SBN Staff

Sunday, 17 November 2013 16:40

The 2013 HR Awards


ERC and the Cleveland Society for Human Resource Management are proud to host and honor HR leadership in our region. The 2013 class of HR Award winners are making a difference through sound, creative and proactive HR management. We are also pleased to recognize the leading faculty adviser and student participant for student SHRM chapters in our region who are developing the next generation of HR leaders.

There was a significant increase in nominations for the 2013 HR Awards, which is a testament to the leadership shown in the HR community in this region. ERC and CSHRM are excited to work together to honor our winners and finalists who make a big difference in their profession and respective organizations.

Check out our winners’ information on these pages and also at They are truly leading by example and our hats are off to them for making a positive impact on others. There is no greater recognition than with your peers and that is certainly the case with this year’s HR Awards winners and finalists!

Last but not least, thank you to the HR Awards committee, judges and our sponsors. Without their hard work and support this program would not be possible.

Lauren Rudman, president, CSHRM and manager, HR, ERICO International Corp.
Patrick Perry, president, ERC


The 2013 HR Award Finalists:

  • Julie Maurer, Echogen Power Systems
  • Marguerite Grooms, Center for Families & Children
  • Charisse Sayles, Cleveland Sight Center
  • Corinne Saliba, AmeriMark Direct LLC
  • Christina McCrossin, NPCS Inc.
  • Cindy Bach, Structure Personnel Inc.
  • Erica Jacob, Baldwin-Wallace University
  • Mary Pisnar, Baldwin-Wallace University
  • Raymundo Garza, Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems
  • Chiara Bunch, FedEx Ground


The 2013 HR Award Winners: 

HR Partner

Aaron Grossman
Alliance Solutions Group

As president of Alliance Solutions Group, Aaron Grossman is a true entrepreneur with a passion for transforming his industry and community. Under his leadership, Alliance has grown rapidly with consistent double-digit growth rates in spite of two deep recessions, a disruptive partnership buy-out and a cash crisis created by a customer’s collapse.

The company’s growth in the early years was due to a focus on key hires, standardized processes and corporate culture. By 2007, the company had generated $20 million in sales. During the Great Recession, Alliance invested in the core business, infrastructure and marketing. Beginning in 2010, the company experienced massive, consistent growth. In fact, in 2010, Alliance grew five times faster than the staffing industry.

By the end of 2012, Alliance reported $41 million in total revenues — a 32 percent increase from the previous year. This growth rate was more than double the overall growth reported by the staffing industry.

Alliance is the only staffing firm in Northeast Ohio with nine brands, each highly specialized business units with deep industry experience. This experience allows Alliance to deliver consistent, qualified placements that enhance organizational productivity and provide customers with single-source convenience across multiple specialties.

Unlike many staffing firms that act as mere resume factories, Grossman has created a culture of values that encourages employees to act differently than other staffing firms. Grossman believes in his firm’s ability to leverage the individual candidate’s success on behalf of his clients. 


Talent Management 

Kevin Clere
manager of talent acquisition
Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems

Kevin Clere was faced with a number of challenges as he assumed responsibility for talent management at Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems.

He was asked to create a shared service model, one in which all organizations under the corporate umbrella of Knorr-Bremse would leverage his talent acquisition team. Clere built trusting relationships and now the model is reaping benefits. Companies such as New York Air Brake use his team, reducing its time and expense for recruitment activities.

Beyond a shared services model, Clere has led the rebranding of his team and its recruitment efforts. Bendix has a large university relations presence, but in the past it has always been branded as Bendix alone. The name Knorr-Bremse was not widely promoted.

Today, Clere has made it a point to speak about all the corporate entities, not just Bendix. He strives to make his organization more attractive by showing students they can move within the corporate structure.

Clere also promotes sharing talent within Knorr-Bremse. Just as with the shared services model, he needed to show that his team had the capacity to make things happen in rebranding and campus recruiting. The entities now share an applicant tracking system, relocation services and labor attorneys, and this has brought the parent organization significant savings.

In talent management, it is important that the function shares its value. Clere made it a point to create a recruiter scorecard and set a high goal of 90 percent satisfaction. Currently, his team is at 88 percent.


Business Leadership 

Douglas Dykes
HR director
Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

Douglas Dykes was hired as director of human resources for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District in May 2008 and has more than 17 years of human resources experience, most spent in leadership roles. 

Dykes spends his time directing an entire human resource department as well as putting forth efforts to pilot programs and projects such as the wellness initiative, service awards, performance management, contract negotiations and mentoring and coaching.

He takes the tasks he has been charged with seriously and performs them with integrity and a high degree of professionalism. Dykes is a dedicated leader with a genuine desire to see other individuals triumph in their aspirations. He is a great example of how professionals in leadership capacities should conduct themselves in nobility, dignity and humility.

Dykes is a true example of hard work paying off and many of his counterparts at Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District look up to him. The district is responsible for wastewater treatment facilities and interceptor sewers in the greater Cleveland Metropolitan area. This service area encompasses the city of Cleveland and all, or portions of, 61 suburban municipalities in Cuyahoga, Summit, Lake and Lorain counties,including a diversified group of manufacturing and processing industries.


