A New Study Suggests There is a Simple Answer to the Current Talent Shortage

A new Manpower study suggests the current labor pool often lacks the skills employers are seeking. Out of 42,000 employers that Manpower surveyed, 40 percent say they’ve struggled to fill roles.  Many complain that the world is changing so fast it’s hard for the labor pool to keep up.

What are these elusive skills, you ask? After a lack of applicants, employers listed a lack of both technical competencies and soft skills.

Luckily, companies have found a simple solution to this problem: training. It’s often more economical to train existing employees and it demonstrates your willingness to invest in the employees you already have.  Here at Wolfe, we practice what we preach. Many of our employees have been here over ten years and have been promoted several times.

The Most Important Skill: Learnability

According to Manpower, the number of employers training and developing existing employees to fill open positions has doubled from 1 in 5 to over half.  Now 53 percent offer training and development to existing staff. This makes the most important skill an employee can have, the ability to learn.

We have some great courses–to sharpen both technical and soft skills–on our eLearning platform. These are some of our favorites:

Business Writing for Supervisors and Managers

Conducting Effective Performace Appraisals
Managing the Impact of Social Media in the Workplace

Excel 2016: Complete Training
Google Apps
Project 2016

If you have questions about any of the courses or want to know how to manage eLearning for your employees, give Melissa a call at 828.771.3113.


Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) Are Back!

Last week the 21st Century Cures Act was signed into law and effective January 1, 2017. Among many things from a moonshot cure for cancer to funding for substance abuse, the Act allows small employers of less than 50 employees, and who do not offer a group heath care plan, to once again offer Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) to their employees.

The 21st Century Cures Act once again makes HRAs permissible for small employers, with some changes. These Q&A should help you decide:

Q. Who is a qualifying small employer?
An employer that has fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees and does not offer a group health plan.

Q. Must all employees be eligible for the HRA?
No. However, only certain employees may be excluded. For example, the company can exclude employees who have been employed for less than 90 days, are under 25 years old, are part-time or seasonal, are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, or are resident aliens without U.S. source income.

Q. May the employee contribute to the HRA?
No. Salary reduction contributions are not permitted. The HRA must be funded only by the company.

Q. What expenses can be reimbursed by the HRA?
Expenses that constitute “medical care,” including health insurance premiums, incurred by the employee or one of the employee’s family members.

Q. Is there a maximum benefit?
Yes. The HRA may reimburse up to $4,950 per year for an employee with employee-only coverage, and up to $10,000 per year for an employee with coverage for the employee and at least one dependent. These amounts are pro-rated if the employee is not covered by the HRA for the entire year. (These amounts are indexed to inflation and will increase in future years.)

Q. Are the reimbursements taxable income to the employee?
No, provided that the employee is enrolled in minimum essential coverage. Reminder: “Minimum essential coverage” includes most individual and group health insurance, but does not include dental-only coverage, vision-only coverage, or coverage for a specified disease or illness.

Q. Must employees lose their unspent HRA balances at the end of year?
No. A company may design the HRA so that the year-end balance carries over, or not.
Q Is a notice required? Yes. Employees eligible for the HRA on the first day of a given year must be given notice at least 90 days before the first day of the year. However, notice will also be considered timely if it is given within 90 days after the 21st Century Cures Act was adopted.

Common Sense Counsel: so if you are one of the hundreds of employers who gave up on offering group health insurance under ObamaCare, you now have a chance to help your employees with an HRA. Time is critical because you must provide employee notice within 90 days of January 1, 2107 to offer this benefit in 2017.

Tommy Eden provides counsel and expertise for Wolfe inc. He is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901. Blog at www.alabamaatwork.com

How Many Long Term Users are Hooked on Opioids?

Opioid deaths have now surpassed those from cars and guns and now a new poll conducted by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that one-third of long-term opioid users say they are hooked on prescription medication. Here are some other takeaways from the survey:

  • Virtually all of the users surveyed said they were introduced to the substance by a doctor’s prescription.
  • More than 6 in 10 said doctors offered no advice on how of when to stop taking the drugs.
  • 1 in 5 said their doctor offered little to no information about the risks of taking the drug.

