The New Hampshire Department of Labor has received a number of complaints that employers are requiring direct deposit and/or pay cards for payroll. This is not legal, under New Hampshire law. Every employer must offer a check for payment of wages at no cost to the employee, if requested. In addition, the check must be on a financial institution convenient to the place of employment. Employees must be able to cash their paychecks and receive the full amount of payment due. In other words, the nearby financial institution may not charge a fee for cashing the checks.
New Hampshire employers may opt to offer direct deposit and authorized pay cards as payment. However, they cannot require that employees use one of these payment methods. Every employee is entitled to payment by payroll check, if he or she prefers.
On September 1, 2008, the minimum wage for New Hampshire employers will increase the second time in a matter of weeks. On July 23, 2008 the state minimum wage was $6.50 per hour. The federal minimum wage increase on July 24 meant that most New Hampshire employers had to pay $6.55 per hour.
Richard E. Landry Sr., owner and operator of Landry Architects of Salem, New Hampshire, has agreed to repay $100,000 to the company’s employee profit-sharing plan. The action came under a consent judgment approving the out of court settlement of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration, as enforcement of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
The lawsuit, filed in June 2006, alleged that Landry violated ERISA when he failed to adequately monitor and control the activities of Bradford D. Bleidt and Bleidt’s companies, Allocation Plus Asset Management and Financial Perspectives Planning Services. Landry also failed to oversee and control plan assets, and to obtain a bond to protect the plan’s assets.
According to the U.S. DOL, Bleidt and his companies provided investment and financial management services to the plan between January and November 2004. During that time, Bleidt used the plan’s funds for his own benefit and was convicted in December 2005 on criminal charges that resulted in his being sentenced to 11 years in prison.
“The law requires those who administer employee benefit plans to do so in a careful and prudent manner solely for the benefit of participants,” said Bradford P. Campbell, assistant secretary for the Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA). “The department’s legal action sends a clear message that employers and plan trustees cannot neglect their fiduciary obligations to oversee the handling and investment of plan assets.”
The judgment, entered in U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire, orders Landry to repay to the plan a total of $100,000 and a civil monetary penalty of $10,000. Landry also was ordered to resign as the trustee and fiduciary to the plan, and to retain the services of a disinterested institutional trustee to serve as fiduciary of the plan.
This case was investigated by the EBSA Boston Regional Office. Employers and workers can reach EBSA at 617.565.9600 or toll-free at 1.866.444.3272 for help with problems relating to private sector retirement and health plans.
In the fiscal year 2007, EBSA recovered $1.5 billion related to pension, 401(k), health and other benefits for millions of American workers and their families.
Back in the 1970s, federal guidelines for managing employee retirement plans were spelled out in Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, (ERISA). Some time later, lawmakers added guidelines for managing profit-sharing accounts and for managing healthcare plans.
An incident earlier in the year prompted the need for the law, and a way to enforce it and punish violators. The incident occurred when a Miami company raided $1.1 million from its workers’ profit sharing accounts, ostensibly as a way to boost its operating account.
Raids on employee benefit accounts continued to occur, despite the law, and the U. S. Department of Labor took action. In 2006, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) recouped over a billion dollars in pension, 401K, health and other benefits funds which have been misappropriated by employers.
In July of 2007, another company was brought to justice. A New Britain, Connecticut firm was ordered to repay over two million it had stolen from its employees’ retirement account.
Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao reacted strongly to this company’s raid, commenting, “Workers’ retirement plans are not piggy banks for company executives.” She continued by adding, “This legal action restores $2.1 million to these workers’ retirement plan and prohibits the company’s president from ever again serving as a fiduciary of an ERISA-covered employee benefits plan.”
Though much has been accomplished by the Department of Labor in recovering misappropriated benefits accounts, officials worry that the monies are merely the tip of the iceberg
A tough New Hampshire law that bans smoking in many workplaces will go into effect on Monday, September 17. In June, Governor Lynch signed a bi-partisan bill to ban smoking in the state’s restaurants and bars. The popular bill was supported by service workers across the state.
