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Back to School, Back to Safety: Safety Tips for Kids

By | Newsletter, Risk Management | No Comments

Now that children (and parents) are back in the routine of going to school, it’s important to spend a few minutes reviewing safety tips for kids and parents, to ensure every child stays safe.

Safety Tips for Commuting: Kids Crossing!

Whether you’re driving to/from work, or driving as part of your work responsibilities, be aware of children out and about first thing in the morning, as well as in the afternoons/evenings. Busy sports, dance, and other programs will have children coming and going from school throughout the afternoon and evening. Morning and evening sun may make it difficult to see, so take a few minutes to be extra cautious and follow these tips:

  • Watch for pedestrians
  • Take school zones seriously; slow down even when school zone lights aren’t flashing
  • Never make lane changes in school zones
  • Watch for crossing guards and obey their signals
  • Leave plenty of room at crosswalks; never block them
  • Obey speed limits
  • Never text and drive
  • Never pass a school bus when the stop signal is posted and the lights are flashing
Safety Rules That Kids Should Follow

Whether your children walk, ride their bicycles, or take the bus to school, it’s extremely important that they take proper safety precautions. Go with your child and teach them the proper way to get on and off the bus, and/or how to safely cross the street.

  1. School Bus Stops: Make sure your child stands six feet away from the curb while waiting for the bus. If your child needs to cross the street in front of the bus, ensure he or she walks on the side of the road until they’re 10 feet ahead of the bus and looks both ways before crossing. Let them know they should always be able to see the bus driver, and the bus driver should always be able to see them.
  1. Training at Crosswalks: Teach children to do the following: stand six feet away from the road at a crosswalk and wait until traffic comes to a complete stop. Look both ways. If using a bike or scooter, dismount and walk the bike or scooter across the crosswalk. The most important safety consideration is ensuring children remain visible to drivers and make eye contact with them. Be sure children understand that they should always use street signals at crosswalks, where available.

Safety tips for kids can help adults, too. Talking about safety helps children and employees be more cognizant of their behaviors. Even simple reminders could help prevent an unnecessary accident. For more tips with staying safe, please email me directly at joey@stratus.hr.

School Safety

Whether or not you have children in school, it’s important to review safety tips to help prevent any unnecessary accidents.

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New Overtime Law Rejected

By | General HR, Newsletter, Overtime, Payroll | No Comments

A district court recently rejected the Department of Labor’s (DOL)’s new overtime law that would have resulted in a higher income threshold for exemption status. Had this law passed, any employee falling under the new salary level of $47,476 would have qualified for overtime wages, regardless of their job duties. For now, however, the existing salary threshold remains intact of $23,600, meaning employees whose job duties, functions, or tasks *satisfy exemption status AND make more than $23,660 are NOT required by law to be paid overtime for hours worked in excess of 40 per week.

The “Final Rule” was challenged late last year prior to its implementation and was put on hold until the district court could review the case. The court’s September 2017 review resulted in the issuance of its own “final rule” on the overtime law, rejecting the case in its entirety.

Why was the DOL “Final Rule” rejected?

First, we need to explain the background of the “Final Rule.” The Secretary of Labor was initially tasked to “modernize and streamline the existing overtime regulations for executive, administrative, and professional employees.” After receiving more than 293,000 comments on the proposed rule, the DOL decided to raise the minimum salary level for exempt employees to the 40th percentile of earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-wage Census Region of the nation (the South), which was $47,476. Had the law been implemented, any employee making less than $47,476 per year would have been eligible for overtime payment if he or she worked more than 40 hours in a week, regardless of job duties. Additionally, the new overtime law created an automatic system to adjust the minimum salary level every three years based on inflation.

Per the FLSA, the focal point of exemption status should be an employee’s job duties, functions, or tasks, with the salary amount acting as a secondary point of consideration. However, the significant increase to the minimum salary amount for exempt employees bumped the focal point of exemption status to salary amount, making an employee’s job duties, functions, or tasks irrelevant if an employee fell below that minimum salary level. (In fact, had the “Final Rule” passed, an estimated 42 million workers would have instantly become non-exempt, even though their job duties had not changed.) This was the basis for rejecting the new overtime law.

