Employer Alert: City Council to Vote on Paid Sick Leave Ordinance

On February 15, Austin City Council is scheduled to vote on a city ordinance that would require all private employers to provide paid sick leave to employees. Here’s what you need to know if the ordinance is enacted.

When will it take effect?
May 2018.

Who is affected?
All private employers regardless of size including small businesses and non-profits. The ordinance does not apply to government agencies.

Does this apply to independent contractors?
It applies to employees. The ordinance defines an employee as an individual who performs work for pay and an employer as a person or company that pays an employee and exercises control over the employee’s wages, hours, and working conditions. Some independent contractors may be covered by the definitions.

What employees are entitled to sick leave?
Any employee that works for the employer inside the city limits for at least 80 hours in a calendar year. It applied to both full-time and part-time employees.

How much leave are they entitled to?
One hour per 30 hours worked up to a total of 64 hours (8 sick days).

Is there a probationary period?
No. The employees can use their hours as soon as they are earned. Example: Employee works Monday through Thursday, 8 hours per day. Employee can take one hour of paid sick leave on Friday.

What if my company’s existing policy is more generous?
Then, you don’t need to change it. The City ordinance will serve as a minimum.

Who is going to enforce this?
The City of Austin’s Equal Employment Opportunity/Fair Housing Office.

Affordable Help for Texas Identity Theft Victims

Identity theft victims have a new resource for recovering their identity and repairing their credit: www.idthefthelptx.com. The site provides a wealth of free resources as well as low cost form letters, checklists, and step-by-step instructions to guide victims through the recovery process. The website’s author, Paula Pierce, is a licensed attorney and passionate advocate for identity theft victims in Texas.

 

Most victims can repair their credit without hiring a lawyer – if they have instructions to follow. The website provides proven strategies victims can use along with forms and checklists to help organize the process. The road to identity theft recovery can be long and lonely. Texas victims now have a guide: www.idthefthelptx.com.

EX-CEO EXPLAINS WHY CORPORATE TAX CUTS DON’T CREATE JOBS

As a small business owner, I’ve always known it would take a mighty big tax cut to pay for me to hire additional help. For small businesses, tax cuts are never sizeable enough to defray the cost of a full-time employee. Interestingly, at least one CEO of a publicly traded company agrees. This Linked In article penned by David Mendels, former CEO of Brighthouse, was enlightening.

You can find the article here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/chief-economic-advisor-trump-most-excited-group-out-big-david-mendels/.

REMINDER: VOTE!

Two signs indicating separate choices

Early voting began Monday for the November 7 election. What’s on the ballot:

  • 7 proposed amendments to the state constitution:
    • Property tax relief for partially disabled veterans and their spouses who acquired their homes for less than market value through charities;
    • Expands the ability of lenders to make home equity loans;
    • Limits the time an unpaid political appointee can serve when he or she is appointed by the governor;
    • Requires courts to give notice to the Texas Attorney General when a litigant challenges the constitutionality of a state statute and making courts wait 45 days before holding a statute to be unconstitutional;
    • Allows professional sports teams’ charitable foundations to hold raffles;
    • Provides property tax relief to spouses of first responders who are killed in the line of duty;
    • Permits financial institutions to hold prize contests to promote savings.
  • Travis County – $185 million in bonds to finance bike paths, sidewalks, road expansion projects, and a sports complex in Bee Cave.
  • AISD – $1.05 billion in bonds for building improvements and to build an elementary school in the Mueller development.

The League of Women Voters produces an excellent, non-partisan voter’s guide that can be accessed free on their website: https://lwvaustin.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/VG-2017-NOV-online-web-site-FINAL.pdf

“Be Nice” Policies Employee handbooks revisited

Many employers want to include provisions in their handbooks requiring that employees be polite to each other and act with honesty and integrity. The National Labor Relations Board took the position that such provisions violated the National Labor Relations Act by discouraging employees from union organizing.

Yesterday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals clarified that these kinds of handbook provisions do not violate the law as long as a reasonable employee would interpret the policy as a common sense instruction to use professional manners, maintain a positive work environment, and be courteous.

Employers need not shy away from asking for civility in the workplace with a carefully crafted handbook.

The Court decision is Cause No. 16-60284, T-Mobile USA, Inc. v. NLRB, In the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, July 25, 2017.

Year-End Tune Up For Your Small Business


Ah, December . . .  It’s chock full of holiday parties, events, out-of-town visitors, and shopping.

It’s also when small business owners must get things in order for tax season.

It’s also a great time to take stock of the year that is ending and plan ahead for a successful new year.

Here’s a handy checklist to help you perform a year-end business tune up. No list is exhaustive, yet this list is still pretty long. Adjust it to fit your business needs.

Staffing:

Complete performance reviews for all employees and independent contractors.

Review your staffing needs and plan to add, subtract, or reorganize accordingly.

Review job descriptions for independent contractors to ensure they are truly contractors and not mischaracterized employees.

Review personnel files and update I-9s and W-4s as necessary.

Review employee benefits.

Policies & Procedures:

Review your employment policies and procedures to ensure they are up to date and comply with recent changes in the law.

Review your administrative and business policies and procedures to see whether they accurately reflect your current practices.

Sales & Marketing:

Compare your actual sales to your yearly goal.

Identify successes and areas for improvement in the areas of lead generation and conversion of leads to customers.

Adjust marketing plan to match your goals.

Quality:

Check customer satisfaction.

Review customer service policies and procedures.

Identify ways to improve the customer experience.

Financials:

Reconcile accounts.

