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Workforce Planning for 2017

In November 2015, New Hampshire’s unemployment rate was 3.2%; it was 2.5% in November 2016. Current signs are that it will continue to go lower, making it more and more difficult to hire good employees. Appropriate workforce planning is needed if businesses expect to find the employees they need and meet their clients’ demands.

If you have employees and more than one position in your organization, do you post all open positions, letting employees have the opportunity to advance through your organization? Are you providing the training (both internal and external) that your employees need to succeed in their current positions, as well as training for positions that are another step up? Do you offer cross-training opportunities? Do you have succession planning in place for your key positions? Do you have a 3-5 year plan with your workforce requirements defined?

If you don’t have a system to “home grow” the industry-specific skills that you need, you are not utilizing your most important resource, your employees. Consider also that if you need employees who wish to move up through your organization; how else are you going to fill those vacancies?

As part of your upcoming planning, consider how to incorporate the requirements of Senate Bill 416.

This recent New Hampshire law “prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee who requests a flexible work schedule.” Although the law does not require the employer to accommodate a flexible work schedule, it prohibits the employer from taking any negative employment action again an employee who makes the request.

The legislature has not defined what constitutes a “request” for a “flexible work schedule” and doesn’t clearly define what constitutes “retaliation.” So what should businesses do? Listen to your employees.

If an employee asks you to adjust his/her work schedule, listen to the reasons, ask if this is a permanent or temporary change to deal with an immediate situation, engage in a discussion. Talk about the pros and cons of the request. What would the costs be to the company? What about the morale of the other employees?

If you have to say no, then so be it. Document very carefully your reasons for denying the request and keep excellent records on that employee’s future performance and employment actions.

However, consider whether your organization can embrace the concept of workplace flexibility. For example, employees who are nearing retirement don’t necessarily want to stop working the day they turn 62 or 65. Many of them would like to ease into retirement by working half days for a period of time or go from 5 days down to 4 days and then down to 3 days. The more you are able to accommodate these valuable employees and those on the other end of the employment cycle (for example, young parents with childcare issues), the more you are able to provide all of your employees with a work/life balance that they will cherish. HR Compliance 101 can help you with that process.

Social Media Policy for Employers

One of my clients recently sent me an e-mail. They stated that some employees are posting things on Facebook that they don’t find appropriate and wanted a policy in regards to that subject.

A policy of that nature is trickier than one might think.  Employers can have policies about how employees use the company’s information and communication systems (computers and internet) during their working hours.  In most cases, employees are prohibited from using the company’s information and communications systems in any way that may be deemed illegal, fraudulent, embarrassing, intimidating, disruptive, or offensive to others, which includes, but is not limited to, the transmission of sexually explicit messages, cartoons, ethnic or racial slurs, gender-specific comments, or any other comment or message that offensively addresses someone’s age, sexual orientation, religious or political beliefs, national origin, disability, veteran’s status, or anything else that may be construed as harassing, discriminating, or disparaging to or of others.

However, employers, for the most part, cannot discipline employees for job-related statements that are written and posted off-duty and on their personal computers.  In fact, the Federal National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) protects employees who engage in “concerted activity” to increase their pay, resolve workplace problems, or improve working conditions. They are protected whether or not they belong to a union.  An activity is considered concerted only if more than one employee’s concerns are involved.  If you have an employee who posts on Facebook that her employer is mean because she got a poor performance review, she is not engaged in “concerted activity.” But if she complains, on Facebook, Twitter, etc., that she, along with several other co-workers, received poor reviews because they all made complaints about safety issues, she is engaged in “concerted activity” and is protected against employer retaliation.  On the other hand, she is not protected if she exposes company trade secrets or makes threats of violence against management. In those cases, she can be terminated.

As more and more social media cases come before the courts, there will be clearer definitions about what kind of protections can be applied to on-line posts and comments.  There are currently a number of examples on the NLRB’s protected concerted activity page, http://nlrb.gov/concerted-activity

As a general rule, employees are often protected if they are discussing the company’s practices they think are unfair or issues they plan to bring to management’s attention.

A social media policy can be added to your computer, e-mail, or internet policy.  It can simply state the following:  “You are responsible for what you post in any social media.  Keep in mind that your posts cannot be viewed as malicious or threatening, and cannot disparage customers, associates, or suppliers.  Your posts cannot contribute to a hostile work environment on the basis of race, sex, disability, or any other legally-protected characteristic.  Postings that include discriminatory remarks, harassment, and threats of violence against co-workers will not be tolerated and may subject you to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”

“Aspire to Inspire before You Expire”

This motto was posted a while ago in Facebook. It is attributed to Crystalline Starseed-Pleiadian or Eugene Bell, Jr. or Israelmore Ayivor, depending on whom you ask. This quote reminds me of teaching and why many people go into the teaching field.

