Diagnosing Problems and Preparing for December 31

November 1 marks the “home stretch” of the calendar year. Along with open enrollment and the holidays, the last two months of the year are marked by ongoing, intensive concentration and daydreaming on what the next year will bring. While some new laws go into effect during the course of a calendar year, most come into play beginning on January 1. Before we can finally close the book on 2018, we must take some time to evaluate what it has brought.

When we started 2018, we were fresh off a regimen on preparation for new laws, business objectives, or other organizational changes compiled in 2017. Now that we near the end of the year, we must determine (a) how these changes have impacted our organization and (b) what further changes must be mode for the next year.

Legal Health

From an employment law perspective, very few documents in your organization’s collection are more important than the employee handbook. Have you looked at yours lately? If you have, chances are that you made some recent changes. How have those changes played out for the organization? It’s time to check in. Let’s say that you made a change to your complaint procedure and included an additional person, or an anonymous “ethics” hotline. Has that additional person or the hotline received any complaints from your employees? How were those complaints handled? Did they include common factors? Was there anything about the availability of the additional person or the ethics hotline that made it particularly conducive to receiving said complaint, or was the selection seemingly random?

On the other hand, if you haven’t made any changes to your handbook in several years, chances are that there is something you may have missed. Consider a new law that made waves in the past two years. For example, the 2016 Colorado Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act (CPWFA), which was effective August 10, 2016. It requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to pregnant workers in Colorado, along with notices of rights and a poster. At the time that the law went into effect, Employer’s Council reported on it before the law went into effect, as it was going into effect, right after it went into effect, and when the grace period ended in early December 2016 to provide notices of pregnancy accommodation rights to existing employees. Yet, some busy employers only found out about the new law through the handbook review process at the conclusion of 2016, when Employers council human resources consultants and attorneys explained the law and why we recommended new provisions on pregnancy accommodation in handbooks that covered employees who worked in Colorado. Almost every state has some legislation that impacts you and which you weren’t able to catch, so make the most out of the remaining two months and see what else is out there.

In short, don’t rely on yourself to catch every last piece of news, especially if you are doing business in numerous states. Use your annual handbook review and make this a “must” on your year-end to-do list.

Cultural Health

We spent much of 2018 talking about sexual harassment and how to eliminate it from our workplaces. The year began shortly after highly publicized allegations of sexual assault were made against several well-known men. We spent the rest of the year tackling the issue. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released data that sex discrimination filings dramatically increased, as had the agency’s litigation efforts on behalf of sexual harassment plaintiffs. In May and June 2018, Employers Council attorneys (including the undersigned) and organizational development experts presented on the topics of harassment, workplace investigations, and communicating with kindness, all of which go hand-in-hand in our efforts to stamp out harassment.

In those presentations, we talked about the one effort that bears fruit when it comes to making progressive against disruptive, harassing forces in your workplaces: cultural change. How did you organization’s culture fare in 2018?

Assessing culture can be done in many different ways. For example, take a look at the complaints you received last year. What did they say? Do they feature a common thread? How did you investigate them and what did you uncover not only about the subjects of your investigation, but also about the workplace itself?

Another assessment tool may be utilizing surveys at year-end to determine how employees felt about the past year. Was it a good year? Especially for units that are struggling with complaints, high turnover, managerial turnover, or increased stress due to any number of other factors, how are these employees faring and will we still be talking to them this time next year? These are all variables that you may be control to some degree if you use tools like surveys to enhance your understanding of next year’s challenges today.

Human Resources Health

The hardworking employees who conduct your in-house investigations, field and respond to complaints, resolve unpleasantness, issue discipline, and ensure compliance, along with so much more, all likely disproportionately clustered into your organization’s human resources department. That’s not a problem – this is the right place for your innovative problem solvers! But without a health human resources function, your organization may have a serious issue.

Have you expanded your organization recently but not your human resources staff? For companies with significant growth, there is an easy way and a hard way to learn that you have understaffed one of the most critical administrative divisions of your company. The “easy way” is to look through data and use analytics to determine an approximate “right” size for your company human resources department. Employers Council maintains survey recommendations involving human resources to staff ratios. The “hard way” is when you find out that your critical staff is overworked, resulting in continuous turnover. Or that there isn’t enough “force” in your workforce, so potentially beneficial projects, like surveys of cultural health, do not get their time to be implemented because everyone is working around the deadline.

As with the rest of your workforce, ensure that human resources also has the tools to do the difficult job for which it was commissioned. The final two months of the year should be a time to reflect on desired new skillsets in key employees for the coming year. Start planning training now. Couldn’t read every Hot Topic or Bulletin from us this year? Attend a legal and legislative update webinar. Lost a great employee who was the only one with detailed knowledge about medical leave management? Sign up for an Americans with Disabilities (ADA) or Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) class, then plan in the advanced courses. Want to improve in-house investigations because you received some worrying or too many complaints last year? Take a few days and attend an investigations workshop.

Seize the Moment

2018 will never come again, so whether your organization fared well, poorly, or “just okay” thus far, there is still a chance to improve upon accomplishments and begin to set aside failures. To sum up the strategies through December 31:

  • Avoid costly legal mistakes with compliance check-ins, such as with the policies in your handbook;
  • Scrutinize the health of your workforce to see whether next year will start on the right foot;
  • Give your people experts as much information and other support as you can to keep the organization happy and health; and
  • Learn as much as you can.

Employers Council is here to help.