Should the Coming Solar Eclipse Block out Work?

There’s March Madness. There’s Super Bowl Flu. And now we have Solar Eclipse Fever.

On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will arc across the continental United States, which means the moon will move between the sun and earth, casting a lunar shadow that—in some places—darkens the sky, drops temperatures and makes bright stars visible during what’s normally broad daylight.

It will be the first time that an eclipse’s path of totality exclusively crosses the continental U.S. from coast to coast since June 8, 1918. The path of totality will be a 70-mile-wide ribbon across portions of 14 U.S. states: Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

“In areas of totality, traffic is predicted to be extremely heavy, with many tourists flocking to those areas to witness the eclipse, so the hope that [such employees] can get back to work shortly after the eclipse may just be wishful thinking,” said Sean Ray, an attorney with Barran Liebman in Portland, Ore.

Anticipating heavy traffic from tourists traveling to areas in the path of totality and sudden stops as drivers pull over to look at the eclipse when it happens, the Nebraska Department of Transportation announced that oversized semitrailer trucks will be banned from state highways and I-80 from sundown Aug. 18 to sunrise Aug. 22, reported the Omaha World-Herald.

Treating Pre-Eclipse Fever

One employer concern that accompanies March Madness and Super Bowl Flu is the time workers may spend on nonwork activities following both events using their workplace computers.

“I doubt [computer use for the eclipse] will approach the issue employers experience with March Madness or other daylong events that result in employees streaming footage for hours at a time,” Ray said. “That said, reminding employees of the computer usage policy beforehand may limit the number of employees (or at least the amount of time spent) who use too much work time to check up on the latest eclipse updates.”

Richard Meneghello, an attorney at Fisher & Phillips in Portland, Ore., notes that employers need to be realistic and realize that almost every employee “goofs off for a bit each day and engages in nonproductive activity while at their workstations.”

“Your main focus should be on accountability and productivity,” he said. “Are your employees getting their work done in a consistently high-quality manner? Are they meeting deadlines? Are they available when you reach out to them? Are they responsive? Are they getting enough work done each day? If the answer to these questions is a consistent ‘yes,’ then you shouldn’t stress over whether an employee is spending time on NASA’s website reading up on the eclipse.”

Should You Honor Time-Off Requests?

To the extent possible, an employer should follow its normal practices and procedures regarding requests for time off work to view the eclipse, said Christopher Caiaccio, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Atlanta.

But if all requests can’t be granted, “managers should resign themselves that there will likely be more absences than usual on Aug. 21, and they should plan accordingly,” he said.

“Employers should take care not to grant requests for time off to view the eclipse, while denying requests for time off for other reasons, which could ultimately lead to discrimination claims,” Caiaccio said.

[SHRM members-only policies: Leave Policy: Leave Request Procedure]

Ray said employers should treat unplanned absences the same way they treat other suspected abuses of leave policies.

“If the employee [calls in sick] on the days he or she was denied time off, it may establish a pattern of abuse that requires the employer’s intervention, such as requesting medical verification,” he said. “Be cognizant, however, that some state laws, such as in Oregon, require the employer to pay the out-of-pocket cost incurred by the employee in obtaining such a doctor’s note. It would be a good idea to remind employees about the proper use of sick leave under the company’s policy prior to the eclipse, and that abuse of sick leave will warrant discipline.”

Religious Requests Possible

Some cultures and religions find special significance in solar eclipses, according to an advisory from the employment and labor law firm of Littler: At least one commentator suggests that the coming eclipse is a sign of the impending apocalypse, the advisory notes.

“Employers should be aware of the possibility that employees may request accommodations based on their religious beliefs and practices concerning this cosmic event,” the advisory states. “Under federal law, and most state antidiscrimination statutes, employers are forbidden from discrimination based on an employee’s … religion. [Federal law], as well as some state laws, require employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of employees, unless doing so would result in undue hardship.”

Make It a Team-Building Event

Some employers are embracing the excitement of the eclipse and making plans for co-workers to watch the eclipse together, Ray said.

“Since the actual eclipse itself will be relatively short, one way to increase [workplace] attendance is to have a company ‘eclipse-watching party.’ If the employer provides some eclipse-viewing glasses and a spot to watch the eclipse from the workplace or a surrounding area, that may encourage employees to come to work that day, as well as build camaraderie among the workforce when they get to experience such a rare event together.”

