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Frederick Thurman

To be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act requires employees to notify their employers if they are injured at work. North Carolina courts have spelled out why this requirement is important:

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Q. May we include a provision in our bonus plan for North Carolina employees that they will forfeit any bonus that has not been paid at the time of termination?

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Q. One of our former employees, Joe Smith, has started an engineering consulting business. We have contracted with Joe to provide services similar to those he provided when employed. Would providing him with business cards bearing our name and logo jeopardize his independent contractor status?

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Q. My small construction business is closing its doors, and we have limited funds with which to pay employees and numerous creditors. What should we do? Who should we pay first?

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Q. I saw in the paper last week that texting while driving is no longer allowed in North Carolina. Should my company have a policy regarding this?

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When was the last time you reviewed your company’s bulletin boards in the break room or alongside the time clock? Do they show the correct, updated federal- and state-law posters? A little time spent seeing what’s there—and what’s missing—will keep you in compliance with state and federal laws.

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Some HR departments are notorious for keeping every stack of paper indefinitely, while others fail to keep enough. Neither approach is acceptable, and it’s up to you to maintain a happy medium that complies with the law. Proper record-keeping is one of an HR professional’s core duties. Knowing what legally must be kept and for how long are important aspects of that duty.

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Have you audited the employee bulletin board in your break room or next to your time clock recently? Have you ever done so? A little time spent seeing what’s there—and what’s missing—will keep you in compliance with North Carolina and federal laws.

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Q. In an effort to avoid laying off employees in this tough economy, our company has decided to temporarily reduce everyone’s work hours to 35 hours per week. May we?

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Q. My company, a North Carolina corporation, has only four employees, all of whom are equal shareholders. We don’t have employment contracts. May three of us decide to terminate the employment of the other, a 25% shareholder?

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Q. My company has about 80 employees spread among four stores in Charlotte and upstate South Carolina. Business is rebounding, and we expect 10 to 15 new hires in the next few months. Proposed changes in immigration laws are often in the news. Is there anything new I should know?

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Cell phones, BlackBerries, iPods, iPhones and GPS devices—even laptop computers—all offer important travel information and productive work connectivity for employees on the go. But using those devices while operating a vehicle is also dangerous. That’s why North Carolina recently passed a law, effective Dec. 1, making it unlawful for a person operating a motor vehicle to send text or e-mail messages while the vehicle is in motion.

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Q. The employment and noncompete agreements we have with our salespeople are several years old and appear outdated to me. May I require everyone to sign new, updated agreements?

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Q. A former employee is demanding pay for her unused vacation and sick leave. Must we pay her?

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Q. We need to fire an employee who has an employment contract that limits termination without notice to “for cause” events. Must we abide by this provision if another provision in the contract clearly indicates that his employment is “at will” only?

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Employers enter a legal minefield when they inquire about the health of applicants or employees. State and federal laws—such as the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA), the ADA and the FMLA—overlap, and any misstep can cause a litigation explosion.

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Barely two months into the 2009-2010 session, the North Carolina General Assembly has already introduced a profusion of employment-related bills. Employers should keep a watchful eye on several bills that already appear to have strong support this new legislative year.

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Q. Payroll taxes are hurting our bottom line. May I convert part-time bookkeepers to "1099" employees?

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Q. We’re closing our doors and firing all of our employees. As president, I am considering not paying my employees their final paychecks, even though they have earned that pay. Is this a risk?

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Q. We are downsizing and letting go a long-time employee. We want to help her out by giving her a severance package. What should we consider?

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