‘Cowboy as Religion’ and 5 Other Classic Employee Misunderstandings of Employment Law

Praying cowboyHR professionals live in a world where sentences like, “Oh no, the EEOC says we violated the FMLA and ADA, and the DOL is looking at our BYOD policy,” actually trigger fear instead of just wide-eyed confusion.

So HR may be taken aback by how little some employees understand about the laws that are meant to protect them in the workplace. (“No, Kevin, FMLA doesn’t stand for the Friday-Monday Leave Act!“)

This fall, The HR Specialist surveyed HR professionals and asked them to share their best stories of situations in which employees totally misunderstood, misinterpreted or completely maligned an employment law or company policy. Here are some of the real winners (feel free to add your own story in the comments section) …

1. HEALTH INSURANCE. Refunds on health premiums? “I had one employee who thought his health insurance premiums should be reimbursed since he didn’t see a doctor and didn’t use it that year. I had to tell him that the premiums were the price for peace of mind.”

2. UNEMPLOYMENT. Unemployed, but educated. “An employee went through three weeks of training then quit two hours after she hit the production floor. She said she never really wanted the job, then asked, ‘How do I get my unemployment check?’ When I explained the problems with her quitting her first job after only two hours, she said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that. Can I have my job back?’ My answer was ‘No.’”

3. TERMINATIONS. Retired, but not really. “One of my favorite statements from an employee was an older worker who actually told me, ‘I am here to relax, not work. I am retired you know.”

4. DISCRIMINATION. Cowboy as a religion. “I was the HR director for the Federal Reserve Bank and we had strict security measures. A manager in the Cash Operations Department asked an employee to remove his cowboy hat because it blocked the security camera’s view of his face. He complained to me that he was being discriminated against based on religion. When I asked for details he said that being a cowboy is a religion in Oklahoma. Obviously, he removed his hat.”

5. HARASSMENT. Only one harassment per employee, sir. “At a sexual harassment prevention class for managers, I made the statement that, ‘The welcomeness of the act is based on the perception of the receiver.’ One manager piped up and said, ‘So we get to do it one time and then if they don’t like it we don’t do again?’ I knew then that it was going to be a long class!”

6. EMPLOYEE LEAVE. Delegating your discipline. “An employee who continued to violate the tardiness policy was given a reprimand and was required to call in if she was running late. One day, the HR manager took a call from a gentleman who said, ‘I don’t usually do this, but I have a person here who is very, very agitated and saying she must contact you because she is running late. I need to inform you that will not be in today because she is being arraigned in court and is now in my jail!’ This occurred at a law office.”