Preventing transgender discrimination by educating workers

30 Oct

It is illegal to discriminate based on gender identity.

Workplace discrimination against transgender people is a serious issue. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 1 in 5 transgender individuals experience discrimination at their place of employment. This means firing, being denied a promotion or just being harassed by other members of the team. Much of the problem seems to have to do with those in charge of human resource planning not receiving a proper education about transgender issues. One example cited by the HRC was Jason, a female-to-male transgender person who spoke with his boss about possibly doing a team-building program centered around educating people about his transition. His boss refused, and Jason felt his coworkers distanced themselves from him because of his identity. Additionally, he had to specifically make a formal request to use the men's restroom, and it wasn't until the HR head personally gave it the OK that he was permitted use of the bathroom of his gender identity. Even after this amount of work, many of the male members of staff expressed discomfort with the decision.

For those who employ transgender people much of this awkwardness can be alleviated by just taking the time to educate people. Not to do so is to risk unconscious discrimination, like behaving in a confusing way around someone who identifies with a different gender from the one they were born into physically. Such an atmosphere of discrimination can create a negative image from many people in the community. The year 2014 is one in which many people believe that everyone should have the right to identity with the gender they most strongly feel tied to. This means that even if it were possible to get away with discriminatory actions, it is a bad idea to do so because it would reflect very poorly on the company and possibly pave the way for a more toxic workplace.

Discrimination based on gender identity is illegal in every state
According to Transgender Law Center, it has been illegal since 2012 in the U.S. to discriminate against anyone who identifies as transgender. The legal group gave the following examples of discrimination that can be brought to trial:

  • Firing someone or refusing to hire someone based on gender identity
  • Prohibiting someone from dressing in the clothes of the gender to which they've transitioned
  • Limiting someone's exposure to customers because they might feel "uncomfortable" with someone's gender expression
  • Anything that would involve restrictions on bathroom use based on gender identity

Employers should pay close attention to whether they are discriminating or not. If they are, they need to put a stop to it before things escalate and the workplace becomes hostile.

Navigating LinkedIn’s contact networks

30 Oct

LinkedIn is a powerful business tool.

LinkedIn is a great way for recruiting firms to plan strategic human resource management and find new potential employees. It's also a good place to advertise one's business. All of the content that a company puts up is owned by the person who made it. In order to make this absolutely clear, LinkedIn even went out of its way to publish this fact:

"When the new LinkedIn User Agreement goes into effect from October 23, LinkedIn will always ask its users for permission before using any of your content in third-party websites, ads or publications, and even thought they have always done this, the User Agreement specifically lets you know this is the case."

Although the information was published in October 2014, it remains accurate as far back as the company began. As such, it becomes important to be clear about what goes on the website and what doesn't. The likelihood of an employee being sued because of what he or she puts on LinkedIn is smaller than if someone put something personal on Facebook. The two social media sites are very different in tone and content.

Making a LinkedIn profile
Because LinkedIn is designed explicitly for businesses, it is especially useful for recruiting people and finding other companies and associates to partner with. How companies portray themselves on LinkedIn is how they will be seen by anyone who wants to work with them.

According to Forbes, the ideal LinkedIn profile contains more than just text and a simple image. At the same time, it may be excessive to post a lot of video content – it depends on the industry. Consider LinkedIn to be an extension of the company's overall brand.

Connecting with others
A separate Forbes article reported that the main usefulness of LinkedIn is its ability for people and businesses to form information networks. If there is a job opening, then look through your company's LinkedIn network and find people who might make an ideal fit. Try to look up potential hires to see if they share contacts with you or someone on your team. This may allow you to recognize someone who could potentially work well with others at the company.

You can also use LinkedIn to take a more general glance at what other companies are doing in your industry. If your company is large enough, then different departments might have very different networks, and a good HR professional would take a look through the social connections of other leadership team members.

Planning for emergencies

27 Oct

Emergencies require preparation in advance is a company is going to recover quickly.

