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Minimum Wage Increases – July 1, 2017

By | General HR, Newsletter, Payroll | No Comments

Although the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr has not changed since 2009, several states, cities, and counties will have minimum wage increases as of July 1, 2017.

States with Increasing Minimum Wage as of July 1, 2017

States whose minimum wage rates will increase as of July 1, 2017 include:

  • Maryland: $9.25/hr (Montgomery County and Prince George’s County have separate rate increases set to occur as of October 1, 2017 – see chart for details)
  • Oregon: $10.25/hr (Portland goes to $11.25/hr and nonurban counties go to $10.00/hr)
  • Washington DC: $12.50/hr

Several other cities and counties will also see minimum wage increases as of July 1, 2017. Please see the chart below for details.

States that Pay the Federal Minimum Wage

States whose minimum wage rates do not exceed the federal minimum rate of $7.25/hr include:

  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa (with the exception of several counties; see chart for details)
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico (with the exception of several cities/counties; see chart for details)
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Local laws and ordinances may be different than the outlined information. If an employee works in an area with a higher minimum wage than the federal standard, the higher rate should be paid.

Minimum Wage for Tipped Employees

Federal minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13/hr, provided that this hourly rate combined with tips equals at least the federal minimum wage. Several states have specific laws in regards to tipped employees found here.

Youth Minimum Wage

Workers under the age of 20 can be paid a minimum wage of $4.25/hr for the first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment when their work does not displace another worker. After 90 days, the teen must receive at least the federal minimum rate of $7.25/hr.

For questions about minimum wage or help with other wage and/or compliance matters, please contact our certified HR experts at HR@stratus.hr.

Drug Testing – Where Do I Start?

By | Articles, Drug Testing, Health & Wellness, Manager Training, Newsletter, Performance | No Comments

You’ve seen a few hints of potential drug abuse at your worksite and are suddenly chilled by thoughts of everything you’ve tried to avoid since hiring your first employee. You certainly don’t want other employees to think this is acceptable behavior, and the last thing you want is for the employee to injure himself (or even worse, somebody else) – but what do you do? Here’s the quick how-to plan for both reasonable suspicion testing, as well as setting up a random drug testing policy.

Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing

1. Know the Signs
Although you are not expected to be an expert at diagnosing somebody who is impaired from drugs or alcohol, there are several signs that, when paired together, may indicate something more than a bad day. The most common signs of drug or alcohol impairment include: mood changes; slurred speech; difficulty walking; altered appearance; clumsiness; loss of concentration; performance problems; watery or red eyes; argumentative, uncooperative, or accusatory behaviors; and dilated pupils.

2. Get a Second Witness
Ask another manager (without explaining your suspicions) to observe the employee to provide you with a second opinion. If both you and your second witness have reasonable suspicion that the employee is impaired, pull the employee off the job immediately. If the behaviors are severe or the job is safety-sensitive, don’t wait to find your second witness before pulling the employee off the job.

3. Document Everything!
Being as objective as possible, write down all behaviors and performance issues you’ve observed. Do not include any thoughts and opinions as to why the performance problems are the way they are – simply the specific details of what you observed. These details may include employee actions and interactions, smells, when and where everything occurred, what the employee was doing, any witnesses, and so on. (If you’d like to use our user-friendly form to document your observations, please contact us.)

4. Get the Employee Tested
Perhaps this doesn’t need to be said, but never send an employee to a testing facility alone if you have reason to believe he/she is drug or alcohol-impaired. Either you or another manager should drive the employee to the testing facility, or have someone come to your worksite to test the employee. For more information on reasonable suspicion drug testing vendors and pricing, please contact our HR experts.

Setting up a Random Drug Testing Policy

Many employers choose to set up a random drug testing policy to discourage drug abuse from the get-go, which will hopefully eliminate any for-suspicion incidents. Here’s how to quickly get that set up:

  1. Create a random drug testing policy.
  2. Hold a meeting with employees where the policy is discussed; be sure they sign an acknowledgment form before returning to work.
  3. Have new employees sign off on the policy upon hire.
  4. Conduct random testing (at random times) to enforce the policy and deter drug abuse.

