Category

Human Resources

NAVIGATING THE COMPLEX TERRAIN OF HR REGULATIONS

By | Human Resources, News

Contributor: Beth Williams, Warren Whitney, Director Human Resource Practice Group

Today in business, there are more acronyms, legal agencies, and regulatory requirements than ever before. If you employ people in your business, you must understand and comply with these requirements, which can be daunting. The number of people on your payroll determine the magnitude of your time involved and, ultimately, the work expended to comply with the requirements. The full life cycle of an employee from recruiting strategies through terminations and all actions in between present opportunities for legal issues. The key is creating best practice processes, policies, and a workplace culture that protects your company and manages risk.

Where are we now? Every February the President’s administration releases its proposed fiscal year budget for the upcoming year outlining the White House’s priorities for the year ahead. Many of the items for FY 2019 contain a number of workplace-related proposals, specifically changes to labor, healthcare, and immigration. Below are the main topics to consider when assessing strategic decisions for your business and HR policy. While some of these areas are still in the proposal stage, they will be items to keep an eye on going forward.

LABOR

Paid Parental Leave establishes a federal and/or state paid parental leave program. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed and allows for unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks if your organization meets the qualifications. A new regulatory proposal suggest that paid parental leave might be found and funded within the unemployment insurance program. These provisions, if passed, would begin in 2021. Another option is a voluntary Social Security (SS) benefit program that would provide pay during parental leave as an offset to future SS benefits for employees who wish to take six weeks (2019 proposal) of paid leave for mothers, fathers and adoptive parents to stay home to recover from childbirth or bond with their children. This federal legislation did not pass for this year but many states and companies have implemented a similar policy as a way to address retention.

Employees who work for the State of Virginia are now eligible for paid parental leave per the Governor’s Executive Order signed in 2018. The new benefits, which took effect last summer, provide eight weeks of leave at full pay to mothers and fathers alike. Workers who become parents through adoption or foster placement are also eligible.

DOL and Overtime
Held over from 2016, and still ongoing, are revisions to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and overtime regulations. These regulations affect almost every employer and are paramount in the minds of employees in non-exempt status roles who are eligible for overtime compensation. In May 2019, the DOL has proposed revisions to allow employer specific policies and practices that will drive employee engagement, retain the current duties test, and adjust the nationwide salary level (using the same methodology used in previous rulemaking). The Department of Labor has proposed an increase in the salary-level threshold for white-collar exemptions by $11,648 (from $23,660 to $35,308 per year). If finalized, the new overtime rule would result in the reclassification by employers of more than a million currently exempt workers as nonexempt and an increase in pay for others above the new threshold. The proposal does not call for automatic annual adjustments to the salary threshold.

As an organization, consider the reclassification exercise as a way to review job duties, schedules, staffing levels, and salaries. This could have a profound impact on payroll and budgets by making more employees in the workforce eligible for overtime pay when converted from exempt to non-exempt. Above all, ensure that your approach is consistent across the organization.

The Second Chance Act (in the original budget proposal) supports individuals exiting prison to transition to community life and long-term employment through mentoring, job training, and other initiatives. Part of this effort includes apprentice programs at the state level to enable successful outreach strategies, partnerships, economic development strategies, and fuller integration into society. The First Step Act (legislation passed by Congress in December 2018) gives judges more discretion in sentencing offenders for nonviolent crimes and gives inmates credits for in-prison job training and education so they can earn early release.

HEALTH CARE
Affordable Care Act (ACA) proposals have contained funding for a two-year cost sharing reduction in subsidies. This will impact the individual market and may shift significant costs to employers and other private sector payers as well as the federal government.

Prescription Drug Costs
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has published a proposed rule to lower the cost of prescription drug prices by encouraging drug manufacturers to pass their rebates directly to consumers (by-passing the pharmacy benefit managers). This proposal targets Medicare plans and other government health plans but, over time, will impact employer sponsored group health plans. If approved, the effective date is January 2020. In October 2018, President Trump signed into law the Patient Right To Know Drug Prices Act which allows pharmacists to discuss drug pricing with patients. Pharmacists may now educate consumers regarding their medication, pricing, and alternative cost-efficient options.

