Recently, the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations have been distributed across the nation, potentially signaling the endgame for the ongoing pandemic. This is undoubtedly good news, though it is not without some complications. One of the big questions that employers now face is whether they can or should mandate that their employees be vaccinated before returning to the physical workspace.
As with all things COVID, there is much uncertainty. You can anticipate there being plenty of litigation surrounding the question of vaccination requirements.
With that said, a number of attorneys and HR experts have weighed in, and the consensus thus far is that most employers will have standing to require vaccinations. There is ample legal precedent for this; in the past, employers have been given the grounds to require their employees be vaccinated for the flu and other diseases.
One possible point of contention is that these past vaccinations have all been fully vetted and approved through normal FDA protocols, whereas the COVID-19 vaccines are being made available on an emergency authorization basis.
There is a chance, albeit a very remote one, that the vaccine could cause some side effects or complications that negate employer standing for a vaccination mandate. Again, there is plenty of uncertainty, so we’ll really just need to wait and see how things pan out.
If your company does require vaccinations, you can expect some employees to ask for exemptions. Some employees will ask for exemptions based on illegitimate reasons, quite frankly, but others may have more valid concerns.
For example, it’s important that your company be prepared to provide a vaccine exemption for employees who have ADA-covered disabilities that prevent them from getting vaccinated. Note that, under the ADA, a vaccination cannot be required unless it is a business necessity and/or necessitated by a direct threat. COVID-19 does qualify as a direct threat, but some ADA-covered employees may have valid exemptions.
Something else to keep in mind is that Title VII requires that employers allow exemptions for those who object on the basis of sincerely held religious belief. Generally, personal anti-vaccination views or ethical concerns are not going to be sufficient for an exemption. However, the courts are going to come to differing conclusions about when a personal view crosses over into a true religious objection.
Business owners have to be prepared for employees who protest the vaccine mandate, but they also need to consider an alternative outcome: By refusing to mandate COVID-19 vaccines, employers could also open themselves to legal liability, specifically claims that they are not providing a sufficiently safe work environment under OSHA guidelines.
Such lawsuits seem inevitable, and they are also unprecedented; we won’t venture a prediction as to how the courts will determine these issues, but we will note that any quasi-serious legal claim could cost your company massive amounts of money in legal fees.
For this reason alone, it’s advisable for business and HR leaders to be critical and deliberate in developing COVID-19 vaccination policies; take the right steps to make sure employees are safe, and also be sure to document those policies in as much detail as possible.
With any questions or concerns about these issues, we welcome you to reach out to us. Contact FullHR to discuss these complicated matters further.
Most HR departments have reached the end of the annual open enrollment process; for many HR professionals, this is one of the busiest, most consequential seasons of the year. However, just because the open enrollment period has reached its end, that doesn’t mean HR’s work is through. There are a few important steps for HR departments to “debrief” following open enrollment.
1) Review the invoice for errors.
If you are using FullHR (ASO) or other full-service Administrative Services Outsourcing, the auditing will be handled for you using an automated Human Resource Information System. The automation connects the actual insurance enrollment directly with the insurance carrier using EDI on the more advanced platforms. Otherwise you will need to invest many of your or your team’s hours once the first invoice from your company’s health insurance carrier comes in; be prompt in checking it for errors. Understand that there almost certainly will be some errors that need to be addressed, unless you have absolutely no staffing or enrollment changes from the previous year. Small invoice errors are just part of the process, and the sooner you address them, the better.
Note: Your 2021 mission should be sourcing a solution to connect your payroll information with your HR and benefits information that automatically links with the insurance carrier and greatly reduces the risk of costly enrollment errors and correctly reports W-2 and 1094/1095 electronically to the IRS. This also can generate compliant forms that are mailed or sent electronically to all employees.
2) Communicate with your employees.
Hopefully, HR has kept the lines of communication open throughout the enrollment period, educating employees on how to use their benefits. Don’t stop now. Remind employees to check their first paycheck or invoice promptly and come to you if there are any questions. Also, get on the schedule of your licensed insurance partner to provide education for employees throughout the year about how they can maximize their benefits and get the most out of their insurance. This mitigates liability for your organization and insulates your job role from disseminating incorrect information in an industry where compliance and rules are certain to be quickly changing with a new federal administration.
3) Send out an employee survey.
