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Can Employers Tell You How To Vote?

6:45 PM, Oct 26, 2012   |    comments
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Whitsett, NC - There are some things we all know you can't talk about in the workplace. Not because they are necessarily taboo, but they can easily turn into a heated argument or perhaps, even a fight.

Religion and politics are at the top of that list. But in this political season it's a tough topic to avoid as some would tell you.

A Taco Bell franchise owner took another step, he sent a memo to his employees.

An employee of the Whitsett, NC establishement felt so uncomfortable, a family member sent News 2 a copy.

READ: Franchise Owner Letter To Taco Bell Employees

The letter encourages employees and their families to vote because it's the "fundamental expression of our freedom."

But then it gets political when the apparent author of note, Tassos Paphites, CEO of the company that owns the Taco Bell franchise, starts talking about the impact of government policies on the company.

Paphites says the restaurant industry needs lawmakers who value chain restaurants, who'll extend the Bush tax cuts and reign in government spending.

There's also a second page to the memo dedicated to what Paphites calls "Obamacare."

He says it'll create 21 new taxes, cut down employees paychecks and force employers to cut hours.

Read our fact check of the policy stats in the memo below this story.

Paphites adds, "the power of one vote is enormous, and you can make the difference."

News 2 spoke with a lawyer about whether employers can legally send out memos like this.

Karen McKeithen Schaede, a business attorney says it depends.

"There's no specific statute, but what there are, are federal laws that talk about discrimination. So, you want to make sure as an employer you're not implicating any of those. It's just a real fine line and it's better to usually keep your opinions to yourself," she said.

Schaede says the memo may not be illegal but employees may still feel pressured. There's a fine line.

Chapter 163, section 274 of the North Carolina general statutes says it's a misdemeanor to intimidate an employee to vote a certain way.

The memo wasn't explicit in that sense, but is it good business practice?

An Elon University business ethics professor says no.

"The business owner risks alienating half their clientele and half of their work force in the process, and thereby actually damaging the Brand name of the company," said Christy Benson, professor of business law.

News 2 also reached out to the Paphites and his company about why he sent the memo, a representative told us they were not interested in answering questions about it. He refered us to Taco Bell, the parent company.

An ethics professor also adds that it's bad business because it pressures and alienates employees.

The company is not taking our questions about this memo
But Taco Bell tells us it does "not reflect the views of the brand."

FACT CHECK with Emily Minner and Caleb Hellerman from CNN:

Below are excerpts from the letter sent out by Paphites. Here is a review of his statements.

Obamacare limits choice and competition in health care and creates a new government standard for what services insurance plans must offer.

-- (Caleb) True. Supporters of the law say this is a feature, not a bug. Obamacare does not set a single standard but does define several specific things that plans must include (e.g. free preventive care). Supporters say this is partly a truth-in-advertising thing so people don't end up with worthless "junk" insurance.

The law does require that everyone have insurance, although most people are covered by an employer's plan, or through medicaid, so will not have to buy new insurance.

Obamacare created 21 new taxes. It taxes insurance companies, your employer and you.

-- (Emily) I think they're counting premiums as taxes, which isn't fair. A lot of right leaning blogs say there are 21 new taxes.

-- (Caleb) It does tax insurers, it does tax employers. 
"....and you." - This is complicated and somewhat misleading. The "tax" is the penalty for not having insurance. It's not a tax the way most people think of it, but the Supreme Court famously upheld the "individual mandate" on the basis that Congress does have power to impose a tax, even if it doesn't have the power to order people to buy something.

But, people can avoid paying the tax if they purchase insurance. Subsidies are available, on a sliding scale, for people earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level (around $92,000 for a family of 4). Where no "affordable" plan is available (based on criteria determined by government officials), a waiver may be granted so no tax/penalty is owed. 

I don't know where they are getting the $55,000 figure or what that refers to.

If you choose to not buy insurance, then Obamacare will charge you a tax.

-- (Emily) Well, you'll get a penalty. But, if you qualify you'd also get a subsidy.

-- (Caleb) Most Republican criticism on the tax penalty goes back to this 2010 CBO report, which estimates that in 2016, 3.9 million Americans will choose not to buy insurance and will end up paying a penalty.

According to estimates people who make less than $55,000 per year will pay the new tax. They also estimate that by 2016, if you don't buy insurance, you will pay $1,600 more in taxes.

-- (Emily) The penalty for not paying the tax in 2016 is $695 per adult and $347.50 per child (up to $2,085 for a family) or 2.5% of family income, whichever is greater.

Obamacare dictates that if a company does not provide health insurance then a tax must be paid. That tax amounts to $2,000 for every employee working more than 30 hours a week.

-- (Emily) The health care law does not require businesses to provide insurance. For businesses with fewer than 50 full-time and full-time equivalent employees, there are no consequences for not providing health insurance. 

Large employers that do not offer health benefits coverage at all may be required to pay an assessment of $2,000 per year for each full-time employee, excluding the first 30 full-time employees. Larger employers that do offer health benefits coverage that is unaffordable or lacks minimum value may be assessed a payment of $3,000 per year for each full-time employee receiving federal financial assistance. However, this payment cannot exceed the assessment the business would pay if it did not offer health care coverage.

Note: the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that fewer than 2% of large American employers will have to pay these assessments.

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