At Vail Place, a nonprofit agency providing mental health recovery services, the role of human resources was changing. Vail Place has two Minnesota locations, one in Hopkins and one in Minneapolis. “Over the past few years, our people have needed to learn new roles,” says Executive Director Vicky Couillard, “while our organization faced a lot of new responsibilities.
“As the complexity as well as the number of HR functions increased, we needed to rely more on outsourcing,” Couillard continues. “That’s typical for a smaller agency like ours.”
Vail Place was relying more on outsourcing because:
Couillard partnered with Compliance and Workplace Solutions as well as consultants in employee benefits and business insurance. The first concern for her department, says Couillard, was training the agency’s HR staff. Every staff member built “baseline knowledge” about employee benefits, human resources and leadership by attending seminars and webinars.
“By going through the same training, we all received a common framework and set of principles that helped us communicate and work effectively,” Couillard says. She and her staff attended a variety of seminars and webinars in the human resources and employee benefits tracks. The time commitment, in the end, saved her team a lot of time as their work processes became more efficient and streamlined.
The employee handbook serves more functions than many people realize. You need to communicate important policies and other information to employees so they are not constantly burdening HR staff. While that is the most obvious function, it’s not necessarily the most important one.
“Your handbook is your best friend not only for compliance and legal reasons,” says Flotten. “It’s also a key building block which defines your culture.”
Employee handbooks should form the foundation upon which most human resources practices are built. “Surprisingly, even though every company should have a handbook, few companies dedicate the time or resources to doing them right,” Flotten says.
Here are some of the policies that Flotten helped to include in the handbook for Vail Place (and are “musthaves,” Flotten says, for any handbook):
Couillard added many other policies to the agency’s handbook that were more specific to its organizational culture and environment.
“Whether to add a policy to a handbook, and exactly what to include in the policy should be driven by the specific outcomes you’re trying to achieve,” says Flotten. “In other words, understand what purpose you’re trying to accomplish (or concern you’re trying to address), and then make sure the policy comprehensively does so.”
Couillard describes herself as “risk adverse.” Therefore, she takes advantage of every opportunity to reduce her organization’s liability to discrimination, harassment and other risks. She plans to send both employees and managers to our Compliance and Workplace Solutions team for harassment training (even though, Couillard adds, she has received no complaints about harassment).
The training provides multiple examples of harassing behavior and clearly explains the legal definitions of harassment. The training will be coordinated with the organization’s harassment policy, and the employer’s reporting and investigatory practices will be discussed. Additionally, managers will participate in a dedicated training session focused on the obligations and expectations they have with respect to monitoring the workplace for harassing conduct, intervening when necessary and responding appropriately to employees who complain of harassment.
“Unfortunately it’s a common occurrence that HR will learn of an allegedly harassing situation weeks or months after it started, only to discover that the manager knew about it for much of this time, but didn’t do anything about it,” says Flotten. “When that’s the case, it becomes very difficult to avoid liability.”
Couillard and her colleagues work closely with Flotten and our other Compliance and Workplace Consultants not just through training and the agency’s handbook, but also through the HR Hotline. “We call all the time,” Couillard says. “When we have staffing issues or questions about policies, we call the Hotline. They always know what to do. It’s a very good resource for us.”
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During the White House’s Summit on Working Families on June 24, 2014, President Obama indicated he was signing a presidential memorandum requiring every federal agency to address flexible work schedules and give employees the right to request such schedules. Absent what could be a dramatic increase in workplace flexibility for federal employees, it is undeniable that the demand for flexibility and work-life balance is on the rise.
On May 11, 2014, the governor of Minnesota signed the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), a bill that will require Minnesota employers to make dramatic changes to their employment policies and practices.
While WESA directly impacts employers who conduct business in Minnesota, the changes follow plans by federal and local governments to expand legal protections for women and other employees. For this reason, employers in other jurisdictions should pay close attention to these national and state law trends.
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