Archive for March, 2011

Joe’s Jottings

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Joe ReillyMarch 31, 2011

By Joe Reilly

We are not an “employment agency,” but we can be a great source for referrals!

Because PCS operates at the center of every business… payroll… we become aware of many situations where companies are “downsizing, rightsizing,” or just making changes in infrastructure, which often affect good employees.  And, let’s face it; in today’s economy it can be very difficult to find a new opportunity…even for the highest quality employee.

We also become aware of companies that are in need of good people!  So, let us help on both sides.  If you are downsizing in the areas of administration, finance, or payroll, tell us.  Provide us with some details, and your PCS contact will forward the information to others within our organization.  If you have a need in one of these areas, tell us.  Of course, we can’t always guarantee that we can help, but we can at least be another avenue of opportunity for companies and good employees!!

Our job at PCS is to bring value to our customers.  If that means helping you beyond just processing payroll, then we’re happy to be of service!

Please call me anytime if you have suggestions or thoughts about how we can help you and your company succeed.  My cell phone number is 763-567-8387.  I can be reached anytime.

Best wishes for a bright future!

Joe Reilly, Jr.

Founder and CEO

Payroll Control Systems

“The New American Game – Customer Service Hide & Seek”

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Hide-N-SeekFebruary 15, 2011

Stevie Ray

The following is a phone conversation I had with the customer service department of a company that sold me bookkeeping software.  This is the most popular software for home and small business bookkeeping in the country.  After the US government changed the regulations about Social Security withholding, my software got confused.  When I tried to enter a payroll transaction using the new amounts, the program gave me the same look my seven year-old stepdaughter gives me when I sing in the car.

To find a solution I logged onto the company’s website.  The home page featured huge graphics and photos touting all their new products.  Everywhere you looked was “Click Here To Buy” and “Download Now!”  Nowhere was “Have a Problem?  Click here.”   I pulled out my magnifying glass and, at the far bottom of the page in tiny two-point font, was a Contact Us link.  I clicked it, foolishly thinking that it might allow me to… I don’t know… contact someone?  I was redirected to another page that asked me to check a series of boxes describing my problem.  This produced another page that claimed Here is a solution to your problem, only it wasn’t a solution to my problem.

The website asked me if the answer had solved my problem.  When I checked that it didn’t I was given the opportunity to post my question in the Member Forum section.  So, rather than the people who actually developed the program helping me, I could bank on the random suggestions of other customers.  After another look at the website I finally found an 800 number.  Yay!  I’m going to talk to a real person.  I dialed and got a computer recorded voice that said all issues could be solved by logging onto their website.

I went back to the website and found a different 800 number.   When I got a live person I was told they couldn’t solve my problem.  So they gave me another phone number, this one with an area code within the United States!  We customers get a little excited when the phone number has an area code other than 800.  We assume we are finally going to speak to someone sitting in an office, maybe even at the company’s office.

I called the new number.  After explaining my problem to the woman on the phone she said, “Hold please.”  After a click, I got the same computer recorded voice from the website telling me that all problems could be solved on the website.

I called the 800 number I had called before.  In the following dialogue the italicized lines are theirs, plain text is mine.  Please believe that I have not exaggerated the dialogue or inserted anything that wasn’t actually said.

Hello.  Thank you for calling Really Quick Checkbook.  How can I help you? Yes, I have been using the Business version of your program for quite a few years without a problem, but the federal government has just changed the regulations so that the amount deducted for the employee’s Social Security payments are different from that of the employer’s.  It seems to be throwing off the program.  I am sorry you are experiencing problems with the program and I will do everything I can to solve this issue for you.  Can you take me step-by-step through the transaction you are attempting to set up? Absolutely, but I am not setting up a new type of transaction.   This is a common payroll transaction already built into the program.  Oh, then you want our online payroll service. No, I don’t want you to handle my payroll.  I just want to track it with your program.  I understand.   I will need you to walk me through it line by line. If you aren’t familiar with the transaction I’m talking about, maybe I should talk to someone who has done this before.   Mr. Ray, I assure you I am the best person to take care of this for you.

