More Than Meets the Eye: Seeing the Smaller Details of the HSA

By: Marsh & McLennan Agency

More Than Meets the Eye: Seeing the Smaller Details of the HSA

Ann Marie Olszewski

Many employers, with plan years renewing on January 1, are currently in the thick of annual enrollment activity. According to Marsh & McLennan Agency’s 2017 Southeast Michigan Mid-Market Group Benefits Survey, 52 percent of employers surveyed offered a qualified high deductible health plan (HDHP) to employees, and about a quarter of all survey participants’ employees are enrolled for this type of coverage.  A health savings account (HSA) is a complex and often confusing component of HDHP enrollment. Communicating the myriad details of the HSA to employees is always a challenge.

Employers typically provide information about the HSA’s annual contribution maximums and expenses eligible for reimbursement. They will usually relate the basic eligibility guidelines. But there are aspects of the HSA that are lesser known, yet likely to affect some account holders and their dependents. We will examine a few of those provisions here.

  • It’s Not Just for Medical Expenses. It is common to think of the HSA only in terms of medical care, but it can also be used to pay for eligible dental, vision and hearing expenses not covered by another health plan. This means an employee can use HSA funds for a hearing aid or orthodontia treatment. It can also be used to pay for COBRA premiums if the employee’s health coverage terminates.
  • HSA Contributions Made by Veterans. A veteran, eligible for Veterans Health Administration (VA) benefits, is unable to make HSA contributions if VA medical benefits for non-preventive care were received in the preceding three months. This rule was amended as of January 1, 2016. Veterans receiving VA benefits for service-related disabilities, who are otherwise eligible to make HSA contributions, may still make tax-deferred HSA contributions.

If you employ any veterans, you may want to point out this important exception to the HSA eligibility rules.

  • Adult Children and HSA Eligibility. The Affordable Care Act allows children to remain covered on a parent’s medical plan through age 26. However, the IRS did not change the definition of an eligible dependent for purposes of the HSA. The child must be the parent’s tax dependent and under age 19, or under age 24 if a full-time student, in order to have expenses paid by the employee’s HSA.

A child who is not the employee’s tax dependent, but is covered by the employee’s HDHP, may be able to open an HSA of his or her own. Interestingly, the child is not limited by the annual HSA contribution for single HDHP coverage. The child may actually contribute up to the amount permitted for family HDHP coverage, because the child is enrolled in a family contract (i.e., at least two members). The employee may also contribute the amount allowed for family HDHP coverage to his or her own HSA.

You may have several employees covering adult children in an HDHP. It would be helpful to remind them that children who are not tax dependents cannot use the employee’s HSA to pay for their expenses. These children should instead consider opening their own accounts.

  • Mid-Year HDHP Enrollment, Coverage Tier Changes, and the Full Contribution Rule. Eligibility to make HSA contributions is determined on a month-by-month basis. You may have new hires enrolling in the HDHP mid-year, or switching from single to family coverage following a status change like marriage. However, this does not mean their total HSA contribution must be pro-rated based on the number of months they were actually eligible to fund the account. In such cases, the employee may make the “full contribution” permitted for the calendar year.

An employee who takes advantage of the Full Contribution Rule is essentially being permitted to overfund the HSA, based on his or her actual monthly eligibility. However, there is one thing the employee must do to avoid being penalized for this later: the employee must remain eligible to continue making HSA contributions during all 12 months of the following calendar year. This does not mean the employee must keep funding the HSA, only that he or she remains eligible to do so during the “testing period” (i.e., stay enrolled in a qualified HDHP, and not be enrolled for other non-qualifying health coverage). Otherwise, any contributions from the prior year, exceeding the amount based on the employee’s actual monthly eligibility, will be treated as income and subject to a 10 percent tax penalty.

Employees need a strong knowledge base in order to take full advantage of their HSAs. By bringing certain features of these accounts to employees’ attention, employers encourage increased awareness and engagement with a consumer-driven approach to health care.

