Q. I have a question about providing honest feedback during reference requests. Is it better to defend the fact that I provided a truthful (negative) assessment, rather than trying to explain why I can't give any reference at all? Aren't we protected by negligent referral and reference immunity laws? —M.R., Utah
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Q. Due to rising premiums, our company is looking into alternatives to reduce our group health benefit costs. Several employees are on our plan and their spouses' plan. They are willing to go off our group plan if we compensate them “x” amount of dollars each month. Is it legal to offer the medical insurance benefit or a cash alternative? —S.P., Michigan
Q. Our nonsupervisory, hourly employees punch in using a time clock. Our supervisors write timecards. Is this dual method acceptable or could it lead to legal trouble? —A.N., New Hampshire
Q. Can we set a dress code policy that bars visible tattoos and multiple piercing on our receptionist but not other workers who have less public contact? —D.O., Maryland
Q. I read in your publication that if an applicant isn't hired, we should retain the application for at least three years. I've heard elsewhere that applications should be kept for only one year beyond the date the position is filled. Have the rules changed? —S.C., Washington
Q. We have an apparent conflict between our union agreement and our responsibility to maintain a harassment-free workplace. The agreement says we must give the shop steward 48 hours' notice before dismissing a regular employee. But we have proof positive that two employees have been harassing—and continue to harass—African-American and gay employees. The two harassers have just caused us to lose a good employee who couldn't take it any longer. What trumps what? —J.V., Louisiana
Q. Due to recent snowstorms, some employees have not been able to get to work. Can we dock the pay and/or accrued leave of employees who do not come to work? Can we do so even if the office is closed? Our attorney told us that the Fair Labor Standards Act does not apply to us because, among other things, our gross sales are under $500,000. —A.I., Maryland
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Employers report that they'll be dishing out average pay raises of 3.5 percent for exempt and nonexempt employees in 2007, the same level that they're currently paying in 2006, according to a new Conference Board survey of 441 companies ...
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