BBB Scam: Don’t click that link

Phishing Alert: The BBB and FLSA?

We were recently contacted by one of our clients because they had received a confusing email from the Better Business Bureau.

image-ashxSpecifically, the email came from the “Better Business Bureau Compliance Department”, and it stated that our client had received an employee complaint claiming that they were in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The email included a link that promised to give our client access to the full claim document and further explanation. Finally, the “BBB” requested a response to their email within 48 hours that included details showing “what you intend to do about it”.

This is weird. Especially since:

a) generally, wage and hour violation claims are not initially communicated via email, and
b) the Better Business Bureau doesn’t enforce FLSA claims – the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the US Department of Labor does

One of our HR Account Managers advised our client to contact the Better Business Bureau directly to check out this strange request. An email was quickly received back with dire warnings about the message they had received:

“These emails are going to companies AND individuals.  In each case, they ask you to click on a link that appears to go to a BBB page, or you are asked to download an attached form or file. These are very dangerous emails.  It is important that you do NOT click on any of the links in the emails or download any attachments.”

Below, you’ll find the full reply from the real BBB, which includes instructions on what to do if you receive an email like this, and here is a link to the BBB website with further information.

Unfortunately, phishing scams like these are not going away. When opening email, the old adage stands: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If something seems strange, ask for a second opinion from someone you trust, and definitely… don’t click that link.

Here is the full response to our client from the real BBB:

Thank you for contacting the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

You may have received an email that says your company is the subject of a complaint filed with BBB, or asks that you complete a BBB business questionnaire, or claims that a customer review about your business has been posted. It may reference a case number or it may be vague on the details.

These emails are going to companies AND individuals.  In each case, they ask you to click on a link that appears to go to a BBB page, or you are asked to download an attached form or file.

These are very dangerous emails.  It is important that you do NOT click on any of the links in the emails or download any attachments.

If you did click on a link or open or download any attachments, your computer may have unwittingly downloaded a stealthy malware program which is able to pass by most anti-virus programs undetected.  In the event you clicked on a link, you should consider having your computer scanned by a trusted computer repair professional to see if any malware is present and, if so, can be removed.

If you did not click on any links or attachments, you are still strongly encouraged to run a complete virus scan on your system.

You can learn more about these bogus phishing and malware scams at

In the future, if you receive an email that appears to come from Better Business Bureau, please check with your local BBB office to determine whether it is legitimate.  You can find your local BBB office by visiting   You can also forward the email to for assistance.

Thank you for contacting the Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc.  We hope this information is helpful.

Council of Better Business Bureaus

Illinois Company Handbook Updates for 2017

Now that we are halfway through the 4th quarter of 2016, it is time to start making changes to your 2017 company handbook. There are a number of Illinois law updates to keep in mind as you make changes.


date2017The Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA) was recently amended with changes that will go into effect on January 1, 2017. VESSA provides victims of domestic or sexual violence with unpaid leave to seek medical attention, obtain victim services or counseling, for safety planning, or to seek legal guidance. The existing law gives 8 weeks of unpaid leave to employees who work for an employer with 15-49 employees and 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees who work for an employer with 50 or more employees. The amendment to the law provides 4 weeks of unpaid leave to employees who work for an employer with 14 or less employees.

For more information on VESSA leave, please visit the IL Department of Labor Website.

Illinois Employee Sick Leave Act (ESLA)

This is a new law that takes effect on January 1, 2017 and affects all employers who provide paid sick or personal time to their employees. This law does not require employers to provide additional paid sick or personal time to employees (not to be confused with the Chicago Paid Sick Leave law) but rather says that if you already provide paid time off to employees to use for their own illness or injury, you must allow them to also use these benefits for the illness, injury or medical appointment of a family member.

The law allows employers to limit the amount of time an employee can use to care for a family member to the amount that they would normally accrue in six months.  The ESLA defines family member as a child, grandchild, spouse (or domestic partner), parent, stepparent, mother or father-in-law and sibling.

