HR Base Camp Roundup – June 22nd, 2022

This week’s Roundup answers two questions about common employee problems and offers a glimpse at what it takes to protect your practice when you let employees work from home. Here are our top HR Q&A’s from the HR Base Camp Facebook Group and HR Solution Center:

  1. How do I squash petty drama brewing between two of my team members?
  2. Do I need to provide a laptop if an employee is going to be doing administrative work for my practice from home?
  3. What’s the protocol for when an employee uses up all of their sick time / PTO but continues to call out sick?

 
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How do I squash petty drama brewing between two of my team members?

Several employers reported that they were dealing with ongoing disagreements between employees that were beginning to cause problems for the business as a whole.

Asking for a basic level of professionalism from your employees may not seem like a major request. After all, nobody wants their personal issues to get in the way of their professional prospects.

Frequently, the drama between two employees will be of a purely personal nature and it is not your job as a manager to act as a mediator or therapist. More often than not, trying to help employees find middle ground over personality disputes or personal grudges is a futile task that can easily backfire. 

Your employees are adults and it is their responsibility to resolve these types of minor personal disagreements on their own. Nevertheless, they will likely need a reminder from you (potentially in the form of a written corrective action) that, regardless of how they feel about their coworkers, they need to act and communicate professionally. That is the bottom line.    

Even so, we know that a simple squabble between two employees can take over your whole office with rumors, lies, witnesses, alliances (formed and broken) and all kinds of other variables and factors to consider. As we’ve said before, your employees are human beings, and managing human beings is a nuanced and complex process that is almost never as simple as issuing a corrective action.

In short, there will be times when some of your employees are having trouble getting along, and dealing with these issues can present a real test of your leadership skills. 

There are two ways that employee drama will come to your attention: it will either be reported to you by one of your employees (whether or not that employee is directly involved) or you will notice the tension between two individuals first hand.

Regardless of how you catch wind of the situation, it’s important that you address these types of issues immediately rather than allowing any bad blood to fester. Unaddressed workplace tension or drama can easily impact your ability to retain good employees.  

So what should you do to address drama building between two employees?

Of course, the first thing you should do is reach out to a qualified and knowledgeable HR professional to establish a game plan and assess your risk. You’ll need to have a thorough understanding of your obligations as a manager related to the unique circumstances at play. For instance, are either of the employees in a protected class? Is one a subordinate of the other? Is there any indication that this issue could escalate and get out of hand? Is the dispute related to wages or other workplace conditions that are protected under the National Labor Relations Act?  If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes”, it will impact the way you need to approach the disagreement.

With a game plan ready, check the Employee Concern Reporting Policy in your employee handbook

That policy should outline a step-by-step process by which employees can bring any concerns they might have directly to you and/or another manager. It should also include information about how and to whom employees should bring their concerns, specify when it becomes necessary to get concerns in writing, and explain that concerns may lead to an investigation process in certain circumstances. All CEDR member handbooks include a detailed, compliant Employee Concern Reporting Policy.

Next, it’s time to sit down with the employees in question. Bring in each of the employees involved in the drama one at a time to get their side of the story. 

This is your chance to listen to the facts of the situation and form an opinion as to what is going on. Avoid inserting your take on the situation into these meetings and use this time to really listen to each person involved. Use your Employee Interaction Log form to document what was discussed in each meeting. And, if either employee cites another employee as a potential witness (or if the issue was first brought to your attention by another employee), it may be appropriate to bring them in (also individually) to hear their side of the story, as well.

The point here is that you need to gain as thorough an understanding of the complete situation as you can get before making a determination on how you will act.

Sometimes the drama between two employees will be work related, meaning that there is some misunderstanding between employees related to tasks, processes, or responsibilities where one or both parties feel like the other is making their job more difficult. When this is the case, you should be able to step in and reset expectations to help those employees get out of their own (and each other’s) way.

More often than not, your next course of action will be to issue one or more corrective actions for unprofessional behavior. This corrective action should address the specific behavior the employee engaged in that was unprofessional, how that behavior impacted the team, and what your expectations are for the employee moving forward. 

During your initial meetings with the employees involved, if either employee gives you the impression that there’s an issue relating to a protected category (race, sex, religion, disability, national origin, age, etc.), or if there is any indication of violence, threats of violence, drug or alcohol use, theft, or a breach of confidentiality, then an investigation may be necessary

If this is the case, then we’re no longer talking about “petty drama” – the issue has been escalated to the level of a potential legal liability and should be taken very seriously. When this happens, have any employee who makes such a complaint fill out an Employee Concern Form and begin the investigation process.

