The Struggle to Hire and What Businesses Can Do About It

If you’re finding it difficult to hire employees, you’re not alone. Bloomberg reports that many small businesses are struggling to find people who currently want to work—in fact, 42% say they have jobs they can’t fill. The number of people quitting jobs right now is also higher than average.  

One culprit is likely COVID-19. For reasons related to the pandemic, a number of people are choosing not to work right now. They don’t want to risk getting sick, they have children at home, or they may be able to get by for now on unemployment insurance.

Some small businesses with positions to fill have turned to gimmicks like signing bonuses and free food, but these recruiting tactics are unlikely to be effective long term. They don’t address the risks, challenges, and needs people have right now. 

Fortunately for employers looking to hire, the problem of people choosing not to work isn’t fundamentally different than the problem of people choosing to work somewhere else. In both cases, the would-be employer has to convince prospective hires that working for them is better than the alternatives, and then they have to live up to those promises.

To be sure, those who choose not to work are missing out on many benefits. A job provides not only a paycheck, but also opportunities for employees to do meaningful work, contribute to their community, make friends, develop skills, receive training, advance their career, and fund their retirement. If someone isn’t working, they’re missing out on these and other opportunities. Employers may be able to leverage these benefits to appeal to those who have removed themselves from the workforce and convince them that work is worth it.

Safety, Flexibility, and Pay

Before employers can use benefits like friendship and skill-building to lure applicants, they must first address safety, flexibility, and pay; in a hierarchy of employment needs, these are foundational.

While vaccinations are proceeding at an encouraging rate and all adults are now eligible, COVID-19 remains a serious threat. It will be some time before people getting their shots now develop immunity to the virus, and they may worry about infecting friends and family who are unable or unwilling to get the vaccine. Because of these fears, some people aren’t going to work, period, and there’s nothing employers can do to persuade them. Others, however, may be open to working if they feel confident enough that the job won’t put them or those they care about in danger.

Flexibility is another key component for many potential applicants, much more so now that in-person school and childcare have become scarce. Since younger children cannot be left to fend for themselves while parents are at work, something has to give. Employers that provide flexibility—either through the initial scheduling of shifts or the ability to rearrange working hours on the fly—will likely receive more applicants and have a lower rate of turnover.

Other potential employees may be willing to work if they feel the pay is worth the risk and sufficient to cover the costs of working (transportation, childcare, insurance premiums, etc.).

Of course, most businesses don’t relish the idea of paying employees higher-than-usual wages, but there’s good reason to believe that increased pay is a good investment, especially for people in traditionally lower-paying jobs. When people are preoccupied with bills, debts, and other forms of scarcity, they tend to be less productive and make more mistakes. But, when scarcity isn’t taxing their mental bandwidth, they’re able to be more productive, make fewer mistakes, and increase business profitability. Increases in pay can pay for themselves. 

Career Development Opportunities

It may be that the positions an employer needs to fill don’t come with an exciting career path or teach the kind of skills that employees are likely to put on future resumes. But that’s not set in stone. Both the employer and the employee choose what skills are learned and used in every position.

Imagine, for a moment, a local deli that needs to hire a person to take orders at the register. The job market might consider this job “low skill,” but the owner of this deli doesn’t think of the job that way or advertise it that way.

Now, the owner doesn’t use the gimmick of giving the job a fancier title than what it entails; instead, they set the job up to provide skills training for more advanced positions in customer service or sales. In the first few days, the new hire will learn the menu and the layout of the register, but then, in the lulls between rushes, they’ll learn techniques for talking to customers, de-escalating tense situations, upselling, and the like—training that people in customer service and sales would expect to receive. Later, the new hire might even learn some of the ins and outs of starting and running a small business.

This owner knows that high employee turnover is simply the nature of the business and that employees will, sooner or later, take their training and skills to other jobs. And that’s the point. The aim here is to cultivate a reputation in the community as an excellent place for customers to grab a meal and an excellent place for employees to start learning marketable skills they’ll use throughout their careers, increasing the size of both the applicant pool and the deli’s profits.

