Employers Face Government Compliance With Group Benefit Plans, Kristine Kassel

Employers spend billions of dollars annually to provide insurance coverage for their employees.  Group benefits typically cost less than what's available on the open markets so employees have access to better and more affordable programs.  Providing this insurance coverage, however, exposes employers to many government compliance regulations with many imposing financial and criminal penalties for non-compliance.  

Kristine Kassel President, Benefits by Design Source: benefitsbydesignaz.com

Kristine Kassel

President, Benefits by Design

Source: benefitsbydesignaz.com

Kristine Kassel, President of Benefits by Design, an ASBA partner, it's easy for businesses to unintentionally get themselves into trouble.  Even if a business is not offering insurance, she says there are ways for a business to get themselves into trouble.  The Notice of Exchange was required to be sent out last October, regardless if an insurance plan existed in the company or not.  This two-page document could be accessed directly through the Department of Labor website.  Kassel says it's important to be following guidelines as to what information needs to be sent out.  

If a business is not handing out a Summary of Benefits to their employees, that's another area which can accrue a fine.  This needs to be done annually and the Summary of Benefits states what is covered on the insurance plan.  Working with a partner, like Benefits by Design, can make a business aware of what needs to be handed out and when.  

Kristine Kassel is the President of Benefits by Design and spoke with Arizona Business News during this interview.  This Arizona Small Business Association news update has been brought to you by Copper Point, Arizona's premiere workman's compensation insurance.  Arizona Business News, a featured network of Sequence Media Group, is brought to you by the ASBA.

EEOC Lawsuit Charges Employer Wellness Program Violates ADA

Orion Energy Systems in Wisconsin faces an EEOC lawsuit alleging they violated federal law by requiring an employee to submit to medical exams that were not job-related but were part of the employer’s wellness program. After objecting to the program the employee was later fired.

Clark Hill attorney Kristi Gauthier says the EEOC typically files opinion letters over these matters. "This is the first time they have filed a lawsuit." Gauthier also said the EEOC was undoubtedly waiting for a case like this to challenge these programs.

The EEOC brought the suit under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits disability discrimination in employment, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The case, (EEOC v. Orion Energy Systems, Civil Action No. 14-cv- 00619) was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, and is assigned to U.S. District Judge Chief Judge William C Griesbach.

The EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. 

ASBA Members Can Win Southwest Airline Tickets

In an effort to get more contact from its members, ASBA has launched a campaign where members can win free Southwest Airline tickets.  All of the services that ASBA offers, such as LifeLock, AAA and health insurance, just to name a few, are not only for business owners but their employees as well.  Every time a member provides an email address from someone within their organization, they'll be entered to win a pair of Southwest Airline tickets.  Click here for more information and to enter.

On Thursday, September 18, ASBA will be hosting their annual Open House Business Expo in downtown Phoenix.  Last year, more than 1,000 business owners attended, providing a great networking opportunity for them.  Registration is available at asba.com. 

Arizona Business News is a featured network of Sequence Media Group.  Arizona Business News is brought to you by the ASBA, Arizona Small Business Association.

Home Depot Hit With Security Breach, ASBA News Update

Home Depot confirmed earlier this week that its payment data systems were breached and it could potentially impact customers using payment cards at its U.S. and Canadian stores.  The breach has not affected those in Mexico or those who shop on their website.  The investigation is focused on April forward and the company has taken steps to protect customer data.  There is also no evidence that any pin data was compromised.  

While no numbers have been reported on how large the breach was, analysts are saying it could be larger than last year's Target breach.  It's possible the same Russian-Siberian hackers that hit Target are responsible for the Home Depot breach.

This Arizona Small Business Association news update has been brought to you by Copper Point, Arizona's premiere workman's compensation insurance.  Arizona Business News, a featured network of Sequence Media Group, is brought to you by the ASBA.

