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SISK: Yes. Clients are certainly looking at health savings accounts. That has been out of need. When the broker comes to you and says we can up your deductible, co-pays can go up, prescriptions can go up, all these different things—and they say what else can we do? Looking at health savings accounts is a viable option.
I like them because there is an attachment that comes with them for the employee that you can’t get any other way. The problem is, it doesn’t meet the needs of everyone. Rolling it out as a blanket statement for all of your employees comes with its own implications. It works for some employees. It doesn’t work for others. So when possible, offer multiple options to employees.
A. THOMAS: We actually have a higher adoption rate in Utah than we have in some other areas of the country, and I don’t know if that’s because we have more small businesses that are pushed to that by need or if we have a more independent spirit that says I want as much control as I can have. But we have seen a slightly earlier and higher adoption rate here.
What are you seeing with respect to legal compliance?
WHALEN: There is no question there has been an uptick in worksite enforcement across many different government agencies: the Department of Labor, the Department of Homeland Security, even at the state level in terms of unemployment and state-provided benefits and making sure that the people who are applying and receiving those benefits are the people that should be. So there is a greater need for companies to have somebody on staff who is a compliance officer, who has a basic working knowledge of those laws and what the rules and regulations are, who can manage the company’s risk and help them be in compliance.
With the Department of Labor, it seemed like for decades the main focus was: Are you paying overtime correctly? That is what could get an investigator knocking on your door. But now we are also seeing an increase in the Department of Labor, on their own initiative, targeting particular industries and looking at worker classification to determine if they are truly independent contractors or if they are employees. The other issue is whether they are truly exempt or should they be classified as unexempt and earning overtime?
CARTER: The role of HR over the last 20 years has gone from legal compliance to more mentoring and coaching, which is kind of interesting. Now we’re finding ourselves back in more of a compliance-oriented role. And we present ourselves as mentors and coaches when perhaps, in the future, we may be back in that seat again of a more compliance-oriented role. I don’t know if the pendulum is just swinging in a different way, but I’m starting to see us go full circle again.
FENWICK: You are right—there is a pendulum effect. Since the early ‘90s, it feels like we have become the enforcers of all the new laws. Not only do you have to understand the law, but you have to understand the ramifications of what happens if you don’t meet this or that by a certain time. So where it felt like it was more hiring and administration help before, now it feels like it’s more pounding on the boardroom table saying, “You have to pay attention to this. This law is going to affect us and we have to enforce it.” We’re kind of the middleman between the government and the founders or owners of the company.
SISK: How do you feel about that trend? You guys are dealing with the front lines of HR.
FENWICK: It’s exciting in a way because knowledge is fun, right? But it’s painful in another way because you are trying to get people to do something they don’t want to do.
SORENSON: But it also gets you to the table of large-profit companies, because the mentoring and coaching was always seen as a soft skill. Now, the compliance piece gets you to the table of companies in a setting you would not already be. The opportunity is taking on that role and not just coming out as the one that says, “This is a compliance meeting. You have to do this and this and this.”
The opportunity to engage is the part you have to look at because the rest of this is inevitable—everything we said about the crisis, etc. It isn’t just what we say, it’s how we say it. We do have to take away some benefits. We do have to do that. So the audience you have and the engagement opportunity is terrific. It’s just how creative can you get to deliver that message? Large companies just like execution and profit, period. So how do you get there?
WHALEN: My advice to today’s HR professionals in that compliance role is to be very careful about your message because you can turn the c-suite off fast if you come in with a baseball bat, “The law says this. We have to do this.”
Instead, my advice to HR professionals is to keep focused on what it is that your company wants to do and help them figure out how to achieve that goal within the structure of the rules and regulations without being the enforcer just saying, “No, no, no. You cannot do that.” But instead saying, “Here is what we can do. Here is how we can achieve that goal and manage our risk at the same time.”
That is a much more palatable message to deliver to your executives than just “no.”