Learn more about MMA Michigan:

Health & Benefits- Troy     Property & Casualty- Livonia

(248) 822-8000                       (734) 525-2463

Find out more & join the conversation on social media! #MMAinsights

Twitter: @mma_michigan


Facebook: @marshmma

We look forward to hearing how we can help!

About Marsh & McLennan Agency – Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC, a subsidiary of Marsh, was established in 2008 to meet the needs of midsize businesses in the United States. MMA operates autonomously from Marsh to offer employee benefits, executive benefits, retirement, commercial property & casualty, and personal lines to clients across the United States.

Thrive through Open Enrollment and All Year Long with These Resilience Building Tactics

Author: Susan Morgan Bailey

Summer is nearly over – a signal for many HR and Benefits professionals that Open Enrollment “season” will soon begin.  For many, the time leading up to and through open enrollment (OE) is busy, stressful and exhausting.  Whether or not your organization is, like others reported in the SHRM 2017 Employee Benefits survey, expanding their focus on wellbeing, keeping the health and wellbeing of your team members and yourself top of mind, is the best way to survive OE (and the rest of the year too).

Building resilience is key to managing stress and avoiding exhaustion.  Resilience is the difference between growth or breakdown.  How can you “grow through what you go through” verses end up feeling sick or run down after a particularly challenging time?  Build resilience by cultivating your super powers through attitude, behavior and social support.

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Wayne Dyer

Begin each work day by remembering you ultimately get to choose how you will feel about that day, the projects on your to-do list and the people you’ll be interacting with.  Your ability to choose your outlook and response to people and situations is a skill you can grow that begins with becoming aware.  Take note of your inner and outer dialogue.  Do you “get to” tell the employees in your organization about all the great benefits and resources you offer to help them being the best, most healthy humans they can be or do you “have to” tell them?   Feel the different sentiment of each of those lead phrases?  Finding opportunities to have an attitude of gratitude – even if you aren’t feeling it – and grow your optimistic mindset will benefit you beyond building resilience.

Take Action: Research shows you can reduce stress and increase happiness through gratitude practice. Start or end your day by writing down three things you are grateful for on a notepad on your desk.

An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly. Anonymous

Many of us land in HR and benefits roles because we are, by nature, caregivers and helpers who often put others needs before our own.   As the above quote highlights, we can be much more effective at work and at home if we take time to recharge our batteries.   Cultivating resilience depends on nurturing the vessel that propels us through our days. These two behaviors are sure-fire techniques to refuel and maintain balanced energy through stressful times.

Move. Bend, stretch, walk, run or box. Choose a type of physical activity that feels good and schedule time for the activity into your week.  Remember some minutes are better than no minutes.  Apps like Sworkit can provide guidance on what do, in whatever time you have, without special equipment.

Sleep. The percent of people who can survive long-term on 5 or less hours of sleep per night is zero.   Adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Sleep is your body’s recovery time. If we don’t have time to sleep, the body and brain do not have time to rejuvenate.   Consistent sleep habits improve focus, productivity, clean out stress hormones, balance hunger hormones and more.    Have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep? One of these apps might help you get more ZZZZ’s.

Take Action: Habits are easier to create when we intentionally build them in to our daily routine. In the same way you brush your teeth at relatively the same time in a regular pattern of activities each day, examine your day to find a way to make movement and sleep a regular habit.

Good communication must be H.O.T. – Honest, Open and Two-way. Dan Oswald

Research indicates social support is essential to health, wellbeing and longevity.   Lack of social support can be as bad for your health as smoking. Taking time to nurture relationships year-round and making time for socializing and relaxing with friends and family is key to building resilience.  Strong relationships are built on a foundation of honest, open, two-way communication. Don’t assume your family, friends and colleagues understand how you are feeling and what life is like for you during open enrollment season.  Be proactive and share your concerns about the potentially stressful time ahead.  Let them know how they can be helpful and support you.

Take Action: Schedule time to spend time with friends and family.   Whether it’s family dinner at least one night a week or Saturday morning walks with a friend, find time to connect and spend time face-to-face with those you love.

