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Employer guidance for preparing and responding to coronavirus

Employer guidance for preparing and responding to coronavirus

Coronavirus is continuing to spread globally, with 82,000 reports worldwide and 60 confirmed cases now in the United States as of this blog. Along with the global advance comes increased anxiety and confusion over how to prepare.

You may have seen that large corporations are canceling conferences, limiting travel and stocking supplies. But is this too extreme—or not extreme enough? What does this mean for smaller companies? And how can workplaces prepare? 

This blog is simply intended to provide information to promote common-sense preparedness, not panic. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published guidance that may help prevent workplace exposures to acute respiratory illness and the potential effects of more widespread outbreaks of coronavirus. Their guidance is two-fold: How employers can prevent now, and prepare for later.

What employers can do now

As all workplaces are encouraged to take safety measures, it’s important that employers communicate preparedness to employees. Employers should also be careful not to make determinations of risk based on race or country of origin. The following recommendations should be used to prepare and prevent the spread of the virus, but any confirmed illness should remain confidential.

  • Emphasize hygiene etiquette

Post information around the office that encourages staying home when sick and explains cough and sneeze etiquette and handwashing in areas where they are likely to be seen. Provide tissues and alcohol-based hand sanitizer around the workplace to encourage prevention throughout the day.  This is nothing new. This counsel is actually what should normally be followed to reduce the spreading of any sickness in the workplace.

  • Encourage staying home

Employees should be encouraged to notify their supervisor and stay home if they are feeling sick. Ensure that your company’s sick leave policies are flexible and in line with public health guidance, and communicate these policies consistently so that employees are aware. Some may need to stay home to care for a sick family member or may not be able to obtain a doctor’s note within the usual timeframe. Be flexible and make sure your employees know their health is a priority.

  • Advise caution for traveling employees

Direct employees to the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which employees may travel. Advise employees to check themselves for symptoms of respiratory illness before starting travel and ensure that employees who become sick while traveling can notify a supervisor and contact a healthcare provider. If outside the U.S., sick employees should follow your company’s policy for obtaining medical care or contact a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to assist them with finding an appropriate healthcare provider in that country. 

  • Maintain confidentiality

In the rare event your employee is confirmed to have coronavirus, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure, but maintain privacy and confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and HIPAA. Employees exposed to a co-worker can conduct a risk assessment per guidance by the CDC.  This is not an easy balance – so you may want to obtain some counsel in the event of a confirmed case in your workplace.

Creating an outbreak response plan

The severity of the illness or how many people will fall ill is still unknown, but the CDC has said the current risk in the U.S. from the virus is low. However, employers are still encouraged to develop plans in case the virus becomes more widespread. This could potentially result in containment efforts that might include closing schools, limiting public transportation or canceling large gatherings. The following bullets recommend action items for employers in the event that coronavirus becomes even more widespread.

  • Review policies for compliance

Review your company’s human resources policies to ensure practices are consistent with public health recommendations and existing state and federal workplace laws. For more information on employer responsibilities, visit the websites of the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

  • Consider remote work

Depending on your business, employees may be able to telecommute or flex their normal working hours to increase physical distance between other employees. This may be necessary in the event of an outbreak, as state and local health authorities could recommend social distancing strategies. Employers should ensure that technology and policies are in place to support employees who can work from home.

  • Plan for interruptions

Identify now the essential functions, roles and elements within your business to maintain regular operations. Develop a plan now for how your business will operate (or not operate) if employees are unable to come to work or if essential functions are inhibited. 

  • Prioritize communication

Information should be communicated to employees and business partners about your company’s disease outbreak plan. Establish a process now for this communication and set up triggers that will activate the response plan. Employers should anticipate employee fear, rumors and misinformation, so be careful that communication addresses these anxieties.

  • Stay informed in the community

According to the CDC, local conditions will influence the decisions that public health officials make regarding community-level strategies. Employers should take the time now to learn the plans in place for each community in which the business is located.

