Archive for November, 2011

Don’t Forget HR Basics When Connecting with Your Workplace

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

“If we worked much harder on the time-tested foundational needs of employees and employers, we would create benefits more powerful than the latest trends in ‘employee engagement’ or ’human capital management,’” CAI’s CEO and President, Bruce Clarke, says in his latest News & Observer column—“The View from HR.”

Bruce stresses the importance of employers using fundamental HR practices to keep employees engaged and workplaces productive. Leaders in every industry, including HR, often search for the most innovative programs or complex strategies to improve their business. Sometimes, however, sticking to the basics can prove to be more rewarding.

Make sure your company practices these HR essentials:

1. Communicate Effectively

Poor workplace communications is a common reason why employees leave their jobs. Assessing your office’s current communication style with an anonymous employee opinion survey can reveal areas that need improving. All employees should feel comfortable asking questions, discussing concerns or making suggestions with each other. Reaching your employees through multiple communications channels, including the office intranet, break room message board or staff meetings, can help you avoid workplace confusion or miscommunication. 

2. Provide Feedback and Reward Accomplishments

Establish clear expectations for each employee at your workplace. Creating action plans with specific timelines, final due dates and desired results will help you gauge their progress. Do not wait until their annual review to tell them how they are doing. Offer them positive feedback and constructive criticism throughout the year to keep them motivated and working to make improvements. If your employees are continually achieving great results or finishing projects before deadline, reward them for their efforts. Whether it is with a raise or paid lunch, employees will appreciate the recognition.

3. Listen Carefully

Listening to your employees is vital for maintaining a positive and productive work environment. Get their feedback on new workplace initiatives and business endeavors. Regularly ask them how they are feeling and if they have suggestions on how to make their work life more enjoyable and productive. Respect the opinions of all colleagues, and before passing judgment on an idea or concern, take time to understand why they are addressing the issue.

4. Make Employees Feel Important

A successful employer-employee relationship is a two-way commitment. In order for staff members to produce their best work, employers need to offer them their best resources. Giving employees the tools to perform their job is only part of showing them that they are valuable. Workers want to know that they are important to their organization, so frequently tell them that their efforts are appreciated and support the company’s survival. Show your employees that your respect them, their time and their work by keeping commitments with them and trusting them to complete their work in a professional and timely manner. This will help increase the amount of respect they give to you as well.

Simple solutions can often conquer complicated problems. For additional tips on keeping your workforce engaged and productive, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: AGmakonts

How to Spot a Great Recruiter for Your Next Hire

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Securing qualified candidates for your company’s open positions is critical for hiring the right applicant. If you decide to use an outside recruiter to search for potential employees, it is imperative that your recruiter supplies you with high-quality job seekers—anything less than high-quality is a waste of your organization’s time, resources and money.

Ensure your recruiter’s picks will lead to success by looking for qualities that indicate that he is great at his job. Here are some helpful tips to discern a gem from a dud:

1. Industry Knowledge

Great recruiters are not necessarily experts on every position they try to fill, but they do have the necessary industry knowledge to know if candidates possess the right education, past experience and work ethic to be successful employees in a specific field.

2. Hunting and Gathering

Great recruiters are great networkers. They know that only searching databases is not the best approach to finding a winning candidate. They pick up the phone, use social media and reach out to people in their networks to select a company’s new hire.

3. The Right Questions

Great recruiters ask both the company and the candidate good questions to see if there is a match. Asking you the nature of your business, what your company culture is like and how much overtime would be required are signs that your recruiter is doing his homework to narrow down prospects. Receiving answers to good questions will help him communicate your expectations and the job opening correctly.    

4. Energy, Honesty and Attentiveness

Great recruiters are energetic and work with passion to fulfill their clients’ requests. Because they want both companies and candidates to be satisfied, they do not embellish positives or downplay negatives when describing one to the other. They also have high emotional intelligence and are willing to give out their personal information and spend time discussing questions related to the project’s progress.

For your next open position, consider enlisting a great recruiter or adopting some of the strategies above to attract and hire your next employee. CAI provides recruiting services as part of its HR On Demand. For additional information, please see or contact an account manager at 919‑878‑9222 or 336‑668‑7746.

