Tuesday, December 29, 2015

ACA Reporting Deadlines Extended

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the IRS!

On Monday, the IRS released this notice extending the deadline for the 1094/1095 series of forms required for ACA reporting of health coverage information for employers and employees. The main points are:

• For furnishing employees with the 2015 Form 1095-B (Health Coverage) and Form 1095-C (Employer Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage), the deadline is extended from Feb. 1, 2016, to March 31, 2016.

• For filing with the IRS the 2015 Form 1094-B (Transmittal of Health Coverage Information Returns), Form 1095-B, Form 1094-C (Transmittal of Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage Information Returns) and Form 1095-C, the deadline is extended from Feb. 29, 2016, to May 31, 2016 if not filing electronically, and from March 31, 2016, to June 30, 2016 if filing electronically. Any employer filing 250 or more forms must do so electronically.

Employers have been seeking filing extensions due to the complexity of the reporting requirements and compiling the data in a way that facilitates the reporting. I guess the IRS was actually listening. Although, it would have been nice if it had come out a little sooner with this extension.

So, you now have a little extra time to get it all together. But remember, the penalties still apply (at least as of today), so don’t let this extension slow you down. "Early" reporting is still encouraged.

Friday, December 18, 2015

HR's Wish List for 2016

It's holiday time!  I thought it would be a good time to resurrect a post from 2 years ago.  It's still relevant and timely.  See you after the holidays!

6 "gifts" HR would love to see under the tree

 Doesn’t everyone have a holiday wish list? We in HR do, too. Here’s a short list of the things my colleagues and I often wish for when we’re sitting around dreaming……

Understanding: For people to realize we’re there to help maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of an organization’s human capital. For the most part, we’re not there to act as employee advocates (at least not exclusively), so people need to stop being offended when we approach an issue from the employer’s perspective.

Don’t shoot the messenger: we’d like senior management (and everyone else, for that matter) to stop thinking we’re too focused on compliance. The ever-increasing legal and regulatory burden placed on business is astounding, and isn’t our fault, so you need to stop "shooting the messenger." Ignoring legal risks won’t make them go away. Ignoring legal risks can sink your business. And just because we care about managing and preventing legal risks doesn’t mean we can’t be effective strategists too. It’d also be nice if managers, supervisors and employees would stop thinking we just sit around and dream up rules and policies for the fun of it. Trust me, it ain’t all that much fun.

We need accountability. Responsible human beings are accountable for their actions and decisions. Responsible supervisors and managers need to be accountable, and be held accountable for their actions and for supporting the mission of their employer. Don’t play the "HR made me do it" game when relating expectations to your employees. Don’t agree with company policy? Fine, discuss it with your manager; but please don’t ignore policies and procedures or employment laws and regulations, and don’t tell your employees to ignore them. If you can’t, or won’t, act as a responsible supervisor or manager, get out of supervising or managing.

For that outdated "warm and fuzzy" stereotype to go away. HR is now seen by many business leaders as a legitimate business discipline as essential as marketing or finance, so it’s time to stop seeing HR as the party planners and baby sitters and start seeing us as the strategic business partners we can be. Speaking of strategic, how about including us in those strategic business discussions instead of just informing us after you’ve all made decisions? How about treating us like the members of senior management you say we are? You might be surprised at what we’re able to add to those conversations. We can be much more useful to business leaders if we’re in the loop from the beginning and have the opportunity to contribute to the discussion. Simply bringing us in to implement what you’ve already decided is short-sighted.

Trust us. For more organizations to trust their HR departments to participate in, and even manage such areas such as business ethics, whistleblowing, corporate governance, employer branding, the use of blogging and social media in a business context, etc. Trust is an issue that comes into play in many areas. If you don’t like a law or regulation, that’s fine. But, just because you don’t like it, don’t assume that what we’re telling you is wrong and continually force us to "prove it". Trust that we’re the professionals you’re paying us to be. Trust that our knowledge and ability to apply that knowledge is solid and will add to the bottom line.

For everyone to remember that we’re human, too. Yep, that’s right. We’re just as much one of those "human resources" as any employee is. We want to know we’re appreciated, that we’re valued and are heard. We make mistakes (and fix them); we work hard and we care about the job we do, and most of us, most of the time, care about the organization for which we work so hard.

I hope your wish list is a bit more fun. Happy Holidays!!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Report: Study on the NLRB’s Attack on Business

The Workforce Freedom Initiative (WFI), a division of the US Chamber of Commerce, has issued a report entitled Theater of the Absurd: The NLRB Takes on the Employee Handbook.

In its introduction, lamenting the relatively recent changes (since about 2009) to the climate and rulings of the NLRB, the report states:

"Unfortunately, in recent years the NLRB has changed. Rather than serving as an impartial referee, it has become dominated by a decidedly pro-union majority. These activist Board members have disregarded the overarching objectives of the NLRA and disrupted the careful balance that the Board has traditionally sought. Instead, this majority, along with the Board’s appointed General Counsel, have pursued a one-sided agenda at the expense of employers and workers."

Bravo! I would go further to say (and I have; most recently here and here) that the current Administration, as well as other regulatory bodies (that really have no business doing so), are actively promoting unionization of U.S. businesses.

The report details many decisions of the NLRB that view common employee handbook rules and policies to be a violation of employees’ Section 7 rights (Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act protects all employees’ rights in regard to unionization and engaging in protected, concerted activity designed to improve wages, hours and other conditions of employment).

"By interpreting the NLRA’s Section 7 protections so broadly, the NLRB has increasingly interfered with employers’ ability to manage their own workplaces, often to the detriment of employees themselves. The result has become a theater of the absurd, in which Board decisions issued by bureaucrats specializing in increasingly abstract theories of labor law run counter to the real-world experiences and necessities of the modern workplace. As a result, the Board’s irrational interpretations of the law have created a serious headache for employers and employees looking for stability and common sense in labor relations."

