The Catalyst for Payment Reform recently held a virtual forum on “How Employers are Demanding Better Mental Health Care” on May 1.
As May is Mental Health AwarenessMonth, I found a lot of this information to be very valuable, especially the speakers who spoke about the access problem and the quality problem. I enjoyed these examples as basically mini case studies to show you what some employers have been doing in this space.
Matt Phillips, director of benefits at AT&T, spoke about how we can remove barriers to access. He defined access with a couple measures: time and location. So, an employee’s ability to find an in-network vs. out-of-network mental health care provider is significant, but so is their ability to get an appointment in a timely manner.
Phillips outlined AT&T’s challenge, which was that it had 600,000 people covered in its group plan, and these people were geographically dispersed. In many cases, there was a lack of in-network providers for rural employees. And even for even for employees who had access to those providers, they often found that either the wait was too long or that provider was not accepting new patients. Having to wait several weeks to get the necessary care just wasn’t acceptable, Phillips said.
AT&T’s solution to this was to partner with a carrier to create a preferred provider network and work toward two major goals related to the two problem areas explained above. One of their goals is to set a high bar for speed of care, and to ensure that 80 percent of the in-network providers are accepting new patients and that employees don’t have to wait more than 10 days for that first appointment.
I don’t know the results of this (I believe this strategy is still in progress), but what struck to me about this AT&T example is how ambitious and strategic they were. Yes, making such large changes in a health care plan that impacts so many people must be a daunting task, but ultimately, it’s respectable when a company is willing to make a major change and strive for something more effective.
Michelle Harika, chief clinical officer at Equity Healthcare, spoke about how to measure and improve quality. What fascinated me is that it just seems like such a gargantuan task to measure the quality of so many health care organizations. Is there a consistent way to do these measurements so that all these organizations are measured on the same scale? How does a company get honest feedback on a topic that can be sensitive like mental health? Harika shed some light on it.
Many factors contribute to the quality problem, she said. Clinical quality measurement in the mental health space is still new. There’s inconsistency in how health care organizations screen for depression and how they use their clinical data. Also, employees/health plan members can’t access a provider’s quality when they’re trying to pick a provider to see, and that may lead to them having an unfortunate experience with a provider that they could have avoided.
Some of the examples she gave of negative employee experiences, via confidential feedback, were baffling: a provider wearing PJs and slippers while they’re seeing a patient; a provider seeing a patient in a non-private room of their home … . Not exactly something you’d want to encounter when you’re trying to get help.
There are several practical solutions employers can use to address their own quality issues, Harika said. First, employers should ask vendors exactly how they already do evaluate quality measures and should push them to hit evidence-based standards if necessary. Also, ask vendors what they are doing with those measurements. Are they removing low-quality providers? Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
It’s also important to provide health plan members — employees — a confidential way to report their experience at a mental health provider.
Harika recommended that we need to continue to push for standardization, both in how medical professionals screen for mental illnesses like anxiety or depression and in how we measure the quality of a provider. Looks like we’re not there yet, but this will definitely be a trend on my radar now.
I found these speakers to be practical and informational, and I hope you did as well! Feel free to share below if your organization is doing something innovative, unique or successful to address quality or access problems in your organization.
The Civil Rights Act, which protects employees against discrimination both in and out of the workplace, was passed in 1964. More than 50 years later, sexual harassment and discrimination are still prevalent, and employees are demanding change.
The past year brought to light numerous new allegations of behaviors many people thought were long gone. While there seems to be an epidemic of sexual harassment in certain industries, no industry is immune. Employees have lost patience and are demanding change through the #MeToo movement. Human resources departments are stepping up to join the conversation and take advantage of the dialog to positively impact organizations and eliminate sexual harassment and discrimination. Harassment and discrimination boil down to respect. Whether an employee is protected by federal or state law, companies with a culture of respect are going to be more successful in their efforts to eradicate harassment.
While companies may already have policies in place, employers can no longer assume that employees are exclusively treating each other in this way. Leadership and HR must take an active role in ensuring that respect is part of the daily culture and not solely rely on policies that merely fulfill compliance requirements.
Employers must think strategically about a focused plan surrounding diversity, inclusion and equality in the workplace. This plan should include effective training, empowerment and leadership.
