The HR Specialist

Q. A former employee has just filed a discrimination charge against us with both the EEOC and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR). We are a small company, and the owner has suggested that we respond to the charge ourselves without using an attorney, as we previously have done in unemployment compensation cases. Is there any reason we should not represent ourselves in this case? …

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Q. We fired an employee for destroying company property. The manager wants to deduct the value of the damaged property ($2,500) from the employee’s final paycheck (approximately $2,700). I don’t think we can take so much from the employee’s final paycheck …

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Q. An employee who is seeking FMLA leave has submitted the required paperwork from his doctor’s office, but the doctor’s staff assistant signed it. We asked our employee about the paperwork, and he told us that he went to his physician’s office and asked an assistant to fill out the certification. The doctor was not there when our employee took in the paperwork, and he admits that he had never seen the assistant before. Nonetheless, our employee is telling us that we have to accept the certification because someone at his doctor’s office signed it. Please tell me that at a minimum the physician has to know and approve of this certification …

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Q. One of our department managers consistently violates our safety policies. We have written him up before, but that does not seem to get through to him. Our safety consultant has suggested that we give the manager a day off without pay to “send a message.” I am concerned that we may have a problem under wage-and-hour laws—that an employer cannot deduct wages from an “exempt” employee. This manager works long hours, and we do not want to face a claim that we made him a nonexempt employee because of a one-day disciplinary suspension. Your thoughts? …

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It’s easy to become isolated in the HR office, especially if you are physically separated from the shop floor or other work locations. So it should come as no surprise that some things that go on outside your limited view may mean trouble. That’s why you need to keep open lines of communication between HR and the field. Make sure all employees know how and where to report sexually or racially hostile language or actions …

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The only thing between your organization and a discriminatory discharge verdict is the HR office. An impartial and cool-headed HR professional must oversee the process every time an employee is terminated. Keep careful track of exactly how the decision-making process moves forward in every case, and insist that HR have the final word on termination …

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Q. We are an Illinois-based company and have an employee whose mother is very sick with cancer and in need of medical care at home. The employee is entitled to FMLA leave. The issue is that the mother lives in Hawaii and he has asked for leave starting next month. I don’t mean to be “cold,” but it sounds like a vacation from our bitter winter. Must we grant the leave for him to go to Hawaii? …

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Q. We don’t have a hotline for employees to call to complain about harassment, discrimination or retaliation. We have been considering one, but we are concerned about anonymous complaints. Should we set up one anyway? …

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Q. Our hiring process involves conducting background and reference checks. If an employee has a felony conviction within the past seven years, we automatically refuse employment. Any reason we should change our policy? …

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Q. We have an employee who comes to work and performs very well. Over the past several months I have come to learn that she is constantly receiving harassing calls and threats from her husband. We feel helpless and want to do something but we don’t offer employee assistance programs. What are our options? …

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