Emerging Leader

Danielle Hanna
The Cleveland Foundation

If there were a dictionary entry for the phrase “emerging leader,” Danielle Hanna’s name and photo would appear next to it.

Hanna began her career at the Cleveland Foundation as a HR generalist in 2008 and was promoted to HR manager in 2011. She exhibits leadership qualities beyond those normally expected of someone early in his or her HR career. She is actively involved in every aspect of the highly visible and dynamic HR function of the foundation.

Recently, Hanna took a leadership role in developing the foundation’s new talent management program, which included a complete overhaul of its performance review process to ensure that it circled back to the foundation’s strategic goals and core values. She stepped out of her comfort zone to help customize and build a training program for all employees.

Hanna has taken the lead on many other initiatives, such as working with the employment law attorney to revise the way the foundation handles independent contractor arrangements, developing a new on-boarding process for newly hired employees and oversight of the HR internship program.

In addition to all of her project work, Hanna oversees benefits, payroll, employee communication, employee relations, recruiting and many other HR tasks. She regularly serves on internal committees designed to promote employee engagement and team building and is a highly respected member of the staff.



Renita Jefferson
director of training and development
American Greetings

Renita Jefferson is recognized for demonstrating great leadership to take diversity and inclusion to the next level at American Greetings. She has been working hard to help those members in her organization, including minorities, women and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

Jefferson has focused on employee engagement at all levels within American Greetings. Several years ago, American Greetings started Employee Resource Networks. She initiated a four-session leadership series for the leaders of the ERNs to assist with their success. While each group is encouraged to have its own identity and focus, Jefferson set up an expectation to create a uniformity of documents for each of the groups such as a charter and strategic plan.

Her vision is to institutionalize the ERNs so that no matter what changes take place in the organization they remain relevant and continue to benefit American Greetings and its employees.

During the implementation of this process Jefferson has shown her use of change management skills and talent management, including both recruitment and retention. She has assisted with the development of the leaders within these ERNs, as well as with the branding, communications and marketing of diversity and inclusion within the company.

There are numerous other initiatives that have taken place under Jefferson’s direction and leadership. She has already created a Diversity and Inclusion Dashboard of Retention for the organization. Jefferson isn’t limiting her efforts to just the walls of American Greetings — she has led collaborations both internally and externally with other organizations to address diversity and inclusion issues within the community. 


Employee Relations

Jerry Joyce
director of HR
Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics

Jerry Joyce has applied his talents to the HR field for 32 years, having an impact on employees in several companies, including positions across two divisions of Saint-Gobain for the last 18 years. He is currently the director of HR for Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics.

Joyce currently handles employee relations across 11 locations with some 900 employees, and is part of a team that impacts employees on several continents for the global company.

Joyce’s interpersonal style has been a hallmark to his success. He takes steps to put people at ease, and they can readily grasp that his goal is to be of service to them and not to make gains for himself. One example of Joyce’s special approach is his progressive discipline process. He can discuss issues with employees and resolve them without the need for grievance processes or arbitration. He focuses on the employee, identifies the unconstructive behaviors affecting them and finds ways to get them to change.

One of Joyce’s major contributions to Saint-Gobain was heading up a large-scale Employee Engagement program. Joyce designed and managed the administration, taking extra steps to ensure all employees had a chance to participate. Application of the data was systematic and thorough, including a communication plan to employees and focus group assignments to address opportunities. He currently has several action teams operating to put improvements in place based on a survey.


HR Student of the Year

Vernon Kellogg
Cleveland State University

Vernon Kellogg has excelled not only in the classroom as a student at Cleveland State University, but outside of school in a number of different capacities.

In his senior year he has been a key member of CSU’s student SHRM chapter’s executive board. He volunteers as part of the CSU SHRM Volunteer Resume Project, which works with the VA and Volunteers of America. Kellogg works with veterans at the VA facility at Wade Park to identify the transferable skills from their military service back to the civilian workforce, resume concepts, computer skills and subtle self-marketing tips. Over the course of several months it became clear that Kellogg stood out among the student volunteers as one the best.

He easily related to the veterans and effectually explained the key points of resume writing in addition to quickly establishing a personal rapport. His skill for making those around him comfortable along with the ability to be patient with the veterans no matter their level of understanding also lends to his success with this project.

Kellogg has also supported student activities including the student tours of Tremco and the Cleveland Indians, and assisted with the facility logistics and establishment of the Business Professionals Night, which had 64 student participants and 23 employers.

Kellogg has shown a mastery of being able to blend the art to lead and follow when participating in volunteer projects. He has demonstrated his eagerness to learn by reaching beyond his academic track at CSU.


Compensation & Benefits

Martha Kimura
Benefits Specialist

Having worked in HR for 18 years, Martha Kimura has been applying her expertise with ACRT Inc. since 2008 as a benefits specialist.

