Friendly versus Friends

“I have a few employees who I consider to also be my friends. However, I’m noticing these friends don’t take me as seriously as my other employees do. How can I change this?”

Your HR Survival Tip

We see each other at work almost more than our family so it’s no wonder that coworkers become friends. Some of these friendships can even last much longer than the job itself. However, there is a difference when you are the owner or a manager.

As you mentioned, “friends” often don’t take you as seriously as other employees. This makes it much harder to be a good manager. If you neglect to discipline your friend in the same way you would another employee, two things happen. One, you potentially have a discrimination claim, and, two, your management style and policies are altered to accommodate the friendship instead of protecting the company and properly doing your job.

If you do treat everyone the same when they don’t do what you say or in accordance with your policy, the friend will be upset because they aren’t getting special treatment due to the friendship. Hopefully, that would be temporary and they would come to understand. In the end, for the good of your business, you need to let employees who are friends know they will not be treated differently in the workplace and they will be expected to follow all your rules, policies, and direction. The same applies to friends and family you are considering hiring. If they don’t understand this concept, you will either lose the employee or the friend or end up in a big fight.

It’s a tightrope you’re walking. And, as the saying goes, it’s lonely at the top. You do want to be friendly and accessible… and fair. But you may need to discipline, fire, or promote these employees in the future and must be able to fully justify your actions to them and others. Choose your priority… being a good manager/owner or being a good friend. It’s tough to be both successfully.

When an Employee is Too Good

“I have a fabulous employee that seems to want (and deserves) more than I’ll ever be able to provide. How do I handle this issue?”

Your HR Survival Tip

Is it possible for your employees to be too good for your company? Definitely. Especially when you have a small company. That may sound strange, but we’ve seen it happen several times.

You strive to hire people who are energetic, bright, and skilled. Everything works out great for a year or two and you’re patting yourself on the back about your brilliant recruiting abilities. In fact, you’ve already promoted this person once and they are ready for even more challenges.

Many companies will choose to create a new position for this stellar employee so they won’t lose them. But it’s a mistake you’ll pay for down the road. I can tell you that it’s tough to clean up a company full of employees with strange, made-up titles and inflated salaries.

Don’t promote promising employees into titles that can’t be sustained outside of your company. You aren’t doing anyone a favor by making them a senior manager with only the responsibilities of a supervisor. The title and level of responsibility should match up, both in your company and in others.

Your first responsibility is to your company. Ask yourself what positions are absolutely needed for maximum efficiency and production. If your best employees fit into those roles, great … promote them. But don’t make up roles just to placate your employees.

Small companies don’t have the number of departments and positions to allow much internal movement. Fighting this fact will only disrupt your company and lower employee morale due to perceived favoritism.

The best way to manage your stellar employee and extend the length of their employment is to find new challenges for them. Give them special projects that don’t belong to someone else. Have them help create training for others or give the training. Provide cross-training. Give them the task of coming up with ideas for expanding their position. Be imaginative.

If you are doing your job well, you need to be prepared to offer career advice that may take your best employees beyond your company. Sometimes, moving on is the only alternative for a good employee’s personal and career growth.

How to Set Goals for Employees

“I would really like to set goals for my employees but I don’t know how to create the process.”

Your HR Survival Tips

Effective goal-setting is a complex yet logical process. The following steps will help you create a simple goal-setting plan for each of your employees.

  • Identify the long-term goals — These are typically goals you’d like them to achieve over the next year. It can be learning new things or improving productivity, efficiency, or accuracy. Include metrics with goals whenever possible so you can measure success or improvement, such as increasing productivity by 5%.
  • Break down the long-term goals into short-term goals — Think about what they could do each month or quarter to ensure success in each long-term goal. Help them understand how to take baby steps toward long-term goals by asking them to make a list of what they think they need to achieve these goals. Discuss this with them to make sure they don’t need something more from you to be successful.
  • Recognize obstacles — Rarely do things move along without disruption. Make sure the goals and goal planning includes some thought about what might prevent them from achieving the goals. What obstacles might get in the way in their own job, the department, or the business?
  • Set deadlines — Every goal needs a deadline and a detailed explanation of what is expected by that date. Deadlines help both of you know which short-term goals should be completed by a specific date. Failure to meet deadlines requires you to review the reason to make sure the next deadline won’t be missed.
  • Schedule follow-ups — You are responsible for ensuring your employees are meeting deadlines and goals. Mark your own calendar with the deadlines and plan to meet with the employee to discuss the status of every goal and talk about how the process is working in general.
  • Modify as needed — While it’s great to have long-term and short-term goals, some companies are influenced by things out of their control. You need to be ready to adjust the goals while not losing sight of what you are trying to achieve with the employee.

