Posts Tagged ‘President Obama’

POLITICS AT WORK: Employer Dos, Don’ts, and Be Very, Very Carefuls

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

The post below is a guest blog from Robin Shea who serves as Partner for Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP, CAI’s Partner for the 2012 Triad Employment Law Update.

With early voting already under way and only a short time until the real election day (November 6 – don’t forget!), this is a good time to provide some guidance for employers seeking to keep a civil workplace between now and November 7.

(By November 8, we hope that everyone has forgotten this entire ordeal and is back to normal until next year, when the 2016 campaign begins.)

HERE’S THE NOVEMBER 7 RULE: If your candidate won, do not “spike the ball in the end zone” at work. Wait until you get home. If your candidate lost, wish the winner well, or say nothing. Mourn for the demise of our once-great nation when you get home.

DO’s

DO encourage employees to “talk politics” with people they substantially agree with, or people who are still making up their minds and are looking for guidance. Discourage political discussions among employees who have fervently-held opposing views and whose minds are made up.

DO encourage employees to keep their political discussions courteous, respectful, and focused on the issues rather than personalities or candidates’ “EEO” characteristics, such as the President’s race or Governor Romney’s religion.

DO (if appropriate for your work environment) prohibit political discussion in the presence of customers, or when employees are expected to be actually getting some work done.

DO consult with applicable state law about voting leave, and comply with it. Please note that in some states you have to post a voting-leave-rights notice in advance of election day. Be sure you have done this if those laws apply to you.

DO be aware that, in a handful of states, it is unlawful for an employer to try to influence an employee’s vote. (The voting-leave chart linked in the prior “DO” includes these laws.) If you operate in one of these states, you should not overtly (with employees) endorse or oppose any candidate, referendum, or other initiative.

DO remind employees of your internet and email policies, and encourage them to be judicious and professional in sending or forwarding political emails or links.

DO feel free to break up employees’ political discussions at work if the atmosphere is becoming contentious or employees appear to be uncomfortable. DO encourage your employees to “self-police” political discussions by leaving, or warning their co-workers when the discussion appears to be heading into hostile territory.

DO feel free to ensure that political discussions do not interfere with getting the job done.

DON’Ts

DON’T have a flat ban on all political talk at work. As most employers know, the First Amendment does not apply to private workplaces, but the National Labor Relations Act could come into play if the discussions implicate “terms and conditions of employment.”

DON’T make, or allow others to make, comments about candidates that may be discriminatory or harassing based on the candidates’ or their supporters’ race, sex, national origin, religion, color, age, disability, or any other legally protected characteristic.

BE VERY, VERY CAREFULs

BE VERY, VERY CAREFUL about political discussions among employees about issues that are especially inflammatory or emotional, such as same-sex marriage, LGBT rights, reproductive rights, and affirmative action. These are legitimate topics for political discussion, but they are also sensitive and carry a high risk of creating hurt feelings or causing hostility.

BE VERY, VERY CAREFUL about sharing your company’s political views, assuming you live in the majority of states where this is legal. Be sure to preface your discussion with a statement to the effect that the decision of how to vote is the employee’s, and the employee’s alone. Then present the company view as “We wanted to share the Company’s position on [CANDIDATE OR ISSUE].” Keep the discussion objective, factual, and focused on issues, not personalities. At the end, remind employees that you are only sharing the company’s view and are not attempting to tell employees how to vote. But be aware that some employees will still view this as “pressure,” and take that into account in making the decision whether to share the company’s views at all.

CAI’s 2012 Triad Employment Law Update, scheduled for November 7 at the Koury Center in Greensboro, will provide additional information on staying compliant with state and federal laws. The conference will also provide material on several legal topics affecting employers, including ADAAA, FLSA Exemption, Immigration and Healthcare Reform. Register today at www.capital.org/triadlaw.

Telecommuting – How Will It Impact Your Company From an HR Standpoint?

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Early morning wake-up calls, clocking in, clocking out and office cubicles have been the norm for working Americans, but as technology continues to grow, so do the number of Americans who no longer make the morning commute. Recently even President Obama expressed his support for telecommuting programs.  Although the idea of working from home may sound like an employee’s dream, it’s vital to fully assess the pros and cons before incorporating such a program into your company policy.

