Best human resources practices for writing and enforcing policies in the workplace.

Rising popularity of vaping raises new issues in the workplace

The first time I heard about vaping was during a conversation with my teenage kids a few years ago. I was surprised to hear them say “everyone does it!” What exactly is it? The definition of vaping is “the action or practice of inhaling and exhaling the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.” Seems harmless, but is it?

Although smoking has been banned from most workplaces for a long time, vaping now presents new issues for employers as well as society in general. Should this smoking alternative be allowed at work and treated like cigarettes?

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The Sixth Circuit offers employers guidance on the Americans with Disabilities Act’s ‘Interactive Process’

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On November 30, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in a published decision, offered guidance to employers regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (“ADA”) “interactive process” and what conduct may render the employer liable under the ADA.

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Peanuts and other food allergies are on the rise; employers should take notice of this trend

I am in the process of planning my son’s fourth birthday party and a mother of one of the children invited asked me to accommodate her son’s peanut allergy as I select birthday treats for the party.

That made me consider how adults with food allergies may be affected in the workplace. I learned that 32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million children under the age of 18, and that number is on the rise. A study conducted in 2013 reported that food allergies among children increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, for example.

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A 5-month checkup on your 2019 business goals

Back in December of last year I wrote a blog about setting goals for 2019. It starts out with “Yes, it is December already. It’s that time of year when you reflect on the challenges your business has achieved, crushed, fallen short of or come close to over the past 12 months…”

Let’s update this to: YES, it is May already. Now is the time to reflect, adjust and take action on where you are with your 2019 goals.

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Reviewing a changing workplace dress code and your policy

Many employees feel that wearing jeans and comfortable street clothes is preferable to the more professional business dress code and we are seeing employers moving towards a more relaxed dress code in the workplace.

The terms “business casual” and “business formal” have traditionally had an expectation that employees come to work dressed in a certain professional fashion.

In the past, they were viewed this way: business casual was outlined as women wearing a skirt or dress with a hem past the knee, or tailored dress pants with a button-down or blouse and men should wear dress pants or khakis, with a collared shirt and a belt. For business formal, placed men in a suit and tie, and women in a tailored dress or pantsuit that was dressier than business casual attire.

But these may not be appropriate norms in today’s workplace. Business casual dress has evolved, as has the way that companies should look at gender-neutral language in their policies.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “dress for the job that you want, not the job that you have,” it suggests that higher-level jobs are the ones that require the formal dress code. That doesn’t seem to be the trend anymore. Google is an example of a company that doesn’t fit that mold. Google’s philosophy is that you can be serious without a suit and Facebook has adopted a similar expectation for workplace attire that is completely casual (http://www.businessinsurance.org/10-big-businesses-with-incredibly-casual-offices/).

A lot of employers offer “casual Fridays” which offer a relaxed dress code one day each week. Some employers may also require employees to donate to a charitable organization to be able to wear casual dress on Fridays, but either way, wearing jeans and casual dress is portrayed as a benefit to employees. If you look at attitudes and productivity, could there be potential benefits to easing up on expectations of workplace dress?

Another consideration is brand image and how your company is perceived by customers and clients. If your industry is customer-facing, what kind of image do you want to portray? Do your customers expect their point of contact to be dressed professionally? How would customers feel about seeing an employee dressed in jeans and a t-shirt? If you aren’t in a customer-facing industry, should employees be required to dress professionally every day?

Businesses also need to consider how they are wording their dress code policy and be careful to use only gender-neutral terminology. The definitions above for business casual and formal, for example, are not appropriate nomenclature now given our clarified view of gender identity.

Telling women they must wear a skirt and men, pants, could be seen as a discriminatory policy, even though this was widely accepted until recently. Please contact the human resources department at BCN Services if you would like to review your policy and make an update to your employee handbook.

Kari Stanley, Partnership Manager

Setting goals for 2019? BCN Services can help you with HR efficiency

Yes, it is December already.

It’s that time of year when you reflect on the challenges your business has achieved, crushed, fallen short of or come close to over the past 12 months. You have probably started proactively assessing goals for the coming 12 months.

