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Telecommuting Policies When Inclement Weather Strikes
Question: With the winter refusing to release its icy grip, we have received numerous requests from employees asking to telecommute and work from home during inclement weather. What should we be mindful of when deciding whether to grant or deny these requests, and do you advise employers to maintain a telecommuting policy?
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Drug Testing in the Workplace
Question: I suspect that one of my employees is taking drugs, but we don't have a drug-testing policy at our company. Can I have him drug tested?
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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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Compensating 'On-Call' Workers
Question: Due to the nature of our business, we would like to require our employees to be "on call" during certain days. Of course, if we call them in to work on those days we will pay them for the time worked. However, does federal law require us to compensate our employees on the days that they are "on call" but not asked to report to work?
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Top Legal Developments in HR
Question: I am putting together a high-level presentation for my HR team on the top legal developments in 2013 that will impact how we practically manage employee relations in workplace in 2014. Can you please identify and provide a brief synopsis of the most important employment-related legal developments in 2013 -- something like a Top 10? I want to make sure I know about all the "biggies."
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Offering Reasonable Accommodation
Question: You have written a lot about the importance of engaging in the interactive process under the Americans with Disabilities Act in order to figure out whether an employer can offer a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability. Can you give some more insight into the process itself -- such as a step-by-step how-to guide for HR professionals to reference when engaging in the ADA's interactive process?
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When Workers File EEOC Claims
Question: We have a couple of employees who have recently filed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims against our company. These employees have had poor performance issues, are constant complainers and we believe their filing was not done for any legitimate reason, but instead was done solely to protect their jobs. After their filing, they have become brazen in their bad behavior, but their supervisors are scared to supervise or reprimand them and co-workers are afraid to work with them for fear that they will end up in the complaint. This is negatively affecting our productivity and morale. How would you recommend we handle this situation?
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Dreadlocks and the Dress Code
Question: One of our workers has begun wearing his hair in a dreadlocks style to work. This is against our organization's dress code, which is very conservative in nature. That said, we also want to respect diverse cultures and peoples' desire to express their diversity of culture, but doubt that his decision to wear dreadlocks is a reflection of this because he does not self-identify as African American, African or Caribbean. Are we legally permitted to require him to change his hairstyle at work -- or even ask him to change it?
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Is Obesity a Serious Medical Condition?
Question: Is obesity considered a serious medical condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act? Also, is it a condition that would have to provide a reasonable accommodation for? We have an employee who is morbidly obese, has asked for us to provide him with a bariatric sized chair (that costs a couple thousand dollars), and to place him in a ground floor office so that he does not have to take the stairs though we have very limited ground floor office space.
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