All posts by stu

What can Employers Do When Employees are Legally Using Opioids?

Fortunately for employers, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued technical assistance documents that address issues concerning the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as it relates to the use of opioids by employees. Although not legally binding on the public, there is valuable information for employers and gives the blueprint for removing employees for safety concerns and poor performance.

First, the EEOC reminds employers that individuals who lawfully use opioid medication are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, illegal drug use is not a covered disability under the ADA, and employers can fire and take other adverse employment actions against individuals based on the illegal use of opioids, even if the individual does not have performance or safety problems. The EEOC defines “opioids” as prescription drugs such as codeine, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, meperidine, and illegal drugs like heroin. 

Second, if an individual is using opioids legally and isn’t disqualified for the job by federal law (for example, DOT regulations), an employer may be required to provide a reasonable accommodation before firing the employee or rejecting a job applicant based on opioid use. The EEOC defines a reasonable accommodation as “some type of change in the way things are normally done at work, such as a different break or work schedule (e.g., scheduling work around treatment), a change in shift assignment, or a temporary transfer to another position.

What if an employer thinks that the use of opioids by an employee poses a safety risk or causes ineffective job performance? An employer never has to lower production or performance standards, eliminate essential functions (fundamental duties) of a job, pay for work that is not performed, or excuse illegal drug use on the job as a reasonable accommodation. The employer will need to have objective evidence that an employee can’t do the job or poses a significant safety risk, even with a reasonable accommodation. To remove an employee from the job for safety reasons, credible evidence must show that an employee poses a significant risk of substantial harm—an employee can’t be removed because of remote or speculative risks. To make sure that it has enough objective evidence about what an employee can safely and effectively do, the employer might ask an employee to undergo a medical evaluation. If a reasonable accommodation would allow an employee to perform the job safely and effectively, and does not involve significant difficulty or expense, the employer must give it. An employer is not allowed to charge an employee for the accommodation.

The EEOC explains that safety concerns can justify a suspension of duties or other adverse employment action if the risk level rises to a “direct threat,” which means a significant risk of substantial harm to the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level with reasonable accommodation. The EEOC advises that when determining whether an employee poses a “direct threat,” employers need information that will help them evaluate the level of risk presented by a disability, taking into consideration the following factors:

  • probability that harm will occur;
  • imminence of the potential harm;
  • duration of the risk; and
  • severity of the potential harm.

For more information, check out the guidance for small businesses on the EEOC’s website (

2025 HSA and HDHP Limits Announced by IRS

The IRS recently announced the 2025 annual limit on HSA contributions for self-only coverage will be $4,300, a 3.6 percent increase from the $4,150 limit in 2024. For family coverage, the HSA contribution limit will jump to $8,550, up 3 percent from $8,300 in 2024. The IRS has not yet revealed the 2025 catch-up contribution for savers age 55 and older. It currently stands at $1,000 for 2024, unchanged from 2023.

For 2025, a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) must have a deductible of at least $1,650 for self-only coverage, up from $1,600 in 2024, or $3,300 for family coverage, up from $3,200. Annual out-of-pocket expense maximums (deductibles, co-payments and other amounts, but not premiums) cannot exceed $8,300 for self-only coverage in 2025, or $16,600 for family coverage.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are a smart way for employees to save for medical expenses, even in retirement. The experts cite their triple tax benefits: contributions are made pre-tax, the money in the accounts grows tax-free and withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free.

According to an HSA industry consulting group, HSA assets have risen to $123.3 billion in 2023, up nearly 19 percent. Research performed in 2023, showed that 64 percent of employers offer a high-deductible health plan that is linked with a savings or spending account, like an HSA. Among employers that offer HSAs, 63 percent offer contributions to their employees’ accounts.

Mary Sbonek, SHRM-CP Joins the Consultstu Team

We are pleased to announce that Mary Sbonek has joined the ConsultStu team. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Ann Arbor with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. Mary is a proud former member of the Varsity Softball team which included 3 trips to the Women’s College World Series, a National Runner Up run, and 5 Big Ten Championships. She relocated to sunny St. Pete after spending time in Detroit and New York City.

