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Fostering Mental Health Awareness in Your Workplace

“Mental health” is one of the biggest talking points in the current social climate. People are more aware than ever about the direct connection between how they feel and how they function.

At the same time, many businesses are struggling to assess and calibrate their approach to employee mental health because (1) the topic was unfortunately taboo for decades and (2) they lack a high-level understanding of what mental health really is and means.

Moving forward, we’ll explore:

  • Ways in which employee mental health affects employee work and the workplace
  • The importance of starting a dialogue about employee mental health
  • How you can use employee benefits education as an opportunity to discuss mental health
  • How you can learn more about the most important mental health topics affecting the workforce

How Mental Health Affects the Workplace

Mental health directly affects workers’ ability to physically function. Their energy levels, clarity of thought, and ability to communicate effectively are all tied to their ongoing mental health.

In previous eras, people were told to “suck it up and work through it,” but now we understand that approach is counterproductive and only makes employee mental health struggles worse.

Let’s take a look at three main ways mental health affects employee work on a daily basis:


When people aren’t feeling like their best selves, they can’t do their best work. Anxiety, depression, ADHD, and other conditions all impact employees’ abilities to work like the superstar talent you hired.

Sometimes, managers or supervisors will infer that the quality of an employee’s work is “slipping,” but the truth of the matter is when great talent suddenly starts underachieving, there can often be a mental health component involved. Those moments should be treated as opportunities to address mental health, connect employees with the support they need, and continue the relationship forward in a positive way.

Morale & Culture

Part of building a great business is creating an environment and culture where everybody feels valued, enfranchised, and bought into a unifying mission. In order to achieve that, you need positive enthusiasm and daily participation from your team members.

Mental health struggles can create significant roadblocks to engaging with company culture. Social anxiety can make part of participating in any community tough, and depression can easily undermine enthusiasm and authentic buy-in. When those issues go unaddressed, the cumulative effect can slowly erode the strength of your culture and the morale of your team overall.


People frequently unfairly compartmentalize physical and mental health, but there are several crucial points of interdependency between them. One of those is the physical safety of your workforce on the whole.

When employees are experiencing or suffering from mental health struggles at work, it inhibits their ability to do their job in the best way possible. In an industrial, manufacturing, or warehouse environment, for example, that translates to increased hazard and safety risks. Even in a traditional office, bottled up, unaddressed mental health issues can lead to confrontations between employees. Ongoing employee relations issues can create an environment where team members don’t feel safe.

Why it’s Crucial to Start a Dialogue About Mental Health

The vast majority of mental health issues (work-related and otherwise) remain unaddressed because of the culture of silence and stigma attached to admitting you need some help. Words like “crazy” and “nuts” have been thrown around homes and offices for decades to describe people who are difficult to work with, and nobody wants to be that.

If you as an employer don’t proactively start a positive dialogue about mental health, your employees will assume that you don’t care about it or don’t want to hear about their mental health needs. A great first step in addressing workplace mental health is breaking the ice and saying the words “your mental health is important to us.”

The second you initiate that dialogue, you become a far more human employer to your workers, building authentic buy-in and increasing engagement by showing them you really care. By taking that first step, you squash the stigma and communicate clearly to your team – both those with self-identified mental health needs and those without – that you’re a holistic, future-facing employer who takes these matters seriously.

In the current environment, that sort of proactive environment will only boost your current employees’ daily satisfaction and productivity, with their positive experience eventually trickling down in ways that you can leverage for improved recruitment.

Using Employee Benefits as a Jumping-Off Point

Starting the conversation about mental health can often be the hardest part, but employee benefits education provides the perfect opportunity to initiate a dialogue in a way that feels natural, supportive, and maximizes access to resources.

When you connect mental health discussions to your traditional healthcare benefits education, you clearly establish that mental healthcare is healthcare. That means you expect employees to protect that health and get what they need, just like you’d expect them to get their arm casted if they broke it. It also means, just like casting a broken arm, there’s absolutely no reason to feel reservations about seeking the necessary care and using employer-provided insurance to get it.

It’s also important to explicitly discuss the connection between mental health, performance, and work-life balance. When you discuss those concepts out loud and make them real, you signal to your workforce that they are equal values of yours. You want and expect your employees to be healthy, do great work, and have a fulfilling life away from the office. 

Nobody wants to hear why they need to take care of themselves, but if you use your yearly open enrollment education as an opportunity to start a dialogue about mental health, you’ll actually be opening doors and removing mental barriers to care for your employees. By stressing the importance of mental health, describing how your benefit packages address mental health, and what employee assistance program resources are available in times of mental health struggle, you create a support system that makes benefits more valuable for everyone and goes a long way to strengthen your team on the whole.

Why Aren’t These Already Common Practices?

The two primary reasons employers haven’t been addressing mental health during benefits enrollment are that they either assumed the conversation wasn’t necessary or felt the stigma around mental health was so strong that it would be awkward or uncomfortable to discuss it. Both those assumptions are completely false. Mental health is relevant in every workplace and for every worker and talking about it is empowering, not embarrassing.

