Managing Workplace Romance...Or Not?

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Managing Workplace Romance...Or Not?

In the spirit of romance on this Valentine’s Day, now might be a good time for your organization to take a good hard look at your policy on “workplace romance”. Do you have a policy in place? How does it define the limits to relationships between employees? Has this issue come up recently among your employees? Should you consider implementing one?

With several surveys pointing towards a change in employee’s attitudes towards dating in the workplace and romance in the air this week, let’s take a look at how employees feel about this potentially charged issue and what that might mean for employers.
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An FMLA Update Every Employer Needs to Know

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In January-Febuary of 2013, there have been a number of important updates pertaining to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), some of which go into effect on March 8th, 2013. Here's what you need to know to stay compliant with FMLA.

New Guidance on Caring for an Adult Child

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently clarified factors that an employer must consider when an employee requests leave to care for an adult child, and mainly addressed two issues:

  1. In its guidance, the DOL says that the age of the onset of the disability is irrelevant to the determination of whether an individual is considered a "son or daughter" under FMLA. This means that employees whose children became disabled after the age of 18 are eligible to take FMLA-protected leave to care for them.
  2. The DOL clarified that employers should broadly define "disability" based on the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) and that there is no minimum duration for an impairment to be considered a disability.
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Recap: Employment Law - The Year Ahead

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ERC's 2013 "Employment Law: The Year Ahead" program featured presentations from three attorneys at Buckingham, Doolittle, & Burroughs LLP which covered major topics in employment law related to the NLRB, Affordable Care Act, and expected regulations for 2013.

1. NLRB

Unconstitutional Board Appointments

Neil Bhagat led the program with an update on the NLRB. While the Federal Appeals Court invalidated decisions made by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) when it determined that President Obama acted unconstitutionally by making recess appointments to the Board, Bhagat explained that employers should use the Board's recent decisions as guidance until a decision is made on whether the Board's decisions are binding or not.
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OSHA Summary Must be Posted: February 1 - April 30

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As a reminder, OSHA rules require employers to post the OSHA 300 summary form of occupational injuries and illnesses occurring between January 1 and December 31, 2012 by no later than February 1. Employers, however, do not need to post the full log of workplace-related occupational injuries and illnesses.

Please note that the summary form needs to be completed even if no work-related injuries or illnesses were recorded and requires the certified signature of a company executive. Employers must keep the summary posted through April 30.

Employers can download these forms at the link below:
http://www.osha.gov/recordkeeping/RKforms.html

6 Q&As: Managing Flu Season in the Workplace

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6 Q&As: Managing Flu Season in the Workplace

With flu season in our midst, many employers face challenges in managing sickness in the workplace. These challenges can include managing absenteeism, reducing or managing the prevalence of sickness in the workplace, supporting employees who must care for sick children, and in more rare cases, dealing with longer-term medical issues. Here is a Q&A guide on some of your most frequently asked questions related to these topics.

Q: How many sick days do employers typically provide?

A: On average, organizations usually provide 6-8 paid sick days annually, though many employers incorporate sick time into a paid time off bank.

Some industries tend to provide more sick time, particularly healthcare and non-profit organizations, which typically offer double the amount of sick time that other organizations provide.

Q: How should we handle pay for exempt employees who are sick?

A: Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), if an exempt employee misses less than one full day of work due to illness, you may not deduct his or her pay for the absence. This means, if they go home early or come in late due to illness, you may not dock their pay. Conversely, with hourly employees, your organization may deduct pay for any hours not worked due to illness, including a full day or less than full day.

Also, under FLSA, your organization is not obligated to provide pay for vacation or sick days (unless other state laws mandate this). Nonetheless, many employers provide these benefits to help handle pay situations when employees are sick.

Q: How can we prevent sickness from spreading in the workplace?

A: The workplace can be fertile ground for sickness to spread with employees working in close proximity to one another, especially common colds and flus. Here are a couple common ways to reduce the likelihood of this happening:

  • Provide flu shots once a year
  • Encourage sickness prevention via hand sanitizers and office cleanliness
  • Offer the ability for sick employees to work from home
  • Allow sick employees to stay at home and use their sick time if they are ill or contagious
  • Support employees' well-being by providing wellness resources/education and work-life balance

Q: What should we do when employees need to care for sick children?

