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Illinois Employers: Are You Ready For Legalized Recreational Cannabis Affecting Your Workplace?

If not, now is the time! Illinois just became the 11th state to permit recreational cannabis. Governor Pritzker signed this legislation, as promised, on June 25, 2019.  Beginning January 1, 2020, the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (“Act”), will allow adults (21+) in Illinois to possess and consume cannabis. While there is a lot “rolled” into the 600 plus page law (pun intended), there are significant employment pitfalls for employers with regard to enforcing drug free workplaces.  We are here to assist you in avoiding these pitfalls and give you some practice tips in preparation of the new law taking affect.

The good news is, the Act expressly permits employers to adopt and enforce “reasonable” and nondiscriminatory zero tolerance and drug free workplace policies, including policies on drug testing, smoking, consumption, storage, and use of cannabis in the workplace or while on-call – which is obviously good for employers.

However, on the flipside, the Act’s language indicates that employers are not allowed to take an adverse action against an applicant or employee for their marijuana usage outside the workplace. This is bad for employers since it makes it much more difficult for employers to identify and address use of marijuana by employees due to issues with marijuana testing not being like alcohol testing which calculates more accurately impairment at the time of testing.  In particular, the Act amends the Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act (“Right to Privacy Act”), which prohibits employers from restricting employees from using legal products outside of work.  Specifically, the Right to Privacy Act is amended to provide that “lawful products” means products that are legal under state law, indicating that recreational and medical marijuana are legal products that must be treated like alcohol and tobacco. Thus, employers may not discriminate against an employee or applicant who lawfully uses cannabis (recreationally or medically) off-premises during nonworking and non-on-call hours.  Again, a difficult task given a test for marijuana alone will not be enough since testing does not include current impairment.

Much like with the Illinois medical marijuana law, this Act changes the emphasis from whether an employee “used” marijuana while employed, to whether the employee was “impaired” or “under the influence” of marijuana while at work or working. As a result, drug testing without any other evidence of the employee actually being impaired at work or while working will open the door to legal challenges.  Specifically, refusing to hire, disciplining, terminating, refusing to return an employee to work or taking an adverse action against an employee or applicant who fails a pre-employment, random, or post-leave return to duty drug test for marijuana will arguably create a claim for the employee against an employer for a violation of Illinois law.

For example, an employee who undergoes a urine drug test (which shows use of marijuana within 30-45 days) following a workplace accident may argue that “recreational cannabis was lawfully used outside of work, and the accident/injury was unrelated to the employee’s legal use of cannabis outside of work.”  Without more than the drug test result, the employer would be in a vulnerable position to argue against or defend such a claim.  However, if the employer completed a post-accident report, which included a reasonable suspicion checklist, in which a trained supervisor observed and recorded symptoms/behaviors of drug use, the employer would be in a much better position to take an adverse action against the employee and dispute any such claim by an employee based on the observations and positive drug test.

With the changes to the Right to Privacy Act, it is important for employers to understand the potential exposure and damages. Under this Act, aggrieved employees can recover actual damages, costs, attorneys’ fees and fines. As such, employers should make sure their practices and procedures are practical in light of these changes, until and unless the legislature or a court provides further clarity.   

Interestingly, the Act neither diminishes nor enhances the protections afforded to registered patients under the medical cannabis and opioid pilot programs.  The catch here is that while cannabis use is not protected under federal law, the underlying medical condition for which the employee is using cannabis is likely an ADA and IHRA-covered disability!  Much like under the Illinois medical marijuana law, the Act appears to require employers to take an additional step before disciplining or terminating an employee based on a “good faith belief” that the employee was impaired or under the influence of cannabis while at work or performing their job.  After the employer has made a “good faith belief” determination and drug tested the employee – but before disciplining or terminating an employee – the employer must provide the employee with a reasonable opportunity to contest that determination.  Once the employee is provided a reasonable opportunity to explain, an employer may then make a final determination regarding its good faith belief that the employee was impaired or under the influence of cannabis while on the job or while working, and what, if any, adverse employment action it will take against the employee without violating the Act.  Requiring an employee to go through drug testing is still currently the best practice as a positive drug test will provide additional support for a supervisor’s reasonable suspicion determination.

