Are E-Cigarettes Safe?

In recent years, electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have flooded the market. Many people are turning to e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking; however, questions remain about their safety and effectiveness.

What is an Electronic Cigarette?

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices typically made of plastic or metal. E-cigarettes are often created to look like tobacco cigarettes or cigars, and commonly used in place of smoking a tobacco product.

E-cigarettes vaporize the liquid, which usually contains nicotine and other chemicals. The act of inhaling vapor through an e-cigarette is known as “vaping.” Over the past several years, e-cigarette offerings have increased, with hundreds of brands and thousands of flavors to choose.

Why Use an Electronic Cigarette?

Many people are looking to e-cigarettes as a way to slowly wean off traditional, tobacco-containing cigarettes. The amount of nicotine in the vaporized liquid varies, thereby allowing people to reduce the amount of nicotine they use over time gradually. Since vaping e-cigarettes so closely resembles the act of traditional smoking, some believe that e-cigarettes offer a more natural transition to a smoke-free lifestyle than nicotine gum and patches do.

Health Hazards

The vital difference between traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes is that electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco. However, they still do contain some of the chemicals found in conventional cigarettes like nicotine (unless you choose a nicotine-free cartridge).

Nicotine is a highly addictive stimulant and can cause increased blood pressure and an elevated heart rate. Some e-cigarettes have also been found to contain formaldehyde, a chemical that has the potential to cause cancer.

Adverse effects of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes may include pneumonia, congestive heart failure, disorientation, seizures and other health problems. Nicotine has also been linked to reproductive health problems, diabetes, high blood pressure and respiratory problems.

E-cigarette Regulation

E-cigarettes have been called a “gateway” to smoking and criticized for targeting teenagers with candy-like flavors like chocolate, birthday cake, and cotton candy. When e-cigarettes first entered the market, there was no minimum age requirement for purchasing them.

However, on May 5, 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it is banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Retailers will now be required to verify that all customers are at least 18 years old, and they will no longer be able to distribute free samples. E-cigarettes must also now carry warnings that they contain the addictive substance, nicotine.

Additionally, the FDA requires all e-cigarettes that went on sale after February 2007 to get FDA approval. The e-cigarette market was virtually non-existent before 2007, so this means that every e-cigarette, as well as every flavor and nicotine level, will need to be approved. E-cigarette makers have two years to gain FDA approval for their products.

In Summary

While e-cigarettes were initially promoted as a way to help people quit traditional cigarettes, doubts remain about their safety and long-term health consequences.

For more information on how to quit smoking using FDA-approved methods, visit smokefree.gov.

Mental Health Awareness: Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders affect over 57 million adults in America—more than 26 percent of the U.S. population.

Anxiety disorders commonly occur in conjunction with other mental or physical illnesses, last at least six months and can get worse without treatment. There are six types of anxiety disorders: panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobia, specific phobia and generalized anxiety disorder.

Panic Disorder

This condition affects about 6 million U.S. adults and is twice as common in women. It is characterized by sudden attacks of terror—known as panic attacks—which are usually accompanied by a pounding heart, sweating, dizziness and/or weakness. During these attacks, sufferers may flush or feel chilled, their hands may tingle or feel numb and nausea or chest pain may occur. Panic attacks usually produce a sense of unreality, a fear of impending doom or a fear of losing control. They can occur at any time—even during sleep. About one-third of people who experience panic attacks become so fearful that they refuse to leave home. When the condition progresses this far, it is called agoraphobia—a fear of open spaces.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD sufferers have persistent, upsetting thoughts or obsessions, and use rituals to control the anxiety these thoughts produce. Most often, the rituals end up controlling the person with OCD. For example, if someone is obsessed with germs and dirt, he or she may develop a compulsion for excessive hand washing. OCD is estimated to affect over 2 million adults in the United States.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD develops after a traumatic event or experience that involved physical harm or the threat of it. PTSD is common in war veterans, but it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as kidnapping, abuse or a car accident. People with PTSD may startle easily, become emotionally numb (especially to people with whom they used to be close), lose interest in things they used to enjoy, and become irritable, aggressive or violent. They avoid situations which remind them of the original incident, and anniversaries of the incident are usually very difficult. PTSD affects nearly 8 million adults in the United States but can occur at any age.

Social Phobia

Also called social anxiety disorder, social phobia is diagnosed when individuals become overwhelmingly anxious and excessively self-conscious in everyday social situations. People with this phobia have an intense, persistent and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and of doing things that will embarrass them. They may worry for days or even weeks before a dreaded situation. Many with social phobia realize that their fear is unwarranted, but are still unable to overcome it. This phobia affects about 15 million American adults.

