How to handle I-9 audits

24 Oct

I-9 Aaudits are easy to prepare for when companies already perform self-audits.

I-9 audits are predicted to be a record high this year, according to Business Management Daily, so those invested in human resource planning need to prepare for them. An I-9 form looks at employees and demonstrates their ability to work in the U.S. Companies must document all their workers and make sure they are all either U.S. citizens, permanent residents or foreign residents who are authorized to work in the U.S. To put it simply, an I-9 audit is done by the government to make sure that this is in fact truly the case.

In 2013, Business Management reported, I-9 audits were conducted at 3,127 employers. That is an increase from 2012, and an additional increase from 2011. Likely, the trend of further I-9 inspections will continue through 2014 and beyond.

Begin with self-audits
To ensure that I-9 forms accurately represent the working status of employees, National Law Review recommended that companies conduct self-audits of their I-9 forms. If information is missing on the form itself, or if support documentation is out of date or not present and accounted for, then this can be fixed before the government intervenes with a full audit. Supporting documents for I-9 forms must be clear and easy to read. Photocopies of birth certificates or passports are useful only if they are clearly legible. This means that if the employee provides a blurry photocopy of a document, the employer should ask for better documentation to avoid the risk of noncompliance with U.S. regulations.

If the supporting I-9 documentation for certain employees has gone missing or cannot be found because the files have been moved somewhere, then it would be appropriate to ask for the documentation again. Keep in mind that employers can usually only ask for supporting documents if there is already an I-9 in existence, with section 2 fully filled out.

Notes on over-documentation
In a separate article, the National Law Review suggested that over-documentation is just as bad – potentially worse – than under-documentation. For example, a company might be discriminating against an employee if it rejects a reasonable photocopy of a passport that is not too blurry to read. Asking for the passport itself is not allowed if the photocopy is good enough. Additionally, employers cannot ask for extra documentation if the employee has presented enough paperwork already. Finally, a company is not allowed to ask for different papers than what are usually required – for example, if an employee is a foreign national, then his or her visa, along with proof of authorization to work, is enough. That person does not need to present a birth certificate or anything else.

How to handle layoffs

23 Oct

Layoffs can dramatically affect morale.

Downsizing a company is unfortunate but sometimes necessary. Morale can be especially difficult to manage at a time when no one knows whose jobs will remain after the dust settles. According to legal advice website Nolo, some companies don't even tell their employees that layoffs will happen. The problem with that is sometimes they find out anyway, and if they don't hear it from the employers, it might make it even scarier. Additionally, some companies practice in the spirit of open communication, so they want their employees to know what's going to happen.

How to explain the situation
To avoid panic, it would be best for the employee management system team to follow some simple precautions, Nolo cited the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires that major companies notify workers of mass layoffs at least 60 days in advance. Additionally, it would help if the CEO and other major members of the C-suite get involved in the situation. Employees might otherwise feel jilted otherwise, since layoffs are such a big decision.

Keeping order in the face of a looming mass layoff
By keeping things impersonal, Human Resources IQ reported, companies can avoid at least some of the drama associated with bringing people into a room and telling them they won't be needed anymore. It will naturally and unavoidably be a painful process with many employees wondering how exactly one person was spared while another wasn't, and recognizing the impact will help to make people feel that the company is being responsible and sensitive to the feelings of everyone.

Additionally, offering severance support to those who are leaving will also make a positive impact on the people who are staying. They will see the company cares about what it's doing – that it doesn't treat its employees as replaceable entities but as important people with mortgage payments and other challenges.

Mustering the remaining staff to make them feel better
Those who will stay behind to continue working will likely be frazzled by the number of people who have left – many of them friends and all of them colleagues who once worked side-by-side with the people who remained. The best thing to do is to think of the people who are staying as new recruits, and bring them back with reinforced attention and support. According to Human Resources IQ, it may be the time to ask employees what they think the company should do for the future, now that the business has embarked on this new chapter.

How was I supposed to know there was a tool out there to help me? The joke was on me.

