The HR Specialist: New York Employment Law

When an employee threatens litigation, take your time building the case against him. Make sure you base your decision on solid facts. Double-check to see that there’s no way the employee can claim you singled him out for unfair or inequitable treatment. Then rest easy, knowing that if you’re sued, you can counter the allegations with facts and get the case dismissed quickly.

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Government employees are protected from retaliation for speaking out on matters of public importance. That doesn’t mean, however, that every letter to the editor is an exercise in freedom of speech. Indeed, if the letter is about a specific workplace problem between the employee and a supervisor, chances are a court won’t find that to be a First Amendment issue.

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In a perfect world, no one would ever utter a slur or make a derogatory comment. But this isn’t a perfect world, and employees come to work with emotional and cultural baggage. It’s up HR to make sure that baggage doesn’t turn into a discrimination lawsuit. 

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Here’s one easy way to cut down on lawsuits when you have to fire an employee: Have the same person who hired or last promoted the employee also make the final decision on termination. Reason: Courts often conclude that it would make no sense for those who hired or promoted someone to turn around and fire that same person for discriminatory reasons.

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The state legislature is considering a bill that would require all employers to provide up to 12 weeks of paid time off so employees can tend to very ill family members or take care of newborns or newly adopted children.

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The parent corporation of several New York City area car washes has agreed to settle overtime claims from 1,187 current and former employees for $3.4 million. Coupled with a previous settlement with 200 workers for more than $1.3 million, Lage Management has paid out more than $4.7 million in back pay and liquidated damages.

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An arbitrator has awarded $1.2 million in back pay and damages to 19 former employees of Wurld Media, Inc. The Saratoga Springs-based Internet startup, which marketed a product similar to iTunes, began having trouble making payroll in 2006.

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Recently, courts have begun to fine pro se litigants who file lawsuits that have no chance of success. That should discourage some former employees from suing without the help of an attorney.

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Congress will be taking a fresh look at the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) this fall, now that a Capitol Hill compromise has stripped out the bill’s controversial “card check” provision, which would have required union certification with a majority of employee signatures.

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Before you decide to throw out old evaluations and files, consider this: An employee may sue and refer back to those evaluations from memory. If she remembers nothing but positive performance reviews until a recent poor appraisal (engineered, she believes, to get her fired), you’ll need to be able to show her employment history wasn’t as rosy as she remembers.

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