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The things you never thought HR would have to manage

You could be forgiven for thinking that HR’s role is limited to hiring and firing. But in reality, there’s a lot more to it than that. And by a lot, we sure do mean A LOT.

You could be forgiven for thinking that HR’s role is limited to hiring and firing. But in reality, there’s a lot more to it than that. And by a lot, we sure do mean A LOT.

In fact, in celebration of the upcoming International HR Day, we wanted to shine a spotlight on HR professionals everywhere for whom no two days are ever the same…

Peninsula Group provides HR services to over 120,000 SMEs around the globe. They have pulled together the wild and wackiest calls received by advisors from group companies in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the UK.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, says, “HR can get a bad rap, but the job is extremely varied and rewarding. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, we recently had a client call the advice line trying to sell his parrot…. now HR can handle most things, but maybe isn’t the best port of call when trying to offload a feathered friend! Believe it or not, crazy situations like this are all in a day’s work for HR. Let’s look at the wildest calls received by our advisors over the last year, and I’ll give my advice on how best to handle them.”

Can I fire someone for playing hide and seek in the office?
“Firstly, you need to find out when this happened. It’s unlikely that playing games will be included in any employee’s job description, so taking time away from their normal duties to do so could potentially be a conduct issue, especially if it resulted in missed deadlines or unattended customers. However, if it was on a lunch break and caused no disturbance to colleagues, then it’s a rather different and fun way of spending some downtime and building interpersonal relationships. You need to ascertain the facts before taking any disciplinary action.”

A colleague drove me to work the other day and was a terrible driver. Can I raise a grievance against them?
“Bad drivers are the bane of many people’s lives. And sharing a vehicle with one can be a terrifying experience. If the employee in question drives for a living and there is a concern about their ability to safely carry out their role, then there may be grounds for a grievance. However, it may be better to raise an informal complaint to their line manager in the first instance. They can then take steps to educate and provide training where necessary, and perhaps introduce a performance plan. If they do not drive for a living, then there’s not much that an employer can do. I would suggest not accepting a ride from them in the future.”

Can I fire someone for stealing my lunch?
“Going to the fridge on your lunch break to find someone has taken your food can be a common annoyance. Often this is a simple mistake and can be rectified with a quiet word. Alternatively, if it is not clear who is taking the food and it keeps happening, it may be appropriate to get HR involved. Reminding staff to be respectful of each other and their property should work. If the problem continues, you may need to carry out a full investigation to find out who the culprit is. But remember – installing CCTV is not as simple as it sounds due to data protection laws. It’s worth noting that you should discourage employees from taking matters into their own hands, such as adding laxatives to food to help identify the thief. This could put someone’s safety at risk, and lead to further disciplinary action.”

A staff member swore at me, am I allowed to swear back?
“Society’s attitudes towards profanity have certainly relaxed over the years. In fact, a recent tribunal ruling found that effing and jeffing is so common at work now that it’s acceptable. However, context is key. It is, ultimately, up to each employer to decide what is acceptable language at work. This stance should be clearly set out in the workplace policies. And as an employer, you should lead by example. But there’s one line that must never be crossed. Swearing should never be used as a tool to belittle, bully, or discriminate. Use of any words relating to the 9 protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010 will be wholly unacceptable and could leave you at risk of a discrimination or harassment claim. It goes without saying that some in lines of work swearing will never be acceptable. And remember there might be some other explanation that isn’t obvious and could affect an investigation. Perhaps the employee suffers from Tourette’s, or English isn’t their first language, or maybe they’ve been under a lot of stress recently. All these things need to be considered.”

A staff member resigned recently, and I didn’t say goodbye. Can they sue me?
“Whilst this could be considered ignorant and leave a bad taste in your employee’s mouth, it will not be reason to sue. Injury to feelings is valid grounds for an employee or former employer to sue their employer or former employer, but they would have to provide evidence of unlawful discrimination and show they have experienced upset, worry, frustration, humiliation, or distress as a result. It’s unlikely that failure to say goodbye would amount to this. If you feel that badly, then maybe reach out to apologise and say goodbye.”

And if you think those are bad, now let’s look at some of the calls heard by other Peninsula Group companies around the globe…

Employsure, Australia

  • Can I give my employee a warning for wearing the same perfume as me?
  • We fundraised for our employee’s cancer treatment but found Facebook photos in Thailand when she took sick leave to receive ‘treatment’. This doesn’t seem right… what can I do?
  • Can I pay my workers, half in cash and half in food, if I can prove that the value of food is of equal value? I can attach the food pricing to their payslip.
  • My employee has called in sick because his cat is sick, and the vet has given him a med cert for the cat.
  • My employee is a bit of a downer; can I terminate them for not being happy at work?

 Canada

  • An employee called in sick with Covid and said they would be off for the 5-day mandatory quarantine period. I requested proof as they have a high level of absences. The employee sent in a photo of a positive Covid test, but it looked familiar, so I did a bit of research and found the exact same photo making the rounds on social media. What can I do?
  • A new employee asked where the toilets were, so I showed them. Moments later, I noticed them walking out of the front door. They then squatted down and went to the toilet on the sidewalk outside our store. How do I deal with this?
  • I caught an employee sleeping at their desk during working hours, but when I asked what he was doing he said he was meditating to reduce stress, not sleeping. He said he had previously complained about workload to his supervisor, what should I do?
  • I have a serious problem. I recently called an ambulance as an employee was bitten by a coyote in our parking lot. Upon further investigation, it turns out that they were engaging in sexual activities with another employee whilst on their lunch break and, whilst doing so, were bitten on their bare behind… does this count as a workplace accident?
  • A new manager is refusing to go into certain areas of the store alone, claiming that she can see ghosts wandering the aisles. She waits at the front doors till a co-worker comes and avoids working near the areas where she claims to see apparitions. How do I deal with this?

 Ireland

  • I need some support; one of my staff, an undertaker, was just run over by the priest.
  • A member of staff is asking other staff to cover for her while she meets up with men she’s having affairs with on her lunch break. How do I manage this?
  • My staff member said they were working from home, but it turns out they have been in Mexico for months. How do I make them come back?
  • Our former staff member stole the company dog. How do we get it back?

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