Don’t delay in requesting that your Administrative Service Outsourced team host a survey soliciting employee feedback; ask them for their thoughts on the open enrollment process now, while it’s still fresh on their minds. Ask whether they felt like all of the options were made clear to them, whether they felt like HR was accessible to answer any questions, whether they had sufficient time to enroll, etc. Were employees able to easily schedule a one-on-one appointment with a licensed professional, were the online educational videos during enrollment up to date, and were the hours for a question-and-answer session adequate? Was the licensed professional enroller friendly and knowledgeable? This feedback can be valuable as you seek to make next year’s open enrollment run even more smoothly. And it helps employees know that their voice is valued.
4) Schedule a time to sit down with your broker.
If you work with an HR benefits broker to help you navigate the open enrollment season, it’s a great idea to touch base with them after the fact. Discuss aspects of open enrollment that you think worked well, as well as any aspect that you’d like to go better next year. Together, you and your broker may also compare enrollment in the new plans versus enrollment in previous plans.
5) Consider outsourcing HR needs.
And what about HR departments that don’t have a dedicated broker? The immediate aftermath of open enrollment is a good time to think critically about some of the time-intensive tasks that are on your plate, including the potentially laborious process of auditing your invoices. If you don’t have a trusted HR partner to help you bear some of the burden and run your department more efficiently, now’s as good a time as any to look for one.
If you’re looking for a trusted partner to help broker your benefits, or if you have any specific questions about what to do in the season following open enrollment, we welcome you to contact the team at FullHR at any time.
A great partner with access to excellent integrated administrative tools will help you save money using the EDI directly with carriers while also preventing enrollment errors and saving time during and after enrollment. Partnering with a pro could provide enhanced communication throughout the year with current employees and new hires by offering continuity of information while mitigating your organization’s liability and allowing you to focus on business during this upcoming year.
Does your 2021 business plan have you headed for a sandy beach or a sand trap?
Know where your organization is going in 2021 and have a plan on how to get there.
2020 Success Stories from FullHR
Our team was proud to assist clients in surviving the numerous business challenges encountered in 2020, from COVID furloughs to business interruptions, via our professional Payroll, Business, Benefits, Human Resources Off-Boarding, and now On-Boarding assistance. Through guidance with PPP loans, our efforts facilitated millions of dollars to support long-term clients and their employees through a challenging season.
Collectively we helped three COVID affected businesses experience GROWTH during the economic downturn, whereas recently as March one was downsizing and two were preparing to close.
In this last quarter, is it time for Employee Performance Reviews, or for you to implement your organization’s exit strategy?
In the final stretch of the year, we recommend that small and mid-sized businesses review the following:
Is now the time to sell your organization and leverage rising interest rates from 2021 hyperinflation as a result of higher taxes, additional compliance restrictions, and significantly increased labor expenses? With high inflation predicted you may be able to take the funds from your organization and have a more healthy return on your money than continuing to run your business at a loss or possibly suffer its closure due to the upcoming volatile conditions. This may permit your leadership to weather the storm, then restart in three to five years.
Should non-profitable employees be terminated to minimize losses and stabilize profit? Owners need to evaluate both employee performance and net profit impact to see which members to keep on the team, especially if downsizing appears imminent to remain at break-even or better. Performance management is the most essential, as the lifeblood of your company is your people, and to survive this unpredictable season it’s crucial to retain the employees with higher potential and production.
Is there a reason for your organization to hire as we predict increasing unemployment among highly talented individuals who may accept significantly lower wages during this slowdown?
Are your vendors still the best match for supporting your organization’s mission? Evaluate the performance of your vendors to see which ones should be retained as business taxes swell, wages increase, and net profit may change to net loss. Vendors need to be assessed to see if there are better alternatives, not just lower costs but also opportunities to enhance your net profit by outsourcing. Are there integrated solutions to simplify your current process?
What if things get better?
Let FullHR’s licensed professionals fuel your success. Consider outsourcing your human resources, benefits, Pay-As-You-Go work comp, and payroll as an integrated solution to help your business survive during the coming economic and political disruption.
The ongoing impact of COVID-19 includes rising levels of depression, anxiety, and grief; serious mental health challenges that your employees can’t always check at the door. Often, these mental health problems invade the workplace, where they can diminish the overall morale and wellbeing of your team.
