Obamacare, Handbooks, Benefits And More: Your End-Of-Year Career Checklist

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As things slow down at the end of the year and you're maybe taking some time off from work, now is a good time to do a checkup on your career. Do you know everything you need to know to make 2015 a good year? Is there a benefit or policy you're missing out on that could make or break you at work or financially?

Here are six things you should be checking up on to make sure your 2015 is the best year at work ever:1. Obamacare/Affordable Care Act: Yes, I know it's Affordable Care Act or ACA and not officially called Obamacare, but most people still know it as Obamacare. What you need to know, especially if you're on COBRA, is that now is the open enrollment period, which ends February 15. If you've lost coverage at work, then you can qualify for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. If you needed coverage effective January 1, you may have missed your deadline, although a number of states opted to extend it Monday--so it's worth checking if yours is one of them. If you are looking to switch ACA plans, enroll for the first time or switch from COBRA, you have until February 15 to enroll.

2. Check your benefits: Your company may have an open enrollment period for benefits. If you haven't done so already, review your health insurance and other benefits, ask HR what other benefits may be available, and find out when you can enroll or switch. Now is also a good time to get copies of your Summary Plan Descriptions, which describe, supposedly in plain English, your benefits and rights. You'll have a Summary Plan Description available for your health care, pension, 401K, and most other benefits. If it's too late to enroll or switch this year, calendar your deadline for 2015. Find out if your benefits like pension, stock options and 401k employer contributions are vested. If not, when do they vest? If you have options, when can you exercise them? Check the value and see if you might profit by exercising them now. What you don't know about your employee benefits can hurt you.

3. Check your handbook: When was the last time you read the employee handbook? If yours is from 1980, ask HR for the latest version. Your handbook contains important information, such as how to report when you're sick, what to do if you're going to be late, how to apply for medical leave and when you qualify, how to seek accommodations for a disability, how to report discrimination or sexual harassment, information about vacations and PTO, any severance policy, and the company's rules and procedures. You might be surprised what's in your handbook, such as ways the company is spying on you. Read it and be informed. It's the company's manual on how to survive your job, so it's important.

4. Get copies of your contracts: Do you know whether you have a noncompete, confidentiality, nonsolicitation, intellectual property, arbitration or other agreement with your employer? Most people are surprised to learn what they signed when they started their jobs. If you don't read what you sign, or don't keep copies, now is a good time to check with HR to get copies. While some employees are afraid to ask, for example, for a copy of their noncompete agreement because it might alarm HR and make them think you're looking for a job, here's your excuse. Blame me. Print a copy of my article and tell them you're doing your end-of-year checkup. I've never understood HR departments that don't insist you keep copies of what you signed. How are you supposed to know what you're allowed to do if you don't have a copy?

5. Gather evidence: If you think you're the victim of race, age, sex, national origin, disability, religious or other discrimination, whistleblower retaliation or some other legal violation, do you have your evidence where the employer can't grab it? If not, make copies of any evidence you need (don't take trade secrets home, please), get your notes out of your desk drawer or the company computer, update your witness lists with any new contact information and take it home. Put it in a safe place. If you have a notebook where you're keeping notes, put it in your briefcase, purse or someplace where the employer can't grab it. A locked desk drawer, your company locker, and your company laptop are all places you may be denied access to if you're fired.

6. Report it: If you've suffered from sexual harassment, racial, age, religious, national origin, pregnancy or other illegal workplace harassment, think about reporting it, in writing, to HR. Don't wait until you're disciplined or get a bad year-end review to report it. They'll just assume you're disgruntled and making it up if you don't report it promptly.

If you've done everything on this checklist, then you're well prepared for 2015. You know your workplace rights and responsibilities. So relax and have a wonderful holiday season.

One more thing, on another note: I need your vote. My blog, Screw You Guys, I'm Going Home, was named one of the American Bar Association's Blawg 100, representing the top blogs in the legal community. Mine is the only employee-side blog listed in the Labor and Employment category. Now they're asking for votes for the top blog in each category. It only takes a minute to register and vote. I'd sure appreciate your vote. Voting ends Friday.

If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.

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Obamacare, Handbooks, Benefits And More: Your End-Of-Year Career Checklist

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