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Affinity HR Group

We are Human Resources consultants who understand and specialize in the unique requirements of insurance agencies. Because of this focus, we can anticipate your needs, saving you time and money!

IMPORTANT NOTICE - Action Required: As part of the new health care law, starting October 1, 2013 employers with one or more employees must provide notice to their employees regarding the upcoming Health Insurance Exchanges or face a fine.

Fortunately, the US Department of Labor has created the notice for you to use. You can find it here 

The notice is intended to inform your employees about their options under the new insurance exchanges. Your requirement is to provide this document (either in print or electronic format) to all employees by October 1, 2013 and within 14 days of hire for all future employees. So be sure to add this notice to your new-hire packet.
 Contact Claudia St. John


Claudia St. John
April 2014

Five Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring Sales People
by Claudia St. John, SPHR
According to a recent survey by CareerBuilder, of employers planning to hire in 2014, most will be recruiting for sales positions. That’s great news if you’re in sales. That’s not so great news if you are the hiring manager because hiring salespeople can be tricky and challenging. If you are planning on hiring a sales executive, here are five mistakes to avoid:
  1. Don’t recycle your sales position.
    All too often, employers reuse an old job post, stick it on or and wait for the resumes to come in. Don’t do that.  This is a prime opportunity to think strategically about what you truly need – today and tomorrow. Are you transitioning from commodity sales to more strategic sales? Are you looking for someone to create a new book of business or someone to manage existing clients? Do you need a “fearless hunter” or an “interpersonal farmer?” Now is the time to assess what you will need in the future because the right hire can take you there and the wrong hire likely can’t. 

    When developing your job posting, make sure it:
    • Captures the true interpersonal qualities you are looking for.
    • Is creative, catchy and sexy – remember, you’re not alone in your recruiting effort so make sure your post stands out!
    • Quantifies the responsibilities and requirements of the job. If you want a candidate to have grown a book of business, describe by how much. If you want someone skilled at closing deals, what close rate is sufficient? What you put in the post should be how you will assess your candidates going forward.
  2. Don’t just sit and wait.  
    Certainly, you will need to post your position online. In addition to Monster, CareerBuilder and LinkedIn, there are great industry resources such as IIABNY’s LinkedIn Group. But remember that 70 percent of positions are filled using some form of personal connection.  With social media tools, you can start mining your connections. Twitter has become a very powerful tool for sales recruiting and LinkedIn also has the added advantage of allowing you to head hunt based on the experience and skills you’re looking for. If you have an open position, post it on all of your personal and professional networks and share it with friends, family and colleagues. Cast a wide net. When it comes to recruiting, you must be willing to put a little elbow grease into your search. 
  4. Don’t “go with your gut.”
    Your gastrointestinal tract is not your best tool for making a hiring decision, particularly when hiring a sales person who is skilled at persuasion. We recommend making a hiring decision based on the “One-Third Rule” – 1/3 on experience, 1/3 on the interview and 1/3 on behavioral testing.   

    If at all possible, have candidates take a behavioral style assessment prior to the interview. This will give you insight into their behaviors, motivators and values and will give you much more data with which to evaluate your candidates.  
  6. Don’t be sold in the interview. 
    How a candidate performs in a personal interview really is only an indication of one thing – how they are at interviewing. Remember, they are sales people – they are trying to sell you too! Don’t be sold, be smart. Here are some important interview tips:
    • Using the behavioral style assessment and your job posting, structure a behavioral interview, in which candidates are asked to describe how they have handled specific situations in the past.  “Tell me about a time when you had to significantly grow a book of business?”  “Tell me about a sale that was difficult to close?”  “What were some of your biggest sales challenges and how did you overcome them?” Remember, how they have acted in the past is the best indication of how they will act in the future.
    • Conduct group interviews. That way everyone on the interview team is witnessing the same phenomenon and when one person is asking a question, the other is listening and watching. Give each interviewer an area to cover so you are not going over the same topics and missing others.
  7. If you’re unsure, move on.
    Too often, hiring managers settle for the best of a mediocre group of candidates. Sure, recruiting takes a lot of time and it is quite tempting at the end of an extensive process to just go with the best of the bunch, but don’t do that. Having the wrong sales person is dangerous. 

Given the great tools and online resources available today, many employers are able to successfully recruit for top sales talent. Chances are, if you avoid the five mistakes above, you can too!