Here Are Some Practice Tips to Protect ‎Your Workforce and Diminish Risk:

  1. Educate yourself and evaluate all Company policies and practices that touch on providing and ensuring a safe workplace, including job descriptions (especially those safety-sensitive positions).  Speak to legal counsel on an intimate basis. Assess workplace cannabis-tolerance and implement policies that can be enforced consistently amongst similarly situated employees.  Policies that should be reviewed (and that could be affected) include those addressing health and safety (including accident reporting, smoking, and distracted driving), equal employment opportunity policies, workplace search/privacy policies and drug testing policies.  You should also review with legal counsel, your drug testing vendor as well as your Medical Review Officer, the drug testing methodology being used to make sure that such is producing results that are useful, accurate and well vetted (e.g., using a test that determines cannabis use within the last 30 days is not as helpful as one that may test usage within 6-12 hours).
  2. Ensure managers and supervisors are well trained and capable of enforcing policies.  Remember – exceptions and favoritism lead to discrimination claims.  Conducting training, especially training on reasonable suspicion detection, will be necessary to avoid legal challenges to a supervisor’s reasonable suspicion determination.  Creating and/or updating forms for accident reporting (including witness statements), reasonable suspicion checklists, and established protocols for addressing suspected impairment in the workplace, is now more critical than ever.
  3. Clearly communicate management’s position and policies to employees, especially where there is a shift in current policy or practice.  Educate employees on the effect of lawful and unlawful drug use and the employer’s policies regarding marijuana.  Remember, marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and, thus, you may have a zero tolerance policy within your Company. We now just have to balance that right with Illinois’ newest law.
  4. If your Company does not have a process already, institute a reasonable accommodation process and policy for employees who are medicinal users of cannabis.  While a Company is not required to keep an employee who must use marijuana while on the job or report to work under the influence, you still have obligations of going thru the ADA process with the employee to determine if you can or cannot reasonably accommodate their disability so that they may perform the essential functions of their job while not being impaired.
  5. Engage competent legal counsel to assist you in this process and in addressing difficult situations before they lead to costly and time-consuming litigation.

Also important to note: more changes are coming to Illinois for employers on January 1, 2020!  On August 9, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed Senate Bill 75 – the Workplace Transparency Act – into law.  Effective January 1, 2020, major new changes will forever alter how Illinois employers manage harassment and discrimination issues as well as other workplace controversies.  This new law requires mandatory sexual harassment training for employees; reporting and disclosure requirements; restrictions on employment agreements and several other mandates related to sexual harassment in the workplace.  Be on the look out for an upcoming blog on these details so you are prepared for the new Illinois world of dealing with sexual harassment prevention.

About the Author

Heather A. Bailey, Esq., a partner with SmithAmundsen LLC, focuses her practice on labor and employment law issues for employers for the past 18 years.  Heather may be contacted directly at: Direct Dial: 312.894.3266, Email: hbailey@salawus.com.

Illinois Employers: What You Need to Know about the New Sexual Harassment Training Requirements

Illinois is seeing some big changes to anti-harassment training requirements for employers. Governor Pritzker signed Senate Bill 75, the Workplace Transparency Act, on August 9th, 2019. This bill amends the Illinois Human Rights Act to add sexual harassment training requirements, in addition to other changes to discrimination laws in the state.

The law is still being formalized by lawmakers, but this is a major accomplishment, as Illinois hasn’t seen laws quite like this ever before. This new bill comes after the Illinois Capitol in Springfield garnered scrutiny and criticism for sexual harassment and related “pervasive behavior,” as state senator Sue Rezin told the Chicago Tribune, particularly within Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s office.

The law is also a response to the entire #MeToo movement that picked up in 2017. According to a report from the National Women’s Law Center, 15 states have now passed new protections, including approximately 200 bills, which are related to protections against workplace harassment.

As these new regulations are going through the approval process, you’re now tasked as an Illinois employer with following updates and understanding what it means for the way you run your business. Here’s everything you need to know about the new requirements, some of which are still being hashed out.

Annual Training Requirement

The bill outlines that employers must give mandatory annual trainings on the following topics, beginning January 1st, 2020. The comprehensive sexual harassment training program has to include the following information:

  • Description and clarification of what sexual harassment is
  • Examples of sexual harassment conduct
  • Information about government provisions, such as what remedies are available to sexual harassment victims
  • Information about the employer’s responsibility to prevent, investigate, and correct sexual harassment

Guidelines for the Service Industry

The bill also outlines requirements for employers in the bar, restaurant, hotel, and casino sectors. Hotels and casinos must offer employees a way to alert security or managers with a portable notification device if they need help, are being harassed, or witness an instance of assault.

