In the latest Weekly Wright Report:
Are Your Employees Spreading Holiday Cheer or COVID-19?
Normally at this time of year, employment attorneys are publishing articles and sending reminders to clients about how to host their holiday parties without creating liability for the company. This year, with the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases and accompanying government restrictions on travel and social gatherings, most employers are instead concerned about how their employees are celebrating the holidays outside the workplace, with their families and friends. As recent news articles have highlighted, experts have attributed the recent surge of cases to smaller gatherings of family and friends where social distancing guidelines are less rigidly followed. As a result, many employers who have returned to in-person work are concerned about the risks of employee-to-employee transmission brought about by employees attending social events over the holidays or traveling to high-risk areas.
First, a word of caution – regulating employees’ private conduct is an extremely sensitive issue. An employer’s ability to discipline employees for legal activities outside of work varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and, depending on where your employees live or your business is located, employees may be legally protected from discipline even if their conduct demonstrates poor judgment or creates a risk for their coworkers. However, if the employer is located in a jurisdiction that has implemented restrictions on travel or the size of social gatherings, an employer would have greater leeway in implementing policies addressing conduct outside of work when such conduct violates a legal standard. Similarly, complaints about disparate treatment may arise when some employees are disciplined, but not others, because the employer is not able to accurately determine who has violated a government order due to varying levels of information shared by employees through social media or run-of-the-mill gossip.
With those caveats, employers concerned about the spread of COVID-19 due to employees attending social gatherings, holiday parties or travel should consider implementing policies addressing employee conduct and travel to ensure that expectations are clearly communicated to employees. Some policies to consider:
• Implementing return-to-work testing for employees who travel to areas designated as COVID-19 “hot spots” by applicable government authorities;
• Implementing return-to-work testing for employees attending social events or gatherings in excess of crowd-size limitations implemented by government authorities; and
• Depending on the ability to work remotely, requiring employees to work remotely or take some form of leave for a quarantine period after attending a prohibited social event or traveling out-of-state.
If you have any questions about implementing a COVID-19 travel policy, a policy related to attending prohibited social gatherings, or would like assistance preparing and distributing a policy, please contact our Employment & Labor Law practice group.
Free Britney Spears!
Last week, Britney Spears took steps in California to remove her father from the conservatorship he has held since 2008. After some public struggles, a California court appointed a conservator to manage her assets at that time. She now wishes to transfer conservatorship from her father, Jamie Spears, to her longtime care manager, Jodi Montgomery.
The control that Jamie Spears has exercised over the years has left Britney feeling a tad overprotected, and she apparently feels that the relationship has become toxic. Now that Britney is feeling stronger, she believes the control exerted over her assets is outrageous, and she’d like to exercise her prerogatives. (I apologize for trying to squeeze so many Britney Spears song titles into this paragraph.)
What is a Conservator?
In Maryland, a conservator is a “Guardian of the Property.” Guardians of the property are persons who are court-appointed to manage the property of a person under mental or physical disability. In Maryland, a guardian may be appointed, upon petition, if the court determines that the person who is the subject of the proceedings is unable to effectively manage their own property and affairs because of “physical or mental disability, disease, habitual drunkenness, addiction to drugs, imprisonment, compulsory hospitalization, detention by a foreign power, or disappearance.” Further, a guardian of the property can only be appointed if the individual has or may be entitled to property or benefits which require proper management.
Maryland law requires that a guardian exercise the same care and skill in managing the subject individual’s property that they would apply to their own property. Guardians of the property are fiduciaries, meaning they must act on behalf of the individual and put the individual’s interests ahead of their own.
A guardian may be removed upon petition by the disabled person, their representatives, the guardian, or any other interested person upon cessation of the disability, the death of the disabled person, the transfer of all estate assets to a foreign fiduciary, or for other good cause shown.
Back to Britney.
Britney’s court filings have shown that she desires to regain some measure of control over her empire. During the hearing, Britney presumably made a series of arguments that her current conservator is not managing her assets in accordance with her wishes; something that may fall under the category of “other good cause shown” here in Maryland.
At this time, the California court has determined that the conservatorship will continue for the time being, with the only change being the addition of a financial company, Bessemer Trust, as co-conservator.
Full disclosure, I had to Google all (ok, most) of the Britney Spears song titles that appear in bold italics in this article. While we might not have Britney’s song lyrics memorized, Wright, Constable & Skeen attorneys know everything there is to know about guardianships and estate planning. Preparation can be crucial to avoiding messy litigation later on in life. If you would like help in preparing the appropriate documents, or if litigation is already upon you, we’re here to help.
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