Are You Due for a Sabbatical?

Introduction Contributed by Kara Whittaker, Ghergich & Co. https://ghergich.com/   Kara@Ghergich.com

There’s a crisis in the American workplace, but it’s probably not what you think it is. We’re not taking our vacation time, and it’s leading to all sorts of unproductive, cranky, stressed-out employees. And that, we all know, isn’t good for business.
Employees not taking vacation time is not a small problem, either. In fact, the trend keeps going up—we keep taking less and less of what we’re owed—to the tune of over 660 million days left on the table, every year. If you’re one of those employees that keeps ignoring your vacation (or even if you’re not), then you might want to consider a radical approach to hitting that reset button: a sabbatical.
Many people are familiar with a sabbatical in the academic world; it’s a chance for academics to pursue a rigorous research idea and do so without having to teach class. But the same notion can be used in the workplace, even if it’s just for a few weeks or months. Here’s what to know about it – https://www.discover.com/personal-loans/resources/major-expenses/sabbatical/

you_may_be_due_for_a_sabbatical_and_not_even_know_it

5 Considerations on Bereavement and Funeral Leave

Recently we recorded an Upstate HR Podcast episode discussing bereavement and funeral leave policies within organizations and concerns with not enough time or inconsistencies.  In the unfortunate event an employee needs to use leave for bereavement or funeral leave, organizations need to have policies and processes in place that ensure consistency throughout the workforce.  As family relationships have evolved, so to should our policies and procedures.

The 5 considerations on bereavement and funeral leave:

  1. Notification Process: If an employee needs to take time off for leave, who should they notify and what is the process for approving the time? Should the employee contact their supervisor or the human resources department?  Does the supervisor contact a manager or the human resources department?  Email, phone, text message, etc.? More than likely the employee will notify their supervisor, but we need to outline the processes in the policy.
  2. Extended Leave: Will we grant extended leave for an employee who needs additional time to cope with the loss or coordinate family affairs? Can the employee use PTO and/or vacation time?  Remember, there might be legal issues, funeral planning, estate meetings, etc. that an employee must deal with in relation to the loss.  Situations will vary.  If the death happens in the winter, will we allow time off in the spring for the burial? These are areas we don’t usually consider but need to recognize.  Most organizations are lenient with granting additional time off, but we should outline it in the policy.
  3. Paid Bereavement Leave: This will vary by organization. Organizations might grant unlimited leave to cope with a loss.  Other organizations have a set number of days based on the relationship in the family.  Below is a simple draft outline to consider as part of your leave policy:
    1. “Employees are allowed up to four consecutive days off from regularly scheduled duty with regular pay in the event of the death of the employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, stepchild, parent, stepparent, father-in-law, mother, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or an adult who stood in loco parentis to the employee during childhood.
    2. Employees are allowed one day off from regular scheduled duty with regular pay in the event of death of the employee’s brother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt, uncle, grandparent, grandchild or spouse’s grandparent.
    3. Employees are allowed up to four hours of bereavement leave to attend the funeral of a fellow regular employee or retiree of the company, provided such absence from duty will not interfere with normal operations of the company.”[i]

Relationships in families vary, the policy needs to be flexible, but consistent.  Ensure you are providing the needed time off for the workforce.

  1. Providing Documentation: Organizations I have worked for in the past have required notice if an employee does ask for bereavement and funeral leave. We have requested obituary notices; newspaper or website and employees have returned with copies of the funeral documentation.  Unfortunately, I have seen employees abuse leave and lie about their need for bereavement leave.  If you do require documentation, ensure you are doing so consistently.
  2. Pay Policy: “Bereavement pay is calculated based on the base pay rate at the time of absence, and it will not include any special forms of compensation, such as incentives, commissions, bonuses, overtime or shift differentials.”[ii] Policies will vary; this sentence is short and covers the details.