Bars and restaurants now must have a policy around sexual harassment that gives employees guidelines on how they can report allegations or file a charge with the state Department of Human Rights. These employers also must offer annual harassment trainings, specific to the industry, in both Spanish and English.

Other Provisions

The law also states that employers cannot require their workers to sign nondisclosure agreements or arbitration agreements that are related to harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.

In addition to protections for regular company employees, independent contractors are also protected from harassment and discrimination under the new law. As the gig economy is picking up, this is important, since companies are working with contractors and consultants more now than ever before. An NPR poll last year showed that one in five jobs in America is held by a contract worker.

The bill also sets out requirements for employers and labor organizations to disclose administrative or judicial decisions that are adverse regarding harassment or discrimination in the previous year to the Illinois Department of Human Rights. July 1st, 2020 is the first date of required disclosures, and will be required every July 1 thereafter.

What happens if you fail to comply?

The bill outlines penalties for employers that fail to comply with the new requirements. These include civil penalties of:

  • $500 if the company has less than four employees
  • $1,000 if the company has more than four employees

Repeat violations could be as much as $5,000 for each instance.

Key Takeaways

The bottom line is that Illinois may pass legislation that all employers, regardless of their number of employees, must provide sexual harassment training to each and every employee.

Key points to remember about the proposed bill are:

  • If the bill is finalized, training programs must be implemented beginning January 1st, 2020.
  • There are specific guidelines you must follow as an employer when implementing the harassment trainings, such as disclosing information about what harassment is and steps victims can take to report it.
  • Employers that are bars, restaurants, hotels, and casinos have additional guidelines to follow regarding the safety of their employees.
  • Employers cannot require workers to sign nondisclosure agreements related to harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.
  • Independent contractors are also protected under this law.
  • Penalty fees may apply if employers fail to implement the sexual harassment trainings.

Launchways is your trusted resource, always keeping you informed of upcoming changes related to compliance. Once the sexual harassment training requirements are solidified, we will offer a strategic solution to the training requirement.

The CFO’s Complete Guide to Assessing the Health of the HR Function

The CFO’s Complete Guide to Assessing the Health of the HR Function

Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) are now becoming more and more engaged in the HR function, and ensuring that each and every aspect of HR is reviewed carefully and regularly is an important step forward for any organization.

Data from a Robert Half survey shows that HR is the top area where CFOs have expanded their reach over the last three years (39%), largely because CFO involvement in HR allows them to address staffing challenges from a financial perspective.

As CFOs continue to put more time into HR, it’s first crucial to understand the major areas in which CFOs should begin their assessments regarding whether an organization has a sound HR operating structure in place. In this post we will overview the main areas of focus a CFO should assess to ensure a healthy HR function.

HR Areas of Focus for CFO Assessment

Company Culture

Company Culture Audit
Company culture is one of the most important aspects of maintaining a competitive modern workplace. In a study conducted by RippleMatch, company culture was the leading reason that a candidate decided to accept a job or not, with almost three quarters of respondents (who were 700-plus recent graduates) reporting that this consideration was the most important. When it comes to auditing your organization’s cultural health, measuring employee satisfaction is key.

Employee Satisfaction
In HR’s current “war for talent,” with the unemployment rate the lowest it’s been in decades, it’s more important than ever to create a solid recruitment strategy that’s complemented by employee satisfaction as a serious driving force. CFOs looking to assess the current health of the HR department need to put time into assessing employee satisfaction, whether by:
• Implementing regular employee satisfaction surveys
• Inviting employees to join company discussions or meetings
• Gauging interest in benefits like company events, outings, professional development opportunities, and work-life balance benefits
• Ensuring a sound manager-employee review system is in place that happens at least once or twice per year

Addressing Critical Culture Issue Areas
Another aspect of a company culture audit is identifying the most critical issue areas. To really have a complete, successful HR program, any company culture problems must be proactively addressed. Critical issues often include that the company has no clear values that employees can recognize and thus cling to; that leadership isn’t accessible or transparent; or that there are no long-term goals in place.

If these three common issues can be recognized and addressed by CFOs, company culture will be on the path to being revamped and competitive.

