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

Tips and policies for avoiding sexual harassment issues in the workplace

The Bill O’Reilly sexual harassment controversy has been making headlines for several weeks now.  Many have criticized Fox News and parent company 21st Century Fox for paying the host of their highest-rated show $25 million upon his exit (equivalent to roughly one year of pay under his recently negotiated contract with the network) when the amount paid to settle with five of his accusers was only $13 million.

There are several HR takeaways from this situation that business owners and managers should consider to prevent harassment lawsuits:

  1. Have clearly stated organizational policies that stress zero tolerance for harassment and implement training at all levels of the company based on these policies.
  2. Even if you have taken precautionary steps to prevent harassment, you may still have a claim. It is important to take all claims seriously and conduct a full investigation when a claim arises.
  3. If you determine that harassment has occurred, you must take corrective action. Depending on the severity of the situation, this could be a written disciplinary action, suspension or termination.  The action you take should be appropriate as to ensure that the behavior does not happen again.
  4. Remember to apply the same rules to all employees at all levels, no matter their rank or title within the organization.

BCN Services can assist you in writing and implementing harassment-free policies, conducting workplace investigations and determining appropriate disciplinary action.  If you have questions, please contact us at 1-800-891-9911.

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Alicia Freeman, Operations Manager

Unintentional discrimination can occur without a regular review of policies

 

Practices that have been commonplace in your industry for decades may need to be re-evaluated to determine if they are necessary and relate to your business needs.  A common practice may be seen as discriminatory, even though that is not the intent.

Disparate impact is an employment practice that adversely affects a protected group more than another. It is sometimes referred to as unintentional discrimination. It is defined as: “the adverse effect of a practice or standard that is neutral and non-discriminatory in its intention but, nonetheless, disproportionately affects individuals having a disability or belonging to a protected class” (businessdictionary.com).

For example, 57-year-old John Doe claims he was discriminated against based on his age when the company terminated his employment. John’s employer defends the decision, saying that Bill was fired because the company had received several customer complaints about his performance prior to his discharge.

The employer provides documentation of the complaints, making it necessary for John Doe to prove that other employees, that were younger and working in the same capacity, had also received multiple complaints, but were not fired.

The disparate impact in this example is that John Doe was fired while the other, younger employees, were not.

Situations such as this, makes having a solid disciplinary policy vital in a company’s termination decisions. Many companies have adopted a progressive discipline policy that uses increasingly severe steps and outlines for an employee what to expect for multiple infractions, including customer complaints.

The court ruling that put disparate impact on the map was the U.S. Supreme Court case of Griggs v. Duke Power Co. Duke Power Company, where IQ tests were used as a measure of suitability for a job. The court ruled in 1971 that such aptitude tests have a discriminatory effect because they are not related to actual job performance or business necessity and do not measure any job-related skills/ The court ruled that they are, therefore, illegal. (Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971).)

Please contact your HR contact at BCN Services if you have questions about workplace practices, how they might be perceived by employees and whether you need to modify your approach.

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Kari Stanley, HR Customer Care Supervisor

 

How is social media affecting your workplace? Put a policy in place

By now you have probably heard about the infamous 2017 Oscars flub in which the movie “La La Land” was incorrectly announced as the Best Picture winner.  It has been speculated that this mishap could have happened because the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) employee responsible for handing the correct envelope to the presenters was distracted due to posting on the microblogging website Twitter.

This has caused many to question the quality of of the firm’s work, despite their longstanding reputation and name recognition.  Perhaps, it left you wondering how social media could be impacting your business.  There are several reasons to implement a social media policy if you have not already done so:

  • Establishes Rules: A social media policy allows you to define what is considered confidential information that cannot be shared.  The policy should also make it clear to employees what you consider appropriate or inappropriate behavior and the consequences for not following the guidelines.
  • Manages Employee Distractions and Productivity: Social media can be a distraction for employees; in a recent study, 30 percent of employees admitted that they spend one hour or more visiting social media sites. A social media policy would explain whether or not employees are permitted to use company property to access social media, when this is allowed and for what length of time.  Finally, the policy should also describe if and when employees can use personal devices throughout the day.
  • Protects Your Firm: Allowing employees to use social media on company issued computers and other devices puts the firm at risk for malware.  Malware could allow hackers to enter the company network and place viruses in it.

