phones specifically—just have enough flexibility to address them.

At the same time, assuming the above-listed policies harmonize with it, creating a specific “Policy on Use of Personal Cell Phones and Electronics,” as proposed by the member, can help employees and management navigate these issues in a rapidly changing world.

Here is an example of such a policy[2]:

[INSERT LIBRARY NAME] Policy on Personal Use of Cell Phones and Electronics

The mission of the [INSERT LIBRARY NAME] depends on employees maintaining a professional, productive environment. 

To maintain that environment, use of personal cell phones and electronics should only divert employees from work duties in the case of an emergency. 

To achieve this, cell phones and personal electronics should be stored in a carrier, purse, or pocket where the screen is not visible during work time, and watches synched with other electronics should not divert employees from work except during designated breaks in designated break areas. 

Sudden personal emergency needs that require use of a cell phone or other personal electronics should follow the established procedures for use of break time and personal time.

Use of cell phones and personal electronics for ADA accommodations, FMLA arrangements, personal emergency, and personal safety needs are exempted from this policy, and should be arranged on a case by case basis with a supervisor per the relevant policy. 

As with most HR policies, this one sounds simple, but can be complex to administer.  The need to be flexible and allow some cell phone use (especially ADA use, the basis of which may be confidential), can cause seeming inconsistency in enforcement.  To address this, employees must be sensitized to the fact that some people may depend on a personal devise for an authorized (and confidential) use, while at the same time be given the clear message that keeping in touch with social media and personal contacts during work time is not allowed.

As technology puts pressure on the norms of society, it is important to draw (and re-draw) reliable and clear boundaries…especially in the workplace.  So should a workplace have a policy on personal cell phones?  Done right, and with due consideration of the law, it can help.

Thanks for a timely question.



[1] There are electronic devices and apps that enable sharing of blood glucose levels at all times; it’s both cool, and terrifying, since if blood glucose is too low, a child can faint, and if too high, a child’s blood can become toxic. 

[2] Do not use stock language to create an employment policy without having a lawyer review the final product.  Union contracts, local laws, other policies, current handbook language, and work conditions can all impact what a catch-all employment policy can look like. 

Tags: Management, Policy

Topic: New NYS Smoking Ban - 5/28/2019
The new NYS smoking ban in regards to public libraries states that smoking is banned "within ...
Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2019 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

The new NYS smoking ban in regards to public libraries states that smoking is banned "within 100 ft of all entrances, exits and outdoor areas”. Does that mean all of the library property including the parking lot and grassy areas attached to other grassy areas? e.g. [A nearby business]’s property line abuts our property line a few feet from their building and their staff stand in that area to smoke. On three sides of our property line the 100 feet includes a road and commercial enterprises across the streets.

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

This member is thinking ahead!

Starting June 29, 2019, any space within a 100-foot perimeter around a public or association library, including adjacent businesses, is subject to a state-wide smoking ban.  The sole exception is residential properties (inside and out).

Any person or business violating this new ban may be subject to a $2,000 fine.[1]

This new law is part of Section 1339-o of New York’s Public Heath Law.  It reads:

Smoking shall not be permitted and no person shall smoke within one hundred feet of the entrances, exits or outdoor areas of any public or association library as defined in subdivision two of section two hundred fifty-three of the education law; provided, however, that the provisions of this subdivision shall not apply to smoking in a residence, or within the real property boundary lines of such residential real property.

This is a powerful new law, and it has many libraries thinking about implementation.

As the member’s question illustrates, complying with, taking advantage of, and rolling out this new law may take some effort—as well as some tact and diplomacy. 

Here are some tips for a graceful transition (and how to not ignite the fuse of nearby, non-residential smokers and their landlords):

First, some new signage can go up, alerting people to the impact of the new law. Per Public Health Law Section 1399-p (“Posting of Signs”), smoking signage should meet the following requirements:

“Smoking” or “No Smoking” signs, or “Vaping” or “No Vaping” signs, or the international “No Smoking” symbol, which consists of a pictorial representation of a burning cigarette enclosed in a circle with a bar across it, shall be prominently posted and properly maintained where smoking and vaping are regulated by this article, by the owner, operator, manager or other person having control of such area.

Signage to assist with compliance should add “…within 100 feet of this boundary.  NY Public Health Law 1399-o.”

Second, it might be helpful to amend or create library’s policy on smoking so it states:

Per Section 1399-o of New York’s Public Health Law, it is forbidden to smoke within 100 feet of library property (except for residential properties).  To promote compliance, the library will maintain signage consistent with Section 1399-p of that law, and will work with impacted neighbors to enforce and encourage compliance with this law.

Third, a simple plan of outreach to “impacted neighbors,” can help your library collaborate on compliance (instead of waiting for a clash of employees or customers).  This is not a legal requirement, but it is the type of law-based, thoughtful, pro-active rollout can forge and maintain healthy neighborhood relations. 

Part of such a “Smoking Ban Rollout Plan” could include a letter such as:

Dear [Non-residential Neighbor within 100 fee of library property]:

As you may know, effective June 19, 2019, New York’s Public Health Law makes it illegal to smoke within 100 feet of a public or association library like the [NAME] Library.  The sole exception to this law is a residential property.

As you can see on the attached map, your property is within 100 feet of the library’s.  Please let us know of any concerns you have about alerting your [employees, customer’s, etc] to the requirements of this new law.  Please also let us know who we may contact it the event of a concern.

Our board and library staff are working to alert everyone and make sure our transition to this new law goes smoothly.  [We are installing new signage, as well.]  If you need to discuss any aspect of this, please contact [name] and [number or email].

Thank you for your consideration!

Sincerely,

Your friends at the [NAME] Library

Any contact with neighbors should bear in mind that under the law, certain facilities (ironically, hospitals and residential health care facilities) are allowed to “designate” a smoking area on otherwise-non-smoking premises (this might be the scenario in the circumstances described by the member).  Further, if a business or person can allege an “undue hardship,” they can request a waiver of a smoking ban under Section 1399-u.[2]  Since you don’t want a confrontation to spur a request for a waiver, “friendly outreach” is a good tone to strive for.

And finally, it is good for your library to consider that enforcing a smoking ban can cause a lot of stress, and use up a lot of director and staff energy.  Think about it: Librarians already have to be on the lookout for illegal porn use, opioid overdoses, and destruction of library property.  Now they have to patrol for neighborhood smoking, too?  That’s a lot of social work for someone who just wants to help the world find information. 

For those moments, in addition to your library policy, a short statement endorsed by the board, for staff can hand out, might be helpful.  Something like:

Consistent with New York’s Public Health Law (Section 1399-0), there is no smoking allowed within 100 feet of the [NAME] library.  Thank you for supporting New York State’s public health initiative, and helping our library honor this law. –The Board of the [NAME] Library

When facing a needy[3] smoker, backup from both the state, the law, AND your board can be a great morale booster.

Libraries should also note: while Section 1339-o of the Public Health Law bars smoking AND vaping in many areas, this new library-specific section (section 6) bars only SMOKING[4] (and yes, under the law, “smoking” and “vaping” are distinguished.[5]  “Smoking” means “the burning of a lighted cigar, cigarette, pipe or any other matter or substance which contains tobacco.”  “Vaping” means “the use of an electronic cigarette.”).  So in addition to the compliance steps outlined above, get some binoculars, so you can be ready for some precise enforcement!

