“When I’m trying to hire new employees, I always ask what they most recently earned. If they won’t tell me, should I end the interview?”
Your HR Survival Tip
California and a few other states are considering bills that will prevent employers from asking about previous salary history. Why? Because there are two situations where salary history has caused enough concern for states to consider making it illegal to ask.
You are looking for a new employee and expect to pay $18-$20 per hour to get what you want. A great candidate applies and you discover they have only been making $14 per hour previously. Wow, what a bargain… you can offer $16 and the candidate will be thrilled and you’ve saved money. The problem is you will eventually have to provide a significant bump to bring this person up to market value or lose them after you’ve spent time training them. It’s awkward to tell someone, “oops, we cheaped out and you’ve been underpaid the past year but now we’ll give you a 20% raise so you don’t leave.”
Disregard of Higher Paid Candidates
You’re looking for a new employee and expect to pay $45-52,000. Someone who has been earning $65-80,000 applies. Most companies would pass right by that candidate because they’ll assume this person still wants to earn that much. Some managers and executives are tired of the stress of higher level roles and want to step down or even move into a new industry… but you didn’t bother to ask questions even though they fit the role perfectly (and then some). There are times when you can find a lot of value in a higher-level hire who’s willing to take a drop in pay, even if they only stay with you a year.
The laws being considered not only prevent you from asking about previous salary history but may also force you to provide candidates with your range for that position. While we may not like being forced into this situation, the important thing to remember is you need to be clear about the job skills and knowledge necessary for your positions and what value they have on the job market. Law after law is forcing us to pay fairly so now is the time to update your hiring process.
“I have an employee who gets very emotional whenever I let them know they’ve made an error or try to tell them how to do something better. How do I deal with someone like this?”
Your HR Survival Tip
Dealing with emotional employees is often stressful for managers. It doesn’t matter whether you’re getting tears or anger, the emotion makes it hard to get your point across to the employee.
Often the employee is so wrapped up in their emotion, they have stopped listening to you. This means the problem is likely to occur again instead of being corrected. How do you get past this so you don’t end up repeating the situation time over time? There are two things that can help. The first thing is you stand up.
Yes, it’s true. When you are in a meeting where emotions have taken over, you stand up. Tell the employee “I can see you’re upset so I will give you a minute to collect yourself and then we will continue” and leave the room. When you return, act normal and continue the conversation, complete the paperwork, or whatever is needed. You, of course, are expected to be a complete professional throughout this meeting and not let your own emotions take control.
The second thing that helps is to ask the employee to send you an email or a memo that summarizes the conversation you just had, including what changes must be made. This will confirm whether the employee actually heard what you said and understood it. If what the employee gives you is incorrect, have another meeting… and ask them again to write it up. Eventually, you’ll get a real summary of the conversation.
Just so you know, the advice above about leaving the room was not intended to be used when an employee initiates the meeting and wants to talk with you about something that raises their emotions. You need to hear them out but, if the emotion gets too far out of control, it’s a courtesy to allow them some time to settle down. Some people can’t control strong emotions and may be embarrassed. Leaving the room for a moment here is a kindness so don’t confuse the two situations.
“A couple of my employees don’t finish their tasks or miss deadlines fairly frequently. They always have a reason they aren’t to blame. How can I get them to take responsibility for their job?”
Your HR Survival Tip
I have met people who were very good at moving paper around and looking very busy but who were not productive. I have met others who appear relaxed and easy going but were extremely productive. How productive a person is may vary but you can help by holding people accountable.
Before holding your employees accountable, you must first look at yourself. Are you very clear about what is needed and when? Do you make sure the employee has the tools and skill to complete the work? Can your employees ask you questions without you rolling your eyes or looking impatient? Since every company does things just a bit differently, have you taught the employee your preferred method?
Once you’re sure “it’s them, not you,” you’re ready to make a plan:
- Make a list of things each employee is responsible for on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. It can be as simple as checklists but is not intended to include the employee’s every movement. This is about their responsibilities for that time period. For example, a receptionist’s daily list might include “distribute mail received that day,” “check the email@example.com email and forward any emails to the appropriate person,” or “distribute any phone messages hourly.”
- Go over the lists with each employee and discuss the items until you are both in agreement about what each item means.
- At the bottom of each list, have a place for the employee to sign and date it. Have them turn them into you each day, week, and month. Actually look at what they turn in and have your own system in place to spot check things to ensure everything was actually done, not just checked off.
Let everyone know they will be personally accountable for completing their tasks. Your lists have built-in deadlines… the daily list means everything on that list should be done that day, etc. If they have an excuse for not doing something, make sure it was truly out of their control like the power going out. If they start to blame others, stop them and tell them it wasn’t the other person’s responsibility… it was their responsibility.
