Newsletter

01

Written by John Allen - President and COO of G&A Partners (with adaptations)

George Washington once said, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” The same could be said about a business being prepared for disaster; it is certainly the most effective way to preserve peace of mind.  In the event of disaster or even a simple hardware failure, would your company’s critical information be secure? It depends on your answer to these questions:

  1. Does your business have processes in place to systematically replicate and secure data that is critical to its ongoing operations?
  2. Does your business house its backup data in a location that is geographically remote from its primary location?
  3. Do multiple employees know how to access the backup data to maintain business operations?

If you answered no to any one of the questions, your company may not be prepared for a disaster. You’re not alone. Many small or midsize companies do not have a fail-safe disaster recovery plan in place, but failing to develop a plan can be costly for you and your business when you consider the less tangible costs that result from business downtime (lost sales, lost customer goodwill, lost productivity, missed contractual obligations, increased costs incurred when attempting to make up these losses).  Having an established recovery plan helps a company quickly recover data and restore normal business operations to minimize potential costs.

In its “Summary of ‘Lessons Learned’ from Events of Sep. 11 and Implications for Business Continuity,” the SEC recommended that businesses operate with two or more widely separated active sites for critical operations so that one provides inherent backup for the other.  The strategy addresses a number of key vulnerabilities, including:

  • Eliminating dependency on availability and relocation of staff;
  • Reducing the likelihood of telecommunications single points of failure;
  • Supporting maximum geographic separation; and
  • Assuring business continuity through actual use rather than infrequent and less-than-complete testing.

Obviously, creating and maintaining redundancies is costly and impractical for many small to midsize businesses. However, partnerships with professional service firms can help to serve the same purpose. Professional Employer Organizations, such as ESG, manage integral administrative functions - including human resources, benefits, and payroll processing for their clients. Subsequently, they can protect certain critical data by housing and maintaining redundant systems and administrative files for clients at a separate geographical location.

Historically, most professional service companies (PEOs, legal firms, accounting agencies) would never consider themselves in the data storage or recovery industry.  Following Sep. 11 and subsequent disasters like Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike, such firms now recognize this as an added benefit they provide their clients.  For more information on how ESG can help protect your company, please contact us at 888-810-8187.

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01

Behavioral-based interviewing is a specific way to interview candidates to get a better predictor for good hires.  The traditional “gut feeling” style typically leads interviewers to choosing candidates they like best, those that interview well, or those that are like themselves; all of which lead to problems for organizations.  Behavioral interviewing is a structured interview strategy based on the fact that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance in similar circumstances.  Typical questions lead off with the phrase, “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of when you…” 

Here is a simple 4-step model from www.stthomas.edu  that will help employers establish an effective behavioral interviewing process:

  1. Step 1 - Analyze the Job
    1. Develop competencies (capabilities and characteristics) that distinguish top performers.
    2. Determine mandatory competencies that you must have from the get-go versus those you can develop after hiring.
  2. Step 2 - Plan the Interview
    1. Choose and prepare for individual or team interviews.
    2. Design directing and probing questions that ask a person to describe an actual past situation and that help outline the candidate’s thought process.  (“Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of when you…”)
  3. Step 3 - Conduct the Interview
    1. Establish rapport and get background information --- keep questions work-related.
    2. Obtain behavioral information on mandatory competencies.  Ask the directing and probing questions.
    3. Describe the position, answer questions.
    4. Sell the position and the organization.
    5. Close the interview.
  4. Step 4 - Evaluate Candidates
    1. Assess the candidate against the mandatory competencies.  How well did the candidate match up to what you’re looking for in an employee?
    2. Document your evaluation and make a decision.

For most positions, the work of defining competencies and developing effective behavioral interviewing questions needs to be done only every few years rather than each time you fill the job.  Performing a quick annual update on the competencies and tweaking the behavioral interview questions is all that is needed.  Taking a little time and effort to prepare adequately will help your organization significantly improve the quality of people hired.  For more information, please contact one of our ESG Human Resources Consultants at 888-810-8187.

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01
Adapted from hr.blr.com

According to attorney Kara Shea, the DOL statistics show that 73% of recent Wage and Hour investigations have resulted in findings of violations.  Employers can push the odds in their favor, however, by double checking their practices of three primary areas that regulators seem to be zeroing in --- before being audited.  Those areas include: Independent Contractors, Off-the-Clock Time, and Exempt Classifications.

