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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. 

Happy New Year 2015 and beyond for HR

12 Jan

Formal Audit PeopleRobin Rothman, Product Marketing Manager answers an inquiry from Steve Browne’s call to HR Professionals asking for posts around the theme “I’d make HR better by…”. Steve also wanted to know how we could improve HR in 2015 and beyond.

One of the scariest things HR professionals face in their career is when any outside entity challenges the employment practices they’ve either enacted at their company or have inherited as being the new HR people there. Either way, not a good time. This challenge takes on many forms, but let’s just stick with the scariest of them all—compliance issues.

No one likes an audit, and of course . . . NO ONE likes to receive formal notice he will be undergoing an audit, let alone to receive notice of a lawsuit because of some “triggering event” that occurred which prompted one. This is scary stuff for everyone involved! Believe me, I’ve been there, and I’m sure a lot of you have been there too. Again, not a good time.

HR compliance is becoming more of a formal process that affects the management and use of HR resources and assists the business in identifying information about current and potential risks. HR is also becoming more of a strategic partner to the business in identifying risks and/or threats to the organization. They are often being called upon to assist the business with its SWOT analysis.

A SWOT analysis (or sometimes referred to as the SWOT matrix) is a structured planning method used to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats involved in a business. You’ll need to become more familiar with this term. The role of HR is evolving to become more strategic in nature. This is due to the evolving field of the HR/payroll profession. As external threats to the business continue to increase and more audits are being facilitated, HR is being called upon more to assist the business with their expertise to directly deal with these processes.

For HR 2015 and beyond, I would like to see all HR professionals learn to be more strategic by utilizing their HR systems to the fullest extent to facilitate audits appropriately and by carefully inserting themselves into those areas of the business where they will gain the most leverage. This will enable their function to be more proactive. The HR professionals should drive the SWOT analysis using their expertise. Net effect, overall business processes will meet all compliance mandates, litigation will decrease, auditors and employees will be happy, and the HR department will be viewed as a critical, proactive, strategic resource.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What does SHRM’s new competency test mean for HR professionals?

7 Jan

The Society for Human Resource Management announced in May that it was introducing its human resources certification. The program will launch on Jan. 5, 2015 with the first testing window opening between May 1 to July 15. The new credential has met controversy because there is already a Human Resource Certification Institute, which establishes the credibility of those in the field of HR. Because the HRCI was already partnered with SHRM, some people are wondering whether the HRCI's program will continue or not, according to Human Resources Executive Online.

In a conversation with HRE Online, Jon Decoteau, the SHRM divisional director of the West region, said that the difference between the new test and previous certification programs is that this one "is about how you practice the craft," while the others only cover what someone might know about the subject.

The difference between the certifications is still considered somewhat tenuous, according to HRE Online, in part because people are not fully aware of how the testing will differ from HRCI's existing program. Melissa Fleischer, founder and president of HR Learning Center, a consulting firm, said more research will likely need to be made before people come to a decision. At any rate, it may be a good idea for those who deal with human resources planning to sign up for the second program.

"It appears that, at least for now, the best course of action for HR professionals is to have both certifications, at least until the dust settles and we figure out whether the HRCI certification will continue to be used by employers to evaluate HR professionals," Fleischer said.

More changes coming to SHRM
According to a blog post on HRE Online, SHRM will be moving away from being the National Standards Institute administrator for the HR standards called ISO/TC 260. It is doing this because it wants to focus more on its new competency tests. SHRM will also leave the American National Standards Institute, where it had been an accredited standards developer.

"We've been actively reaching out to already-accredited standards-developing organizations and we've had some inquiries from folks interested in becoming accredited standards-developing organizations," Deb Cohen, SHRM's senior vice president for knowledge development, said, according to HRE Online. "We're very hopeful we'll find one soon and, frankly, if it takes a little while we're prepared to help in any way."

This is a major change for those in the industry, as SHRM has been the major standards group for HR for a long time.

Legal considerations for 2015

5 Jan

New laws could mean major changes for those charged with human resources planning. For one thing, the Affordable Care Act's play-or-pay mandate will officially begin Jan. 1, 2015. The Society for Human Resources Management cited this as being part of section 4980H of the Internal Revenue Code, and means that employers must offer appropriate health care coverage to their employees for an affordable value that covers enough to be considered meeting a "minimum value." That means the insurance can not be a token provider – actually providing benefits if someone is injured or becomes sick. The section marked 4980H in the code means that companies must offer this insurance to 70 percent of their employees in 2015 or pay a penalty if anyone received subsidies to buy insurance for a health exchange.

If no one uses a subsidy to buy health care via the online ACA portal, then companies are not obligated to pay the penalty – even if they do not offer 70 percent of their employees insurance.

In 2015, the first 80 employees who buy insurance will activate a $2,000 company fine for their employer. Anyone in excess of the first 80 will create an additional $3,000 penalty per person.

Other reforms to look out for
An additional consideration is the shift in wage laws. Minimum wages are rising, and the government is taking a closer look to ensure people are getting their fair share of money for work performed. Wal-Mart was recently sued for $151 million because of wage law violations, HR Morning reported. According to the employee who began the suit in 2002, Michelle Braun, Wal-Mart forced its employees to work through breaks as well as off the clock in order to avoid paying the extra money.

Wal-Mart is protesting the lawsuit, saying that because the individual people didn't have to testify one at a time, that the trial is not technically a class action suit. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which oversaw the ruling, says that while the different employees in the suit did not testify individually, each of their pay records were looked at to ensure the veracity of their claims.

Wal-Mart plans to continue pushing the lawsuit up to the next highest court, as well as to make revisions to its timekeeping systems. It continues to state it is paying its employees their fair share of money.

Four years into the ACA

10 Nov

It's been about four years since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, changing the way companies do their insurance. Although the open market enrollment system was buggy at first, the real question is whether the ACA has brought adequate health insurance to the people who have needed it most.

According to the New York Times, the number of people who have been insured has increased, and the insurance has largely been affordable for most Americans. Additionally, the health industry has been helped by the laws, which provide new patients and customers. Health care spending has not diminished appreciably.

The Wall Street Journal argued that costs have increased for U.S. citizens and insurance companies alike. Additionally, many businesses have begun to reduce their hiring of full-time workers – sometimes pulling people back from full-time hours – to ensure that they won't need to pay the extra money for insurance once the law reaches its next phase, in which those with 50-99 full-time employees will have to provide coverage or face penalties.

How the ACA affects companies' bottom lines
The University of South Carolina's Darla Moore School of Business recently did a study on medium and large U.S. companies, and found that 78 percent reported a rise in health care costs, Human Resources Executive Online reported. Thirty-seven percent reported their labor costs increased by about 5.6 percent on average.

Many companies have switched to consumer-directed health plans. Other businesses have saved money by cutting back on the people they offer health insurance to. Wal-Mart will stop providing health insurance to the people who work under 30 hours a week, beginning Jan. 1, 2015. Target and Home Depot will be doing the same thing.

Patrick Wright, who headed the survey, believes companies will cease employer-sponsored health insurance in the same way that companies no longer give their workers defined-benefit pensions.

While health insurance has risen in price as it does every year, the cost increases have been smaller than average, usually 3 percent for families and 2 percent for singles. Having said that, many health insurance companies have adopted large deductibles to keep costs down.

What companies can do
The ultimate fate of a business's health insurance depends on many variables. For some managers making choices about human resources solutions, Some employers are even choosing to pay the penalties for not providing an affordable health care option, versus subsidizing for the health care of every employee.

Preventing transgender discrimination by educating workers

30 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

How to handle I-9 audits

24 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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