How to Evaluate Hiring Assessments

HR professionals and managers need reliable ways to gather and evaluate various assessments. Read this blog post to learn more about how to evaluate assessments.


When faced with a hiring decision, HR professionals and managers have to consider everything they know about the applicants. But that might not be enough information to make a choice. To get more information and add objectivity to the decision-making process, many organizations use assessments.

"When these tools are used correctly, they're tremendously valuable," said Eric Sydell, Ph.D., an industrial-organizational psychologist and the chief innovation officer at Modern Hire, a hiring platform. "There's a level of objective assessment about a person that can be very predictive."

HR professionals and hiring managers don't have the ability to make accurate predictions in the same way assessments can. "Our brains don't work that way," he said.

But buyer beware, Sydell warned, "There are a lot of tools out there that sound great on the surface" but fail to deliver valid and reliable results.

Multiple Options Present Tough Choices

Ryne Sherman, chief science officer at Hogan Assessment Systems in Tulsa, Okla., said he suspects that most large corporations are probably using reliable and valid assessments, while smaller businesses may not be. Unfortunately, he said, "With this industry, there is no regulating body at all—literally anybody can make an assessment tool and start selling it with no background and no science put into it whatsoever."

Perhaps because of the open nature of the field, there are a lot of tools to choose from and many of them are complex, making the selection of one of them a potentially confusing—and even risky—decision to make.

Must-Haves for Effective Assessment Tools

Ryan Lahti, Ph.D., is an industrial-organizational psychologist and the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, a management consultancy in Newport Beach, Calif. He uses a variety of assessment tools in his work. There are many factors to be considered when evaluating an assessment tool, he said, but the three key ones are validity, reliability and the population that was used to develop it.

Validity deals with how accurately the tool measures the concepts it claims to measure. Lahti pointed to three forms of validity:

  • Content validity indicates how well the tool measures a representative sample of the subject of interest. At a minimum, he said, you want a tool that has content validity.
  • Criterion validity indicates how well the tool correlates with an established measure or outcome—for example, correlation to strong performance ratings.
  • Construct validity indicates how well the tool measures a concept or trait—for example, conscientiousness.

Reliability is a measure of how consistently the tool measures issues of interest. If you were to give the same assessment to the same candidate more than once, how similar would the results be?

Finally, the population used to develop the tool is an important consideration and should be the same as the population being assessed. "For example, you would not want a tool developed on an adolescent population to be used to assess working adults," Lahti said.

Sherman offered the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) test as an example. The popular assessment tool used by organizations to screen candidates was designed for diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions, he said. That can be a risky tool to use for assessing the potential of job applicants.

What to Watch Out For

As HR leaders consider various assessment options, they need to thoroughly evaluate whether the assessments they're considering incorporate the must-haves. Look out for companies that don't publish information on validity, reliability and the population used to develop the assessment.

Some companies, Lahti said, will say that their tools are used by a lot of Fortune 500 companies.

"While this argument shows they have good sales and marketing departments, it does not prove the companies have sound assessment tools," he said.

Sy Islam, Ph.D., an associate professor at the State University of New York at Farmingdale and a vice president at Talent Metrics consulting firm in Melville, N.Y., said employers should ask test companies to show their worth. "Vendors should be able to provide you with a validity coefficient, which is a statistic—a correlation coefficient—that indicates how much predictive validity the assessment has," he said. He warned against accepting "black box" explanations like "the tool is proprietary and cannot be explained." The ability to support your assessment could become an issue if your company becomes involved in a lawsuit, he said.

"What you don't want to do is rely on high-level summary statements, marketing statements or hype that is generated by these companies," Sydell said. "There are a lot of different buzzwords and catchphrases that vendors will throw out there. It's really important to look beyond that and dig below the surface." And, while he says you don't need a Ph.D. to do that, it is a good idea to seek help from someone who is familiar with these types of assessments and can help evaluate their efficacy.

"I would strongly advise finding a local industrial and organizational psychologist who can evaluate different vendors and talk to you about best practices," Sherman said. The proper assessment and selection of candidates is just too important, and potentially risky, to cut corners.

SOURCE: Grensing-Pophal, L. (27 February 2020) "How to Evaluate Hiring Assessments" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/how-to-evaluate-hiring-assessments.aspx


Employees say ‘feeling stressed’ is top reason for lying about sick days

Many employees use their sick days for their physical and mental health when they feel as if they won't be at their peak to perform their job. With that being said, employees may also use sick days when they feel stressed. Read this blog post to learn more.


A third of employees have lied to their employer about their reasons for taking a sick day, with the most common reason being stress, according to a new report by international health benefits provider Aetna International.

As the world’s attention turns to the mental health impact of COVID-19, these confessions suggest that the stigma remains in workplaces.

“If employees have physical or mental health problems, then they're not going to be at their peak to be able to do their job,” says Dr. Hemal Desai, global medical director at Aetna International. “When people lie to take a day off, it really hides the problem, and when they are at work, presenteeism is a really big issue.”

