Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Best and the Worst of the Interview Questons

Interviewing a candidate for a role at your company can be an exciting time, but it also can be a tough one. Everyone tries to figure out the best things to ask, the questions to avoid, the way to avoid the painful questions and the best way to pull out thought-provoking questions. So I've thought about it a lot and I wanted to go through some of the best and some of the worst of the interview questions I've received, heard, or read about:

"Why do you want to work here? (and, if applicable, why do you want to leave where you currently work?)" 

I love this one and the question too often gets overlooked or underasked. Too many candidates mass apply to jobs online and have no clue what the heck they're applying to most of the time. During the financial crisis, I interviewed a ton of candidates, who, when I asked them this question, answered for me why they want a job, but not why they wanted the job I was offering. Also, if the person is currently employed, finding out why they would take the leap to join you is really enlightening. Sometimes, if you give a candidate enough leash, they'll say too much during that second part and you'll realize that they're not a good fit.

"Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer?"

I hate this one. Unless you're applying to a job in agriculture, what the heck is the point in phrasing it that way? This was among Glassdoor's Top 25 Oddball Interview Questions from 2014 as a question asked by Dell and I really do wonder what hunting and gathering Dell employees are doing. I do understand the point of the question, but there really has to be a better way to ask it.

"On a scale of 1-10, how lucky are you?"

I was asked this in my last job interview and I just saw it appeared, in a similar form, in the Glassdoor rankings as asked by Airbnb. I sort of like this one, though, I go back and forth on it. On one hand, I like that it pries a person to answer a bit honestly and outside of their resume, but on the other hand, my luck in my job life is not the same as my luck in my personal life and this can be really uncomfortable for some people.

"What's your greatest weakness"/"Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"

I hate both of these with a passion so I figured I'd lump them together. My greatest weakness is my inability to hide my disdain for your question and I see myself in 5 years hopefully answering much more important questions. NEXT

"I have a brainteaser for you..."

Once Google decides they're total wastes of time, as their Senior Vice President of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, described to the New York Times in 2013, you should as well.

"This job requires you to multitask and balance a bunch of ASAP deadlines at once--can you tell me how you will go about prioritizing that if we hire you?"

One that I asked and asked and asked at a previous job. And I almost stopped asking it until the perfect candidate answered it correctly. Incorrect answers including saying that she would prioritize bigger (or higher revenue) clients over smaller ones, that they had no clue since they didn't work there, or that they would ask me every time (I gasped at that one). The best candidate told me that she would work with the team and the clients to make sure she understood exactly when everything actually needed to be returned--and that she would make sure to communicate with everyone involved as it was getting closer to the deadline. She got the job (and still works there).

"What single project or task would you consider your most significant accomplishment in your career to date?"

I have to admit that I didn't love it when I first heard it in interviews but I warmed up to it and then I read in Inc. all the reasons why it's the best interview question and, while I don't think it's THE BEST, I have to agree, it's definitely one that you need to ask. The great part about this question, for me, is that I don't have an answer predetermined. I actually come up with a new one every time I interview, and try to adapt that answer to what would be most relateable to the job I'm applying for at the time.

"What would you like to tell me about you that is not on your resume?"

Since I told you which I thought wasn't THE BEST, I will now tell you my favorite. I got asked this in a job interview one time and I don't think I've left it out of any job interview that I've conducted since. I love it because the candidate can make what they want of it and can really get a chance to express themselves outside of a piece of paper.

It also shows a bit of how someone can think on think on their feet. One candidate told me that everything was on the resume that I needed to know (he didn't get an offer). One told me that there was a job missing because he really didn't like the boss and sued the company afterwards and didn't want me to call for a reference (he didn't get an offer). But one candidate told me that she was hesitant to put that she also volunteered to coach soccer on the side and would be a great addition if we had a company kickball team (she got an offer).

The key isn't to stump the candidate--it's to make them think, make them talk, and see how they answer questions. If you ask all generic questions, you can't be upset getting all generic answers. And if you ask stupid questions, you should not be surprised by stupid answers. The key to an interview is allowing a candidate to give you a view into their person--figure out the best question that you can ask to help them reveal that.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

When That Layoff Memo Backfires

One of the most unfortunate parts of the past 7 years or so is that most of us have either been laid off or had a close family member laid off. It's a really tough time for everyone, from the person who gets the axe to the person giving the pink slip to the people who are left behind after a big round of layoffs. And while laying off employees is never a good experience, there are certainly better ways to do it than others.