Investigations can be tricky and are certainly one of the more difficult and delicate of all HR processes you’ll ever have to deal with. If your employees’ “petty drama” can’t be resolved by corrective action and you feel like you need to escalate to the point of an investigation, you should absolutely reach out to an HR professional for guidance in getting this right and to make sure you stay compliant and protected along the way.

You can download a free Employee Concern Form here.

Learn more about the investigation process here.

Need more guidance on how to stop employee drama in its tracks? Download our Employee Action Guides for a step-by-step break down.

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

Do I need to provide a laptop if an employee is going to be doing administrative work for my practice from home?

An employer was looking to allow an administrative employee to do some of their billing work from home and was wondering if they needed to provide the employee with a computer for this work or if the employee could just use their personal laptop.

With many employers looking to provide additional flexibility for employees where they can, an increasing number of business owners and managers are looking into the option of allowing certain employees to perform some of their duties from home.

Allowing employees to work from home can provide a number of benefits to your business and your employees. That said, it’s important to make sure that you’ve done your due diligence to ensure that your business’ interests are protected before you send an employee off to start working from home, or before you hire someone to do remote work for your organization.

Generally speaking, you will want to provide company equipment for your employees to use in order to complete any work for your business from home if it’s within your means to do so. Allowing employees to use their own devices for work presents a number of potential problems. 

For example, you may be unable to monitor your employees’ activity if they are using their own personal devices for work, meaning that it will be difficult or impossible to verify that they are spending their time on the clock productively or in a manner that will limit security risks for your business. When employees use their own devices for work, it could also make it difficult to prevent those employees from sharing access to the device (and, therefore, to your company files) with other people in their household, or to prevent them from using the device on an unsecured network in a way that could put your business’ information at risk.

Perhaps the most important consideration related to allowing a dental or healthcare employee to work from home is related to your ability to keep the Protected Health Information (PHI) of your patients safe and secure per your obligations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

Threats to PHI are omnipresent and on the rise, and hackers seem to see healthcare professionals as an ideal target since holding PHI and other confidential information for ransom can provide a fairly lucrative source of ill-gotten income. 

In the event that someone actually gets hold of your patients’ PHI, violations for allowing unauthorized access to patient health records can easily lead to seven-figure settlements. And not understanding your obligations under HIPAA is not enough to excuse you or your business from liability for data that is leaked, stolen, or accessed by unauthorized individuals.

Therefore, if you do decide to allow your employees to work and access PHI from home, even if you are providing the device on which they will do so, you need to make sure you’ve performed a proper risk assessment and done all you can to protect your PHI from unauthorized access.

Any time you allow an employee to access PHI anywhere other than the secure channels provided in your office, it’s best to assume that you will one day face a worst-case scenario related to that device and/or the employee in question. Start with the assumption that the device will one day be stolen or that your employee will stop working for you on bad terms before you’re able to get the device back. If faced with either scenario, are you confident that you will still be able to protect your patients’ PHI from malicious third parties and a potentially disgruntled employee? If so, you’re probably off to a good start.

There are a number of potential threats associated with allowing employees to access PHI from home. Employees can lose their devices, devices can be stolen, or they can be accessed by unauthorized individuals in the employee’s home or by malicious third parties over unsecured wireless networks. Any of these scenarios could constitute a HIPAA breach for which your business could be held responsible for up to $50,000 per violation or per record.

Even at the minimum penalty level of $100 per record, if an employee loses a device containing the unencrypted PHI of your office’s 300 patients, you’re still looking at a potential liability of $30,000 for that lost device, and that’s assuming you’d done everything you could to prevent that breach from happening in the first place!

To prevent breaches, put contingencies in place that will allow you to disable access to PHI from a particular device in the event that the device is lost or stolen – either by disabling access to a certain program or account containing PHI, making sure you are able to remotely wipe the device in question (an option that will likely not be available to you if the employee is using their own laptop to work from home), and/or ensuring that any PHI on the device is securely encrypted before it leaves your office.

Finally, you’ll want to make sure that any employees with access to PHI understand their obligations and responsibilities under HIPAA before they ever interact with a patient or touch a chart or folder containing a patient’s PHI. We also recommend refreshing that training for your employees on an annual basis. Properly training your employees on HIPAA standards and protocols can help limit your liability in the event of a breach, and can help you minimize the chances of a breach occurring in the first place. You can get free HIPAA Training for your team for a year from CEDR here.

So, long story short, if you plan to give an employee the option to work from home, give them a laptop to use, make sure they know not to let anyone else use that laptop and to never log on to an unsecured wireless network with the device, and do everything in your power to protect your patients’ PHI before anyone can access it from outside your office.

