The HR Specialist: New York Employment Law

New York finished better than just four states in the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council’s (SBEC) Business Tax Index for 2009. The SBEC annually assesses the tax climates for business and entrepreneurs in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

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Employers are often advised to have the same managers who hired an employee also make the termination decision. The idea is that doing so may scuttle a discrimination lawsuit because it’s illogical for a manager to hire a member of a protected class and then turn around and fire him because of bias against that protected class. Don’t use it as an excuse to get sloppy with record-keeping and documentation.

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It should come as no surprise that employees look for subtle as well as blatant retaliation. In one recent case, the employee thought that being asked to fill in (without being paid extra) for another employee who was on maternity leave was retaliation for her own discrimination complaint.

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Employees who can’t come to work at all because of a disability can’t perform the essential functions of their jobs. Someone who is so incapacitated they cannot work can be discharged.

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White Plains-based Marjam Supply, a building supply company, has agreed to pay $495,000 to settle the complaints of five black employees. The five filed charges with the EEOC, charging the supervisors repeatedly used racial slurs, talked about joining the Ku Klux Klan and threatened to burn crosses on the workers’ lawns.

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You never know which employee will sue you, or when. Take, for example, promotion opportunities. Employees who aren’t picked may think the reason was discrimination. Then they sue. How will you support your promotion decisions?

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Title VII protects employees from discrimination based on sex, and sexual harassment is sex discrimination. That doesn’t mean, however, that every unwanted work relationship is sexual harassment. As a recent case shows, an obsessive interest, unrelated to sex, by one employee in another isn’t prohibited.

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Unions are flourishing during the current economic crisis, slowly emerging after decades of decline. Chances are, more and more of your employees are being courted by unions, whether your organization is currently a union workplace or not. Now’s the time to educate yourself on what you can and cannot do to discourage union membership.

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Black Friday had a double meaning at Wal-Mart’s Valley Stream, N.Y., store last year when temporary employee Jdimytai Damour, 34, was trampled to death by stampeding shoppers. OSHA investigated and levied the maximum permissible fine against the store, $7,000.

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Workplace survival can require a thick skin. Some employees are just too sensitive to what co-workers say, assuming that every overheard comment is directed at them or meant to offend them in some way. The fact of the matter is that even a few incidents that border on harassment or religious intolerance aren’t enough to trigger a successful lawsuit.

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