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Colleges turn to staffing firms to solve telecommuting challenges


The ubiquity of telecommuting is one of the many ways the coronavirus pandemic has changed the world since March 2020. And while mask and vaccine requirements may ease, telecommuting is here to stay. Employees in many industries now expect a degree of flexibility so that they can have more control over their schedules, reduce travel time and costs, and enjoy the freedom to live where they want.

Higher education workers are no different. A a recent survey from the Professional Association of College and University Human Resources shows that many are willing to leave their jobs if telecommuting requirements are not met. Pennsylvania System of Higher Education recently sold its headquarters in Harrisburg, allowing 27 system administration employees to work remotely.

But while remote work can be attractive to employees, it can cause headaches for institutions trying to navigate legal issues and policies that vary by state. As colleges try to navigate a fast-changing world and a maze of legal and tax issues, some are turning to outside HR services to help them comply and retain employees.

Challenges of remote work

A panel at the National Association of College and University Presidents conference earlier this month identified some of the challenges associated with telecommuting.

Panelist Eileen Goldgeier, vice president and general counsel at Brown University, described telecommuting as “one of the most challenging areas” she has seen in her career. The key question, Goldgeier said, is “if you allow employees to work in another state, are you subject to that state’s personal jurisdiction?” And what does that mean for potential liability?”

Answer: It depends.

Differences in state laws add to the complexities of managing remote employees. Some states are employer-friendly, while others have laws that are more employee-friendly. Pay rates, vacation policies, telecommuting benefits, and training requirements, such as mandatory anti-discrimination and anti-harassment classes, can vary significantly from state to state.

And employees with new mobility increasingly cross state borders.

“It would be very easy if employees just worked from home [they did in] March 2020, but they’re not,” Goldgier said. “They move to states where there is no income tax, or the land is cheaper, or the public school systems are better, and people are very mobile.”

Solutions for remote work

To understand the new world of remote work, the University of Central Florida commissioned a task force to provide guidance on the topic. Although the task force is still in its infancy and has not yet released its findings, one thing is clear: UCF officials are stressing that university employees must be based in the state of Florida.

The UCF website distinguishes between remote workers—those who “work at an alternate location within the State of Florida”—and out-of-state employees.

But what happens when a respected UCF employee wants to move out of state? To answer this question, UCF turned to a third party, Kelly Services. The partnership is structured to allow employees to continue their work at UCF under Kelly Services, which then becomes the employer, avoiding complex legal and tax issues that vary by state.

“They are Kelly Services employees with the university who provide oversight, performance evaluations, etc.,” explained Joel Levenson, UCF’s assistant vice president for taxes, accounts payable and procurement. “We work closely with Kelly. Employee compensation is the same as the university. We looked at all the benefits the employees were eligible for—health, dental, retirement—and they were able to create plans that mirrored the university’s benefits plan to make the transition seamless, except for the names on their W2s and paychecks. »

On its website, Kelly Services, which did not respond to a request for comment, describes itself as “committed to helping higher education institutions retain valued team members in their workplaces — no matter where they live.” The Kelly Services website claims to have over 150 partner universities.

Of UCF’s more than 12,000 employees, few work remotely out of state; Gerald Hector, UCF’s senior vice president for administration and finance, puts the number at about 60. So while remote employees aren’t a major problem, he said UCF has been actively working with Kelly Services to address compliance issues. And while the out-of-state staff technically had to resign from UCF, he said the transition to Kelly was seamless.

“There was no gap [in pay and benefits]. And that was part of the contemplation that people had to have. But we wanted to make sure that we still care about people and that they don’t feel that impact, even if they’re no longer employees of the facility themselves,” Hector said.

Kelly Services is one of a number of third-party organizations that act as employers for colleges that wish to retain out-of-state employees without addressing compliance issues. UCF hired Kelly Services through a standard procurement process that considered others.

“Kelly has special education [led] a vice president, a former provost who could really work with our faculty and understands what it’s like to work in a higher education institution. And I think that spoke volumes for us,” Levenson said. “Their prices were on par with everyone else they were offering us. But it was their dedication not only to higher education, but to education in general [including K-12] … and they speak the language of higher ed., so they stood out.”

FoxHire is another third-party staffing firm that acts as an employer of record for colleges and universities, hiring workers under its own name to ease institutional staffing headaches and reduce the burden of managing personnel across states.

FoxHire President Colin Labeau said in an email that his firm works with 70 different colleges and universities, hiring hundreds of workers of all types at such institutions, handling payroll, benefits, timesheets and other human resources tasks expected from employers.

“Usually there are employees in the institution that need to be managed [employer of record], or they work with a staffing agency that has found employees to manage with EOR. We are brought in as an employer of record because the institution is unable or unwilling to be an employer for workers. We then hire the candidate and bundle the placement costs into one invoice that includes all the services mentioned above,” he said.

LaBeau believes companies like his allow colleges to hire top talent regardless of location by breaking down borders and solving staffing challenges related to taxes and state laws.

“Most colleges and universities are hyper-localized. Therefore, they are not familiar with out-of-state employment laws, regulations, etc., and do not have organizations in all states. This puts them at risk of employment law. In addition, the inability to hire employees in all states limits their staffing capacity,” LaBeau said.

UCF’s Hector sees a delicate balancing act that employers must consider, listening to the wants and needs of the workforce while advancing the university’s mission and remaining compliant with employment law. In the future, more workers will demand remote work in both higher education and the corporate world, and employers will need to accommodate these demands. Otherwise, they will go elsewhere – and that is higher education quality workers are difficult to find.

Hector said colleges should be sympathetic to their employees and the changing life circumstances that take them out of state, but also “there are rules and regulations that you have to follow.”

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