A: Missing work to care for sick children is a challenge facing many working adults, who often feel they don't have enough paid sick time or flexible work arrangements to cover the days they need to take care of them.

There are a number of options you can offer in these circumstances. First, you can allow them to work at home, if possible, to care for their child. Second, you can provide a back-up/sick child care option or resource for employees to use. Third, you can allow them to use paid time off, make up work hours, work a flexible schedule, or provide family leave. Finally, if the situation warrants a serious health condition, providing FMLA leave may be advisable.

Q: What should we do about excessive absenteeism?

A: As a business, you need to institute and enforce acceptable boundaries for absenteeism in order to run your business smoothly via internal policies and procedures, such as an attendance policy.

But excessive absenteeism due to illness may actually be due to a legitimate medical condition which is covered by federal and state laws. In these cases, employers are obligated to comply with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and must pursue the appropriate course of action.

For other more common illnesses and issues that are acute in nature, if an employee is not complying with your policy or if you have a legitimate reason to believe that abuse is taking place, you may pursue whatever disciplinary action is necessary, so long as it's consistent with past precedents and documented policy.

Q: How should we handle issues of work coverage when an employee is sick?

A: Make sure your organization has the appropriate back-up coverage for when an employee is out of the office ill. Succession and workforce planning of this nature is essential to the ongoing productivity in your organization.

Q: How should we manage a longer-term illness?

A: Unfortunately, sometimes illnesses that affect the workplace are not just common flus and colds. Prolonged illness brings many unanticipated challenges to the workplace: arranging for medical leave (short term disability, FMLA, personal leave, etc.) preparing for return to work, dealing with short or long-term accommodations, and handling staffing or work coverage issues.

These situations can often be stressful and difficult for the employer and employee alike, so it's important to approach them with as much patience and support as possible. Usually, when employers make collaborative arrangements with employees to help them in these situations, to the extent that it business operations are not significantly affected, they tend to be effective.

Employee illness is one of the most common issues employers face in the workplace, and in our experience, one of the most difficult ones to manage. Approaching this flu season and employee illness in general in a supportive but tactical manner can help you better manage your employees, their needs, and those of your business.

Please note that by providing you with research information that may be contained in this article, ERC is not providing a qualified legal opinion. As such, research information that ERC provides to its members should not be relied upon or considered a substitute for legal advice. The information that we provide is for general employer use and not necessarily for individual application.

View ERC's Absence Management Practices Survey Results

This report summarizes the results of ERC’s survey of organizations in Northeast Ohio on practices related to attendance and unscheduled absence.

View the Results

Upcoming National Holidays Largely Overlooked In Northeast Ohio

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If you happen to have the day off on January 21, consider yourself lucky. Here in Northeast Ohio the percentage of organizations observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday has consistently fallen well below the national average and 2013 is no different. According to the 2013 ERC Paid Holiday Survey only 11% of the 202 participating organizations include Martin Luther King Jr. Day in their paid holiday allocation. This falls 21 percentage points below the national statistics recently reported by BNA.

Where the two surveys do see eye-to-eye, is in terms of the clear industry specific differences seen between the types of organizations that offer Martin Luther King Jr. Day and those that do not. For example, the BNA survey reports that manufacturers are by far the least likely to give the day off at 7% and non-business (i.e. non-profits/government) organizations are the most likely to give the day off at 56%. The ERC survey saw a similarly wide discrepancy between manufacturers and non-profit (i.e. non-business) with non-manufacturing employers falling somewhere in between the two extremes.

These industry specific variations are particularly noteworthy as they may be responsible for at least some of the discrepancy observed between the overall averages reported by the national and local surveys. In terms of the demographics represented by each survey sample, the national BNA survey included primarily non-manufacturing organizations, while over half of ERC’s local survey respondents represented manufacturing organizations. While this over-representation of manufacturers and non-profits in the local and national surveys, respectively, accounts for some of the discrepancy, the fact remains that Northeast Ohio employers are observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day at a lower rate than the national average.

Looking  ahead to February, President’s Day will be observed as a paid holiday by even fewer Northeast Ohio organizations, only 8%. Industry specific differences are slightly less prominent as the overall percentage of organizations offering the day off are lower, but a similar trend can be seen with manufacturers once again ranking last out of the three industry breakouts reported.

For more information on how many and which paid holidays Northeast Ohio employers are offering their employees in 2013, download the entire 2013 ERC Paid Holiday Survey free of charge.

