Tune Up Your HR Function with an Internal Audit

audit

An HR functional audit is an ideal way to assess and measure its success.  An audit can be as formal and complex as bringing in an outside consultant, to a cross-functional project performed by a finance auditor, to a more informal voluntary audit performed within your own department.

The goal of such an audit is to examine organizational practices and compare them against legal requirements and company policies.  The outcome should be a formal report to management with recommended actions for any problem areas.

Audit Scope and Areas

There are three basic types of HR function audits:

A compliance audit reviews both company policies against applicable laws, and reviews practices and processes against policies.

A continuous improvement audit looks to streamline work processes and procedures, and searches for any issues or gaps.

A service quality audit measures the satisfaction of HR customers such as employees and management.

A comprehensive audit examines all aspects of human resources’ organizational practices, such as:

  • internal auditRecord-keeping (employee files, I-9’s, candidate data and applications)
  • Legal compliance (AA, EEO, ADA, FMLA, etc.)
  • Employee relations
  • Compensation
  • Performance appraisal system
  • Job descriptions
  • Policies and procedures
  • Hiring process
  • Terminations and exit process
  • Handbook, Intranet and other employee communications
  • Health, Security and safety (OSHA, Drug-Free Workplace)
  • Benefits

Data Sources

 Performing an audit requires access to many system and hardcopy records.  When assigning audit responsibilities, make sure that individuals have access to the following:

  • Policies
  • Written procedures
  • Affirmative Action plans and EEO compliance reports
  • Handbooks and other employee communications
  • Employee surveys
  • Attendance data
  • Lawsuit information
  • Hire and separation statistics
  • Posted notices
  • Organization charts
  • Salary surveys
  • Workers Compensation claims

Audit Steps

To be successful, an internal audit must be well-planned with adequate resources.  Here are some ideas to get started:

  • audit checklistEstablish clear objectives up front.
  • Determine audit scope – for example, tackle compliance areas first and continuous improvement and service quality later.
  • Identify resources for the audit including personnel, reporting relationships, timeline and budget.
  • Determine roles and responsibilities and reporting process.
  • Develop a detailed checklist for each audit area.  A good model is list each item in the form of a question, such as “Are I-9 forms kept separately from employee files?” and “Are exit interviews performed regularly?”

Analyze Results and Implement Corrections

At the completion of the audit, analyze your data.  Look for non-compliance with laws and policies, trends, process gaps and missing data and documents.

Determine the reason for any problems and recommend remedial steps.  For example, if you find I-9 forms in employee files, review your new hire processes.  Make sure anyone involved with new hire paperwork gets the proper training.

When presenting your findings to management, be sure to include not only the observed issues and gaps, but also remedial steps with a reasonable timeline.  The results of your audit will be tighter compliance with policies and laws as well as improved processes and greater functional confidence.

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Domestic Violence Can Spill Over Into the Workplace

domestic violence awareness monthDid you know that, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), every nine seconds a woman in the U.S. is assaulted or beaten?  That every day in the U.S. three women are murdered by their boyfriends or husbands?  Did you know that, worldwide, one in three women has been beaten, abused or coerced into sex during her lifetime … and that the abuser is most often a member of her family?

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, created as a Day of Unity in October, 1981 by the NCADV.  Is purpose was to connect battered women’s advocates nationwide who are working toward their common goal of ending violence against women and children.  The day soon grew to a week, and in 1987 expanded to the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The human toll in physical and psychological suffering is immense, but there is also a real dollar and cents cost to U.S. businesses.  Domestic victims lose eight million days of paid work in the U.S. each year.  This equals 32,000 full-time jobs!  Costs of intimate partner violence total almost $6 billion per year:  $4.1 billion for medical and health care, and $1.8 billion in lost productivity.

