Payroll debit cards arrive in Georgia

Moderated by Rick Badie

This year, Georgia joined states that have established laws that regulate and permit the use of payroll cards to pay employees. It’s sorta like a bank debit card that gives workers access to their earnings. Our law allows workers to opt out of using a payroll card if they prefer direct deposit or a paper check. Today, a labor attorney discusses this payment option by advising employers to approach implementation thoughtfully. The other column praises Georgia’s new solar energy legislation, while a third continues last week’s conversation on international trade agreements.

Approach payroll card system thoughtfully

By Ted Boehm

Early last month, Georgia became the latest state to pass legislation governing the payment of wages via “payroll cards.” Senate Bill 88, which revised Georgia’s Wage Payment law, OCGA § 34-7-2, was signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal on May 5. Prior to the passage of this bill, the payment of wages via payroll cards in Georgia was neither explicitly lawful nor unlawful. Any open questions about that issue have now been put to rest by the new legislation.

Many employers have moved away from providing employees with physical checks on payday, and have moved to a paperless alternative such as direct deposit. While direct deposit remains the most favored option for paperless wage payment, the payroll card alternative continues to grow in popularity. Payroll cards work similar to a gift card; the employer simply delivers an employee’s wages to a third party who in turn adds the wages to the payroll card, which is then provided to the employee.

The new law requires Georgia employers to take certain steps before transitioning to this method of payment. First, employers must provide current employees with a “written explanation of any fees associated with the payroll card.” The most typical fees of this kind are “usage” or “withdrawal” fees or fees to replace a lost payroll card. Second, employers must simultaneously provide employees with a form that allows employees to opt out of the payroll card payment and request either a paper check or direct deposit. Both of these documents must be provided to current employees at least 30 days before an employer implements a payroll card system. For new employees, the documents must be provided at the time of hire.

Apart from requiring that employees be given notice of the fees associated with the payroll card, Georgia’s law has no additional requirements as it relates to fees. This distinguishes Georgia from the laws of certain other states that permit the use of payroll cards, but that also limit the amount and/or frequency of fees that may result to the employee during the use of such cards.

For example, Nebraska’s wage payment law contains a provision regarding wage payment by payroll cards which notes that employers must allow “at least one means of fund access withdrawal per pay period … at no cost to the employee.”

Even though Georgia’s law does not address the impact of fees in this regard, Georgia employers must still be mindful of other laws governing employee pay. For example, the fees associated with the use of payroll cards might implicate the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which governs the payment of minimum wage and overtime premiums. Moreover, in 2014, the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a bulletin addressing whether an employer could require an employee to establish an account at a particular financial institution in the context of paying via payroll cards.

In short, Georgia employers should evaluate these and other considerations before implementing a payroll card system.

Ted Boehm is a labor attorney for Fisher & Phillips.

Stellar solar law

By Norrie McKenzie

In May, Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law Georgia House Bill 57, or the Solar Power Free-Market Financing Act of 2015. As the state’s leading utility serving more than 2.4 million customers, Georgia Power supports this law and the protection it brings for Georgia customers.

Homeowners have always been able to add solar generation using an installer of their choice and pay for the installation upfront or through a home improvement or equity loan. However, as more Georgians consider solar for their homes, we expect this new law to stimulate the residential market by further enhancing renewable options for customers.

Georgia Power supports this law because of the benefits for customers and for three primary reasons.

  • The law provides clarity for solar companies seeking to enter the market, lease or finance a system to a homeowner and base the payments on the system’s output. This allows the homeowner to purchase or lease a solar system without a downpayment and puts the risk of the system’s performance on the financing party.
  • It requires that solar installers meet all local and state laws, as well as safety, power quality and utility interconnection requirements.
  • It clearly defines the difference between a solar installer or financing agent and an electric utility like Georgia Power, which has the obligation to provide reliable service 24 hours a day.

The law goes into effect July 1 of this year – a landmark date for solar in our state and an opportunity for Georgia Power to continue to meet the changing needs of our customers. Georgia Power solar energy experts will be available to walk customers through the process step by step, starting with basic questions like:

  • Do you own your own home? Typically, you must own a home to make major renovations or improvements.
  • Are you planning on living in your home at least five years? You will want to enjoy the benefits of a solar investment for many years.
  • Is your roof structurally sound and in good condition? Once solar panels are installed, you don’t want to have to remove them to repair or replace your roof.
  • Is your roof mostly sunny or is it shaded? The more sunlight your panels receive, the more energy the panels will generate.

Georgia Power recommends that customers who desire solar generation at their residences use a solar installer certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). On July 1, Georgia Power will be offering solar sales and installation services, further delivering on our more than 100-year history of energy expertise in Georgia.

We remind customers to remain in contact with their utility to ensure that they receive the most value from solar. That utility will help you with interconnection processes and explain any special rates or services that may be available for customers with solar generation installed. Many utilities, including Georgia Power, also offer Green Energy programs for customers who want to support renewable energy, but don’t want to install their own solar generation system.

Norrie McKenzie is vice president of renewable development for Georgia Power.

Global trade pacts benefit Georgia

By George Corbin

Many of us take for granted or don’t fully realize how business conditions influence our daily lives. From jobs to everyday necessities, local and global commerce depends on countless individual decisions as well as the laws, rules and regulations that shape them.

Currently, Congress is debating several trade-related bills that could benefit businesses and employees right here in Georgia, including Solvay, a global chemical company with a large and growing manufacturing presence in the U.S. and a world class research and development center in Alpharetta.

Solvay makes a range of chemicals that are the building blocks for consumer goods and industrial products. Our innovations include high-strength specialty polymers, or plastics, used in popular smart phones, automotive parts, medical equipment and other applications where durability is essential. Right now, Solvay employs more than 25,000 people around the world and nearly 500 in Georgia, including more than 200 employees in Alpharetta. We also have manufacturing sites in Winder and Augusta. In fact, we recently began an expansion project in Augusta that will add more jobs, thanks in part to global trade.

But Solvay isn’t the only business in Georgia that depends on trade. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Georgia companies exported nearly $39.4 billion in goods and services in 2014. Trade with Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partners has steadily increased over the past 10 years. Today, 38 percent of goods made in Georgia are exported to those countries. The Business Roundtable estimates that international trade supports nearly 1.2 million Georgia employees, or about 1 in 5 jobs in the state.

With proven results like these, it’s easy to see future trade agreements hold such positive potential. Trade deals currently under negotiation, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), have the potential to open Asian and European markets for Solvay and countless other businesses, large and small. The Miscellaneous Tariff Bill and the Generalized System of Preferences, also under consideration by Congress, help to further break down barriers to trade and boost competitiveness of U.S. businesses at home and abroad.

Our leaders in Washington recognize the important role the U.S. plays in leading world trade. They also recognize the role the business community plays in providing good-paying jobs here in Georgia and across the country. As an employer and manufacturer, I urge our members of Congress to advance these trade programs for the benefit of Georgia businesses and employees.

George Corbin is president of Solvay Specialty Polymers in Alpharetta.

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