Going green and HR’s influence on the environment

22 May

HR professionals can have great influence over whether their companies incorporate green practices into daily routines.

Business leaders may be surprised to hear environmentally friendly practices are excellent employee engagement strategies. Business leaders may be even more surprised to learn human resources professionals can help corporations and their employees become more green. In fact, if there's one department that's well-equipped to head up such an endeavor, it's HR.

American workforce growing more environmentally conscious 
It's important to note employees today, especially millennials, enjoy working for companies invested in social and environmental causes. Switch and Shift compiled research from a variety of sources outlining the goals of millennials today. It found a 23 percent increase in volunteerism among 16- to 24-year-olds between 1989 and 2005. Of those who volunteer, 79 percent are motivated purely by passion to help others. Millennials, more so than any other generation, are faced with the task of preserving the environment for their futures, so green initiatives and matters pertaining to natural surrondings will be of greater importance to them. 

In addition, a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management on HR and environmental sustainability found 49 percent of businesses with green workplace practices claimed these environmentally conscious actions helped them recruit top talent. On top of that, 40 percent believed a green work environment led to greater employee retention.

So, where does HR come into the picture?

HR and going green 
Corporations have enormous influence over decisions and opinions made on a global scale. Business leaders' actions can affect those of other companies, industries, governments and local communities. HR is the only department in a corporation that truly interacts with everyone. Executives, managers, entry-level employees, administrative assistants, mail room employees and more all spend time with HR in some capacity. Working with people at all levels is the key to building a sustainable, green office, and HR is the right team for the job.

Currently, according to the SHRM survey, 68 percent of companies already have implemented environmentally friendly procedures in their offices. These businesses found the green initiatives improved employee morale and loyalty, boosted brand recognition among consumers and yielded more efficient output.

To be effective, HR must help their businesses incorporate green guidelines into employees' daily activities; the environment must become a central focus and consideration on a fundamental level. Formal policies, used by 52 percent of those businesses surveyed, are highly recommended.

Some formal policies HR departments currently use include:

  • Going paperless - EcoSeed stated cloud platforms are excellent tools for businesses looking to go green. Rather than printing multiple copies of a single document, work teams can share items with each other via the cloud, making changes together and avoiding printing at all. In addition, all businesses should offer direct deposit for employees. This eliminates the need for envelopes or printing checks every few weeks.
  • Recycling - Companies should have blue recycling bins next to every printer in an office and under every employee desk if possible. Some businesses take this one step further and add compost bins to office kitchen areas. This decreases the amount of waste produced by the organization as a whole.
  • Offering telecommuting - One growing trend in business operations is telecommuting. SHRM reported companies like Dell, Aetna and Xerox allow certain employees to work from home. In fact, these three corporations were able to save 95,294 metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2014 simply by allowing employees to telecommute. Not only has this move improved Dell, Aetna and Xerox's employee satisfaction ratings, but it's made the hiring and retention processes easier.

One thing HR must remember is to design a reliable method for each policy and measure return on investment. SHRM found in its survey that 47 percent of companies with both green initiatives and ROI measurements saw a positive return, and 46 percent responded it was too early to tell with their current practices. None of the respondents claimed a negative ROI. 

To increase employee engagement, retention and recruitment, HR should look into spearheading environmental policies in their offices. 

E-cigarettes and HR policies

22 May

E-cigarettes may give HR professionals a reason to review current office policies.

Human resources professionals have to take the safety and well-being of all employees into account when composing business policies and procedures. Many companies provide health and wellness programs to employees or organize corporate outings that encourage physical activity and good mental health. However, with the emergence of new technologies, HR departments are finding their policies may need revamping.

What are e-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes gained popularity in the U.S. in 2007, and the devices still receive mixed reviews when it comes to risks, side effects and benefits, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The products, which are battery-operated and require no ignition, allow people to inhale aerosol versions of the addictive chemicals found in real cigarettes. The FDA reported it's unclear what amounts of nicotine and other chemicals are actually inhaled by users and how much is let out into the atmosphere.

Primarily, people began using e-cigarettes to quit smoking real tobacco. The Society for Human Resource Management reported between 2004 and 2011, industries with cigarette smokers varied, though construction, mining and accommodation accounted for 30 percent of all smoking employees in this timeframe. By 2013, about 30 percent of all smokers had tried e-cigarettes. The U.S. Center for Disease Control found between 2010 and 2013, the number of U.S. adults smoking e-cigarettes more than doubled. 

