September 26th, 2018

Manufacturing Workforce Changes

The manufacturing workforce is changing rapidly as companies hire more diverse and multifaceted employees. The region’s low unemployment rate and the competition for a trained and qualified workforce has also led to increased competition and retention challenges never seen before in the industry. Automated processes and enhanced technologies have created new demands for a skilled and knowledgeable workforce that is more diverse than ever before. These changes present unique challenges that businesses in the industry have previously never faced.

Gross McGinley’s Business Services Group recently provided a seminar to members of the Manufacturers Resource Center on the changing face of the manufacturing workforce. Presented by Attorneys Tom Reilly, Jack Gross, and Loren Speziale, the discussion highlighted process considerations and employment policies that can help attract and retain a qualified workforce while protecting business interests.

Manufacturers face a variety of issues including hiring and retaining skilled workers, an aging workforce, growing diversity, changing employee expectations, blurred distinctions between management and employees, competition, and government intervention. Our presenters provided the following considerations that can help differentiate a business and proactively avoid what can be costly legal troubles.

  1. Intellectual Property: A valuable business asset for manufacturers, protection of intellectual property (IP) is imperative. Manufacturers need to be aware of how the law is applied regarding employee-created IP, independent contractor or consultant-created IP, and how to ensure they own the rights to those assets. Steps can be taken to prevent misappropriation and infringement, including IP educational programs for employees and management, appropriate contracts with contractors/consultants, IP covenants in employment agreements, handbook policies, and certain procedures including exit interviews.
  2. Data Security: Manufacturers that either store credit card information or social security numbers should seriously consider their security measures and the need for holding such information. However, even if they don’t store sensitive information, businesses need to be aware of the type of access they have to other companies’ networks and where security risks may exist. Costly mistakes happen every day, including an employee falling victim to an email phishing scheme as well as attacks on subcontractor systems.
  3. Employment Policies: Given the changing manufacturing workforce and challenges highlighted above, certain employee policies should be considered when revising employee handbooks and addressing internal procedures.
    • EEO Policies: Employers need to identify the classes that will be protected (and can be broader than that required by local, state, and federal law); provide a mechanism for reporting discrimination and harassment; detail the investigation process when a claim is made; and confirm that retaliation will not be tolerated.
    • Paid Time Off: While not required by Pennsylvania law, certain types of paid time off can be a differentiating factor for an employer looking to compete in the hiring market. Beyond vacation and sick time, manufacturers can decide to include family-related leave, maternity leave, and paternity leave.
    • Off-Duty Activities: Manufacturers need to consider their stance on an employee’s off-duty activities and if/how they wish to address such activities including social media use, criminal conduct, and political activities.
    • Recordings in the Workplace: Due to Pennsylvania’s wiretap laws, employers can be exposed to significant legal liability if certain surveillance methods are used. It is important for manufacturers to be aware of what is captured on video and audio recordings on their property.
    • Background Checks and Drug Testing: Manufacturers should consult legal counsel on how they implement these procedures into their hiring and employment processes.

Key takeaways from the seminar included the importance of reviewing internal written policies and handbooks to ensure documents are up-to-date. It is also important for manufacturers to ensure their internal practices are consistent with the policies set forth in these documents. Best practices include consulting with an attorney to also ensure that employment policies and practices are appropriate for the changing landscape of the manufacturing workforce.

The content found in this resource is for informational reference use only and is not considered legal advice. Laws at all levels of government change frequently and the information found here may be or become outdated. It is recommended to consult your attorney for the most up-to-date information regarding current laws and legal matters.