I've heard of one bank who let employees know that they had been laid off when their keycard didn't work in the morning.

I've heard of small businesses where the owner lets all the employees go without any severance and walks away with a big fat check.

We've all heard of the CEOs who take the nice Golden Parachute and leave their employees struggling to pay their bills.

And then, as New York Magazine wrote in July, there was Microsoft who sent one of those memos that should have never been sent. It starts with "Hello there" and, amazingly, with that ridiculous intro, goes downhill from there.
We plan to right-size our manufacturing operations to align to the new strategy and take advantage of integration opportunities. We expect to focus phone production mainly in Hanoi, with some production to continue in Beijing and Dongguan. We plan to shift other Microsoft manufacturing and repair operations to Manaus and Reynosa respectively, and start a phased exit from Komaron, Hungary.
The emphasis in there is mine but five layoff buzzwords in one paragraph is impressive, especially considering that the rest of the ~14 paragraph e-mail has some other ones dropped in as well. The breakdown of the article itself is great, and, overall, the memo isn't that bad compared to some that have been sent over the past 7 years.

But the point is that memos like this NEVER need to be sent. Why put something like this in writing that can be ridiculed outside the company and provide no comfort for anyone within the company (either laid off or left behind)? I understand there's no efficient way to lay off 18,000 employees (or 12,500 within one business unit), but laying off people through a poorly constructed memo just adds to the pain these people are feeling--and it allows it to be put out there so future applicants think twice before working for you and your organization.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Organization Design for Business

Is your organization doing everything it can to succeed in this VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) economy?  Are you sure?

Is your organization properly designed to meet your goals?  Are your marketing, financial, and manufacturing strategies fully aligned with your overall strategy? Are your structures and processes fully aligned with your business plans?  Are your accountabilities and authorities aligned with your processes? Do you have the right jobs and skill sets in your organization?  How do you know?  Because you completed a review last quarter?  What about tomorrow? These issues may be costing you money and negatively impacting your operational capability.

What is Organization Design?

Organizational design is the way your organization is structured to comply with the strategic plan.  It is the link between your business goals and how managers & staff achieve those goals.  It helps achieve full alignment between your overarching strategy, your structure, and the key functions & roles in your business.

Organization Design focuses on the proper assignment and division of labor; establishing the appropriate level of coordination, control, authority & responsibility; and designing jobs that match the needs of your organization and the skills of your employees.

Effective organization design drives productivity, communications, and innovation.  It creates an environment where people can work effectively. 

When Should I Review my Organization?

Today!  Symptoms of ineffective organization design to look for include the following:

§  Poor inter-office coordination
§  Excessive friction and conflict among internal groups
§  Unclear roles
§  Misused resources
§  Poor work flow
§  Multiple Boss Syndrome
§  Reduced responsiveness to change
§  Proliferation of extra-organizational units such as task forces, committees, and projects

What Does an OD Project Look Like?

Organizational analysis involves reviewing your vision, mission, & strategy; assessing your current structure relative to your mission & strategy; drilling down to departmental levels to understand how units function; and addressing challenges & opportunities.  The objective is to improve performance by evolving from your current state to a desired future state.

Tips and Best Practices for a Successful Re-organization

1.   Problem Statement: Define your business needs, internal & external challenges, and organizational objectives.  What exactly are you trying to fix?  What is your ‘desired state’?

2.   Conceptual Business Model: Look in the mirror.  Outline your organizational strategy, resources, inputs, major functions, and outputs (products & services) in a clear & concise model.

3.   Design Principles: Create a set of design principles at the start of the project.  These are attributes that your new organization must have.  Examples include service excellence, process efficiency, business process ownership, P&L accountability, and implementability.  These become your evaluation criteria.

4.   Workflow: Map out the major activities and steps in your key business, discipline-specific, & administrative processes.  Identify and link the key roles (jobs / positions) that perform each step.  These become the building blocks and architectural platform of your future organization.

5.   Organizational model options: Create several potential ‘to be’ states divided into three groups; A. minor change, B. practical and realistic change, and C. radical ‘outside the box’ change.  Quite often the ideas generated in Group C will prove to be effective in a Group B option.  Evaluate the relative advantages and disadvantages of the options using your design principles / criteria.  Select a winner.