Domestic Violence Often Heads for the Workplace

Domestic violence can spill over into the workplace.  Often, if the battered spouse leaves the home, the workplace is the only place that the batterer can find her.  Domestic violence affects the workplace in many ways:

  • Excess healthcare costs for emergency and physician visits and prescriptions, much of which is paid by employers.
  • domestic violence workplaceBattered employee productivity losses, such as missing work, arriving late and leaving early, being distracted, attending legal proceedings, obtaining medical care, suffering injuries or handling threatening phone calls.
  • Batterer productivity losses, including missing work, arriving late, attending legal proceedings, difficulty concentrating or excessive use of workplace resources.
  • Unauthorized use of company resources to accomplish the stalking or violence, including e-mails, phones and company vehicles.

Take Steps to Prepare for Domestic Violence in the Workplace

Employers have an obligation to make the workplace safer for employees who are victims and others, and eliminate or reduce legal, economic and productivity risks.  Sexual and other harassment may violate anti-discrimination laws if the employer knows of hostile environment and does not take reasonable action.

Develop customized workplace protection policies.  Check with legal counsel to ensure that these are tailored to applicable Federal, state and local laws (21 states have workplace policies to assist victims of domestic violence).  Include victim leave provisions for medical issues and attending legal proceedings.

Create a response team.  Activate the team in the event of a domestic violence threat or notice of a restraining order.  Select one representative per department, along with human resources, security, legal, union representation and employee assistance plan resource.  Establish alert system and roles and responsibilities, and partner with local law enforcement.

safety in the workplace

Establish steps to take if company becomes aware that employee is a victim of domestic violence.  Consider adding more building security, and post photos at reception areas if there is a restraining order.  Provide escort services for the victim to and from work transportation and court appearances.

Train supervisors, managers and human resources to support victims.  Discuss warning signs, what to say and what subjects to avoid, next steps such as contacting police, restraining order and availability of employee assistance plan.  Include warning signs of batterers also.

Host domestic violence informational seminars.  Invite community experts to discuss shelters and other local resources, along with employee assistance plan contacts.

Make information available to all employees.  Include domestic violence information and related policies in new employee orientation and handbooks

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Phased Retirement – Not as Simple as It Sounds

retirementThe concept of phased retirement originated in Sweden in the 1970’s and quickly made headway in the U.S.  A phased retirement program offers options for employees approaching retirement to reduce work days or hours, and therefore transition to full retirement.

According to a 2010 AARP and SHRM study, 20% of U.S. employers had programs in place or were evaluating them at that time.  Eligible Federal employees can partially retire and still work part-time under a program enacted in July, 2012.

A phased retirement program could allow employees to move to part-time work and retain certain benefits.  Many employers customize solutions to each individual, such as a 10% pay cut in return for extra vacation weeks.

Employer Benefits

There are many benefits to employers who implement a phased retirement program, including:

  • Replacement training and transition coverage
  • Continuity of client and customer relationships
  • Junior staff mentoring

Employers get to keep seasoned employees on to avoid worker shortages, particularly in the fields of public utilities, health care and national defense contractors.

Employee Considerations – Financial

Employees weighing the advantages of a phased retirement must consider the financial implications carefully.  A Human Resources representative should analyze and explain the impact on each company benefit of reducing work hours.  Here are just a few:

Health Care.  If the employee is already age 65, Medicare would pay for medical expenses.  If not, the employee may lose health care coverage if the plans do not cover part-time employees.  Discuss health care plan eligibility and COBRA options.

Pension.  If the defined benefit pension calculation is weighted towards final years of service, the benefit could be reduced if earnings in those years are lower.  There also could be a benefit reducing effect if the employee earns less than full years of service.  The employee may not receive any service credit if working less than 1,000 hours per year.  Check with your plan administrator to assess the full impact of reduced hours and  earnings.

401k401(k).  Taxable in-service withdrawals are possible, but the employee may have to pay an incremental 10% tax if under age 59 ½.  Reduced earnings means 401(k) reduced savings, and a lower employer match, which may even be eliminated if the plan requires a minimum number of hours to be eligible.  Your plan administrator can determine the impact on each individual.

Social Security.  Lower earnings years may reduce Social Security benefits.  Also, the employee should be aware of the SS earnings limit while collecting benefits, if under the full retirement age.  The Social Security website has a wealth of information on this topic.