Small Business Optimism on the Rise, ASBA News Update

The NFIB, National Federation of Independent Business, recently reported that the small business optimism index in August rose to the second highest reading since October, 2007.  Despite the uptick, job creation, job openings, capital spending plans and inventory investment plans, which is what the NFIB refers to as "hard measures" of the index, remain unchanged.  Small business owners say taxes, government regulations and poor sales are their top concerns.  

The data also showed that earnings rose 1 point, which is also the highest since 2007, and many small business owners plan to raise compensation in the next few months.  Twenty-six percent of business owners currently have positions open that they're unable to fill, which is up 2%, with about half of the owners saying there weren't enough qualified applicants for those open positions.

This Arizona Small Business Association news update has been brought to you by Copper Point, Arizona's premiere workman's compensation insurance.  Arizona Business News, a featured network of Sequence Media Group, is brought to you by the ASBA.

Arizona's Record-Setting Rain Affects Businesses, ASBA News Update

Monday's record-setting rain in Arizona crippled many businesses as the rain prevented many customers from travelling.  The effect of the storms may be felt on their bottom line for days to come.  

Volume rain was apparent in Tempe when the Fry's Marketplace at Baseline and McClintock saw its roof fail as rush hour began.  Much of downtown Phoenix was relatively quiet, another sign that productivity was slow, possibly affecting worker's incomes.  Many business owners, at the very least, may find themselves behind schedule.  

Lee McPheters, Director of the JP Morgan Chase Economic Outlook Center at the WP Carey School of Business at ASU, said that these types of events can actually temporarily stimulate the economy.  "There will be spending to offset some of those damages, which will be seen in home repair, landscapers, auto salvage, and general construction," he says.  

This Arizona Small Business Association news update has been brought to you by Copper Point, Arizona's premiere workman's compensation insurance.  Arizona Business News, a featured network of Sequence Media Group, is brought to you by the ASBA.

 

Workman's Compensation Rates and Employer Costs on the Rise

According to a report by the National Academy of Social Insurance, workman's compensation benefits rose by 1.3% in 2012, while employer costs rose by 6.9%.  Both have been attributed to rising employment and earnings as the economic recovery continues, according to Marjorie Brown, Professor of Economics at the WP Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.  

Phyllis Senseman, Vice President of Agency Management and Marketing at Copper Point Mutual Insurance Company, says the good news is that costs are still pretty low for employers, especially in Arizona compared to neighboring states.  As Arizona is the largest provider of workman's compensation, Senseman believes Arizona's claims management strategies and techniques are helping to drive these statistics.  

There are some other outside forces driving these statistics, says Senseman, including the rise in the use of opiates, such as Oxycontin and Percocet.  Annually, $1.4 billion is spent on those drugs and that number continues to rise.  Initially prescribed to treat pain, these drugs are often hard to stop using as people become dependent on them, without any evidence of providing any long-term benefit.  This is not a positive trend occurring in the workplace right now, Senseman says.

Medical inflation has also doubled in the past decade, rising to $2.6 trillion, according to Senseman, as well as obesity being a rising cost, which can affect the time it takes people to heal from injuries or surgeries.  

Phyllis Senseman Copper Point Mutual Insurance Company Source: linkedin.com

Phyllis Senseman

Copper Point Mutual Insurance Company

Source: linkedin.com

At Copper Point Mutual Insurance Company, there are a variety of things they do to help employers control these costs.  They start with a very strong medical network that discounts the fees that are charged for medical procedures and resources, which helps keep the costs down significantly in Arizona.  Copper Point also provides a safety plan template, which is available at no cost on their website at www.copperpoint.com.  This template provides a strategy for businesses to build a safety protocol.  They also provide a lot of safety brochures and training videos and for their customers, Copper Point has loss-control seminars, loss-control consultants and return to work programs.  Their return to work program allows employees to return to work on light duty, which, in turn, makes them feel more valued.

While Arizona is showing signs of growth, Senseman says it's still a "sputtering" economy.  Another issue Senseman points out is how medical marijuana might impact workman's compensation as a whole.  Copper Point also has an association partner program and one of their key partners is the Arizona Small Business Association.  ASBA works with Copper Point's loss-control team to develop and provide education and resources to their members. 

