HR Compliance in the Global Workforce

Scott Williams, CEO of The Stonehaven Group

Corporate Stewardship and Hiring Diversity

Last week, we looked at the role diversity initiatives play in corporate stewardship programs. Today, let’s explore the nuts and bolts of how one company is putting its diversity principles into action. Coca-Cola recently began to increase its workplace diversity with a push to recruit on college campuses. As a large-scale U.S. employer, it’s actually a little unusual that this company has taken so long to target university students as potential employees. But the fact is, supply chain jobs just aren’t seen as all that “sexy”. How many college freshmen do you know who tell you they want to work in the soft drink industry?

It’s All Business

Coca-Cola decided to pair an emphasis on greater diversity with an equally important business initiative – making their company a more attractive employment option for upcoming college graduates with highly sought after skills. Both of these objectives align with larger goals of strategic workforce planning to make the most of human capital and increase employee engagement – activities that are linked to greater overall profitability. Focusing recruiting efforts on college students meant gaining access to a continuous supply of well qualified job candidates who are members of historically disadvantaged groups (e.g., women and minorities).

Most Companies Need Greater Diversity at the Top

The greatest gaps in diversity tend to be at the professional level rather than entry level positions. So, Coca-Cola’s University Talent Program is designed to groom college seniors for leadership roles starting with an acculturation onboarding module that helps build loyalty from day one. The program focuses on teaching job necessary skills and giving participants responsibilities so they can prove themselves. They can choose a specialty and rotate through various interrelated positions and assignments within that sector during their time in the program. This gives them a well-rounded perspective that’s essential for knowledgeable leadership. The program also formalizes the often “hidden” part of leadership development by making support from company executives and high-level networking opportunities an integral part of the training process.

Are you wondering how to most effectively increase the diversity of your workforce by adding talented and qualified employees from a broader demographic? Talk to our corporate stewardship experts at The Stonehaven Group to start putting together a plan today.

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What Types of Technology Does ADA Section 508 Cover?

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you know we’ve talked about ADA Section 508 as it applies to web accessibility. However, this isn’t the only type of technology that federal and state employers have to think about when making IT acquisition decisions. Besides actual intranet and internet website design, Section 508 covers:

  • Individual software applications
  • Operating systems
  • Telephones
  • Video and audio files
  • Equipment including PCs and laptops

Hardware and Software are Only Part of the Picture

Visual and hearing impairments are the types of disabilities most often discussed when determining accessibility. For example, employers are aware that they may need to supply a telephone with buttons that feature Braille or a telecommunications setup with either TTY or TRS. But there are also other considerations. A phone menu for a help or information line used internally or externally must be accessible to individuals with speech impairments and those with motor impairments. This means users would need to have the option to speak their request or enter a numerical code to navigate the menu. So, there is accessibility planning that goes into hardware/software selection and into how users interact with the information supported by each form of technology.

Users Need Access to Instructions

It doesn’t matter if you’ve gone out of your way to make a product accessible if an employee with a disability is unable to figure out how to use it. For example, an onscreen image showing a visually impaired user how to operate a device or access text-to-speech software isn’t helpful. The product should present descriptions of accessibility features and instructions for use in a format that is accessible. You also need to take into account the access that non-disabled employees have to product support services such as a helpdesk. This same level of support should be facilitated via alternate means of communication for workers with disabilities as needed.

Are you wondering how closely your company adheres to ADA Section 508? The Stonehaven Group specializes in advising employers on all aspects of workplace compliance. Contact us today for a consultation.

Corporate Stewardship and Diversity

After eco-sustainability and community outreach, diversity is one of the top priorities in many corporate stewardship programs. There are two types of diversity initiative. The first is workforce diversity. This concept is often implemented in organizations that are not governed by affirmative employment plans. They can choose their own methods for increasing workplace diversity and set goals that are closely aligned with business objectives.

Building Workforce Diversity Has Several Benefits

First, taking a proactive approach rather than simply complying with the minimum requirements of the law gives a company bragging rights. Such businesses can market themselves as fair and equitable workplaces that value employees of all ages, sexes, ethnic backgrounds, ability levels, primary languages, etc. Second, it may serve as a deterrent to EEOC claims for discrimination if the program helps the employer establish a documented track record for inclusion.

