Carl Crosby Lehmann — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily
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Carl Crosby Lehmann

Q. We have an employee who has been out with a work-related back injury for more than six months. We have not received any indication from her doctor about when she will be able to return. Must we keep her on workers’ compensation leave status indefinitely? Do we have to indefinitely hold open her job?

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Q. We recently merged with a smaller company, taking on several new sales people. Most of our existing sales staff are long-time, loyal employees, so we haven’t previously used noncompete agreements. However, we’re now reconsidering this. Can we ­require all of our sales staff to sign noncompetes?

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Q. One of our employees recently posted a picture of himself on Facebook doing something inappropriate while wearing a T-shirt with our company logo on it. The inappropriate conduct didn’t occur at a work event, but we’re concerned that the T-shirt connects us to the conduct. We would like to fire him immediately, but we hesitate because the termination is based on his personal Facebook page.

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Q. One of our employees was recently accused of sending sexually harassing texts to another employee. The complaining employee said she was so upset by the texts she deleted them; the accused employee adamantly denies sending the texts. Can we search the accused employee’s cellphone or is there a way to retrieve the messages from the complaining employee’s phone?

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Q. We are having a hard time keeping discipline consistent between supervisors. To promote consistency, upper management would like to implement a new discipline policy setting out what disciplinary steps should be followed. Do you recommend this?

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Q. We’re expanding our marketing efforts over the next few months. Because we don’t have much time to go through a rigorous recruitment effort, we are considering hiring a number of people on a contractor basis. If they work out, we’ll then consider hiring them as employees. Can we do that?

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Q. Over the past few months I have been seeing more and more electronic cigarettes in our city. Last week, an employee walked into our office while smoking an electronic cigarette. I’d like to ban their use in our offices. I’ve heard that e-cigarettes are just as addictive as the real things.

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Q. We give our employees company phones. An employee recently resigned and turned in her phone to her supervisor, in compliance with our technology policy. A week later, it came to my attention that the supervisor had not deleted the departed employee’s email that was still on the phone. A new hire who had been issued the phone could read those messages. What should we do?

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Q. We make offers to applicants contingent on passing a physical examination. As a part of the examination the doctor asks for a medical history, including questions about the applicant’s family medical history. We have heard that we should not ask about the applicant’s family medical history, but we aren’t sure if that’s true. Should we not ask for this information?

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Q. We operate several restaurants and have issues with customers who walk out without paying. We expect our ­servers to help prevent this and want to implement a program that makes servers responsible for these losses. May we deduct the amount of the shortage from employees’ gratuities instead of their wages?

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Q. We pride ourselves on supporting veterans who have served in the armed forces. We know we should generally not use an applicant’s class (such as gender, race, etc.) when making hiring decisions. But we have heard that the law does allow us to give a hiring preference to veterans. Is that true?

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Q. We recently saw a news report that an AOL employee was fired for taking a photograph during a meeting. Now we’re wondering: Should we include anything in our employee handbook prohibiting the taking of photographs or videos at work?

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Q. Our company received a report that an employee who called in sick on a Thursday and Friday later posted photos to her Facebook page that indicated she was traveling in another city with friends at the time. It appears she lied to us about being sick. Can we require her to give us her Facebook password so that we can see her online postings?

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Q. We have a no-smoking policy that complies with Minnesota’s smoking ban. A number of employees have asked if our policy applies to electronic cigarettes or “e-cigarettes.” We are not sure what to tell them. Must we ban the use of the e-cigarettes in the workplace? Are we allowed to if we want to?

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Q. We have an employee who has been performing poorly and who has shown up for work appearing to be intoxicated. In a discussion with a manager, the employee admitted that he was currently using cocaine and it was affecting his personal and work life. We haven’t done a drug test on the employee, given his admission of drug use. We want to fire the employee, but we aren’t sure if the FMLA or any other law requires us to give him time off to undergo treatment?

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Q. Our company has 30 full-time employees. One of our employees who is working on a key project has asked us for time off to take care of her grandfather, who has cancer, on days after he’s gone through chemotherapy. We know other family members are available to provide this care, and we are worried that it will be a hardship to have the employee away from work. Do we have to give the employee the time off?

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Q. Our company recently terminated a manager who had been with us for less than three months. He just seemed not to be the right fit. Now the former employee is threatening to sue, saying he left a good opportunity to take a job with us, based on our offer and what was said in the hiring process. We did use an offer letter, which stated that employment would be at-will and that the offer letter did not constitute a contract of employment. Do we have cause for concern?

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Q. We are a construction contractor. We work union, but increasingly find ourselves losing bids because we can’t compete with nonunion companies in certain industry segments. Can we just set up a separate operation to bid the nonunion work? I’ve heard that such “double-breasting” is common practice.

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Q. An employee confided in a regional VP that their boss had invited a co-worker to have a drink in his hotel room while they were attending a conference. When she declined, the boss became angry. Now, the boss has reported the co-worker for leaving work early without permission. The employee doesn’t want anything bad to happen to her friend, but she can’t let this go without telling someone. The co-worker refuses to come forward herself out of fear of retaliation. What should we do?

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Q. We recently hired an experienced salesperson. Dur­­ing her orientation, she told HR that she recently underwent a sex change procedure and that she is transgender. A few days later, another employee went to HR and explained that he had known the salesperson in a previous job before her sex change. This employee is clearly uncomfortable and asked for advice on what he can say to the new employee and others on the team about their former working relationship?

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