Smart Business spoke with Phil Scott of Sequent Retirement and Benefits Group about trends for plan sponsors.
What are some areas of growing interest and focus for plan sponsors?
One area that continues to be explored is automatic contribution enrollment and automatic contribution increases as ways to boost participation.
By providing better education and communication platforms, plan sponsors are enabling employee participants to be more prepared for their retirement.
Finally, plan sponsors are continuing to keep a close watch on their administrative duties and regulatory requirements.
What are plan sponsors doing to help protect themselves and manage fiduciary risk?
They have leaned on third-party administrators, recordkeepers, investment advisors and legal counsel to identify their responsibilities to maintain plan compliance.
Companies that have embraced outsourcing elsewhere in their organizations have also outsourced segments of their retirement plans to 401(k) fiduciaries. That can be 3(38) investment advisors, who assume responsibility for monitoring, maintaining, selecting and removing investment plan options; or 3(16) advisors, who accept responsibility for plan administrative functions.
Some plan sponsors have adopted or explored the option of joining a 413(c) multiple employer plan. The multiple employer plan option provides an alternative for companies seeking relief from the burdens of independently operating and maintaining their own plan.
How do safe harbor plan designs create advantages?
One great advantage for participants is that all employer matching and non-elective contributions vest at 100 percent immediately. Also, all participants, whether they’re considered highly compensated or non-highly compensated, are allowed to maximize their elective deferral limits. Elective deferral limits, set by the IRS in 2014, are $17,500 for those age 49 or under and $23,000 for those age 50 or older.
Without safe harbor protection, highly compensated participants would only be able to defer approximately 1.5 to 2 percent more than the average contribution of the non-highly compensated group.
From a plan sponsor perspective, safe harbor plan designs are great tools for recruitment and retention of top talent. In addition, the IRS permits a safe harbor plan to be top-heavy, meaning that 60 percent or more of plan assets are attributable to key employees: an officer of the organization, whose annual compensation exceeds $170,000; any employee, who owns more than 5 percent of the company, or owns more than 1 percent and has an annual compensation exceeding $150,000.
What are the implications if a plan is deemed top-heavy?
The plan must meet minimum contribution and vesting requirements for non-key employees for each year the plan is top-heavy. The minimum contribution to bring the plan back into compliance is the lesser of 3 percent of annual compensation for all non-key employees or a percentage equal to the highest percentage contribution of any key employee. Top-heavy penalties are painful infractions, which plan sponsors are able to avoid when utilizing safe harbor as a strategy within their compensation and benefits package. ●
Phil Scott has over two decades of experience in the financial services industry. He is a registered representative with LPL Financial and investment advisor representative with Advantage Investment Management.
This information is provided as a courtesy and should not be considered specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Please consult your tax professional before taking any specific action. LPL Financial nor Advantage Investment Management are engaged in the rendering of tax or legal advice.
Securities offered through LPL Financial, member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through Advantage Investment Management, a Registered Investment Advisor and separate entity from LPL Financial.
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Expansion of the Medicaid program in Ohio was approved by the state Controlling Board because there wasn’t enough support to get it passed in the legislature. But there’s no economic reason for anyone in Ohio to oppose the expansion, says William F. Hutter, CEO of Sequent.
“The battle about Medicaid expansion was based on principle; it was about certain forces resisting an additional expansion of federal government in Ohio. And that somehow expanding Medicaid to the less affluent population in Ohio was an endorsement of health care reform,” Hutter says. “That is one view. I started taking a view that Medicaid expansion in Ohio is good for business and good for the population.”
Smart Business spoke with Hutter about how the Medicaid expansion helps businesses and what companies are doing in response to the program.
Why is Medicaid expansion good for businesses?
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), if an individual meets the criteria of having an income of less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level they can apply for Medicaid benefits.
Consider industries like hospitality and retail, which deal with a lower-cost, transient employee population. They’ve taken a position that they have employees they would like to move to full time, but have health care to deal with under ACA and the benefits cost too much. One of the advantages for that group of people, and those industries, in Ohio is that they might qualify under Medicaid.