Compensation and Rewards

Of course, another important aspect of HR is compensation and benefits. And part of staying relevant is ensuring that you’re offering competitive salaries and benefits packages to employees.

Benchmarking Salaries
Especially with top-level talent and executives, it can be challenging to know if an employee will be tempted by a better offer within a competing organization. One way to ensure you remain competitive and retain this top talent is to benchmark, which means assessing your own compensation structure and comparing it to other companies within your industry. Then, salaries can be updated if necessary (or, benefits can be improved to balance out any salary discrepancies).

Bonuses and Incentives
It’s common knowledge that employee satisfaction increases when employee contributions are overtly recognized and celebrated. This is why bonuses or performance-based incentives can be impactful in HR retention strategies. CFOs should try implementing an incentive that’s based on an employee’s performance, giving them something to work towards and thus improving motivation. Year-end bonuses can also help employees feel recognized and satisfied with their jobs. While a simple “thank you” may work at times to encourage and inspire, HR and CFOs should work together to create an incentive program that the organization can afford and which motivates employees.

Benefits Package
Similar to compensation benchmarking, CFOs should do their research to ensure that the company’s benefits package is competitive and updated regularly. This means knowing what modern top talent is looking for. According to Harvard Business Review survey data, the most desirable employee benefits are:
• Health, dental, and vision insurance
• Flexible hours
• Vacation time/paid time off
• Work-from home options
• Unlimited vacation
• Student loan assistance
• Tuition assistance
• Paid parental leave

One of a business’ largest expenses is the annual dollar amount spent on employee benefits. CFOs should make sure that benefits dollars and being invested wisely into crafting a thoughtful, impactful benefits package.

Technology and Data

Another big consideration for HR departments and CFOs alike is data. With the rise of automation and machine learning, businesses can now streamline processes and analyze large amounts of data to make future plans and projections. And these changes apply to HR efforts, such recruitment and retention, which now depend on sophisticated data and a method in place to analyze it, such as a useable online dashboard.

According to a report from KPMG, 92% of strategic HR functions now see automation as having a significant impact on the HR function, and 66% of organizations are putting a greater focus on the automation conversation within their company.

However, actual strategies are still lacking in HR, KPMG data also shows. While around two thirds of HR executives recently reported to believe that HR is undergoing a big digital transformation, only 40% of these leaders said they have a plan in place at either the enterprise or HR level. So, putting these considerations at the top of the priority list could give your business a significant competitive edge.

Assessing the Existing Technology Stack
First, CFOs should start by assessing their HR department’s current technology utilization. Is there a method in place to not only gather data, but to analyze it and incorporate it into a long-term strategy? What databases and dashboards are being used, and are they successful? And of course, cost is an important factor in implementing new technologies, so CFOs are encouraged to always consider technology ROI in terms of process improvement.

How to Find the Right HR tech for Your Business
Every organization has different needs and trends, so it’s important for you to help your HR department figure out which technologies will best meet your business’ needs. Some important considerations to keep in mind include:
• How automation will impact the need for long-term HR staff
• Training for HR staff to be able to properly use technology to handle and analyze data
• Implementation processes and timelines for new technology

Key Data Metrics to Track Over Time
So what metrics should your HR department care about most? Here are some of the top data metrics for HR to track and use for future planning:
• Cost-benefit analysis: tracking the benefits of a program weighed against the cost (such as a benefits package)
• Revenue per employee/productivity: tracking the total amount of company revenue divided by the number of employees so that efficiency and productivity can be measured via human capital
• Recruitment: tracking how long it takes to fill a position, and how much it costs
• Turnover: tracking how long employees stay at the company and which departments see the highest turnover, in addition to the cost of turnover
• Retention: tracking the company’s actual ability to retain key talent

Hiring and Retention

Next, CFOs should analyze hiring and retention strategies, one of the most important parts of the HR function.

Recruitment Tactics
How is the HR department currently approaching recruitment? This includes considerations like where job advertisements are being posted, whether recruiters are engaged with platforms like LinkedIn or other social media outlets, and whether competitors’ job posts are being assessed and incorporated into the company’s own job ad approach.

Depending on your industry, recruiters should be involved in researching and reaching out to top talent who they find would be great candidates. This could be through networking events or via online platforms.