Third, managing a diverse group of employees can motivate a business to identify and develop better leadership practices that increase overall engagement and productivity. Finally, it sets the stage for tapping into a wider talent market as the competition for human capital becomes more intense. Coupled with an aggressive visa program, diversity initiatives can leverage recruiting efforts in other countries and even set the stage for global expansion.

Supplier Diversity Counts Too

The other half of the diversity equation is found on the supply side. There are arguably fewer compliance pitfalls to avoid in increasing supplier diversity. A business isn’t likely to be sued for discrimination by a disgruntled vendor who didn’t get awarded a contract for office supplies or software. So, experimenting in this area of diversity is fairly low risk. You can negotiate to find the right fit for service, price, and quality from woman owned businesses, minority owned businesses, companies that focus on providing employment for people with disabilities, and so forth. Supplier loyalty is liable to be high in these relationships, making them a smart investment.

How Can You Kick Start Diversity at Your Company

When you implement an initiative to become more diverse, there is always the risk that one disadvantaged group will think that another group is getting all the “attention”. Or, those in the majority may feel dispossessed. So, it’s important to consider the fallout from your program from a legal and practical perspective rather than just jumping in. The Stonehaven Group is well equipped to advise you on this aspect of your corporate stewardship program. Contact us today to get started.

States Support ADA Section 508 With Own Regulations

The introduction of ADA Section 508 has increased compliance requirements for federal agencies. But there are many state governments working on increasing the accessibility of information technology as well. Some simply offer guidelines while others have actual statutes in place to promote equal workplace inclusion for people with disabilities. Here are highlights from a couple of states:

California

California requires state agencies to adhere to ADA Section 508 standards. State lawmakers recognize that the employment landscape has changed and IT accommodations are becoming just as critical as physical accommodations for disabled workers. In the Legislature’s words: “The Legislature finds and declares that the ability to utilize electronic or information technology is often an essential function for successful employment in the current work world.”

The state is pushing for state employers (and state contractors involved in developing/providing technology solutions) to increase workplace technology accessibility. The statute’s initial focus is on assisting those who have vision and hearing impairments.

California is well known for taking basic Federal worker protections and adding to them (such as with Cal/OSHA). So, this is one state to watch for more stringent legislation in this area as time goes on. Self-monitoring for compliance with Section 508 is the rule for now. However, if an agency or contractor is found to be in violation of the statute based on investigation of a complaint, funding may be jeopardized.

Florida

Florida’s guidelines also build on standards set forth by the Federal government along with W3C – the advisory body that leads the international community in creating a more accessible online experience for all users. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, so Florida keeps web accessibility guidelines short and sweet:

“All Florida State Government web sites must comply with Section 508 to ensure the widest possible audience easy access to government information. These standards are based on access guidelines developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).”

The state’s Division of Blind Services is tasked with ensuring that all information technology used by, or procured for, state agencies is accessible to individuals with severe visual impairments.

Will These Requirements Spread?

It is likely that all 50 states will continue to institute standards, policies, guidelines, and legislation to increase compliance within state agencies. The accessible technology developed for use in Federal and State workplaces will be a valuable resource for private employers who are seeking greater overall ADA compliance as well. The Stonehaven Group’s legal consultants are here to assist and advise you on creating and implementing strategies that increase your compliance and reduce your risk of employee litigation under the ADA.

Are Standards of Conduct Improving?

While it’s true that there’s still a significant problem with unethical workplace behavior (from the executive level on down), things aren’t all bad. According to the latest National Business Ethics Survey, misconduct is apparently on the wane. The number of employees surveyed who had witnessed unethical activities at work dropped 7% from 2007-2009. This isn’t a result of underreporting – whistle blowing actually increased 5% for the same time period.

