Regan MacBain Traub, CPC, SPHR

Today brings another installment of an occasional feature of “Five Questions”, in which we ask five questions of a noteworthy person in the employment law and human resources areas.  I’m pleased that Regan MacBain Traub, CPC, SPHR, founder and managing principal of The Human Resource Consortium, was able to take some time to respond to some questions.

Regan has extensive experience in dealing with complex strategy, change management, staffing and retention issues.  She has served as Connecticut State Director for the Society of Human Resource Management and a Member of the Executive Board for the Human Resource Association of Central Connecticut.

As you can see from the interview, she’s got a wealth of expertise and I thank Regan for sharing her thoughts and her time.  Let us know what you think about these issues in the comments section below.  If you know of others who you’d like to see interviewed,  feel free to comment as well.

1) Are companies starting to hire again? In other words, do things seem to be picking up?

We are seeing a number of positive business climate indicators on the HR front at this time. Organizations are beginning to invest in enhancing their human resource management infrastructure and practices again.

Since, unfortunately, many companies still see HR (particularly when it’s transaction-mired) as a cost center rather than revenue generator (when it’s achieved a more consistent strategic and consultative level), this definitely is a positive sign. We also are hearing more firms talking about, and taking action on, hiring again. We’re also seeing some investments in training initiatives. However, I still hear CFOs questioning the ROI they’ve received from significant expense in training in the past so training budgets will probably lag a bit unless they can prove ROI or are regulatory-driven.

Continue Reading Five Questions with… Regan MacBain Traub, Founder, The Human Resource Consortium

 

Continuing our occasional series of interviews with people of interest to human resource professionals in Connecticut, today we talk with Mathew Krukoski, CPA of J.H. Cohn’s Glastonbury, CT offices. Matthew is a Partner there and we had the opportunity to talk about the importance of having auditors review employee benefit plans, particularly as that employer grows. 

We’ll have some more of these types of interviews over the next few weeks as well.

1. You’ve been doing a lot more audits lately. For a company that is growing, at what point do they need to start bringing in an auditor to review their employee benefit plans?

A compliance review can be performed at any time. However, generally speaking, the Department of Labor requires an audit when a Company’s employee benefit plan exceeds 100 eligible participants at the beginning of the plan year. For growing companies with an existing plan, the filing requirements contain a provision, known as the "80-120 Participant Rule", that allow a plan sponsor to elect a deferral of the audit requirement until participation has exceeded 120 eligible participants at the beginning of the plan year. Once participation in a plan reaches 121 eligible participants or more, an audit will be required.

2. What types of tasks do you perform during an employee benefit plan audit?

An audit of a plan is not only for compliance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America but also requires a review of its operations for compliance with Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service laws and regulations. Procedures typically include a review of the plan’s internal control environment, testing of pertinent plan transactions (i.e., contributions, distributions, participant loans, etc…) and to ensure consistent application of the plan’s provisions. A sample of plan transactions are reviewed and tested at the plan level as well as for individual plan participants. The end product of an audit is a complete set of financial statements and auditor’s opinion that are required to be attached to the plan’s Form 5500 filing.

3. What are some common issues that you see when doing an audit?

Our audit compliance testing have revealed errors related to the calculation of participant contributions, the calculation of employer matching or profit-sharing contributions, the distribution of appropriate vested account balances and the utilization of a plan’s stated definition of compensation. However, for contributory defined contribution plans, the most common deficiency relates to the timely remittance of employee contributions.

4. A big topic of discussion lately has been the new 403(b) Plan Requirements. Can you talk about that a bit and what employers ought to be considering with respect to these plans?

In the past, sponsors of 403(b) plans had very limited reporting requirements. Beginning with the 2009 Form 5500 filings, the reporting requirements of these plans will become more in line with that of traditional 401(k) plans, including the Department of Labor’s audit requirement. Obviously, employers of large plans will need to engage an independent qualified public accountant to perform the audit of their 403(b) plan. However, the first item that a plan sponsor should focus on is the preparation of their plan records. This may involve talking with their ERISA attorney to clarify the need for an audit, talking with their service provider for the timing and availability of the plan’s financial information and potentially engaging the services of a third-party administrator to coordinate the recordkeeping and other compliance aspects of plan administration. Plan sponsors of 403(b) plans will need to allocate a significant amount of time and resources this year to understand and comply with the new reporting requirements.

 

Continue Reading Five Questions with… Mathew Krukoski, CPA on Employee Benefit Plan Audits

From time to time, this blog features unedited interviews with people in the labor and employment arena who may be of interest to Connecticut employers.  Today, I’m very pleased to have Nina Pirrotti address a few questions for the blog.

Nina is an attorney with the lawfirm of Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Chimes, Richardson & Fitzgerald, P.C.  A graduate of Wesleyan University and Yale Law School, Nina joined that lawfirm in 2007, but has years of experience both at a major lawfirm and as a prosecutor in New York City.  Now, she mainly represents employees in all types of employment litigation matters; as such, companies in Connecticut may be on the opposing side of Nina and her firm at some point.

But of greater interest may be that she is the current President of the Connecticut Employment Lawyers Association (which she will tell us more about).   I will be speaking to that group next week on the management-side perspectives to employment litigation.  My sincere thanks to Nina for the invitation to speak to that group and to answer a few questions here for the reader.


