The Complex Web of Paid Family and Medical Leave Laws

Several states have now enacted laws mandating that employers provide paid family and medical leave (FML). These laws generally apply to employers in or out-of-state with 1 or more employees working in that state. It is important for Wisconsin employers to carefully manage their leave policies when they have employees in other states.

States that have adopted mandatory paid family and medical leave laws are: Massachusetts, Washington D.C., California, Washington, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The leave benefits available under these laws vary from state to state, so employers need to do their research – or rely on experienced employment law advisors.

For example, in Massachusetts, employers must pay into an FML fund with a .75% tax on the wages of any employee working in Massachusetts. Some employers, depending on the number of workers they employ, may deduct a portion or all of this amount from the employee’s wages. Starting in 2021, employees will be entitled to up to a total 26 weeks of paid family and medical leave per year for life events such as the birth or adoption of a child (12 weeks), a serious medical condition (20 weeks), a family member’s serious medical condition (12 weeks), or to care for a family member injured while in military service (26 weeks). While the employer must allow the employee to take the leave, the financial benefits are administered by the state’s Department of Family and Medical Leave. Employees apply for a claim and, if approved, receive their weekly benefit from the state. The maximum benefit an employee can receive is $850/week.

In Washington D.C., employers must pay a .62% payroll tax into the state’s FML fund, and employees apply for and receive their benefits from DC’s Department of Employment Services. Starting July 1, 2020, DC employees will be entitled to up to 8 weeks of parental leave, 6 weeks leave to care for a sick family member, and 2 weeks leave for personal medical leave. The maximum benefit is $1000/week.

In addition to paid FML laws, over 20 states, cities, and counties have enacted paid sick leave laws. These laws also vary as to how much leave must be given to employees, how that leave must be tracked and carried over, and how the paid sick leave intersects with other leaves, like FML.

Wisconsin employers who employ workers in other states must take these various leave laws into account. It is a complex task. Carefully crafted policies and procedures can help you navigate these unchartered waters without creating an administrative nightmare for your HR team.

The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready to assist and advise if you have questions related to family and medical leave matters in Wisconsin or other states. Contact us at info@LE-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

You’ve Got Mail… Gulp!

This March, employers around the country began receiving letters, the likes of which they have not seen in 7 years. These letters are not so affectionately known as “Social Security No Match Letters,” but are officially referred to as “Employer Correction Request Notices (EDCOR)” by the Social Security Administration. A sample can be found here.

In a significant departure from past practice, the letters do not include the names or social security numbers of employees with a mismatched SSN. To obtain this information, employers must register with the SSA’s Business Services Online (BSO).

Employers should be proactive if they receive a no match letter and promptly contact a trusted legal or HR advisor about the appropriate next steps. Those next steps should include:

  • Registering with the SSA’s BSO;
  • Checking the employer’s records for a clerical mistake;
  • Notifying the employee of the mismatch (a sample letter can be found here) and working with the employee to resolve the mismatch

Employees should be given a reasonable amount of time to resolve the mismatch. There is no law or regulation that defines what constitutes a “reasonable” amount of time. However, the U.S. Department of Justice has acknowledged that resolving a mismatched SSN may take some time.

Employers should also be cautious about jumping to conclusions and taking any adverse action against an employee subject to a no match letter. Keep in mind that the mismatch may not always be an indicator that the employee has provided fraudulent social security information. The mismatch may be innocuous, and the result of a data entry error, a change of name due to marriage or divorce, or even the employee’s identity being stolen. Employers may be subject to liability based on employment discrimination for adverse action taken against an employee if that is action is solely based on a no match letter. Employers should wait for the final results of its investigation into the mismatch and hope for the best resolution: correction of the error. If there is a legitimate mismatch, then the employer should consult with HR and employment law advisors to develop a plan of action.

The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready and willing to assist and advise if you receive a no match letter, or have questions related to compliance with Social Security Administration laws and regulations. Contact us at www.LE-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

How Do I Appreciate Thee? Let Me Count the Ways. . .

