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E-cigarettes and HR policies

22 May

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

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. 

Summary of Benefits and Coverage further delayed

22 May

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

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. 

What do HR managers need to know about the EEOC’s initiative to eliminate workplace harassment?

16 Apr

HR manager software can help a human resource professional better manage payroll, training and time off. As anyone in the field knows, these systems are critical given the number of other tasks on HR's plate. From new workplace rules to government initiatives, there's a lot for human resource professionals to stay up to date on.

One of these government initiatives includes ending workplace harassment. So what exactly do internal teams need to know about it, and how will it impact them, if at all?

What constitutes as harassment and what role does the EEOC play?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has long aimed to ensure all workers, regardless of sex, race, disability or other defining characteristics, have the same opportunities in the workplace. The government body has also made a move to eliminate harassment many people face on the job. Harassment of this nature is illegal, but some employers may be unclear on the specifics. 

According to the EEOC, conduct becomes unlawful when it creates an environment that is hostile, offensive or intimidating to a reasonable person. This can include physical assaults, threats, offensive jokes or insults, intimidation, ridicule or a range of other activities. Minor isolated incidents and irritations do not fall under this umbrella and would thus not be considered illegal, unwelcome as they may be. 

Harassment doesn't have to come from a higher-up. While an offender may sometimes be a worker's manager, it's just as likely the harasser could be a coworker, contractor or even a non-employee. 

It's critical HR acts on harassment complaints, or better yet, tries to nip this problem in the bud. Employers are responsible for harassment from a manager that leads to an employee's termination, failure to get a promotion or pay cut, and are also liable for harassment from other individuals if they knew or should have known about the activity and didn't put a stop to it.

EEOC finds harassment still a significant issue
While employers are certainly aware of the detrimental impacts harassment brings to the workplace and most employees sign some sort of policy stating they understand their company's harassment policy, this is still a surprisingly large issue.

A January EECO meeting found that of all the complaints filed with the organization, about 30 percent allege workplace harassment. This indicates employers aren't doing enough to keep harassment out of the workplace, or employees find the any training sessions they currently undergo ineffective. 

Due to the high rate of alleged harassment, EEOC Chair Jenny Yang announced she would establish a task force aimed at determining what strategies would best help eliminate this common workplace problem.

"The EEOC is working to leverage our resources to have a greater impact on the persistent problem of workplace harassment," said Yang. "By identifying underlying problems in workplaces and industries where we see recurring patterns of harassment, we are developing strategies that focus on targeted outreach and education as well as systemic enforcement to promote broader voluntary compliance."

Data from the EEOC shows that the fiscal year ranging from Oct. 1, 2013 to Sept. 20, 2014 saw nearly 31,100 individuals claim they'd been harassed because of their race, while more than 26,000 said their sex was the reason behind the harassment. More than 25,300 and 20,000 said the same about their disability and age, respectively.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the rate of individuals alleging retaliation for reporting harassment hit a new high of nearly 43 percent during this period. 

How employers can stop harassment
Harassment is costly, with regard to time spent trying to settle the case, low employee morale, damages that may need to be paid and a damaged brand reputation. Rather than dealing with these problems as they arise, HR departments need to determine what they can do to stop this serious issue before it even starts. 

One of these things will include revisiting current harassment training programs, namely: Do any exist? If employees are simply signing off on a sheet saying they understand and will comply with company harassment policies, they may not understand the seriousness of the issue and that something they consider a joke could actually have significant repercussions in the long run. 

Creating stronger and more informative preventative training sessions is one area in which the EEOC's Yang thinks employers could focus on. 

"Preventing harassment from occurring in the first place is far preferable to remedying its consequences," she said in a press release. 

To do this, HR managers will need to determine what needs to be discussed at the sessions, potentially including:

  • What actions constitute harassment
  • Examples of harassment and why these are considered such
  • Which groups are protected from workplace harassment by law
  • Who can be accused of harassment
  • The legal repercussions if someone goes to the EEOC with a harassment complaint
  • What will happen to an individual accused of harassment

By getting ahead of this troubling trend, employers can protect themselves and their employees from harassment and the potential litigation that may fo​llow.

What happens in the event of a cyberattack?

15 Apr

Cybersecurity is a top concern for every business. With multiple high-profile data breaches that cost businesses millions of dollars and seriously damaged their reputations in recent years, it's increasingly apparent that one area companies can't afford to neglect is IT security. 

But what happens if a company does indeed experience a breach? Even if all the necessary security measures are in place, every business needs to be ready for the worst. 

Who takes responsibility? 
It's an age-old question: Is HR or IT responsible for cybersecurity? In some cases one department wants control of this task and the other doesn't, making it easy to determine who blame should fall on if anything goes wrong. But all too frequently, it's difficult for leaders within these areas to decide which should take the lead. 

