Time to take a fresh look at preventing harassment in your workplace

The “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements have garnered attention in the media, the legal community, the workplace and the agencies who protect our workplaces. There is a new culture beginning to emerge in the era of “Me Too” and “Time’s Up.” How should employers respond?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports increased inquiries about potential sexual harassment claims and the agency is prepping its investigators through intense training and education for a rise in complaints.  The legal community, for its part, reports an uptick in expectations and ever-increasing settlement demands.  There is a lower standard emerging for what constitutes pervasive harassing behavior.  Changes in legislation are anticipated to impact confidentiality agreements and business expense liability.  Both entities agree: It is time for employers to make meaningful cultural change and approach harassment prevention in a whole new fashion.

First, employers should focus on preventing all types of harassment including sexual harassment and harassment based on any protected characteristic such as gender, national origin, race, color, age, religion, pregnancy, genetics, military status, disability, etc.  Address the behavior before it escalates and consider behavior such as rudeness and incivility which leads to bullying and, left unchecked, leads to more pervasive, harassing behavior.

In other words, foster a work environment that is positive, comfortable and respectful.  To do so, take aim at these areas:

  • Leadership and Accountability: Establish a culture of respect in which harassment is not tolerated and make a commitment to assess harassment risk factors and take steps to minimize risks.  Allocate resources and time to a harassment prevention program and train mid-level managers and front-line supervisors to prevent and/or respond to workplace harassment.  Invest in best-practice preventive measures such as workplace climate surveys, training regarding civility in the workplace and bystander intervention training.
  • Anti-Harassment Policy: Establish a policy that is easy to understand, regularly communicated, and clearly states harassment of any type will not be tolerated.  It should be written in clear, simple words and in all languages used by members of the workforce.  A comprehensive policy will include:
    • A written description of prohibited conduct including examples.
    • A reporting system for those who experience or observe harassment. The reporting system must provide a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation.
    • A statement that identities of all (claimant, witness or target of the complaint) will be kept confidential to the extent possible.
    • A statement that any information gathered will be kept confidential to the extent possible.
    • An assurance that the employer will take immediate and appropriate corrective action if harassment has occurred.
    • A statement that retaliation against an individual who reports a claim or cooperates will not be tolerated and will be appropriately disciplined.
  • Complaint Procedure and Reporting System: This procedure should be available to employees whether they experience harassment or observe it. There should be multiple, readily accessible reporting channels. Employer representatives must be trained to: take reports seriously; conduct objective, neutral, thorough investigations; provide timely responses; protect the privacy of individuals to the extent possible; document all steps taken; take appropriate discipline action as warranted; and provide a reporting mechanism for individuals should they experience retaliation.
  • Investigation Procedure: Establish a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation protocol. Once an employer has knowledge of a complaint, an investigation must take place. This should include:
    • Meeting the minimum standard of the anti-harassment policy. Do what it says or more.
    • Identify who will conduct the investigation. More than one investigator is preferred.
    • In all cases, as information is gathered: Listen and document.  Offer assurance of non-retaliation.  Do not guarantee anonymity, but rather maintain confidentiality to the extent possible.
    • Gather information from the complainant, witnesses and from the accused.
    • Conduct an impartial review of findings and take appropriate corrective action if harassment occurred.
    • Communicate the determination of the investigation to all parties.
  • Training for Compliance: Establish a harassment prevention training program which provides bystander intervention techniques to teach people what they can say, and what to steps to take if harassment happens to them. A meaningful program will go beyond the legalese to focus on behaviors and non-verbal cues, encourage civility the workplace by stopping harassment where it starts, and promote a workplace culture that is positive, comfortable and respectful.  Harassment prevention training should include:
    • Examples tailored to the specific workplace and workforce.
    • Education for employees about their rights and responsibilities.
    • Using simple terms, a description of the reporting system.
    • An explanation of the consequences of unacceptable workplace conduct.
    • Encouraging managers and supervisors to practice situational awareness and address risk factors such as rudeness, incivility and bullying before the situation escalates to harassment.

Do you need help formulating a policy or taking action in workplace? Contact your HR specialists at BCN Services. We can help you begin the process for your company.

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Susan Price, Strategic Services Manager

Still Room For Improvement In Americans’ Saving Habits

Saving For RetirementMany financial advisers recommend carrying 3-6 months’ worth of expenses in an emergency fund, but only 39 percent of Americans would be able to cover an unexpected $1,000 outlay with their short-term savings, according to a recent Bankrate survey. Another new poll conducted by Bankrate similarly found that only around half (58 percent) of consumers currently have more emergency savings than what they owe in credit card debt. At the same time, 12 percent of respondents reported having no credit card debt but no savings either.

That agrees with an earlier study by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which asked U.S. adults to list their biggest barriers to retirement saving and found that one of most frequent responses was “I prioritize(d) paying down debt.” As for generational differences, Millennials in the Bankrate survey as expected are more likely to have greater credit card debt than savings, but these young adults also appear determined to improve their financial standing. In fact, 61 percent of Gen-Y respondents said that boosting their emergency fund is a top financial priority, including 63 percent of younger Millennials (18-27).

