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Employer guidance for preparing and responding to coronavirus

Employer guidance for preparing and responding to coronavirus

Coronavirus is continuing to spread globally, with 82,000 reports worldwide and 60 confirmed cases now in the United States as of this blog. Along with the global advance comes increased anxiety and confusion over how to prepare.

You may have seen that large corporations are canceling conferences, limiting travel and stocking supplies. But is this too extreme—or not extreme enough? What does this mean for smaller companies? And how can workplaces prepare? 

This blog is simply intended to provide information to promote common-sense preparedness, not panic. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published guidance that may help prevent workplace exposures to acute respiratory illness and the potential effects of more widespread outbreaks of coronavirus. Their guidance is two-fold: How employers can prevent now, and prepare for later.

What employers can do now

As all workplaces are encouraged to take safety measures, it’s important that employers communicate preparedness to employees. Employers should also be careful not to make determinations of risk based on race or country of origin. The following recommendations should be used to prepare and prevent the spread of the virus, but any confirmed illness should remain confidential.

  • Emphasize hygiene etiquette

Post information around the office that encourages staying home when sick and explains cough and sneeze etiquette and handwashing in areas where they are likely to be seen. Provide tissues and alcohol-based hand sanitizer around the workplace to encourage prevention throughout the day.  This is nothing new. This counsel is actually what should normally be followed to reduce the spreading of any sickness in the workplace.

  • Encourage staying home

Employees should be encouraged to notify their supervisor and stay home if they are feeling sick. Ensure that your company’s sick leave policies are flexible and in line with public health guidance, and communicate these policies consistently so that employees are aware. Some may need to stay home to care for a sick family member or may not be able to obtain a doctor’s note within the usual timeframe. Be flexible and make sure your employees know their health is a priority.

  • Advise caution for traveling employees

Direct employees to the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which employees may travel. Advise employees to check themselves for symptoms of respiratory illness before starting travel and ensure that employees who become sick while traveling can notify a supervisor and contact a healthcare provider. If outside the U.S., sick employees should follow your company’s policy for obtaining medical care or contact a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to assist them with finding an appropriate healthcare provider in that country. 

  • Maintain confidentiality

In the rare event your employee is confirmed to have coronavirus, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure, but maintain privacy and confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and HIPAA. Employees exposed to a co-worker can conduct a risk assessment per guidance by the CDC.  This is not an easy balance – so you may want to obtain some counsel in the event of a confirmed case in your workplace.

Creating an outbreak response plan

The severity of the illness or how many people will fall ill is still unknown, but the CDC has said the current risk in the U.S. from the virus is low. However, employers are still encouraged to develop plans in case the virus becomes more widespread. This could potentially result in containment efforts that might include closing schools, limiting public transportation or canceling large gatherings. The following bullets recommend action items for employers in the event that coronavirus becomes even more widespread.

  • Review policies for compliance

Review your company’s human resources policies to ensure practices are consistent with public health recommendations and existing state and federal workplace laws. For more information on employer responsibilities, visit the websites of the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

  • Consider remote work

Depending on your business, employees may be able to telecommute or flex their normal working hours to increase physical distance between other employees. This may be necessary in the event of an outbreak, as state and local health authorities could recommend social distancing strategies. Employers should ensure that technology and policies are in place to support employees who can work from home.

  • Plan for interruptions

Identify now the essential functions, roles and elements within your business to maintain regular operations. Develop a plan now for how your business will operate (or not operate) if employees are unable to come to work or if essential functions are inhibited. 

  • Prioritize communication

Information should be communicated to employees and business partners about your company’s disease outbreak plan. Establish a process now for this communication and set up triggers that will activate the response plan. Employers should anticipate employee fear, rumors and misinformation, so be careful that communication addresses these anxieties.

  • Stay informed in the community

According to the CDC, local conditions will influence the decisions that public health officials make regarding community-level strategies. Employers should take the time now to learn the plans in place for each community in which the business is located.