6.   People: Assess the “people impact” of changes.  Prepare a People Plan and take steps to address potential retraining, re-assignment, replacement, and recruiting needs.  Be open to the need to design a function or a unit around the skills and attributes of the incumbents – as opposed to what looks best on paper.

7.   Systems and Processes: Focus as much on how the new structural model will work as on what it looks like.  Ensure that systems and processes are fully integrated with the re-design. 

8.   Culture: Be aware of your organizational culture (unwritten norms and behaviors). Ensure that the re-design is in sync with your culture.

9.   Change Management: Expect management pushback and employee resistance to change, and plan accordingly.  Appoint a senior executive as project champion.  Develop a clear communications plan and adhere to it.

10. Implementation: Pay attention to how the re-design will actually happen. Prepare a detailed implementation plan and hold people accountable.  Address risks and bottlenecks as early as possible.

11. Beware of Entropy.  Entropy is the silent killer of organizational performance.  It is the measure of the disorder of a system, a natural process of degeneration, an automatic and unavoidable trend toward chaos.   The alignment of functions, positions, skills, processes, human talent, and performance to business priorities deteriorates over time and we don’t see it.  The cure is maintaining full alignment between your organizational strategy and your structure & processes – in other words – organization design.

Tim McConnell is the Managing Partner of McConnell Consulting (Organizational Architects) Inc. in New York.  More information can be found at

Sunday, January 18, 2015

When "Unlimited" Vacation Time Doesn't Work

Vacation time is one of the top perks of some organizations. 3 weeks? 4 weeks? 6 weeks? What about "unlimited" or "flex" vacation times? Well a big trend recently is that move to unlimited vacation time, especially for start-ups. I mean what's better for a relaxed office environment than being able to take off whenever you need.

Well, as writes that unlimited isn't actually "unlimited". In fact, when given the opportunity to take off an "unlimited" amount of time, most employees take off very little. Instead of having everyone take off the same amount of time, no one wants to come out looking like a "moocher".
Banking away your vacation time can be annoying, but it does make you feel as if you've "earned" those days off; they're yours to spend as you wish. Compare that to a proposed (and quickly reversed) policy at the Los Angeles Times, which would have done away with all paid vacation, sick, and personal days in favor of an "unlimited" paid time off system — but one in which each day off would be at the discretion of the employee's supervisor, which would undoubtedly have led to employees taking less time off since each attempt to do so would entail a potentially awkward conversation.
Bingo. If you "earn" your vacation time, you can easily ask for it off. If it's unlimited, it makes it a lot harder. I currently work at a place with unlimited vacation time but few will take off more than a week or two. And since everyone is doing that, you don't want to be the guy taking 4 weeks.

Of course, that's not the culture everyplace--I spoke to one person who work at an unlimited vacation company and she said that everyone ends up taking between four and six weeks. But that was something that everyone knew was okay and everyone, more or less, held up their end of the bargain.

Two ways to ensure that, the article writes, is to have employees forfeit a bonus if they don't take off a certain amount of time or writing a minimum vacation time policy in the employee manual. Any way you go, if you're going to institute "unlimited" vacation, make sure your employees understand what that means.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Employee Engagement in 2015

According to a study conducted by SilkRoad, 49% of 150 surveyed HR professionals noted that engaging and retaining employees was a concern.  52% of those surveyed mentioned that creating an attractive and engaging organizational culture was also a concern.

Even the government is having concerns with employee engagement. A December 2014 Gallup poll reported that 27% of federal workers are engaged, 53% are not engaged…and an additional 19% are actively disengaged.  Lack of engagement from these workers can cost taxpayers an estimated $18 billion per year!  So what can be done to improve employee engagement and retain talent?

Set Challenges / Achievable Goals

What is the purpose of the organization? How does the employee see where his / her actions affect the purpose and goals of the organization? A good way to keep your employees engaged is to help them see where they fit within the organization and grow professionally.  Do you have a talent management system to record not only performance reviews but also goals? Are those goals progressive? Are they feasible?  Did you include the employee in making those goals? All of these factors matter when setting goals that help an employee to feel involved and motivated.


Communication is closely tied to setting challenges and goals. How does your organization communicate? Is it strictly e-mail? Do you combine communication methods depending on the message? Do employees have a means to have their voices heard? How do you ensure that their input has been / will be considered? Employees should feel open to voice their concerns about their positions, the state of the organization, and their growth within the organization. The employee should be aware of the organization’s expectation of him / her…and the organization should be aware of the employee’s expectations.  Such open communication allows for a cohesive environment.

