While other labor issues might be at the forefront of hoteliers’ minds heading into 2017, the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act, political tension in the workplace, low unemployment and other human resources challenges should also be on their radar.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—While headlines have focused on the stalled overtime-exemption threshold and minimum-wage movements across the country, other labor matters equally worthy of hoteliers’ attention are coming to a head this year.
A new, controversial U.S. president paired with a Republican-led U.S. Congress. New and developing regulations. Constant advancements in technology. Low unemployment. Challenges and opportunities lie in each, but they require a proactive approach to maintain a calm and productive workforce.
Having both the White House and U.S. Congress under Republican leadership could bring about a number of changes that affect employers and employees, said Chuck Conine, founder of Hospitality HR Solutions.
One such change could be the rollback or cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he said, which was implemented in 2012 through an executive order and allowed immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to register for work and avoid deportation. President-elect Donald Trump and his nominee for U.S. attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, are opponents of this program.
“Among the estimated 750,000 or so Dreamers are people in the U.S. workforce, and they may lose some or all of their deportation protection,” Conine said. “Employers are likely already hearing about this issue in the workplace.”
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Another significant uncertainty for all employers in the hotel industry is the fate of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Employees are calling daily to ask what will happen if the health care act is repealed, said Shanna Bracken, director of human resources at Peachtree Hotel Group. For the time being, her team is reassuring employees who have coverage under the Affordable Care Act that the company will keep them informed should any changes occur. The company is monitoring any developments and continues to make sure it’s in compliance with the law, she said.
“We’re ready and prepared for when the decision comes down to change,” Bracken said. “The team will jump on deck and decide how to move forward.”
Participation in HP Hotels’ insurance plan increased as a result of the Affordable Care Act, said Charles Tew, the company’s director of human resources. Employees in lower positions have been more likely to purchase insurance because of the law, he said, even though the insurance plan was available before.
The minimal coverage plans aren’t the best, Tew said, but they do provide some coverage for major problems. If the law is repealed or changed, he said he hopes whatever comes next broadens the marketplace across state lines to help control costs to give them more benefit for their dollars.
Many employees have their children on their plans until they age out at 26, he said, so there are questions about what would happen if the law is repealed without an immediate replacement.
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Technology and employment
Advances in technology present a double-edged sword, Conine said, as self-driving vehicles, delivery drones and whatever follows them could cut labor costs for employers by eliminating jobs. This could expand to the hotel industry, particularly in food production, he said.
“Employees who may be displaced—not by off-shoring, which President-elect Trump has said he does not support, but instead by innovation—will not go quietly and rights groups may see this type of job displacement as a cause worth supporting,” he said.
Peachtree is trying to focus on simplifying its systems, particularly its payroll systems, by having the right tech to improve efficiency, Bracken said. The company is also exploring social media as a means of recruiting new employees, particularly millennials.
“It (is) what helps capture interest,” she said. “We’re trying to stay abreast of the trend, getting onto college campuses and encourage and explain about our company.”
The company is also conducting more video interviews during the hiring process, she said.
“Some people may not be as used to the new technology and doing it that way, but it works better with the younger generation,” Bracken said. “For efficiency and time, it makes sense.”
The national unemployment rate hit 4.7% in December, Tew said, so it can be difficult in some markets to hire basic line workers without having to pay higher wages. Even in some cities without increased minimum-wage legislation, rates have gone up as much as 25% to 30%, because that is what the market requires, he said.
“That’s a great strain on the hospitality industry,” Tew said.
HP Hotels is working to streamline its interviewing and hiring process through social media recruitment and a new website design, Tew said. The company also is using its new tech to continue its engagement with current employees, such as an employee survey to learn their perspectives on benefits, to develop action plans.
With all the uncertainty and divisiveness stemming from the recent election, Conine said employers would be wise to try to keep employees calm. Fallout from tumultuous legislative and court battles could raise tempers in the workplace, which could spill over to social media, he said.
“Absent a concerted effort by the White House and Congress to focus the country on the future, expect a continuation or even a ramping up of the intensely partisan actions on display during the 2016 federal election cycle, including behavior such as ‘fake news,’ anti-Semitic, racist and anti-immigrant marches and social media postings,” he said.
All of this could likely initiate and inflame workplace tension, he said, so employers should speak with counsel now to discuss ways to be proactive and responsive.
Employers who are tempted to celebrate Trump’s win should remember he is a controversial figure whose statements and actions have done little to calm a nervous, divided electorate, Conine said.
“CEOs, hotel general managers and department heads should rededicate themselves as ‘beacons of hope and openness’ for employees at all levels whom they may find demoralized, or the hyper-opposite, by the election,” he said. “A workplace where employees are the focus rather than whatever the government may be contemplating remains the best recipe for success.”