Mary obtained her SHRM-CP certification in 2023 and enjoys helping clients with whatever HR needs they have! Her HR skills include HR Operations & Support, compensation, benchmarking, recruiting and performance management. Outside of work, Mary enjoys staying active, running, rollerblading, playing pickle ball, and spending time on the boat and at the beach.

Welcome to Consultstu Mary!

Military Appreciation Month (May) – Honoring Heroes

May is National Military Appreciation Month, a special time to honor the service and sacrifice of military servicemembers. Congress designated May as a month to publicly thank both past and present military members for their contributions and dedication to our country. Military Appreciation Month serves as a reminder to celebrate the patriotic spirit of those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom. During this month, we recognize the contributions, sacrifices, and service of the members of the armed forces, both past and present. There are four (4) significant military anniversaries and events observed in May.

1. Victory in Europe (VE) Day (May 9) commemorates the end of World War II in Europe in 1945. It is the formal acceptance of the Allies of Germany’s unconditional surrender.

2. On May 10, we honored Military Spouse Appreciation Day. The U.S. military recognizes the vital role played by military spouses. It was first recognized by President Reagan.

3. Armed Forces Day (3rd Saturday in May) is a time to honor all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and their contributions. It was originally established to replace separate days honoring the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.

4. Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) is when we pause to remember and honor the service members who gave their lives in defense of our nation. It became an official federal holiday in 1971.

If your company, or employees, want to show appreciation for the military, here are some meaningful ways to express gratitude and appreciation during Military Appreciation Month:

Attend an Event. Participate in local event, parade, and ceremony that honors military personnel. VA cemeteries will host ceremonies to honor servicemembers who died during their service.

Donate to Charities: Support organizations that assist veterans, active-duty service members, and their families. Tunnel to Towers ( provides mortgage-free homes to Gold Star families and others.

Send Care Packages. Consider sending care packages to deployed troops with essentials and heartfelt messages. Check with the Florida National Guard, and local charitable groups that support the military.

Volunteer at a veteran organization or military support group.

Thank a service member or veteran for their service.

Let’s all take the month of May to appreciate our military and come together as a nation to recognize the profound contributions made by our service members. Let’s honor their bravery, resilience, selfless service, and unwavering commitment to safeguarding our freedom.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

During May, your company can join the national movement to raise awareness about mental health. This month is dedicated to educating the community, reducing stigma, and encouraging those in need to seek help. Mental Health Awareness Month is a reminder of the importance of caring for our mental well-being just as much as we care for our physical health.

Why Mental Health Matters – Mental health is an integral part of our overall health. It affects how we think, feel, and act in our daily lives. It also influences how we handle stress, relate to others, and make decisions. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

Recognizing the Signs – Understanding the signs and symptoms of mental health issues can help us support ourselves and each other. Some common signs include:

  • Persistent sadness or feeling down
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and activities
  • Significant changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to reach out for help. Early intervention can make a significant difference.

Resources and Support – Your company can make a commitment to supporting the mental well-being of employees. Here are some resources that can be offered to employees:

  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP): Your company may have EAP resources through its medical insurance provider.  EAPs provide confidential counseling services and referrals to help an employee navigate personal or work-related challenges.
  • Mental Health Days: Remember, it’s okay to take a day off to focus on your mental health. Your company PTO policy supports taking time for self-care when needed.
  • Wellness Workshops: Throughout May, your company can host events and workshops focused on stress management, mindfulness, and building resilience.
  • Open Conversations:  Employees can reach out for support if they are struggling with mental health.  Break the stigma and talk openly about mental health.

Here are some ways you can contribute to a mentally healthy workplace:

  1. Be Kind: A small act of kindness can make a big difference in someone’s day. Offer support to colleagues who may be having a tough time.
  2. Stay Connected: Reach out to colleagues, especially those who might seem withdrawn. A simple check-in can show you care.
  3. Practice Self-Care: Engage in activities that promote your mental well-being, such as exercise, meditation, and hobbies you enjoy.
  4. Seek Help: If you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. There’s no shame in asking for support.

