Human Resources News & Insights

Answers to two tricky HR questions: Disciplinary pay cuts and 900-number reference checks

Our team of experts fields real-life, everyday questions from HR managers and gives practical answers that can be applied by any HR pro in the same situation. Today: 1. The legality of using pay cuts as discipline and 2. the value of 900 numbers for reference checks.

Can we use pay cuts as disciplinary measures?

Question
We’re having problems with employees who repeatedly violate company policies. As part of progressive discipline, can we cut their hourly rate of pay for a fixed period – for instance, three days?

Answer
Cutting pay rates can be tricky because of various state laws and, if appropriate, collective
bargaining agreements (CBAs), warns Jane Dalton, an attorney with Duane Morris LLP.

If we assume that your state doesn’t prohibit hourly pay cuts and there’s no CBA, you can cut rates as a disciplinary measure, but (a) be sure to give the employee written notice that the next violation will result in a cut and (b) consider mentioning the pay-rate penalty in your employee handbook.

900 numbers for reference checks: worth the money?

Question
We’ve been hearing about those 900-number phone services that you can call to check an applicant’s references for a per-minute charge. Any opinion on their value?

Answer
They usually don’t provide any great insight, although you might use them as a supplement to other reference-gathering resources. That’s the suggestion of attorney Wendy Bliss, who wrote the book “Legal and Effective References: How to Give and Get Them.”

Most 900-number reference services just provide basic info, such as verifying dates of employment. You won’t get much more than that.

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