(After five minutes of teaching this person how to log, line by line, a common transaction, she finally said she wasn’t the best person to take care of this.  I was being bumped up the ladder!  A new voice came on the phone…)  Hello Mr. Ray, I have looked over the notes from my colleague.  Could you explain the problem to me? Yes, this is a simple payroll tracking function of the program, but with the changes to FICA…To what?…FICA…FICA?…F-I-C-A.  Social Security!  I see. With the new regulations, the program can’t track payments of two different amounts.

I see, Mr. Ray.  The problem is, this is a simple calculation.  If you have two different amounts, the calculation is thrown off. I know, hence my call to you.  What you should really do is buy our Really Quick Businessbook program.  It is set up for the kind of payroll tracking you want. I looked into that program already.  Not only is it really expensive, but it has all kinds of functions I don’t need.  When I bought the program I have, I was told it would handle the simple bookkeeping my company requires.  I am sorry, but I don’t believe there is anything we can do. Well, I am not happy that I spent a lot of money on a program that won’t work.  Is there someone else who can help me?  (Stevie gets bumped up the ladder again!  The next voice was about the speed of an auctioneer.)

Hello Mr. Ray.  I am the supervisor and I have read the comments logged by my colleague.  The transaction you are attempting is no longer compatible with this program.   You are going to have to buy Really Quick Businessbooks. I don’t understand.  I bought the program I have now only a few months ago and it promised to handle this type of transaction.  Now it doesn’t work.   I am sorry Mr. Ray, but there is no way to fix the program for the change you requested.

(Insert whatever irritated voice you imagine me having at this point.)  Look.  Thousands of people across the United States are using this program for the exact purpose that I am.  The government changed the FICA regulations for everyone.  Your company is going to receive thousands of calls about this.  Wouldn’t it make sense to have a solution, not just for me, but for everyone else who is likely to call?   I have done all I can, sir. So the only solution you have for the thousands of people who bought this program is that they have to buy a different one.   I’m sorry, there is nothing else I can do. Who else can I talk to?

There is no one else above me, Mr. Ray. You don’t have a supervisor? I have sent this issue to them and if they feel a response is required they will contact you.

I am still sitting here with a program that doesn’t work.  What do I do if they don’t feel that a response is required?  Then that is the end of the issue. That would be the end of the issue for you.  I am still left out.  I have left e-mail messages on the Troubleshooting page of your website.  I have logged on to the Member Forum section.  So far, not one person thought that a response was required.   I have done all I can and there is no one above me, Mr. Ray.

There is no one above you? No, sir. You OWN the Really Quick Company?  Of course not, sir. Then there is someone above you.  You get a paycheck from someone, and maybe that someone cares about whether the product they sell actually does what it claims to do.  The irony is the paycheck you receive probably can’t be tracked on your own software because the program can’t handle the new government regulations.  I don’t understand what that means. I am quite sure you don’t.

To date, no one from the Really Quick Company has thought “a response was required.”  And I am still left with a non-functioning program.  I would like every company in America to examine the design of their websites and marketing materials, and to examine their budgets.  Compare the amount of space used to sell things with that used to tell customers where they can go for help.  Compare the time spent training your sales staff with the amount used to train your customer service teams.  Compare the budget devoted to rewarding your sales people as compared to that used to reward those who keep the clients to whom you have sold products.  My guess is that most companies will have a lopsided graph, and a much-needed shift in priorities.

First published in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal

Stevie Ray is a nationally recognized corporate speaker and trainer, helping companies improve communication skills, customer service, leadership, and team management.  He can be reached at 612-825-1832 or stevie@stevierays.org.

Legal Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and by no means should replace or substitute other legal documents (governmental or non-governmental) reflecting similar content or advice. If you have any questions concerning your situation or the information provided, please consult with an attorney, CPA or HR Professional.

