Archive for December, 2009

At the stroke of midnight new years day 2010, Illinois joins 18 other states in banning texting and/or accessing the Internet while driving.  

Additionally, Illinois has put restrictions on the use of cell phones in highway work areas and around schools to reduce the risk of death or injury to people in these areas caused by a lack of concentration while on the phone.  Illinois is one of 11 states who have banned handheld devices or established careless driving laws related to cell phones in the US.

I remember the day when cell phones were the exception rather than the norm.  On long trips, or when I was out of the office, I had to dial in to check my voice mail and follow up with any issues that may have arisen while I was out of communication.  People would understand when they received voice mail and would be patient enough to wait for the return phone call, rather than expect instant contact.  However the speed business operates at today is far faster and the importance to be available has risen to new levels.  As an alternative I would suggest those road warriors leave the phone out of their hands for an hour and 45 minutes and then stop and check messages and return calls for 15 minutes.  It will help them rest and be more alert while driving, and still keep them in touch, similar to a short airline flight where the phones are off due to government regulations.

I have talked about this issue in the past and have strongly suggested that you institute a safety policy that bans the use of hand held devices while driving on company business.   These steps are imperative to help protect your organization from law suits that may result from an accident, and may help retain insurance coverage for these accidents.   Naturally check with your insurance provider and your HR and Legal staff to properly define and craft this policy.

Please understand that the laws in place may not affect the use of a cell phone if operated through a hands free device, but understand that a phone call still provides distraction while driving, but in theory the driver’s eyes are still on the road.

What are your thoughts?  Does your company have a policy related to cell phone use or texting?  Please share your comments.

For a full listing of the various states and the current status of operating a vehicle while texting or using a hand held cell phone, click here.

The House of Representatives has passed H.R.2221, which focuses on protecting consumers by requiring reasonable security policies and protection for personal data.   The bill now transfers to the Senate for consideration prior to it becoming a law.

Originally proposed in April of 2009, the bill focuses on maintaining, distributing and removing data for anyone involved in interstate commerce or maintaining data for individuals and companies involved in interstate commerce.

The bill provides the Federal Trade Commission, the ability to establish the rules and processes for notification of a security breach as well, including the fines that can be levied that are up to $5,000,000 in civil court.

For companies who are maintaining their customer list internally, it’s important to document the process as well as the security breach notification plan so they are in accordance with a potentially regulated mandate.  If the company outsources the information or the storage of the data, it is important to understand the process that the 3rd party provider has established in the event of a security breach. 

For a look at the complete bill, click here.

On November 30, the government COBRA subsidy expired.  This subsidy helped those individuals who  were involuntarily terminated between September 1, 2006 and December 31, 2009 afford continuing health benefits from their previous employer.  Through the program the government paid 65% of the COBRA coverage for nine months or until the individual was eligible for new group health insurance coverage.

When the program went into effect on March 1 of this year, I am sure the government felt the economy was in recovery mode and that jobless claims would be decreasing so this stop gap would be enough to make it through the worst.  Unfortunately the unemployment figures are still at a very high level.

Both the House and Senate have passed (check that, they have proposed and both bills are in committee at this point 12/4/2009) additional funding bills to extend the program, and establish a future for any additions to the unemployment ranks.  Both bodies have proposed an extension of 6 months, and an on going program to provide coverage for employees laid off from January 1, 2010 through June 20, 2010 to have 15 months of eligibility for the premium subsidy.  Both programs would provide retro coverage in the event the extension bill would pass.  One of the main differences is that the Senate has proposed increasing the subsidy to 75% while the House would maintain the 65% subsidy level. 

While experts are very confident that the extension bill will pass, they are not sure when the finalized version would be sent to President Obama for his signature.  We all know it won’t be before the current program expires (unless we get Mr. Peabody’s way-back machine in working order).

The challenge that many companies are facing now is that the subsidy did expire on November 30, and currently the former employee would be responsible for 100% of the premium if they elect to remain on your plan. 

It’s an additional financial risk that your organization is faced with.  First you will need to identify the probability of the extension’s passage.  Then you would need to factor in the cost or reimbursement and/or interest payment if you bill for 100% and the extension is passed compared to the additional cost for re-billing and potential default, along with the cost of the money your organization “loaned”  to make the overall payment if the extension is denied.   Additionally you would need to consider the impact to your company’s reputation, not so much to the outside world, but to your staff and the repercussions it can have on employee morale and retention.

So, how are you planning on addressing this situation?  Do you bill for 100% of the COBRA premium and credit/reimburse if the extension goes through or do you maintain the 35% billing and re-bill the additional amount if the extension is defeated?   Please participate in our survey, or leave a comment and share your thoughts on this topic.

UPDATED INFORMATION 12/3/2009

I was incorrect in my statement that the bills have passed each area of congress, they are actually have been referred to committee and are currently waiting for approval before moving towards approval.  This may actually take a bit more time than was anticipated.   The House version is H.R. 3930 and the Senate is S.2730.

UPDATED INFORMATION 12/24/2009

As an addition to a Defense Spending bill, the extension of COBRA benefits has been authorized and signed into law by President Obama. 

Our poll on company readiness for the change indicates that the companies who participated in the survey had not established a plan.  If you would like to still participate in the survey, it will be open until January 3, 2010.