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

While there’s plenty of talk about work/life balance, many employees want to feel human while at work, too. Being able to bring their whole selves, according to “3 Ways to Create a More Human Workplace,” from Workforce, is an essential piece of a welcoming, inclusive workplace environment.

Putting employees first as a defined company value means helping team members feel connected, valued, and like their work is having an impact. Supporting employee well-being improves everything from engagement to loyalty.

Small changes, like building breaks into the day, as well as larger wellness initiatives are some of the best investments in resources, time, and money a company can make in both its people and its bottom line.

As companies think about the customer experience more and more, it’s also a smart idea to think about the employee experience. One-off opportunities or programs to check the wellness box, for example, are less powerful than a holistic experience. Employers should consider whether their employees would enthusiastically recommend a friend apply for a job, and craft a workplace experience that makes that a reality.

That whole person, whole experience approach also applies when building a diverse and inclusive workplace. Recruitment and hiring are often the talked about steps, but it’s as critical to think about the employee experience after the job starts.

Beyond the overall workplace environment, employers can strive to make the workplace a more inclusive space, according to “6 Steps for Building an Inclusive Workplace,” from the Society for Human Resource Management. After successfully hiring a diverse workforce, employers need to support and retain talented individuals.

It starts at the top, with education for leadership on topics ranging from inclusion to unconscious bias to training on how to best accommodate an employee with a disability. Creating a dedicated council or committee to act as intermediaries between executives and employees, clear employee goal setting, and regular reviews are just a few next steps.

Giving dedicated time, space, and opportunities (both organic and organized) to share about individuals’ background and opinions can help employees feel connected and seen in their workplace. Ensuring diversity is supported in both action and physical space—whether a meditation or prayer room or a space for nursing mothers—is essential. Likewise, celebrating culture and identity can also be a powerful connective tool.

Even the way day-to-day work happens showcases how inclusive a company is. Employers can learn what employees need and want by making time to listen part of the day. Rotating meeting times and checking on technology needs for remote workers are small choices a company can make to show it cares about its individuals.

And, ultimately, keeping inclusivity top-of-mind and visible for everyone helps foster a culture of expectations. Having leadership and management communicate goals and measure progress for an inclusive workplace ensures everyone knows inclusion is valued.

By Bill Olson, VP, Marketing & Communications at United Benefit Advisors
Originally posted on www.ubabenefits.com

“Gary Wheeler, partner at Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP, a well-respected national employment law firm and legal partner to ThinkHR, explains five mistakes he sees frequently in his clients’ employee handbooks.”

It’s too long, inconsistent, or redundant.

Like with your house, when you live with an employee handbook for a while, you collect things and it gets cluttered. Your handbook gets longer and runs the risk of having internal inconsistencies. Once or twice a year, it’s a good idea to give it a thorough review to remove inconsistent or redundant policies, plus make it shorter and more readable. If you want people to follow the rules, it’s important to have them be clear and accessible.

It reads more like an operations manual.

An overly-detailed handbook becomes too much of a procedures manual. For example, it’s important to state that complaints of harassment will be responded to with a prompt and thorough investigation. But the policy should avoid giving too much detail, such as the number of days to expect each step of the investigation to take. Ultimately, if the employer needs to be flexible and deviate from unnecessary details in the handbook, this can be used against them.

Another area that often gets too detailed is the progressive discipline policy. If an employer has a collective bargaining unit, there are reasons these details may need to be given. But sometimes nonunion employers will have progressive disciplinary policies in their handbooks that don’t allow them to maintain flexibility in handling employee behavior or performance issues.

It sounds too overbearing or paternalistic.

Some handbooks include policies that, as written, sound more intrusive and paternalistic than they really are in operation. For example, a financial services company had a policy that required employees to handle their finances in a responsible manner, which sounds intrusive. However, the policy was truly only concerned with financial accounts they had through the employer. The policy wasn’t ultimately harmful in that case, but it required further explanation to make it clear the employer wasn’t concerned with what the employees were doing with their personal lives. Carefully tailored language can help avoid a perception of the employer being overbearing or paternalistic.