If employees are covered under Medicaid, they are exempted from the full-time equivalent (FTE) count of businesses. That means they aren’t included in determining whether a business has 50 FTE employees and would be subject to penalties starting in 2015 if they do not provide health insurance coverage for employees. Normally, hours of all part-time employees are totaled to compute how many FTE employees are added to the number of full-time employees to see if a business hits 50.
Having more employees exempted from the FTE calculation could allow businesses to hire more people and get them qualified for Medicaid. Employees get medical coverage, the business gets exempted from the ACA and health care providers benefit.
How do health care providers benefit?
Providers complain that they don’t make money on Medicaid patients because reimbursement rates are lower. However, hospitals and urgent care centers do not turn people away; they provide medical care 90 percent of the time whether or not someone can pay. What’s better, to be paid zero for providing $500 worth of medical services, or to be paid $400? From a patient standpoint, while Medicaid might not cover all costs, it takes some pressure off because there is reimbursement from the federal government.
Have businesses developed strategies in response to the Medicaid expansion?
Absolutely. They are trying to get employees signed up for coverage. We’ve been working with clients on helping them with the Office of Healthcare Transformation, which built the Medicaid application portal in Ohio. Director Greg Moody has done a good job creating a portal that makes it easy for people to sign up.
There have been comments that only 30 percent of the people who register get qualified, but it’s a financial qualification — it’s not arbitrary. It’s a set amount based on income being up to 138 percent of the poverty level.
This is one of the more worthy social benefits that helps keep people healthy and is in-line with the intent of the ACA. It will be good for small and midsize businesses and keep more people employed. Yes, it’s not in high-wage positions, but it is an improvement and will move more money into Ohio and create economic flow.
Employers are starting to figure this out. They want to do what’s best for employees, the company and shareholders. For the current circumstances and environment, Medicaid expansion is good for Ohio. ●
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Many companies talk about the need for employee engagement, but few are taking the necessary steps to engage their workforce.
“While it’s a commonly used term, it’s not common practice. For example, 75 percent of leaders have no engagement strategy, yet 90 percent consider engagement to be a critical component of a company’s success,” says Beth Thomas, executive vice president and managing director of Consulting Services at Sequent.
“Right now, 70 percent of employees are disengaged at work, and it’s costing companies over $300 billion in lost productivity, turnover and diminished business success. Based on statistics, you would think that companies would view this as a critical initiative,” says Thomas.
Smart Business spoke with Thomas, author of “Powered by Happy: How to Get and Stay Happy at Work,” about how to boost employee engagement.
Why have companies been slow to address engagement?
There are several reasons. Some companies believe customer satisfaction is engagement — it’s not. You can have happy, disengaged employees who are genetically happy or pleased with the company, but are not engaged in their work or in the right role.
Surveys will address items like wages, benefits and the company café, but that doesn’t get into the emotional connection to work and employees’ desire to use discretionary effort to be the best performers they can be.
Sometimes companies conduct surveys and do nothing with the results, which creates even more disengagement.
What is the process of engaging employees?
We utilize a nine-step process:
- Create a vision. What do you want to achieve? What’s the value proposition?
- Determine the metrics of success. Use benchmarks and create performance goals needed to improve engagement, which will also build customer loyalty and your bottom line.
- Align expectations. Once you have a vision and decided how to measure success, develop an employee engagement survey designed to get the information needed to improve engagement.
- Execute the survey. We conduct an educational webinar first, so employees know why the survey is being done and their role in making it a success.
- Create an action plan based on the survey results. The plan should prioritize tasks and assign ownership and timing to each milestone. Communicate the survey results and how they are being used.
- Establish a team of influencers. This group will organize activities — based on survey results — to help achieve and sustain a higher level of engagement.
- Develop leaders and frontline managers. They need to understand how to impact the company culture and employees every day. Many managers think they are prepared to coach and lead engagement, but they really aren’t.