Once you begin a goal-setting process, it’s important you keep up your end of it. This means you are checking on the status when deadlines are due, providing anything the employee needs, and discussing any problems with the employee. The moment you find you don’t have the time or interest to follow up, you’ll find the employee also loses interest. Then you both lose.

Salaries Up For Review

“I know the minimum wage increased but, when that happens, no one explains how it affects the salaries I pay.”

Your HR Survival Tips

Every time the minimum wage changes in any state, you need to review exempt salaries. State and federal laws have always used the same calculation to determine the minimum amount an exempt salaried employee can be paid in each state. The calculation is:

2 X state minimum wage X 2,080 = minimum salary

There are two important things to remember about salaried exempt employees:

  1. According to law, you must pay an exempt (salaried) employee at least twice as much as a minimum wage non-exempt (hourly) full-time employee, regardless of how few or how many hours the exempt employee works.
  2. The minimum salary is truly the minimum. That means there can be no unpaid days or hours off if you’re only paying the minimum. So if they take a day off or run out of sick time, you must keep paying the full salary. The moment you pay less than that minimum, you automatically turn that employee into a non-exempt hourly employee. This is why your exempt positions should really be earning more than the minimum.

You need to determine if each exempt salaried position is worth more than the minimum salary to your company. Yes, there is a limit to how much a position is worth. If it is worth the new minimum, you may already be paying your employee that amount or more. If the value of that position is below the minimum salary to you, get help to start making plans to convert the position to non-exempt (hourly).

When we say pay exempt salaried employees more than the minimum, consider at least $5,000 above the minimum. This gives you breathing room if the employee needs more time off and may help you avoid another increase when the minimum wage increases again. If you are paying ever below the minimum, get professional help to correct it because there are many things to consider to avoid claims.

How to Create a Pay Scale

One of the new laws going into effect in California on 1/1/2023 requires the disclosure of company pay information by employers. Pay scale disclosure (SB1162) applies to all employers, however, the rules are different for different company sizes.

All employers will be required to develop pay scales to comply with this law. In addition:

  • Companies with 1+ employees must provide any employee with their pay scale information (only for their position) if requested.
  • Companies with 15+ employees must also include pay scale information for any position postings when recruiting.
  • Companies with 100+ employees must also complete California’s pay data report for all positions by the 2nd Wednesday of each May.

A pay scale is a chart-type document that shows the pay ranges (hourly or salary) for every position in your organization. For example, for a receptionist position, you would list the title plus the minimum and maximum dollar amount you’d be willing to pay for that position. If you have more than one person in that position, you’d also list the average dollar amount.

We have provided you with a free template in our store. Here’s how to use it:

  • List the wages of all the employees in your company (see the “Wages” tab on the template).
  • Give each title a generic group name, such as Director, Manager, Supervisor, etc.
  • Sort positions by their generic group name (see the “Grades” tab on the template).
  • On the “Grades” tab, move the employee’s wage into the correct column based on their skill level.

The biggest issue you may face is fixing situations where you have two employees with similar job titles or responsibilities but who are paid significantly different wages. If this is the case, be sure to document a “legal” reason for the difference. For example, perhaps one employee has been working for you for 10 years and the other only 1 year. Be aware that pay adjustments may be required to correct differences you can’t justify. As always, HR Jungle is here to help if needed!

When to Ask for Advice

“The problem I have is knowing when to use my own instincts when something happens and when to ask for advice.”

Your HR Survival Tips

You’re not alone in not knowing when to ask for advice, whether it’s from senior management, HR, or an attorney. We see this confusion frequently. People in management like to believe they know the answer to everything, but they don’t.

There are levels of knowledge. You (hopefully) know your role in the company. You may know a lot about your employees. You may know the thought process of senior management or the owner. What most people in management do not know is current employment law and how to apply it to the daily work environment.

