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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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What Employers Should Do If an Employee Makes a Racist Statement Online

Given renewed national attention on issues of racial equity and justice, employees and customers might be more inclined to report incidents of racism they witness in person or on the internet. In this article, we cover some recommended practices for employers if they receive a report that an employee has made a racist statement online. Don’t ignore itWe recommend responding to the report, whether it’s made by an employee, customer, or vendor. Not responding could lead to an escalation of the situation. First, the offending post might be shared widely and result in additional pressure on you to take action. Second, not responding right away (or after additional complaints) could lead

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Some of our employees have said they don’t feel safe returning to work. Can we just permanently replace them? What other options do we have?

HR Topics Question

We recommend caution when deciding to replace an employee who refuses to work because of concerns about COVID-19. Here are few things to keep in mind: Recalled employees may have a right to job-protected leave under a city ordinance, state law, or the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). See our overview of the FFCRA on the HR Support Center.Employees who are in a high-risk category — either because they are immunocompromised or have an underlying condition — may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or state law if their situation doesn’t qualify them for leave under the FFCRA (or if they have run out of that

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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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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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Don’t Forget to Document, Document, Document

With all of the changes everyone has had to make over the past few months, not to mention the heightened stress we’re all feeling, it may be tempting to let certain practices slide or be less strict about following particular workplace policies. Flexibility during crisis situations may make sense in certain situations, but there are some areas where you don’t want to fall short of your usual standards. Documentation is certainly one of those. Documenting decisions you make as an employer can feel like an extra, unnecessary step. It is additional work, after all, and that work adds up. Nevertheless, documentation is an important part of risk management, and the price of not documentin

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

HR Topics Question

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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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?

HR Topics Question

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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