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10 months ago · by · 0 comments

REMINDER: Post your OSHA Log Summary by Feb. 1

It’s that time of year: Feb. 1 marks the deadline for you to tabulate your annual OSHA Log Summary (OSHA Form 300A) and post it in a common area wherever notices to employees are usually posted.

The summary must list the total number of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred during the previous calendar year and were logged on the OSHA 300 Form. And don’t forget to leave the Summary posted until April 30.

If you need additional assistance, have questions about recordability, or would like to compare your loss performance trends against national benchmarking data, contact us today at 831-661-5697 for more information.

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11 months ago · by · 0 comments

New Tax Law Includes Changes for Employee Benefits

On Dec. 22, 2017, President Donald Trump signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (Act). The Act makes significant changes to the federal Internal Revenue Code (Code), including changes that impact employee benefits. Effective for 2018:

  • Employers cannot deduct expenses associated with qualified transportation fringe benefit programs;
  • Employees cannot exclude bicycle commuting reimbursements from their gross income; and
  • Moving expense reimbursements are not deductible for employers and cannot be excluded from employees’ gross income.

In addition, effective for 2018 and 2019, the Act creates a federal tax credit for employers that provide paid family and medical leave.

Because most of the Act’s provisions became effective on Jan. 1, 2018, employers should start working with their tax advisors to determine how the tax changes will impact their businesses.

Qualified Transportation Fringe Benefits

Code Section 132 allows employers to provide certain transportation benefits to employees on a tax-free basis. These benefits include qualified parking, transit passes, and transportation to and from work in a commuter highway vehicle (“vanpooling”). Prior to 2018, bicycle commuting reimbursements also qualified for this tax exclusion.

Qualified transportation expenses paid by either the employer or employee can be excluded from an employee’s gross income, up to certain limits. For 2018, the tax exclusion limits are $260 per month for qualified parking expenses and $260 per month for transit passes and vanpooling expenses, combined.

Beginning in 2018, the Act eliminates the employer deduction for expenses associated with a qualified transportation fringe benefit program. The Act also eliminates the deduction for any expenses incurred in connection with providing transportation to an employee in connection with travel between the employee’s residence and place of employment, except as necessary for ensuring the employee’s safety.

However, with the exception of bicycling commuting expenses, the tax exclusion for employees has not changed—qualified transportation benefits are still excludable from employees’ gross income. The tax exclusion for bicycling commuting benefits is suspended for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2026.

Qualified Moving Expense Reimbursements

Before 2018, employers could pay or reimburse an employee’s eligible moving expenses related to starting employment at a new principal place of work on a tax-free basis. The Act suspends this income exclusion from 2018 through 2025 tax years.

It also suspends the employer deduction for qualified moving expense reimbursements for the same period of time. However, the income exclusion and deduction still apply in the case of a member of the U.S. armed forces on active duty who moves pursuant to a military order and incident to a permanent change of station.

Employer Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave

The Act creates a new temporary tax credit for employers that provide paid family and medical leave to their employees. The tax credit, which applies to wages paid in 2018 and 2019, is equal to a percentage of wages paid to employees who are on family and medical leave. Paid leave that is provided as vacation leave, personal leave, sick leave, or required by state or local law is not taken into consideration.

To qualify for the tax credit, an employer must have a written policy in place that provides at least two weeks of paid family and medical leave for full-time employees (proportionally adjusted for part-time employees) and a rate of payment that is at least 50 percent of an employee’s normal pay rate.

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11 months ago · by · 0 comments

Individual Mandate Penalty Will Be Eliminated in 2019

On Dec. 22, 2017, President Donald Trump signed into law the tax reform bill, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, after it passed both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

This tax reform bill makes significant changes to the federal tax code. The bill does not impact the majority of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) tax provisions. However, it does reduce the ACA’s individual shared responsibility (or individual mandate) penalty to zero, effective beginning in 2019.

As a result, beginning in 2019, individuals will no longer be penalized for failing to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage.

ACTION STEPS

‎Although the tax reform bill eliminates the ACA’s individual mandate penalty, this repeal does not become effective until 2019.

As a result, individuals continue to be required to comply with the mandate (or pay a penalty) for 2017 and 2018. A failure to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage for these years may still result in a penalty for the individual.

‎The Individual Mandate

The ACA’s individual mandate, which took effect in 2014, requires most individuals to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage for themselves and their family members or pay a penalty. The mandate is enforced each year on individual federal tax returns. Starting in 2015, individuals filing a tax return for the previous tax year indicate, by checking a box on their returns, which members of their family (including themselves) had health insurance coverage for the year (or qualified for an exemption from the individual mandate). Based on this information, the IRS then assesses a penalty for each nonexempt family member without coverage.

