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The Pensions Regulator (TPR) announced that for the first time ever the number of participants in defined contribution plans in the UK outnumbered those in defined benefit funds, primarily due to automatic enrollment.

In the annual DC report, TPR said defined contribution arrangements had 14.8 million participants (2016).  Defined benefit plans only amounted to 11.7 million.

Executive director for regulatory policy, Andrew Warwick-Thompson, said that 7 million workers joined pensions for the first time thanks to automatic enrollment.  Warwick-Thompson however, did express concerns over the fragmentation of defined contribution arrangements.  He said, “we strongly believe that it is unacceptable to have two classes of DC pension saver – those that benefit from the premium scale and good governance and administration, and those that do not.”         

Details of a trustee initiative will be released later this year and will include clear objectives that will help raise standards of trusteeship and take regulatory action against those who fail to meet a required level of competence.

Since the government’s pensions freedoms were introduced in April 2015, savers have cashed in £9.2 billion from their pension pots.

According to recently released HMRC figures, over 1.5 million payments have been made using pension freedoms.  Additionally, 162,000 people accessed £1.56 billion flexibly from their pension pots over the last 3 months.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Simon Kirby, explained that giving people freedom over what to do with their savings is just the right thing to do. 

Those who are choosing to access their pensions are also able to take advantage of the free and impartial government provided guidance service, Pension Wise, which has had over 3.7 million website visits and over 100,000 appointments to date.

New research conducted by Aires, a relocation services provider based out of Pennsylvania, says the practice of offering relocating employees a core set of benefits in addition to optional, flexible add-ons is becoming more of the norm. 

According to the data, about 25% of Aires’ clients use this kind of flexible approach in order to create personalized packages for talent.  This practice has been increasing in popularity pretty steadily over the course of the last few years.

Core benefits include reimbursement for things like travel, household goods, automobile and storage options and different kinds of cash allowances.  Flex benefits, on the other hand, include things like reimbursement for home-seeking expenses, temporary housing, home sale and purchase assistance and spousal assistance.

Companies that utilize this kind of core-flex procedures typically set model parameters around the flex benefits, often times allowing the employee to dictate different pieces that will be included in their model.

One human resource expert suggests these packages are increasing in popularity because they become customizable to each situation. Giving employees the ability to dictate what goes into their package based on what is most important to them, according to HR experts, increases engagement and satisfaction.

On January 20, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), the largest union representing workers in this industry, announced it will petition the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to conduct a union election.

Unfortunately for Boeing this is the second time in two years this union has expressed its desire to organize employees in North Charleston where 787 Dreamliners are currently assembled.  The IAM first filed a petition with the NLRB two years ago but withdrew it before the scheduled vote.

In the press release announcing the NLRB filing, the union cited “numerous workplace concerns that remain unaddressed, including subjective raises, inconsistent scheduling policies and a lack of respect on the shop floor,” as leading to the arranging of this campaign.

IAM’s lead organizer at the Boeing South Carolina plant, Mike Evans, said employees aren’t asking for anything out of the ordinary.  They just want to be treated with respect and with the same set of standards that are present in other Boeing plants.

Boeing released a statement saying it “firmly believes that a union is not in the best interest of Boeing South Carolina teammates and their families.”  If the NLRB allows a vote to take place, employees will ultimately decide whether or not they’ll turn over their rights to the IAM or maintain their direct relationship with the company they work for.  Obviously, Boeing wants to avoid a vote at all costs especially if there are murmurs of a strike.

The political situation in the United States isn’t helping the situation either as there are many uncertainties surrounding NLRB members

On December 29, 2016, Ohio businessman John T. Fleming crashed his 2012 CJ4 shortly after taking off, killing himself, his wife, his sons, his neighbor and his neighbor’s daughter.  Now, the NTSB’s preliminary report is saying he had only received his type rating in the jet weeks before crashing it into Lake Erie. 

The report’s initial findings show Fleming passed his CE-525S single pilot check-ride on December 8 after training in the aircraft.  Fleming went on to complete a FlightSafety International training course in a simulator a little over a week later.

The group of family and friends were returning to Columbus after going to a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game.  After investigating Fleming’s communications with ATC at KBKL, it appears he received an IFR clearance for a route to Ohio State University Airport around 10:50pm, receiving taxi clearance to Runway 24R.  The NTSB report claimed the pilot then received a takeoff clearance and was told to turn right to a heading of 330 degrees and maintain 2,000 feet.  It is then reported that Fleming did not respond to a handoff to Cleveland Departure.  Data indicates the aircraft began the right turn, climbing to about 2,925 feet and five seconds later entered a descending right turn into the final data point. 

The aircraft was missing for days as harsh weather conditions delayed the search efforts.  Investigators are still working to complete their report as the cockpit voice recorder is currently under analysis.

As per the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, new regulations will take effect on January 3, 2018 to clarify federal agencies’ affirmative action role and obligations as employers under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 501).

The new regulations, which will not affect private businesses and state/local governments, move to consolidate affirmative action requirements including procedures for providing reasonable accommodations.  In addition to current action items, there will be two additional items included in the regulations.

Federal agencies must take specific steps to gradually increase the number of employees they hire who have a disability as defined under Section 501, as well as to increase the number of employees who have what the government defines as a "targeted" disability—including autism, blindness, deafness, mental illness, paralysis and convulsive disorders. Targeted disabilities are thought to pose the greatest barriers to employment.

These regulations say, in layman’s terms, that agencies should aim for employees with disabilities to make up over 10 percent of their workforce.  Employees who have a targeted disability should make up another two percent of each agency’s workforce.  These should also apply to workers at all ends of the pay spectrum, high and low.