Will the minimum salary amount for exempt employees be adjusted still?

This is the question on most employers’ minds – and the answer is, possibly. The DOL published a Request for Information on July 26, 2017, asking for the public’s input to create a revised proposal. The request asks for some complex information, including questions “related to the salary level test, the duties test, varying cost-of-living across different parts of the U.S., inclusion of non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments to satisfy a portion of the salary level, the salary test for highly compensated employees, and automatic updating of the salary level tests.” Employers have until September 25, 2017, to submit their feedback.

What does the DOL “Final Rule” rejection mean for employers right now?
  1. Employers whose businesses adhere to the federal guidelines rather than some stricter state or local guidelines (such as New York and California) do not need to increase minimum salary amounts for exempt employees yet. As always, be sure to check state and local laws that may have higher standards than the federal level.
  2. If you adjusted employee wages last year in anticipation of the increased minimum salary threshold, you surely helped with retention and morale but cannot legally recoup those additional wages that have already been paid. In fact, employers seriously considering any return to previously-held salary amounts may want to first discuss possible ramifications with their HR consultant.
  3. If you recently reviewed your employees’ exempt vs. nonexempt status and made adjustments to be compliant with the FLSA, we commend you for being proactive. Although the process can be time consuming, cleaning up misclassified employees can protect your company from unnecessary penalties and litigation.
  4. If you have yet to review your workforce’s classifications, focus first on the employee’s job duties, functions, or tasks to determine exemption status. If you need assistance with classifying employees as exempt or nonexempt, please contact your HR consultant.
  5. Provide feedback to the DOL if you want to voice your opinion on the matter. But do it before September 25, 2017!

*For more information about what specific job duties qualify for exemption status, please contact us.

Judge Rejects Proposed Overtime Law

The DOL’s overtime law to bump an exempt employee’s minimum salary to $47,476 was rejected in court. Here are five things employers should know because of this ruling.

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Is the ACA Still in Effect? Current Status of Legislation on Small Business Health Insurance

By | Benefits, Health Reform Updates, Newsletter | No Comments

First there was the Affordable Care Act (ACA), then there was the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The question now: which one is in effect and how does it impact small business health insurance that employers are providing? In other words, should businesses comply with the ACA or the AHCA?

Here’s the short answer: the ACA is still in effect. In July of 2017, legislation was introduced to repeal and replace the ACA with the American Health Care Act (AHCA). After the measure was defeated, the Senate stepped away from healthcare and has yet to determine when it will re-address the topic in the future.

The IRS recently released four letters (2017-0010, 2017-0011, 2017-0013, and 2017-0017) confirming that all obligations and subsequent penalties for a qualified employer’s lack of ACA compliance are still in effect. Although there may be more efforts in the future to repeal/replace or simply amend components to the ACA, employers should continue with all current compliance requirements of the ACA.

Healthcare and ACA: Employer Requirements

Employers with 50+ employees must provide affordable health insurance coverage for their full-time employees (30+ hours/week) that includes the minimum essential health benefits. To comply, employers must track and report hours to the IRS and provide documentation regarding their health insurance plan and participants. Qualified employers that don’t provide both of those elements are subject to penalties. See this refresher of all Obamacare requirements.

Status of the ACA’s Individual Mandate

Because the ACA has not been repealed and replaced, it also means that the individual mandate is still in effect: every person in the U.S. is required to have some sort of major medical insurance or face a tax penalty.

Effect of the Executive Order to minimize the ACA’s impact on businesses and individuals

According to IRS letter 2017-0017, the executive order requesting that agencies minimize the impact of the ACA on individuals and businesses has not changed requirements for coverage or any other aspect of the ACA. Individuals and businesses must still comply with the mandate and adhere to the ACA requirements.

Details about ACA and small business health insurance

For questions about business compliance requirements regarding employer-provided health insurance or the ACA, please see Are You Obamacare Compliant?. To learn more about small business health insurance plans that bring down costs while increasing benefits, please contact our HR experts at HR@Stratus.hr.

ACA or AHCA?

ACA or AHCA: what should business owners do to be in compliance with healthcare legislation?

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Minimum Wage Increases – July 1, 2017

By | General HR, Newsletter, Payroll | No Comments

Although the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr has not changed since 2009, several states, cities, and counties will have minimum wage increases as of July 1, 2017.