Like many skills, resiliency is one that can be grown with practice.  Begin with an attitude of gratitude, make taking care of yourself a priority habit and nurture your network of support and your resiliency super powers will flourish all year long.

Learn more about MMA Michigan:

Health & Benefits- Troy              Property & Casualty- Livonia

(248) 822-8000                                (734) 525-2463

Find out more & join the conversation on social media! #MMAinsights

Twitter: @mma_michigan


Facebook: @marshmma

We look forward to hearing how we can help!

About Marsh & McLennan Agency – Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC, a subsidiary of Marsh, was established in 2008 to meet the needs of midsize businesses in the United States. MMA operates autonomously from Marsh to offer employee benefits, executive benefits, retirement, commercial property & casualty, and personal lines to clients across the United States.

Suicide Can be Prevented, and You Can Help

Submitted by:  Alejandra Juarez, New Directions

As suicide rates climb, it can be hard for HR leaders like you to know if or how you play a role in prevention. Startling statistics growing by the day means everyone can make a difference. As an employer, you can help. Here’s how:

  • Build a healthy workplace: Create an environment that values employees and their families. Strive for a culture that promotes open communication, connection and respect.
  • Promote mental health resources: Fear or stigma is a primary reason why people don’t seek mental health treatment. Constantly remind employees that it’s okay to reach out for help and use an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or behavioral health benefit. And start at the top – when employees see their CEO paying attention to mental health, they will too.
  • Recognize and respond to suicide warning signs: The number one way to prevent suicide is to educate everyone to recognize the warning signs and respond quickly. Education can take place through manager training programs, company newsletter articles, lunch and learns, staff meetings or company intranets.

Learn more by downloading a free Suicide Awareness Month Resource Toolkit  that includes facts about suicide, ways to prevent it and more on what employers can do. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, but any time of year is good to spread the word about suicide prevention. You can help bring hope. You might even save a life.

Join the conversation on New Directions on LinkedIn or New Directions on Facebook


About New Directions – Founded in 1995, New Directions helps people live healthy, balanced lives. The fast-growing health care company provides managed behavioral health services, an employee assistance program (EAP), student assistance program, organizational consulting, and health coaching to private and public health plans, Fortune 100 companies, large and medium employers, and labor groups.

Back-to-School is a Balancing Act for Working Professionals

By: Ulliance

Back-to-school can be stressful for students returning to classes, but it can also be unsettling for parents…especially for those working 40 (or more) hours a week. Between managing schedules, running the household, and caring for young children, a new school year requires a real balancing act for working professionals. Many parents and their children experience anxiety leading up to the first day back-to-school, and it can linger until everyone’s settled into the new routine. Some may describe this experience as “organized chaos,” trying to purchase school supplies, first day of school outfits, and simply returning to the busyness of autumn.

Here are a few tips to help minimize the back-to-school jitters for both children and parents:

  • Maintain an optimistic attitude – Children are aware of their parents’ emotions. If you’re positive about the first day of school, they will be, too.
  • Start establishing a routine for children several weeks before school begins – Know how cranky you get when you’re tired. Remember that kids don’t have coping skills like adults do. Children require 8-10 hours of sleep, so getting a full night’s sleep will help increase productivity in the classroom.
  • Shift your children into “education” mode – Visit museums and encourage reading to reinvigorate their excitement about learning.
  • Model good behavior in front of children – Once school begins, work on a project while they’re doing homework to teach them the importance of hard work.

For parents struggling with getting into the back-to-school groove, your organization’s employee assistance program can provide support to help manage your sanity that will create a smooth transition for your student. An EAP will also teach you how to effectively manage anxiety and stress that will ultimately translate into increased productivity at home and in the workplace.

Ulliance, an international human resource management service company headquartered in Troy, Michigan, has been helping address personal concerns and working through conflict through its Life Advisor Employee Assistance Program. For more information about Ulliance, please visit or call 866-648-8326.

Cyber Attack.. Are You Prepared?

By: Marsh & Mclennan Agency

The threat of a cyber-attack is no longer a case of IF it will happen but WHEN it will happen

How can you protect your organization?

