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June 30, 2011

Employer-Provided Benefits: SHRM Research Results

Filed under: Benefits,General HR Buzz1:57 pm

Last week, the Society for Human Resource Management released its 2011 Employee Benefits Research Report. The report results cover 284 employee benefits. Some of the highlights are below.

Companies reported that 19% of an employee’s annual salary was spent on mandatory benefits (worker’s compensation, social security, unemployment), 19% was spent on voluntary benefits (healthcare, survivor benefits, flexible spending accounts), and 11% was spent on pay for time not worked (vacation, sick, holidays). These percentages were mostly stable from previous years. However, more respondents indicated the cost of providing mandatory and voluntary benefits increased compared with pay for time not worked.

In terms of voluntary employer-provided benefits, 96% of companies offer prescription drug coverage, 83% provide health care coverage for full-time employees, 86% for dependent children, and 30% of companies also provide health care coverage for an employee’s dependent grandchildren.

Employer-provided Benefits

  • Short-term disability insurance – 66%
  • Bariatric coverage for weight loss – 36%
  • Laser-based vision correction coverage – 22%
  • Subsidized cost of elder care – 1%
  • Retirement preparation planning advice – 37%
  • Undergraduate educational assistance – 58%
  • Loans for employees to purchase computers – 7%

From 2007 to 2011, companies reported an increase in providing mental health coverage, from 73% to 82%. In that same period, companies that offer contraceptive coverage decreased by 5%, down to 69%. Defined benefit pension plans decreased to 22% from 40% of companies.

For more information, see SHRM’s 2011 Employee Benefits Research Report.



June 28, 2011

Are your LinkedIn connections really yours?

Filed under: Employment Law,General HR Buzz3:31 pm

The explosion of email, the Internet, and now social media has probably contributed to at least a few disciplinary actions in your workplace. The fact is that the law has not caught up to the constantly changing technological landscape. These days, it is almost impossible to miss news items in which an employee was terminated from his or her employment because of a social media faux pas. If your company is entering social media territory through sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, or others, you could be in for a big mess when separating from an employee.

Termed “social media portability,” the issue of whether the company owns your personal contacts is hardly black and white. Many companies already utilize confidentiality pacts and non-compete agreements to establish intellectual property. These legal tools encompass contacts and information that is considered proprietary to the company. Social media is for the most part public: videos posted on YouTube, contacts displayed on your LinkedIn profile, etc. Thus far, there have not been any precedent-setting decisions that establish whether or not simply “friending” a client or fellow employee on Facebook or adding a contact on LinkedIn constitutes a solicitation for business.


June 27, 2011

IRS Increases Standard Mileage Rate Effective July 1, 2011

Filed under: General HR Buzz7:00 am

The Internal Revenue Service June 23 announced an increase in the optional standard mileage rates for the second half of 2011, in recognition of recent gasoline price increases (Announcement 2011-40).

The rate will increase to 55.5 cents per mile for business miles driven from July 1 through December 31, 2011.  This is an increase of 4.5 cents from the current 51 cent rate in effect. 

In addition, IRS will increase in the second half of the year the rate for computing deductible medical or moving expenses by 4.5 cents to 23.5 cents a mile, up from 19 cents for the first six months of 2011.

Announcement 2011-40 is available at


June 23, 2011

Work with a dog this Friday – June 24th!

Filed under: General HR Buzz,Work/Life Balance7:29 am

“I worked like a dog today!” “These are the dog days of summer!” You may have said this to yourself more than once. But this Friday, work with your dog. “Take Your Dog to Work Day” is an annual event sponsored by Pet Sitters International. The organization encourages companies to participate to raise awareness of the many animals in shelters that need new homes.

The website has suggestions for ways you can get involved, including hosting an event at your company and tips for success on the big day. Some tips include ways to win over your boss, checking with co-workers to make sure they have no objections, to coordinating a pet sitter to help out with walks throughout the day. Make the event fun by having a contest to name the most talented or laziest pet. Host a lunch for everyone who participates with, what else… hot dogs!

