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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!

Federal Overtime Rule Currently in White House Review

Federal Overtime Rule Currently in White House Review

Here we go again!  As of August 12th, the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed overtime rule affecting the base wage of overtime exemptions was sent to the White House for final review. 

This high-priority Trump Labor Department rule takes a more business-friendly approach than attempted in the Obama administration—expecting to make about 1 million workers newly eligible for time-and-a-half overtime pay when working more than 40 hours in a week.

Raising the Threshold

According to The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) the rule would raise the salary threshold for the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA’s) white-collar exemptions to $35,308 ($679 a week) per year from $23,660 ($455 a week). The barred Obama-era rule would have raised the threshold to about $47,500, and worker advocates as well as some Democratic lawmakers are still pushing for that level. However, business groups generally support the Trump administration’s proposed increase.

SHRM states that to be exempt from overtime, employees must be paid a salary of at least the threshold amount and also meet certain “duties” tests. These tests define specific regulations for several exemptions, the most common being those related to executive, administrative and professional work. If they are paid less or do not meet the duties test requirements, employees must be paid 1 1/2 times their regular hourly rate for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek.

A Rushed Rule

The DOL sent the final draft to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs only five months after proposing the rule, resulting in more than 116,000 public comments. Urgency from department officials stems from the desire for protection from anticipated legal battles with worker advocates. 

According to a report by Bloomberg Law, the administration wants the rule in place before the end of President Donald Trump’s first term in office. Bloomberg also reported new regulations are in the works for calculating overtime pay rates and limiting wage and hour liability for franchisers and businesses that use staffing labor.

What It Means 

If finalized, the overtime rule would cover more workers than was previously the case.  More than a million currently exempt workers would be reclassified as non-exempt, and pay would increase for those above the new threshold. Unlike prior drafts, the proposal does not call for automatic adjustments to the salary threshold, does not create different salary levels based on the region of the country, and does not make any changes to the duties tests. 

The salary threshold was last increased in 2004. The DOL is using the same economic methodology used to reach that standard, which the department officials say should protect the proposal from litigation.

(To get a more comprehensive timeline, click here to read our March 2019 blog and October 2016 blog, or check out SHRM’s Overtime Rule History timeline here.) 

While You Wait

Time will tell—likely sooner than later. But in the meantime, employers should begin auditing their exempt workforces to determine how many might qualify under the criteria of executive, administrative and professional exemptions. Before re-classification, it is possible that employees currently or potentially exempt due to salary may not pass the primary duties tests. 

Now is also a good time to weigh your options as an employer. If exempt employees currently make salaries significantly lower than the threshold, reclassifying employees to non-exempt and overtime eligible might make sense. 

But, employers can also avoid salary and overtime pay altogether. Hours for newly non-exempt employees may be reduced, part-time or contract workers may be hired to fill gaps, tasks may be re-assigned to other exempt employees, and perks may be dismissed since the exempt/non-exempt distinction is often used to provide benefits. 

If making such significant changes, employers must then weigh the cost of morale. Overall, it makes more sense to reclassify to non-exempt if an employee does not work much beyond forty hours. But for employees who often work over 40, it may be less difficult and less expensive to increase salary to the new threshold, rather than paying consistent overtime.

In general, the pending proposal offers valuable time for fixing current errors and planning for the future. We at Servant HR would love to help plan for yours. If you’re our client, we’re already on it. But if you have questions about the specifics of the proposal, or are wondering how a PEO can help manage these crucial details, please don’t hesitate. Contact us today!

Eight Things Your Remote Work Policy Should Cover

Eight Things Your Remote Work Policy Should Cover

It may seem like a simple, generous gesture to offer employees a remote work option. The trend is certainly up, as over a third of full-time employees are projected to work remotely in the next ten years. And with such high demand, the ability to work from home can give your business a competitive edge in the war for talent. 

However, offering the option to work remote isn’t as simple as just saying yes. Compliance risks must be considered alongside the creation of a definitive policy. Rich Henson from HR Morning writes

“Without a legally sound remote work policy, your well-intended efforts to improve working conditions can unexpectedly create big legal problems for you.” 

Potential legal pitfalls include FLSA violations, discrimination and disability issues, workers compensation, health and safety issues, data security concerns and more. 

Still, while 63% of companies have at least some remote workers, the majority don’t have a remote work policy in place. Unsurprisingly, many companies operate under unspoken or informal guidelines, as remote work is still a new concept and companies are learning to adapt. 

Unspoken rules may work for a time, but ultimately lead to confusion. To set employees up for success, there must be clear expectations for work, both in and out of the office. Trust is more quickly and easily established when both employees and supervisors work under clear guidelines. 

So how then do you create an airtight policy that wards off legal pitfalls and establishes straight-forward expectations? So glad you asked! The following rule-areas offer eight great starting points for drafting a cohesive remote work policy.

