2017 Construction Outlook: Nonresidential Spending Remains Vulnerable to Another Year of Disappointing Economic Performance

Coming into 2016, many economists believed the global economy was poised for a mini-resurgence and that the U.S. economy would approach a 3 percent rate of growth. These same economists predicted the Federal Reserve would increase short-term interest rates three or four times in response to rapidly improving economic conditions.

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Wrong on all fronts. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has repeatedly downgraded its global growth forecasts, most recently in October. According to the IMF and as reported by The Wall Street Journal, the failure of policymakers to successfully address deep-rooted problems in the most important economies (e.g., United States, Europe, Brazil, China and Russia) has thrown the world into its worst slow-growth rut in roughly three decades. According to IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, the “political pendulum threatens to swing against economic openness, and without forceful policy actions, the world could suffer from disappointing growth for a long time.”

The IMF forecasts 3.1 percent global economic growth for 2016, well below historic norms. The outlook for growth in developed economies like the United States and Japan is just 1.6 percent compared to 2.1 percent growth last year. The IMF recently slashed its outlook for U.S. economic growth from 2.2 percent, which was the standing forecast in July, to just 1.6 percent.

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Key Regulatory Considerations Ahead of Trump Presidency

President-elect Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress may ease the regulatory burden for many organizations and arguably lower their cost of doing business. Exactly what change remains to be seen, though, raising key strategic and risk management considerations for organizations.

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A new report from law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, a member of Marsh’s Panel Counsel, analyzes potential regulatory and other changes that could impact financial institutions and other industries. These include:

  • Tax reform.
  • The repeal or replacement of portions of The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
  • Congressional oversight of the Federal Reserve System.
  • US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) leadership changes.
  • Limiting the authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Read More…

Protect Your Property This Season

Winter is officially here. As I think about lessons learned from prior, prolonged cold events (e.g. the dreaded “polar vortex”), my mind immediately goes to pipe bursts and slip and falls.

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Pipe bursts

Our research indicates frozen pipes cause some of the most common and costliest cold weather claims (>$18K, on average). However, we’ve learned that the risk of pipe bursts can increase around the holidays. Whether a school whose students leave for the break (and leave windows open) or a business that slows down for a couple days around the holidays, we’ve seen some very disruptive losses when pipes freeze and water flows – sometimes for days before being noticed.

As you might guess, ensuring adequate heat and monitoring facilities are important keys to avoiding these losses; however, we thought sharing a more complete list to avoid winter claim pitfalls would be helpful.

Slip and falls

Slip and fall accidents can be very costly for any business, whether they involve your employees or someone else legally on your premises. Each year these accidents result in thousands of workers’ compensation or third party liability claims. In fact, in 2015, slip and falls accounted for 28% of our workers’ compensation and 39% of our general liability claims.

For much of the country, this risk increases substantially with the winter weather season. What can you do to prevent these expensive claims? We’ve got a checklist for this as well, which include:

  • Treat all exterior areas where you expect to have pedestrian and/or vehicle traffic. Once and done is not sufficient — inspect and treat areas of potential hazard frequently.
  • Make certain the property has ample lighting during the shorter daylight hours of winter.

Source: The Hartford

Marsh & McLennan Agency Named the #1 Military Friendly Employer in the U.S.

At Marsh & McLennan, we’re proud of our culture of innovation, collaboration and working for the greater good. Veterans share these qualities, which is why we’re committed to hiring and supporting them.

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And now, our efforts have been recognized by one of the top rankings of veteran employers. We’ve been named the #1 overall Military Friendly® employer by Victory Media, which champions positive employment outcomes for veterans and their families. The ranking, a data-driven survey of leading US companies, reflects our commitment to the military community and our veteran colleagues, as well as the constant improvement of our Veteran Talent Initiative (VTI).

