Monday, January 23, 2017

Disciplining Exempt Employees

  • You’re a City Manager.
  • It’s Friday.
  • You’re tired.
You had a seven (7!) hour Board meeting on Tuesday.

Yesterday, your assistant told you she was transgender and now wants to be your new male assistant.  Now you have to see what that new transgender policy that Ancel Glink wrote for you says about the “transition period.”

So much going on and there’s a snowstorm on the way over the weekend, so you drop by public works to see your streets superintendent and make sure that all is right with the snow removal plans.  You walk into his office at 2:30 p.m. and find him drinking Jack Daniels from his coffee cup.  The bottle is still on his desk.  He is reading Penthouse magazine.  He looks over the magazine and says, “Hi Bob (your name is Bill).  Want a snort?”  You politely decline, and he asks if you want to see this “chick” in the magazine.  You tell him this is inappropriate behavior, to which he responds, “Lighten up dude.  It’s Friday.”

After placing the superintendent on paid administrative leave and having the police chief take his keys and drive him home, you begin to ponder your next course of action.  The streets superintendent is a 25 year employee with an exemplary work history.  However, you still feel that his cavalier attitude towards you and the situation as a whole warrants some kind of disciplinary suspension. But he’s an exempt employee.  Now what?  Can he be suspended at all?  If so, for how long?  What are the options?  These are all good questions.  Read on.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, an exempt employee may be suspended for one or more full days for violations of written workplace conduct rules when such suspensions are imposed in good faith.  However, this is not the case in Illinois.  The Illinois Legislature specifically rejected the 2004 updates to the FLSA regulations which allow for suspensions of one day or more under the circumstances discussed above.  So what can be done with the streets superintendent to discourage him from drinking on duty and “reading” Penthouse at work?

You have options.  First, you can suspend the employee for one (1) full week without pay as long as he does no work during that week.  Second, you may opt to require the employee to use paid vacation time while on suspension.  As long as the employee is paid the same amount that he would be paid if he were not suspended, a deduction from his leave bank will not result in a loss of his exempt status.  Either of these options will have a financial impact on the employee without harming the employee’s exempt status.  Hopefully, they will have the desired effect in stopping the misconduct as well.

So remember, always knock before entering the streets superintendent’s office, and you can suspend an exempt employee for misconduct in Illinois.  You just have to know how to get it done correctly.  If you need help with a situation like this or with any other employment matters, always feel free to contact us.