stack of cash wrapped in ribbon next to holiday gift to symbolize a holiday bonus

Is Your Holiday Bonus Program Compliant?

Employers Must Consider Discrimination & Tax Implications

With the end of the year fast approaching, many employers are getting ready to hand out holiday bonuses, unaware that these tidings of the season can come wrapped in legal implications. To help avoid compliance issues, consider the following questions when planning your bonus program:

  • Are the bonuses discretionary?: Non-exempt employees covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act must receive overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek, at a rate not less than time and one-half their regular rates of pay. However, discretionary bonuses are not part of an employee’s regular rate of pay under the Act, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • Are the bonuses nondiscriminatory?: As with all employee compensation, holiday bonuses must be provided on a nondiscriminatory basis. The eligibility criteria for bonuses must be applied in a nondiscriminatory way, and eligible employees must receive bonuses in nondiscriminatory amounts.
  • Are the bonuses taxable?: Cash gifts are subject to federal, state, and local withholding taxes. However, the IRS considers de minimis fringe benefits—typically non-cash items with a market value generally less than $100—to be non-taxable.

Click here for more information from the IRS on the tax implications of holiday gifts.

Visit HR360’s Employee Pay section to learn more about the rules regulating compensation.

person resting from flu under blankets

Flu and Your Workplace

Flu can be a big disruption for business. Employees who are sick may need to take time off to recover and may not be as productive when it comes to getting work done. In addition, symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, and fever can spread germs to healthy employees.

The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year, but good health habits like covering a cough and frequent hand washing can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu.

Tips for Fighting Flu

Everyday preventive actions that can help prevent flu and the spread of germs in the workplace include:

  1. Cover Your Mouth and Nose

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Flu viruses are thought to spread mainly from person to person through the coughing, sneezing, or talking of someone with the flu.

  1. Avoid Touching Your Eyes, Nose, or Mouth

Flu viruses also may spread when people touch something with flu virus on it and then touch their mouth, eyes, or nose. Routinely clean frequently touched objects and surfaces, including doorknobs, keyboards, and phones, to help remove germs.

  1. Clean Your Hands

Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. Make sure your workplace has an adequate supply of tissues, soap, paper towels, alcohol-based hand rubs, and disposable wipes.

  1. Stay Home When Sick

Employees should be encouraged to stay home from work when they are sick to help prevent others from getting ill. If there is only one employee who performs a particular task, consider training others so that coverage is available should that employee need to leave work early or stay home due to illness.

  1. Practice Good Health Habits

Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

Resources and Printable Materials for Promoting Good Health Habits

To help businesses, employers, and their employees learn about strategies for preventing flu, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides the following toolkit, flyers, posters, and other materials:

This podcast provides information about recommended strategies to help businesses and employers promote the 2012–2013 seasonal flu vaccine.

Learn what two strategies are recommended to businesses and employers this flu season.

Host a flu vaccine clinic in the workplace and use this flyer–complete with fillable text boxes so you can add the location, date, and time of your flu vaccine clinic.

Encourage employees to get vaccinated at locations in the community. Navigate to the Flu Vaccine Finder website to find locations offering flu vaccine and then update the flyer and post.

Share this flyer with employees to encourage flu vaccination. Consider posting this in the workplace, or copy and place in mailboxes or include in pay statements or newsletters.

Use this flyer with other workplace managers to kick off discussions about flu vaccination planning.

Promote flu vaccination using web technology:

Post on business windows and restroom mirrors.

young african american woman working in a bake shop

How Holiday Help May Impact Your ALE Status

Employers May Apply a Reasonable, Good Faith Interpretation of the Term ‘Seasonal Worker’

Employers that hire seasonal workers this holiday season are reminded that there is an exception when measuring workforce size to determine whether they are an applicable large employer (ALE) subject to the Affordable Care Act’s employer shared responsibility (“pay or play”) and corresponding information reporting provisions.

Seasonal Worker Exception

If an employer’s workforce exceeds 50 full-time employees (including full-time equivalent employees) for 120 days or less (or 4 calendar months) during the preceding calendar year, and the employees in excess of 50 who were employed during that period were seasonal workers, the employer is not considered an ALE for the current calendar year. A seasonal worker for this purpose is an employee who performs labor or services on a seasonal basis (e.g., retail workers employed exclusively during holiday seasons are seasonal workers).

