Because I’m a lawyer and because my friends know I love movies, people frequently ask me to identify my favorite lawyer-related movies. My personal favorites are My Cousin Vinny, A Few Good Men, and Liar Liar. To the extent you agree or have lawyer-related movies you like as well, feel free to weigh in. As luck would have it, this week’s employer blog lesson comes from the well-timed juxtaposition of a client inquiry and what has to be my hundredth viewing of Jim Carrey’s Liar Liar.
Specifically, a client in the hospitality industry recently asked whether it had to obtain parental or legal guardian consent to conduct background checks and drug screens on its minor employees. Particularly in the summer months, many restaurants and hotels hire minors. Unfortunately, many employers mistakenly use the same hiring materials regardless whether the employee is a minor or has reached the age of majority. Thus, the employers ask their minor employees to sign the required consent forms. But do these minor employees have the legal capacity to execute these forms?
This is where Jim Carrey’s eccentric, ethically challenged character in Liar Liar can teach employers a lesson. As you may recall, Carrey represents a philandering wife in her divorce proceeding in which she seeks half of her soon-to-be ex-husband’s multi-milliondollar estate. Carrey’s client, however, signed a prenuptial agreement containing a fidelity clause. A fidelity clause essentially provides that if one spouse cheats on the other, the cheating spouse isn’t entitled to recover certain identified assets in the divorce proceedings.
As luck would have it, Carrey’s client had slept with at least seven other men and the husband had audio footage of the wife “making love” to the most recent paramour. Carrey, who early in the movie was not exactly morally constrained, was fully prepared to have his client and her paramour lie about their sexual relationship. But then, Hollywood magic intervenes. Carrey’s young son, who was tired of his father’s unfulfilled paternal promises, makes a birthday wish that for one day Carrey cannot lie. The wish comes true, coincidentally, on the very day of Carrey’s family law trial.
As a result of his son’s wish, not only can Carrey not lie, but he can’t allow his clients to provide testimony that he knows is a lie. Indeed, Carrey impeaches his own star witness on the stand, causing the paramour to admit to the “lovemaking” with Carrey’s client. The movie obviously contains a more colorful description of the relationship, but I like to keep things PG. Once the paramour admits to the relationship, all hope for his client’s case appears lost. But then, while reviewing his client’s birth certificate, Carrey has an epiphany.
From the birth certificate, Carrey realizes that his client lied about her age so that she could get married. That is, Carrey’s client claimed she was 18 at the time she married the husband, when in fact she was only 17. As the name implies, Carrey’s client signed the pre-nuptial before she got married. Thus, she was a minor at the time she signed. Therefore, the agreement was void and, as Carrey put it, “[t]he fact that my client has been ridden more than Seattle Slew is irrelevant.” Once the agreement was voided, his client received half of the marital estate. “He shoots, he scores.”
So where is the lesson for employers here? Just like Carrey’s client in Liar Liar, minor employees don’t have the legal capacity to consent to background checks and drug screens. Employers hiring minors should ensure that their new hire packets include appropriate parental or legal guardian consent forms and that the forms are signed and returned. Without such consent, employers may unintentionally be breaking various state and federal laws applicable to these areas. So, as Jim Carrey tells his recidivist criminal client after he robs someone at knifepoint, “Stop breaking the law, [expletive].”