Kimura has effectively partnered with executive management and an outside broker to map out benefit offerings, create the budget, plan and administer the benefits and 401(k) open enrollments, and coordinate wellness activities. She has also made key contributions to projects including an employee honors program, conformance with health care reform legislation and engagement surveys.

One of Kimura’s special projects has been the employee honors program, which identifies employees who demonstrate outstanding performance and cultivate their talents to be tomorrow’s leaders. The participants get to travel for a week to corporate headquarters where they meet with executives, learn about company initiatives and goals, and serve as peer leaders for their work groups. They also serve as advocates in the field for corporate initiatives and funnel information or questions to the corporate executives.

In 2011, Kimura started a five-year plan to be at the forefront of changes from new health care laws. She has focused on an education process for employees, promoted a Consumer Directed Health Plan as well as health savings accounts, and helped the company achieve 100 percent participation in benefits enrollment.

If that wasn’t enough, Kimura is also currently growing a wellness program that builds wellness into the fabric of ACRT and its insurance programs called Summer Shape-Up Challenge. The company now has an Internal Online Community where employees post their goals and progress updates online, share articles and tips, and even post encouraging notes to fellow employees across the country.  


HR Student Chapter Advisor of the Year

Tracy Porter
Cleveland State University

Tracy Porter is a professor at Cleveland State University, but her professional reputation doesn’t end there. Porter is a health care administrator, management consultant and is involved with both CSHRM and CSU SHRM.

Porter’s key skills include being a role model, a great motivator and an advocate for student success and growth both academically and professionally. As an active member of CSHRM, she serves as an example to students to look up to and openly encourages professional development. She tries to have everything that she does as an adviser have a direct impact on a student’s ability to develop as a leader.

One CSU SHRM accomplishment this year that would not have been possible without the support of Porter was a volunteer project with the VA and Volunteers of America. Called the CSU SHRM Volunteer Resume Project, students go to the VA facility at Wade Park one Saturday a month and work one-on-one with veterans to help them write their resumes.

Not only does Porter attend every session with the CSU SHRM, she also helps out when there are more veterans than students.

As a professor at CSU, Porter teaches undergraduate and graduate classes, including International Business, Management/Organizational Behavior, Managerial Skill Development, Principles of Labor/Industrial Relations, Principles of Management, Team Dynamics, HR Management, Intro to College Life, Organizational Theory & Design, and HR Management/Labor Relations.   


Organizational & Employee Development

Bob Sullivan
vice president of HR
Flight Options

Bob Sullivan lives and works by his company’s fundamental principles of treating employees as the foundation of a service organization, paying attention to detail and taking a long-term approach to relationships. He encourages all employees at Flight Options, a private aviation company, to follow these principles.

Not only does Sullivan take the time to understand what motivates and inspires each member of his own team, but as vice president of HR he has tasked himself to develop, motivate and train every member of the company through a service training project initiated this year. Starting with executives and upper management, the training program moves down the line to managers and every employee ensuring a real team spirit, a sense of oneness and unity in achieving excellence.

Under Sullivan’s leadership, Flight Options has become more of a team, working together to make the company succeed. In addition, his initiatives are fun, interesting and interactive. From the initial offer to a two-day, new-hire orientation with breakfast, lunch, meet-and-greets and games to the company’s 30- and 90-day follow-up lunches and continuous training programs, Flight Options’ employee development has been made a priority.

Sullivan and the company continually strive to have the best service levels in the field and by having happy, educated, dedicated and passionate employees, Flight Options’ service levels have naturally fallen into place at the top. 

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) will have a profound effect on most employers that offer health plans in 2014.

“Passing the law was the easy part. The process of issuing regulations and guidance between three separate federal agencies — Health and Human Services, Department of Labor and the IRS — is the difficult part. Add to the mix an occasional court ruling and you have the perfect recipe for confusion and the risk of misinformation,” says Chuck Whitford, client advisor at JRG Advisors, the management arm of ChamberChoice.

Smart Business spoke with Whitford about points to consider in the coming year with the ACA.

What’s the first step going into 2014?

Going back to basics, determine if your plan is ‘grandfathered.’ A plan that essentially hasn’t changed since March 23, 2010, is most likely grandfathered. However, if you changed insurance companies before Nov. 1, 2010, or passed along the majority of the rate increases to employees, the plan you thought was grandfathered may not be.

You must tell employees if you have a grandfathered plan. A grandfathered plan can be exempt from some of the ACA rules, such as covering preventive care at 100 percent, continuing coverage for ‘adult dependents’ to age 26 and nondiscrimination rules for fully-insured plans.

How will the exchanges affect employers?

You will most likely be asked questions about the new health insurance benefits exchanges, also known as marketplaces. They are primarily online marketplaces for purchasing health insurance, run either by a state or the federal government. The federal government has a hand in, at least, running exchanges in 33 states. There are two types — one for individuals and one for small employers, generally up to 50 employees.