Many great organizations with progressive, employee-centric mission statements are only now beginning to appreciate the importance of a mental health dialogue, as decades of business tradition and norms maintained the wall of silence. As mental health awareness spreads throughout the workforce and access to appropriate healthcare continues to improve, the workforce and business space as a whole can only get stronger.


Employee mental health is one of the fastest growing areas of focus of human resources professionals, business leaders, and ground-level supervisors. Remember:

  • Employee mental health can affect performance, morale, culture, and safety
  • It’s extremely common for employees to experience mental health struggles at some point
  • The first step to addressing the issue is to break the silence, name the problem, and talk about it
  • Employee benefits education provides the perfect venue to start these discussions in a safe, positive, supportive manner
  • In the near future, workforce maximization will depend on addressing and prioritizing employee mental health in powerful ways

How to Adapt to the New Illinois Sexual Harassment Training Requirements

Governor Pritzker signed the Workplace Transparency Act in August of 2019 and this January, the new law went into effect. While many people, business owners and employees alike, welcomed the law as appropriate in the #MeToo era, employers are grappling with how to adapt to the new regulations.

The law makes sweeping changes to the Illinois Human Rights Act, providing greater protections for workers and introducing new requirements for employers including mandatory sexual harassment training and changes to confidentiality agreements and arbitration agreements. But while the law is a big deal, it is by no means a threat to Illinois employers. With just a few smart policy changes you can not only ensure compliance, but also make your business run smoother than ever.

Let’s take a look at what the new requirements are and how you can adapt to them easily and effectively, including:

  • What the Workplace Transparency Act means for employers
  • How to meet the new training requirements
  • Navigating other compliance issues from the new law
  • Best practices to protect your brand and your workplace culture

What the Sexual Harassment Training Requirements Mean for Businesses

What does the new law entail? Broadly speaking, the Workplace Transparency Act and its impact on employers can be broken down into two parts: how companies train their employees and how they treat their employees.

The first part is the biggest one for most employers. All Illinois businesses are now required to conduct sexual harassment training on an annual basis. The law also establishes standards for sexual harassment training programs. Companies must now implement an approved training program or develop their own program that meets the minimum standards. Key standards include:

  • An explanation of sexual harassment consistent with the definition outlined in the IHRA
  • Examples of conduct that constitutes unlawful workplace harassment
  • A summary of relevant statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment including remedies available to victims of harassment
  • A summary of the employers’ responsibilities for preventing, investigating, and correcting workplace harassment

But the changes to the IHRA are not limited to training. The new law also bans companies from requiring employees to sign confidentiality agreements and from enforcing mandatory arbitration agreements. It also changes how confidentiality agreements are handled and requires employers to report any adverse findings of workplace harassment to the Illinois Department of Human Rights. And the law extends sexual harassment protections to independent contractors and consultants, a move with significant ramifications for the growing gig economy.

Violating the law comes with serious consequences for employers. In addition to damaging your employer brand and workplace, you will face up to a $1,000 fine for the first offense and $5,000 fines for each subsequent violation.

How to Comply with the Sexual Harassment Training Requirements

How can you create an effective sexual harassment training program or modify your existing training to ensure compliance? The good news is that the best practices for bringing your training into compliance are also great ways to build a safer, more productive workplace.

Beyond the four bullet-points outlined in the previous section, it’s important to be as explicit and comprehensive as possible regarding what does and does not constitute workplace harassment, what employees can do to prevent and address harassment, what promises and obligations you have regarding workplace harassment including any and all official company policies, and what employees can and should do if they are harassed.

It can be especially useful to clarify who can be a harasser or harassed (pro-tip: it’s anyone) and to examine power dynamics and unconscious biases that can cause or worsen harassment. Outline specific best-practices for employees to prevent inadvertent workplace harassment and provide clear and helpful guidelines for reporting harassment.

When creating your training program, don’t overlook your managers. You do not want to end up in noncompliance, damage your company culture and employer brand, or lose valuable employees because a manager mishandles harassment on their team. Implement specialized manager training to educate your management team on their responsibilities to protect employees and take action to address workplace harassment, the liability that they can cause if they do not follow proper procedure, how to avoid harassment allegations against themselves, and what to do if a complaint is filed against them.

Other Workplace Harassment Compliance Considerations: Confidentiality Agreements and More

In addition to the training requirement, the new law makes significant changes to how employers can create and enforce confidentiality agreements and arbitration agreements. But while there are new limitations, these are still viable tools to protect your company and its brand. You just need to be more careful about how you use them.

For both types of agreements, the law is focused on making sure that the agreements are consensual. Specifically, confidentiality in a severance agreement or settlement is only valid if the employer takes extra steps to ensure that the employee enters the confidentiality agreement freely and fully informed. So, employees must be able to show the agreement to an attorney of their choice, have 21 days to decide whether or not to sign the agreement and be able to revoke their signature for 7 days after signing. So long as a confidentiality agreement meets those standards, it is valid under the new law. And while employees may subsequently report the unlawful harassment to a government agency, they may be required to wave monetary compensation as a result.