Since a comfortable, flexible working environment is recognized by potential employees as one of the most important aspects of job choice, telecommuting applied appropriately can be used advantageously by Human Resources professionals. By providing the option to telecommute, companies offer employees a career that fits their lifestyles and can stand out among the competition.

How can your company achieve the best of both worlds and allow employees a flexible schedule with the option to work from home, while still producing the same results as if they were operating in-house? Consider the following, and make sure the benefits are equal for both your employees and your company.

Employee availability – Consider parents who start with an early morning and shut down their computers when their children return home from school. Guidelines allowing such flexibility need to be clear – the hours of availability should be concrete and unchanging  for reasons of dependability and accountability.

Virtual communication –Company meetings can still run cohesively without constant face-to-face communication through the comparable use of video conferencing, Skype and other advanced technology.

Distractions – While the office is used for the sole purpose of accomplishing company work,  those working in an environment used for sleeping, eating and relaxation must have a higher level of discipline. Character evaluation is imperative before considering telecommuting. Employees who are trustworthy, time-oriented, focused and who work without constant monitoring prove to be strong candidates.

Maintaining office relationships – Creative, original and innovative ideas are often developed through  collaboration, so the last thing any company wants is for its employees to operate as noncommunicative islands. With staff not interacting on a day-to-day basis, it’s critical to coordinate events, gatherings or lunches, to maintain a team mentality.

Maintaining company security – When employees have the opportunity to access company content from home, you must  provide additional IT protection to staff computers and servers to assure private information is monitored and inaccessible to outsiders.

With the proper protection, procedures and policies in place, many companies see a significant drop in overhead expenses and increased employee satisfaction from incorporating telecommuting. As with any change, it’s important to recognize that telecommuting can only be as successful as the individuals who execute the process. If your company chooses to establish a telecommuting program, plan efficiently, monitor productivity and avoid miscommunication issues.

For additional information, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

Photo source: richardmasoner

Healthcare Reform: Six Critical Questions Employers Need to Answer

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Last week I wrote about the many consequences of healthcare reform based on the prognostications of medical industry observers.  In this post I’ll share what I expect to happen with healthcare reform and six questions which I think employers need to start finding the answers.

My Prediction

Healthcare reform is so big and far reaching that no one can accurately predict the end result.  The literal language of a new law is never the last word.  Regulators are working hard to add meat to the bones.

Take this to the bank: your renewal and strategy meetings with plan advisors will be 50 to 80 percent different in coming years, and it will include tax, penalty, network, employee household income, essential coverage and plan viability issues you have never confronted.  I believe you can count on rules making it more attractive for some employers to pay the fine and to turn a plan over to the Exchanges, and to make the single-payer option more attractive (or necessary) to the public in future years.

An example is the recently issued rule defining “Grandfathered Plans,” making it unlikely any plan can meet the standard for very long.  Whether this is good or bad is less important than the effect on your own planning process.  Will the Exchanges become viable alternatives accepted by employees as substitutes for legitimate, mainstream employer plans?

I believe we will eventually face bifurcated healthcare: one for most of us defined by the “essential coverage” rules and offered increasingly by Exchanges; and one for some of us defined by supplemental plans providing better access to physicians and non-baseline services.

How to Prepare

An important role for company executives is to ensure a strategy for marketplace competitiveness into the future.  Longer-term thinking will be rewarded.  Begin seeking answers to these questions:

1) Will employer-sponsored healthcare remain a key part of your total rewards plan into the future?  What are the alternatives?

2)  Is it worth the contortions to remain grandfathered if you are likely to lose that status soon?

3) Will new supplemental benefits strategies, or even wage supplements in lieu of coverage, become the differentiator?

4)  If predications of a de facto single payer system come true in the medium term, what is the best transition plan for your workplace?

5) Does your size affect your decision-making?

6)  Is your benefits consultant up to the challenge of teaching you and considering all options and business needs? Put them to the test now and stay informed.

Healthcare reform is one of the major themes to be covered at CAI’s 2010 Compensation and Benefits Conference on Sept. 16-17 in Raleigh.  Please visit www.capital.org/compconf for additional information.

Photo Source: Valerie Everett

Measuring the Impact of the HIRE Act

Monday, July 26th, 2010

It has been four months since President Obama signed the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act, aimed at presenting hiring incentives to re-establish jobs lost throughout the recent recession. The HIRE Act focuses on two main incentives – the payroll tax relief and the worker retention tax credit – that reward your company for hiring workers quickly and keeping these employees for a long time, while offering you a chance to avoid the 6.2 percent Social Security tax. But is it really meeting its goals? So far, it’s hard to judge.

