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Register for and attend ACA best practices webinar on August 31

18 Aug

SageACAWebcastJoin us on Wednesday, August 31st at 2 p.m. as we discuss best practices and the latest updates with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) during a live webinar.

Scott Pope is a sales engineer at Sage. Scott came to Sage in 2011 with over 10 years of experience in the industry. Scott has led several webinars on best practices related to the human resources and payroll industries.

Scott will lead an interactive discussion on the following:

  • General overview of the ACA and why is it important to HR administration.
  • What are the dates and times that information needs to be gathered, submitted?
  • What type of information is needed?
  • What are the reporting requirements?
  • Issues and repercussions if they don’t have the right information/reporting
  • What are the reporting tools available in order to help with compliance and avoiding costly fines?

Register today!

Human resources and the year ahead

23 Mar

Human resources is a constantly evolving field. On one hand, new technologies will dramatically affect how employees get hired or dismissed, the efficiency of payroll and other components of HR. On the other, regular changes of regulations mean businesses and HR professionals must remain fully aware of what's happening to labor laws and guidelines. The year 2015 brought some major advances, often coming from issues as widely variable as predictive analytics and the Affordable Care Act. With 2016 fully under way, more advances in technology mean human resource planning should benefit while keeping apace with the times.

2015: The ACA and overtime dominates
If there is one issue that was and will remain a challenge to HR experts and officials, it's the Affordable Care Act. With the full law not taking effect until 2020, there are still some hurdles for employers to consider. In 2015, some of the top stories by HR Benefits Alert talked about the ACA to some degree. For one example, the IRS announced guidelines that would identify who qualifies as a full-time employee and therefore qualify for health insurance provided by the employer. The 30-hour threshold is different from the standard 40 hours used by most companies, which presents potential hazards.

An equally important change was new rules regarding the Fair Labor Standards Act, particularly concerning overtime. In early July, the Department of Labor announced the overtime exemption threshold would go up from $25,660 to $50,400 in annual salary, starting in 2015. Employees receiving a salary below the threshold must be allowed overtime, with some exceptions to specific tasks such as administrative duties.

2016: More agile, personal HR
While the regulations above will cause a stir in 2016, technologies will also play an important role. For example, the HR Trend Institute noted Agile HR practices, which include cutting down on meetings, keeping teams small and using collaboration as the focal point of all functions, will be an important part of changes in 2016 as more companies embrace them.

Another major development will be artificial intelligence. While predictive analytics enabled some understanding of a potential recruit and whether they will last at a company, AI platforms such as IBM's Watson are now creating opportunities to assess people before you even meet them.

On a less technological level, a big trend is taking better care of the employee by using a more personal approach to his or her productivity. For example, there is a greater emphasis on individualization, which intends to treat workers more like clients. In addition, there's a major push away from work-from-home practices in order to make employees more personable and build a stronger work culture.

ACA Reporting: Preparing for ACA reporting requirements

18 Mar

The Affordable Care Act, formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is a health care statute launched by President Barack Obama in March 2010. In 2016, employers and insurance companies are required by government law to file to the IRS and provide forms and copies to recipients. These forms include 1095-B and 1095-C that must be sent to the IRS after being filled out by employees. There are many preparations human resource specialists should take when researching ACA requirements and 1095-B and 1095-C forms. Here are the three steps all businesses should take when getting ready for ACA reporting.

1. Learn your compliance basics
The most important thing a HR specialist can do is learn the basics of ACA compliance. According to the Obamacare Facts, the ACA is a health care initiative that requires all Americans have health care coverage, or they must pay a penalty charge. A company can purchase large or small-scale plans depending on the size of their organization. For companies with under 50 employees, the company can purchase insurance through the Small Business Health Options Program. If your business does not not allow for employers to file for health insurance under your chosen plan, whether it be private or public, your company will face serious fines. For more about compliance, visit the IRS website for Employer Shared Responsibility Provision information.

2. Reporting
Your business must withhold an additional .9 percent on employee wages per month in order to file for ACA reporting. As well, your business may be required to report the value of health insurance coverage the organization currently has. Effective in 2015, your business must file an annual return for 2016 reporting what types of health insurance you offered staff members. Lastly, if your company provides self-insured coverage to employees, you must file an annual return in 2016 reporting what information you actually cover for employees.

