Is Your Onboarding Process the Retention Weak Link?

It’s a long, arduous process landing the right talented people to fill positions within your company. Onboarding done properly can boost job performance, while improving job satisfaction and retention. You should plan for/expect the onboarding process to take approximately a year, because it’s a critical component to developing and retaining the quality workforce you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

The Problem

Managers are often guilty of rushing the onboarding process. It’s unrealistic to expect an employee to be fully engaged in their position and the company in less than a year. If managers fail to be patient and not cultivate their new hires, it can result in those employees falling short contributing to the business, thus risking their dissatisfaction and leaving. Managers frequently view orienting an employee as an annoyance that takes time out of their day, time they could otherwise be spending on more valuable organizational processes. This mindset needs to be reframed so that managers understand that investing in the new hire results in learning about them and making sure they fully understand their role in an effort to avoid feeling like they’re not contributing.

The Investment

Naturally, you’ll want to have that new hire start producing as quickly as possible. This is where successful onboarding plays a critical role. And, when done right, the onboarding process can make a significant, lasting difference in the new hire’s experience with your company, cultivating and cementing their loyalty and engagement.
So, how come so many are leaving within a year’s time or appear to be disgruntled less than a month after joining a company? Could your employee onboarding program be to blame? A common mistake businesses’ make is lack of attention to detail or lack of awareness for how to do onboarding right.

Suggested Solutions

Open to suggestions related to improving your onboarding process?

  • Once you think you’ve found the right candidate, act. When you show a candidate that you’re interested, provide them with a starting date. Good candidates have multiple offers. You could miss out if your hiring process is cumbersome. What can you do to streamline it?
  • Provide a clear, realistic picture of what’s expected of the candidate in the interview. Don’t wait till they’ve onboarded, only for them to find the job, in actuality, turns out to be completely different from what was initially presented to them.
  • The onboarding process should be a win for the new hire. It needs to help them better understand how they fit into the organization’s overall business goal.
  • Part of the onboarding process is training. What can you do to avoid having the new employee sit through boring, snooze-worthy information? Orienting employees via video training is valuable; however, make sure your video messages are current and timely. How business was conducted 10 or 20 years ago is very different from today. If your training videos aren’t up-to-date, you’ll lose your audience as you try to convey your message, because they’ll be distracted with business issues that are no longer a priority or what’s now considered vintage clothing worn by the presenters. Get creative and provide a blend of time, technology, and interactivity to keep the new hire motivated and eager to dive into their position.
  • Onboarding and orientation should be considered the initial stages of training. Both should address the culture of the business, what’s expected daily of the new hire, and offer ways new hires can further develop their careers. Training should move in one fluid motion. It’s designed to launch new hires into the ways of the company and their positions sooner and help them maximize their effectiveness quickly.
  • Keep your new employee paperwork to a minimum. Of course, gathering the necessary paperwork is legally required; however, here’s where HR software can help, because once the information is entered, it can then be easily downloaded to other forms, saving the new hire and staff from spending hours copying repetitive information.
  • If you hear employees complaining about the onboarding process or expressing frustration and threatening to quit, that’s a red flag. However, don’t fret. Use the information to devise surveys, conduct routine interviews, or design other tools that you can use to engage new hires early on. Retaining new employees is far more profitable than starting the search process all over again. Turn those lemons into lemonade.
  • Onboarding should afford the new hire the opportunity to interact with and learn from coworkers, which will help them to thrive in the company culture, because it helps build a strong support network. According to research, engaged employees are often those who have strong relationships with their co-workers and managers.
  • Remember, onboarding is your first opportunity to engage employees and help them acclimate to your company’s culture and expectations. Part of the onboarding process is introducing your team to the new hire on the first day. Not every new hire is an extrovert. Even if he or she is, they may still feel overwhelmed, but you can help to break the ice when they need to interact with coworkers as they move forward. And, consider creating an employee social media board that could be introduced during orientation, which helps new hires ease into getting to know everyone at the company.
  • Avoid one-way communication—from the top down. Encourage your new hire to share their thoughts and ideas from day one. Then listen and provide them feedback.
  • Avoid placing high expectations on your new hire’s performance starting on day one. Even though they may have sparkling personalities and are quick learners, it still takes time to develop working relationships. Don’t expect them to be stars on the first day.
  • Acknowledge your new hire’s strengths and use them to help them gain confidence in what they’re doing. Keep them engaged by learning about additional skills they bring to the position that could be a direct benefit. For example, if you know of a new hire who did voice-over work in the past, ask them to record your video sales training scripts. In this way, they’ll feel like they’re contributing and feel valued.
  • Be flexible and consider the new hire’s background when you interact with them. You’ll want to discuss plans a bit differently with one who has years of experience compared to one who’s fresh out of college with very limited experience. In this way, you’ll make both feel comfortable, while avoiding talking down to the more experienced individual.
  • Help the new hire quickly blend in with the team by including them in out-of-the-office social situations. This provides an opportunity for the team to better acquaint themselves with the new hire in a relaxed setting. It could be a one-on-one interaction outside the office or a group gathering.
  • Regularly review how you conduct your onboarding process. Glean feedback from your new hires and look for other ways to improve/revise the process. Avoid getting comfortable with how it’s been conducted. As your business grows, there are always ways to improve/tweak it. It’ll be a win/win for your business and the new hires.

