Answers to some common (and difficult) HR questions

By Michelle Higgins, associate editor, J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

Posted July 26, 2018

Working in HR has its ups and downs like any other job, but one thing is for sure … there’s rarely a dull moment. With ever-changing employment laws and a plethora of internal and external demands, you’re kept on your toes. Sometimes you may feel like you don’t have all the answers. We’re here to help.

Below are a few Q & As that may address some of your most pressing concerns:

Wage Garnishments

Question: We have an employee who has more than three garnishments coming out of his biweekly paychecks. Two are consumer garnishments and one is a tax levy. Which comes out first?

Answer: If an employee has more than one type of garnishment, you may want to contact the issuing agencies for assistance. Generally, tax debts and child support obligations must be satisfied before creditor debts. This sometimes means that a creditor’s garnishment cannot be followed because the maximum allowable garnishment is being used for child support or tax debts. In some cases, however, an agency which has legal priority (such as the Internal Revenue Service) may defer payment, or may agree to take an amount after the other garnishment. Your company will, most likely, need to speak with the court or agency that issued those garnishment orders and explain the overall situation to help determine the payment order.

Difficult Employee

Question: We have an employee who is very outspoken around the office, especially about wages. She has not broken policy, but she is causing a morale issue. What can we do? Can we terminate her?

Answer: The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows employees to discuss wages, hours, and other working conditions (including management practices) because such discussions may be essential to deciding whether to form a union. Those rights, therefore, apply to employees in non-union workplaces (but not to supervisors, since they cannot join a union). If an employee is complaining about things at work, that activity may be “protected” under the NLRA.

If the employee is complaining that she is underpaid or works too many hours, that might be an individual gripe. However, if she complains that all of the employees should get raises, that could be protected activity – because she is acting (or attempting to act) on behalf of others.

Before making a termination decision, you may want to consult an attorney to discuss your options, potential liability, and risks based on the nature of the activity.

Sexual Harassment

Question: A female employee came to HR with screen shots of a conversation she had over the weekend with a male coworker. The chat did not happen over company time, phones, or computers. The male employee, however, crossed sexual harassment lines with his language. Although the female employee is uncomfortable, she asked HR not to do anything since she asked him to stop and he agreed. She just wants it on file in case the male employee acts inappropriately again. What are our obligations?

Answer: Harassing behavior outside of work can certainly spill over into the workplace. While it’s common for employees to not want anything done about incidents like this, you still have an obligation to investigate it just as you would any other possible harassment situation.

About the author:

Michelle Higgins is an associate editor with J. J. Keller & Associates, a nationally recognized compliance resource firm. The company offers a diverse line of products and services to address the broad range of responsibilities held by corporate professionals. Higgins specializes in business topics such as benefits and compensation, and the Family and Medical Leave Act. She is the editor of J. J. Keller’s BottomLine Benefits & Compensation newsletter. For more information, visit www.jjkeller.com/hr and www.jjkellerlibrary.com.