9 Unique Perks Employers Offered the Workforce in 2018

Original Date: January 7, 2019

Employee perks can and do have an impact on recruiting and retaining top talent within all of our organizations.  Many companies are becoming creative in the perks they now offer to new hires and marketing during the recruiting process.  Not every organization can afford to offer extreme job perks and unlimited vacation time.  However, the small things do matter to employees and these small and unique perks continue to make a difference.

Below are the 9 unique perks offered in 2018:

  1. “Airbnb provides its employees an annual stipend of $2,000 to travel ($500 per quarter) and stay in an Airbnb listing anywhere in the world.
  2. Reebok offers its employees CrossFit classes and access to a full on-site gym. The classes, gym or gym discounts is something that all of our organizations should consider offering as part of the wellness option for our workforce.
  3. In-N-Out Burger offers its employees a free Double-Double burger and fries during each shift. A perfect transition, after the wellness package Reebok offers its workforce.
  4. Scripps Health offers pet health insurance for cats and dogs. This is a unique insurance option but is growing in popularity.  This is an area we could also review as an additional option for our workforce.  It might be work asking our insurance brokers about this?
  5. Netflix provides an entire year of paid maternity and paternity leave. The new parents also have the option to return part-time or full-time and can take additional time off throughout the next year.  This is one of the better maternity and paternity packages in the country.”[i]
  6. “Starbucksoffers a College Achievement Plan, a program that allows all eligible U.S. employees (those who work 20 hours or more per week) to earn a bachelor’s degree through Arizona State University’s online program, with full tuition coverage.”[ii]
  7. “Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants in San Francisco offers three days leave, Mars Inc. offers one day and flexible hours, California-based software company VMware and Boston-based Maxwell Health both offer flexible days, and Trupanion, a Seattle-based pet insurance company, offers employees one day. Canadian company Shoppers Drug Martlets employees take days off if they have a loss in the family, and they say that includes a beloved pet.
  8. Mars Petcare was one of the first companies to offer pawternity leave. The company offers its employees ten hoursof paid leave when they get a new pet, and they can bring them into the office after that.”[iii]
  9. Who could forget about student loan repayment plans? My favorite discussion topic! There are a variety of companies and states offering these perks to employees, in a variety of ways.  As we see changes to the tax code, more companies might be offering these perks to help reduce the $1.5 trillion dollars we have in outstanding student loan debt in the country.  Stay tuned, this continues to evolve based on applicants needs.

This is a shortlist of unique perks that organizations are now offering to their workforces.  As the needs of the workforce continue to evolve, so too will the perks being offered.  Organizations should consider creative perks as part of the recruitment and retention of great workers.  If you’re unsure what to offer, ask the workforce what they are interested in.  We cannot afford to offer everything, but unique offerings can and do make a difference.

NYS Minimum Wage Changes 2019:

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[iv]

Additional Information:

“Beginning in January 1, 2019, federal contractors must pay covered workers at least $10.60 per hour (an increase from $10.35 per hour in 2018).  In 2019, tipped employees being paid in connection with a federal contract must be paid at least $7.40 per hour (an increase from $7.25 per hour).”[v]

Additional Legal Updates

12-Weeks of Paid Bereavement Leave:

“Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vetoed a bill that would have allowed workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave after the death of a family member.”[vi]  This happened on 12/31/2018.

– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

[i] https://www.thisisinsider.com/best-job-perks-companies-twitter-facebook-google-2018-5#16-evernote-offers-macaroon-baking-classes-16

[ii] https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/5134-cool-job-benefits.html

[iii] http://www.businessinsider.com/companies-give-employees-pawternity-leave-2017-3#some-companies-offer-pet-bereavement-leave-too-5

[iv] NYS DOL Tweet

[v] https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/new-year-new-employment-laws-a-national-10358/

[vi] https://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/37728/20181231/ny-governor-vetoes-bill-allowing-paid-bereavement-leave

 

2019 New York State Legal Changes to Remember, 2019 IRS Changes and Proposed State-Wide Predictable Scheduling Regulations

Original Date: December 21, 2018

As we are moving closer to the start of 2019, there are significant legal changes that will impact many if not all our organizations in New York State.  The changes listed below are specific to New York State, with considerations on federal changes.  Remember to communicate these changes to employees if they do impact your workforce; PFL changes, exempt status, etc.