Illinois Child Bereavement Leave Act

We sent a communication regarding this law on August 26th, 2016. To read that communication, click here.

Chicago Paid Sick Leave Law

We sent a communication regarding this law on August 12th, 2016. To read that communication, click here.

Illinois Secure Choice Savings Act-  Update

The Illinois Secure Choice Savings Act was signed into legislation in January of 2015 with the intention of being rolled out in 2017. Recently, the Illinois Treasury Department has released information stating that the program will not be rolled out until 2018 or maybe even 2019. This gives employers more time to prepare but it is still something to keep in the back of your mind!

For more information on this program, please visit the Illinois Dept of Treasury Website.

What’s this Health Insurance Marketplace Notice??

If your business has employees, there is a chance you may receive a notice in the mail from the Health Insurance Marketplace. This notice will let you know that you have an employee who submitted an application for health coverage through the ACA Marketplace and they have been determined to be eligible for a premium tax credit.

First: Don’t retaliate

Before we discuss what you need to do, it’s worth knowing that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains a non-retaliation provision. So if you receive a notice regarding one of your employees, it is very important to not take any retaliatory action towards that employee.

What does the notice mean for you?

If the employee receives a tax credit and you did not offer the employee affordable health care coverage, your company could be on the hook to pay the Employer Shared Responsibility Penalty to the IRS. If you are unfamiliar with these penalties, you can review this IRS Site for more information. Sample notice:


What if you did offer the employee coverage?

If you offered the employee coverage, this is your opportunity to appeal the notice. Here are some helpful hints when submitting an appeal:

  1. Download the Employer Appeal Request Form.
  2. The Marketplace will review appeals based on the following issues:
    a.  Whether or not the employee was offered health coverage that met the “minimum value standard”
    b.  Whether or not the health coverage you offered to the employee was “affordable”
    c.  Whether or not the employee chose to enroll in that health coverage
  3. To complete the appeal, fill out all of the necessary information, provide an explanation of your appeal, and then include supporting documents.
  4. Here is an outline of the documents you could use:


What if the employee was not offered coverage because he/she is not a full-time employee?

The Marketplace does not review eligibility based on employment status, but instead defers to the IRS to determine if an employer is subject to the Employer Shared Responsibility Penalty. This information will be reported to the IRS through your 1095-C reports; however, it is still important to make sure you have documentation to support your reason for not offering benefits.

If I win my appeal, does that mean my company will not receive a penalty from the IRS?

The Marketplace cannot determine if an employer owes a Shared Responsibility Penalty, as that determination is made by the IRS. With that being said, if a Marketplace appeal is decided in the employee’s favor, this could prevent the Marketplace from reporting to the IRS that an employer received a credit, or could reduce the period for which the employee was reported as receiving a credit. This process is still so new that we are waiting to learn more about how the IRS will assess and distribute penalties and if there will be an appeal process for employers to utilize.

Need Assistance?

If you are a current StratEx client, and have questions or need assistance with an appeal, you can always reach out to your HR Account Manager. If you are not a current client, contact us for more information on how we can help you work through questions around the ACA, Payroll, Benefits, and HR.

New Overtime Regulations: What you need to know

Gretchen-Van-VlymenStratEx’s Gretchen Van Vlymen recently contributed to a SHRM article written by Dana Wilke, The Nuts and Bolts of Complying with the New Overtime Regulations. Click here for the full article, but here are a few highlights:

  • The annual salary threshold for employees exempt from overtime pay will increase from $23,660 to $47,476 on December 1st.
  • Gretchen reports it is taking our HR Account Managers at StratEx from eight to 24 hours with each client to navigate through the new regulations and implement the changes necessary to be compliant with the rule. The DOL estimated it would take one hour per company.
  • Hospitality and restaurant companies can be particularly tricky to figure out, with variable or unpredictable hours, split roles and other considerations.
  • Paycheck deductions tied to benefits may need to be reviewed and updated if benefit offerings are affected based on employee exemption statuses.

