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Top 10 HR Challenges Growing Businesses Must Prepare For in 2020

HR practices and policies must evolve over time to reflect emerging best practices, changes to regulations, and shifting cultural values.

Throughout the last decade, our shared understanding of what the workplace looks and feels like has gone through significant alterations, and as we near 2020, it’s a logical time for organizations of all sizes and industries to reassess their HR policies and procedures.

With that said, many of HR’s biggest challenges are baked into the nature of the work, but new technologies and innovative approaches are turning those challenges into areas of new opportunity.

Moving forward, we’ll take a look at the biggest HR challenges that growing businesses must have on their radar as we prepare for the new year.

1.   Employee Performance

One of any HR department’s main responsibilities is creating a team and an environment in which people can do great work. No human resources department can operate at its highest level unless there’s a company-wide awareness of expectations and accountability. As a business, you can’t correct, reprimand, or discipline anybody with any real authority unless you’ve clearly articulated goals, KPIs, and an evaluation framework that everybody knows and cares about.

2.      Terminations

Getting termination right is just as important as getting hiring right. The way you separate from former employees affects your reputation in the talent marketplace and the morale of your remaining team.

If you don’t have a codified, iron-clad termination procedure that’s been vetted by your legal team, you could be leaving your organization open to potential lawsuits and fees. Regulations on termination practice vary from state to state, so it’s important to be aware of your local laws, especially if your organization has offices in various states.

3.   Employee Leave (FMLA, Parental, Personal, Other)

The dialogue around planned employee leave has changed tremendously in recent years. The aging population means that many professional age workers are medical or legal custodians of older family members, and shifts in parenting practices, mental health awareness, and beyond have an increasing number of employees requesting time away from the office.

As the employer, you must be prepared for every conceivable leave request and have policies in place that explain when and how much leave is permitted, what process employees must go through for approval, and how their return to the team will be arranged and executed. Any gap in your explicit policies is a potential legal liability.

4.   Harassment Prevention, Training, and Investigations

As we approach the fourth year of the #MeToo movement, public and individual awareness of harassment has never been higher. That means your prevention training procedures and reporting/investigation frameworks must be stronger and more comprehensive than ever in order to provide the best possible protection for you and your employees.

With that said, nothing is more important than follow-through. If you have great policies on the books but don’t honor them, you’re compromising your company vision and creating greater opportunity for your organization to be hurt by legal disputes. If there’s one area of your HR practice that you are targeting for improvement this year, make it your harassment prevention, training, and investigation policies.

5.   Training for Managers

Team- and department-level leadership has the capacity to build great engagement and motivation or send employees running for the door. The best way to ensure the former happens (and to avoid the latter) is to provide your management teams with consistent, explicit training on how to approach coaching, mentoring, feedback, discipline, staffing, etc.

Managers in even the best organizations – especially fast-growing ones – often have gaps in their knowledge of new employee management strategies and best practices. That’s because many of them were promoted into their positions for being all-star workers. While they still have the knowledge and perspective that they showed off in that role, they don’t have the same degree of experience and preparation regarding management responsibilities. By providing them with impactful training, you build your management team into more valuable leaders.

6.   PTO/Sick/Vacation Policies

One of the biggest mistakes organizations make is not clearly articulating how different absences from work should be planned, coded, and compensated. Depending on the state where your business is located, there may be specific definitions of “Paid Time Off” versus “Sick Time” versus “Vacation Time” that you must obey.

Policies must clearly establish a rate of PTO/sick day/vacation time accrual, procedures and appropriate contacts for approval, carry-over maximums, buy-back maximums, and so on. Remember, if you leave any of those considerations out in your official policies, you can be subject to a substantial legal penalty.

7.   Attendance

We’ve already discussed employee leave and PTO, but in addition to those policies, every organization should have clear expectations regarding employee attendance on record. Procedures should exist for maintaining appropriate communication about attendance and building dialogue around excessive absences with an eye towards creating a rich, clear documentation trail for future discipline, termination, etc.

Of course, your exact framework must be dictated by the way you track attendance. Policies must exist to explain expectations for both hourly workers who have a timecard as well as salaried employees, temporary workers, contractors, etc. The better a job you do articulating expectations, the better you can do holding people accountable, keeping them at their desks, and removing team members whose absenteeism affects overall team performance.

