Offering Employee Benefits
Employers often struggle with the decision of whether to offer their employees benefits, such as health insurance, pensions, and paid time off. Providing these types of benefits is not required by law and many small businesses simply cannot afford to do so. However, employers who can offer benefits beyond those that are legally required stand to gain several significant rewards from doing so.
The Pros of Offering Employee Benefits
Attract more talent: Offering an enticing benefits package can attract more quality employees. When deciding where to work, 54 percent of millennials look to benefits as a deciding factor, according to a recent study. It is important to stay competitive with other employers who are offering increasingly generous employee benefits.
Retain loyal employees: Catering to your employees’ specific needs can help with employee retention. Employees are more likely to be loyal to a company that provides comprehensive, employee-tailored benefits. According to a recent survey, 40 percent of employees said they would turn down a higher salary offer to maintain their current level of health insurance coverage.
Increased productivity: When employees are happy, they perform better. One study concluded that happiness increased productivity by 12 percent. Another found that employees’ negative perceptions of work conditions, since the 2008 financial crisis, led to approximately $300 billion in lost productivity per year. Companies that have engaged employees are reportedly 22 percent more profitable than those with unengaged employees.
Reduced losses: Providing employees with quality health insurance plans can also reduce revenue losses due to sick days. According to a 2011 Gallup study, unhealthy employees cost companies around $153 billion each year, not including the losses that occur when employees are present at work but are less productive due to poor health. In addition to physical health problems, mental health and chronic conditions, like stress, also contribute to reduced employee productivity.
Monetary advantages: Employers can deduct health insurance, life insurance, pension plans, and other plan contributions when filing their taxes. Also, employers may be able to obtain personal benefits under the plan that are cheaper than obtaining them privately. Employees may be willing to accept a lower salary if they are presented with a higher-quality benefits package.
The Cons of Offering Employee Benefits
High cost: Providing benefits can be expensive, especially for small businesses. The costs of administration must be factored in, resulting in less choices for employers when designing benefits packages. As the cost of health insurance continues to rise, businesses may find it difficult to make financial plans in the upcoming years.
Legal exposure: Companies that offer benefits must comply with certain legal obligations as noncompliance or mistakes made in benefits plans can lead to legal liability, fees, and fines. This increased exposure under state and federal employment laws may dissuade employers from providing employee benefits.
For more information regarding employee benefits, contact an experienced Pennsylvania employment lawyer at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser by filling out an online inquiry form or call us today at 484-318-7106. From our office in West Chester, we serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Handling Medical Leave
Under Pennsylvania law, employers must follow the mandates of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) by granting unpaid leave to employees for certain personal or family related reasons. The laws can become very complicated when FMLA requests are combined with laws governing the Americans With Disabilities Act and Workers’ Compensation laws. A qualified and experienced employment lawyer can help employers sift through this myriad array of laws.
FMLA Coverage and Approved Leave
An employer with 50 or more employees for a period of 20 consecutive weeks must comply with the federal FMLA laws. The FMLA provides unpaid leave to an employee for a period of 12 to 26 weeks each year and protects their benefits and position while they are away. There are certain restrictions that apply to this benefit that employers need to know.
- Employees must have worked for their employer for at least one year, and a minimum of 1,250 hours in the previous year.
- The employee must also work for an employer with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.
- Family leave can be requested to bond with a new child, whether the child is born to or adopted by the employee.
- FMLA applies to employees recuperating from surgery or a health crisis, or to care for a family member with a serious health issue.
- Family leave can also be granted to an employee that experiences extenuating circumstances imposed by a family member’s military service, or to care for a family member that has been wounded while on active duty.
Employer Obligations Under FMLA
In Pennsylvania, eligible employees can be granted up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year. The leave does not have to be consecutive. In other words, the employee may ask for six weeks leave to care for a new child, and then request another six weeks later in the year to care for an aging parent. Family leave can be extended from 12 to 26 weeks for an employee to care for a family member that was seriously injured while on active military duty. This type of leave cannot be extended or granted again unless the same family member or another family member is injured while actively serving in the armed forces.
