HR Elements November 2014
Ideas and Information for Human Resources Professionals

An Excluded Employee Is A Potentially Dangerous Employee

There’s a certain camaraderie between most employees. It’s that team spirit that enables departments within companies to do more than they could if everyone performed their duties individually. Unfortunately, there are employees who feel they are being excluded -- whether intentionally, unintentionally, or simply imagined by the employee -- and that can cause them to act out in ways that may negatively affect an organization.

In extreme cases, an employee who is disgruntled due to exclusion may purposely sabotage projects, harass coworkers, steal from the company and, at their worst, threaten or become violent. Less extreme cases are also destructive and have a negative impact on the company due to poor morale or the undermining of productivity.

At some point, an employee may feel “disconnected” from their work and that can lead to feelings of being undervalued, being mistreated, or being disliked by a supervisor and/or coworkers. Often, this results in a mentality of “the company owes me” or other entitlement whereby the employee may lie on an expense report. An excluded employee may also falsify progress reports or other documents to try to make himself or herself look better and deflect any criticisms.

A good and alert HR person or department should quickly correct this behavior by adding the important components of engagement, inspiration, and respect. If employees feel valued, then they are more likely to view where they work as “our company” versus “the company.”

An article in Human Resource Executive Online titled, Beware the Excluded Employee, states that this relatively minor semantic difference is important. Employees who do negative or unethical things in the office usually rationalize their actions and convince themselves that it’s okay. The article calls these people “injustice collectors” due to their feelings of entitlement. A favorite phrase of these employees is “it’s not fair.”

Sometimes, a person’s natural behavior and personality will make others go out of their way to avoid them. These employees may be narcissistic or anti-social and being excluded will only magnify their negativity toward their workplace.

Unfortunately, in today’s global workforce, the HR department’s ability to achieve employee engagement can be hampered by diverse cultural needs, perspectives and expectations. This is a major challenge to overcome, yet a rewarding one in terms of creating conditions where employees not only appreciate each other, but learn from one another.


Sign Here ... and Here ... and Here ...

If anyone has ever had to sign a contract of any kind, then they know how often it requires a signature - often on multiple pages. In the hiring and onboarding process, this means that valuable time and money are wasted waiting on those signed documents. Enter the electronic signature.

Obviously, technology companies are leading the way in using electronic signatures to increase hiring efficiency. However, other industries are starting to realize the time and money they could save when recruiting talent.

In an article titled, Electronic Signatures Gaining Ground In Hiring, Onboarding Process, in Employee Benefit News, it referenced that a wide range of companies are using electronic signatures, including those in higher education, financial services, and health care.

There are many reasons why companies are embracing this emerging technology.  For one, top talent doesn't stay in the job market for long. If a company is still using a fax, or worse, an overnight envelope to shuttle hiring documents from the candidate to the company, then a faster competitor could move in during the hiring process and lure this potential employee away with a more lucrative offer.  Another reason is that in addition to the extra time the old methods take, they also cost companies money in terms of personnel needed to process the back and forth of these documents. While hiring may not be the primary goal for the need to be more efficient, any task that requires a signed document can probably be done faster and cheaper with an electronic signature.

As companies are looking to become more operationally efficient, electronic signatures are a great way to ease the burden of needless paperwork.


Ergonomics -- It’s Not Just For The Office

While someone might not know it when they see it, ergonomics is the science of designing and arranging things so that people can interact with them efficiently and safely. It's also called biotechnology, human engineering, and human factors. So why should anyone care?

When a workspace -- whether that's an office, home office, vehicle, etc. -- doesn't allow an individual to work easily, efficiently, and safely, it can cause all sorts of problems, from reduced production to serious injuries. Most people can recognize when something just "fits" like a well-tailored piece of clothing or a car where the seats are comfortable and all the buttons are perfectly placed. Likewise, when something seems a little off, it adds a level of discomfort. Maybe it's a desk that's too high or low or a chair that hurts your back if you sit in it too long.

In an article in SHRM titled, Don't Forget Ergonomics Away from the Office, the author urges everyone to evaluate where they work and adjust their ergonomic situation accordingly. The most common injuries are repetitive strain injuries caused by constantly performing tasks in awkward and uncomfortable positions. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), these types of injuries affect nearly two million workers every year.

To help maintain proper ergonomics while working on a computer, OSHA has developed a checklist that can assist in creating a safe and comfortable workstation. Most of their recommendations are simple and straightforward, but it's not enough to know what's best, a person also needs to do what's best if they are to adhere to proper ergonomics. This is especially true when traveling.

While an office setting can often be easily adjusted for the best ergonomics, hotel rooms are notoriously terrible. However, that's still no excuse not to make things better. Phone books can be used to sit higher and pillows can be placed in a chair for proper back support. Also, always use a laptop on a table or desk - never actually use it on your lap.

Speaking of laptops, it's important to note that these were designed for portability and convenience; they were never meant to be ergonomic. But by using an external keyboard and mouse, adjusting for posture along with proper head, torso, and wrist placement, it's a much better and more ergonomic way to work versus being hunched over. Also, and especially for those who travel, people need to discipline themselves into a routine of good ergonomic behavior. Rationalizing that "it's only for one day" is enough to cause an unnecessary injury.

By practicing and reinforcing these actions, a person will develop solid components for the best possible ergonomics. This, in turn, will help lead to happier, healthier bodies.


Can Employers Assist Employees with Premiums for Individual Plans?

