May 2015 HR Advisor Newsletter

May 2015

As we breathe a sigh of relief over the end of tax season, many of us are contemplating vacation schedules and hiring seasonal help. This month’s Advisor takes you through your pre-summer checklist with articles on vacation administration and ideas for giving back to the community through volunteerism.


HR Alerts

Court Finds That Regular Attendance May Be an Essential Job Duty. A U.S. Appeals court has ruled in favor of Ford Motor Company and against the EEOC, finding that regular and predictable on-site job attendance was an essential function of a resale buyer’s job. This aligns with numerous other decisions which have said that allowing employees to telecommute, or be chronically tardy or absent, is not a reasonable accommodation in many situations. While courts have found that being at the workplace will often be essential, employers should be aware that there may be some jobs where physical attendance may not be necessary and where telecommuting might be a reasonable accommodation. This case highlights the importance of having thorough job descriptions that list the essential functions of each position, including whether the employee needs to be physically present in the workplace.


Strategic Management of Vacation Requests

You want to support employees by providing the opportunity for work/life harmony, but you also have customers to service and a business to run. Sometimes it is difficult to juggle multiple vacation requests around popular vacation times, especially during the summer months and other holiday times throughout the year. Below we have provided a few tips, suggestions and best practices to help you strike the right balance based on your organization’s typical activity model.


“Peak and Valley” Employers – A Peak and Valley employer is one in which there are historically predictable increases and decreases in activity level throughout the year. Extreme examples include tax preparation firms, landscaping companies and the like. However, most organizations have at least some degree of historical peaks and valleys throughout the year and may benefit from the following vacation management concepts. Strategies for managing vacation requests for Peak and Valley Employers include:

  • Black-Out Dates – They’re not just for airline reward miles. Some employers list blackout dates in their Employee Handbook’s Vacation Policy to make it clear that there are certain dates for which employees may not request vacation. Employees generally prefer to know ahead of time about black-out dates, rather than request vacation and receive a denial. Therefore, Peak and Valley Employers may wish to consider being up-front about black-out dates and listing them in the written Vacation Policy.
  • Forced Use During Slow Months – Peak and Valley Employers may wish to enact a policy requiring employees to use all or a specific amount of vacation during the slow months. For example, if your workflow significantly decreases in the first quarter of the year, you may consider stating in your vacation policy that employees are required to use at least half of their annual vacation allotment during this time period.
  • Incentives for Use During Slow Months – If you prefer incentives rather than prohibitions, consider incentivizing employees to use their vacation during slower months. For example, you may allow employees to use four vacation days and get one free for vacations during pre-determined slower periods.


“Steady Workflow” Employers – A Steady Workflow employer is one in which the annual workflow is fairly consistent throughout the year. Some examples include certain manufacturing or telecom employers. Steady Workflow Employers typically struggle when multiple employees request vacation time over the same dates, which are generally popular American vacation periods (summer, Thanksgiving week, Christmas week, etc.). Below are a few vacation strategies to manage conflicts when the organization’s workflow cannot support multiple employees on vacation concurrently:

  • Decisions Based on Seniority – Some organizations allow employees with more seniority to elect their vacation days earlier or have precedence when it comes to vacation requests.
  •  Decisions Based on “First-Come, First-Served” – Some organizations opt to approve vacations strictly based on when the request was submitted.
  • Shared Online Vacation Calendar – This method is simply a way of implementing the “first-come, first-served” system, but places more responsibility on the employee. The organization may opt to post a vacation calendar (by department or functional area) on its Intranet and list how many employees the department may have out on vacation for any one day. Then, each employee may fill in their vacation requests on the calendar, knowing that if the maximum number of employees have already requested the desired dates, the employee must select different dates.


“Seasonal Shutdown” Employers – A Seasonal Shutdown Employer has certain periods during the year in which all or a portion of operations close. Generally the best strategy for these employers is to force the use of vacation during these periods. Employers are permitted to designate vacation time based on the needs of the organization. Employers that close for certain weeks during the year often use this method of vacation management. For example, if the organization closes for the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, the company may require all employees to save five days of vacation time to use during this period.

Whatever decisions your organization makes in this regard, we recommend that the senior management team clearly communicates the company’s policy and the reasoning behind it to employees so they may plan their vacations accordingly. Clear communication and consistent application of the vacation policy are crucial to avoid potential morale problems or exposure to discrimination claims based on the administration of the organization’s vacation policy.


Question & Answer

Q: I know that under the Affordable Care Act we need to give new hires a Notice of Exchanges and Subsidies. Are we required to have the employees sign something to prove they got this notice? What is the penalty if we do not have this documentation?

