Frequently Asked Questions

HR Audits

An HR Audit is a comprehensive review of policies and HR practices to identify areas of strength and weakness and where improvements may be needed. The information gathered from the audit helps determine whether current HR processes comply with State and Federal regulations and support business goals and can help determine if an organization is properly utilizing their human capitol. The audit includes a summary of findings and recommendation for next steps.

An HR Audit includes a comprehensive discussion and review of current practices, policies, and procedures, and often includes benchmarking against organizations of similar size and/or industry. Specific areas examined in the audit include:

  • Compliance with applicable federal and state employment laws
  • Record-keeping (personnel files, I-9s, applications, etc.)
  • Compensation/pay equity
  • Employee relations
  • Performance appraisal systems
  • Policies and procedures/employee handbook
  • Terminations
  • Health, safety and security (OSHA compliance, Drug-Free Workplace, Workplace Violence)

An HR Audit is typically completed when we first engage with a client, so we can get a full understanding of their needs and design an appropriate fulfillment strategy. Subsequent mini, or follow-up HR Audits, can then be completed every year; however, these are much less extensive and tend to focus on and expand certain functional areas of importance to the client, such as the revamping of performance appraisals.

First, your company probably is out of compliance in some areas. We have yet to do an audit with a client and not find exposure. Employment laws and regulations are incredibly vast and ever-changing; it’s almost impossible for businesses to keep up. Second, this is why you have hired us. We will put a plan in place and execute it to get you in compliance as soon as possible. And if you are ever audited by an external agency (ICE, DOL, etc.), you will be able to show that you made a “good faith” effort to be in compliance, which often mitigates fines.

The cost of an audit depends on your company’s size but typically ranges from $825-$2400. The benefits are immeasurable.  First, if there are issues with I-9s, employment documentation, and the manner in which employees are classified and paid, and these issues are identified and cleaned up as a result of the audit, you could be saving anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in potential fines and back-pay. Second, if you utilize the audit to capitalize on your talent, providing employees with more direction on their job, giving them more complete and constructive feedback, putting them in the right “seats” on the “bus,” you can drive productivity and profitability in ways previously unseen and reduce many of the costs associated with recruiting and hiring, low morale, and turnover.

Employee Handbooks

Yes. Although not legally required, they may as well be for a variety of reasons.

First, there are policies, which vary based on your company’s size, location, and industry, which you need to communicate to employees. Doing this in one document, such as an employee handbook, is an efficient way to comply.

Second, try beating an unemployment claim without a defined policy. We know of one company who lost an unemployment claim for an employee who, with a company car and on company business, got in a high-speed chase with a police officer. Unemployment ruled in the employee’s favor because the employer did not have a policy stating that employees have to comply with laws while using company property. True story.

Third, and the list really can go on and on, an employee handbook facilitates compliance because policies are spelled out for everyone, so the propensity for variance and endless clarification are lessened.

This depends, as different federal and state regulations apply depending on your on your company’s size, location, and industry; however, most companies benefit from the following policies at a minimum.

  • Employment-At-Will statement (applicable if you operate in an employment-at-will state), prominently positioned at the beginning of the handbook.
  • Non-harassment/discrimination policy that includes a complaint procedure and no-retaliation clause.
  • Company Property policy that includes email and internet usage and spells out that employees should have no reasonable expectation of privacy when using company property.
  • Workplace Violence policy defining policy in the workplace (threats, weapon, fighting, etc.) and stipulating the company has zero tolerance.
  • Drug and Alcohol policy that includes a clause about prescription drug misuse and explains consequences for violating policy.
  • Conduct Standards that define your expectations for employees to comply with company policies and federal, state and local laws.

The best practice is to update your employee handbook annually. However, if you have a lot of changes, have entered into different states, or significantly changed your headcount, you may want to update sooner.

We conduct a roll-out of the handbook to all employees, briefly explain the policies, and answer any questions employees may have. We also have them sign an acknowledgment, stating that they have read and understood the handbook, which we keep in their personnel files.