Onboarding is worth the time investment, because it helps your new employees get a sense of being part of your company sooner. By doing so, you’ll reap great dividends in terms of retaining good employees and minimizing turnover.

Why Benefits Enrollment?

The open enrollment window for 2020 marketplace coverage starts November 1, 2020 and runs for 45 days through December 15. Open enrollment is when your employees can start, stop, or change marketplace and individual health insurance plans. If they miss this enrollment window, they’ll have to wait until late 2021 to make adjustments. However, in terms of employer-sponsored health insurance, revision dates depend on the employer, but generally occur in the fall.

COVID-19 Changed Everything

Since COVID-19 reared its ugly head earlier this year, many businesses have propelled their employees into the virtual workplace. Gone are the days of on-site enrollment meetings, benefits fairs, and on-site vendor support. Thus, it’s easy for employees to forget about open enrollment or put it on the back burner. However, this is the time that effective virtual benefits guidance is more important than ever.

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing employees into their new virtual workplaces, their health and financial wellness are top of mind. However, the world of benefits isn’t the easiest to navigate, and it’s vitally important that employees receive the most comprehensive information possible so they can make well thought-out decisions as everyone moves forward.

Stress the Importance of Open Enrollment

One of the biggest challenges to employees submitting their open enrollment paperwork is not understanding their options. Often, they’ll find the choices confusing, and they can feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by the decisions they have to make. In this case, taking no action can be detrimental.

COVID-19 has pushed everyone into working remotely in the past few months; as a result, we’ve seen firsthand how essential digital tools truly are. Now, HR and Benefits Professionals need to adjust their strategies to ensure that they’re reaching and empowering all of their employees to make right decisions. The best way to do this is by offering benefits decision support, combined with a benefits administration platform.

One way is to offer significant training and information without overwhelming your employees. Frequently, the best way to approach this is to consider providing the information in multiple formats. You can offer e-learning modules that allow employees to learn about their options on their own time in a format that they’re more comfortable with. Webinars are also an excellent alternative and give staff access to important information and provide the opportunity for them to ask questions. Other employees might prefer in-person meetings, especially in organizations with multiple locations. While following safe distancing, your business can send a senior leader to each site to offer instruction and handle questions. Just be sure your leaders are prepared with all of the pertinent information they’ll need to handle your employees’ concerns.

Ultimately, it’s important to choose the right benefits platform for your company’s individual needs. Unfortunately, not all benefits decision support and benefits administration tools are created equal. ASAP Payroll Service can work alongside your benefits provider to create and maintain benefit plan setups, as well as employee benefit elections. They can define eligibility groups and waiting periods, in addition to viewing/approving open enrollment benefit elections.

Accessing benefits enrollment (medical, dental, and vision) right from the employee dashboard makes benefit elections simple for the employee and decreases the amount of time HR has to spend entering employee data.

Health Insurance

Your employees can shop for individual health plans:

  • On the federal marketplace or a state exchange via Healthcare.gov.
  • By calling the marketplace call center at 1-800-318-2596.
  • Directly on an insurer’s website.
  • Through a local health insurance broker.
  • And get an individual health plan outside of open enrollment, under the following circumstances: if they have had certain life events, including losing health coverage, moving, getting married, having a baby, or adopting a child. This is referred to as a special enrollment period.
  • It is highly recommended that your employees consider using the Healthcare.gov website, because tax credits are available, which can help them lower their monthly premiums. These tax credits are only found on the federal marketplace site or a state exchange. Plus, your employees may have 60 days before or 60 days subsequent to the event mentioned above to enroll in a plan.
  • And, if an employee’s income is too high, they won’t qualify for tax credits, or if they have a chronic condition and marketplace plans don’t cover their needs, they may need to shop elsewhere for a health plan. This is where a health insurance broker or online health insurance seller may help them find a plan that’s better than those offered on a state or federal marketplace site.
  • If you don’t provide minimum standards for coverage and affordability for your employees, they can get premium tax credits for a marketplace plan. Since employers generally pick up part of the bill, your employees could be paying a lot more.
  • If your employees fail to buy a plan during the open enrollment period when individual plans are offered, they may become uninsured and, in some states, they might have to pay a penalty. (There is no longer a federal penalty for not having health insurance.)

With the ongoing global pandemic, now, more than ever employees need accurate information so they can make the best choices for their healthcare benefits needs. HDHPs remain an outstanding value; however, employees need comprehensive decision support tools that will help them more fully understand and make better choices related to these plans.

While health insurance is one aspect of an overall benefits package, it’s even more challenging for employees to anticipate, on average, how much healthcare they’ll need. As a result, they’re more likely to purchase higher amounts of insurance than they really need in an attempt to avoid risk and give themselves the false feeling that they’re well-covered. It’s times like these when employees can find themselves paying up to $2,000 more annually than necessary in an effort to buy more peace of mind, when, in reality, there are plans that can provide better coverage without having to outlay that extra cash.