A: There is no requirement to have employees sign an acknowledgement of receipt or to otherwise document the distribution of the Notice of Exchanges and Subsidies form. Getting a signature to confirm receipt is unnecessary and could actually create more liability for you. Employees are not always good at returning documents, and if your files were audited it would appear that those who had not returned the acknowledgement had not received the notice. For this reason, we generally recommend against requiring a signed acknowledgement for this notice.

We do, however, recommend that you either keep a log of who has received the notice or have a checkbox on your new hire checklist to indicate that the notice was given to the new employee. Again, this is not required, but it is an easy way to make your record more complete in case it ever was questioned.

Regarding penalties, as there is no documentation requirement, there is no penalty for not documenting Notice of Exchanges and Subsidies distribution. At this time, there is not even a penalty for failure to distribute the notices. However, you should continue to give the notices to new hires within 14 days of their start date (and to existing employees if you have not yet) so that you will be in compliance if a penalty system is implemented in the future.


Community Service Projects

It may come as a surprise to find that many job seekers take a company’s community service outreach programs into account when applying for and accepting jobs. If all things are equal, a highly desirable job candidate could decide between your company and a competitor based on your work in the community.

A recent Newsweek survey stated that nearly 76 percent of white collar workers said they would leave a company if their community service outreach program started to slip or was completely removed. Clearly volunteerism in the workplace is impacting employee recruitment and retention, and it may become more critical as employees move up in the workplace ranks.

This same Newsweek study touched on the fact that this percentage is even higher when Millennials are polled. Nearly 85 percent of Millennials stated that community service outreach programs will highly impact which organizations they choose to create an employment relationship with.

Many times creating a community service outreach program can be a bit daunting. Where do I begin? How do we engage this process? Well, a great place to begin community engagement is by simply reaching out to your local organizations. National or local Animal shelters, social service organizations, and health charities can be great resources to help you begin community engagement. Often, large organizations will have individual departments participate in pet projects throughout the year. Ideally, companies are allowing everyone the opportunity to donate to charities of their choosing, sometimes even using direct deposit from their paychecks.

This kind of community commitment from a business makes the employees feel proud to be associated with the company, and it also makes them feel better about their work personally. Volunteerism helps to build and promote a positive culture within a company and can also influence teamwork in the workplace. The more employees you can bring to a community service program the bigger impact it will have, since those that participate are more likely to rate their job satisfaction as high.

Diverse community service projects do not need to be limited to large organizations, as smaller companies can have just as big of an impact, if not more so, within their communities. When employees put their job skills to good use in a volunteer capacity, there’s an opportunity for those employees to improve and exercise their workplace skills. In a new environment, employees get more creative, troubleshoot problems in different ways and gain additional skills that they might not have an opportunity to utilize within the office.

In a time of social media, it’s no surprise that customer perception has a huge impact on a business’s brand. Word of mouth has gone digital in a big way, and people aren’t just taking a company’s products and services into account. When companies show a commitment to their communities, customers notice.

A company’s ethics, employee satisfaction, and community involvement are beginning to become important factors in which brand a consumer chooses. “The Reputation Institute” has reported that consumers give more weight to a company’s reputation than their products at a rate of 60 percent to 40 percent respectively. Additionally, 41 percent of consumer perception is based on three community service project related factors: citizenship, workplace, and governance.

The Walt Disney Company has had a stellar reputation for decades, not just because they bring smiles to the face of children with toys and movies, but because the company is deeply rooted in giving back. Volunteerism and philanthropy have long been a part of the company culture, and their genuine interest in improving the lives of as many people as possible is palpable. From their “Heroes Work Here” program that makes a commitment to hiring veterans and helping their families to creating one of the most substantial environmental policies.

It’s not just the customers that make up a community. Other businesses, local government and neighbors all take note of how active a company is in the community. Despite the presence of the Internet, the health of a local community greatly influences the well-being of the businesses within it. Community service not only creates goodwill, it can improve a business’ prospects and employee recruitment by making the area a better place to live and work.

Yes, engaged employees generate more earnings for businesses. Yes, community service projects build a good reputation for a business. Yes, volunteer programs will give a business a leg up when it comes to hiring. But above all else, a community service project will help a business make a positive change in the lives of many people who aren’t tied at all to profit margins.


Tool of the Month:

FMLA Administration Procedure

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to employees who need to recover from a serious illness, or who need to care for a family member’s serious illness. Providing leave to employees is more than just taking the doctor’s note; there are an assortment of forms that need to be provided, as well as benefits considerations and job protections. This in-depth guide covers the logistics of providing FMLA leave as well as sample forms an employer may need during the FMLA process, including FMLA Request Forms, a Benefits Continuation Letter, and a Fitness for Duty Letter.


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