Even before the pandemic, there was a serious workplace mental health crisis, stemming largely from stigma: Simply put, far too many employees are reluctant to seek the help they need to address mental health issues, feeling like they need to just “deal with it” on their own.
Now is the time for employers and HR leaders to get serious about providing their employees with the necessary mental health resources… but where to begin? In this post, we’ll outline some basic, preliminary steps toward a workplace mental health strategy.
1) Create a culture of balance.
Work-life balance won’t necessarily cure problems like deep-seated anxiety or depression, but it can help alleviate stress. And it can help employees enjoy more freedom and flexibility to seek treatment or therapy as needed. Make sure yours is a culture that encourages people to take vacations and the occasional “mental health day.” When possible, show some flexibility toward employees who need to come in a little later or duck out a little early to go to therapy. And make sure that leaders and managers set a good example of leaving at a reasonable time each day, not sending after-hours emails, etc.
2) Talk about it.
Make sure your workplace is an environment where people feel comfortable discussing issues related to mental health. HR leaders can set the tone, sending out emails or leading brief huddles/meetings to discuss the warning signs of mental illness. Model an ease and a comfort discussing these matters, without stigma or judgment.
3) Offer the right benefits.
There are a number of workplace benefits that can be used to promote mental health and wellbeing. Some examples include:
As you consider bringing a fuller suite of mental health benefits to your team, make sure you take a look at some of the offerings we have here at FullHR, including some new programs that we’ve just unveiled in the month of October.
4) Prioritize wellness.
Don’t underestimate the significance of the mind-body connection. Promoting physical wellness can be a powerful way to promote mental health. There are plenty of workplace wellness options you can choose from, like team walks, healthy snacks in the vending machine, or discounts for local gyms. But really, the best bet may be providing employees flexibility to get up and move around as needed; again, leaders can set a good example here, building a culture where wellness is a top priority.
5) Provide in-service events.
Make sure your mental health plan has room for some in-service events and seminars. Bring in experts or educators who can share some tips and best practices for stress management and self-care, and also provide some insight into mental health diagnosis and treatment.
With the right plan, your HR team can help cultivate a workplace where mental health is treasured. If you have any questions, or want to know more about different benefits options, reach out to FullHR at your next convenience.
With the fourth quarter rapidly approaching, many businesses are nearing “open enrollment” season for benefits packages slated to begin on January 1. (Additional information about open enrollment can be found in this video from FullHR.)
Something we feel passionately about here at FullHR is that employers and HR teams should be intentional in showcasing benefits options to their employee base. That’s a process that should start right now. HR leaders must take charge, educating employees on how they can truly optimize and take advantage of their benefits.
To encourage employees to participate in your benefits program, and to facilitate an optimal employee experience, we recommend a few basic tips.
1) Start raising awareness now.
Survey after survey finds that many employees know very little about the benefits offered at their place of employment. Thus, one of the most important things an HR professional can do is raise awareness. Start communicating with employees sooner rather than later, conveying to them which benefits are available; what is covered under these benefits; and how employees can sign up.
One thing to keep in mind is that one-size-fits-all communication strategies usually don’t work. Different employee groups will have different needs and expectations; for example, there’s evidence to show that younger employees prefer one-on-one communication with an HR leader, while more seasoned employees prefer digital communication. Try to accommodate both groups.
2) Focus on customization.
Different employees want different things from their benefits packages; some may simply be curious about basic medical, dental, and vision, while others will have questions about family insurance plans, health savings accounts, etc.
As you communicate with employees, emphasize the ways in which they can customize their benefits packages to more specifically address their personal needs, or the needs of their family. Help employees to understand the level of flexibility that’s available to them.
3) Offer employees a sense of security.
This year has been marked by high uncertainty, and many employees are feeling anxious about their family’s financial security.
Your benefits offerings can speak to these anxieties. If possible, offer voluntary offerings, like life insurance, disability insurance, and retirement savings accounts, to help employees regain some sense of security.
4) Talk about benefits throughout the year.
A final tip: Start consistently talking about employee benefits throughout the year… not just once open enrollment comes around. Keep your benefits options top-of-mind for employees. Remind them of the different benefits available, and how they can use them. For instance, given the stress and uncertainty of this year, now may be a great time to emphasize any mental health offerings.
