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Happy New Year 2015 and beyond for HR

12 Jan

Formal Audit PeopleRobin Rothman, Product Marketing Manager answers an inquiry from Steve Browne’s call to HR Professionals asking for posts around the theme “I’d make HR better by…”. Steve also wanted to know how we could improve HR in 2015 and beyond.

One of the scariest things HR professionals face in their career is when any outside entity challenges the employment practices they’ve either enacted at their company or have inherited as being the new HR people there. Either way, not a good time. This challenge takes on many forms, but let’s just stick with the scariest of them all—compliance issues.

No one likes an audit, and of course . . . NO ONE likes to receive formal notice he will be undergoing an audit, let alone to receive notice of a lawsuit because of some “triggering event” that occurred which prompted one. This is scary stuff for everyone involved! Believe me, I’ve been there, and I’m sure a lot of you have been there too. Again, not a good time.

HR compliance is becoming more of a formal process that affects the management and use of HR resources and assists the business in identifying information about current and potential risks. HR is also becoming more of a strategic partner to the business in identifying risks and/or threats to the organization. They are often being called upon to assist the business with its SWOT analysis.

A SWOT analysis (or sometimes referred to as the SWOT matrix) is a structured planning method used to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats involved in a business. You’ll need to become more familiar with this term. The role of HR is evolving to become more strategic in nature. This is due to the evolving field of the HR/payroll profession. As external threats to the business continue to increase and more audits are being facilitated, HR is being called upon more to assist the business with their expertise to directly deal with these processes.

For HR 2015 and beyond, I would like to see all HR professionals learn to be more strategic by utilizing their HR systems to the fullest extent to facilitate audits appropriately and by carefully inserting themselves into those areas of the business where they will gain the most leverage. This will enable their function to be more proactive. The HR professionals should drive the SWOT analysis using their expertise. Net effect, overall business processes will meet all compliance mandates, litigation will decrease, auditors and employees will be happy, and the HR department will be viewed as a critical, proactive, strategic resource.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What does SHRM’s new competency test mean for HR professionals?

7 Jan

The Society for Human Resource Management announced in May that it was introducing its human resources certification. The program will launch on Jan. 5, 2015 with the first testing window opening between May 1 to July 15. The new credential has met controversy because there is already a Human Resource Certification Institute, which establishes the credibility of those in the field of HR. Because the HRCI was already partnered with SHRM, some people are wondering whether the HRCI's program will continue or not, according to Human Resources Executive Online.

In a conversation with HRE Online, Jon Decoteau, the SHRM divisional director of the West region, said that the difference between the new test and previous certification programs is that this one "is about how you practice the craft," while the others only cover what someone might know about the subject.

The difference between the certifications is still considered somewhat tenuous, according to HRE Online, in part because people are not fully aware of how the testing will differ from HRCI's existing program. Melissa Fleischer, founder and president of HR Learning Center, a consulting firm, said more research will likely need to be made before people come to a decision. At any rate, it may be a good idea for those who deal with human resources planning to sign up for the second program.

"It appears that, at least for now, the best course of action for HR professionals is to have both certifications, at least until the dust settles and we figure out whether the HRCI certification will continue to be used by employers to evaluate HR professionals," Fleischer said.

More changes coming to SHRM
According to a blog post on HRE Online, SHRM will be moving away from being the National Standards Institute administrator for the HR standards called ISO/TC 260. It is doing this because it wants to focus more on its new competency tests. SHRM will also leave the American National Standards Institute, where it had been an accredited standards developer.

"We've been actively reaching out to already-accredited standards-developing organizations and we've had some inquiries from folks interested in becoming accredited standards-developing organizations," Deb Cohen, SHRM's senior vice president for knowledge development, said, according to HRE Online. "We're very hopeful we'll find one soon and, frankly, if it takes a little while we're prepared to help in any way."

This is a major change for those in the industry, as SHRM has been the major standards group for HR for a long time.

Legal considerations for 2015

5 Jan

New laws could mean major changes for those charged with human resources planning. For one thing, the Affordable Care Act's play-or-pay mandate will officially begin Jan. 1, 2015. The Society for Human Resources Management cited this as being part of section 4980H of the Internal Revenue Code, and means that employers must offer appropriate health care coverage to their employees for an affordable value that covers enough to be considered meeting a "minimum value." That means the insurance can not be a token provider – actually providing benefits if someone is injured or becomes sick. The section marked 4980H in the code means that companies must offer this insurance to 70 percent of their employees in 2015 or pay a penalty if anyone received subsidies to buy insurance for a health exchange.

