The summer months often present unique issues for employers when it comes to telecommuting, flexible schedules, seasonal hires, summer interns, time off, and summer vacations. These are among the key workplace challenges an employer should consider.
Summer may be a time when employees are more interested in telecommuting and flexible schedules to help them spend more time with family, watch children home from school, enjoy the summer weather and longer days and otherwise improve work-life balance. An employer may provide support by allowing employees to work remotely and implementing flex-time policies. However, if an employer permits this, it should be sure to establish comprehensive policies and procedures. An employer should ensure that employees record the time spent working and outline the employer’s guidelines and expectations regarding productivity and deadlines. An employer still may be liable for any unpaid wages or overtime for time spent working and thus should make sure to compensate employees adequately based on-time records.
Many companies ramp up their hiring over the summer. When hiring any seasonal workers or temporary workers to assist during the summer months, it is essential for an employer to utilize the same hiring practices and background checks as the employer use for all full-time workers. Further, an employer must comply with all relevant discrimination, harassment, and child labor laws.
Summer is also a time when employees take time off to enjoy vacations and special time with loved ones in the beautiful weather. Therefore, an employer should make sure that its policies regarding vacation or paid time off (PTO) are communicated to all employees and placed in an employee handbook. Further, such policies should be applied uniformly to prevent discrimination claims. An employer may require employees to provide advance notification of time off and schedules so that the employer may properly plan concerning scheduling and coverage.
During the summer, it may be common for an employer to hire interns to provide exposure and insight into the business and, potentially, prepare them for future employment. However, an unpaid intern may claim that he or she is an employee and should be appropriately compensated and provided with workplace protections. An employer considering unpaid internships should be sure the intern realizes most of the benefits. An employer should take the following actions to help limit the legal risks of an unpaid internship:
- Make sure the employer and the intern both clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation, ideally with a written acknowledgment from both the intern and the company;
- Provide training that would be similar to what would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions;
- Tie the internship to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit;
- Accommodate the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar;
- Ensure the intern continues to learn during the entire duration of his or her internship;
- Make the intern’s work complement, rather than displace, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern; and
- Understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the course.
A prudent employer should take note of the challenging issues the summer may present and develop a set of best practices for handling these issues to make the workplace more productive and efficient, as well as minimize the risk of employer liability.
About the author: Beth Zoller covers topics related to discrimination and harassment, diversity, employee privacy, employee handbooks, and workplace conduct for XpertHR, an online employment resource.