Behind the Scenes with Headway’s Senior VP of HR: Mary Thornbury

Mary Thornbury, Senior VP of HR

Headway Workforce Solutions operates across all fifty states. How do you keep up with the various regulations, like workers compensation, irregular tax codes, benefit options etc., that are specific to each state?

While workers’ compensation management is fairly uniform across the board there are monopolistic states such as Ohio, Washington State, Wyoming and North Dakota, for example, who have their own state-run plans. These plans have to be managed through the applicable State Agencies. State unemployment, paid sick leave programs, final payroll checks, state run short term disability plans and minimum wage laws differ from state to state.  To stay in compliance we access a number of resources.  Our attorneys, Jackson Lewis are an international firm and have great resources through webinars, law blogs and legal update presentations.  Our liability carrier, also has legal resources as well as the SHRM website.   I am certified with SHRM and HRCI and to maintain those credentials I am required to complete a number of course hours and attend legal presentations plus local SHRM chapter meetings each year.  These presentations help me stay updated on compliance and regulatory changes.  We work closely with our brokers to maintain compliant medical benefits options as well as ancillary coverage. The tax codes are managed by our excellent Finance Team.

When you are onboarding a high volume of contingent workers how do you oversee your team to ensure an efficient and smooth procedure?

With the exception of corporate staff, most of the onboarding is done through our dedicated account managers and IT support. We make sure that posters, notifications, employee handbooks, paid sick leave information, for example, are all available and updated to assist with the onboarding process.  Our IT Department has resources available to enable employees to log into their Headway account and access all of their on-boarding documents as reference when needed.

You are constantly fielding inquiries and handling employee issues from offices in the field and from our clients. How do you deal with this?

Very carefully! I have to be able to spin pretty fast and see what needs to be taken care of at any given time. I have a really great HR Team and we have people onsite with some of our larger clients are who are knowledgeable.  I am fortunate to have a team to work with me in-house covering the HR areas of knowledge; Tamie is a subject matter expert with workers compensation and safety compliance, Naseer is great with benefits, James is a payroll and unemployment expert, Briona provides unending support in a generalist capacity and Christy from an off-site location works with some of our challenging clients. Having a strong team is critical to success.

What characteristics do you find to be most useful for an HR manager to have to be successful in this field?

A sense of humor! Also attention to detail. There is so much detail in legal compliance issues and in benefits regulations; you have to get your head around it all. And know when and where to go to ask for help. You are not going to know everything. You would like to think that you learn something and the laws never change but that is not the case. For example, when COBRA was first released, attorneys reviewed it and went back to the federal government telling them there were at least twenty major loopholes and asked how they were going to deal with these undefined areas.  And the government said they were going to let the courts decide. So you have to stay on top of any regulations that are employment related because governance can change based on the results of lawsuits down the road. Staying on top of regulations to stay in compliance is probably the biggest challenge I face as senior vice president of HR here at Headway.

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