Yes, they should sign off on it, so you have proof that they received it. It’s amazing how many times we hear, “No one ever told me I have to get approval for time off!” And we respond, “Ahh, yes, we did, actually, on this date. See here, where you signed off that you received and understood the policies.”

Benefits Administration

Yes, we routinely administer health, dental, vision, FSA, HRA, life, disability, and 401k for clients, partnering with their brokers, TPAs and payroll providers. We notify employees when they are eligible for benefits, provide them with enrollment paperwork, process the paperwork, answer coverage and claims questions, and review and approve invoices from carriers.

Yes, we help shop plans and rates, provide recommendations, and coordinate and execute open-enrollment meetings.

Yes. Many of our clients assign us to benefits administrators, so we have full access to their plans and can easily respond to employees’ inquiries regarding coverage and claims.

In the small group market, the rates are the rates, so the key is to focus on comparing overall benefits and capitalizing on discounts offered by carriers for having various lines of coverage (health, dental, etc.) under one roof. In the large group market, companies are “experience” rated, so here we focus on wellness programs to drive down premiums.

Yes, we either provide the benefits administration for you or train a member of your team on basic benefits administration.

HR Compliance Training

We keep a detailed file on each client, which includes an active headcount by state and current polices and initiatives. As laws change, we notify you and amend policies, practices, and initiate communications with employees accordingly.

Yes, and those policies are dependent on a variety of factors, including the states in which you operate and the number of employees you have. Besides required policies, there are many you do not need but may want to have, and we will go over these with you as well and provide recommendations.

Labor posters, the employee handbook, and new hire paperwork is the place to start. Ongoing communication in the form of memos, lunch and learns, and trainings, all of which we provide, further explain, clarify misunderstanding, and generate buy-in amongst employees. Performance reviews, compensation, and discipline linked to performance and compliance, including holding your management team accountable, drives home the message.

This depends on your company’s size, states in which you operate, and industry. We will collect this information from you and let you know what regulations, specifically, apply to you.

Posting requirements vary by statute, state and industry, but most companies, at the least, need to post The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), The Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) Act, Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), and Whistleblower Protections. Additional postings, such as The Equal Employment Opportunity Poster and The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), become required as you grow.

Postings can be found on various federal and state agency websites (the Department of Labor provides guidance at http://www.dol.gov/elaws/posters.htm), but it can be challenging to ensure you have everything you need, and downloading, printing and posting each notice individually is a mess, literally. For these reasons, we recommend clients use a poster service and have partnered with Labor Law Compliance Center, who gives our clients preferred pricing on both hard and e-posters.

We provide a poster program that includes unlimited automatic updates, so clients are always in compliance with updated regs.

Discipline and Termination

Yes, you should have a policy in your handbook stating that you reserve the right to discipline employees at your discretion up to and including termination.

Such a policy will go a long way in helping reduce the risk of litigation and can form the core of more elaborate termination procedures governing both voluntary termination and involuntary termination.

In case of a voluntary termination, a termination policy can provide the necessary information an employee needs to obtain benefits and tie up any loose ends.

Involuntary termination can take either of these two forms: Reduction in Force (RIF) or Disciplinary Termination. Both tend to be associated with negative emotions. A documented termination policy can reduce the probability of conflict.

Yes, it is always safest to have an attorney’s advice.

In the real world, many businesses do not contact an attorney every time they terminate someone. It can backfire. In 2016, the Pennsylvania Superior Court sided with an employee who had repeatedly refused to work overtime. She was paid $121,869.93 in damages, and her employer had to reinstate her into her former position.

Such scenarios can be avoided if an employer consults a lawyer before proceeding with termination. In our case, when clients ask us if they can terminate an employee, we look at the offer letter, handbook, and performance documentation to help them make the call. We advise that it is always best to run it by an attorney, and if it’s a situation that could be particularly risky (such as issues involving discrimination, social media, etc.), we strongly suggest they obtain guidance and provide a severance agreement to the employee.

All states fall under the employment-at-will doctrine, which means unless you have a contract with the employee stipulating otherwise, you can terminate an employee at any time, for any reason, with or without notice or cause. There are exceptions, of course.

