The HR Specialist: New York Employment Law

Employees often have legitimate reasons for accusing their employers of retaliation. But sometimes, employees themselves retaliate against a company, either out of malice, or to head off being fired. That’s one reason it pays to try to anticipate employee misfeasance and guard against sabotage.

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Employees may be absent from work for extended periods of time because of illness or injury. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy recently released an online “Return to Work Toolkit” that serves as a one-stop portal to numerous free, online resources for employers and employees coping with return-to-work issues.

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If you terminate an employee the day he comes back from FMLA leave, plan on getting sued. Timing alone can be enough for the court to let a jury decide the case. That’s true even if your past practices in similar cases don’t show any pattern of FMLA interference.

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A Brooklyn court has extended an injunction preventing New York City from hiring new firefighters because existing hiring tests discriminate against minorities. The court proposed five alternative hiring plans that would bypass continued use of tests, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg claims all five require the city to use illegal quotas.

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Sometimes, managers and supervisors just want their employees to get along and get their work done. When they hear someone complaining about sexual or other harassment, they may be tempted to blow it off as a distraction and just ignore it or tell the co-workers involved to stop it. That’s not good enough.

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Can an employee you never fired sue you for a discriminatory termination? Oddly enough, yes. Under some circumstances, an employee can quit and claim she was “constructively discharged.” To do so, she has to show conditions at work were intolerable. And now a federal court has concluded that cutting someone’s pay can be an intolerable condition.

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Gov. David Paterson has signed into law legislation protecting domestic workers, granting bereavement and funeral leave rights to same-sex partners and ensuring fair play in the construction industry.

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When Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, it sought to guarantee women who had been denied equal pay in the past fresh opportunities to challenge their lower pay with each paycheck issued. Now a woman alleging sexual harassment and retaliation has tried to use that act to revive old claims relating to promotions. Her bid to expand the law in court failed.

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Employees who complain about alleged discrimination or harassment that violates Title VII or other anti-discrimination laws are protected from retaliation for reporting their allegations. But that doesn’t automatically mean every complaint about workplace problems is protected. If the complaint doesn’t touch on clearly identifiable workplace rights, it’s just a complaint.

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You can’t just shrug off co-worker conflicts. Instead, carefully document the problem just in case an employee sues. You’ll be able to show that personality, not discrimination, is the reason for an employee’s problems.

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