Another alternative is to give employees one or two hours off of work to view the eclipse, said John Snyder, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in New York City.

“A half a day or whole day off companywide may be unnecessary, as opposed to an hour or two, to balance providing a nice perk to employees and the needs of business,” he said. “There are certain industries where a shut-down, particularly a full-day shut-down, would be less than ideal, such as transit, law enforcement, fire [fighting] and similar public services, and health care.”

Wilkie, Dana. “Should the Coming Solar Eclipse Block out Work?” SHRM, 14 Aug. 2017, http://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/Should-the-Coming-Solar-Eclipse-Block-out-Work.aspx?utm_source=SHRM Monday – PublishThis_HRDaily_7.18.16 %2855%29&utm_medium=email&utm_content=August 14%2C 2017&SPMID=01698178&SPJD=09%2F03%2F2015&SPED=09%2F30%2F2017&SPSEG=&spMailingID=30168416&spUserID=MTAxMDcyMjY5MzcwS0&spJobID=1101604006&spReportId=MTEwMTYwNDAwNgS2. Accessed 17 Aug. 2017.

This article is provided by Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). HR Strategies does not take credit for anything written in this article provided by SHRM. To find out more information on this topic or the SHRM website, please click here.

 

Tax Tip Tuesday

For Letter Rulings and Similar Requests: Electronic Payment of User Fees Starts June 15; Replaces Paying by Check

WASHINGTON — Beginning June 15, taxpayers requesting letter rulings, closing agreements and certain other rulings from the Internal Revenue Service will need to make user fee payments electronically using the federal government’s Pay.gov system.

Pay.gov allows people to pay for a variety of government services online using a credit card, debit card or via direct debit or electronic funds withdrawal from a checking or savings account. In the past, ruling requesters could only make required user fee payments by check or money order. During a two-month transition period, June 15 to Aug. 15, requesters can choose to make user fee payments either through Pay.gov or by check or money order. After Aug. 15, 2017, Pay.gov will become the only permissible payment method.

Rulings described in Revenue Procedure 2017-1 and sent to the Docket, Records and User Fee Branch of the Legal Processing Division of the Associate Chief Counsel (Procedure and Administration) (CC:PA:LPD:DRU) are affected by this change. These include private letter rulings, closing agreements, and rulings using Form 1128, 2553, 3115 or 8716. Determination letters are not affected because they are sent to other offices as described in the revenue procedure.

A letter ruling is a written determination issued to a taxpayer by IRS Chief Counsel in response to the taxpayer’s written inquiry, submitted prior to the filing of returns or reports required under federal law. In general, it concerns the requester’s status for tax purposes or the tax effects of its acts or transactions. Letter rulings and other similar ruling requests interpret the tax laws and apply them to the taxpayer’s specific set of facts. User fees range from $200 to $28,300, depending upon the type of ruling being sought.

Pay.gov is used to accept payments only. The original, signed ruling request and supporting materials must still be submitted by mail or hand delivery to the IRS.

To submit a user fee, visit www.pay.gov and use the IRS Chief Counsel User Fees (or Supplemental User Fees) for Form 1128, Form 2553, Form 3115, Form 8716, Private Letter Rulings and Closing Agreements form. This form can be found by entering “IRS Chief Counsel User Fees” in the “Search the Forms” box or by clicking on the “Agency List” link under “What Federal Agencies Can I Pay?” and choosing Internal Revenue Service.

Once payment is made, print a copy of the completed form and the receipt and include these with the  letter ruling request. Then submit the complete package by mail or hand delivery:

Mail to:
Internal Revenue Service
CC:PA:LPD:DRU
P.O. Box 7604
Ben Franklin Station
Washington, DC  20044;

or

Hand deliver, or if using a private courier service, to:

Internal Revenue Service
CC:PA:LPD:DRU
1111 Constitution Avenue, NW
Room 5336
Washington, DC  20224

In addition, for the fastest processing, please Efax a copy of the pay.gov receipt, the completed form and the ruling request to this eFax line, 877-773-4950.

IR-2017-102, June 1, 2017

OSHA’s New Slip and Fall Rules Might Have Escaped Many Employers

Are you aware of the new standards that the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) issued last year? According to a Newsday report, many employers are not aware of the new regulations.

