The EBSA is conducting a free seminar for Massachusetts employers that could save employers thousands of dollars in penalties and taxes.
Employers that violate regulations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act or ERISA must face appropriate consequences such as excise taxes, and often IRS penalties.
To avoid these consequences, employers can follow the criteria and procedures of the Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program or VFCP. This program permits businesses to correct violations of the ERISA, voluntarily, and avoid prosecution. VFCP applies to employers, officials, benefit plan sponsors and parties in interest.
The VFCP program was updated and simplified in 2006, making it easier for employers to use.
The free Boston-area workshop will be held in Conference Room E-275B at the JFK Federal Building, 15 New Sudbury Street in Boston.
There are two half-day sessions that will cover the same material – employers need attend only one. The morning session runs from 9:30 am to noon. The afternoon session runs from 1:30 pm to 4 pm.
Any company that might be responsible for ERISA violations of a fiduciary nature may be eligible to use VFCP.
Every Massachusetts employer needs to be aware of changes to the FMLA, and of new regulations granting leave to military families.
The FMLA or Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides workers unpaid, job-protected leave to care for their own serious illness, a family member illness or to care for a new child.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 (NDAA), expands FMLA to provide up to 26 weeks of leave to military families. The bill went into effect immediately, providing leave since January 28, 2008.
For non-military families the current rules remain in effect until April 11, 2008.
Several changes to the FMLA were proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor on February 11, 2008. These changes include three significant updates: notice obligations for employers, for employees, and new regulations for Military Family Leave.
According to Victoria Lipnic, the Assistant Secretary for the Employment Standards Administration, “This proposal preserves workers’ family and medical leave rights while improving the administration of FMLA by fostering better communication in the workplace.”
With the changes, specific rules are outlined for military families to take up to 26 weeks of Military Family Leave.
Also changed under the new rules are the notice obligations for employers. All notice requirements are consolidated with the new regulations, and employers have five business days instead of two business days to inform and to ensure employees understand their FMLA leave rights. Employers will also be required to inform employees in writing exactly what data is lacking when medical certification is incomplete or insufficient.
The changes for employee notice obligations pertain to the previous rule of allowing workers to take time off without notice, then take up to two days to report it as FMLA leave. The new regulations will require workers to follow their company’s “usual and customary” rules for absences. This gives employers a break. Prior to the changes, employers often suffered disruptions to daily operations when employees suddenly took leave.
Technical changes from decisions by the Supreme Court and lower courts during the 15 years since FMLA was enacted are also included in the updated regulations.
More Massachusetts FMLA Changes
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) provides employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. On February 11, 2008, the U. S. Department of Labor recommended several changes to the regulations governing FMLA leave, stating that the changes will aid communication between employers, healthcare providers and workers.
On April 11, 2008, the finalized rules will be published, but until that time all interested parties are encouraged to comment on the proposed changes. Visit www.regulations.gov, type the keywords “Family and Medical Leave Act”, including the quote marks, and post a comment. Note that all the comments are public.
Several lower court and Supreme Court rulings pertaining to FMLA over the past 15 years will be assimilated into the new regulations. Two of theses rulings reverse the trend of court cases.
For example, “light duty” rules have been clarified preventing “light duty” assignments from being charged to FMLA leave. At least two lower court cases, however, have ruled that “light duty” could legally be counted as FMLA leave.
In the U. S. Supreme Court case, Ragsdale vs. Wolverine World Wide, Inc, the court ruled that workers who have already taken more than 12 weeks of paid time off may not be entitled to 12 additional weeks of leave under FMLA. In Ragsdale, an employee was denied unpaid FMLA leave after already taking 30 weeks of paid leave. The U. S. Department of Labor sued the employer and sought a penalty for the denied leave. The court ruled that employees who have already taken 12 weeks of leave, paid or unpaid, are not entitled to a penalty.
Additional changes include clarifying an employee’s right to waive FMLA rights. A Fourth Circuit Court decision interpreted the law to mean a worker is prohibited from waiving their FMLA rights. The change will clarify the U. S. Department of Labor’s longstanding practice that allows an employee to waive their rights retroactively when settling an FMLA claim out of court. Waiving FMLA rights in advance is still prohibited.
It’s important that employers order their 2008 Massachusetts labor law posters soon. Both state and federal law require that the updated posters be displayed.
This is even more critical for Massachusetts employers, where the state’s minimum wage will increase on January 1, 2008 – making all existing labor law posters obsolete.
During 2007 many changes occurred to labor laws. As 2007 comes to an end, employers will need to update their labor law posters. Massachusetts employers are affected by these changes, and need to be aware of them.
Under state law, the officially required 2008 Massachusets labor law posters are:
- Discrimination Notice
- No Smoking Notice
- Unemployment Insurance
- Parental Leave Act
- Sexual Harassment
- Workers’ Compensation
- Minimum Wage/Payment of Wages
- Child Labor
By law every Massachusetts employer is required to display these posters.
