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Summertime Employment Challenges: Are You Ready?

Summertime brings many issues into the workplace that may have been dormant all winter.  Are you prepared to respond?

1.  Summer Clothes: Can you decide what is right or wrong for your employees to wear (even if you do not require a specific uniform)?  The answer is Yes, but if you want this kind of control, you need to have a dress and appearance policy.  Such a policy should clearly communicate to employees your expectation of their dress and appearance in the workplace.  Standards for men and women should be similar but need not be identical.  However, if the rules are stricter on one gender, there may be a case of gender discrimination under Title VII, the major federal law regarding employment discrimination.  If there is a business justification, that should be fine; if not, be prepared to defend yourself.  Local mores are a possible defense, but tough to justify.  Keep in mind that if an employee claims the need for a religious or medical accommodation in dress or appearance, you should investigate the request.

Also, you should uniformly enforce your dress and appearance policy as issues arise.  Allowing one employee to wear sandals and not another employee in that same position may also invite a Title VII claim.

Finally, make sure all employees understand your harassment and discrimination policies.  Inappropriate or provocative clothing may encourage employees to say or do things in violation of your policies and the law.  Employees should be reminded that you expect 100% compliance with these important policies.  For additional tips, please click here.

2.  Vacations: As employees start asking to use their vacation time, you should make sure you are following the proper procedures for granting/denying requests across all employees.  Although most states do not require that employers give vacation time, state law may require you to give any benefits you promise.  For example, if you promise vacation time but never approve vacation requests, you may be liable for the vacation pay.  Further, be aware that other state and federal law may influence vacation requests such as the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and local sick leave laws.  Also be sure you have a method of determining who gets first choice of vacation times.  Even if no law is broken, controversy on this issue can cause serious workplace unrest.

3.  Unions: Union activity often shows a serious increase during the summer.  With beautiful weather and an abundance of college kids and part-time/temporary help, the unions will be hitting the pavement hard.  You should consult with competent labor counsel and develop a plan for you and your managers to follow.

4.  Seasonal Employees: If you are hiring seasonal employees, you should ensure you are following all normal employment and pay practices even if you do not anticipate these employees staying with you long-term.  This includes collecting Form I-9s and W-4s, following proper state laws on unemployment insurance and disability, notifying the state of all new employees you hire, and following all other local, state, and federal wage and hour laws including child labor laws.  Also, be careful not to assume short-term workers can be treated as independent contractors due to their short-term nature.  Such a decision can buy you months of legal battles which you are likely to ultimately lose!

5.  Interns: Before you race to hire unpaid interns, you should have a thorough understanding of state and federal laws on this issue.  Generally, if the intern is not primarily learning, the intern will not be exempt from wage and hour laws.  Under federal law, there are six factors that aid in determining whether an intern is exempt from wage and hour laws:

a.  The training, although it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school;

b.  The training is for the benefit of the students (not the employer);

c.  The students do not displace regular employees, but work under the close observation of a regular employee or supervisor;

d.  The employer provides the training and derives no immediate advantage from the activities of students, and, on occasion, the employer’s operation may actually be impeded by the training;

e.  The students are not  entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and

f.  The employer and the student understand that the student is not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

Again, given that wage and hour claims come with hefty penalties, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees, it would be wise to consult with competent counsel before deciding to hire unpaid interns.  Also remember, the fact that “everyone else is using unpaid interns” will never work to defend unlawful conduct.

6.  Summer Events: Many employers have summer events like barbeques, outings, and retreats.  As you start planning these events, you should review some common pitfalls and how to avoid them here.  Among these issues is your liability if an employee gets hurt when participating in the event or activity as well as your liability if your employee gets drunk at the event and then hurts someone – including him or herself!

Despite all the words of caution, summer is a great time to improve employee relations and enjoy the great team you have created.  Have a great time and good luck!

Brody and Associates offers assistance to management on these and all types of employment-related issues.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203-965-0560.