Effect of the Tax Reform Bill

The tax reform bill will reduce the ACA’s individual mandate penalty to zero, effective beginning with the 2019 tax year. This effectively eliminates the individual mandate penalty for the 2019 tax year and beyond. As a result, beginning with the 2019 tax year, individuals will no longer be penalized for failing to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage for themselves and their family members.

Impact on Years Prior to 2019

Although the tax reform bill eliminates the ACA’s individual mandate penalty, this repeal does not take effect until 2019. As a result, individuals continue to be required to comply with the mandate (or pay a penalty) for 2017 and 2018. A failure to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage for these years may still result in a penalty for the individual.

Therefore, nonexempt individuals should continue to maintain acceptable health coverage in 2017 and 2018, and should indicate on their 2017 and 2018 tax returns whether they (and everyone in their family):

  • Had health coverage for the year;
  • Qualified for an exemption from the individual mandate; or
  • Will pay an individual mandate penalty.

In addition, keep in mind that individuals who are liable for a penalty for failing to obtain acceptable health coverage in 2018 will be required to pay that penalty when they file their federal income taxes in 2019. As a result, some individuals may be required to pay the individual mandate penalty in early 2019, based on their noncompliance for the 2018 tax year.

Effect on Other ACA Provisions

Despite the repeal of the individual mandate penalty, employers and individuals must continue to comply with all other ACA provisions. The tax reform bill does not impact any other ACA provisions, including the Cadillac tax on high-cost group health coverage, the PCORI fees and the health insurance providers fee. In addition, the employer shared responsibility (pay or play) rules and related Section 6055 and Section 6056 reporting requirements are still in place.

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11 months ago · by · 0 comments

California Cyber Security Law: Data Breach Notification


Businesses gather a lot of information from their customers, including personal identifying information (PII). Because of the sensitivity of this information, many states have adopted standards that businesses must follow to safeguard PII. These standards often include data security breach notification requirements.

In California, these laws are enforced by the California attorney general’s office. This Cyber Security Law Summary provides an overview of California’s data breach notification requirements. Businesses can use this information to understand their responsibilities in protecting PII of California customers.

Cyber security Responsibilities

California law requires businesses and individuals that own, license or maintain PII about Californians to safeguard that information. Businesses must implement reasonable security procedures and practices to protect PII from unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification or disclosure.

Under California law, “owning” and “licensing” includes retaining an individual’s PII in an internal account for the purpose of conducting transactions with the individual in question.

Businesses that disclose PII to a third party must have a contract in place requiring the third party to implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices.

The responsibility to safeguard PII begins when the information is first acquired and remains in effect until the information is properly disposed of. This means that businesses must also take reasonable steps to dispose of customer records that are within their custody.

Adequate disposal methods include shredding, erasing and otherwise modifying the records where the information is stored to make them unreadable or undecipherable. Businesses can use any means necessary to dispose of PII properly.

Affected Entities

Breach notification requirements apply to individuals and businesses in California that own, license or maintain PII about Californians. Under these laws, a business is any group that is organized, chartered, or holds a license or authorization certificate under California law or the law of any other state, the federal government or of any other country. This definition of business includes any sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, association and financial institutions. The term also includes any entity that disposes of records.

Certain businesses are exempt from California’s breach notification law, including:  

  • Health care providers, health care service plans or contractors regulated by the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act;
  • Financial institutions that are subject to the California Financial Information Privacy Act;
  • Businesses governed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) privacy and security rules;
  • Entities that obtain information under an agreement authorized by the vehicle code and that are subject to the confidentiality requirements of the vehicle code; and
  • Businesses that are regulated by state or federal laws that provide greater protections to PII than what is required under California’s breach notification laws. This last exemption is possible because compliance with stricter state or federal laws will be considered compliance with California laws.

Affected Information

Under the breach notification law, PII includes an individual’s first name or first initial and last name in combination with one or more of the following:

  • A Social Security number;
  • A driver’s license number or California identification card number;
  • An account, credit or debit card number, in combination with any required security code, access code or password that would permit access to an individual’s financial information;
  • Medical information (meaning any information regarding an individual’s medical history, mental or physical condition, or medical treatment or diagnosis by a health care professional);
  • Health insurance information (meaning an individual’s health insurance policy number or subscriber identification number, any unique identifier used by a health insurer to identify the individual, or any information in an individual’s application and claims history, including any appeals records); and
  • Information or data collected through the use or operation of an automated license plate recognition system.

PII also includes a username or email address, in combination with a password or security question and answer that would permit access to an online account.

PII does not include publicly available information that is lawfully made available to the general public from federal, state or local government records.

What is a Security Breach?

Under the law, a security system breach is an unauthorized acquisition of computerized data that compromises the security, confidentiality, or integrity of the PII maintained by another person or business.

Determining whether a breach took place under the law depends on whether the affected information was encrypted or unencrypted, as shown in the table below.

