Ask Rita in HR

Ask Rita in HR is actually written by three HR attorneys: Ellen Aldridge, Mike Bishop and Kim Medwar. They are at the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group, one of the sponsors of American Nonprofits and Blue Avocado. All three of them advise nonprofits on wrongful termination, wage & hour, discrimination, harassment and other employment issues -- before they are sued -- to keep them out of court.


Model Dress Code for Nonprofits

Following is sample language to use in your organization's dress code:

While work attire is casual at our organization, all employees should maintain appropriate standards of neat and professional dress and grooming. The key point in determining what is appropriate work attire is the use of common sense and good judgment, applying a dress practice that our organization deems conducive to our work environment. If you question the appropriateness of a certain piece attire, it probably isn't appropriate. Requests for advice and assistance in administrating or interpreting this guideline should be directed to Human Resources irector.

While employees may wear casual clothes, attire that should not be worn includes:

  • Clothing that does not fit correctly-too tight or too loose.
  • Clothing that is faded, stained, discolored, torn, patched, ripped, or frayed.
  • Clothing with missing buttons.
  • Sandals, thongs, flip-flops, or similar footgear.
  • Shorts, halter tops, gym, athletic, or sweat clothes.
  • Clothing with offensive slogans or pictures, e.g., profanity and nude or

Tattoos and Piercings . . . and a Model Dress Code

Dear Rita: Our younger employees are increasingly decorated with ink and metal. Most of them conceal their "body art" while at work but in summer it's become more visible. We don't care about tattoos and piercing but we don't want to look at them, and we don't think our visitors do either. Is it legal for us to ban visible body art? -- Artless Old Fogey

Dear Artless: We're not surprised the issue has surfaced in your organization. A recent study found that about one-half of people in their twenties sport body piercings beyond their ears, and one-fourth of Americans between the age of 18 and 50 are tattooed (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 6/06). Visible tattoos and piercings can be legally regulated, but as you probably know, your employees may chafe at such rules.

The cultural shift towards more body art sends a shout out to organizations that can't be ignored. If you are seeking to keep body art covered to present a more professional appearance, you should consider updating your dress code. In fact . . .

I Have a Bad Boss -- Help!

This issue's Ask Rita in HR column responds to two reader questions about different types of bad bosses. Don't forget that archived Ask Rita topics can be found by clicking on the Ask Rita box in the right side of the magazine under "Our Columns."

Dear Rita: My boss shows favoritism to a single employee, and it's creating a bad atmosphere. She buys this person expensive presents, allows her far more flexibility in her hours than other people, and always points to this person as an example that we should follow. I love my job, but this is beginning to get to be a real problem. Signed, Resentful

Dear Rita: I love my job! It's the job of my dreams. But there's one problem: my boss . . .

A 7-Point Checklist for Responding to a Request for Family or Medical Leave

Here are the basics for how a nonprofit should handle an employee's request to take Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave. For more, be sure to see Wading through New Family and Medical Leave Act Regulations.

The employer must send the employee an eligibility notice within five business days of request for FMLA leave.

1. The employer must determine if an employee is eligible for FMLA leave (12-month/1250 hour requirement).

2. The employer should decide if it has enough information to certify that the employee has a serious medical condition or if she or he will require medical certification. A request for medical certification should be included in the eligibility notice, with a return date of 15 business days.

The employer must send the employee a designation notice, within five business days of determining eligibility.

3. The employer can designate the leave as qualifying under the FMLA, contingent upon . . .

Wading through the New Family and Medical Leave Act Regulations

New year, new forms to fill out! Though we love that employees can have some flexibility when serious medical and family issues arise, administering the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can be challenging. Mercifully, Ask Rita offers some guidance on the technicalities of recent changes to the law.

Dear Rita: Just when I thought I had my head wrapped around the intricacies of the leave and health benefit laws, they changed: the FMLA, ADA and COBRA regulations were all revised and rewritten this year. Of course, these revisions come at a time when we are in dire financial straits, facing layoffs, and certainly don't want the added risk of violating FMLA regulations. Can you outline the basic FMLA changes? - Head is Spinning

Dear Spinning:

Downsizing from Employees to Independent Contractors?

Q: Our nonprofit group home has to downsize and as part of our reorganization we are considering changing some of our employees into independent contractors as a cost-saving measure. If we did that, we wouldn't have to pay for benefits and we'd have more flexibility - we could match our personnel to our workload. What is the potential downside to making that change?

A: It is possible to transition an employee to a contactor if the worker truly meets the legal tests for independent contractor status. What you need to watch out for is the possibility of a payroll tax audit or the potential for various benefit-related . . .

Nonprofit Layoffs and Furloughs: Do Them Right

Dear Rita: It looks like we're going to have to lay some people off in the next couple of months. But the management team is also considering furloughs, a week's shutdown, and other choices. The decision about what to do won't be made by us in HR. But we will need to carry out the unpleasant acts. How can we do these legally and nicely? --Dreading It All

Dear Dreading It All: My sympathies are with you and although it probably won't help you feel better, many community nonprofits are in the same boat. And your attention to the HOW is important: how people are laid off (or hear about pay cuts, etc.) makes a big difference in how the departing staff feel and how the remaining staff can move forward in a positive way. Each group has to assess what works best on their own particular boat, but here are some things to think about:

An Alcohol Problem Holds the Bookkeeping Hostage

Dear Rita: Most of the 11 employees in the rural education nonprofit I direct work out of the office. We hardly see each other, so after our quarterly staff meetings, we usually get together for a glass of wine or dinner. After our last meeting our bookkeeper, "Alice," got obviously drunk. Then a few weeks later, I went into the office unexpectedly and she made a quick excuse to leave. I think - but don't know for sure - that she was drunk. Also, in the past few months Alice has missed a few deadlines. Once, she didn't make the tax deposit! What can I do?
Sobered Supervisor

A Drug and Alcohol Free Workplace Policy for Nonprofits

While there is no one model drug and alcohol free workplace program that is right for all workplaces, there are standard elements of such a program that should be included at your agency. Effective programs typically contain the following elements:

  • a written policy in the employee handbook
  • supervisor training on the policy and in alcohol and drug use detection
  • employee education and awareness of the policy
  • employee assistance to provide help to those seeking treatment

Remember that certain employers, by law, are required to adopt specific policies on this issue. If you have Department of Transportation-regulated commercial drivers, . . .


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