Employee Considerations – Social and Emotional

In addition to financial implications, there are many social and emotional issues for employees to think through before deciding on a phased retirement.  This is particularly true for those in high-level positions.

Diminished Status.  An employee working part-time may not have the same managerial responsibilities or high-visibility as when full-time.  He must decide if he is willing to work under these changed conditions, which may also include a different job title.

Reduced Support.  Administrative support and even an office may not be available.

Exclusion.  Because of the nature of his changed responsibilities, the employee may be excluded from normal decision-making and confidential discussions, as well as regular meetings.

Reach Out for EAP

If an employee is struggling with the stress of opting for phased retirement, or with its social and emotional effects, be sure to remind his manager of the availability of your Employee Assistance Plan for counseling.

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Address Your Dress Code

dress code

Is your dress code policy working for your organization?  Ask yourself if your policy reflects your company’s culture and image?  Do employees know and follow the policy?  Are your managers able to enforce it when necessary, or do they defer to Human Resources for support?

If you’ve had issues with employee understanding, manager enforcement or sensitive dress violations, maybe it’s time to reassess your policy.

Enlist Employee Help

Recruit a diverse group of employees to brainstorm ideas.  Challenge them with the task of creating dress guidelines that are employee-friendly yet conform to business culture and image.

Make sure the review group has representation from most job functions at your location as well as different position levels.  By doing this, you’ll get a broad perspective on dress code options as well as ensure buy-in when the new guidelines are announced.

Be sure HR has a seat at the task force table.  You’ll bring a wealth of information on dress code violations and discipline history.  You’ll also keep an eye on potential issues such as safety concerns and employee harassment and discrimination.

Less Is More

Instead of an exhaustive list of what type of pants are acceptable, how long skirts should be and which type of toe-visible shoes are allowed, stick to a short list of clothing that is prohibited such as flip flops and crop tops.  You trust your professional adult workers to make the right job decisions every day.  Why not extend that trust and responsibility to their dress?

This is not to say that “anything goes,” but placing the responsibility of appropriate dress on your employees empowers them and acknowledges their ability to make mature decisions.

Your guidelines should include room for exceptions, such as recommending more formal dress when clients visit the office.  And be sure to include a statement on “manager discretion” to allow for unusual circumstances or exceptions.

For starters, you can find sample dress code policies at this About.com Human Resources website.

professional dress codeTransition

If you change your dress code, be sure to communicate changes to your employees and update any policy documents and handbook.  Ensure that managers and supervisors are trained.

Incorporate information on your dress code in new employee orientation.  Don’t forget to include it also in any intern information, and make sure temporary employees know your expectations.

Enforcement

It’s also important that managers and supervisors understand the policy and accept enforcement responsibility.  HR should not be enforcing this policy.

When supervisors see dress problems, the first step is to have a friendly conversation with the employee.  Ask him or her to observe the workplace and self-assess the appropriateness of the chosen attire.  Make sure that managers understand the discipline process for dress code violations, and apply it fairly and consistently.

Avoid Legal Issues

Be sure to get a legal review of your dress code.  For example, you may choose to prohibit hats in the office.  However, certain religious and ethnic groups require head coverings.  Employees may ask to wear their native attire.

If an employee with a disability requests an exception due to the disability, you must accommodate it, but you don’t have to modify your dress code.

To avoid issues, make sure your policy is in accordance with all Federal, state and local regulations.

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Reinvigorate Your Department with an HR Clean Up Day

stack of papersWhether you work in a nearly paperless environment, or your office and corridors are full of bulging file cabinets, HR records are vital for every organization and must be well managed.

When is the last time you took some time to review your desk and office files, and archive or properly dispose of records?

Scheduling a periodic HR clean-up day is a good way to reinforce your organization’s Records Retention policy.  You’ll benefit with a tidy and clutter free work space, and comply with Federal and state regulations at the same time.

Schedule a Department Clean-Up Day

You’ll want to concentrate on paper records for this effort.  However, if time allows, employees can also clean out their emails and other electronic records per your policy.