2019 New York State Legal Changes:

  1. Executive and Administrative Exemption:
  • $727.50 per week on and after 12/31/16
  • $780.00 per week on and after 12/31/17
  • $832.50 per week on and after 12/31/18
  • $885.00 per week on and after 12/31/19
  • $937.50 per week on and after 12/31/20[i]

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  1. Minimum Wage Increases: Minimum wage will increase on 12/31/18, from $10.40 per hour to $11.10 per hour in the Southern Tier.  The rates vary in NYC and Long Island, but they also increase.  Watch for wage compression in your salary schedules.

https://www.ny.gov/new-york-states-minimum-wage/new-york-states-minimum-wage

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  1. Fast-Food Minimum Wage Increases:

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  1. New York State Paid Family Leave:

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2019 Statement of Rights Paid Family Leave

Other Legal Area’s to consider in 2019:

  1. Paid Bereavement Leave Legislation
  2. Recreational Marijuana Legislation
  3. NYS Predictable Scheduling Regulations (see below)
  4. Predictable Scheduling, Rest Between Shifts, Extra Hours (all have passed or will be active in NYC)
  5. Federal Minimum Wage (no changes to this since 2009)
  6. Federal Exempt/Non-exempt Levels (we could see this rise in 2019)
  7. FMLA Changes (paid maternity, adoption and foster care)
  8. New York State Sexual Harassment Training Requirements (remember October 2019)
  9. Affordable Care Act Changes, recent Texas ruling on 12.14.2018. (who knows!)
  10. Labor and Employment Law Posting Requirements (updates in 2019)

These are a few legal areas to consider, review and understand as we approach 2019.  Ensure PFL rates are adjusted for payroll deductions and communicate these changes.  Enjoy the holidays!

IRS Mileage Changes:

The IRS announced Dec. 14… for 2019, standard mileage rates for the use of cars (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:

  • 58 cents per mile driven for business use, up from 54.5 cents in 2018.
  • 20 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, up from 18 cents.
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations, which is unchanged from 2018.

Notice 2019-02 also provides that, for cars a taxpayer uses for business, the portion of the standard mileage rate treated as depreciation will be 26 cents per mile for 2019, up from 25 cents per mile in both 2018 and 2017.”[ii]

NYS State-Wide Proposed Predictable Scheduling Regulations

The proposed regulations cover a variety of events for which employers must provide “call-in pay,” including when employees:

  • Are required to report to work (i.e., “show up”), but are sent home early
  • Are not provided at least 14 days’ advance notice of their work shift (i.e., made to work an “unscheduled shift”)
  • Have their shift cancelled without at least 14 days’ advance notice (i.e., experience a “cancelled shift”)
  • Are required to be available to report to work for a shift if requested (i.e., be “on-call”)
  • Are required to be in contact with their employer within 72 hours of the possible start of the shift to confirm whether to report to work (i.e., “call for schedule”)

“No call-in pay is owed for cancelled shifts or for employees who work unscheduled shifts if there is a weather or other travel advisory and the employer offers employees the option of voluntarily reducing or increasing their scheduled hours, so they may stay home, arrive early, arrive late, depart early, or depart late…Call-in pay is also not owed for a cancelled shift when the cancellation is at the employee’s request or when operations cannot begin due to an “act of God” or other cause outside the employer’s control…employees who volunteer for an unscheduled shift are excluded from the call-in pay requirements applicable to unscheduled shifts.”[iii]

This is proposed legislation currently, it is not law yet.  The 30-day comment period during which the NYSDOL will accept public comments. Comments are due by January 11, 2019 and can be emailed to hearing@labor.ny.gov.  If your organization has comments, submit it prior to the January 11, 2019 date.  Be prepared for this predictive schedule legislation change throughout the state, New York City has laws in place, like this.

– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

[i] https://labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/wp/Part142.pdf

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/2019-standard-mileage-rate.aspx

[iii] http://reply.hblaw.com/SnapshotFiles/1042cfd4-d56f-4156-882c-a490ed498a9c/Subscriber.snapshot?clid=5c7ee54a-1ce9-4d6c-8540-78d42f506fd0&cid=5fc68471-4ae6-4698-8d2c-feea48c6710f&ce=fo0VXSnMbAYqD2mf7h6%2bKKYRzdNLW%2feIRsUoSIQjMtk%3d

 

2019 Revised State and Federal Forms Needed in New York State, FMLA Year-End Bonuses Questions and Other State Changes

Original Date: December 28, 2018

As we are only a day away from 2019, some of our organizations will be hiring new employees for continued operation and the upcoming seasonal summer months.  New hires require new and legally updated paperwork.  State and federal forms get updated and posted on government websites for all of us to use, in either an electronic or downloadable PDF form.  These forms are not always updated at the beginning or end of the year.  Ensure you have the most current forms.

Below are the new hire forms needed in New York State:

  1. Form I-9, Eligibility to work in the United States: This form is required in every state for new hires. Organizations must verify that new employees are legally eligible to work in the United States.  Ensure the form is filled out correctly and signed by the right person in the organization, audits are a great option for an organization to review old I-9 forms.  This form changed in late 2017 and is scheduled to expire on 8/31/2019.
  2. Form W-4, wage Withholding Allowance Certificate: This form is necessary for federal withholdings. All employees should complete and sign a Form W-4 prior to starting work.  The 2019 form is now available through the link or an internet search.
  3. Form IT-2104, Employer Allowance Certificate (NYS): This is the New York State withholding form required for all new employees or any revised withholding information. Ensure you are using the 2019 version of the form, as linked above.
  4. Wage Prevention Fact Sheet: Organizations are required to provide wage notification forms to all employees, if they do not carve out specific language in the employees offer letter. See fact sheet and frequently asked question links below to understand specific requirements on offer letters.  The forms vary by hourly, salary and salaried nonexempt.  The link above provides a definition on which form to use based on the classification of the employee.  Reminder, these forms were last updated in early 2017.

Wage Prevention Frequently Asked Questions

Notice of Pay for Hourly Employees

Notice for Exempt Employees

Notice for Employees Paid a Weekly Rate or a Salary for a Fix Number of Hours (40 of Fewer in a Week)

  1. 2019 W-9 Form: These forms are utilized for consultants and others that might be working within your organization. This form was updated in October 2018.  Ensure you have an updated form from any consultants or others that are issued a 1099.   

Remember the sexual harassment policy requirements now mandated by New York State for all employers.  Continue to monitor for any local requirements as well and any significant changes at the federal and state levels.  At times, we do see date changes or language changes to forms in the middle of the year.

Happy New Year!

FMLA Impacting Year-End Bonuses:

“FMLA regulations 29 C.F.R. § 825.215(c)(2) provide that:

. . . if a bonus or other payment is based on the achievement of a specified goal such as hours worked, products sold or perfect attendance, and the employee has not met the goal due to FMLA leave, then the payment may be denied, unless otherwise paid to employees on an equivalent leave status for a reason that does not qualify as FMLA leave. For example, if an employee who used paid vacation leave for a non-FMLA purpose would receive the payment, then the employee who used paid vacation leave for an FMLA-protected purpose also must receive the payment. (emphasis added).

When calculating bonus payments or incentives, employers must treat employees who take FMLA leave the same as those who are on “an equivalent leave status for a reason that does not qualify as FMLA leave…

So, bottom line, if you deny bonuses and incentives to those on other, similar forms of leave—such as absences related to jury duty leave, military leave to ADA leave—you can deny the same bonus to the employee who took FMLA leave.”[i]

Other State Changes:

            Minimum wage was covered in a previous article.

new burr

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/year-end-bonuses-and-fmla-leave.aspx

 

2018 Year-End HR Checklist and 3 Thoughts on FMLA During the Holidays

Original Date: December 10, 2018

As we approach the end of 2018, the HR department can be a very busy place.  Finishing open enrollment processing, working on the holiday party, adjusting the payroll processing schedules because of holidays, performance reviews, finishing training, adjusting compensation levels, etc.  The list can go on and on and never end.  Below is a brief HR checklist of reminders for 2019:

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3 Thoughts on FMLA Leave During the Holiday’s:

