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Challenges facing HR and Payroll Managers in 2014

24 Mar

Woman Working Using Flex HoursHuman Resources is an ever-changing industry, and HR professionals know they need to remaining constantly alert for new regulations and issues to arise. This year has already shaped up to be a challenging one for many HR departments across the U.S. From keeping key workers at the company to implementing effective payroll management, HR professionals and payroll managers are facing numerous challenges during 2014.

Here are the top three issues HR departments are coming up against this year:

Compliance with the ACA and Its Results
Much has been said about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) within the past few years-especially within the last couple months. This is because the ACA is not only going to impact how companies provide healthcare to employees, but there will be legal compliance standards that will occur as a result. These include employee litigation and audits from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service.

According to the ADP Research Institute, the ACA presents one of the most complex HR compliance challenges of all time. The lack of preparations on the part of employers has escalated the impact the ACA is having on the business community as a whole. For example, ADP wrote one-fifth to one-third of companies did not even have a clue how much of an effect the ACA’s health insurance exchanges would have on their businesses this past January. In addition, more ACA regulations are coming, and employers are just as unprepared for potential penalties and the Excise Tax Assessment as they have been for other aspects of the healthcare reform law. Even though the healthcare landscape continues to shift and evolve, HR and payroll professionals need to get on steady ground when it comes to understanding their compliance requirements and mitigating their own legal risks.

Retaining Top Talent
The recession remains in many people’s minds, but employees are beginning to feel more confident about their employment options. As the labor market shows signs of improvement, many employees who have waited on the sidelines for better career opportunities may decide to jump ship before the year is out. While this is a good sign for the job market, HR professionals are looking to lose some of their best performers this year if they don’t implement new employee engagement ideas.

According to a late 2013 poll by Right Management, 83 percent of 871 surveyed U.S. and Canadian employees said they will look for a new job this year. In 2009, only 6 in 10 employees said they intended to “actively seek a new position” in the coming year, but that number jumped to 84 percent the following year and has stayed about the same ever since. More top workers used to network to feel out their employment opportunities, but now the majority are becoming active job seekers instead. Twenty-one percent of employees said they were networking to keep their options open in 2009, but that number remained at 8 or 9 percent between 2010 and 2013.

Being able to provide competitive compensation is going to be an essential employee engagement strategy for not only 2014 but into the long term, as Right Management’s numbers suggests retaining top talent is going to be a struggle for a while. Human resource planning will be a go-to solution for many in the industry because of this, and more HR professionals will need to seek out additional employee engagement techniques if they want to acquire and keep key performers.

According to Human Resource Executive (HRE) Online, employee engagement may be its own challenge throughout 2014. Offering employees growth opportunities through effective talent management, tracking worker satisfaction, and maintaining collaboration in the workplace are all going to be important strategies to keep employees engaged this year, HRE Online suggested. According to Forbes, it is going to take recognizing where dissatisfaction comes from for HR professionals to entice workers to remain at the company.

Complying with the OFCCP Mandate
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs’ (OFCCP) mandate pertaining to the hiring and employment of individuals with disabilities will be another key challenge this year, specifically Section 503. According to Business and Legal Resource, hiring managers must now reference Section 503 rules that require contractors to invite job seekers to voluntarily self-identify as disabled at the preoffer and postoffer phases of the hiring process.

BLR states “OFCCP’s final regulations implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 503), require that employers invite job applicants and employees to self-identify as being an individual with a disability. On Jan. 22, 2014, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved the final Voluntary Self-Identification of Disability form for use by covered federal contractors, beginning with contractors’ new plan year following the effective date of the final Section 503 regulation on March 24, 2014.”

The OFCCP does have training materials available on its website to help recruiters and HR professionals comply with the mandate.

 

Predicted costs, decisions, implications, and information for health benefits in 2014 (and beyond)

18 Mar

Clock and MoneyThe U.S.’s healthcare system has been rapidly changing, and human resource professionals are tasked with complying with new regulations on health benefits and preparing for upcoming trends. Certain health plans are becoming more popular-such as high-deductible health plans and health savings accounts-and staying informed about the growth of these tax-favored health benefits is to HR professionals’ advantage.

