impactnews: Special interview with Nancy Hammer, Esq., Senior Government Affairs Policy Counsel, with SHRM- 10/10/2017

With the new administration having completed the better part of its first year in office, where is HR headed going into 2018? To help answer this, we’re delighted to present an impactInterview with Nancy Hammer, Esq., Senior Government Affairs Policy Counsel with SHRM. Based in SHRM’s Alexandria, VA headquarters, Nancy works closely with a broad range of SHRM members to understand their business and HR challenges and help make their voices heard on policy issues impacting the workplace.

impactnews: How do you characterize the state of HR today? Is the use of technology in HR, for example, making this a golden age for employer-employee relations?

Nancy Hammer

Nancy Hammer, Esq., Senior Government Affairs Policy Counsel with SHRM

NH: I actually thought this is a very interesting question because there is a lot of focus now on big data in a lot of business areas, including HR. I think that’s helpful because data gives us a way to start to see global trends, allowing employers to make adjustments.

The bottom line, though, is nothing really is ever going to be a substitute for the person-to-person engagement that HR does. That’s really its core function – to help foster productive, engaged employees and figure out how to best to do that – all of which requires the personal touch.

For larger employers, it’s interesting to note they may struggle with how to keep this personal touch a part of what they do – they don’t have the HR-to-employee ratios you’d have at a smaller company. Yet I think employers, no matter their size, are looking at how to best communicate to people in a way that makes them feel they’re a part of the organization or community.

One example: I was struck recently when we had a couple SHRM employer members testify before the US Department of Labor’s ERISA Advisory Council about mandatory employer disclosures for employee benefit plans. The focus of the hearing was how to make these disclosures more usable for employees; make them more understandable via clearer language; and maybe consolidate the disclosures so they’re not so overwhelming when released.

And frankly, one of our members said, “Yes, you can improve the disclosures process for employees – that would be great and we should consolidate and make them better to understand – but there are still going to be employees that need to get a human being on the phone or be able to walk into our HR office to ask a question one-on-one.”

impactnews: With recent administration moves on DACA, proposed overtime regulations and ACA, how are you (and SHRM) dealing with these issues?

NH: We have seen a tremendous number of public policy initiatives affecting the workplace in recent years. In the previous administration, there were a lot of changes in the HR space and now that we have a new administration, we’re looking closely at whether some of those are going to be changed or pulled back. We’re just seeing things starting to happen now.

It’s interesting how the workplace is always an attractive target for policymakers – they tend to see HR departments as a natural communication venue to employees, but sometimes they’re also trying to implement broader economic change, and sometimes even societal change, through the workplace. So, I think sometimes HR departments are in the crosshairs because they’re seen as this place where policymakers can have an influence on things that may or may not be directly related to the workplace.

One of the roles of the SHRM government affairs team is to make sure we explain to policymakers how the workplace works. So one example is with proposed overtime regulations. Some of the political arguments that were made for raising the overtime salary level were that employers would be giving employees a raise. But anybody in the employment space or in HR knows employers have a set amount they’re going to use for compensation.

And so, if you’re paying more in overtime, or more for paid sick leave, for example, that’s going to come out of the budget somewhere else. There’s just not an unlimited amount of money for all the ways employees can be compensated. So, sometimes we find our role to be explaining what might be unintended consequences of a certain public policy.

Another policy example is the EEO-1 report for compensation data reporting. As proposed, this was going to be a huge new burden on all employers with 100 or more employees, requiring them to collect data on W-2 earnings and hours worked for all of the classes they normally report on.

At SHRM, we really weren’t sure how it was going to address pay discrimination, which was the stated purpose of the regulation. So we’re happy to see the US Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs take another look at this rule. Having said that, the issue policymakers are trying to address, which is pay equity, is going to remain a big issue.

impactnews: Looking ahead to the overtime issue, which is still in state of regulatory flux, is there a compromise looming?

NH: I think the administration will propose a new salary threshold. SHRM would support an increase – it’s been more than ten years since the threshold was last updated. We believe they should update it in a reasonable way and I think that’s what they’re going to do. The Labor Department’s overtime RFI, which just closed on September 25, asks 16 questions, demonstrating they’re trying to be careful to build a public-facing regulatory record. They want to show that they’ve gone out to the regulated community and asked them for their views on this.

impactnews: Are there steps employers can take to build continuity, consistency in their HR operations in the midst of today’s seesaw policy environment?

NH: Sure, we never want to be in a position of telling employers not to prepare – we say “comply early.” That is, do everything you can to remain in compliance. Yet given the uncertainty of some public policies right now, it makes sense to have your plan – know what your plan for compliance is going to be, but maybe wait and see how it comes out once these regulations have been reviewed. Interestingly, many employers, who delayed making any internal moves on overtime, ended up being glad they did.

