episode 175 | HR Compliance | Transcript | Rea CPA

episode 175 – transcript

Dave Cain: Welcome to unsuitable on Rea Radio, the award-winning financial services and business advisory podcast that challenges your old school business practices and their traditional business suit culture. Our guests are industry professionals and experts who will challenge you to think beyond the suit and tie while offering you meaningful modern solutions to help you enhance your company’s growth. And I’m your host, Dave Cain.

Dave: Employers have to juggle a lot these days, especially in the area of HR compliance. In addition to the usual concerns like paid sick leave, the Family and Medical Leave Act and compensation, business owners are being confronted by a slew of new considerations like the legalization of marijuana, generational differences and whether it’s okay to vape indoors.

Dave:    Even though today’s guest says she has seen a lot over the course of her career, she has said that this is the most HR activity and legislative updates she has ever seen. Renee West, senior human resource manager at Rea & Associates is here with us to tell us what she thinks all these changes mean to a business owner. Welcome back to unsuitable, Renee.

Renee West: Thank you very much, Dave. Excited to be here.

Dave:    You know, that’s right. There’s a lot of things going on out there.

Renee:  That is very true.

Dave:    I understand your family’s going to be listening to this podcast and what advice did they give you before today’s kickoff?

Renee:  Well, my teenagers were very vocal in saying, do not embarrass us. Well, they said don’t embarrass yourself, which meant don’t embarrass them.

Dave:    That’s right. In the intro, we talked about the few things that are disrupting the workplace as far as a compliance issue. So, let’s jump right in. We see a lot of these vape cigarettes, e-cigarettes. I don’t know if manuals have caught up to those policies, but what’s going on in the industry with that?

Renee:  So, that’s a great question. It’s a very hot topic right now as you know, and as people might not know, there really are not a lot of regulations as to the process of what is approved and not approved. So a lot of companies really are honing on doing any type of updates to their policies. The e-vaping or the vape cigarettes are not protected by the … the FDA has not approved those. So employers right now are dealing with probably their employees coming up and saying, Well, we’re not allowed to smoke inside, but yet Joe’s over here using an e-vape. So, how does that impact the workforce? So, we’re just waiting for some future regulations to come out and more practices as to how to incorporate that into policies.

Dave:    You know, take that a step further. A lot of a companies on their campuses don’t allow smoking. Obviously, you go outside the building and you still can’t smoke on grounds but vaping’s maybe changing that a little bit.

Renee:  That’s true. We just need to stay tuned and see what comes of the next steps. But right now, for best practice, a lot of employers are basically trying to mimic what they have from their smoking policy towards the e-vaping until they know further.

Dave:    You know, we’ve had over the years, several guests on a unsuitable on Rea Radio that had a concealed carry weapons on them when they were interviewing here and course, we kind of let that slide and we let that go. I mean, that’s why we’re unsuitable. What’s going on with the concealed carry in the workplace?

Renee:  And that’s definitely a concern with workplace violence. As you hear in the news, there seems to be an increase in the number of workplace shootings and just shootings in general. So employers are really, you know, looking at that from a safety standpoint for their workforce of enforcing no concealed carry. There’s a lot of regulations around that and there’s a lot of gray areas, so companies need to do what they feel is best to protect their employees. And that might involve not having firearms even in cars at parking lots in factories as well. So, businesses just need to think of the safety of their employees.

Dave:    Yeah, okay. So far, we’re 0 for 2. I gave you two things, vaping and concealed carry. And I don’t have a response or I don’t have a solution. Yeah. It’s just kinda hanging out there.

Renee:  It is, and that’s what we’re talking about right now. All of the different updates and compliance and different areas that are in the news right now. There are so many gray areas where we’re just waiting for the result or what the next steps are. So many HR professionals are saying, okay, well I think we should be doing this, but we need to wait until we hear further direction. So, a lot of what we’re talking about today is in the process of being further defined, so right now we want to be sure that we’re just bringing up these topics so they’re on the radar.

Dave:    So, maybe still a little bit of education going on within the organizations about what all this stuff means.

Renee:  Correct.

Dave:    Let me hit you with another one. Medical marijuana is legal in the state of Ohio and in many other states.

Renee:  Right.

Dave:    And how are employers to deal with that, now that it’s legal?

Renee:  And that’s a great question. And I actually presented you to group yesterday and that was one of the top questions that we had from the employers of what are we allowed and not allowed to do.

Dave:    You know, I can hear your kids now. Oh boy, my mom’s talking about marijuana.