Attractive Job Postings and Hiring Processes

Poorly written job postings can prove a serious obstacle to getting applicants. It’s important, as Katrina Kibben reminds us, that recruiters and hiring managers understand what they’re looking for in a new hire and write job postings that are simple and effective. 

If an employer offers some or all of the benefits discussed above, they should showcase them in their postings with concrete examples and as part of an engaging story. For instance, instead of the deli owner writing, “We teach valuable skills,” they can explain that downtime will be filled with instruction on sales and de-escalation techniques. And instead of saying, “We offer flexibility,” an employer can advertise that employees have of a range of shifts to choose from on a weekly basis, or will be able to complete their work at any time of day, so long as weekly deadlines are met.

But no amount of training opportunities will mean a thing if a business’s hiring process is a chore for applicants to get through. The more minutes it takes to complete an application, the more applicants will decide it isn’t worth it. The longer a candidate has to wait for an offer, the more likely they’ll turn down that job offer—sometimes, as Adam Karpiak illustrates, even when they don’t have another job lined up.

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

11 Key Practices to Increase Workplace Safety

In 1970, when Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act into law, an estimated 14,000 workers were killed on the job every year. Fifty years later, that number is down to 5,333, but workplace safety remains a paramount concern, and not only because we’re struggling through a pandemic.

We’ve broadened our knowledge of what dangers threaten the workplace and what strategies are best suited to promote organizational health. We better understand the psychological effects of stress, the damage caused by harassment, and harmful consequences of inequality. And we know how to mitigate these risks more effectively.

As you work to keep your workplace safe, consider implementing the following practices:

  1. Create and issue a written safety policy for employees to read and acknowledge. Employees should know that they will be held accountable to the policy and can be disciplined regardless of whether they sign it.
  2. Provide employees with a form (either paper or digital) so they can document and report their safety concerns. This promotes employee involvement in proactive safety assessments of the workplace. For this practice to work, employees need to feel comfortable raising concerns and confident those concerns will be addressed. You can make the submission process anonymous to increase the likelihood that it is used.
  3. Do not create safety incentive programs or reward employees when there are no reported incidents, as these rewards can encourage employees to keep safety violations hidden.
  4. Investigate all health and safety concerns, even if no one has made an official complaint.
  5. Provide paid sick leave and make requesting leave hassle-free. When sick employees are worried about a smaller paycheck or are required to find a substitute to cover their shift, they may feel pressured to come in to work while infectious, putting colleagues and customers at risk.
  6. Quickly and thoroughly address instances of sexism, racism, and other forms of inequality and discrimination.
  7. Promote psychological safety by taking steps to ensure people feel safe to speak up about their concerns.
  8. Give employees permission and time to rest and recharge. When a workplace situation causes someone to have a fight-or-flight response, it may be best for them to step away from the situation before they say or do something they may regret or that causes more harm. Make sure employees know that they can remove themselves from an overly stressful situation, without punishment or retaliation.
  9. Forward OSHA’s QuickTakes online newsletter to employees.
  10. Offer monthly 10-minute safety or wellness trainings. Trainings could be on anything from how to get a good night’s sleep to safe driving techniques. Promote employee involvement by asking various employees to facilitate them.
  11. Talk to your workers’ compensation carrier. You can get good safety tips, trainings, and ideas from them, and you may be able to get write-offs. Like you, they want to keep costs down, so they’ll likely appreciate your efforts to make safety a priority and do what they can to help. 

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

OSHA’s New COVID-19 Guidance

OSHA’s new guidance is advisory in nature and creates no new legal obligations. However, one of President Biden’s first acts after being sworn in was to sign an Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety that directs OSHA to increase enforcement of existing agency standards and investigate whether a new standard for COVID-19 mitigation is needed. Given that, employers may want to consider the new guidelines a strong recommendation. 