The NBES found a similar improvement in standards of conduct during the last recession. There is a surprising correlation between belt tightening and a stronger focus on doing the right thing. Perhaps this is the natural swing of the pendulum away from the excesses that tend to occur when everyone is riding a “bubble” of prosperity. Increased government oversight as a response to large scale irresponsibility on the part of financial institutions and other corporate entities who have betrayed the public trust probably plays a role as well. Buzzwords like accountability and transparency are certainly changing how ethics are discussed – if not how well they are upheld in practice.

It’s Not all Sunshine and Roses

Even with this overall improvement, 22% of workers interviewed said that the economic downturn had a negative impact on ethics at their workplace. So, the trend toward better behavior is far from universal. Here are 10 behaviors that 10% or more of employees surveyed reported witnessing in 2009:

  1. Company resource abuse
  2. Abusive behavior
  3. Lying to employees
  4. Email or Internet abuse
  5. Conflicts of interest
  6. Discrimination
  7. Lying to outside stakeholders
  8. Employee benefit violations
  9. Health or safety violations
  10. Improper hiring practices

 

Who’s Doing What?

It is likely that standards of conduct violations such as company resource abuse happen at all levels (who among us has never made a personal phone call or sent a personal email on company time?) However, it’s obviously those at the top who are lying to outside stakeholders and employees. Furthermore, abusive and discriminatory behavior by supervisors or managers toward subordinates – the bully boss syndrome – is known to be very widespread. The fact is that the more power an individual or group has within a company, the more egregious their ethical lapses can be.

How to Fix This

The NBES offers recommendations along the following lines for a four pronged approach to upholding standards of conduct policies:

  1. Leadership must set the tone for ethical behavior and act as role models to earn the trust and respect of the workforce.
  2. Supervisors must reinforce this message in everyday interactions with employees.
  3. Workers should support each other in discussing the importance of ethics and in encouraging peers to do what’s right.
  4. Ethics should be embedded in day to day activities so that even new hires going through onboarding can sense how important these standards are to the company’s culture.

If you are unsure how to proceed in creating and implementing a code of ethics or standards of conduct policy at your workplace, let The Stonehaven Group help you. Your organization can reap the benefits of a workforce that is better engaged and dedicated to protecting the reputation of your company over the long term.

How Today’s CEOs Are Eroding Standards of Conduct

                                                                                                     

If there’s one thing that really makes a ‘standards of conduct’ policy difficult to enforce, it’s when executives run rough shod over the ethics a company is trying to instill in employees. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners looks at how “The Tone at the Top” affects worker behavior in an incisive report you can read here. It’s pretty clear that the type of attitudes that led to the Enron debacle and similar flagrant ethics abuses are still far too prevalent in the corporate world. Here are some highlights from the ACFE paper that paint a grim picture of what happens when executives don’t play by the rules:

  • Between 2000-2005, over 100 CEOs of public companies were sued for white collar crimes that seriously impacted stakeholders including stock owners, employees, and the public.
  • According to a study published by the Treadway Commission in the late 1980s, unethical behavior demonstrated by those in executive positions is one of the causal factors determining whether financial fraud is committed by managers and their subordinates. Today, it’s no different.
  • It is possible for leaders to inadvertently encourage unethical behavior by placing too much emphasis on cost cutting, revenue building, and the company’s financial bottom line at the expense of other values. The use of financial incentives for high performance in these areas may increase the tendency of workers to be OK with bending rules and doing “whatever it takes” to reach short term goals.
  • Employees may feel they are not doing anything wrong when they simply follow the path laid out by senior management – even if they are actually breaking the law. They think they are doing what is best for the wellbeing of the company and acting as responsible employees.

The sad fact is that if your ‘standards of conduct policy’ doesn’t apply to everyone in your organization, it will not be effective. Is it time to take a hard look at your standards and make sure they match your company’s values? Are you ensuring that new hires read and fully understand these policies during onboarding? What’s your plan for effectively addressing non-compliance? Do you know how to communicate and demonstrate the high ethical standards your executives follow so that employees learn by example?

