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Misunderstandings, bad ideas and other weird news from the world of HR.

January 14, 2010

Employees have always had misunderstandings about labor laws, company policies and other HR issues. Last month I promised to share some of the strangest tales I’ve come across. Here is a collection of strange and amusing HR misconceptions and legal problems.

Social media has given employees brand new ways to get in trouble at work. Remember: everyone can access the Internet, including your boss and employees. It’s not a good idea to tweet about your bad behavior and inebriation at the office or your ill intention toward your co-workers. Read for the worst offenders on twitter. Be forewarned- the language is off color.

South Carolina and Florida have both had recent social media rulings. The issue in question was who judges can “friend” on Facebook. South Carolina is permissive. Judges may friend police officers as long as they don’t discuss anything related to the judge’s magisterial duties. The court’s opinion explains that allowing judges to be on Facebook lets the community to know as people.

Florida, on the other hand, has a very restrictive policy. Judges may not friend any lawyer who “may” appear before them.

In other legal issues, states can deny unemployment benefits for employees who were terminated for cause. This includes employees who were terminated for failed drug tests. Some claimants go to great lengths to get unemployment benefits even after failing drug tests.

The Des Moines Register reported that a man was turned down for unemployment benefits after a judge ruled that he was fired for cause. His employer, an ethanol plant, suffered a massive fuel alcohol spill. The employee was a recovering alcoholic. He resisted his urge to drink as long as he could. Finally, his willpower gave out and he drank from the spill causing him to pass out and later register a 0.72 blood-alcohol reading. [Des Moines Register, 7-9-06]

ELAnet reports that an employee was denied unemployment benefits because he was terminated for testing positive for cocaine. His excuse? He smoked pot. To avoid failing his drug test for marijuana use, he used urine left in an unflushed urinal for his drug test.

Weirdness is not limited to drug use. The Internet is filled with bizarre tales of sexual harassment, including the case Liza Minnelli settled with her former chauffeur. Ms. Minnelli was accused of forcing her male chauffeur to have sex with her. There is also the high profile case involving a Brooklyn fish market. The managers of the fish market are accused of grabbing; pinching and putting fish hooks in the buttocks of several male employees. Let me clear up some common misconceptions: Harassment is still harassment even if its done by a woman, occurs between 2 men or doesn’t involve touching.

There are also a lot of misconceptions about final paychecks. Stories from employees who feel wronged are everywhere. Whole websites are devoted to angry former employees. Employers, you have to make a paycheck available during regular hours. You do not have to meet the employee or bring the check anywhere. However, be careful using a final paycheck as leverage to get a former employee to return company property. It’s rare that the courts will allow it.

Helping your employees understand your company’s policies is the best way to combat misconceptions and misunderstandings. Regular communication and being available for questions will go far to avoid confusion. Unfortunately, there will always be bad behavior and bad ideas.

Next up: using entrepreneurial ideas to get ahead when you are not self-employed.

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