In 2016, a report published by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace found that sexual harassment training hasn’t helped to decrease harassment in the workplace. HR is left questioning, “Is it the training that has failed? Or is it the culture around the training?” If training is merely thought of as checking the box, then the EEOC’s findings aren’t surprising. But if employees are internalizing what they’re learning and it’s affecting the culture, then it can have a positive impact. To be effective, it takes more than implementation. Employees need to be held accountable for their actions beyond attendance of these seminars. Training can be the first step to institute culture change, but it has to be done right and be current with the times and the laws.
A successful training program should cover the key components of the harassment policy as outlined by the EEOC and any additional state-mandated guidelines. Managers should be equipped with additional resources on handling complaints, escalating complaints to the appropriate person within the organization and conducting investigations. Due to the importance and sensitivity of the training, it’s recommended that it be done in smaller groups and face-to-face, rather than through videos or webinars where employees could more easily tune out what is being said.
While training is the first step to educate employees about harassment and discrimination, as history has taught us, training alone isn’t enough. It’s critical that training and HR programs not only outline what to do when faced with harassment, but employees and managers are empowered to act as well. It’s become increasingly evident in the last year that employees don’t always feel comfortable speaking up. The common theme coming out of the #MeToo conversation has been that employees felt they didn’t have options and harassment was necessary to get ahead in their careers. Fear of retaliation was and is real, resulting in many employees not coming forward until the empowerment of #MeToo. Children are taught at a young age not to be bystanders and to stick up for others. Empowering employees in the same way is the key to changing the workplace culture to one of respect.
Lead By Example
Empowerment will only happen if the leadership of an organization embodies its core values and sets an example. Lip service to harassment policies isn’t enough. Employees need to see leadership and HR take action. A powerful employee can no longer be able to get away with it simply because of their stature in an organization. No employee, including top performers, are above the law and to truly create a workplace of respect, leadership needs to take action
The #MeToo conversation has sparked a shift in how we view harassment in the workplace. Employees are not willing to sit by and tolerate harassment. Awareness of harassment and the laws aren’t enough. Action has replaced reaction and HR is at the forefront of implementing this change. In the past, action around harassment and discrimination may have taken a backseat to other seemingly more “pressing” HR needs, and now these issues are taking a more front and center role through education, knowledge, empowerment and leadership.
Rebecca Blake is the managing director and Nancy Saperstone is the senior HR business partner and communications specialist at employee benefits company OneDigital. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you did not watch the May 20 edition of 60 Minutes, you should.
The last segment detailed pervasive and rampant sexual harassment by famed chef and TV personality Mario Batali.
And it laid much of the blame at the feet of the CEO of one of the restaurants in which Batali invested, The Spotted Pig, and its owners, Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield. The segment argues that Friedman and Bloomfield turned a blind eye to years of Batali’s sexual harassment of the female employees of their restaurant and knowingly allowed it to continue.
Workplace culture has the greatest impact on allowing harassment to flourish, or conversely, in preventing harassment.… Organizational cultures that tolerate harassment have more of it, and workplaces that are not tolerant of harassment have less of it.… If leadership values a workplace free of harassment, then it will ensure that harassing behavior against employees is prohibited as a matter of policy; that swift, effective, and proportionate responses are taken when harassment occurs; and that everyone in the workplace feels safe in reporting harassing behavior. Conversely, leaders who do not model respectful behavior, who are tolerant of demeaning conduct or remarks by others, or who fail to support anti-harassment policies with necessary resources, may foster a culture conducive to harassment.
If you believe the 60 Minutes report (I have no reason not to), none of this occurred at The Spotted Pig.
If you want ensure you are doing everything you can as an organization, start by taking a hard look at yourself and your leadership and answering these key questions:
Do you foster an organizational culture in which harassment is not tolerated, and in which respect and civility are promoted?
Does you behavior communicate and model a consistent anti-harassment commitment?
Have you devoted sufficient resources to effective harassment prevention efforts?
Have you nurtured an environment in which employees are comfortable coming forward with complaints of harassment that will be taken seriously, investigated, and corrected, all free from retaliation?
Do you impose swift, proportional, and consistent discipline (without playing favorites or showing favoritism) when you have found harassment to have occurred?
