HR areas likely impacted with results of recent General Election

It has been just over a month since the historic November General Election.  The results, a Republican president-elect and Republican-controlled U.S. Congress, signal that a lot of changes will be coming to Human Resources laws and regulations, affecting both employers and employees.

Here are a few of the areas that may see significant changes soon:

  • Affordable Care Act (ACA) – President-Elect Donald Trump has promised to repeal and replace the ACA within his first 100 days in office. While experts do not believe the Act will be totally repealed, it is likely that Republican legislators will negotiate with fellow Democrats and recommend a change to the law and get the required 60 Senate votes to pass it.  Some of the current law provisions targeted for change include:
    • The Employer Mandate (organizations with 50 or more full-time employees or equivalents must provide ACA-compliant health care coverage to employees averaging at least 30 hours per week) and
    • The Cadillac Tax (40-percent excise tax on employer-sponsored health-care coverage that exceeds pre-defined benefit thresholds). Trump also supports increasing the flexibility of Health Savings Accounts, Flexible Spending Accounts and Health Reimbursement Arrangements.
  • Immigration Reform – The centerpiece of the Trump campaign was immigration reform and control. Experts believe that employers may see many changes as a result of this initiative, including:
    • increased audits of Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9,
    • required use of an E-Verify system (comparing employee information on an I-9 to federal records) and
    • changes to the H-1B Visa program for non-immigrants, in which non-U.S. workers are employed in specialty occupations.
  • Maternity Leave – During his campaign, Trump outlined a plan that would guarantee six weeks of paid maternity leave to new mothers after childbirth paid for through savings in the unemployment insurance program. This proposed policy would not offer benefits to fathers or parents of adopted children.

BCN Services will keep you up-to-date as changes unfold.  If you have additional questions, contact your Human Resources Representative at 1-800-891-9911.

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Alicia Freeman, Operations Manager

Taxable wage base for Social Security to increase in 2017

Each year, the Internal Revenue Service determines whether or not the limit on Social Security taxable wages will increase.

The Social Security Administration determines this annually by calculating the national average wage index.  In 2017, SSA will increase the taxable wage base from $118,500 to $127,200 for both employee and employer.

What does this mean to employers?  In 2016, an employer paid $7,347.00 for each employee that reached the wage cap and 2017, employers will pay $7,886.40, an increase of $539.40 per employee.

Employees at the wage cap will also see an additional $539.40 deducted from their checks.  It is important to note that employees potentially affected by this change should be notified in advance of the effective date of Jan. 1, 2017.

More information online:

  • For a look back at the increases over the years and for more about the contribution and benefit base visit the Social Security website at ssa.gov/OACT/COLA/cbb.html .
  • For a history of the taxable maximum, the rationale for the changes and how the SSA arrived at today’s process, visit www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/policybriefs/pb2011-02.html

If you have questions about how your employees are impacted by Social Security deductions, contact the experts at BCN Services for assistance.

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Amber Heckaman, Senior Staff Accountant

November was National Flu Awareness Month: 5 Steps to Prevention

As National Flu Awareness month comes to a close, it’s not too late for flu shots and promoting flu prevention in your workplace. Experts agree when the flu season invades the workplace, it can have a ripple effect on employees, co-workers and their families and, depending on your workplace, customers and vendors as well.
The flu season peaks in January and February so taking steps now can make a huge difference in staff productivity and well-being in the months ahead. Following are some basic rules of thumb:

No. 1 – Get your flu shot today

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advocates flu shots for everyone over the age of 6 months. Studies have shown that the best course of prevention is to get a flu shot every year. And while getting a shot earlier in the season may be preferred, it is still not too late to protect you and your family against this year’s flu bug. Check with your medical insurance provider to learn how and where to get vaccinated. If you don’t have medical coverage, contact your local health department or other community resources for the best, most cost-effective options in your area.

No. 2 – Wash your hands throughout the workday

We hear it all of the time and it’s true: Washing your hands frequently, using soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds each time, makes a difference. This is especially the case when you continually touch workplace items such as keyboards, door handles, phones, point-of-sale registers, and other work-related surfaces. Try to avoid touching your mouth, eyes, and nose whenever possible and if your position requires you to travel, be sure to pack hand-sanitizers.

No. 3 – Use tissues to cover a sneeze or a cough

It’s important to not only take care of yourself, but also to care about co-workers. If you feel the need to sneeze or cough, grab a tissue to cover your mouth and nose. You’ll feel better knowing that you’re looking out for your co-workers and your they will appreciate your efforts. And, as always, don’t forget to wash your hands after sneezing or coughing whenever possible.