Looking ahead

Taking preventative and proactive measures now will prepare both employers and employees in the event that coronavirus does become more widespread. Rather than scrambling last minute, an overly cautious approach will make employees feel confident, informed and safe. 

As your PEO, we’re here to support you. This blog is intended to promote preparedness, NOT panic. Have further questions or concerns? Give us a call today and we’ll be happy to take steps with you toward protection and compliance. 

See the following links to more information about coronavirus: 

Why choose a PEO?

Why choose a PEO?

Servant HR provides fully integrated HR services—giving employers the freedom to focus on the success and growth of their businesses. Operating as a PEO enables us to take on the administrative load that comes with paying employees, offering benefits, managing risk and more. 

But what exactly is a PEO again? And how is it different from the other HR service options out there? Good questions! Let’s get a lay of the land.

Defining terms

PEO stands for Professional Employer Organization. The biggest distinction of a PEO is that it offers its services through a “co-employment” relationship. Co-employment means that the PEO allocates responsibilities between the employer and the PEO, as expressed in a service agreement. 

While the employer maintains their relationship with worksite employees, PEO’s provide many back-end services in a bundled offering. These often include payroll, health and welfare benefits, workers’ compensation and risk management services. 

Perhaps the biggest misconception about PEO’s is that the client loses control of its workforce through the co-employment model. But this is not the case, as PEO clients retain complete control over day-to-day operations and workforce management. Employers continue to make their own hiring, termination, discipline, scheduling, promotion, safety and culture decisions.

The relationship actually provides the exact opposite, as PEO’s often add to the control and confidence of an employer. Clients have access to higher quality HR offerings, systems and processes, and benefit from PEO expertise in making big decisions.

Other options

You may have heard of an ASO as well, which stands for Administrative Services Organization. The main difference between a PEO and an ASO is the co-employment relationship. An ASO manages only day-to-day administrative operations, but does not process payroll, remit taxes, sponsor benefit programs or offer workers’ compensation coverage under the PEO umbrella. There is no shared employment relationship. 

If that’s still not enough acronyms for you, there is an HRO model as well! Human Resources Outsourcing is the process of subcontracting human resources functions to an external supplier. This option has traditionally been only available to larger organizations, but like an ASO, an on-site employer remains the “employer of record” in the arrangement. 

So, why a PEO?

Here are three of our favorite reasons to consider:

Compliance

For many small businesses, administering payroll is a huge task in itself. What may seem just like “cutting checks,” actually involves many parts of the business, all affected by payroll functions. PEO clients enjoy easier, more confident compliance in tax payments, and more benefits options. A PEO literally has hundreds of years of human resource experience.  Partnering with a PEO provides peace of mind that a full-service team of experts is working solely for your protection.

Benefits

Another perk is there may be access to more affordable health and ancillary insurance. Alongside a PEO, you gain access to a much larger pool of employees when obtaining insurance quotes. PEO’s may receive bulk, discounted pricing so that clients are able to offer employees more comprehensive insurance coverage with better rates.

Cost

For many small business owners, cost is the most compelling reason for signing on with a PEO. Service fees for PEO’s are often significantly less expensive than hiring a full-time, in-house Human Resources professional. The PEO manages all the functions of a full-time employee, and in some cases, for as little as a quarter of the cost. 

In addition, many employers struggle under the weight of being both the business owner and the HR department. The inability to balance both effectively can ultimately cause a business to suffer. 

Thinking it through

Partnering with a Professional Employer Organization can have a ripple effect across an entire company, offering better health benefit options, employee management and more time for business owners to spend on what they really care about—their business.

Working with a PEO is a big decision for any company. While it may stand to benefit your business in many ways, don’t just take our word for it! Feel free to check out our reviews and explore our website resources. Learn more about our team and exactly what we do


Still not sure if a PEO is right for you? Give us a call today! We’d love to help answer any of your questions and determine how Servant HR can serve you and your business.