North Carolina businessman Andy Warlick, president and chief executive of Parkdale Mills in Gastonia, claims he recently hired 30 workers eligible for the HIRE Act tax exemptions, but he acknowledged he could not say the benefit was actually responsible for his decision to expand his staff, according to a New York Times blog.  He said he does appreciate claiming the credit because it lowers his operating costs and encourages him to keep his operations in America.

The Treasury department has credited 4.5 million workers hired due to the act and estimated savings to employers so far to be at $8 billion. However, Treasury officials are having a challenging time determining whether the tax credit actually induces hiring, rather than just being claimed for people who would have gotten jobs anyway. It also believes the program is not widely known to businesses eligible to participate in it.

If you are interested in finding out if and how your company is eligible to use this credit, read our previous blog on “HIRE Act Can Save Employers Money This Year.”  The program may be extended into the next year, but that plan will have to be approved by Congress, and the results from this year could determine whether that will become a reality.

For more details, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

Photo Source: AMagill

Future Effects of Healthcare Reform

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

We are covered in webinars and seminars about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  I attended several in recent weeks, and the most common answer to audience questions was “We don’t know yet.”  True  as that may be only months after passage, employers will need to make key decisions soon.  Consider these “big picture” predictions by medical industry observers as you think about the future of your group health plan:

  • Higher healthcare costs for employers and most patients, well beyond the additional risk from new enrollees
  • Better access for the previously uninsured with new access impediments for the insured
  • More employers will convert employees to part time to avoid mandates . . .
  • . . .  but watch for regulations complicating the exclusion of part-time workers from plans (remember, the goal is 100% coverage)
  • Much improved data collection and sharing; better use of evidence-based medicine
  • Higher medical equipment and drug costs
  • A rise in concierge medicine, private pay and direct reimbursement plans
  • Breaches in security of electronic personal health data housed in the “cloud”
  • Increased taxes from value added/national sales taxes and such
  • More outcome-based payment schedules
  • Penalties to hospitals for readmissions and hospital-acquired illnesses
  • Increased financial stress at community hospitals
  • “The end of self-insurance” in small- and medium-sized plans due to blunting or deleting its advantages over time
  • Increased subsidization of Exchanges
  • Eventual domination of Insurance Exchanges and Medicare; impractical to remain a “grandfathered” plan under new rules
  • Application of IRC Section 105(h) to non-grandfathered insured plans (discrimination testing and daily excise taxes) making it difficult to exclude categories of full-time employees
  • Micro-networks of physicians providing deeper discounts and limited choices
  • Fewer viable commercial domestic providers over time; more medical tourism overseas
  • Commoditization of healthcare and diminished professional status/pay for office-based physicians
  • Greater use of mid-level practitioners such as Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners

Sure, some of these predictions will turn out wrong and others will come into play.  We are taking today’s loose and complex system of doctors, insurers, pharmaceutical and equipment makers, hospitals, network pricing secrecy, etc. and adding significant central direction, data, light-of-day, penalties, incentives, limitations, minimum plan standards, new taxes and regulations.  Yes, the old loose system became unaffordable, but is the regulated one more efficient?  No one ever lost money betting on unintended consequences from large regulatory programs, so let’s hope some of them are good!

Next week I will share my predictions for healthcare reform and some advice for employers on how to prepare.

Note: I am grateful to all the seminar speakers and area professionals for their help, including Todd Yates of Hill, Chesson & Woody, Joel Daniel of Ogletree Deakins and Dr. David Marcinko.

Photo Source: Oldmaison

Affordable Care Act

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

You may have already heard about the so-called “tanning tax” that went into effect July 1, charging indoor UV parlors a 10 percent excise charge. That tax is part of several provisions that passed in the Affordable Care Act that became law in March, and some may apply to your company. They include:

The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit

Generally, employers that have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees and pay wages averaging less than $50,000 per employee per year may qualify for this credit, targeted to help employers with low and moderate income workers afford to offer employees health insurance coverage. Because the eligibility formula is based in part on the number of FTEs, not the number of employees, employers that have more than 25 individual workers may also qualify if some of their workers are part-time.

