3 things managers can’t say after FMLA requests

Do you know which question you can ask any employee requesting FMLA leave?  Look at this great article from HR Morning about what employers can and cannot say to an employee on FMLA leave Christian Schappel

You know when employees request FMLA leave, those conversations have to stick to the facts about what the workers need and why. The problem is, a lot of managers don’t know that — and here’s proof some of their stray comments can cost you dearly in court. 

Three employers are currently fighting expensive FMLA interference lawsuits because their managers didn’t stick to the facts when subordinates requested leave.

Don’t say it!

The real kick in the pants: Two of the lawsuits were filed by employees who’d received all of the FMLA leave they requested — and the courts said the interference claims were still valid. How’s that even possible? Keep reading to learn about the latest litigation trend in the FMLA world.

Here’s what happened in each case (don’t worry, we’ve cut to the chase in all of them) — beginning with the words/phrases managers must avoid when a worker requests leave:

No. 1: ‘We expect you to be here’

James Hefti, a tool designer, was in hot water with his company, Brunk Industries, a metal stamping company.

Reason: Let’s just say he called a lot of people at work “my b____.”

After he ignored multiple warnings from management to stop using obscenities at work, the company planned to fire him. But it didn’t pull the trigger immediately.

Then, just prior to his termination, Hefti requested FMLA leave to care for his son, who was suffering from various mental health problems.

His manager, upon hearing of Hefti’s request, told him Brunk paid for his insurance and thus expected him to be at work.

When Hefti was fired a few days later, he sued for FMLA interference.

The company tried to get the suit thrown out, claiming his conduct and ignorance of repeated warnings gave it grounds to terminate him. But it didn’t win.

The court said the manager’s interactions with Hefti did raise the question of whether he was fired for requesting FMLA leave, so the judge sent the case to trial.

Cite: Hefti v. Brunk Industries

No. 2: ‘It’s inconsiderate’

Lisa Kimes, a public safety officer for the University of Scranton’s Department of Public Safety, requested FMLA leave to care for her son, who had diabetes.

Kimes was granted all the time off she requested. But in a meeting with her supervisor she was told that since the department was short staffed it was “inconsiderate” of her to take time off.

When her relationship with the department soured, she sued claiming FMLA interference.

The department tried to get her suit tossed before it went to trial. It had a seemingly reasonable argument: She got all of the leave she requested, so it couldn’t have interfered with her FMLA rights.

But Kimes argued that her supervisor’s comments prevented her from requesting more FMLA leave – thus the interference lawsuit.

The court sided with Kimes. It said she had a strong argument, so the judge sent her case to trial as well.

Suit: Kimes v. University of Scranton

No. 3: ‘I’m mad’

Judy Gordon was an officer with U.S. Capitol Police when she requested intermittent FMLA leave for periods of incapacitating depression following her husband’s suicide.

But before Gordon used any FMLA leave, a captain in the police department told her that an upper-level manager had said he was “mad” about FMLA requests in general, and he’d vowed to “find a problem” with Gordon’s request.

Then later, when she actually went to take leave, her manager became irate, denied her request and demanded a doctor’s note. He later relented and granted the request.

In fact, she was granted all the leave she requested.

Still, she filed an FMLA interference suit. And, again, the employer fought to get it thrown out before a trial on the grounds that Gordon had no claim because all of her leave requests were granted.

But this case was sent to trial, too. The judge said her superiors’ conduct could have a “reasonable tendency” to interfere with her FMLA rights by deterring her from exercising them — i.e., the comments made to her could’ve persuaded her not to request additional leave time to which she was entitled.

Suit: Gordon v. United States Capitol Police

Just the facts, please

Based on a thorough read-through of the court documents, each of these employers appeared to have a pretty good chance of winning summary judgment and getting the lawsuits thrown out before an expensive trial — that is, if it weren’t for the managers’ stray comments in each.

These cases have created two important teaching points for HR:

  1. Courts are allowing FMLA interference claims to be made if it appears an employee may have been coaxed into not requesting leave he or she was entitled to, and
  2. You never know when a stray remark will come back to bite you.

The best way to stay safe: Re-emphasize that managers must stick to the facts when employees request FMLA leave, as well as keep their opinions and other observations to themselves.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Schappel C. (2017 March 17). 3 things managers can’t say after FMLA requests [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/3-things-you-cant-say-after-fmla-requests/


Is industry coming around to robo-advisor concept?

Have you ever thought about the future of employee benefits advisors? Take a look at this interesting article from Benefits Pro about the growth of robotic employee benefits advisors by Caroline Marwitz

LAS VEGAS — Some advisors see robo-advisors as a competing force.

At the NAPA 401(k) Summit, you might expect some hostility to the concept. After all, the market for algorithm-based, non-human decision-making robo-advisors is expected to grow.

Business Insider’s research service, BI Intelligence, forecasts that by 2020, robo-advisors will manage $8 trillion in assets.

