The HR Specialist

In the age of e-mail, instant messaging and other written but ephemeral forms of communication, it’s easy to be caught off guard when an employee claims sexual harassment via the company computers. If an employee says she’s received hundreds of sexually explicit e-mails from co-workers or others associated with the company, could you prove her wrong? …

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Lawyers representing employees in class-action wage-and-hour cases often look for ways to boost the amount of damages they can collect. One of the most common ways to do that: Bring in a host of state laws to set the employer’s punishment. That won’t work any longer in North Carolina and other Mid-Atlantic states. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected the tactic …

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Q. Are disclaimers in employee handbooks valid in North Carolina? …

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Q. If an employer is not covered by the FMLA, is the employee entitled to leave time for the birth of a child, the employee’s serious medical condition or the serious medical condition of a family member? …

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Once an employer knows an employee will need FMLA leave, it cannot use that knowledge to the employee’s disadvantage. That’s true even if it’s only possible that the employee may need leave. It raises serious suspicions about your motives if you fire an employee shortly after he delivers notice he may need FMLA leave—and practically guarantees a lawsuit …

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Sometimes, workplace rules conspire to give a second chance to a problem employee with a history of harassment or intimidation. If you don’t carefully monitor the second-chance worker’s behavior, chances are the inappropriate conduct will rear its ugly head again. Then, in addition to harassment and discrimination liabilities, you may be on the hook for negligent supervision, too …

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Q. A former employee has brought a charge of racial discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. I employ 10 people. Will I have to defend this claim? …

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Q. I have received a complaint from one of my employees alleging sexual harassment by a supervisor in my HR department. I want to bring in an independent investigator, but I’m concerned I’ll have to notify the subject of the investigation. I’ve heard that the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires me to notify employees before investigating these types of complaints through a third party. Obviously, this would make things uncomfortable for the employee who filed the complaint. Does the FCRA’s notice requirement apply to a sexual harassment investigation? …

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Q. We have a number of employees who smoke cigarettes and want to take breaks in order to light up. Is an employee entitled to smoking breaks during the workday? …

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Q. We have several employees who have children in school and sometimes want to leave work early to attend recitals, sports events and other school activities. Are employees who are parents entitled to a leave time to attend their children’s school activities? …

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