Building a Strong Company Culture for Your Remote Workers

Having a strong company culture, both onsite and remotely, with clear lines of communication, can help a team do much more than simply implement their projects. It can be the catalyst for higher-quality work, greater efficiency, and improved morale.

Remote teams with a positive culture will have a greater sense of accountability – a benefit that cannot be understated when considering working environments where supervision is more challenging.

Let’s break down a few ways to help build a better culture with a remote workforce:

Tip 1: Build Team Communications and Working Relationships

Even when geographically separated, teams can still develop excellent communication by extending their office cultures into the virtual environment. Several of the most popular remote team collaboration technologies available today – such as Zoom and Slack – have features built into their interfaces that are expressly designed to facilitate this process.

In order to maintain a positive culture it is important to remind everyone that they are still part of the same team as they were before the switch to remote work was made.

Tip 2: Support Team Collaboration

Employees become stronger and more cohesive when they can freely collaborate on a platform that is accessible by all of the team’s members. The feeling is akin to that of being on the same boat, all working on the same problem that, if solved, will benefit them all equally.

This connection motivates employees to collaborate in order to achieve their common objectives. Physical distance creates hurdles and gaps that must be bridged, and this is made easier by allowing them to interact.

Tip 3: Control Your Message Volume

Do you follow up on an assignment using an email, a text message, or a phone call? Do you have a habit of checking in with individuals to see if they received your last message?

In many cases, oversaturating these points of communication can be seen as an act of digital dominance, a relentless and unpleasant type of harassment that can hinder the team by placing distinct demands on the time of the receiver.

Be careful not to overwhelm the team with communications. Make an informed decision about your digital volume and review it regularly with everyone to prevent issues from arising.

Tip 4: Reduce Virtual Distance

Virtual distance is a feeling of psychological and emotional detachment. It develops gradually and unknowingly when our in-person experiences are replaced with digital experiences – and it can have a negative effect on team culture.

As a manager, you need to reduce this virtual distance. Try substituting more of your phone calls and emails with video chats. Seeing the people you’re talking to is much better for establishing rapport and creating empathy among team members.

Tip 5: Be a Proactive Facilitator

It is critical to be proactive when bringing your team together remotely. Encourage virtual guests to actively participate to keep everyone interested. You might even try keeping a running tally to ensure that everyone is contributing and that everyone’s viewpoint is heard.

Avoid asking the cliched question, “Does anyone have any further points to add?” Instead, make a specific appeal to individuals.

Finally, don’t allow people to ramble or veer off course. It’s your responsibility as the meeting facilitator to politely intervene when required so that it doesn’t turn into a “one-man show”.

middle aged mixed race woman telecommuting working from home at dining room table

How to Reduce Workers Comp Claims for Telecommuting Employees

While the majority of attorneys still find themselves in law offices across the country, there is a growing telecommuting trend that is unlikely to go away anytime soon. As little as a generation ago, there may have been a stigma around those who work from home — that they didn’t care as much, or weren’t as serious about their jobs — but that stigma is slowly beginning to fade.

Lawyers are notorious for always being on the job – whether in the office, the courtroom, jails, or even on vacation. Is predominantly working from home really that much of a stretch?

Technological advancements in email, video conferencing, and cloud storage have not only made working from home more possible but also, in some cases, more profitable and preferable.

But what does that mean for workers’ compensation claims? If your employees work from home, could they still file a workers’ comp claim if they injure themselves on the job?

Workers’ Comp and Telecommuting

Solo practitioners may have started the trend of working from home but they are no longer the only ones. But if your employees get injured while working from home, should you expect a workers’ comp claim?

Recently, a Florida woman who works from home filed a workers’ comp claim after she tripped over her dog while reaching for a cup of coffee in her own kitchen during work hours. While this might seem like a simple issue, the case is now going before the Florida Supreme Court.

According to Law Shelf, “For an injury to be compensable under workers’ compensation law, it must be work-related. In many states, this means that the employee must prove that the injury both: 1) arose out of the employment, and 2) occurred in the course of employment.” These guidelines apply whether the employee works in an employer-provided office space or from their home.

What You Can Do

As a firm owner, one of the most important things you can do is to set guidelines and expectations for every aspect of your business. This includes having a designated work area and setting fixed work hours and break periods, if you have employees that work remotely, these guidelines and policies should also extend to them.

