Category Archives: Labor Relations

shared desk at office

5 Ways to Encourage Your Employees to Reach Their Full Potential

It is difficult for employees to reach their full potential without challenging them. Leading and motivating a company according to the mission, values, and desired direction can help employee growth and development. Underutilizing employees can force a company to miss out on large pieces of the puzzle. Understanding the top five ways that employees can be used to their full potential is crucial to any company’s success.

Promote Individuality

No two people think alike; every person has their own intricacies. But no company wants a robotic staff either. Every employee’s individuality should be embraced when brought to the table in order to create a dynamic and powerful company. Using the strengths of each individual will help employers put each employee in the situation that utilizes their strengths. In the end, employees look like a star, which in turn, motivates them to work even harder, all the while, pushing the company’s bottom line higher and higher.

Keep Data on Each Employee

Facts drive motivation; there is no denying them, which is why they are an essential part of any performance review. Showing employees where they excel can help to drive them even further. When discussing areas that need improvement, sticking to the facts will avoid the risk of deflating any employee’s motivation and can help them see where they need to change. Performance reviews are not meant to make an employee feel bad; instead it is an opportunity to learn and grow, letting them see how much they improve over time by simply using the facts.

Build Strong Teams

No employee should have to work alone, feeling the stress and challenges of the job without assistance. A strong team allows each employee to build upon the strength of the others, while enabling the employer to utilize each employee to their full potential. What is a weakness in one team member could be a strength in another, allowing them to complement one another and enabling them to get the job done right – ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of the company.

Keep an Open Door

An open door policy is a great way to instill productivity out of employees. A staff that can comfortably walk into the boss’s office and not feel worried about the response will be more productive in the end. Employees will feel that it is okay to ask for advice, feedback, or direction without getting berated. This gives employees what they need, enabling them to realize their full potential. It also helps to instill a feeling of independence and satisfaction in any job.

Provide Ongoing Training

Procedures, regulations, and missions change along the way, which means that the way employees do their job may have to change as well. Some employees may roll with the punches and be able to stay up-to-date, while others may need a little nudging. Providing ongoing, on-the-job training can help to ensure that every employee is on the same page at all times. This ensures that each employee changes with the environment rather than getting lost in the shuffle and bringing the productivity of the company down.

Utilizing each employee at their full potential is the best way to ensure that any company succeeds. Reaching out to employees to see what they need can make them feel more challenged or closer to the other employees. In the end, a company will be better able to thrive rather than have a high turnover rate or high level of dissatisfaction.

If you want to learn more on how to motivate your employees, visit www.stopknockingonmydoor.com to request your free consultation!

This entry was posted on by HR Resolutions.
food establishment

Five Tips for Franchisees in the Joint-Employer Era

So you’ve mortgaged your house. You’ve taken out a bank loan (or two). You’ve signed the lease. And you’ve fitted out your space. Now, you’re ready to see the success of your hard work as you launch your new small business, backed by the power of a national franchise organization.
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Not So Sweet: Subcontractor Employees May Still Be Your Responsibility

hersheysYou’ve built a first-class company with state-of-the-art operations, a global reputation for environmental stewardship and an enviable supply chain that is the toast of your industry. You also possess a brand worth billions based on smiles and good times, all rooted in an historic ‘company town’ that is a tourist destination in its own right. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, if you’re the Hershey Company, quite a lot. Like many companies that produce and distribute consumer products and goods on a global basis, Hershey operates a vertically distributed supply chain.

That means, for example, that the company’s massive “Eastern Distribution Center III”, a state-of-the-art warehouse facility located in Palmyra, Pennsylvania, is actually operated under contract to a third-party logistics (3PL) that manages the facility on Hershey’s behalf. In turn, the 3PL provider hires a small army of staffing companies to provide workers in the facility, some of whom in turn rely on yet other staffing services, recruiters and the like to deliver the workforce.

When all is said and done, it is entirely understandable that a “Hershey warehouse” which contains only Hershey products, receives deliveries only from Hershey trucks and ships out products just for Hershey customers, nonetheless has nothing, legally speaking, to do with Hershey the company.

