Weekly HR News –
Romance in the Workplace
Love is in the air! And unfortunately for cities, sometimes that love can come in the form of those in employee relationships. So what is an employer to do about these situations?
Some employers choose to enact policies that complete ban romantic relationships in the workplace, but even this is not without its own set of issues. By completely banning you can force employees that are in a romantic relationship to go into hiding, which leaves the city completely unaware and unprepared for the issues that may result. By not dealing with this out in the open it can be the source of even bigger problems down the road.
Other employers choose to allow it to happen as long as there is disclosure. This can also create problems of its own. Many employees will perceive that preferential treatment is being received by a coworker based on their relationship, especially when one is in a supervisory role over the other.
No matter the policy that your city enacts, you need to review your ethics ordinance and personnel policies to see what they say about employees and supervisory relationships. In addition, does this relationship create a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest and is it the subject of office gossip? Any relationship, whether it is causal or romantic should not have a negative impact on city business. And lastly, if love goes south, an employee can claim retaliation and harassment based on the previous relationship, which along with many other problems, may prove to be costly in court.
So how can the city protect itself from love gone wrong?
- First, have a clearly written policy with expectations set out in an easy to read and understand format. And, it is recommended that those in supervisory positions should not be allowed to date subordinates under any circumstances.
- Second, if your city ethics ordinance applies to city employees, and your nepotism policy applies to dating relationships, be certain that it is also included in the personnel policy.
- Lastly make sure that your sexual harassment policy is up to date, has a clearly established complaint procedure and that all employees and supervisors are trained on what the policy states and what it requires.
Running a city is not all champagne and roses, so you need to protect the city by being proactive. One of the ways to do this is to have a current and legally compliant personnel policy. If your city needs to update personnel policies you need to work with someone who not only has expertise in personnel law and human resource matters, but someone who knows municipal law as well. KLC can offer this expertise in a way that is specific to your city needs. Whether it is creating or reviewing city personnel policies, providing training on your city policies, sexual harassment, or on a variety of specialized HR topics, we have you covered. For more information on this service or any other personnel related matters contact Andrea Shindlebower Main, personnel services specialist.
Weekly HR – Mileage Reimbursement
IRS Raises Standard Mileage Reimbursement Rates for 2018
For cities that use the IRS rate to reimburse for mileage, be aware that on January 1, 2018, the IRS raised the standard mileage reimbursement rates. That rate went up from 53.5 cents per mile to 54.5 on January 1, 2018.
For more information, sample policies or questions contact Andrea Shindlebower at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or for the IRS article go to https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/standard-mileage-rates-for-2018-up-from-rates-for-2017.
Weekly HR News –
Municipal Employee Handbooks
Every year brings new challenges, and one of those challenges is the city’s employee handbook. An employee handbook is a valuable communication tool to allow employees to understand what is expected of them and what they can expect from the city as the employer. In addition, an employee handbook will be of vital importance in defending an employment-related claim. It shows that your city had in place personnel and employee policies relating to the employment relationship, that the employee was aware of those policies and that those policies were followed by the city.
Employee handbooks should be drafted in clear, concise and easy-to-understand language. At a minimum, employee handbooks should include the following:
- A conspicuous disclaimer in the front of the handbook that the handbook does not create contractual rights and that employees continue to be terminable at will. The statement should be something to the effect of:
The City Employee Handbook does not create any contractual or other legal rights. The personnel policies contained in this Handbook do not alter the city’s at-will employment policy nor does it create an employment contract for any period of time.
- A clear, comprehensive equal employment opportunity statement such as:
The city provides equal employment opportunities to all employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, status as a smoker or nonsmoker, disability, or genetics. In addition to federal law requirements, the city complies with applicable state and local laws governing nondiscrimination in employment. This policy applies to all terms and conditions of employment, including recruiting, hiring, placement, promotion, termination, layoff, recall, transfer, leaves of absence, compensation and training.
3. An up-to-date harassment policy. Sexual harassment was headline news in 2017, so no better time than the present to be certain that your city's sexual harassment/discrimination policy is in place and condemns all forms of unlawful harassment, not only sexual harassment. The policy should also clearly set out an easy-to-follow process for filing a complaint, anti-retaliation provisions, and statement regarding what action will be taken if it is determined that harassment or discrimination has occurred. As important as having this written policy is, the training that is provided to employees should also be a high priority.
4. An explanation of the employee disciplinary procedures stating the types of behavior that will subject an employee to discipline or immediate termination and the process that will be followed in addressing disciplinary problems. Cities should also be certain to include language that the list of prohibited behaviors is not all inclusive.
5. A policy on workplace violence that condemns these actions as well as provides information on the complaint process and anti-retaliation provisions. In addition, if your city addresses weapons in the workplace, make sure that this policy is based on the current state of the law.
6. Detailed information on the drug and alcohol testing policy, especially, if your city has safety sensitive or federally regulated positions. Make sure that you know the laws that apply to all of your city positions and that it is correctly reflected in this policy.