Seasonal Worker Versus Seasonal Employee

While the terms “seasonal worker” and “seasonal employee” are both used in the pay or play provisions, only the term “seasonal worker” is relevant for determining whether an employer is considered an ALE. For this purpose, employers may apply a reasonable, good faith interpretation of the term “seasonal worker.” For more information on the difference between a seasonal worker and a seasonal employee under pay or play, please refer to IRS Pay or Play Q&A #26.

Check out our Pay or Play section for additional details.

manager making female employee uncomfortable with hand on shoulder per sexual harassment

Tips for Eliminating Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

EEOC Recommends Certain Actions to Prevent and Correct Harassment

Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) encourages employers to take certain steps necessary to prevent and correct workplace harassment.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful sex discrimination that can occur in a variety of circumstances. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct:

  • Explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment;
  • Unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance; or
  • Creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Preventing and Correcting Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Below are various actions the EEOC recommends employers take to prevent and correct workplace harassment.

  • Establish, distribute, and enforce a policy prohibiting harassment and setting out a procedure for making complaints. An employer’s anti-harassment policy should make clear that the employer will not tolerate sexual harassment or retaliation against anyone who complains of harassment or who participates in an investigation.
  • Conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation of any harassment complaint. The investigator should interview the employee who complained of harassment, the alleged harasser, and others who could reasonably be expected to have relevant information. The alleged harasser should not have any direct or indirect control over the investigation.
  • Take immediate measures to stop confirmed harassment and ensure it does not recur. Disciplinary measures should be proportional to the seriousness of the offense. The employer also should correct the effects of the harassment by, for example, restoring leave taken because of the harassment and expunging negative evaluations in the employee’s personnel file that arose from the harassment.

Taking steps to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace not only promotes a healthy and productive work environment, but it may also help an employer defend against liability in the event the employer is held responsible for unlawful harassment.

To learn more about sexual harassment, check out our section on Sex Discrimination.

man sitting at desk stressed reading papers

Job Conditions That May Lead to Stress

The following conditions have been listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which may cause stress at the workplace.

The Design of Tasks

  • Heavy workload;
  • Infrequent rest breaks;
  • long work hours and shift-work; and
  • Hectic and routine tasks that have little inherent meaning, do not utilize workers’ skills, and provide little sense of control.

Management Style

  • Lack of participation by workers in decision- making;
  • Poor communication in the organization; and
  • Lack of family-friendly policies.

Interpersonal Relationships

  • Poor social environment and lack of support or help from coworkers and supervisors.

Work Roles

  • Conflicting or uncertain job expectations;
  • Too much responsibility; and
  • Too many “hats to wear.”

Career Concerns

  • Job insecurity and lack of opportunity for growth, advancement, or promotion; and
  • Rapid changes for which workers are unprepared.

Environmental Conditions

  • Unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions, such as crowding, noise, air pollution, or ergonomic problems.
man calculating taxes

IRS Will Not Accept Forms 1040 That Omit Health Coverage Information

IRS Issues Guidance for Taxpayers on Reporting Health Coverage

The IRS has announced that the upcoming 2018 filing season will be the first time that it will not accept electronically filed tax returns until taxpayers report their health care coverage pursuant to the individual shared responsibility provision (“individual mandate”) of the Affordable Care Act. In addition, returns filed on paper that do not address these requirements may be suspended pending the receipt of additional information, and any refunds may be delayed.

Background

The “individual mandate” (also known as individual shared responsibility) generally requires every individual to have minimum essential health coverage for each month, qualify for an exemption, or make a payment when filing his or her federal income tax return. More detailed information about the individual mandate is available in IRS Q&As.

IRS Instructions

‎To avoid refund and processing delays when filing 2017 tax returns in 2018, the IRS is instructing taxpayers to indicate on their Forms 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, whether they (and everyone on their return):

  • Had minimum essential health coverage;
  • Qualified for an exemption from the coverage requirement; or
  • Are making a payment.

Click here to read the IRS guidance in its entirety.

