National Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Declared in 1988 by the United States Congress (though its roots go back to 1945 when Congress urged employment for WWII service members with disabilities), NDEAM is a good occasion for us to celebrate the contributions of people with disabilities to workplaces and the economy. We also recommend taking this time to better understand employer obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and consider how to be more inclusive and accommodating than what the law strictly requires. 

The DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy is commemorating NDEAM this year with the theme “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.” This theme “reflects the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to employment and community involvement during the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

We’re glad to see this.

People with disabilities (1 in 4 adults in the United States) are at greater risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19. At the start of the pandemic, workers with disabilities lost their jobs at a higher rate than the general population. As the pandemic continued, those with intellectual disabilities were six times more likely to die from the virus than other members of the population. Helping people with disabilities stay safe and succeed as the pandemic continues will be essential to a full recovery, and employers can play a huge role in that. 

Supporting employees with disabilities may also be vital to the success of individual employers—now and after the recovery. According to a CNBC poll, nearly 80% of workers say that they want to work for a company that values diversity, equity, and inclusion. With roughly half of small businesses struggling to fill roles, competition for talent is fierce. Employers who don’t appear to believe that it’s important to include and support employees with disabilities put themselves at a huge disadvantage. 

What can you do to help?

First, make doubly sure you understand your compliance obligations related to applicants and employees with disabilities. We have lots of resources for you on the HR Support Center. If you search disability in the search bar, you’ll find articles, forms, guides, law summaries, letters, policies, Q&As, videos, and more.

Second, as the pandemic continues, do what you can to accommodate employees with disabilities who may be at greater risk of severe illness or death. Accommodations to consider may include remote work for those who can do their jobs from home and extra PPE (e.g., N95 masks, face shields, gloves) for those who need or want to work onsite. Other possible accommodations are different shifts, job changes to reduce physical proximity or public interaction, extra breaks (for handwashing or mental health), permission to keep a minifridge or other personal storage device at one’s workstation, and extra cleaning supplies. All in all, when an employee requests an accommodation, do what you can to try to make it work. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.

Third, stress to everyone that respect and empathy are nonnegotiable values. Employees who need extra support so they can do their jobs well aren’t going to ask for it if they believe their concerns will be dismissed or that they’ll be ridiculed or looked down on by coworkers. If they don’t feel like they can ask for an accommodation, they’re more likely to look for a job elsewhere. And if they stay, it’s unlikely that they will be as productive or successful if they feel unsafe and stressed out. That’s a lose-lose. But it’s a win-win when employees feel safe asking for accommodations and those accommodations enable them to succeed.

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What are Protected Classes?

Protected classes — also sometimes called protected characteristics — come from anti-discrimination law. We talk about them with respect to employment laws, but they also come into play in housing and education.

The classes and characteristics protected by federal law include race, color, age (over 40), sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, religion, disability, national origin, ethnic background, genetic information (including that of family members), military service, and citizenship or immigration status.

While you have a lot of leeway to make employment decisions as you see fit, you are prohibited from making decisions based on a person’s inclusion in any of these protected classes. Refusing to hire or promote someone because they are over 40, gay, or from Mexico, for example, would be considered unlawful discrimination under federal law. Many states also have their own anti-discrimination laws that protect additional classes.

The best way to avoid discrimination is to base employment decisions only on factors that are job-related. We recommend including the full list of protected classes in your employee handbook so that everyone is aware of them.

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When You Need to Hire Workers, But Nobody Likes the Work

Some jobs are just plain unpleasant. You know the type. Monotonous tasks that don’t end until it’s time to clock out. Dealing all day with customers who are unhappy, unappreciative, or rude. Fielding nonstop complaints. Hard labor. Outdoor work in extreme temperatures.

You can convince people to take these jobs when they have no other choice. But right now, for a variety of reasons, they do have other options. The avoidance of undesirable work is one reason why half of all small businesses are unable to find workers right now. 

Pay raises and other perks haven’t always done the trick, either. This has left many employers with no good way to incentivize job seekers to apply or convince dissatisfied employees to stay. After all, the work is the work, and there’s nothing to be done about it, right? 

Not necessarily.

Employers have some control over what the work is, how it’s done, and under what conditions it’s done. Not limitless, of course, but there often are ways to make unpleasant work more bearable, if not genuinely exciting.

