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The Department of the Treasury (Treasury), Department of Labor (DOL), and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (collectively, the Departments) released their proposed rule regarding health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and other account-based group health plans. The DOL also issued a news release and fact sheet on the proposed rule.

The proposed rule’s goal is to expand the flexibility and use of HRAs to provide individuals with additional options to obtain quality, affordable healthcare. According to the Departments, these changes will facilitate a more efficient healthcare system by increasing employees’ consumer choice and promoting healthcare market competition by adding employer options.

To do so, the proposed rules would expand the use of HRAs by:

  • Removing the current prohibition against integrating an HRA with individual health insurance coverage (individual coverage)
  • Expanding the definition of limited excepted benefits to recognize certain HRAs as limited excepted benefits if certain conditions are met (excepted benefit HRA)
  • Providing premium tax credit (PTC) eligibility rules for people who are offered an HRA integrated with individual coverage
  • Assuring HRA and Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA) plan sponsors that reimbursement of individual coverage by the HRA or QSEHRA does not become part of an ERISA plan when certain conditions are met
  • Changing individual market special enrollment periods for individuals who gain access to HRAs integrated with individual coverage or who are provided QSEHRAs

Public comments are due by December 28, 2018. If the proposed rule is finalized, it will be effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2020.

 

by Karen Hsu
Originally posted on ubabenefits.com

You have a business and it is growing – Congratulations!

As your company grows and you hire more employees, there are milestones that you will hit.  Some of these milestones come with additional responsibilities that you need to attend to, such as Cobra, HCSO, FMLA, Sexual Harassment Prevention Training and the Affordability Care Act’s Large Employer Mandate.

For example, if you are a company based in California and offer an employee benefits plan that includes medical insurance, you are obligated to allow former or terminated employees and their enrolled dependents to enroll in Cal-COBRA if they are no longer eligible to be enrolled in your plan.  Once you reach 20 employees or more for an average of 50% or more of the previous calendar year, then you are obligated to start offering enrollment in Federal COBRA for those plan participants and enrolled dependents if they are no longer eligible to be enrolled in your plan.

Additionally, if you have any employees working in the City of San Francisco, you would also need to comply with the Health Care Security Ordinance (HCSO).  However, these two things would not happen at the same time because while they both require you have 20 or more employees before you have to comply, they count those employees differently, and over a different length of time.

Federal COBRA counts employees by their classification.  A full-time employee is counted as 1, and part-time employees are counted in fractions.  So you may have 15 full-time employees, and 5 part time employees and you would NOT be subject to Federal COBRA because your part time employees work an average of 20 hours per week, meaning all together they only count as 2.5 full-time equivalents which when combined with your full-time employees puts your count at 17.5.

The HCSO counts employees by head count, and they do it per quarter.  So if you have 19 employees during one quarter of the year, you don’t need to comply.  But if you have 20 employees for at least 13 weeks of the following quarter, you would need to comply.

Is your head spinning yet?

As you move further along and you reach 50 employees, there are more regulations that may now be applied to your company.  They are the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Sexual Harassment Prevention Training for California businesses, and the Pay or Play provision of the Affordable Care Act.  As one might expect, each regulation counts employees in a different way.

When you have had 50 or more employees over 20 weeks during the current or previous calendar year, you are subject to FMLA.  The weeks do not have to be consecutive weeks.  Additionally, FMLA counts the employees on your payroll register even if they are not being paid.  If they are on your payroll register, they are counted.  Each person is counted as 1, regardless of the number of hours worked.

For sexual harassment prevention training in California, once you have 50 or more employees (regardless of full-time or part time status) for 20 or more consecutive weeks, you have to begin offering training for your management staff every 2 years, and within 6 months of promoting an employee to a managerial position.

The Applicable Large Employer or ALE classification under the Affordable Care Act counts employees in yet a different way.  With regards to determining ALE status, you generally count each full-time employee as 1, and for part-time, seasonal, and variable-hour employees you count the number of hours they all worked collectively during a month (do not include more than 120 hours for any employee), then divide the total hours by 120 hours to get how many Full-Time Equivalent Employees (FTEs) you have.  You then add the number of full-time employees, to your FTE’s to get your total employee count.  If you average 50 or more employees during the calendar year, you are considered an ALE the following tax year.  For example, if you average 50 or more employees during the 2018 calendar year, you would be subject to the Pay or Play Mandate and the reporting requirements associated with it for the year 2019.