It is the first Friday in March, and that means it is National Employee Appreciation Day. Today presents a good opportunity for employers to stop and review the steps they are taking to make their employees feel valued in the workplace. Employees who feel valued are more likely to be positive, engaged and productive at work.

A 2015 survey conducted by Glassdoor Economic Research revealed that for almost 57% of people, benefits and perks were among their top considerations in accepting a job. In fact, 4 out of 5 people reported that they would prefer new perks over a pay raise at work. The survey confirmed that the three core benefits that matter most to today’s workers are health insurance, vacation/paid time off, and 401(k) retirement plans. 

In this time of low unemployment when many employers are struggling to attract and retain high-performing employees, surveys like this one provide valuable food for thought. Employers who want to attract the best and the brightest should offer more than a competitive salary. Based on the Glassdoor Survey Results, they would be wise to offer quality health insurance and 401(k) plans, as well as generous vacation and paid time off policies. Employers should also consider non-traditional employee benefits such as educational assistance/tuition reimbursement, gym memberships/employee wellness programs, paid sabbaticals, flexible work arrangements, workspace choices/improvements, regular employee outings, and formal programs for employee coaching and mentoring. Think, too, about furthering your unique organizational mission, vison and values with your benefits: Provide time off to clean the lakefront, tutor local kids, or work at a food pantry? Pay for audible accounts to encourage learning about the latest management trend? organize teams for local walks, runs, swims and paddles? Offer a weekly in-house massage therapist or yoga instructor? Have an office share for tickets to local arts, sports, and community events? Finally, Employers should ask themselves whether and how often they stop to recognize their employees’ hard work. Providing consistent feedback, routinely celebrating employee successes, and embracing rewards and peer recognition programs can go a long way towards making employees feel like valued members of a team.

So, by all means, take time out on this National Employee Appreciation Day to thank your employees. But, more importantly, consider the unique benefits that you can offer every day to reward employees for their contributions to your organization.

Contact the attorneys or HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law to if you have questions about how to make your employees feel appreciated.

When Cupid Strikes in the Workplace

Whether HR knows about it or not, romantic relationships happen in the workplace. According to a Vault.com annual office romance survey, more than half of American professionals say they have participated in an office romance. Of those who have dated a coworker, 16% married.

In my days in the hospitality industry, I saw couples live happily ever after and others … well, let’s say, not so happily ever after. Let’s face it, if 62% of the workers in the hospitality and tourism industry say they’ve had a romantic relationship with a coworker, 46% didn’t live happily ever after according to my math.

If two employees tell you that they are dating, first express your appreciation they came forward to let you know of their workplace romance and of course, be happy for them! Follow your handbook policies. If you allow dating in the workplace, review your organizations’ workplace harassment policy and remind them that as long as the relationship is consensual, it aligns with your policy. Remind them there is no need for public displays of their affection while at work. Most importantly, remind them that if one party decides they no longer want to be in the relationship, the courting must stop, otherwise it may by perceived as workplace sexual harassment. You may also want to have individual conversations with each person to make sure it is consensual and there is not a more serious situation occurring.

When the couple doesn’t notify HR, but HR hears of the romance through-the-grapevine, does HR have the same responsibility as if the couple came forward? Yes, talk to the individuals using the same framework as above.

If there happens to be an internal conflict of interest – supervisor and direct report – you may need to ask one of the individuals to transfer to another department or position, that is, if you are a big enough organization. Otherwise, one of the individuals may need to leave the organization to eliminate the conflict. It is best to have a written policy addressing this.

Executives and others in sales or key relationship building roles may also want to consider how professional partnerships may create a conflict of interest, actual or perceived. Most recently, the CEO of REI was asked to step down because he did not disclose his romantic relationship with a leader of another organization in the outdoor industry.

Bottom line…if you are going to date in the workplace, tell HR or your supervisor, avoid PDA in the workplace, and, if one person wants to end the relationship, you must end it. If the relationship ends well, it’s easy to continue the relationship as coworkers. If it doesn’t, the tension will spill into the workplace and coworkers will feel the tension, and so may your former sweetheart.