If you’re among the half of small businesses struggling to fill positions, and you haven’t had any luck with other measures to entice applicants to apply, consider what changes you could make to the work you need done or to the overall work experience at your business. Here is a set of steps you could follow:

Step 1 – Identify the Unfun Parts

Create a list of all the unpleasant aspects of the job you’re having trouble filling or keeping staffed. Include both the work itself and the conditions under which it’s done. Try to be as comprehensive as you can. You won’t be addressing everything you write down, but the more things you can include, the more you’ll have to work with. If you’re not sure what to include, consider an anonymous poll of your employees or review job descriptions and mentally walk through the day-to-day tasks that are required of your workers.

Step 2 – Determine What You Can Change

For each aspect you’ve written down, determine whether it’s something you can directly change, indirectly do something about, or if it’s entirely out of your power. You don’t need to come up with changes or solutions at this stage. Just note whether it’s something you have some control over, however little that may be. For example, you can’t change the weather, but there may be things you can do to make extreme temperatures more bearable.

Step 3 – Think a Little Harder About What You “Can’t” Change

Now that you’ve categorized the job aspects, reevaluate the items you indicated you had no control over. Give each one some thought and challenge your assumptions. Do you really have no options as far as these aspects are concerned? Keep an open mind and take some time later to think about them. You also may get ideas when you’re implementing other changes later.

Step 4 – Brainstorm Improvements

Now think about what changes you could make. Don’t worry about the logistics or the costs just yet. Here you’re just considering options. For example, if you’re worried that extreme temperatures are keeping job applicants away, you might look at uniforms that offer more comfort, additional or longer breaks, and ways to provide shade or cover from the elements. If the work is emotionally taxing, you might consider easing up on performance metrics, providing longer lunches, or allowing employees the flexibility to step away and decompress when they need it.

Increased freedom and flexibility might be another option. Standing desks for those who want to stretch their legs. Seats for cashiers who would prefer to sit. Ergonomic headsets for those on the phone. A second computer monitor for those who have to stare at small print. Job sharing to minimize monotony. Customer swapping to stop harassment.

Employees also appreciate knowing that their employer has their back and won’t put up with their being mistreated by customers. Posting notices about acceptable behavior and giving employees permission to step away from an abusive customer can really help in creating a psychologically safe workplace.

Step 5 – Do a Cost-Benefit Analysis

Any change you make is going to have a cost. In this step, do your best to estimate the implementation costs and analyze whether the cost is worth the benefit. That may not be clear right away. If your solution to physically or emotionally taxing labor is additional paid breaks, employees will be spending less time working. Less time working could translate into assignments taking longer to finish or fewer orders being completed. Then again, well-rested employees may be more productive, able to accomplish more in a shorter period of time. Time will tell.

To conduct a cost-benefit analysis, compare the estimated costs of making changes to the costs of having a labor shortage or higher than average turnover. Consider too that there are no guarantees the changes you make will be successful. You’re taking a risk, but the bigger risk may be in doing nothing. It could be a while before the labor market becomes more favorable to employers.

Step 6 – Make the Changes

Depending on your situation, you may decide to try all the changes at once or one at a time. The latter may be more helpful if you want to be able to measure the success of each change, but the former may have a bigger impact in the short term.

Step 7 – Advertise the New Awesomeness

Shout from the rooftops. For some, this step will be the most challenging. Your employees will immediately notice the changes you make, but job seekers won’t. You need to tell them. Talk up the efforts you take to make the work experience more pleasant. Share photos on social media. Most importantly, tell a compelling story in job ads, your careers page, and everywhere else job seekers can find you.

Stories can be a powerful and effective way to change behavior. In your case, you want job seekers to take a job today that they were unwilling to take yesterday. You have to convince them to cast aside their doubts and believe in you. A well-told story can be very persuasive.

The story you should tell is not about you, however. It’s about them. About the experience they’ll have. Definitely don’t sugarcoat that experience. If the work is rough, they’ll learn soon enough. But sharing what you’ve done to make the work less taxing tells job seekers that you care about your employees and want them to have a good work experience.

Step 8 – Evaluate the Outcome and Adjust Accordingly

Did the changes you made help? Were you able to fill open positions and keep them filled? How do your employees feel about the steps you took to improve the work experience? If you’re not satisfied with the results and they’re not satisfied with the changes you made, think about why and discuss solutions with your employees. What could have been done differently? What surprised you?

This process will take some trial and error, and there’s no guarantee it will work, but it is an option to consider if the jobs you need done aren’t especially attractive and measures like pay increases haven’t gotten you more applicants.