For example, employees will benefit most by enrolling in a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) combined with a Health Savings Account (HSA). Frequently, they don’t take advantage of such plans. In turn, this lack of knowledge prevents them from even considering these kinds of plans.

For example, in 2018, Willis Towers Watson, a leading global advisory, broking, and solutions company surveyed employees related to their attitudes toward Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs). The survey targeted 2,155 employees from private sector companies nationwide. Overall, the employees weren’t aware of the value and differences between these types of accounts. As a result, 69% chose not to enroll, because they didn’t see any benefit to having an HSA or they didn’t understand how they work. Yet, if offered, 62% of surveyed employees indicated they would use tools to help them decide how much to save in their HSA annually.

It has always been challenging to educate employees regarding helping them make the best choices that suit their individual needs during open enrollment, but, because of the pandemic, the need is even greater this year, due to virtual enrollment, in addition to employers wanting to make sure they’re still cutting costs and improving their ROI.

While a key benefit of decision support is decreasing costs, it’s equally important to provide a system that guides employees through the insurance selection process and helps them reduce the chance of opting for a more expensive plan than they actually need. The result can also free up additional money that employees’ can then put toward retirement or supplemental health benefits. This can be a win/win: creating opportunities to help both your organization and your employees save money, while also providing a better benefits experience for all.

One example is targeting your younger, healthier employees to choose high-deductible Consumer-Directed Health Plans (CDHPs) in conjunction with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). As a result, this can allow your employees to invest more in their retirement, while saving your company money on premiums, payroll taxes, and overall health costs.

Brokers Can Help

It’s wise to lean on brokers, because they can provide your company added value by recommending benefits decision support solutions. Brokers provide tools that make their clients’ job easier. Employers look to brokers to help them make wise benefits decisions, improve employee engagement, and drive optimal employee behavior when it comes to benefits.

Today’s benefits advisors know how important modern, sophisticated decision support solutions are in an era when benefits engagement and education are so crucial.

A broker can bring these types of solutions to their clients, thus becoming an integral part of increasing their ROI, because the broker delivered on the promise of helping employers meet organizational objectives. Brokers can also provide benefits decision support through reporting capabilities, which enables you to better support your clients over time. When a broker can present you with insights gained from an open enrollment period, he or she can help you, the employer, earmark where adjustments can be made to fine-tune benefits offerings year after year. As a result, a broker will be able to perfect an employer’s benefits offering, while continuing to build trust and provide additional value and support at a time when clients need it most.

It’s a given that benefits open enrollment will always be a cause for some amount of stress for HR professionals. However, by using a little creative thinking and planning, you can reduce the frustration for both you and your employees.

PPP Loan Forgiveness

The Payment Protection Program (PPP) Flexibility Act of 2020 was designed to modify certain provisions related to loan forgiveness under the paycheck protection program. It lets recipients defer payroll taxes and other business-related expenses. In other words, the program helps relieve small businesses and their employees from the economic impact of COVID-19.

As of this writing, the information provided is based on official Small Business Administration (SBA) guidance from the SBA’s PPP Loan Forgiveness Application Form (SBA Form 3508) and has been updated with information from the more recent Payroll Protection Program Flexibility Act.

The deadline to apply for a PPP loan has been extended to August 8, 2020. For more information, go to Fundbox.com to apply.

What is PPP?
The Payment Protection Program (PPP) helps business owners, including self-employed, who want to apply for a loan that’s 2.5 times their average monthly payroll.

According to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), which established the PPP loan to help small businesses maintain their employees and their payroll (or your own expected income in the case of sole proprietors or independent contractors) over the next of 24 weeks, qualified businesses can borrow up to $10 million at a 1% interest rate, calculated based on 2.5 times your average monthly payroll costs.

The CARES Act is designed to keep employees (or yourself) paid and employed, with some allowance for operating expenses, such as business rent, vehicle payments, and utilities. Generally, your business may be eligible for full loan forgiveness if you allocate 60% of the loan money to keeping all your full-time equivalent staff on the payroll, and you allot no more than 40% for other overhead. If you fail to meet these requirements by using less than 60% of the loan amount for payroll costs during the forgiveness covered period, you may be eligible for partial loan forgiveness, according to a joint statement issued by SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The PPA loan is a 1% interest loan that can be converted into a grant—provided you spend the funds according to the rules as outlined. However, loan forgiveness isn’t automatic. As a borrower, you’ll have to request and submit detailed forgiveness documentation to your lender.

Completing the PPP Loan Application

The most complicated part of filling out the forgiveness application is completing the payroll sections, which cover:

  • Salary, wages, commissions, or similar compensation
  • Payment of cash tips or equivalent, based on employer records of past tips or, in the absence of such records, a reasonable, good-faith employer estimate of such tips
  • Payment for vacation, parental, family, medical, or sick leave
  • Allowance for dismissal or separation
  • Payment that covers employee benefits, including insurance premiums (employer cost)
  • Payment of any retirement benefit (employer cost)
  • Payment of state or local tax assessed on employee compensation
  • During the covered period, you must spend the funds on specific items, mainly payroll
  • Apply for forgiveness through your lender and provide the required documentation
  • Lender has up to 60 days to respond to your request for forgiveness and ideally agree. This is when the balance is forgiven
  • Any balance not forgiven becomes a loan at 1% interest for 2 years or 5 years, provided the loan is made on or after June 5, 2020.