Here are some facts to help in making a business case for your company to participate. According to a recent survey by The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association:

  • 55 million Americans believe having pets in the workplace leads to a more creative environment
  • 53 million believe having pets in the workplace decreases absenteeism
  • 50 million believe having pets in the workplace helps co-workers get along better
  • 38 million believe having pets in the workplace creates a more productive work environment
  • 32 million believe having pets in the workplace decreases smoking in the workplace
  • 37 million believe having pets in the workplace helps improve the relationship between managers and their employees
  • And, 46 million people who bring their pets to the workplace work longer hours

(Source: APPMA 2006 Survey)

For more information or to register to participate, click here.

Finally, a list of the top 10 most unusual dog names (According to Veterinary Pet Insurance)

1. Rush Limbark
2. Sirius Lee Handsome
3. Rafikikadiki
4. Low Jack
5. Meatwad
6. Peanut Wigglebutt
7. Scuddles Unterfuss
8. Sophie Touch & Pee
9. Admiral Toot
10. Spatula



June 22, 2011

Weekly Wednesday Acronym – Cobra

Filed under: Benefits,COBRA — Tags: 11:07 am

I always have to stop and think what this acronym stands for because it is a mouthful – “Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act”.  By now, most of us are probably very familiar with the COBRA Act of 1985 because of recent layoffs and downsizing in your company.  Because of COBRA, employees are entitled to continue participating in the company’s group health plan for a prescribed period of time, usually 18 months.  What are the qualifying events that trigger COBRA continuation of coverage?

  • Termination of employment
  • Reduced work hours
  • Death
  • Divorce
  • Separation

The law applies to employees and their covered dependents and they can continue their health insurance by paying full cost of group coverage plus an administrative charge, typically 2%.  In certain circumstances, such as an employee’s divorce or death, the length of coverage period may be longer for qualified dependents.  COBRA is not extended to employees who are terminated for gross misconduct.

 There are certain notices required by COBRA.  Below are some of the notices along with timeframes: 

 •  COBRA rights notices. Employees and their spouses who become covered under group health plans must be given general notices describing their COBRA rights within the first 90 days of coverage.

• Employer notices of qualifying events. Employers must notify plan administrators within 30 days after qualifying events occur, such as covered employees’ termination or reduction in hours of employment, employees’ death, or covered employees’ entitlement to Medicare.

•  COBRA election rights notices. Qualified beneficiaries must receive COBRA election notices describing their right to continuation coverage and how to make elections. These notices must be provided within 14 days after plan administrators receive notice of qualifying events, or within 44 days in the case of self-administered plans.


June 21, 2011

Is a raise out of the question? Try asking for these perks instead.

Many companies may be repealing a previous salary freeze, but the days of large performance increases and quick promotion are a thing of the past. A recent survey by Accountemps of over 1,400 companies reveals that a full 25% are planning to implement training, flexible schedules, or mentoring in 2011 to retain their top talent.

So, what can you do to improve the appeal of your own job? Consider asking your boss for some of these perks:

  1. Feedback –We are talking about continuous, open-ended communication that flows both ways, not your annual performance review meeting.
  2. Increased Responsibilities – Take the lead in asking your boss to work on a new project.
  3. Flexible Schedules/Tools – According to the survey, 24% of companies who responded plan to offer more flexible schedules for their employees. Perks can also include smartphones or laptops to work outside the office.
  4. Professional organization memberships – This is a low-cost way for your company to invest in your development.
  5. Paid days off to volunteer – Some are calling these “corporate responsibility days.” It is not only beneficial for the employee, but it shows the company’s commitment to service.
  6. Transportation, education, and entertainment allowances – Suggest a budget that will allow you to attend networking events, allow for magazine subscriptions, or a car allowance.
  7. Mentoring opportunities – This is another low-cost way for the company to invest in your development.
  8. Guest speakers/seminars – Show your boss how inviting a dynamic speaker will be fun, but also highlight and improve your knowledge.
  9. Improved office space – See what is available and ask for the office with a better view.
  10. A Sabbatical – Unlike vacation, this leave is unpaid, but allows you time to recharge on a short basis (a couple of weeks should do it).

For more information, see the article, “10 Things to ask your boss for instead of a raise” in Forbes online.



