As 2020 gets under way, employers must recognize the strategic and compliance challenges their workplaces face. With respect to strategic challenges, employers must understand how societal, cultural and technological changes create employer challenges and how to connect HR strategy to business strategy, goals and priorities. On the flipside, when it comes to compliance challenges, HR must understand how to keep up with rapidly changing federal, state and local laws and regulations affecting their workplace and realize the risks of noncompliance.
To gain a handle on these challenges, XpertHR conducted a survey in October 2019 in which over 700 private, public and nonprofit employers in small, medium and large organizations in all US geographic areas provided insights into these challenges.
A recent XpertHR webinar focused on these challenges and provided tips and strategies on how employers could prepare for them. Here are the highlighted challenges:
Strategic Challenge #1 – Recruiting and Hiring
28.4% of the surveyed employers ranked recruiting and hiring as their number one challenge. They also identified crucial tasks such as finding high-quality applicants and eliminating unconscious bias during recruiting.
Some key steps to take to address recruiting and hiring include:
• Connecting talent acquisition to business goals;
• Creating a comprehensive recruiting strategy; and
• Utilizing predictive analytics.
Strategic Challenge #2 – Workforce Planning
Workforce planning emerged as a key concern with employers extremely challenged by issues such as employee engagement, morale and satisfaction. Other concerns the survey revealed included employee retention and training, succession planning and managing performance and professional development opportunities.
To address these challenges, employers should focus on:
• Enhancing training and professional development;
• Creating a positive and stimulating work culture;
• Providing employees with recognition; and
• Actively engaging in succession planning.
Strategic Challenge #3 – Benefits and the Affordable Care Act
Employers continue to be challenged when it comes to benefits and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The following were identified as key issues: health care costs, adjusting benefits to a generationally diverse workforce, determining which benefits fit an employer’s business objectives and communicating benefits offerings to the workforce.
To address these challenges consider reviewing your current benefit offerings to ensure they reflect the latest trends and keep pace with the competition. Make sure to effectively communicate benefits to employees and provide them with the right decision-making tools. Also, consider tailoring benefits to different generations and offering employees greater customization and choice.
Strategic Challenge #4 – Diversity and Inclusion
Year after year, diversity and inclusion remain top of mind for employers. The XpertHR survey participants were no different, with 37% saying they are extremely challenged when it comes to managing diversity and creating a diverse workplace.
To address this, employers should consider:
• Tying diversity to the employer’s business strategy and goals;
• Infusing diversity through the recruiting and hiring process and focusing on individual skills and qualifications;
• Incorporating diversity into policies and practices ranging from EEO to reasonable accommodation and leave;
• Providing training on diversity and inclusion, sensitivity and bullying;
• Addressing complaints, initiating investigations and implementing remedial, interim or disciplinary measures if necessary; and
• Combatting unconscious bias and avoiding stereotypes.
Strategic Challenge #5 – Mental Health and Well-Being
Mental health is extremely challenging for employers today as it impacts workplace satisfaction, morale and productivity. Further, employers must be aware of the various laws providing discrimination and privacy protections to individuals suffering from mental health issues.
To address mental health issues, consider:
• Providing necessary accommodations if doing so would not create an undue hardship;
• Promoting employee wellness and a healthy work life balance; and
• Providing benefits to enhance mental health such employee assistance programs, substance abuse disorder services, flexible working arrangements and access to gyms.
Compliance Challenge #1 – Wages and Compensation
One of the most pressing challenges for employers in 2020 will be complying with new minimum wage rates and new overtime rules, as well as recent pay equity law changes (e.g., equal pay and salary history laws).
With respect to the overtime rules, employers should take steps to reclassify employees, raise their salaries or adjust work schedules. Further, when it comes to equal pay and salary history, employers should make sure to:
• Recognize new laws and train managers on them;
• Audit pay practices and adjust for differences where needed; and
• Create compensation guidelines.
Employers who fail to prepare and comply may face significant back wages, civil penalties, criminal prosecution and even imprisonment.
Compliance Challenge #2 – Employee Leaves
Given the rapidly expanding federal, state and local leave laws, understanding and managing leaves continues to present various challenges for employers.
As such, it is crucial for employers to:
• Understand which leave laws apply to them and how federal, state and local leave laws work together;
• Create policies to address various types of leave; and
• Train supervisors to handle leave requests and manage leaves of absences.
Compliance Challenge #3 – Employee Handbooks
An employee handbook is a critical document when it comes to managing a workforce. However, employers continue to be challenged when it comes to:
• Ensuring handbooks are read and understood;
• Updating employee handbooks;
• Managing handbooks as a multistate employer;
• Incorporating local requirements; and
• Complying with the National Labor Relations Act.
To address these handbook challenges, employers should consider:
• Determining the optimal organization for the employer’s handbook;
• Providing training on workplace policies and requiring acknowledgments; and
• Frequently updating certain policies (e.g., discrimination, harassment, leave and smoking).
Compliance Challenge #4 – Marijuana and Drug Testing
The issue of marijuana and drug testing is extremely challenging for employers. Over 33 states permit medical marijuana use, and over 10 states and the District of Columbia allow recreational marijuana within certain parameters. However, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Employers are extremely vexed and challenged as they have a vested interest in managing a safe and productive workforce.
To address marijuana issues and drug testing, employers must consider:
• Understanding the laws that apply to their workforce;
• Determining a drug testing approach that aligns with the employer’s industry and the position sought;
• Creating relevant policies to address marijuana use and drug testing;
• Training supervisors;
• Providing reasonable accommodations to individuals who may be medical marijuana users; and
• Using caution when it comes to disciplining individuals for marijuana use in light of disability and off duty conduct laws.
Compliance Challenge #5 – Cybersecurity
With so much information stored in digital form and on the cloud, computers and mobile devices ever-present in our lives, cybersecurity remains a tremendous issue for employers. Almost 30% of the surveyed employers said they are extremely challenged by preventing cyber breaches and maintaining data security, and 21.7% are extremely challenged by responding to cyber breaches.
In order to address these challenges, it is crucial for employers to understand:
• What confidential information they possess should be protected;
• The importance of appropriately restricting access to such information;
• Legal obligations under state data breach laws;
• Obligations under emerging laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act;
• The importance of disposing of confidential information once it is no longer needed;
• How to develop and enforce policies and agreements with respect to confidentiality and privacy;
• The importance of training employees and supervisors on safety measures to take when it comes to using the employer’s networks and devices; and
• How to effectively respond to data breaches and take appropriate steps to remediate and comply with legal obligations.