It’s missing information that affects enforcement.

Another mistake is including language that, while acceptable, isn’t the best training tool for supervisors because it omits certain nuances. For example, an attendance policy may state a specific number of absences that are unacceptable during a certain timeframe. If the policy fails to state that absences covered by FMLA or local sick leave rules don’t count against employees, you can end up having a well-meaning supervisor discipline an employee for absences that should have been allowed.

It doesn’t identify the right contact people.

One of the things I see frequently is employers missing the opportunity to specify who their company’s “first responders” are. These are the company representatives who will receive reports of anything from alleged misconduct to medical leave.

Employers should be selecting these people appropriately and training them about their role. For example, a person who receives reports of absences should understand when FMLA or local leave laws might come into play. A person who may receive reports of harassment should be trained to determine whether it’s a general grievance best handled by an immediate superior or if it will need a more formal investigation.

However, the handbook will be more durable if you mention the reporting person by title and not name. Be sure the titles used in the handbook match the titles that actually exist in your organization; for example, don’t tell someone to report misconduct to the HR director if you don’t have an HR director.

Get it All

Evaluate your employee handbook using our free Employee Handbook Self-Audit. If it’s time to update or replace your handbook, trust the ThinkHR Multi-State Handbook Builder, which now includes premium features including the ability to customize it for every state you operate in and to translate it into Spanish. Learn more by attending a demo webinar on May 22 or 24.

Originally Published thinkhr.com

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, was established in 1970 to encourage employees and employers to decrease workplace hazards. OSHA recommends that both parties cooperatively establish workplace-specific safety standards. The agency also establishes training programs for occupational safety and health personnel. Finally, OSHA oversees research to find new approaches to workplace safety and health issues, according to Princeton University Environmental Health and Safety Department.

Workplace Standards

OSHA sets safety and health standards for many work environments, and ensures that employers comply with those standards. Some standards are written for specific industries, as illustrated by hazardous waste workers’ personal protective equipment. Where no regulations exist for a given industry or workplace, OSHA mandates that the employer has a duty to provide a workplace without known hazards that could cause serious physical injury or death, states Environment, Health and Safety Online.

Universal OSHA Standards

Some OSHA standards apply to all industries. Employees and OSHA personnel must have access to medical and toxic substances exposure records. Employers must provide workers with equipment that protects against industry-specific workplace hazards, and must show employees how to use it. Manufacturers and importers of hazardous materials must provide a Material Safety Data Sheet to customers. Employers must train employees to deal with product hazards, notes the United States Department of Labor.

Recordkeeping

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 applies recordkeeping standards to most employers with more than 10 employees during the former calendar year. These employers must keep records on employee illnesses, injuries and fatalities. Other employers may be required to keep the records if requested to do so by OSHA, state health and safety offices, or the Bureau of Labor Statistics. All incidents with fatalities or hospitalization of three or more staff must be reported. OSHA analyzes these records to identify workplace hazards and improve its programs, states OSHA Academy.

Standards Enforcement

OSHA issues directives that tell employers how to comply with OSHA standards. These directives detail the roles of Compliance Safety and Health Officers, or CSHO’s, who are tasked with OSHA standards enforcement. These trained safety and health professionals enforce standards for general industry, maritime professions, and health-related construction issues. CSHOs interface with the Whistleblower Protection Program. This program prohibits retaliation against employees who contact OSHA about workplace hazards.

Training Programs

The OSHA Directorate of Training and Education facilitates safety and health training courses for compliance officers, federal agency staff and state consultants. In addition, OSHA’s Outreach Training Program offers qualified workers an opportunity to become workplace OSHA trainers. Outreach Training Programs are targeted to general industry, construction trades, maritime professions and disaster site operations.

By Felicia Greene
Originally Published By Lifestrong.com

One of the latest things trending right now in business is the importance of office culture. When everyone in the office is working well together, productivity rises and efficiency increases. Naturally, the opposite is true when employees do not work well together and the corporate culture suffers. So, what are these barriers and what can you do to avoid them?

