Sunday, January 10, 2010

COBRA Premium Reduction Subsidy Extended


• COBRA for laid-off workers and their covered dependents:
originally ended at those affected by 12/31/09 is now extended
to those workers affected by 2/28/10

• In addition, the subsidy period has been extended from 9 months
to 15 months of the COBRA 18-month entitlement period.

• The extension was part of the Department of Defense
Appropriations Act, 2010, and was passed and signed into law on
December 19, 2009.

• The extension eliminates the requirement that the loss of coverage occur
before the subsidy’s eligibility expiration date and instead requires only
that the covered employee and dependents experience a qualifying
event because the covered employee’s employment ended as a result of
an involuntary termination between September 1, 2008 and February
28, 2010.

• According to a recent survey by Hewitt Associates, elections increased to 38%
after the subsidy became available. The Hewitt survey estimates that the average
employee would pay $8,800 a year for COBRA coverage, so the 65%
subsidy reduces that cost significantly to about $3,000. The extension of
the subsidy likely will encourage even more people to elect coverage.

Employer’s To-Do:

• The extension also includes new notice requirements to alert assistance
eligible individuals about the extensions.

• It contains a provision allowing assistance eligible individuals to reinstate their COBRA
coverage at the continued subsidized rates and to reinstate the coverage
retroactively if their original nine-month subsidy had expired and they
dropped COBRA coverage instead of paying the full COBRA premium.

• Be aware that individuals who received the nine months of premium reduction
provided originally and then paid the full COBRA premium can receive
refunds and/or premium credits for the extra amount paid.

"Protecting Employers through Effective HR Solutions"

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


While this may be the season for holiday parties and the spreading of good cheer in the workplace, too much cheer can cause liability. If your plans include serving alcohol at holiday parties or even sponsoring department “happy hours” at a local pub, your organization could be at risk for legal liability if a drunken employee harms himself or others.

(Contact HR now! to develop a customized policy to address this particular issue)

It is important to remember that Employers can be sued for their intoxicated employees’ misdeeds under a number of different legal claims and theories, ranging from workers’ compensation to sexual harassment to negligence. Fortunately, despite overall increases in litigation, you generally are still shielded from liability in most situations.

Even with this shield, and regardless of actual negligence, the employer remains a tempting legal target and is considered the “deep pockets” when damages are sought. And, no one wants to be in the position of defending an unpleasant case involving injuries or death. A better approach is to prevent these accidents and problems altogether by taking some common sense steps to limit alcohol consumption and its effects.

Below, you get a look at the legal issues and some cases addressing employer liability for alcohol-related incidents. Plus, you also will find nine tips to help prevent alcohol-related problems, or at least limit your liability exposure if they do occur.

Workers’ Compensation Laws

Workers’ compensation laws deal with employer liability to its own employees or their survivors. In general, these laws cover all work-related injuries regardless of fault. However, they do typically exclude injuries that are incurred at employer recreational events where attendance is not required or that are the result of the employee’s intoxication on the job.

Wrongful Death and Survivorship Statutes

Employers may also be sued for alcohol-related incidents under state wrongful death or survival acts. Under these laws, the personal representative of a deceased person may file suit, on behalf of the surviving spouse or next of kin, against any party whose actions caused the death. The purpose of these laws is to compensate survivors by providing the financial benefits that would have been received had the person lived. However, survivors have had little success suing employers for wrongful death based on the intoxication of employees if they could not show that the employee was within the scope of his employment or under his employer’s control.


Persons injured by intoxicated employees sometimes claim employer negligence. These claims often arise in the context of the office party where an employee becomes intoxicated, leaves the party, and injures another person on the way home. The theory behind this claim is that the employer owed a duty to the injured party to exercise reasonable care and breached or violated that duty thereby causing harm to the injured third party.

Courts have been hesitant to find that employers have a duty of care to third parties except in situations where, for instance, the employer continues to serve drinks to an obviously intoxicated employee. In these situations, the deciding factor may be the employer’s authority to deny alcohol to the inebriated employee.

In another interesting development in negligence theories, a few courts have found that an employer may be held liable to third parties if it has taken action, but which proves to be inadequate, to exercise control over the employee after the employee becomes intoxicated. In other words, if you are going to be a Good Samaritan, make sure you get the job done.