8.   Reimbursement Policies

Many states have recently added or changed legislation about reimbursement of business expenses. As 2020 approaches, it’s crucially important that you review your local regulations to double-check that your employee reimbursement policy is up to date.

Your policies need to explain which expenses are reimbursable, what documentation and forms are required for reimbursement application, how applications for reimbursement will be approved, and how reimbursement will be delivered to the employee. The entire program must be spelled out in specifics, or you risk noncompliance.

9.   Legalization of Marijuana

State laws surrounding the use of cannabis have shifted en masse over the last decade, and many jurisdictions now allow for legal medical and recreational use. With that said, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, and as an employer, you need to understand how that could potentially affect your business and employees who use cannabis.

As state and federal marijuana policy continues to evolve and take shape, you must articulate a clear company policy for today and start proactive planning about what tomorrow’s policy might look like, depending on the results of elections and general direction of the culture.

10.  ADA Amendments Act (ADAA) Compliance

The Americans with Disabilities Act was a monumental piece of legislation when it was passed into law in 1990s, and its scope and complexity only grew with the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. As we near 2020 and our understanding of “disability” continues to evolve, it’s crucial that every corporate organization in America has a specific plan and support framework in place to ensure compliance.

Of course, compliance isn’t just about workplace accessibility; it’s about inclusion and providing team members with services to ensure their needs are met. If you don’t have official policies describing how employee needs will be assessed and met on a continuing basis, you’re only halfway there. At the same time, it’s important to remember how employee leave, absenteeism, and disability can all be interconnected, which means your disability policy must account for leave and vice versa.

How to Have a Successful Open Enrollment This Year

Health benefits are important to everyone. Your employees need them for their well-being and you need healthy employees who want to stay and work for you. The benefits you offer show how important your employees are to you. Unfortunately, most employees don’t fully understand their benefits or what they cover. With open enrollment coming up, this is the perfect time to educate employees and make sure everyone in your organization is getting what they want out of their benefits plan.

In this post we’ll present:

  • Where knowledge about employee benefits breaks down
  • How employees get their information about their benefits
  • How you can make your open enrollment more effective

Where knowledge about benefits breaks down

Having good health benefits is crucial for being a working adult in the United States. And yet, most adults who have health coverage don’t fully understand it. A poll from Maestro Health showed that 35% – over one third! – of employees don’t fully understand their healthcare coverage, with some saying they know nothing about it. For something that is so expensive and that shapes so many Americans’ employment decisions, this is a concerning blind spot. That ignorance is not surprising given how complicated the medical coverage process can be.

Where open enrollment could be the perfect opportunity for educating employees so they can make good benefit decisions for a lifetime, it often ends up being a time for more confusion and quick, impulsive decisions to avoid digging deeper for information. If your employees have made plan choices that don’t benefit them or don’t do so efficiently, they are in for a whole year of struggling with insurance companies and providers. That can result in employees needing to spend more time away from work and possibly getting into debt from poorly managed healthcare costs. It’s also a miserable process for your employees to experience.

A survey from Aflac shows that 80% of employees say that their benefits package influences their engagement with their job. It also stated that 57% of employees would accept lower compensation in a job if it had better benefits. Clearly the confidence an employee has in their coverage is a very important part of their employment decisions, so anything you can do to make them more confident in the decisions they’re making will make you a more attractive employer.

How employees get their information

If employees don’t fully understand their benefits, where are they getting their information? The most trusted source for benefit information for most employees is another person. A recent survey from Colonial Life showed that, no matter what generation they are from, employees prefer to talk to a trusted person for their benefits information rather than going to a website. More often than not, that trusted person is an HR or Benefits professional, but it can also be family members, friends, or colleagues. The point is, when it comes to something as personal as discussing employee benefits, people prefer a human touch.

Make your open enrollment work better

How can your company make open enrollment the most helpful, educational, and productive time possible for you and your employees? There are a few things you can do to help make that experience work better for everyone.

Ask what employees want

Ahead of enrollment, ask your employees what they want from their benefits. This can be a general question posed to all employees, or a survey with specific questions on each benefits offering. You may find that your benefits program is either missing out on a needed area or is offering plans that aren’t relevant to your workforce. If you find a need for significant changes to your plans, you’ll want to start this process well before you kick-off the enrollment period.

