Workplace rules are back, baby!

Peter Robb, General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (and my new hero), issued a memorandum on Wednesday that employers should love. Mr. Robb has declared that nine standard employer policies will now be presumed lawful under the National Labor Relations Act.

The memorandum was based on the Board’s decision in The Boeing Company, issued in December 2017. Before Boeingthe NLRB under the Obama Administration had taken the position that these policies were unlawful because they could have a “chilling effect” on employees’ exercise of their rights to engage in “protected concerted activity” under Section 7 of the NLRA.

So, without further ado, here are nine standard employment policies that the Board says are legal again, absent evidence that they’re being applied to protected concerted activity. (Welcome back!) I’ll also go over workplace rules that continue to violate the NLRA, and workplace rules that will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Workplace rules that are presumed lawful

No. 1: Civility rules. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must be happy about this one because their proposed guidance on workplace harassment recommended civility training for employees as a harassment-prevention measure. The EEOC had to include a footnote that its recommendation could be problematic from an NLRA standpoint. (I’d been recommending to clients that they restrict civility training to management until this conflict between the EEOC and the NLRB was resolved.)

Conflict hereby resolved! According to the General Counsel, an expectation of civility does not interfere with employees’ right to engage in protected concerted activity because they can almost always criticize the employer, or individual supervisors, in a civil manner.

No. 2: No photography, no recording. Although there are occasions when employees may want to photograph or record working conditions or labor protests, the General Counsel says, for the most part rules prohibiting unauthorized recordings have no impact on Section 7 rights and therefore are lawful. However, “a ban on mere possession of cell phones at work may be unlawful where the employees’ main method of communication during the work day is by cell phone.” In other words, the ban should be on unauthorized recording, not on possession of a device that can record.

No. 3: Bans on insubordination, non-cooperation, adversely affecting operations. “An employer has a legitimate and substantial interest in preventing insubordination or non-cooperation at work. Furthermore, during working time an employer has every right to expect employees to perform their work and follow directives.”

Duh. It’s sad that this even had to be said, but thank you, General Counsel Robb, for saying it.

(Of course, if the “insubordination” is engaging in protected concerted activity, then the application of the rule would violate the NLRA.)

No. 4: Bans on disruptive behavior. Employers again have the right to prohibit “fighting, roughhousing, horseplay, tomfoolery, and other shenanigans.” Also, “yelling, profanity, hostile or angry tones, throwing things, slamming doors, waving arms or fists, verbal abuse, destruction of property, threats, or outright violence.”

There may, however, be instances when some of this activity is associated with a strike or walkout and may be protected. And you can’t ban strikes or walkouts.

No. 5: Protecting confidential and proprietary information, and customer information. Yes, employers, it is again legal for you to prohibit employees from disclosing your confidential and proprietary information. “In addition, employees do not have a right under the Act to disclose employee information obtained from unauthorized access/use of confidential records, or to remove records from the employer’s premises.” (Emphasis added.) To be lawful under the new standard, the employer should ban the unauthorized access or disclosure of confidential employee information rather than flatly banning disclosure of any employee information.

No. 6: Bans on defamation or misrepresentation. According to the General Counsel, because “defamatory” statements or “misrepresentations” imply some level of deliberate falsehood or misleading, “Employees will generally understand that these types of rules do not apply to subjectively honest protected concerted speech.”

No. 7: Bans on unauthorized use of company logo or intellectual property. “Most activity covered by this [type of] rule is unprotected, including use of employer intellectual property for unprotected personal gain or using it to give the impression one’s activities are condoned by the employer,” the memorandum says. And I love this:

“Employers have a significant interest in protecting their intellectual property, including logos, trademarks, and service marks. Such property can be worth millions of dollars and be central to a company’s business model. Failure to police the use of such property can result in its loss, which can be a crippling blow to a company. Employers also have an interest in ensuring that employee social media posts and other publications do not appear to be official via the presence of the employer’s logo.”

No. 8: Requiring authorization to speak for the employer. Yet another “duh” moment: “Employers have a significant interest in ensuring that only authorized employees speak for the company.”

No. 9: Bans on disloyalty, nepotism, or self-enrichment. Even the Obama Board didn’t have much of a problem with employer rules that banned (or required disclosure of) conflicts of interest, or employees who had financial interests in competitors of the employer. The Trump Board agrees.