Renee:  Right. And a lot of companies are wondering, should we update our policy? Should we look at the drug free workplace? How does that impact our safety here? And there are still some gray areas. Again, as you mentioned, it is medically approved. However, there are qualifications that individuals need to go through to be able to utilize that. They have to have a chronic condition that is approved. They also have to have a doctor that is licensed to be able to prescribe it and they have to go to a licensed dispensary as well. So there’s a lot of qualifications that go into that, but there’s still a lot of gray areas as to how that impacts moving forward.

Dave:    Sure.

Renee:  So we’re kind of at the beginning phases of it right now.

Dave:    I’m trying to think of an industry out there where the use of medical marijuana would be acceptable in the workplace delivering financial services. I can’t imagine somebody going out at lunchtime and getting bixlered up and come back in and doing tax returns or you know, banking transaction maybe listening to you know, some Bob Marley. Yeah. It just doesn’t work.

Renee:  It doesn’t. Especially those companies that might have a forklift drivers or people that work on machinery, that’s a concern from a safety standpoint. How can that impact the workforce?

Dave:    There’s three things that I think we just have to continue to di through, fight through, listen, be on the cutting edge.

Renee:  That’s correct.

Dave:    Now, you know, this is maybe a time for break for some, talk about your entrepreneurial activities been going on lately. I understand you’re on the cutting edge of a new service for HR services. Tell me a little bit about what’s going on.

Renee:  Yeah, so we are very excited to launch the HR consulting segment for the firm and our team is focused on providing value-added services to our current clients and also new clients as well to help them with the HR ever changing landscape, from offering assistance to help strategically recruit key individuals into their organizations, providing best practices for hiring. Also helping on the compliance end, which is a very big need right now with the increased awareness of compliance. So looking at helping to compile employee handbooks, reviewing policies and helping to review their personnel files to be sure everything is filed as it should be. We want to be a provider to help these employers, as HR is always changing and we want to come in and be a value to them so they can focus on their key duties that they need to do on a day to day basis.

Dave:    Sure. Again, a lot of this is in response to interviews and discussions with our clients and with our network where, you know, again, the race for talent is so challenging out there that maybe there aren’t enough HR professionals to go around or unaffordable.

Dave:    And consequently, I think probably a lot of our clients where somebody is wearing double duty, maybe their controller is also in charge of HR, which probably not trained in HR, but just kind of adapted to that. So you guys can step in and be a very effective resource that fits within the budget.

Renee:  Yes, definitely. We’re very customized and again, it’s helping the individuals focus on those key duties and if it can be as expansive as two to three different parts of the HR compliance service or it can be one service. And our goal is to work with the clients and help them to determine what is the top priority and work through that and provide solutions.

Dave:    So you could even sit down, let’s say that I give you a buzz or dropped an email saying, hey, I need some help. And you could come in and help educate myself and maybe my team on the issues we talked about earlier, concealed carry, vaping, medical marijuana. You could work with the company to develop policies that fit with that company.

Renee:  Yes, that’s very true. Our team has interaction with the Ohio State SHRM Council and we’re very active and are aware of a lot of the discussions that go on at the State House in reference to regulations. So we can offer very updated opportunities to move forward and be compliant based on what we’re hearing at that higher level as well.

Dave:    Sure. You know, and I’m certainly a novice at this, but there’s state HR issues and federal HR issues in policy. Is there one that trumps the other? How do we navigate that?

Renee:  That’s a great question. So traditionally the federal always trumps the state. And I’m not saying trump for any particular reason, but I’m just saying that-

Dave:    Yes, trump card.

Renee:  That is normally the process.

Dave:    Override. Let’s use override.

Renee:  Let’s use override. So the main piece to understand is the state level can have just as much activity and the federal can have activity a different levels. So they always intertwine. But that’s what’s important is to know what is federal mandated and what is state mandated and how to kind of navigate those waters.

Dave:    The one that’s in front of us now is certainly the marijuana issue, where that’s a state issue, but not recognized at the federal level.

Renee:  Correct.

Dave:    So there’s some conflict there that again, we have to fight and work hard to have that. One one of the benefits to a business owner that has good policies, HR, you have a stable workforce where when you go to sell the business or expand the business, if you have a stable workforce, it just brings more value.

Renee:  Right. Very true.

Dave:    Paid sick leave. Anything going on there? I understand there’s some conversation on paid sick leave issues. I’m going to rapid fire at you so you better be ready.

Renee:  There are so many things, yes. So the paid sick leave is definitely a hot topic that’s in the news as well. Currently, there is a lot of discussion around having employers be required to provide a paid sick leave policy or program. Those companies that already have like paid time off or paid sick leave is not as big of an impact. But those smaller companies or companies that don’t have a large workforce that might be mandated to provide this paid sick leave also are questioning how they would pay for that, if that would be a regulation. And as you mentioned, from a retention standpoint and a talent acquisition standpoint, if one employer offers paid leave and another does not, it can sway that individual’s decision as to what company they might go to.