In 2011, this highly efficient and yet byzantine business model created an unexpected consequence when it came to light that a sub-sub-sub-contractor had recruited international students through a U.S. State Department cultural exchange program. Furthermore, many of the students paid hefty fees (often ranging from $3,500 to $6,000 or more) to participate in the program, secure the necessary J-1 visa, and come to the U.S. Then, upon arrival for their intercultural business experience at a major American company, they found themselves instead operating as warehouse laborers performing physically demanding – and sometimes dangerous – tasks at the “Hershey-but-not-Hershey” facility.

Muddying the waters in the case was the fact that the students were paying exorbitant rents on top of the extensive fees and, in the end, often actually pocketed less than minimum wage on an hourly basis, once all ‘required’ costs paid to the exchange program management company were taken into account.

Once the situation came to light, matters started to take a turn for the worse. Initially, Hershey representatives said that they had little to no input in the matter – after all, the workers didn’t work for Hershey. That…didn’t quite fly.

So, the students staged a walkout protest, negatively impacting Hershey’s distribution operations. And the irony of students from countries such as China and former Soviet republics claiming that they were being exploited as “slave labor” in the supposedly ‘free’ United States marketplace was not lost on the media or the public.

As we alluded to earlier, the legal arrangement technically involved Hershey contracting the operations of the distribution center to a 3PL provider, which in turn subcontracted labor management to a regional staffing company, who in turn subcontracted recruiting and contracting of the workers to the organization that recruited the students in the first place.

The U.S. Department of Labor, the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) and the State Department all stepped in and investigated the situation, with the major fallout being that the federal government required the various companies to pay more than $213,000 in back wages, $283,000 in OSHA penalties and $143,000 in labor penalties while also coordinating to solve a number of additional violations and grievances.

The civil penalties were assessed to the 3PL company, even though that company’s officials claimed quite understandably that they were not directly involved in or aware of the issues at hand. Nonetheless, the federal rulings also required the 3PL firm to make fundamental operating changes across its entire network of 500 distribution centers nationwide, and the company shared the cost of the employees’ back wages with the other two companies involved. Ultimately, the federal government fined every company that was a party to the process – except Hershey.

Hershey stayed relatively removed from the issue for as long as it could, but the company did negotiate to provide paid leave to the student workers and agreed to host them for a ‘business and cultural exchange’ for one day. While Hershey did remain legally isolated from the federal investigations and their direct impacts, the long arm of the law came much closer to the company than most analysts had predicted, considering that every other company involved ended up directly susceptible to multiple federal legal actions.

The reputational impact of the matter ended up causing bigger headaches for Hershey as well, since the “slave labor” claims taking place in bucolic Central Pennsylvania ended up dredging up longstanding concerns that the company’s suppliers use child labor in the harvest of cocoa used to make Hershey’s chocolates, thus fueling a renewed global labor rights campaign against the company to boot.

Bottom Line: Subcontracting services to other companies only goes so far to insulate your business from responsibility for employment-related wrongdoing. This case also proved that small businesses serving much bigger companies can also become caught up in a ‘dragnet’ disaster when things go wrong around them. The moral of the story is simple: When in doubt, find out. You need to know what’s going on in the workplaces your company is connected to, regardless of whose name appears on the employees’ paychecks.

Selected Sources:

Foreign students protest slave labor at Hershey’s
http://rt.com/usa/students-protest-exchange-hersheys/

Foreign Students in Work Visa Program Stage Walkout at Plant
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/18/us/18immig.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Pleas Unheeded as Students’ U.S. Jobs Soured
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/17/us/hershey-foreign-exchange-students-pleas-were-ignored.html

Feds say they will collect back wages for foreign students who claimed exploitation at Hershey warehouse
http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2012/11/hershey_fines_international_st.html

Hershey Warehouse Working Conditions Questioned As Foreign Students Protest
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/18/hershey-foreign-students-protest_n_930437.html

OSHA Cites Hershey Co. and SHS Staffing Solutions with Workplace Safety and Health Violations
http://employmentlawgroupblog.com/osha-cites-hershey-co-and-shs-staffing-solutions-with-workplace-safety-and-health-violations-following-complaints-made-by-foreign-students-for-exploitive-and-unsafe-working-conditions/

Hershey’s Packer Is Fined Over Its Safety Violations
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/22/us/hersheys-packer-fined-by-labor-department-for-safety-violations.html

Photo Credit: thatedeguy @ Flickr (Creative Commons)

This entry was posted on by HR Resolutions.

