My Employees are Vaping in the Breakroom… HR AMA With Paul Edwards (July 2023)
Hello AADOM Tribe! Welcome back to the monthly LIVE Ask Me Anything with Paul Edwards, CEDR CEO & Founder, and Heather Colicchio, founder and president of AADOM. Throughout the upcoming year, you can submit HR issues that are happening right now in your practice to Paul and CEDR’s team of HR professionals for them to answer. Our team will pick from the dozens that are being submitted and choose several to give guidance on within our Monthly HR Article. Then, Paul and Heather will expand on the written answers during every HR Tuesday Livecast. To submit your questions, click here…Click to open link in a new tab…!
For the in-depth, expanded, and detailed answers…
Listen to HR Tuesdays live, mark your calendar for the second Tuesday of each month, or go here…Click to open link in a new tab… to check out the archived recordings.
All your daily human resource issues likely have some state, federal, or local employment laws that you must comply with while, at the same time, we try to find the best human way to solve the core problem. In this series, we will fit the two together and help you devise some great resolutions.
Here are three of your best submissions this month:
- One of my employees wants access to her work email and our work chat on her personal cell phone. She says it’s because it will be easier for her not to miss things and catch up this way. Am I allowed to let them do this?
- I’m really struggling with hiring lately. I feel like I never find good candidates, and when I do, they seem not to answer the interview questions the way I want. I’m starting to think it’s the types of questions I am asking. What are some good interview questions?
- I’m having a huge problem with employees having their vapes in the office, sometimes even catching them vaping in the break room. How do I handle this?
Let’s Get to Your Questions
Question: One of my employees wants access to her work email and our work chat on her personal cell phone. She says it’s because it will be easier for her not to miss things and catch up this way. Am I allowed to let them do this?
The legal side of things: Hopefully, some flashing caution lights are going off for you. Before approving anyone using a personal device to access work material, your HIPAA Security Officer must ensure that remote access is HIPAA compliant.
Translation: no work-related data is stored locally on the phone; the phone and applicable apps are heavily password protected (and ideally encrypted); and if the phone were lost or accessed by a third party, they would have no way of using it to access your patient information.
Then there’s the issue of HIPAA regarding her accessing practice information on her phone or any personal device. You need to consider how well your email system, and any other data she is gaining remote access to, is encrypted and otherwise secured. And be sure you have a game plan to protect your PHI further if the employee’s cell phone is lost or stolen. Remote access to PHI is a considerable risk and something that HHS repeatedly comes down on healthcare practices about (for HIPAA training for your team, click here…Click to open link in a new tab…).
If you are able to allow the employee to use their cell phone, the next legal consideration is to set parameters for this remote work.
You must pay a non-exempt employee…Click to open link in a new tab… (hourly) for all their working time. This means that if they handle some of their tasks outside of office hours, that time needs to be paid. This gets tricky for a few reasons.
First, many employees either forget to track or over-report their time working from home. If your timekeeping system…Click to open link in a new tab… allows for remote clocking from a personal device, that is a huge help. But we see time and time again that employees forget to clock in for work performed at home and, at the end of the pay period, they have to guess the hours worked, or they don’t log that time. Getting that time tracked correctly is critical for employers, and employers can get in trouble with the DOL for unpaid wages, even though the employee failed to track their time.
Here’s the final time-tracking problem, at least of those we are addressing: Time worked is time worked, no matter the type of work or where it is performed. So this extra time the employee is clocking from home counts toward overtime.
If the employee wants to work from home because she has too much work to get done during the day, she’s presumably working a full schedule already, which means that working more hours is most likely putting her into overtime. So this request to access email from home has another meaning – by default, you could be approving her working overtime regularly.
The human approach: If this employee has already felt overwhelmed, you risk her getting burnt out working extra hours from home. Usually, this issue is happening because you’re currently short-staffed and super busy. It’s a “Yay!” for being busy, but balancing this employee’s duties is important.
Our recommendation would be to sit down and take a look at all of her responsibilities. What can be delegated to other team members? Are there any tasks that can be combined to save time? If the employee feels like she has to work more hours to respond to emails, is there a way she could be more efficient?
Or should certain work duties be delegated to someone else on the team who is not as overwhelmed? We recommend filling out a Difference Maker Inventory, listing out all of the tasks currently assigned to this one employee. Then go through each one and evaluate whether she is the right person to do that job and whether certain tasks can be assigned to someone else on the team. AADOM Members can access CEDR’s Difference Maker Inventory here…Click to open link in a new tab….
Another angle here is that employees, particularly administrative ones, are being granted the ability to work from home to help them balance their lives. This means that they are not necessarily going to work overtime, but as you can see, simply saying yes to loading software on the phone carries many logistical HIPAA and wage and hour concerns that must be addressed.
If you are considering hiring another person to help relieve some of this stress for your current employee, our hiring guide…Click to open link in a new tab… has helpful guidance for when you’re ready to start the process.
Question: I’m really struggling with hiring lately. I feel like I never find good candidates, and when I do, they seem not to answer the interview questions the way I want. I’m starting to think it’s the types of questions I am asking. What are some good interview questions?
The legal side of things: Before revisiting your questions, first make sure that the type of information you’re trying to get out of the candidates is okay to ask about in the first place.