Renee:  So it’s important and it’s concerning as to how that’s going to impact even the talent shortage now, so that retention is very key. So there’s a lot, again, this is another topic that we’re still waiting to hear the final regulations. But it’s going to be an ongoing thing throughout this year.

Dave:    Sure, thanks. Family and Medical Leave Act. FMLA.

Renee:  FMLA. Yes. Talk about a vague area. That’s definitely one that a lot of HR people-

Dave:    Well, I have questions for you.

Renee:  -that are still trying to figure that out. But basically what we want to ensure is that employers are monitoring and tracking any family medical leave instances or qualifying events. The understanding is a lot of times communication maybe from the employees to HR to management. A lot of times, HR might not know of a qualifying event and it’s concerning from a compliance standpoint, if there was ever an audit.

Renee:  Again, it’s a heightened awareness of being sure that there are family medical leave policies that your managers and supervisors are trained on how to have a discussion if an employee comes to them and says that they need to have leave. So, it’s more along the lines of training in addition to compliance as well.

Dave:    You know, this always comes up, you kind of attach it to maternity leave issues and what are some guidelines on the maternity leave area? I assume this falls under the FMLA.

Renee:  It does. It currently falls under the FMLA. However, the stipulation with family medical leave is it’s unpaid time. So, that is a difference of it can run concurrent if you have a company that possibly offer short term disability but family medical leave is unpaid, and that’s where this paid leave comes in and also looking at even paid maternity leave, so they kind of go hand in hand.

Dave:    Sure. And again, we’re hearing more as as both parents are involved in raising the child that maybe both spouses want to take off time.

Renee:  Yes, yes, parental leave.

Dave:    Parental leave. Thank you.

Renee:  Parental leave, yes. And there are some states that do have that and it continues to grow, as well.

Dave:    Is Ohio one of those states?

Renee:  Ohio is not one of those states at this point.

Dave:    At this point. Crystal ball, you think?

Renee:  Crystal ball, probably not for a while is what I would say, but tend to watch what happens out west and once it kind of starts there, it might move to the east, but yes.

Dave:    Okay. Again, going back to your consulting services that your team offers, that you could work with a business owner to develop a policy that is in line with kind of the company’s culture or the business owner’s ideas?

Renee:  Yes, definitely, especially around any type of policy we always work with the company, keeping in mind their cultural atmosphere as well to ensure that we’re compliant but also aware of the demographics of the workforce, too.

Dave:    Sexual harassment. How are we dealing with that in the marketplace with HR compliance?

Renee:  That’s definitely if you turn on the news or listen to anything, there’s probably not a week that has gone by that we haven’t heard something in reference to an harassment claim or #MeToo. So businesses right now are feeling the result of a more heightened awareness of what’s going on out there. There needs to be standard policies in place. There needs to be training that has done and we can come in to help evaluate what those policies look like, provide the training for those employees and supervisors and ensure that there is a standard reporting policy and procedure that if there ever is an issue, that there’s a process that needs to be followed.

Dave:    You know, obviously a very, very serious issue. But the definition of sexual harassment has seemed to change over the years. And I think you hit on it, is it education, definition?

Renee:  Correct.

Dave:    How do we beat this?

Renee:  And it’s definitely, it’s an awareness factor and that’s a big piece of the change where social media has definitely had an impact in this topic. And will continue to have an impact that if changes are not made, then I’m sure we’ll see even more issues that will come forward with this. But we have seen a huge increase in just the colleagues that I’ve talked to and also clients that are focused on ensuring that they have these in place and that they are doing these trainings. So, there’s more being done than there may be was done three or five years ago, which is a good thing.

Dave:    You know, go behind the scenes a bit. If there is harassment inside and organization and management was made aware of it and they elect to ignore, what impact does that have on the business and the business owner? Again, that’s kind of a legal question, but you know, there’s some HR issues there that maybe you can address.

Renee:  That’s a good question and a very concerning question, too, that something that would be brought forward would not be taken care of. And a company’s reputation is definitely a big concern. As you know, if a company is having an issue with harassment and they’re in the news, it doesn’t necessarily lend a positive image to that company or people wanting to go work there.

Renee:  From an HR standpoint, we’re here to take care of our people and there needs to be a focus on doing what is right and providing resources to be sure that’s done. And if companies choose to ignore it, they can, but more than likely that will come back at some point in some type of lawsuit or something.