The loss of a loved one is challenging for anyone.  The organizational policies are necessary, but showing compassion and understanding is the most important thing we can do for our workforce.  Remember to offer Employee Assistance (EAP) to any employee that is struggling with the loss, as these services provide additional support for our employees and their families.  Be consistent and flexible with the policies.  Ensure that the policy is reviewed and updated.  As always, remember to seek guidance if you need assistance reviewing and updating all policies.

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/policies/pages/cms_006397.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/policies/pages/cms_006397.aspx

-Matthew W. Burr

2018 Employee Handbook Changes, IRS Mileage Rate and Labor Poster Updates

A new year brings new changes to our organizations, employment relationships, laws, regulations, handbooks and policies.  As more states continue to pass state specific legislation, we need to ensure that our handbooks and labor posters are updated accordingly.

 Below are 5 areas to watch related to employee handbooks:

  1. Workplace Conduct and Social Media: Under the new administration, we could see more flexibility in social media policies (pro-employer).  Social media is a concern in many organizations, ensure that your policy is legal, up-to-date and not overreaching.
  2. Arbitration Agreements: There are multiple lawsuits in federal courts related to employer arbitration agreements.  These decisions can impact our organizations.  I have not implemented arbitration agreements.  However, they are growing in popularity.
  3. Sexual Harassment/Harassment Policies: This speaks for itself.  California and Maine have modified their current laws related to sexual harassment, we could see significant changes in New York State, as stated by the Governor recently.  Ensure that there is a zero-tolerance and retaliation policies in place, and all employees are trained on current policies and procedures.  Organizations need to be proactive and not reactive to issues.
  4. Parental Leave: Paid Family Leave was effective January 1, 2018. Ensure that you have updated policies and handbook language to reflect this significant legislative change.  The state has a website full of information to utilize as we move forward in 2018.

PFL Resource Page

Model Language for Employer Material

  1. Disability and Other Accommodations: Review language related to the ADA, FMLA and medical marijuana.  Medical marijuana law(s) continues to evolve.  “In 2017, several courts ruled that registered medical marijuana users who were fired or passed over for jobs because of their medicinal use could bring claims under state disability laws.”[i]

As laws continue to evolve, now is the time to review handbooks, policies and procedures.  If you are unclear on a path-forward or what to look for, seek guidance.  Do not assume a Google search will provide legal and accurate information, draft handbook language or valid training material.

2018 IRS Mileage Rate:

“Beginning on Jan. 1, 2018, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also a van, pickup or panel truck) will be:

  • 5 cents for every mile of business travel driven, up 1 cent from the rate for 2017.
  • 18 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, up 1 cent from the rate for 2017.
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations, unchanged from 2017.”[ii]

Notice 2018-03

Mandatory State Labor Law Poster Changes Effective January 2018:

  • Alaska— Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Arizona— Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • California— Transgender Rights, effective Jan. 1, 2018, Discrimination, Jan. 1, 2018
  • Colorado— Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Florida — Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Hawaii — Wage and Hour Laws, effective July 10, 2017, OSHA, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Maine — Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Minnesota– Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Missouri— Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Montana— Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Nevada — Rules to Observed by Employers, effective July 1, 2017
  • New Jersey— Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • New York— Minimum Wage, effective Dec. 31, 2017
  • North Carolina — Wage and Hour Notice to Employees, effective Dec. 31, 2017
  • Ohio— Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Rhode Island — Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • South Dakota — Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Vermont— Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnancy, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Washington— Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018, Your Rights as a Worker, Jan. 1,2018

[i] https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/5-Employee-Handbook-Issues-to-Watch-in-2018.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/benefits/Pages/2018-standard-mileage-rate.aspx

As always-if you feel uncertain or want an extra set of eyes, finding a consultant or strategic legal partner is a good idea. For more information about these subjects, click on the links here or reach out to schedule a meeting and consultation.

