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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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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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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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We’ve seen an uptick in complaints from employees. Is this cause for concern?

The mere fact that you’re getting more complaints than normal isn’t necessarily something to worry about. The increase in complaints could be a sign that there are now more issues that require your attention, or it could be a sign that your employees are—for some reason—feeling safer speaking to you about their concerns.  In and of themselves, complaints can be a good thing because they inform you about matters that may have escaped your notice and they indicate that your employees trust you to resolve those matters. The last thing you want is for employees to keep their concerns to themselves or vent about them to their colleagues (or the entire internet). You can’t solve

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Our busy season starts next month. Is there anything we can do to help our employees reduce their stress?

There is! Here are a few things you can do to make the busy season run as smoothly and stress-free as possible: Remove or reassign non-essential work duties: Before the busy season begins, ask employees to make a list of tasks that others could feasibly handle for them or that could be put on hold. Then work on reassigning those tasks or simply hold off on non-essential tasks until business slows down.  Allow for flexible scheduling: If employees need to work longer hours on some days during the week, consider allowing them to work fewer hours other days of the week. Be aware, however, that some states have daily overtime laws.  Budget for overtime: Employees may need to

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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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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 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.  Af

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During an exit interview, a departing employee accused one of our managers of harassment. Should we investigate even though the accuser is no longer employed here? The manager has been with us a long time, and we’ve never heard any complaints about him before.

Yes, I would recommend investigating the allegations even though the accusing employee has left the organization. If your investigation shows that harassment occurred, I would recommend taking disciplinary action as appropriate.  Federal law obligates employers to prevent or stop unlawful harassment. Harassment happens when behavior is unwelcome and based on a protected class such as race, gender, age, religion, national origin, or disability. It becomes unlawful when it is severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. In this case, since you’ve been made aware of alleged sexual harassment, failing to investigate the allegations could invite risk, especially if

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Three Ways to Effectively Manage Your HR Responsibilities

The workplace – whether it’s an office, a salon, a restaurant, or a medical facility – is full of complexity. And many of those complexities are managed by the Human Resources Department. Sometimes the HR Department is a team of people with deep expertise, but often it’s one person who wears many hats in the organization and has no formal HR training. If your HR department looks more like the latter, and you could use a little help keeping it all together, we recommend the following three practices: Inventory who is doing whatBecause HR covers so many different tasks, those tasks are often assigned to different people in the organization. It’s common for owners, managers, and o

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