“The science is clear – second-hand smoke poses a dangerous health risk. And that is why this new law is so important,” Governor John Lynch said. “Smoking is banned in almost every other workplace in New Hampshire. We should not continue to subject our hard-working citizens in the restaurant industry to the harmful dangers of second-hand smoke.”
According to at least one survey, the majority of New Hampshire citizens are in favor of the bill, although some in the hospitality industry voiced concerns that it would hurt business. They fear that if patrons can’t smoke in restaurants and bars, they will choose to stay home.
“Those who wait tables or tend bar in our restaurants must work to make ends meet – to pay the rent, to provide for their children. Without this law, many of them would have no choice but to inhale dangerous second-hand smoke, putting their health in jeopardy,” Gov. Lynch said. “Today, we are making a statement. We are telling these hard-working men and woman that we care about them. We care and are committed to providing a safe, healthy work environment.”
Some smokers resent what they see as a severe curtailment of their right to smoke. Many restaurants and bars have already banned smoking. Supporters of the bill point out that in many cases, restaurants have actually seen an increase in business after introducing the non-smoking policy.
Senate Bill 42 was sponsored by Senators David Gottesman, Lou D’Allesandro, Harold Janeway, Martha Fuller Clark, Bob Odell, Molly Kelly, Betsi DeVries, Sylvia Larsen, and Iris Estabrook. On the House side, it was sponsored by Representatives Larry Emerton, Cynthia Dokmo, Cindy Rosenwald, and William Chase.
New Hampshire is just the latest state to implement a smoking ban in restaurants and bars. A total of 15 states, plus Puerto Rico, allow no smoking in any restaurant or bar. These states include Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
Illinois recently introduced a stiff smoking ban of its own, although the law does allow smoking in private offices where all the occupants smoke, even if the public or non-smokers must occasionally enter the office.
Sixteen states have laws that require all workplaces to be smoke-free. These are Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah and Washington.
One state that has traditionally been a bastion of smoker’s rights is North Carolina. In that state, a worker can smoke anywhere except in the municipality of Montreat, at least for now.
A number of states have recently enacted workplace smoking bans. Illinois joined the fray in July, with the passage of a smoking ban that goes into effect on January 1, 2008. A similar ban that prohibits smoking in most workplaces in Maryland will go into effect on February 1, 2008.
In the past, many states prohibited smoking in public areas, but permitted it in restaurants and bars. These laws are slowly being changed, with a number of states adding restaurants, bars and even casinos to the “non-smoking” list. Minnesota already has significant bans on smoking in public areas. Effective October 1, 2007, a new law that bans smoking in restaurants and bars in Minnesota will go into effect. Montana has passed a similar law, which is slated to go into effect on October 1, 2009.
Oregon’s 100% smoke-free workplace law will become effective on January 1, 2009. That’s the same day that a Utah law banning smoking in bars will go into effect.
The New Hampshire state minimum wage is set to increase from $5.85 to $6.50, effective September 1, 2007. The 65 cent increase is the second in the Granite State in just 6 weeks, since the rate increased to $5.85 on July 24, 2007.
Minimum wage hikes are on the horizon in a number of states including Utah, Maine, California, Massachusetts, Delaware, Illinois, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Michigan, West Virginia, New Mexico and Kentucky.
On September 8, the Utah minimum wage will increase from $5.15 per hour to $5.85 per hour. The higher rate is, of course, the same as the new federal minimum wage, so most workers in the Beehive State will be unaffected. Still, any employer who is covered under the state minimum wage, but not the federal minimum wage, will be required to increase the amount paid to minimum-wage workers.
