April 2015 Brain Teaser

Brain Teaser Courtesy of EPLI Pro™

The issue: 

Every company has one, a difficult employee to deal with. They are late, insubordinate, poor performers, and well…just bad! To add insult to injury, you attempt to discipline this employee by writing her up. During your discussion, the employee exclaims, "I'm not signing that, it's not true and I don't agree with it!"

How should you handle this issue? 

A. You stop the meeting and shred the write up. What's the point, she won't sign it.

B. Terminate the employee for not signing the write up. That's insubordination.

C. Write in "Refused to Sign" and the date on the employee signature line. The disciplinary action is valid and in force.

The answer is C.

This a common occurrence, especially with difficult employees who have no intention of adhering to your policies. They think they have found a loophole that keeps you from disciplining them. Not true. Make sure you write “Refused to Sign," date the document, and give the employee a copy. Take notes of the meeting and whether the employee refused to sign and why. Include statements made by the employee. It is advised to have a witness, usually another manager, attend the disciplinary meeting to corroborate your account of the facts. If the employee claims they never received the disciplinary action, you can confidently testify that it was delivered, along with a witness statement, and a copy of the disciplinary action.

October 2014 HR Brain Teaser

Brain Teaser Courtesy of EPLI Pro™

Play Nice!

You have two management level employees that are constantly bickering. They would each like to see the other terminated. 

You heard a rumor that these two managers went to blows about a scheduling issue. Their screaming match was witnessed by other employees and customers. You plan to bring them both into your office and discuss their behavior. Likely, both managers will be disciplined for their respective unprofessional behavior.

Before you get a chance to talk to them, one of the managers (a woman) comes to your office complaining that two former employees abruptly quit because the other manager (a male) had created a hostile working environment. In particular, she claims that he sexually harassed these employees; allegedly, he propositioned one of the former employees (who was only 15 years old) in exchange for a raise.

What should you do?

A.  Do nothing about the sexual harassment complaint since the complaint is hearsay about former employees, and continue with the planned meeting regarding the managers’ unprofessional behavior.

B.  Do nothing about the sexual harassment complaint since the complaining manager is not credible, and discipline them both for their unprofessional behavior.

C.  Investigate the sexual harassment, and continue with the planned meeting with both managers about their behavior. Regardless of the outcome of the meeting with the managers, you cannot discipline the female manager because she brought a sexual harassment complaint to your attention.

D.  Investigate the sexual harassment complaint, and address the unprofessional behavior of both managers. Upon completion of the meeting with the managers, take whatever disciplinary action is appropriate.

Answer:  D     You should take every complaint of sexual harassment seriously, and investigate. Do your best to interview every witness, including the former employees. You should not reject the complaint, out of hand, because you predetermine the complainant is not credible. Once the investigation is completed, take any necessary and appropriate remedial action.

You should also meet with the managers and discuss their unprofessional behavior. If they do not admit screaming at each other in front of other employees and customers, further investigate this incident. If the verbal altercation is confirmed, you should discipline both individuals involved.

However, be aware that the female manager may contend that she was retaliated against because she participated in a sexual harassment investigation. The U.S. Supreme Court held that witnesses in sexual harassment investigations are protected from retaliation. While retaliation may be a viable claim, the circumstances would not seem to support her possible retaliation claim provided the unprofessional behavior relates to something other than sexual harassment, and is clearly documented by several witnesses including unbiased customers.

Applied Staffing Solutions Applied Business Solutions
Divisions of The Applied Companies
We Have All Your Employment Answers

July 2014 HR Brain Teaser

Brain Teaser Courtesy of EPLI Pro™

Underperforming Employee

You’ve had an employee who started work for you in 2012. Recently, she has been missing deadlines, becoming sloppy with her work, and isn’t performing as well as she had in the past. You talked to her but there wasn’t any documentation. During your conversation, the employee admitted to being careless. She told you she’d improve but she didn’t.

Yesterday this employee asked for a few days off to attend a convention for her church. You let her go but it didn’t help matters, her performance continued to slide. While she was out, you found a significant error that she’d made that impacted a customer.

Based on her decline in performance and the recently discovered error, you decide to terminate her. From your perspective, it shouldn’t have been a surprise; you’ve been talking to her about the problems.

You were shocked when you received a charge from the EEOC claiming discrimination based on religion. You didn’t fire her because of her religion, she wasn’t doing her job! You tried to explain that to the EEOC.

Likely, the EEOC responded:

A. They completely understood. Once you explained the course of events, they could understand why she needed to be terminated and dismissed the charge.

B. They asked you and her supervisor a lot of questions. It seemed like they were looking for ways that you’d discriminated against her. Making implications that you didn’t feel were accurate. It was very frustrating. You didn’t feel it went well and you don’t know what will happen next.

C. They asked to see documentation of her performance problems. They wanted to see the evidence that you’d talked to her. They asked if she was disciplined for her behavior, in writing. They asked a lot of questions about her absence and why you terminated directly after it. In the end, they concluded you had discriminated against her and her termination was retaliation for taking the time off to attend her church conference.

