A new year means new regulatory policies and debates to keep an eye on. While these proposed shifts are moving targets that may or may not come to pass, it's important to remain informed of ongoing developments that could ultimately impact your business in 2018 and beyond.
Staying apprised of policy changes could be the difference between gaining a competitive edge or falling behind due to compliance issues or strategic missteps. Here are five policies we're keeping an eye on this year, and how they might affect small businesses.
1. Tax policy changes
Federal tax policy reform, which narrowly passed in both chambers of Congress, carries huge implications for businesses of all sizes. Not only does the law revamp the U.S. tax code, but many states could potentially change their regulations to better conform with federal policy as well. While many have rushed to judgment either in favor of or against the legislation, the tax code is labyrinthian in nature, and the full effects won't be recognized until implementation is already well underway. Entrepreneurs should keep an eye on developments as the new policy takes effect, and consult with professionals about new opportunities or strategies to pursue. [Read related article: How Will the New Tax Law Impact Small Business?]
"The Tax Cut & Jobs Act passed in 2017, but we have a long way to go before we can identify all the effects it will have on the small business owner," said Jen Gibbs Swets, partner of DWC – The 401(k) Experts. "In 2018, all eyes are focused on the impact of the act, with financial consultants and accountants pouring through the complex details … With time to digest this mammoth new law, there will likely be opportunities uncovered by the assiduous consultant to the benefit of clients, particularly the small business owner demographic."
2. Portable benefits rules
The gig economy continues to grow each year, including independent contractors, freelancers and temporary workers. As a result, popular support for portable benefits, those that move with gig workers from job to job, has also grown. Portable benefits are still in the early stages of policy formation, but bills have already been introduced in several states and on Capitol Hill. For example, Virginia Senator Mark Warner introduced portable benefits legislation in May 2017, and the New York Senate is considering the creation of a task force to examine measures like portable benefits for gig economy workers.
"Over one-third of Americans today identify as gig workers or independent contractors, and this segment is growing exponentially. As more Americans choose this type of work, they lose the securities provided by traditional work, such as health insurance, 401(k)s, training and development," said Carisa Miklusak, CEO of tilr. "This creates an unsustainable ecosystem with uncared-for workers. Left unattended, it would drive down U.S. productivity rates, health levels and skill acumen. The impact is too severe to ignore, and I anticipate we'll see heightened attention on portable benefits policy, followed by widespread expansion."
3. General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in the European Union
While these cybersecurity regulations are happening overseas, their implementation is a sort of bellwether for the U.S., which could soon follow up with similar regulation in a bid to tighten up American networks and boost data security for individuals and businesses alike. Entrepreneurs should keep an eye on the developments, said E.J. McGowan, vice president and managing director of Campaigner.
"While GDPR is EU-focused, we expect this global change to result in stricter data policies in the U.S.," McGowan said. "With breaches like Equifax occurring more frequently, small businesses should focus on improving security protocols this year to protect consumer data, like email addresses, passwords and other personally identifiable data. While terms of how the U.S. will respond to GDPR are not yet clear, business owners should ensure this policy is on their radar and take steps now to keep ahead of these regulations."
4. The Affordable Care Act
While health reform efforts failed multiple times in Congress last year, changes to the Affordable Care Act aren't off the table yet. The newly proposed tax policy changes include a provision that reduces the ACA's individual mandate penalty to $0, effectively repealing the provision through tax policy rather than congressional action. However, according to Paychex, the reporting provisions will not change, and employers and other self-insured individuals should be prepared to comply with existing requirements.
"It should be noted that this does not change the filing requirement for the individual mandate; the IRS requires employers and insurers to report individuals covered by their plan or face penalties," the payroll and HR company noted on its website.
5. Paid sick leave and minimum wage policies at local and state levels
Measures raising the minimum wage or mandating paid sick leave have been gaining popularity throughout the country in municipalities and statehouses. As was the case in 2017, paid leave policies will likely be implemented in a patchwork fashion by localities and states. Paid leave bills were also introduced in Congress, but any that surface this session are unlikely to gain traction in either Republican-led chamber. For entrepreneurs, choosing to offer paid leave benefits represents an attractive incentive when courting talent, but mandatory paid leave policies would likely require additional considerations in planning and budgeting.
"No matter how large or small the organization, most employers want to create a workplace culture that supports employees in times of need," said Martin Mucci, president and CEO of Paychex. "However, for small businesses, mandatory paid leave may present challenges. Whether it's having a key member of a small team out of the office for an extended period of time or the back-end administration of such a program, mandatory paid leave will introduce new dynamics small business owners will have to navigate."