Unless you are absolutely positive about the answer or how to deal with the situation, ask for advice. Here are a few examples of when to ask for HR advice:

  • An employee has been out sick for 2 days and it doesn’t sound like they’ll be back tomorrow. — Advice is needed on Paid Sick Leave and California Family Rights Act (CFRA).
  • An employee has just informed you that s/he is expecting a baby. — Advice is needed on Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL), Paid Family Leave Insurance, and CFRA.
  • An employee is taking too much sick time off. — Advice is needed on Paid Sick Leave and, possibly, CFRA.
  • An employee isn’t responding to your suggestions or directives about how to improve or change their behavior. — Advice is needed on coaching, documentation, and disciplinary options.
  • An employee has informed you they are moving out of state but will continue working remotely as usual. — Advice is needed on your company policy, out-of-state payroll, and employment laws in other states.
  • An employee doesn’t follow your policy for requesting or reporting time off. — Advice is needed on your company policy, documentation, and disciplinary options.
  • You have an employee who was hired to work in-house but has been remote for a couple of years and is resistant to coming back to the office. — Advice is needed on company versus employee rights.
  • You’ve just started thinking this employee may need to be terminated in the future. — Advice on your company policy, documentation, and disciplinary options.

California never lets a year go by without adding to your compliance headache. Practice saying “let me get back to you” instead of feeling the need to respond immediately. No one is expected to know everything. The more questions you ask, the more you are building your knowledge and understanding of the many possible answers.

Tis the Season

“I’m so confused now about what to do when an employee sneezes or coughs. What do I need to know?”

Your HR Survival Tip

As if having COVID affect our businesses for so long wasn’t enough, we’re now in the season of colds, cases of flu, COVID, and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). If someone coughs or sneezes, everyone around them backs away… and with good reason.

October through February is the time of year to recall all we learned from COVID about protecting our work environment.

  • Keep an updated record of how much sick time each employee has available. It should be on their pay stub but this would be a good time to audit your sick time so you know it’s accurate.
  • You should encourage employees to stay home when sick. You can force them to stay home if the other choice is to spread their germs to other employees. Yes, you can force them even if they have no sick time left but please use this carefully.
  • Consider asking anyone “mildly” sick to wear a mask at work to help avoid the spread of whatever they may have.
  • Consider remote work for those who are sick but not so sick they can’t work. Be sure to state it’s a temporary measure and put a deadline on it. Even someone with a bad cold is usually past the contagious stage within a week or two.
  • Strongly encourage the use of hand sanitizers, wipes, etc. to keep shared equipment more germ-free.
  • Make sure employees cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing (for any reason). Not only will it help prevent the spread if they happen to have something contagious but it will help other employees worry less.

It’s obvious you can’t completely stop the spread of the common and not-so-common viruses floating around but we can work to slow down the spread at work with a little effort.

Upcoming Legal Changes

The California legislature has made sure our new year is filled with lots of changes for employers. This is just a quick heads-up about what’s coming. Be sure to update your Employee Handbook or policies accordingly.

  • The minimum wage will go up to $15.50/hour effective 1/1/2023. In the City of San Diego, the minimum wage will rise to $16.30/hour. The minimum for an exempt employee in California will be $64,480/year, regardless of how few hours the employee works.

  • AB1949 increases the amount of bereavement leave employers with 5 or more employees must provide to employees to 5 or more days for up to 3 months after the death. Employees must have worked for the company for at least 30 days before they can use the bereavement leave. Bereavement leave is unpaid; however, employees can use sick, vacation, or PTO time.

  • AB1041 revises the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and California Sick Pay to add a “designated person” as a legitimate reason for taking leave or sick time. This “designated person” is an individual related by blood or whose association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship. Employers may limit each employee to taking leave or sick time to only one designated person per 12-month period.

  • SB1162 applies to all employers to create pay scales for each position in your company. The rules are different for different company sizes. Employers with:

    1. Companies with any number of employees must provide an employee or applicant pay scale information for their position if requested.
    2. Companies with 15+ employees must include pay scale information for all position postings when recruiting.
    3. Companies with 100+ employees must complete a pay data report for all positions by the 2nd Wednesday of every May.

  • AB2693 extends employer reporting requirements for COVID-19 notices to 1/1/2024. However, instead of individual employee notices, you’ll have the option to prominently display a notice alerting employees to potential COVID-19 exposures.

  • SB1044 prohibits retaliation against employees refusing to report to or leaving an unsafe workplace due to “emergency conditions.” An emergency condition is defined as a natural disaster or criminal act or an order to evacuate a workplace, a worker’s home, or a child’s school. This does not include a health pandemic.

