Month: January 2015

Employment Compliance Issues You Can’t Overlook

by National Peo National Peo No Comments

5 Employment Compliance Issues You Can’t Afford to Overlook

Employment compliance issuesAs an employer, you know that hiring employees comes with a lot of paperwork. While you know that maintaining thorough employee records is important, what you might not realize is that failing to update certain documents or keep them on file properly could land you in hot water with various government entities — and lead to major fines.

The start of a new year is always a good time to check your records and make sure that everything is up-to-date and filled out the way it should be. As you start planning for 2015, add these items to your to-do list to ensure you are in full compliance with state and federal laws.

1. Update W-4 Forms

The W-4 form determines how much of an employee’s check should be held for taxes, and is usually filled out on the first day of work. However, employee circumstances change. They might get married or divorced, have children, or realize during tax time that they had too much or too little withheld from their check. Employees might not think to adjust their W-4s after these events, so making a review period a matter of policy could save them a lot of hassle and expense. Provide employees with a copy of their current W-4, and ask them to fill out a new one only if they wish to make changes. Remind employees that they can make changes at any time, and that they do not have to wait until January to do so.

2. Manage I-9 Forms

I-9 forms may seem simple — and feel like a formality — but failing to comply with all of the regulations in the 69-page I-9 manual can lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines if an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement audit discovers inaccuracies.

An annual review of I-9 forms should focus on several key areas of compliance. These include:

  • Reverification. In some cases, workers are required to provide updated documents to verify their citizenship status before their original documentation expires. At the beginning of the year, determine which employees may need reverification, and either notify them of the pending requirement or review the documents immediately.
  • Purging old files. ICE law requires employers to destroy I-9 forms for former employees either one year after termination, or three years after the date of hire, whichever comes later. If you are subject to an audit, and ICE discovers that you have old or outdated audits, not only will you face fines for failing to destroy the documents, you can also be fined for any errors those documents contain.

Employment compliance issues3. Check Applications

The law requires that all employees fill out, and employers maintain, job applications that contain certain information, questions, and notices. These notices generally have to do with at-will employment status and criminal background checks. Double check that every employee has a completed and signed application in their employee file, and take corrective action if necessary.

4. Reiterate OSHA Requirements

Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) rules dictate that every employer, regardless of size, must adhere to certain rules and regulations regarding employee health and safety. At minimum, as an employer, you must have a written breakdown of health and safety rules and take steps to create a hazard-free workplace. One of those steps is to provide training to employees.

It’s always a good idea to reiterate the safety standards for your workplace, and the beginning of a new year is the ideal time to provide that training and education. The beginning of the year is also the time when you should review the notices that you’re required by law to post, such as federal minimum wage guidelines, and ensure that you have all of the most up-to-date and relevant postings displayed. Failing to do so could result in major fines if your company is inspected or audited.

5. Review New Laws and Regulations

Every year, lawmakers pass new laws and make changes to existing laws that can affect how employers operate their businesses and manage new employees. Most take effect on the first of the year, so familiarize yourself with changes before January 1, and have plans in place to communicate changes to employees or manage new requirements going forward. When it comes to compliance, lack of knowledge or preparation is rarely a valid excuse, so you do not want to be caught off guard when the new rules take effect. Some of the areas that you should explore to ensure that there aren’t new laws affecting your business include payroll, overtime pay, recordkeeping requirements, leave laws, privacy laws, and anti-bullying or harassment laws.

Compliance in the world of HR is an important issue. Failing to stay within the guidelines of the law can lead to significant fines, legal sanctions, or even bankruptcy if the offenses are especially egregious. Spend some time ensuring that you aren’t making some of the most common mistakes, and start the new year off on the right foot.

Is Your Office Ready for Flu Season?

by National Peo National Peo No Comments

It’s Flu Season — Is Your Office Ready?

Flu Season at WorkIt’s inevitable: As the temperature drops, the number of employees who come to work sniffling, sneezing, and coughing goes up — and it doesn’t take long before you have what amounts to a mini-epidemic of sick people in the office. And you aren’t alone. Across the country, businesses lose as much as $7 billion per year in productivity and health care costs due to the flu and related illnesses. Collectively, American employees take more than 100,000 sick days every year during flu season.

While winter illnesses are a fact of life, they don’t have to be. Experts suggest, though, that many of these sick days could be avoided with the proper precautions. As an employer, you have a responsibility to help prevent the spread of influenza and other contagious diseases, and that requires both education and creating a culture of wellness.

Flu Shots Are Still Important

While the 2013-2014 flu season was widely considered one of the worst in recent memory, experts are predicting that the 2014-2015 flu season could be even worse. That is in large part because the flu vaccine that was developed for is showing signs of being less effective than anticipated.

Every year, scientists develop the flu vaccine based on research, trends, and the strain of flu that’s expected to be the most prevalent. Because there are hundreds of potential flu strains that could be active at any point, it’s virtually impossible to predict with exact certainty which will be the most common, or to protect against all of them. That’s why it’s possible to still come down with the flu even if you’ve been vaccinated; in all likelihood, you have been exposed to a different strain of the virus.

This year, as per protocol, scientists made educated guesses as to which strain would be the dominant one, and unfortunately, based on an examination of the early cases of the flu, this year’s vaccine is not effective at preventing that strain. However, doctors are quick to point out that this is not a reason to forgo the flu shot all together. The flu vaccine is designed to protect against several strains of the virus, so even if it’s not effective for one strain, it will still provide immunity for the others.