Communication really is the most important component of driving employee participation in your benefits program; and, of ensuring a positive employee experience. Communicate early and often, providing employees with everything they need to know about customizing, signing up, and utilizing their benefits.
If you have any additional questions, reach out to FullHR today. We’d love to talk with you further about designing benefits packages that your employees will genuinely appreciate. (And, be sure to check out our online resources related to employee benefits.)
When you think about the “perks” of your workplace, what comes to mind? Traditionally, workplace perks have consisted of things like break rooms well-stocked with tasty snacks, and perhaps equipped with comfy seating; or, with after-hours hangouts and happy hours. While such workplace perks can certainly be effective in raising morale, they’re become all but impossible to maintain due to the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic.
Indeed, as the spread of COVID-19 continues, business and HR leaders must choose between three basic options:
While there’s not necessarily a wrong or right answer here, we’d encourage creativity as companies pursue new ways to foster morale and to show employees they care. The pandemic may force us all to rethink perks, but it shouldn’t make us abandon perks altogether.
It’s worth noting that, in survey after survey, we find that break room perks and after-hours hangouts actually rank pretty low on the list of employee priorities. When asked what kind of workplace benefits they really crave, employees overwhelmingly say they want to feel empowered to work autonomously; they want to feel trusted; and they want to feel like the work they do makes a difference.
In other words, there may be ways for business owners and HR leaders to extend “perks” to their employees even in a remote setting, and without having to worry about the logistics of fancy snacks or cocktail hours.
Instead of getting hung up on these fun but frivolous extras, companies might instead shift their resources and their strategic focus to show their overall support for employee wellbeing. Some examples of perks that might really make a difference in employees’ quality of life include:
Of course, providing perks like these might require creating more room in the budget. To that end, a lot of companies are temporarily discontinuing their funding for additional training and continuing education, which aren’t in high demand at the current moment. This kind of flexibility is crucial for companies as they rethink their perks.
Also note that more traditional perks, like snacks, are still very much a viable option; some employers have started sending premium “snack boxes” to employee homes, which can be a good way to let workers know they are still valued. Also note that, in a remote work environment, perks like these can go a long way toward instilling some goodwill not just in employees, but also in their family members.
These are just a few examples of how businesses and HR leaders can rethink the notion of workplace perks and provide morale boosters that are appropriate to the age of COVID. If you have any further questions about any of this, we’d love to chat. Reach out to FullHR at your next convenience.
As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, businesses have proven their adaptability in the face of unprecedented turmoil. Thanks to digital communication and collaboration technologies, many teams have begun working remotely, maintaining regular productivity while also complying with stay-at-home guidelines.
Remote work offers a number of advantages, and ultimately makes it possible for businesses to remain efficient during quarantine. With that said, it’s not without its challenges. Specifically, many of FullHR’s clients have raised the question of culture. How can a business maintain a sense of core values and commitments when its team members are all working from separate locations?
We’re happy to offer a few recommendations for maintaining culture even in a mostly or completely virtual work setting.
These are some basic practices we’d offer to teams looking to bolster culture during this season of working remotely. With any questions about this or other HR issues, reach out to us directly. Contact FullHR at your next opportunity.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and subsequent business shutdowns, impacted different companies in different ways. Many businesses weathered the storm without any reduction to their payroll, in some cases through the support of PPP loans or other government relief programs. But not all businesses were so lucky; many had to make tough decisions and to lay off members of their teams.
Now that most businesses have reopened, there is a pressing need to staff up and ensure a robust workforce. For some companies, this will mean inviting some of those laid off (or furloughed) employees back to the team. In doing so, a number of strategic considerations must be met.
In an ideal world, your company will be able to welcome back its entire workforce, including all employees who were either laid off or furloughed. If this is the case, then rehiring can be fairly straightforward.
But what if you simply don’t have the customer volume or the cash flow to bring everyone back? If that’s the case, then some tough decisions must be made about which employees return and which don’t. A key consideration here will be ensuring that your decisions are not made on the basis of wrongful discrimination.
When you make the decision to rehire an employee, it’s critical that you have valid and non-discriminatory reasoning for choosing that person over others. There are a number of perfectly legitimate examples of this, including:
One important step is to document your reasoning before you actually invite anyone back to the workforce; make sure you have a written rehiring strategy in place. This will give you legal cover if an employee alleges that your rehiring decisions were made frivolously, or that you only made up your rationale after the fact.