Follow these tips to host a successful clean-up day:

  • Choose the right day when your office won’t be busy.  Schedule no meetings, limit outside visitors and turn phones to voicemail if possible.
  • Recruit a core team to plan the day and become expert resources.
  • Alert other stakeholders in your organization such as management, building facilities and security.
  • Create a fun invitation to give employees plenty of notice.  Encourage casual dress.  Instruct employees that they are to clean out desks, offices and filing cabinets.
  • Distribute your organization’s Records Retention policy in advance and make sure everyone understands where they can get help with questions.
  • Order plenty of materials:
    • Boxes and labels for archiving documents
    • Box tape and markers
    • Bins for garbage, recycling and shredding
  • Make it fun by ordering breakfast bagels or pastries and lunch.
  • Set up posters on easels to give employees basic directions on how to use archiving boxes and where to go for help.
  • Set up a second set of easels with blank poster boards to record follow-up maintenance chores like fixing broken drawers, lights that are out or hanging pictures.
  • Greet each employee on clean-up day with a desk memo outlining your expectations and the availability of food and drinks.  Consider adding a small token such as a customized pen, Post-it note or coffee mug.

Putting up a few balloons and adding light music can contribute to the casual spirit of the day and keep up morale.

It’s best to save a review of your employee files for a separate clean-up day.  This type of review should be done by a limited number of HR professionals who have the right expertise and know exactly what documents belong in each type of employee file.


Special considerations

  • Discuss in advance with your core team any items under special notice.  These can include documents that are on litigative or investigative hold and should not be disposed of per the normal Records Retention schedule.
  • organized papersConsider assigning dedicated facilities or security personnel to oversee shredding bins and their disposal.
  • Remind your staff that they should not be keeping extra copies of any personnel information in their desks, such as employee relations issues, performance reviews and discipline situations.  All materials should be filed properly in the appropriate employee file, and duplicates shredded.
  • As an extra perk for employees, and if space and budget allow, you may invite them to bring in their own personal paper shredding from home.

Be sure to thank everyone afterwards, including facilities and security, and especially your core team, for their efforts in keeping your office tidy and organized.

With careful planning, and allowing for a little fun, your department will emerge refreshed and uncluttered … and compliant.

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Getting Child/Parents Ready for College

higher education, graduationGoing away to college is a sign that childhood is officially over.  Now you and your child are shopping for those extra-long twin sheets, and figuring out how to pack one or more seasons of clothing.  With proms, parties and graduations over, it’s the perfect time to prepare both student and parent for the emotional wrench of separation.

Preparing Your Child for Independent Living

Move-in day will be a whirlwind of activity.  Don’t count on it as the time for a meaningful discussion of expectations.  Be sure to schedule time well in advance for a serious talk.

Focus on these topics:

  • Expectations to stay in college.  Do you require a minimum GPA and class attendance?  Discuss the implications of cheating and plagiarizing.
  • Making the right choices.  Underage drinking is prevalent in the college environment and socially acceptable, but can lead to binge drinking, drunk driving and drug use.  Focus on how drinking and drugs can damage health and grades, as well being illegal.
  • students in classSexual activity.  Reiterate the concepts of safe sex and birth control.
  • Personal safety.  Talk about personal security on and off campus.  Discuss the very real dangers of date rape and riding with impaired drivers.
  • Stay healthy.  Discuss the “Freshman 15,” caused by cafeteria fast food and late night pizza parties.  Encourage your child to make smart food choices, and continue or begin new exercise programs.
  • Resources.  Being away from home for the first time can be stressful and emotionally challenging.  Make sure your child has contact information for your EAP and understands how it works.  Your child should also have knowledge of the college’s Student Assistance Plan as well as the campus counseling office.

You want your child to have a life-changing experience, but at the same time you need to prepare her for the many freedoms she’ll face.

