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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.

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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COVID-19: April 1 Effective Date for FFCRA Leaves

On Tuesday, March 24, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that the effective date of the leaves available through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) will be April 1, 2020.  Based on the language in the bill, the effective date was widely believed to be April 2.  The DOL announced the effective date in a “Questions and Answers” document where it also provided answers to some common questions. Other than the April 1 effective date, the information is in line with what we have been advising. The DOL also released two Fact Sheets, both of which appear to contain the same information, but it’s possible they will each be updated in the future with i

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Given COVID-19, if an employee is out of the office due to sickness, can we ask them about their symptoms?

Yes, but there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. In most circumstances, employers shouldn’t ask about an employee’s symptoms, as that could be construed as a disability-related inquiry. Under the circumstances, however—and in line with an employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace—we recommend asking specifically about the symptoms of COVID-19 and making it clear that this is the extent of the information you’re looking for. Here’s a suggested communication: “Thank you for staying home while sick. In the interest of keeping all employees as safe as possible, we’d like to know if you are having any of the symptoms of COVID-19. Are you experien

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COVID-19 and Your Workplace

The last month has been interesting, dramatic, and stressful as the country has taken small and large measures to limit the spread of COVID-19. Employers nationwide are struggling with how to deal with these changes. Below are answers to some frequently asked questions as well as links to several resources that employers may find helpful. What am I obligated to do, legally?There aren’t any universal employer responsibilities that crop up as soon as something is declared a pandemic. That said, pay attention to federal, state, and local authorities to see if they are rolling out benefits or prohibitions that you need to be aware of. For instance, Colorado passed an emergency paid sick leave

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

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

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’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?

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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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.

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

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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We’ve had a few employees come into work sick. Can we send them home or, in the future, tell them not to come in to work if they are sick?

Yes. Generally, you can send sick employees home early when they are visibly ill or there is objective concern for the spread of a contagious virus. We recommend you inform the employee, as well as your other employees, of your expectations for when employees should or should not come to work due to common contagious illnesses. Many employers choose to send employees home only in severe circumstances (e.g., a highly contagious illness) as the cold and flu seasons could mean that many employees are sick or recovering at the same time, and employees may not need to stay home when fighting, for example, a minor cold. Keep in mind that it is important that everyone have a clear understanding

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