Specific Phobias

A specific phobia is an intense, irrational fear of something that actually poses little or no threat—such as heights, escalators, dogs, spiders, closed-in places or water. These types of phobias affect over 19 million adults in the United States and affect women twice as often as men. Like social phobia, sufferers understand that these fears are irrational, but feel powerless to stop them. The causes of these phobias are not well understood, but symptoms usually appear in childhood or adolescence and continue into adulthood.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

People with GAD go through the day filled with exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to worry about. An estimated 6.8 million American adults have GAD, and it also affects women twice as often as men. GAD is diagnosed when a person worries excessively about a variety of everyday problems for at least 6 months. Physical symptoms accompanying this condition include fatigue, headaches, irritability, nausea, frequent urination and hot flashes.

Diagnosis and Treatment

In general, anxiety disorders are treated with medication, specific types of psychotherapy or both. Before treatment begins, a doctor must conduct a careful diagnostic evaluation to determine whether a person’s symptoms are caused by an anxiety disorder or a physical problem. Sometimes alcoholism, depression or other coexisting conditions have such a strong effect on the individual that treating the anxiety disorder must wait until those conditions are brought under control.

Those with anxiety disorders usually try several different treatments or combinations of treatment before finding the one that works for them.

How to Get Help

If you think you have an anxiety disorder, the first step to take is to visit your physician. He or she can determine if your symptoms are caused by an anxiety disorder, another medical condition or both. If an anxiety disorder is diagnosed, you will be referred to a mental health professional.

For more information, contact the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) at www.nimh.nih.gov or

866-615-NIMH (6464).

Source: NIMH

New Rules for Disability Claims

On Jan. 5, 2018, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that effective April 1, 2018, employee benefit plans must comply with new requirements for disability benefit claims.

In 2016, the DOL released a final rule to strengthen the claims and appeals requirements for plans that provide disability benefits and are subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The final rule was scheduled to apply to claims that are filed on or after Jan. 1, 2018. However, on Nov. 24, 2017, the DOL delayed the final rule for 90 days—until April 1, 2018—to give stakeholders the opportunity to submit comments on the final rule’s benefits and costs.

According to the DOL, the information it received during the delay period did not justify modifying or rescinding the final rule. Thus, the final rule will take effect without change.

ACTION STEPS

ERISA plans that include disability benefits must comply with the new procedural protections, effective for claims that are submitted after April 1, 2018. Entities that administer disability benefits claims, including issuers and third-party administrators, will need to revise their claims procedures to comply with the final rule.

ERISA Requirements

Section 503 of ERISA requires every employee benefit plan to:

  • Provide adequate notice in writing to any participant or beneficiary whose claim for benefits under the plan has been denied, setting forth the specific reasons for the denial, written in a manner calculated to be understood by the participant; and
  • Afford a reasonable opportunity to any participant whose claim for benefits has been denied for a full and fair review by the appropriate named fiduciary of the decision denying the claim.

The DOL first adopted claims procedure regulations for employee benefit plans in 1977. In 2000, the DOL updated its claims procedure regulations by improving and strengthening the minimum requirements for employee benefit plans, including plans that provide disability benefits. Effective for plan years beginning on or after Sept. 23, 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) amended ERISA to include enhanced internal claims and appeals requirements for group health plans.

Additional Protections for Disability Claimants

The final rule requires that plans, plan fiduciaries, and insurance providers comply with additional protections when dealing with disability benefit claimants. The final rule includes the following requirements for the processing of claims and appeals for disability benefits:

  • Improvement to Basic Disclosure Requirements: Benefit denial notices must contain a complete discussion of why the plan denied a claim and the standards used in making the decision.
  • Right to Claim File and Internal Protocols: Benefit denial notices must include a statement that the claimant is entitled to receive, upon request, the entire claim file, and other relevant documents. Benefit denial notices also have to include the internal rules, guidelines, protocols, standards or other similar criteria of the plan that were used in denying a claim, or a statement that none were used.
  • Right to Review and Respond to New Information Before Final Decision: The final rule prohibits plans from denying benefits on appeal based on new or additional evidence or rationales that were not included when the benefit was denied at the claims stage unless the claimant is given notice and a fair opportunity to respond.
  • Avoiding Conflicts of Interest: Plans must ensure that disability benefits claims and appeals are adjudicated in a manner designed to ensure the independence and impartiality of the people involved in making the decision. For example, a claims adjudicator or medical or vocational expert could not be hired, promoted, terminated or compensated based on the likelihood of the person denying benefit claims.
  • Deemed Exhaustion of Claims and Appeal Processes: If plans do not adhere to all claims processing rules, the claimant is deemed to have exhausted the administrative remedies available under the plan, unless the violation was the result of a minor error and other specified conditions are met. If the claimant is deemed to have exhausted the administrative remedies available under the plan, the claim or appeal is deemed denied on review without the exercise of discretion by a fiduciary and the claimant may immediately pursue his or her claim in court.
  • Certain Coverage Rescissions Are Adverse Benefit Determinations Subject to the Claims Procedure Protections: Rescissions of coverage, including retroactive terminations due to alleged misrepresentation of fact (for example, errors in the application for coverage), must be treated as adverse benefit determinations that trigger the plan’s appeals procedures. Rescissions for nonpayment of premiums are not covered by this provision.
  • Notices Written in a Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Manner: Similar to the ACA standard for group health plan notices, the final rule requires that benefit denial notices be provided in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner in certain situations.

Delay of Final Rule

On Nov. 24, 2017, the DOL delayed the applicability of the final rule by 90 days—until April 1, 2018. According to the DOL, after the final rule was published, concerns were raised that its new requirements would impair workers’ access to these benefits by driving up costs. The DOL concluded that consistent with President Donald Trump’s policy on alleviating unnecessary regulatory burdens, it was appropriate to give the public an additional opportunity to submit comments on the potential impact of the final rule.

On Jan. 5, 2018, the DOL announced that the final rule will take effect on April 1, 2018, without any changes. According to the DOL, it received over 200 letters from stakeholders regarding the final rule. However, the information it received did not establish that the final rule imposes unnecessary regulatory burdens or significantly impairs workers’ access to disability insurance benefits.

This Compliance Bulletin is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.

The Heart and Mind Connection

Even though the brain and the heart are located far from one another in the body, they are intrinsically connected and have a significant impact on how each other functions.

The two organs communicate via the muscular walls around the heart, which are connected to the brain in the circulatory system. As the brain releases hormones telling the body what to do, receptor cells in your blood vessels pick up these messages. Also, there are nerve endings that travel from the brain to the muscular walls of the heart. These nerves send messages to the muscle tissue to either relax or contract.

Since these two organs communicate, mental health can have a dramatic effect on heart health and vice versa.

Stress

The mind’s response to a perceived or actual threatening situation is known as stress. The body responds to the stress by increasing:

  • Blood pressure
  • Respiratory rate
  • Heart rate
  • Oxygen consumption
  • Blood flow to skeletal muscles
  • Perspiration
  • Muscle tone

When you experience these responses on a regular basis as a result of stress, you are putting your body at an increased risk of heart disease.

Stress-Reducing Meditation

To combat the potentially life-threatening damage stress could have on your heart, there are several meditation techniques you can try. These techniques aim to achieve a relaxation response to reduce stress, improve the immune system and prepare the body for traumatic situations in the future.

Here are three ways to meditate:
  • Go into a quiet environment and sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Then, focus your attention on one thing such as a word, phrase or sound. Repeat that one thing over and over again. If you find that your mind wanders, refocus back. Do this exercise for 20 minutes to escape the stressors of your life.
  • Progressive relaxation is another useful exercise. Lie down or sit in a quiet area. Focus your attention on the muscle groups in your feet and slowly move through each group until you reach your head. As you go through each muscle group, try to imagine that you are actually breathing through those organs. As you “exhale”, release the tension from the group. As an alternative, you may tighten the muscles in each group for several seconds, and then physically release the tension.
  • A third meditation exercise is to imagine that you are clearing your body of the toxins that you want to get rid of. For instance, visualize that you are freeing your arteries of plaque. Concentrate on releasing that energy, which will ultimately reduce the tension in your mind.

This is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. For further information, please consult a medical professional.

Spending Resolution Affects ACA Taxes

OVERVIEW

On Jan. 22, 2018, President Donald Trump signed into law a short-term continuing spending resolution to end the government shutdown and continue funding through Feb. 8, 2018. The continuing resolution impacts three taxes and fees under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Specifically, the continuing resolution:

  • Delays implementation of the Cadillac tax on high-cost group health coverage until 2022;
  • Provides an additional one-year moratorium on the health insurance providers fee for 2019 (although the fee continues to apply for 2018); and
  • Extends the moratorium on the medical device excise tax for an additional two years, through 2019.

ACTION STEPS

Employers should be aware of the evolving applicability of existing ACA taxes and fees so that they know how the ACA affects their bottom lines. Sapoznik Insurance will continue to keep you informed of changes.

