The HR Specialist: New York Employment Law

It should come as no surprise that employees look for subtle as well as blatant retaliation. In one recent case, the employee thought that being asked to fill in (without being paid extra) for another employee who was on maternity leave was retaliation for her own discrimination complaint.

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Employees who can’t come to work at all because of a disability can’t perform the essential functions of their jobs. Someone who is so incapacitated they cannot work can be discharged.

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White Plains-based Marjam Supply, a building supply company, has agreed to pay $495,000 to settle the complaints of five black employees. The five filed charges with the EEOC, charging the supervisors repeatedly used racial slurs, talked about joining the Ku Klux Klan and threatened to burn crosses on the workers’ lawns.

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You never know which employee will sue you, or when. Take, for example, promotion opportunities. Employees who aren’t picked may think the reason was discrimination. Then they sue. How will you support your promotion decisions?

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Title VII protects employees from discrimination based on sex, and sexual harassment is sex discrimination. That doesn’t mean, however, that every unwanted work relationship is sexual harassment. As a recent case shows, an obsessive interest, unrelated to sex, by one employee in another isn’t prohibited.

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Unions are flourishing during the current economic crisis, slowly emerging after decades of decline. Chances are, more and more of your employees are being courted by unions, whether your organization is currently a union workplace or not. Now’s the time to educate yourself on what you can and cannot do to discourage union membership.

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Black Friday had a double meaning at Wal-Mart’s Valley Stream, N.Y., store last year when temporary employee Jdimytai Damour, 34, was trampled to death by stampeding shoppers. OSHA investigated and levied the maximum permissible fine against the store, $7,000.

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Always investigate a co-worker harassment claim right away. If you find a problem, fix it immediately. A rule of thumb: If co-workers say things that most people would find inappropriate, chances are the terms really are offensive—and likely to create legal liability. Most common slang for race or ethnicity is likely to cause trouble.

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If you provide more than 12 weeks of disability leave, make sure that your employee handbook and policies spell out that employees may lose the right to return to their previous positions if they exceed the 12 weeks of unpaid leave guaranteed by the FMLA.

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If you’ve agreed to settle a discrimination claim, here are some steps that prove you’re serious about maintaining a discrimination-free workplace. Taking these steps can short-circuit efforts to hold you in contempt of court for not doing enough to prevent further problems.

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