- Evaluate if course correction is needed. Training or action plan activities may need to be modified to ensure you’re set up for a successful journey toward engagement, rather than a pit stop.
- Ensure sustainability. Creating that initial engagement is easier than sustaining or improving engagement. We have an engagement application that provides managers with a support network of tips, tricks and hints on how to continually drive engagement. You have to create engagement as a habit; it occurs naturally because of the way you manage people.
What mistakes do companies make when implementing engagement strategies?
One is rewarding performance without behaviors. Someone might be a great producer, but have a bad attitude. Knowing that they have a bad attitude and rewarding them based on sheer numbers or performance is a mistake.
The management and leadership team also has to believe and drive the engagement process; it’s not enough just to say it’s an important initiative.
The benefits of engagement are so great that more companies should make it an emphasis. Engaged employees generate 40 percent more revenue than disengaged ones and are 87 percent less likely to leave. So being able to recruit, retain and benefit from engaged employees will impact your bottom line and the success of your company. ●
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First, the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) health insurance exchange was delayed. That was followed by a delay in the release of community ratings for small group programs. On top of that, there’s confusion about whether businesses with less than 50 employees, which are not governed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandate to provide health insurance, can utilize health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) to buy individual coverage.
“The ACA places significant limitations on HRAs, and they are the only vehicle these companies have to distribute dollars employees can use to pay for premiums. The question is whether businesses that are exempt from the mandate are impacted by other aspects of the ACA. There will need to be some guidance as to whether it applies,” says William F. Hutter, CEO of Sequent.
The delays and uncertainty have left small businesses with few options for health insurance at a time when they need to finalize plans for 2014.
“That inherently creates a violation of rules because there’s a 60-day notice requirement to inform employees of any plan changes,” Hutter says. “We think the notice will be interpreted so that companies might be able to make a plan change, but not a cost change — the employer would have to pick up any difference. But that factor also has to be determined.”
Smart Business spoke with Hutter about problems with the rollout of the ACA exchanges and how reform continues to affect businesses of all sizes.
Should the 19 million people who were told their coverage was terminated have been surprised?
That was known back in 2010; it was written about. Plans were cancelled because the ACA changed requirements for insurers and the plans they provide. Plans are not only registered on a federal level but also on a state-by-state basis. Each state has a department of insurance to oversee plans and rate structures. A carrier needs to meet new requirements under ACA and state mandates, but when a plan design is changed, it is no longer grandfathered. It has to be terminated or withdrawn, and a new plan is submitted and approved. Whether this will be true going forward is uncertain.
If you are self-insured, the opportunity to keep the same plan is greater. Companies that self-insure can continue their plans as long as they don’t make significant changes.
Are self-insurance plans exempt from many ACA requirements?
Yes, that’s why companies have been exploring the option of self-funding arrangements. It’s a strange set of rules, but you can choose to cover or not cover certain things as long as they aren’t considered minimum essential coverage requirements. However, you can’t do it in a limited way; you can’t decide to cover autism, but only up to $10,000 a year. You have to choose to not cover it or cover it completely.
What self-funding does is create more predictability for companies because they purchase a stop-loss policy to limit their liability. Health insurance costs will continue to rise because of an aging demographic. The plan design can help keep increases to 4 to 6 percent annually instead of 30 or 40 percent.
Is that option also available to small businesses with fewer than 50 employees?
It can be, although you can’t do it like a big company would because a small employer doesn’t have the numbers to mitigate the risk of large claims.
Self-insurance is a design plan issue. Being self-insured with a specific stop-loss point might work. If you have 30 employees, you can have a stop-loss of $10,000 each. Then you need to figure out your actuarial funding for it and reserve that amount to pay for claims and expected losses. If you have a healthy group, it makes sense.
Small businesses also can join a pool for health insurance. That’s a service HR consultants or chambers of commerce provide, through an aggregation model, for clients or members to get health care. They don’t provide health care but establish a contractual arrangement with a company that does.