The Employee Perceptions of Mental and Physical Health in the Workplace report explores the views of employees in regards to taking sick days, discussing health issues at work and the impact a mental health diagnosis can play in reducing their experiences of stigma.

Out of the employees surveyed in the U.K., the U.S., Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, those in the U.S. are the most likely to lie to their employer about their reason for taking a sick day. While “wanting a day off” was the second most frequently cited reason for lying, the most common reasons overall related to mental and emotional health, ranging from feeling stressed or down to not thinking their boss would understand.

In the U.S., about 40% of people reported a mental health diagnosis, but less than half of adults receive treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The fear of stigma around these mental health challenges is an issue employees must address, Dr. Desai says.

“Employees don't feel that taking sick leave for mental health problems is something that will either be accepted or considered as good practice by their employers,” Dr. Desai says. “It’s important employers address this hidden problem, because it will ultimately drive better productivity and wellbeing of their workforce.”

Creating a culture of acceptance, especially from a company’s leadership team, is a first step employers can take to easing the stigma of speaking up.

“Employers can do a lot to try and foster more transparency and reduce stigma. Making that parity between mental and physical health will create much more transparency and build trust within an organization, especially if there’s an open culture, particularly by senior leaders, where you can talk about mental health issues,” he says.

Employers also need to ensure employees are aware of and are using mental health resources and benefits, Dr. Desai says. A large majority of companies offer mental health benefits through an EAP, but utilization rates for these services are typically below 10%, according to SHRM. Boosting usage is key to supporting employee wellbeing.

“Employers need to be working with health and benefits providers, because the providers will have a lot of support tools that can help employees,” he says. “Making sure that that support is there from the employers is really key, so that you can drive a really happy and healthy workforce that can be productive, which is particularly important during this COVID-19 situation.”

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (11 June 2020) "Employees say ‘feeling stressed’ is top reason for lying about sick days" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/employees-say-feeling-stressed-is-top-reason-for-lying-about-sick-days


Strategies for making mental healthcare core to your organization

Mental health in the workplace has been a topic of discussion for a continuous-time, but due to the coronavirus and many rules and regulations beginning to rise, there has been a rise in mental health numbers these past few months. Read this blog post to learn more.


American workers’ mental health improved last month after hitting a three-year low, but overall remains poor, as people struggle with the physical, psychological and financial stressors of the pandemic.

According to HR technology company Morneau Shepell’s May Mental Health Index, which surveyed 5,000 U.S. employees, the overall mental health score for May was -6, up slightly from April’s score of -8, the lowest in the last three years. However, with negative scores indicating worse mental health, the results show that American sentiment remains low.

The rise in May is likely due to state decisions to begin a phased reopening of non-essential retail businesses and restaurants, as well as employers allowing workers to return to the physical workplace, says Paula Allen, the senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation at Morneau Shepell.

“People are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. “But this is for sure not going to be linear. The possibility of a second wave of COVID is quite high.”

The coronavirus and its economic impact is not the only uncertainty that employees are facing. Protests demanding racial equality and justice for the victims of police brutality have erupted across the nation in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Thirty-percent of Americans experienced symptoms of anxiety last week, according to data from the CDC.

“It’s kind of like having the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement all at the same time,” Allen says. “It would be unusual if that doesn’t impact people’s mental health and well-being because you really are taking away a sense of predictability, a sense of certainty, a sense of safety, with all of these things happening at the same time.”

The coronavirus crisis has brought to light the necessity of promoting better mental health in the workplace. Seventy-eight percent of companies offer an EAP with mental health resources, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Ninety-three percent of companies have encouraged employees to take advantage of EAP resources like telehealth and virtual mental health programs in response to the pandemic, a recent Business Group on Health survey found. Morneau Shepell recommends that employers make mental health more visible in the organization and continue to provide support for employees.

“It works very well when an organization doesn’t look at mental health as a separate program or a separate project that they have a coordinator working on. It’s really built into their business culture as something that they see as valuable and they look for opportunities in every single way to help their employees,” Allen says.

With organizations feeling the effects of the economic downturn, 34% of companies in North America are considering or have implemented pay cuts, according to research from Korn Ferry.

The Morneau Shepell research shows, however, that this can actually be more detrimental to morale: Employees whose salaries were cut had lower mental health scores on the Mental Health Index than those who lost their jobs.

Those who experience a salary cut are put in “a position of limbo” as opposed to having “a clean break” from an employer, Allen says. While an organization may look at reducing an employee’s salary as a lesser evil when compared to terminating them outright, this can cause more anxiety than actually letting the employee go.

“The main thing is we’ve put people in a position of uncertainty, and that increases anxiety, ” she says. “It’s an important thing for organizations to pay attention to because often they will feel that it is a benevolent thing not to terminate someone but to keep them in a way that they can afford, which is to reduce salary. But the other side of the coin is recognizing that this does have a very real impact on people, and anything that those organizations can do to continue to make those people feel connected, to continue to make them feel valued and recognized, make sure that there’s outreach to them by managers, anything to balance the situation is what we would recommend.”