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Employees Want More – Can You Offer It

It’s still too early to tell how great the “Great Resignation” will be—or if it even lives up to that description. True, lots of employees are considering changing jobs, but there’s a world of difference between thinking about quitting and actively hunting for a new opportunity. There’s no doubt, though, that employees want more out of their work-life, and they’re willing to fight for it or leave if they don’t get it. 

What more do these unsatisfied employees want? That depends. The best way to learn what your employees want is to ask them. We can’t stress this enough. Check-ins with managers are an ideal time if both managers and their direct reports are comfortable having such conversations. Anonymous surveys are another option. If nothing else, conduct exit interviews.

But while individual desires vary, they tend to fall into a few general themes: greater freedom and flexibility, a bigger say in the workplace, increased safety and security, and better compensation. Employers that can satisfy these desires have an advantage in today’s job market. Let’s look at each in turn.

Greater Freedom and Flexibility

Most employees who have experienced the benefits of working from home want remote work to remain an option, at least part of the time. Some appreciate being able to pick up kids from school, take a midday exercise break, or use the bathroom without anyone tracking how much time they’re spending away from their workstations. Others feel relieved to have escaped a workplace marked by harassment or microaggressions. Still, others enjoy using their commute time for something personally rewarding or for getting work done. 

But remote work isn’t the only way that employees desire greater freedom and flexibility. They also want the liberty to decide their own work schedule or at least receive their schedule in advance, the option to take time off when they need it and without worrying about a smaller paycheck and ample opportunities to advance their career.

Workers who feel constrained or stalled at work are less likely to stick around. And if they do stay, they’re likely to feel frustrated, perhaps even resentful. Neither attitude inclines one to do their best work.

Tip: Talk with your employees to determine what decisions about their work and their development they can make for themselves.

A Bigger Say in the Workplace

When employees at Google announced the creation of a minority union early this year, a lot of people were taken by surprise. After all, tech employees aren’t exactly known for unionizing, and Google is known for being a great place to work. Some of the union’s goals are what you’d expect—fairer wages and more protection from harassment and retaliation. But the union also seeks to influence how the company conducts business—and with whom. Its members want a say in how their labor is used. “As a tech employee, it’s a reasonable ask to ensure that this labor is being used for something positive that makes the world a better place,” one employee told NPR.  

Employees at other tech companies feel similar. Two employees at Amazon resigned in protest recently after hundreds of employees unsuccessfully petitioned the company to stop selling a book that they said framed transgender identity as a mental illness. 

What these employees want is cultural fit. They want their work and their workplace to align with their beliefs and values. They’re willing to leave if the culture doesn’t suit them, but they also believe the culture isn’t only the employer’s to define. As they see it, the culture belongs to them, too. And some of them will organize protests, perform walkouts, and engage in other forms of concerted activity in an effort to influence the culture.

Tip: Consider whose values take priority in your workplace. Does culture come from the top down or is it a collaborative effort? If employees don’t feel comfortable expressing their opinions about what the culture is and what it should be, what could you do to reassure them and encourage fruitful discussions?

Increased Safety and Security

The COVID pandemic has shined a painfully bright light on workplace health and safety practices—or lack thereof. COVID-related risks and violations abound.  According to a study from the University of California, San Francisco, five professions saw an increase in mortality rate higher than 50 percent: agricultural workers, bakers, construction laborers, line cooks, and line workers in warehouses were most at risk. 

With health and safety on most people’s minds, there’s a big demand for work that’s physically and mentally healthy. Most employees don’t want a job that puts them in danger of getting a serious illness or causes them psychological harm. Workers want to feel safe, and they’re leaving jobs where they don’t. 

Tip: Following all recommended safety precautions is a lot to keep track of, but it’s also just the bare minimum. Make sure your employees also feel safe—physically and psychologically. Listen to any concerns they have and do what you can to address them.

Better Compensation

The desire for higher pay, additional benefits, on-the-job training, and financial relief is by no means new. But right now, in certain industries, employees have the leverage to demand better compensation. In response, employers in these industries are advertising signing bonuses, $15 an hour minimum pay, and other attractive forms of compensation.

Tip: Develop a compensation strategy that’s responsive to fluctuating costs of labor.

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Three Questions About COVID Vaccinations

Can we ask for proof of vaccination? Isn’t this a HIPAA violation or an illegal inquiry under the ADA or somehow confidential information?