There have been glitches in these online systems. Once problems are fixed, it should be easier for individuals to review available plans and see if they qualify for subsidies to reduce premiums or, in some cases, reduce the cost sharing of deductibles and coinsurance.

What’s important to know about full-time equivalent (FTE) employees?

For the purpose of the ACA, a full-time employee works 30 or more hours per week, or 130 hours per month. The law requires employers to track the number of full-time employees and add up the hours worked by their part-time employees each month (up to 120 hours per month) and divide by 120 to determine the number of fractional ‘equivalent’ employees.

Employers with 49.99 or fewer FTEs don’t have any requirements to offer coverage and won’t be assessed penalties. The ACA still will impact their health plan’s rates, and they must comply with the 90-day waiting period limit and other ACA provisions.

Employers with 50 or more FTEs must offer coverage, deemed affordable and of minimum value, to all full-time employees and dependents to age 26. If any full-time employee receives subsidized coverage in an exchange, it triggers employer penalties. The ACA defines affordability as the employee’s cost for single coverage not exceeding 9.5 percent of income. A plan covering at least 60 percent of costs on average is considered minimum value.

In July, the Obama administration announced a one-year delay in the penalties and employer reporting. This can create a different set of issues for an employer that offers coverage to employees that work, say, 40 hours per week and has employees who work between 30 and 39 hours per week. These employers may want to hold off extending coverage to their 30- to 39-hour employees until 2015. However, with the individual mandate, employees not offered employer-sponsored coverage might go to the exchange. Some will qualify for a subsidy and also may qualify for cost-sharing reductions. Fast forward to 2015, employers wishing to avoid the nondeductible excise taxes (penalties) may extend eligibility of an affordable plan that meets minimum value to these employees, removing exchange subsidies and increasing the employees’ cost.
Because of the complex nature of the ACA, employers are encouraged to review their employee benefits strategy and communications for 2014 and beyond with a qualified advisor.

Chuck Whitford is a client advisor at JRG Advisors, the management arm of ChamberChoice. Reach him at (412) 456-7257 or

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by ChamberChoice

The modern employee assistance program (EAP) is an employer-sponsored benefit designed to support the achievement of employer health and productivity goals. EAPs also have evolved to become a strategic partner to maximize the human capital of an organization.

“An EAP’s main goal is to resolve problems before they interfere with work attendance or productivity. And, in performing that task, EAPs have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line,” says Sandra Caffo, a senior director at LifeSolutions, an affiliated company of UPMC WorkPartners.

Smart Business spoke with Caffo about how EAPs work and their ROI.

What is the potential payoff of using an EAP?

A study found that for every dollar spent in a typical EAP, there was a return of $5.17 to $6.47 in increased work productivity. The study also showed that 80 percent of costs from lost productivity were associated with presenteeism, which is when an employee is at work, but is not productive, largely because of personal problems.

EAPs employ behavioral health experts who can provide short-term coaching and counseling that focuses on problem resolution. The goal with all EAP services is to resolve problems before they interfere with work attendance or productivity. Because of that, EAPs can help supervisors understand how to manage those valued workers whose productivity suddenly and mysteriously plummets.

How do EAPs enhance value?

Supervisors may be able to spot a troubled employee and express concern, but typically they are not equipped to work out a plan of action to address the problem. Many supervisors would argue — correctly — that this isn’t part of their job description. That’s where an EAP can help. It can provide consultation to both the manager and the employee to develop a plan of action.

EAP consultants are able to guide leaders at all levels to shift their focus to management strategies that will make a difference in an employee’s job performance. With an EAP management consultant, leaders learn how to coach employees toward improved performance while holding them accountable for negative patterns of behavior.

Because EAPs are able to provide services that consider all of the occupational and non-occupational factors that affect job performance, they are able to increase the value of an organization’s investment in its workforce. They achieve this in several ways:

  • By increasing employee engagement and improving productivity, morale and workplace harmony.  
  • By focusing on building the capacity of employees and their dependents to successfully respond to life’s personal and work-related challenges.
  • Through EAP coaching and consultation, which helps leadership, managers and supervisors increase their skills to effectively address difficult employee situations. It can tailor programs and initiatives for key workforce groups to meet specific needs.

How does an EAP mitigate business risks?  

Supervisor consultation helps to build action plans and handle new or complicated employee situations, from incompatible employees to workforce reductions.

On-site trainings focus on staff development and skill building in areas such as stress management, customer service and multi-generational teams.

EAP intervention also can help when an organization has a traumatic incident like an accident or death to support those managing the situation and those affected by it.

A federal occupational health study of more than 60,000 workers using EAP services over a three-year period found statistically significant improvement from pre- to post-EAP intervention for six measures related to work productivity. These include: employees’ emotional problems, employees’ physical health, the interference of physical or emotional issues on work and social relationships, perceived health status, job attendance and/or tardiness, and global assessment of functioning. In short, the benefits of EAPs are measurable, and they can be used to select an effective EAP, gauge its performance and determine the ROI.