For each year from now through 2013, the maximum credit is 35 percent of premiums paid by eligible small businesses and 25 percent of premiums paid by eligible tax-exempt organizations. Small businesses can claim the credit as part of the general business credit starting with the 2010 income tax return they file in 2011.

To determine if your business qualifies for this credit:

1)     Count the total number of your employees (not counting owners or family members). If fewer than 25, then …

2)     Calculate the average annual wages of employees (again, not counting owners or family members). If the result is less than $50,000, and …

3)     You pay at least half of the insurance premiums for your employees at the single (employee-only) coverage rate, then you may be able to claim the credit.

Health Coverage for Employees’ Older Children

Health coverage for an employee’s children under 27 years of age is now generally tax-free to the employee. This expanded health care tax benefit applies to various workplace and retiree health plans. These changes allow employers with cafeteria plans (plans that allow employees to choose from a menu of tax-free benefit options and cash or taxable benefits) to permit employees to begin making pre-tax contributions to pay for this expanded benefit. This also applies to self-employed individuals who qualify for the self-employed health insurance deduction on their federal income tax return.

Employees who have children who will not have reached age 27 by the end of 2010 are eligible for the new tax benefit, if the children are already covered under the employer’s plan or are added to the employer’s plan at any time. For this purpose, a child includes a son, daughter, stepchild, adopted child or eligible foster child.

Therapeutic Discovery Project Program

This program is designed to provide tax credits and grants to small firms that show significant potential to produce new and cost-saving therapies, support jobs and increase U.S. competitiveness. IRS guidance describes the process by which firms can apply to have their research projects certified as eligible for the credit or grant. Applications must be postmarked no later than July 21, 2010.

More information on the Affordable Care Act can be found at the IRS website at http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=220809,00.html.

For more details on how the act affects your business, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

Photo Source: a.drian

Obama’s National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force and Equal Pay Initiative: Equal Chance for a Pay Audit For You?

Monday, June 7th, 2010

“We’re going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws -– so that women get equal pay for an equal day’s work,” announced President Obama in his State of the Union address on Jan. 27, 2010. He made good on that promise the following month by unveiling his National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force and Equal Pay Initiative to “improve compliance, public education, and enforcement of equal pay laws.”

This is a serious development that employers must consider as to how it can apply to them. One of the key members of this force is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has added more than 100 positions over the last year that can review discrepancies. It is a major initiative.

If the federal government runs a pay audit, finds violations of the laws and successfully prosecutes a company for them, the penalties can be severe. They include, but are not limited to, having a third party impose new pay practices on the business and fine the firm for back pay and interest for up to three years.

Employers need to take steps in advance of any possible federal audits. You should review in-house any pay equity issues that may exist between male and female employees and determine whether they can be defended legitimately. If not, you should correct them immediately. This review should involve consideration of all of your company’s policies and procedures as well as a statistical analysis of compensation data.

CAI offers details on how your company can perform an in-house audit for possible pay inequities. To learn about them, or for additional information on the initiative and its impact on your business, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

Photo Source: Kanav Gupta

HIRE Act Can Save Employers Money This Year

Friday, May 21st, 2010

On March 18, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act, which includes new tax benefits directly related to hiring employees. This bill, aimed at providing hiring incentives to restore some jobs lost in the latest economic recession, offers business owners the following benefits:

  • Its payroll tax exemption provides employers with an exemption from the employer’s 6.2 percent share of Social Security tax on wages paid to qualifying employees (meaning previously unemployed workers), effective for wages paid from March 19, 2010 through Dec. 31, 2010.
  • For each qualified employee retained for at least 52 consecutive weeks, businesses will be eligible for a general business tax credit, referred to as the new hire retention credit, of 6.2 percent of wages paid to the qualified employee over the 52-week period, up to a maximum credit of $1,000.

New employees must be hired between Feb. 3, 2010 and Jan. 1, 2011 in order to qualify for the business tax credits. The newly-hired employee must have been unemployed 60 days prior to starting work or worked fewer than 40 hours for someone else during the 60-day period.

The IRS has released a new Form W-11 that will help employers claim the special payroll tax exemption. Employers must retain this form along with other payroll and income tax records. Most eligible employers then use Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, to claim the payroll tax exemption for eligible new hires.

The new hire retention credit will be claimed on the employer’s 2011 income tax return.

Business owners will get the most out of the tax credits by hiring qualifying employees sooner rather than later, as the credits diminish over time and disappear completely by Jan. 1, 2011. The benefits do not apply to household employers or federal, state and local government employers, other than public colleges and universities.

