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OSHA begins process of changing PELs

22 Oct

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 According to Environmental Leader, the agency has called its exposure standards "dangerously out of date."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

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.

Personalizing big data

21 Oct

Recruiting for positions has become difficult for many in the strategic human resource management profession. There are so many complexities having to do with the big data revolution that many haven't begun to adapt to a dramatically different recruiting landscape. As such, many mistakes can be made.

When hiring managers sort through resumes, do they throw away the ones of the people that aren't hired? According to HR Morning, this can be a mistake because such candidates might turn out to be very useful in the future. Keeping track of individuals who didn't get the job can sometimes mean hiring someone for another position later that the person might have been more suitable for. Because the jobs market is so competitive, many potential hires feel overwhelmed, and won't apply again after missing one job opportunity at a place of business. This points to another difficulty with recruiting, which is that, without some way of going out and finding candidates, many companies will be short of adequate hires. Talent is hard to find, whether a company keeps old resumes of good workers or goes out to find others by using big data to search through LinkedIn.

The problem of finding talent is so extreme that HR Morning even recommended creating applications with fewer questions rather than more. The initial theory behind a large roster of questions was that it would weed out disinterested applicants. However, many now fear that those clients might be top performers who already have a lot of options on the table.

Outsourcing your recruitment campaign
Outsourcing your recruitment may not be the only solution that some companies need to find a great hire. In theory, these recruiting firms use big data to collect thousands of applicants, which are then narrowed down until the six or seven perfect candidates are selected. This is all well and good, Talent Circles stated, but what companies really need to do for their job seekers is to mentor and build a relationship with them. This is where many companies move from the sourcing phase of recruiting to the more personal phase. A good recruiting firm will allow companies to contact hires itself and speak with them. It adds a human touch. 

In the end, the best approach may be to hire specialists in big data and follow up the work with individualized phone calls. This promotes a selective process without leaving out potential hires.

The NFL and domestic violence

20 Oct

Recent domestic violence disputes in the NFL have caused many in the human resources field to look toward their own businesses and ask what they themselves are doing about this issue.  According to Human Resources Executive Online, less than a third of of U.S. workplaces have a domestic violence policy. Even those with a policy often focus on protecting the victim and avoid punishment for the perpetrator.

For the NFL, the question is pressing because the company is such a public one. Many are calling for someone to audit the NFL to make sure it is taking domestic violence situations seriously. However, who would audit the NFL? Would it be a major company like a Big Four accounting firm, or would another party have to step forward?

So far, the employee management department at the NFL has appointed four women to review its policies on domestic violence and sexual assault. Critics, according to HRE Online, have raised concerns about what they perceive to be the tepid response by the NFL, which originally punished offenders with a two-game suspension. Additionally, according to Forbes, many times the punishments faced by offenders are suspended long enough for them to play in important games. Players can appeal to have their suspensions removed, because of due process, this can often work. Forbes also cited that the players' union often supports these actions.

Creating a domestic violence policy
Whether or not the NFL finds a more appropriate solution to the problem of domestic violence with its players, ordinary companies must also find a way to create solutions that help the victims and punish the perpetrators of domestic violence. HRE Online cited the statistic that 321 women and 38 men were killed on the job by a current or former spouse between 1997 and 2009. Additionally, of the women killed in the workplace, 33 percent were murdered by their former or current partner.

With only 30 percent of employers taking responsibility for domestic violence, many people who have spent time trying to escape their spouses because of injuries, finding a safe house or getting a court-ordered restraining order against their former partner have lost their jobs because of missed days at work or other reasons, according to Forbes.

The challenges of policy-making
One of the difficulties of punishing those who commit domestic violence by firing them is that it may ultimately serve to perpetuate domestic violence, according to U.K. news site My Next Fone. If someone loses his or her job from committing a violent act, then that person may attack his or her partner in anger. Or, a partner may be afraid to come forward because he or she relies on his or her spouse for monetary support.

Those who want to find an existing model for domestic violence solutions may wish to look to the federal government.  The U.S. Office of Personnel Management has published a document called  "Guidance for Agency-Specific Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking Policy" which federal agencies use to resolve disputes relating to those issues. One concern with the plan is that it focuses on an employee's ability to perform his or her job – the government does not want to address what it perceives as a personal problem.

Because of the public nature of the NFL, many will be turning to it to see how it resolves these issues as they become more exposed to the media. If the NFL takes its own problem with domestic violence seriously, then likely other companies will follow suit. The conversations happening at many HR departments right now are primarily due, after all, to the recent domestic violence suspensions that have taken place very publicly.