Encrypted Information

 

Unencrypted Information

Notification must be given if:

  • The business reasonably believes the information has been acquired by an unauthorized person;
  • The encryption key or security credential was, or is reasonably believed to have been, acquired by an unauthorized person; and
  • The business that owns or licenses the PII reasonably believes that the encryption key or security credential could render that PII readable or usable.

 

  • Notification must be given if the business reasonably believes that the information was acquired by an unauthorized person.

Data Breach Notification

California law requires businesses to provide written notice of a breach to the security of their systems if they own or license computerized data that includes PII.

Who must be notified?

Businesses must notify any person whose PII was compromised as a result of a data breach (as defined above).

In addition, any business that is required to notify more than 500 California residents as a result of a single breach must submit a single sample copy of that notification to California’s attorney general.

Businesses that maintain, but do not own or license, PII must inform the entity that owns or licenses the information of any security breach if the PII was, or is reasonably believed to have been, acquired by an unauthorized person.

Mandatory Notification Content

A valid data breach notification must be written in plain language and must be titled “Notice of Data Breach.” This notification must include the following information (if available at the time the notification is sent):

  • The name and contact information of the reporting person or business subject to these requirements;
  • A list of the types of PII that was or is reasonably believed to have been compromised by the breach;
  • The date of, the estimated date of or date range for the breach;
  • Whether notification was delayed as a result of a law enforcement investigation;
  • A general description of the breach incident;
  • The toll-free numbers and addresses for the major credit reporting agencies (if the breach exposed a Social Security number, driver’s license number or California identification card number);
  • An offer to provide appropriate identity theft prevention and mitigation services for affected individuals for at least 12 months (if the entity providing the notification was the source of the breach); and
  • Instructions on how to take advantage of the 12-month identity prevention and mitigation services offered (as applicable).

Optional Notification Content

The following information may be included in a breach notification at the discretion of the entity sending the notice:

  • Information about what has been done to protect individuals whose information has been breached; and
  • Advice on steps affected individuals may take to protect themselves.

When to Send the Notification

Data breach notifications must be made as soon as possible, without unreasonable delay. Timely notifications must take into account legitimate needs to cooperate with law enforcement, determine the scope of the breach and restore a reasonable integrity of the data system. For example, the notification requirement may be delayed if a law enforcement agency determines that the notification will impede a criminal investigation.

How to Send the Notification

Under California law, breach notification can be sent in print, electronically or through a substitute notice, as defined below.

The use of electronic notices is acceptable, as long as all timing, content and formatting requirements are met. Electronic notifications must also follow federal laws regarding electronic records and signatures in commerce.

A valid substitute notice must include:

  • An email notice (when the business has an email address for the affected individuals);
  • Conspicuous posting, for a minimum of 30 days, of the notice on the internet website page of the business, if the business maintains one. Conspicuous posting means providing a link to the notice on the home page or first significant page after entering the business’ website. The link must stand out from the surrounding text by using larger type, contrasting type, font or color to the surrounding text. The text may also stand out by using symbols or other marks that call attention to the link; and
  • Notification to major statewide media.

Substitute notice may also be provided if the business demonstrates that the cost of providing notice would exceed $250,000, the affected class of subject persons to be notified exceeds 500,000 or the business does not have sufficient contact information.

Required Format

The notice must be designed to call attention to the nature and the significance of the message. This includes making sure that the title and headings are clearly and conspicuously displayed and using a font type that is 10 point or larger.

In addition, the data breach notice must organize the information according to the following headers:

  • What happened
  • What information was involved
  • What we are doing
  • What you can do
  • For more information

Safe Harbor

A business that maintains its own notification procedures as part of an information security policy for the treatment of PII is in compliance with the notification requirements mentioned above if it:

  • Notifies individuals in accordance with its policies in the event of a breach; and
  • The notification takes place within the time constraints mentioned above.

Enforcement

Businesses cannot waive any of the responsibilities imposed on them by California’s breach notification laws. Any business that fails to comply with these requirements may be required to pay damages and penalties to injured customers by a civil court. Any business that violates, proposes to violate or has violated notification requirements may be subject to these sanctions.

The amount of damages depends on the extent of the harm or injury caused to the customer. The penalty is typically $500 per violation, but a court may order the penalty to be as much as $3,000 per penalty for willful, intentional or reckless violations.

A “customer,” for these purposes, is any individual who provides personal information to a business for the purpose of purchasing or leasing a product or obtaining a service from the business.

Unless the violation is willful, intentional or reckless, a business that fails to provide adequate, complete and accurate notification to affected individuals can raise a complete defense against court penalties if it strives to remedy inadequate, incomplete or inaccurate notifications within 90 days of discovering an issue.

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11 months ago · by · 0 comments

Tax Reform Bill Signed into Law

On Dec. 22, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the tax reform bill, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, into law, after it passed both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

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.