States with Increasing Minimum Wage as of July 1, 2017

States whose minimum wage rates will increase as of July 1, 2017 include:

  • Maryland: $9.25/hr (Montgomery County and Prince George’s County have separate rate increases set to occur as of October 1, 2017 – see chart for details)
  • Oregon: $10.25/hr (Portland goes to $11.25/hr and nonurban counties go to $10.00/hr)
  • Washington DC: $12.50/hr

Several other cities and counties will also see minimum wage increases as of July 1, 2017. Please see the chart below for details.

States that Pay the Federal Minimum Wage

States whose minimum wage rates do not exceed the federal minimum rate of $7.25/hr include:

  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa (with the exception of several counties; see chart for details)
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico (with the exception of several cities/counties; see chart for details)
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Local laws and ordinances may be different than the outlined information. If an employee works in an area with a higher minimum wage than the federal standard, the higher rate should be paid.

Minimum Wage for Tipped Employees

Federal minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13/hr, provided that this hourly rate combined with tips equals at least the federal minimum wage. Several states have specific laws in regards to tipped employees found here.

Youth Minimum Wage

Workers under the age of 20 can be paid a minimum wage of $4.25/hr for the first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment when their work does not displace another worker. After 90 days, the teen must receive at least the federal minimum rate of $7.25/hr.

For questions about minimum wage or help with other wage and/or compliance matters, please contact our certified HR experts at HR@stratus.hr.

Drug Testing – Where Do I Start?

By | Articles, Drug Testing, Health & Wellness, Manager Training, Newsletter, Performance | No Comments

You’ve seen a few hints of potential drug abuse at your worksite and are suddenly chilled by thoughts of everything you’ve tried to avoid since hiring your first employee. You certainly don’t want other employees to think this is acceptable behavior, and the last thing you want is for the employee to injure himself (or even worse, somebody else) – but what do you do? Here’s the quick how-to plan for both reasonable suspicion testing, as well as setting up a random drug testing policy.

Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing

1. Know the Signs
Although you are not expected to be an expert at diagnosing somebody who is impaired from drugs or alcohol, there are several signs that, when paired together, may indicate something more than a bad day. The most common signs of drug or alcohol impairment include: mood changes; slurred speech; difficulty walking; altered appearance; clumsiness; loss of concentration; performance problems; watery or red eyes; argumentative, uncooperative, or accusatory behaviors; and dilated pupils.

2. Get a Second Witness
Ask another manager (without explaining your suspicions) to observe the employee to provide you with a second opinion. If both you and your second witness have reasonable suspicion that the employee is impaired, pull the employee off the job immediately. If the behaviors are severe or the job is safety-sensitive, don’t wait to find your second witness before pulling the employee off the job.

3. Document Everything!
Being as objective as possible, write down all behaviors and performance issues you’ve observed. Do not include any thoughts and opinions as to why the performance problems are the way they are – simply the specific details of what you observed. These details may include employee actions and interactions, smells, when and where everything occurred, what the employee was doing, any witnesses, and so on. (If you’d like to use our user-friendly form to document your observations, please contact us.)

4. Get the Employee Tested
Perhaps this doesn’t need to be said, but never send an employee to a testing facility alone if you have reason to believe he/she is drug or alcohol-impaired. Either you or another manager should drive the employee to the testing facility, or have someone come to your worksite to test the employee. For more information on reasonable suspicion drug testing vendors and pricing, please contact our HR experts.

Setting up a Random Drug Testing Policy

Many employers choose to set up a random drug testing policy to discourage drug abuse from the get-go, which will hopefully eliminate any for-suspicion incidents. Here’s how to quickly get that set up:

  1. Create a random drug testing policy.
  2. Hold a meeting with employees where the policy is discussed; be sure they sign an acknowledgment form before returning to work.
  3. Have new employees sign off on the policy upon hire.
  4. Conduct random testing (at random times) to enforce the policy and deter drug abuse.

As part of our services, Stratus.hr clients already have steps 1-3 taken care of through the drug-free workplace policy provided in your handbook and the acknowledgment form that employees sign once they are hired. If you are not yet a Stratus.hr client and would like to get a policy set up, or you are interested in setting up random drug testing, please contact us and our experts will take care of everything. We can even conduct the random testing for you and have it deducted from your company payroll rather than billing you separately.

