Author: The HR Experts

If you learned that one of your employees was in a hate group or participated in hate group activities outside of the workplace, would you have grounds to terminate their employment?

It’s a very sticky scenario and should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and only after seeking both HR and legal advice.

There are no federal laws protecting hate groups, such as white nationalists, and these groups are not protected or accommodated under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Courts have rejected the supposition that groups such as the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) are considered religions, and therefore are not protected under the law. And as far as the First Amendment’s protections go, they only apply to the government and not private-employers.

In some states, employers are prohibited from taking action against these employees and it can be considered discrimination if the employee was participating in off-duty activities, such as rallies.

It’s a risky proposition to fire someone just because of their beliefs; however, the employer must take into consideration how the employee performs and behaves in the workplace. Their oppositional beliefs outside the workplace may bleed over into their ability to work cohesively with others, creating tension, hostility and may lead to harassment – which is illegal.

How to handle activities associated with hate groups

Weigh the risks. See guidance. And make sure your company policies and handbooks are up-to-date and site all the federal and state regulations related to anti-harassment and discrimination.

 

A new scam is hitting email Inboxes nationwide, which the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is warning employers to be aware of and not respond to the request. The scam emails are being sent to employers requesting employee Form I-9 information. The emails appear to come from USCIS, but they are from a fake address: news@uscis.com.

Even though the email mentions USCIS and the Office of the Inspector General, you should not submit any information or respond back. While employers are required to have a completed Form I-9 for every employee, they are not required to submit the forms to USCIS. The emails are a scam to get names, social security numbers and other Personally Identifiable Information (PII) for reasons of identity theft. Protect your employees’ information by not responding to this phony request.

If you receive an email and you are not sure if it is a scam, you can forward it to the agency’s webmaster at uscis.webmaster@uscis.dhs.gov.

Year-end is just around the corner. One of the early steps you can take to ease preparation for your year-end taxes is to ensure that your Vendor W9 information is in order. This article will give you good guidelines for a proper W9 information review.

Many business owners ask the question “Do I really need a W9 form from these guys?”, and the answer is usually “Yes!”

If you pay anyone by check for any kind of services to your business, you need to ask yourself this simple series of questions to ensure you have the proper forms from them:

  • “Is this person my employee or a vendor?” Both the IRS and L&I websites have a very helpful page for classification of vendors vs. employees. Visit independentcontractor.lni.wa.gov/ or https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/independent-contractor-self-employed-or-employee
    • If they are an employee, you need to have their W4 form (plus other employee paperwork, of course).
    • If they are a vendor, you need to have a W9 form.
  • “What am I paying them for?” You need to have W9 information for anyone that provides you services. This would exclude folks you are paying for only products without any service. For instance, if you are reimbursing someone for supplies purchased for your business, or if you are purchasing office supplies. For some reason, many people feel like legal services may be exempt. This is not true, and in fact, this is one area that the IRS has special rules in relation to Vendors and 1099s.
  • “What method of payment am I using to pay them?” If you are paying someone via Credit Card or Debit Card, you do not need to worry about collecting a W9 from them. However, if you pay using any form of a check (ACH, EFT, cash, Direct Deposit, Online Bank Check, personal transfer, etc.) you will need to have a W9 form. It is a good to collect a W9 from all vendors so that if your payment method changes you aren’t missing this critical information.

The main reason that businesses fail to collect the proper W9 forms for their vendors, is because they are pretty sure that the vendor will be exempt from 1099-filing requirements. “I don’t need their W9 because the company is a non-profit organization, and that is exempt from the 1099 requirement.” This is incorrect. You l need to have their signed W9 form on record, as that is their signed statement that gives you the information to determine if they are in-fact exempt from receiving a 1099 or backup withholding. This proves that you had a reason to classify them as exempt based on information they provided to you instead of your own assumption. Failure to collect a W9 form from someone who turns out not to be exempt is tantamount to helping this vendor/service provider commit tax evasion. Such an act exposes you to penalties, fines and even imprisonment.

