human resources

Gain a tax break

There are thousands of dollars in tax credits available to small-to medium-sized businesses for hiring people that are more difficult to employ or for locating businesses in areas where the government wants to revitalize economic growth. Only one in 800 businesses actually claims the credits they are due, leaving $4.2 billion a year in unclaimed credits. Tax credits range from $1,500 to $8,500 per eligible employee, but gaining access to the programs can be cumbersome and time consuming. Regulations are always changing and unlike other tax credit programs, businesses must file certification forms with the state within 21 days of the hire date—requiring a systematic approach to claiming these credits.

Jet Food Stores of Georgia Inc. (Sandersville, GA) wasn't taking full advantage of its state tax credit programs, but with help from SilverLine Business Systems (www.silverlinesystems.com

), the 51-store chain has recouped 33 Work Opportunity Tax credits over the last two years, yielding tens of thousands of dollars, according to Judy Tillery, office manager for Jet Food Stores.

"We were missing opportunities to pick up tax credits," says Tillery. "Now we have saved a substantial amount in tax credits through [SilverLine's] service."

Business managers simply include one additional form in the new hire process, containing eight to 10 yes/no questions. SilverLine then follows the tax credit recovery process through the local state certification office until a voucher is prepared to be released. Jet Food Stores pays a set fee for the service, which it feels has been worthwhile. Company records show that 18% of its new hires qualify for the tax credit.

"[The service] hasn't added anything in terms of labor to our operations," says Tillery. "We simply include the required questionnaires as part of the new hire packet, along with tax forms, policy manuals, etc. We then mail the questionnaires to Tax Credit Processing. They inform us of qualified employees and e-mail us a form to report earned wages on these employees each month. And the fee is more than fair—[SilverLine] does all the work for us. All we had to do was sign a Power of Attorney to authorize Tax Credit Processing to screen and calculate the credit and sign a contract agreeing to a fee on calculated credits."

SilverLine's Tax Credit Recovery service is suitable for businesses with less than $50 million in annual revenue, with substantial annual employee turnover, and/or that are located in a federal or state enterprise tax zone. KB


Read all about it

Sheetz Inc. (Altoona, PA) has used an internal newsletter to communicate with employees for many years. With more than 300 stores spanning six states and its own distribution center, the importance of keeping everyone informed is critical. As a result, the Sheetz newsletter has become a robust 12-page doctrine with a title that exemplifies the company's culture: Family Matters.

The newsletter prints 10 times a year (every 45 days) and is distributed to nearly 10,000 individuals, including some key vendors. While the newsletter emphasizes and recognizes store employees, it's also an invaluable resource that Sheetz uses to keep everyone on the same page.

"The primary function of our newsletter is to communicate the culture of the company," says Phil Freeman, vice president of human resources. "We also use it to educate our employees and give them a global view of the company beyond their stores. It's a great way to keep stores informed of promotions, but it's also a recognition tool for employees."

Family Matters strikes a balance between enjoyable and informative. Amid scads of candid photos and letters from customers about the glowing service they received, the newsletter provides information about running stores more successfully (i.e. safety tips, recruiting suggestions and Q&As on marketing and floor displays) and how employees can make the most of their career at Sheetz (i.e. access to benefits, 401(k), etc.).

As the company has grown in size, so has the wealth of information it wants to share with its associates. Andrea Rogers, employee communications specialist for Sheetz and editor of Family Matters, joined Sheetz one year ago to assume the task of streamlining the publication to meet this challenge. With assistance from the human resources and brand development departments and several contributors, Rogers has helped elevate the newsletter to match the company's high standard of excellence.

"At Sheetz, we are constantly reinventing ourselves to meet the needs of our consumers and strengthen our brand," says Rogers. "As our organization grows, we are faced with the challenge of conveying these changes to our employees while making them feel connected to our culture, whether they're located here in Altoona or four states away on the map."

A communications team meets once a month to help organize the content and brainstorm topics for future newsletter issues. Certain features appear in every edition, like a President's Column from CEO Stan Sheetz and a section called "Test Kitchen," which gives a rundown of items currently being tested that may one day appear in stores. A few pages in every issue are dedicated to letters and positive feedback from employees and customers, as well as store events and news. Rogers offers advice to anyone considering starting or revamping a company newsletter: Remember your audience.

"Stay employee-focused," she suggests. "When writing an article, try to remember who is reading the newsletter, and what's important to them—what do they want to read about? First, get their attention—then, keep it."

Family Matters costs approximately $12,000 per issue ($120,000 per year) to create and distribute to every recipient's home, so they can share it with their families. This is very important to the company. Phil Freeman believes the return on investment is apparent in the faces and attitudes of the employees, and the more cohesive unit created at Sheetz.

"The biggest benefit of Family Matters is having an avenue to communicate the 'why,'" Freeman says. "Sometimes it's tough to get that message across when new items or ideas are being rolled out. Our newsletter gives everyone the big picture. As we grow and our stores span out farther from our hub, the newsletter keeps people connected to the company and our culture." KB


Pain-free payroll

Direct deposit isn't an option for unbanked employees, meaning they're left paying lofty fees at check-cashing facilities to gain access to their hardearned money. And retailers, who are steadily trying to turn their employees to electronic payment options, are left creating paper checks for a large portion of their labor force.

Today more and more businesses are turning to reloadable payroll cards to reduce operating costs and provide employees greater flexibility in how they receive their pay. Denny's, a large family dining chain in the U.S., is one of the thousands of companies that have turned to Visa-branded payroll cards. It considers "the convenience factor" one of the best reasons for jumping on board.

"We have 27,000 company employees nationwide, with 30% of them using direct deposit," says Debbie Atkins, director of public relations for the Spartanburg, SCbased company. "We introduced the payroll card as an additional option to direct deposit, and today we have 3,100 employees participating in the program. [Employees] no longer have to stop by the restaurant for a paycheck, and our restaurant ma
nagers can spend more time focusing on customers rather than distributing paychecks."

From an employer standpoint, studies indicate it costs a company $1.50 to issue a paper check, not including inefficiencies like processing and distributing in a timely fashion. More than 4 million payroll checks are lost or stolen every year, according to the American Payroll Association. Generating replacement checks and checks for exception pay (i.e. holiday pay, bonuses and overtime) can cost employers an average of $12 per check. Visa payroll cards reduce the time needed to process payroll, increasing administrative efficiency. Employers can help reduce payroll costs by reducing lost or stolen check replacements, bank processing and handling fees, check fraud, check printing costs and check reconciliation costs. And their ease of setup and processing make payroll cards especially attractive in industries with high turnover.

Interested companies would forge an agreement with an issuing bank. The bank provides the employers with enrollment materials to be distributed by their human resources department, which explains the benefits of the payroll card. The employee then signs up for the card, providing their name, address and Social Security number to the employer to give to the issuing bank. This triggers the creation of a Visa payroll card in the employee's name that is mailed to his/her home. The employee then activates the card, and has his/her pay directly deposited into an account at each payday. There's nothing different for employers than if they were signing up for a direct deposit account.

While the payroll card is still a relatively new concept and there are a number of options popping up in the market, Denny's found an added benefit with its Visa-branded program (usa.visa.com). "Our employees were more aware of Visa than some of the other cards on the market," says Atkins. "We chose the Visa product because of brand awareness and its strong marketing program. It made it much simpler approaching the employees about it and explaining it to them." KB

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