What Employers Should Know About ‘Ban-the-Box’ Laws

ban-the-boxWould you ever hire a convicted criminal to work for your company? How about a person who has been adjudicated through the courts, or an individual who has served time? Each of these phrases essentially means the same thing – that a person has been found guilty of a crime in a court of law.

The problem is that how you word this question (as we just saw) – as well as what kind of crime a person has been convicted of, what kind of sentence they received, and when in the past they were convicted – can all have a dramatic impact on your perception of their potential hireability.

Protecting Employer Rights while Improving Opportunities for Candidates

Approximately one out of every twelve Americans has at some point been convicted of a crime, and nearly one out of three adult American males has been arrested at least once. In a nation as judicially active as ours, it’s not hard for a very wide range of people to run afoul of the law.

From ‘stupid mistakes’ in the teenage years to minor but legally significant convictions for traffic errors, the number of ways to become a convict in the U.S. is dramatic. And a recent study identified more than 38,000 punitive regulations and provisions that make it difficult for people to overcome the impact of carrying a criminal conviction in areas ranging from employment to housing, and from voting to obtaining credit.

Eliminating the Question about Criminal Convictions from Employment Applications

One standard practice on virtually every employment application for has been to include a checkbox or yes/no statement next to the sentence, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” And in response to this question, many employers have historically eliminated applicants who answer in the affirmative.

As a result, a national movement called “Ban-the-Box” has sought to eliminate this practice and achieve reform in this area of hiring in order to improve access to employment.

As of August 2014, 66 cities and counties and 11 states as well as the District of Columbia had passed ‘Ban-the-Box’ legislation. While legislation varies between jurisdictions, generally speaking these laws:

– Require employers to remove the check box on employment applications asking whether the candidate has ever been convicted of a crime.

– Require hiring managers to put off asking about a candidate’s criminal history until after an interview has been conducted or a provisional job offer has been extended.

In addition, some states also restrict employers from using criminal history as a sole disqualifier for employment; require employers to notify a job candidate if they are rejected for consideration on the basis of their criminal history; provide a copy of the documentation used to determine the presence of a criminal history to the candidate for their review; and/or restrict employers from making a hiring decision on the basis of criminal history unless the record has a rational relationship or clear connection to the duties of the position being sought.

States in the Northeast who have implemented some form of Ban-the-Box law include Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the City of Philadelphia has also implemented its own Ban-the-Box ordinance, applicable within the city’s jurisdiction. This is a good example because even if your company is not based in one of these jurisdictions , should you have a remote employee, sales rep or field office in one (such as Philadelphia), you are subject to these laws.

How One Ban-the-Box Ordinance Works

So, what does this mean for you as an employer? Let’s take the Philadelphia ordinance as a good example. In Philadelphia, Ban-the-Box regulates employer hiring practices as follows:

– Requires employers to remove questions about criminal convictions from job applications.

– Requires employers to avoid asking questions about criminal convictions during an applicant’s first job interview.

– Requires employers to delay performing a criminal background check on a given candidate until after the applicant’s first job interview.

– Requires employers to never make employment decisions (including termination decisions) on the basis of a closed case that did not result in a criminal conviction.

At same time, the Philadelphia ordinance allows the following practices by employers:

– Employers may ask a candidate about a criminal record after an application is received and after a first interview has been completed.

– Employers are not required to guarantee a job to a person with a criminal conviction.

– Employers are not subject to civil monetary or other judgments when a candidate files a human rights complaint with the City of Philadelphia, although employers may be fined by the City of Philadelphia itself. In addition, the Philadelphia ordinance exempts employers with fewer than ten employees, or those employers engaged in government criminal justice functions such as law enforcement, prisons and courts. It also specifically enables employers to evaluate and research criminal background for any position in which state or federal law proactively requires such action by the employer.

Preparing Proactively to Stay in Step with Changing Laws

Over the next 2-3 years, many analysts following the field expect a majority of states to enact Ban-the-Box laws, which means that the smart thing to do is to prepare now and make changes in your hiring practices across the board.

