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The HR Specialist: Employment Law

Employers are often too eager to settle cases just to get out from under the possibility of a runaway jury. But caving in like that can make you a more tempting target for other employees. If you and your attorneys are convinced you didn’t do anything wrong, it may be best to trust a jury to hear the case and come to the same conclusion.

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Steelcase Inc. gave employee Patrick Morrissey two cell phones: one for business and one for personal use. Both billing statements went to his boss because Steelcase paid both bills. But the boss confronted Morrissey when he reviewed the bills and noticed Morrissey had made personal calls on company time …

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Just in time for March Madness … the new draft of a prominent American Psychiatric Association (APA) manual recommends expanding the category of “mental disabilities” to include new disorders, including binge eating and pathological gambling.

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Just in time for March Madness … the new draft of a prominent American Psychiatric Association (APA) manual recommends expanding the category of “mental disabilities” to include new disorders, including binge eating and pathological gambling.

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Don’t automatically pull the termination trigger if an employee nods off at his desk. If the heavy-eyed worker mentions a health issue that could be causing the sleepiness, you may need to accommodate it as a qualifying ADA disability. That situation is often raised when employees take medications that, as a side effect, cause drowsiness.

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Does your selection process rely heavily on how applicants handle themselves during job interviews? If so, be aware that courts are often suspicious of such inherently subjective decision-making. That’s why it’s best to document how objective qualifications counted for more than the fleeting impression of an interview. (For another perspective on hiring, see “The top 15 oddball interview questions” below.)

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Employees who suffer from chronic conditions may have to see their doctors regularly. Under the FMLA, if those employees give you 30 days’ notice, they’re allowed to pick the day for their appointment. You can’t simply argue that they don’t need to take off that particular day because there is no emergency or urgency.

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What do your supervisors do when they catch workers breaking a major safety rule? Simply yell at the worker? A new court ruling highlights the importance of enforcing safety rules with discipline and documentation.

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President Obama’s 2011 budget plan calls for the U.S. Department of Labor to hire 100 new enforcement personnel and gain $25 million in new funding to target employers that misclassify workers as independent contractors (ICs).

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A new study by Quest Diagnostics shows that hair-based drug tests reveal far more workplace drug users. Reason: Hair testing can identify usage going back up to three months, while urine testing is best at identifying drugs taken within the past three days.

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U.S. employers that want to hire workers using an H-1B visa would be wise to file their applications on or around April 1, the first day the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will be accepting applications. H-1B visas are popular among employers that want to hire foreign workers for “professional” or “specialty” positions requiring at least a bachelor’s degree.

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U.S. employers that want to hire workers using an H-1B visa would be wise to file their applications on or around April 1, the first day the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will be accepting applications. H-1B visas are popular among employers that want to hire foreign workers for “professional” or “specialty” positions requiring at least a bachelor’s degree.

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Test your knowledge of recent trends in employment law, comp & benefits and other HR issues with our monthly mini-quiz …

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The Internet continues to make HR’s job of verifying résumé claims almost impossible. As job-seekers have become more desperate in the past year, a host of new online services have emerged that help applicants falsify their résumés.

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Employees sometimes think taking FMLA leave—or even just asking for the time off—protects them from being disciplined or discharged. But Congress never intended the FMLA to act as a shield against legitimate discipline that’s unrelated to the leave. That’s why you’re free to discipline or discharge employees if you can prove you would have taken the same action regardless of the FMLA leave or request.

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Be wary of applying the FLSA exempt administrative classification to employees simply because they perform office or nonmanual work directly related to the company’s management or general business operations. Such a misclassification neglects the second part of the administrative-exemption test: that the employee’s “primary duty include the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.”

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By now, you should have an electronic communications policy and know to block computer access to newly terminated employees. But it’s also wise to prohibit current employees from forwarding e-mails from the company computer to their personal e-mail accounts outside the company.

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Because FMLA leave is an entitlement, employers aren’t allowed to interfere with it. And interference can include requiring employees to perform work during their leave. That’s why it’s important to make arrangements for work to be completed without help from the employee on leave.

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Without you realizing it, low morale can creep into your organization. Check every day to make sure people stay in tune. Here are 10 sour notes to listen for:

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While it’s true the IRS is now conducting its annual phone survey of small-business taxpayers, be alert: The IRS is warning that con artists are posing as IRS agents to extract personal financial data from unwary businesses.

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