This week, we’re addressing a few questions that came into our HR Base Camp Facebook Group and HR Solution Center that touch on some rather nuanced elements of HR and team management. Here are the Q&As for this week’s Roundup:
- What do you do if an employee makes a time-off request and provides an ultimatum if that request is not approved?
- How do you address employees spending too much time on their cell phones at work?
- Should you provide an employment contract to employees who request one?
What do you do if an employee makes a time-off request and gives you an ultimatum in case that request is not approved?
An employee requested to leave work early for childcare-related reasons every day for more than a month during an office’s busiest time of day. The employee said that they would likely have to leave at the requested time whether or not their request was approved and the employer wanted to know what to do in this situation.
This is admittedly an extremely tough situation. On the one hand, you have to balance the needs of your practice and your patients and, on the other hand, you risk losing a potentially valuable employee if you find yourself unable or unwilling to work with them to provide the time off they’ve asked for.
Still, it’s one thing to try to accommodate the employee’s request and quite another to essentially be told they’ll be walking off the job regardless of what you say. That ultimatum needs to be addressed, even if you end up being able to allow her to leave early, as this employee is telling you that she is not committed to her work schedule.
In most situations you aren’t going to be required to provide this type of time off, but be sure you know about your state’s laws and are clear on the reason for the employee’s time off “request.”
Lack of childcare very rarely gives an employee a protected right to take time off, making this a purely personal time-off request that is at your discretion to grant. There are some limited circumstances where childcare needs may be protected by state law, such as caring for a sick child, taking a child to a doctor’s appointment, attending a parent-teacher conference, the child’s daycare being closed due to COVID, etc. Those situations are clearly in contrast with something like the child’s nanny being on vacation.
The employee needs to know that working their scheduled hours is the bare minimum of being part of your team. Them saying they’re simply not coming in is a huge red flag for you. You can acknowledge that childcare is important, and they may have been extremely stressed about it when they said that, but to continue being part of the team you need to know you can rely on them not to walk out and abandon patients.
But what about the time-off request itself? This is a challenging time to say “no” to something like this as healthcare practices nationwide are facing a staff shortage. It’s very hard to replace good employees right now – and your employees not only know that, but know that it may be very easy for them to find a new job.
At the same time, bending over backward to provide for this employee could set an example to the rest of your team that making demands is the best way to get what you want when it comes to a shorter work day, additional time off, etc.
To keep things in balance, being fair to your business as well as the employee, try brainstorming on a solution with the employee. On her end, has she explored all her options for getting childcare? Maybe a coworker has a high-school-aged child who could babysit. Can the schedule be adjusted so that you have coverage for this employee when she needs to be off? Is giving her part-time hours for the summer feasible?
Regardless of which direction you choose to go with this, we would likely recommend having a documented conversation about the ultimatum situation. This could take the form of either a written corrective action or an informal conversation. You can use the following free forms to document that conversation, either way:
Still, to get this right for your specific business and unique situation, as HR experts we would need to take into account several factors – including what kind of protected leave may or may not be available – and then work to document her request and, frankly, the threat to leave anyway if it is not approved.
If you are a CEDR Member and ever face a situation like this, reach out to the Solution Center for expert help and guidance.
Or click here to learn more about working with the Solution Center to address difficult HR issues and protect your business along the way.
How do you address employees spending too much time on their cell phones at work?
An employer was having problems with their front desk staff spending too much time on their phones but wanted to make sure those employees were still able to be contacted easily in case of family emergencies.
Having an employee scrolling through social media on their phone all day is not ok. But you know without us telling you that wagging your finger at someone and saying, “Stop being on your phone all the time!” is likely to be met by an extreme eye roll and them just trying to do a better job of hiding it.
Your employee handbook should definitely address the use of cell phones directly (all CEDR employee handbooks contain customized, legally compliant cell phone and social media policies). But writing a legally compliant cell phone policy is a tricky thing that should be left to experts due to a number of laws that address protections related to employee communications and other things.
