President signs the “Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020”

On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed H.R. 1865, the “Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020” or the “Act”). The Act also includes a number of retirement and health and welfare provisions of interest to employers and service providers.

The Act would permanently repeal three taxes imposed under the Affordable Care Act:

    • Cadillac Tax: The Cadillac tax on high-cost employer health plans, which is scheduled to take effect in 2022. The tax was originally set to take effect in 2018 and apply to employer-sponsored health plans that in that year cost more than $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families. The rate is set at 40% of coverage costs that exceed those thresholds, which will be adjusted annually for inflation.
    • Medical Device Tax: A 2.3% tax on medical devices, which is currently suspended through Dec. 31, 2019. The tax applies to devices such as hip implants and pacemakers sold by a manufacturer, producer, or importer.
    • Insurance Provider Fee: An annual fee imposed on health insurance providers.

The Act contains other health and welfare provisions:

    • Smoking: The measure would increase the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 years of age, from 18.
    • Reduction in Medical Expense Deduction Floor: The Act extends until December 31, 2020, the lower threshold of 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income for medical expense deductions. The Act keeps the lower (7.5 percent) threshold in place for 2019 and 2020.
    • Above the Line Deduction for Qualified Tuition and Related Expenses: Individuals are allowed a deduction equal to their qualified tuition and related expenses, including amounts paid for tuition, fees and other related expense for an eligible student that are required for enrollment or attendance at an eligible educational institution. The deduction was scheduled to sunset at the end of 2017, but the Act retroactively extends the deduction until the end of 2020.
    • Employer Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave: The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act established new Section 45S of the Code, which provides a business tax credit for certain employer-paid family and medical leave. The paid family and medical leave credit ranges from 12.5 percent to 25 percent of the amount of wages paid to qualifying employees for 2 to 12 weeks of family and medical leave annually, where such wage payments are at least 50 percent of the wages normally paid to an employee. The paid family and medical leave credit was originally available for wages paid in 2018 and 2019. The Act extends the credit through 2020.
    • PCORI: The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute would be extended through fiscal 2029. The measure would provide $275.5 million for it in fiscal 2020, increasing to $399 million for fiscal 2029. It also receives revenue from fees on health insurance and self-insured plans.

Private Insurance Costs Are Skyrocketing


Reprinted with permission from Drew Altman

Cumulative growth in per-enrollee spending, 2008-18

The cost of private health insurance is out of control, compared to Medicare and Medicaid. You see that clearly if you take a long-term view of recently released federal data on health spending.

Why it matters: This is why the health care industry — not just insurers, but also hospitals and drug companies — is so opposed to proposals that would expand the government’s purchasing power. And it’s why some progressives are so determined to curb, or even eliminate, private coverage.

By the numbers: Per capita spending for private insurance has grown by 52.6% over the last 10 years.

  • Per-capita spending for Medicare grew by 21.5% over the same period, and Medicaid 12.5%.

Private insurance generally pays higher prices for care than Medicare, which generally pays more than Medicaid.

  • There’s a long-running debate about whether public programs deliver efficiency because of their purchasing power, or simply underpay.
  • Democrats have proposed a variety of steps to curb health care costs, including cutting payments for out-of-network care, competition from a public insurance plan, and steep payment cuts through Medicare for All.
  • Industry opposes most of them.

The bottom line: The industry knows cutting government spending can only go so far. Any effort to rein in health care costs will have to confront the growth in the cost of private insurance.

Pet Friendly Employee Benefits Can Help with Recruitment and Retention

Dogs aren’t just photogenic fluffballs good for getting likes on social media. They are irreplaceable and important family members to many. Since pets are becoming more intertwined in the lives of people, employees have placed value on workplaces that accommodate their furry loved ones. Considering that roughly 87% of employers say that being pet friendly helps them attract and retain talent, it’s important to know that pet benefits are available for you to offer your employees.

More workplaces are welcoming pets into the office as a way to reduce stress and encourage productivity. Therapy dog services have become increasingly popular as a way to help people dealing with anxiety, or who just need to take their mind off of everyday stressors. If it’s out of question to provide certified therapy dogs for your workplace, you can make sure to establish a welcoming environment for employees to bring their own dogs.