**Workplace Insights will take a break on Thursday, Nov. 24, for the Thanksgiving Holiday. We will return Tuesday, Nov. 29, with a new post. Happy Holidays!**

Photo Source: bpsusf


Passing Your HR Certification Exam

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

HR professionals who earn an industry certification distinguish themselves from their peers. More organizations are recognizing the benefits of hiring HR professionals who meet rigorous industry and education requirements. Employers understand that certified HR employees or job candidates are dedicated to the HR industry and have mastered the skills and tasks required to manage an HR department successfully.

The most notable HR certifying organization is the HR Certification Institute (HRCI). There are three main credentials HRCI offers: Professional in Human Resources (PHR), Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR). To receive a certification, HR professionals are required to obtain a specific amount of work experience, which is based on their education level, and pass the HRCI exam.

Passing the exam is no easy feat. Only 57 percent of PHR test takers and 52 percent of SPHR test takers passed the exam in HRCI’s most recent test period. Many organizations provide study aids to certification hopefuls. Some HR professionals regard the materials from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) as the official study guide for the HRCI exam. Workforce explains that many professionals make this assumption because of the confusing affiliation SHRM has with HRCI, but HRCI’s executive director released a written statement that indicates the two HR organizations are separate and SHRM is not involved in any aspect of the HRCI exam.

Unlike SHRM, CAI offers multiple instructor-led study courses for PHR and SPHR Certification preparation. David Siler, SPHR, GPHR, Managing Partner of Distinctive HR, Inc., leads the study courses that boast superior results. His PHR and SPHR students have an extremely impressive pass rate of more than 90 percent. CAI offers flexibility in preparing for the exam with its web-based courses and its evening classes. The webinar format allows HR professionals outside of North Carolina to participate in the study courses as well.

In addition to exceptional classroom instruction and interaction, participants will receive many tools to prepare for the exam, including:

  • Study manual
  • Complete library of audio CDs
  • On-line access to videos on tough topics
  • On-line access to hundreds of practice exams
  • On-line access to learning and testing games
  • Flash cards
  • Tips on how to take standardized tests
  • Comprehensive final practice exam

Elizabeth Fuss, an HR consultant at the Cascade Employers Association, currently is enrolled in CAI’s PHR/SPHR Web-Based Certification Study Course. She is participating remotely in Oregon. Elizabeth has been blogging about her study course experience for the past six weeks on her company’s blog. During her first week in the program, Elizabeth offered insights on the course and David Siler to her readers:

Never have I been so engaged in a webinar. His approach was logical. The plan for the class: master the knowledge needed for the test and master test taking skills. He has been certified for 30 or so years and has always recertified by re-taking the tests. So when he says that he knows what he is talking about, I believe him. His style is laid-back, but focused. He held me captive talking about test taking – that is no easy task.

Visit CAI’s Certification page if you are looking for a proven system for preparing for the HRCI exam. Decide which course is right for you, and contact a member of CAI’s Learning and Development Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: albertogp123

Form 5500? Huh?

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

The post below is a guest blog from Zach Nichols who serves as the Triad Regional Manager for CAI’s employee benefits partner Hill, Chesson & Woody.

Are you tired and ready for the holidays?  Almost 65% of you have recently completed your benefit renewals and hope to move forward in 2012 with a few less gray hairs.  Once things get going in the first quarter, who’s in charge of filing your Form 5500s?  “Form 5500 what?” you might ask.  “I heard you say something about 5500. Is that a new Holiday bonus I’m getting this year?”

Well, for those of you who are compliant, this isn’t a big deal. You already know what it is and who is responsible for filing it.  Shockingly, according to the Department of Labor, almost 47% of employers in the United States are non-compliant when it comes to filing their 5500s.  Since almost half of employers have never heard of Form 5500 or don’t understand its importance, here’s a quick rundown of what it is and how it pertains to your organization.

Plan sponsors who maintain qualified employee benefit programs such as pension plans, 401k plans or Health & Welfare plans generally must file an annual report with the Employee Benefits Security Administration/Department of Labor. This annual report, known as a Form 5500, is due within seven (7) months after the end of a plan year. 

