RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Proof of vaccination from employees - 03/01/2021
We are a large (100-employee) school district public library. We are currently encouraging and edu...
Posted: Monday, March 1, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

We are a large (100-employee) school district public library. We are currently encouraging and educating employees on getting vaccinated, but not (yet) *requiring* vaccinations. We are providing employees with up to 4 hours of paid time off to obtain the vaccine voluntarily--if their vaccine appointment occurs during hours/days when they would otherwise be scheduled and working for us--and requiring proof of vaccination if this paid time off is used.

My question has to do with requiring or requesting proof of vaccination for employees who get vaccinated during their "off hours" and opt not to use this specific paid time off type. Can or should be asking for proof of vaccination from *all* employees, so that we can have some sense of how many employees have been vaccinated, if that is to somehow figure into any decisions we might need to make re: staffing and proximity to others, or any considerations for the possible liability of "direct threat" to others by those who either choose not to get vaccinated, or are awaiting vaccination eligibility?

If it is desirable or permissible for us to obtain proof of vaccination universally, should compliance by the employee be optional/voluntary or compulsory?

If we can obtain proof from everyone, I assume that this should be handled by HR (me) in the typical manner of any confidential medical information. But how do (or can) I share specifics on who has been vaccinated (versus who has not) with others, such as supervisors and managers? They might wish to know details in order to schedule staff accordingly. But at the same time, I would be leery of divulging such information, out of concerns for maintaining employee confidentiality, possible discrimination by unwitting supervisors, etc. I might be more inclined to/comfortable with reporting general numbers--i.e., of 100 employees, 29 have been vaccinated to date--than to share employee-specific details, but am not sure if that would be helpful, or really what information *is* helpful for employers to track and report on internally where vaccination status of staff is concerned.

This is an invaluable service. Thank you for your consideration of my questions and for any guidance you can give!

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Over and over again, I am floored by the care, tenacity, and creativity of the libraries determined to provide services in a time of pandemic.  New York's libraries just don't give up.  This question shows the mechanics of that fighting spirit.

So much of what we do in this pandemic comes back to why we are doing things in this pandemic.  For many libraries, the "why" of offering services is making sure their communities have lifelines to professionally curated information.

For this question, the "why" of asking for proof of vaccination is right there in the submission's core:

... so that we can have some sense of how many employees have been vaccinated, if that is to somehow figure into any decisions we might need to make re: staffing and proximity to others, or any considerations for the possible liability of "direct threat" to others by those who either choose not to get vaccinated, or are awaiting vaccination eligibility?

Let's take that "direct threat" part first.

Back on March 19, 2020, we addressed a question about employer (library) liability due to Coronavirus exposure.  Although much has changed since that time (we have vaccines), the basic recipe for liability has not changed: liability happens when a person/entity owes a duty of care to a person, does not perform that duty, and the failure results in damage.

Because if this recipe, it is essential for libraries to always know what "duty of care" they owe their workers, and their community.

In a pandemic, evolving data and resulting best practices can change the "duty of care" rapidly (No masks? One mask? Two?).

While many resources are aggregating and pushing out up-to-the-minute guidance on "best practices," there are only three places libraries in the State of New York should be drawing their duty of care practices directly from: the New York State Department of Health ("NYSDOH"), the Centers for Disease Control ("CDC"), and the Occupational Hazard and Safety Administration ("OSHA").

Right now, as of this writing, OSHA's 1/29/2021 workplace guidance[1] for mitigating the impact of COVID-19 lists 16 "elements" of an effective COVID protection program.  Here is what OSHA recommends about using awareness of vaccination status of employees:

Not distinguishing between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not: Workers who are vaccinated must continue to follow protective measures, such as wearing a face covering and remaining physically distant, because at this time, there is not evidence that COVID-19 vaccines prevent transmission of the virus from person-to-person. The CDC explains that experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before deciding to change recommendations on steps everyone should take to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

So right now, the "duty of care" set out by OSHA expressly excludes relying on vaccination status to reduce the spread of the virus.  Rather, it focuses on providing and insisting on appropriate PPE.

That said, in the same guidance, OSHA continues to recommend allowing employees who self-identify as medically vulnerable to swap tasks to limit risk:

Offer vulnerable workers duties that minimize their contact with customers and other workers (e.g., restocking shelves rather than working as a cashier), if the worker agrees to this.

This means if a person, relying on their vaccination status, decides to not self-identify as medically vulnerable, the employer is not advised to offer them contact-minimizing duties.

There are other steps on the current OSHA list that the member is already doing.  By enabling the use of PTO for vaccination, they are following the guidance in element "14":

Making a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all eligible employees. Provide information and training on the benefits and safety of vaccinations.

This guidance, I imagine, will evolve.  That evolution should be reflected in revised Safety Plans.

And with that said, let's answer the member's specific questions:

Can or should be asking for proof of vaccination from *all* employees, so that we can have some sense of how many employees have been vaccinated, if that is to somehow figure into any decisions we might need to make re: staffing and proximity to others, or any considerations for the possible liability of "direct threat" to others by those who either choose not to get vaccinated, or are awaiting vaccination eligibility?
 

Based on the current OSHA guidance, along with guidance from the EEOC, the answer to this is "yes," and then "no."  Yes, an employer can ask for proof of vaccination (whether acquired on PTO or off-hours).[2]  No, right now, it should not be used for assignment of duties[3] or with the idea of reducing possible liability.

Here is the member's follow-up question:

If it is desirable or permissible for us to obtain proof of vaccination universally, should compliance by the employee be optional/voluntary or compulsory?

Based on the current OSHA guidance, along with guidance from the EEOC, right now does not seem like the time to rely on vaccination status and data to make determinations about workplace risk management and safety.  So while requiring a notification of vaccination status may be permissible, it does not appear desirable if its purpose is to mitigate concerns about liability.

If, however, the motivation is to verify that the library is effectively encouraging the most employees possible to get vaccinated—simply for the employees' own personal health and safety—then yes, tracking those metrics (and any non-disability factors barring vaccinations) might not only be permissible, but desirable. In that case, the question is: does the information need to be tied directly to a particular employee, or is it just as meaningful if anonymous?

Which brings us to the member's last question:

But how do (or can) I share specifics on who has been vaccinated (versus who has not) with others, such as supervisors and managers?...I would be leery of divulging such information, out of concerns for maintaining employee confidentiality...

This HR manager knows their stuff!

First, yes: no matter what, never create a risk of trampling on employees' privacy.

Second: Right now, it appears that sharing such information is unnecessary.

In a December 18th, 2020 "Ask the Lawyer," I stated that a vaccine requirement should only be implemented if it is part of a well-thought-out, board-approved Safety Plan.  Right now, it appears that no Safety Plan should rely on a vaccine requirement to reduce transmission of the virus.  With that in mind, right now, it appears the safest course of action –both COVID-wise, and legally—is to encourage vaccination, but not require it, and if a library tracks it, only do it for purposes of encouraging more employee vaccinations (or finding out you've hit close to 100%).

Of course, here we are on February 26, 2021.  If you are reading this in March, or April, or that sunny, warmer time in the future, May and beyond[4], this answer might no longer apply.

Keep checking with NYSDOH, with the CDC, and of course, with OSHA.  At some point, requiring vaccination—or allocating duties by vaccination status—could become something expected of an employer.  If that happens, a library's "duty of care" could change, altering the threshold for liability, and the answer to these questions could shift—some subtly, some not-so-subtly. 

But we have had a lot of twists and turns in the Pandemic.  That "shift" may or may not happen.[5]  As I often say at my office, "the only plan we can make is that the plan will change."  And how do you plan for that?  By doing what this member has done: keeping employees' well-being and safety at the forefront, and adapting every time the data and guidance change. 

If your library does that, you'll be as safe as you can be.  And mitigate your liability.

 

Thank you for a thoughtful question.

 



[1] Posted as of February 26, 2021 at https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safework.

[2] This answer is found on the EEOC site at https://www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-and-ada-rehabilitation-act-and-other-eeo-laws as of 2/26/2021.  "K.3. Is asking or requiring an employee to show proof of receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination a disability-related inquiry? (12/16/20) No.  There are many reasons that may explain why an employee has not been vaccinated, which may or may not be disability-related.  Simply requesting proof of receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination is not likely to elicit information about a disability and, therefore, is not a disability-related inquiry.  ...  If an employer requires employees to provide proof that they have received a COVID-19 vaccination from a pharmacy or their own health care provider, the employer may want to warn the employee not to provide any medical information as part of the proof in order to avoid implicating the ADA."

[3] Remember, if the employee uses vaccination status to self-identify as vulnerable, such information can be considered by the library reactively (and confidentially).  For more on that, see the "Ask the Lawyer" from January 19, 2021.

[4] Garden time!  Can you tell I can't wait to get into the dirt?  It always feels so distant, this time of year.

[5] As OSHA says, more research is required.

Tags: COVID-19, COVID-19 Vaccine, Emergency Response, Employee Rights, Policy, Public Health, Public Libraries

Topic: Archival materials, Privacy, and FERPA - 02/26/2021
My institution has a small number of documents in our archives related to previous graduate studen...
Posted: Friday, February 26, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

My institution has a small number of documents in our archives related to previous graduate students. Some are definitely educational records (transcripts, field placement evaluations). Then there are a) letters of recommendation received by the school or written by school faculty/administrators and sent to other schools, b) some correspondence between a student and the school/administration, and other items like c) copies of images or articles from student publications.

The documents span decades.   Most --- but not all--- of these former students are confirmed deceased. Most items in this small group of documents relate to alumni who were/are notable, but in widely varying degrees.

A few of these documents concern a famous alum, who passed away.  An outside researcher is asking about the documents related to that alum, and unfortunately, there are no surviving institutional access policies related to student records or unpublished correspondence in our archives. We want to respect copyright, FERPA, and the alum's estate.

For the educational records, I can't find clear guidance on how long FERPA access restrictions last, but other academic collections seem to allow access 50-75 years after the former student's death.

So, a few questions:

1) When should on-site access to historical educational records be allowed (if ever), with reference to FERPA? What about providing copies of historical educational records?
 

2) When should on-site access to unpublished, non-educational records related to former students be allowed, in reference to state and federal copyright and privacy laws, and possibly FERPA? What about providing copies of these documents?
 

3) Should we take a more risk-averse approach to high-profile alumni materials, or should our policies apply equally to all alums?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

I am always fascinated by the transformation documents can undergo, simply by operation of law, circumstance, or time.  For instance:

  • Documents that are "education records" under FERPA can become simply "records," or "nothing" once the person to whom they pertain has died.[1]
  • Documents that are "private information" under New York's new(ish) SHIELD Act[2] are no longer controlled by the Act if the digital copy is swapped for a copy on paper.
  • Documents that use the "name and likeness" of a deceased performer, currently allowed, will be far more restricted when New York's new Civil Rights Law 50-f, which requires written permission for certain commercial uses, goes into effect on May 29th, 2021.[3]

And of course, documents can be "in" copyright, and "out" of copyright, or restricted due to medical content, or under terms of non-disclosure...restrictions that can shift based on any number of factors. 

An educational institution considering levels of access and use of student-related documents[4] has to consider not only these legal factors, but their unique policies.  Factor in fame,[5] and the stakes get even higher. 

Because of that complexity, I could muse/write/talk on this topic for hours.  But let's focus on the member’s specific questions:

1) When should on-site access to historical educational records be allowed (if ever), with reference to FERPA? What about providing copies of historical educational records?


If a former student is not deceased, there can be NO release of FERPA-protected education records to otherwise barred parties without written, dated consent.

If the former student is known to be deceased—or the passage of time suggests they might be deceased—then the records are no longer protected by FERPA, and that restriction no longer applies.

But as the member points out, there are other considerations.

2) When should on-site access to unpublished, non-educational records related to former students be allowed, in reference to state and federal copyright and privacy laws, and possibly FERPA? What about providing copies of these documents?
 