There are so many different ways to inspire your employees, your family, and your friends.

Employers can inspire their employees in many low-cost ways. A company that I worked for held a pre-Thanksgiving feast every year, a pot luck lunch. Employees would sign up to bring their favorite dish and everyone would share in the meal. It was a great way to bring people together, working towards a common goal. Employers can also volunteer at their favorite non-profits and encourage their employees to do so as well. Some employers pay employees four hours a year to volunteer or even lend them to the United Way during their annual campaign. One of my clients purchased a grill and offered a cookout to all of the employees every Friday during the summer.

Young families create traditions around certain seasons or holidays such as the first day of berry picking, the annual summer outing to the ocean, choosing your own pumpkin for Halloween, helping to pick out the annual Christmas tree, or decorating a live tree outside for the animals. Over the years, those traditions inspire the next generation to continue them with their own families.

You can inspire your friends by volunteering at a local non-profit, your local hospital, or your local Chamber. Even if you don’t join a Board, you can contribute by donating your time to a nonprofit committee or event. It’s a wonderful way to give back to your community and a way to make new friends who share at least one of your interests.

The new I-9 form has finally been released

Every one of your employees should have filled out an I-9 form, which verifies their identity and their eligibility to be hired in the US. The revised form was just released on November 14th. You can start using the form now for new hires, but you must be using the new form by January 22, 2017. Current employees do not have to complete the new form as long as they completed a form previously.

The government is encouraging employers to file on-line and e-verify all new employees. You can go to https://www.uscis.gov/i-9 and download the PDF form if you don’t want to file on-line. Employers need to follow the existing storage and retention rules for all current I-9s that they have on file. Best practice is to keep current I-9s in a separate file in a lockable cabinet along with your active employee files.

Since we are half-way through the 4th quarter, it’s time to think about tasks that should be accomplished by the end of the year:

  • Have you conducted your annual fire drill yet?
  • If you have more than 15 employees in the State of NH, have you conducted four JLMC/Safety meeting this year? (These are normally held quarterly.)
  • Have you conducted your annual refresher safety training with all employees?
  • Have you completed an annual review of your hazardous chemicals?

It goes without saying that all those activities should be clearly documented. If you need help with any of them, please contact HR Compliance 101. We can help.

OSHA isn’t alone in fining employers; don’t forget the Department of Labor

In a recent session, New Hampshire’s legislature passed Senate Bill 416. The new law “prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee who requests a flexible work schedule.” Although the law does not require the employee to accommodate a flexible work schedule, it prohibits an employer from taking any negative employment action again an employee who makes the request.

The Granite State Progress Education Fund and NH Citizens Alliance stated that the bill “eliminated” a major barrier to women entering and re-entering the workforce, especially after having children. “Workplace flexibility” and “flextime” are cited as the number one interest from a recent survey conducted by the NH Women’s Foundation. The legislature has not defined what constitutes a “request” for a “flexible work schedule” and doesn’t clearly define what constitutes “retaliation.” This new law is meant to foster a more hospitable environment for flexible work arrangements.

So what should businesses do? Listen to your employees. If an employee asks you to adjust his/her work schedule so he/she can get the kids off to school or so he/she can be home to get them off the bus, engage in a discussion. Talk about the pros and cons of the request. What would the costs be to the company? What about the cost to the morale of the other employees? If you have to say no, then so be it. Document very carefully your reasons for denying the request and keep excellent records on that employee’s future performance and employment actions.

However, consider whether your organization can embrace the concept of workplace flexibility. Remember, the request could also come from someone who is at the other end of the employment cycle. Employees who are nearing retirement don’t necessarily want to stop working the day they turn 62 or 65. Many of them would like to ease into retirement by working half days for a period of time or go from 5 days down to 4 days and then down to 3 days. The more you are able to accommodate these valuable employees and those on the other end of the employment cycle (those young parents), the more you are able to provide all of your employees a work/life balance that they will cherish.

If you want some help in adjusting your culture to accommodate flexibility in your workplace, HR Compliance 101, LLC can help. Call us.

As an Employer, What Keeps You Up at Night?

Besides worrying about OSHA knocking on your door, which we discussed in the last blog, what else keeps employers up at night?

