The HR Specialist: New York Employment Law

The new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act significantly changes the health care landscape for many employers. Some aspects of the law took effect in September 2010. Most significantly, employees’ children are eligible for coverage until age 26. The new coverage requirement affects all plans renewing on or after Sept. 23, 2010.

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Employees who have just lost their jobs usually leave their termination meetings in a foul mood. So, don’t give them any reason during that meeting to send them marching to a lawyer’s office. As you’ll see in the following case, one inflammatory phrase from a supervisor can spark a lawsuit.

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Novartis Pharmaceuticals has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by female sales reps just two months after a federal jury awarded the plaintiffs $250 million in punitive damages. Novartis challenged that verdict, and the court had scheduled a hearing for November. Under the settlement, Novartis will pay $152.5 million in return for dropping its appeal.

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Some employers try to avoid the impression of retaliation by making sure that whoever makes disciplinary decisions doesn’t know about any discrimination complaints. That way, they can argue that if the decision-maker wasn’t privy to the complaint, he couldn’t be retaliating. It isn’t quite that simple.

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Some words are inherently racist, offensive or discriminatory regardless of the context in which they are spoken. When such words fly in the workplace, courts will almost always conclude the environment was hostile. Other words, however, require a close look at the context in which they were used. One such term: “bitch.” If used in a context that clearly is aimed at putting down women, the term creates a sexually hostile work environment.

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Sometimes a newly minted supervisor takes the opportunity to settle old scores with former co-workers. That can create liability for the employer. That’s why—before the promotion goes into effect—you must train the candidates on sensitive issues such as harassment and retaliation.

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Many employers are discovering they have many—perhaps dozens—of well-qualified applicants for each opening. That may leave some perfectly qualified applicants wondering why they weren’t picked. Don’t fret about selecting the applicant with the best résumé. While you may be sued by another applicant who believes some form of discrimination must have been at work in the selection process, that lawsuit won’t go far.

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Employees have to work at least 1,250 hours in a year to qualify for FMLA leave. They also must have been employed for a total of one year. Thus, while many part-time employees may qualify for FMLA leave, others won’t because they haven’t met those thresholds. But now some hourly employees and their attorneys are trying a new approach.

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Elmer Davis Roofing, the largest roofing contractor in New York state, will pay $1 million to settle an EEOC race bias lawsuit, following what the commission called “decades of ugly and unlawful discrimination against African-American employees.”

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New York City law requires employers to consider whether injured or ill employees who want to work from home are entitled to such an accommodation.

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