The only e-cigarettes currently officially regulated by the FDA are therapeutic e-cigarettes. The FDA Center for Tobacco Products regulates only real cigarettes, rolling tobacco and smokeless tobacco, though its goal is to soon help regulate electronic versions as well. 

Potentially harmful vapors and the office
When it comes to smoking e-cigarettes in the workplace, it gets a little tricky. Technically, electronic devices are not real cigarettes, but because side effects are unknown, it's best to establish a strict policy on whether e-cigarettes can be used indoors. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended completely banning e-cigarettes in the workplace. 

"Employers have invested significant time and resources into developing effective workplace policies that help reduce the use of tobacco among employees and their families," Jerry Noyce, Health Enhancement Research Organization's president and CEO, told SHRM.

Noyce's organization contributed to publishing a paper entitled "Guidance to Employers in Integrating E-Cigarettes/Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems into Tobacco Worksite Policy" earlier this year. The report concluded businesses should consider e-cigarettes as part of the same category as tobacco products and until further review from the FDA, ban them from indoor use in offices.

However, since many smokers are using the e-cigarettes to quit their smoking habits, it's crucial employers offer electronic users their own designated smoking areas separate from traditional smokers. This is a huge step toward ensuring those employees trying to quit stay on the right path.

In maintaining compliance with the Affordable Care Act, HR departments cannot require smokers to quit. A valid choice would be to incorporate smoking cessation options into current wellness programs or practices. In addition, HR professionals should check their state regulations, as some states already ban e-cigarettes indoors.

Strategic human resources solutions to employee health issues are crucial to maintaining a healthy, productive work environment. 

Stevens v. Rite Aid: A lesson on the ADA

22 May

Human resources professionals can use employee management software to ensure ADA and EEOC guidelines are met.

Recently, a licensed pharmacist named Christopher Stevens was fired by his employer, Rite Aid. The Society for Human Resource Management reported the company claimed Stevens' refusal to perform specific duties  on the job led to his termination. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found Rite Aid in violation of both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York State Human Rights Law. In January, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York awarded Stevens a total of $2.6 million.

Where did Rite Aid go wrong?
Stevens has been working as a pharmacist and pharmacy manager in upstate New York for almost 40 years. In 1977, when Stevens started his career, administering immunizations to customers was not part of the pharmacist's job description. This sat well with Stevens, as he suffers from trypanophobia, or a crippling fear of needles.

Law 360 reported Rite Aid bought Eckerd Pharmacy, where Stevens worked in Utica, New York, in 2007. As flu shots became more popular in recent years, Rite Aid made the decision to offer the immunizations at pharmacies around the country. This meant pharmacists would have to inject customers with immunizations after attending a training program to become certified to do so.

Stevens received an email with the immunization certification information in March 2011, requesting his presence at an upcoming training session. His doctor swiftly provided Rite Aid's human resource department and district managers with documents outlining the pharmacist's trypanophobia. Needles and injections caused Stevens to sweat profusely, grow anxious and experience a sharp decrease in blood pressure. In addition to the doctor's letter, SHRM noted Steven's asked for a reasonable accommodation from Rite Aid, which would have provided him an alternative work environment or task to administering immunizations.

Federal regulation compliance issues 
As outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers cannot discriminate against workers in the public accommodation sector, among others, due to disabilities. ADA and the EEOC define disabilities as both mental and physical ailments that limit fundamental actions, such as walking, talking or hearing. Disabilities can also include chronic illnesses, either currently present or in remission.

Rather than offering a reasonable accommodation, Rite Aid sent another training session notification to Stevens and asked for clarification on the contents of the doctor's note regarding trypanophobia. The doctor informed Rite Aid having Stevens administer flu shots would be a danger to both patients and the pharmacist himself.

In August 2011, the district pharmacy manager, HR manager and district manager for Rite Aid told Stevens in person he would be fired if he did not complete the training. Stevens was let go five days later.

The EEOC investigation
The EEOC took a look into the situation after Stevens filed a claim. The organization found Rite Aid had in fact discriminated against the pharmacist's disability and fired him unlawfully. The EEOC also found giving customers immunization injections wasn't a vital aspect of Stevens' position with the company, nor does the state of New York require a licensed pharmacist be able to give injections.

