Yes, It’s Possible

“I’m never sure what I can and can’t do regarding my employees. I feel like they have more options than I do as a business owner.”

Your HR Survival Tip

We often hear from companies, and smaller businesses in particular, that they just don’t know what rights they have versus the multitude of protections California provides to employees. In most cases, it’s safer to ask someone who knows the laws. Here are a few tips for you:

Reduced Pay — You already know you may give pay raises to employees but many people don’t know they can also reduce an employee’s pay. A word of warning, though… you want to give plenty of advance notice when it comes to money. A few examples of when a pay reduction may occur include a demotion in title and pay because the employee isn’t able to perform well at their current level, or a company-wide decrease due to poor revenues, or as part of a disciplinary process where the usual write-ups haven’t been effective. Reductions must be in writing and, as mentioned, with a future effective date.

Deny or Choose Vacation — Vacation time off is a true benefit and the employer has a lot of say, as long as you’re not being discriminatory. Your policy should be clear about how much advance notice you want (and it can vary based on the length of time off requested). The policy should also state that pre-approval is required and approval is subject to business needs and the policy itself. Some companies only allow one person per department to be off at the same time, others may require a vacation to be taken at a specific time, and others may have black-out dates where no vacation time is allowed during busy times of the year. If you have a PTO policy instead of just vacation, you have these same options only when the time off is not medically related because then you must follow the sick leave laws.

Deny Job Changes After a Leave — When an employee goes on a leave of absence, the law usually requires you to return that employee to the same or similar job when their leave ends. You are not required to offer the employee anything different, such as part-time or remote work if that wasn’t what they had when the leave began. If an employee asks about changing or adjusting their job, first have the employee put in writing that they are not interested in having exactly the same job as when they left. That will remove their protection for that job and allows you to negotiate their new role. If you must have them back in the same role, you can just tell them that. You are not required to alter their job to fit their personal preferences.

First 90 Days of Employment — Many employers feel the first 90 days of employment for a new employee is the same as a “get out of jail free” card. You are no more legally protected at day 35 as you are at year five. You are still subject to all the employment laws and can be sued if you fail to follow those laws. The 90-day period is intended to make you and the employee pay attention and to use that time to determine if this relationship is a good fit from both sides. That’s it, that’s all. Don’t assume you don’t need a valid, legal reason to terminate just because the employment period hasn’t lasted very long.

Offer Employees Different Benefits — Some benefits are more flexible than others, based on whether a law adds any protections. The easiest to flex are holidays and vacations. You can decide whether you’ll provide any paid holidays or vacation, how long the eligibility period might be, who gets that benefit, etc. You must not be discriminatory so focus on groups of employees rather than a single employee and on specific levels you can define. Examples include employment longevity, title, exempt versus non-exempt, full- versus part-time, office staff versus field, and so forth.

While the employment laws may tie our hands in some ways, it’s important to learn how to be compliant while still managing your employees as you want and need. It helps to find a sounding board so you can express your ideas and get feedback on what is and isn’t possible… and learn about possible workarounds.

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