Monthly Archives: December 2017

December 28, 2017

Colorado Minimum Wage Goes Up To $10.20 Per Hour On January 1

By Emily Hobbs-Wright

Minimum wage employees in Colorado will get a raise in the new year. The state minimum wage goes up by ninety cents per hour, from the current $9.30 to $10.20, beginning January 1, 2018.

Annual Increases Approved By Voters In 2016

The upcoming minimum wage increase is the result of a ballot effort last year to increase Colorado’s minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020. In the November 2016 election, Colorado voters approved Amendment 70 which raises the state’s hourly minimum wage by 90 cents per hour each year, as follows:

  • $10.20 effective 1/1/18
  • $11.10 effective 1/1/19
  • $12.00 effective 1/1/20

After 2020, annual cost-of-living increases will be made to the mandatory minimum wage.

Tipped Employees

Under Colorado law, employers may take a tip credit of $3.02 off the full minimum wage for employees who regularly receive tips. Consequently, the minimum wage that must be paid to tipped workers will go up by 90 cents on January 1, 2018 as well. The applicable minimum wage for tipped workers for upcoming years is as follows:

  • $7.18 effective 1/1/18
  • $8.08 effective 1/1/19
  • $8.98 effective 1/1/20

Remember that if tips combined with wages does not equal the state minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference in cash wages.

Take steps now to ensure that your payroll system is ready to comply with the increased minimum wage beginning January 1.

December 26, 2017

The New Tax Bill & Employee Benefits: What is Changing? What is Not?

By Molly Hobbs and Brenda Berg

On December 22, 2017, the President signed into law the Republican tax bill that was passed by Congress just days earlier. Beyond cutting individual tax rates temporarily and slashing corporate taxes to 21 percent permanently, the tax bill includes some important changes to the taxation of certain employee benefits.

Listed below are the major changes to employer-provided benefits under the final tax bill:

  • Revised: Time to repay “offset” employer-sponsored retirement plan loans.
    • Currently, retirement plan loans are generally accelerated (i.e., immediately due and payable) when the plan terminates or the participant terminates employment. If the loan is not repaid, the plan will “offset” the loan against the participant’s account. This loan offset may be rolled over by making an equivalent contribution to an IRA or another qualified plan, but this must be done within 60 days of the date of the offset.
    • Beginning in 2018, the period to roll over a loan offset is extended to the individual’s due date for the tax return for the year in which the offset occurred (including extensions).
  • Repealed: Employer deduction for qualified transportation fringe benefits, including commuting expenses.
    • Currently, an employer can deduct the cost of certain transportation fringe benefit provided to employees (i.e., parking, transit passes, and vanpool benefits), even though such benefits are excluded from the employee’s income.
    • Beginning in 2018, the employer deduction for qualified transportation fringe benefits is fully disallowed. In addition, except as necessary for ensuring the safety of an employee, the employer deduction for providing transportation or any payment or reimbursement for commuting to work is disallowed.
    • These changes do not appear to prevent employers from sponsoring a qualified transportation plan to allow employees to elect to have certain transportation costs paid on a pre-tax basis.
  • Repealed: Employee exclusion of bicycle commuting reimbursements.
    • Currently, an employee can exclude from income qualified bicycle commuting reimbursements of up to $20 per qualifying bicycle commuting month. These amounts are also excluded from wages for employment tax purposes.
    • Beginning in 2018, the qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement exclusion is fully disallowed.
    • Going forward, employers can still maintain a program for bicycle commuting, however, reimbursements under such program will be taxable to the employee.
  • Repealed: Employer deduction for entertainment, amusement and recreation provided to employees.
    • Currently, an employer can fully deduct expenses for recreational, social, or similar activities primarily for the benefit of non-highly compensated employees, provided such activities directly relate to the active conduct of the employer’s business.
    • Beginning in 2018, this deduction is fully disallowed. The employee exclusion remains unchanged.
  • Partially Repealed: Employer deduction for meals, food and beverages provided to employees.
    • Currently, an employer can fully deduct any food and beverage expense that can be excluded from an employee’s income as a de minimis fringe benefit.
    • Beginning in 2018, there will be a 50% limitation on the deduction for food and beverages that can be excluded from an employee’s income as a de minimis fringe benefit, including expenses for the operation of an employee cafeteria located on or near the employer’s premises. The employee exclusion remains unchanged.
  • Partially Repealed: Employee exclusion of value of certain types of employee achievement awards and the employer’s related deduction.
    • Currently, an employer can deduct up to $400 (or up to $1,600 in the case of certain written nondiscriminatory achievement plans) of the value of certain employee achievement awards for length of service or safety. The employee receiving such award can exclude the award from income to the extent that the value of the award does not exceed the employer’s deduction.
    • Beginning in 2018, the employee’s exclusion and employer’s deduction for employee achievement awards will not apply to cash, gift coupons/certificates, vacations, meals, lodging, tickets to sporting or theater events, securities, and “other similar items.” However, an employee can still exclude (and an employer can still deduct) the value of other tangible property and gift certificates that allow the recipient to select tangible property from a limited range of items pre-selected by the employer.
  • Repealed: Employee exclusion from income of employer-provided qualified moving expense reimbursements.
    • Currently, an employee can exclude qualified moving expense reimbursements paid by his or her employer for the reasonable expenses of moving. These amounts are also excluded from wages for employment tax purposes.
    • Beginning in 2018, the qualifying moving expense reimbursement is fully taxable to the employee, except for members of the Armed Forces on active duty who move pursuant to a military order.
  • Enacted: Employer tax credit for employers providing paid family and medical leave.
    • Beginning in 2018, an employer that offers at least two weeks of annual paid family and medical leave, as described by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), to all “qualifying” full-time employees (and a proportionate amount of leave for non-full-time employees) will be entitled to a tax credit. The paid leave must provide for at least 50% of the wages normally paid to the employee. “Family and medical leave” does not include leave provided as vacation, personal leave, or other medical or sick leave.
    • A “qualifying employee” is an employee who has been employed by the employer for at least one year, and whose compensation for the preceding year did not exceed 60% of the compensation threshold for highly compensated employees (i.e., compensation did not exceed $72,000).
    • The credit will be equal to 12.5% of the amount of wages paid to a qualifying employee during such employee’s leave, increased by .25% for each percentage point the employee’s rate of pay on leave exceeds 50% of the wages normally paid to the employee (but not to exceed 25% of the wages paid).

In addition, employers should be aware that the tax bill eliminates the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA”) individual mandate penalty starting in 2019. The individual mandate requires most individuals (other than those who qualify for a hardship exemption) to carry a minimum level of health coverage. Currently, individuals who do not enroll in health coverage can incur a tax penalty. Beginning in 2019, individuals will still technically be required to carry health coverage, but will no longer be penalized for failing to do so. This change to the ACA’s individual mandate could indirectly impact employers. For example, if fewer employees avail themselves of Exchange coverage and the related subsidies, an employer’s penalty risk under the ACA’s employer mandate will decrease. The lack of individual penalty could also destabilize the Exchange, resulting in more individuals looking to their employers for coverage.

Although earlier drafts of the tax bill called for repeal or modification, the following benefit provisions remain unchanged by the final tax bill:

  • The hardship distribution safe harbor rules incorporated into many retirement plans (proposals would have eased hardship rules);
  • The employer-provided child care credit;
  • Dependent Care Assistance Programs (DCAPs);
  • Adoption assistance programs;
  • Employer-provided housing; and
  • Educational assistance programs.

Takeaways for Employers:

In light of changes to employer-provided benefits under the final tax bill, employers should take the following actions:

  • Determine whether any changes are needed to retirement plan loan distribution paperwork regarding tax and rollover consequences.
  • Review qualified transportation plan(s) in light of the changes to qualified transportation fringe benefits and bicycle commuting reimbursements.
  • Review any company policies that involve recreational, social, or similar activities for employees, employee meals, employee achievement awards, and/or employee moving expenses.
  • Adjust payroll reporting as necessary and determine whether any taxable amounts are now eligible compensation for retirement plan deferrals and employer contributions.
  • Consider utilizing the new tax credit for paid family and medical leave.

