HR Learner in Development

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A recent issue of Parents Magazine published an article about maternity leaves and the importance of knowing your rights under the Family Medical Leave Act, or as most would call FMLA. As both a mother recently returned from my maternity leave and the point person for Leave Management for my Division, I could not agree with the need for this type of reminder more. So I hope you don’t mind me piggy-backing to spend a little time discussing leave management.

My role leave management role withing the Division sounds simple.  Track people’s leaves.  Mark leaves accurately in time sheets.  Process any actions related to pay changes in our HR Information System.  Where it gets complicated is when people don’t follow policy, don’t know that they can take leaves, or don’t know that they actually have to let us when when they return.

For just a little bit of information on FMLA, it protects an individual’s job from being taken away if he or she needs to take some time away from the office to tend to a medical condition, for self or for a family member.  Every company with at least 50 employees working within a 75 mile radius (the specifications get more granular than this but I don’t want to bore you) must grant 12 weeks of unpaid protected time to any employee who has worked at least 12 months and1,250 hours within the last 12 months before the leave.  This protects individuals who are out for a continuous amount of time (surgery and recovery, including delivery of a child), as well as intermittent time (regularly occurring symptoms & scheduled doctors visits to treat).  While every company falling under the guidelines must give this time by law, some go above and beyond to allow some, all, or even more than this time to be paid time.

Other laws, like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect disability leaves, and require organizations to provide reasonable accommodations to those with disabilities, including extending potential leave time.

In HR, we need an accurate picture of who is out and when so that we can have each individual paid correctly, as well as to potentially provide support to any department in need of additional assistance.  In all honesty, we do not need to know why an individual is out, and sometimes it is better if we don’t know, but we do need to know how it affects the work that the individual does on a daily basis.  Therefore, it is important that we receive doctors notes, not to police, but out of concern for the healing individual.  We want to see proof that the individual is ready to return and able to do the job they were assigned, and if there are any tasks that an individual can still not do as a result of their recovery or continued impairment, we need to not take any retaliatory actions against the employee for not doing what they used to be capable of doing.  No, we don’t want to get sued, but we also really want the employee to be healthy and well, too.

Not all leaves are created equal, but tracking them all is very important


It is also true, however, that people can take advantage of company leave policies.  It then becomes important to know when an individual was out, whether it was protected or unprotected time, and whether they followed the procedure for requesting and notifying the proper people at the right times in order to determine whether coaching conversations or disciplinary actions need to take place.

Ultimately, the organizations that respect individuals leaves will see a better uptick in loyalty from those people who took leaves.  The more generous a leave policy is, though, does not translate to greater and greater loyalty.  There must be a line where employees know they can not take advantage of the organizations generosity.  Organizations benefit from healthy workers.  But unhealthy workers can benefit from being under the wing of a healthy organization.

Take some time to review the leave policies in your department, organization, state, and federal area.  What you find may give you peace of mind, or may show you where you can help illuminate a potential growth area.  Stay healthy! But if you can’t, know your rights.

It’s December again, and the return of the holiday office party is on a comeback.  This is often a time for colleagues to mix and mingle, and potentially unwind with a little assistance of alcohol.  While these festivities help us all to celebrate another year of hopefully successful business, tread lightly.  Office parties are rife with openings for sexual harassment.

The EEOC (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) defines sexual harassment as “…unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature”.  Legal precedent has warned us that office parties, even those after work hours and extensions of these parties by subsets of co-workers, can be viewed as an extension of the workplace.  Therefore, it is the responsibility of the employer to deter this potential behavior as much as possible.

While it would be easy just to suggest no alcohol to be served at these functions,  it would be unrealistic.  There are many in my own office environment who would barely bother going to the party unless alcohol was being served.  So let’s just assume that removing the alcohol from the situation is unlikely.  Continuing in that vein, removing the stupidity of over consumption must be mitigated as early as possible.

Step one actually begins before the party.  Make sure your employees are all aware of the company’s harassment policy.  Now may be a good time to provide harassment prevention training; if not to all employees, to your  managers and those who would have to manage the complaint proceedings.  Confirm that your policy is current and accessible to all employees.  Be sure to make clear to all that office parties are not exempt from following the policies provided by your company.

So here’s a little dramatization of what could happen:

Tonya and Chris are acquaintances at work; they share the same floor and say good morning to each other every day. As the floor often does as a group, they celebrate each other’s birthdays with cake and coffee.  Outside of work, Tonya has a steady boyfriend, and Chris is single.  They both go to the holiday party and start to have a drink or two.  Tonya and Chris start dancing together, and both really enjoy it.  During one particular dance, Chris picks Tonya up in his arms and swings her.  At this point, Tonya starts to get a little uncomfortable.  She starts to worry about Chris’ intentions, especially since she is in a committed relationship herself.  She decides to sit the next couple dances out, and mulls around with some of her other co-workers.  As the night approaches a close, Chris offers to take Tonya home.  She politely declines and goes home on her own.

There is nothing in this scene that was particularly harassment.  However, Tonya could have convinced herself that Chris is in love with her and now dreads even walking past him at work, as she usually does.  Any glance or touch that follows this initial event is going to have Tonya on guard.  The discomfort that she feels may lead her to take action, and bring it to the attention of her supervisor.  Whether Chris was intentionally making advances or not is no different.  The fact that advances are perceived-rationally or irrationally- is.  And the discomfort that Tonya feels, if pervasive, may be sufficient grounds for a sexual harassment suit.

Office parties can open this door to litigation.  It may be one solitary event that creates grounds for filing a claim, or it could be little moments that build into an undeniable trend.  I repeat, tread lightly.  These events are most likely going to be benign, but they do have a potential of bringing out the worst in people.

Step two can actually be done at the party, and that is to literally police the event.  If you notice an individual or a group becoming noticeably rowdy, try to step in, and remind them, again that this is a work function, and an extension of their professional selves.  Individuals are expected to act professionally.

While it may be impossible to prevent every incident of harassment, employers will make it through these cases with their integrity in tact if they can prove they did everything they could to prevent them and if they do as their policy suggests.

I reiterate a similar sentiment from earlier posts – if you don’t have a harassment policy, get one.  Get one now.

To return next week

Thank you for being patient. I will return.

I would like to take a moment to express my joy in returning to my blog.  The past few months have taken a mental and emotional toll on me both at work and home, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope to return to a more regular posting schedule, as was planned at the beginning of the year, and I hope those who have been interested in what I have had to say will pick up the pieces with me.

Over the past few months I have had to focus all of my energies on my work.  I have hit some hurdles and reached a stride.  I have some new ideas on posts I can use in the future, and I look forward to sharing what I have learned.

Until that point, thank you for sticking around.  I intend to have smoother sailing from now on.