The HR Specialist

Q. I am the HR director of a midsize company. I am currently evaluating additional benefits that my company can provide to help us attract and retain talent. One of our employees suggested a tuition-reimbursement program. Can you describe some of the pros and cons of such a program? …

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If a manager or other high-level employee comes forward with charges the company discriminates based on race, sex or other protected characteristics—stop, look and listen! Unless you are absolutely sure there’s no basis for the manager’s claims, take those charges seriously. Whatever you do, don’t punish the manager or try to drive him out …

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Employers can’t retaliate against employees for filing discrimination claims. But that doesn’t mean you have to treat such employees with kid gloves. Just tell managers and supervisors to apply the “smell test” to any proposed change to the complaining employee’s work assignments …

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Q. Our employment application asks, “Have you ever been arrested? If so, list the nature of the arrest.” Is this legal? …

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Q. Recently, an employee was involved in a nonwork-related car accident. The employee’s attorney sent the company an authorization letter demanding that we provide the employee’s personnel file in 20 days. It seems the attorney needs the information for a potential lawsuit (unrelated to the company) concerning the accident. Do we have to turn over the personnel file? …

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Do you have employees working on different contracts during the same week? If so, you must make sure you add up their total number of hours and pay overtime for the hours in excess of 40 per week. You can’t issue separate paychecks for each contract and avoid overtime payments. The Fair Labor Standards Act clearly states that all hours worked “for a particular employer” count for overtime, even if the work is done on different projects or contracts.

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Q. An employee of ours owes the company about $450. He rented a car using our company charge card and never repaid us. Now he has submitted a resignation letter. Can we deduct the $450 from his final pay? …

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Q. A senior vice president in our company wants to run a Super Bowl pool. A few of us are nervous about conducting office pools involving money. We don’t expect the company will profit from such a pool, although the individual vice president could win the pool. Are office pools like these legal in New York? …

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In a term that will be dominated by cases concerning Guantanamo detainees and the power of the Executive branch, the U.S. Supreme Court will also hear an important case involving employment discrimination.

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When an employee requests a transfer after complaining about alleged harassment, don’t jump at the opportunity—only to place him in an unpleasant new environment. Merely honoring a request to be moved isn’t a defense against a retaliation claim. That’s true even if you provide the same pay and don’t change benefits, seniority or any other aspect of the employment relationship …

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