HR Management & Compliance

Salute! North Dakota Named ‘Hardest-Working State of 2019’

North Dakota has been ranked first by WalletHub in a 2019 study that evaluated the hardest-working states, beating out other top-ranked contenders such as Alaska, South Dakota, Texas, Nebraska, Hawaii, Wyoming, Colorado, Virginia, and Maryland.salute

But Are We Working Too Hard?

In ranking the states, the study factored the highest average workweek hours, the highest employment rate, the lowest idle youth rate, the highest annual volunteer hours per resident, and the lowest average amount of leisure time per day.

In putting North Dakota at the top of the list, the study confirmed what everyone here already knows: Hard work is the key to success, and the people of North Dakota understand and embrace that concept!

Certainly, the WalletHub ranking shows that North Dakotans know the value of sacrifice, loyalty to their careers, and “getting the job done.” However, it also shows that employers need to routinely acknowledge hard work and take good care of their valued employees. One question that arises when a study like this one is released is whether it’s possible to work hard without overdoing it. North Dakotans certainly hope so.

Minimum Wage and Overtime Requirements

You should always ensure that employees are paid in compliance with state and federal minimum wage and overtime requirements. If nonexempt employees work more than 40 hours in a regular workweek, they are entitled to overtime pay. Regardless of whether you authorized the overtime in advance, you must always compensate employees for any overtime they actually worked.

Good employer practices, however, set clear expectations in written policies that are regularly communicated to employees. They should understand your expectations for overtime work, including the requirement that they get prior authorization before working any overtime.

Overall, a good employee handbook can serve an important role in setting clear expectations and preventing workplace problems. Handbooks should be kept up to date, be tailored to your specific expectations and workplace policies, be consistent with workplace practices, and be in compliance with federal and North Dakota law.

You should specifically address the expected work hours of a regular workday/workweek, require employees to accurately report their time, and inform them to whom and how often they should report it.

PTO Policies

You also should set clear expectations about any vacation, sick leave, or paid time off (PTO) policies you might have in place. Some employers have separate vacation and sick leave policies, requiring employees to use vacation for any personal time off and sick leave for any illness or medical-related absences.

Other employers maintain a uniform leave system under which employees can use PTO for any absence—personal or sick-/medical-related—without any questions asked. Like most states, North Dakota has a dynamic workforce that tends to make at least one career move over a lifetime. Most employees aren’t accustomed to one kind of PTO policy and must be trained in a clear and up-front manner on their employer’s specific policies, practices, and expectations.

In addition, when you make PTO available, you’re likely best served by allowing employees to make full use of their time-off options. WalletHub notes that Americans work an average of almost 18,000 hours a year, and the average worker uses only 54% of her available vacation time.

The risk of burnout among a workforce that ranks at the top of the “hardest-working” food chain is high. Employees are likely to be motivated by knowing their employer encourages a healthy work/life balance, and North Dakota employers should take specific care to ensure the country’s hardest workers are receiving time off when they need it.

Your policies should set forth your expectations for how employees are required to request PTO and obtain authorization before taking time off. Accrual schedules and PTO request policies should be clearly communicated to employees on a regular basis. You should keep good records of exactly how much PTO employees have accrued because all time off that has been earned and is available for use at the time of separation from employment generally must be paid out to departing employees.

Commission Payments

The potential for earning commissions can be another motivating factor for hardworking employees. If an employee is eligible to earn commissions, you should make sure he knows the parameters and earning/payout schedule of your commission program.

As with PTO payments, North Dakota law requires that any commissions an employee has earned must be paid upon her separation from employment. Depending on the structure of the commission program, the date on which a commission is earned and when it’s paid isn’t always the same.

Future problems can be greatly alleviated (and hardworking employees properly motivated) when you clearly communicate the specifics of your commission program at the outset of the employment relationship. You and your employees should always have a clear understanding of precisely when a commission has been earned and when it will be paid out.

Moonlighting in Multiple Jobs

It’s not surprising that a hardworking employee may be working hard in multiple jobs at the same time. A North Dakota employer cannot discriminate or retaliate against employees for participating in any lawful activity off its premises during nonworking hours that doesn’t directly conflict with its essential business-related interests. To avoid problems that might arise when employees work multiple jobs, however, you may want to enact an “outside employment” or “moonlighting” policy that addresses your lawful expectations.

You can lawfully require employees to exert 100% effort to their job duties at your organization and abide by all of your internal workplace policies. Your moonlighting policy could provide that employees may work another job as long as it doesn’t create a direct conflict with your essential business-related interests.

For example, a conflict may occur if an employee’s other job interferes with her ability to satisfactorily perform the duties and responsibilities of her primary job at your organization or if she is receiving compensation from a second job for time she spends working for you.

Meal and Other Breaks

A final consideration is whether employees in North Dakota are taking adequate meal breaks and other breaks throughout the workday. In addition to its “hardest-working” study, WalletHub has studied productivity and has found that although Americans work 20% more than Europeans, U.S. workers are less productive overall.

For example, only one in five Americans takes lunch breaks, while Spanish workers frequently enjoy midday breaks of up to 3 hours. Recent studies suggest that breaks are a good use of time because employees are more productive and work with greater focus and purpose afterward.

In North Dakota, any employee scheduled to work more than 5 hours must be allowed to take an unpaid meal break when two or more employees are on duty. The meal break must be uninterrupted, and the employee must be completely relieved of his job duties.

Furthermore, employees cannot waive their meal breaks without providing written authorization or acknowledgment of the waiver. North Dakota employers are not required to provide any other breaks throughout the day, but if you offer breaks, they must be paid if they’re between 5 and 20 minutes long.

Break time throughout the workday can be rewarding for hardworking employees, and it can also be refreshing and lead to more productivity. You should not only ensure that you’re in compliance with North Dakota’s meal break laws, but you also may want to consider encouraging employees to step away from their computers and cell phones for short moments whenever time allows.

Bottom Line: Take Good Care of Your Hardworking Employees

North Dakota employers should congratulate their employees on being the hardest workers in the country in 2019! Reward them by continuing to set forth clear expectations in your policies and practices; paying them the minimum wages, overtime, and commissions they’re owed; allowing them to use time off they’ve earned; and encouraging them to take breaks throughout the workday when time allows. Hard work leads to a productive, happy workforce when you take good care of your employees.

KrisAnn Norby-Jahner focuses on employment and education law in Vogel Law Firm’s Bismarck office. She can be reached at knorby-jahner@vogellaw.com.