Employment laws are constantly changing, and workplace trends continue to evolve. This is nothing new to HR professionals, but 2020 may be the most challenging year yet. Here are some topics HR teams and companies should track in the coming months and beyond.
Wage and Hour: Exempt Classification Audits
One of the more monumental regulatory changes in employment law in the past year is the Department of Labor’s (DOL) final rule raising the salary threshold for white collar overtime exemptions. Effective January 1, 2020, this increase raised the required minimum salary for certain overtime exemptions from $455 per week (or $23,660 annually) to $684 per week (or $35,568 annually). The salary threshold for exempt employees was last increased more than 10 years ago, and the DOL estimates that the 2020 increase will affect the exempt status of approximately 1.2 million employees across the country.
With this in mind, 2020 will be the year when many employers will audit their current exempt classifications across the board, and check other practices for compliance, such as timekeeping. For those employees whose status is affected by the final rule, having a plan to transition them smoothly from exempt to non-exempt is key. Companies may also need to adjust other labor costs to accommodate an increase in salary for any employees who will remain exempt.
HR Challenges in an Election Year
This year, growing tensions associated with a big election in a divisive political climate may pose new challenges for HR professionals. During the last election cycle in 2016, employees reported feeling more stressed at work, and some observed increased volatility in the workplace. As Election Day 2020 draws near, employers should remind employees to be respectful of each other, and emphasize collaboration and teamwork.
While communicating these expectations in the workplace, employers may also choose to revisit their employee policies to ensure compliance, as many states and local jurisdictions have enacted laws protecting an employee’s political activity. Employers generally cannot prohibit employees from engaging in political discussion – this would be considered protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Employers also cannot base employment decisions on an employee’s or applicant’s political affiliations under certain state and local laws. Employers can, however, prohibit certain political activity such as campaigning for a specific candidate during working hours, coercing another employee to vote for or donate to a specific candidate, or using company assets for political contributions.
Automation: Preparing for a New Kind of Blended Workforce
Historically, a blended workforce has meant combining a variety of employee types from permanent, full-time workers to temporary, part-time, contract workers, and freelancers under one workplace roof. Innovative artificial intelligence (AI) is adding a new factor to that equation: bots. Increasingly workers are required to work with bots or some form of AI on a regular basis as part of their job, and this trend is expected to continue throughout 2020. What’s more, AI is increasingly being used in HR for recruiting, in the delivery of HR services, and data analytics.
Adopting new technologies in the workplace may require ongoing training for new and existing employees. Specialized tech skills are fast becoming among the most sought-after qualifications, changing the nature of the labor pool.
The Evolution of Internal Communication
Tied to the adoption of AI in the workplace, the ways that we communicate with employees continues to evolve well beyond email. Increasingly, organizations are integrating mobile, digital technology for employee training, operations, and day-to-day communications, typically through app offerings.
As always, it is best to consult an employment law expert or an experienced HR consultant to provide the best guidance on how to implement HR strategies and policies to stay ahead of the curve in 2020.