Don’t Get Spooked… Avoid These HR Horror Stories!

halloween hr horror stories pumpkins

Running an HR department can be… frightful! Between changing federal and state laws, misinformed managers, and terrifying penalties, it’s easy to find yourself in an HR nightmare.

In honor of this year’s “Spooky Season”, our team has put together four common HR Horror Stories, and are sharing our tips to avoid them. Read on… If you dare!

1. Termination With No Documentation

How It Happens

One of the most frequently frightful HR situations we see is termination with no documentation. Usually, these terminations are valid and based on genuine performance issues.

However, whether stemming from dread of confrontation or simple ignorance, failing to document performance issues leading up to termination can have disastrous consequences.

Costs You Can Be Facing

Failing to address mistakes and unacceptable behavior with employees right when it happens increases your risk of facing a lawsuit. Fighting these types of claims can cost around $10k-15k just in attorney fees or EPLI deductibles.

How To Prevent This

First, be sure to clearly address any performance issues with employees as soon as possible.

Next, document these situations. This can be in the form of written warnings as well as recap emails of verbal conversations. Be sure to include as many detailed facts as possible (dates, location, others involved, etc.).

Finally, if you do not already have one, create an internal progressive discipline policy. This should serve as a reference for your HR team so that employee discipline is carried out fairly and uniformly.

2. Missed Meal Periods

How It Happens

As you probably know, California employers do not need to provide meal breaks for shifts shorter than 6 hours. However, things can get tricky if an employee scheduled for a 5-hour shift ends up working longer.

For example, if a restaurant gets busy at the end of the employee’s shift or if another worker calls out, causing the employee to stay late.

Under California law, non-exempt employees are entitled to 30 minutes of an uninterrupted meal period within the first 5 hours of their shift.

With this in mind, it is essential for managers to pay attention to employee shifts to ensure employees are provided or at least informed of their meal breaks in a timely manner.

Costs You Can Be Facing

Neglecting to pay missed meal violations can lead to hefty penalties and even a class-action lawsuit. If a class-action lawsuit is filed against you, a settlement would likely cost upwards of $100,000. If you then chose to litigate and the case went to trial, these costs could increase exponentially.

How To Prevent This

First, take a moment to brush up on your understanding of California Meal & Rest Break requirements in SDP’s HR Support Center.

Next, make sure your non-exempt employees are aware that they are entitled to their meal and rest periods. You can provide this information in your employee handbook. However, best practice is to also clearly communicate this during new employee onboarding.

Finally, create a process to regularly check for any missed meals. This can be done manually, or by setting up alerts in an automated timekeeping system like SDP Time.

Top Tip: If you later find an employee has missed their meal period, you are still required to pay them the violation penalty. However, you can have a conversation to remind them to clock out on time if working more than 5-6 hours. If they still fail to clock out on time moving forward, you will still need to pay the penalty, but you can go through the disciplinary process for insubordination.

3. Final Paycheck Errors

How It Happens

When terminating an employee, it’s important to properly document, follow progressive discipline, and conduct a termination meeting with all the required notices. But there’s also the matter of the final paycheck.

In California, unused vacation is considered vested wages and must be paid out at the time of termination. Failing to pay the employee the correct amount can result in steep penalties and lost time from going back to reconcile.

Costs You Can Be Facing

The Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) defines the calculation for waiting penalties. These are measured at the employee’s daily rate of pay and are calculated by multiplying the daily wage by the number of days that the employee was not paid, up to a maximum of 30 calendar days.

How To Prevent This

Ensure you understand federal and state laws regarding wages. For instance, you will want to understand laws pertaining to:

  • Minimum wage
  • Penalties and overtime
  • State-specific on-call or standby pay
  • Unused vacation
  • Reporting time pay

You can learn more about California’s laws regarding vacation time in our HR Support Center here.

4. Failure to Conduct Timely Investigations

How It Happens

Whenever an employee reaches out to their supervisor with a harassment complaint, this should be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, we often see situations where a supervisor does not believe the alleged party committed harassment and therefore fails to act and report the situation to HR.

Unaddressed complaints–especially if the harassment continues–can lead to lawsuits and reports to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

Costs You Can Be Facing

There are many Federal laws that require employers to investigate complaints regarding harassment, safety, retaliation, discrimination, and ethical issues in a timely manner.

By failing to get ahead of a harassment complaint, you have both the issues of harassment and failure to take action. With both issues, you are now looking at a claim that could cost you around half a million dollars.

How To Prevent This

To start, inform employees from the beginning of their employment what may constitute unwelcome behavior. While certain states require harassment prevention training (i.e. California!), best practice is to ensure employees understand this regardless of location.

Then, create (or update!) your discrimination and harassment handbook policy to outline these unacceptable behaviors. You can also include an additional stand-alone policy if you’d like to really drive home the message to employees.

Next, ensure that you train all supervisors and managers to handle complaints consistently. This can either be noting down the information and reaching out to HR or simply telling the employee to go to HR directly.

Finally, create a process that can help you keep consistency when conducting investigations. This process should also be based on fact-finding (no asking leading questions during the interviews) and should ensure proper documentation is made. This should also include preventive measures to ensure no additional issues are created during the period of the investigation.

Don’t Get Spooked!

If you have any HR questions, or could use some extra help avoiding your own HR Horror Stories, don’t be afraid to contact our team at SDP! We have HR service tiers for all business sizes and budgets.

Plus, our HR Services Department is always available to answer any additional questions you may have. Finally, don’t forget to follow us on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn for even more business tips and news.

Photo by Toni Cuenca from Pexels

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