This is an interesting question because unless the records we're talking about ("related to former students") only contain "directory information,”[6] then they are by definition "education records" under FERPA.[7]  That is because the FERPA is intentionally expansive.  So old bills, dusty admissions files, and antiquated (but often fascinating) "administrative" records, although not "educational," per se, are still barred from release by FERPA if they relate directly to a student.[8]

BUT, as this question implies, FERPA isn't the only thing that could bar or restrict access to old records.  Copyright, privacy laws, and general prudence are all good reasons to not release institutional records unless there is a policy and process for doing so (like a policy for sending transcripts to future employers), or your institution is compelled to release them (like a judicial order or subpoena).

So, while a student will always have access to their records under FERPA, both former students and third parties should by default be barred from access or obtaining copies to records they are not entitled to.

Which brings us to:

3) Should we take a more risk-averse approach to high-profile alumni materials, or should our policies apply equally to all alums?

Many, but not all, educational institutions have internal archives—not formal "Archives" they hold in trust for the public (like the W.E.B. DuBois papers at University of Massachusetts),[9] but rather, materials they regard as important pieces of their institution's history and identity, so deliberately retain.

For some, this may be a complex and far-reaching catalog of institutional history.  For others, it may be simply hanging onto every program for every graduation ceremony.  And of course, for many, it will be special handling of any material that is related to famous or noteworthy alumnae.

Whether formal and well-funded, or informal and not funded,[10] every educational institution's internal archive should have a policy that covers: 1) that the archive exists to transition material from "records" into "archives;" 2) how those materials are selected; 3) how those archival materials are to be preserved; 4) how the archival materials are used and accessed internally; 5) how the archival materials are used and accessed externally; 6) the ethical standards and institutional values being applied in the overall operation of the archive. [11]

If an educational institution has in-house records of such magnitude that they warrant being their own archive (for instance, the Eqbal Ahmad papers at Hampshire College), yes, the development of that archive could warrant its own separate policy.  In that case, unique care would have to be taken to consider not only FERPA, but privacy laws, copyright (the author of an admissions letter is the copyright owner of that admissions letter...not the institution the letter was sent to, even if the institution retains the only physical copy).  

All that said, the end result need not be "risk-averse," so much as "risk-informed:" carefully assessing all the compliance concerns and risks,[12] how does an institution create an archive that suits its stated purpose and conforms to institutional ethics?  Until an institution is confident it has reached the right answer, access to third parties should not be granted, and only need-to-know access should be granted to those within the institution. 

I would like to thank the member for this question, it is a good one.  And I think we may have reached a new milestone at "Ask the Lawyer"—a reply where the footnotes are as long as the reply!

Thanks.  I wish you a well-resourced and culturally rich archive, and continue positive alumnae relations.

 

 


[1] See letter of LeRoy Rooker, Director, Family Policy Compliance Office, U.S. Department of Education letter of Date, found at https://studentprivacy.ed.gov/sites/default/files/resource_document/file/LettertoConnecticutStateArchivistRegardingEducationRecordsMay2008.pdf as of February 10, 2021, re-affirming "that the FERPA rights of “eligible students” lapse or expire upon the death of the student based on common law of privacy rights."

[2] Text for this law can be found at: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/s5575.

[3] I am writing this on February 10, 2021. 

[4] This "Ask the Lawyer" answer does not address the issue of yearbook photos and student-generated art or academic work.  For that, see https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/108 and https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/91.

[5] What is "fame?"  It's a notion that is taking odd journeys these days.  As I said in footnote #3, I am writing this on February 10, 2021.  Jockeying with the impeachment proceedings for "fame" on the cover of today's digital New York Times: an article about a lawyer who appeared in virtual court as a cat.  I bet he can't wait for his 15 minutes to be over.

[6] "Directory information" includes, but is not limited to, the student's name; address; telephone listing; electronic mail address; photograph; date and place of birth; major field of study; grade level; enrollment status (e.g., undergraduate or graduate, full-time or part-time); dates of attendance; participation in officially recognized activities and sports; weight and height of members of athletic teams; degrees, honors, and awards received; and the most recent educational agency or institution attended.

[7] Here is the actual definition: "...those records that are: (1) Directly related to a student; and (2) Maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution."

[8] There are exceptions to this, of course...one big one being the records of campus police.

[9] I value this archive because it has letters between W.E.B. DuBois and Mary Talbert, a Buffalo resident who was a stalwart organizer for civil rights and, on the side, historic preservation (she led the effort to save the house of Frederick Douglass).  I read her letters when I need a shot of pragmatic inspiration.

[10] Some "archives" exist because some wonderful employee couldn't bear to see institutional history thrown out, and they got permission to buy some boxes and put the "archives" in the storage closet. 

[11] The "Ask the Lawyer" from November 4, 2020 has more about ethical considerations for archival projects: https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/178.

[12] For this question, "risk" is not just legal risk, but relational and reputational risk, too.  After all, it might be legal to share a harsh evaluation from a thesis committee related to the work of a long-dead student...but is there value in doing it?  (Of course, there might be).  Knowing why something is in the archive, and having full confidence in that reason, is just as important as preserving the record in the first place.

Tags: Academic Libraries, Archives, Copyright, Digitization and Copyright, FERPA, Privacy

Topic: Online posting of area drone pictures - 02/23/2021
One of our member libraries has asked me the following question: "We'd like to create ...
Posted: Tuesday, February 23, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

One of our member libraries has asked me the following question:

"We'd like to create an online catalog of drone pictures of our area. What do we need to consider? We know people are posting these pictures on Facebook, and we'd like to request permission to collect them all in a catalog on our website. Please let me know any technical issues or legalities we need to keep in mind. I think it's a good idea, but I don't know exactly how to implement it."

Are drone pictures copyright free as they are in other people's properties and cover large areas? Is it legal to post drone pictures without permission?

Thanks for any thoughts on this topic!

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

This is a cool idea—aggregating and cataloging drone shots.   Someone fifty years from now will be very, very grateful for that type of work!

But as the member points out, there could be some technical or legal issues, namely: copyright, privacy, and security.  How does the library make sure none of those concerns negatively impact the project?

Let's take those in order.

Legal Concern: Copyright

This one is pretty simple: with one exception, the copyrights to pictures taken by a drone are owned by the operator(s) of the camera, who usually (but not always) is the same person/people flying the drone.  They are never the property of the area photographed (unless the property owner is also the photographer).

What is the "one exception" to that ownership?  If the photographer is taking the drone images as part of their regular job,[1] the copyright will belong to their employer (for example: if the drone shot was taken by the photographer to illustrate a story in a newspaper).[2]

Once the library establishes the copyright owner, the only copyright-related impediment to including the images in the catalog would be if the owner had sold the copyright, or given someone else "an exclusive license," since that would mean they could no longer license the images to your library.  Other than those complications, with the right agreement,[3] permission and use should be simple.

 

Legal Concern: Privacy & Security

The "copyright" section, above, is fairly simple.  Things are a bit more complex when it comes to privacy and security.

There is a huge array of drone-shot content that I could see risking a violation of privacy or a threat to security.  Here are the most common I could rattle off at a cocktail party:

  • The risk of the images being the result of "Unlawful Surveillance,"[4] which is an “E” Felony in the state of New York.  "Unlawful Surveillance” is (among other things) taking a picture of a person dressing (or undressing) in a place where that person has a “reasonable expectation of privacy” (and they haven't agreed to pose for the picture);[5]
  • The risk of the images being a violation of a person's "right of publicity,"[6] which is using someone's image for commercial purposes without their written authorization.  For instance, if the images were found on a site where they were being used for a commercial purpose.
  • The risk of the images being the result of, or evidence of, trespass, harassment, and other criminal law violations that could result from a person deploying a drone over a residence, business, or area near an airport.

In addition to my "rattle it off" list, I did some research.  If we leave out the restrictions of reconnaissance and targeting drones, there is one other drone-related “no-no” to be wary of:

  • The risk that the images are the result of harassing sea otters.[7]

In most of these concerns, it is not the act of including the images in the catalog that would be the legal issue--but rather, that the images themselves could be proof of a legal violation.  We’ll address that more in the last section.

 

Legal Concern: FAA-restricted Areas

The Federal Aviation Administration’s rules for academic, hobbyist and other forms of non-military drone use are here:

https://www.faa.gov/uas/public_safety_gov/media/FAA_UAS-PO_LEA_Guidance.pdf

I won't re-hash them, but the FAA does not bar taking pictures—just flying at certain locations and times.[8]  However, all operators--whether hobbyists or professionals--have to avoid certain areas at certain times. 

The FAA maintains a list of those areas, as well as a list of designated recreational UAS flight zones, available here:

https://www.faa.gov/uas/recreational_fliers/where_can_i_fly/airspace_restrictions/

This was so cool, I looked up my part of the state:

FAA UAS Data Map of Western New York.

And now I know where not to fly the drone I don’t own.

 

Sample License for Use of Drone Pictures

Once you have confirmed that any drone shots your library would like to use are not: the result of or evidence of a crime, taken in forbidden air space,[9] or otter harassment, here is a sample license for securing permission to include them in an online catalog:

 

IRREVOCABLE, NON-EXCLUSIVE LICENSE

[NAME] ("Photographer"), an individual residing at [ADDRESS], and at least 18 years of age, hereby gives the [NAME LIBRARY] (the "Library") an irrevocable, non-exclusive, transferable license to use an image entitled [TITLE], a copy of which is attached hereto as "A" (the "Image"). The permission to use the Image includes unlimited use in any format now existing or later developed.

Photographer represents and warrants that the Image is their original work and that to the best of their ability to determine the rights of no individual or entity were violated by the creation of the Image.

In consideration of the rights granted herein, Library shall at all times credit Photographer with authorship and ownership of the photo as follows: This image is © [NAME], [YEAR], and is used by the [NAME LIBRARY] with permission from the photographer, who may be reached at [email address].

 

Signed by Photographer: _________________________.

 

Signed on behalf of the Library: ___________________________.

 

A Final Word on Getting "Permission"

This question was pre-packaged to consider issues of permission/legal concern related to images generated via drone, so I have structured it to give primary consideration of those issues.

However, I would be remiss if I didn't stress that when assembling an archive or image collection, worries about permission shouldn't always be a threshold consideration.

Why is that?  If a library or archive crafts the parameters of an image catalog around the purpose of that catalog—around why it is important to gather a certain type of content, within a certain range of criteria—permission might not even be necessary. 

Concerns about permission and legality should not prevent the assembly of a resource that has academic, documentary, or investigative value.[10]  And the more a collection or archive is shaped as a documentary, academic, or investigatory endeavor, the less the subject matter and content can pose legal concerns...or rather, the more protections[11] the project will be able to avail itself of.

Taking advantage of those exemptions starts with having a very clear scope for your project, a written set of ethics, and a statement of purpose for the endeavor. [12]

My takeaway in this final part of the answer?   If your project is of academic, historical, or social value, don't let lack of permission be a roadblock.  Instead, just like the member does in this question, set up a clear scope for your project, and then tackle any reservations head-on.  This will lay the groundwork for a strong archive or catalog.

 

Posterity will thank you.



[1] Head Photographer at "Drone Shot Weekly?"

[2] Here is the FAA guidance on media use of drones for newsgathering: https://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/agc/practice_areas/regulations/interpretations/Data/interps/2015/Williams-AFS-80%20-%20(2015)%20Legal%20Interpretation.pdf.  It’s interesting: even if using a small drone, such use doesn’t qualify for the “hobby” exception, and the drone should be registered.

[3] Do you need the “right agreement?” See the section of the answer called "Sample Agreement" for an example.

[4] NY Penal Law 250.45

[5] JUST TO BE CLEAR: I have 100% confidence that if a library comes across a creeper nude drone shot, they will not include it in an online catalog!  I am just being thorough.

[6] New York Civil Rights Law Section 50.

[7] Per 50 CFR 18.137: "Unmanned aerial systems or drones must not cause take by harassment of sea otters. Measures for avoidance of take may be required in an LOA, and may include maintaining a minimum altitude and horizontal distance no less than 100 m away from otters, conducting continuous visual monitoring by PSOs, and ceasing activities in response to sea otter behaviors indicating any reaction to drones."

