A number of new laws and court rulings over the past year are requiring businesses to review their employee handbooks to assure they comply, according to a panel of experts speaking at the Daily Herald Business Ledger Newsmakers' Forum on Human Resources, Insurance and Benefits Thursday.
The panel spoke to suburban executives who attended the event at the DoubleTree Hotel in Arlington Heights on a wide range of topics, from dealing with a changing workforce to best handling the number of new laws and rules from the state and federal levels.
Employers will need to review and update their policy manuals after a recent memorandum from the National Labor Relations Board focused on language that can and cannot be used in certain cases, according to Kelly Hayden, general counsel for the Downers Grove-based Management Association of Illinois. In particular, Hayden noted, the NLRB ruled social media policies cannot use the words like "defame," "embarrass,' "hateful," "respect" or "courteous" in setting social media policies, because employees may not understand the meaning of those terms. With the latter terms, she said, the board noted employees have the right to be critical of their employer.
"It's OK to tell them to be respectful or courteous to each other, or to your customers. But you can't tell them to be respectful or courteous to their manager or supervisor, or to the employer in general," Hayden said. But, she said, acceptable language can say employees shouldn't violate company policies, or "harass," "threaten," "bully," "discriminate" or make statements that are maliciously false.
Hayden noted the NLRB's memo goes beyond just social media policies.
"It implicates discipline policies, confidentiality policies, email and communication," Hayden said. "When we go through handbooks, these are all thing we need to comb over now."
The panel also looked at how employers manage a growing nontraditional workforce while meeting mandates of the Affordable Care Act, which requires employers to offer health insurance options to employees working 30 hours or more a week.
Nancy Peske, director of human resources at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, noted the organization has made adjustments in handing its seasonal workers, many of whom work from six weeks to several months, in order to be in compliance with the Act,
Even though the arboretum needs seasonal workers now, it will delay start times to stay within the part-time parameters because the arboretum can't afford to offer insurance to these workers, she said.
"Our HR administrator is spending countless hours in trying to work through how we're going to apply this," she said. "We're training our supervisors so that they know (part-time employees) have to work 28 hours a week so we don't get into trouble with insurance, because with such a huge group of them, we can't afford to bring them all on."
Jerry Schlif, principal with Digital Benefits Advisors in Warrenville, noted it is important that businesses set guidelines and rule regarding part-time and full-time employees make sure supervisors follow those rules.
"A lot of the problems I've run into are that an employer may set a standard as to what is a full-time and what is a part-time employee," Schlif said. "But then a supervisor decides, "I need this person this week,' and before you know it, this part-time employee is now a full-time employee.
"It's very critical that you set rules, follow those rules and understand those rules," he added.