A cyberattack can include a computer virus, phishing, Trojan horse, hacking, ransomware, and unauthorized access to company and customer information.  Cyber liability coverage protects your organization from claims by other individuals or organizations because of a cybercrime. The policy provides support if there are lawsuits against an organization for failing to protect the confidential information of others.  This coverage could be essential.  According to the 2016 Verizon Data Breach Report, the global cost of cybercrime will reach $2 trillion by 2019, a three-fold increase from the 2015 estimate of $500 billion.

An organization may purchase cyber liability coverage for a number of reasons:

  1. The organization will only have to make one call to their insurance carrier if they believe a cyber breach has occurred.  The carrier will manage the breach investigation (invaluable as many companies will not have the resources to manage the breach).
  2. Cyber coverage can also cover the theft of information in paper files (important as companies store years of information both on- and off-site).
  3. ERISA plan fiduciaries may have increased liability.  Fiduciaries should review their TPA’s protection of electronic plan data.
  4. Directors and Officers can have personal liability for failing to implement systems and controls to protect their organization’s data.
  5. There is an increase in cyber coverage requirements for an organization’s contractual obligations with customers.

What may be the most important feature of a cyber liability policy is the support it will provide.  Most cyber liability carriers will hire a forensic specialist to determine if a breach occurred, help determine the scope of the breach, and identify who must receive notification of the breach.

The cyber coverage included in most package policies will not include the scope of coverage that is needed.  It is important to understand not all cyber policies are the same. Cyber liability coverage should be reviewed along with all liability coverage associated with the organization.

What are other organizations doing to protect themselves?

There is relatively little data on what cyber issues small and midsize organizations have been faced with and what things they are doing to protect themselves.  For the last two years, Marsh & McLennan Agency has conducted a cyber survey focusing on small and midsize employers.  This year they are partnering with Marsh and Microsoft to launch its third annual survey.   The intent of the survey is to better understand how they compare to their peers around the country in the areas of cyber exposure, adoption of risk management techniques, and their overall understanding of the risk they face.

In the Marsh & McLennan Agency 2015/2016 cyber survey, they found that 60% of all cyber-attacks struck small to medium-sized businesses because even one successful attack could shut down a company completely because of the enormous costs associated with recovery.  This data is alarming when only 34.6% of these businesses believed the threat of a cyber-attack wouldn’t be severe enough to warrant the investment of time and resources.

The ultimate take away is there are clear benefits from addressing cyber and data security at the executive level.  Starting and maintaining regular discussions about cyber security and loss mitigation techniques can lead your organization to have an active role in safeguarding themselves if – and when – a cyber-attack occurs.

If you are a small to midsize organization, you can contribute your thoughts on cyber risk and participate in the Marsh & McLennan survey by clicking here:

Learn more about MMA Michigan:

Health & Benefits- Troy                 Property & Casualty- Livonia

(248) 822-8000                                 (734) 525-2463

Find out more & join the conversation on social media! #MMAinsights

Twitter: @mma_michigan


Facebook: @marshmma

About Marsh & McLennan Agency – Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC, a subsidiary of Marsh, was established in 2008 to meet the needs of midsize businesses in the United States. MMA operates autonomously from Marsh to offer employee benefits, executive benefits, retirement, commercial property & casualty, and personal lines to clients across the United States.

Get Out of the Shade: Shed Some Light on Your Benefit Plans

By: Ann Marie Olszewski

Depending on when your plan year renews, the summer months may be relatively quiet from a benefits perspective. Annual enrollment may have recently ended, or you may be just beginning the planning process for 2018. Take advantage of the lull by reminding your employees about the benefits available to them, and how they can be used to greater personal advantage.

Here are some items to think about:

  • EAP? What’s that? An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) may be included, at no additional cost, with your company’s life or disability coverage. You may also be paying a fee for upgraded benefits. But chances are, no matter how robust your EAP, your employees have forgotten about it!

