The HR Specialist

Q. We recently could not reach an employee who works off-site. Then we learned he was responding to customer messages by saying he was on vacation. After we learned this, he contacted his supervisor and said he had been on vacation and would be on vacation the rest of the week. His supervisor reports that he had not requested vacation time beforehand—and our policy states that vacation time must be preapproved. This employee had been a marginal performer, and now his supervisor wants to fire him. Can we fire him for this? …

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Q. Some of our employees are teenagers who work part time while they go to school. Often, this is their first job. Some of them don’t seem to understand proper behavior in the work environment. They usually are OK with customers, but when they are interacting with each other, they give each other a hard time. Verbal put-downs and even physical acts are common. Does this create any potential problems? …

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Q. We employ computer programmers who write sophisticated custom software programs for clients. We bill their services by the hour and pay them by the hour, based on their experience and the work involved. The hourly rates we pay range from $30 to $80 per hour. Sometimes, there is a rush on a project and the programmers have to work overtime. Do we have to pay time and a half the hourly rate if the programmers work over 40 hours per week? ….

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Congress just passed the nation’s first federal law prohibiting employers and insurance companies from discriminating against individuals on the basis of genetic information, a protection critics have called “a remedy in search of a problem.” Find out what the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act prohibits, and why some believe it could cause trouble for employers.

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When it comes to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers can’t afford to make classification mistakes. Only exempt employees lose out on overtime when they work more than 40 hours per week. The U.S. Department of Labor—and courts—strictly interpret what constitutes exempt work and what does not …

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As an employer, you are obligated to investigate employee harassment and discrimination claims. How you handle those investigations can determine whether you’ll have to prepare for later lawsuits. The problem: allegations that you defamed someone while conducting the investigation …

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Insist that managers tell HR when they issue any form of discipline, even an oral warning. That way, there’s a record that you can later use to explain why it only looks like a discharged employee was punished more harshly than others who committed the same offense …

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Q. Should a Texas employer hire an attorney to represent it in an unemployment compensation proceeding where the claimant is represented by counsel? …

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Q. We know that it is unlawful to discriminate against employees on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, age and disability. Do any other protected classifications exist under Texas law that might limit an employer’s right to terminate a worker employed at will? …

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Do you have a file cabinet overflowing with employment applications filled out by years’ worth of job-seekers? Don’t toss them out! Unless those applications included a statement that you would retain them only for some set time, your best bet is to contact every applicant and explain what you are doing …

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