In a nutshell, OSHA recommends that employers and employees implement a COVID-19 prevention program that includes the following elements:

  1. Masks and social distancing
  2. A hazard assessment
  3. Measures to limit the spread of the virus
  4. Ways to identify (and send home) sick employees and policies for employee absences that don’t punish workers for staying home when sick
  5. Communication of coronavirus policies and procedures in both English and the primary language of non-English speaking workers
  6. Protections from retaliation for workers who raise coronavirus-related concerns

If you’re interested, you can learn more about the program here

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

Upcoming Deadlines Reminder for March 2021

March 1:

  1. File Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and/or 1095-C with the IRS (paper filers).
  2. Submit Medicare Part D Creditable (or Noncreditable) Disclosure to CMS (for calendar-year health plans).

March 2:

  1. Furnish Forms 1095-B or 1095-C to individuals. 
  2. OSHA Form 300A electronic submission due for applicable employers.

March 5:

  1. National Employee Appreciation Day! Consider customizing a recognition plan for your organization.

March 31:

  1. File Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and/or 1095-C with the IRS (electronic filers).

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

HR Tip of the Month – January 2021

In the past year, many employers who would never have considered a remote work arrangement discovered that it was not only possible, but in some (or many) ways preferable to how they worked before. As a result, many employers plan on maintaining a remote workforce in some form once the pandemic is over. There’s a lesson here for all employers: the standard way of doing things is not necessarily the only or best way to do things.

As you begin the new year, it might be worth examining your HR practices and asking yourself whether the way you do things is really the best way, or just the comfortable, easy way. Look especially for areas where you’re setting unnecessary restrictions on yourself or your employees.

Job postings, for example, often have requirements that could be tossed with no loss, but a lot of gain. Does someone really need a four-year degree to do an entry level admin job? Or knowledge of how to use certain productivity tools, which can realistically be learned in a matter of hours? Restrictions such as these may be limiting your applicant pool. Other old habits may be losing you productivity and profit.

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

A Note on Requiring COVID-19 Vaccines

With COVID-19 vaccinations underway and widespread availability in sight, many employers want to know whether they can require their employees to get the vaccine.

While recent EEOC guidance implies that they expect many employers to require a vaccine, there are already several states where bills are being introduced to prevent employment discrimination against those who refuse a vaccine (MN, NJ, SC), and it’s likely bills like this will be introduced in more states soon. Additionally, we anticipate that there will be state and federal lawsuits from individuals, which may result in rulings that impact the law in individual states or entire circuits (for instance, the Ninth Circuit, which covers AL, AR, CA, HI, ID, MT, NV, OR, WA, or the Eleventh Circuit, which covers AL, FL, GA).

Given the legal risks here, and since many Americans will not have access to a vaccine until Spring or even Summer, we believe it would be prudent for most employers to wait to see how things play out in courts and legislatures across the country before deciding to require vaccinations.

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

Compliance Requirements for a Remote Workforce

According to Gallup, the number of days employees are working remotely has doubled during the pandemic. Some companies are even considering making a remote work arrangement permanent. While there are no laws that exclusively apply to remote workplaces, remote work does come with additional compliance risks. Below is our general guidance for employers.  

Logging Hours and Preparing Paychecks

Make sure that employees are logging all of their time. Keep in mind that when working from home, the boundaries between work and home life are easy to blur. Employees may be racking up “off the clock” work, and even overtime, that they aren’t being paid for. While this may seem harmless enough in the moment, particularly if the employee isn’t complaining, unpaid wages can come back to bite you once the employee is on their way out the door.

Minimum Wage

Employees should be paid at least the minimum wage of the state where they physically work, whether this is a satellite office or their own home. Beyond that, it’s important to be aware that some cities and counties have even higher minimum wages than the state they are located in. In general, with most employment laws, you should follow the law that is most beneficial to the employee.

Breaks

Remote employees must take all required break and rest periods required by law, as if they were in the workplace.

Harassment Prevention Considerations

You may have employees working in a state that has a lower bar for what’s considered harassment or that requires harassment prevention training. You can find this information on the State Law pages on the HR Support Center.

