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In post-Sept. 11 America, employment counsel, like everyone else, are encountering scenarios they haven’t seen before. Take employment specialist Keith Weddington of Charlotte, N.C. A business client called him after one of the company’s advertisements had been mailed to an employee whose name and photograph were featured in the ad. The unknown sender had written on the ad that the employee in the ad “looks Islamic” and vowed not to do business with the company. The employee, who was not a Muslim, was nervous about the threatening tone. “Six months ago,” observed Weddington, a partner at Parker, Poe, Adams & Bernstein, “an employer would have said, ‘Ah, someone just has too much time on their hands.’ ” Now, Weddington didn’t feel qualified to evaluate the risk and advised his client to call the police. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, employment lawyers around the United States have fielded a flurry of unusual questions from clients struggling with workplace problems. Many involve employee anxiety about flying, opening the mail and just coming to work. Employers are also grappling with bomb threats, leaves of absence and employees embarking on military assignments. Attorneys are counseling clients to be sensitive to employees’ needs. They are also helping clients restore a normal work environment, pointing out that stability can be the best solution. COPING WITH WORK Condon McGlothlen has dealt with employees reluctant to come to work. Although the problem seems to be waning, in the aftermath of the attacks there was a spate of sick leaves, vacation leaves and requests for leaves of absence — not to mention military leaves. Employers have tried to be sympathetic, said McGlothlen, a partner at Chicago’s Seyfarth Shaw, but they also have had to determine whether these were family or medical leaves, short-term disabilities or something else. And for many, he said, this pressure came on the heels of an economic downturn “that has added to the anxiety and fear that is a significant presence in many workplaces.” In addition to straight legal advice, McGlothlen has worked with mental health professionals to provide group counseling for employees of insurance and brokerage clients in New York. By helping employees cope, he said, the company gains productivity. Jay Waks tackled a different kind of absenteeism. In the days following the attacks, New York buildings were besieged by bomb threats. Waks, a partner at New York’s Kaye Scholer, was called by one client whose building was close enough to a threatened building that the police evacuated both. It had happened twice, and both times her employees left for the day, even though the police later said it was safe to return. She asked if she was on “safe footing” requiring employees to return. If the police determined it was safe, Waks advised, “you can insist on your employees returning to work.” RANGE OF ISSUES Not all the issues raised by employers are that challenging. Terri Solomon, a partner in Littler Mendelson’s New York office, was called by a Washington, D.C., client about an employee who refused to deliver mail without gloves. “So let the employee wear gloves,” Solomon advised. More challenging were two calls from employers who work in lower Manhattan high-rises. Each had an employee who wanted to telecommute. One had a bad knee and a doctor’s note to prove it. She had evacuated on Sept. 11 and feared she couldn’t make it down the stairs again. Her responsibilities were amenable to telecommuting, and Solomon judged her complaint a legitimate disability under New York law, so she advised this client to grant the request. The second employee simply complained that he was afraid to work in the building. This employee did not have a sterling attendance record, and it was unclear whether he suffered from a genuine disability such as post-traumatic stress disorder. So Solomon advised her client to request medical documentation. What makes such requests particularly tricky, Solomon added, is that they can set precedents that create dissension. For Jaffe Dickerson, a partner in Littler’s Los Angeles office, a violent incident prompted a call from a university client. In the third week of September, a Middle Eastern student, asleep in her university apartment, was shaken awake by an intruder who wanted to know if she was Afghan. “What if I am?” she replied. This seemed to infuriate the young man, who punched her in the arm, waved his fists in her face and hurled invective at her presumed homeland. The incident prompted the university’s director of campus housing to call Dickerson. The director had seen a workplace violence training that Dickerson had presented elsewhere and wanted him to “nip the problem in the bud.” Dickerson agreed to offer two sessions in November. The first, he said, will acquaint university managers and supervisors with the warning signs of violence. The second, open to all, will invite campus public safety employees to speak about emergency plans and procedures and encourage students and staff to report their concerns. REACHING OUT Dickerson said that good communication can thwart problems and increase productivity. He particularly advised employers with Middle Eastern employees to ask them how they’re doing. Employees’ fears outside the job can affect work performance, he said. One client’s Middle Eastern employee confided to Dickerson how his life had changed. “Flying is out,” he said. After work, he stays bunkered in his apartment because he no longer feels safe going to clubs. Employers and employees need to get reacquainted, Dickerson urged, in this unbrave new world.

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