Employers can ask for proof of vaccination unless there is a state or local law or order to the contrary.*

When an employer is requesting or reviewing medical information in its capacity as an employer, as it would be when asking about an employee’s vaccination status, it is considered to be an employment record. In such cases, HIPAA would not apply to the employer. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will govern the collection and storage of this information.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces the ADA, has stated that asking about vaccination is not a disability-related inquiry, though it could turn into one if you ask follow-up questions about why the employee is not vaccinated. Asking a yes or no question, or requesting to see the employee’s vaccination card, does not violate any federal laws or require proof that the inquiry is job-related.
 
Finally, just because employees think that something is or should be private or confidential doesn’t mean they can’t be required to share it with their employer. Social Security numbers, birth dates, and home addresses are all pieces of information an employee may not want to advertise, but sharing is necessary and required for work. Vaccination status is similar. However, all of this information, once gathered, should not be shared by the employer with third parties, except on a need-to-know basis.

*It appears that some governors may attempt to prevent certain entities from requiring “immunity passports” (e.g., proof of vaccination) through an executive order (EO), though as of July 31, none of the EOs already issued appear to apply to private businesses and their employees. Also note that if there is a law in place that prevents treating vaccinated and unvaccinated employees differently (like in Montana), you may be able to ask, but not take any action based on the response.

Should we keep a record of who is vaccinated or make copies of vaccination cards? If we do, how long should we keep that information?

If you’re asking about vaccination status, you’ll want to keep some kind of record (so you don’t have to ask multiple times), but how you do this is up to you, unless state or local law has imposed specific recordkeeping requirements. You may want to keep something simple like a spreadsheet with the employee’s name and a simple “yes” or “no” in the vaccination column. If you’d prefer to make a copy of their vaccination card, that should be kept with other employee medical information, separate from their personnel file. Per OSHA, these records should be kept for 30 years.

If we keep a record of who is vaccinated, can we share it with managers who will be required to enforce policies based on that information, such as masking and social distancing?

Yes. We recommend not sharing this information any more widely than necessary. While anonymized information is okay to share (e.g., “80% of our employees are vaccinated”), each employee’s vaccination status should be treated as confidential, even if the fact that they are wearing a mask to work seems to reveal their status publicly. Obviously, managers will need this information if they are expected to enforce vaccination-dependent policies, and employers should train them on how they should be enforcing the policies and how and when to escalate issues to HR or a higher level of management.

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What is HR Compliance?

Running a business comes with no shortage of perks: the freedom to be your own boss, invest in an idea, steer its trajectory, and, with a little luck, create wealth. It has its challenges, too. Competition may be fierce. Demand for what you offer may be low. Costs may not be sustainable. But even if everything else is going your way, there’s one challenge that’s ever-present. We’re talking, of course, about HR compliance.

Defining HR Compliance

HR compliance is the work of ensuring that your employment practices conform to federal, state, and local laws. This work requires learning which laws apply to your organization and understanding what they require you to do. That’s easier said than done.

HR compliance is truly an art. It requires knowledge, skill, and cooperation. You have to be able to decipher legalese, know where to go to ask the right questions and create policies and procedures that minimize business risk. You have to ensure that everyone from the executive team to newly minted managers knows what they can and cannot do. You have to conduct investigations and enforce your rules consistently. And all this is just the bare minimum—necessary, but not enough to create a truly successful culture.

The work of compliance is never entirely done. Not only do new legal requirements appear on the regular, but, as you’ll read below, compliance obligations are often unclear. While some compliance obligations are definitive, others are unresolved, and a good number of laws require you to make a judgment call. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Why HR Compliance Can’t Always Be Assured

Some employment laws take the form of “Do this” or “Don’t do that.” The requirements may be simple, like minimum wage, or complex, like FMLA, but either way, there’s usually no real question about what you need to do or not do. Compliance with these laws is pretty straightforward. Don’t pay less than the minimum wage. Provide leave to eligible employees for the reasons that qualify, continue their health benefits (if applicable), and return them to their position when their leave ends. As long as you’re clear on the details, you’re not likely to lose sleep wondering if your policies and procedures are compliant.

Sometimes, however, those details are unsettled. Lawmakers don’t always specify everything a law requires before it passes or takes effect. Even when laws seem clear, trying to put them into practice often raises a lot of questions. And the legislature isn’t the only source of law: regulatory agencies demand their say, and courts get involved, too. To complicate matters, these branches of government don’t always agree with each other, and what they say today may not be what they say tomorrow. Keeping up with the latest official guidance takes time and persistence. It can feel like a marathon when what you want is a quick sprint to the answer. You have other demands on your time, after all. 