If no one uses a subsidy to buy health care via the online ACA portal, then companies are not obligated to pay the penalty – even if they do not offer 70 percent of their employees insurance.

In 2015, the first 80 employees who buy insurance will activate a $2,000 company fine for their employer. Anyone in excess of the first 80 will create an additional $3,000 penalty per person.

Other reforms to look out for
An additional consideration is the shift in wage laws. Minimum wages are rising, and the government is taking a closer look to ensure people are getting their fair share of money for work performed. Wal-Mart was recently sued for $151 million because of wage law violations, HR Morning reported. According to the employee who began the suit in 2002, Michelle Braun, Wal-Mart forced its employees to work through breaks as well as off the clock in order to avoid paying the extra money.

Wal-Mart is protesting the lawsuit, saying that because the individual people didn't have to testify one at a time, that the trial is not technically a class action suit. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which oversaw the ruling, says that while the different employees in the suit did not testify individually, each of their pay records were looked at to ensure the veracity of their claims.

Wal-Mart plans to continue pushing the lawsuit up to the next highest court, as well as to make revisions to its timekeeping systems. It continues to state it is paying its employees their fair share of money.

Four years into the ACA

10 Nov

It's been about four years since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, changing the way companies do their insurance. Although the open market enrollment system was buggy at first, the real question is whether the ACA has brought adequate health insurance to the people who have needed it most.

According to the New York Times, the number of people who have been insured has increased, and the insurance has largely been affordable for most Americans. Additionally, the health industry has been helped by the laws, which provide new patients and customers. Health care spending has not diminished appreciably.

The Wall Street Journal argued that costs have increased for U.S. citizens and insurance companies alike. Additionally, many businesses have begun to reduce their hiring of full-time workers – sometimes pulling people back from full-time hours – to ensure that they won't need to pay the extra money for insurance once the law reaches its next phase, in which those with 50-99 full-time employees will have to provide coverage or face penalties.

How the ACA affects companies' bottom lines
The University of South Carolina's Darla Moore School of Business recently did a study on medium and large U.S. companies, and found that 78 percent reported a rise in health care costs, Human Resources Executive Online reported. Thirty-seven percent reported their labor costs increased by about 5.6 percent on average.

Many companies have switched to consumer-directed health plans. Other businesses have saved money by cutting back on the people they offer health insurance to. Wal-Mart will stop providing health insurance to the people who work under 30 hours a week, beginning Jan. 1, 2015. Target and Home Depot will be doing the same thing.

Patrick Wright, who headed the survey, believes companies will cease employer-sponsored health insurance in the same way that companies no longer give their workers defined-benefit pensions.

While health insurance has risen in price as it does every year, the cost increases have been smaller than average, usually 3 percent for families and 2 percent for singles. Having said that, many health insurance companies have adopted large deductibles to keep costs down.

What companies can do
The ultimate fate of a business's health insurance depends on many variables. For some managers making choices about human resources solutions, Some employers are even choosing to pay the penalties for not providing an affordable health care option, versus subsidizing for the health care of every employee.

Preventing transgender discrimination by educating workers

30 Oct

Workplace discrimination against transgender people is a serious issue. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 1 in 5 transgender individuals experience discrimination at their place of employment. This means firing, being denied a promotion or just being harassed by other members of the team. Much of the problem seems to have to do with those in charge of human resource planning not receiving a proper education about transgender issues. One example cited by the HRC was Jason, a female-to-male transgender person who spoke with his boss about possibly doing a team-building program centered around educating people about his transition. His boss refused, and Jason felt his coworkers distanced themselves from him because of his identity. Additionally, he had to specifically make a formal request to use the men's restroom, and it wasn't until the HR head personally gave it the OK that he was permitted use of the bathroom of his gender identity. Even after this amount of work, many of the male members of staff expressed discomfort with the decision.