So that’s it.  Libraries needing to check their property line maps to establish their 100-foot perimeter can use their property survey and the county’s tax maps (this is also how you can check for a property’s actual owner, in addition to simply observing and notifying their tenants).

I wish every public and association library in New York smoke-(but not vapor)-free property lines!

 


[1] From the relevant county health department, or, in some places, another designated enforcement official.

[2] Yes, this law uses almost the entire alphabet.

[3] I was a smoker in the 90’s.  I quit around Y2K, but I still remember the feeling of being an addict needing to smoke…it can make you act grumpy to even a very nice librarian.

[4] At some point I will check JSTOR to see if there is hard info as to why vaping within 100 feet of library is somehow better for the public health than smoking. 

[5] The definitions are in Section 1399-n.

 

Tags: Management, Policy, Smoking or Vaping

Topic: Next-door Neighbor/Real Estate Disputes - 12/28/2018
What laws impact a library’s next-door-neighbor relationships?  Are there best practice...
Posted: Friday, December 28, 2018 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

What laws impact a library’s next-door-neighbor relationships?  Are there best practices for neighbor disputes? 

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

There are few relationships that can be as rewarding—and as fraught with tension—as the relationship between neighbors.  I have seen neighbors unite to fight for preservation of their streets historic assets, and I have seen neighbors bring law suits over shrubbery.  A library is wise to cultivate a good relationship with its neighbors, just like a person would at their own home.

What laws impact a library’s relationship with its neighbors?  Most libraries exist on land[1], or within a building, so the controlling law is called “real property” law.  “Real property,” which could be land, or a building, is distinct from “personal property” (like a book) or “intellectual property” (like a logo).  Although many laws impact real property, in New York, the major one would be the “Real Property Actions & Proceedings Law” or “RPAPL.”

Also impacting real property and the relationships between neighbors are: building codes, planning regulations, zoning, permitting, contract, business, and construction-related law.  And of course, the education law, not-for-profit corporation law, and municipal law can all apply to how a library handles real property issues, while grant terms and donor restrictions can be relevant, too. 

And if the old oak in front of your library suddenly crashes into the roof of your neighbor, insurance law may come into play, as well.

Any one of these laws—and countless others—might be considered by a lawyer advising a library if there is a concern or dispute with a nearby neighbor.  But are there any general “best practices” to abide by?  Based on my experience with construction, real property, landlord-tenant, and contracts—here are some simple practices for preventing, and if necessary, addressing potential neighbor disputes.

Practice #1: Know where you stand

Every library should know precisely what property they occupy, and how they occupy it.  To do this, I recommend what I call a “binder solution.” 

For libraries that own their own property, the binder contains:

  • Deed
  • Survey
  • Assessment information (even if the building is off the tax rolls)
  • Mortgage (if you have one)
  • Any recorded easements or rights-of-way
  • Current and past insurance summaries and policies
  • Permits (if any)
  • All contracts and documents related to maintenance
  • Fixture and structure warrantees (driveway warranty, roof warranty, etc.)
  • Deferred maintenance plan

Basically, this binder should be a one-stop shop for information relating to the library’s property and the legal relationships it has with the world. 

For libraries that do not own their premises, the binder contains:

  • Lease
  • Survey or floorplan of library’s portion of building
  • Current insurance summary or policy
  • Permits (if any)
  • Warrantees for on-site physical assets your library paid for/owns (copier warranty computer system warranty, etc.)
  • All occupancy-related correspondence with landlord, including notice of defects or safety hazards

Why does all this matter?  Many real property battles are lost when owners over-state or mis-portray their rights.  Never initiate a property matter with a neighbor—even a seemingly simple one like a noise complaint—unless you know these documents will back you up (plus, having this material organized is just good stewardship).

Practice #2: Know your neighbor

This advice works on two levels.

The first level is obvious: know your neighbors.  Invite them over.  Know the names of their kids and what sports team they root for.  That type of outreach is insurance against any number of serious disputes.

The second level is a bit more covert: what’s in their “binder”?  Are they the owner?   Are they renting?  Might they be a squatter?  Basically, to the extent possible, develop a “binder solution” for them, too.  In getting to know them a bit better, you might develop some insights on the roots of your dispute.

Practice #3: Isolate this issue

In my experience, neighbor disputes can be some of the nastiest legal battles. I am no sociologist, but I imagine this is because when you fight with a neighbor, no one gets a break.  You are alongside and--in some places practically on top of—each other, 24/7.    And sometimes people are just mean…or have too many of their own problems to be able to honor another’s.

That said, if you have a potential neighbor dispute, isolate what you think the true cause might be.  Is the neighbor ranting about your ice cream social signage actually angry about fines from 1989?  Is the neighbor complaining about “those people parking” actually kind of racist? Is the dispute really about noise, or is the neighbor a narcotics peddler?

The point of this is: make sure you really know what’s up.  That way, you can keep things professional and separate if matters get contentious, and know what type of team to assemble to handle the dispute.

Which brings us to…

Practice #4: Use a professional!

Library staff are trained to help people find information, to select and categorize library acquisitions, and to operate their library according to applicable ethics and regulations.  They are NOT trained lawyers, surveyors, law enforcement, or alternative dispute mediators.

If your library is in the midst of a neighbor dispute, consider retaining a property manager, lawyer, real estate agent, or other paid expert to be the primary interface with the neighbor.  Their experience will bring a better result, and the distance they lend the situation may de-personalize it and save your library staff time and stress.

Practice #5: Pick your battles!

Neighbor disputes should only be entered into if they can be won decisively, quickly, and in a way that aligns with your mission.  For a community library, that means identifying an overall strategy before you start, and using only tactics that you can publicly defend.

It would be impossible to write an essay on this (although a book might be fun), but here is a chart of some typical scenarios, and how to pick your battles:

Your Library

Your Neighbor

The Dispute

The Law

Fight the Battle?

Owns its property, and just put a new skylight in.

 

Is a long-term renter. 

With the new skylight in, the ska music they have been blasting since 1987 can now be heard in the periodical section.

Could be in violation of a noise ordinance.

Could be a violation of their lease. 

Best to first gently and informally raise the issue with their landlord; if you’re in a small town, make sure you know all the players.  This could be a diplomatic (and loud) nightmare.

 

 

Rents its property, and has had the same lease since 1996.

 

Owns their property across the street.

 

 

After getting all the proper permits, your neighbor excavated for a new building and hit a natural spring, causing flooding in your basement and ruining a significant array books.

 

So much!  This would call for an immediate and very well-organized response.  But even before you call your lawyer, call your landlord and your insurance carrier.

 

You’d have to pick which battle.  Moving to a new location might be more mission-aligned than staying in a potentially damaged and moldy structure.

 

Is a public library that has occupied the second floor of the Town Hall 1934, but there’s no lease and no one has really questioned the arrangement.

 

Is the Town Historical Society, who have been in the basement of the Town Hall since 1974.

 

The Historical Society has, without asking, recently taken over your community reading room with a display case of genealogical charts. The room was recently redecorated with a grant that requires the room be accessible to all.