In addition to the above, an employee handbook may address any policies, rules and practices within the city, such as: overtime, benefits, dress codes, social media policies and safety guidelines. Be clear and concise with all of your policies and always provide training and time for questions whenever a new policy is implemented.
Cities should also be certain that every employee is provided with a personal copy of the employee handbook at the time of hire. Employees should sign an acknowledgement stating that they received a copy of the employee handbook and that they are responsible for reading and understanding the information contained in the handbook. This signed acknowledgement should be placed in the employee's personnel file. In addition, any time that an amendment is made to the handbook, employees should be required to sign an additional acknowledgment regarding the specific change.
The executive authority should annually review city policies to be certain they are up-to-date with any recent employment law changes, as well as changes in city practices. If it has been more than a few years since they were last updated, they are not current. Checking on these matters now could prevent costly liability issues from occurring in the future.
If you need to update your policies, keep in mind that cities are unique. When it comes to creating or updating your personnel policies, you need to work with someone who not only has expertise in personnel law and human resource matters, but someone who knows municipal law as well. KLC can offer this expertise in a way that is specific to your city’s needs. Whether it is creating or reviewing city personnel policies or providing training on your city policies or on a variety of specialized HR topics, KLC has you covered. For more information on this service or any other personnel-related matters, contact Andrea Shindlebower Main, KLC personnel services specialist.
Weekly HR News –Leaves of Absence
Comprehending Comp Time
With winter weather looming, along with the extra work it brings, many city employees will be working longer than normal schedules. The question then becomes whether or not a city can allow its employees to earn compensatory time, also known as comp time.
In years past, compensatory time was only an option for counties. Then in 2009, KRS 337.285 was amended to permit cities and their nonexempt city employees to agree on the earning of compensatory time in lieu of overtime pay.
The statute does set some guidelines for the allowance of comp time:
- It only applies to non-exempt (hourly) employees; however, employers can provide comp time as a fringe benefit to exempt employees through policy and it would not have to follow this statute.
- The request to accrue compensatory time must be made in writing, freely and without pressure or suggestion by the employer, before performance of the work.
- If authorized in writing by the employer, an employee may accrue compensatory time in lieu of overtime pay at the rate of not less than one and one half hours for each hour the employee is authorized to work in excess of 40 hours in a work week.
- The maximum number of compensatory hours that may be accrued is 480 for city employees engaged in a public safety, emergency response or seasonal activity. For employees engaged in all other work, 240 hours are allowed. Any hours over these maximums must be paid to the employee in overtime compensation at the regular rate earned by the employee at the time the employee receives the payment. In addition, a city can set the maximum accrual hours at less than the statutory maximums.
- A city employee who requests the use of compensatory time must be allowed to use the compensatory time within a reasonable period after making the request, if use of the compensatory time does not unduly disrupt operations of the employer. Mere inconvenience to the employer is not a sufficient basis for denial.
- An employer cannot use compensatory time as a means to avoid statutory overtime compensation. Therefore, an employer cannot pressure an employee to accept more compensatory time than the employer can realistically expect to be able to grant within a reasonable period.
- Upon termination of employment, all unused accrued compensatory time earned by nonexempt employees must be paid at a rate of compensation not less than the average rate received by the employee during the last three years or the final regular rate received by the employee, whichever is higher.
For additional questions regarding comp time for exempt and nonexempt employees or for sample policies or the required agreement, contact personnel services specialist, Andrea Shindlebower Main, at email@example.com
Weekly HR – Workplace Violence
Domestic Violence and the Workplace
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and if you are wondering why this should be a human resource topic, here are some statistics:
- Domestic violence is one of the leading cause of violence in the workplace with at least one in five employees having been the victim of domestic violence (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)).
- Homicide is currently the fourth leading cause of fatal occupational injuries and it is the second leading cause of death for women in the workplace (Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)).
- 75% of domestic violence victims face harassment from intimate partners while they are at work (Family Violence Prevention Fund).
- 27% of all violent events in the workplace, including workplace shootings, are tied to some form of domestic violence (U.S. Department of Labor).
- 96% of domestic violence victims experience problems at work due to abuse (American Institute on Domestic Violence). This can include situations where the victim is either prevented from going to work by the abuser or they are absent due to injuries or mental issues caused by the abuse. The time away from work can be broken down as follows:
- 56% of victims are late
- 28% of victims leave early
- 54% of victims miss entire days
- The CDC states that these particular absences cost employers at least $2 billion in lost productivity annually and employer health care costs related to domestic violence are more than $4 billion a year.
- Employers may also face liability based on how they react to domestic violence in the workplace:
- Employers may violate discrimination laws if they take adverse actions against victims. For example, an employer may face liability if a female victim of domestic violence is disciplined for being absent while another employee is not. Or the employer takes adverse action against a female victim that uses FMLA or leave as an accommodation under the ADA for medical reasons related to domestic violence.
- Although OSHA does not have specific standards for domestic violence, they can cite employers under its “general duty clause,” requiring employers to provide a safe workplace, including any dangers related to domestic violence.
