Baby Boomers Turn to Social Security When Downsized

The Social Security system has been deluged by unemployed Baby Boomers–many of whom would still be working in better times–who are signing up for retirement benefits at a record clip. Social Security applications are up 23 percent this year, and disability applications up 20 percent. As a result, the system projects deficits of $10 billion in 2010 and $9 billion in 2011.

Not to worry, however, if you’re a recipient, or thinking of becoming one soon. The Social Security fund has built up a $2.5 trillion reserve, which is expected to last until 2037.

Nearly 2.2 million people applied for Social Security retirement benefits from start of the budget year in October through July, compared with just under 1.8 million in the same period last year.

The increase in early retirements is hurting Social Security’s short-term finances, already strained from the loss of 6.9 million U.S. jobs. Social Security is funded through payroll taxes, which are down because of so many lost jobs.

 


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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The Next Time Somone Requests a Religious Accommodation…

Be careful.

Here’s the official Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) definition given at a recent training seminar:

Religion includes not only traditional organized religion, but also "moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views."

Note that just about any belief, including atheism, falls easily under this definition.

Maybe the guy on the TV ad who wants to take a weekend Chinchilla Day holiday in Las Vegas cannot be denied, according to the EEOC (which enforces religious discrimination).

Meanwhile, you may want to get your hands on Personnel Concepts’ Religious Discrimination Compliance Kit to gird yourself.

 


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 Interim Final Rule Provides Cover for HIPAA Breaches

They ain’t publicizing it, but it’s there: A harm threshold in the Interim Final Rule published yesterday (Sept. 23, 2009) by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that lets covered entities avoid ever admitting to a private health information (PHI) breach.

The secret? Just encrypt the data. As the Interim Final Rule says, it wants to save the public from being “flooded with notifications for breaches that pose no threat."

So if a covered entity–a health care provider, insurer and the like–converts to electronic records and encrypts them, and some hacker steals five zillion records and then unencrypts them, nothing need be reported or done.

For a little background, one’s personal health information is protected from disclosure under the provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Provisions regarding HIPAA security included in the recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) imposed breach reporting requirements and penalties for breaches and ordered HHS to implement these in a Final Rule.

ARRA, however, made no mention that encryption would be a safe harbor so that breaches need not be reported to those affected. HHS threw that in.

“The key problem is, those who breach your information are the ones who get to decide if you are harmed or not,” Deborah Peel, founder and chairwoman of the nonprofit Patient Privacy Rights, told SCMagazineUS.com the day before the interim rule was published.

“It’s shocking to see that the federal agency charged with protecting the public [HHS] is instead protecting private corporations against the embarrassment and bad press that would occur if they aren’t protecting our health records,” Peel added.

The Interim Final Rule also gives great leeway, as Peel indicates, for the covered entity to determine the level of risk that’s involved. The rule even says a lost of stolen laptop containing PHI that’s found or returned need not necessarily be reported if it’s determined the data wasn’t tampered with.

However, I don’t know about you folk, but when I go to the doctor, everything is written down and stored in a file cabinet. Are they going to be able to claim that was encrypted?

Wiggle, wiggle.


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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Can’t Get Rid of the Employee? Just Eliminate the Department

I’m not sure if this is what’s happening or not, but it looks suspiciously so: The Department of Labor (DOL) is eliminating its Employment Standards Administration (ESA) effective Nov. 8. After that, the four agencies/departments now administered by the ESA will report directly to the DOL secretary.

Which looks to me like a ploy to eliminate the middle man, an assistant secretary of Labor, but I have no insider knowledge of DOL politics.

Anyway, the four agencies now to report directly are the Wage and Hour Division (WHD), the Office of Labor Management Standards (OLMS), the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) and the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP). WHD is the group that busts you for not paying overtime and for committing other wage thefts.


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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Public Support for Unions Slips to Historic Low

Good news comes from Gallup–and the good ol’ American public itself–for those business owners and managers who fear that a tidal wave of unionization will increase their costs and rigidize (is that a word? how about comatose-ize?) their workforces. Public support for unions has plunged to the lowest depths ever–just 48 percent of Americans approve of unions, according to a recent Gallup head count.

Let’s put this number in perspective. For starters, just last year support for unions stood at 59 percent, and when the landmark, union-enabling National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) passed and Gallup first asked the question, support was pegged at 72 percent. That poll was in 1937, and support didn’t breach that rarefied stratosphere until 1957, the heyday of American economic might, when it soared to 75 percent.

The previous low of 55 percent was recorded twice–in 1979 and 1981, years of high inflation and recession.

So 48 percent is really historic, and it comes during the nationwide focus on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which may well have been a contributing factor in the plunge in support for labor. Of course, the debacle in Detroit with the creation of Government Motors and Fiat USA with union ownership in the first instance and union favoritism in both cases may also have played a part.

 


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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No Inflation, So No Minimum Wage Hikes in 10 States

Beleaguered employers who struggle to make ends meet in tough times can take a breather this year as ten states that tie their minimum wage into the inflation rate will be holding rates steady this year. Reason: There is no inflation; rather there’s deflation.