Do you hold managers and supervisors accountable for preventing and responding to workplace harassment?
Unless you’ve answered “yes” to each of these six questions, then I suggest that you are not doing everything you can to create a top-down, holistic, anti-harassment strategy. Which means that you are not doing everything you can to protect your most valuable asset … your employees.
Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. Comment below or email email@example.com. Follow Hyman’s blog at Workforce.com/PracticalEmployer.
The American Institute of Stress reports that stress is the nation’s top health problem. This makes sense, as mental capacity is highly valued in the workplace but can also be highly vulnerable. Today’s workplace, with technology, fast-paced growth and decreased resources, can contribute to increased stress.
Companies should value the mental health of their employees as a top asset and fiercely protect it. Mental well-being impacts engagement, presenteeism, absenteeism and productivity — all of which impact businesses bottom lines. More importantly, supporting and protecting the mental health of your employees is the right thing to do.
Here are five best practices to support mental health in the workplace.
Normalize the conversation.
Top-down support of mental health is crucial in creating an open dialogue, as is an open-door policy. Senior leaders should participate in the conversation about mental wellbeing to show buy in. Normalizing the occurrence of a grief reaction or stress disorder can insure that your employees seek help when it happens to them.
Establishing mental health champions within your organization is another way to encourage a healthy dialogue. People with mental health conditions who want to help others are great candidates for this role.
Use awareness days that focus on stress and mental health as external nudges to educate staff about these important issues. Importantly, remind staff that a diversity of perspectives, including those with lived mental health experiences, are valued and encouraged in inclusive environments.
Implement strong policies and procedures.
Disclosure can help an employee seek the appropriate resources and care before conditions worsen, so having proper policies and procedures in place are important in removing barriers to disclose.
This includes protection against discrimination, which is usually a top concern for employees, as well as providing appropriate workplace accommodations. Ensure managers are aware of key resources, like employee assistance programs, and maintain confidentiality when an employee discloses information.
Beyond this, educate employees on policies, procedures and proper protocols to increase employee awareness. Here’s a tip: Repeat key messages and tailor your communications to better reach your staff.
Prevention is better than cure.
It’s essential to remember that anyone is susceptible to stress and a resulting decline in their mental health, whether a preexisting condition exists or not. Big life events like having a baby or losing a loved one and every day struggles like money worries, relationship issues or work-related stress can cause or aggravate mental health conditions to the point of interfering with work.
Mental wellness sessions or work/life balance programs can help. Bring in an expert and talk to your staff about how to safeguard their own mental health, build resilience and recognize signs of distress in others.
Tailor your benefits package to support mental wellbeing.
Choose a major medical plan that gives employees access to quality mental health specialists in network, as these costs can add up significantly. Helping employees have access to and triage the right specialist support is crucial in managing conditions.
EAPs can act as a first line of defense for a wide range of problems – from money and relationship worries to support for working caregivers. They provide both practical and emotional support for employees through confidential counseling and can help prevent issues from escalating and impacting productivity. These programs are often offered as part of a major medical or disability plan, so your company may already have access to them.
Money worries can also take an emotional toll on wellbeing. In fact, financial concerns were the leading cause of stress across all generations in a recent consumer study conducted by my company, Unum.
Help your employees establish a strong financial foundation by offering financially-focused benefits, like life and disability insurance, retirement savings options and supplemental health benefits that can close the rising financial gap in medical plans.
If your budget doesn’t cover these benefits, consider offering them on a voluntary basis. Access to financial protection benefits are more affordable when offered through the workplace, even if the employee picks up the cost.
Flexible hours or remote working options can also help employees schedule their work days when they’re feeling most productive. This can help reduce presenteeism for mental ill-health, and it also signals to employees that you’re supportive of a healthy work/life balance.
Self-care plays a critical role in overall wellbeing. Encourage employees to do small tasks that’ll help them build resilience over time.
The basics like getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy, drinking water, and exercising are foundational in overall wellbeing.
Beyond these staples, developing appropriate time management and work/life balance skills are also important. Delegating and collaborating are also key to ensure healthy work behaviors which also decrease stress.
While technology and our always-on culture make it hard to disconnect, encourage employees to set device off-times so they can fully recharge before the next day. And most important, model this behavior to your staff and limit after hours work and emails.
