10 Tips for Addressing Workers’ Heightened Holiday Stress

December 13 - Posted at 1:09 PM Tagged: , , , , , ,

The holidays aren’t all parties and presents or candy canes and champagne. For workers, this time of year—brimming with looming end-of-year deadlines, financial and social obligations, and more—can cause a serious decline in mental well-being.

Research shows the majority of U.S. workers (61%) say their mental health is negatively impacted during the holiday season, with 44% feeling more stressed than usual and 17% reporting a decline in their overall well-being. That’s on top of the high levels of stress and burnout workers are already experiencing. According to recent study conducted by Aflac, well over half of U.S. employees (57%) are experiencing at least a moderate level of burnout.

One of the reasons why burnout and workplace stress intensifies during the holiday season is because of the pressure to meet year-end deadlines during a shortened work month. Additional family, financial and personal obligations also exacerbate burnout symptoms and workplace stress at the end of the year.

That heightened stress will likely make its way into the office—creating not only unproductive and unhealthy employees, but also ones who may not feel valued by their employer and are therefore more likely to leave.

That’s why, experts said, it’s in employers’ and HR leaders’ best interest to address the issue by touting available benefits, helping manage workloads and rethinking holiday celebrations, among other steps.

Employers and HR leaders need to help address this time of high stress and anxiety because first and foremost, employees are people first and workers second. High stress and anxiety can lead to burnout, illness and more. As for the employer piece, intense stress and anxiety can result in poor productivity, errors, lower morale and engagement, and more.

Here are 10 ways to help, according to HR and benefits experts.

1.Remind employees about financial education offerings to assist them with holiday budget concerns. Many employees are already stressed about finances—long-lasting high inflation has pushed financial wellness to an all-time low for many so the holidays, which are associated with gifts, extra commitments and travel that drive up spending, can cause greater stress for employees.

    A September survey by Paycom found that three in four Americans say they must make accommodations to afford increased holiday expenses, including having side hustles or seasonal jobs, taking on credit card debt or payday loans, and saving throughout the year.

    Many organizations offer financial wellness programs for employees, so HR leaders may want to send out information about available resources that employees can access to help with budgeting, saving and more.

    Organizations should also look at their pay processes and make sure employees are paid on time and correctly for any end-of-year bonuses, regular salary and overtime hours.

    2. Check in about workload—especially regarding end-of-year deadlines. The end of the calendar year is especially busy for many employees, and in some sectors, it might even be the busiest time of the year. “As the end of the year approaches, employees are trying to finalize budgets, wrap up projects, meet goals and tie up loose ends,” said Jennifer Moss, author of The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It (Harvard Business Review Press, 2021). That’s why it’s vital that managers talk with employees about their workload and try to come up with solutions together about how to manage it, she said.

    From now until the end of the year, managers should frequently check in with employees so they feel seen and heard.

    Managers can say something like, “I want to check in to see how you’re doing. It’s such a hectic time of year and stress can become more intense than usual. How are you? How can I best support you?” Employers should be open to hearing their workers’ concerns—maybe they need more flexible schedules right now; maybe they need additional help—perhaps tapping resources from other departments who have lighter workloads this time of year.

    3.Think about mental health help. HR and benefits leaders would be well-served to ramp up communication about mental health tips, as well as resources available through the company. HR leaders might want to send messages to employees to encourage them to take advantage of wellness programs such as employee assistance programs.

    4.Encourage employees to take paid time off (PTO)—and actually step away from work. Utilizing PTO is vital in helping employees take a breather, recharge and come back to the office ready to work and be productive. The majority of workers (65%) admit to working on their days off to solve time-sensitive deliverables or to support their manager or other co-workers who ask questions or require their response.

    Employers should reassure workers they don’t have to work on their days off. Bosses should lead by example and not check emails while they’re out of the office to set the message of truly unplugging. In turn, this means when they know their workers are on personal time or holiday time out of the office, bosses should not reach out to their direct reports and expect them to respond.

    By having bosses do this, they can put a worker’s mind at ease. They can feel that their boss truly supports their taking time off without any negative ramifications. It can also help alleviate the stress and anxiety workers feel to constantly work 24/7 during a time of year that’s intended for people to slow down and pause.