Don’t wait for the avoidable incident – contact us today.

(Reposted from our archives)

Reasonable suspicion drug testing and random drug testing both need to be carefully planned before acting on any whims.
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How One Comment Created a Hostile Work Environment

By | Discrimination, General HR, Manager Training, Newsletter | No Comments

In a recent court decision of Lashawna C. v. Perez, the EEOC reminds employers that sometimes only one insensitive comment is all it takes to create a hostile work environment and religious harassment – even if that comment was intended to be a joke.

What happened?
A supervisor from within the Department of Labor was exchanging emails with a (Jewish) subordinate regarding the subordinate’s work hours and schedule. During the exchange, the Complainant stated that government employees generally work shorter hours than private sector employees, and she was “working like a civilian.” In response, the supervisor said the following:

Wow … then I must be a damn fool … cause I’ve been working like a Hebrew slave the last 9 years and don’t have enough time to take off … at least somebody got it right.

In explaining his comment to the EEOC, the supervisor said that he used the term “Hebrew slave” in his email to her because this was a “common term that’s used to reflect individuals who work with little means to produce great things.”

While the DOL insisted that this single comment was not severe enough to constitute harassment because he applied the term to himself rather than to the subordinate, the EEOC disagreed based on the following grounds:

The Commission has found that under certain circumstances a single or limited number of epithets or slurs may constitute harassment under Title VII. In this case, the Supervisor (S1) made the comment in an email to Complainant, and S1 knew that Complainant is Jewish. Although S1 only made such a comment once, the comment packed a painful, potent punch. Specifically, S1’s comment made light of the long and painful history of Jewish persecution and genocide…

The fact that S1 may have intended his comment to be a joke or a cliché does not soften the offense any more here than it would if he had uttered an equally offensive racial slur. We determine that a reasonable person in Complainant’s circumstances would find that S1’s comment was severe enough to create a hostile work environment based on her religion.

As a result, the Labor Department was ordered to pay $10,000 to the Complainant and $10,980 to her lawyer, all of which was taxpayer money.

Take Home For Employers
While this ruling does not reflect the language of the relevant statute which bans harassment when it is sufficiently pervasive as to affect “terms” or “conditions of employment,” it provides an important “teachable moment” for employers. Specifically, managers and supervisors should be trained on what is and is not appropriate to say to subordinates, and should always attempt to err on the side of sensitivity.

For more information about what may or may not constitute a hostile work environment, or to request assistance with employee trainings, please contact our HR experts.

Source: ePlace Solutions, Inc. (with amends)

Lessons Learned from Uber’s HR Nightmare

By | Corrective Action, Discrimination, Employee Morale, General HR, Manager Training, Newsletter, Performance | No Comments

A recent blog post from a former Uber engineer is an HR nightmare, with allegations of harassment, sexism, discrimination and power struggles in what she details as “a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story.” Here’s what happened and how it should have been handled from the start…

**From her very first day on the job, Susan Fowler received a string of inappropriate messages from her new manager about his sex life, with clear overtones of wanting Fowler to engage in sexual acts with him. All of this was communicated over company chat, of which she took screen shots and submitted to HR. Although HR admitted these messages were indeed sexual harassment, Fowler was told it was this employee’s first offense and that he wouldn’t get anything more than “a warning and a stern talking-to” because he was a high performer and had probably just committed an innocent mistake.

Fowler was offered to either switch teams or face a likely “poor performance review” from this manager, for which the HR rep insisted would not be considered retaliation if she chose to stay. Feeling quite limited, Fowler switched teams and conversed with more women engineers, many of which she learned over time had similar encounters with the same manager long before she had even come on board. Most of these women had reported him to HR, meaning her encounter actually wasn’t his first offense, and that HR had lied. The women scheduled meetings with HR, received more blatant lies about this manager’s innocence, and felt helpless.

