Accommodating Employee Requests
Rules to Remember when Offering Workplace Flexibility
When an employee asks about rearranging the workday to accommodate a personal errand, most managers will try to work out a compromise that seems fair and reasonable. But sometimes actions taken with the best of intentions can backfire. Managers face serious risk if they run afoul of labor law. As the following scenarios illustrate, certain terms of employment are not negotiable.
Flexible Schedules: Often, an employee will offer to come in early or work late in order to “make up” for time off during the workday. But bosses must strictly comply with overtime compensation law. By working more hours in one workday as “make up,” the employee now becomes entitled to overtime pay.
Moving Break Times: Employees cannot waive lunch breaks in order to leave early nor can they consolidate mandatory rest breaks in order to create a longer leisure period. Non-exempt employees are required to have one 30-minute unpaid meal break each workday. In addition, the employee must take one 10-minute paid rest for each four hours of work. For each workday an employer fails to provide a work break or meal break, the employee is owed an additional hour of pay.
Accumulating Vacation: California has outlawed employment policies that mandate forfeiture of vacation hours after an employee has accumulated a certain amount of paid time off. Accrued vacation is a vested benefit that cannot be taken away once earned. Employers can manage use of vacation, however, such as imposing reasonable caps on use of hours or mandating cash-outs.
Promising Job Safety: Employment is presumed to be “at-will” in California; managers may terminate an employee “atwill”, with or without cause. Likewise, employees may resign when they desire. Employers should make their employees’ “at-will” status clear in job applications, employee handbooks, and in all employment agreements. Supervisors must avoid terms like “permanent employee” and should not make promises of future promotions or guarantees about duration of employment. In addition, a manager should avoid statements like “We’ve never fired people before” or “We only let people go if there’s a good reason.”
Exempt Status: Employers cannot convert a non-exempt employee to exempt status by simply paying them a flat salary. Exempt employees include executives, administrators, professionals, computer professionals, outside sales staff and commissioned inside salespeople. Nonexempt are those paid an hourly wage. These employees must receive overtime compensation, and be provided with meal and rest breaks.
Well-intentioned compromises, even if agreed upon, can be illegal and can cause headaches down the road. Make sure you consult with an attorney or HR director before making any creative arrangements in an employee’s schedule. A few minutes counseling is a minor cost compared to the potential dangers you face by just doing what you think is fair and right.