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The U.S. comes in last place when comparing the number of vacation days provided to workers in the top 21 OECD countries. With this in mind, in recent years, the media has dubbed America the “no-vacation nation.”

In most European countries like Germany, the typical worker receives six weeks of paid vacation. The story is very different in the U.S. In addition to a handful of national holidays, the typical American worker gets two or three weeks off out of the entire year for
vacation. The numbers are probably far worse. With faster growing lower paying, part-time and temporary jobs versus higher paying full-time jobs, some government figures show that about 25% of American workers don’t even earn vacation.

As opposed to other advanced countries where labor laws mandate employers provide a minimum amount of paid vacation, the U.S. is the only country that doesn’t require employers to provide any paid time off. Most U.S. companies, however, do provide paid vacation as a way to attract and retain workers.

Because they are not legally mandated to provide paid vacation, American employers take a different viewpoint than their counterparts in other OECD countries. Basically, U.S. employers look at paid vacation not only as a benefit but also the cost to the company and consider such things as wages paid to vacationing employees and the costs of hiring temporary help, paying overtime to employees who fill in, or figuring out how to distribute employees’ workload during their vacation.

Although the amount of vacation provided to the average U.S. worker hasn’t changed much in the last several decades (e.g., two weeks up to the first 5 years of service; three weeks after 5 years of service, etc.), the way vacation is earned and administered has been changing gradually.

The Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) 2011 employee benefits survey summarizes the types of benefits employers are offering their employees. SHRM’s survey shows that US. Employers have continued to evolve their benefits plans to give employees greater responsibility to manage their health care costs, retirement and financial security, as well as leave benefits.

When looking specifically at leave benefits, this typically includes paid and unpaid time away from work. According to SHRM’s analysis of the survey results, paid time off (PTO) plans continue to gain in popularity, while traditional paid vacation plans remain stagnant.

SHRM’s 2011 employee benefits survey found that 17% of organizations offered a PTO program. Many companies have eliminated traditional paid leave and replaced it with a PTO bank. Under PTO plans, employers give employees a certain number of days for
which they can take time off as needed without many of the restrictions of traditional leave policies. Employees accrue days, which are kept in a “bank.” As employees use days; their bank diminishes.

SHRM’s survey results show that 92% of companies provide some form of paid vacation leave to their full-time employees. 48% of respondents offered paid vacation leave through a PTO plan and 44% offered leave through a stand-alone paid vacation plan. 16% percent of employers that provide vacation leave offer a paid vacation cash-out option.

SHRM’s benefits survey also showed that 26% of companies offer paid personal leave separate from paid vacation and paid sick leave plans.In addition, 42% of organization provided paid floating holidays.

In addition to the time off benefits reviewed in the SHRM survey, there’s another type of vacation benefits that’s beginning to grow, especially in legal, accounting and management consultancy groups, and it’s an unlimited vacation program. This type of policy does not allow for vacation to accrue—vacation is granted to employees when they need it. The term “unlimited” is really not accurate because the typical employee in one of these programs is performing in a high demanding role and isn’t able to take as much time off as they want. Unlimited vacation policies do not require the employer to pay out vacation when the employee leaves. An unlimited vacation policy isn’t for every organization. It definitely depends on the workplace culture and it will not be successful in every workplace.   July 2012.

The US Labor Department today (07-06-2012) released its June employment report showing continued weak momentum in new job growth. The report shows that the US economy added 80,000 jobs in June which maintained the 8.2% unemployment rate.

Although not necessarily a bad showing under the bleak conditions of the not so distant past, new job growth is below the 95,000 that most economists had expected. In general, the numbers show new job growth is just enough to keep pace with population growth, but not nearly enough to reduce the backlog of 13 million unemployed workers.

From December 2011 and through February, private companies added an average of 252,000 workers a month. However, beginning from March, job growth began to slow. June’s employment numbers are beginning to show a strong trend that the U.S. won’t be reducing its unemployment below 8.0% anytime soon.

Among the few industries showing decent job growth was temporary help services which accounted for 31% of all new job growth. This strongly suggests that US employers are not confident enough that the economy is improving. 07.06.2012

More than 13.5 million people were covered in January by high-deductible health plans that are eligible for health savings accounts (HAS/HDHPs), an increase of more than 18% since January 2011, according to a late May survey released by America’s Health Insurance Plans.

The association, which represents most insurers, noted that the number of people in HAS/HDHPs has tripled over the past five years, from 4.5 million enrollees in January 2007.

HAS/HDHPs couple tax-deductible health savings accounts that are used to pay out-of-pocket medical expenses with HDHPs.

For 2012, the annual deductibles for self-only HAS/HDHP coverage range from $1,200 to $6,050. For family coverage, deductibles range from $2,400 to $12,100, according to the survey. In addition, monthly premiums ranged from highs of $470 for single coverage in Tennessee and $1,201 for family coverage in New Hampshire, to lows of $206 in South Dakota for single coverage and $423 for family coverage in Iowa.   07.05.2012.

The share of full-time workers who usually telework nearly doubled during the previous decade and the practice is expected to continue to grow in the U.S. according to a Conference Board study published in late May 2012.

“While certain industries are less likely to have telework programs, it is clear that employees across industries are demanding more flexibility in their jobs,” according to researchers at the Conference Board in a report entitled, “The Incredible Disappearing Office: Making Telework Work.” Furthermore, they go on to note that companies that do not consider offering telework programs may find themselves at a disadvantage with competitors in the same industry when attracting talent.