Answer:  C  Managers oftentimes simply talk to any employee about declining performance rather than doing a formal write-up. Like the case at hand, failure to write-up the employee can be a critical mistake. The only documentation in the employee’s file was positive performance reviews. You said she was underperforming but there’s no documented evidence of that. She engaged in protected activity, i.e. attending a religious conference, and was terminated shortly thereafter. You have no other documentation to show that she’d been warned previously and that your decision was based on progressive discipline. Without documentation, the EEOC concludes that the termination must be related to the employee attending the religious event. 

Applied Staffing Solutions Applied Business Solutions
Divisions of The Applied Companies
We Have All Your Employment Answers

June 2014 HR Brain Teaser

Brain Teaser Courtesy of EPLI Pro™

You have an employee who’s a vegan, and has strong views on animal rights. She closes each of her emails with a quote from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that reflects PETA’s political and emotionally charged views on animal rights. You have another employee who’s deeply Christian, and has begun a similar practice - closing his emails with quotes from the Bible or religious homilies of an unknown source.

Recently, your biggest client made a crack about the “radical whale hugger” at your office. While you feel fortunate that this client was willing to laugh it off, you’re concerned that other clients might not be as understanding regarding business email messages that contain references to political or religious views to which they don’t subscribe.

You want to instruct your employees that, when it comes to the company email system, “strictly business” is the order of the day.  Can you?

A.  No, this is free speech and protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
B.  Yes, you can.

Answer: B  Of course, free speech is protected in the United States, but the problem here is how and when these messages are being delivered - on your time, in your Company’s name, and with your email system. You have the right to control the content of Company email, but be sure to do so on a consistent basis - tell your people to stick to business related content, and save the politics and religion for their own time and communications systems.

Applied Staffing Solutions Applied Business Solutions
Divisions of The Applied Companies
We Have All Your Employment Answers

May 2014 HR Brain Teaser

Brain Teaser Courtesy of EPLI Pro™

Handbook Revisions

Mary has been hired as the HR Director for a large manufacturing company. One of the first things the Company President, her boss, asks her to do is update the employee handbook. Seems like a reasonable request. A quick review reveals that many of the policies are outdated, or worse, dead-wrong! Mary informs her boss that the handbook will most likely need a complete overhaul. Her boss laughs and says that HR people are too worrisome and he's certain that the handbook just needs a few "touch-ups".

Not wanting to argue with her new boss, Mary heads back to her office and sits down to carefully review the handbook.

Dress Code

All employees are expected to dress appropriately for the workplace. All employees are required to report to work in the proper safety gear prior to entering the manufacturing plant. No exceptions will be made for any reason or for any amount of time. Failure to report to work in your safety gear and remain in your gear for your entire shift will result in discipline, up to and including, termination.

What recommendation should Mary make to her boss regarding this policy?

A.  The policy is solid, no changes needed.

B.  The policy is problematic because employers can't tell employees what to wear.

C.  An employer can dictate how employees dress at work; however, the policy should be revised to allow for limited exceptions.

Answer:  C   As written, the “Dress Code” policy is too restrictive. In choosing a dress code policy, companies need to be mindful of the fact that a company may need to make an accommodation for a religious belief or a disability. Deleting the statement “no exceptions will be made for any reason or for any amount of time” may be enough to correct the policy.

Applied Staffing Solutions Applied Business Solutions
Divisions of The Applied Companies
We Have All Your Employment Answers

April 2014 HR Brain Teaser

Brain Teaser Courtesy of EPLI Pro™

The company provides employees with a refrigerator to use in the lunch room.  Except for the occasional complaint (e.g. "My leftover meatloaf is missing!") there hasn't been any significant issue - until now.

A new employee has gone to HR and requested that management prohibit employees from storing non-kosher meats in the lunch room refrigerator. The employee explains his religious beliefs forbid him from storing his food with non-kosher foods. Bells and whistles go off: religious accommodations are required. HR assures the employee the company will make the change immediately. HR prepares a sign, "NO MEAT ALLOWED IN REFRIGERATOR - effective immediately."

Within minutes, HR's in-box is full of emails from employees complaining about the new policy.

What, if anything, do you think this HR department should have done differently?

A.  Nothing.

B.  Speak with the new employee about his religious beliefs to determine if there's a solution that will satisfy him and other employees.

C.  There's no reason to talk to the new employee any further. Take the sign off the refrigerator and buy him a small refrigerator where he can store his food.

D.  Send a reply to the complaining employees and explain that they should take up their issues with the new employee. After all, it was his request.

Answer:   The best answer is B     Employers with 15 or more employees are required under federal law to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. The employee threshold is lower in many states (e.g. California). The law, however, doesn’t require that the employer blindly implement the employee’s first request. As with disability accommodations, the employer must talk to the employee to determine the specific needs of the employee and how the employer can accommodate those needs.