Claudia St. John is president of Affinity HR Group, LLC, IIABNY’s affiliated human resources partner.  Affinity HR Group specializes in providing human resources assistance to associations such as IIABNY and their member companies.  To learn more, visit



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Our team of experienced consultants know the specific challenges facing you as independent insurance agents in New York State. We also know that you want to focus your time on growing your business, not on HR issues.

We are staffed with senior-level consultants who have expertise in all facets of human resources.

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IIABNY members save up to 30% on all products and services! We are on hand to help you with:

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All initial consultations are free of charge for IIABNY members so call today!



Chosen Partner
Affinity loves HR and IIABNY members have frequent HR questions. Affinity HR focuses on working with association members. As a result they have built a menu of services specifically geared towards small to mid size businesses at very reasonable prices. Basically, they are able to provide our members with exactly what they need for their HR needs, when they need it, at a price that does not break the bank.
- Lisa Lounsbury, IAAC President, IIABNY Senior VP
Have a question? Ask Claudia!
Call 877.660.6400 

APRIL 2014

Question:  We have 24 employees and our health insurance is expensive. One of our employees has decided to enroll in the local health exchange because it is less expensive for her. She’s now asking for us to pay her the amount we would have paid for her health insurance. Do we have to do that?
A: No, not only do you not have to do it, we recommend that you don’t do it. As a small business (fewer than 50 employees) you are under no obligation to provide health insurance or to pay your employees to obtain it on their own. Clearly, small group plans can be expensive and your employees may prefer the exchange. But paying her sets a precedent. Would you do this for all your employees? How much will you pay them? For how long? The good news is that she now has a choice in health coverage – a choice that should not become a financial and administrative burden to you. 


MARCH 2014

Q: A few of my employees have shown up sick for work.  I really appreciate their dedication but I’d rather they not come to work sick and get the rest of us sick. Can I send them home and require that they use their sick leave?

A: Yes, you can.  Recognize that there may be reasons why employees are showing up sick that might include:

  • Not wanting to use sick or paid-time-off leave
  • Not being able to afford the lost wages due to illness
  • Fear that the workload will become overwhelming if work is missed
  • Fear of disappointing the boss

If you do send them home, reassure them that you want them to take the time to recover and that you will help to ensure their work gets done. Remind them that sick leave is offered so that they will stay home when they are sick. And if they are worried about lost wages, try to identify ways for them to make up the time once they return to health.  

Q: What is the policy on closing the office due to bad weather?  Do I have to pay my employees if we have to close the office?

A:  How you set up your inclement weather policy is a matter of preference and should be spelled out in your employee handbook.  Generally, non-exempt, hourly workers do not need to be paid for the time not worked. Should you wish to pay them since it is a circumstance beyond their control, you can certainly do so. For exempt, salaried employees, if you close the office you cannot dock their pay for time not worked but you may be able to request that they take paid-time-off. If they do not have any leave remaining, you must pay them for the time off. Under either circumstance, if the employee is working from home he or she must be paid.



Wow, this has been a tough winter and chances are, you’ve been putting your inclement weather policy to the test – presuming you have one to begin with! Here are some of the questions we’ve been asked over the past week and thought the answers might be helpful:
Q: What is a sound approach for closing the office or for closing early due to bad weather?
A: Your primary responsibility is to make sure your employees are safe. Many companies follow the office closure practices of local government. Others make the decision independently. Either way, let employees know your approach and how you will communicate whether the office is open or closed.
Q: Can you require employees to come to work if the governor declares a state of emergency?
A: We never recommend that employers require employees to violate a local state of emergency. If a state of emergency is declared in your area or in the area where your employees reside, you should follow that order. If the state of emergency is for a distant part of the state, use your best judgment with the goal of keeping your employees safe.
Q: What if an employee calls and says they are not comfortable driving in the weather or want to leave the office early due to weather?
A: If an employee feels unsafe driving in poor weather but the conditions don’t warrant an office closure, you should respect the employee’s judgment and not have them drive in inclement weather. In that case, you may request that they take paid leave or that they make up the time later in the week.
Q: What if an employee has to leave because their child’s school let out early?
A: If the office is open, you may require that the employee take paid-time-off, make up the time later in the pay period or, if they are able, to work from home (see below).
Q: Can you make employees work from home if they can't get to the office?
A: If the employee has the capability to work from home, then yes, you may request that they do so. If they are non-exempt, hourly employees, you must pay them for all time that they report having worked from home.
Q: Do you pay part-time employees if the office is closed due to weather.
A: You do not need to pay any non-exempt, hourly employee, whether part-time or full-time, for any time they did not work. However, many companies choose to pay employees if they close the office. Whatever your choice, be sure employees know your policy. And, if your policy is not to pay non-exempt employees, you may want to look for ways for them to make up the time recognizing that loss of pay can create a financial hardship.
Q: Can I dock pay for my exempt, salaried employees when the office is closed?
A: No, you really can’t. You can, however, require that they use paid-time-off. If they are out of paid leave, then they must be paid.
Q: We don’t have an inclement weather policy. What should be in one?
A: If you don’t have an inclement weather policy or would like more information on this topic, click here for more information or give Affinity HR Group a call at (877) 660-6400. And stay safe!