This survey suggests doctors should do more to advise patients about the risks and offer guidance on how to quit the drug. As we’ve written before on Wolfe Watch, insurance companies make matters more complicated for doctors by too readily covering the medication, preferring it to other forms of pain management. It’s much easier to get the insurance company to cover the medication that to cover treatment.

You can read the article here at the Washington Post. It’s part of a series on the forces that are driving higher death rates for whites in midlife.

Opioid addiction

What Happened to the New FLSA Overtime Rule?

Days before the deadline, a federal judge put an injunction on the new FLSA rule that would have entitled 4 million workers to overtime pay.  U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant III ruled that the new regulations ignored Congress’s intent by supplanting the duties test.

What Happens Now?
The Department of Justice can appeal the decision, which would take them through the 5th District Court.  President-elect Trump can tweak Obama’s rule as he too has shown concern for wages being too low. For now, the threshold for automatic eligibility for overtime pay remains at $24,000 per year. In other words, keep doing what you’re doing.

What Tuesday’s Election Means For Employers

It’s difficult to make predictions about what last week’s election means for businesses. There are so many so many variables to consider.  So, let’s look at what we do know.

Four States Legalized Recreational Marijuana

Maine, Massachusettes, Nevada, and California all legalized recreational marijuana. As we’ve said before, drug testing policy won’t change until federal law changes. Though momentum is going in the direction of legalization. Who knows when this trend will reach critical mass. For now, keep doing what you’re doing to foster a drug-free workplace.

Arizona’s measure failed.

Four States Legalized Medical Marijuana

Montana, North Dakota, Arkansas, and Florida all legalized medical marijuana.

Four States Raised the Minimum Wage

Washington, Arizona, Colorado and Maine voted to increase the minimum wage in their states. South Dakota’s measure to lower the minimum wage for minors failed. The jury is out on what this will mean for local businesses. Proponents say increasing wages will put more money into people’s pockets, stimulate demand, and grow the economy. Critics argue that increasing wages will force some businesses to cut hours or employees.

If you’re interested in what it meant for Seattle, here’s an article that looks at what happened after they implemented a minimum wage pay raise. According to a study by the University of Washington, employment went up and the economy is doing well. 

Tax on Tobacco Products

Breaking the trend of four states going for it, whatever it is, out of four state measures to increase taxes on tobacco, only California approved a tobacco-tax increase.

So California will see increased tax revenue from marijuana sales and tobacco sales. Maine has legalized marijuana and raised the minimum wage.

What is it with the number four?

As always, if you have any questions about your drug testing or background screening policies, give us a call at 800.230.2991.



Background Screening in the “Gig Economy”

By 2020 an estimated 40 percent of the workforce will fall into the category of freelance work according to a recent Intuit study. Some of this increase is attributed to traditional employers hiring more contractors, but also to new app-driven companies like Uber and Lyft that hire thousands of drivers every year. With so many non-traditional employees entering the workforce through non-traditional means, it begs the question: How will these new workers be vetted? Is a quick database search enough?

How Reliable Are State Databases?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no comprehensive and complete record of criminal history. Databases are a good start, but they are only as good as they information they contain. How often are they updated and how complete is the information? Consider these findings from a 2015 Government Accountability Office report:

  • 10 states reported their databases were 50 percent or less complete
  • 13 states were less than 75 percent complete
  • Only 20 percent of states reported their databases were 75 – 100 percent complete

Database Searches Aren’t Enough

Wolfe screeners start with a database search, but we don’t stop there. We send runners straight to the courts, to state and county courthouses to get final disposition records that are too often missing from state databases. And remember, FCRA requires that all hiring decisions be based on dispositions. We provide the most current, most complete information available to make employment decisions. Even better, we can provide a tailor-made screening report based on the needs of each client. To find out more, give us a call at 800.230.2991.

