StratEx Webinar: ACA Reporting Requirements and our ACA Module

Did you know: failure to comply with the requirements of the ACA will result in tax penalties, which will be up to $500 per 1095C not filed.

If you are not sure how your company will handle the ACA requirements, we encourage you to attend our webinar at 1pm CST on November 17th. The webinar will cover the most important and challenging parts of the ACA, as well as what our software can do to make your company’s process as friction free as possible.

The webinar will serve two purposes:

  1. To help you understand the vital sections of the ACA that need your attention. We will cover in some detail:
    • The Employer Mandate
    • ACA reporting elements for applicable large employers (ALEs)
    • The Look-back Method
  2. To show you the ACA module in eStratEx and how it can provide you the tools you need to handle all of the requirements of the ACA. This includes:
    • A tool to help you determine if your company is an applicable large employer (ALE)
    • A tool to help you apply the ‘look back’ methodology for tracking variable hour employees’ hours
    • Reporting and filing services included with the module. This includes annual reports that must be filed with the IRS, and annual statements that must be provided to employees

Details:

Date: Tuesday, November 17th, 2015
Time: 1:00pm- 2:00pm CST

Who should attend: Management, HR professionals

To learn more about the ACA, and how we can help you navigate the requirements with our ACA module, please join our webinar by registering here: http://bit.ly/1LihknD

6 Steps to Creating a Wellness Program for Your Company

What drives performance?

How can health add organizational
and employee value?

These are important issues employers and HR teams work to address every day. While the answers to these questions differ depending on the industry and company, organizations both large and small are using wellness programs to connect with employees, encourage healthy behavior across the organization, and instill long-term health benefits in an age of constantly-increasing healthcare costs.

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A majority of employers are already offering a wellness program in some respect:

  • 79% offer wellness resources and information
  • 47% provide health screening programs and coaching
  • 42% offer smoking cessation programs (source: SHRM.org)

Organizations are recognizing the potential benefits of wellness programs, but not all programs are successful in actually engaging employees and generating positive changes. Whether you have already designed and implemented a wellness program or are just beginning to consider the benefits a wellness program can bring to your organization, it helps to know what makes a wellness program most effective for everyone involved.

 

Step 1

Focus your program on all employees, not just those enrolled in certain plans.

Here’s where things tend to go wrong right off the bat for employers designing wellness programs. When wellness programs only focus on employees participating in medical coverage, you may be missing a huge segment of your workforce and are sending the message that you only value the well-being of those employees for cost-cutting purposes. Instead, encourage all employees to get involved with participation-based programs, healthy initiatives in the workplace, and suitable rewards when goals are met.

Step 2

Get buy-in from all levels of management and present your program with a consistent message.

Like anything else, if managers and executives don’t actively support the program, employees aren’t likely to support it either. Additionally, inconsistent communication and an unsupportive culture won’t do anything to motivate employees. Instead, get organizational leaders involved in communicating the program to employees and leading company-wide goals. This will encourage participation across the board, because employees who understand of the strategic priorities of your organization will value their membership more and will be more likely to get involved with wellness initiatives. Engage employees in different modes of communication such as email updates and newsletters, social media, and office postings for an effective message.

Step 3

Ensure your program has a reasonable chance of improving health for participating employees.

Your program shouldn’t be too difficult for employees to complete and should be based on medical facts and research. As an employer, the place to start encouraging healthy behavior is the workplace environment. You can accomplish this through providing healthier snacks and drinks, using onsite tobacco cessation assistance, or offering onsite nutrition or yoga classes. To make it easier for employees to participate in the program across multiple locations or even remotely, try offering other convenient options such as health coaching calls, a “Lunch and Learn” webinar series, online programs, a team-based step or weight-loss challenge, or a weekly newsletter with hot topics in health, fitness, and nutrition.

Step 4

Reward employees for healthy behavior, instead of just penalizing them for unhealthy behavior.

When the motivation for employees to participate is based on avoiding a penalty instead of improving their health, incentives aren’t seen as a reward. For example, when designing a tobacco cessation plan, focus on encouraging employee’s attempts to quit instead of punishing them for being smokers. If you provide cessation assistance and reward both quitting attempts and successful tobacco cessation, you’ll be much more likely to build a culture of health within your organization, encourage participation in your program, and demonstrate your commitment to improving your employee’s well-being. Rewards can be based on completing a specific action, such as a certain number of steps per day or a timed workout, or outcome-based, such as improvement in results of annual biometric screenings.

Step 5

Find out what most motivates your employees and encourage healthy actions accordingly.