As much as we love having the pups around, you have to be mindful of employees who might be allergic, the clients who wouldn’t include having pets around as part of their idea of professionalism, and the overall cleanliness of your workplace. Consider having specific days where employees can bring in their dogs, making sure to avoid inviting less-than-dog-friendly clients to the office on those days. Designate a “no dog zone” so employees with allergies have a place to escape. Some workplaces have opted for furniture fabrics and flooring better suitable for pet mess, but you should be able to balance pet-friendliness and cleanliness with a couple thoughtful policies.

Offering pet insurance policies to your employees is another way to attract new recruits who are looking for pet-loving workplaces. Unland has partnered up with ASPCA to provide pet insurance to help with the cost of veterinary bills. Learn more!

ACA Health Insurance Providers Fee Will Increase in 2020


The Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes an annual, non-deductible fee on the health insurance sector, allocated across the industry according to market share. On Sept. 4, 2019, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2019-50 to index the applicable fee amount for 2020. Under Notice 2019-50, the applicable amount for the 2020 fee year is $15,522,820,037.

The health insurance providers fee is generally paid by health insurers and other providers of health coverage. However, insurers may pass the cost of the fee onto policyholders through premium increases.


Employers are generally not responsible for paying the health insurance providers fee. However, health insurance carriers may shift the cost of the fee onto employers that sponsor an insured plan, either by a corresponding increase in premiums or by separately charging the entity for a portion of the fee.


Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has imposed an annual, non-deductible fee on the health insurance sector, allocated across the industry according to market share. The fee, which is treated as an excise tax, is required to be paid by Sept. 30 of each calendar year.

The health insurance providers fee applies to all “covered entities,” defined as any entity that has net premiums written for health insurance for any United States health risk during the year. The fee is assessed on health insurers’ premium revenue for health insurance above $25 million.

Specifically, the fee applies to:
  • Health insurers;
  • Health maintenance organizations (HMOs);
  • Certain insurance companies;
  • Providers of Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage or Medicaid coverage; and
  • Non-fully insured multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs).

The health insurance providers fee does not apply to companies whose net premiums written are $25 million or less. Additionally, the fee program specifically excludes all of the following entities:

Self-insured employers

Governmental entities

Certain nonprofit entities

Certain voluntary employees’ beneficiary associations (VEBAs)

Keep in mind that these excluded entities are not subject to the health insurance providers fee directly. However, if any of these entities sponsor an insured plan, the insurance carrier providing the coverage may be subject to the fee. In this case, the carrier may shift the cost of the fee onto the excluded entity, either by a corresponding increase in premiums or by separately charging the entity for a portion of the fee.

A federal budget bill for 2016 imposed a one-year moratorium on the collection of the health insurance providers fee for 2017. As a result, no health insurance issuers were required to pay this fee for 2017. Then, a continuing spending resolution in 2018 provided an additional one-year moratorium on the health insurance providers fee for the 2019 calendar year. However, the continuing resolution specifically declined to extend the moratorium through 2018. Therefore, the fee continued to apply for the 2018 calendar year. The health insurance providers fee will resume for the 2020 calendar year.

Health Insurance Providers Fee Amount

The health insurance providers fee is apportioned among the covered entities according to their respective market shares, as measured by net premiums written for health insurance. This means that the IRS will assess a portion of the applicable amount to each covered entity based on the ratio of:

  • The covered entity’s net premiums written for health insurance during the preceding calendar year; to
  • The aggregate net premiums for health insurance of all covered entities during the preceding calendar year.

The aggregate fee amount each year for all covered entities is called the applicable amount. The applicable amount for each fee year is:

  • $8 billion for calendar year 2014;
  • $11.3 billion for calendar years 2015 and 2016;
  • $13.9 billion for calendar year 2017; and
  • $14.3 billion for calendar year 2018.

Beginning in 2019, the applicable amount will increase based on the rate of premium growth.

