The HR Specialist: New York Employment Law

Sometimes, employees hesitate to tell supervisors about their medical problems, especially if they feel there’s a stigma associated with the condition. But if the employee misses work and is fired, she can’t use the medical excuse to get unemployment compensation benefits.

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Make sure everyone on your HR staff knows about every disciplinary action. Track who is disciplined and for what reasons. Use that data to do a self-audit. You’re looking to see whether members of a protected class are being punished more severely than others.

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The New York State Legislature is considering restricting employers’ ability to check job applicants’ credit. Critics of pre-employment credit checks have noted that the economic downturn has forced many people to miss payments, and that the practice may unreasonably rule out large numbers of applicants.

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According to a complaint filed with the DOL, Kellogg Auto Supply of Cortland disbursed ESOP benefits in 1999 based on the stock’s 1998 valuation. But it made no further distributions until 2008. The DOL filed suit charging the company and its president, Richard Coates, with violating ERISA.

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If you have ever been tempted to fire an alleged harasser just because you suspected the alleged victim might sue, consider this: The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has concluded that fear of being sued is no excuse for firing a suspected harasser without investigating.

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When it comes to whom you employ, pay no attention to your customers’ preferences if they lead you to make illegal decisions. Simply put, employers can’t consider what race or ethnicity their customers or clients would prefer when making hiring decisions. That would be discrimination.

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Does your organization allow or tacitly condone it (by ignoring it) when employees criticize a co-worker who associates with members of a different protected class? If so, you should be aware that disciplining that employee can bring on a lawsuit.

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In a textbook illustration of the perils of downsizing, a group of female executives has filed suit against beleaguered banking giant Citigroup, charging the bank’s layoffs hit women executives harder than men. That, attorney Douglas Wigdor told Forbes.com, is “recessionary discrimination.”

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Employees who take leave because of a disability may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation when they return to work. But, as an employer, you have the right to decline an employee’s return if you genuinely believe she won’t be able to perform her job. But if the employee proposes undergoing a medical or psychological exam to prove she is fit to return, cooperate.

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To avoid paying overtime and keeping track of every minute employees spend on the job, many employers reflexively classify employees as exempt rather than hourly employees. But many employers get it wrong—and that can be costly.

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