New year brings new laws for business owners

New rules affecting business include an Affordable Care Act mandate and gender neutral bathrooms

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It’s January 2016, and companies doing business across the state have some new laws to be aware of. Here are some of legal changes businesses must contend with.

Affordable Care Act

Beginning January 1, the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate went into full effect. Companies with 50 or more full-time employees are expected to offer health insurance to at least 95 percent of their employees (and their dependents up to age 26) or pay a fine.

Last year, the employer mandate only applied to companies with 100 or more FTEs, with a requirement to offer insurance to just 70 percent of their employees.

Companies with 50 or fewer full-time employees are still not required to provide insurance.

For employers who are required to provide coverage, the law states that it must meet minimum value requirements (covering at least 60 percent of healthcare costs) and be considered affordable (it cannot cost more than 9.56 percent of the employee’s household income).

Last week, the IRS announced that companies now have until March 31 to provide the agency with information on what coverage they offer and the coverage they provide their staff. Prior to the announcement, the deadline for these materials (Forms 1095-B and 1095-C) was Feb. 1.

Gender neutral bathrooms

A new set of policies went into place on Dec. 26 requiring buildings open to the public to allow transgender people to use restrooms and locker rooms of the gender they identify with.

The policies were adopted by the state’s Human Rights Commission, which has been criticized for not pursuing the change through legislative means.

Sharon Ortiz, executive director of the commission, said that there are exceptions to the new rules, including school locker rooms.

Marijuana regulations

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board will be increasing the number of retail marijuana stores in advance of a July 1 law that will ban collective gardens in the state. People who use medical marijuana will have to buy their marijuana at a retail store, rather than purchase it from a grower.

The Liquor and Cannabis Board approved recommendations during a meeting this week to license more than 200 new retail stores throughout the state.

Bryan Smith, spokesperson for the Liquor and Cannabis Board, said the board will allot stores based on geographic representation and population, and he said retailers should expect see some increased competition as the number of stores increases.

However, that increased competition may not happen in Vancouver – at least not yet. As of press time, the city of Vancouver has a cap on the number of recreational marijuana retailers at six. Battle Ground is the only other jurisdiction in the region that allows marijuana retailers to do business.

Corporations

Washington state LLCs will want to be aware of the “Uniform Business Organizations Code,” which makes some changes to what and how certain records are filed with the Office of the Secretary of State.

Matthew Bisturis, a shareholder in the Vancouver office of regional law firm Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, provides an in-depth explanation of several of the changes in this week’s Law column.

No changes

Unlike in previous years, Washington state did not increase its minimum wage, which is tied to yearly inflation. The wage remains at $9.47 an hour and it is still one of the country’s highest.

A call for preparation

Aside from being aware of new laws that may impact your company, there are a few things that every business owner should consider doing this month, according to the U.S. Small Business Association’s office in Seattle.

The association recommends that businesses revisit recordkeeping practices, work closely with your tax and financial advisors, regularly revisit and review business plans, and use sources such as small business development centers, veteran and women-business outreach centers to find employees and expand business.

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