Contact your EAP for an updated brochure, as well as information about other perks that may be included, such as will preparation. By distributing such materials mid-year, you shine a spotlight on a benefit that’s easily disregarded during the rush of annual enrollment. Remind employees of what the EAP provides: Free face-to-face counseling sessions? Personalized community referrals on everything from child care to finding a dog trainer? Financial resources to help you manage debt and create a budget? By keeping this benefit consistently in front of employees, they are more likely to recognize its usefulness in all types of situations.

  • Have you seen your doctor lately? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans access preventive services at around half the recommended rate. Your company’s medical plan likely covers the entire cost of certain preventive services, including wellness exams, mammograms and vaccinations. Consider issuing a communication piece to remind employees that there is no cost-sharing for such services when they use a network provider. But cost is only part of the issue – employees may not recognize the importance of seeing a doctor when they feel well. Be sure to stress that early detection of silent or minor conditions can save them money and maintain their good health in the future.
  • What they don’t know . . . is a great opportunity. Employees may not understand how their health plan works, especially if it’s a consumer-driven health plan (CDHP) with an associated health savings account (HSA). Take some time now to provide brief but carefully targeted communication pieces that explain difficult concepts, such as a person’s eligibility to make and receive HSA contributions.

Similarly, perhaps some of your benefit plans offer unexpected perks, such as hearing aid discounts for members enrolled for vision coverage. Contact your carriers for flyers, payroll stuffers and other associated materials that shine a light on these value-added benefits.

Think of mid-year communications as a kind of “continuing education.” Keep rolling out information during the year, so employees will understand more about your company’s benefit plans and be better prepared to make thoughtful decisions during annual enrollment.

  • Don’t forget about wellness. If your company’s wellness plan collects health information from participants, you need to give advance notice to employees about the program so they can decide whether to participate. For example, if your plan year renews on January 1, 2018, and you will conduct biometric screenings this fall, you could issue this notice to employees during the summer.

This notice is required by the EEOC for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2017. If you choose, you can develop your own notice, as long as it clearly explains what information will be collected, who will receive it, how it will be used, and the steps taken to maintain its confidentiality. However, to make this easier, the EEOC has provided a sample notice, which you should customize based on the specifics of your company’s wellness plan.

Many employees pay scant attention to their benefits package, even if they think it’s important to have coverage. To better incorporate your benefits into a total health and wellbeing strategy, don’t limit communications to new hires and at annual enrollment. Remind employees, throughout the year, of how their various benefits protect them and their families, and assist them in maintaining their health and lifestyle. Regular, concise communication is critical to increasing their knowledge, appreciation and participation in your company’s benefit programs.


Learn more about MMA Michigan:

Health & Benefits Troy: (248) 822-8000

Property and Casualty Livonia: (734) 525-2463

Find out more & join the conversation on social media! #MMAinsights

Twitter: @mma_michigan


Facebook: @marshmma

We look forward to hearing how we can help!

About Marsh & McLennan Agency – Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC, a subsidiary of Marsh, was established in 2008 to meet the needs of midsize businesses in the United States. MMA operates autonomously from Marsh to offer employee benefits, executive benefits, retirement, commercial property & casualty, and personal lines to clients across the United States.

Stepping Into a Healthy Habit at Work

Whether or not you achieve it, who in the age of the Fitbit isn’t aware of the 10,000 steps-a-day goal to better health? Many of us are completely obsessed. Water cooler conversation at work has shifted from dissecting scenes of a favorite TV show or the latest sports team win, to ways in which we route, trudge along and track our trail to wellness.

With one health study after the other trumpeting the benefits of walking, the desire to pound the pavement has never been greater – even for those who never come close to 10,000 steps a day. Just putting one foot in front of the other can help:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, type 2 diabetes and even dementia
  • Strengthen bones and muscles
  • Improve mood and increase energy
  • Enhance balance and coordination

While walking benefits each of us personally, it also benefits the workplace. Employees who walk at work, be it five minutes between meetings or 30 minutes during lunch, return refreshed, better focused and energized. Walking with others is a social activity that provides a valuable networking opportunity.

According to statistics from the British Heart Foundation, the benefits of employees walking at work are measurable and significant:

  • Physically active employees take 27 percent less sick days than non-active employees.
  • Individual work performance can improve 4 – 15 percent when employees engage in regular physical activity.
  • Staff turnover can be reduced 8 – 13 percent for organizations that offer an on-site fitness program.

