Top 10 HR Issues For HR Pros? They Haven’t Changed Much This Year

You have certainly heard this many times before: The more things change, the more things remain the same.

So it is too with the concerns of HR professionals, if you judge from the questions they want to get help with. In fact, the most asked questions put to to the Employers Resource Association (ERA) HR Hotline so far this year are pretty much the same questions that concerned HR professionals last year, too.

The ERA HR Hotline is a good indicator of what is on the minds of HR pros, and, what they need help with handling. 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. 

More demands put on HR pros

“Demands on HR professionals have increased dramatically since the recession began and our members continue to be challenged to handle more tasks and issues with fewer resources,” said Dan Chaney, SPHR, director HR Advisory Services for ERA, in a press release about the Top 10 list. “The common questions we receive center around hiring and firing, leave management, access to personnel records, drug testing, immigration rules and classifying independent contractors.”

Here’s how ERA describes itself on the association’s website:

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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.”

A window into frontline issues

Why is this list important? Well, as I noted last year, these kinds of lists are interesting because they give a close look into the issues that people struggle with in HR on a daily basis. And, they are also the topics we try to spotlight regularly here at TLNT.

So, my advice here in 2012 is the same as it was last year — read into this list what you will. It’s a good snapshot of  the issues HR continues to struggle with this year just as it was last year as well .

But the question remains: Does it match what you are dealing with, as an HR or talent management professional, in your own organization? You can leave me a note in the comments to let me know.

Top 10 Questions for the HR Hotline:

  1. FMLA (the Family and Medical Leave Act) is again the single most asked-about topic, just as it was last year. Questions center on: who is covered; what is deemed a serious health condition; and how to control intermittent leave. Employers also rely on ERA to keep them current and compliant about proposed changes to FMLA such as those that may expand military family leave provisions and incorporate a special eligibility provision for airline flight crew employees.
  2. Advice and counsel for taking such adverse actions as termination, suspension and discipline is a close second to FMLA (as it also was in 2011).  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 the files? 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 emails or monitor Internet usage? What about the use of surveillance cameras? Is it legal? Can we search employees, or their workplace, belongings or cars? Can we use GPS technology to monitor our employees? What about employees that use company provided smart phones?
  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.


2 Comments on “Top 10 HR Issues For HR Pros? They Haven’t Changed Much This Year

  1. There aren’t many strategic HR issues on this list.  There all about legal compliance and liability, with the exception of issues around group performance and culture change.  I’m not suprised, although much is written and said about strategic HR, business partners and learning the business, most HR professionals are spending the large majority of their day on administration, policy enforcement and legal compliance.  Hopefully next year the list will include more about talent management, succession planning, change management and aligning behaviors and capabilities with goals and objectives.

    1. Agree. This is the sad state of HR. Most of the HR pros whom I know thrive in these areas. Strategy is a not expected from HR or they are simply not capable of doing it.

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