To improve mental health in the workplace, leaders should talk about the importance of good mental health and make employees aware of support services offered, such as an employee assistance program, Allen says.

“Make mental health a very visible thing in the organization. Communication from senior leadership that speaks about the importance of mental health, that the organization cares about the employees’ mental health, and makes sure that people are aware of services that the organization might sponsor,” she says. “That strong voice is important to build awareness and to reduce stigma.”

Organizations must also train their managers on how to handle mental health issues in the workplace. Sometimes managers will notice a change in an employee’s behavior and be at a loss as to how to deal with it, Allen says.

“They might ignore it, they might let it get worse, they might try to step in and become a counselor when they’re not a counselor,” she says. “But if a manager handles that situation well, often it’s a good trigger point for the employee to get the kind of help that they need.”

SOURCE: Del Rowe, S. (12 June 2020) "Strategies for making mental healthcare core to your organization" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/strategies-for-making-mental-healthcare-core-to-your-organization


How to Maintain a Professional Presence on the Phone


If you are job hunting, start thinking about how you will handle employers' responses to your resume. While some recruiters will e-mail you, others may call. All too often, this happens when you're sitting down to dinner, the dogs are yapping, the kids are yelling or you're settling into a favorite Netflix binge. Don't get caught off guard. There's an easy way to know that a call is of a professional nature before you pick up the phone.

Protect Your Image

You can manage calls that come at awkward times by adding a phone number to your smartphone or landline. Many cell and landline companies offer multiple lines on a phone, each with a distinctive ringtone. With a second line, you can have a dedicated and confidential number with a voice mail message tailored to the professional image you wish to present to the world, and you can use this number exclusively for your job search and career management activities. If this line rings at an inconvenient time, you'll know to get yourself into a space where you can switch to your "professional voice" and talk without distraction, or to return the call in a few minutes when the mayhem at home is under control. Use this number on your resume, in your LinkedIn profile and for all other business communications: This can enhance your professional image, and it also acts as a buffer between your professional and personal life.

 Put Your Extra Line to Work

Unemployment due to the pandemic has hit 30 million workers, or about one-quarter of the U.S. labor force. Record unemployment means that getting back into the workforce will require upgrading your job search and sharpening your interview skills.

In such a disrupted world, it would also be a good idea to think about a side gig that might leverage some of your professional skills. An additional revenue stream never hurts, particularly in times like these, and a side gig could even lead to full-time employment. Plus, every nickel you bring in can help ease the financial strain.

Just as it can help with your job search, your extra phone line can help you field and make calls related to your side gig. When that distinctive ringtone sounds, you'll know the call is about money, whether it's for a new job or a potential customer. Either way, you're alerted that the call requires you to answer in your professional voice.

It can take time for that side gig to start making you real money. Not all ideas take off like a rocket, but you'll learn more from your mistakes than your successes. Meanwhile, your efforts may bring in a little extra cash and keep your spirirts up.

If you've always had a dream for a side gig and you've been laid off, now is a great time to put your dream into action. If you need some inspiration, check out these ideas:

Make sure to set up a differentiated LinkedIn profile for your new business to act as a website for your side gig. Think of it as a resume written around your business's goals. With a phone number and a starter website, you have the two foundational basics for a 21st century global business.

SOURCE: Yate, M. (10 August 2020) "How to Maintain a Professional Presence on the Phone" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/organizational-and-employee-development/career-advice/pages/how-to-maintain-a-professional-presence-on-the-phone.aspx


Benefits Consideration for Onboarding Furloughed and Laid Off Employees

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create obstacles for the workplace, many professionals are still having to continue with their day-to-day work lives which include having hard discussions with furloughed and laid-off employees. Read this blog post to learn helpful tips on re-enrolling employees into their benefits.


COVID-19 continues to throw us curveballs. While some states that were continuing on their path to recovery are having to backtrack, others have managed to temporarily halt the progression of COVID-19 and are proceeding as planned.

Amidst all this uncertainty, one thing is certain: human resource professionals continue to face overwhelming obstacles. Below, we outline issues that human resource professionals are likely to face as they onboard furloughed and laid-off employees.

Onboarding Furloughed Employees

HEALTH AND WELFARE PLANS

For employees enrolled in one or more employer sponsored health and welfare plans and receiving coverage during the furlough period:

  • Payroll deductions for required employee contributions for the plan generally resume upon return from furlough, subject to any changes in employment status that may affect eligibility.
  • To the extent repayment of employee contributions advanced during the furlough period is required, consider how to collect the employee contributions (e.g., through payroll deduction or otherwise), keeping in mind state law requirements related to payroll deductions.
  • Consider the extent to which election changes may be made upon return from furlough.

