Your HR Department WANTS YOU (to quit doing these things, like, yesterday)
Ever feel like you cannot make your HR department happy? Those guys are always asking for things like “documentation,” they want to make everything into a “conference,” and they keep insisting that you apply crazy acronyms like PTO, ADA, FMLA, FLSA, NLRB, and EEOC to your dealings with employees. So annoying. Then, when you have a terrible employee who clearly needs to go, HR tells you “NO.” Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, amIright?! Skip the stress, quit begging for forgiveness, and follow these tips to keep your HR department happy.
1) Stop talking to your employees about their medical conditions. Just stop.
We get it, your employees probably aren’t looking for an ADA accommodation every time they mention menstrual cramps or a headache, HOWEVER engaging them in a conversation about a medical issue can put the whole company on notice of the medical condition. AND, it’s crazy how quickly an innocent conversation can trigger the duty to engage in the interactive process and potentially provide reasonable accommodations.
Here’s a common example. Tina Technician tells her boss that she has been having terrible headaches lately. Bonnie Boss says, “Oh no, what do you think is causing them?!” Tina laughs and says that she has been watching her grandkids in the evenings and their shrieking voices are sometimes too much for her, especially when she has to come to work and listen to the really loud noises associated with her work. Bonnie says, “Bless your heart, you’re such a good grandma.” Tina says “Thank you, they may be loud but they sure are cute. Maybe I should request some noise cancelling headphones to use at work and at home!” Both ladies laugh and they move on with their day.
Fast forward 6 weeks. Tina is on a final warning due to attendance issues (leaving early) and she brings up the headaches. Evidently, they are migraines that make her incredibly sensitive to loud noises, therefore they have been interfering with her ability to make it through the work day. She says, “Bonnie, I told you about the headaches…I told you that my work was making them worse. I even told you that I needed noise cancelling headphones. This is disability discrimination!” Now, rewind. What if Bonnie hadn’t asked questions, but instead said, “I’m sorry to hear that,” then let HR know that Tina mentioned a medical issue but didn’t associate it with her job? In that case, HR could reach out to Tina to check in and the duty to report the disability and request accommodations would have remained with Tina.
2) Quit having a “quick one-on-one” meeting.
So, you think it’s time to move forward with termination of employment? Let me guess, you have “verbally warned” him more than once in “quick one-on-one” meetings? Ugh, stop it. I have some news for you: In the context of termination of employment, verbal warnings didn’t happen and the content of “quick one-on-ones” is up for interpretation. It’s weird, because you remember telling him that his behavior at your vendor meeting was unprofessional; He remembers you asking him out and threatening this exact scenario when he said no. Hmmm, who to believe, the boss who didn’t document a damn thing or the victim of sexual harassment? If you don’t want to be the subject of a #metoo post, quit the “quick one-on-one” and formalize your feedback.
3) Stop sending emails or texts on questions that should be addressed with a phone call.
I recently shared an article on social media about a pending lawsuit against a very famous chef and restauranteur who is learning this the SUPER hard way. In this particular case, male executive-level manager who verbally offered a female employee a transfer to a different restaurant location emails HR, “Apparently she is pregnant…She never mentioned this to me. I am confused how to proceed.” Then, (shame on HR) the two work out a plan to get rid of the employee by setting up a “sham interview” that would result in her being declared “not the right fit” for the restaurant…all over email. OUCH.
Here’s the deal, it’s ok to have a question about whether or not something is legit or discriminatory. It’s ok to ask HR about it. It’s even ok to disagree with HR about it. But it’s never ok to document the whole exchange in an email that is TOTALLY discoverable in a discrimination lawsuit. To be clear, I am not saying that it’s ok to discriminate as long as you conspire to do it over the phone. What I am saying is that there are honest questions that need to be asked that, when put in writing then taken out of context, might sound a little suspect. Those are phone questions.
Additionally, even when it is your intent to document the content of the email, it doesn’t hurt to check in with HR by phone before you hit “send” if you are not 100% certain of the best way to describe the situation (Like when you are about to type the word “cripple” to describe someone who has a physical disability. For crying out loud, make the call.).
4) Quit being afraid to “bother” HR.
Sweet Jesus, stop acting like the Human Resources department doesn’t care about HR issues. The HR Department understands that employee relations is a significant component of its purpose in the organization. Reaching out to seek counsel on an employee relations issue is not a bother. Not even a little bit. Asking a question before making a huge mistake that embroils HR in an employee relations disaster is not only “not a bother,” it is deeply appreciated. Giving HR a head’s up before an irate employee bursts through the door is also a good call. Finally, inviting HR to what you used to call a “quick one-on-one” will result in a formal disciplinary conference with documentation that you can take to the bank.