Workplace rules that are presumed unlawful

The memorandum lists two types of employer rules that will continue to be found unlawful, and I believe most employers are already aware of these:

  • Prohibiting employees from discussing or disclosing information about wages, benefits, or other conditions of employment.
  • Prohibiting employees from joining outside organizations or “voting on matters concerning” the employer. 

These rules are directly related to activity protected by Section 7 of the NLRA. Therefore, they are presumed unlawful, and NLRB Regional Offices are instructed to issue complaints “absent settlement.” (The Regional Offices do have the option of asking for advice from the Office of the General Counsel if they think special circumstances apply.)

Workplace rules that require case-by-case assessment

The memorandum also discusses some “gray area” rules, which may or may not violate the NLRA depending on the circumstances. The following types of rules will be submitted to the Office of the General Counsel and evaluated on a case-by-case basis:

  • “Broad conflict-of-interest rules that do not specifically target fraud and self-enrichment . . . and do not restrict membership in, or voting for, a union.”
  • Broad or vague “employer confidentiality” rules that don’t focus on confidential and proprietary, or customer, information and that don’t specifically restrict Section 7 activity (discussion of wages, benefits, or other terms and conditions of employment).
  • Rules prohibiting disparagement of the employer, as opposed to disparagement of employees.
  • Rules restricting use of the employer’s name, rather than just its logo or trademarks.
  • Rules that prohibit employees from speaking to the media or third parties at all (as opposed to communications to third parties where the employee purports to represent the employer).
  • “Rules banning off-duty conduct that might harm the employer.” A little vague.
  • “Rules against making false or inaccurate statements (as opposed to rules against making defamatory statements) . . ..”

For the past several years, employers have been struggling to comply with the Board’s interpretations while retaining the right to maintain some semblance of order in their workplaces. The General Counsel’s memorandum is a giant step in the right direction.

Article written by: Robin Shea, partner with leading national labor and employment law firm (and ThinkHR strategic employment law partner) Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP

Originally posted on thinkhr.com

Friday, April 27, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that the 2018 annual contribution limit to Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) for persons with family coverage under a qualifying High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) is restored to $6,900. The single-coverage limit of $3,450 is not affected.

This is the final word on what has been an unusual back-and-forth saga. The 2018 family limit of $6,900 had been announced in May 2017. Following passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017, however, the IRS was required to modify the methodology used in determining annual inflation-adjusted benefit limits. On March 5, 2018, the IRS announced the 2018 family limit was reduced by $50, retroactively, from $6,900 to $6,850. Since the 2018 tax year was already in progress, this small change was going to require HSA trustees and recordkeepers to implement not-so-small fixes to their systems. The IRS has listened to appeals from the industry, and now is providing relief by reinstating the original 2018 family limit of $6,900.

Employers that offer HSAs to their workers will receive information from their HSA administrator or trustee regarding any updates needed in their payroll files, systems, and employee communications. Note that some administrators had held off making changes after the IRS announcement in March, with the hopes that the IRS would change its position and restore the original limit. So employers will need to consider their specific case with their administrator to determine what steps are needed now.

HSA Summary

An HSA is a tax-exempt savings account employees can use to pay for qualified health expenses. To be eligible to contribute to an HSA, an employee:

  • Must be covered by a qualified high deductible health plan (HDHP);
  • Must not have any disqualifying health coverage (called “impermissible non-HDHP coverage”);
  • Must not be enrolled in Medicare; and
  • May not be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.

HSA 2018 Limits

Limits apply to HSAs based on whether an individual has self-only or family coverage under the qualifying HDHP.

2018 HSA contribution limit:

  • Single: $3,450
  • Family: $6,900
  • Catch-up contributions for those age 55 and older remains at $1,000

2018 HDHP minimum deductible (not applicable to preventive services):

  • Single: $1,350
  • Family: $2,700

2018 HDHP maximum out-of-pocket limit:

  • Single: $6,650
  • Family: $13,300*

*If the HDHP is a nongrandfathered plan, a per-person limit of $7,350 also will apply due to the ACA’s cost-sharing provision for essential health benefits.

 

Originally posted on thinkHR.com

In previous posts, I have talked about several aspects of strategic benefits communication. Now it’s time to put those strategies into action. As we approach enrollment season, let’s look at five key steps to ensuring this year’s open enrollment is successful for you and your employees.