Having a holistic mental well-being strategy that includes prevention, intervention and protection is essential for unlocking a workforce’s true potential.
Michelle Jackson is assistant vice president for workforce solutions at employee benefits provider Unum. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before having a baby, I always admired working moms because I knew balancing work and home life would be “challenging.” However, it wasn’t until I returned to work after my own maternity leave that I truly came to understand the plight of the working parent first hand, and to call it “a challenge” is an understatement.
To explain the experience to someone who hasn’t gone through this, I liken it to a constant state of sleep deprivation, confusion and a nagging sense of worry all in one: like the feeling you get when you’ve walked into a room to do something and forgetting why you’re there, or when you’re about to make an important point in an argument and totally forget what you were about to say. It’s overwhelming and frustrating for even the most organized new parent!
Working moms and dads alike are shell-shocked upon their return because they are handling their regular workload along with long nights, childcare woes, stricter budgets, runny noses and a newfound sense of guilt if they aren’t able to spend as much time with their little one as they once did while on leave. Moms especially feel the physical burden of squeezing pumping sessions into their already packed day, or fitting into work clothes that they once wore before they were pregnant.
Given all this drama, how can organizations make parents’ transition back to work less scary, while also ensuring retention and continued productivity?
Keep in Touch: Make the return easier by keeping in touch throughout the course of the leave. Text, call or email the employee while they are out to set expectations about the date that they will be back, ensure that their benefit premiums are somehow collected along the way, and have a good method of requesting an extension should the employee need one. That said, keep in mind that badgering them or asking them to correspond too frequently can be bothersome and may turn into something negative.
Toe in the Water: Ease the new parent into coming back to work by allowing them to come back on a part-time basis before their full-time return. This way they aren’t faced with a million calls, questions and emails all at once. It makes the experience a lot less intimidating if the employee can take it at a slower pace, and then they can hit the ground running when they are fully back in the saddle. However, make sure that the employee is paid for any work performed while they are operating in part-time capacity to avoid possible wage and hour issues.
New Parent Accommodations: The company needs to be equipped with accommodations that are legally required — like a place to express breast milk — and those that are “nice to have” such as flex time, on-site daycare, dependent care benefits or work from home arrangements. These aspects of a career are super important to new moms and dads, and they make it tough to leave if another job opportunity arises elsewhere. In fact, these benefits are more highly valued than annual salary for many parents.
These strategies help new parents recognize that although this process is definitely challenging, it can be quite gratifying, too! There is a lot of mental toughness required, but many employees say they are better parents if they can have a rewarding work life separate from their home life. Smart companies recognize that retaining these experienced, multi-tasking workers is a competitive advantage, and showcasing just a little bit of empathy and compassion for them both as parents and professionals will yield a happy and loyal workforce.
Gretchen Van Vlymen, a 2016 Workforce Game Changer, is the head of HR at StratEx. She was also pregnant recently, so maternity leave policies are high priority for her. Comment below or email email@example.com.
Now, let’s take a look at what happens when Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, audits your I-9 compliance.
I-9 audits are not pop quizzes. While ICE may just show up at your door, they always need to provide some advance notice of an audit (unless they have a search warrant or subpoena). Thus, the inspection process starts with the service of a Notice of Inspection (NOI) upon an employer compelling the production of its I-9s. By law, an employer must have at least three business days to comply and produce its I-9s.
What’s the first thing you should do upon receiving an NOI? Call your attorney.
If possible, arrange to have the I-9 inspection take place at the ICE office. This way, you keep ICE agents out of your business. If ICE insists on the inspection occurring at your business, it’s best to segregate them in a conference room to (hopefully) limit any interactions with your employees.
Regardless of where the inspection takes place, the three-day rule provides you valuable time to prepare. What should you be doing during those three business days?
Separating I-9s from their personnel files.
Reviewing all I-9s for complete compliance.
Fixing any errors you find, including amending incorrect or incomplete forms, and completing missing forms.
Re-verify any employees whose temporary work authorization expired.
One special note regarding correcting errors or omissions found on an I-9. Never back-date any documents. Instead, the Department of Justice suggests how to properly, and legally, fix an I-9:
Draw a line through the incorrect information;
Enter the correct or omitted information; and
Initial and date the correction or omitted information.