Remember, we are handling matters of the heart. Be kind. Be respectful. It takes courage to show love. If you need help navigating a workplace romance or drafting a policy, reach out to the Lake Effect HR & Law team.

It’s Not Exactly a Snow Day

Here in Wisconsin, the USPS is not delivering mail, schools, government offices, malls and restaurants are closed, and UW has cancelled classes…Nobody is going outside to work or play in -50° F wind chills, except for those who are keeping us warm and safe! If we aren’t going to work or playing outside, how many of us are working remotely today?

If many of your employees are taking advantage of remote work today, this may be a great time to create or update your Inclement Weather Policy. Over the years, we have been very fortunate in Wisconsin to have not had many reasons to close our offices other than snow, until last year when we saw state-wide flooding. Consider expanding your inclement weather policy to involve other emergency closings, an explanation of how employees will be paid and factors to consider when working remotely.

The Lake Effect team is here to help you draft a compliant inclement weather policy and other employment-related policies aligned with your organization’s culture, concern for employees’ safety, and your operational productivity goals. When reviewing your policy consider the following:

  • Parameters to determine when the office will be closed
  • Mechanisms to communicate office closures, keeping in mind possible power outages at home
  • Determination of which employees will have the ability to work remotely
  • Consideration of Wage and Hour laws and regulations
  • Compensation of employees for working remotely -- or not working
  • Employee use of paid time off
  • Impact of weather-related absences on attendance records

Contact the attorneys or HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law to help guide you through the storm.

New Year’s Resolutions

As we turn the calendar page to January 2019, it's the perfect time to review your company's HR policies and practices to make sure this year is an even better one for your employees and your organization as a whole. Lake Effect HR Advisors and Employment Lawyers are here to support and advise your team and you throughout the year!

Here are our recommended HR Resolutions for 2019:

  1. Annual Employee Handbook Update – Make those changes you have been mulling over for the past few years. While you are at it, have an HR and legal review to:
    1. ensure compliance with all states in which you now have employees;
    2. incorporate current trends that fit your organization;
    3. bring new life to your handbook so that it reflects your organizational culture, voice, mission and strategic vision.
  2. Anti-Harassment & Respectful Workplace Training - Review your anti-harassment policy and procedures and educate your team on the updated policy, including reporting procedures, possible outcomes, the pitfalls of retaliation, acceptable workplace conduct, appreciation, and respect.
  3. Personal Professional Development - Develop a coaching & development process that supports your culture, mission, vision and organizational goals. This investment benefits the employee, the team and the entire organization in the short and long term.
  4. Group Professional Development - Develop a training curriculum that strengthens your team’s people skills; develops their management skills; and reflects your policies, procedures and expectations.
  5. Employee Engagement – Strengthen communication in your workplace using myEverything DiSC to create a common language your team members can use to understand one-another's motivators, priorities and reactions to conflict in the workplace.

For more information or to set up an appointment, contact us today.

Tick This Off Your To Do List: Anti-Harassment Training

Since Harvey Weinstein had his great fall, nearly every one of our Client Employers have said to us, “I know we really need to schedule some anti-harassment for our staff.” Then, work gets busy, and then the quarter is wrapping up, and then a big project takes over, and on and on. This is not an issue you can avoid. You can’t bury your head in the sand and think it is going away. The single best thing you can do as an employer to provide your employees with a workplace free of harassment and discrimination is to train your staff. Now is the time to schedule the training!

At Lake Effect HR & Law, our attorneys and HR professionals are all experienced and engaging trainers on Anti-Harassment Practices. Our approach is not a secret, but our delivery is. We really are that good. We get your team talking, laughing, feeling comfortable about the uncomfortable. People tell us they dreaded the training, but ended up, actually, having fun. Hard to believe, right? Schedule a session and you will believe us.