The jury awarded a total of $2.6 million to Stevens. Broken down, that amount is comprised of:

  • Back pay: $485,633 for work that could have been completed had Rite Aid allowed Stevens to work
  • Front pay: $1.23 million for employment discrimination
  • Emotional distress damages: $900,000 for causing mental anguish or stress

The jury did not, however, award any punitive damages in the case. According to Legal Match, this is likely due to the fact that Rite Aid broke or altered a contract, an action which does not result in punitive damages. Stevens also suffered no physical harm, which is typically when juries decide to award punitive damages.

What could Rite Aid have done differently?
No company wants a public lawsuit that concludes with a disgruntled, distressed employee and a big ADA compliance failure on record. Businesses want their employees to be happy, successful contributors to the organization. A strategic human resource management system can help large corporations like Rite Aid better handle these tricky scenarios and communicate with workers to understand their unique situations. Employers must be informed of any and all nuances as they apply to the ADA, EEOC and Department of Labor guidelines. These stipulations are hard to keep track of, and without excellent tools to help organize employees and changing job descriptions, businesses could end up paying fines on a regular basis. 

Who should HR report to?

22 May

CEOs and CFOs can both offer HR professionals insight into what the business needs.

Human resources professionals are quickly becoming more integral to the way businesses are run. While they have always been important to acquiring and building the talent that puts corporations on the map, it's becoming clearer than ever their roles should be more closely aligned with those in the C-suite. This begs the question: Should HR report to the CEO or the CFO?

Pros of pairing HR and the CEO
The Saratoga Business Journal discussed the role of HR as it applies to the CEO of a business. According to Rose Miller, an HR consultant, there is no clearer correlation between the objectives of the CEO and HR. The two are inextricably linked together in that both wish to drive the business forward. Since the CEO shapes company culture, and the HR department essentially ensures that culture is maintained throughout the office and in every new hire, it makes sense that HR would report directly to the CEO.

In addition, Inc. magazine discussed the notion that the CEO is the only individual in an organization who has direct contact with all people, teams, decisions and aspects of business operations. It figures CEOs would work with the department in the same situation. HR is active on just about every level, from hiring personnel to ensuring performance standards are up to par. Essentially, HR is a direct reflection of the CEO.

Cons of pairing HR and the CEO
However, as nearly anyone who has tried to schedule a call or meeting with a CEO knows, these executives are often spread incredibly thin across a huge variety of projects and obligations. If working with HR to convey expectations and provide solutions to company issues isn't within the CEO's schedule, it's likely these tasks will get pushed to the back burner.

Often, in an attempt to better manage HR, CEOs will outsource the department, Inc. stated. While this is sometimes beneficial, it could distance the human resources professionals from the people they are supposed to be managing, helping and providing information to on a regular basis. This type of CEO-HR relationship wouldn't be conducive to a successful business.

Pros of HR reporting to the CFO  
The potential for a CEO-HR relationship to become strained is why there are advocates for HR reporting to the CFO instead. The roles of the CFO and the HR department both have undergone serious changes in terms of responsibilities, leadership and involvement in key decision-making in the past few decades. This puts them on a similar level in terms of understanding one another.

One reason why it would make sense for HR to report to the CFO is that both entities are focused on planning now for the future - investing in resources that will help grow the business down the line. The Deloitte University Press outlined this potential relationship, elaborating on the element of driving business results. CFOs and HR both consider the long term, making decisions today they know will affect the company years down the line. These investments may be more closely aligned than people think.

As of 2010, 85 percent of a company's assets were intangible, compared to only 40 percent in 1975, according to an infographic from Deloitte. This means CFOs and HR are able to determine a business's worth with greater ease than ever before. 

In addition, as CFO magazine pointed out, financial managers can help ensure regulation compliance for HR, as there are exorbitant fees associated with failing to adhere to federal and state regulations. With finances in mind, CFOs would be able to better prioritize benefits package inspection and required financial paperwork to keep the business afloat. 

Cons of HR reporting to the CFO
Unfortunately, a financial perspective is also a reason why HR may not want to report to the CFO. Fundamentally, CFOs are financially driven, and HR is people driven. As outlined by CFO magazine, the principles used to guide strategic financial decisions for a business are not the same principles that should influence decisions about people, benefits, employee engagement and talent management. Building a strong workforce and attracting top talent in an industry requires spending, and sometimes CFOs can't see beyond the figures on the page. Yet spending funds on recruiting and employee perks could lead to the onboarding of the next CEO. 