Phyllis Senseman is the Vice President of Agency Management and Marketing at Copper Point Mutual Insurance Company.  She spoke with Arizona Business Newsa featured network of Sequence Media Group.  Arizona Business News is brought to you by the ASBA, Arizona Small Business Association.

Labor Day Travel to Increase This Year According to AAA, ASBA News Update

About 668,000 Arizonans are expected to travel this Labor Day weekend, according to AAA, which is an increase of 1.3% from last year and matches the national increase.  More than 557,000 Arizonans plan to drive to their Labor Day destination, which is about 1.4% higher than last year.  

Though Arizonans are currently paying $3.46 per gallon for gas, which is up 12 cents from last year, gas prices won't be a major factor in determining if consumers will travel over the last summer holiday.  Michelle Donati, AAA's Public Affairs Supervisor, says that the improving economy is contributing to the increases.  This greater consumer confidence has led to more spending which generally means people are doing more travelling.  This is a trend that AAA has seen all summer long and they've seen a gradual increase for all three summer holidays, starting with Memorial Day, July 4 and now Labor Day.  For Arizona, Labor Day tends to be not the busiest summer holiday because for some, school has already been in session for a month.  For more on Donati's interview with Arizona Business News on Labor Day weekend travel, click here.

More people will be travelling by air, with almost 58,000 Arizonans planning on flying to their Labor Day destination.  This is a 1.5% increase from last year.

This news update was provided by Arizona Business News, a featured network of Sequence Media Group.  Arizona Business News is brought to you by the ASBA, Arizona Small Business Association.

Women Business Owners Struggle to Get Bank Loans, ASBA News Update

A growing force in the business world, women still struggle with getting loans from banks.  According to the online lending marketplace Biz2credit.com, women's business loan approval rates are currently 20% below men's and there are several factors contributing to the problem.

Banks have been leery of lending to small businesses in general.  After the great recession, that apprehension increased dramatically.  Often, women-owned businesses are usually younger, making them look risky.

Women's credit scores in 2013 were, on average, 20 points below men's, however, compared to a 40 point deficit in 2012, that's a big improvement.  Also, two-thirds of women-owned businesses have less than $25,000 in revenue.  

Women-owned businesses do have options and new lending tools and strategies are being developed to make it easier for women-owned businesses to access capital.  

This news update was provided by Arizona Business News, a featured network of Sequence Media Group.  Arizona Business News is brought to you by the ASBA, Arizona Small Business Association.

Rise in Labor Day Travel Expected in Arizona, Michelle Donati, AAA Arizona

AAA expects a slight bump of 1.3% in Labor Day travel this year, according to AAA Public Affairs Supervisor, Michelle Donati.  

668,000 Arizonans are expected to travel this Labor Day weekend on a trip of 50 or more miles from home, according to AAA.  Nationwide, AAA is predicting a healthy amount of travelers as well, increasing 1.3% as well.  

This rise in travel can be contributed to greater consumer confidence, says Donati, which leads to people doing more travelling.  This trend has been present all summer long and while most people travel over the three big summer holidays, for Arizonans, the Labor Day holiday is not heavily traveled, as school has begun.  Donati says that as a result, fall travel is now being planned.  All that being said, AAA is still predicting an increase in Labor Day travel this year.  All in all, summer travel was up about 1% overall in Arizona, which is good news for the economy and travel industry, Donati says.  

For the 83% of Arizonans travelling over Labor Day by car, they will note higher gas prices than this time last year by about 10 cents or so but AAA is not anticipating that it will curtail any travel plans.  When it comes to gas prices, Donati says there really needs to be a significant shift upward before it will start curtailing travel plans.  Even still, Americans have shown that they will change certain aspects of their travel plans rather than cancelling their plans altogether when it comes to higher gas prices.  Gas prices currently are the cheapest than they've been all summer and Donati attributes this to the relatively inactive hurricane season, enabling the price of crude oil to remain stable.  