Smart steps to take now may include:

1. Removing criminal conviction questions from your standard application form.

2. Making sure that all existing versions of your standard application form are updated and revised accordingly, and that all prior versions are destroyed or deleted.

3. Implementing a written hiring policy that includes specific guidelines for when questions about criminal history are appropriate to ask. Remember that employers may legally identify criminal history information during a standard background check, so verbally asking this question may or may not be necessary depending upon your hiring process and specifics.

4. Providing guidance to all hiring personnel on how, when and what to ask (or not ask) regarding such questions, and requiring written indications (on a form or report) that a given candidate’s application has been received, and that a first interview has been performed/completed.

5. Implementing a written procedure for responding to the identification of a criminal history either through voluntary verbal indication by the applicant, or through the background check process. This should include any procedures you may wish (or be required) to institute regarding notification of the applicant.

6. Ensuring that hiring decisions are not made solely on the basis of criminal history, and that any decision to disqualify a candidate based even in part on this factor are documented and clearly connected to the job requirements and objectives.

7. Reviewing documented hiring procedures and standards to ensure that policies do not indicate that convicted persons should be eliminated from consideration across the board. These so-called ‘blanket’ statements could subject an employer to liability and the potential of a lawsuit from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

8. Ensuring that your organization stays informed about proposed and enacted Ban-the-Box in the states, counties and local jurisdictions in which you do business – including locations where you have a field office or remote personnel. For example, the State of Maryland has passed a Ban-the-Box law but within that state, a number of counties are considering ordinances that may apply additional regulations to employers above and beyond the state’s requirements.

Some trade organizations have responded to the Ban-the-Box movement with counter efforts designed to slow, stop or reverse such legislation. These include the National Retail Federation, some chambers of commerce and a number of other business organizations nationally, as well as at the state and local levels.

However, regardless of how you may feel about the issue, the important priority is to ensure that your hiring processes are prepared to operate effectively in an environment of change on this issue. By proactively implementing Ban-the-Box strategies now, you can stay ahead of the shifting seas of regulatory change; increase internal awareness within the company on this important issue; and enable your organization to transition effectively so that your team becomes comfortable and effective with a new approach.

Selected Sources:

Ban-the-Box Movement Goes Viral
http://www.shrm.org/hrdisciplines/safetysecurity/articles/pages/ban-the-box-movement-viral.aspx

Ban-the-Box: An Overview for Private Employers
http://mn.gov/mdhr/employers/banbox_overview_privemp.html

Growing ‘Ban-the-Box’ Movement Impacts Hiring Practices
http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/6969-criminal-history-job-applications.html

What it Means to ‘Ban-the-Box’
http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/30/what-it-means-to-ban-the-box/

Paying a Price, Long After the Crime
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/10/opinion/paying-a-price-long-after-the-crime.html

“Ban-the-Box” Employment Law Gains Ground in 2014
http://jurismagazine.com/ban-the-box-employment-law-gains-ground-in-2014/

Ban-the-Box: Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations
http://www.phila.gov/HumanRelations/DiscriminationAndEnforcement/Pages/BanTheBox.aspx

Editor’s Note: This article provides general information based upon HR Best Practices and does not constitute legal advice. Consult a human resource professional or speak with your attorney for questions specific to your circumstances.

This entry was posted on by HR Resolutions.

Know Your Rights…and Theirs: What One Jimmy John’s Franchisee Learned the Hard Way About HR (Accidental HR)

jmmy johnsYou run a foodservice business – one that is part of a national franchise network whose brand is built on the promise of clean, fresh, tasty food made to-order. Some of your employees decide to begin an organizing effort, in part to protest the lack of paid sick days currently provided to them.

And, as part of that effort, they put up posters implying that maybe, just maybe, the food your business sells to customers could be made by someone who is sick. In fact, the posters even appear inside your restaurant, on a community bulletin board.

Makes you want to fire them, doesn’t it?

Well, if you did – you’d be breaking the law, according to an August 21st ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that forced a Minnesota Jimmy John’s franchisee to rehire the employees he did fire, and potentially face other legal sanctions as well.