  1. Not being able to attract and hire good employees. Studies have shown that, out of 100 employees, 92 will come to work every day, do their best, follow the rules, and play well with others. The other 8 have attendance issues, work harder to get out of work than to do it, always have a beef with one employee or another, and cause management 90% of their headaches. If your percentage is comparable (8 out of every 10 employees are “good kids”), then you are an average employer and should be able to attract good employees. If your percentage is higher, the 92%ers may not have much interest in coming to work for you. Good employees don’t want to work with the 8%ers. Figure out your ratio to determine how easy or hard it will be to replace those 8%ers.
  2. Applicants not having the critical skills necessary. Employers are not only looking for employees who can read, write, add, and subtract at an acceptable level, they also want employees who will work cooperatively for and with others. In a retail environment, employees who are on their Smart phones when customers are on the other side of the counter or who are involved in verbal altercations with their co-workers in front of the customers are not providing any level of customer service. Core service values need to be taught if an employer wants his customers to experience superb customer service each time they walk in the door.
  3. Workforce planning. It is always a struggle to balance the hours of work needed to produce the desired result, whether it is a product or a service. In the manufacturing world, we used to compare the cost and amount of overtime needed to meet production demands with the cost of bringing on and training up additional employees. If you have employees and more than one position in your organization, do you post all open positions, letting employees have the opportunity to advance through the ranks? Are you providing the training (both internal and external) that your employees need to succeed in their current positions, as well as positions that are another step up on your food chain? Do you offer cross-training opportunities? Do you have succession planning in place for your key positions? Do you have your 3-5 year plan defined with your workforce requirements? If you don’t have a system to “home grow” the industry-specific skills that you need, you are not utilizing your most important resource, your employees.

 

If these issues are keeping you up at night, let HR Compliance 101, LLC help you get better sleep by helping you find solutions.

If OSHA comes knocking, do you know what to expect?

Most employers have heard about the revised federal overtime guidelines that will become effective on December 1, 2016. These new guidelines have caused great distress among small companies and non-profits. The reasoning for the dramatic change in the new minimum wage for exempt-salaried employees (from $433/week to $913/week) is that this regulation did not keep up with inflation and had not been changed for several years. Although the duties tests did not change, the government added a few new categories to the exempt category. If you are not sure if your employees who are on salary meet both the duties test and the new salary minimum, now is the time to make that determination. We’ll be glad to share the 9 exemptions with you. Just e-mail paula@hrcompliance101.com

Other changes that have not been so widely publicized are the new OSHA penalties. The maximum penalties have not increased since 1990. The recent 78% increases are a result of the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act passed by Congress last year, which directs agencies to adjust their penalties for inflation each year. Effective August 1st, the maximum penalty for serious violations will go up from $7,000 to $12,471. The maximum penalty for willful or repeat violations will increase from $70,000 to $124,709.

What does this mean for the small employer? If you have been cited by OSHA in the past, you want to be certain that you have fully addressed the issues. If your company receives a second visit from OSHA and they find repeat violations, you can face horrendous fines. It is worth asking your insurance agent if OSHA fines are deductible as a business expense.

What do you do if OSHA shows up at your door? By all means, let them in. Politely ask to see their identification. Be prepared to produce your last five years of OSHA 300 logs and 300A forms. If you have a forklift, be prepared to produce forklift inspection checklists. If you have employees and they work with chemicals in any way, shape, or form, be prepared to produce annual training records on your Hazard Communication Program and any other safety programs that are required by your industry. If you have any employees (full or part-time), make sure have Workers’ Compensation insurance in case they get hurt on the job. If you don’t, the fines will begin. Do you have the most recent posters? The latest poster was revised in July 2016. Last month, one of my clients proudly showed me the laminated poster that he had just received from his payroll company. Three of the posters had already expired.

If you are worried about OSHA knocking on your door or would like a free set of current federal and state posters, please contact HR Compliance 101. We can help.

When Employees Discuss Pay

In 2014, New Hampshire passed SB 207, the Paycheck Fairness Act, that prohibits conditioning employment on a promise to refrain from disclosing wages or to waive the right to disclose wages, salary, or paid benefits, and prohibits retaliation for disclosure. In fact, even if you have employees sign a nondisclosure agreement, they still have the right to discuss pay.

Companies covered by the National Labor Relations Board have always had to allow employees the right to discuss salaries. An executive order by President Obama in 2014 extended that ruling to all federal contractors: “The contractor will not discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because such employee or applicant has inquired about, discussed, or disclosed the compensation of the employee or applicant or another employee or applicant.” Discussion of wages can be in person or online; the rules are the same.

One of the motivations for these laws and the executive order is to enable women and minorities to find out if their salaries for equal work are lower than those of men or non-minorities. As part of the same effort, a recent Massachusetts law prohibits employers from asking employees about their salary history until after a job offer that includes compensation. The intent of the law is to prevent companies from extending an artificially lower salary to groups, such as women, who traditionally are paid less, by basing the salary offer on an artificially lower previous salary.