When it comes down to it, HR professionals are concerned with office culture and taking care of each individual on the payroll. CFOs are much more concerned with the bottom line. HR leaders have a sixth sense for the type of person an organization needs; relying on a figure-driven party to determine whether this person is good or bad for a particular position may not be best. 

When in doubt, it may behoove a business to place the CEO, CFO and head of HR at the forefront of an organization to lead as a team. 

Creating a team leader-focused performance review process

22 May

Performance reviews should happen more often, and employees must be heavily involved.

Human resources professionals may want to invest in employee management software if they have not already. especially as the methods for employee performance evaluations are beginning to shift across industries. Recently, Deloitte University completely revamped its performance evaluation process based on significant data accrued from employees and managers. HR professionals should take a look to see how their current practices could benefit. Should they decide to make changes, a reliable software platform can help ease that transition. 

What needed to change?
Deloitte University realized it needed a better way to not only recognize performance, but also to clearly observe accomplishments and track employee progress. With reviews once per year, this wasn't feasible. The company now encourages team leaders to review individual performances after every project is completed in addition to meeting on a weekly basis to discuss ideas, thoughts on improvement and other work-related concerns. While working on long-term projects, employees should expect quarterly reviews. In addition, the weekly reviews are to be initiated by the employee instead of the team leader. This creates a much more dynamic discussion rather than a one-sided review. 

How can this change be implemented?
A Deloitte survey found 58 percent of executives don't believe their current performance management systems actually drive employee engagement or work to improve skills, output or productivity. Marcus Buckingham, Marcus Buckingham Co. chairman, told the Society for Human Resource Management recommended those businesses reevaluate the needs of workers and shift to focus more heavily on the team leader-employee relationship. Managers should be asking themselves what team members are capable of, how each individual is applying unique skills, if those skills are working to improve performance and what traits each team member exhibits that may contribute to their current performance. 

These questions put the leader in the driver's seat, though the review is also more heavily engaged with the employee. Employee management software can help human resources professionals and team leaders communicate on issues pertaining to performance reviews and design a system that benefits workers, and in doing so, enhances the value of the entire organization. 

Summary of Benefits and Coverage further delayed

22 May

Employee management software helps human resources professionals maintain compliance, even during times of transition.

The Department of Labor released an addendum to its original FAQs page for the Affordable Care Act Implementation. Dated March 30, the new FAQs state the DOL will further delay the Summary of Benefits and Coverage template and all related documents until 2016. Employers and human resources professionals need to pay close attention to the newly proposed dates of implementation to maintain compliance with the ACA and SBC regulations.

What were the original regulations?
In December 2014, the DOL, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Treasury released an FAQ outlining the proposed regulations for all impending changes to the SBC. As Cigna stated, these rules:

  • Dictated when and how employers or insurers are supposed to provide SBCs
  • Streamlined the SBC template, eliminating many questions
  • Edited the SBC glossary
  • Added a more universal cost example

After accepting comments on these proposed changes through March 2, these new regulations were to take effect on September 1. However, these dates have now been pushed back to allow for additional changes being made to the SBC. 

What changed?
As of March 30, the departments in charge of the ACA and the SBC announced they are delaying the application date for some of the proposed changes to 2016. In addition, the original changes announced in 2014 underwent several updates, including, additional edits to the glossary, new claims and pricing data to help calculate coverage price, no more annual limits for essential health benefits information, a more universal cost example, new data on minimum essential coverage and minimum value information and a website for the policy or group certificate of coverage.

It's also possible there will be further changes made down the line; these are simply the current alterations under consideration. Should these amendments be accepted, the SBC documents will become finalized on Jan. 1, 2016, which means the regulations wouldn't technically go into effect until Jan. 1, 2017, when programs take effect for those enrolling in the fall of 2016.

What did not change?
There are, however, several stipulations originally proposed late last year that will still take effect on the previously anticipated date. The following stipulations will become effective Sept. 1, 2015 for any plan that begins Jan.1, 2016:

  • SBCs provided at enrollment and re-enrollment
  • Roles of participants responsible for tracking compliance when working with third parties
  • Health reimbursement accounts and health savings accounts applicability
  • Excepted benefits
  • Expatriate coverage
  • Medicare Advantage plans

Why the delay?
There are several reasons the departments decided to delay the implementation of some of the proposed SBC changes. One reason is businesses employing large numbers of people and insurers offering coverage expressed a need for more time to prepare documents for open enrollment this fall. Employee Benefit News reported the original start date didn't give employers and insurers enough time to change processes and carry out SBC deliveries adequately. The departments also would like to put some of the proposed amendments through consumer testing before implementation.