If your employee count stays at 50 or above in 2019, you would continue to be an ALE with all associated requirements in 2020.  If your employee count dips below 50 in 2019, then you would not be considered an ALE in the year 2020.

The Pay or Play Mandate (Employer shared responsibility) means that as an ALE you are required to offer minimum value, affordable coverage to your full-time employees and their dependent children, or potentially face a penalty from the IRS.

No one is an expert in all things, which is likely why your business is doing well and thriving: because you fulfill a need or expertise in the area that you specialize in.  As a successful business owner you know it is advantageous to have strong partners in your corner to help lend their strengths to your areas of weakness.

Having a strong benefits advisor to assist you in navigating these hurdles, speed bumps, and curves in the road is essential.  Whether you have the resources to handle these regulations in-house, or if you need someone to recommend a trustworthy third party vendor to handle it for you, we are pleased to be able to fulfill that need for you.

 

by Elizabeth Kay

On August 1, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Labor (collectively, the Departments) released a final rule that amends the definition of short-term, limited-duration insurance. HHS also released a fact sheet on the final rule.

According to the Departments, the final rule will provide consumers with more affordable options for health coverage because they may buy short-term, limited-duration insurance policies that are less than 12 months in length and may be renewed for up to 36 months.

The final rule will apply to insurance policies sold on or after October 2, 2018.

 

By Karen Hsu
Originally Published By United Benefits Advisors

 

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard several cases with employment implications during their 2018 session, including the following four cases we covered in detail. (Click the case names to read the full articles.)

  • Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro: Encino shifted the burden of proof in Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime exemption cases to the plaintiff, meaning that if employees cannot prove they were misclassified, they will not be entitled to overtime pay.
  • Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis: Epic held that employers may enforce class action waivers in arbitration agreements rather than being obligated to allow employees to unite in a class action suit.
  • Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. V. Colorado Civil Rights Commission: Masterpiece argued the key civil rights issues of discrimination versus freedom of religion. Although both sides declared a win, the court simply decided that the law is the law and employers cannot deny equal access to goods and services but also religion remains a highly-protected civil right.
  • Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees: Janus ruled that public sector employees are not required to pay fees to a union they choose not to join, even if they receive the benefits of the union’s negotiations.

Notable cases that SCOTUS declined to hear in 2018 touched on tip pooling, Americans with Disabilities (ADA) leave, age discrimination, sexual discrimination, and compensation during rest breaks.

The overall trend in the 2018 rulings was a tendency to favor employers. This conservative lean of the court was also reflected in its ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, where the court held the president lawfully exercised the broad discretion granted to him under federal law to suspend the entry of people from certain countries into the United States.

What’s Coming Up?

With Brett Kavanaugh’s potential confirmation as the new SCOTUS justice due to Justice Kennedy’s retirement, SCOTUS will likely continue on the conservative trend. The EEOC is speculating that cases potentially on the docket for the Supreme Court next season may be related to age discrimination, equal pay, sexual orientation, and gender identity, including possible appeals of these circuit court decisions:

  • Rizo v. Yovino: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that under the federal Equal Pay Act an employer cannot justify a wage differential between male and female employees by relying on prior salary.
  • EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes: The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that employers may not discriminate against employees because of failure to conform to sex stereotypes, transgender, or transitioning status.
  • Kleber v. CareFusion Corporation: The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that an outside job applicant can assert a disparate impact claim under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act. (Disparate impact refers to employment practices that appear to be nondiscriminatory but adversely affect one group of protected class individuals more than others.)
  • Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc.: The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Title VII protects employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Other cases being considered include the applicability of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) to small public employers, whether the Federal Arbitration Act applies to independent contractors, and whether payment to an employee for time lost from work is compensation subject to employment taxes.

Originally posted on thinkhr.com

Are you having a hard time keeping up with the steady flow of news and information that affects your workplace? Let ThinkHR help! We’ve curated some of the stories from business, news, human resources, benefits, and risk management publications that caught our eye this June.