You cannot terminate someone in these scenarios:

  1. You do not like your employee’s age, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, or marital status
  2. Your employee is a specially-abled individual
  3. Your employee served in the military
  4. Your employee participates in an investigation related to discrimination or reports a legal violation
  5. Your employee avails his or her right to take time-off

This list is not exhaustive. There may be additional exceptions, depending on the state you are in. The safest course of action will be to consult an HR firm and adopt sound termination practices to avoid common pitfalls.

Yes, we will conduct the termination with the employee’s manager or other company representative present. We can also coach your team on how to conduct the termination themselves if you prefer to handle internally.

No, separation agreements, or severance agreements, need to be drafted by an employment attorney (we know plenty we can recommend who do a great job with this). The agreements can vary by state, an employee’s age, and the reason for separation, and if not written correctly, can easily be invalidated by a court of law.

I-9 and Personnel File Audits

The I-9 Form is a document, issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which verifies employees’ identity and authorization to work in the U.S.. Employers must complete the I-9 form for all new hires: section 1 of the form must be completed by employees on their first day; employers must complete their section within three business days of new hires’ start and re-verify certain identification as it expires.

Employers need to then retain the form, separate from other personnel documents, for three years after an employee’s date of hire or for one year after separation, whichever is later.

The forms must be available for inspection by authorized U.S. Government officials from the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Labor, or Department of Justice.

While voluntary I-9 audits are not required by law, they are highly recommended. This is because there are many opportunities to be out of compliance (signing in the wrong box, completing late, not completing all sections relating to ID, etc.), and the fines from an ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) audit range from $110 to $1,100 per violation and can result in criminal charges and up to $16,000 in fines per each undocumented worker.

Penalties for non-compliance can include civil fines, criminal penalties, debarment from government contracts, and back pay to individuals.

Fines are the most common, ranging from $110 to $1,100 per violation and up to $16,000 per each undocumented worker.

Both employees and employers complete sections of the form (employees complete Section 1 of the form; employers complete Sections 2 and 3); however, responsibility for completing and retaining the form falls on the employer.

Employers can provide the I-9 form to candidates as soon as the job offer has been accepted and must have Section 1 completed on the first day of employment and Section 3 completed no later than 3 business days from the first day of employment.

Employers need to retain the form along with copies of supporting documentation, if made, for three years after an employee’s date of hire or for one year after separation, whichever is later.

Personnel files should include employee’s W-4, direct deposit, and emergency contact forms as well as their resume, employment application, signed the offer letter, and job description. Their benefits forms should be stored in a separate binder, as should their I-9s.

No, it’s not; you may store them electronically, but if you do, you need to consider certain criteria. Do you have a secure document management system in place? Do you regularly back it up? Have you assigned the appropriate security roles to users? If you are collecting the original information in paper form, are you securely scanning, and then shredding, paperwork into the database? And finally, can you easily access the information when needed?

Payroll Processing and Administration

Yes, this is a common service we provide clients. We can use any payroll platform, although there are some we recommend more than others, and can work both off and on-site to provide this service.

Yes, payroll companies allow multiple users and varying amounts of control, so we can process payroll while your Bookkeeper, for example, is set only to view.

Yes, we can; however many of the payroll platforms out there provide training as part of their package. That being said, many of these trainings are online, so we are sometimes asked by clients to walk their payroll manager through the process. We can also make recommendations to streamline the process, based on our years of processing payroll ourselves.

We operate on secure systems (we are privy to so much confidential information!); however, we do suggest to clients that we VPN into a remote desktop so that all processing is done through their server.

Outsourced HR Services

All HR functions can be outsourced, including but not limited to payroll and benefits administration, employee relations, performance management, training, hiring and firing, and investigations.

The answer depends on the number of employees, volume and type of work, and the HR challenges you are facing. If you have under 80 employees, it almost always makes sense to outsource the HR function from a financial perspective (Do you really have 40 hours of HR work a week to justify a full-time salary plus benefits?). If you have a lot of administrative HR work (payroll and benefits administration), you may opt to keep those functions in house and outsource only the more senior aspects of HR (employee relations, performance management, etc.). And if you are dealing with a particularly sensitive issue, such as a harassment or discrimination complaint, it makes sense to have an outside HR professional investigate.