Remote work also comes with additional opportunities for harassment (even if it doesn’t rise to the level of illegal harassment) such as employees wearing clothing that crosses the line into inappropriate, roommates in the background unaware that they are on camera, or visible objects that other employees may consider offensive. You can prevent these sorts of incidents by having clear, documented expectations about remote meetings, communicating those expectations to your employees, and holding everyone accountable to them. It also wouldn’t hurt to occasionally remind everyone to be mindful that they and what’s behind them are visible to coworkers when they’re on video. That said, going overboard with standards that you’re applying to employees’ private homes can cause anxiety and morale issues, so make sure your restrictions have some logical business-related explanation.

Workplace Posters

Many of the laws related to workplace posters were written decades before the internet, and so their requirements don’t always make sense given today’s technology.

The safest option to ensure you’re complying will all posting requirements in one fell swoop is to mail hard copies of any applicable workplace posters to remote employees and let them do what they like with the posters at their home office. If you have employees in multiple states, you should send each employee the required federal posters, plus any applicable to the state in which they work.

Alternatively, more risk-tolerant employers often provide these required notices and posters on a company website or intranet that employees can access. A number of newer posting laws expressly allow for electronic posting, but this option is not necessarily compliant with every posting law out there.

FMLA Eligibility

Remote employees who otherwise qualify will be eligible for leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if they report to or receive work assignments from a location that has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.

According to the FMLA regulations, the worksite for remote employees is “the site to which they are assigned as their home base, from which their work is assigned, or to which they report.” So, for example, if a remote employee working in Frisco, TX, reports to their company’s headquarters in Portland, OR, and that site in Portland has 65 employees working within a 75-mile radius, then the employee in Frisco may be eligible for FMLA. However, if the site in Portland has only 42 employees, then the remote employee would not be eligible for FMLA. The distance of the remote employee from the company’s headquarters is immaterial.

Verifying I-9s

In normal circumstances, the physical presence requirement of the Employment Eligibility Verification, Form I-9, requires that employers, or an authorized representative, physically examine, in the employee’s physical presence, the unexpired document(s) the employee presents from the Lists of Acceptable Documents to complete the Documents fields in Form I-9’s Section 2.

However, in March, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) temporarily suspended the physical presence requirement for employers and workplaces that are operating remotely due to COVID-19 related precautions. In other words, employers with employees taking physical proximity precautions due to COVID-19 (and operating remotely) are not required to review the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents in the employee’s physical presence. Inspection should instead be done remotely. As of the date of this newsletter, this temporary rule is still in effect.

Equipment

In some states, an employer is required either to provide employees with the tools and items necessary to complete the job or to reimburse employees for these expenses. However, workstation equipment like desks and chairs is usually not included in this category of necessary items.

That said, an employee might request a device or some form of furniture as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) so they can perform the essential functions of their job. In such cases, you would consider it like any other ADA request. Allowing them to take home their ergonomic office chair, for example, would probably not be an undue hardship and therefore something you should do.

Deciding Who Can Work from Home

You may offer different benefits or terms of employment to different groups of employees as long as the distinction is based on non-discriminatory criteria. For instance, a telecommuting option or requirement can be based on the type of work performed, employee classification (exempt v. non-exempt), or location of the office or the employee. You should be able to support the business justification for allowing or requiring certain groups to telecommute.

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

Four Steps to Take When an Employee Is Diagnosed with COVID-19

As COVID-19 infection rates continue to climb, it’s imperative that organizations respond quickly when an employee is diagnosed. Here are the steps employers should take:

Notify Employees

Employees should be notified of potential exposure in the workplace, but they should not be told who is sick. Employees won’t like that they can’t gauge their own risk, but the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires this type of information remain confidential. Don’t worry if employees figure it out on their own, but make sure you’re not the one to reveal the information (and don’t drop sneaky hints to help them along).

Assess the Risk of Exposure and Quarantine If Advisable

If there was close contact for a prolonged period (about six feet or less for 15 minutes or more over the course of 24 hours), exposed employees should quarantine. If you aren’t confident in your risk assessment, call your local or state health authority to help you determine which employees should quarantine.