Looking ahead

Taking preventative and proactive measures now will prepare both employers and employees in the event that coronavirus does become more widespread. Rather than scrambling last minute, an overly cautious approach will make employees feel confident, informed and safe. 

As your PEO, we’re here to support you. This blog is intended to promote preparedness, NOT panic. Have further questions or concerns? Give us a call today and we’ll be happy to take steps with you toward protection and compliance. 

See the following links to more information about coronavirus: 

What You Can Learn From Employee Wish Lists

What You Can Learn From Employee Wish Lists

Christmas time is here! Families are looking forward to Christmas traditions, and many workplaces are also celebrating with yearly holiday parties, gift exchanges and even office Christmas trees. 

But amidst all the ritual festivities, you might consider implementing one more holiday activity before year-end. Samantha Julka, founder of Indianapolis-based DORIS Research—which uses design thinking to organize workspaces—suggest employees be prompted to write their own wish lists. Not for personal gifts, but for workplace amenities.

The purpose is two-fold. The first is to hear feedback from real employees and gain insight on what could improve their work lives. Some of the most commonly desired workplace amenities include fitness options, free food, unlimited coffee, bring-your-dog-to-work days and special company events.

But every business is different, and simply asking employees what would improve their work conditions can go a long way. Not only will this provide you with new ideas, but implementing wish lists also shows employees you’re listening and you care, regardless if their wishes can actually be granted. 

The other purpose is research. Julka has found you can learn a lot about the health of an organization simply by asking the question,

“If you could change one thing about your current office space, what would it be, and why?” 

Throughout her years of asking, Julka has heard some pretty crazy answers—including cotton candy machines and rooftop pools. But she’s also reported drastically more practical answers, such as simple Wi-Fi access and yearly carpet cleanings. 

Julka suggests that the more fanciful the request, the more satisfied the employee is with the workplace and how his or her needs are being met. For example, the employee wishing for the rooftop pool is likely pretty happy with his workplace, so his mind is freed up to dream big. For the employee asking for a clean floor, a rooftop pool is unthinkable. 

Ultimately Julka concludes, “If the talent pool has a lot of options, and the workplace isn’t particularly comfortable or doesn’t offer a lot of amenities, people have to be attracted by the integrity or prestige of the work. If the work itself isn’t viewed as prestigious and the competition for talent is high, a workplace that offers more amenities could be the deciding factor.”

So what does this mean for you? Ultimately compelling work is what you’d like to drive your employees. But research shows that the amenities are on the rise for what’s keeping people around.

Consider asking the question and see what responses you get! Include it as a fun element of your traditional office Christmas party. If people request on-site personal trainers and smoothie bars, it’s likely your baseline office space is comfortable and your employees are satisfied. If people request more basic things, it might be a red flag that your office space and culture are falling behind. 

We want your employees to be excited about both the integrity of their work and their workplace perks. However, we know that managing employee wish lists, on top of your regular to-do lists, puts a lot on your plate. 

Servant HR prioritizes you so that you can prioritize your people and your business. Feeling overwhelmed by the mountain of HR work that can accompany end-of-year? We’re here to help. Contact us today to see how our PEO model can free you up to focus on what matters most for your business—this holiday season and year-round.

‘Tis the (flu) season! Re-thinking your company’s sick policy

‘Tis the (flu) season! Re-thinking your company’s sick policy

It’s the holiday season! But as many of us know, the holiday season is often cozied up right next to the flu season. Employees are calling in to claim sick days, while others trudge through the work day with cough drops and tissues in tow. 

In 2018, a Walgreens survey revealed that 40% of workers admit coming in to work with the flu. This year 90% of employees admit going in to work with cold or flu symptoms. Our culture’s obsession with productivity has made “workaholism” the norm. Sick days? Those are for wimps.

Even still, HR firm Career Builder recently surveyed more than 2,200 human resource professionals and 3,700 employees about their companies’ employment practices. The survey found that 40% of workers have faked a sick day in the last 12 months.