Our VTI connects qualified veterans with career opportunities across our operating companies and MMC. One unique new aspect of our veteran hiring program is the “Silver Medalist” initiative, in which we identify talented military veterans who have not received a job offer after their first round of interviews with us, and help them hone their interviewing skills and “redeploy” them to apply for other open positions across the firm.

“Marsh & McLennan Companies is pleased to be recognized as the number one Military Friendly® Employer,” said Dan Glaser, our President and CEO. “Veterans have served our country with distinction, and we are proud to provide them with meaningful opportunities to contribute to our firm. And with every hire, my conviction grows stronger that it is not only the right thing to do, but it is also the best thing to do — for our company, our clients and our colleagues.”

On December 7, the ranking was officially awarded by Chris Hale, CEO of Victory Media, to Dan, the executive sponsors of the VTI, Mercer’s President and CEO Julio A. Portalatin, Marsh & McLennan’s EVP and General Counsel Peter Beshar and Marsh & McLennan’s Chief Human Resources Officer Laurie Ledford.

“We’re honoring Marsh & McLennan because you recognize that veterans are better for their service and are giving them a hand up — not a hand out — to build careers in the corporate world,” said Chris.

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Congress Passes Law Expanding Use of HRAs by Small Employers

On December 7, 2016, the Senate passed the 21st Century Cures Act (“Cures Act”), an omnibus measure that includes the Small Business Healthcare Relief Act (“Relief Act”), which significantly expands small employers’ options for providing health coverage. The Cures Act passed both houses of Congress by a wide margin and the President has indicated that he will sign it into law. Once signed, the law will be effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2017. The Relief Act is Title XVIII of the Cures Act and starts on page 824.

The HRA Relief Act allows small employers—defined as those who are not applicable large employers (“ALEs”)—to establish a qualified health reimbursement arrangement (“HRA”) that reimburses eligible employees and their family members for medical expenses, including individual health insurance premiums, up to a specified annual limit. In general, an employer is an ALE if it employed at least 50 full-time equivalent employees on average in the prior calendar year.

Read the full compliance alert…

Lobbyist Paul Miller is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, March 20, 2009.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Surviving The Holiday Party Season: An Employer’s Quick Reference Guide

As 2016 winds down, we are entering into the prime season for holiday gatherings. Based on a recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management, approximately 65% of employers plan to host a holiday or end-of-year party. Although these parties can be a lot of fun, they can be hotbeds for potential employer liability. So, what can you do to reduce the potential for mishaps?

There is no surefire way to eliminate legal exposure, but there are some proactive steps you can take to reduce their risk. Think of this article as a roadmap, so you can focus on what is really important: having fun and celebrating with your employees!

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1.  Serving Alcohol Is A Risk

People enjoy an occasional holiday alcoholic beverage – cocktails, beer, wine, eggnog, etc. Nevertheless, alcohol consumption adds another layer of complexity and potential risks for employers. Alcohol often causes people to “let their hair down,” which can be bad news for the workplace. Letting one’s hair down can (and often does) lead to harassment, inappropriate comments, and many other potentially illegal behaviors.

If you decide to serve alcohol, you should consider a few things. You should limit the amount of alcohol an employee can consume. This can be accomplished by using a ticket-system, restricting each employee to a certain number of drinks. You should not serve alcohol-based punch or eggnog, which makes it difficult for employees to tell how much liquor they are consuming.

You should hire professional bartenders to serve beverages. You should close down the bar at least one hour prior to the end of the event. You should also consider having a drawing for a prize or some other activity to encourage people to stick around during the last hour.

Finally, make sure you have non-alcoholic beverages available as an option for employees who choose not to drink, or realize they have had enough for one night.

2.  Voluntary, Never Mandatory

If you decide to host a holiday party, attendance at the parties should be voluntary – not mandatory. The voluntary nature of the party should be explicitly stated, preferably in writing. You should not put pressure on employees to attend. When holiday parties are mandatory, employers face a greater risk of wage and hour and workers’ compensation claims. Also, since this is a party, you should refrain from turning the event into a de facto meeting – leave the business component out of it.

