The HR Specialist: New York Employment Law

Some employers wrongly believe that when co-workers end what was a consensual sexual relationship, one employee can’t later claim sexual harassment for post-breakup conduct. The dubious assumption: Any subsequent unpleasant contact between the employees was probably based on jealousy or anger over the broken relationship rather than “on account of sex.” That’s not always true.

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Here’s a problem to warn supervisors and managers about: When an employee with a disability returns from FMLA leave, don’t assume she can’t do her job or will need more time off. If or when the time comes, then you can decide how to handle time off. Until then, assume all is well.

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Employers sometimes erroneously assume that employees working under a set-term employment contract don’t have any rights once the contract expires. That’s simply not true. In fact, refusing to entertain a contract renewal for a discriminatory reason can be the basis for an employee’s lawsuit.

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Sometimes, you have to take a chance on a job applicant because the candidate pool isn’t filled with as much talent as you would like. Everyone knows picking a marginal candidate can turn out to be a mistake. If you find you have to terminate such an employee, have the same person who made the hiring decision also make the termination decision. That reduces the chance of a costly discrimination lawsuit …

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Employers often agonize over whether their workplace investigations are thorough enough. They worry that they somehow have to ascertain the absolute truth and can’t make any mistakes. Relax. As long as your investigation is reasonable, courts won’t interfere—even if your conclusions were wrong.

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New York’s Shared Work program, which allows companies to cut hours rather than lay off workers, saved 10,500 jobs in the first eight months of 2009, according to Gov. David Paterson.

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The Eaton Neck Fire Department agreed to settle an EEOC age discrimination suit that challenged the department’s practice of not allowing the time firefighters serve after their 65th birthdays to count toward length-of-service awards. And those awards are critical to firefighters because they’re used to calculate pension benefits.

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Long Island car dealership Thomas Subaru settled with the EEOC after three women complained about a pervasive hostile work environment. All three had been terminated after complaining of unwanted touching, sexually explicit and degrading comments and pornography in the workplace.

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Gov. David Paterson has issued an executive order providing state employees with protection from discrimination because of their transgender status. The move is one step ahead of the state Legislature. Bills currently circulating in Albany would cover both public and private employers.

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Under the terms of the ADA, disabled employees have job protection—if they are able to perform the essential functions of their jobs, with or without accommodations. But those accommodations have to be reasonable. If you consider attendance an essential job function, courts probably won’t compel you to allow disabled employees to miss unreasonable amounts of work.

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