Cadillac Tax Delayed

The ACA imposes a 40 percent excise tax on high-cost group health coverage, also known as the “Cadillac tax.” This provision taxes the amount, if any, by which the monthly cost of an employee’s applicable employer-sponsored health coverage exceeds the annual limitation (called the employee’s excess benefit). The tax amount for each employee’s coverage will be calculated by the employer and paid by the coverage provider who provided the coverage.

Although originally intended to take effect in 2013, the Cadillac tax was immediately delayed until 2018 following the ACA’s enactment. A federal budget bill enacted for 2016 further delayed implementation of this tax until 2020, and also:

  • Removed a provision prohibiting the Cadillac tax from being deducted as a business expense; and
  • Required a study to be conducted on the age and gender adjustment to the annual limit.

The continuing resolution delays implementation of the Cadillac tax for an additional two years, until 2022.

There is some indication that this additional delay will lead to an eventual repeal of the Cadillac tax provision altogether. Over the past several years, a number of bills have been introduced into Congress to repeal this tax. Although President Trump has not directly indicated that he intends to repeal the Cadillac tax, he has stated that repealing and replacing the ACA is a key goal of his administration.

Moratorium on the Providers Fee

Beginning in 2014, the ACA imposed an annual, nondeductible fee on the health insurance sector, allocated across the industry according to market share. This health insurance providers fee, which is treated as an excise tax, is required to be paid by Sept. 30 of each calendar year. The first fees were due Sept. 30, 2014.

The 2016 federal budget suspended collection of the health insurance providers fee for the 2017 calendar year. Thus, health insurance issuers were not required to pay these fees for 2017. However, this moratorium expired at the end of 2017.

The continuing resolution provides an additional one-year moratorium on the health insurance providers fee for the 2019 calendar year. However, the continuing resolution specifically declines to extend the moratorium through 2018. Therefore, the fee continues to apply for the 2018 calendar year.

Employers are not directly subject to the health insurance providers fee. However, in many cases, providers of insured plans have been passing the cost of the fee on to the employers sponsoring the coverage. As a result, this one-year moratorium may result in significant savings for some employers on their health insurance rates.

Moratorium on the Medical Devices Tax

The ACA also imposes a 2.3 percent excise tax on the sales price of certain medical devices, effective beginning in 2013. Generally, the manufacturer or importer of a taxable medical device is responsible for reporting and paying this tax to the IRS.

The 2016 federal budget suspended collection of the medical devices tax for two years, in 2016 and 2017. As a result, this tax did not apply to sales made between Jan. 1, 2016, and Dec. 31, 2017.

The continuing resolution extended this moratorium for an additional two years, through the 2019 calendar year. The continuing resolution provides that this additional delay applies to sales made after Dec. 31, 2017. Therefore, as a result of both moratoriums, the medical devices tax will not apply to any sales made between Jan. 1, 2016, and Dec. 31, 2019.

 

This ACA Compliance Bulletin is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.

Furnishing Deadline Delayed for 2017 ACA Reporting

OVERVIEW

On Dec. 22, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2018-06 to:

  • Extend the due date for furnishing forms under Sections 6055 and 6056 for 2017 for 30 days, from Jan. 31, 2018, to March 2, 2018; and
  • Extend good-faith transition relief from penalties related to 2017 information reporting under Sections 6055 and 6056.

Notice 2018-06 does not extend the due date for filing forms with the IRS for 2017. The due date for filing with the IRS under Sections 6055 and 6056 remains Feb. 28, 2018 (April 2, 2018, if filing electronically).

ACTION STEPS

The IRS is encouraging reporting entities to furnish statements as soon as they are able. No request or other documentation is required to take advantage of the extended deadline.

Section 6055 and 6056 Reporting

Sections 6055 and 6056 were added to the Internal Revenue Code (Code) by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

  • Section 6055 applies to providers of minimum essential coverage (MEC), such as health insurance issuers and employers with self-insured health plans. These entities will generally use Forms 1094-B and 1095-B to report information about the coverage they provided during the previous year.
  • Section 6056 applies to applicable large employers (ALEs)­­—generally, those employers with 50 or more full-time employees, including full-time equivalents, in the previous year. ALEs will use Forms 1094-C and 1095-C to report information relating to the health coverage that they offer (or do not offer) to their full-time employees.