For HR professionals looking to take the first step in launching a walking program, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a 4-week Walking Campaign toolkit click here, complete with fliers, e-blasts, a pocket guide, sample texts for mobile applications and electronic encouragement cards to get employees up and out of their seats.

Walking is just one of many health habits a comprehensive Life Advisor Wellness Program from Ulliance offers employees in the quest to balance their personal life with their work life … and improving the bottom line in the process. For more information about Ulliance, visit or call 866-648-8326.

Health and Wellbeing as a Positive Business Strategy

In May 2017, I attended the Positive Business Conference hosted by the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan. There were a broad range of professionals in attendance including organization development, human resources, and other strategic business functions. I was in “growth and learning heaven” as speakers shared stories ranging from KPMG’s success through helping employees see deeper purpose and meaning in their work to Dr. Mehmood Khan, Vice Chairman; Chief Scientific Officer at PepsiCo, talking about their intensity of focus on innovating for sustainability as a business strategy.

While none of the presenters labeled their presentation “employee wellbeing as a business strategy”,   I couldn’t help but feel each was directly related to and supportive of the idea that taking care of your workforce and the environment they live and work in, is a positive business strategy that is essential to long and short-term organization success.  The more I look around, the more I see evidence that some companies understand this at their core (e.g. Menlo Innovations and Owens Corning).

Many HR professionals chose their professions because they are people people and multi-taskers who get things done.  As a result, we often spend our days focused on the tactical pieces of the puzzle.   Due to the immediate need to keep the wheels on the bus moving it can be tough to find time to consider why the bus is moving in the first place and what role the humans on the bus play.  Even if there is time to think strategically, leadership might not see the Human Resource function as a part of business strategy beyond the tactical necessities.

In an organization where strategic focus tends to be placed heavily on priorities such as quality, customer satisfaction, and growth how can HR play a role in elevating the care and nurturing of the workforce to a strategic level that garners attention and buy-in?  Consider the following…

  • Find out what keeps leaders and other key stakeholders up at night. What do they worry about? What problems do they need help with? I often hear organizations say they don’t like to survey because they fear their inability to give people what they want.   If we don’t take time to seek to understand, it will be difficult to find common ground – an essential starting point to strategic partnership. It will be easier to build interest in workforce wellbeing as a business strategy if you find out what they care about and work your way from there.
  • Be the change you wish to see in the world. Develop a strategic vision for your health and wellbeing strategy that is inspiring and provides direction for your team. Clearly tie vision to the mission and priorities of the organization (i.e. we will support the development and growth of the business by supporting the health and wellbeing of our workforce).  Share it with leadership and employees.  If leadership isn’t ready to pronounce to the world their belief that caring for the workforce is essential to organization success, lead by example and get the snowball rolling.
  • Overcome the fear that taking care of your workforce necessitates a budget, head count and doing more. You are likely already offering a number of resources to support the physical (health plan), financial (401K), emotional (EAP, PTO), social (team building activities), professional (training & development), & community wellbeing (time off to volunteer). Inventory the benefits you offer. Market and highlight the value you provide to your employees – promote them on your website and in internal communications. Show them you care before and while they are working for your organization.
  • Be sure your wellbeing strategy is focused on supporting not “getting” employees to be healthy. Being there for your workforce rather than doing things to your workforce is an essential component of health and wellbeing as a business strategy. Don’t have time/resources for a survey? Ask employees every chance you get – Which of our benefits/resources do you value? What other benefits/resources might you find valuable?   Having an opportunity to provide input gives the employees a feeling…the company cares.

Ask a leader if they are interested in being a successful business in the long run and I’d bet 99% of them would respond with a resounding “yes”.   In reality, human beings are wired for near-term focus – it’s a defense mechanism left over from ancient times (and being ready to fight off random saber-toothed tigers).   As a result, we humans tend to focus on short-terms gains over investment in a healthy future.   The great news is that leadership won’t need to give up the short-term focus, the better news is that through leading by example, expanding your organization’s view of the employment value proposition, and investing in the care and wellbeing of your workforce, business sustainability is strengthened and employees win too – a positive result all around.

