The HR Specialist — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Page 309
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The HR Specialist

Public employers can’t discriminate against applicants because they decide to speak out on matters of political importance. That would violate the First Amendment. And that protection includes the right to membership in a political party. But not every case that carries a slight whiff of politics winds up creating a big legal stink …

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Some jobs obviously require that the employees who perform them be in excellent physical condition. For example, firefighters and others engaged in heavy physical work may have to be extremely physically fit. It’s legitimate for employers to test those physical abilities on a regular basis. Be careful, though, about how you administer those tests to men and women …

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It’s a fact of life—not every employee is going to get along with everyone else in your shop. Some managers and supervisors will have more trouble managing a particular employee than others. However, unless the reason for a supervisor’s criticism is the employee’s protected status (e.g., race or age), the employee won’t win a hostile-environment lawsuit if the “hostility” isn’t extremely severe …

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Sometimes, employees with disabilities may need additional breaks as reasonable accommodations. But you don’t have to leave the timing or duration of the breaks entirely to the employee. If you do, it will be hard to tell whether the employee is taking a legitimate and necessary accommodations break or simply taking advantage of additional freedom. And that can lead to litigation …

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Despite the economic gloom that’s dominated the headlines for the last year, there’s a ray of hope for employees—and perhaps a sign that employers are bullish on business prospects for 2009. A pair of new surveys shows that employers are proceeding with plans to pay their workers more next year.

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How HR handles discrimination complaints can mean the difference between winning and losing lawsuits. The key lies in using good faith when checking out allegations of discrimination. Do not automatically assume that either party is correct. Keep an open mind and conduct an impartial investigation, giving everyone a chance to present his or her version of events …

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Employees who believe they are being discriminated against and can no longer tolerate their work environments may quit and sue, claiming they had no choice. That’s the basis for a “constructive discharge” claim. But it takes more than an unpleasant work environment to justify the resignation as constructive discharge …

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Q. An employee we recently terminated has asked us to provide him with a letter explaining the reasons for his termination. He also has asked for a copy of his personnel file. Are we required to respond? …

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Q. In exchange for severance benefits, we would like a departing employee to promise not to file a claim for unemployment compensation. Can this be a term of our severance agreement? …

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Q. Is it possible for an employer in Minnesota to enter into an enforceable noncompete agreement with an existing employee? …

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