Important Bulletin from the Oregon Employment Department

Important information about Unemployment Insurance Benefits launching in Frances Online

The Oregon Employment Department is launching Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits through Frances Online. The new UI benefits system is scheduled to go live through Frances Online on Monday, March 4.   

Here is what you need to know:

  • Frances Online will not be available during the migration.
    The Frances Online website will be unavailable from 5 p.m. on Wednesday, February 28, to 8 a.m. on Monday, March 4.
  • Customer service by phone or email will not be available.
    Phone lines for UI, Paid Leave Oregon, and employer contributions will be unavailable from 8 a.m. on Wednesday, February 28, to 8 a.m. on Monday, March 4.

Here is what you can do:   

  • Finish any outstanding tasks you need to do in your Frances Online account before it goes offline at 5 p.m. on February 28. You will not have access to any account information in Frances Online from 5 p.m. Wednesday, February 28, until 8 a.m. Monday, March 4.
  • Note that our staff will not be answering phone calls or emails starting at 8 a.m. from Wednesday, February 28, until 8 a.m. Monday, March 4.
  • To reduce processing delays during this time frame, please respond to all requests for information promptly.

We understand this may cause an inconvenience. We are doing everything we can to make this process as easy as possible. We encourage you to review all correspondence from the Oregon Employment Department in the coming weeks.

Visit the Employer page of the OED website and follow us on social media (Facebook, LinkedIn) for important updates about the migration. 
Thank you for your patience.  

Important Washington Wage Change Information

Employers in Washington or with workers in Washington need to take note of some important updates regarding employee wages. Here’s a breakdown of key information:

1. Overtime Exemptions: To be exempt from overtime laws, Washington workers need to earn at least $67,724.80 per year or $1,302.40 per week. This amount is part of a phased implementation, with future thresholds based on the Consumer Price Index. Employers should remember that meeting the salary requirement is just one part of the exemption test; employees must also be paid on a salary basis and meet specific duties criteria. All parts of the test must be met for exemption.

2. Outside Employment Restrictions: In general, employers cannot restrict employees from having outside employment or being self-employed unless they are paid at least $32.56 per hour.

3. Non-compete Thresholds: Employees earning $120,559.99 or more may be subject to non-competition agreements, while independent contractors have a higher threshold at $301,399.98.

4. Dairy & Agricultural Workers: These workers are eligible for overtime if they work more than 40 hours per week. Previously, the policy required agricultural workers to exceed 48 hours for overtime eligibility. The overtime pay rate must be at least 1.5 times the regular rate of pay.

5. Minimum Wages for 2024:
– Washington State: $16.28 per hour
– Seattle: $17.25 to $19.97 per hour (with variations for small business employers)
– SeaTac: $19.71 per hour (Hospitality and Transportation Industry)
– Tukwila: Large employers: $20.29 per hour; Mid-size employers: $18.29 per hour (effective 7/1/2024)

If you have additional questions about this information or any other human resource topic, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Update For Qualified Retirement Plans

Special appreciation to Keith Mayfield with Plan It Financial for providing us with information on three significant items for qualified retirement plans:

1. FOR NEW PLANS–Significant Tax Credits to set up a 401k, 403b or SIMPLE. The government currently offers significant tax credits to offset some costs of setting up an organization retirement plan and offset costs of making employer contributions to the plan. See this link at the Planit401k.com blog for an example of a 50-person group who received $16,500 in tax credits to offset the cost of a plan AND $175,000 in tax credits to offset the cost of making $250,000 in employer contributions.

2. FOR CURRENT PLANS–Review current 401k plan. Common improvements are to:
a. Change to a 3(38) Investment Manager— ERISA puts financial and fiduciary liability on plan sponsors for ongoing investment selection and monitoring and requires them to do so at the level of a prudent investment specialist. ERISA allows this responsibility and liability to be shifted off the sponsor when they have their plan advisor accept the liability and responsibility as a section 3(38) Investment Manager. In Planit’s opinion, most plan sponsors will adopt this change to meaningfully limit their work and financial liability.
b. Employer Benefit: Organizations put time, effort and perhaps up to 6% of their entire corporate payroll as an employer contribution into the retirement plans. Yet many plans do not have a focus on making this investment a true Employer Benefit that assists with Recruit, Reward, Retain. Keep the following question top of mind when evaluating each decision with your retirement plan… “How can we improve this benefit to positively impact the perception of our company/organization to current and prospective employees”. The more that question is asked, the better your plan serves your participants and the better your plan returns value to your company/organization.
c. Review Plan Fees: Anything that reduces plan growth is equivalent to a plan fee. Sponsors are used to basic fees such as investment/advisor/TPA cost reducing plan growth, but items such as lower than optimal participant rates, contribution rates and investment usage reduce plan growth much more than normally measured “fees”.