No. 4 – Keep work surfaces clean

When was the last time you cleaned your keyboard or the handset on your phone? Take a few minutes to clean surfaces around you and everyone will benefit. Cleanliness does matter.

No. 5 – Make good health habits a priority and stay home if sick

This may sound like more than one tip, but it’s really good advice to practice year-round. Techniques such as getting enough sleep, keeping active, managing stress and maintaining a healthy diet are proven steps to improve your overall well-being. If you experience flu symptoms, try to stay home when possible. If you’re a manager or supervisor, encourage team members to stay home if that’s an option. And managers or supervisors should follow the same advice if they become ill.

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Susan Price, Strategic Service Manager

Important Announcement regarding New DOL overtime regulations

Overnight a federal judge in Texas granted a temporary injunction which blocks the Department of Labor’s final rule regarding the FLSA overtime exemptions and salary threshold.  This means that until a final decision is reached employers may follow the existing rule.

If you have not yet taken action, there is no reason to do so at this time.  If you’ve already made changes, you may want to leave your decision in place until further guidance is issued.

For assistance in evaluating your individual company strategy, call the BCN HR Team at 800-891-9911 or email us at hr@www.bcnservices.com

 

Sincerely,

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How to address concerns when moving an employee from salaried to hourly

With upcoming changes increasing the federal annual wage minimum taking effect December 1, 2016 there may be some anxiety or discontent with some of your employees who will be moved from exempt (salaried) status to non-exempt (hourly).

The annual wage minimum requirement for salaried/exempt status will change from $455 per week ($23,660 annually) to $913 per week ($47,476 annually) under this legislation.

When moving employees to an hourly classification under the new regulations, it’s helpful to understand the employee’s perspective.  Although the intent of the Fair Labor Standards Act is to protect employees from being overworked and underpaid, many employees perceive an hourly classification as having a lower status compared with those classified as salaried.

In delivering this message, here are a few tips that may ease their concerns:

  • When explaining the reclassification, explain that this change is based solely on legislation enacted by the U.S. Congress and has nothing to do with their job performance. Assure them that this is not a demotion, but a pay reclassification.  Explain to them that the change to hourly status is intended to assure that they are paid for overtime hours they work.
  • There also will be an adjustment phase. Employees that are now salaried may not be used to tracking their work hours or using a time-keeping system.  It is important to stress that this will be the new norm and that they must report all hours worked, including work from home whether via remote web or phone calls.
  • Each company will have different interpretations of flexibility in the workplace, but if your employees are used to a certain level of flexibility when with their schedules, you may want to continue that practice. Explain to them that they will have the same flexibility for doctor’s appointments, long lunches with an old friend, or leaving early on a Friday during the summer.  Make it clear that when they work 40 hours for the week, their weekly pay will remain the same.  But be sure they understand that if they do not make up this flexible time, their check will be less.
  • Keep an open door policy with your employees to address their concerns. It’s a good idea to map out potential paths for them to move into positions that remain salaried positions.  Help them understand what those positions are and direct them towards achieving their goals so they are able to move into those jobs.  While doing so, however, be sure to stress that their value and responsibilities within the company in their current position has not changed.  Only their pay structure has.

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Frank Lewandowski, PHR, SHRM-CP

I-9 Compliance: How much is it costing you?

The federal Form I-9 is deceptively simple, yet crucial in every new hire process. The form is designed to help employers verify the identity and certify that each employee can legally work in the United States. Can you imagine being fined hundreds of dollars because an employee forgot to sign or date it? Multiply one mistake by hundreds or thousands of employees and the result is a huge burden for business owners who fail to realize the importance of properly completing the I-9.

The U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, referred to commonly as ICE has been hitting companies hard with I-9 audits recently, and there is no sign of them slowing down. According to a recent Associated Press article, audits of employer I-9 forms increased from 250 in 2007 to more than 3,000 in 2012, and this number will likely continue to grow. ICE handed out more than $13 million in fines in 2012 based on violations discovered during these audits.

The USCIS states that fines for improper completion and retention and not making I-9 documents available for inspection range from $100 to $1,100 for each I-9. Fines for purposely hiring or continuing to employ unauthorized employees range from $250 up to $11,000 per offense. Employers who show a continued pattern of hiring unauthorized workers are liable for criminal penalties of as much as $3,000 per employee and may be subject to a minimum prison penalty of 6 months.