The legal and safe way to go about asking questions is to recognize what it is that you truly need to know. For example, if your concern is whether they are going to have attendance issues, you can approach it with the following set of inquiries:
- Tell me about a time you had an issue getting to work on time and how you addressed that.
- Our patient care depends on the person in this position being here every day no later than 7:30 AM and being able to stay until 5:30 PM. Are there any days when you might have difficulty being here for those hours?
The human approach: What makes something a “good” interview question is the extent to which the answer gives you useful information. A critical part of the hiring process is to prepare yourself by outlining what information you want about a potential hire and developing interview questions directed to those goals.
Many employers get stuck relying on the same set of questions written long ago and not asking follow-up questions. Managers always need to evolve, you know this, and making sure you’re changing up your ads and revisiting your interview questions is one of the most important things you can do to help improve your hiring results.
When we do our hiring at CEDR, our HR Manager and the department manager do a lot of prep work before a position is even posted. We revisit the job ad, the interview questions, the skills test, and the job description. This involves considering what we are looking for in the position now, as needs may have changed since the last time we hired. And we may have learned that there are some specific things we do (or don’t) want in our next candidate.
Sometimes, we’ll look at our previously written interview questions and can’t even remember why we ask one of the questions. If that’s the case, we stop asking it! And if we realize there’s a piece of information we aren’t asking for, we get that added. Each question should have some intent behind it. It’s hard to know what to do with the candidate’s answer if you aren’t clear about that.
But it can be hard to self-edit, so there are times when you may think your question is exactly what you should be asking, yet you aren’t getting the result for which you’re looking. When this is the case, try testing the question out on other people. You can then talk to them about what you were hoping to learn from the answer and learn from them their reasoning behind why they answered the way they did. Getting the outside perspective can easily solve this problem for you.
Even with the best preparation you can do, you may still find yourself in a situation where the candidate isn’t responding as you hoped. If you can tell at the moment that the candidate is going down the wrong road, it’s okay to redirect them. This can be done by reframing the question, telling them what you were trying to ask about, or asking a follow-up. It can be hard to do this at the moment, but the more interviewing you do, the better you can get at it.
Our blog on Behavioral Interview Questions…Click to open link in a new tab… includes instructions on writing your own behavioral questions and 50 example questions broken up by specific qualities you might be looking for in an employee. You can use the example questions as is or as a starting point when drafting your interview questions.
CEDR members can always contact the Solution Center…Click to open link in a new tab… if they need assistance with the specifics of a question or want us to review your questions—one more benefit of having experts on your side…Click to open link in a new tab… when you need them.
Do you have an HR question for Paul? Submit your HR questions for Paul to discuss on the next HR Tuesday LiveCast here…Click to open link in a new tab…!
Question: I’m having a huge problem with employees having their vapes in the office, sometimes even catching them vaping in the break room. How do I handle this?
The legal side of things: Vaping isn’t new, but it seems more of a problem than ever for employers lately. It’s not a great look if your patients catch sight of your employees vaping around your office. And, in many states, vaping inside public buildings isn’t just discouraged; it’s illegal…Click to open link in a new tab…. For this article, we will focus on vaping as an addiction to nicotine and not the use of cannabis while on duty. (yes, that is happening too.)
Even if there is no relevant state law about vaping inside a building, you can have and strictly enforce a policy against vaping in the office. And you can address this issue with employees who violate the rule and even terminate them if it becomes a losing battle.
The human approach: We’ve been hearing from a lot of dental practices that continue to catch employees vaping in the office even after being told they aren’t allowed to do so. Their response to being told not to do it is to do it anyway but try to be careful not to get caught.
What is getting lost in that back and forth is often the manager not addressing the underlying issue – helping the employee understand that there are reasons behind not allowing vaping in the office.
The impact of vaping isn’t always obvious in the way that smoking a cigarette inside the office would be. Explaining the impact that vaping has on others can go a long way in resolving this recurring problem.
They may know they’re not using a vape to smoke marijuana – but those around them don’t know that. A coworker or a patient having any reason to believe that they’re getting high on the job, right in front of you no less, is not okay.
Vaping may, in fact, be for them, a great alternative to smoking cigarettes. But for someone trying to quit smoking cigarettes, the experience of someone vaping in front of them can be very uncomfortable and contribute to them having a hard time quitting. That person should be able to go to work without worrying about someone essentially smoking inside the building.
And as much as it has been argued that vaping is healthier than traditional smoking, there is still a second-hand smoke issue. The person vaping likely doesn’t notice the smell or isn’t bothered by it. But the same can’t be said for the non-vapers around them, who may be very sensitive to the smell or concerned about the impact of that smoke on their own health.
So what should you do? Tell them! It is much more impactful to tell someone the why behind something rather than just giving a directive. So yes, you can remind them that your Employee Handbook bans smoking of any kind in the office, but giving them the “why” behind why vaping is no different and carries its own issues can be much more successful.
Remember, HR TUESDAY DEPENDS ON THE TRIBE ASKING GREAT HR-RELATED QUESTIONS. Submit your HR questions for Paul to discuss on the next HR Tuesday LiveCast here…Click to open link in a new tab…!