New Hire Forms

“Based on what I’ve heard from others, I think I might not be giving my new employees the correct documents when they are hired. How do I find out if I’m missing anything?”

Your HR Survival Tip

Many required new hire documents are forms and brochures from either California or the Feds. Since state and federal governments are involved, you can’t really expect something as simple as a list.

We provide an HR Forms Packet that includes everything but we have to work to gather these documents and regularly check back to see if new versions have been issued. Our packet includes the following new hire documents:

  • CA discrimination brochure
  • CA family rights act brochure
  • CA paid family leave brochure
  • CA paid sick leave flyer
  • CA pregnancy leave brochure
  • CA Ralph hate violence brochure
  • CA rights of victims brochure
  • CA sexual harassment brochure
  • CA state disability brochure
  • CA unemployment brochure
  • CA wage theft prevention form
  • CA workers comp time of hire flyer
  • FED CHIP notice
  • FED Form I-9
  • FED Form I-9 instructions
  • FED Form W-4
  • FED healthcare notice
  • COBRA notice
  • Direct deposit form
  • Employee information form
  • Employee handbook
  • Harassment prevention policy
  • Non-disclosure agreement
  • Paid sick leave policy

Yes, it’s a lot of paper! There are a few items on the list that may not be relevant for your size company but most are required. A couple of the forms aren’t legally required but are highly recommended due to their usefulness.

There are times during the life cycle of an employee when you may need to re-use some of these documents. The unemployment brochure is also given out for any termination, the pregnancy leave brochure is given again to pregnant employees, the paid family leave brochure is given again to both parents of a newborn, etc. Many of these really do provide useful information and that’s why the government wants employees to have them.

If you want to be fully compliant, you need to make sure employees receive or have access to these documents. If you have people who work primarily off-site, you also need to make sure those employees have access to the information provided on employment law posters. Yes, even we find it painful to keep track of the most current versions but there’s really no choice. Do your audit and add or replace documents needed for compliance. Or let us help you.

Important Changes

Even though everyone is accustomed to constant changes with California or Federal employment laws and related items, we like to inform or remind you of any important changes. The forms, in particular, have a drop-dead implementation date so don’t delay in using them.

Arbitration Agreement Update

So often California adds another weight to your administrative burden. But, for once, the Feds have saved us! California’s AB51 had been passed, prohibiting us from requiring employees to sign an arbitration agreement as a condition of employment. Right after that, a judge put a temporary restraining order on the law because the federal government strongly disagrees with that prohibition. Finally, a US District Court has ruled that AB51 is invalid. This means you can continue to require employees to sign your arbitration agreement if they want to work with your company.

California attorneys are very much in favor of using arbitration agreements because they help avoid class-action lawsuits. Those lawsuits are hitting smaller and smaller companies so it’s good to have protection. Please ask if you need a referral to an employment law attorney to create an agreement for you.

New I-9 Form

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services have finally issued both a new I-9 Form and I-9 Instructions. You must use this form after 1/1/2020. You can get a copy at www.https://www.uscis.gov/i-9 and we recommend using the paper version. Their regular “fill in the blanks” form seems to cause problems at times so we prefer the version without the technology addition.

2020 W-4 Form

We want to remind everyone that you absolutely must use the new 2020 version of the W-4 form for anyone hired or changing their W4 after 1/1/2020. You may still be able to see the previous version in your payroll system but that’s only for reference, not to be used for new or changed W4s.

Post Your OSHA Log

“I’ve been keeping track of the workers’ compensation claims but am I just doing it for my own benefit?”

Your HR Survival Tip

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires you to track all workplace injuries and illnesses. There is both a Federal OSHA and California’s version, Cal-OSHA. Their goal is basically the same…a safe workplace free from injury and illness.

The information you have been tracking ends up on three different forms, OSHA Form 300, 300A, and 301. Each has a purpose but only Form 300A is posted each year from February 1st to April 30th. The forms haven’t changed since 2004, so you should be familiar with them and the process.

  • Form 301 is used to record each incident so you have a complete record of what happened and how it happened, in what way the employee was injured, and the medical treatment(s) received. Use this form each time you have a workplace incident, even if it was minor enough not to require medical treatment. You are required to keep this form for 5 years from the date of the incident.
  • Form 300 is used to log most of the incidents on one sheet, with each having their own line. You don’t have to add an incident to this form if only first aid was needed and no doctor was seen. This log provides you with a great overview and should help determine if additional safety training should be considered.
  • Form 300A is merely a short, one-page summary of what you entered on Form 300. Every blank needs to be completed, even if you just put a zero in the spot. This is the form you need to post for 3 months.

