Over the last couple of decades, the internet and social media have brought significant changes to the workplace. Employers and employees find each other online, workforce is more mobile, diverse and the transition to an information economy has changed the nature of work. Visiting professor from USA Lisa Renee Pomerantz, who has forty years of experience in the legal field, presented to students in the Vilnius University Law Faculty those changes and legal issues they bring in the modern workplace.
Lisa graduated from Law school forty years ago, since then she has worked as a Law Clerk for a judge, as a litigator, spent 15 years as in-house council for a big company as American subsidiary for Japanese corporation. Later she started her own practice. She has written and done voice-overs for online employee training programs, she does training on ethics and compliance and respect on the workplace. She also teaches, acts both as an outsource general council for a small to medium sized companies, practices in the employment law aria, helps clients to buy and sell business and do mergers. Lisa is also involved in the conflict resolution, is a mediator and arbitrator in employment and consumer matters.
In Lisa’s opinion, internet and social media have transferred every aspect of the employment relationship: „Whereas people used to be interviewed in person and go work for the same company their whole life, now we have a much more mobile and dispersed workplace. Young people see their careers as working in many jobs or having their own business, companies use the internet to reach out and qualify applicants, and the internet permits people to collaborate across borders and company lines. Also, companies more frequently use consultants and gig workers. All of this is contributing to the change workplaces have”.
According to the professor, there are a lot of legal issues that are resulting from those changes. First of all, a lot of questions of how to apply law occur: „Government have laws in place to protect employees. And when people are working as a temporary employee or as a consultant, there is a question of how do those laws apply in the new circumstances.”
Another issue, that Lisa has observed, is employee loyalty: „When employees are so mobile, employers are concerned for their intellectual property. So sometimes the reaction of the employer is to be more onerous with the provisions and employee policy and so both government and employers are taking actions to encounter this mobility. The question about these provisions, that employers put in the employment contracts or their policies, is – are they or should they be enforceable?”
A lot of questions about confidentiality also occur: „First of all the nature of the work that is being done is different. We store everything in the computers – intellectual property might be digital assets, confidential information might be your customer list or your employee information that is digitalized. It is stored digitally and it makes it a lot easier to steal. Plus, you have people going from one employer to the other and it may cause legal problems for the new employer if they hire somebody who is either not permitted to work for them or who brings over or uses the intellectual property from the prior employer.” Lisa also sees social media as a challenge, since there is availability both for the employer and for the employee to find all the information about one another online.
In Lisa’s opinion, the law nowadays does not follow the changes and fast moving world, and there is usually a gap between the regulations and the modern issues: „The regulations are either a little behind or very much behind. For example, the issue that occupational safety and health administration tries to make sure that all workplaces are safe. So what if people work at home? They are not going to look at homes. Anyway its difficult, when policies don’t reflect certain changes.”
So what kind of future awaits the legal services? In Lisa’s opinion, lawyers have to think about how to provide the best service possible in order to be successful in the modern environment. „The legal field especially in the USA has undergone tremendous stress. Because it hasn’t been meeting clients’ needs for cost-effective legal services. The day-to-day legal work that firms rely on is changing, largely due to advances in technology. Smaller firms now have access to the same legal research tools that the big firms have. Lawyers don’t have to buy expensive libraries of offices, they can find everything on the internet, so big firms really have suffered and I think it’s important for lawyers to see where they can make value because employers don’t want to spend money on services or information that they can find themselves. The truth is, that only lawyers who meet people’s needs will survive and thrive,” – says the professor.