As a reminder, the National Labor Relations Board says that your social media policy cannot prohibit employees from discussing their working conditions.  BCN Services can assist you in drafting and implementing a strong and legally compliant social media policy that reflects your company values and goals.  If you need assistance in creating a policy, please contact us at 1-800-891-9911.

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Alicia Freeman, Operations Manager

Trump’s Executive Order, immigration, and the how it affects employers

On Friday, January 27, 2017, US President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.”

The Executive Order does the following:

  • Suspends entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days.
  • Bars Syrian refugees indefinitely.
  • Blocks entry into the US for 90 days (until 4/27/17) for individuals from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. The ban applies to individuals with both visitor visas (B-1/B-2) and work visas (H-1B, L-1, O-1).

Naturalized U.S. citizens from the seven designated countries, as well as permanent residents with Green Cards will not be banned from entering the U.S.  Individuals who are not citizens of the designated countries but are residents of, or have strong ties to any of the countries, will be banned from entering the US.  This includes citizens of the designated countries who hold dual-citizenship with another country.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has also been ordered to suspend processing of all immigration benefit applications filed by or on behalf of nationals of the seven countries.

Wide-ranging implications for Employers

This order has wide-ranging implications for employers who employ Visa or Green Card holders from one of the designated countries.  While a small number of Visas are exempt from the executive order (including diplomatic Visas, North Atlantic Treaty Org. Visas, C-2 Visas, and G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4 Visas), most Visas, including the common H1-B, L-1, and F-1 Visas, are covered by the order.

Employees from one of the designated countries who hold Visas covered included in the order will likely have difficulty entering/re-entering the U.S. while the order is in effect. Though not technically included in the order, Green Card holders may be subject to heightened scrutiny when re-entering the country.

Suggested Employer actions:

  • Cancel international travel for at least 90 days by employees or individuals doing business with your company who will be subject to the travel ban
  • Identify pending requests for immigration benefits on behalf of individuals from one of the designated countries in order to assess the implications of the apparent suspension in the processing of those petitions or applications
  • Prepare for potential disruption with service providers whose employees may be impacted by the EO

Remember your legal obligations

Be aware that federal employment laws still prohibit discrimination based on national origin, religion, and citizenship status. Be careful about taking action based on the President’s executive order that may be perceived as averse to current employees located in the U.S.  Employers should not ask for additional documentation from employees who may be affected by the President’s order (unless it’s regarding a Visa status close to expiring), as doing so may be cited as evidence of citizenship discrimination.

Be sensitive to possible claims of harassment or discrimination in the workplace that might arise from heightened tensions between employees or as a result of affected employees feeling targeted or singled out.

Expect Further Developments

President Trump’s order provides for additional countries to be added to the list of those with prohibited entry and provides that a Presidential proclamation will be issued in the near future prohibiting the entry of foreign nationals from a list of specified countries.

At the same time, further legal challenges to the order are anticipated and additional guidance and clarifications are expected. In addition, a draft Executive Order is under consideration that would subject the H1-B program and other immigration policies and procedures to further review.

BCN Services will stay abreast of additional information about this Executive Order and others to come and will help your business interpret any federal rules, policies and legislation. Contact us if we can answer questions or offer additional guidance.

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Thomas Moore, Partnership Manager

HR areas likely impacted with results of recent General Election

It has been just over a month since the historic November General Election.  The results, a Republican president-elect and Republican-controlled U.S. Congress, signal that a lot of changes will be coming to Human Resources laws and regulations, affecting both employers and employees.

