Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stimulus Plan Includes COBRA Subsidy

Obama administration’s stimulus plan offered COBRA subsidies and was signed into law on February 17, 2009. Many employers have questions about the subsidies. The subsidy applies beginning March 1, 2009.

The ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) included a provision to subsidize extended health insurance coverage under COBRA for some eligible employees. These eligible employees referred to as “assistance eligible individual” (AEI) is laid off through no fault of his or her own, or is a dependent of a laid-off employee.

According to the ARRA, the COBRA subsidy does not apply to flexible spending accounts. The maximum time for each assistance eligible individual is nine months. Employee can get 35 percent of the COBRA premium. Every AEI qualifies for the subsidy. However, according to the individual tax returns, high-income individuals and their spouses will be required to repay the subsidy.

If the AEI does qualify as a high-income individual her or she may waive the subsidy voluntarily and must pay 100 percent of the COBRA premium.

New Oregon Food Server Break Law

Recently, BOLI (Bureau of Labor and Industries) updated the state meal break regulations. The Oregon BOLI issued new regulations that food servers can opt to waive their unpaid meal breaks, but not their paid rest breaks. Tipped food service workers in Oregon who are over 18 years of age may opt out of their required 30-minute meal breaks if they like.

According to the new regulations, employers cannot require an employee to waive breaks, or force employees to do so. Either the employer or the employee can revoke the waiver at any time by written notice. However, the employee can be excused from taking the meal breaks if the employer has a signed, non-revoked waiver on file.

In addition, when it would be an undue hardship for an employee to be relieved from all work duties for the 30 minute meal break, employers are permitted to always waive the required meal breaks. If employers want to use the exception, they must issue a BOLI waiver to all affected employees by March 16, 2009.

The break must be longer than 20 minutes and shorter than 30 minutes. The employee must be relieved of all work duties during the breaks. However, the law does not affect the requirement that an employee must have 10 minute uninterrupted rest breaks for each 4-hour work period.

In the U.S., there are nineteen states requiring meal breaks for virtually all employees. Oregon is one of these states. California and Illinois are also included.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New Cafeteria Plan Rule

New federal regulations regarding cafeteria benefit plans are likely to be published within the next 30 to 60 days, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury. The new regulations show the information that the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) has issued formally or informally over the past 20 years.

The controversial non-discrimination clause in the regulations will not be finalized until President Barack Obama takes office. There is also one change in the cafeteria benefits plan that it will allow employers to add COBRA benefits to the options available, which is typically used by employees who become old enough for Medicare.

The new cafeteria plan regulates that an employee who changes jobs can even be reimbursed by the new plan for COBRA coverage under the old employer’s insurance policy. The COBRA premium is covered, because it is a valid healthcare expense, and the employee paid it during the appropriate year. The latest regulations may not go into effect until January 1, 2010.

Monday, February 16, 2009

President Obama Signed 3 Pro-Labor Executive Orders

On January 30, 2009, President Obama signed 3 Pro-Labor Executive Orders that affect the rights of employees of federal contractors. He said the orders should "level the playing field" for labor unions in their struggles with management.

The first order, entitled “Economy in Government Contracting”, will prevent federal contractors from being reimbursed for expenses meant to influence workers’ decisions about whether to form a union. The Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council is responsible for issuing and implementing regulations pursuant to this executive order within 150 days from January 30, 2009.

The second order, “Notification of Employee Rights Under Federal Law”, requires employers with federal contracts over $100,000 to inform their employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This encourages collective bargaining, by posting a notice in the workplace. The order also reverses a Bush administration order, which required federal contractors to post a notice of an employee’s right to refuse to join a union (commonly referred to as the “Beck” Notice). The form and content of the notice of employee rights will be determined by the Secretary of Labor and will be the subject of a rule-making proceeding that will begin within 120 days from January 30, 2009.

The third order, “Non-Displacement of Qualified Workers Under Service Contracts”, requires federal contractors to offer jobs to current workers when contracts change. The order requires all new contracts under the Service Contract Act to contain a mandate that new contractors offer positions to the non-supervisory employees of the contractor that have lost the federal contract. The Secretary of Labor and the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council are responsible for issuing and implementing regulations pursuant to this executive order within 180 days from January 30, 2009.