Your Guide to the New Form W-4

Your Guide to the New Form W-4

Happy New Year, and Happy New Form W-4! 

On December 5, the IRS issued the redesigned 2020 Form W-4 (Employee’s Withholding Certificate). The form is long-awaited in the payroll community, as the redesign has been postponed for years due to various concerns and time constraints. However, change can be confusing and the update has been dreaded by many employers and employees alike.

It used to be that new hires filled out their filing status and the number of allowances on the W-4. Using the W-4 personal allowances worksheet, employees calculated a number that told their employers how much money to withhold from their paychecks for federal, state and local taxes.

What’s changed and why

Now things are a bit different. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) eliminated personal exemptions, which allowed for deductions against a taxpayer’s personal income. These exemptions were tied to allowances, but since exemptions are now gone, the need to determine the number of allowances is gone as well. 

Enter the new Form W-4! The form is designed to make tax withholdings more accurate. Those who fill out the 2020 form are less likely to end up with a large tax bill or a big refund when they file tax returns in 2021. This way, wages can be more accurately invested or spent on essential expenses throughout the year.  Interestingly, this may actually be the biggest concern for many employees who have used their tax filing as a savings account of sorts in the past.

Not all workers must complete the 2020 Form W-4, as the IRS has designed the withholding tables to work with prior year forms as well. However, all new employees starting in 2020 or employees updating their withholdings in 2020 must use the new Form W-4. The IRS also recommends that employees revisit their W-4 forms annually to account for any life changes, such as getting married or having kids.

A step-by-step guide

So, how should your people actually fill out the form? We’re glad you asked! Listed below are the 5 simple steps for filling out the new W-4: 

1.Enter Personal Information

First name, last name, social security number and filing status (single, married, head of household, etc.) are all lumped in this box. This step must be completed by all employees, so if an employee does not fill out the form at all, you are required to calculate their withholding as “Single.” This withholds their taxes at the “Single” rate, resulting in more income tax being withheld.

2. Multiple Jobs or Spouse Works

Employees should complete this step if they currently work more than one job, or if they are married filing jointly and their spouse is working as well. For this step, following option A will give employees the most accuracy (and privacy) of the three, since the new online withholding estimator will use all the relevant entries for the form. Option B provides accuracy as well, but requires manual work so there is more room for error. Option C is the easiest to complete but is the least accurate, as it assumes that both jobs have similar pay. 

3. Claim Dependents

Here employees will multiply their number of dependents by specific dollar amounts. When the TCJA was enacted, the law changed so that more people would qualify for the child tax credit. Single taxpayers with an income of $200,000 or less ($400,000 if married filing jointly) are now eligible. If your employees have questions about this section, feel free to direct them to the definitions in IRS Publication 972 – Child Tax Credit if they’re looking to claim the credit.

4. Other Adjustments

This section is optional, but offers a few other things employees may want to consider when calculating their tax withholding. Other income (not from jobs) could include retirement income, dividends, or any additional income that might not be subject to direct withholding. Deductions include things like mortgage interest or charitable contributions. Extra withholding is simply any extra amount of income that the employee would like to withhold per paycheck.

5. Sign and Date

Last of all, your employee must sign the W-4 in order for the form to be valid.

And that’s it! The new W-4 definitely comes with a learning curve, but your confidence with the form will instill confidence in your employees that their taxes will be withheld accurately. More details on each of the steps above (including information on who can claim exemption from withholding) can be found on page 2 of the form.

If you’d like, you can also direct hesitant employees to the IRS Tax Withholding Estimator. Employees can use their most recent pay statements and income tax return to fill in the questions online. This will then calculate an estimate from the IRS of what their tax liability will be, and whether their current withholding is too much or not enough to meet the liability.
Questions, concerns or needing help with onboarding in general? We’re here to help! At Servant HR, we strategically partner with you to manage and optimize all your human resource responsibilities. From employee onboarding to legal counsel, we help lighten your administrative load so you can focus on what matters most. Give us a call today and see how Servant HR can serve your business in 2020!

