Q&A

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

Use payroll deduction to collect unpaid premiums

07/01/2006

Q. An employee went on FMLA leave, but we failed to specify the method in which he would pay his share of health insurance premiums. It’s now three months later, the employee has returned to work and he hasn’t paid a dime. We want to collect the premium. What can we do? —D.T., Texas

Don't tolerate employees' abuse of union rights

07/01/2006

Q. One of our employees (a bus driver) also serves as a committee member for a labor union. The driver uses his union position to protect himself from our company’s policy on insubordination. Does management have a right to ban this employee from the property when he conducts labor business because of his combative, disrespectful and intimidating manner? What rights does management have under this circumstance? —S. G., Florida

Capping Salaries Won't Violate Age-Bias Law

06/01/2006

Q. I have a question about capping employees’ salaries when they reach the top of the pay scale. I’m concerned because the only employees affected are those with many years of service and who happen to be over age 40. Have we made a legal error? Some of the affected employees are angry and have mentioned discrimination based on the residual effect of the cap. —M.M., California

Paying for driving time depends on departure point

06/01/2006

Q. We have a sports reporter (an hourly employee) who is being sent to cover a state tournament. Should we pay for the time it takes her to drive to the event and back? —D.L., Washington

Apply good judgment to legal considerations

06/01/2006

Q. An employee left work on a Monday due to an illness. She called in sick Tuesday and Wednesday, but we heard nothing on Thursday or Friday. Our policy calls for termination if the employee doesn't contact us within three days. We posted her job on Friday and decided to terminate her. On Monday, her fiancé called to tell us she was pregnant and had complications that led to a hospital visit. We got a note from her OB-GYN saying she'd been seen, but not indicating when she could return. What should we do to avoid any legal fall out? —K.A., New York

Must We Give Time Off for 'Witness Duty'?

06/01/2006

Q. We have an employee who has been subpoenaed to appear as a witness in a criminal case. She obviously has no choice but to go. Are we required to pay her while she is off, or can we have her take vacation time or an unpaid leave of absence? —C.S., Pennsylvania

FMLA absence shouldn't trigger attendance penalty

06/01/2006

Q. We have a point system for absences and lateness. Our no-fault attendance policy states that if employees call off after the start of their shift, they’ll receive two points. What if the reason for the absence is covered by the FMLA? Should the employee still receive the two points? —C.S., Florida

Fire employee for positive cocaine test

06/01/2006

Q. We are a small but growing construction company, and we don’t have formal policies in place. Recently, one of our employees was involved in an accident at a construction site. This is his third accident. After the second time, we had him sign a warning notice that said he’d be terminated if it happened again. We sent him for drug testing after this third accident and he came back positive for cocaine. We want to terminate him. But we suspended another worker who tested positive for marijuana. Can we fire him? —B.O., Pennsylvania

Make note if using translator to complete I-9

06/01/2006

Q. Is there any way to obtain I-9 forms pre-printed in Spanish? —A.B., California