There have even been decisions of the Board that could put a business right in the cross hairs of other federal agencies:

"Not only does the NLRB’s interpretation of Section 7 rights frustrate employers seeking to manage their workplaces, but in some instances the Board’s views run counter to guidance provided by other enforcement agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That agency addresses issues like workplace harassment and explicitly states that "an anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure should contain, at a minimum … [a]ssurance that the employer will protect the confidentiality of harassment complaints to the extent possible," among other things.

Moreover, employers are required to prevent a hostile work environment, which includes conduct "that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive," such as making threats or intimidating co-workers. Yet the NLRB has ruled that policies ensuring confidentiality for employees in workplace investigations and prohibiting harassment somehow interfere with Section 7 rights. To say the least, the Board’s actions have put businesses in what baseball players call a "pickle," where a base runner is stranded between two bases and very likely to be tagged out by the opposing team. In this case, it’s two powerful government agencies doing the tagging."

Many business people may wonder why the NLRB is focusing so much hostile attention on them. I don’t really think it’s much of a secret. The Chamber poses this suggestion:

"…the Board is using its decisions to assist with future union organizing drives. By charging an otherwise law-abiding employer with unfair labor practices related to the employee handbook, the Board can establish a history of supposed "anti-union animus." In the event of an organizing campaign down the road, the NLRB could use that purported animus to impose restrictions on employer conduct or perhaps even overturn the results of a representation election if the union loses. Whatever the explanation, the Board’s handbook decisions defy common sense and leave employers exasperated."

It is clear to me and many others, that the current Board and this Administration, is willing to do whatever is in their power (or whatever they think they can make their power) to promote unions over business. At the risk of being repetitious, it just doesn’t make sense to me to attack and hamstring the very entities that create jobs and sustain our economy.

This is a particularly interesting and enlightening report; especially if you’re not familiar with the workings and recent moves made by the NLRB that affect your business, unionized or not. While we must all abide by laws and regulations (even those we don’t like), we can also work to change those laws and regulations that make no sense and actually inhibit our ability to run our own businesses. If, like many others, you don’t think these actions by the NLRB and the current Administration are beneficial to you, your business or your employees, contact your elected officials. Work to get them changed or repealed. Just as employees have the right to come together for their own betterment, business has that right also – although it’s becoming harder and harder to exercise that right. The only way things will change is if all of us, in our own capacity, let these bodies know our stance on the issues.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Workplace Violence

It can happen anywhere

**edit added 12/7/15**

In addition to the guide referenced below, DHS also has a YouTube video on this subject:  Options for Consideration Active Shooter Training Video

Violence in the workplace has become a horrible reality in our world. Yesterday’s events in San Bernardino, CA again brought this reality to the fore. While there is so much we still don’t know about this tragedy and why it occurred, whether it was an act of terrorism (either domestic or otherwise) or a disgruntled employee – it still occurred in a workplace.

The sad truth is that I don’t think we can hope to completely prevent these things from occurring. Most experts agree with that sentiment. However, there are some things we can do to prepare ourselves in the event it happens in our workplace.

Some years ago, the Department of Homeland Security prepared a guide to help you and your employees to deal with an active shooter situation. This is a heavy topic, one that will potentially frighten many of your employees (and you, as well), but one that should be addressed. You can find the guide here:

Active Shooter - How to Respond

Some highlights from the guide include having an emergency action plan, conducting training exercises for your employees based on that plan and how to respond to an emergency, as well as advice for HR and Facilities Management personnel to prepare for and manage an active shooter situation. 

A word about training – don’t simply hand out the guide or call an all staff meeting and talk to them. Conduct exercises employees have to actually engage in. Doing will have a bigger and longer lasting learning effect than simply hearing you talk about it. Conduct the training periodically as a refresher and for newer employees hired since the last training.

In a mere 13 pages, this guide is fairly comprehensive and will give you a good plan to being to develop your Emergency Action Plan and help your employees know what they should and shouldn’t do in such a situation.

The U.S. Department of Labor has reported that homicide is the second largest cause of death in the workplace. A U.S. Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey found that nearly 2 million employees are threatened or assaulted at work each year. These statistics include events like robberies that occur at workplaces, as well as incidences of domestic violence spillover, and unbalanced and disgruntled employees attacking co-workers and supervisors. It now will also most likely include acts of terrorism.

Other things you can do:
If you don’t have an Employee Assistance Program – get one. They are relatively inexpensive and can offer you and your employees many resources and support in all types of difficult situations. EAPS can offer assistance before, during and after a workplace violence event.

Consult with your local law enforcement agency. These folks may have community outreach programs or activities to help you assess your workplace and your policies against workplace violence (of any type) and give you further advice on how to handle an incidence of violence.

Be realistic. Don’t assume "it can’t happen here". It can. Recognize this and prepare. You can do this without unnecessarily scaring the heck out of your employees. In fact, some discomfort now may save their lives later.

At the risk of being too depressing and negative there’s something else you need to be realistic about when planning your prevention and response to such acts of violence. At a previous job, we had a lieutenant from our local police department come in and speak to us about workplace violence in general and active shooter situations in particular. One thing she said has stuck with me. She said that we should anticipate that there will be casualties – either injury or death. We had to recognize this and know that while we can do the best we can, we probably won’t be able to save everyone. Very sad, but most likely, very true. Prepare to the degree that we can, but also be realistic and don’t blame ourselves for the horrible actions of people who would perpetrate these crimes.