The 15 biggest HR challenges in 2018

A myriad of issues today carry real risks for the workplace, and employers must remain aware of these challenges and know how to prepare for them. A constantly evolving workforce, threats of a cyber breach, preparing for workplace violence, and handling employee well-being and mental health issues are examples of serious issues that employers must take notice of. XpertHR, a resource for HR professionals to help comply with global, federal, state and municipal employment law, finds these 15 issues to be big trends to follow in the coming year.

15. Harassment

A topic that has become prevalent in recent months, sexual harassment has plagued the entertainment, political and media industries. To start to address the issue of harassment, an employer must work to develop, implement and enforce a zero tolerance policy for harassment and make sure it is included in the employee handbook, according to Xpert. 

“An employer needs to be particularly vigilant regarding acts of harassment in the workplace because the employer may be liable and face Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charges, legal complaints, fines and penalties on top of negative press and damage to its reputation,” says Beth Zoller, legal editor at XpertHR.

14. Pay equity and salary history bans

Fair and equal pay has been a conversation on the national stage, as a patchwork of state and local laws have swept the nation, from California to New York. An employer must adequately prepare and be equipped to handle bans on salary history should it find itself in a jurisdiction that has enacted one. In order to comply with these new laws and attempt to achieve greater pay equity, XpertHR suggests employer take some of the following steps:

· Provide training to managers, supervisors and those with the authority to recruit, interview and hire on the parameters of the new laws including what may and may not be asked.
· Make sure those with the authority to recruit, hire and interview do not ask for current or past salaries of applicants from the applicants themselves or from a current or prior employer. Instead the focus should be on an applicant’s salary requirements, as well as the skills and qualifications the individual has that entitles them to a particular salary.
· Remember that it is often still permissible to ask about salary expectations and discuss ranges. It also may be appropriate to ask about hours worked, sales history, performance history, book of business or profits generated which may provide a legal justification for paying different wages for the same or a similar position.
· Update job applications and related forms and materials and remove salary history questions.
Make sure salary history information is not sought during additional background checks or verification inquiries.

13. Diversity and inclusion

It’s critical for employers to understand that diversity starts at the top of the organization and there must be commitment by upper management to align diversity efforts with business goals and corporate strategies, XpertHR says. Having key stakeholders, including HR and upper management, committed to creating a diverse workplace is essential. 

Creating a diverse workforce also begins with the hiring process, Zoller says in the report. Advertisements should be neutral and free of bias to attract a wide variety of candidates and recruit from a variety of sources, looking beyond its immediate geographic pool – and the focus should always be on the job requirements, and the ability, qualifications and performance of a particular candidate, according to the report.

12 Drug testing and substance abuse

Dominating headlines in 2017 was the threat of opioid addiction. Addressing and managing drug use and drug testing will remain one of the most challenging issues for employers
who are tasked with making sure their workforce is efficient and operating safely and productively going into 2018. 

To address the challenges, an employer should develop, implement and enforce drug free workplace policies prohibiting the use of unlawful drugs both on the employer’s premises and during working hours, XpertHR notes. An employer also may prohibit the misuse of prescription drugs that are otherwise lawful. Additionally, just as with alcohol, it is lawful to prohibit an employee from bringing both lawful and unlawful drugs to work and using such substances on the job because of the risks drug use may have on the safety and productivity of the workplace.

11. Employee handbooks

Creating and maintaining an employee handbook, and including necessary workplace policies, is a critical part of managing a workforce today. A well-drafted handbook can provide guidance with respect to the employer’s mission and goals as well as issues such as employee benefits, leave and paid time off and discrimination and harassment, says Zoller.

Employers should make sure that their employee handbook is effective and that it works for the organization. They are also advised to monitor developments at the federal, state and local levels and recognize and understand which laws apply to them. XpertHR advises this is especially important due to rapid changes in laws with respect to EEO, reasonable accommodations, smoking and leave, as well as quickly emerging issues such as predictable scheduling.

10. Employee well-being and mental health

Maintaining the health and wellness of workers keeps productivity high and absenteeism low, and will continue to be a focus in the new year, experts predict. While physical health can be easier to identify, mental health also will need to be on the minds of benefits managers as they put policies and perks in place. To address mental health issues, XpertHR reminds employers it is critical for an employer to comply with the various laws that come into play when dealing with an employee that has a mental health issue such as the FMLA and ADA. In addition to an overall benefits package with access to substance abuse services and behavioral health treatments, an employer may want to consider employee assistance programs.

9. Benefits and the Affordable Care Act

Even with the recent Senate passage of its tax reform bill, the fate of the ACA is still anyone’s guess. And with benefits being a big draw for top talent, benefits continue to be a major challenge for employers as they must make sure that their offerings are compliant with various laws.

It is critical to review the organization’s current offerings to make sure it is providing a comprehensive set of benefits, carefully considering what others in the industry and market are doing, says Zoller. With respect to the ACA, it’s important for an employer to comply with reporting requirements in an accurate and timely manner. Employers should asses each worker and understand their obligations to them under the ACA, she adds in the report.

