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.
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 third generation of WIRED grants was recently announced by Elaine L. Chao, the US Secretary of Labor.
WIRED is the shortened term for the Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development Initiative. You can see why they are more widely known as “WIRED” grants! Their purpose is to stimulate economies in regions of the US that traditionally have areas of high unemployment.
Competition for these grants is high, but the rewards more than compensate. In February 2006, 13 regions were selected with the result of transforming their economies.
Even though the national unemployment statistics are good at the moment, there are still pockets throughout the US that experience higher than average unemployment. At the moment the national figures stand at around 4%. For highly skilled workers, then it stands lower at around 1.9%. It is worth remembering that for many economists, a figure of under 5% indicates a skill shortage.
WIRED grants are intended for those areas in the US that have a tradition of high unemployment. The competition is open to all territory or state governors, and each received a letter from the Labor Secretary containing details of the procedure.
When speaking about the WIRED grants, Secretary Chao said that “The WIRED Initiative recognizes that local economies often do not neatly conform to geographic boundaries.”
All the regions that compete for a WIRED unemployment grant have to show that they can match the Department of Labor’s investment with other funds. These can be from state, private or regional sources. Each governor is allowed to submit two applications for a grant. The grant amounts can be for an amount up to $5 million for each submission.
One of the newest federal agencies has joined one of the largest human resource professional associations.
The goal: to provide more work for New Hampshire workers with disabilities in the 21st-century workplace.
The agency is ODEP, or the Office of Disability Employment Policy. The association is SHRM, or the Society of Human Resource Managers. Together their mission is to improve training, recruitment, and education of workers with disabilities, and promote dialogue on the hiring of persons with disabilities. It is the first such alliance for ODEP.
Opportunities for the disabled may have increased in the past few years, but society is still not getting the full benefit of disabled workers’ talents, says ODEP. The new alliance will push recruiting and hiring of this relatively untapped talent through the help of research and education. The teamup will specifically look not only at education but also at training, technical assistance, communication and outreach. The partnership is the first of its kind for ODEP.
The Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) was founded in 1948. Its goal has been to provide assistance to the managers in the field by offering a host of wide-ranging resources to professionals involved. It has 205,000 members and more than 550 chapters, and is a global group – it’s found in more than 100 countries.
The two forces, SHRM and ODEP, have worked together before, but informally. This makes it official.
“This alliance,” says Roy Grizzard, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy, “formalizes the relationship we have had with SHRM,” adding that it benefits SHRM as it “serves its membership with resources ODEP brings to the table and offering ODEP the opportunity for broader contact with human resource professionals.”
The partnership is also expected to open up a national discussion about employing disabled workers, among them New Hampshire workers with disabilities.