HSAs Gain Favorable WI Tax Treatment

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

HSA WI Tax UpdateMarch 2011

Pamela Branshaw, CPA, CEBS

In a long-awaited move, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed into law the 2011 Wisconsin Act 1 on January 24, 2011. This Act changes Wisconsin income tax law to conform with federal tax law as it relates to health savings accounts (“HSAs”). Effective January 1, 2011, HSA account owners are no longer subject to Wisconsin income taxes on contributions, provided they do not exceed statutory limitations. In addition, earnings on HSAs are income tax-free as long as they are used for qualified medical expenses. This tax break is expected to save Wisconsin taxpayers over $49 million during the next two years and will not only reduce complexity related to payroll reporting and income tax preparation, but will help make health care a little more affordable. Prior to the enactment of this law, Wisconsin was one of only four states that did not allow favorable tax treatment of HSAs.

Immediate Action Required
For employers that sponsor cafeteria plans which allow employees to make pre-tax contributions to an HSA, the payroll deductions setup should be changed immediately to reflect these deductions as pre-tax deductions instead of post-tax deductions. Thus, HSA contributions will no longer be subject to Wisconsin income tax withholding. In addition, all employer contributions to HSAs will be tax-free and no longer should be added to Wisconsin taxable wages on Form W-2. Note that the new law does not apply to nonpayroll HSA contributions made from January 1, 2011, to April 18, 2011, which are designated for the 2010 year.

Other Considerations
This law change also means that HSA account owners will have income tax basis in their accounts to track in the event a distribution is taken for other than medical expenses in the future. If this should occur, the taxpayer will have a recovery of basis and applicable earnings for Wisconsin income tax purposes, instead of reporting the entire HSA distribution as taxable for federal purposes. The account balance as of December 31, 2010 (which consists of nondeductible contributions and taxable earnings from the inception date of HSAs on January 1, 2004, through December 31, 2010) should represent the total Wisconsin income tax basis for most taxpayers. If the HSA is used for qualified medical expenses, the Wisconsin income tax basis will be irrelevant.

HSA Summary – A comprehensive summary on health savings accounts.

Contributed By:

WIPFLi CPAs and Consultants

Pamela Branshaw, CPA, CEBS
pbranshaw@wipfli.com
715.858.6607

Tom Krieg, CPA
tkrieg@wipfli.com
715.843.7443

Bob Buss, CPA, CEBS
bbuss@wipfli.com
920.662.2851

Legal Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and by no means should replace or substitute other legal documents (governmental or non-governmental) reflecting similar content or advice. If you have any questions concerning your situation or the information provided, please consult with an attorney, CPA or HR Professional.

EEOC Breaking New Ground

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Hiring PracticesMarch 2011 – Minnesota

By: James B. Sherman, Esq.

Employers have long known not to press job applicants for information such as age, race, religion, etc., and, more recently, disability status unless in one of those rare instances where the information is a bona-fide occupational qualification. After all, most everyone knows of the federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of age, race, religion, etc. in regard to terms and conditions of employment, including hiring. But how many employers have heard of laws prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of being unemployed, or based on a person’s zip code? The fact is there are no such laws – at least not yet – but this has not prevented the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from challenging employers’ hiring decisions if they rely on such information.

On February 16, 2011, the EEOC held hearings to address concerns that employers are now screening out job applicants based on their status as “unemployed.” Specifically, the EEOC is concerned that employers are systematically refusing to interview candidates whose resumes show they are unemployed at the time of their application. Given today’s high unemployment rates, frankly, it should come as no surprise that many job applicants are unemployed. However, the EEOC is relying on statistics that blacks, Hispanics, older workers and disabled workers, all of whom are protected by various federal laws, make up a greater percentage of those who remain unemployed. This being the case, a practice of rejecting job candidates simply because they are unemployed could have a “disparate impact” on minorities and other groups protected from discrimination under federal law.