This may depend on your company’s demographics, location, or corporate culture, but a quick anonymous survey of employees can help determine which rewards will be most effective in motivating your workforce. This is an easy way to tailor your wellness program to your organization’s unique resources and needs. 36% of large employers’ and 18% of small employers’ wellness programs offer financial incentives (source: Kaiser Family Foundation). Financial rewards can be in the form of gift cards, Health Spending Account contributions, fitness center membership contributions, or many other options as you see fit. Setting company or team-wide goals encourages participation on a wider level, and team-based rewards like event tickets or healthy team meals will motivate, boost morale, and encourage teamwork in other areas of the organization.

Step 6

Of course, there are plenty of compliance issues to consider.

It’s illegal to condition plan eligibility or discriminate against employees’ health coverage or pricing on the basis of a health factor such as health status, medical condition, genetic information, or disability. Be careful when designing your plan and working with health information – just because you comply with HIPAA doesn’t mean you comply with all other laws, such as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), PPACA, ERISA, state and local laws, and federal tax code. Consider partnering with a vendor who specializes in administering wellness programs, and be sure to run any potential plan past your lawyer or legal team to ensure it is not in violation of any of these laws.

cardio

Trying to do everything at once with your wellness program will overwhelm you, not to mention your employees. Take a progressive approach to build your program and encourage long-term, healthy changes. This tactic will ensure your employees achieve their optimal level of health. Try starting with a participation-based program, consistent communications, and employee wellness committee, and work your way up to an outcomes-based plan over the course of months (or even years!). Your program should help employees identify their personal health risks and provide them with tools and skills to lower those risks.

Remember: the goal is to encourage your employees’ accountability for their own health, which will lead to more successful, long-term health outcomes. With the right wellness program, you’ll find you can better motivate your employees to take charge of their well-being, cut costs for your organization and employees, and develop a stronger, more satisfied workforce along the way.

(Additional source: Towers Watson)

StratEx HR Webinar: Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

unnamedAre you currently running Background Checks for your applicants or employees?

Do you run credit checks?

Do you ever decide not to hire an applicant based on the results of his/her background check or credit check?

As part of its Human Resources Management Training Series, StratEx is hosting a free webinar on the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) on Tuesday, September 15, 2015 from 1pmCT to 2pmCT to help give clear answers to questions like those.

There recently has been an increase in the number of lawsuits regarding background checks, and this webinar is designed to help human resources professionals decrease the risk associated with running background or credit checks, focusing on the FCRA.

“We hope to arm human resources professionals and managers with insight that allows them to address the latest challenges facing the industry with confidence,” said Gretchen Van Vlymen, Human Resources Practice Leader at StratEx.

This webinar will also discuss Disclosure and Authorization Forms, Ban the Box, and the Adverse Action process.

To register for the webinar, go to: http://bit.ly/1FC7uvI.

Four Ways to Manage Medical Marijuana at Work

Over the last several years, many states have legalized the use of medical marijuana. As these numbers continue to rise, so too will the number of workplace issues that employers face involving medical marijuana. Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means the drug is considered to have no medical value and has a high potential for abuse. Moreover, possession and use of marijuana is considered illegal.

In direct conflict with federal law, 23 states and the District of Colombia have legalized medical marijuana.

Why is this Important?

marijuana3This is important for all employers, as federal law and state law are in direct conflict with one another, which creates a level of ambiguity in terms of what constitutes permissible employer and employee action when dealing with workplace issues involving marijuana.

The most recent Colorado Supreme Court ruling in Coats v Dish Network, has clarified employer rights in the state of Colorado. In this case, the Court ruled that a medical marijuana user, who was fired after failing a drug test, will not be given his job back even though the state of Colorado permits the use of medical marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes. The Court took the position that an activity must be lawful under federal law as well as state law. Although this ruling is not binding across all states, it is likely to set the stage for how other states will deal with this issue.

Moreover, while other states continue to define their laws, there are three areas of the law that have been defined and that all employers should be aware of:

  1. If you are a federal employer, operate under a federal contract, or have federal grants, you are under the jurisdiction of the federal law. A zero tolerance policy is mandatory for the employer and all employees must be provided notification of the guidelines as defined by federal law.
  1. If you have a zero tolerance workplace drug policy in place, you are not obligated to make medical marijuana accommodations under the ADA and FMLA as both are federal statutes and under federal law marijuana is considered illegal. Use caution in handling these situations to minimize risk and ensure you can demonstrate that adverse employment decisions are based on use of marijuana and not the underlying medical condition.
  1. At this point, employers in all states excluding Minnesota, Arizona and Delaware, have the right to enforce a zero tolerance workplace drug policy- and hold employees to this policy- regardless of whether or not the individual has a medical marijuana card. Minnesota, Arizona, and Delaware have statutes that expressly prohibit employers from firing an employee for a positive marijuana drug test if that employee holds a valid medical marijuana card.

