Although office holiday parties can be an amazing way to thank employees for their hard work all year, they can also be a minefield of potential liability for employers. This liability can crop up in any number of ways, including through harassing or offensive comments, inappropriate sexual or romantic advances, inadvertent discrimination, and excessive alcohol consumption. This year, in addition to these issues, employers also need to be prepared to deal with a brand new potential pitfall: the use of recreational cannabis.
Those in “Human Resources” often suffer from an existential dilemma, unsure as to whether they should be seen as part of management, a representative of the workers, or something in between. Since the lawyers at Rudner Law work with both employees and employers, we routinely hear from employees that “HR is just there to protect the company and won’t help me”, while at the same time, we hear from HR that management will not involve them in decision-making since they are seen as protectors of the employees, constantly telling the leadership that they can’t do what they want to.
Part of the issue relates to the approach that HR takes with respect to workers. Some are “strictly business”, whereas others are seen as being too “soft”. Obviously, the ideal answer is to be a combination of the two. Employees should be comfortable in the knowledge that HR will listen to and address their concerns but, at the same time, part of the mandate of HR is to ensure that rules are followed and employees are performing their duties properly.
In essence, the question sometimes comes down to how much to stress the “human” side of Human Resources. Coincidentally, earlier this week, the Rudner Law social media feed included an interesting dichotomy. First, we linked to a Ted Talk presented by Mary Shaefer titled “Putting the human back into human resources”. It is an excellent video and, not surprisingly given the title, encourages employers, and Human Resources professionals, to consider and address the “human needs” of their workers.
Later in the day, I came across the news headline below and posted the article.
‘Heartless’ manager fired over texts to employee with son on life support
While the headline sounded like it might be “click-bait”, the facts were even more shocking than the headline itself. As the story recounted:
Crystal Reynolds Fisher rushed her child Jason to hospital after he fell ill. She then messaged her manager, known as ‘Dawn’, at service station PS Food Mart in Albion to let her know she wouldn’t make her shift.
However, if Fisher was expecting any sympathy, she was looking in the wrong place. Dawn preceded to inform Fisher that she was fired, claiming there was ‘too much drama’ unfolding.
“This isn’t how we do things, so I’ll accept you’re quitting,” Dawn wrote. “If you cannot come to work that’s quitting…There is no reason you can’t work and I will not tolerate drama. End of conversation…If you aren’t there to work your shift tomorrow then I take that as you’ve quit.”
Fisher replied: “This is not an eye doctors appointment or a dentist appointment, this is my child’s life we are talking about. I never quit my job.
“Would you be able to go to work and function if your child was on life support?”
Dawn then responded: “Yes I would, I still have bills to pay. We don’t get to come and go as we please at Folk Oil. I have a store to run and that’s my focus.”
Ms. Fisher posted the exchange on FaceBook and it generated a lot of attention. It also led the employer to publicly apologize and announce that the manager was no longer employed there.
That situation is clearly an example of a manager (not HR Professional) entirely ignoring the human side of his role. But perhaps it is a good reminder that while HR Professionals are often wise not to be too friendly with the employees, they should also remember to be human. If the employee needs time off to be with a sick child, or additional bereavement leave, or simply encouragement in their role, HR should provide it (within reason of course). Not only is it the “human” thing to do but, in most cases, it will boost employee morale for the individual in question and all that are aware of it, increased loyalty, and increased productivity. In other words, a true win-win.