IT seems like an obvious choice to lead data protection initiatives – after all, cybersecurity certainly seems to fall under the information technology umbrella. And while IT professionals may be able to advise and contribute to the discussions about mitigating breaches, they aren't the only ones who have a horse in the race.

Unlikely as it seems, human resource solutions should play a major role in the cybersecurity process. In an interview with the Society for Human Resource Management, Philip L. Gordon, a shareholder in the Denver office of Littler and co-chair of the firm's Privacy and Data Protection Practice Group, claims that lost or stolen devices are one of the most common causes of data breaches. He says that training employees to report a missing device immediately is critical, and this could be one of the onboarding sessions HR completes with new workers. 

Similarly, he recommends HR have a stringent office security policy, and make sure reception workers don't allow any unauthorized individuals to walk through the workspace without supervision. 

If the IT department refuses to take the lead on data protection, the HR department may opt to create a new position like " Chief Security Officer" or something similar. This person would need to have a firm grasp on legal compliance and a strong understanding of the technical aspects that cybersecurity calls for. 

What if IT doesn't step up?
To keep from encountering any confusion over who's responsible for what when it comes to security incidents and protection, it's vital to have a plan in place before anything happens. 

While HR may be responsible for training employees on how to mitigate security risks and working with employees if one does happen, IT will be responsible for certain things given its more technical expertise. The department should be aware that if a hack does happen, it is responsible for taking machines offline, preserving evidence of the breach and working with forensics to determine what data has been compromised and how to delete any malware or hacker tools.

Experian's Data Breach Response Guide details what steps need to be taken within the first day after a breach occurs. Every organization should have a point person to go to for each item on the list, whether it's someone in the IT or HR department. The steps include recording when the breach was discovered and when someone acted on it, alerting the appropriate parties, making sure additional data loss doesn't occur and starting an investigation.

What must a company provide after a breach?
No business plans on getting hacked, but in the event it does, higher-ups need to know what documentation they be required to provide.

The Federal Trade Commission's 2014 Privacy and Data Security Update details when companies in certain industries are required to inform consumers of data breaches. The Experian report also shows how multiple states are considering more thorough notification laws that would require businesses to provide even more information about the data breaches they experienced, including what personal information was accessed, when the breach occurred, what happened and sometimes even if the notification was delayed because of a law enforcement investigation.

After a security incident, documentation at every single stage of the process is key. Professionals responsible for investigating the breach should have notes relating to each person they spoke to about the issue, how long it took them to get the authorities involved, what information was accessed and so on. They should also note not just what they did and when, but why they took those steps.

Businesses have to act now
Even if a business thinks its data is secure, chances are it can be compromised at some point. The Experian report says that in 2012 alone, 267 million records were exposed thanks to cybersecurity incidents. 

With such great repercussions, companies have to be know how to mitigate the risk of an incident and how to proceed if one does happen. By combining the duties for HR and IT, no one department has to bear the entire burden and each department can specialize in its own area.

Executive Order 13672 lists sexual orientation and gender identity as protected parties

19 Mar

As the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identities become more widely accepted, company executives have a new responsibility to ensure that all of their employees are treated fairly and respectfully in the workplace. In order to comply with regulations and prevent discrimination, employers must be armed with the most up-to-date information and HR solutions to cover all protected parties.

The latest ruling
In 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a new rule that extends workplace protections to individuals of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

"Americans believe in fairness and opportunity," Thomas Perez, the U.S. Secretary of Labor, said in a press release. "No one should live in fear of being fired or passed over or discriminated against at work simply because of who they love. Laws prohibiting workplace discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity are long overdue, and we're taking a big step forward today to fix that."

The "big step forward" Perez refers to is Executive Order 13672, which President Barack Obama signed on July 21, 2014, to add gender identity and sexual orientation to the list of protected Equal Opportunity classes under Executive Order 11246. The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) announced the order, known as the Final Rule, on December 3, 2014, and declared that it will take effect 120 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

The public response
This is the first time in history that the federal government has taken action to promote workplace equality for the LGBT community within the private sector. It comes at a time when the American public seems to be ready for change. A 2014 poll conducted through the Human Rights Campaign found that 63 percent of voters favored a federal regulation protecting LGBT workers from employment discrimination.

Although there was no prior federal law prohibiting LGBT discrimination at work, states and companies across the country already have their own rules in effect. According to a White House press release, the District of Columbia and 18 other states have laws stating that LGBT workers can't be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

What is expected of employers?
In order to help businesses comply with the new regulations, the OFCCP stated that it will host webinars, workshops and forums to talk employers through the amended requirements. Additionally, it will publish fact sheets and other printed materials for distribution. Company executives should use this information to amend their employee handbooks, company policies, job postings and other internal and external-facing documents to ensure that everyone involved understands the new regulation. 