Because the application involves configuring a number of calculations, consider getting help from your accountant or financial advisor.

Now That I have the PPP Loan…
… you now have 24 weeks (or until December 31, 2020, whichever comes sooner) to use the funds appropriately. Otherwise, you’ll have to repay the loan within the next 5-10 years (depending on your lender).
You need to keep top-of-mind two overarching principles related to the PPP loan program: follow the PPP’s intent and keep detailed evidence, including records/documentation during the loan forgiveness period, and copies of the documents you provided when applying to your PPP lender.

Once your loan has been approved, you’ll receive an email with an SBA loan number and loan amount. Do the math immediately, because you’ll need to know three important facts:

  • Calculate 60% of the total loan amount you receive and earmark it for payroll. That’s the minimum you must spend on payroll over the next 24 weeks (if approved prior to June 5, 2020, you can select an 8-week period) to be eligible for full forgiveness. To keep it simple, say your loan is for $50,000. You’ll need to pay at least $30,000 of the loan to your employees.
  • Determine how much you paid your salaried and hourly employees.
  • Keep track of funds that covered payroll expenses during the forgiveness window or were sustained, which means the payroll costs were incurred during the forgiveness window but the pay date fell after the end of the forgiveness window.
  • Note how many FTE employees you have.
  • Configure each employee’s average monthly salary or wage.

Full-time equivalent (FTE) can take into account both full-time and part-time employees. Be aware that you must maintain the same number of FTE employees and their salaries during the 24-week forgiveness period, because your total loan forgiveness can be diminished if you reduced your employee headcount or compensation during this time.

To determine your exact number of FTE employees, enter the average number of hours paid per week, divide by 40, then round the total to the nearest tenth. The maximum for each employee needs to be capped at 1.0. More importantly, be sure to keep records that show how you configured these calculations.
Any reduction in loan forgiveness needs to be based on the difference between two numbers: the number of FTEs who work during the 24-week loan window and the number of FTEs who work during one of the following baseline periods (whichever is lower): February 15, 2019 to June 30, 2019 (19 weeks) or January 1, 2020 to February 29, 2020 (8 weeks).

Other Considerations

If your business happens to be seasonal, you can use either range of dates or any consecutive 12-week period between May 1, 2019 and September 15, 2019, whichever yields the lower FTEs.

As an example, if you had 20% fewer FTE employees during the full 24-week loan window, then your loan forgiveness may be reduced by 20%, respectively.

At all cost, make sure you avoid layoffs, because they can affect your loan forgiveness. If you had to lay off or temporarily furlough employees between February 15, 2020 and April 26, 2020, you can still avoid a reduction penalty provided that you rehire those employees or their equivalent by December 31, 2020, for them to be counted in the 24-week forgiveness period.

Even if those specific employees do not wish to return, as long as you hire equivalent employees to replace them, and you pay them at least 60% of the previous compensation, you can avoid the forgiveness penalty for reduction in pay.

If you’re self-employed, you’re entitled to use the PPP loan to replace lost compensation due to the impact of COVID-19. However, new guidance prevents self-employed individuals from claiming the entire amount as income replacement.
If you have mortgage interest, rent, or utility expenses, you must have claimed or be entitled to claim a deduction for those expenses on your 2019 Form 1040 Schedule C in order for to be eligible for forgiveness. This means that you need to either have your 2019 taxes filed, or prepared and ready to file.
If you worked in an office space in 2019 and did not have a home office, you cannot claim a deduction on your home mortgage interest. Even if you’re currently working at home, you’re not eligible to claim home mortgage interest payments for forgiveness.

If a laid off or furloughed employee refuses to come back and work the same hours at the same salary as prior to the layoff, you need to document this. It’s critical that you keep written records of this communication and the fact that the employee refused the offer, because you’ll need to include it with your loan forgiveness application. These particular FTE hours won’t be counted in your comparative averages, and you may still qualify for loan forgiveness.

If your business fails to restart, you may be exempt from the FTE headcount rule…if “the employer is able to document an inability to return to the same level of business activity as such business was operating at before February 15, 2020, due to compliance with requirements established or guidance issued by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration during the period beginning on March 1, 2020, and ending December 31, 2020, related to the maintenance of standards for sanitation, social distancing, or any other worker or customer safety requirement related to COVID–19.”

Even if it’s not timely for you to reopen your business, continue to pay your employees. This program was designed for small businesses to keep their employees rather than lay them off and put them on unemployment, according to Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Avoid wage cuts; otherwise, your loan forgiveness may be reduced if you cut the average wage of an employee by more than 25% of their average wage based on what you paid them in 2019. Or, if 2019 data isn’t applicable, you need to base it on their gross wages in the first quarter of 2020. However, this rule doesn’t apply to employees who earned an annual salary of $100,000 or more in 2019. Or $8,333 per month.

You also need to keep in mind that there’s a limit to the cash compensation any individual employee receives this 24-week period.