But the questions for two executives at two robo-advisor firms during a technology panel demonstrated more curiosity than hostility. Betterment for Business’s Cynthia Loh and blooom’s (yes, three Os) Chris Costello fielded them and got in some marketing in the process.

The questions ranged from whether advisors can get data and metrics about results (yes), how good is the security and encryption of participant information (as good as a bank’s), whether rebalancing is participant-driven (no), whether there was a process to update employee risk tolerance and other information over time, as it changes (yes), to whether these robo-advisors partner with advisors to offer compensation (Betterment: yes, we have a separate arm of the business for that; blooom: ten dollars per participant doesn’t make a partnership conducive, though advisors can offer this service to differentiate themselves to plan sponsors).

The common wisdom is that robo-advisors, at least in the retirement industry, are aimed at people with fewer assets.

However, in the wider investment industry, the BI Intelligence research report noted: “Consumers across all asset classes are receptive to robo-advisors — including the wealthy. 49% of this group would consider investing some of their assets using a robo-advisor.”

For blooom, its market is not intended to be the wealthy, CEO and cofounder, Chris Costello, said, but rather “the people who don’t understand stuff.”

“All the way up the food chain, people are messing up their 401k plans,” Costello said. “We are targeting a segment of market most advisors aren’t targeting, most are well below 250,000 dollars.”

The stereotypical user of a robo-advisor is, of course, a millennial. But now, said Betterment’ for Business GM Cynthia Loh, “Everyone expects technology.” Even the clients have changed, she said. Where in the past it might be a tech company, within the last year companies of other kinds have come on board — medical, legal, and financial services firms.

Taking aim at the traditional, minimalist way many employers offer information on retirement plans, Costello noted that there are always going to be employees who like to study their options and do their homework. “But that is not most Americans. Most Americans need this to be done for them. When I had wealthy clients, I didn’t tell them to go home and study up. We did the work for them. This brings the services that wealthy people have been getting for decades.”

Still, Loh added, Betterment embraces both the technology and the human side.  “We recognize there’s always going to be a place for human advice.”

Because ultimately it comes back to the human side, not the technology side. Of course, the technology behind the algorithms is important. But something as warm and fuzzy as the participant questionnaire is also crucial.

In fact, recent guidance on robo-advisors from the Securities and Exchange Commission concerns itself with a robo-advisor’s questionnaire.  Which makes sense, as it’s the information the algorithms use to make their decisions and the basis of their advice. Garbage in, garbage out. And the ability, which both firms offer, to consult with a human advisor, whether it might be by phone or by chat, is also important, at least to what we know about what plan participants want.

And the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule has made many in the retirement industry feel that knowing as much as possible about a participant or client is key to successfully helping them as well as being in compliance.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Marwitz Caroline (2017 March 19). Is industry coming around to robo-advisor concept [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/03/19/is-industry-coming-around-to-robo-advisor-concept?ref=hp-top-stories


What Employers Need to Know About Communication

What’s the key communication platform for employee benefits communication?

It is not a one size fits all approach, each group needs to take a look at their population and decide what is best for them.”  -Tonya Bahr, Hierl Employee Benefit Advisor.

  • Emails are efficient for targeting professional staff, especially companies that have companywide email addresses.
  • Letters or texts are the best way to communicate with field or labor employees.
  • A popular way to communicate is by meeting, whether it be a webinar or seminar. Often, companies will mandate that their employees attend informational sessions discussing benefits offered. This allows our clients to efficiently communicate a consistent message out to employees to help understand their benefits.

 

Ding ding ding, round 1! Paper VS Digital communications

Okay, not really because it’s not a competition!

An online approach works really well for employees but it is also very important for the spouses to be engaged as well. We typically follow up the meetings with a deliverable the employee can bring home to their spouse. This not only allows the spouse to learn more about the benefits available to them, but it also reinforces what was covered in the meeting for the employee.” -Tonya Bahr

tonya bahr 

To download the full article click Here.


Why employers should rethink their benefits strategies

Has your employee benefits program grown old and stale? Take a look at the great article from Employee Benefits Advisors about the benefits of upgrading your employee benefits to match your employees needs by Chris Bruce

Historically, employee benefits have been viewed as a routine piece of the HR process. However, the mentality of employees today has shifted, especially among the growing population of millennial employees. Today’s workforce expects more from their employers than the traditional healthcare and retirement options, in terms of both specific benefit offerings and communications about those offerings.

For companies, it’s critical they address the evolving needs of their workforce. With unemployment rates plunging to their lowest levels since before the financial crisis, the search for talent is heating up, and organizations need to work harder than ever to retain top talent in a competitive job market. To do this, I see three steps that organizations need to take when rethinking their benefits strategy and engaging with employees: embrace a proactive rather than reactive benefits strategy, think digital when it comes to employee communications and consider the next generation of employee benefits as a way to differentiate from the competition.

