Harassment, pay equity top the minds of employer concerns

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In a year that has seen major changes in workplace policy — with a new administration and #metoo voices growing louder — employers say that compliance and legislative priorities are fueling their workplace strategies and benefits planning.

Employers are feeling some regulatory relief with the change in administration, but also are grappling with the uncertainty these shifts have created, according to law firm Littler Mendelson’s annual employer survey. Sixty-four percent say the reversal of workplace policies between administrations puts a strain on their businesses, and 75% agree that the patchwork of state and local labor and employment requirements are creating compliance challenges.

Among the many issues weaving through the workplace, a majority of survey respondents (66%) ranked sexual harassment as the most or second-most concerning issue on their radar.

“No company can afford to ignore this issue, and while many already have a good foundation, the past several months have shown the importance of reevaluating and reinforcing policies and procedures,” says Helene Wasserman, co-chair of Littler's litigation and trials practice group.

Following the cultural shift sparked by the #MeToo movement, 55% of employers have added training for supervisors and employees, and 38% have updated human resource policies or handbooks.

Also see: HR’s culture shift: Tackling workplace sexual harassment while navigating legal definitions

However, only 13% have implemented new tools or investigation procedures to manage employee complaints, and 24% have not made any changes over the past year.

Dovetailing with Littler’s findings, SourceMedia’s recent survey, “Sexual Harassment in the Professional Workplace,” found HR professionals citing two factors as being the most important in curbing sexual harassment: changing workplace culture (75%) and commitment from upper management (69%). These are so vital that HR professionals were significantly more likely to say those two changes are needed than were survey respondents in other professions.

SourceMedia is the parent company of Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser.

“While the law governing harassment in the workplace hasn’t changed much, employee expectations have. In addition to providing training and updating policies, it’s critical that companies have effective complaint procedures in place and that employees feel confident that reports of potential misconduct will be taken seriously and acted upon,” Wasserman says.

Gender pay equity followed sexual harassment as the second-most concerning issue for employers, with 41% placing it among their top two concerns. Companies reported taking action as a result, including conducting audits of current pay practices and salary data (61%) and revising hiring practices, such as updating job applications and ceasing the practice of asking candidates about prior salaries (34%).

“Conducting audits is a critical first step to identifying pay disparities among employees, but with continued attention to this issue and an evolving legal landscape, an audit is just the beginning of addressing pay equity in the workplace,” notes Denise Visconti, a shareholder of Littler pay equity assessment.

However, only 14% have modified compensation policies or taken steps to facilitate advancement of female and minority employees, suggesting that many companies may be performing audits but not following through on the findings by adjusting pay practices or ensuring all employees have opportunities for advancement.

“As time goes on, pay disparities only become more intractable, so proactively addressing this issue helps companies mitigate risk and reinforce their commitments to treating employees equally and fairly,” Visconti says.

Outside harassment and gender pay equity issues, other issues employers say have had significant impacts include tax reform (62%), healthcare benefit laws (51%) and immigration policy and enforcement (40%).

“It’s not surprising that the visa process and immigration enforcement emerged as employers’ top concerns,” adds Jorge Lopez, chair of law firm’s global mobility and immigration practice group. “The increased scrutiny being applied to employment visas and rule changes impacting visa programs, which often come midstream and without prior warning, make it difficult for employers to plan ahead and manage their workforces. In addition, the increase in worksite enforcement and raids have naturally heightened employers’ focus on worksite compliance issues and properly addressing those concerns.”

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Sexual harassment Equal pay Benefit compliance Compliance Trump tax plan Tax reform Healthcare plans