As evidenced by past changes made to guidelines like the SBC, input from consumers and businesses is critical to finalization. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners and other similar groups now have more time to offer insight, input and suggestions for the departments.

What does this mean for employers today?
While it may seem large and small businesses and their insurance providers have been given the gift of time, that is only partially true. Again, there are still changes that will go into effect Sept. 1, 2015. Plus, regardless of whether employers want to begin switching internal process now or later, Business Insurance noted eventually all parties will have to become compliant with these new regulations down the road. It's a good idea to start now, even if the final rules haven't been announced just yet. 

This is true especially for businesses offering multiple benefits packages. Big corporations with a multitude of benefit options for employees will need to start now to keep up with the changes over the next few years. Each package will require a different statement, and it can't hurt to get ahead by making amendments to the statements now in anticipation of regulation completion later. This is where employee management software can become incredibly useful. HR is burdened with communicating this essential, albeit confusing, information to all employees. With a comprehensive platform that offers support and organization, navigating the rocky waters of SBC changes becomes infinitely more manageable. 

Preparing for FLSA changes with personnel management software

21 May

Employers can better equip themselves to handle transitions with personnel management software.

Personnel management software can help businesses during times of intense transition, especially when it's unclear whether certain changes will occur.

Potential amendments to overtime exemption
Last year, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum calling for a revision of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Obama appealed to the secretary of labor, stating the existing overtime regulations for white collar workers needed to be streamlined and changed to include more employees. 

Since then, the U.S. Department of Labor has announced several different dates on which it planned to release the proposed regulation changes. First December 2014 and then February 2015 was supposed to be the date of issuance. Then, in March 2015, the Supreme Court ruled "a federal agency does not have to go through the formal rulemaking processes" when deciding to make amendments to current regulations. This means should the DOL decide to make significant alterations, it doesn't need to provide a period of time for the public to make comments.

However, it's now April, and there is no word on when employers can expect the definitive new regulations. That doesn't mean businesses should sit quietly and wait it out. There are actions employers can take to prepare themselves for any transition that may soon appear.

FLSA regulations today
Currently, the FLSA overtime regulations state any full-time worker who makes $455 per week, or $23,660 per year, or less can be considered exempt from receiving overtime pay for working more than 40 hours in one week. CNN Money stated employers classify these workers as exempt and make the choice to pay them salaries instead of an hourly wage. Today, only 12 percent of workers qualify for overtime.

Employees affected by this white collar exemption policy include managers, administrative professionals, sales workers, teachers and other professionals in careers that require advanced knowledge in science or the arts, according to the DOL website.

What regulations could look like tomorrow
President Obama's goal is to increase the baseline salary required for workers to be exempt from overtime pay. While regulators have proposed no exact increment, many speculate the DOL will mandate the amount is raised to somewhere between $42,000 and $52,000. This would make 3.5 million and 6.1 million more workers, respectively, eligible for overtime pay.

The Economic Policy Institute and the National Employment Law Project hope the threshold is increased even higher. Ideally, for these groups, the number would get bumped up to $51,168 per year. This would mean 47 percent of workers would be eligible for overtime pay.

How does this affect employers?
Even though no announcements have been made yet, employers cannot ignore this issue. After the Supreme Court decision in March, new guidelines could become reality at any time, and businesses need to be ready to accept the changes and transition.

One thing employers cannot do is forget about state laws. It's possible that the new stipulations could change the way employers reconcile differences between minimum wage guidelines in their states and the FLSA. Employers have to comply with both.

The Society for Human Resources Management stated employers should review current job descriptions to ensure duties, exemption status and responsibilities are clearly expressed to candidates. It also may take several months for the new guidelines to take effect. Should a business have to reclassify a large number of employees, companies may find themselves redefining certain roles or expectations. Preparing options now for potential changes later is a good idea. 

Personnel management software can help businesses not only prepare for a future change but also handle it better when the announcement finally rolls in. 

The NLRA and non-union workplaces

12 May

Non-union employers must take employee rights into account, even though they aren't unionized.

