HR Base Camp Roundup – May 24th, 2022

This week, the top questions from our HR Base Camp Facebook Group and HR Solution Center are ones we cover regularly for our member employers. Here are the top Q&As for this week:

  1. Should you allow employees to check their work email at home?
  2. What do the best applicant interview questions look like?
  3. When do you have to pay employees for traveling to an event?

Not a CEDR Member? Get additional guidance and updates in our private Facebook Group. Click to join!

Should you allow employees to check their work email at home?

An employee was splitting her time between marketing and other office duties and was beginning to feel overwhelmed by the volume of messages in her inbox. She requested to get access to her work email on a personal cell phone so she could check and respond to emails after-hours from home. The doctor/owner was curious about the protocols and compliance considerations for managing that request.

It’s a great idea to look for ways to get work done on time and lighten an employee’s load when they feel overwhelmed. And it’s even better that this employer wanted to make sure they were checking all of the necessary compliance boxes in the process (Cue the applause!).

Still, there are several reasons why we would recommend against having an employee work from home after hours. We will lay those out for you here:

To start, you always need to pay a non-exempt employee for all of their time spent working. This means that, if she is handling some of her tasks during the evening at home, that time needs to be paid. This gets tricky for a few reasons. 

First, many employees don’t do a good job of tracking their time outside of the office. If your timekeeping system allows for remote clocking from a personal device, that is a huge help. But we see time and time again that employees forget to clock for work performed at home and, at the end of the pay period, they’re having to guess at the hours they worked or they don’t log that time at all. Getting that time tracked correctly is critical for employers, and employers can get in trouble with the DOL due to unpaid wages even though it was the employee who failed to track their time. 

Second problem: What counts as time worked? 

If the employee periodically clicks into the email app on her phone to see if someone responded to an email but takes no action otherwise, does she have to clock that? It seems like this would only take a few seconds, so probably not, right? 

But what if she’s checking constantly all evening? Now she’s staying in that work mindset on a continuous basis, so there’s now a good argument that all that time needs to be paid. If you are going to allow employees to work outside of normal hours at home, it’s critical that you as the employer set and enforce parameters around what she should be doing from home and how long she should be spending on it. 

Here’s the final time-tracking problem, at least of those that we are addressing here: Time worked is time worked, no matter the type of work or where it is performed. So this extra time the employee is clocking from home counts toward overtime

If the employee wants to work from home because she has too much work to get done during the day, she’s presumably working a full schedule already, which means that working more hours is most likely putting her into overtime. So this request to access email from home has another meaning – you’re also being asked to approve her working overtime on a regular basis. 

Depending on your state’s laws, when you allow an employee to use their personal cell phone for work purposes, you may also be required to help the employee pay for their cell phone costs.

Then there’s the issue of HIPAA when it comes to her accessing practice information on her phone or any personal device. You need to consider how well your email system, and any other data she is gaining remote access to, is encrypted and otherwise secured. And, be sure you’ve got a game plan in place to further protect your PHI in the event that the employee’s cell phone is lost or stolen. Remote access to PHI is a huge risk and something that HHS repeatedly comes down on healthcare practices about (for free HIPAA training for your team, click here).

Finally, if this employee has already noted that she’s feeling overwhelmed, you run the risk of her getting burnt out working extra hours from home.

It sounds like this issue is happening because you’re currently short staffed and super busy. It’s definitely a “Yay!” for being busy, but it’s important to find a balance in this employee’s duties. 

Our recommendation would be to sit down and take a look at all of her responsibilities. What can be delegated to other team members? Are there any tasks that can be combined in order to save time? If the employee feels like she has to work more hours to respond to emails, is there a way she could be more efficient?  

It’s really encouraging that she’s stepped up to help fill this second role but, like we said, if she’s already feeling overwhelmed, then continuing to manage the workload of two positions will likely lead to burnout. 

Once this happens, it’s almost guaranteed things will fall through the cracks as she tries to keep up with everything. This isn’t good for the practice, but it’s especially bad for the employee’s wellbeing.

This blog on group texting outside of work hours covers a slightly different topic but much of the guidance in there is still applicable to this situation.

If you are thinking about hiring another person to help relieve some of this stress for your current employee, our hiring guide has helpful guidance for when you’re ready to start the process. 

We know hiring is extra difficult right now, but hopefully the right candidate comes along soon!

Make sure your next hire is a difference maker. Click to download CEDR's Free Hiring Guide!

What do the best applicant interview questions look like?

An employer was looking to begin the hiring process and wanted to know if our HR Base Camp Community could offer up some good sample interview questions.

