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With hurricane season quickly approaching, human resources professionals should prepare their organizations’ emergency plans now to ensure employees stay updated with crucial information and support, and to make sure business stays on track in the event we’re faced with another storm this summer.

Here’s a checklist organizations can use to prepare for Hurricane Season:

Share Disaster Plans & Emergency Resources Early

In anticipation of a natural disaster, HR leaders are often responsible for setting up communication plans and sharing information so that individual employees can prepare. Some recommended resources to share with those who may be impacted include:

  • National Hurricane Center’s Hurricane Preparedness Guidelines
  • Department of Homeland Security’s Emergency Kit and Supply Checklist
  • Local Evacuation Shelter Information & Maps (including resources for pets)


Test Your Ability to Contact Employees During/After a Disaster, and Vice Versa

It is critical to encourage employees to update their emergency contact information in the organization’s system to ensure you have up-to-date phone numbers and other pertinent details on hand. At Gulfshore Insurance, we activate a secondary disaster hotline for employees only that allows us to convey critical messages before, during, and after a storm. If employees have cellular service, then they are able to call in to receive timely updates on the agency’s status of operations. A phone tree is another widely used method for communicating with employees, particularly if your organization has more than a handful of employees.

Consider an Alternative When Cell Service Becomes Difficult

While cell phone towers may go down and access to the internet or SMS capabilities may be affected, texting may provide one of the best options for staying in touch. Many organizations utilize an SMS instant-messaging system that allows them to notify employees about operations and other pertinent details. As such, it is important to remind employees about the need for extended batteries and backups in order to effectively use this system.

Extend Deadlines, Alert Vendors, and Pre-Schedule Remote Check-Ins

Business, of course, goes on in the rest of the world and deadlines still loom. If you have any vendors outside the affected areas with employee deadlines you should start working with them to get an extension. Leadership and operations teams may want to pre-schedule call-in times and provide access to a conference line. The calls will allow you to effectively plan for business continuity and report on efforts to check in with your employees.

Consider an Advance Payroll

Many of the activities HR teams will need to address in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster will, in some instances, be things that have been prepared for ahead of time. As employees get back in touch, additional needs will be identified, but access to payroll funds and cash, as well as a sense of job security, are often uppermost in the minds of staff members. The first paycheck after a storm can be is critical for employees. Remember that if extreme power outages occur, not only will banks be closed, but ATMs will probably not work either–cash is king!

Be Flexible with Attendance and Time Off Policies

Employees who have been displaced from their homes or have evacuated entirely may be anxious about job continuity even as they’re struggling with basics like getting access to food, shelter, gas, and clothing. Part of the communication prior to the weather event will ideally have provided employees with clarity around items such as pay continuity, use of PTO, or flexibility in the company’s attendance policies. As employees return to work, whenever that may be, they’ll still be dealing with numerous aftereffects. Providing consideration for additional time-off without penalty will be important to employees who must keep appointments with insurance adjustors, rebuild their homes, or find new living arrangements; this time may be with or without pay as appropriate and in alignment with the Fair Labor Standards Act for employers in the U.S.

Last June, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law that explains how patients can receive medical marijuana under Florida’s related amendment from 2016. Amendment 2, Florida’s “medical marijuana law” passed with 71% of the vote and took effect January 3, 2017. The amendment required lawmakers to come up with a description of how patients can qualify and receive medical marijuana by July 3, 2017. As an employer or employee in Florida, here’s what the new marijuana laws mean for you.

Employers still have the right to a Drug-Free Workplace

While court challenges may arise, employers are generally safe since the law doesn’t require accommodation for medical marijuana users.The medical marijuana amendment to Florida’s law still preserves employers’ rights to enforce drug-free workplace policies. Despite patients being able to legally qualify and receive medical marijuana, if their employer enforces a drug-free environment, the patient won’t be able to work. The amendment does not limit an employer’s ability to “establish, continue, or enforce a drug-free policy.” It does not make it mandatory for employers to accommodate patients receiving medical marijuana or working under the influence of marijuana. The section also states that it does not “create a cause of action against an employer for discrimination or wrongful discharge.” Since the passing of the amendment in Florida, employers have worried about what it could mean for drug use in the workplace. Until courts rule otherwise, companies must not tolerate testing positive for marijuana under the drug-free workplace.