Unions are still important aspects of the U.S. work force. Even though the Bureau of Labor Statistics claims the percentage of the private sector workforce organized into unions has declined from 35 percent to 6.5 percent over the past 50 years, these groups remain an integral part of the daily grind for many employees.

In fact, as discussed on The Conversation, without unions, the fights to raise minimum wage and provide employees with paid sick leave wouldn't have succeeded or begun in the first place. Unions fundamentally help decrease inequality among workers around the nation.

After unionizing reached its high point in the 1950s, when one third of all non-farm workers were part of a union of some kind, unionization took a dramatic turn in the 1980s and 1990s. 

The NLRA and the NLRB
Today, non-union and union workers alike operate under the National Labor Relation Board and the National Labor Relations Act, both of which were created in 1935 to give more rights to workers. The NLRA is a federal mandate allowing employees to form unions, join unions, participate in "protected, concerted activities to address or improve working conditions" or decide against getting involved with unions at all. Section 7 of the NLRA deals directly with these rights, outlining all stipulations for employees and their employers.

Even though the number of private sector employees involved in unions has dramatically diminished over the years, the NLRA is still relevant to non-union workers. The NLRB is currently working hard to ensure that all workers, regardless of union affiliation or lack thereof, are able to get involved with the protected, concerted activities should they choose to do so.

As outlined by Lexis Nexis, protected, concerted activities are defined as actions taken by a group of two or more employees, or by one employee acting on behalf of an entire group, in response to any term or condition of employment. Terms and conditions of employment include, but are not limited to, salaries, hourly wages, working hours and benefits.

When employees participate in protected, concerted activity, it often involves protesting, formally complaining, striking, picketing or simply publicly calling attention to an issue the group takes with an employer.

What does this mean for non-union employees?
While both union and non-union employees are technically entitled to the same rights under Section 7, non-union parties may experience some differences. Non-union employees must be informed about their rights, as there are many situations in which an employer may try to control employee rights where it is not allowed to do so.

For instance, social media posting falls under the protected activity category. Employees are allowed to speak their minds on sites like Facebook and Twitter. In fact, in addition to being able to post complaints about working conditions such as wages, benefits, morale, office atmosphere, break times, overtime and more on public forums, employees are also allowed to talk about supervisors in a derogatory manner without fearing repercussions. 

However, any remarks critical of the employer's products and services are off limits. Section 7 prohibits employees, unionized or not, to defame their employer's reputation if the critique has nothing to do with working conditions. In addition, workplace and client confidentiality must not be breached. 

What does this mean for non-union employers?
When it comes to the employer side of the coin, the NLRB often favors unions, as it views an employee union enough of a security blanket to protect worker's rights. This means non-union employers may have a slightly more difficult time should its non-union employees decide to take action to change policies. The NLRB would have to be more involved.

Lexis Nexis recommended employers do anything they can to decrease the likelihood they'll have to become involved with the NLRB. It's wise for employers to review their current employee guidelines and policies, especially as they apply to common issues in the workplace. These guidelines must be just strict enough to comply with the NLRA's Section 7 stipulations while still offering employees enough freedom to discuss working terms as they see fit and organize as necessary. 

For non-union employers, obtaining a human resources management solution is a good step in the direction of compliance. The right platform can help companies better serve their employees and eliminate the chance the organization will violate Section 7 rules. 

Effectively administering and interpreting employee surveys

12 May

Administering employee surveys is one way to increase worker engagement.

Human resources professionals are constantly on the lookout for employee engagement ideas. Many companies use employee surveys to increase engagement, boost morale and find out what makes their workers tick. However, these metrics and statistics can be misleading and may even have the opposite effect if not administered properly. 

Do employee surveys work?
The question of whether employee surveys actually work is dependent upon the information a business hopes to glean and what actions are taken after results come in.

HR Zone noted that surveys are likely to be inconclusive or detrimental to employee engagement if no productive action is taken after responses are collected. This demonstrates a lack of genuine concern for employee thoughts and opinions. Even more detrimental is if a survey questions employees about pain points or areas in which workers need to improve and the employer takes no action. A survey implies a company wants to know how to increase productivity and happiness at work; when answers are blatantly ignored, workers feel as though they were led astray and lose trust in their organizations.

