Don't Make Me Use My Compliance Voice
Updated: Nov 30, 2022
When I was thinking through “compliance” as the focus for this blog entry, two ideas unrelated to benefits popped into my head. The first was singing “Compliance” to the tune of “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof. The other is the well-known line from The Brady Bunch, “Mom always said, don’t play ball in the house.” What do compliance and “not playing ball in the house” have in common? Rules and structure. I’ve always played by the rules. The worst thing I did as a teenager was get my ear double-pierced when my parents had told me that I couldn’t. Sure, I disobeyed them (and had to take out the earring), but all things considered, it was small potatoes, right? So much for being, sweet 16.
Shortly after I started working in benefits in 2011, I joined the International Foundation for Employee Benefit Plans. Their welcome packet included three cardboard posters which I hung outside my office door:
I Like Benefits
I Live for your Benefit Questions
Don't Make Me Use My Compliance Voice
The coasters elicited chuckles from colleagues both in and outside of HR. Sure, I love benefits and I’m always eager to answer benefit questions, but the idea of a “compliance voice” is more loaded than it seems on the surface.
Compliance is defined as “conformity in fulfilling official requirements”. Employer Sponsored Benefits (“benefits”) must comply with federal, state, and local requirements. Benefits are generally estimated to be 30% of an employee’s “total compensation”. Benefits are not only a substantial financial investment for the employer, both also an important tool to attract and retain top talent. Further, employees rely on benefits to protect themselves and their families. When an employer provides benefits, there are tax implications for the employer and employees. The government sets strict guidelines when it comes to administering employee benefit plans (aka compliance).
I initially thought this post was going to be a summary of key compliance issues providing an overview of my favorite compliance activities (yes, I have them), explaining categories of compliance, detailing the government entities and the IRS codes impacting compliance requirements. I considered detailing my best practices to make annual compliance activities less cumbersome. However, this post is about my compliance voice and the art and science of using it.
Since benefit plans are strictly regulated, allowing an exception for one person could jeopardize the qualification of the entire plan, impacting all employees and the company’s ability to continue to offer the plan. So, when an employee is in a position where “benefit rules” do not work in their favor, it’s important to simultaneously be:
Sympathetic to their position and patient with their questions and/or concerns
Able to explain the reasons for your decision
Open to hearing additional details that could change the outcome
Prepared to offer them a solution and/or options
It’s never easy to tell people “No” even when its necessary or required. I used to feel the need to apologize as if it were my fault. As I honed my benefits/compliance knowledge, I became more comfortable with providing information that employees didn’t want to hear. I found I could “No” and provide the necessary support and guidance to the employee without apologizing. Using my compliance voice is not only knowing what to say and how to explain the details to an employee, but also being deliberate about delivering the message. Maybe I should make a new "compliance voice" coaster that says, "LET me use MY compliance voice!"
By the way, I don’t recall what changed, but my mom let me get my ear double-pierced several months later.