• Under The Dome

    Message from the Department of Labor – Don’t Overpay Unemployment Tax
    The Rhode Island Department of Labor is urging all businesses to double check their unemployment tax rate which can be found on your quarterly TX-17 form.
    According to DLT, many employers have been using an incorrect or old tax rate and overpaying/underpaying their unemployment taxes. Please check your tax rate prior to paying your next quarterly TX-17. First quarter taxes for 2023 are due on or before April 30. While DLT does issue refunds for overpaid taxes, the simple step of checking the rate can save both time and money for businesses and for the state. Underpaying your taxes will lead to unwanted penalties and interest. If you have a payroll company paying your quarterly taxes, make sure they are using the correct rate for your company.
    Employers may contact the Employer Tax Division at (401) 574-8700, option 1 to obtain their tax rate. You will need your company name, address, Federal ID and your state account number to obtain your tax rate.
    This Week At the State House
    Tuesday, April 25th
    Calling all retailers and restaurants – on Tuesday at the Rise (approximately 4:30) in room 212, the Senate Commerce Committee is taking testimony on S.759, An Act Relating to Commercial Law – Gift Card Fraud.  S.759 requires all entities that sell gift cards to display a notice at the location where cards are sold.  The notice must caution the purchaser about prepaid card scams and instruct the purchaser on what to do if they suspect they might be a potential victim of such a scam. Employers must train employees on how to identify and respond to gift card fraud and the Attorney General is directed to distribute materials to assist with training.  Failure to comply with this law carries a penalty of $500.  Written testimony should be emailed to slegislation@rilegislature.gov
    H.5897, An Act Relating to Public Utilities and Carries, is the topic of discussion in the House Corporations Committee at the Rise in room 135.  This bill creates a tiered rate system for electricity and natural gas customers whose household income level is below 150% of the federal poverty level and who are eligible for LIHEAP assistance or Medicaid. For these households, the plan envisions capping electric rates to ensure that they pay no more than 3% of their income on electricity or 6% of their income if the house utilizes electricity as a sole source of heat.  The program will be funded by increased rates assessed on all other customers.  The Keiser Foundation 2021 report estimates 11.5% of individuals in Rhode Island were living in households under 100% of the poverty level (the latest census report estimates it at 11.4%) and 13.7% of individuals were living in households under 199% of the poverty level.  Keiser did not provide a breakdown for 150% of poverty level.
    Wednesday, April 26th
    It will be a busy day in the Senate Labor Committee Wednesday at 4:00 sharp in room 212. 
    S.821, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Workplace Psychological Safety Act will be heard.  This is the new version of what was previously called the workplace “bullying” bill.  The bill begins by stating that employees have a right to a physically safe work environment and to a psychologically safe workplace.  The term “employee” includes full and part-time workers, independent contractors and temporary employees.  Employers have a “responsibility” to monitor, prevent, discourage and address issues or allegations of psychological abuse in the workplace.  “Psychological abuse” specifically includes behaviors such as: exclusion, marginalization, spreading of lies, withholding vital information, abusive gestures, frequent request for work below competence level, long-term assigning of tasks beyond the employee’s duties without compensation, physical isolation, ignoring, regular inconsistent instructions, unmanageable workloads, taking credit for work, making snide comments or ridicule publicly, exclusion from work-related social gatherings, changes that could jeopardize future career prospects, discounting a person’s work proposals or opinions, persistent criticism, excessive monitoring, threat of dismissal, and changing work conditions or duties.  Within ninety days of enactment, all employers must adopt policy procedures to comply with the law and train managers and supervisors to handle complaints.  Employers must have an independent third-party reporting option for employees (which includes independent contractors).  When psychological abuse occurs between employees of different employers, all employers are concerned are responsible for investigating and responding to the complaint.  S.821 includes a quarterly reporting process; and establishes a fund to pay for state agency response to violations of the act.  Employers will pay a premium – similar to workers compensation – in which each employer pays more as complaints are filed.  The bill includes fines for employers that fail to properly respond to complaints, and to individuals that engage in psychological abuse.  The bill can be read in its entirety at: http://webserver.rilegislature.gov/BillText/BillText23/SenateText23/S0821.pdf 
    A number of minimum wage bills are also on the schedule for hearing and possible consideration. S.37, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Minimum Wages, increases the minimum wage to $15 per hour starting January 1, 2024 and to $20 per hour starting January 1, 2025.  S.138 An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Minimum Wages, keeps the current minimum wage increase schedule in place and then increases the wage by the CPI starting January 1, 2028 (if the CPI decreases, the wage does not decrease).  S.142 is a resolution creating an eleven-member study commission to complete a comprehensive study of Rhode Island’s minimum wage and report its findings in 2025.  S.826, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Minimum Wages, increases the minimum wage to $15.50 per hour starting January 1, 2025, $17 per hour starting January 1, 2026, $18.50 January 1, 2027, and $20 per hour January 1, 2028.  S.837, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Minimum Wages keeps the current wage increase schedule, and then increases the minimum wage by the CPI starting January 1, 2026.