Just Don’t Ask

Job candidates are covered by the Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination, and most interviewers know what kinds of direct questions to avoid. But what seems like a friendly conversation-starter could be an unwitting violation of the act. Read five questions you should never ask.

Read more on Namel

Trust in Design

Office design is known to have an impact on employee productivity and satisfaction. At the heart of this is trust – trust that staff will choose to use the facility in the most effective way rather than be chained to their desks. And when trust rises, engagement follows.

Read more on Entrepreneur.

Pride Without Pandering

June was Pride Month, and corporations everywhere joined in the celebration. Some, although well-meaning, missed the mark. Seven LGBTQ executives explain how employers can embrace inclusion and celebrate diversity without coming across as pandering.

Read more on Fast Company.

Dad Days

Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian was a proponent of paternity leave and planned to lead by example by using his company’s benefit. However, he didn’t fully appreciate its importance until his daughter was born and he used the time off to slow down and take stock of his priorities.

Read more on CNN.

Culture Still Eats Strategy

Strategy is essential, but if a company doesn’t have a good culture, it won’t matter. Once you understand what culture is and isn’t, you can work toward developing a strong one, starting with defining the qualities you value in your employees.

Read more on Forbes.

Buy in Bulk

A rule released by the U.S. Department of Labor on June 19 loosens restrictions on association health plans, paving the way for more small businesses to band together to buy health coverage. That is, if it stands up to legal challenges, state laws, and the realities of the insurance marketplace.

Read more on Kaiser Health News.

The Family Friendly Workplace

Work-life balance can be especially challenging for parents. Both mothers and fathers lament not having enough time for their children. Get 10 creative ways you can make your workplace better for working parents.

Read more on Employee Benefit News.

Remote Control

The remote workforce continues to grow, but 57 percent of companies still lack a remote work policy. These companies may be missing out on attracting and retaining top talent. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, with numerous factors to consider in crafting one.

Read more on HR Dive.

What Makes a Great Workplace

Inc. magazine surveyed thousands of employees to measure what employer qualities lead to high levels of employee engagement and sentiment, taking into account elements of corporate culture. See which of 45 perks and benefits employees value most.

Read more on Inc.

Run, Hide, Fight

Law enforcement officials stress the need for employers to conduct active shooter training to protect their employees and customers in the event of a violent incident. In addition to training, find out other ways to mitigate the risk a shooter or potential shooter holds.

Read more on Business Insurance.

By Rachel Sobel
Originally published by www.ThinkHR.com

On June 19, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor released its Final Rule regarding Association Health Plans (AHPs). AHPs are not new, but they have not been widely available in the past and, in some cases, they have not been successful. The Final Rule is designed to make AHPs available to a greater number of small businesses as an alternative to standard ACA-compliant small group insurance policies.

This article answers common questions about AHPs under the current rules (which groups can continue to use) and the new rules.

Is group medical insurance the same for small and large employers?

Yes and no. Federal law imposes certain basic requirements on all group medical plans, regardless of the employer’s size. For instance, plans cannot exclude pre-existing conditions nor impose annual or lifetime dollar limits on basic benefits. If the plan is insured, it also is subject to the insurance laws of the state in which the policy is issued.

Small group policies, which are sold to employers with up to 50 or 100 employees, depending on the state, are subject to additional requirements. These policies must cover 10 categories of essential health benefits (EHBs), including hospitalization, maternity care, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and prescription drugs. (Some states allow certain grandfathered or grandmothered policy exceptions.) For most small employers, their options for group medical insurance are limited to small group policies that comply with the full scope of ACA requirements. On the other hand, the policies are subject to guaranteed issue and adjusted community rating rules, so carriers cannot refuse to insure a small employer nor use any past claims experience in setting rates.

Large group policies, which can only be sold to groups with at least 50 or 100 employees, depending on the state, are not required to cover all EHBs. Carriers have more flexibility in designing coverage options and developing premium rates in the large group market. This means larger employers have more options to choose from and may be able to purchase coverage at a lower cost than would apply to a small group policy. Note, however, that there is no guaranteed issue protection, so carriers can accept or reject each employer’s application or use the employer’s past claims experience in setting rates.