The Ebola virus has everyone worried about issues with emergencies. Although the chance of Ebola turning up in a business setting is slim to none, it may still be a good time to consider whether the office has an emergency plan set in case of dangerous situations, such as a fire or an earthquake. Making sure the HR department has a human resources solution for any emergencies and keeps the office informed about what to do can help to mitigate the risks of potentially dangerous situations.

One major concern in the case of a fire is the damage caused to files and computers. If data is being stored on site, then the people in charge of it should have a backup plan in case the office needs to be evacuated. One way of doing this is by uploading crucial information to a cloud-based server that exists in another part of the city or state.

Disaster communication
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, communication during an emergency is one of the major factors that can get overlooked. A plan that combines departments and certain sections of the office into particular groups, which all have leaders who can guide people away from danger and toward emergency exits is one plan that might help to keep people on the same page in the event of an emergency. Walkie-talkies are a bonus that would allow for other strategies, such as keeping people near exits to make sure everyone leaves the office and no one is left behind.

Carol Chastang, who recently spoke for the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Disaster Assistance, warns against misinformation, which can be just as damaging as having no information  about a disaster. This is particularly true after the incident is over and the company is on its way to recovery.

"When a disaster occurs, it's often the misleading bit of information shared by an outsider that gins up rumors about a damaged business shutting down," said Carol Chastang, a spokesperson for the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Disaster Assistance. "Obviously, this situation undermines the company's ability to recover. That's one big reason why precise, effective communication—within the organization, and out to the public—is vital during an emergency."

The possibility of a U.S. epidemic
Although because Ebola doesn't become contagious until a victim is already symptomatic, it is unlikely there will be an Ebola outbreak in the U.S., Human Resources Online still stresses that it wouldn't be completely out of the boat to consider whether a similar disease might cause damage to a company.

"Having a pandemic plan on the shelf is not good [enough]," said Robert Quigley, U.S. medical director and senior vice president of medical assistance for International SOS.

He advocates that people get ready for a potential outbreak in the same way they might prepare for a fire – monitor where employees are traveling and caution them against going to places like West Africa, where the Ebola virus is prevalent. Additionally, make sure the pandemic plan includes the possibility for all sorts of diseases, not the most often appearing ones in the newspapers.

The NLRB takes a stand on swearing, Facebook

27 Oct

Labor laws remain important even for those not part of a union.

A recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board revealed that firing people for having online discussions on Facebook is against the National Labor Relations Act. This was the case even though neither of the people who had been fired were unionized. Because rules regarding Facebook and other social media platforms are still unfocussed, companies should look carefully at how they handle their policies about the Internet. Those in the business of implementing human resource solutions for a company should additionally consider swearing in the workplace, which is protected by the NLRB under certain circumstances.

The case
Two people were fired by the Triple Play Sports Bar and Grille for having a discussion about the bar's owners that was filled with profanity, according to Lexology. One part of the conversation involved "liking" a statement by the other. The NRLB ruled the conversation was a protected concerted activity, according to BABC Employment Law Insights, even though the conversation contained profanity.

Lexology reported that the conversation began with a comment containing expletives. A person who liked the comment and a person who posted a reply with a swear were both fired.

In fact, the NRLB has become more expansive of late when dealing with protections for insulting or profane conduct. For example, Starbucks fired an employee who said swear words to the manager because he felt that person was not providing enough help when he was preparing drinks for customers. In the case, the firings were deemed improper by the NLRB.

Firing people who swear
The Starbucks case, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, involved an employee who cursed out his boss twice. Additionally, the man, Joseph Agins, attempted to unionize four Starbucks in Manhattan between 2005 and 2007. Later, Agins and several other workers came to the store while they were off duty to protest being unable to wear union pins. Agins had a confrontation with the assistant manager, which escalated until Agins said several offensive comments in front of the customers at the store. The comments included several swear words.

A few months later, Agins was fired by Starbucks. The NRLB ultimately ruled that although the man had cursed out his employer in front of customers, rather than in a backroom or a warehouse, he was still protected. Additionally, the NRLB found that the assistant manager was not disciplined for his role in the incident at all.