Extended Furnishing Deadline

The IRS has again determined that some employers, insurers and other providers of MEC need additional time to gather and analyze the information and prepare the 2017 Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to be furnished to individuals. Therefore, Notice 2018-06 provides an additional 30 days for furnishing the 2017 Form 1095-B and Form 1095-C, extending the due date from Jan. 31, 2018, to March 2, 2018.

Despite the delay, employers and other coverage providers are encouraged to furnish 2017 statements to individuals as soon as they are able.

Filers are not required to submit any request or other documentation to the IRS to take advantage of the extended furnishing due date provided by Notice 2018-06. Because this extended furnishing deadline applies automatically to all reporting entities, the IRS will not grant additional extensions of time of up to 30 days to furnish Forms 1095-B and 1095-C. As a result, the IRS will not formally respond to any requests that have already been submitted for 30-day extensions of time to furnish statements for 2017.

Impact on Filing Deadline

The IRS has determined that there is no need for additional time for employers, insurers and other providers of MEC to file 2017 forms with the IRS. Therefore, Notice 2018-06 does not extend the due date for filing Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C or 1095-C with the IRS for 2017. This due date remains:

  • 28, 2018, if filing on paper; or
  • April 2, 2018, if filing electronically (since March 31, 2018, is a Saturday).

Because the due dates are unchanged, potential automatic extensions of time for filing information returns are still available under the normal rules by submitting a Form 8809. The notice also does not affect the rules regarding additional extensions of time to file under certain hardship conditions.

Employers or other coverage providers that do not meet the due dates for filing and furnishing (as extended under the rules described above) under Sections 6055 and 6056 are subject to penalties under Section 6722 or Section 6721 for failure to furnish and file on time. However, employers and other coverage providers that do not meet the relevant due dates should still furnish and file. The IRS will take this into consideration when determining whether to abate penalties for reasonable cause.

Impact on Individuals

Because of the extended furnishing deadline, some individual taxpayers may not receive a Form 1095-B or Form 1095-C by the time they are ready to file their 2017 tax returns. Taxpayers may rely on other information received from their employer or other coverage providers for purposes of filing their returns, including determining eligibility for an Exchange subsidy and confirming that they had MEC for purposes of the individual mandate.

Taxpayers do not need to wait to receive Forms 1095-B and 1095-C before filing their 2017 returns. In addition, individuals do not need to send the information they relied upon to the IRS when filing their returns but should keep it with their tax records.

Extension of Good-faith Transition Relief from Penalties for 2017

Notice 2018-06 also extends transition relief from penalties for providing incorrect or incomplete information to reporting entities that can show that they have made good-faith efforts to comply with the Sections 6055 and 6056 reporting requirements for 2017 (both for furnishing to individuals and for filing with the IRS).

This relief applies to missing and inaccurate taxpayer identification numbers and dates of birth, as well as other information required on the return or statement. No relief is provided for reporting entities that:

  • Do not make a good-faith effort to comply with the regulations; or
  • Fail to file an information return or furnish a statement by the due dates (as extended).

In determining good faith, the IRS will take into account whether a reporting entity made reasonable efforts to prepare for reporting the required information to the IRS and furnishing it to individuals (such as gathering and transmitting the necessary data to an agent to prepare the data for submission to the IRS or testing its ability to transmit information to the IRS). The IRS will also take into account the extent to which the reporting entity is taking steps to ensure that it will be able to comply with the reporting requirements for 2018.

 

This is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.

30 Facts You May Not Know About Rachel Sapoznik

Chief executive officers and presidents are the backbones of their company and many times we only get to see one side of them. When it comes to our CEO and president Rachel Sapoznik, this is not the case – here are 30 facts you may not know about Rachel to round off Sapoznik’s 30-year anniversary.

 

  1. What is your favorite talent?
    • I love being the family photographer and capturing all that we do together. A fun fact, I was the high school yearbook photographer.
  2. Tell us a fun fact about yourself