  1. Eligibility: Your policy should clearly state what positions are allowed to work remotely. If none of your positions are remote-compliant, state this from the beginning to eliminate any further questions or potential loopholes.
  2. Availability: Outline specific expectations for when remote employees should be available. You may need employees available from 9am to 5pm, or you may allow employees to set their own work hours. Either way, make rules on availability clear in the policy.
  3. Responsiveness: Are remote employees required to immediately respond to coworkers? What is the best way to communicate with remote employees—chat, email, Slack? Be sure to specify how responsive employees should be, and what modes of communication should be used.
  4. Measuring Productivity: This one is especially important. Make sure your policy outlines how employee productivity will be measured when working outside the office.This establishes employee accountability and trust with supervisors as well as with other coworkers.
  5. Equipment: Remote work only works if employees have the right tools at home. Companies must state what equipment they are willing to offer remote employees, and what equipment the employee must provide themselves. For example, the policy must state whether employees must use personal laptops, or if they will be issued a company laptop.
  6. Tech support: If remote employees have technical difficulties at home, what is expected of them? Should they return to the office, or complete work at another time? Specify a plan of action and identify what tech support can be offered to remote workers.
  7. Physical Environment: Some employers prefer/require the approval of an employee’s physical environment before remote work is allowed. This should involve a focus on a safe environment designed to reduce the risk of workers’ compensation injuries.  Whatever your company’s stance, state it clearly in the policy.
  8. Security: Doing work outside of the office can compromise security. Policies must provide employees with specific protocol for doing work in public, such as how to properly dispose of confidential papers and how to take electronic security measures.

Daunting as it may seem, drafting a remote work policy simply requires employer anticipation of employee questions. Preventing legal issues and offering a clear, consistently implemented policy not only protects your company, but establishes your company as thoughtful and prepared. 

Have more questions or need help starting your remote work policy? Risk management is an area Servant HR specializes in. We’d love to help you lose the administrative burden of policy making so you can focus on what you specialize in! Contact us today and see what we can take off your plate. 

Five Ways to Prevent FMLA Abuse

Five Ways to Prevent FMLA Abuse

The sun is out, temperatures are up, and employee attendance is… down. There’s a reason cynics in the HR world nickname The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the “Friday Monday Leave Act.

FMLA allows up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave each year, as a means for employees to balance their work and family responsibilities. The specific intent as stated by the Department of Labor, is “to promote the stability and economic security of families, as well as the nation’s interest in preserving the integrity of families.”

FMLA is required of employers that have over fifty employees on twenty or more weeks in the prior or current year. To be eligible, employees must have worked at an organization for at least twelve months and logged at least 1,250 hours of service during that time. Qualified employees are permitted FMLA leave for any of the following reasons:

  1. To care for their child after birth, adoption or foster care.
  2. To care for the employee’s spouse, child or parent who has a “serious” health condition.
  3. The employee’s own “serious” health condition makes him or her unable to perform the job.

FMLA is over twenty years old, but surveys show the act still ranks as one of the most confusing and frustrating employment laws for companies to administer. Along with understanding the specifics of the act as it relates to each state and circumstance, employers must also be aware of FMLA abuse tactics.

FMLA expert Jeff Nowak suggests companies take the following measures to ensure fair leave and accountability to the intent of FMLA.

1. Require (and question) employee leave requests

This is an effective strategy for cutting down on all types of absences. An employer cannot deny FMLA leave to a worker who puts in a notice, but simply requiring a written request can deter employees from taking unnecessary leave. It is also helpful for employers to have a list of questions ready when an employee requests time off. Ask about the job functions they are unable to perform, if they will see a health care provider, and when they expect to return to work. Employers have the right to know why an employee can’t come to work and a little probing can help determine if the FMLA request is legitimate.

2. Enforce a daily call-in policy

Requiring employees to call in one hour before their shift to report an absence is another inconvenience that may prevent abuse altogether. An extended vacation may not sound as appealing if you know you have to call into work every single day. As long as a policy is in place and there are no unusual circumstances, it is okay to deny FMLA leave to an employee who fails to call in before their absence.

3. Certify, and then certify again

According to Novak, one of the best tools employers can use to fight FMLA abuse is the medical certification form. Upon the first absence in a new FMLA year, require medical certification to verify the serious health condition. If circumstances change and an employee needs an extra day or week of intermittent leave, require recertification at the earliest opportunity. Employees typically have fifteen days to get a certification returned to their employer.

4. Follow up on patterns

Noticing a lot of sunny Monday and Friday absences? Is holiday time off frequently extended? These are common patterns of FMLA abuse. If a series of weeks or back-to-back months indicates a regular pattern of absences, employers can follow FMLA regulations to consult the employee’s physician. This can simply confirm whether the pattern is consistent with the employee’s health condition and need for leave.

5. Conduct an audit

FMLA policy and forms must be up to date in order to ensure compliance and the best strategies to combat abuse. Be proactive with your employment counsel or PEO to ensure that loopholes are minimized and your FMLA administration is running smoothly.

By partnering with Servant HR as your PEO, you get a fully integrated human resources team working for your protection. Worried about legal compliance? Not sure if your FMLA policy is at it’s best? That’s where we come in. Contact us today!

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