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Ask the Attorney Archives

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What if a worker demands to know the reason for their termination?

Q: “We fired an employee without giving a reason. The employee is requesting the reason in writing. Do we have to comply? Also, we just learned that the new supervisor of the employee never met with the employee to discuss the employee’s position description or the supervisor expectations. The supervisor issued the employee a corrective action. In addition, the employee filed a complaint against someone in senior management. The complaint was never investigated. The employee was terminated the next day after filing the complaint. Is there any liability on the agency?” – Anonymous, Virginia

Employee doesn’t get the promotion, then has to train the new hire: Is there an equal pay issue?

Q: “A male manager retires and his female assistant fills in while a search for his replacement is made. She apparently covers the job adequately in the absence. The company hires a young male (an MBA) to replace the manager. He is hired at a salary higher than hers. She wants equal pay to her manager, as she is basically training him. Is this an FLSA/discrimination issue? Is the company mandated to give equal pay?” – Anonymous, New York

Can we move paid hours around to fill in gaps in an employee’s schedule?

Q: “Our company gives bonus time for hours worked over 48 weekly. Can this time that they have already earned be used to fill in time lost? For example, a superintendent has 30 hours banked of bonus time. They worked 28 hours the following week; would it be legal to take his bonus time to bump up hours worked? He is an exempt employee.” – Anonymous, North Carolina

How do non-disclosure agreements affect harassment claims?

Q: “What are the laws now on non-disclosure agreements as they pertain to sexual harassment claims? Also, in the state of New York, can you require that sexual harassment complaints first must be reported to the company before they file with any outside judicial agencies?” – Anonymous

Is it legally safe to terminate an employee soon after they refuse a relocation?

Q: “If we’ve verbally notified an employee (three months ago) that their job is moving (due to restructuring/reorganization) to another state, effective next month—and the employee refused the job/relocation (first right to refuse), what is the risk if we lay off the employee now?”

Record retention: What are the New York laws?

Q: “What are the personnel record retention and separation laws in New York State and City?” –  Ken, New York

Can poking fun at a regional accent rise to the level of harassment and discrimination?

Q: “We have an employee with a thick Boston accent. Several of his co-workers imitate him, like ‘Where did you pawk your caw today?’ He doesn’t seem to mind, but I can’t really tell. Since there aren’t any protected characteristics at play—such as race or national origin—would that type of ribbing get us in trouble if we don’t stop it?” – Kevin, Maryland

What happens when at-will employment crosses state lines?

Q: “We are a Montana-based company with a remote worker in Maine. Do we have to follow the Montana laws on termination (Montana doesn’t honor ‘at-will’), or can we terminate him at will since he works in Maine? There is no offer letter on file, no employment contracts, etc.” – Ronda, Montana

Is it legally unwise to have separate attendance policies for separate departments?

Q: “At our agency, each department has its own attendance guidelines when applying and waiving attendance points. The agency is in the process of reviewing each separate departmental guideline for attendance to develop one set of administrative standard operating guidelines for the agency. Should the agency continue to allow each department to operate under individual attendance guidelines? Or should Human Resources develop an agency-wide attendance policy, where all divisions follow the same guidelines? If the agency continues with each department having separate attendance guidelines for applying and waiving points, will it be viewed as discriminatory?” – Anonymous, Virginia

Are we allowed to ask if a prospective employee has medical coverage?

Q: “My manager had job applications made that ask: ‘Do you have medical coverage? If so, with who?’ Is that allowed or not?” – Nikkie, Florida
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