23 Oct

When Nothing Really is SomethingLet me share another story with you. Once upon a time, I was responsible for handling the entire open enrollment process (while I was the HR person at a previous employer). Really, I was. If you actually know what you are doing (or at least think you have a good handle on the majority of it), are great at process-oriented tasks, pay strict attention to detail, and have the right resources allocated to you to get the job done, it’s a total walk in the park. This sounds easy enough to anyone you tell about how you handle your open enrollment, right? Are you laughing now? Sure you are. I’m laughing too. We all know there a lot of moving parts to this process and so much can go wrong during it but, as we all know, at the end of the process; there is no getting around those open enrollment election forms submitted by the employee. Of course, more process or more employees, means more paper.

You gather and collect your final open enrollment election forms, maybe even keep track of them on a spreadsheet, send it to your benefits broker or insurance carrier, and it’s all a done deal, and everyone has all the benefits they need, right? I’m laughing again; are you? A mistake on a form here; a change from an employee there, wait, was there a form that should have been included but now isn’t? Sure there is. Wait, what happened? Yikes! Does this sound familiar? How manual is your process? Take it from me, mine was a very manual process but, what did I know? Then, there is that aha moment where find out that there are actually tools that can take you away from these manual processes and slide you easily into a streamlined time-saving process that also saves you money. Okay, I found out there is such a process, but way after the fact. I found out so much after the fact that I don’t even handle HR at my current company but now feel compelled to save you time while you may be still struggling to find a better way to handle your open enrollment process.

Sage has two products that can take a lot of the hassle out of your open enrollment process. Sage Benefits Enrollment and Sage Benefits Messenger can totally change the way you feel about handling your open enrollment process. Take the first step and view these two on demand webcasts. You’ll see for yourself how these products can significantly reduce the time you spend dealing with your open enrollment process. And, to give you a personalized frame of reference on this, the voice that narrates these on demand webcasts is mine.

OSHA begins process of changing PELs

22 Oct

Companies in the business of working with chemicals should follow OSHA closely.

Companies that work with hazardous chemicals should stay on top of the most recent Occupational Safety and Health Administration news. According to Environmental Leader, the agency has called its exposure standards "dangerously out of date." As such, it is beginning the process of revising its chemical exposure regulations by talking with various stakeholders in the industry, such as unions and other groups that take care of worker rights.

At issue is the number of chemicals that have come into existence since the first rules were made about the various levels of concentration different substances can reach in the air around workers. It must come up with new laws that cover everything that has happened since the most recent updates. There are currently in existence proposed, non-enforceable permissible exposure limits for the substances under scrutiny, but these are subject to what EL calls "complex analyses," which might change the end result of the proposed PEL​s.

OSHA has begun the process of asking for public comment for its PELs.

According to OSHA Administrator David Michaels, reported by Tire Business, there are 500 PELs set by OSHA, but there are tens of thousands of chemicals that may be hazardous to workers. Additionally, these PELs have largely been left the same since 2000 – only about 30 updates to the PELs have been made in the past 14 years.

New ways of addressing worker safety
OSHA wants to ask its stakeholders not only for help about setting PEL standards but also help coming up with ways of serving the working community better, said Michaels.

"This effort is aimed not just at standards, but at new approaches," Michael said. "Every chemical firm says it has standards stronger than OSHA's. We want to look at the issues and come up with approaches that may be regulatory, but may not be. This should prove effective before we even issue new standards."

Another group that keeps watch over PELs is the American Industrial Hygiene Association, which praised OSHA's decision to update its limits to more appropriate levels as per the new research that has become available since 2000.

"Updating the PELs has been, and remains, the number one public policy issue for our members," said AIHA President-Elect Daniel H. Anna. "The publication of this request for information marks a step forward for AIHA and other stakeholders who have long pushed for this update."

Those in the business of finding human resource solutions to problems affecting manufacturing companies should keep careful watch over the latest developments in OSHA's rulings.

How to handle harassment and discrimination complaints

22 Oct

Harassment must be addressed quickly.

