As an HR professional in a technology startup, you should already know that you must manage the same general HR issues as all other types of employers, such as benefits administration, compliance with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), discrimination and harassment, employee handbooks and labor relations, just to name a few. However, in the technology industry you will face many additional unique HR challenges primarily due to the diverse workforce, multistate and/or foreign operations, confidentiality concerns and high employee turnover common to the industry.
Plan ahead to effectively deal with myriad complex employment laws relating to the proper hiring and taxation of nonresident alien and expatriate employees, the correct classification of diverse groups of workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the security of highly sensitive, proprietary and confidential information, social media in the workplace, and the management of joint ventures, mergers and partnerships, and geographic expansion and contraction, among many others. Issues like these can make it tricky for employers in this industry to remain compliant with employment laws across all US jurisdictions as well as with international laws.
The following 5 tips will help you to arm yourself against these complex HR challenges.
1. Verify Employees’ Right to Work in the US
While all US employers must verify every new employee’s identity and authorization to work in the US by completing a Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, this task can be particularly challenging for technology employers that have global operations and hire many non-US citizens. Avoid civil and/or criminal penalties for failing to comply with the verification process by developing a balanced compliance program that effectively detects unauthorized workers while not penalizing or discriminating against authorized workers. Also be familiar with the various types of visas that allow non-US citizens to work in the US, the types of petitions that may need to be filed with the government should a worker need a temporary work visa, and the filing requirements applicable to all types of visas.
2. Prevent Discrimination and Harassment
Because technology employers often employ many foreign workers, they are more likely to face claims of national origin or color discrimination. Prevent such claims by creating policies and practices that reinforce zero tolerance for all types of discrimination and harassment and by training employees on all the issues involved. Should an employee file such a claim, mitigate potential liability by following through with a thorough investigation and by taking any necessary remedial measures.
3. Offer Flexible Work Arrangements
Technology employers often employ geographically diverse workforces, making it important to implement processes and practices that address challenges in communicating with remote employees and in managing a global team. Be sure to offer flexible work arrangements to accommodate diverse work arrangements and to ensure that projects are completed and goals are attained.
4. Secure Confidential Information
Institute measures to safeguard against the misappropriation of proprietary and confidential information, client or customer lists, employees’ electronic devices and anything else that provides the employer with a competitive edge in the industry. One way to accomplish this is to require employees to sign a restrictive covenant, i.e., a noncompete agreement, a nonsolicitation agreement and/or a nondisclosure agreement, which protects the employer’s legitimate business interests within reasonable limits. Also, because technology industry workers may be susceptible to bribes and insider trading, be proactive and take preventive measures against such illegal practices.
5. Identify and Protect Against Post-Termination Risk
While employers in the technology industry must keep an eye on employees with special skills, restrictive covenants or knowledge of proprietary business information, they should strive to achieve the goal of having a unified workforce without being exposed to unfair competition and litigation, which could ultimately affect the enforceability of arbitration agreements, profitability or employee morale. Proactively build evidence for employee terminations, conduct exit interviews whenever possible to identify post-termination risk and offer outgoing employees consideration in exchange for releases of claims or restrictive covenants.