The HR Specialist

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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Sometimes, serious allegations—possible theft, sexual or racial harassment or violence—surface against employees. How you respond can be crucial to limiting your organization’s liability. The best response may be calling a timeout in the form of administrative leave pending an investigation. You can safely do so without fear that the move will generate even more litigation from a suspected wrongdoer …

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When an employee goes on FMLA leave, someone has to do the work. What if that someone easily assumes the employee’s duties and does a great job? Can you use that fortuitous realization as the basis for firing the leave-taker when he returns? Perhaps, but there’s a risk. The employee may sue, alleging the real reason he was let go was retaliation for taking leave, and not that you figured out the company could get along just fine without him …

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