For employees not enrolled in an employer-sponsored health and welfare plan during the furlough period (or enrolled in COBRA continuation coverage):

  • Determine when eligibility for the plan resumes in accordance with plan terms (e.g., immediately or after a waiting period), subject to any impact on eligibility due to changes in employment status.
  • Consider the process for enrolling employees and the extent to which election changes may be made upon return from furlough, including any HIPAA special enrollment rights.

In addition:

  • Evaluate the impact of the furlough on employees' full-time status under the Affordable Care Act's (ACA's) lookback measurement period and stability period requirements.
  • Evaluate the impact of return from furlough on participation in wellness program activities and eligibility for wellness program incentives.
  • To the extent employees will have staggered work schedules, consider entitlement to benefits based on reduced hours (full time/part time) or new job requirements and whether any plan amendments are needed.

401(K) PLANS

Generally, employee and company contributions resume upon return from furlough; however, changes in job titles or positions may affect eligibility:

  • Determine whether employee and company contributions will resume immediately upon return from furlough based on elections in place immediately before the furlough period or whether new elections will be required.
  • Determine the extent to which legally required notices relating to plan participation must be provided.
  • Address the treatment of loan repayments upon return from furlough.
  • Determine the extent to which the period of furlough must be counted for purposes of plan eligibility, vesting and the right to allocation of contributions.

PENSION PLANS

  • Consider whether changes in job titles or positions may affect eligibility for continued participation upon return from furlough.
  • Review plan terms to determine the extent to which the period of furlough must be counted for purposes of plan eligibility, vesting and benefit accrual.

OTHER BENEFITS

  • Consider the impact of return from furlough on any commuter benefits (parking and transit).
  • Consider the impact of return from furlough on vacation and holiday accrual.

Onboarding Laid-Off Employees

HEALTH AND WELFARE PLANS

  • Treat rehired employees who have been laid off as new hires who must complete new hire paperwork for health and welfare plan eligibility.
  • Consider the impact of the termination of employment and rehire on the employee's status as a full-time employee under the ACA's lookback measurement period and stability period requirements.

QUALIFIED RETIREMENT PLANS

  • Defer to plan terms and break-in-service rules for purposes of determining the impact of the layoff on plan eligibility, vesting and benefit accrual.
  • Review plan terms and procedures for enrolling rehired employees in a 401(k) plan, including application of the plan's auto-enrollment feature, if any.

SOURCE: Pepper, T. (29 July 2020) "Benefits Consideration for Onboarding Furloughed and Laid Off Employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/benefits-consideration-for-onboarding-furloughed-and-laid-off-employees.aspx


Why continuous listening is the key to a smooth transition back to work

Returning to the workplace during this time can be difficult for many, especially with employers who are being faced with the question of how to create and keep a safe and comfortable workplace scene. Read this blog post to learn more.


As states and businesses reopen in the U.S., many employers are faced with a difficult decision: Should their employees go back to the workplace? And if so, when? Amazon told their workers they likely wouldn’t return until October, while Google announced that their employees wouldn’t go back to the office until 2021. Twitter and Facebook decided most employees could work from home forever.

But once employers do make that decision, they’re then confronted with a more formidable one: How do they get their employees back in a way that is both safe and comfortable for everyone? In short, how do they successfully manage employee experience?

Most companies have coordinated COVID-19 task forces charged with making those decisions and helping their employees navigate the global pandemic. And whether they realize it or not, those task forces are broken down into two different functions: operational and experiential.

When COVID-19 first hit, the task forces had to deal with the operational challenge of moving massive workforces home overnight, and they worked to ensure employees had the equipment and software needed to function remotely. And soon after, many realized they also had another responsibility on their plate: employee mental wellbeing.

Leaders recognized they’d have to find new ways to keep their people sharp, productive, and happy. In fact, their employees’ experience with remote work was a central component in making that big operational move successful.

The same will happen as task forces bring people back to the workplace. In fact, managing employee experience will become a task force’s most critical responsibility. To ensure employees feel comfortable returning to the workplace, company leadership needs to know how they feel about coming back and what safety concerns they may have. Then leadership must act on that information.

But the current situation (and their employees’ feelings) can change rapidly. That’s why a method called “continuous listening” is essential to managing employee experience. At least once a day (if not more), employees should be able to respond to a few questions about how they’re feeling, and leaders can use that real-time information to successfully take care of their teams.

A large retail bank in North America has set up an always-on feedback channel for retail branch employees to identify safety concerns in different branches. The bank recognized that, when it came to health and safety concerns, employees might need to offer feedback immediately rather than waiting for a survey that came around once a day. Other organizations have used pre-screening tools that allow employees to self-report each day so company leadership can decide whether they should come into the workplace.

Continuous listening helps leadership communicate with employees, and vice versa. If there’s ever been a time to listen to your people and manage their employee experience, it’s now.

A Qualtrics study conducted at the beginning of May found that two out of three workers in the United States didn’t feel comfortable returning to the workplace. In fact, nearly half of all workers said they didn’t expect to go back to work until August or later.

