Q&A

Don't push an employee toward disability leave

09/01/2006

Q. We have an employee (an officer at the bank) who was out six months with a heart condition. He has had performance problems on and off since then. He was hospitalized again with pneumonia and returned looking very bad, but his doctor says he's fine to return to work.  We approached him about taking disability and SSI benefits, but he refuses. Now we face a morale issue because he constantly talks about his illness and his co-workers feel he isn't performing. If we terminate him, what is the best approach? —C.T., N.J.

Obtain written OK for wage deductions

09/01/2006

Q. Our company allows employees to purchase products on an installment basis. When employees quit and haven't yet paid the full amount, can we deduct the remainder due from their last paycheck?—K.M., Pennsylvania

Rein in Rogue 'Early-Clockers'

09/01/2006

Q. We've repeatedly warned a part-time employee about clocking in earlier than he's supposed to, sometimes more than an hour early. We know that we have to pay him for any hours worked, but what can we legally do to get him to work only the hours set for his position? —L.K., Missouri

Does FMLA cover leave after relative dies?

09/01/2006

Q. One of my employees has been out on FMLA leave for seven weeks taking care of his sick father in another state. The leave was approved for a full 12 weeks. I received a voice mail from him saying that his father died. He also said that he had to clear up a lot of things with his father's estate, but that he would be back by the end of his scheduled leave. Can he do that or can I tell him he needs to come back sooner? —V.S.

Are mandatory arbitration agreements legal?

09/01/2006

Q. We require, as a condition of employment, that our employees agree to resolve all disputes by binding arbitration, rather than going to court. One of my friends said a lot of the government agencies don't like those kinds of arbitration policies and one agency even decided that they were illegal. I know lots of employers have binding arbitration, so I don't think that could be right, but thought I better check. —S.T.

How to pay employee called in during PTO leave

09/01/2006

Q. We have a nonexempt salaried employee who normally works Monday to Friday and is paid biweekly. She took a week's vacation, which would come from her PTO (paid time off) bank. We had a customer emergency and called her into work on the Saturday of her vacation week. How should she be paid? Should she receive her PTO pay but have eight hours less of it charged against her PTO bank? Should she be paid for eight extra hours, plus her week of PTO pay? If we pay her both PTO and eight extra hours, do we have to pay her overtime? —W.M.

Performance-Based Pay Cuts: Legal, not advisable

08/01/2006

Q. We do yearly performance evaluations, during which we review whether employees have met the expectations we laid out during the previous review. If these expectations were not met, can we legally decrease the employee's salary as punishment? —A.L., Iowa

Layoffs: Walk a fine line to avoid age-Bias laws

08/01/2006

Q. We're a small business (just eight employees) and haven't laid anyone off. But business is slow and we need to restructure. We have an employee who has worked here part time (12 hours per week) for 25 years. She is 65 years old. We have one other part-timer (10 hours per week) who has worked here just one year. We'd like to lay off both part-time employees and keep the full-time employees. Can we do that? —P.U., Georgia

State law dictates smoking-Ban ability

08/01/2006

Q. We run a carry-out/catering kitchen. Can we legally tell all of our employees and customers that they can't smoke on the property? —L.D., Maryland

Consider access to personnel file even if not required

08/01/2006

Q. We fired an employee based on an eyewitness account of theft. We documented that report and put it in the ex-employee's personnel file. That person has now hired an attorney and asked to see the file. We feel that we have no obligation to respond. Do we have to turn it over without a subpoena? —E. I.  

Overly specific discipline policy can spark liability

08/01/2006

Q. I'm the HR director, and our discipline policy is very complicated and has several different categories of offenses. It says that if employees commit offenses that may result in suspensions of more than three days, employees are allowed a pre-disciplinary counseling conference. Now, my manager thinks that conference should be skipped if the employee has already been counseled for a prior offense in the past 12 months. I'm concerned that this deviates from our policy. Can we do this? —S.D., Illinois

1099s won't instantly create independent contractors

07/01/2006

Q. We hire seasonal temps and have them sign a policy that says their employment will end at a certain date. We’re aware of the unemployment responsibilities that come with being the last employer on record. If temps are hired with 1099 status, will our company still be responsible as the last employer on record and held liable for unemployment benefits? If we use a temp agency, are we liable? –B.B., New York

Look deeper into dubious intermittent FMLA leave

07/01/2006

Q. If an employee calls off intermittently for migraine headaches, how can we verify the real reason for the leave? Can we ask for information each time the employee is absent? —J.M., Illinois

THREE CHAMPAGNE BOTTLES ... TWO DIFFERENT PENALTIES

07/01/2006

Q. Two employees went to breakfast and drank three bottles of champagne to celebrate one’s birthday. One employee is an exempt employee who has been with us for seven years. The other is an hourly employee with the company for one month. I’d like to treat them differently: terminate the hourly employee and suspend the exempt employee for a week. Is that possible? —D.M., California

Job-Offer Letters: To Sign or Not to Sign

07/01/2006

Q. Is it wrong to ask new hires to sign job-offer letters? We ask for a signed copy as part of documenting that they were informed that employment was “at will.” Is this inadvisable? —T.U., North Carolina