It has been my experience that, when asked nicely, employees will help each other out with requests. Where it fails is when an employee makes it a demand instead of a request or invokes your name to get things from others. Both are cause for resentment and you see them being less responsive. Sometimes an employee will be focused on accomplishing their own responsibilities and refuse to help others. If you hear any of this is happening, you’ll need to work with the employees so they understand how to accomplish their work in a way that keeps them friendly with their coworkers.
Employees must work together to keep your company on track but you are driving the train. You need to set up your own accountability process to ensure everything is moving smoothly. Otherwise, you’ll spend even more time being the mediator to employee finger-pointing and dealing with an uncomfortable work environment.
“I want to fire an employee but would rather just say he’s being laid off. How do I explain it to him?”
Your HR Survival Tip
Although California is an at-will state, you still want to be cautious about terminating employees and the reason you provide. At-will means either you or the employee can end the employment relationship for any reason at any time, with or without notice.
You have a reason for wanting to fire this person, so use it. If you’re afraid to state your reason, ask yourself why and rethink the termination. When you do give a reason, keep it very simple. If there’s no single reason, perhaps “we’re just not a good fit” or “your performance isn’t up to the level needed for this job” might work. However, if performance is the issue, you should have been giving the employee a heads-up that lack of improvement could lead to termination. An unexpected termination could make the employee question the situation.
On the Change in Relationship form, which you give employees terminating for any reason, there are various choices you can select as the reason:
- Discharge – This is your basic firing, initiated by the company. Unless the employee is fired for cause, they will qualify for unemployment. “Cause” usually must be fairly severe to block unemployment.
- Decrease in work hours and/or wages – This is a change to the job and not a termination. Employees might be eligible for partial unemployment if their wages decrease sufficiently.
- Layoff – A layoff implies you can’t keep this employee right now but would like to rehire them when possible. The employee will be eligible for unemployment.
- Temporary employment ended – Some companies hire employees for a limited period of time during busy seasons, etc. Ending this temporary employment will usually result in unemployment eligibility.
- Voluntary quit / Resignation – The employee has quit, with or without notice. Hopefully, you get this in writing for your files. Most of the time, this will make your employee ineligible for unemployment.
- Job abandonment – If the employee has stopped coming to work, it will usually be considered job abandonment and treated like a resignation. However, the sick leave laws provide a bit of protection here so be careful with this one.
- Refused to accept available work – If you have work for the employee and they choose not to work, this will usually be treated as a resignation. Ideally, get their refusal in writing.
If you choose not to provide a reason for the termination and just fall back on the at-will protection, you’ll find the employee will make up their own reason when filing for unemployment. Then you’ll probably get a call from EDD (California’s Employment Development Dept. who handles unemployment claims) because they’ll want more information to help them determine if the employee is eligible for unemployment. Don’t make a termination even harder for everyone.
“I have employees working in our warehouse who get to use the air-conditioned break room during their normal 10-minute breaks. However, they are still complaining about the heat. Am I required to provide air-conditioning for the warehouse?”
Your HR Survival Tip
You are not required to provide air-conditioning in your warehouse or office but do consider that heat does seem to slow down work. At least think about bringing in some fans to make it easier for them to do their work.
Cal/OSHA must propose heat illness and injury prevention plan standards for indoor workers by January 2019. This gives you a few years to figure out how to cool things down. However, there are already rules for outdoor workers so you could use those rules for now.
Whenever the temperature goes over 80 degrees, the following applies for outdoor workers:
- Recovery breaks: Employees may take a 5-minute cool-down break. These are available as frequently as needed.
- Water: You must have water available at all times for workers.
- Seating: The employee must have a place to sit in the shade.
There’s a heat illness poster available that helps employees recognize the symptoms of heat illness and, at the very least, you should have that posted and/or train your managers. It pays to watch out for your employees… if they end up with heat illness, it’s a workers’ comp claim.
More importantly, you expect your workers to be efficient and productive. Why would you require them to work in an environment that makes that difficult?
“Every year as the weather warms up I find my employees wearing less and less. What can or can’t I say regarding their clothing?”
Your HR Survival Tip
You actually have a lot of say in the overall appearance of your employees, as long as you aren’t discriminatory. It’s better to speak directly about a specific article of clothing or provide guidance about an overall “look” you want reflected.
When employees are seen by prospects and customers, you can require them to be dressed in a way that best represents your company. Your dress code might state you are a conservative company and, as such, you expect employees to have an overall conservative appearance and appropriate clothing to match.