-Matthew W. Burr

4 Updates IRS Deadline to Supply ACA Forms to Employees

In late December 2017, the IRS announced an extension for employer’s providing Affordable Care Act forms to employee’s.  As the future of the Affordable Care Act is still undecided, employers should be proactive in distributing and communicating information to the workforce.

Below are 4 updates for the ACA:

  1. Extension: The IRS extended the date to March 2, 2018 to distribute the 2017 forms to employees.  This is a 30-day extension to the regularly scheduled date of late January 2018.
  2. Penalty: “The IRS, which announced the extension December 22 in Notice 2018-06, also said it will not impose penalties on employers that can show that they made good-faith efforts to comply with the Affordable Car Act’s (ACA’s) information reporting requirements for plan year 2017.”[1]

Notice 2018-06

Information Reporting Requirements for Plan Year 2017

  1. IRS Filing Deadline: The due dates for filing 2017 returns with the IRS is not extended.  The due dates to file information returns with the IRS remain; February 28 paper filers and April 2 electronic filers.
  2. The Future and Beyond: “Although this is the third year that the IRS has granted transition relief for reporting, the notice states significantly that the IRS does not anticipate granting transition relief for 2018 or future years,” Jost pointed out. “This statement highlights the fact that, although the individual mandate penalty is repealed as of 2019, the reporting requirements that support it, as well as the employer mandate, remain in effect.”[2]

Affordable Care Act (ACA) Tax Provisions

Form 1095-B

Form 1095-C

As leader’s, we must be proactive in approaching the Affordable Care Act’s current and future legislation.  As the individual mandate penalty is repealed, the healthcare law is still the law of the land, for now.  Continue to watch for more changes in 2018 and 2019.  The ACA is complex, seek guidance if you are unclear on a path-forward.

Below is a link to the NYS Paid Family Leave Resources:

NYS Paid Family Leave Employer Webinar

PFL Resource Page

Model Language for Employer Material

[1] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/irs-extends-aca-form-distribution-deadline.aspx

[2] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/irs-extends-aca-form-distribution-deadline.aspx

5 Suggestions on Work-Life Balance

Many of us have vacation and time off scheduled throughout the holiday season.  Now as we enter into the mid-point of January, we strive to continue thinking about 2018 goals and objectives.  For many, finding the balance between our professional and personal commitments is an ongoing struggle. A few weeks ago, I discussed work-life balance in a leadership development training and reinforced the importance of prioritizing the balance.

Consider these 5 thoughts on work-life balance:

  1. Keep Non-Work Commitments: This is an important piece of prioritization and self-accountability.  Continue to keep non-work commitments and take the time to enjoy the events.  It is not always easy to do so.  However, it is necessary to avoid burnout from work and not enjoying friends, family, volunteering, etc.
  2. Take Vacation Time: Vacation is a perk that most organizations offer to employees.  It is there for a reason, to ensure all of us have time off and take the necessary time to refresh and reset from the stresses of work.  As leaders, we don’t always see the value in taking vacation or time off.  Set the example for your workforce and scheduled time off and avoid working during the vacation.  If possible, leave the electronics at home or avoid answering emails.  I’m the last person to give advice on this, but shutting it down is mentally refreshing.
  3. Learn to Shut It Off: This is reflecting the advice in thought #2, shut off the electronics but also shut down the thought(s) of work.  I know this isn’t easy for any of us to do. Leave work at work and focus on having fun and relaxing while you are on vacation or taking a few days off.
  4. Use Your Calendar: We all have hectic schedules, filled with meetings and commitments. Block time on your calendar to ensure you have the necessary work-life balance.  I have found in my schedule, if it is written down or on my calendar, the more likely I will commit to the balance.  Learning to prioritize plays a major role in blocking time and committing to the balance.
  5. Mental and Physical Fitness: Stress is all around us. Ensuring we are taking care of ourselves mentally and physically is necessary.  Schedule time to go to the gym, take a walk at lunch or meditate.  I workout early in the morning, I’ve found that it’s the best way to start the day.  When I don’t workout it does have an impact on my day.  Find the formula and routine that works for best for you.  Change is hard, but necessary.

