What’s a PEO – and Who Needs to Know?
In the world of business, some changes get all the attention. A new law, a new technology, a fundamental change in the economy or in the marketplace will quickly command the attention of boardrooms and the business press alike – and understandably so. The ripple effects of such changes usually create significant effects that are still felt months or years later. Even more significant changes, though, often happen almost completely “under the radar,” even though they may upend whole industries or the entire business landscape.
One such example is the ascendance of the Professional Employer Organization or PEO.
In recent years, PEOs have staked out a claim to a growing portion of the HR field, supplementing or eclipsing in-house Human Resources departments in many small to mid-sized companies. Nonetheless, they remain dimly understood by many of the business owners best positioned to benefit from their services, even as they are fundamentally changing the way American business manages interactions between employers and employees.
In essence, a PEO exists as a separate, stand-alone organization focused exclusively on managing its’ clients’ human resource-related functions, including benefits administration, regulatory compliance, workers’ compensation, payroll, taxes and similar practice areas. A PEO will assume the role of “employer of record” for a company’s employees, taking on the responsibility of administering most or all of the administrative tasks – as well as a fair measure of the risk – associated with maintaining a workforce.
In doing so, client businesses gain a number of significant operational and competitive advantages:
- The ability to reallocate both attention and resources from HR functions to core areas of interest and expertise – the making and selling of the company’s product or service;
- A measure of insulation and/or indemnification;
- The streamlining of human resource functions placed under professional administration;
- The ability to leverage economies of scale in securing necessary benefit and insurance programs;
- Improved adoption of HR best practices under professional administration
The growing popularity of the PEO model is driven to a great degree by the increasing challenges and stressors facing small to medium-sized businesses. An increasingly technology-driven, global marketplace heightens competition and shrinks margins, even as increased regulatory and legal risks impose additional complexity and costs upon HR departments and practitioners. A PEO can deflect risk, contain costs, ensure consistency and predictability in practices, and effectively address complex taxation, insurance, and regulatory issues becomes increasingly valuable to companies operating within this challenging environment.
Few expect the business climate to become less complex or challenging in the years to come. As the burdens of regulation, competition, and costs continue to exert pressure on businesses, the ability of PEOs to buffer their clients from their effects will likely come to be perceived as a distinct competitive advantage – and not only knowing what a PEO is, but having one in hand, may make a critical difference in business success.
New Overtime Rules Spell Big Challenges For Business
Statistics show that the median salary increase in the US is a rather moderate 3.1% thus far in 2016, but that doesn’t mean that the cost of labor isn’t about to go up for many businesses—way up.
New regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Labor stand to make potentially millions of previously-exempt workers eligible for overtime pay. Personnel previously classed as exempt executive, administrative, and professional (EAP) employees now may qualify for overtime if the terms of their employment don’t meet increasingly stringent requirements.
Perhaps most notably, the salary level at which EAP employees may become exempt from overtime has effectively doubled, jumping from $455 to $913 per week (or from $23,660 to $47,476 annually). In practice, that means that, for example, a midlevel restaurant manager earning a salary in the mid-thirties and working a few hours above the statutory 40 per week just might be about to become quite a bit more costly.
The Department of Labor (DOL) has issued its Final Rule for new overtime exemptions, focusing on the “white collar” exemptions (executive, administrative, professional, and certain computer employees. These new rules will:
- Raise the minimum annual salary level required for “white collar” exemptions to $47,476 ($913 per week) from the current $23,660 ($455 per week). The salary level test does not apply to doctors, lawyers or teachers, and certain computer employees can be exempt if paid at least $27.63 per hour and meet applicable duties tests.
- Allow employers to use non discretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to 10% of the standards salary level (up to $91 per week, or $4,732 total annually), provided that these payments are made on a quarterly or more frequent basis. The remaining 90% of the required new salary level is $822 per week, or $42,744 annually. Together, these total $47, 476.