Yet, HR departments also have to provide workers with training on certain health offerings and how to be proactive when it comes to receiving cost savings. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a complex law to understand, and while HR departments cannot give insight into every aspect of the legislation, informing employees about these benefits should be part of every employee management system.

HR professionals need to know where the health benefits space is in the present, what trends are ahead, and how to successfully prepare for the future of health benefits.

The Shift in Health Benefits
No longer is the employer-sponsored benefits model the standard. There has been movement away from this model to consumer-directed healthcare benefit plans (CDHPs) for some time. According to the Business Group on Health, CDHPs put healthcare decisions into the hands of beneficiaries that is workers-instead of employers, even though businesses still pay for part of care. CDHPs are a way to control healthcare costs more effectively because they are a defined benefit.

According to Healthcare Finance News, CDHPs have been steadily growing in popularity for the past few years. In 2012, 58 percent of companies offered a type of CDHP, with 34 percent providing health savings accounts (HSAs) and 18 percent offering health reimbursement accounts (HRAs).

High-deductible health plans (HDHPs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs) are other types of CDHPs that are growing in popularity and will continue to be go-to health benefits into the near future.

Because HSAs are tax exempt, it is expected that many employers will turn to these accounts, especially to save money under the ACA, according to Becker’s Hospital Review. HDHPs in particular have already seen increased use within the past few years, and enrollment in these plans have skyrocketed since aspects of the ACA came into effect. According to Business Insurance, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) found 30.3 percent of group healthcare plan participants were enrolled in HDHPs during first quarter 2013, a significant jump from 2008′s 17.1 percent. ACA Watch suggests this number is only going to keep increasing. Use of FSAs is also rising with the NCHS finding 22.8 percent of health plan participants having one in 2013 compared to only 18.7 percent in 2008.

Value of Providing Workers with Education on Health Benefits and ACA
Because CDHPs put more power in the hands of employees, HR professionals need to ensure all workers understand their benefits. Yet, employers can’t stop there-the ACA is going to remain a defining part of the workplace into the future, and workers need to know how the law influences their health benefits. With this knowledge, employees will be better able to be proactive with their healthcare, saving themselves and their employers money. Without it, Becker’s notes employees may not make the correct care choices and see large payment responsibilities that they are unable to pay, negatively impacting not only themselves but their healthcare provider and the industry as a whole.

Employer resources for educating employees about the complexity of their benefits and ACA mandates will be essential this year and coming years. According to ACA Watch, the majority of employers are specifically concerned about employee benefits education, and a survey from the Midwest Business Group on Health found more than 70 percent of employers are taking action to educate workers about health benefits.

HR professionals need to be able to predict and prepare for changes to health benefits. Utilizing human resources solutions can keep HR professionals organized during these changes.

 

Benefits Education Pays Off

3 Mar

human resources creating a happy workforceAs healthcare costs rise, employers have continued to shift a growing percentage of the cost of health benefits to employees. And, as workers shoulder more of their medical costs, they will need to better understand the health benefits they are offered at work and how to effectively use them.

Cost-Shifting Increases Employee Costs and the Need for Education

Workers are contributing almost twice as much today toward the amount of their employee health benefits as they were 10 years ago. To manage their own costs, employers continue to increase workers’ premiums, co-pays and deductibles. This, along with the movement toward consumer directed health plans (CDHPs) which include high deductible policies, leave workers with higher out-of-pocket costs at the time they seek medical care.

And, the movement toward CDHPs is growing.

According to a recent survey by the National Business Group on Health, 72% of employers now offer at least one CDHP. Employers offering only these plans have risen from 19% to 22% in the past year.

A different but related trend just gaining traction is likely to not only increase the cost of health benefits for workers, but also the requirement that they take a more active, and therefore, educated role in selecting and navigating those benefits.

A recent Reuters article reporting on the 2013 annual policy forum sponsored by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) cites “a shift in workplace health insurance akin to the dramatic shift in recent decades from traditional pensions to 401(k)s. Health insurance will move in the same direction in the next five years,” Mark Miller of Reuters writes.

