The HR Specialist: New York Employment Law

In a case with implications for Albany-area nurses, Illinois nurses have settled a lawsuit that claimed Chicago-area hospitals colluded to depress wages in violation of antitrust laws. Nurse Alliance, affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, has filed a similar suit against Albany-area hospitals.

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Sometimes, the best lessons are learned from the worst examples. That’s often the case with HR management. When employers make big mistakes and have to pay for them in court, other employers with good practices—that maybe need just a little tweaking—can discover what not to do.

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Employees who are fired shortly after complaining about a manager’s supposed discriminatory attitude may assume that the complaint led to the termination. And they’re almost sure to sue. To stop such lawsuits from going far, make sure the manager in question has nothing to do with the final decision to terminate. That’s good advice even if you don’t think he or she did anything wrong.

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Supervisors need regular reminders—reinforced with training—that it’s their responsibility to find ways to deal with it when workers go on FMLA leave, no matter how difficult it may be to cover for the absent employee. As the following case shows, courts have no sympathy for employers that fire or make unreasonable demands on employees who exercise their FMLA rights.

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Employment law attorney Eugene D’Ablemont turned 70 years old in 2001. He was just as productive as ever, consistently bringing in more than $1 million in fees to Kelly Drye & Warren, the international law firm in which he is a partner. Now he’s using his decades of legal experience against his own firm.

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Federal appeals court Judge Douglas Ginsburg was not amused when attorneys for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) asked to have District of Columbia laws applied to a New York case. In fact, he was so perturbed, he heartily rebuked the lawyers with a stinging Victorianism.

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Most jobs can be quantified. That is, it’s possible to measure success on the job by tallying how much an employee produces in a given period—whether that’s widgets, reports, new clients or sales. By using such objective measures to decide who is terminated, employers have powerful evidence to counter discrimination claims.

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You’ve documented the poor performance. You’ve been careful to keep things professional, even as you’ve concluded you’ll probably have to fire the employee. Then he files a discrimination complaint. Avoid the temptation to speed up the usual disciplinary process.

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Employers that take the time to document workplace problems usually don’t lose discrimination lawsuits. The reason is simple: A carefully documented work history—showing exactly how the employee was breaking rules or underperforming—makes it difficult to prove discrimination.

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If you discipline a supervisor for discrimination, make sure you can reassure employees who cooperated in the investigation that the supervisor won’t turn around and punish them.

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