But the problem with the ACA is that new information is coming so quickly, and it takes months to rethink your health insurance strategy. This will continue to be difficult for companies to work through. ●
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At first glance, dropping health insurance for employees and sending them to the exchanges sounds like a win for everyone. Companies can give raises to make up the difference for employees, who then buy insurance for less, and everyone saves money.
But that’s not the result when you factor in all of the numbers, says William F. Hutter, CEO of Sequent.
“Drop your health insurance and give employees the same money is the mantra we keep hearing. It is not a simple decision and should not be treated as such for middle-market companies,” Hutter says.
Smart Business spoke with Hutter about the costs associated with this decision, and its potential impact on your business.
Would companies rather not worry about health insurance because of its volatility?
Companies are tired of thinking about health insurance; it’s becoming another distraction away from their business. Of course, that’s just considering cost and not taking into account the cultural issues involved with the perception of whether you’re taking care of your employees.
For example, a client was advised that it could save money by sending everyone to the exchange and just giving employees raises. That has proven to be a fallacy. When you review all of the numbers, the savings are not there.
The company has 109 employees, and 79 are covered by the health plan. It has a high deductible, so the company contributes to a health reimbursement account (HRA) for employees.
Basic costs of the plan are:
- Total insurance premiums — $653,000.
- Company share — $522,400.
- Employees’ share — $130,600.
- Company HRA cost — $200,000.
- Total cost to company — $722,400.
Dropping insurance and giving those employees $7,500 in raises each — a total of $592,500 — would appear to save the company $129,900. But you have to consider the total cost impact, including deductible burden, taxes and penalties.
What are the tax implications under this scenario?
Because of the loss of the pre-tax deduction, employees and the company both pay more in taxes on the $592,500 in raises — $199,937 by employees and $73,395 by the company.
There’s also an Affordable Care Act (ACA) penalty of $114,000 the company would be required to pay because it would no longer be a health plan sponsor. And now the employees also are paying all of the plan deductible, so that’s another $158,000, assuming a $2,000 deductible.
When you consider all of those factors, the total cost is $779,894, or about $57,000 more to not offer health insurance. When shown the entire picture, the client was blown away.
Are there other variables to consider, even if dropping health insurance for employees made financial sense?
In addition to how it would be perceived by employees, there’s a concern about making a decision based on the short term. Organizations need to think more strategically, rather than looking just at how to fix a current problem.
No one knows how the exchanges are going to shake out. They are getting a tax subsidy for the first two years in the form of a $62 annual tax on every employee covered by an insurance carrier outside of the exchanges. In theory, that provides a pool of money carriers can draw on until the exchanges find their own balance regarding enrollees, costs and risks. That could result in a significant increase in premiums in two years when the subsidy goes away.
Also, you want to be cautious about dropping insurance and giving up the tax advantage of sponsoring a plan because it’s difficult to go back. That’s really the objective of the ACA — it’s a revenue enhancement bill rather than a health care bill. That goes back to the 2005 study by Sens. Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley, which flowed right into health care reform.
This analysis and case study is a dramatic illustration of how the changes written into health care reform are really about closing tax loopholes. Companies may be better off keeping the tax advantage of health care for themselves and their employees by providing access to predictable health care coverage. ●
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Enforcement of the employer mandate has been delayed until 2015, along with the annual limit on out-of-pocket costs a patient pays above what insurance covers, but the rest of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is still scheduled to proceed as planned — although it’s uncertain whether that schedule will be kept.
“Right now there’s been two official delays announced. In theory, all other elements of the PPACA are coming into play. But this is so fluid and volatile that we could see the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announce that the federal exchange is not ready,” says William F. Hutter, CEO of Sequent.
Open enrollment for the health insurance exchanges, aka marketplace, is set to start on Oct. 1 and continue through March.
“They’re trying to build awareness through a marketing campaign but aren’t sure what to do because they haven’t seen how it is going to work,” Hutter says.
Smart Business spoke to Hutter about the upcoming timetable for PPACA implementation and what to expect regarding scheduled deadlines.