Finally, a lot of employment laws have standards you have to follow, but they don’t tell you how. Neither the IRS nor the DOL, for example, tells you whether your workers are employees or independent contractors—unless there’s an audit or complaint. Instead, these agencies publish tests with general criteria that you use to make case-by-case determinations.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) works this way, too. Under the ADA, an employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, with a few exceptions. One of the exceptions is that the accommodation doesn’t create an undue hardship on the employer’s business. The basic definition of undue hardship is an action that creates a significant difficulty or expense. Although the law provides factors to consider in making this determination, the onus is on you to decide whether an expense or difficulty from accommodation is significant. And, ultimately, your conclusion could be challenged in court.

Why HR Compliance Looks Like This

If HR compliance seems convoluted, that’s because it is. Our current legal landscape is the result of three competing philosophies about how the workplace should be governed, who should govern it, and whose rights in the workplace should be prioritized in the law.

Owner Control

According to the first view, business owners should have control over their workplaces and the work that takes place for the simple reason that they own the business. It’s their property, and as owners, they should have the legal right to govern it. Employees have no right to control aspects of the workplace because the workplace isn’t theirs. They don’t own it. It’s not their property. If their desires don’t align with the owners, or if they don’t like the terms and conditions of their employment, they can and should go elsewhere.

Of course, an owner might employ managers or an executive team to make decisions about who to hire and fire, what to pay, how to assign work, and other such matters, but in principle, the owner is still in charge. Advocates of this view include the economist Milton Friedman who, in 1970, famously wrote that corporate executives have a direct responsibility to conduct business according to the desires of the owners. The will of the owners reigns supreme. 

Worker Control

According to the second view, workers should have a say in the decisions that get made simply because those decisions affect them and their livelihoods. In this line of thinking, the governance of the workplace should adhere to the principles of democracy, although proponents for this view differ on how democracy in the workplace should be practiced.

In the 1930s, Senator Robert F. Wagner introduced the National Labor Relations Act to guarantee the “freedom of action of the worker” and ensure that workers were “free in the economic as well as the political field.” And, today, talk of democratizing the workplace usually refers to bolstering unions. But there are other proposals to note. Some champions of workplace democracy, like Senator Elizabeth Warren, have pushed for employee representation on corporate boards. Others favor cooperative models in which the division between employers and employees doesn’t exist.   

Full-fledged workplace democracy is still a fringe view, though. The very definition of an employee remains a worker who does not have the right to control what the work is, how it’s done, or how it’s compensated. However much authority employees are given to make decisions, however much influence they have over their superiors, they are not legally in charge. 

Societal Control

Advocates of the third view argue that the government has an interest in exercising some measure of control over the work and the workplace. In the employer-employee relationship, employers typically have significantly more power than employees—especially an employee acting as an individual. Frances Perkins, who served as Secretary of Labor and was a key architect of the New Deal, believed that government “should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.” She saw a role for legislatures in countering long hours, low wages, and other conditions unfavorable to employees. 

How These Philosophies Have Played Out

In the United States, HR compliance seems convoluted and confusing because, well, it is. It’s the result of these three competing and ultimately incompatible philosophies. Government action with respect to employment has tried to empower workers and afford them certain rights, protections, and freedoms in the workplace, all while preserving the employer’s control over their business.

We can see this balancing act in the differences among state laws. Some states prioritize the right of owners to control their workforces and are loath to restrict that right through legislation. Other states act out of what they see as a duty to secure the rights of workers. Imposing obligations on employers doesn’t bother them.

We also see this balancing act in the way that employment laws tend to set parameters rather than dictate exactly what employers must do. You can pay employees whatever you want, so long as you pay at least the minimum, offer an overtime premium when applicable, and meet equal pay requirements. You can theoretically terminate employment for any reason or no reason at all (though we don’t recommend it), but you can’t fire someone for an illegal reason. Even laws that require a new practice, such as paid leave, allow flexibility provided the minimum conditions are met.

