Unlike Halloween, the workplace does not need to be a scary place.
Halloween is that time of year when people gather around and tell each other scary stories. Unfortunately, the workplace has its fair share of these stories, too.
Here are some spooky HR stories that bring some important lessons to light:
1) Trick-or-treat: Unwelcomed birthday party costs employer $450,000. Knowing that the company celebrates employee birthdays, an employee asked the office manager to not throw him a birthday party, the New York Times reported. However, the office manager did not pass along the request and, while the employee was away, co-workers planned a birthday celebration for the employee. The employee then suffered a panic attack, so he avoided the party and sat in his car during the lunch break.
The next day two supervisors confronted him about his behavior, which prompted him to have another panic attack, turning red in the face and yelling at his supervisors to be quiet. The employee used a coping method that involved clenching his fists, causing the supervisors to feel threatened, so they sent him home and told security to not allow him back.
Even though the employee texted apologizing for his behavior and explained it was how he copes with panic attacks, the company fired the employee, citing fear of physical harm and that his panic attacks did not qualify as protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The employee filed a claim for adverse employment action due to his disability. The jury agreed and awarded him $150,000 in lost wages and $300,000 for his suffering.
Moral of the story: Honor an employee's request to not be involved in company traditions or public outings that are not directly related to their job duties.
2) Mummies: Applicant's mom comes to interview. A recruiter had an interview with a 19-year-old man for a summer internship. While the interview began normally enough, after a few minutes the man's mother appeared, apologizing for being late as she was parking the car. The mother then joined the interview, continually interrupting to extol her son's accomplishments and explain why the company should hire him.
In fact, there are numerous stories of parents involving themselves in the hiring process for their children, including submitting their child's resume on their behalf, asking to represent them in the interview since their child was “busy" or calling to negotiate a higher salary.
Moral of the story: Be prepared for outsiders intruding into the process. Calmly and respectfully explain that the hiring process is an interaction between the company and the applicant and is best done one on one. Once hired, all personnel information is confidential and can only be discussed with the employee.
3) Ghosted: Employees and applicants disappear with no notice. Potential and current employees ghosting is a common horror story. Applicants fail to respond to interview requests or candidates who have been interviewed or even offered a job disappear with no warning.
Even current employees, regardless of the length of service, have been known to work without issues and then poof—without warning they don't show up to work, don't call in and don't respond to managers who reach out not only to find out if they are coming in but if they are okay.
Conversely, companies have ghosted job candidates as well. Three in 4 job candidates report being ghosted by a company or interviewer after a job interview, according to the “2022 Greenhouse Candidate Experience Report." Despite recommended practice, not every application gets acknowledged or sent a rejection letter early in the hiring process. However, companies have been known to interview candidates, promise follow up, and even make a preliminary offer of employment but then never contact that candidate again.
Moral of the story: Establish clear communication expectations for every stage of the hiring process and employment lifecycle. Let candidates and employees know that they are valued and who and how to reach out to communicate any issues they have. And be sure to have a welcoming, open communication style so people do not feel that disappearing is their only option.
4) Costumes (not): Employees not allowed religious attire. Companies often have dress and appearance requirements. Some are for safety purposes while others are to achieve the desired “look" the company wants their employees to present. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protects employees' rights to follow the attire and appearance requirements dictated by their religious beliefs.
However, companies often enforce their requirements for all employees without making reasonable allowances, such as not allowing alternate work attire for women who for religious reasons do not wear pants, or not hiring a woman who wore a headscarf to an interview—whose case was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the New York Times. Companies have had to pay large settlements due to not giving employees who wear beards and long hair the same employment and promotion opportunities.
Some requirements do not need to be accommodated due to critical factors, such as safety, as long as those standards are enforced consistently for all employees—for instance, not allowing a firefighter to grow a religiously required beard because it would cause his life-saving mask to no longer fit properly. However, many dress codes allow for some flexibility.
Moral of the story: Review your dress code to evaluate its requirements for wants versus needs. If an employee makes an accommodation request for any legitimate reason, such as medical or religious requirements, consider if the appearance policy can be flexed to honor the employee's rights while maintaining safety and keeping the general “look" desired.
HR does not have to be scary, and you do not need to face your fears alone. Reach out to Affinity HR Group to help you navigate the “horrors" you may encounter.
Paige McAllister is vice president, HR compliance, Affinity HR Group Inc. Affinity HR is the endorsed HR partner of Big “I" Hires, the Independent Insurance Agents of Virginia, Big I New York, Big I New Jersey and Big I Connecticut.
HR doesn't have to be scary, and you don't need to face your fears alone. Reach out to Affinity HR Group at 877-660-6400 or by emailing staff.