Association Health Plans and “repeal-replace” were debated throughout this past year, a lot still remains to be discussed and debated in the health insurance arena.

IMMIGRATION
I-9 Audits
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have significantly increased the number of I-9 audits this past year due to new federal initiatives. It is expected that I-9 audits will continue to be a significant hot button for ICE in 2020. Small to mid-sized employers are especially vulnerable and are easy targets for fines. It is important to know: 1) How to complete the employer portion of the I-9 form, 2) What documents are acceptable, and 3) How to interpret those including expired documents. Ensure all I-9 files are kept separately from other employee files; they require ongoing maintenance and compliance.

Employment Verification
Over recent years, there has been a push for a nationwide mandatory process using E-Verify, the government’s electronic employment eligibility verification system for all employers. The same proposed funding includes staffing for more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and additional worksite investigators. Much of the funding for these initiatives are a result of employer I-9 audits and associated fines.

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Warren Whitney’s Human Resource professionals can assist you in providing a better understanding of the legislation and their potential impact on your business. Now is the time to assess your best practices, current policies and to obtain advice for strategic initiatives for your organization that will help minimize risk.

Beth Williams, Director of the HR Practice Group at Warren Whitney
Contact Beth at BWilliams@warrenwhitney.com or at (M) 804.301.8009 or (O) 804.282.9566.

March 2019 Newsletter: How to Handle Crucial Conversations at Work

By | Human Resources

Whether it is with your boss, co-worker, or client, difficult conversations are challenging to manage, and the fear of failure can sometimes be paralyzing. The key to ensuring the best outcome for everyone involved is knowing how to manage the exchange.

Kevin Grey, one of Warren Whitney’s Human Resource professionals, has provided us with the crucial steps to ensure a smooth, successful, and productive discussion.

The Steps to Prepare for a Difficult Conversation

Step 1. Get yourself in the right mindset by asking yourself these questions.

  1. What is your purpose for having the conversation? What do you hope to accomplish and what is an ideal outcome?
  2. What assumptions are you making about this person’s intent? Be cautious about making any presumptions.
  3. Which “buttons” of yours are being pushed? Are you more emotional than the situation warrants? Be aware of your heightened emotional state.
  4. How does this person perceive the situation? Are they aware there is a problem? What solution do you think they would suggest?
  5. What are your needs and fears? What are theirs? How have either of you contributed to the problem?

Step 2. Understand your emotional state and don’t forget to breathe.

No matter how well the conversation begins, you’ll need to stay in charge of yourself, your purpose, and your emotional energy. Your attitude toward the conversation will influence your perception of it. Being positive will impact its effectiveness. Be mindful of your body language.

Step 3. Cultivate an attitude of discovery and curiosity.

Pretend you don’t know anything and try to learn as much as possible about the other person’s point of view.  What do they really want? What are they not saying? Do you know all the facts?

Let them talk until they are finished; don’t interrupt them other than to show your understanding of what they are saying. Most importantly, do not take it personally. Your goal is to learn as much as you can.

Step 4. Acknowledge the other person’s position.

Acknowledgment shows you are listening. Explain what you think is really going on from their perspective; anticipate their hopes and honor their position. People rarely change their position unless they see you understanding. Also, take ownership of your role, this will help move the conversation forward. Lastly, know that acknowledging and agreeing are not the same. Saying, “this sounds really important to you,” doesn’t mean you are going along with their decision.

Step 5. Clarify your perspective without minimizing theirs.

When you sense that the other has fully expressed his or her side, then it’s your turn. Clarify what you think they may have missed and explain yourself without minimizing their point of view. For example: “From what you’ve told me, I can see how you came to the conclusion that I’m not a team player. But I think I am. When I introduce problems with a project, I’m thinking about its long-term success. I don’t mean to be a critic, though perhaps I sound like one. Maybe we can talk about how to address these issues so that my intention is clear.” 

Step 6. You’re ready to problem solve.