For those who employ transgender people much of this awkwardness can be alleviated by just taking the time to educate people. Not to do so is to risk unconscious discrimination, like behaving in a confusing way around someone who identifies with a different gender from the one they were born into physically. Such an atmosphere of discrimination can create a negative image from many people in the community. The year 2014 is one in which many people believe that everyone should have the right to identity with the gender they most strongly feel tied to. This means that even if it were possible to get away with discriminatory actions, it is a bad idea to do so because it would reflect very poorly on the company and possibly pave the way for a more toxic workplace.

Discrimination based on gender identity is illegal in every state
According to Transgender Law Center, it has been illegal since 2012 in the U.S. to discriminate against anyone who identifies as transgender. The legal group gave the following examples of discrimination that can be brought to trial:

  • Firing someone or refusing to hire someone based on gender identity
  • Prohibiting someone from dressing in the clothes of the gender to which they've transitioned
  • Limiting someone's exposure to customers because they might feel "uncomfortable" with someone's gender expression
  • Anything that would involve restrictions on bathroom use based on gender identity

Employers should pay close attention to whether they are discriminating or not. If they are, they need to put a stop to it before things escalate and the workplace becomes hostile.

How to handle I-9 audits

24 Oct

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.

Complications with ACA

9 Oct

The Affordable Care Act will become more important to companies with over 100 employees because January 1, 2015 is the deadline for those businesses to begin offering health insurance to its workers. According to MSN News, the exact requirement is that at least 70 percent of full-time staffers must be offered health insurance by 2015. Additionally, the insurance plan must not exceed over 9.5 percent of employees' annual salaries.

According to Andy Birol, a small-business consultant, companies shouldn't overthink their policies to the extent it inhibits them from making other business decisions. He terms his strategy for ACA as "fish or cut bait," meaning to either get into the game or get out of it – to make a decision quickly and stick to it.

Some companies are actually reducing their headcount of full-time employees to avoid paying the for insurance coverage.

More complications to complying with ACA
There are some additional challenges to the ACA that many people in the human resource planning field are not aware of, but a recent article by HR Morning pinpoints some of the most salient points to be concerned about when it comes to this important matter.

For one thing, adding a wellness program is a great way to get employees healthy and focused on getting into good shape. However, giving incentives to those who sign up for it can be a problem, along with adding penalties for people who smoke or are overweight. For example, the ACA maximum reduction or penalty is 30 percent, according to HR Morning. For smokers, it rises to 50 percent. Anything more than that is a violation.

Another problem is with "grandfathered" programs, which are old enough to become exempt from major health care rules. However, if a grandfathered program changes enough than it will no longer be protected under the same status.

The government has put out a list of information about this on a special ACA website.

Waiting periods are another complex issue. Health care plans cannot make employees wait more than 90 days for coverage to begin, but many covered employees are facing longer waiting periods, putting their employers in jeopardy of facing ACA penalties.

How affordable is the insurance?
Some employees are turning down ACA insurance because they can't afford it. According to Tara Wicker, the HR director for a chain of grocery stores, many of her employees choosing against insurance because they can't pay the premiums. People who want to keep their workers insured and healthy may want to look carefully for an affordable plan that compromises between what employees and employers can both afford.

Other people believe that employees should be allowed to have no insurance if that's what they want.

"The employer is responsible for offering the insurance, not responsible for ensuring that employees actually enroll," said Tony Novak, a benefits consultant.

The official rules are that if the employer offers minimal coverage, there is no penalty if employees don't take it. Jon Robitaille, who works for a grocery store, says that he signed up for the insurance plan because he felt it was mandated, but said he would have preferred to spend the money on vacations instead.

Other complications include the fact that workers must work for 30 hours a week in order to be eligible for a plan, and maybe people who work more than one job have trouble meeting the requirements even if they work more than 30 hours when both jobs are combined.

Smaller businesses won't have to worry about the ACA rules until 2016. That's when companies with between 50 and 99 employees must begin providing health insurance. Those with less than 50 don't have to comply with the rules.

OSHA changing its reporting regulations

9 Oct

OSHA has released new rules that will make compliance reporting more of a challenge for employers. According to Human Resources Executive Online, OSHA's latest regulations will require employee management teams to report work-related fatalities within 8 hours and hospitalized work-related injuries within 24 hours. Additionally, everyone will have to comply with OSHA reporting guidelines, including companies that do not have to keep injury and illness records, which hadn't needed to make reports in the past.

