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Monday, November 19, 2007


Hi Evil HR Lady. It's so funny that you call yourself that; I used to work in HR and always felt perceived that way. We never have good news!

I'm writing to you with a question that seems to have no GOOD answer depending on the research I've done...and one that I have NO experience with.

I was working for a company. I got sold to a new one and then got leased back to the old one. Result? I've been considered a "contractor" with no benefits.

Nearly ten months later, I am about to be eligible for benefits according to the standards for freelance (or Project-Based) employees. November 1st is the beginning of the eligibility period. I have written to HR with my questions, so I can be ready for this date and not miss a chance to qualify for benefits.

Here is my question: What are the alternatives for someone when HR does not respond to questions regarding benefits? The benefits administrator is notoriously unresponsive, and yet, there seems to be nothing we can do! This can't be right. When it comes to money matters, the labor board can intervene. But when it comes to benefits, who makes sure that HR is doing their job? Who can I turn to for help? What are my alternatives?

Earlier this year, her unresponsiveness cost me the opportunity to accept my COBRA, and therefore made choosing a personal insurance provider more difficult and costly. I don't want to lose my chance this time around; I am entitled to these benefits, and want to make sure I get them.

What can I do?

Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated.

As with just about everything, it's not what you know, it's who you know. (Or in your case, it's not the substance of the question, it's who is doing the answer.)

Our benefits person is supposed to respond to my questions within 48 hours. Ummm, that doesn't happen. So, if I truly need an answer faster than 3 weeks, I have to cc not only that person's boss, but their boss's boss. (If I just cc the boss, she doesn't check her e-mail and I think her slacker minions know that, so it's not enough of a threat.)

The sad part is, the boss's boss doesn't really believe there is a problem, because if he's cc'd on an e-mail, I'll get a response within an hour.

What you have to do? Find the right person to ask and the right person to do the asking. The higher up the food chain the question asker is, the more of a chance of a response. This is sad, but true. You didn't get a response. Ask your boss to ask the question. If she doesn't get a response, ask her to ask her boss.

In the mean time, ask around and find out who the real problem solver at the company is. There is one--trust me. Once you find this person, your life will be blissful.

(And people, it is worth it to find that magical problem solver person. He or she can be lurking somewhere you'd never expect. I, for instance, can get a boat load of things fixed, not because of my current position, but because in a previous position I had a great relationship with the right people. I'm valuable to the average employee, but most people don't know that, because it's not in my current job description.)

I hope you get you benefits straightened out.


Anonymous said...

Things like this make me absolutely livid. I once worked with a benefits/payroll person who would literally lock her door and taped paper over all her office windows so she wouldn't be interrupted. Her voice mail box was always full and emails were never returned.

I told her, honey if you can't handle being interrupted you need to get out of HR. You are giving the rest of us a bad reputation.

Of course there are some extreme cases. If you have one benefits person and 5,000 employees then you have a management problem, not necessarily an incompetent benefits person problem.

Not to beat a dead horse, but depending upon the circumstances of the missed COBRA opportunity the company could be in violation of the act by not providing notices and election forms in a certain amount of time.

Evil is giving good advice on ccing and finding the problem solver of the organization. If it were me I would march down to wherever the benefits person is and give her a couple of pieces of my mind. Of course that may not be possible if she is at another location.

Anonymous said...

Oh my ...and when did "marching down to someone's office and giving them a piece of your mind" ever solve a problem? While it may make you feel better - not sure it would solve the problem. I think Evil gave the right advice ...I'd hold off in "chewing someone out"

Just another HR lady... said...

I would speak to this person directly (no marching to her office or yelling involved) and explain kindly how important it is to you to be enrolled in benefits in a timely manner.

If you receive no response to this in-person or phone inquiry, I would ask the same question of his/her boss. If the boss suggests that you speak to the benefits person who is supposed to be responsible for this item, tell the boss "oh, I did write to and speak to Jane Smith on such and such dates, however I never heard back from her and my eligiblity window is limited, so I thought you might be able to help me out instead." The boss will likely move quickly on ensuring your request is handled once they hear this.

In the benefits person's defense (at the sake of being egged), perhaps there are also other things going on that you may not be aware of..over-worked, under-staffed, unappreciated, burned out, on vacation, ill, doesn't have the proper tools to manage the workload, etc. etc. and the list goes on and on. But until someone complains, none of that can be or will be rectified. In my experience, it's only when the level of service drops, that the company will look at providing additional resources.

That being said, it's possibly also true that the benefits person simply is not capable of performing the duties of her/his job, and if that's the case, the manager needs to know this as well.

Mike Doughty said...

You didn't give much information about the benefits involved. If they're retirement or medical plans,they are ERISA regulated. Other benefit plans are governed by the provisions contained in the Summary Plan Description (SPD) for that plan. You are entitled to copies of these SPD's. Get them and read them as a first step. They usually contain provisions that cover the eligibility requirements for the plan, when and how it must be offered, etc. It should also tell you what the dispute procedure is. Go from there.

Laurie said...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - Works for me all the time. I'm not saying I scream and yell and never mentioned chewing at all. I'm assertive and I don't beat around the bush. I have no problem telling someone "I've called you three times and sent two emails and you have not replied. I need answers to my questions now please". It works and it saves time. I don't usually have to have that conversation with anyone more than once because they are usually embarassed as all get out. My reputation is good and the employees and managers trust me. I am the person that gets things done at my company. No harm, no foul.