Starting September 30, 2014, many employers in the greater San Francisco Bay Area will be required to provide commuter benefits to their employees as part of the “Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program.”
The Program applies to any employer who has at least 50 full-time employees (defined as those who normally work 30 hours or more per week) in the San Francisco Bay Area, excluding the following:
- “field employees” (employees whose primary duties are performed at a temporary work site and who do not report to a permanent worksite or to the home office), and
- “seasonal/temporary employees” (those who work 120 days or fewer per calendar year).
An employer’s commuter benefits must be offered to any employee who worked at least 20 hours per week in the prior month (excluding field and seasonal/temporary employees). Employers may choose between 4 different options in order to comply with the commuter benefit requirements:
- Option 1: Offer the opportunity to pay for eligible commuting costs on a pre-tax basis up to the IRS limits (currently $130 per month).
- Option 2: Offer a subsidy for eligible commuting costs of up to $75 per month.
- Option 3: Offer employer-provided free or low-cost bus, shuttle or vanpool service.
- Option 4: Offer an alternative commuter benefits program by (a) selecting from a menu of options provided by the Program, or (b) creating an independent benefits program subject to pre-approval by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The benefits selected under this option must be at least as effective in reducing single occupant vehicles as options 1 – 3.
In addition to offering at least one of the benefits under options 1 through 4, employers will also need to take the following steps in order to comply:
- Designate a “Commuter Benefits Coordinator.”
- Register on the Program website – which will require, among other things, identification of the offered commuter benefit option and a description of how employees are notified – and update this registration annually.
- Notify employees of the commuter benefits:
- When the benefits are first made available,
- Annually thereafter in connection with the annual registration update, and
- For new hires, as part of explanation of benefits during orientation (or in the new employee packet).
- Maintain records, files and documentation to establish compliance for a period of 3 years.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the leading sponsors of the Program, have published an employer guide, FAQs and other materials.