[8] Thank you, THANK YOU to the member who sent this question.  Because of you, I got to read the FAA's guidance to local law enforcement for drone-related incidents, which includes this practical guidance "NOTE: Battery life is typically 20 to 30 minutes." 

[9] By the way, it might not be precisely forbidden for your library to post such images, just as a newspaper or academic publisher might reproduce them for purposes of news or scholarship.  But since those categories come with some higher risks (particularly of being told to cease and desist), it is wise to consider consistency with the purpose and ethics of your archive before including them.

[10] I am not saying to not consider them...just don't let them be project-killers.

[11] Such as fair use, journalism privileges, and recognition of the non-commercial nature of the use.

[12] Links to further "Ask the "Lawyer" content on this specific consideration (ethics as a key component to rock-solid archives) are here: https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/172 and https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/178.

Tags: Archives, Copyright, Ethics, Laws, Privacy, Property

Topic: Removal of Trustee From Board - 2/19/2021
Our board meetings are now 100% remote, and one trustee has failed to attend every session since t...
Posted: Friday, February 19, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Our board meetings are now 100% remote, and one trustee has failed to attend every session since the start of the pandemic.  How can our board address that, if we know the move to virtual meetings (unfamiliarity with Zoom, bad internet, etc.) is the reason for the absence?  Is removal an option?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Earlier this week I was having a conversation with Brian, one of my paralegals, about the challenges we—our office and our clients—are facing due to the pandemic.  The conversation ranged from the personal (Brian is a musician whose band hasn't been able to play; my father-in-law is in the hospital and we can't go see him), to the professional (how to handle a contract breached because people can’t gather to do the work).  We concluded, in a very non-scientific way, that everything—whether it used to be easy, or was only a little bit difficult—is now "at least 30% harder" than before.[1]

On the flip side, later that day, I spoke via Zoom with a friend about how the increased reliance on Zoom, FB Live, and other virtual fora has done wonders for democracy.  "People are going to meetings they could never get to before," said my friend. "People who would never have had time to get to City Hall, or would have faced actual physical barriers to getting in a building,[2] are now able to attend."  And I optimistically thought: Cool...one thing that isn't 30% harder.

But these current times are not kind to optimists, and this question shows that, for some, even the Zoom-ification of democracy might make life at least 30% harder. 

And with that harsh reality established, let's take a look at the legal considerations of this question.

I.  Meetings during COVID

As "Ask the Lawyer" has addressed a few times[3] since the onset of NY's response to the pandemic,[4] chartered libraries are obligated to conduct their board meetings in compliance with the "Open Meetings Law (the “OML”). When New York went into social-distancing mode, the requirements of that law were modified by Executive Order to allow people to attend remotely, or through a blend of in-person and remote solutions.[5]

The New York Committee on Open Government (the "COOG") addressed some of the practical considerations of these modifications in guidance issued on August 20, 2020.  In that opinion, the COOG stated that if a body subject to the OML resumed meeting in person while the executive orders allowing the modifications were effective, a remote attendance alternative must be provided.[6]  As of this writing, modification is good through February 26, 2021.

 

II.  Attendance as a Trustee During COVID

The Executive Orders and COOG guidance clearly require enabling attendance through remote measures.  What the executive orders and COOG[7] guidance are silent on is the scenario posed by the member: if a library board and community have transitioned to meeting 100% virtually, and one trustee, due to the technology, isn't able to attend, is the board able to address that under the law?[8]

I have found no guidance precisely on point, but below is my legal analysis, and what I hope will be helpful guidance.

 

III.  Analysis

Library trustee service is governed by the laws of New York and a library's enabling legislation, charter, bylaws, and policies (in that order).  Aside from customized provisions in a charter, bylaws or policy, the law has two means of addressing serial trustee absence:

Means #1: "Unexcused Absence"

Per Section 226(4) of the Education Law,[9] trustees who are absent for three consecutive meetings without a "satisfactory excuse" for missing the meeting are "deemed to have resigned."  That is why, when a trustee lets a board know that they are unable to attend a meeting (virtual or otherwise), and they don’t show up, they are noted on the minutes as "excused," since to do otherwise could put the trustee on a path of resignation-by-law.[10]

Many NY library bylaws have this language in them, but it is not required...since it's in the law.  But what isn't in the law is what a board can regard as a "satisfactory" excuse. Is the excuse of a trustee who can't attend remotely, due entirely to technology, "acceptable"?  Only a board can say.  In a very rural community, it might be.  In a highly wired urban area with free wi-fi, where a trustee could perhaps even borrow some library technology to attend the meeting, it might not. So long as the reason is not discriminatory,[11] and not contrary to the bylaws or being unfairly applied, a board has some discretion in what type of reason they are "satisfied" by.

But I can say this: if the absences aren't noted as "unexcused" on the board minutes, a board should not contemplate this as a basis for implied resignation, since the law is clear that this must be based on absence that is unexcused.

Means #2: "Neglect of Duty"

The other statutory basis for removal of a trustee is found in Section 226 (8) of the Education Law: "Removals and Suspensions,” which states that a board may:

“Remove or suspend from office by a vote of a majority of the entire board any trustee, officer or employee engaged under special contract, on examination and due proof of the truth of a written complaint by any trustee, of misconduct, incapacity or neglect of duty; provided, that at least one week’s previous notice of the proposed action shall have been given to the accused and to each trustee."

As you can see, this section (a provision often replicated in library bylaws) creates a more intricate process than Section 226(4): it requires a written complaint, advance notice, and a majority vote of trustees to confirm a removal. 

To use this provision to address nothing more than repeated absence due to technical issues is probably overkill, unless the board finds that the mounting excuses—while perhaps initially acceptable—are causing real harm to the library or the operations of the board.  Before resorting to this step, it is always good for a board president or other leader to have a conversation with a board member and ask if they would like to offer their resignation (for some, this request may come as a relief).[12]

That said, a "neglect of duty" removal doesn't have to be hostile.  It can simply state that a trustee has failed to attend X number of meetings, has been unable to fulfill their duty as a trustee, and that to ensure the board has the benefit of a fully participating body, the board must consider removal. Give proper notice of the “complaint,” make sure the trustee has a chance to be heard, and vote.

 

IV.  Guidance

So: Is removal an option?

Yes, removal is an option, but as can be seen, when considering such removal, a board should pay close attention to the documentation that it is basing its decision upon.

I am very glad the member who submitted this question is being so thoughtful about this.  It is clear from the law, the pandemic-related Executive Orders, and the COOG guidance, that it is the public policy of the State of New York to encourage attendance and access to library trustee meetings, even during difficult times. 

While trustees have a different set of rights and obligations than the general public, an effort to orchestrate meetings to be free of pandemic-created impediments to trustee participation is clearly within the spirit, if not the letter of the law. To that end, if a library is open and if it has a Safety Plan that could allow a capacity-limited physical component of a virtual board meeting (perhaps set up in the room where the trustees used to meet, if possible under the Safety Plan), it is worth considering allowing trustees to attend in that manner—even if the rest of the trustees appear virtually. 

But to be clear: that is not what the law requires.  And if everything feels at least 30% harder these days, every library needs every trustee to be giving 100%.  So, if steps need to be taken to ensure a board has its full capacity of engaged trustees, just double-check your bylaws and documentation, and do what's best for the library.

Thanks for a difficult but very important question.

 



[1] I have heard people used "B.P." as in, "Before Pandemic."  "Pre-COVID" and "pre-pandemic" are also used.  I have floated "ante-Corona," because it sounds so grandiose, but I can't get it to stick.

[2] My friend is an architect, so they tend to see the world in design terms.

[4] "P-Day?" 

[5] The latest extension of this modification is valid until February 26, 2021 per Executive Order 202.92.

[6] What the Executive Director wrote was: "In my opinion, if a public body can possibly anticipate that any persons who may wish to attend a meeting governed by the provisions of the Open Meetings Law cannot be safely physically accommodated in the proposed meeting location ... that public body is required to simulcast to the public, by either video or audio means, the proceedings of the meeting as they are occurring so that all members of the public who wish to “attend” may do so."

[7] Full disclosure: this acronym is a constant test of my maturity level.

[8] For purposes of this scenario, I am accepting the premise that not even attendance via LAN line is possible; something that is certainly feasible in our cord-cutting, cell-reliant society.  Further, I have never seen bylaws that require a trustee to own a computer, or even a phone (you usually just have to be 18 and live in the area of service!).

[9] "If any trustee shall fail to attend three consecutive meetings without excuse accepted as satisfactory by the trustees, he shall be deemed to have resigned, and the vacancy shall be filled."  Please pardon the implication by pronoun "he" that only a male trustee can be subject to this law; I don't write the law, I just research, construe, and quote it. 

[10] Short note for all you minute-takers out there: this is why noting those “excused” and “unexcused” absences is so important.

[11] For instance, if board meetings are always held on Friday night, and the board doesn't excuse the absence of someone who keeps the Jewish sabbath.

[12] I appreciate that if the trustee is truly inaccessible by computer/phone, this might be cumbersome.

Tags: Board of Trustees, COVID-19, Emergency Response

Topic: Follow-up question to heavy smells in library policy - 02/10/2021
In reviewing your response to a question on Nov 17, 2020 from an adjunct library science professor...
Posted: Wednesday, February 10, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

In reviewing your response to a question on Nov 17, 2020 from an adjunct library science professor, your advice is to create a "smell free zone" in the library for those patrons bothered by another person's odor. Your reply, however, does not address staff who are complaining as well about a patron's body odor. Often, the staff take the complaining patron's side. Often, the odiferous patron is a regular patron who spends hours at the library often on the Internet where PC workstations are relatively close to each other. Yes, I can tell staff it is part of their job to deal with it but often that results in a demoralized angry staff- not something I want to cultivate.
Thank you in advance! This column is very helpful!

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

I am glad the column is helpful, but this issue really shows the limits of the law!

Before I say what I mean, I need to emphasize three things:

1. State and federal law often protects employees who complain about "working conditions."[1] Since an odor is a "working condition," no matter what position a library takes on "bad" smell (barring it as a disturbance, allowing it as a matter of mission, or a solution somewhere in between), leadership should carefully listen to employees' concerns.

2. While my November 17th answer mused there are several compelling reasons to opt for a more inclusive solution (like use of a "scent free" zone), I want to re-emphasize: that is not what the law requires.  Rather, the law requires that people not be barred from library access on the basis of disability or protected characteristics.  Since that is a slippery slope, not barring people on the basis of smell (or using a "scent free zone") is a good way to stay in a legally safe zone. 

But barring disturbing odors, if done carefully, is still allowed by law.

3.  Although I imagine that the member submitting the question didn't mean "taking sides" literally, because it is so critical, I have to say: library employees should never perceptibly "take sides" with one patron against another patron, even if they privately agree that a patron's odor is off-putting.[2]  This is because if access is going to be limited, the library must be able to show fair and equitable treatment.  An employee with a concern, of course, can take it directly (and discretely) to their supervisor.

 

So with all that said...

From the legal perspective, the key on the employee side of the "smell" issue is to listen to employees' bona fide concerns about their working conditions.  This is true whether your library decides to bar certain smells as "distractions," or to find creative ways that, ultimately, might expose an employee to an unwelcome smell.  Above all, whatever approach is taken, it should be clearly set out in a written policy, and decisions under that policy should be well-documented.  And to address concerns like the one raised by the member, to the greatest extent possible, the policy should be written with the input of employees, who should also be trained on how to work with it.

But that said...

Does this mean some employees, believing their library should have a more inclusive policy, might have to enforce a restrictive policy?  Yes.

Does this mean some employees, not liking their library's more inclusive policy, may have to work near a person whose smell they do not like?  Yes.

This is what I mean by "the limits of the law."  The law can help libraries foster positive working conditions and employee morale—to a point.  After that, it is down to leadership, well-developed polices, and good employee relations.