- Raise the minimum salary for those covered under the “highly compensated employee” exemption from $100,000 to $134,000 in total compensation annually.
- Impose an escalator provision automatically “updating” the above salary levels every three years beginning on January 1, 2020 by tying the levels to certain economic measures.
- Impose no changes to the “duties tests.”
Misclassification of salaried-exempt employees is among the fastest growing civil actions in both federal and state courts. With the final rule, the incentive for employees (and/or the DOL) to claim misclassification has increased. We advise clients to begin assessing whether they wish to pay the higher salaries and/or take other measures. We also advise them to review the duties of their employees that are or may be classified as salaried-exempt to ensure that they meet the various duties tests for the white collar exemptions.
The rules’ applicability is extensive: The DOL estimates that 4.2 million currently exempt workers will become eligible for overtime. In addition, overtime protections will be extended for an additional 5.7 million white collar and 3.2 million blue collar workers.
The new regulations’ effect will be profound on many small- to medium-sized businesses, particularly in areas where prevailing compensation levels fall at or below national averages. Employers will have to wrestle with whether to cut hours, reassign work, increase wages, or simply pay overtime to eligible employees.
Despite the stated intention to simplify both the overtime eligibility rules, the newly-issued rules remain highly complex. The new DOL regulations take effect on December 1, 2016. In the meantime, Trion will assist its clients in adapting to a greatly changed overtime landscape – and implementing strategies to help ensure compliance within it.
Doing Workers’ Comp Insurance Right
Recently, Trion Solutions renewed our agreements with 2 major insurance companies to continue obtaining Workers’ Compensation insurance through their firms. In both cases, it marks the third successive annual renewal.
That may not sound like a big deal – but it is. Here’s why.
If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you already know about the risk and expense that Workers’ Compensation insurance and claims can pose to your company. Unless you have incredibly deep pockets, claims mean trouble – usually in the form of skyrocketing premiums, and sometimes the inability to obtain affordable coverage, or even any coverage at all.
Considering that the cost of almost all types of insurance is steadily and dramatically rising, it is especially striking that Workers’ Comp insurance remains a dominant concern among business owners and management. Health care, liability, property and other insurance rates have gone through the roof for many businesses, but none of these pose the direct existential threat that workers’ comp often entails. When it comes to worker’s comp, companies need predictability, stability, and a reasonable cost structure—not to mention an appropriate level of coverage. More and more often, they’re finding that these aren’t easy to come by, even when they’re working with a PEO.
Unfortunately, most PEOs haven’t been successful in truly stabilizing the insurance environment for their clients. As with other companies, the volatility of the workers’ comp landscape finds many PEOs scrambling every year to secure affordable, reliable coverage. Even when they find it, switching between providers causes confusion and disruption, contributing nothing positive to their clients’ comfort levels.
Trion Solutions is proud to be an exception to this rule. Thanks in large measure to the best practices processes we’ve put into place, our strong track record in effective Workers’ Compensation management, and the leverage afforded to us by our size, we have been able to forge enduring, sustainable relationships with our insurance providers. These days, it’s pretty much unheard of for a company of our type to maintain positive successive multi-year relationships with insurers, but once again we’ve managed to pull it off.
So far as our clients are concerned, that means a lot. It means that they will continue to enjoy the same high level of protection, the same manageable costs, and the same processes that they’ve gotten used to. It means that for another year, Workers’ Compensation insurance is something they don’t have to think about or worry about, and they can focus on other, more productive aspects of their businesses. And they can be confident in knowing that any concerns are being capably, effectively, professionally handled by people who know what they’re doing and who can be counted on to act in their interest.
We’re glad to be working once again with some of the most reputable, solid companies in the Workers’ Comp insurance industry, and we are pleased to be able to say that at Trion, we’ve built the strong, enduring relationships it takes to do it right. We’re betting that our clients are pretty happy about that too.