By fostering a workplace culture that values mental well-being, we can create a healthier, happier, and more productive environment for everyone. Here are some workplace wellness resources from the

Non-compete Agreements to be Banned, Limited Exceptions

In late April, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) issued a controversial new rule that bans all non-compete clauses for every worker nationwide across all industries – with very limited exceptions. The rule, if not stopped by a lawsuit, will take effect on or about September 1, 2024. After the effective date, employers also have an affirmative duty to notify workers (including former employees) that their existing non-compete clauses are no longer in effect. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposes the new Rule and has filed suit in the Eastern District of Texas to block it.  Read the complete Federal Register rule.

What is a non-compete agreement? The term “non-compete clause” is defined broadly as any contractual term that prohibits a worker, penalizes a worker for, or functions to prevent a worker from seeking or accepting work with a different person or operating a business, after the conclusion of the worker’s employment with the employer. The Rule does not prohibit other post-employment restrictive covenants, like non-disclosure or non-solicitation clauses.

Who is covered by the Rule? The Rule covers all “workers,” which includes not just employees, but also independent contractors, volunteers, and interns. The definition excludes franchisees in the context of a franchisee-franchisor relationship. The Rule itself does not exempt any specific employers, although some employers (such as certain nonprofit entities) are outside of the FTC’s jurisdiction.

What about Senior Executives? Employers will be able to enforce existing non-compete clauses only with “senior executives,” (as defined in the Rule) and only for those agreements that are in place on the date of the Rule. The only exception is for non-competes made in connection with the sale of a business. Specifically, the Rule does not apply to a non-compete clause “that is entered into by a person pursuant to a bona fide sale of a business entity, of the person’s ownership interest in a business entity, or of all or substantially all of a business entity’s operating assets.”

Although it is not certain that the new rule will survive a legal challenge, all employers should review any existing non-compete agreements and consider revising agreements to focus on trade secrets and non-solicitation protections. More resources about the enforceability of non-compete agreements are located at law firm White & Case’s Resource Center.

DOL Increases Salary Level for Exempt Employees (coming July 1, 2024)

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued its much-anticipated final rule raising the salary threshold for employees to be exempt from federal overtime requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The new rule significantly increases the minimum salary requirement for executive, professional, and administrative employees, and the salary change started July 1, 2024. According to the Biden-Harris Administration, the new rule will ensure “fair pay for long hours” for salaried workers. Read the DOL press release. All employers need to review this new rule and its potential impact on employee compensation.

The new rule increases the minimum salary threshold, to $844 per week or $43,888 per year (current level is $638/week) as of July 1, 2024. The next increase, scheduled for January 1, 2025, will raise the threshold to $1,128 per week ($58,656 per year). Going forward, the salary level will automatically increase every three (3) years. The “highly compensated employee” overtime exemption salary threshold will increase from $107,432 to $132,964 on July 1, 2024, and on January 1, 2025, it will bump up to $151,164.

The new rule does not make any changes to the duties tests for the various white-collar or highly compensated employee exemptions, which also must be satisfied for an employee to be properly classified as exempt from overtime. Read more about the DOL duty tests.

The experts predict that the new rule may be blocked or delayed due to legal challenges, so employers should hold off making any immediate changes due to the new rule. This major increase is similar to the changes proposed by the Obama Administration which were successfully blocked in 2016.

Navigating Customer I-9 Form Audits: Compliance and Client Relationships

Corporate America knows that maintaining compliance with legal and regulatory requirements is critical (legally and for public relations). Among the essential documents for businesses engaging in corporate services or B2B transactions is the I-9 form, a vital piece of the hiring process designed to verify the identity and employment authorization of individuals in the United States. When providing services to large corporate clients, smaller service companies often find themselves subject to a third-party I-9 audit and review required by their customers. In this blog post, we’ll delve into corporate customer I-9 audits, exploring best practices for navigating them while preserving strong client relationships. In our experience, companies such as Publix, Target and Waste Management require their B2B suppliers and service vendors complete third-party audits for compliance.