More information on the HIRE ACT and its other business incentives, such as writing off investments in equipment, can be found at http://hireact.org/. For tax details, consult the IRS Q&A page.

Photo Source: alancleaver_2000

Employment and Labor Law Update Helps Employers Be Informed and Protected

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

The past year has been marked by major changes in employment law and intense regulatory enforcement efforts, including:

Government agencies will be stepping up their enforcement activities even more in 2010.  Consider:

  • U.S. Department of Labor budget includes $25 million and the addition of 100 enforcement personnel to identify and penalize employers who improperly misclassify employees as independent contractors.
  • U.S.D.O.L. budget includes a $67 million increase for worker protection agencies, including $14 million more to OSHA to add 60 enforcement staff and conduct 9 percent more inspections.
  • The EEOC budget includes an $18 million increase that will be used in part to hire 100 new investigators.  Those additions come on top of the EEOC’s 2009 expansion.
  • OSHA has announced that they plan to increase the average fine for a serious violation from $1,000 to $3,000-$4,000.
  • The U.S.D.O.L. Wage and Hour Division launched its “We Can Help” campaign earlier this year.  It essentially presents any employee who is unhappy with their pay with a forum for a nothing-to-lose wage complaint that can be submitted online or through a hotline.

In addition, the number of wage and hour lawsuits filed by employees against employers increased by 44 percent in 2009 over 2008, healthcare reform passed and President Obama recently appointed Craig Becker and Mark Pearce to the National Labor Relations Board, tilting the board very much in a pro-labor way.

To help North Carolina employers understand what these developments mean and how they will ultimately be affected, CAI is hosting its annual Employment and Labor Law Update on May 12 and13, 2010 at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh.  CAI experts and experienced attorneys from Ogletree Deakins will discuss all of the recent changes and help companies understand what they need to worry about now and what they can move down the priority list.

For additional information, please go to www.capital.org/lawupdate.

If you are participating in the conference and would like to tweet your thoughts, we invite you to do so using the hashtag #10ELLU.

Photo Credit: CAI

Healthcare Reform Means Major Changes For Employers

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Healthcare reform legislation, recently signed into law by President Obama, continues to be in the news.  As we learn more about the legislation, one thing is certain – it will result in significant changes to the healthcare system in the United States.  Outlined below are seven major changes affecting employers:

  • Employer Penalties. In 2014, employers with more than 50 full-time employees will be required to pay a penalty of $2,000 per employee if the employer fails to offer health coverage and has at least one employee receiving premium assistance created by the legislation. The first 30 employees will be excluded from the calculation of the penalty. For example, an employer with 65 employees that fails to offer insurance would pay a penalty of $70,000 (35 times $2,000)
  • Coverage for Dependents Up to Age 26. Beginning Sept. 23, 2010, health plans offering dependent coverage must provide it up to age 26. Legislation also prohibits excluding coverage of pre-existing conditions for children. This provision will apply to all employer-provided plans.
  • Lifetime Limits / Annual Limits. Six months after enactment, insurers will be prohibited from putting lifetime limits on benefits. Annual limits for new individual plans and all employer plans will be banned in 2014. However, prior to 2014, there will be certain restrictions on these limits put into effect.
  • Excise Tax. The legislation will create an excise tax on any benefit of employer-sponsored coverage exceeding $10,200 for individuals or $27,500 for families.  This new tax takes effect in 2018.
  • Enrollment. Employers with more than 200 employees must automatically enroll full-time employees in health coverage beginning in 2014. Employees will be allowed to opt-out of coverage after automatic enrollment.
  • Insurance Exchanges. Individual states must create insurance exchanges by 2014. These will be open to eligible individuals and some employers. Until 2017, only employers with 100 or fewer employees may use the exchange. In 2017, each state will be allowed to open the exchange up to all employers.
  • Tax Credits. Small businesses offering healthcare coverage will be entitled to a tax credit beginning in 2010, up to 35% of the premiums. Employers with 10 or fewer employees with average annual wages of $25,000 will receive full credit, while larger firms will see smaller tax credits. Beginning in 2014, the tax credit could reach 50% of premiums for the smallest employers.

For more information, and a complete listing of all provisions of the healthcare reform bill, visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/health-care-meeting/proposal.

Photo Credit: Halfalah