So what is our approach? Here is what we do every time:

  1. Provide a legal review and suggested updates to workplace policies and practices. We look at not only your actual Anti-Harassment policy, but also the policies that connect to it: social media, behavior and conduct, use of electronic systems and networks, confidential information and more. We also reflect off your industry and culture, and reflect on how this supports your mission and vision. How we provide this training at a bank differs from an arts non-profit.
  2. Provide an in-person training to your team. A webinar means people are checking emails. A video means people space out and don’t participate.
  3. Engage everyone in attendance in the dialog. No one is allowed to slouch in the corner or avert their eyes.
  4. Deep dive into your organization’s anti-harassment policy and the related policies. Teach your team where all of the answers are within your policy. What is harassment? Who is protected? From whom? How do you report? What is retaliation? What happens in an investigation? What are the possible outcomes?
  5. Review real life situations, pertinent to your industry and culture. Some offices are huggy, while others are not. Some offices are serious and quiet, some are not. Some have board members and volunteers regularly in the mix, others don’t. All of those factors and many more affect your office culture and employee workplace interactions.
  6. Answer questions that your employees have about what is OK and what is not – and what is dependent on the situation and presentation.
  7. Spend extra time with your managers to review their enhanced responsibilities as supervisors. Clearly, being a manager is not as glamorous as it appears. We give them some more tools to help address these difficult situations as and when they arise.

If you are ready to schedule your Anti-Harassment Training, contact any of the attorneys or HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law. We are ready to help you tick this item off your to-do list.

The Benefits of DiSC in the Workplace

We have all been in a meeting or working on a project when someone was too assertive in expressing their opinions, not contributing enough, too chatty, or too hesitant to make a decision. These individuals were most likely not intending to be difficult in the meeting or in the workplace; they were simply working from their preferred DiSC style. Although we can all adapt our styles, during stressful times it does not come naturally. Having a common language to address these types of situations and work through the barriers provides your team an opportunity to leverage each person’s strengths, resolve interpersonal conflict or simply gain awareness of their own innate reaction to workplace situations.

By understanding the different DiSC styles and each styles’ priorities, motivators, fears and limitations, your team gains a better understanding of how their coworkers are communicating in the workplace. The Everything DiSC model is the simplest, most robust tool for creating a common language at all levels of an organization.
At times, every organization has a need to improve communication, strengthen a team, resolve interpersonal conflict or simply develop team members’ interpersonal skills. Lake Effect HR & Law is uniquely qualified to manage your HR needs. We are an Authorized Partner of Everything DiSC with over a decade of experience working with the DiSC model. With several personalized reports to choose from, we can find a solution to address your needs that reflects your culture or what you want your culture to be.

To learn more about how DiSC can help your team, contact any of the attorneys and HR Professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law, www.LE-hrlaw.com.

Be Good and Kind

Sadly, being good and kind is a dying art. I think about this a lot as I look around our world today. I think about it in the context of raising three sons and talking with them about how to handle situations in their lives and how to be good brothers, friends and teammates. I discuss this with friends whenever we get together to catch up on our lives. I say this several times each week to our clients in the context of advising them on employment policies and employee issues. I hear others in our office say the same.

At Lake Effect, we want to help bring back Being Good and Kind. As lawyers, we are tasked with helping our clients avoid risk and liability. We have seen time and time again that if our Client Employers approach the workplace and their employees being mindful of what is good and kind, being respectful and thoughtful, everything falls into place. Tension in the office dissipates. Workplace issues get resolved. Collaboration infuses the environment. Managers connect with their direct reports. Employees are more engaged and productive. Risk diminishes. Culture begins to define itself. Mission permeates the actions of all. The organization thrives, as does each and every employee.

This mindset is reinforced by the video short, "Mr. Indifferent", designed for Emirates NBD Bank, by Aryasb Feiz, the production company Hanzo FZE, and the agency Leo Burnett, Dubai: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxpkjDKMyzg

To be part of the movement to bring back Being Good and Kind, contact any of the lawyers and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law, LLC, www.LE-hrlaw.com

Lake Effect HR & Law, LLC
(844) 333-5253 (LAKE)
info@le-hrlaw.com

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