Hiring Processes
It’s also important to consider the efficiency and effectiveness of hiring procedures, such as:
• How resumes or cover letters are received (email, online application, etc.)
• How long it takes HR to respond
• How the interview process works (i.e., phone interview followed by two in-person interviews)
• How job offers are relayed (email, formal letter)

Onboarding and Training
A good onboarding strategy can make or break recruitment efforts and retention strategies. It’s important to set up a welcoming, informative program that educates new hires and aims to integrate them into company culture by involving multiple departments and individuals. These early connections are important for any new hire to feel like they made the right decision in accepting a job.

Just as important is training and development that new hires will need, so each department should have its own system in place in addition to the overall HR employee training program. These are important considerations: 69% of employees have a higher chance of sticking with a company for three years if they have a great onboarding experience.

Identifying and Addressing Turnover Issues
One of the biggest threats for modern businesses is high turnover. The Center for American Progress says that on average, the cost of turnover is 22% of an employee’s annual salary.

The first step in addressing turnover problems is figuring out when employees leave—if it’s near the start of their tenure at the company, greater focus is needed for onboarding and training, perhaps. If it’s later in the employee’s tenure, the reasons could be related to company culture, benefits, compensation, management, or room for growth within the company. All of these considerations deserve a detailed plan from your HR function.

Compliance Review

CFOs play a major role in HR compliance, since penalties or legal issues could be involved if required policies and procedures aren’t followed. Here are the top areas for CFOs to review regarding compliance.

Employee Handbook
Every HR department should create an employee handbook that lists all policies and procedures. This levels the playing field so that employees don’t think one worker is getting special treatment. The handbook should be updated as the industry changes or as new laws and regulations are put into effect, and it should include things like benefits, leave policies, dress code, flexible working opportunities, tuition reimbursement, and more.

Employee Files
CFOs should take a look at how employee files are currently handled. There are many records that need to be kept confidential, so it’s crucial to ensure that there is a security system in place for these sensitive records.

Benefits Compliance Review
There are important acts and laws for every HR professional and CFO to understand and ensure compliance with. Some of the most important include:
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): related to required time off for new parents, health issues, or family issues
Fair Labor Standards Act: overtime regulations, minimum wage, etc.
• Disability coverage regulations for employees
COBRA: required continued insurance offering after an employee leaves the company

An important aspect of the HR function is ensuring all of these important regulations and policies are followed and applicable requirements are met.

Strategic Alignment Evaluation

Because HR is such a crucial part of company operations, it’s important that the department is aligned with other areas across the organization. HR is often the first point of contact for job candidates, so HR professionals have a unique obligation to reflect company values as well as the positives of working at your business.

Aligning Finance, HR, and Company Goals
Part of the CFO’s involvement in HR is to ensure that practices are aligned with finance and overall company goals. Some of the HR metrics to track that were described earlier will apply here, since they’ll be important in determining cost-benefit ratio, the cost of recruitment/new hires, and other HR finance considerations.

Company goals and values should also align with HR for the reasons previously mentioned: HR is often the face of the company during recruitment and hiring, so it’s crucial that these professionals reflect the organization’s mission, vision, and goals. Leadership from each of these areas within the company should meet regularly and discuss any issues so that key team members are aligned across the board.

Long-Term Workforce Planning
Many of the considerations already discussed are necessary for efficient workforce planning. This means integrating a company’s goals and mission while ensuring that the organization has the human capital it needs to succeed. HR professionals, in conjunction with the CFO, need to evaluate both current and future needs in personnel and departmental structure, and figure out how to make these efforts cost-effective.

Another consideration here is the professional development and training that will keep personnel effective within the given industry. As mentioned, in regards to technology, systems and processes are constantly changing, and companies have to ensure that they keep up by educating employees, ensuring they can operate with the most cost-effective and efficient tools in place.

Key Takeaways

In today’s workforce, CFOs are tasked with ensuring that HR not only functions as it should on the appropriate legal and financial level, but also that it is making successful efforts to integrate technology and implement high-impact recruiting and retention strategies.

When assessing the current state of an HR department, CFOs should remember to look at the following key areas:

  1. Company Culture
  2. Compensation, Benefits, and Incentives
  3. Technology and Data Strategy
  4. Hiring, Onboarding, and Retention
  5. Compliance
  6. Strategic Alignment and Workforce Planning

Only after reviewing these key aspects of HR can CFOs better make decisions about personnel, policies and procedures, cost considerations, and departmental structure that will drive the business forward.