According to an article titled, “8 ways to ruin an office culture,” in Employee Benefit News, the ways to kill corporate culture may seem intuitive, but that doesn’t mean they still don’t happen. Here’s what organizations SHOULD do to improve their corporate culture.

Provide positive employee feedback. While it’s easy to criticize, and pointing out employees’ mistakes can often help them learn to not repeat them, it’s just as important to recognize success and praise an employee for a job well done. An “attaboy/attagirl” can really boost someone’s spirits and let them know their work is appreciated.

Give credit where credit is due. If an assistant had the bright idea, if a subordinate did all the work, or if a consultant discovered the solution to a problem, then he or she should be publicly acknowledged for it. It doesn’t matter who supervised these people, to the victor go the spoils. If someone had the guts to speak up, then he or she should get the glory. Theft is wrong, and it’s just as wrong when you take someone’s idea, or hard work, and claim it as your own.

Similarly, listen to all ideas from all levels within the company. Every employee, regardless of their position on the corporate ladder, likes to feel that their contributions matter. From the C-suite, all the way down to the interns, a genuinely good idea is always worth investigating regardless of whether the person who submitted the idea has an Ivy League degree or not. Furthermore, sometimes it takes a different perspective – like one from an employee on a different management/subordinate level – to see the best way to resolve an issue.

Foster teamwork because many hands make light work. Or, as I like to say, competition breeds contempt. You compete to get your job, you compete externally against other companies, and you may even compete against your peers for an award. You shouldn’t have to compete with your own co-workers. The winner of that competition may not necessarily be the best person and it will often have negative consequences in terms of trust.

Get rid of unproductive employees. One way to stifle innovation and hurt morale is by having an employee who doesn’t do any work while everyone else is either picking up the slack, or covering for that person’s duties. Sometimes it’s necessary to prune the branches.

Let employees have their privacy – especially on social media. As long as an employee isn’t conducting personal business on company time, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with an employee updating their social media accounts when they’re “off the clock.” In addition, as long as employees aren’t divulging company secrets, or providing other corporate commentary that runs afoul of local, state, or federal laws, then there’s no reason to monitor what they post.

Promote a healthy work-life balance. Yes, employees have families, they get sick, or they just need time away from the workplace to de-stress. And while there will always be times when extra hours are needed to finish a project, it shouldn’t be standard operating procedure at a company to insist that employees sacrifice their time.

 

By Geoff Mukhtar

Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

Workplace wellness programs have increased popularity through the years. According to the most recent UBA Health Plan Survey, 49 percent of firms with 200+ employees offering health benefits in 2016 offered wellness programs. Workplace wellness programs’ popularity also brought controversy and hefty discussions about what works to improve population health and which programs comply with the complex legal standards of multiple institutions that have not really “talked” to each other in the past. To “add wood to the fire,” the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) made public some legal actions that shook the core of the wellness industry, such as EEOC vs. Honeywell International, and EEOC vs. Orion Energy Systems.

To ensure a wellness program is compliant with the ACA, GINA and the EEOC, let’s first understand what each one of these institutions are.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a comprehensive healthcare reform law enacted in March 2010 during the Obama presidency. It has three primary goals: to make health insurance available to more people, to expand the Medicaid program, and to support innovative medical care delivery methods to lower the cost of healthcare overall.1 The ACA carries provisions that support the development of wellness programs and determines all rules around them.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) is a federal law that protects individuals from genetic discrimination in health insurance and employment. GINA relates to wellness programs in different ways, but it particularly relates to the gathering of genetic information via a health risk assessment.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency that administers and enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination. In 2017, the EEOC issued a final rule to amend the regulations implementing Title II of GINA as they relate to employer-sponsored wellness program. This rule addresses the extent to which an employer may offer incentives to employees and spouses.

Here is some advice to ensure your wellness program is compliant with multiple guidelines.