Additionally, your firm may want to consider providing training on how to properly set up an at-home workstation and then follow up as needed with in-home checks. Following these procedures may help your employees avoid an unnecessary injury and keep them from filing a workers comp claim to begin with.

Young People Discussing Group Insurance Benefits with an agent

3 Benefits of Group Health Insurance For Employers

Group health insurance is usually provided by an employer and can cover just the employee or even the employee’s spouse and children.

Not providing group health coverage could be a major misstep for some companies regardless of size, as there are a number of benefits to providing Group Health Insurance coverage.

1. Lower Costs Than Individual Plans

There is no question that the term health care reform has been a hot-button topic and on the lips of nearly every politician regardless of political party over the course of the past 10 years. In light of the Affordable Care Act, it has now become more affordable to purchase Group Health Insurance than for your employees to purchase health insurance individually.

Level-funding insurance plan options have been growing in popularity over the past number years. Level-funded plans are ERISA compliant and may offer more flexibility for employers with virtually no risk and offered by several reputable insurance carriers with a nationwide network of hospitals and physicians to choose from.

What has many employers especially excited about these plans is the opportunity for 10%-15% in lower premium costs and the Return of Premium potential. Unlike other policies on the market, with level-funded options, if your employees don’t rack up a large number of claims throughout the year, your company may have a substantial amount of money (originally paid in premiums) returned.

2. Attraction and Retention

If looking at the cost of a group health insurance plan leaves you feeling queasy and the idea of paying the tax penalty sounds more appeal, you may want to think twice.

As job seekers now expect for their employers to at least partially cover their healthcare needs through group health insurance policies, walking into a job interview and being told that the company refuses to pay health care for full-time workers is a red flag. Even if a potential employee is in trouble financially, they may still take the job out of desperation but will jump ship as soon as they can afford to for greener pastures.

Providing Group Health Insurance for your employees shows a certain level of care and respect that new and existing employees will appreciate and keep in mind going further within your company.

3. Tax Benefits of Providing Group Health Insurance

In some cases, it’s possible that providing your employees with Group Health Insurance could give you a welcome tax write-off, not to mention added tax benefits for your employees.

Payments made to group health insurance premiums, reimbursement plans (HRAs), and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are generally all eligible for tax advantages as all of these payments can be made as pre-tax contributions.

As an added bonus, qualifying health insurance plans may also be eligible for HSAs for their employees. HSA’s are 100 percent owned by the individual employee and not tied to you in any way. In a 2015 study conducted by Devenir compiled data from the top twenty HSA providers in the U.S. and found a 1775% increase in assets between 2006 and 2015, showing that now more than ever, people are choosing to invest their money in HSA’s rather than insurance plans with more coverage.

employee checking steps at work to maintain wellness

Planning A Workforce Health Promotion Program

Workforce Health Promotion programs have evolved from fitness, to health promotion, to comprehensive wellness programs. In the past, the focus was on physical fitness. Today, the focus has broadened to include topics such as nutrition, mental health, and chronic disease prevention, as well as the workplace environment, policies, productivity, and others. Additionally, employers’ Workforce Health Promotion programs vary according to workforce size, program scope, resources, and leadership support.

Experts agree that planning and designing a Workforce Health Promotion program is essential to ensuring the program’s success. Just as one would not begin a long trip without considering how to reach one’s destination, planners should not begin a Workforce Health Promotion program without mapping out where the program needs to go, and how it will get there.

Before embarking on a Workforce Health Promotion program, consider some important attributes of a comprehensive program identified from these selected planning resources from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Support from company leadership, unions, employees, and external stakeholders
  • Clear program goals and objectives that align with your overall company objectives
  • Continual assessment of information important to your employees, which can include health risks, employee needs, costs, benefits, productivity, and current practices
  • Policies that support healthy behaviors in the workplace
  • physical environment that provides employees with access to wellness practices and health behaviors
  • Employee services that provide wellness practices to employees
  • Systems and procedures that evaluate program effectiveness, return on investment, and alignment with business goals

Many business tools related to project management, process improvement, and problem-solving can also be applied to workforce health promotion design and implementation.

woman with curly hair in coffee shop holing her phone and smiling over good news

Short-Term Health Insurance Soon Available For Up To 36 Months

New Rule Loosens Current Restrictions

Effective October 2, 2018, a new rule will allow individuals to purchase short-term, limited-duration health insurance coverage for a period of less than 12 months, and renew such coverage for up to 36 months. Under current law, the maximum coverage period for short-term, limited-duration health insurance is less than 3 months, and these policies cannot be renewed.