The needed skills of the future will be technological

27 Oct

Jobs of the future will heavily involve computers.

The major skills people will need in the future – whether for a job in human resources management or not – will likely pertain to computers. According to the Daily News Journal, anyone with the ability to code and engineer computer programs will be in a good place to find work. What this means for HR professionals is that most hires will likely have some computer experience on their resumes. Those in a position to hire someone will need to know what the certifications are and if they are relevant to a particular job. It may also come to pass that managers directly responsible for programming computers or running databases will choose their employees themselves. Additionally, employee management software will likely grow in importance as technology becomes a major part of the workplace.

Other jobs that are growing involve the so-called STEM core, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. These jobs will be highly paid and are currently expanding – 38 percent of the "high skill" jobs that will exist in the future are predicted to be STEM jobs, the Daily News Journal reported.

Technology will drive changes in the workplace
Most people have computer skills that prior generations wouldn't have needed because of the large volume of work done on machines today. For example, a generation ago, Microsoft Excel didn't exist, and so nobody needed to know how to code macros or do any of the things that even non-programming or engineering jobs now require. Most people in human resources know how to work with complex programs and to design spreadsheets that will automatically populate after someone enters the relevant information into a formula. The basic pool of required computer knowledge will likely grow further, although computers will probably become even more user-friendly. Time Magazine predicted that jobs at superstructured organizations will grow. Large-scale organizations - i.e. companies with many different departments and divisions around the world - will use complex social tools, such as automated scheduling systems and human resources portals, to boost the economies of scale for a company. This allows a business to grow without losing its ability to regulate and keep order among its employees.

There will also be a need for people who can work with what Time calls the "new media," which is the growing number of social media platforms people use to gather information. Employees will also need the ability to work in different cultures and surrounded with multiple languages because of the necessity for a growing workforce that will increasingly telecommute to work.

As the world becomes more wired, the skills that are already important for HR managers will become more necessary. The the newer talents that will soon be a requirement for a proper human resources development will grow directly from advances in technology that bring people together.

How to handle I-9 audits

24 Oct

I-9 Aaudits are easy to prepare for when companies already perform self-audits.

I-9 audits are predicted to be a record high this year, according to Business Management Daily, so those invested in human resource planning need to prepare for them. An I-9 form looks at employees and demonstrates their ability to work in the U.S. Companies must document all their workers and make sure they are all either U.S. citizens, permanent residents or foreign residents who are authorized to work in the U.S. To put it simply, an I-9 audit is done by the government to make sure that this is in fact truly the case.

In 2013, Business Management reported, I-9 audits were conducted at 3,127 employers. That is an increase from 2012, and an additional increase from 2011. Likely, the trend of further I-9 inspections will continue through 2014 and beyond.

Begin with self-audits
To ensure that I-9 forms accurately represent the working status of employees, National Law Review recommended that companies conduct self-audits of their I-9 forms. If information is missing on the form itself, or if support documentation is out of date or not present and accounted for, then this can be fixed before the government intervenes with a full audit. Supporting documents for I-9 forms must be clear and easy to read. Photocopies of birth certificates or passports are useful only if they are clearly legible. This means that if the employee provides a blurry photocopy of a document, the employer should ask for better documentation to avoid the risk of noncompliance with U.S. regulations.

If the supporting I-9 documentation for certain employees has gone missing or cannot be found because the files have been moved somewhere, then it would be appropriate to ask for the documentation again. Keep in mind that employers can usually only ask for supporting documents if there is already an I-9 in existence, with section 2 fully filled out.

Notes on over-documentation
In a separate article, the National Law Review suggested that over-documentation is just as bad – potentially worse – than under-documentation. For example, a company might be discriminating against an employee if it rejects a reasonable photocopy of a passport that is not too blurry to read. Asking for the passport itself is not allowed if the photocopy is good enough. Additionally, employers cannot ask for extra documentation if the employee has presented enough paperwork already. Finally, a company is not allowed to ask for different papers than what are usually required – for example, if an employee is a foreign national, then his or her visa, along with proof of authorization to work, is enough. That person does not need to present a birth certificate or anything else.