This post is brought to you by Paycor.
How to Make Your Workplace More LGBTQ Friendly (And Why You Should)

How to Make Your Workplace More LGBTQ Friendly (And Why You Should)

The LGBTQ community has yet to have full federal protection in the workplace against discrimination. In May 2019, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, which bans discrimination because of an employee’s sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, but the bill is resting with the Senate, who may decide not to pass it.

Marriage equality is now a federal law, impacting all 50 states, yet there are still 31 states without discrimination protection for this community, according to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s report, A Workplace Divided.

In your workplace, diversity and inclusion should be two main priorities, and adequately addressing these matters means that you are both recognizing and encouraging the LGBTQ community to feel open, safe, and normal living and working as they are.

Here are key reasons why you should take action to create a more inclusive and diverse workforce, and the ways to do it.

Impacts on the LGBTQ community when they feel excluded

It’s easy to see why LGBTQ workers would continue to feel excluded in the workplace. They often don’t feel understood or acknowledged, and they may feel like they’re not able to participate in normal discussions or activities because of the fear of being judged or stereotyped.

Many people in this community feel overly sexualized. Essentially what this means is that when it becomes known that they have a certain “nontraditional” sexual orientation, they become their sexual identity, instead of coworkers seeing them for themselves and their work capabilities.

This feeling of exclusion leads to negative feelings and even lack of productivity at work: 25% of LGBTQ workers report feeling distracted from work, as the Human Rights Campaign report shows, 17% report feeling exhausted from having to hide their sexual orientation, and 31% report feeling unhappy or depressed at work.

Why encourage openness and acceptance?

According to the aforementioned report, 46% of workers who identify as LGBTQ remain closeted, and half of those surveyed said that there aren’t any employees at their organization who are open about it.

While it’s of course not always a great idea to have everyone discuss or admit to their sexual experiences in the workplace, the reasons behind staying closeted show how fearful a non-inclusive workplace can be for this community. The top reasons that they stay closeted are:
• The potential to be stereotyped by coworkers
• To avoid making others feel uncomfortable
• To avoid losing connections or relationships
• To avoid coworkers thinking they are attracted to them because they are LGBTQ

Make sure in your efforts to encourage openness that you aren’t forcing LGBTQ workers to disclose things they aren’t comfortable with; the key is to educate staff and have serious discussions about these topics. If they aren’t talked about, LGBTQ workers will feel like they have to remain closeted. And while some topics are “supposed to be” taboo at work, like sex or politics, the truth is, many employees talk about their lives outside of work on a daily basis with their coworkers.

Why educate employees?

It’s also important to keep all employees educated about policies and aware of how best to behave in the workplace. You aren’t telling them what to believe, just how to represent the company and treat others while they’re on your watch.

Many employees may just not be aware of these issues, and so they may not even recognize that their behavior is out of line or could be offensive to their coworkers. It’s your responsibility to thus educate them so that they are more thoughtful and deliberate about how they treat certain topics and talk to each other at work.

The Workplace Divided report revealed an additional alarming statistic in this area: 1 in 5 LGBTQ workers have experienced being told by a coworker that they should dress either more feminine of masculine; only 1 in 24 non-LGBTQ workers reported this having ever happened to them. Additionally, 36% of non-LGBTQ employees said that they would feel uncomfortable if an LGBTQ coworker started talking about their dating life.

So, there is clearly still a bias in place that needs to be addressed in each and every workplace. Part of ensuring you are fostering an inclusive and diverse office is educating everyone to get them thinking about their behavior and the way they treat others.

Benefits of inclusivity for your company

Your LGBTQ workers will not be the only ones who benefit from addressing these issues. Think about the benefits your organization will also experience:
• Less discrimination lawsuits and therefore less in legal fees
• Less turnover, as 1 in 4 LGBTQ workers said they stayed in a job because the workplace was accepting of LGBTQ people
• Health insurance costs may go down because the health of all employees is given more consideration
• Partnerships could increase as your company becomes known as a socially responsible organization

Another big reason to address discrimination and encourage inclusivity and diversity in the workplace is because a more diverse office is a more profitable office. A study from Boston Consulting Group last year found that companies with above-average diversity on management teams earn 19% more in revenue than companies with below-average diversity on these teams.