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

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11 months ago · by · 0 comments

Preventing Theft from Job Sites

Although it is important for companies to trust their workers and the general public, the unfortunate reality is that theft can happen at any time. This is particularly true in the construction industry, where expensive tools and machinery are often left in plain sight or are easily accessible to criminals.

Construction site theft is especially damaging, as the theft of materials and tools can quickly delay a project, sometimes bringing production to a halt. Accordingly, it is essential for construction companies to understand how they can prevent job site theft before it happens.

General Tips

While every job site presents its own set of unique challenges, there are a number of general tips firms can use to better secure a construction site. The following are some basic strategies you can use to protect your materials and tools from thieves:

  • Create a written security policy and job site security plan. These written plans should assign supervisory responsibilities, encourage awareness, and establish basic best practices for securing tools and materials.
  • Contact nearby property owners and local law enforcement officials whenever you start a new project. These parties can help monitor your job site, particularly during off-hours.
  • Establish a way for your employees to report theft or suspicious activity. Be sure to maintain complete records of any security incidents, as they can be beneficial to law enforcement in the event of theft, vandalism or similar occurrences.
  • Conduct thorough background checks on your employees before hiring them on full time. You should also keep a list of people authorized to be on the job site on hand at all times.

Worksite Protections

Equipping your worksite with theft prevention features is mandatory if you expect to ward off potential criminals. Whenever possible, consider doing the following:

  • Enclose your worksite with a security fence and provide limited access at all times. Use lockable gates whenever possible. Avoid using low-quality locks or leaving keys in the locks themselves.
  • Ensure that your worksite is well-lit at night to deter criminals.
  • Utilize signage to keep unauthorized personnel off your worksite.
  • Walk around the worksite at the beginning and end of each day to ensure that no items are missing.
  • Consider hiring security guards to patrol the construction site, particularly at night.

If possible, install security cameras to safeguard your job site. Overall, training employees on how to best keep materials and equipment out of the hands of thieves is your first line of defense against losses.

Controls for Equipment, Tools and Materials

The number of tools and machinery found on a construction site can vary heavily from day to day, making it difficult to keep track of valuables. That’s why the first step in any good protection program is to inventory the equipment you have.

An inventory should be made available for each job site and should accomplish the following:

  • Inventories should track all newly purchased items. Copies of the inventory should be kept in a secure location.
  • Inventories should be up to date and include photos of the larger, more important equipment.
  • To aid in the settlement and recovery of any stolen equipment, inventories should include the following:
    • The original date of purchase
    • The original cost of the equipment
    • The equipment’s age and serial number
    • Relevant manufacturer information

Firms should assign one employee to be in charge of managing the inventory. This person would be responsible for keeping track of all materials, tools and deliveries.

Other major steps to securing equipment, tools and materials include the following:

  • Utilize a secured area to store your equipment.
  • Mark and label all tools in a distinctive manner for easy identification.
  • Implement a checkout system of all tools and equipment so you can track their whereabouts.
  • Establish a key control system for heavy duty machinery.
  • Install anti-theft devices on mobile equipment.
  • Lock all oil and gas tank caps.
  • Park all equipment in a centralized, well-lit and secure area.
  • Avoid using your worksite for storage. Remove any tools, materials or equipment that are not in use.

In general, it’s important to keep inventory levels low on-site to discourage thieves. In addition, creating and maintaining an equipment program can make all the difference when it comes to safeguarding your tools.

Equipment programs should make employees, managers, supervisors and foremen responsible for equipment losses. Under such programs, all losses are must be reported, regardless of how small. You should review equipment programs at least annually.

Responding to Job Site Theft

Even if an unimportant or inexpensive piece of equipment goes missing, it’s critical to report the theft to the police. While the authorities may not always be able to recover stolen items, reporting every instance of theft helps police establish a pattern that may assist in future cases.

When a theft occurs, respond by doing the following:

  • Notify the proper authorities. Provide as much detail as possible, including when the theft took place and what was stolen.
  • Contact your insurance broker and review the specifics of your policies, including coverages, limitations and deductibles related to personal property.
  • File an insurance claim.

Following a theft, it’s important to take any additional steps necessary to secure your job site to prevent future losses.

Protect Your Projects

Theft is unpredictable, but there are many workplace controls that firms can implement in order to protect themselves. In addition, it’s important to speak to a broker to seek the appropriate insurance coverages. Contact Scurich Insurance today for more information.

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Company information

Scurich Insurance Services
Phone: (831) 661-5697
Fax: (831) 661-5741

Physical:
783 Rio Del Mar Blvd., Suite7,
Aptos, Ca 95003-4700

Mailing:
PO Box 1170
Watsonville, CA 95077-1170

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E-mail address:
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(831) 661-5697

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