HR Base Camp Roundup – March 20th

In this week’s edition of the HR Base Camp roundup – Can you control what kinds of things your employees head up in your break room? We’ve all seen what happens when someone burns their popcorn or microwaves their fishy lunch for too long, but how far can employers go in terms of restricting what kinds of food can be prepared? Also, can you reduce an employee’s hours to part-time status for any reason at all? Finally, learn which employees still need to be paid when your office is closed for inclement weather.

Here are the HR Q&As from our HR Base Camp Facebook Group and HR Solution Center:

 

Can I set restrictions on what kind of food employees heat up in the breakroom to prevent unpleasant smells throughout the office?

We’ve all heard the cliche stories of employees heating up “smelly” food in the breakroom. You might think the best way to avoid this scenario is to tell employees that certain foods are off limits. But as with most things that happen in the office, you’ve got to approach this with an HR mindset.

Believe it or not, restricting specific foods from being eaten in the office has the potential for a discrimination claim. You might be thinking that sounds extreme. How could trying to keep the office free from “unpleasant” smells be discriminatory?! The fact is that some of the foods you might want to restrict can be tied to an employee’s culture. Getting too specific can inadvertently imply ethnic discrimination.

That said, we get it – smells can make their way through the office and bother staff and patients. You can still address this! Just make sure that no one is singled out. This means using general language, like “no foods with potent odors,” over listing specific foods.

Keep in mind you’ve got to apply this rule consistently. For example, if an employee of Indian descent that regularly eats curry is singled out for their lunch while another Caucasian employee regularly heats up popcorn but never receives the same warning, there could be consistency issues that can move into the discrimination territory we mentioned before.

 

Can I cut an employee’s hours down to part-time for any reason?

Not quite.

When considering whether to reduce someone’s hours, we always ask the reason behind it first.

For example, changing an employee’s status because they requested it or because business has slowed down and you don’t need as many employees are pretty straightforward reasons with low risk.

But let’s say the change is in response to a performance issue, like repeated absences. Now there’s a whole new set of factors to consider, like if you’ve addressed the issue with the employee before, what that documentation history looks like, if they’ve used protected time for any of those absences, and how you’ve handled similar situations with other employees in the past. Not so straightforward anymore, right?

These might seem like a lot of questions for a simple reclassification, but the answers can completely change our guidance. If you tell us you want to make them part-time because they used too many sick days but you’re in a state with a protected sick leave law, it’s likely we’re going to say “Stop. Do not pass go. Do not make this change.”

With so many factors involved in status changes, it’s wise to consult an HR expert for changes an employee did not request or when there isn’t a clear business need.

 

Am I required to pay employees if the office is closed due to extreme weather?

This question came up a lot last week! Although spring is upon us in Arizona, much of the country is still experiencing winter’s chill. We hope you’re staying safe and warm!

The pay question basically comes down to their exempt or non-exempt status. Exempt employees usually get paid as long as they’re “ready, willing and able” to work.

On the other hand, non-exempt employees are paid for hours actually worked. If there’s no open office to come into work (and they can’t work remotely), then you don’t need to pay their hourly wages for the day as long as you notify them in advance. They do have the option to use accrued paid time off to cover the missed day – just don’t force them to use it.

There’s a few different scenarios where this guidance might change, like if the office is closed for more than a week or if the employee is already on their way to work when you decide to close the office. You can read more about inclement weather closures in this blog.

 

At CEDR, we help employers protect their businesses and build stronger teams. Because stronger teams build better workplaces, and better workplaces make better lives.

Have an HR question you need to talk through with an HR expert? Reach out to the Solution Center for expert guidance, or get your questions answered in our private, professional Facebook Group, HR Base Camp.

Mar 20, 2023

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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