– By Warren Cook, President & CEO
In my experience, small businesses owners care tremendously about their staff, so much so, that at times they develop practices that can later place them at risk and expose them to liability for discrimination. For example, paying an employee for a “few weeks” when they are out sick or taking care of a family member but then when a new employee wants time off since they are not friends, they are told use their paid time off or the absence is unpaid.
Maternity leave is another great example, as I have observed everything from 100% pay the entire absence without a policy written to working from home during the maternity leave, all while trying to provide FMLA coverage (job protection) when the company only had 8 employees. At the same time, when a male employee decided they wanted time off to be with their spouse and newborn, they were denied the request.
In another situation, an employee was in an auto accident, and the owner felt bad, so they continued their compensation at 100% for several months. Yet another employee, later in the year, requested time off because they heard about the other employee getting paid, and wham, problem for the employer because they didn’t want to pay this employee.
Inconsistency in practices is the road to discrimination, even if unintended. These employers and many other examples I could share, also neglected other means to provide the support to their employee they desired, without breaking the bank and destroying company cash flow. For example, implementing a Short Term Disability program, employer or employee paid, could allow for an offset of the cost in your current practice. Why? You pay an insurance premium instead of the full cost of the employee compensation. Let us not forget benefit premiums during an employee absence, that also can become a double hit on the employer with poor leave policies in place.
I encourage you to strategically plan for the various situations that can occur with your workforce, and then determine what is the most cost effective and beneficial method to provide the desired support to your workforce. It may be insurance, it may be time off, it may be alternative work schedules, it may be remote work, or it may be another solution all together. Remember, setting precedence using a discriminatory approach can expose your business to tremendous risk and liability even though your have great intentions. Seek the right advisor to help guide you through the development of legally compliant and non-discriminatory solutions to take care of your workforce with policies and programs that make sense.