The primary challenge of outsourcing is finding an HR Consultant who has the knowledge, experience, flexibility and bandwidth to meet your organization’s needs. Also, many outsourced HR providers offer call-centers and templates for generalized information, which may not match the needs of many smaller and growing entrepreneurial-based firms who need more hands-on support. Finding the right provider for your organization is probably the biggest challenge.

There are many benefits to HR Outsourcing. The first is cost savings (many companies don’t have enough HR work to justify paying for a full-time HR Manager and/or department), but it’s not the most important. More significant are the benefits from the knowledge and experience an HR Consultant brings to the table (most HR Consultants have worked with dozens, in our case hundreds, of businesses, and this exposure builds an HR Consultants knowledge of Best Practices and innovative ideas) as well as employees having an objective third-party they can go to with concerns and suggestions.

Performance Management

Yes, we have many templates and processes drafted, which we can amend and customize to fit your organization’s needs, including ratings, attributes, and core competencies. We will then roll out the performance management system to employees and train managers on how to deliver an effective, accurate, and compliant review.

Performance reviews help improve performance because employees tend to perform better when they know what to do and how to improve. They help improve morale because employees, particularly the Millennial Generation, like to know how they’re doing and crave feedback. And they help companies make, and justify, employment decisions, such as promotions, terminations, and pay increases.

You should conduct these at least annually, although some companies opt to do them twice a year and some even quarterly.

In either employees’ personnel files or in separate performance files for each employee.

For two reasons: compliance and effectiveness.  If managers do them incorrectly, it could result in increased liability for your firm. For example, if they rate the employee as a solid performer but then want to terminate him a few weeks later, the review could serve to support a claim of wrongful termination. Managers are often unaware of all the legislative pitfalls they could throw the company into. Also, a review that is not accurate or does not contain constructive, actionable feedback, is a wasted opportunity to communicate expectations to employees and improve performance.

Recruiting and Hiring

Pretty much any and all, depending on the client’s needs. We draft the job description and the job posting. We collect resumes, review them and sort them into Yes, No, and Maybe piles for managers’ review. We phone screen applicants, schedule interviews, draft interview questions, and conduct the interviews ourselves. We check references, draft and negotiate offer letters, coordinate the new hire set up and paperwork, and conduct employees’ orientation.

We have hired for a variety of industries, ranging from manufacturing to marketing to architectural firms. The key is to develop a detailed job description and understanding of the requirements of the job and to work with your internal hiring team to develop the recruiting strategy and process that works for you.

This depends on the recruiting strategy. Some clients pay us on an hourly basis, others as part of their regular retainer with our firm. The costs for postings (Indeed, LinkedIn, Monster) are a pass through to the client.

We work with preferred providers to facilitate background checks, drug testing, and physicals. They give us lower, “partner,” pricing, and we serve as a liaison between the provider and clients to select the appropriate screenings for the position, communicate with employees, and run the tests.

First, all a recruiting firm does is recruit; they typically do not offer other HR services, like drafting job descriptions and onboarding employees. For this reason; however, they are often a great resource because ALL they do is network, network, network with potential candidates, often with those that are more desirable/currently employed. Some clients balk at the standard 20-25% of first year’s salary that recruiters charge, but depending on the position (often those in niche industries), it can be worth it (think of what you would pay someone internally to network and sort through thousands of resumes). Second, as referenced above, recruiters earn a hefty commission. This is why, depending on the position, clients may be better off hiring from job boards and through industry affiliations. This being said, we do routinely partner with recruiters to fill certain roles, with them supplying the candidates and us screening and scheduling interviews. Clients have to be careful to partner with someone they trust; with such a large commission at stake, many recruiters will place anyone with a beating heart, rather than someone who is the best fit. This is one of the reasons why having internal or outsourced HR, to serve as a project manager/intermediary, is important.

