human_resources.jpgDo you want to know what keeps your human resources department up at night? Turns out many still don’t know the ins and outs of one big key employee benefit, Family and Medical Leave.

Many employees mock HR departments and give them little credit for their work, but they’re the people many of you go to to find out about your benefits, your rights, and general information on how thinks work at your employer.

Where do HR folks go to ask questions? Turns out, some have access to a hotline, and you may be surprised at what they’re asking about most.

No, it’s not about whether they can snoop on your Facebook account, or how they should implement yet another training session. What’s got them asking the most questions is your requests for time off, especially as it relates to Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, among other workplace basics.

“Demands on HR professionals have increased dramatically since the recession began and our members continue to be challenged to handle more tasks and issues with fewer resources,” said Dan Chaney, senior professional in human resources and director of HR Advisory Services for Employers Resource Association, an HR consulting firm. “The common questions we receive center around hiring and firing, leave management, access to personnel records, drug testing, immigration rules and classifying independent contractors.”

The association reviewed hotline call questions from 1,300 of its members, including everyone from the CEO to the HR clerks, and here’s a run down of what asked about most:

1. FMLA is the single most asked-about topic.

Questions center on: who is covered; what is deemed a serious health condition; and how to control intermittent leave. Employers also rely on ERA to keep them current and compliant about proposed changes to FMLA such as those that may expand military family leave provisions and incorporate a special eligibility provision for airline flight crew employees.

2. Advice and counsel for taking such adverse actions as termination, suspension and discipline is a close second to FMLA.

Commonly requested information includes: what documentation is needed to fire someone; does a recent Workers Compensation claim or FMLA request affect the decision being made; can the employee sue for termination?

3. Performance management strategies.

Strategies for dealing with a problem employee such as: is it safe to ramp up the heat on a new hire that may not be working out or on a protected-class employee that isn’t responding to counseling? Also, group performance issues concurrent with culture changes or business cycle needs.

4. Fair Labor Standards Act issues.

Concerns center on correctly classifying a position as exempt, calculating overtime for multiple rates, what travel hours must be paid for an hourly employee, what are federal and state child labor rules. In addition, how much time can we ignore at clock-in or out? Can we round?

5. Immigration

Many questions arise regarding I-9 documentation and procedural questions. Such as, what do we do when the SSN comes back a no-match? An applicant has a matching SSN and ID, but we know it is not his. What can we do? And, we’re considering employing an H1-B employee. How complicated is that?

6. Lunch hour and breaks

Questions about giving breaks and how many per day. Is a lunch period required? What has to be paid versus non-paid time? Can an employee work through break and leave early?

7. Employee access to personnel files

Does the law require us to allow an employee to see or copy his file? What are the pros & cons of allowing it versus not? We just got a letter from an attorney requesting files. Do we have to send them the files? We have employees in a few other states. Are the rules different there?

8. Independent contractor versus employee

What’s the difference between an independent contractor and an employee? Why can’t I just pay this person as a contractor and issue a 1099? What constitutes a legal independent contractor status? Who makes the rules?

9. Employee privacy.

Can we read employee emails or monitor Internet usage? What about the use of surveillance cameras? Is it legal? Can we search employees, or their workplace, belongings or cars? Can we use GPS technology to monitor our employees? What about employees that use company provided smart phones?

10. Drug and alcohol issues.

Under what conditions can employees be tested? If the employee tests positive, can we discharge? How can a drug test procedure be set-up, what should be in the policy?

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