3. Getting forms to employees
Companies can receive copies of the 1095-B form if their health care coverage meets the minimum requirements of "minimum essential coverage" under the ACA. Your company's personal health care provider should send out 1095-B forms at the beginning of the calendar tax year.  Some employees may receive a copy of the 1095-C form. The only difference between the two forms is that the 1095-B is typically used for large-scale employers while the 1905-C is used for smaller companies. If your company has not received these forms, contact your health care provider immediately. 

Release Schedule for OT Rules

11 Feb

Employee overtime rules in the U.S. will change, the question is when? The Society for Human Resource Management reported the Department of Labor pushed back its original expectation for when updated overtime regulations would go into effect. Current estimates suggest this drastic change to payroll operations won't become law until late 2016, and even then, it may be a slow adoption process.

Here is what is currently known about the DOL's schedule for OT rules and how small businesses can prepare for the legislation:

The late 2016 start date
The DOL wants to raise the minimum salary threshold for overtime pay from $23,660 to $50,440. This would be a drastic increase and industry experts predict the final number will probably be something closer to $40,000.

The ongoing debates about terms is one of the reasons OT regulations keep getting pushed back. If current projections hold, rules will go into effect in late 2016 – July is a front runner. The DOL may push the deadline late enough, however, that businesses won't have to comply until 2017. At this point, companies may want to create projections for all possible outcomes but should favor a start date before the 2016 election.

The 2016 presidential election
Should a Republican nominee win the 2016 presidential race, it's quite possible the party will alter or outright kill the proposed changes to the overtime rules. For this reason, the DOL is motivated to pass the regulations before the election results.

If a Democrat wins, however, it's more than likely that he or she will be in complete favor of the changes. Small businesses should follow the election to anticipate schedule shifts. Depending who's in the lead, OT alterations could come much faster or slower than expected.

A phased-in approach
Using the current approach, businesses have 60 days to comply with OT rule changes. The election and the example of cities that passed similar regulations may create a different schedule for compliance, however.

It's possible the DOL will introduce regulations through a phased-in approach. The rules may pass incrementally, with the first part going into effect before the election, making it harder for a conservative president to stop it. This option is much more likely if the DOL regulations try to change a number of things like introducing automatic increases to the threshold and duties test to qualify applicants.

However and whenever the DOL passes the new OT rules, small businesses needs flexible HR software to respond to alterations. 

How to prepare for proposed overtime rules

15 Oct

If enacted as it currently is the new proposed changes to overtime pay by the U.S. Department of Labor will give nearly 5 million Americans extra pay, according to the Pew Research Center. Those millions of employees that could be eligible for overtime pay are working in salaried white-collar jobs where payment for working over eight hours a day isn't an option.

The new regulation could have a great affect on human resource planning and payroll management if it becomes law. Human resources will need to process more paperwork. Also, if a company wants to cut costs, it'll mean human resources and supervisors will need to keep track of how long employees work to ensure staff members don't go over eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. 

A new motion
As it is, the proposal raises the threshold for workers currently exempt from overtime pay. The current baseline, set in 2004, is $455 per week or $23,660 per year for employees who work over 40 hours a week. The new recommendation would allow staff members making $970 per week or $50,440 a year to be eligible for overtime compensation, too.  

According to the Pew Research Center, the threshold would rise each year if the government ties it to the Consumer Price Index or wage percentiles so it can keep up with inflation.

Remaining compliant
Companies and their human resource departments should draw up a plan of how to deal with any changes the motion could bring if it becomes law. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, business can prepare now while the Department of Labor reviews the public commentary about the proposed regulations. The department allowed anyone to comment on the proposal via a government website until Sept. 4, 2015, and so far it received nearly 200,000 responses, the SHRM reported.

"For critical positions that often result in overtime pay, employers should consider hiring more full-time, part-time or seasonal employees, or restructuring their workforce to offset a potential expansion of overtime pay," Phyllis Cheng, an attorney with DLA Piper, told the SHRM.

The proposed regulation could cause logistical problems for companies, leading some businesses to slash employee hours or cut back on benefits in order to pay out more in overtime salary. 

