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* Jeffry D. Proul, Registered Representative of LifeMark Securities Corp., 400 West Metro Financial Center, Rochester, NY 14623 (585) 424-5672 Member NASD/SIPC Vital Signs Insurance Services, Inc. is not affiliated with LifeMark Securities Corp. CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: Communications are Confidential Information of LifeMark Securities Corp. and may also be privileged.

HR News

HR Advisor Newsletter

Smoking Employees Smell Strongly of Smoke, Employee Oder

By |August 21st, 2019|

Question:
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.

Emily, PHRAnswer from Emily, PHR:

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 issues like hygiene. We recommend saying something like, “The excessive use of perfume or cologne is unacceptable, as are odors that are disruptive or offensive to others or may exacerbate allergies.” This language can be added wherever you think is most appropriate; we fold it into the Personal Appearance and Hygiene policy.

Emily’s robust experience overseeing HR in the non-profit, healthcare, and hospitality industries brings valuable knowledge to clients. She graduated college with degrees in Music and Entrepreneurial Business, and her passion for helping and working alongside people led her to the field of HR. In her free time, Emily enjoys traveling and home brewing.

Questions?
Vital Signs Insurance Services, Inc.
PO Box 6360
Folsom, CA 95630
Phone: (916) 496-8750
Email: [email protected]
Fax: (916) 496-8754

Legal Disclaimer: The HR Support Center is not engaged in the practice of law. The content in this article should not be construed as legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions concerning your situation or the information you have obtained, you should consult with a licensed attorney. The HR Support Center cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to its receipt.

One of Our Employees Harassed Another

By |August 14th, 2019|

Question:
We suspect that one of our employees harassed another, but we only have their conflicting stories to go on—no witnesses, video, or emails. The accuser’s account of the incident seems much more credible than that of the accused. Can we discipline with only this information?

Answer from Monica, SPHR, SHRM-CP:

Probably. It would be a good idea to consider whether your investigation was thorough. If it was, and all you have to go on is the testimony of the accuser and the accused, then you should take their credibility into consideration and make a determination based on their respective accounts.

Here are some factors to consider when determining credibility:
• Each employee’s reputation for truthfulness and accuracy
• If the story each employee presents is plausible
• Whether one of the employees has a motive to be untruthful
• Whether one employee’s statements regarding the incident are more detailed and consistent

While disciplining an accused employee who did nothing wrong would be unfortunate, it wouldn’t be illegal. As in all cases of alleged harassment, it’s best to have documentation of the allegations, the steps of your investigation, your conclusions, and any disciplinary actions you took.

Monica has held roles as an HR Generalist and Payroll and Benefits manager at a large ski resort, providing HR guidance to more than 500 employees. She also has HR experience in the healthcare field and the non-profit world. Monica holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Linfield College.

Vital Signs Insurance Services, Inc.
PO Box 6360
Folsom, CA 95630
Phone: (916) 496-8750
Email: [email protected]
Fax: (916) 496-8754

Legal Disclaimer: The HR Support Center is not engaged in the practice of law. The content in this article should not be construed as legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions concerning your situation or the information you have obtained, you should consult with a licensed attorney. The HR Support Center cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to its receipt.

Best Tips, Trends And HR Practices

By |August 1st, 2019|

Seven SHRM 2019 Takeaways for Small and Midsized Businesses

Nearly 20,000 HR professionals attended this year’s annual SHRM conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. If that sounds like a packed convention center, it was!

The theme for the conference was “Creating Better Workplaces.” The sessions themselves covered a range of topics across the HR landscape. A lot of important work is being done to improve HR departments and workplaces around the world. People are eager to share their ideas and learn from those around them. Here are seven big themes we noticed at this year’s annual SHRM conference.
Read more…

Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

In 2018, over 13,000 sex-based harassment claims were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This number doesn’t include charges filed with state and local agencies or situations where employees went directly to an attorney. And many employees who are victims of sexual harassment or are affected by it never report the incidents at all.

Victims and witnesses of harassment often refrain from reporting because the harasser has the power to retaliate or because the organization has not set up adequate channels for reporting. In other cases, victims report the harassment, but nothing is done about it. The harassment is excused, and the complaints are rebuffed. Word gets around that the organization tolerates harassment, and people stop bothering to report it. They either keep quiet, file charges with a governmental agency, or call an attorney.
Read more…

What Is Culture, Anyway?

When you belong to an organization, there’s usually a reason, right? Whether the organization is a business, club, or other group, something about it appealed to you, and you chose to associate yourself with it. You personally identified with it and felt like you would fit in, so you joined. Alternatively, you may have considered joining an organization, but decided against it because it didn’t feel like a good fit. Or you joined for a time, but then decided the place wasn’t for you.