The increase in telework reflects “the changing nature of work itself,” the researchers said. In addition, the study notes that workplace tasks now require greater knowledge, and the economy is increasingly focused in the service sector instead of manufacturing, while advanced technologies “enable seamless remote working from anywhere in the world, and different generations of employees are demanding greater flexibility in their work life.”   07.05.2012.

The U.S. government’s job report for June is due tomorrow, June 6, 2012. Currently, the national unemployment rate is 8.2%. Although there is a great deal of pessimism regarding current economic conditions especially with dire stories coming out of Europe and even a
slowdown in China, there is some speculation that the employment conditions are improving.

According to a recent report published by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the outplacement consultancy that regularly tracks employer layoffs, employers in June planned to cut the
fewest number of workers in more than a year. The report found that planned layoffsannounced last month slipped to 37,551, 39% less than May’s 61,887 notices and 9.4% less than the cuts planned last June. The gauge was at its lowest point since May 2011.

In addition, the Challenger report is matching up with reports from the Labor Department as well as ADP which found that new jobless claims fell by 14,000 last week and the private sector added 176,00 jobs in June. Analysts, for the most part, are hoping that this coming Friday’s job report will be a bit more positive that what’s been reported over the past few
months.

But overall, the job market continues to struggle in the US. So far this year, US employers have announced 283,091 layoffs – 15% more than over the same period in 2011, according to the Challenger report. Job cuts in manufacturing – including among makers of industrial goods and aerospace and consumer products – declined even though factory activity retreated for the first time in three years.

In the education sector, layoffs nearly doubled in June from May. Computer industry bosses are also heavily slashing, as are airlines such as American, United and Delta.

The economy has an additional positive factor going for it these days and that is that gasoline prices are steadily falling versus rising as they had been over the past half year period. Overall,
gasoline prices have fallen more than 60 cents a gallon, on average, since peaking in early April.

07.05.2012.

San Francisco area air quality and transportation officials could require some businesses to offer employee commuter benefits to boost the use of public transit, reduce traffic congestion, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and curb air pollution under new legislation that lawmakers passed on June 25.

Adopted by the California Assembly on a 52-22 vote, S.B. 1339 now heads to the governor, who has 12 days to sign or veto the measure. The Senate passed the bill May 7 on a 30-7 vote.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) rejected a similar bill in August 2011, saying the measure would impose a new mandate on small businesses during a time of economic uncertainty. Brown also said local governments already had authority to adopt commuter ordinances.

In hopes of winning the governor’s support this time around, state Sen. Leland Yee (D) limited the geographical scope of the current bill so that it would apply only in the nine-county Bay area.

S.B. 1339 would clear the way for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and Metropolitan Transportation Commission to adopt a joint ordinance that would require employers with 50 or more workers to offer employees one of three types of commuter benefits.

Businesses would have to either offer employees the option of paying for public transit, vanpooling, or bicycling expenses with pre-tax dollars; subsidize the cost of transit passes and vanpools; or provide free shuttle services.

“About 40% of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions result from commuting,’’ Yee said in a written statement announcing passage of the bill. S.B. 1339 will help the state meet its climate and air quality goals, reduce workers’ commuting
costs, and cut employers’ payroll taxes, Yee said.

Tom Addison of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District called the bill a smart strategy to cleaning the air and reducing congestion.

“This bill not only has environmental benefits, but makes good economic sense,’’ Addison said.

S.B. 1339 has garnered support from environmental and public health advocates, including the Sierra Club and
American Lung Association.

“We’ll never have clean air in this state until we make it easier for people who want to take transit or ride a bike to work to do so,’’ Kathryn Phillips of Sierra Club California said in a written statement.

The California Taxpayers Association and California Manufacturers and Technology Association are opposed to S.B. 1339.

07-04-2012

Although employer reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act (PPACA), the 2010 law overhauling the nation’s health care system has been mixed, most plan to continue to offer health care benefits after 2014, according to results released on June 29th by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

A majority (76.5%) of employers responding to the survey said they are very likely to, or definitely will, provide coverage to employees after 2014, while 2% of respondents indicated they definitely will not provide coverage in 2014.

4% of respondents said they currently do not offer health care, but 58% of those employers said they are
very likely to, or will provide coverage beginning in 2014.

In a 5-4 decision handed down June 28, the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate that is the centerpiece of the PPACA. The mandate, which takes effect in 2014, will require virtually all U.S. citizens to obtain health care insurance or pay a penalty.

46% of respondents said the best outcome would have been for the court to completely throw PPACA out, while 41% said
the best decision would have been to uphold the law, IFEBP said. In addition, 12% of those responding would have preferred that the court throw out the individual mandate, IFEBP said. IFEBP collected data from 1,122 plan administrators, trustees, and organizational representatives.

The survey found that many employers have kept current with PPACA’s provisions and also are prepared to implement provisions that have yet to take effect.

According to an executive summary of the survey results, 78% of respondents indicated that they are “extremely far
or very far along in terms of keeping current” with PPACA provisions, and 60% are “extremely or very far along with preparing for future provisions.”

Following the Supreme Court’s decision, employers are ready to move past their wait-and-see approach toward implementation of PPACA, IFEBP found, with 56% saying they are comfortable shifting gears to full implementation.

Respondents indicated that they will now shift their focus to wellness programs (49%), consumer-driven health plans (32%), shifting costs to employees (27%), and value-based health care (26%), IFEBP said.  07-04-2012