Corporate customer I-9 audits occur when businesses that provide services to other companies are required to undergo an audit of their I-9 records by their corporate clients. These audits are typically initiated to ensure that the vendors or service providers are compliant with immigration laws and regulations, thus mitigating risks and liabilities for the corporate clients. Audits are done by an independent third-party, experienced with I9 form completion.

Best practices for navigating corporate customer I9 audits:

  1. Preparedness: Review your supplier contract and proactively maintain accurate and up-to-date I-9 records to streamline the audit process. Conduct regular internal audits to identify and address any deficiencies before they are discovered by a third-party audit. Select a qualified and experienced auditor, if your company retains these services.
  2. Open Communication: Maintain open lines of communication with corporate clients regarding their mandated audit process, including timelines, required documentation, and any questions. Address customer requests promptly to foster trust and collaboration.
  3. Data Security Measures: Implement data security measures to protect employee information during the audit process. Utilize secure file-sharing platforms and safeguard sensitive data from unauthorized access or breaches.
  4. Compliance Assistance: Seek assistance from experts or compliance professionals specializing in immigration law to ensure adherence to regulatory requirements.
  5. Continuous Improvement: Use the audit process as an opportunity for continuous improvement. Identify areas for improving I-9 compliance practices and implement new measures to minimize technical errors.
  6. Post-Audit Follow-Up: Following the completion of the audit, conduct a thorough review of findings and recommendations. Address deficiencies and correct errors to improve your compliance standings.

By following these best practices, your company can successfully navigate the audit process effectively while preserving strong client relationships. Strengthening your compliance with I-9 requirements will mitigate the legal risks to your company, as well as your corporate customers. A commitment to legal and ethical business practices will also build your ability to win more business and create strong lasting relationships with your customers. Consultstu performs independent third-party I9 audits for companies in the United States.

Navigating GPS Tracking on Employee Phones: The Importance of Transparency and Disclosures

In an era dominated by digital connectivity, employers are increasingly turning to technology to streamline operations, enhance productivity, and ensure the safety of their workforce. One such technology that has gained prominence in recent years is GPS tracking, particularly when implemented on employee smartphones. While GPS tracking can offer benefits such as improved fleet management, route optimization, and real-time location monitoring, it also raises important ethical and legal considerations, particularly regarding employee privacy. In this blog post, we’ll explore the intricacies of GPS tracking on employee phones and discuss the essential disclosures needed to maintain transparency and trust in the workplace.

Understanding GPS Tracking on Employee Phones

GPS tracking involves the use of Global Positioning System technology to pinpoint the location of an individual or object in real-time. When implemented on employee smartphones, GPS tracking allows employers to monitor the whereabouts of their workforce, whether they’re out in the field, traveling for business, or conducting deliveries. While the primary intent behind GPS tracking is often to improve operational efficiency and ensure employee safety, it can also raise concerns about privacy invasion and employee autonomy.

The Importance of Transparency and Disclosures

Transparency is paramount when it comes to implementing GPS tracking on employee phones. Employees should be told when and how their movements are being monitored, and withholding this information can erode trust and create liabilities. To maintain transparency and mitigate potential privacy concerns, employers should provide a clear and comprehensive disclosure regarding GPS tracking practices. These disclosure agreements should include:

  1. Tracking Purpose: Clearly communicate the reasons behind implementing GPS tracking on employee phones. Whether it’s for route optimization, ensuring compliance with work schedules, or enhancing safety protocols, employees should understand the legitimate business purposes driving the use of this technology.
  2. What is Being Tracked: Specify the scope of GPS tracking activities, including the types of location data that will be collected, the frequency of tracking, and the circumstances under which tracking will be activated (e.g., during work hours, while on company premises, etc.). Be transparent about any limitations or exceptions to tracking, such as during personal time off or when employees are on break.
  3. Employee Acknowledgement: Obtain an explicit acknowledgment from employees before starting GPS tracking on their phones, where legally required. Explain if there is an option to opt-out (versus mandatory) of the tracking or if an employee can disable location services. In Florida, an employer is legally entitled to place GPS tracking on its own property, such as a smartphone.
  4. Data Security and Confidentiality Protection: Assure employees that their location data will be handled securely and confidentially, in compliance with applicable privacy laws and regulations. Implement sufficient data security measures to protect against unauthorized access, misuse, or disclosure of tracking data.