Promote Work / Life Balance

Besides feeling part of an organization and feeling fulfilled in their position, employees also need proper work / life balance. Although a big part of this involves the employee’s being aware of his / her own limitations and home responsibilities, organizations can do their part in promoting proper home / life balance. Forbes magazine online highlighted a report on the top 25 employers for work-life balance. Samantha Zupan, a spokesperson for Glassdoor, pointed out that everyone’s key factors in work-life balance are different. “For example, what work-life balance is to a young single person compared to a parent with two young children can be very different.” Appealing features of employers that made the top 25 were the following:
  • Option to telecommute
  • Paid Time Off
  • Compressed Work Weeks
  • Family Friendly Work Environment

Zupan also mentioned that top ranking employers also offered fitness amenities. A big stand out option for many of these organizations was the senior leadership’s support of proper work / life balance.  Obviously not every organization can offer these options. But can some of these options be offered, even if only temporarily? For instance, during the holiday season can employees be offered a certain amount of time to telecommute? Are there options for flexibility in work schedule during the summer months?

As always, Astronology enjoys hearing from you! Does your organization have different strategies or features to keep your employees engaged? What features are you looking forward to implementing in 2015? Contact us to share!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year

Hi loyal readers!

Sorry for being absent from the blogging for a while but we have a ton of great things lined up and ready to go for your right after we turn the calendar to 2015.

But before we do, I want to thank you for reading, wish all of you a lovely holiday season and a very happy new year. Here is to amazing things for all of us in 2015!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Recapping the Hot Human Resource Trends of 2014

In the beginning of January 2014 Astron Solutions released a white paper entitled, “2014’s Hot Human Resource Trends”.  As we forge on into 2015, in this issue of Astronology we’ll recap those predictions…and how they’ve played out this year.

Trend #5: Decline in Unpaid Internships
As we suspected, 2014 saw an explosion in lawsuits. In January 2014, Elite Model Management settled with former unpaid interns. In October of this year NBC Universal closed a $6.4 million settlement with their unpaid interns. Lastly in November, Condé Nast settled with their former unpaid interns to the tune of $5.8 million. This lawsuit also ended with Condé Nast terminating its internship program. As mentioned in the white paper, The U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, has a fact sheet describing what an FLSA compliant unpaid internship program should include. Make sure your for-profit organization is in compliance with these before offering any unpaid internships in 2014.”

Trend#4: Immigration Reform
Immigration reform is continuing to be a concern for policy makers. As of this writing, we are awaiting possible adjustment to current immigrations laws. Human Resource professionals need to stay informed in order to ensure their organizations have the talent necessary to success in the short- and long-terms.

Trend #3: Application of the United States vs. Windsor Ruling
In our white paper we mentioned: “Application of this decision will follow into 2014, as many organizations will be faced with interpretation and implementation matters. Make sure you are aware of how the decision impacts compliance and payroll matters, such as those related to FMLA leave administration, payroll taxes, Federal income taxes, tax-qualified retirement plans, group health plans, COBRA, and immigration practices.”  States like Utah found themselves dealing with appeals that halted marriage license issuance in 2014. However, as of October 6, 2014, the Supreme Court refused this appeal. Human Resource professionals should make it a goal to stay informed in the area of state application of same sex marriage laws, as well as the federal application, into 2015.

Trend #2: The Affordable Care Act
Many human resource conferences have covered the impact of the Affordable Care Act and associated updates. In 2014, these updates included increasing the small business tax credit, and determining what type of healthcare your organization can provide. These issues will only become more complicated in 2015.  Does your organization have a trusted benefits broker, legal counsel, or other source of information to ensure on-going compliance with the evolving ACA?

Trend #1: Gamification in Human Resources
In an upcoming white paper from Astron entitled, “Using Gamification in Total Rewards Design,” Astron Solutions will outline the benefits of using gamification in your total rewards program, as well as possible applications. According to the article, Gamification Gets Down to Business, “It is estimated that by 2016, over 70% of Forbes’ Global 2,000 companies will have some form of gamification in their business.”

