Commuter Transit Benefits Go Back Up

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So the “Fiscal Cliff” turned out to be bittersweet. On one hand, payroll taxes have gone back up after a brief respite, but, according to WageWorks, the commuter pre-tax deduction has been restored under the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 .

From an email from WageWorks that was sent to me:

We have some good news to share with you. The recently enacted American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 includes a provision that, when combined with a recently approved inflation adjustment, increases the monthly pretax transit limit to $245 for 2013.

This is good news indeed. We haven’t seen this kind of parity with parking deductions since the end of 2011, when Congress let the federal pre-tax mass transit benefit expire, which led to the benefit being cut in half for 2012. And as you all know, HR had to communicate this message in the best light possible, even though some of us (myself included) thought it unfair and incredibly un-green, as not only was the mass transit benefit cut, the parking benefit was increased.

As of Jan. 1, 2012, U.S. commuters are seeing their monthly income and FICA tax exclusion for transit passes shrink from $230 to $125 because Congress failed to extend the temporary higher tax exclusion limit, which expired at the end of 2011.

However, also beginning Jan 1, 2012, the tax-free parking benefit has increased from $230 to $240 per month, according to the Internal Revenue Services’ 2012 Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits. The IRS adjusts these benefits annually from the statutory limit to keep pace with inflation.

This came as a hard blow to the great many people who take public transportation (specifics here) to work. And, as referenced, challenging to communicate to employees. From a November 2011 Forbes article by Ashlea Ebeling:

Employers have started breaking the bad news of the upcoming transit benefit cut to employees during open enrollment season—that’s when employees sign up for health and retirement and other benefits. The commuter benefit isn’t tied to open enrollment—you can sign up any time during the year—but most HR departments pitch it during open enrollment.

“We have employees who commute from far away and the reduction of the transit benefit limit will certainly affect them,” laments Avi Smith, benefits manager at B&H Photo in New York City, who says he’s alerted employees to the tax break cut. “From an environmental perspective I would have figured that the government would want to structure the monthly limits to promote the use of mass transit,” he adds.

But now this is all in the past. A new day is dawning. Commuters in America rejoice! The Federal Government has come through. And it’s all retroactive through 2012.

Now about the paperwork

How to calculate the retroactive 2012 benefits and get them in commuters’ pockets will be one big administrative problem. “We’ll have to seek guidance, especially since it’s after the first of the year,” says Jody Dietel, chief compliance officer with WageWorks, a benefits provider. There could be payroll adjustments, or there could be an adjustment on your 1040 federal income tax return.

Better get to it.

[Photo by Scott Beale]

Bill in Wyoming Allows for Drug Testing the Unemployed

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It’s like deja vu all over again. Seems that certain unemployed persons in as yet undetermined professions in Wyoming may find themselves submitting to drug tests before they can collect unemployment insurance. Or may be rendered ineligible for UI altogether if they were fired for failing a drug test.

House Bill 89 would direct the state to deny unemployment benefits when someone in a job category is fired for failing a drug test. Also, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services would begin a program to drug test people in the job categories. If they fail, they are cut off.

The list of jobs that would fall under this new bill will be determined by Secretary of State as prescribed byt the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2013

Okay, I understand the need for drug testing in certain positions (airline pilot, forklift operator, lion tamer, astronaut) and I understand the need to terminate those who test positive for drugs, but I’m concerned that this legislation is going to open the door to further legislation around those who are unemployed.

I’ve said it before (and will continue to do so), people lose jobs, quite often through no fault of their own. Companies run out of funding, positions are eliminated, jobs are phased out. People are also terminated for a lack of KSA‘s or maybe they’re just a bad fit. None of these people deserve to be treated with the indignity of a drug test in order to obtain the support they need when times are difficult.

I realize that this bill isn’t proposing testing for everyone, but at the same time, I have very little faith that this issue will end in Wyoming. In fact, I’m sure of it. Texas and Arkansas have already made some noise.

And with the Federal Government behind it, drug testing for the unemployed may be coming to a state near you. Soon.

[Cartoon by Michael Ramirez]

Glassdoor’s Top 25 Oddball Interview Questions

Glassdoor has a compiled a list of the “Top 25 Oddball Interview Questions

According to the Q4 Glassdoor Employment Confidence Survey, one in five employees plan to look for a new job in the next three months assuming the economy stays the same or improves. So, to help you prepare for tough and sometimes wacky interview questions, Glassdoor has combed tens of thousands of interview questions shared by job candidates over the past year to compile its list of the Top 25 Oddball Interview Questions for 2013.

The questions run from the irrelevant (“If you were to get rid of one state in the US, which would it be and why?”) to the ridiculous (“A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?”) to aspirational (“Jeff Bezos walks into your office and says you can have a million dollars to launch your best entrepreneurial idea. What is it?”).

All in all it’s an entertaining read. And according to Donna Fuscaldo, who believes as I do, oddball questions can be a very good thing.

“Strange or oddball questions are not primarily asked to trick a person, but to uncover qualities about a candidate that can’t be determined from a resume or two-minute drill,” says Susan Ruhl, a managing partner at OI Partners – Innovative Career Consulting in Denver. ”They are designed to uncover how you think, handle unexpected problems and situations, whether you are a good fit for their culture, and how creative you are.”

In other words, both interviewer and interviewee need to understand each other. Oddball interview questions do give good insight into who the applicant is and sometimes more importantly, who the company is. After all, interviews aren’t one-sided. They are looking at us as much as we are looking at them.

We all need to be on our toes.

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[Picture via The Huffington Post]

Workwear with Distinct Message at SC Taco Joint

Add this one to the REALLY? files. Free Times reporter & author of ‘The Accidental Candidate‘, Cory Hutchins snapped this picture at a South Carolina Taco Joint. The restaurant, Taco Cid, has their employees wear T-Shirts with a very distinct and pointed message.

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Being that Taco Cid is so attuned to the general atmosphere, they are ready prepared with a response for the incredibly obvious question.

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I really don’t know what to say about this – the picture and the statement both speak for themselves. A private company can make private decisions, no matter how ignorant and offensive the decisions may be. And they’ll always find someone to proudly wear it. And as much as I hate to admit it, technically, they are right. There are no racial nor hate remarks towards any specific ethnic group on that T-Shirt.

But we still get the message.

With that in mind, maybe it’s time to blow this taco stand and go somewhere that doesn’t promote discrimination through work attire (or any other means). Papalote comes to mind…

[via Think Progress and Corey Hutchins

A Promise for the New Year

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I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. Never have. Rather, I’ve always said that if you’re not happy with your life, do something to change it. You don’t need a new year to make a new start. Nor am I a fan of inspirational catch phrases or quotes. But this one by Robert Tew rang very true. And I intend on living this way from this point on.

I guess that sounds like a resolution, but I prefer to think of it as a promise – to myself.

Happy 2013.

[Photo via Saying Images]