Microsoft Teams Makes a Play for Retail and Service Sectors

Microsoft Teams Makes a Play for Retail and Service Sectors

Workplace collaboration platforms are already an office staple for professionals working “desk jobs” in fields like technology and media, but these tools are less common among frontline employees in hands-on roles. Nearly two years after its global launch, Microsoft’s workplace collaboration platform Teams has added a series of new features to improve its functionality for workers in fields like retail, hospitality, healthcare, and manufacturing. The latest upgrade was rolled out last week, GeekWire’s Nat Levy reported, including:

  • [A] new customizable mobile experience comes with a series of features specifically for workers on the go, such as location sharing, smart camera and the ability to record and share audio messages.
  • Teams will now include a template to help IT managers grant individual employees access to the features they need.
  • Microsoft is working on a set of APIs, which will debut in public preview later this quarter, that will allow companies to integrate workforce management tools that handle things like scheduling and payroll directly into Teams.
  • Coming later this quarter, Microsoft is enabling a Praise feature, which allows employers to call out important contributions from workers.

This announcement comes just a few months after Microsoft showcased a series of new features for “first-line” workers at its Ignite developer conference in September. These included scheduling tools that enable users create and share schedules, swap shifts, request time off, and access announcements from their employers. Microsoft also revealed that it had a secure patient care coordination tool in private preview as part of an effort to bring Teams into the health care field.

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What Employers Need to Know About the US Tax Reform Act

What Employers Need to Know About the US Tax Reform Act

The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” which officially passed both houses of Congress on Wednesday, will have a significant impact on employers throughout the US, by lowering taxes on corporate profits and most employees’ salaries, as well as by changing the tax treatment of executive compensation and a number of other rewards. Here’s a quick look at how tax reform will affect employers and employees, and what HR leaders need to be thinking about right away:

Corporate Tax Reduced

The act permanently reduces the maximum corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent starting in 2018, while providing additional avenues for businesses to avoid being taxed at higher rates. It also includes a one-time tax cut for corporations repatriating cash currently held overseas, and introduces a territorial tax system that imposes a 10.5 percent tax on future foreign profits, benefiting American companies that do a lot of business internationally. This change, which the tech sector is cheering, is meant to encourage businesses to reinvest their foreign profits in the US, but others say this approach has long-term costs that outweigh the apparent immediate benefits.

Some companies announced that they were passing a portion of their tax windfall onto their employees, either with across-the-board bonuses or increases in their internal minimum wage. Moves like these will please President Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans, who have long argued that slashing corporate taxes would lead to higher employment and wages. To critics, however, these announcements look more like public relations plays or attempts to curry favor with the administration, while investors, not employees, are expected to see the lion’s share of the gains.

Payroll Scramble

The first thing employers will have to do in the new year in response to these tax changes is to make sure their payroll deductions reflect the new rate and bracket structure, which has been significantly altered. The bill also dispensed with the personal exemption employees are used to using to calculate their taxable income, while roughly doubling the standard deduction. Payroll management companies Paychex and ADP say they expect to make these changes quickly and that employees should start seeing the new rates reflected in their paychecks as early as February. However, the Internal Revenue Service must first produce new withholding tables, which could take more time than usual given the overhaul the bill made to the system of deductions and exemptions. Employers will have to await further guidance on this from the IRS.

Executive Pay

The tax reform bill removes from the tax code a controversial provision introduced in 1993 that capped the tax deductibility of top executives’ compensation at $1 million, unless that compensation was “performance-based.” Originally intended to rein in the explosion of CEO and CFO pay packages, the measure failed to do so, and critics say it actually backfired by encouraging companies to shift executive compensation into stock options and pay for performance. Although it is unclear how the new rule will affect the way top-level executives are paid in the long term, it does give boards some decisions to make right now in order to maximize their tax benefit, such as whether to shift a CEO’s bonus payment from 2018 to 2017 so that it remains tax deductible. For more details, SHRM’s Stephen Miller has a helpful breakdown of the bill’s impact on executive compensation and payroll in general.

Other Employee Benefits

The bill changes the tax treatment of a variety of employee benefits, such as adding a new credit for wages paid to qualifying employees on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, but cutting the deduction for commuter benefits. SHRM’s Stephen Miller also provides a comprehensive explanation of these effects here.

Impact on ACA and Health Insurance Market

While Congressional procedure prevented Republicans from using the tax bill to formally repeal the mandate for individual health insurance coverage created under the Affordable Care Act, the bill takes the teeth out of the mandate by zeroing the tax penalty for failing to obtain coverage. This change will have major implications for the individual insurance market, potentially driving up premiums as healthy individuals exit the market, no longer fearing a tax penalty. The bill does not address other aspects of the ACA to which businesses have objected, such as the employer mandate and the so-called “Cadillac tax” on high-value health plans, but has emboldened business groups to push for more changes to these controversial policies in the coming year. As health care policy expert Timothy Jost explains in detail, scuttling the individual mandate will have some consequences for the employer-sponsored insurance market as well.

W-2 Phishing Scams on the Rise, US Government Warns

W-2 Phishing Scams on the Rise, US Government Warns

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service are cautioning US employers to be vigilant as authorities are seeing a spike in the number of phishing scams involving employees’ W-2 tax forms, which compromise employees’ sensitive personal data, including their Social Security numbers. So far, the government says, 200 organizations were targeted by these scams during tax season this year—a dramatic increase from 50 last year—compromising the data of hundreds of thousands of employees, the Associated Press reports:

Cyberthieves perpetrate the scams by sending emails that appear to come from executives inside the targeted organizations. The emails ask payroll or human resources departments to reply with a list of all employees and their W-2 forms. Some emails also ask companies to transfer money to a specified bank account. Companies should be on alert for anyone asking for employees’ W-2 forms or for wire transfers of money.

The IRS has an email notification address specifically for businesses and organizations to report W-2 thefts: dataloss@irs.gov. Be sure to include “W-2 scam” in the subject line. Businesses and organizations that receive a suspicious email but haven’t been victimized should forward it to phishing@irs.gov, also with “W-2 scam” in the subject line. Anyone victimized should also contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center through its website, www.ic3.gov.

The IRS suggests that organizations take steps to protect themselves and their employees from scams, such as confirming the authenticity of suspicious emails over the phone using previously known telephone numbers, not ones contained in the email; investing in software to flag suspicious emails; and ensuring that employees who handle W-2s or other sensitive tax and payroll information are aware of these scams and common red flags, such as receiving emails from unrecognized addresses.

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