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Privacy Rights May Include Accused in Harassment Case

March 15, 1998

Q I have worked for several employers over the years, and I've had several relationships with co-employees. They were all consensual, and I was not married at the time.

If I am accused of sexual harassment, can my accuser start dredging up all of my old relationships? After all I've read in the news, it seems as if nothing is off-limits.

--R.K., Irvine

*

A Recent news coverage of the Paula Corbin Jones lawsuit against President Clinton would lead you to believe that there is no such thing as a private workplace relationship once allegations of sexual harassment have been made. But there are areas of questioning that should remain off-limits.

As a general rule, the person alleging harassment cannot be questioned about his or her sexual history. Under California law, the accused also has a right to privacy, although that right is not absolute.

An exception may be made if previous workplace relationships are directly relevant to the sexual-harassment claims of the plaintiff. For example, let's say you supervised the employee with whom you had a relationship, or exercised some control over the conditions of his or her employment, and your workplace romance was obvious to others. The plaintiff may claim that you sent a signal that the best way to get ahead in the workplace was by having a relationship with the boss.

Under those circumstances, the nature of your relationship with other employees may be relevant. Beyond that, if you claim, or your former paramour claims, a right to privacy, a court would probably prevent the intrusion.

--Josephine Staton Tucker

Employment law attorney

Morrison & Foerster

School Can Charge Fingerprint Fee

Q I recently began working as a receptionist in a private grade school. I had to provide my fingerprints as a condition of employment.

The school made me pay for the prints to be taken. I also had to pay a $56 fee for the prints to be checked by law-enforcement agencies (the fee was not paid to the school, only collected by the school).

I was under the impression that employers, not employees, must pay for services that are prerequisites for employment.

Am I entitled to a reimbursement?

H.C., North Hollywood

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A No. A recent California law requires all applicants for employment in private schools who do not have teaching credentials to submit fingerprints to determine whether the applicant has a criminal record. The law specifically states that the applicant may be charged a reasonable fee for the processing of fingerprints.

Although California law provides that employees must be reimbursed for costs they incur in the course of performing their duties, this law does not apply to applicants for employment.

--James J. McDonald Jr.

Attorney, Fisher & Phillips LLP

Labor law instructor, UC Irvine

Former Employer Keeps Calling

Q I could not stand my previous job, so I accepted the first offer I received.

I gave the customary two weeks notice, and during those days answered other employees' questions about my duties.

On my last day of work, I signed my termination papers, hoping never to have anything to do with the company again. Within a few days after starting my new job, my home's answering machine was full of messages from my previous employer with questions about my previous job. Since I am no longer on their payroll and they never offered to pay me for my time, I ignored every message. Somehow, they got my work telephone number and are demanding answers from me, which is a burden since I am on probation with my current employer.

Am I obligated to help my previous employer after I depart. Is there an employment law that can restrain my previous employer from contacting me?

--J.Y. Santa Barbara

*

A There is no state or federal law that requires an employee to cooperate with a previous employer after the employment relationship has ended.

You should check the termination papers that you signed to make sure that they do not include language requiring you to provide assistance to the company after you departed.

If the termination papers do not include such a requirement, I suggest that you write or call your former employer and tell them that their continuing telephone calls are interfering with your new job and must stop.

If you are unable to achieve your objective, I suggest you contact an attorney familiar with employment matters to obtain assistance in restraining your former employer.

--Diane J. Crumpacker

Employment law attorney

Fried, Bird & Crumpacker

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