Summer internships offer students opportunities to gain real-world experience and hands-on career development. Conversely, internship programs give employers access to highly motivated and educated young workers and give junior managers more experience training and supervising. There are benefits for everyone involved.

However, there are some potential legal and administrative pitfalls that many employers overlook. One of the largest issues is determining what interns should be paid – or not paid.

The Department of Labor issued new guidance on January 5, 2018, that gives employers more flexibility in deciding whether to pay interns. A seven-criteria test is now used to determine if an internship may be unpaid, but the biggest change is that not all factors need to be met – no single factor is decisive, and the determination is made on the unique circumstances of each case.

If the job training program primarily provides professional experience that furthers a student’s educational goals, a student may not be considered an employee entitled to compensation. However, if students are doing work usually done by employees and are not receiving training and close mentoring, they should be paid wages. If there is any doubt, the best approach is to pay the student.

4 Reasons to Pay Interns

However, while it’s now legally permissible to classify more interns as unpaid, there are still compelling reasons to pay interns even when the internship does meet the criteria for unpaid status.

Unpaid internships tend to exclude students from lower- and middle-income backgrounds, who cannot afford not to work at paid jobs during the summer. In addition, they may need to pay up to several thousand dollars for course credit, in addition to coming up with funds for housing, clothing, and transportation related to the internship. This can put internships out of reach for some of the students who can benefit from them the most.

Unpaid internships may devalue the work paid employees are doing. After all, interns are working alongside regular employees — often doing some of the same tasks — and not being compensated for that work. This may send the message to employees that their work, or time, is not valued.

Unpaid internships can create a negative impression of your company. Customers or the community may see you as taking advantage of these students, which is not the message you want to portray. It’s a good community relations move to offer youth paid opportunities.

The work the unpaid intern is doing may actually be work that should be compensable. Improperly classifying an internship and not paying the student could result in wage claims that include back pay, penalties, and fines. To mitigate those risks, once again, the best approach is to pay the student.

Hiring summer students is a great way to help youth learn what it takes to be successful in business while helping employers get special projects completed. Plan ahead and structure your program so that your summer internship program is a great experience for everyone.

 

by Rachel Sobel
Originally posted on thinkHR.com

Managing pay can be tricky. Handled incorrectly, pay can create problems for an employer — everything from the inability to attract the right candidates and losing great employees to the competition to presenteeism (employees who are physically in the workplace but not engaged in their work), employee relations issues, compliance audits, and lawsuits. These outcomes impact productivity. They infect the company culture. And they tarnish the employer brand.

In your role as a trusted advisor to clients who may be struggling with their total compensation programs, you need to be ready to help them determine how to make the right decisions. This requires you to be aware of new trends while also helping clients manage risk by complying with wage and hour rules.

Pay Versus Employee Motivation and Retention

Many employee engagement reports note that pay doesn’t impact motivation as much as other work factors, such as:

  • The quality of the company and its management.
  • Belief in the organization’s products.
  • Alignment with the company’s mission, values, and goals.
  • Ability to make a meaningful contribution.
  • Ability to develop new professional skills.

IBM’s Smarter Workforce Institute’s 2017 study looked at employees’ decisions to leave their jobs and found that the three generations comprising most of today’s workforce would be open to considering new job opportunities for better compensation and benefits: Millennials at 77 percent, Generation X at 78 percent, and Baby Boomers at 70 percent. Those are big numbers, and they shouldn’t be ignored when designing pay plans.

Further, while pay may not be a motivator, it can be a powerful dissatisfier when employees believe that they aren’t being paid correctly for the value they are bringing to the organization, or at the market value of their jobs. Worse yet is the perceived — or real — belief that their pay is lower than what their co-workers are earning. In some markets, this problem is genuine, as companies in hot labor markets struggle with paying new people more than current employees, causing pay compression. Employees do talk and pay information is readily available.

Considering every variable that goes into compensation planning can be complicated. Your clients can start by: setting a compensation strategy to fit their company’s needs and budget; developing compensation programs to fit that strategy, the talent marketplace, and employee demographics; and then administering the compensation program fairly and in compliance with federal, state, and local laws.

Equal Pay Mandates

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Strategic Enforcement Plan prioritizes enforcing the Equal Pay Act (EPA) to close the pay gap between men and women, and the Trump administration has been silent about changing this direction. This topic is trending, as legislators in more than 40 jurisdictions introduced bills related to equal pay in 2017. California, New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland are setting the pace with laws addressing this issue. These states have set rules that more broadly define the equal pay standard requiring different factors, such as skill, effort, working conditions, and responsibility, in justifying gender pay disparities. These states are also broadening the geographic restrictions for employee pay differentials.

We expect that more states will enact equal pay rules in 2018. Companies should review gender pay differences in their workforce, document the bona fide business reasons for the differences, and correct wage disparities as needed. Permitted differences could include seniority, documented merit performance differences, pay based on quantity or quality of production or sales quotas, or geographic differentials.