If ICE has a search warrant or subpoena, this is whole different ball game. You do not get the benefit of the three-day notice period, and you cannot refuse to grant access or otherwise resist. Instead, you must grant access.
You should also immediately call your attorney, and monitor ICE’s activities as best as you can.
The warrant or subpoena dictates the scope of ICE’s access. If it’s just for your I-9s, then ICE does not have the right to see or remove any other documents, and does not have the right to interview any of your employees.
Politely limit them to the scope of their lawful search. If they want or need more, they’ll return with another warrant or subpoena, and you’ll be prepared.
If, however, the warrant is for broadly written for business records, ICE will grab every document they can find, including computers and hard-drives. It can also compel employee interviews, and even the seizure of employees, if ICE has probably cause to believe they are in the country illegally.
Bottom line? I-9s are serious business, and are not be ignored or trifled with.
Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Hyman’s blog at Workforce.com/PracticalEmployer.
American workers are stressed, and for a lot of reasons.
The American Psychological Association’s 2017 “State of the Nation” report found that health care, financial concerns and trust in the government top the list of stress-inducing issues. It also found respondents are more likely to report symptoms of stress, which include anxiety, anger and fatigue, than they have in the past.
This is not good news for employers, said LuAnn Heinen, lead expert on employee assistance programs for the National Business Group on Health, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization focused on national health-policy issues.
“Stress and anxiety are huge issues in the workplace and it is spreading globally,” she said. Stress can have a huge impact on productivity and performance, and drive up absenteeism and turnover, all of which affects the bottom line — which is why EAP programs are so important.
EAPs were originally designed to address employee drug and alcohol abuse problems, but they have expanded over the years to cover many aspects of mental health, including anxiety, depression, sleep disorders and stress, Heinen said. These programs can have a positive impact, but only if employees feel confident taking advantage of them.
Despite more open dialog about the importance of mental health, many employees can be embarrassed to take advantage of these services. “It’s important to destigmatize their use and to communicate that anyone can benefit from an EAP,” Heinen said. “For a lot of people, just a few conversations can be enough.”
Companies can foster a more open attitude around mental health by training managers to identify signs of stress or other issues, and by supporting peer advocacy and employee groups to support use of mental health programs, said Barb Veder, vice president of clinical services and research lead for Morneau Shepell, an HR services and technology company headquartered in Toronto. She also encourages benefits managers to think about the barriers of use for EAPs, and to work with their vendors to ensure they are offering a variety of platforms, education materials and communication strategies to encourage its use. For example, offering multiple digital services including apps, telecounselling and remote support tools provides greater flexibility in how these services are accessed and can reduce some of the anxiety around being found out, she said.
These varying EAP platforms also address the way different generations want to take advantage of support services. “Millennials are all about ease of access,” Veder said. They want multiple ways to access information, including videos, online content and self-paced solutions that don’t require any human intervention, whereas older workers may still prefer to talk to someone on the phone or face-to-face. “You need to design programs that adapt to these needs, and offer many ways to access information,” she said.
Millennials’ digital upbringing also impacts the kinds of EAP services they may use. This generation tends to feel more lonely and isolated, compared to prior generations, in part because they spend so much time online. A 2017 study found that young adults who use a lot of social media feel more socially isolated than their peers. Millennials also report higher stress levels than other generations according to the APA report. Providing services that address these issues and target younger workers may make the service offerings more relevant. “It’s important to be mindful of these dynamics, and to create programs that address these issues,” Veder said.
Heinen agreed. “When you create an employee centric program that provides access to services based on learning style and lifestyle preferences, the likelihood that employees will use the program is higher.”
Sarah Fister Gale is a writer in Chicago. Comment below or email email@example.com.
These past several weeks have brought a whirlwind of travel, conferences and webinars, and, boy, my brain is full of too many ideas!
I’d love to share some event-season takeaways and practitioner questions with you before conference season gets even more hectic:
First, the Midwest Business Group on Health held its 38th annual conference at the Mid-America Club in Chicago on May 2 and 3. The theme this year was disruption and innovation in employer-sponsored health care, and I was very impressed with a couple speakers: Dr. Jan Berger, CEO of Health Intelligence Partners and medical director at MBGH, and Mark Fendrick from the University of Michigan Center for Value-Based Insurance Design.