Besides personal injury claims, employers are also vulnerable to harassment claims when inebriated employees make inappropriate advances toward coworkers. In fact, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in Place v. Abbott Laboratories, 215 F.3d 803 (7th Cir. 2001), specifically noted, “office Christmas parties also seem to be fertile ground for unwanted sexual overtures that lead to Title VII complaints.”

The court went on to cite approximately 20 cases where employees complained of harassment occurring at employer-sponsored parties. These cases underscore the potential problems associated with alcohol consumption at any employer-sponsored event.

To Serve or Not to Serve

So what’s an employer to do? Your most conservative policy option is to ban alcohol consumption in all business settings, including holiday parties. However, many may view this prohibition as unduly restrictive or unrealistic, especially for essentially social or team-building functions.

Therefore, a more practical solution may be to have a clear policy statement requiring employees to exercise moderation and good judgment when drinking at a business function. Obviously, for such a policy to be effective, top management must support it and set a good example.

In addition, if your organization decides to serve alcohol at its business functions, your best bet is to manage the situation carefully, enforce certain limits, and require employee moderation and good judgment. The following nine steps can help you do that:

1. Have a clear policy prohibiting the use of alcohol (and illegal
drugs) while working. The policy statement should include any
exceptions you want for business social functions and entertaining.
(Contact HR now! to develop a customized policy)

2. Emphasize that attendance is voluntary and that the function is a
social event so there is less chance that the function will be considered
directly related to work.

3. Make it clear that employees who become intoxicated at
employer-sponsored events will be subject to discipline.

4. Remind employees that work rules regarding appropriate
behavior and harassment apply to employer-sponsored events.

5. Limit the availability and consumption of alcohol by stipulating
that it may be served only for a set period of time.

6. Do not allow supervisors to purchase alcoholic drinks for

7. Serve substantial food that can offset the effects of alcohol.

8. When possible, hold events at restaurants or other sites not
operated or staffed by the employer.

9. Have a designated monitor to make sure that intoxicated or
impaired employees do not drive themselves home.
Have a tax service on stand-by.

Alcohol, business entertaining, and employee functions are a volatile mix. You need to understand your organization’s needs and responsibilities before setting policy. If you don’t want to prohibit alcohol consumption totally, and then take the above steps to control consumption, require accountability, and limit your exposure.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Discrimination Claims for 2008 Hit A Record High!!!

According to MSNBC; Record numbers of discrimination complaints were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

Discrimination claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission jumped 15 percent in fiscal 2008 to 95,402 — the highest level since the agency opened in 1965, said spokesman David Grinberg. That is up from 82,792 claims filed the year before by workers who believe they were discriminated against because of age, race, religion, gender or other reasons.

Keep in mind that the unemployment numbers for 2008 didn't even start to spike until the last few months and this is for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008. If you were to extrapolate that same trend for 2009, it's entirely plausible that we could exceed 100,000 claims filed in 2009.

Sources say "It's possible we have yet to see the full impact of the recession on discrimination charge filings as the economy continues to spiral downward”.

What is the makeup of these increases? Well, according to the MSNBC report, retaliation claims are up nearly 23%, age claims up nearly 29% and gender and religion claims up 14%. By contrast, race claims are up only 11%, while disability claims are up a mere 10%. Interestingly, Equal Pay Act claims -- which will get a boost from the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- were already up nearly 17% last year, before the passage of that bill.

What Does This Mean For Employers and Small Business Owners?

The EEOC numbers indicate that claims are on the rise..and in a big way. Every decision to terminate or discipline or simply coach an employee carries an even greater risk of a complaint. With jobs becoming more and more scarce with each day, laid-off or terminated employees may view a complaint as their own way to stay afloat and their only option. Disgruntled employees will do just about anything to save their job, if they view it as “in jeopardy”.

These numbers emphasize the point that decisions to terminate employees should be made cautiously and carefully. What are the consequences? You could end up being part of next year's statistics.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

USCIS Revises Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification
Date: 12/15/2008

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) submitted to the Federal Register an interim final rule to revise Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. The rule narrows the list of acceptable identity and employment authorization documents, requires employers to accept only unexpired documents, and makes several technical changes. The rule and the revised Form I-9 will be published in the Federal Register soon and will take effect 45 days after publication.
All employers are required to complete and retain a Form I-9 for each employee hired after November 6, 1986 to show that the employee is authorized to work in the United States. Employers will be required to use the revised Form I-9 for all new hires and to reverify any employee with expiring employment authorization beginning 45 days after USCIS' interim final rule is published in the Federal Register.

