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The HR Specialist: North Carolina Employment Law

If, like many employers, you have adopted a smoke-free workplace policy, you may think your organization won’t be liable if an employee lights up on the premises and starts a fire. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Your organization still could be liable if an employee’s careless smoking caused damage to another’s property.

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Economists at Moody’s predict North Carolina jobs will fall by 1.6% in 2009. The steepest declines are anticipated in construction (down 9.3%), manufacturing (– 4.3%) and financial activities (– 2.9%). There will be a few bright spots in the state’s job market, though.

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Sometimes, an employee isn’t a good fit for a particular job assignment and becomes frustrated that things aren’t working out. Employers that transfer such an employee with the genuine intent to give her a fresh start in another department probably won’t run into legal hot water.

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Two companies headquartered in North Carolina have made Fortune magazine’s 2009 “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. The two, both headquartered in Cary, are engineering firm Kimley-Horn & Associates and software giant SAS.

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Employees who oppose their employer’s illegal or discriminatory conduct are protected from retaliation. But that doesn’t mean such employees have the right to be insubordinate, rude and nasty. There’s a fine line between voicing opposition to a practice and challenging superiors in an insolent way.

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Employers that ignore their employees’ sexual harassment pleas—beware. Not only may you be liable under Title VII, but you may be liable under state law, too. And that can mean huge damage awards far beyond federal caps.

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It can happen at the best of companies: You discover that a careless supervisor or manager made some comments that might be interpreted as prejudiced. When that happens, you know to discipline that employee. But what do you do when the employee who was the target of the comments is up for promotion?

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The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers North Carolina employers, has issued a no-nonsense opinion full of common sense: Employees can’t bring an employment discrimination lawsuit because they didn’t get a job that doesn’t exist or for which applicants aren’t being sought.

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Nothing—not even a sexual harassment suit or EEOC investigation—will consume as much of your time as a class-action overtime lawsuit. Your best bet: Thoroughly review your pay practices to make sure you aren’t making any wage-and-hour mistakes. Do that before the litigation hits.

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