In general, society is moving toward greater transparency in salaries and more protection for employees. Even if your company does not have any federal contracts, is not covered by the NLRB, and does not operate in Massachusetts or New Hampshire, you should be aware of the trend and you should keep ahead of it in your policies. You have little to gain and potentially a lot to lose by insisting on pay secrecy.

For help in framing your policies about pay, please contact HR Compliance 101 today.

Discipline Tips to Protect Your Company

Guest blog from Pamela A. Restrepo, Communication Specialist, HRIS Payroll Software:  http://www.hrispayrollsoftware.com/Having clear-cut guidelines regarding behavior and expectations can help a company to establish consistency. However, when rules are broken or expectations are not met, companies often fail to follow through with that consistency as it relates to discipline. This can lead to general dissatisfaction among employees and managers, workers’ compensation claims by terminated employees, and even lawsuits.  To avoid these unfortunate situations, it is important to formulate a strategy regarding discipline and stick to that strategy in every single situation. The following tips may be helpful when establishing a disciplinary strategy.

Consider Progressive Discipline. Many companies use progressive discipline to correct employee performance issues. There are generally five steps of progressive discipline: verbal warning, written warning, final written warning, suspension, and termination. Progressive discipline systems are fair to employees because there are several warnings given that provide a chance to change behaviors and performance. When employees are terminated, courts generally recognize that employees had a fair opportunity to change behaviors when a progressive discipline system was used.

Communicate Disciplinary Policies from the Beginning.  Disciplinary policies should not be introduced to employees when something goes wrong, but rather, right from the start. Disciplinary policies should be established with the rules during orientation or onboarding. Letting employees know exactly what the rules are and what will happen if the rules are not followed establishes expectations in a fair way and gives managers guidelines to follow that are more likely to be effective.

Document All Incidents.  Whether progressive discipline is used or another system is established, all incidents should be documented. Even initial incidents that prompt a verbal warning should be documented so that there is a paper trail established if an employee does eventually have to be terminated. If your company uses HRIS software, it may be easier to document incidents and attach them to employee files so that these incidents can be considered when it comes time for appraisals. This may also help to protect your company if there is ever a dispute regarding discrimination in raises.

Make Sure Employees Understand Reasons for Rules.  If employees feel that rules are arbitrary or unnecessary, they are much more likely to break those rules. While the reasons behind the rules may seem obvious to managers and employers, those reasons may not be obvious to employees, so it can be very helpful to clearly communicate them. Taking the time to do this may help employees to feel more included in the workings of the company, so they may feel more engaged and loyal to the business.

Maintain Consistency among Employees.  One of the biggest issues that companies tend to have with discipline is a failure to maintain consistency from one employee to another. In many cases, employees that generally perform well are given a free pass when it comes to certain behaviors that other employees would be disciplined for. This can create conflict between employees and employers and may be viewed as discrimination if an employee is terminated, even if a record of disciplinary action is available.

Discipline systems are easy to formulate, but are not always so easy or clear-cut to use in practice. It is important to abide closely by the rules that have been established so that your company does not come under fire and so that there is a plan in place if someone does challenge the fairness of policies and practices.

Cross-Cultural Understanding in the Workplace

As the US becomes more diverse and as even small companies reach out globally to employees and customers, cross-cultural understanding becomes ever more important. Most authorities recommend starting with similarities to build understanding at work, including the universal need for respect, communication, and encouragement. All employees need information about the company’s business plan, a chance to hone their skills on the job, appropriate rewards for work, and access to training and resources.

Differences between cultures may appear in unexpected places. For example, different cultures have different views of time, teamwork (cooperation versus independent action), communication styles (particularly in relating bad news), and attitudes toward status. These differences may result in a team member who is more or less assertive, more or less likely to take credit for results, or more or less flexible in respecting deadlines simply for cultural reasons. Managers and coworkers have to be willing to look beyond obvious, familiar patterns of behavior to see which employees are truly valuable additions to the company.

Because employment laws and attitudes vary greatly from state to state, let alone from country to country, a company may find itself treating different cultures differently simply because employee expectations are different. If offshore employees have a different expectation about advancement (seniority is the only criteria) than onshore employees (advancement is a reward for exceptional work), then a perception may arise that offshore employees are not ready for advancement or that onshore employees are too demanding—when neither perception is correct.

A workplace that emphasizes respect, tolerance, and a willingness to learn is way ahead when it comes to cross-cultural understanding. Transparency is another factor. John Mackey, co-founder and CEO at Whole Foods, has said that with transparency, “any kind of favoritism or nepotism is seen.” The same goes for any type of discrimination. If your workplace does not currently reflect the values of respect, tolerance, and transparency, please contact HR Compliance 101.