Effective January 1, 2015, most Illinois employment agencies and private employers will be prohibited from asking about applicants’ criminal background until the applicant reaches the interview stage of the hiring process, or, if there is no interview, until the applicant has been given a conditional offer of employment. The Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act (House Bill 5701) provides very limited exceptions. For most Illinois employers, the Act will require changes to the application process.
The Illinois Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act is the latest in a surge of “Ban the Box” legislation around the country. Illinois becomes the 5th state to enact such “Ban the Box” legislation that covers private employers, joining Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island. Seven cities (Baltimore, Buffalo, Newark, Philadelphia, Rochester, Seattle, San Francisco) also have similar provisions.
Illinois employers and employment agencies should review application materials to remove questions about criminal history by the end of the year.
The IRS recently issued two new Q&As to underscore that arrangements allowing employers to reimburse employees on a pre-tax basis for premiums used to purchase individual health coverage, either inside or outside of a public exchange, violate Affordable Care Act’s insurance market reforms. While duplicative of previous IRS publications on the subject, these Q&As are in plain English.
This rule applies only to individual premiums and not to pre-tax plans like HRAs and FSAs.
To drive the point home, the IRS notes that employers offering such an arrangements will be subject to a $100/day per covered employee penalty.
White House officials announced this week that President Obama intends to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Many states and local governments already have laws, applicable to all employers, banning this type of discrimination. Last year, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would have prohibited this type of discrimination against all workers in the United States, but the bill stalled in the House.
Obama’s executive order would protect up to sixteen million employees working for employers with federal contracts. In the meantime, federal contractor employers may wish to consider reviewing their non-discrimination and non-retaliation policies to ensure that sexual orientation and gender identity are explicitly covered.
$10.10 Minimum Wage for Employees of Federal Contractors
Seeking to fulfill President Obama’s executive order (issued in February), the Labor Department proposed a rule this week to raise the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors to $10.10 an hour.
The wage increase would benefit about 200,000 workers, an estimate that was not available when the executive order was announced. If enacted, the rate would apply to contracts issued on or after Jan. 1, 2015. The DOL is expected to issue the final rule on October 1, 2014.
President Barack Obama announced today that he is directing the Department of Labor to propose a rule making legally married, same-sex couples eligible for benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act in all fifty states regardless of whether they live in a state that recognizes their marital status.
The Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical purposes. Without the regulatory changes, gay couples cannot receive federal benefits in states that do not recognize their marriages. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in nineteen states and the District of Columbia.
Obama’s announcement comes as a precursor to the Justice Department’s announcement this afternoon of findings from their yearlong review of how the landmark 2013 Supreme Court Windsor decision (that held that the survivor of a same-sex couple could claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses) affects federal rights and obligations linked to marriage and spousal rights and benefits. It is expected that, in almost all instances, same-sex married couples will receive the same federal benefits and obligations as their heterosexual counterparts, regardless of where they live. The two exceptions are Social Security and veterans benefits, which are determined by the law where the couples live. Obama, and gay and civil rights groups, are pressing lawmakers to extend these federal benefits to same-sex couples too.
If you are like most employers, you have been diligently revising your health benefit plans and working with your insurance providers to make sure your Summary Plan Descriptions comply with the Affordable Care Act. After those revisions are in place, if your handbook and intranet contain benefits-related information, you will need to make revisions there too.
For example, if you exclude “part-time” employees from your health plan, make sure to define that exclusion in your handbook. If your definition of “part-time” is different for health benefits than it is for other purposes (hours, compensation, or vacation for example), be sure to make a clear distinction and consider using a term other than “part-time” when referring to health benefits to avoid possible confusion. The level of detail you include will depend on your preference, but as with other benefit plan discussions it is best to avoid heavily detailed information about your benefits in a handbook.
Any handbook or intranet description of benefits should include language that:
Emphasizes that the handbook only summarizes benefits and directs employees to plan documents for detailed information.
States that the plan documents control if there are inconsistencies between them and the handbook or intranet.
Makes it clear that eligibility for participation in any plan is governed by the terms of that plan’s documents and specifies whether or not a waiting period applies and what it is.
States that the benefits described in the handbook may be modified or discontinued at the company’s sole discretion.
A year ago, the Department of Labor (DOL) released model general notice and model election notice forms for providing COBRA notices to employees in anticipation of the availability of alternative individual health insurance coverage becoming available beginning January 1, 2014 through the new health insurance exchanges or marketplaces created under the 2010 health reform law. But the interplay between electing COBRA coverage or coverage under the new marketplaces is complicated, and confusion has resulted among those eligible for COBRA coverage.
So, on May 2, 2014, the Department Of Health & Human Services announced a special open enrollment period of May 2, 2014 through July 1, 2014, under the federal marketplace allowing an individual currently on COBRA to voluntarily end COBRA coverage and get coverage through the federal Marketplace, if otherwise eligible for the federal marketplace coverage. State marketplaces are encouraged, but not required, to also offer a special enrollment period.
At the same time, the DOL issued proposed regulations removing older model notices from appendices to the COBRA regulations and providing that the approved notices and future changes to the notices will be posted on the DOL website. This will allow faster updating of the notices when needed because amendment of the regulations themselves will not be required. The most recent model notices on the DOL website are here: model general notice and model election notice.
In a suit filed in February, the Chicago District Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) argued that the separation and release agreements used by CVS Pharmacy were “overly broad, misleading, and unenforceable.” Specifically, the EEOC argued that provisions in CVS’ agreements infringed on employees’ rights to file discrimination charges and participate in EEOC investigations. See our February 2014 post, EEOC Files Suit Over Separation Agreement Language for more details on that case.
Now, a different district office of the EEOC has filed a similar suit against another employer. The Phoenix District Office sued CollegeAmerica Denver on April 30, 2014 alleging that CollegeAmerica violated federal age discrimination laws by including various provisions in its form separation and release agreements impeding employee rights. The EEOC objects to CollegeAmerica’s broad release language, provisions limiting an employee’s ability to assist others with claims, and provisions requiring the employee to represent that he or she has not filed administrative claims or lawsuits.
Separation and release agreement language clearly is a “hot button” issue for the EEOC. Employers should review their form release agreements to ensure that they specifically permit an employee to file charges and participate in investigations by governmental authorities and do not place other impermissible limits on employee rights.