Lastly, self-funded plans are subject to the ACA and other federal laws, but generally are exempt from state laws. They typically are not feasible for small employers, however, due to the financial risk of uninsured programs.

What is an Association Health Plan (AHP)?

Group insurance covers the employees of an employer (or an employee organization such as a labor union). An AHP, as the name implies, covers the members of an association. Unrelated employers can obtain coverage for their employees through an AHP provided the employers form a bona fide association. Traditionally, this has meant that the employers had to have a “commonality of interest” and their primary interest had to be something other than an interest in providing benefits. For this reason, AHPs generally have been limited to associations formed by employers in the same trade, industry, or profession.

The Final Rule makes AHPs available to a wider range of businesses by expanding the meaning of “commonality of interest.” Once the Final Rule takes effect, an association may be formed by employers that are:

  • In the same trade, industry, or profession, regardless of location; or
  • In the same principal place of business; i.e., in the same state or in the same multi-state metropolitan area.

Under the new rules, the employer’s primary interest in associating may be benefits coverage, although they still will need to have at least one other substantial business purpose other than benefits. This is a key difference from the current rules.

When does the new Final Rule take effect?

The Final Rule expanding the definition of an association for purposes of an AHP will take effect on staggered dates:

  • For fully insured AHPs: September 1, 2018
  • For self-funded AHPs:
    • If in existence on or before June 19, 2018: January 1, 2019
    • If created after June 19, 2018: April 1, 2019

As noted, the new rules do not replace existing rules. Employers and associations may continue to follow the existing rules (which generally limit AHPs to employers in the same trade, industry, or profession). The new rules merely expand the opportunities for AHPs, such as making them available to employers in the same state or metropolitan area even if they are in different industries.

Are AHPs limited to employers with employees? What about sole proprietors?

Currently, sole proprietors, such as mom-and-pop shops without any W-2 employees, purchase medical insurance in the individual market. Individual policies often cost more than group policies or AHPs. The new rules will expand the availability of AHPs to include sole proprietors who work a minimum number of hours (so-called working owners).

What about state laws? Will AHPs be available nationwide?

Insurance products, including AHPs, are regulated by state law. Under both the existing and new rules, AHPs are multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs). State laws on MEWAs are quite complicated. In some states, MEWAs are prohibited. In others, insured MEWAs are allowed but self-funded plans are prohibited. The laws vary from state to state, so different carriers will make different decisions about whether they want to design and market AHPs in various jurisdictions around the country.

A number of states are very concerned about AHPs and may prohibit them in their states or impose strict requirements to ensure they will provide reliable and effective coverage. Other states will view AHPs as cost-effective alternatives to ACA-compliant policies for small employers and look to encourage their expansion.

What’s next?

There is no clear answer to what’s next. Over the coming months, carriers across the country likely will review the reasons they have or have not offered AHPs in the past, and whether they want to consider new approaches in the future. Along with economic and market issues to consider, carriers also must consider the state insurance laws in different jurisdictions. At the same time, many state legislatures and insurance commissioners will be reviewing their existing rules and whether they want to promote or expand the availability of AHPs in their area.

Oh … and the lawsuits. Yes, that also is what’s next. As of this writing, attorneys general in different states are planning to join together in challenging the federal government’s Final Rule on AHPs. Their stated concern is that effective regulation is required to ensure that plans provide adequate coverage.

ThinkHR will continue to monitor developments in this area.

by Kathleen A. Berger
Originally posted on thinkhr.com

Summer internships offer students opportunities to gain real-world experience and hands-on career development. Conversely, internship programs give employers access to highly motivated and educated young workers and give junior managers more experience training and supervising. There are benefits for everyone involved.

However, there are some potential legal and administrative pitfalls that many employers overlook. One of the largest issues is determining what interns should be paid – or not paid.

The Department of Labor issued new guidance on January 5, 2018, that gives employers more flexibility in deciding whether to pay interns. A seven-criteria test is now used to determine if an internship may be unpaid, but the biggest change is that not all factors need to be met – no single factor is decisive, and the determination is made on the unique circumstances of each case.