 

 

The only entity with clear rights here might be

the donor!

 

Ugh.  This is the type of battle that can get ugly, quickly.  Hopefully after you assess your position with a professinoal, some diplomacy and living up to any contractual obligations can save the day.

 

Is buying a historic property[2] to rehab and move into.

 

 

Owns the house next door.

 

In surveying the property, you find out that 5 years ago, your neighbor built their fence over two feet onto your new land.

 

This could involve looking at the survey, searching for easements (permission to use your property), and making an inquiry of the person you bought the property from.

 

You have to address it, since leaving the fence there without protest could result in the property eventually becoming the neighbor’s!  But be strategic and consult an attorney before you raise it externally (including with the neighbor).

My overall guidance?  Send neighbors a basket of fresh fruit ever year, and when you hand-deliver it, spend 10 minutes catching up and asking about their families.  It’s amazing how much ill will can dissolve over apples and pears.

Good luck out there!

 


[1] Inspired by this sentence, I checked: yes, as I am sure my readers are aware, there are libraries boats and library planes, too.

[2] I love historic properties and historic preservation.  That said, if you plan to do this, make sure your team has at least one person who has done a major preservation project before.  Those buildings are full of expensive surprises.

Tags: Laws, Management, Property

Topic: Library Lockdowns - 12/28/2018
Should an event occur, is it legal in NYS to institute a lockdown in a public library? ...
Posted: Friday, December 28, 2018 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Should an event occur, is it legal in NYS to institute a lockdown in a public library?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

This question brought back a lot of memories for your “Ask the Lawyer” attorney.  

Between 2006 and 2017, I was a full-time in-house attorney on a college campus.  On April 16th, 2007, my time in higher ed was forever changed, when the entire campus froze to watch the reporting from Virginia Tech.  32 people dead.  17 wounded.

Over the years, as incident after incident occurred on schools and college campuses, my colleagues in higher education would wonder “Are we next?”[1]

I was lucky; my campus had no such incident during my time there (or since).  But I was there for the development of our active shooter response protocol, there for our on-campus trainings, and there, as an administrator, for our “incident response” trainings with local, state and federal law enforcement…getting ready for a day when we might not be lucky.

Large (and small) public institutions and facilities like schools, museums, malls, and of course libraries have been struggling with how to prepare for the day someone brings a gun and threatens or perpetrates violence on their property.  It is a horrific thing to contemplate, and a scary prospect to plan for…especially because there is a diversity of opinion as to what the best prevention and training techniques really are.

Some institutions have the benefit of mandates.  In New York, all schools must practice active shooter response, and there are laws, regulations and experts in place to guide those mandated drills.  And college campuses are mandated to prepare for emergency response.

Public libraries, on the other hand, do not have such a state-wide mandate.  Although chartered and operated in connection with a municipality, they are independent operators.  This means that though they may choose to follow whatever policy or procedure their municipality has developed for emergency response, or to adopt their own, that choice requires board approval.[2]

But the member’s precise question is: is it legal in NYS to institute a lockdown in a public library?

First, let’s clarify what is meant by “lockdown.”

Per §155.17 of Chapter 8 of New York’s Rules & Regulations: 

Lock-down means to immediately clear the hallways, lock and/or barricade doors, hide from view, and remain silent while readying a plan of evacuation as a last resort. Lock-down will only end upon physical release from the room or secured area by law enforcement.

To some people, “lockdown” (hiding, barricading) in the face of an active shooter sounds like a really good idea.  Others might prefer to run.  And still others think the best option would be to fight.

According to the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, depending on the situation, any of these could be the right choice.  Watch the video, “480 Seconds” at this link[3]. It depicts, in stark and practical terms, the different “best” responses, depending on an active shooter situation.  http://www.dhses.ny.gov/aware-prepare/step3.cfm

“Lockdown,” as defined in the NYS Education Law, was determined to be the best option for schools because they house a large, vulnerable population of minors.  While many of us only hear about this procedure through our kids (as we try to conceal our terror), school librarians know first-hand that the drills our kids do are only a small part of a system that requires:

  • extensive site analysis;
  • the creation building safety teams;
  • designation of emergency gathering spaces;
  • communications plans; and
  • extensive training of staff. [4]

Any lockdown plan should be this well-developed, because as “480 Seconds” shows, sheltering in a secure place is not the only response to an active shooter situation.  Further, even in a place with a lockdown plan, responses will vary by building type, function, and population served (consideration of people with different disabilities, for instance, requires continually renewed attention).  Given certain variables, a lockdown procedure might be the best option, but even once that has been determined, ensuring doors can be secured, signage is properly posted, and staff are trained, are all critical elements of the plan.

So, is it legal to institute a lockdown procedure in a public library?  Yes. Library boards can (and should[5]) pass emergency response policies, include active shooter policies, and a lockdown plan might be determined to be the best response.  That said, unlike schools entrusted with minors, libraries serve a large population of independent, autonomous adults.  Unlike law enforcement responding at the scene, a staff directive to stay in place will only have the force of library policy…which is different from an order by law enforcement[6].  A person who wants to leave (and whose biology is telling them they MUST leave) might do so.

For me, the most important aspect of this question is not if a lockdown policy at a public library is “legal,” but how a public library develops its active shooter response plan and trains its staff.  This can be no cut-and-paste job; it is a work for a credentialed and experienced expert.  There is grant money and aid out there for not-for-profit libraries to seek this critical input.  And in many places, simply reaching out to local government can put you in touch with all the resources you need. 

Just like “480 Seconds,” the services of an expert[7] will help your library apply the collective wisdom about active shooter situations to the somber but vital act of planning for an actual situation. 

We can never be truly ready for an active shooter incident, but we can be prepared.  Lockdown might be part of that preparation.  Thank you for this important question.



[1] It was probably a false sense of security, but these were the times when I was glad to have ROTC on campus.

[2] There is one exception to this: a public library that rents its property may be required, in its lease, to follow the rules of its Landlord. But that would still mean the board had approved the terms of the lease.

[3] This video is not graphic, but it is very serious.  I suggest you not watch it at your library unless it is part of an in-depth and well-considered training on active shooter response, led by a credentialed and experienced expert (local law enforcement should be able to assist in finding that person).

[4] See NYS Education Law §2801-a.

[5] An emergency response plan, along with plans for an active shooter, is listed as a recommended policy in the NY Library Trustees’ Association’s 2018 Trustee Handbook, page 115.

[6] Of course, some libraries have private security, or coordinate with law enforcement.  If that is the case for your library, their training and level authority must be incorporated into your plan, and that may change the dynamic.

[7] This is very serious: your plan and training should be put in place using a contracted, person with established credentials and experience writing and training on emergency preparedness and active shooter response.  There are many accredited and recommended programs for this.  For a public library, this would be through the usual procurement process.

 

Tags: Policy, Management, Safety

Topic: Retirement Benefits for Employees - 11/28/2018
Are municipal public libraries obligated to provide retirement benefits for all employees? Does th...
Posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2018 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Are municipal public libraries obligated to provide retirement benefits for all employees? Does the library board need to approve a motion to provide retirement benefits for all employees or selected employees? Does the number of hours pertain? Or does the employee qualify for state retirement system benefits through the municipality? Again - is it based upon hours worked?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Retirement benefits play a critical part in employee recruitment and retention.  Library leadership should carefully consider—and routinely re-evaluate—the role of retirement in the suite of benefits they use to attract and nurture personnel.