On Sept. 4, 2019, the IRS issued Notice 2019-50 to index the applicable amount for 2020. Under Notice 2019-50, the applicable amount for the 2020 fee year is $15,522,820,037.

Employers are generally not responsible for paying the health insurance providers fee. However, health insurance carriers may shift the cost of the fee onto employers that sponsor an insured plan, either by a corresponding increase in premiums or by separately charging the entity for a portion of the fee. As a result, the increased health insurance providers fee amount will likely result in premium increases for 2020.

Benefits Bulletin

2020 Open Enrollment Checklist

To prepare for open enrollment, group health plan sponsors should be aware of the legal changes affecting the design and administration of their plans for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2020. Employers should review their plan documents to confirm that they include these required changes.

In addition, any changes to a health plan’s benefits for the 2020 plan year should be communicated to plan participants through an updated summary plan description (SPD) or a summary of material modifications (SMM).

Health plan sponsors should also confirm that their open enrollment materials contain certain required participant notices when applicable—for example, the summary of benefits and coverage (SBC). There are also some participant notices that must be provided annually or upon initial enrollment. To minimize costs and streamline administration, employers should consider including these notices in their open enrollment materials.

Brief Overview of 2020 Changes

This is an abridged list of 2020 plan design changes:

  • ACA Affordability Standard: For plan years that begin on or after Jan. 1, 2020, the affordability percentage is 9.78%.
  • Out-of-pocket Maximum: The annual limit on total enrollee cost sharing for essential health benefits for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2020, is $8,150 for self-only coverage and $16,300 for family coverage.
  • Health FSA Contributions: The IRS has not yet announced the flexible spending account limit for 2020 plan years.
  • HDHP and HSA Limits for 2020: The IRS limits for health savings account contributions and high deductible health plan cost-sharing increase for 2020.
  • Wellness Plan Design – ADA Compliance: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has indicated that it may issue new proposed wellness rules by the end of 2019.

For a comprehensive overview of changes to expect, or to discuss other annual enrollment obligations, speak with The Unland Companies today.

2020 Benefits Notices

Employers that sponsor group health plans should provide certain benefit notices in connection with their plans’ open enrollment periods. Some of these notices must be provided at open enrollment time, such as the SBC.

Other notices, such as the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act (WHCRA) notice, must be distributed annually. Although these annual notices may be provided at different times throughout the year, employers often choose to include them in their open enrollment materials for administrative convenience.

In addition, employers should review their open enrollment materials to confirm that they accurately reflect the terms and cost of coverage. In general, any plan design changes for 2020 should be communicated to plan participants either through an updated SPD or a SMM.

This chart summarizes the applicability of the benefits notices employers should provide at open enrollment time. Note, the chart is not exhaustive and only includes the notice title and its applicability.

Notice Applicability
SBC Group health plans and health insurance issuers
Medicare Part D notice of creditable or non-creditable coverage Employers with group health plans that provide prescription drug coverage
WHCRA notice Group health plans that provide medical and surgical benefits for mastectomies
Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) notice Group health plans that cover residents in a state that provides a premium assistance subsidy under a Medicaid plan or CHIP.
SPD Group health plans subject to ERISA
COBRA general notice Group health plans subject to COBRA
Grandfathered plan notice Health plans that have grandfathered status under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
Notice of patient protections Non-grandfathered group health plans that require designation of a participating primary care provider
HIPAA privacy notice Self-insured group health plans
HIPAA special enrollment notice All group health plans
Wellness notice – HIPAA Group health plans with health-contingent wellness programs
Wellness notice – ADA Wellness programs that collect health information or include medical exams
Individual coverage HRA (ICHRA) Employers that sponsor ICHRAs for specific classes of employees (or all employees)

For more details about a specific benefits notice or its requirements, speak with The Unland Companies right away.

Maximizing Open Enrollment for Employees

Open enrollment can be an overwhelming time for both employers and employees. Employees are given the opportunity to re-evaluate their current benefits and make changes for the coming year, while employers must weigh different benefits packages and facilitate the enrollment process.
With all these moving parts, it’s important that employers educate and communicate with their employees effectively.
Below is a typical open enrollment process timeline. Be sure to share this timeline with employees so they know what to expect.