Four Best Practices

CannabisWorkplaceEach state’s medical marijuana laws vary in their scope and terminology. Until the United States Supreme Court provides further, concrete guidance, it is critical that employers are cautious in dealing with workplace issues involving medical marijuana. The following four best practices are recommended:

  • Develop a workplace drug policy. It has never been more important to develop a workplace drug policy that explicitly details which drugs are prohibited, what the consequences are if violation occurs, and when and what type of drug tests will be administered.
  • Apply your workplace drug policy consistently among all employees to avoid claims.
  • Communicate your policy early and often. Workplace drug policies should not only be stated clearly in your handbook, but should also be explained during the new hire orientation process. It may be necessary to state your policy during the hiring process as well.
  • Revisit and revise your workplace drug policy regularly. Given that many states are in the process of developing their medical marijuana laws, it is necessary to revisit your company’s workplace drug policy regularly to ensure compliance with the law.

StratEx will continue to monitor this issue. We advise our clients that it is necessary to modify company policies now, and follow these four best practices closely, as we believe workplace issues related to medical marijuana will continue to create challenges for employers in all states. If you are a StratEx HR client, please reach out to your HR Account Manager with any questions you may have on this topic.

Congratulations, Chelsea!

Chelsea Garot, one of our HR Account Managers, is being celebrated today at StratEx!

Chel_Grad2

Chelsea will be graduating from Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business with her Masters in HR this weekend. We are proud of her and her accomplishment, and know that this is just another indicator that she is an asset to our company and the clients she serves.

Congratulations, Chelsea!

5 Things You Must Do Before Hiring an Intern

With the summer internship season set to begin soon, are you ready to welcome interns into your company with full-confidence that you are complying with all employment laws? Including compensating them appropriately?

Don’t find out the hard way: it is important that you have a good understanding of the requirements for hiring interns.

In recent news, Condé Nast (a company that publishes Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and a number of other well-known titles) paid $5.8 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought on by unpaid interns.  These interns claimed that their job did not meet the requirements to be considered an unpaid internship and therefore the company should have paid them minimum wage for all hours worked.

summer_intern_imageAlthough it can be difficult to determine if an individual is exempt from being treated as an employee in the event of an internship, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has six guidelines for defining their role within your business.

DOL Rules for defining an internship:

  • The experience, or training, of the internship must be similar to that which would be given in a vocational school.
  • The work is for the benefit of the intern.
  • The interns do not displace regular employees, but work under close observation.
  • The employer that provides the training/experience derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded.
  • The interns are not necessarily entitled to a job at the completion of the training period.
  • The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

It is important thing to keep in mind that the internship must meet all six of the requirements above in order for it to be unpaid. See the DOL Fact Sheet here for more details.interns

To keep you in the clear of handling the intern situation incorrectly, we offer the following:

5 Internship Best Practices

1. Audit your intern program to see if it complies with all 6 DOL guidelines. Some good self-audit questions are:

  • Does your internship program have an appropriate educational purpose?
  • Are the benefits of the program in favor of the intern, rather than your company?
  • Are the duties of the intern different from duties of other employees?

When in doubt, or if all 6 DOL guidelines are not met, you should consider paying state minimum wage to the intern. In lieu of minimum wage, work with the intern’s school to set up course credit.

How-to-manage-interns2. Train Supervisors who will work with the interns to ensure that they:

  • Understand how to best utilize an intern
  • Prevent expansions of responsibilities that may jeopardize the intern’s classification as an employee
  • Have the time and dedication to spend with the intern

3. Write a Memorandum of Understanding that is presented to and signed by the intern. The memo should state the following:

  • The internship is unpaid
  • A job offer is not guaranteed upon completion
  • The educational purpose of the internship and the intent to benefit the intern
  • Limited scope of activities that the intern will perform
  • Intern’s obligation to promptly and accurately report any assignment of duties that are outside of the identified scope

4. Keep in mind that paid and unpaid interns alike should be protected from any form of discrimination, just as any other employee.

This is not only a best practice from an ethical standpoint, but also the preemptive result of a wave of proposed city and state laws providing this protection to interns.  For example, Illinois recently passed legislation to amend the Illinois Human Rights Act to protect unpaid interns against workplace sexual harassment. The amendment went into effect on January 1, 2015.

