In a decision released this week, the FCC granted the application of an FM station for license renewal, denying petitions filed by two former employees who contended that the station had violated a number of FCC rules. After the FCC inspected the station and found only a few minor issues with the station’s public file, the license renewal was granted. The FCC action was itself routine, but what it points out is that stations need to be very careful in their dealings with employees, especially employees who are about to leave their service. This is not the first FCC case that was brought based on allegations made by former employees, and it will no doubt not be the last. Putting aside the merits of the claims made in the complaints, the station had to endure a delayed renewal and no doubt significant legal expenses in bringing the matter to a resolution – which perhaps may have been avoided had there been better relationships with the former employees . A few weeks ago, we wrote about the need to handle lay-offs and reductions in force in a manner that is least likely to cause legal problems for the station, and pointed to a memo from Davis Wright Tremaine’s employment law practice that highlighted some considerations to keep in mind. That memo is probably worth review once again in these troubling economic times where layoffs have become the norm at many broadcast stations.
The case also highlights the need for the broadcaster to be absolutely candid and forthright in its dealings with the FCC and the public. A broadcaster may be tempted to fudge on certifications on FCC applications as to issues like whether it timely placed documents into the public file, or whether it did all the EEO outreach that was required for all of its job openings. But, beyond the simple fact that you should tell the truth, there are usually employees that know what’s happening at a station. And, one day, those employees could become "disgruntled" (funny that no one ever talks about a "gruntled" employee), and seemingly innocent certifications that ignored some minor transgression can be blown up into a major issue – claims of misrepresentation or false certification which can cost broadcasters their licenses. The admission of a missed deadline, incomplete public file or similar issue will at worst bring a fine, while the false certification can lead to much more. Be candid, treat employees well – and stay out of trouble.