If you have questions about the new overtime regulations and how they may affect your employees’ exemption statuses, StratEx can help you navigate this, and other tricky HR and Payroll related topics. Contact us now for more information.

StratEx Awarded Chicago’s 2016 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For®


Chicago-based Human Resources Consulting Firm Recognized for Exceptional Workplace Culture For Second Consecutive Year

CHICAGO – June 23, 2016 – StratEx, a Chicago-based provider of human resources software and service, has been recognized as one of the Best and Brightest Companies to Work For® in Chicago by the National Association for Business Resources (NABR). This marks the second year StratEx has won the award.

Chicago101BBlogo4cWwtype-139x300“Our employees are at the core of everything we do,” said Adam Ochstein, Founder and CEO of StratEx. “It’s an honor to be recognized for the culture we have created, and it is truly a testament to all of our hard-working and passionate employees.”

The award, which is sponsored by the NABR, recognizes companies that use an innovative and thoughtful approach to human resources. Through a third-party research firm, companies are evaluated based on compensation and benefits, employee engagement and retention, employee development and training initiatives, work-life balance, community initiatives and corporate strategies.

The 2016 winners were divided into small, medium, and large business categories, StratEx being among the small business category.

“Companies that recognize that their employees are the key to their success achieve staying power,” said Jennifer Kluge, President and CEO of MBPA. “Our 2016 winners create their human resource standards to ensure employee satisfaction and they set standards for every business to aspire toward.”

The 2016 Best and Brightest awards ceremony was held on July 15, 2016 at the Chicago Marriott Southwest at Burr Ridge. For more information on the award, please visit

For more information on StratEx, please visit or contact Heather Youkhana at 312-496-6562 or


About StratEx

Founded in 2003, StratEx is a provider of human resources services and software, helping companies manage the entire employee lifecycle all online, through its proprietary software, eStratEx. From filing resumes and applications, to hiring and onboarding, to time-off requests and payroll processing, to termination, resignation or exit interviews, StratEx helps companies manage the processes so businesses can focus on employee relations StratEx has offices in Chicago, Orlando, NYC, Orange County, and Phoenix. For more information on StratEx, please visit, or call 312-216-2200.

Gretchen Van Vlymen Named 2016 Game Changer by Workforce Magazine

GameChangers_Logo_2Leading human resources and talent management publication, Workforce Magazine, recently announced its recognition of Gretchen Van Vlymen, Vice President of Account Management at StratEx, on its 2016 “Game Changers” list.

This prestigious award recognizes the top 25 innovative rising stars within the human resources industry for their positive impact on the present and future of the human resources profession.  Winners of this accolade are a diverse group representing some of the best human resources practitioners and strategists who are dedicated to pushing the profession forward with innovative people-management practices.

WF_0815_GameChangerLogo“It is incredibly humbling to be listed among this innovative group of professionals,” said Van Vlymen. “At StratEx, we are continually encouraged to seek out and implement cutting edge human resources strategy, and I’m lucky to work for a company that has empowered me to put these tactics into action for our clients.”

Workforce Magazine is a multimedia publication that covers the intersection of people management and business strategy. The content helps human resources professionals approach their jobs from a more strategic, big-picture, business-results perspective.

Van Vlymen joined StratEx as a Human Resources Account Manager in 2010. In her current role, she now oversees the delivery and execution of all human resources consulting and benefit administration services while managing overall client satisfaction. Van Vlymen ensures that each employer is provided with sound advice from her team of dedicated human resources professionals to reduce liability associated with all facets of day-to-day human resources. 

“Gretchen is an invaluable member of our team,” said Founder and CEO of StratEx, Adam Ochstein. “Between helping create our incredible human resources and benefits team, to making unique connections with clients, Gretchen has made, and continues to make, an incredible impact on the company.”

