The New Year brings some legal changes that could affect your small business. Many regulations that cover business are passed and enforced on the state level, but here are some new rules that will impact companies from coast to coast at the federal level.
Affordable Care Act
Far and away the biggest changes to hit businesses this year are some new aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as “Obamacare.”
Starting in 2015, if your company has the equivalent of more than 100 full-time employees (FTE), you have to offer them what the government calls “minimal essential” health insurance coverage. You don’t have to pay for it, but it has to be “affordable” for your employees, according to the government. If you don’t comply, you’re subject to a tax penalty.
If your business has between 50 and 100 FTE, the mandate will cover you starting in 2016. For companies with fewer than 25 FTE, if you make health insurance available to your workers through the Small Business Health Options Program, you might qualify for a tax credit. You can read up on the program in our article on the Small Business Health Insurance Credit.
If you’re self-employed or a sole proprietor, there’s an individual mandate, which means you have to have health insurance coverage for yourself and dependent family members unless you qualify for an exemption. For 2015, the penalty if you don’t is $325 per adult and $162.50 per child or 2% of your income, whichever is greater.
Minimum Wage Hikes
In 2015, employers in 20 states and the District of Columbia are required to pay more to minimum-wage employees. Twenty-nine states and DC all now have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum of $7.25. To find your state’s current minimum wage and the regulations about who it applies to, refer to this interactive map on the Labor Department’s website.
Upgraded Credit Card Security
By October 15, 2015, most major credit card processors will adopt tougher security standards known as EMV, or “Europay, MasterCard and Visa.” EMV is the global standard for cards that are equipped with computer chips, providing greater security than the current magnetic strip used by most credit card companies in the United States.
The new cards will offer consumers more protection, but they will also require businesses to upgrade to technology that can authenticate chip-card transactions. Expect to pay between $200 and $600 per terminal to convert to EMV-capable machines.
If your business takes credit cards, talk to your processor about their time frame to make sure you won’t have any disruption to your service. The so-called “chip and pin” cards will be phased in by MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express over the next couple of years.
Menu Labeling and Nutrition Info
Starting December 2015, restaurants and retail food stores with 20 or more locations must include calorie counts on menus and food labels. The Food and Drug Administration says the counts must be clear and prominent on menus and on signs next to self-service foods and other foods on display.
Items covered include meals from sit-down restaurants, takeout food, food from salad bars, hot food bars, and even bakery shop muffins and movie theater popcorn. Alcoholic beverages are also included in the new calorie counts disclosure rules.
In addition to posting calorie counts, you’re required to make the following nutrition information available to consumers on request: calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugar, and protein. The new menu and labeling requirements are spelled out on the FDA website.
On the Horizon
While still a long way from being adopted on the national level, some states have enacted (and President Obama has proposed) regulations covering paid sick days and paid family leave. The president has called on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would allow millions of Americans to earn up to seven days per year of paid sick time. Currently, three states-California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island-offer paid family and medical leave.
It’s important to stay up to date on all the changes to your state employment laws and make sure you’re in compliance. You can find a link to your state labor office on the Department of Labor’s website.