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Responding to Anonymous Complaints: Dos and Don’ts

If you receive an anonymous complaint, it is important to remain calm and review the complaint objectively regardless of how egregious the accusations may seem. Although the complaint was received anonymously, the company still has an obligation to take action, if necessary, to ensure that employees are provided a workplace that is safe and free from harassing or discriminatory conduct. We recommend investigating the complaint to the extent possible given the information received. Here are dos and don’ts to keep in mind: Do: Determine if an investigation is warranted or possible. Some complaints will not require an investigation, and some may not even require follow up (e.g., per

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A manager of ours, who is exempt, is taking a half-day to attend a social event even though they’ve exhausted all of their paid time off. Can we reduce their salary for that day?

HR Topics Question

Not for half day, no. As a general rule, if an exempt employee performs any work during the workweek, they must be paid their full salary. If the employee were taking off one or more full days for this social event, then a deduction from their salary would be permissible. A half day, however, does not qualify for a deduction. That said, if the employee has paid time off (PTO) available, you could deduct from that bank of hours for a partial or full day absence—this is not considered a salary deduction since they will still get their regular pay as a result of using PTO. Here are the situations in which deductions from salary are generally permissible for exempt employees: For any wo

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Do we have to give employees who smoke additional smoke breaks or allow them to return to work smelling strongly of smoke? We’ve received complaints from both other employees and customers.

HR Topics Question

No, you’re not required to provide additional breaks to employees who smoke, and you also don’t have to tolerate them smelling like smoke. These employees can be expected to adhere to the same policies as any other employee. To that end, if you allow for a certain number of breaks of a certain length, employees who smoke aren’t entitled to anything extra. And if you have a policy that addresses smells, you can refer to that when addressing the odor of cigarettes.  If you don’t have specific policies addressing breaks and smells, there’s no time like the present to implement them. Break policies are fairly straightforward, but employers sometimes struggle with delicate issu

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We’ve heard from staff that one of our employees suffers from chronic back pain. We’re concerned that this employee’s job duties may be aggravating their condition. Can we ask them about this?

HR Topics Question

No. Unless you have objective evidence such as direct visual observation that the back pain is interfering with the employee’s work, you should leave it alone. If at some point in the future it becomes apparent that the employee is having issues while working (for example, unable to lift as usual, holding their back, groaning, etc.), then you should definitely speak with them to understand if there may be some restrictions that would affect their ability to continue doing the essential functions of their job. If so, you should discuss whether there is a reasonable accommodation you can offer to make that possible. You may be able to request documentation from the employee’s health care

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What sort of questions should we ask and avoid asking during a job interview?

HR Topics Question

The questions you ask in a job interview should all be job-related and nondiscriminatory. You should avoid questions that are not job-related or that cause an applicant to tell you about their inclusion in a protected class. For example, if the position requires someone to lift 25 pounds repeatedly throughout the day, you should ask the applicant whether they can lift 25 pounds repeatedly throughout the day. You should not ask whether they have back pain or any other physical issues that might prevent them from lifting 25 pounds throughout the day. The latter question would be discriminatory. Protected classes include race, national origin, citizenship status, religious affiliation, disa

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6 Tips to Help You Manage Stress in the Workplace

We’re all supposed to feel stress from time to time. It’s the way the body responds to demands and dangers. A stressful event triggers the release of hormones. These hormones, according to Psychology Today, “increase heartbeat and the circulation of blood to support quick action, mobilize fat and sugar for immediate energy, focus attention to track the danger, prepare muscles for movement, and more.” This fight-or-flight response helps us overcome these challenges. It can save our life before we realize we’re in danger.  We are not, however, supposed to feel stress all or most of the time. Stress, particularly the regular or chronic variety, can le

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We suspect that one of our employees harassed another, but we only have their conflicting stories to go on—no witnesses, video, or emails.

HR Topics Question

The accuser’s account of the incident seems much more credible than that of the accused. Can we discipline with only this information? Probably. It would be a good idea to consider whether your investigation was thorough. If it was, and all you have to go on is the testimony of the accuser and the accused, then you should take their credibility into consideration and make a determination based on their respective accounts.  Here are some factors to consider when determining credibility: Each employee’s reputation for truthfulness and accuracyIf the story each employee presents is plausible Whether one of the employees has a motive to be untruthful Whether one emp

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Can we reduce pay because of economic slowdown due to COVID-19?

HR Topics Question

You can reduce an employee's rate of pay based on business or economic slowdown, provided that this is not done retroactively. For instance, if you give employees notice that their pay will change on the 10th, and your payroll period runs from the 1st through the 15th, make sure that their next check still reflects the higher rate of pay for the first 9 days of the payroll period.  Non-exempt employees (those entitled to overtime)A non-exempt employee's new rate of pay must still meet the applicable federal, state, or local minimum wage. Employees must be given notice of the change at the time of the change, or before. This gives them the ability to stop working if they don’t

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We have an employee who generally performs well, but at times behaves immaturely. When she gets upset, she slams things and stomps around the office. She also often says “That’s not my job” when asked to help with something. She’s younger and this is her first job. Is there a best way to address this behavior without it sounding personal? I know I can’t tell her to “grow up,” but I also can’t allow this immature behavior to continue.

HR Topics Question

Yes, I would suggest you give the employee a verbal warning concerning her unprofessional behavior. While you could, in fact, tell her to “grow up,” that may not be the most useful advice. You can tell her that slamming and stomping are not acceptable behaviors in a professional setting, and that you would appreciate it if she addressed frustrations with her direct supervisor or with you. You should also remind her that you’re on the same team and helping the team is part of everyone’s job description. You might also let her know that you’re there to support her, that you want her to succeed, and that while first jobs can be especially stressful, she’s not alone.  After

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We have had someone request an accommodation for a disability. Can you explain undue hardship?

HR Topics Question

Under the ADA, an employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, so long as doing so does not create an undue hardship on the organization. Many state laws also use this standard with respect to accommodations for disability, pregnancy, and lactation, so it’s useful to understand. The basic definition is an action that creates a significant difficulty or expense.The cost of an accommodation could be an undue hardship on the employer, but so could an accommodation’s duration or disruption. An accommodation that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business would be an undue hardship, even if the cost was negligible. But if co

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