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After the Pandemic, Are Your Employees Still Entitled to PTO? Plus More of Your Questions Answered

And how to deal with clients who complain of metal allergies.

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paid time off

After being closed for several months, during which we paid all our employees, are they still entitled to paid vacations this year?

It depends — mostly based on your state, says Sara Yood, senior counsel at the Jewelers Vigilance Committee. “In general, most states prohibit employers from taking away PTO (paid time off) that has already been earned, as these are considered ‘wages’ already earned under the law,” she says. However, she notes that employers can consider modifying their policies during the pandemic to account for business needs. Some ideas of things, she says, you could choose to do are:

  • Impose blackout dates during expected busy times, during which employees would be prohibited or limited from taking PTO
  • Limit, defer, or halt the future accrual of PTO that is in excess of whatever your state requires
  • Create a “cap” on earned PTO for 2021
  • Offer to buy out accrued but unused PTO from employees

“Of course, an employer will have to balance these choices against the negative impact this will have on employee morale during an unprecedented global pandemic,” Yood says, adding that if you want to consider making these kinds of changes, it would prudent to talk it over with an employment lawyer.

Do I give an employee the good or the bad news first?

If you’re like a lot of bosses, you probably try to lead with the good news to soften the blow. But according to Dan Pink, author of When: The Scientific Secrets Of Perfect Timing, the science is pretty clear: When people are on the receiving end of such news, four out of five prefer to get the bad news first. Why? Because given a choice, humans prefer endings that elevate. “We prefer rising sequences over declining sequences. We prefer endings with some uplift than endings that sag down,” he says. So, man/woman up. Deliver that hammer blow. And then offer some hope. “You’ll create a happy ending for yourself and everyone else,” says Pink.

Some customers complain of allergies to certain precious metals, even 24K gold. How can I handle such customers?

Nickel and cobalt aside, allergies to the metals used in jewelry are rare. Most skin problems are actually not caused by different metal types but “the crud that accumulates under, behind and around jewelry that is not cleaned frequently,” says metallurgist Wayne Schenk. Schenk recommends suggesting to customers with skin problems that they bring their jewelry in four times a year for cleaning. It is also a good idea to suggest the customer see a dermatologist in order to uncover the real problem, whether it’s a true metal allergy or just a bacteria that found a warm and moist home.

Is it possible to demand compensation from employees who let something get stolen on “their watch”?

Not without setting it down in policy first, says Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts, “and only if you also spell out — in detail — the specific definition of your security procedures and what exactly constitutes a gross violation.” Peterson notes that one of the large chains has a clause in its security policy stipulating that employees will be held liable for the cost value of any merchandise lost due to a violation of stated procedures. For example, in the case of a “grab and run”: if one ring is stolen, it could be considered “unavoidable” — but if three rings are stolen, the employee could be accountable for the loss of two of the rings because policy at the chain states that only one item may be shown at a time. This is not a policy you’d want to attempt to write without professional legal assistance. Was staffing, for example, sufficient to ensure the security policy was tenable? Does the policy meet state law? And so on. Tread this territory with care.

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