SCOTUS Grants Opt-Out Right on Obamacare Contraceptive Rule

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that privately held companies can opt out of the contraceptive clause of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on religious grounds.

The requirement in question mandates that certain company-provided health insurance policies include contraceptive services. The ruling came in a review of a lawsuit brought by the owners of Hobby Lobby, furniture maker Conestoga Wood and Christian bookseller Mardel contending that the contraceptive mandate violated their constitutional right to religious freedom.

The law in dispute requires for-profit employers of a certain size to offer insurance benefits for birth control and other reproductive health services without a co-pay. A number of companies equate some of the covered drugs, such as the so-called morning-after pill, with abortion, which is against their owners' religious beliefs.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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HHS Proposes Auto-Renewal of Current Obamacare Policies

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is floating a proposal for public commentary to automatically renew everyone who signed up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) during the open enrollment period that ended in March.

The rule would apply to everyone who signed up on a state website or on the federal marketplace site HealthCare.gov.

The rule, which is open for public commentary for 30 days once published in the Federal Register, was developed in consultation with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Massachusetts Enacts Highest Minimum Wage Law Among All States

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick today signed S.2195, “An Act Restoring the Minimum Wage and Providing Unemployment Insurance Reforms,” a bill that "gradually raises the minimum wage to $11 over three years, lowers unemployment insurance (UI) costs for employers across the state, strengthens safety protections for workers and makes permanent the multi-agency task force charged with combating the underground economy," according to an official press release.

“Raising the minimum wage brings a little relief to the working poor, many of whom do jobs we could not live without and who recycle money right back into the economy,” said Gov. Patrick. “By signing this bill, we show the Nation that opportunity can and must be spread outward, not just upward. I thank the Legislature for their important work in reaching this milestone.”


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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SCOTUS Rules Obama 2012 Recess Appointments Unconstitutional

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court today ruled that recess appointments made by President Obama while the Senate was holding "pro-forma" sessions but otherwise on a short break overreached his constitutional authority.

"Because the Senate was in session during its pro forma sessions, the president made the recess appointments before us during a break too short to count as recess," Justice Stephen Breyer said. "For that reason, the appointments are invalid."

The Constitution allows presidents to make "recess appointments" for two years while the Senate is out on recess. Arguing that the Senate was indeed on recess in 2012 — and frustrated that he couldn't get his nominees confirmed — Obama named three members to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and also named the first director for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Pepsi bottler Noel Canning of Yakima, Wash., subsequently contested in court a decision by the NLRB, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled the board lacked authority because three members had been appointed unconstitutionally. NLRB v. Canning eventually made its way to the Supreme Court for review, and the ruling today is the result.

All of Obama's 2012 appointees were later confirmed when renominated and Senate Democrats went "nuclear" and changed the filibuster rules for appointments. They also used their new authority to confirm nominations to the D.C. Court of Appeals to make it more friendly to the left.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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More Employers Now Eliminating Jobseekers Because of Social Media Searches

A survey by Career Builder found that 51 percent of employers who research job applicants on social media end up rejecting them, up from 43 percent in last year's survey and 34 percent in 2012.

So what are employers finding on social media that’s prompting them to eliminate candidates from consideration? The most common reasons to pass on a candidate included:

· Job candidate posted provocative or inappropriate photographs or information – 46 percent

· Job candidate posted information about them drinking or using drugs – 41 percent

· Job candidates bad-mouthed their previous company or fellow employee – 36 percent

· Job candidate had poor communication skills – 32 percent

· Job candidate had discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion and so on – 28 percent

· Job candidate lied about qualifications – 25 percent

· Job candidate shared confidential information from previous employers – 24 percent

· Job candidate was linked to criminal behavior – 22 percent

· Job candidate’s screen name was unprofessional – 21 percent

· Job candidate lied about an absence – 13 percent

However, one third (33 percent) of employers who research candidates on social networking sites say they’ve found content that made them more likely to hire a candidate. What’s more, nearly a quarter (23 percent) found content that directly led to them hiring the candidate, up from 19 percent last year.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Ikea to Raise Store Minimum Wage to $10.76 an Hour

Ikea, the Swedish home goods megastore, is raising the minimum wage it pays its workers at 38 U.S. locations to $10.76 an hour beginning Jan. 1, 2015, a 17-percent increase over the current $9.17-an-hour rate.