Those plans should include strategies for growth, doing things differently and maximizing your resources for efficiency when it comes to the world of human capital.

Here are a few powerful and thought-provoking questions to help develop your 2019 plans:

  • Do you have infrastructure and resources in place to meet your company goals?
  • What are the biggest challenges facing your company today?
  • How do you keep up to date with ever-changing employment regulations that affect employees?
  • What would you change about your employee retention and recruiting strategy?
  • How confident are you that you are complying with wage-and-hour, immigration and wrongful termination practices?

BCN Services has been providing comprehensive human resources services to businesses for over 25 years and can help you answer these questions. We are your one-stop resource for all HR services including: payroll processing, risk management, human resources administration and employee benefits administration. This helps you focus on your day-to-day business priorities, avoid costly HR mistakes and maximize your company’s profits.

Let us handle all of these services for you, which are typically done by an in-house HR department:

  • Oversite, compliance and guidance of EEOC, HIPAA, COBRA, FMLA and other federal regulations Recruit and retain employees with better healthcare, 401K, and voluntary benefits packages
  • Electronic onboarding, administration and compliance including I-9 tracking, drug screen program set-up, record keeping of new employees using a state-of-the art HRIS and payroll system
  • Risk assessment of your HR policies and procedures
  • Employee relations coaching and training for team members who manage staff and deliver disciplinary actions
  • Proactive assistance with a workplace safety training program
  • Lower unemployment rate with complete unemployment case management program

We can help you identify and prioritize your challenges and opportunities for the upcoming year in when it comes to payroll, risk management, HR administration and employee benefit offerings. How can you look at your business in a different way? BCN Services will put together an individualized plan so you can focus on operating and expanding your business.

Call us at 1-800-891-9911 so we can begin helping you.

Wishing you all the best in 2019!

Corey Decker, Sales Manager

Michigan voted to legalize the use of recreational marijuana. Now what?

On Nov. 6, 2018, Michigan residents voted to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, the first state in the Midwest to do so. What does this mean for employers? Generally, they have the right to maintain and enforce a zero-tolerance policy against drug and alcohol use. But that may change over time as courts weigh in on varying laws in state and federal jurisdictions.

 

The new law allows individuals age 21 and older to purchase, possess and use marijuana and marijuana-infused edibles. Adults can grow up to 12 marijuana plants (keeping a maximum of 10 ounces) for their own consumption.

Although the referendum calls for the law to take effect 10 days after election results are certified, marijuana is not expected to be available commercially for quite some time. The state puts regulations and licensing in place and local municipalities decide whether to allow such businesses in their communities.

Michigan police agencies must also consider how law enforcement procedures will change with the new law. A number of Michigan universities have also released policy statements regarding marijuana use on campus.

Weed in the workplace: What Michigan employers can do

In a recent blog posting, experts at the Varnum Law Firm state that ” The MRTMA does not restrict a private employer’s right to maintain and enforce a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy.”

In other words, employees can still be fired (or not hired) for a positive drug test. Employers may continue to perform pre-employment and random drug tests on employees and maintain zero-tolerance policies. This new referendum will not protect job applicants or employees who test positive for marijuana use.

But keep in mind that prospective employees may still file a discrimination claim if their employment offer is rescinded. In a Connecticut case, for example, a prospective employee using medical marijuana for PTSD treatment filed a discrimination case using the premise of a state law that prohibits employers from discriminating on that basis. The plaintiff won a summary judgment in that case.

Individual Michigan employers must consider whether to maintain zero-tolerance drug policies or create more tolerant guidelines. Now more than ever, it’s important to make sure pre-employment drug-testing policies and employee handbook reflect the times. A policy needs to be in place making it crystal clear that employees are prohibited from being impaired by marijuana while on the job, legal or not.

We recommend that employers focus on prohibiting employees from being impaired due to alcohol/marijuana use while working instead of focusing on marijuana use in and of itself. By focusing on impairment instead of use, employers will minimize the likelihood of conflicting with state “lawful use” laws.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law

For employers with federal contracts or with employees licensed through federal agencies, there is no gray area. Marijuana is an illegal substance under federal law and, thus, a zero-tolerance drug policy will apply. For employers facing significant safety and health risks, drug testing is imperative.