1. Reconsider your benefits evaluation process

The benefits process at most companies is reactive — executives and HR only look to evaluate current offerings when insurance contracts expire or a problem emerges. When the evaluation does happen, the two factors that often concern employers the most are product and price. Employers often gravitate toward well-known insurers that offer the schemes that appear familiar. However, this can often lead companies to choose providers who fall short on innovation and overall customer experience for employees.

This approach needs to be flipped on its head. Companies should be proactive in determining which benefit schemes best meet the needs of their workforce. The first step is going straight to the source: talk to employees. Employers can’t know what benefits would be most appealing to their employee base unless they ask. By turning the evaluation process to employees first, companies can better tailor new benefits to meet the needs of their workers, and also identify existing benefits that might be outdated or irrelevant, therefore saving resources on wasted offerings.

Data and analytics also are playing an increasing role across the HR function, and benefits is no exception. By leveraging technology solutions that allow HR to track benefits usage and engagement, teams can better determine what is resonating with employees and where benefits can be cut back or where they should be ramped up.

2. Put down the brochure and think digital engagement

Employee education is another area of benefits that can often perplex companies. According to a recent survey from Aflac, half of employees only spend 30 minutes or less making benefit selections during the open enrollment period each year. This means employers have a short window of time to educate employees and make sure they are armed with the right information to feel confident in their benefits selection.

To do this effectively, HR needs to move past flat communication like brochures, handouts and lengthy employee packets and look for ways to meet employees where they live — online. By testing out innovations that create a rich experience, while still being simple and intuitive, employers can grab the attention of their workforce and make sure key information is communicated. For example, exploring opportunities to create cross-device experiences for employees so they can interact on-the-go, including augmented reality applications or digital interactive magazines. Additionally, for large corporations, hosting a virtual benefits fair can provide a forum for employees to ask questions in a dynamic setting.

3. Embrace the next-generation of benefits

As organizations become more savvy and nimble, personalization will have a huge impact in encouraging employee engagement and driving satisfaction among today’s increasingly diverse workforce. We have already started to see some companies embrace this new approach to benefits, adding out-of-the-box items to normal offerings — from debt consolidation services and wearable health tracking technology to genome testing and wedding concierge services.

The fact is, the days of “status-quo” benefits are gone, and employees today want benefit options that match their current life circumstances. To best engage employees, organizations need to be proactive in evaluating benefits regularly and using analytics to track usage, identify opportunities to implement digital communication elements and look for ways to introduce new benefits to meet the needs of their employee base. By following these steps, organizations can gain a competitive edge when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Bruce C. (2017 March 10). Why employers should rethink their benefits strategies [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/3-steps-employers-can-take-to-rethink-benefits-strategy?feed=00000152-1377-d1cc-a5fa-7fff0c920000


Progressive benefits are the lure for new talent

There are many different ways to attracted new talent to your workplace. Take a peek at this freat article from Employee Benefits Advisors about which benefits are best for attracting new talent by Paula Aven Glagych

Live trees indoors, pets at work and an in-office happy hour. Underground Elephant is very forward-thinking when it comes to how it treats its employees and the benefits it offers.

From its fun headquarters space in the east village of San Diego to its outside-the-box thinking on workplace benefits, the digital marketing company “wants to really create an environment where employees want to come to work every day and feel like they are being rewarded,” says Amy Zebrowski, HR business partner at Underground Elephant. “It is a very challenging and fast-paced environment.”

Underground Elephant, which was founded in 2008, provides marketing and technology services to financial service and insurance companies. It offers staffers healthcare and retirement benefits but wanted to show them that it is invested in their education and their family’s education by offering a choice between three non-traditional benefits. People who have worked for the company for one year can choose between a student loan repayment program through Student Loan Genius; a 529 college savings plan through Gradvisor; or $2,000 in company stock options.

If they choose the student loan or college savings plan options, Underground Elephant will contribute $1,500 a year to the program.

Gradvisor founder and CEO Marcos Cordero had wanted to offer a student loan reimbursement program for a couple of years. The company hires many entry-level employees straight out of college, trains them and helps them build their careers at the company.

“We know a lot of employees with student loan debt. We wanted to help them address that and support their financial wellbeing. We didn’t want to exclude employees who don’t have student loans. Our goal was to create a more inclusive program,” Zebrowski says.

Student Loan Genius’ platform allows employees to explore different loan repayment options and to find the one that best fits their situation. Employees can also have their student loan payments taken directly out of their paycheck each month.

The Gradvisor 529 college savings plan helps parents and grandparents save money for future educational expenses.

The cost of college

Cordero says that his 529 platform is popular because recent Gallup data shows that “for employees with children under 18, this is their number one financial concern. It supersedes retirement and unexpected medical bills.”

He added that the cost of college is rising faster than any other expense in the home and millennials, in particular, are feeling the pinch. Many of them left college with huge student loans and they want to make sure their children don’t fall into the same trap. Baby Boomers are also intrigued by the 529 plan because they have “more disposable income to help grandchildren save for college,” Cordero says.

