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Eight Things Your Remote Work Policy Should Cover

Eight Things Your Remote Work Policy Should Cover

It may seem like a simple, generous gesture to offer employees a remote work option. The trend is certainly up, as over a third of full-time employees are projected to work remotely in the next ten years. And with such high demand, the ability to work from home can give your business a competitive edge in the war for talent. 

However, offering the option to work remote isn’t as simple as just saying yes. Compliance risks must be considered alongside the creation of a definitive policy. Rich Henson from HR Morning writes

“Without a legally sound remote work policy, your well-intended efforts to improve working conditions can unexpectedly create big legal problems for you.” 

Potential legal pitfalls include FLSA violations, discrimination and disability issues, workers compensation, health and safety issues, data security concerns and more. 

Still, while 63% of companies have at least some remote workers, the majority don’t have a remote work policy in place. Unsurprisingly, many companies operate under unspoken or informal guidelines, as remote work is still a new concept and companies are learning to adapt. 

Unspoken rules may work for a time, but ultimately lead to confusion. To set employees up for success, there must be clear expectations for work, both in and out of the office. Trust is more quickly and easily established when both employees and supervisors work under clear guidelines. 

So how then do you create an airtight policy that wards off legal pitfalls and establishes straight-forward expectations? So glad you asked! The following rule-areas offer eight great starting points for drafting a cohesive remote work policy.

  1. Eligibility: Your policy should clearly state what positions are allowed to work remotely. If none of your positions are remote-compliant, state this from the beginning to eliminate any further questions or potential loopholes.
  2. Availability: Outline specific expectations for when remote employees should be available. You may need employees available from 9am to 5pm, or you may allow employees to set their own work hours. Either way, make rules on availability clear in the policy.
  3. Responsiveness: Are remote employees required to immediately respond to coworkers? What is the best way to communicate with remote employees—chat, email, Slack? Be sure to specify how responsive employees should be, and what modes of communication should be used.
  4. Measuring Productivity: This one is especially important. Make sure your policy outlines how employee productivity will be measured when working outside the office.This establishes employee accountability and trust with supervisors as well as with other coworkers.
  5. Equipment: Remote work only works if employees have the right tools at home. Companies must state what equipment they are willing to offer remote employees, and what equipment the employee must provide themselves. For example, the policy must state whether employees must use personal laptops, or if they will be issued a company laptop.
  6. Tech support: If remote employees have technical difficulties at home, what is expected of them? Should they return to the office, or complete work at another time? Specify a plan of action and identify what tech support can be offered to remote workers.
  7. Physical Environment: Some employers prefer/require the approval of an employee’s physical environment before remote work is allowed. This should involve a focus on a safe environment designed to reduce the risk of workers’ compensation injuries.  Whatever your company’s stance, state it clearly in the policy.
  8. Security: Doing work outside of the office can compromise security. Policies must provide employees with specific protocol for doing work in public, such as how to properly dispose of confidential papers and how to take electronic security measures.

Daunting as it may seem, drafting a remote work policy simply requires employer anticipation of employee questions. Preventing legal issues and offering a clear, consistently implemented policy not only protects your company, but establishes your company as thoughtful and prepared. 

Have more questions or need help starting your remote work policy? Risk management is an area Servant HR specializes in. We’d love to help you lose the administrative burden of policy making so you can focus on what you specialize in! Contact us today and see what we can take off your plate. 

Infant-at-Work Programs on the Rise

Infant-at-Work Programs on the Rise

In an effort to meet employee demand and attract top talent, workplace benefits have continued to broaden. Flex schedules, ping-pong, pets in the office—you name it, someone’s probably trying it. 

But for many new parents in America, childcare benefits are the highest priority and still the most difficult to find. Stockpiled PTO and sick days go by quickly, and even those with paid parental leave still may feel they must put a child into childcare sooner than they would like.

The Cost 

Being away from a baby for hours at a time, as well as managing the burden of day care costs, has a significant impact on families. According to 2018 research by the Maryland Family Network, the median family income in Baltimore County is $86,700 and day care for two children in Baltimore County costs an estimated $20,200 per year. That’s nearly 25% of income spent on childcare. Other studies showed that in many states, childcare costs more than a college education. 

