Rewrite, Refresh or Reissue? Are your unenforced policies putting you at risk?

As we enter the 2020s, many of us have lofty goals for ourselves and our organizations. Whether it’s launching company-wide initiatives, “tweaking procedures” or revisiting marks we may have missed the previous year. As the year takes off, our laundry list can quickly be reprioritized, shuffled and some of those forgotten, nagging items can resurface as major issues. Often times this takes the form of policies or procedures that may have fallen by the way side in recent years. Perhaps it was due to a departmental restructuring, management shift or new business process. Maybe it’s continually pushed by challenges coordinating training with staff. If there are policies that exist in your workforce that haven’t been enforced consistently, it may leave you open to exposure in unemployment and other areas of risk. With the new year in full swing, this might be the best time to focus in on those back-burner policies!

In each state there are similar requirements under the law, i.e., your rules and policies must be known, followed and consistently enforced with all employees regardless of their overall job performance. Employers are not to indiscriminately pick and choose against whom they enforce policies (certainly not without repercussions). When this does happen, risks far greater than unemployment can be generated. A supervisor simply cannot play favorites and selectively apply policies based on their opinion of the worthiness of the employee involved.

As many human resource professionals know, these scenarios frequently occur without their knowledge, when supervisors don’t report events to their manager or human resources. These supervisors may view their employees as their management “territory” and prefer not to be held accountable to organizational standards. Unless reported, the HR department would not know what is going on in that particular department. This can come back to haunt the employer.  It does not matter what type of performer the employee is in the workplace, the policies must be enforced equally.

These situations can arise intentionally or inadvertently, i.e., when a new supervisor is simply inexperienced and does not apply policies correctly, or at all. This can go on for months or years, when more senior management does not detect the oversights. In other instances, refusing to formally address policy violations or misconduct may even be a corporate culture issue and method for the employer.

This also happens more frequently with multi-location employers, where oversight may be more difficult and decentralized. As such, these issues in the workplace commonly “snowball” where management believes they are trapped by past practices and unable to address recurring issues, or emerging issues, due to lack of precedence and a history of permissive or inconsistent practices. Unfortunately, this situation can be self-perpetuating costing the employer far more in unemployment costs and generating risks related to disparate treatment or wrongful discharge litigation.

So, these questions arise:

  • How does an employer correct their previous mistakes or prior inaction?
  • Can they?
  • Should they?
  • Are they stuck in this perpetual cycle?

Most employers recognize their past indiscretions and want to improve their management practices. In these situations, the best way to proceed is really to start from square one:

  • Designate a “reset” that begins with the re-issue (or perhaps first issue) of a well written, and updated employee handbook, code of conduct, rules, etc.
  • Poorly written policies can be deleted and replaced with strong, legally appropriate and clear standards.
  • Then, all employees must acknowledge their receipt of the new handbook, whether it is distributed via hard copy or over an internal intranet.

What does this mean for the employer?

The burden is on the employer to establish employees were made aware of the organization’s expectations. The re-issue should be accompanied by some type of memorandum stating this is the new, updated handbook, superseding all prior policies and from this point forward our organization will be strictly adhering to the specifics outlined in the handbook.

The handbook, or rules of conduct release date would be the formal reset date for the organization. Employers are not to announce this “reset” status, new period or use such terminology. All that is required is the new or updated rules or policies and the statement as noted above.

Employers want to make sure their language does not admit or acknowledge you have not uniformly enforced your policies in the past. Most importantly, the emphasis must focus on the future, the employer is now required to comply with their own written guidelines and policies, or they will revert back to the same position of disparate and careless application of rules and standards.

In terms of unemployment, management witnesses can now truthfully testify at a future UI hearing: “As of the policy issue date, this rule has been strictly enforced and uniformly adhered to.” This places the employer in a strong position to contest invalid claims and protect them from risks far beyond the unemployment arena.

Is that dormant policy giving you heartburn or has it resulted in UI charges? Let’s cross another thing off your to-do-list!

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Massachusetts Hikes Unemployent Tax Rates Again!

Despite a relatively healthy UI trust fund, and national trends lowering UI tax rates, the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance has confirmed that Tax Rate Schedule “E” will officially be enacted as of January 1, 2019. This schedule will effectively raise employer contribution rates, with the minimum rate being .94% (previously .83%) and the maximum rate at 14.37% (previously 12.65%).