Learn more about MMA Michigan:

Find out more & join the conversation on social media! #MMAinsights

Twitter: @mma_michigan


Facebook: @marshmma

We look forward to hearing how we can help!

About Marsh & McLennan Agency – Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC, a subsidiary of Marsh, was established in 2008 to meet the needs of midsize businesses in the United States. MMA operates autonomously from Marsh to offer employee benefits, executive benefits, retirement, commercial property & casualty, and personal lines to clients across the United States.

Achieving Success in HR Leadership

Submitted by: Ulliance

Last month, the Ulliance team joined more than 1,300 human resources professionals at Michigan HR Day to exchange ideas, share best practices and connect with other human resources practitioners from across the state. During one conference workshop, attendees had the opportunity to learn about HR leadership vitality from Ulliance President and CEO, Kent Sharkey.

In his breakout session, Sharkey shared challenges that HR leaders face on a regular basis. Coaching an employee on poor job performance typically tops the list. He cited work-life issues, such as personal stress, alcohol and drug abuse, family problems and legal and financial issues as also having an effect on an individual’s job performance.

According to the Mental Health America Attitudinal Survey of how employees alleviate stress and pressure, 42 percent of respondents indicated they were more likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and do drugs, while 37 percent stated they took prescribed medications to deal with their issues. Not only are these habits bad for employees, they have a negative impact on productivity and an organization’s bottom line.

Human resources professionals who understand the correlation between stress management and work performance can help their teams achieve success.  How employees view their environment impacts their ability to cope and whether or not they will achieve their on-the-job performance goals. Individuals can’t eliminate or control sources of stress; however, employees can control their reactions to stress and focus on what they can change…their performance at work.

All HR managers should encourage employees to take advantage of their company’s employee assistance program (EAP.) A comprehensive EAP, such as Ulliance’s, can help employees tackle work-life issues that may hinder their job performance. A dedicated counselor can help them address their personal and professional concerns, as well as help find solutions to achieve their goals.

Ulliance is an international service company headquartered in Troy, Michigan. For more than 25 years, Ulliance has been providing human resources services including employee assistance programs (EAP), wellness programs, training programs, organizational and leadership development, coaching, career transition services, and crisis management. For more information about Ulliance, please visit or call (866) 648-8326.



Submitted by:  WJ Cousins & Associates



Much has been written about how to handle the termination of an employee. One thing to always remember is, even when the employee is viewed as easy going and mild mannered, that same employee can turn to violent behavior. The question becomes, what can you do to help ensure a termination does not turn into a violent situation? The answer is preparation and prevention.

But before we discuss preparation and prevention, you must remember when terminating an employee, for whatever reason, you are taking away their ability to make a living. In some cases, you may be adversely affecting their ability to get another position in the near future. This is a stress factor for the employee, which can be compared to the same stress level a person feels when a close loved one dies or a divorce occurs. Because of this, you will need to use all your professional and people skills to correctly handle the meeting. If the situation goes badly it will reflect on you, not only by your management, but also by the other employees in the company. We all know when situations go bad, the “word” travels fast throughout the company.

Therefore, the preparation should begin the moment it is determined the employee has to be terminated.

Recommendation #1: Once the decision is made to terminate an employee, obtain any and all information you can about the employee and what is going on with them outside of the workplace. If you haven’t done so already, work with the employee’s immediate management to determine such things as, does the employee possess guns? What kind of mental or emotional stress might the employee be under outside of work (such as divorce, death, addiction or financial issues)? All these factors can be used to gather information which you can use to your advantage. Remember, the employee may or may not have any idea the termination is about to occur.

If you have obtained information that indicates the employee is prone to violence, or is known to carry a weapon, have plainclothes security professionals near the meeting room. These professionals should have training in de-escalating potentially violent situations. If your company does not have trained security professionals, contact a reputable security or risk management company for assistance.

