Posts filed under ‘HR’

Thursday Potpouri

Some Good News on Housing

As housing goes, so goes the economy. So the announcement by the National Association of Realtors that existing home sales increased in June at their fastest pace in over eight years is some of the best economic news I’ve seen lately. It is likely to give comfort to Fed members uneasy about whether or not to start raising short term interest rates this year. According to the NAR, sales of existing homes increased 3.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.49 million in June from a downwardly revised 5.32 million in May. Sales are now at their highest pace since February 2007 (5.79 million).

One statistic that I’ve been keeping an eye on is the number of first time home buyers. Their noticeable absence from the market has been one of the key indicators that the post-recession economy we are living in still feels like a recession to many Americans. The NAR report revealed mix results on this front. The percent share of first-time buyers fell to 30 percent in June from 32 percent in May, but remained at or above 30 percent for the fourth consecutive month. A year ago, first-time buyers represented 28 percent of all buyers.

What remains to be seen is how much of the increase in housing activity reflects growing consumer confidence and how much reflects buyers rushing to buy before the Fed ends this period of historically low interest and mortgage rates.

Here is the NAR Press release.

Live from DC. . .It’s the Debbie Matz Show!

NCUA Chairman Debbie Matz appears before a House Financial Services Subcommittee today at 2:00 PM to answer questions about NCUA’s budget and operations. In addition to questions about NCUA’s budget process-or lack thereof-CUNA anticipates that we might also get some information about the pending Risk Based Capital Reform. You can watch it live over the Internet or probably download it tonight if you are having trouble sleeping. Here is a link to the hearing.

You’ve Come A Long Way Baby(?)

Nothing to do with credit unions but there is a provocative article in the New York Times reporting on the changing attitudes that young professional women are taking as they enter the workforce toward achieving a work/life balance. According to the column “The youngest generation of women in the work force — the millennials, age 18 to early 30s — is defining career success differently and less linearly than previous generations of women. A variety of survey data shows that educated, working young women are more likely than those before them to expect their career and family priorities to shift over time.”

It seems to me that those businesses that are mindful of this attitudinal shift by, for example, embracing workplace flexibility and going the extra mile to keep young parents from slipping down the corporate ladder even as they dedicate more time to their families, might be able to attract and keep employees who they otherwise couldn’t afford.

July 23, 2015 at 9:07 am Leave a comment

Just How Independent Is That Independent Contractor?

Let’s say one of your best employees is leaving because her husband found his dream job as a yoga instructor in Idaho. You love her work and she loves working for the credit union. You both decide that she will do work for the credit union as a consultant. She won’t manage anyone and she can work when she wants as long as she gets the special projects assigned to her done on time. She is free to consult for other credit unions as well but probably won’t have the time. Is she an employee or an independent contractor?

With the subtlety of a bull in a china shop, the US Department of Labor yesterday released guidance clarifying the legal test to be used determine if our consultant is an independent contractor or an employee in disguise. If you hire independent contractors, then this guidance is a must read.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, if you “permit or suffer” an individual to work then that individual is your employee. (I’m not making this up: Congress says that if you are suffering at the hands of an employer you must be an employee).

Not surprisingly, this antiquated phraseology is not of much use to employers. Over the years it has fallen on the courts and regulators to determine how to apply this language. The purpose of yesterday’s legally binding guidance is to emphasize to employers that the Fair Labor Standards Act has an expensive definition of employee, one that the DOL feels has been misapplied to the detriment of millions of employees denied benefits as independent contractors.

According to the DOL, the ultimate issue to be analyzed in deciding whether or not our consultant is an independent contractor is not how much independence she exercises but how dependent the contractor is on the credit union. As explained in the guidance:

Unlike the common law control test, which analyzes whether a worker is an employee based on the employer’s control over the worker and not the broader economic realities of the working relationship…An entity ‘suffers or permits’ an individual to work if, as a matter of economic reality, the individual is dependent [on the business for which she is working].

To determine whether your employee turned consultant is an employee in disguise, you are going to examine these criteria: the extent to which the work performed is an integral part of the employer’s business; the worker’s opportunity for profit or loss depending on his or her managerial skill; the extent of the relative investments of the employer and the worker; whether the work performed requires special skills and initiative; the permanence of the relationship; and the degree of control exercised or retained by the employer.

Remember these are criteria to be considered, not elements that all have to be present for a person to be an employee. Ultimately, you have to weigh all of these factors and apply them to your situation. As you do so, remember that on both the state and federal level the regulators are emphasizing proper classification of employees in their oversight regimes.

