Archive for May, 2014

What Does It Mean to Be an HR Business Partner?

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

In today’s video blog, CAI’s Vice President of Membership, Doug Blizzard, discusses the role of an HR business partner. He mentions that the term HR business partner was coined in the late 1990s (incorrectly mentioned as 1977 in the video) and the role was meant to increase the effectiveness of HR by aligning it more closely to what the business actually needed.

Doug says on a broader level HR business partner refers to a shift in HR towards a focus on business results. This mindset involves a deep understanding of the company’s business model, and the role assists in presenting business solutions to people issues.

Traditionally HR professionals have focused their attention on tasks such as payroll, compliance, recruiting, and administration. Doug says these typical HR tasks aren’t going away, but now organizations are outsourcing some of those traditional tasks. Companies are now hoping their HR teams can help them with tasks that involve more strategy, which can include talent management, employee engagement, workforce planning, and leadership.

Companies are hungry for HR professionals who focus on business results and who are able to leverage their people as a competitive advantage. Doug lists additional characteristics of a desirable HR team member in the video.

If you have additional questions about the role of an HR business partner, please contact Doug at 919-713-5244 or


Improving Employee Attitudes Toward Safety in the Workplace

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

In today’s post, Advice and Resolution team member Renee’ Watkins shares ways in which you can help your employees keep safety as a top priority in the workplace.

Renee' Watkins, HR Advisor

Renee’ Watkins, HR Advisor

Most safety managers will agree that the most difficult part of implementing a safety policy is getting employees to take safety seriously and to support the policy as it relates to them and to their fellow team members.

In the day-to-day production environment, where employees have a specific set of tasks to execute each day, safety concerns regarding the safe and proper execution of these tasks are often overlooked as routine redundancy takes over. The repetitive nature of the process can sometimes cause employees to implement shortcuts or even ignore safety precautions.

This is further complicated by taking new hires through the safety policy training only to have them mentored by someone who does not take safety seriously and undermines everything they have been taught through onboarding.

So, how does a safety manager promote safety policy throughout the organization with existing employees and alter their thought process to put safety at the forefront of everything they do? Below are three lessons and insights taken from high-stake manufacturing and construction industries that may help safety managers engage their employees in supporting a safety policy across the board.

Demonstrate Employee Wellness as a Priority

Ensure that corporate leadership prioritizes wellness in the workplace with a healthy balance of employer-sponsored benefits for both the physical and emotional well-being of the workforce. Opportunities for gym memberships, nutrition analysis and professional counseling are just a few examples of how management can show concern for their employees’ overall health.

Involve Employees in Safety Policy and Engagement

Communication should be a two-way street in order for any policy to work effectively. Regular emails or other policy reminders with regard to safety in the workplace will serve to remind everyone that safety is a priority, as well as a concern. Employees should also be involved in providing feedback to management relating to any safety concerns they notice or would like to see incorporated into a policy. An open-door approach, which encourages employees to speak freely if they feel there is a risk on the production floor, should be present and communicated.

Measure Employee Stress Levels

Employees are often unable to separate their professional lives from their personal lives and many have issues they deal with on both sides of the fence each and every day. Management in every level of the organization should pay close attention to the overall emotional health of their employees and act to offer assistance at any time when something seems amiss. Team members who may know the details of what their fellow co-workers are facing should be encouraged to speak up and inform management when they feel involvement is warranted, without fear of being exposed for breaking the confidence of their co-worker.

These techniques can also apply to more than just manufacturing and construction, and will help safety managers to convey the importance of employee safety with management’s full support. By demonstrating a genuine concern for employee safety and promoting that concern through frequent and consistent communications with the workforce, safety in the workplace will remain at the forefront of each worker’s mind as they go about the execution of their daily tasks.

For additional help with your company’s safety efforts, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Resolution Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Key Learnings from 5 Different Areas of State and Federal Employment Law

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

PPT Slide ELLU 2014More than 430 HR professionals and company executives attended CAI’s 2014 Employment and Labor Law Update. Participants traveled to the McKimmon Center in Raleigh for the two-day event on May 14 and May 15 to receive the latest updates in state and federal law.

Knowledgeable attorneys from Ogletree Deakins, as well as an expert from CAI, shared important changes in the law at the conference. Topics the presentations covered included workplace investigations, FMLA, wage and hour issues, the ADA, and more.

Below is some of the information, which covers five different areas of employment law, discussed at the conference:

Expect more aggressive investigative tactics from the EEOC:

  • The EEOC is making extensive requests for information not germane to the charge at hand
  • Increased threats and uses of subpoenas
  • Increased demand for on-site investigations
  • During on-site investigations, EEOC increasing demands to review signage, personnel files and make general employee inquiries unrelated to charge
  • Increased demands for on-site tours and witness interviews
  • Aggressive behavior in settlement negotiations

Enforcement Trends in Immigration Law:

  • There’s nothing random about audits from ICE
    • Most audits are lead-driven and are discovered by a tip-line complaint, local law enforcement data sharing, and federal agency data sharing
  • Avoid these common I-9 mishaps:
    • Using a wrong or outdated I-9 form
    • Not completing Section 1 or 2 in the specified time frame
    • A new hire did not sign Section 1
    • Someone else completes Section 1 but they do not have a Preparer or Translator Certification
    • Hire date is missing
    • Employer’s address is incomplete

Updates in the ADA:

  • Leave as a reasonable accommodation
    • Granting a leave of absence may be considered a reasonable and required accommodation under the ADA if no other sufficient reasonable accommodation is available
    • Maximum leave policies don’t satisfy the ADA. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have one. You will just have to consider the ADA before discharging an employee for exceeding the maximum
    • An accommodation is “reasonable” if it “seems reasonable on its face, i.e., ordinarily in the run of cases”—in other words—if it appears feasible or plausible

Updates in NC Legislation—Bills of Interest:

  • House Bill 846: Job and Education Privacy Act– would prohibit employers and colleges from requiring individuals to disclose access information to personal social media and email accounts
    • Passed the house on May 16, 2013 and is in the senate; eligible for consideration in the 2014 session
  • House Bill 872: Protect NC Right-To-Work – declares it unfair trade practices for any contract to require a contractor or sub-contractor to use unionized labor. Contracts involving federal funds would be exempt
    • Passed in the House on May 2, 2013 and is in the senate; eligible for consideration in 2014 session

The NLRB is cracking down and scrutinizing company rules in several business areas, including social media:

  • Avoid the following in your company social media policy to stay on good terms with the NLRB
    • Prohibiting discussion of wages, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment
    • Prohibiting anyone from sharing confidential information without clarifying the definition
    • Prohibiting “no-disparagement” or words of “negative impact”
    • Vague restrictions about inappropriate conversations
    • Prohibiting the use of trademarks or company logos

For additional information on CAI’s conferences, please go to


Plans Are Adding Older Spouses – Working Spouse Surcharge Needed

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

The post below is a guest blog from Tom Vertich, who serves as Principal, Health & Welfare Consultant for CAI’s employee benefits partner Hill, Chesson & Woody.

hcw 5 15Here’s another surprise for some employers – courtesy of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). They will see an increase in enrollment of working spouses who are dis-enrolling from their employers’ medical plans. As if that wasn’t perturbing enough to plan sponsors, those spouses are generally on the older side (>50), and that will increase overall plan risk and employer costs. If your plan does not require a working spouse surcharge for spouses who can get coverage from their employers, your plan may be vulnerable as well.

So why is this happening?

Beginning in January of this year, small group employers (those with less than 50 full-time equivalent employees) who renewed their fully-insured plans found that their premiums changed in a dramatic way. Rates are (for the most part) different for every employee and are now based upon the employee’s age. That means older employees will be paying quite a bit more at renewal time if their small group employer contributes for medical coverage in one of two ways.

If the employer provides a defined contribution (DC), older employees’ costs could dramatically escalate. Under a DC approach, each employee receives a flat amount by the employer to help pay for their coverage under the employer’s medical plan. Much more common is for employers to pay a set percentage of premiums for their employees. This won’t result in as dramatic of an increase, but it can still be a shock to an older employee.

In trying to offset higher costs from the new ACA mandates, small group employers are starting to catch on that they may be able to get older employees to migrate to other health insurance coverage.  Because of the quirky rules that determines what is “Affordable” coverage, the older married employees will likely find their spouses’ employer-sponsored plans a much better choice than the exchange since they probably won’t qualify for a tax credit.

How do you know if your plan has a problem? Take a look to see if you’re having an increase in mid plan-year spousal enrollments. If you see this or start to see this happening, check whether there is diversity in these spouses’ ages. If there isn’t, and they are in older age groups, your plan is probably being affected.

Even though it’s not the norm, employers may want to take a closer look at requiring a surcharge for working spouses who qualify for their employers’ health plans. According to their most recent survey on purchasing value in health care, the National Business Group on Health found that only about 20% of employer participants require working spouses to pay $100 per month. Making this kind of change though, will discourage the dumping of other employees into your plan.

The full effect from this employee dumping won’t be here until the last quarter of this year. Much of that will come from the onslaught employers who changed the start of their plan year to December in 2013 in order to delay the new mandates that went into effect this year. After that, the employers who got to keep their old plans this year will begin to move to the new pricing methodology.

That’s at least some good news since the ACA now requires employers to provide at least 60-days notice before making a “significant plan change”; so you have some time to weigh your options. Also, to minimize the employee relations issues, you may still want to offer a real choice. If so, your plan only needs a surcharge big enough to make your plan slightly less attractive than what other employers charge for employee-only coverage. To find the right surcharge amount for your plan, contact Hill, Chesson & Woody for a benchmark analysis.

New Publications Issued by EEOC on Religious Dress and Grooming in the Workplace

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

In today’s post, CAI’s Senior HR Advisor and Government Relations Specialist George Ports shares updates from the EEOC on Religious Dress and Grooming in the Workplace.

George Ports, Senior Executive and HR Advisor

George Ports, Senior Executive and HR Advisor

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently issued two new technical assistance publications addressing workplace rights and responsibilities with respect to religious dress and grooming under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The guide, entitled “Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities,” and an accompanying fact sheet, provide a user-friendly discussion of the applicable law, practical advice for employers and employees, and several case examples based on past EEOC litigation.

Employers covered by Title VII must make “dress code” accommodations to permit applicants and employees to follow religiously-mandated dress and grooming practices unless it would pose an undue hardship to the operation of an employer’s business. When an exception is made as a religious accommodation, the employer may still refuse to allow exceptions sought by other employees for secular reasons.

Topics covered in the publications include:

  • prohibitions on job segregation, such as assigning an employee to a non-customer service position because of his or her religious garb;
  • accommodating religious grooming or garb practices while ensuring employer workplace needs;
  • avoiding workplace harassment based on religion, which may occur when an employee is required or coerced to forgo religious dress or grooming practices as a condition of employment; and
  • ensuring there is no retaliation against employees who request religious accommodation.

Religious discrimination charges relating to a wide range of issues have steadily increased. In fiscal year 2013, the EEOC received 3,721 charges alleging religious discrimination.

If you have questions about religious dress and grooming in the workplace, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Resolution Team at 919‑878‑9222 or 336‑668‑7746.

Further information about the EEOC is available at its website at

Wellness Programs Provide Measurable Improvements in Company Medical Costs and Risk Profiles

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

office wellnessIn an effort to beat rising health care costs, employers are implementing programs that directly influence employees’ individual behaviors and health habits, according to the Willis Health and Productivity Survey conducted by Willis North America Human Capital Practice. Nine hundred employers, ranging in fewer than 100 employees to more than 10,000 employees, participated in the survey.

The health-focused survey shows that the return on investment from wellness programs is positive. Nearly half (49 percent) of the respondents with a wellness program cited measurable improvement in their organization’s medical costs or an improved risk profile among employees. Seventy-eight percent of the respondents with wellness plans said they were using an incentive to drive participation in employer-sponsored programs.

Companies are using their wellness programs to address behavioral change and lifestyle issues, like exercise and nutrition. Some key findings of the survey included:

  • Sixty-one percent of employers said that employees’ health habits are the number one challenge in controlling health care costs. High catastrophic cases ranked second with 47 percent and compliance due to health care reform was third with 34 percent.
  • Ninety-three percent of employers believe that healthier employees are more productive. However, few are measuring the impact on productivity of employee absenteeism (22 percent) and FMLA (19 percent).
  • The number one strategy organizations say they are using to address health care costs is to provide employees with tools and information in order to be better consumers. Sixty-four percent of respondents reported that as their best strategy.

Want to encourage your employees to maintain a healthier lifestyle? Check out some of the blogs below that focus on fitness and healthy living for tips:

Review this blog for tips in helping your employees achieve the right balance for their life at work and outside of work:

Looking for ways you can incorporate fitness into the office? This blog includes several work-friendly exercises:

Stress can lead to serious health consequences for your employees. Read this blog to find out how you can help your employees manage their stress levels:

Employee-sponsored wellness programs provide organizations with many benefits. If you’re interested in starting one at your organization, you will want to take a look at this blog:

Wage and Hour Law – Lectures, Seminars and Meetings

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

In today’s post, John Gupton, CAI’s General Counsel and HR Advisor on CAI’s Advice and Resolution Team, shares important information about wage and hour compliance.

john g editUnder the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), an employer must pay its employees at least the minimum wage for all hours worked, and time and one-half overtime pay based on an employee’s regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek unless the employee is exempt for some reason. The time an employee spends in meetings, training, attending a class or course, or attending a workshop may or may not be hours worked based on the circumstances and under certain conditions.

Employee attendance at meetings, lectures, training programs and similar activities need not be counted as working time if the following criteria are met:

  • Attendance is outside the employee’s normal working hours;
  • Attendance is voluntary;
  • The course, lecture or meeting is not directly related to the employee’s job; and
  • The employee does not perform any productive work during such attendance.

Attendance is not voluntary, of course, if it is required by the employer. It is not voluntary if the employee is given to understand or led to believe that his or her present working conditions or the continuance of his or her employment would be adversely affected by nonattendance.

The training is directly related to the employee’s job if it is designed to make the employee handle his or her job more effectively as distinguished from training him or her for another job, or to a new or additional skill. Where a training course is instituted for the purpose of preparing for advancement through upgrading the employee to a higher skill, and is not intended to make the employee more efficient in his or her present job, the training is not considered directly related to the employee’s job even though the course incidentally improves his or her skill in doing his or her regular work.

Of course, if an employee on their own initiative attends an independent school, college or independent trade school after hours, the time is not hours worked for the employer even if the courses are related to the employee’s job.

Additional information regarding wage and hour issues will be shared at the 2014 Employment and Labor Law Update. The conference will take place at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh on May 14 and May 15. In addition to wage and hour compliance, , presenters will cover immigration law, NC legislature, ADA, minimizing lawsuits, protecting proprietary information, and more. Register today at