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The HR Specialist: New York Employment Law

Good news: You won’t be held personally liable—and neither will your company—for what you say in re­­sponse to an EEOC complaint. State­­ments made in an EEOC investigation are privileged.

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The New York Court of Appeal—the state’s highest court—has ruled that Starbucks baristas in New York must share tips with their shift supervisors. Assistant managers, however, are out of luck. The court said they don’t get a cut of the nickels, dimes and quarters left in the jars on the Starbucks counters.

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Not every condition that’s labeled a “disease” is considered a disability under the ADA. Recently a federal court in New York concluded that periodontal disease, even if painful, isn’t disabling and absent extenuating circumstances won’t need to be accommodated.

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Some employees just aren’t very likable, and that can lead to workplace awkwardness. Co-workers may ignore their prickly colleagues and only deal with them when necessary. That’s OK as long as the co-workers don’t end up going beyond mild ostracism.

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In a major victory for employers, the Supreme Court in June ruled that, in Title VII cases, only someone with the power to take “tangible employment action” can be considered a supervisor. The Court’s decision in Vance v. Ball State will make it harder for employees to sue for supervisor bias, a claim that carries strict employer liability.

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While management should strive for as cordial a workplace as practically possible, don’t worry if yours sometimes falls short. Don’t take complaints about petty slights and behaviors too seriously if you are sure there isn’t more below the ­surface.

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Get ready, New York ­employers. New developments will affect how and how much you pay your employees. The state minimum wage will soon increase and the NYSDOL has proposed new regulations on wage deductions.

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Of course you have an anti-­discrimination and anti-harassment policy. You make sure employees know about it. You even make it easy for employees to use the policy. But all that can be for naught if you’re unable to track those complaints.

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Here’s a tip that could save you thousands in legal bills and penalties: When you are asked to terminate a poor performer who previously complained about harassment, make sure her performance problems didn’t suddenly emerge after the complaint. That could be a clear indication of retaliation.

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Companies that don’t change with the times risk going out of business. But change can be uncomfortable for employees, especially if it affects them directly in lost pay, status or even continued employment. Don’t let the possibility of a lawsuit keep you from making necessary adjustments.

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