In addition, under federal law, employers must display these posters:
- Family and Medical Leave Act
- USERRA – Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act
- Equal Employment Opportunity is the Law
- Federal Minimum Wage
- Employee Polygraph Protection Act
- OSHA-Job Safety & Health Protection
Both state and federal law require that every employer prominently display the posters in an area where they can been seen by every employee. Popular locations are a bulletin board, near the time clock or in the break room.
The most common reason for employers to update posters includes statute changes, especially to minimum wage laws. In just the past few months, employers in New Hampshire, Nevada and Maine have updated their labor law posters as the state minimum wages changed. The most recent increase was on October 1, 2007 when the New Hampshire minimum wage increased to $6.50 per hour.
Smoking in the workplace was a change that took place in 2007, in some states. Both Illinois and Ohio enacted new, tough laws banning smoking at work. Ohio employers had to post no-smoking signs at every workplace, at every entrance. In Illinois, the ban on smoking extends to nearly every place of employment, including casinos, bars and restaurants.
In Alaska a smoking related change was made to the Child Labor Laws regarding selling cigarettes. The law currently bans anyone under the age of 19 from buying cigarettes, but until October, teens could work at establishments such as gas stations and convenient stores which sold cigarettes. Concern arose that these teens when working alone, could sell cigarettes to underage pals. Partly due to this concern, the law was amended to also prohibit anyone under the age of 19 from selling cigarettes.
If companies and businesses haven’t already made the relevant changes to their 2008 labor law posters, they should do so as soon as possible. If the information isn’t updated, the employers could be considered in violation of the law and subject to a fine.
A large number of changes over the year influenced the poster requirements. The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 increased the federal minimum wage for the first time in close to a decade. Seventy cents was added to $5.15 to raise the minimum to $5.85 per hour. A number of states that connect their minimum wages to the federal minimum raised their minimum wages on that day, too.
These states will increase their minimum wage again in 2008 when the federal minimum gets another 70 cent boost. On July 24, 2008, the federal minimum will go from $5.85 to $6.55. The states that bumped their minimum wage with the previous federal increase will bump their minimum wage again.
More than a dozen states will increase their minimum wages on January 1, 2008. These include Delaware, Oregon, Washington, California, Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Vermont, Colorado, Arizona, Missouri, Montanan and Ohio. The lowest rate to be increased is in Montana, where the state minimum wage will increase from $6.15 per hour to $6.26. In Missouri and New Mexico, the state rate will go to $6.50.
After the increase, the nation’s highest minimum wage will be in Washington state, where the minimum wage will be $8.07 per hour. Both California and Massachusetts plan increases to $8.00 per hour, while the state rate in Oregon goes to $7.95.
The state minimum wage in Massachusetts will increase by 50 cents from $7.50 to $8.00 on January 1, 2008. This change puts the state’s minimum wage on a par with California, tied at second highest in the nation, after the Washington state minimum wage.
Under significant exceptions to the minimum wage, however, tipped employees can be paid just 2.63 per hour, as long as they earn an average of $5.37 per hour in tips over the shift. Workers in the agricultural industry can be paid just $1.60 per hour.
The Massachusetts minimum wage statue does not require employers to pay a premium for weekends, holidays or night work. However, the state Blue Laws do require that some retailers pay a premium for Sundays and holidays.
Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that requires employers to compensate employees for any accrued vacation time upon termination. However, the state does not mandate any paid sick days or severance pay.
Most workers are entitled to overtime at 1.5 times the usual rate of pay after 40 hours in one week under Massachusetts minimum wage law. However, a number of employees are excluded from the state’s overtime provision, including:
Residential Janitors who are furnished with living quarters
Handicapped person under special license
Switchboard Operator for the Phone Company
Truck Driver or Helper covered by ICC
The state also exempts employees of a seasonal business from overtime payments, provided that business operates less than 120 days per year.
Employees in several industries are also exempt from the state overtime provisions, such as those who work in hotels, restaurants, hospitals, gas stations, nursing homes, and amusement parks. Employees in non-profit schools or colleges are also exempt from overtime, as are workers at non-profit summer camps.
Some of the workers named above may be entitled to overtime under federal regulations.
When labor laws change, employers are required to post the updated information with new labor law posters. In 2008, several changes will occur so that employers will need to update their information. Complete listings are available at www.laborlawcenter.com.
Most of the states in the country have enacted state minimum wage laws. Over a dozen of these states will introduce increases in these minimums on January 1, 2008.
In Arizona, Florida and Montana, the minimum will see a small raise of just a few cents per hour. Arizona’s minimum will go from $6.75 to $6.90. Florida will add 14 cents to its current rate of $6.65 to get $6.79. Only nine cents will be added to Montana’s minimum wage to go from $6.15 to $6.26 per hour.