Independent Contractors. Slap a label on a person as “Independent Contractor” and that does it, right?  Wrong.  Some employers have been hiring back former employees and classifying them as “consultants.”  Typically these “consultants” are either ignorant to the significance of their classification or simply aren’t bothered by it because they receive benefits through their working spouse.  However, the work they’re doing is exactly what they did as employees --- meaning that if things turn sour, they could sue for owed back pay and overtime because they should have been classified as an employee.  And with the increased enforcement of misclassifying workers, the DOL now shares information with the IRS, who is always anxious to receive uncollected back taxes.

Off-the-Clock Time.  If you offer non-paid meal breaks, pay special attention to whether employees are truly getting their uninterrupted 30 minutes while “off-the clock.”  A classic example is a nurse who is often interrupted during meals by patient needs and emergencies.  If you have employees  on a time keeping system that auto-deducts for meals, you may want to verify that their meal breaks are uninterrupted from work; otherwise,  some of that time should be paid as compensable time worked.  If you insist on having non-paid breaks, you may want to encourage the employees to leave their typical work space (such as going to a break room) to avoid compensable interruptions.

Exemption Status.  According to Shea, regulators are looking closely at exempt employees and whether they truly qualify for exempt status.  Again, simply labeling somebody as exempt doesn’t mean much.  Each case should have the salary and duties tests run to verify qualifying status.  If this is over your head, you may want to consider getting expert help, as penalties can add up quickly.  Some states have common law that allows the courts to look back for up to 6 years to calculate back wage payments.

Take our advice and double check your wage and hour practices to ensure compliance and to avoid costly penalties.  If you need help, please contact one of our ESG Human Resources Consultants at 888-810-8187.

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01
Source: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/11/prweb8954114.htm, original title, “New Surveys Reveal Consumers Taking Charge of their Healthcare Costs with Health Savings Accounts

Employers and consumers alike are adopting Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) as a viable way to manage their health care costs without compromising care, according to two recently released national surveys.  The "2011 Employer and Account Holder Surveys," commissioned by ACS, A Xerox Company, and conducted by Buck Consultants, show a majority of small employers (77 percent) believe that High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP) with an HSA are key in controlling health care costs. Additionally, more than half (56 percent) of account holders have found that their HSA-qualified plan provides an affordable health care option.

"This year's survey results reveal an interesting phenomenon — HSAs are doing more than just saving consumers and employers money. They are prompting a shift in behavior that is helping employees make better decisions about their own health care," said Tom Hricik, principal, The ACS | HSA Solution. The surveys show that HSAs put consumers in the driver's seat when it comes to managing their health services and care. Three-quarters of respondents say the ability to personally control their own health costs is an "extremely" or "very" important benefit of HSAs. Not only are account holders setting aside more money than before they had an HSA to cover potential medical costs (54 percent), but they are also engaging in healthier lifestyle choices (18 percent), researching preventive care programs (18 percent), shopping for lower priced prescription drugs (28 percent), and planning health care better throughout the year (31 percent). Individuals perceive that they consume medical services at approximately the same rate but are shopping for care more than before.

Employers and employees are benefiting from more educated, responsible health and wellness decisions, but the benefits don't end there. HDHPs are less costly to employers for both individual and family coverage. Employers report that the cost of providing HSA-qualified plans is less than the cost of providing a standard Preferred Provider Organization (PPO). The average direct cost to provide an HDHP/HSA is $5,469 for individual coverage and $9,909 for family coverage. In comparison, the average PPO cost is $7,158 for individuals and $10,691 for family.

These positive trends in cost savings and account holder behavior make it easier for employers to continue offering competitive healthcare options for employees, said Hricik. He said surveyed employers are extremely committed to offering employer-sponsored health insurance for the foreseeable future, and are equally committed to retain their HSA-qualified plans. Only 6 percent stated that they are at least very likely to discontinue offering the HSA-qualified plan in the future. And, only 7 percent of employers stated they would be at least very likely to move employees to future health care exchanges.

For more information about Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), or to learn how to obtain HSAs for your employees, please contact one of our ESG Human Resources Consultants at 888-810-8187.

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01
Adapted from “Retaining Employees: 5 Affordable Ways to Boost Employee Loyalty,” www.reliabilityweb.com

Do more with less; sound familiar?  In today’s economy, this is typical of many organizations’ platforms.  It’s not that employers want to shaft their people; they just can’t afford to pay them the big bonuses and raises they deserve when they’re battling for survival.  But it’s not the money that speaks when it comes to retention; it’s appreciation, respect, and love.  