Now you can start building solutions. Brainstorming and asking questions are essential. Ask what they think might work and then find something you like and build on it. If the conversation becomes adversarial, go back to asking questions. The result will be sustainable solutions.

Additional tips and suggestions are:

Practice, practice, practice.

  • Acknowledge everyone’s emotional energy and direct it toward a useful purpose.
  • Know and return to your purpose at difficult moments.
  • Don’t take verbal attacks personally.
  • Don’t assume this person will see things from your point of view.
  • Practice the conversation with a mentor before holding the real one.
  • Mentally practice the conversation. See various possibilities and visualize yourself handling them with ease. Envision the outcome you are hoping for.

Use one of these conversation openers.

  • I have something I’d like to discuss with you that I think will help us work together more effectively.
  • I’d like to talk about ______ with you, and first I’d like to get your point of view.
  • I need your help with what just happened. Do you have a few minutes to talk?
  • I need your help with something. Can we talk about it (soon)? If the person says, “Sure, let me get back to you,” follow up with him.
  • I think we have different perceptions about ____________. I’d like to hear your thinking on this.
  • I’d like to talk about ________. I think we may have different ideas about how to __________.
  • I’d like to see if we might reach a better understanding about ___________. I really want to hear your feelings about this and share my perspective as well.

Kevin Grey recommends reading Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. Kevin serves as Fractional HR Director for clients requiring senior level human resource leadership and organizational development expertise across Virginia. If you want to speak with him directly about any HR questions, do not hesitate to reach out to him; kgrey@warrenwhitney.com or 804.282.6566.

 

August 2018 Newsletter: Essential HR Practices for your Business

By | Family Businesses, Human Resources, Privately Held

Protecting your most Important Investment: Essential HR Practices for your Business

As a small business owner, you are keenly aware that even if you worked 24/7 there still would not be enough time to get everything done. Being an effective manager requires knowing the critical elements to lead your team. We, at Warren Whitney, strive to inform you of the essentials to run your business. To help get you started with your HR program, Beth Williams, Director of Human Resources at Warren Whitney, has provided guidelines for a sensible and practical HR program. Included in these guidelines are three basic requirements:

  • Creation and maintenance of three specific employee files
  • Publication of an employee guidebook with specific policies
  • Posting of required state and federal notices

EMPLOYEE GUIDELINES

Beth Williams advises that every employee have 3 separate files; Employee Payroll File, Employee HR File, Employee Medical/Benefit File.

  1. Employee Payroll File. This file should include: Direct Deposit Form, W-4, VA-4 and other withholding forms, and the offer letter. The file may be shared with the payroll or finance department (Note: The file may be kept with the finance department).
  2. Employee HR File. This confidential file will have general employment information on the employee and include his/her: Resume, Employment Application, Offer Letter, Contract or Agreement, Performance Evaluation, Awards, Disciplinary Documents and finally termination or exit interview information.
  3. Employee Medical/Benefit File. A separate, confidential medical/benefit file for health and medical issues on each of your employees should include: Applications for insurance, notes from a doctor excusing a person from work, medical examination results, information related to a disability, beneficiary forms, open enrollment forms and any other benefit related documents.

EMPLOYEE GUIDEBOOK

Next on the list is the Employee Guidebook. “A good employee Guidebook should contain several key sections and information on your company culture, policies, and procedures” Beth explains. Listed below are must-haves for the guidebook:

  1. An introductory statement to explain the purpose of the handbook and at will employment.
  2. The guidebook should list the following company policies:

·        Equal Opportunity Statement

·        Onboarding Information ·        Harassment and Discrimination
·        Open Door Statement ·        Confidentiality ·        Employment at Will
·        Social Media ·        Computer Use ·        Alcohol and Drug
·        Personal Appearance ·        Solicitation ·        Immigration Law
·        Disclaimer Statement ·        Business / Work Hours ·        Company Property
·        Ethics Policy

·        Standards of Conduct

3. Below are some remaining key topics that may be included based on your business and industry:

Timekeeping and Payroll: Timekeeping Procedures, Paydays, Pay deductions, Time Off