So what’s an employer to do? How do you create a sick policy where people can take care of themselves without taking advantage? 

While you will never be able to control this entirely, there are a few things your company can do to prevent these tricky situations without fostering a culture of suspicion.

Review your policy

The “sick day” concept was originally created to keep employees from abusing time off and to help track work environments in which employees were sick more frequently than other parts of the business. 

However, having designated “sick days” can often force employees to compromise their integrity. Sometimes people aren’t sick, they just need a day off. If an employee’s only way to take time off is to use a sick day, it can encourage dishonesty. Also, those who believe “sick days are for wimps,” may feel guilty taking these designated days, and end up “powering through,” potentially getting other coworkers sick in the process. 

Research shows that forming a modern, non-defined PTO policy fosters more positive workplace sentiments. Small businesses should still allocate a predetermined number of days off for their employees. However, an increasing amount of businesses are no longer using the antiquated terms “sick days” or “sick leave,” but instead defining all days off as paid time off (PTO).

You may or may not decide modern PTO is right for your company. However, if you decide to no longer differentiate between personal time and sick time, make sure this is clearly stated in your policy. Make sure your employees don’t think they will get all of their personal time in addition to sick days.

Model transparency

In today’s progressive workplace, more and more companies are putting everything in the open. This means everything from opening financial dealings to simply opening office doors. Of course, each business is different and must implement these ideas with discretion. Still, the principle is universal: face-to-face communication encourages honesty. 

If you talk openly with your employees about significant things such as work projects, compensation, and company decisions, it is more likely that your employees will talk openly with you about their family, their health and their need for time off. 

Hire honest people, include others in decision-making processes and treat all employees equally. These are just best practices in culture-making, but they inevitably affect your employees’ use of time off. If honesty is at the core of your company, it will be at the core of your time off policy as well. 

Promote prevention

A report by Stericycle found that prevention efforts—like vaccinations and hand washing—are up over the last year. And while less than half of workplaces offered flu shots as a benefit (and even fewer offered on-site vaccinations), those that do are viewed more positively by their employees.

Many organizations now host on-site vaccination clinics, allowing employees to get vaccinated without sacrificing their free time. You can contact your local pharmacy or community vaccinators to come to your workplace and administer the vaccines on site.

If having on-site vaccinations isn’t an option for you, do your best to make it easy for employees to get their flu shots elsewhere in the community. Make sure that flu shots are covered by your company’s health insurance, post a list of all local vaccination sites, and be flexible to allow your employees to leave work briefly to get a flu shot. 

You can also promote prevention by following the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s suggestions. Encourage employees to wash hands frequently, cover coughs, use hand sanitizer and avoid close contact with others during flu season. You can also stock your office with hand sanitizer, a shared medicine cabinet, orange juice, Emergen-C, tea and healthy snacks for employees. These are small but significant ways to show your employees you care. 

Encourage staying home

Despite those who take advantage, employers cannot dismiss the reality that many employees feel pressure to come to work sick. And having sick employees in the office can have serious consequences. The 2018-2019 flu season was one of the longest on record—and this year’s season has started early, meaning it could reach similar heights, according to the CDC. 

Productivity may suffer, but employers should encourage those with the flu to stay home rather than spread the virus to co-workers. Employers should review their sick time policies to see if they put undue pressure on workers to come to work ill. You may also consider remote work arrangements for appropriate positions and situations. 

Employees appreciate being treated with respect and trust. Ultimately, as an employer, it’s up to you to approve PTO arrangements and determine the validity of time off requests. However, doing everything you can to encourage health and honesty will go a long way in building the kind of workplace your employees won’t want to miss. 

Interested in learning how a PEO can aid your efforts toward building a healthy culture? Along with offering HR coaching and counseling, Servant HR frees business owners from their administrative burdens to better focus on what matters most—their people and their business. Give us a call and see how we can serve you today.