Last year, OSHA updated its Walking-Working Surfaces Safety standards which indicates it will prevent numerous fatalities, thus reducing the 5,000 injuries that occur annually. Fall from heights, and same-level are among the leading causes for these injuries.

“The new guidelines require employers to conduct regular inspections of every surface in the workplace on which people work and walk, including stairs, floors, ladders and other areas. The purpose is to identify trip, slip and fall hazards. The updated standards bring workplace requirements in line with those of the construction industry.”

Though the updated standards became effective in January of this year, many employers have been slow to comply. As of May 17th, employers are expected to have trained employees who use “fall-protection” equipment and systems.

The rule affects a range of workers, from painters to warehouse workers and is used to update general industry standards. Specifically, it updates the “slip, trip, and fall” hazards and adds requirements for personal fall protection systems.

“OSHA estimates that these changes will prevent 29 fatalities
& 5,842 lost-working injuries every year.”

OSHA also states that the updates standards allow employees flexibility in deciding the best way they can minimize safety hazards. One example of a rule change is eliminating the existing rule to use guardrails as a primary fall protection method. This will allow employers to choose from accepted fall protection systems they believe will work best in a particular situation. This approach has been quite successful in the construction industry since 1994.

Advantages:

  •  Advances in Technology
  •  Industry Best Practices
  •  Effective & Cost-Efficient Worker Protection
  •  National Consensus Standards

Employers must stay up to date on OSHA Regulations. Regular inspections are crucial to minimize workplace injuries and fatalities. However, if these safety hazards are ignored, the costs are steep. Your company could get hit with not only OSHA Citations for safety violations, but there are workers’ compensation cost to consider along with possible lawsuits that come with those injuries.

HR Strategies offers our employers help with staying in compliance with new OSHA Regulations.

For questions regarding your Workers’ Compensation Policy, OSHA Regulations, or training, please contact Tanya White at twhite@hr-strategies.com or 678-551-6419.

MA is latest of 19 states to pass laws protecting pregnant and nursing mothers

Dive Brief:

  • Nineteen states now have laws protecting pregnant women and nursing mothers, Engineering News-Record (ENR) reports.
  • The Massachusetts House passed a bill on May 10 requiring employers to provide nursing mothers with a private, non-bathroom area. The bill also requires employers to provide mothers with reasonable accommodations, such as a lighter workload, unless the employer would face undue hardship. The state’s Senate is expected to approve the bill.
  • According to ENR, the states’ laws extend protections for pregnant and nursing mothers beyond federal law, and most of them — 13 out of the 19 — were passed within the last four years.

Dive Insight:

Legal protection for pregnant women and nursing mothers is yet another area of employment law in which states have taken their own measures. That growing list includes paid family leave, “ban the box” and pay equity laws.

Pregnant women and nursing mothers in traditionally male-dominated jobs, such as construction or architecture, might require private areas to take care of maternal issues, like pumping breast milk. They will almost certainly need to be given less strenuous tasks and assignments in addition to more frequent breaks.

Kathleen Dobson, safety director at Alberici Constructors, told ENR that some employers don’t understand the federal rules; employers might not even know that pregnant workers are considered disabled under the law and therefore entitled to reasonable accommodations. Wal-Mart employees recently sued the company for denying pregnant workers the same reasonable accommodations as other disabled workers.

With 13 out of 19 states passing laws protecting pregnant women and nursing mothers within a relatively short time, more states will likely follow. Employers must monitor possible changes in their own state’s laws, which often are more extensive than federal law.

Source: HR Dive

35% of Millennials Turned Down Job Offers Due to Inadequate Benefits

Anthem, Inc., one of the largest health benefits companies in the U.S., conducted a survey where they discovered that 35% of millennials, ages 18 to 34, have turned down job offers because they were dissatisfied with the benefits. The turn-down rate for all other groups was 27%.

The survey results also shows that employers might also offer highly desirable benefits such as fitness classes, in-office massages, or extra time off to help employees manage stress, but money seems to be the number one reason why employers are hesitant. As a result, Anthem aid that this is why millennials were more persuaded to be involved in long-term financial planning than older workers ages 35 to 54 during the past year.

It’s a good idea that employers should offer workers benefits that help protect their income, such as disability insurance, if they become disabled and also financial planning in a health care plan.

