Employers starting the new year will have many priorities in their business planning, some of which will include employment matters.
Years ago a client asked me to do harassment prevention training. I always ask for their policies so that the training can be customized to their workforce. The client said they were working on their anti-harassment and EEO policies and they were not finalized. A few years later the client asked for additional work. I again asked about the policies. He replied they still hadn’t finalized them.
The client was doing what too many employers face – they wanted it to be perfect so they did nothing at all.
There is one area where perfection is a must – legal compliance. First and foremost – get your compensation house in order to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act. This 1938 dinosaur of a law requires specific compliance relative to who can be exempt from overtime, as well as how to properly compensate employees. I could go into virtually any workplace today and find violations. The law is old. It’s confusing. It makes no sense. Yet, employers must comply or expect to significantly pay later. Comply with all the other state and federal laws – no exception. This needs to be perfect – not just good.
With other employment matters, however, good may be good enough until it can be perfect.
Policies – You need a policy on: conduct, ethics, anti-Harassment, Equal Employment Opportunity and non-discrimination, accommodations (in Virginia certain language is mandatory for disability), attendance, benefits (including policies around accruals), timekeeping and pay (including meal and break period rules), at-will employment, confidentiality, technology, and conflict of interest. If employees telework, you need rules and guidelines around this too.
Start by determining what your expectations are around these topics and put pen to paper. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers resources for general non-discrimination, harassment, reasonable accommodation and leave policies at Creating Employee Policies — U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (eeoc.gov).
Many employers have done away with a “handbook” and instead have a group of policies on their intranet. Don’t forget about state-specific policy requirements.
Be sure that employees acknowledge receipt of the policies each year. Too often when I ask clients to show me where an employee received policies, I’ll get a signed acknowledgment from 1972. That is the oppositive of perfect – it’s just bad.
Civility/Anti-Harassment and other Training – Too often employers wait until there is an “issue” in the workplace before setting expectations for workplace conduct. Prevention is much better than reaction. In a perfect scenario, employers offer live interactive training in small class sizes of about 25 people. Depending on the size of the workplace or the type of work, this might not be realistic. Just because you can’t do perfect doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything.
Live training is always best. You can increase the class sizes, offer shorter sessions and, if you can’t afford to bring in an expert, use resources available from the Society for Human Resources Management and/or your own HR department. Managers can explain expectations to their departments during staff meetings. All policies should be reviewed with all staff by someone – management, HR or an outside consultant.
Virtual training, if it is live, is also good. Video of a live training is relatively good. In a recent lawsuit, the EEOC criticized a company for using computer based training where employees read and test, so re-think whether that is worth the time and effort.
Performance Management – In a perfect scenario, managers meet regularly (bi-weekly or monthly) with employees to discuss performance and expectations, and document those discussions. That might not be possible due to time constraints, so managers should not do nothing – but do something. Plan for regular meetings and conduct at least an annual performance review, if not done more frequently. Document discussions with employees.
Job Descriptions – Job Descriptions set forth expectations, and can be useful in many ways, including when determining FLSA status (although not dispositive) and whether an accommodation is reasonable. Managers delay writing them because they want to make sure they include everything – they want them to be perfect. It’s better to have something that reasonably articulates the essential job expectations than to have nothing. Importantly, job responsibilities can change and employees need to understand that the statement, “that’s not in my job description” is not a valid reason to refuse an assignment if the expectation can be reasonably attributed to the job.
In 2024, don’t do nothing. Do something to create an environment where employees understand the conduct and performance that is expected, and this includes engagement and attitude.