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flat rate employee expenses Q&A Review

What would happen if all private employers had to compensate all employees for commuter miles?

My guess would be that like my employer, they’d require that most hourly and non-executive exempt employees live near the office. My employer currently allows you to live up to 50 miles away — if they had to start paying for that, the basic employees (easily replaced) would be gone in no time. They’d hire data entry and other low level jobs from people within a couple miles. It would also be grossly unfair — why does our receptionist (45 miles out) get a nice big commuter check when I, a senior employee get whatever you’d get for living 4 miles away? Then there’s the matter of vehicles … does everyone get a flat rate or do the people who live in the boonies and drive a huge SUV get more than someone who lives close and has a gas-sipper? In short, why should the company have to pay for employees’ chosen lifestyles? I’ve been employed for 50+ years, and I can tell you that few employers are going to take the hit. If they have to pay for you to drive in from who knows where, they will cut remote staff where possible and cut overall wages to compensate for the commuter pay out. That means that I, who lives close and drives a fuel efficient car will get to keep my job. But I’ll also subsidize your commuter check because you’ve chosen to live miles out … by way of not getting the raise I might have otherwise had there been no commuter payout. No one reading this seriously thinks the executives would agree to a drop in profit to cover it do they? And in my industry, raising prices is out of the question. Since the commuter money is an employee expense, that comes out of total funds allocated for wages, raises, more staff etc. The pot will not increase, so the elements otherwise (raise levels, badly needed additional staff, etc.) will be cut.

What are the specific factors that explain 33% higher gas prices in California than most other regions in the country?

As mentioned, California has ,higher fuel taxes, than neighboring states, currently 68 cents per gallon vs. 33 cents in Nevada and 19 cents in Arizona. This explains most of the difference. California's tax per gallon also varies because it has a percentage-based tax unlike most states, in addition to the flat per-gallon tax (2.25% state + 1.25%+ local depending on county). Thus when prices rise, so do taxes per gallon in California. The structure of the tax was actually recently changed in 2010 during the budget crisis, when it used to be a lower flat rate and a 8.25% variable rate. [1] [2] [3] California also requires ,a special blend of gasoline, only used by us to reduce air pollution that a limited number of refineries produce, which increases costs by about ,5-15 cents per gallon, [1]. There are only 12 gasoline refineries in the state. [4] This also leads to greater price volatility because a refinery shutdown will disrupt the supply a lot more than for the other states who have more options in where to buy gas. Finally, there are the, costs of operating for gas stations,: Land values are higher in California compared to Arizona or Nevada, and building a gas station in SF requires about the same amount of land as in Phoenix, but you can bet leasing the land is many times more expensive. California's state minimum wage is $8.00, similar to AZ/NV but in some areas it is higher (like $10.24 in SF), making station employees more expensive. Also I'm willing to guess that anti-smog and groundwater pollution requirements make compliance more expsenive than in laxer states. Random stuff like water for washes even costs more, since hey, we don't exactly have much water left either. Finally, gas stations in California are required by law to provide free air and water to customers, which Arizona also does but Nevada does not. [1] Numbers from April 16, 2010: ,http://transportationnation.org/2012/04/16/how-gas-prices-make-california-a-red-state/ [2] ,http://gasbuddy.com/Tax_Info.aspx [3] ,http://economy.ocregister.com/2010/08/11/california-no-2-in-u-s-in-gas-tax/38479/ [4] ,http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-gas-prices-20120515,0,3178927.story

As a European, would you prefer the US healthcare system?

Certainly not (although we, here in France, often complain about our Sécurité Sociale - Health insurance). All employees have 0.75% of their salary deducted for Social Security whatever their salary, or wealth, while their employers pay 12.89% of an employee’s salary into the system. This gives me free (or almost free) access to a general practitioner and a dentist ,of my choice,, provided the doctor charges the flat rate (23€) which many do. Public hospitals are free : emergencies, in-patient treatment, operations, childbirth are free. Most exams by a radiologist, a medical lab, etc. are free, as well as physiotherapy. Most of what I get from the chemist’s with a doctor’s prescription is free. What I personally have to pay a lot out my pocket for is : visits to some specialists (gynaecologist, cardiologist) although I could choose to go to a clinic which charges the flat rate. Dentures (crowns) and dental implants remain very expensive. So, on the whole, I would not opt for another system since our health system is excellent. By this I mean : doctors, hospitals. This covers the whole family, including children up to the age of 26 (it might be more, I would have to check on that) if they are students or unemployed. If only one spouse works, the other one is covered too.