By Carol Taylor, Employee Benefit Advisor
D&S Agency
A UBA Partner Firm

On November 6, 2014, the collective Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor (DOL) and the Treasury released three Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) directed at employer payment plans for the purchase of individual insurance. While the departments had previously released several other pieces of guidance about these arrangements, this latest round exclaimed an emphatic no!

The other releases on the topic started well over a year ago. However, there are still agents and administrators who have insisted that either Section 125 (Cafeteria Plans) or Section 105 (Reimbursement Arrangements) of the IRS code allowed employers to deduct premiums in a pretax manner or reimburse for individual premiums. Several of the administrators touting these plans even went as far as claiming they were so confident in their interpretation of the regulations, that they would pay any fines incurred because of their advice that these plans were compliant. This latest round of clarification was a resounding comply or pay fines.

Any employer payment that provides cash reimbursement for the purchase of an individual market policy is not compliant with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), whether the employer treats the money as pretax or post-tax to the employee. It is interesting to note that the latter provision has not been present in other regulatory releases, but is new with this round. While it is not clear at the moment how that would apply, a post-tax amount would put the insured in a precarious position, subject to fines and payback of subsidies on their own, since the additional income could lower the subsidy that they would otherwise qualify for, without the assistance from the employer.

Likewise, if a Section 105 reimbursement plan is set up for the purchase of individual policies, these plans are deemed noncompliant. The basis for this determination is the employer's involvement in the plan -- even though they may not have assisted the individual with their plan selection, they are still taking part by contributing cash for the policy purchase.

Another question delves into compensating employees that have a high claims risk to enroll in a Marketplace plan versus joining the group health plan offered by the employer. This scenario involves other factors that are prohibited, such as discriminating due to a health factor and eligibility rule discrimination. These plans also fail due to the employer-provided payment for purchase of an individual plan.

In all of these scenarios, since they would be deemed a group health plan, they would be subject to the market reforms such as unlimited lifetime maximum benefits, preventive care coverage at no cost share and other aspects of the law. This could also open the door for lawsuits against the employer if the individual policy failed to pay a claim for the insured.

The FAQs reference the fines that would apply in these instances under Internal Revenue Code Section 4980D. In the May 2014 release from the IRS, they spelled out the excise fines as $100 per day, per employee or $36,500 annually. However, these fines are an excise tax in the amount of $100 per day with respect to each individual to whom such failure relates. So, if the employer were to contribute to dependents' coverage, the fines would also be incurred for each dependent per day, in addition to the employee.

It is always best to get a plan into compliance as quickly as possible. With many of these having been put into place earlier this year, there is still time to correct at least part, but not all, of the issues. Speak with your tax counsel as quickly as possible to get your plans into compliance. Your local United Benefit Advisors office, with its vast compliance resources, can also assist you with these issues.

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 In This Edition


Employee Handbooks -- Do's and Don'ts

Tuesday, December 9, 2014
2:00 p.m. ET / 11:00 a.m. PT

An employee handbook can be a great tool to orient new employees and to communicate key policies to both new and current employees. A good handbook will help to establish consistent practices, offer guidance to employees and managers and provide the employer with significant help against labor and employment litigation.  A poorly written or out-of-date handbook can hurt more than it helps, though.  Join us for this 75-minute intermediate level webinar to learn:

  • Why every company should have an employee handbook
  • How to develop an effective employee handbook
  • What policies should you include in your handbook
  • What you should leave out of your handbook
  • The proper language to use to keep you out of trouble
  • Best practices for communicating and distributing your handbook
  • How to communicate your policies
  • When and how to revise policies

Register here for the webinar. The presentation slides will be posted on the UBA website the day before the webinar.

About the Presenter:
Kristina H. Vaquera is a Shareholder in the Norfolk, Virginia, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Ms. Vaquera’s practice focuses exclusively on labor and employment counseling and litigation. She represents employers in federal and state court lawsuits and agency investigations and charges covering a wide range of statutes and subjects, including anti-discrimination and civil rights laws, wrongful termination claims, wage and hour laws, covenants not to compete, leave of absence claims, negligent hire/retention, and breaches of fiduciary duty and contract. Ms. Vaquera has litigated class and collective actions, including FLSA, FCRA, and discrimination class actions. She also represents clients in mediation and arbitration before various national and state entities. As part of Ms. Vaquera’s counseling practice, she assists clients with employment agreements, handbooks, background checks and drug testing issues, and disciplinary action.


IRS Ups Retirement Contribution Levels

Due to cost-of-living adjustments, the IRS made a welcome announcement that, starting in 2015, it will allow people to add a little more to their retirement plans. Employees with 401(k) plans may now contribute up to $18,000 -- an increase of $500. This increase also applies to people who have 403(b) plans, most 457 plans and participants in the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan. Catch-up levels also increased from $5,500 to $6,000 for people who are age 50 and over if they're participating in these same plans.

By allowing people to save more money, the IRS has essentially boosted the retirement system for everyone. For those who already have a plan, these increased limits may provide a little more peace of mind that they will be able to save enough for retirement or allow them to catch up faster if they've been lagging in their contributions. For people currently in the workforce who haven't started a retirement account yet, these increased limits might just be the necessary incentive to motivate them to build assets and accumulate wealth.

But those aren't the only changes! There were an extensive number of contribution and compensation adjustments in the IRS announcement. Each change is clearly stated in bullet point form and can be viewed on the IRS website.

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