Small Businesses Adjusting to new Economic, ACA-driven Environment

With the economy improving rapidly, many small business owners may be enjoying more business these days, but interestingly, that may actually be an issue in and of itself in some cases. The recent steps forward, combined with compliance mandates for the coming health insurance laws, might actually be a little difficult for smaller businesses to be prepared for.

While many small business owners are no doubt thrilled that they've seen sales numbers tick up appreciably in the last several months as the economy continues to improve, many may also now be looking at some regulatory challenges as they try to hire and expand their companies' reach, according to a new survey from employment and labor law firm Littler Mendelson P.C. Today, 60 percent of small business owners say that they plan to expand hiring for full-time workers – in some cases, aggressively – within the next year. This is largely because some 70 percent believe that the Obama administration will continue to place a strong emphasis on creating jobs overall.

"As the economy continues to recover, our findings suggest that employers are eager to expand their workforce and are starting to see a decline in the impact of some of the key obstacles facing workers," said Thomas Bender, co-managing director of Littler. "Just as workforce reductions heightened the focus on risks of wrongful terminations in recent years, improvements in the job market have shifted the dialog to legal landmines in the hiring process. From proper background checks and social media screening to avoiding unemployment, age and other types of discrimination claims, employers are focused on avoiding missteps in hiring that could lead to litigation or other charges."

However, some concerns do linger in this area, as many workers (44 percent, in all) are still concerned about being underemployed, though that was down from about two-thirds last year who said this was a major issue they faced, the report said. Meanwhile, nearly four out of five said they were worried about having to stay in a job they did not necessarily like simply because they were worried about being able to find employment elsewhere, though that too was down, from 85 percent in 2012. Finally, 85 percent of workers also felt that they were being asked to do more with less in the workplace, a decline from more than nine in 10 who felt the same way last year.

Where does healthcare reform come in?
Small business owners largely feel that the federal government's efforts to get the ACA back up to speed to be the condition that creates the largest impact on the workplace over the next year, as a combined 94 percent believe this will either be significant (57 percent) or moderate (37), the report said. However, despite expectations that many companies could cut out insurance offerings for employees and instead pay fines to the federal government, only 6 percent of owners said they would actually do this.

That does not mean, though, that companies won't look for ways to reduce these costs, the report said. More than half will introduce employee wellness programs, while slightly less than a third will buy insurance through private exchanges. Unfortunately for workers, more than a quarter also say they will keep hours at less than 30 per week as a means of skirting the eligibility requirements.

More business can help to significantly increase a company's ability to expand, but this also comes with the need for bigger small business insurance policies. Shopping around to find the most affordable worker's compensation or general liability insurance could be a good way for entrepreneurs to save their companies a little bit of money on their bottom lines going forward.