He believes that this benefit will continue to grow over the next decade, but currently “more employers offer pet insurance than college savings.” That is in large part due to the state-by-state complexity of the programs. Each state offers a different 529 plan.

The Gradvisor platform takes into consideration an employee’s risk tolerance, financial situation and household tax filing when determining the best 529 plan for them. The company serves as a fiduciary so it takes “all of those inputs and recommends the most suitable and best fit investment option and asset allocation for the client. We don’t get any commissions or sales charges from the 529 plan. Our advice is 100% objective,” he says. Companies pay to offer the program on a per user per month basis.

“If you look at our stats, our customers tend to save earlier. We’re rolling out this really intuitive step-by-step platform that takes a lot of that fear or intimidation away,” Cordero says.

The average parent who takes advantage of Gradvisor starts saving when their child is five years old, compared to seven in the general population, which adds a couple more years of compounded growth. They also save twice as much as the average person.

Both the student debt repayment and college savings benefits programs were introduced to the company’s employees in January for implementation in March.

“The response has been great. All of our employees are excited about it. It can be a huge help with financial expenses if you are paying toward a student loan it is reducing the overall interest of the life of the loan. Overall it is very positive,” Zebrowski says.

The company’s primary goal in offering these three benefits was to retain good employees and to “show we are invested in their education and their family’s education and financial wellness,” she says.

Based on the company’s younger employee base, there are more participants in the student loan program, but there’s also a lot of interest in the 529 plans.

“I think a lot of people are conscious of the future and saving for families down the line. We’ve had a good response to both,” Zebrowski says.

The company offers a 1% employer match on all employee contributions to its 401(k) plan. The company employs 55 people currently and has been listed as one of the fastest-growing companies in its industry.

The benefit of perks

Underground Elephant wants to be innovative with its benefits because California’s tech industry is very competitive. Many people want to live in San Diego, so “attracting talent, in addition to that retention piece, that certainly factors in,” she says.

The company’s new headquarters building is unique in that it has live trees in the middle of the work space.

“The idea is to make it more open to give people the feeling of being connected to the outdoors,” she says. It has pool, ping pong and is setting up a new game room so employees can get together and have fun. It also has an onsite bar where the company offers regular happy hours.

Employees can bring pets to the office and it has a snack area where the company provides breakfast or lunch once a week.

For the past couple of years, the company has participated in a forum program where the company is divided into groups of eight to 10 employees and these groups participate in challenges throughout the year, including cultural challenges, scavenger hunts, community and charitable events.

“Each year we reevaluate our cultural programs to see what is working and what isn’t working; what people enjoy. The goal is to create as much engagement as possible,” she says.

Underground Elephant offers a full suite of health benefits, including full medical, dental and vision, long and short term disability and voluntary life insurance.

“We want to prepare people for success here or outside the company. Ultimately, the goal is to give people the skills and experience to promote within Underground Elephant or to transfer to other jobs as well,” she says. “Our people tend to be very successful.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Glagych P. (2017 February 28). Progressive benefits are the lure for new talent [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/progressive-benefits-are-the-lure-for-new-talent?feed=00000152-1377-d1cc-a5fa-7fff0c920000


CBO estimate of AHCA impact on employer-sponsored benefits is off the mark

Does the implementation of the AHCA have you worried about your employee benefits? Take a look at this great article from Employee Benefit News about what the implementaion of the AHCA will mean for employers by Joel Wood.

In breaking down the Congressional Budget Office’s assessment of the proposed American Health Care Act, let’s look at the impact of the AHCA on employer-sponsored plans. The CBO estimates that 2 million fewer Americans will have employer-sponsored coverage in 2020, growing to seven million by 2027. Here’s CBO’s rationale:

  • The mandate penalties are eliminated, and thus many will drop.
  • The tax credits are available to people with a broader range of incomes than the Obamacare credits/subsidies
  • Some employers will drop coverage and increase compensation in the belief that non-group insurance is a close substitute.

These are valid points. The CBO experts are basing their estimates on sound economics and inside the constraints of their authority, and so of course we worry about any proposal that devolves employer-sponsored care. But, we also have to note that the CBO said much the same about the Affordable Care Act, which largely didn’t happen. And CBO notwithstanding, we at the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, too, feared something of a death spiral after the ACA was enacted.

The ACA’s employer penalties were very small in comparison to premiums, and it made sense that many would dump their plans, give their employees cash, and send them to the subsidized exchanges. Also, the subsidies were pretty rich — graduating out at 400% of the poverty line. That’s more than $90,000 for a family of four.

What we didn’t take into account in reference to the ACA were a number of things:

  • A core assumption of the ACA was that states would all be forced to expand Medicaid to 138% of the poverty line, and the exchange subsidies would kick in above that amount. The courts struck that down and 19 (all-red) states never adopted the expansion, creating a massive donut hole.
  • We underestimated how chaotic would be the rollout of Healthcare.gov.
  • We knew the exchanges would be a model of adverse selection, but a “bailout” of insurance carriers through the “risk corridor” program was supposed to keep them in the game. Republicans balked, sued, and the reinsurance payments have been so lacking that most of the exchanges are currently in a “death spiral” (as described by Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna).

