The HR Specialist: New York Employment Law

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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No doubt you have heard many times that retaliation is anything that would dissuade a reasonable employee from complaining about something in the first place. But minor actions usually don’t add up to retaliation. Unfortunately, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over New York employers, has now muddied the retaliation waters.

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In an attempt to close a gaping state deficit, New York Budget Director Robert Megna has told government agencies to offer early-retirement packages to state employees. The state made a similar offer earlier in 2009, and 1,100 workers took that option before it expired in early November.

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Your organization probably has policies prohibiting sexual harassment, and you probably offer training for supervisors and employees alike on how the policy works. But that simply isn’t enough. You should have multiple ways for employees to report sexual harassment. The more ways you provide, the more likely a court will conclude that an employee who failed to report the harassment was acting unreasonably.

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Here’s a cautionary tale that offers an inevitable lesson: When a supervisor’s harassment spills out into the greater workplace, the claims will grow exponentially.

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The ADA requires employers to maintain strict confidentiality on any medical- or disability-related information. That means keeping it in a separate, secure file, away from prying eyes that have no business viewing the information. But confidentiality doesn’t apply just to paper or electronic records. Employers also have to make sure they don’t discuss such information with those who don’t need to know.

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HR professionals often worry needlessly when they hear that a supervisor has made an intemperate or insensitive remark. Fortunately, such comments seldom become the basis of successful lawsuits unless they are truly offensive or outrageous.

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Westchester County’s Hudson Valley Hospital will pay $142,500 to settle an EEOC charge in which a diabetic nurse claimed she suffered disability discrimination. Glorianne Romano asked to have three days in a row off each week following an episode when she went into a diabetic coma in 2007. Her doctor said she needed the time off to regulate her insulin treatments. At first, the hospital agreed, but then withdrew the accommodation, claiming Romano’s schedule was too disruptive.

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