Addressing harassment in the workplace is a matter of great importance. According to Nolo, a non-profit legal information website, if employee management handles harassment badly, it can lead to costly legal battles and investigations by the government. All complaints must be handled carefully and with the proper consideration, or else companies may put themselves at liability.

Nolo recommended that HR leaders treat complaints with respect and compassion, keeping an open mind about what happened. Employees who speak about an issue have likely put a lot of thought into their complaint and probably feel anxious or worried about what they have done – it hasn't been something that was made lightly, and therefore, companies should address the  concerns very carefully and as soon as possible. Don't immediately disagree even if the person who was called out for harassment is someone that other people think well of.

Before the complaint is made
Companies should have a harassment policy in place. The policy should address anything that could come up in ways that honor the rights of both the person cited in the complaint along with the individual who made the complaint. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, HR Hero reported, has issued a rule that all workplaces must have an established harassment policy.

Some examples of harassment include, but are not limited to:

  • Offensive comments that are delivered persistently
  • Threats or intimidation
  • Making false accusations
  • Physical assault
  • Sabotaging the victim's work

Additional concerns to address are the work environment. The place where employees work can be called hostile when a responsible person would find it hostile for one or more people. This happens when one or more people create an intimidating or oppressive feeling at work.

Once the complaint is made
Make sure to keep the complaint confidential. Additionally, have it set down in writing. Following that, interview whoever is involved, including bystanders or other people who might have heard something. Ensure the interviews are recorded. If it comes to it, then act on the policy and discipline the person who committed the act.

Failure to act on a harassment policy, or if the policy doesn't correspond with best practices put forth by the EEOC, may cause the government to step in. Once the government is involved, employers must comply with everything the government said. Nolo cited that it may be a good idea to hire a lawyer at this point if one isn't on staff or hasn't been hired yet. The government could issue fines if the law isn't followed to the letter.

Been there, done that!

22 Oct

Woman Working From HomeI’ll never forget the day I started with my new company (several years ago). My first project was to canvass for new external talent, track candidate skills, coordinate interviews and then onboard the new hires. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? It was for a while. Until my job role quickly expanded into other areas of HR, we started hiring like crazy and as we grew in size, I now needed to formulate processes to support the varying federal and state legislation (based on our new company size). Time out! I knew using a spreadsheet to keep track of everything wasn’t going to cut it any longer. Instead of waiting, I decided to dive right into looking for a HR and recruiting solution that would support the company’s growth, fulfill legislative obligations and keep my sanity in check! I knew I needed to do it quickly but at the same time, didn’t want to act hastily. Since I’ve had the opportunity to use many solutions prior to this role, I knew where I needed to look. Hence, my reason for writing this blog piece.Let me save those of you who either are new to the role or the HR/payroll profession or have not had the opportunity to use any automated HR/payroll systems in your past. There are a couple of products that I can specifically recommend to you to help automate your processes. If you are looking to wean yourself off of using spreadsheets to keep track of candidates and/or processes and you use multiple formulas to calculate and report on things, look into Sage HRMS and Sage HRMS Cyber Recruiter. Right away, these products will help you solve these issues (as well as a myriad of others).

Oh, yeah, getting back to my story. Remember, I was telling you about that first project I was tasked with doing in my new job several years ago? The one where I was canvassing for new external talent, tracking their skills, coordinating all interviews, and then onboarding them as they were hired using a spreadsheet: that story. Well, unfortunately, my computer crashed, and I lost everything I had worked on that first month into my new job. Words can’t accurately describe how I felt at that exact point in time. Let’s just say, it wasn’t a pleasant experience at all!

Don’t wait for something like that to happen to you; visit www.sagehrms.com or call 866-271-6050 and have them show you how they can make your life easier, automate your processes, and keep everything centralized so you can create reports without using formulas and linking spreadsheets.

Personalizing big data

21 Oct

The hiring process ought to generate many resumes, which can be used at a later time.

Recruiting for positions has become difficult for many in the strategic human resource management profession. There are so many complexities having to do with the big data revolution that many haven't begun to adapt to a dramatically different recruiting landscape. As such, many mistakes can be made.