What do these delays mean to the implementation of the PPACA?
Pieces of the PPACA are already in place. The Medicare tax is increasing, the decline in flexible spending dollars have come into play, and the underwriting criteria for carriers is going to change how they underwrite and create similarities in pricing models because plans have to be pretty consistent. The age compression standard — rates can only be three times as much because of age — has been set.
Additional taxes also have kicked in, including the Patient Centered Outcome Institute fee. Employer requirements to notify employees have increased, as well.
Major changes are occurring; no one knows how they are going to pull it off. There are so many variables at this time that no one can predict what’s going to happen.
There’s also the question of whether the exchanges will be ready to go on Oct. 1. As of now, only one is ready — California. There’s also Massachusetts, if you consider that an exchange. The HHS has been quiet following a flurry of releases months ago. Something was leaked that the federal exchange might not be ready and since then there’s been no information, which means they might push it close to the deadline.
Meanwhile, companies are left to fend the best they can in anticipation of open enrollment starting.
Are repeal or defunding possibilities?
The repeal votes are all pomp and circumstance. Defunding is possible, but unlikely. The real problem is that no one can figure out how to make the PPACA work. That includes insurance agents and carriers, enforcement entities and employers.
What difference does delaying the employer mandate a year make?
All it means is that employers don’t have to worry about fines or penalties for a year. We’re recommending that companies proceed based on what they think is the best course of action. Companies need to design solutions to fix some of the exposures of the PPACA; it doesn’t matter what type of business you have, what makes a difference is your financial wherewithal. It’s a matter of coming up with a basic solution to address PPACA requirements and deciding how much you want to spend — like getting a combo meal and choosing between small, medium and large. That decision will be based on factors such as company culture and environment.
One emerging tactic is to seek early renewal of plans because of the uncertainty surrounding the PPACA. If you can get your carrier to renew starting Dec. 1, 2013, then you don’t have to worry about the PPACA and its impact until December 2014.
Right now, there’s no breathing room for companies. What happens if you anticipate that the federal exchange will be ready and the HHS announces on Sept. 10 that it will be delayed? Then there are all of the challenges associated with technology, billing and verification of wages. There’s going to be a whole new system that will handle protected health information, is it going to be secure?
There are so many things to be considered; it makes sense to try to schedule your plan year to avoid the inevitability of the PPACA until there is more certainty.
William F. Hutter is CEO at Sequent. Reach him at (888) 456-3627 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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2013 Healthcare Reform Seminar
In mid-July, Smart Business held the 2013 Healthcare Reform Seminar, presented by SummaCare, and sponsored by Rea & Associates, Sequent, Roetzel & Andress, The Greater Akron Chamber, and hosted by Firestone Country Club. More than 200 people heard insight, advice and strategy from a panel of experts on what employers need to know about healthcare reform.
Contact these insightful panelists to learn more:
Some leaders take an “old school” approach to change management — employees get a paycheck, so they’ll deal with any changes without a need for much explanation. But that sets the organization on a path toward failure.
“The biggest problems are when leadership does not account for the fact that resistance is definitely an option,” says Mark Deans, practice leader in Organizational Development & Change Management at Sequent.
“You could build a perfectly streamlined business process, or add the most efficient tool, but if employees don’t understand how to execute it to meet your expectations, it’s not going to succeed. Try as you might, you can’t make people do things,” Deans says.
Smart Business spoke with Deans about ways to ensure successful implementation of a change process.
What is involved in change management?
It’s supporting a change in business processes or systems, technology, etc. The practice of change management applies to any significant change in an organization, including leadership change as part of an acquisition or divestiture. It’s about how employees are supported through the change process.
The methodology is that there is a journey the organization, departments and individuals go through, and each has a completely different time path. Two people might do the same job, but each has his or her own change capability, and it’s a matter of identifying and managing all of those within an organization to make the change as seamless as possible.
How does the change process work its way through an organization?
First and foremost, leadership must be on the same page. Start with getting leaders aligned so they can be the driving force behind the change, helping each individual understand his or her part.