The Form 5500 Series is part of ERISA’s overall reporting and disclosure framework, which is intended to assure that employee benefit plans are operated and managed in accordance with set standards. It also assures that participants and beneficiaries, as well as regulators, are provided or have access to sufficient information to protect the rights and benefits of participants and beneficiaries under employee benefit plans.

“Okay, you got me. I need to be filing this but my broker never told me!  How do I become compliant?”

The Department of Labor (DOL) has eased the penalties for late or missing Forms 5500 substantially by implementing the Delinquent Filer Voluntary Compliance Program (DFVCP). Under this program, sponsors will face a penalty of $10 per day up to a maximum of $750 for small plans and $2,000 for large plans (if a plan’s 5500 filing has been missed for multiple years, the penalty cap is $1,500 for small plans and $4,000 for large plans, regardless of the number of late filings submitted).  Given the statutory ability of the DOL to assess up to $1,100 per day in civil penalties, this provides a significant incentive to correct past failures to file. If the DOL determines that the Form 5500 reporting requirement was willfully avoided, fines can reach $100,000 per plan so the $2,000 DFVCP is a no brainer!

So, no, the 5500 you heard about isn’t that new Holiday bonus you were hoping for. But, it’ll ensure the DOL isn’t getting an extra holiday bonus courtesy of your organization.

Help Employees Invest in Their Future

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Many workers who have great concerns about their financial future are living from paycheck to paycheck as the country’s worst recession continues. According to a report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, almost half of all Americans will not have enough money saved for their retirement years.

In his latest N & O column, “The View from HR,” CAI’s CEO Bruce Clarke dispenses helpful information regarding retirement savings to managers and their employees. Bruce says there are several reasons why people elect to not save: being young, weary about the stock market, laziness, general confusion and thinking their salary rate is too low.

In a recent study, ING found that 44 percent of its survey respondents said they probably would not be saving for their retirement if they did not have a plan from work.  Fifty-two percent of those participants said that their employers, above family and friends, have the most influence in getting them to start saving for retirement.

As an employer, knowing that employees place importance on company retirement plans should prompt you to help them utilize tools and information that are at their disposal for planning a successful retirement. Try the strategies below to help them invest in their future:

Communicate and Educate

Many workers believe that their organizations are one of the only credible sources for retirement information. Communicate to your staff why saving for the future now is the best way to be financially stable in retirement. Constantly remind workers of the different saving options and tools your company provides. Make sure they understand each option, and help them choose the best one for their situation.

Request Feedback

Because budgets continue to get cut, organizations are looking to reduce funding in certain business areas, and benefit allocations tend to go on the chopping block. Instead of drastically reducing the cost of each employee benefit, such as retirement and paid-time off, ask employees how they would prefer their benefits to be distributed. Offer workers several options, and have them vote to choose the best option for the overall organization.

Keep It Up

Continue to offer your employees the best savings and retirement plans your organization can provide. If your company elected to match employee savings in their 401(K)s, do not stop because budgets are smaller.  If your company is really unable to maintain the company match, ask employees to increase the amount of money they are saving to make up the difference. Consistently communicate the importance of saving.

“The lack of financial literacy is a bigger cause of our failure to prepare for the future than the actual inability to take small steps,” Bruce says in his column.

Educate your employees on the importance of saving for their retirement, and keep them informed on any changes to your workplace benefits.

Photo Source: Keoni Cabral

Nominate Your Company for a CAI Ovation Award Today!

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

CAI is now accepting nominations for its Ovation Awards for HR Excellence. The awards, created by CAI in 2007, recognize local employers for their innovative people practices that have positively impacted business results.  Companies that win the award gain public recognition for their achievements, and they receive a great opportunity to present their winning people practice.

Three categories make up the awards: small company (less than 250 employees), mid-size company (250 to 500 employees) and large company (more than 500 employees). The nominating process is free and easy. Email CAI’s Director of Member Development, Doug Blizzard, at and include a summary of your best practice and the impact it has had on your organization. The summary should be two-to-three paragraphs and include the following: the business need, how you implemented the solution and measurable and/or forecasted business results.