What creates this sense of belonging or not belonging to an organization is the organization’s culture. Every organization has a culture, and every culture has three components. These are the organization’s rules, traditions, and personalities.
Read more…

Contact Us

Vital Signs Insurance Services, Inc.
PO Box 6360
Folsom, CA 95630
Phone: (916) 496-8750
Email: [email protected]

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Legal Disclaimer: This message does not and is not intended to contain legal advice,
and its contents do not constitute the practice of law or provision of legal counsel.
The sender cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to its receipt.

Determine Whether a Position is Exempt or Non-exempt?

By |July 31st, 2019|

Question:
How do I determine whether a position is exempt or non-exempt?

Kara, JD, EPHRAnswer from Kara, JD, SPHR:

Exempt and non-exempt are classifications under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a federal law requiring that most employees receive at least minimum wage for each hour worked and overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek. Employees who are entitled to both minimum wage and overtime are called non-exempt, while those who are not entitled to both are called exempt.

Any position can be non-exempt, meaning that employees in that position are entitled to both minimum wage and overtime pay. If you would like to classify a position as exempt, it would need to qualify for one of the exemptions listed in the FLSA.

The most commonly used (particularly in office settings) are the executive, administrative, and professional exemptions. These are known as white collar exemptions, and employees who are properly classified this way are not entitled to minimum wage or overtime. But, to qualify, each position must pass a three-part test:
1. Duties: The employee must perform specific tasks (such as managing at least two people) and regularly use their independent judgment and discretion. Each exemption has its own duties test.
2. Salary level: The employee must make at least $455 per week (expected to be ~$679 per week starting around January 2020).
3. Salary basis: The employee must be paid the same each week regardless of hours worked or the quantity or quality of their work. Reducing an exempt employee’s pay is only allowed in very narrow circumstances.
If a position meets all the criteria under one of the white collar exemptions, the employee may be properly classified as exempt and will not be entitled to minimum wage or overtime pay. If the position does not meet all the criteria under a specific exemption, the employee must be classified as non-exempt and paid at least minimum wage and overtime when applicable.

Kara practiced employment law for five years and worked in Human Resources for several years prior to that. As an attorney, she worked on many wage and hour and discrimination claims in both state and federal court. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Oregon State University and earned her law degree from Lewis and Clark Law School.

Questions?
Vital Signs Insurance Services, Inc.
PO Box 6360
Folsom, CA 95630
Phone: (916) 496-8750
Email: [email protected]
Fax: (916) 496-8754

Legal Disclaimer: The HR Support Center is not engaged in the practice of law. The content in this article should not be construed as legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions concerning your situation or the information you have obtained, you should consult with a licensed attorney. The HR Support Center cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to its receipt.

Reducing Employees Hours To Force Them To Quit

By |July 17th, 2019|

Question:
A fellow business owner told me I should substantially reduce the hours of employees I want to terminate so they’re forced to quit and can’t collect unemployment. Have you heard of this practice before?

Answer from Kyle, PHR:

We have, yes, and we don’t recommend it. First, the practice doesn’t prevent the employee from filing for unemployment, and they may be able to collect unemployment even if they remain employed with you while working reduced hours. Second, when you reduce someone’s hours in the hopes that they quit, you risk creating a perception among employees that a cut in hours is meant to be punitive. And if the employee with reduced hours becomes disgruntled, they may be a threat to morale or choose to file a complaint with an outside agency. Third, the effect of a single unemployment claim on your insurance rate is pretty much negligible—and certainly nothing compared the costs of continuing to employ someone who should be terminated.

In general, if you need to terminate an employee and you have documented the reasons for doing so, it’s best just to terminate them. The possibility of a higher unemployment insurance rate shouldn’t be a factor in your decision.

Kyle is a professional author, editor, and researcher specializing in workplace culture, retention strategies, and employee engagement. He has previously worked with book publishers, educational institutions, magazines, news and opinion websites, nationally-known business leaders, and non-profit organizations. He has a BA in English, an MA in philosophy, and a PHR certification.

Questions?
Vital Signs Insurance Services, Inc.
PO Box 6360
Folsom, CA 95630 Phone: (916) 496-8750
Email: [email protected]
Fax: (916) 496-8754

Legal Disclaimer: The HR Support Center is not engaged in the practice of law. The content in this article should not be construed as legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions concerning your situation or the information you have obtained, you should consult with a licensed attorney. The HR Support Center cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to its receipt.

What is an employee’s regular rate of pay?

By |July 11th, 2019|

Question:
What is an employee’s regular rate of pay? Is it just what they make per hour of work?