3. FOR SIMPLE CONVERSIONS–Convert SIMPLE plans to more beneficial 401k plans. Following find three main reasons for the change:
Employer Benefit-–The purpose of an employee benefits is to improve a company’s ability to recruit, reward and retain. The features of a 401k provide a meaningful improvement in how employees and prospective employees perceive working at their employer over a SIMPLE plan. Items such as higher contribution limits, better investment guidance, and the employee engagement with retirement planning education provided by an advisor are highly ranked by employees when evaluating retirement plan value.
Contribution Limits–Increased employee contribution limits especially for owners/highly compensated employees. While a SIMPLE plan contribution maximum of $15,500/$19,000 is often enough for rank-and-file employees, this limits owners/high saving employees’ ability to fund enough to meet their goals. The 401k limits of $22,500/$30,000 allows owners/high saving individuals a 50% increase in retirement planning limits.
• The ability to have Roth contribution in a 401k (not allowed in SIMPLE plans) further increases owners/highly compensated individuals’ deferral power by approximately another 30%.
Employer Contributions and Vesting Schedules— SIMPLE plans require employer contributions, while employer contributions are optional with 401k plans. When making employer contributions, only the 401k allows vesting schedules which makes employees earn the right to keep those contributions over up to 6 years of tenure using a vesting schedule. This is both an employee retention tool as well as a tool to reclaim employer matching contributions from those shorter-term employees who do not really impact the business. Reclaiming “unvested” contributions typically results in a 10%-25% lower annual expense of employer contributions (which are normally 3% to 6% of total company payroll).
• Notice: Notice to close a SIMPLE must be given by November 2. To close a SIMPLE, notice has to be given by November 2. Though rules in 2024 allow mid-year changes from a SIMPLE to a 401k, mid-year changes have restrictive rules that limit some important normal 401k options available in a calendar year switch.
If you would like to learn more and ask questions Keith will be joining HR Answers on December 6th for HR Lunch Bunch and a discussion on 401k’s. Visit our website for more information.
For additional questions please feel free to reach out to Keith Mayfield at keith@planitfinancial.com or at www.planitfinancial.com or 888-654-4015 ext. 1.

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Now in Effect

Effective June 27, 2023, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for qualified employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless the employer can demonstrate that providing an accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business operations. Several state laws already provide similar protections and now federal law ensures similar protections in all states.

Generally, to qualify for protection under the PWFA, an employee or applicant must be able to perform the essential functions of the position, with or without a reasonable accommodation. However, an employee or applicant will still qualify under the PWFA if: (1) any inability to perform an essential function is for a temporary period; (2) the essential function could be performed in the near future; and (3) the inability to perform the essential function can be reasonably accommodated.

More specifically, the PWFA makes it an unlawful employment practice for employers to:

  • Fail to provide a reasonable accommodation for a qualified employee’s known limitation related to the pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition (unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business operations);
  • Require a qualified employee to accept an accommodation without a discussion about the accommodation between the employee and the employer (i.e., without engaging in the interactive process);
  • Deny a job or other employment opportunity to a qualified employee or applicant based on the individual’s need for a reasonable accommodation;
  • Require a qualified employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided that would let the employee keep working;
  • Retaliate against a qualified employee or applicant for reporting or opposing unlawful discrimination under the PWFA or participating in a PWFA proceeding (such as an investigation); or
  • Interfere with any individual’s rights under the PWFA.

This law is regulated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and has a website dedicated to information and guidance about PWFA. Employers should also review their handbooks and related policies, as well as train supervisors, managers, and other responsible staff about how to handle PWFA.

Paid Leave Oregon Update

On September 3, 2023, the window for Paid Leave Oregon insurance claims is scheduled to open. The Oregon Employment Department continues to work diligently to provide guidance and information for employers and employees to consider.  Earlier this week an update was provided by the Oregon Employment Department. The highlights are below.