Why? Because diverse teams create diverse perspectives; gone are the days of the bureaucracy, where one team of older white men makes all the decisions for an organization. For any company to grow and succeed, diversity, and therefore greater inclusivity, are assets.

Additional strategies to foster inclusivity and diversity in the workplace

So where should you begin? Try implementing these strategies to foster inclusivity and better educate the workforce about discrimination and how to create accepting, inclusive workplaces:
• Talk about how detrimental stereotyping can be, in general and also related to someone’s gender or sexuality.
• Share statistics similar to those presented in this article to show employees how important these issues really are for a functioning workplace.
• Engage with learning materials that present workplace scenarios so that employees can learn how to approach certain topics and actually visualize how to behave to encourage inclusivity.
• Always stress the importance of diversity and make sure the executive team shares with the company about efforts they are taking in these areas (for example, those in charge should admit when they become aware of areas they could improve, such as diversifying the board of directors).
• Provide resources for LGBTQ workers if they experience harassment or discrimination from coworkers, or if they just need someone to talk to, like an HR representative or counselor.
• Implement actual company policies that protect workers against discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Make sure these policies are distributed to all employees and are available for reference.

Key takeaways

• Because discrimination rights based on sexuality continue to stall on a federal level, take action in your individual workplace
• If the LGBTQ community feels excluded in the workplace, they’re more likely to leave and are more likely to feel unhappy or depressed at work
• Encourage openness and acceptance at work so that LGBTQ workers don’t feel like they have to remain closeted to be liked
• Educate employees, especially non-LGBTQ workers, so that they are aware of these issues and are better aware of how to behave
• Recognize the financial and productivity benefits that an inclusive and diverse workplace provides
• Create support systems and company policies that address these issues

When you’re able to educate and encourage, and foster diversity and inclusivity—teaching your employees what they mean, why they’re important, and how they help the entire workplace—your company culture will shift toward being more socially aware and responsible.

Updates to What Employers Can Ask about Wage History in Illinois

The Illinois Equal Pay Act of 2003 has been amended, effective September 29, 2019, with updated guidelines on what employers can and cannot base hiring decisions on. Particularly, employers cannot make hiring decisions based on salary history of candidates. So, what does this mean, exactly, and what else did the amendment change?

No More Asking About Wage or Salary History

The amendment has prohibited Illinois employers from doing the following when going through the hiring process:
• They cannot screen candidates or applicants based on their prior wage or salary history, or their current compensation. This includes benefits. They cannot require this information to be disclosed or have minimum and maximum criteria for hiring.
• They cannot request wage or salary history as a condition for employment consideration while an applicant is being interviewed.
• They cannot seek out a candidate’s wage or salary history from their current or former employers. But, if this information is a matter of public record, or if the employee is currently working for the employer in a different job, this rule does not apply.
• They cannot have an employee sign a contract that prohibits the employee from disclosing their salary, wage, benefits, or other compensation.
• They cannot discharge an employee who fails to comply with an inquiry into wage or salary history.

It’s important to note that if an employee voluntarily discloses salary or wage information during the interview or hiring process, employers are not in violation of the new law. The employer is just not allowed to consider this disclosure when making a decision about whether to hire the candidate, the salary to offer them, or future compensation.

What are employers still allowed to do?

While there are several new things that employers cannot do under the amendment, they can still engage in the following activities:
• Ask the candidate about their compensation expectations, but without trying to get any information about the candidate’s current or previous salary
• Offer information about compensation for the position the candidate is interviewing for, but without trying to solicit information about the candidate’s compensation history

Equal Pay Claim Threshold Lowered

Another change the amendment is bringing is a lowering of the threshold for establishing an equal pay claim. This means that employers who have at least four employees are prohibited from paying unequal wages to men and women if they are:
• Doing the same or substantially similar work,
• Doing jobs requiring substantially similar skills, effort, and responsibility, and
• Doing work performed under similar working conditions.

This means that it may be easier for workers to make an equal pay claim.

The numbers: What are the penalties?

Under the new law, an individual can bring a civil action related to the above matters within five years of the occurrence and recover damages incurred and special damages up to $10,000, injunctive relief, and costs and attorney’s fees. Employers are now subject to civil penalties of up to $5,000 for each violation of the new law and each employee impacted by the violation.