Such statistics are encouraging because the earlier a person can learn the importance of setting money aside for the future the better. Further, having an adequate emergency fund helps decrease the likelihood of being forced to dip into one’s retirement savings early. That is especially important since many Americans are at risk of retiring broke, according to a new report from GoBankingRates. Specifically, 42 percent of surveyed U.S. adults said that they currently have less than $10,000 set aside for retirement, including 14 percent of respondents with absolutely no long-term savings.

On the bright side, those figures are marked improvements from prior surveys, and the percentage of Americans with large savings account balances has grown. Moreover, 57 percent of surveyed Millennials said that they have less than $10,000 in retirement savings, down from 71 percent in 2017, and the percentage of Gen-Y respondents with $300,000 or more set aside has increased from 5 percent to 9 percent. For those whose savings are still lacking, the report’s authors suggest reviewing your spending to see what nonessential expenses can be cut and increasing 401(k) contributions with each pay raise.

 

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Copyright @ 2018 Slavic Investments (http://blog.slavic401k.com/still-room-for-improvement-in-americans-saving-habits)Republished with permission.

Fraudulent unemployment claims on the rise in Michigan

Back in November 2017, several staff members at western Michigan television station WZZM 13 had unemployment claims filed in their names and the problem seems to be getting worse in the Grand Rapids area. There have been more than 100 reports taken since November in Walker alone.  Wyoming has reported 19, and Kent County overall has seen about one to six reports per week.

The result of unemployment insurance fraud is an increase in unemployment taxes for businesses: It threatens the availability of funds for people with legitimate unemployment insurance claims and burdens the state’s unemployment trust fund. After these recent data breaches, the agency anticipated an increase in false claims. However, they have put a higher degree of security measures in place, and the agency is catching most of the fraud before money is paid out.

How does this happen?

Unemployment fraud occurs when a perpetrator uses an individual’s personally identifiable information to file for unemployment benefits on the Unemployment Insurance Agency’s website.

According to WZZM13 reports, investigators say the criminals are from out of state and using the UIA because the agency typically tries to get people benefits as soon as possible.

What should you do if this happens to you?

  • Contact the Unemployment Insurance Agency immediately to report the fraud. Report fraud online at Michigan.gov/uia through the Report Fraud or Report Identity Theft link or call the UIA Fraud hotline at 1855-UI-CRIME.
  • Complete UIA Form 6349 Statement of Identity Theft and submit the form either in person at a Problem Resolution Office (PRO), by mail at Unemployment Insurance, PO Box 169, Grand Rapids MI 49501, or by fax at 517-656-0427.
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit record at the three credit reporting agencies (listed below) and get a copy of your credit reports. A fraud alert is free and will make it harder for someone to open new accounts in your name. To place a fraud alert, you only need to contact one of the three credit bureaus listed below. The company that you contact is required by law to tell the other two.
    • Experian.com/fraudalert
    • TransUnion.com/fraud
    • Equifax.com/CreditReportAssistance

If you suspect a claim has been filed fraudulently in your name, contact BCN Services for additional resources and assistance.

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Lisandra Quiñones Garrow, Partnership Manager

Do workplace gender pay disparities really still exist?

The “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements have prompted discussions and brought to the forefront all aspects of sexual harassment and treatment of women in the workplace.  Part of this focus has put light on a subject that may have improved some over the last several decades, but is still not where is needs to be: Gender pay discrepancies.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2014, on average, women earned 79 percent of men’s median annual income.  The National Committee on Pay Equity, which reports a comparable statistic for 2014, 78.6 percent, has been documenting pay inequality since 1960.  If we look back 50 years prior to the 79 percent statistic, we can see that the gap has shrunk significantly.  In 1964, women earned only 59.1 percent of what men earned.  However, if you compare 2009 and 2014, the 5-year span saw an increase of only 1.6 percent.  There’s quite a way to go to bridge the gap completely.

A recent Hollywood scenario put into perspective how everyone, no matter what your job is, can fall into this statistical gap.  In reshoots for the movie “All the Money in the World,” Mark Wahlberg was paid an additional $1.5 million, while his co-star, Michelle Williams was paid $80 per day for a total of less than $1,000.  An open letter published by the “Time’s Up” movement stated that “the systematic gender equality and imbalance of power” in the workplace “fosters an environment that is ripe for abuse and harassment against women.”

Now is the time to reflect on your own company’s pay practices to bring gender pay in line and protect your company against future claims.  It’s not only good practice, it’s the law.  The Equal Opportunities Commission (EEOC) requires that equal pay for men and women be established under the Equal Pay Act of 1963.  The Equal Pay Act restricts employers from paying unequal wages “to men and women who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and that are performed under similar working conditions within the same establishment.”

The EEOC looks at the following criteria to establish equal pay: Skill, effort, responsibility, working conditions, and establishment location (for example, when a company has several locations in different geographical areas, those can be considered separate establishments due to the area’s median income).  Differences in pay are only permitted based on seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, or other factors not related to gender.  The EEOC also states that “It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on compensation or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under Title VII, ADEA, ADA or the Equal Pay Act.”

If pay differences do exist for similar positions regardless of whether women are paid less than men, or men paid less than women, it is best practice to establish from the hire date how the salary decision was made.  Be prepared to back up how your wage determination was made based on the criteria previously mentioned.  Encourage open dialogue with your employees if they have a perception that a gender pay gap exists.  BCN Services staff are prepared to guide you through this process.  Please contact your Partnership Manager with any questions or concerns regarding your employees’ wages.

 

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Frank Lewandowski, Benefits Program Manager