Notably, short-term, limited-duration health insurance is:

  • Not required to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s ban on pre-existing condition exclusions and lifetime and annual dollar limits.
  • Not required to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s essential health benefits requirement, which requires individual health insurance policies to cover, among other things, hospitalizations, emergency services, and maternity care.
  • Not “minimum essential coverage,” meaning that policyholders may remain liable for an individual mandate penalty for any month in 2018.

Click here to read the new rule. A fact sheet is also available.

professional sitting behind desk conducting HR self-assessment guide

HR Self-Assessment Guide

The HR Self-Assessment Guide is composed of six modules. Each HR assessment section may be taken independently of the others, and is separately graded. You may take each module as many times as you like. Once you complete a module, your score will be calculated and displayed along with explanations for the answers in that module. Your scores are not stored in a database, so please print the results page for each module if you need it for future reference.  The six modules comprising the Guide are listed below:

  1. HR Management Practices
  2. Employee Classification, Compensation and Benefits
  3. Employee Relations
  4. Recruitment and Selection
  5. Safety, Health and Security
  6. Training and Development

Please follow the instructions below as you answer the questions:

  • Please answer all questions unless otherwise instructed. In some cases, selecting an answer will require you to skip some of the subsequent questions. If you inadvertently make an entry in a question that should be skipped, your response will not be considered.
  • Keep in mind that the questions apply to company-wide human resources practices.
  • Some questions may require internal research to arrive at an accurate answer. As much as possible, base your answers on a review of documentation maintained by your company.
young female professional sitting at a desk wearing a headset

HR Compliance Quick-Check

Whether your company has 5 or 500 employees, it’s important to conduct a regular review of your HR and benefits-related notices, records and procedures to ensure compliance with the law and prevent potential liabilities and employee lawsuits. The checklist below features key steps for evaluating your management practices to help keep your company HR compliant.

Hiring

  • Job descriptions, advertisements, and interviews are ADA compliant and meet state requirements.
  • Review employment applications for compliance with any applicable state laws regarding prohibited questions or statements that should be included.
  • All interview questions are appropriate and relate directly to the position and the applicant’s ability to perform the job’s essential functions. Questions do not discriminate based on race, sex, religion, age, ethnic group, national origin, marital status, military service, disability or other protected status.
  • Written authorization is obtained for background checks and Fair Credit Reporting Act requirements are satisfied, along with any state requirements for conducting background checks.
  • Policies and procedures related to drug testing, use of arrest and conviction records, and other candidate-information requests comply with applicable federal and state law.
  • Evaluate all recruitment and hiring strategies, policies, and procedures to ensure compliance with federal and state nondiscrimination laws.
  • Job offer letters are reviewed by an HR specialist or employment law attorney and include a statement regarding employment-at-will.
  • Forms I-9 are completed for all new employees within 3 business days from the first day of work for pay.
  • New hire reporting requirements are satisfied and necessary tax forms (Form W-4 and any required state forms) are collected from new employees.
  • Review your orientation/onboarding program for welcoming new employees and familiarizing them with the company’s basic management practices.

Employee Pay

  • Employees are properly classified as exempt or non-exempt based on their specific job duties and compensation. (Note: Job titles alone do not determine an employee’s exempt or non-exempt status.)
  • Review all pay practices, including minimum wage and overtime compensation, for compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act and any state laws that are more favorable to employees.
  • Employee pay periods (weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly) are scheduled in accordance with state wage payment timing requirements.
  • Pay and incentive programs treat employees equitably, and decisions regarding promotions and merit raises are based on clear, objective criteria.
  • Independent contractor relationships are carefully reviewed to prevent misclassification.