Here is a link to the current W9 form, available in form-fillable pdf format on the IRS website: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw9.pdf

Often the thought of performing an over-all review of all paid workers seems overwhelming. We can help! We excel at quickly and efficiently reviewing your records, and aiding in the process of updating your records so that you are all ready to go for year-end tax filing. Feel free to visit our website to see what other types of support we offer for businesses! www.jjbizworks.com

The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services have issued a new I-9 Form that employers will be required to use effective September 18, 2017. The new form is used by HR and anyone in the position of hiring new employees, to verify employment eligibility. The current rules on storage and retention of I-9 Forms have not changed.

At first glance, you may not see a noticeable change in the form. However, the revisions relate to the List of Acceptable Documents and update List C’s required documents to reflect the most current version of the certification or report of birth issued by the U.S. State Department.

If you are an employer that has your new hires complete Form I-9 online, there is a newly added option for the Consular Report of Birth Abroad Form FS-240, which apply to certain employees who were born overseas to U.S. citizen parents. If using E-Verify, you’ll also be able to select this option.

Depending on your current new hire orientation or first day practices, the I-9 Form completion policy is still required at the time of hire. Employers may want to revisit their current business practices to ensure you are complying with the USCIS legal requirements.

The final modification on the Form I-9 is the change to the DOJ Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices name, which has been changed to the Immigrant and Employee Rights section.

Deadline Compliance:

You may continue to use the old form through September 17th, but begin using the NEW FORM immediately effective September 18, 2017 . You may recycle older versions but any new employees hired as of that date must use the new forms. Failure to comply by this deadline can result in significant fines if audited.

Current employee’s need not complete any new paperwork unless it is for Reverification or Rehire purposes under the State and Federal guidelines.

DOWNLOAD a copy of the new Form I-9 HERE.

If you have 10 or more employees and are not in an exempt industry, you are responsible for logging any work-related injuries or accidents when they occur during the year, as well as summarizing the incidents annually. If your employees had any injuries that fall under the OSHA guidelines, you may need to record and file the OSHA 300 and 301A Forms (the Log of Work-related Injuries and Illnesses) and ensure compliance by April 30, 2017.

Even if there weren’t any workplace injuries or recordable incidents during the year, and you’re in the state of Washington and have more than 10 employees, you will still record and track the zero incidents, according to WAC 296-27-02105 regulations, on the Summary form and properly display it in a common work area.

What do I report?

OSHA updated their guidelines in January 2015, indicating that any of the following required immediate reporting:

  • All work-related fatalities reported within 8 hours of incident
  • All work-related inpatient hospitalizations, amputations and loss of eye within 24 hours

At the end of each year, the employer is required to post the Form 300A Summary so that it is visible to all employees through April 30th, as well as complete the Log and keep these records for a period of 5 years.

What should be recorded?

Any incidents that result in:

  • Death
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Days away from work
  • Restricted work activity or accommodation
  • Medical treatment beyond first aid

Posting the Summary:

The Summary form must be posted between February 1 through April 30th in each office location. You must also keep the Summary and the OSHA Log for a period of 5 years, but you are not required to send the forms into OSHA unless requested.

Building Women: NAHB PWB 2017 National Chair: Juli Bacon

“I never believed in the glass

ceiling. You can do whatever

you want. Don’t put limits on

yourself. If you want to build

a house, build a house. Ask

lots of questions. If you want

help, ask somebody.”

 

Click HERE to read more about Juli Bacon in this publication of Building Women Magazine.

 

Wellness Programs and Compliance

Employers these days may have found that just offering basic medical, dental and vision benefits aren’t enough to attract and keep talent. Many look to offer additional incentives for employee wellness and health. Value adds such as wellness programs, fitness, onsite check-ups, biometric screening, employee assistance programs  are just a few of these optional programs.

Establishing these additional programs is a great way to encourage healthy lifestyles with employees, providing tools and resources and incentives for participating in these activities. However, they may also come with regulatory compliance measures under HIPAA, the ACA, the ADA or GINA (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) that require employers to comply with additional rules to protect employee rights and privacy.

In May 2016, the EEOC issued two final rules the offered guidance to employers about how their wellness programs should comply with the nondiscriminatory acts under ADA and GINA. These new rules went into place effective January 1, 2017. According to an article in SHRM (May 2016), the new rules “govern the extent to which employers may use incentives to encourage participation in wellness programs connected to group health plans without being considered involuntary.” And in order for a wellness program to be considered voluntary, the employer must not require or deny or limit coverage under its company health plan for not participating in the wellness.