Q. I just learned that one of my employees gave me false identification when I hired her.  What do I need to do?  Must I notify the authorities?  Do I have to fire her?
A. First thing, you should do is correct any IRS forms (wage and tax filings), particularly if she used someone else’s Social Security number.   As for reporting her to the authorities, such as USCIS Immigration Services, I strongly encourage you to seek legal guidance to assess your requirement under the law. 
There are two issues to consider regarding termination – is she now legal to work in the United States?  If not, you cannot legally employ her and doing so is a violation of federal law.  If she is now legal to work here (i.e., she has since filed for and received the appropriate work permits) you must weigh her value as an employee with the fact that she was dishonest initially.  If you do decide to keep the employee, it is essential that you carefully review all of her documents and check with the Social Security Administration to be sure the name, date of birth and SSN that she provided are correct. 


Q. We had an employee take a fall at work.  She was out only for a couple of days and had minimal health expenses.  Do we have to file this under workers’ compensation?  Can’t we just pay her for the missed days and pick up her medical expenses?

A: In a word, no.  Federal and state law strictly regulate workplace accidents and injuries and the failure to report accidents and other non-compliance carries very tough financial penalties.  Much of workers’ compensation is regulated by the state that you live in but the basics are the same:  employers are required to provide workers’ compensation insurance which provides employees with essential medical care, income replacement and disability benefits if necessary. 

While workers’ compensation insurance is expensive, there are significant benefits to the employer, not just to the employee.  For employers, it is the exclusive remedy for damages and prevents employees from seeking damages through a separate lawsuit.  The risk you run by not using workers’ compensation in this case is if the worker later feels her injury caused her more harm (financial or physical) than you provided for there is nothing to keep her from suing you and you will face not only her lawsuit but the onerous penalties for failing to properly comply with workers’ compensation law.  


Q:  Every December my father delights in distributing bonuses to his employees.  Unfortunately, the amount he distributes to each employee varies based on who he likes.  Is preferential treatment in discretionary holiday bonuses okay?  I’m worried it’s not.
A:  You are right to be concerned.  In the same way that regular pay is discretionary (managers can set pay according to their discretion), holiday bonuses are discretionary.  That said, it is against the law to treat similar employees differently on the basis of age, sex, religion, color, ethnicity, veteran status, disability and, in many states, sexual orientation or identity.  While he may not be intentionally discriminating against employees, if his decisions truly are arbitrary he will be unlikely to defend his practices if they result in a claim of discrimination.  Instead, encourage your father to establish some non-discriminatory performance standards or goals upon which to base his holiday bonus gifts.   
Q: We want to hire a new customer service representative and need to put together an offer letter.  What should be in an offer letter and do I really need one?
A:  An offer letter is a good practice as it provides all of the critical information related to the employee’s new job.  You should be sure to include language that states that the offer is “at will” and that nothing in the offer letter should be construed as a contractual employment agreement.  In addition to this language, your offer letter should include:
  • Start Date
  • Position title and description
  • Wage/Salary and pay cycle information
  • General benefit and vacation information (specific information should be provided at a later date)
  • Non-compete, non-solicitation and confidentiality language

Finally, you should recognize that this offer is a legal document and, as a best practice, have it reviewed by legal counsel.  


