Update: Social Security Disability Rate Adjustments for 2024

The Social Security Administration has announced adjustments in various disability benefits and thresholds for 2024. Here’s what you need to know:

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA): For individuals with disabilities (excluding blindness), the SGA amount is now $1,550 per month1. For those who are blind, the SGA is $2,590 per month.

Trial Work Period (TWP): The monthly earnings threshold for TWP months has been set at $1,1102.
Federal Benefit Rate (FBR): The 2024 FBR for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is $943 for an individual and $1,415 for a couple3.

Student Earned-Income Exclusion (SEIE): SSI beneficiaries under age 22 can earn up to $9,230 a year without affecting their eligibility or benefits.

For assistance with your Social Security Disability Claim, call 804-440-6557 or visit dsgordonlaw.com


NLRB’s New Joint-Employer Rule

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is the federal agency that enforces the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which protects the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively with their employers.

On October 27, 2023, the NLRB published a final rule that changes the standard for determining when two or more entities are joint employers of a group of employees under the NLRA. In the modern workforce, it is not uncommon for an employee to be technically hired by one entity while being contracted to provide services to another business that essentially controls their daily work performance. The new rule provides more clarity and guidance to parties covered by the NLRA regarding their rights and responsibilities when more than one statutory employer possesses the authority to control or exercises the power to control particular employees’ essential terms and conditions of employment.

The new rule implements established common-law standards by considering the an employers’ authority to control essential terms and conditions of employment, whether or not such control is exercised, and without regard to whether any such exercise of control is direct or indirect. Essential terms and conditions of employment include: wages, benefits, and other compensation; hours of work and scheduling; the assignment of duties to be performed; the supervision of the performance of duties; work rules and directions governing the manner, means, and methods of the performance of duties and the grounds for discipline; the tenure of employment, including hiring and discharge; and working conditions related to the safety and health of employees.

The effective date of the rule for new cases is February 26, 2024. For more information, you can read the NLRB’s fact sheet.

Understanding FinCEN’s New Rule for Reporting Ownership Interests in Corporations

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) recently implemented a significant rule that affects businesses across the United States. As a business owner, it’s crucial to understand this new requirement and ensure compliance.

What Is the New Mandate?

The Corporate Transparency Act (CTA) introduced a beneficial ownership information reporting provision. Under this rule, most businesses—whether corporations, S corporations, partnerships, or other entities—must report their beneficial owners to FinCEN. The goal is to enhance national security, prevent illicit use of the financial system, and identify potential bad actors.

Who Needs to File?

The new rule applies to a wide range of entities, except sole proprietors and certain exempted categories. If you’re a business owner, you’ll need to report any stockholders who own 25% or more of your company. Additionally, beneficial owners include individuals with substantial control over your entity, such as CEOs, CFOs, or chief operating officers. The rule provides standards for determining ownership interests, covering not only shares but also profit interests, warrants, options, and other instruments. The Agency’s Small Entity Compliance Guide provides specific information about reporting obligations and exemptions.

When to File?

The reporting period began on January 1, 2024, and businesses must submit their BOI reports by December 31, 2024. New entities created after January 1, 2024, have 90 days from their formation to file.

Can You Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits with Epilepsy?

Living with epilepsy poses unique challenges, especially when it hinders the ability to maintain employment. Social Security Disability benefits can provide crucial financial support for individuals grappling with the impact of epilepsy on their daily lives.


Proving Your Claim:


To be considered for Social Security Disability benefits due to epilepsy, you must present medical documentation demonstrating that your epilepsy prevents you from working at a gainful employment level. Additionally, you need to have accumulated enough work credits through your employment history. Relevant medical conditions would include timing and frequency of seizures; post-seizure Issues, such as impaired thinking, fatigue, or disruptions to daily activities; and continued seizures despite medication.


Understanding Epilepsy Under SSA Listing 11.02:


The Social Security Administrations Blue Book serves as a comprehensive guide that outlines the conditions that qualify automatically for Social Security Disability benefits. As characterized in the Blue Book, epilepsy is a pattern of recurrent and unprovoked seizures that are manifestations of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. There are various types of generalized and “focal” or partial seizures. The most common potentially disabling seizure types are generalized tonic-clonic seizures and dyscognitive seizures. Generalized tonic-clonic seizures are characterized by loss of consciousness accompanied by a tonic phase. Dyscognitive seizures are characterized by alteration of consciousness without convulsions or loss of muscle control. To meet the automatic qualification criteria for this listing, you must demonstrate:


A diagnosis of epilepsy, as documented by a detailed description of a typical seizure and characterized by A, B, C, or D below:


A. Generalized tonic-clonic seizures occurring at least once a month for at least 3 consecutive months despite adherence to prescribed treatment.