As part of our services, Stratus.hr clients already have steps 1-3 taken care of through the drug-free workplace policy provided in your handbook and the acknowledgment form that employees sign once they are hired. If you are not yet a Stratus.hr client and would like to get a policy set up, or you are interested in setting up random drug testing, please contact us and our experts will take care of everything. We can even conduct the random testing for you and have it deducted from your company payroll rather than billing you separately.

Don’t wait for the avoidable incident – contact us today.

(Reposted from our archives)

Reasonable suspicion drug testing and random drug testing both need to be carefully planned before acting on any whims.
Image credits

How One Comment Created a Hostile Work Environment

By | Discrimination, General HR, Manager Training, Newsletter | No Comments

In a recent court decision of Lashawna C. v. Perez, the EEOC reminds employers that sometimes only one insensitive comment is all it takes to create a hostile work environment and religious harassment – even if that comment was intended to be a joke.

What happened?
A supervisor from within the Department of Labor was exchanging emails with a (Jewish) subordinate regarding the subordinate’s work hours and schedule. During the exchange, the Complainant stated that government employees generally work shorter hours than private sector employees, and she was “working like a civilian.” In response, the supervisor said the following:

Wow … then I must be a damn fool … cause I’ve been working like a Hebrew slave the last 9 years and don’t have enough time to take off … at least somebody got it right.

In explaining his comment to the EEOC, the supervisor said that he used the term “Hebrew slave” in his email to her because this was a “common term that’s used to reflect individuals who work with little means to produce great things.”

While the DOL insisted that this single comment was not severe enough to constitute harassment because he applied the term to himself rather than to the subordinate, the EEOC disagreed based on the following grounds:

The Commission has found that under certain circumstances a single or limited number of epithets or slurs may constitute harassment under Title VII. In this case, the Supervisor (S1) made the comment in an email to Complainant, and S1 knew that Complainant is Jewish. Although S1 only made such a comment once, the comment packed a painful, potent punch. Specifically, S1’s comment made light of the long and painful history of Jewish persecution and genocide…

The fact that S1 may have intended his comment to be a joke or a cliché does not soften the offense any more here than it would if he had uttered an equally offensive racial slur. We determine that a reasonable person in Complainant’s circumstances would find that S1’s comment was severe enough to create a hostile work environment based on her religion.

As a result, the Labor Department was ordered to pay $10,000 to the Complainant and $10,980 to her lawyer, all of which was taxpayer money.

Take Home For Employers
While this ruling does not reflect the language of the relevant statute which bans harassment when it is sufficiently pervasive as to affect “terms” or “conditions of employment,” it provides an important “teachable moment” for employers. Specifically, managers and supervisors should be trained on what is and is not appropriate to say to subordinates, and should always attempt to err on the side of sensitivity.

For more information about what may or may not constitute a hostile work environment, or to request assistance with employee trainings, please contact our HR experts.

Source: ePlace Solutions, Inc. (with amends)

Lessons Learned from Uber’s HR Nightmare

By | Corrective Action, Discrimination, Employee Morale, General HR, Manager Training, Newsletter, Performance | No Comments

A recent blog post from a former Uber engineer is an HR nightmare, with allegations of harassment, sexism, discrimination and power struggles in what she details as “a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story.” Here’s what happened and how it should have been handled from the start…

**From her very first day on the job, Susan Fowler received a string of inappropriate messages from her new manager about his sex life, with clear overtones of wanting Fowler to engage in sexual acts with him. All of this was communicated over company chat, of which she took screen shots and submitted to HR. Although HR admitted these messages were indeed sexual harassment, Fowler was told it was this employee’s first offense and that he wouldn’t get anything more than “a warning and a stern talking-to” because he was a high performer and had probably just committed an innocent mistake.