Many families opt for one parent to stay home until the child is older, but this is often as much a financial sacrifice as day care—if not more. This causes problems for employers too. Finding people to fill positions while parents are out of the workplace can be an HR headache, backlog projects, and slow overall efficiency.

A Third Option

However, as benefits continue to flex, Infant-at-Work programs are on the rise. According to Parenting in the Workplace Institute (PIWI), more than 200 workplaces across the United States are now implementing Infant at Work programs.

PIWI is an organization dedicated to convincing companies to let employees bring babies to work. The institute has proven that letting new parents sport a baby carrier at the office has a positive impact on efficiency, teamwork and office morale, improves recruitment efforts and helps moms and dads get back to their desks quicker.

Demonstrating Value

Beth Shelton is the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa and a mom herself. For Beth, implementing an Infant-at-Work program was less about helping employees save on day care costs, and more about showing employees they are valued.

“With the Infant-at-Work program, we’re supporting parents in their transition back to work, and creating a space where having children and advancing your career can happen simultaneously,” she explained.

The benefit provides obvious perks for parents, but it poses challenges as well. Despite the benefit’s increasing popularity, babies-at-work programs are generally met with skepticism. The biggest concern is disruption to the work environment since babies can cry… a lot.

But the founder of PIWI, Carla Moquin, says that with correct expectations and implementation, doubtful employers and workers become believers. 

“The policy results in parents being very responsive to meeting their babies’ needs at the first sounds of distress,” Moquin noted. “Babies are much happier, calmer and quieter than expected, and then coworkers and managers find themselves bonding with the baby.”

Moquin has seen workplace morale actually improve, as colleagues contribute to “the village” mentality. Employees generally consider the new baby a part of their community and are willing to help out, as new parents are essentially now working two full-time jobs.

Setting Expectations

If you’re thinking of offering an Infant-at-Work program at your company, the following bullet points provide specific recommendations by employers:

  • Pilot the program first for three to four weeks. This gives employees a chance to experience the dynamic before it’s set in stone. In many cases, the program is successful and becomes permanent.
  • Set an age for eligibility. PIWI recommends accepting children up to 6 months, but some companies allow children until they are crawling. Others do not have a cutoff.
  • Clearly communicate when the child will be in the office, so everyone is aware of the schedule.
  • Identify a few backup employees to provide support if needed. 
  • Understand it’s an adjustment. It can take a while and the first week is usually the hardest. 

Something to Consider

The program doesn’t work for every organization and it doesn’t work for every family. Business owners will have to think about all of the ramifications if they wish to consider.  Some jobs require too much accomodation, some parents are unable to manage the balance of attention and not all babies enjoy the social stimulation of office-life. 

Still, like many other unique benefits, it’s something to contemplate as a tough talent market has employers pulling all strings. For many employees, just having the option can communicate a company’s thoughtful care and investment.

Talking Politics at Work

Talking Politics at Work

On the heels of 4th of July, and with off-cycle election season quickly approaching, you may be finding yourself in a few more political conversations than usual. Talk at weekend BBQ’s, family gatherings—even checkout line chatter seem to land on politics.

But what about the workplace? Hot topics are still buzzing, but how much can employees engage in political conversations at work? If there is a line, what happens if it’s crossed?

Can you actually fire—or be fired—for talking politics at work?

Many assume First Amendment protection, but free speech isn’t so simple. According to writer Stacey Lastoe at The Muse, “There’s free speech, and then there’s free speech in the workplace.”

Private vs. Public

Private and public employers operate by different sets of rules. Private employers can generally set regulations about what is or isn’t appropriate for workplace discussions. There is not an inalienable First Amendment right in a private employer’s workplace.

Examples of private-sector employment areas include financial services, law firms, estate agents, newspapers and hospitality. Examples of public-sector employment areas include government employment, some healthcare, teaching, emergency services, armed forces and civil services.

Because politics are so polarizing, private organizations can easily and justly prohibit political discussions while at work. However, federal law also protects employees’ right to discuss labor issues with each other (i.e. wages and working conditions).

