Pat Barcas/staff photographer
Attorney Penelope Lechtenberg informed the public at Aurora University about social media, free speech and Northwestern University football players unionizing.
By Pat Barcas
Thursday, July 3, 2014
Email Pat Barcas at firstname.lastname@example.org
AURORA — Addressing the changing rules of labor in today’s society, attorney Penelope Lechtenberg, partner with Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Rockford, talked at Aurora University June 25. She talked about social media, free speech, and the Northwestern University football players unionizing.
It was found by the National Labor Relations Board earlier this year that Northwestern players are more likely employees rather than non-employees. The decision is being appealed, but Lechtenberg said the decision carries a lot of weight behind it.
“It’s very interesting and it took me by surprise. I don’t know why I didn’t see this coming, but it’s fascinating,” she said.
Lechtenberg said players who have been awarded a scholarship to play are compensated and work 20 to 50 hours per week. They also generate millions in revenue. They were found to be employees eligible for unionizing.
“Is there an overwhelming community of interest between these people? The questions this opens up are endless. It has the potential to change college athletics,” she said.
Also on topic was social media — specifically whether employees can openly complain about employers online. A recent ruling said talking about working conditions on a social media platform such as Facebook is protected speech.
“If it’s just a person randomly saying horrible things, then they are likely to be disciplined. But if you complain about a specific thing about your workplace, and others join in, this is discourse. This is protected. It’s a fine line and it’s evolving,” said Lechtenberg.
What about screaming at your boss, using profanity, and . . . getting away with it?
A May 2014 case saw employee asking about pay at an auto dealership. The conversation got heated, he raised his voice, used profanity, and was terminated for being belligerent. The outcome was surprising.
“The NLRB found this profane outburst as protected,” said Lechtenberg. “The employee was protected because the outburst was in the context of discussing his terms and conditions.”
Lechtenberg represents management in labor and employment-law matters before federal and state courts and administrative agencies. They include OSHA, National Labor Relations Board, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Citizenship and Immigration Services.
On the looming immigration front, Lechtenberg said Illinois employers need to get their I-9 tax forms in order.
“There will be a lot more audits going on now. There is a huge workplace compliance push, and the penalties for incorrect I-9s are huge,” she said.