June 20, 2011

Breaking News…Wal-Mart wins in Supreme Court Decision

Breaking News…

The Supreme Court has blocked a sexual discrimination class action lawsuit representing 1.6 million women against Wal-Mart.  The justices agreed that the lawsuit cannot proceed as a class action in its current form.  This reversed a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. 

What’s next for the women who filed the lawsuit?  If they choose to proceed, they may pursue their claims on their own which will make it more difficult to reach a favorable financial verdict.  Additionally, this decision by the Supreme Court may make it more difficult for similar lawsuits to proceed as class action.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion for the court’s conservative majority said there needs to be common elements tying together “literally millions of employent decisions at once.”

But Scalia said that in the lawsuit against the nation’s largest private employer, “That is entirely absent here.”

In a statement, Wal-Mart said, “The court today unanimously rejected class certification and, as the majority made clear, the plaintiffs’ claims were worlds away from showing a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy.”

Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, said “the court has told employers that they can rest easy, knowing that the bigger and more powerful they are, the less likely their employees will be able to join together to secure their rights.”


I’ll Take a Chocolate Sprinkle With My Latte

Filed under: General HR Buzz6:00 am

We’ve all known that coffee is incredibly important to many employees to start and get through their work days.  Now, apparently, we have survey results to confirm that.   Yes, Dunkin’ Donuts and Career Builder have teamed up to determine just how many of us need coffee to successfully maneuver our workday.  According to the study, 32% of those surveyed indicated that they needed coffee to get through the work day, while 43% indicated that they are more productive with it.

Certain positions seem to be more likely to need their latte fix with nurses, doctors, hotel workers, architects, financial/insurance sales reps, food preparers, engineers, and teachers leading the way.  Fifty-five percent of younger workers (age 18-24) indicated that they’d be less productive without coffee vs. 28% of older employees (age 55+).  Employees in the Northeast seemed to be the most coffee dependent, with those in the Midwest the least.   There was no report as to whether a donut with coffee helped or hindered productivity.



June 15, 2011

Get the Latest App for Your iPhone…From the DOL?!!

Filed under: General HR Buzz2:21 pm

As we all know, the DOL apparently has been spending time conducting audits, reviewing wage and hour complaints.  Apparently, they have also been spending time developing a smartphone application designed to help employees independently track the hours they work and the wages they are owed.

As described by the DOL, “this is a timesheet to record the hours that you work and calculate the amount you may be owed by your employer.  It also includes overtime pay calculations at a rate of one and one-half times (1.5) the regular rate of pay for all hours you work over 40 in a workweek.”  They go on to say “this information could prove invaluable during a Wage and Hour Division investigation when an employer has failed to maintain accurate employment records.”

The app, currently available for Apple iPhone and iPod Touch devices, also has a convenient “contact us” bottom with links that allow users to easily call or send an e-mail to the DOL’s Wage & Hour Division.  This seems to be sending a clear message to employers:  make sure you keep accurate, thorough records of your employees’ hours and wages because the DOL is making it very convenient for employee’s to track on their own.



Weekly Wednesday Acronym – EEO

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) is applicable to all applicants and employees of most private employers, state and local governments, educational institutions, employment agencies and labor organizations.  It prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, genetics, age, retaliation, or marital status.

Your workload may have increased significantly recently based on the sharp increase of EEO claims filed by applicants and employees.  According to statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the number of claims of job discrimination filed with the agency has increased by nearly 33% over the last 5 years.  A record number of claims – 99,922 charges – were filed in 2010.

 Why the increase?  There are a few reasons speculated as to the spike in claims:

  • Weak job market
  • Recession
  • New EEOC system, making it easier to file claims
  • Current administration has taken a hands-on role in pushing workers’ rights

 So does an increase in the number of claims result in an increase in settlements?  Not necessarily, according to statistics from the EEOC.  For claims filed in fiscal year 2010, just 19.2% of claims ended up with “merit resolutions” resulting in positive outcomes for complainants such as back pay, reinstatements of seniority and employment, or a job promotion.  Out of the remaining 80.8% of cases, nearly 65% were dismissed and found to have no “reasonable cause.”

 Keeping accurate records of applicants, tracking performance, accurate payroll records, and documentation of employee-related decisions are important safeguards when presenting the company’s defense should you be faced with a claim from the EEOC.

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