How to Prepare

Because there could be serious consequences if employers go over the line with trying to solicit compensation information from candidates, they should take the following steps to revamp their hiring process:
• Go over current applications and ensure there are no past or current salary- or wage-related questions.
• Implement a training process so that employees are aware of these restrictions and they are trained on how to discuss compensation during the interview process.
• Review all employee documents, such as handbooks that list policies and procedures, to make sure they don’t forbid employees from taking about compensation with other employees.

Important Key Takeaways:


• Employers cannot ask or solicit information about a candidate’s previous or current wage or salary, including benefits and other compensation.
• Employers cannot prohibit employees from discussing their compensation with other employees.
• Hiring decisions cannot be made based on salary history.
• The threshold for individuals to make an equal pay claim has been lowered, so employers need to pay more attention to how they approach compensation decisions.

High-Deductible Plans Are Better Than Ever, Thanks to New IRS Rules

Amid legislation that pushes consumerism in healthcare while putting greater burdens on healthcare consumers, employers and employees alike have turned to high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) to minimize their healthcare costs. As premiums continue to rise, these plans offer an opportunity to keep upfront costs low for companies and their employees. At the same time, the IRS permits the creation of tax-exempt health savings accounts or HSAs for people with HDHPs to cover the costs of the higher deductibles when expenses do come up.

This system works great for everyone involved – so long as people stay healthy. Which makes preventive care an integral part of any successful HDHP based healthcare strategy. By allowing patients to head off health issues before they become significant expenses, preventive care keeps everyone’s expenses down and maximizes health outcomes for the insured. Recognizing this, the IRS has allowed insurance plans to cover preventive care such as check-ups, screenings, immunizations, and tobacco cessation or weight-loss programs with a low or non-existent deductible while keeping their HDHP status.

However, the IRS has not generally extended the same low-deductible permissions to treatments for existing illnesses or conditions. Since 2004, certain on-the-spot treatments for conditions discovered during screenings (such as removing polyps discovered during colonoscopies) and medications to prevent recurrence of heart attacks or to reduce cholesterol to prevent heart disease have fallen under the umbrella of preventive care, but that’s about it.

Which means that people with chronic conditions have generally been left out. They have had to choose between paying out high-deductibles for treatments that prevent their conditions from worsening, or giving up their HSAs and adopting high-premium plans. Until now, that is.

The IRS’ New Rule

On July 17, 2019, the IRS issued Notice 2019-45, which significantly broadened the definition of preventive care to extend it to many treatments for chronic conditions. To qualify as preventive care, the treatments must be likely to prevent the worsening of a chronic condition or the development of a secondary condition which would incur greater healthcare costs. It must also meet several other criteria, which we have outlined in this handy chart for easy reference:

The Impact for Companies and Their Employees

So what does this policy change mean for employers and employees? Simply put, it provides enormous opportunities for both to take greater control over their costs, minimizing their expenses while maximizing employee health and wellness. It makes the already appealing HDHP and HSA healthcare option a win for employees who want to increase their welfare and for employers who are looking to reduce their expenses.

The expanded definition of preventive care provides a new opportunity for employers to educate their employees so that they can become more intelligent consumers amid government policies which force consumerism in the healthcare market. Employees can use HDHPs to control their costs without fear of compromising their health, especially by neglecting chronic conditions to avoid paying high deductibles. Instead, they can get the treatment that they need at low costs while keeping their tax-exempt health savings.

Key Takeaways

We’ve thrown a lot of information your way in this article, so here are some key takeaways that you should remember:

• IRS Notice 2019-45 opened up serious opportunities for employers to cut their costs and for employees to reduce their expenses and maximize their healthcare outcomes
• Chronic conditions will no longer force consumers to take on significant healthcare costs to receive the treatment they need to maintain their health and avoid future expenses
• That means that high-deductible health plans, which already provided the best solution for consumers in the current healthcare market, are now better than ever

To make the most of the rule change as an employer, you should partner with a proactive benefits broker who will help you craft a healthcare strategy which maximizes the impact for your employees while minimizing your costs. Benefits are an important tool to attract, retain, and engage the talent that you need to grow your business. The well-being of your company and its employees ultimately depends on the effectiveness of your benefits strategy. So it is more important than ever to work with the right benefits broker.

Interested in making the switch to a broker who is invested in your growth and your employees’ well-being? Start the conversation today.