OR


B. Dyscognitive seizures, occurring at least once a week for at least 3 consecutive months despite adherence to prescribed treatment.


OR


C. Generalized tonic-clonic seizures, occurring at least once every 2 months for at least 4 consecutive months despite adherence to prescribed treatment; and a marked limitation in one of:
-Physical functioning;
-Understanding, remembering, or applying information;
-Interacting with others;
-Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; or
-Adapting or managing oneself


OR


D. Dyscognitive seizures occurring at least once every 2 weeks for at least 3 consecutive months despite adherence to prescribed treatment ; and a marked limitation in one of the following:
-Physical functioning;
-Understanding, remembering, or applying information;
-Interacting with others;
-Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; or
-Adapting or managing oneself.


Successfully navigating the Social Security disability benefits process for epilepsy requires a nuanced understanding of the specific criteria outlined in Listing 11.02 and alternative argument for qualification. By providing detailed documentation and adhering to the prescribed treatment, individuals with epilepsy can enhance their chances of qualifying for benefits. Please contact my office directly should you wish assistance with you claim.

Can Older Employees Draw Unemployment Benefits and Social Security Retirement?

As individuals approach retirement age, many find themselves grappling with the decision of whether to continue working or fully retire. The prospect of job loss in such a scenario can raise questions about eligibility for unemployment benefits, especially when one is already receiving or scheduled to receive Social Security retirement benefits.


Understanding Unemployment Benefits in Virginia:

The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) administers unemployment benefits in the state, providing financial assistance to eligible individuals who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. To determine eligibility, the VEC considers various factors, including the claimant’s work history, reason for separation from employment, and other earned income. Regardless of age, to receive unemployment benefits, the potential worker also must be able to work, available to work, and actively seeking work.


Earned Income vs. Social Security Retirement:

Social Security is a federal program that provides financial assistance to retirees based on their lifetime contributions. Regardless of their retirement status, workers are eligible to draw their Social Security retirement benefits once they reach their qualified retirement age.


The Virginia Employment Commission considers other earned income when determining eligibility and benefit amounts for unemployment benefits. Other earned income can include wages, severance benefits, secondary jobs, or other compensation received for work performed. In most cases, unemployment benefits will be offset by other earned income. However, under Virginia Code Section 60.2-604, the weekly benefit amount payable to an individual for any week is not reduced by any amount of Social Security Act or Railroad Retirement Act retirement benefits for that week. This distinction allows individuals over their qualified retirement age to draw both unemployment and regular social security retirement benefits if they lose their job and still want to return to the workforce.

Does the Minimum Wage in Virginia Change in 2024?

No. While the Federal minimum wage for nonexempt employees still remains set at $7.25 per hour, Virginia, like many states, implements its own minimum wage law that supplements Federal standards.

As of January 1, 2023, Virginia’s minimum wage increased to $12 per hour, reflecting an increase from the previous rates of $9.50 (effective May 1, 2021) and $11.00 (effective January 1, 2022). However, there is no further increase in 2024. Absent further amendments, the minimum wage is set to rise again on January 1, 2025, to $13.50 per hour and to $15.00 per hour on January 1, 2026. Additionally, any increase in the federal minimum wage will automatically raise the Virginia rate, as the statute requires payment of the higher of the state or federal minimum wage.

The NLRB’s Evolving Stance on Employment Noncompete Agreements

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has taken a clear stance on employment noncompete agreements, challenging their legality under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRB General Counsel’s memorandum, released in May 2023, asserts that such agreements infringe upon employees’ rights outlined in Section 7 of the Act. This development has far-reaching implications for both employers and employees, prompting a reevaluation of traditional employment practices.

The NLRB argues that overbroad non-compete agreements violate the NLRA by impinging on employees’ ability to exercise their Section 7 rights. These agreements, which traditionally aim to protect employers’ investments in employee training and intellectual property, are potentially unlawful when they restrict workers from engaging in collective action to improve working conditions. The memorandum specifically highlights instances where non-compete agreements hinder employees from seeking alternative employment, thereby limiting their bargaining power during labor disputes and undermining solidarity among workers.

The NLRB emphasizes that non-compete provisions are problematic when construed by employees as denying them the freedom to quit or change jobs, limiting their access to other employment opportunities commensurate with their skills and preferences. This denial of access has potential ripple effects, such as a weakened bargaining position during labor disputes and a loss of solidarity among workers.