Previously, injuries were only reported when three or more employees became wounded in the same accident, which made reporting far less common. Additionally, amputations are now considered to include the loss of even small parts of the body, such as the tip of a finger. An additional 25 new industries must also begin keeping records. This new list includes lessors of real estate and liquor stores.

According to Environmental and Energy Law Monitor, posting on JD Supra, the laws go into effect on January 1, 2015. The theory behind the new regulations is that OSHA will begin conducting more inspections of companies where people are injured on the job. Before, only those with injuries affecting three or more people would become targeted for inspections, now employers that regularly report injuries of only one person or more will face additional OSHA inspections.

OSHA to post its data online
OSHA is now planning to report accident data online, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The idea behind the online releases, which are already posted to OSHA's website, is that companies will be embarrassed by their track records of injuries and begin to emphasize safety as a major concern.

"We believe that the possibility of public reporting of serious injuries will encourage—or, in the behavioral economics term, nudge—employers to take steps to prevent injuries so they're not seen as unsafe places to work," said David Michaels, the head of OSHA, to Bloomberg Businessweek. "After all, if you had a choice of applying for a job at a place where a worker had just lost a hand, versus one where no amputation has occurred, which would you choose?"

Some companies are opposed to OSHA's plan, alleging that posting the reports online will only make things more difficult for businesses to find employees without helping workers to operate in safe places.

"OSHA simply cannot demonstrate that this proposed rule will result in fewer injuries and illnesses," Geoffrey Burr, vice president of government affairs for the Associated Builders & Contractors, said in a statement sent to OSHA earlier in 2014.

What’s obscurely covered under the ADA?

30 Sep

In human resources departments across the U.S., people are working diligently to comply with federal, state and municipal regulations with regard to recruiting, hiring and employee policies. However, it can be a difficult task keeping up with every law and amendment, ensuring the business is free from legal liability for noncompliance. All the same, ignorance of the law is never a defense for human resources managers and business owners. They need to understand how the various kinds of legislation impact the way they operate on a daily basis, especially laws that pertain to civil rights.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a landmark ruling that has changed the way companies accommodate individuals who have a disability or what other people perceive as a disability. The U.S. Department of Justice explained the disability can either be "a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities."

Under the ADA, there are several titles that provide guidance for employers, government agencies and programs, public transportation and building operators and telecommunications services.

Some of the provisions of the law, such as providing disabled individuals with equal access to employment and benefits, are fairly straightforward. At the same time, an employer can't ask about a job seeker's disability prior to making an employment offer. These concepts fall in line with many of the pillars of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, there can be a gray area when it comes to what qualifies as a major life activity.

Who is most misinterpreted as a covered person?
The ADA doesn't go into the greatest detail about what qualifies as an impairment, which lends to some confusion about what employers should look for. The American Cancer Society listed several of the major life activities. These include:

  • Caring for oneself
  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Standing
  • Speaking
  • Breathing
  • Learning
  • Reading
  • Concentrating
  • Communicating

However, this list isn't exhaustive, and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 has expanded the definition to some extent. Now, many of the primary bodily functions are covered by the ADA, including issues relating to cell growth, as well as the excretory, nervous, respiratory, endocrine, immune and reproductive systems, the CSA wrote. As a result, many individuals who have some form of cancer are protected under the ADA, even when the disease goes into remission.

One of the most important caveats to the law is that the employee must be able to perform their essential job functions in spite of his or her disability. While an employer can't refuse to hire an individual because he or she isn't able to complete ancillary tasks, HR managers are well within their legal rights to pass over an individual who doesn't fulfill fundamental requirements for a position.

What can employers do when they're not sure about a diagnosed condition?
Recently, employers have faced the difficulty of interpreting those dealing with obesity as disabled persons. Becker's Hospital Review highlighted a 2011 case in Texas during which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that morbid obesity was a bona fide disability. Prior to the ADAAA in 2008, the EEOC suggested obesity would rarely qualify as an impairment, but the agency has changed course on the matter specifically when there's a physiological cause for the condition.