The PEO Industry Footprint is Growing in Florida and Michigan
The PEO industry is growing – there is certainly no doubt about that. Consider that a few short years ago, a large percentage of even the most informed small to medium sized business owners had no idea what a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) was, and certainly had not considered working with one. That’s changed, in a big way: Changes in the marketplace, uncertainty surrounding health care, increases in Workers’ Compensation costs and other factors have given PEOs greater visibility, and a more central role in safeguarding the success of growing businesses.
A recent study conducted by McBassi & Company estimates the PEO industry’s gross annual revenues at between $136 and $156 billion. The study further cites between 156,000 and 180,000 PEO client companies, and somewhere between 2.7 and 3.4 million employees receiving services from PEOs. Obviously, none of these are small numbers, and virtually every current and emergent trend would indicate that they are likely to continue to rapidly grow in the near-term future.
While the industry’s overall national growth is impressive in and of itself, the study includes another remarkable, little-noticed fact: Two of the states leading the nation in the numbers of PEOs who call them home aren’t necessarily the country’s biggest (although they could perhaps be considered the most forward-looking). Both Florida and Michigan boast impressive numbers of resident PEOs, with Florida leading the pack at 107 – beating out much more populous states, including New York and California. Meanwhile, Michigan’s PEO census nearly equals New York’s at the low estimate (47 vs. 49) and handily beats it at the high-end estimate (59). Michigan is similarly neck-in-neck with population- and business-dense California.
To us, that means several things:
- Businesses in states with economies hit hardest by the 2008 economic downturn, as both Michigan and Florida were, have found that PEOs offer both competitive and survivability advantages that they can’t afford to ignore.
- States forced by adverse market conditions to adopt new approaches to business are leading the way in demonstrating the efficiencies and economies of scale that PEOs make possible.
- States where PEOs prosper, and where by extension the increased operational efficiencies PEOs have to offer are more easily leveraged by small to mid-sized businesses, will play a strong hand in reshaping the HR landscape in the coming years as the PEO/HR outsourcing model is further proven in practice and gains in prominence.
We have to say that these are developments we’ve seen coming, and have had a hand in helping to make happen. Trion maintains a strong presence in both Michigan and Florida – the consequence of our early recognition of these states’ potential as powerful centers of activity with high growth prospects. We also were quick to recognize that these states’ unique business climates and unique business needs lend themselves particularly well to serving as environments where a truly professional, efficient PEO could effectively serve its clients, and prosper in doing so.
The PEO business is growing ever stronger in the mitten and sunshine states, and Trion is pleased to be helping to lead the charge.
Trion Solutions is a NAPEO Member
To Trion Solutions’ clients, it’s no secret that our company is constantly striving to improve itself. We have the same mania for optimizing efficiency, cost savings and company performance within our walls as we do for our client companies. What can we say? Trying to do things a little bit better—better than the other guy, better than we did yesterday—is in our DNA: A big part of Trion Solutions’ identity and operating methodology are grounded in the concept of continuous improvement.
That’s for a pretty good reason: When it comes down to it, business improvement is the main “product” we have to sell. Naturally, it makes sense to start with our own company.
In our experience, it’s paid off well:
Trion Solutions has grown consistently, becoming one of the nation’s most stable, successful, and highly reputed human resource services companies.
As such, it seems only appropriate that we formalize our quality and service commitment in a clear, unequivocal way. While we are accustomed to acting independently, and have had great success through doing so, we make it a point to pursue memberships and certifications from the organizations that are doing the most to advance the integrity of our industry and the quality of our services.
The National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (or NAPEO) is the largest national organization devoted to PEOs and human resources services companies such as Trion. In recent years, NAPEO has emerged as “the voice of the PEO industry,” advancing public knowledge about PEOs, supporting public policies that make sense for PEO companies and workers, helping to establish industry best practices, and supporting the integrity of the industry.