Michelle Donati is the Public Affairs Supervisor of AAA Arizona and spoke with Arizona Business Newsa featured network of Sequence Media Group.  Arizona Business News is brought to you by the ASBA, Arizona Small Business Association.

Corporate America Recovering from Great Recession, ASBA News Update

According to the Arizona Republic, Arizona's biggest companies have turned the corner from the Great Recession. These companies have seen their stock prices & revenues increase, they are raising pay for their top execs, and they are hiring. 

Arizona's 36 public companies reported $7.4 billion in revenue, which is up $800 million from last year.  Twenty-four of these companies are worth $1 billion or more, with Freeport-McMoran leading the group with a market capitalization of $38 billion.  

Nationally, data shows that consumers are limping along and governments are still struggling with budget pressures.  However, corporate America has fully recovered from the Great Recession.  

This news update was provided by Arizona Business News, a featured network of Sequence Media Group.  Arizona Business News is brought to you by the ASBA, Arizona Small Business Association.

Small Business Lending Still Lagging, ASBA News Update

The FDIC has recently come out with some new data showing that while small business lending is slowly recovering, it is still lagging behind most other types of business and consumer loans.  At the end of the first quarter, small business lending was up 1% from last September but still 18% less than the peak in 2008.

Loans to businesses of all sizes are up 9% since 2008.  Federal Reserve data shows that overall loans and leases grew in the second quarter at the highest quarterly rate since the end of the financial crisis, which is a sign of improvement in the economy.

Analysts also report small banks, which often focus on small businesses, increased lending this year.  According to Moody's in July, the total amount of commercial and industrial loans held by small U.S. banks rose 11% from a year earlier.

This news update was provided by Arizona Business News, a featured network of Sequence Media Group.  Arizona Business News is brought to you by the ASBA, Arizona Small Business Association.

 

Accounting Most Profitable Industry, ASBA News Update

If you're looking for a lucrative small business, accounting, once again, tops the list of 15 small business sectors by a net profit margin over the past 12 months, according to SageWorks, a financial information company.  

The data showed that accounting led the list of delivering the best profit margins, while service-based, healthcare and healthcare dominated the rest of the list.  SageWorks analyst, Libby Bierman, notes that a lot of these service sectors are consistently at the top of the most profitable list.  With very low overhead and upfront costs, someone can get started in the accounting industry very easily.  To hear more of what Bierman has to say about the data, click here for her interview with Arizona Business News.

This news update was provided by Arizona Business News, a featured network of Sequence Media Group.  Arizona Business News is brought to you by the ASBA, Arizona Small Business Association.

 

Accounting Industry Tops List as Most Profitable, With Libby Bierman, SageWorks

Libby Bierman, an analyst with SageWorks, talks with Arizona Business News about their recent analysis of industry which identified accounting as the most profitable.  SageWorks is a company that collects private company data and works with accounting firms across the country to aggregate data on how private companies are performing.  From the data, Sageworks is able to determine how certain industries are performing.

Research has shown that the accounting industry outperforms others consistently, with that industry providing services for both professionals and consumers year after year, so the demand is not going down, Bierman.  Like some of the other industries that have made Sageworks's list of being the most profitable, accounting, in particular, can start with a very low overhead cost.  

Libby Bierman SageWorks Source: sageworks.com

Libby Bierman

SageWorks

Source: sageworks.com

There have been some industries that have been at the top of the list year after year, like accounting, such as legal services, real estate, physicians and dentists.  Some that have seen a boost is management and other healthcare professionals, such as chiropractors and optometrists.  

The data also shows some industries bouncing back from the recession with profit margins improving across the board, with smaller companies doing so at a faster pace than their peers.  

In looking at general business trends, Bierman sees online businesses as a potential future newcomer to the list.

Libby Bierman is an analyst with SageWorks.  To see the industry analysis in its entirety, click here.  She spoke with Arizona Business News, a featured network of Sequence Media Group.  Arizona Business News is brought to you by the ASBA, Arizona Small Business Association.