Last October the EEOC held similar hearings on whether pre-employment credit checks have a similar disparate impact on minorities. The outcome of those hearings was both evident and swift when only two months later the EEOC filed a class action law suit against a large employer who used pre-employment credit checks for its job applicants. Allegedly the employer’s policy was to weed out any applicants with poor credit ratings. The suit alleged that the employer’s hiring practice was neither job-related nor justified and had the effect of discriminating against African-American applicants because statistically, as a group, they tend to have poorer credit scores. Whether any court adopts the EEOC’s new theory on credit scores remains to be seen; just as employers are left to wonder whether anyone will soon be sued for “unemployment discrimination.”

One thing seems clear: the EEOC seems intent on expanding the growing list of forbidden pre-employment inquiries to include subjects previously unforeseen by employers. When laws are passed, employers rely on counsel to advise them of their responsibilities. However, when the EEOC or some other agency merely changes or adopts a new theory or position on what is unlawful, the word does not always get out. This is unfortunate and potentially fatal to employers since EEOC litigation is increasingly brought as class action litigation, particularly in challenges to hiring practices which arguably impact many applicants.

At least in the case of credit scores employers are somewhat put on notice by the fact that the issue has found its way into many state legislatures. Illinois, for starters, already has a state law restricting background checks into an applicant’s credit history and at least 14 other states are considering similar legislature. But few could predict the EEOC’s latest foray into possibly declaring unlawful an employer’s reliance on an applicant’s status as unemployed. In another instance, not long ago the Chair of the EEOC was in Minneapolis telling lawyers how the EEOC was exploring a theory called “address” discrimination. As the theory goes, if an employer rejects an applicant because his or her zip code, or because the person lives on a “street” or “avenue” versus a “way” or “court”, chances are it disproportionately impacts a protected minority group or some other protected class.

With the EEOC expanding its list of unlawful pre-employment inquiries at a seemingly torrid pace these days, what can employers do to stay out of court? Well, first of all, look on the bright side – if you are hiring at all your company may well be on the upside of the recession. On a more practical note, try to stay aware of what the EEOC is doing and saying because, like it or not, if the federal government sues your company on any of these new theories it will be a costly and unpleasant experience, to say the least. The best practice for employers is to avoid blanket policies or practices that reject job applicants who may otherwise be qualified, based on a single ground unless it is closely related to the job opening and consistent with business necessity. On a final note: Do any employers really screen job applicants based on their address?

Reprinted with permission of Wessels Sherman Law Firm

Contact any Wessels Sherman attorney to discuss questions regarding this subject.

Legal Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and by no means should replace or substitute other legal documents (governmental or non-governmental) reflecting similar content or advice. If you have any questions concerning your situation or the information provided, please consult with an attorney, CPA or HR Professional.

Social Media In the Workplace

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Facebook IconMarch 2011

By: Walter J. Liszka, Esq.

Since Facebook has become the largest of all online social networks (estimated with over 500,000,000 active users worldwide), it is becoming one of the most difficult entities to control in the workplace. While employers can take the position of no involvement whatsoever with regard to their employees’ use of Facebook, this is quickly becoming analogous to an ostrich sticking its head in the sand and hoping the potential problem goes away – it will not. Every day, the potential of a problem involving Facebook and your employees becomes greater. But what is an employer to do – ban the use of Facebook at its facilities; allow its use only for business purposes; or give its employees free rein to use it at their whim?

Before you make a choice as to how to deal with Facebook, consider the following:

Complete Ban: If you choose to completely ban or block Facebook on your intranet sources, you certainly won’t be losing employee work time in pursuing Facebook inquiries. But you will in all probability create a wave of resentment, potential morale problems, and even the possibility of employees checking Facebook on their own Smartphones while hiding under their desk, in lavatories, hallways, etc. Banning Facebook is not a viable option and does not allow an employer much control over this potentially invasive tool.

Business Use: Allowing access for employees with a legitimate business reason and advanced written permission would have the potential to cut out a lot of wasted time and control access. This may be the preferable option for certain businesses (i.e. advertising, consultants, headhunters, etc.) who can find uses of Facebook as an adjunct to enhance their business opportunities.

