The HR Specialist: New York Employment Law

Here’s a record-keeping requirement you may not be aware of: Employers must keep any written requests for ADA accommodations for at least one year. That includes requests received via e-mail. If you routinely purge information from computer hard drives or servers when employees quit, are fired or retire, you may be in violation of the requirement.

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Attorneys seem intent on finding some form of discrimination in every adverse employment decision—and courts seem increasingly inclined to go along. Consider this recent case, in which a pregnant black employee won the right to a jury trial on race and national-origin discrimination based on the allegation that a white pregnant employee was treated better.

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Employees who request FMLA leave can’t be punished for doing so. That would be retaliation and interference with the right to leave. But merely asking about FMLA leave or requesting paperwork isn’t enough to form the basis of an FMLA claim.

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Occasionally it’s impossible to find an accommodation that will allow a disabled employee to continue to do her current job. That’s when employers must consider the possibility of transferring the employee to an open job she can perform. That doesn’t mean, however, that employers must give a promotion to the employee if the only open position is higher up.

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Training opportunities at work must be available to all employees regardless of race, ethnicity, religion and so forth. That doesn’t mean, however, that everyone who wants to take a particular training course must get the opportunity. Employers can base training opportunities on the critical need for some employees to get the training.

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Some employees believe the Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes it illegal to discharge a pregnant woman for any reason related to the pregnancy. That’s not quite true. The PDA merely requires employers to treat pregnant women no differently than other employees. That may mean discharge for complications associated with pregnancy—under the right circumstances.

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As you try to cut costs in a tough economy, it may be tempting to outsource some HR functions to an independent contractor instead of continuing to do them in-house. Before you make that move, consider this: Employers may be liable for discrimination practiced by the outsourced independent contractor.

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Public employees who speak out on matters of public concern are protected from retaliation because their speech is protected by the First Amendment. For some time, courts have held that, if the employee’s motive was not informing the public, but instead securing some other workplace advantage, the speech was not protected. But now the 2nd Circuit has concluded that isn’t the law.

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Employees often don’t think about suing until after they have quit their jobs and moved on. Then they claim they had no choice but to quit because working conditions were so dreadful. Beat such allegations by keeping resignation letters and any notes taken during exit interviews. They help prove the resignation was voluntary.

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A federal trial court has concluded that coming to work is an essential function of one’s job. Therefore, the ADA doesn’t cover disabled employees who can’t meet that basic requirement.

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