Organizations are taking a more holistic view nowadays. A change might mean more work for some departments but provides an overall net benefit for the organization. It used to be that each silo fought for its own interests. Now, it’s about how departments operate together, and some teams taking a hit if necessary to ensure the overall organization is as successful as possible.
One of the first steps is acknowledging the need to change, and the benefits. There should be some compelling reason, whether it’s regulatory changes, an attempt to improve market share or boost the bottom line. If the overarching goal is to improve margins, explain what that means for each group, and ultimately for each individual. You have to manage change upfront and get everyone onboard at the start rather than waiting for problems. It’s analogous to going to the dentist. If you see your dentist on a regular basis, keep your teeth clean and get X-rays, you can catch cavities when they start and are easier to fix, instead of not going for a long time and having major damage. The same holds true for change management, if you start a project and haven’t thought about how to communicate it to employees, going back and fixing it is much more difficult.
Is it important to state a desired outcome?
Absolutely. That is where some companies fail as well. They make a change and aren’t sure why. A company buys hundreds of iPads as part of a mobile technology strategy without addressing the intended use. So people are updating their Facebook status or playing Angry Birds because they don’t have a burning business reason to utilize these tools. That might be a ridiculous example, but there are plenty of cases in which companies want to hurry up and do something because it’s a shiny, new object.
You also need to accept it if a change didn’t work. Evaluate the success of the change, including what happened and didn’t happen as planned. Change projects always take longer and cost more than expected. Organizations that handle change well go back and figure out what they did well, and what could have been done differently. Then they remediate anything that did not get executed as well as planned. They learn from the experience so the process can be improved next time.
Mark Deans is a practice leader in Organizational Development & Change Management at Sequent. Reach him at (614) 410-6028 or email@example.com.
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Many aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) become effective Jan. 1, 2014, but preparing for that date is difficult for businesses because not all of the rules and regulations have been written.
“As of last month, there were still 1,200 regulations yet to be written by the end of the year. I don’t think anybody has it figured out yet — that’s the biggest problem,” says William F. Hutter, president and CEO of Sequent.
Nonetheless, there are steps businesses can take now to be ready for 2014. “The first thing to do is to understand the PPACA. Unfortunately, there is no definitive source of information on how it will impact companies because of the yet-to-be written regulations. So you need to read a variety of materials, starting in July — that’s when we should see those rules and regulations start to manifest,” says Hutter.
Smart Business spoke with Hutter about strategies small and midsize businesses can take to deal with the uncertainty surrounding health care reform.
Is there a chance that the effective date of PPACA provisions might be delayed?
Some factors already have. The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), an exchange for small businesses to purchase health insurance, has been delayed for a year. Also, nothing has been presented showing how the federal health care exchange, a marketplace for individuals to purchase insurance, is going to work.
Since everything is in flux, what can companies do in preparation?
A number of strategies are going to emerge, and many might have questionable structure. If someone presents an opportunity too good to be true, it probably is. Be careful about vetting companies offering creative strategies to avoid some of the impact of health care reform.
One legitimate strategy on the increase is the use of cell captives. Companies will self-insure, but with minimal exposure. There are good self-insurance options for businesses in the 60- to 70-employee range that will exempt them from certain aspects of the legislation, such as unlimited rehabilitative services. An employee can go to rehab for 30 days, come back and four months later have another drug problem that sends him or her back to rehab — there’s no limitation and it’s covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act. A company can design a plan that doesn’t allow that because it’s not required in a self-funded plan, even though it is part of the minimum essential coverage required under the PPACA in the fully insured environment.
All of these self-funded plans will become high deductible health plans with three layers of risk. The first is the employee deductible, which will pay the first layer of claims. The second layer will be an amount of self-retained insurance risk a company insures. The insurance company will pay the third layer. That setup protects insurance companies from a lot of the smaller claims. In Ohio, about 70 percent of claims are less than $8,000.
What impact will reform have on health care costs?