The franchising industry often attracts people with accumulated capital and a palpable commitment to building a high-growth business, which is in part why the model is so successful. On the other hand, often times the entrepreneurs who become new franchisees may have had little to no prior experience managing an hourly workforce, and chances are they have no idea how unionization or any other aspect of labor relations works.

Once you begin hiring and managing hourly employees for your business, those employees are protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Many employers think that the latter law only impacts them if employees choose to unionize, or even once a union is voted in. That is not the case. Even non-union employees are protected by provisions of the NLRA.

Your employees have rights as well as responsibilities

If you’re a first-time franchise owner and you’ve never encountered the complexities of American labor law head-on before, just keep in mind that while your business is your business, your employees are not entirely your employees. They have rights and protections afforded to them for good reason, but those protections may at times seem strangely at odds with what you think is clearly in the best interests of the business.

In the Jimmy John’s case, the franchise owner made a clear and compelling argument that the posters his protesting employees distributed (there were, by some accounts, more than 3,000 posters in all) were defamatory and malicious in their intent. In fact, he said that the posters actually threatened the livelihoods of all of the other employees whose jobs would be lost if the business failed due to a false perception of food safety danger created by the posters, in the eyes of the buying public.

It certainly makes sense on the one hand, and chances are no business owner would consider the posters tame or ‘okay’. But the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) looks at things from the context of the “concerted activity” involved, and asks how the activities of the employees do or do not accord with that intent under the law.

In this case, the NLRB decided that the core statement on the posters (i.e. that employees at the restaurant did not receive paid sick time) was “factually accurate”, and that the actions of the employees demonstrated that they were “motivated by a sincere desire to improve their terms and conditions of employment”.

The Board also found fault with the franchisee because one of his supervisors encouraged some employees to disparage a fellow worker who was pro-union on Facebook.

What does this mean for your business?

Quite simply, it means this: When your employees request, press or demand changes to their labor conditions and they join together to represent themselves or appoint a representative in an organized fashion, you need to know the law and follow it carefully.

The NLRB calls this Protected Concerted Activity, and specifies that “The law we enforce gives employees the right to act together to try to improve their pay and working conditions, with or without a union. If employees are fired, suspended, or otherwise penalized for taking part in protected group activity, the National Labor Relations Board will fight to restore what was unlawfully taken away.”

What the Jimmy Johns case proves is that the NLRB is fully committed to protecting every employee’s right to concerted activity, and that such activity is protected by a very wide berth.

Managing employees is complicated enough when everyone is generally happy and the morale of your workforce is genuinely positive. But when things begin to get the least bit complicated, many business owners are completely unprepared.

If you’re new to the world of managing an hourly workforce or if your business is beginning to experience changes that could complicate the nature of your employee-management relationships, take the smart step and proactively seek professional assistance – like working with a dedicated, professional human resources consultant who can review and advise on your policies, procedures, benefits and other aspects of your work culture.

Want to learn more about the National Labor Relations Act? You can, by visiting the official website here:

National Labor Relations Act
http://www.nlrb.gov/resources/national-labor-relations-act

For more information on how your business can maintain an effective employment environment in the midst of ever-more-complex federal, state and local laws, contact HR Resolutions today for a free initial consultation to discuss how on-site, on-call and as-needed HR outsourcing can work cost-effectively in your business, or call us at 717-652-5187.

Article Sources:

NLRB judge finds Jimmy Johns franchisee in Minnesota illegally fired employees for protected activity
http://www.nlrb.gov/news-outreach/news-story/nlrb-judge-finds-jimmy-johns-franchisee-minnesota-illegally-fired-employees

NLRB: Jimmy John’s Can’t Fire Workers for Icky Sick-Leave Protest
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-08-25/nlrb-jimmy-johns-cant-fire-workers-for-icky-sick-leave-protest

MN Jimmy John’s Workers Call Foul; Owner Refutes
http://tcbmag.blogs.com/daily_developments/2011/03/mn-jimmy-johns-workers-call-foul-owner-refutes.html

Rights We Protect: Protected Concerted Activity [NLRB]
http://www.nlrb.gov/rights-we-protect/protected-concerted-activity

Image Credit: nateone (Flickr @ Creative Commons)

This entry was posted on by HR Resolutions.