Shari’s Solutions: Leadership Trust, Overtime Pay Exemptions, Medical Information

Advice on all things HR from Shari Lau, SHRM-SCP, SHRM’s knowledge manager.
E-mail your questions to AskShari@shrm.org.

By Shari Lau Nov 27, 2016
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How do I generate trust as a newcomer to my organization?

Building trust takes time and effort in any relationship. At work, many people mistakenly assume it comes with their job titles. It doesn’t. And without trust, you won’t be able to accomplish your goals.

When you are new to an organization, the timing is perfect to take the lead on developing those relationships, gaining not only the trust of the organization’s leaders but their respect as well. Even if you’ve been with the company for a while, it’s not too late to make more-meaningful connections. Meet with each member of the leadership team, including the people managers you’ll be working with directly. These can be in-house meetings or offsite lunches. Your goal is to get to know the individuals by asking questions, showing empathy and listening. 

Ask them what is and isn’t working in their department and what they expect from their relationship with HR. You may be starting your new job with a long history of previous accomplishments elsewhere and preformed ideas about how to proceed. However, if you don’t incorporate the needs and perspectives of those around you into your plan, your lofty goals may take a nosedive. Keep meeting regularly to solidify your connections.

I recently heard a speaker say, “You have to give trust to get trust,” and I think that’s true. Trust in what the organization’s leaders are telling you. They have organizational knowledge that you don’t. In HR, we sometimes begin a new position on the defensive, expecting pushback on new processes or initiatives. Instead, place your trust in the leaders, and they’ll be more likely to reciprocate. 

Another key piece of advice is “Don’t take it personally.” This may seem counterintuitive since relationships are personal, but it’s not. A wise friend told me years ago that what other people say and do tells you much more about them than you. 

Certainly, there are times you need to trust what others might say about you and take personal stock, but that’s not what I’m getting at here. Even in a difficult workplace relationship, if you take things personally, you are missing the fact that this person is telling you what is important to him, what bothers him and what he needs to be heard on, especially when he feels attacked. 

It isn’t about you. If you can change your perspective and hear what the individual is revealing about himself, you may be the one to break through and earn his trust because of your calm and consistent interactions with him. 

Finally, you build trust when your words match your actions over time. Be consistent. Be true to your word. Do the right thing even when it’s not the easy thing. Your own competence and ability to trust others will bring that trust back to you time and again. 

Are all of the exemptions from overtime pay under the FLSA affected by the new salary requirements?

[Editor's note: A federal district court has granted a preliminary injunction blocking the overtime rule from taking effect Dec. 1.]

No. There are many exemptions from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). While only a few are affected by the new regulations, they are by far the most commonly used. 

When we think of a position being exempt from overtime under the FLSA, we generally consider the executive, administrative and professional/creative position exemptions, which are often applied to corporate executives, managers and administrators, designers, and writers. Often referred to as the “white-collar” or “executive, administrative and professional” exemptions, these are the classifications affected by the new salary requirements effective Dec. 1, 2016. If you aren’t paying people in those positions at least $913 a week, they will no longer be exempt from overtime.

However, there are many other exemptions from the FLSA, and some practitioners may be confused about how those exemptions are affected. For example, the computer professional exemption allows for a qualifying position to be paid either a weekly salary (to which the new salary requirements do apply) or an hourly rate of $27.63 or more (which was not changed by the new regulations). 

In addition, the outside sales exemption, as well as the learned professional exemption for teachers, doctors and lawyers, never had salary requirements. No changes were made to those exemptions. 

Those in the transportation industry are familiar with the federal Motor Carrier Act and the Railway Labor Act, which exempt certain transportation workers from overtime pay. Those positions also aren’t affected by the new salary requirements. 

There are a host of other exemptions that are relatively unknown, including one for employees of motion picture theaters that has been in effect since 1953 and has required a weekly salary of at least $695 a week since 2004. The new rule increased this base to $1,397 a week. 

Other interesting exemptions from overtime include employees of seasonal and recreational establishments, homeworkers making wreaths, employees engaged in processing maple sap, taxicab drivers, and couples employed by nonprofit educational institutions. I’m not kidding. 

These, and many similarly specific exemptions, weren’t affected by the new salary requirements, as they are not executive, administrative or professional exemptions but rather stand-alone exemptions created over time.  

What should we do if we learn about an employee’s medical condition from someone else?

In a perfect world, a worker with a disability or chronic illness comes forward, provides certification, then asks for and is granted a reasonable accommodation. Your paperwork is pristine, and the employee is thriving. And then you wake up. 

Your reality might be a bit more challenging. A concerned co-worker wants you to know that Omar is seeing a cardiologist and seemed short of breath the other day. Or a manager tells you she has heard that one of her direct reports might need to take time off for a medical issue and that she wants to ask the employee if it’s true. These situations could be covered by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). So what should you do?

Remember that the ADA allows an employer to approach an employee with disability-related questions when such an inquiry is job-related and consistent with business necessity. You must have a reasonable belief either that the employee can’t perform the essential functions of the job because of a medical condition or that he poses a direct threat to himself or others due to his health status. 

Ask the employee’s supervisor about the individual’s performance and whether she knows of any issues that could be affecting it. If there are no complaints and the employee hasn’t given any indication of a medical issue or a need for time off, then take no further action. 

If performance has declined, it may be time for the manager to discuss with the employee how to improve. If the employee divulges a medical issue, HR can take it from there. If not, the situation should be handled the same way as any other performance issue. 

Sometimes it is appropriate to remind employees of their benefits and rights. If Dave casually tells his manager he’s depressed or thinking about counseling, either the manager or HR can remind him of the company’s employee assistance program or health insurance benefits and his right to time off (either under leave laws or as an ADA accommodation). What’s not OK is to question employees about medical issues where no job-related reason exists.   

​Illustrations by James Smallwood for HR Magazine

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