Employee handbooks serve many purposes in an organization. They can be considered tools for risk management, communication of expectations, and a guidebook of general rules for the workplace. Employees are not the only ones to benefit from handbooks, but managers and employers also gain an advantage from a well-written and professional-looking handbook. Here is how:
- Employees – The handbook should outline how employees are to behave and what the consequences are if they don’t. It will teach them what needs to be done in their job to be successful in the company. The handbook should serve as a protection to employees by outlining a process for complaining about possible harassment, reporting an on-the-job injury, and promoting awareness of workplace violence. Other areas that should be covered are the absence reporting process, how to request time off from work, what dress is appropriate, and how the company feels about complying with all employment laws.
- Managers – Consistency is key for managers. They must have a set of standards for how to handle organizational issues. This should not be step-by-step instructions they must follow, but should consist of principles they can apply consistently in employee relations, performance management, and other areas within their scope of responsibility.
- Employers – The handbook is a mouthpiece for employers to openly communicate their behavioral expectations for employees and managers alike. It gives clearly defined parameters for personal conduct, acceptable behaviors, and company expectations. It is also an effective tool for communicating a summary of the benefits of employment with their organization, (e.g. paid time off, medical and other insurance coverages offered, tuition reimbursement, retirement planning, etc.).
Ensuring employees have easy access to the employee handbook and have acknowledged its receipt can go a long way to protect an employer in a lawsuit. Sometimes copies of the policy violated and the acknowledgement of the handbook receipt are all that is needed to dispute an unemployment claim. Now is the time to minimize your risk by having an up-to-date, legally compliant, and tailored to your company handbook. It conveys to your employees you care about them and their success!
Source: Brannen, D. Albert. “Why Your Company Needs a Handbook.” Fisher & Phillips Attorneys at Law. Available here.
I was part of an HR department of four. Our HR Manager had just been asked to resign. So, without a leader in the department, our executive vice president quickly organized the remaining three of us to run the department and perform “management tasks” for the next few weeks ahead. It was a great learning experience, and we kept everything going very smoothly right up to when we recruited, hired, and onboarded our new boss, Mary.
I learned more about myself in the time I worked with Mary than I ever knew before. I learned the difference between a leader and a manager. In the first week of her arrival, she wasn’t barking orders, changing processes, or micromanaging anything. Rather, she calmly acknowledged the situation that we had thrust upon us and commended us for carrying the load absent a department manager. She didn’t know us yet as individuals, she didn’t know how we worked, our personal moral codes, or our competencies, but she encouraged us to continue doing what we had been doing. Then, she said three words that still ring in my ears today, “I trust you.”
That was a leap of faith on her part to trust three people she didn’t yet know. Those three words were the biggest motivator I have ever experienced in the workplace. By her saying, “I trust you,” it was like her reaffirming to us that we were professionals, adults, and we were experts in our area of human resources and capable of anything that we wanted to do. It was powerful! As time went by, she continued to demonstrate her trust, not just saying it, but in the way she led us as a team and as individuals. She was a great coach and always asked the right questions, to move us to reach the proper conclusions. She fostered autonomy by letting us do the jobs we had been hired to do, only she made us better! Have you told your employees lately, “I trust you”?
In the last decade traditional leave programs have been replaced with Paid Time Off (PTO) programs. PTO is believed to reduce unexcused absences, since employees may use their time off for vacation, sick, or personal reasons. Employees have welcomed the added flexibility of using PTO as they want to or need to in their quest for work-life balance.
A new trend, though, is taking hold for a few companies. Some may explain it as an experimental leave program that employees would take advantage of, but those who have adopted it report increased productivity. It is called Unlimited Vacation time. Most recent to join the ranks of those not tracking vacation and time off is Virgin. Founder, Richard Branson, announced that his company would be offering unlimited vacation following suit with Netflix and a handful of others.
An unlimited vacation program is designed to give employees the ability to decide when they will be gone as they need to recharge and avoid burnout. However, they are held accountable for completing their work, meeting deadlines, not leaving their team in a bind, and coordinating with other employees to cover for them. The program encourages autonomy, which boosts morale and creativity, fostering satisfied employees. And, we all know that happy employees are productive employees!
Is unlimited vacation time for your company? We’d like to hear your comments.
Read more about this unique time off initiative here.
A series of new executive orders from President Obama present some new HR law compliance challenges for federal contractors.
The President recently signed an order requiring that federal contractors not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. About half the states already prohibit such discrimination in one form or another. Another order mandates such contractors pay a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour. Both rules will take effect after implementing regulations are adopted and finalized later in 2014.
Yet another order requires that certain contractors (those with contracts over $500,000) disclose state and federal labor law violations from the past three years and also gather similar information from their subcontractors. Such violations include problems under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the anti-discrimination laws. Repeat offenders may not receive federal contracts. The latest executive order also will prohibit companies holding new contracts of more than $1 million from requiring that their employees arbitrate alleged discrimination and harassment claims. The most recent executive order will be implemented on new contracts beginning in 2016.
The availability of electronic devices permits employees to work anywhere, any time. The convenience and flexibility are generally welcomed by employees wishing to balance work and home responsibilities. However, when does the overlap of work/life balance create a problem? When it involves working during FMLA leave.