1. Determine your key objectives

What do employees need to know this enrollment season? As you review your benefit plan designs, think once again about your key objectives, and for each, how you will make employees aware and keep them engaged. What are the challenges employees face when making their benefits decisions?

  • Are you rolling out new medical plan options? Does this include HDHP options? An HSA? Are there changes in premiums and contribution levels?
  • Are there any changes to other lines of coverage such as dental, life insurance, disability insurance?
  • Are you adding new voluntary plans this year? How do they integrate with your medical plans? Do they plug gaps in high deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses? Are there existing voluntary plans with low participation?
  • Are there other important topics to share with employees, like new wellness programs, or health-driven employee events?

Once you’ve gathered this information, you can develop a communication strategy that will better engage employees in the benefits decision-making process.

2. Perfect your script

What do you know about your employee demographics? Diversity doesn’t refer only to age or gender. It could mean family size, differences in physical demands of the job, income levels, or simply lifestyle. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all world anymore. As you educate employees on benefits, you will want to give examples that fit their lives.

You will also want to keep the explanations as simple as possible. Use as much plain language as you can, as opposed to “insurance speak” and acronyms. Benefit plans are already an overwhelming decision, and as we have seen in our research, employees still don’t fully understand their options.

3. Use a multi-faceted communications strategy

Sun Life research and experience has shown that the most appreciated and effective strategies incorporate multiple methodologies. One helpful tactic is to get a jump-start on enrollment communication. As enrollment season approaches, try dynamic pre-enrollment emails to all employees, using videos or brochures. Once on-site enrollment begins, set up group meetings based on employee demographics. This will arm employees with better knowledge and prepared questions for their one-to-one meeting with a benefits counselor.

Consider hard-to-reach employees as well, and keep your websites updated with helpful links and provide contacts who are available by phone for additional support.

Also, look to open enrollment as a good time to fill any employee data gaps you may have, like beneficiaries, dependents, or emergency contacts.

4. Check your tech!

We have talked in previous posts about leveraging benefits administration technology for effective communications. For open enrollment, especially when you may be introducing new voluntary insurance plans, it is important to check your technology. I recommend this evaluation take place at least 6 to 8 weeks before open enrollment if possible.

Working with your UBA advisor, platform vendor and insurance carriers, some key considerations:

  • Provide voluntary product specifications from your carrier to your platform vendor. It is important to check up front that the platform can handle product rules such as issue age and age band pricing, age reduction, benefit/tier changes and guarantee issue rules. Also, confirm how the system will handle evidence of insurability processing, if needed.
  • Electronic Data Interface (EDI). Confirm with your platform partner as well as insurance carriers that there is an EDI set-up process that includes testing of file feeds. This is a vital step to ensure seamless integration between your benefits administration platform, payroll and the insurance carriers.
  • User Experience. Often benefits administration platforms are very effective at moving data and helping you manage your company’s benefits. As we have discussed, when it comes to your employee’s open enrollment user experience, there can be some challenges. Especially when you are offering voluntary benefits. Confirm with your vendor what, if any, decision support tools are available. Also, check with your voluntary carriers. These could range from benefit calculators, product videos, and even logic-driven presentations.

5. Keep it going

Even when enrollment season is over, ongoing benefits communications are a central tool to keeping employees informed, educated, and engaged. The small window of enrollment season may not be long enough for people to get a full grasp of their benefits needs, and often their decisions are driven by what is easily understood or what they think they need based on other people’s choices. Ongoing communications can be about specific benefits, wellness programs, or other health and benefit related items. This practice will also help new hires who need to make benefits decisions rather quickly.

In summary, work with your UBA consultant to customize benefits and enrollment communications. Leverage resources from your provider, who may, as Sun Life does, offer turnkey services that support communication, engagement, and enrollment. Explore third-party vendors that offer platforms to support the process. The whole thing can seem daunting, but following these steps and considerations will not only make the process easier for you, it will make a world of difference to your employees.

By Kevin D. Seeker
Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

I want to let you know how very much I appreciate all the advice and excellent direction you've given us over the years. I know our account wasn't particularly profitable but you always treated us as though we were supremely important. It would have been much easier for you let us drift away but you always hung in there and went the extra mile, two, three or four.

- President, Event Production Company

Categories