To craft the right retirement approach, leaders must consider not only the legal landscape of their  library, but the local job market, their recruitment objectives, and their retention goals.  The final approach should not only support the library’s plan of service and vision for its mission, but comply with all relevant law.  To ensure this, the plan and final documents should be evaluated by both leadership, as well as an HR professional and attorney.

Municipal public libraries crafting a retirement plan must work with local government;  this is because the retirement benefits they can offer flow from the municipality they are attached to[1].  For that reason, any municipal public library addressing retirement benefit issues should reach out to their municipality’s HR department and/or attorney. 

The member’s questions are a good jumping-off point for some general guidelines to this process.  To take them in order:

Are municipal public libraries obligated to provide retirement benefits for all employees?

No.  Per New York Retirement and Social Security System Law Title 2, Article 2, municipalities may resolve to participate and enroll their employees in the New York State & Local Retirement System (“NYSLRS”), but such resolution and enrollment is not compulsory. 

Once a municipality decides to enroll, the NY Comptroller’s Office helps with the initial assessment of costs[2].  After enrollment by the employer, precise rules govern which employees are eligible for what level of plan; a great summary of who qualifies, and how, is here: https://osc.state.ny.us/retire/word_and_pdf_documents/employers_files/employers-guide/section-5.pdf.

Does the library board need to approve a motion to provide retirement benefits for all employees or selected employees?

Yes and no.  A municipal public library’s enrollment in the NYSLRS flows through the enrolled municipality; [3] if the municipality is enrolled in the system, the (municipal public) library can participate.  That said, to emphasize employer autonomy, promote awareness, and ensure harmony of the retirement plan and benefits with other library operations, the board should be apprised of and vote on the retirement benefit, as well as its description within the employee manual and relevant policy.

NOTE: This “employer autonomy” aspect cannot be emphasized enough.  While great care should be taken by library leadership to coordinate certain employment-related matters with the municipality, a municipal public library SHOULD NEVER SURRENDER OR IGNORE THEIR AUTONOMY AS THE EMPLOYER.  There are a great many opinions[4] of the NY Comptroller (the go-to for municipal governance and budget issues) that emphasize the importance of this notion; it is a critical consideration and one deserving of a great deal of board attention and foresight (and professional input).

Does the number of [employee]hours pertain?

There are very precise formulas and enrolling, qualifying, reporting, and claiming NYSLRS retirement benefits[5], and employee hours are most definitely a part of those formulas. 

Hours are only a small piece of the puzzle, though.  The bigger parts are the details leadership will explore as they identify, and develop, a retirement benefit that supports the strategic direction and mission of their library.  That is a project that will take many hours of thoughtful work and exploration…but if undertaken with the right players, will bring great benefits.[6]



[1] Interestingly and somewhat famously (among the 14,000 or so library law aficionados in New York), this does not mean the municipality is the employer.  However, it does mean that many of the employee retirement benefits must (to a certain extent) be coordinated with the procedures and reporting of the local government.  NOTE: I invented the possible number of “library law aficionados,” but since I find this stuff fascinating, maybe 13,999 other people do, too.

[2] Information on kicking off the process of enrollment is here: https://www.osc.state.ny.us/retire/employers/employer_partnership/an_employers_role/becoming_a_participant.php

[3] As reflected in the excellent comparative chart on the New York State Education Department’s Division of Library Development Page: http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/libs/pltypes.htm.

[4] For instance, Op. State Comptroller 93-15, from 1993.

[5] A helpful guide on reporting hours to the NYERS is here: https://www.osc.state.ny.us/retire/word_and_pdf_documents/employers_files/employers-guide/section-6.pdf#search=%20libraries.

[6] Pun intended.

 

Tags: Management, Municipal Libraries, Retirement, Salary

Topic: Salaried/Non-Exempt Employees and Compensatory Time - 11/14/2018
It is not uncommon in small non-profits and higher education institutions to find an employment cl...
Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2018 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

It is not uncommon in small non-profits and higher education institutions to find an employment class called Salaried/Non-Exempt. If this person is not paid annually above the minimum salaried/exempt threshold AND their standard work hours fall below 40 hours, what are the laws governing the hours between standard work hours and 40 per week, and how are they applied?

For example: A library manager paid $32,000 per year, paid bi-weekly whose standard work week is 32 hours. If this manager works above 32 hours but less than 40, the library pays the manager compensatory time. 

How long after the accrual of this time is the library legally required to pay for the hours worked - either through time used or in money? 
And if in money, is it the hourly rate gained by annual "salary" / (standard work hours x 52)?

Finally, what if the library manager sought compensatory time over financial compensation as the better benefit? Do they have a choice?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

This is a complicated array of questions, involving a high-stakes area of law…so we’ll take this in stages.

Salaried/Non-Exempt

The member starts by evoking an interesting phenomenon: “Salaried/Non-Exempt” employees; workers entitled to mandatory overtime, but paid via a salary.

This is an employment category that, for a variety of reasons[1], is moving out of fashion…but it is still widely used in 2018.

For purposes of the member’s first question, the important thing to know is: behind the scenes, a “Salaried/Non-Exempt” employee still has an hourly rate.  This is true whether they work a regular week of 20 hours, 32 hours, 40 hours, or even 45 hours (a concept called “straight time”).  The hourly rate is determined “by dividing the total hours worked during the routine week into the employee's total earnings.”[2]

So, as asked by the member, what are the laws governing “Salaried/Non-Exempt” workers who routinely work under 40 hours?  The same laws that apply to those who work 20, 40, or 45.  And one of those laws is the Fair Labor Standards Act.

 

The Fair Labor Standards Act[3]

The Fair Labor Standards Act (of “FLSA”) is a nation-wide law that ensures certain basic protections for certain types of workers.  One of its many protections is requiring time-and-a-half payment for covered employees working over 40 hours a week.

“Non-exempt” is the awkward but generally accepted term for an employee protected by the FLSA.  The phrase “non-exempt” arose from the FLSA’s “exemption” of many employee categories[4] from its protections…meaning those employees don’t have to be paid for overtime.  

The Byzantine nature of the FLSA’s exemptions and inclusions can be confusing. For example,  an “administrative” position with sufficient authority, meeting minimum salary levels (with no pro-rating for those who work under 40 hours[5]), may be classified as “exempt” under the FLSA.  But another job that sounds just as “professional” might be “non-exempt.” 

But the member’s questions pertains specifically to those who are “Salaried/Non-Exempt,” so the rest of this response pertains only to employees entitled to overtime.

 

Comp time

The second half of the member’s submission deals with comp time.  What is that?

Under both state and federal law, “Compensatory Time”—or “comp time”—is paid time off earned by government employees in lieu of FLSA-mandated overtime.

How does this work?  If their employer offers it, non-exempt employees of municipal employers can bank time off, working 45 hours one week, 35 the next…and get paid the same for both weeks.