Employers not facing significant safety and health risks from impaired employees may decide drug testing risks outweigh potential benefits. In states where recreational marijuana is already legal, a growing number of companies are asking the lab to test for all drugs except marijuana. For example, in Nevada, where marijuana was legalized in 2017, the number of companies asking that marijuana be included in workplace drug testing dropped from 95 percent in 2016 to 91 percent in 2017.

More information here: Listen to an interview on WDET with updates about the new law.

Do you need help considering the marijuana issue in your workplace policies? The specialists at BCN Services are happy to help you craft or revise a policy. We can help with everything from developing policies and handbooks, to handling safety training, payroll and HR reporting. Contact BCN Services at 1-800-891-9911 or contact us electronically.

Photo Credit: Photo by Roberto Valdivia on Unsplash

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Thom Moore, Partnership Manager

May the 4th Quarter be with you

The fourth quarter of the year is upon us and with it comes a myriad of images: football, fall leaves changing colors before giving way to snow, holiday parties and last-minute purchases. It also brings business opportunities ranging from back-to-school marketing to the holiday season and everything in between.

As we start the fourth quarter of 2018, it is a good time to make a list of your most important initiatives for the remainder of the year. This might mean moving projects to next year that have no chance of completion in the short timeframe. In addition to a robust work schedule, there’s also the added family pressures of the impending holiday season around the corner. Staying focused and structured will increase your productivity and allow you to maximize resources as the year ends.

What are your goals for the coming year?

The fourth quarter is a natural time to reflect on, and analyze, your business. Assess whether the business is where you want it to be, its prospects for the future, and what can be done to increase business in the upcoming year. As you reflect, set goals for the year to come.

Have you reviewed your cybersecurity recently?

This is a great time to review and improve your company’s cybersecurity procedures. Select a password manager that can secure your online accounts and help you avoid password fatigue. Clean up your digital footprint by deleting old accounts that may publicly reveal sensitive information. Be on the lookout for scams, such as phishing emails. The end of the year is a common time for cybercrime, as businesses are often understaffed, and tired employees are more likely to let their guard down and open a suspicious email.

Are you ready for holiday bonuses and year-end performance reviews?

Your employees are vital to the success of your company. The fourth quarter is a good time to prepare for end-of-the-year employee evaluations, so each team member knows where they stand and what you expect from them in the coming year. Keeping good records puts everyone on the same page, and it can also help you avoid the cost and hassle of employment disputes in the coming year.

End-of-year or holiday bonuses are a great way to boost morale and keep employees happy. However, it’s strongly recommended that bonuses are given in connection to performance reviews. If not, you miss an opportunity to reward performance and the bonus can quickly become a pay expectation. If all employees receive the same bonus, there’s a good chance that the higher-performing employees will be disappointed with the “fairness” of the process.

Are you feeling festive?

The fourth quarter is full of fun and seasonal festivities. Customers are visual and love businesses that get into the spirit and let their “seasonal personality” shine. You can add seasonal graphics to your website, decorate your storefront, and use holiday imagery in your promotions and posts. Help customers get that warm feeling (you know the one) when they enter your store or jump on your website. Take care, however, not to bring religious themes into the mix, as there is a diversity of beliefs out there. Be sensitive to this in your seasonal planning.

Finally – what can BCN help you with?

BCN Services has an experienced staff to help with the variety of day-to-day situations. Our objective is to help you, our valued client, to focus on your business needs and key priorities by freeing up time spent on employment issues and administration. We handle more than 150 Human Resources employment tasks, products, and services and strive to provide outstanding customer service and resources.

Contact BCN Services at 1-800-891-9911 if you have questions or need assistance.

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Thom Moore, Partnership Manager

FMLA, parental leave and medical leave can all be options for life events

Starting and growing your family is an exciting time, and the last thing an employee should worry about is how to take time away from work for life events such as this. Employers should develop a policy before these questions arise.

It is common for employees to assume they will get a certain amount of time, either paid or unpaid, away from work. What a business is required to offer is typically dependent on its size. As an employer, you should be prepared to share this information when an employee announces they are adding another member to the family. The options include: FMLA, parental leave, medical leave or a combination.