    In the long term, advocating for employees to enjoy time off can help strengthen retention and boost productivity when they return to work after a break feeling recharged.

    5.Talk about health concerns and good practices. COVID-19, flu, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and other illnesses are spreading rapidly right now, which can be a stressor for employees—especially those who work in an office near other people or have a holiday party to attend. HR leaders might want to tell their workforce about potential ways to combat virus spread and encourage them to use PTO or to work remotely when they’re sick to “help avoid spreading illness, which can increase stress”.

    Likewise, it might be a best practice to not make an office holiday party mandatory to ease concerns of workers who might be concerned about catching COVID-19 or other illnesses.

    6.Consider offering a companywide break. PTO is helpful, but a companywide break—when a company shuts down most of its operations and allows employees to take the same time off can be a big help in reducing employee stress.

    It also appears to be a growing trend, especially around the holidays: According to Sequoia Consulting Group, an HR consulting and services company based in San Francisco, 35% of companies give employees the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day off.

    While this may take significant planning, employers can get ready to do it next year.

    7.Give employees a choice when it comes to holiday gatherings. Holiday parties can be fun and a great morale booster—but they can cause stress for workers already stretched thin with lots of commitments or for any employee who would prefer to skip out on big events due to illness concerns.

    Check in with your people to find out if they are still on board with the big holiday party or if they want to do something else this year. Go with the majority, but if there are people who might feel left out, offer a different option. Organizations should ensure that events are accessible by having spaces that consider employees with disabilities. Neurodiverse employees, for instance, may need spaces that respect sensory sensitivities.

    It can appear tone-deaf if employees are feeling constantly under-resourced and exhausted from burnout, and the cost of the holiday party could have paid for those resources. Just because it comes out of another budget, it doesn’t mean employees won’t notice.

    8.Offer opportunities to volunteer or give back. Giving back and helping others during this time of year may boost employees’ feelings of happiness. Employers can offer employees an opportunity to volunteer or participate in charitable giving. Employers can also consider offering workers a day of PTO to volunteer for a cause they are passionate about.

    Offering employees an opportunity to give back to their communities can also bolster a sense of community and well-being.

    9.Remember that employee situations are unique. The holidays can be a joyful time of year for many people, but they can be especially rough for many others. 

    The holidays can be hard for people—particularly if they are attached to grief. It may feel like the pandemic is in the rearview, but the catastrophic impacts are still felt by many, especially at this time of the year. Also, the holiday season can feel exclusive for anyone who doesn’t celebrate it. Plus, loneliness is at an all-time high during the holiday season, which can make people feel even more excluded. Employers need to be sensitive to the unique experiences everyone is going through.

    Employers and HR leaders could benefit from training managers to recognize the signs of high stress and anxiety among their workforces. These signs include but are not limited to absenteeism, irritability, lack of concentration and lower work quality, as well as withdrawn behaviors.

    10.Celebrate employees during the holidays. Some employers give gifts to employees—from larger things such as an end-of-year bonus and extra PTO to smaller things such as a gift card or other present. But gifts are not the only way to celebrate employees. Recognizing their contributions, even with a letter or in-person praise, can boost employee confidence.

    Celebrating employees during the holidays—in large and small ways—is important. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant holiday party; simply thanking employees for their efforts over the past 12 months can help to build morale.

    New IRS Filing Threshold for 2023 Forms

    November 13 - Posted at 4:40 PM Tagged: , , , , , , ,

    The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently released draft instructions for preparing, distributing and filing 2023 Forms 1094-B/C and 1095-B/C. These instructions largely mirror guidance the IRS has published in previous years, except that the electronic filing threshold has been reduced from 250 forms to 10 forms aggregate.

    For 2022 filing, employers could mail their Forms 1094 and 1095 to the IRS if their submission included fewer than 250 forms. For ACA filing for 2023 and future years, employers that cumulatively submit at least 10 forms to the IRS, including W-2s, 1099s, ACA forms 1094/1095, and other common form series, the employer must now file all of those forms electronically.

    For example– if you are an employer who issues five Forms W-2 for 2023, four 1095-B forms for 2023, and one 1094-B Form for 2023, this is a sum collectively of 10 total forms and this employer must file all of these forms electronically with the IRS when its due in 2024.

