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Legal Clinic

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Enforcing Separation Agreements
Question: My company recently underwent a reduction-in-force. As I was informing one of our employees that he was going to be let go, I handed him our standard separation agreement. He took a look at it and said to me "I'll sign it. This thing won't be enforceable anyway." Can my company continue giving terminated employees our standard severance agreement?
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Marijuana at Work
Question: My company is located in New York, where a law permitting the use of medical marijuana was recently passed. I would like to know if this law, and similar laws passed in other states, protects employees from termination if they are found to be under the influence of marijuana while at work. In other words, how do the medical marijuana statutes impact an employer's right to enforce its Drug Free Workplace policy, and how do these laws affect an employee's right to reasonable accommodations under the ADA and similar state statutes?
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Handling Holiday Parties
Question: As we embark on the holiday party season, I would like a refresher on what sorts of things I need to be aware of when my company hosts a holiday party. At last year's party, one of our supervisors had a little too much to drink and became a bit too "friendly" with his staff. No one came forward and complained, but this supervisor's conduct was the subject of some office gossip the next few weeks. I'd like to have a better understanding of the liability that a company could face because of actions taken at a holiday party, and I also would appreciate some tips on how best to prevent issues from arising at a party.
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Avoiding Wrongful-Discharge Suits
Question: Can you give us some tips on how we can best avoid a wrongful-discharge claim or suit?
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Defining What's 'Essential'
Question: Under the ADA, we always hear a lot about accommodating employees with disabilities as long as they can continue to perform the "essential" functions of the job. Can you please explain what legally constitutes an "essential" function of a job?
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Asking Questions about Ebola
Question: We are all frightened by the recent Ebola crisis and would like some guidance on what HR can and cannot do to help address employee concerns and protect the workplace. Are we allowed to ask employees who come from the countries where there is an outbreak to get tested and confirm that they have not been exposed to the virus as a condition for them continuing to work with us?
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When an Ex-Employee Sues
QUESTION: Our company has recently been sued by a former employee. This employee is asking for compensatory damages, injunctive relief, punitive damages, front pay, back pay and "any and all damages that will make him whole." I am new to HR and am working with the company's lawyer to collect information to defend against his claims, but I would appreciate it if you could provide me with an explanation -- in layman's terms -- of what each of the things he is asking for means. What could he recover from his lawsuit?
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Drinking with Co-workers
Question: We are a very social office. Many of our supervisors go out drinking with employees on Fridays and we hear that at times things can get a little raunchy when people are drunk. Can this off-work behavior result in potential liability for the company?
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Sick-Leave Policies
Question: We are a company based in New York and have been receiving a lot of inquiries from employees about the New York City Earned Sick Time Act. They think it entitles them to five extra days of earned sick time, but we already have our own sick-time policy. Do we have to give our employees five extra days of sick time?
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Developments in Social-Media Policies
Question: There has been a lot of recent talk about social media with respect to employer monitoring of employees' social-media activity and, more specifically, what employers can and cannot ask employees related to their social-media activity. Can you please provide a summary of the recent developments in this area?
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