18 September 2012

Employment Eligibility Compliance: The Big Uneasy

As a new HR person one of the first things I learned was the importance of the I-9 "Employment Eligibility Verification Form."  I started my career working for a small private school that offered me the position of HR manager after a couple of years of working as an Executive Secretary to the Dean.  A natural choice as I was already doing some of the tasks that HR would do (mainly staffing type functions) in addition to my other duties.
The Conjurer, Heironymous Bosch (circa 1450-1516)

The school had grown in three years from about 35 employees to about 100 employees.  Someone on the Board of Directors at the school knew it was time to have a dedicated HR person.  I received excellent training from Fairfield University - they had a comprehensive HR Management Certificate Program at the time that met for a full year two times a week.

On the surface, the I-9 form looks pretty easy to complete. Yet it has been estimated that roughly two-thirds of these forms at both corporations large and small have errors.  And ones that are not easily corrected.

I prepared a presentation which is available online for an area law firm recently to explain how to ensure your I-9 form is completed appropriately and which also provides information on the E-Verify system.

A few points to mention from this on correcting errors:
  • Do not use white-out.  If a mistake occurs during completion of the I-9 form, cross out the error, initial and date it, inserting the correct information.  Note:  Only the person responsible for the section with the error may correct that section of the document.
  • Only the employee may complete, sign and date Section 1.  Corrections to this section may only be made by the employee, initialed and dated.
  • According to the I-9 form, "federal law provides for imprisonment and/or fines for false statements or use of false documents in connection with the completion of this form." 
And those fines can really add up:

Fine per occurrence
Description of error
$110 – $1,100 per form
Improper completion, retention, storage or if not available for inspection
$250 - $5,500 per worker
plus criminal prosecution
Knowingly hiring an unauthorized
$375 - $3,200 per document, first offense
$3,200 - $6,500 per subsequent offense               
Knowingly commits or participates in document fraud

Even a small firm can end up with sizable fines as a result of an audit of their I-9 paperwork.  The best way to address this issue is by doing an internal audit of your I-9 paperwork.
"Just a small fine or a slap on the wrist is not a deterrent...we see more robust criminal cases...the prospect of 10 years in prison carries much sharper teeth than just a small fine....We want to send the message that your cost of business just went up because you risk your livelihood, your corporate reputation and your personal freedom." 
"....individuals who have profited from hiring illegal aliens....we're going after their houses, their Mercedes and any money that they have, as well."
-Julie Myers, Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Previous Director of ICE)

08 September 2012

Presenteeism: Misery loves company

In April of this year, Speechly Bircham and King's College London published its annual "State of HR" survey.  It reports that the problem of employee 'Presenteeism' has taken the lead over employee engagement as an area of key focus for the human resources function at top organizations.

The Schoolmaster, Rene Magritte, 1954
Presenteeism is just what it sounds like, people working too many hours due to job insecurity - or coming to work ill.  The motivation to work longer hours for the same pay seems to be a result of staffing issues and/or people feeling pressure to show their value to corporations that are looking to trim staff.  Just because an employee shows up early and stays late doesn't automatically mean that they are more productive.  Laura Kirkhaar, MBPsS, BSc, MSc in an article she published on occupational-psychology.com claims:
"This does not mean that productivity could be enhanced if people were advised not to show up for work when they are ill, but rather indicates that while productivity loss from absenteeism may be high, productivity loss from presenteeism is probably even higher, because it is more prevalent then absenteeism, but much less accounted for."(1)
Six years ago, people who weren't happy were more likely to find a job somewhere else.  Now these same people are showing up and could be bringing everyone down with them.  Statistics reporting the number of employee relations have been on the rise since the downturn with HR directors polled expecting these to continue to increase.

In an extreme case of workplace violence, a man shot his former supervisor in the shadow of the Empire State Building last month.  It's a cold reminder of how desperate people will risk all to take out their revenge.  One longtime former co-worker of both men was quoted by the New York Times as stating the cause of their animosity was, “...chalk it up to two guys being around each other too much.”(2) Sounds like 'presenteeism' to me...

Another dynamic of this case was that the shooter was 17 years older than his supervisor.  I'm not suggesting that this is toxic in all cases, however, an older person reporting to a younger boss is an exercise in humility which could be a difficult obstacle to overcome.  SHRM reported in 2011 in an on-line survey of its members that 26% of workers are now older than their boss.(3)

This will only happen more and more as people are less and less able to retire.  Surely the desire to do leave service is still there, but the savings is just not.  According to USA Today, people are expecting to work until they are 70 or older.(4)  While less than 20% of employers provide developmental training for older workers according to the same State of HR survey mentioned earlier.  The challenge is how to engage workers who may not feel that they are as valued as they used to be.

The stress associated with job insecurity combined with working longer hours and perhaps feeling less valued creates a strained environment for everyone.  There is no one size fits all solution to this (or any other problem really). This part of what demands HR practitioners to be creative, innovative and what also makes HR so challenging.

Fact is, many times people achieve manager status by working their way up from lower positions.  This doesn't always mean that they have obtained the special skills required for managing others along the way.  It's not easy to change a PTO policy, as it is to invest in helping managers to be more effective.  

If I could pinpoint one area that, no matter what's going on in the world, could always benefit from attention is the relationship between manager and boss.  I believe that managers, for better or worse, set the tone for the whole organization.  Time spent in ensuring effective relationships between manager and employee is a great investment.  It's not a popularity contest, rather good managers keep the right people happy, effective and secure and quickly and defensibly remove those that aren't a fit.

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.   
- Winston Churchill