The Texas case involved a 600-pound forklift operator who required a seatbelt extension to securely operate the machinery. The employer declined to accommodate the request and terminated his employment because he wasn't able to perform his essential job function. The company had an opportunity to provide reasonable accommodation but decided to face litigation and lost the argument.

In this case – and others like it – it's advisable for an employer to seek out the guidance of the disabled employee's medical professional. Especially with the case of a morbidly obese worker, it's important for a company to understand the underlying physiological causes of the condition before assessing their options for recourse.

What happens when an employer can't provide reasonable accommodation?
There are a few reasons why a business doesn't necessarily have to honor the request for accommodation. Organizations with fewer than 15 employees aren't required to follow ADA regulations relating to employment, the Department of Labor explained.

At the same time, when a request would cause undue hardship, the employer doesn't have to honor it. The enterprise would have to prove that, due to its size or organizational structure, the expense of accommodating a disabled worker would substantially hinder its operations.

Therefore, should an employer move to fire? What are the alternatives? One of the common misconceptions about reasonable accommodation is that it is overly expensive. The DOL indicated the majority, or two-thirds, of requests require less than $500 on the part of the employer to address the situation.

Otherwise, the responsibility resides with the employer to judge whether it's more reasonable to fire the current worker and recruit another employee in the event that the company can't accommodate a disabled staff member.

Does anyone really care about performance evaluations?

30 Sep

Avoid a Dysfunctional Performance ReviewWhy do manager’s consistently tell human resources that they dread writing and delivering performance evaluations? This is a question that human resource professionals struggle with every time they hear it. Most studies conducted by professional human resource organizations have proven that companies that provide regular feedback to their employees have higher retention rates and see greater improvement in overall performance than those that rely on annual evaluations. So, why do human resource professionals consistently need to prove this fact to their management teams? Why  are managers so fearful?

Perhaps it’s what occurs during the annual performance evaluation meeting with the employee? Let’s look at a typical scenario. The manager delivers the annual feedback; the employee is “surprised” because he or she hasn’t heard any of that feedback all year long and now the employee “challenges” their manager on the evaluation claiming his or her evaluation isn’t “fair.” Aha, there’s the dreaded confrontation associated with the review. Here it is. Face-to-face confrontation. Why would the manager fear this confrontation? Perhaps, it’s the fact that manager is suddenly put into a defensive position? Could it be that the manager failed to provide regular feedback to the employee throughout the year and has no choice but to deal with it now? Is that fair? How would that manager feel if this was done to her? Maybe this has happened to the manager before, and now the manager believes it’s perfectly acceptable to do the same thing to her direct reports? Maybe it’s a new manager who believes he knows what he is doing, but really doesn’t have a clue? Did ego come into play at all? There could be a lot of reasons.

In any case, employees need guidance. They need regular feedback. Whether that feedback is positive or negative, employees need and want to hear it. The manager needs to “manage” and learn to deal with it. How do managers expect to receive positive behavior from their employees without any reinforcement from the manager on the feedback of their behavior? How does an employee know what is expected of him or whether or not he needs to improve upon a certain behavior if he has not been given any direction throughout the year? You can clearly see how these disconnects occur.

Aside from the myriad of legal issues that often arise from continued performance feedback “avoidance,” its helpful (and necessary) for managers to educate themselves on how to deliver feedback. A lot of this is common sense. So, why do many managers feel it’s the responsibility of human resources to educate them on why employee performance feedback is so important? Why do managers tell human resource professionals, “I haven’t received any training on it so I didn’t know I should be doing it”? Why do managers feel they do not have accountability for this aspect of their management function? Like any other skill, performance feedback training needs to be cultivated. Since each and every person and situation is different, it’s impossible for the human resource professional to facilitate definitive training needed to cover every situation. It’s up to human resources to guide and counsel their management teams. What that means is that human resources should be relied upon to guide and counsel management on decisions that affect their people and the overall business. Unless it is a first-time manager, human resources can help to provide the education needed to get the manager up to speed and on the right path. There must be accountability on management’s part to take ownership of their direct reports by providing regular feedback to them, then seek human resource guidance and counsel on issues where the desired outcome of an employee’s performance has not or cannot be achieved through the development plans that the manager has set forth for the employee to follow to get that performance back on track.

Visit www.sagehrms.com to see all of the available solutions to help you manage the total employment lifecycle process.

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