Am I in compliance?

Usually, “being compliant” means preventing fines or penalties. And each year, “staying  compliant” becomes increasingly difficult as federal and state requirements often change.

This year is no exception.

Dealing with compliance can be a dizzying experience--from ACA, ERISA, OSHA and HIPAA,   to covering the many specifications for health benefits, security and privacy, workplace safety, unemployment, Workers Compensation, disability, and the like. But while compliance is an obvious necessity, there can also be some gains from being pro-active in monitoring your company’s compliance.

Here are some suggestions about ways to check for compliance, not only for freedom from fines, but also for benefits you can derive during the process:

1. Maintain a Benefits Notice Calendar

Make sure your company has a Benefits Notice Calendar and keep an eye on it. The calendar keeps track of the dates for filings required under federal (and state) law. When a major filing is due, you can check up with your staff member who is responsible for fulfilling the requirement. This is a good time to learn of any changes that affect your employees and your company, as well as to touch base with your team member: “How are things going?” “Any suggestions?” “Should we be doing something different?”  “Any suggestions?”

2. Review Written Policies/Procedures/Benefits

Maintaining a timely, clearly written list of company policies and procedures manages employees’ expectations and protects your company from exposure to non-compliance with regulatory requirements. Make sure your HR staff also regularly reviews and updates the documentation, while apprising you of any existing irregularities and changes, and providing a systematic way to remind the staff of the contents and the importance of adhering to the stated procedures. If your HR department uses Performance Management techniques, be sure that the Performance Reviews are held as required.

3. Schedule Regular Meetings with the Head of HR

Ultimately, the Chief Executive Officer (or President) is responsible for compliance. However, in most organizations, the Head of Human Resources is usually responsible for the day-to-day demands. Because of the complexities and nuances of state and local legislation, leadership must be kept aware of how the regulations are affecting the company. Regular meetings allow for timely reporting, and they provide opportunities for other company decision-makers to participate, learn, and share concerns and ideas about keeping in compliance. Meeting the challenges of maintaining compliance should be seen as a team effort.

4. Update Data Integration

Accurate and timely record keeping is at the heart of maintaining compliance. Despite the availability of automated/computerized data systems, often we use outdated tools because they are comfortable, while not the best available. It could be a worthwhile investment to update with the right tool. Talk to the members of your team who are responsible for collecting and inputting the data, and coordinate your discussions with IT. For example, for ACA compliance, your system should be integrating data from disparate systems, such as Payroll, Benefits, and HR. Be sure you also have the infrastructure you need to collect and protect your information while keeping it readily available. Be prepared for surprise audits or visits from regulatory agencies.

5. Control Security and Privacy

With the advent of the “smart phone” and other popular technology, privacy feels like a thing of the past, and security is becoming more difficult. Setting up rules for using personal communication devices in the workplace is a challenging but necessary task.  Compliance demands proper and effective security controls to maintain the integrity of information such as health and employment data and restricted or proprietary company data. Be sure that your company is in compliance with the regulatory safeguards for mobile laptops and “smart phones” or PDAs.  Clearly delineate your policies and circulate them throughout your organization. As you go through your daily routines, it’s not hard to see if the policies are being followed—and to make sure that they are.

6. Check-in With Your OSHA Compliance Officer

OSHA regulations assure that your workplace meets all applicable local and federal guidelines for safety. Complying with the OSHA regulations includes regular safety checks, fire drills, inspections, workplace safety posters, and employee training where necessary.  This is a year-round responsibility that calls for proactivity, not complacency. Make the time to walk through your workplace areas to check that notices are up-to-date and haven't been altered or defaced. Postings include EEOC notices about employment rights, FLSA minimum wage posters and workplace safety posters. A simple walk-through and correction can save you a fine, and more than that—it might protect your employees from harm.

7. Institute More Employee Benefits Meetings

Most HR departments lead annual meetings when it’s “open season” for changing health care plans or options. But today’s changing landscape of health care coverage, especially the ever-challenged Affordable Care Act, requires greater vigilance and frequent communication. Create more opportunities for explaining and training. You can save your employees time, confusion and desperation, while you save your company from frustration and litigation.

8.  Communicate. Communicate. Communicate

Being compliant doesn’t mean being complacent. Compliance is a panoramic moving picture--not a “selfie,” not a still-shot.  It requires high-level presence and oversight.  Knowing you’re compliant requires everyone throughout your organization being aware that you and your team are on top of things, keeping up with compliance demands, filings, audits, data collection, reviewing, renewing, listening and learning—not only to avoid penalties and fines, but to provide a fair, safe and proactive work environment.


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