    This change result from a final regulation the IRS issued earlier this year that officially reduced the electronic filing threshold for many forms.

    Employers that have historically submitted their Forms 1094/1095 to the IRS by paper will need to consider overall how many forms they will be filing with the IRS (not just Forms 1094/1095) in 2024 to determine whether they can continue to file via paper. Even if your carrier prepares you with paper copies of your 1094/1095 forms as a courtesy for submission to the IRS, you will still need to evaluate if you need to file those electronically in 2024.

    Ultimately the 10 form aggregate threshold will necessitate electronic filing for nearly every employer. Anyone who has traditionally paper filed their ACA forms to consider contracting with a vendor or speak with their payroll company to see if they can confidentially e-File on their behalf in 2024.

    The IRS guidance regarding the filing threshold is available online at https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2023-02-23/pdf/2023-03710.pdf

    The IRS has released Revenue Procedure 2023-34 confirming that for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2024, the health FSA salary reduction contribution limit will increase to $3,200.

    The adjustment for 2024 represents a $150 increase to the current $3,050 health FSA salary reduction contribution limit in 2023.

    What About the Carryover Limit into 2025?

    The indexed carryover limit for plan years starting in calendar year 2024 to a new plan year starting in calendar year 2025 will increase to $640.

    • Carryover Limit from a Plan Year Starting in 2023 to a Plan Year Beginning in 2024: $610
    • Carryover Limit from a Plan Year Starting in 2024 to a Plan Year Beginning in 2025: $640

    Other Notable 2024 Health and Welfare Employee Benefit Amounts

    • Dependent Care FSA: The dependent care FSA limit remains fixed (with no inflation adjustment) at $5,000.
    • HSA Limits: The IRS released the significantly increased 2024 HSA limits back in May. The individual contribution limit will be $4,150 (up from $3,850) and the family contribution limit will be $8,300 (up from $7,750).
    • ACA Employer Mandate Affordability: The 2024 affordability safe harbor percentage decreases dramatically to 8.39% (down from 9.12%). This sets the federal poverty line affordability safe harbor at a $101.93 maximum monthly employee-share of the premium for the lowest-cost plan option at the employee-only tier.
    • ACA Pay or Play Penalties: The 2023 annualized employer mandate pay or play penalties will increase to $2,970 (the Section 4980H(a) “A Penalty”) and $4,460 (the Section 4980H(b) “B Penalty”) annualized.
    • ACA Reporting: The deadline to furnish 2023 Forms 1095-C to employees will be March 1, 2024. Last year, the IRS finalized regulations making permanent the 30-day extension from the otherwise standard January 31 deadline. Although the 30-day extension typically results in a March 2 deadline, that date is moved up to March 1 in 2024 because it is a leap year.
      Keep in mind that IRS did not extend the good faith enforcement safe harbor from penalties for incorrect or incomplete information on the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C (generally $310 per return in 2024).
      The Form 1094-C and copies of the Forms 1095-C must be filed electronically with the IRS by April 1, 2024 (March 31 is a Sunday). As a result of newly finalized IRS regulations, virtually all employers will need to file electronically. This will generally require engaging with a third-party vendor that can complete the electronic filing.
    • PCORI Fee: The IRS recently released the July 2024 PCORI fee for plan years that end on or after October 1, 2023, and before October 1, 2024 (including 2023 calendar plan years) at $3.22 per covered life.

    Tips to Battling Holiday Stress

    November 02 - Posted at 9:30 AM Tagged: ,

    Did you know that 88% of Americans report feeling stressed at some point during the holidays. During this episode of Myra’s Minutes, we share tips on how to battle holiday induced stress this season.

    You can view this short video here. 

    Is It Time to Update Your Employee Appearance Policy?

    October 23 - Posted at 1:15 PM Tagged: , ,

    As a courtesy, Fisher & Phillips LLP has provided a checklist of items to consider when revising your employee appearance policy and dress code – an especially timely topic given the evolving nature of employer expectations in this area.

    Evolving Workplace Expectations and Standards

    Pandemic prompted changes. Many workplaces have become more casual in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this movement. Employers and co-workers alike probably don’t mind when a cat, dog, or child occasionally makes an appearance in a Zoom call, and they accept that many employees on those calls are wearing sweatpants with their camera-ready dress shirt. Moreover, many employers that want workers to return to the office have offered a variety of incentives, including a relaxed dress code.