As I explained to the the leadership group I met with those weeks ago; I am the last person that should be giving advice on work-life balance.  However, I recognize the importance of work-life balance and am making the necessary changes to ensure there is a balance and time to shut it down.  Commit to making the change(s) in 2018 and make it a priority.  Goal setting is a great start.  Let’s all meet our goals in 2018-one step at a time!

6 Suggestions on a Successful Holiday Party

As the holidays are quickly approaching, many organizations will be holding annual holiday parties for their workforce, vendors, and families.  As leaders, we need to ensure the holiday party is successful, safe, enjoyable and a memorable event for everyone.  Any company sponsored holiday parties are still work-related functions and policies are still in place.

Below are 6 suggestions on a successful holiday party:

  1. Voluntary Attendance: Make attendance at the party voluntary, and do not suggest that attendance will benefit a person’s standing within the company. Mandatory participation sets a negative tone for the event, and purpose for the celebration.
  2. Dress Code: Enforce the organizations dress code at the party and remind all employees prior to the event of the dress code and continued expectations of the organization.
  3. Harassment Policies: Remind employees that this is a company event and the policies and procedures about harassing behavior will be enforced.  This policy should also be communicated prior to all events.
  4. Alcohol: Limit the number of alcoholic drinks and/or the length of time during which alcoholic beverages will be served. Provide a variety of non-alcoholic alternatives and plenty of food.  Communicate expectations clearly to all employees to ensure no over indulgence in alcohol during the event.
  5. Smoking: Smoking is not permitted within the party site (in most buildings). Provide and communicate the designated smoking area(s) for smokers.
  6. Gift Giving: Ensure that you communicate gift giving expectations prior to the holiday event. “The organization may have lottery door prizes available and we do not encourage, but will permit gift giving at the party.  Gifts should not be obscene, offensive or of a sexually explicit nature.”[i]

These are just a few suggestions to ensure a successful, safe, memorable and enjoyable holiday party.  Proactive communication and planning will ensure the workforce, family members, friends, and vendors enjoy the event.  This is a time to celebrate and relax.  As leaders, we set the tone.  Proactively communicate expectations and thank everyone for a successful gathering.

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-forms/pages/cms_020341.aspx

 

7 Updates for New York State Paid Family Leave

New York State has communicated new forms that pertain to the upcoming January 1, 2018 roll-out of the Paid Family Leave, which will impact most employers throughout the state.  Below are links to the six forms that have recently been released from the state and more information on PFL tax withholding’s for employees.

Form Overview Page

  1. Employee Paid Family Leave Opt-Out: If an employee does not expect to work long enough to qualify for Paid Family Leave (a seasonal worker, for example), the employee may opt out of Paid Family Leave by completing the Waiver of Benefits Form.
  2. Bond with a Newborn, a Newly Adopted or Fostered Child: Employee is requesting Paid Family Leave to take time off to bond with a newly born, adopted or fostered child.
  3. Care for a Family Member with Serious Health Condition: Employee is requesting Paid Family Leave to take time off to care for a family member with a serious health condition.
  4. Assist Families in Connection with a Military Deployment: Employee is requesting Paid Family Leave to help relieve family pressures when someone is called to active military service abroad.
  5. Employer’s Application for Voluntary Coverage (No Employee Contribution): Employers exempt from providing mandatory Paid Family Leave may provide voluntary Paid Family Leave by completing PFL-135 (if no employee contribution is required).
  6. Employer’s Application for Voluntary Coverage (Employee Contribution Required): Employers exempt from providing mandatory Paid Family Leave may provide voluntary Paid Family Leave by completing PFL-136 (if they will be requiring an employee contribution).
  7. Tax Information: Benefits paid to employees will be taxable non-wage income that must be included in federal gross income, taxes will not automatically be withheld from benefits; employees can request tax withholding, premiums will be deducted from employees’’ after-tax wages, employers should report employee contributions on Form W-2 using Box 14 – State disability insurance taxes withheld and benefits should be reported by the State Insurance Fund on form 1099-G and by all other payers on Form 1099-MISC.