Employers must continue health insurance benefits for the employee for the duration of their medical leave and at the same contribution rate. The eligible employee may also use their paid time off, vacation time, and sick days during the FMLA leave period. In certain instances, employers can require employees to use this pay during their medical leave.
Upon the termination of FMLA leave, employees have the right to be reinstated to the same position they held when they requested their leave of absence, or to an equivalent position within the company. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but an employer must prove that reinstating the employee to their former position would cause a hardship to the company.
The Pennsylvania employment lawyers at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser provide experienced counsel and representation to employers for a wide variety of employment issues. Call us at 484-318-7106 or contact us online to schedule a consultation today. Our West Chester office allows us to serve clients throughout Philadelphia and across the state of Pennsylvania.
Culture of Safety
Having a strong culture of safety is important for all workplaces, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). A shared vision that is implemented through behavior, policy and enforcement can reduce workplace accidents and promote a safer work environment for everyone. A successful safety culture consists of many components, including leader and employee engagement.
It is important for those in leadership positions to set a good example. By showing that they take safety seriously, other individuals in the organization are more likely to do so as well. Upper management must make their commitment to workplace safety known so that other workers are encouraged to take a more active role in creating a safer work environment. Company leaders can show their commitment by taking the time to walk the floor, hold safety meetings and give feedback to workers.
Encourage Employees to Take an Active Role
The National Safety Council (NSC) notes that employee engagement is equally important to leadership commitment in creating a safety culture in the workplace. When each member of the organization takes an active role in their own safety, it helps to create a strong and effective safety culture. Employees have valuable first-hand knowledge of the risks associated with the job and how work practices can best be improved. They will be more likely to communicate such ideas if they are included in the process and encouraged to participate.
However, it is important to give the proper incentives when encouraging behavior-based safety. For example, employees should not be rewarded for going a certain period of time without any injuries or incidents because they may then avoid reporting incidents in order to receive the reward. Employees should also be able to report safety issues free from the fear of negative consequences; they should never be discouraged from reporting incidents or otherwise taking an active role in workplace safety. Instead, OSHA recommends building a culture of safety by:
- Defining safety policies and goals for each level of the organization
- Holding everyone accountable for being involved
- Providing employees with several options for reporting concerns
- Ensuring that supervisors are held accountable for taking reports seriously
- Training and educating employees on the importance of reporting accidents and near-misses
- Examining the incident investigation system to ensure that it is running effectively
- Keeping everyone informed and motivated about the ongoing process
- Celebrating success
The NSC also suggests encouraging employees to take an active role in their safety and the safety of others in the workplace. Some recommendations include:
- Providing employees with a suggestion box
- Holding meetings with all departments to discuss safety topics
- Creating safety committees and work groups to work on priority safety issues
- Conducting surveys to gauge employees’ stance on certain issues and taking action based on the findings
- Shutting down work after any major incidents to devote time to company-wide safety education
- Holding safety drills to encourage participation and teamwork
- Taking appropriate action when employees report hazards and incidents so they will continue to do so in the future
- Starting meetings with a safety talk to remind employees of both workplace and off-the-job safety issues
- Involving employees in safety activities in the workplace
New Bill Addresses School Security
Given the recent surge of violence in schools, parents are looking to know more about the safety measures and precautions being taken within the schools their children are attending. However, schools are more hesitant to release information regarding security measures and plans due to the potential for misuse of that information. A new Pennsylvania law allows school administrators to keep such critical information private to protect an individual or the safety of the school in general.
Senate Bill 1078 protects certain sensitive information, including information pertaining to emergency preparedness plans, from being accessed under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Act. Also known as the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, the Right to Know Law grants the public access to public records of state governmental bodies. Prior to the law’s establishment in 2008, anyone wanting access to government records had to prove they should be open to the public. After the law’s passage, government documents were presumed to be open to the public unless the government agency could prove that they should be kept private.