FMLA is the federal Family Medical Leave Act, which applies to employers of 50 or more. FMLA requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of time off for the birth or placement of a child for adoption or foster care. FMLA protects the employee’s job and benefits but does not require an employer to pay the employee for the time they are away. If unpaid, employees may be able to use vacation/PTO time or collect from their short-term disability benefit (if applicable). FMLA applies to both parents for the purpose of bonding with the child as well as giving a mother time to recuperate from labor and delivery. FMLA is clearly outlined for employers and can be found online here: https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla.

The term “maternity leave” was commonly used to describe the time a mother needed off after the birth of a child. The term is outdated, as an employer cannot discriminate against the other parent for the purposes of taking time off. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) also requires pregnancy to be handled as if it were like any other medical leave.

The compromise and appropriate nomenclature is “parental leave,” which is a set period of time an employer allows an employee to be off work for the birth or placement of a child. It is simply describing a period of time, not the medical needs for a woman to be off following labor and delivery. A parental leave may include wage replacement, such as paying part or all of the employee’s wages while off work, or it may be unpaid. Just like FMLA, a parental leave is not required to be paid, but some employers may choose to do so.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently ruled in favor of a new father in a case of parental leave discrimination. This new dad received a $1.1M settlement, and not giving new fathers the same type of leave as new mothers to bond with a child can result in a claim such as this.

Medical leave allows for an employee to be off work for a medical condition. This includes time off after childbirth for a woman who had a baby. Labor and delivery would fall under a medical leave policy, but bonding time is not. The woman’s doctor provides information about the length of time a patient needs to be off of work and this would be handled in the same fashion as an employee undergoing major surgery who is off due to a doctor’s order. Employers may choose to have a medical leave policy instead of offering parental leave, or they may have both.

FMLA is the set of federal regulations, but an employer can always choose to be more generous. If your Medical Leave Policy goes above and beyond FMLA, then your handbook can include just the Medical Leave Policy on its own and not include a separate FMLA policy.

It is surprisingly more complicated when an employer isn’t required to follow a federal regulation and if they also don’t have a policy in place. In these cases, employees in similar situations may, unintentionally, be treated differently. That is considered discriminatory, which is why it is imperative to create a policy and follow it. Having a policy also avoids an awkward conversation when an employee approaches an employer with a leave request.

BCN handles all types of employee leaves for its clients and can assist in policy creation. Please talk to your Human Resources representative and let them know if you have any questions about the types of leaves listed above or any other type of employment leave.

 

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Kari Stanley, HR Customer Call Center Supervisor

 

 

Take care when implementing workplace English-language policies

Use caution when adopting “English only” language policies in your workplace. Employers that want to implement a language policy should be prepared to provide evidence that its purpose is more than a personal preference on the part of the manager or business owner.

Although there are certainly situations in which employers may appropriately require that employees know and speak English, employers could run afoul of the law by applying a blanket policy.

Written and spoken business communications and giving or understanding instructions are certainly business reasons to require an employee to use English. However, requiring employees to only use English in the workplace could be deemed a discriminatory practice if employees are asked to refrain from speaking another language during breaks or when having a one-on-one conversation with an individual who speaks another language.

Below are a few examples where an English-only language policy could face a legal challenge:

  • Two employees pass each other in the hallway during the business day. They stop and share a brief exchange in a language other than English.
  • A small group of women eat lunch together in the breakroom and speak Farsi exclusively.
  • An English fluency test is given to all employees regardless of whether their position is in Accounting, Customer Service or Housekeeping.

Even if there is a need for an English-only rule, an employer may not discipline an employee for violating the rule unless the employer has notified workers about the rule, and explained it as well as the consequences for violating it.

This is true of almost all company policies, so employers should be sure that their workplace policies and rules are clearly communicated to employers through an Employee Handbook or other formal company communication.

Do you need to discuss a language policy or other HR matter for your business? Do you have questions about how to handle a particular situation? Contact the experts at BCN Services and we can help you through that process. Call 800-891-9911 or email hr@www.bcnservices.com.

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Sue Kester, Human Resources Manager