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EEOC Issues 7th Update To Employer Guidance on Coronavirus and the ADA

Jeff Griffin

Yesterday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued their seventh update to nearly 50 FAQs they have been publishing since March 18th, addressing how employers should comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) while also observing all applicable emergency workplace safety guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic.

While their latest update primarily addresses antibody testing, the guidance, in its entirety, is quite informative, so much so that we wanted to share it here.

While it's a good idea for every employer to follow the CDC's latest guidelines for maintaining workplace safety, only employers with 15 or more employees are subject to the ADA (though smaller employers may be subject to similar rules under applicable state or local laws.)

Regardless, even smaller employers can benefit from the guidance provided in these EEOC FAQs about ADA compliance. 

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Topics: Compliance, Telecommuting, COVID-19

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The Pros and Cons of Monitoring Work-From-Home (WFH) Employees Remotely

Jeff Griffin

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, more employees are working remotely than ever before. And, even as businesses begin to reopen across the country, remote work will likely remain popular for the foreseeable future.

While remote work arrangements help keep employees healthy and safe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, they create unique challenges for teams and managers. One of these challenges involves monitoring remote workers. Employers across the nation are leveraging various technologies and tools to monitor employee productivity, and active and idle time.

While these tools can help employers ensure employees are working while they’re at home, they come with their own set of legal risks. Moreover, the practice of using such tools to monitor employees may create tension between employees and managers, as employees may feel like they’re not being trusted.

There are benefits and drawbacks to monitoring remote employees, as well as a host of legal considerations. This article provides a general overview of the pros and cons of monitoring remote workers and outlines general best practices for doing so.

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Topics: Compliance, Telecommuting, COVID-19

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Common Employment Practices Claims Arising Out of COVID-19

Jeff Griffin

COVID-19 has brought massive upheaval upon the American workplace. Employers have found themselves drafting and implementing policies and procedures addressing a wide array of issues including remote work, layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts, workplace conditions and many more.

Not surprisingly, the uncertainty wrought by COVID-19 has left employers at an increased risk of exposure to employment-related claims alleging wrongful termination, discrimination, retaliation and many others.

In this post today we'll cover the most common potential causes of action related to COVID-19 that may lead to employment-related litigation. As is the case with all inherently legal issues, employers are strongly advised to seek the guidance of legal counsel when faced with any of the claims discussed here.

WORKPLACE HEALTH AND SAFETY

There have already been a multitude of safety violation claims filed under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and state equivalents. These safety violations typically allege that an unsafe workplace has caused sickness and/or death due to COVID-19, or that an employer failed to take appropriate measures to reduce COVID-19 exposure and spread within the workplace.

Such “appropriate measures” might include failure to provide hand-washing stations, sanitizers, masks, or adequate protective gear on location. Other claims have alleged that employees have been unable to practice social distancing due to the nature of their jobs.

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Topics: Compliance, Risk Management, COVID-19, ERISA

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Leaves of Absence: Do Employers Need to Provide Health Insurance During These Times?

Jeff Griffin

Employees who take qualifying leaves of absence are provided multiple protections by way of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act (USERRA), and many state laws.

The most well-known protection is the guarantee of the same or an equivalent job when employees return to work, but there are also other protections. For example, many of these laws stipulate employers’ obligations regarding health insurance during employees’ qualifying leaves of absence.

The following is a breakdown of FMLA, USERRA, and some general state laws with regards to employer-provided health insurance coverage.

FMLA and Health Insurance

In order to meet the requirements for an FMLA-qualifying leave of absence, employees must meet four criteria.

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Topics: Compliance, Qualifying Life Events, FMLA, USERRA

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Best Practices For Maintaining Legally Compliant Workplace Wellness Programs

Dr. Christine Maxwell

There are several comprehensive federal statutes that impact workplace wellness programs. While employers who invest in wellness initiatives almost always do so with the best of intentions, violations of these regulations can be costly.

Today we'll focus on three key federal laws which employers should keep in mind when building out a wellness plan. They are as follows;

1. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) includes nondiscrimination rules that apply to wellness plans being offered in connection with group health plans. Under HIPAA, workplace wellness programs are divided into two categories: participatory wellness programs and health-contingent wellness programs.  

Here are the main differences between these two types of programs;

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Compliance, wellness, employee wellness, wellness program

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Keeping Your Wellness Program Compliant

Dr. Christine Maxwell

You don’t have to be a health insurance expert to know that healthcare coverage makes up a significant portion of businesses’ operating costs. Looking ahead to next year, Willis Tower Watson predicts the average annual per-employee cost for health insurance will increase 5.3% to $12,850 (up from $12,200 in 2017).

Understandably, employers are always looking for ways to get a firmer handle on rising healthcare costs and often turn to wellness programs as a possible solution.   

