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Wild Things You Never Thought HR have to deal with

Published May 19, 2023 (last updated on June 14, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Copywriter and Content Creator

You could be forgiven for thinking that HR’s role is limited to hiring and firing. But there’s a lot more to HR than that. In fact, in celebration of the upcoming International HR Day on 20 May; we wanted to shine a spotlight on HR professionals all over the world for whom no two days are ever the same.

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

Laurence McLean Associate Director for Operations from Peninsula New Zealand says, “HR can often 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 calling in to our advice line trying to sell his parrot – HR can handle most things, but maybe it isn’t the best port of call when trying to offload a feathered friend!”

“Believe it or not, it’s all in a day’s work for HR! Let’s take a look at some of the craziest calls received by our advisors over the last year, and I’ll give my advice on how best to handle them.”

Can I issue my employee with a warning letter for wearing the same perfume as myself?

 “Of course, it can be a minor annoyance when someone wears the same item of clothing as you, has a similar hairstyle or wears the same perfume. But it’s definitely not warning material! You can only issue warnings when an employee’s conduct or performance falls below what is expected, and wearing the same scent does not fall in to either of these categories. Instead, put it down to the fact that your employee shares your own great taste.”

We fundraised for our employee’s cancer treatment however, we found Facebook photos of her holidaying in Thailand when she was on sick leave to receive ‘treatment’. Whatcan I do?

 “On face value I can certainly see why this has raised a red flag to you. But still, it’s important not to jump to conclusions here. Did the employee undergo cancer treatment in Thailand? While that’s likely not the case, you must carry out a full investigation to find out all the facts before deciding on your next steps. If it appears that you or your employees have indeed been bamboozled, then this would amount to theft and should be reported to the police. There’s also the matter of falsifying reasons for sick leave which could amount to serious misconduct and, potentially, dismissal.”

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.

 “No, you absolutely cannot do this. Times might be tough right now for businesses, but that doesn’t mean you can underpay employees. You must pay their full agreed wages as laid out in the contract of employment. It’s worth noting that paying less than minimum wage can – and often WILL – result in successful claims against the employer, resulting in fines and reputational damage. If you want to help employees by providing food, then that’s great but it should be in addition to and not at the expense of, their full contractual pay.”

My employee has called in sick because his cat is sick, and the vet has given him a medical certificate for the cat.

 “There is no statutory entitlement for time off, paid or otherwise, on compassionate or bereavement grounds for pets. However, a situation like this is down to the employer’s discretion. For many of us, pets are an extension of our family, and any serious illness or loss will be felt deeply. You may want to consider allowing temporary home working if an employee needs to care for a pet. Other options could be swapping shifts with a colleague or allowing them to take unpaid leave for a specified period. Again, this is entirely discretionary.”

My employee is a bit of a downer; can I terminate them for not being happy at work?

 “While employers can dismiss employees whose behaviours are in violation of company policies and/or have a detrimental impact on their colleagues, you would have to show evidence that you have taken all possible steps to fix the issue before taking any action. Being ‘a bit of a downer’ is not likely to meet those conditions.

“Rather than looking to terminate someone for being unhappy, I’d look at the reasons behind their unhappiness. It might be that they have concerns about their role or the company or have something going on in their private life that is causing them to withdraw. Talk to them privately, assure them that their wellbeing is of paramount importance, and try to find out the reasons behind their unhappiness. If they have concerns about their work, then look at any reasonable adjustments that can be made. And don’t forget to let them know of external support offered via your Employee Assistance Programme.”

“These are just a few examples of the types of calls our Advisers receive and at the end of the day, there is no such thing as a ridiculous question. We believe that it’s always best to be over informed than under informed as a business owner. Navigating New Zealand’s workplace relations landscape can be very stressful for many employers, and that is why at Peninsula we believe in providing the right advice at the right time,” concluded Laurence.

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