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Ask the Attorney Archives

How do we make it clear to this manager that he’s creating a hostile work environment?

Q: “I’ve been counseling a manager who refuses to take my advice and who I think could be headed for a hostile work environment charge. The manager ‘inherited’ an administrative assistant from his predecessor. She’s been there for 15 years; they’ve been working together for the last six. Everyone else loves her; she’s hardworking, efficient and has the best interests of the organization at heart. He refuses to talk with her when he goes past her desk to get to his office. He requires her to schedule a meeting, which he then blows off or cuts short. He complains she screws up his calendar, but he’s the one not showing up for meetings or rolling in late. He frequently asks her when she’s going to retire (she’s 63). What more can I do?” – Anonymous, Washington

Social workers: exempt or nonexempt?

Q: “When reviewing positions to see if they are exempt or nonexempt, I am having a hard time with social workers. I am unsure if they would be exempt under the Learned Professional category. Our agency has a number of social workers with different level degrees and certifications, so how can I be sure if they are exempt or nonexempt?” – Anonymous, New Jersey

How do we handle this health insurance switch-around?

Q: “An employee got a divorce, then canceled the ex-spouse’s health insurance, but they later got back together (though they did not remarry), and now the employee would like to add the ex-spouse back onto the health insurance policy. How do we handle this?” – M. Ward, Oklahoma

When a worker’s status changes, what happens to their health insurance?

Q: “How do we transition variable-hour employees from full-time to part-time and vice versa for health insurance?” – Jessica, Idaho 

Do doctor’s orders prevent us from firing someone?


Q: “Can an employer terminate employment as retaliation for an employee missing three days of work on doctor’s orders?” – HR Assistant, Texas

How do we pay this departing worker under California’s paid sick leave law?


Q: “We have chosen the up-front method for sick time in California. We have an employee who is leaving the company in two weeks. Is she entitled to all three days of sick time, or do we have the right to prorate it knowing she is leaving?” – Karen, California

Do raised voices raise legal concerns?

Q: “I need a legal perspective when it comes to yelling at subordinates. What laws, if any, allow someone in management to raise their voice out of frustration? How do courts view a subordinate’s actions when they raise their voice back in response? Can it be used as grounds for discipline, i.e. writing someone up for verbally attacking a manager, or unprofessional conduct by subordinate? Last but not least, what about a subordinate who has suffered prior verbal abuse (mental trauma) during childhood or thereafter, and made comments alleging this?” – Anonymous, Virginia

Are hours spent in company-paid evening classes considered overtime?


Q: “We have an employee who is currently considered exempt. However, when the new salary threshold goes into effect, he will be nonexempt. He is attending college classes during the day, and was hired upon the condition that he get a degree. The employer pays for his tuition. How are the hours he attends class handled when computing overtime? Since they are required, do they count toward his 40 hours per week?” – Susan, Tennessee

Employee filed a work-related lawsuit against a company owned by ours–what are our retaliation worries?


Q: “A subsidiary company of ours wrongfully fired an employee while he was on workers’ comp and FMLA leave. He filed suit, then came to our parent company and showed that he is very knowledgeable and asked to be promoted. A supervisor then found out about the lawsuit against the subsidiary. Our supervisor refused to promote him five times. He also told the employee directly that he can’t expect to be promoted when he is suing the subsidiary, because we are the same company. The supervisor then transferred him out of town, and now the employee is complaining of retaliation. Are we in trouble?” – Dave, Nevada  

Will our little white lie about a reason for termination come back to haunt us?


Q: “We mutually agreed when ‘John’ left the company to tell any prospective employers that he left because his assignment ended. However, since we operate in a small community, I found out that some of my staff had unofficially told their friends at another company that John was fired. This resulted in him getting terminated at this company because they said he lied on his application about never being fired before. He tried to explain, but we’re in an at-will state and the company officials said there’s nothing to discuss. John is now threatening to get a lawyer and take us to court for violating his separation agreement. Are we in trouble for revealing that his departure from the company was not entirely voluntary on his part?” – Anonymous, Washington