The Stonehaven Group can help you craft and implement a policy that promotes an honest and productive workforce from top to bottom. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Global and Local Corporate Stewardship Part 2

As we discussed in Part 1 of this series, corporate stewardship isn’t just for big, global companies. No matter the size of your enterprise, there are some great initiatives you can put into practice to conserve resources and increase the wellbeing of your community. Here are two more featured programs from the Rover Group that you can use as inspiration at your own company.

Real Carbon Offsets

The Rover Group helps reduce emissions and reliance on non-renewable fuels through involvement in Gold Standard projects. At this time, the carbon offset market is not strongly regulated and standardized. This means not all programs are created equal. Gold Standard credits support projects that promote accountability and monitoring to ensure that program objectives are met. The participating communities are involved in developing appropriate technology based on their local needs – from wind farms to more efficient cooking equipment.

Any business can get in on the carbon offset market. You can simply tailor your involvement to the scale of your organization. But if you want to make this a part of your corporate stewardship initiative, you should do the research to make sure you aren’t involved in a scheme that is “robbing Peter to pay Paul” or making claims that aren’t backed by facts. The FTC is clamping down on carbon offset fraud, but there’s still no substitute for putting in the time to learn how carbon credits work before you buy in.

High Tech Conservation

Did you know that the latest high tech “toys” can actually play a role in your corporate stewardship program? The Rover Group is using life sized, 3D virtual reality technology to design new components and create prototypes for concept vehicles. The more work they can do in the virtual sphere, the fewer materials they waste during the R&D phase.

If you are investing in new technology that will reduce the physical resources required to operate your business, it might deserve a mention in your web page on eco-friendly company initiatives. For example, you might be using more cloud based software applications (like the latest version of Universal Onboarding from our friends at Emerald Software Group). It’s valid to point out that your company is taking advantage of the greater energy efficiency offered by distributed servers. For more ideas on how to take smart business decisions and give them the right “green” spin, contact The Stonehaven Group today.

Workers Comp HR Compliance Certification

Workers’ Compensation is a standard insurance expense for most businesses. However, the premiums are not where the real costs of the program come in. It’s the administration of claims that tends to eat up resources. Incorrectly or inconsistently administered claims can wind up in court where costs quickly spiral out of control. HR compliance certification in the field of Workers’ Comp can offer a layer of protection against common errors that get employers in trouble.

Why is Training Important?

The worst time to learn WC administration regulations is when HR is trying to process its first claim. When HR doesn’t have a strategy in place and is just trying to figure out the rules, the results for the employer and for the injured worker are likely to be less than optimal. The longer a worker has to wait to be seen by a network provider and start the claims process, the more frustrated and victimized they will feel.

When HR makes a wrong move on its first WC claim, this can set a precedent for how future claims are handled. For example, they might tell a worker that a claim will be covered when it turns out to be non-compensable. The employee is likely to be livid if HR later reverses this decision. If the employer moves forward with compensation “just this one time”, this opens the door to accusations of discrimination if later injuries of the same type are not compensated.

Your Whole Organization Benefits from More Knowledge

It’s not just HR that needs to understand Workers’ Compensation. Executives at your organization will want to know the options available for self-insurance and other non-standard plans that can meet WC insurance obligations under state law. For some companies, this is a more cost effective risk management strategy than paying traditional WC premiums. To reduce litigation risks, HR must fully understand the rules required for proper administration of claims. This includes knowing when to defend against a claim, proper documentation for claims processing, and the best ways to get workers healthy and back on the job as soon as possible.

HR Needs Comprehensive Compliance Certification

Courses involving WC are commonly offered in conjunction with FMLA, ADA, and COBRA. That’s because WC can overlap with these other regulations in ways that are very confusing. It’s important to know which laws (e.g., state or federal) take precedence in a given situation. If your HR administrators only learn about Workers’ Compensation, they miss out on critical decision-making tools.

Since WC and FMLA laws can vary by state, the only way to understand the complex interaction between these areas of leave administration is with comprehensive compliance training. At The Stonehaven Group, our labor and benefits law experts are ready to provide your HR department with the information it needs to understand and apply rules correctly for greatest compliance.

Do Your Employees Understand Your Organization’s Standards Of Conduct?