This is why people often like their HR director more than their lawyer!



[1] I don't mean employees are entitled to complain all day every day; an employer can require complaints to be conveyed in a way that does not unduly burden productivity.  But if an employee is expressing a bona fide concern (it's too cold/it smells/these computers don't work) the National Labor Relations Board has found such expressions to be protected activity.

[2] This is a tough one.  It is not "taking sides" to contribute to a report or Code of Conduct enforcement; my concern is that at all times library employees have to model fairness, so when they take action under a policy, the process looks as fair as possible.

Tags: Policy, Public Libraries

Topic: Bequest of Property for Libraries - 02/05/2021
A municipal public library has accepted a gift of real property and is selling the property. Ho...
Posted: Friday, February 5, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

A municipal public library has accepted a gift of real property and is selling the property.

How much autonomy does the Library have in accepting and selling this property? The sponsoring municipality feels that perhaps it is their responsibility to handle the sale according to their regular procedures, including a permissive referendum (as required by law).

Finally, who controls the proceeds from the sale?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

In law school, one of the first classes you take is "real property."
 

I remember thinking, back in that first semester before my brain got converted into that of a lawyer: "Real" property?  What...is there something called UNreal property?

Of course, nowadays when I see questions like this—about land, and land rights, and the laws impacting them—I think "Oooh...a question about real property!"

Warn your kids: this is what three years of law school will do to you.

I appreciate questions about real property, because I really enjoy working on issues involving land, and land rights, and the laws impacting them.  Whether it's roads, old buildings, or construction matters, some of my favorite work requires reviewing surveys, obsessing over title abstracts,[1] and poring over inspection reports.  And don't get me started about design-build contracts.

In this case, many of the fundamental considerations of this submission were addressed in a previous "Ask the Lawyer" from 12/13/2019.  So as a primer, readers may want to take a look at that previous answer, where we discuss some of the fundamental things a library has to consider when selling real property.

This background allows me to jump right into the specific concerns of the member's questions:

Question 1: "How much autonomy does the Library have in accepting and selling this property?"

Answer: unless there is a specific provision in the library's charter, bylaws, or contract with its sponsoring municipality that expressly creates some type of co-ownership, the library, as the sole owner, has ALL the autonomy.

Question 2: The sponsoring municipality feels that perhaps it is their responsibility to handle the sale according to their regular procedures, including a permissive referendum.

Answer: unless there is a clear legal claim that puts title entirely or partly into the municipality, the various state laws governing sale of municipal property do not apply; rather, the sale is governed by Education Law Section 226.

Question 3: Finally, who controls the proceeds from the sale?

Answer: the board of the library, and no one else.

 

To the member's brief, pithy questions, I will add a question of my own:

Question 4: Why am I so confident about the answers to questions 1 through 3?

Answer: because I have researched the following:

  • The relevant state laws and regulations of the State of New York
  • Case law regarding cases involving public library sale of property
  • Relevant guidance from the State Comptroller
  • Relevant guidance from the NY Attorney General
  • Relevant guidance from the State Education Department

These materials span over sixty years of library law-making, and I am not going to summarize them all here.  But for those who wish to dive a little deeper into this topic (buckle up, unless you, too, are interested in real property, I've been told this is pretty boring), here is a brief overview:

Education Laws 260 and 226, together, confirm that the trustees of every library chartered in New York,[2] may "[b]uy, sell, mortgage, let and otherwise use and dispose of its property as they shall deem for the best interests of the institution..."

Here are some examples showing how this legal structure has been applied:

In 1953, the NY State Comptroller opined that when a village and a library jointly acquired property, they were co-owners.[3]  This means a library can co-own a library building along with its sponsor (much as two individuals can co-own a parking lot).  If that is the case, the law and regulations applicable to both entities would govern a sale.  However, that same year, the Education Department confirmed that a chartered library is a separate entity from its municipal sponsor.[4]  

Flash forward to 1976, when the Comptroller stated that a school district library[5] could acquire a building on its own.[6]   Since that time, there hasn't been a lot of case law over who owns library buildings:[7] like any other stand-alone, not-for-profit education corporation, a library can own its own building.

That said, while the New York Education Law empowers public libraries to buy, sell, mortgage, and otherwise dispose of their real property, there are other laws and regulations controlling how the resulting assets can be used.[8]  This is why a public library (or any library) should not buy, sell, lease, or arrange for capital improvements without its lawyer involved (that goes double for accepting a bequest or a restricted donation of land or a building, which has not only legal/regulatory considerations, but could also be fraught with the drama that can accompany wills and transfers of land).

Now, in the midst of all this ownership/autonomy, it is good to remember: not all public libraries own their buildings.[9]  Some libraries are tenants of their sponsoring municipality (to check the ownership of the building, check the deed or the real property tax records for your county).  But even a library that is a tenant of their municipality buildings can own a separate building—if some nice person or entity decides to give them one.

So in a case like the one described by the member, the most useful thing would be to 1) check the library's charter; 2) check the documents giving title of the property to the library; and 3) make sure the lawyers for both the municipality and the library (and the buyer!) are on the same page about ownership and salability.  As the lawyers do their "real property" thing, so long as the title is "clear" and solely in the name of the library, it is the library who owns the property, and the board of the library who decides if/how to sell it (in a way consistent with its charter, bylaws, and charitable status....on that, see the "Ask the Lawyer" from 12/13/2019).

Thank you for a great question.



[1] A "title abstract" is a summary of everyone who has owned a parcel of property since it was first regarded as something to be owned.  It can contain all sorts of historically salacious details, like when a house was foreclosed on, or what it sold for in 1935.

[2] Which all Regents-chartered "municipal" libraries are.

[3] Opinion of the State Comptroller #142 (1953).

[4] Opinion of Counsel for the NY Education Department No. 61 (also 1953).

[5] Another type of "public" library.

[6] Opinion of the State Comptroller #771 (1976).

[7] There is a lot of case law involving the planning and construction of library buildings, but no squabbles about who actually owns them.  For a good example of a case involving construction of a library, see Matter of Rimler v City of NY, 53 Misc 3d 1212[A], 2016 NY Slip Op 51627[U] [Sup Ct, Kings County 2016].

[8] Martin v Board of Education, 39 Misc. 2d 519, 241 N.Y.S.2d 396, 1963 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1971 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1963).

[9] It is important to know who owns the building!  If your library is a tenant rather than an owner, it impacts things like personal injury cases (an example of this is found in Deinzer v Middle Country Public Library, 2013 NY Slip Op 33823[U] [Sup Ct, Suffolk County 2013].

Tags: Laws, Municipal Libraries, Property, Public Libraries

Topic: Handling CASE Act Claims for Libraries - 02/01/2021
The awful CASE ACT is now a law. While I think the language is problematic, I fear trolls will try...
Posted: Monday, February 1, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

The awful CASE ACT is now a law. While I think the language is problematic, I fear trolls will try to collect money ($30,000) from libraries unaware of this change in copyright. Here is a blog post that I thought was helpful https://www.recreatecoalition.org/the-case-act-now-what/

What should we be doing? Thanks.

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

For those readers who haven't been following it, the "CASE Act" authorizes the federal Copyright office to create a "small claims" division for the adjudication of "small" (under $30k, and no award of attorney's fees) copyright infringement cases. [1],[2]

Like the member, I know many attorneys who think this legislation is "awful."  I also suspect that if I took an insurance carrier and a publisher out to a bar, they would think it is "pretty cool," and would toast the efforts of the well-paid lobbyists who worked so hard to ensure it got passed this December along with the federal budget.

There is a LOT of writing out there on the CASE Act, so I am going to focus on the practical aspect of the member's question: when it comes to the inevitable trolls[3] who will use genuine claims and fraudulent allusions to this new method of bringing copyright claims, what should libraries and other information professionals be aware of?

The good news is: even with new legislation, your response remains the same: keep calm, and deal with a copyright infringement allegation step-by-step. 

What are those steps?  Updated for a CASE Act-containing world, here is the "Ask the Lawyer" "Copyright Troll Begone!" Emergency Response Procedure.[4]

 

"Copyright Troll Begone!" Emergency Response Procedure

Step 1: Receiving the complaint

If your institution receives ANY assertion of copyright violation (by email, mail, phone, in person, or fax), do not immediately reply to the allegations.  Never!

If the accusation is in writing, simply move on to step "2." 

For interpersonal outreach (on the phone, in person, in yet another Zoom meeting),[5] state, "I am making a note of your concerns.  What is a good number/email to reach you at [at least one day later]?"  NOTE: Even if they keep trying to get you to argue/response/engage, don't take the bait, just set up a time to reply.

 

Step 2: Dealing with the complaint

Okay, you have in writing before you (either as submitted, or in your notes) an allegation of infringement.   It is either: i) a scam; ii) an honest but empty threat; or iii) a problem.  To determine which of these options it is, you need to either consult your lawyer, or do some research.

 

Step 3: If you conclude it is a scam

There are copyright-based scams all over the place, and with the CASE Act, the scammers will have yet another point of entry for their menacing but baseless threats.  "You owe us $150,000!!!"  "To avoid prosecution, contact us NOW."  "The CASE Act means we can sue you without registration, so we're attaching your bank account for $30k."  Scare tactics.  Bogus claims.

If your attorney or your research shows that the complaint you received is illegitimate, I encourage you to send a copy of it to the New York Attorney General,[6] and to the Copyright Office.[7]  Then you can stop thinking about the claim, and move on with your day.[8]

 

Step 3: If you conclude it is not a scam, or can't tell

If you examine the complaint and it seems legitimate, the only thing I can say is: consult your institution's insurance carrier and/or your attorney as soon as possible. 

Even if you think your use was "fair" (as in, not an infringement), or you can show you had permission, there is too much risk in saying something that could be problematic later, if you respond to the allegation without a pro.

 

Step 4: Ensure the Hand-off

Make sure that whoever is handling the matter for you (attorney, insurance carrier) takes responsibility for the next steps, in writing.  If an attorney is handling it, a letter or e-mail confirming they are representing your institution in the matter is essential.  If your institution's insurance carrier is handling it (many general liability policies cover this...do not forget to check!), you will get a notice of "tender," telling your library that there is coverage, and if/how they will handle it (including if legal counsel will be assigned). With that assurance in writing, you are ready to get back to the business of information management.

 

Step 5: Check in this time next year on the CASE Act

As the blogger cited by the member writes, the CASE Act was only passed this December.  Implementing it will take the federal Copyright Office some time.  Or as they put it[9]:

The Office must establish the CCB by within one year of enactment, unless the Register of Copyrights, for good cause, extends the time period for no more than 180 additional days. The Office will soon begin implementation activities. Proposed regulations will be published in the Federal Register and the Office will provide updates through its NewsNet service.

 

We'll keep an eye on the developing regulations here, and send a "CASE Act" update this summer or early spring.

 



[1] If you want a more official-sounding description, here is the description from the Copyright Office: "On December 27, 2020, the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2020 (the CASE Act) was enacted as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. The CASE Act includes a number of the Office’s earlier recommendations. It establishes a Copyright Claims Board (CCB) in the Copyright Office to hear copyright infringement matters and (1) caps damages at $30,000 total (including statutory damages of $15,000 per work, and $7,500 per work for which an application was not filed in accordance with section 412 timelines); (2) provides an opt-out option for the respondent; (3) includes streamlined procedures that limit discovery and rely mostly on written materials; (4) allows claims by both copyright owners and users for infringement and exceptions and limitations, respectively; and (5) includes additional fees for bad faith claimants and bars those who repeatedly abuse the system."

[3] "Troll" has a primary connotation of being an online provocateur, these days.  But in the intellectual property world (patent, trademark, copyright), "Troll" means a person/entity who trades in IP with a goal of suing for infringement.  Either meaning, of course, is nowhere near as cute as the fluorescent heroes of the "Trolls" franchise, who are just darling.

[4] Feel free to print it and put it on the wall near the "handling angry phone calls," and "don't fall for this phishing scam" lists.