Have you seen some of these trends pop up in conversation in your organization? Write Astronology about it and we may feature your input in a future article.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Supplemental Individual Disability Insurance: An Essential but Undervalued Benefit for Higher Paid Employees

By guest author, Robert Trobe of Crystal & Company

Disability insurance is one of the four most important employee benefits including medical, retirement, and life insurance. Inadequate disability coverage can cause devastating financial consequences if an individual were to suffer a prolonged or permanent illness or injury, yet it is frequently undervalued in the hierarchy of employee benefits. This occurs largely because employees do not expect to become disabled.  Yet one in three Americans between ages 35 and 65 will become disabled for more than 90 days (Statistics, Social Security Administration). Group sponsored Long Term Disability (LTD) plans are often capped at a benefit of $10,000 or $15,000 per month, do not cover non-salary cash compensation, and are frequently taxable, leaving higher paid employees particularly exposed to risk.

Employers can mitigate the risk for higher paid employees through a group sponsored supplemental Individual Disability Insurance (IDI) program. An IDI program can provide a critical benefit to employees in organizations with a significant number of higher paid earners whose total compensation, including cash bonuses and commissions, is not adequately protected under a conventional Group LTD plan. IDI can be provided on a “guaranteed issue” basis on top of a Group LTD plan to cover any gap.

Crystal & Company, a privately owned insurance broker and consultant, has successfully implemented IDI programs for a number of clients providing the following advantages.
Key Advantages for Higher Paid Employees
An employer sponsored IDI Program can provide essential coverage to higher paid employees including the following:
   Protection of a significant portion of their income stream including salary, bonuses, and commissions in the event of disability
   Guaranteed Issue basis if certain conditions are met, which eliminates
·         Invasive medical exams
·         Physician statements or review of medical records
·         A review of tax filings
·         Examination of net worth
·         Personal history interview
·         An extensive insurance application
   Coverage defined on an “own occupation” vs. the more general “any occupation” basis, which may not apply to an employee’s specific job duties as an attorney, chief financial officer, VP for human resources etc.
   “Portable” coverage that remains in effect if the employee leaves the organization
   Significant group discount compared to individual retail rates
   Tax-free benefit if paid by employee with after-tax income
   Fixed rates guaranteed not to change up to age 65                                                                              
Key Advantages for the Employer:
IDI programs can be used by the employer:
   As a key recruitment and retention tool for senior and middle management staff
   To deter a higher paid employee from returning to work too early due to financial hardship
   To provide a choice in how to offer the program:
     As a voluntary employee-paid benefit at no cost to the employer
     As a non-contributory employer-paid benefit with a significant group discount
     As a “hybrid-paid” benefit where the premium is shared by employer and employee
   With no significant commitment of HR staff resources to implement or administer

How is it Implemented?
Supplemental IDI is available through select insurance carriers including MassMutual, UNUM, and MetLife among others. It can be implemented with the assistance of a broker/consultant and requires limited resources from often overtaxed human resource departments. The enrollment normally occurs after bonuses are paid, but generally not during open enrollment for health and other benefits. A robust communication and education effort conducted by the IDI carrier and the broker/consultant, under the direction of the employer’s HR department, is integral to a successful implementation. The plan includes individual consultation and online and telephonic enrollment.

Will this Benefit My Employer and Higher Paid Employees?
In general, an employer willing to pay for the coverage needs only 10 or more employees to obtain an IDI offer. If the program will be paid by the employee, and thus be voluntary, there should be at least 50-75 employees each earning more than $75,000 in total compensation.

What Should I do if interested in Supplemental Individual Disability Insurance?

For an initial assessment of the feasibility and value of such a program or for questions on this article, please contact Robert Trobe ( or 212.504-5960).

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Four “Landmines” and Best Business Practices to Avoid Them

By pmphrblog | Published October 6, 2014

Now that summer vacation is only a memory, “getting back to business” is the primary objective. As part of this, every owner, CEO, CFO, and HR professional should assess their organization’s compliance with workplace laws, in order to avoid “landmines” that can severely impact the positive bottom line you worked so hard to achieve. The best approach to reducing the exposure to expensive audits and lawsuits is to establish sound business policies and procedures and proactively address some critical areas. Now is the time to review these areas and put compliance self-audit into the budget!