Disinfect Areas Used by the Sick Employee

The CDC recommends the following practices (among others):

  1. Close off areas used by the person who is sick for 24 hours, if possible.
  2. Open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in the area.
  3. Clean and disinfect areas and items used by the person who is sick (their workstation, bathrooms, common areas, tablets, touch screens, keyboard, registers). Wait as long as possible before cleaning and disinfecting.

If it has been seven days or more since the person who is sick was in the workplace, additional cleaning and disinfection is not necessary.

For more detailed instructions on cleaning and disinfecting the workplace after someone is diagnosed, and lots of great general guidance, see the CDC’s Guidance for Business and Employers. Calling your local or state health authority is recommended as well. 

Determine When an Employee Can Return to Work

Sick employees should work with their healthcare provider to determine when to return to the workplace. Generally, an employee will be okay to return when at least 24 hours have passed since resolution of fever without the use of medication, and other symptoms have improved, and at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared or since the positive test result, if the employee is asymptomatic.

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

How to Improve your Job Postings

A job posting is often the first impression a prospective job applicant has with your organization. It’s important for that impression to be an informative one. Your job postings should convey why someone would want to work for your company, what distinguishes your workplace from others, what’s exciting about your mission and vision, what you have to offer, and what the job is and requires. Here are a few ways to get better results from your job postings:

Highlight the company’s strengths. Part of the purpose of a job posting is to sell your organization to prospective employees. It’s a sales pitch that conveys your culture and brand. Be sure to include both traditional benefits (e.g., insurance offerings, retirement plan) as well as less common, more exciting perks (e.g., unlimited PTO, remote work options, product discounts). You should also mention company awards, notable achievements, and career development opportunities.

List the minimum requirements and essential functions of the job. You can also include the full job description, if you have the room for it. The requirements and functions you mention should be accurate and clear. You don’t want to scare away great prospects with unnecessary requirements, but you also don’t want a lot of unqualified people applying for the job.

Include the pay range. Posting the pay range of the job will get you 30% more applicants. It will also save you and potential applicants a significant amount of time by allowing them to self-select out of the running if the range is too low for their needs or if it clearly indicates that you are looking for a more experienced employee. It will also promote transparency and help create a more equitable workplace, but it’s not a requirement.  

Analyze the results of previous job posting locations, especially if you paid for them. Consider not only the upfront fee, but also whether you received a good number of applications specifically from that source. Were the candidates qualified? Have you ever hired candidates from this source? There’s no sense paying to post job ads that aren’t bringing in good candidates.

Consider alternatives to where you’ve posted in the past. Here are a few options:

  1. Overlooked talent pools (e.g., websites geared toward certain populations or groups)—these can be especially helpful for increasing diversity in your workplace.
  2. Community events and job fairs in your area—being able to answer questions about your company and your open positions can help weed out those who may not be a good fit or might not be happy in the role.
  3. Local schools—many colleges guarantee a certain job placement rate and have an entire department to help their students become employees in the industry of their education. Oftentimes the coordinators of these programs will come to you for jobs as well, which is another direct talent pipeline. Reach out to your local community colleges or local universities and talk with them about any students that they might have who would fit your job description needs. They often also have an internal communication system that can get your job posting in front of a lot of students (or even alumni) in a hurry.
  4. Previous applicants—even those you interviewed who might have been a second or third choice. You already know they’re interested in your company, and you may even have met them face to face. Even if it’s been half a year since they applied, reach out. What’s the worst that can happen?

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

How to Support a Grieving Employee

Everyone experiences grief at some point in their life, and yet for being such a common experience, it’s also one that few of us are fully equipped to navigate when it comes. In part, this is because grief is such an overwhelming and horrible experience. Nothing can prepare you for it. You just have to go through it and get through it. Grief is also a unique experience for each person. Everyone has their own path through its stages, and what helped one person work through their grief may not help another.