Instead of providing a defined benefit, many employers are increasingly looking to offer a defined contribution, thereby limiting their exposure to rising costs while shifting that risk onto workers who will not only pay more for their health benefits, but will also bear a greater responsibility in understanding how the products work in order to best select and utilize them. Employees have a poor history of managing 401Ks, however, and health insurance in all its confusing details is likely to follow a similar path.

Education Benefits Everyone

Benefits play a critical role in attracting and retaining good employees. Not only is it important for workers to have a good grasp of their benefits, employers also gain by playing a role where possible, in assisting employees in maintaining productivity, and physical and financial stability. A strong health benefits program that is well utilized by employees is one critical tool in meeting those objectives.

The MetLife 2013 study of Employee Benefits Trends highlights the value of employee access to information about how to select and use their benefits.

According to the study, 51% of engaged employees reported that they “appreciate online decision-support tools that help prioritize needs and make clear how decisions will impact their paycheck.”

In addition, clear communications were found to be critical to employees’ ability to understand, appreciate and effectively use their benefits. More than 4 in 10 (43%) engaged employees said that ongoing education about how to use their benefits would be very helpful.

Numerous other studies have found that benefits education tends to enhance employee satisfaction, and that when benefits are clearly communicated, employees show higher levels of engagement and loyalty.

As employers continue to alter the design of their health benefit offerings to manage their own costs, they will be well served to also consider enhancing their employee education program.

Visit:  www.HealthBenefitsExplained.com to learn more

E-Cigarette and Medicinal Cannabis Use by Employees: Gray Area Matters

20 Jan

Every year brings new challenges for employers, yet few are probably prepared for never-before-seen issues, such as e-cigarettes and medicinal cannabis use at the workplace. Not surprisingly, employers in states that abide by the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988, such as Colorado and Washington, may be especially hesitant when it comes to understanding the law’s full legal implications. It’s understandable that many HR policies in states where these laws are active may be a bit hazy, as the legal rhetoric outlining the rules are less than clear.

Guidance on E-Cigarettes at Work
Twenty-nine states have laws that strictly prohibit ”inhaling, exhaling, burning, or carrying any lighted cigar, cigarette, pipe, or other lighted smoking device for burning tobacco or any other plant” in the workplace. However, electronic cigarettes don’t actually burn anything, but rather contains a heating feature which releases nicotine vapor, according to Ohio lawyer Jon Hyman’s blog on Workforce’s website. This distinction will surely challenge workplace anti-smoking rules, as e-cigareets technically fall outside the lines of what a traditional cigarette consists of and how it is smoked. E-cigarettes are currently allowed in public places that restrict traditional smoking.

In the past, anti-smoking laws in the workplace were implemented to help reduce employees’ exposure to second-hand smoke and lower health-related risks of nicotine addiction among employees who smoke, wrote HR Hero. However, most employers still allowed workers to take intermittent breaks throughout the day to smoke in designated areas. Yet today,’s proponents of e-cigarettes in the workplace say allowing indoor use on the job boosts productivity because the need for outdoor breaks is eliminated. These advocates also say there is no evidence that proves people’s exposure to electronic smoking increases their health risks”, Hyman explained.

To cope with the changing landscape of workplace smoking laws, employers and HR departments must make sure to specifically prohibit e-cigarettes while on the job, as current laws technically allow their use.

Smoke on the Water Cooler: Clarity Needed on Medicinal Cannabis Users
Although employers must be sure to pay attention to their smoking policies in the workplace, there is even more work to be done to negotiate proper guidance on employees who legally use medicinal cannabis outside of work or after hours. Not only are the stratification of laws across America unequal in their level of legality (as in decriminalization, medicinal use, recreational use and total prohibition), the laws regarding their application for employees and employers alike are muddled.

“It’s throwing employers for a loop because many have policies in place where testing positive for THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol (the active ingredient in pot) requires the employee to be terminated or to participate in some sort of treatment program even if it’s not necessary,” Alison Holcomb, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, told CNBC when asked how employers with anti-drug policies should enforce rules against legal users of medicinal cannabis.

The only clear guidance issued so far comes to HR departments of businesses that receive federal grants and contracts as these businesses must adhere to the Drug-Free Workplace law, which would require the termination of employees who test positive for THC regardless of any medical uses. Similarly, the Department of Transportation also prohibits any use of illegal substances by its drivers.