    What does this mean for your appearance standards?

    These changes should motivate you to think about how to strike a balance between employee comfort and the standards of professionalism for your particular company culture and industry. Every workplace is different, but in general, you should consider the following questions:

    _____Will you create a general policy simply requiring employees to look professional and well-groomed? Or do you want to be more specific?
    _____Will you require customer-facing employees to dress more professionally or formally than those who only interact with co-workers — whether in person or on camera?
    _____Will you create a separate policy for Zoom meetings that may be more relaxed than your in-person appearance policy?
    _____Do you want to be more specific about what attire is unacceptable in the office or on Zoom? For example, are jeans and a t-shirt allowed? What about baseball caps, sleeveless shirts, or hooded sweatshirts? Just be sure to review such policies for compliance with the workplace laws discussed in more detail below.

    Hairstyle equity. In addition to pandemic-related changes over the last few years, calls for social justice led many jurisdictions to pass laws combating workplace racial bias based on hairstyle. In fact, 19 states and many localities have passed a version of the CROWN Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants based on natural or protective hairstyles. Natural hair has not been treated with chemicals that alter color or texture — such as bleach or straightener. Protective hairstyles — such as braids, locs, twists, or bantu knots — tuck the ends of the hair away to protect from sun, heat, and other damage.

    Racial discrimination based on hairstyles is a part of everyday life for many Black adults, according to a study by the CROWN Coalition — which was founded by Dove, National Urban League, Color of Change, and Western Center on Law and Poverty. Moreover, a 2019 Dove CROWN study found that Black women were 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair and 30% more likely to be made aware of a formal workplace appearance policy than their co-workers.

    In light of laws banning hairstyle bias and to align with your efforts to be inclusive, you’ll want to consider the following about your appearance policy:

    _____Is the policy fairly and equitably applied to hairstyles regardless of race and ethnicity?
    _____Are your policies culturally and ethnically inclusive?
    _____Do you require employees to appear professional and well-groomed without creating hairstyle standards that unfairly restrict natural or protective hairstyles?
    _____Are your standards based on a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) that is reasonably necessary to the normal operation of your business or enterprise? For example, certain employees who work with food may have to wear hair or beard coverings or tie their hair back for safety and hygiene reasons.

    Reasonable accommodations and other legal considerations. While the COVID-19 pandemic and new CROWN Act requirements may prompt you to update your appearance policy and dress code, don’t forget to review your standards for compliance with other established workplace laws. Consider the following questions:

    _____Do you have a process in place to review accommodation requests? You may need to explore reasonable accommodations based on an employee’s religious practice or medical condition.
    _____For example, does your policy ban hats and other head coverings? If so, you may need to accommodate a Muslim employee who wears a hijab.
    _____Do you have a policy banning facial hair? If so, you may need to accommodate an employee with a skin condition — like Pseudofolliculitis Barbae — or a religious reason for growing a beard.
    _____If an accommodation does not seem right due to your unique business needs, have you discussed with your employment law counsel the possibility of an undue hardship exception for the business?
    _____Is your appearance policy gender-neutral? Without identifying a BFOQ, you shouldn’t create policies that cause greater burdens for employees of one gender than another.
    _____Further, have you considered refraining from setting different standards based on gender altogether unless there’s a BFOQ — particularly in light of the 2020 SCOTUS decision in Bostock v. Clayton County? In that case, the Supreme Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act shields workers from discrimination based on gender identity.
    _____Have you considered all applicable state and local laws that may specifically address gender identity and workplace policies?
    _____Does your policy align with the latest guidance from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)? Be sure to consistently enforce any rules prohibiting employees from wearing clothing with logos, political statements, or social justice messages.
    _____Are you aware of the NLRB’s current position on employees wearing union insignia — on items such as buttons and t-shirts? An employer needs to show special circumstances that justify its actions when it interferes with its employees’ right to display such insignia.
    _____Are there any safety concerns that should be reflected in your dress code? You may want to relax your appearance policy, but you should still consider whether to continue following some rules for safety reasons — either as a best practice or because it’s required by law.
    _____For example, will you require certain workers to wear closed-toe shoes? Are there Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules that you need to follow for certain jobs? If so, you’ll want to ensure compliance.
    _____Did you review your policies with legal counsel? Because so many evolving areas of law may impact your employee appearance policy and dress code, it’s a good idea to have experienced legal counsel review your standards for compliance before communicating any updates to your employees.