Obama also used this occasion at the White House to announce formally a new White House task force on the problems of middle-class Americans to be chaired by Vice President Joe Bide.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Exempt Employees Salary Reduction Regulations

The topic of salary reductions for exempt employees has become one of the latest, hottest HR topics. Many employers are faced with this problem. The employers must take certain precautions before they reduce exempt employees’ salaries in order to avoid breaking the law.

There is no question that reducing hours for hourly employees is one option to reduce payroll. For example, reducing weekly hours from 40 hours per week to 36 hours per week can reduce his or her payroll expenses by ten percent; however, that solution won’t work for salaried exempt employees. According to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), an exempt employee must be paid full weekly wage, no matter how many or how few hours the employee works per week. Whether the exempt employee works 20 or 30 hours per week, 60 hours per week, he or she will still be paid the full weekly salary.

In order to justify the exempt employee’s salary reduction, it should be:
l Permanent
l Applied to an entire group or class of employees
l Not directly tied to a reduction in hours

Reducing an exempt employee’s salary when business is slow can change the exempt status of everyone in that job. For this reason, the employer should permanently present the salary reduction to employees. The salary reduction needs to remain in effect for a minimum of three months.

Reducing hours for exempt employees when salary is reduced is a grey area. The safest course of action is for the employer not to reduce the number of hours when salary is reduced. However, according to Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) when a reduction both in salary and hours for an entire class of exempt employees is part of a change in business tactics, the employees retain their exempt status.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 Release

President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 on January 29, 2009. This act was Obama’s first bill signed into law. The bill had passed the Senate on Thursday, January 22 by a vote of 61 to 36.

President Obama stated before the signing, “Lilly Ledbetter did not set out to be a trailblazer or a household name. She was just a good hard worker who did her job — and she did it well — for nearly two decades before discovering that for years, she was paid less than her male colleagues for doing the very same work. Over the course of her career, she lost more than $200,000 in salary, and even more in pension and Social Security benefits — losses that she still feels today.”

“I intend to send a clear message: That making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone. That there are no second class citizens in our workplaces, and that it’s not just unfair and illegal — it’s bad for business — to pay someone less because of their gender, or their age, race, ethnicity, religion or disability,” the President said.

The bill was opposed by both SHRM and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who claim it could have unintended consequence years from now, while supporters point out that the consequences only apply to employers who practice discrimination based on sex.

Friday, February 06, 2009

New York WARN Act

Effective February 1, 2009, employers in New York must give their employees more notice prior to layoffs.

In August 2008, Gov. David Patterson signed into law the New York State Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (the "NY WARN Act"), which imposes similar requirements on employers to those required by the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (the "Federal Act"), but there are some differences between the two.

According to the NY WARN ACT, the definition of "mass layoff" includes employment losses at a single site of employment that affect: (1) at least 25 full-time employees (compared with the 50 employee minimum of the Federal Act) as long as they represent at least 33 percent of the total active workforce; or (2) at least 250 full-time employees (compared with the 500 employee threshold of the Federal Act).

In addition, the Federal Act generally requires employers with 100 or more full-time employees to provide 60 days advance written notice regarding plant closures, plant relocation or mass layoffs to the affected employees' representative or, if none, to the affected employees themselves. The Federal Act also requires the employers to notify the state dislocated worker unit and the local government. However, based on the NY WARN Act, New York employers with 50 or more employees must provide such written notice 90 days in advance.

The NY WARN act is enforced by the state Commissioner of Labor, and any employer who violates the law may face civil penalties as well as back wage reimbursement.

Monday, February 02, 2009

2009 Federal Labor & Employment Law Legislative and Regulatory Update

2009 Federal Labor & Employment Law Legislative and Regulatory have been updated. The following is the most important updates in relation with disabilities.

ADA Amended

Disabilities Act was signed by post-president Bush on September 25th, which has been taken into effect on January 1, 2009.

Expanded Definition of Disabilities

Besides the existing regulations, the amendment adds it could potentially include conditions such as high blood pressure, asthma, and other conditions not traditionally viewed as disabilities, such as “functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.” The new amendment is a substantial expansion for disabled workers under federal law.

Disregard of Mitigating Measures

U.S. Supreme Court decisions have held that mitigating measures, such as prosthetic devices, should be taken into account when determining whether the workers are disabled. Now the amendment has overruled that.

Substantially Limits” Liberalized.

U.S. Supreme Court set that a disability must” substantially limit” a major life activity. The new amendment about this regulation although has not been finally released, we can tell the change may be beneficial to people.