To curb this potential problem, employers should pinpoint which employees still fall under the overtime threshold and which ones are closing in on it, Paul DeCamp, an attorney, told the SHRM. A company could raise the salary of a staff member who's current salary is already near the overtime brink. Bumping up the employee's salary would keep him or her above the threshold and ineligible for overtime pay.  

Businesses might need to move workloads around, splitting them up among multiple employees to ensure none work overtime.

The proposal could also have a chilling effect on work-life balances. Employees who take work home with them or on the road could see their hours cut or monitored more closely. 

Social media’s use in hiring

15 Oct

Social media is playing an increasing role in human resources, especially when it comes to engaging the public and recruiting new employees. According to Business 2 Community, the many different platforms for communicating such as Facebook and LinkedIn can make hiring even easier. A simple job description and a link to a position opening is a great way to get a company noticed by individuals who wouldn't otherwise visit a company's website.

It's also great for human resources solutions since the hiring department may also view a prospective candidate's social media accounts to see whether they'd be a good fit or not. 

Social networking
Platforms such as Google+, Facebook and LinkedIn are great ways for human resources to find someone who might be right for a job opening but isn't an active candidate, according to Forbes. Sending that person a message along with information on the position could get him or her to switch jobs to your firm. 

Advertising job openings via social media also cuts down on legwork and expenses since human resources can simply post openings for free online instead of taking out a classified ad like in the old days. 

According to The Society of Human Resource Management, using social media for hiring purposes is the new norm as a 2013 study from the trade publication showed 77 percent of companies used social networking websites to recruit employees.

Risks involved
If a human resource department does use social media to recruit, it should be wary of the risks involved. The same survey by the SHRM found that 74 percent of respondents were also concerned with the legal risks involved in using LinkedIn, Facebook or other websites to assess a potential job candidate. According to the SHRM, employers can learn a job prospect's age, race and health issues by searching for the person online, which is information they cannot take under consideration when hiring or passing on a candidate.

Some employers choose to avoid social media when it comes to the hiring process, CGMA Magazine reported.

"I don't look at [candidates] on social media," Robert Blumberg, an employment lawyer for Littler Mendelson PC, told CGMA Magazine. "I could. I affirmatively choose not to, because I don't really want to know that information. I think there are too many dangers. There are too many things that you shouldn't know and shouldn't be part of the hiring process."

E-cigarettes in the workplace prove a problem for human resources

29 Sep

Electronic cigarettes are now a common sight. From bars and clubs to restaurants and stores, you can see some people puffing clouds of vapor from the electric sticks. But allowing e-cigarettes in the workplace is a major issue for businesses and their human resources systems

Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist invented the e-cigarette in 2003 as a way to get himself to quit smoking but it never took, according to The Guardian. And vape pens and other styles of the device are taking off in popularity with their use tripling from 2013 to 2014 among teenagers and doubling for adults from 2010 to 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

The electronic sticks are, so far, not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, the government agency could take action on them in the future, USA Today reported. 

Vaping in the workplace
E-cigarettes allow a smoker to drop a liquid containing nicotine into the device and then he or she can inhale it in the form of vapors. Many contend that electronic smokes are just as harmful to health as regular cigarettes even if the product isn't burning like normal rolling papers. According to NBC News, people who vape take shorter puffs and don't inhale as deeply as those smoking the real thing. Also, unlike regular tobacco products, the long-term health effects of electronic cigarette use still isn't known. 

Some large companies such as Starbucks, UPS and Wal-Mart banned e-cigarettes from their workplaces, according to The Society for Human Resource Management, while other businesses are taking a wait-and-see approach since the full effects including breathing in secondhand vapor isn't known.

Clear regulations
However, some human resource publications advise offices to take action and ban all styles of electronic smoking to create clear-cut policies. If an employer forbids smoking standard paper and tobacco cigarettes while on the job, why would they allow vaping? 

"If you just ban smoking or tobacco products, you haven't covered e-cigarettes," Russell Chapman, an attorney with employment and labor law firm Littler Mendelson P.C., told the SHRM . "You need to specifically ban them if you want them covered."