CAI will accept submissions related to any area in HR. Examples of acceptable people practices include: maximizing an opportunity, implementing a wellness program, recruiting efforts for top talent, strategic planning for employee engagement, etc. The deadline for submitting nominations is November 30, 2011.

Winners will receive their awards at CAI’s 2012 HR Management Conference scheduled for February 21-22, 2012. Winning companies will also deliver a one-hour presentation on their exceptional people practice during the conference.

In addition to public recognition and the opportunity to demonstrate their people practice to their peers, winners receive the following benefits:

  • Enhanced employment brand
  • Organization and accomplishments listed in the CAI Newsletter and Website
  • One free registration to the 2012 CAI HR Management Conference
  • An etched award highlighting the achievement

 Past winners of the Ovation Award include: Krispy Kreme (2010, large), Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals Industries Inc. (2011, 2009, mid-size), Eye Care Associates (2010, small ), The Accreditation Commission for Health Care, Inc (2011, small), Burt’s Bees (2010, mid-size), Rex Healthcare (2011, large) and The Bank of Oak Ridge (2008, small). For a complete list of past recipients, please visit

Nominate your company today! Please contact Doug at 919-523-8444 or the email above with any questions. Remember—you can’t win if you aren’t nominated. Good luck!

Photo Source: Third Eye a.k.a TreeNetra

CAI’s Experts Take the Confusion out of Affirmative Action Planning

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Madison Upton (left), Kaleigh Ferraro (right)

In October CAI’s Affirmative Action Plan (AAP) Experts, Kaleigh Ferraro and Madison Upton, hosted a free webinar to educate current and future government contractors on the basics of creating a compliant AAP. The team compiled a list of questions most frequently asked by organizations that are required to have a written AAP. If your company has 50 or more employees and holds a federal government contract or subcontract of $50,000 or more, read the answers below to make sure your organization stays compliant.


AAP Frequently Asked Questions

1.     When do we have to turn in our AAP?

Contractors and subcontractors are required to develop AAPs annually. AAPs are not submitted unless your company is selected for an audit.


2.     Are there specific qualifications for employees that must be included in our AAP?

All full-time and part-time, regular employees must be included in AAP reports. Employees on short-term leave or military leave should be included as well. Temporary employees, such as co-ops and interns, are not typically included in AAPs.


3.     How long do we need to keep our AAPs?

Contractors need to keep their current AAP and their AAP from the previous year.  All others may be discarded. However, if your organization is under audit, you must maintain all existing AAPs and accompanying reports until the audit’s conclusion. For example, if you are audited, and it takes three years from today to close the investigation, you must maintain your AAPs from 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, as well as pertinent employment records.


4.     What if employees or applicants choose to not disclose their race, ethnicity, gender, disability status or veteran status?

Government contractors and subcontractors are required to develop reports that use race and gender employee information. These organizations must solicit race and gender information from applicants and employees, but individuals may choose to not disclose this information, as it is voluntary to self identify.

Organizations are allowed to visually identify applicants and employees who do not self identify themselves so they can be included in AAP reports and/or EEO-1 reports. The OFCCP suggests that members of HR or managers make the visual identifications.

Contractors are not obligated to guess the race, ethnicity or gender of people who apply online or through resume and decline to self identify. If the applicant is interviewed, then a contractor may visually identify the candidate in person.


5.     How does the OFCCP choose companies to audit?

The OFCCP maintains a listing of federal contractors and uses the Federal Contractor Scheduling System (FCSS) and “administratively neutral selection criteria” to choose organizations that will be audited. Items that are considered by the FCSS may include EEO-1 reports, establishment size, random sampling of contractors and mathematical models that compare workforce profiles with other establishments in the same industry and labor market.

The OFCCP typically sends out audit scheduling letters twice a year.  The OFCCP regional offices notify approximately 2,500 establishments in early October, and a second list of approximately 5,000 establishments in early March. Organizations that are not in the FCSS can be selected for audits as well.  These organizations may include corporate offices, approved functional AAPs, or companies with credible reports of alleged violations of laws and regulations. If an organization is selected for an audit, it will not be selected again for 24 months.