If your business doesn’t return to its pre-February 15, 2020 status, you may be exempt from the FTE headcount rule, according to the PPPFA, as stated earlier.

Keep Track of Your PPL Loan

To help you track your PPL loan, consider opening a separate bank account. This will help you to better manage, track, and later document your loan’s appropriate usage. If you do this, don’t forget to switch your payroll withdrawal account to your dedicated PPP account for the 24-week period.

Monitor your progress about halfway through the forgiveness period. Keep track of how you spent the funds; if you find that 60% of your expenses haven’t gone towards payroll, or that your average FTE headcount or employee wages fall below your thresholds, you may still have time to make necessary adjustments, taking into consideration that you can consider “hazard pay” bonuses, give people promotions and raises, or hire new employees.

  • Make sure that you didn’t reduce your headcount during the forgiveness window (unless you can show good faith that you made every effort). Be sure that you paid each of your employees at least 75% of their average wage.
  • Make sure that you used up to 40% of the remainder of the loan to cover allowable expenses, including rent or mortgage payments for your business
  • Or interest payments on a mortgage or other loan (such as an auto loan) related to your business. However, any interest payments on any other debt incurred before February 15, 2020 is not eligible for loan forgiveness
  • Document making utility payments for your business

Also, keep track of when the covered period for loan forgiveness ends. If your loan forgiveness window has closed, whether on or before December 31, 2020, whichever comes sooner, you can submit a forgiveness request to your lender. You have 10 months after the last day of the covered period to apply for interest-free forgiveness. If you miss this deadline, you may have to make principal, interest, and fee payments on the covered loan beginning on the day that’s not earlier than the date 10 months after the last day of your covered period.

The following may seem repetitive, but it’s important to emphasize. Document how you used the PPP proceeds and show that you used at least 60% of the loan to cover payroll costs. If you’re an independent contractor, you need to prove that you replaced your compensation based on your 2019 net income.

Organize what you need before the end of the loan forgiveness program. Find out if your lender requires specific documentation.

Once the documents have been submitted, your lender has 60 days to decide whether to issue loan forgiveness.

If you don’t receive loan forgiveness, know that the amounts not forgiven convert into a 1% interest loan, payable over the next 5-10 years, based on your lender. You even have a grace period where no payments would be required until the SBA remits the forgivable amount to your lender. If you don’t request forgiveness, you won’t have to make any payments for 10 months from the date of loan disbursement, but interest will still accrue from the date the loan was disbursed.

Whatever you do, be honest with how you use the funds. Otherwise, you could be subject to additional charges for making knowing violations or misappropriations. And, the SBA may have direct recourse against such a shareholder, member, or partner for unauthorized use.

Updates on COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

The COVID-19 outbreak was characterized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020, due to it being a virus that rapidly spreads from person to person, is highly contagious, and, to date, no vaccine has been identified to slow it down or stop it.

While the coronavirus started in China, once it arrived in the U.S., it rapidly spread: the number of Americans coming down with it and dying has exceeded both China and Italy.

It’s no surprise that history repeats itself. In 1918, 102 years ago, an influenza pandemic hit globally, caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin. Although there is no universal consensus as to the origin of that virus, it spread worldwide between 1918-1919, claiming about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population. In the U.S., it was first identified in spring 1918 in military personnel and claimed about 675,000 lives.

Today, with no vaccine yet identified to counter the coronavirus, it seems the same precautions are recommended in terms of dodging COVID-19 as the H1N1 virus of 1918: isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limiting public gatherings.

Sadly, COVID-19 has hit us hard, both economically and personally.

Can Your Business Survive COVID-19?

Deciding whether to keep your business open directly impacts your customers’ and employees’ safety. Both can become exposed to COVID-19 and transmit the virus before showing any symptoms. As a result, hard choices have to be made. Is your business non-essential, non-life-sustaining? Even “essential” businesses may need to change their operational model during the pandemic. One example is that, while customers shouldn’t patronize restaurants, food establishments can still deliver or offer take-out service.

Does Your Business Have a Crisis Plan in Place?

  • Do you have an infectious disease preparedness plan that can be implemented as it relates to COVID-19?
  • In what ways are you reducing employees’ (and customers’) exposure to the coronavirus?
  • Are you educating your employees on ways they can reduce transmission of the coronavirus?
  • What steps are you taking to maintain a healthy workplace environment through proper cleaning and sanitation, telework options, and urging workers to stay home, if sick?
  • How are you responding/handling those employees who show up virus positive in the workplace?

Look to OSHA for General Guidelines for Help with Handling COVID-19

The OSHA website (osha.com) is an excellent resource for obtaining basic rules that employers and employees can refer to help them stay safe during this pandemic. OSHA recommends that “employers of workers with potential occupational exposures to coronavirus” should:

  • Assess the hazards to which workers may be exposed.
  • Evaluate the risk-level exposure.
  • Select, implement, and ensure workers use controls to prevent exposure, including physical barriers to manage the spread of the virus; social distancing; and appropriate personal protective equipment, hygiene, and cleaning supplies.

