HR Base Camp Roundup – June 15th, 2022

HR issues come up at every business. Whether your employees are forgetting to clock in, demanding additional benefits, refusing to return to work, or anything else, you’re not alone! Find solutions to more common HR problems in these Q&As sourced from real employers like you in our HR Base Camp Facebook Group and HR Solution Center:

  1. How do I address employees forgetting to clock in / out regularly?
  2. What do you do when an employee is giving you the runaround about returning to work?
  3. Should I provide a cash option in lieu of health benefits to employees who decide not to enroll in my group health plan?

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

How do I address employees forgetting to clock in / out regularly?

An employer was having issues with employees regularly forgetting to clock in and wanted to know how they could go about getting this problem resolved.

This is an issue that comes up in the Solution Center at least weekly. So, if you’re frustrated by employees forgetting to clock in and out, you’re in good company. There are a few ways you can address this issue, but we want to start by saying that withholding or docking pay as a punishment or source of motivation is not the solution you might think it is.

Before we dive into the process of addressing missed punches with your team, let’s go over your basic obligations as an employer related to timekeeping.

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers must pay non-exempt employees for all hours worked. Employers also have to keep a complete and accurate record of that time and maintain those records for at least two years (and often even longer under state law). 

Still, where it is your responsibility as an employer to ensure that your employees are paid correctly for the time they spend working, you can make it your team members’ responsibility to accurately track and report that time to you. This should be reflected clearly in a policy in your employee handbook, along with the proper procedure for correcting errors and missed punches.

When a non-exempt employee reports a record of their time spent working, you should pay them for the time they reported. If you suspect that those records were misleading or falsified in some way, this would require you to investigate further to determine the accuracy of those records. This can involve asking their team leader for more information, reviewing security camera footage, checking employee login times in your software programs, etc. 

If you find that your employees are, in fact, falsifying their records, this is an entirely different issue that must be addressed immediately. As with all behavioral issues, we recommend using the Progressive Corrective Coaching model to do so (more on this shortly). It may even be a severe enough issue to warrant immediate termination or at least a final written warning.

When it comes to getting your employees to clock their time accurately and consistently, you need to be careful about any punitive measures or “repercussions” you put in place to address missed punches. What may seem at first glance like a “common sense” approach for correcting this problem can actually be illegal and can leave your business vulnerable to potential litigation. 

Here are a few things you should NOT do to address missed punches for your employees: 

  • Deducting pay or docking hours as punishment for a missed punch.
  • Refusing to pay for time worked because an employee forgot to clock their time.
  • Applying a “fine” to employees who miss punches.
  • Automating punches for employees.

Any of the “solutions” presented above go against federal labor laws and can also cause a number of other problems, including causing you to pay for time that wasn’t actually worked, missing payment for time that was actually worked, and missing legally mandated overtime payments.

Additionally, most states have pay frequency laws on the books that dictate how soon employees must be paid for time worked, so even withholding pay for missed time until the next pay period can be risky from a legal standpoint.

The best way to motivate your employees to stay on top of clocking in and out is to use the Progressive Corrective Coaching model to address the problem. This involves issuing verbal warnings for first offenses, then proceeding to written corrective actions, followed by a final written warning and, if necessary, proceeding through termination. You would also want to make sure and document each of the steps you took and the conversations you had with the employee in this process.

Going through the Progressive Corrective Coaching process with employees who are in repeated violation of your policies shows that you are serious about correcting the problem and helps you to stay on the right side of the law when addressing the issue of missed punches.

Having a robust, customizable timekeeping system can also make a lot of this easier. The timekeeping system included as part of your CEDR membership and that we use for our employees here at CEDR makes it easy to manage and edit clocking mistakes and cuts down on the time it takes to edit missing punches. It also requires employees to approve their timecards before you submit them to your payroll provider, which means employees HAVE to review all of the punches in a pay period before payroll is processed. 

Here’s how we use that system to correct and prevent missed punches at CEDR:

Employees clock in and out electronically using our timekeeping system. We grant our team the ability to adjust their own timesheets when they make mistakes so it doesn’t take up a manager’s time. But we do require that they input an electronic note explaining the edit.

In advance of payroll being due, we notify employees of the deadline for them to approve their timesheets. We use the teamwide bulletin function in our HR Vault software so that they all get an email reminder and see the reminder when they log in. The bulletin function is one of the many benefits of the HR Vault. It allows you to post a message for ALL employees at once, and it’s the first thing your employees see when they log in each day. Each team lead also has a calendared reminder to approve their teams’ timesheets by a certain date and time.

This means each individual employee is required to review and approve their time records, and each team lead is required to make sure that gets done and verify that the entries are correct, that PTO was logged correctly, etc. All of this happens before we even start the process of running payroll.

Worst case scenario, the payroll company needs the records in order to get employees paid on time and we don’t have the info we need from one employee. The team lead is required to input the employee’s time, along with a note explaining that they are putting in their best estimate of hours worked based on all the information they have. Payroll is run with that information.

If appropriate, the employee and/or team lead get a corrective action regarding failure to get this done on time. And the employee is asked in writing via email to notify HR by a certain date if the hours that were inputted were incorrect. That correspondence is saved in their HR Vault.

You can find more information on CEDR’s timekeeping system and watch a short demo video here.

Have questions about CEDR software or other HR issues? Reach out to us here.

Get your free corrective action form from the HR experts at CEDR. Click to download!

What do you do when an employee is giving you the runaround about returning to work after an extended absence?