For these reasons and more, employers should have workplace violence prevention policies and a plan that specifically addresses domestic violence in the workplace. Your workplace violence policy should define domestic violence and provide information for recognizing signs of victimization. Signs of domestic violence can include:
- Frequent or unplanned leave
- Change in job performance
- Unexplained bruises or injuries, often attributed to “falls,” “being clumsy,” or “accidents”
- Dress that is inappropriate (i.e. long sleeves in the summer)
- Sudden change of address
- Isolation, unusual quietness, or avoiding others
- An unusual number of phone calls or emails from a current or former partner, strong reactions to those calls, and reluctance to respond to phone messages
- Disruptive personal visits to the workplace by present or former partner
- Anxiety and depression
- Drug and alcohol dependence
In addition, the policy should provide response requirements and available information regarding assistance for an employee experiencing domestic violence. Employers should also be certain that all supervisors are trained in how to handle these situations, which may include:
- Providing a picture of the perpetrator to human resources
- Identifying an emergency contact person
- If absence is necessary, the employee should be clear about their return to work plan
- Save threatening e-mail or voice-mail messages for future use in possible legal situations
- Arrange for priority parking
- Screen calls and have employee’s name removed from automated phone directories
- Limit information disclosed by phone about employee
- Relocate workspace to a more secure area or another site
- Put the employee in contact with your city employee assistance plan and/or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
- Work with local law enforcement as needed and encourage employee to do the same
- Arrange flexible work hours so employee can seek protection, go to court, look for new housing, arrange child care, etc.
Don’t let your workplace become another staggering statistic. Be proactive in implementing the necessary measures to keep all your employees safe. If your city needs sample policies or training on workplace violence or any other personnel matters, contact Andrea Shindlebower Main, personnel services specialist.
Weekly HR News - Human Resources Audit
Five Ws to Keep Your City in Compliance
Who needs to do an HR Audit?
HR personnel as well as the executive authority for the city must be certain that HR audits are being done. Persons within these positions are on the frontlines of all the personnel action and must be a knowledgeable resource for the employees and management.
Why do you need an HR audit?
Federal, state and local employment laws can be very complex. Violations of these laws, even when unintentional, can lead to lawsuits, fines, bad publicity and even employee frustration. Issues also present themselves when you have in place rogue management, or those who do not have sufficient training to handle employment issues as they arise. Eliminating those risks is a significant responsibility of HR.
When should the HR audit occur?
Typically an HR audit should be done on a yearly basis; however, some cities find that several mini-audits throughout the year make this task less cumbersome. Changes in the law occur annually, so in order to maintain legal compliance the city’s policies and procedures need to be updated at least that frequently. Making the time to do a complete HR audit not only ensures compliance with the laws, but it also provides opportunities to improve the effectiveness of the city’s HR practices such as employee performance and engagement. In addition, if there is an issue with employees or management, discovering these problems in a timely manner can keep them from spiraling out of control.
What should be audited?
The first thing any city should do when completing an HR audit is to create and review a comprehensive checklist. At the very least, the city should review the following areas:
- Employment Law Updates (federal, state and local)
- Do you have I-9 Forms on all employees? Are you using the most current form dated 7/17/17?
- Discipline Procedures and Documentation
- Equal Opportunity
- Wage and Hour Administration
- Job Elimination/Separation Documentation
- Hiring Process
- Benefits Administration, ERISA and COBRA (or State Continuation Coverage if less than 20 employees)
- Personnel Files and Records
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Policies and Procedures
- Workplace Harassment and Sexual Harassment
- Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Uniformed Services Act (USERRA) and Kentucky Military Law
- Background Investigations
- Drug and Alcohol Testing
However, it isn’t enough to check these items off your list. Even if all of your policies are completely up-to-date and legally compliant, if city officials and supervisors do not practice what they preach, the liability risks increase significantly. For example, even if you have a legally compliant workplace harassment policy, it will not create a respectful workplace. If the executive authority or supervisors ignore or allow disrespectful behavior, the policy is not worth the paper on which it is written and can lead to costly litigation. As part of this process, you have to be certain that the policies are being followed as they are written. Do this by auditing employees for their feedback and reviewing any employee complaints that may have been filed to look for holes in the process.
Where do you take the results?
The results should not sit on the shelf. Once any potential issues have been identified, be certain that the executive authority in your city is aware of the issues. The executive authority must then make changes to city policies or HR processes to get your city into compliance. Do this by updating personnel policies and by providing training to employees, supervisors and management personnel. Especially target those in management who are not following procedures. Emphasize the fact that any employee or supervisor not following the policies and procedures will be subject to discipline, including termination from employment.
No matter what your HR audit looks like, it is important to engage in continual observation and improvement of the city's policies, procedures and practices. By doing this, you will ensure that your city never ceases to improve.
For a sample HR Audit Checklist or questions on this or other personnel matters, contact personnel services specialist, Andrea Shindlebower Main.