The Importance of the Employee Self Service Portal

By Phil Turke, Director of Payroll at Cornell University

Paper has always been the worst enemy of any payroll department. Think about it, before the evolution of integrated electronic time and attendance systems, or time clocks, the employee would record their time on paper. This process was always prone to calculation errors, earnings codes errors, data entry errors, or worse yet, non-receipt of the paper timesheet by the payroll office. Before the advent of employee self-service (ESS) portals, the same perilous paper process for Federal and State W-4tax forms had plagued the payroll office for decades. The paper Direct Deposit election process followed, probably the single most unprotected and most identity theft prone process known to any payroll professional. Completing the paper direct deposit form required the employee to enter the name of their financial institution, their bank account number, their bank’s routing number and the process almost always universally required the employee to attach a copy of a blank check. The employee had written void across the face of the check multiple times to ensure no one could use that check to steal or empty out their bank account.

The inherent issue with paper processes often resulted in the forms never reaching the payroll office if initiated from a different location, or a keying error that sometimes resulted in an adverse result for the employee; incorrect amount of allowances on a tax form or a data entry error on the employees bank account.

The liberator for the payroll office: a robust ESS portal. ESS portals today can help manage the former paper processes from hire (onboarding) to termination (off boarding), to retirement and most personal and professional milestones in between. All employees want to feel empowered, why not provide them with the tools that can help drive employee satisfaction? Allow them to make changes when they want to, by allowing them to maintain their own tax elections, opting in for on-line W-2 forms (suppressing a paper copy to be mailed), updating their mailing address and maintaining their own direct deposit options. Other options that are available for employers to consider are: the annual Open Enrollment process, the posting of the annual Affordable Care Act forms and allowing employee to manage other voluntary payroll deductions such as United Way.

"All employees want to feel empowered, why not provide them with the tools that can help drive employee satisfaction"

Employee Self-Service (ESS) portals have, over the past decade, made a positive impact to the paper centric processes that have long been problematic, not only to the payroll office, but also to their respective corporate offices. After all, the forms that contain the most sacred personal information to an employee; Social Security numbers and bank account information had to be securely stored and maintained until the information could be safely destroyed. The costs for storage and maintenance of these documents is burdensome to any organization. The inability of the payroll office to quickly identify the location of the paper documents and retrieve the documents in the event of an audit could cause the payroll office angst if the data isn’t where the document retention plan says they should be.

One option that I find most advantageous for employers is an on boarding portal. If set up correctly, the newly hired employee, or even a rehired employee can fill out all forms in one succinct process. Some employees never complete tax forms, or put them off to later, only to realize that they have been defaulted for tax purposes at the marital status of, single and zero allowances, which in some cases could result in more taxes being withheld from their check than required. Timely completion of direct deposit forms is critical to ensure their first check is deposited timely into their bank account. Employees can, during the on boarding process, complete elections to employer provided benefits that they are eligible for.

I fully support a robust ESS portal that allows employees access to view, maintain and update their personal data, tax data; W-2’s and W-4’s, direct deposit information, pay slips, the ability to perform an analysis of pay checks for comparison purposes, request time off, performance reviews, career opportunities and open enrollment elections. I strongly recommend that in the direct deposit process, a confirmation email is sent to the employee to confirm they did in fact initiate the direct deposit change.

Most HCM (Human Capital Management) systems have ESS portals, whether employers fully enable the use of them is their choice. There are third party vendors that have bolt on ESS portals that offer employers some or all of the same conveniences of an integrated portal. Employers must understand the additional cost and the associated maintenance required on the integrations and interfaces between the systems.

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