All companies, regardless of size, state, or industry, are subject to an ICE I-9 audit. A large clothing retailer reached a settlement with ICE of more than $1 million dollars in fines regarding I-9 documentation violations discovered during a 2008 audit. A drywall company was fined $173,250 for 225 separate I-9 paperwork violations. Additionally, a worldwide staffing company has been fined $227,000 in civil fines for improperly completing the Form I-9.
As you can imagine, these fines have greatly impacted companies worldwide, and could have been prevented with proper training and knowledge.  So what can a business do to properly protect itself?

The rules around I-9 forms can be very specific and sometimes confusing. As your trusted HR partner, BCN takes pride in ensuring our clients are in compliance, and trained properly in the I-9 paperwork procedures, avoiding the headache and stress of massive fees and penalties. If you have any questions or would like more information about  Form I-9, contact your HR specialists at BCN Services.

 

 

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Taylre Reed, Partnership Manager

Though not federally mandated, give employees time to cast their ballots

Most people are aware that U.S. Election Day is Tuesday, November 8 in 2016.  With the presidential election taking place this year, voters may wait in long lines in order to cast a ballot.

Many employers are fielding questions from employees about whether they will be able to miss time from work to vote.  As an employer, it’s important to understand what’s required of your company when it comes to the voting rights of your employees.

Federal law does not mandate time off to vote.  Many states do have laws about allowing employees time off to exercise their right to vote.  These can include allowing employees time away from work  –  up to several hours of their working day in some cases  –  to be spent at the polls.  Some states even require that the time off of work to vote be paid for non-exempt employees.  (Exempt employees should be paid.)

The state of Michigan is an example of a state that does not have specific laws about allowing your employees to vote.  It’s important to know the laws of your state to ensure that you are providing them the opportunities that your state affords.  Although it is not a compliance issue  , it’s good employment practice to make sure your employees have the opportunity to vote without being penalized if their regular work schedule doesn’t allow sufficient time to vote, regardless of the laws in your state. Remember that, as an employer, you should never attempt to influence employees’ votes or their decision-making process.

Call the experts at BCN if you have questions about the laws of your specific state related to employee rights and voting, or if you want to discuss an employment policy regarding this issue. We are here to help.

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Trisha Crigger, HR Generalist

 

Halloween: Workplace events can boost morale, build teamwork

Halloween has fast become a favorite holiday for employees to celebrate in the workplace. Not only is it a fun, morale-boosting celebration, it can also be used to encourage and build teamwork.

As with any office celebration, form a small committee to plan and execute any festivities. Instead of this being coordinated by the Human Resources staff, you may want to rotate primary responsibility for holidays from department to department to get more staff members involved.

This rotation is important and allows for team building and leadership development across the company, since planning and executing holiday celebrations builds staff skills.

Next, come up with new fun and creative ways to celebrate. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

Costume party or parade: Keep the event simple and encourage employees to wear their costume to work for the day. Alternatively, you can make the celebration more elaborate and hold a party or a parade of costumed employees around the company.

Costume contest: Have multiple categories such as best costume, funniest costume, the most sophisticated costume, the costume that took the most work to make, the scariest costume, and the most creative costume.  Advertise awards in advance and provide a nice gift to the winners such as a gift or catalog certificate.

Halloween breakfast: It’s the perfect time of the year to serve cider and doughnuts. Other options include pumpkin and apple bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin coffee cake, or pumpkin-and-apple muffins. For those who prefer healthier options, provide assorted fruits. Use this opportunity and make the breakfast a team-building celebration. Encourage employees to spend time together rather than retreating with their breakfast to their office or cubicle.

Halloween luncheon or potluck: You can as easily make a Halloween luncheon or potluck as a seasonal breakfast. For the potluck, suggest employees bring a fall-themed soup or chili. Or, order pizza, sandwich wraps, submarines or any other popular luncheon menu.

Halloween decorations: Offer prizes for best and most festively decorated work area and give out awards similar to those mentioned above for costumes. Encouraging teams to work together to decorate a shared work area will enhance the team-building aspects of this competition

Pumpkin carving contests: Make the pumpkin carving a contest between individual employees, or between departments. Either option is a fun, creative team-building opportunity.

Halloween appeals to the child in many of us and workplace events are a favored way to celebrate this increasingly popular holiday.

One word of caution: Not all employees celebrate all holidays and Halloween can be one that carries some connotations that may not sit well with everyone. Be sensitive to this and never force an employee to participate in something that makes them uncomfortable. Consider an alternative way for these employees to stay involved without compromising their feelings. Perhaps consider, instead, a more generic Fall-themed event for your staff.