Fortunately, the state Solvency Assessment will be set at 0.96%, which has decreased by from 1.01%. The taxable wage base for 2019 will remain unchanged at $15,000 per employee.

This schedule will be applied to all Massachusetts 2019 tax rate notices, which employers will begin receiving in the next few weeks. If you are a UTCA client, or just an employer with questions about your experience and rate calculation we would be happy to review with you. Please contact us here.

 

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UTCA Hosts Their 18th Annual Client Update!

Unemployment Tax Control Associates (UTCA) recently hosted its 18th Annual Client Update at the Sheraton Monarch Place Hotel and Conference Center in Springfield, MA.

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Extended Benefits = Extended Recession?!!

In a recent congressional report by the Committee of Ways and Means, the effect of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program is examined, and the data is staggering. Historical periods of extended benefits and record-breaking costs added to the national debt confirm what many employers (UTCA included) have believed as the US has struggled to create new jobs.

EUC Duration graph

This is a highly recommended read:

http://waysandmeans.house.gov/uploadedfiles/euc_labor_day_report_082814.pdf

 

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Massachusetts Freezes Rates: Law Passage and DUA Guidelines

On 4/15/14, Governor Deval Patrick signed an Unemployment Insurance rate freeze for 2014, eliminating a $500 million increase on employers that took effect January 1.  This bill is a stand-alone measure that does not take up any system reforms but addresses the more immediate need to secure UI payments for Q1/2014, while our legislators consider reform action.  As passed, this law freezes UI contributions at the current Schedule E and keeps the Trust Fund at a healthy $800M and represents the sixth consecutive year the state has prevented an automatic increase in employer UI taxes. With the rate issue now resolved, Massachusetts employers must square up with the UI system for the first quarter of 2014, which has an extended deadline for filing first quarter taxes of May 30, 2014.

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Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014 Passes the Senate

The EUC temporary extension bill that has been debated for months was finally brought to a vote on the floor of the US Senate as an amendment to HR 3979 late yesterday and passed on a vote of 59 to 38 with three abstentions.  It was significant that the vote on the bill only received 59 votes in favor after earlier obtaining a 61 vote margin on cloture. The bill text is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113hr3979eas/pdf/BILLS-113hr3979eas.pdf

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Performance Improvement Plans are effective in more ways than one!

Recently, we received a claim response from an employer indicating “Poor Performance” with regard to a salesman who had been terminated. Comments provided indicated that he had been on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) which required him to take his company issued laptop home with him. On the date the decision to discharge was made, the salesman had called out sick, and when the company went into his office, they found his laptop hidden in his desk drawer. The claimant was fired for violating the PIP. The claim was returned to the state as a discharge for misconduct. The claimant had been warned – via the PIP – of the requirement to take his computer home with him each night in an effort to help him meet his sales goals. Evidence that he failed to do so clearly existed. When questioned by the state, the claimant denied knowing he had to take the laptop home and alleged co-workers often left theirs in their office. The signed PIP was crucial to the employer’s case. The form clearly spelled out each and every objective the salesman was to meet. 

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Big Data, Big Confusion Part II: Hearing Run-Off Factor v. Win Percentage – The Real Measure of Wasted Time and Resources

In the previous post  we discussed the Disputed Claims Percentage (DCP) as a key metric and its relevance in gauging your organization’s UI program. This week we’ll take a look at the always-dreaded, over utilized, and deceiving appeal process. 

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Big Data, Big Confusion: What are your numbers telling you?

Analytics have infiltrated every aspect of our lives, for better or for worse. In many cases, it’s just plain confusing. What numbers should you focus on? What’s truly relevant and what is, for lack of a better term, just “fluff”? 

Holiday Help!

Many employers staff up during the last quarter of the year.  The increase in the number of people out and about, shopping during the holiday season, in turn increases the necessity for employers to hire.  Despite earlier prognostications that temporary seasonal jobs would not be as plentiful as last year, the retail industry added 159,000 jobs in October. Think about it, additional security is required at the mall; additional staff is needed to stock the shelves at night; additional employees are needed to pour the coffee and lattes for the shoppers during the wee hours of the night… 

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