Standing Up For Yourself

by Evil HR Lady on February 25, 2010

I am the HR Assistant at a decent-sized (160+ employees) company. Due to reasons I cannot discuss, the HR Director was suddenly terminated a few months ago. After a little over a month of keeping the department afloat by myself, we found a new director and I was happy.

Today, however, my new boss contacted our benefits administrators to make a change to the effective end date of benefits when people are terminated. Our current policy states that because we have them prepay a month in advance for benefits, their last day of benefits is 30 days after their term date. The new director feels that this makes the bill too difficult to figure out and it needs to change so that benefits run out at the end of the month they are terminated.

My issue is that all of the employees currently on our plan have already prepaid and thus either need to receive those benefits or be reimbursed. I approached my boss with these concerns and was told that our insurance rep told her the 30 day plan wasn’t possible anymore. I pushed the issue a little in a respectful manner, and she called our rep with me in the room and complained to her that she keeps “trying to make changes here but keeps being met with all this slack.” After discussing it with them we found out that we were always able to keep our old policy, but the new director is still set on changing it. She says that the money our employees have prepaid will “all come out in the wash” and that we wouldn’t be able to reimburse anyone. If an employee has a family insurance plan, this shorts them almost $900.00. That won’t come out in the wash.

Other than find a new job, which I am currently doing due to a number of other issues, is there anything I can do in this situation? Should I even try anything other than voicing my concerns since I am not a director?

Well, I think it makes sense to have benefits terminate at the end of the calendar month. So, I’m on your director’s side there. But, I’m on your side on the whole “No one will care that we’re screwing them over for $900,” thing. Of course, the solution for that is to always quit on the first of the month, and never in February.

Anyway, this does not answer your question at all. There’s something wrong in your director’s head–she’s somehow not recognizing that it’s not the policy you’re objecting to, it’s the consequences of that policy. (If it is the date change you are objecting to, well then you need to get on board with that. It’s not a battle worth fighting.) I’ve supported policies that I think are stupid and short sighted because once I’ve said my piece, it’s my job to carry them out. I will not, however, carry out policies that are immoral or illegal.

This, I believe is definitely the former and most likely the latter. I only say most likely because, presumably, you could get employees to sign a waiver that indicates that they realize that over payments of benefits will not be refunded. However, I am not a benefits lawyer (nor any kind of lawyer), and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that that type of waiver violates ERISA or some other benefits law. Regardless of the legality, this is just wrong.

And when things are wrong, you need to bring it up.

I understand that it will be easier to figure out the bill if you change to this policy. I understand that the ease of the bill comes along with a more complicated final pay check if you refund the money. Got it. Solving complicated problems is why we get paid. If there were not complicated problems to solve, trained monkeys could do the job. (All right, all right, I’m anticipating the comments about how trained monkeys would be better than your stupid, dumb, imbecilic HR department. Fine. But most of us are smarter than monkeys. Even trained ones.)

So, yes, I think you need to say something, again. And I think it’s important that you do so in the proper way, and document, document, document. Your behind may be on the line because of it, and it could get you fired. If it does, you can sue for violating whistle-blower protection laws, or something. Unless it’s not illegal, in which case, it stinks to be you.

You need to clearly, in an e-mail, so it is documented, state your objection. Make sure you separate out the date change from the payment question. Give your full fledged support to the date change. You are not trying to undermine her ideas. You want change. You just don’t want to do something wrong.

I would say:

Dear HR Director,

I want you to know that I fully support changing the date of benefits termination to the last day of the calender month in which an employee terminates. As you have stated, this will simplify our benefits billing, and be easier to explain to employees.

However, it is my understanding that we would not be refunding overpayments. If this is the case, I cannot support not this. I am concerned that this policy would open us up to legal challenges. We would be cheating employees out of their own money. This not only has legal and moral ramifications, but it will also affect employee morale.

If this policy is implemented, I will have to take this up with [HR director's boss] and make her aware of the potential liabilities this creates for the company.

If I have misunderstood how the policy will be implemented, can you please clarify for me.

Sincerely,

HR Assistant.

If your boss has half a clue, she’ll realize what she’s doing is wrong, blame you for being so stupid and not understanding that she clearly meant to refund money and it will all go away. (You will be blamed, by the way. I can almost guarantee it. )

If your boss insists, I think you morally have an obligation to escalate this issue. Honest to goodness, you have 160 employees. How many are quitting in a month? It can’t be that many. This should not be so complicated. Besides, refunds would be payroll’s problem, not yours. (Heh. Love you payroll! Honest!)

And the accountants–they wouldn’t know where to place the extra benefit money anyway. What a mess this would be. So speak up. Loudly and clearly. And get your resume ready.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Rachel - former HR blogger February 26, 2010 at 2:20 am

I would leave out the line about taking it to the next level. Even though that is what you should and hopefully will do, it sounds like a threat. You will never be able to repair a relationship with a manager you threaten.

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pelican February 26, 2010 at 5:06 am

I would probably leave out the line about "I cannot support this" and change the next sentence to "I am very concerned that this policy would open us up to potential ERISA and/or other litigation." I would also avoid the word "cheating."

I would leave in, but heavily rework, the part about taking it up the chain- perhaps saying something like "I feel very strongly that we need to run this by the general counsel and HR boss before we decide to go forward" or something.

I would also totally be prepared to play "stupid me" and take the blame for "misunderstanding."

And, yeah … time for a new job. Good luck in your search.

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Anonymous February 26, 2010 at 1:50 pm

I am an HR Director, and at our business we bill for insurance in advance. If someone resigns with premiums paid for the following month, we reimburse them. We have 1,600 employees and a lot of turnover. It is not that complicated and it is the right thing to do.

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Anonymous February 26, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I'd bet strongly on "illegal." Collecting insurance premiums and then keeping them without providing promised insurance? The State Department of Insurance isn't going to like that at all.

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El Comodoro February 26, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Agree with Rachel and Pelican. The whole "I'll take this over your head if you cross me" part won't go over well. At all. Imply it, but don't state it. The vague threat of force is so much better than the actuality.

And I hate hate HATE honchos that will conference call some 3rd party and scapegoat one of their own on speakerphone. It's classless, and degrades your company. Stop it.

Good thing this is only a temporary fight before hitting the exit. Good luck.

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Anonymous February 27, 2010 at 10:09 pm

I'd go a different route:

Dear Boss,

In my private life I am friends with other HR professionals, and I occasionally hear stories of other people's work. Although I cannot share specifics, I seem to recall hearing about a similar situation at a different firm, which was found to be illegal.

I suggest that we check with our counsel to see if this policy is legal, before we put it into place. It will be a comparatively low cost and could potentially avoid a lawsuit later.

May I have your permission to contact our counsel and ask for a quick oral opinion, before we proceed? Or would you prefer to do that yourself?

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Lignum March 3, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Put everything in writing and copy the necessary persons. When the shoes start flying you won't get caught in the head!

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