Most respondents said they want assurance from public officials like the Centers for Disease Control or state and local governments before returning, while about half said they’d feel more comfortable once a treatment or vaccine is available. Nearly 70%, though, said they trust their company leadership to make the right decision on when to come back.

Once leadership makes that decision, however, employees expect them to enact policies and procedures that will protect workers’ safety. Almost 75% said they want their work facility to be thoroughly and regularly cleaned and disinfected, while 62% said they want strict policies about who cannot come to the office, including those who are sick and have recently traveled. Nearly 60% said they want masks available to everyone who wants one, while the same amount said they want all employees to be required to wear a mask at all times.

A majority expect their company to require those who travel to self-quarantine for 14 days, prohibit handshakes and hugs, and set safety measures around communal food. Almost 40% said they want employees to be brought back in phases instead of all at once.

Employees also want the freedom to take action themselves. Over 60% said they want to be able to wear a mask and maintain social distancing at work, and half said they want more flexible sick-leave policies that employees are encouraged to use, even with minor symptoms. Nearly the same amount said they want to be able to limit the number of people they’re exposed to in workplace meetings, and almost 40% said they want to be able to skip work without penalty or continue working from home if they feel unsafe.

These findings provide companies with a general idea of what their employees want to see before coming back to work, but gathering data specific to each organization is even more helpful. Before and after companies begin their initial return, they’ll need to listen closely and continuously to their employees and should increase emphasis on employee feedback.

After all, employees are an organization’s best ambassadors. Invest in them, and they’ll invest in you.

SOURCE: Choi, J. (27 July 2020) "Why continuous listening is the key to a smooth transition back to work" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/why-continuous-listening-is-the-key-to-a-smooth-transition-back-to-work


Benefits fair cancelled? 6 strategies for remote benefits communication

Even as states begin to reopen from COVID-19-related closures and many employees return to their places of work, employers can’t rely on past approaches to communicate benefits information during open enrollment and to educate employees about their benefits. It’s unlikely that employers will be hosting large events like benefits fairs, a staple of open enrollment in past years, soon. In addition, some employees may continue to work remotely for an extended period, which means in-person benefits communication can’t be the only strategy.

Employers can consider several alternatives to craft an open enrollment and benefits education and engagement strategy that addresses these issues. For many employers, the solution will be to combine several of these approaches to ensure they are effectively communicating important benefits information and providing employees with more than one way to learn about their benefits and get answers to any questions that may arise.

Before developing a strategy, consider surveying employees to find out how they would prefer to receive information about benefits. Some people find email or printed materials effective, others prefer videos or interactive webinars, while others may be more responsive to receiving information via text message. Once you know your employees’ preferences, you can tailor your approach to increase the likelihood that your employees will use the tools you provide and have a positive experience.

  • Recast your benefits fair as a virtual event. If you want to gather employees together and explain benefit options, how the open enrollment process will work this year and provide them with the opportunity to interact with benefit vendors, you could create a virtual event modelled on the in-person benefits fair. Depending on your organization’s size, the number of employees you need to reach, and where they are located (for example office employees, warehouse or field employees, and remote employees), your approach to hosting a virtual benefits fair will vary. A growing number of IT service vendors offer virtual event planning and execution services that include setting up the technology needed to conduct the event, handling invitations and registrations of participants, working with benefits vendors to set up virtual booths and arranging educational webinars as part of the event.
  • Use your employee intranet, portal, or app. Regardless of whether you host a virtual event, you can use your employee website, portal or app and upload all the informational and educational material employees will need to make benefit choices. This approach can also include a secure portal that employees use to complete benefits forms. Another good feature to include is a chat, which can be either live chat or a chatbot, where employees can get answers to frequently asked questions and assistance with completing open enrollment forms.
  • Host webinars. Webinars not only give you the ability to communicate information about benefits, they also give employees the chance to directly ask the HR and Benefits team questions. In addition to the live webinar, you can record the event and post it on your organization’s employee site or send a link via email so that employees who were not able to attend can still hear your message firsthand.
  • Mail printed materials home. Some employees still prefer to receive benefits and enrollment information and forms in a printed format. It can provide a resource that they can easily refer back to when making their benefits sign up decision. Mailing these materials to employees’ home addresses rather than using your business address ensures that all employees, those who have returned onsite and those who are working remotely, have access to the information they need.
  • Use texts and calendar reminders. To help employees stay on top of enrollment deadlines, send text messages and add reminders to their work calendars. Text messages can also be used to send links to more in depth information resources so employees can access information when required.
  • One-on-one support is key. Employees are bound to have more complicated or confidential questions about their benefits choices, e.g. the need for information about coverage for cancer treatment or labor and delivery. Providing one-on-one phone and chat support from the HR and Benefits team gives employees a way to get answers to questions they don’t want to ask in a more public forum such as a webinar.