  1. Make sure your wellness program is “reasonably designed” and voluntary – This means that your program’s main goal should be to promote health and prevent disease for all equally. Additionally, it should not be burdensome for individuals to participate or receive the incentive. This means you must offer reasonable alternatives for qualifying for the incentive, especially for individuals whose medical conditions make it unreasonably difficult to meet specific health-related standards. I always recommend wellness programs be as simple as possible, and before making a change or decision in the wellness program, identify all difficult or unfair situations that might arise from this change, and then run them by your company’s legal counsel and modify the program accordingly before implementing it. An example of a wellness program that is NOT reasonably designed is a program offering a health risk assessment and biometric screening without providing results or follow-up information and advice. A wellness program is also NOT reasonably designed if exists merely to shift costs from an employer to employees based on their health.
  2. Do the math! – Recent rules implemented changes in the ACA that increased the maximum permissible wellness program reward from 20 percent to 30 percent of the cost of self-only health coverage (50 percent if the program includes tobacco cessation). Although the final rules are not clear on incentives for spouses, it is expected that, for wellness programs that apply to employees and their spouses, the maximum incentive for either the employee or spouse will be 30 percent of the total cost of self-only coverage. In case an employer offers more than one group health plan but participation in a wellness program is open to all employees regardless of whether they are enrolled in a plan, the employer may offer a maximum incentive of 30 percent of the lowest cost major medical self-only plan it offers. As an example, if a single plan costs $4,000, the maximum incentive would be $1,200.
  3. Provide a notice to all eligible to participate in your wellness program – The EEOC made it easy for everyone and posted a sample notice online at https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/regulations/ada-wellness-notice.cfm. Your notice should include information on the incentive amount you are offering for different programs, how you maintain privacy and security of all protected health information (PHI) as well as who to contact if participants have question or concerns.
  4. If using a HRA (health risk assessment), do not include family medical history questions – The EEOC final rule, which expands on GINA’s rules, makes it clear that “an employer is permitted to request information about the current or past health status of an employee’s spouse who is completing a HRA on a voluntary basis, as long as the employer follows GINA rules about requesting genetic information when offering health or genetic services. These rules include requirements that the spouse provide prior, knowing, written, and voluntary authorization for the employer to collect genetic information, just as the employee must do, and that inducements in exchange for this information are limited.”2 Due to the complexity and “gray areas” this item can reach, my recommendation is to keep it simple and to leave genetic services and genetic counseling out of a comprehensive wellness program.

WellSteps, a nationwide wellness provider, has a useful tool that everyone can use. Their “wellness compliance checker” should not substituted for qualified legal advice, but can be useful for a high level check on how compliant your wellness program is. You can access it at https://www.wellsteps.com/resources/tools.

I often stress the need for all wellness programs to build a strong foundation, which starts with the company’s and leaders’ messages. Your company should launch a wellness program because you value and care about your employees’ (and their families’) health and well-being. Everything you do and say should reflect this philosophy. While I always recommend companies to carefully review all regulations around wellness, I do believe that if your wellness program has a strong foundation based on your corporate social responsibility and your passion for building a healthy workplace, you most likely will be within the walls of all these rules. At the end, a workplace that does wellness the right way has employees who are not motivated by financial incentives, but by their intrinsic motivation to be the best they can be as well as their acceptance that we all must be responsible for our own health, and that all corporations should be responsible for providing the best environment and opportunities for employees to do so.

By Valeria S. Tivnan
Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

— Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides, Now”

And like that song from 1969, it appears that most employees really don’t know cloud computing at all. In an article on the Society for Human Resource Management’s website titled, “Public Enemy No. 1 for Employers? Careless Cloud Users, Study Says,” a North American IT solutions and managed services provider called Softchoice found that 1 in 3 users of cloud-based apps (e.g., Google Docs and Dropbox) download the app without letting their IT department know. Cloud computing became popular a few years ago because people could store all their documents, photos, and other information and then access that data from anywhere at any time and on any device.

What makes this such a bad situation is not the cloud computing itself, but that the vast majority of employees lack any sense of cybersecurity. That same study found that 1 in 5 employees:

  • Keep their passwords in plain sight (e.g., on Post-it Notes on their desks).
  • Have accessed work files from a device that was not password-protected.
  • Have lost devices that weren’t password-protected.

