The HR Specialist

Q. We would like to monitor e-mail usage at our workplace. Can we access employee e-mail without violating their rights to privacy? …

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Discrimination complaints in 2007 saw their largest annual increase since the early 1990s, as the EEOC reported double-digit percentage hikes in almost every kind of discrimination charge. Race discrimination continued to lead the field, but for the first time, retaliation was the second most common complaint. Will the new statistics embolden more employees—and their attorneys—to bring charges against you?

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The employment law legislative cycle has played out repeatedly for more than 40 years: Congress acts to protect service members’ rights when they are risking their lives in the field. Often those rights end up spreading to all other workers as well. The result: the Civil Rights Act, the ADA, the FMLA and USERRA.

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When it comes to discrimination claims, timing can be everything. An employer that discharges or demotes a pregnant employee (or one who has just given birth) is asking for a discrimination or retaliation lawsuit. If you have a poorly performing employee who is pregnant or just gave birth, don’t do anything adverse until she has returned to work for some time …

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Employees who win discrimination lawsuits against their former employers sometimes are entitled to more than money. In the right circumstances, they are entitled to other things to make them “whole” again, including positive references, notice when a prospective employer contacts the former employer and changes to the separation notice …

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HR Law 101: Section 1981, a little-known section of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, prohibits racial discrimination in the making and enforcement of contracts. Now, employees are increasingly using Section 1981 instead of Title VII to sue for discrimination because there’s no cap on damage awards …

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Not every employee wants to take FMLA leave, and employers sometimes don’t designate paid time off as FMLA time. But an employee doesn’t have to request FMLA leave in order to be protected by the law. That means you can’t refuse to reinstate an employee when she returns from leave. Doing so would amount to interference with the right to FMLA leave …

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Q. I am working with my supervisory staff on how to deal with a difficult employee. He insists he has the right to be represented when his supervisor wants to discuss a performance problem. He recently asked to have another employee come with him for a meeting with his supervisor regarding his poor attendance. We are a nonunion company. Any suggestions? …

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Q. Our company is trying to reduce our medical insurance costs. I have been asked whether we could eliminate coverage for contraceptives. If we provide health care that includes a prescription drug benefit, are we required to provide coverage for contraceptives? …

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Q. My understanding is that an employee must file a charge of sex discrimination with the EEOC or the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) within 180 days. I have been told by the EEOC that it will investigate charges filed within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory act. Which is correct? …

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