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Voting Leave Compliance

Many employers are unaware of state voting leave laws, which we anticipate will be heavily relied upon this year given the challenges presented by the pandemic. Most states require that employers provide at least a few hours off to vote, and many of those require that at least some of that time off be paid. The advance notice that may be required from employees is often minimal, so employers should be prepared to grant last-minute requests to vote.  California and New York also require that a notice about employees’ voting rights be posted in a conspicuous location in the workplace. Employees who are working from home or who do not report to the workplace regularly should be provi

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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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Business has slowed and we’re cutting back the hours of some employees. Do I need to reclassify them as part-time if they’re working fewer than 40 hours per week?

HR Topics Question

Not necessarily. It’s up to you to decide how many hours employees need to work in a week to be considered full-time. While we generally recommend that you abide by the standards you've set previously so that you’re enforcing your policies consistently, you could also change those policies (and notify employees) in light of current business conditions. For instance, if you previously defined full-time as 40 hours per week, but you've cut the hours of most full-time employees to 30 and want them to continue receiving the benefits that were previously only available to full-time workers, you could redefine full-time as 30 hours per week.  Before making any changes, you’ll want t

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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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