Parents Need to Prepare Too

As the parent of a college student, you’ll deal with many feelings as summer moves toward autumn.  Take a little time to prepare yourself for the emotional changes that you’ll experience as you wave good-bye to your child:

  • Be prepared to be emotional.  This is a big deal – after all, you and your child have lived together for 17 years.  Let yourself experience loss, even grief.  But choose your parting words carefully so as not to upset your teen, and save your tears for the car.
  • college student in librarysmallerChange your role to supporter.  On move-in day, let your child find his own dorm room and introduce himself to the RA.  Let him know you’re available 24/7 via texts, phone and emails, but don’t call often – let him call you.  Give calm advice when asked.
  • Be unobtrusive but prepared.  Make sure you have important phone numbers like those of the RA, roommate and campus security.
  • Be ready to relinquish control.  Your child is out of your hands and will be making his own choices on friends, meals, drinking, sex and joining organizations.  Have confidence that you’ve taught him to make the right choices.
  • Embrace his quest for identity.  Be patient, open-minded and flexible when he comes home for Thanksgiving with a tattoo.

Don’t forget those siblings remaining at home.  This separation affects them too.  Let younger children contribute items to a care package, and make sure they stay connected with emails and texting.

Parents Need Help Too

Keep your EAP in mind when personally dealing with this huge life change.  Also, when you see managers and employees struggling with the emotions of a college separation, encourage a call to your EAP.

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Elder Care Issues Surface in the Workplace

elder careAre you or many of your employees providing care for a senior citizen?  If so, you’re not alone.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey reports that during a three-month period in 2011, almost 40 million adults provided some unpaid elder care because of an age-related condition.  You can bet that millions of those caregivers also work outside the home.

The survey’s definition of “unpaid elder care” is broad, including companionship or just being available to assist a senior.  But it’s undeniable that more and more time is spent on elder care as life expectancies climb.  In fact, an average of 20% of the workforce provides up to 20 hours of eldercare weekly.  These caregivers are your staff and your organization’s workers.

Types of Elder Care

elder care man with father

Elder care is unpaid assistance to a family member with physical, developmental or psychological needs.  These needs may be for making medical, housing and financial decisions for a loved one.  A caregiver may also be charged with locating skilled services such as day care, nursing, assisted living, hospice and home health care.

In addition to planning and decision making, many workers provide regular, even daily, care for a family member, either in their own homes or at other homes or facilities.

Elder Care Issues in the Workplace

Just as any other family or personal issue, elder care is an additional stressor for workers.  These stresses appear as:

  • Reduced productivity on the job
  • Inability to travel or work overtime
  • Absenteeism
  • Worry about advancement opportunities
  • Distraction and phone interruptions
  • Exhaustion and other health issues

Stressed employees with subpar productivity ultimately affect the organization.  Not only does job performance suffer, but employee caregivers may be forced to leave the company or reduce their hours, resulting in retention issues.

Provide Help Now

With awareness of the growing trend in workers who are also caregivers, some organizations are implementing elder care programs.  These provide real benefits such as paid time off and subsidies for back-up emergency elder care.

But even without a formal elder care benefit, there are things that your organization can do now within your existing programs to help:

  • Allow employees to adopt a flexible schedule such as modified daily hours, a compressed work week or telecommuting
  • work life balanceAllow the use of sick days for caregiving
  • Educate employees on the dependent care spending account, if available, for reimbursement of elder care expenses
  • Increase manager awareness of elder care needs
  • Train supervisors to be aware of and respect those with caregiving responsibilities
  • Invite community agencies to participate in an employee seminar to share information on their services and support groups

Even if your organization doesn’t plan on implementing an Elder Care program at this time, using and communicating your existing benefits can go a long way to help those workers struggling with elder care issues.

Enlist Your EAP

Partner with your EAP provider to help with your organization’s elder care education effort.  Ask for education and other materials to raise awareness of EAP resource and referral services.  Schedule lunchtime seminars to distribute materials and allow for Q&A’s.

Make sure that managers and supervisors understand that providing elder care resources and referrals is part of EAP services so they can assist their staff.

Above all, recognize when an employee’s job performance is suffering because of an elder care responsibility, and make sure that he or she gets the proper referral.

By providing resources to help your employees balance their work and caregiving responsibilities, your organization will benefit from reduced recruiting and retraining costs and more productive workers.

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