By Andrea LaPlant, PHR, SHRM-CP, HR Services Manager at Trüpp

Effective Human Resources management is vital to the success of an organization. As employers assess business continuity during the ongoing pandemic and plan for what their business will look like moving forward, it is a critical time to evaluate HR fundamentals and rethink your HR strategy. As a first step, it is helpful to get a pulse on your current HR function to determine where there may be gaps and room for improvement. Here is an overview of the six HR fundamentals your organization should be addressing.

1. Postings and Recordkeeping Requirements

HR is responsible for several posting and recordkeeping requirements under federal and state law. This includes:

  • Posting required federal, state, and local employment law posters in conspicuous locations easily viewable by employees. These notices are regularly updated, and new posters must be posted promptly.
  • Maintain separate personnel and medical files and retain records for the applicable time period according to employment laws and best practices.
  • Allow employees to access their personnel files based on state law requirements. Many state laws require employers to allow current and former employees access to the contents of their personnel files. HR needs to understand the requirements of the laws in the state(s) where your organization’s employees work and define internally the level of access permitted in states where there are no regulatory requirements.

2. Recruiting Support and Employee Onboarding

Your HR department should be providing recruiting support and be responsible for the onboarding of new hires. Some of these responsibilities include:

  • Implementing an equal opportunity statement with reasonable accommodation instructions on all job postings.
  • Providing hiring managers with interview questions and interview best practices.
  • Utilizing a job offer template that includes key terms of employment for selected candidates.
  • Conducting pre-employment background investigations, where necessary, following a candidate’s acceptance of a contingent job offer. Pre-employment background checks can protect against negligent hiring lawsuits for some positions. HR professionals should conduct investigations in accordance with state and federal laws. It is important to be aware of any applicable “Ban the Box” laws or regulations that limit the use of arrest or conviction records.
  • Requiring new hires to provide authorization to work in the United States within the first three days of employment to meet Form I-9 requirements.

3. Wage and Hour Compliance

HR departments should have a thorough understanding of wage and hour laws to ensure compliance for your organization. In practice, this means:

  • Creating up-to-date job descriptions for all positions with qualifications and essential functions of the positions.
  • Ensuring employees are not improperly classified as exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
  • Evaluating the DOL’s wage and hour requirements for properly classifying unpaid interns.
  • Correctly compensating employees based on state and local pay equity, sick time, overtime, and minimum wage requirements and FLSA wage, salary, and overtime provisions.
  • Providing non-exempt employees meal and rest periods according to federal and state requirements.

4. Employee Handbooks and Company Policies

The HR department is responsible for maintaining the employee handbook, which serves as an important communication tool between an employer and its employees. The handbook also serves as a valuable resource for an employer to set workplace standards that guide employee behavior and performance expectations. A well-written, compliant handbook may also prevent and/or serve as a defense against employee lawsuits, but only if the handbook accurately reflects the employer’s current policies, practices, and procedures. HR is responsible for:

  • Having the employee handbook reviewed on an annual basis for compliance with state and federal employment laws.
  • Requiring that new hires and employees sign an acknowledgment of receipt and understanding of the employee handbook and subsequent updates.
  • Including essential elements of employee handbooks that are mandated by statutes, regulations, or court decisions, and apply to employees based on their state of residence. These essential elements include, but are not limited to:
    • Employment at-will language
    • Monitoring and use of electronic communications
    • Workplace harassment policies
    • Employee privacy
    • Complaint procedure
    • Drugs and alcohol policies
    • Reasonable accommodations
    • Deductions from salary safe harbor language

5. Employee Relations and Performance Management

HR is responsible for overseeing employee relations and performance management at your company. This includes:

  • Ensuring that there is a successful performance management approach in place. This should include informal, day-to-day management of individuals and teams as well as a formal framework for performance assessment and improvement.
  • Developing clear and comprehensive disciplinary procedures to ensure that employees understand what is expected of them in their employment. HR should deal with misconduct promptly and document all disciplinary proceedings. In the event of a claim against your organization for unlawful termination, the employer and HR must be able to show that the misconduct in question was sufficient to justify the penalty of dismissal.
  • Conducting exit interviews with employees who voluntarily resign from the company. Employees poised to leave the organization may provide candid, constructive insight into employment practices, supervisor management effectiveness, and even waste of important resources or time.
  • Requiring new hires to complete harassment prevention training and continue to participate in the training on an annual basis. Employers can help to establish an affirmative defense should a claim arise if they provide regular harassment training. Certain states have specific requirements for anti-harassment training, such as who can provide the training, the length of the program, and the content that must be covered. HR should ensure that the training provided meets these requirements.
  • Providing separate harassment training for supervisors that includes their legal responsibilities for recognizing inappropriate behavior and reporting complaints. Employers are subject to vicarious liability if the harassment is committed by a supervisor or manager, as they are considered an “agent” of the company. Certain states have specific requirements for supervisor anti-harassment training, such as who can provide the training, the length of the program, and the content that must be covered. HR should ensure that the training provided meets these requirements.
  • Properly investigating complaints in a timely manner. The HR professional investigating the complaint should have prior training, knowledge, and experience in conducting workplace investigations and be impartial to the parties and the outcome.

6. Payroll and Benefits Compliance

Due to the regulatory environment surrounding these functions, payroll and benefits compliance is an essential function of the HR department. Responsibilities include:

  • Ensuring state wage payments laws are followed according to pay frequency and lag time requirements.
  • Obtaining written authorization from an employee to deposit wages into their checking or savings account.
  • Providing required notification of COBRA rights under federal law. It is also essential to consider state “mini-COBRA” laws that provide additional provisions.
  • Filing annual required Affordable Care Act reporting with the IRS.
  • Reporting Medicare Part D disclosure to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on an annual basis.
  • Paying employees final paychecks in the time and manner prescribed under state and federal laws.
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