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Same-Sex Health Benefits

What Federal Law Says About Same-Sex Health Benefits

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While same-sex marriage is now legal nationwide, some states have maintained laws allowing for civil unions or domestic partnerships, and any employers offering or adding health benefits for employees’ domestic partners should be aware of the tax treatment of these benefits.

Federal distinction between ‘marriage’ and ‘domestic partnership’

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that forbade the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages lawfully performed by a state.

Following this landmark decision, the IRS addressed its effect on federal tax law, including how it relates to employee benefits. According to the IRS, two individuals are considered married for federal tax law purposes if they are considered married under the law of their state. As a result, same-sex and opposite-sex marriages are treated equally under tax law at the federal level. Civil unions and domestic partnerships, however, are not considered to be marriages by the federal government.

Following the Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, the IRS confirmed this distinction: that couples married under state law are considered married for federal tax law purposes, while those in a civil union or domestic partnership are not.

Domestic partner benefits may need to be attributed as post-tax income

The IRS’s distinction is significant, considering that the ability to provide certain benefits pre-tax to employees is a cornerstone of many employers’ benefit plans. However, employee health insurance benefits can be provided pre-tax only to individuals who are the employee’s spouse or tax dependents under federal law.

If the employer’s plan allows the enrollment of unmarried partners, and the employee is in a domestic partnership or civil union, then health insurance benefits must be provided on a post-tax basis (unless the employee’s partner is also his or her tax dependent). This means that the fair market value of the partner’s coverage must be attributed as income to the employee.

However, an employee’s domestic partner is unlikely to also be his or her tax dependent – a term that has a specific and multifactor definition under federal tax law. Some employers address this by requesting a certification or affirmative statement from the employee regarding the tax status of his or her partner. However, in doing so, the employer should take care not to discriminate against gay or lesbian employees by imposing a standard specific to them.

Unfortunately, the IRS has not provided formal guidance on determining the fair market value of the health insurance benefit provided to an employee’s same-sex partner, in order to attribute it as income to the employee.

What about state tax law?

For state tax law purposes, the treatment of employee benefits, such as health insurance provided to a same-sex spouse, depends on how state law treats domestic partnerships or civil unions. Some states grant these arrangements all the rights and responsibilities of marriages, treating them the same for tax and other purposes under state law. Companies operating within several states will need to be particularly cognizant of these differences.

The taxation and valuation of benefits provided to domestic partners is a complex and technical area of the law. Employers who currently offer or are considering adding health benefits for employees’ domestic partners should make a careful review of their benefit plan documents in consultation with their legal and tax advisers. This will help ensure they are offering benefits in compliance with their plan document, as well as applicable federal and state laws.

Disclaimer: This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal problems.


Erin Maxwell

by Erin Maxwell


Author Bio: As a compliance attorney for Paycom, Erin Maxwell monitors legal and regulatory changes at the state and federal level, focusing on health and employee benefits laws, to ensure the Paycom system is updated accordingly. She previously served as assistant general counsel at Asset Servicing Group in Oklahoma City. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Oklahoma and a J.D. from the University of Oklahoma. Outside of work, Maxwell enjoys politics, historical mysteries and spending time with her family.

Anonymous Sexual Harassment Reports

Building Employee Trust with Anonymous Sexual Harassment Reports

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Employee trust is one of the most important factors in handling sexual harassment complaints. Employees need to trust HR will listen to their concerns and will respond appropriately to reports of sexual harassment. Yet the EEOC notes only about 30% of employees who experienced harassment reported the harassment internally within their company.

One way HR can help build trust with employees is with a robust system of reporting and investigation that allows anonymous complaints and communications.

If clear procedures are communicated to employees and consistently followed, an anonymous complaint process can help build trust that HR is prepared and committed to investigating harassment complaints in a fair and thorough manner.

Make a plan and stick to it

 As with all company policies, developing your procedure ahead of time, and following it when issues arise, are key to workplace fairness. Following the steps of a robust and outlined policy can also help limit company liability after an incident occurs by demonstrating the company seriously investigated the complaint and took appropriate action in accordance with its policy.

Providing the means for employees to make anonymous complaints can help employees trust their complaints will be handled discretely and appropriately, and can help lessen employee concerns about retaliation.

Some employers contract with an outside vendor to provide a third-party anonymous reporting system that will pass on complaints only to a specific person or group who needs to know of the complaint in order to investigate. The vendor can also allow the person making the report to specify individuals who may be involved in the behavior, so those people will not receive access to the anonymous report.