Takeaways

First, when you’re assessing your compliance obligations, understand that not all compliance obligations are clearly delineated or settled by law. Unsettling as that may be, it’s how our system has been set up. In those cases, you’ll have to weigh your options and the risks involved and then make a decision. Sometimes you may need legal advice in addition to HR guidance. Remember, though, that despite all the many employment laws on the books and in the imaginations of legislators, the system is designed to keep employers in charge of their work and workplaces. You can’t eliminate all risk, but by understanding the nuances and open questions, you can significantly minimize it.

Second, document your actions and decisions. It only takes an employee filing a complaint for enforcement agencies to get involved, but you are better protected if you can quickly and clearly explain to them the reason for your actions.

Third, evaluate whether your policies, procedures, and practices are satisfactory to employees. No employment law gets written in a vacuum, and no law is truly inevitable. The Fair Labor Standards Act came to be because workers and the general public felt that labor standards were unfair. Today we wouldn’t have people pushing for predictive scheduling laws if the general perception was that schedules in hospitality, retail, and restaurants were already sufficiently predictable. Harassment prevention training wouldn’t be mandatory (where it is) if sexual harassment weren’t widespread.

Fourth, lead by example. Make good employee relations a key part of your brand and competitive advantage. Employees have higher expectations today than they used to. Meet those expectations and motivate other employers to do the same, and you may find that the compliance landscape of the future is less winding and boggy than it could have been.

Finally, spend some time each day on our HR Support Center to learn about your compliance obligations. Our laws section breaks down federal and state employment laws in a way that laypeople can understand, and the News Desk keeps you up to speed on the latest compliance obligations and contingencies you should consider. HR compliance is an art, and the first step to mastering it is learning what it entails and how it works.

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How Conducting Exit Interviews Can Help You Increase Retention

The exit interview is a conversation with a departing employee about their time at the company and the reason for their departure. It’s completely optional, but some employers conduct them to learn about workplace issues that may be costing them good employees. Exit interviews can shine a light on toxic management practices, hostile work environments, departmental conflict, and employee concerns that aren’t being shared with management or HR. They’re often more informative than regular check-ins because departing employees have little to lose in being candid. Exit interviews are only useful, however, if employers are willing to act on the information they receive.

The Formats

Exit interviews typically use one of two formats: an in-person interview or a form the employee completes on their own. Each format has its advantages. The interview allows for further questioning if the employee mentions something you’d like additional information about. The written form option lets the employee give more consideration to each question and answer each at a pace that works for them.

Tips Before You Get Started

  1. Make the departing employee as comfortable as possible and encourage open, honest communication. Meet somewhere private and make sure to allow enough time for a meaningful conversation.
  2. Avoid having the employee’s direct supervisor conduct the interview, if possible.
  3. Offer a form to the departing employee instead of conducting an in-person interview if you have concerns about safety or the departing employee’s temperament.
  4. Explain that the interview is for informational purposes and for the betterment of the organization and its coworkers.
  5. Say that you will take notes and that you will keep them as confidential as possible. Note that certain allegations must be discussed with management.
  6. Assure them that concerns or information shared in good faith will not be communicated to future employers or negatively affect a reference check.

The Questions

The interview typically begins with questions about why the employee is leaving. In this line of questioning, you should ask why they sought employment elsewhere, whether the company or manager could have done anything differently to keep them there, whether they explored any options that would have enabled them to stay, and what their new company does better.

If the employee had a bad working experience at your company, try to find out why. Ask the employee to talk about any problems, unresolved issues, or other matters not handled to their satisfaction. Did their supervisor demonstrate fair and equal treatment? Provide recognition on the job? Develop cooperation and teamwork? Encourage and listen to suggestions? Resolve complaints and problems? Follow policies and practices? You might get answers you don’t want to hear, but they’re invaluable if you’re serious about improving employee retention.

Working relationships are foundational to employee morale and success, so ask about them! What situations, practices, or behaviors hindered collaboration? How could those be changed? Was communication good or bad? What made it that way? What practices or working conditions were beneficial and should be maintained or enhanced?

The exit interview is also a good opportunity to get the employee’s perspective on the training they received, the benefits the company offered, the growth potential the employee felt they had, the performance review process, and their assessment of employee morale. At the end of the questioning, ask the employee if there’s anything they’d like to add.

Next Steps

Once you’ve completed the exit interview, put the information you receive to good use. Share it—as appropriate—with the leaders in the company. Some of these conversations might be difficult, especially if you’re having to address sub-par management practices, correct unproductive working conditions, or investigate harassment. But exit interviews will be useful only if you’re willing to have these conversations and make changes based on what you learn.

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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.

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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. 

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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

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