Salary History Ban

The issue of pay has traditionally been an inevitable topic of discussion in any job interview. However, in a growing number of places throughout the country, an employer can no longer ask an applicant about his or her salary history. At least 21 states and Washington, D.C., along with several municipalities, have proposed legislation that would prohibit salary history questions. California (effective January 2018), Delaware (effective December 2017), Massachusetts (effective July 2018), and Oregon (effective January 2019) have enacted laws impacting private employers. More bans are expected at both the state and local level.

While the provisions of each law vary, they make it illegal for employers to ask applicants about their current compensation or how they were paid at past jobs. The rationale for these laws stems from the equal pay issue and the premise that pay for the job should be based on the value of the job to the organization, not the pay an applicant might be willing to accept. These laws are designed to reverse the pattern of wage inequality that resulted from past gender bias or discrimination.

For employers, this means:

  • Establishing compensation ranges for open positions and asking applicants if the salary range for the position would meet their compensation expectations.
  • Updating employment applications to remove the salary history information.
  • Training hiring managers and interviewers to avoid asking questions about salary history.

Pay Transparency

Outside of certain industries, the public sector, and unionized environments where pay grades and step increases are common knowledge, historically many employers have had a practice of discouraging employees from openly discussing their compensation. That practice is fast becoming history, due to another notable trend in state legislatures: enacting laws that allow employees to discuss their wages and other forms of compensation with others. Although the provisions of the laws vary, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Vermont now have laws in place allowing pay transparency.

In addition to these state laws, Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows employees to engage in pay discussions as “concerted and protected activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” During the Obama administration, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) broadly interpreted the NLRA’s Section 7 to side with employees’ rights to discuss wages and other terms and conditions of employment. Unless the Trump administration’s NLRB changes direction on this issue, which is not expected, the clear message for employers is to remove any prohibitions of employees discussing pay or working conditions with others.

Be Vigilant

Employee compensation has always been a hot topic, and this year the temperature will continue to rise. Keep abreast of legislative and regulatory changes that impact pay practices to help your clients stay in compliance with the pay laws that are spreading throughout the country.

Now is a good time to suggest that your clients consider conducting pay audits, updating compensation plans, making compensation adjustments where needed, training managers regarding pay strategy and practice, and communicating the company’s compensation strategy and incentive plans to employees.

 

By Laura Kerekes, SPHR, SHRM-SCPz

Originally posted on thinkHR.com

Proposed regulations for revising and greatly expanding the Department of Labor (DOL) Form 5500 reporting are set to take effect in 2019. Currently, the non-retirement plan reporting is limited to those employers that have more than 100 employees enrolled on their benefit plans, or those in a self-funded trust. The filings must be completed on the DOL EFAST2 system within 210 days following the end of the plan year.

What does this expanded number of businesses required to report look like? According to the 2016 United Benefit Advisors (UBA) Health Plan Survey, less than 18 percent of employers offering medical plans are required to report right now. With the expanded requirements of 5500 reporting, this would require the just over 82 percent of employers not reporting now to comply with the new mandate.

While the information reported is not typically difficult to gather, it is a time-intensive task. In addition to the usual information about the carrier’s name, address, total premium, and payments to an agent or broker, employers will now be required to provide detailed benefit plan information such as deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums, coinsurance and copay amounts, among other items. Currently, insurance carriers and third party administrators must produce information needed on scheduled forms. However, an employer’s plan year as filed in their ERISA Summary Plan Description, might not match up to the renewal year with the insurance carrier. There are times when these schedule forms must be requested repeatedly in order to receive the correct dates of the plan year for filing.

In the early 1990s small employers offering a Section 125 plan were required to fill out a 5500 form with a very simple 5500 schedule form. Most small employers did not know about the filing, so noncompliance ran very high. The small employer filings were stopped mainly because the DOL did not have adequate resources to review or tabulate the information.

While electronic filing makes the process easier to tabulate the information received from companies, is it really needed? Likely not, given the expense it will require in additional compliance costs for small employers. With the current information gathered on the forms, the least expensive service is typically $500 annually for one filing. Employers without an ERISA required summary plan description (SPD) in a wrap-style document, would be required to do a separate filing based on each line of coverage. If an employer offers medical, dental, vision and life insurance, it would need to complete four separate filings. Of course, with the expanded information required if the proposed regulations hold, it is anticipated that those offering Form 5500 filing services would need to increase with the additional amount of information to be entered. In order to compensate for the additional information, those fees could more than double. Of course, that also doesn’t account for the time required to gather all the data and make sure it is correct. It is at the very least, an expensive endeavor for a small business to undertake.

Even though small employers will likely have fewer items required for their filings, it is an especially undue hardship on many already struggling small businesses that have been hit with rising health insurance premiums and other increasing costs. For those employers in the 50-99 category, they have likely paid out high fees to complete the ACA required 1094 and 1095 forms and now will be saddled with yet another reporting cost and time intensive gathering of data.

Given the noncompliance of the 1990s in the small group arena, this is just one area that a new administration could very simply and easily remove this unwelcome burden from small employers.

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

 

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