3.  This Is A (Work) Party

Holiday parties are often held offsite and after regular working hours. That is why it is critically important that employees must understand that work rules are still applicable. There are a few ways for you to relay this message to employees.

You can circulate a memo or email to all employees outlining the purpose of the event, its voluntary nature, and that professional behavior is mandatory. As an alternative, you might provide a refresher training session to all employees regarding discrimination, harassment, and other applicable company policies before the date of the event. This memo or training session will provide another reminder to employees of applicable policies. It should also add another level of insulation for you in the event of legal action.

4.  “Feed Me Seymour!”

You certainly do not want to serve alcohol to people on empty stomachs. So, once the decision is made to serve alcohol, you need to determine what kinds of food will be served. Serve foods that slow the absorption of alcohol, such as those high in protein or starch. Greasy or salty foods tend to encourage more alcohol consumption, so avoid them.

Also, some employees will have food preferences or allergies, some of which may be tied directly to a religious belief (Title VII), or a medical condition (Americans with Disabilities Act). Make sure you understand whether any accommodations are necessary by asking your guests ahead of time.

5.  Adults Need Chaperones, Too

Alcohol + adults = a potentially combustible environment. People tend to be more open, honest, and potentially inappropriate when they consume alcohol. Sometimes people forget (at least temporarily) that they are married, or that they have a significant other.

For these reasons, it makes sense to encourage employees to bring their significant others to the event. The hope is that these guests will encourage employees to be on their best behavior, and will reel in their spouses or significant others should they drink too much of the party juice.

You should also instruct some of your senior managers to refrain from drinking alcohol on the night of the event. Make sure at least one of them is stationed near the exit at the end of the party. This person will thank guests for coming to the event, but most importantly, make a final determination regarding whether employees are fit to drive themselves home.

6.  Uber. Lyft. Taxi. Private Drivers.

No matter how careful you handle serving alcohol, someone will consume too much at your party. That someone should not drive away from your party. What can you do to stay ahead of this potential problem?

There’s an easy answer: you should offer transportation from the event for your employees and guests. Some employers might get frustrated hearing this suggestion, figuring this is just another expense that will not be recouped. But, for at least two reasons, it is well worth the cost. First and foremost, it will enable you to protect your most important assets – your employees. The safety and wellbeing of your workers, their guests, and the general public should be on the forefront of your mind at all times. Second, it will provide another layer of insulation should any of your employees injure another person as a result of alcohol consumption. Many transportation companies offer group deals to defray the cost of this service.

7.  Social Media Could Make Your Party (In)Famous

We are living in an era where almost every person has a smartphone. Most people subscribe to some sort of social media platform. That said, there is a great chance that your company holiday party – in its entirety or in part – will be uploaded to Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any number of social media platforms.

As an employer, this sounds pretty scary for a number of reasons. If you have any reservations about adopting any of the suggestions listed above, just imagine how embarrassing (or legally troublesome) it would be to have your party broadcast to the world or digitally preserved for all time.

8.  Prompt Corrective Action

No matter how much you plan, bad things will happen. Sometimes an inebriated employee makes a racially, sexually or otherwise discriminatory comment, or does something that is generally unprofessional or inappropriate. Unfortunately, no matter how many steps you take to protect your interests, situations like this sometimes cannot be avoided.

Nevertheless, part of your obligation under Title VII is to make prompt corrective action in the event you become aware (directly or indirectly) of potentially troublesome behavior. You must ensure that management and executives attending these events are setting a good example. They also need to function as watchdogs on high alert for inappropriate behavior. The sooner this behavior is reported and investigated, the less likely you will face continuing legal exposure.

9.  Mistle-no

Finally, what’s the biggest mistake you can make? Hanging mistletoe! Do not use mistletoe as décor at your company party.