[5] If they put the threat in the chat box, just grab a screenshot and continue with the meeting.

[6] You can send a consumer complaint to the NY Attorney General at https://ag.ny.gov/consumer-frauds/Filing-a-Consumer-Complaint.

[7] The Copyright Office doesn't have a fraud report utility, but you can reach them at https://www.copyright.gov/help/.  You can forward a pdf of it to me, too.  I collect these things the way other people collect menus or bottle caps.

[8] If you are feeling whimsical, you can say "Copyright Troll, begone!" as you put the notice in the shredder.

[9] At the update posted here as of January 28, 2021:  https://www.copyright.gov/docs/smallclaims/ .

 

Tags: Copyright, Laws, CASE Act

Topic: Requiring COVID Tests for Employees - 02/01/2021
Can an employer require a negative COVID test before an employee comes to work? We have discussed ...
Posted: Monday, February 1, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Can an employer require a negative COVID test before an employee comes to work? We have discussed it on our [public library system] member directors list but have not come up with a clear yes or no answer.

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Here's something positive and affirming I can say: it's possible that the members expressing different opinions on the member directors' list are actually all correct.

That’s because, while I can't give one "clear yes or no answer" to this question, I can give five...five answers based on different scenarios about the facts "before an employee comes to work," including their symptoms, COVID exposure, and the safety measures needed to reduce the risk of COVID transmission in their workplace.

Here the five scenarios are:

Scenario 1

Yes, an employer must (and therefore, can) require a COVID test before an employee returns to work,[1] if the employee reports symptoms as part of routine screening.[2]

 

Scenario 2

Yes, an employer must (and therefore, can) require a COVID test before an employee returns to work, if an employee is symptomatic upon arrival at work or becomes sick with COVID-19 symptoms while at the workplace, absent close or proximate contact with a person with COVID-19.[3]

 

Scenario 3

No, an employer does not have to, and has no basis to, require a negative COVID test before an employee comes to work, if the employee is working 100% remotely at home or in a location not at all controlled or at the direction of the employer.[4]

 

Scenario 4

No, an employer may not require a negative COVID test before an employee comes to work, IF the employee has a medical basis to not be tested; without a negative test, however, if certain screening factors were tripped (such as those in item 2, above) the employer will have to enforce other prescribed measures to comply with state requirements and reduce the risk of transmission within the workplace, such as a mandatory quarantine.[5]

 

Scenario 5

Yes, an employer can require a negative COVID test before an employee comes to work, if an established safety plan based on applicable OHSA guidance and the employee's job duties warrant that level of caution.[6]

 

Conclusion

I am not surprised you were unable to find a clear answer from a single reliable source, as these five scenario-based answers had to be cobbled together from two separate documents from the New York State Department of Health, which when combined, require employers to:

"Implement mandatory health screening assessment (e.g. questionnaire, temperature check) before employees begin work each day and for essential visitors, asking about (1) COVID-19 symptoms in past 14 days, (2) positive COVID-19 test in past 14 days, and/or (3) close contact[7] with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case in past 14 days. Assessment responses must be reviewed every day and such review must be documented."

AND

"An individual who screens positive for COVID-19 symptoms must not be allowed to enter the office and must be sent home with instructions to contact their healthcare provider for assessment and testing." [emphasis added]

AND

"If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, regardless of whether the employee is symptomatic or asymptomatic, the employee may return to work upon completing at least 10 days of isolation from the onset of symptoms or 10 days of isolation after the first positive test if they remain asymptomatic."

AND

"If an employee has had close or proximate contact with a person with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time AND is experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms, the employee may return to work upon completing at least 10 days of isolation from the onset of symptoms."

AND

"If an employee has had close or proximate contact with a person with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time AND is not experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms, the employee may return to work upon completing 14 days of self-quarantine."

AND

"If an employee is symptomatic upon arrival at work or becomes sick with COVID-19 symptoms while at the workplace, absent close or proximate contact with a person with COVID-19, the employee must be separated and sent home immediately and may return to work upon completing at least 10 days of isolation from the onset of symptoms OR upon receipt of a negative COVID-19 test result." [emphasis added]."

 

And there you have it. I am not sure if this will make things clearer, but hopefully I have added some clarity to the uncertainty. 

 

 



[1] In this case "work" means the "work site," as in an established office or location controlled by the employer where an employee will report to work, or a site they are directed to appear at.  For this question, "work site" does not mean a home office or other space the employer does not control/send the employee to.

[2] This answer is based on the combined effect of the New York State Department of Health requirements here and  here.

[3] This answer is based on based on the combined effect of the New York State Department of Health requirements here and here.

[4] I know I covered this in footnote #1, but it bears repeating: based on the published guidance, NY employers are required to conduct mandatory screenings to reduce the transmission of COVID in areas they are responsible for, and areas they serve as part of their work, but not an employee's home office.  Requiring a test when there is no logical nexus between the employer's obligations and the request for medical information runs the risk of an ADA violation (not a slam-dunk risk, but enough of a risk to make it a bad idea).

[5] This answer is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act; if an employee has a disability that means they cannot medically tolerate a test (I have not heard of this, but I imagine it is possible), they will have to provide an alternate means of ensuring safety if such an accommodation is reasonable.

[6] This answer is based on the needs of work places with the highest levels of risk and risk management. 

[7] "The New York State Department of Health considers a "close contact" to be "someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 10 minutes starting from 48 hours before illness onset until the time the person was isolated. The local health department should be contacted if the extent of contact between an individual and a person suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 is unclear. "

 

Tags: ADA, COVID-19, Emergency Response, Employee Rights, Health Management, Management

Topic: Special collections not recorded on institutions's ledgers - 01/27/2021
We received some questions from a chartered museum about weeding from the museum's internal re...
Posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

We received some questions from a chartered museum about weeding from the museum's internal research library:

  • What legal considerations govern weeding and/or deaccessioning the materials from a museum's library?
  • What if the museum’s library isn't sure how it acquired the materials?
  • What might the legal ramifications be if the institution were to transfer select items from their library to a historical society more in line with their content and origins?
  • Does the museum have the legal right to sell the materials at auction?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Put your sneakers on.  These questions require us to jump through several analytical hoops.

Hoop 1

First, a library that is part[1] of a chartered museum or historical society in the state of New York, when weeding materials, must figure out which, if any, of the materials within the library are part of the museum's official collection, and thus controlled by the museum's "collection management policy."

Most museums and historical societies maintain good records of this, and it's a yes-or-no question, so this first hoop is fairly simple.

 

Hoop 2

With collection status determined, any materials within the library that were "accessioned" (brought into the museum's official collection) under the collection management policy must also be "de-accessioned" per that policy,[2] before they can be weeded from the library's collection and thrown out,[3] donated or sold.

Any materials that were not accessioned into the museum's official collection are still assets of the chartered entity, but do not have to go through the de-accession ritual prior to what comes next.

 

Hoop 3

Next, the museum or historical society must determine if there are any conditions or restrictions on the materials, such as a donor agreement, a grant, or other contractual terms.  If there are any restrictions, those must be addressed.

 

Hoop 4

Next is to confirm ownership.  If the museum doesn't have a clear record of how the materials were acquired (either by purchase or donation), or if they were loaned to the museum and never picked up, the museum must follow the procedure in Education Law 233-aa to assert its ownership before it can consider any removal.[4]

 

Hoop 5

After doing what's needed to establish the materials' status, the museum can then--as governed by its own charter, bylaws, and policies--either 1) donate the materials to another charitable organization (transfer for free to an individual or for-profit organization could cause problems), or 2) sell[5] them for fair market value[6] to any organization it wishes (profit, non-profit, or individual).[7]

 

Contingent Hoop 6 (the "de-accession hoop")

Of course, sale or donation of any items that started out in the collection will be governed by the factors in the regulations governing de-accession (8 NYCRR 3.27).  This consideration was already raised in Hoops 1 and 2, but is so critical, it is worth mentioning again.

 

Contingent Hoop 7 (the "233-aa contingency hoop")

If the materials were "undocumented property" or "unclaimed property" under 233-aa, and the materials are to be sold, there is an extra consideration: any proceeds derived from the sale of the materials can only be use for "the acquisition of property for the museum’s collection or for the preservation, protection, and care of the collection and shall not be used to defray ongoing operating expenses of the museum." 

 

And with all those hoops complete, there you have it: a full cardio workout, based on assessing a museum's library's property's[8] status under the law.

 

I hope this analysis and advice are helpful (and good exercise).

 



[1] A museum or historical society cannot operate a library with circulation to the public without provisions in its charter.  However, a museum or historical society can operate an internal library for purposes of supporting the collection, and that's what we're talking about here. 8 NYCRR 3.27(f)(3).

[2] Which should follow the regulations set out in 8 NYCRR 3.27

[3] I have been told that most librarians do not have the same gut-wrenching aversion to the idea of throwing out books that I do.  Typing "thrown out" actually made me wince. 

[4] This is one of my favorite laws on the books, because it contains the magic formula for transforming an object of unknown origin, or an abandoned object, into the property of the museum.  That said, in practice, it can be a bit of a pain, because the formula contains multiple steps and a publications requirement.

[5] The last question, thankfully, requires no hoops: "sale" could certainly include an auction, or any other legitimate method of transferring title for consideration (money, or assets in-kind). 

[6] A sale for a nominal amount, or for less than fair market value, to a for-profit or individual can impact charitable and 501(c)(3) status.

[7] Since the library within the museum is not a chartered library, it does not have to follow the requirements of Education Law 226.6(b), requiring that materials be offered to a local charity or political subdivision.

[8] Could I sneak another apostrophe in there?  How about: "museum's library's property's boxes' cardboard's strength?"  Oh, yeah.

 

Tags: Deaccessioning, Historical societies and museums, Special collections, Weeding

Topic: School library records retention - 01/21/2021
We got a question regarding how the new rules for records retention (the "LGS-1") impact...
Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

We got a question regarding how the new rules for records retention (the "LGS-1") impacts the retention of school library borrowing records.

Under the new LGS-1, how long must school library borrowing records be retained?  How does that impact BOCES, district, and school library records purging? 


 

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Thank you for this question.  The LGS-1 is one of my favorite rabbit holes to explore.

I took a look at Schedule Item 596, which applies to "Borrowing or loaning records."  I have put a screenshot of the section, as it appears in the schedule as displayed on the NY State Archives web site: http://www.archives.nysed.gov/common/archives/files/lgs1.pdf

Screenshot of Schedule Item 596 on

As you can see in the screenshot, 596 fixes the retention period for borrowing or loaning records for school libraries as "0 years after no longer needed."

"No longer needed" is one of those phrases in the LGS-1 that renders the retention period variable.  This flexibility can be both helpful and frustrating, since a district, BOCES, or school library must determine, via policy, what "needed" means.

This can vary from place to place, but in all instances should be based on a determination of what is meant (for the district/BOCES/or school library) by "need," and then confirmed in a policy.

After that, best practice is always to purge records once their retention period is over, and for something as deeply connected to ethics, compliance and privacy as library records,[1] that is doubly true.  For school libraries, that retention period is zero, once the records are no longer needed.

Therefore: determining how long student library borrowing records are "needed" (something that may vary from library to library, district to district, BOCES to BOCES), and then purging the record as soon as possible,[2] is a good way to use the LGS-1 to enhance an institution's commitment to privacy.

 

Thanks to the member for bringing up this nuance.  These issues are at the crossroads of ethics, compliance and automation, and require continuous and careful attention to detail and resulting policy.

 

 



[1] Please see "Ask the Lawyer" here for a discussion of school library records, CPLR 4509, and FERPA.

[2] The LGS-1 encourages, but does not require, "the systematic disposal of unneeded records."

Tags: Laws, Privacy, Records Management, Retention, School Libraries, LGS-1

Topic: Paid time-off for COVID-19 vaccinations - 01-21-2021
Are public or private libraries obligated to give paid time off for eligible employees to get the ...
Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Are public or private libraries obligated to give paid time off for eligible employees to get the vaccine during work time? A staffer is planning to go upstate for it on a work day and the question came up if they have to use sick time or just "get the day" to take care of this. Thank you!