There’s a time and a place for finely crafted, complex legalese, and there’s a time for straight talk. Your organization’s standards of conduct should definitely be reviewed by an experienced HR law advisor (like our expert team at TSG-HR) for legality and enforceability. That’s especially important for any section regarding disciplinary actions that may be taken if/when employees fail to follow the standards. However, if your employees need a lawyer to help them decipher a policy, it’s time to rethink what you’re really trying to accomplish.

Keeping It Simple Makes It Powerful

Your standards of conduct policy should be written in straightforward language that’s accessible to the average employee. Otherwise, it doesn’t serve its primary purpose – helping you create a workforce that is:

  • Professional and cooperative
  • Productive and reliable
  • Trusted to act with integrity
  • Known for practicing good judgment
  • Committed to protecting the interests of your company
  • Willing and able to uphold your organization’s reputation

What Should You Include?

This policy document is designed as both a statement of your organization’s values and ethics and your expectations regarding employee behavior. It is a guideline rather than a set of rules outlining every single action that could be construed as unacceptable behavior. This document should be presented to each new hire during transactional onboarding (forms completion) and reinforced during acculturation onboarding (socialization and training).

The specific standards you should include will vary somewhat based on your industry and whether your organization is publicly or privately held, for profit or non-profit, and so forth. But there are some basics that most policies typically include. Here are a few examples of areas you may want to cover when you communicate your expectations:

  • Timely attendance and advance notice for any absence or tardiness
  • Performance of assigned duties (quality, integrity, productivity)
  • Commitment to using work time and work resources only for work-related purposes
  • Support of and adherence to safety and health best practices in the work environment
  • Use of authorized channels for dispute resolution
  • Compliance with all state and federal laws in carrying out workplace duties
  • Commitment to report dangerous, illegal, or unethical activity
  • Commitment to make decisions that are in line with your organization’s values and goals
  • Respectful behavior toward all coworkers, customers, vendors, and other parties

That’s just a starting place for a comprehensive ‘standards of conduct’ policy. To get assistance in creating a policy that makes sense to your employees and helps you achieve your business objectives, contact The Stonehaven Group today.

Corporate Stewardship For Large Companies

At The Stonehaven Group, we work with companies of all sizes to develop corporate stewardship programs that really make sense. To be effective, the goals of a program must be within the capability of an organization to achieve. So, the objectives of a large company may look very different from those of a smaller business. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated is one of our clients, and we are very proud of the collaboration that’s resulted in their current program. It’s an example of very sizable company that has the opportunity to make an enormous positive impact through a well designed stewardship initiative.

Coca-Cola’s Commitment Is ‘The Real Thing’

The Stewardship/Community Involvement page on Coca-Cola’s website provides some insight into what makes an effective program. First, it outlines what the company means by the terminology used. In this case, being a caring member of the community and being accountable for conservation are the key concepts. Then, you find out exactly how Coca-Cola puts these words into action. This type of clear communication increases credibility.

The web page highlights the organization’s involvement in fields like education and youth development (areas that everyone agrees deserve better funding). Then, it talks about how employees are supported and encouraged in volunteerism using company resources. These are fairly standard practices for businesses with a corporate stewardship program. Obviously, a company the size of Coca-Cola can invest more heavily in these initiatives and touch more lives in the community. But smaller businesses can also do their part along the same lines. One way to ensure maximum effect is to introduce new hires to opportunities for volunteerism during the onboarding phase. The sooner they get excited about participating, the better.

They Bigger They Are, the More They Can Change

What really sets corporate stewardship programs at big companies apart is the influence they can have on processes across their industry. Coca-Cola is able to boast some of the highest production-related water efficiency in the beverage industry. The company even operates its own waste water treatment facility at one plant in North Carolina. Their plants exceed industry standards – which in turn sets the bar higher for the competition. The organization is also in the midst of switching its fleet of light duty vehicles to hybrid plug-ins. When all 2,500 vehicles are converted, that will also be an environmental initiative for other businesses in the beverage industry to match.

When you’re ready to start putting your program together, contact us here at The Stonehaven Group. We can help make you a thought leader in stewardship initiatives in your industry as well.