Facebook Access with Guidelines: This is the preferable option for employees and potentially for employers as well. It is an option if you very clearly outline in your company policies that the use of Facebook should not interfere with job performance and employees must police themselves with regard to time, access and commentary. It must be clearly stated that if employees are spending too much time on Facebook, which can be a detriment to their work, you will address this issue under job performance discipline.

Regardless of whether employees are using company equipment or their own equipment to access Facebook, you can and must require that they do this on a professional basis:

  • Under no circumstances should employees use company e-mail addresses when signing up for their personal Facebook accounts. This can create an impression of company sanctioning of comments, etc.
  • Under no circumstances should employees give the impression that they are acting as employees of or representatives of their employer. It is also strongly advised that if employees identify themselves, they should have a clear disclaimer that their opinions, as stated on Facebook, are theirs and theirs alone and do not represent the company’s ideas or positions.
  • Remind and re-enforce with employees that there is an absolute prohibition of the dissemination or discussion of confidential and proprietary information on any Facebook account. Also, they should be reminded that comments about any work-related issues (i.e. jobs they are performing, length of time they are required to spend on jobs, etc.) are completely inappropriate.
  • Should you allow your employees to use company equipment to access Facebook, they must avoid any links or attachments unless they are absolutely clean, uninfected, and business-appropriate. Make sure they also understand that any comments they make on Facebook have no expectation of privacy when using company equipment and are always accessible by the company. Also make absolutely certain they understand that should they post any inappropriate comments with regard to a business or their fellow employees, they are subject to disciplinary action based on harassment and discriminatory policies of the company.

Facebook itself is not the enemy. Like any other business tool, it must be used correctly and within the guidelines established by you as the employer.

Reprinted with permission of Wessels Sherman Law Firm

Contact any Wessels Sherman attorney to discuss questions regarding this subject.

Legal Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and by no means should replace or substitute other legal documents (governmental or non-governmental) reflecting similar content or advice. If you have any questions concerning your situation or the information provided, please consult with an attorney, CPA or HR Professional.

Business Succession Seminar Announced

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Business SuccessionAs business revenues and business values declined over the past several years, many owners delayed their departures from their businesses.  Those owners, now five years older, are energetically seeking buy-outs from their other owners.  Unfortunately, buy-out disputes are occurring between departing owners and remaining owners about stock values, stock payment schedules, non-competes and the sale of the business.

PCS Client Koepke Law and PCS Partner Sunbelt Business Brokers will be presenting the seminar “Must-Knows for Successful Business Succession” on April 28th from 9am to 11:30am at the Crowne Plaza Minneapolis West (formerly Radisson Conference Center), 3131 Campus Drive, Plymouth, MN 55441.

A panel discussion on the following topics will be presented:

  • What is Business Succession?
  • Why is a Shareholder Agreement Important?
  • What is your Business Worth?
  • Where Does the Money Come From for the Buyout?
  • Shareholder Lawsuits and Resolving Shareholder Disputes.

This is a complimentary seminar.  We encourage you to bring a colleague or friend who may be interested in these topics.  Seating is limited so please reserve your seat by contacting Nancy Donahue at (763) 201-1210 or ndonahue@koepkelaw.com.  For more information on the seminar, click here.

Legal Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and by no means should replace or substitute other legal documents (governmental or non-governmental) reflecting similar content or advice. If you have any questions concerning your situation or the information provided, please consult with an attorney, CPA or HR Professional.

PCS wins 2011 Small Business Blue Ribbon Award

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
2011 Small Business Blue Ribbon Award

2011 Small Business Blue Ribbon Award

Last week, PCS was recognized with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “2011 Small Business Blue Ribbon Award.” This award carries special meaning to us and we thank all of our Clients and supporters for the recognition.

Along with this award, the Chamber has encouraged us to rally our supporters to vote for us in the “Community Excellence Award” category.  Since this is a popular vote based strictly on the volume of votes, we are asking you to please click on the link below and vote for Payroll Control Systems.

Please click here to vote!

The voting ends this Friday, March 11th, so if you can, please vote at your earliest convenience.  Also forwarding this to your friends and family would be greatly appreciated.

We thank you for your past support, and appreciate any help you can provide!