The “comp time” exception was added to the FLSA in 1985 to help states and municipalities confronted by the need to pay overtime.  It is a tool to stabilize civil service budgets (NOTE: although the member referenced private not-for-profits and education institutions, FLSA-governed comp time is not a tool available to private employers).

How long does a qualifying library have to pay out the comp time?   Per the FLSA, one base-line rule is that after 240 hours have accrued, the employee must simply be paid time-and a half[6].  But check out the plethora of compensation memos on file with the New York State Comptroller!  The contract or policy implementing it can set a wide variety of different terms for using it, and for cashing it out.   So there is no base-line answer, except to say: an employer must follow not only the law, but the rules they set…and should have a good system for ensuring both are followed (and again, that is only for public employers).

And as for the member’s last question: what if a librarian—any librarian—simply wants to choose “comp time” over mandatory overtime?  If FLSA-governed comp time is not available, a non-exempt employee cannot waive the requirements for mandatory overtime.  New York likes its workers to have certain basic protections, and this is a big one. 

 

Final take-aways

Private employers must pay salaried/non-exempt employees their guaranteed salary, and must also compensate such employees for hours in excess of the hours of a regular pay period (based on their established hourly rate).  In addition, hours in excess of 40/week must be compensated with time-and-a-half.  And finally, any "time-shifting" that might be allowed within a pay period cannot go beyond the pay period.  Extra hours worked in a week cannot be swapped from one paycheck to the next; non-exempt employees must be paid for the time they work, within the appropriate pay period.  

But this is generic, base-line guidance. Any library grappling with questions like those posed by the member should use the services of a lawyer or HR professional (who knows when to call a lawyer) to resolve them. 

After all, libraries operate as centers of information and transparency!  Confidence about the clarity and legitimacy of employee working conditions should be considered mission-critical.

 


[1] Mostly having to do with the mandatory base salary levels set by the state and federal governments.

[2] Part 142 of Title 12 of the Official Compilation of Codes, Rules, and Regulations of the state of New York (Cited as 12 NYCRR 142), § 142-3.14

[3] This is the law the employees in the member’s question are “non-exempt” from…meaning they fall under its protections…one of which is to be paid overtime rates when hours in a given workweek exceed 40.  The inclusions and exclusions are found in https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/29/207.

[4] Too many to list here.

[5] See U.S. Department of Labor Advisory Letter FLSA2008-1NA.

[6] See 29 U.S.C. §207 (o)(a)(3).

 

Tags: Management, Salary

Topic: Finding A Lawyer - 10/29/2018
We are looking for a lawyer to provide us with advice on numerous issues, including whether librar...
Posted: Monday, October 29, 2018 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

We are looking for a lawyer to provide us with advice on numerous issues, including whether library employees are employees of the library or the village, whether the municipal retirement plan is open to or perhaps required for library employees, limitations on investments, limitations on fundraising, guidance on setting up a friends group and/or changing our charter to association library, as well as other questions.


In talking with a number of lawyers, we have found no one with experience with both municipal law and education law, ie public libraries-related law.

 
What suggestions or referrals can be provided to help us find the appropriate legal guidance for a rather wide array of questions, that have a municipal library bent?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Here’s a typical scenario confronting the modern library board president: on the day the director alerts her that a patron is using the copiers to copy sexually explicit material—taking care to ensure the patrons and employees can see it— a clerk has threatened to complain to the union if the municipal lunch room isn’t made accessible to library employees.  The board chair looks compassionate and sighs…she’ll add these to a list that already includes:

a) trying to figure out if the library actually has a lease for its premises, where it has operated since 1892, but no one can find the deed or contract;

b) assessing if there’s enough money in the endowment to fix the elevator before there’s a complaint under the ADA (and can those funds even be used that way?); and

c) revising the employee handbook.

Municipal law, education law, employment law, intellectual property, and civil rights…all meet at the crossroads of “library law.”  Libraries also have unique protections under New York’s CPLR, and as they become increasingly critical providers of technology, must be adept at interpreting software licenses, too. 

The array of legal issues is endless.  How does a library find the right lawyer? 

To make sure your library can find the right fit for you, I have five answers.  But first, I have THREE IMPORTANT PRIMARY CONSIDERATIONS

Primary Consideration Number One: remember that legal services can be an expenditure like any other.  If your library is subject to a procurement policy, you may need to develop a “Request for Proposals” (“RFP”) to seek the service.  So before you try and of my suggestions below, rule an RFP in our out.

Primary Consideration Number Two:  The New York Stated Education Department’s Division of Library Development is a great resource for information, particularly on structural/charter, budget, and grant matters.  They are there to help you, so don’t hesitate to call (even if they end up telling you to find a lawyer—and they might—you’ll have a nice chat).

Primary Consideration Number Three:  NYLA, New York Library Trustees Association, and your regional council may have some resources for you, too. 

Of course, be careful how in-depth you go when describing your issue(s) to these resources, since these communications would not have attorney-client privilege.

Okay.  Here are “Five Ways to Find a Library Lawyer:”

1.         In many counties, the local Bar Association runs an “attorney referral service.”  Attorneys who participate in the service will self-identify areas of experience and interest.  For many such services, the first 30 minutes of consultation with the lawyer they send you to is at a greatly reduced rate.

2.         Almost all lawyers1 enjoy “knowing someone.”  So even if they don’t practice in those areas, ask every lawyer you know for a referral.  Someone will eventually “know someone” who practices the type of law relevant to your library’s current needs.

3.         Ask a local elected representative or municipal employee about lawyers they know who practice municipal law, or check to see if your local college or university has a “general counsel.”  This could put you on the trail of attorneys with the right array of municipal, education and employment law experience.

4.         Members of any regional library counsel or network can separately contact the provider of this “Ask the Lawyer” service: The Law Office of Stephanie Adams, PLLC, at adams@losapllc.com.  If there is no conflict of interest, and your issue is within our experience, we can help—or, we can help you find the right attorney (not every issue needs a “library lawyer”).  The contract for such work would be separate from the service your regional council or network pays for, but you get the same hourly rate for most types of work.

5.         Your insurance carrier may have a list of law firms near you to help out, and may even have some internal resources it can provide for policy and compliance-related matters.  Call your broker or representative to inquire (remember, your insurance carrier has a high motivation to you connect you to timely legal advice and avoid a claim!). 

When selecting a lawyer, is very appropriate to asking about past work, rates, and proof of malpractice insurance coverage.  The terms of any services should be confirmed in a signed “retainer agreement” or “letter of engagement.”  And don’t be shocked if the person you talk to says “I would have to research that.”  In my experience, libraries come up with very complicated and unique questions.  An experienced attorney may be able to give a quick tentative answer, but will then almost always want to check the latest case law, read your bylaws, and review other factors before committing to final, written advice.

Good luck!



1 Do not rely on a board member who is a lawyer to provide the legal services, but DO ask them to help find the right person.  As has been written extensively in various guides from the Attorney General’s Charity Bureau, and the New York Bar Association, professionals sitting on not-for-profit boards owe the institution not only a fiduciary duty, but also the skills they bring to the table…but they are board members, not professionals under contract (this pertains to accountants, too).  It is a conflict of interest for a board member to be hired to provide professional services to a board s/he sits on…even if it is pro bono.  That said, they can absolutely (and should be) on the ad hoc committee helping to oversee the service or particular matter for the board!