Five States Will Legalize Marijuana in November

On Nov 9th, voters will be deciding on more than just who will run our country for the next four years. Voters in five states will vote on measures to legalize and regulate marijuana use as well. Recent polls show a “yes” vote will win in all five states: California, Arizona, Massachusettes, Maine, and Nevada.

What does this mean for fostering a drug-free workplace? Until the federal law changes, there is no reason to question your drug testing policy. Marijuana may be legal in the state, but that doesn’t mean companies can’t test for its use. However, with more than 25 percent of Americans living in states where marijuana is legal, the passage of these measures will put pressure on congress and the DEA to reevaluate their classification of cannabis as a drug. Once that happens, we will need to revisit this issue. Stay tuned…

You can read more about these ballot measures in Marijuana’s Moment in The Atlantic.

California Tightens Background Screening for Uber, Lyft

Last week Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation forbidding companies like Uber and Lyft from hiring drivers with any violent felony convictions. This means ride-hailing companies must now conduct stricter background screens on all drivers. Previous background screens went back seven years. However, news of assaults by drivers in several states have prompted closer scrutiny of how these companies screen their drivers.

Not all drivers who assaulted passengers had violent histories, but many did. Many had convictions that weren’t found by either company’s current background check policy.

While it will require a change in the hiring process for Uber and Lyft, it should make riders who were hesitant to use one of these companies for transportation feel more comfortable climbing into a car with a driver.

It will be interesting to see just how much business will increase for these companies once they implement stricter controls of who they hire. If you’d like to find out more about background screening, give us a call at 800.230.2991.

Fatal Occupational Injuries 2014

There were 4,679 total fatal work injuries in the United States in 2014. (We won’t have 2015’s numbers for a few more months.) That’s an increase of 2 percent over 2013’s reported fatalities. Here’s the breakdown:

Key preliminary findings of the 2014 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries:

– The number of fatal work injuries in private goods-producing industries in 2014 was 9 percent higher
than the revised 2013 count but slightly lower in private service-providing industries. Fatal injuries
were higher in mining (up 17 percent), agriculture (up 14 percent), manufacturing (up 9 percent),
and construction (up 6 percent). Fatal work injuries for government workers were lower (down 12 percent).
– Falls, slips, and trips increased 10 percent to 793 in 2014 from 724 in 2013. This was driven largely
by an increase in falls to a lower level to 647 in 2014 from 595 in 2013.
– Fatal work injuries involving workers 55 years of age and over rose 9 percent to 1,621 in 2014 up
from 1,490 in 2013. The preliminary 2014 count for workers 55 and over is the highest total ever
reported by CFOI.
– After a sharp decline in 2013, fatal work injuries among self-employed workers increased 10 percent
in 2014 from 950 in 2013 to 1,047 in 2014.
– Women incurred 13 percent more fatal work injuries in 2014 than in 2013. Even with this increase, women
accounted for only 8 percent of all fatal occupational injuries in 2014.
– Fatal work injuries among Hispanic or Latino workers were lower in 2014, while fatal injuries among
non-Hispanic white, black or African-American, and Asian workers were all higher.
– In 2014, 797 decedents were identified as contracted workers, 6 percent higher than the
749 fatally-injured contracted workers reported in 2013. Workers who were contracted at the time of
their fatal injury accounted for 17 percent of all fatal work injury cases in 2014.
– The number of fatal work injuries among police officers and police supervisors was higher in 2014, rising
from 88 in 2013 to 103 in 2014, an increase of 17 percent.

Some takeaways…

Men account for more than 92 percent of all workplace fatalities, but fatalities among women rose 13 percent in 2014 to 359.

In 2014, fatal work injuries due to transportation incidents were slightly higher – 1,891, up from 1,865 in 2013.
Overall, transportation incidents accounted for 40 percent of fatal workplace injuries in 2014

Read the full report here.

If you’re interested in ways to reduce the risk of occupational injury or death at your workplace, give us a call at 800.230.2991.