How to manage telecommuters

16 Oct

Telecommuting is quickly becoming a very typical way for employees to connect with their jobs without leaving their homes. According to a study by The University of Illinois, telecommuters using this form of employee self service can perform as well at home as they can in the office, and sometimes better, Reuters reported. It also improves morale and sometimes encourages people to work longer hours because they can just stay "plugged in" without worry about a commute back and forth.

The trick to a good telecommute policy is to give the employees who telecommute the same things you would give workers who are at the office. One example would be a chance to socialize virtually using a chat room, according to entrepreneur Marten Mickos, who used telecommuting for his 70 global employees, sending information into a central hub via the cloud, CNN cited.

An additional concern raised by Time is whether the job itself is appropriate for telecommuting. There have been some examples of people functioning as office managers on a telecommuting basis, but this may not work all the time because people in the office want to meet their bosses face-to-face. However, for jobs where someone fills out paperwork, such as a tax professional, it may not be necessary to sit in the office and do taxes when someone could bring the forms electronically to their homes and work from there.

Keeping control of the situation
Remember as well as that telecommuters must be held accountable, so don't let someone begin telecommuting until he or she has proven an ability to work in the office very effectively, and then give that person the chance to work from home on a trial run. If your employee can do it, than give him or her the opportunity to do it two or three days a week. Don't give anyone the chance to just disappear from the office without proving he or she can do it and still be working. For those who need to conference call into a meeting, make sure to set that up a few days in advance to be certain it works.

An additional concern is whether the employees will want to be reimbursed for their Internet and phone services. A policy should be in place, even if it is as simple as "nothing will be reimbursed." Additionally, make sure that parents who telecommute and have little children are also ensuring that someone else is home with them to take care of the kids – this is just a safety issue as well as an attention issue.

What should employers know about the new 401(k) after-tax rules?

15 Oct

Many employees begin saving for retirement through a 401(k) account, hoping it will generate enough money over time that they can stop working at a reasonable point in their careers. At the same time, a large number of workers invest in a Roth IRA for the same reasons. Employers often handle these accounts for their staff using payroll management software, but it's not always an easy task, especially if an employee has both types of retirement accounts.

However, recent changes to the way employees can deal with after-tax money in their 401(k) account in relation to their Roth IRA may alter the way employers help manage workers' retirement savings.

Making it easier to transfer funds
The IRS is the government body that writes the rules for retirement accounts, and it has recently made several alterations that will provide employees a bit more freedom. Forbes wrote that IRS Notice 2014-54 gives employees the ability to transfer after-tax money from their 401(k) account to their Roth IRA without having to pay taxes on the transaction. Beginning January 1, 2015, employees will be able to take advantage of this opportunity to roll over funds between the two accounts.

Why is it advantageous for employees?
A 401(k) account is essentially a contributor-based savings plan that has limits in terms of how much workers can contribute. At the same time, money is taxed in this kind of account, while a Roth IRA is tax free. With regard to the latter, workers fund their retirement savings using after-tax money, which grows in the account until it's withdrawn at retirement.

Before the IRS made this change, employees could technically still do the same thing, but it was a convoluted process, Investment News explained. In fact, many tax experts felt that the IRS was against the practice, which makes the recent announcement a welcome surprise.

Still, it doesn't give employees a blank check in transferring after-tax money from their 401(k) to a Roth IRA. The first caveat is whether a worker actually has after-tax money in his or her 401(k) account.

What's expected of employers?
Many employees who meet the criteria for transferring money between accounts will likely want to take advantage of the opportunity. Employers should facilitate the process. Human resources managers will need to clearly communicate the changes in the IRS's treatment of retirement savings to employees. This may even involve bringing in a financial advisor who can explain any aspects of the changes that may cause confusion. 

Complications with ACA

9 Oct

The Affordable Care Act will become more important to companies with over 100 employees because January 1, 2015 is the deadline for those businesses to begin offering health insurance to its workers. According to MSN News, the exact requirement is that at least 70 percent of full-time staffers must be offered health insurance by 2015. Additionally, the insurance plan must not exceed over 9.5 percent of employees' annual salaries.

According to Andy Birol, a small-business consultant, companies shouldn't overthink their policies to the extent it inhibits them from making other business decisions. He terms his strategy for ACA as "fish or cut bait," meaning to either get into the game or get out of it – to make a decision quickly and stick to it.

