I recently had a client ask if the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) required him to reimburse employees for mileage for using their own vehicles to drive to and from mandatory training. Although many employers reimburse their employees for the employees’ use of their personal vehicles for work-related travel, you are not required to do so under the FLSA. The FLSA requires employers to pay their employees a minimum wage, but it does not address reimbursement of expenses.
If you recognize the quote above, congratulations – you have excellent taste in TV viewing. In Season 2, Episode 13 of The Big Bang Theory – The Friendship Algorithm – one of the stars of that excellent series, Sheldon, develops a survey to determine why his current friends like him. His survey is 211 questions long and, as he reassures another character, Penny, it should take no longer than 3 hours to complete. In response, Penny questions whether the survey is the best way to approach the paradigm of making friends. Before an employer uses a survey in the workplace, that same question should be asked. When is a workplace survey appropriate?
Personally, I’m on the fence about workplace surveys. There are many pros and cons to be considered. Plus, the conditions under which surveys are conducted can really impact the efficacy of the results. In fact, just since my last column, I’ve taken and re-taken several on-line quizzes which can be used by employers to assess their employees’ skills. I got different results each time, and while I completed them in the same location (my office), I can tell you that – for example – the weather conditions outside my window were different (sunny vs. cloudy), just like my attitudes on those days (also, sunny vs. cloudy) were different, as well. The point is that there are factors outside your control when you administer a workplace survey, and those factors can have a big impact on your results. Also remember that the survey is a snapshot in time. You should consider this when you evaluate the information you receive from the survey.
If you do choose to use a workplace survey, one suggestion for controlling certain environmental factors is to conduct the surveys in-person, in a group setting. This has several advantages. First, you tend to get much higher participation rates than if you ask that an online or mail-in survey be completed. Second, you can control the atmosphere in which the survey is taken. Lighting, temperature, timing – all of these can be adjusted to ideal conditions. Finally, anonymity (perceived or actual) is enhanced in the group setting. Employees believe that their emails can be tracked specifically, so using email to conduct a survey leaves a perceived trail back to the employee. This perception can stifle free expression. It is only through honest and open communication that you can obtain the information you need to improve your organization.
Speaking of this last point, let’s spend a moment talking about communication. A workplace survey is one form of communicating between employees and management. Surveys allow an employer to obtain their employees’ views on a wide variety of subjects. In turn, this can focus management on the areas of business in need of attention or on what it is doing right. A good survey can empower employees to share new ideas which may otherwise go unheard because the employee can take a chance on voicing those ideas without fear of retaliation or humiliation.
A bad survey, on the other hand, can damage an organization. Workplace surveys must have top management buy-in. If your business is not willing to make changes based on what a survey reveals to you, then don’t use one. It will kill the morale you were hoping to build with your employees when you ask them to be included in the change process and then never follow through.
Poor communication during the survey process can be damaging, as well. You cannot assume that your survey is self-explanatory. What is an employee to do when their answer is not included amongst the choices? Who does an employee ask for clarification? Beyond that issue, think big picture. You should explain the purpose of the survey to your employees. You also should communicate the results to them. Additionally, you should narrow the topics the survey covers (211 questions with a 3 hour time expectation – whether about friendship or otherwise – would be an example of a bad survey). Further, you should tailor the survey to your organization. The surveys you find on-line won’t necessarily work for you or gather the information you require to meet your goals.
Workplace surveys have become ubiquitous. Thoughtful use of them can have beneficial effects on your business. However, there are obstacles to using surveys, too. Overuse, failure to tailor, and lack of communication can lead to poor results from employees who simply won’t take the surveys seriously any more. Don’t fall into the trap Sheldon made for himself. In my view, use workplace surveys correctly, or don’t use them at all.
On December 15, 2014, slightly less than three years after the NLRB’s first thwarted attempt, a final rule (the “2014 Final Rule”) reducing the time between the filing of an election petition and holding workplace union representation elections was published in the Federal Register. The 2014 Final Rule has an effective date of April 14, 2015. The Board described the 2014 Final Rule as “in essence a reissuance of the  rule,” which was invalidated by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on the ground that the Board lacked a statutory quorum when only two members voted to approve the rule.
As the calendar rolls over into a new year, many of us are busy making resolutions, and it seems that certain government enforcement agencies are no different. On January 14, 2015, the EEOC held its first meeting of the new year, resolving to renew its focus on the issue of workplace harassment. During the meeting, new EEOC Chair Jenny Yang announced the creation of a brand new task force dedicated solely to harassment issues, with the goal of reaching out to both employees and employers to promote rights awareness and best employment practices.
These past few days, I’ve enjoyed reading articles and watching movies describing the predictions made many years ago about how our society would look today. For example, Back to the Future 2, which takes place in 2015, got a few things right (even if not many of those “predictions” dealt with the workplace – fax machines and teleconferencing notwithstanding). A 1967 article in U.S. News & World Report made some wacky predictions, like computers in the home and a “checkless” economy in which people would tell their banks who to pay. Not bad, but the article also predicted we would be a more ocean algae consuming society, too. Now, the prediction that laundry rooms would be a thing of the past, replaced by a unit that would intake soiled clothing and emit ready to wear clothing out its other end, is one I’ve still got my fingers crossed on as I make my workplace predictions for 2025:
Even after a record number of wage and hour cases over the last decade, new issues keep arising in this area. One of the most interesting of those questions in recent years hit the United States Supreme Court last year, when the Court tackled the question of whether or not time employees spend in anti-theft security screening at the end of their shift is compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
If you are like me, the changing of the calendar year is often a time to reflect on the past year and to set resolutions for the coming one. Not only is this a perfect opportunity to work on personal growth, but also to work on how you manage your relationships with your employees. Here are five particular areas of reflection and resolution for the New Year which can help in that area: