Navigating the Patchwork of Paid Family Leave Laws: An HR Challenge Met

HR professionals are on the front lines of the need for, and implementing requirements around, paid family leave. Given the uncertainty at the federal level in the policy area of paid family leave (PFL), with a recent proposal being floated that would open up workers’ social security benefits for them to “borrow” against their own federal retirement benefits to fund their current PFL time, it’s no wonder that states are stepping in to fill what they see as a gap in employees’ very real and unmet needs in this area. The results are creating significant business, compliance and human resources challenges in implementing a patchwork of legal requirements across the United States.

New York’s state paid family leave requirements became effective on January 1, 2018. A very thorough state-specific overview was recently posted by Megan Holstein on the Jackson Lewis blog here, so please be sure to check that out if you are looking for particular New York PFL guidance. More generally, however, it’s important to consider how operationalizing legal requirements for paid family leave is not as simple as it seems. These are some of the challenging issues that must be resolved by HR:

·       Alignment of current paid leave programs such as PTO, short-term disability benefits, FMLA, and sick leave with the state and local requirements

·       Updating technological systems such as payroll programs and solutions for those in affected states so that accruals, usage and notifications are compliant with the law

·       Changing processes, documentation and protocols for leave requests so that legal requirements are fulfilled

·       Training HR, management and others on new processes and requirements

·       Ensuring that sufficient staff capacity is available to handle state-based processing requirements

·       Recognizing the complex situations that arise where state, local and federal law, as well as collective bargaining agreements and other requirements create the potential for complying with one set up requirements but violating another, and coming up with ways to avert this risk

·       Building the internal expertise and relationships across siloed departments to effectively handle novel issues that may arise, in a way that treats employees like human beings and not problems

Other states where paid family leave is already in effect include California, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Washington state passed PFL in 2007 but it has never been implemented. Washington, DC has a new PFL provision that will roll out in 2020. Continued proposals are being brought forward, including the Colorado FAMLI Act, which would apply to every employer with employees working in the state, including very small businesses without HR support to handle the challenges above.

One solution that has been advanced is also called Workflex in the 21st Century Act, also called the #workflexbill. The act, recommended by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to the patchwork of complex requirements continues to impact multi-state employers, amends the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to allow employers to opt out of state and local requirements as long as they provide paid leave to all full- and part-time employees with at least 90 days’ tenure. The leave would be provided at the cost of the employer, not the taxpayers or employees. Part-time workers would receive paid leave proportional to the hours worked for their employer.

For HR professionals who are helping employers implement paid leave benefits and operationalize regulatory requirements, being aware of the legal landscape and solving the operational challenges are both critical. Whether benefits are required by law or not, it is up to HR to ensure that employers are meeting the needs of their employees. In addition, smart HR professionals work to align leave with other compensation and benefits options to support the strategic plans of their organizations and capture the benefit to their employer brands that comes with nurturing employees’ needs for paid family leave.  

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Running Your Small Business: Tools That Work

Running a business is challenging. I’d argue it’s also a lot of fun. Some of the activities I enjoy most about running my business are areas that were new to me when I launched in 2015. Marketing, web design, bookkeeping, timekeeping, tracking mileage and expenses, and social media are all areas where small business must excel with easy-to-access and affordable resources. We don’t have the luxury of expensive tech solutions and teams of employees to implement the day to day requirements of making business work. Luckily, being an HR professional, that area is a snap for me-but it isn’t easy for other small business owners and startups. More on that later!

When I get together with other professionals, often the first questions they ask me are about the nuts and bolts of running a business. That’s something that the most Rockstar internal professional likely hasn’t had experience with. I always start at the beginning. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel in today’s age of easy (and often free) online tools. But since finding the best ones that worked for me has taken some trial and error (not to mention research and time) I’ve decided to save my readers the trouble and share my favorites!


My favorite: Toggl

Toggl is a super easy and free web-based tool to track time spent on projects. I use it to document hourly work for my clients, but it’s also a good way to organize your time and recapture wasted segments, if you want to use it as an organizational tool. Toggl allows me to track in real time or manually, entering as detailed a description as I wish, and to allocate that time to a client and project. I then can download my entries by different time periods to provide my clients with a detailed outline of how I worked to advance their projects and needs. I’ve found that it not only builds trust and maintains transparency, but it also provides clear evidence for the return on investment in retaining my services.


My favorite: Wave

Bookkeeping is a very important part of running a successful small business. Not only is it required for me to keep up with requirements like taxes, accounts payable and payroll, but it also helps me capture expenses, bill my clients in a timely manner, and collect money that is owed to my company. As I have grown, I’m not as much in need of the free online service Wave provides. You may be in need of a more robust system like Quickbooks, especially if you manufacture products or have a more complex business than straight services. But Wave has allowed me to put together professional-looking invoices, review my balance sheet, and provide year-end reports for filing my taxes. It’s a great choice for a simple business that is trying to save money.

Email and Documents

My favorite: Microsoft Office 365

While I have colleagues who utilize Google Docs and Gmail for their solutions, my perennial favorite is Outlook 365. That doesn’t mean that I can’t play nice with the Google folks. I have found ways to use Microsoft’s Windows 10 apps to track multiple email addresses in one place, since I often have email addresses for my clients that are in all different hosting scenarios. I enjoy the predictability of the Microsoft suite, and after a laptop failure last summer, am utilizing cloud storage for more of my data. Along with my significant experience with these Office programs and ability to work quickly within them, there are some new improvements like in-document translation that I have been exploring. Outlook 365 is affordable and reliable. For now, it remains my choice.

Virtual Meetings

My favorite: Zoom

Others have pointed out how Zoom is basically just like Skype. But I would argue Zoom has a more user-friendly interface and provides a better experience. Skype has different iterations, like Skype for Business and regular Skype (which no one can ever find my Microsoft username for) and can be clunky to use when it is set up on someone else’s Outlook account (as I mentioned above, I often use several for different clients) and has legacy users with usernames as well as newer users with Microsoft account names. They don’t talk well with each other. If I can’t find someone by searching with several different pieces of demographic information, there’s something wrong.

Zoom is easy. Easy, easy, easy. Did I mention it’s easy? All you do is provide your link. It is the same link every time and for every meeting you have, if you want it to be set up that way (I do). I opted for the professional plan because on the free plan if you want to meet with more than one person, you can only do that for 40 minutes. I use Zoom all the time and have had great results. It’s not as good as meeting in person but much more high-touch than a phone call.  

That said, some people complain about it. They are usually people who don’t have video available or who are skittish about having to open a new solution (the first time you use it, you will have to set it up, just like GoToMeeting or other similar platforms). The easiest way to use Zoom is to download the app into Windows 10. I have it pinned to my taskbar. Some people just don’t want to be involved with new technology. Since I tend to work virtually at least some of the time, it’s best if my clients are at least open to exploring how a video conferencing platform works. If they are truly wedded to only in-person or phone conferences, it will be difficult to be on site for every meeting, and on the phone it is more difficult to share my desktop or documents on the fly during our discussion. It does limit our collaboration to a certain extent.


My favorite: Acuity

My newest favorite tool is the Acuity scheduler. It’s a free service, and I can easily integrate it into our website onto a hidden link and share it with those who need to schedule a meeting with my company. You can set up availability, either manually or with a set schedule. It’s also possible to block off time when people are out of the office. Scheduled meeting types can also be created, with cushion times in between so there’s time to prepare for the next meeting. My Acuity schedule is set up with a virtual default, using my Zoom link. When you make an appointment on my page, you receive a calendar invite with my Zoom link, and I receive a notification. You also will get a reminder from Acuity the day before your meeting, and you can reschedule if you need to, all right on the scheduling platform.

While I like Doodle when I am scheduling with a larger group, the Acuity scheduler avoids several of those emails: you know, the ones where you say I can make it on blah blah blah and the other person gets back to you a day later saying “sure, blah works,” but then that time is already booked. It truly saves time and I believe people scheduling appointments appreciate the easy and convenient platform. I always let folks know that if they can’t find a time, we can work out something else.

HR and People Strategy

My Favorite: Internal leaders teamed with HR consulting expertise

For small businesses, often internal professionals who are handling HR are office managers, accountants, and even owners. Good people strategy begins with an understanding of HR and how it can help you and your team be successful and compliant at the same time. Strategic HR support also takes away the burden of handling complex employee issues and provides leadership support for your executive team to help you take your business to the next level. For most small businesses with under 100 employees, it may not make sense to employ a full-time HR leader with significant expertise and experience, so consultants like Solve HR can provide that support, troubleshooting, training and mentoring for internal staff members like generalists and coordinators. Not sure what you need? Contact us and we will talk it through with you, free of charge. 

What small business tools do you love? Let’s start a conversation on Twitter @KellyinBoulder and @solvehrinc.

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Top 5 California Employer Compliance Pitfalls

The state of California and some cities within it are notorious for creating compliance requirements that are not always present in other jurisdictions. However, given the lack of movement at the federal level, other cities and states are beginning to show distinctly California-leaning policy positions and accompanying legal requirements. Making policy toward protecting civil rights for employees, promoting pay equity, helping those who have had prior criminal histories recover their careers and supporting a living wage are all underlying reasons (among others) offered for the legal provisions below. Being aware of, and proactively planning for, California-specific needs is the only way to ensure they don’t disrupt the normal flow of business and cause unanticipated legal and business costs.

While there are many California-specific items, these are the ones I’ve been discussing and planning for with my clients:

·       Ban the box-restrictions on criminal history inquiries in the application process: effective January 1, 2018, employers may not request criminal history information on the application, and although they may perform criminal background checks after a conditional offer of employment has been extended, but subject to certain restrictions.

·       A salary history inquiry statewide ban, which prohibits requesting salary history information from applicants, and also including the requirement to provide salary information on open jobs to prospective hires upon request.

·       Newly implemented marijuana legalization for recreational use, which creates challenges and questions around drug testing protocols and processes, including whether employers can enforce drug free workplace policies including marijuana.

·       Ensuring legal obligations and employee notifications for immigration related requests, such as external I-9 audits: beginning January 1, 2018, employers must ensure that a judicial warrant or subpoena for immigration-related records, and must also provide notice to affected California employees.

·       Disability, absence and paid leave provisions: just one recent ruling held that obesity can be considered a disability under the FEHA in California. The wage replacement rates have been increased and the 7-day waiting period removed for California paid family leave claims filed after January 1, 2018, which can influence how this program interacts with employers’ internal programs.

·       BONUS: When do California labor laws apply to employees who travel into the state to perform work? In 2012, the California Supreme Court held that employers must apply its state overtime provisions to non-exempt employees traveling into the state to perform work. How much contact is required before other provisions are applicable? That’s a question worth exploring based on the specifics of your business.

California compliance can be challenging. Those small employers who have employees working in California, often lack the knowledge and resources to stay on top of these requirements. Indeed, they may not even be aware of a legal issue until after they have taken action. Ignorance of a requirement isn’t an excuse, so if this is your situation, consider staying on top of California employment compliance by joining the Solve HR mailing list here.

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Driving Great Hires through Onboarding: Seven Critical Steps to Success

Is your team using data analytics, technology and specialized expertise to accomplish the very best results in research, sourcing, recruiting and hiring, but when your new hires accept the offer, they enter a black hole as your team hands off to HR, management, or, worst, no one? You may be in need of an onboarding plan in 2018. If you work in a large company with abundant resources and teams dedicated to handling onboarding, it may surprise you to learn that not everyone has the capacity to easily hand off to another team to help ensure new hires are integrated into your culture and feel welcome, even before day one. With a little planning, and some cooperation, every organization can achieve great onboarding!

According to Sean Little, writing for the SHRM Blog, “effective onboarding should acclimate the new employee to allow him or her to become a contributing member of the staff in the briefest period possible, while engaging the employee to enhance productivity and improve the opportunity for the company to retain the employee.” It’s pretty clear that getting new employees contributing to the bottom line as quickly as possible represents a greater return on investment in that new resource. But what other benefits should drive our quest for effective onboarding? For one, the data has shown that those new hires who undergo a full onboarding program have increased rates of retention. Retention helps reduce the cost of turnover, and capture the benefits of training and development invested in each hire.

Where to Start

It is easy to identify a great starting point for your onboarding program. It starts the moment your new hire accepts an offer. What does this important first step look like?

•       Provide information on what to expect next with any post-offer activities like background checks and drug testing, and include updates as they are received to keep nervous new hires up to date

•       Send “pre-boarding” information like tax forms, I-9, emergency contacts and payroll information in advance, or provide an electronic platform for your hire to log in and complete these needed steps.

•       Set up a new employee welcome lunch for the first day

•       Put together a schedule for your new hire’s first couple of days, including a buddy

•       Outline basic practical details, like where to park, who to call upon arrival and cell phone numbers for HR and the hiring manager

•       Assign your new hire a team member who can be a “go-to” help with questions

Immediately enveloping your new hires with a warm welcome and details to help them feel a sense of belonging will ensure they are part of the team, from even before day one. Now that we have a sense for what the first steps toward effective onboarding might be, let’s move on to outline a plan for a full year of onboarding for your new employee.  

What does a full onboarding plan look like?

•       First Day - Orient your new hire to the new surroundings, continue cultural integration that began during the hiring process, provide technological resources and basic information needed to do the job

•       Teammate program – Assign a teammate to every new hire who is tasked with answering questions, introducing the new hire to others, and providing support. Teammates can develop long-term collaborative relationships, and since we know that having friends at work can increase engagement, this is an opportunity for you to help your new hire start a first professional relationship with a co-worker.

•       Drive by say hi (stay plugged in) – HR, managers and teammates should check in on an informal basis to see how things are going, and it’s even better if other leaders and employees do so as well. There’s nothing that communicates how much an employee is appreciated like hearing from a skip-level manager, or even receiving a surprise informal note from an executive leader!

•       Managing the Manager - Ensuring job training is delivered & is effective, especially over the first 90 days of employment, is a critical part of the onboarding process. Managers get busy, and sometimes they need support to ensure they make time for training and coaching a new hire. New hires need coaching, feedback and performance assistance, and training is a large part of meeting that need during the early days of a new role.  

•       The Offer – Some organizations, including Zappos and Amazon, have instituted an offer for every new hire to leave at a certain point, and take a payout (often two weeks of salary) with them. This approach isn’t right for every organization, but where I have recommended it, I’ve suggested the offer be given at 90 days. This allows new hires to fully understand what the job is about, and what the company is like, and make a wise decision about whether it makes sense to continue or move on. This can be an easy way for a failed hire to gracefully exit, and for a great hire to recommit.

•       6 months in – A sense of true belonging should be taking root with your new hire. The six-month mark is a wonderful time to look back and celebrate all of the progress your new hire has made, and make more substantial development and growth plans for the remainder of the first year. Candid, specific performance feedback is appropriate here as well, as your hire continues to develop fully in his or her role-and feedback goes both ways. Continue asking your employee what you can do better to help him or her be successful at work, and then take action!

•       Hire-a-versary: Wow! That first year flew by! It’s time to celebrate your new hire’s employment anniversary with recognition and appreciation suitable to your employee’s needs and values. It could be the right time to deliver his or her first annual performance review, if that fits with your performance review process, but hopefully, if you have been following a good onboarding process, you have been delivering feedback and coaching at every step along the way. If all has gone well, it may even be appropriate for your new hire to become one of the trusted teammates you assign to mentor other new hires.

Implementing these seven steps will help ensure that you are successful in integrating your new hires into your organizational culture, maximize their contributions and engagement, and retain them for future success, and your employer brand will benefit as well! For more details on how to make and keep great hires, see my book, Driving Great Hires: Using Authentic Employer Branding to Find Your Best Hire.

Kelly Marinelli
Combating Sexual Harassment – A Game Plan for HR

In the midst of all of the justifiable community outrage, and big policy discussions around gender, diversity, culture and the role of HR in combating sexual harassment in organizations, there is a multitude of voices straining to be heard. They come from business leaders, asking what it is their organizations can do today to begin to solve this problem and to keep it at bay. Some are even asking-could this be happening in our organization without us being aware of it?

For business and organizational leaders, the right answer is to start with the basics of culture, leadership and, yes, training. However, the urge to slap an out-of-the-box training session on an unresolved problem that is rooted in disrespect and dysfunctional culture and call it good does nothing to solve the problem. It might help the company “check a box” to show that they notified their employees of their official policies and what conduct is not allowed (and later communicate this to a court as evidence of due diligence). But this just serves to perpetuate the idea of managers and HR as not really caring about employees and protecting them from harassment at work, but only worrying about their own legal exposure. Like the old 80’s-style VHS tapes employers used to play to show new employees what harassment looks like at work, this kind of rote-training-only approach is disingenuous, overly simplistic, and likely to broadcast to potential harassers that your organization is just “dialing it in” and doesn’t really care about combating harassment in their workplace culture.

That said, training is a good starting point, if it is championed by leaders, followed by authentic discussion in an environment of trust, and deeply and broadly accepted cultural norms around respect, dignity and zero tolerance for harassing behaviors among every member of an organization’s teams. Bystanders understanding their responsibility in calling out abuse of power in all its forms is also critical. A cultural environment of trust, where leaders are open to candid dialogue and employees are never punished for speaking openly about concerns, is also a strong guard against an environment of secrecy in which harassment can fester. The bonus is that trust and openness also foster innovation and engagement, which positively impacts the bottom line.

Cultural rejection of harassment, embracing the need for training and shared understanding of how to combat harassment, and an environment of trust and openness are only effective if executive leaders enthusiastically embrace them. If leaders pay lip service to culture, exempt themselves from training and punish those who come forward with concerns, then HR efforts to provide training and generate dialogue around differences will not be effective.

What are HR professionals to do?

1.       If your leaders have not yet approached HR for solutions, share information with your organization’s executive leadership on the potential negative impact of failing to address sexual harassment risk, and how HR can help. SHRM has many resources to help you do this.

2.       Ensure that your organization’s culture is supportive of respect, dignity, transparency and trust. Work with your leadership to reinforce awareness of and professional activity consistent with these agreed-upon, shared cultural norms and values.

3.       Review the current training on sexual harassment and harassment in general, and the organization’s strategy for delivering this training.

a.       Is the training up to date?

b.       Does the training contain the right information and activities to make it engaging and effective?

c.       Is training delivered to every employee, including executive leadership, or are some team members exempted?

d.       Is training and communication around harassment prevention championed by leadership, or is it seen as a waste of time or a legal requirement alone?

4.       Utilize your trusted resources in HR to ensure that your organization’s training is complete, timely, useful and effective. SHRM provides its members useful resources like sample training decks for Sexual Harassment Training for Employees and Sexual Harassment Training for Supervisors to help you get started.

5.       If you don’t have the capacity or expertise within your organization, consider bringing in consulting assistance to help you start off 2018 with an effective game plan for combating sexual harassment and other forms of harassment in your organization, and setting yourselves up for a successful year.

I encourage all of my HR colleagues to be ready to use our knowledge and understanding of business strategy, risks, culture and talent management to help our organizations thrive through creating environments of transparency, trust and respect, and providing training experiences that result in genuine learning and greater understanding among the workforce. It is only through commitment of executive leaders, HR professionals and managers working together that we will be able to foster genuine change in the toxic environments of secrecy and abuse of power that have resulted in the widespread experiences of sexual harassment that have been recently brought to light. 

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An abbreviated version of this blog post appears on the SHRM Blog