Some states, such as Montana, New Jersey, Michigan, Hawaii, Colorado, Vermont and New Mexico all have specific employee protection clauses built into their legislation which only allow termination for on-the-job use or impairment.

Yet, not all states have issued statues that explicitly state what is allowable or legal for workers or HR departments, so it’s vital employers advise legal counsel before implementing any specific policies or enforcing workplace drug rules. Employers must also bear in mind that medicinal cannabis users have been approved by a doctor, usually for compassionate use due to terminal diseases or serious illnesses, and should compare medicinal use to workers taking a Vicodin for pain management once off work premises and after hours.

Now is the time for HR Departments to consult with their legal counsel, review and update the employee handbooks and stay in front of the changes in the legislation.

Stop Talking and Listen For a Change

13 Jan

Positive and Constructive CriticismWhat do you look for in a good candidate?  That’s the magic question.  There is an easy answer.  It’s the candidate who is the best qualified candidate to do the job, right?  Well, yes in that respect but, there are other factors to consider.  Aside from the legal-type considerations, and believe me there are plenty, there is something called behavioral interviewing that you should really consider.

So, what is behavioral interviewing?  Long story short, it’s getting the candidate to talk about their previous (work related) experiences and describe past projects, success stories, failures, reflections and how they may have handled their failures differently with a more favorable outcome.  What does all this mean to the interviewer?  It means you need to SHUSHHHHHHH…listen to the candidate talk.  One of the most interesting things that occur during interviews is that the interviewers talk more than the candidates do.

Stop for a minute and think back to every job you’ve ever interviewed for.  How many times has that happened to you?  My guess is that it’s happened a lot of time throughout your career.  Why does this phenomenon occur?  Well, the easy answer is that most people don’t like long gaps of silence. It falls outside of their conversational comfort zone.  They like to “fill up” the dead air space.  Additionally, listening is not the same as hearing.  You can hear a lot of things but, are you really listening?  Have you really honed the skill of being able to filter out all external stimuli thus being able to focus on only one thing solely?  Most people would probably not admit to being able to do that though.  Let’s face it, we are told continuously by our teachers, peers, mentors and supervisors that being able to multi-task adds great value to our job and works well for meeting overall objectives.  In the interview though, not only could your multi-tasking be mis-interpreted by the candidate as being rude (for example looking at your email, sending a quick text or answering a call), you are also missing out on actually listening to the candidate talk about their experiences.

Bottom line, ask your question.  Hopefully, its open ended and behavioral based.  Then, listen to the candidate’s response.  Process their response, and then ask another probing question to their response.  Do this until you are satisfied that you have a good feel for the fit in matching the candidate’s professional experiences to your company’s mission and where you want that candidate to add the most value for you.

After all, you want to feel extremely comfortable that you know this person will grow to be your star top performer!

Open Enrollment Part II – Plan Selection

4 Oct

Health Benefits Can Be CostlyThis guest blog post is courtesy of Robin Rothman, Sage Product Marketing Manager.  She has over 25 years in Human Resources Management and Director roles.  She is an expert in the areas of: Associate Relations, Compensation, Affirmative Action, Recruitment, Legal Compliance, Training and Development, HRIS and Employee Benefits. 

Once  you’ve decided on how you will handle the Administrative pieces of your Open Enrollment process, you’ll want to carefully take time to consider what options you have in selecting your plan. There will be plenty of choices for sure. Selecting options that work best for you and your employees will also necessitate consideration of your budget. You may ask yourself some questions such as, Can this plan work for us? Is it affordable to the employees? Will it be enough to attract and retain the talent we need for the business? There are many other questions you are more than likely to think about. We hope to support your thought process by providing additional information for you to consider when incorporating them into your existing processes (or if you are new to the process, some areas for you to initially consider).

What You Can Do
Obtain forecast renewals from your carrier and/or your broker. At this time, it would be advisable to obtain the quotes you need to ensure a broad range benefit offering. Once you begin the selection process, it would be helpful to partner in your Finance department by providing them with numeric spreadsheets that contain basic information to ensure you have remained within your budget. Sometimes, unforeseen business conditions necessitate last minute budget revisions. It is beneficial to incorporate them early in your process as opposed to having to redo the entire benefit selection/offering process.