2013 HR Compliance Timeline

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Due Date Compliance Requirement
January 1, 2013 New tax provisions in fiscal cliff deal take effect
January 1, 2013 Ohio Minimum Wage change takes effect
January 1, 2013 Social Security and Medicare changes take effect
January 1, 2013 New Fair Credit Reporting Act forms for background checks take effect
January 1, 2013 New Medicare tax under health care reform takes effect
January 1, 2013 New defined benefit/contribution plan limits take effect
January 1, 2013 New limits on employees’ flexible spending accounts (FSA) take effect
January 31, 2013 W-2s need to be issued to employees by this date; W-2s need to include cost of employer-sponsored group health care coverage for employers required to issue 250 or more W-2s
January 31, 2013 Form 940 due and Federal Unemployment Tax Rate (FUTA) needs to be deposited if owed
February 1, 2013 OSHA 300 Log (Forms 300 & 300A) needs to be posted on February 1st through April 30th
February 10, 2013 Form 940 due if FUTA deposits have been made on time
February 15, 2013 W-4 changes must be made for employees claiming no exemptions last year
March 1, 2013 Employers must provide written notice to new-hires and current employees about health insurance exchanges under health care reform law
July 31, 2013 Form 5500 due for calendar year defined contribution and benefit plans; Form 5500 due by the last day of the 7th month following end of the plan year for non-calendar year plans; Insured and self-insured healthcare plans must pay $1 per member (applicable to 2012 plan year) to fund comparative effectiveness research of medical treatments. This payment increases to $2 per member for 2013 plan year.
September 30, 2013 EE0-1 reporting deadline
September 30, 2013 VETS-100/100A Form filing deadline
December 31, 2013 Group health plans must certify that they are compliant with HHS rules on electronic transactions between health providers and health plans.

Note: This chart is subject to change and more filing deadlines may apply for your specific organization than those listed in the chart. By providing you with research information that may be contained in this chart, the Employers Resource Council (ERC) is not providing a qualified legal opinion concerning any particular human resource issue. As such, research information that ERC provides to its members should not be relied upon or considered a substitute for legal advice. The information that we provide is for general employer use and not necessarily for individual application. We also recommend that you consult your legal counsel regarding workplace matters when and if appropriate.

2013 HR Compliance Guide

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We’ve developed an easy guide summarizing what your organization needs to know to stay compliant as it begins the New Year. The guide includes a summary of several regulations that take effect as well as important legal issues on the horizon.

Regulations that Take Effect

Below are several major regulations and initiatives will take effect during the first few months of 2013.

Legal/HR Issue Description of Regulation Effective Date
2013 Income Tax Withholding Tables Provides income tax withholding tables for 2013 here. Immediately
Unemployment Benefits Extends unemployment benefits for one year. Immediately
Tax Changes Extends current tax cuts for individuals earning less than $400,000 per year and couples earning less than $450,000. Increases top tax rate to 39.6% and tax rate on capital gains and dividends to 20% for individuals and couples earning more than these thresholds. Permanently indexes AMT (alternative minimum tax) for inflation. For 2012, the exemption amounts are $78,750 for married taxpayers filing jointly and $50,600 for single filers Immediately
HR-Related Tax Credits The employer-provided benefit tax credits for educational assistance and child care credits are now permanent. Several other tax credits are extended through 2013, including an employer wage credit for employees who are active duty members of the uniformed services. Immediately
Social Security Withholding Re-sets withholding rates at 6.2%. January 1, 2013
Social Security Wage Base Increases the Social Security Old Age Survivor's and Disability Insurance (OASDI) taxable wage base for 2013 from $110,100 to $113,700. January 1, 2013
Minimum Wage Raises minimum wage in Ohio to $7.85 per hour for non-tipped employees and $3.93 per hour for tipped employees. January 1, 2013
Mileage Rates Increases standard mileage rate to 56.5 cents per mile for business miles driven and 24 cents per mile for medical or moving purposes. Continues 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations. January 1, 2013
Retirement Plan Limits Raises the 2012 limit on the exclusion for elective deferrals in 401(k), 403(b), and 457(e) plans to $17,500, up from $17,000. For changes to other pension plan limits, click here. January 1, 2013
W-2 Benefits Reporting Requires employers who have an employer-sponsored group health plan to report the cost of coverage under their plan on employees' W-2s unless they are filing fewer than 250 forms. January 1, 2013
Contribution Limit for FSAs Limits an employee’s annual pre-tax salary reduction contributions to a health flexible spending account (FSA) to $2,500. January 1, 2013
Medicare Tax Increases Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) tax rate by 0.9 percent (from 1.45 percent to 2.35 percent) on earned income over $200,000 for an individual taxpayers and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly; also includes a 3.8 percent tax on unearned income in the case of individual taxpayers earning over $200,000 and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly). January 1, 2013
Fair Credit Reporting Act Notices Requires that employers must update their Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) notices and forms because enforcement of the FCRA is now under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. January 1, 2013
Notice of Health Insurance Exchanges Requires that employers provide all new hires and current employees with a written notice about the future availability of health insurance exchanges in their state. March 1, 2013

