The employee question seems simple, straight-forward, and should be easy to answer. Right? Not if your job is in Human Resources. Even the simplest employee question raises countless red flags for an employer’s HR team. Once again, you walk that five-pronged path. How do you satisfy all five stakeholders while treating the current employee fairly?
What’s best for the employer? What’s best for the employee? What’s legal or required by a government agency? What sets precedent for future decisions about and fair treatment of employees. What decision will get you sued with all of the concurrent costs and aggravation.
You can’t make a decision unless the decision satisfies all five stakeholders – to some degree. Is it really any wonder that sometimes it’s the employee stakeholder who suffers? Here’s how Human Resources people have to think and make decisions to answer an employee question. Let's use the modification of this company trade show travel policy as an example.
How HR Thinks, Makes Decisions, and Answers Questions
The question supplied by a reader seemed simple enough. An employee, who travels on company business to trade shows and other client events, wanted to extend his time in the event city by using vacation time. No problem. No problem, that is, until HR informed him about how the days would be charged against his paid vacation time. With sympathy to both HR and the employee, here’s how an HR person has to think and make decisions.
The employee traveled on Sunday to a trade show. (No problem with this travel time; the company, by policy that all employees understand, does not pay weekend travel time for exempt employees.) The employee worked Monday through Wednesday at the trade show and wanted to begin vacation day use following the event. Okay, said the HR manager, Thursday and Friday are vacation days. No, responded the employee, on Thursday, I would normally travel back to the company; since that day would be paid as part of my normal work week, it is not fair to make me take a vacation day to cover Thursday. Are you with me?
HR Thinking and Decision Making Starts to Roll
Okay, says the HR manager, whose first inclination is to charge Thursday as a vacation day since the employee is not, in fact, using the day to travel back to the company. The HR person, rightly, does not want to have to make employee time-off decisions on a case-by-case basis, for employees attending company sponsored events.
Checking with a couple of CEOs and another HR person, both decisions had supporters. If the employee was expected to return from the conference on Wednesday and work on Thursday, then Thursday should be a vacation day. If Thursday would normally be a travel day, it would count as a work day, not as a vacation day, because under normal circumstances, he'd be traveling back anyway and shouldn't be penalized because he extended his stay with a vacation.
But, he has chosen not to travel back but instead to go on vacation, said the dissenters. That is not the company’s problem and we only pay for travel time if the employee uses the week day to travel back. Since we do not pay for any travel time on weekends and there is no such thing as a travel day, employees should only be paid if they are working. Plus, normally an employee, unless he was assigned to booth teardown, would be expected to travel back on the Wednesday and report to work on Thursday. He could arrange to arrive late with his manager if his flight was a red eye.
In that case, no question, Thursday should be charged as a vacation day. But, what has been past practice in the company? Are employees expected to travel back on Wednesday, if possible, or is Thursday the normal day of travel to return. In my experience, most employees want to return to home and work as soon as possible. So, they travel home on Wednesday if any flight is possible, rather than spending a night hanging out by themselves in a strange city with nothing to do.
This is also a private versus public employee sector question. If you are a public sector employee, often working under the negotiated conditions of a union contract, you expect such considerations as payment for every minute that you work. If not in direct compensation, a public sector employee expects comp time for hours worked and would expect to be paid for traveling on the weekend, too. This thinking is anathema to a private sector employer who expects exempt employees to get the job done and meet the goals. In fact, thinking like an hourly employee will impede your career and make you less valued as an employee. Here are some earlier thoughts about compensating employees for travel time.
If the employee is an hourly or nonexempt employee, employers have to take into account paid travel time, plus hours worked at the trade show. When an employee is eligible for over-time, these regulations apply even on the road. (This is one of my theories about why nonexempt employees are so rarely asked to travel for customer events and training – the government regulations make their attendance cost prohibitive – or at least, a pain in the behind to account for and pay by employers. And, as much as these rules may inhibit the utilization of and career growth of hourly employees, my sympathies are with the employers.)
Find out more about How HR Thinks and the resultant decision.
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