8. Employee leave

The expansion of leave laws on the federal, state and local level continues to present multiple challenges for employers who are tasked with understanding, providing and tracking such leaves. Depending on the jurisdiction or jurisdictions in which an employer operates, it may be required to comply with a variety of different leave laws providing paid sick leave, paid family leave, military leave, bereavement leave, blood donor leave, domestic violence leave/safe leave, emergency responder leave and school activities leave.

XpertHR advises employers to determine what laws apply to them and to make sure workers are notified of their rights. Further, they recommend against writing blanket policies that set a maximum amount of leave time before termination. Lastly, train supervisors and managers on how to handle leave requests in a nondiscriminatory manner and how to track, document, manage and schedule leaves.

7. Workplace violence and active shooter situations

In an unfortunate age of mass shootings, bomb threats and terrorist attacks, workplace safety and preparing for an act of workplace violent is paramount. An employer is well-advised to implement certain procedures to protect the workplace in the event of an active shooter situation, as well as ensure employees and managers are mentally and physically prepared to respond to such a situation and to manage the aftermath, XpertHR notes. 

To further minimize violence and to better prepare for unwanted situations, XpertHR offers these suggestions:

· Background screen applicants for a dubious past, but be mindful of ban the box laws and other laws restricting the ability to question applicants about criminal history.
· Implement a “zero tolerance” workplace violence policy, and a clear complaint procedure for reporting incidents of violence.
Institute a policy that weapons are not allowed on the employer’s premises and the consequences for violations.

6. Technology

Between social media, mobile devices, wearables and the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence, technology has a profound impact on the workplace of today and of tomorrow.

In order to keep pace with technological changes and minimize employer liability, an employer needs to be proactive, advises Zoller. To start, employers should consider creating comprehensive policies that comply with legal requirements and protect the employer’s legitimate business interests. This includes providing guidelines for the proper use of social media, the internet and wearable technology. An employer should also maintain strong confidentiality policies addressing how personal and private information should be protected and what to do in the event of a breach or disclosure.

5. Recruiting

With low unemployment, it’s an employee’s market when looking for a job, putting a larger burden on employers to find the best talent. 

To navigate the complex world of recruiting today, an employer needs to create a comprehensive recruiting strategy and consider how and where it will recruit, what tools it will use, who will lead recruiting and how recruiting strategies will vary for different positions within the organization, XpertHR says. Employers should be sure to use social media wisely and avoid attempting to access any non-public private information. It’s also important to make sure that the recruiting team is as diverse as possible — whether in terms of its gender and racial makeup or life experiences generally — as this will serve to expand the pool of applicants meriting serious consideration.

4. Cyber breaches and data security

Following some major data breaches in 2017 — and as more information moves to a cloud-based system — cyber safety will continue to be important to control. To protect private and confidential information and minimize the risk of a cyber breach, XpertHR advises employers to:

· Keep all confidential and private information in a secure area on the employer’s network and utilize firewalls, two-step or biometric authentication methods, encrypted data in the cloud and other technological tools to protect such information.
· Encourage third-party vendors, partners and providers to take similar security measures.
Ensure individuals are only permitted to access private and personal information if is related to their job duties.

3. Workforce planning

With an evolving workforce and changing societal demographics, workforce planning appears to be one of the top challenges for employers, XpertHR notes. Hiring today is challenging and complex amidst the many laws that restrict an employer’s ability to gain valuable and insightful information into job candidates. Additionally, there also may be a disconnect between the skill sets of individuals seeking jobs and the positions an employer needs to fill.

Given these challenges, it’s important for employers to be proactive and prepared. Employers need to be able to effectively plan their workforce to make sure that they have the right people for the right jobs at the right cost in order be successful in a global and competitive marketplace. 

It’s critical to understand how to effectively use data throughout workforce planning, from recruiting and hiring to performance management to retention, says Zoller. Good data analytics can help to understand where and how to focus efforts and can assist in tracking progress. Primary goals should be to increase productivity and efficiency in the workplace and keeping costs low.

2. State and municipal issues

Given the gridlock and inaction on the federal level, states and local governments in cities and in counties have taken the lead and actively sought to address workplace issues by enacting laws and regulations affecting employers and employees. To address and handle the localization of employment laws and remain compliant, XpertHR says an employer should take the following steps:

· Actively monitor existing and emerging state and local laws and developments, and stay on top of the latest trends.
· Know which state and local requirements apply to your workforce and determine how you will manage any conflicting laws.
· Decide how you will address state and local differences in employee handbooks and workplace policies and how updates to these laws will be handled and accounted for.
Train supervisors and employees on any need-to-know state and local laws

1. Republican administration and federal issues

With the Trump administration and Republican control of both houses of Congress, federal priorities have shifted, XpertHR notes. A smaller role for federal government and decreased regulations is driving oversight to states and significantly impacting workplace practices.

The best way to address the bevy of issues raised by the federal government and the Trump administration is to be vigilant and stay up to date with changes by closely monitoring developments, XpertHR advises. With respect to immigration, it is important to use the new Form I-9 and comply with immigration laws and requirements. Further, it is essential for an employer to maintain comprehensive documentation with respect to employment decisions, particularly those decisions that may have an adverse impact, and to ensure it has a good and legitimate business reason for taking all actions with respect to employment.

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