Limit the bombardment of information

One possibly counterintuitive answer to solving the open enrollment puzzle is to limit the amount of information you’re giving your employees ahead of enrollment. This doesn’t mean keeping them deliberately in the dark about their options.

Instead, this means not bombarding employees with everything remotely related to their health benefits and all possible plan options. Without any guidance to prioritize that information, your employees will have no idea what’s relevant to them. This can be overwhelming for employees that are already stressed about picking the right plan options. Instead, start with general information that should apply to all employees. Explain confusing benefits terminology. Walk people through the process step-by-step. Remember that you’ll be educating your employees over time.

Make sure they have the basics

While having information from printed material and online is crucial, most employees don’t find this information useful when they have a question specific to their personal healthcare needs. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make this content available, just that it should be supplemented with other channels for benefits information. Make sure to provide all employees with:

  • A schedule for open enrollment, including all key dates and deadlines.
  • A statement of their current coverage.
  • Summaries, changes, and rates that are specific for each individual plan.
  • An open enrollment guide and forms.
  • Contact information for knowledgeable sources in HR/Benefits  for specific questions or additional help

Communicate all year long

You don’t want open enrollment to be the only time your employees think about their benefits and health coverage. Set a communications plan for letting employees know about changes, deadlines, and general information throughout the year. This can be tailored around changing seasons, birthdays, employee anniversaries, or any other signpost that’s a good time to examine and learn about their benefits. If learning about tackling advantage of their benefits is on your employee’s radar all year long, they’re going to be in a better position to retain what they learn and use that knowledge effectively during open enrollment season.

Let them know about non-traditional benefits

If your company offers non-traditional (more than standard medical) benefits, communicate that to your employees. Many companies are attracting top talent with benefits like tuition assistance or telehealth programs. If benefits like these are options during open enrollment, make sure your employees know about these offerings and help them sign up for what makes sense for them and their families.

Voluntary insurance is becoming more important to employees. These are policies that cover periods of disability, critical illness, or accidents where major medical insurance may not cover costs like deductibles or copays. Again, if this is something you offer your employees, this should be advertised to them along with guidance on how to sign up.

Use alternative modes of distributing information

Employees learn in a variety of ways, and sometimes benefit from multiple sources of information. Some companies use online articles forwarded via email; quizzes and contests on benefits information; brown-bag lunches with speakers; or town-hall meetings to field individual questions. You can schedule these throughout the year, increasing the amount of time people are actively thinking and learning about their benefit options.

Analyze what worked when you’re done

Once your open enrollment is over, take a hard look at what worked well for you and what didn’t. This is the perfect time to solicit feedback on how easy (or difficult) the process was, how accessible needed information was, and what people would like to see in the future. Similarly, check with your management and HR staff to see what could be done to make things easier for them for the next enrollment. Look at that feedback and figure out if the issues are with the processes for getting people informed and enrolled, or if there are bigger issues with the policies your company has available. Also look at your initial survey information to see if there are gaps or surpluses in what you offer currently. The best time to make changes in your plans is well before the next open enrollment.

Get a hands-on employee benefits broker

This entire process can be made much easier through partnering with a proactive, hands-on employee benefits broker. A great broker is knowledgeable about all the different employee benefit options available so they can build plans tailored to your workforce’s unique needs and effectively educate your teams to take advantage of those plans. This process is done through in-person education sessions (usually on-site), interactive webinars, and one-on-one phone calls with employees who may have specific questions.

Your next steps

There’s a lot your company can do to make open enrollment the most successful it can be:

  • Ask what employees want
  • Limit the bombardment of information
  • Make sure employees have the basics
  • Communicate all year long
  • Let employees know about non-traditional benefits
  • Use alternative modes of distributing information
  • Analyze what worked when you’re done
  • Work with a great employee benefits broker

Your employees will be happier knowing they have the right coverage. The sense that their employer is concerned about their health and well-being goes a long way as well. And employees with a well-fitting health insurance plan will also cost your business less in the long-run. Your employees are the most important asset your company has. More than that, they’re the people who want to make your company thrive, so help them engage with a benefits plan that allows them to thrive too.