Cell phone policies could occupy several pages of discussion on their own but, suffice it to say here that if you have a policy in place that prohibits the use of cell phones outright you may have a legal vulnerability on your hands and should reach out to CEDR to have your handbook updated.
If an employee’s performance is being impacted by their cell phone, you can and should address that. This is where the FIRR method comes in handy. Instead of focusing on the cell phone as the enemy, focus on the impact the cell phone is having – they are attending to personal matters in a way that causes their work to suffer.
“FIRR” stands for “Fact, Impact, Reason, Request”. Breaking that down further to address the cell phone issue takes the following shape:
Fact: “Today I observed you texting with your husband for several minutes while a patient was waiting to be brought back to the operatory.”
Impact: “By attending to personal matters, you were not attending to your job responsibilities and the patient was upset that their appointment ended up running later than expected. They complained to our front desk team about this, so they had to make excuses for the situation to try to keep the patient.”
Reason: “The reason we are talking to you about this is that being distracted by personal matters is causing delays in your work, which impact the patients and the entire team.”
Request: “Moving forward I need you to pay closer attention to whether the patient is ready to be brought back, and non-emergency personal matters need to wait.”
When employees express that they need their cell phones in case someone reaches out to them in the event of an emergency, encourage your employees to have those communications directed to the office rather than their cell phone.
If you are a CEDR Member, reach out to the Solution Center any time you need to address a problem with an employee’s performance or behavior. Solution Center Advisors will even take care of any necessary paperwork on your behalf!
If you are not a CEDR Member, you can learn more about the Solution Center here.
Should you provide an employment contract to an employee who requests one?
A hygienist requested an employment contract from an employer in Illinois and the employer was wondering how best to address the situation.
The first thing you would want to do is find out why they want an agreement. Typically it’s the employer asking the employee to sign an agreement, not the other way around.
There are misconceptions out there that all employees should have a contract, that the employee should be signing that they agree to the terms of their offer letter, that they should be agreeing to their job description, and more. None of those things are true.
Having an employee sign a contract should be the exception, not the rule. Turning an offer letter or job description into an “agreement” makes it unnecessarily difficult for the employer to make changes later.
In this case, the employee was trying to get something in writing from her employer that would protect her job for a period of time. Basically she was trying to get her employer to change her “at-will” status, making it much harder to fire her.
The law in every state except for Montana makes all employees “at-will” unless the employer changes that status. Employees don’t need to sign anything to create an at-will relationship. Without going deep into a rabbit hole, only you can change that condition from at-will to something else. It can happen when folks start writing policies or creating agreements independently without understanding how that might occur. This is yet another reason why it’s so important to make sure your employee handbook was crafted by a qualified HR expert.
We’ve worked with plenty of employers who want to require that their employee give them advance notice if they’re leaving, or want their employees to agree to work there for at least a year. This very often backfires when the employer wants to fire the employee, but their own agreement bars them from doing so as it changes the at-will status. So, instead, they are having to tell an employee they are being terminated, yet allow them to continue working there for a period of time. It should not come as a surprise that this does not tend to go well.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a contract with an at-will employee. In the CEDR Solution Center, we’ve provided thousands of hygiene agreements for our members over the years.
The reasons for instituting a hygiene agreement – which would need to be carefully crafted by a professional and would also continue to support the at-will relationship – have nothing to do with guaranteeing either of you that the other will continue to work together.
In general, the only reason you would actually want to put a hygiene agreement in place is if you wanted them to agree not to solicit your patients or employees when they leave, and/or not to compete with your business when they leave. Note that whether you can even do those things depends on your state law.
If you are paying the hygienist through a commission structure, then that should be documented, in heavy detail, in writing. That could also go into an agreement to ensure you both are on the same page about their pay calculations, including paying out residual commissions should they leave your team.
Such an agreement can also help to establish that they are a non-exempt employee (your hygienist is non-exempt, by the way, even if they are paid a salary or on commission). Several more components can get covered in a properly written agreement.
With all of the information from above, it is probably best to reiterate to your employees that there will not be an agreement put in place simply because they request one.
When this comes up for your practice, if you are a CEDR Member reach out to the Solution Center for expert guidance.
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