Susan Lessack

Q. Can we open an employee’s personal space or belongings—such as her locker, purse or desk drawer—if we suspect she is stealing?

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Q. Can we legally reduce the hours of full-time employees in one of our divisions because it needs to cut overhead?

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Q. If an employee constantly calls in sick because of migraine headaches, how can we verify the real reason for the absences? Can we ask for information each time the employee is absent?

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Q. If a company tracks employees’ vacation, sick and personal time off, can we make deductions from accumulated time for everyone who takes time off, including salaried employees? I’m talking about deducting it from the accrual, not the pay. I’ve heard that I can’t deduct vacation, sick leave or personal time if the salaried employee worked at least four hours during that day.

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Q. We’re a small business (just eight employees) and haven’t laid anyone off. But business is slow and we need to restructure. We have an employee who has worked here part time (12 hours per week) for 25 years. She is 65 years old. We have one other part-timer (10 hours per week) who has worked here just one year. We’d like to lay off both part-time employees and keep the full-time employees. Can we do that?

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Q. I’m the HR director, and our discipline policy is very complicated and has several categories of offenses. It says that if employees commit offenses that may result in suspensions of more than three days, employees are allowed a pre-disciplinary counseling conference. My boss thinks we should skip that conference if the employee has already been counseled for a prior offense within the past 12 months. I’m concerned that this deviates from our policy. Can we do this?

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Q. Is it wrong to ask new hires to sign job-offer letters? We ask for a signed copy as part of documenting that they were informed that employment was “at will.” Is this inadvisable?

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Q. We run a carry-out/catering kitchen. Can we legally tell all our employees and customers that they can’t smoke on the property?

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Q. I work for a nonprofit agency. We plan to start using an agency credit card. We need a policy that covers who can use the card and when, plus some other things I haven’t thought of yet. What should the policy include?

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Q. We fired a part-time employee for stealing a gift card out of the trash. We have a policy against taking anything of value out of the garbage. The next day, his supervisor announced to everyone that the employee had been fired for theft. I don’t think it was appropriate to tell others the reason. Was it? And what should we say if someone calls for a reference?

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