The HR Strategist: February 2015
In this issue:
- Employees Have ADA Responsibilities Too
- Am I Required to Pay My Employees if We Close for a Blizzard?
- Three Employee Benefits Administration Best Practices
- Think Outside the Box for Voluntary Benefits
- Did You Know?
Generally, courts have ruled in favor of the employee when it comes to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, a court recently ruled in favor of an employer in regards to an ADA lawsuit. Why? The employee did not engage in an interactive process with the employer.
Pamela Manning, a full-time sales associate for Kohl's Department Stores, worked 36 – 40 hours per week via predictable, daytime shifts. She also suffered from Type I diabetes.
Eventually, Kohl's needed to restructure its staffing system. Ms. Manning was able to keep her full-time status, but to do so she needed to perform work in other departments. This resulted in her working a much more varied schedule. She often had to work a "swing shift," which involved following up a night shift with an early day shift.
Ms. Manning claimed the erratic shifts aggravated her diabetes, and her doctor agreed. She then requested to work more predictable hours, and submitted a doctor's note to Kohl's that supported her request. Kohl's managers then informed Ms. Manning that they could not fulfill her request to work more consistent shifts. However, at that time the management team also informed her that they would be willing to consider and discuss other accommodations.
At this time, Ms. Manning became upset and said she had "no other choice but to quit," claiming that if she continued to work unpredictable hours she could go into ketoacidosis or a coma. She then put her store keys on the table and left the room.
A manager followed her and attempted to calm her down. The manager asked Ms. Manning to reconsider resigning and discuss other potential accommodations. Ms. Manning responded by saying, "Well, you just told me corporate wouldn't do anything for me." She then cleaned out her locker and left the building.
A few days later, she contacted the EEOC, which sued Kohl's on her behalf, claiming the company failed to accommodate her disability.
A district court threw the EEOC's lawsuit out, and that decision was later upheld by an appellate court. Both said Manning had failed to engage in the ADA's required interactive process.
According to the appellate court,
"The interactive process involves an informal dialogue between the employee and the employer in which the two parties discuss the issues affecting the employee and potential reasonable accommodations that might address those issues. ...It requires a bilateral cooperation and communication."
Kohl's tried to initiate that dialogue, but Ms. Manning did not, the court said. So she could not claim Kohl's failed to accommodate her disability.
This case serves as an important reminder that both employers and employees have ADA responsibilities. The interactive process the ADA requires must involve an interaction between all the parties involved – and not a one-way conversation in which one party dictates to the other what accommodations can be made. Additionally, it is important to note that physicians cannot dictate the terms of accommodations either, although their input should always be taken into consideration.
As an employer, you made the difficult decision to close your office due to the big (or not as big as expected) blizzard so that no one needs to cross-country ski their way in. You've taken into account the safety and well-being of your employees – but now you're wondering "Am I required to pay my workforce if I made the decision to close the office?" The answer to this question typically depends on whether your employees are "exempt" salaried or not.
Exempt Employees: If your exempt employees worked any portion of the workweek, you are required by law to pay their entire salary, whether or not the workplace is closed for a natural disaster, such as snow, hurricane, or flood. FLSA regulations state, "If the employee is ready, willing, and able to work, deductions may not be made for time when work is not available." This would include natural disasters, so if your employees are able to work after a blizzard then they must be paid even if they didn't work any portion of the week. Additionally, if they can't get there on time or have to leave early due to the blizzard but the office is open, you cannot deduct for any partial days they worked.
Vacation Time and PTO: You CAN deduct from their vacation time or PTO for the time taken. However, if they have no accrued vacation or PTO available, you still cannot deduct from their pay if they are exempt.
Non-Exempt Employees: If your employees are non-exempt, then you do not have to pay for the time the office is closed. However, if you take deductions from a non-exempt salaried employee it may affect the way overtime is calculated. If he/she reports to work after a natural disaster, only to find out that the workplace is closed (assuming he/she was not notified of the closure), then your state law may require some pay.