To complicate matters, our fast-paced, always-on society isn’t set up to allow time for grief. We’re often pressured to keep our grief private and keep it short. Grief takes us away from our obligations, and our obligations may be impatient for us to return. Households need to be managed. Work needs to be done. Bills need to be paid. Life goes on.  

No one can make the grief easy, but there are ways to be supportive and to give people the time and space they need to process their emotions and find healing. Below are some ways that employers and coworkers can support a grieving employee:

Document workflows. Upon hearing of a loved one’s passing, an employee may need to drop everything and leave work immediately, and, in some circumstances, the employee may not be reachable or be able to update you on the status of all their work assignments and projects. With clear, documented workflows set up ahead of time, you can quickly reassign work, and the employee doesn’t need to worry about any urgent or time-sensitive work they left behind. Having documented workflows is also (and more commonly) useful when an employee quits without giving sufficient notice or is sick or injured themselves.

Educate managers and teammates about the grieving process. Grief can take many forms and look different from day to day. Managers and coworkers of a grieving employee may not know what to say (or not to say) or how they should act. Bringing in a grief counselor to talk with employees and educate them about grief can help them support their grieving team member. Grief counseling is also a good idea if employees are grieving the loss of a colleague.

Provide bereavement leave and flexibility upon return. In many cases, people who have lost a close family member have to put their grief on hold so they can make all the calls and decisions that have to be made when someone dies. They may have to make arrangements for the funeral, inform family, friends, schools, and others about the death, and give extra attention to children or other people in the home. It’s a lot. Employers can be a big help here by offering bereavement leave and flexibility when the employee returns.

In the United States, the typical bereavement leave policy is three to seven days, which is rarely enough time to hold a funeral or memorial service, let alone work through the initial pain of a loss. Some companies offer more time off. The policy at Facebook, for example, is 20 days of paid time off after the death of an immediate family member.  

Of course, providing either paid or unpaid time off is a huge expense, and not every employer can make it work, however much they would like to. Our general recommendation is to offer as much time as you can and communicate with the employee about how much time they feel they need. Some employees may want to come back sooner rather than later because work helps get their minds off the pain. Others may ask for longer because they need more time to heal before they’re able to be fully productive at work.

Understand, too, that grieving employees will have bad days, and grief can come on suddenly, like a ton of bricks. Grieving employees may need extra breaks or need to take a half day unexpectedly. Letting employees know that they have flexibility after they return can be a big relief.  

Offer mental health care. It’s likely that grieving employees will need therapy to help them process the loss and work through their emotions, but regular sessions with a therapist can quickly become costly. Providing health insurance that covers mental health care can help ease this financial burden. An Employee Assistance Program may also be beneficial.

Reach out to offer support, but be mindful of decision fatigue. People experiencing a loss need support, but they may not know what support they need or be able to answer if asked. Decision fatigue is very common immediately after a death. Even a question like, “What can we bring over for dinner?” can be stressful to answer.

One option here is to simply let a grieving employee know that you’re there for them and that they can reach out if they need anything. Another option is to make decisions yourself about what support you give. For example, if you want to provide the employee with a gift card to a restaurant, you could select the restaurant yourself instead of asking the employee which restaurant they’d prefer (just be sure to take the possibility of food allergies into consideration). Both of these options let the employee know that you care about them without adding to the decisions they have to make and the stress they’re feeling.

Be aware of triggers and PTSD. If the death was particularly sudden, unexpected, or traumatic, the employee may at times unexpectedly reexperience the horror, panic, stress, and fear they felt at the time of the event. In some cases, the employee may be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. If any of this occurs, give the employee time and space to process their emotions.   

Also, don’t be hard on yourself if something you say triggers a response. There’s no way to anticipate all of the words and images that could be triggering, and even if you know the details of the death, it’s simply not reasonable to expect that you’ll remember those details in every moment that you’re speaking. Don’t worry if you say the “wrong thing.” The important thing is to be aware that a grieving employee may feel the need to step away and to show understanding and compassion in those moments.

Article content provided by My HR Support Center