  1. “When a holiday occurs within a week in which an employee takes a full week of FMLA leave, the entire week is counted as FMLA leave.
  2. If, however, an employee is taking FMLA leave in increments less than one week, the holiday is not counted as FMLA leave—unless the employee was scheduled and expected to work on the holiday and used FMLA leave for that day.
  3. Company shutdowns of one or more weeks where employees are not expected to report to work, such as for the Christmas/New Year holiday, a summer vacation, or a plant closing for retooling or repairs, do not count against an employee’s FMLA leave entitlement.”[i]

Along with determining whether company holidays count towards the employee’s FMLA entitlement or if FMLA amounts should be on an intermittent or reduced schedule basis, we should also review requirements under state paid leave laws or state FMLA regulations.  State laws will vary on FMLA regulations and requirements, generally more strict than federal guidelines.  Over communicate the requirements and expectations to employees that are currently on federal or state leave(s).  Written communication is always the best for record keeping and legal defense.  If you are confused seek guidance.  Consistency between the workforce is the direction we should move as an organization.

Mandatory State Labor Law Poster Changes Effective January 2019

Federal Contractor and NYS changes highlighted in Red Bold.

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– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

[i] https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/benefits/Pages/three-points-about-FMLA-during-the-holidays.aspx

 

5 FLSA Circumstances in Which Employers May Make Deductions from Exempt Employee’s Pay

Original Date: December 3, 2018

Exempt employees receive the same amount of predetermined compensation each pay period; weekly, biweekly, semi-monthly or monthly, depending on the payroll processing cycles within our organizations.  The predetermined amount cannot be reduced because of variations in the quality or quantity of the employee’s work.  Exempt employees do not need to be paid for any workweek in which they perform no work.  The exceptions/circumstances listed below are the only reasons an exempt employee does not receive full pay, regardless of the number of hours and days worked in the week.  Before implementing such practices, review state and local law to ensure all is legal.

Below are 5 circumstances for deductions in exempt employee’s pay:

  1. “Deductions from pay are permissible when an exempt employee: is absent from work for one or more full days for personal reasons other than sickness or disability; for absences of one or more full days due to sickness or disability if the deduction is made in accordance with a bona fide plan, policy or practice of providing compensation for salary lost due to illness;
  2. to offset amounts employees, receive as jury or witness fees, or for military pay;
  3. for penalties imposed in good faith for infractions of safety rules of major significance; or for unpaid disciplinary suspensions of one or more full days imposed in good faith for workplace conduct rule infractions.
  4. Also, an employer is not required to pay the full salary in the initial or terminal week of employment,
  5. or for weeks in which an exempt employee takes unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.”[i]

The employer will lose the exemption if it has an “actual practice” of making improper deductions from salaried exempt level employees.  There are safe harbor provisions within the U.S. Department of Labor rule, which recommends having policies in place to ensure improper deductions are not taken and good faith efforts are made to address any improper deduction errors or mistakes.  Prior to deducting from an exempt employee’s pay, ensure you have reviewed state and local laws and regulations, as mentioned above.  These deductions should be made on a consistent basis throughout the organization.  I have rarely seen deductions from exempt employee’s pay except for FMLA days and terminal weeks of employment.

Additional Resources:

NY State Opinion Letter

NY State Deduction from Wages

Fact Sheet #17G: Salary Basis Requirement and the Part 541 Exemptions Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

[i] https://www.dol.gov/whd/overtime/fs17g_salary.pdf

 

 

6 Requirements for Employer Related Awards

Original Date: November 26, 2018

Many of our organizations award employees based on length of service, safety-achievement, productivity goals, employee of the month, employee of the year, continuous improvement metrics, lean six sigma, spot bonuses, etc.  What are the tax implications on these employer sponsored awards?  Does this impact the employees end of the year W-2?  How much can we give as an award without impact to taxes?  Awarding employees for performance is a great idea, if we do this consistent and fairly.  As employers, we need to ensure we follow the IRS guidelines on taxation as well.

Below are 6 requirements for employer related awards:

  1. Employers can deduct a maximum amount for a single employee in a single tax year for both service and safety awards is $400 for an unqualified plan and $1,600 for a qualified plan.
  2. A qualified plan will be established if it is written and if the average combined value of service and safety awards per employee in the given tax year does not exceed $400.
  3. The awards must be defined as “tangible personal property.” Award certificates, cards or credits are not eligible unless they are redeemable only for tangible personal property.
  4. Length of service awards are recognition that many of our organizations award to employees that work for several years.  They may be given tax-free to an employee only on a fifth anniversary and then only once every five years after that; ten, fifteen, twenty, etc.  The five-year plan is standard for many organizations.
  5. Safety-achievement awards may be given tax-free to no more than 10 percent of eligible employees in any one years.
  6. Productivity awards are never eligible for tax benefits.