Prepare an overview document for your Executive and/or the Executive to whom you directly report so they can have the chance to ask you questions. Obtaining Executive support also ensures they will share the information with other executives and garner higher level support for this important company-wide initiative. In some cases, you may need to communicate information that is not as favorable as in previous years, so having that additional Executive support helps.

Reserve any resources you need for presentation (conference rooms, conference calls, virtual presentation vendors). It’s helpful to send calendar invites so your audience can plan their time accordingly well in advance. Last minute invites could leave your audience guessing whether or not you have accurately prepared and/or selected their benefit offerings.

Create an invite memo for the meeting. Although you can’t include your benefit offerings in the invite memo, you can create excitement for the process. Don’t miss your chance to create and promote positive morale. Be sure to include your insurance broker and/or carrier representative. Since you have been working with them throughout your process, it’s easy to overlook their invitation to your final rollout.

Calculate participant costs and company costs. Create an easy to understand document that employees can share with their families. It’s ok to be creative but, remember; sometimes the decision maker for benefit selection may not be the employee. It may be a significant other who was not in attendance at your meeting. Identify COBRA participants that need timely notifications. If you use a third party vendor, ensure you are aware of their deadlines for any new information to be input into their systems. Ensure your documents contain the necessary information for compliance. Visit all applicable Department of Labor websites for any changes. If the information doesn’t seem clear to you, obtain the advice or your legal counsel. There are often hefty penalties associated with non-compliance. Obtaining legal guidance ensures you are in compliance with federal and state laws.

Once benefit plans have been selected, you will need to obtain (or create) the legally required Summary Plan Descriptions. Recent legislation has made this easier to read since all carriers are required to format their documentation in a uniform manner. If you are self-insured, be sure to have your legal team review the Summary Plan description to ensure compliance with applicable federal and/or state laws.

Prepare attendance sheets and/or a tracking mechanism for your meeting(s). This will help avoid mailing duplication. It’s also helpful to capture a record of attendance or external mailing for compliance with applicable compliances that involve time sensitive dates of receipt.

If your meeting requires physical presence, enlist the help of Administrative Departments with room setup, material dissemination, attendance tracking, meal planning, etc. Be sure to thank and acknowledge them both before and after your meeting. Remember, this is a team effort. They will appreciate the recognition.

Once your documents have been created, some areas you may consider include: Do you have a company intranet where documents need to be replaced? Will your Recruitment Department need the new materials for prospective employees, for candidates? Will Payroll require information on benefit cost changes? Can you think of anyone else inside and outside your organization that will you need to communicate your benefit changes and costs to? If you have any out of state and/or remote employees, if they are not located in close proximity to your main office or do not have easy access to a dedicated Human Resource representative, will they require any additional meeting time for questions and answers? If your organization is large, is there a place where the employees can come for assistance with benefit selection? Have you communicated to them where they can turn to for questions and/or assistance? If you provide an opt-out allocation for your employees, will they need any documentation from your company to support proof of your open enrollment changes?

Once you have selected your plan, finalize the new costs with your brokers, insurance carrier and/or third party vendors. This will ensure accurate billing. Communicate effective date for all plans. Ensure required plan testing and/or Section 125 documents (if applicable) have been completed. Prepare any forms/mechanisms for benefit selection/capture. Test this process carefully. Have someone familiar with your process review these forms for accuracy. You want your documents to be free from errors, typos etc. These are the items you can absolutely control, so take the time to review and re-review.

Meet with your Payroll department to review the process. Provide them with draft documents and collaborate with them on their needs. As you know, this will affect employee paychecks. Oftentimes, Payroll is on the front line. Partnering in with your Payroll Department ensures that processes will flow smoothly. Plus, you’ll gain another advocate in the process.

Once your meeting is complete, send an email to the associate’s thanking them for their participation in the process, meeting deadlines and for showing their support. Never underestimate the power of simply saying thank you.