This article has covered many tips for mitigating exposure in a holiday party setting. None of these tips will guarantee that you will avoid legal action. However, implementing some or all of the tips discussed should reduce your risk of legal exposure.

Keep these guidelines in mind, so you and your employees can focus on enjoying the event. Happy Holidays!

Source: https://www.fisherphillips.com/resources-alerts-surviving-the-holiday-party-season-an-employers

Judge Blocks Overtime Rule Set to Take Effect December 1

On Tuesday, November 22 a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction blocking the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) from implementing its new overtime rule scheduled to take effect December 1, 2016.  The rule would have affected approximately 4 million executive, administrative and professional (“EAP”) employees, making them eligible for time-and-a-half pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 per week if their salary is below $913 per week ($47,476 per year).  The new threshold would have doubled the current threshold of $455 per week ($23,660 per year).

Read the full compliance alert…

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IRS Provides a 30-Day Extension for Furnishing Forms 1095 and Extends Good Faith Transition Relief

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has released Notice 2016-70, which extends the deadline for furnishing Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to individuals from January 31, 2017 to March 2, 2017. The Notice did not delay the due date for filing the forms with the IRS, which remains February 28 if filing by paper, or March 31 if filing electronically.

Read the full compliance update now…

Post-Election: What Now for Obamacare?

The votes have been counted and Donald Trump is the president-elect and Republicans control Congress. Among the many questions around the proverbial watercooler is what now for “Obamacare”? While it is impossible for anyone to predict the future, we undertake to make a short, best guess about the future of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”).

Is repeal possible and what might be sticking around?  Click here to read our post-election results white paper for these answers and more…

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Workplace Violence: Be Prepared Anywhere, Anytime

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A community college in Roseburg, Oregon … a supermarket in Elkhart, Indiana … a health care clinic in Reno, Nevada …  a TV news station in Roanoke, Virginia … a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado … a shopping mall in Omaha, Nebraska.

Are you noticing a pattern here? If not, well, that’s entirely the point. As is tragically evidenced by recent news headlines, workplace violence can strike anywhere and at any time.

The above examples represent only the most sensational, recent incidents. Hundreds more occur regularly across the country. And the trend shows no signs of abating.

Those tasked with ensuring the safety of their employees, customers, and visitors — including risk managers and public safety officials — should be prepared with a comprehensive strategy that includes the following:

1. See something? Read something? Hear something? Say something!

Everyone should be mindful of their surroundings and the potential for an active shooter situation or other workplace violence threat. Put processes in place for individuals to report suspicious or potentially violent behavior to your human resources or security department, and/or law enforcement.

2. Know the drill.

Consult with local law enforcement and emergency responders now. Ensure that individuals in your organization understand their roles and those of law enforcement responders during an incident. Your plan should be specific to your work location. Take into account floor plans, the entire property/facility, adjoining locations and/or properties, and the surrounding area. Regularly practice workplace violence and lockdown procedures, as you would fire drills. Consider also conducting periodic tabletop exercises.

3. Get the word out.

Design a clear strategy for how you will communicate with each other, employees, students, customers, security, law enforcement, corporate headquarters, and other stakeholders during a potential or actual workplace violence incident.

4. Evacuate or lockdown.

Determine in advance the strategies for evacuation or lockdown. Identify at least two evacuation routes, meeting locations, and a method of accounting for all individuals. Consider that the right meeting location for a fire evacuation may not be suitable for a workplace violence incident. Understand your options when faced with an active shooter, whether inside or outside your facility.

5. Double-check your insurance coverage.

Review your insurance policy to be sure it’s adequate for workplace violence incidents. Your advisors can help ensure you respond promptly and appropriately to manage impacts and consequences effectively.

You’ll likely have little or no warning before a workplace violence incident; the sound of gunshots may be your first indication of a problem. And while nothing can fully prevent such threats, you can take action now to reduce the risk, better protect people, hasten recovery, and mitigate potential damage.

Author: Chandra Seymour