“Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini”
Unless you’re a lifeguard, a swim suit is almost never proper attire in the workplace. But bikinis are usually the least of your worries when it comes summertime dress-code rule breakers. Some employees may think warmer weather justifies tank tops, shorts, and t-shirts in the office. If you’re wondering whether you should crack down on the employee who’s wearing the very-nice-pair-of-bejeweled-leather-but-still-flip-flops, the first step is to check your company’s dress code.
Dress codes should be structured around the necessities of your operation, and grounded in legitimate business purposes. For example, flip flops – no matter how nice – could pose a safety hazard in a workplace with dangerous machinery. And shorts and t-shirts may not fit the corporate business image that your company wants to project with its customer-facing positions. But probably most important, enforce your dress codes evenly. You don’t want to zero in on a female employee’s short shorts and issue discipline, but then ignore the male employee’s “My Co-Workers Are Idiots” t-shirt logo.
The summer typically brings an avalanche of vacation requests, but you still have to run your business. So how can you ensure that your entire workforce doesn’t suddenly come down with the flu on July 3? There’s no magic bullet, but there are several things you can do to try to curb absenteeism during the summer, and all year round.
First, make sure your attendance policy is clear and precise. It should spell out exactly when employees can take excused absences (e.g., vacation, sick leave, or earned time off), and when absences will be considered unexcused and merit discipline. But remember, even if an employee is out of paid leave, he may still qualify for FMLA leave if he is absent for one of the qualifying reasons under that law, or leave under the ADA if he is disabled and leave would be a reasonable accommodation.
Second, consider rewarding employees for good attendance with things like perfect attendance awards or productivity bonuses. Employers always need to make sure these types of bonus programs are applied in a non-discriminatory manner and don’t interfere with employees’ rights under the FMLA, workers’ compensation, and other such laws. But when applied in a legal and legitimate manner, such reward programs have a proven track record of decreasing absenteeism in many companies.
Summer’s here, so you can hire all the free labor… errr, I mean, interns, you want, right? Not so fast. The Fair Labor Standards Act has strict rules governing internship programs, and you should closely scrutinize those rules before you decide not to pay your summer interns. The Department of Labor looks at six factors to determine whether an individual is properly classified as an unpaid intern, or should be considered an employee and paid at least the minimum wage:
- The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.
- The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
- The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
- The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
As these criteria make clear, the more the internship revolves around an academic or training program that benefits the intern, rather than focusing on the company’s operations and bottom line, the more likely you’ll be safe not paying your summer interns.
“Saturday In The Park”
So you want to throw a fun, staff appreciation picnic this summer? Break out the lawn darts.
But if you do, just remember that you could still be on the hook for workers’ compensation injuries suffered by employees at these events. Normally, employee injuries are not compensable under the Kansas workers compensation law if they happened while the employee was “engaged in [work-related] recreational or social events” so long as attendance and participation in those events is strictly voluntary.
However, as one Kansas employer recently discovered, whether an appreciation event was truly voluntary can become a sticky issue. In that case, the Kansas Supreme Court questioned whether a staff-appreciation go-kart racing event was truly voluntary, and whether the employee’s injuries suffered on the track were compensable under work comp. The court ultimately concluded that there was evidence that the employee may have had some duty to attend the racing event because his only alternative was to stay at work; and there was some pressure on employees to attend the racing event. The Court sent the case back to the Workers’ Compensation Board to decide whether attendance at the event was truly voluntary, and whether the employee had been specifically instructed to participate in the go-cart racing.
Maybe don’t require mandatory attendance and participation in that lawn-dart competition after all.
Summer can certainly bring interesting challenges for HR professionals, but following some simple guidelines might keep the company from suffering heat exhaustion:
- Make sure your dress-code, attendance, and other policies clearly communicate the work-place rules and the consequences for breaking those rules. Then, apply those rules evenly across employees.
- Always make sure you’re properly classifying individuals as employees or not. As is the case for independent contractors, misclassifying interns can be a costly mistake.
- Make sure summertime staff appreciation events are fun, safe, and voluntary.
Actually, these tips are good to follow all year round.