If the job training program primarily provides professional experience that furthers a student’s educational goals, a student may not be considered an employee entitled to compensation. However, if students are doing work usually done by employees and are not receiving training and close mentoring, they should be paid wages. If there is any doubt, the best approach is to pay the student.

4 Reasons to Pay Interns

However, while it’s now legally permissible to classify more interns as unpaid, there are still compelling reasons to pay interns even when the internship does meet the criteria for unpaid status.

Unpaid internships tend to exclude students from lower- and middle-income backgrounds, who cannot afford not to work at paid jobs during the summer. In addition, they may need to pay up to several thousand dollars for course credit, in addition to coming up with funds for housing, clothing, and transportation related to the internship. This can put internships out of reach for some of the students who can benefit from them the most.

Unpaid internships may devalue the work paid employees are doing. After all, interns are working alongside regular employees — often doing some of the same tasks — and not being compensated for that work. This may send the message to employees that their work, or time, is not valued.

Unpaid internships can create a negative impression of your company. Customers or the community may see you as taking advantage of these students, which is not the message you want to portray. It’s a good community relations move to offer youth paid opportunities.

The work the unpaid intern is doing may actually be work that should be compensable. Improperly classifying an internship and not paying the student could result in wage claims that include back pay, penalties, and fines. To mitigate those risks, once again, the best approach is to pay the student.

Hiring summer students is a great way to help youth learn what it takes to be successful in business while helping employers get special projects completed. Plan ahead and structure your program so that your summer internship program is a great experience for everyone.

 

by Rachel Sobel
Originally posted on thinkHR.com

The Department of Labor’s new claim rules for disability benefits took effect April 2, 2018. The changes were announced over a year ago, but the effective date was delayed to give insurers, employers, and plan administrators adequate time for implementation. Although we’ve reported on the key issues in this blog previously, now seems like a good time for a refresher on how the new rules affect employer plans.

Affected Plans

The new claim rules apply to disability benefits provided under plans covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA); that is, plans sponsored by private-sector employers. Then the new rules apply if the ERISA plan must make a determination of disability in order for the claimant to obtain the benefit. Group short- and long-term disability plans are the most common examples, but pension, 401(k), and deferred compensation plans also may be affected.

Many plans do not make their own determination of disability, but instead condition the plan’s benefit on another party’s determination. For instance, employer plans that base the benefit on a disability determination made by the Social Security Administration (SSA) are not affected by the new rules.

New Rules

For ERISA plans affected by the new rules, the following additional requirements apply to disability claims filed on or after April 2, 2018:

  • Disclosure Requirements: Benefit denial notices must explain why the plan denied a claim and the standards used in making the decision. For example, the notices must explain the basis for disagreeing with a disability determination made by the SSA if presented by the claimant in support of his or her claim.
  • Claim Files and Internal Protocols: Benefit denial notices must include a statement that the claimant is entitled to request and receive the entire claim file and other relevant documents. (Previously this statement was required only in notices denying benefits on appeal, not on initial claim denials.) The notice also must include the internal rules, guidelines, protocols, standards or other similar criteria of the plan that were used in denying a claim or a statement that none were used. (Previously it was optional to include a statement that such rules and protocols were used in denying the claim and that the claimant could request a copy.)
  • Right to Review and Respond to New Information Before Final Decision: Plans are prohibited from denying benefits on appeal based on new or additional evidence or rationales that were not included when the benefit was denied at the claims stage, unless the claimant is given notice and a fair opportunity to respond.
  • Conflicts of Interest: Claims and appeals must be adjudicated in a manner designed to ensure the independence and impartiality of the persons involved in making the decision. For example, a claims adjudicator or medical or vocational expert could not be hired, promoted, terminated or compensated based on the likelihood of the person denying benefit claims.
  • Deemed Exhaustion of Claims and Appeal Processes: If plans do not adhere to all claims processing rules, the claimant is deemed to have exhausted the administrative remedies available under the plan (unless exceptions for minor errors or other conditions apply). In that case, the claimant may immediately pursue his or her claim in court. Plans also must treat a claim as re-filed on appeal upon the plan’s receipt of a court’s decision rejecting the claimant’s request for review.
  • Coverage Rescissions: Rescissions of coverage, including retroactive terminations due to alleged misrepresentations or errors in applying for coverage, must be treated as adverse benefit determinations that trigger the plan’s appeals procedures.
  • Notices Written in a Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Manner: Benefit denial notices must be provided in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner in certain situations. Specifically, if the claimant’s address is in a county where 10 percent or more of the population is literate only in the same non-English language, the notices must include a prominent statement in the relevant non-English language about the availability of language services. The plan would also be required to provide a verbal customer assistance process in the non-English language and provide written notices in the non-English language upon request.