Tags: Laws, Management

Topic: Printing - 9/4/2018
The director of the college print shop has come to me for copyright assistance. Our faculty often ...
Posted: Tuesday, September 4, 2018 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

The director of the college print shop has come to me for copyright assistance. Our faculty often ask for photocopies of materials for distribution to students in class. She asks the faculty member if they have the appropriate permissions for making copies but is not always convinced by their answers. Is there any form she can ask faculty to sign attesting to their right to reproduce the materials that will protect the college in the case of copyright infringement? Thank you!

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

This question seems simple, but it actually involves some high-end concepts of business law and liability.[1]

Most libraries, museums, theaters, and other units within large institutions are actually part of the same entity.  In other words, although they may have a distinct identity within their institution (“The Michael  Library” “The Peter Museum” or “the Catherine Gym”), there is only one actual legal entity (“Romanov College”).

Many people find these niceties hard to grasp, but here is why it is important: in this scenario, the single entity (the college) includes the on-campus copy shop.  This means that what the shop does, the entity does…including alleged infringement.[2]

This same unity generally applies to employees, too.  In a body of law called “Master and Servant,”[3] if an employee is performing a task related to their job, and not deliberately violating employer policy or the law,  for purposes of the legal system, the employee’s actions will generally[4] be imputed to the institution. 

This is why institutions are best served in this area by educating their employees about copyright, and documenting the employees good-faith efforts[5] to abide by the law (it is also why many HR manuals have warnings about the consequences of not following policy: it limits the institution’s ability to protect you).

This puts lot of pressure on the employees who staffing the in-house copy shop. What are their responsibilities?  Do they need to educate their co-workers on copyright risk?  Are they expected to protect the entire college?  Each institution has different policies and job descriptions that answer those questions differently.

That said, is there a simple approach that can help with this?  Yes.  For the in-house copy shop (NOT for an on-campus contractor), below is a framework to address copyright priorities with diplomacy, tact, and helpfulness.  It is designed to be used with an institution’s “Fair Use Assessment” form, and to route people to the person responsible for permissions at your institution[6]

NOTE:  All that said, any copyright-related form not custom-designed for your organization should be reviewed for cohesion and consistency with other institutional policies, including those in the employee manual.  Never use any copyright-related form without considering your institution’s unique needs and approach to copyright and liability!  If your institution has an in-house lawyer, compliance officer, risk manager, or insurance carrier, make sure they are part of finalizing any such form or solution. 

[INSTITUTION NAME] COPY SHOP COPYRIGHT HELPER

Hello!  Thank you for coming to the [INSTITUTION NAME] copy shop to arrange duplication of your class materials.

As an instructor who generates your own copyright-protected material, you know the value of copyrights to others, and you know there are penalties for improper, unauthorized duplication.

Please follow the process below.  When you check “yes” to 1 or 3, we are happy to assist you with your copies!

1. Do you have written permission from the copyright holder or their agent to make copies?

  • Yes
  • No

If “yes,” attach the permission, and let’s get copying!

If “no,” please move to question 2.

2.  Do you have verbal permission from the copyright holder or their agent to make copies?

  • Yes
  • No

If “yes,” please confirm the permission in writing, return to us and check “yes,” above, and we’ll get right on this for you!

If “no,” please move to question 3.

3.  Do you regard this copy as a fair use?

  • Yes
  • No

If “yes,” please fill out the attached [INSTITUTION NAME] fair use assessment form, and we’ll get your copies made!

If “no,” or “I don’t know,” please move to question #4.

4.  Do you find this process frustrating and need help arranging permission to use this material, or more input on fair use?

  • Yes
  • No

If “yes,” please see XXXX at OFFICE LOCATION, who assists with permissions at INSTITUTION NAME.  You can also call them at NUMBER or reach them at EMAIL.  We hope to see you again soon!

DATE:___________________________

SIGNATURE:___________________________

PRINT NAME:______________________________

MATERIALS (Title, number of pages):_______________________________

 



[1] Fun!

[2] This is one of the reasons many institutions opt to host a separate company for on-campus duplication services.

[3] I know!  The law needs to move on.  Perhaps “Captain” and “team member” can replace this.

[4] That said, never assume that is the case!  Every allegation of liability must be carefully reviewed by a lawyer, as there are many exceptions and precise formulas that control such things.

[5] Demonstrable, good-faith effort to abide by the law can actually limit damages when copyright infringement is attributable to a not-for-profit education institution.

[6] If you don’t have either or one of these, share this RAQ with the decision-maker at your institution who could make that happen.  Both the form, and a person who can facilitate permissions, are worthwhile risk management investments.

 

Tags: Copyright, Management, Policy, Photocopies

Topic: Employee Sharing - 8/28/2018
Is it possible for a municipal library and an association library to share one employee? The assoc...
Posted: Tuesday, August 28, 2018 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Is it possible for a municipal library and an association library to share one employee? The association library would handle payroll and manage benefits, the municipal library would pay the association library their percentage for the employee's time. Could this happen with two association libraries and one municipal library? Individually, our libraries are unable to offer full-time with benefits, but collaboratively, we could provide a full-time position. What are the legal steps to creating such a job share?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

I have good news, and bad news. 

First, the bad news: most of the legal factors involved do not support this type of “job share.” 

Now, for the good news: the type of capacity-adding at the heart of the member’s question is feasible…with a slightly different legal structure.

What are the legal steps to creating such an arrangement?  For chartered libraries, they are numerous and intricate, but considering the goal (added service), the work might be worth it. 

Here are the factors to consider:

1.  The libraries’ chartered identity

The question cites a potential collaboration between a municipal and an association library.  Just in that coupling, there are issues, since depending on entities’ size and type, the institutions will have different staffing requirements.  When considering a capacity-adding staffing model, those requirements should be kept in mind at all times.

2.  The libraries’ bylaws and staffing policies

Staffing requirements and other factors impacting staffing might be recited in the libraries’ bylaws and policies.  So those documents, too, should be factored into this exercise.

3.  The libraries’ plan(s) of service

Does the resulting staffing schema fit into their respective plans of service? 

4.  Labor law details, such as workers’ comp, unemployment, FMLA, and ADA

Here is where the technical nitty-gritty, and the concerns that generally bar “shared” staff between separate entities, starts.  Whenever an employee is brought on to work at more than one legal entity, it is important to confirm who would actually be the employer, so the arrangement complies with state and federal labor regulations. 

One example of why this is important is workers’ compensation.  Per New York state law, if a worker sustains an injury on the job, that worker is covered by “comp,” and the employer is indemnified for (almost) any personal injury claim.  This protects both the employee (who gets some wage/salary continuance) and the employer (who generally does not face additional liability for the injury).  In a truly “shared” employee arrangement, with debatably two (or more) employers, the resulting ambiguity could result in a contested or denied coverage claim.

Another example of how a “dual employer” arrangement could be risky is revealed by  considering the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Under the ADA, employers are responsible for providing employees with reasonable accommodations for permanent and temporary disabilities; failure to do so can result in serious liability (and fines).  But with a “shared” worker, it can be tough to know who would have that responsibility…and be responsible for failing to follow the law.