Benefits

  • Employee benefit plans (medical and retirement) comply with all requirements under federal and state law, including new Health Care Reform notices and other requirements for group health plans.
  • Review all plan documents, including enrollment forms and employee communications, to ensure they are accurate, consistent, and in compliance with applicable law.
  • Summary plan descriptions (SPDs) and other benefit plan notices are distributed to employees as required under federal and state law.
  • All reporting and filing requirements related to medical and retirement benefits are satisfied.
  • Employees are provided required notices regarding continuation of health coverage under COBRA or state “mini-COBRA” laws (if your company is subject to those requirements), and all obligations with respect to continuation coverage are fulfilled.
  • Review policies and procedures relating to paid vacation, holiday and sick leave (including compliance with FMLA or similar state laws that may apply to your company) on a regular basis, along with other benefits offered such as flex-time and telecommuting.
  • Information regarding benefits is clearly communicated to employees, and policies and procedures related to benefits are applied fairly and consistently.

Employee Policies & Procedures

  • All company policies and procedures comply with federal and state labor laws related to employee leave, equal employment opportunity, sexual harassment, worker safety and other requirements.
  • Every employee is provided with a handbook explaining the company’s policies and procedures related to standards of conduct, nondiscrimination, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment. (Be sure the employee signs a receipt acknowledging that he or she has reviewed the handbook.)
  • Labor law posters required to be displayed under federal and state law are posted where employees can easily see them.
  • Procedures are in place for maintaining employee records and files as required by law, including what information should be collected, confidentiality, and how long to keep records. Medical records and other confidential documents are kept in a separate file from the employee’s personnel file.
  • Employees receive necessary skills and regulatory training, including safety and sexual harassment.
  • Human resources policies and procedures apply equally to all employees, and are applied fairly and consistently throughout the company.

Performance Reviews

  • Performance reviews are conducted for all employees on a regular basis.
  • Job expectations and responsibilities are clearly communicated to employees, including the conduct and results required and the performance standards by which they will be measured.
  • Systems for measuring performance are in place (e.g., number of sales or customer satisfaction), based on specific job-related functions and criteria set forth in the employee’s job description.
  • Employee job descriptions are reviewed and updated at least annually.
  • Accurate documentation regarding performance is kept for each employee and documentation is direct, factual, and detail-oriented to support disciplinary or other personnel decisions.
  • Employee performance reviews are based upon specific, job-related criteria and feedback provided is honest, factual and complete.
  • Performance is compared against job descriptions and goals to offer ongoing feedback.
  • The review process and systems for measuring performance treat employees equitably.

Employee Discipline & Termination

  • All policies and procedures for handling employee disciplinary actions and investigations are clearly defined, written, and communicated to employees as appropriate.
  • All matters involving employee discipline warnings, investigations, and terminations are carefully and accurately documented, and related notices are reviewed on a regular basis.
  • Termination meetings are conducted to inform the employee of the termination, discuss the return of company property, deliver the final paycheck, and facilitate the employee’s departure. A summary of the meeting and any related information is prepared and placed in the employee’s personnel file.
  • Departing employees are provided with a written summary of accrued benefits and notices regarding post-termination benefits, including, where applicable, compensation for vacation and sick time, continuation of health coverage, severance pay and 401(k) plan information. Be sure to comply with any applicable federal or state requirements.
  • Policies are in place for collecting keys and other company property from the terminated employee and confirming that access to computer systems, email, and voicemail are deactivated.
  • Final paychecks are delivered at the time of termination or as otherwise required by state law.
  • Neutral references confirming a former employee’s position held and dates of employment are available upon request in accordance with company policy.
  • Review all discipline, investigation, and termination procedures for compliance with applicable federal and state laws and enforce them fairly and consistently.

Please note that the above list is not all-inclusive. If an HR assessment reveals violations that are not subsequently corrected, your company could be at risk for costly fines or lawsuits.  If you have any questions regarding your obligations under the law or about best practices when it comes to HR compliance, please consult with a knowledgeable employment law attorney for individualized guidance.

Supervisor having a tough conversation with an employee regarding discipline and termination

Introduction to Discipline and Termination

Terminating an employee, whether for misconduct or a reduction in force, is never a pleasant task.  However, at times it is a necessary part of managing a workforce.  Voluntary termination by an employee through resignation or retirement may not carry the negative stigma of an involuntary termination, but it does trigger certain responsibilities for the employer.