1. Pay Practices and Pay Equity:  The number of organizations exposed to wage and hour audits by the Department of Labor (DOL) increases each year, and the results inevitably are expensive settlements or even more expensive litigation. Last year, the Wage & Hour Division of the DOL recovered nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in back wages. These cases included employees misclassified as “independent contractors” or employees who were improperly classified as “exempt” and not paid the overtime they were entitled to. Additionally, paying employees “off the clock,” or not designating all time worked as paid time (deducting for breaks not taken, allowing employees to work while not recording the time, designating certain activities as non-working time incorrectly) often results in substantial unpaid wages and overtime being awarded. A recent survey revealed that 18% of cases filed in local federal courts have been wage and hour cases.

Federal contractors and subcontractors have even greater obligations. Since the OFCCP heads up the Equal Pay Task Force for the White House, Director Shiu continues to aggressively investigate pay practices and pay equity during OFCCP audits. A recently signed Presidential Memorandum will continue to keep this in the forefront as, when finalized, it will require a report to be submitted annually to the OFCCP to include total W-2 Wage and Tax Statement earnings and total work hours for the previous calendar year for all employees included in the contractor’s most recently filed EEO-1 report, whether or not the employees were still employed on December 31.

Best Practice: Reviewing job descriptions, the classifications of your workforce, and your pay practices should be on the top of the “To Do” planning list this fall. Be aware that you must be prepared to allocate funds should adjustments need to be made as a result of this review.

2.  EEOC (and Human Rights) Charges and the Need for Training of Managers and Supervisors:  Last year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) obtained the highest monetary recovery in the agency’s history ($372.1 million). Few organizations realize that charges of “retaliation” are the most frequently cited category of discrimination. Race discrimination, sex discrimination (including sexual harassment), pregnancy discrimination, and disability discrimination made up the rest of the top five charges for which employers paid out large amounts in settlements. As most HR Professionals know, these charges are often a result of a manager or supervisor saying or doing the wrong thing due to his / her lack of knowledge of the labor laws or not following organizational policies and procedures.

Best Practice: In today’s diverse workplace, equipping management with the training and information needed to effectively deal with people from different backgrounds is critical. Providing training for managers and supervisors is one of the best investments an organization can make. At minimum, every organization should schedule Anti-Harassment / Discrimination / Retaliation training for their managers and supervisors on a regular basis.

3.  Updated Employee Handbook:  Employee lawsuits have risen 400% in the past 20 years, to 6.5 claims per 1,000 employees annually. Employers need to implement guidelines for the prevention of discrimination in the workplace. A well-written handbook and consistently applied policies & procedures are critical to maintaining good morale, ensuring that employees understand their responsibilities, and providing clear guidance to all levels of management. Workplace laws keep changing; organizations need to be aware of the changes, make modifications, and keep their policies & procedures current.

Every organization should be updating its policies to address vibrant topics such as tele-commuting, social media, use of organization issued equipment, and recent changes in FMLA.

Best Practice: Review your handbook, policies and procedures with a workplace specialist to ensure that you are addressing current federal and state regulations. Organizations should also be reviewing the need to translate policies in the native language of their workforce. Be sure that you have a signed receipt from every employee that acknowledges receipt of the organization’s handbook.

4.  Form I-9:  PMP has found that most employers are confused as to how and when to correctly complete Form I-9. Must the employee complete Section 1 on the first day of work? (YES!) Is the employer allowed to ask the employee for specific documents? (NO!) Should the I-9 be kept in the employee’s file? (NO!) It is the lack of knowledge of regulations that can cause organizations to receive fines of $1,100 per form and up to $16,000 per worker for incorrect or missing forms. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to escalate its worksite enforcement and has announced that it will implement another round of I-9 audits. Although organizations are allowed to do self-audits and correct errors, this should only be done by a person who is familiar with the current regulations.

Best Practice: Contact a knowledgeable HR Professional to schedule a review of your organization’s I-9 forms.

By being proactive, an organization can greatly diminish its exposure to expensive litigation. Budgeting time and money to address these four areas of concern now is the smartest way to avoid a large, negative impact on an organization’s bottom line.

This article is intended for general information only and should not be construed as legal advice.

