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Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Force Employees to Wear a Costume on Halloween?

In the Kokua Line for the Star-Advertiser, Christine Donnelly answers the question of whether an employer can fire an employee who refuses to wear a Halloween costume to work because it is against her religion.  In a nutshell, the answer is no.  And, even if you could, why would you (unless you like having angry employees)?


You can read the full article here:  Labor Law Protects Refusal to Don Costume Due to Faith

PBN HR Panel 2015

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to serve on a Human Resources Panel Seminar hosted by the Pacific Business News.  It was quite an honor to be asked to sit on the panel; the four other panelists have been business and community leaders for a long time and I considered it a real privilege to be able to share my thoughts on HR issues alongside these individuals.  Kam Napier, PBN Editor-in-Chief, served as the moderator and he did a great job making sure the discussion flowed smoothly and that we addressed many of the hot topics that are facing HR professionals today.

PBN HR Panel(Pic credit: PBN)

Some of the topics we discussed included hiring practices, working out differences that arise between generations (i.e. Baby Boomers vs. Gen-X vs. Millennials), and new laws that affect the way employers must conduct their businesses.  Some of the panelists discussed the difficultly of hiring talented employees in a job market where the unemployment rate is sitting at just 3.7%, the importance of wellness programs, and the value of creating a work culture that inspires employees.  I had an opportunity to discuss the impact recent court decisions such as Adams v. CDM Media and EEOC v. Abercrombie and Fitch will have on how employers conduct their hiring practices.  In addition, I also discussed the importance of training managers (who are involved in the hiring/interview process) on how to properly conduct job interviews.  I explained that although many managers are great at doing their day-to-day tasks, they are not always kept apprised of recent changes to employment laws that might affect how they can make their hiring decisions.  I also explained some of the dangers involved with providing employment references through the “coconut wireless” because you never know what type of information (or misinformation) might end up getting spread to others.  Therefore, as a matter of practice, the “name, rank and serial number” method is still your best bet.

Finally, as always, I made sure the stress that, when it comes to managing your workforce, “the best defense of a good offense.”  In other words, I firmly believe that the best way to address workplace problems is to try to proactively prevent them from happening in the first place.  In this day and age, HR professionals have transitioned from being a clerical cost center that processes payroll and benefits to a strategic department that oftentimes partners with corporate officers in leading a business into the future.  Therefore, it is imperative for HR professionals to stay ahead of the game, be proactive, and help their companies move forward.

Overall, I would say the event was very successful and I had a lot of fun.

2014 Legislative Session: Running Updates

Each year, the Hawaii Employers Council provides its members with updates on labor and employment law bills that are being addressed by the legislature. One of those documents, the Legislative Digest, is actually currently available to the general public, and can be accessed here:  HEC Legislative Updates.

Bills that are still alive as of the Second Lateral deadline address (1) the minimum wage, (2) payment of wages via direct deposit and pay cards, and (3) workers’ compensation drugs, fee schedule and settlements.

For the 2014 Legislative Session, the Legislative Digest is available for the following key deadlines:

  • Bills Introduced (available)
  • First Lateral (available)
  • First Crossover (available)
  • Second Lateral (available)
  • Second Crossover (available)
  • Sine Die  (available)
  • Veto Deadline (available)

As more deadlines pass, I will update this blog entry to indicate when the most recent Legislative Digest is available.

Other updates, such as articles providing a detailed explanation of several of the significant measures and talking points on certain bills, however, are available only to HEC members.

Flex Schedules and Telecommuting

A couple weeks ago, I was interviewed by Jenna Blakely from the Pacific Business News (“PBN”) on some of the legal issues employers should consider when allowing employees to work “flex time” or work from home.  The article was printed on PBN’s website this afternoon as part of their cover story on how employers and employees are dealing with work/life balance issues.  You can view the article on PBN’s website here:  The Legal Ramifications of Being a Flexible Employer.

Special thanks for Jenna for the interview and article.

Throwing a Holiday Party? Some Things to Consider

‘Tis the season for company-sponsored holiday parties.

Holiday parties are an excellent way for employers to boost employee morale, build camaraderie, and celebrate a successful year of business.  At the same time, however, employers should be cautious about the pitfalls that throwing a holiday party can bring.

Alcohol Issues

Employers should take caution when serving alcohol at a company-sponsored holiday party.  First and foremost, employers should make sure that somebody is checking the ID’s of anybody who consumes alcohol.  The purpose of checking ID’s is to avoid serving alcohol to a minor.

Second, employers should also make sure that any individual who is visibly intoxicated is not served any more alcohol.  The purpose of this is to avoid “dramshop” type liability for anybody who drinks at a company-sponsored party and then attempts to drive afterward.  It is also a good idea to provide several non-alcoholic drink options, so guests don’t feel like alcoholic drinks are their only option.

Third, employers should also provide guests with alternative forms of transportation if they are unable to drive, such as cab rides or designated drivers.

Fourth, in order to avoid some of the problems mentioned above, employers should remind employees (and their guests) to drink responsibly.

Finally, employers should also review their insurance policies to determine if they can serve alcohol at a company-sponsored party in the first place.

Sexual Harassment Issues

Oftentimes, when employees attend company-sponsored parties, they forget they are still in a work-related setting.  Once you add some alcohol into the mix, there is a potential that employees may engage in conduct that would violate a company’s anti-sexual harassment policy.  Therefore, employers should make sure to remind employees that the party is work-related, and that all workplace rules still apply at the party.

For example, while it may be festive to have somebody dressed in a Santa Claus suit during the event, employees should not be “sitting on Santa’s lap” because such behavior could be deemed inappropriate under Hawaii and Federal sexual harassment laws.  As another example, employees should be reminded to dress appropriately, so that they don’t dress in a manner that could be deemed inappropriate for a work-related event.

Other Issues

Employees should be reminded that the holiday parties are completely voluntary, and therefore, they are not required to attend the event.

Finally, employers should weigh the pros and cons of having a holiday party on a weekday versus the weekend.  If the party is on a weekday, the employees might not drink as much alcohol or get too rowdy, which alleviates some of the concerns above.  On the other hand, if employees do drink too much alcohol or stay up late, they might be unproductive at work the next day.  If the party is on a weekend, employers do not have to worry about employees’ loss of productivity on the day after the party, but there is a high likelihood the employees will consume more alcohol than they would on a weekday.