What’s the most questionable cost-cutting move you’ve seen an employer make?

I worked for my father-in-law at his auto repair shop. Several of his cost cutting theories leaked like a sieve and he had to retreat to the position that he was the business owner and therefore it would be as he said. Inventory everything for tax time so his accountant could count everything in his inventory against his profit. Normal? Yes. Except he wanted every individual o-ring, screw, and zip tie counted by part number. No thought that a person being paid 15 dollars 3 hours counting 1000 assorted 0.03 ¢ o-rings resulted in a 15 dollar loss. Buy second hand equipment. Not to knock decent second hand equipment but I'm talking about spending 3/4 the price as new for equipment that leaks and barely works but making the techs use it anyway because he didn't want to waste the money he'd spent on it. Getting a reputation for not sending things to collection for non-payment and taking a discounted rate for the debt but rather bending over backwards to negotiate a better deal until the person decided to pay. This hurt the techs who got their flat rate hours shaved, the serice writers who told the customer a fair quote, and the shop in general because there wasn't enough money to fix anything. Not to mention people would come in expecting to get a discount because they knew he would give it. Hiring me as a shop manager then decide that he couldn't risk not having a first hand decision in everything, as well as not liking my millennial modern ideas for sprucing up the shop and streamlining service, he decided to manage by phone and demoted me to a lube tech after he hired his son at a discounted rate because he had been fired too often for negligence elsewhere. In the end, his discounted employee cost him thousands of dollars a year in warrenty work alone. He would dock the pay and threaten to fire his best service writer for coming in late or leaving early in order to take care of his autistic son. He also eliminated any incentive bonuses that his service writers could earn and made it a flat hourly rate. He would spend weekends and hours daily sometimes auditing our service writer to make sure he wasn't ripping the shop or customers off. He would want someone to go through each of our parts supplier invoiced each month to make sure we got all our refunds for thing sent back and to make sure we didn't get charged for anything we never got. Nothing was found in the ten years he had the shop but he still wanted it done just in case. He refused for years to go to a paperless system because he wanted to have the hardcopies of every reciet in case he got audited. Now his techs and service writers spent an hour or two a week filing everything. He insisted on a 40–70 minute 140 item free courtesy inspection to find things to quote customers on but complained that oil changes were taking too long and were losing him money to have an hourly tech do them and his flat rate techs refused to touch them due to never being able to complete them in the 18 minutes he paid. This isn't counting how long it takes a service writer to write up an inspection report to send to the customer who drives a 100 dollar wonder and hemmed and hawed about the oil change being excessive. He's now slowly implementing my ideas a year after I left because a friend of his and mentor with a successful Auto service string of shops told him he was outdated and inefficient. He finally fired his son for personal at home reasons. He even hired a shop manager for twice what he offered to pay me because the guy said in no uncertain terms that he wouldn’t accept the job and responsibilities for anything less. And he would not be a tech as well and would focus on administration and management. To save money and still retain a say, he now works as a tech while he trains the new manager so he won't have to pay another tech. My ideas were to give each tech their own bay so they wouldn't lose time moving their tools to a new bay every job if they weren't lucky enough to get the same bay twice in a row. I wanted to spend a couple thousand dollars painting the shop in his logo colors so his shop would have been the nicest looking private shop in town. I wanted to hire an asphalt company to fill in the potholes on the entrance to his parking. I wanted to institute incentives for his lube techs and service writers so they would have a reason to be thorough and to spend the time writing a detailed quote for the customer. I wanted to hire a part time kid to do the car washes so the techs wouldn't spend time on free work. I wanted to cut the inspection down to an annual detailed inspection and a quick lube inspection so we could do faster oil change turnovers. These were all too expensive or were not offering the full Cadillac service experience he thought he had a reputation for.

How high would a flat tax rate need to be to keep the USA budget balanced (Flat rate = everyone pays the same % of all types of income)?

The total personal income in the U.S. is about 13 trillion, and the annual budget is around 4 trillion, so it would take a flat tax of about 31%. That does not include corporate income tax. If you also tax corporations at about the same rate (or even lower), then it would be easy to provide healthcare to everyone. The corporations would come out ahead, because they would no longer need to provide healthcare for their employees. Healthcare insurance accounts for about 7.6% of corporate expenses, so a single-payer system would add significantly to their bottom line Now, do you think it is “fair” for someone flipping burgers to pay the same income tax rate as someone who never really has to work at all? Most people say no, and that is why every developed country has a progressive tax structure, where those who have the most to lose pay the most to create a stable society where they can keep what they have.