Medical marijuana and employee drug testing

According to the new medical marijuana law, patients must have a “qualifying condition” to receive medical marijuana. Conditions include cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, seizures, and terminal illness. Since the passing of the new law, employers and employees have wondered what it might mean for drug use in the workplace. The answer? Not much, thanks to the section not granting employees the right to use marijuana at work if an employer has a policy against it. If an employee qualifies for legal marijuana use, he or she must still obey an employer’s rules for using drugs at work or having marijuana in the system. If an employer wishes to maintain or implement drug testing rules prior to hiring an employee, he or she has this right.

Under current statutory and case law, an employee that does not pass the drug test, even if they have a prescription for medical marijuana use, does not have a case for discrimination against the employer because the Statute that governs the Florida Drug Free workplace still prohibits use of any drugs scheduled as Class One by the Federal government.. Of course this will be eventually be played out in courts and the possibility remains that the courts could at some time rule in favor of employees – especially as the opioid epidemic worsens and more and more states are looking to medical marijuana as a better alternative to chronic pain relief. Until that time, the statute is clear that marijuana use, medical or otherwise, is not permitted under the Florida Drug Free Workplace rules.

Training is an important component of running an effective business. In order for employees to know how to operate technology, adhere to processes, and expand their knowledge on products or services – training is the primary driver in building these functional competencies for colleagues to succeed in his or her role. By providing formal learning opportunities you invest in the success of your business and show you are committed to developing your staff. Many employers think that offering training or development opportunities will be too expensive. They often turn a blind eye to the organizational and workplace deficiencies that can often be fixed through training solutions. But the reality is they end up spending more money through turnover costs, decreased productivity, and low efficiency rates simply because they refuse to see training’s return on investment potential. Despite the common excuses business leaders like to use as potential drawbacks (time away from work, budgetary restrictions, etc.), training and development provides both the company as a whole and the individual employee with benefits that make the cost and time a worthwhile investment. Here are just a few ways that implementing training and development for your organization can impact your bottom line:

Closing the Gaps

Most employees have opportunities for improvement when it comes to their skillset or competency level. Implementing a specific training program or targeted learning solution allows the employee the chance to strengthen those skills and help close the knowledge gap. Training can bring each employee to a higher level of productivity, pushing their skills and knowledge to equal ground with one another. This helps reduce any weak links and deficiencies within the company, especially when you have to heavily rely on others to complete basic work tasks. Providing necessary training creates an overall knowledgeable staff with employees who can take over for one another as needed, fill in the gap, work on teams or work independently without constant help and supervision.

Continuous Business Improvement

When an employee, who receives the necessary training, is better able to perform her job it builds the employee’s confidence because he or she has a stronger understanding of the industry they are working in and the responsibilities needed to be successful. This confidence ends up driving discretionary performance, which is the willingness to do more because they want to, not because they have to. When we are given the tools to excel, performing harder and faster, we also try and think of ways to do things smarter or better. Continuous training can keep your employees on the cutting edge of industry, technology, and operational developments. Employees who are competent and empowered to help change the status quo, help your company hold a position as a leader and strong competitor within the industry.

Consistency

Structured training and development programs ensure employees have a consistent experience when it comes to learning about company expectations, services, products, processes, policies, and procedures. This ultimately impacts the consistent experience you most likely are trying to provide your customers. Putting all employees through regular training ensures that all staff members at least have exposure to the information that is critical for your organization’s success. Establishing consistent business and operating norms only strengthens your business’s chances for long term success.