Q: My Account Executive feels that I am micromanaging her and that I don’t trust that she’s working while she’s out of the office. It’s not that I don’t trust her, I just want an accounting of what she’s doing when she’s away. What should I do?
A: The workplace is changing.  Many sales people are rarely in the office.  Many other types of employees are telecommuting and others are working “flex” hours.  Instead of taking an accounting of where each employee is throughout the day, the modern-day manager must now gauge their employees’ performance by their output.  For many, this is a difficult transition but the harder you push against this new workplace, the more out-of-step you will appear to your employees.  My advice is to decide what level of performance you want to see from your account executive:  how many calls; how many visits; how many new orders; how many sales?  If she satisfies your expectations, then how, where and when she does it should be of little concern.
Q: I read that effective October 1, 2013, employers will have to provide notifications to their employees about health insurance reform.  Does this apply to everyone? What is required?
A: Yes, effective October 1, 2013, you must provide a notice that explains how the new Health Insurance Markteplace works and how employees may access coverage.  It applies to any company that is covered by the National Labor Relations Act (pretty much everyone with one or more employee) and with annual sales of $500,000 or more.  The good news is that the US Department of Labor has created a notification that satisfies the requirement.  You can find it at 



Q:  We are hiring a new salesperson and I would like her to take a behavioral test to make sure she’s a hunter.  Is that okay to do in the hiring process?

A:  Absolutely and it is highly recommended but only under the following circumstances.  First, you have to treat all of your candidates/employees similarly.  For example, if you are hiring five new salespeople and you only test one that can be problematic.  Second, you should be sure to use a test that has construct and content validity – meaning they test what they say they are going to test and they don’t adversely impact any non-minority population.  You can ask about validity and adverse impact results of any reputable testing company.  We highly recommend TTI’s TriMetrix HD Assessment.


Q:  We had a great summer intern and he is now going back to school.  We’d like to give him a bonus for his work – is there any problem with doing this?

A:  There is nothing wrong with giving a bonus per-se, but realize that, as with all bonuses, it is considered compensation and should be treated as such with tax withholdings.  Presumably, you have been paying your intern at least minimum wage for his work unless you offered him a bona-fide internship (most companies that I work with do not have bona fide internships). If you don’t want to create a tax event for your intern, think about giving him a gift card as a thank-you.   


Q. Do I have to pay my employees time and a half for work performed on a holiday?

A. It is best to check with your particular state law, but generally overtime is required to be paid only after an employee works more than 40 hours in one week, regardless of whether or not a holiday occurs in the workweek.  Whether or not to require employees to work on a holiday is the employer’s.
Q: We have 27 employees and currently provide health insurance.  Will we be required to do so in the future?  Are there minimum levels of coverage that we will have to provide?
A: For small businesses (fewer than 50 full time equivalent employees) there is no requirement that you provide health insurance.  There is, however, a tax incentive for those small businesses that do provide health insurance so you’ll want to check with your tax consultant to make sure you’re benefiting from that incentive.  In 2014, the insurance marketplace for small businesses is likely going to change.  You should talk with your insurance broker to figure out whether your current policy will still be offered and, if not, what plans will be available to you next year.

JULY 2013
Q:  One of our employees posted something very disparaging about our company on his Facebook page.  He did this on his personal time so I don’t know if we can discipline him for this?  Please help as his comments have gone viral and I’m worried about the damage it will do to our reputation in the community.
A: First, if you don’t already have one, you need a social networking policy, which outlines what employees can and cannot do with the Internet and social networking sites in relation to their job.  The courts have weighed in on this and decided that some speech on the internet is “protected speech” under the National Labor Relations Act.  Even if you are not happy about what the employee said, employer rights are not so clear.  Before you take any action against the employee, you should seek help from an attorney or HR consultant to help you draft a policy or help you in interpreting your rights as an employer. 
Q. We recently hired a few people that have not worked out due to either personality fit or skill set.  These candidates interviewed very well but when they got on the job they were less than stellar and frankly just not the right fit for our culture.  In the future, how can we insure we are hiring the right person? 
A. To garner more insurance over hiring the right candidate, I suggest you develop a hiring team who will review the candidates – a team approach is very effective.  Make sure you have a good set of Interview questions prepared that focus on the technical aspects of the job.  Ask “behavioral interview” questions by asking the candidate, “tell me about a time…”  Have them tell you about how they have acted, performed and dealt with situations in the past – it’s the best indicator of how they will act in the future.
We also strongly recommend doing behavioral style assessments on candidates to see what their true behavioral style and motivators are.   We feel so strongly about this that we won’t do a recruiting project without one.  Without this data, you’re really just assessing how well the candidate interviews which is not a determinant of future behavior.
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