How to handle layoffs

23 Oct

Layoffs can dramatically affect morale.

Downsizing a company is unfortunate but sometimes necessary. Morale can be especially difficult to manage at a time when no one knows whose jobs will remain after the dust settles. According to legal advice website Nolo, some companies don't even tell their employees that layoffs will happen. The problem with that is sometimes they find out anyway, and if they don't hear it from the employers, it might make it even scarier. Additionally, some companies practice in the spirit of open communication, so they want their employees to know what's going to happen.

How to explain the situation
To avoid panic, it would be best for the employee management system team to follow some simple precautions, Nolo cited the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires that major companies notify workers of mass layoffs at least 60 days in advance. Additionally, it would help if the CEO and other major members of the C-suite get involved in the situation. Employees might otherwise feel jilted otherwise, since layoffs are such a big decision.

Keeping order in the face of a looming mass layoff
By keeping things impersonal, Human Resources IQ reported, companies can avoid at least some of the drama associated with bringing people into a room and telling them they won't be needed anymore. It will naturally and unavoidably be a painful process with many employees wondering how exactly one person was spared while another wasn't, and recognizing the impact will help to make people feel that the company is being responsible and sensitive to the feelings of everyone.

Additionally, offering severance support to those who are leaving will also make a positive impact on the people who are staying. They will see the company cares about what it's doing – that it doesn't treat its employees as replaceable entities but as important people with mortgage payments and other challenges.

Mustering the remaining staff to make them feel better
Those who will stay behind to continue working will likely be frazzled by the number of people who have left – many of them friends and all of them colleagues who once worked side-by-side with the people who remained. The best thing to do is to think of the people who are staying as new recruits, and bring them back with reinforced attention and support. According to Human Resources IQ, it may be the time to ask employees what they think the company should do for the future, now that the business has embarked on this new chapter.

How was I supposed to know there was a tool out there to help me? The joke was on me.

23 Oct

When Nothing Really is SomethingLet me share another story with you. Once upon a time, I was responsible for handling the entire open enrollment process (while I was the HR person at a previous employer). Really, I was. If you actually know what you are doing (or at least think you have a good handle on the majority of it), are great at process-oriented tasks, pay strict attention to detail, and have the right resources allocated to you to get the job done, it’s a total walk in the park. This sounds easy enough to anyone you tell about how you handle your open enrollment, right? Are you laughing now? Sure you are. I’m laughing too. We all know there a lot of moving parts to this process and so much can go wrong during it but, as we all know, at the end of the process; there is no getting around those open enrollment election forms submitted by the employee. Of course, more process or more employees, means more paper.

You gather and collect your final open enrollment election forms, maybe even keep track of them on a spreadsheet, send it to your benefits broker or insurance carrier, and it’s all a done deal, and everyone has all the benefits they need, right? I’m laughing again; are you? A mistake on a form here; a change from an employee there, wait, was there a form that should have been included but now isn’t? Sure there is. Wait, what happened? Yikes! Does this sound familiar? How manual is your process? Take it from me, mine was a very manual process but, what did I know? Then, there is that aha moment where find out that there are actually tools that can take you away from these manual processes and slide you easily into a streamlined time-saving process that also saves you money. Okay, I found out there is such a process, but way after the fact. I found out so much after the fact that I don’t even handle HR at my current company but now feel compelled to save you time while you may be still struggling to find a better way to handle your open enrollment process.

Sage has two products that can take a lot of the hassle out of your open enrollment process. Sage Benefits Enrollment and Sage Benefits Messenger can totally change the way you feel about handling your open enrollment process. Take the first step and view these two on demand webcasts. You’ll see for yourself how these products can significantly reduce the time you spend dealing with your open enrollment process. And, to give you a personalized frame of reference on this, the voice that narrates these on demand webcasts is mine.

