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How to Navigate Key HR Issues in 2017

New year will be “one big question mark” for personnel matters

A new year – and new administration – means new employment and labor laws. Distributors in 2017 will need to pay close attention to changes in the law, as well as to changes in generational expectations and needs. This article examines how to approach pressing HR matters while also keeping an eye on continual concerns.

A new year brings new challenges, and 2017 will be rife with human resources issues that require companies be strategic about how they manage their talent.

2017 is “one big question mark” for HR, according to Nancye Combs, president and CEO of HR Enterprise, a human resources consulting firm in Louisville, KY. And that question won’t begin to be answered until inauguration day on Jan. 20.

“The change in the administration in Washington will be very difficult for employers this year because we do not know which of the employment issues will go in which direction,” says Combs, who spoke last month to a packed room at the Heating, Air-conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International conference in Colorado Springs, CO. “This is going to be a confusing year nationally. So we’re going to guess.”

Monitor federal, local laws

One of the biggest guessing games revolves around overtime. Late last year, a federal court blocked the start of a rule that was set to take effect Dec. 1 and would have made an estimated 4 million more American workers eligible for overtime pay.

The injunction by the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas said the Department of Labor’s rule – which would have raised the threshold from receiving mandatory overtime pay from $23,660 to $47,476 per year, or $455 to $913 per week – exceeds the authority the agency was delegated by Congress.

“A preliminary injunction preserves the status quo while the court determines the department’s authority to make the final rule as well as the final rule’s validity,” Judge Amos Mazzant said in the Nov. 22 ruling.

During her HARDI speech, “Managing the Impact of the Top Ten HR Challenges for 2017,” Combs called the injunction a “pause” rather than a “stop” of the overtime rule. And because the law was in motion for months, many companies were in the middle of preparing for the changes and now are in limbo.

“This won’t be decided for a while, which will cause a lot of consternation and confusion,” Combs says. “Based on the new administration, my speculation is they will be ultraconservative.”

The injunction could hold, or an appeals court could reverse it. Either way, employers may be unsure how to proceed, especially with a new labor secretary.

“If you have already made alterations to your compensation plans or to your employees’ exemption status, it might be unpopular to reverse course now,” says employment law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP. “Although you may have the legal right to revert to the status quo depending on your circumstances, you might consider waiting until a final decision is reached in court, Congress and the White House before doing anything further.”

Employers must also keep an eye on local and state laws that more directly impact their business, Combs says. These can range from increases in the minimum wage to the legalization of recreational and medicinal marijuana.

“Distributors have to be vigilant about what’s happening in their local communities,” Combs says. “If the U.S. Congress doesn’t pass minimum wage increases, they’ll do it at the local level. States and cities are going to pass legislation that affects workers even though the federal government is doing nothing.”

Another area to watch is workplace safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration made changes throughout 2016, and not keeping track with those – or the ones to come in 2017 – is dangerous, according to Mike Greco, regional managing partner in the Denver, CO, office of Fisher & Phillips. “If you’re not up to speed on these changes, you could find yourself in trouble quickly,” he says.

Bolster HR to avoid legal issues

Despite lingering questions around labor and employment laws, companies can take steps to ensure they are HR savvy in 2017. For example, companies that are too small to justify a full HR department can outsource those services through a third party or industry association. They should also examine how they handle a range of personnel issues, from administrative details to policy and hiring decisions.

The goal of any company, Combs says, is to keep HR issues from becoming expensive legal issues. This can be difficult for distributors, who are focused more on growing their business than on devising workplace policies and procedures, much less enforcing them. But, Combs warns, working on your business is just as important as working in your business.

Make 2017 the year you create – or update – an employee handbook, 

© 2019 Gale Media, Inc.

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