HR Solutions

By Jun 1, 2003
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HR Magazine, June 2003Payroll Cuts; Personal Hygiene; Extra Leave.

Q: Can you explain how a layoff, a furlough and a reduction in force differ from one another?

A: All three of these terms describe actions that are intended to achieve cost savings by reducing a company’s payroll costs. Even though the words have been used interchangeably, their true meanings are quite different.

A furlough is considered to be an alternative to layoff. When an employer furloughs its employees, it requires them to work fewer hours or to take a certain amount of unpaid time off. For example, an employer may furlough its employees one day a week for the remainder of the year, and pay them for only 32 instead of their normal 40 hours each week. Another method of furlough is to require all employees to take a week or two without pay sometime during the year.

An employer may require all employees to go on furlough, or it may exempt some employees who provide essential services. Generally, though, the theory is to have the majority of employees share some hardship as opposed to a few employees losing their jobs completely. Employers must be careful when furloughing exempt employees, so that they continue to pay them on a salary basis and do not jeopardize their exempt status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). A furlough that encompasses a full workweek is one way to accomplish this, since the FLSA states that exempt employees do not have to be paid for any week in which they perform no work.

A layoff is a temporary separation from payroll. An employee is laid off because there is not enough work for him to perform; his employer, however, believes that this condition will change and intends to recall him when work again becomes available. Employees generally are able to collect unemployment benefits while laid off without pay, and frequently an employer will allow them to maintain benefits coverage as an incentive to remain available for recall.

Once management has determined that an employee will not be recalled to work, the layoff becomes permanent and is more accurately called a reduction in force,or a termination. A reduction in force (RIF, pronounced “rif”) involves a permanent cut in head count that also can be accomplished by means of attrition. When an employee is terminated pursuant to a reduction in force, it is sometimes referred to as being “riffed.”However, some employers use layoff as a euphemism for what is actually a permanent separation. This may be confusing to the affected employee, allowing him to believe that recall is a possibility, and preventing him from devoting his full energies toward locating a new position.

Linda K. Anguish, SPHR, is an information specialist with SHRM’s Information Center.

Q: Employees are complaining that a co-worker’s body odor is offensive and making them ill. How should we handle the situation?

A: Having to sit down with an employee to tell them their smell is offensive to others is an unpleasant and daunting task. But ignoring the problem will only make matters worse and eventually will affect the performance and job satisfaction of other employees.

Conduct an investigation to verify the allegations and whether a legitimate problem exists before meeting with the employee. Because this is an extremely sensitive issue and one that most likely will result in the employee being uncomfortable and embarrassed, the meeting should be held in a setting and manner that ensures privacy and confidentiality.

This situation needs be handled by being compassionate but direct. The best approach is to treat it as you would any other job-related performance issue. Explain what the problem is and the need to correct the problem. Be specific about expectations. Be prepared to deal with any rebuttals or denials. If the employer has a dress and grooming policy, refer to the policy and provide the employee with a copy.

Perhaps the employer can suggest measures that can be taken to improve personal hygiene, such as changing and laundering clothing more often, using deodorants, etc.

Caution should be taken not to suggest possible medical causes for body odor because doing so can lead to potential Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) implications. If the employee volunteers that the condition is medically related, the employer should ask for a physician’s certification in order whether this is an ADA-protected disability and what, if any, reasonable accommodations need to be or can be made. The Job Accommodation Network web site contains ideas on accommodating employees with medically related body odor.

Do not mention what you believe to be differences in culture that may be contributing to the problem. Making such comments may lead to claims of discrimination under federal and state EEO laws.

The employer should monitor the situation to ensure that other employees are not taunting or making this employee the brunt of jokes. Employees guilty of such conduct should be disciplined appropriately.

Naomi Cossack is a senior information specialist with SHRM’s Information Center.

Q: An employee out on FMLA leave says she doubts she can return at the end of 12 weeks and has asked her boss for an extra month of leave. Do we have to give it to her?

A: While FMLA does not require an employer to provide more than 12 weeks of leave, it is possible that there is a state law that would make your employee eligible for additional leave. For example, the District of Columbia family leave laws provide 16 weeks of family leave within a 24-month period. Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Louisiana, Oregon, Rhode Island and Tennessee have laws that may require private employers to provide more than 12 weeks of leave.

Also, if the employee is taking leave to seek treatment for a disability or a disability-related illness, the employer may be obligated under the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide leave as a reasonable accommodation. If the employer is aware of a disability that might affect the employee’s ability to return to work after FMLA leave is exhausted, the employer should consult legal counsel before refusing to provide additional leave.

Additionally, the employer should review its policies about leave to determine if company policies imply eligibility for an extension of leave. Lastly, the employer should review the company’s past practice when employees have been unable to return from FMLA leave. If the company has allowed additional leave in the past, the employer would need to have legitimate reason for denying an extension of leave in this instance.

Amy Maingault, SPHR, is an information specialist with SHRM’s Information Center.

Please note: This material is provided as general information and is not a substitute for legal or other professional advice. National members may reach the Information Center by calling (800) 283-7476 and choosing option #5.

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