In Brief: Union Elections
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is proposing a series of changes that would change procedures for union representation elections. Changes would include limits to pre-election hearings, restrictions on post-hearing requests and new limits on NLRB's power to review disputes after the election. Observers had wondered if these rules would be tabled because NLRB lost a member at the beginning of January and would not have had a quorum in 2012 -- meaning the board could not take any more action. President Barack Obama, however, used his executive power to make appointments when Congress was in recess and installed three new members to the board. The consitutionality of this move has already been questioned by members of Congress and outside observers, so the final outcome of these changes is far from certain.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced that it will give states leeway in defining the minimum benefit standards demanded by the health care reform law. The law gives HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius the power to set the minimum coverage rules for health care plans, but she instead has proposed that each state choose a "benchmark" plan that already exists and use it to establish rules for minimum coverage on a state-by-state basis.
The IRS has announced it is altering its policy on the determination letter program for qualified benefit plans. The agency will no longer consider minimum coverage and most nondiscrimination testing issues. The changes will take effect for submissions made on or after Feb. 1. The IRS expects many employers will no longer apply for determination letters because of these changes.
FLEX AND HEALTH
Researchers have discovered that workers who take advantage of flexible work schedules had better health habits. Professors from the University of Minnesota studied a group of Best Buy employees and found that those with more flexibility in their work were more likely to go to the doctor when necessary and were less likely to feel pressure to come into work when sick. The workers with flexibility also got nearly one hour more sleep than the nonflexible population.
While most companies acknowledge the need for better teamwork and collaboration, many are still missing the mark, according to new research. A new industry report, "Tearing Down the Walls Blocking Collaboration and Better Business Performance," finds that 65 percent of participants said they thought their company's project performance would improve if teamwork was strengthened. However, only 28 percent said their organization is actually doing anything to make that happen.
People with mental illness can create a major challenge to productivity worldwide, according to a new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The group found that people with mental illness miss work often and between 30 percent and 50 percent of new disability benefit claims in member nations of OECD are due to poor mental health.
A study of a new health information system suggests that patients crave the ability to share their health information with doctors and their loved ones. An analysis of the new OpenNotes system, which gives patients access to an online portal that houses their physicians' notes, found that nearly 90 percent of patients liked the system. While 35 percent expressed some concern about the privacy of the system, 22 percent said they were interested in sharing their doctor's notes with family or other physicians.
RIGHT ON TARGET
Retirement plans with target-date funds (TDFs) have helped participants maintain a more balanced approach to their portfolios, according to a report by the Investment Company Institute and the Employee Benefit Research Institute. The study found that 70 percent of plans at the end of 2010 had TDFs. Recently-hired employees in their 20s had 35 percent of their retirement allocations in TDFs in 2010 -- up from 31 percent in the previous year and 16 percent in 2006.