Dave:    So again, gives a little more credence to let’s get those HR compliance policies in place and the training.

Renee:  That is correct. Yes.

Dave:    Gender discrimination. Rules and regs and policies. What are you seeing in the marketplace in regard to gender and discrimination?

Renee:  Yes. And that’s again another area that’s continuing to evolve. Discrimination has always been an issue in the employment landscape, but now as we move forward, there’s discussions on what protected classes are and as part of the Civil Rights Amendment, looking at determining what is actually a protected class. So, there are discussions around looking at expanding that to incorporate not only gender but gender identity and different facets of that protected class. So this is a new area and one that we’ll be, I’m sure, hearing more about as we move forward, but it’s definitely another hot issue that has a lot of gray areas, too.

Dave:    You know, hats off to you and your colleagues in the industry. I think that there’s probably more discussions going on in boardrooms and employee meetings regarding these policies than maybe ever before.

Renee:  Definitely. Yes.

Dave:    Maybe now we’re following it, but the kind of the awareness.

Renee:  Sure.

Dave:    Workplace immigration, again hot topic. You’re right. My gosh, all these things.

Renee:  I know.

Dave:    Five years ago, we weren’t talking about this stuff.

Renee:  Right, and these are things we hear almost every day in the news as well. A big part of the immigration piece is the increase that we’re seeing in audits from in reference to the I-9, which is the standard documentation that employees are to provide that states that they are United States citizens and they can legally work in the United States. This is part of our HR consulting service that we offer and going into businesses to help determine that you have number one, your I-9s completed. They’re completed correctly, they’re file correctly, not only for current employees, but also terminated employees. And there’s been a huge increase just in the last year of the amount of I-9 audits that have occurred throughout the United States. So it’s more than tripled since the year before.

Dave:    You’ve got the floor. We’ve covered a few things. Just scratching the surface on a lot. Any big things you want to want to share, kind of takeaways as we wind this podcast down?

Renee:  Yes. I think the biggest piece for anyone that is in HR or has a company that of course is concerned about all these updates is stay current to what you’re hearing. Reach out to resources that can help you. If you have questions in reference to policies or you need policies updated, this is a continual evolution of a lot of these regulations and as we’ve mentioned now, they’re not going to be solved all within the next six months to a year. And I’m sure if and when we do have more guidance on these, there’ll be other things that will be coming up.

Renee:  So, stay aware. Be sure that you are reaching out. That’s the biggest piece that I can say. Just stay aware and be as compliant as you can with what you need to do.

Dave:    Great. You know, the issues we discussed. They aren’t just issues. These aren’t issues just for large, Fortune 500 companies. They trickled down to companies with one to 10 employees. This is a big issue as far as HR compliance, and again, this is where I think the service that you described in the beginning, your entrepreneurial spirit bringing forth some services for our clients that maybe don’t have full time HR staff, they can get in touch with you. You’re in our new Philadelphia office. Our listeners can catch with you by calling any of our a 12 Rea offices, jumping on our website. Drop the podcast and note and we’ll put you in touch.

Renee:  Definitely.

Dave:    And you can come out and again, I think you’re a lot of fun, even off stage. You’ve been known to sing Bon Jovi on this show. Probably about a year ago.

Renee:  Yeah, I don’t think I sang.

Dave:    You hummed.

Renee:  I think I was getting ready to.

Dave:    You were humming.

Renee:  Yes.

Dave:    We put a stop to it right away.

Renee:  Yeah, I know.

Dave:    Wouldn’t want to embarrass your kids.

Renee:  Yeah, that’s true.

Dave:    Our guest today has been Renee West, HR manager with Rea & Associates. Thanks again for joining us, Renee. We didn’t even touch about the fair labor standards, minimum wage compensation, equality. There’s a lot more we can do.

Renee:  There’s a lot.

Dave:    Even with employee screening, et cetera. You’re going to have to come back and visit with us in the near future.

Renee:  Sure can.

Dave:    The world’s certainly changing, but with the help of HR professionals like Renee, employers can confront whatever obstacles that lie ahead. Listeners, if you like this week’s episode of unsuitable on Rea Radio, please like it and share it with your friends and colleagues.

Dave:    And don’t forget to check out the video of this and past episodes of the podcast on the Rea & Associates YouTube page. Until next time, I’m Dave Cain, encouraging you to loosen up your tie and think outside the box.

Disclaimer:  The views expressed on unsuitable on Rea Radio are our own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rea & Associates. The podcast is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the professional advice he would receive elsewhere. Consult with a trusted advisor about your unique situation, so they can expertly guide you to the best solution for your specific circumstance.