UPMC WorkPartners is part of the UPMC Insurance Services Division, which also includes: UPMC Health Plan, UPMC for Life, UPMC for You, UPMC for You Advantage, UPMC for Kids, Community Care Behavioral Health, EBenefit Solutions and Askesis Development Group.

Sandra Caffo is a senior director at LifeSolutions, an affiliated company of UPMC WorkPartners. Reach her at (412) 647-9480 or

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

If you were to assemble some of the world’s outstanding business leaders in one place and ask them their secret to sleeping well at night amid the pressures of running a successful business, you might think you’d collect the best tips to handling anxiety in the business world.

The truth is that top business leaders often don’t have a secret to reveal — they rely on the strength and confidence they’ve developed over the years.

At the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year conference, held earlier this year in Monaco, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year country winners assembled to compete for the World Entrepreneur Of The Year title.

We took the opportunity to collect the thoughts of the world’s most accomplished entrepreneurs — innovators, futurists, turnaround specialists and problem solvers — about dealing with worries. ●


“There’s nothing that keeps me up at night. I sleep very well. The challenge we have as a company is to keep delivering the culture we have created and expand it, keep evolving at the speed our customers expect us to evolve and keep creating value for them as we have for the past 10 years.”

Martin Migoya
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Argentina


“The main thing is to make sure that we are always looking for new, creative ideas that keep our business updated with new technology and creativity. The other thing is making sure we are working faster than before.”

Lorenzo Barrera Segovia
founder and CEO
Banco Base
ntrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Mexico 


“Business has its highs and lows, because let’s face it, it’s not easy. It has its challenges. They asked Steve Jobs what was the most important thing in business and he said, ‘Passion.’ If you don’t have passion you would give up when things get difficult. We have so much passion and love for what we do that it becomes a part of our life.”

Hamdi Ulukaya
founder, president and CEO
Chobani Inc.
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 United States
2013 World Entrepreneur Of The Year


“What if the stock market crashes? What if there is some unknown thing that happens? What if there’s another 9/11 type of situation? Companies need to carry on, but maybe they don’t need to do events. Maybe they cut back on entertainment and speakers. The worry is what happens if something happens that I can’t control.”

Corey Shapoff
President and founder
SME Entertainment Group


“We are in recovering times. I feel very positive about the economy in general, but I’m still very worried about Europe. And while we are recovering, it’s still choppy and choppy times are times when there are more needs out there.”


Jim Turley
Retired global chairman and CEO


"I guess there is a point in my life where I thought it is all about me, and I am going to be the guy that guides everything and controls everything. What I have learned is that the best thing that I have done for our business is learn to let go and learn to get people who are better equipped to manage specific areas, do their thing and not get in the way."

Dr. Alan Ulsifer
CEO, president and chair
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Canada 


“Nothing keeps me awake at night becase my work is solid.

My father married at 60 and my mother was 23. They had four children. Then he died, and we quickly had to start thinking about what to do. There was no money — nothing. We had to leave the little town we lived in because of violence there. Thanks to that, I am where I am right now because I still could be on the streets of my village selling tobacco. There is no wrong that can do good. That's what I have to teach people.”

Mario Hernandez
founder and president
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Colombia

Employers today are more likely to have an employment practices liability (EPL) insurance claim than a property or general liability claim.

EPL provides protection against claims made by employees, whether former, current or potential, regarding discrimination — age, sex, race, disability, etc., wrongful termination, sexual harassment and other employment-related allegations.

When looking to have your exposures covered, underwriters carefully evaluate your company’s written procedures and practices.

“You need to confirm that these procedures are distributed and enforced constantly throughout the organization,” says Daniel R. Slezak, vice president at ECBM. “There should be a way to promote awareness and a ‘hotline’ for employees to communicate concerns without fear of intimidation or retaliation.”

Underwriters also will look at factors such as turnover rates to judge employee moral and/or possible management problems.

Smart Business spoke with Slezak about what is — and is not — covered by EPL insurance.

Retaliation claims have greatly increased, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). What do employers need to know about their risks?

Title VII of the Civil Rights act of 1964 states an employer may not fire, demote, harass or otherwise ‘retaliate’ against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding or otherwise opposing discrimination. The same laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age and disability, as well as wage differences between men and women performing substantially equal work, also prohibit retaliation against individuals who oppose unlawful discrimination or participate in an employment discrimination proceeding.

Retaliation occurs when an employer, employment agency or labor organization takes an adverse action against a covered individual because he or she engaged in a protected activity. For example, it’s illegal to refuse to promote an employee because he or she filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, even if the EEOC later determines no discrimination occurred. The law forbids retaliation when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, etc.

Employers can reduce claim risk by training managers and supervisors to be aware of anti-retaliation obligations under Title VII, including specific actions that may constitute retaliation. They also can reduce risk by carefully and timely recording the legitimate business reasons for disciplinary or performance-related actions, while sharing these reasons with the employee.

What is covered with Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) claims?