Relax, Reflect. It’s Almost Over. Review your process. What went wrong, what went right? Did you receive any feedback for improvement? Have you solicited feedback from the employees and/or your Executive Team? Take the time to reflect on the process. Re-adjust, and then tweak the process.

In closing, recognize that the Open Enrollment process is an evolutionary process. It will change every year. Strive to make the process better. Have you asked yourself, how can we make this process better? When you have made the necessary adjustments to your process, be sure to schedule a follow-up meeting with your Executive to review the process and to demonstrate that you have taken the time to make the necessary adjustments toward improving the process next year.

Open Enrollment Part I – Administrative Considerations

1 Oct

Plan A Plan B

This guest blog post is courtesy of Robin Rothman, Sage Product Marketing Manager.  She has over 25 years in Human Resources Management and Director roles.  She is an expert in the areas of: Associate Relations, Compensation, Affirmative Action, Recruitment, Legal Compliance, Training and Development, HRIS and Employee Benefits. 

Open enrollment is the period of time each year in which eligible employees may enroll in your health plan. Typically a couple of months prior to the new plan year, employees review your benefit offerings and decide which benefits they will select. Some plans may remain the same from year to year, with adjustments for any changes in the law, while other plans may feature significant and/or new benefits. Much of what is offered is up to the employer. Health plan options include traditional medical coverage, but may also include ancillary health benefits, such as Health Savings Accounts, Flexible Spending Arrangements, Dental, Vision, Health and Wellness Programs, Employee Assistance Programs, Life and Long Term Disability Insurances.
There are so many components to an Open Enrollment Process. The information below will provide you with some points you may want to consider incorporating into your Open Enrollment process.

Planning the Administrative Pieces of the Process
Create folders and/or presentation material to house the hard-copy information that you will be providing to the employees. The presentation material should remain continuous from year to year so the employee’s and/or their significant others can easily identify the material for their reference. It’s like creating your internal benefit brand. Have fun with this step. It’s your chance to be creative. If you’re not a creative person, no worries…enlist the help of someone within your company. It’s ok to sometimes step outside of the box; especially when it comes to creatively finding ways to engage your employees in material that can sometimes be viewed as complex or unexciting.

Next, prepare your employee census. This typically contains items such as name, address, ssn, home zip codes etc. This will be particularly helpful especially if you utilize the services of a broker or direct carrier. Use your HRIS to create reports and queries. If you’ve used reports the previous year, update all report headings with the current year/new dates for Open Enrollment. Accidentally reviewing reports with inaccurate dates could become very confusing to you and for anyone else who will need to review your reports throughout the process.

Schedule a meeting with your insurance provider and/or broker to begin the plan selection process. This should be completed as early as possible to enable enough time to ensure your selection fits within your employer’s budget. Review benchmarking survey reports to get an accurate picture of what other businesses within your industry are offering to ensure you remain competitive in attracting and retaining top talent. Retaining these surveys for later review will help to ensure your employee’s and your Executive management have some comfort level in knowing that you have taken the necessary steps to ensure their benefit dollars have been spent wisely.

If there are ancillary benefits where the contract dates are expiring, (such as Dental or Vision), contact these providers to obtain any price increase information that could impact your budget. At this time, they may provide you with new offerings that should be considered as well. If you are working with a broker, a reminder email to the broker well in advance of the process will be mutually beneficial.

Pre-order hard copy materials as far in advance as possible to ensure that you will have what you need when you need it. This would include presentation folders, pens, paper etc. In doing this, you avoid any last minute scramble in the event these items are on back order with the vendor or are unavailable because they have been discontinued.
Labels for presentation materials should be printed and reviewed for accuracy (i.e.; name spelling, department location etc.). This is a great time to ensure the accuracy of your database for basic items that are sometimes overlooked.

Reserve time with the Information Technology resources you may need for system/plan program changes. Department leads appreciate your pro-activity in helping them manage the resources you need. Reserve time with any external resources you need with your vendor for plan and/or program changes. It is advisable to estimate a little more time than you actually need due to the nature of unforeseen system issues that could arise. Accurately budgeting for external Technology resources should become a part of your pre-process each year.

In the next blog installment, we’ll provide you with some items to consider in preparation of budgeting and/or Executive review.


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