6.     How should we respond to an audit letter?

When the OFFCP mails a scheduling letter to a contractor or subcontractor, the organization has 30 days to respond to the letter. The scheduling letter will request information, such as the written AAPs, compensation data and personnel activities, which include hires, applicants, promotions and terminations.


7.     What types of penalties can the OFCCP assess during an audit?

The OFCCP can collect compensatory and punitive damages, which are often the result of back pay for candidates who are not selected, or unexplained salary differences between employees. Organizations may also agree to conciliation agreements that may result in additional submitted reports.


8.     We are a subsidiary of a parent company.  We do not have any contracts, but our parent company does.  Are we a contractor and therefore subject to AAP regulations?

The OFCCP uses the NLRB test of common ownership to determine if a subsidiary is covered. If your organization fits one of the characteristics below, you are required to complete an AAP.

  • Interrelation of operations – there are common services provided between companies, such as insurance, retirement policies, federal tax ids, etc.
  • Centralized control of labor relations – all locations are subject to identical or similar personnel policies, which are determined by the corporate office. These policies include decisions to hire, promote, terminate, etc. All decisions must be approved by corporate headquarters.
  • Common management – the multiple locations share officers, boards of directors, presidents, etc. Subsidiary facilities are not independent in functions concerning operations, pay, benefits, etc.
  • Common ownership or financial control – the parent company and subsidiaries are owned by the same organization.


9.     Are we required to submit all of our organization’s job openings with the state job service?

Yes, contractors who hold contracts of $100,000 or more must list all job openings with the state job service.  North Carolina requires all open positions to be listed with the NC Employment Security Commission, but there are three exceptions to this regulation:

  • Positions soliciting executives and senior management candidates
  • Positions that will be filled internally
  • Positions that will last fewer than 3 days


10.   We post our open positions on internet jobs boards, so we receive a lot of interested candidates. Do we have to regard everyone who applies as an applicant for consideration in our analysis?

No, the OFCCP issued an Internet Applicant Rule to address the issue of recruiting through online sources.  In order to be an internet applicant, a candidate must satisfy the following four criteria:

  • Individual submits interest in employment through internet or other electronic data technology
  • The contractor considers the individual for employment
  • The individual possesses the basic qualifications for the position
  • The individual does not withdraw himself or herself from consideration


For additional answers to your AAP questions, please contact one of CAI’s AAP experts: Kaleigh Ferraro at or Madison Upton at You can also reach Kaleigh or Madison at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Employers, Don’t Be Overzealous with Your Wellness. Beware of the ADA and Everything Else.

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

The post below is a guest blog from Robin Shea who serves as Partner for Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP, CAI’s Partner for the 2011 Triad Employment Law Update.

Do you want a healthy workforce? Of course! But don’t overdo it. A too-aggressive wellness program may make your company sick in the long run.

Employers and their insurance companies love wellness programs. They result in reduced premiums as well as (presumably) fewer big-money claims because they encourage employees to take better care of themselves.

Many employers offer “carrots” to employees to participate in wellness programs. There is no legal problem with “positive” incentives as long as certain requirements are met.

But some employers wield a “stick” as well. They actually penalize employees who refuse to participate. The City of Chicago has recently announced a wellness program that will require employees to pay $50 a month to opt out. That’s a lot of money for most people. Can penalties like this cause problems for employers? The issue isn’t settled, but I have some concerns. 

1. The ADA. First, the Americans with Disabilities Act (even the “old” version) does not allow employers to ask for medical information from current employees unless the request is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” This usually means that there has to be a job-related problem that might be related to a medical condition, or perhaps a doctor’s note saying that the employee cannot perform his or her duties because of a medical condition. The employer generally cannot ask for medical information without a reason. Even when there is a good reason to ask, the medical inquiry must be confined to the work-related issue.

(For example, if an employee in a heavy-lifting position claims a bad back, the employer cannot require him to get a complete physical.)

The ADA does have an exception for medical information collected pursuant to a voluntary wellness program. But if the employer is hitting individual employees for as much as $50 a month if they decline to participate, how “voluntary” is that program?