According to Todd Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011), you don’t need an extra penny to show your employees how much you appreciate and care about them.  So how do you make your organization a happy place to work?  “Show the love” with these five strategies that say “thanks for a job well done!” to any employee, any time:
  1. Send “love” notes. Similar to thanking someone with a thank-you card after receiving a gift, send your employee a handwritten (not typed!) note with your sincere appreciation and admiration.  It will only take about five minutes of your time and will have a lasting impression on your employee.  This will increase respect among your team and encourage a positive atmosphere where they will likewise say “thank you” more often to their peers.
  2. Distribute inspiration. There are plenty of modern shows that illustrate work as a place of obligation, boredom, and even drudgery --- a far cry from inspiration and rejuvenation.  “If you run across a quotation or story that inspires you, don’t keep it to yourself—pass it along to an employee, and perhaps, if appropriate, also mention that the quote or anecdote reminded you of him and his great attitude,” suggests Patkin.
  3. Tell success stories. "Praise in public as ‘loudly as possible,’ and, conversely, criticize only in private!"  Even employees who brush off praise or downplay their achievements love to be recognized and complimented. “When I was at Autopart International and I saw that one of my people did something noteworthy, I made sure that everyone else knew about it by sending the story about her accomplishment around in an email to the entire chain,” Patkin recalls. “I could literally see the glow on the highlighted employee’s face for weeks, and I also noticed that many of the other team members now worked even harder too in order to earn a write-up themselves."  Just remember to reward the behavior or achievements you want to see more of such as an employee taking proactive steps to prevent a customer error or improve internal processes.  If you recognize the person who is a good “fire fighter,” you just may create more fires in the future.
  4. Identify stars.  Some employees may roll their eyes over “Employee of the Week/Month” programs, but nobody is going to turn down the honor.  Spotlight these employees in your company newsletter, outlining their profiles and lauding them for professional achievements, as well as their great personal qualities.  People love to read their own personalized recognitions and it motivates others to work even harder to earn their spot on the pages.
  5. Make it a family affair. Engage your employees’ families whenever possible when praising them.  This type of validation will be remembered far longer than any bonus (really!).  Call the employee’s family and try to leave a message, praising the employee for his efforts and accomplishments, and encourage the family to praise him, as well.  “Years later,” says Patkin, “many employees whose families received these phone calls told me that although they didn’t remember how much their bonus checks were for that year, that extra-special homecoming was still clearly etched in their memories.”
“Trust me, showing people love, appreciation, and respect trump money just about every time when it comes to building long-term motivation and boosting employee morale and loyalty,” concludes Patkin.   For more ideas on retaining top employees, please contact one of our ESG Human Resources Consultants at 888-810-8187.

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01
Perhaps you’ve forgotten to return a call or two in your lifetime. Most of us have. According to a recent case (Hofferica v. St. Mary Medical Center), employers should be extremely cautious if that “forgotten” phone call is not returning messages to an employee out on FMLA. In this particular case, several unreturned phone calls led to a claim of FMLA retaliation – and, since the communication was clearly a one-way street for the plaintiff, the court agreed.

Kathleen Hofferica had been working as a registered nurse when she was granted intermittent FMLA leave for an inner ear disorder. Due to the necessary treatment, she had to take extended FMLA leave. She left multiple messages with her supervisor throughout the treatment process, updating on her condition – but those messages were never returned.

When Hofferica’s FMLA leave was nearly exhausted, her doctor requested she take one more week before returning to her position to fully recover. She submitted a certification to request a one-week extension to her FMLA leave but never heard back from her manager. Instead, she received a letter saying she was fired, as she had not returned to work after the agreed amount of FMLA had been exhausted. Hofferica sued, claiming the hospital had retaliated against her for taking leave.

After examining the evidence, the court agreed. The judge wrote that the manager’s “failure to return phone calls … certainly suggests an antagonistic attitude toward the employee, particularly where - as here - such refusal began after the employee initiated FMLA leave, and continued despite regular communications from the employee.”

The takeaway? Stay in contact with employees out on extended leave, no matter what type of leave. This is a best practice to not only allow the company to make appropriate staffing plans, but also to help the employee stay in the loop about the workplace, remain engaged about work, and to avoid any kind of mistreatment. Any manager found to be continuously ignoring phone messages from employees should be called on the carpet, as that type of behavior is clearly negligence or an act of hostility.

For more information, please contact one of our ESG Human Resources Consultants at 888-810-8187.

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