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Non-governmental employers

Recent changes to the Labor Law make the "private" part of this question easy to answer: since all employers must now offer all employees sick leave (unpaid if the employer has under four employees, paid if five or more), an employee may use that sick leave for the purpose of obtaining medical care, including to get vaccinated.

If a non-government-agency employer would like to go one step further and not require an employee to use accrued sick leave, but instead, give them a day (or two half-days, for the vaccine that requires two shots) for the specific purpose of being vaccinated, that's fine, too, so long as the library considers vaccination of employees to be part of its Safety Plan (making the vaccination a work activity, and not a prohibited gratuity from a charitable entity to a private person).[1]  But there is no obligation to do so.

Small but critically important exception to this rule: if your library employees are in a union and their time off is subject to a collective bargaining agreement, you must check and abide by that agreement, or develop a special provision with the union.

 

Public libraries

Okay, this is where it gets tricky.  For public libraries that consider their employees to be employees of a "government agency," hang on one second, we'll address what you can do in the paragraph below.  For all other public libraries, who must follow the new sick leave law, the section above applies.

 

Public Libraries Who are "Government Agencies"

For public libraries whose employees are considered employees of their sponsoring municipalities,[2]  there is no obligation to "give" paid time out of the library to get vaccinated unless it is in a collective bargaining agreement or your government subdivision's response plan.  However, if your library is allotted vaccine as part of a rollout to public employers, and the entity you are getting it through (sponsoring municipality or school district) is encouraging vaccination by allowing it to be done on work time, that is an option to consider.  Further, if your library develops an employee vaccination rollout plan as an addendum to its Safety Plan[3] and would like to offer up to a certain number of hours of paid time out of the office to encourage vaccination, if part of a plan, that can be allowed (but is not required).[4]

Small but very important exception to this rule, just like with "private" libraries: if your library employees are in a union and their time off is subject to a collective bargaining agreement, you must check and abide by that agreement, or develop a special provision with the union.

 

For All

Issues like this a) affect mission and morale, b) relate deeply to employee and public safety, c) can impact a library's budget, and d) are fraught with compliance concerns, so any decision is best to tie to your library's Safety Plan,[5] and to have trustee approval (confirmed by a vote).

I continue to admire the care for others, tenacity, and attention to detail members of the library community bring to their questions as we get through this pandemic together.

 

 



[1] Just to be clear: to avoid a forbidden benefit to an individual, NO charitable entity should "give" a paid day off for vaccination without linking the enhanced safety of workers to its charitable operations (i.e., making it a part of their Safety Plan).

[2] Note: even when this is the case, the library's board of trustees, and only the board of trustees, determines who is hired, how they are compensated, and any matters related to development, discipline, and termination.

[3] This "Ask the Lawyer" addresses how to prioritize vaccine allotments and roll them out through policy: https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/193.

[4] At least, it is not required as of 1/21/21.  As with all things COVID, check for updates on this.

[5] And be reviewed by a lawyer, whenever possible.

Tags: Association Libraries, COVID-19, COVID-19 Vaccine, Emergency Response, Municipal Libraries, PTO, Vacation, and Leave, Public Libraries, Safety Plan

Topic: Vaccine priorities for staff - 01/19/2021
The governor announced that the vaccine rollout to public employees would be through our unions an...
Posted: Tuesday, January 19, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

The governor announced that the vaccine rollout to public employees would be through our unions and health groups, but also said that WE need to prioritize who receives the vaccine first (based upon risk factors/comorbidities) since the supply is limited (as the governor mentioned in Friday's press conference) --it will probably take a few months to vaccinate every staff member who wants one.

How can we organize our internal "prioritization?"  Should we prioritize those with underlying health conditions, or use other criteria? What about HIPAA? I want to do this fairly, but I am also concerned about the ethics.

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

The member's caution shows how important it is to get this one right.

Before delving into it, I want to say: for public libraries with a union, this is one to confer with union leadership on. 

For public libraries without a union, it will be good to think about not only your internal prioritization, but the messaging around it. 

And for all libraries connecting their employees to vaccine, this is one to plan in careful coordination with a board committee, your lawyer, and your local health department.

With the right participants at the table[1] and careful consideration of ethics and privacy, finding the right plan for you won't be easy, but you will get it right.

This question is about the "ethics and privacy" part of the process. For a public institution that will be part of this rollout, the State of New York's own ethical statement and guidelines for prioritization are a good place to start.  Here they are:

New York State based its COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration process on ten guiding principles.

  1. Safety: New York State will only endorse and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine if it is determined to be safe and will only be used according to the indication under which it received its authorization or license. This includes continued monitoring and reporting of adverse events after the vaccine is licensed and administered.
  2. Effectiveness: New York State will only endorse and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine if it is demonstrated to be appropriately effective in the populations intended for use.
  3. Expert approved: New York State will rely on the advice and counsel of recognized clinical experts and scientists to review and approve the safety and effectiveness of every vaccine that is authorized by the federal government for distribution.
  4. Equitable & clinically driven distribution: New York State’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan will be based on standards that prioritize people at higher risk of exposure, illness and/or poor outcome. Unrelated factors, such as wealth or status, will not influence distribution.
  5. Transparency: Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the state’s daily public presentation of facts and reliance on science and medical expertise helped build public trust and confidence in government action. New York State will continue to be transparent regarding all aspects of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution, administration, and monitoring process to ensure New Yorkers are fully informed.
  6. Use of Data: Coordination of a successful vaccination program will require robust tracking, data and analytics capabilities. New York State will use powerful data and information technology platforms to guide all parts of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration process to maximize safety, accuracy, and efficiency and meet all federal reporting requirements — all while maintaining patient privacy.
  7. Privacy and Patient Safety: New York State will ensure all vaccination processes prioritize patient safety, and all information systems guarantee patient privacy. Vaccination does not take away the importance of other public health measures that have served us well in the fight against COVID-19. New Yorkers will be urged to continue to practice social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing, and other measures.
  8. Partnership, Coordination & Public Outreach: New York State recognizes that coordination with local organizations and community providers is essential to the safe and successful distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines. The state’s outreach efforts will especially focus on reaching underserved, hard to reach, and vaccine-hesitant populations, as well as those at highest risk for COVID-19 infection and poor outcomes.
  9. State Leadership: New York State expects federal engagement on vaccine vetting, distribution, administration, and funding. However, regardless of the level of federal engagement, New York State will take all necessary steps and require local coordination with the state’s centralized approach to ensure an efficient and organized vaccine distribution.
  10. NEW YORK TOUGH: Throughout this COVID-19 crisis, New Yorkers have shown that there is nothing we cannot do if we work together as one community. Our approach to the COVID-19 vaccine will be tough, strong, united, disciplined, and loving.

 

Informed by these guiding principles, each library can consider its unique policies, Safety Plan, and if relevant, collective bargaining agreement (union contract), and confirm its own internal method of prioritizing.

While these variables will make each library's position unique, the best way to confirm and follow the method of prioritization they decide on is to:

            1) Adopt a written policy;

            2) Document that it is being followed consistently;

            3) Notify the employees and the public as to how the process will be implemented.

Here are an "example policy" and "example notice" drawn from the State's approach:

[**START EXAMPLE POLICY**]

[NAME] Library Vaccine Distribution Policy [Employees Only]

[**EXAMPLE ONLY**]

Policy

In step with the method of prioritization being applied by the State of New York, [NAME] Library's COVID-19 vaccine employee distribution plan will be based on "levels" that prioritize people at higher risk of exposure, illness and/or poor outcome.

Definitions and Levels

"Higher risk of illness and/or poor outcome" means that a medical condition makes it potentially more likely the employee could become ill, or, if they do become ill, are statistically more likely to experience a poor outcome; such need shall be considered "Level 1(d)." 

"Higher risk of exposure" means those who, working within the parameters of the Library's current safety plan, PPE requirements, and operations:

  • Perform any function or share any criteria required for vaccination during the New York Department of Health's Vaccine Distribution Phases 1a and 1b (including those 65 and older), but did not obtain the vaccine; such need shall be considered "Level 1(a/b)".
  • Must report to work on site and physically interact with the public as part of their routine job duties, and/or handle circulating materials; such need shall also be considered "Level 1".
  • Must report to work on site as part of their job duties; such need shall be considered "Level 2".
  • Performing all work duties 100% remotely; such need shall be considered "Level 3".

Procedure for 1(d) requests

Any Level 1(d) requests for vaccination shall be confidentialWhen supplies are available to the Library, employees who self-identify as at "higher risk of illness and/or poor outcome" may request COVID vaccination through the same confidential process used to request and arrange disability accommodations, with the understanding that during this time of extra burden on medical providers, documentation of the condition creating the need may be supplied after vaccination (please supply a note from your physician when you are able).

A request for vaccination may be considered separately or together with accommodations based on disability.


Procedure

Any employee may request vaccination. 

When supply and demand require prioritization, the order of priority shall be:

          Levels 1 (any type): highest priority

          Level 2 and with a member of their immediate household with higher risk of illness and/or poor outcome: second highest priority

          Level 2: third highest priority

          Level 3 and with a member of their immediate household with higher risk of illness and/or poor outcome: fourth highest priority

          Level 3: fifth highest priority

          All others: lowest level of priority

 

If further prioritization is required to prioritize between Level 1 employees, the order of priority shall be:

          Level 1 (a/b)

          Level 1(d)

          Level 1 (any type) and with a member of their immediate household with higher risk of illness and/or poor outcome

          Level 1

 

If an employee is selected for vaccination through the library, the employee will be expected to follow all the rules and procedures for vaccination. 

Employees not selected will be placed on a wait list in order of priority.[2]

The Director, or their designee, shall be responsible for compliance with this policy.

         [**END EXAMPLE POLICY**]

 

[**START EXAMPLE NOTICE**]

[NAME] Library Vaccine Opportunity Notice

[**EXAMPLE ONLY**]

DATE: [INSERT]

The Library has been issued # doses of COVID-19 vaccine.  We expect to be able to initiate vaccinations on DATE.

As determined by the attached policy, the Library will be offering vaccination through our allotment to as many employees as possible. 

Vaccination is voluntary.

Please transmit your interest in being vaccinated and your assessment as to the level of priority you fall into (see the policy) to name@address by DATE.

For example: "I am voluntarily requesting vaccination through the library's allotted doses.  I believe my priority level is "1."

Requests that include medical disclosures will be treated confidentially.

If the library is able to grant your request, we will send you information regarding next steps, and you will be expected to follow all the rules and procedures for vaccination.  Employees not selected will be placed on a wait list in order of priority. 

Supplies are limited.  If you have the opportunity to be vaccinated through another supplier, we encourage you to do so.  Employees may use up to a day of sick leave for each vaccination session.[3]  The library places the highest priority on the health of our employees.

[**END EXAMPLE NOTICE**]

 

Final notes from the lawyer:

These are early days for the vaccine and vaccination rollout.  While being prepared with a policy is the right move, prior to announcing any prioritization, after adopting a policy, be ready to be flexible, since the situation is changing rapidly. 

As with all major policies, this is one that ideally will be adopted via a vote by your board.[4] Here is a sample resolution for you:

BE IT RESOLVED, that after due consideration of the "guiding principles" of the State of New York and the library's own code of ethics, that the Library adopt the attached "Library Vaccine Distribution Policy" and "Notice;" and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the [insert] committee shall work with the Director to monitor the need to revise this policy, based on any new guidance, knowledge, or operational needs.

 

I wish you good health, strength, and fortitude as we move into this next phase of overcoming the pandemic.

 



[1] This does not mean your library's (online) meetings about your rollout should have a cast of thousands—or even 5.  A good approach is like a series of waves: a small core group of policy makers (director and one or two board members) reach out to the identified parties to alert them and get initial input, set a time to check in on a final draft, set a tight deadline for final input and final approval by the board.  With the right planning, this can be done in 3-5 business days, and no one should be allowed to sandbag it.