The FMLA was virtually unknown, but now most employees know it’s a tool they can use to adapt to life changes. Plus, with recent Americans with Disabilities Act amendments, the number of persons defined as having a disability has increased. While disability discrimination is covered, typically there isn’t coverage for the cost of accommodation and employer fines.

How are social media, harassment and gender/sexual orientation covered?

Social media has little regulation at this time, but employers need to have policies in place that address those practices. An event involving a social media claim is covered to the extent there was discrimination.

Harassment claims increased by 33 percent from 2006 to 2008, according to the EEOC. This seems to always be in the news, whether in schools or the NFL’s Miami Dolphins locker room. These events may trigger coverage, but you should make an effort to ensure everyone is getting along.

Policies can be extended to cover third-party discrimination claims made by customers and tenants. The policy also covers discrimination and sexual harassment claims made by customers for the acts of employees.
Read your policy and pay attention to carve outs and exclusions/endorsements that give coverage or take it away. Expert insurance professionals are available to help with any issues or questions.

Daniel R. Slezak is a vice president at ECBM. Reach him at (610) 668-7100, ext. 1323, or

Insights Risk Management is brought to you by ECBM

To protect consumers from unwanted autodialed or prerecorded telemarketing calls, referred to as telemarketing robocalls, new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations took effect in October.
These regulations require a consumer’s “prior express written consent” before businesses can make telemarketing robocalls, eliminating the prior exception of an “established business relationship.”

“Businesses will need to modify their consumer contracts or create a separate consumer consent if they want to make these calls to their consumers,” says Ashleigh M. Morales, an associate at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC.

Smart Business spoke with Morales about what the new regulations require.

What calls are considered telemarketing robocalls under the new FCC regulations?

An autodialed call is any call placed using an automatic telephone dialing system that can produce, store and call telephone numbers using a random or sequential number generator. If your organization uses any type of call center software as part of a telemarketing campaign — calls offering or marketing products or services to consumers — the regulations most likely will deem it an autodialed call.

The new regulations apply to calls to cell phones as well as to landlines. In addition, the FCC considers a cell phone text message a call under the regulations.

Are any types of calls excluded?

The regulations do not apply to manually dialed calls or calls that do not contain a prerecorded message. The regulations also do not apply to purely informational prerecorded calls, such as calls from nonprofit organizations or for political, emergency or non-commercial purposes, such as those delivering information regarding school closings.

Is any customer base grandfathered in?

The FCC chose to not grandfather consumer consents granted under the old regulations. As a result, businesses and third-party telemarketers may need to re-solicit consents in order to satisfy the new requirements.
The old regulations allowed telemarketing robocalls to be made to consumers with whom there was an established business relationship. The new regulations eliminate this exception.

How can businesses best obtain written consent for calls?

To get prior express written consent, the consent must be signed by the consumer and include a clear and conspicuous disclosure informing the consumer that he or she is:

  • Consenting to receive telemarketing messages using an automatic telephone dialing system or a prerecorded voice to the telephone number the consumer provides.
  • Not required to sign the agreement regarding consent to telemarketing messages as a condition of purchasing any property, goods or services.

Electronic and digital forms of signature are acceptable provided the business complies with the federal E-Sign Act. In addition to modifying current consumer contracts, companies should obtain new consumers’ written consent to future autodialed or prerecorded calls at the time the consumer signs an agreement with the business. Then, the business must implement procedures to maintain records of the consents and ensure telemarketing robocalls only go to the telephone numbers for which the consumers have consented to receive calls.

What are the penalties for failure to comply?

Failure to comply with the new regulations can result in actual damages as well as statutory damages of at least $500 per call, which can be increased to $1,500 per call. In determining the amount of statutory damages, courts will look at whether the violation was willful. Since telemarketing campaigns generally involve hundreds, if not thousands, of calls, the potential damages could be great. If you have not already done so, contact your legal counsel to ensure you are complying with these new regulations.

Ashleigh M. Morales is an associate at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC
. Reach her at (215) 887-0200 or

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC

If your business has benefited from California enterprise zone credits, the next few months might shock your system.

AB 93, signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on June 12, 2013, effectively eliminates the enterprise zone program. In its place, three new tax incentives will take effect beginning Jan. 1, 2014. Will these new incentives bring the same value to the California economy? Will your business lose benefits that it has come to rely upon, or will it find new benefits?

Smart Business spoke with Marcus Halluin, CPA, tax manager at Sensiba San Filippo LLP, to find out more about these incentives, what’s coming in 2014 and what businesses can expect moving forward.

What was the enterprise zone program and what did it do for businesses?

The enterprise zone program was a long-standing state incentive designed to encourage specific business activities in designated ‘economically depressed’ areas. The program provided lucrative hiring credits, sales tax credits, net interest deductions, business expense deductions and net operation loss deductions.

What new incentives does AB 93 create?

AB 93 creates a statewide sales tax exemption, which will be available for equipment purchases made by businesses engaged in manufacturing or biotechnology research and development. It will significantly modify and restrict eligibility for the hiring credit. AB 93 also creates a new investment tax credit based on a competitive application process.

