Doing the Right Thing (or not in this case)

I like to think we’re all innately good. I mean MOST of us. I like to think we all would do the right thing when presented with a dilemma…or at least I would hope.

HR is one of those areas where we should do the right thing. We’re dealing with the lives and livelihood of other people, ya know?

Throughout my career when presented with a problem I don’t have a clear answer to I’ve always asked myself or my team, “What is the RIGHT thing to do?”

Here’s a common scenario where someone was NOT doing the right thing. And yes…this is common, unfortunately.

A client brought me in initially to do a layoff due to labor issues. He could no longer afford continue production in competition with cheaper labor offshore. We went over WARN Act requirements, final pay requirements and scheduled a time to layoff the first set of workers. Simple right? Seemed to be until I took a look at their payroll registers when he mentioned piece-rate pay.

Me: “These workers work full time?”

Him: “Yes.”

Me: “Forty hours a week?”

Him: “Yes.”

Me: “But Frank got paid $200 for two weeks.”

BTW that’s $2.50 per hour.

Him: “They are paid piece rate.”

Me (in shock): “You need to pay them at least minimum wage. Where are their timecards?”

Him: “There are none.”

I explained that even if you pay a worker piece rate they MUST be paid at least minimum wage. That all hourly nonexempt workers MUST have timecards. That if paid piece-rate it MUST be calculated into their overtime rate.

“But we don’t pay overtime,” he says. “Do they work overtime?” I ask.

He doesn’t know because he doesn’t keep time cards.

I also find out these workers are undocumented and he’s “doing them a favor” by giving them jobs.


Sad, sad, sad.

As much as I tote being an HR professional who “makes HR easy” and doesn’t wag her finger at people for operating outside the law there are limits to this. I understand it’s tough doing business. I understand it’s even tougher doing business in California. What I don’t understand is using people for your benefit to the extent they are being exploited. People no matter the circumstances should not be taken advantage of and you cannot sugar coat that with saying you’re helping someone out. You are not.

There are other ways businesses can take advantage of employees like classifying someone as “exempt” and paying them salary when they should be hourly and entitled to overtime and breaks, or paying lower wages than they know someone should be getting, hiring unpaid interns (not from a college program) when it’s just a young kid trying to make his/her way…the list goes on and on.

We should treat people fairly. We should treat people with respect and love (yeah, I said it…LOVE).

Next time you’re in a scenario with your employees or manager or business or basically any situation ask yourself, “What’s the RIGHT thing to do?” You’ll know with clarity what that is and I believe you’ll choose wisely.

And look…if you truly don’t know what the RIGHT thing to do is, please ask. I’m here to help.


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