A benefits plan is only valuable if employees are knowledgeable about what benefits they have and how to access them. Many of these approaches can also be used on an ongoing basis to provide education on and drive engagement with benefits so employees and employers both get the most out of their plans.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (27 July 2020) "Benefits fair cancelled? 6 strategies for remote benefits communication" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/benefits-fair-cancelled-6-strategies-for-remote-benefits-communication


When Should Managers Call HR?

When one thinks of contacting the HR department, it's often associated with filing a complaint or discussing a workplace issue that is in need of a resolution. There are often more reasons as to why the HR department needs to be contacted. Read this blog post to learn more.


Employers expect supervisors to resolve some issues on their own and to report other things to human resources—or possibly to in-house counsel—rather than to resolve them independently.

But do you know which is which? For example, you probably know that you should report to HR all complaints of unlawful discrimination, harassment or retaliation, even if:

  • The employee requests that the complaint be kept confidential.
  • The employee implores the supervisor not to consult with HR.
  • The complaint appears to lack merit.

But in other instances, the line is less clear. For example, if an employee is frequently late, it's your job to resolve the issue by confronting the employee about his lateness and handling it according to established company policies. But what happens if the chronically tardy employee responds by saying that he has been late because of chemotherapy appointments? That's the kind of information you need to report to HR so a determination can be made about whether a work accommodation is appropriate.

Here are some other clarifications of when to report in suspect categories:

WAGE COMPLAINTS

An employee complaint about not being paid as much as he deserves usually is an employee relations issue, not a legal issue. But when an employee complains that the employer has failed to pay him for time worked or has made improper deductions from his pay, savvy supervisors will see legal red flags. For nonexempt employees, improper deductions may include things like not paying for short breaks. For exempt employees, improper deductions may include deductions inconsistent with the salary basis requirement of the overtime regulations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), such as not paying an exempt employee for a holiday when the employer is closed.

By immediately reporting a wage complaint to HR, you let the organization determine whether the complaint has merit. If no money is owed or no improper deductions made, HR can correct—or at least try to correct—the employee's misunderstanding. On the other hand, if there was a mistake, HR can correct it before the employee files a complaint with an administrative agency or court. This should go a long way toward minimizing the employer's exposure to liquidated damages for willful violations of the FLSA, and it also may mitigate an employer's liability under state wage and hour laws, whose requirements and penalties are often more stringent than federal law.

Remember, you must report even minor wage claims. A single employee's small wage loss may signal a systemic problem affecting other employees—in other words, a class action waiting to be born.

ALLEGATIONS OF WRONGDOING BY OTHERS

More and more employees are "blowing the whistle" on alleged wrongs that may not directly affect their terms and conditions of employment—alleged corporate fraud, for example. Managers should report immediately complaints of criminal or fraudulent activity, or violations of statutes such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. You also should report alleged violations of core employer policies that may have material legal and business consequences, such as conflict of interest policies, business ethics standards or codes of conduct.

DISCLOSURE OF MEDICAL INFORMATION

Any disclosure of a serious health condition or a physical or mental impairment by a job applicant or employee should be reported to HR—even if the applicant or employee doesn't specifically seek an accommodation. During interviews, you may ask applicants whether they can perform the essential functions of the job for which they have applied—but you may not pursue any medical inquires before making a conditional offer of employment. Likewise, where a current employee's performance or behavior is below standard, managers need to focus on the deficiencies—and not inquire or speculate as to any suspected medical reason that may underlie them.

But what if an applicant says that he cannot perform a particular function because of clinical depression, or an employee acknowledges her performance deficiencies but says that lethargy resulting from her heart condition has caused them? In these cases, even though there was no direct request, the disclosure puts the employer on notice that the applicant or employee may need an accommodation. Accordingly, the employer—that is, HR and not you—may need to begin the interactive process to determine whether a reasonable accommodation is needed.

ACCOMMODATION OR LEAVE REQUESTS

An applicant or employee need not use the legal words "Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation" or "Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)" to trigger statutory rights. The key is whether a reasonable supervisor would recognize the individual's communication as a request for an accommodation or a leave of absence. With regard to accommodations, for example, you should report requests for help, support, job changes, etc. if the employee—contemporaneously or previously—has disclosed the existence of a serious health condition or impairment.

As for leave, report requests for "time off" for medical or other potential FMLA situations, even if the employee does not utter "FMLA." Even if the employee clearly is not eligible for FMLA leave, you need to report a request for time off because a leave could be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA regardless of FMLA eligibility.

EVIDENCE OF UNION ACTIVITY

If 30 percent of eligible employees in an appropriate bargaining unit sign union authorization cards, the union can petition the National Labor Relations Board for an election. Even if an employer wins the election, the victory can be very costly. The key to avoiding elections is early detection of and rapid response to union activity. But employers often begin their counteroffensive only after the union has obtained the 30 percent showing of interest. Sometimes, this is because supervisors fail to report to HR what they may see as "isolated" signs of union support. A bundle of isolated, minor occurrences may amount to evidence of a serious union campaign.