"The happier the co-worker, the happier the customer and the better the overall shopping experience," said Rob Olson, acting U.S. president for the firm.

The raise will affect about half of the 13,651 full- and part-time Ikea employees in the U.S.

Several states and municipalities have been upping their minimum wage rates this year, with Seattle's $15-an-hour rate the highest so far.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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DOL Releases Funds for Unemployment Assessment, Training

The Department of Labor (DOL) today awarded $68,745,912 to 37 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia to implement or continue re-employment and eligibility assessments for Unemployment Insurance beneficiaries.

"Offering newly unemployed Americans access to a full array of job training and placement services will help to reduce time spent between jobs," said Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. "These federal grants will also strengthen the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance program by preventing improper payments so that it remains available for those who truly need it."

The funding will be used to conduct in-person assessments at American Job Centers. The assessments include the development of an individual re-employment plan for each claimant; the provision of labor market information that is appropriate to the claimant's location, job skills and employment prospects; a complete review of the claimant's eligibility for UI benefits; and a referral to the relevant re-employment or training services provided by the American Job Center.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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OSHA Launches Interactive Game to Help Identify Workplace Hazards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched a new interactive training tool to help small businesses effectively identify hazards in the workplace. Employers and workers can virtually explore how to identify common workplace hazards in the manufacturing and construction industries. Users of the new training tool will learn not only hazard identification skills but also learn about hazard abatement and control.

"Hazard identification is a critical part of creating an injury and illness prevention program that will keep workers safe and healthy on the job," said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "This new tool not only educates employers about how to take control of their workplaces and protect workers, it also demonstrates that following well-established safety practices is also good for the bottom line."

Through the hazard identification tool, users can play from the perspective of either a business owner or an employee as they learn to identify realistic, common hazards and address them with practical and effective solutions. The tool explains the key components of the hazard identification process, which include information collection, observation of the workplace, investigation of incidents, employee participation and prioritizing hazards.

Access the tool at www.osha.gov/hazfinder


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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New HHS Secretary to Hire Obamacare Czar

In her first week in office, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell has already shaken up the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare) personnel structure and announced plans to hire a "marketplace chief executive officer," in other words, a CEO for HealthCare.gov.

In addition, she hired Andy Slavitt, group executive vice president of Optum, the main contractor coordinating the work of fixing and creating parts of the federal website, as a senior administrator within HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

In a statement, Burwell said: “These actions will bolster our team and further instill ongoing accountability for reaching milestones, measuring results and delivering results for the American people. Under this new structure, we bring additional operational and technological fire power and have a clear single point of contact in the Marketplace CEO to streamline decision-making."


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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DOL Proposes Rule to Expand FMLA to Same-Sex Couples

Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez announced today a proposed rule extending the protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to all eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages regardless of where they live. The proposal would help ensure that all families will have the flexibility to deal with serious medical and family situations without fearing the threat of job loss.

Secretary Perez is proposing this rule in light of the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor, in which the court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) provision that interpreted "marriage" and "spouse" to be limited to opposite-sex marriage for the purposes of federal law.

The FMLA, enacted in 1993, entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. Employees are, for example, entitled to take FMLA leave to care for a spouse who has a serious health condition. Millions of workers and their families have benefited since the FMLA's provisions became effective and even more American families would be made secure as a result of the proposed rule.

"The basic promise of the FMLA is that no one should have to choose between succeeding at work and being a loving family caregiver," said Secretary Perez. "Under the proposed revisions, the FMLA will be applied to all families equally, enabling individuals in same-sex marriages to fully exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities to their families."

The proposed rule would change the FMLA regulatory definition of "spouse" so that an eligible employee in a legal same-sex marriage will be able to take FMLA leave for his or her spouse or family member regardless of the state in which the employee resides. Currently, the regulatory definition of "spouse" only applies to same-sex spouses who reside in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. Under the proposed rule, eligibility for FMLA protections would be based on the law of the place where the marriage was entered into, allowing all legally married couples, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, to have consistent federal family leave rights regardless whether the state in which they currently reside recognizes such marriages.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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