    • For better or worse, I love to sing – I have terrible voice

  3. Who would play you in a movie of your life?
    • Jennifer Lopez because she can carry it all
  4. What is your favorite movie?
    • Selina
  5. What job would you be terrible at?
    • Anything that has to do with painting
  6. Shark diving, bungee jumping, or skydiving?
    • None
  7. What is something you’ve always wanted to try but have been too scared to?
    • Skydiving
  8. Who inspires you? Who do you aspire to be like?
    • Norman Braman, George Feldenkreis, My Aunt Juliette
  9. What was the last book you read without skipping through anything?
    • Lead Without a Title Robin Sharma
  10. What kind of phone was your first cell phone?
    • Carphone and then Nextel walkie-talkie
  11. If you could trade lives with one person for an entire day who would it be and why?
    • Donald Trump, I would like to know what it is going on in this country and how it feels to go from a business person to a politician
  12. Gin, vodka, or tequila?
    • Tequila
  13. Do you have a sweet tooth or a savory tooth?
    • Savory
  14. What is your favorite food to eat?
    • Filet Mignon
  15. What is your guilty pleasure?
    • Popcorn
  16. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
    • My children, and building a business from my home
  17. Tell me about the best vacation you’ve ever taken.
    • I loved going on Mediterranean cruises with my children and parents. It was such a great way to see the world.
  18. Where is your favorite place to go on a weekday afternoon when you have no plans or obligations?
    • Spa
  19. What is one of the weirdest things you used to do as a teenager?
    • I am not sure if it is weird, but I use to love imitating Donny Osmond
  20. What drives you to do what you do?
    • I love helping people
  21. What did you love most about the place you grew up?
    • It just always felt like home, I felt comfortable, I loved having family all around so much so that my office is down the street from where I grew up and two of my kids live in the neighborhood now.
  22. What trajectory are you hoping to push yourself onto? Where do you want to head?
    • I love what I do both professionally and personally. I want to continue to mentor young women and to teach them that with hard work you can do what you love and be there for your family. No one said it was easy, but it is possible.
  23. Who was someone you looked up to when you were little — someone you considered to be a mentor?
    • My dad
  24. Favorite song?
    • Anything by Donna Summer, except for She Works Hard for the Money.
  25. What is your go-to karaoke song?
    • Don’t Stop Believing by Journey
  26. If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
    • Golda Meir
  27. What is something people do not know about you?
    • I love to dance, I love going to the playground and playing with my grandchildren and being a kid again.
  28. When you’re having a bad day, what do you do to make yourself feel better?
    • I either visit my grandchildren and let loose or blow dry my hair.
  29. What do you think is the greatest invention of all time?
    • Electricity
  30. What are you looking forward to most in 2018?
    • Seeing the company continue to grow and to continue the journey of balance in my life.

House and Senate Pass Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

On Dec. 20, 2017, the tax reform bill, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill is now expected to be signed into law by President Trump by the end of the day.

This tax reform bill, drafted based on a tax reform plan that was developed in consultation with the Trump administration, will make significant changes to the federal tax code. Specifically, the tax reform bill will have a substantial impact on businesses.

For example, it:

  • Lowers the corporate tax rate—Beginning in 2018, the bill reduces the corporate tax rate to 21 percent (down from 35 percent) and eliminates the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), in an effort to make American corporations more competitive globally.
  • Creates a new tax deduction for small businesses—The bill establishes a new 20 percent tax deduction for all businesses conducted as sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs and S corporations.
  • Allows “expensing” of capital investments—The bill allows businesses to immediately write off (or “expense”) the cost of new investments for at least five years.
  • Repeals or restrict many existing business deductions and credits—Because the bill substantially reduces the tax rate for all businesses, it also eliminates the existing domestic production (Section 199) deduction, and repeals or restricts numerous other special exclusions and deductions (including those for employer-provided transportation and commuting benefits). However, the bill explicitly preserves business credits related to research and development and low-income housing, as well as deductions or exclusions for employer-provided dependent care assistance programs (DCAPs), education assistance programs and adoption assistance programs.
  • Ends “offshoring” incentives—The bill ends the incentive to offshore jobs and keep foreign profits overseas by exempting them when they are repatriated to the United States. It imposes a one-time, low tax rate on wealth that has already accumulated overseas so there is no tax incentive to keep the money offshore.
  • Repeals the individual mandate tax penalty imposed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), effective in 2019.

However, the tax reform bill does not affect the following tax provisions:

  • Tax treatment of employer-sponsored health plans; and
  • The ACA’s Cadillac tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health coverage.

Sapoznik Insurance will continue to monitor the tax reform process for any future updates.

Avoid 10 Common ADA Mistakes

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 broadened the definition of disability previously established by the ADA and effectively expanded the group of people who would qualify as disabled. The amendments put more pressure on employers to provide reasonable accommodations and created more potential liability for companies that are not in careful observance of the law. This article provides helpful guidance for employers to follow, as well as common mistakes to avoid.

What Employers Can Do

There are steps employers can take to protect themselves from liability and prepare their company in case of a future lawsuit.

Keep Job Descriptions Detailed and Accurate

It is important that job descriptions are kept up to date and include essential functions of a job. Remember that employers generally have a responsibility to reasonably accommodate an employee who cannot perform an essential function. However, an employer does not have to eliminate an essential function of a job position as part of a reasonable accommodation. Essential functions in a job description can be one factor in legally proving that the task is indeed essential to the job; these functions can include physical requirements like lifting or standing and stamina requirements like working long hours or weeks.

