Employee Personal Items, Social Work Events, and Medical Diagnoses

It’s that time again! Every other week, we take the most popular submitted questions from our HR BaseCamp Facebook group and go more in-depth on the answer. Join the over 10,000 other office managers and business owners in the group here to submit your questions and participate in the discussion!

Podcasts and resources in this Roundup:

CEDR Two Minute Trainer: Employee Travel and Seminar Wages

Episode 413: Forced Workplace Fun

Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace Explained

My employee quit with no notice earlier this week and needs to come pick up their personal items. I offered several different times for them to come in but they want to come when the rest of the staff is here so they can say goodbye. Can I tell them they have to come at the time I give them otherwise I’ll be mailing their items to them?

The legal side of things: From a compliance perspective, your suggestion is the safest option. You do not have a legal obligation to allow the employee to come say goodbye, but you do need to return her personal belongings. You can give them a couple of time slots to choose from and let them know that if those times don’t work for them, you will be mailing the items to the address you have on file.

Now for the human approach: This is more of an HR best practice question than a legal issue. This question came from our Facebook Group, HR Basecamp, where it got a lot of traction. The resounding opinion seemed to be “your employee quit with no notice; you don’t owe them anything!”

It sounds harsh, but it’s true. The employee no longer works for you - they do not need to be there during work hours. Allowing the employee to come “say goodbye” may end up being distracting for other employees. Plus, the rest of your staff may not want to say goodbye. After all, quitting with no notice can often put the rest of the team in a position where they need to scramble to cover the former employee’s duties. There may be some tension there, and that’s not something you want to bring into the workplace.

While discussing this as a team, someone also brought up the fact that the employee may have ulterior motives for wanting to come to the office. In this day and age, the employee could easily text or use social media to connect with other employees. Could there be another reason for them wanting to be physically present during work hours?

Again, the best course of action is to simply give the former employee an option to pick their things up before or after the workday. If those don’t work, mail it.

Not a member of HR Basecamp yet? Join the discussion!
I want to start planning monthly outings to boost employee morale. I’m thinking mini-golf, picnics, etc. - nothing work-related. Ideally, I would like all employees to attend. Do I have to pay them if the outings are during the weekend or after work?

The legal side of things: The answer depends on what you mean “I would like all employees to attend.” You’re not required to pay for time spent attending optional events. But that means truly optional.

If employees are told that the event is “optional but strongly encouraged,” feel pressure from management to attend, or are made to feel in any way that there will be adverse action taken if they don’t attend, then it’s likely not a completely voluntary event. The Department of Labor tends to look at these things through the lens of “if it feels required, then it is required” and therefore, it must be paid.

Of course, the rules change if these events involve any work-related activities. At that point, it may be considered training or continuing education and you’ll need to follow the correct wage and hour laws.

Ultimately, whether an event should be paid or not depends on the specific scenario, so our members typically consult with us before each event to make sure it's done properly. Our advisors will analyze the specific event and help determine what needs to be paid.

Now for the human approach: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with hosting team events and they can be great for employee engagement and company culture. That said, asking employees to give up a night or weekend day every month to attend a work event may not go over well, especially if you make it a required event.

Even if attendance is completely optional, there’s a myriad of reasons why a team member may not want to (or be able to) attend. These outings can be especially difficult for employees who are the primary caregiver for their family and don’t have the ability to break away for a night or weekend event.

You don’t have to ditch the idea altogether, but you may want to consider other options. Our guidance for CEDR members (and how we do things at the CEDR office) is to host these events during the workday. That might mean closing a few hours early and heading out for an activity, or even extending lunch by an hour or two and hosting a potluck. This can help take off some pressure.

Extra credit listening: Episode 413: Forced Workplace Fun
How can I support an employee who received a negative medical diagnosis? I want to make things easy for them during a tough time, but I’ve also got a business to run.

The legal side of things: Your legal responsibilities depend on a few factors. For starters, we would look at the number of employees you have and where you’re located. A medical condition means your employee likely now has some level of protection under the American with Disabilities Act, which kicks in once you have 15 employees. However, many states have lowered that threshold and provide disability protections even if you have less than 15 employees. If you’re not sure about which laws apply to you, talk to an HR expert.

The ADA requires that you engage in the interactive process, but we highly recommend doing so even if the ADA or local disability laws don’t apply to you. Going through the process will allow you to have an open conversation with the employee about their needs during this time and help you determine what kind of accommodations you can realistically provide.

One important thing to keep in mind: do not force an accommodation on the employee simply because you think it is the best option (i.e. reducing their hours). Whatever decision you come to about the accommodation you offer should be made in tandem with the employee. Even if your intentions are good, such as decreasing their stress by reducing hours, it can have unwanted results for the employee. Reduced hours means lower income when they are having higher medical expenses!

Now for the human approach: Like you said, this is going to be a difficult time in this employee’s life. Putting aside any legal responsibilities you have, the best way to support them is to make sure they know you’ve got an open door policy. Do your best to make sure they feel comfortable coming to you with updates and things they may need, but don’t force them to share anything. Let them know that if there’s something you can do that would help them, they are encouraged to come to you.

Are you a CEDR member? The Solution Center can provide you with HR support and the necessary paperwork for accommodations! Open a request in backstageHR for assistance.

Mar 11, 2024

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance based on applicable local, state and/or federal U.S. employment law that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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