The HR Specialist: Employment Law

A handful of high-profile legal disputes are shining a bright light on an often-ignored issue: Should employers be required to pay interns at least the minimum wage?

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It’s perfectly legitimate to try to prevent allegations of sexual harassment and favoritism by instituting a policy banning romantic relation­ships between co-workers—or between certain types of co-workers, like supervisors and subordinates. But what if two employees get married?

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If you’re ever hauled into court to testify in an employment lawsuit against your organization, what you say—and how you say it—can sink your defense … or help you win. Prepare yourself for any lawsuit by asking yourself these 10 questions:

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Here’s an easy fix for a poten­tially big problem: Post all promotion openings. If you do, only employees who actually apply can take you to court. That can save thousands in legal fees and lost pro­ductivity.

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President Obama’s push to raise the minimum wage from its current $7.25 per hour to $9.50 will likely fall on deaf ears in Congress this year.

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The EEOC received a record 99,947 charges in 2011. Given this sharp increase in charge activity, now’s a good time to review your personnel policies. Consider two EEOC enforcement trends: scrutiny of background checks and inflexible leave policies.

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If a fired employee sues your organization, alleging discrimination, you’ll probably want to argue that the real reason was the employee’s poor work perform­ance. Maybe you’ll want to claim that it was a mistake to hire the employee in the first place. Well, don’t expect the court to let you go on a fishing expedition into the employee’s past jobs.

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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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