Some companies are actually reducing their headcount of full-time employees to avoid paying the for insurance coverage.

More complications to complying with ACA
There are some additional challenges to the ACA that many people in the human resource planning field are not aware of, but a recent article by HR Morning pinpoints some of the most salient points to be concerned about when it comes to this important matter.

For one thing, adding a wellness program is a great way to get employees healthy and focused on getting into good shape. However, giving incentives to those who sign up for it can be a problem, along with adding penalties for people who smoke or are overweight. For example, the ACA maximum reduction or penalty is 30 percent, according to HR Morning. For smokers, it rises to 50 percent. Anything more than that is a violation.

Another problem is with "grandfathered" programs, which are old enough to become exempt from major health care rules. However, if a grandfathered program changes enough than it will no longer be protected under the same status.

The government has put out a list of information about this on a special ACA website.

Waiting periods are another complex issue. Health care plans cannot make employees wait more than 90 days for coverage to begin, but many covered employees are facing longer waiting periods, putting their employers in jeopardy of facing ACA penalties.

How affordable is the insurance?
Some employees are turning down ACA insurance because they can't afford it. According to Tara Wicker, the HR director for a chain of grocery stores, many of her employees choosing against insurance because they can't pay the premiums. People who want to keep their workers insured and healthy may want to look carefully for an affordable plan that compromises between what employees and employers can both afford.

Other people believe that employees should be allowed to have no insurance if that's what they want.

"The employer is responsible for offering the insurance, not responsible for ensuring that employees actually enroll," said Tony Novak, a benefits consultant.

The official rules are that if the employer offers minimal coverage, there is no penalty if employees don't take it. Jon Robitaille, who works for a grocery store, says that he signed up for the insurance plan because he felt it was mandated, but said he would have preferred to spend the money on vacations instead.

Other complications include the fact that workers must work for 30 hours a week in order to be eligible for a plan, and maybe people who work more than one job have trouble meeting the requirements even if they work more than 30 hours when both jobs are combined.

Smaller businesses won't have to worry about the ACA rules until 2016. That's when companies with between 50 and 99 employees must begin providing health insurance. Those with less than 50 don't have to comply with the rules.

Venting on social media? The NLRB has employees’ backs

9 Oct

Many consider the National Labor Relations Board to be the governing body in charge of protecting employee and employer rights. The National Labor Relations Act enacted by Congress in 1935 was designed to put into plain text the various safeguards that give employees the ability of collective bargaining and striking, and many of the activities commonly associated with labor unions.

However, the digital age has thrown a bit of a wrench in the straightforward statements originally contained in the 20th century legislation. Specifically, social media is difficult terrain for some employers to navigate in the way they're able to set policy that influences their employees' online behavior. The recent case involving a sports bar and grill clarified the extent to which social networks fall under the protection of the NLRA. It's a case that human resources managers should pay close attention to, especially when they're developing or redefining employee management policies.

The importance of Section 7 of the NRLA
There are portions of the NLRA that are used as a reference when discussing protected speech, collective bargaining and other important employee rights. Nonetheless, Section 7 of the NLRA contains language discusses "concerted activities" as they pertain to mutual aid or protection. Employees have the right to collaborate to improve working conditions. The case involving the sports bar saw this principle applied to social media.

A Facebook discussion as a concerted activity
Four employees of the sports bar and grill held a Facebook discussion about their wages. In particular, they spoke of how they believed they unfairly had to pay state taxes due to accounting errors on the part of the bar owners. The judge in the case ruled in favor of the employees, finding the Facebook discussion, which was held on one of the participant's personal pages, was protected under Section 7 of the NLRA. Despite some of the profane language used on the social network, it wasn't deemed to be defamatory.

As a result, two of the employees, who were fired by the employer for violating the company's online sharing policy, were able to reassume their positions within the company. In addition, the other two individuals who "liked" the comments made by their colleagues were also protected under the NRLA.

What does this mean for employers?
Law firm Seyfarth Shaw indicated employers need to first construct their employee policies regarding online conduct in full purview of the NRLA. In other words, employees must be allowed to discuss their wages, work environment and other work-related matters without fear of dismissal.

OSHA changing its reporting regulations

9 Oct

OSHA has released new rules that will make compliance reporting more of a challenge for employers. According to Human Resources Executive Online, OSHA's latest regulations will require employee management teams to report work-related fatalities within 8 hours and hospitalized work-related injuries within 24 hours. Additionally, everyone will have to comply with OSHA reporting guidelines, including companies that do not have to keep injury and illness records, which hadn't needed to make reports in the past.