One human resource expert explained that in the United States there are about 1.2 million people with a targeted disability who are unemployed and actively seeking work.  These new regulations are working for more equality in the workplace when it comes to those with disabilities. These new rules provide some sort of accountability. 

The AAIB reported recently in a special bulletin that a failed bearing led to the recent incident involving a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter operating in the North Sea.

The S-92’s tail rotor pitch change shaft double row angular contact bearing was found in a “severely distressed condition” with signs of extreme wear, as well as signs of overheating.  Aviation investigators found that the barrel-shaped rollers seized to the inner member, amongst other things.  These aviation experts found the torsional load caused the primary piston rod to fracture inside the servo, leading to the separation of the secondary piston sleeve causing the loss of tail rotor control.

The bulletin went on to describe that the aircraft was descending to land on the West Franklin helideck, the aircraft yawed to the right and rolled to the left causing landing gear to contact the helideck at the same time.  The helicopter rotated more than 180 degrees before the operators were able to land the helicopter and shut it down.

Sikorsky quickly issued an alert service bulletin after the incident occurred, requiring all operators to perform a one-time inspection of the TRPCS and bearing assembly for ratcheting, binding and/or rough turning.  Additionally, the company is requiring operators to use S-92 HUMS ground station software to review tail rotor gearbox condition indicators on a reduced interval.

There were no injuries in the incident.

By the end of December 2016, the aggregate deficit of the almost 6,000 schemes included in the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) 7800 Index had risen to £223.9bn. 

In November 2016, there was a deficit of only £194.7bn.  Andy Tunningley, head of UK strategic clients at BlackRock, recently weighed in on the latest figures saying for UK pension schemes, “2016 was like a marathon on a treadmill.”  He went on to explain how the aggregate funding ratio went up and down all year long, ultimately to end very close to where it started. The only schemes that avoided playing this up and down game were those that implemented LDI, according to human resource experts.

HR experts say that as pension funds age, the cost of making any kind of wrong decision gets greater and greater.  Strong risk management is extremely important now, especially when you consider the volatility of the UK economy.  Buyer beware, however, it is important to note that risk management alone is simply not enough. 

As per the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Court, Fair Labor Standards Act violators can now be hit with emotional distress damage payouts as well.

The ruling came as the result of a case involving Santiago Pineda, a maintenance worker and his employer/landlord JTCH Apartments.  As part of Pineda’s compensation, he was given a discounted rent.  When Pineda filed a wage-and-hour lawsuit against the apartment complex to recover overtime pay for work he said he performed, JTCH reacted by evicting Pineda and his wife. 

In the notice Pineda and his wife received, the reason for eviction was cited as a failure to pay rent in an amount equal to the discount he received.  On top of the original lawsuit, Pineda tacked on a claim of emotional distress due to the fact that he could lose his home.  At this point, the court needed to determine whether or not FLSA allows for the recovery of emotional distress damages.

The court ultimately said that the FLSA’s damage provision allows for “such legal or equitable relief as may be appropriate,” and is expansive enough to include emotional distress damages.  The court remanded the case to a jury to determine the amount of emotional distress Pineda would be entitled to.  The jury ruled that JTCH owes Pineda $6,600 for overtime and retaliation, in addition to $76,000 in attorney fees.  However, this does not include emotional distress payouts, since this number has not been decided on yet.

According to HR experts, employers need to be making sure they’re following laws now more than ever because any employee who feels they’ve been wronged can collect on multiple claims, including emotional distress.  

In 2016 Boeing, a United States airframer, disclosed it booked 669 net orders.  While these net orders equated to a value of about $94.1 billion, the company fell short of the 740-order goal that had been set for the year.

On the flip side, Boeing delivered 748 commercial jets last year, which did fall within its forecast of 745 - 750 deliveries.

Overall it was a successful year for Boeing, reporting 550 net orders for the 737 family.  The company also won orders for seventeen 747s, twenty six 767s, seventeen 777s and fifty eight 787s.  Aviation experts say that even with 180 cancelled orders in 2016, the fact that there were fifty eight orders for the 787 is a feat in itself when you consider all of the battery issues.

Additionally, 2017 appears to have commenced on a positive note, with Boeing announcing that India’s Spicejet have placed a new order for 100 737 Max 8’s. This is over and above a previously released contract for 43 jets. 

The California Supreme Court ruled employers in California cannot require workers to remain on duty or “on call” during their rest breaks.

In a statement made by the state high court on December 22 it was determined that “during required rest periods, employers must relieve their employees of all duties and relinquish any control over how employees spend their break time.”

In Augustus v ABM Security Services, Inc., the state high court was asked to rule on whether or not a security company violated California law because it required guards to carry radios and remain on call during rest periods.  The guards argued that since they were on call and could be contacted at any point on their break, they weren’t actually on a break.  A trial court found in favor of the guards, granting them $90 million in damages, interest and penalties.  The California Court of Appeal vacated the judgement but the California Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal, agreeing with the trial court.

Additionally, employers also shouldn’t suggest or require that employees carry company cell phones, pagers or any other kind of communication device during their rest breaks.  This doesn’t mean employees cannot, just that they should not be required to.    

Typically, a nonexempt employee in California is entitled to a paid, 10-minute rest break for every four hours that are worked.  Violating the Supreme’s Court ruling could cost a company big time.  If a company violates this law, the employee must be given an additional hour of pay for each workday their full rest breaks are not provided.

HR experts suggest that to avoid any kind of confusion, employers should encourage workers to take any kind of break away from their workstations, that way there is no chance of the employer inadvertently breaking the law.