Harassment, termination policies among top HR issues in firms

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Accounting firms have fielded an increasing number of legal and human resources inquiries, chiefly regarding harassment policies, staff discipline and termination policies, according to a new report from national risk management and insurance provider CPA Mutual.

The report details the top five HR issues, in order of concern, based on the queries of CPA Mutual's member firms to its partner Enquiron — a national strategic business advisor for human resources, employment law and related fields — over the last year.

The most common complaint logged to firms' HR departments revolved around harassment and discrimination issues. With states such as California, New York and Deleware recently passing laws requiring managers and/or staff members of private sector employers to take harassment prevention training courses, these issues can be more prevalent than ever before.

“With the ‘Me Too’ movement and harassment claims in the news, these topics have been very hot in all industries, including accounting,” stated Enquiron account executive Pamela Morgan. “Employers are setting up training and getting guidance on how to update their handbooks. They also contact us proactively to ask questions about discriminatory or employer retaliation risks.”

The second biggest HR complaint in firms centered on employee termination and discharge policies. Vague or mishandled terminations can increase the risk of retaliation or other claims from former staff members, so firms want to make their termination policies are as clear as possible. “Accounting leaders want to avoid gray areas regarding terminations because there are federal as well as state laws guiding employee discharge processes. Employment law attorneys can assist with specific actions to help firms avoid inconsistent termination practices,” Morgan added.

Discipline policies, namely requests focused on whether the firm or HR leaders are following protocol on issues such as employee performance, policy violations and/or employee misconduct, ranked third. Any lack of consistency, poorly kept documentation or inappropriate employer communications can all have an effect on employee relations. Proper research, including interviews with the staff members involved in a particular issue, will keep the firm informed before making any disciplinary decisions. "That’s why it’s best to speak to an attorney before you engage in employee disciplinary actions,” said CPA Mutual president Bill Thompson in a statement.

Regulatory and compliance issues, followed by employment best practices, ranked fourth and fifth on the list of common complaints, respectively.

With statutory changes impacting paid and unpaid time off, parental leave and sick leave, accounting firms have been updating their policies as a result. As more states pass legislation, it’s become increasingly important for firms to communicate these updates to staff members in order to avoid confusion. Accounting firms are similarly reviewing compensation tables to match new federal and state laws passed over the last year (i.e., state minimum wage increases).

Best practices for staff members is another growing issue, especially considering the competitive hiring environment within the accounting profession. Factors such as flexible work policies, perks and unexpected work disruptions all factor into modern employee satisfaction.

“Employment attorneys and human resources specialists can share a snapshot of best practices today, but state or federal law may come out with new requirements to dictate best practices later,” added Thompson. “Accounting firm liabilities are definitely changing for many reasons, so you need attorneys who understand accounting firms and can guide you before your firm experiences a problem.”

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Workplace culture Workplace safety and security Workplace management Sexual harassment