At the beginning of each year, I encourage my business clients to make some New Year’s resolutions to achieve better compliance with the myriad employment laws. Based on what many of my clients are telling me and what the courts and enforcement agencies have on their agendas, here are the employment matters that you could improve in 2017:
- Immigration compliance: President-Elect Trump has promised strong enforcement of the immigration laws. Many of those enforcement efforts will affect employers, such as mandatory use of the E-Verify system to double-check the legal status of every new hire. Even before that requirement is put in to place, resolve to correctly complete the mandatory new I-9 form for every new hire. The best way to make sure the I-9 is correctly completed: consult the government-published Employer’s Guide to the I-9, particularly the color pictures that show you exactly what a valid permanent resident card, for example, looks like. Also, be prepared that some of your employees may lose their work eligibility under the new administration, including young people (known as the Dreamers) who became eligible under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012.
- Market rate on salaries: Texas’ unemployment rate was sitting at 4.6% at the end of November 2016. Amarillo’s rate was 3.0%. Economists consider 3% to be full employment, meaning you as an employer maybe finding it difficult to attract and keep the talent that you need. I am always surprised therefore when my clients don’t keep up with the market data on salaries. Resolve in 2016 to tap into the data available on the Bureau of Labor Statistics for your industry and your location to really analyze whether your salaries are sufficient. Employees will also be looking at Salary.com and Payscale.com, so you need to do the same.
- Improve your PTO offering: I am amazed when I am drafting or revising my client’s employment handbooks how little paid time off many local employers offer. Many don’t give an employee any vacation, sick leave, personal days or other paid time off during the first year and then rarely allow more than five days per year after that. This will not attract top talent or create long-term loyal employees, I promise you. Particularly if you are hiring millennials or need an educated workforce, you need to up your game on PTO. My 22-year-old son was hired in 2015 by a consulting firm in Washington, D.C., right out of college (with a degree in economics and a master’s degree in business analytics) and offered three weeks of PTO that started accruing immediately. After one promotion, employees at his company get four weeks of PTO. I’m not arguing that every job merits that much PTO, but resolve in 2017 to at least consider that two weeks per year should be the minimum to improve your hiring, increase your retention, rejuvenate your employees every year and allow your employees to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of life. As an employment lawyer, I know that most employee lawsuits arise after the worker leaves your employ. Keeping your staff reasonably happy and loyal by providing better PTO will provide you with other benefits too, but I like it because you will spend less time with me in court and instead we can just have lunch and talk about more pleasant topics.
- Health Reimbursement Accounts: None of us know what the new administration will create to replace the Affordable Care Act, so I can’t give you much advice yet about your group health insurance offerings. However, employers with less than 50 employees who don’t offer group health insurance should resolve to consider using Health Reimbursement Accounts in 2017 because of the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act that sailed through Congress and the President’s signature in December. That act included permission for small employers to now use HRA’s to pay for qualified out-of-pocket medical expenses for their employees and to fund individual health insurance premiums. In other words, employers can use pretax dollars to help employees to purchase their own insurance on the open market while capping the employer’s contribution at a reasonable amount. There are, of course, many restrictions associated with this opportunity, but it is worth consideration by smaller employers in 2017.
- Good Documentation: Every employment lawyer would like for you to add this to your resolution list each year. Memories fail and managers move on, so written documents are often an employer’s only evidence of the nondiscriminatory reasons that certain employment actions were taken. Understand and resolve that performance reviews, reasons for bonuses and merit increases, violations of policy, attendance problems, changes in job duties and disciplinary actions will be well-documented in 2017. I’ll help with any of kind of documentation, but I highly recommend that you get me involved whenever the documentation is of disability or religious accommodations, FMLA, harassment claims, overtime or other compensation problems, egregious policy violations, demotions, final warnings, layoffs and terminations.
- Gratitude: Resolve that you will say “thank you” more often to your employees in 2017. Studies have repeatedly shown that this one action can enhance employee engagement and loyalty even more than raises and promotions. Gratitude can also make your workplace so much more enjoyable for all of your employees.
The quiet week between Christmas and New Year’s is the perfect time for you as an employer to consider some resolutions for 2016. What can you do differently in 2016 to be a better employer and to avoid stepping on any legal landmines?