Our Individual Mandate section features additional information regarding the individual shared responsibility requirements.

four flourescent expo markers standing up against a clean whiteboard against a light orange wall

Job Analysis & Description: Key Tools In The Employment Process

The employees you hire are absolutely critical to your company’s success. With so much at stake, it is important to develop a job analysis and job description for each position in your company to ensure you are hiring and retaining the best possible people.

Job Analysis

The job analysis covers such key areas as the purpose or reason the job exists, job location or setting, and qualifications in terms of skills and knowledge necessary to complete the tasks. Once you have completed your job analysis, you are ready to develop your job description, which outlines a position’s responsibilities and requirements.

Job Description

A well-developed job description will be a key resource to help you review employee performance, select employees, develop recruitment advertising, and make sure your compensation is competitive so you can attract the best talent. Be sure in developing your analysis and description that you have adhered to all federal equal employment opportunity laws and applicable state discrimination laws. For more on writing a disability-compliant job description, please click here. If you have any questions, please consult an employment law attorney who knows your state laws.

The following are benefits associated with developing the job analysis and job description:

  • Providing essential job-related information necessary to make decisions on whether to hire additional staff.
  • Providing an opportunity to clearly communicate a job’s responsibilities and functions to employees and management.
  • Sharpening the focus on job functions, responsibilities, and skills needed to meet the company’s business goals.
  • Playing a key role in performance reviews.
  • Helping evaluate compensation levels based on job requirements.
  • Establishing standards and requirements necessary to the selection process.
  • Identifying job functions that will require additional training.
  • Identifying health and safety risks and working conditions that may require special training.
woman with young hands filling out paperwork

Health Care Reform Updates

Administration Eliminates Cost-Sharing Reduction Payments

Cuts to Take Effect Immediately

The Trump administration announced yesterday that it will no longer make cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). According to a statement issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the agency’s decision to discontinue these payments immediately follows a legal review by HHS, the Department of Treasury, the Office of Management and Budget, and an opinion from the U.S. Attorney General.

Background

The ACA requires insurers to offer plans with reduced deductibles, copayments, and other means of cost sharing to eligible individuals who purchase plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace. In turn, insurers receive CSR payments arranged by the Secretary of HHS to cover the costs they incur because of this requirement. Whether CSR payments were properly appropriated by Congress has been the subject of litigation since 2014.

To read the HHS statement, click here.

Visit our section on Health Care Reform for more information about ACA requirements.

man getting ready for an interview wearing a suit

Attracting Quality Candidates to Your Company

You need skilled, dedicated employees to build your business. How do you attract the human capital that will position your business for growth and success?

In many ways, it’s about presenting your business so that candidates will get excited and enthusiastic at the prospect of working for your company. Of course, offering competitive compensation and benefits is always important, but there is much more to the art of positioning your company as the best choice for your top candidates. The following are additional factors that will enhance your company’s attractiveness:

Compensation/Benefits Package

  • Competitive salary
  • Bonus/incentive compensation
  • Healthcare and life insurance benefits
  • Tax-saving retirement plans, i.e. 401(k)
  • Other types of benefits such as childcare assistance and gym membership

Note: When making decisions regarding compensation, it is important to consider whether the employee will be exempt or non-exempt under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Non-exempt employees are entitled to certain protections (including minimum wage and overtime pay) under the FLSA.

Position-Related Benefits

  • Flexible work arrangements
  • Telecommuting
  • Location and position match to candidate’s individual needs

Support and Training

  • Career-enhancing courses
  • Certifications
  • Career growth and potential

Company Brand

  • Positive, well-known company brand
  • Industry-recognized, successful company

Company Environment

  • Friendly, organized workplace environment
  • Company culture
  • Values and environment

Interview Process

  • Straightforward, friendly, professional interview process

Competitive Analysis

  • Evaluate your competition in the area and strategically plan to offer a package of benefits that will enable you to attract the best talent

Employee Recruiting Success

The key to successful recruiting of new employees is the development of a systematic process for developing job descriptions, generating a pool of candidates and selecting the right candidate. The following are the major steps involved:

  • Develop a job analysis to identify skills, knowledge, and abilities for each position.
  • Create your job description and selection criteria based on the most current information available and modify when necessary.
  • Develop your recruitment plan in terms of promoting the job opening and generating a pool of candidates.
  • Develop a process for interviewing candidates.
  • Create a process for selecting the best candidates.