Here, the employer should have spoken with the employee to get more information on his belief. You can’t discuss an accommodation without understanding the employee’s needs. Don’t judge the beliefs and needs. Perhaps in the situation above, the employee would have been able to clarify what he means by non-kosher meat. At a minimum, the employer should have explored other options before immediately putting the sign on the refrigerator.

Applied Staffing Solutions Applied Business Solutions
Divisions of The Applied Companies
We Have All Your Employment Answers

March 2014 HR Brain Teaser

Brain Teaser Courtesy of EPLI Pro™

Let it snow...

The news reports all predict yet another winter storm. You know from past experience that the roads will be hazardous, people will likely stay home and that, therefore, you won't have a lot of customers at your business today.

Now you need to make a decision: do you have all your previously scheduled employees report to work? Do you stay open? What can you do?

Which of the following statements are correct?

A.  A business can close during natural disasters, including bad weather. You don't have to pay hourly employees when the business is closed due to inclement weather.

B.  If a business has already scheduled employees to work prior to the natural disaster, then those employees should be paid regardless of whether those employees show up to work or not.

C.  A business can close during natural disasters, including bad weather. You don't have to pay hourly employees when the business is closed due to inclement weather. If, however, you're unable to reach employees who were previously scheduled to work, and they report to work, you may be subject to "reporting" or "show-up" pay, depending on your particular state laws.

Answer:   A and C are the correct answers

Applied Staffing Solutions Applied Business Solutions
Divisions of The Applied Companies
We Have All Your Employment Answers

February 2014 HR Brain Teaser

Brain Teaser Courtesy of EPLI Pro™

You Have to Give Me the Day Off!

An employee informs you that he has just converted to a new faith. His new faith prohibits him from working on Xday. He tells you that he'll be in need of a religious accommodation starting this Xday and from now on.

You reply, "Wait, you agreed to cover that day when I hired you; if you're not available, I'll have to pay overtime which I can't afford."

He replies, "It's required by my faith."

What should you do?

A.  Require him to bring you written proof from a religious authority, that he's a member of this new faith, and that his faith requires him not to perform any work on Xday.

B.  Grant the request - you have no choice!

C.  Talk to him to see if there's another option, other than not reporting to work, that would allow him to satisfy his religious belief.

D.  Deny the request.

Answer: C     Federal law and many state laws require employers to reasonably accommodate a “bona fide religious belief or practice”, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. You should look for ways that you can accommodate, rather than having your initial response be that it’s an “undue hardship” or not possible.

Unlike many leave regulations, there’s no right to confirmation of a “bona fide religious belief or practice”, nor does it have to be a mainstream religion. So you may not ask for written  confirmation.

You need to talk with your employee and determine what it is that his faith requires. If you determine that there are other ways to accommodate his needs rather than just taking the whole day off then you should propose those to him and discuss the options. Maybe he can trade shifts with any qualified employee who voluntarily agrees to cover your shift without requiring the business to incur overtime expenses. In the end, you need to accommodate him.

Explore the alternatives, and seek the advice of a human resource professional or employment law attorney if you have questions.

Applied Staffing Solutions Applied Business Solutions
Divisions of The Applied Companies
We Have All Your Employment Answers

January 2014 HR Brain Teaser

Brain Teaser Courtesy of EPLI Pro™

What Should You Do?

Your best employee, Mary, walks into your office on Monday and announces that she has made the best New Year’s Resolution of all time. Curiosity gets the best of you and you ask, “What is it?” Mary smiles from ear to ear and makes the following announcement, “This year I have resolved to be nice to even the worst of the worst people!” You reply, with a smile, “Sounds great!”

Mary starts walking towards you and places her hand on your shoulder. There is something about the way she is looking at you that makes you worried. Mary begins to speak and your fears are confirmed. Mary begins to tell you, her supervisor, are the worst of the worst. For what seems like forever, Mary tells you all the things you have ever done wrong as her supervisor and as a human being in general. As you listen your blood begins to boil. You can hardly believe what you are hearing!

When Mary finally finishes her monologue, she turns to leave the room.

You should do the following:

A. Pick up your pencil and throw it at her head.

B. Discipline her for being rude.

C. Talk to someone in HR and figure out whether Mary can be fired  -  or at
     least find out what can be done. 

D. Yell back at Mary and tell her all the things she has done wrong.

Answer: C     Hopefully everyone got this one correct! What Mary did was rude and probably not the best career move, but you are a supervisor and you should not respond with anger or pencil throwing violence! Speak with someone in HR and explain what happened and ask for advice. Maybe Mary raised some valid concerns that you should address. Or, maybe Mary is just simply rude and needs to be counseled by HR on how to interact with others at work. In either case, do the right thing and keep your emotions in control.

Applied Staffing Solutions & Applied Business Solutions
Divisions of The Applied Companies
We Have All Your Employment Answers