HR pro must balance roles
Q: Shortly after joining this company, I became aware of numerous issues related to discrimination and harassment. As a human resources professional, I felt obligated to make management aware of these problems, so I reported them to my boss, who is the director of HR, and to several department heads. Although my superiors were willing to investigate some situations, they seemed reluctant to address any concerns that might involve executives. I was encouraged to overlook these matters and was advised that pursuing them could damage people’s careers. Because I believe it is my duty to report violations of state and federal law, I went around my management chain and contacted our ethics department. Since no one else was willing to file a grievance about these issues, I reported them myself. Now I have received a very negative performance review. What should I do?
A: Based on your description, there are two possible interpretations of this situation. The first is that you have joined a company where questionable behaviors are tolerated and perhaps even practiced by senior management. As a result, you have learned the hard way that the values of top executives always influence employee-related decisions.
For that reason, a key component of job satisfaction for HR professionals is compatibility between their own values and those of the people above them. So if you are experiencing an ethical mismatch, the ultimate solution is to find an employer whose standards are similar to your own.
On the other hand, an alternative scenario is that you are crusading against problems that may not actually exist. While some legal issues are clear-cut, many others are a matter of perception, so you need to be sure that personal biases are not clouding your professional judgment.
The very best HR people serve as both management representatives and employee advocates. But when either role has an exclusive focus, problems inevitably result. So if you consistently find yourself on the employee side of every issue, you may need to examine your own motivations.
— Marie G. McIntyre
Not all workers are exempt
Q: I work for a company that lists all employees as exempt. We work a standard 40-hour week and do not get paid overtime, no matter how many extra hours we work. While we don’t get overtime, we are docked if we have to leave a few hours early for an appointment. When I challenged this, I was told it is written in the company handbook. Is there a law regarding this issue?
A: It’s rare for an office to have all exempt employees, so that raises a red flag. The other hoisted red flag is that your company treats you and your colleagues as exempt and nonexempt employees at the same time. Labor law requires that you be one or the other.
If you are truly exempt — that is, exempt from overtime and minimum wage — your pay can’t be docked when you miss less than a full day. Your paid time off can be docked, but not your pay. If the company docks your pay in that instance, it defeats the exemption and puts itself on the hook to pay you for all the hours you work and overtime when you work more than 40 hours a week.
Exempt employees fall into the executive, administrative, professional and outside-sales categories.
Their duties within those categories determine if the workers are truly exempt. For example, in the executive category, a manager’s primary duties must consist of supervising, and the person has to manage at least two full-time employees regularly.
Rather than swat away your inquiry, your employer would be wise to use your question as an impetus to ensure its policies are legal.
— By Carrie Mason-Draffen