Futurecast 2022: Employment Law

Headshot - Peg O'Brien
Margaret "Peg" O'Brien
Director, Litigation Department and Vice-Chair of the Employment Law Group
Published: Business NH Magazine
January 12, 2022
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With 2.9% unemployment in New Hampshire, the question for employers will remain the same in 2022 as it was in 2021:  How do we recruit and retain employees to meet the needs of our business operations?  The pandemic has revealed what human resources professionals have said for years:  employees want flexibility and a healthy working environment.

Flexibility

Flexibility in a job can take many shapes.  Certainly during the COVID-19 crisis, many employees have grown to prefer work-from-home arrangements.  In fact, as employers seek to return employees to the workplace, employees are resisting.  In recent polls, employees have said they would prefer to find a new job that will allow remote work rather than return to the office.  With those statistics in mind, some employers have started to embrace a “hybrid” workforce – where employees are required to appear in the office on certain specific days and are permitted to work from home on others.

Another form of job flexibility that has evolved during the pandemic is allowing employees to have control over the start and end time to the work day or when breaks occur during the work day.  This scheduling flexibility does not work in all business settings, but when feasible, it is welcomed by employees and helps to reduce their overall stress.

As employers wrestle with how to incorporate flexibility for employees in the workplace – while simultaneously achieving their goals for a connected workforce — they will need to keep an eye on the legal risks that may accompany these changes.  Many of the risks involve wage and hour laws.  As always, a clear written policy on these working arrangements will help to confirm the company’s expectations and minimize the risk of employment claims.  In addition, an ongoing dialog between leadership and employees on this issue of flexibility will be key to creating a culture where employees want to remain.

Health and Wellness

Even before the pandemic, employers searched for ways to support employees struggling with mental health issues.  Pre-pandemic, nearly 1 in 5 adults reported suffering from some form of mental health illness.  The CDC reports that the pandemic has created an even greater level of adverse mental health conditions.  The workplace can be a key location for developing activities and programs to help individuals improve their well-being.

In recent years, many employers have added Employee Assistance Programs to their benefit offerings.  Employers can also aid employees by implementing educational programs to destigmatize the issue of mental health and highlight community resources for employees, or provide programming (on-site or virtually) during lunch or after hours on mindfulness, yoga and other wellness activities.

While New Hampshire does not have a paid family leave program in place for 2022, it has enacted the Granite State Paid Family Leave Plan, scheduled to take effect January 1, 2023.  This Plan is voluntary for private employers.  Employers will be able to purchase a plan of insurance (and receive tax credits for doing so) that will provide employees with 60% wage replacement for up to 6 weeks of work annually if the employee takes leave for personal health or family reasons.  More information on this Plan will be made available in 2022.

Without question, New Hampshire employers are struggling to find employees.  There are simply too many jobs and not enough workers.  In addition to competitive compensation, employees nowadays seek flexibility and a healthy working environment.  By embracing these benefits, employers will set themselves apart and, in doing so, attract and retain the employees needed to carry out the company’s business goals.