6. Protect against retaliation claims.
Retaliation claims currently account for 36 percent of all claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (as of FY 2009, the latest year reported by the EEOC). And, these claims have been steadily increasing. In just over 12 years, retaliation claims have almost doubled, from 18,198 filed in 1997 (representing 22.6% of the EEOC’s total claims) to 33,613 in 2009 (36 percent of the total). Employees and their attorneys regularly tack retaliation claims onto their legal filings as part of a strategy to raise the stakes for employers. And, it works. They have learned that they can often win the retaliation claims even when they lose the underlying discrimination claims.
So, make sure you take proactive steps now to limit the potential for retaliation claims in your workplace. These steps should include having a clear “no retaliation” policy, training managers on what retaliation is, reviewing all disciplinary actions before implementing them, and documenting disciplinary actions to show your nondiscriminatory reasons for them.
(Download a free Pay Procedures model policy including HR best practices and legal background.)
7. Consider implementing flexible work schedules.
If you asked your employees, most would probably say that they would appreciate more flexibility in their schedules. Flexible work hours help employees meet caregiver responsibilities, avoid commuting headaches, and pursue personal interests. In short, these schedules allow employees to balance their work and personal lives. A flextime schedule often appeals to women with young children, “sandwich generation” employees with eldercare responsibilities, and older workers transitioning to retirement. But, it is also a benefit that can be used by any employee who is looking for more control over the workday. Employers that have implemented these schedules generally report increased productivity, job satisfaction, and employee retention.
8. Safeguard employee personal information.
Data security, records privacy, and identity theft should be on every HR professional’s radar. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (the PRC, online at www.privacyrights.org) reports that over 500 million records containing personal identifying information have been exposed since 2005. The data breaches were the result of incidents such as computer drives being stolen or lost, emails and regular mail sent mistakenly that contained personal information, and sophisticated and not-so-sophisticated computer hacker attacks. These events exposed Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, bank account information, drivers’ license numbers, and other personal information that could be used to steal a person’s identity.
Employers from many sectors have been in the news lately for losing employee and customer personal information. For example, the PRC reports that in December 2010, hackers accessed the personal information (including Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses) of 750,000 students, professors, and contractors at Ohio State University. And, in November 2009, a portable disk drive “disappeared” from HealthNet, a regional health plan based in Connecticut, potentially exposing the Social Security numbers, health information, and bank account numbers for 1.5 million customers. Further, in May 2009, Aetna’s Web site was breached by a spam attack which compromised the Social Security numbers of 65,000 current and former employees contained in the site. These incidents are just the tip of the iceberg.
When data breaches or identity theft occur as a result of unauthorized access to employment records, it will hurt employee productivity, morale, and good will. In addition, you may be liable under negligence theories and some state laws for the resulting loss if you did not properly secure and dispose of the information. Therefore, as the custodian of personal identifying information about your employees, you must guard against its unauthorized access and misuse in order both to protect workers from identity theft and your organization from liability.
You can take several steps to safeguard paper and computer records to protect sensitive information in workplace files from improper access and use. These steps should include: limiting access to employee files, physically locking up files, installing and updating firewalls on computers, limiting use of social security numbers to identify employees, and properly destroying employment files once they are not needed. In addition, you should perform background checks for all employees who will have access to sensitive personal information and then train them about their data security obligations.
(Download a free Personnel Records model policy including HR best practices and legal background.)
9. Review your HR policies and procedures.
Clearly written policies that are regularly reviewed can be both an effective employee relations tool and a good defense against employee lawsuits. In contrast, policies that are out-of-date or improperly applied can have exactly the opposite effect.
So, make sure that your policies reflect any new laws, regulations, and court cases that affect either policy language or how you implement the policies. In the last two years, we have seen several new laws and regulations implemented, including the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) statute and regulations, the ADA Amendments Act proposed regulations (final regulations still pending), and the Family and Medical Leave Act Amendments and new regulations.
Most experts suggest both a thorough review at least once a year and the use of a notification service or publication to keep you posted during the interim. Of course, if you revise any of your policies, you should distribute and thoroughly explain the changes to all employees and obtain acknowledgements back from them.
Robin Thomas, J.D.
Personnel Policy Service, Inc.
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