It seems most dress code policies start with something simple like “wear clothing appropriate for your job.” However, you then realize different people have different interpretations of what appropriate looks like. That’s when the policies start listing all the don’t-wear items, like tank tops, shirts exposing too much chest area, T-shirts with pictures or sayings, sandals, cutoffs, holey jeans, too-short skirts, midriff shirts, shorts, etc.
The trick here is not to say women can’t wear too-short skirts; you don’t assign a gender because that’s what can make it appear discriminatory. You shouldn’t care who’s wearing a skirt that’s too short, it’s the fact that it’s too short and that’s the problem you address.
Look at other aspects of appearance. Do you mind jewelry in facial piercings or tattoos all over their arms. You can’t close up the facial piercings but you can state jewelry is limited to one small earring in each ear, for example. You can’t remove tattoos but you can state no visible tattoos are allowed and the employee may be stuck wearing a long-sleeve shirt even when it’s hot out.
We’ve even been adding basic hygiene rules to dress code policies. If your employees work closely with customers (as in truly face-to-face), have you considered how the employee’s breath or body odors affect the customer? You might also have different rules for different types of jobs. The warehouse employees may not be required to dress the same as your front office employees.
Rather than try to blindly regulate your employees’ appearance, start with just the basics and only address items that may be a safety issue or could be considered offensive to others. For example, large rings can be a safety issue in some jobs and a “joke” T-shirt might be offensive to some.
Before you create this massive list of don’ts in your dress code policy, consider whether it’s just your personal preference or it truly affects your business. Maybe customers don’t care at all what your employees look like… they come back due to the great work your employees do and the products you offer. There are a lot of people who like to express their individuality with their appearance … and are fabulous employees and hard workers.
The real test for your dress code policy is to think about your best employee ever and whether you’d be tempted to change your policy if they wore the “wrong” thing or got pierced or tattooed. Your list of don’ts should apply to everyone, regardless of how good or bad of an employee they may be.
“Can my employees work 10 days in a row when we’re really busy? Do I have to pay overtime or double time when they do?”
Your HR Survival Tip
The California Supreme Court just provided its decision in a lawsuit against Nordstrom for allowing employees to work 7 or more days in a row. Some of this we already knew but the Court has now locked this down for us.
Before you can look at an employee’s time, you need to declare what your company’s official 7-day week is…. this is legally called a “workweek.” Among other things, your workweek determines when you owe overtime for employees working more than the standard 5-day week. Your workweek doesn’t move around; you make a decision and stick with it.
You only pay “7th day” overtime when the employee is working all 7 days of your workweek. This means there was no “day of rest” in your workweek so the 7th day is automatically overtime pay, regardless of how many or how few hours the employee worked on the other days or that 7th day.
If your workweek is Monday – Sunday, this doesn’t mean every Sunday is automatically overtime pay. This means the employee must work Monday through Sunday for Sunday to be the 7th day worked in the workweek. If they had any of those days off, they’ve had a day of rest so there isn’t a 7th day worked in that workweek.
Let’s look at a 2-week period, with a workweek of Monday – Sunday. Your employee has Monday off and then works 10 days in a row (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) before getting a day off again. Do you pay overtime for the 7th day? Nope. The workweek ended on Sunday and a new workweek started on Monday. So the employee worked 6 days the first workweek and 4 days the second workweek.
You pay overtime if the employee worked more than 8 hours in any day, as usual in California. You would also pay overtime if the employee’s regular hours (the first 8 hours in any day) total more than 40 hours for that workweek, which usually means a full-time employee worked 6+ days. But the clock and calendar starts over every Monday.
California’s Labor Code states you cannot force an employee to work all 7 days in a workweek. However, the Court was clear that you can “allow” an employee to work all 7 days in a workweek but you can’t bribe them in any way to work it. Plus, the employee must understand they are giving up their legal right to a day of rest.
I dislike having employees work more than 6 days in a row, at any time, for two reasons: the overtime and the hazards. The overtime messes with your profit margin. In addition, you are likely to burn out that employee and, when employees are tired, productivity drops and safety becomes an issue. Make sure there aren’t other alternatives before you have employees work those extra hours.