At least two courts have found that “negative reinforcement,” such as Chicago’s, falls under a different exception in the ADA: the section that deals with “bona fide benefit plan[s] that are based on underwriting risks, classifying risks, or administering such risks that are based on or are not inconsistent with state law” and that are not a “subterfuge” to evade ADA compliance.

In one case, decided in 1998, the court upheld termination of an employee for insubordination who refused to provide medical information. In the other, decided this year, the court upheld a biweekly $20 deduction from pay for employees who chose not to participate in the wellness program. In other words, both of these courts found that the “voluntary wellness” exception wasn’t even an issue because wellness programs connected with health insurance plans fell within a completely different exception to the ADA’s prohibitions on medical inquiries.

With all due respect to these courts, I have a question: If every wellness program associated with a health insurance plan is automatically excluded from the ADA’s general prohibition on medical inquiries, then why does the ADA even have the “voluntary wellness” provision? Aren’t these courts effectively reading that provision right out of the ADA?

Another ADA concern I have is the fuzzy line (getting fuzzier every day) between lifestyle choices and actual or “regarded as” disabilities within the meaning of the ADA. If, say, someone who really likes food develops a weight problem, then she may become a “disabled” individual within the meaning of the ADA, and especially as amended by the ADA Amendments Act. It was reported this week that our friends at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against an employer for terminating a morbidly obese employee because of his obesity. The EEOC is contending that the employee’s obesity is a “disability” within the meaning of the ADA Amendments Act and that the company refused to consider reasonable accommodations, such as transfer to a job with lighter physical demands. (The company has thus far declined to comment, so all we have right now is the EEOC’s side of the story.)

Even alcoholism is a “disability” entitled to an intermediate level of ADA protection.

So there are some reasons I worry about employers who are too “enthusiastic” about promoting wellness. In any event, the ADA isn’t the only law that employers have to worry about.

2. “Lifestyle” or “lawful products” statutes. A number of states have so-called “lifestyle protection” or “lawful products” statutes, which essentially prohibit discrimination against applicants and employees based on lawful activities engaged in, or use of lawful products, during non-working hours. Even the narrower “lawful products” laws protect smokers as well as, presumably, drinkers, gourmands, skydivers (parachutes are “products,” aren’t they?), bungee-jumpers (bungee cords are “products,” aren’t they?), and other individuals who engage in risky but legal behavior. Yes, these laws usually contain exceptions, but employers need to be aware of their existence and make sure that what they’re doing fits into one of the exceptions.

There has been a lot of publicity lately about certain employers who have refused to hire anyone who smokes. One should assume that these employers are in states that do not have “lawful products” statutes. Don’t think that you can do it just because they did. If your friends all jumped in the lake, would you do it, too?

3. The GINA. Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibits employers from “using, acquiring, requiring, or disclosing genetic information” with certain strictly defined exceptions. It also prohibits discrimination against individuals based on their genetic information. The statute defines “genetic information” so broadly that any family medical history information about the individual’s first four degrees of kinship — plus spouses and adopted children — is included.

The GINA has some exceptions for genetic information disclosed in connection with voluntary wellness programs, but the GINA provisions focus on the right of the employee to decline to answer questions that seek “genetic information.” (In other words, the GINA regs say it is all right for a wellness program to request “genetic information” as long as individuals aren’t excluded from the program if they decline to answer questions asking for “genetic information,” the “genetic information” requests are segregated from other requests, clear disclaimers are provided, and other requirements are met.) If the wellness program is not truly “voluntary,” then arguably the GINA’s permissive provisions would not apply.

The moral of the story: don’t be overzealous with your wellness! Reasonable minds differ on this subject, but in light of the ADA(AA), state laws, and the GINA, I recommend that employers keep the focus “positive” and avoid punishing those who continue to burn the candle at both ends.

CAI’s 2011 Triad Employment Law Update, scheduled for November 9 at the Koury Center in Greensboro, will provide additional information on ADA and how to handle the off-duty conduct of employees.  The conference will also provide news and material on several legal topics relevant to employers, including Wage and Hour, Workers’ Comp Reform, FLSA and Immigration. Register today at