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Carl Crosby Lehmann

Q. We have an employee who just developed a disability that will keep him from performing his job for an unknown time. After he uses up his FMLA and other accumulated leave, do we have an obligation to look for another position for him?

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Q. We give employees who opt out of our health plan a bonus. Do we withhold federal taxes on that bonus?

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Q. Our company is owned by a foreign parent company. A former employee who was discharged last year recently filed a suit against us and our parent, claiming age discrimination in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Will the court dismiss our parent company from the lawsuit?

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Q. Our bonus plan states that employees eligible to receive bonus pay will receive bonus advances with each paycheck based on year-to-date performance results. Last year, we were on track to meet the maximum bonus throughout most of the year, but the last few months of the year were slow and we didn’t meet our target goal. As a result, we deducted certain amounts from the last few paychecks of salaried employees. Do these deductions threaten the exempt status of the salaried employees?

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Q. We are considering laying off approximately 20 of our 83 employees. If we move forward with this plan, is there any requirement that we provide advance notice to the employees who will be subjected to layoff?

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Q. One of our full-time hourly employees has started a cleaning business on the side. We pay her a set amount for cleaning the offices on the weekend. Since this is an entirely different position, can we pay her as a 1099 independent contractor for the cleaning work if she’s also a full-time employee?

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Q. We employ a husband/wife team to clean our office. We pay them on a monthly contract basis and provide a Form 1099 at year-end. Would we be liable for an injury they might suffer while cleaning?

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Q. We have two employees who have the same job title, job description and functions. We pay one a flat salary ($120,000). We pay the other a base salary plus a fixed rate for hours that are billable to the customer ($70,000, plus $20 for every billable hour). Can we do this or should their salary structures be identical?

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Q. We have an employee out on a medical leave who is collecting short-term disability benefits. We have also designated the leave as FMLA leave. Our FMLA policy allows us to require the employee to use accumulated paid leave benefits concurrently with FMLA leave. Can we reduce this employee’s paid leave bank for the FMLA time he is taking?

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Q. Our company’s mailroom routinely opens all mail before distributing it. Some employees say they sometimes get personal mail delivered to them at the office, and the company has no right to open it. Should we change our mailroom practices?

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Q. Legally, is there a difference between exempt employees “volunteering” their time or being required to reduce their salaries (or work hours) during these slow economic times?

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Q. As a cost-saving measure, our company reduced the salaries of exempt employees by 10%. Employees get their salaries regardless of the number of hours they work. We have always asked our employees, though, to fill out a time sheet on which they write down 40 hours every week. Now we will ask them to record just 36 hours on this time sheet. Any problems with this?

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Q. An employee sent a companywide e-mail inviting employees to attend a morning prayer and Bible study prior to work that will be held on the company premises. Do we have to allow this (or do we have to shut it down)?

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Q. We had to terminate an employee for failure to adequately perform his job responsibilities. Can we deny him the COBRA subsidy because the termination was not a layoff or a result of the economy?

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Q. We have an employee out of work due to a workers’ compensation injury. Does the employee’s time off count against his FMLA leave?

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Approximately 3 million doses of the vaccines designed to prevent the H1N1 flu virus—swine flu—shipped last week. Local health authorities are preparing to offer vaccines as early as this week. Can you—should you?—demand that your employees get flu shots?

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Q. An HR colleague told me that government agencies have stepped up their scrutiny of independent contractor relationships. She said employers that have such relationships, or routinely have consultants working alongside employees, should beware. Can you shed any light on this report? What should we do?

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Q. Last year an employee explained an absence by referring to his rights under Minnesota law to attend school activities. What exactly do Minnesota laws say about a parent’s right to be away from work because of school activities or to take care of children?

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Q. We recently offered employees the opportunity to participate in an early retirement program, and several employees elected to take us up on the offer. Are they eligible for the new 65% COBRA subsidy?

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Q. After repeatedly warning an employee about her poor performance, we recently terminated her. At the termination meeting, she complained for the first time that she felt she’d been held to higher standards based on her gender. She has now filed for unemployment benefits. While we don’t think she’s entitled to the benefits, we wonder whether it makes sense to fight her claim. What do you think?

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