Statistics either seem to scare us, worry us, or provide needed backup. Here are a few interesting numbers for you that come from a variety of sources:
- #1 = Where managers rank in making employees feel supported by their company (or not). Limeade 2016 Well-Being and Engagement Report
- 51% = Employees searching for new jobs. Gallup poll
- 35% = Employees who would prefer seeing their boss fired versus receiving a raise. Parade magazine, 2012
- 41% = Employees who feel it’s very important to get a significant raise when considering a new job. This is more important to men vs. women and to millennials and Gen Xers vs. baby boomers. However, it’s still around #5 on their overall list of what they look for in a job or company. Gallup poll
- 2.4% = Salaries and benefits increase for employees in 2016. Dept. of Labor’s Employment Cost Index
- 44% = Employees who claim emotional or physical abuse by a supervisor. OfficeVibe, 2014
- 43% = Employees who work at least sometimes from home. This is up from 39% in 2012. Gallup poll
- 38% = The percentage of each day managers spend on interruptions. Management/HR Statistics
- 75% = Employees who claim their boss is the worse and/or most stressful part of their job. OfficeVibe, 2014
- 70% = Influence the managers have in how much an employee is engaged in the job. Gallup poll
- 3.5% = Salaries and benefits normal increase in a “healthy economy.” Dept. of Labor’s Employment Cost Index
- 54% = Non-retired Americans who believe they will have enough money to live comfortably in retirement. This is up from last year’s 48%. Gallup poll
Whenever you start looking at employment statistics, supervisory personnel take the biggest hit. We can’t blame mom or dad anymore, so we focus on the current authority figure in our lives. A statistic I’ve used a lot is that 70% of employees change jobs due to their supervisor. That’s huge and deserves a certain amount of thought. I’ve seen 5 people out of a 7-person department resign within one month of a new supervisor taking the job. Appropriate manager training can result in successful outcomes for both the supervisor and employee… and your business will benefit, too.
We like to keep track of which legislative bills are being proposed and up to a vote. Some are scary for employers; well, they are all scary but some more than others.
California legislators are reviewing some proposed bills that are considered “job killers” by the California Chamber of Commerce. Here are a couple:
- Unfair Scheduling Mandate — AB5 will require employers to offer current employees additional hours prior to hiring a new employee or contractor. It does not require you to pay overtime but would mean first offering more hours to employees working less than full-time. This could result in more employees qualifying for benefits.
- Expanded Maternity and Paternity Leave — SB63 would require companies with as few as 20 employees to provide protected unpaid leaves of absence to employees for the purpose of baby bonding. Currently this is only required of companies with 50 or more employees.
Fortunately, not every bill is passed and some are altered considerably before they make it very far in the process. Here are a couple we’re glad they altered:
- Expanded CA Family Rights — SB62 originally would have added to the number of family members covered under leaves of absences for employees. This would have meant providing potentially up to 24 weeks of protected leaves for more reasons than now available.
- Prevailing Wages on All Development Projects — AB199 originally would have required prevailing wage to be paid to employees on all private and public development projects.
The good news is this is a much smaller list that most years. It does seem, however, that more laws are being proposed that will affect smaller and smaller companies. That’s a problem because small companies are so challenged when it comes to the administrative side of compliance. If you’re finding this to be a problem, let’s talk!
“I am a touchy-feely kind of guy and tend toward hugging employees when I first see them each day. Is this wrong?”
Your HR Survival Tip
Hugging your employees isn’t recommended and it might be cause for legal action, as in the case of Zetwick vs. County of Yolo.
In that lawsuit, Zetwick, a female Sheriff’s correctional officer filed a claim of hostile work environment… and she has records of what happened and when. Her claims were against the new Sheriff and include over 125 hugs and 1 unwelcome kiss on the cheek between 1999 and 2013. In addition, she witnessed this happening to dozens of other female employees and only saw male employees getting handshakes. Although these were very short hugs with no sexual touching or comments, these hugs were “chest to breasts” (legal jargon).
A major question in this case was how a hostile work environment is determined. The original court stated this behavior was not severe and pervasive. The appeals court panel, who determines if the case can be appealed, has approved the case for appeal because they said the behavior only needed to be severe OR pervasive. The Sheriff’s behavior was pervasive and, therefore, could be considered abusive. The behavior carried more weight since he was not only by a supervisor but the highest ranking officer in the department.
This again reminds us that everyone from supervisor to owner has the added weight of representing the whole company in both word and deed. In other words, if you do or say something wrong, it’s much more serious than if your direct reports do or say the same thing.
It turns out the Sheriff did hug some men but, overall, he was much, much more generous to females with his hugs. The appeals panel stated this difference could be due to a sexual attitude and disrespect of his female employees and added weight to their approval for the appeal.
The big message here is to know your audience and to recognize hugging only the opposite sex could get you into trouble. General hugging is not recommended unless you’re very sure it will be welcomed. Try something new… ask if the person is okay with being hugged or touched. Even then, pay attention to their body language because the way they react can also be a statement. If no one wants your hugs, go outside and hug a tree.