‘Tis the (flu) season! Re-thinking your company’s sick policy

‘Tis the (flu) season! Re-thinking your company’s sick policy

It’s the holiday season! But as many of us know, the holiday season is often cozied up right next to the flu season. Employees are calling in to claim sick days, while others trudge through the work day with cough drops and tissues in tow. 

In 2018, a Walgreens survey revealed that 40% of workers admit coming in to work with the flu. This year 90% of employees admit going in to work with cold or flu symptoms. Our culture’s obsession with productivity has made “workaholism” the norm. Sick days? Those are for wimps.

Even still, HR firm Career Builder recently surveyed more than 2,200 human resource professionals and 3,700 employees about their companies’ employment practices. The survey found that 40% of workers have faked a sick day in the last 12 months.

So what’s an employer to do? How do you create a sick policy where people can take care of themselves without taking advantage? 

While you will never be able to control this entirely, there are a few things your company can do to prevent these tricky situations without fostering a culture of suspicion.

Review your policy

The “sick day” concept was originally created to keep employees from abusing time off and to help track work environments in which employees were sick more frequently than other parts of the business. 

However, having designated “sick days” can often force employees to compromise their integrity. Sometimes people aren’t sick, they just need a day off. If an employee’s only way to take time off is to use a sick day, it can encourage dishonesty. Also, those who believe “sick days are for wimps,” may feel guilty taking these designated days, and end up “powering through,” potentially getting other coworkers sick in the process. 

Research shows that forming a modern, non-defined PTO policy fosters more positive workplace sentiments. Small businesses should still allocate a predetermined number of days off for their employees. However, an increasing amount of businesses are no longer using the antiquated terms “sick days” or “sick leave,” but instead defining all days off as paid time off (PTO).

You may or may not decide modern PTO is right for your company. However, if you decide to no longer differentiate between personal time and sick time, make sure this is clearly stated in your policy. Make sure your employees don’t think they will get all of their personal time in addition to sick days.

Model transparency

In today’s progressive workplace, more and more companies are putting everything in the open. This means everything from opening financial dealings to simply opening office doors. Of course, each business is different and must implement these ideas with discretion. Still, the principle is universal: face-to-face communication encourages honesty. 

If you talk openly with your employees about significant things such as work projects, compensation, and company decisions, it is more likely that your employees will talk openly with you about their family, their health and their need for time off. 

Hire honest people, include others in decision-making processes and treat all employees equally. These are just best practices in culture-making, but they inevitably affect your employees’ use of time off. If honesty is at the core of your company, it will be at the core of your time off policy as well. 

Promote prevention

A report by Stericycle found that prevention efforts—like vaccinations and hand washing—are up over the last year. And while less than half of workplaces offered flu shots as a benefit (and even fewer offered on-site vaccinations), those that do are viewed more positively by their employees.

Many organizations now host on-site vaccination clinics, allowing employees to get vaccinated without sacrificing their free time. You can contact your local pharmacy or community vaccinators to come to your workplace and administer the vaccines on site.

If having on-site vaccinations isn’t an option for you, do your best to make it easy for employees to get their flu shots elsewhere in the community. Make sure that flu shots are covered by your company’s health insurance, post a list of all local vaccination sites, and be flexible to allow your employees to leave work briefly to get a flu shot. 

You can also promote prevention by following the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s suggestions. Encourage employees to wash hands frequently, cover coughs, use hand sanitizer and avoid close contact with others during flu season. You can also stock your office with hand sanitizer, a shared medicine cabinet, orange juice, Emergen-C, tea and healthy snacks for employees. These are small but significant ways to show your employees you care. 

Encourage staying home

Despite those who take advantage, employers cannot dismiss the reality that many employees feel pressure to come to work sick. And having sick employees in the office can have serious consequences. The 2018-2019 flu season was one of the longest on record—and this year’s season has started early, meaning it could reach similar heights, according to the CDC. 