One more thing. The IRS has an interest in seeing that you have properly paid your taxes, so it has its own test to decide whether that consultant you hired is an employee. The IRS still considers factors the DOL doesn’t consider relevant. You can find the IRS’s criteria at.

http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p15a.pdf

I will be back on Monday. I hope everyone enjoys their weekend.

July 16, 2015 at 10:06 am Leave a comment

Is Vacation Mandatory?

I would have to double check with the Compliance Department, but I’ll bet that at least twice a year a credit union tells us that an examiner is in their office and has told them that they must require their employees to take at least two consecutive weeks of vacation. Is the examiner right, they want to know.

My decisively equivocal answer to that question is, not exactly, but a from a safety and soundness standpoint, it makes a lot of sense. First, you won’t find a statute or regulation specifying the amount of vacation time your employees must take. The most authoritative documents I’ve seen on the subject are two legal opinion letters issued by New York’s Department of Financial Services. In 1995, the Department issued a general industry letter to financial institutions in which it opined that the State considered it “prudent business practice for every bank” and branch to have vacation policies that at a minimum mandate that “those officers and employees involved or engaged in transactional business or having the ability to change the official records of” an institution take at least two consecutive weeks of vacation each year. This letter would only be binding on state-chartered credit unions and even then, only strongly encourages credit unions and banks to have mandatory vacation policies.

As for NCUA, Section 4-6 of its examination manual, which assesses a credit union’s internal controls, tells examiners to find out whether or not officers and employees in “sensitive positions” take two consecutive weeks of vacation each year, “if practical.” The manual doesn’t define what practical is, but it clearly provides a bit of wiggle room for that smaller credit union to point out that it doesn’t have enough staff to mandate vacation time policies. Chapter 18 of the Guide lists an employees unwillingness to take vacation as a money laundering red flag.

The reason for these policies is obvious enough. Two weeks should give you more than enough time to figure out if an employee is engaging in illegal activity at the credit union. (And here you thought your employer just wanted you to be well rested). Still, it is clear that on both the state and federal level, credit unions that ignore the role that vacation policies play in protecting them from being used for illegal activity may raise legitimate safety and soundness concerns.

This idea seems simple enough, but this is another example of how your IT and compliance activities have to be coordinated. For example, in 2005, a Type-A bank employee asked the DFS if its vacation policy recommendation meant that she couldn’t access e-mail while on vacation. Let’s face it, some of us are more addicted to email than Donald Trump is to his own ego. The DFS explained that while employees can access email while on vacation, financial institutions should ensure that this discretion does not allow employees to blur the lines between routine email communications and communications effecting transactions.

The distinction the Department was trying to make is all the more difficult in 2015 when many employees are allowed to bring their own smartphones to work and passwords can access the most important of databases. So what conclusions should you draw from all this? First, although examiner concerns have traditionally been geared toward employees who can execute transactions, it seems to me that in this day and age, virtually all your employees have that power. As a result, while there is no statute or regulation mandating your employees take a significant, consecutive amount of time off each year, such a policy makes sense. Besides, it’s a good mechanism to ensure that your credit union isn’t dependent on one employee to perform a core function.

Second, for these vacation policies to be most effective from a safety and soundness standpoint, your IT Department should know who has access to what credit union resources at any given time. Even if you don’t rigorously enforce a vacation policy, one of the most basic steps you can take from a cybersecurity standpoint is to limit access to employees who actually need it.

Finally, don’t assume that your employees would never embezzle from your credit union. The sad reality is that good people do bad things all the time. Your typical embezzler is not a 26 year old kid whose been working at the credit union for a year; but is the trusted middle-aged executive with bills to pay.

Come to think of it, I better put in for vacation time between Christmas and New Years.  See you on Monday and Happy Fourth of July!

July 2, 2015 at 8:32 am Leave a comment

Wednesday Takeaways

You can never have too much information, especially if your job is to help keep your credit union on the straight and narrow. When I started on my compliance journey, one of the greatest resources that I used, and continue to use to this day, were examination manuals.

Recently, federal examiners released an updated lending examination manual and because it includes the pending integrated mortgage disclosure requirements, it is well worth your read. For example, Section V-1.9 contains a great chart to answer the age old question of what costs should be included in mortgage finance charges. What these manuals do is provide concise but informative summaries on the issues that your examiners will be reviewing when they come into your credit union. Unfortunately, New York State’s Department of Financial Services does not have its manual available on its website. Perhaps that is something that can be addressed in the future. Even if you don’t do compliance, but just need to get a quick overview of a trending compliance issue, these manuals are a great place to start.