How has the California sales tax exemption changed?

The new sales tax exemption created by AB 93 targets industries and activities rather than geographic areas. Specifically, the exemption will apply to manufacturers and biotechnology R&D companies. Qualifying businesses can exclude the first $200 million of eligible purchases per year from state sales and use tax. At least 50 percent of qualified purchases must be used in the process of manufacturing or R&D.

How will the hiring credit change in 2014?

Beginning in 2014, the hiring credit will be decidedly more restrictive and will apply only to the net increase in jobs. The expected effect of this change is significant. Many businesses that previously relied on hiring credits may no longer qualify or may see their benefits significantly reduced. The new law also makes changes to the definition of qualified jobs, including reducing the number of qualifying target employee groups and requiring hourly wages between $12 and $28 per hour.

What is the investment tax credit and how will it be administered?

The investment tax credit will be based on a competitive application process and will be awarded by a newly established California Competes Tax Credit Committee. Competitive criteria have been outlined and include the number of jobs created or retained, the compensation paid to employees, the total value of the investment made in the state, the level of unemployment in the area of proposed business locations and the overall economic impact in the state of the project or business. The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development will negotiate agreements with applying businesses, subject to approval by the committee.  

What do California businesses need to know before these changes take effect?

Businesses need to understand that the game has changed. Just because your business qualified for credits in the past doesn’t mean it will in the future.

If you were relying on enterprise zone credits, you should sit down with your accountant or tax adviser and analyze the effects of the changes. Getting caught by surprise with an unexpected tax bill could have a negative long-term effect on your business.

The new incentives are certainly worth investigating. Manufacturers and R&D companies will likely qualify for new sales and use tax exemptions. And the investment tax credit could be very lucrative for businesses that qualify and participate in the application process.

Marcus Halluin, CPA, is a tax manager at Sensiba San Filippo LLP. Reach him at (925) 271-8700 or

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Sensiba San Filippo LLP

When evaluating the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there are two angles — the employer’s angle and the individual American’s angle. Setting aside what employers need to know, in the individual world, the first thing people bring up is the individual mandate.

“It is important to discuss the individual side of the legislation, so employers know what their people face if they are not offered coverage and, also, what their part timers face who may not be eligible for the employer’s plan,” says Tobias Kennedy, executive vice president, Montage Insurance Solutions. “Employers may be considering reducing hours of certain staff down to part time, and countless American small business owners may be getting rid of coverage entirely, so a dive into the ACA’s impact on individuals is very important.”

Smart Business spoke with Kennedy about the individual mandate.

How exactly does the individual mandate work?

The individual mandate is the part of the legislation that says most U.S. citizens and legal residents must carry minimal essential coverage for themselves and their dependents. Exceptions are very rare and really only extended to incarcerated people or those who belong to a specifically recognized religiously exempt group. Other than that, pretty much all citizens and legal residents have to comply.

The good news is there are many ways for an individual to satisfy this mandate. Most commonly, people will be complying with this via employer coverage, social service programs like Medicare or Medicaid, certain Veterans Affairs programs like TRICARE or through plans purchased on the individual market including the new exchange marketplaces created by the ACA.

What happens if individuals don’t have coverage?

If a person doesn’t have coverage, there is risk of a tax penalty. The penalty begins humbly enough in 2014 at 1 percent of income, or $95 — whichever’s greater. However, in 2016, by the time it’s fully phased in, the penalty is 2.5 percent of income or $695 — again, whichever’s greater.

In fact, even though it’s called the ‘individual mandate’ people should be aware it extends beyond your self. People are not only responsible for themselves, but they’re responsible for dependents as well. If someone is on your tax return, you’re responsible for the fines if he or she doesn’t have coverage. Children’s fines are half of an adult’s, and there’s an annual cap per household, which keeps the maximum allowable penalty amount to three adults. But people will want to talk to tax professionals with an understanding that, for many folks, the individual mandate extends beyond just the individual.

How can people get help with coverage costs?

Thankfully, there is some financial help available for certain people, so it’s important to explore all of the options. This assistance comes by way of the ‘subsidies’ that have been in the news.

The subsidies are a way for people who qualify to get premium assistance, so their plan is more affordable. They are only redeemable in the exchanges and are set off of the silver plans, which are the middle of the road plans that carry a 70 percent actuarial value. Actuarial value is a broad-strokes term that describes the average a plan is designed to pay for claims expenses like deductibles and co-pays — the remainder is the average that a member is designed to pay. So, qualifying people can get a subsidy to purchase a 70 percent plan through the exchange. 

The subsidy basically says ‘you are only responsible for a certain premium dollar figure per month, and we’ll cut a check to the insurance company for any overage.’ This keeps the plan’s monthly premium from going over a certain amount of out-of-pocket costs.

Qualification for the subsidy is based on a lot of factors, including having an income below 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Limit but also not having affordable coverage available elsewhere. Examples of other coverage that disqualify you for a subsidy are access to things like affordable employer coverage or social service programs like Medicare/Medicaid.