Fowler was offered to either switch teams or face a likely “poor performance review” from this manager, for which the HR rep insisted would not be considered retaliation if she chose to stay. Feeling quite limited, Fowler switched teams and conversed with more women engineers, many of which she learned over time had similar encounters with the same manager long before she had even come on board. Most of these women had reported him to HR, meaning her encounter actually wasn’t his first offense, and that HR had lied. The women scheduled meetings with HR, received more blatant lies about this manager’s innocence, and felt helpless.

The story goes on with transfer blocks due to “undocumented performance problems,” more sexist emails that were sent to Fowler (and reported to HR), and an absurd move to only purchase leather jackets for the men because they couldn’t get the same “bulk discount” for the women’s jackets. Fowler was then told by HR that she was the common denominator in all of the reports and that “certain people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others.” Less than a week later, she had a meeting with her manager who told her that she was on thin ice for reporting his manager to HR and that she could be fired if she did it again. Knowing retaliation was illegal, she reported the meeting – but nothing came of it because the manager was a high performer. Thankfully, Fowler has since found greener pastures working for a new employer. **

From the very first report of harassment, with or without Fowler’s documented record of any inappropriate conduct, HR should have investigated and implemented corrective action, regardless of the perpetrator’s “high performance” record. Taking harassment complaints seriously and acting immediately is imperative to maintaining the integrity of your HR department. See our steps to Curb “Locker Room Banter” at Work for more details on how to handle sexual harassment complaints.

Our Stratus.hr experts work with clients to ensure compliance with all employment laws, provide advice for difficult situations, and help with workplace investigations. Please contact our HR team for more information.

5 Tips to Keeping Up with Company Growth

By | Company Growth, Newsletter | No Comments

Every entrepreneur has a goal in mind when they first start a business, whether it be a small family business to pass onto the next generation, or perhaps to be the next big publicly traded company. But what do you do when your business growth takes off faster than you can handle?

Being able to keep up with customer demands and expectations is a challenge for every business owner, and growing faster than you can handle may have detrimental effects to your organization. According to inc.com, here are five tips to keeping up with your fast-growing company:

1. Find a Mentor
A mentor can provide tips on business strategy, help with networking efforts, or even act as a confidant when your work-life balance becomes lop-sided.

2. Drop Dead Customer Weight
When your company is growing, it allows you the advantage of saying goodbye to your worst customers – the ones who are always pushing to get more for their money or making you spend far more time on their account than a less-demanding customer.

3. Learn How to Delegate
Although delegating can be an emotional process, take a step back from the day-to-day tasks and discover areas that can be delegated to others. Consider outsourcing some of the tasks that are not critical to your core business, such as payroll, benefits, and risk management.

4. Hire Virtual Workers
If your workspace is busting at the seams with all the new growth, this thought may have already crossed your mind. Today’s technology allows telecommuting and working remotely more viable than ever. Another approach would be outsourcing your administrative and human resources needs. This option will save you much more than office space and will get you access to certified industry experts.

5. Know What You’re Getting Into
Not every business owner wants the stress and pressure of a fast-growing company, so be patient. Do your research and conduct a well-thought-out strategy of how you’re going to execute your business plan.

Being a business owner is challenging enough. Click here to learn more about how to simplify your life and make your business more competitive.

Post OSHA Summary Feb 1 – Apr 30

By | Newsletter, Risk Management | No Comments

It’s that time of year when *employers with 10+ full-time employees are required to keep record of all reportable worksite injuries and illnesses that need treatment beyond first aid that occur on the worksite. The complete record is maintained on their OSHA 300 logs (page 7 of the OSHA 300 booklet) and includes details such as where and when they occurred, the nature of the case, the job title of the injured employee, and the number of work days missed (or on light duty) due to the work-related illness or injury.

Then, from Feb 1 – Apr 30 of the following year, these employers must complete OSHA 300A, which is a summary of those injuries and incidents (page 8 of the OSHA 300 booklet) and post it in a conspicuous place for employees to see, such as a break room. According to osha.gov, all work-related cases must be recorded if they involve any of the following:
• Death,
• Days away from work,
• Restricted work or transfer to another job,
• Medical treatment beyond first aid,
• Loss of consciousness, or
• A significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed healthcare professional.