State by State: New York law and the District of Columbia law require employers to pay employees at least four hours of wages. Massachusetts and Rhode Island require three hours of pay. New Hampshire requires two hours minimum pay for showing up. New Jersey and Oregon laws require employers to pay employees at least one hour of wages. Other states that have some requirements for pay if workers report for duty as scheduled include California (2-4 hours) and Connecticut (only certain industries, 2 – 4 hours).
The Affordable Care Act has caused several employers to reconsider their current employee benefits plans. Whether your business is just now being required to offer health insurance (as part of the employer mandate), or if you've always offered health insurance, it's likely that recent events have brought your company's benefits plans to the forefront of executive conversations. Here are three best practices employers should keep in mind when thinking about employee benefits administration.
- Thinking of Benefits as Part of the Strategic Plan. If your business is considering tweaking or even redesigning its current plans, think about your benefits plan as an extension of your company's overall strategic plan and mission – what do your plans say about your company to potential recruits? Take a moment to think about the kind of employee your organization wants to employ, and design a plan that not only attracts these employees but encourages them to stay for years to come. If you do find that a change in your employee benefits administration is in order, consider consulting with an expert third-party administrator who can tailor an employee benefits package for your company.
- Ensuring Employees Understand Their Benefits. Creating a great employee benefits program is one thing. Explaining those benefits in a way that employees understand is quite another. If your workers don't fully understand your company's benefits, they won't be able to take full advantage of them. Taking the time to educate employees on their benefits options will result in greater participation and fewer confused employees when it comes time for them to choose a plan.
- Implementing Workplace Wellness Policies. As of 2013, almost half of all US employers offered some sort of wellness program or initiative, ranging from on-site gyms or exercise classes to simple, employee-driven initiatives like creating walking groups. Beyond serving as fun perks to current and potential employees, encouraging and incentivizing employee health has several clear advantages that can have a significant impact on your company's bottom line. Creating a culture that promotes overall health and wellness can help decrease the number of workplace accidents, lower insurance costs, and reduce employee absenteeism.
Employers have extensive options for customizing their voluntary benefits programs. The list can include anything from employer-negotiated banking fees and travel insurance to a dry-cleaning service and discounted days at amusement parks.
Like any benefits program, the primary purpose of voluntary value-added benefits is to help employers attract and retain a talented workforce. If chosen well, voluntary benefits offerings can also help organizations build their brands.
But providing too many options may overwhelm employees. Ask workers which voluntary benefits would best meet their needs or strive to address potential trouble spots; you can do this individually or ask your HR department to conduct a survey. Some options include:
- Non-Retirement Savings: If a large number of workers are taking out loans against their 401(k) plans, they may be having financial difficulties. An employer with a large proportion of middle-income employees might offer a voluntary payroll deduction savings program that allows workers to pay for unplanned expenses, such as new appliances, vacations, or a major car repair, through individual paycheck deductions.
- Care Advisory Services: Alleviate distraction and absenteeism by helping employees to manage the health and well-being of children, elderly relatives – and themselves. Consider offering an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which can provide support for the issues previously listed as well as substance abuse, emotional distress, and financial or non-work related legal concerns.
- Voluntary Health Offerings: In addition to your existing health, dental, and vision offerings, think about including supplemental (i.e. employee paid-for/voluntary) life insurance, long-term disability, and critical-illness plans.
Please meet Stephanie Henshaw – one of our Client Services Specialists here at HRi. Stephanie serves as the primary point of contact for a number of our clients. She is responsible for payroll processing and benefit administration. If you have any questions about your payroll deductions or need to make a change to your mailing address or add a dependent to your health insurance, she is the one to call!
Here's a little information to get to know Stephanie better:
- Favorite color: Purple
- Favorite book: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
- Favorite movie: Transformers
- Favorite sports team: Washington Redskins