Also, if you have a positive relationship with the local police, give them a call for advice on the termination and inform them it has the potential to get violent. By doing this, you are giving them advance notice so they can be better prepared to respond.

Recommendation #2: Where should the termination occur? Depending on the circumstances, it may be prudent to conduct the termination process at a neutral or off-site location, such as a lawyer’s office. If the meeting must be conducted on company property, do it away from other employees, such as in an unused conference room in the human resources department. Make sure it is a location where employees are not walking by or gathering for another meeting or lunch.

Recommendation #3: When should it be conducted? There are different schools of thought on this. Some would say it is best to do it on a Friday or just before a three-day weekend. This is not a good idea because as noted above, this can be a life changing event for the employee. The employee will most likely need emotional and legal assistance. If the termination is done just before a weekend, it will be difficult for them to obtain the emotional or legal counseling they may need. Instead, they may turn to alcohol or drug abuse, which only makes matters far worse for everyone involved. Therefore, it is recommended to have the termination on a Tuesday or Wednesday and in the early to midafternoon. This way when the employee is escorted off the premises, the employee has the opportunity to seek the help they may need.

Recommendation #4: Remember, the purpose of the meeting is to advise the employee of the termination, not to debate or give advice. Keep it brief, direct and to the point. If the employee wants to argue, advise them of their options, such as union representation or consulting with a labor lawyer. Depending on the individual and the situation, this entire process should take no more than ten to fifteen minutes.

Recommendation #5: You will need a reputable witness. It is best to have another HR professional or senior manager present. During the termination process, the witness should be seated in a position near the door. By sitting there, the witness can leave the room to get help if the situation appears to become potentially violent. Also, position yourself where you can walk out of the room without getting stuck between the door and the employee. This will give you the tactical advantage to get out of the room if the situation is unresolved or becomes “ugly.”

If the situation becomes tenuous, tell the employee you must go because you have another appointment, and exit the room as quickly as possible. Then call security for assistance.

Recommendation #6: Be prepared to escort the employee off the premises. Never do it alone! Always be accompanied by another management type person. This individual should walk behind you and the employee so as not to attract too much attention. This will allow them to act as a witness and call for assistance should the situation become tenuous or violent.

Recommendation #7: There are several options regarding what to do with the employee’s belongings. One is while the termination process is ongoing, a person from management can go to the employee’s office, cubicle or locker to gather up any articles of personal nature, such as family pictures and memorabilia. These items should be placed in a cardboard box and can be given to the employee as they exit the premises. The fired employee should be told that an inventory of their work area will be conducted and any additional personal items found will be forwarded to them at a later date.

Another option is to wait until the termination is over before doing a thorough inventory of the work area. After collecting inventory, all the personal items of the fired employee can be boxed up, and the box(es) can then be delivered to the employee by security or sent via mail.

Recommendation #8: Prepare yourself for the interview. In your own mind, you should be rehearsing possible scenarios that could occur. Not only potential violence, but what if the employee has an emotional breakdown or demands to see your superior or just tunes you out and sits and stares. What are you going to say or do? Be prepared to handle almost any scenario imaginable. It is always a good idea to consult with your legal department to know what to say and what not to say to the employee.

Recommendation #9: Have any and all documents related to the termination in either an envelope or manila folder. If a severance package is being offered, make sure the paperwork will be easily understood by the employee, especially if the package is offering a financial incentive or extended benefits. Go over all the paperwork and provide an explanation for each document. Due to the emotional stress of the situation, the employee will probably not grasp everything you are saying. To assist with this, the paperwork should contain a phone number that the employee can call if they have any questions or concerns.

Recommendation #10: Remember to always be professional and display a positive attitude during the process. This may assist in alleviating some of the stress from the employee. At the time of the termination, it may be difficult to remember this, but the employee is a human being. Treat and address them with respect. This may help diffuse a potentially bad situation before it even starts. It will surely be important if there is any subsequent litigation.

These are some brief recommendations that will assist you in the event of terminating a potentially hostile employee.

For additional information, contact Bill Cousins at or 248-783-7190.