Previously, injuries were only reported when three or more employees became wounded in the same accident, which made reporting far less common. Additionally, amputations are now considered to include the loss of even small parts of the body, such as the tip of a finger. An additional 25 new industries must also begin keeping records. This new list includes lessors of real estate and liquor stores.

According to Environmental and Energy Law Monitor, posting on JD Supra, the laws go into effect on January 1, 2015. The theory behind the new regulations is that OSHA will begin conducting more inspections of companies where people are injured on the job. Before, only those with injuries affecting three or more people would become targeted for inspections, now employers that regularly report injuries of only one person or more will face additional OSHA inspections.

OSHA to post its data online
OSHA is now planning to report accident data online, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The idea behind the online releases, which are already posted to OSHA's website, is that companies will be embarrassed by their track records of injuries and begin to emphasize safety as a major concern.

"We believe that the possibility of public reporting of serious injuries will encourage—or, in the behavioral economics term, nudge—employers to take steps to prevent injuries so they're not seen as unsafe places to work," said David Michaels, the head of OSHA, to Bloomberg Businessweek. "After all, if you had a choice of applying for a job at a place where a worker had just lost a hand, versus one where no amputation has occurred, which would you choose?"

Some companies are opposed to OSHA's plan, alleging that posting the reports online will only make things more difficult for businesses to find employees without helping workers to operate in safe places.

"OSHA simply cannot demonstrate that this proposed rule will result in fewer injuries and illnesses," Geoffrey Burr, vice president of government affairs for the Associated Builders & Contractors, said in a statement sent to OSHA earlier in 2014.

Is telemedicine beneficial in the long run?

8 Oct

Telemedicine is a new trend that many companies are taking advantage of. Because it is such a recent innovation, many business professionals are still unsure of whether it will benefit their company in terms of human capital management or not. Early adopters have so far had mixed experiences with the product.

According to the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine is the exchange of medical information between different sites to benefit a patient's medical health status. This includes referral services, remote monitoring and medical education services. the most common practice is using telemedicine to see a doctor who lives far away remotely. The service is considered part of a company's overall health plan.

Healthcare Dive reported that employer support of telemedicine is relatively new, and the service has also been adopted at a faster pace – over half of employers plan to cover telemedicine consultations in 2015. Many are going this route because the Affordable Care Act is making it more expensive for companies to give their employees healthcare.

Schools are also becoming interested in telemedicine, the Baltimore Sun wrote. Schools in Maryland are linking with local hospital pediatricians to provide an instant examination of sore throats, skin rashes and ear infections. Parents can also sit in on the examination using a special app. The idea is that students won't have to miss school for basic doctor visits.

Pros and cons
The service may not be right for everyone, however. According to Fortune Magazine, the people employees would see won't be their own doctor, but rather a physician who has just gotten off work and wants to make some extra money by performing examinations. Doctors log into the service and then select patients from a screen. They are actually not allowed to see the patients in real life once they begin seeing them through a telemedicine service. Doctors can prescribe medication, although nurses are available to review the charts produced from a telemedicine visit to ensure an accurate diagnoses.

In a price comparison, Bloomberg Businessweek found that a regular doctor's visit would cost $100, but a visit to an online doctor costs only $40.

Some people are wary of the practice, however.

"I don't think we know how it works, the risks and benefits at the moment," says James Perrin, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "The only way to diagnose strep is with a test. Best practices say you can't just throw an antibiotic at somebody [without a test first]."

Is it beneficial?
Ultimately, the major problem with telemedicine is that it is arguably not the same as seeing a doctor in real life, according to U.S. News and World Report. For one thing, computer cameras are for the most part still not at a high enough definition to be the same even as a photograph in a textbook, let alone seeing someone's throat in real life. For treating serious ailments, it may be better also to talk with someone who knows a patient's medical history thoroughly, versus someone new every time. U.S. News cited that a major problem with telemedicine is that it can lead to inadequate assessments because many non-verbal cues can "slip through the cracks," and doctors cannot feel a person's arm to see if it is stiff in a certain way.

Whether it leads to less expenses for a company in the long run, versus problems with misdiagnoses leading to further time off and insurance payments is still not clear. Many doctors appear ambivalent about the practice, although they say that it is still helpful in certain instances.

"I think there a lot of good uses for it," said rural family doctor Raymond Christensen. "I don't think you can start an IV with it. There are places where we still have to have people touching people. But it brings a higher level of care … than we've been able to provide before."

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