Winners will be profiled in the August 2016 issue of Workforce Magazine.

The Ripple Effect of Minimum Wage Ordinances

img_3876-1On Thursday, April 14th, groups of labor protesters walked the city streets of Chicago. Their demand: raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Protests like these continue to impact the trends of City and State minimum wage increases across the country.

So, how do the growing demands of groups like these impact small businesses, customers and job seekers alike?

Let’s take a look.

First, here is a quick breakdown of three recently passed minimum wage ordinances: the City of Chicago, the State of California, and three different ordinances throughout the State of New York.

Effective Date

Non-Tipped Employees

Tipped Employees
Current $10.00 $5.45
1-Jul-16 $10.50 $5.95
1-Jul-17 $11.00 Increases with CPI
1-Jul-18 $12.00 Increases with CPI
1-Jul-19 $13.00 Increases with CPI
1-Jul-20 Increases with Consumer Price Index (CPI) Increases with CPI
Effective Date

26 or More Employees
25 or Fewer Employees
1-Jan-17 $10.50 $10.00 (current rate)
1-Jan-18 $11.00 $10.50
1-Jan-19 $12.00 $11.00
1-Jan-20 $13.00 $12.00
1-Jan-21 $14.00 $13.00
1-Jan-22 $15.00 $14.00
1-Jan-23 $15.00 $15.00
New York City: Effective Date
11 or More Employees

10 or Fewer
31-Dec-16 $11.00 $10.50
31-Dec-17 $13.00 $12.00
31-Dec-18 $15.00 $13.50
NY Employers in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester Counties: Effective Date
31-Dec-16 $10.00
31-Dec-17 $11.00
31-Dec-18 $12.00
31-Dec-19 $13.00
31-Dec-20 $14.00
31-Dec-21 $15.00
NY Employers in remaining part of State:
Effective Date
31-Dec-16 $9.70
31-Dec-17 $10.40
31-Dec-18 $11.10
31-Dec-19 $11.80
31-Dec-20 $12.50
1-Jan-21 Rate will increase to $15.00 on an indexed schedule to be set by the Director of the Division of Budget (DOB) in consultation with the Department of Labor.


It is probably too early to say who will be impacted the most by such legislation. A growing concern for small-businesses located outside of the City of Chicago may be whether they can afford to compensate employees to compete with the Chicago market, especially as the minimum wage continues to increase. On the opposite end of the spectrum, small businesses, within the city limits of Chicago, may find themselves asking whether they can afford to continue operations in the city. This in turn, may drive businesses to consider relocating jobs.


Last summer, one of my clients provided feedback they had received from reputable employment agencies, Pro Staff and AIG: there was a shortage of available seasonal workers. They attributed this shortage to employees that were not as willing to work for wages below Chicago’s $10 per hour minimum wage.

That leaves us with the question:

“Will people be willing to work for a lower minimum wage in surrounding areas, whether that be Chicago’s suburbs, or in the surrounding states of California and New York, knowing that they may be able to find employment nearby for a higher wage?”

If suburban companies continue to see a decline in available workers, how will those companies respond …Increase their labor costs? Offer employees other forms of compensation? Raise price of goods?

HiringI would be remiss not to mention the arguments behind these recent minimum wage increases. One primary argument is that this addresses the cost-of-living increases; Chicago city officials estimate that more than 400,000 Chicago workers will benefit for this reason alone. In addition, proponents for raising the federal minimum wage argue it would increase economic activity, reduce poverty as well as government welfare spending, and spur job growth.

Economists from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago predicted that a $1.75 rise in the federal minimum wage would increase aggregate household spending by $48 billion the following year, thus boosting GDP and leading to job growth; however, such labor increases may end up of having the opposite effect on workers and job seekers, as job-creation may begin to halt.

In certain industries, they already have.

