The slow rise of the regulatory burden that now, at the very end of the year, could face repeal or reneging may very well be the thing that defines 2016 for HR.
With the unexpected election of President-elect Donald Trump, federal agencies may soon be singing a different tune, leading to inevitable confusion for employers nationwide. But the year also brought about new attention to digital wellness tools, an increase in industry-wide acquisitions and continued pushes for paid leave of all forms, especially for new parents.
The news this year was dramatic and varied. We reviewed the 16 most important storylines from 2016 that will likely still have ripples leading into the new year.
January: The sudden rise of telehealth
Telehealth may feel like old news. But the technology burst onto the scene with such rapidity that it went from 48% adoption at the end of 2014 to predicted 90% adoption by plan year 2017. That’s a 42% increase in less than three years.
This year, telehealth overcame various legal hurdles that prevented its implementation in certain states and saw improved integration with employer benefits plans. Since saving money on healthcare is a prime priority for most employers (currently struggling to keep healthcare cost increases stable each year), many have turned to telehealth as a way to help employees deal with common health issues in a more affordable way.
Expect to see adoption continue to grow in the new year.
February: Trouble in Techland; Death of Scalia
The report Buzzfeed unveiled at the end of 2015 came to a head at the beginning of 2016 for Zenefits, a fairly popular benefits startup catering to smaller businesses. The company was revealed to have broken rules regarding broker licensing in various states, leading to the resignation of Parker Conrad, the company’s original CEO.
Zenefits has worked all year to escape that mire, ending 2016 by introducing a new app platform, Z2. But it turns out current CEO, David Sacks, may soon be resigning his post (he will stay on as chairman, however).
While 2016 was a remarkable year for HR tech solutions, the Zenefits debacle illustrates why HR leaders must vet tech adoptions properly before adding them to their systems. When considering growth, ensure compliance is top of mind as well.
Of honorable mention this month: The passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, whose absence is still being felt on the highest court in the land. It’s an ongoing story with no end in sight, since nominee Merrick Garland was recently seen back at work.
March: On International Women’s Day, why women are still behind in the workplace
President Obama made pay equality a focus in 2016, and a few states made the news when they approved comprehensive pay equity laws, including Massachusetts. But study after study this year made it plain: Women are still being left behind at work.
Young women are often passed up for promotion, and they face both recruiting biases and workplace bullying. Technology has paved the way for reducing bias in hiring practices, but overall management of women employees could improve. Retirement education, pay equity analysis, allowing for mobility and flexibility and improved paid leave programs all contribute to better workplace equality overall, and not just for women.
April: The importance of mental health programs
Wellness is still the name of the game for keeping healthcare costs down, but this year marked a turning point in the technology surrounding holistic wellness. Mental and behavioral health garnered particular attention this year.
Platforms like Castlight and AbleTo (formerly known as AbilTo) are enabling employers to reach out to their employers about these “hidden” issues in effective and affordable ways. Breaking down the stigma against mental illness could lead to more cost-effective employee health management down the line, making it a good investment for any company.
May: Increased regulatory pushes
Three regulation announcements were made in May, but only two would make it to the end of the year intact. The White House announced the long-expected increase to the FLSA overtime rule, aiming to raise the salary threshold to $47,476 for overtime exemption and surprising everyone by allowing employers until Dec. 1 to implement the ruling.
While that rule would be doomed in court later on, both the EEOC wellness rules and the OSHA post-accident reporting rule would survive challenges to their legality and remain on the books as of this writing.
A highly active EEOC and DOL kept HR on their toes this year. With a new administration incoming, just about anything is possible.
June: LinkedIn gets bought; Is ‘annual’ still a thing in HR?
Microsoft made perhaps one of the biggest acquisitions of the year with its announcement that it intended to buy LinkedIn for $26.2 billion dollars. According to the release, LinkedIn is the world's largest and most valuable professional network, and it has had 101% growth year over year to more than 7 million active job listings, as well as 19% growth YOY to more than 433 million global members. The deal closed in December of this year.
On top of that, June brought yet another reminder that anything annual in HR seems up to debate. GE made headlines when it was revealed that it might remove traditional annual raises. The year before, the legacy company changed up its annual performance review system, causing many to rethink their own.
In 2016, even things that seem eternal can be disrupted. There's probably a proverb that says that, somewhere.
July: HR can catch ‘em all by adopting to new trends, too
Remember when Pokemon Go was a thing?
By all accounts, it still is a thing, but July marked the height of the craze. Forbes reported that 69% percent of the readers who took the magazine’s informal six-question online poll said they played Pokémon Go at work. Boeing banned it at work for safety reasons.
As amusing (and potentially frustrating) as it was, the app inadvertently revealed key problems with tech in the workplace that HR is still wrangling with today. Allowing employees to access corporate programs on any personal device can lead to serious threats to cloud and server security, especially if employees also download popular (and hackable) personal apps to such devices.
August: An active EEOC reveals itself once again
For the first time since 1998, the EEOC issued a compliance guide on retaliation and related issues in August, coming as a result of public input over the course of a year. In recent times, retaliation has climbed to the top of the list of charges the EEOC receives, since it is simply easier for an employee to prove retaliation in recent regulatory climates compared to discrimination.
September: The overtime rule faces a major threat
Laying the brickwork for its demise, 21 states filed a lawsuit against the rule claiming it would place undue burden on budgets and employers in their states. Business groups would also join the complaint, saying the rule would force employers to shift salaried employees to hourly pay as well as create more part-time jobs by cutting hours.
October: The election approaches; The rise of people analytics
Many employers were focused on the run-up to the election during October since both candidates offered different approaches to the current regulatory environment. Hillary Clinton seemed to signal a continuation of Obama’s current employer policies, while Trump seemed to promise less regulation, including potential repeals of issues that concerned employers in the new year.
This month also marked the publication of our spotlight issue on people analytics, focusing in on how data analytics affects how HR does its job.
November: The election of Trump; The overtime rule blocked
Whatever preparations were going on before November, many of them were likely torn up by month’s end. Experts predicted a Clinton win and for the overtime rule to succeed against any legal challenges. Both were proven wrong in the fell swoop of a single month.
On Nov. 8, Trump was declared the winner of the election. Widely seen as an upset, the win by Trump alongside a majority Republican congress may ensure the passage of various Republican policies.
Concerning overtime, U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant proclaimed that the 21 states that had challenged the rule had successfully proven that "irreparable harm" would occur if it went into effect on Dec. 1, and placed it under preliminary injunction.
December: All eyes on Trump’s administration
In the final month of the year, employers sought hints for what to expect in 2017. Trump nominated Andrew Puzder as his DOL secretary, confirming for many that his administration would likely lean pro-business. The nomination of Tom Price for HHS also led many to question the future of the ACA, as Price is the creator of ACA-replacement “Empowering Patients First.”