The GC’s opinion is not currently settled law, but it is being implemented into NLRB policy. For example, a recent NLRB complaint alleges that a medical clinic violated the NLRA by imposing non-compete and non-solicitation provisions on employees, hindering their ability to engage in certain activities for 24 months post-employment termination. The NLRB now seeks to rescind these agreements.

Virginia’s New Law Limiting Nondisclosure Agreements Relating to Sexual Assault and Harassment

In a significant move towards promoting transparency and accountability in the workplace, Virginia recently enacted Virginia Code § 40.1-28.01, which places limitations on employers’ use of nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements concerning claims of sexual assault and harassment. The statute provides that no employer shall require an employee or a prospective employee to execute or renew any provision in a nondisclosure or confidentiality agreement, including any provision relating to non-disparagement, that has the purpose or effect of concealing the details relating to a claim of sexual assault or a claim of sexual harassment as a condition of employment. Any such provision is against public policy and is void and unenforceable.

While the term “sexual assault” is not explicitly defined in the statute, the law specifically applies to claims arising under Virginia laws related to rape, forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual battery, and sexual battery. The statute defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when such conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

Crucially, the law is narrowly tailored to apply to applicants and current employees, arguably leaving room for nondisclosure or confidentiality agreements with former employees. This means that provisions commonly found in severance and settlement agreements, which are executed post-employment, will likely remain unaffected by this legislation.

Are Employees Entitled to a Copies Personnel Files and Pay Records?

Personnel Files

In Virginia, the ability to access employee personnel files varies between private and public sector employees. Absent a subpoena or litigation discovery process, private sector employees in Virginia do not have a statutory right to obtain a copy of their complete personnel files, which are considered the property of the employer. In contrast, public sector employees in Virginia generally have the right to review their personnel files.

Job and Pay Information

However, Virginia law does guarantee access to certain information for all employees. VA Code § 8.01-413.1(B), mandates that employers furnish employees, upon written request, copies of employment records reflecting:

  1. Dates of Employment
  2. Wages or Salary Information
  3. Job Description and Title
  4. Work-Related Injuries

Timely Compliance

Employers are obligated to respond to employee requests within 30 days. If this timeframe is unattainable, the employer may extend the response period by an additional 30 days upon providing a written explanation of the reason for the delay. The employer may charge a reasonable fee for the records. If the records or papers are kept in paper or hard copy format, the employer may charge a reasonable fee per page for copying. If the records or papers are kept in electronic format, the employer may charge a reasonable fee for the electronic records.

Enforcement

Should an employer fail to comply with a written request, the employee may obtain a subpoena duces tecum, as stipulated in VA Code § 8.01-413.1(C). If a court determines that an employer willfully refused compliance, whether by ignoring subsequent requests or imposing excessive charges, the court may award damages for all expenses incurred by the employee to obtain such copies, including a refund of fees if payment has been made for such copies, court costs, and reasonable attorney fees.

Virginia’s Return to Federal Overtime Standards

Virginia’s journey into overtime regulation took an interesting turn with the passing of the Virginia Overtime Wage Act (VOWA) in March 2021. However, amidst widespread confusion and concerns from employers, the state has decided to realign its overtime obligations and exemptions with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) beginning July 2022.

The 2022 VOWA amendments largely return the state to the overtime standards that were in place prior to the enactment of the VOWA in 2021. By realigning with the FLSA, employers (and judges) once again can rely on years of federal regulations, DOL guidance, and governing case law to determine their overtime obligations to employees.

While the recent amendments largely align Virginia’s overtime obligations with the FLSA, some significant changes should be noted:

Private Right of Action: The new amendments preserve an employees’ private right of action under VOWA, granting them access to state courts for individual or collective-action claims for unpaid wages and overtime.

Damages and Penalties: Similar to the FLSA, VOWA also allows for heightened damages and penalties for overtime violations. These provisions include automatic liquidated damages equal to the amount of unpaid wages, pre-judgment interest at 8% per year, and civil penalties of $1,000 for each violation, with the possibility of treble damages for “knowing” violations. These enhanced damages could incentivize employees to pursue claims in state courts.

Statute of Limitations: Prior to the 2022 amendments, VOWA had established a three-year statute of limitations for all violations, regardless of whether they were willful. With the changes, the FLSA’s two-year statute of limitations for non-willful violations will be reinstated. However, the VOWA’s imposition of double damages and possible treble damages for knowing violations remains intact.

Virginia’s return to federal overtime standards brings predictability to employers who were grappling with the complexities of the VOWA. By aligning with the FLSA, employers can once again rely on well-established federal regulations and case law to navigate overtime obligations. In any event, the swings of this legislative battle should be a signal for Virginia employers to review their overtime policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the amended laws.