So employer-sponsored health insurance has, well, thrived since the enactment of the ACA — perhaps in spite of it, not because of it.

If the CBO is correct and seven million people lose ESI over the next decade, that’s problematic. But it ignores other opportunities that are being created through the proposed GOP bill and Trump Administration executive actions.

Employers-sponsored opportunities
Republicans propose significant expansion of HSAs that will compliment higher-deductible ESI plans. They want work-arounds for state mandates on essential health benefits, even though their goal of “buying across state lines” can’t be realized through the tricky budget reconciliation process. And, ultimately, Republicans want to realize the potential for the ACA wellness provisions that have been eviscerated through years of EEOC/ADA/GINA conflicts. That would be a big win for employers.

The most important tradeoff between the “discussion draft” of a few weeks ago and the AHCA is that GOP House leaders junked their plan to tax 10% of employee contributions for ESI plans, in favor of pushing the Cadillac tax out five more years, to 2025.

Personally, I figure I’ve got another decade left in me to lobby for this industry, and that would get me eight years along the way. That’s a terrific tradeoff in my book, especially as Ways & Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) emphasized he never intends for that tax to go into effect — it’s purely a budgetary gimmick. And, it’s a ridiculous “score” from CBO anyway. Everybody knows that no employer is going to pay that tax; they’ll work their plan design to get under the numbers.

President Trump’s stance on 10 key benefit issues

Where does Donald J. Trump stand on parental leave, minimum wage and other important workplace issues? Here’s what employers need to know.

My conclusions at this moment in time, thus, are:

  • Have we won the war among GOP leaders with respect to “hands off” of ESI while trying to solve the death-spiral problems in the individual/exchange marketplace? Not yet. We won a battle, not a war. Sadly and frustratingly, too many Republican leaders have bought into the elite conservative/libertarian economic intelligentsia that pure consumerism should drive healthcare, and that ESI is an “historic accident.” As our friend Ed Fensholt at Lockton always says, “Penicillin was an historic accident, too, but look how that turned out.”
  • Was former Speaker John Boehner right recently when he said that there’s no way you can get to the requisite 51 votes in the Senate right now with this current AHCA construct? You bet he was right. If you do the House plan and defund Planned Parenthood, you lose votes of pro-choice Republicans in the Senate. If Ryan and Trump relent to the Freedom Caucus on hacking the Medicaid expansion in 2018 instead of 2020, they’ll lose votes of Republicans in Medicaid-expanded states. In any event, they probably lose the votes of Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and a number of other Republicans who view the AHCA as “Obamacare Lite” and demand a more straightforward repeal.
  • Was Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) right when he said this on Face the Nation recently? “Look,” he said, “the most important thing for a person like myself who runs for office and tells the people we’re asking to hire us, ‘This is what I’ll do if I get elected.’ And then if you don’t do that, you’re breaking your word.” You bet he’s right. Republicans ran on this. They voted 60 times in the House to repeal the ACA. If they can’t do this, they can’t do tax reform, they can’t do 12 appropriations bills. Their margins for error (21 votes in the House; two in the Senate) are almost impossibly narrow, and the press hates this bill. But I wouldn’t pronounce this effort dead, by a long stretch.

Sometimes, when lobbying blank-faced Republican leaders on the importance of ESI, I feel like the old BB King lyric: “Nobody loves me but my mother, and she could be jivin’, too.”
But because of, or in spite of, current legislative efforts that are dominating the headlines, I feel relatively well-poised for ESI to continue to be the means through which a majority of Americans receive the health insurance they like and they want to keep. Our job is for them to keep it. Notwithstanding lots of obstacles, we will.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Wood J. (2017 March 21). CBO estimate of AHCA impact on employer-sponsored benefits is off the mark [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/cbo-estimate-of-ahca-impact-on-employer-sponsored-benefits-is-off-the-mark


Compliance Overview: FLSA – Minimum Wage Laws

Most employers and employees in the United States are subject to the minimum wage provisions set out by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

However, the FLSA also provides various minimum wage exceptions under specific circumstances to workers with disabilities, full-time students, workers under 20 years of age (during their first 90 days of employment), tipped employees and student learners.

In addition, special rules apply to state and local government agencies in fire protection and law enforcement activities, volunteer services, and compensatory time off (instead of cash overtime pay). Employers are required to keep records on wages, hours and other items which are generally maintained as an ordinary business practice.

The Wage and Hour Division of the U. S. Department of Labor (DOL) enforces minimum wage provisions and investigates violation claims.