The 411 on the workplace bully

16 Mar

In an office setting, odds are that not all co-workers will get along seamlessly. However, as an employer, you need to be able to discern whether someone is taking unfriendliness a little too far and has become an office bully.

Workplace bullying can take on many forms – including verbal abuse, work sabotage, work interference, intimidation, threatening behavior and more – and can either be general behavior toward all co-workers or targeted to a specific individual.

Many times these issues arise out of the office bully needing to feel a sense of control. In many cases, managers – rather than other employees – can be the biggest offenders. According to a study conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, in 57 percent of cases, workplace bullies are men, but both male and female bullies are more likely to target female co-workers. 

Workplace bullying can have a huge impact on morale in the office, especially if many staff members are having issues and feeling uncomfortable.  And don't forget – human capital is one of your greatest assets. If you sense that you may be having a bullying problem in your office, keep the following topics in mind as you plan for a conversation about the employee's action and future with the company.

  • Know the difference between being a bully and having a bad day. If a single co-worker makes a complaint about an isolated incident, it may not really qualify as office bullying. Everyone has bad days when they may be irritated or act semi-inappropriately, but with an office bully, the behavior is consistent.

    "The key is that it's not just a one-time thing," Stacy Tye-Williams, lead author of a study published in the journal Management Communication Quarterly, explained. "It's more than one person snapping you on a bad day. It's the person who snaps at you repeatedly to a point where you go, this is systemic. This is how they work."

  • Make sure you understand the company's disciplinary policies. Each company has its own system for dealing with employee-related problems, so be sure to brush up on your company's policy before meeting with the office bully. This way, you can know for sure that you are passing on the proper future actions that may take place, including counseling, suspension or termination.
  • Keep the complaints confidential. When you confront the office bully, you will need to bring up the fact that complaints were made. However, whenever possible try to keep the stories general so the bully can't tell who filed complaints. If he or she can tell who is reporting them, it may lead to retaliation that can be even worse than the initial offending behavior.
  • Be sure to keep notes of the behavior. It may be difficult to remember specific details after an incident occurs, so be sure to have physical evidence of the complaint.

    "Bullied employees must document their bullying experience as soon as possible so that they do not forget key information," said Lisa Barrow, a workplace bullying consultant with LMSB Consulting. "This will help them regain control over the situation."

    You can either have co-workers send you an email detailing their experiences or take notes during a one-on-one meeting, but make sure you get all the necessary details while they're still fresh in their minds.

  • Be stern with the offending employee. When you confront the office bully about his or her behavior, it's important to be stern. It is likely that he or she will try to make excuses or rationalize the actions as a joke, but you must remain firm that the behavior cannot continue and will not be tolerated.

HR in the hospitality sector: Part 3

16 Mar

Hours and scheduling have long been a point of concern for the hospitality industry. With fluctuating schedules, it can be difficult to keep all employees correctly classified and content with their shifts. However, it's absolutely critical for HR departments to be proactive in this area, coming up with human resource solutions that ensure compliance with government regulations and guarantee employee satisfaction remains as high as possible.

Proposed FLSA changes would require attention from HR managers
Changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act that would alter which employees qualify for "white collar exemptions" to overtime pay mandates will soon be issued for public review and comment by the Department of Labor's Wage & Hour Division.

When finalized, these changes could have a significant impact on many employers, and the hospitality industry in particular. Currently, employees must earn a minimum wage of $455 weekly to be exempt from overtime pay. However, this threshold could rise considerably – in January, the Economic Policy Institute proposed raising it to $50,000 annually, which equates to roughly $960 weekly. 

Wages are only a part of what will qualify an employee for an exemption. The proposed new regulations could now require white collar employees to be performing overtime exempt duties for more than 50 percent of his or her working hours. That would disqualify managers who spend much of their days stocking, assisting customers or working a cash register from being overtime exempt.

If these speculated changes are implemented, wage costs in the hospitality industry could rise dramatically. To prepare, HR teams should begin documenting all job descriptions, highlighting those roles that would remain overtime exempt based on wage and performing managerial duties at least half of the time they're working. Careful payroll management and budget planning will also be essential – if a great deal of a company's employees are no longer exempt from overtime pay, the business will determine how it will be able to pay their higher wages, or if this warrants hiring additional white collar workers.