    Also on the Wednesday agenda is Senate Labor is S.663, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Payment of Wages which changes an employer’s responsibilities as it relates to providing for employees with statements of earnings.  Today employers must include the hours worked, deductions from gross earnings and an explanation of those deductions.  S.663 adds items such as the last four digits of the social security number, deduction explanations in the employee’s preferred language, the employer’s address and name, and output information if pay is based on quantity.  S.663 also requires employers to provide a type of “mini employee handbook” to employees in each employee’s primary language. The information includes items such as: wage information, benefits, holiday information, sick time, and travel and expense policies.  DataUSA reports that 22.4% of Rhode Island households report speaking a primary language other than English.  While the most common non-English language spoken in Rhode Island is Spanish followed by Portuguese, there are reportedly forty-one languages spoken as a primary language in the State.  Some families are fluent in both their primary language and English, others are not.  S.636 requires employers to adapt to the needs of each individual employee.
    Finally, S.430, An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations – Minimum Wages, changes the definition of “employee” in the State of Rhode Island.  The legislation adopts what is known as the “ABC” test to determine whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor (IC).  If passed, S.430 would require and individual to meet three standards to be classified as an IC: (1) free from the control and direction of the hiring entity; (2) person performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity's business; AND (3) person is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.  The state definition would override the use of the IRS federal factors.  Particularly troublesome is the second factor “outside the usual course” of business.  If you have someone on staff that performs a similar function, or if your mission includes a particular function, any outside individual hired will have to be classified as an employee.  This could easily include lawyers, CPAs, computer service professionals, nurses, occupational therapists, cleaners, etc.
    If you wish to submit testimony on any of the bills in Senate Labor, it must be emailed to SLegislation@rilegislature.gov prior to 3:00 pm Wednesday.
    The Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture is scheduled to VOTE on S.770, An Act Relating to State Affairs and Government – Environmental Justice Act.  Part of this bill addresses the ability of the public to participate in discussions over permitting facilities in environmental justice areas such as:  Electric generating facility; Resource recovery facility or incinerator; Sludge combustor facility or incinerator; Transfer station, recycling center, or other solid waste facility; Landfill that accepts ash, construction or demolition debris, or solid waste; Medical waste incinerator; Pyrolysis or gasification facility;  Scrap metal facility; Auto salvage operations and/or facility; Asphalt plant; Petroleum storage facility; Ethylene oxide manufacturing and/or storage facility; Construction and/or demolition debris processing facility; or  The renewal of any permit listed in this definition.” However, S.770 also requires such facilities to perform a cumulative impact analysis as part of the permit application or permit renewal process.  The analysis must look at current and potential future impacts of emissions for activities included under the permit request.  If a business fails to complete the analysis, the permit cannot move forward.  It is still unclear if the Department of Environmental Management has the database capabilities to allow businesses to undergo this analysis since a business will not only have to have access to their own information, but information of other businesses in the area.  Unless the cumulative analysis requirement is removed, companies currently in the industries listed above may not be able to continue operation, directly affecting other businesses and individuals that rely on those activities.
    The following new bill has been filed:
    House Bill No. 6287  Slater, DiazAN ACT RELATING TO BUSINESSES AND PROFESSIONS -- ELECTRICIANS (Amends the state's apprenticeship laws to make them more consistent with applicable federal regulations and makes said laws more comprehendible and consistent with each other.)
    House Bill No. 6311  Phillips, Cardillo, J. Brien, Corvese, Costantino, Lima, Casey, Noret, DawsonAN ACT RELATING TO INSURANCE -- ACCIDENT AND SICKNESS INSURANCE POLICIES (Protects and continue health insurance coverage for the dependent of an employee who wishes to change their health insurance coverage to Medicare or are currently on Medicare.)

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