Happy  Fall!

If you have questions about morale-building or other staff efforts and special events in your workplace, contact your specialists at BCN Services to discuss your individual situation.

 

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Lisandra Garrow, HR Generalist

Eye on safety: Workplace injuries are preventable when the focus is on safety

More than 2,000 eye injuries occur each day while people are at work. Of these, 10 percent result in missed workdays and 10 to 20 percent of incidents will cause temporary or permanent blindness.

Almost 90 percent of these injuries could have been prevented by having employees wear appropriate eye protection while on the job.  Following is information to be aware of during Eye Injury Prevention Month, which takes place each October.

Eye injuries can result from a variety of causes:

  • Flying objects in the air
  • Tools
  • Particles
  • Chemical splashes
  • Harmful radiation

To protect your eyes from injuries while at work, consider the following recommendations for employees:

  • Identify and eliminate workplace dangers before beginning your tasks for the day.
  • Select safety glasses or goggles appropriate for the job and your facial features. Glasses should rest firmly on the top of your nose and close to (not against) the face.
  • Wear glasses or goggles that are properly ventilated for the work you are performing. Unless you are working near splash hazards, use goggles with plenty of side ventilation to prevent fogging.
  • If goggles fog easily, try another model with more ventilation or coat them with an anti-fog liquid.
  • Always keep safety goggles and glasses clean. Scratches and dirt can reduce vision, cause glare and may contribute to accidents.
  • If you wear prescription glasses, wear goggles designed to fit over your glasses or use safety glasses made with your prescription.

 But if there is an accident, follow these steps:

Specks in the eye

  • Don’t rub the affected eye.
  • Flush the eye with lots of water.
  • Go to your occupational medical clinic if the speck doesn’t wash out or if pain/redness continues.

Cuts, punctures and foreign objects in the eye

  • Unlike with specks of dust or metal, be sure NOT to wash out the affected eye.
  • Don’t try to remove a foreign object stuck in the eye.
  • Seek immediate medical attention.

Chemical burns

  • Immediately flush the eye with water or drinkable liquid. Open the eye as wide as possible.  Continue flushing for at least 15 minutes, even while you are on your way to seeking medical care.
  • If a contact lens is in the eye, begin flushing over the lens immediately. Flushing may dislodge the lens.
  • Seek immediate medical attention.

Blows to the eye

  • Apply a cold compress without pressure, or tape crushed ice in a plastic bag to the forehead and allow it to rest gently on the injured eye.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if pain continues, if you have reduced vision, or if blood or discoloration appears in the eye.

Sources:  The National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, National Safety Council, the Health & Safety Institute

 

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Patrick Boeheim, Risk Manager

Office politics at a new level: Managing the political season in the workplace

Election Day is right around the corner and as the big day approaches, chatter in the office can get louder and louder.  This year, in particular, people seem to be more divided than ever on the outcome of the upcoming national election.

How should this be handled in the workplace?  Is it OK to debate politics in the office?  Is it OK to try and persuade a fellow coworker?

While many are eager to share their political views with coworkers, other staff members may feel very private about their opinions and can feel bullied by the ones that are more vocal.  Things can get heated quickly and it’s important for staff to feel they are working in a nonvolatile environment.

Below are some simple guidelines that may be helpful in your work environment.  No matter what side of the political aisle you are on (or maybe you are taking no position), these helpful tips may help make the environment at work comfortable for all:

  • It’s important that managers or staff in leadership positions be careful in sharing their political views. Be sure that your views are not perceived as a representation of the Company as a whole.
  • Do not allow political signs/banners to be displayed in the workplace. Banners, posters, signs can all be a source of contention for fellow employees that don’t share the same views.
  • Managers or staff in leadership roles should refrain from asking employees what their political views are.   You would not want an employee to question whether they had missed out on an advancement opportunity.
  • Nip it, quick. If you hear about chatter among coworkers that could raise tension, don’t let it linger. If a complaint is made to a manager, it should be dealt with as quickly as possible to avoid bigger issues down the road.
  • Respect each other. You may want to address such rules of respect in your employee handbook.
  • As Election Day approaches, prepare: Tension can rise quickly on and shortly after Election Day. Make sure your staff understands that while they may feel strongly about the outcome, coworkers may feel very differently.

BCN is here to help you with your HR needs and if you would like assistance in establishing Code of Conduct rules in your employee handbook, we are here to help.

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Wendy Allen, Marketing Manager