Another OCC resource to check out is the OCC’s semi-annual report on banking trends. Although many of the risks it highlights are hardly surprising, it is still worth taking a look. Like the NCUA, the OCC continues to be concerned with the usual suspects of evolving cyber threats, the temptation to relax underwriting standards too much as competition for loans heats up, and of course, interest-rate risks. Like their credit union counter parts, the OCC is concerned that smaller institutions in particular – those with less than $1 billion in assets – are still stretching out their investments too long in the search for higher yield. One day the examiners will be justified in this concern, I’m just not sure in what future decade.

Incidentally, one interesting little factoid that I pulled from the report has to do with auto lending. According to the OCC, 60% of loans originated by banks in the fourth quarter of 2014 had a term of 72 months or longer. In addition, the OCC is becoming concerned with collateral advance rates. It reports that the average loan to value ratio for used auto loans was 137%. In addition, loan to value ratios for borrowers with credit scores lower than 620 averaged 150%. Statistics like these justify the increased scrutiny that auto lending is getting from New York State Legislators and regulators.

Epilogue: DOL Posts Overtime Proposal

As expected, the U.S. Department of Labor formally posted proposed regulations increasing the salary threshold for employees to be considered exempt to $50,400. When the proposal came out, the Association staff HR guru Chris Pajak and I looked at some industry-wide numbers and this proposal could have a huge impact on many credit unions. For instance, many of the CEOs of the smallest credit unions have salaries hovering right around $50,000. The same is true for many of the people you probably consider exempt employees, such as your teller supervisors and your compliance directors. Even if these employees don’t typically work overtime, the regulations mean that if you currently don’t track the hours these employees work, you’re going to have to start.

One aspect of the proposed regulations that I haven’t talked about includes an exception for “highly compensated employees (HTE).” As a very general rule, if an employee receives a base salary of at least $23,000 but receives compensation of at least $100,000 and performs at least one of the functions of an exempt employee, then that employee is exempt from overtime pay requirements. The DOL is proposing to increase the HTE threshold from $100,000 to $120,000.

Epilogue: My Big, Fat Greek Default

Despite a last second request for emergency credit, Greece officially defaulted on a debt payment due to its international creditors last night. The next big date to look for is July 6, when the Greeks hold a referendum on whether or not to accept the latest loan bailout requirements.

Greece’s troubles are already having an impact on our economy. The stock market has tumbled, bond prices are gyrating, and with corporate profits declining in the second quarter it appears that those who thought that the economy was gaining momentum were, once again, overly optimistic.

July 1, 2015 at 9:04 am Leave a comment

Do Your Supervisors Make $50,000?

If not, then they can no longer be classified as exempt employees and must get overtime. According to this morning’s news reports, that’s the core part of proposed regulations updating the Fair Labor Standards Act to be released by the Obama Administration’s Department of Labor later this week.

Under existing regulations, one of the conditions for an employee to be classified as exempt is that he or she makes a little more than $23,000. Critics point out that this threshold requirement is so low that it has allowed employers to contravene the intent of federal law by classifying an employee as the supervisor and expecting them to work 50-60 hour weeks without overtime pay. They argue that a $50,000 threshold simply adjusts the Act to where it would be had it kept pace with inflation.

Opponents of this well-meaning but fatally misguided view correctly point out that a $50,000 threshold won’t increase the salary of many employees, but simply decrease the amount of hours existing employees work and, in a best case scenario, encourage the hiring of more lower-paid employees.

To put this in practical terms, review a list of your exempt employees making less than $50,000 and estimate how many hours they work over 40 each week. Then figure out how much it would cost you to pay each of these employees time and one-half for these hours. This is how much the federal government effectively wants to tax you. Occasionally, it makes me wonder if we live in a capitalist country.

June 30, 2015 at 7:54 am Leave a comment

Are You Underpaying Your Tellers?

That is the question that popped into my mind this morning after spotting an article reporting that TD Bank was slapped with a lawsuit yesterday alleging that it violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by misclassifying a “teller services manager” as an exempt employee. The lawsuit is by no means unique, but the simple fact that employees continue to bring these claims indicates that financial institutions are continuing to ignore the impact that the FLSA is having on their operations. In addition, with major regulations on employee classifications to be released within weeks by the Department of Labor, this and similar cases demonstrates why I feel that the Department of Labor will introduce the most potentially impactful regulations for credit unions this summer.