OSHA’s forms packet comes with plenty of examples to help you complete each form. They want to make it easy for you and include the OSHA offices you can contact for help.

A couple of years ago, workers’ compensation insurance carriers revised the way they determine changes to your rates. They used to increase your rates based on the medical costs for each incident. However, they realized the number of incidents (regardless of the medical costs) were the real indicator of a company taking the proper safety precautions. This means an OSHA log with 10 little incidents may end up causing you higher rates than 1 big incident.

In the end, workplace safety is your responsibility. In California, you must have a written safety plan. In addition, you need to ensure your employees are properly trained and safety issues are found and resolved as quickly as possible. While we don’t provide safety plans or training, we have a great resource for you if you need it!

Regular Vs. Base Pay Rate

“I’m confused. When talking about an employee’s regular pay, I’m assuming it’s the same as their base pay. However, now I’m hearing something different. Are these the same?”

Your HR Survival Tip

An employee’s base rate may be the same as their regular rate. However, many times, the regular rate is actually higher than the base rate because the regular rate is based on a calculation and includes more things.

The base pay is the hourly rate you pay the employee and it’s no more complicated than that.

The regular rate, as mentioned, is a calculation based on money paid to the employee for more than just hours worked. It includes those hourly earnings, non-exempt salary, commissions, production bonuses, piece-rate earnings, and even the value of meals and lodging. Also included is that stipend you might pay the employee toward a personal insurance policy instead of providing company health insurance.

What does not count toward that regular rate are gifts, holiday pay, vacation pay, sick pay, expense reimbursements, discretionary bonuses, profit-sharing, overtime pay, and ERISA-qualified retirement plan contributions.

Why does this matter? Because when an hourly employee works overtime or uses sick time, you can’t just pay them based on their base pay…it’s paid based on their regular pay. Yes, this means you probably owe the employee a bit more after you do the math.

If the employee only gets an hourly wage and nothing else, then the base and regular rates are the same. But if the employee receives any of those compensable items mentioned above, you need to do the calculation.

A simple version of this calculation is taking all compensation provided to the employee for the time period (your pay period, for example) and dividing that number by the total number of hours worked that same period. The amount you get from that calculation is the basis for any overtime and sick pay. So if the employee’s base rate is $15/hour but the regular rate ends up as $16.59, then you might owe an overtime premium of $8.295 instead of $7.50. The overtime premium is the “half” of time and one half. You would be paying sick time at $16.59, per the city of San Diego’s sick leave law.

The calculation for the regular rate can get more complicated than described here if there are multiple pay rates, prevailing wage, etc. If in doubt, consult us or an employment law attorney to ensure you are paying employees correctly.

Risky Role Models

“I like to joke around and hug my employees occasionally. Someone has told me I need to stop most of it but I really want employees to have a great place to work. Is fun no longer allowed at work?”

Your HR Survival Tip

Nearly every employee would like to work at a company where it’s a great atmosphere and the boss is approachable. But you need to understand what that means to ensure you aren’t sending the wrong message. The one message you need to remember is “if I do it, it’s okay for everyone else to do it.”

Often someone in management may be able to pull off a behavior that goes badly awry when a subordinate tries it. Perhaps they don’t understand the legal or company rules as well as you. Or maybe they just don’t understand there are differences between what you’ve done or said versus what they do or say. Let’s look at a few behaviors we’ve seen from management:

Joking Around – When kidding with employees, you need to be sure you aren’t being offensive or that someone will think it’s offensive to someone somewhere. Very few jokes can pass the test as appropriate at work. And can you really explain the difference to an employee?

Hugging, Kissing, Etc. – Given that most people in management won’t even meet alone with an employee for fear of a harassment claim, do you really think everyone is okay with your hugging or whatever other form of touching you are doing? Rarely will you enter a room where every person loves to be that friendly. In addition, how do you discipline an employee for harassment when you’ve been the role model? Do you know what the difference is between you hugging an employee and another employee doing it? The difference is the courts will come down harder on you than that employee because you’re in management.

Ethical Situations – If you’re found fudging on your books or even your expense report, you’ve just shown all your employees your ethical line. If your accounting clerk now borrows (and repays) petty cash, how do you tell him that’s wrong when he processes your “exaggerated” expense reports?