Develop an Accommodation Policy

Creating and distributing a reasonable accommodation policy can demonstrate your commitment to honoring the ADA. The policy should direct all reasonable accommodation requests to HR rather than to supervisors, as HR professionals are better equipped to deal with the nuances and legal risks of handling these types of requests.

Train Supervisors

Even though you direct employees to HR, supervisors still need to know how to handle the situation if a reasonable accommodation is requested of them. They should not respond either yes or no to the request, regardless of how feasible it may or may not be, but should instead refer the situation to HR. In addition, supervisors must be trained to handle potential ADA situations that may arise during a job interview or in their daily work with employees.

Common Mistakes

In navigating the ADA, HR professionals should be careful to avoid these common mistakes.

  1. Ending accommodation dialogue with an employee if no reasonable accommodation can be found to help the employee perform an essential job function. In this situation, employers should consider other accommodations such as working part-time, reassigning the employee or providing an unpaid leave of absence.
  2. Taking a manager’s word that a function is, in fact, essential. This will be contested if the issue goes to court, so employers should investigate themselves to determine whether a function in question is essential or not.
  3. Using the “undue hardship” provision too liberally. For instance, reasons such as cost or other employees’ reactions will generally not be accepted by the court as an undue hardship for providing a reasonable accommodation.
  4. Discussing details of a disability with the employee’s manager. The manager should generally only know the nature of the accommodation being provided. An exception is if the disability affects how the manager will interact with the employee, such as a hearing impairment.
  5. Failing to consider other laws applicable to an employee’s disability. For instance, a disability under the ADA often also qualifies as a serious health condition under FMLA, so FMLA laws and provisions might come into play.
  6. Rejecting an employee’s request because it seems unreasonable or impractical. Employers should still engage in a dialogue with the employee to see if a solution can be reached. Even if you still determine that the request is not feasible, it is important to follow the full process to reach that decision (and document it completely).
  7. Eliminating essential functions as an accommodation, even for a limited period. Though sometimes this is a feasible solution, it can also make it harder to argue later that the function is essential for this or any employee. In addition, other employees may argue that the function should not be essential for them either, or claim discrimination. To do this safely, emphasize that suspending or relaxing the essential function is temporary and document the specific reasons for this action to avoid discrimination claims from other employees.
  8. Failing to properly document a denied accommodation request. Documenting the process followed and the reason for denial will help your defense in the event of litigation.
  9. Taking performance into account when deciding if an accommodation is reasonable. All workers should be treated the same in this process, whether high performers or underachievers.
  10. Not considering reasonable accommodations just because the employee doesn’t offer any specific ideas. If an employee tells HR that he or she needs an accommodation, it is the employer’s responsibility to investigate potential accommodations.

Now more than ever, the burden has shifted to employers to provide reasonable accommodations when possible and show care in handling disability-related issues in the workplace. It is important that you are familiar with the nuances of the ADA and the ADA Amendments Act to keep your company in compliance and avoid costly lawsuits and penalties.

Diabetes: The Employer’s Role      

People suffering from diabetes can be found at workplaces. These individuals do not want their disease to interfere with their everyday lives or careers, and with proper disease management, they can and will continue to be productive members of the workforce.

Employees with diabetes can have an impact on your company. It can cause increased health care costs and hamper productivity if the disease is not properly managed. However, it is important for employers to avoid discriminating against employees with diabetes. By providing diabetes management education and support for your employees, you can help them manage their conditions and remain productive workers.

Types of Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes:

  • Usually diagnosed before age 30
  • The pancreas produces little or no insulin, so the body cannot control the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood.
  • Type 1 diabetes sufferers take insulin and monitor their blood sugar, eat healthy foods and engage in regular physical fitness to control blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes:

  • Usually diagnosed after age 40
  • The pancreas produces insufficient amounts of insulin and/or the body cannot use the insulin to control blood sugar levels.
  • Managed by eating healthy foods, engaging in regular physical fitness, taking medication and monitoring blood sugar levels.