According to an article posted on Investor’s Business Daily, recent Labor Department data shows that job creation is actually on the decline, at its slowest pace in at least five years, specifically in the leisure and hospitality sector. Chicago had their slowest year of job growth in the leisure and hospitality sector since 2009. Employment gains from October through December of 2015 averaged less than half the pace seen in 2014 at just 1.1 percent. In addition, increasing labor costs may drive businesses to increase their prices, if they wish to continue to seek profits, which in turn may negatively impact the consumer. Specifically in the fast-food industry, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago stated that if minimum wage is increased, fast-food restaurants would pass almost 100% of their increased labor costs on to consumers.

There’s no doubt that the increase of minimum wage will create a ripple effect felt by customers, job seekers, and employers.

Employers, particularly small-businesses located in areas near Chicago, California and New York, should begin analyzing whether to compensate their employees to match the local minimum wage hikes, especially if the trend of “employees not-as-willing to work for a lower wage” heightens and leads employees to migrate to companies and or locations that will.

Interns: To Pay or Not To Pay

Last year, we warned employers about the risk of hiring unpaid interns. This risk is still a very relevant issue, and more recently, the circuit courts have provided new factors to consider, in addition to the DOL’s existing six factor test.

The new factors, also known as the Primary Beneficiary Test, include seven factors that take a hard look at what the intern receives in exchange for their work. Here are the seven factors of the Primary Beneficiary Test to consider:

  1. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that there is no expectation of compensation.
  2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment.
  3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
  4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
  5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
  6. The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
  7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

For each factor listed here, fulfilling each to the furthest extent possible would be the safest and most conservative route for employing an unpaid intern without incurring a wage and hour claim. In light of the rulings on recent cases, it is important for employers to keep these factors, as well as the DOL Six Factor Test in mind when implementing internship programs.


So, before bringing on an UNPAID intern, ask yourself these important questions:

  1. Does the company have the time and resources to supervise and manage this program to ensure that interns are not doing work that is outside of the outlined program?
    • Are your managers well trained and aware of how to supervise interns and manage the program?
  2. Are you providing more training, supervision and structure to the interns than you would to other employees?
  3. Is the company benefiting from the intern?
  4. Is the intern receiving educational experience?
  5. Has the company provided a written agreement outlining the internship arrangement?

But what about a paid intern?

Nervous looking man carrying tray of mugs (Image Source /via Getty Images)

If there are any doubts that your intern program meets the requirements outlined above, the safest route would be to pay your interns (at least minimum wage).  With that being said, there are still some important things to keep in mind with paid interns:

ACA Requirements

{Note: As of May 2017, these ACA requirements still stand, however, changes will likely be coming to these requirements in the future. We will be sure to update our blog when that happens.}

  • When counting employees to determine if you are an ALE (Applicable Large Employer) you must include all employees, including paid interns (unless they are considered seasonal employees). For smaller companies with a large intern program, this could be the difference in having to comply with the ACA’s Pay or Play provisions.
  • Your company will not be considered an ALE if your interns are Seasonal Employees and the following guidelines are met:
    • Your company has 50 Full Time Employees (including equivalents) for 120 days or fewer during a calendar year
    • The employees who are in excess of 50 are Seasonal Employees (interns), who work no more than 120 days in a year and perform services on a seasonal basis
  • Depending on the length of the internship and the “look-back measurement” period that your company has established, you may have to offer benefits to paid interns who are working full time (30 hours per week).


  • While you can set the expectation for the length of the internship, if the paid intern works for you for long enough to meet the eligibility requirements (this would vary by state law) then he/she may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits when the internship ends.

Paid Sick Leave

  • If you are in a state or city that requires Paid Sick Leave, your interns may be eligible depending on their length of employment and number of hours worked.
  • Many states require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees regardless of their classification as full time, part time, intern, etc.

So, as always with HR topics, it’s potentially complicated. If you have any questions as to whether an internship is putting your company at risk, you can contact us for help getting answers.

Happy internship season!