Here are a few of the areas that may see significant changes soon:

  • Affordable Care Act (ACA) – President-Elect Donald Trump has promised to repeal and replace the ACA within his first 100 days in office. While experts do not believe the Act will be totally repealed, it is likely that Republican legislators will negotiate with fellow Democrats and recommend a change to the law and get the required 60 Senate votes to pass it.  Some of the current law provisions targeted for change include:
    • The Employer Mandate (organizations with 50 or more full-time employees or equivalents must provide ACA-compliant health care coverage to employees averaging at least 30 hours per week) and
    • The Cadillac Tax (40-percent excise tax on employer-sponsored health-care coverage that exceeds pre-defined benefit thresholds). Trump also supports increasing the flexibility of Health Savings Accounts, Flexible Spending Accounts and Health Reimbursement Arrangements.
  • Immigration Reform – The centerpiece of the Trump campaign was immigration reform and control. Experts believe that employers may see many changes as a result of this initiative, including:
    • increased audits of Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9,
    • required use of an E-Verify system (comparing employee information on an I-9 to federal records) and
    • changes to the H-1B Visa program for non-immigrants, in which non-U.S. workers are employed in specialty occupations.
  • Maternity Leave – During his campaign, Trump outlined a plan that would guarantee six weeks of paid maternity leave to new mothers after childbirth paid for through savings in the unemployment insurance program. This proposed policy would not offer benefits to fathers or parents of adopted children.

BCN Services will keep you up-to-date as changes unfold.  If you have additional questions, contact your Human Resources Representative at 1-800-891-9911.

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Alicia Freeman, Operations Manager

Though not federally mandated, give employees time to cast their ballots

Most people are aware that U.S. Election Day is Tuesday, November 8 in 2016.  With the presidential election taking place this year, voters may wait in long lines in order to cast a ballot.

Many employers are fielding questions from employees about whether they will be able to miss time from work to vote.  As an employer, it’s important to understand what’s required of your company when it comes to the voting rights of your employees.

Federal law does not mandate time off to vote.  Many states do have laws about allowing employees time off to exercise their right to vote.  These can include allowing employees time away from work  –  up to several hours of their working day in some cases  –  to be spent at the polls.  Some states even require that the time off of work to vote be paid for non-exempt employees.  (Exempt employees should be paid.)

The state of Michigan is an example of a state that does not have specific laws about allowing your employees to vote.  It’s important to know the laws of your state to ensure that you are providing them the opportunities that your state affords.  Although it is not a compliance issue  , it’s good employment practice to make sure your employees have the opportunity to vote without being penalized if their regular work schedule doesn’t allow sufficient time to vote, regardless of the laws in your state. Remember that, as an employer, you should never attempt to influence employees’ votes or their decision-making process.

Call the experts at BCN if you have questions about the laws of your specific state related to employee rights and voting, or if you want to discuss an employment policy regarding this issue. We are here to help.

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Trisha Crigger, HR Generalist

 

PokémonGO in the workplace: Concerns and benefits

By now, you have undoubtedly heard about the “Pokémon GO” craze that is sweeping the world.  That would be the free-to-play, location-based augmented reality game where players use a mobile device’s GPS to locate, capture, battle and train virtual creatures called Pokémon.  With more than 7.5 million users, it has surpassed Twitter as the most popular mobile app.  With that kind of recognition, you are probably wondering what kind of impact its having on your employees’ productivity.

When it comes to employee cell phone usage at work and mobile apps and games, we suggest the following general guidelines:

  • Review your handbook policies to ensure they have statements regarding acceptable and unacceptable employee social media networking and gaming during work hours.
  • Additionally, if employees operate vehicles while on company time, make sure you have a policy on distracted driving and offer training on safe driving practices.  Recently in  Japan, a 39-year-old farmer driving a truck struck and killed one pedestrian and severely injured another while he was playing the game.
  • Finally, if employees have company issued cell phones, work with your IT professionals to limit the download and data usage capabilities and reinforce your definition of acceptable personal use of these devices.
  • Train managers on how to handle the situation if they catch an employee violating work rules while playing the game.  As always, stress the importance of consistency in reprimands for this sort of issue.

This particular game phenomenon does have benefits.  Used in moderation, it can foster a culture of teamwork, motivation and social interaction as players can select a color to play for and, once selected, players with the same color can team up to conquer a Pokémon  Gym together.  In addition, the game requires players to be active; it even rewards players for walking certain distances.  This is good not only for physical health, but mental health as well.

If you think “PokémonGO” may be a problem in your workplace or if you’re looking for a creative way to incorporate the game into daily teamwork activities; give BCN Services a call at 1-800-891-9911.