Next month, we’ll discuss all of the information surrounding how to qualify, what exactly qualification gets you, and the financial assistance’s extension beyond premiums to help with co-pays and deductibles, too.

Tobias Kennedy is an executive vice president at Montage Insurance Solutions. Reach him at (818) 676-0044 or

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Montage Insurance Solutions





Some mistakenly believe that U.S. patents travel the world with universal protection, but countries work independent of each other when granting patents. That is why, when conducting business internationally, it is important to understand how intellectual property protections are procured in each country.

According to the Paris Convention, a treaty signed by the U.S. and 174 other countries that protects industrial property, a patent granted in one signatory country does not mean it must be granted in another.

“U.S. patents are independent from those granted by foreign countries, so protection is advisable in each market a patented product will be sold,” says John S. Zanghi, a partner at Fay Sharpe LLP.

Smart Business spoke with Zanghi about acquiring international patent protection.

How does the Paris Convention apply?

National treatment and right of priority are two important clauses of the Paris Convention with which businesses should be familiar. National treatment says member countries must grant the same patent protection rights to foreign citizens of other signatory countries as it grants to its own nationals. Nationals from a non-signatory country also are entitled to national treatment so long as they have a ‘real and effective industrial or commercial establishment in a contracting state.’

‘Rights of priority’ refers to the length of time an applicant can take to file a patent for the same invention in two countries. For patents and utility models, an applicant must file additional applications within 12 months. A patent office handles these as if they were filed on the same day as the original application, allowing time to determine the commercial viability of the patented product in additional countries.

An applicant seeking priority based upon an earlier filing is protected from any subsequent disclosures, such as publications, that occurred since the first patent was filed.

Why can’t one international patent application grant protection in all countries?

People have long discussed the idea of a single international patent application, but it’s not available.

Applicants can file using the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), a multilateral agreement administered by the International Bureau of the World Intellectual Property Organization, which allows applicants to file a single application for patent protection in multiple countries. Applicants select the countries or regions where they would like to receive protection. The application is submitted to each office for review, which manages the granting of patent protection individually. Applicants must adhere to the requirements of a particular country and prosecute each patent separately from other countries.

For patent protection in Europe, filing regionally through the European Patent Office (EPO) is an option. The EPO is a collection of 38 European countries that agreed to establish a single procedure for the grant of patents. A European patent gives its proprietor the same rights as would be conferred by a national patent granted in any participating country. Ultimately, if granted, the European patent will grant in the selected European countries. Any infringement is dealt with by national law.

What needs to be done to file a patent in a foreign country?

Obtain legal counsel in each foreign country because each manages its own patent protection. Local counsel has knowledge of local requirements and can assist in filing and prosecuting an application through to the grant of the patent. They also are able to process applications in a timely manner to ensure you don’t miss a filing deadline.

Which patent and patent laws apply if a U.S. business is sued in another country?

Each issuing country manages and maintains patent protection. If someone sues you for infringement outside of the U.S., the laws of that country govern. However, if the country is a Paris Convention signatory, it must grant the same protection to all non-citizens as its own citizens. It is important to understand how the various international treaties and conventions operate, as well as the filing requirements of each country.

Filing a patent is not an insignificant cost, so it is imperative to understand your obligations and risks wherever you conduct business or in countries where significant competitors conduct business.

John S. Zanghi is a partner at Fay Sharpe LLP. Reach him at (216) 363-9000 or

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Fay Sharpe LLP

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 12:45

Going the organic way

The Summit of Sustainability Awards

Winner Small Business Category
Ms. Julie’s Kitchen 

When it comes to the grassroots level for the wisest practices for not only being a steward of the environment but of the health of the community, Julie Costell is on the cutting edge.

The owner of Ms. Julie’s Kitchen, a vegetarian restaurant that grows its own food, Costell goes back to basics even to the degree of recently tilling her garden with two plow horses.

“We turned almost two acres of vacant city lands into organic tillable, arable land,” she says “We removed debris, amended the soil, built a fence and planted beautiful flowers along with our tons of vegetables.”

As a result of growing her own food for Ms. Julie’s Kitchen and to sell in the neighborhood, she saved more than $5,000 on groceries. Building a fence with materials considered “seconds” and employing neighborhood youth along with summer youth workers saved $3,000.

No chemicals are used at the gardens, and produce is grown organically. Ms. Julie’s Kitchen uses organic biodegradable cleaning products and compostable containers which are put into compost at the gardens. 

“Area residents have reported losing hundreds of pounds, decreasing diabetes medications and reducing heart medications after eating our foods on a regular basis and learning from us how to change their eating habits to benefit their health,” Costell says.

She also volunteers to teach cooking classes in the community.

Among the awards Ms. Julie’s Kitchen has earned include the Art of Living Foundation, International Association for Human Values & The Akron Peace Project Human Values Award 2011, Akron Life Magazine — Third Place Best of City for Healthy Lunch 2012 and 2013, and Fox 8 Hot List Third Place Best Vegetarian Menu 2012.