The Training and Development Your Employees Really Want

The Training and Development Your Employees Really Want

Your employees might be a little jumpy with Halloween just around the corner. However, recent research shows it’s not the spooky season that’s frightening your workers—it’s their jobs. 

A new Cornerstone report found that over half of American workers aren’t sure they have the skills to withstand a future layoff. Some economists are already forecasting a downturn after a recent spike in layoffs, and data shows employees are getting nervous. Cornerstone reports that 60% of baby boomers feel insecure with their current skill sets, especially as compared to the increasingly competitive talent market. And with the rise of new technology, workers are afraid they could lose their jobs to either more qualified employees or in some cases—to machines. 

So what is HR’s role amidst this worried workforce? How can you more effectively train your employees so they feel empowered to do their work and confident in their skills? To start, you’ll have to learn what your employees know and don’t know—and tailor your training and development programs to fit the needs of your organization.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers several key ideas for better training and development programs that actually increase employee confidence.

1. Survey your employees

The best way to get real information about organizational performance is to simply ask your employees. They know their exact pain-points and will be motivated to participate in training that specifically addresses their needs. Surveys also boost morale, as they demonstrate employer care and interest in employee development. SHRM notes the most common feedback from employee surveys is that employees want clearer work expectations and training by experts. 

2. Align training with goals

Management should define their operating goals before designing targeted programs. Specific goals might be better performance, productivity or customer satisfaction. Perhaps you need better onboarding and new-hire training so that employees can provide greater customer service. For compliance training, partner with regulatory agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (health and safety), the Department of Labor (wage and hour compliance) and the Department of Justice (harassment and discrimination training). You may consider contracting out design work in order to create more comprehensive instructional material. If you’re managing a multi-generational workforce, your goal may be to improve communication within the organization. Offer training for supervisors to improve their coaching skills and help develop a healthier work culture. 

3. Ingrain it into your culture

Speaking of healthier work culture, consider implementing a “life-long learner” philosophy that focuses on employee satisfaction. When making promotion decisions, give preference to employees who have completed training and performed well. A promotion should be one of the rewards for their efforts, as it answers the employee question, “What’s in it for me?” Celebrate achievements by letting everyone in your organization know when someone completes training and what that means for their growth opportunities. Advertise your programs and participants in internal communications, display their pictures and stories, and talk about it at every employee gathering. Encourage employees to be trainers or subject matter experts so that employees are engaged and empowered to take ownership of their skills. 

4. Keep innovating

Sometimes the problem lies, not in lack of programs or training content, but in the inability to communicate that content in an appropriate learning format. As we all get more comfortable with technology, there’s a growing need to adopt the latest ideas. Today there are apps, games, and easy-to-use video tools that can be streamed to mobile devices for individual training on the employee’s own time. It’s important to research the latest trends online, network with other training professionals, and revise programs to take advantage of the latest best practices. Just because it’s what you’ve always done, doesn’t mean it’s what you should do forever. Tailor your training to how your employees best learn and don’t be afraid to adapt to new technology. 

5. Measure results

Make sure you’re keeping track of how things are going. This lets you know if the training offerings you provide are worth everyone’s while. The best measures are the simplest ones; incorporate them into your program so everyone knows what’s expected. Look for behaviors and measure them on the job to determine if employees actually learned how to perform appropriately. If trainings do not provide the intended result, consider redesigning programs, as well as offering feedback. To ensure there are no surprises for employees, communicate the importance of feedback and implement a specific structure. Make feedback a regular part of life at work so employees know how they are doing in real-time. 

These are just a few ideas for revamping training and development at your company. You want your employees to feel happy, confident and motivated in their work—not insecure and nervous they might get fired at any second! Demonstrate your belief in your workers by investing in their development. Providing your employees with growth opportunities sets them at ease and allows for greater productivity in the long run. 

Want more ideas for training? Need HR coaching and counseling for specific issues at your company? That’s where we come in. The health of your business is our priority, so contact Servant HR and allow us to serve you today.

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!

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