An employee with a history of documented performance issues claimed they were in a car accident that rendered their vehicle inoperable. The employee began missing work first due to their lack of transportation, then for various medical appointments, though they refused or were unable to provide a proper doctor’s note to justify their prolonged absence. The employer was wondering how to address this issue in a way that was respectful of the severity of the situation while also protecting the practice’s interests.

Part of being a great manager is understanding that life happens outside of the office and making space for the issues that come along with that. 

That being said, there’s also a level of reciprocity that’s expected in these situations. The employee may be in a difficult position but, being short handed, so are you. Your employee should therefore give you the same respect you give them, and they’re still responsible for communicating with you so that you can (hopefully) find a solution to the problem together. 

It’s important to note that these types of issues tend to be very nuanced and the way you handle them will depend on the specific circumstances at play, what the time-off policies in your employee handbook say, and the laws in your state related to protected time off. Without knowing your exact policies and what exactly was said and when, it’s impossible to provide exact guidance on how much time you should give an employee to comply with your requests before terminating them. 

When an issue like this comes up for your business, the best thing you can do is reach out to a qualified HR professional to verify what the laws in your state say about protected time off, to assess your risk based on the options available to you, and to work together to create a game plan for how to move forward and escalate your handling of the problem, if needed.

Before jumping to the conclusion that this employee is trying to pull the wool over your eyes about what is really going on, you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions. For instance, did the employee communicate their issue in a timely manner, or did they wait until the last possible moment to let you know that they will be unavailable? Are they being clear about their expected time table for returning to work? Or are they avoiding that topic and pushing their expected return date out further with each successive conversation? Are they making a good-faith effort to get you the documentation you need for your records in a timely manner and being transparent about their efforts to do so? Does the employee have a history of performance issues and, if so, are they properly documented?

In this case, the employee seemed to be trying to extend the time they could take off without giving the employer a direct answer as to what they needed in order to be able to return to work. This, combined with a history of documented poor performance and the inability to fulfill the employer’s request to provide a doctor’s note justifying their extended absence, raised some red flags.

So, rather than the issue being about the employee’s absence due to an unfortunate circumstance, the problem at hand became one of the employee’s lack of communication and inability or unwillingness to follow procedure. 

In this instance, the state the employer was in did not have any laws about protected leave in place, so the employer was okay to address the absences per their time-off policy. 

Since the employee was being vague about when they would be able to get a doctor’s note, it became incumbent on this employer to box the employee in and reiterate that they needed a legitimate doctor’s note to excuse their absences, and to inform the employer about whether the employee needs to remain out from work. The employer set a deadline for when this employee needed to provide the doctor’s note and let the employee know that they were expected to be at their next shift following that deadline unless their healthcare provider said otherwise. 

When going back and forth with an employee on an issue like this, it’s important to make sure you document any and all conversations you have with them about the issue

In this particular case, since there were already documented performance issues on file, the employer was likely to be in a good spot if they did end up terminating due to the employee’s inability or unwillingness to comply with the employer’s requests for information and documentation.

If you’re a CEDR member and are unsure how to address a situation in which an employee is not being clear about the circumstances surrounding a prolonged absence, reach out to the Solution Center for guidance.

If you’re not a CEDR member yet, it’s a good idea to preempt this sort of problem by making sure you’ve got properly written, compliant policies in place regarding how time-off requests and documentation such as doctor’s notes are to be handled and delivered. This will help you ensure you can make the decision to terminate and do so safely if the situation calls for it. 

To learn more about how CEDR can help you put protections in place before you find yourself facing a difficult HR dilemma like this one, as well as how our in-house HR experts can help you solve problems like these as they come up, click here.

Click here to download your free leave of absence request form from CEDR.

Should I provide a cash option in lieu of health benefits to employees who decide not to enroll in my group health plan?

An office provided a health benefit option to their team that several team members chose not to take. Those employees felt that they should get a cash equivalent for the practice’s contribution to the health plan and the employer was unsure as to whether or not they should offer that alternative benefit.

Generally speaking, if someone chooses not to participate in a benefit plan for whatever reason, they do not get that particular benefit and there is no other compensation for choosing to opt out. 

Think of it this way: if you offer to buy your team lunch on a particular day and someone is absent that day, you are not required to then provide the absent employee with the cash equivalent for the meal they missed.

Further, we want to note that there are a few drawbacks to consider before offering a stipend in lieu of insurance. It’s important to understand that, even if you call it a “healthcare stipend,” there’s nothing that actually makes it qualify as healthcare-specific – it’s really just extra taxable compensation and, under certain circumstances, may violate the IRS rules governing the ACA. 

This also means that if an employee works any overtime, their overtime pay is going to cost you significantly more as you are required to include that so-called “stipend” in the overtime calculation

One issue that employers often deal with when offering this is that the employees start to see this as part of their normal income instead of a benefit. If the employee decides that they do in fact need health insurance later, taking the stipend away will be tricky and the employee will likely feel like their pay is being cut as opposed to a benefit being changed. 

Plus, there are payroll and tax implications associated with cash payments which, over time, cost you a considerable amount in overtime, matching taxes, and UI insurance. 

Whatever you decide to provide to your team in terms of benefits, the available options and how they operate should be outlined clearly in your employee handbook. This is yet one more reason that you should make sure your office’s manual is customized specifically for your business by a knowledgeable HR professional (and not borrowed from another business, built from a template, or distributed as a “one-size-fits-all” option by your payroll provider, etc.). 

For more on your health benefit options as an employer, check out our health benefits guide here.

Want to see your HR question answered (anonymously) in our weekly Roundup? Join the conversation in our private, professional Facebook Group, HR Base Camp.

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!

Jun 14, 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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