Top 10 Issues That Concern and Trouble HR Professionals

If you watched the TLNT video of Dr. John Sullivan talking about What HR Trends Can We Expect in 2011 and Beyond? then you know that there are a lot of issues that human resources needs to get ready for in the not-too-distant future.

But that begs the question: what kinds of things has HR been focused on over the past year? What issues are they asking the most questions and raising the biggest concerns about?

Well, leave it to the Employers Resource Association (ERA) to compile a list of the top 10 questions received by its HR Hotline. The ERA says it receives more than 8,000 calls each year to its hotline from human resources professionals in the Midwest who work for businesses and non-profits of all sizes.

The ERA describes itself on its website as:

Your single source for HR advice, training, legal updates, news and information. Our aim is to keep our members current, compliant and competent. We’ve been serving employers in Cincinnati/Northern KY, Dayton, Columbus and Eastern Indiana since 1946, and now boast a membership roster of over 1,500 mid-size organizations, which has grown 250 percent in last 10 years. We are also part of an association network representing over 50,000 employers and 7 million employees. Our members trust us for personal service, practical advice and as a one stop resource to help handle the complex questions and tasks that have become part of everyday HR.”

“Demands on HR professionals have never been greater, first with downsizing and now increased hiring pressure,” said Dan Chaney, director of HR Advisory Services for ERA, in a press release that accompanied this list. “The common questions we receive center around hiring and firing, leave, access to personnel records, drug testing, immigration rules and classifying independent contractors.”

“ERA is a trusted resource on health care, credit checks, compensation and benefits issues, and many more topics for HR professionals who are strapped for time or doing other jobs,” said Thomas Cornillie, vice president of Human Resources at Advanced Testing Laboratories in Cincinnati, OH. “Dan always gets back to me no matter how specific or open ended my questions.”

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Clearly, the ERA is viewed as a trusted source of information for HR pros in eastern Indiana, Ohio, and northern Kentucky, so this list probably reveals the questions that an HR professional would be willing to put to someone they really trusted for a smart, insightful answer.

I always find these kinds of lists interesting, because they give a close look into the issues that people struggle with in human resources day-in and day-out — the topics we try to dig into here at TLNT.

So, read into this list what you will. For me, it’s a snapshot of what issues HR was grappling with in 2010 and likely is still trying to sort out here in the first quarter of 2011. Does it match what you are dealing with in your organization? If it does or doesn’t, please leave a note here and let us know.

Top 10 Questions for the HR Hotline:

  1. FMLA (the Family and Medical Leave Act) is the single most asked-about topic. Questions center on: who is covered; what is deemed a serious health condition: and how to control intermittent leave.
  2. Advice and counsel for taking such adverse actions as termination, suspension and discipline is a close second to FMLA. Commonly requested information includes: what documentation is needed to fire someone; does a recent Workers Compensation claim or FMLA request affect the decision being made; can the employee sue for termination?
  3. Performance management strategies. Strategies for dealing with a problem employee such as: is it safe to ramp up the heat on a new hire that may not be working out or on a protected-class employee that isn’t responding to counseling? Also, group performance issues concurrent with culture changes or business cycle needs.
  4. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) issues. Concerns center on correctly classifying a position as exempt, calculating overtime for multiple rates, what travel hours must be paid for an hourly employee, what are federal and state child labor rules. In addition, how much time can we ignore at clock-in or out? Can we round?
  5. Immigration. Many questions arise regarding I-9 documentation and procedural questions. Such as, what do we do when the SSN comes back a no-match? An applicant has a matching SSN and ID, but we know it is not his. What can we do? And, we’re considering employing an H1-B employee. How complicated is that?
  6. Lunch hour and breaks. Questions about giving breaks and how many per day. Is a lunch period required? What has to be paid versus non-paid time? Can an employee work through break and leave early?
  7. Employee access to personnel files. Does the law require us to allow an employee to see or copy his file? What are the pros & cons of allowing it versus not? We just got a letter from an attorney requesting files. Do we have to send them? We have employees in a few other states. Are the rules different there?
  8. Independent contractor versus employee. What’s the difference between an independent contractor and an employee? Why can’t I just pay this person as a contractor and issue a 1099? What constitutes a legal independent contractor status? Who makes the rules?
  9. Employee privacy. Can we read employee e-mail or monitor Internet usage? What about the use of surveillance cameras? Is it legal? Can we search employees, or their workplace, belongings or cars?
  10. Drug and alcohol issues. Under what conditions can employees be tested? If the employee tests positive, can we discharge? How can a drug test procedure be set-up, what should be in the policy?

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.