Collect W-9s from contractors and vendors that need 1099s.

Review yearly journal or transaction entries for accuracy. Especially make sure that income and expenses are properly categorized.

Verify year-end accounts payable and accounts receivable.

Reconcile payroll including comparing taxes paid to payroll returns.

Prepare documents and files for your CPA or tax professional.

Run year-end reports such as a profit and loss statement, budget report, and balance sheet. Compare to last year’s reports.

Prepare next year’s budget.

IT:

Review IT policies and procedures.

If you collect personal information from customers, review your PCI compliance.

Train employees as necessary.

Install security patches, software, and operating system updates.

Consider getting a cybersecurity audit.

Goal Setting:

Review last year’s goals.

Review your long-term goals.

Set next year’s goals.

Adjust your business plan accordingly.

 

Finally, have a successful new year! 

 

A Lump of Coal for Admin Employees? Texas Court Blocks Implementation of DOL’s Overtime Rule Change

On November 22, Judge Amos Mazzant, of the Eastern District of Texas sitting in Sherman, issued a nationwide injunction blocking implementation of the highly-anticipated changes to the Overtime Rule. A group of 21 state attorneys general, including Ken Paxton of Texas, sued to block implementation of the rule which was slated to take effect on December 1.

The rule change would have raised the overtime exemption for salaried executive, administrative, and professional employees from $455 a week to $921 per week.

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In other words, administrative employees making less than $47,892 per year would have been entitled to overtime if they worked more than 40 hours in a week.

The court found that the Department of Labor (DOL) exceeded its statutory authority in issuing the rule change. The court’s decision is available on the Texas Attorney General’s website: http://tinyurl.com/zzdo4mw.

The DOL stated it is considering its legal options. It has not yet announced whether it will appeal the injunction to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The DOL press release can be viewed here: https://www.dol.gov/WHD/overtime/final2016/.

As a practical matter, the ruling comes too late for most businesses.

The DOL announced the proposed rule change on July 6, 2015. The Department received over 290,000 comments to the proposed rule change. On May 18, 2016 the DOL released the final rule and warned the new rule would take effect on December 1.

Larger businesses adopted strategies for complying with the new rule months ago. Businesses that planned to comply and announced those plans to employees will hesitate to change course because of the cost of making changes at this late date, uncertainty whether the ruling will stand, and harm to employee morale.

$47,476 – The Magic Number ARE YOU READY?

On December 1,

new overtime rules take effect.

Is your business ready?

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Starting in December, administrative employees making less than the magic number, $47,476 per year, will no longer be exempt from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. These administrative employees will earn overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours in a week.

 Overtime pay is 1.5 times the employee’s hourly pay rate. The change is huge because it more than doubles the threshold for the exemption. Previously, administrative employees making more than $23,660 a year have been exempt from overtime.

Salary alone is not the only factor for determining whether a salaried employee is entitled to overtime or is exempt. There is actually a three part test:

  • The employee is paid a salary as opposed to an hourly wage;
  • The salary must be at least $47,476 annually for a full time worker to be exempt; and
  • The employee’s primary job must be executive, administrative, or professional, e.g., management, exercise of discretion and independent judgment, or work that requires advanced knowledge.

Otherwise, the employee is entitled to overtime pay at time and a half the employee’s hourly equivalent rate for each hour worked beyond a 40 hour work week.

The Department of Labor has identified four options for employers to comply with the new rule:

  • Raise salaries to maintain the exemption;
  • Keep current salaries, and plan to pay overtime;
  • Adjust workloads and schedules so that employees are not working overtime; or
  • Adjust wages by converting salaried employees to hourly.

What are businesses doing to prepare?

Raising salaries and paying overtime is simply not financially feasible for many businesses. Employees may negatively view adjustments in workloads and schedules or converting them from salary to hourly pay.

There is another way to comply with the new rule without undertaking additional financial burdens: adopt a workplace policy mandating that non-exempt employees cannot work overtime without prior written approval from a supervisor.

Enforce the policy consistently. This will help the business be able to predict and control labor costs while encouraging healthy work-life balance for employees.

Small businesses may have a tough adjustment period ahead.

Adopting a policy regarding overtime, educating employees about the policy, and enforcing the policy will provide some predictability and enable the business to manage workloads in a way that minimizes financial strain and possible cash flow problems. We can help craft company policies that comply with the new rule while providing the ability to manage overtime.

The Business Owner’s Tax Dilemma

Tax time is coming up, and it’s worth taking a look at your business records now so that you are prepared to send your 2016 records to your tax preparer come January.

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It’s also a good time to think about your tax strategy.

Conventional wisdom is to maximize deductions and business losses and to minimize income. While this strategy results in lower tax bills, it may not be the best strategy for your business. Choosing the best tax strategy involves some advance planning and goal setting.

If your personal goals include buying a home or if your business goals include courting investors or seeking funding to meet your goals, then think carefully before minimizing your business income to avoid tax liability.

You may be outsmarting yourself out of your goals.

Mortgage companies tend to view the self-employed as high risk. Self-employed mortgage seekers must jump through more hoops than their counterparts who are employed by large companies. Mortgage lenders want to see a history of income stability. If your small business has taken a loss in each of the preceding several years, it will be hard to get a mortgage.

 The same goes for financing to grow your business. Lenders are looking for credit worthiness and stable income – not a brilliant tax strategy. Don’t let your brilliant tax strategy compromise your ability to meet your goals.

 Have a frank discussion with your tax preparer in advance if your business or personal plans include getting financing in the next 2-5 years.