1. Thanks for your time Nina. First off, can you tell us a little more about the organization that you chair?

I am the President of the Connecticut Employment Lawyer’s Association (“CT- NELA”), an affiliate of the National Employment Association “NELA”). Our state chapter’s interests are aligned with NELA: we are devoted to protecting and advancing the rights of employees in the workplace. CELA facilitates that goal in a number of ways. We prepare amicus briefs for cases in which a proper interpretation of the law may be critical to employee rights, have an active list serv, well-attended monthly meetings featuring speakers and presentations on a variety of topics relevant to the work that we do, and are about to launch a new website that will contain a number of resources helpful to our members and employees alike. The new website address, which should be up and running by mid October, is: www.ctnela.org.  [Ed. note: It is now up.]

2. As an attorney who mainly represents employees, are their common misconceptions about the work you do by companies? Or, in other words, what should companies know about the work you do?

Companies should know that my firm (and, I would suspect, most other plaintiffs’ employment law firms) scrutinizes every prospective client’s case that comes through our office, pick only a select few prospective clients to interview and agree to represent even fewer. By the time we have decided to represent a client, we have reached an informed decision that he/she has a viable case.

3. What is a common mistake or two that you see companies make when dealing with their employees?

One of the most common mistakes I see companies make is failing to engage the employee in an interactive dialogue in order to assess whether or not they can reasonably accommodate the employee’s disability.

4. In terms of dealing with employees that are being laid off, are their complaints you’ve heard from your clients about the way the employer treated him or her that could’ve been avoided or improved upon?

I had a client whose employer called her the day after she gave birth to inform her that she was being laid off. She received the news as she lay in her hospital bed. I would advise employers to ensure they use neutral criteria in their lay off decisions and, once the decision is made, convey it with compassion. I would also recommend that employers do everything in their power to facilitate the employee’s transition to another job. This includes a personalized letter of reference and, if economically feasible, outplacement counseling.

5. For separation agreements, what are some terms that you advise your clients to seek in the agreement? Are there any provisions that employers try to put in that you advise are "deal-breakers" for your clients?

The focus of separation agreements is usually on determining the appropriate amount of compensation and that figure varies depending upon a variety of factors such as the market, employment history and reason for termination. We look at all of those factors and seek to maximize the amount paid. We frown upon liquidated damages clauses and attempts to introduce covenants not to compete/solicit where none were agreed upon during employment but no provisions are per se deal breakers.

Continuing an occasional series of interviews with notable locals, today we sit down (virtually) with John Madigan, President and CEO of Executive Talent Services in West Hartford, CT.   ETS offers a wide range of HR-related consulting services for organizations, from improving performance of individual key talent to developing and integrating an organizational talent management strategy.  ETS also provides a "Career Concierge" service for busy executives who want some targeted help with their career.   ETS also provides outplacement services for employees laid off as part of a reduction in force.  

John started ETS in 2007 after extensive experience in corporate HR, specifically in the insurance and financial services sector. Most recently, he served as vice president of corporate staffing for The Hartford Financial Services Group. In that role, he led executive and professional recruiting for the enterprise, including field staffing for Property Casualty and Life businesses, college relations, assessment consulting and diversity staffing.  His full bio is here

In this time of turmoil at many businesses, John was kind enough to share his insights into the current recession and its effect on human resources at local companies.  I want to thank John for taking a few minutes to respond to some questions.  Feel free to check out his website here.

1. When employers are dealing with economic stresses, what can a company like ETS offer?

An employer should consider using a company like mine when they have needs in the outplacement, executive coaching or talent management space. Relative to outplacement, they should consider us when they are thinking through a reduction in force. It’s best for us to be brought in early to explore the options of how people are notified, what process to follow, etc. Too often, companies leave this to the last minute and it’s a scramble to organize it well

A smaller company such as ours can also provide a more high-touch service, personalized in nature especially for sensitive situations and senior level people. They should consider our coaching service for executives who are newly hired and need to ramp up quickly, or those being groomed for succession roles. For consulting services, they should think of us as they consider a reorganization and need to align HR practices with the goals and needs behind the desire to reorganize.

They should also think of us when they have specific pains like their staffing process is broken and they need help making it more effective, or they are losing too many of a particular kind of employee and need help with retention strategies.

2. What trends have you seen among employers who use your services?

Employers who use our services are generally more focused on their people and value employee development. They tend to have either energy or organization around leadership development and are willing to invest in that direction (put their money where their mouths are). Most of them are larger firms but many small to mid-sized companies are equally progressive and employee friendly, or more so.

3. What issues should an employer think about BEFORE contacting an HR consultant like yourself?

They should think about what exactly are they trying to accomplish, which could be in “need” form e.g. we need to stop the mass exit of…versus we need a training class on how to motivate employees. And, if they can, they should think about what would constitute success. They should also think about the type of firm, and the people in it, who might fit their culture and style. It’s not always best to pick a big name firm with a prescribed methodology (you know, the answer in search of any problem). Often, smaller firms like mine are more flexible and can “personalize” a strategy or approach to the organization so that “stickiness” in maximized.

4. In this time of recession, is developing leadership still important for companies?

Most companies are still very focused on leadership development. They know that the quality of their leaders translates into productivity, morale and even valuation (firms are increasingly valued by Wall Street with an eye toward the quality of their leaders). And, when development dollars become scarce, they tend to get focused on or channeled toward leadership development. Developing leaders has a multiplier effect.

5. Now’s the time that many companies are thinking about annual performance reviews. Is there something that companies may want to focus on when preparing these reviews?

Annual performance reviews are often cumbersome affairs that do little to really help either side. However, their effectiveness can certainly be maximized if clear goals are set early in the process, those goals are re-evaluated and refined as business conditions change so that both parties understand what’s being committed to and its realistic given the current environment. If ongoing dialogue has occurred throughout the year, the annual review should be pretty painless and not a surprise at all. The annual review can also trigger a follow up discussion of development objectives that would enhance the employee’s performance and/or add to longer term potential.