Remember that under the FLSA, employees are presumptively entitled to overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week. Very generally speaking, the law creates an exemption for employees who exercise managerial control. As I have previously explained, fueled by the Department of Labor, suits alleging the misclassification of non-exempt and exempt employees have become more common and more expensive. This trend was highlighted earlier this year when the Supreme Court upheld the right of the Department of Labor to classify mortgage originators as non-exempt employees.

The TD Bank case (Reinaldo Kuri v. TD Bank N.A ) is fairly typical. The employee in question alleges that even though he was given the title of manager, his duties included “spending the overwhelming majority of his time” engaged in the duties of non-exempt bank tellers and customer service representatives. In addition, he alleges that he “did not exercise any meaningful degree of independent judgment,” but instead had to rely on the policies, practices and procedures set by the Bank.

This argument shows why employers increasingly find themselves in a Catch-22 when it comes to classifying their employees. A typical credit union is too small to cleanly delineate exempt and non-exempt duties. Your typical manager chips in by helping out with teller duties and anything else that needs to be done around the credit union. In addition, any credit union that doesn’t have policies and procedures in place detailing how it expects its employees to carry out their duties is committing operational negligence.

Under existing regulations (29 CFR 541.700), you judge whether an employee is classified as exempt or non-exempt based on her primary duties. The good news is that under existing regulations, the amount of time an employee spends performing exempt work is not the sole criterion used to determine whether or not an employee is exempt. This means, for example, that the branch manager, whose primary duty is managing the branch but on any given week may spent the majority of his or her time performing non-exempt duties, can still be classified as an exempt employee. The bad news is that the Department of Labor is expected to propose narrowing this exception so that any employee who spends the majority of her time doing non-exempt work will be considered a non-exempt employee. Think of how much this could cost you in overtime.

But even without these proposed changes, financial institutions continue to ignore the changing employment landscape at their own risk. For instance, if TD Bank loses this lawsuit, it could be required to pay cumulative damages and reimburse employees for their unpaid overtime.

June 17, 2015 at 8:36 am Leave a comment

Diversity Guidance Released

Few things get people as nervous as a conversation about race. In part this reflects the fact that the vast majority of decent people don’t want to be insensitive to the concerns of others, and in part it reflects the fact that issues of race are so complicated that no one really thinks a frank dialogue will bring about much consensus.
The latest entry into this muddled mess of policy confusion is The Joint Guidance on Joint Standards for Assessing the Diversity Policies and Practices of entities that are regulated by federal financial regulators, including the NCUA. It can best be described as a non-mandate mandate. On the one hand, it establishes a suggested framework for financial institutions to use in assessing their efforts towards creating and encouraging a diverse workforce. On the other hand, the guidance stresses that the proposed framework is completely voluntary and geared towards institutions with 100 or more employees which are, not coincidentally, already subject to workforce diversity reporting requirements.
The voluntary framework encourages credit unions to establish: quantifiable standards for assessing their commitment to diversity and inclusion; policies and procedures to foster diversity and inclusion by, for example, reaching out to minority and women’s organizations to expand their applicant pool; and policies for hiring minority contractors. Credit unions should make these efforts as transparent as possible by posting policies to their websites, for example. Credit unions are urged to assess how well they are achieving these goals and are also encouraged, but not required, to share these self-assessments with their regulators.
Does the Guidance apply to small credit unions? On paper yes, but the preamble to the policy statement tells us that: “When drafting these standards, the Agencies focused primarily on institutions with more than 100 employees. The Agencies know that institutions that are small or located in remote areas face different challenges and have different options available to them compared to entities that are larger or located in more urban areas. The Agencies encourage each entity to use these standards in a manner appropriate to its unique characteristics.” I would put this in your file for the day an examiner tries to ding you for not complying with this guidance.
As for those of you who do have at least 100 employees, even though the guidance is wholly voluntary, my guess is you already do much of what is suggested in this guidance. Taking a look at this guidance and incorporating it into your existing practices isn’t a bad idea if only because today’s voluntary guidance may someday become tomorrow’s mandate. This is particularly true if regulators conclude that institutions aren’t doing enough to foster diverse workplaces.

June 10, 2015 at 8:13 am Leave a comment

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Authored By:

Henry Meier, Esq., Associate General Counsel, New York Credit Union Association

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