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Alicia Freeman, New Product and Payroll Manager

 

Aiming for a Diverse Workforce: Non-Discriminatory Recruiting

Managers are charged with maintaining appropriate staffing levels, which includes both retention and recruiting.  As a manager, you may have well-established processes that keep your facility staffed well and running smoothly.  But it’s important to evaluate those processes to ensure they are meeting your recruiting needs, including the need to recruit in an inclusive and non-discriminatory manner.

Diversity is great for business in many ways.  Non-discriminatory hiring practices are critical not only to hiring a diverse workforce that will provide a competitive advantage, but also to keeping the company out of costly legal trouble.  If not applied properly, some of your practices could have a negative impact on your ability to hire diverse candidates, even though that’s not the intent.

Following are tips to consider as you review  your selection process, being sure to give all qualified candidates a fair opportunity to compete for your positions:

Creating a job posting: A job posting should be based on requirements needed for a candidate to be able to succeed in that position.  Do not include anything that does not meet that criteria.  For example, the ability to read English may be convenient if you prefer to leave written work instructions, but it probably shouldn’t be a requirement for a dish washing position.

Where you advertise open positions:  Advertise to give qualified candidates of various groups equal opportunity to apply.  Make sure the advertising vehicle you use has a diverse audience.  If you have a certain media outlet or website you prefer but it has a narrow audience, broaden your advertising to more than one outlet to ensure a pool of well-qualified, diverse candidates.  Most outlets can share information about their audience demographics.

Employee referrals are often the best recruitment tool, but if your workforce isn’t as diverse as your community, using only these referrals may eliminate important opportunities for you to expand your diversity and bring in excellent candidates.

If networking is your primary recruiting tool, make efforts to ensure that you are networking in circles that represent the local diversity, rather than just a part of it.

How applications are accepted:  Make sure your application process allows a person to get to the job site location where the work would be performed.  For example, if you have multiple locations and require in-person applications but applicants must apply at a location off the bus line, you may eliminate potential employees that use bus transportation to get to work.  This can apply to interview sites as well.

The interview: Be sure the interview process is inclusive.  Ask all candidates the same, or essentially the same, questions relevant to the ability to successfully perform in the position. Allow all candidates time to answer the questions.

Applicant testing: Make sure any tests used in the hiring process consistently measure the candidates’ ability to do the job.  Sometimes the test content, or the way a test is administered, eliminates candidates of a particular protected class in ways you don’t expect. It’s important to know that your test isn’t going to do that.  Ask the testing vendor to show you statistically that the test you are considering predicts what you are expecting and that it doesn’t eliminate specific, protected groups.

Making a selection: Once all potential candidates are interviewed and tested (if you’re using testing), select candidates based on knowledge, skills and abilities, rather than their appearance or other non-work-related characteristic. There’s a lot of talk about how candidates “fit” with the company’s culture.  That’s important but as a manager, remember that you impact how an employee fits by creating a culture of acceptance and inclusion.  Your example sets the tone, and making inclusive hiring decisions based on an solid hiring process is one of the many ways you can model inclusion for all employees.

Call BCN Services for help about hiring in a non-discriminatory manner as well as for other HR needs.

 

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Trisha Crigger, HR Generalist

How to compete and attract the best talent for your company

Throughout my 15 years in the Professional Employer Organization (PEO) industry with BCN Services, one of the most common questions I am asked when it comes to attracting talent is “What is everyone else doing?”  Employers look to BCN Services to help them stay competitive as they look to hire the best in their industry.  Whether the client is established or a new business, the question inevitably comes up:  How do I keep in pace with my competitor down the street? 

When clients ask this, it is typically in relation to benefits, specifically health coverage.  With medical costs skyrocketing, and coverage declining, job applicants are looking for companies that have a competitive health plan that will offer the security of comprehensive medical coverage.  So here are my thoughts based on my experience with client companies over the years, Health care reform has helped to define the value of a plan more clearly.  The Affordable Care Act defines the value of health plans based on their “metal band” status ranging from Bronze level as the minimum coverage deemed “affordable” for comprehensive coverage to Platinum offering the highest level of coverage, but in correlation, at the highest price. 