Illinois Employers: What You Need to Know about the New Sexual Harassment Training Requirements

Illinois is seeing some big changes to anti-harassment training requirements for employers. Governor Pritzker signed Senate Bill 75, the Workplace Transparency Act, on August 9th, 2019. This bill amends the Illinois Human Rights Act to add sexual harassment training requirements, in addition to other changes to discrimination laws in the state.

The law is still being formalized by lawmakers, but this is a major accomplishment, as Illinois hasn’t seen laws quite like this ever before. This new bill comes after the Illinois Capitol in Springfield garnered scrutiny and criticism for sexual harassment and related “pervasive behavior,” as state senator Sue Rezin told the Chicago Tribune, particularly within Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s office.

The law is also a response to the entire #MeToo movement that picked up in 2017. According to a report from the National Women’s Law Center, 15 states have now passed new protections, including approximately 200 bills, which are related to protections against workplace harassment.

As these new regulations are going through the approval process, you’re now tasked as an Illinois employer with following updates and understanding what it means for the way you run your business. Here’s everything you need to know about the new requirements, some of which are still being hashed out.

Annual Training Requirement

The bill outlines that employers must give mandatory annual trainings on the following topics, beginning January 1st, 2020. The comprehensive sexual harassment training program has to include the following information:

  • Description and clarification of what sexual harassment is
  • Examples of sexual harassment conduct
  • Information about government provisions, such as what remedies are available to sexual harassment victims
  • Information about the employer’s responsibility to prevent, investigate, and correct sexual harassment

Guidelines for the Service Industry

The bill also outlines requirements for employers in the bar, restaurant, hotel, and casino sectors. Hotels and casinos must offer employees a way to alert security or managers with a portable notification device if they need help, are being harassed, or witness an instance of assault.

Bars and restaurants now must have a policy around sexual harassment that gives employees guidelines on how they can report allegations or file a charge with the state Department of Human Rights. These employers also must offer annual harassment trainings, specific to the industry, in both Spanish and English.

Other Provisions

The law also states that employers cannot require their workers to sign nondisclosure agreements or arbitration agreements that are related to harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.

In addition to protections for regular company employees, independent contractors are also protected from harassment and discrimination under the new law. As the gig economy is picking up, this is important, since companies are working with contractors and consultants more now than ever before. An NPR poll last year showed that one in five jobs in America is held by a contract worker.

The bill also sets out requirements for employers and labor organizations to disclose administrative or judicial decisions that are adverse regarding harassment or discrimination in the previous year to the Illinois Department of Human Rights. July 1st, 2020 is the first date of required disclosures, and will be required every July 1 thereafter.

What happens if you fail to comply?

The bill outlines penalties for employers that fail to comply with the new requirements. These include civil penalties of:

  • $500 if the company has less than four employees
  • $1,000 if the company has more than four employees

Repeat violations could be as much as $5,000 for each instance.

Key Takeaways

The bottom line is that Illinois may pass legislation that all employers, regardless of their number of employees, must provide sexual harassment training to each and every employee.

Key points to remember about the proposed bill are:

  • If the bill is finalized, training programs must be implemented beginning January 1st, 2020.
  • There are specific guidelines you must follow as an employer when implementing the harassment trainings, such as disclosing information about what harassment is and steps victims can take to report it.
  • Employers that are bars, restaurants, hotels, and casinos have additional guidelines to follow regarding the safety of their employees.
  • Employers cannot require workers to sign nondisclosure agreements related to harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.
  • Independent contractors are also protected under this law.
  • Penalty fees may apply if employers fail to implement the sexual harassment trainings.

Launchways is your trusted resource, always keeping you informed of upcoming changes related to compliance. Once the sexual harassment training requirements are solidified, we will offer a strategic solution to the training requirement.

How Diversity and Inclusion Drive Business Value and Profitability

You may already know how valuable diversity and inclusion (D&I) are to the satisfaction of your workforce and to your recruitment efforts and ability to retain top talent. But did you know that these important considerations can also pay off financially? And that D&I efforts can have a significant impact on your workforce’s productivity?

Many Finance leaders are catching wind, as Deloitte’s 2019 CFO Signals survey showed that two-thirds of finance heads from large companies said they now have a form D&I strategy in place at their organizations.