5. Don’t forget to check your state’s Child Labor Laws.

Federal and state laws dictate how to pay minors, when they are allowed to work, at what age they are allowed to work, the type of work they are allowed to do and in some states, they require employers to obtain proof of age documentation. It is important to ensure that you are abiding by all Child Labor laws when employing interns who are minors.

That should cover it. Knowing these DOL guidelines and following our best practices should put you on solid ground to neutralize that menacing intern threat.

Posted in HR

March Madness at the Office… Embrace it!

(Expanded from Adam’s interview on WBBM Noon Business Hour)

Each year when the NCAA Tournament kicks off, figures emerge about March Madness and the huge productivity losses it causes for employers.

This statistic comes out every year, and every year I laugh because, whether it’s social media sites or NCAA Basketball, employees are going to find anything to be non-productive if they don’t want to be productive. At StratEx, we embrace it. We’re in the heart of Big10 country where there’s seven teams participating in the tournament this year. Since it is such a pull for our employees, we may as well demystify it, make it fun.

It’s only two days out of the work year, why not make it fun? We have employees that went to different colleges competing in the tournament and they can compete with one another while’s it’s on in the background of the office. They’re going to get work done that they need to get done and they’re going to have fun if they want to have fun.

In our office, employees can wear their alma mater colors, we have an office pool and TVs are around the office showing the games. They can even stream it on their computers—no need to use one of those ‘safe buttons’ to pull up a spreadsheet when a manager walks by.

The heat of the madness only lasts two days and employees are going to watch it anyway, so you might as well have fun and build company morale while you’re at it.

Your No-PTO Policy: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

In a recent campaign aired by MasterCard, children of working parents are trying to understand the rationale of giving up PAID vacation days. These idealistic children imagined all the fabulous things that could come from taking back that one day. We all remember being kids and the excitement we had in anticipation of a day off. Why hasn’t that same excitement transpired into our adult life? Last year 40% of Americans left vacation time on the table, expired and essentially taken away.

So, what if there was no structured time away from work policy at all? Many employers are now opting for a No-PTO policy that essentially provides unlimited PTO taken by employees as needed. Would more employees take time off? Would your workforce abuse this? Would productivity soar or fall flat? These questions are forcing employers to ask if unlimited time off is the right move for them.

The Good:

A strong work-life balance plays a major role in the recruitment and retention of employees.  Allowing employees the ability to manage their own time and essentially create their perfect work-life balance ensures that everyone wins.

In states that mandate employers to pay out all unused accrued vacation /PTO time at termination, time away from work policies can be costly; the absence of a PTO or vacation policy can possibly remove this liability if executed properly in a compliant manner.

From a recruiting standpoint, if your goal is to hire motivated, responsible employees who seek to balance their time off with completing their projects – you now have the ultimate recruiting tool. Further, some employers may be betting that motivated employees will intrinsically take slightly less PTO under an employee-directed “no-PTO” policy, and use only what they truly feel they need.  This should not be the main goal of this PTO structure, but it could be a nice perk if it results in increased productivity and cost-savings!

The Bad

No one likes a perceived value. It’s in our human nature to associate tangible things with value. If there is no policy on how time off is taken, many employees will find it challenging to see this as a benefit of their employment.

Using the term unlimited instead of simply having “no policy” for time off can also be dangerous for those employers in states that require payment of unused accrued time at termination.  What is the value of unlimited when it comes to accrued time? There are strict state-specific guidelines for executing this no-PTO-policy in order to eliminate the payout liability at termination.  If employers do not adhere to these guidelines, they could be on the hook to pay out unlimited PTO.  Yikes!

Currently only 1% of companies are adopting these standards. That’s because it’s simply too difficult to administer in most industries and work environments.

The Ugly

Unless you have a company full of salaried exempt employees, having a no PTO policy in place is confusing to execute as hourly employees simply aren’t paid when they don’t work.

We all hope that we can trust employees to not abuse a policy, but let’s be real, that isn’t always the case. If work isn’t being completed then odds are your bottom line is being affected – the C-suite’s worst nightmare.

Even under current standards of employers giving a prescribed amount of time off to employees, they aren’t taking time. With no structure in place it is likely some employees will take less time instead of more. This could do more harm than good, including but not limited to: employee burnout, extremely unbalanced work-life ratio, stress, poor work product and many other key factors that hinder an employee’s performance.

The Key to Compliance

Kind of sounds like a double-edge sword, right? If you are an employer considering going rogue with your vacation/PTO policy, the best bet is to ensure consistency, set guidelines, and be completely transparent with how it would work.  The rest is up to the employee.