Productivity may suffer, but employers should encourage those with the flu to stay home rather than spread the virus to co-workers. Employers should review their sick time policies to see if they put undue pressure on workers to come to work ill. You may also consider remote work arrangements for appropriate positions and situations. 

Employees appreciate being treated with respect and trust. Ultimately, as an employer, it’s up to you to approve PTO arrangements and determine the validity of time off requests. However, doing everything you can to encourage health and honesty will go a long way in building the kind of workplace your employees won’t want to miss. 

Interested in learning how a PEO can aid your efforts toward building a healthy culture? Along with offering HR coaching and counseling, Servant HR frees business owners from their administrative burdens to better focus on what matters most—their people and their business. Give us a call and see how we can serve you today.

The Training and Development Your Employees Really Want

The Training and Development Your Employees Really Want

Your employees might be a little jumpy with Halloween just around the corner. However, recent research shows it’s not the spooky season that’s frightening your workers—it’s their jobs. 

A new Cornerstone report found that over half of American workers aren’t sure they have the skills to withstand a future layoff. Some economists are already forecasting a downturn after a recent spike in layoffs, and data shows employees are getting nervous. Cornerstone reports that 60% of baby boomers feel insecure with their current skill sets, especially as compared to the increasingly competitive talent market. And with the rise of new technology, workers are afraid they could lose their jobs to either more qualified employees or in some cases—to machines. 

So what is HR’s role amidst this worried workforce? How can you more effectively train your employees so they feel empowered to do their work and confident in their skills? To start, you’ll have to learn what your employees know and don’t know—and tailor your training and development programs to fit the needs of your organization.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers several key ideas for better training and development programs that actually increase employee confidence.

1. Survey your employees

The best way to get real information about organizational performance is to simply ask your employees. They know their exact pain-points and will be motivated to participate in training that specifically addresses their needs. Surveys also boost morale, as they demonstrate employer care and interest in employee development. SHRM notes the most common feedback from employee surveys is that employees want clearer work expectations and training by experts. 

2. Align training with goals

Management should define their operating goals before designing targeted programs. Specific goals might be better performance, productivity or customer satisfaction. Perhaps you need better onboarding and new-hire training so that employees can provide greater customer service. For compliance training, partner with regulatory agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (health and safety), the Department of Labor (wage and hour compliance) and the Department of Justice (harassment and discrimination training). You may consider contracting out design work in order to create more comprehensive instructional material. If you’re managing a multi-generational workforce, your goal may be to improve communication within the organization. Offer training for supervisors to improve their coaching skills and help develop a healthier work culture. 

3. Ingrain it into your culture

Speaking of healthier work culture, consider implementing a “life-long learner” philosophy that focuses on employee satisfaction. When making promotion decisions, give preference to employees who have completed training and performed well. A promotion should be one of the rewards for their efforts, as it answers the employee question, “What’s in it for me?” Celebrate achievements by letting everyone in your organization know when someone completes training and what that means for their growth opportunities. Advertise your programs and participants in internal communications, display their pictures and stories, and talk about it at every employee gathering. Encourage employees to be trainers or subject matter experts so that employees are engaged and empowered to take ownership of their skills. 

4. Keep innovating

Sometimes the problem lies, not in lack of programs or training content, but in the inability to communicate that content in an appropriate learning format. As we all get more comfortable with technology, there’s a growing need to adopt the latest ideas. Today there are apps, games, and easy-to-use video tools that can be streamed to mobile devices for individual training on the employee’s own time. It’s important to research the latest trends online, network with other training professionals, and revise programs to take advantage of the latest best practices. Just because it’s what you’ve always done, doesn’t mean it’s what you should do forever. Tailor your training to how your employees best learn and don’t be afraid to adapt to new technology. 