When hiring managers sort through resumes, do they throw away the ones of the people that aren't hired? According to HR Morning, this can be a mistake because such candidates might turn out to be very useful in the future. Keeping track of individuals who didn't get the job can sometimes mean hiring someone for another position later that the person might have been more suitable for. Because the jobs market is so competitive, many potential hires feel overwhelmed, and won't apply again after missing one job opportunity at a place of business. This points to another difficulty with recruiting, which is that, without some way of going out and finding candidates, many companies will be short of adequate hires. Talent is hard to find, whether a company keeps old resumes of good workers or goes out to find others by using big data to search through LinkedIn.

The problem of finding talent is so extreme that HR Morning even recommended creating applications with fewer questions rather than more. The initial theory behind a large roster of questions was that it would weed out disinterested applicants. However, many now fear that those clients might be top performers who already have a lot of options on the table.

Outsourcing your recruitment campaign
Outsourcing your recruitment may not be the only solution that some companies need to find a great hire. In theory, these recruiting firms use big data to collect thousands of applicants, which are then narrowed down until the six or seven perfect candidates are selected. This is all well and good, Talent Circles stated, but what companies really need to do for their job seekers is to mentor and build a relationship with them. This is where many companies move from the sourcing phase of recruiting to the more personal phase. A good recruiting firm will allow companies to contact hires itself and speak with them. It adds a human touch. 

In the end, the best approach may be to hire specialists in big data and follow up the work with individualized phone calls. This promotes a selective process without leaving out potential hires.

The NFL and domestic violence

20 Oct

The NFL is facing a crisis because of its domestic violence policy.

Recent domestic violence disputes in the NFL have caused many in the human resources field to look toward their own businesses and ask what they themselves are doing about this issue.  According to Human Resources Executive Online, less than a third of of U.S. workplaces have a domestic violence policy. Even those with a policy often focus on protecting the victim and avoid punishment for the perpetrator.

For the NFL, the question is pressing because the company is such a public one. Many are calling for someone to audit the NFL to make sure it is taking domestic violence situations seriously. However, who would audit the NFL? Would it be a major company like a Big Four accounting firm, or would another party have to step forward?

So far, the employee management department at the NFL has appointed four women to review its policies on domestic violence and sexual assault. Critics, according to HRE Online, have raised concerns about what they perceive to be the tepid response by the NFL, which originally punished offenders with a two-game suspension. Additionally, according to Forbes, many times the punishments faced by offenders are suspended long enough for them to play in important games. Players can appeal to have their suspensions removed, because of due process, this can often work. Forbes also cited that the players' union often supports these actions.

Creating a domestic violence policy
Whether or not the NFL finds a more appropriate solution to the problem of domestic violence with its players, ordinary companies must also find a way to create solutions that help the victims and punish the perpetrators of domestic violence. HRE Online cited the statistic that 321 women and 38 men were killed on the job by a current or former spouse between 1997 and 2009. Additionally, of the women killed in the workplace, 33 percent were murdered by their former or current partner.

With only 30 percent of employers taking responsibility for domestic violence, many people who have spent time trying to escape their spouses because of injuries, finding a safe house or getting a court-ordered restraining order against their former partner have lost their jobs because of missed days at work or other reasons, according to Forbes.

The challenges of policy-making
One of the difficulties of punishing those who commit domestic violence by firing them is that it may ultimately serve to perpetuate domestic violence, according to U.K. news site My Next Fone. If someone loses his or her job from committing a violent act, then that person may attack his or her partner in anger. Or, a partner may be afraid to come forward because he or she relies on his or her spouse for monetary support.

Those who want to find an existing model for domestic violence solutions may wish to look to the federal government.  The U.S. Office of Personnel Management has published a document called  "Guidance for Agency-Specific Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking Policy" which federal agencies use to resolve disputes relating to those issues. One concern with the plan is that it focuses on an employee's ability to perform his or her job – the government does not want to address what it perceives as a personal problem.

