The HR Specialist: New York Employment Law

Black workers at M. Slavin & Sons Fish processing plant in Brooklyn allege bosses there continually sexually harass black workers by grabbing their buttocks, pressing against them and occasionally jabbing their backsides with fishhooks. The workers have filed a complaint with the EEOC.

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Colonie-based Momentive Performance Materials has rescinded temporary pay cuts it instituted last spring, restoring salaries for all exempt employees other than senior managers. Meanwhile, hourly employees recently got encouraging news from the National Labor Relations Board …

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When one company buys another, it gets the good and the bad—including any lawsuits that may have already been filed against the bought-out entity. The acquiring company may be liable for pending Title VII discrimination claims, but that liability will probably be limited to back pay and other compensatory damages.

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The EEOC has filed sexual harassment charges against Dunkin’ Donuts for its alleged failure to stop a manager from harassing young women who worked at its Wynantskill store. Many of the employees he allegedly harassed were teenagers.

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It’s time to take a fresh look at how you classify your sales and administrative employees—because attorneys across New York will be on the lookout for good class-action lawsuits in the wake of a recent decision by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Virtually every federal employment law has an anti-retaliation provision—they would be toothless tigers without them. Employees who can’t prove outright discrimination often try the retaliation route. The EEOC handled a record-high 33,613 retaliation complaints in 2009. As a result, employers must tread carefully when dealing with an employee who has exercised his or her rights under any federal law.

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No doubt you have heard many times that retaliation is anything that would dissuade a reasonable employee from complaining about something in the first place. But minor actions usually don’t add up to retaliation. Unfortunately, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over New York employers, has now muddied the retaliation waters.

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In an attempt to close a gaping state deficit, New York Budget Director Robert Megna has told government agencies to offer early-retirement packages to state employees. The state made a similar offer earlier in 2009, and 1,100 workers took that option before it expired in early November.

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Your organization probably has policies prohibiting sexual harassment, and you probably offer training for supervisors and employees alike on how the policy works. But that simply isn’t enough. You should have multiple ways for employees to report sexual harassment. The more ways you provide, the more likely a court will conclude that an employee who failed to report the harassment was acting unreasonably.

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Here’s a cautionary tale that offers an inevitable lesson: When a supervisor’s harassment spills out into the greater workplace, the claims will grow exponentially.

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