We will continue to see updates from the state on forms and potential policy changes to Paid Family Leave as the year comes to a close.  Continue to monitor for changes in policy and statewide communications.  Work with your payroll and disability providers to ensure that deductions start on or before January 1, 2018.  Be proactive in your communications with employees and ensure that policy, handbook and labor posters are up-to-date for the new year.  If you have questions regarding New York State Paid Family Leave, seek guidance on the processes and procedures.  This is a significant change at the state level, and it will impact most employers and employees in 2018.

 

5 Elements of Due Process

As organizational leaders, we have the complex task of managing the workforce, coaching and counseling, disciplining, and at times, discharging employees.  Conflict resolution is never easy, but necessary, for the workforce, employee morale and the organization.  Avoiding difficult discussions or not addressing employee relations issues, can and will impact the organization.  We need to be consistent and fair for all employees, while providing a due process for discipline to potential discharge.

Below are 5 elements of due process:

  1. Expectations and Consequences: Communicating expectations, consequences and performance standards to the employee or workforce is the first step in the process.  The write-up should document a performance problem, consequences of not meeting expectations and all metrics associated with the performance problem.  Follow-up dates and action items are great to include in the first step.
  2. Consistency: We need to treat all workers with consistent and fair rules.  If we discipline one employee for a performance issue, all employees with the same issue should be disciplined.  Inconsistent practices can lead to legal issues, employee moral issues, turnover and internal conflict.
  3. The Discipline Must be Appropriate for the Offense: Review the “big picture” prior to making a decision on discipline and probable cause for termination.
  4. Employee Response: The employee should be given the opportunity to respond during any investigation or administration of discipline.
  5. Time to Improve Performance: If your organization is using progressive discipline, we do need to allow the employee time to improve performance.  However, certain situations will dictate decisions regarding performance improvement plans and immediate termination.  These situations need to be consistent and fair, throughout the organization.

Coaching and counseling, disciplining or terminating an employee is never an easy decision, but one that is necessary for the organization and rest of the workforce to grow and succeed.  The definition of due process is an area we should design our policies and procedures around.  Remember, as the employer, you have the right to change the policies.  We need to ensure we communicate the changes to the workforce.  Also, keep in mind Employment-At-Will doctrine, laws and regulations.  This can vary, state to state and union versus non-union employers.  Seek guidance if you need assistance on coaching, counseling, disciplining or terminating an employee.  How we communicate the action/decision can have an impact.

5 Steps for a Successful Open Enrollment Period

During the months of October and November, employers annually conduct open enrollment sessions for employees and family members. These informational sessions, communicate upcoming benefit changes, new costs and any other relevant information that will impact the employee or employees family. The open enrollment sessions also provide an opportunity for the employee and/or significant other to ask questions regarding benefits and costs. SHRM published, “6 Simple Ways to Improve Open Enrollment,” in August 2017. Additional information or resource material, will be helpful to us as leaders and to our employees who need the information to make the best decision for themselves and their families, related to benefits.
Below are 5 steps for a successful open enrollment period:

1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare: Generate and disseminate information prior to open enrollment meetings. This will provide employees with the opportunity to review the information prior to the open enrollment sessions. Ensure that the information is communicated through the proper organizational channels and it is easy to understand. Do not make benefit information over complex or complicated. Develop a frequently asked questions sheet that will provide assistance to employees when thinking about questions and possible solutions. We cannot cover every questions, this format will help generate thought and answers.

2. Focus on the Employees: This step encompasses step #1, in that we need to prepare information for the workforce that is relevant and timely. Knowing your employees will add value to focusing on specific tools and resources for the open enrollment process.

