The results of a survey released Tuesday by a major labor and employment law firm finds that optimism on hiring has dipped in the past 12 months, but most companies still plan to recruit new full-time workers in the coming year. The poll of 400 human resources professionals, C-suite executives and in-house counselors also finds a huge increase in the number of those who expect President Barack Obama to make immigration reform a high priority, and that implementing wellness programs was the top action taken in response to health care reform.

Littler Mendelson’s 2013 Executive Employer Survey reports that 60% of companies say they will hire more workers, either cautiously or aggressively, in the next year.

“As the economy continues to recover, our findings suggest that employers are eager to expand their workforce and are starting to see a decline in the impact of some of the key obstacles facing workers,” says Thomas Bender, co-managing director of Littler. “Just as workforce reductions heightened the focus on risks of wrongful terminations in recent years, improvements in the job market have shifted the dialogue to legal landmines in the hiring process. From proper background checks and social media screening to avoiding unemployment, age and other types of discrimination claims, employers are focused on avoiding missteps in hiring that could lead to litigation or other charges.”

The Affordable Care Act is seen as the regulatory issue with the most pull on the workplace in the next year, with 57% saying it will have a significant impact. In response to ACA, 54% of respondents say they have implemented an employee wellness program, the top action identified. Only 6% of those surveyed plan to discontinue employer-sponsored health care as a result of ACA, and that was before they found out they would have an extra year to decide. Additionally, some 31% plan to offer health care through a private exchange, 27% plan to limit more employees to less than 30 hours a week and 20% say they will reduce hiring full-time employees.

Last year only 33% described immigration reform as a top priority for the Obama administration; now that number stands at 82%. More than one in 10 cite a lack of U.S. citizens with an applicable degree or highly specialized skills as a challenge in finding the right applicant for a given position. Among the reform options being discussed, Littler respondents say the ones with the potential for most positive impact on their organizations are improving employment verification systems and increasing visas to highly skilled workers (the annual cap for H-1B visas was reached in less than a week this year).

“With implementation of the Affordable Care Act top of mind for employers and many predicting that 2013 could be the year for comprehensive immigration reform, employers are closely watching how legislation in these and other areas will impact their operations,” says Jeremy Roth, co-managing director of Littler. “At the same time, government agencies continue to be aggressive in advancing changes to workplace policy, with a continued focus on enforcement, and states have advanced their own employment laws, tasking employers with navigating an increasingly complex web of regulations at the federal, state and local levels.”

Additionally the survey finds employer movement on:

  • Whistleblowing – 66% have taken steps over the past year to encourage employees to report potential misconduct or fraud internally before going to regulators.
  • Social media – 64% have implemented policies or rules on social media during work hours. Only 1% report requesting social media logins for onboarding or hiring.
  • Workplace violence – 51% claim their companies have improved security in the past year, and 33% say their companies have implemented or updated anti-violence policies.

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