Violence, Drugs, Cyberattacks Worry HR in 2019

 

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer January 15, 2019
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​Workplace violence, marijuana use, data security, leave laws and workforce planning are among the most difficult challenges for employers this year, according to HR professionals.

Experts weigh in with tips and strategies on how to respond to and prepare for these challenges.

Workplace Violence

Forty-five percent of 800 respondents surveyed by online HR resource site XpertHR said preparing for and responding to an active shooter or workplace violence incident is very or extremely challenging.

"The best way to address a threat of workplace violence is to actively prepare employees and supervisors," said Beth Zoller, XpertHR legal editor. "Put policies in place for visitor safety, workplace violence prevention and domestic violence [awareness], and ban weapons from the workplace to the extent permissible by state law."

Employers should also conduct an audit to identify and correct gaps in workplace safety and security. "It has been my professional experience that many organizations address threats of violence on a case-by-case basis without the benefit of a structured and formal assessment process," said Hector Alvarez, founder of Alvarez Associates, a Sacramento, Calif., firm specializing in workplace violence prevention.

"This lack of structure supports, even encourages, a poor crisis-response environment," he said. "In many situations where I have been called to consult on a threat-of-violence case, the organization is often almost paralyzed with uncertainty and fear. The time to prepare for and prevent workplace violence is before threats happen."

Alvarez said creating a culture of safety requires trust between leadership and employees and a firm commitment and active involvement from senior leadership. He recommended HR not try to take on this challenge alone and instead establish a multidisciplinary team with representatives from the legal, risk management, security and operations departments.

[SHRM members-only online discussion platform: SHRM Connect]

Marijuana Dilemma

Conflicting federal and state marijuana laws and efforts to maintain a drug-free workplace are adding to HR's challenges in 2019.

"Nearly two-thirds of the states, plus Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana," said Nathaniel Glasser, an attorney in the Washington, D.C., office of Epstein Becker Green. "Michigan just became the 10th state to legalize recreational marijuana, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced his intention in 2019 to prioritize the legalization of recreational marijuana."

Yet the drug is still illegal under federal law; however, courts have concluded that the federal Drug Free Workplace Act does not pre-empt state legalization laws.

"Employers should be aware that these laws are far from uniform, and the courts have taken different views of the enforceability of zero-tolerance policies," Glasser said. "In the coming year, employers should carefully evaluate their current workplace drug policies in light of changing state laws and shifting social perceptions that may influence the applicant pool. While drug-testing policies should make clear that on-the-job consumption or being under the influence of marijuana remains against company policy, employers should take a considered approach as to whether and how testing for marijuana will occur."

Protecting Data

XpertHR also found that organizations are worried about cyberbreaches (51 percent), managing mobile devices (41 percent), managing the use of technology and social media while at work (39 percent), and protecting employee information (31 percent).

Stu Sjouwerman, CEO of Clearwater, Fla.-based data security firm KnowBe4, said the constant headlines about the mishandling of sensitive data and breaches have made HR aware of cyberthreats. "Not only does a data breach have financial costs associated with it, but there's a significant impact on an organization's reputation with employees," he said. "The ramifications of breaches include individuals being specifically targeted in phishing campaigns."

Zoller said employers should consider using security tools such as firewalls, two-step or biometric authentication methods, and encryption and should limit access to confidential information. "All 50 states now have a data security law in place requiring an employer to provide notice to those affected by the unauthorized acquisition of unencrypted personal information," she added.

Sjouwerman said organizations can help reassure employees by participating in data security audits and providing security awareness training. "It will give them a sense of empowerment to learn how they can take an active role in the organization's security practices to help protect their own data."

Leave Laws

The expansion of federal, state and local leave laws is another concern heading into the new year. "Depending on size and location, an employer may be required to comply with a variety of different leave laws, including paid sick leave, paid family leave and military leave," Zoller said.

Nearly half of respondents (47 percent) feel challenged by tracking and complying with rapidly changing leave laws at the state level, while 46 percent said the same about local leave laws. Forty-three percent have difficulty handling the administrative burden of managing leaves, and 41 percent are frustrated with determining what federal, state and local leave law requirements apply to specific situations.

"Not only are states and local jurisdictions becoming more active in this area, but employers are encountering laws from other jurisdictions more often as they continue to hire employees who work almost exclusively remotely," said Adam Calli, SHRM-SCP, founder and principal consultant of Arc Human Capital, a Washington, D.C.-based HR consulting firm.

He advised employers to take into account the employment laws where any remote hires will be working when considering whether to hire them.

Another idea is to create state-specific supplements to the main company handbook. "Not only does this make a valuable reference tool for the employee, who may have obligations in addition to rights under these leave laws, but it equips the operations managers as well as the HR staff to know and follow the rules in a manner that has the least disruption on the company while still remaining legally compliant," Calli said.

"The biggest obstacle remains ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] accommodations in the form of additional time off beyond the 12-week Family and Medical Leave Act period," said Paul Falcone, vice president of human resources at the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Woodland Hills, Calif. "While labor attorneys insist that open-ended leaves should not be accommodated, it becomes difficult when employees state that they're trying out a new doctor, medication or procedure. The best advice is don't discipline anyone for unauthorized time off that they designate as state-mandated paid sick leave, even when patterns occur around weekends and holidays."

The Right People in the Right Jobs

Workforce planning is yet another issue worrying HR. Sixty-four percent of respondents reported difficulty in finding quality applicants, and 50 percent said creating a succession plan is very or extremely challenging.

"This is such a tight labor market that it leaves many hiring managers feeling frustrated and anxious every time a new job requisition gets posted," said Falcone, who is also the author of 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire (Amacom, 2018). "Identifying high-quality talent is a leadership soft skill in this market that's second to none, so arming your front-line managers with the right kinds of questions that help candidates fall in love with your organization can make all the difference."

Calli recommended turning toward internal development in lieu of external recruiting. "Options include internship programs, apprenticeship programs and management development programs where you rotate people through different parts of your operation," he said.

Falcone advised HR to focus on candidates' and employees' career progression. "This isn't about coddling job applicants—it's about mutual interests regarding professional and career development relative to your organization's current needs," he said. "Most candidates will appreciate the transparency and goodwill that you demonstrate, and that could serve as the swing factor that helps them say yes to your offer rather than someone else's."

Workforce planning will likely continue to be a major concern for HR, Zoller said. "Data analytics may be a useful tool to measure and evaluate progress and to understand where and how an employer should focus its efforts as well to reduce costs."

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