It can’t be stressed enough that workplace employers and employees need to:

  • Engage in hand washing with soap and hot water for a minimum of 20 seconds.
  • Grab a paper towel to turn off the faucet after hands are clean to avoid reinfection.
  • When soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • An alternative to disinfecting, according to the CDC, is to use household (3%) hydrogen peroxide. It deactivates the rhinovirus (the common cold). Considering the rhinovirus is more difficult to destroy, it should be able to breakdown the coronavirus in less time. Pour undiluted hydrogen peroxide into a spray bottle, spray on a surface, and leave for at least one minute.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • If you need to cough, cough into your elbow.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

When an Employee or Client Tests Positive for the Coronavirus

If an employee becomes ill with COVID-19, or the health department contacts you regarding someone who visited your facility and has tested positive for the virus, additional action must to be taken immediately:

  • Dismiss your employees and have them quarantine at home. Then, deep clean and disinfect the workplace.
  • Under the confidentiality provisions of HIPAA and related laws, “only those who ‘need to know’ may know about the diagnosis.” Identify and inform employees who are likely to have been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19, then notify the employee’s supervisor that an employee has tested positive. Be discrete when communicating with your team regarding the situation.
  • Ask employees who may have been in contact with the virus to self-isolate for 14 days and conduct self-monitoring for any symptoms, which means routinely taking their temperature. If the employees feel well enough, let them know they can work from home and inform them that they must not reenter the workplace any earlier than 14 days.
  • Follow any additional guidelines recommended by your local public health authorities.

Recommendations for High-Risk Industries/Workers

Select workers are likely to perform job duties that put them in medium, high, or very high occupational risk exposure. Many critical sectors rely on these workers to continue their operations. If you operate a high-risk business, you will need to take extra precautions to protect your employees, due to the accelerated risk related to your employees performing their jobs. You may need to provide specialized training, teach additional procedures, and/or instruct them on the use of additional equipment. OSHA recommends these guidelines for industries, including those who work in:

  • Healthcare
  • Emergency response/public safety
  • Post-mortem care
  • Laboratories
  • Airline operations
  • Retail operations
  • Border protection/transportation security
  • Correctional facility operations
  • Solid waste/wastewater management
  • Environmental services (e.g., janitorial)
  • In-home repair services
  • Travel to areas where the virus is spreading

Plus, in the instance where there is no specific exposure hazard to employers and workers, it’s still important to keep up-to-date regarding ever-evolving community transmission. Changes in community transmission may warrant additional precautions in some workplaces or for workers not mentioned above. Routinely check the OSHA (osha.com) and CDC (cdc.com) websites related to COVID-19 for updates.

How Important are Labor Law Posters to Your Business?

 

While you may not consider labor law posters a necessity, if you have one or more employees in your business, not including your spouse, you’re required by law to update and prominently display them. Even if you have relatives working in your business, they must have access to compliance posters. Some statutes and regulations enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor require that notices about applicable labor laws be displayed in the workplace. Failure to post them can result in stiff penalties and possible fines up to $12,675. You can obtain these posters at no cost by visiting: Workplaceposters.org. When you go to this site, you can download free electronic copies of all mandatory posters and you can print them at your convenience.

Depending on state and federal laws, here’s a list of six federal labor law posters that you need to prominently display:

  • Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)
  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)
  • Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

In addition, some states may require the following posters be posted in Spanish and English. Check your state’s individual requirements:

  • Unemployment Insurance for Employees
  • Employer Vacation (exemption from unemployment)
  • Equal Pay for Equal Work Act

It’s important to not only make sure you have these posters prominently displayed, but to assure they’re up-to-date, because, while it’s more common for complaints to be submitted to the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission related to statutory wage-hour violations and discrimination in the workplace, you can also be dinged for not having current versions of these posters.

According to the 2017 Hiscox Guide to Employee Lawsuits, any worker who feels discriminated against or feels retaliated against for supporting a discriminated worker, can bring a charge against their employer. Charges can be filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the equivalent state fairness agency. To determine what qualifies for a discrimination charge activity, check the federal (EEOC) and state data. An investigation of this type would involve on-site visits, often resulting in more offenses likely being identified. Failure to display workplace posters is one example, especially when they relate to state laws.

Be Proactive

The labor law poster requirement was designed to communicate to workers their rights under state and federal employment laws. Typically, most legislatures or agencies grant at least a 60-day notice once a law or revision has been passed. It’s important for employers to familiarize themselves with what’s new or has been revised
before moving forward. Or business owners can also seek professional input before implementing new policies.

No One is Exempt from Having Access to Compliance Posters

In addition to your employees, you must give access to those in your business who are federal contractors or subcontractors, because they’re on your payroll. And, if you have employees who work remotely, they need to have full access to the labor laws. The following are examples of ways you can be in compliance under these circumstances.

  • Consider an online compliance guide, one where you can view the labor laws for each state online. Granted, this doesn’t meet the poster requirement; however, it can serve as a resource for your employees who work remotely. For help obtaining an online compliance guide, call the Poster Compliance Center at 800-322-3636.
  • Another option is the Poster Compliance Center’s electronic compliance guide, commonly referred to as Ecomply. It’s a valuable resource for your employees who work remotely (from home or at tiny satellite offices). It shows your employees how they can download and print the labor law compliance notices. You can order the electronic version at https://www.postercompliance.com/labor-law-posters/ecomply.