3. Identify Needs: “Review the results of previous years’ open enrollment efforts to make sure the process and the perks remain relevant and useful to workers.” Do you send out a survey asking for feedback from last year’s open enrollment? What are the demographics of the workforce? Do you have metrics associated with benefit usage?

4. All Available Resources: Are we utilizing all the available resources inside and outside of the organization? Is the marketing department to develop material and communications? Are we partnering with brokers, insurance carrier and vendors to provide sufficient resources during the open enrollment process? Are we communicating all information? Remember NYS Paid Family Leave. Be creative. If you were in the employee’s shoes, what resources would add value and engagement throughout the enrollment process? Don’t assume that the carrier will say no, if you never ask, you will not know the answer.

5. Spouses Involvement: Many organizations provide the opportunity for spouses and domestic partners to be involved in the open enrollment process. Meeting times might need to be changed from day to night or weekend sessions. Other options could be webinars or one-on-one meetings. Involving the spouse will generate more questions and continued engagement.

Open enrollment can be a complex and confusing process for any employee. As leadership, we need to be aware of the needs of our workforce and find proactive solutions to manage and communicate these complexities. “Benefits enrollment strategies are always evolving. What worked last year may not be relevant this year. But you can’t go wrong putting employee’s needs first.” If it was you, what questions would you have during open enrollment?

– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

Matthew@Burrconultingllc.com

Burr Consulting, LLC

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Personnel Records Request in New York State & Paid Family Leave Letter Correction

Occasionally, an employee will request access to their personnel file during the employment relationship or after departing from the organization.  What are our legal obligations in providing this information to current or former employees?  There is currently, “no federal law that requires private employers to provide employees access to their personnel files, but there are many state laws that do grant access.”[i]  The answer varies, based on state specific laws and regulations.  What does that mean for employers in New York State?  Currently there is no law in New York State which permits an employee to examine his or her personnel file.  There is currently an amendment in the New York State Senate to provide public and private employees the right to review personnel files, the bill is in Committee and was proposed initially 2013-2014 and is now being proposed again in 2017-2018.  However, Pennsylvania allows an employee to inspect certain information from their own personnel files maintained by an employer.  Below are websites for New York State, Pennsylvania and the Society of Human Resources Management:

NY State Worker’s Rights Frequently Asked Questions

Senate Bill S2191: NYS Right to Review Personnel File

PA Inspection of Employment Records Law

SHRM Article: Personnel Records Access Legal Obligation Federal Laws & Policies

Again, laws vary state by state.  If you are a multi-state employer, research the specific laws and regulations and be consistent with employees.  Remember to look for (.Gov) or credible website sources, when searching for current state laws and regulations.  If you are required to provide access to employees on all or certain personnel file information, ensure you have a policy in place that is fair and consistent to all employees.

Below is a correction to the draft communication letter, when communicating NYSPFL information throughout the organization.  Correction underlined as regulation has changed, from $1.65 weekly maximum contribution to $85.56 annually:

The cost of Paid Family Leave benefits is paid for by the employee via payroll deductions.  The Company will be deducting a percentage of your average weekly wages (determined by New York State) to fund Paid Family Leave benefits.  The deduction rate, which is set by New York State and is the same for everyone, is 0.126% of each employee’s weekly wage with a weekly wage cap of $1,305.92.  The maximum contribution is currently $85.56 annually.  For example, if the employee’s weekly wage amounts to $1,000.00, the maximum payroll deduction for Paid Family Leave would be $1.26 for that week.  For employees who make more than the state’s average weekly wage of $1,305.92, the Paid Family Leave deduction will be capped at $1.65 per week (0.126% of $1,305.92).  We will be designing and communicating a more detailed Paid Family Leave policy in the future to be effective in 2018.  If you have any questions please contact ____.”

 

– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

Burr Consulting, LLC

 

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/copypersonnelfiles.aspx