Helpful Link:

IRS Publication 525 (2017), Taxable and Nontaxable Income

Many other restrictions can and do apply to tax implications related to employer related awards.  These are federal IRS guidelines, ensure you review any state and local taxation requirements prior to developing a policy or giving an award.  Safety awards, length of service, spot bonuses are great options for organizations.  However, if we provide a gift card or award to an employee in March and then it shows up on their taxes at the end of the year, the positive momentum can end quick, if the employee was unaware of the added tax accountabilities during the taxation year.  Communicate the tax implications upfront to ensure no confusion or negative feedback.  Develop a policy and practice that is consistent throughout the organization.  Seek guidance on other questions related to employer related awards, the tax laws can be confusing and complex.

– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

5 Thoughts on the FMLA’s Key-Employee Exception

Original Date: November 19, 2018

Employers with 50 or more employees in a 75-mile radius from the work location are required to provide Family Medical Leave to employees, under certain circumstances.  These rules do not exclude small organizations from offering FMLA.  This leave can be taken intermittently (down to the hour) or in 12-week increments, if the employee qualifies and the leave is approved by the doctor, organizations and if necessary additional physicians.  During the leave time, the employees’ job is protected, and the employer must reinstate to the same or an equivalent job when they return to work.  In New York State, we also have Paid Family Leave with similar expectations, legislation, rules and regulations.  However, FMLA has a narrow exception that allows employers to replace employees in certain positions.  Organizations can decline to reinstate at the end of the leave period, under this narrow exception.  Circumstances such as this are rarely seen in the workplace and organizations are advised to consult with legal prior to declining reinstatement of any key-employee after FMLA leave has been exhausted.

Below are 5 thoughts on the FMLA’s key-employee exception:

  1. Key Employee Definition: “A ‘key employee’ must be ‘among the highest paid 10 percent’ of all the employees—both salaried and non-salaried, eligible and ineligible—who are employed by the employer within 75 miles of the worksite…. Earnings include wages, premium pay, incentive pay, and non-discretionary and discretionary bonuses. Earnings do not include incentives whose value is determined at some future date, e.g., stock options, or benefits or perquisites. The determination of whether a salaried employee is among the highest paid 10 percent shall be made at the time the employee gives notice of the need for leave. No more than 10 percent of the employer’s employees within 75 miles of the worksite may be “key employees.”[i]
  2. Substantial and Grievous Economic Injury: “The regulatory language…is more stringent than the “undue hardship” test under the ADA…Although there is not a specific formula to make this determination, the regulations provide general guidance. Employers should consider whether reinstatement threatens the economic viability of the organization or whether it will cause long-term economic injury.[ii]
  3. Determination and Providing Notice:  The organization must first determine if the employee does meet the key employee exception under the narrow FMLA rule, there are specifics regarding the top 10% of the organization, not every employee can be classified in this category, caution should be taken when this determination is made.  “An employer must inform the work in writing at the time leave is requested that he or she qualifies as a key employee and might be denied reinstatement…discuss the consequences of denying reinstatement…provide to the employee in person or by certified mail…the determination letter can’t deny FMLA leave, but it intends to deny reinstatement…an employer who fails to provide notice will lose its right to deny reinstatement.”[iii]
  4. Approve the Leave: “A key employee’s rights under the FMLA continue unless and until the employee either gives notice that he or she no longer wishes to return to work, or the employer actually denies reinstatement at the conclusion of the leave period,” according to the DOL’s website. Workers are eligible to maintain their health benefits during the leave period, and employers must continue to pay associated premiums.”[iv]  If the key employee wants to return to work at the end of the FMLA leave, the employer must again make another determination regarding restoration regarding substantial and grievous economic injury based on the current time and facts.  This determination can be complex and should be taken seriously, show me the data and facts to back up the decision.
  1. State Law Review: “In some cases, state law may provide for additional time off after FMLA leave has been exhausted, or the federal and state leave period may run concurrently. Goldstein recommended that employer policies inform employees that:
  • State family and medical leave laws may offer more or different protections or benefits to employees than federal law.
  • The organization will comply with all such laws.
  • Eligible employees will receive all required leave and benefits.”[v]

There is no key employee provision in the New York State Paid Family Leave legislation.