  • Notification—Employers send out an organization-wide announcement alerting employees that open enrollment will begin shortly.
  • Receipt of information—Employers distribute information about benefit plans, selection information and the appropriate forms to their workers. Employees may also receive personal information based on their elections from the previous year.
  • Making decisions—Employees research their various benefits options and discuss with family to determine which benefits they will elect for the coming year.
  • Enrollment—Employees select their benefits.

Beyond the enrollment period itself, there are a number of opportunities for employers to make the process smooth for everyone.

Here are some strategies:

  • Establish solid communication between the HR department and employees. To do so effectively, conduct meetings and seminars, and offer calculators, intranet education information and benefit fairs. If your organization is smaller, conduct one-on-one meetings with employees to determine exactly the type of information they need.
  • Survey your employee population to determine their priorities (e.g., which products they use and preferred methods of communication). By doing so, employers can identify exactly what their employees want, and workers feel their needs have been heard by decision-makers.
  • Customize benefits and information resources to the life stages of your employees. For instance, if you have a large older population, feature more retiree benefits and long-term care insurance.
  • Consider offering new benefits, even if they are voluntary, such as dental insurance, vision insurance or benefits for prescription drugs. Employees tend to make more changes when they receive new options.
  • Provide easy-to-understand tools. This will lessen employee confusion and the feeling of being overwhelmed while trying to make tough decisions.
  • Offer a second, off-cycle enrollment period when new benefits are featured. This can be a time for employees to focus on voluntary benefits and other offerings that are not traditional. These benefits are typically overshadowed by health insurance and retirement options, so a second off-cycle enrollment is a great time for employees to focus on their other needs.
  • Make plan information as simple as possible, while also being interactive. Employees should be able to understand their offerings to make more knowledgeable decisions.
  • Maintain all SPDs on your website, rather than directing employees to the insurance carrier site for information. This provides easy access and makes the company appear more in control of the information.

Overall, a successful and effective open enrollment process can have a dramatic impact on the relationship between employers and their employees. By catering to their needs and wants, employers will ultimately make the experience more enjoyable and worthwhile for their workers. As a result, they will feel more secure in their benefits decisions throughout the plan year.

If you have questions, contact Betsy Yarcho. or call (800) 747-3241. 

Your Health Plan: Health Care Cost Drivers

Health care is one of the few things that people purchase and never know the real cost of. If most consumers paid for medical services and procedures just as they pay for other consumer goods—out of pocket—they might pay more attention to quality, cost and value.

The Actual Cost of Medical Problems

Many consumers would be surprised to learn what medical procedures really cost. Here are some typical prices for health care procedures in the United States:

  • Colonoscopy: $1,301
  • Maternity – Regular Delivery: $10,808
  • Maternity – C-Section: $16,106
  • CT Scan – Abdomen: $844
  • MRI: $1,119
  • Hospital Cost per Day: $5,220
  • Appendectomy: $15,930
  • Cataract Surgery: $3,530
  • Knee Replacement: $28,184
  • Hip Replacement: $29,067
  • Bypass Surgery: $78,318
  • Angioplasty: $31,620

Source: International Federation of Health Plans, “2015 Comparative Price Report”

It’s no secret that health care costs are rising. A number of factors contribute to these increasing costs—some of the biggest contributors are listed below.

Increasing Pharmaceutical Costs and Use

Health care costs are growing in part due to the increased use of prescription drugs, and an increase in the number of newer, more expensive drugs that are prescribed. Though prescription drug manufacturers have revolutionized modern medicine, these advances come at a cost.

As pharmaceutical companies develop new drugs to treat serious medical conditions, the market for those drugs expands accordingly. The trend in the pharmaceutical industry is to maximize profits by developing drugs to treat conditions for which there were previously no drug treatments. These new “lifestyle” drugs treat or control conditions like nail fungus, impotence, obesity or hair loss. Manufacturers then use direct-to-consumer advertisements that encourage customers to ask their doctors for prescriptions for these medications.

