Summer often means more casual dress, office parties, a new crop of interns and vacation time. However, it is critical for an employer to have the proper workplace policies and procedures in place to effectively handle summer issues and avoid employment liability.
Here are the nine ways employers can avoid getting themselves into hot water:
1. Summer Dress Codes
Implementing a summer dress code may be an inexpensive way to improve employee morale and make employees more comfortable. However, an employer should provide clear guidelines about exactly what type of attire is permissible to avoid possible sexual harassment claims.
Further, an employer may open itself up to a claim of sex discrimination if the policy fails to impose an equal burden on both men and women, or religious discrimination if the policy fails to provide for religious expression. An employer should apply its policy consistently and follow up with disciplinary measures for violations.
2. Heat Related Illnesses
Employees who work outside during the summer months should be careful as high temperatures can lead to sunburn, heat stroke, heat exhaustion and heat rash. What’s more, an employer may face OSHA fines for failing to adequately protect employees from the heat.
As a precaution, an employer should train employees to protect themselves by wearing sunscreen, keeping hydrated and taking periodic breaks in the shade. In addition, supervisors should be trained to recognize signs of distress and heat illness and immediately respond.
3. Summer Workplace Outings
Summer is often a time for company-sponsored social events such as barbeques, softball games and parties to show employees appreciation. However, to avoid wage-and-hour claims, employers should make sure such events are voluntary, held during business hours and that work-related matters are not discussed.
If serving alcohol, an employer should be extremely careful that it does not lead to sexual harassment or automobile accidents, which could result in employer liability. Employers and supervisors should also carefully monitor employees who are drinking, while also making sure to serve plenty of food and nonalcoholic drinks and consider providing safe transportation home.
4. Summer Flings
It is worth monitoring summer flings and office romances arising between employees. Workplace relationships may lead to claims of favoritism, discrimination and a hostile work environment by co-workers and between the lovers themselves. In order to minimize the potential for liability, an employer should develop a dating and relationships policy and strictly enforce its discrimination, harassment and retaliation policies. An employer should also follow up on any complaints with a thorough investigation and disciplinary measures if needed.
5. Summer Interns
Hiring summer interns is a good way to provide students with insight into your organization while aiding the employer as well. However, a growing number of states and cities are now allowing interns, as well as volunteers, to seek redress under fair employment laws once intended only for employees.
In establishing an internship program, an employer should ensure that the intern is closely supervised, and also receives shadowing and mentoring opportunities. The intern also should not displace regular employees.
6. Seasonal Hires
When hiring seasonal workers or temporary labor to assist during the summer, an employer should use the same hiring practices and background checks as they do for full time workers. Further, an employer should comply with applicable discrimination and wage-and-hour laws. An employer should also be sure to follow any child labor laws as well.
7. Summer Fridays
Implementing Summer Fridays and permitting employees to leave early or take the entire day off may be a good way to reward them for their work during the year. However, where an employee has a benefits plan, it is may substitute or reduce accrued leave in that plan for time taken off whether the absence is a partial day or a full day if the employee receives his or her guaranteed salary. With regard to non-exempt employees, an employer can dock the pay of a non-exempt employee because these employees are required to be paid for hours worked only.
8. Flexible Scheduling and Working Remotely
Summer may be a good time to allow employees to work remotely and institute flexible scheduling to allow them to spend more time with family, particularly children who are off from school. However, an employer may still be liable for any unpaid wages or overtime for time spent working and thus should make sure to compensate employees properly based on time records.
9. Summer Vacations
An employer’s policy regarding vacation time or Paid Time Off (PTO) should be clearly communicated to all employees and placed in an employee handbook. Further, the policy should be applied in uniform manner to prevent discrimination claims.
Employees should be required to ask for time off in advance so that an employer may plan for absences and document all employee vacation requests to minimize any potential for liability.