The story goes on with transfer blocks due to “undocumented performance problems,” more sexist emails that were sent to Fowler (and reported to HR), and an absurd move to only purchase leather jackets for the men because they couldn’t get the same “bulk discount” for the women’s jackets. Fowler was then told by HR that she was the common denominator in all of the reports and that “certain people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others.” Less than a week later, she had a meeting with her manager who told her that she was on thin ice for reporting his manager to HR and that she could be fired if she did it again. Knowing retaliation was illegal, she reported the meeting – but nothing came of it because the manager was a high performer. Thankfully, Fowler has since found greener pastures working for a new employer. **

From the very first report of harassment, with or without Fowler’s documented record of any inappropriate conduct, HR should have investigated and implemented corrective action, regardless of the perpetrator’s “high performance” record. Taking harassment complaints seriously and acting immediately is imperative to maintaining the integrity of your HR department. See our steps to Curb “Locker Room Banter” at Work for more details on how to handle sexual harassment complaints.

Our Stratus.hr experts work with clients to ensure compliance with all employment laws, provide advice for difficult situations, and help with workplace investigations. Please contact our HR team for more information.

5 Tips to Keeping Up with Company Growth

By | Company Growth, Newsletter | No Comments

Every entrepreneur has a goal in mind when they first start a business, whether it be a small family business to pass onto the next generation, or perhaps to be the next big publicly traded company. But what do you do when your business growth takes off faster than you can handle?

Being able to keep up with customer demands and expectations is a challenge for every business owner, and growing faster than you can handle may have detrimental effects to your organization. According to inc.com, here are five tips to keeping up with your fast-growing company:

1. Find a Mentor
A mentor can provide tips on business strategy, help with networking efforts, or even act as a confidant when your work-life balance becomes lop-sided.

2. Drop Dead Customer Weight
When your company is growing, it allows you the advantage of saying goodbye to your worst customers – the ones who are always pushing to get more for their money or making you spend far more time on their account than a less-demanding customer.

3. Learn How to Delegate
Although delegating can be an emotional process, take a step back from the day-to-day tasks and discover areas that can be delegated to others. Consider outsourcing some of the tasks that are not critical to your core business, such as payroll, benefits, and risk management.

4. Hire Virtual Workers
If your workspace is busting at the seams with all the new growth, this thought may have already crossed your mind. Today’s technology allows telecommuting and working remotely more viable than ever. Another approach would be outsourcing your administrative and human resources needs. This option will save you much more than office space and will get you access to certified industry experts.

5. Know What You’re Getting Into
Not every business owner wants the stress and pressure of a fast-growing company, so be patient. Do your research and conduct a well-thought-out strategy of how you’re going to execute your business plan.

Being a business owner is challenging enough. Click here to learn more about how to simplify your life and make your business more competitive.

Post OSHA Summary Feb 1 – Apr 30

By | Newsletter, Risk Management | No Comments

It’s that time of year when *employers with 10+ full-time employees are required to keep record of all reportable worksite injuries and illnesses that need treatment beyond first aid that occur on the worksite. The complete record is maintained on their OSHA 300 logs (page 7 of the OSHA 300 booklet) and includes details such as where and when they occurred, the nature of the case, the job title of the injured employee, and the number of work days missed (or on light duty) due to the work-related illness or injury.

Then, from Feb 1 – Apr 30 of the following year, these employers must complete OSHA 300A, which is a summary of those injuries and incidents (page 8 of the OSHA 300 booklet) and post it in a conspicuous place for employees to see, such as a break room. According to osha.gov, all work-related cases must be recorded if they involve any of the following:
• Death,
• Days away from work,
• Restricted work or transfer to another job,
• Medical treatment beyond first aid,
• Loss of consciousness, or
• A significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed healthcare professional.

If any employees do not have access to where the summary is posted, perhaps because of a remote worksite or travel requirements, they must be sent a copy of the report.  Even if no injuries occurred in the previous year, employers are required to post the summary to meet the requirements of this law.

Stratus.hr clients who are required to post the OSHA Summary and for whom we administer their Workers’ Comp policy should receive their OSHA 300A Forms prior to Feb 1. Please ensure this form is posted in a visible place to employees from Feb 1 – Apr 30. For more information about this OSHA requirement, please contact us at wc@stratus.hr.

*To see if your industry is on the partially-exempt list that is not required to post OSHA injury and illness records, click here.