    Conclusion

    Recent workplace shifts mean that it’s time to review your employee appearance standards and dress code to ensure they are fair and inclusive, as well as compliant with the latest legal developments. Keep in mind that consistency is key.

    FL Minimum Wage Increase in September 2023

    September 25 - Posted at 8:46 AM Tagged: ,

    Reminder- Florida’s minimum wage will increase to $12.00 per hour on September 30, 2023. The direct wage for tipped employees will also increase to $8.98 per hour. Be sure to update your minimum wage poster(s) before September 30, 2023. Please let us know if you need copy of the updated poster(s).

    What is an EAP?

    September 06 - Posted at 10:00 AM
    During this episode of Myra’s Minutes, we will explain what an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is and well as the valuable free tools available to employees to help deal with problems they encounter both at work and home.

    Did you know that 70% of employees who use an EAP service report that their stress levels improve?

    You can view this short video here. 

    IRS Releases ACA Shared Responsibility Affordability Percentage for 2024

    September 05 - Posted at 10:00 AM Tagged: , , , ,

    The IRS recently issued Revenue Procedure 2023-29, which significantly decreases the affordability threshold for ACA employer mandate purposes to 8.39% for plan years beginning in 2024. The new 8.39% level marks by far the lowest affordability percentage to date.

    The affordability percentages apply for plan years beginning in the listed year. A calendar plan year will therefore have the 8.39% affordability threshold for the plan year beginning January 1, 2024.

    The ACA employer mandate rules apply to employers that are “Applicable Large Employers,” or “ALEs.” In general, an employer is an ALE if it (along with any members in its controlled group) employed an average of at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, on business days during the preceding calendar year.

    There are two potential ACA employer mandate penalties that can impact ALEs:

    a) IRC §4980H(a)—The “A Penalty”

    The first is the §4980H(a) penalty—frequently referred to as the “A Penalty” or the “Sledge Hammer Penalty.” This penalty applies where the ALE fails to offer minimum essential coverage to at least 95% of its full-time employees in any given calendar month.

    The 2024 A Penalty is $2,970 annualized multiplied by all full-time employees (reduced by the first 30). It is triggered by at least one full-time employee who was not offered minimum essential coverage enrolling in subsidized coverage on the Exchange.

    The “A Penalty” liability is focused on whether the employer offered a major medical plan to a sufficient percentage of full-time employees—not whether that offer was affordable (or provided minimum value).

    b) IRC §4980H(b)—The “B Penalty”

    The second is the §4980H(b) penalty—frequently referred to as the “B Penalty or the “Tack Hammer Penalty.” This penalty applies where the ALE is not subject to the A Penalty (i.e., the ALE offers coverage to at least 95% of full-time employees).

    The B Penalty applies for each full-time employee who was:

    1. not offered minimum essential coverage,
    2. offered unaffordable coverage, or
    3. offered coverage that did not provide minimum value.

    Only those full-time employees who enroll in subsidized coverage on the Exchange will trigger the B Penalty. Unlike the A Penalty, the B Penalty is not multiplied by all full-time employees.

    In other words, an ALE who offers minimum essential coverage to a full-time employee will be subject to the B Penalty if:

    1. the coverage does not provide minimum value or is not affordable (more below); and
    2. the full-time employee declines the offer of coverage and instead enrolls in subsidized coverage on the Exchange.

    The 2024 B Penalty is $4,460 annualized per full-time employee receiving subsidized coverage on the Exchange.

    Handbooks Need Revision Following NLRB Ruling

    August 07 - Posted at 12:57 PM Tagged: , , ,

    Many employer handbooks and policies likely should be reviewed and revised following a landmark Aug. 2 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Stericycle.

    “This ruling, in a word, is huge,” said David Pryzbylski, an attorney with Barnes & Thornburg in Indianapolis. “This decision may invalidate countless workplace rules maintained by private-sector employers—whether they are unionized or not. It applies to all companies covered by the National Labor Relations Act [NLRA], which is the vast majority of employers in America.”