[2] Care should be taken that any Level 1(d) designation is not set forth on a list that can be accessible per FOIL.  Once created, a wait list should simply set forth the names or employee ID numbers in order of priority.

[3] Drafting note: for libraries that must follow the new sick leave law (Labor Law Section 196-b, effective in September 2020), time off for vaccination does qualify as sick leave.  Libraries that regard themselves as being exempt government agencies, and thus not subject to 196-b, should check with their municipal attorney or HR professional to confirm if this meets the requirements for sick leave under municipal policies.

[4] While it is critical that a library board of trustees entrust the day-to-day management of the library to the director, policies are always ideally adopted at the level of highest accountability.  This will also position a board to have a director's back if there is a legal or operational challenge to the vaccine distribution policy.

 

Tags: COVID-19, Emergency Response, Health Management, Public Health, Public Libraries, COVID-19 Vaccine, HIPAA

Topic: Producer permission for streaming services - 01/13/2021
I know we can't use Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime on a normal basis to show movies in our cla...
Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

I know we can't use Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime on a normal basis to show movies in our classrooms because when we sign up for their service, we sign a contract stating that our accounts won't be used for public performances (personal use only). I am understanding that it is because Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime do not outright own the content on their platforms and enter into agreements with the owners of the content for personal use only. However, I wanted to find out if a student can use Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime to stream a portion (5 Minutes) of a movie where the student has received written permission from the Producer of a movie to show it as a public performance... I wasn't sure if the Producer permission supersedes the personal account contract of the Streaming Service?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

This question is a good question for the bar exam!  It is a great blend of contract law and copyright.

Well, that's enough positivity for today; time for the answer, which is...

No.

Here’s the simply reason why I say “no”: as the member states, Netflix, Hulu, etc. tend to[1] restrict their content for personal use, meaning: no classroom/board room viewings.  This means that even if the use is "fair" or otherwise non-infringing, non-personal-use viewing is barred by the agreement the account holder has with the service.

The more sophisticated basis for me saying "no," is this: Netflix, Hulu, and their ilk bar group viewing not only because of the contractual obligations they have to their content owners, but also because to do otherwise would mess with their economic model.  In short: it will cost them money.  So even if a copyright owner says it's okay, they might not be inclined to consent to a use contrary to their contract.

That said, to add to the law-school-ness of your question, I'll add to your scenario:

If the student obtains a DVD or finds an online copy of the 5 minutes they need, and plays that copy (not the one from a commercial content service) to the class, if the student truly has proper permission of the copyright owner, then what would otherwise be an infringement is not.[2]

Of course, this requires a DVD,[3] or an online copy from a source that doesn't bar the use via contract.[4]  And of course, my scenario defeats the purpose of your question, which is to view the 5 minutes of the film in the format that is (likely) the most convenient: streaming.

I am sorry to be a bummer.

 



[1] There are of course exceptions, as these services can feature education-specific content intended for educational use.  But those are the exceptions, not the general rules (at least right now).

[2] Sadly, this hack does not work if you use your personal on-demand account to make the copy.  See how Netflix bars this: "Except as explicitly authorized in these Terms of Use, you agree not to archive, download, reproduce, distribute, modify, display, perform, publish, license, create derivative works from, offer for sale, or use content and information contained on or obtained from or through the Netflix service." Those pesky lawyers think of everything!

[3] Which are quickly on their way to becoming as obsolete as—but not as cool as--vinyl, or cassette tapes.

[4] Which makes it painfully likely the copy is not 100% legit.

Tags: Copyright, Fair Use, Streaming

Topic: Patron refusing to wear mask (private association library) - 01/13/2021
We are a private association library. There is a "difficult" patron who sits on a bench ...
Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

We are a private association library. There is a "difficult" patron who sits on a bench (almost everyday doing nothing but trying to talk to anyone nearby) which is immediately next to our front doors on library property. We are doing curbside pick-up so the staff places the library items immediately outside the front doors on a table. The patrons come to the table to pick them up. The "difficult" patron refuses to wear a mask no matter who asks and how many times he is asked. We recently found out that he was exposed to someone who has COVID. The police tried to offer a mask to this patron and he still refused. We were told to call the police if he returns. When he did, the police never came. This patron is a health hazard to the staff and our patrons. What else can we do?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

***THIS ANSWER IS NOT FOR PUBLIC LIBRARIES***[1]

Here is what else you can do:

Any private association library currently[2] operating in the State of New York is required[3] to have a pandemic Safety Plan.

A library’s pandemic Safety Plan is not set in stone; it should be a living document that evolves as the library’s operations and our overall knowledge about COVID transmission change.

With that in mind, revising its Safety Plan to ensure the physical layout of its curbside operations could be a good solution to this member’s situation.[4]

Here are some possible revisions to accomplish this:

  • Modify the Safety Plan so external seating in close proximity to all entrances/exits and curbside sites is removed or roped off for all but emergency or ADA use; or
  • Modify the safety plan so the bench is within a perimeter that is barred for use by the public during business hours; or
  • Modify the Safety Plan to enhance the size of pick-up zones where only employees and those quickly picking up curbside service may enter, and set up barriers (tables, Plexiglass, cones, bollards) to emphasize the increased size of the zone; and
  • For any solution: use new signage with clear language and graphics to emphasize any changes or updates to the Plan, so people can adhere to the new rules.

NOTE: As with any adoption or revision of a Safety Plan, to the greatest extent possible, check in with your local Department of Health (I appreciate that in some places, the Department of Health may be so overwhelmed that this "check-in" is impossible).

Since it is best to have your library board "on board" with the library's Safety Plan, and any changes to it, below is a proposed resolution for adopting such a change:[5]

BE IT RESOLVED, that to ensure the Library's Safety Plan is evolving as our information, operations, and needs evolve, the board adopts the attached [date] version of the Safety Plan, effective [date/immediately].

Now, all that said, I know there could still be a few hiccups (plans on paper often get shredded by reality).  Here is the obvious “hiccup” I see, and a proposed way to address it:

If the "difficult" patron suddenly discovers that the bench they like to use and socialize from is suddenly not there/unavailable, and they have a strongly negative reaction—yelling abuse, or even being physically violent—that is when to call law enforcement, and of course to invoke your Code of Conduct and consider barring or suspending them from the library, as circumstances warrant. 

But hopefully, with some modifications to the Safety Plan, and good communication of the changes, this concern can be resolved in a way that not only addresses this specific issue, but deters any other visitor who could pose such a threat.

Please let us know[6] if this approach proves effective.

 



[1] I trust public libraries know why this guidance is not for them, but since it is an important reason, I'll footnote it: adjustments to practices that can be demonstrably tied to a concern caused by one individual need to be carefully developed to ensure they cause no constitution-based due process or disparate treatment concerns.  Basically, a public library can take the exact same measures I propose in here for this private association library, but must be even more cautious to ensure their actions are not—and cannot reasonably be perceived as—discriminatory or unfair.

[2] This answer is being composed on January 11, 2021.

[4] Although the current Safety Plan templates posted on the NY Forward site set out a requirement of six feet, there is nothing saying that an established safety perimeter can't be more (I was at a hotel that used 15 feet, and gave us our room key-cards via a system that felt like I was at a drive-up teller).

[5] Per Education Law 226(2), the executive committee of your board may have the power to adopt this change without a full meeting, but CHECK YOUR ASSOCATION LIBRARY'S BYLAWS to make sure you can use this approach; if there is no executive committee, your library can follow its procedures for a special meeting or an e-mail vote of the full board.

[6] adams@losapllc.com (Stephanie "Cole" Adams) and jill@losapllc.com (paralegal Jill Aures), thanks.

 

Tags: Association Libraries, COVID-19, Emergency Response, Public Health, Safety, Safety Plan, Masks

Topic: Library board authority over staff - 1/8/2021
The library is seeking information about a law stating that the library board has sole authority o...
Posted: Friday, January 8, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

The library is seeking information about a law stating that the library board has sole authority over public library staff benefits. The issue that needs to be addressed is a town board's attempt to eliminate a part-time employee's one week of paid leave per year that the library board granted [several years ago]. The town board's position is that since the other part-time town employees do not receive this paid leave, the library staff should not either. Research into the issue included a review of Education Law 226, but that only addresses hiring, firing, and salaries. Benefits such as paid time off, holiday pay, sick leave are not covered.

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

I recently had a chance to check in with the New York State Comptroller's legal department[1] on this very topic.

The reason I had to check in is because the most recent on-point authority I could find on this subject was from 1981. 

The input I got from the legal department was re-assuring: no change in guidance in the almost four decades that followed.[2]

Now, that said, the attorney at the Comptroller's gave me the usual disclaimer that I often give in "Ask the Lawyer": It's just an opinion.  The law can change.  Check with your lawyer, since your charter, bylaws, and policies, or even a contract, could change how this applies to you."

But that said, below are the reassuring words of Comptroller Opinion #445, circa 1981.  Since they are a little heavy on the legalese and citation, I've put the important part in bold:

"As a general rule, the town library board of trustees, and not the town board, has the authority to appoint and dismiss library personnel (Education Law, §§ 226(7), 260; 30 Opns St Comp, 1974, p 98). The library board exercises direct control and supervision over library personnel and, for most purposes, including labor negotiations [**486] under the Taylor Law (Civil Service [*2] Law, §§ 200, et seq.), the library board is considered to be the employer of library personnel (County of Erie v. Board of Trustees, 62 Misc 2d 396, 308 NYS2d 515; Binghamton Public Library Unit v. City of Binghamton, 69 Misc 2d 1005, 331 NYS2d 515; Opns St Comp, 1972, No. 72-402, unreported; cf. Retirement and Social Security Law, § 30(c); Opns St Comp, 1980, No. 80-199, as yet unreported; Finkelstein v. Central School District, 34 AD2d 781, 311 NYS2d 243 affd 28 NY2d 705, 320 NYS2d 751). Compensation for library personnel is fixed by the library board and paid from the library fund (Education Law, §§ 226(7), 259(1)). It would then follow that, as between the town board and the library board, it is the library board which determines the vacation and sick leave benefits for library employees. It is our opinion that a library board of trustees has implied authority to provide for sick leaves and vacations for library employees (see Opn No. 80- 199, supra; 1961 Atty Gen [Inf Opns] 105; Education Law, §§ 226(7), 260). We note that expenditures for employer contributions to the New York State Employees' Retirement System for library employees are expenses [*3] incurred for the operation of the library and should be paid from library funds (Opns St Comp, 1975, No. 75-903, unreported; 16 Ed Dep't Rep, 1977, p 416). The same would hold true for employer contributions for social security and unemployment insurance for library employees." [emphasis added].

So, with regard to the member's specific situation, I of course have to say: " It's just an opinion.  The law can change.  Check with your lawyer, since your charter, bylaws, and policies, or even a contract, could change how this applies to you."  But if all of those things have been checked, and there is no provision changing the default, the Comptroller's words from 1981 still apply.

I hope this will help as your library works to retain that one week of paid leave!

Thanks for a great question.

 

Supplementary Answer

NOTE: For libraries that are running into this type of issue with their sponsoring municipalities, below, please find "some additional input" that I hope can be of help:

As many of you know, my law office has the privilege of working with libraries across New York.  It is work my team and I value highly, because it connects us with a vast "information army" of committed, creative librarians who are dedicated to public service.

This work also gives us an array of windows into what is happening "out there," especially when it comes to public libraries working with their districts and municipalities on issues like the one shown in this question.  And while each specific view from any particular window is confidential, it positions my team to distill a lot of anecdotal information,[3] and to share what we see in the aggregate.

Based on what we are seeing "in the aggregate" the type of issue brought forward by the member has always been an "issue," but with the budget pressures and political theater ushered in by the events of 2020, it appears positioned to become an "Issue" into 2021 and beyond. 

