It’s (Almost) Summertime, but the Livin’ is not Always Easy for Employers

Category: Blog Posts
Date: May 2, 2017 01:18 PM
It’s (Almost) Summertime, but the Livin’ is not Always Easy for Employers

Many kids and adults alike look forward to summer all year. Summer means longer days, more ice cream, and no school. However, summer can also mean challenges for employers. Though the issues discussed below can come up any time of year, employers often find that they crop up more frequently during the summer months. The tips below will help employers get ahead of potential problems, and make summer feel like a day at the beach.

1.     Dress Codes

As the weather gets warmer, employees may be tempted to wear clothing and shoes that are not appropriate for the workplace. Therefore, now is the time to review and update your agency’s dress code or create a written policy governing employee dress if one is not already in place.

California law allows for employers to establish reasonable dress and grooming standards based on legitimate business concerns, which can include workplace safety and professionalism generally. It follows that employers should tailor dress codes to employee job requirements. For instance, more restrictive policies may be appropriate for employees who have contact with the public than for employees who are always behind the scenes.

Additionally, employers should be prepared to make reasonable accommodations as necessary, unless doing so would create an undue hardship for the agency. For instance, though an agency’s dress code may prohibit employees from wearing hats, it may be a reasonable accommodation of an employee’s religious practice to allow, for example, a Sikh man to wear a turban or a Muslim man to wear a skullcap. Similarly, sneakers and athletic shoes might be prohibited under a dress code, but an employee with a foot condition might be allowed to wear them as a reasonable accommodation.

As with all policies, it is critical that dress codes be applied equally to all employees. Treating employees differently with respect to the administration of this type of policy can open the agency up to claims of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.

2.     Interns

Many high school and college students on summer break are looking for work experience, including experience through unpaid internships. Employers may view internships as a win-win – the student gains work experience at no cost to the employer.

However, the fact that a position is designated as an “internship” is not sufficient to establish that it is properly an unpaid position. Agencies should take great care to ensure that a court would not consider their “interns” to be employees who are entitled to wages and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

The Department of Labor has created a list of six factors that are critical to determining whether a person is appropriately labeled an “intern.” Though this list is not legally definitive, nearly all courts examining this issue look at these factors to some degree. The factors are:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Given the fact-specific analysis that is required, agencies wishing to utilize unpaid interns should work with counsel to ensure that they are complying with all applicable wage and hour requirements.

3.     Vacation Requests

Many employers experience a significant uptick in employee vacation requests during the summer months. To avoid a last-minute rush of requests, supervisors should take time now to review the agency’s vacation or paid time off policy with their subordinates. Supervisors should be sure to specify to whom employees should direct their vacation requests and how far in advance requests should be made.

In addition, this is another area where a uniform application of the agency’s policy is critical. It is not uncommon for multiple employees to request to take vacation during the same time period, which may not be possible from an operational standpoint. Strict adherence to the agency’s policy regarding vacation requests will help avoid the perception of preferential treatment.


man-in-front-of-computer Is it Time to Update Your Personnel Policies? 

California's labor and employment laws are changing every year. It is essential for public agencies to continuously review and update their personnel handbooks to make sure that they are legally compliant. This is why we launched the Liebert Model Personnel Policy Portal (LMP3) - an online one-stop shop for all personnel policy needs.  Its mission is to serve as a reliable resource throughout the personnel rules audit process. LMP3 offers online access to mandatory and essential model personnel policies, as well as important commentary and legal references that explain and provide context behind the policies. Subscribers will also receive updated policies that reflect recent changes in the law. Explore all of the benefits >

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