Involuntary Termination

Each step in the process of terminating an employee should be carefully executed.  Each step must be carefully and thoroughly documented.  If an employee is discharged for poor performance and later sues alleging discrimination, the employer will have a difficult time defending if the personnel file is devoid of any documentation of the poor performance over a reasonable period of time.

Note: Terminating an employee is a very sensitive matter, requiring careful communication and documentation to avoid potential lawsuits or other future problems. It is prudent to consult an employment law attorney or HR specialist before taking any specific steps should the need to terminate an employee arise.

Although “at-will” employment is common to virtually all states, employees do have substantial statutory protection, as well as remedies found in judicially recognized exceptions to the at-will employment rule.

Statutory Protections

  • Federal law prohibits any adverse employment action based on race, color, sex (including pregnancy and certain protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals), age, national origin, disability, military service or genetic information.
  • Federal law further prohibits adverse employment action because an employee:
    • Participates in an investigation or proceeding related to a claim of discrimination, or opposes discriminatory conduct.
    • Reports violations of wage and hour laws, such as minimum wage and overtime.
    • Reports workplace safety violations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
  • State and local laws often prohibit discrimination based upon such factors as marital status as well as the factors contained in the federal legislation.
  • Employees of employers with more than 50 employees have the right to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.  Some states provide such protection as well, often covering smaller employees.  Many states also provide job-protected military leave.
  • Voting leave under state law.
  • Jury and witness leave under state law.
  • Terminations which may be construed to be implemented to avoid payment of benefits under a plan covered by ERISA.
  • COBRA continuation coverage of group health care benefits or state “mini-COBRA” benefits.
  • The right to notice by larger employers of certain mass layoffs under the WARN Act, which requires advance notice to employees terminated as a result of a plant closing or mass layoff.

Although this list is not exhaustive, you can see the need for sound HR practices regarding termination, because there are many potential pitfalls for employers surrounding terminations.

lightning storm against purple sky and buildings

IRS Tips On Preparing for Natural Disasters

Using Electronic Records and Documenting Valuables Encouraged

With hurricane season approaching, the IRS is offering advice to those impacted by storms and other natural disasters. The following tips may help businesses prepare for such events:

  • Use electronic records. Businesses may have access to bank and other financial statements online. If so, their statements are already securely stored there. They can also keep an additional set of records electronically. One way is to scan tax records and insurance policies onto an electronic format. Businesses may want to download important records to an external hard drive, USB flash drive or burn them onto CDs or DVDs. Be sure to keep duplicates of records in a safe place. For example, store them in a waterproof container away from the originals. If a disaster strikes your business, it may also affect a wide area. If that happens, it may be impossible to retrieve the records that are stored in that area.
  • Document valuables. Take time and date stamped photos or videos of the contents of your business. These visual records can help prove the value of lost items. They may help with insurance claims or casualty loss deductions on a tax return. Businesses should also store these in a safe place.
  • Contact the IRS for help. Businesses that fall victim to a disaster may call the IRS disaster hotline at 866-562-5227 for special help with disaster-related tax issues.
  • Get copies of prior year tax records. If a business needs a copy of its tax return, it should file IRS Form 4506Request for Copy of Tax Return. The usual fee per copy is $50. However, the IRS is expected to waive this fee if a business is a victim of a federally declared disaster. For information that shows most line items from a tax return, call 1-800-908-9946 to request a free transcript. Alternatively, businesses may file IRS Form 4506T-EZShort Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript, or IRS Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return.

The IRS offers many resources to help employers plan for and recover from disasters, including IRS Publication 584-BBusiness Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook, and webpages devoted to preparing for a disaster and tax relief in disaster situations.

man sitting at desk with calculator and receipts doing math

‘Pay or Play’ Estimator Available from IRS

Tool Provides Estimates Only

The Taxpayer Advocate Service—an independent organization within the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)—has developed an Employer Shared Responsibility Provision Estimator tool to assist employers in understanding how the Affordable Care Act’s employer shared responsibility (“pay or play”) provisions work and how the provisions may apply to them.

Employers can use the tool to determine their:

  • Number of full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees (FTEs);
  • Applicable large employer (ALE) status; and
  • Estimated maximum amount of potential liability for the employer shared responsibility payment (“pay or play” penalty payment).

The tool provides estimates only. As a result, employers are advised to use it only as a guide to assist in making decisions regarding their tax situation.

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