I especially enjoyed Berger’s comments on transparency. She brought something up that — although straightforward and maybe obvious — I find critical to this discussion. There needs to be more consistency in the definition of transparency, she said, and if your company is relying on a nebulous definition for transparency, then that will lead to unclear answers when you’re searching for a solution.
Transparency is such a trendy word in health care right now (and for good reason). Let this be a reminder that when you’re thinking about how to improve transparency in your organization, think about what that actually means.
Berger also touched on transparency tools.
“We are asking people to do unrealistic things,” she said. For example, when someone is having a medical emergency, their first reaction is not going to be, “Hmm, let me sit on my phone and compare prices on my transparency tool.” They’re going to want to get help immediately at the closest place available.
Let’s be clear about the meaning of consumerism in health care, Berger said. My interpretation was that, yes, employees can have more responsibility in their health care, but that doesn’t mean that they can be the logical consumer that employers sometimes seem to expect them to be. Extenuating circumstances might make rational, comparative decisions take the backseat to gut instincts.
This also reminded me of a great op-ed in the New York Times from open enrollment season last year, “‘Choosing a Health Insurance Plan Is Not Shopping.’” It reads like an entertaining, relatable rant but has a lot of logical takeaways as well. “Health care is much more than a mere consumer item, even if we do spend money to get it. It’s fundamental to our lives,” the piece points out.
My food-for-thought for employers: How have you gained employees’ trust in health care? What are your preferred definitions of transparency? And what do you think is the right amount of responsibility or expectations to put on employees for health care decisions?
Mark Fendrick spoke about low-value care and unnecessary care. He started his lecture by saying that when he attends health care meetings, few people talk about health. Most people talk about money. This theme came up a few other times — the difference between health and health care. People sometimes act like they are the same thing. They’re not.
Yes, money and costs and prices are all important in health care, but so is value, Fendrick said. We need to change the discussion about health care from how much we’re spending to how we spend it. He spoke about high-value items that many people can’t afford (not being able to afford to manage their chronic conditions or pay for their medications) versus low-value services that could be cut to improve how people are spending in the health-care system.
These low value services included vitamin D screening, unnecessary MRIs or diagnostic tests, prostate cancer screening for men 75 or older and branded drugs when generic drugs are available, among other suggestions.
He also offered the caveat that no medical service is always low-value or high-value. A couple of noteworthy services that are commonly overused or low-value are colonoscopies and back surgery. But in other scenarios, those are very high-value.
So, how do you decide what is low or high value in your organization?
Finally, all this innovation talk got me thinking about what’s going on in health care. Specifically, one speaker at this conference made a comment about the speed of health care innovation. This caught my attention, especially because an article called “Ethical Dilemmas in Personalized Medicine” has been on my mind.
Without going into too much detail, the article in the February edition of online magazine in-Training analyzes the advantages and ethical concerns of using the personalized, one-size-fits-all medicine that is more widely available today than ever before. It also asks two questions, which I find important but not commonly asked about this topic: “How can we justify the use of personalized medicine, a costly effort with heavy time and resource demands, when millions of American citizens still lack adequate health care coverage? How can we proceed to fine-tune individual treatment plans when millions around the world still lack access to medical basics like vaccines and antibiotics?”
This is more pointed toward health care organizations than benefits directors, but I’d still like to bring it up because that’s where the technical advances are coming from that’s allowing employers to explore new health care options and technologies.
Thanks for reading, and let me know if you have any comments or suggestions on the ideas I mentioned above!
Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced that it has doubled the number of worksite investigations and audits conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Its express goal is to make sure businesses are not employing people who are in the U.S. illegally.
What is such an audit? Simply, it’s a review of business records, specifically I-9s.
In light of this news, over the next two posts I’ll be taking a deeper look at employers’ obligations to comply with immigration laws. Today, we’ll examine the I-9 itself, and tomorrow we’ll discuss what to do (and, maybe more importantly, what not do) if ICE or another agency shows up at your door asking about I-9s.
What do you need to know about the I-9 Form? Here are seven important things that should be front of mind:
I-9s are low-hanging fruit for any employer. The government makes the form available online, complete with instructions to how to fill it out.