So the line is hazy—as guidelines pertain to specific topics of political conversation. For example, employees are protected if discussing support for a candidate who promotes higher wages. But as soon as the conversation switches to a candidate’s stance on foreign policy, those same protections technically don’t apply.

Variables

So what actually happens if an employee discusses politics in the office? 

Of course the political answer is, it depends. There are a few variables that determine potential consequences:

  • Your state. You might work in a state where the law protects employees from workplace discrimination based on political affiliation or extends other protections that would tend to protect you from being fired for talking about politics. Click here to read the different laws for each state regulating politics in the workplace.
  • NLRA protection. Most employers are covered by the National Labor Relations Act, which makes it unlawful to fire employees for participating in “concerted activity.” (Read our article about concerted activity on social media here.) If employees are discussing how they might improve the terms and conditions of their employment, or the previously mentioned labor issues, NLRA protection is granted.
  • The situation. Bosses have the right to call out employees chatting on the clock. Politics aside, if an employee is not working when they’re supposed to be working, it may be cause for disciplinary action. If discussions are “creating a disruption,” this can also lead to discipline.  

Takeaways for Employers

Be clear and aware. Make sure your organization has everything spelled out—what is expected of employee talk and behavior at work, how employees should use the internet on the job, social media policies, etc. 

Be aware of your state’s laws and work with HR on communication of what is and isn’t allowed. (Need help with HR? That’s our thing! Contact us today and see how our PEO model can lighten your administrative load.)

Takeaways for Employees

Know the rules. Be careful of how you’re using work time and remember that regardless of your political opinion, you’re at risk if you’re posting it during work hours. Remember that even out of the office, you represent your company and behaving professionally is good practice

Being an employee doesn’t require you abandon political causes you care about either! Simply set your social media accounts to private and make sure not to link yourself to your company—make it clear you’re representing only yourself.

Both employers and employees have the responsibility of pursuing shared goals for the good of their company. The good news is, that responsibility can easily be carried out apart from politics. Our best advice? Your #1 issue at work, should be work.

Two Ways to Revamp Traditional Incentives

Two Ways to Revamp Traditional Incentives

Many companies have approached employee incentives the exact same way for decades—sick leave, overtime pay and annual salary reviews. While these ideas are important and generous, companies must take cues from today’s market to broaden their perception of incentives.

Employee engagement is now a financial strategy for businesses and high engagement is commonly driven by recognition and reward. Two key factors have been identified in the creation of modern incentives that actually engage and produce real, bottom-line benefits:

1. Personalization

Consumer demand for personalization is up. Why would employee demand be any different?

Still, a recent Deloitte survey reported that only 8% of companies say their systems of incentives are very effective at creating a personalized, flexible solution.

Personal and frequent engagement with employees can lead to the discovery of unique incentives that work well for each individual. Incentives then become the tangible evidence that employees are truly known and cared for within their organization.

Personalization of incentives often looks like project or target-based bonuses. For some, the ability to create their own benefits packages may be most rewarding. For others, the freedom to do more independent or remote work can motivate and establish trust. Other ideas include creating company-wide recognition with company-wide games—meeting specific performance targets on a points-based system.

By personalizing incentives, employees feel known and uniquely valued within an organization. Oftentimes, being heard is a powerful incentive in and of itself.

2. Purpose-Oriented

An employee’s interpretation of the work he or she does for a company is a critical part of employee engagement. If the brightest minds feels their work is worthless, work ethic will inevitably decline.

This requires employers to give employees a well-defined and visible mission that can inspire and motivate even the most tedious work. Those from the lowest level to the top should be able to see their contributions and value in day-to-day operations.

Sometimes creating purpose-oriented incentives doesn’t even mean creating new ones—it may mean just presenting incentives in a more thoughtful way.

For example, let’s say a travel marketing agency traditionally gives an extended PTO incentive. That’s nice. But if the extended PTO is given with the intent that employees go out, travel, experience the world and bring fresh ideas back with them… that’s a purpose-oriented incentive.

