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Dust off your benefits policies: More mandates may be on the way

by on
in Employee Benefits Program,Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources,Small Business Tax,Small Business Tax Deduction Strategies

The federal government has slowly been introducing laws that force employers across the country to provide employee benefits. The following federal laws already force many employers to provide some benefits:

The FMLA requires organizations with 50 or more employees to grant eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for qualifying events such as pregnancy, childbirth, adoption, family illness or personal illness.

Recent amendments to the FMLA also force employers to provide leave time for families with members serving in the military. Employees can take up to 26 weeks of leave to care for a family member injured during active-duty military service. Employees may also use 12 weeks of FMLA leave when a family member is called to active service. FMLA leave is unpaid, but employers have to continue to pick up the tab for insurance during that unpaid leave if they are already paying for those benefits.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) requires employers to reinstate employees who take military-related leave. It also prohibits job discrimination against military or ex-military personnel.

The ADA may require you to offer short-term leave for disabled employees as a reasonable accommodation. That leave may in some circumstances exceed what the FMLA requires.

WHAT’S NEW  

Congress is considering several legislative initiatives that would require employers to provide additional benefits.

• One proposal would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave
for those who are eligible for unpaid FMLA leave now. The Healthy Families Act would provide complete pay replacement for employees earning less than $20,000 per year, while those in higher-pay categories would receive less. It would cover all employers with 19 or more employees (thus effectively lowering the FMLA threshold from its current 50-employee minimum). It would be funded by a payroll tax on employees and employers. Smaller employers and the self-employed could voluntarily join the program.

Congress spent the summer debating various proposals to revamp the health insurance system in an effort to cover most of the currently uninsured Americans. President Obama has made the effort to expand coverage a primary goal of his presidency. Most of the proposed bills would require many employers to provide health insurance for employees or pay into a public fund that would in turn provide health insurance for those who lack it. Expect more health insurance reform action this fall.

What employers should do

Employers should monitor the political and legislative news.

If, like many employers, you already provide health insurance benefits for employees, you may soon have additional options, such as the ability to buy coverage from a variety of plans.

Plus, many experts expect health insurance costs to fall as more Americans gain coverage.

The bad news is that many of the proposals include penalties for employers that don’t provide coverage. Some would fund the programs by taxing health benefits for those who receive coverage at work—at least for the most expensive plans.

One positive thing has happened as a result of the all the publicity surrounding health insurance reform. Employees now understand better the true cost of their health benefits. Those with good coverage now have greater appreciation for the benefit, which may show up in increased loyalty.

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