Susan Lessack

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’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. 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. 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. An employee left work on a Monday due to an illness. She called in sick Tuesday and Wednesday, but we heard nothing on Thursday or Friday. Our policy calls for termination if the employee doesn’t contact us within three days. We posted her job on Friday and decided to terminate her. On Monday, her fiancé called to tell us she was pregnant and had complications that led to a hospital visit. We got a note from her obstetrician saying she’d been examined, but not indicating when she could return. What should we do to avoid any legal fallout?

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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. One of our employees constantly twists around everything I say to make the situation seem worse than it is. For example, when I put her paycheck on the counter because she was busy, she told others that I threw it at her. She has lied about many incidents. I have spoken with her several times and indicated that her actions are unprofessional and disrespectful. This is not good for my reputation. I need a solution about how to deal with this employee.

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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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Q. One of our employees was badly injured when he tripped over equipment that had been left by our office building’s maintenance workers. Workers’ comp covered his medical bills and lost wages, but he also sued the building’s owners for negligence. Now we have a letter from the owners demanding that we defend them in the lawsuit and telling us we are responsible. How can that be? I thought we were protected by workers’ comp.

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