What if my employees work where there’s no room for full-sized labor law posters? Is a full set of compliance posters still required?
When there’s physically no room for posters, try putting the labor law notices in a binder or booklet. While this doesn’t fully satisfy the poster requirement, it can still serve as a resource for your employees who are constantly mobile or rarely visit the main office. Such booklets are available through the Poster Compliance Center. And, they contain all the required state and federal labor law notices. These booklets can easily fit into a vehicle, a kiosk, or other small space. To obtain a labor law poster booklet, simply call the Poster Compliance Center at 800-322-3636.

Navigating the New 2020 W-4

We’re now 3 months into 2020. Are you still confused in terms of how to handle the 2020 W-4 form that completely revamps income tax withholding? If so, you’re not alone.

Help is on the way. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Completing the 2020 W-4 isn’t for all of your employees. Only those receiving their first paycheck in 2020. If your current employees have no changes to their existing W-4s, they don’t need to fill out the new version. However, if they want to make changes, they’ll need to complete the new 2020 form. This means that you’ll have different W-4s on file. If you find this confusing, you can ask your employees hired before 2020 to complete and submit the new form. But, be sure they understand updating the form isn’t mandatory.
  • There are no more withholding allowances. This is the biggest change to the 2020 W-4. As an employer, you may have relied on withholding allowances to calculate income tax withholdings. The more allowances your employees claimed, the less tax you withheld from their checks and vice versa. More than likely, your employees relied on these exemptions to get a sizeable refund check at tax time. However, with the new 2020 changes, employees can now claim dependents or other deductions.
  • The 2020 W-4 looks different from past forms. When filling it out, employees must now:
    – Enter personal information
    – Indicate multiple jobs or if spouse works
    – Claim dependents
    – Make other adjustments (these are optional)
    – Sign the form
  • With the previous form, an employee would enter personal information, claim allowances, and sign. They could also request an additional sum be withheld or claim exemption from their federal income tax withholding, if applicable. The new form enhances the accuracy of withholding by allowing your employees to factor in multiple jobs, or if they’re married and filing jointly, they can now factor in their spouses’ jobs. And in the instance they have children, they can factor them in and their non-children dependents. They must either claim dependents by multiplying the number of children by $2,000 and/or configure other dependents by multiplying by $500 per dependent. They can also factor in other income they may receive throughout the year. An example is if they receive interest, dividends, or retirement income. They can also use deductions they plan to use on their personal tax return only if they plan to itemize and not take the standard deduction. In addition, if your employees want to make an extra withholding, they can do that. To better prepare you for answering your new employees’ questions related to this change, visit the IRS’s website.
    • Along with the newly-revised 2020 W-4, the IRS has issued new income tax withholding tables. Refer to the Percentage Method Tables for Automated Payroll Systems and the Wage Bracket Method Tables for Manual Payroll Systems that accompany the revised forms. If you manually handle payroll, refer to the wage bracket method tables. Each contains two rates for each filing status: “Standard withholding” and “Form W-4, Step 2, Checkbox withholding.” Note, though, that before you refer to the tables, you need to find the employee’s adjusted wage amount. Once located on the table, you must then account for any tax credits claimed and/or additional tax withholding requested on Form W-4.
    • In the instance that your employees completed the pre-2020 W-4s, you’ll need to refer to the income tax withholding tables that support the 2019 and earlier versions of Form W-4, because these tables still include rates based on claimed withholding allowances.
    • In addition to all of the above, you still need to address any state changes. That is, if your state has state income taxes, then your employees will need to complete a state W-4. And, depending on your state, it may or may not have its own W-4. If it doesn’t, simply use the federal W-4 form.
    • To further complicate things, in 2020, the American Payroll Association says that states must decide whether they want to continue using the federal W-4 (and adjust their state tax system to comply with the lack of withholding allowances) or create their own version. For example, some states, such as Colorado, will continue using the federal W-4 form, while Nebraska chose to create its own W-4.

As with all changes, there’s a learning curve. If you’re still stressed or confused with these changes, consider using payroll software or a payroll service, such as ASAP Payroll, to help you navigate through the changes.

Coping with COVID-19, the Coronavirus

These days, you can’t help turning on the news and getting updates, minute by minute, on the coronavirus (COVID-19). While it originated in China late last fall, it has quickly spread all over the world and has now arrived in the U.S. It’s changing how businesses operate and how we live our lives.

Here are a few facts about the virus:

  • COVID-19 started as an animal virus in a “wet market” in Wuhan, China, where farmed and exotic animals are tied up or stacked in cages. Many such animals are killed on-site to ensure freshness. According to Dr. Jeff Kwong, an epidemiologist and scientist with ICES and Public Health Ontario, “This virus is closely related to known bat viruses. That’s why it’s believed to have originated from a bat.” It has since developed the ability to spread from human-to-human. Because it’s a new virus, humans have never been exposed to it before and no one is immune from getting it.
  • It can be spread from person-to-person even before an individual feels ill or starts showing symptoms. Others don’t even become symptomatic, yet they can transmit the virus.
  • There are multiple ways to transmit the coronavirus. Currently, the CDC acknowledges it being spread by close contact, respiratory droplets in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and by touching surfaces that an infected person has come in contact with. The virus has also been found in urine and feces.
  • At greatest risk for this virus are those with a compromised immune system, including individuals with severe chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes; respiratory conditions; cardiovascular disease; heart, lung or kidney disease; and senior citizens. It’s more lethal than seasonal flu.