Most wellness programs fall under one of three categories: participation, activity or outcome. If the employer does offer these wellness programs, there are five requirements that may need to be met in terms of legal compliance:

First, the wellness program may not exceed applicable incentive limits based on the various established Acts. For example, under HIPAA and ACA, the limit is 30% of the total cost of coverage. Secondly, that the wellness program is designed to promote health and prevent disease. So in essence, the primary focus is about the well-being of the employee or their family members.

The third requirement is that it offers an opportunity to qualify for the reward at least once per year. The fourth obligation is that it offers a reasonable alternative standard (RAS) for those who perhaps can’t meet the original standard due to a physical disability and you have to disclose to them that the RAS is available.

For example, let’s say your reward program is based on the number of steps or an annual walking requirement. If an employee is unable to walk, then the employer must offer up a reasonable alternative to meeting this goal.

And the last obligation is that all of the wellness options are voluntary and not a requirement in order that the employee be eligible for other health care programs.

Wellness programs can be an excellent win-win approach for employees and the employer. However, before establishing or offering any value-add plan, please consider your legal obligations, as well as consult an HR or benefit broker to discuss your options.

Nearly half of the US workforce is women

Wednesday March 8th was International Women’s Day, a day officially recognized every year to commemorate women’s rights globally. This year, an additional tag was added to this occasion called A Day without Women, an organized strike day encouraging women across the globe to strike in solidarity and recognition over “the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system—while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity,” according to the Women’s March web page.

With women comprising nearly half of the U.S. workforce (Fortune), the possibility that the protests and absences for this reason and cause may have impacted productivity and operational effectiveness in offices and businesses in the states.

Mass demonstrations were held that coincided with International Women’s Day. Here in Seattle, a rally was held in the evening in Westlake Park where hundreds gathered in support of women’s rights. A Day without Women was aimed to start or continue discussions across the board about gender equality and promoting family-friendly policies in the workplace related to paid leave and scheduling flexibility.

Many employers question whether employees are protected if they call out absent from work or take an unscheduled unpaid day off to participate in these political protests.

Are such absences protected and considered concerted activity as outlined under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)?

Technically, the NLRA only protects employees, whether union or non-union, who engage in “lawful concerted activity for purposes of mutual aid and protection” or when they seek to initiate an action about work-related issues, or bring complaints about the workplace to management. If an employee is absent for reasons of a walk-out or “strike” day, and their protest is more broadly based government action not aimed at specific workplace issues, they are generally not afforded the same protections under the NLRA.

However, it is recommended that an employer have open dialogue with your employees before jumping to conclusions or making decisions that could affect employment of an employee. Certainly it is the right of an employer to have a legitimate interest in maintaining high levels of operational productivity and to enforce policies on attendance. However, there are certain circumstances that a manager may want to refrain from disciplining employees for failing to attend work.

If the employee is out due to general “protests,” it may not be enough under the NLRA to protect their rights, and the employer may enforce their policies. However, if the reason is expressly tied to working condition or gender equality issues, the employer may want to give the benefit of the doubt and avoid any discipline normally tied to absences.

An employer is encouraged to first have a documented attendance policy in place and follow those guidelines consistently and without bias. The rules should be enforced for each employee, without discrimination of their right or reason for the absence. Consistency in enforcement is key, as is seeking HR support or legal counsel related to this grey subject to mitigate any potential risk to your business.

Love in the Workplace

Valentines Day may have come and gone, leaving only the visible reminder of empty chocolate boxes and discarded floral arrangements in the office trash can, but that doesn’t mean love isn’t lingering in the hallways.

Did you know that a Society of Human Resource Management study in 2013 indicated that at least a quarter of employees have been involved in an office romance at some point in their career? Many people have found their spouses or significant others in the workplace. Let’s face it – we spend a far greater percentage of our time at work than we do in our personal activities, so workplace relationships are bound to happen. But for every positive outcome, such as commitment and marriage, there can also come a devastating split, potentially leading to lower morale, lost productivity and even harassment claims. Which in turn can negatively impact your business.