There are many more reasons along these lines.

5.  Salary equity and benefits-related details

This is a critical one, because employees who are not treated equitably in comparison to other employees can have an array of legal claims.  Examples abound: If one library offers more paid time off than the other, how do the libraries offer the “shared” employee a fair and legally compliant arrangement?  If the libraries have different systems for evaluation and promotion, how does the employee advance?  If one library is found to be treating a particular class of employee unfairly, does that impact the other library?  While minimal staffing at the employing institutions might limit some of these concerns, even if there is one other part-time staffer to compare to, ambiguity could turn into liability.

6.  The actual legal relationship between the libraries and the “shared” employee

From the legal perspective, this is where the rubber hits the road.  For the reasons set out above (and many others), it would be almost impossible for both libraries be “joint,” employers: even if possible, it would likely be too risky.  But with another legal relationship, this resource-sharing might be feasible.

What is that “legal relationship?”  Well, it would depend, but the most feasible solution would likely be one library hiring an employee specifically to add to the capacity of other libraries.  In this model, there would be no “shared,” employment; rather, the first library would offer their employees as extra capacity on a contractual basis. 

In such a “Capacity Contract” scenario, money paid by the second (or third) library would not be a salary/benefit contribution, but rather, a fee for services (that happened to help pay for the salary and benefits of a full-time librarian).  The relationship would need to be carefully set out in a detailed contract and hiring documents that confirmed how any performance evaluation, employee discipline, civil rights, personal injury, and other claims would be handled.  And the factors I list above (starting with the identity of both libraries, and considering the various regulatory, bylaw, and policy obligations they have) would have to be assessed to see if it was even feasible.  Most critical would be: is adding to the capacity of others consistent with the hiring library’s plan of service?

With careful planning by leadership and trustees,[1]and input from an attorney and HR professional, this type of “shared” staffing could be built.  The end result would be:

  • a careful documented analysis of the relevant factors;
  • a carefully developed job description for the capacity-adding employee;
  • a contract between the library or system providing the additional resource and the library served. 
  • Hopefully, many more patrons served!

As I said at the beginning, this could be a fair amount of work.  But if it provides a small library with access to specific expertise and a diversity of talent it might otherwise not be able to afford, it could be worth it.  Just approach the details with care.

Thank you for this important question.

 


[1] In addition to those considerations, although it is not legal, I feel I must mention a quasi-political or strategic element. As we know, once taxpayers, municipal leadership, and other entities see cost-cutting, it is hard to close Pandora’s (newly efficient) box.  So while it is not a legal consideration, per say, being mindful of how any innovations in staffing efficiency will play out long-term is wise.  You don’t want a clever solution to become the tool of a permanent budget cut!

Tags: Management, Hiring Practices, Municipal Libraries

Topic: Time Off Benefit Policy - 10/16/2017
A member asks…[We] are switching to a Paid Time Off (PTO) model in 2018 and are looking for...
Posted: Tuesday, October 31, 2017 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

A member asks…[We] are switching to a Paid Time Off (PTO) model in 2018 and are looking for guidance on how to handle payout of the benefit when an employee terminates from employment. We would like to offer each employee their full yearly amount of PTO at the beginning of the calendar year (or start date of employment for new hires). However, we are concerned about the budget impact of having to pay out for every hour of PTO an employee has amassed in situations where employees terminate early in the year. As such, we are exploring a policy in where an employee receives all of their PTO hours at the beginning of the year and is free to use those days for time off. But if they terminate, they would only be paid out for a prorated amount of the PTO balance they have based on the number of hours they worked during the calendar year in which they terminated. Would such a system, if made clear in our Personnel Policy and not impacting any time accrued under a previous policy, be acceptable? Alternatively, would the Library be able to cap the amount of hours paid out upon termination to an amount we determine (35 hours/70 hours)? … Any feedback you could provide would be greatly appreciated. [Emphasis added] 

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Libraries are service-intensive environments, which means they depend on their employees to report to work. However, since so much depends on staff, libraries are also wise to give their employees the tools for self-care and a proper work-life balance. A PTO policy is a great way to facilitate this.

What is “PTO?” Put simply, PTO is a finite amount of paid time off work (scheduled or unscheduled), to be used for vacation, short illnesses, “mental health days,” or whatever else is needed (note: often, bereavement is excluded). By not dividing time off into distinct types, PTO enhances employee privacy and flexibility—while decreasing the administrative burden of tracking the type of time.

The increasing use of PTO also makes sense as the ADA, the FMLA, and the upcoming New York Paid Family Leave Act have changed the landscape of medically-related time off.

Before we get to the heart of the member’s question, let’s start with some crucial basics. Under NY labor law, employers must have a written policy (or policies) governing sick leave, vacation, personal leave, and holidays.1 Under that law, as governed by the policy, the value of these “wage supplements” must be paid out at termination.

That said, conditions can be put on the terms of these “supplements”; according to the DOL the amount of time that can be cashed out “depends upon the terms of the vacation and/or resignation policy.”

This guidance is backed up by case law: New York courts2 have held that the required policies about PTO can specify that employees lose accrued benefits if such loss is a condition of the policy.

Among other things, conditions in PTO policies may cover the following:

  • How PTO accrues (annual, or more incremental);

  • How eligibility and earned amounts are governed (for instance, part-time vs. full-time, or based on years of service);

  • How much PTO can be paid out at termination;

  • If eligibility for payout survives termination for misconduct;

  • How “scheduled” and “unscheduled” (sick, emergency meeting, etc.) PTO is granted;

  • If a certain amount of reasonable notice before quitting is required to get the payout;

  • If a restriction on the number of employees using PTO at once is needed (this is critical for service-intensive environments like libraries).

In addition, any transitional/new policy can (and should) expressly address already accrued wage supplements (for instance, converting any unused vacation to PTO, or paying it out). As the member shows sensitivity to in their question, the new policy should never nullify wage supplements already accrued.

So, here we are, at the heart of the member’s question: can the amount of PTO cashed out at termination be pro-rated based on the time of year the resignation happens? The answer is: Once given, PTO should not be clawed back based on a variable factors, even those factors are set out in the policy. However, the solution is just as the member posits (and as is listed in the third bullet, above): uniformly capping the amount to be paid out, and applying it without fail.3

IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION

Of course, developing a PTO policy does not happen in a vacuum. Aside from the recruitment, retention, and employee wellness objectives, a library considering transitioning to PTO needs to consider:

  • The nature of the library (public, private, part of a larger entity, etc.);

  • The bylaws and role of any board policy or committee (for instance, if there is a personnel or HR committee, this topic would be of interest to them);

  • Any union contracts or other contractual obligations at play;

  • The full suite of employee benefit policies, and the recruitment, development, and employee retention and compliance goals they serve;

  • The budget impact of any changes.

Once a library arrives at draft policy, prior to it being enacted, a lawyer should review the policy to ensure it is compliant, and works well with related legal obligations, contracts, policies and procedures. Further, it is ideal if the policy is reviewed by the treasurer, and/or the person preparing the budget, and/or the person who files any tax forms on behalf of the entity. I’m no accountant, but I know PTO is logged in a specific way on balance sheets, and it can have an impact on financial statements.