What is the biggest legal scam?

Question: ,What's a legal way to scam people? Let’s see: Loan them money at a high rate of interest ,- Each state and many nations have a maximum rate of interest (usually codified under a usury law) that can be charged to customers. In the US it used to 99% compounded annually in states like South Dakota. If you loan someone money and they have to pay you back double or even triple what they owe you, then you have scammed them. Rent to own, - Furnishings, electronics, etc. If you set up a business model you can allow people to rent items from you on a weekly basis until they pay off set amount that you charge them. Since 32″ LCD television now cost at/around $100 USD and rent to won places can (and do) charge more than $500 USD total for them, you can see how that resembles a scam. Consulting business, - Find desperate corporate managers and vice presidents who have little or no leadership abilities, and sell them consulting programs that will “assist them” in improving employee relations and performance. Charge several hundred dollars or more per HOUR, or bill a hefty flat rate for a several day seminar, including expenses and per diem. Make only vague promises of improvement and sell them a rehashed program that you either attended somewhere before or that was cobbled together from existing self help and philosophy programs. Sell beauty supplies, - Buy bulk soap and glycerin along with myriad scent additives and miscellaneous packaging for pennies, mix them into various types of lotions, creams and shampoos, and the heavily mark them up. You can sell an 8 ounces tube of glycerin based lotion that costs you less than fifty cents for $20–30 USD. No matter how much you “discount” the products, you are still reaping vast profits as your wholesale costs are incredibly low. Sell real estate investment trusts, - You create the trust, seek out investors, and then use their money to finance the costs of the project, while scraping off a healthy chunk of profits for yourself. If the project is successful, you’ll also receive a percentage of the back end. If it’s a failure, then you’ve lost nothing and your investors have a potential tax write off…maybe. Repeat from the beginning.

How do I avoid my company being audited when hiring independent contractors?

Learn the distinctions between true independent contractors, and people who want to be paid a flat fee without withholding taxes but who are not actually independent contractors, and employers who think they can save money by paying people flat rates without taxes and employee overhead. The definition is clear, and the US Department of Labor has a lot of information helping you to learn the distinctions: Employee or Independent Contractor? You may get audited. That’s always a risk. The much larger risk is that you will be audited and found in the wrong. THAT’s where it gets expensive.

Are there clauses in the NDA / inventions / non-compete agreements for new hires that should be raising red flags?

Typically, a NDA will have the following components: 1) the names of the parties; 2) what is deemed to be confidential; 3) the remedies for a breach; 4) consideration provided in exchange of non-disclosure; and 5) the term of the agreement. (More of my thoughts on NDAs ,here,). In regard to inventions, most startups will share intellectual property (IP) rights with you or require you to convey any IP rights for any inventions you create in the scope of your employment. Any language in the agreement which attempts to assert rights to inventions you create in your own time and that are unrelated to your employment should be cause for concern. You will want an attorney to go over this type of language carefully and have it negotiated out of your contract. Also, you will need to be somewhat proactive and specifically identify the inventions and other IP that you already have an interest in prior to the employment relationship. This will protect you in case any dispute arises as to what work has actually been generated during the term of your employment. As for a non-compete agreement or restrictive covenant, courts will typically will uphold them if they are deemed to be “reasonable.” Of course, what is deemed reasonable will vary based on what jurisdiction you are in and, sometimes, what industry you are in (i.e., in NYC restrictive covenants on broadcasters are disfavored). These are just general things you need to think about; legal professional would be able to give you specific advice about the state laws at play, including New York and California. For example, California has very specific regulations about what can and cannot be contained in an employment agreement concerning an employee’s IP. (More on that ,here,). In contrast, New York does not have specific regulations as to what must be included in an employment agreement. Where there is no agreement, any work for hire during the employee’s tenure is generally considered to be the employer’s property. This means it is imperative that your agreement be very specific as to its terms. My company ,LawTrades, provides a cost-effective platform to secure legal services for issues pertaining to startups, including reviewing employee-employer agreements. Our roster of attorneys are pre-vetted, highly-trained and have solid legal experience, especially with tech startups. We also have attorneys who practice in New York and California, as well as other states. Any work our lawyers do for you is based on an affordable flat rate so you never have to worry about your legal expenses getting out of hand. We offer a free consultation and no obligation price quotes. Check us out; we’d love to help. Good luck!

How are auto mechanics paid? Is it a salary or commission? Or both?