The emergence of this Issue isn't just a by-product of budget woes heightened by pandemic.  It is also the result of a rapidly evolving regime of employment law in New York, making the distinction between government and "private" employers more critical, with every passing day.  This distinction impacts things such as: comp time, overtime, minimum wage, insurance, liability, civil rights claims, labor law claims, and things that may seem mundane, but are actually quite important (such as: "Whose HR manual do we follow?").

If you take a quick scan of the "Ask the Lawyer" searchable index,[4] you'll see that numerous member questions arise from this "Public Library as Employer" divide. And while they relate to different aspects of the library-as-employer, they all touch on one very specific priority: public library board authority.  And it's apparent that this is something some sponsoring municipalities and districts have a challenge grasping.

So, in an effort to provide a short, succinct resource for libraries to direct their government entities to when they try to interfere with hiring, try to control employee benefits, or otherwise try to interrupt the autonomy of duly elected/appointed trustees in the governance of a chartered public library, I am posting this memo on my firm's website at https://www.stephaniecoleadams.com/adamsblog/2021/1/7/comments-on-public-library-board-autonomy, without the usual snarky asides and footnote commentary. 

Hopefully it can help avoid some of the needless argument and hostility that these misunderstandings can create.  If you find it helpful, please let us[5] know.

--Cole

 

Comments on Library Board Autonomy

Law and current legal authority firmly establish that public library boards are the sole authority regarding employee terms of employment, including hiring, compensation, benefits, evaluation, promotion, discipline, and termination. 

This autonomy is constrained only by a public library board's need to observe the New York Civil Service Law, the New York Education Law, numerous state and federal labor laws, various applicable regulations, and a library's own charter and bylaws. 

The law does allow a public library to use, in whole or in part, the payroll system, policies, and benefits systems of their sponsoring government entity, if such resources are offered to the library by that entity.  Further, the government entity, in making such an offer, may condition such use on the library's cooperation with certain reporting procedures or methods of documentation.  The choice to use such offered resources, however, is ultimately at the discretion of the library's board, who may instead decide to have the library implement its own system. 

And finally, the choice as to how to expend library funds with respect to employees (salary, benefits, paid time off) always rests solely with a public library's board.

The legal authority establishing these considerations is extensive, but a thorough summary is set forth in the links and content below.

https://www.osc.state.ny.us/legal-opinions/opinion-93-15, which states:

"The ultimate control of the use, disposition and expenditure of the library fund moneys is vested in the library board even when the municipal treasurer has custody (1991 Opns St Comp No. 91-57, p 158). Further, even if the treasurer of the sponsoring municipality is custodian of the library fund, the library board would have custody of private source moneys of the library (1988 Opns St Comp No. 88-76, p 145; 1980 Opns St Comp No. 80-340, p 101).

Public libraries are, for most purposes, fiscally autonomous from the sponsoring municipality (see Opn No. 91-57, supra; 1983 Opns St Comp No. 83-32, p 37; Buffalo Library v Erie County, 171 AD2d 369, 577 NYS2d 993 affd 80 NY2d 938, 591 NYS2d 131). In addition, public library officers and employees are often not considered to be officers and employees of the sponsoring municipality or school district (see, e.g., General Municipal Law, §800[5], conflicts of interest; Public Officers Law, §10, official oaths; Binghamton Public Library v City of Binghamton, 69 Misc 2d 1005, 331 NYS2d 515 and County of Erie v Board of Trustees, 62 Misc 2d 396, 308 NYS2d 515, collective bargaining negotiations). In view of the library's fiscal autonomy, it is our opinion that library trustees and the separate library treasurer are not town officers or employees for purposes of Town Law, §123 and, therefore, are not subject to the accounting and auditing provisions of that section.

We note, however, that General Municipal Law, §30(3) requires that an annual report of financial transactions, including those involving private source moneys (Opn No. 88-76, supra), be made by the treasurer of each public library. The report must be certified by the officer making the same and, unless an extension of time is granted, must be filed with the Office of the State Comptroller within 60 days after the close of the library's fiscal year (General Municipal Law, §30[5]). In addition, the Education Law contains certain requirements for public libraries to report to the State Education Department (see Education Law, §§215, 263). Finally, as noted in Opn No. 88-76, supra, the town board, in determining the amount to be raised by taxes for library purposes, may take into account a library's private source funds and, therefore, may request from the library information concerning such funds."

https://www.osc.state.ny.us/legal-opinions/opinion-91-57, which states:

"With respect to library moneys, however, we note that public libraries are, for most purposes, fiscally autonomous from the sponsoring municipality (see, e.g., 1983 Opns St Comp No. 83-32, p 38). Thus, the ultimate control of the use, disposition, and expenditure of those moneys is vested in the library board of trustees even if the municipal treasurer is the custodian of library moneys. (Education Law, §§226[6], 259[1]; 1987 Opns St Comp No. 87-84, p 125; see also Opn No. 87-49, supra; Opn No. 86-54, supra). In addition, it is the library board of trustees which may authorize the investment of library moneys even when the moneys are held in the custody of the municipal treasurer (Opn No. 86-54, supra). Therefore, since the library board controls the use and disposition of library fund moneys, it is our opinion that the library board must consent to any arrangement under which library fund moneys are to be comingled with moneys of the municipality."

https://www.osc.state.ny.us/legal-opinions/opinion-2001-12, regarding indemnification of library trustees, which states:

"PUBLIC OFFICERS LAW §18: There are two alternatives for conferring the benefits of section 18 of the Public Officers Law on employees of a public library: either (1) the board of trustees of the library may elect to confer the benefits of section 18 on library employees as a public library expense; or (2) the governing board of the sponsoring municipality or school district may confer section 18 benefits on library employees as a direct expense of the sponsor."

Comptroller Opinion #445, which states:

"As a general rule, the town library board of trustees, and not the town board, has the authority to appoint and dismiss library personnel (Education Law, §§ 226(7), 260; 30 Opns St Comp, 1974, p 98). The library board exercises direct control and supervision over library personnel and, for most purposes, including labor negotiations [**486] under the Taylor Law (Civil Service [*2] Law, §§ 200, et seq.), the library board is considered to be the employer of library personnel (County of Erie v. Board of Trustees, 62 Misc 2d 396, 308 NYS2d 515; Binghamton Public Library Unit v. City of Binghamton, 69 Misc 2d 1005, 331 NYS2d 515; Opns St Comp, 1972, No. 72-402, unreported; cf. Retirement and Social Security Law, § 30(c); Opns St Comp, 1980, No. 80-199, as yet unreported; Finkelstein v. Central School District, 34 AD2d 781, 311 NYS2d 243 affd 28 NY2d 705, 320 NYS2d 751). Compensation for library personnel is fixed by the library board and paid from the library fund (Education Law, §§ 226(7), 259(1)). It would then follow that, as between the town board and the library board, it is the library board which determines the vacation and sick leave benefits for library employees. It is our opinion that a library board of trustees has implied authority to provide for sick leaves and vacations for library employees (see Opn No. 80- 199, supra; 1961 Atty Gen [Inf Opns] 105; Education Law, §§ 226(7), 260). We note that expenditures for employer contributions to the New York State Employees' Retirement System for library employees are expenses [*3] incurred for the operation of the library and should be paid from library funds (Opns St Comp, 1975, No. 75-903, unreported; 16 Ed Dep't Rep, 1977, p 416). The same would hold true for employer contributions for social security and unemployment insurance for library employees."

 

I hope this information is of assistance.



[1] This is like a guitar player saying they recently got to jam with John Mayer.

[2] In fact, to bolster the 1981 opinion I found, they sent me an even older opinion.

[3] I appreciate that anecdotal information is not precise data analysis.  For that, I rely on the system, councils, LibDev, and NYLA.  I fall into those data rabbit holes regularly.

[4] I am very gratified to have been doing this long enough to warrant a searchable index.

[5] Write to adams@losopllc.com and jill@losapllc.com.

Tags: Board of Trustees, Employee Rights, Sick Leave, Benefits

Topic: Parent access to student Google accounts - 1/8/2021
As we transformed to fully/largely remote learning and pulled all student work and interactions on...
Posted: Friday, January 8, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

As we transformed to fully/largely remote learning and pulled all student work and interactions onto Google platforms, a question has arisen about the intersection between student privacy and parent access to student accounts. Currently, if a parent is given their child's google log in information, they will have access to far more than ever in the past. Because of authentication agreements, library records, database access, all stored documents, any Google classroom the student is enrolled in, classlists for those classrooms, comments from teachers, peer work on group projects...this is likely not an exhaustive list!


My 2 biggest areas of concern are 1) access to library check outs and 2) ability to see that a student is enrolled in a classroom for the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at the school and the entire class list of other members.


I am told by my administrators that FERPA allows for parents to be given student log in information. The RAQ, post "Topic: Patron Confidentiality in School Libraries - 5/6/2019" gave very good information but both the online aspect and the myriad of elements that are exposed with that single password compel me to seek more details. Thank you!

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Thank you for this careful and thoughtful question.  As we rush to migrate education to online, the small details can get overlooked.  As the member writes, information that used to be safeguarded in physical files or with separate passwords is increasingly accessible via a "one-stop shop."

Depending on the type of information involved, any number of ethical, privacy, and legal concerns can be impacted.

In this question, the member focuses on two types of information: library records, and FERPA-protected "education records."

For library records, there is an overlap of legal concerns—an overlap that was thoroughly discussed in the 5/6/19 answer the member cites.  In that reply, we established that depending on how a school/school library is set up, parent/guardian access to this information might be allowed--but it’s a question that should never be left to chance (it should always be answered by a school’s FERPA and library privileges policies).

To that answer, and considering the spirit of the times, I'd simply add: any librarian out there, operating in elementary and secondary education, should be lauded when they raise privacy concerns.  Librarians should work with IT departments and procurement professionals to ensure data management and automation enable the separately governed access to a student's library records.  Even when access is legally allowed by a system, it is still good to emphasize the privacy of library records.

Here are several examples of how this can be done:

  • Including privacy considerations in “Requests for Proposals” (RFP’s) and quotes for automation and other data management software that will hold library or student records;
  • Training both library and IT staff to keep the division of different types of records with different access parameters at top of mind (“Remember, library records aren’t just protected by FERPA and ED 2-d”);
  • Ensuring that release and parental permission forms distinguish between and properly govern access to different types of records;
  • When making quick changes based on pandemic exigencies,[1] ensuring at least one person is tasked with assessing if the implementation conforms with applicable institutional ethics, policies, and privacy regulations.
  • Using deliberate awareness tools, such as a pop-up window that appears prior to enabling access to library files, saying "Student library records are confidential under state law.  Only properly authorized parties should view these records," is a good way to distinguish access to library information from other education records.[2]

For any educator reading this and thinking “Uh-oh,” if the horse is out of the barn, it is never too late to adopt some retroactive corrections.  When parental access is as plenary as the member describes, if there is a confirmed issue (such as access to one student’s enrollment records leading to access to all students’ enrollment records[3]) working with IT to address the specific utility hosting that information, and how it can be further locked down, is the only solution.

There will be times when addressing an issue like the ones raised by the member is simply not within the authority of the person concerned.  A concerned librarian or educator might even find themselves rebuffed when they try to ring the alarm! When that happens, it is time to kick it upstairs.  Each school should have a FERPA officer, and at least one senior administrator whose role is associated with enforcing a code of ethics or policies on privacy.  Concerns of this type are all appropriate to direct to such an administrator.

No one engineers a FERPA or privacy violation on purpose, but unwitting violations can happen when the learning environment has to change fast.  Being alert and ready to identify and correct concerns as soon as they emerge is critical.  Thanks for a solid question that shows how it's done.

 

 



[1] “Pandemic Exigencies” would be a good name for a heavy metal band.

[2] As discussed in that 5/6/19 answer, who "properly authorized parties" are can vary from school to school.

[3] This is indeed a possible violation.  FERPA §99.12 states "(a) If the education records of a student contain information on more than one student, the parent or eligible student may inspect and review or be informed of only the specific information about that student."

Tags: COVID-19, Privacy, School Libraries, Google, Students

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