Arbitration agreements are similarly affected rather than prevented by the new law. Employers are no longer allowed to make hiring decisions contingent on signing the agreements and must take steps to make sure that they are consensual. But the requirements are even less stringent than for confidentiality agreements. If employers give employees a brief opt-out period, odds are the arbitration agreements will be considered valid under the new legislation.

Finally, employers should include contractors in their sexual harassment training and policies. It should be clear to employees, managers, and the contractors themselves that contractors are now protected by the law and by company policies.

Workplace Harassment Best Practices to Protect Your Brand and Culture

In addition to requiring companies to conduct sexual harassment training and report violations, and reducing companies’ ability to limit employees’ speech and methods of recourse, the new law makes it more important than ever to prevent and properly address workplace harassment. It represents and reinforces a culture that will not tolerate harassment in the workplace. That means that failing to properly handle any cases of harassment at your company or to foster a company culture that discourages harassment and encourages equality will hurt your ability to attract, engage, and retain the talent you need to succeed.

So, it’s important to do more than follow the letter of the law when it comes to the Workplace Transparency Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act. Unchecked workplace harassment can cause a toxic workplace culture that undermines your employer brand and decreases employee productivity, creativity, and diversity. And it’s not just your employer brand at stake – as companies like Uber, Guess, and Google can attest. If customers find out about workplace harassment at your company, you can see your corporate brand take a hit as well.

Beyond taking employee and manager training seriously, companies should establish firm and comprehensive guidelines for workplace harassment investigations and remedial action. Your employees should know that you are on their side and will take allegations seriously while also providing a fair and transparent evaluation process for those accused.

Once an employee reports workplace harassment, you should start a serious investigation at once, whether they request one or not. Interview both the accuser and accused, as well as any witnesses as necessary, and document all responses thoroughly. If the accused is in a position of power, take steps to keep them out of the decision-making process during the investigation and prevent them from taking retaliatory actions against the employee who made the allegations.

Depending on the results of your findings, it’s important to take prompt remedial actions. Even if you have not found evidence of true misconduct worthy of disciplinary action, you should address areas of concern to ensure that all employees are comfortable in the workplace. But whatever you do, do not transfer the accuser unless they explicitly ask to be transferred. Transfers are often seen as disciplinary or retaliatory towards the accuser.

When determining how to punish misconduct after concluding your investigations, it’s important to consider several factors, including:

  • Extent and severity of the misconduct
  • Relative positions of the harasser and complainant
  • Previous allegations or findings against the harasser
  • Requested punishment by the complainant and previous punishments for the same behavior

Creating a positive, inclusive culture can go a long way towards preventing incidences and allegations of harassment. But it is equally important to take any allegations seriously, establish standardized approaches towards handling cases when they come up, and to take swift and meaningful action.

Find Out More at Our Comprehensive Webinar

Few issues employers face are as nuanced and potentially damaging as sexual harassment. Especially in light of the new law and changing culture, it’s important to get every aspect of your workplace harassment policy and procedures exactly right. Needless to say, we can’t cover it all in one blog article.

That is why we are holding a free and informative webinar on March 31st to educate employers and HR professionals about how to ensure compliance in light of the new laws. Our first panelist is Heather Bailey, a partner at SmithAmundsen’s Labor and Employment Group and an expert in discrimination, employment, and labor lawsuits, negotiations, and mediation. Heather will be joined by Launchways’ own HR Client Manager and expert in all things human resources, Karina Castaneda.

Heather and Karina will outline how to create an effective and compliant training program and adapt to the other clauses of the Workplace Transparency Act. The presentation will be followed by an in-depth Q&A so Heather and Karina can help you address your specific challenges and concerns.

Save your seat at the webinar today!

Understanding Employee Burnout from the Inside-Out

Imagine the following scenario: an impactful, talented, well-liked employee walks into your office and tells you that they quit. You’re shocked – betrayed, even, and in spite of your best efforts to make things right, that employee is so sure that they’re done working for you that there’s no winning them back.

From a management perspective, it’s easy to say, “I don’t know what happened; they just snapped one day,” but that shows a complete lack of introspection and talent-minded thinking. Those sudden, damaging separations are often the result of a very real condition called employee burnout.

As a business leader, one of your top goals should be supporting your workers’ job enablement and mental health in a way that prevents burnout and keeps the great talent you have plugged into your team.

Moving forward, we’ll explore:

  • What exactly is employee burnout?
  • Why burnout management/prevention is crucial to growing businesses
  • What are the most common factors that lead to employee burnout?
  • How to proactively address burnout at your organization

What is employee burnout, really?

In a nutshell, employee burnout is work-based exhaustion or frustration that has grown and festered beyond the point of no return.

Burnout is very much a workplace mental health issue because, when someone is burnt out, they can’t cope or connect with their work in a positive way. In our career-centric culture, that can easily erode someone’s feelings of self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-worth.

The problem of burnout isn’t just localized to the office, either. When employees are burnt out professionally, they’re not the same strong, reliable, positive friends, partners, or family members at home or on the weekends.

