The HR Specialist: New York Employment Law

If you have to terminate employees during a reorganization, you can expect some of them to sue you. If that happens, don’t assume the court will blithely accept a general reorg as the reason why a particular employee lost her job. Be ready with a specific explanation why you terminated each one.

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Think your performance evaluations are tough? Try being an NFL quarterback. Bizjournals ranked all 36 NFL quarterbacks who threw at least 160 passes during the 2008 season to see who delivered the most bang for the buck. Last season’s New York Jets QB Brett Favre placed 34th out the 36 signal callers rated.

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The World Health Organization raised the swine flu alert to its highest level, saying the H1N1 virus has reached global pandemic levels. Your best HR defense is a good offensive plan to handle the logistical and employment law issues …

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If bosses question employees about sexual relationships, you could wind up facing a sexual harassment complaint. And it may not be a simple case of quid pro quo harassment, but rather a hard-to-defend hostile environment claim.

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According to a survey by accounting firm Grant Thornton, 29% of companies have reduced or intend to otherwise modify their contributions to employees’ 401(k) accounts. Of those employers, two-thirds have eliminated matching contributions altogether.

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Courts take retaliation seriously. In fact, they may hesitate to say an employer discriminated against an employee based on race, sex, age, disability or some other protected characteristic, but they’ll clamp down hard if they have the slightest suspicion that the employer punished the employee for merely alleging discrimination.

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When an employee threatens litigation, take your time building the case against him. Make sure you base your decision on solid facts. Double-check to see that there’s no way the employee can claim you singled him out for unfair or inequitable treatment. Then rest easy, knowing that if you’re sued, you can counter the allegations with facts and get the case dismissed quickly.

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Government employees are protected from retaliation for speaking out on matters of public importance. That doesn’t mean, however, that every letter to the editor is an exercise in freedom of speech. Indeed, if the letter is about a specific workplace problem between the employee and a supervisor, chances are a court won’t find that to be a First Amendment issue.

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In a perfect world, no one would ever utter a slur or make a derogatory comment. But this isn’t a perfect world, and employees come to work with emotional and cultural baggage. It’s up HR to make sure that baggage doesn’t turn into a discrimination lawsuit. 

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Here’s one easy way to cut down on lawsuits when you have to fire an employee: Have the same person who hired or last promoted the employee also make the final decision on termination. Reason: Courts often conclude that it would make no sense for those who hired or promoted someone to turn around and fire that same person for discriminatory reasons.

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