So once you have your draft PTO policy, invite your lawyer, your treasurer, and your accountant (there’s a joke in there somewhere, I know), over for a quick cup of coffee, and make sure everyone says you’re ready to launch!


1 Section 195.5 of the Labor Law states: Every employer shall notify his employees in writing or by publicly posting the employer's policy on sick leave, vacation, personal leave, holidays and hours.

2 [See Glenville Gage Company, Inc. v. Industrial Board of Appeals of the State of New York, Department of Labor, 70 AD2d 283 (3d Dept 1979) affd, 52 NY2d 777 (1980).]

3 PTO can also be given on a more incremental basis, but this nullifies some of the flexibility benefits it can bring. That said, the policy should consider when an employee first qualifies, and if starting employees get a pro-rated amount based on their start date.

Tags: Management, Policy, PTO, Vacation, and Leave, Employee Rights

Topic: Library's Facebook Page versus Staff Member's Facebook Page - 10/11/2017
We are struggling with a freedom of expression issue here at our library. When a staff member post...
Posted: Wednesday, October 11, 2017 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

We are struggling with a freedom of expression issue here at our library. When a staff member posts on his/her personal Facebook page something to do with the library, whether positive, negative, or neutral, what rights does the Library have, if any? We need to be able to differentiate the "official" library news, which gets posted by an administrator, from the library news that get posted/shared by a staff member on a personal Facebook account. Are there any legal issues surrounding this situation that we should be aware of as we begin to create our Public Relations policies?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

The lawyer answers…

This is an area that library leadership has to be very careful about. While the laws, regulations, and policies governing library employees vary (based on the type of the library, and the type of institution the library/archive might be part of), there is a growing body of case law ruling that employers may not discipline—or chill—employees’ use of social networking to comment about their work experience.

As but one example, a recent National Relations Board (NLRB) decision1 barred a company from using the following employee handbook provisions:

  • Prohibiting the posting of “embarrassing, insulting, demeaning or damaging information” about the employer, its products, customers or employees.

  • Barring discussion of all information gathered in conversations, emails, and meetings as “confidential and proprietary.”

  • Prohibiting employees from referencing or citing employer’s members, employees or vendors in social networking without their express consent.

  • Maintaining a rule in a “Social Networking Guideline” that prohibits the use of the employer’s name, logos or trademark without the employer’s consent.

Although the case cited is from a union environment, the NLRB has claimed jurisdiction for non-union workplaces where federal grant dollars fund operations2. And of course, municipal-owned libraries, who might not be subject to NLRB jurisdiction, have to worry about First Amendment concerns—a different but not less critical priority. This well-developed case-law means I can give a very brief, decisive reply to this question:

Policies related to employees’ personal social networking should be finalized with the input of legal counsel, who will help you consider the goals of the policy, to comply with the law. Once developed, such policies should be routinely assessed by your institution’s attorney.

That said, there are obviously many good reasons for a library to have a strong, distinct, and official presence on social networks—and the good news is that this can be accomplished by an approach that is more affirmative than proscriptive. The legal/operational tools of a strong social media presence are:

  • Well-established library trademarks (name and logo);

  • A domain name that matches the trademark name, if possible;

  • Consistent use of those marks for social media sites/posts;

  • An “official voice” (tone, style) for posts and content;

  • Selecting and updating the utility used (FB page, Twitter, etc.) to make sure the settings support the tone you want;

  • A consistent approach to hosting (or not allowing) community dialogue;

  • Well-established parameters, consistent with the library’s mission, for how and why the page is operated;

  • A person who has routine maintenance of the social media resources written into their job description or volunteer letter3 (and, if possible, at least one back-up person);

  • A strong internal policy, well-communicated to employees, that ties this all together. This policy should not reference personal social media.

By cultivating a strong social media presence, ancillary content by employees and volunteers, on their own personal pages, will be made less confusing. This is a tactic worth considering, because as shown above, restricting employees’ ability to discuss work via social media is fraught with legal risk.

The foresight and caution showed by this question is very wise, indeed!


1 NLRB Cases 16–CA–107721, 16–CA–120055, and 16–CA–120910 (July 15, 2016)

2 Hispanics United of Buffalo, Inc. and Carlos Ortiz. Case 03–CA–027872 (December 14, 2012). This case, a seminal decision in this line of case law, shows how these issues arise in day-to-day operations. It is written in plain language and is very instructive on this topic. The board decision can be found here.

 

3 If a volunteer does this, checking with your insurance carrier to make sure they are covered for the activity is a smart thing to do!

 

Tags: Social Media, Management

Year

0

2016 4

2017 24

2018 29

2019 42

2020 52

Topics

501c3 2

Academic Libraries 2

Accessibility 4

ADA 7

Association Libraries 1

Board of Trustees 4

Branding and Trademarks 1

Broadcasting 1

Budget 1

Circular 21 1

Contact tracing 1

CONTU 2

Copyright 69

COVID-19 36

CPLR 4509 3

Crafting 1

Criminal Activity 1

Data 2

Defamation 1

Derivative Works 3

Digital Access 9

Digital Exhibits 1

Digitization and Copyright 10

Disclaimers 3

Discrimination 1

Dissertations and Theses 1

DMCA 2

Donations 3

E-Books and Audiobooks 2

Ed Law 2-d 1

Education Law Section 225 1

Elections 2

Emergency Response 34

Employee Rights 7

Ethics 3

Executive Order 3

Fair Use 29

Fan Fiction 1

Fees and Fines 3

FERPA 5

First Amendment 1

First Sale Doctrine 3

Forgery and Fraud 1

Friends of the Library 1

Fundraising 1

Hiring Practices 1

Historic Markers 1

HRL 1

Identity Theft 1

IRS 1

Labor 3

Laws 18

LibGuides 1

Library Buildings 1

Library Programming and Events 7

Licensing 3

Local Organizations 1

Management 16

Meeting Room Policy 3

Microfilm 1

Movies 5

Municipal Libraries 4

Music 11

Newspapers 3

Omeka 1

Online Programming 11

Open Meetings Law 1

Oral Histories 1

Overdrive 1

Ownership 1

Parodies 1

Personnel Records 1

Photocopies 15

Policy 28

Preservation 2

Privacy 10

Property 3

PTO, Vacation, and Leave 1

Public Access 1

Public Domain 7

Public Health 1

Public Libraries 4

Public Officers Law 1

Public Records 2

Quarantine Leave 1

Reopening policies 4

Retention 3

Retirement 1

Ripping/burning 1

Safety 2

Salary 2

School Ballots 1

School Libraries 5

Section 108 2

Section 110 2

Section 1201 1

Security Breach 2

Sexual Harassment 2

SHIELD Act 2

Smoking or Vaping 2

Social Media 4

SORA 1

Story time 3

Streaming 12

SUNY 1

Swank Movie Licensing 3

Taxes 4

Teachers Pay Teachers 1

Telehealth 1

Textbooks 3

Umbrella Licensing 2

VHS 4

Voting 1

W3W 1

WAI 1

Yearbooks 2

Zoom 1

The WNYLRC's "Ask the Lawyer" service is available to members of the Western New York Library Resources Council. It is not legal representation of individual members.