Burnout isn’t just about being “fed up,” it’s about not being able to continue anymore. If that sounds like a dark place, that’s because it is!

Why is recognizing and preventing burnout a top business priority?

Preventing burnout should be a crucial business priority for two key reasons:

  1. Recognizing and fighting the burnout problem protects your talent and human capital investments as well as your productivity
  2. It’s the right thing to do for your employees

Let’s talk about that second reason first. Given the rising public awareness of mental health and the current social/political climate with regard to labor relations, it’s important to be an organization that treats people right. Part of demonstrating you’re a modern, forward-facing business is considering the whole employee: mind, body, and spirit.

From a bottom-line perspective, preventing burnout is like preventing errors in code or promoting workplace safety: a little proactive investment and effort up-front protects the long-term health and viability of operations.

If you hope to achieve steady, sustainable growth and maximize your talent, you can’t let productivity and quality of work slip due to burnout, and you certainly can’t let yourself fall behind the pace of business due to talent turnover.

What factors lead to employee burnout?

There’s no one thing that burns employees out; it’s generally a combination of factors. Here are the most common problems/situations that contribute to the overarching burnout issue.

Lack of employee agency

Your workers may be “employees,” and that means they’re there to work for you, but they still need to feel like they have ownership of their individual responsibilities and a voice within the organization.

When workflows are over-structured, managers and supervisors micromanage, or company initiatives and directives constantly pull employees in different directions, it’s a perfect recipe for burnout.

The more freedom and self-determination you can give your employees while still providing the structure and accountability to accomplish great work, the better.

Lack of work/life balance

Your employees are yours 40-or-so hours a week, but there are still 125-plus more hours in the week when they are full-time spouses, parents, friends, family members, neighbors, and so on. In order to be a great, employee-centric manager or leader, you need to value your team members’ ability to enjoy their time away just as much as you value the work they do in the office.

When employees constantly have work to do from home or there’s the expectation of staying late into the evenings, it eats into their ability to be a strong, engaged person away from the office. That means too much work (or even too much communication about work) can easily eat away at a worker’s ability to relax or feel fully invested in their families, hobbies, etc.

That frustration from home boomerangs back to the office, where resentment, frustration, and steam that wasn’t able to be blown off quickly combine into the perfect recipe for burnout.

“Suffering in silence”

The vast majority of burnt out employees who quit suddenly (as we described above) didn’t just decide they were done that day. Those folks have usually been suffering in silence for months!

There are all sorts of minor daily frustrations that many great employees simply won’t bring up, either because they don’t want to complain, they fear they’ll be ignored, or it just doesn’t seem worth the effort.

Part of being a proactive manager is recognizing the signs of somebody suffering in silence and reaching out to them to take corrective action before things reach the tipping point. Establishing clear pipelines and resources to address concerns (and honoring that commitment) is crucial as well.

Let’s take a look at some of the minor attacks on workplace mental health that can easily snowball over time and lead to burnout:

Poor communication

Communication is everything when it comes to the employee experience. Employees need to know what they’re expected to do, how they’re expected to do it, who they’re expected to do it with, and what they’re expected to achieve. When you don’t provide that information, you’re setting everybody up for frustration.

Great workplace communication isn’t just about dictating things to employees – in fact, that’s one of the most frustrating and burnout-inducing approaches – but instead maintaining an open, positive dialogue about what’s happening, how people are doing, and where the work is going.

Poor performance management

That great employee who quit out of nowhere probably felt like your managers and organization in general weren’t doing enough to help them get to the next step. Often, high-achieving team members are not included in conversations about improvement, goal setting, etc., and the general assumption is, “They’re doing great. Why fix what’s not broken?”

Often, those employees who are already “doing great” actually see the flaws, weaknesses, or shortcomings of their work very clearly. That’s part of what makes them a great worker – they’re reflective, introspective, and self-aware. As other burnout factors begin to frustrate them or erode their confidence, they start desperately looking for coaching or guidance that never comes.

At the other end of the spectrum, when employees know they are struggling and there isn’t a clear performance management/improvement framework in place, they start getting worried that the axe could be coming at any minute. They wind up with one foot out the door because they would rather get a fresh start somewhere else than suffer through the termination they expect is coming.

Poor human capital management

The way you move employees through your organization should build confidence and make everybody feel like they’re part of a growing community loaded with great opportunities. If your approach to HCM leaves people feeling nervous, left out, or underappreciated, you risk burnout out some of your best core employees.

For example, let’s say an opening has just become available at the marketing director level. You have an excellent content coordinator who has been a member of the marketing team for three years, yet you don’t consult with them about their interest in the job before hiring an outside director who’s worked for a competitor.

That great content coordinator (and the whole team of writers, designers, developers, producers, etc. who know their work and respect their management style) could easily be disappointed, suffer morale damage, and even backslide in terms of productivity. If you had promoted the content coordinator and bumped up other members of the team accordingly, you could’ve boosted morale and generated new authentic engagement and increased buy-in that would’ve improved the quality of work. Making the right decision for everybody isn’t cut-and-dried, but it’s worth thoughtful consideration when it comes time for any human capital decision.

