Like many of you, I long for vacations.  I like to plan them out in advance and then spend the intervening weeks and months plotting and scheming.

What restaurants and new foods should we try? What attractions should we try to visit? And while that private tour my Facebook friend recommended sounds neat and all, what can we really afford to do?

Having just returned from a trip overseas, I can attest that vacations are good for the soul too.  They provide time with friends and family and a much needed perspective.  There is simply more to life than the constant barrage of news that seems to infiltrate our lives nowadays.

But where do vacations fit in the legal schemes employers set up in Connecticut?

Well, for one thing, vacations are not mandated by any state or federal law.  Employers are free to decide whether or not they want to give their employees any vacation days.  But many employers recognize that offering vacation days makes jobs more attractive and also leads to happier employees in the long run too.

That said, Connecticut law basically leaves it to the employers to set up policies — and then requires them to follow them.  The point this truly becomes an issue occurs when an employee leaves employment and still has vacation days that have accrued.

The key law here is Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-76k, which states:

If an employer policy or collective bargaining agreement provides for the payment of accrued fringe benefits upon termination, including but not limited to paid vacations, holidays, sick days and earned leave, and an employee is terminated without having received such accrued fringe benefits, such employee shall be compensated for such accrued fringe benefits exclusive of normal pension benefits in the form of wages in accordance with such agreement or policy but in no case less than the earned average rate for the accrual period pursuant to sections 31-71a to 31-71i, inclusive.

In plain English, the law dictates that employers follow their policies and practices.  Don’t want to pay your employees accrued vacation time upon termination? The law says that is ok, but only if your policies say that in advance.

As you craft your vacation policies, here are some other questions for an employer to consider:

  • Do your policies require employees to seek time off in advance?
  • Do you require employees to coordinate with other vacation schedules?
  • Do you have a “use it or lose it” policy on vacations, where employees are required to use vacation time by the end of the year, or do you allow for some carryover? If so, how much?
  • Do you have employees vacation time on a pro-rata basis? In other words, do employees get a day vacation for each month during the year worked?
  • Do your policies dictate that if the employee does take vacation time that has not accrued, what the penalties are?

Vacations are great. Encourage your employees to use them.  Just make sure your company’s policies are clear enough that you won’t be dealing with headaches later on.

You would figure after six-plus years of doing this blog, I would’ve covered all the laws applicable to employers. But, perhaps in a testament to how many laws there are, there are still a few out there.

One of them is the Service Contract Act, (Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f, for the attorneys out there.) The Hartford Business Journal this week published a good column about it from attorneys David Golder and James Leva.

The law was put into place back in 2000.  It applies in instances where an employer contracts with the State of Connecticut to provide food, building, property or equipment services (and, effective July 1, security services).  In such instances,the law requires that a new “minimum” wage and benefit rate be paid to those employees, often several dollars higher than the conventional minimum wage.

The HBJ column explains how it would work in practice:

The SCA requires specific wages to be paid to employees based on their job classification. For example, as of July 1, a cashier who would typically earn minimum wage ($8.25 per hour) must be paid $10.14 per hour where the SCA applies.

Not only does the SCA increase the wages covered workers are paid, businesses covered by the SCA must provide their employees certain benefits based on the employee’s classification. They include: medical, surgical or hospital care benefits; training, disability, death, unemployment, and pension benefits; and vacation, holiday and personal leave.

For the cashier who should be paid $10.14 per hour, he or she must also be paid benefits at a rate $3.05 per hour.

The CTDOL has more about the act on its page.  Penalties can range between $2500 and $5000 per violation.   Have any more questions? The Department of Labor has a Frequently Asked Questions section for employers here.

For employers who have concerns about the law’s applicability to their business, be sure — as always — to consult with your local counsel to figure out the specifics.

Sometimes, minimum wage isn’t enough.

 

Continuing our occasional series of interviews with people of interest to human resource professionals in Connecticut, today we talk with Mathew Krukoski, CPA of J.H. Cohn’s Glastonbury, CT offices. Matthew is a Partner there and we had the opportunity to talk about the importance of having auditors review employee benefit plans, particularly as that employer grows. 

We’ll have some more of these types of interviews over the next few weeks as well.

1. You’ve been doing a lot more audits lately. For a company that is growing, at what point do they need to start bringing in an auditor to review their employee benefit plans?

A compliance review can be performed at any time. However, generally speaking, the Department of Labor requires an audit when a Company’s employee benefit plan exceeds 100 eligible participants at the beginning of the plan year. For growing companies with an existing plan, the filing requirements contain a provision, known as the "80-120 Participant Rule", that allow a plan sponsor to elect a deferral of the audit requirement until participation has exceeded 120 eligible participants at the beginning of the plan year. Once participation in a plan reaches 121 eligible participants or more, an audit will be required.

2. What types of tasks do you perform during an employee benefit plan audit?

An audit of a plan is not only for compliance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America but also requires a review of its operations for compliance with Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service laws and regulations. Procedures typically include a review of the plan’s internal control environment, testing of pertinent plan transactions (i.e., contributions, distributions, participant loans, etc…) and to ensure consistent application of the plan’s provisions. A sample of plan transactions are reviewed and tested at the plan level as well as for individual plan participants. The end product of an audit is a complete set of financial statements and auditor’s opinion that are required to be attached to the plan’s Form 5500 filing.

3. What are some common issues that you see when doing an audit?

Our audit compliance testing have revealed errors related to the calculation of participant contributions, the calculation of employer matching or profit-sharing contributions, the distribution of appropriate vested account balances and the utilization of a plan’s stated definition of compensation. However, for contributory defined contribution plans, the most common deficiency relates to the timely remittance of employee contributions.

4. A big topic of discussion lately has been the new 403(b) Plan Requirements. Can you talk about that a bit and what employers ought to be considering with respect to these plans?

In the past, sponsors of 403(b) plans had very limited reporting requirements. Beginning with the 2009 Form 5500 filings, the reporting requirements of these plans will become more in line with that of traditional 401(k) plans, including the Department of Labor’s audit requirement. Obviously, employers of large plans will need to engage an independent qualified public accountant to perform the audit of their 403(b) plan. However, the first item that a plan sponsor should focus on is the preparation of their plan records. This may involve talking with their ERISA attorney to clarify the need for an audit, talking with their service provider for the timing and availability of the plan’s financial information and potentially engaging the services of a third-party administrator to coordinate the recordkeeping and other compliance aspects of plan administration. Plan sponsors of 403(b) plans will need to allocate a significant amount of time and resources this year to understand and comply with the new reporting requirements.

 

Continue Reading Five Questions with… Mathew Krukoski, CPA on Employee Benefit Plan Audits