Sprouts Farmers Market Sprouting Huge Profits, ASBA News Update

Sprouts Farmers Market saw its net income jump more than 140% on a healthy bump in sales.  The Phoenix-based grocery chain, which went public a year ago, took in $743 million in revenue, which was up 20% over the same period last year.  This was driven by the grocer's continued effort to open new stores, including its first in Atlanta, as well as a 9.5% jump in same store sales.  

Sprouts continues to be very competitive in price and its CEO, Doug Sanders, addressed bloggers last month at the new Atlanta location and revealed the chain's commitment to value and education.  He says their goal is to take the everyday grocery shopper and teach them how to eat healthier.  

Sprouts has opened 14 new stores so far in 2014, bringing its total to 182 across ten states, with the goal of opening up nine more before the end of the year.  This growth supports the data the consumers continue to want healthier food options at the grocery store and fast food chains.  Last week, Arizona Business News reported the fast food chain Chipotle reported an increase in profits even as menu prices increased to offset higher costs for food.  For more on that report, click here

This news update was provided by Arizona Business News, a featured network of Sequence Media Group.  Arizona Business News is brought to you by the ASBA, Arizona Small Business Association.

Phoenix Area Facing Housing Slump, ASBA News Update

WP Carey's real estate guru, Michael Orr, has confirmed what many have suspected in that the Phoenix area is in a housing slump.  In his latest June report, it shows the housing markets in Maricopa and Pinal counties have slowed dramatically, with sales of single family homes down 11% from a year ago.  

Sales activity has been trending downward since the spring and Orr says it's been quiet on both ends.  "We've got low demand and low supply and at the moment, the demand is actually slightly lower than supply so if there is any pressure it's for the prices to go down a little bit."  As most sellers don't want to lower their prices, they are taking them off the market instead.  

Even with a slowing market, the average median home price managed to rise 11% to $211,000 in the past year.  Orr added that there were some positive signs that demand may begin to recover in the latter part of the year but that any significant price increase probably won't happen until next year.  

For more on Orr's interview with Arizona Business News on the Phoenix housing slump, click here.  This news update was provided by Arizona Business News, a featured network of Sequence Media Group.  Arizona Business News is brought to you by the ASBA, Arizona Small Business Association.

Russian Hackers Steal 1.2 Billion Usernames and Passwords, ASBA News Update

A Russian crime syndicate has recently hacked into an enormous collection of online credentials, to include 1.2 billion username and password combinations and more than 500 million email addresses.  American online users are apparently not doing enough to protect themselves, according to an April survey from Harris Poll, commissioned by Lifelock.

In the Harris Poll survey, 25% of U.S. internet users who use sites requiring a password have no more than three sets of credentials.  This is of concern because 56% of Americans use ten sites and accounts and experts recommend some strategies to protect yourself or your business online.  

It is important to change usernames and passwords that have eight distinct characters, letters and symbols not forming a word found in the dictionary.  Bank statements should be reviewed regularly and when they are, each transaction needs to be looked at because many thieves will process a small transaction first to test your information.  

As 25% of people have been a victim to credit card fraud, it's important to check your credit card statements because people tend to review their credit card statements less than their bank account statements.  Experts also recommend signing up for every notification and shredding all financial documents.  

This news update was provided by Arizona Business News, a featured network of Sequence Media Group.  Arizona Business News is brought to you by the ASBA, Arizona Small Business Association.

PayPal Expands Small Business Lending, Chipotle's Sales Up 17%, ASBA News Update

PayPal is significantly enhancing it's credit business, announcing last week that its Bill Me Later credit line program will now be called PayPal Credit. In addition, the company said it will continue to expand Working Capital, its small business lending program, which
launched last September. To date, more than 20,000 businesses have borrowed over $150 million with Working Capital.  

While PayPal credit makes it easier for customers to spend, PayPal's Working Capital makes it easier for small businesses to take out a loan quickly, sometimes within minutes.  Clients are charged a flat fee, loans are repaid in monthly installments and PayPal takes a percentage of the business's daily sales.  