Action Steps for Employers

Employers are reminded to work with their carriers, third-party administrators, and advisors to make sure their plans comply with the new requirements. Consider these steps:

  • Identify all plans that are subject to ERISA. (Plans sponsored by governmental employers, such as cities and public school districts, and certain church plans, are exempt from ERISA.)
  • Does the ERISA plan provide any benefit based on disability? If so, is the benefit conditioned on a determination of disability made by the plan or by another party, such as Social Security?
  • For insured plans, such as group STD and LTD insurance plans, the carrier generally is responsible for compliance with ERISA’s claim rules. The employer, however, does have a duty to make reasonable efforts to ensure the carrier is complying.
  • For self-funded plans, the employer is responsible for compliance. Although the employer may engage the services of a third-party claims administrator, the employer remains responsible for the plan’s compliance with all rules.

Originally Published By ThinkHR.com

Managing pay can be tricky. Handled incorrectly, pay can create problems for an employer — everything from the inability to attract the right candidates and losing great employees to the competition to presenteeism (employees who are physically in the workplace but not engaged in their work), employee relations issues, compliance audits, and lawsuits. These outcomes impact productivity. They infect the company culture. And they tarnish the employer brand.

In your role as a trusted advisor to clients who may be struggling with their total compensation programs, you need to be ready to help them determine how to make the right decisions. This requires you to be aware of new trends while also helping clients manage risk by complying with wage and hour rules.

Pay Versus Employee Motivation and Retention

Many employee engagement reports note that pay doesn’t impact motivation as much as other work factors, such as:

  • The quality of the company and its management.
  • Belief in the organization’s products.
  • Alignment with the company’s mission, values, and goals.
  • Ability to make a meaningful contribution.
  • Ability to develop new professional skills.

IBM’s Smarter Workforce Institute’s 2017 study looked at employees’ decisions to leave their jobs and found that the three generations comprising most of today’s workforce would be open to considering new job opportunities for better compensation and benefits: Millennials at 77 percent, Generation X at 78 percent, and Baby Boomers at 70 percent. Those are big numbers, and they shouldn’t be ignored when designing pay plans.

Further, while pay may not be a motivator, it can be a powerful dissatisfier when employees believe that they aren’t being paid correctly for the value they are bringing to the organization, or at the market value of their jobs. Worse yet is the perceived — or real — belief that their pay is lower than what their co-workers are earning. In some markets, this problem is genuine, as companies in hot labor markets struggle with paying new people more than current employees, causing pay compression. Employees do talk and pay information is readily available.

Considering every variable that goes into compensation planning can be complicated. Your clients can start by: setting a compensation strategy to fit their company’s needs and budget; developing compensation programs to fit that strategy, the talent marketplace, and employee demographics; and then administering the compensation program fairly and in compliance with federal, state, and local laws.

Equal Pay Mandates

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Strategic Enforcement Plan prioritizes enforcing the Equal Pay Act (EPA) to close the pay gap between men and women, and the Trump administration has been silent about changing this direction. This topic is trending, as legislators in more than 40 jurisdictions introduced bills related to equal pay in 2017. California, New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland are setting the pace with laws addressing this issue. These states have set rules that more broadly define the equal pay standard requiring different factors, such as skill, effort, working conditions, and responsibility, in justifying gender pay disparities. These states are also broadening the geographic restrictions for employee pay differentials.