The study also shows that millennials are more careful about financial planning and saving for retirement than previous generations. Millennials make up the largest section of today’s workforce, therefore employers that can provide a 401(k) plan, financial planning advice, health care, and other benefits that protect employees against income losses are far more competitive in attracting and retaining top talent.

Employers who are offering benefits might want to review their benefits offerings to find out how well they’re fitting employees’ needs, especially with millennials turning down more jobs because they don’t like the benefits.

Bolden-Barrett, Valerie. “Anthem: 35% of millennials turned down job offers due to inadequate benefits.” HR Dive. N.p., 22 May 2017. Web. 22 May 2017. <http://www.hrdive.com/news/anthem-35-of-millennials-turned-down-job-offers-due-to-inadequate-benefit/443208/&gt;.

Uber will test workers’ comp-esque insurance coverage for South Carolina drivers

Dive Brief:

  • Uber, the international ride-hailing firm, is testing workers’ comp-type insurance coverage to give it South Carolina drivers financial protection if they’re injured on the job, reports The Post and Courier.
  • The insurance policies will help cover drivers’ medical bills and replace their regular earnings if they’re injured while transporting customers. The insurance plan, reportedly the first of its kind, is a means of offering wage protection to gig economy workers, says The Post and Courier.
  • Insurance policies will cost drivers 3.75 cents a mile for up to $1 million worth of coverage. Passengers will subsidize the costs through a five cent increase in fares.

Dive Insight:

Offering Uber drivers insurance policies is a step employers might be inclined to take to protect independent contractors and other gig economy workers’ wages.

Employers are facing the dilemma of hiring on-demand workers without worrying about the cost of providing benefits as opposed to offering them wage protections. Recently, Uber drivers have sued the company over what they perceive as lost wages — denied benefits to which they feel entitled — threatening unionization .

The larger issue is the fact that gig workers are projected to outnumber traditional workers by 2025. Their looming numbers are causing Congressional lawmakers to think about revising the decades-old Fair Labor Standards Act to accommodate these nontraditional workers in the labor force. This was the argument made by House Republican Virginia Foxx (NC) earlier in the week.

This post was provided by HR Dive. Click here for the article and a chance to read other hot topics.

 

Missed the Tax Return Deadline? IRS Offers Help

IRS Tax Tip 2017-50, April 19, 2017

The tax deadline for most taxpayers was Tuesday, April 18, 2017. The IRS has some advice for taxpayers who missed the filing deadline.

  • File and pay as soon as possible. Taxpayers who owe federal income tax should file and pay as soon as they can to minimize any penalty and interest charges. For taxpayers due a refund, there is no penalty for filing a late return.
  • Use IRS Free File. Nearly everyone can use IRS Free File to e-file their federal taxes for free. Taxpayers whose income was $64,000 or less can use free brand-name tax software. Those who made more than $64,000 can use Free File Fillable Forms to e-file. This program uses electronic versions of IRS paper forms. Fillable forms work best for those who are used to doing their own taxes. Taxpayers can file — even if they missed the deadline — using free options on IRS.gov through the Oct. 16 extension period.
  •  File electronically. No matter who prepares a tax return, taxpayers can use IRS e-file through Oct. 16. E-file is the easiest, safest and most accurate way to file a tax return. The IRS will send electronic confirmation when it receives the tax return and issues more than nine out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days.
  • Pay as much as possible. If taxpayers owe but can’t pay in full, they should pay as much as they can when they file their tax return. IRS electronic payment options are the quickest and easiest way to pay taxes. IRS Direct Pay is a free, secure and easy way to pay a balance due directly from a checking or savings account. Pay any owed amounts as soon as possible to minimize penalties and interest.
  • Make monthly payments through an installment agreement. Those who need more time to pay taxes can apply for a direct debit installment agreement through the IRS Online Payment Agreement tool. There’s no need to write and mail a check each month with a direct debit plan. Taxpayers who don’t use the online tool can still apply on Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request. Get the form at IRS.gov/forms.
  • File as soon as possible to get a refund. Taxpayers who are not required to file may still get a refund if they had taxes withheld from wages or they qualified for certain tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit. Those who don’t file their return within three years could lose their right to the refund.

Taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax return. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their prior-year tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign tax returns at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.

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