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The legal aspects of Human Resources (HR) have significantly changed over the past several decades. The newfound rights of workers to form unions and bargaining units and to define basic parameters such as the length of a work-week and what constitutes minimum wage continues to evolve. The core of most recent legislation has been grounded in social responsibility. The government continues to push employers to become more socially responsible. American workers expect equal access to employment and equal pay for similar jobs regardless. They expect to work in a safe work environment without being discriminated against on the basis of age, gender, race, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation. People with disabilities must be treated like any other workers and expect reasonable accommodations by employers. American workers can expect to work in an environment that is free of drugs and harassment. They can take time off during a pregnancy, illness, or military leave. Access to health care benefits is available to them after losing their jobs. To a certain extent, pension rights have been established. Information related to one’s health is protected by privacy laws. Human resources personnel must be familiar with the requirement of such laws. This task is often complex and challenging for any healthcare organization’s HR. Compliance with the legal requirements has imposed additional cost and stress on HR personnel which is responsible for establishing the legal compliance framework of the organization.
Legal Compliance Framework for a Home Health Agency
This proposed framework for a home health agency was synthesized, adapted, and modified from the action plan framework used by the Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL’s three-part action plan framework, “Plan, Prevent, Protect”, comprises the creation of a compliance plan to educate the workforce regarding matters of compliance and identify and mitigate the risk of legal violation; implementation of the plan throughout all levels of the organization in a way that prevents legal irregularities; and careful monitoring, or protection, to ensure that the plan’s objectives are being met. The proposed framework is based on six principles that form the foundation of the organizational standards and action plans.
The following foundational six principles are intended to articulate the broad compliance framework and the intent of the organizational standards that guide the development of the specific action plans:
1. Reinforce compliance with legal requirements: It is important to identify the relevant legislation and imperative to be compliant with such legislation which is the absolute minimum standard that organizations must achieve. The standards should reinforce compliance but also provide a rationale for the organizations to go beyond the minimum.
2. Support active and positive approaches to working with employees: Organizational managers should be proactive and preemptive rather than reactive in addressing potential non-compliance problems. The standards should guide and provide managers with information and tools to establish processes and practices that encourage and support employees in their current and future work.
3. Contribute to a fair and equitable work environment: The standards should prescribe processes that are clear, known, and applied consistently so that expectations in performance and workforce relations essential to an effective workplace are established and promoted.
4. Integrate with standards that support organizational excellence in governance and accountability: HR management practices are part of the organization’s overall strategic business approach. As a result, HR management standards must be integrated with other standards such as good governance and ethical and financial accountability.
5. Act as a foundation for individual learning and organizational improvement: This principle and its standards support the organization in identifying areas for improvement as it relates to compliance and to optimize the link between employee performance and organizational results.
6. Provide tools that will build organizational effectiveness: By formulating standard driven action plans and implementing the standards, organizations make a demonstrable commitment to excellence and proper allocation of resources to ensure capacity is built and sustained and that their mandate is accomplished.
Framework Standards and Action Plans
Based on the above guiding principles, five standards were developed with their corresponding action plans:
1. HR management policy framework and work specific legislation: The intent of HR management policies is to create a workplace where minimum legal requirements are met; best practices appropriate to the organization can be documented and implemented; management decisions and action are consistent, uniform and predictable; individuals and the organization are protected from the pressures of expediency; and the organization’s values are promoted. In developing HR policies, HR management must identify and take into account the relevant federal and state laws and regulations. Such policies should comply with employment, workplace health and safety, and other related legislation as applicable in the jurisdiction in which the organization operates. After HR management policies are formalized, they should be approved by the organization’s governing body, made available in a written and electronic format, and an appropriate employee education and training should be conducted in that regard. HR management policies are not static and should be reviewed on a regular basis and revised as needed to ensure compliance. Standards emanating from these policies should be enforced through well-publicized disciplinary guidelines. Depending on the expertise available to the organization, it may be appropriate to seek legal counsel assistance to ensure HR management policies comply with relevant legislation. A periodic audit should be undertaken to identify, assess, evaluate, analyze, and communicate risk and compliance irregularities. A written report documenting the extent of compliance should be submitted to the organization’s governing body at least annually.
2. Getting the right people through fair hiring practices: Recruiting qualified individuals to fill positions is the most critical HR management function. Committed, motivated, and qualified employees will help an organization achieve its purpose and goals. The process of hiring needs to be fair and devoid of any discriminatory practices. Such process starts with an approved job description that is accurate, job-specific and non-discriminatory. Recruitment should be conducted through an objective and consistent process that complies with federal and state law and attracts qualified candidates. The criteria used to select the appropriate individual should be established and documented ahead of recruitment. Interviews should be conducted in a consistent manner and accommodations should be provided to applicants with disabilities. Interview questions should comply with work legislation. Finally, the selection process should be blind to a candidate’s gender, race, age, national origin, religion, and sexual orientation and should be open to reasonable accommodations for qualified disabled candidates. Information collected through the selection process should be treated in a manner conformant with privacy legislation.
3. Managing people and their work: It is imperative to set clear performance targets and expectations, ensure employees receive objective and timely feedback regarding their performance and involve them in drafting their personal development plan. The supervisor needs to ensure that the work plan is achievable. The performance review process and evaluation criteria should be established prior to any assessment and should be known to both supervisor and employee. Depending on the organization, performance management processes may need to be negotiated with the union. A salary range or wage rate based on compensation levels for comparable positions should be established for each position and should be conformant with prevalent minimum wages and equal pay laws.
4. Safe workplace: The organization will promote a culture of safety and discharge its occupational health and safety obligations. Issues related to occupational health and safety will be discussed with employees at least once a year. Safe work procedures, rules, and regulations applicable to the organization will be enforced. Regular surveillance for substandard conditions and activities will be conducted in addition to routine equipment maintenance. The organization will establish procedures and train employees on how to report accidents at work. The organization will ensure a work environment free of any harassment or drugs. A confidential process to investigate complaints of harassment will be established. The organization will promote an inclusive workplace. Moreover, it will establish procedures and train employees with regard to conflict resolution.
5. Training, learning, and development: The organizations must ensure that employees have the necessary knowledge and skills required to complete their tasks effectively and efficiently. Learning, training, and development activities are continuous planned efforts by the organization to improve employee competency levels and organizational performance. They are also essential to educating employees regarding organizational standards and to meet legal and regulatory requirements. Individual employee knowledge and skills should be assessed against the standards of the employee’s position. Every employee’s training and development needs should be reviewed at least annually and plans established to address any gaps.
The aforementioned compliance framework is a comprehensive program which helps the organization and its employees conduct operations and activities ethically with the highest level of integrity, and in compliance with legal and regulatory requirements. To have an effective compliance program, the organization must establish and maintain an organizational culture that encourages ethical conduct and a commitment to compliance with labor and employment laws. Creating an effective, long-term compliance action plan that becomes a vital part of the organization’s culture and its senior management governance will more likely ensure that successive leaders and employees will continue to follow the plan and remain committed to the vision of achieving compliance in an increasingly evolving workplace environment.