HR News & Trends, Legal Issues

5 New Year’s Resolutions Every HR Manager Should Make

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By Mark J. Neuberger

As we approach the start of a New Year, many people will make New Year’s resolutions and promise themselves to do better in 2014.

In addition to heading to the gym, going on a diet, and giving more of your time and money to charity, why not make promises to improve your professional practices in the New Year as well?

Here are five resolutions every HR Manager should consider:

1. I’ll get my organization in compliance with Wage/Hour & Wage Payment laws

Compliance with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and similar state laws are, in the author’s opinion, the single biggest legal risk facing the human resource function of most organizations.

FLSA claims are not only costly, but they continue to be the most commonly litigated forms of employment lawsuits in the federal court system. Why then, aren’t HR Managers doing more to insure compliance?

The excuses are many, including the fact the law is arcane, complex, grossly out of date and counterintuitive. By taking some time to learn the nuances, by resisting the temptation to just “make them exempt or just make them independent contractors,” companies can come into compliance.

Too many people like to take the shortcuts when it comes to FLSA classification. Simply put, in this day and age wage/hour shortcuts will get you sued.

And remember, the FLSA is one of the few employment laws where managers can be sued individually and held personally liable.

2. I will use Big Data in the management of my human resources

Big Data is defined as a process to deliver decision-making insights by using people and technology to quickly analyze large amounts of data in order to enhance managerial decision-making. Human Resource management is especially well-positioned to benefit from the insights that come from Big Data.

Big Data can help HR to debunk conventional wisdom and help better predict future human behavior. If you have no idea what Big Data is and how it can be used, navigate to Google Flu Trends.

Google believes that simply by analyzing trends in searches, such as an increase in the search terms “flu symptoms” or “flu remedies,” it can track the spread of seasonal influenza. HR managers who know in advance when the flu will hit their workplace can plan ahead with staffing contingencies and other measures to lessen the disruption to the business.

When managers can better predict, they make better hiring and promotion decisions, they make better manpower planning and staffing decisions, and they will know what truly motivates employees to be more productive.

3. I will finally get up to speed on the Affordable Care Act

With 318,517 words in the two laws which make up the Affordable Care Act, and 11,588,500 words in the regulations issued thus far, getting an even rudimentary understanding of the ACA and understanding its impact on your company and employees is a daunting challenge.

However, much to the dismay of the Tea Party, the ACA is not going away any time soon.

How the ACA will ultimately impact the cost of doing business is anyone’s guess, but 2014 is an important year because many of the ACA’s new features come into effect.

Soon, the day will come when businesses that are not in compliance will be subject to enforcement actions and lawsuits. Make sure your business is not one of the first targets. Get up to speed and get into compliance now.

4. Even though my company is non-union, I’ll focus on the National Labor Relations Act

The National Labor Relations Act generally applies to all private sector companies except those in the railroad, airline and marine transportation industries.

The conventional belief is that unless your company is the target of a union organizing drive or unless you already have a union, the NLRA is something you never need to worry about. This belief is wrong.

If you are an HR Manager who does not understand all of the ramifications of every employee’s right to engage in “Protected Concerted Activity,” then you are doing a disservice to your organization. With the rate of private sector unionization now at approximately 7 percent of the workforce, the National Labor Relations Board is looking for new and exciting ways to stay relevant.

Recent Board decisions have punished employers who discipline their employees’ over their use of social media, published overly broad handbook policies, and disciplined employees for breaches of confidentiality. All of these decisions have arisen in non-union environments.

The Board now has an entire section of its website devoted to educating people about the right to engage in “protected concerted activity.” If nothing else, read the Board’s Web pages and figure out how you will ensure your non-union company is not hit with Unfair Labor Practices charges.

5) I’ll focus on preserving the mental health of my employees and myself

According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans age 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year.

Mental disorders are one of the leading causes of disability and lost work time. Suicide rates in America have now increased to the point where more people die from suicide than car accidents.

With more employees working through electronics and working remotely, the opportunity for face-time interaction with your employees is rapidly declining.

Often times, disability due to mental related conditions results from a steady decline over time. For early intervention to work, someone has to notice the warning signs and take preventive measures.

If you never see or interact with your employees, you will never know what is going on. Manage by walking around and insist people come to work and attend office meetings from time to time.

If your company does not have an Employee Assistance Program, part of your resolution should be that you will explore the options. Many employers believe the cost of an EAP more than pays for itself in terms of reduced absenteeism and increased productivity.

Also, don’t ignore your own well-being. Being an HR Manager is incredibly stressful. Make sure you take some time to put down the phone and walk away from the email.

Most of all, have a happy and compliant 2014.

Mark J. Neuberger is an attorney in the Miami office of the law firm Foley & Lardner LLP . A member of the firm's Labor & Employment Practice, he represents management in all aspects of labor and employment law and is a frequent speaker to business groups. Contact him at mneuberger@foley.com.