Senate Bill 1078 was unanimously passed by the Senate in April and it has now also been passed by the House. The law will allow school officials to discuss school safety measures during executive session out of the public eye if disclosing them publicly would likely impair the effectiveness of those measures or would jeopardize the safety of an individual or the school.
School officials will now be able to discuss security measures in private without worrying about exposure under sunshine laws. The Northampton Area School District Superintendent stated that the days of printing and posting school building floor plans are over. Now, officials must be careful about the information they disclose because students and faculty may be put at risk should the information get into the wrong hands.
Safety Bill Prompted by Tragedy
The main sponsor of the bill points to the West Nickel Mines school shooting of 2006 as the catalyst for the bill. During that incident, eight girls were shot and killed in an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County. When another district received estimates for security upgrades and a resident requested information pertaining to the designated locations of cameras and lockdown doors, it raised safety concerns amongst the school board.
The representative for several school districts in Lehigh Valley says that the law makes sense given the current state of affairs. By keeping security measures secret, the locations of cameras or emergency exit locations, for example, cannot be calculated into malevolent plans. Some information, such as how tax dollars are spent when it comes to security measures, implementing safety plans, and hiring security staff may still be open for public discussion. However, placement of security equipment and other emergency preparedness details can now be discussed in private to protect the safety of the school.
The potential for misuse of sensitive information has increased but so has the potential for abuse of the new law. For now, school boards will have discretion whether to discuss security matters in executive session or to disclose such information to the public.
For more information about your legal rights and obligations regarding school security or any other education law matter, contact the education law attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser by calling 484-318-7106 or submit an online contact form.
Running Background Checks on Church Volunteers
Gone are the days of “sacred immunity,” where churches and similar religious institutions were immune from legal liability. Over the last twenty years, the cultural and legal climate has changed, and churches are now a frequent target of litigation. Failure to conduct background checks is one of the top ten legal risks that churches face.
Sadly, many volunteers have criminal backgrounds and prey on churches that may be trusting and look the other way. Churches must be vigilant, because they serve vulnerable populations, including children and seniors, and handle cash that supports their mission and service work.
In Pennsylvania, background checks are mandatory for individuals who have direct volunteer contact with children.
Screening Volunteers for the Safety of Children
One of the most important duties a church has is to protect its children from harm. In recent years, the most common reason for churches to be involved in litigation was due to sexual misconduct of volunteers or church administrators.
Only adult volunteers who are responsible for the welfare of a child, and have direct contact with children, are required to obtain clearances. All volunteers are required to have a Report of Criminal History from the Pennsylvania State Police, and a Child Abuse History Clearance from the Department of Human Services.
If a prospective volunteer has lived out of the state of Pennsylvania in the last ten years, a federal (FBI) fingerprint based criminal history check, through the Pennsylvania State Police, is also required. Any volunteer who does not need to undergo federal fingerprint screening, because they have lived in Pennsylvania continuously for the last ten years, must affirm in writing that they are not disqualified from service based upon certain enumerated convictions.
You should consult competent legal counsel in determining as to which volunteers need to be screened.
Screening Volunteers to Avoid Financial Crimes and Embezzlement
Many churches have deacons, administrative assistants, accountants, and other volunteers who help collect and manage the church’s money. Without this, churches could not fulfill their missions.
Yet sadly, one out of every ten protestant churches have been victimized by embezzlers. Churches may screen volunteers who handle money for criminal records, work status validation, social media activity, education and licensing, credit report, and personal or professional references.
Sadly, running background checks may not be enough to protect your congregation. Many sex offenders are juveniles themselves, and thus are not subject to background check laws. Churches should always make sure that no child is ever left alone with a single adult. They also should ensure that any offices where money is stored or handled, or where children are located, are visible from the outside. For example, they should have windows or opened doors.
Contact MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser by filling out an online inquiry or calling us at 484-318-7106. We go above and beyond, because we appreciate the many benefits that churches and other religious institutions bring to the communities that they serve. We bring our personal experiences serving religious organizations and non-profits to provide the specialized counsel that our local religious institutions need and deserve.