A Look at Some of HR’s Top Ten Concerns


NEW YORK—The Employers Resource Association (ERA), with membership of more than 1,300 companies in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio generates more than 8,000 calls each year to its human resources hot line. Recently, ERA tabulated their 10 most frequent HR concerns (and, most likely, the concerns of their companies). Here’s a listing of the top 10 and some suggested resources should your HR department have similar questions or concerns.

1. Family and Medical Leave Act. HR questions focus on coverage requirements, the definition of what constitutes a serious health condition and how to control intermittent leave. To gain more information of these specific, or related legal interpretation questions, visit www.dol.gov.

2. Advice and counsel for taking such adverse actions as termination, suspension and discipline.
The most commonly requested information of ERA includes required documentation for employee terminations, if a recent workers’ compensation claim creates additional conditions or restrictions for a termination, or how an FMLA request can affect a termination. Questions of this nature should be directed to your company’s inside counsel or outside employment law attorney since laws (both case and statute) vary from state to state.

3. Performance management strategies. Methods and tactics for dealing with a problem employee such as: How to provide performance counseling and feedback to a new hire that may not be working out, or similarly, with a protected-class employee that is not responding favorably to counseling. As well, questions associated with team/group performance issues concurrent with culture changes or business-cycle needs. A good source for current and innovative solutions to these types of questions can be found through a local HR association, Chamber of Commerce work group, or membership in a local or national organization like Society for Human Resource Management.

4. Fair Labor Standards Act issues.
Most questions focus on correctly classifying a position as exempt or non-exempt, including the difference between state and federal law, where applicable. As well, questions surface regarding calculating overtime for multiple rates, what travel hours must be paid for an hourly employee, and federal and state child labor rules. Since these are, in most cases, governed by federal law, the most suitable source for this type of information is www.dol.gov or your company’s outside employment counsel.

5. Immigration. The ever illusive questions associated with ICE I-9 documentation and procedural questions such as “What do we do when the Social Security number comes back a no-match?” or “We’re considering employing an H1-B [visa] employee. How complicated is that?” You can find specific legal requirements covering these and other questions at www.uscis.gov.

6. Lunch hour and breaks. Many questions surface regarding required breaks (number and length) and what has to be paid vs. nonpaid time. In additionm, there are questions that surface regarding an employee working through a break or early departure for non-exempt employees. These questions are generally covered through a company’s required annual legal postings and through a state labor or employment bureau or department. One should not be afraid to call; you are not required to reveal your name or employer’s name when seeking such information.

7. Employee access to personnel files.
State law requiring an employer to allow an employee to see or copy his or her personnel file, what contents they may view, and what frequency they may view their personnel file. Other questions that arise include, “What are the rules about sending information to lawyers?” Again, the answers may be obtained from your state labor or employment bureau or department.

8. Independent contractor vs. employee.
An often asked question is “What’s the difference between an independent contractor and an employee?” Independent Contractor versus Employee definitions are developed and enforced by the Internal Revenue Service. One can obtain a specific listing of the questions a company needs to review and conform with by going to www.irs.gov.

9. Employee privacy.
Many employers lack contemporary legal information regarding whether they may read an employee emails or monitor Internet usage. Others query on whether they may use surveillance cameras on work premises. SOme employers have inquired whether or not they may search employees, their belongings or cars. Anytime a question is posed relating to privacy, surveillance or search of property, one should always consult an employment attorney before taking any desired action. The laws governing real or perceived invasion of privacy whether it is of one’s email, or their person, desk, car, locker or other area in which company property may be maintained.

10. Drug and alcohol issues. Employers often inquire about the conditions or circumstances under which they may test employees, whether it is random or if under suspicion of use. Likewise, employers ask about positive testing results and permissible circumstances warranting termination. Each state has both case and statutory laws governing substance abuse testing and the litmus test associated with termination.

Remember, even under the most rigorous legal compliance, a current or former employee may challenge through litigation any action you may have taken. To reduce the prospect of an unfavorable legal ruling, and to ensure your company continues to operate within the law, always take time to seek information and counsel before taking precipitous action. —Hedley Lawson, Contributing Editor