Direct signs of union activity would include an employee handing out a union flier in the parking lot or wearing a pro-union T-shirt. Indirect warning signs would include unusual off-site gatherings of employees—at barbecues, bowling alleys and bars. You also need to be aware of the restrictions on your behavior under the National Labor Relations Act. Supervisors cannot:

  • Spy on employees to see who may be engaging in union activity.
  • Promise employees benefits for refraining from union activity.
  • Interrogate employees as to whether they or others are engaging in union activity.
  • Threaten or take adverse action against employees for engaging in union activity.

While you cannot spy, you can report what you see in plain view. And while you cannot interrogate employees about their union sympathies, you can report what is volunteered or what you inadvertently overhear.

GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS

Inform HR immediately if you receive any communication from a government agency, official or entity, including everything ranging from a charge of discrimination filed with the EEOC or other agency to an on-site visit from a U.S. Department of Labor investigator asking to review certain files in connection with alleged overtime pay violations of the FLSA. It's not your duty to decide whether and to what degree to cooperate. Sometimes, government officials ask for more than they are entitled to have. And even where they have a legal right to the requested information, the manner in which the employer communicates can determine the legal outcome and damages that may flow from it. If an official contacts you by phone, be polite and say, "Our organization/company will cooperate with your request; however, I do not have the authority to respond. Let me give you the name and telephone number of the HR professional with whom you should speak. I also am going to contact HR right now."

LAWYER COMMUNICATIONS

Report immediately—and don't respond—to any subpoenas or letters from lawyers who do not represent the employer. In case of "friendly calls" from lawyers who are "just curious" about a few things, don't provide any information. There is no duty to cooperate with an attorney on a fishing expedition. Instead, say something like this: "I do not have authority to talk with you. Please give me your name and number and I will forward them to HR."

SIGNS OF WORKPLACE VIOLENCE.

Not all workplace violence is preventable. But sometimes there are warning signs that supervisors need to report to HR and/or security immediately, including:

  • Discussions of or particular fascination with perpetrators or victims of violence.
  • Talk of weapons that seems abnormal in frequency or content.
  • Statements about hearing voices or receiving signals.
  • Threats of suicide.

SOURCE: Segal, J. (21 July 2020) "When Should Managers Call HR?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/people-managers/pages/when-should-managers-call-hr.aspx


Health Care Nondiscrimination Notice Requirement Is Going Away

The Department of Health and Human Services' has removed requirements that employers issue non-discrimination statements to employees that will go into effect on August 18, 2020. Read this blog post to learn more.


On Aug. 18, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS's) finalized changes to the Affordable Care Act's Section 1557 nondiscrimination rules will take effect, removing requirements that employers issue health care nondiscrimination statements to employees and add health care nondiscrimination taglines to employee communications.

Prior to the changes under a final rule HHS published on June 19, employers had to ensure that they, along with their insurers (for fully insured plans) or third-party administrators (for self-insured plans), abided by a 2016 HHS rule requiring employer-sponsored plans to:

  • Create and maintain a notice of health care nondiscrimination.
  • Include it in "significant communications" along with taglines in 15 different languages advising individuals of the availability of language assistance.
  • Include similar taglines for other communications but only in three different languages.

These notices are still required until Aug. 18.

"Now more than ever, Americans do not want billions of dollars in ineffective regulatory burdens raising the costs of their health care," said Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS.

Less Paperwork and Lower Costs

"The final rule eliminated the requirement to post the discrimination notice and add taglines," said John Kirk, an attorney at law firm Graydon in Cincinnati. "The final rule also eliminated the requirement that the discrimination notice and taglines be included with all significant publications sent by the organization. This change will be a significant cost and administrative timesaver for most entities."

Employers offering employee benefit plans that were subject to the prior 2016 rule "should review any notice and disclosure obligations and may begin revising their disclosures to remove the nondiscrimination statement and required taglines," Kirk advised.

"This is welcome news for employers that were required to create and maintain these complicated notices," according to compliance firm HUB International. "In the preamble to the new final rules, HHS stated that the notices were costing employers and other entities hundreds of millions to billions of dollars, but were not, in HHS's view, providing meaningful additional help to individuals."

HUB noted that "the onerous notice requirement is gone, but nondiscrimination rules still generally apply," prohibiting discrimination in health care on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability.

Overshadowed by Transgender Controversy

Most coverage of the HHS final rule focused on its controversial rollback of anti-discrimination protections based on gender identity, which overshadowed the rule's repeal of the notice and tagline provisions under the 2016 regulation.

A coalition of LGBTQ groups and health care providers are suing the Trump administration, alleging the new HHS rule conflicts with the Supreme Court's June 15 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., which found that the prohibition against sex discrimination in the workplace under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act covers sexual orientation and gender identity.