Be aware that in 2023, Florida enacted a new law to regulate the installation of tracking devices, including GPS trackers, by private citizens, due to a rise in criminal stalking cases. Florida law criminalizes the use of a GPS device by a private citizen when it is done without his or her target’s consent. The punishment for the misdemeanor includes a fine and sentence of up to six months in jail. An owner or lessee of a motor vehicle may legally install, or direct the installation of, a tracking device or tracking application on such vehicle during the period of ownership or lease. With respect to smartphones, Florida law also has an exemption for a person acting in good faith on behalf of a business entity for a legitimate business purpose.

GPS tracking on employee phones can offer valuable insights and efficiencies for businesses, but it must be implemented with careful consideration for employee privacy. By providing a clear disclosure regarding the purpose, scope, acknowledgment and security associated with GPS tracking, employers can build trust and foster a culture of transparency in the workplace. The successful management of GPS tracking requires respect for employee rights and a keen awareness of potential legal complexities.

Mastering the Exit Interview: 4 Tips for a Successful Farewell

When an employee decides to leave your company, it marks the end of a chapter, but it also opens a window of opportunity for growth and improvement within the company. Exit interviews are potentially valuable tools that offer insights into employee experiences, reasons for departure, and areas for employer improvement. Conducting effective exit interviews can help companies understand their strengths and weaknesses, improve retention rates, and foster a positive organizational culture. Here are four tips for conducting impactful exit interviews:

  1. Establish Trust and Confidentiality: The foundation of a successful exit interview lies in trust and confidentiality. Ensure the departing employee feels comfortable sharing their candid feedback by assuring them that their responses will remain confidential and won’t impact their future references or relationships within the organization. The purpose of the interview is constructive, aimed at improving the workplace for current and future employees.
  2. Prepare Thoughtful Questions: The quality of insights obtained from exit interviews heavily depends on the questions asked. Craft open-ended questions that encourage departing employees to provide detailed feedback about their experiences, challenges faced, suggestions for improvement, and reasons for leaving. Examples of questions include:
    • What factors influenced your decision to leave the company?
    • How would you describe the company culture and work environment?
    • Were there any areas where you felt unsupported or undervalued?
    • What suggestions do you have for improving employee morale?
  3. Actively Listen and Probe: During the exit interview, it’s crucial to actively listen to the departing employee’s responses and ask follow-up questions to delve deeper into their feedback. Avoid interrupting or dismissing their concerns, and demonstrate empathy and understanding. Probe gently to uncover valuable insights that can inform actionable strategies for enhancing employee satisfaction and retention.
  4. Analyze and Implement Feedback: After conducting exit interviews, dedicate time to analyze the feedback gathered from departing employees. Look for recurring themes, patterns, and areas of concern that require attention. Identify actionable steps and develop strategies to address the issues raised, whether they pertain to leadership, communication, work-life balance, or company policy. Implementing meaningful changes based on exit interview feedback demonstrates a commitment to continuous improvement and employee well-being. Track the progress of implemented initiatives and measure their impact on employee satisfaction, retention rates, and overall organizational performance. Regularly revisit exit interview data to identify new trends and areas for further improvement.

In summary, conducting effective exit interviews is a vital component of building employee engagement strategies. By establishing trust, asking thoughtful questions, actively listening, analyzing feedback, and following up on action plans, companies can receive valuable insights, foster a culture of transparency, and positively impact employee retention.

Need on-going HR support?
We have affordable HR retainers that offer a unique alternative to full HR outsourcing or the hiring of a full time HR employee. We design unique solutions to match your business strategy and budget. We have a proven track record of helping companies from many industries. We listen and probe to understand your needs and goals, before we offer recommendations and realistic solutions.
Contact Us Now