So, aside from D&I being top priorities for businesses because of the ethical and moral implications, it helps to recognize that there are additional benefits for the business’ bottom-line as well. In this post we’ll take a look at what the research shows about how D&I can help financial professionals drive business value and profitability.

Driving the value of your business

It’s now becoming common knowledge that a more diverse and inclusive workforce means stronger organizational performance. This can be broken down into several categories, including retaining talent, employee satisfaction and well-being, and greater workforce productivity.

Retaining talent. Workplaces that focus on D&I efforts and take steps to make employees feel more welcome tend to retain talent better than those that don’t. For example, a report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation showed that 1 in 4 LGBTQ workers have stayed at a company because of an accepting environment. And it makes sense—employees who feel unrecognized and excluded are more likely to be unhappy with their job and ultimately, they will leave.

Employee satisfaction. On a similar note, it’s important to emphasize that welcoming workplace environments foster more satisfied employees. Modern workers want to work in environments that not only don’t discriminate, but that also encourage openness about differences.

Gone are the days when biases and discrimination are the norms in offices. Instead, creating inclusive, diverse environments drive business value because employees will be more fulfilled by the work they’re doing. An employee survey from Deloitte showed that there is a strong correlation between employees being happy at work and feeling valued by their company.

Greater productivity. More diverse teams tend to be more productive as well. The combination of differing perspectives make efforts more creative, and can open the eyes of team members to views they wouldn’t be able to otherwise see themselves. With more diverse skillsets, experiences, and ideas, organizations can produce and create in more innovative ways.

Increasing Profitability

In addition to creating a more valuable workforce, D&I efforts have proven to contribute to increased profitability businesses as well. Research from McKinsey & Company shows that companies that have more racially and ethnically diverse workforces are 35% more likely to have greater financial returns than industry medians, and those with greater gender diversity are 15% more likely to see better returns.

McKinsey data also shows that in the U.S., for every 10% increase in ethnic and racial diversity on the executive team, annual company earnings rise roughly 1%.

A more recent study from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) shows that companies with above-average diversity on their leadership teams have a 20% advantage in revenue from innovative products and services for their companies over management teams with below-average diversity. These improved financial results come from the varying perspectives and insights that diverse teams bring to the table.

Effective strategies for addressing D&I in your organization

Clearly, there is a strong business case for a more intentional and thoughtful approach to D&I at your business. Aside from the fact that employees will be more satisfied and fulfilled, the business will likely perform better financially.

The strategies outlined below will help you get started with your D&I initiatives and sustain your program’s success in the long-term.

1. Make sure the strategy is known throughout the company

A good first step in addressing D&I is ensuring that the entire company knows about your efforts and that it matters to you and the entire executive team. Less than half of respondents in the Deloitte CFO Signals survey indicated that their D&I strategy is known throughout the company, so there’s still plenty of work to do in this area.

Start by sending around an email on these topics, initiating regular trainings related to D&I, or bringing up issues during company-wide, as well as departmental-wide, meetings.

2. Set up a measurement technique

As with any company strategy, a measurement process will hold you accountable and ensure that goals are being met. Try implementing things like regular employee surveys, and actually measure your diversity stats. Consider, who is underrepresented in each department’s management team? Gathering this data will help you to measure if your efforts are actually working, and you can update your strategy accordingly.

3. Update your hiring approach

These efforts go hand-in-hand with your HR department and the company’s hiring policies. First make sure that D&I is fully integrated into the employee handbook and other policy documents. This will make it clear to employees that it is a serious matter that is given priority at your business.

Then, make sure that hiring and interviewing techniques support these important policies. For example, what kind of questions are being asked on applications? Or in interviews? You must ensure that every employee the conducts interviews understands what type of interview questions are and are not acceptable, especially when considering sensitive D&I topics.

4. Don’t be afraid to admit fault

Finally, as the CFO or head of finance, you help set the example for much of the company. Part of being a genuine leader and exuding integrity is admitting when something isn’t where it needs to be.

This means that if a diversity goal isn’t being met—for example, if the company executive team includes solely older white males—you might admit that this is something the company is working on addressing to integrate more diverse perspectives. Then, you can show your workforce the strategies you’re putting in place to fix things. These tactics show departments across the board that you take D&I seriously and that you’re actually following through on promises.