Follow up

 Take anonymous reports as seriously as any other type of report, including face-to-face complaints. Recognize the reasons an individual may wish to remain anonymous and be sensitive in your response.

Think of anonymous reporting as simply another pathway to allow your employees to share their concerns, in addition to the other methods available to them, like discussions with HR personnel or meetings with supervisors. Thoroughly investigate any complaint made, regardless of whether the person who filed a report chooses to remain anonymous or not.

Don’t promise more than you can deliver

 Communicate to employees that they can make a report of sexual harassment completely anonymously. However, if they choose to identify themselves in a complaint, don’t promise you will be able to keep their identity secret. Make clear you have a duty to investigate all complaints, and this may involve interviews with the person or people accused of taking part in inappropriate or harassing behavior.

Emphasize the company will follow its internal procedures. Do not imply or promise what may result from an investigation after an employee complaint is made. An anonymous complaint is the first step of a workplace investigation, and must be investigated in accordance with policy, just like any other type of report.

It’s important to take your company’s responsibilities seriously when you respond to sexual harassment complaints. A robust policy that allows anonymous reports and responds with an impartial and thorough investigation to each anonymous complaint can be an effective part of an overall anti-harassment strategy, and can help build and maintain employee trust in HR personnel and anti-harassment efforts.

 Disclaimer: This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal problems.

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Posted in Blog, Compliance, Featured

Erin Maxwell

by Erin Maxwell


Author Bio: As a compliance attorney for Paycom, Erin Maxwell monitors legal and regulatory changes at the state and federal level, focusing on health and employee benefits laws, to ensure the Paycom system is updated accordingly. She previously served as assistant general counsel at Asset Servicing Group in Oklahoma City. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Oklahoma and a J.D. from the University of Oklahoma. Outside of work, Maxwell enjoys politics, historical mysteries and spending time with her family.

Leaders

Levels and Landscapes: Equipping Tomorrow’s Leaders

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Leaders are “the primary factor behind employee productivity, commitment and bottom-line profitability,” according to research from leadership consultant expert researchers Zenger Folkman.

The stakes are high, which doesn’t make it any easier to ensure the leaders in your organization are reaching their full potential, or that your next crop of leaders will be up to the task. In fact, research shows that one of the five largest challenges HR faces in 2018 is developing leaders. To make sure your organization’s current and future leaders are in good shape, help develop them through the five levels of leadership with an eye on your specific organization’s landscape.

John Maxwell’s levels of leadership

 In the fast-paced global economy, strong leadership is key to helping employers innovate and adapt on a dime. But before delving into the vast array of advice, employers must first assess their own leadership. According leadership guru John Maxwell, there are five different levels of leadership a leader may progress through.

Maxwell’s levels are:

  1. Position
  2. Permission
  3. Production
  4. People development
  5. Pinnacle

 

As leaders grow, they should progress through the levels of leadership, which build on top of each other. For example, when a leader reaches the third level, Production, their priority is to produce results. Maxwell writes, “[t]he Production level is where leaders can become change agents. Work gets done, morale improves, profits go up, turnover goes down, and goals are achieved. The more you produce, the more you’re able to tackle tough problems and face thorny issues.”

When a leader reaches the final level – Pinnacle –  they reproduce other leaders who are willing and able to develop still more leaders. Their organizations thrive, and they develop a personal legacy of leadership.

Leaders in all areas of an organization can identify where they can grow to move toward Pinnacle – which benefits them, their companies and everyone they work with.

Knowing your business landscape

 The way a leader carries out Maxwell’s five levels may look somewhat different depending on your business and industry. According to a recent study in the Harvard Business Review, different kind of enterprises thrive under different types of leadership. Businesses should take stock of their products, makeup, competition and the types of people who rise and fall in the ranks to understand which leaders are best suited for their future endeavors.

According to the study, “[l]eadership styles, or brands if you prefer the term, are always contextual. Different kinds of leaders are minted in different organizations.”

This gives your organization an opportunity. Determine how the best, most effective leaders in your company lead. How do they make decisions? What are their priorities, and how do they communicate those to their employees? What are the commonalities your top leaders share? Then, seek those common elements in your rising leaders to build a strong bench of future leaders.

In an upcoming webinar presented by John Maxwell on HR.com, gain insight on how leaders can develop themselves and others. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn how you can grow leaders and elevate the rest of your organization while you do it.