Lack of recognition

When people know they’re doing great work for long stretches, they don’t like to feel that their employer is wringing every last drop of work and energy out of them like a sponge. Feeling “used and abused” without proper check-ins and positive reinforcement is one of the things that burns out great employees faster than anything!

Preventing burnout requires a proactive approach to calling out, recognizing, and rewarding strong work. That doesn’t just mean slaps on the back, friendly emails, and positive callouts during team meetings, either; it means real rewards like bonuses, promotions, new opportunities, and so on.

Lack of proactive mental health dialogue

So often, thoughtful, sensitive, and productive employees don’t realize they’re getting burnt out until they’re typing up their letter of resignation. As their employer (and, from a business/profit standpoint, an investor in their talents), you need to create a support system that gets your team members the help and resources they need to recognize, navigate, and solve mental health issues early-on to prevent burnout.

In any mental health scenario, the most important thing you can do is talk about it. Talking destigmatizes the topic and helps everybody come together and recognize that everyday challenges are a shared experience, not an individual struggle.

Key Takeaways

Workplace mental health is one of the hottest topics in human resources and labor relations right now. Unfortunately, employee burnout is still frequently treated as an individual employee problem rather than a business-wide health issue to be addressed.


  • Employee burnout is a workplace mental health issue (i.e. your responsibility to address as an employer)
  • Addressing/preventing burnout is part of maximizing your talent investment
  • Burnout can be caused by a variety of factors, but most of them involve feeling powerless, overworked, out-of-the-loop, or under-appreciated
  • Most employees who “burn out suddenly” have actually suffered in silence for a long time
  • It’s crucial to start a dialogue about burnout and mental health issues to eliminate the stigma and connect your employees with what they need to strengthen operations overall

Launchways Hosts Compliance Webinar on Recreational Marijuana Legalization

In June 2019, Illinois became the 11th state in the country to legalize the use of recreational marijuana. This January, that law went into effect and was met enthusiastically by Illinoisans: newly legal dispensaries did $10 million in business in the first week alone.

Although it is often viewed as a legal matter affecting individual citizens, legalization introduces numerous complications and concerns for employers. While employers can still regulate the use of marijuana in the workplace, legalization has made enforcing those policies much more difficult and employers risk compliance violations if they overstep their bounds.

Whether you are a business owner or HR professional, you are probably already grappling with the effects of Illinois marijuana legalization. At Launchways, we know that our clients certainly have. So, we decided to bring in a legal expert and our in-house HR expert for a free webinar on navigating legalization in Illinois. We hosted the webinar on February 19th but you can still stream it on-demand anytime.

We want everyone to benefit from the advice that our experts gave during the webinar, so let’s take a look at the key points covered during the lively session.

  • Webinar Overview
  • Legalization Details and Key Distinctions
  • What can employers legally do from a compliance standpoint?
  • Compliance Concerns from Legalization

Webinar Overview

On February 19th, HR leaders from across Illinois tuned in for a presentation by two industry experts.Our first panelist was Heather Bailey. Heather is a partner in SmithAmundsen’s Labor & Enforcement Practice Group and has practiced in employment and labor counseling and litigation for 18 years. She counsels on day-to-day operations, human resources, and management decisions regarding employees, practices, and policies. In short, she is an expert in navigating employers through compliance issues and helping them create effective and compliant employee policies.

The second panelist was Launchways’ HR Client Manager, Karina Castaneda. Karina is a seasoned HR professional with over 15 years of experience working in employee benefits, performance, and staffing. She helps Launchways clients with all of their compliance questions and concerns and provides them with strategic advice regarding talent management.

Needless to say, both panelists know the ins-and-outs of compliance and effective employee management. And they proved full of valuable insights into effectively responding to marijuana legalization in Illinois.

Legalization Details and Key Distinctions

To start the webinar, our panelists went over the specifics of what the Illinois legalization law, officially known as the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, does and does not do.

The Act made recreational consumption of marijuana legal throughout Illinois and enshrined marijuana as a legal substance that employers can not regulate outside of the workplace as part of the Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act. The fundamental consequence of legalization and the modification of the Right to Privacy Act is that employers’ enforcement strategy needs to change from regulating use or consumption to regulating intoxication. Luckily, our panelists provided clear guidelines for how to effectively make the shift.

What can employers legally do from a compliance standpoint?

Employers can still take action against employees for being intoxicated in the workplace from marijuana just as they can for alcohol intoxication at work. Where things get tricky is that there is no such thing as a “breathalyzer” for marijuana. Your current drug testing policies will likely catch general drug use, but cannot pinpoint real-time intoxication, making them an ineffective enforcement tool that will expose you to compliance and lawsuit liabilities if you try to use them as the sole basis to prove intoxication at work.