Three Important Federal Laws That Affect Wellness Plans

Before you launch a wellness program, it’s important to do your homework. Mistakes can be costly for both your employees and your bottom line. One area you should pay particularly close attention to is the intersection of wellness plans and federal law.

There are several comprehensive federal statutes that impact workplace wellness plans, so before you put your plan in place, make sure you consult with a legal expert who can help you stay on the right side of the law.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Compliance, wellness, employee wellness, wellness program

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IRS Finally Announces Official Contribution Caps For FSAs, 401(k)s, HSAs and More (Includes Comparison Tables)

Jeff Griffin

This afternoon the IRS officially announced the final 2020 election/contribution limits for Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), qualified Commuter Benefits, and several retirement savings vehicles. (See comparison tables, below.)

Considering that many employers have already held their employee benefits Open Enrollments for 2020, today’s announcements by the IRS can best be filed under the “better late than never” category.

These IRS statements finally set official contribution limits for Health Care FSAs, Dependent Care FSAs, Limited Purpose FSAs, Qualified Parking and Qualified Transportation Saving Plans, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, most 457 plans, IRAs, SIMPLE Plans, and the Federal Government’s Thrift Savings Plan.

All of these saving plans provide participants with the opportunity to save money, either by paying for qualified expenses with pre-tax savings contributions, or by saving for retirement with pretax elections. 

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Topics: Compliance, Employee Communications, HSAs, Retirement Planning, HDHPs, FSAs

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Deadline Fast Approaching to Release Employee Compensation Information to EEOC

Jeff Griffin

Companies across the U.S. are chasing a Monday deadline to provide the federal government with full disclosures of how they compensate workers of all genders, races and ethnicities. The data collection exercise, the largest and most detailed ever, is part of an effort by the government to close gaps in earnings.

Subject to the requirement are the more than 70,000 private U.S. companies with more than 100 workers. Collectively these companies employ more than 54 million American workers. These firms must submit their compensation information to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by September 30th.

This deadline comes almost two years after the rule, issued under the Obama administration, was originally scheduled to go into effect. In 2017 the Trump administration pumped the breaks on the rollout of the new rule, arguing that the collection and aggregation of such in-depth salary information was a burden on companies. (Advocacy groups sued the EEOC to get the pay-reporting requirement reinstated.)

EEOC officials say that this detailed compensation data, which will span virtually every industry and region of the county, will help them quickly ascertain which discrimination complaints deserve closer scrutiny, from the tens of thousands that are filed with the EEOC annually. (They received over 75,000 in 2018 alone.)

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Topics: Compliance, Risk Management, Equality

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Is it Time to Fire Your Employee Benefits Broker?

Jeff Griffin

Many companies stick with their employee benefits broker for years on end, not giving too much thought to whether a change is warranted. HR directors always have long to-do lists full of time-sensitive issues, so finding a new broker is typically the last thing on their minds — except maybe during contract renewal season if the news isn’t good (and it never seems to be with health insurance these days).

The issue here is that there is a point when it’s time to fire your broker, but recognizing it when the time comes is difficult because you have a million things on your mind and far more pressing matters at hand.

However, there are some definite signs it’s time to find a new employee benefits broker and it’s important to keep an eye out for them. Here are some of the big ones.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Compliance, Education, Disruption, Strategy

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Is Discussing Politics In The Workplace Ever OK?

David Rook

Sex, politics, and religion. That was the list of topics I was taught when growing up to never discuss when we had guests over for dinner. Those were pretty much the ground rules Google set-out to establish last month when it issued new guidelines limiting employee discussion of politics in the workplace.

Google claimed their guidelines were intended to protect a “productive work environment” by corralling what has already become very heated water cooler talk in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. Nevertheless, late last week the National Labor Relations Board ordered Google to stand down. In its ruling, it instructed Google to affirm employees’ rights to express their views, within the workplace environment, on political and workplace issues.

The settlement was born less out of Google’s issuance of new guidelines but rather as a result of recent complaints from conservative employees who claim they were fired due to their political views.

According to a recent New York Times article, accusations of political bias at major tech companies has become a powerful rallying cry among conservatives. This includes accusations by President Trump that engineers in Silicon Valley intentionally skewed the way their systems display content online to reflect liberal positions. For their part, major technology companies deny these accusations of bias.

To be fair, Google’s new guidelines didn’t forbid discussing politics at work, but they did require managers to address conversations that became disruptive. The updated guidelines were an attempt to dial back what has historically been the company’s wide open discourse. In addition to politics, Google also advised employees to avoid name-calling, including making blanket statements about groups or categories of people.

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Topics: Compliance, Company Culture, Risk Management, Employee Productivity

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