One way of measuring the success of a survey is response rate. As On The Same Page discussed in its Factors Influencing Employee Survey Response Rates report, the more employees who fill out the survey, the more accurate results will be. Again, this metric is largely dependent upon actions taken in the past after surveys. The report noted when a company with 800 employees administered a survey three separate times, response rates decreased dramatically due to lack of action on the part of the employer after obtaining results. The first survey returned responses from 87 percent of the company. The second, only 76 percent. By the third try, only 67 percent of employees replied. This shift occurs when businesses can't effectively interpret data or strategize effective responses.

To garner the most cohesive data and largest number of responses, businesses should consider the following tactics:

Timing
A larger number of employees will reply to a survey with a lengthy response period. However, it should be noted that the first three days will typically see the highest level of responses before dropping off dramatically. On the Same Page suggested leaving participation open for up to three weeks and sending out periodical reminders for stragglers in that time frame. 

Method
The most valuable method for administering surveys is in a large group setting. Getting workers together and handing out a survey to be completed in a specific time frame can yield a response rate between 80 percent and 90 percent. The next most effective method is email, which gives employees more flexibility and privacy.

Types of questions
HR Zone stated that to get the most productive responses from people, questions must center around the following areas:

  • Autonomy and personal development
  • Rewards and recognition
  • Motivation
  • Performance management
  • Trust and relationships
  • Well-being and involvement 

These are the only topics that will give solid insight into how workers are genuinely feeling about their positions at a company. 

Interaction
Businesses cannot expect employees to happily engage with a survey if team members don't know why it's being sent out, where the information will go or how it will affect their position. HR professionals must clearly communicate the reason for the survey and what the company hopes to do with the information. HR also should let employees know when to expect the questionnaire and follow up throughout the administration process to ensure people are responding accordingly. 

Action on all levels
The impact of taking action after administering a survey cannot be understated. Employees need to know supervisors and HR personnel on all levels are concerned with the thoughts contributed through the questionnaire. Even if there are only small changes that need to be made, upper- and mid-level management alike need to work together to make necessary changes. 

Avoiding class action lawsuits due to FCRA violations

8 May

Employers need to ensure they comply with FCRA guidelines when hiring new employees.

Employers must be certain their hiring and recruiting practices are compliant with state and federal regulations. Failure to provide the correct documentation or paperwork to new employees could result in fines or worse - a lawsuit. Personnel management software can help companies avoid landing themselves in hot water during hiring. 

Recently, there has been a wave of class action lawsuits against large companies for violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The Federal Trade Commission outlined the FCRA, which states any business planning to conduct a background check on prospective employees must notify the applicant that such action will be taken through a written document. Most businesses obtain consumer reports on prospective employees; consumer reports are part of the background check process. A consumer report delivers information on an applicant's criminal history, contact information and education. This information is often used to corroborate the items on the applicant's resume and identify any potential red flags that would affect the applicant's ability to perform his or her duties well.

If an applicant does not land a position due to some piece of information gleaned from the consumer report, these details must also be shared with the applicant in a standalone document.
In the past few months, there have been large class action lawsuits brought against employers by applicants claiming to have never received standalone disclosure authorization forms. Many have stated these authorization forms were embedded into other paperwork the applicant signed during the hiring process.

Recent court cases
Michaels Stores Inc., Paramount Pictures Corporation, Express Services, Inc. and Whole Foods are just a handful of the employers under fire these days, according to Employee Screen. The site also stated that businesses like K-Mart, Dollar General and Domino's Pizza have paid millions of dollars in settlements for violating these regulations. Law 360 stated violations could result in a business paying an applicant no less than $100 and no more than $1,000 for each violation depending on the severity and complexity of each individual case.

It's unclear - and varies on a case-by-case basis - exactly whether businesses are aware of their violations ahead of time or make the mistakes that land them in court on accident. In looking over the cases presently in court or recently ruled, its clear companies need to revamp their background check processes to guarantee they are compliant with state and federal regulations.

Here are several things employers can do to ensure they avoid falling into the class action lawsuit trend and paying millions in fines:

  • Talk to a legal expert: No matter what research has been done, it's worth consulting with a legal expert on the language used on disclosure forms. 
  • Review disclosure forms: As the FCRA requires both a disclosure and an authorization form, it's a good idea to taking another look at the businesses's current practices. Make sure the documents or terminology aren't outdated or no longer relevant. 
  • Triple check signatures: Without a signature on both forms, a background check cannot be administered. In an ideal world, the applicant would also add the date next to the signature. 

Personnel management software can help businesses maintain compliance for background checks, applicant interviews and much more. It's the perfect compliment to an already stellar human resources team.  

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