Allowing one but not the other creates ambiguity in a workplace environment, Human Resource Executive Online noted. It's better to be safe than sorry since there's still no empirical data regarding the safety of e-cigarettes. 

"The important thing is to have a clearly written policy consistently enforced across the board," Elizabeth Leitzinger, an attorney with Fenton and Keller in Monterey, California, told the SHRM.

According to Leitzinger and others, it makes more sense to outright ban vapes and other forms of e-cigarettes from the office as some of the devices are made to look like the real thing – having a white cylindrical stick with a light that glows when the user puffs on it.

Advocates for vaping in the workplace said the device can actually help employees who smoke regularly because they'll no longer need to leave the office to take a puff and can do so at their desks while working. Therefore, using an e-cigarette could increase productivity for smokers and also help them quit real tobacco products. However, their argument doesn't hold weight since there's no evidence to prove that the devices do either, Inside Counsel reported.

Since the speed of technology development outpaces governing bodies such as the FDA, use of e-cigarettes in the office will inevitably fall on the shoulders of managers and human resource departments. Whatever a company's decision may be, the SHRM noted business leaders should seek out the advice of their counsel before implementing any policy changes.

Tips for conducting internal investigations

8 Sep

Most human resources managers hope they will never have to deal with a workplace investigation. Unfortunately, investigations are often a crucial part of HR's job. Whenever an employee files a complaint, whether it's related to discrimination, harassment, theft or failure to comply with workplace laws, the organization needs to conduct an internal investigation. If companies fail to do a good enough job, it can be a problem for the company. For instance, if a company doesn't adequately respond to serious allegations, the event could come back to haunt the brand and result in a diminished public reputation. 

Why investigations are important
Aside from protecting the business against liability, internal investigations have a number of other important benefits. According to "Practical Tips for Conducting Workplace Investigations," from Gibbons P.C., workplace investigations demonstrate to staff that rules and policies aren't just for show. When employees cross boundaries, there are real consequences. Conducting these investigations also may make employees more likely to come forward with an issue because they see their employers actually respond.

Just carrying out the investigation isn't always enough; it needs to be done thoroughly. An ineffective investigation can be used against the employer in court. Also, if employees notice the investigation is subpar or being carried out in a lackluster manner, they may not take the rules as seriously as they otherwise would.

For instance, James Castelluccio, former IBM vice president, won a case against his previous employer, arguing he was wrongfully terminated because of his age, the Society for Human Resources Management wrote. He won $4.1 million in the lawsuit. The judge criticized IBM for how it handled Castelluccio's discrimination complaint.

Here are some tips for conducting an investigation and avoiding a similar faux pas:

Know the laws
In some ways, being an HR professional is more complicated now than ever before because the laws change so frequently, and employees are increasingly aware of their rights. HR professionals need to stay up to date with any legislation that could impact their workplace. This can help them prepare quickly in case of an incident.

Have a plan
It's important to have a written plan in the event an employee files a serious complaint. When no plan is in place, there is a greater likelihood that HR departments will forget a key procedure or simply fail to do an effective job. Before jumping into the investigation, you outline who will investigate, what you will investigate, what evidence will need to be collected and who will need to be interviewed, SHRM suggested. It's also important that everyone understands the full scope of the investigation and why it is taking place.

Develop great interview skills
Interviews are at the center of every workplace interview. HR needs to track down everyone involved or anyone who may have witnessed the incident. In an interview with SHRM, Natalie Ivey, an expert on internal investigations, noted that investigations require great interview skills because interviewers need to confront liars as well as convince some reluctant witnesses to share their stories. Interviewers should thoroughly plan their questions but plan to ask follow ups that encourage interviewees to open up.

Remain objective
While it can be difficult for investigators to remain impartial, it's important for HR to be objective to ensure the investigation is fairly carried out.

Follow through
When finishing up an interview, HR practitioners should ask the person if there is anyone else who they should talk to. It's important not to leave anyone out or overlook key evidence. According to SHRM, failing to follow up with those involved is one of the top investigation mistakes that organizations make.

Proper documentation throughout the investigation is key. HR staff should use employee management software to store any information they learn in the course of the investigation. This data may be useful in future cases, as well. Any workplace investigation may involve reviewing previous incidents with specific employees, according to HR Hero.