5. Measure results

Make sure you’re keeping track of how things are going. This lets you know if the training offerings you provide are worth everyone’s while. The best measures are the simplest ones; incorporate them into your program so everyone knows what’s expected. Look for behaviors and measure them on the job to determine if employees actually learned how to perform appropriately. If trainings do not provide the intended result, consider redesigning programs, as well as offering feedback. To ensure there are no surprises for employees, communicate the importance of feedback and implement a specific structure. Make feedback a regular part of life at work so employees know how they are doing in real-time. 

These are just a few ideas for revamping training and development at your company. You want your employees to feel happy, confident and motivated in their work—not insecure and nervous they might get fired at any second! Demonstrate your belief in your workers by investing in their development. Providing your employees with growth opportunities sets them at ease and allows for greater productivity in the long run. 

Want more ideas for training? Need HR coaching and counseling for specific issues at your company? That’s where we come in. The health of your business is our priority, so contact Servant HR and allow us to serve you today.

Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

September is National Suicide Prevention Month—an opportunity for employers to learn how they can help workers at all levels of anxiety and depression. Mental health disorders are now among the most burdensome health concerns in the United States and their presence in the workplace is undeniable.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nearly 1 in 5 US adults aged 18 or older (18.3% or 44.7 million people) reported a mental illness in 2016. In addition, 71% of adults reported at least one symptom of stress, such as a headache or feeling overwhelmed or anxious.

With roughly 63% of the population engaged in the workforce, overlap is inevitable—making mental health a necessary issue for employers to address. It’s in the best interest of employers to take a proactive role in dealing with this challenge head on.

What Employers Can Do

Reduce Stigma

Talking about mental health in the workplace can feel scary, mostly for fear of offending, being politically incorrect, or sounding uneducated or inexperienced with mental health. However, the less mental health is talked about, the more stigma is created. 

A white paper by The Prudential Insurance Company of America states that the workplace can impact stigma positively simply through open communication and transparency. Employers can encourage education on mental health and asking for help as needed—specifically conveying such asking as a positive thing. A study by Mercer noted that employers must understand mental health, access to care must be available, and proactive measures should be encouraged in seeking treatment and improving productivity.

Include EAP’s in benefit plans

Study after study shows that early intervention is the key component to success. Early intervention can be more likely when employers include in-network Employee Assistance Program (EAP) providers in their health plan. This ensures that care can be continued once EAP sessions are exhausted. Only 29% of the U.S. population diagnosed with depression seeks treatment, and even less follow through. The ability to continue therapy is absolutely vital to treatment and recovery.

Assessment and management

Often times managers assume a performance problem without considering an emerging mental health issue. Proper training is absolutely necessary from an employer standpoint. Managers should learn to consider an employee’s history— especially if behavior is new, unexpected, or emotion-driven. Because depression often manifests itself in declined performance, managers should inquire about well-being before jumping to conclusions. Managers must also be equipped with proper resources, such as an EAP, health and wellness partner, or HR representative. 

Considering potential mental health issues does not mean an employer cannot still properly discipline or terminate employees that are not performing essential job functions, failing to attend work hours, or breaching company rules. This consideration simply allows employers to act in the best interest of both employee and company.

Maintaining consistent contact is important as well, so to help employees through depression and reduce any fear of returning to work. A study on the psychology of “return to work” found that manager and co-worker interactions are essential in making employees feel safe enough to share problems, get help, and comfortably return to work. Remember that asking “Is everything okay?” is a small, but effective first step. 

Work also creates a sense of purpose that can eventually serve to improve mental health. Keeping communication lines open and offering return to work programs can help support employees and provide a productive, successful transition.

An Effective Strategy for Company Health

While individual well-being is a good enough reason alone to address mental health, the benefits can also affect your company’s bottom line. World Health Organization states: “Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains.”

Addressing mental health is big, high-level, policy-making work. But addressing mental health can also be small things—card-writing, checking in, simply asking, “How are you doing?” Prioritizing communication, access to care, and proper management training are all part of an integrated health and well-being strategy. 

Have questions? Interested in more specific mental health resources? We at Servant HR love helping business owners create productive and positive work environments. Contact us today.

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