When it comes to interviewing, your goal should be to get as much useful information out of your candidates as possible with each question you ask. This means getting them to talk more while requiring you as the employer to talk less.

You want your interview questions to give you an idea of how an applicant will perform in specific situations on the job. And, since past performance is the best predictor of future performance, behavioral interview questions are the way to go.

Unlike traditional interview questions which can often be vague (“Tell me a little bit about yourself.”) or answered with just a few words or even a simple “yes” or “no” (“Do you work well under pressure?”), behavioral interview questions ask candidates to explain a time when they faced a specific situation or exhibited a specific quality in the past. These questions often begin with the phrase “Tell me about a time when…” or some variation on this.

Our blog on Behavioral Interview Questions includes instructions on how to write your own behavioral questions, as well as 50 example questions broken up by specific qualities you might be looking for in an employee. You can use the example questions as is, or use them as a starting point when drafting your own interview questions. 

As a CEDR member, you can always reach out to the Solution Center if you need assistance with the specifics of a question or if you want us to review the questions you create. That’s just one more benefit of having experts on your side when you need them.

Click here to learn more about the Solution Center and how they can help you build a better workplace and save you time, stress, and money running your business.

Make sure your next hire is a difference maker. Click to download CEDR's Free Hiring Guide!

When do you have to pay employees for traveling to an event?

A CEDR Member reached out to the Solution Center for an update on their obligations related to paying employees for time spent traveling to a training event.

When your employees have to travel for work, the number of things you have to keep in mind from a payroll perspective can be enough to make your head spin! 

Payroll is difficult and tedious enough as it is, and adding travel considerations into the mix doesn’t make it any easier. Still, having the right information at your disposal goes a long way when it comes to getting this right. Hopefully this guidance will help make the added headache of calculating travel pay a little bit less, well, headachy.

For most states, the laws concerning travel pay and training requirements are set at the federal level. However, some states have more strict laws related to paying employees for travel and training (including California, Washington, and Wisconsin, to name a few). So, if you’re not sure about what the law says in your state, it’s important to work with an HR professional to get this right. 

Since breaking this topic down for each state and each travel scenario would push us into novel-length territory for this response, we’re going to focus on the federal requirements for having employees travel to an out-of-town, overnight event. And, since travel pay and paying for training tend to go hand in hand, we’ll touch on both issues briefly here.

Travel Pay Obligations

First off, whether or not you have to pay employees for their travel time is going to depend on whether the employees in question are classified as exempt or non-exempt

For exempt employees (as long as they are correctly classified as exempt), you don’t have to pay them anything on top of their normal salary for travel and training. But, for non-exempt employees, it’s a different story. 

When non-exempt employees travel for work, you have to track and pay for any travel time that cuts across normal working hours (regardless of the day of the week). “So,” you may ask, “what does that look like?” Here’s an example:

Let’s say normal working hours at your office are 9am – 5pm. Your non-exempt employees would therefore need to be paid for any time spent traveling between the hours of 9am and 5pm. If your employees are passengers on a flight that lands at 6pm, for example, then they would only be paid up to 5pm for traveling and that last hour of travel time would be non-compensable. This is true even when employees are traveling on a day in which your office is normally closed.

The one exception here is for drivers (if traveling by car). Drivers must be compensated for all travel time, regardless of the day or the hour. Passengers, on the other hand, can be paid just like air travelers, meaning that their time is compensable whenever it cuts across normal working hours, regardless of the day.

Note that, for non-exempt employees, training and travel time still need to be tracked and considered for your overtime calculations, as well.

Training Pay Obligations

When you require non-exempt employees to attend a training event, you will need to ensure that all time spent participating in the training event is compensated. 

The only time that job-related training does not need to be paid for non-exempt employees is when that training is completely voluntary and falls outside of normal working hours. But, if you are sending them to the event, the training is likely going to be considered an expectation of their employment and therefore must be paid.

You can pay your employees at a lesser rate for training and travel time. You simply need to inform them of the differential rate of pay prior to the event and make sure that rate is at least minimum wage. 

For CEDR Members, a Solution Center Advisor can provide you with a Notice of Differential Pay Form that you can distribute to employees and have them sign in order to put different rates of pay in place for training or other types of work that fall outside their typical job duties. 

We can also help you make sure you’ve got employee classification correct, are calculating overtime the right way, and walk you through the process of paying for travel and training whenever it comes up for your business.

At CEDR HR Solutions, we believe that “Better workplaces make better lives,” and we are committed to helping our members build stronger, better-protected businesses. 

Click here to learn more about how CEDR’s HR experts can help you build a better business for you and your team. 
Not a CEDR Member? Get additional guidance and updates in our private Facebook Group. Click to join!

May 23, 2022

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 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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