For more information on labor relations please visit us at:

About Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl and Associates:

Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl and Associates, Inc. (PMP),  the oldest labor relations consulting firm representing management on Long Island, was founded in 1964 by former union organizer and worker’s rights advocate, Murray W. Portnoy.  Initially, Murray offered human resource consulting and union contract negotiating services to a handful of clients. Today PMP has a full staff of experienced and talented human resources and labor relations consultants, labor and employment attorneys, and administrative personnel. Murray Portnoy's values and vision remain at the core of PMP's mission and principles.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Medicaid Enrollment: Almost a Free Lunch for Employers and Employees

Guest Author, Robert Trobe of Crystal & Company


The expansion of Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers a huge opportunity for employers to significantly contain their employee benefits costs, as well as provide enhanced benefits to employees and their families through a Medicaid enrollment program. These costs are already escalating with many organizations as uninsured individuals, faced with increasing tax penalties due to the ACA individual mandate, opt to enroll in their employer’s benefit plans. In addition, in 2015, employers with 100 or more employees will be required to offer affordable health coverage to their full-time employees (30 hours per week or more), further increasing costs for organizations not currently providing such coverage.

Successful implementation of a Medicaid enrollment program does not just happen; it depends on active outreach by skilled individuals knowledgeable about Medicaid policies, compliance requirements, and enrollment processes in each of the 27 states plus the District of Columbia that have opted for Medicaid expansion (see list at bottom of this article). Crystal & Company, a large privately owned insurance broker and consultant, has partnered with an experienced Medicaid enrollment vendor to implement such a program.

This article outlines the key benefits and savings from a Medicaid enrollment program sponsored by an employer, how it can be effectively executed, and whether it would be of value to a particular organization.

Individuals and their families are generally eligible for Medicaid in the expansion states if the combined income of the members of their household (not the family, but those who live at the dwelling of the applicant) earn less than the following:
  • Household of Four: $32,913
  • Household of Three: $27,310
  • Household of Two: $21,707
  • Household of One: $16,104

Benefits to the Employer

Employers benefit from each successful enrollment in two ways:
Employees Currently Participating in the Employer Plan—The employer cost for providing health, prescription, and dental benefits to their eligible employees can amount to $5,000 per year for an individual and $15,000 or more per year for a family. This compares with a Medicaid implementation cost (through our partner vendor) of $20 per month for each employee who is eligible and has applied for Medicaid (with the help of the vendor) plus $40 for each employee screened but found not eligible.

Employees not Currently Participating in the Employer Plan—For employees who have not enrolled in the employer’s benefit plans because they work less than the required hours, or because they could not afford the employer’s plan, the intangible benefits of Medicaid enrollment can be substantial in terms of increased morale and reduced absenteeism.

In virtually all cases where there are sufficient numbers of Medicaid eligible employees, the employer saves substantial dollars from an effective Medicaid enrollment program.  The return on investment can be 5:1 or more.

Benefits to Enrollees

Eligible individuals and their family members receive coverage for health, prescription, dental, and vision at no or very low cost. The Medicaid benefit is provided with no deductibles or co-insurance, and limited co-pays. In addition, successful enrollment in Medicaid affords employees the opportunity, if they wish, to obtain Food Stamps, which can increase individual income from 15-30%. The end result is a substantial savings for those currently enrolled in the employer’s benefit plans, who otherwise would be contributing to the cost of that plan and paying significant dollars for services provided.

For uninsured or underinsured individuals, the Medicaid benefit can literally be life-saving and prevent bankruptcy from medical claims. A study based on 2007 sample data ( ) found that 62% of bankruptcies were attributable to uncovered medical costs.  Three quarters of the sampled individuals had health insurance.

It is true that Medicaid provider networks are historically less developed than commercial networks, which is why this program is not a completely free lunch.  However, recent federal and state initiatives are aimed at reducing that disparity.

Successful Implementation
Applying for Medicaid can be very complex.  It requires several components—most importantly a competent vendor with the following system and human resource capabilities:
  • Staff intimately knowledgeable in Medicaid policy and processes in the applicable state.
  • A system that can help workers collect the data they need with a pre-enrollment questionnaire.
  • A telephonic and Web-based enrollment process, including pop-ups that explain confusing questions.
  • Outcomes that are tracked for reporting back to the employer.
  • A multilingual call center with Medicaid experts to assist workers every step of the way.

Will this Benefit My Company and What should I do if Interested?

Companies that have at least 20 employees (including part-time employees) who are paid $32,900 per year or less should consider implementing a Medicaid enrollment program. For an initial assessment of the feasibility and value of such a program or for questions on this article, please contact Robert Trobe ( or 212.504-5960)

States with Expanded Medicaid Programs

Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.