    The NLRA does not apply to federal or state governmental units, railroads or airlines.

    Employers need to create documentary evidence of the justification for their work rules before an unfair labor practice charge is filed, recommended Harry Johnson III, an attorney with Morgan Lewis in Los Angeles and former NLRB member.

    New Standard

    In Stericycle, an administrative law judge found that the employer violated the NLRA by maintaining certain rules for its employees that addressed personal conduct, conflicts of interest and confidentiality of harassment complaints. The NLRB announced a new standard for whether work rules violate the NLRA and sent the case back to the judge to consider the ruling in light of the new standard.

    Under that standard, if an employee could reasonably interpret the work rule to have a coercive meaning, the NLRB general counsel would have met her burden to prove that the rule has a reasonable tendency to chill employees from exercising their NLRA rights. The general counsel, currently Jennifer Abruzzo, is independent from the board and responsible for the investigation and prosecution of unfair labor practice cases under the NLRA.

    The employer’s intent in maintaining a work rule is immaterial, the NLRB wrote. The board instead clarified it will interpret the rule from the perspective of an employee who is subject to the policy, economically dependent on the employer and contemplates engaging in protected concerted activity.

    Concerted activity includes talking with one or more co-workers about wages and benefits or other working conditions, circulating a petition asking for better hours, participating in a concerted refusal to work in unsafe conditions, openly talking about pay and benefits, and joining with co-workers to talk directly to the employer, an agency or the media about problems in the workplace, according to the NLRB.

    It’s hard to imagine the general counsel won’t be able to prove that a rule has a reasonable tendency to chill employees from exercising their NLRA rights, said Phil Wilson, president and general counsel with the Labor Relations Institute, a labor and employee relations consulting firm in Broken Arrow, Okla.

    If the general counsel provides such proof, the rule is presumptively unlawful. However, the employer may counter the presumption by proving that the rule advances a legitimate and substantial business interest and that the employer can’t advance that interest with a more narrowly tailored rule. If the employer proves this, the work rule will be found lawful.

    However, “with little actual guidance about the meaning of the phrases above, needless to say, it is an incredibly uphill battle if an employer finds itself trying to rebut the presumption,” said Jason Reisman, an attorney with Blank Rome in Philadelphia.

    In addition, the Stericycle opinion discarded previous NLRB decisions holding that certain types of policies were inherently lawful, regardless of the precise language in which the policy is expressed, in favor of evaluation of each challenged policy on a case-by-case basis, said Peter Spanos, an attorney with Taylor English Duma in Atlanta. Policies that are no longer deemed by the board always lawful to maintain are investigative-confidentiality rules, nondisparagement rules and rules prohibiting outside employment.   

    “Employee handbooks and policies that were adopted or revised based on prior guidance from the NLRB may now be subject to challenge,” he said.

    The decision probably will be appealed. The appellate process can take many months or even years, Pryzbylski added. “In the meantime, the board will be enforcing this new standard, so employers face the risk of having their policies invalidated if they do not revisit them to ensure they are drafted in a compliant manner,” he said. “To the extent they are found to have unlawful rules, it could result in backpay awards in the event an employee is terminated pursuant to such a rule, have negative effects on a union election outcome, as well as other penalties.”

    Plus, in most cases, the NLRB does not follow a federal appeals court ruling outside of that court’s jurisdiction until the Supreme Court weighs in, if it does. “So, that may favor companies taking a fresh look at their policies sooner rather than later,” Pryzbylski said.

    Employer Policy Implications

    Examples of policies that likely need to be reviewed and rewritten to be aligned with the new board standard, according to Spanos, include work rules:

    • Restricting employees’ use of social media.
    • Restricting criticism, negative comments, and disparagement of the company’s management, products, or services.
    • Promoting civility.
    • Prohibiting insubordination.
    • Requiring confidentiality of investigations and complaints.
    • Restricting behaviors such as using cameras or recording devices in the workplace.
    • Outlining rules for safety complaints.
    • Restricting the use of company communication resources, such as email or Slack.
    • Limiting the recording of meetings or the use of smartphones or other devices.
    • Restricting meetings with co-workers or the circulation of petitions.
    • Limiting comments to the media or government agencies.