The Key-Employee Exception under current FMLA law is rarely used in any organizations.  I have not used this provision for any FMLA cases managed as a consultant or in previous HR roles.  The takeaway from this article is like any other FMLA or PFL case we manage in the workplace; manage the paperwork (follow-up on old FMLA open claims), send the necessary letters, follow-up on questions or concerns, hold the employee accountable and follow the law; federal, statewide and local legislation.  Seek guidance prior to deciding on key-employee exceptions and provisions.  FMLA has been a federal law since the early 1990’s for work and life balance.  We should be working with our employees to ensure they have the work-life balance, while holding them accountable to policies, procedures and legal expectations.

Draft Key-Employee Notification Letter

2019 Paid Family Leave Changes:

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– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/whatisthekeyemployeeprovisionunderthefmla.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/whatisthekeyemployeeprovisionunderthefmla.aspx

[iii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/4-steps-to-comply-with-the-fmla%E2%80%99s-key-employee-exception.aspx

[iv] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/4-steps-to-comply-with-the-fmla%E2%80%99s-key-employee-exception.aspx

[v] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/4-steps-to-comply-with-the-fmla%E2%80%99s-key-employee-exception.aspx

6 Legal Considerations for Time Off to Vote in New York State and the State of Pennsylvania

Original Date: November 5, 2018

Voting day is November 6, 2018, for most of us in New York State and the State of Pennsylvania.  Currently, there are 22 states that have laws on paid leave for voting.  As employers, we need to be aware of these laws at the local, city and state levels, to ensure posting requirements and legal time off for employees to vote, if needed.

Current New York State Voting Leave Laws:

  1. “Time Off Allotted: A registered voter who does not have sufficient time outside of his/her working hours to vote, may, without loss of pay for up to two hours, take so much time as will (when added to voting time outside of working hours), enable him/her to vote.
  2. Wages: An employer is required to pay an employee for up to two hours of voting time.
  3. Exception: An employee with four consecutive hours either between the opening of the polls and the beginning of his/her working shift, or between the end of his/her working shift and the closing of the polls, shall be deemed to have sufficient time outside of his/her working hours within which to vote.
  4. Notice Requirement: An employee must notify his/her employer of the requested absence at least two days, but not more than ten days, prior to the day of the election.
  5. Posting Requirement: At least ten working days before every election, every employer shall post conspicuously a notice setting forth these provisions; such notice shall be posted until the close of polls on Election Day.”[i]

Current State of Pennsylvania Voting Leave Legislation:

  1. “Time Off Allotted: The statute does not provide for any period of leave. It is unlawful for a person to use force, violence, restraint, or to inflict or threaten to inflict injury, damage, harm or loss on a person to induce or compel such person to vote or refrain from voting.”[ii]

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[iii]

Draft Organizational Policy:

“Organization ________believes that it is the responsibility and duty of employees to exercise the privilege of voting in elections. In accordance with this philosophy, the company will grant its employees approved time off to vote if necessary due to work schedules.

Time Off for Voting:

All employees should be able to vote either before or after regularly assigned work hours. However, when this is not possible due to work schedules, managers are authorized to grant a reasonable period of time, up to three hours, during the work day to vote. Time off for voting should be reported and coded appropriately on timekeeping records.”[iv]

Prior to developing any written policy or procedure, ensure that you fully understand local, city and state laws on time off to vote requirements.  The chart above only covers state legislation, it does not include any potential city or local regulations.  Metropolitan areas might have more complex voting leave laws, review local regulations as well.  “About 4 in 10 eligible voters did not vote in the 2016 presidential election…businesses can help solve this problem by making sure that all employees have paid time off to vote.”[v]  Encourage employees to vote, but hold them accountable to the rules and policies of the organization.  Be consistent throughout the workforce and ensure a fair time off process for all employees.  If you are confused, seek guidance.

– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

[i] https://www.dorsey.com/~/media/files/newsresources/publications/2008/10/employee-time-off-on-election-day-a-statebystate__/files/election-guide/fileattachment/election-guide.pdf

[ii] https://www.dorsey.com/~/media/files/newsresources/publications/2008/10/employee-time-off-on-election-day-a-statebystate__/files/election-guide/fileattachment/election-guide.pdf

[iii] Dorsey and Whitney, LLP

[iv] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/policies/pages/cms_009836.aspx

[v] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/how-to-handle-employee-requests-for-time-off-to-vote.aspx

 

2019 Open Enrollment Checklist, Communication Options, Recommendations and Questions to Consider

Original Date: October 29, 2018

Open enrollment has started or will be starting very soon for many of our organizations.  As leaders, we need to assist employees in gaining insight into their benefits and changes to benefit plans; communicate any significant changes and ensure employees are making the best possible selection for themselves and their family members.  Open enrollment and understanding benefit changes can be confusing for any of us, especially if there are significant changes.  It is our responsibility to effectively communicate any changes or complexities during the open enrollment process.  Know your workforce and how to effectively communicate these changes.

The Open Enrollment Checklist:

  1. Be prepared to answer employee questions regarding any legal changes to the healthcare plan.  This can be an area of confusion.
  2. Make a list of anything new and exciting that will enhance your open enrollment processes. Effectively communicate these new and exciting benefits to the workforce.  Over communicate these changes, especially if they are significant.
  3. Consider online enrollment programs and software if you haven’t already. Allow time to implement these programs before your open enrollment period.  With any significant online open enrollment, comes training.  Train the workforce on how to use the online enrollment tools and programs, sit with employees and work through any issues or concerns.  Do not assume that every employee is computer savvy or will know how to use these systems.  Also remember website security, as we just watched 75,000 people’s identity get hacked on the Healthcare.gov website.  Security and data protection is a top priority, this should be communicated and emphasized.
  4. Maintain records of past enrollment employee questions, comments and concerns, preferred communication methods, trends in employees’ selections and other information that will help you better serve employees during open enrollment.  Questions to consider shown below:
  • “Has the employer’s prescription drug coverage changed?
  • What is the status of health coverage for my working spouse or children?
  • Are my preferred doctors and other medical service providers still covered?
  • Has the employer taken steps to make health care costs more affordable for me?
  • Has the employer changed administrators for medical benefits?
  • Is the employer offering new or expanded options for receiving care that might be beneficial to me?
  • Has the employer added new or expanded voluntary benefits I might find valuable?
  • Does the employer’s wellness plan have new features that can help me manage my health or save me money?
  • Has the employer added or expanded coverage for complementary or alternative medical services?
  • Has the employer added or expanded the use of technology for delivering and managing my benefits?”[i]
  1. Change benefit offerings before the open enrollment period to avoid rushing at the last minute and miscommunications.  Work with your benefit administrators to ensure efficient and accurate information.  Establishing a benefits committee internally to work through these changes is a great option for any organization.
  2. Survey employees on what they are seeking in terms of benefit offerings and any improvements they would like to see. Customize your offerings to your employee population.  Sample survey questions below:
  • Do you understand the health benefits that are available to you through the _____?
    • Do you know whom to ask about health benefits if you have questions?
    • How satisfied are you with the information on coverage options and plan changes you receive during open enrollment?
    • Which level of health insurance are you currently enrolled in? [Insert options]
    • What additional level(s) would you like to see offered? (Check all that apply.)  [Insert additional options]
    • How satisfied are you with the health benefit plan choices your organization offers (i.e. the different plans you get to choose at open enrollment)?
    • How satisfied are you with the group of doctors you can choose from under your benefit plan?
    • How satisfied are you with the range of services covered by your health benefits (i.e. preventive care; emergency care; eye care; available specialists; OB-GYN; chiropractic; etc.)?
    • How has your experience with [insert carrier] been?
    • What changes would you like to see in your benefit plans? Please note that some of these may increase premium rates.  Please check all that apply.
  1. Consider offering new benefits, even if they are 100 percent voluntary.
  2. Do not forget COBRA paperwork, if applicable.