  • SB523 amends the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to include “reproductive health decision making” as a protected category. A reproductive health decision is when an employee uses or accesses a particular drug, device, product, or medical service for reproductive health. It prohibits employers from requiring the disclosure of reproductive health decisions as a condition of employment, continued employment, or employment benefits.

Your most important concerns at this time are constructing a pay scale and making needed policy and handbook updates to follow the new laws.

Salaries Legally Too Low

“I’m always a bit confused about how much I must pay my salaried employees but my lowest paid is currently earning $56,000.”

Your HR Survival Tip

As an employer, we understand certain things are not completely at our discretion due to the employment laws. Laws dictate who is paid a salary and how much that salary must be before you have any choices.

Who is eligible to be paid a salary is never the employee’s choice. The company takes full responsibility for ensuring the position meets one of the legal exemptions that allow the position to be exempt. Exempt is the legal term for a position that is exempt from overtime and it is often called a salaried position. If the company misclassifies the position as exempt and the state disagrees, the company is the only one held responsible for paying the fines, penalties, and unpaid any premiums (missed meal and rest breaks, overtime).

The minimum amount of any salary paid is also determined by the state. It changes every time the state minimum wage changes. The calculation is 2 times the state minimum wage times 2080. The 2080 is considered full-time hours over a year. So it’s double the state minimum wage and multiplied by full-time hours. For example, if the state minimum wage was $18/hour, the calculation would be $18/hour x 2 = $36/hour x 2080 (full-time equivalent) = $74,880/year as the minimum salary allowed.

The salary paid cannot be less than the full-time equivalent, regardless of how few hours the salaried employee might work. If the calculation results in a $74,880 minimum salary, you must pay $74,880/year even if they only work 5 hours per week. If you pay less, the position automatically loses the exemption for a salary and becomes an hourly position.

What happens if you have been paying less than the minimum salary? That position must legally be reclassified as hourly from the day you neglected to pay the correct salary. You lost the exemption to qualify as salaried that day and it cannot be applied retroactively. Regardless of title, it has been an hourly position from that day.

You need to look back at the period of time worked and prepare a check to the employee. Since that whole period is now considered hourly, you have unpaid wages for all overtime worked, plus premiums due for missed meal and/or rest breaks (max of 2 hours per day). If you have no records, you must take the employee’s word for any overtime hours and missed or late meal breaks and pay them accordingly. Yes, you actually need to ask them to provide you with a list of the overtime hours and missed breaks for that period.

Once you have paid the employee and are now confident you are up-to-date, take a new look at the position to determine if this position is eligible to be exempt (salaried). Confirm the duties test is met for the exemption you have chosen for this position and you will pay more than the minimum salary required by that exemption. In that case, you can consider moving this position to a salary going forward… but you can’t back-date the effective date.

Ignore the Title

“I’m interviewing applicants for a position and one has told me they’d prefer to call the position something else. I’m not really comfortable with the new title suggested. What do I tell them?”

Your HR Survival Tip

When a company realizes they have a position available, it will typically (or should) write up a job description. The description outlines the most important aspects of the job duties and what skills and/or training are needed. The title for that position should reflect both the duties and the skill level.

The smaller the company, the more likely it seems they “over-title” positions. Often the higher level title is to help compensate for lower pay. However, over-titling a position doesn’t work out well for the company or employee. The company may grow and need someone above that employee… but the title is already being used so they have to create an even higher title. The employee isn’t really doing the work because they don’t have the skills. Then their resume looks bad because they can’t get another job at that title’s level.

One way to determine if a title fits the position is to look at job ads. When you look up the title you’ve chosen, is it represented in the ads as a similar position to yours? Smaller companies may not be able to pay quite as well as a large company but the duties and skills required should come close to matching.

The strange and unique titles that pop up may seem cute or fun at the time but they aren’t helpful. Can you run an ad for your “Happiness Manager” opening and receive any useful resumes? Can others in your company understand and explain that role?

The desire for better titles is why the secretary position has evolved over time. There was a time when a secretary, administrative assistant, and executive assistant were distinctly different roles but now those titles are mixed up and the roles are not as clearly defined.

While it may seem a bit boring, sticking to known titles that best fit the duties and skill level will be to your advantage over time as you grow and need more levels of titles. It also works out best for the employee because their resume will more easily reflect their growth in skills as the titles match that growth.