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Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

September is National Suicide Prevention Month—an opportunity for employers to learn how they can help workers at all levels of anxiety and depression. Mental health disorders are now among the most burdensome health concerns in the United States and their presence in the workplace is undeniable.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nearly 1 in 5 US adults aged 18 or older (18.3% or 44.7 million people) reported a mental illness in 2016. In addition, 71% of adults reported at least one symptom of stress, such as a headache or feeling overwhelmed or anxious.

With roughly 63% of the population engaged in the workforce, overlap is inevitable—making mental health a necessary issue for employers to address. It’s in the best interest of employers to take a proactive role in dealing with this challenge head on.

What Employers Can Do

Reduce Stigma

Talking about mental health in the workplace can feel scary, mostly for fear of offending, being politically incorrect, or sounding uneducated or inexperienced with mental health. However, the less mental health is talked about, the more stigma is created. 

A white paper by The Prudential Insurance Company of America states that the workplace can impact stigma positively simply through open communication and transparency. Employers can encourage education on mental health and asking for help as needed—specifically conveying such asking as a positive thing. A study by Mercer noted that employers must understand mental health, access to care must be available, and proactive measures should be encouraged in seeking treatment and improving productivity.

Include EAP’s in benefit plans

Study after study shows that early intervention is the key component to success. Early intervention can be more likely when employers include in-network Employee Assistance Program (EAP) providers in their health plan. This ensures that care can be continued once EAP sessions are exhausted. Only 29% of the U.S. population diagnosed with depression seeks treatment, and even less follow through. The ability to continue therapy is absolutely vital to treatment and recovery.

Assessment and management

Often times managers assume a performance problem without considering an emerging mental health issue. Proper training is absolutely necessary from an employer standpoint. Managers should learn to consider an employee’s history— especially if behavior is new, unexpected, or emotion-driven. Because depression often manifests itself in declined performance, managers should inquire about well-being before jumping to conclusions. Managers must also be equipped with proper resources, such as an EAP, health and wellness partner, or HR representative. 

Considering potential mental health issues does not mean an employer cannot still properly discipline or terminate employees that are not performing essential job functions, failing to attend work hours, or breaching company rules. This consideration simply allows employers to act in the best interest of both employee and company.

Maintaining consistent contact is important as well, so to help employees through depression and reduce any fear of returning to work. A study on the psychology of “return to work” found that manager and co-worker interactions are essential in making employees feel safe enough to share problems, get help, and comfortably return to work. Remember that asking “Is everything okay?” is a small, but effective first step. 

Work also creates a sense of purpose that can eventually serve to improve mental health. Keeping communication lines open and offering return to work programs can help support employees and provide a productive, successful transition.

An Effective Strategy for Company Health

While individual well-being is a good enough reason alone to address mental health, the benefits can also affect your company’s bottom line. World Health Organization states: “Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains.”

Addressing mental health is big, high-level, policy-making work. But addressing mental health can also be small things—card-writing, checking in, simply asking, “How are you doing?” Prioritizing communication, access to care, and proper management training are all part of an integrated health and well-being strategy. 

Have questions? Interested in more specific mental health resources? We at Servant HR love helping business owners create productive and positive work environments. Contact us today.

Federal Overtime Rule Currently in White House Review

Federal Overtime Rule Currently in White House Review

Here we go again!  As of August 12th, the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed overtime rule affecting the base wage of overtime exemptions was sent to the White House for final review. 

This high-priority Trump Labor Department rule takes a more business-friendly approach than attempted in the Obama administration—expecting to make about 1 million workers newly eligible for time-and-a-half overtime pay when working more than 40 hours in a week.

Raising the Threshold

According to The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) the rule would raise the salary threshold for the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA’s) white-collar exemptions to $35,308 ($679 a week) per year from $23,660 ($455 a week). The barred Obama-era rule would have raised the threshold to about $47,500, and worker advocates as well as some Democratic lawmakers are still pushing for that level. However, business groups generally support the Trump administration’s proposed increase.

SHRM states that to be exempt from overtime, employees must be paid a salary of at least the threshold amount and also meet certain “duties” tests. These tests define specific regulations for several exemptions, the most common being those related to executive, administrative and professional work. If they are paid less or do not meet the duties test requirements, employees must be paid 1 1/2 times their regular hourly rate for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek.

A Rushed Rule

The DOL sent the final draft to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs only five months after proposing the rule, resulting in more than 116,000 public comments. Urgency from department officials stems from the desire for protection from anticipated legal battles with worker advocates. 

According to a report by Bloomberg Law, the administration wants the rule in place before the end of President Donald Trump’s first term in office. Bloomberg also reported new regulations are in the works for calculating overtime pay rates and limiting wage and hour liability for franchisers and businesses that use staffing labor.

What It Means 

If finalized, the overtime rule would cover more workers than was previously the case.  More than a million currently exempt workers would be reclassified as non-exempt, and pay would increase for those above the new threshold. Unlike prior drafts, the proposal does not call for automatic adjustments to the salary threshold, does not create different salary levels based on the region of the country, and does not make any changes to the duties tests. 

The salary threshold was last increased in 2004. The DOL is using the same economic methodology used to reach that standard, which the department officials say should protect the proposal from litigation.

(To get a more comprehensive timeline, click here to read our March 2019 blog and October 2016 blog, or check out SHRM’s Overtime Rule History timeline here.) 

While You Wait

Time will tell—likely sooner than later. But in the meantime, employers should begin auditing their exempt workforces to determine how many might qualify under the criteria of executive, administrative and professional exemptions. Before re-classification, it is possible that employees currently or potentially exempt due to salary may not pass the primary duties tests. 

Now is also a good time to weigh your options as an employer. If exempt employees currently make salaries significantly lower than the threshold, reclassifying employees to non-exempt and overtime eligible might make sense. 

But, employers can also avoid salary and overtime pay altogether. Hours for newly non-exempt employees may be reduced, part-time or contract workers may be hired to fill gaps, tasks may be re-assigned to other exempt employees, and perks may be dismissed since the exempt/non-exempt distinction is often used to provide benefits. 

If making such significant changes, employers must then weigh the cost of morale. Overall, it makes more sense to reclassify to non-exempt if an employee does not work much beyond forty hours. But for employees who often work over 40, it may be less difficult and less expensive to increase salary to the new threshold, rather than paying consistent overtime.

In general, the pending proposal offers valuable time for fixing current errors and planning for the future. We at Servant HR would love to help plan for yours. If you’re our client, we’re already on it. But if you have questions about the specifics of the proposal, or are wondering how a PEO can help manage these crucial details, please don’t hesitate. Contact us today!

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.

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