Benefit Amounts for July 2023- June 2024

Each year the Oregon Employment Department has responsibility to review the minimum and maximum weekly benefits amounts. These calculations are based on Oregon’s State Average Weekly Wage and are effective from July 1 through June 30 of the following year. The State Average Weekly Wage increased from $1,224.82 to $1,269.69. For Paid Leave Oregon, the minimum weekly benefit amount is 5% of the State Average Weekly Wage, and the maximum is 120%. This translates to a new minimum weekly benefit amount of $63.48 and the maximum weekly benefit amount is $1,523.63. For additional information about the calculation of an employee’s benefit please review the Employee Guidebook (pages 12-16).

Employee Guidebook

Oregon Employment Department has provided a guide to the important insurance coverage for employees. As with any new program there is a substantial number of questions, and this guide provides answers to those things employees need to know.

The topics covered in the guidebook are:

  • About this guide
  • About Paid Leave Oregon
  • Covered employees
  • Employer obligations
  • Equivalent plans
  • Covered types of leave
  • Paid Leave Oregon Benefits (leave amount, length of leave, benefits amount, job protection, difference from other leaves)
  • Benefit application
  • Receiving benefits
  • Paying taxes on benefits
  • Working while on leave
  • How to change your information
  • Your rights (appeal and complaints)
  • Contact information

We believe it is important for employers to read the information being shared as you are likely the first place employees will go for answers. This guide also directs employees to their employer for certain information that will be needed to file a claim, including the employee’s date of hire and usual work schedule per week.

Also, don’t forget your organization needs an internal policy to support the availability, use, and notification requirements of this employee benefit. We have developed a Policy Pack with background, policy sample, form sample, and other considerations. Find it here.

Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA changes)

In our alert on June 16, 2023, we shared information about changes to the benefit year which would allow better alignment between PLO and OFLA. There was as error in the date. Effective immediately, organizations (after providing a 60-day notice) can change the benefit year to meet the PLO language (the 52 weeks beginning on the Sunday immediately preceding the leave) or it can be maintained as currently identified in your policies. However, by July 1, 2024, all organizations must change their benefit year to align with PLO. We apologize for the error.

We have updated our Paid Leave Oregon Policy Pack on our website. If you previously purchased the Policy Pack (or downloaded it as an Advantage Plan client), you should have received a separate email from us earlier today with the updated Policy Pack attached.

25 or More Oregon Employees, Keep Reading

The 2023 Oregon Legislative session will be ending soon. When it does, we will do a comprehensive report on the changes that each employer needs to think about. There is one piece of legislation that needs your attention quickly.  Many of you are aware of the benefits window opening for all employees to use their Paid Leave Oregon (PLO) insurance. The goal with that implementation was to align, as closely as possible, with the existing unpaid protected leave provided by the Oregon Medical Leave Act (OFLA). (Quick reminder: OFLA applies to all employers with 25 or more employees in Oregon.)  The alignment of these two requirements has not been easy.

Senate Bill 999 has amended OFLA and several of the effective dates to align with the opening of the PLO benefits window.  The changes are as follows:

  1. Effective 9/3/2023: The definition of “family” member is changing to include siblings and “any individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with a covered individual is the equivalent of a family relationship.” Both BOLI and the Employment Department are directed to write rules regarding factors that would establish an affinity. Each organization will want to review any forms they are using for the purposes of OFLA and amend them to include these additions.
  2. Effective 9/3/2023: Expansion of job protection to a role within 50 miles (rather than 20) of the former position (if their former position does not exist), and if multiple roles remain available then the closest role (to their former positions) must be offered first.
  3. Effective 9/3/2023: If the employer elects to cover any part of an employee’s health, disability, life, or other insurance coverage while the employee is on leave (since employers will not be able to take deductions from Paid Leave Oregon benefit payments), the employer may deduct this advancement upon the employee’s return to work, so long as the amount deducted per pay period does not exceed ten percent (10%) of the employee’s gross pay.
  4. Effective 7/1/2024: The one-year benefit period will include all of the options that have always been in place, and the addition of the same option we find in PLO which states “a) the 52 weeks beginning on the Sunday immediately preceding the date on which family leave commences.” Organizations are not required to change. Employers should consider changing if they want better alignment with PLO. If an organization chooses to change their one-year benefit period, they are required to give employees 60 days’ notice prior to the effective date of the change.