At the Garden Center Group’s Fall 2019 event, Jean Seawright of Seawright & Associates Management Consultants spoke to attendees about the six biggest HR problems she is likely to face in horticulture in 2020.
First, She reported on the resurrection of the rule of overtime. The employee exemptions that companies can use to exempt certain employees from working overtime will be changed. These exceptions apply to employees in professions classified as managerial, administrative, professional, computer and field workers. However, to qualify for an exemption, employees must pass a series of tests and meet the requirements outlined in the Department of Labor definition for each job type.
A constant in each of the exceptions is the compensation level. Currently, to qualify for the exemption, an employee must receive compensation of at least $ 455 per week – an annual salary of $ 23,660. The new rule increases that level to $ 35,568.
The second major HR problem Companies should watch out for the spread of paid sick and parental leave in 2020. This is the case when an employee receives the same wages as if they had worked. There is currently no federal law on sick leave. However, 11 states and the Washington, DC Mandate have paid sick leave. This is often paid for through an employee-funded wage tax.
“If you find yourself in any of these areas, adjust your guidelines accordingly,” says Seawright.
These state laws set minimum requirements for paid sick leave, but an employer can grant sick leave through its own existing sick leave or paid time off plan. Companies can create different plans for different categories of workers. Every plan must meet the requirements of the new law.
The third edition Pay attention in 2020 is salary history and criminal investigation bans. More and more states and cities are adopting “ban-the-box” rules. In October, 13 states and 14 cities banned private employers from criminal investigations.
The “box” refers to the application question that asks applicants whether or not they have ever been convicted of a crime. Under ban-the-box laws, employers must remove this question, as well as any other criminal history questions, from applications.
These laws should prevent discrimination against applicants with criminal records. As a rule, employers are only allowed to ask about criminal history later in the hiring process. Some ban-the-box laws restrict how employers can use information obtained from a background check or when the checks can be conducted. Still, background checks are a must.
“I urge you to do this (background checks) if you don’t,” says Seawright.
The fourth HR problem 2020 sees the return of the social security letter of non-insurance.
These letters are issued by the Social Security Agency and indicate that the information on a payroll and tax return (Form W-2) does not match the SSA records. Horticultural companies can remember these letters. They were discontinued in 2012, but the administration restarted the digital filer program in March 2019. In October 2019, the SSA began issuing non-compliance letters to employers who had submitted W-2 papers.
While receiving a non-compliance letter does not mean that the employee is illegally residing in the U.S. and not entitled to work, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) routinely asks employers as part of an I-9 audit if they have received a non-compliance Letters. Failure to correct a discrepancy could result in violations or fines under immigration laws.
The disproportion could have nothing to do with the immigration status of the employee in question, says Seawright. Often times, these mismatched letters are the result of administrative or transcription errors.
“But essentially,” she says, “it alerts you that a person may be here illegally.”
However, employers cannot use the letter on its own as a basis for taking negative action against an employee.
The fifth edition of HR The minimum wage and market pressure must be observed in 2020. There has been a high profile push to raise the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour. This has created an expectation and potential employees don’t care if the “industry average” is below that. However, according to Seawright, local market prices are most important. Employers who cannot or cannot raise their wages to keep up with local market prices will struggle to attract and retain workers.
“There’s a lot of pressure on small businesses to pay $ 15 an hour,” she says. “If you don’t do this, you will be seen as a poor employer with no living wage.”
Compensation rates do not exist in a vacuum. Companies under pressure to increase entry-level job entry rates must consider current employees in the same position or job family. Otherwise, they leave themselves open to moral problems, loss of trust, complaints about discrimination and the perception that their pay is not “fair”.
Seawright offers a variety of solutions for companies facing this pressure. First, get up-to-date local market compensation data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics or other reliable source. Next, adjust the start rates for entry positions to match the market rates. Third, you should adjust pay rates for current employees in the same position or professional family based on their length of service. She points out the importance of calling this a market adjustment rather than an increase in performance.
She suggests developing a formula to ensure that employees with a longer lifespan earn more than new hires in the same professional family. For example, employees with 1-2 years of experience could receive the market price plus X%. Employees with 3-4 years of experience could earn the market price plus Y%.
The final HR problem For businesses in 2020, this is the cannabis conundrum. The decriminalization and legalization of marijuana – whether medicinal or recreational – is changing the landscape for employers. Many states have strengthened occupational health and safety for medical marijuana users so employers don’t know how far they can or should go.
If your business is where marijuana can be legally used for medical or recreational purposes, you can eliminate drug testing entirely or specifically remove cannabis from drug boards before or after discontinuation. This eliminates the risk of a discrimination or retaliation complaint, but increases other risks.
Seawright recommends a balanced approach. Keep cannabis in all drug testing areas. If the test is positive, use the same procedure as for any other medical condition. Encourage the employee to produce a doctor’s letter confirming that they can do their job safely and outlining any restrictions. If the company had to set up accommodations, determine whether they are appropriate or would mean hardship. If there is reasonable suspicion of impairment, you may be able to terminate the employee or take other disciplinary measures.
“Train your managers to recognize signs of impairment,” she says.
Matt McClellan is the Editor-in-Chief of Nursery Management Magazine, Lawn & Landscape’s sister publication.