Managing shift-based work stress
When you're managing a shift-based workforce, you need the right scheduling tools to make the job easy – and a knowledge of how to address common problems that come with this type of work. Many of your employees may suffer from overtiredness, trouble sleeping, irritability, seasonal affective disorder and general burnout. These can all impact performance and lead to higher turnover rates.

To combat some of these issues, try to tailor schedules to employee preferences – it could be that some workers prefer working nights or early mornings, and you can schedule fewer people who prefer to work traditional hours during these shifts. Consider scheduling employees to forward shift rotations, such as day to evening or evening to late night hours, to ease the transition, as opposed to scheduling at random.

It's also key to train employees to recognize when they – or their coworkers – are overtired and posing a risk to themselves, others or the company. Research suggests late night shifts lead to increased accidents, and the longer employees are on duty, the more likely they are to have a health and safety incident.

When employees want to unionize
Hearing that employees want to unionize may be a win for organized labor, but not necessarily for your company. What steps can you take to address workers' concerns and and convince them to halt moving forward with unionization?

ReedSmith suggests being upfront with employees. The major concerns that often lead to calls for unionization are workplace safety concerns, job security, abusive or incompetent management teams and proper compensation. These all must be addressed immediately and management should move forward with the premise that what employees perceive about the situation is reality, even if complaints aren't grounded with facts. 

Next, reexamine the major areas of concern. Are any of them accurate? It may be that workplace safety issues present a hazard, individuals have been treated unfairly by a manager or that compensation and benefits are not sufficient for the work being performed. If there's something that needs to be adjusted, fix it, and clearly explain this to workers while continuing to monitor the situation in the future. 

HR plays a more critical role in hospitality than ever before
With how much the hospitality industry continues to grow and thrive, human resource professionals play a more critical role in managing employee engagement, payroll, scheduling and other duties than ever before. Without high-performing human resource systems and skilled HR employees, a business risks noncompliance with government regulations, high employee turnover and general disorganization. By investing in the best software – and best people – hospitality companies can rise above the competition.

Why is HR so important to have in a company?

11 Mar

When it comes to payroll management, benefits administration and hiring, many companies debate whether human resources should be handled internally or outsourced to a provider. Outsourcing is often cheaper, but firms can run into issues, especially in the recruitment process. New hires may not be a strong match for internal culture when someone outside the organization is making the employment decisions. 

The Affordable Care Act has created significant changes for how some companies administer benefits, prompting many businesses to outsource. A study from ADP revealed that out of the nine key benefits administration areas, companies are likely to handle at least six partially or completely in-house. However, health care benefits are becoming more complicated, requiring external guidance. Some large employers rely on multiple external providers to manage some of these key areas, but this can make compliance more difficult.

Striking a balance for human resources
With the wide range of HR responsibilities, it can be difficult for managers in this department to devote equal attention to all areas. A recent study from Glassdoor found that many employers expect to face a talent shortage in 2015, and 48 percent of recruiters do not see a sufficient number of qualified candidates for open positions. Many lack visibility into their hiring processes, which can cause them to rely on outdated hiring methods. For example, the study found that many businesses still do not actively prospect for talent on social media. Nearly one-third of respondents reported that their methods of advertising open positions were outdated. 

Because human resource professionals are typically being pulled in many directions at the same time, it can be a challenge to manage every issue that enters their offices. If an employee reports a problem, he or she may feel like the HR manager doesn't devote enough attention to the issue. This reduces trust in your HR department, which is detrimental over time. Although hiring needs to be a priority, this department also needs to maintain an active role in the company's operations. 

Conducting HR audits
If HR is disconnected from the rest of the organization, it may be a good idea to conduct an audit of current processes to identify areas for improvement. HR.BLR.com recommended the following considerations for an audit:

  • The hiring process: Employers need to assess their employment applications, interview procedures, background checks and offer letters, as well as state and federal compliance. What kinds of onboarding procedures are in place? 
  • Employee handbook review: Are existing policies still effective and in accordance with all laws? Some regulations have been updated over time, so it's important to understand how laws could potentially impact your policies. HR professionals need to make sure the guidelines in the employee handbook match the company's practices. 
  • Disciplinary policies: In addition to the employee handbook, an audit should cover all disciplinary actions. While it can be difficult to build employees' trust in the HR department, it's important to have a clear written procedure for prohibited conduct, consequences, the number of written or verbal warnings someone receives before termination and the termination process itself. Some employers do not have a formal process, but it's crucial that the publicized procedures match the actual practices. 
  • Recordkeeping: Some state and federal laws govern the length of time employees records must kept and what types of information should be retained. HR managers need to ensure all forms are properly filled out and personnel files are kept separate from medical records to avoid compliance issues.

The HR department needs to take an active role in events in the organization. Increased involvement can make employees more aware of this department. 

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