Gestational diabetes:

  • Pregnant women can develop gestational diabetes when blood sugar becomes elevated because their bodies cannot produce enough insulin or cannot use insulin properly.
  • Managed similar to Type 2 diabetes
The Employer’s Role

Since diabetic employees need the education to manage their disease, you can take an active role to help in their efforts. Here are some easy yet effective ways to assist your diabetic employees:

  • Create a supportive work environment so that employees feel comfortable performing behaviors to manage their condition (taking insulin shots or monitoring blood sugar).
  • Provide opportunities for all employees to live healthier lifestyles to reduce the risk of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes.
  • Provide healthy food options at employee functions.
  • Educate employees on prevention and early detection methods.
  • Increase awareness of blood sugar management.
  • Offer high-quality medical care and educate your employees on the care that they have at their disposal by outlining their covered benefits, services and supplies provided to control their disease.
  • Promote blood sugar management techniques for diabetic employees to control blood glucose levels. This will improve their quality of life and will reduce health care costs.
 ADA Implications

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Since an employee with diabetes may be considered disabled under the ADA, employers need to understand their rights and obligations under the ADA.

Under Title I of the ADA, qualified individuals with disabilities are protected from discrimination in the job application process; in hiring, firing, advancement, compensation and job training; and in other terms, conditions and privileges of employment. Employers are also required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities, provided that the accommodations do not impose an “undue hardship” on the employer’s business.

When is diabetes considered a disability?

The determination of whether a person has a disability under the ADA is made on a case-by-case basis. Diabetes is a disability when it substantially limits one or more of a person’s major life activities, or if the diabetes was substantially limiting in the past. Major life activities are activities that an average person can perform with little or no difficulty, such as working, caring for oneself and walking. Diabetes could also be a disability when it causes side effects or complications that substantially limit a major life activity. Finally, a person could be considered disabled if an employer simply treats a person as though diabetes substantially limits his or her major life activities.

When may an employer ask an applicant questions about his or her diabetes?

During the application stage, an employer may not ask questions about an applicant’s medical condition or require a medical examination. In the event an applicant voluntarily tells an employer about his or her diabetes, an employer may only ask whether the applicant needs a reasonable accommodation and what type of accommodation is necessary. Once a job offer is made, an employer may ask questions about an applicant’s health and may require a medical exam. However, the employer must treat all applicants the same. The fact that an applicant has diabetes may not be used to withdraw a job offer if the applicant is able to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation, and without posing a direct threat to safety.

When may an employer ask employee questions about his or her diabetes?

An employer may ask employee questions or require a medical exam only if the employer has a legitimate reason based on objective medical evidence to believe that diabetes or another medical condition may be affecting an employee’s ability to do his or her job, or that the employee is a direct threat to safety.

An employer may also ask about diabetes when an employee requests a reasonable accommodation because of his or her diabetes, or if the employee participates in a voluntary wellness program that focuses on early detection, screening, and management of diseases such as diabetes. In general, an employer may only use the information provided by the employee to make reasonable accommodations or to determine whether the employee is a direct threat to safety.

What is a reasonable accommodation for an employee with diabetes?

Accommodations will vary depending on the person. The ADA requires employers to provide modifications requested by employees unless doing so would be a significant difficulty or expense. The employer should ask the employee what they need to help do their job.

Accommodations for diabetic employees may include:

  • A private area to test blood sugar levels or take insulin
  • A place to rest until blood sugar levels become normal
  • Breaks to eat or drink, take medication or test blood sugar levels
  • Leave for treatment
  • Modified work schedules or shift changes

An employer does not have to provide the most difficult or the most costly accommodation if there is an easier or less costly way to meet an employee’s needs. The website for the Job Accommodation Network provides accommodation ideas for employees with diabetes.

Can an employer disclose that an employee has diabetes?

An employer must keep any medical information that it learns about an applicant or an employee confidential. However, there are limited exceptions:

  • Disclosure to supervisors that an employee has diabetes, to provide a reasonable accommodation or to meet an employee’s work restrictions
  • Disclosure to first aid and safety personnel if an employee needs emergency treatment or some other assistance
  • Disclosure to individuals investigating compliance with the ADA and similar state and local laws
  • Disclosure when needed for workers’ compensation insurance purposes, such as for processing claims
Real-life Example

According to the Wisconsin Diabetes Prevention & Control Program, a division of the Department of Health Services, diabetes management programs are effective in the workplace. A 12-week study of 569 male employees who had Type 2 diabetes revealed these results:

  • Employees who had assistance managing their diabetes were more productive on the job and able to remain employed longer than those who did not manage their blood sugar levels.
  • The lost earnings from absenteeism were estimated at $24 per employee per month for those who had assistance managing their blood sugar levels versus $115 per employee per month for those who had uncontrolled blood sugar levels.
  • Employees with assistance had fewer instances of needing bed rest and restricted activities than those who did not have diabetes management assistance.