U.S. Department of Labor Announces Annual Adjustments to OSHA Civil Penalties

Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor announced adjustments to Occupational Safety and Health Administration civil penalty amounts based on cost-of-living adjustments for 2022.

In 2015, Congress passed the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act to advance the effectiveness of civil monetary penalties and to maintain their deterrent effect. Under the Act, agencies are required to publish “catch-up” rules that adjust the level of civil monetary penalties, and make subsequent annual adjustments for inflation no later than January 15 of each year.

OSHA’s maximum penalties for serious and other-than-serious violations will increase from $13,653 per violation to $14,502 per violation. The maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations will increase from $136,532 per violation to $145,027 per violation.

Visit the OSHA Penalties page for more information.

UW System Board of Regents Selects Jay Rothman as next System President

Jay O. Rothman will take office as the next University of Wisconsin System President after a unanimous Board of Regents vote on Friday to offer him the position.

Rothman will be UW System’s eighth president, succeeding current interim President Tommy Thompson, who has been in that role since July 1, 2020. Thompson has announced that he will step down on March 18.

Rothman has been chairman and CEO of Foley & Lardner since 2011 and has been a member of the firm’s Management Committee since February 2002. He joined Foley in 1986 and has been a partner since 1994. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Marquette University and a law degree from Harvard Law School.

Rothman was raised on a small operating farm outside of Wausau where his family raised beef cattle and horses. His parents attended UW-Stevens Point, with his mother receiving her bachelor’s and master’s degrees there. His mother is a retired schoolteacher, and his father was a dentist. He has two adult children. His daughter is a graduate of UW-Madison.

A 1971 state law unified two public university systems under a single Board of Regents. The UW System educates approximately 165,000 students at 13 universities across 26 campuses, serves more than 1 million Wisconsin residents through statewide outreach programs, and employs about 39,000 faculty and staff statewide.

Unemployment Insurance 2021 Tax Statements Now Available Online

The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) is reminding state residents who received Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits last year that they must report UI benefits as taxable income on their 2021 tax returns, and that their 1099-G income tax statements for the year are easily accessible through UI’s secure and confidential online system.

Unemployment benefits including Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC), Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) and Extended Benefits (EB) are considered taxable income for both federal and state income taxes, and the 1099-G form shows the amount of UI benefits a claimant received during the previous year.

To access 1099-G tax statements, claimants can go to the 1099-G Tax Information page then follow a few easy steps to obtain an electronic copy of their 2021 benefit payment records.

In response to customer service trends toward the convenience of online self-service, claimants who have logged onto UI’s online claimant portal are being notified their 1099-G statements for 2021 will be accessible online and that they should not expect to be mailed paper copies. Claimants who have been granted a long-term exception to using online services will receive their 1099-G statements by mail. DWD will continue to mail paper copies upon request.

Assembly Speaker Announces Special Committee on Trade and Supply Chain

Yesterday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) announced the creation of the Special Assembly Committee on Trade and Supply Chain. State Representative Rob Brooks (R-Saukville) will Chair the new committee.

“Across the state and country, demand is high, quantity is low, prices are increasing, and workers are scarce. The creation of this committee is another step Assembly Republicans are taking to support the Wisconsin businesses, families, and individuals who are impacted by these economic factors. I have full confidence Representative Brooks and the members of the committee will work hard to address these issues,” stated Speaker Vos.

The Committee on Trade and Supply Chain will focus on the relationship between the labor shortage and supply chain interruptions and the impacts and barriers this creates for businesses and consumers. The committee will examine the disruptions in production and distribution of products over the last two years, the lack of workers in the labor market, and Wisconsin’s role in recovering.

Legislative Republicans Propose Stronger Workforce Initiative

Wisconsin Republicans have introduced a package of bills that would scale back safety net programs like unemployment insurance and Medicaid, arguing the government is to blame for the state’s workforce shortage.

“The more people that are on these programs who don’t truly need them, the more the programs are stressed, and the less funding is available to help the truly needy,” said Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, at a Madison press conference Tuesday introducing the package.

The measures introduced by Republicans on Tuesday include:

  • A plan to “index” Wiscosin’s unemployment insurance benefits to the state’s unemployment rate. Right now, people can receive up to 26 weeks of unemployment insurance. This plan would allow for the full 26 weeks only when the state’s unemployment rate is greater than 9 percent. When the unemployment rate is less than or equal to 3.5 percent, benefits would be cut off after 14 weeks.
  • A proposal that would cut off Medicaid, or BadgerCare, to adults without kids if they turn down an offer to work more, or turn down an increase in pay. Some BadgerCare recipients are reluctant to increase their hours out of fear they’ll lose their current health plan and be unable to afford similar health insurance on the private market.
  • New penalties for unemployment insurance recipients who “ghost” employers, or don’t show up to a scheduled job interview.
  • work requirement for able-bodied adults without kids who are seeking FoodShare benefits.
  • measure that would ban the state Department of Health Services from automatically renewing eligibility for medical assistance benefits.
  • Proposals that would rebrand Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance program as “reemployment assistance” and create new penalties for unemployment insurance fraud.

Evers spokesperson Britt Cudaback did not say whether the governor would veto the plans, but in a written statement, she highlighted Evers’ ongoing effort to use federal recovery funds to address the state’s workforce issues.

Holiday Retail Sales Hit Record

Retail sales totaled roughly $887 billion in November and December, a record figure that represents a 14.1 percent increase over 2020, according to an analysis from the National Retail Federation (NRF).