Because of the public nature of the NFL, many will be turning to it to see how it resolves these issues as they become more exposed to the media. If the NFL takes its own problem with domestic violence seriously, then likely other companies will follow suit. The conversations happening at many HR departments right now are primarily due, after all, to the recent domestic violence suspensions that have taken place very publicly.

How to manage telecommuters

16 Oct

Telecommuting can be a great way to build morale in a company.

Telecommuting is quickly becoming a very typical way for employees to connect with their jobs without leaving their homes. According to a study by The University of Illinois, telecommuters using this form of employee self service can perform as well at home as they can in the office, and sometimes better, Reuters reported. It also improves morale and sometimes encourages people to work longer hours because they can just stay "plugged in" without worry about a commute back and forth.

The trick to a good telecommute policy is to give the employees who telecommute the same things you would give workers who are at the office. One example would be a chance to socialize virtually using a chat room, according to entrepreneur Marten Mickos, who used telecommuting for his 70 global employees, sending information into a central hub via the cloud, CNN cited.

An additional concern raised by Time is whether the job itself is appropriate for telecommuting. There have been some examples of people functioning as office managers on a telecommuting basis, but this may not work all the time because people in the office want to meet their bosses face-to-face. However, for jobs where someone fills out paperwork, such as a tax professional, it may not be necessary to sit in the office and do taxes when someone could bring the forms electronically to their homes and work from there.

Keeping control of the situation
Remember as well as that telecommuters must be held accountable, so don't let someone begin telecommuting until he or she has proven an ability to work in the office very effectively, and then give that person the chance to work from home on a trial run. If your employee can do it, than give him or her the opportunity to do it two or three days a week. Don't give anyone the chance to just disappear from the office without proving he or she can do it and still be working. For those who need to conference call into a meeting, make sure to set that up a few days in advance to be certain it works.

An additional concern is whether the employees will want to be reimbursed for their Internet and phone services. A policy should be in place, even if it is as simple as "nothing will be reimbursed." Additionally, make sure that parents who telecommute and have little children are also ensuring that someone else is home with them to take care of the kids – this is just a safety issue as well as an attention issue.

What should employers know about the new 401(k) after-tax rules?

15 Oct

The IRS has changed transfer rules between 401(k) and Roth IRA accounts.

Many employees begin saving for retirement through a 401(k) account, hoping it will generate enough money over time that they can stop working at a reasonable point in their careers. At the same time, a large number of workers invest in a Roth IRA for the same reasons. Employers often handle these accounts for their staff using payroll management software, but it's not always an easy task, especially if an employee has both types of retirement accounts.

However, recent changes to the way employees can deal with after-tax money in their 401(k) account in relation to their Roth IRA may alter the way employers help manage workers' retirement savings.

Making it easier to transfer funds
The IRS is the government body that writes the rules for retirement accounts, and it has recently made several alterations that will provide employees a bit more freedom. Forbes wrote that IRS Notice 2014-54 gives employees the ability to transfer after-tax money from their 401(k) account to their Roth IRA without having to pay taxes on the transaction. Beginning January 1, 2015, employees will be able to take advantage of this opportunity to roll over funds between the two accounts.

Why is it advantageous for employees?
A 401(k) account is essentially a contributor-based savings plan that has limits in terms of how much workers can contribute. At the same time, money is taxed in this kind of account, while a Roth IRA is tax free. With regard to the latter, workers fund their retirement savings using after-tax money, which grows in the account until it's withdrawn at retirement.

Before the IRS made this change, employees could technically still do the same thing, but it was a convoluted process, Investment News explained. In fact, many tax experts felt that the IRS was against the practice, which makes the recent announcement a welcome surprise.

Still, it doesn't give employees a blank check in transferring after-tax money from their 401(k) to a Roth IRA. The first caveat is whether a worker actually has after-tax money in his or her 401(k) account.

What's expected of employers?
Many employees who meet the criteria for transferring money between accounts will likely want to take advantage of the opportunity. Employers should facilitate the process. Human resources managers will need to clearly communicate the changes in the IRS's treatment of retirement savings to employees. This may even involve bringing in a financial advisor who can explain any aspects of the changes that may cause confusion. 

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