Employee Engagement

Employees who regularly have onsite access to training and development opportunities have an increased advantage over employees who are left to seek training opportunities outside of their business. The investment in training that a company makes shows the employees they are valued and that they believe in his or her success within the organization. Offered training can create a supportive and highly engaged workplace for employees. Research shows that employees who feel appreciated and challenged through training opportunities feel more satisfaction in their jobs. By creating an environment where employees feel appreciated and nurtured, employers reduce the risk of high turnover and typically see higher levels of individual and team productivity.

The Departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Labor announced June 30th that penalties for hiring people not authorized to work in the U.S. and discriminating against immigrant workers will be increased to keep up with inflation.

The minimum penalty imposed by the Justice Department for the unlawful employment of immigrant workers will increase from $375 to $539, while the maximum fine will go from $3,200 to $4,313. Violators facing multiple charges will be subject to a new maximum penalty of $21,563.

The most significant increase is for mistakes or omissions on the Form I-9. The new rules raise paperwork violations related to I-9 verification from a maximum of $1,100 to $2,156. The minimum penalty per violation increases from $110 to $216.

It is more important now than ever for companies big and small to make sure they have effective policies and procedures in place for properly ‘I-9ing’ employees during the onboarding process, including a regular review of existing I-9s and training staff.

An initial violation for discriminating against immigrant workers can bring a new top penalty of $3,563 per charge, up from $3,200. The minimum penalty increases from $375 to $445.

Civil penalties related to the H-1B, H-2B and H-2A temporary visa foreign worker programs will be raised depending on the violation and include the following:

  • The maximum penalty for specific violations of the H-1B program, such as misrepresentations on the labor condition application, will be raised to $1,782 per violation. More-serious violations pertaining to wages or working conditions will carry a penalty of up to $7,251 per violation. The maximum penalty for displacing a U.S. worker with an H-1B worker will increase from $35,000 to $50,578 per violation.
  • The maximum penalty for violations of the H-2B program will be raised from $10,000 to $11,940 per violation. Applicable violations include those related to wages, impermissible deductions, prohibited fees and expenses, and improper refusal to employ or hire U.S. workers, among others.
  • A penalty of $1,631 will apply for each violation of an H-2A worker’s contract or of the H-2A program’s statutory or regulatory requirements. Penalties for willful violations of the work contract and the program’s statutory or regulatory requirements will increase to up to $5,491 per violation. For violations related to the housing or transportation safety and health provisions that proximately cause the death or serious injury of any H-2A worker, an employer will be fined up to $54,373 per worker. In the event of willful or repeated violations that result in serious injury or death, an employer will be assessed penalties of up to $108,745 per worker. Failure to cooperate in an investigation could result in a penalty of up to $5,491 per violation. In addition, if an employer lays off, displaces or improperly rejects a U.S. worker for an H-2A worker, the penalty will be raised to up to a maximum of $16,312 per violation per worker.

Summer Internship Gulfshore Insurance2Beginning in May 2016, Gulfshore Insurance will launch the Accelerated Development Program, an internship program which provides current college students with challenging assignments, training, and valuable exposure to our company’s leadership team.

The Accelerated Development Program enables participants to build a strong foundation of diverse skill sets for a successful and fulfilling career in Business and Personal Risk Management through customized rotations.

This tailor-made program provides access to industry knowledge in conjunction with competency-based development to prepare individuals upon graduation for a career at Gulfshore Insurance. As such, we seek the best of the best to become program members.
To be considered for acceptance, you currently must attend college and hold a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

The Accelerated Development Program provides access to:

  • Sales, Marketing, & Risk Management
  • Commercial, Personal, & Employee Benefits Support

This program is completed after an 8-week summer assignment –– with consideration for permanent placement upon graduation and after successful completion of a 4-40 insurance license.

Your experiences in the program will be designed to help you develop a sound foundation in business and personal risk management. It also will provide you quicker opportunities for advancement.

For consideration into the Accelerated Development Program for Summer 2016, please submit your resume to tschilling@gulfshoreinsurance.com.