OSHA begins process of changing PELs

22 Oct

Companies in the business of working with chemicals should follow OSHA closely.

Companies that work with hazardous chemicals should stay on top of the most recent Occupational Safety and Health Administration news. According to Environmental Leader, the agency has called its exposure standards "dangerously out of date." As such, it is beginning the process of revising its chemical exposure regulations by talking with various stakeholders in the industry, such as unions and other groups that take care of worker rights.

At issue is the number of chemicals that have come into existence since the first rules were made about the various levels of concentration different substances can reach in the air around workers. It must come up with new laws that cover everything that has happened since the most recent updates. There are currently in existence proposed, non-enforceable permissible exposure limits for the substances under scrutiny, but these are subject to what EL calls "complex analyses," which might change the end result of the proposed PEL​s.

OSHA has begun the process of asking for public comment for its PELs.

According to OSHA Administrator David Michaels, reported by Tire Business, there are 500 PELs set by OSHA, but there are tens of thousands of chemicals that may be hazardous to workers. Additionally, these PELs have largely been left the same since 2000 – only about 30 updates to the PELs have been made in the past 14 years.

New ways of addressing worker safety
OSHA wants to ask its stakeholders not only for help about setting PEL standards but also help coming up with ways of serving the working community better, said Michaels.

"This effort is aimed not just at standards, but at new approaches," Michael said. "Every chemical firm says it has standards stronger than OSHA's. We want to look at the issues and come up with approaches that may be regulatory, but may not be. This should prove effective before we even issue new standards."

Another group that keeps watch over PELs is the American Industrial Hygiene Association, which praised OSHA's decision to update its limits to more appropriate levels as per the new research that has become available since 2000.

"Updating the PELs has been, and remains, the number one public policy issue for our members," said AIHA President-Elect Daniel H. Anna. "The publication of this request for information marks a step forward for AIHA and other stakeholders who have long pushed for this update."

Those in the business of finding human resource solutions to problems affecting manufacturing companies should keep careful watch over the latest developments in OSHA's rulings.

How to handle harassment and discrimination complaints

22 Oct

Harassment must be addressed quickly.

Addressing harassment in the workplace is a matter of great importance. According to Nolo, a non-profit legal information website, if employee management handles harassment badly, it can lead to costly legal battles and investigations by the government. All complaints must be handled carefully and with the proper consideration, or else companies may put themselves at liability.

Nolo recommended that HR leaders treat complaints with respect and compassion, keeping an open mind about what happened. Employees who speak about an issue have likely put a lot of thought into their complaint and probably feel anxious or worried about what they have done – it hasn't been something that was made lightly, and therefore, companies should address the  concerns very carefully and as soon as possible. Don't immediately disagree even if the person who was called out for harassment is someone that other people think well of.

Before the complaint is made
Companies should have a harassment policy in place. The policy should address anything that could come up in ways that honor the rights of both the person cited in the complaint along with the individual who made the complaint. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, HR Hero reported, has issued a rule that all workplaces must have an established harassment policy.

Some examples of harassment include, but are not limited to:

  • Offensive comments that are delivered persistently
  • Threats or intimidation
  • Making false accusations
  • Physical assault
  • Sabotaging the victim's work

Additional concerns to address are the work environment. The place where employees work can be called hostile when a responsible person would find it hostile for one or more people. This happens when one or more people create an intimidating or oppressive feeling at work.

Once the complaint is made
Make sure to keep the complaint confidential. Additionally, have it set down in writing. Following that, interview whoever is involved, including bystanders or other people who might have heard something. Ensure the interviews are recorded. If it comes to it, then act on the policy and discipline the person who committed the act.

Failure to act on a harassment policy, or if the policy doesn't correspond with best practices put forth by the EEOC, may cause the government to step in. Once the government is involved, employers must comply with everything the government said. Nolo cited that it may be a good idea to hire a lawyer at this point if one isn't on staff or hasn't been hired yet. The government could issue fines if the law isn't followed to the letter.

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