We’re seeing a standard practice evolving of Gold plans, typically with $1,000 single, $2,000 family deductibles becoming the norm.  Co-insurance of 20 percent may be applied, but typically with a cap of around an additional $2,500 for a single person or $5,000 family coverage.  In my experience, this type of plan design is the “new normal.”  Gone are the days when “deductibles” and “co-insurance” were not a part of the vocabulary in discussing health plan option.

The next question is “How much are other companies paying towards the plan?”  The trend still seems to be holding strong that most employers are contributing heavily towards their employees’ coverage.  Based on personal experience, I see employers contributing an average of 70 percent of the premium for their employees’ coverage.  But we see a decline in dependent coverage.  It is rare for an employer to cover dependents at the same level as employees.  Typically, dependent coverage will drop to approximately 50 percent or less of the total monthly premium. 

No contribution toward a dependent premium will make you uncompetitive.  Some employers have cut out dependent coverage contributions, but that would not be advisable if you want to attract top talent.  The best employees want to cover their entire family without seeing a substantial part of their paycheck reduced by medical plan premiums.  Gold plan family premiums can average between $1,500 and $2,200 per month, depending on the carrier and company location.  Employers covering at least 50 percent of this premium leave the employee with a manageable pre-tax deduction reducing their monthly net pay by $500-$700. 

Some employers are opting not to offer any medical coverage at all, and directing employees to the federal Healthcare Marketplace at healthcare.gov.  While this may be a viable solution for some industries, it is definitely not the norm.  Since the ACA was implemented, I have yet to see a client drop group medical plans for the Marketplace solution.  Marketplace plans tend to have higher deductibles and out-of-pocket limits, and tend to be more expensive than group health plans. 

While some employees may benefit from a federal government subsidy, the majority will not qualify based on their earnings.  One of the quickest ways to lose talent is to not offer a health plan.  Understandably, start-up companies may not have a health plan in their budget.  They may have made concessions with employees with the understanding that a health plan option would be coming inthe future.  But established companies typically will put themselves at a disadvantage by eliminating or not offering a group health plan. 

As always, BCN Services is your partner in business making it our priority to help you gain and retain top talent.  Our Partnership Management team is licensed by the State of Michigan to be able to explore all options with you, our client.  We also partner with agents throughout the country for clients outside of Michigan, and will work hand-in-hand with them to offer the best options.  No matter what your industry, or where you are located, we will be able to advise you to keep you competitive. 

 

 

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Frank Lewandowski, Partnership Manager

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More on the ADA: Be sure policies address workplace accommodations (Part 4 of 4)

Many employers are familiar with the terms “restriction” and “accommodation” especially as it relates to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)  Many have become familiar with some accommodating practices, such as offering an individual in a job where standing is required a chair or stool.

Other common accommodations include weight-lifting restrictions for someone with back problems or work breaks to check blood glucose levels, eat a snack, or take medication for a employee with diabetes.

But some employers should take note that some of their accommodation practices may be out of date.

Sears, Roebuck & Company paid $6.2 million to settle a case which alleged that Sears maintained inflexible workers’ compensation leave and accommodation policies.  The settlement required Sears to amend its workers’ compensation leave policy and provide training to its employees regarding the ADA.

Employers should check their current policies and practices to ensure that:

  • All requests for accommodations are reviewed with Human Resources.  It is no longer acceptable to refuse an employee’s request for restricted work based only on the fact that the condition is not work related.
  • An individual’s employment is not terminated based on that employee being leave for a specific amount of time.  Sometimes a reasonable accommodation may extend an employee’s leave of absence.
  • Supervisors and managers are engaging in an interactive process with employees requesting accommodation.  (See last week’s blog installment: www.www.bcnservices.com/?q=node/247)

Employers should not lose heart in considering accommodations.  Regardless of an employee’s restrictions/accommodation request, employers don’t have to comply with all requests.  And employees are still required to fulfill the essential functions of their assigned job.

As always, for help in navigating the compliance heavy waters of workers’ compensation and ADA regulations, and setting compliant policies, contact the professionals at BCN Services.

 

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Sue Kester, HR Manager