Workplace investigations are tricky. Having the right HR management software ensures that companies are able to document every step of the procedures and make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

Is it time to reduce office hours?

14 Aug

Employees work more hours than ever, and it's starting to have an impact on their well-being. It's up to human resources managers to work with companies to curb this trend, especially given impending changes to overtime pay laws. Consider using a survey or reviewing data in your employee management software to gauge how your staff feel about their current hours and workload.

Working more hours
A new survey from CareerBuilder found the 9-to-5 workday is becoming a thing of the past. With 24-7 access to email and work communications, working hours rarely conform to the traditional office hours.

More than 60 percent of all employees in information technology, financial services, sales, and professional and business services think working nine to five is an outdated concept, the survey found.

What are staff doing outside of typical office hours? Half answer emails, while almost 40 percent continue to focus on their typical day-to-day tasks.

While the majority of workers (62 percent) feel operating outside of normal working hours is a choice rather than a requirement, HR teams may want to consider whether they want to encourage this behavior to continue.

Worker morale
Because staff are chained to their desks, either mentally or physically, they lose out on time to pursue personal interests and spend time with their families. The survey found many employees think about work before going to bed or right when they wake up. Others have trouble keeping their mind off of work during leisure activities.

On top of making employees unhappy, working excessive hours makes staff less productive overall. Once employees begin to work more than 50 hours, for instance, output begins to fall, according to research from John Pencavel of Stanford University. There is a limit to how productive workers can be with their time. After the 50 hour mark, adding more hours to the work day does not result in more productivity.

There's good evidence to demonstrate reducing working hours increases happiness without productivity decreasing. However, with President Obama's proposed change to overtime law, employers may have another reason to limit working hours.

Legal issues on the horizon
President Obama announced a potential extension of overtime pay to those making $47,892 or less annually, according to a statement from the Department of Labor. This would mean roughly 5 million workers would soon be eligible for overtime pay. If employers want to avoid the high costs of overtime pay, they will need to either reconfigure job descriptions or put preventative measures in place to keep staff from exceeding 40 hours per workweek.

With these impending changes to labor laws, HR managers should consider the potential benefits of reducing staff hours before it becomes a necessity.

While cloud-based software and digital devices cause employees to work longer hours, these tools also have the benefit of enabling flexible schedules. Allowing some employees to create their own schedules could make it easier to keep them within a specific timeframe and prevent feeling exhausted and overworked.

New overtime proposal could present HR challenges

17 Jul

The Department of Labor recently announced potential changes to laws governing overtime pay. Under the proposal, almost 5 million white collar workers would now have access to overtime pay. Currently, the threshold for salaried workers is set at $23,660, which is below the poverty line for many families. The new proposal would extend overtime pay to anyone making $50,440 per year. The old threshold was established years ago and hasn't been adjusted for inflation, leaving many middle class employees consistently working overtime hours without the benefit of overtime pay.

Challenges for human resources ahead
Naturally, if the rule goes through, companies may be forced to make strategic changes to prevent too many staff members from accruing costly overtime. According to Human Resources Executive Online, HR departments may need to perform compensation studies to take a hard look a specific positions and whether they would benefit from being reclassified from exempt employees to nonexempt and change their duties to reflect these adjustments.

In an interview with the website, Gregory Kamer, partner of management labor employment firm Kamer Zucker Abbott, said the rule will definitely create some changes in the employment landscape.

Companies that don't want to pay overtime will need to make some changes, he said. The choice will come down to employing more people or raising current staff members' wages to cross the threshold.

What counts as overtime?
Determining whether to reclassify employees and carrying out the necessary work to do so will be just one of HR's new challenges. Another issue will be curbing the hours of staff who remain under the threshold. In this area, email might prove to be a challenge, according to NPR. White collar workers find it harder to disconnect from work at night due to the availability of mobile devices. With just a few touches to a screen, employees can access their inboxes with no problem. The question is when employees check their email, does it count as work time? The answer is likely yes.

HR departments may soon field more queries about overtime pay and will have to double​ check compliance issues related to specific job duties and classifications. Ultimately, the ability to remain compliant could come down to having tools like employee management software that make it easy to monitor worker hours and salary requirements.