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Drum roll, please... Here are your top five HR questions!

Years ago, David Letterman started the top 10 countdown list and this funny commentary was shared on the Tonight Show. The list could be the top 10 flowers, top 10 crazy comments heard in the grocery store, or top 10 funny street signs, and the audience waited with rapt attention to hear No.1.

Over the years I have been asked similar questions by clients and in seminars related to employees in business. Here are five of the most common questions...

HR.Sept2019 5. My employee wants to be paid on salary rather than “by the hour,” should I do that?

The categorization of positions and compensation is not a personal preference, instead, it is based on the job duties of the position. The standards for exempt (salary) and non-exempt (hourly) categorization are guided by the FLSA–Fair Labor Standards Act and include guidelines for the employer. These guidelines include pay per week, oversight of employees, independent decision making, etc. An employee who is salaried is “exempt from overtime”, and an hourly/non-exempt employee is eligible for overtime over 40 hours in a week (or over eight hours in a day depending on state laws).

To start the job analysis process, detail the duties of the position in a job description that includes the responsibilities, skills, and physical requirements. I recommend descriptions include measurable results that communicate expectations.

Once the job is defined and analyzed according to the FLSA, you may need to change how the employee is paid. This may not impact their annual earnings but may impact timekeeping or your decision to have them work overtime, etc. The challenge in this scenario is the conversation you have with the employee, he/she may believe the decision is “about them” versus their role. Defensiveness can be minimized through proactive preparation.

4. Do you recommend I conduct a background screen? If so, will I find anyone to hire?

The short answers are YES and YES! As a business owner it is important that you know who you are hiring. A conviction on a background screen may not prevent you from hiring the prospective employee depending on the nature of the crime. The important point is to be consistent in your decision-making process with all prospective employees.

In the last month, I received two SOS calls from potential clients who had learned about past criminal history for existing employees. In one scenario, the conviction may impact reputation and potential client business. Both senior leaders stated they “Wished they had conducted background screens as they would not have hired these employees.”  

Background screening must be consistently administered for all prospective employees. All states follow the FCRA–Federal Credit Reporting Act that dictates guidelines for completion of background screens. Third party companies are worth the cost as they help ensure compliance with each state or county guideline.

Some states and counties have specific “ban the box” laws that restrict consideration of criminal background history until a conditional job offer has been extended to the prospective employee. If you have multiple locations and managers, consider developing a recruiting process that details steps to follow to recruit, interview, and hire employees.

Background screens don’t prevent employee relations issues, but they help identify prospective employees that may not be a match for your values and organization.

3. We have issues with employees and my manager won’t do anything to hold them accountable! BTW, the manager is my (sister-in-law, daughter, nephew… you get the picture), what can I do?

This is a difficult situation as “blood is thicker than water”. I wrote an article titled “Family Circus” that discusses this topic in detail,

To have a healthy family/work relationship, the leader must detail the job duties and expectations for performance to avoid this situation and family drama. Ideally, this conversation would take place before you and your family member start working together. If you have already had the “expectations” conversation, have a follow-up to ensure the manager understands their job duties related to managing employees. If you did not have the “expectations” conversation, the manager may not fully understand what is expected of them. Set a meeting to discuss their job accountabilities going forward. If the manager is aware of their behavior but is not comfortable providing feedback or holding people accountable, determine if they are the right person for the role and what impact they will have on the future growth of your organization. Have a conversation and discuss potential options.

Points to consider:

What types of “issues” do employees have? Are the issues related to company policy such as attendance, tardiness, dress code, timekeeping, etc.? Are the issues performance related or simply bad behavior such as sexual harassment or bullying? Do you have an employee handbook, and are expectations clearly outlined? If all employees review and sign the handbook, then the manager needs to hold them accountable to the standards.

Here is a great example. My last corporate position was a VP HR for a large organization in the service industry. I started my job and was not provided any orientation or onboarding. My second day on the job, security arrived at my door asking why I was parking in visitor parking? I replied, “I don’t know where else to park”. The security guard said, “Employee parking”. I asked, “Where is that? The security guard rolled his eyes and stated, “Under the building, HR should have told you”! I replied, “I am HR!” The guard said, “Well, fix it!”

If you do not have a handbook or make your policies and practices an important part of orientation, these are open to interpretation. Handbooks set boundaries and expectations, ensure compliance, and protect the company. It is difficult to hold your team accountable for things they do not know.

2. Hiring is tough; we can’t find good people. What should I do?

When I am hungry, everything in the grocery store looks good… even the things that I don’t like to eat. The same can be said for hiring! If you hire when you are in desperate need, everyone looks good.

The unemployment rate in the U.S. is the lowest it has been in the last 50 years, as a result you must always be on the lookout for great employees. A great candidate will only be available for a short period of time, do not wait to interview! Create a recruiting process and a hiring habit! A consistent recruiting process takes the “guess work” out of recruiting and interviewing. This includes attracting candidates, behavioral interviewing, orienting and onboarding, and building relationships to foster engagement. The hiring habit is like a workout routine; you do a little bit every day to see results. Get in the habit of interviewing to fill needs and upgrade talent.

1. I just learned that my employee (comes in late every day, said x%$! to a customer, has criminal record, etc.) but I need them for coverage. What should I do?

When you don’t have back up, you may feel you don’t have options. When you develop a hiring habit and interview every day you are “ahead of the curve” to have bench strength in the event a situation occurs. These scenarios below may be handled differently, here are some suggestions.

How to handle Tardy Marty! If you have not discussed the tardiness issue, share the importance of timeliness and the impact on the business. Then conduct a coaching conversation and detail the expectation to be on time. If you have discussed this repeatedly, the employee is sending a CLEAR message that this is not a priority and they are choosing not to comply, as scheduled. Determine the impact this behavior has on your team and ask the employee what they would recommend as this is a requirement of the job. The employee may step up or choose to leave, start interviewing and hire a potential replacement for this position or as bench strength.

How to handle Verbal Viola? When an employee uses colorful language that has impacted service and potentially your reputation, your first instinct may be to take severe action and terminate. First investigate what may have led to this behavior. If you identify that Verbal Viola used poor judgement, conduct a progressive coaching conversation and communicate future expectations. If the comments were egregious, termination may be appropriate. Conduct service recovery and try to “make it right” with your customer.

While working at a former employer, a customer contacted me stating an employee had “given him the finger!” I was horrified but have learned that there are always two sides to a story!

When I investigated, I found that the customer had cursed and made a derogatory comment to the employee. The employee shook her index finger and said, “Don’t say that to me.” She did not choose the best response but, it could have been MUCH worse. The employee received coaching and training and the customer was fired.

How to handle Rob with a Record? This may result in an employee relations issue, a team productivity issue, and a potential public relations issue. This type of scenario has many facets to consider; type of conviction and timeframe, employee tenure and history, position, etc.   Partner with a trusted advisor, human resource professional, or attorney to discuss the options and take decisive action.

Do these questions sound familiar? If so, you are in great company! If not, just wait!

What other people problems might you experience in your business?

For more great stories, read the “What the Hecht?” blog at