Take care with COBRA compliance — or pay big damages

In recent months, at least four companies have gotten into trouble for failing to provide Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) notices to health plan participants.

Suits of this nature can lead to big damages. Since 2015, courts have approved settlements ranging from $290,000 to $1 million.

Damages include statutory penalties of $110 per day, awards to qualified beneficiaries as relief for damages that occur due to the failure to provide an adequate COBRA notice, and attorney fees. The IRS can also assess excise tax penalties of up to $200 per day for each day that a plan fails to comply with COBRA. [Read more…]

Tips for avoiding a data security breach

Regardless of the size of your business, it’s critical that you work proactively to protect the sensitive and private information of your customers, clients and employees.

While you might hear more often about data breaches at bigger companies, the reality is that smaller companies and organizations are often targeted and typically have limited data security protections in place.

Your approach to protecting your company from a data breach must be comprehensive. [Read more…]

New law reaffirms right to post negative reviews online

Under a new federal law, individuals have a right to post truthful negative reviews about a product or service provider. That’s the case even if they previously signed an agreement that prohibited such reviews.

Over the past few years, this controversial business practice of including non-disparagement clauses in contracts or terms of service has led to a number of lawsuits. These so-called “gag clauses” are intended to deter customers from writing negative reviews, and require them to pay a fee if they do so despite the contract.

The new Consumer Review Freedom Act bars companies from using these clauses.  It gives the Federal Trade Commission and the states the power to enforce the law, allowing them to take legal action against businesses that fail to remove these clauses from their contracts.   [Read more…]

Conduct a website self-audit to ensure compliance with the ADA

Over the past couple of years, more than 200 plaintiffs have sued businesses nationwide arguing that their websites fail to provide access to people with certain disabilities, alleging a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. More recently, a law firm based in Pittsburgh sent demand letters to businesses, banks and others saying that they were willing to “work constructively” toward compliance for a fee.

While court rulings on whether the ADA applies to websites have been mixed, plaintiffs have been using the rulings in their favor to persuade businesses to settle.

The ADA, which went into effect in 1990, prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Title III of the Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in “places of public accommodation.” The law doesn’t specifically mention websites, but some plaintiffs argue that a website should be treated as a “place of public accommodation.”   [Read more…]

Social media endorsements: How to pay influencers to endorse your brand

It’s becoming popular for companies to pay social media users with big followings to endorse their products or share content about their brand. It’s a great way to get your message out to a wider network of target customers in an authentic way.

But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is paying attention and enforcing rules that say you can’t do it without disclosing the relationship.

Recently, the FTC reached settlements with such brands as Lord & Taylor and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment over their failure to disclose such relationships. [Read more…]

Contractor or Employee? Knowing the difference is important

Is a worker an independent contractor or an employee? As an employer, getting this wrong could land you with an IRS audit and cost you plenty in many other ways. Here’s what you should know:

As the worker: If the worker is a contractor and not considered an employee, he/she must:

  • Pay self-employment taxes (Social Security and Medicare-related taxes).
  • Make estimated federal and state tax payments.
  • Handle his/her own benefits, insurance and bookkeeping.

[Read more…]

Avoid These Common Tax Mistakes

There are nearly 1,000 different tax forms used by the IRS to report tax obligations. It’s no wonder the IRS faces thousands of tax returns with errors each year. Here are some of the most common:

Wrong names and Social Security numbers. Taxpayers regularly make mistakes by entering incorrect information for their spouses and dependents. If you recently married or divorced but haven’t yet changed your name with the Social Security Administration, you’ll need to file under your old name.

Errors in age and birthdate. Much of the tax code is based on age. Without the correct birthdate, your eligibility for tax benefits could be cast in doubt. [Read more…]

Say Goodbye to the College Tuition Deduction

Congress decided not to extend this $4,000 deduction for 2017, leaving many parents worried that college will now be more expensive. However, Congress left in place two popular education credits that may offer a more valuable tax break:

  • The AOTC. The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is a credit of up to $2,500 per student per year for qualified undergraduate tuition, fees and course materials. The deduction phases out at higher income levels, and is eliminated altogether for married couples with a modified adjusted gross income of $180,000 ($90,000 for singles).
  • Lifetime Learning Credit. The Lifetime Learning Credit provides an annual credit of 20 percent on the first $10,000 of tuition and fees, for either undergraduate or graduate level classes. There is no lifetime limit on the credit, but only couples making less than $131,000 per year (or singles making $65,000) qualify. Unlike the AOTC, this deduction is per tax return, not per student.

[Read more…]

Tax Filing Reminders

  • September 15
    • Third quarter installment of 2017 individual and corporation estimated income tax is due.
    • S corporations: Filing deadline for 2016 tax returns for S corporations that requested/received a six-month extension.
    • Partnerships: Filing deadline for 2016 tax returns for partnerships that requested/received an automatic six-month extension.
    • Electing large partnerships: Filing deadline for 2016 tax returns for electing large partnerships that requested/received a six-month extension.
  • October 16 – Filing deadline for 2016 individual or corporation tax returns that requested/received a six-month extension. Pay taxes due by this date.