Three Documents Removed from List A
USCIS has removed three documents from List A that can no longer be used to establish both identity and employment authorization because these documents are now obsolete:
Form I-688 Employment Authorization Document;
Form I-688A Employment Authorization Document; and
Form I-688B Employment Authorization Document.
Three Documents Added to List A

Three documents have been added to List A to establish both identity and employment authorization:
A temporary I-551 printed notation on a machine-readable immigrant visa in addition to the foreign passport with a temporary I-551 stamp;
A passport from the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) or the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) with a valid Form I-94 or Form I-94A indicating nonimmigrant admission under the Compact of Free Association Between the United States and the FSM or RMI; and
U.S. passport card.
Unexpired Documents Must Be Presented During the Verification Process
Expired documents are not acceptable documents for the revised Form I-9, including U.S. passports and all List B documents used to establish identity.
Revisions to the Employee Attestation Section
In Section 1 of the revised Form I-9, "citizen of the United States" and "noncitizen national of the United States" will now be two separate categories. Noncitizen nationals are persons born in American Samoa, certain former citizens of the former Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and certain children of noncitizen nationals born abroad.
Availability of the Revised Form I-9
Beginning 45 days after publication in the Federal Register, the revised Form I-9 can be downloaded from our website or from USCIS will also update The Handbook for Employers, Instructions for Completing the Form I-9 (M-274) to reflect the revisions to Form I-9.

NEW I-9 FORM! April 3, not Feb 2

Effective January 29, 2009, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued an announcement, late in the day, that the required use of the new I-9 form, dated February 2, 2009, will be delayed until April 3, 2009. Until then, use the current form with the June 5, 2007 revision date. The I-9 form is a required part of the hiring process for employers to verify that every new hire is either a U.S. citizen or authorized to work in the United States. Employers make this verification by examining documents noted on the I-9 form that establish identity and employment eligibility.

All My Best,

Judy L. Mina
"Protecting Employers through Effective HR Solutions"
Cell: 714-393-9270
Fax: 714-242-1870

The greatest compliment I can receive is your referral. Please let other business owners know about me!
**if you would prefer to be removed from distribution, please let me know**
In case this news impacts you. -Judy

If you drive a car, truck or van for work, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced news that impacts you. That's because the IRS has released the new standard mileage rates for 2009. The rates will be used to calculate deductible costs for driving an automobile for business, charitable, medical and moving purposes. The new mileage rates for business, medical and moving purposes will be slightly lower than the rates for the second half of 2008, which were raised in the middle of last year due to spiking gas prices. The rate for charitable driving, however, is set by law and will remain unchanged from 2008.

Beginning January 1, 2009, the standard mileage rates for 2009 are as follows:
· Businesses = 55 cents per mile driven
· Medical or moving = 24 cents per mile driven
· Charitable organizations = 14 cents per mile driven
Overall, these rates reflect the higher transportation costs compared to a year ago. However, the rates are slightly lower than the second half of 2008 to factor in the recent drop in gasoline prices. While gasoline is a significant factor in the mileage rate, other fixed and variable costs, such as depreciation, also enter the calculation.

But before you calculate your deduction, make sure you qualify. The IRS reminds taxpayers that they cannot use the business standard mileage rate for a vehicle after using any depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) or after claiming a Section 179 deduction for that vehicle. In addition, the business standard mileage rate cannot be used for any vehicle used for hire or for more than four vehicles used simultaneously.

Remember, for business purposes you don't have to use the standard rate! Although the IRS provides the standard mileage rate for ease and convenience, you're not required to use it. If you choose, you have the option of calculating the actual costs of using your vehicle instead of using the standard mileage rates. So keep that in mind as you calculate your automobile usage for business, medical, moving, or charity driving in 2009!

All My Best,

Judy L. Mina
"Protecting Employers through Effective HR Solutions"
Cell: 714-393-9270
Fax: 714-242-1870

The greatest compliment I can receive is your referral. Please let other business owners know about me!