Minimum Wage rate

The current federal minimum wage rate is $7.25 per hour. To calculate an employee’s wage rate, an employer must include all forms of compensation given to, or paid on behalf of, the employee, except for:

  • Additional compensation for overtime hours, holiday hours or work that falls outside of a schedule set by an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement;
  • Compensation for paid time off (such as vacation, illness, holidays and production downtimes);
  • Gifts and monetary awards that are not measured by hours worked, productivity or efficiency;
  • Irrevocable employee benefit contributions (such as life insurance, health benefits and retirement accounts);
  • Value or income derived from an employer-provided grant; and
  • Value or income from stock option rights or stock appreciation and bona fide stock purchase programs.

Subminimum Wage Rates

The FLSA allows employers to hire students, student-learners, apprentices, messengers and disabled individuals at rates below the minimum wage rate. The FLSA also includes a special provision for tipped employee wages.

Learners, Apprentices and Messengers

Employers can pay learners, apprentices and messengers a wage rate below the minimum wage rate when they obtain a special certificate from the DOL. When issuing the certificates, the DOL will consider the number of workers an employer wants to cover under the special certificate, the number of hours worked by these employees and the employees’ length of service with the employer.

Learners are individuals receiving training for the occupation for which they were hired. Individuals qualify as learners until they acquire the necessary skills and attain the judgment level they need to perform their job responsibilities efficiently (generally up to 240 hours of vocational training with the same employer in a three-year period). Individuals may be learners in only two qualifying occupations. Learners can receive wages as low as 95 percent (75 percent for student-learners) of the minimum wage rate.

Apprentices are individuals (at least 16 years old) employed to learn a skilled trade through a registered apprenticeship program. The DOL establishes the wage rate for apprentices, along with other employment terms and conditions, in accordance with apprenticeship program guidelines.

Messengers are individuals employed primarily in delivering letters and messages. They may receive wages as low as 95 percent of the minimum rate.

Students

Employers can pay students a wage rate of as low as 85 percent of the current minimum rate after obtaining a special certificate from the DOL. These certificates are available to agricultural employers, retailers, service sector employers and institutions of higher learning. To obtain a special certificate from the DOL, employers must show that the student employee:

  • Does not work more than 20 hours in any workweek while school is in session;
  • Is a full-time student at an institution of learning; and
  • Does not violate any child labor laws (if applicable).

Institutions of higher learning have an additional requirement to show that each student-employee working under a certificate of subminimum wage rate is also enrolled as a full-time student at the institution where he or she works.

Employers wanting to hire more than six student-employees must show the DOL that employing the students does not reduce employment opportunities for non-student employees.

Disabled Workers

The DOL can also issue special certificates authorizing employers to pay subminimum wage rates to individuals whose earning capacity or productivity is impaired because of age, physical or mental deficiency or injury. Subminimum wage rates under these special certificates must be commensurate to the wages earned by nondisabled employees in similar jobs.

To receive a subminimum wage rate certificate for a disabled worker, an employer must provide the DOL with written assurances that it will review the disabled worker’s wages every six months and that it will adjust a disabled worker’s wages at least once per year to reflect prevailing rates for nondisabled workers in similar jobs.

Employers may not reduce a disabled individual’s wages below the wage rate indicated on the certificate, unless they receive prior authorization from the DOL to make the change.

Tipped Employees

The minimum hourly wage for tipped employees—also known as a cash wage—is $2.13 per hour. The FLSA defines a tipped employee as an individual who is engaged in an occupation in which he or she customarily and regularly receives at least $30 per month in tips.

The FLSA allows employers to use a tip credit of $5.12 per hour and reduce a tipped employee’s wage rate requirements because it assumes that the employee’s tips will offset the difference between the cash wage and the minimum wage rate, enabling the employee to receive wages at, or above, the minimum wage rate.

However, federal law requires employers to notify employees at the beginning of their employment that their wages are calculated using tips, a tip credit and a cash wage. The tip credit does not vary for a tipped employee who works overtime hours.

In addition, employers must subsidize a tipped employee’s wages to the extent that the employee’s cash wage and tips are less than the minimum wage rate.

Minimum Wage Rate Exemptions

FLSA exceptions are narrowly defined. Employers should check the exact terms and conditions for each exception carefully. The following examples are an illustrative but not all-inclusive list of employees exempt from the federal minimum wage:

  • Agricultural employees that are immediately related to their employers, are hand harvest laborers, work for employers that use more than 500 man-days of labor in any quarter of the previous calendar year or work in the range production of livestock;
  • Bona fide executive, administrative and professional employees (including teachers and academic administrative personnel in elementary and secondary schools);
  • Babysitters and companions for the elderly whose employment is casual and who provide services for individuals who are unable (because of age or infirmity) to care for themselves;
  • Computer system analysts, programmers, engineers and similarly skilled workers with wages of at least $27.63 per hour and whose primary duty is to apply system analysis techniques and procedures, consult with users or determine, design, develop, document, analyze, create, test or modify hardware, software or system functional specifications;
  • Domestic service employees whose compensation is not classified as wages under the Social Security Act or who work for less than eight hours in a workweek;
  • Newly hired employees under 20 years of age during the first 90 consecutive calendar days following their hiring date (as long as the employer does not displace, fully or partially, other employees’ work hours or benefits to accommodate new hires);
  • Newspaper delivery and publication employees when the newspaper has a circulation of less than 4,000 and its major circulation is within the county (or contiguous counties) where the paper is published;
  • Crew members and seamen working on foreign vessels;
  • Amusement park and recreational establishment employees working for a park that operates for up to seven months in a year or earns at least two-thirds of its total annual income in a six-month period (including individuals working for organized camps and religious and nonprofit educational conference centers);
  • Criminal investigators receiving availability pay (compensation provided for unscheduled services beyond the investigator’s 40-hour workweek in activities that require irregular or unscheduled work hours);
  • Seafood processing employees (individuals employed in the canning, catching, cultivating, farming, harvesting, packing, processing, propagating or taking of any kind of fish, shellfish, crustaceans, sponges, seaweeds and other aquatic forms of animal and vegetable life); and
  • Switchboard operators working for an independently owned public telephone company having no more than 750 stations.

Notice and Postings

Unless an exemption applies, federal law requires employers to post a notice explaining the FLSA to employees. The notice must be posted in every work establishment in a conspicuous place where employees regularly pass by and can easily read it. If an exception applies, employers may modify the model poster provided by the DOL to show the provisions that do not apply.

In addition, the FLSA requires employers that have been authorized to use subminimum wage rate certificates to display and make available to employees a poster explaining the general terms and conditions under which subminimum wage rates may be paid. A subminimum wage certificate notice for impaired workers must be displayed in a conspicuous place where impaired workers, their parents or guardians and other workers may read it. If the employer finds it inappropriate to post a subminimum wage rate notice for impaired workers, the employer may satisfy FLSA notice requirements by providing the notice directly only to all affected employees.

Prohibited discrimination and retaliation

Employers may not discharge or discriminate in any manner against an employee who files a complaint or cooperates with the DOL in an investigation or proceeding.

Penalties

Minimum wage violations under the FLSA are punishable by a fine up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to six months or both. In addition, these violations are subject to civil liability and employers may be required to compensate employees for unpaid wages, liquidated damages and any other penalties a court sees fit to impose. Fee amounts may increase for repeat and willful offenders.

To download the full compliance alert click Here.


Patty's Dish is Saint Paddy's Day Ready!

Our March Dish is brought to you by our very own Patty McBride

Patty works as our Employee Benefits Service Agent. Her passion for her work shines through in her attention to detail and organizational skill throughout the quoting process!

When it comes to eating out, Patty enjoys the authentic Mexican cuisine found at Casa del Tequila. “Their Chicken Tinga or the Chicken Fajitas are [my] favorite with a margarita! They have salsa and guacamole prepared tableside!” Need Directions?

For home cooking, Patty enjoys a family recipe passed down from her great grandmother. “We always look forward to this when the garden green beans are in abundance. From my mother, her grandmother.

 


Grandma’s Fresh Green Bean Dish

Grandma was one of those natural cooks who never measured, knew just what to add and when things were right. If you can cook without specific measurements treat yourself to this family favorite of many generations.

Grandma’s version:

  1. Cut fresh green beans into 1″ strips and cook in salted water until tender, but not soft.
  2. In another pan, cook a small amount of diced potatoes.
  3. While vegetables are cooking, fry approx. 6 to 8 slices of bacon, and break into pieces.
  4. Add flour to bacon fat, brown well and then add enough liquid from cooked vegetables to make a white sauce. Stir over low heat until it thickens, then add drained vegetables and bacon and simmer until ready to serve.
  5. Quantity of ingredients may be varied according to preference. As a side dish, a thicker sauce is recommended. As a meal-in-itself supper, serve with hot biscuits or fresh bread to ‘sop-up’ the tasty gravy.

Our Version:

  • 1 lb. Bacon
  • 4 med. Red Potatoes
  • 1-2 Cups Cut Green Beans
  • Flour for gravy/white sauce

Let’s get started:

  1. Cook beans until tender.
  2. Cook diced potatoes until tender (I peal them).
  3. Cook bacon until crisp and remove from pan. Save the grease in pan to use for the gravy. I prefer good bacon like Oscar Meyer. I drain most of the grease into a clean can, and keep the good stuff in the pan.
  4. I mix some flour and water in a glass jar and shake well. Pour the flour into the hot grease; stir immediately.
  5. Scrape all the good bacon drippings from the pan.
  6. Add water from the beans and potatoes.
  7. Keep adding the flour mixture and water from veggies until you get the amount you want.
  8. Should be a nice brownish color from the bacon grease. Usually I do not need to add more grease as the grease on the bacon will bring more flavor back to the dish.
  9. At this point, I will transfer the mixture to a Dutch oven pan. Crumble the bacon into the dish.
  10. Add the drained veggies, desired amount up to you.
  11. Simmer so flavors can mix. Serve as stated in original recipe.