A pregnant employee, Tondalaya Evans, worked for the company, Books-a-Million, and was expecting a baby on September 1. Tondalaya was the payroll manager and was in the process of implementing a new payroll system, which had been delayed until November. She requested FMLA for the birth of her child. Books-a-Million told her she would not be on leave, but rather would be working while on her maternity leave, and that she had no other choice, because the payroll system was due to “go-live.” Ms. Evans had her child on August 30, and began working full time from home on September 1. Even though, she was being paid her full wage, she was being denied the time off.
Tondalaya later returned to work, and found that she had been transferred to another position. She was not agreeable with the change, quit her job, and sued in part for FMLA interference. The court found that the company had violated the FMLA by denying her a benefit (FMLA leave, with no work being performed) for which she was entitled. The company argued, to no avail, that she was being paid to work, and they were not in violation of FMLA.
The takeaway is that employees are entitled to FMLA for the purpose of being completely excused from work while they take care of a serious health condition of their own or an approved family member, without the worries of performing or losing their job. Requiring or forcing an employee to work when eligible for FMLA can cause neither their work nor the reason for the leave to be given full attention. Even if an employer offers to pay the employee, it is still undermining the purpose of the FMLA and is illegal.
Source: Hyman, Jon. “Do Not Force Employees to Work During FMLA Leave.” Workforce. Available here.
I was relatively new to the human resources scene in the early/mid 90s, and I watched as my manager could have shrieked in horror, (Does an audible gasp count?), at the note a hiring manager wrote on an employment application. The applicant’s first name was Ebony. Noted. But, that manager in her efforts (giving her the benefit of the doubt) to remember the applicant wrote quite simply, “black girl.” Those two words, just screamed “discrimination” at my manager and she immediately took control of the situation.
Most HR professionals realize the implications of making descriptive notes on applications can be a double-edged sword. Nearly everything is fair game to a plaintiff’s attorney, even the notes we make to ourselves about who was who in our candidate pool. However, I learned that very day, in those very tense moments, that it is much better to write, “navy blue suit” as opposed to describing someone’s skin color. Better yet, write nothing at all!
Such was true for a manager involved in a recent case out of Texas in which two newly hired workers complained their wages were lower than other workers with the same or very similar jobs. After about three weeks of work for the company they were terminated on a trumped up reason.
The manager documented their personnel files after receiving a notice from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission granting the two terminated employees the right to sue. He wrote:
“Please note he is not eligible for rehire ever. Tried to sue us. Simply tell him, ‘sorry but we have nothing for you at this time. Please try again. Have a nice day.’ Not for rehire. Per Ben G.”
Those words were enough to cause the Texas Court of Appeals to find for the two workers on the charges of retaliation and malice. They were awarded damages as well. (You can read the case here.)
So in every situation from hiring to firing – be careful and think before you document that!
Source: Meyer, Eric B. “The Problem With Putting ‘Do Not Hire’ Notes in Personnel Files.” Article available here and here.
In an interesting test of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) exemption regulations, a well-known national retailer has been sued in California by employees alleging that the company improperly classified its store assistant managers as exempt employees. This lawsuit is a good reminder of how important it is to have updated job descriptions to determine the exempt or nonexempt status of all positions within an organization. The Department of Labor website provides general information to determine exempt status. Click here.
A national retail provider of rent-to-own merchandise (appliances, furniture, etc.) has been sued under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act with the plaintiffs in the case alleging that the company used a third party to run background checks but did not provide copies of the same before taking adverse action against applicants and employees (e.g. denying or terminating employment) based on the background check results. The lawsuit is pending in Georgia. This is a great example of the importance of knowing the law! The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides excellent guidance to employers and employees on background checks from each perspective. You can check those out for employers here, and for employees here.
A New Jersey healthcare provider will pay over $1 million to resolve claims before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that it committed disability discrimination. According to the EEOC, since the employer’s leave policy merely tracked the requirements of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employee leaves were limited to a maximum of 12 weeks.
The employer’s policy meant that employees who were not eligible for FMLA leave were fired after being absent for a short time, and many more were fired once they were out more than 12 weeks, all without additional consideration of whether the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) required some additional accommodation, including additional leave.
Managing both FMLA and the ADA can be quite tricky at times. Additional leave after FMLA is exhausted is considered a reasonable accommodation under the ADA guidelines and must be factored in to an employee’s recovery or health management resolutions. Whether an employer extends leave or not could be a million dollar question!
The national average of time to fill an open position in June reached 24.9 working days, including the time to post, source, and hire. Compared to the recessionary period in the summer of 2009, the time to fill has increased by nearly ten days, when the average was 15.3.
During the recession the talent pool was overflowing with applicants. Hundreds of résumés flooded recruiters in response to a single job posting. The response left recruiters thinking they could be choosy and wait for the top talent to show, which generally during the recession worked. Now, other problems are factoring in to the long time-to-fill open positions, such as:
- Waiting too long to make an offer risks the loss of the top candidate.
- Unable to find skilled workers in the talent pool.
- Expecting no learning curve, thus fostering an unwillingness to accept candidates that may need only minimal training.
- There is simply more job openings, 4.7 million at the end of June, compared to 4 million in June, 2013.
Employers should examine recruitment and hiring processes to ensure they are streamlined and efficient and make changes wherever they find obstacles. Performing this self-audit will clearly define the company’s acceptable standards for recruitment and hiring and will help find and hire a solid, talented workforce quickly.
Source: Zappe, John. “Employers Find That Time-to-Fill Job Rates Are Growing, Hit 13 Year High.” Available here.