SOURCE: Miller, S. (16 July 2020) "Health Care Nondiscrimination Notice Requirement Is Going Away" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/health-care-nondiscrimination-notice-requirement-is-going-away.aspx


How to Prosper When HR Is Understaffed

The HR department often has many things on its plate when the company as a whole has a lack of staff, but what happens when the HR department has a lack of staff that may be caused due to many situations? Read this blog post to learn more.


One of the hardest parts about working in HR is helping a company's managers succeed when the company is understaffed. But what about when the HR department is understaffed, perhaps due to summer vacations, unfilled positions, or team members working fewer hours as they wrestle with child care or illness during the COVID‑19 pandemic?

HR leaders, whether managing a small or large team, can find the weight of a company's needs overwhelming when their department is short-staffed. But HR experts say there are a range of strategies to help address this situation.

"When an HR team is short-staffed, one of the best things to do is try to understand the goals of the company during this time," said Melodie Bond-Hillman, senior manager of HR and administration at XYPRO Technology Corp. in Simi Valley, Calif. She has had many cohorts reach out and express concern that their jobs have expanded out of scope during the coronavirus outbreak as they attempt to handle a range of new duties amid staff shortages. "They need to try and figure out how long term the staffing issue might be to know how to strategically plan," Bond-Hillman said.

Conversely, it's important not to over-promise when seeking staffing solutions for the department in such an unpredictable environment, said Buck Rogers, a vice president at Keystone Partners, a Raleigh, N.C., executive coaching and outplacement firm. "Don't set your team up for a fall," he said. "You need to keep their spirits up as much as possible, but giving them false hope can make them less likely to trust you in the future."

Rogers recommended against giving the HR team exact dates on when operations will return to normal, because no one can say for sure. Instead, he suggested being supportive—but not unrealistic.

Consider Investing in Automation

One positive step an HR leader can take during a period of uncertainty is to look for opportunities to automate required processes to save time, Bond-Hillman said.

"An important question to research is, how well is your HR system set up? Is it driving a lot of your process so you can automate when possible and give employees a strong range of self-service access?" she asked. "Do you have apps so workers can get their benefit cards and policy questions easily answered without your team being called on to step in too often? From getting their pay stubs to making 401(k) changes, the process needs to give employees a chance to help themselves. These are areas HR may get lazy at when times are easier, but it makes a difference" when times are tougher, as they are today, she said.

Even with shortcuts in place, there are other steps that will help the team operate more effectively. One is to provide new opportunities for team members to broaden their contributions, perhaps by giving responsibilities to HR professionals who are ready for a new challenge.

"This is a chance for them to help you out," Bond-Hillman said. But you can also help HR team members advance their careers or become specialists. "Give them the opportunity to come through for the team and further their career."

And despite potential revenue shortfalls due to the faltering economy, now isn't the time to reduce training. After all, if team members are going to be able to assist you more, they'll need the training to succeed, Bond-Hillman said.

"Yes, there's a feeling you don't have time, but if you don't make the time, it will potentially be a disaster in executing the work," she said. "Many HR people struggle because not everyone is cross-trained."

Seek Inexpensive Support

Seeking part-time help from a temp or college intern is another popular option this summer, said Heather Deyrieux, SHRM-SCP, HR manager for Sarasota County, Fla., and president of the HR Florida State Council, a Society for Human Resource Management affiliate. "We've had an intern just for the first couple of weeks of the summer, and she has been very helpful," Deyrieux said. "You can even look for volunteers—there can be many of those, especially if it's remote work."

Keeping morale up also is important and may be achieved by making sure everyone in the HR department sees team leaders rolling up their sleeves and doing tasks that may have been handled by others before the pandemic. It's also wise for those leaders to keep their office doors open and be available early and late to help answer questions and address issues, Bond-Hillman said. "A team has to be just that–a team."

Debora Roland, a Los Angeles-based vice president of HR at CareerArc, said seeking opportunities to allow the team to recharge is critical. "Your team, however big it may be, is working tirelessly during these times, and showing appreciation can go a long way," she said. "One way to do this is to give team members time off when it's needed. We're all in such high-stress times, and providing days off to recuperate and reset can make a world of a difference."

If providing time off isn't possible given the workload, showing appreciation can help. "Give a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant or something else they like," Deyrieux said. "This way you show appreciation, but you also show them that you pay attention to their interests. People need to know they're not just another employee."

6 Ways to Support an Understaffed HR Team

  1. Identify the company's primary goals during the pandemic and share it with the team.
  2. Ease the team's hours through automation or help from a temp, an intern or a volunteer.
  3. Be in the trenches with team members by taking on menial tasks and arriving early and/or staying late.
  4. Show appreciation, even if just in a small gift.
  5. Give additional responsibility that could lead to a promotion.
  6. Provide training so your team members feel they're in a good position to take on new responsibilities.

SOURCE: Butterman, E. (09 July 2020) "How to Prosper When HR Is Understaffed" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/organizational-and-employee-development/pages/how-to-prosper-when-hr-is-understaffed.aspx