The increased use of lifestyle medications and direct-to-consumer advertising have raised serious questions about where America’s health care dollars are being spent and if consumers are getting the best value for their money.

New, Expensive Medical Technology

New medical devices, diagnostic tests and medical imaging tools are enabling doctors to deliver care that would have been impossible in years past. Medical technology, just like pharmaceuticals, has revolutionized medicine and improved the lives of many people—but those advances have also come with hefty price tags. As the number of older Americans increases, these new devices and treatments are being used even more.

Chronic Care

The health care system is primarily geared toward providing acute care and curing diseases. However, many people need care for chronic conditions. Chronic conditions are the major cause of illness, disability and death in the United States, and they account for a significant portion of health care spending.

  • According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), about 80% of older adults have one chronic condition, accounting for more than two-thirds of the nation’s total health care costs.
  • NCOA also cites that 95 cents of every dollar of Medicare and 83 cents for every dollar of Medicaid go toward treating chronic disease.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States.

Provider Consolidation

Before managed care revolutionized the American health care system, individual medical providers determined the fees for their services. However, with the domination of managed care plans, most providers have been forced to negotiate their prices lower or risk losing patient volume from managed care plans willing to exclude non-compliant providers from their networks.

In order to maintain or regain some negotiating power, providers in many communities have consolidated their medical practices, effectively monopolizing procedures within specific service areas. These large provider groups have a much greater ability to negotiate with managed care plans that wish to provide convenient care options for their members.

Health care costs and, consequently, employee health benefits costs have been increasing at a very high rate for nearly a decade. Unfortunately, cost increases are still outpacing the rate of inflation, making health care a growing cost burden for consumers.

Four Components of Effective Risk Management

Risk management is the identification, assessment and prioritization of risks and the subsequent coordinated and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor and control the probability and impact of losses. Effective risk management activities create value and should be an integral part of the decision-making process. How does risk management impact your bottom line?

  • Opportunity for better pricing on insurance premiums
  • Saves out-of-pocket costs like deductibles
  • Ensures a safe and stable environment for employees, volunteers and customers
  • Helps you understand and be prepared for risks before losses occur

Strategies for addressing an identified risk typically include two of the following:

Risk Avoidance

Can you eliminate a service or activity considered too risky?

  • Eliminate activities that involve risk
  • Avoid creating activities that involve risk
  • Relatively extreme approach

Mitigation or Prevention

What steps can be taken to reduce the likelihood of losses occurring or lessen the impact of losses should they occur?

  • Manage liability by structuring activities and programs in ways that reduce or limit institutional risk

Risk Transfer

Can we transfer either the risk or financial consequences of a loss to another party?

  • Insurance policies
  • Indemnification agreements
  • Releases and waivers

Risk Retention

Accept the risk as it is – some risk is inherent in the activities of operation.

  • Self-insurance
  • Deductibles
  • Deciding not to purchase an insurance policy for a specific exposure


The insurance professionals at The Unland Companies have a variety of resources to help you build an effective risk management program.

Benefits Buzz

Open Enrollment: What’s Changing in 2020?

To prepare for open enrollment, group health plan sponsors should be aware of the legal changes affecting the design and administration of their plans for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2020. Employers should review their plan documents to confirm that they include these required changes.

In addition, any changes to a health plan’s benefits for the 2020 plan year should be communicated to plan participants through an updated summary plan description (SPD) or a summary of material modifications (SMM).

Health plan sponsors should also confirm that their open enrollment materials contain certain required participant notices, when applicable—for example, the summary of benefits and coverage (SBC). There are also some participant notices that must be provided annually or upon initial enrollment.

Important Notices

  • Annual CHIP notice
  • Medicare Part D creditable coverage notice
  • Notice of grandfathered status (if applicable)
  • Annual notice regarding coverage requirements for mastectomy-related benefits (WHCRA notice)

Don’t wait any longer to review your plans. Contact The Unland Companies for a full list of 2020 plan changes and requirements.

Hospitals to Publish Retail Prices Under a New Proposed Rule

In July, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) proposed rules that would require all Medicare-participating hospitals to post their negotiated prices for standard health care services.