As Karina outlined during the presentation, the law does not prohibit employers from regulating the possession, use, or distribution of marijuana in the workplace. So, employers can treat marijuana much as they already treat alcohol in the workplace, just with a slightly different enforcement strategy. Specifically, they should establish clear intoxication standards based on a combination of drug testing and document reasonable suspicion signs. And, says Karina, employers should update their policies to clarify the company’s stance on marijuana and the consequences of using the substance at work.

Heather delved deeper into effective and compliant enforcement of a zero tolerance workplace drug policy. Specifically, she emphasized the importance of establishing a good faith belief in intoxication as the grounds for any disciplinary action. She advised employers to provide concrete reasonable suspicion checklists and train managers on how to identify symptoms and record them using the checklists. Importantly, drug testing should be used to support these checklists but not used as an enforcement tool on their own.

Compliance Concerns from Legalization

Our panelists explained that employers need to tread carefully when pursuing disciplinary action against impaired employees in light of legalization. In addition to relying on a good-faith belief in intoxication and reasonable suspicion checklists, Heather emphasized that employers must allow employees the opportunity to contest the allegations to avoid compliance issues or potential grounds for lawsuits. However, the burden lies on employees to prove that they were not impaired so long as the employer has provided reasonable grounds for disciplinary action.

Heather also explained that because the Act protects marijuana use outside of work hours and while not on call, employers have to tread carefully so that they do not give even the appearance of discriminating against employees for using marijuana in their free time. That means that you cannot refuse to hire, terminate, or otherwise treat employees differently because of their perceived marijuana use so long as they are not using it at work. Similarly, you may face lawsuits if you take disciplinary action that is not based on a good-faith belief in actual impairment.

Both panelists cautioned employers against the inconsistent or uneven application of drug testing policies given the additional discrimination risks introduced by legalization. If drug testing seems targeted and is not based on recorded reasonable suspicion, you may face discrimination lawsuits. And across the board, clarity is your friend: make your drug policy and enforcement language as clear and explicit as possible and communicate changes to managers and employees.

Heather finished her presentation with a list of best-practices that employers should follow, including:

  • Have a Zero Tolerance drug policy
  • Educate employees on your company’s stance on cannabis
  • Have an ADA process for medical marijuana users
  • Update job descriptions for safety-sensitive positions
  • Train, train, train management
  • Do not rely on drug testing alone to prove impairment

Karina outlined how these changes affect your human resources policies, advising employers and HR professionals that they should:

  • Evaluate current drug testing policies, including pre-employment testing, general testing, and post-accident testing
  • Update employee handbook with a clear policy that states the company’s stance on cannabis use
  • Notify and train managers on policy updates in light of legalization
  • Enlist outside help for areas of confusion or when additional assistance is needed to update policies or train employees

Stream the Webinar for More Valuable Insights

In this article, we covered the general overview of the panel’s advice to employers and HR professionals. But addressing the effects of cannabis legalization in the workplace is such a complex and important topic that it is best to hear from the experts themselves. Stream the complete webinar on-demand anytime here.

Do you need help ensuring your drug policy and testing procedures are compliant? Launchways offers a free handbook and employer policy review. Request your free handbook review today.

Preventing Discrimination in Your Employee Benefits Program

“Discrimination” is a word that no human resources professional ever wants to hear. Unfortunately, many HR leaders are unaware that discrimination can easily be lurking where we expect it least: in our employee benefits programs.

Moving forward, we’ll explore:

  • The difference between unfairness and discrimination
  • How employee benefits can unknowingly be discriminatory
  • What HR needs to do identify and eliminate discriminatory benefits practices

Discrimination vs. Unfairness

Discrimination is the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, particularly on grounds of race, age, or gender.

Unfairness is a lack of equity; that is to say, a situation in which not everybody is treated the same way.

Those concepts are closely tied – and they can certainly occur at the same time – but they’re not exactly synonyms.

Fairness is an ideal, a target we should be able to hit the vast majority of the time. As an HR department, nobody is ever going to love every policy or initiative, but if your policies and the way you treat people feels consistent, you’ll be fine. When fairness issues become systemic and begin to affect work or culture, then you have a problem.

On the other hand, it’s never okay to be discriminatory from a moral or legal/compliance standpoint.

How does this apply to employee benefits?

By nature, insurance isn’t always “fair.” For example, if a 30-year-old employee and a 68-year-old employee are on the same health plan, making the same employee contribution, the 68-year-old will see much more value due to their increased likelihood of medical need.

If you’re the 30-year-old in that scenario, that doesn’t feel very fair, but it’s not discriminatory. That’s because, if that 30-year-old had the same medical needs as the 68-year-old, the plan would be just as valuable to them. There’s no unfair barrier in place blocking access due to age.

The EEOC dictates that programs are not discriminatory in that exact scenario as long as they provide either equal cost or equal benefit.

HR directors and benefits managers hear a lot from employees about why their benefits offerings are imperfect, but it’s crucial to sort out a fairness issue from actual discrimination.

How can employee benefits be discriminatory?

As their name implies, employee benefits are valuable perks that positively impact people’s lives. When you start offering different employees different levels of benefits, you encounter a real fairness issue, but depending on the way you’re classifying employees when you make those offers, you might be discriminating and not even knowing it.