Utah is in a unique position in the relationship between the state and federal minimum wages. In Texas, X and several other states, the state minimum wage by statute increases at the same time as the federal minimum wage rises. In Utah, the state minimum wage is increased by an administrative action taken by the Utah Department of Labor. The administrative action normally takes several months before it goes into effect. In this case, the July 24, 2007 increase in the federal minimum wage is not mirrored in Utah until September 8, 2007. Thus, on September 8, the Utah minimum wage will increase by 70 cents from $5.15 to $5.85 per hour.
The next state minimum wage in the nation will occur in Main on October 1, 2007 when the rate will go up by 25 cents, from $6.75 to $7.00 per hour.
A number of states have already voted minimum wage increases that will take effect on January 1, 2008. These include California where the state rate will increase by 50 cents, from $7.50 per hour to $8.00 per hour. In Massachusetts, the state wage rate will also increase by 50 cents from $7.50 per hour to $8.00 per hour. Another state rate increase already on the books for January 1, 2007 will occur in Delaware, where the rate will 50 cents from $6.65 to $7.15.
Three states have annual rate increases tied to the Consumer Price Index. All of these increases go into effect on January 1, 2007. The states are Oregon (currently at $7.80), Vermont (currently at $7.53) and Washington state (currently at $7.93.) Increases last year for these states varied from 26 cents to 36 cents per hour.
Another round of state rate increases will take place on July 24, 2008. These include the rate in the District of Columbia, which will increase from $7.00 per hour to $7.55 per hour, a 55 cent jump. In New Mexico, on the same date, the rate will climb from $5.15 to $6.50 per hour, an increase of a whopping $1.35.
Illinois has been a leader in state minimum wage hikes, with a number of increases over the past few years. The state has already approved 3 more increases before 2010. The next increase in the Land of Lincoln is 25 cents, which will bring the state rate from $7.50 per hour to $7.75 per hour on July 1, 2008. On that same date, the Kentucky minimum wage increase by 70 cents from $5.85 to $6.55. In Michigan, the July 1, 2007 increase will push the state rate from $7.15 to $7.40, an increase of 25 cents. And, in West Virginia the state minimum wage will increase from $6.55 per hour to $7.25 per hour on the same day.
The federal minimum wage increased by 70 cents on July 24, 2007 under the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007. The rate went from $5.15 to $5.85 per hour. his was the first increase in more than a decade. Two more increases are on the horizon. On July 24, 2008 the federal rate will increase by 70 cents to $6.55 per hour. Finally, on July 24, 2009, the federal rate will increase to $$.25 per hour.
Critics of the federal minimum wage increase worried that it will decrease the number of jobs available, especially for unskilled workers. Proponents pointed out that the increase is long overdue. At just $5.15 per hour, the old federal minimum wage had lower purchasing power in 2007 than in 1968, when the rate was $1.60 per hour. They point out that the $1.60 minimum wage was equivalent in purchasing power to a salary of $9.12 per hour in 2005. Proponents also note that in the 10 years since the last increase in the federal minimum wage, the average U.S. Congressman (or Congresswoman) has voted themselves raises totaling $31,600 per year. The current increase amounts to $1,456 per year for a full-time minimum wage worker.
An increase in the federal minimum wage was a major issue during the 2006 mid-term elections. Democrats won a majority in the House and a very slim majority in the Senate, partly because of a promise to pass an increase during their first 100 days in office. While the Democrats technically kept their promise, the original bill was vetoed by President George W. Bush because it was linked to the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007. The act will raise the federal minimum a bill that demanded a reduction in American forces in Iraq. While the Iraq debate continued, the minimum wage increase languished.
The bill was finally passed and signed by the president on May 25, 2007. The bill provided for a total of three 70 cent increases, bringing the minimum wage to $7.25. The first increase, from $5.15 per hour to $5.85 per hour, is effective today. The next increase will occur on July 24, 2008, when the federal minimum wage will increase from $5.85 to $6.55 per hour. The final increase under the current bill will occur on July 24, 2009 when the rate will go to $7.25 per hour.