There were, indeed, employers who got to work early and made their overtime changes before last November 2016 – and then ultimately the rule was stayed by the court. I still think it’s an important approach to have your HR department be ready for policy changes. Yet, maybe in times of uncertainty, don’t pull the trigger until you can get a good sense of how it’s going to play out.

impactnews: Should employers pay more attention to rules and regulations at the state and local levels more than federal in the months ahead?

NH: The answer is yes! Because when Congress doesn’t legislate, states and localities fill the void. One good example is pay equity. We’ve seen Massachusetts pass its own pay equity law – a good compromise between employers and employee advocates. Their measure, in effect, bans pay history disclosure and gives employers a safe harbor to do an audit to see how their pay practices fare in regard to equity, giving them a chance to fix it. That’s a process employers really appreciate.

Ultimately, there still is a lot going on at the state and local level and it’s important, particularly for multi-state employers, to stay on top of these developments.

I also recommend that employers engage with their legislatures. If there’s a state committee hearing on a relevant workplace-related bill, contact your legislator and see if you can go in and have a chance to explain how this measure would impact your workplace.

The reality tends to be that legislators understand the policy issue, but they may not understand how HR works or how the workplace works. Sometimes, when they learn more about the details from employers, they can make changes to make relevant laws work better. And I would say that’s what Massachusetts did with pay equity – it turned out to be a better law for everybody.

impactHR Launches impactBreakfast Learning & Networking Event Series

(l-r) Laura Rubenstein, Partner, Wright, Constable & Skeen, and Kelly Mitchell, Principal, impactHR

impactHR last month introduced its inaugural impactBreakfast learning and networking event series. Our first event, held at impactHR’s Conference Center, featured Laura Rubenstein, partner and employment law expert with Baltimore’s Wright, Constable & Skeen and impactHR’s Kelly Mitchell, as the primary presenters focusing on “Top Ten Things That Keep Executives Awake at Night.”

Among a range of ideas presented during their presentation, Laura and Kelly talked about how managers and supervisors should strive to give constant feedback (good and bad) to employees (“an employee should never be surprised during a performance review,” said Laura) and recommended that employers be sure to document employee problems as they arise.

This first impactBreakfast in the series also featured robust discussion and Q&A amongst event participants. impactHR will soon unveil details about its next impactBreakfast learning and networking event – please stay tuned!

Update on the Overtime Rule: DOL Begins New Rulemaking Process via Public Comment

In late August, a federal judge issued a final ruling that effectively halted for good the US Department of Labor’s (DOL) 2016 overtime rules that were to have gone into effect last December.

In this recent decision, Amos Mazzant, judge of the Eastern District of Texas, ruled for the plaintiffs (in a lawsuit by 21 states and various business groups) that DOL overstepped its rulemaking authority by raising the salary threshold as high as it did. The rule was set to increase the overtime exemption threshold to $47,476, more than double the current level of $23,660.

In late September, the DOL closed the comment period for a “Request For Information” (RFI) seeking public comment to help it begin formulation of a new overtime rule policy. Learn more about DOL’s RFI

impactAction: employers should continue to follow current overtime regulations and have a plan to move forward if overtime rules do change in the months ahead based on the DOL’s current RFI process.

If you have questions about overtime rules, please contact an impactHR team member via email at info@impacthrllc.com or phone 410-312-7882.

New I-9 Form Released Last Month, Effective Now

Reminder to employers: the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) last September 18 released a new Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. Employers must use the revised I-9 form with a revision date of “July 17, 2017” for all new employees. The revisions to the Form I-9 are minor and employers will not need to change their processes. Learn more

impactHR Team to Volunteer at United Way of Central MD’s Project Homeless Connect, Oct. 12

The impactHR team is getting ready once again to join with hundreds of volunteers to assist persons experiencing homelessness in Baltimore as part of the United Way of Central Maryland’s (UWCM) annual Project Homeless Connect, this Thursday, October 12, at the Baltimore Convention Center.

The UWCM’s Project Homeless Connect helps thousands of families and individuals facing homelessness by providing on-site employment services, medical exams and screenings, haircuts, legal advice, identification, food and other related human services. At last year’s event (photo at right), the impactHR team joined with other volunteers to serve roughly 2,100 Baltimore-area adults and families, including 400 children, experiencing homelessness and to help them achieve stability. Learn more

New Data: Share of Prime-Age People Too Sick, Disabled to Work Continues to Rise

Even though Americans broadly enjoy improved health (such as reduced rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease), the percentage of prime-age workers (25-54 years old) who are too sick or disabled to work continues to rise, according to the Atlanta Federal Reserve. Over the last 20 years, the share of workers too sick or disabled to work has increased by two percentage points. While this may appear to be a low number, the Atlanta Fed notes this is equivalent to four million prime-age workers not in the workforce, resulting in a loss potentially of nearly three percentage points off the gross domestic product. In 2017’s second quarter, 5.4 percent of prime-age individuals reported being too sick or disabled to work. Learn more

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