A carefully developed reason for longer vacation time actually gives employees a sense of belonging, purpose and importance. Traditionally, people take vacations to escape from work. But how might organizational culture and engagement shift if even on vacation, employees felt purposeful and helpful?

Another purpose-oriented incentive could involve linking employee rewards to social causes or community issues that matter to them. This incentive is both purposeful and personalized, as it caters to an individual’s passion. Win-win.

Time to Reevaluate

Still not sure you need to revamp your traditional incentives? Try walking by some desks. Do your employees perk up at the sight of you, trying to look busy? Or are they already driven and motivated? Do you find yourself struggling to know what to say, or do you know your employees on a personal level?

Servant HR is a human resource service provider that gives business leaders freedom to focus on the parts they love about their business. Give us a call and see how a PEO can help you today! We take care of your business’s administrative tasks, so that you can take care of your employees—and we think that’s a pretty good incentive.

Five Ways to Prevent FMLA Abuse

Five Ways to Prevent FMLA Abuse

The sun is out, temperatures are up, and employee attendance is… down. There’s a reason cynics in the HR world nickname The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the “Friday Monday Leave Act.

FMLA allows up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave each year, as a means for employees to balance their work and family responsibilities. The specific intent as stated by the Department of Labor, is “to promote the stability and economic security of families, as well as the nation’s interest in preserving the integrity of families.”

FMLA is required of employers that have over fifty employees on twenty or more weeks in the prior or current year. To be eligible, employees must have worked at an organization for at least twelve months and logged at least 1,250 hours of service during that time. Qualified employees are permitted FMLA leave for any of the following reasons:

  1. To care for their child after birth, adoption or foster care.
  2. To care for the employee’s spouse, child or parent who has a “serious” health condition.
  3. The employee’s own “serious” health condition makes him or her unable to perform the job.

FMLA is over twenty years old, but surveys show the act still ranks as one of the most confusing and frustrating employment laws for companies to administer. Along with understanding the specifics of the act as it relates to each state and circumstance, employers must also be aware of FMLA abuse tactics.

FMLA expert Jeff Nowak suggests companies take the following measures to ensure fair leave and accountability to the intent of FMLA.

1. Require (and question) employee leave requests

This is an effective strategy for cutting down on all types of absences. An employer cannot deny FMLA leave to a worker who puts in a notice, but simply requiring a written request can deter employees from taking unnecessary leave. It is also helpful for employers to have a list of questions ready when an employee requests time off. Ask about the job functions they are unable to perform, if they will see a health care provider, and when they expect to return to work. Employers have the right to know why an employee can’t come to work and a little probing can help determine if the FMLA request is legitimate.

2. Enforce a daily call-in policy

Requiring employees to call in one hour before their shift to report an absence is another inconvenience that may prevent abuse altogether. An extended vacation may not sound as appealing if you know you have to call into work every single day. As long as a policy is in place and there are no unusual circumstances, it is okay to deny FMLA leave to an employee who fails to call in before their absence.

3. Certify, and then certify again

According to Novak, one of the best tools employers can use to fight FMLA abuse is the medical certification form. Upon the first absence in a new FMLA year, require medical certification to verify the serious health condition. If circumstances change and an employee needs an extra day or week of intermittent leave, require recertification at the earliest opportunity. Employees typically have fifteen days to get a certification returned to their employer.

4. Follow up on patterns

Noticing a lot of sunny Monday and Friday absences? Is holiday time off frequently extended? These are common patterns of FMLA abuse. If a series of weeks or back-to-back months indicates a regular pattern of absences, employers can follow FMLA regulations to consult the employee’s physician. This can simply confirm whether the pattern is consistent with the employee’s health condition and need for leave.

5. Conduct an audit

FMLA policy and forms must be up to date in order to ensure compliance and the best strategies to combat abuse. Be proactive with your employment counsel or PEO to ensure that loopholes are minimized and your FMLA administration is running smoothly.

By partnering with Servant HR as your PEO, you get a fully integrated human resources team working for your protection. Worried about legal compliance? Not sure if your FMLA policy is at it’s best? That’s where we come in. Contact us today!

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