Answer from Marisa, SPHR:

Not exactly. An employee’s “regular rate of pay” is the amount used to calculate their overtime rate for a given time period. You might think of it as an average, of sorts.

An employee’s regular rate is determined by adding up the amount paid for their work, as well as earnings from non-discretionary bonuses (such as those tied to performance or retention), then dividing that amount by the total hours worked.

For example, let’s say Anna earns $10/hour for inside sales work and $15/hour for bookkeeping work. This week, she worked 24 hours in inside sales and 20 hours as a bookkeeper. She also received $50 in commissions that are attributable to this workweek. Her regular rate of pay for this workweek would be calculated as follows:

($10 x 24) + ($15 x 20) + $50 / 44 hours = $13.41/hour (her “regular rate” for the workweek)

Under federal law, non-exempt employees should be paid 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for any hours worked over 40 in a workweek. This means that Anna’s overtime rate would be $20.11 per hour, based on her mix of hourly rates and commission.

Marisa has experience working in a wide variety of HR areas, including payroll, staffing, and on-/ off-boarding. She has worked at both national and local companies, in a wide range of businesses and industries. Marisa earned her B.S. in Business Administration and Communications from the University of Oregon. She loves watching football and basketball, volunteering, and spending time with her two dogs.

Questions?
Vital Signs Insurance Services, Inc.
PO Box 6360
Folsom, CA 95630 Phone: (916) 496-8750
Email: [email protected]
Fax: (916) 496-8754

Legal Disclaimer: The HR Support Center is not engaged in the practice of law. The content in this article should not be construed as legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions concerning your situation or the information you have obtained, you should consult with a licensed attorney. The HR Support Center cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to its receipt.

How many hours can I assign to a part-time employee?

By |July 5th, 2019|

Question:

How many hours can I assign to a part-time employee? Is there a limit?

Answer from Laura, SHRM-CP:

There’s no specific limit to the number of hours you can assign to a part-time employee, as it’s up to you to decide how many hours employees need to work in a week to be considered full-time. I recommend abiding by the standards you’ve set. So, for example, if you define full-time as working 35 or more hours per week, then you’d want to make sure you were assigning part-time employees fewer than 35 hours in a week.
If you are regularly assigning a part-time employee a full-time schedule—and full-time employees receive additional benefits, such as paid time off—you should consider reclassifying the employee to avoid claims of unfair treatment or discrimination. Also note that for certain laws (including the ACA) and for purposes of insurance or retirement plans, benefits will kick in when an employee hits a certain number of hours per week, regardless of whether you internally call them part-time or full-time.

Laura has 7 years of HR experience, spanning public- and private-sector work in the education, transit, and insurance industries. After completing a B.A. in Asian Studies from Knox College, she received her M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from University of New Haven along with graduate-level certificates in Human Resources Management and Psychology of Conflict Management. Laura enjoys fencing, baking, cross-stitching, and spending time with her husband and two cats.

Questions?
Vital Signs Insurance Services, Inc.
PO Box 6360
Folsom, CA 95630
Phone: (916) 496-8750
Fax: (916) 496-8754
Email: [email protected]

Accommodating Pregnant Employees

By |July 3rd, 2019|

Let’s imagine a situation. Wendy, who’s been on the job for only four months, informs her employer that she’s pregnant. She requests light duty and asks if temporary leave is an option.

Instead of accommodating Wendy, the employer terminates her employment, explaining to her that her employment is at-will and that they don’t have the staff to modify her duties or cover her responsibilities while she’s away on leave. They remind her that during her job interview, they asked if she had plans to become pregnant and she had said no.

Then her manager makes a point of highlighting instances in which her job performance was less than satisfactory – an assessment they had not, up till then, given to her.Was the employer right to terminate Wendy’s employment?

Her employment was at-will, but we should remember that at-will employment has limits. There are illegal reasons for firing someone, and pregnancy is one of them. Pregnancy discrimination includes pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. And the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits discrimination and harassment based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment – hiring, termination, layoff, pay, benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

Therefore, the decision to terminate Wendy’s employment was a highly risky move. Wendy could claim that she was illegally discriminated against. Her employer would have a difficult time arguing that the termination was for cause – i.e., her poor performance – when they hadn’t documented the instances of unsatisfactory performance or given her any opportunity to improve (particularly since they told her that the pregnancy was a problem for them).

Refusing leave or light duty was also potentially risky. If Wendy was temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to her pregnancy, then her employer, under the PDA, must treat her the same way it treats any other temporarily disabled employee. If Wendy’s employer had previously made accommodations for other temporarily disabled employees, then refusing accommodations to Wendy would be discriminatory.