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Posted in Blog


Author Bio: Jason Bodin has been the communications pulse for a number of organizations, including Paycom, where he serves as director of public relations and corporate communications. He helped launch Paycom’s blog, webinar platform and social media channels. He aided in the development of Paycom’s tool to assist organizations in complying with the Affordable Care Act, one of the largest changes in health care the country has seen. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma, Bodin previously worked for ESPN and FoxSports. In his free time, he enjoys adventuring with his family, reading and strengthen his business acumen.

Physical Wellness

Practical Tactics to Improve Your Workforce’s Physical Wellness

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By now, most of us are well aware physical wellness should be a priority for employees and employers. Being physically active helps employees perform at a high level and brings a host of work-related benefits, including increased mental stamina, better concentration and memory, and the ability to learn more quickly. Studies have shown working out for as little as 30 minutes can drastically reduce stress levels. Plus, on days when employees exercise, they tend to be more productive and have improved moods, which benefits the entire company.

Although many employers are aware of this correlation, it can seem difficult to encourage physical wellness in the workplace without expensive perks like exercise equipment or onsite personal trainers. But, the good news is you can encourage physical wellness in your workforce by implementing practical tactics in three key areas: culture, environment and ergonomics.

Culture

It’s difficult for any wellness initiative to succeed without support and buy-in from top-level leadership. Ideally, through words and actions, leaders should communicate employee physical health is important.

This could happen in several ways, including:

  • encouraging participation in sports
  • facilitating company teams or leagues
  • holding walking meetings
  • offering full or partial reimbursements for local race entry fees
  • partnering with local fitness centers to offer employee discounts

After encouraging employee engagement in company offerings, leadership might choose to cement their support by participating in that big community run or taking part in an office-wide volleyball game. A physical wellness program will thrive in a culture that recognizes its importance at all levels.

Environment

You also can help employees get the most out of your organization’s wellness program by creating visual cues throughout the workplace reminding employees to make healthy choices. It’s certainly difficult for employees to overlook the on-campus gym or track they walk past each day, but choosing a healthy snack from the vending machine might increase with some signage indicating 100-calorie or less options. Post signs in stairwells to remind employees how many calories they can burn by choosing to walk instead of using the elevator.  An environment with myriad positive visual cues will encourage employees to take the next step toward a healthier lifestyle.

For businesses with smaller office spaces, take stock of the number of windows present and position desks near them when possible to help improve office visuals. If it’s an option, bring some plants into an all-beige office space – they can improve employee productivity in addition to providing visual interest.

It turns out that acting on those visual cues matters, too. According to Harvard Business Review, Leeds Metropolitan University researched more than 200 employees at a variety of companies and had them report their work performance on days they exercised during work hours and days they did not. On the days they did, the employees reported markedly better productivity and time management, as well as improved interactions with others.

Ergonomics

According to the United States Department of Labor, ergonomics (the science concerned with people’s efficiency in work environments) can help increase productivity, decrease muscle fatigue and lessen the incidence of work-related injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and rotator cuff injuries.

For the many employees who work in an office, implementing a few simple ergonomic best practices can make a big difference. Businesses could enact the 20/20/20 rule for vision breaks, which suggests individuals take a 20-second break every 20 minutes to focus their eyes on an object 20 feet away. Doing so can prevent harmful eye strain that occurs more frequently in jobs with high levels of screen time. Additionally, accommodations like additional lumbar support, standing desk options and adjustable chairs for comfort can be beneficial for desk dwellers, as can suggesting a two-minute break to stretch each hour.

There are many ways to encourage physical wellness in the workplace – start with what makes sense within your organization’s current wellness initiatives. Whether your company has a spiffy new gym in mind or strives to embrace a culture where walking meetings are the norm, prioritizing physical wellness can improve productivity and morale in your workforce and directly contribute to continued success!

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Tiffany Gamblin

by Tiffany Gamblin


Author Bio: Tiffany Gamblin is an HR manager at Paycom. Since joining the company in early 2016, she has implemented innovative benefit communications, as well as developed and delivered an immersive “HR Leadership for Management” training program across the organization. A certified professional of the Society for Human Resource Management, Gamblin obtained her bachelor’s degree in 2013 from the University of Central Oklahoma and has more than eight years of HR experience in a generalist capacity, with a focus on benefits administration and HR training.

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