Complicating this further is that the employees who actually do use passwords usually have weak passwords. That is, they are easy to guess (e.g., “1234,” “password,” or their username). Rather than leave a company and its network vulnerable to attack, some IT people suggest a ban on cloud accounts for work.

Security breaches involving a company’s intellectual property can be very costly. Sometimes referred to as “ransomware,” the important data of an organization will either be stolen or encrypted and will not be released until a fee is paid.

A better solution to a ban on cloud accounts would be to educate employees on the necessity for cyber security, train them to improve their online security habits, and remind them that IT rules are in place to make a company more secure, not make it more difficult for employees to be productive. Cyber thieves are clever and when they can’t break into a system using technology, they often rely on the flaws of human nature.

As we become more and more connected to the Internet, we leave ourselves and the companies where we work more accessible to cyber threats. It’s imperative that employees keep everything locked down.

By Tara Marshall, Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

Question: Are we required to allow employees (either exempt or nonexempt) to work from home if we must close the office due to bad weather?

Answer: No, employers are not required to allow employees to telework (work from home or another location; virtual work) under any specific weather conditions regardless of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) exemption status. However, employers may allow employees to telework. Company policy should delineate procedures for both teleworking and notice requirements when inclement weather affects the workplace; for instance, notice from the employer that the workplace is closed and notice from the employee that they cannot travel to the workplace due to weather-related or other emergency conditions. These policies should be in the employee handbook, and should also detail whether the employer will allow nonexempt employees to make up missed time.

Note that if the employer closes the workplace for weather-related reasons, nonexempt employees are not entitled to pay because such employees are only entitled to compensation for hours actually worked. However, an employer may allow nonexempt employees to use accrued paid time off so as to receive compensation during such an absence. If paid time off is not available, then the time off remains unpaid.

Alternatively, exempt employees who are able and available to work but do not work because the employer closed the workplace due to inclement weather are still entitled to their full week of pay. This is because the exempt employee is available to work but rather the employer made the work unavailable. As a general rule, if an exempt employee performs any work during the workweek, they must be paid their full salary amount. An employer may not make deductions from an exempt employee’s pay for absences caused by the employer or by the operating requirements of the business. If the exempt employee is ready, willing and able to work, an employer cannot make deductions from the exempt employee’s pay when no work is available. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor specifically states that an example of an improper deduction from an exempt employee’s pay includes deduction of a days’ pay because the employer was closed due to inclement weather.

Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

Question: If an employee has a small health flexible spending account (FSA) balance with a carryover to the next year, and the employee chooses not to participate in the new FSA year, can the employer force the employee to use those funds so as not to incur additional administrative fees in the next plan year?

Answer: An employer can prevent “perpetual carryovers” by carefully drafting the cafeteria plan document with respect to carryover amounts. IRS guidance allows carryovers to be limited to individuals who have elected to participate in the health FSA in the next plan year. Health FSAs may also require that carryover amounts be forfeited if not used within a specified period of time, such as one year. Note that this plan design requires additional administration (to track the time limit for each carryover dollar, for instance) as well as ordering rules (e.g., will carryovers be used first?), so you will need to carefully review the cafeteria plan document. Under no circumstances are amounts returned to participants.

According to IRS guidance, a health FSA may limit the availability of the carryover of unused amounts (subject to the $500 limit) to individuals who have elected to participate in the health FSA in the next year, even if the ability to participate in that next year requires a minimum salary reduction election to the health FSA for that next year. For example, an employer sponsors a cafeteria plan offering a health FSA that permits up to $500 of unused health FSA amounts to be carried over to the next year in compliance with Notice 2013-71, but only if the employee participates in the health FSA during that next year. To participate in the health FSA, an employee must contribute a minimum of $60 ($5 per calendar month). As of December 31, 2016, Employee A and Employee B each have $25 remaining in their health FSA. Employee A elects to participate in the health FSA for 2017, making a $600 salary reduction election. Employee B elects not to participate in the health FSA for 2017. Employee A has $25 carried over to the health FSA for 2017, resulting in $625 available in the health FSA. Employee B forfeits the $25 as of December 31, 2016 and has no funds available in the health FSA thereafter. This arrangement is a permissible health FSA carryover feature under Notice 2013171. The IRS also clarifies that a health FSA may limit the ability to carry over unused amounts to a maximum period (subject to the $500 limit). For example, a health FSA can limit the ability to carry over unused amounts to one year. Thus, if an individual carried over $30 and did not elect any additional amounts for the next year, the health FSA may require forfeiture of any amount remaining at the end of that next year.

Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

 The latest round of regulations in the area of wellness (what employers can and can’t do) is proving to be a hotly contested topic. Employers are eager to offer incentives as a way to both encourage wellness and also lower health care costs. However, employee privacy is on the line, and some argue, at risk. Even though many employers may never see the data collected, there is a philosophical debate brewing about what should – or should not – be permitted.

According to UBA’s new free special report, “2016 Trends in Employer Wellness Programs,” 67.7 percent of employers who offer wellness programs have incentives built into the program, an increase of 8.5 percent from four years ago. Major lawsuits are pending against employers with particularly robust wellness programs and the regulatory environment is becoming increasingly restrictive. As a result, employers are continuing to pursue wellness programs, but they are being very cautious with program design, avoiding implementing high penalty and incentive programs.

Incentives are the most prevalent in the Central U.S. (76.1 percent), among employers with 500 to 999 employees (83.2 percent), and in the finance, insurance, and real estate industries (74.7 percent). Last year, employers in the Southeast were the regional leaders in wellness incentives (75.9 percent), growing 24 percent since 2012. But this year, prevalence of incentives dropped more than 17 percent in just one year, perhaps indicating regional caution amid the uncertain regulatory environment. The West offers the fewest incentives, with only 48.3 percent of their plans having rewards.

Across all employers, slightly more (45.4 percent) prefer wellness incentives in the form of cash toward premiums, 401(k)s, flexible spending accounts (FSAs), etc., versus health club dues and gift cards (40 percent). But among larger employers (500 to 1,000+ employees) cash incentives are more heavily preferred (63.2 percent) over gift certificates and health club dues (33.7 percent). Conversely, smaller employers (1 to 99 employees) prefer health club-related incentives (nearly 40 percent) versus cash (25 percent).

The smallest employers (fewer than 25 employees) have seen significant shifts in wellness incentive design over time. Prior to 2016, health club incentives were on the decline and cash incentives had been increasing 80 percent since 2012. But 2016 shows a dramatic pendulum shift from 36 percent of plans featuring cash incentives in 2015, to only 16.2 percent of plans offering this design in 2016.

2016HPS_WellnessIncentives_111716.jpg

Also, dramatically shifting away from cash incentives are construction, agriculture, mining, and transportation employers (going from 63.8 percent in 2015 to 48.4 percent in 2016). The finance, insurance, and real estate industries offer the most health club-related incentives (50.0 percent).

Southeast employers, on the other hand, are shifting away from health club-related incentives to cash toward premiums, 401(k)s, and FSAs with nearly a 60 percent increase in this type of incentive (going from 47.1 percent to 74.7 percent over four years).

Offering paid time off (PTO), historically a seldom-offered wellness incentive, is becoming rarer with 4.5 percent of employers offering this incentive, nearly a 20 percent decrease from four years ago. The majority of these PTO-based wellness incentives are seen in the Southeast U.S. (13.1 percent – a nearly 50 percent increase from 2015) and within the finance, insurance, and real estate industries (10.6 percent).

Employers are beginning to use the regulations proposed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as their guidelines for program development, and the wellness guide provided by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) have re-empowered employers to implement premium differentials for wellness participation and cessation of tobacco use. However, many are likely wary of the EEOC’s new guidance regarding wellness programs that include health risk assessments, biometric screenings, and medical exams. How those regulations influence plan design remains to be seen

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

You are absolutely the best! Thank you. p.s.  Others take note. You don't get service like this every day.”

- Securities Broker in San Francisco, CA

Categories