The proposed rule is intended to increase pricing transparency and help consumers understand the charges they may incur before receiving care.

These are just proposed rules at the moment, which means no changes will be made effective until the rules are finalized. The agency is currently asking for comments on the proposed rule. The deadline for submitting comments is Sept. 27, 2019.

We will continue to monitor and keep you updated on these developments.

Can Health Insurance Rebates Affect Workers’ Comp Premiums?

Since 2012, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has required insurers with a certain medical loss ratio (MLR) to issue a rebate to employers. Depending on the way the rebates are distributed, you may end up paying more for your workers’ compensation insurance.

Medical Loss Ratio

The MLR provision of the ACA states that insurers must spend a proportion of premium revenues on clinical services and improvements to the quality of care, or pay rebates to their customers. It is a basic financial measurement that the ACA uses to encourage health insurers to provide value to their customers.

The rebates can be issued in a few ways, some of which include:

  • Passing along MLR rebates directly to employees
  • Applying the rebates to future premiums
  • Applying the rebates to benefit enhancements

Impact on Your Payroll

When employers pass any portion of the rebates along to employees, the rebates must be counted as payroll for the purposes of workers’ compensation. This rule only applies if the rebate is coming through the employer and not directly from the insurance provider. The rule also applies regardless of whether the rebate distribution is taxable or nontaxable.

For many employers, the amount of money paid out in rebates will not significantly impact payroll due to rebates. Your workers’ compensation insurance premium is calculated based on your payroll, so if that increases, your premium likely will, too.

Here are a few more points to remember when issuing the rebates:

  • High-dollar rebates may be rare, but you should still be aware of their increased impact on your premium if you receive them.
  • Ensure that any information that is pertinent to your insurance coverages is up-to-date and thorough. Per the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), “an employer is required to keep records of information needed to compute [its] premium. In addition, the employer must provide records to the carrier, when requested, for the purpose of auditing the employer’s workers’ compensation policy.”

The relationship between the ACA and workers’ compensation is more complex than ever and still evolving. The Unland Companies can help you determine how to handle your health insurance rebates and keep you in the know with new information.

Best Practices for Conducting Workplace Investigations

Workplace investigations are crucial when it comes to establishing a safe and welcoming work environment. However, these investigations are often complex and can involve navigating sensitive topics and disputes. More than ever before, companies face irreversible reputational damage and negative publicity if they mishandle workplace investigations.

There are many reasons HR professionals may have to conduct a workplace investigation, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Employee behavior
  • Suspected substance use
  • Concerns of discrimination, harassment or threats
  • Violations of workplace rules
  • Workplace theft

Employers are expected to take investigations and employee concerns seriously in order to foster a supportive workplace culture. In fact, organizations that fail to conduct proper investigations may face legal action if they mishandle a workplace investigation. In recent cases, companies that did not respond properly to investigation requests faced legal action and six-figure settlements.

Accordingly, it’s important for mangers, HR professionals and business leaders to understand best practices for conducting workplace investigations.

Establish Investigation Goals Early On and Assess Complaints with Discretion

One of the best ways to ensure effective investigations is to establish a consistent framework. This framework should be repeatable for various incidents and account for the following:

  • Investigation objectives—In general, the goal of an investigation is to resolve workplace issues in fair and efficient manner. Both the organization itself and its HR representatives must be aware of investigation objectives from the beginning. Clear objectives can guide investigators and promote the timely resolution of workplace incidents.
  • Investigation scope—Determining the scope of an investigation early on can help focus investigative procedures. Specifically, formalizing the scope of an investigation can help investigators gather the appropriate information and carryout corrective action for various types of incidents.
  • Investigation timing— When it comes to workplace investigations, timeliness is key. Regardless of the perceived merit of the complaint, it’s in a company’s best interest to trigger investigations upon request. Failing to act quickly could be considered prejudicial to the employee and result in potential claims.

When assessing employee concerns, it’s important to consider the nature of the issue, who’s involved and what, if any, company policies apply. Employers should determine whether employees involved in the incident should be separated or given paid leave until the situation is resolved.