We expect that more states will enact equal pay rules in 2018. Companies should review gender pay differences in their workforce, document the bona fide business reasons for the differences, and correct wage disparities as needed. Permitted differences could include seniority, documented merit performance differences, pay based on quantity or quality of production or sales quotas, or geographic differentials.

Salary History Ban

The issue of pay has traditionally been an inevitable topic of discussion in any job interview. However, in a growing number of places throughout the country, an employer can no longer ask an applicant about his or her salary history. At least 21 states and Washington, D.C., along with several municipalities, have proposed legislation that would prohibit salary history questions. California (effective January 2018), Delaware (effective December 2017), Massachusetts (effective July 2018), and Oregon (effective January 2019) have enacted laws impacting private employers. More bans are expected at both the state and local level.

While the provisions of each law vary, they make it illegal for employers to ask applicants about their current compensation or how they were paid at past jobs. The rationale for these laws stems from the equal pay issue and the premise that pay for the job should be based on the value of the job to the organization, not the pay an applicant might be willing to accept. These laws are designed to reverse the pattern of wage inequality that resulted from past gender bias or discrimination.

For employers, this means:

  • Establishing compensation ranges for open positions and asking applicants if the salary range for the position would meet their compensation expectations.
  • Updating employment applications to remove the salary history information.
  • Training hiring managers and interviewers to avoid asking questions about salary history.

Pay Transparency

Outside of certain industries, the public sector, and unionized environments where pay grades and step increases are common knowledge, historically many employers have had a practice of discouraging employees from openly discussing their compensation. That practice is fast becoming history, due to another notable trend in state legislatures: enacting laws that allow employees to discuss their wages and other forms of compensation with others. Although the provisions of the laws vary, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Vermont now have laws in place allowing pay transparency.

In addition to these state laws, Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows employees to engage in pay discussions as “concerted and protected activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” During the Obama administration, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) broadly interpreted the NLRA’s Section 7 to side with employees’ rights to discuss wages and other terms and conditions of employment. Unless the Trump administration’s NLRB changes direction on this issue, which is not expected, the clear message for employers is to remove any prohibitions of employees discussing pay or working conditions with others.

Be Vigilant

Employee compensation has always been a hot topic, and this year the temperature will continue to rise. Keep abreast of legislative and regulatory changes that impact pay practices to help your clients stay in compliance with the pay laws that are spreading throughout the country.

Now is a good time to suggest that your clients consider conducting pay audits, updating compensation plans, making compensation adjustments where needed, training managers regarding pay strategy and practice, and communicating the company’s compensation strategy and incentive plans to employees.

 

By Laura Kerekes, SPHR, SHRM-SCPz

Originally posted on thinkHR.com

In its March 15, 2018, decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Fiduciary Rule that expanded the definition of an investment advice fiduciary under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Under the Fiduciary Rule, investment brokers were going to be required to put the interest of their clients before their own when advising about individual retirement accounts (IRA) and 401(k) plans. Read our blog post on the rule from April 11, 2016.

According to the Fifth Circuit’s decision, “[t]he Fiduciary Rule … bears hallmarks of ‘unreasonableness’ … and arbitrary and capricious exercises of administrative power.” In other words, the court found that the DOL exceeded its authority with the Fiduciary Rule. Additionally, through its ruling, the court agreed with the plaintiffs’ claims that “the Rule is inconsistent with the governing statutes, the DOL overreached to regulate services and providers beyond its authority, the DOL’s imposed legally unauthorized contract terms to enforce the new regulations, the Rule violates the First Amendment, and it is arbitrary and capricious in the treatment of variable and fixed indexed annuities.”

For the time being, the Fiduciary Rule has been overturned, but the issue may be pursued in the U.S. Supreme Court, which has the authority to overturn the Fifth Circuit’s decision.

Originally Published By ThinkHR.com

Kathy! You are amazing! I was speaking with Dr. Abel today re a patient and on his own he brought up how you were able to fix his wife and daughter’s insurance in less than 24 hours AND you were so NICE and PROFESSIONAL. He then said you were AMAZING. I absolutely love working with you, Ron, and the entire gang! Just wanted to pass this on - and again thank you for all you do for us!!!!

- Office Manager, Surgical Center in San Francisco

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