As an employer, therefore, it’s still important that you encourage your employees to get their flu shots. A vaccine that’s not 100 percent matched is still better than no vaccine, as it can reduce the severity and duration of illness regardless of strain. Flu shots are considered preventive care under the Affordable Care Act, meaning that they will be covered by insurance, so cost should not be a deterrent to employees. Consider hosting a flu vaccination clinic in the office to make it more convenient for employees to get their shots, or extend break times to give employees time to see a health care provider.

Flu Season in the OfficeCreate a Culture of Wellness

Given the news about the flu vaccine this year — and the fact that some employees will still opt to forgo the vaccine for various reasons — you can still prevent the spread of illness in the office by creating a culture of wellness.

One of the most important aspects of creating a culture of wellness is to support an environment in which employees stay home when they are sick. According to one study, more than 60 percent of workers have gone to work when they are sick, most often because they are afraid of the repercussions, either financial or to their career, of staying home.

Many people feel that they are essential to the functioning of the business, and if they stay home sick, there will be bigger problems than a few sniffles. The problem, of course, is that sick employees spread germs that create more sick employees — and that can create real productivity issues.

To encourage employees to stay home when they are sick, take time to reiterate your company’s sick leave policy, and remind employees that they can do more harm than good coming to work ill. Spend some time developing contingency plans before there is an outbreak of illness to ensure that work stays on track if someone has to take a day off.

Finally, establish some guidelines for when employees absolutely must stay home. For example, anyone showing symptoms of the flu should stay home until they are feeling better or have been taking antiviral medications for 24 hours. Leaders can also set an example by staying home when they are sick. Employees often mirror their boss’ behavior, so if you come to work with a fever and cough, so will they.

If staying home isn’t practical — or the illness is just a minor cold — you can still encourage wellness by making it easy for employees to stop the spread of germs. Have hand sanitizer and tissues readily available, make sure there is plenty of soap at the sinks, and encourage employees to keep their work areas clean and germ free by cleaning and disinfecting desks, telephones, and keyboards on a regular basis.

It’s practically impossible to keep all employees from getting sick in the winter, but you can limit the number of sick days they take and keep the spread of germs under control by taking some basic precautions. Wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, get your flu shot, and start counting the days until spring.

 

What to do Before You Fire an Employee

by National Peo National Peo No Comments

Stop! Do This Before You Fire an Employee

Notice of TerminationAs a manager, one of the least pleasant tasks that you’ll ever have to do is firing an employee. It’s never fun to be the one who has to share news that negatively affects someone’s livelihood, never mind their overall career path and self-esteem. And while the vast majority of people take the news of a termination as well as one might expect, there is always the possibility that such a conversation could end badly, adding an additional layer of apprehension to the situation.

While in some cases, termination is the only viable option for dealing with a problem employee, firing someone should always be your last resort. Not only does making a snap decision to terminate leave you vulnerable to legal action, it’s not always to best solution to the problem. So before you let someone go, there are a few things that you should do.

1. Performance Improvement Plans and Progressive Discipline

Among the most common reasons that companies terminate employees are poor performance and failure to comply with company policies. Someone who is chronically late or absent from work can be a drain on the team, and the longer the behavior goes unchecked, the more likely it is that productivity and morale will suffer.

However, before you start looking for a replacement, you should work with the employee to improve their behavior and performance. The employee could be dealing with issues or obstacles that you’re unaware of, and when you address those issues, performance will improve. Creating a detailed performance improvement plan and checking in with the employee at specified intervals can make a significant difference, and prevent the loss of an otherwise excellent employee.

In the event that performance or behavior does not improve, following the principles of progressive discipline, such as written documentation of warnings and plans, will serve as evidence, should termination become necessary.

2. Consider the Impact on the Company

Firing an employee doesn’t just affect the employee — your whole team, as well as other departments, will feel the impact of someone being let go. In some cases, others may breathe a sigh of relief when a “problem child” is shown the door. However, if the termination is due to factors that other employees aren’t privy to, such as failure to meet sales goals or work quality issues, the termination could come as a surprise, and lead to resentment, fear, and lowered morale due to other employees feeling like they could be next in line for a surprise pink slip.

In addition, if the employee on the chopping block is instrumental to your dealings with clients and other departments, you need to consider how this decision will affect them. For example, a client might be unhappy to learn that their account representative has been let go, and take their business elsewhere. While you can’t let personal relationships dictate business decisions, before you fire an employee you must consider the ripple effect and take steps to reduce the fallout. Again, the best course of action is almost always to find a way to salvage the situation.

3. Evaluate Your Response to Infractions

One reason that terminated employees are often able to sue for wrongful termination successfully is that they are able to prove inconsistent application of policies. In other words, if they can prove that they were fired for the same actions that others did without consequences, then you could run afoul of the law.

Therefore, before you draw up a termination letter, it’s important to examine your records to ensure that you have applied all policies consistently. If you haven’t, you may need to resort to a progressive discipline approach or develop a performance improvement plan to address the issue first.

Terminating Employment4. Consider Other Options

Sometimes, personalities just don’t mesh well — and someone who seems like a “bad” employee really isn’t. That same person who wasn’t a good fit in your department could be a top performer in another area, or under different leadership.

Before you end an employee’s employment, talk with other leaders and try to determine whether there are opportunities elsewhere in the company that could be a better fit.

In most cases, the employee in question will be aware of the problems and willing to work with you, but you never want to surprise someone with a transfer to another area — or “dump” a poor performer on another manager to avoid the unpleasantness of firing that person. Still, if someone has the potential to be a great employee or a skill set that your company needs, a shift to another role could be the ideal solution, instead of termination.

Firing an employee is never an enjoyable task, and in some cases, it’s unavoidable. However, before you pull the plug, take some time to carefully consider your decision and consider alternative solutions. You could save yourself a lot of unnecessary angst, as well as a lawsuit from an unhappy former employee.