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Water Bottles in the Workplace

Is there an OSHA approved water bottle for workers to keep at their station?

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ensures safe and healthful working conditions in the workplace through training and regulations.

OSHA requires potable water to be provided in all places of employment in amounts that are adequate to meet the health and personal needs of each employee. Potable water means water that is safe from toxins and meets the standard for drinking purposes set forth by state and/or municipality regulations.

There is no requirement for water to be bottled or even from a water fountain. Tap water from a sink, as long as it meets the standards for drinking, meets OSHA’s requirement.

Portable containers that carry water are also permitted. Containers must be clearly marked, tightly closed, have a tap for dispensing the water, and may not be used for any other purpose. Water is not to be dipped from containers. Shared drinking cups or bottles are not permitted.

There is no standard water bottle approved by OSHA. However, employers may impose restrictions on the type of water bottle permitted in the workplace depending upon the type of work being performed and the work environment.

August 18th, 2016, 2:23 PM |  Posted in: Workplace Health & Safety |
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Gift Cards

Our company gives out $100 gift cards for special quarterly achievement bonuses. The company wants to pay the taxes for the employees. What do you suggest would be a standard gross up amount to accomplish this?

First off, kudos to you for being an awesome employer.

Grossing up a check refers to an employer reimbursing employees for the taxes paid on a specified portion of their income, in this case a bonus. There are two main ways to calculate the gross up.

The most commonly used method is a flat standard percentage, usually 25%. So, if an employee is to receive $100, the gross up amount would be $125. This method is simple, straightforward, and allows for administrative convenience since the same percentage is used for all employees. However, using a flat rate is not going to always be beneficial to either the employer or employee.

Another more specific method takes in to account an employee’s filing status and exemptions.  The calculation itself is fairly straightforward: 100% – Tax % (federal/state/local) = Net%. Then, Payment (Bonus) / Net% = Gross amount of earnings. Obviously, this method is more accurate but it’s time consuming.


August 18th, 2016, 1:54 PM |  Posted in: Compensation |
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Health Insurance Premiums

I am an employer and I have an employee that is being terminated that has health insurance coverage through our company. The health insurance premiums that we charge the employee are collected in arrears. The employee will receive two more paychecks. What the employee owes for health insurance premiums exceeds his final pay. Can I as the employer, modify his next to last paycheck for the additional amount he owes on his health insurance premiums? Or will I have to absorb the additional premiums since it exceeds his final paycheck amount?

Permissible deductions from an employee’s paycheck are regulated by both federal and state law. Generally, deductions that benefit employees such as health care premiums are permitted with the employee’s consent.

Some may argue that the additional deduction is part of the original agreement with the employee to deduct the necessary premiums from his paycheck. The other side is that the deduction is not in line with the normal course of deductions. Thus, a separate consent for the additional deduction is needed.

Unfortunately, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn’t specifically address this issue. Some states have their own wage deductions laws but few will address this matter specifically either. Still, it’s best to know if any applicable state law exists.

Basically, it comes down to best practice. It’s advisable to obtain written consent from the employee to deduct the additional premium amount from the second to last paycheck. The employee should agree to this since doing so is in his best interest as well.

In the future, consider adding a sentence to the initial deduction agreement that additional deductions may be necessary upon separation of employment since premiums are collected in arrears.


August 18th, 2016, 1:18 PM |  Posted in: Benefits, Compensation |
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Accrued PTO while on STD

Is PTO allowed to generate while an employee is on short term disability?

There is no federal law that regulates the accruals of paid time off (PTO) benefits for private employers. Some states have adopted such laws, mostly for vacation time. Of these states most simply require employers to adhere to their own established policies and practices. Further, of the states that have regulations concerning the administration of vacation benefits some consider vacation time to be earned as labor is performed. Thus, when no work is being performed such as while on employee is on short term disability (STD) leave, then PTO benefits need not continue to accrue. Still, it’s best to know if any applicable law exists in your state.

Absent state law or employment contract stating otherwise, employers are free to adopt PTO policies at their discretion. Such policies should include how and when PTO is accrued.

It’s fairly common for employers to restrict employees on unpaid leaves of absence, such as STD/LTD leave, from accruing PTO. Usually, employees on paid leave, such as vacation/sick, continue to accrue PTO. It’s really up to the employer to adopt a policy/practice on the matter and ensure it’s consistently enforced.

It’s worth mentioning that employees who take leave under the federal Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are entitled to the same benefits as other employees on temporary leaves of absence. So, if you allow PTO to accrue while an employee is on vacation, then the same must be allowed for an employee on FMLA leave.

August 18th, 2016, 12:34 PM |  Posted in: Benefits |
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Name on Paycheck

An employee stated his wallet was stolen so he cannot cash his check. He asked me to cash it but we do not have cash on hand. Then, he asked me to make a replacement check in his fiancé’s name. Is this legal?

Paying an employee cash is legal; however, it does come with quite a few tax implications. So, if you decide to do this in the future make sure you check with an accountant first.

By writing a paycheck out to another individual, you’re paying that person for work performed by someone else. Essentially, the employee is not getting paid and proper taxes will not be withheld. This violates federal (and most state) employment and tax laws.

Inform the employee that you are not permitted to write his paycheck out to anyone else but him. Let him know that he can consult with his bank about endorsing the check to another party. Though banking institution protocols vary, it’s usually as simple as writing “Pay to the order of…” on the back of the check. This is a problem the employee has to manage not the employer.

August 16th, 2016, 8:52 PM |  Posted in: Compensation |
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