Five Lies My HR Department Told Me, and The Truth Behind Them


They may not be honest-to-goodness lies, but they do represent common misunderstandings in the workplace.

Lies My HR Department Told MeHas your HR department been lying to you? Or, if you are an HR pro, have you told any of these falsehoods?

Now, before anyone goes crazy over the title, these “lies” that Human Resources departments tell are not conscious ones – nor even particularly malicious — but often based on misinformation common to many workplaces.

(Well, perhaps except the first)

Technology and changing workplace rules make the employee-employer relationship — as well as the rules that govern them — even more complex. But there is no excuse for an HR department not knowing the right way to approach these collective workplace issues.

Five Lies My HR Department Told Me, and the Truth Behind Them:

HR Department Lie #1: Abusing employees is OK, as long as you do it equally for everyone.

Truth: Abuse is not only poor management, but it can lead to legal action.

Human Resources: Free live ovation demoWith the rise in public awareness of bullying, there is no longer a defense for treating employees poorly. Although there isn’t a specific action a bullied employee can take, they do have several options:

  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • National Labor Relations Act
  • Antidiscrimination regulations
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act

Abuse your employees at your peril; you may find your company (and yourself) at the receiving end of one of these actions.

HR Department Lie #2: If it starts out as consensual, it will always stay that way.

Truth: Romance in the workplace is on the rise, but so is the litigation it produces.

What are the majorities of complaints that arise from an employee-supervisor romance?

  • Charges of favoritism
  • Retaliation — real or imagined
  • Litigation, either by the primary partners in the relationship of by coworkers
  • Workplace distractions leading to decreased performance

HR Department Lie #3: Interns do not need to be paid.

Truth: Many interns are technically employees and require payment.

The U.S. Department of Labor has set six conditions for unpaid interns:

  • The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction
  • The training is for the benefit of the trainees
  • The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation
  • The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded
  • The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period
  • The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training

If an employee meets all six criteria, they are not “employed,” at least according to the FLSA. Minimum wage and overtime do not apply.

HR Department Lie #4: “No Personal Use” computer policies will protect the company from legal liability

Truth: Those policies are nearly impossible to enforce fairly. “Reasonable use” is a better policy.

Companies that have a strict no-personal-use policy on computers and technology usually have nearly everyone violating them. Allow minor and occasional personal use, as long as it does not interfere with the employee’s on-the-job performance; or negatively affects the computer system.

Remind everyone that there should be no expectations of privacy for any computer usage—including files, images, or data created or transmitted on the system.

HR Department Lie #5: Signed agreements with independent contractors do not make them employees, especially if they are paid with a 1099.

Truth: An agreement with an independent contractor needs to meet certain tests met before they are truly independent, even with a 1099.

The IRS created a 20-factor analysis for determining, which highlights:

  • Behavioral control — concerning how the contractor performs the work (instructions, training, etc.)
  • Financial control—concerning business aspects of the contractors activities (unreimbursed expenses, opportunity for profit or loss, payment method, significant investment, services available to the applicable market)
  • Relationship of the parties — concerning how the business and worker perceive their relationship (benefits, written contracts/intent of parties, discharge/termination, regular business activity)

Simply saying an employee is paid on a 1099 is not justification. Employees that perform the same jobs as independent contractors  – under so-called “consulting agreements” – do not make them independent contractors.

Are there any other “lies” that you want to clear up with employees? We would love to hear them. Join the conversation in the comments below.

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