Generally speaking, rehiring on the basis of seniority is the best move from a risk management standpoint. There are, however, exceptions. If your most senior employee is someone who holds a more ancillary role, you may need to move past them to employees whose role is more operationally critical. (For example, if you own a restaurant, you need to rehire your cooks, even if they don’t happen to be your most senior employees.)
One final note is that, if you laid off or furloughed employees for a specific reason, it’s usually best to make that your reasoning for rehiring. For example, if seniority was your guiding principle in who to furlough, it should probably be your guiding principle in rehiring.
One thing employers shouldn’t do is base their rehiring decisions on high risk of COVID-19. For example, you may be tempted to avoid or postpone the rehiring of team members who are 65+, or who are pregnant, on the grounds that they are the ones most likely to be infected by the coronavirus. But actually, this rationale is not approved by EEOC guidelines, and can run you into some legal risks.
Do you have any additional questions about rehiring post-pandemic, or about how to minimize legal risk as you bring back employees? Reach out to FullHR at your earliest convenience. We’d love to talk with you further about rehiring strategy or other HR needs.
Top 10 Policies and Practices to Consider
Workplaces may be altered for years to come as new opportunities are revealed; some may be changed forever, and some may be short term. Not all businesses are the same, but similarities exist, and I offer these 10 policy considerations as you bring employees back to work or rethink your work environment in this age of COVID-19.
How a business handles a crisis identifies the culture of the company for years to come. Leaders should take this opportunity to explore and identify the values the company holds, if they have not already done so, and the decisions that are sure to come will be much easier to make. If the culture has been identified and values have, until now, only been reflected in a poster on the wall, it is time to dust off the values and really consider if they are still true and what that means for where your company is today.
Here are 10 polices and practices to consider right now if you have not already done so:
As we have heard for weeks now, these are unprecedented times and there is much unknown. The more you can plan as well as adjust to new information and the evolution of this disease, the safer your employees will feel and that can create loyalty to your company.
Cristy Carroll MA
FullHR, Senior Professional in Human Resources
SHRM - SCP
It’s often said that a crisis is really an opportunity in disguise. If that’s the case, then today’s business owners have some massive opportunities in front of them. We’re all still wrapping our heads around the enormity of the COVID-19 impact and its long-tail economic fallout. As businesses try to return to some semblance of normalcy, they’ll need to summon all their resourcefulness and creativity to turn this crisis into a chance for growth.
The best way to start is by formulating a plan. How will your business respond to this ongoing crisis, and make the most of the reopening period? Here are a few recommendations you might consider.
1) Start by re-evaluating everything.
With the world turned upside down, there’s really no time like the present to ask some of those big, scary questions that you’d typically prefer to avoid. Questions like… are you in the right industry? Are you focusing on the right products, or courting the right audience? Has your team gotten too big?
These are tough questions to ask, but they may be useful to help you reframe your sense of purpose; and, to expose some of the sunken costs that are holding you back from real business growth.
2) Implement reforms.
Identifying areas that need change is the first step. The next step is actually implementing those changes.
This might mean hiring, rehiring, firing, or retraining. It may mean dismantling an entire division within your company, one you now recognize isn’t adding value or contributing to your overall sense of mission.
It might also mean promoting or delegating to promising young employees who’ve been eager for their chance to shine.
3) Show some flexibility.
The pandemic has impressed on many business owners the importance of being fluid. Maintain that mindset while moving onto the challenges of reopening and beyond.
For example, one of the best ways to keep your employees happy and healthy (and potentially to scale back some costs) may be to create a culture in which you’re more accommodating of telecommuters and remote teams.
You may have people who’d rather not return to the office yet, and who may not need to… so why not let them continue what they’ve been doing throughout the quarantine?
4) Revisit your culture.
Finally, use this opportunity to think more carefully about the kind of culture you’ve built, and the level at which it does or doesn’t serve your people.
There’s nothing like a pandemic to expose some lapses in your mental health resources, workplace wellness initiatives, etc. Be on the lookout for ways to be more supportive of your employees, especially during a season in which many will be struggling with anxiety or grief.
Nobody asked for a global pandemic, but for some businesses, it might provide some silver linings… or at the very least, some opportunities to regroup and rethink about how the business is run.
If you have any questions or would like to know more about post-COVID business resources, reach out to FullHR at your next opportunity.