Bottom Line – Proper or appropriate behaviors in your company roll down from the top. The owner, in particular, and all senior management have the responsibility of providing the role model for those behaviors. If you do it, others will assume it’s okay for them to do it so look carefully at the role model you’re demonstrating. If you say one thing but do another, it’s a mixed message and employees will follow the piece they prefer.

Even the courts have shown us companies take a harder hit when management exhibited behaviors that led to lower-level personnel doing something illegal. The courts also believe you should know what’s happening in your company so you need to know how employees perceive those role models. Pay attention to the messages you are sending every day by your behavior and when interacting with employees. You may not be shouting “I’m a potential harasser,” but you may be giving the impression that certain harassing behaviors are okay.

New 2020 W-4 Form

“I’ve heard there is a new W-4 form but want to know how to explain it to my employees. Can you help?” 

Your HR Survival Tip

It’s very important to remember the 2020 W-4 must be used after 1/1/2020. You do not need current employees to use it unless they want to make a change in their tax deductions. However, all employees hired after 1/1/2020 must use this new form.

Simply, the employee must complete Step 1 and Step 5. The other steps are only completed if the employee meets certain criteria.

  • Step 1:  The employee adds their personal information. If you don’t get a W-4 from the employee by the time you need to process payroll, you default to “single” in (c).
  • Step 2:  If the employee has multiple jobs or has a spouse with a job, they’ll need to complete this step. If the employee wants to maintain their financial privacy or asks for help from you, the safest thing is to direct them to the online calculator in (a) (https://www.irs.gov/individuals/tax-withholding-estimator). Using the online calculator will also provide the employee with the most accurate assessment of their situation and give them the information they need to complete the form.
  • Step 3:  The employee enters the information requested about dependents.
  • Step 4:  If the employee receives income from somewhere other than jobs, knows they won’t be claiming the standard deduction when they file their annual taxes, or want to have more taxes deducted from each check, they enter that information here.
  • Step 5:  This is the final step and if the employee doesn’t complete this section, the whole form is invalid. If this happens, it’s as if you didn’t get a W-4 from them.

Please keep in mind that you can explain to the employee what each box requires, but don’t do their math or offer suggestions. That’s a liability risk you don’t want.

Check the payroll processor you’re using and make sure they have updated their software to handle the new W-4. Their old software doesn’t have the same W-4 boxes to enter information so you’ll be unable to add a new employee into old software. Check out your payroll software before you actually need it.

Promises to Be Paid

“I gave a large advance to an employee and we started deducting money from his paychecks to pay it back. However, he just resigned and still owes me $750. What are my options for getting the rest of my money?”

Your HR Survival Tip

Whenever a company “lends” money or provides equipment to an employee, you will always take the chance you won’t get it back. California does not allow you to deduct anything from that final paycheck. Yes, even if they have your phone or laptop or an outstanding loan, the value cannot be deducted without the employee’s express permission (in writing, to be safe).

At a minimum, at the time the money was advanced or loaned, you should have put into writing a repayment schedule and agreement for the employee to sign. You don’t want to start deducting money from an employee’s paycheck for any reason without written authorization (aka proof that it’s a legitimate deduction) from the employee.

Once the employee terminates, all bets are off. Since you can’t deduct the remainder owed from the final paycheck, you either have to hope the employee will send you the money or take them to small claims court. However, most companies don’t have the time or patience to use small claims court so the remainder is usually written off.

How can you avoid the loss? Instead of just setting up a repayment agreement, formalize the advance/loan with a promissory note. This should be a template from an attorney to ensure it has language allowing you to take legal action if repayment stops or even fails to begin. A legal promissory note gives you more options for collecting monies owed you, including sending it out to a debt collector.

Of course, you avoid this problem if you only advance what can (and will) be repaid with the next paycheck. The employee could still terminate before the end of the pay period, but that’s less likely than over a longer period of time. Have your attorney create a template you can use if you tend to lend.

Prepare for 2020

We hope you have had a prosperous year and are looking forward to the final holidays this year. Now is also the time to plan for the employment law changes in 2020:

  • CA Minimum Wage — Calfornia has, as usual, an increase of $1/hour to the minimum wage on 1/1/2020. This means companies with 26+ employees increase to $13/hour and those with less than 25 employees increase to $12/hour. This is only the state wage so, if you are in an area with a local law, you need to check what that new rate may be.
  • San Diego Minimum Wage — The City of San Diego is one of those areas with a local law. If you have employees working within San Diego city limits, you’ll need to pay $13/hour regardless of the size of your company…while those employees are working within San Diego.
  • Minimum Salary — Whenever the state minimum wage increases, so does the minimum salary. So on 1/1/2020, your exempt (salaried) employees may need a raise. Companies with 26+ employees must pay at least $54,080/year and those with less than 25 employees increase to at least $49,920/year. Keep in mind this is the absolute minimum you can pay an exempt salaried employee…regardless of how few hours they may work. Even a part-time salaried employee must make this same amount at a minimum.
  • Computer Software Professionals Salary — Only California has a special exempt salaried rate for computer software professionals. This amount will be increased to $96,968.33/year. The exemption is very specific so don’t use this exemption unless you are sure your employee meets the qualifications. All other computer professionals must be paid hourly.
  • Sexual Harassment Prevention Training Deadline — Although we received a reprieve on the deadline for sexual harassment prevention training, we are now moving toward the new deadline. If your company has 5+ employees anywhere (counting owners), then ALL California employees must be trained before 12/31/2020. Supervisory employees have a mandatory 2-hour training and non-supervisory employees have a 1-hour training. After the initial training, they must be retrained every 2 years. See our online training at www.Outpost.HRjungle.com!
  • Independent Contractors — The new laws regarding independent contractors are already in effect but now is the time to reclassify those workers, if you haven’t already. The very simplest explanation is that anyone who has contact with your customers MUST be an employee. There are many more aspects to this so please check with us or your employment law attorney to ensure you are compliant going into 2020.
  • New W4 Form — There is a new Federal W4 form you must start using on 1/1/2020. While this must be used for all new hires, you are not required to have current employees complete it. The new method of employee taxation will be based on total family earnings rather than just the number of exemptions they claim. The new W4 is intended to make it easier for employees to have the appropriate amount of taxes deducted. Let us know if you need the new form.

There were more laws enacted but those listed above are the ones most likely to affect you the most on January 1st. We want to help you be compliant so please ask us questions about how any new laws affect your company.

Why You Do What You Do

“I now have about 30 employees and have heard about employee engagement but I don’t really know what that means or why it’s important.”

Your HR Survival Tip

Employee engagement, in simplistic terms, means employees are involved in your company rather than just having a job. If the employee is just coming to a job, they can easily replace that job with a different one. However, if they are engaged with your company, they feel needed and important and that emotional connection often results in much better retention and happier employees.

Involving employees in the business isn’t that hard to do. People love to give their opinions and many just need to be asked. Management often gets so wrapped up in the big picture, they don’t really know how the front line is doing. If you think about it, that front line may not have a management title but they are often the ones with great ideas that could save you money or increase production.

If we walked into your company and started talking with employees, how would they answer these questions?

  • Why is what you are doing important to this company?
  • Do you have ideas of how your work could be done more easily or better?
  • Has anyone ever asked for your opinion about the work?
  • Do you know why your job is done exactly as you do it?
  • Can you tell me what the company values?
  • How do you describe to others what this company does?

The employees’ answers will give you a pretty good idea of how engaged employees’ are and how they feel about their jobs. One of the most important things you can do is to make sure every employee understands why their job is valuable to your company. Even low-level work is important and they need to know that. Based on the answers you get to these questions, you’ll know where you need to put some effort in creating engagement with your employees.

Questionable Posts

“Sarah, my employee, has been posting on social media a lot of pictures of herself partying and drinking. She has been moving up in the company but I think these posts could eventually hurt her career. What can I do?”

Your HR Survival Tip

Legally, there’s nothing you can do about the choices employees make when posting on social media. People of all ages now seem to post everything about their life, without regard to privacy or what others may think. Once something is posted, it truly is “out there” forever. People don’t always think about that when posting.

You can counsel Sarah and explain she might want to give some thought to the message she’s sending with her choice of posts and who is seeing them. Although we all have personal lives, every detail doesn’t need to be made public. In some cases, those posts may actually alter what people think of her and that could ultimately damage her career.

Strangely enough, a lot of people feel a person with a lot of responsibility at work must be responsible at all times. For example, people may not want to see their banker getting sloppy and having fun at a party. They only want to know this person is someone they can trust.

If you have employees connecting with clients, have them stop using their personal accounts. Instead, create a company page where they can connect and you can control what gets posted. Another option you have is to coach your employees to maintain a separate list for business contacts, when possible, so they can better control what is viewed by those contacts.

As politicians have found, it can be very awkward to have an old post suddenly pop up as a news item. Many companies are now scouring social media to gain more insight into applicants. Regardless of whether they should do that or not, employees need to be aware of the potential long-term effects of publishing every aspect of their lives.