The law states that in order to offer two employees different benefits packages, you need to demonstrate those two individuals are on different levels in terms of “bona fide employment-based classifications.”

Those bona fide classifications include:

  • Full Time vs. Part Time status
    • It’s okay to offer full-time employees benefits that part-timers don’t receive
  • Geographic location
    • It’s okay (even necessary) to offer eligible employees different benefits packages based on where they live
      • This generally applies to businesses that operate across multiple states
  • Different dates of hire and lengths of service
    • It’s okay if senior employees have been “grandfathered in” with an old plan

So, the bottom line is, if you have two full-time employees working in the same office who got hired on the same day, they should have equitable access to the same employee benefits programs.

What about managers and executives?

The most common way businesses inadvertently commit benefit discrimination is by the way they structure benefit offerings to so-called Highly Compensated Employees (HCEs). An HCE is someone who:

  • Makes more than $130,000 or
  • Owns more than 5% of the business

If your business is self-insured, the ACA prevents you from offering preferential benefits packages to HCEs. If your business is fully insured, you can offer a higher tier of benefits (or lower premium costs) to HCEs if your business does not offer a cafeteria plan. In the event you are insured and have a cafeteria program in place, it’s unlikely you will be able to offer different plans to your executives, but always double check with your broker.

Regulations concerning benefits discrimination

If you would like to explore the compliance frameworks to fully grapple with the problem, here are some places you can find discrimination regulations specifically tied to employee benefits policies.

What does HR need to do?

There are three compelling core reasons to review your employee benefits programs through the lens of checking for discrimination:

  1. Reducing discrimination is simple the right thing to do
  2. An employee dispute over a discriminatory program could become a long legal battle
  3. If regulators discover or catch wind of discriminatory practices, your business will be fined

As an HR leader, you need to be proactive and be sure you:

  • Lead an internal audit of your employee benefits offerings to ensure packages are offered in a way that is nondiscriminatory
  • Contact your benefits broker to ensure they are aware of all relevant regulations and can describe to you how and why your program is compliant
  • Inform your legal and compliance teams as quickly as possible if you detect any issues, shortcomings, or possible areas of discrimination
  • Take ownership over correcting all issues as quickly as possible

When you work to eradicate hidden discrimination from your policies and offerings, you’re strengthening your organization for the long-term and doing your part to create a better work experience for all professionals.


Employee benefits discrimination unfortunately occurs often because the situations in which businesses can or can’t offer different packages can confusing at times.

Just remember:

  • Insurance isn’t necessarily “fair” (because there’s no guarantee people will get the same value out of it), but it should never be discriminatory
  • All differences in benefits offerings should be based on bona fide employment-based classifications, like part time vs. full time, location, or date of hire
  • If you are self-insured or have a cafeteria plan, you cannot offer preferential benefit packages to highly compensated employees
  • All HR departments should lead an audit of their offerings in collaboration with your benefits broker and legal team
Battling Onboarding Scope Challenges with Employee Management Platforms

Battling Onboarding Scope Challenges with Employee Management Platforms

The flow of talent into and out of your organization has a direct impact on your ability to do great business and thrive. That means every organization should have a clear vision and thoughtful approach to new employee onboarding.

Unfortunately, for many businesses, onboarding has evolved into a major pinch point. It’s become increasingly complicated, and it’s rarely satisfying for either the new employee or the organization who’s betting on their productivity.

Moving forward, we’ll explore:

  • What new employees actually need to get started
  • Why the challenge of new employee onboarding/enablement has grown
  • How innovative employee management platforms address those challenges in effective and productivity-boosting ways

Breaking Down New Employee Support Needs

Let’s start by considering your brand-new employee. It’s their first day. They’ve got the talent and ability to be a difference-maker for you, and their enthusiasm will never be higher.

So, what do they need from you right away to feel authentically plugged in and ready to hit the ground running?

Let’s take a minute to break it down, piece by piece:

Getting Paid

Payroll enrollment is one of the most basic and important aspects of employee onboarding. You need your new employees to see a clear, legitimate path to payment from day one.

When you get payroll enrollment right, it creates a highly satisfying experience that motivates your new hires to dig in, roll up their sleeves, and immerse themselves in the work.

If your new employee’s first check isn’t prepared on time or if the information on it is wrong, that creates a negative early impression for your talent, and correcting the issue will only cost them more time and effort.

Signing Up for Benefits

As with payroll, smooth employee-benefits enrollment is crucial to getting your new talent bought in and ready to do great work.

Benefits election actually contains several specific but unique challenges:

  • Providing a platform and experience that makes signing up for benefits clear and easy
  • Offering educational resources that help new talent make the best, most cost-effective choices
  • Getting that documentation from your employee to your insurance providers

There is an incredibly wide spectrum of knowledge and comfort levels with health insurance across the workforce, and even for great talent, making benefit elections can be intimidating. When you’re able to make the process feel straightforward and empowering, it goes a long way in building buy-in and setting new hires up for success.