Work Conditions: Violence in the Workplace, Workplace Safety, Drug Free Workplace Policy, Employee Standard of Conduct and Disciplinary Policy, Office and Facility Information

Benefits: Sick Leave, Personal Leave, Vacation, Holidays, Bereavement Leave, Jury Duty Leave, Military Leave, Maternity/Paternity Leave, Group Insurance, Worker’s Compensation Insurance, Healthcare Continuation, 401K, Business Expense Reimbursement

POSTING OF REQUIRED NOTICES

To make your life easier, Beth suggests buying a combined state and federal poster that keeps you in compliance with posting regulations. If you have more than one office, you will need to post this in each location. While there are many sources, this recommended version costs less than $20.00:

http://www.allinoneposters.com/Virginia-Federal-Combo.html

Employee Background Checks: Discovering Landmines Without Stepping on Any!

By | Human Resources

kathy cropped

Contributor: Kathy Alward

Downloadable link

The Fourth Quarter 2016 CEO Economic Outlook Survey conducted by the Virginia Council of CEOs (VACEOs) and the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business reported central Virginia CEOs shared the highest level of optimism in six years for projected hiring, capital spending, and sales. Nearly 62% of the CEOs surveyed expected employment would increase over the next six months.

While 2017 has not unleashed a full-blown hiring frenzy, the competition for top talent is proving to be fierce. Employers focused on improving the candidate experience want to stand out and attract the very best talent, while significantly reducing the time-to-hire period.

What happens when you find the perfect candidate? Their resume is the ultimate blend of experience, education, knowledge, skills, and abilities for the job you need to fill. They breezed through the interview process. They seem to fit like a hand in a glove with your company culture. You need the job filled now and the candidate says they can start work right away. BINGO—we have a winner!

Are you inclined to jump into overdrive and get an offer letter to the candidate right away? Or, is it worth taking the extra time it takes to do a thorough background screening, realizing you could risk losing the perfect candidate to a competitor?

Background checks serve as a defensive tool for preserving an establishment’s assets. According to Forbes, background checks are “so important that nearly seven out of 10 organizations (69 percent) claim they conduct criminal background checks on all job candidates.” Furthermore, both Forbes and The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) recommend the following components as part of a background screening: employment screening, criminal records history check, education, employment, identity and address, and reference verifications.

Knowing as much as possible about a potential employee, before they know your organization and customers, is crucial. Every organization needs to find employees who are not just able to do a certain job, but who are also reliable enough to handle the business’s assets.

In a recent report from CareerBuilder, the job posting site found that 58% of résumés include misleading or incorrect information, such as falsified education details and inaccurate job titles, seniority levels, and employment dates. If a candidate doesn’t really have the experience or education they say they do, they may not be fit to do the job. That’s a costly error for any business. It can take 17% of a supervisor’s time to manage a bad hire, instead of spending their time helping the business grow!

U.S. Department of Labor estimates show the average cost of a bad hiring decision can equal 30% of the individual’s first-year potential earnings. That means a single bad hire with an annual income of $50,000 equates to a potential $15,000 loss for the employer. In reality, the costs to an employer can be much higher: loss of productivity and time; the investment in recruiting and training a new employee, and other “soft costs” such as loss of customer goodwill or degraded employee morale when a newly hired employee is unable to meet the performance criteria expected of all team members.

Because employers have a moral and legal obligation to provide a safe work environment, knowing whether a potential employee has been involved in criminal or dishonest activity (such as drug or other substance abuse, reckless endangerment to self or others, theft, or violent behaviors) allows the employer to better determine if an applicant is appropriate for the job and work environment.

Conducting thorough background checks can turn up red flags, like previous rape or assault convictions and other dangerous behaviors that may pose a potential threat to other employees or customers.

Perhaps one of the most significant costs that can be incurred by an employer is their potential liability for negligent hiring and/or negligent retention. Negligent hiring or retention holds the employer responsible both for what they know and what they should have known about their employees. It can even result in employers being responsible for employees’ actions off the job.

