Sexual harassment. As employers, we have an obligation to our employees to provide a safe and harassment free work environment. If you have ever had to deal with a claim of sexual or other type of harassment, you understand how crippling it can be to your organization. It distracts key individuals from their daily duties and can be a lengthy and arduous process. It can also be quite expensive, especially if it leads to litigation. When you receive a complaint of sexual harassment, it is imperative that you launch a full investigation of the allegations.
Many times, employers dismiss a harassee’s allegations because they think that the relationship is consensual or that the complaint is just frivolous. This can be the biggest mistake you make. Every complaint needs to be investigated, documented and taken seriously. Employers need to interview all parties involved, remind these employees of the company’s sexual harassment policy and handle all of this with complete confidentiality.
So as an employer, how should you protect yourself and your employees?
First things first, put together a sexual harassment policy if you do not have one already. This policy should reflect all required federal and state mandates. Provide a copy of this policy to all employees and re-circulate it at least once a year. Secondly, train those employees that will be expected to handle an investigation on the proper procedures. Write those procedures down to provide a standard guideline on how complaints will be handled and document, document, document. If an investigation is conducted, make sure that all personnel files of the employees involved with the complaint are properly documented and that the investigator’s notes are properly maintained. If misconduct is found, the harasser should be reprimanded in accordance with company policy. The final step is to ensure that retaliation does not occur and to protect all employees that participated in the investigation. By conducting such a thorough investigation, you can avoid potential liability by showing that the company took reasonable steps to prevent and promptly correct sexual harassment in the workplace.
Cover your employees. Recently I heard that Anthem/Blue Cross is going to be raising its rates as much as 40 percent in California for individual, or, as referred to within the insurance business, portable plans. These are the health plans that are not tied to an individual’s workplace and therefore are “portable.” As we wait to find out what our government is going to do about the disastrous state of our country’s health care system, employers need to fully comprehend the value of employee benefits.
There are many individuals that are subject to rate hikes based on pre-existing conditions, age and zip code. For example, living in Los Angeles alone can cost 10 percent more than living in another city just 20 miles away. There are a number of factors that go into determining a portable plan’s monthly premium and most of the time these factors result in astronomical costs. Many individuals who are deemed “high risk” do not even have the option to pay a high premium because they get denied coverage altogether. Employers have the ability to offer benefits to their employees to alleviate some of these issues. Albeit, employer sponsored plans are less than perfect, they are still a good way to demonstrate your commitment and long-term investment in your employees. An employee that is able to come to work knowing that they have coverage is a happier, and hopefully, more productive employee.
There are tons of options for both small and large group plans. The key to finding the right fit is a great broker and a knowledgeable Human Resources professional. Navigating through the many different options and being able to make sense of the small print can prove to be quite difficult. However, when you have finally found the right plan for your company’s specific needs, you will realize what a positive impact it has on your workforce.
Workplace safety training. California never ceases to amaze me with its abyss of employer requirements. A safe and hazard free work environment is definitely high on the list of issues the state regulates. In addition to the various postings and just common sense practices, every employer is required to have an illness and injury prevention program, commonly referred to as an IIPP. The IIPP should outline exactly how employers will provide a safe work environment, how they will deal with unsafe or hazardous situations and keep records of all incidents. It also outlines how employees can report hazardous situations without fear of reprisal from the employer. Most employers can implement this document and provide the required training to their employees quickly and effectively.
Most recently, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) instituted additional requirements specific to the adult film industry. Cal/OSHA has determined that each employer having an employee(s) with occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious body fluids including semen, vaginal secretions and any body fluid visibly contaminated with blood must establish a written exposure-control plan, ECP for short, designed to eliminate or minimize employee exposure. For the adult film industry, this means any company that is directly involved with and employs adult performers, stagehands, make up artists and any other contractors or employees that are on set before, after or during production.
This document, unlike the IIPP, can be quite a challenge for most studios to put in place. The ECP can really affect daily operations and the company’s bottom line. The training is required at least once every 12 months for employees and returning contractors. Because the adult film industry employs, in large part, intermittent workers, recordkeeping can be a logistical nightmare as well.
To make sure that you have taken all the proper steps to stay compliant, consult with a professional that has experience in this area. There is no reason why most companies cannot have both an IIPP and an ECP in place in a matter of weeks. In the end, these regulations are to protect employees against hazardous work conditions and unnecessary vulnerabilities, making our industry safer.
Saving money the HR way. Saving money — what a great concept — I think as business owners we are all interested in saving where we can, especially during tougher economic times. We cut back on as much unnecessary spending as possible and hope that we are operating efficiently and effectively. There are obvious things that we can cut immediately like business travel, company sponsored events, contributions to company benefits and putting a freeze on pay increases. However, there are many secondary ways to save money and boost employee morale simultaneously.
In the last few years, we have seen a movement toward an alternative workweek schedule. Some of the largest companies are doing it and it absolutely makes sense. The most popular one that I have come across is called a 9/80 work schedule, where your employees work nine hours a day, without overtime, but get every other Friday off. Most employees love this schedule. This reduces their commute time, their gas bills and they are able to spend more time at home. The company gains by being able to shut down the office for an entire day therefore reducing overhead costs.
However, you must be careful in the way you define a workweek for this schedule to be useful. Creating an alternative workweek schedule requires careful planning and excellent recordkeeping in order to adhere to federal and state guidelines. You should always consult a seasoned professional before implementation.
Layoffs are an unfortunate reality that many of us have had to deal with or will at some point in our professional careers. However, I have seen downsizing positively impact a company’s bottom line while simultaneously boosting employee morale. How is this possible? It is really simple. Employees want to feel important and appreciated. You have to downsize because of bad economic times, you are just overstaffed, overhead is dragging your profits down or for a whole host of other reasons. Now you are asking the employees that remain to take on more responsibility to make up for the staff reductions. What I have experienced is that most employees want to do more and will eagerly do more. You can give each employee a small increase in pay and/or introduce an incentive program to motivate and encourage him or her. A busy employee is a happy employee especially when compensated correctly and shown appreciation for their work.
For small- to medium-sized companies, outsourcing human resources functions can also make monetary sense. For less than the price of a single HR employee, companies can get a team of professionals to handle all of their HR needs.