Work Enablement

Once your employees are enrolled in payroll and signed up for benefits, they’re probably feeling pretty legitimate and excited about the journey they’re starting. Capitalizing on that moment of enthusiasm is crucial, but it’s not possible unless you have a strong hold on the actual work enablement piece.

What do employees need in order to do great work? For some, that depends specifically on their role within your organization, but there are a few general areas that you need to address for every new hire. 


Every single employee within your organization needs technological hardware in order to do their job well, whether it’s patrol trackers and communication devices for security guards, tablets for field service workers, company phones for sales professionals, or just the standard desktop and laptop computers many people need to get work done.

Of course, you can’t just pass out expensive tech tools without a tracking and accountability system in place to ensure your hardware is kept in good condition and you know where all your devices are located. That means you’ve got the double-tough responsibility of getting your new hire everything they need as quickly as possible while also needing to focus on documentation.


Passing out hardware is just the beginning of meeting your new employees’ technological and work enablement needs. In order to be a fully functional member of the team, they need all kinds of accounts created.

Depending on the situation, that might require purchasing software licenses, creating new login credentials, and so on, but to give you a sense of how much really goes into technical work enablement now, each employee likely needs:

  • An email account
  • A login for company ERP/productivity platform
  • Standard office software licenses (word processing, spreadsheet creation, etc.)
  • Document sharing/collaboration portal credentials
  • Access to any relevant SaaS or cloud-based apps

FAQ Support

Alright, so your new employee is fully enrolled in payroll and benefits, they have been issued their company hardware, and they have all the accounts and credentials they need to get started. What’s left? All the little stuff, of course!

No matter how smart or experienced your new hire, there are a variety of questions that are going to pop up in any new job scenario. The faster and more directly and effectively you can answer those questions, the faster your new hire will stop feeling like the new hire and start feeling like a fully-integrated team member.

That means you need some kind of reference resource built into your onboarding system that incoming talent can use as a floatation device during times of confusion or panic in their opening weeks. 

With that piece in place, you’ve officially onboarded a new hire in a way that supports great work and great organizational buy-in.

Why Is It So Hard to Get Employee Onboarding Right?

When you dissect it like we have, new employee onboarding is a massive responsibility, and the expanded use of technology hardware and software over the last 25 years has only made it more complicated.

Thanks to all those tech support needs, onboarding has grown into a shared responsibility of HR & IT. Unfortunately, though, the interdepartmental back-and-forth often leads to communication breakdowns, duplication of effort, and poor data hygiene.

Finally, a better way is emerging.

How Employee Management Platforms Address These Challenges

Employee management platforms are software solutions that integrate as many of the tasks related to employee onboarding and long-term employee management as possible into a single system.

Employee management platforms eliminate repetitive tasks, significantly streamlining the paperwork and communication associated with onboarding tasks and allowing for full new employee enablement in a single day.

Using an employee management platform, you can leverage a single system your employees can use to:

  • Enroll in payroll and benefits
  • Access, download, or log into the apps and software they need
  • Connect and communicate with their colleagues
  • Get answers to basic questions about employee protocol and support resources

At the same time, your managers, HR, IT, and payroll professionals can use the system to:

  • Assign and track hardware
  • Monitor employee time usage
  • Create (or disallow) credentials, accounts, and permissions as needed
  • Build and automate custom workflows between tools
  • Make updates to the system using a single source of truth

How Employee Management Platforms are Providing New Gains

By bringing all that management, administration, and work enablement functionality together in one place, employee management platforms create incredible time savings. That means more time for productivity!

When there’s no repeat data entry and everything can be handled through a single platform, your HR professionals will have more time to provide a holistic, employee-centered onboarding experience that sets new hires up for success and leaves them feeling ready to take on the world for your company.

When you provide a platform that simplifies hardware assignment, it frees your IT team from the mindless tasks of device management and creates new opportunities for them to pursue long-term quality-of-life initiatives for your employees.

And, of course, when you provide a new employee onboarding experience that feels cutting edge, easy-breezy, and empowering, your incoming talent will have a greater sense of security, a greater sense of motivation, and a greater sense of purpose.


Employee onboarding procedures can feel like an endless list of equally crucial tasks. Employee management platforms are creating new opportunities to untie that knot and rethink onboarding.


  • New employees need to feel legitimate and see a clear path to compensation from day one
  • New employees need their work tools as fast as possible to accelerate their integration into work and company culture
  • Onboarding can feel over-complicated because the responsibilities are spread out across several different departments
  • By all integrating the processes and tasks into a single system, businesses can maximize new employee onboarding and get the most out of their talent from day one

How to Learn More

Rippling is revolutionizing the onboarding process by helping HR professionals support their new hires better than ever.

By integrating all aspects of the onboarding process into a single digital platform, Rippling accelerates the new employee orientation experience, connecting hires with the tools, coverage, and credentials they need with a minimal number of clicks.

To learn more about how Rippling can smooth the employee onboarding process at your business and create a new way of managing HR and IT responsibilities, contact them today.