It will not bring down the cost of insurance because there’s nothing health care reform can fix relative to the aging demographics of the workforce. There’s been a dramatic increase in recent years in the use of medication and cost of defensive medicine. As baby boomers continue to age, those costs will only increase. There are not enough 20-somethings coming into the workforce to compensate for the aging demographic in the state of Ohio.
If anything, the cost of regulation just keeps increasing. A recent study stated that fines and penalties are expected to total $88 billion. All kinds of alternative strategies are being considered, not to avoid the intent of providing good coverage for employees, but because of uncertainty with the legislation. If you can create certainty by having a new health care plan design, that’s good for business. At least you know what you have.
We’re not going to see the conclusion of how health care reform is going to be implemented for a decade. It’s going to be a really long time.
William F. Hutter is president and CEO at Sequent. Reach him at (888) 456-3627 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Business owners understand the need to go to dentists to get their teeth cleaned and to mechanics for car repairs, but yet they attempt to manage their employees internally instead of getting help.
“Managing the business of employment requires a completely different discipline and skill set from what is needed for the core business activity,” says William F. Hutter, CEO of Sequent. “Just because you are in the business of making widgets doesn’t mean you understand what it takes to be an employer in today’s environment. Rules and regulations relative to being an employer have changed a lot during the past 10 years.”
Smart Business spoke to Hutter about government regulations, employee retaliation and other issues involved with the business of managing people.
Why should companies pay more attention to employee management?
So many companies spend time on their communications budget for things like high-speed Internet and phones; that’s an insignificant portion of the total budget. For service companies, people represent 40 to 70 percent of the total cost of operations. It’s such a big segment, but no one seems to approach it appropriately because it requires a separate discipline. Issues relating to employees have a risk tail — it’s a contingent liability that can last three to five years after an event occurs. How many companies really know how to manage that liability? Small to midsize businesses don’t have the resources or expertise to do that and protect their biggest asset, which is their company.
What is involved in employee management?
There are common responsibilities that come with being an employer — compliance, wage and hour, health care reform, retirement plan fiduciary liability, workers’ compensation management, proper forms, reporting, employee file maintenance, etc. In professional practices, there are also issues regarding licenses, accreditations and certification; those are business drivers that contribute to your business success.
The hiring process, however, has nothing to do with what you’re passionate about and the business you opened; the business drivers for your specific discipline. Each new piece of legislation, each government-required form, each legal precedent set because of a lawsuit filed by a employee begins to change how you need to think about managing the business of employment.
In 2010 and 2011, retaliation charges became the most frequent complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, surpassing race discrimination. An employee filed a complaint of some sort — harassment, hostile work environment — and then was terminated and filed a claim of retaliation. That retaliation claim is pursued by the government at no cost to the former employee. And 41 percent of all federal discrimination claims are charged against companies with 15 to 100 employees.
One of the newest areas for claims is in absenteeism and attendance. The Department of Labor has developed a free app employees can download to their smartphones and keep track of hours worked to see if they’re due overtime pay, which in essence is wage and hour enforcement at the employee level.
What can companies do to prevent claims?
Make sure employees are properly classified as exempt or nonexempt under wage and hour law. For example, to be exempt you must have hire or fire authority, supervise two or more people and be able to affect company policy. Not all professionals are exempt; it depends on the actual job task. For computer programmers, they have to be paid 6.5 times minimum wage per hour to be considered exempt. But fruit and produce delivery truck drivers are exempt because they are involved in interstate commerce.
Most companies don’t want to keep track of time because it requires monitoring by managers. But it’s a major liability and all it takes is one complaint to create problems.
Think about how to keep track of hours and reporting requirements of health care reform and look-back periods, or just one required form, the I-9 — there are 40 different fines that can be levied for that form alone. This shift in focus toward compliance and away from innovation has great cost to the business. That’s a cost of doing business and you need to move those tasks elsewhere because you never get that opportunity back.
William F. Hutter is the CEO of Sequent. Reach him at (888) 456-3627 or email@example.com.
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