I guess it depends on how you define 'mechanic' and then upon other things. If 'mechanic' means 'service technician', who is an employee of a business that sells automotive repair services, they are sometimes paid hourly, and sometimes they're paid the 'flat rate' meaning their hourly pay times the number of hours the flat rate manual says the job should take. The flat rate manual figures assume that it will take the average mechanic, with average mechanic's tools, "x.x" number of hours to perform a defined repair job on a given year, make, and model of vehicle in average condition. A highly skilled technician with excellent tools can usually get the job done more quickly than the flat rate manual says it should take, especially so if they're lucky enough for the vehicle to be in better than average condition (mostly factoring rust, corrosion, and other deterioration of parts that can complicate a job). The advantage to 'beating flat rate' would be that you can fit one or two more vehicle repairs into a work day and take home a bit more money as a result. Now, if you take your vehicle to an independent shop where the repairman is also the shop owner, he may very well still use the flat rate manual, but he will figure your bill as "x.x" hours times his posted hourly shop charge, of which his pay will be a fraction. The larger shops will generally do this, too, of course, but the shop owner or management will set the pay of the technician. The mechanic who owns his own shop can probably give or take a bit on that if necessary. The important thing to remember about a posted shop charge is that it covers the total costs of running the shop, to include rent, utilities, insurance, hazardous wastes disposal, taxes, costs of tools and equipment (figured as the cost to acquire a piece of equipment, such as a service lift or air compressor, amortized over, say, 40 hours per week for as many weeks as it's expected to be in service) and then the owner/mechanic's profit (his 'pay'). Expenses other than labor are 'overhead' and exist whether there are any customers or not. The idea is to try to always have work to do during each of 40 or more hours during the week and to have each hour pay it's share of those expenses plus the profit and/or pay of the technician making the repair. In my neck of the woods, $80-100 per hour is typical for a shop charge, but the owner and/or actual mechanic is actually only making on the order of 10-20% of that, despite the fact that people often refer to that shop charge as 'labor'. It's a whole lot more than that!

What would a car mechanic never tell a customer about what goes on behind the scenes?

There’s a few things that come to mind that may or may not have been mentioned by other answers. Through the 35 years working on cars I’ve worked for 10 different shops. Out of the 10 I’d say 4 were on the honest side of the fence. Not very good odds you think huh? The Automotive industry has a lot of competition, over head and has to deal with the EPA, BAR and even the Save the Whale people. It gets down right expensive and certain times of the year an independent shop owner barely makes enough to pay his employees. The reason I say dishonest doesn’t necessarily mean the Technician himself, it’s more the pressure that’s put on him to Sell, Sell, Sell. The chain type shops like Midas, Firestone and the majority of dealerships are all on a flat rate type pay scale, where the Tech. is given a certain time to finish a job. If the job calls for 3 hours and a rusted bolt happens to break causing the job to take 5 hours he’s still only paid the 3. I recall working for a Honda dealership and during the slow times of year you could stay there from 8–5 but since there’s few cars to work on you’ll only get paid for 3. But on the other side of the coin during busy times of the year I’ve stayed from 8–5 but got paid for 24 hours. That’s because I’m fast and experienced and was on good terms with the Service writer handing out the jobs. In the flat rate world the service writers and managers are on a bonus type pay scale where the more they sell the more money they make and that in turn puts pressure on the Techs. to sell stuff that’s really not needed but they want to hit their quarterly bonus so that’s how it’s done. An example is Honda heavily advertised an alignment is free if the car is within specs. So many customers jumped at the notion of getting a free alignment. Well what they don’t know is all it takes for a tech to make it look like the car is out of specs. is a tap on one of the 4 laser alignment pads which are fastened to each wheel. Guess how many times Honda gave away the free alignment? Right I think I saw 2 out of hundreds in the 3 years I worked there. Why because it takes time to set the car up to prepare it for the alignment and I don’t know many people that like working for free. This dealership also had a manager that could sell an eskimo a swim suit in a 50 degree below zero blizzard. I personally believe that Flat rate pay has ruined a good part of the Automotive business because while it may weed out the employees who want to screw around all day, It puts stress on the ones who actually work hard daily. After experiencing this type of work atmosphere I chose to look for a shop that pays hourly and the majority of the time it will be a smaller independent type. The small Indy’s rely on a loyal customer base and the way to have that is through honesty, integrity and craftsmanship in every repair done. And myself I sleep a lot better at night knowing that my day consisted of doing just that. Good luck and hope this helps.


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