The HR Specialist: Employment Law

Shuffling economic conditions and favorable rule-making in Washington helped union membership rise in 2011 by 49,000 people, up to 14.8 million workers, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Some employees think they’re entitled to FMLA leave for every sickness and family emergency. They’re wrong. You should only grant leave requests based on legitimate reasons and reject clearly frivolous ones.

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Sometimes, it’s a close call to decide who will be the best fit for a job. Checking applicants’ references can break that tie. Just make sure you take careful notes during those discussions, and retain those notes in case there’s litigation.

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When an Arkansas employee tried to get workers’ comp benefits due to a back injury, the administrative law judge found there was no medical evidence to support the claim. One strike against the worker: photos on Facebook that seemed to show him moving fine while drinking and partying.

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Test your knowledge of recent trends in employment law, comp & benefits and other HR issues with our monthly mini-quiz.

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Last year, New Jersey became the first state to make it illegal for employers to refuse to hire applicants just because they’re unemployed. And Presi­­dent Obama’s jobs bill would make it an un­­lawful. Outlook: Look for more states to pass such laws, but it won’t get through Congress this year.

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You don’t have to pay hourly employees for meal breaks of 30 minutes or more, as long as they are completely relieved of their duties during the break. Many employers automatically de­­duct the meal period from time worked. But make sure there’s an easy way for employees who occasionally work through their meal breaks to report the additional paid time.

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What’s weirder: Actor James Franco earning a D in a drama class, or a NYU professor alleging he got fired for ­giving Franco the lousy grade?

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If your company has established top pay levels for each job classification, you probably end up giving some long-tenured (and, therefore older) em­­ployees smaller raises than less-experienced employees. But those older workers won’t be able to successfully claim age discrimination, as long as you can explain that the pay difference is due to your clearly documented wage schedules.

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The U.S. Department of Labor recently issued three new fact sheets that help clarify what types of employer actions rise to the level of illegal retaliation under the FMLA and FLSA.

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