A panel of department heads tackled a variety of human resource questions in the open forum segment of the recent Cayman Islands Society of Human Resource Professionals’ annual conference at the Marriott Beach Resort.
On the panel were Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson; Department of Employee Relations Director Lonny Tibbetts; Superintendent of Pension Cyril Theriault; and Superintendent of Health Insurance Mervyn Conolly.
Mr. Manderson field a number of immigration questions.
With regard to the proposed four-tier accreditation system, Mr. Manderson was asked if employers could use a high accreditation for promotion of their companies.
‘Yes,’ Mr. Manderson said. ‘Tier four employers can advertise they are accredited at tier four, and so could a tier three employer. I don’t see a problem with that.’
Mr. Manderson was asked why, despite many improvements in the immigration system, there were still long delays in getting work permit decision letters in the mail.
‘I have to admit there’s still a problem with the timing of work permit letters,’ Mr. Manderson said. ‘What I have not been able to achieve is that I hit a button and all the letters from the last [work permit board] meeting go out.’
Mr. Manderson said the hold up occurs when staff members recheck all of the letters one-by-one to ensure there are no mistakes. However, he said new staff had been appointed to help in this are and they were currently being trained.
Mr. Conolly was asked a number of questions about health insurance.
One question involved whether an employee could have health insurance through an overseas head office of a company with a presence here. Mr. Conolly said that to comply with the Health Insurance Law, the insurer would have to first be approved by the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority and the Health Insurance Commission. If the company were not an approved insurer here, the employee would, at the very least, have to have the Standard Health Insurance Contract here.
Another insurance matter questioned concerned an employee that came to an employer and said they had coverage through their spouse’s insurance.
‘You have to be very cautious when an employee comes to you and says they have coverage elsewhere,’ Mr. Conolly said, adding that employers need to take steps to verify that coverage because the employer is ultimately liable for non-coverage. Mr. Conolly said employers also need to be wary of employees who try to drop coverage on dependents by saying they are covered under a spouse’s plan.
With regard to the termination of employment, Mr. Conolly said employers are required to maintain coverage for 30 days afterwards. In addition, employers are required to offer the opportunity for former employees to remain covered for three months or until they are employed elsewhere. However, the employee is required to pay for this coverage, unless the employer elects to do differently.
Mr. Conolly also pointed out that an employee is only required to pay half of the premiums for the Standard Health Insurance Contract, regardless of the health plan an employee has.
Mr. Theriault was asked about the requirement to provide a pension plan in circumstances where a Cayman-based employee has a multi-national employment contract that provides a pension elsewhere.
‘The way the Pension Law is written… they still have to be in the pension programme, regardless of what their contract says – no exceptions,’ Mr. Theriault said.
Another question asked what was considered a break of residency for a work permit holder as far as the Pensions Law was concerned. Mr. Theriault explained that if an expatriate left the island for six months or more and then returned, they would not be required to participate in a pension plan for nine months, the same as it is for new residents.
One of the more interesting comments by Mr. Theriault came when it was asked whether the Cayman Islands should have a human resources authority that combined the functions of immigration, pensions, health insurance and employment relations.
‘Why do we really need a supervisor of pensions?’ he asked, adding that the idea of having a human resource authority had merits ‘if not in combining everything, at least in combining parts’.
Mr. Tibbetts was asked if employers had any recourse against vindictive and unsubstantiated complaints from employees.
‘We do understand there are some complaints made that are vindictive in nature, but we must entertain the claim and request a response and evidence from the employer,’ he said.
Mr. Theriault said in his experience at the Pensions Office, most complaints had merit.
‘We get a lot of people walking in the door,’ he said. ‘I really can’t remember the last time a complaint was unfounded. Most complaints are founded.’
Mr. Tibbetts was asked if reducing an employee’s working hours in difficult economic times was allowed.
‘Any change to a employment contract must be agreed to by both parties,’ he said, adding that the best way to go about doing something like cutting staff hours is to call a formal staff meeting and lay out all the options to the staff.
With regard to the Department of Employment Relations files, Mr. Tibbetts said they are susceptible to freedom of information requests, even if an employee makes a complaint against an employer that is not valid.