There is never a good time to shortcut the hiring process by eliminating the time required to complete a thorough background screening. It makes good business sense for an employer to conduct solid due diligence with a background screening to protect their assets, their employees, and their customers.

From a risk management perspective, consider reaching out to a human resource professional to discuss employer best practices for background screenings or to review your current policies to make sure they comply with the strict processes outlined for employers under The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

 

Kathy Alward, Senior Human Resources Consultant at Warren Whitney
Society for Human Resources Management Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP)
Contact Kathy at KAlward@warrenwhitney.com or at (M) 804.512-2521 or (O) 804.282.9566.

Contact Kathy Alward

 

We offer cost-saving, practical guidance to help you streamline compliance efforts, manage risk, and introduce HR best practices and suggestions to improve organizational effectiveness. While every effort is made to provide accurate and current information, no advice offered by this HR representative of Warren Whitney, in any form, should be considered as a substitute for legal advice or your professional judgment. You should always review applicable laws in your jurisdiction and consult with experienced counsel for legal advice when making decisions for your organization.

 

The Human Resources Alphabet: EEO, ICE, COBRA, ADA and many more…

By | Family Businesses, Human Resources

 

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Contributor: Beth Williams

Downloadable link

Today in business, there are more acronyms, legal agencies and regulatory requirements than ever before. If you employ people in your business, you must understand and comply with some of these requirements, many of which can be daunting.  The number of people on your payroll will determine the magnitude of your time involved and, ultimately, the work expended to comply with the requirements.  The full life cycle of an employee from recruiting strategies through terminations and all actions in between, present opportunities for a lawsuit.  The key is creating best practice processes, policies and a workplace culture that protects your company and manages risk.rements than ever before.  AND they just keep on coming with the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) being at the forefront this year for many employers.

If you are a smaller company, the business of managing the needs of employees may not be a full time job.  But, if you are doing it along with running your business, it can be distracting.  Outsourcing professional roles in the infrastructure of your organization may lend the expertise, efficiency and be the most cost effective approach.  That enables you to spend more time growing your business.  If your business is expanding, the human capital needs may be overwhelming enough that hiring a human resource professional is the best option.

Human resources professionals can assist you in wading through the acronyms and their impact on your business.  2016 brings an awareness of some important employer risks, including:

1. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) – New federal rules defining exempt and non-exempt employees are very likely to become effective during late 2016. The rule proposed by the Department of Labor (DOL) includes increasing the salary threshold for white-collar exemptions from the current $23,660 per year or $455 per week to $50,440 a year or $970 a week. This includes those in the categories of executive, administrative and professional. Consider the reclassification exercise as a way to review job duties, schedules and staffing levels as well as salaries. This could have a profound impact on payroll and budgets by making more employees in the workforce eligible for overtime pay when converted from exempt to non-exempt. Above all, ensure that your approach is consistent across the organization.

2. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – Even before the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling, the DOL made news by revising the FMLA’s definition of “spouse.” While the Supreme Court ruling subsequently made same-sex marriage lawful nationwide, the DOL’s standard followed the “place of celebration” standard, recognizing as spouses for purposes of the FMLA those lawfully married under the law of the state where the marriage took place. Now, however, same-sex spouses are clearly covered by the FMLA regardless of the place of celebration.

3. Affordable Care Act (ACA) – Employer mandates kick in this year for most every employer along with big fines for failing to provide health benefits and also for failing to properly comply with ACA reporting requirements. Your payroll and benefit advisors can assist you in defining your workforce for reporting purposes. Ultimately, it is the organization that is responsible for compliance.

4. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – the number of I-9 audits has spiked significantly in the last year due to new federal initiatives. It is expected that I-9 audits will continue to be a significant hot button for ICE in 2016.

 

Reaching out to a human resource professional to discuss employer best practices, to review current policies and to obtain advice for strategic initiatives for your organization can result in very high returns from a risk management perspective.

Beth Williams, Director of the HR Practice Group at Warren Whitney

Contact Beth at BWilliams@warrenwhitney.com or at (M) 804.301.8009 or (O) 804.282.9566.