Good leaders know when to discuss a challenge area instead of pretending like no areas for improvement exist.

Key takeaways

D&I continues to drive high performance and profits for companies across industries. As a financial leader within your organization, it’s important that you realize the value D&I brings to any team, in addition to the steps you can take to make it happen.


  • D&I helps increase business value by retaining talent, increasing employee satisfaction, and driving productivity.
  • Your bottom line will thank you for your D&I efforts, as more diverse workforces and executive teams mean more revenue and increased business profitability.
  • No matter the numbers, diverse perspectives bring invaluable expertise and viewpoints to teams to make them more creative and productive.
  • Implement D&I into your strategy by:
    • Distributing knowledge throughout the company
    • Setting up ways to measure success
    • Updating your approach to hiring and interviewing
    • Admitting there are areas for improvement within the organization and creating a plan to improve these areas

In addition to these key takeaways, remember to always remain open to change and thus open to the broad range of perspectives that can exist within your company. This viewpoint alone will help you to give D&I the time and attention it deserves.

Updates to What Employers Can Ask about Wage History in Illinois

The Illinois Equal Pay Act of 2003 has been amended, effective September 29, 2019, with updated guidelines on what employers can and cannot base hiring decisions on. Particularly, employers cannot make hiring decisions based on salary history of candidates. So, what does this mean, exactly, and what else did the amendment change?

No More Asking About Wage or Salary History

The amendment has prohibited Illinois employers from doing the following when going through the hiring process:
• They cannot screen candidates or applicants based on their prior wage or salary history, or their current compensation. This includes benefits. They cannot require this information to be disclosed or have minimum and maximum criteria for hiring.
• They cannot request wage or salary history as a condition for employment consideration while an applicant is being interviewed.
• They cannot seek out a candidate’s wage or salary history from their current or former employers. But, if this information is a matter of public record, or if the employee is currently working for the employer in a different job, this rule does not apply.
• They cannot have an employee sign a contract that prohibits the employee from disclosing their salary, wage, benefits, or other compensation.
• They cannot discharge an employee who fails to comply with an inquiry into wage or salary history.

It’s important to note that if an employee voluntarily discloses salary or wage information during the interview or hiring process, employers are not in violation of the new law. The employer is just not allowed to consider this disclosure when making a decision about whether to hire the candidate, the salary to offer them, or future compensation.

What are employers still allowed to do?

While there are several new things that employers cannot do under the amendment, they can still engage in the following activities:
• Ask the candidate about their compensation expectations, but without trying to get any information about the candidate’s current or previous salary
• Offer information about compensation for the position the candidate is interviewing for, but without trying to solicit information about the candidate’s compensation history

Equal Pay Claim Threshold Lowered

Another change the amendment is bringing is a lowering of the threshold for establishing an equal pay claim. This means that employers who have at least four employees are prohibited from paying unequal wages to men and women if they are:
• Doing the same or substantially similar work,
• Doing jobs requiring substantially similar skills, effort, and responsibility, and
• Doing work performed under similar working conditions.

This means that it may be easier for workers to make an equal pay claim.

The numbers: What are the penalties?

Under the new law, an individual can bring a civil action related to the above matters within five years of the occurrence and recover damages incurred and special damages up to $10,000, injunctive relief, and costs and attorney’s fees. Employers are now subject to civil penalties of up to $5,000 for each violation of the new law and each employee impacted by the violation.

How to Prepare

Because there could be serious consequences if employers go over the line with trying to solicit compensation information from candidates, they should take the following steps to revamp their hiring process:
• Go over current applications and ensure there are no past or current salary- or wage-related questions.
• Implement a training process so that employees are aware of these restrictions and they are trained on how to discuss compensation during the interview process.
• Review all employee documents, such as handbooks that list policies and procedures, to make sure they don’t forbid employees from taking about compensation with other employees.

Important Key Takeaways:

• Employers cannot ask or solicit information about a candidate’s previous or current wage or salary, including benefits and other compensation.
• Employers cannot prohibit employees from discussing their compensation with other employees.
• Hiring decisions cannot be made based on salary history.
• The threshold for individuals to make an equal pay claim has been lowered, so employers need to pay more attention to how they approach compensation decisions.