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The HR Specialist Forum

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Should we give out employee information (wage data, demographic information, etc.) to anyone who calls to request it? I suspect we need a policy for handling these situations, but (short of calling a lawyer) I don't know how to figure out what it should say. Do any of you have rules on how to handle such calls?—Pam J.
I would like to do a survey of our employees to find out what they think of our benefits and how HR could be more valuable to them. I have a couple questions.
  1. What’s the best way to get lots of people to complete the survey? I’m leaning toward an online survey, but I’ve never done one before. Do they work? Which online survey tools have you used?
  2. Should I conduct separate surveys of line employees and managers/execs? It seems like the perspectives would be pretty different.
  3. What kinds of questions should I ask? I’m thinking about asking them to rate different benefits on a 1 – 5 scale from “not valued” to “highly valued.” Any advice on how to do that best?
-- David B., Conn.
What percentage of our employees' health benefit premiums should we pay? We're looking at ways to save next year, and would really like to shift some of our costs to employees. However, we don't want to make ourselves uncompetitive compared to other employers. What percentage of health premiums do you pay?—Al D., Calif.
Recently, I was the HR rep sitting in on an applicant interview, when the hiring manager asked, “With working, family, and going to school, how will you be able to handle the workload?” I immediately told the applicant she didn’t have to answer, but she said it was OK and went ahead and replied. After the interview, I explained to the manager why it was an inappropriate question. Eventually we hired someone else for the job. But I’m a nervous wreck, fearing that this question will come back to haunt us in a lawsuit. Should I have done anything differently? Is there anything I can do now to make sure we don’t get in trouble?—Carolyn, KS
We’re getting ready to review our health coverage for next year, and I am dreading calling up the broker we have worked with for the last several years. Our rates keep going up and up, and frankly I'm not sure whether the broker does anything to help us besides get all the quotes and paperwork together. It occurs to me that we might want a new broker in addition to a new insurance carrier. What characteristics should I look for in a benefits broker? Any tips for finding a good one?—Marissa, OK
I handle our company’s payroll and suspect that we are misclassifying some workers—in terms of both exempt/nonexempt status and employee/independent contractor status. I told the owner about my concerns, but he has chosen to do nothing. Am I personally liable for this as the payroll administrator? Do I have an obligation to do more than alert the owner?—Sherry
We have a generous paid time off (PTO) policy: There’s no use-it-or-lose-it provision and there’s no limit on how much time off employees can accrue. However, four of our employees continually use up their PTO, often working only nine days out of 10 in a pay period. It’s all within the “letter of the law,” but other employees have started to grumble that these guys aren’t pulling their weight—and we have been very busy lately. Do you have any suggestions about how to break these employees of their “entitlement” attitude? They’re otherwise great employees.—Barbara
Almost all our staff is exempt, and almost everyone is great about making sure the work gets done no matter how many hours it takes. We have an informal tradition of granting comp time when people have been really busting it to finish a big project. Most our employees are happy with taking a three-day weekend here or cutting out early there. However, two employees have recently taken a very rigid attitude. If they are in on weekends or working late, they want those hours comped on a one-to-one basis. That's obviously not going to happen, so they've been grumbling and crabbing about it. Everyone is sick of the whining. What can I tell them to make them understand their expectations are out of line?—Joshua, Md.
We’re finally hiring again, which means our department of three is handling the HR needs of a company with 700 employees. There used to be more of us, but guess what—two HR jobs were eliminated in 2008. I’m trying to make the case that we need to hire at least one more HR professional, as we’re expecting to add at least 25 other positions this year. What’s the best ratio of HR staff to employees?—Jeannette, Mass.
We don't say anywhere that employees can't have tattoos, but our president (we're a bank) wants to implement a policy. Is it OK to put in our dress code that all tattoos must be covered up? Should we even be addressing the subject?—Joni, Utah
“I’m considering a career change into HR, but know very little about the field. How can I learn more? Where can I find training opportunities? What steps should I take?”—Dawn, California
“I have an employee who called in sick on the most important day of the month for his position. Rumor has it that he was upset about being disciplined the day before. Can I discipline him for calling in to work without a good excuse. He already won’t get paid for the day because he has used up all his sick and vacation time.”—Sharon R.
I need some help with an awkward situation at work. One of our managers travels often, so he leaves one of his direct reports in charge of his department during his absences. This person is consistently rude to everyone else when the boss is away. I've received complaints here in HR. How should I address this? With the manager, or with the employee?—S.S., California
HR pros wear lots of hats: coordinator of hiring and firing, benefits administrator, arbitrator of personal disputes, enforcer of company policies and — sometimes — counselor/confidant/shoulder to cry on. What's the toughest part of your job? Why? Is that different than you thought it would be when you entered the profession? — The HR Specialist Editors
I need some good employee-appreciation ideas—that don’t cost a lot of money. My company has about 500 employees working in different departments. I just started in HR about six months ago, and they don’t even recognize birthdays! I’d like to start an employee appreciation program. Some examples would help me sell the idea to top management. Can you share what you do in your company?—Rhonda, Miss.
Inappropriate attire … tardiness … poor work habits ... sexually offensive behavior … personal hygiene. HR professionals are routinely forced to discuss those uncomfortable topics with employees. What's the most awkward conversation you've ever had to have with an employee? How did you approach the discussion? How did it turn out?—The HR Specialist Forum Editors
With warmer weather approaching, I'm gearing up for the usual complaints about what's appropriate to wear to work. I'd like to come up with a policy that spells out a summer dress code. We want employees to be comfortable, but we also want to maintain a professional look among our staff. Can anyone share dress code language I can use?—Christy, Tulsa
I’ve had a very awkward situation come up: The wife of one of our employees called and said she suspected her husband was romantically involved with a co-worker. She wanted to know what I planned to do about it. I stammered something about employee privacy and tried to wiggle out of committing to do anything. This seems like a real can of worms. Should I look into this at all?—Syl, S.D.
Twice this month, we've had employees complain that they want to be paid extra because their supervisors asked them to perform tasks that aren't in their job descriptions. But job descriptions can't cover everything! Anyone else had this problem? How should we respond?—Melanie, Florida
Part of HR Specialist's celebration of HR Professionals Week (March 1 – 5) involved readers like you answering this question:

What's the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you during a job interview — either as an applicant or as a hiring manager?

You didin drovesand your responses appear below. Feel free to keep adding to our treasure trove of interviewing inanity.
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