“We closed out the year with outstanding annual retail sales and a record holiday season, which is a clear testament to the power of the consumer and the ingenuity of retailers and their workers,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. “The numbers are clear: 2021 was an undeniably outstanding year for retail sales.”

NRF credited the strong sales to consumers’ increased wages and high personal savings. Clothing stores saw the largest increase in sales, up 33.1 percent, while sales at sporting goods stores and general merchandise stores increased by 20.9 percent and 15.2 percent, respectively.

The figures, which are based on U.S. Census Bureau data, exclude car dealers, gas stations and restaurants, which were among the businesses hardest hit by the omicron surge in December.


Supreme Court Blocks OSHA Vaccine-or-Test Mandate for Employers

The Supreme Court on Thursday temporarily blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers, but allowed a vaccine-only mandate for health providers at federally funded facilities.

The OSHA regulation would have required companies with at least 100 workers to mandate all employees be vaccinated or provide weekly negative coronavirus test results and wear face coverings to work on-site.

While lower courts were split, the conservative Supreme Court majority ruled the employer vaccine-or-test mandate was an overreach. The justices said the challengers, a coalition of businesses and 27 Republican-led states, were likely to succeed on the merits.

“The Secretary has ordered 84 million Americans to either obtain a COVID–19 vaccine or undergo weekly medical testing at their own expense,” the justices wrote. “It is instead a significant encroachment into the Lives—and health—of a vast number of employees. … There can be little doubt that OSHA’s mandate qualifies as an exercise of such authority.”

The majority said OSHA’s standards are meant to regulate workplaces only, and COVID-19 is a public health issue, not just a workplace one.

“Although COVID-19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most. COVID–19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather,” the justices wrote.


2022 Federal Individual Income Tax Filing Season Begins January 24, 2022

The Internal Revenue Service announced that the nation’s tax season will start on Monday, January 24, 2022, when the tax agency will begin accepting and processing 2021 tax year returns.

The filing deadline to submit 2021 tax returns or an extension to file and pay tax owed is Monday, April 18, 2022, for most taxpayers. Taxpayers requesting an extension will have until Monday, October 17, 2022, to file.

The IRS encourages people to use online resources before calling. Last filing season, as a result of COVID-era tax changes and broader pandemic challenges, the IRS phone systems received more than 145 million calls from January 1 – May 17, more than four times more calls than in an average year. In addition to IRS.gov, the IRS has a variety of other free options available to help taxpayers, ranging from free assistance at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly locations across the country to the availability of the IRS Free File program.

Overall, the IRS anticipates most taxpayers will receive their refund within 21 days of when they file electronically if they choose direct deposit and there are no issues with their tax return. The IRS urges taxpayers and tax professionals to file electronically. To avoid delays in processing, people should avoid filing paper returns wherever possible.

By law, the IRS cannot issue a refund involving the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit before mid-February, though eligible people may file their returns beginning on January 24. The law provides this additional time to help the IRS stop fraudulent refunds from being issued.


U.S. Inflation Rate Hits Near 40-Year High

Prices in the U.S. are rising at their fastest rate in almost 40 years, with inflation up 7% year-on-year in December. Strong demand and scarce supply for key items such as cars are driving the increases, which are putting pressure on policymakers to act.

The U.S. central bank is expected to raise interest rates this year.

December’s increase marked the third month in a row that the U.S. annual inflation rate has hovered above 6% – well north of policymakers’ 2% target. The last time the pace of inflation exceeded that level was 1982.

Wednesday’s report from the Labor Department showed signs that some of the pressures may be easing. The cost of energy dropped 0.4% from November to December – its first decline since April. But over 12 months energy costs are up by nearly 30% and have returned to their upward trend in recent days.

Biden Administration Requires Insurance Companies and Group Health Plans to Cover the Cost of At-Home COVID-19 Tests

Beginning January 15, 2022, individuals with private health insurance coverage or covered by a group health plan who purchase an over-the-counter COVID-19 diagnostic test authorized, cleared, or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be able to have those test costs covered by their plan or insurance.  There is no limit on the number of tests, including at-home tests, that are covered if ordered or administered by a health care provider following an individualized clinical assessment, including for those who may need them due to underlying medical conditions.

As part of the requirement, the Biden Administration is incentivizing insurers and group health plans to set up programs that allow people to get the over-the-counter tests directly through preferred pharmacies, retailers or other entities with no out-of-pocket costs.  Insurers and plans would cover the costs upfront, eliminating the need for consumers to submit a claim for reimbursement. When plans and insurers make tests available for upfront coverage through preferred pharmacies or retailers, they are still required to reimburse tests purchased by consumers outside of that network, at a rate of up to $12 per individual test (or the cost of the test, if less than $12). For example, if an individual has a plan that offers direct coverage through their preferred pharmacy but that individual instead purchases tests through an online retailer, the plan is still required to reimburse them up to $12 per individual test. Consumers can find out more information from their plan about how their plan or insurer will cover over-the-counter tests.

State Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs are currently required to cover FDA-authorized at-home COVID-19 tests without cost-sharing. In 2021, the Biden-Harris Administration issued guidance explaining that State Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs must cover all types of FDA-authorized COVID-19 tests without cost sharing under CMS’s interpretation of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2019 (ARP). Medicare pays for COVID-19 diagnostic tests performed by a laboratory, such as PCR and antigen tests, with no beneficiary cost sharing when the test is ordered by a physician, non-physician practitioner, pharmacist, or other authorized health care professional. People enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan should check with their plan to see if their plan offers coverage and payment for at-home over-the-counter COVID-19 tests.