Yet for all we know about the coronavirus to date, there’s so much more that we don’t know, such as how many fatalities can we expect. According to the New York Post, in 2020, the coronavirus could kill 10 times more Americans than cancer or heart disease. Potentially, this could mean 6.99 million deaths this year, with the pandemic potentially spreading well into 2021. To further complicate things, a person can test negative numerous times, only to then test positive. According to researchers, there’s no logic or explanation for this.

Protecting Your Business and Employees

Once individuals test positive in an area, state and local governments have been imposing strong protocols that can protect their citizens, yet these can hurt your business. Examples are:

  • Travel restrictions: If your employees need to travel locally, regionally, or to countries affected by the virus, this can pose a challenge. They may need to consider Skype or other remote means of participating in meetings. In addition, select cities, large and small, have had lockdowns imposed for the safety of their residents.
  • If your employees exhibit any of the symptoms of COVID-19, doctors recommend they should stay home from work so as not to infect others. On average, this can add up to two weeks or more, making it difficult for a business to continue functioning. Yet working remotely will protect you and your employees, allowing your business to continue to function.
  • If your employees commute to work using public transportation, in all likelihood, they’re in very close proximity to others, thus posing a higher risk for exposure/transmission of the virus. Then, there’s also the possibility that public transportation can be shut down for a designated period of time. Are your employees in a position to access alternate transportation that doesn’t put them at great risk? Do they have a backup plan?
  • If your business serves the public, including restaurants, the hospitality industry, retail, and other forms of entertainment, if your local or state government requires lockdowns in your area, how will you cope and take care of your employees?
  • Can you afford to undergo supply chain disruptions related to your business if lockdowns are put in place? How long can you afford to survive such disruptions?

Steps You Can Take to Protect Your Business

This is the time to pull out your disaster contingency plan, if you have one, and review, update, and implement it. Hopefully, your plan also includes solutions that address sick leave policies and supply chains.

There’s no guarantee that COVID-19 won’t hit your city or region. Be prepared.

  1. If any of your employees test positive for COVID-19, they should stay home. Does your sick leave policy address employees who lack leave or are unwilling to use it? According to the website www.officepulse.captivate.com, a study of 642 white-collar workers showed 70% of business professionals go into their office when they feel sick, because they feel stressed, overloaded with work, and fear falling behind.
  2. As of March 16, 2020, The Washington Post reports Congress has taken steps to cover employees according to the latest version of a bill to protect limits eligibility for 12 weeks of paid family leave for parents who care for children whose schools have closed. However, this legislation has a loophole that allows companies to get out of paying for two weeks of sick leave. Plus, small businesses under 50 employees and many health care providers can now be exempted from paying sick leave.
  3. As your business deals with possible temporary closings and/or potential absences due to the coronavirus, does your leave policy require adjustments? Will you offer sick leave to workers who normally don’t receive it? Do you offer paid or unpaid leave, as workers are less likely to take unpaid leave? Consider how you will handle employees who are put under quarantine, whether mandatory or voluntary.
  4. Are your employees set up to work remotely…from home? Your IT department will need to either set up this process or update it ASAP.
  5. Everyone is stressed. Communication is key when such a crisis occurs. Communicate what you expect from your employees during this challenging time and give them the opportunity to ask questions and express their concerns. Allay their fears by communicating with them often.
  6. Consider the following suggestions when it comes to communication: 
  • As mentioned earlier, review your company’s policies related to international and domestic business travel, if appropriate
  • Specify what you expect of your workers who feel ill
  • Clearly communicate any revisions to your absence policy or sick leave rules
  • Communicate your company’s plans regarding continuing operations if a local outbreak of the coronavirus occurs
  • Determine and convey to all of your employees who will work remotely and how they are expected to access your systems
  • Designate who are your “essential” employees who need to come in and who can work remotely

Stress COVID-19 precautions

Review what your employees need to know to protect themselves from the coronavirus. For example, remind everyone that they should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing or coughing, or tell them to cough into their elbow. Emphasize the importance of handwashing for a minimum of 20 seconds. And, if your employees feel ill, insist that they stay home so as not to infect their co-workers.

At this critical time, you can never over communicate with your employees. It’s better for them to hear the same consistent message over and over. Some may feel stressed about what’s being communicated on the news and are seriously concerned about their at-risk loved ones. Others may be focused on what actions the government is taking in terms of school closures and city lockdowns. Then, too, they may have financial concerns about how they can afford to be off work for weeks at a time—especially if they don’t receive a paycheck. The message may not be easy to convey; however, as long as your employees know you’re being honest with them and communicating what you know when you know it, they’re more likely to understand that we’re all in this together and that they’re not alone.

Resource Guides for Dealing with Covid-19