Regardless of which recipe you decide to cook, it’s bound to taste delicious and it times perfectly with Saint Patrick’s Day! Thanks Patty!


Cold & Flu Prevention in the Workplace

With flu season in full swing here are some great tips from Travelers on how to protect the workplace from getting sick.

Every year, without fail, flu season hits. While the influenza virus poses high health risks for individuals, an outbreak at the office can also affect business operations. All it takes is one employee and one sneeze to put others at risk and spread the virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu viruses can spread to people from up to 6 feet away through droplets made by sneezing, coughing or talking.* Even before showing symptoms, an infected employee who sneezes during a meeting or coughs at someone’s desk without covering his or her mouth can expose others to the flu.

Small businesses can be even more vulnerable if multiple employees call in sick due to flu-related illnesses. Fewer hands on deck could potentially impact productivity and operations.

Following are Five Tips for Business Owners to Help Reduce the Potential Spread of the Flu:

  1. Make the Flu Vaccine Available for Employees
    The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine every year. However, finding time to get the vaccine may be difficult for some. If possible, employers should consider hosting a vaccine clinic onsite. By having it available at work, employees should be able to take care of this simple task quickly and easily.
  2. Keep Work Spaces Clean
    Generally, human flu viruses can survive on surfaces for two to eight hours, so encourage employees to clean their desks regularly. When buying cleaning supplies, read the label to make sure it states that the product is effective against flu viruses, such as Influenza A.
  3. Offer the Option to Go Virtual
    Most people do not realize they can spread the flu virus to others one day before they show any symptoms and up to seven days after becoming ill. Small business owners should make employees aware of this fact and provide opportunities to reduce in-person interactions, as this can help minimize the spread of the flu in the office. There are still ways to get work done so consider giving employees an option to work from home. They can stay connected through emails or phone calls, and conduct meetings online.
  4. Be Open to Deferring Travel
    Small business owners should also be open to rescheduling business trips. If workers are not feeling well before a trip, encourage them to reschedule to a later date so that they are not sick while away from home. If travel plans involve airplanes, fellow passengers will be grateful for that decision as well.
  5. Hand Out the Tip Sheet….Now!
    Even before flu season hits, hand out a short, informative document to employees on ways to help reduce the spread of the flu, such as washing hands properly and regularly and avoiding touching your eye, nose or mouth (entry points into the body for germs). For more information, consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for additional suggestions on preventing the flu and maintaining good health habits.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Author (Date). Cold & flu prevention in the workplace [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.travelers.com/resources/workplace-safety/cold-and-flu-prevention-in-the-workplace.aspx


Employers adding financial well-being tools for preretirees

Take a peek at this interesting article from Benefits Pro, about the man tools and services employers are starting to offer to pre-retirees by Marlene Y. Satter,

As their employee base ages closer to retirement, employers are adding tools to help those older employees better prepare for the big day.

That’s according to Aon Hewitt’s “2017 Hot Topics in Retirement and Financial Wellbeing” survey, which found that employers are taking action to improve employee benefits and help workers plan for a secure financial footing, not just now but when they retire.

Not only are employers focusing on enhancing both accumulation and decumulation phases for defined contribution plan participants, they’re taking a range of steps to do so—from improved education to encouraging higher savings rates.

Just 15 percent of respondents are comfortable with the average savings rate in their plan; among the rest, 62 percent are very likely to act on increasing that savings level during 2017, whether by increasing defaults, changing contribution escalation provisions, or sending targeted communications to participants.

And only 10 percent of employers are satisfied with employees’ knowledge about how much constitutes an adequate amount of retirement savings, and nearly all dissatisfied employers (87 percent) are likely to take some action this year to help workers plan to reach retirement goals.

In addition, more employers are providing options for participants to convert their balances into retirement income. Currently just over half of employers (51 percent) allow individuals to receive automatic payments from the plan over an extended period of time.

They’re also derisking through various means, whether by adopting asset portfolios that match the characteristics of the plan’s liabilities (currently 40 percent of employers use this strategy, but the prevalence is expected to grow to more than 50 percent by year end), considering the purchase of annuities for at least some participants (28 percent are considering this action) or planning to offer a lump-sum window to terminated vested participants (32 percent are in this camp).

Why are employers suddenly so interested in how well employees are financially prepared for retirement?

According to Rob Austin, director of retirement research at Aon Hewitt, not only do employees not really understand how to convert a lump sum retirement plan balance into retirement income that they can live on, and employers are also worried that employees will mishandle that lump sum when the time comes and end up broke.

So some employers are tackling the issue by folding in more information about 401(k) plans with the annual enrollment process, in an effort to get employees to think more holistically about their benefits packages.

They’re also encouraging them to consider increasing contributions to their retirement plan while they’re already enmeshed in other enrollments.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2017 February 13). Employers adding financial well-being tools for preretirees [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/02/13/employers-adding-financial-well-being-tools-for-pr?ref=hp-top-stories