When it comes to business loans, the majority of small business owners don't apply for one. A recent survey by Sageworks, a financial information company, found that 3 out of 4 owners in businesses less than 10 years old said they have never applied for a
loan for their companies.  60% said they didn't seek out a loan because they didn't want to take on debt, 1/4 of respondents didn't think they'd get approved, 12% said the cost of credit was too high and 9% said the loan process was too time-consuming.  

Chipotle blew by analysts' expectations for its second quarter earnings report last week. The fast food chain registered sales of $1.05 billion, beating Wall Street’s predictions of $990 million.  The numbers also show that in-store sales keep growing, up over 17% from the same time last year.  Chipotle also added 45 new locations.  The results show that Chipotle is successfully combating high food prices because customers haven't been discouraged by the higher menu prices and they've been looking for healthier fast food alternatives.  

This news update was provided by Arizona Business News, a featured network of Sequence Media Group.  Arizona Business News is brought to you by the ASBA, Arizona Small Business Association.

Phoenix Market Showing Shortage of Homes for Sale, ASBA News Update

According to a new report , the Phoenix area could soon see another shortage of homes for sale.  Very weak demand is masking the fact that relatively few homes are coming onto the market for sale.  According to the author of the report, Mike Orr, Director of the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice at the WP Carey School of Business, the market has now become more quiet and further price increases are unlikely this year without some growth and demand.  "We've got low demand and low supply and at the moment, the demand is slightly lower than the supply," he says.  For more on his interview with Arizona Business News, click here. 

More than a dozen Arizona companies and hospitals are hiring 100 or more employees this month, to include the Pride Group, hiring 2700 employees for the upcoming Super Bowl and other seasonal events, Reputation.com is hiring 150 positions and Vector Marketing is hiring 122.

Owning a business comes with perks, such as being the boss but saving and retirement planning often fall off the radar for them.  According to TD Ameritrade, there are 14.4 million self-employed workers in the U.S. and almost 70% of them aren't saving for retirement.  Retirement Planner Denver Nowicz, in Scottsdale, Arizona says business owners often need more liquidity and flexiblity, such as utilizing Section 79.  To learn more about Section 79, go to http://wealthforlife.net/section79/.  To receive a free whitepaper on Section 79 call Denver Nowicz at 480-970-5663 or email him at http://wealthforlife.net/contact-us.  For more on his interview with Arizona Business News, click here.

This news update was provided by Arizona Business News, a featured network of Sequence Media Group.  Arizona Business News is brought to you by the ASBA, Arizona Small Business Association.

Tax Credit Help for Small Businesses, With Rob Wood, San Francisco Tax Attorney

Many business owners would agree that navigating the tax waters are tricky, at best.  The U.S. Treasury is offering help in this area, having just introduced new regulations that can potentially help qualifying small to medium-sized businesses.  This regulation would allow innovative businesses to apply for research and development alternative simplified credit.  

Rob Wood, notable tax lawyer in San Francisco, with Wood, LLP, says that this R & D tax credit is something most small business owners probably don't know about.  While this law has been in effect for about 15 years, Wood says it has had something of a "tortured path," with numerous expirations.  The biggest development in some years has been the announcement of these new regulations allowing small businesses to go back three years for amended returns to claim this credit.  

Rob Wood, Wood, LLP Source: Woodllp.com

Rob Wood, Wood, LLP

Source: Woodllp.com

When most people hear the term "R & D," they think of high-tech or research but a lot of this 20% tax credit does apply to those businesses not doing R & D, explains Wood.  He urges small business owners to talk with a tax professional or accountant to go over the qualifying criteria, traps and planning ideas, because there are some preferences built into the credit.  Wood also emphasizes good record keeping because generally speaking, when you're claiming this credit, unless the numbers are extremely small, they will be looked at.  

Rob Wood is a tax lawyer in San Francisco with Wood, LLP.  He spoke with Arizona Business News during his interview.  Arizona Business News, sponsored by ASBAis a featured network of Sequence Media Group.