As a general rule, when assessing incidents, all concerns and complaints fielded from your employees must be taken seriously. While some investigations may not be carried out per the employer’s discretion, companies should educate themselves on relevant laws regarding incident investigations and when they are necessary.

Carry Out Investigations in a Fair and Objective Manner

Employers must demonstrate procedural fairness when conducting workplace investigations. These investigations should be thorough and well documented before an employer takes any action. Additionally, effective workplace investigations embrace the following three principles:

  • Neutrality—HR and other personnel involved in an investigation must be detached from an incident. Those involved should remain objective and have no personal stake in the outcome of an investigation. Employers have a duty to conduct workplace investigations in a fair and impartial manner. To remain neutral, it’s important to give all employees involved in an investigation the opportunity to provide their version of the incident.
  • Thoroughness—To ensure that the proper decision is made following an investigation, you must be thorough in uncovering all the necessary information. Ask detailed questions throughout the process.
  • Timeliness—Once an investigation is triggered, investigators must act promptly to avoid further acts of wrongdoing. Any disciplinary action should be administered in a timely manner to avoid potential legal issues.

It’s important for organizations to decide whether they will utilize internal or external investigators. While internal investigations tend to be quicker and comply with organizational policies, external firms ensure neutrality throughout all investigations.

Respect the Privacy of Those Involved in an Incident

In some instances, employees may be reluctant to participate in an investigation due to privacy concerns. Because of this, employers walk a fine line and must balance the privacy interests of their employees with their own legitimate business and safety interests.

All parties involved in an investigation have a right to privacy and confidentiality. These rights are especially important if an incident involves sensitive subject matter. Employers must be tactful and avoid oversharing details regarding the incident. Only those who need to know should be given the facts of the case.

It’s better to be overly cautious when handling workplace investigations, limiting information as follows:

  • Respondents (i.e., the alleged harasser, subject of an incident or a bully) are entitled to know that a claim has been brought against them. They should also be informed on the details of the claim and what to expect during a formal interview.
  • Witnesses can provide your investigators with valuable information regarding workplace incidents. However, employers should still keep the details of the incident to a minimum when speaking with witnesses.

Conducting Interviews

Detailed interviews are the most important aspects of workplace investigations. Interviews can provide a clear understanding of an incident and help employers determine what, if any, disciplinary action should be taken.

Employers will want to decide:

  • Who to interview—Interviews should be conducted with respondents, complainants and witnesses at a minimum. It’s a good idea to only interview those who have information relevant to the case. It may also be helpful to have more than one investigator present during the interview
  • What order to interview—Employers should be cognizant of the interview order. Generally, businesses should interview the complainant first, any witnesses second and the respondent third. Schedule follow-up interviews as needed. Each subject should be informed that the interview process is confidential.
  • What to ask during interviews—Questions should be written and prepared ahead of time. These questions should be a mix of open- and close-ended questions. Above all, interview questions should help investigators gather details related to times, dates, locations, individuals involved and other witnesses. Sample questions include:
    • What happened?
    • When/where did it happen?
    • Who was present?
    • Who did or said what?
    • Why did it happen?
    • Is there evidence?
    • Who else may have relevant information?

Interview responses and other relevant details should be recorded throughout the investigative process. Investigators should take detailed notes, which will help during the review process.

Taking Action

If, after an investigation occurs, you find that the employee’s complaint is substantiated, the employer should take action to:

  • Prevent the harassment, fraud or misconduct from recurring. To accomplish this, issue training and educational resources as needed.
  • Make accommodations to ensure employees feel safe at work.
  • Discipline the subject of the complaint in a manner proportional to the severity of the misconduct, up to and including dismissal. Do not take action against an employee if you have no clear evidence of misconduct.

If the complaint is not substantiated, the employer should notify the parties accordingly and explain how this conclusion was reached.

After an investigation concludes, you should compile your findings in a final report. It’s also a good idea to assess the effectiveness of your investigation process and make any improvements.

If you have questions, please contact Laura Maas, HR Solutions Manager: or call  (800) 747-3241.