Employment Issues to Watch for in 2014

To succeed in 2014 companies should be prepared for some significant employment law issues that will be present throughout the year. Watch out for these six issues.

1. Health Care

The Affordable Care Act is going to have a big impact on employers of all sizes in 2014 and beyond. Although the “employer mandate” has been delayed until 2015, other provisions of the Act will be implemented in 2014. Companies should have notified their employees about the new Health Insurance Marketplace by October 1, 2013 (if you haven’t do it now). Small businesses with 50 or fewer employees will have access to a new health care insurance marketplace through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP). Online enrollment will not be available until November 2014; until then, businesses may sign up through an insurance agent or broker, or directly with the carrier. Certain small businesses may also be eligible to receive the small business Health Care Tax Credit, which was enacted to help small businesses afford the cost of health care coverage. In 2013, the credit was 35%, and the tax credit will rise to 50% for qualified businesses in 2014. Strategic planning in this area can lead to big savings for your company, so stay informed and take advantage of available incentives.

2. Social Media

Social media, whether you love it or hate it, is a major part of American life. Social media in the workplace presents a wide range of complex issues and companies should put policies in place to handle them. Considerations such as employee performance and time management, protection of confidential information, personal versus company opinions, public relations, and account ownership are fairly obvious. Employers also need to consider their employees’ right under the National Labor Relations Act to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment and working conditions with each other. The National Labor Relations Board has extended these rights into the social media platform under certain circumstances. A well crafted Social Media Policy can help ensure proper social media use and prevent problems before they occur. It would be wise to seek the advice of an employment attorney who is familiar with the issues before implementing such a policy or incorporating it into your employee handbook.

3. Treatment of Same-Sex Couples

In 2013, the United States Supreme Court’s United States v. Windsor decision invalidated a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”). Federal agencies, including the IRS, will now treat same-sex and opposite-sex couples equally, even if the same-sex couples reside in states, like Pennsylvania, that do not recognize same-sex marriage. This will affect employers in a number of ways. As an example, prior to the ruling, an employer that provided benefits to an employee’s same-sex spouse was required to impute the fair market value of the benefits as income to the employee. The employee had to pay federal income tax on the imputed amount and the employer had to pay the employer contribution. Following Windsor, those benefits are no longer treated as income to the same sex-spouse. Employers should change their accounting and tax practices accordingly. Because these rules apply retroactively, employers and their employees that overpaid taxes should file for refunds in any open years (generally returns filed in the three prior years).

4. Aging Workforces

Thanks to the recession, baby boomers are remaining in the workforce longer than previous generations. Aging employees present a wide range of issues including health care costs, disability considerations, and compliance issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), and Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). Companies should review their policies to ensure that they do not engage in unlawful behavior that could lead to costly lawsuits.

5. Overtime and Minimum Wage Requirements

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) requires employers to pay their employees minimum wage and to compensate “non-exempt” employees for overtime worked. In 2013, these laws were vigorously enforced and the trend will continue in 2014. Misclassifying employees as independent contractors in order to avoid minimum wage and overtime requirements is a common source of employer liability. Another problem area is the misclassification of employees as “non-exempt,” a term of art under the FLSA, in order to avoid payment for overtime work. Employers should review their compensation practices to ensure compliance. If you need help with proper employee classification, consult with an attorney familiar with employment law.

6. Harassment Policies

Harassment in the workplace is something employers deal with every year. Companies can avoid liability and improve their workplace atmospheres by putting strong anti-harassment policies in place. These policies are important both because they are preventative and serve as a shield to any potential harassment claims brought under state or federal laws. The most important action a company can take is to explain to its employees what actually constitutes harassment under the law and how they can address it. If harassment occurs, companies should have a written policy, which at a minimum provides for confidential reporting, prompt investigation, and discipline for wrongdoing.

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