You must complete an I-9 at the beginning of employment for every employee you hire (except for employees hired on or before Nov. 6, 1986, who are continuing in their employment and have a reasonable expectation of employment at all times). It does not apply to independent contractors (but be wary of who is, and is not, a bona fide independent contractor).
An employer’s I-9 obligations do not depend on the citizenship of the employee. All employees means all employees, regardless of citizenship or nationality.
All employees also means all employees regardless of tenure or length of service. The obligation to retain an I-9 for each person hired applies from the date of hire, even if the employment ends shortly thereafter or if the hired employee never completes work for pay.
Employers must retain I-9s for the later of three years from the date of hire, or one year from the date of termination. You can choose to retain them on paper, microform (really), or electronically.
You may choose to copy or scan documents an employee presents when completing an I-9. Making photocopies of an employee’s document(s), however, does not take the place of completing or retaining the I-9 itself. If you choose to retain copies of an employee’s documents, to avoid a Title VII violation you must do so for all employees regardless of actual or perceived national origin or citizenship status.
The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor, and the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section of the Department of Justice are all authorized to inspect an employer’s I-9 forms.
A high-tech company rolled out several new family benefits last year and wants its people to take advantage of them.
A university created new medical plans and successfully moved employees and their families into those plans during enrollment; now it needs those families to use the plans.
A professional services leader — traditionally quiet about the rich benefits it offers — has realized this is “just not the way things work anymore.”
I spent the first part of this year meeting with our clients — large, talent-focused organizations that make a big deal about their employee benefits. Regardless of the size and type of company, they all have one goal in common: engagement. And many of them aren’t just thinking about this in the United States, but globally, too.
Engagement is a shared goal by many benefits and HR leaders. Those leaders frequently talk about two types of engagement, often interchangeably. There’s what I like to call “Big E” engagement — or employee engagement. The definition I like best for this is one I learned when I started my career: say/stay/strive. Do employees say good things about the company? Do they want to stay? And, are they motivated to go above and beyond their job requirements?
But what’s top of mind for benefits leaders is a different form of engagement, a connection with the benefits programs themselves. Are people actually using the programs available to them? You can measure this type of engagement by looking at program enrollment, participation and plan balances. When people are engaged with their benefits, they appreciate them more.
And that helps build “Big E” engagement with their company. This form of engagement helps connect benefits to the employee value proposition. They become tangible and emotive reasons people feel cared about and connected to their organization.
My entire career has been focused on driving engagement with benefits. For too long, I’ve heard things like, “We don’t know how to engage employees,” or “Nothing we do will make a difference.” Or even worse, “No one has cracked the code on employee engagement.”
These statements couldn’t be further from the truth. Just as we know how to build best practices for designing HR programs, we’ve also developed best practices for driving engagement with benefits. During the past couple of years, in particular, I’ve worked with my team to codify the way to get employees to engage with benefits. We have documented them as our “10 Keys to Employee Engagement,” and they’re based on more than 11 years of research and client work.
The 10 steps go from foundational elements to how you manage resources. We recommend that every organization start with a strong foundation. You must have a strategy that includes clear goals, a recognizable and emotive brand, and a single destination for information and action — most often, a website that is built outside the firewall.
Then, you must take a marketing approach to communicating about benefits. That means using employee feedback, prioritizing simplicity in messaging, using a multichannel and year-round approach, targeting messages whenever possible and ensuring everything connects in the overall employee experience.
Finally, you need the right resources to support this effort. That means having both the budget to cover your year-round approach and the right partners (internal and external) to get it all done.
We have documented these steps fully in our new e-book series, which you can find on our website at benzcommunications.com.
Any organization that fully embraces these 10 steps will see results with their benefits.
I’ve been delighted to hear from our clients about the results of their efforts — the accolades they are receiving externally and the praise they are receiving internally. But what’s especially gratifying is the satisfaction they get from knowing employees are taking advantage of the programs designed to improve their health, wealth, and happiness.
As more companies share their successes, engagement will no longer be a mysterious or intangible goal, but something we diligently plan for, build and measure.
Jennifer Benz is CEO and Founder of Benz Communications, a San Francisco-based employee benefits communications agency. She was honored as one of Workforce’s Game Changers in 2013. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @jenbenz.