Yes, we routinely write job descriptions for our clients. In instances where there are not job descriptions in place, we draft them and then work with the management team to customize to their needs. Where job descriptions exist, we review, revise and update.

The job description is the backbone of the employment relationship. Because it outlines the essential functions and requirements of the job, it drives the recruiting, compliance, and performance management functions. Here’s how. Recruiting: It helps you draft an ad/job posting reflective of the position, attract the right candidates, develop interview questions tailored to the role, and select the best person for the job. Compliance: It helps defend hiring decisions in cases of alleged discrimination and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) guidelines. Performance management: It is the reference point for employee development, performance reviews, and often, discipline and termination.  

We recommend that job descriptions contain a header that includes job title, supervisor, and FLSA status. The body should include a section that outlines the essential functions of the job, a section for education and experience, and a section for skills and abilities. A final section, where the employee signs acknowledging receipt, is optional.

Strategic Partnering

Yes, we have had many clients ask us to look at their current company structure and employees’ skill sets. Then we help them determine how departments should be organized and which “seats on the bus” employees should occupy.

To be of value, mission and vision statements, need to come from within, often from key leaders, including a combination of managers and employees. We facilitate this process, leading brainstorming sessions, helping the group draft the statement, and developing a campaign to integrate throughout the organization.

Yes, and then we can develop a communication campaign and work with the management team to ensure these goals trickle down to employees’ performance objectives so that the entire organization is aligned.

Yes, we develop organizational charts, in a variety of formats, and update and disseminate as needed.

Substance Abuse Testing and Physicals

Yes, you should have a policy and you need to provide employees with consent forms and other documentation required by law.

That depends on your industry and the job. Where it is optional, it usually comes down to the personal beliefs of the owners. Some feel it is none of their business if employees use drugs outside of work; others feel that their workforce should be completely drug free. Regardless of belief, you should have a drug testing policy in place reserving the right to test employees, and your offer letters should state that the offer may be contingent upon successful completion of a test.

Yes, provided you have a policy in place that states you can. We recommend; however, that you avoid this alternative when possible. Often in cases of drug use, there are tangible performance issues that you can address, such as absenteeism, errors, lack of productivity, etc. that can be used as a basis to discipline and/or terminate an employee.

Training and Development

Yes, all of our trainings are tailored to the client’s needs, often created from scratch when a unique need arises.

We provide in-person training, both on and off-site, as well as WebEx training.

We develop objectives with the client that they would like to see achieved and then measure accordingly. Depending on the objective, measurement could include anything from a satisfaction survey to reduced turnover to increased profitability.

Yes, we realize we cannot be everything to everyone, and we don’t want to be. When something falls outside our scope, we are happy to research and recommend a provider and training that will meet the client’s needs.

Workplace Investigation

An investigation should be conducted as soon as possible in instances where there is complaint about harassment or discrimination, abusive conduct on the part of a manager or co-worker, violence. Investigations may also be triggered by a perceived threat or issue, such as concern that an employee may be selling trade secrets.

HR can often conduct the investigation, but in instances of alleged harassment and discrimination, it’s best to have an independent third party conduct the investigations.

Yes, and in many cases, it makes sense for the investigation to be conducted internally. There are certain Best Practices you will want to follow, depending on the situation, and we can guide you on these.

Because it brings objectivity to the issue, particularly if it is of a sensitive and potentially highly litigious nature. Even if you have an internal HR department, they are still a part of the company and can be perceived as biased even if they aren’t.

The cost of an audit depends on your company’s size but typically ranges from $825-$2400. The benefits are immeasurable.  First, if there are issues with I-9s, employment documentation, and the manner in which employees are classified and paid, and these issues are identified and cleaned up as a result of the audit, you could be saving anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in potential fines and back-pay. Second, if you utilize the audit to capitalize on your talent, providing employees with more direction on their job, giving them more complete and constructive feedback, putting them in the right “seats” on the “bus,” you can drive productivity and profitability in ways previously unseen and reduce many of the costs associated with recruiting and hiring, low morale, and turnover.