From 28 years of experience advising employers like you on employment law issues, here are my suggestions for 2016 resolutions with links to more information from previous posts on this website about these topics:
- Resolve that you will make a decision about whether your employees and/or customers can openly carry handguns on your business premises. The open carry law goes into effect on January 1 and allows those who are licensed to carry concealed handguns to start carrying them openly in shoulder or hip holsters. You have the right as an employer to prohibit guns completely on your premises by both customers and employees, to just prohibit employees from carrying guns, to prohibit open carry but allow concealed carry, or to allow everyone to freely carry handguns on your premises. If you choose to ban either open or concealed carry by customers, you will have to post the §30.06 (concealed carry) and/or §30.07 (open carry) signs with the proper wording and font size required by the Texas Penal Code. To just prohibit employees from coming to work armed, you only need to add a policy to your employee policy manual. For more information about Texas gun laws in the workplace, click here.
- Resolve that you will get ready for big changes in the overtime laws. If you have an employee to whom you pay an annual salary of less than $50,440, in mid-2016 you are going to have to move that employee’s compensation to an hourly rate and pay that employee overtime if he/she works more than 40 hours in any one workweek. Click here for more information about that change to the Fair Labor Standards Act regulations.
- Resolve that you will stop using any kind of “contract labor”. The landscape has just gotten too rocky to use any worker whom you do not treat as an employee. Just give up on the idea that you can save the taxes or avoid the pains of having employees. The government is really cracking down on misclassification of workers as contract labor, day workers or independent contractors. That means that in 2016, you need to pay taxes on every worker, you need to provide every full-time worker with benefits, and you need to accept that you will have liability if that worker hurts or mistreats someone. Click here for more information about the dangers of misclassifying a worker as contract labor. If you think you are the exception to this rule, don’t proceed without a knowledgeable attorney’s legal opinion.
- Resolve that you will update your employment policy manual. The requirements for written policies changed dramatically in 2015 due to the changes required by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Labor Relations Board and the Department of Labor. Your policy manual is out of date unless your employment attorney has made significant revisions in the last six months. Click here for more information about some of the changes that are now required.
- Resolve that you will learn and apply the new rules regarding pregnant employees. Take your maternity policy out of your handbook (because it will be considered discriminatory) and add instead a policy that allows pregnancy and maternity leave that is identical to what you allow when someone has a disability or serious illness. That means that you can’t set a standard 6-week maternity leave, but may have to be more flexible with each pregnant worker’s individual needs like the Americans with Disabilities Act requires with handicapped employees. Click here for more information about how to update your procedures regarding pregnant employees to comply with the new regulations.
Every year in January I make resolutions. Not for me, but for you: the business owners, the supervisors and anyone else who has to manage employees on a daily basis.
I spend so much time in my employment law practice trying to bail clients out of trouble with their employees, much of it trouble that could have been avoided in the first place. I would much rather teach you to prevent employee legal issues than have to defend you in court for your management mistakes.
If you haven’t been sued by one of your employees for sexual harassment, age discrimination, or a workplace injury, consider yourself due. Small business with just 20 employees will see an employee lawsuit at least once every 5 years on average. Larger business will face these types of claims much more often.
Continue reading 2008 New Year’s Resolutions
For 10 years, I’ve been writing a column for this paper simplifying the complex legal issues of being an employer in the Panhandle of Texas. Each January, I offer several New Year’s resolutions. Not for me, of course, but resolutions for business owners, supervisors and other employers to change a few bad habits and protect yourselves from employee lawsuits.
Most of the resolutions I suggest arise from legal issues that my clients have faced all year and questions that come up repeatedly in the corporate training that I do on employment issues.
Some bad employer practices, like poor documentation, have to be addressed every year. Being an optimist, I think that if I keep writing about it, someday you employers will change your ways and start protecting yourselves by writing down the disciplinary issues you discuss with your employees.
One of my clients laughed when I told him this and said, “But my bad habits keep you in business”. While I am always grateful for the work, there really are enough employment problems around to keep me busy without you as an employer repeating avoidable mistakes.
Continue reading 2007 New Year’s Resolutions
Every year at this time I make resolutions. Not for me, mind you. I know myself well enough to foresee that any promises to myself will just be forgotten by month’s end.
No, each year I make resolutions for you as an employer. I get to give unsolicited advice as an employment lawyer about all the things you could do better during this new year to manage your employees and avoid employee lawsuits.
I always draw these resolutions from difficulties that my clients have faced as employers during the previous year. However my first one has always concerned paying overtime correctly because that seems to be a chronic problem for Panhandle employers. Last year was no different.
Continue reading 2006 New Year’s Resolution