Personnel e.bulletin – May 2016

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 HR Lessons From Real Life
Tactical Answers for Situations You May Face

Prepared for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc.

Whatever the makeup of your company, your employees will present complex human resources issues. Here are a few examples of how to address them effectively.

Example #1

An employee announces she is pregnant and her intent to use all of her FMLA leave. You learn from a secondhand source that she plans to quit once the FMLA period ends, while collecting benefits in the meantime.  What are the rules regarding handling this situation and hiring a replacement based on this information?

You must tread carefully regarding all things FMLA.  There are major restrictions on terminating and replacing an employee taking FMLA leave.  Therefore, you must stick to the federally prescribed script, maintaining a respectful and fact-based response to the employee’s request for leave.  Also, since the information is from a secondhand source, it would be advisable to investigate further before forming an opinion or taking any action.

An option, if you were willing to make the following benefit concessions, would be to:

  • Tell the employee that if she decides not to return after her leave and lets you know, she will not be terminated immediately and will be able to continue her benefits; and
  • Tell her that if during her leave she decides not to return and gives you notice in writing, she can continue her employment and receive benefits  through the end of leave.

That conversation would increase the chances that you’d be given notice and buy you more time to start to find, hire, and train a replacement.  Keep in mind that if you offered those concessions to one employee, you’d have to offer them in all cases.  In the end, whatever you choose to do, act cautiously and follow the FMLA rules, consulting with an HR professional or an attorney if necessary.

Example #2

A key employee comes to you and says he or she will be leaving the company unless you can give an immediate raise to match the offer received from another company.  What do you do?

First, have a conversation with your employee and try to find out what’s behind the employee’s desire to leave, because there often is more to the situation than money.  The employee might require a simple accommodation, for example, a bit more flexibility in schedule so the employee can pick up his or her children by a specific time.  If the employee’s salary is fair and competitive and you are able to address any underlying issues, the raise question might become moot.

However, if the situation isn’t that simple, there are several considerations before you give the employee a counteroffer.  You might want to give the employee a raise because he or she brings a lot of value to your company or has a highly specialized skill set that would be difficult to replace.  You might also be stretched thin and don’t think you can manage losing an employee at the moment.  And finally, it takes a lot of time and investment to find, hire, and train a new employee.

Those reasons are compelling, but they are focused on the short term.  You should consider the following questions:

Is the employee really doing this for the raise?  If there’s an underlying reason the employee wants to leave the company, a raise will be a quick fix but won’t bring the employee satisfaction in the long term. Also, chances are that if the employee got a job offer, they have been look at other jobs for some time. If the employee’s concern had been simple and fixable, the employee probably would have asked for the accommodation. Therefore, the request may signal a deeper lack of satisfaction than salary concerns, and the employee is likely to leave later if you do spend the extra to try keeping them.

What’s the cost-benefit analysis? It takes time and money to find, hire, and train a replacement, but if the employee is dissatisfied underneath the request, chances are he or she will be gone in six to 12 months, and you still won’t have hired a replacement.

What will happen if other employees find out?  Other employees will probably find out about the raise, even if your conversation is private. First, you might take a hit to employee morale because other employees feel undervalued. Second, other employees might expect that similar demands will be met with a similar raise for them too. And if the employee in question ends up leaving anyway, you would still have your remaining employees’ expectations to manage.

If you decide to let the employee walk, you can:

  • Congratulate the employee and say he or she will be missed.
  • If the employee comes back saying, “I’d like to stay, but I need this raise,” you can reaffirm that you’re unable to give a raise without an appropriate increase in responsibilities or job duties to match. If they are qualified and willing to take on the extra work, then he or she will be eligible to receive more compensation.
  • If the employee decides to leave, ask about any recommendations for changes.

This might be an opportunity for learning.  You might be able to increase overall employee satisfaction from the feedback you receive from this employee. You can therefore invest in your top performers from the get-go and work to prevent this from happening again.

Example #3

In the spirit of team building, the company hosts a social event for employees. Alcohol will be served, but the company would like to limit the liability concerns and try to avoid having an employee drink too much and risk getting into a traffic accident on the way home.

Of course you want to discourage employees from getting intoxicated, avoid providing alcohol to an already intoxicated employee, and avoid serving alcoholic beverages to a minor. But you should also consider the following factors that create or increase company liability and how you can mitigate them:

  • Alcoholic Beverages – There are a number of ways to reduce risk:
    • It’s a good idea to offer food and non-alcoholic beverages as well;
    • Consider offering other forms of entertainment;
    • Issue employees a set number of drink tickets (two, for example);
    • Limit the bar offerings to beer and wine;
    • Hire a bartender for the event with the authority to cut employees off;
    • Hold the event somewhere with a liquor license where such bartenders or waiters will serve the alcohol;
    • Limit the time alcohol is available;
    • Provide easily available transportation, and keep a close eye on employees to make sure no one who might be impaired gets behind the wheel;
    • Hold the event earlier in the day so it’s less socially acceptable to drink heavily;
    • Discourage employees from drinking heavily in a statement circulated before the event or in the employee handbook (referred to again before the event);
    • Lead by example in consuming alcohol at the event; or
    • Have employees pay for alcoholic beverages.
  •  Non-Mandatory Event. Make clear that attendance at the event is optional.
  •  Not For a Business Purpose. A clear definition of the event being a company hosted party makes it easy to define the employer the host and the employee the guest, and a host can be held liable in many states. To avoid establishing a business purpose for the event, avoid talking about business matters (this includes speeches about the company or the presentation of performance awards). Avoid assigning employees any specific functions at the event. And finally, hold the event outside regular business hours and/or away from your premises.

If you’re still worried about any of the situations above, especially those that concern the law, which can vary state by state, consult an HR professional or attorney.


This content was developed for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc. ( Please consult your HR professional or attorney for further advice, as laws may differ in each state. Laws continue to evolve; the information presented is as of April 2016. Any omission or inclusion of incorrect data is unintentional. Please note this article is not intended to provide legal advice or to substitute for supervisor employment law training.

The PHCC Educational Foundation, a partnership of contractors, manufacturers and wholesalers was founded in 1987 to serve the plumbing-heating-cooling industry by preparing contractors and their employees to meet the challenges of a constantly changing marketplace. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting the Foundation by making a contribution at
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