The HR Specialist: Texas Employment Law

Merely informing an older worker that he or she may be eligible for retirement benefits while discussing a layoff isn’t evidence of age discrimination.

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Interviews reveal applicants’ membership in protected classes like race, sex and obvious disability. As a result, courts sometimes look with suspicion on rejecting an applicant who was obviously qualified enough to earn an interview but who was rejected because of her interview performance.

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Here’s an important reminder for HR professionals and managers who must investigate employee misconduct and decide on appropriate discipline. Don’t forget to provide a detailed account of what happened, whom you interviewed and how you arrived at an appropriate punishment. Make sure similar misconduct results in similar consequences.

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Dallas-based trade show and convention management firm Freeman has beaten back an EEOC lawsuit that challenged the firm’s use of criminal background checks in hiring. The EEOC sued in 2009, claiming Free­­man’s criminal background checks had a disparate impact on blacks, Hispanics and men.

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Workers who are more sensitive than others can’t sue, alleging a hostile work environment, unless conditions are truly terrible. They simply have to tolerate the occasional un­­kind comment and other ordinary workplace annoyances.

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Some employers have retooled the traditional method of setting paid time off in separate categories by folding vacation, personal or sick leave entitlements into one “bank.”  So-called paid time off (PTO) programs offer benefits for employers and employees alike, but there are some potential pitfalls if you are not careful.

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Most federal district courts routinely hold that out-of-court settlement agreements, to the extent that they purport to waive FLSA claims, are unenforceable. That has made it difficult and expensive for employers to resolve pay issues, even when they realize they made a mistake and want to compensate the employee fairly. Last year, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals took a more pragmatic ap­­proach in Martin v. Spring Break ’83 Productions.

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Before you approve a creative approach to paying hourly employees, be sure to get expert help. That’s essential if your em­­ployees may have to put in more than 40 hours of work per week, because you will have to calculate their regular rate of pay to calculate overtime compensation. And that’s something the DOL wants done right.

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An attorney in Texas Attorney Gen­­eral Greg Abbott’s office has filed a whistle-blower complaint claiming he has been forced to work in a hostile environment. Among his allegations: rampant discrimination, misuse of taxpayer dollars and falsification of hourly time sheets.

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Employees who participate in internal investigations into discrimination charges are protected from retaliation. That’s why it’s good policy to keep investigations confidential. Don’t divulge the names of cooperating employees to anyone who doesn’t need to know.

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