Nearly 1,000 PEOs currently operate across the United States; as is the case in most industries, quality, stability, and integrity can vary greatly from one company to the next. NAPEO’s Code of Ethics helps to ensure that reputable PEOs adhere to common baseline ethical standards with regard to the services they provide and the treatment of their employees. NAPEO supports ethics, good corporate conduct, best practices, and expertise amongst participants. This helps assure prospective PEO clients that the company they’re considering working with will truly work on their behalf, and will conduct its activities honorably and professionally.
NAPEO’s standards align closely with those of Trion Solutions. We have built our business on a foundation of professionalism, integrity, and expertise, and we applaud all efforts to improve our industry and the results we are able to achieve for our clients. That’s why we are glad – and proud – to be a NAPEO member.
Within our own sphere of influence—in our own company, and in the companies of our clients—we are working hard every day to achieve many of the same goals NAPEO is striving for: A better PEO industry that delivers better results for PEO clients.
NAPEO serves a vital role within the human resources ecosystem and within the PEO industry. As an active and engaged NAPEO member organization, Trion is doing its part to advance NAPEO’s quality agenda, creating a winning outcome for all concerned: Integrity, sound business practices, and industry stability are good for our industry and our clients—and ultimately, they’re good for the economy and for the country as well.
Introducing Trion Advantage
In today’s fast moving, highly regulated, hypercompetitive business climate, it isn’t easy to survive – let alone succeed. Naturally, the challenges of the modern marketplace are magnified for small and medium-sized businesses. Emerging companies’ smaller headcounts, lower cash and credit reserves, and limited capacity increase the impact of any adverse events.
At Trion, we see this firsthand every single day. We work closely with small, medium and large businesses across a full range of industries. We’re there to see their struggles, triumphs and tragedies. Mostly, though, we’re there to help.
We’ve built our business by helping other businesses to succeed – by increasing efficiency, by cutting red tape, by streamlining operations, by driving down turnover. It’s our job to give our client companies every possible advantage when it comes to human resources, benefits administration, payroll management, government/ACA compliance, Worker’s Compensation, risk management and other essential non-core functions within their organizations—and to do so at fixed costs with no surprises. In doing so, we’ve picked up a fair bit of knowledge along the way – and we think it’s a good idea to share some of it.
Introducing Trion Advantage. Trion Advantage is the official blog of Trion Solutions, and we’re going to make it a valuable resource for business insights, suggestions, inspirations, and success stories for people who do the hard work of keeping companies going, day after day.
We want to empower businesses like yours by sharing some of the hard-earned knowledge we’ve gained over the years, and by offering some of the perspectives that only a company in our unique position can acquire. Hopefully, you’ll find the articles and insights we offer here to be not only inspiring, but genuinely helpful. As in our normal business practice, we’re striving to deliver tangible, dollars-and-cents business benefits.
Here’s some of what you can expect to see in the coming weeks and months:
- Knowledge-centered discussions of key HR, benefits, taxation, payroll, and regulatory issues intended to make complex subjects easy to understand – and issues arising from them easier to manage
- Professional tips intended to incrementally improve your company’s operations – or even just your personal day-to-day work routine
- Alerts to regulatory changes and other emerging events that may affect your business
- Explorations of best practices for SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises)
In short, we’ll be looking to provide whatever knowledge we can that might help you and your business succeed. Hopefully, we’ll be able to provide answers to your questions, and insights that help you meet challenges head on.
We consider ourselves lucky to have achieved the success we have within our field. We know how hard it is to establish, grow, and manage a company within a competitive field – we’ve not only helped our clients do it, we’ve done it ourselves. We understand that as a CEO, as a CFO, as a manager, as an employer, as a strategist, as an HR or benefits professional, you’ve already got your work cut out for you. If we can make things even a little easier for you, that’s what we want to do.
So check back with Trion Advantage every week. We think you’ll like what you see in the coming weeks and months. And we can’t wait to share it with you.