The HR Specialist: New York Employment Law

The ADA requires employers to maintain strict confidentiality on any medical- or disability-related information. That means keeping it in a separate, secure file, away from prying eyes that have no business viewing the information. But confidentiality doesn’t apply just to paper or electronic records. Employers also have to make sure they don’t discuss such information with those who don’t need to know.

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HR professionals often worry needlessly when they hear that a supervisor has made an intemperate or insensitive remark. Fortunately, such comments seldom become the basis of successful lawsuits unless they are truly offensive or outrageous.

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Westchester County’s Hudson Valley Hospital will pay $142,500 to settle an EEOC charge in which a diabetic nurse claimed she suffered disability discrimination. Glorianne Romano asked to have three days in a row off each week following an episode when she went into a diabetic coma in 2007. Her doctor said she needed the time off to regulate her insulin treatments. At first, the hospital agreed, but then withdrew the accommodation, claiming Romano’s schedule was too disruptive.

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In today’s tough economic climate, more and more employees are willing to stay put, applying for promotions instead of looking for jobs in other organizations. That means more competition for promotions—and more opportunities for disgruntled employee to sue when they’re passed over.

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Some employers wrongly believe that when co-workers end what was a consensual sexual relationship, one employee can’t later claim sexual harassment for post-breakup conduct. The dubious assumption: Any subsequent unpleasant contact between the employees was probably based on jealousy or anger over the broken relationship rather than “on account of sex.” That’s not always true.

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Here’s a problem to warn supervisors and managers about: When an employee with a disability returns from FMLA leave, don’t assume she can’t do her job or will need more time off. If or when the time comes, then you can decide how to handle time off. Until then, assume all is well.

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Employers sometimes erroneously assume that employees working under a set-term employment contract don’t have any rights once the contract expires. That’s simply not true. In fact, refusing to entertain a contract renewal for a discriminatory reason can be the basis for an employee’s lawsuit.

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Sometimes, you have to take a chance on a job applicant because the candidate pool isn’t filled with as much talent as you would like. Everyone knows picking a marginal candidate can turn out to be a mistake. If you find you have to terminate such an employee, have the same person who made the hiring decision also make the termination decision. That reduces the chance of a costly discrimination lawsuit …

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Employers often agonize over whether their workplace investigations are thorough enough. They worry that they somehow have to ascertain the absolute truth and can’t make any mistakes. Relax. As long as your investigation is reasonable, courts won’t interfere—even if your conclusions were wrong.

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New York’s Shared Work program, which allows companies to cut hours rather than lay off workers, saved 10,500 jobs in the first eight months of 2009, according to Gov. David Paterson.

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