Legal Issues on the Horizon

The following table summarizes several major legal issues that could lead to greater scrutiny and more regulations for employers in 2013.

Legal/HR Issue Description of Issue
Implementation of health care reform In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the health care reform law is constitutional. As a result, employers will need to keep pace with preparing for and complying with health care reform provisions, including those set to go into effect in 2013.
Jobs/job-related training Both federal and state governments will be focused on jobs and job-related training/workforce readiness in 2013, which may lead to tax incentives, grants for training, and other initiatives that assist employers with hiring and training efforts.
Social media in the workplace The federal government, some state governments, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are scrutinizing employers' social media policies and use of social media in the hiring, selection, and pre-screening process.
Background screening The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidance this past year on background check practices, particularly as it relates to enhancing opportunities for those with criminal backgrounds. Ohio recently passed a law which reduces employment barriers for residents with misdemeanor or felony convictions.
Expansion of NLRB The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has expanded its influence throughout 2012, providing guidance on issues such as social media, at-will statements, and concerted activity. Expect this growing influence to continue.
Protection of unemployed individuals Bills were proposed at both state and federal levels to protect unemployed individuals from discrimination in the hiring process in 2012, and may gain further ground in 2013.
Targeted enforcement of  discrimination The EEOC will continue to focus its efforts on issues of systemic discrimination, intentional hiring discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and transgender bias.
Increased wage and hour enforcement Wage and hour lawsuits filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are dramatically rising, and the Department of Labor's (DOL) enforcement of the law has also increased. Misclassification also continues to be a focus of the DOL. Additionally, employers can expect that addressing equal pay may also be a priority for the federal government.
Workplace leave Both state and federal governments have shown interest in expanding workplace leave and enhancing the availability of flexible or alternative work arrangements.
Reduction of barriers for disabled workers The DOL continues to increase resources allocated to reducing barriers in employment for individuals with disabilities, including improving access to opportunities, increasing accessibility of accommodations, and changing perceptions regarding hiring people with disabilities.
Retirement plan reform The government continues to be interested in ensuring that employees are saving adequately for their retirement and is exploring a number of options.

If your organization needs more assistance, guidance, or detail with regard to these or other compliance-related issues, here are several additional resources and services, provided by ERC, which you can consult:

  • HR Help Desk: Contact hrhelp@yourERC.com to ask any HR or compliance-related question and receive answers, guidance, and research. Service offered to ERC members only.
  • BNA HR Essentials & Tools: An online tool that houses notices, posters, sample policies, forms, federal and state law summaries, and local wage and tax information. Accessible in the ERC Member Center at www.yourERC.com. Resource offered to ERC members only.

4 Ways to Handle Attendance & Pay During Bad Weather

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attendance policy for exempt employees 4 Ways to Handle Attendance & Pay During Bad Weather

The snow is finally here (sorry, but it was inevitable) and with it comes issues of absenteeism, tardiness, pay, and FLSA compliance.

  1. How will you consider absences during bad weather?
  2. Should you forgive tardiness in these circumstances?
  3. How will you handle pay for both exempt and non-exempt employees for missed work time due to weather?
  4. What do you need to know to stay compliant with FLSA?

Here are guidelines for your most pressing HR problems resulting from inclement weather, supported by research from our 2015 ERC Inclement & Adverse Weather Practices Survey.

1. Absenteeism

Over half of organizations consider absences excused for both non-exempt and exempt employees, if those absences are due to weather conditions. In addition, just over one-third of organizations determine whether these absences should be considered excused or unexcused on a case-by-case basis.
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