    All HR professionals should work with their labor counsel to audit current employment policies for compliance with the new standard and to keep up-to-date on board decisions that will apply the Stericycle standard in coming months.

    The bottom line is that many policies will be under new and intense scrutiny by the NLRB, and employers should be aware of the new standard and review and update their policies accordingly.

    Changes to I-9 Form Requirements as of Aug 1st

    July 24 - Posted at 11:19 AM Tagged: , ,

    On August 1, 2023, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) will release a new version of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. Effective that same day, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) has authorized a permanent optional alternative procedure to allow qualified employers to virtually inspect and verify identification documents to complete Section 2 of Form I-9. Virtual inspection that has been allowed for remote employees since 2020 had been set to expire July 31, 2023.

    While DHS previously stated that remotely-verified forms would need to be reverified no later than August 30, 2023, the agency announced that employers do not need to complete the new Form I-9 (Rev. 08/01/23) for current employees who already have a properly completed Form I-9 on file, unless reverification applies after October 31, 2023. Additional details and clarification of “properly completed” will be provided when they become available.

    According to the DHS, the alternative remote verification procedure will only be available at this time to qualified employers who are enrolled and participate in good standing in E-Verify. Employers who are already enrolled in E-Verify are not required to reenroll in E-Verify to use the alternative procedure. Also according to DHS, E-Verify has the capacity to support an increased number of employers who may choose to newly enroll in E-Verify to use the alternative procedure. Employers who do not qualify may continue to use authorized representatives where in-person inspection is not feasible.

    Qualified employers who choose to remotely verify identification documents after August 1, 2023 must follow the below procedure:

    1. The employee must first transmit a copy of the document(s) to the employer.
    2. The employer must examine copies (front and back, if the document is two-sided) of the documents to ensure that the documentation presented reasonably appears to be genuine.
    3. The employee must then present the same documents during a live video interaction with the employer.
    4. The employer must check the corresponding box on the Form I-9 (Rev. 08/01/23) that an alternative procedure was used to examine documentation to complete Section 2 or for reverification, as applicable.
    5. The employer must retain a clear and legible copy – either paper or electronic versions — of the documentation (front and back, if the documentation is two-sided), of all documents examined for as long as the employee works for the employer and for a specified period after employment has ended.

     

    Starting on August 1, 2023, employers may download the new Form I-9 (Rev. 08/01/23) from the USCIS website. The prior version of Form I-9 (Rev. 10/21/19) will no longer be valid after October 31, 2023.

     

    According to the USCIS, the forthcoming new version of Form I-9 will have significant changes to the form and its instructions, including a checkbox to indicate that an employee’s Form I-9 documentation was examined virtually. Other updates to Form I-9 include:

    • Reduced Sections 1 and 2 to a single-sided sheet. No previous fields were removed. Rather, multiple fields were merged into fewer fields when possible.
    • Moved the Section 1 Preparer/Translator Certification area to a separate, standalone supplement (Supplement A) that employers can provide to employees when necessary.
    • Moved the Section 3 Reverification and Rehire area to a separate, standalone supplement (Supplement B) that employers can print if or when rehire occurs or reverification is required.
    • Removed use of “alien authorized to work” in Section 1 and replaced it with “noncitizen authorized to work” as well as clarified the difference between “noncitizen national” and “noncitizen authorized to work.”
    • Ensured the form can be filled out on tablets and mobile devices.
    • Removed certain features to ensure the form can be downloaded easily. This also removes the requirement to enter N/A in certain fields.
    • Updated the notice at the top of the Form I-9 that explains how to avoid discrimination in the Form I-9 process.
    • Revised the Lists of Acceptable Documents page to include some acceptable receipts as well as guidance and links to information on automatic extensions of employment authorization documentation.

     

    Updates to the Form I-9 instructions include:

    • Reduced length of instructions from 15 pages to 8 pages.
    • Added definitions of key actors in the Form I-9 process.
    • Streamlined the steps each actor takes to complete their section of the form.
    • Added instructions for use of the new checkbox for employers who choose to examine Form I-9 documentation under an alternative procedure.
    • Removed the abbreviations charts and relocated them to the M-274, Handbook for Employers: Guidance for Completing Form I-9. An updated M-274 will likely be released along with the revised Form I-9, but it is not yet available.
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