The HR Specialist: New York Employment Law

For a few employees, every workplace problem has its roots in some kind of discrimination. They’re the ones who continually file bias complaints, and they’re a continual source of frustration for supervisors who must constantly fend off unfounded accusations. Warn those bosses that overreacting will only lead to more trouble.

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A new state law significantly increases the penalties against employers that retaliate against whistle-blowers—by 1000%. Passed by the New York State Assembly last summer and enacted at the end of 2009, the new law sets the minimum fine for whistle-blower retaliation at $2,000.

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If your promotion processes are haphazard—devoid of objective criteria and without a clear system for choosing candidates—you could wind up facing a disparate-impact discrimination lawsuit. That’s one powerful reason to institute a clear promotion policy that includes posting job openings, creating application processes and relying primarily on objective selection criteria.

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One unhappy employee may not have much of an effect on your organization, even if she sues. But watch out! Handle the lawsuit poorly and you could see litigation grow as co-workers join in.

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Black workers at M. Slavin & Sons Fish processing plant in Brooklyn allege bosses there continually sexually harass black workers by grabbing their buttocks, pressing against them and occasionally jabbing their backsides with fishhooks. The workers have filed a complaint with the EEOC.

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Colonie-based Momentive Performance Materials has rescinded temporary pay cuts it instituted last spring, restoring salaries for all exempt employees other than senior managers. Meanwhile, hourly employees recently got encouraging news from the National Labor Relations Board …

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When one company buys another, it gets the good and the bad—including any lawsuits that may have already been filed against the bought-out entity. The acquiring company may be liable for pending Title VII discrimination claims, but that liability will probably be limited to back pay and other compensatory damages.

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The EEOC has filed sexual harassment charges against Dunkin’ Donuts for its alleged failure to stop a manager from harassing young women who worked at its Wynantskill store. Many of the employees he allegedly harassed were teenagers.

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It’s time to take a fresh look at how you classify your sales and administrative employees—because attorneys across New York will be on the lookout for good class-action lawsuits in the wake of a recent decision by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Virtually every federal employment law has an anti-retaliation provision—they would be toothless tigers without them. Employees who can’t prove outright discrimination often try the retaliation route. The EEOC handled a record-high 33,613 retaliation complaints in 2009. As a result, employers must tread carefully when dealing with an employee who has exercised his or her rights under any federal law.

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