The best way to protect both your business and your employees is to have a workplace relationship policy in place. While many organizations frown upon relationships between superiors and their subordinates, it’s a good idea for a company to put some guidelines in place when it comes to dating or marriage between colleagues and those in reporting relationships. Banning office romance or consensual relationships altogether or implementing a no-dating policy may only backfire on an employer.

Here are some tips and strategies related to establishing policies regarding workplace romance:

  • Decide on the company stance regarding relationships – whether to allow, prohibit or discourage fraternization, specifically involving supervisors and their direct reports.
  • Establish the policy in writing, not just a verbal acknowledgement.
  • Determine if you want your employees to notify you if a relationship exists; this should be a must for supervisors in a position of authority.
  • Establish your employer rights to make employment decisions of those involved; ex: transfers, changes in reporting structures or changes in schedules, etc.
  • Rules around physical conduct during work hours.
  • A strict anti-harassment policy that relates to all employees, including management.
  • Consistency in the management and enforcement of these policies.

When to get involved:

Once a policy is in place, at what point should the employer or HR get involved in an employee relationship? This is a sticky proposition. Assuming you’ve been made aware that a relationship exists and it’s causing a disruption or violating the guidelines, you may need to address it directly. Meet with the employees to address the risks, the behaviors and the potential impact the relationship has on the workplace. If it is a supervisor/subordinate relationship and the superior hasn’t reported it, you may consider disciplinary action with the supervisor, as well as make a change in that reporting structure. The employee should not be negatively impacted.

Workplace relationships can be tricky business. They have cause and affect consequences that can easily turn sideways. Having a solid fraternization policy in place and enforcing it consistently will help in keeping the workplace on friendly terms.

In addition, you should seek HR support and guidance when you are tasked with creating a new fraternization policy or handling a claim of harassment or violation of company policy.

 

Juli Bacon

Juli Bacon, owner of JB Consulting Systems LLC and Bacon Maintenance Services LLC in Woodinville, Wash., was recently sworn in as the 2017 chair of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Professional Women in Building (PWB) Council.

“Ensuring that women understand they have a place at the table and helping them find a way to get to that place at the table in construction is really important to me,” said Bacon. “We have a lot of young women wanting to know how to get there, and my goal as the PWB chair is to help them in the most efficient way possible.”

As chair of the PWB Council, Bacon will manage the council’s business and represent the interests of the council members throughout NAHB. Building leadership strategies for women in the construction industry and setting up a mentoring program for women in construction will be Bacon’s focus for 2017 as the council begins the first year of its new strategic plan.

In addition to her role at JB Consulting systems and Bacon Maintenance Services, Bacon is also a partner in her joint venture JJ BizWorks and a minority owner in Routec Industries LLC. Bacon recently expanded her consulting practice into other states.

Bacon is a long-time member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties in Washington State and has served as the Region E Trustee of the NAHB PWB for several years. In that role, she has helped bridge the gap between national and local councils and is an ambassador for extending PWB’s reach and forming new councils in that region. She has been involved at the national level with PWB since 2005 and also serves on the Construction Safety Committee. I

n 2013, Bacon was recognized nationally by her peers with the PWB Woman of the Year award. She has received similar recognition over the years from her local PWB council and local association, and was the Building Industry Association of Washington’s Associate of the Year in 2005. Bacon is dedicated to mentoring other women in business and gives back to her community through her own and her children’s volunteer efforts. For more information about Professional Women in Building, visit www.nahb.org/whypwb.

ABOUT THE NAHB PWB COUNCIL: The NAHB Professional Women in Building (PWB) Council is a national organization affiliated with the National Association of Home Builders, and consists of a network of local and state councils and members-at-large. The Council is dedicated to supporting the professional development of women in the home building industry. It provides service to the membership through education and training programs that focus on professional and leadership development, networking opportunities and industry-related information. In addition, the Council recognizes its role in supporting the overall building industry by mobilizing its membership to assist efforts spearheaded by local, state and national builders associations.

ABOUT NAHB: The National Association of Home Builders is a Washington-based trade association representing more than 140,000 members involved in home building, remodeling, multifamily construction, property management, subcontracting, design, housing finance, building product manufacturing and other aspects of residential and light commercial construction. NAHB is affiliated with 700 state and local home builders associations around the country. NAHB’s builder members will construct about 80 percent of the new housing units projected for this year.