If you’re unable to meet any of those standards at this time for any reason, you might just want to keep work limited to your office until you’re able to upgrade your security protocols.

If you’re a CEDR Member, your membership includes access to free HIPAA Training for your entire team, including training on how to prevent and handle breaches of PHI.

If you’re not a CEDR Member , you can get your first year of HIPAA Training for your team free here.

 
Unlock HR Vault free for the life of your business. Unlimited document storage, sharing, and digital signatures. Click here for access.
 

What’s the protocol for when an employee uses up all of their sick time / PTO but continues to call out sick?

An employee used up all of the paid sick time provided to them by their employer in the first six months of the year. The employer was concerned that the employee would continue to call out sick and was wondering what they could do to address and/or prevent future absences. 

It seems like every practice has had their fair share of chronically absent employees. And, when those employees have a new excuse for every missed shift, it can be difficult to know how to address the issue – especially if those excuses seem like they could potentially be valid!

Every situation like this is nuanced and unique – sometimes your employees may have a legitimate medical reason for being absent frequently, and sometimes it’s a genuine performance issue that needs to be addressed as such. That’s why this is a good topic to work through with a Solution Center Advisor whenever it (or something like it) comes up for your business.

Some employers are okay with employees taking unpaid time off after PTO benefits have been exhausted, while other employers expect the number of PTO days provided to be the maximum amount of time off employees can take each year. It’s important for you as a business owner or manager to know which camp you fall in on this issue. And, if you are going to take a firm stance around a certain amount of time off being excessive, you need to be consistent about that.

That being said, when one of our members raises excessive absenteeism as an issue when talking to one of our advisors, we do not jump to the idea that a certain number of absences firmly results in termination or requires a doctor’s note. Instead, we ask a lot of follow up questions to find out what is going on with this particular employee. 

What really needs to be considered is the reason behind the employee’s absences. There’s a difference between absences that are truly out of an employee’s control and absences that are taken just for the sake of avoiding work. For instance, consider the difference between an employee being out because they are symptomatic with COVID versus having car trouble; or their child being in the hospital versus their childcare falling through on a regular basis. 

You want to keep in mind that your employees are humans, and things can occasionally come up that prevent people from getting to work. Someone having a lot of absences can also be an indicator that they have an ongoing medical issue, which can make terminating based on absenteeism a bit risky. But, as employers, we also need to set the expectation that the employee is committed to working their schedule and finding solutions to problems that impact their ability to do so. 

When you’re seeing that there is an attendance issue, start with simply meeting with the employee. Let them know that they’ve already exhausted their paid time off for the year and are continuing to miss time beyond that. Explain that their attendance is important because of the critical role they play in the office, so you need to know that you can depend on them to be there when they’re scheduled and, of course, document those conversations.

If you’re aware of a pattern in the reason behind the excessive absences, then you should directly address that. If it’s car trouble, remind them that it’s their responsibility to be able to get to work as scheduled. That may mean getting a ride, taking the bus, or getting an Uber. If it’s childcare falling through, you can tell them that you expect them to have a backup plan already set so that this is no longer an issue moving forward. You need to see that they’re doing what they can to get to work even if something comes up in their personal life. 

If they’re simply calling out “sick” without much more explanation, you can tell them that you will be requiring a doctor’s note for further callouts. You appreciate them keeping illness out of the office, but it’s happening so frequently that it’s causing issues. If there’s something going on that you should be aware of, then let them know that they need to tell you that. 

That leads into the trickiest of issues – when employees are missing work due to some type of ongoing medical issue. If you have reason to believe this is the case, then tell them that you expect all employees to be able to work their schedule. If they are having trouble with that due to medical reasons, then ask that they tell you. From there you can ask them to provide you with information from their healthcare provider about what accommodations could be needed to enable them to perform their job duties. 

Of course, terminating an employee who is claiming to be absent as a result of being frequently sick can be even more risky than terminations for other types of performance or behavioral issues. Because of this fact, you’ll need to make sure you document all of your conversations with this employee about their attendance issues, as well as the opportunities you provide them to improve. It’s also going to be in your best interest to work with an HR expert at each step in this process to ensure that you’re handling it in a way that best protects your business and limits your liability as an employer.

If you’re a CEDR Member and have questions about how to deal with a chronically absent employee, click here to submit a support request to the Solution Center.

If you’re not a CEDR Member and would like to learn more about how Membership can help you protect your business, click here to get in touch with someone from our team.
 
Click here to download a free absence request form you can use 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.

Jun 21, 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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