States use different statistical measures and time-frames (July to July, September to September) to gauge the inflation rate, but eight states do not allow the minimum wage rate to decrease in times of deflation. Missouri and Colorado do, however.

Missouri’s minimum wage is now at $7.25 an hour, the same as the federal minimum wage, so any decrease in the minimum wage would affect only indigenous firms (which are few and far in between) not subject to federal mandates.

Colorado’s minimum wage is $7.28, so theoretically it could lower that to the federal level–and even lower for the state-only rate. A spokesmen for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said the state is considering leaving the $7.28 rate unchanged, however.

States that legislatively set their minimum wages could certainly opt to raise their rates this year.

Stay tuned.


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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Blogger Tweets Her Way Out of Unwanted Surgery

Amid all the pop nonsense and rumor mongering and character assassinating going on at Twitter, one lucky blogger found the service useful in helping her avoid what she believed to be unnecessary surgery.

Sarah Cortes, a technology consultant and blogger, found herself in a rural Pennsylvania hospital with a spine fracture. She claims the hospital did everything in its power to persuade her to get immediate emergency surgery. She wanted to consult with doctors in her home state of Massachusetts before making any decision, but the hospital, she claims, did its best to prevent her from doing so, including limiting her telephone access.

So she took out her iPhone and Tweeted away for names of neurosurgeons in Boston.

"This is about the money," Cortes opined on her blog about the high pressure tactics from the hospital, whose staff  warned her she’d be paralyzed if she refused the surgery and told her that her insurance company wouldn’t pay for further consultations.

In the end, Cortes returned to Boston, where she was treated with a torso brace, which she must wear for four months. No surgery is anticipated.

Now, there’s a successful use of Twitter, which is otherwise about as useful as schoolyard discussion in the seventh grade.

Nary a Tweet out of Robert Packer Hospital, however. Hospital officials can’t give their side of the story because it would be a breach of the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) privacy rule. Otherwise, can you imagine the Tweets coming out of the operating room every time a celebrity was operated on? "My, I didn’t realize how overweight (fill in the name) was." "She (fill in the name) doesn’t look nearly as good in person."

Tweet, Tweet, Tweet.


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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World’s Millionaire Ranks Thinned by Almost 20 Percent

The Grim Recession Reaper is out there weeding out the super rich by the bushel-full as the ranks of millionaires worldwide have fallen by 18 percent–22 percent in North America–while their assets plunged in one year by a whopping $13 trillion.

Poor folk, they used to control about $105 trillion in wealth, but they were down to a paltry $92 trillion in 2008.

The Boston Consulting Group, the folks who conducted the study, noted that the erosion of wealth was not confined to individuals and families but snared institutions as well. Both Harvard and Yale announced that their endowments dropped by more than 25 percent during their fiscal years which ended June 30.

Maybe 2009 will prove to be better for the top one-percenters as bourses worldwide seem to doing quite well. But the news doesn’t bode well for the Obama plan to tax the wealthy to pay for health care and other initiatives. The wealth spigot is running dry.

 


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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U.S. Falls to Second Spot in World Economic Competitiveness

Switzerland has jumped ahead of the United States in terms of global business competitiveness, according to the annual survey of the World Economic Forum. The People’s Republic of China has also moved into the top 30 for the first time.

Though Switzerland and the U.S. both rank high on innovation and business climate, the U.S. is dropping like a lead balloon in the macroeconomic category, from 66th to 93rd, due to rising public indebtedness and the sinking value of the dollar.

China is rising on the strength of its fiscal stability (cash reserves and favorable trade balance), as well as for showing improvements in innovation and business climate.

Several components comprise a country’s competitiveness – including its financial system, infrastructure, educational opportunities, the skill level of its workforce, and more–areas in which the United States remains relatively high except for the economic mess gripping the nation, exacerbated by huge spending outlays to spur the economy and their concomitant budget deficits.


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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Democrats Had Votes to Pass EFCA in July, But…

They couldn’t muster the 60th vote, says Senator Tom Harkin, D.-Iowa, one of the sponsors of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which detractors have dubbed the Employee Forced Choice Act.

The 60th vote needed to choke off a filibuster over the measure belonged to Ted Kennedy, but when Harkin phoned Kennedy’s doctor to get the okay for him to spend three days in the capital, the good doc said no. His patient was too ill.

It’s not clear what was in the version of EFCA that was set to become law, and Harkin ain’t talkin’.

Business groups, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have focused on the so-called card check provision of EFCA, which would allow for unionization to take place once organizers obtained signatures from more than 50 percent of affected workers. But an even more ominous and onerous provision would force a union contract down the company’s throat if three months of negotiations with the union didn’t result in any agreement.

Harkin had this to say:

"I will not say [what was in the bill] because it was closely held, it never leaked out and it still hasn’t," Harkin said. "I took it off the front-burner and put it on the back-burner so it is still on warm, OK?"

In other words, look for the bill to haunt the halls of Congress once again after whatever happens to health care finally happens.


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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