Conversely, Iowa will add over a dollar to raise their minimum from $6.20 to $7.25 per hour. New Mexico, too will add more than a $1 per hour, from $5.15 to $6.50 per hour.
Later in the year several more states will up their minimum wages, too. July 1, 2008, Kentucky will go up almost a dollar per hour from $5.58 to $6.55. Ninety cents will be added to the minimum wage in Pennsylvania of $6.25 to reach $7.15 per hour.
The federal minimum wage will go into effect on July 24, 2008 at $6.55 per hour. Many states have legislation that connects their minimum wages to the federal minimum, including Virginia, Indiana and Nebraska. On July 24, 2008, then, these states will increase their minimum wages, too. Washington D. C. has tied its minimum to the federal at exactly one dollar more, so when the new federal minimum debuts on July 24, D.C.’s minimum will go up to $7.55 per hour.
If, as an employer, the changes are not clear, or more information is needed regarding how and what to update, businesses can get information on all 50 states online at www.laborlawcenter.com.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently announced two grants totaling more than $1.94 million to benefit workers in Massachusetts and Missouri. The emergency grants will help provide a number of job resources to workers who are unemployed due to plant closings. In addition, the DOL has ruled that these workers are eligible for additional assistance under TAA, the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.
Displaced workers in Massachusetts and Missouri will receive a total of $1,940,459 under the two grants. Just last month, the DOL announced a similar grant to benefit workers in Maine, Oklahoma and North Carolina.
The first National Emergency Grant goes to workers in Fall River, Massachusetts affected by the closure of the Quaker Fabric Corp. The $617,515 grant was awarded by the DOL on July 25, 2007.
The second grant, of $1.3 million, goes to workers affected by 3 plant closures in Missouri. The funds will benefit workers from the Briggs & Stratton plant in Rolla, Missouri, the Affinia Brake Parts plant in Cuba, Missouri, and AMF Billiards and Games, Inc. in Bland, Missouri. Altogether, 967 workers who were displaced by these plant closures will benefit from the grant, which has an initial release of $536,069 and was announced in July 2007.
Under the National Emergency Grants, workers will have access to services not covered under the TAA program. Services offered under the grant include assessment, career counseling and job search assistance.
TAA assistance includes career counseling and job training. In most cases, displaced workers are not able to find another well-paying job in a similar field. TAA partially offsets the loss of wages and tuition costs while workers learn new skills to compete in the marketplace. If the workers accept a lower-paying job, TAA provides supplementary payments to partially offset lost wages for up to 24 months.
Quaker Fabric Corp announced its plans to shutter the Fall River, Massachusetts plant on July 2, 2007. More than 900 employees will be out of work, due to this decision. According to company sources, Quaker Fabric began operations in 1945 as a small family-owned fabric mill. Today it is “one of the largest producers of Jacquard upholstery fabric in the world and one of the undisputed leaders in the $2-billion-plus U.S. upholstery fabric industry.” The company also produces and sells specialty yarns, which are then sold to other fabric manufacturers. On its website, the company still lists its headquarters as Fall River, Massachusetts. Quaker Fabric is a publicly traded company with the Nasdaq symbol QFAB.
“This $617,515 grant will provide these workers with re-employment services to help them start new careers in growing industries,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.
Briggs & Stratton announced the closing of its Rolla plant in September 2006, putting 678 workers on the unemployment line. Briggs & Stratton is a well-known manufacturer of lawnmowers and engine parts. The company’s mission is to “create superior value by developing mutually beneficial relationships with our customers, suppliers, employees and communities. We will enhance our brand equity and leadership position by developing, manufacturing at low cost, marketing and servicing high value power for a broad range of power products. In pursuing this mission, we will provide power for people worldwide to develop their economies and improve the quality of their lives and, in so doing, add value to our shareholders’ investment.” The company is publicly traded under the Nasdaq symbol BGG.
According to the website, Briggs & Stratton is the world’s largest manufacturer of air-cooled power engines for outdoor equipment.
In October 2006, Affinia Group, Inc. announced that it would close the Affinia Brake Parts factor and dislocate 213 workers by closing its Cuba, Missouri plant. The company’s vow to become “faster, smarter, leaner” in 2007 apparently did not include these employees.
In May 2007, AMF Billiards & Games put 76 workers out to pasture with the closure of its plant in Bland, Missouri. AMF bills itself as the “world’s largest owner and operator of bowling centers, and a leader in the production of bowling and billiards products.” The company prefers the term “exploring strategic alternatives” to “plant closure”. However, the employees were give 60 days notice that they will be unemployed.
Between August 2006 and May 2007, Rapid Response sessions were conducted at all three plant locations to inform workers of their options in collecting unemployment insurance and TAA assistance.
National Emergency grants are a previous-approved budget item granted in specific situations, by the U.S. Secretary of Labor. In order to qualify for emergency grants, states must show that they have the ability to meet specific guidelines.