Communication Process:

  1. Hold meetings with employees to review coverage options and changes.  These meetings should be open to spouses and should occur on first, second and third shift, to ensure all employees have the option to participate.  Offer information regarding benefits in various formats to your employees; email, health fair, bulletin board or Intranet tools.
  2. Communicate helpful phone numbers and websites to employees looking for additional resources.
  3. Be prepared to answer questions that employees asked most frequently last year.
  4. Create a frequently-asked-questions sheet with answers to distribute, post or email to employees.  This should be done prior to the open enrollment process.
  5. Provide answers to basic questions, such as how much premiums will increase, new coverage options, etc.  Keep this as simple as possible, benefits are complex we need to communicate this so all can understand.
  6. Anticipate complex questions regarding traveling outside of the country, FSA coverage and emergency issues.  Yes, these questions will be asked.
  7. Other considerations: open enrollment schedule, statement of current coverage, plan-specific changes and rates, plan-specific summaries, open enrollment booklet forms, deadline for open enrollment and all legally required information.
  8. Over communicate deadlines, with frequent reminders.
  9. Send a reminder the day before the enrollment deadline and follow-up directly with employees if possible.  Accountability in the process is necessary for the process to be effective.
  10. Remain available through various mediums for employees to contact with questions and clarification.

Post Enrollment and Beyond:

  1. Check enrollment forms for any missing information?
  1. Check enrollment forms for any information that was incorrectly filled out?
  2. Submit all enrollment forms to the carrier?
  3. Ensure that you are in compliance with any health care reform provisions that affect your plan and employees?
  4. Send a follow-up email to ensure all employees received their ID cards?
  5. Follow up and make sure all employees are clear about their benefits and don’t have any outstanding questions?
  6. Begin the communication process early for 2020 open enrollment and consider marketing additional benefits in June or July.[ii]

– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

[i] https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/benefits/Pages/health-plan-questions.aspx

[ii] https://www.thehortongroup.com/annual-open-enrollment-checklist

12 Weeks of Paid Bereavement Leave in New York State (Potentially?)

Original Date: October 15, 2018

Do not let this headline fool you, the 12-weeks of paid bereavement leave legislation passed through the Senate and Assembly without many of our organizations knowing about the potential changes, earlier this year.  This bill is designed to modify the current New York State Paid Family Leave law to include paid bereavement.  The paid leave will draw from the same pool of money as Paid Family Leave, from the worker’s compensation fund.  The bill has not been signed into law but is awaiting the governor’s approval, after it is presented.

Below is current information on paid bereavement leave and additional informational websites:

  1. “Section 1:
    1. Amended Part A to state (a) to participate in providing care, including physical or psychological care, for a family member of the employee made necessary by a serious health condition of the family member including bereavement upon the death of such family member.
    2. Adds a new Part D that states “Family leave” shall mean any leave taken by an employee from work: (d) leave taken for the purposes of bereavement due to the death of a family member.
  2. Section 4:
    1. Amended to include that in the case of family leave due to bereavement”[i]
  3. “The bereavement provision would cover the death of a worker’s spouse or domestic partner, child, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent or grandchild.”[ii]
  4. “Under the Paid Family Leave law, workers can collect a portion of their average weekly wage — ranging from 50 to 67 percent as the law is phased in — but capped at the corresponding amount of the statewide average. The state average weekly wage is currently $1,357, according to the Department of Labor, which means the most anyone can currently collect is about $680 a week.”[iii]

Additional Information:

Senate Bill S8380A

PDF Version of the Bill

Again, the bill has passed through the Senate and Assembly, but has not yet been presented to Governor Cuomo.  My thoughts on the bill passage, is, we will not see any movement, signature or implementation on these significant changes until after the November elections and 2019 increases/changes to NYS Paid Family Leave.  Organizations should continue monitor for any communications or updates to this pending legislation, as it will impact the way we manage our organizations and workforce.  As a reminder the employee deduction rates will increase in 2019, to offset the 10-week, 55% increases to Paid Family Leave, shown below for increases in granted leave in 2019.  Seek guidance on PFL or paid bereavement leave if you do have questions.

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– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

[i] https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s8380

[ii] https://nypost.com/2018/08/01/bill-would-grant-12-weeks-paid-bereavement-leave-to-all-new-york-workers/

[iii] https://nypost.com/2018/08/01/bill-would-grant-12-weeks-paid-bereavement-leave-to-all-new-york-workers/