The HR Specialist: Employment Law

A poorly written or overly broad handbook could result in unfair labor practices charges from the National Labor Relations Board. That’s true even if your workforce isn’t unionized. Review your handbook for policies relating to the following 10 “red flags” that attract the NLRB’s attention.

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Mexican food is great, but is it art? A cook sued his former em­­ployer, a Mexican restaurant, for un­­paid overtime. The owners put forth a creative defense: that the cook was exempt from the FLSA overtime requirements because he was a “creative professional.”

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The FMLA lets employees take up to 12 weeks off for their serious health conditions. If an employee gets a certification showing she has a serious health con­dition, you can request a second, independent assessment. But if the second opinion says the condition isn’t serious, that’s not the final word. FMLA regulations require a third opinion as the tiebreaker.

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The CDC is pushing more state and local governments to enact total workplace smoking bans. More than 25 states now have laws prohibiting smoking in workplaces, restaurants and bars.

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Courts are beginning to realize that there is only so much an employer can do to prevent sexual harassment. Take, for example, alleged sexual harassment that occurs off-duty and off-premises. While it’s likely that employers would be responsible for a supervisor’s sexual assault or harassment, chances are they won’t be held liable for the same conduct by a co-worker.

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Most people think of 50 as the magic number for the FMLA. “Oh, we have 50 employees, so now we have to comply with the FMLA,” is a popular refrain among HR departments. It is not that simple. The FMLA has two different rules that must be met before you have to offer FMLA leave to an employee—coverage and eligibility.

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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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A recent BusinessWeek story pours out several examples of companies embracing the idea of drinking at work. While occasional celebrations are fine, offering an unlimited liquid buffet is simply asking for employment law trouble.

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Make it clear with employees—early and often—that your electronic communications are not their private playground. Legally, it’s your organization’s property and you have the right to monitor every email as you wish.

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While employees who break rules usually expect to be punished, they also expect to be treated fairly. That’s why it’s important for man­agers and HR to strive for consistency in all discipline. Never punish one em­­ployee more harshly than someone else who committed the same infraction.

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