Tips for Recruitment Success

  • Before recruiting, consider the possibility of how to accomplish the work without adding staff. Areas to consider include: improve efficiency and divide or allocate additional responsibilities to existing staff.
  • Organize a planning meeting with the hiring manager or relevant staff to determine needs, timeline and any other recruitment issues.
  • Decide whether your budget will allow for the hiring of a new employee to fill the position.
  • Develop job criteria to help you in the selection process; try to stay within 6-8 criteria.
  • Consider structuring an interview, i.e., develop a set group of questions and determine the best answers with specific scoring before the interview process begins.
  • Base your evaluation of candidates more on skills and job knowledge rather than personality. Many times, skills are the critical factors that consistently predict job success.
  • Be sure to avoid any discriminatory inquiries or statements during the interviewing/recruitment process.
happy wood shop employees

Retaining Employees

Retaining skilled employees is a significant issue for any business. A high rate of employee turnover can result in a loss of knowledge and skills, as well as have a direct impact on a company’s bottom line. The cost of losing an employee includes not only lost productivity, but also the expense of recruiting, selecting and training a new employee. Consider the ideas presented below to help reduce turnover and increase satisfaction among your company’s valued employees.

Why Employees Stay

  • Some of the factors affecting retention include:
  • Compensation
  • Good leadership
  • Challenging and fulfilling job
  • Relationships with immediate supervisors and staff
  • Recognition

Ways to Increase Retention

The following are a number of ways to help increase retention:

  • Acknowledge and reward your employees’ contributions and provide regular, constructive feedback
  • Make sure your compensation package is fair and competitive
  • Provide a forum to encourage new ideas and open communication
  • Provide training programs and mentoring to enhance skills development, learning and career growth
  • Provide employee assistance, wellness and health programs
  • Support work-life balance
  • Offer flexible work arrangements, such as varied hours and the possibility of telecommuting
  • Provide leadership opportunities

Employee Attitude Surveys

Employee attitude surveys allow your staffers to give confidential feedback on their opinions of your company in terms of satisfaction with the job and how their jobs and work environment might be improved. To help build a relationship of integrity and trust among company employees, the results of your survey should be communicated effectively and acted upon by your company.

There are a number of different ways to conduct an employee attitude or satisfaction survey– from simply filling out a paper survey to taking an online survey or hiring a consulting firm to do all the surveying and analysis work for you. If you work with a consultant to administer an employee satisfaction survey, make sure you have access to the data. By personally reviewing the data and analysis, you’ll be able to make a better assessment of employee satisfaction. The survey results can provide you with key information on how to improve workplace processes, policies and morale to retain existing staff and attract new employees.

Some of the topics that can be covered in a survey include:

  • Satisfaction
  • Senior Management
  • Functional Expertise
  • Compensation
  • Customer Service
  • Communication
  • Mentoring
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Staff Development

Benefits of Employee Attitude Surveys

  • Facilitate company’s development and change.
  • Focus the company on specific needs or gaps in service or training.
  • Provide management with employee feedback on company morale.
  • Provide feedback on the impact of company policies and procedures.
  • Results can be used to motivate employees and improve job satisfaction.

Developing a Health and Wellness Program

A company health and wellness program refers to activities or initiatives undertaken within the workplace that are designed to support your employees’ general health and well-being. Programs will often differ from business to business in terms of the range of initiatives offered.

Health and Wellness Initiatives

Some simple initiatives to consider include:

  • Providing filtered water.
  • Having your air-conditioning and heating systems checked and maintained on a regular basis.
  • Increasing the nutritional quality of food available in the workplace.
  • Providing desk chairs that are ergonomically designed to support the back.
  • Empowering employees to include physical activity into their working day, such as encouraging walking at lunch.
  • Providing incentives such as such subsidized memberships to local health clubs. Be sure to check with your local health clubs to see if they offer corporate rates.
  • Providing more flexible work hours.
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