In 2023, there are few simple things employers can do to bring empathy, high performance and legal compliance. These are my top five.
1. Accountability: Employers who set high expectations and then hold employees accountable for meeting those standards for performance and conduct actually improve morale. Most employees value having a clear understanding of the employer’s expectations. They want to work in an environment where colleagues are held to the same high standard. Nothing frustrates high-performing employees more than low-performing ones who aren’t held accountable. Address performance and conduct issues immediately — do not delay. Most workplace problems I see arise from lack of early intervention and accountability by management.
2. Civility and professionalism: Eliminate bullying and abusive behaviors from the workplace. Employees experiencing workplace abuse cannot be fully successful in their jobs and also suffer severe emotional distress. Too often bullies manipulate management and human resources so that they avoid discipline or termination. I investigate many more instances of bullying than illegal harassment. Listen to employees, and do not let anyone be above your policies or processes.
3. Violence prevention: This past year alone, one employee was killed allegedly by her peer who had been sexually harassing her, and six employees were killed allegedly by their coworker at the Chesapeake Walmart. Employees deserve a safe workplace. Employers cannot ignore threats, acts of intimidation, or violent behavior, and they should terminate any employee who engages in them. That an employee claims to be “kidding” or promises to not actually carry out the threat is irrelevant. Any hint of violent threats or behaviors in the workplace must be addressed immediately. Retaining a threatening or violent employee opens up the employer to claims such as negligent retention.
4. Pay correctly: Virginia’s new minimum wage as of Jan.1 is $12 per hour. Make sure your organization is in compliance. In addition, determine if your organization has properly classified employees as exempt. Just because an employee is paid a salary, or works in an office, doesn’t automatically qualify that employee to be exempt from overtime. That you refer to Sally as “salaried” doesn’t make her exempt. The government still requires employers to use the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which is outdated and cumbersome — but that’s the law. For employees who are nonexempt (and subject to overtime), managers must be able to accurately track the number of hours an employee works each week so that the employee is properly compensated for all hours worked, including overtime. The current remote/hybrid work arrangement has made this difficult, but the government will not give the employer a break with this excuse. Employers also need to assess pay equity and fairness and make this a priority.
5. Accommodate employees: Federal and/or Virginia laws require reasonable accommodations based on religion, disability and pregnancy. There were numerous examples in 2022 where employers failed to properly engage in the interactive process and provide reasonable accommodations or document the basis for denying an accommodation due to a reason protected under the law, including that the accommodation was not reasonable or that it presented an undue hardship. For pregnancy and disability, Virginia law requires that employers engage in a timely, good-faith interactive process with any employee who requests a reasonable accommodation and to discuss alternative accommodations if the requested one is determined to not be reasonable. Virginia law also requires that employers post “in a conspicuous location” the employee handbook information about the employees’ rights to reasonable accommodation, and it must be directly provided to new employees and given within 10 days for anyone requesting an accommodation.
Here’s to a great 2023!