December 14, 2017

NLRB Overturns Controversial Standards on Joint-Employer Status and Neutral Employment Policies; Questions Quickie Election Rule

By Steve Gutierrez 

In a series of decisions that affect both union and non-union employers, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) has overruled numerous controversial standards that had broadened the coverage of employee rights in recent years. On December 14, 2017, the Board returned the standard for determining joint-employer status to the pre-Browning-Ferris standard as well as walking back the standard for determining whether facially neutral employment policies infringe on employees’ section 7 right to engage in protected concerted activities. The return to more employer-friendly standards will help ease the risk of engaging in unfair labor practices under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Here are the highlights of the new developments.

Joint-Employer Status Depends on Control

In its 2015 controversial decision in Browning-Ferris Industries, the NLRB significantly broadened the circumstances under which two entities could be deemed joint employers for NLRA purposes. In that case, the Board ruled 3-to-2 that Browning-Ferris Industries was a joint employer with a staffing company that provided workers to its facility for purposes of a union election because Browning-Ferris had indirect control and had reserved contractual authority over some essential terms and conditions of employment for the workers supplied by the staffing company.

Today, in a 3-2 decision, the now Republican-majority Board overruled Browning-Ferris, now requiring that two or more entities actually exercise control over essential employment terms of another entity’s employees and do so directly and immediately in a manner that is not limited and routine, in order to be deemed joint employers under the NLRA. This returns the joint-employer standard to the pre–Browning Ferris standard. Consequently, proof of indirect control, contractually-reserved control that has never been exercised, or control that is limited and routine, will no longer be sufficient to establish a joint-employer relationship.

This doesn’t mean that the Board will no longer find two or more entities to be joint employers under the NLRA. In fact, in the current case in which it overturned Browning-Ferris, it applied the tougher standard and still ruled that two construction companies were joint employers and therefore jointly and severally liable for the unlawful discharges of seven striking employees. Still, the requirement that entities have direct control that is exercised over the workers in question is a more workable and beneficial rule for employers.

New Standard For Facially Neutral Policies

In recent years, the NLRB has ruled that many types of standard employee policies unlawfully interfered with employees’ section 7 rights. That scrutiny went back to the 2004 decision in Lutheran Heritage Village-Livonia  which ruled that employer policies that could be “reasonably construed” by an employee to prohibit or chill the employees’ exercise of section 7 rights violated the NLRA, even if such policies did not explicitly prohibit protected activities or were not applied by the employer to restrict such activities. Consequently, a series of Board rulings deemed certain language in employer policies unlawful even when facially neutral on their face, including policies on confidentiality, non-disparagement, recording and video at work, use of social media and company logos, and other typical employment rules.

In its recent decision, the Board ruled 3-to-2 to overturn Lutheran Heritage Village-Livonia and its standard governing facially neutral workplace rules. The new standard for evaluating employer policies will consider: (1) the nature and extent of the potential impact on NLRA rights, and (2) legitimate justifications associated with the rule. To provide greater clarity for employers, employees, and unions, the Board announced that prospectively, it will categorize workplace rules into three categories depending on whether the rule is deemed lawful, unlawful, or warrants individualized scrutiny. This change should significantly relieve the uncertainty that has existed under the “reasonably construed” standard.

Quickie Elections Being Reconsidered

In another move to reverse recent Board rules, the Board published a Request for Information (RFI) asking for public input on the 2014 representation election rule that changed the process and timing of union elections. In particular, the Board seeks public input on whether the 2014 quickie election rules should be retained, changed, or rescinded. The deadline for submitting responses is February 12, 2018. This RFI signals that the quickie election rule could be on its way out.

Conclusion

We will continue to monitor these and other Board developments. If you have any questions or concerns about these changes and how they may affect your workplace, you should reach out to your labor counsel.