For businesses, so much has changed over the past year or so. The COVID-19 pandemic hit suddenly and companies were forced to react quickly — sending many employees home to work remotely and making myriad other tweaks and revisions to their processes.

Understandably, you may not have fully documented all the changes you’ve made. But you should; and among the ideal places to do so is in your employee handbook. Now that optimism is rising for a return to relative normalcy, why not look at your handbook with fresh eyes and ensure it accurately represents your company’s policies and procedures.

Legal considerations

Among the primary reasons companies create employee handbooks is protection from legal challenges. Clearly written HR policies and procedures will strengthen your defense if an employee sues. Don’t wait to test this theory in court: Ask your attorney to review the legal soundness of your handbook and make all recommended changes.

Why is this so important? A supervisor without a legally sound and updated employee handbook is like a coach with an old rulebook. You can’t expect supervisors or team members to play by the rules if they don’t know whether and how those rules have changed.

Make sure employees sign a statement acknowledging that they’ve read and understood the latest version of your handbook. Obviously, this applies to new hires, but also ask current employees to sign a new statement when you make major revisions.

Motivational language

Employee handbooks can also communicate the total value of working for your company. Workers don’t always appreciate the benefits their employers provide. This is often because they, and maybe even some managers, aren’t fully aware of those offerings.

Your handbook should express that you care about employees’ welfare — a key point to reinforce given the events of the past year. It also should show precisely how you provide support.

To do so, identify and explain all employee benefits. Don’t stop with the obvious descriptions of health care and retirement plans. Describe your current paid sick time and paid leave policies, which have no doubt been transformed by federal COVID relief measures, as well as any work schedule flexibility and fringe benefits that you offer.

Originality and specificity

One word of caution: When updating their handbooks, some businesses acquire a “best in class” example from another employer and try to adopt it as their own. Doing so generally isn’t a good idea. That other handbook’s tone may be inappropriate or at least inconsistent with your industry or organizational culture.

Similarly, be careful about downloading handbook templates from the Internet. Chances are you’ll have no idea who wrote the original, let alone if it complies with current laws and regulations.

Document and guide

Your employee handbook should serve as a clearly written document for legal purposes and a helpful guide for your company’s workforce. Our firm can help you track your employment costs and develop solutions to any challenges you face.

© 2021

Lessons of 2020: Change management

The year 2020 has taught businesses many lessons. The sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic followed by drastic changes to the economy have forced companies to alter the size of their workforces, restructure work environments and revise sales models — just to name a few challenges. And what this has all meant for employees is change.

Even before this year’s public health crisis, many businesses were looking into and setting forth policies regarding change management. In short, this is a formalized approach to providing employees the information, training and ongoing coaching needed to successfully adapt to any modification to their day-to-day jobs.

There’s little doubt that one of the enduring lessons of 2020 is that businesses must be able to shepherd employees through difficult transitions, even (or especially) when the company itself didn’t bring about the change in question.

Why change is hard

Most employees resist change for many reasons. There’s often a perceived loss of, or threat to, job security or status. Inconvenience and unfamiliarity provoke apprehension. In some cases, perhaps because of misinformation, employees may distrust their employers’ motives for a change. And some workers will always simply believe the “old way is better.”

What’s worse, some changes might make employees’ jobs more difficult. For example, moving to a new location might enhance an organization’s image or provide safer or more productive facilities. But doing so also may increase some employees’ commuting times or put employees in a drastically different working environment. When their daily lives are affected in such ways, employees tend to question the decision and experience high levels of anxiety.

What you shouldn’t do

Often, when employees resist change, a company’s decision-makers can’t understand how ideas they’ve spent weeks, months or years deliberating could be so quickly rejected. (Of course, in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, tough choices had to be made in a matter of days.) Some leadership teams forget that employees haven’t had time to adjust to a new idea. Instead of working to ease employee fears, executives or supervisors may double down on the change, more strictly enforcing new rules and showing little patience for disagreements or concerns.

And it’s here the implementation effort can break down and start costing the business real dollars and cents. Employees may resist change in many destructive ways, from taking very slow learning curves to calling in sick to filing formal complaints or lawsuits. Some might even quit.

The bottom line: by not engaging in some form of change management, you’re more likely to experience reduced productivity, bad morale and increased turnover.

How to cope

“Life comes at ya fast,” goes the popular saying. Given the events of this year, it’s safe to say that most business owners would agree. Identify ways you’ve been able to help employees deal with this year’s changes and document them so they can be of use to your company in the future. Contact us for help cost-effectively managing your business.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the fourth quarter of 2020. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

Thursday, October 15

  • If a calendar-year C corporation that filed an automatic six-month extension:
    • File a 2019 income tax return (Form 1120) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
    • Make contributions for 2019 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.

Monday, November 2

  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2020 (Form 941) and pay any tax due. (See exception below under “November 10.”)

Tuesday, November 10

  • Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for third quarter 2020 (Form 941), if you deposited on time (and in full) all of the associated taxes due.

Tuesday, December 15

  • If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the fourth installment of 2020 estimated income taxes.

Thursday, December 31

  • Establish a retirement plan for 2020 (generally other than a SIMPLE, a Safe-Harbor 401(k) or a SEP).

© 2020 Covenant CPA