“…The decision to terminate Wendy’s employment was a highly risky move.”

Other laws may also come into play. Some impairments related to pregnancy may be disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Family and Medical Leave Act provides protected leave for some employees incapacitated due to pregnancy, prenatal medical conditions, or childbirth. State laws may apply here as well. California and Maryland, for example, have pregnancy disability leave laws.

The takeaways: Pregnancy is a protected class under state and federal law. It’s a good idea to know what those laws require and whether they apply to your business.

Three Ways HR Makes Employment More Profitable

By |July 2nd, 2019|

HR covers a lot of territory—much of it cluttered with paperwork—but it really does have a precise business purpose. The point of HR is to make employment more profitable. HR does this in three fundamental ways. First, HR protects the organization against employment-related lawsuits and fines. Second, it reduces the costs of employment. And third, it maximizes employee productivity. In short, HR helps the employer save money and make money in all things related to employment.

Protection from Lawsuits and Fines
Nothing can prevent an employer from being sued, but good HR can substantially reduce the risk of lawsuits and other costly consequences of non-compliance by ensuring that the organization follows federal, state, and municipal legal requirements.

The government has multiple agencies tasked with investigating violations and administering fines. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigates discrimination claims. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration looks into workplace hazards and safety violations. The IRS and Department of Labor may ask to see your books. And the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services might audit your I-9s.

The penalties for violations can range from amounts that are mildly inconvenient to those that are financially devastating, so you don’t want to leave these areas to chance or hope you stay under the radar. Employing people comes with risk, and it’s an HR job to manage and reduce that risk.

“Ignoring HR or neglecting its responsibilities puts the organization at greater risk, wastes money on subpar and inefficient operations, and hinders employers and employees from reaching their full potential.”

Reduction of Employment Costs
Competitive wages and benefits, office perks, and first-rate technology can help you find and keep great workers, and they can help you improve your products, boost your sales, and grow the business. But there are also employment costs HR can help cut. Hiring and recruitment processes can be streamlined and assessed for inefficiencies. Turnover costs can be reduced by improving your onboarding process, communications, and engagement efforts. Inefficiencies can be resolved through performance management and discipline. And offering some form of Paid Time Off can enable sick employees to stay home and rest so they don’t come to work sick, spread their germs, and reduce the productivity of the office even more than if they’d stayed home.

Increased Employee Productivity
In addition to preventing and reducing costs related to employment, HR can also help the organization increase its revenue by encouraging and helping employees to be more collaborative, innovative, creative, knowledgeable, skilled, and just plain better at their jobs. Coaching, training, skill development, career advancement, outside education, and culture advancements are tried-and-true productivity-building methods. They also have the added perk of directly benefiting your employees.

When HR works on maximizing productivity, it’s able to serve the interests of both the employer and employees in ways that are visible and appreciated by all parties. Employers bring in more revenue, employees develop professionally, and customers get better service. Everybody’s happy.

Good for Business
The business case is the case for HR. Ignoring HR or neglecting its responsibilities puts the organization at greater risk, wastes money on subpar and inefficient operations, and hinders employers and employees from reaching their full potential. Investing in HR reduces risk, eliminates inefficiencies, and improves productivity. Whether you’re a business owner, office manager, HR department of one, or on a team of HR practitioners, spending time on HR bolsters everyone’s success.

The Advantages of Skill-Based Training

By |July 1st, 2019|

Often, when employers hear about on-the-job training, the training pertains either to general knowledge or to policies and procedures that are unique to the company. Skill-based training is somewhat different—it focuses on how to do something specific and results in a learned skill that can be put to immediate use. Here are some examples of skill-based trainings:

  • Mastering advanced welding techniques
  • Setting up and using Excel pivot tables
  • Keeping your cool during a hostile phone conversation
  • Writing concise emails
  • Coding in Ruby

Skill-based training is beneficial for most companies, but since good courses are often (but not always!) an investment, HR professionals should focus on where they can maximize value. Two types of employees come to mind as the best candidates: those who want to succeed but are struggling to meet expectations, and top performers who you feel may be a flight risk.

For the strugglers, you must first find out what they need to learn to reach their potential. Are they spending way too much time trying to figure out Excel on their own? Are they a new manager that doesn’t know how to coach? Giving these people access to skill-based training could make a huge difference in both their efficiency and happiness—as well as your bottom line.

The high achievers, on the other hand, should be asked what they want to learn. It’s likely they’ve already thought about next steps at your organization and in what new ways they could contribute. Give them a chance to shine! Your investment in their future won’t go unnoticed; employees who receive training are more likely to be engaged and less likely to leave.