If any employees do not have access to where the summary is posted, perhaps because of a remote worksite or travel requirements, they must be sent a copy of the report.  Even if no injuries occurred in the previous year, employers are required to post the summary to meet the requirements of this law.

Stratus.hr clients who are required to post the OSHA Summary and for whom we administer their Workers’ Comp policy should receive their OSHA 300A Forms prior to Feb 1. Please ensure this form is posted in a visible place to employees from Feb 1 – Apr 30. For more information about this OSHA requirement, please contact us at wc@stratus.hr.

*To see if your industry is on the partially-exempt list that is not required to post OSHA injury and illness records, click here.

Volatile Politics: What Business Owners Should Know

By | Articles, Health Reform Updates, Newsletter | No Comments
Business owner and politics

With the volatility and uncertainty of the new political atmosphere, many businesses owners have asked how it will affect them. Though nobody has a crystal ball, whatever the changes may be, we can be assured of two things.

First, healthcare reform and repealing Obamacare in some capacity will have a multifaceted effect on businesses.  It will likely impact HR, payroll, hiring and retention, turnover costs, and overall labor costs.  The term “business as usual” will have a different look and feel for each employer, and creating simplicity in one form of employment may make things more complex in another.

Second, regardless of what changes may come from the new administration, utilizing Stratus.hr to stay on top of everything will prove to be a significant benefit. Internal resources can remain on the company’s critical objectives while Stratus.hr manages the impact of the changes on their business. According to Stratus.hr President, Michelyn Farnsworth, “We help clients formulate a ‘best practices’ approach for an overall strategy moving forward, meaning they don’t have to manage everything themselves.”

If you are a current Stratus.hr client, rest assured everything will be communicated and managed as we closely watch the new laws and their impact to your business. If you are not currently a Stratus.hr client, we encourage you to learn more and discover if our services may be the peace of mind you need in such a volatile environment. As Farnsworth coined it, “Change is coming, and utilizing Stratus.hr is the next best thing to having that crystal ball.”

Sticky HR: Job Abandonment

By | General HR, Manager Training, Newsletter, Performance, Retention, Termination | No Comments

When Mary was first hired two months ago as a janitor for a cleaning services company, she was verbally instructed to begin work at 9am. As she became comfortable in her new position, Mary casually started arriving later and later to begin her shift but would clock in and out dutifully upon arrival and before leaving for the day. Over the past two weeks, Mary has been regularly late, several times after 11am, and has no-showed twice. At first, Mary’s boss wanted to be flexible and understanding, assuming she was attending to family matters that required her to arrive late. However, after the second no-show, Mary’s boss left her a voicemail message saying she had voluntarily quit for job abandonment and needed to turn in her access badge immediately. Mary has now filed for unemployment. Will the employer be able to fight (and win) her unemployment insurance claim?

Answer: No.

Job abandonment/no-call, no-show occurs when an employee has no intention of returning to work and has not notified her supervisor of her intention to quit. Because there is no legal definition, company policy and practices establish what is and isn’t job abandonment.

In Mary’s situation, she began casually arriving late to work with no reprimands or warnings. Because Mary’s boss did not enforce the established worktime of 9am or follow-up with Mary regarding her tardiness, Mary will qualify for unemployment benefits, even after not showing up to work twice, because of the apparent flexibility with her work schedule.

To avoid any misunderstanding, an employer should:

  1. Establish clear company guidelines about “no-call, no-shows” to work.
  2. Communicate with the employee to learn about the situation if the employee misses work without contacting her supervisor.
  3. Provide corrective action the first time there’s an infraction to company policy.
  4. Document any form of corrective action, whether it be verbal or written warnings.
  5. Follow-up with the employee to ensure a clear understanding of appropriate behavior.

If a similar situation has occurred in the past, learn what precedence was set. In the event you want to change the previously-set standard, consult with one of our HR experts to cautiously proceed.

For more information on this or other sticky HR situations, please contact us at hr@stratus.hr.