The allowance close Aflac has exploited workers, manipulated its accounting, and bamboozled shareholders and customers, according to nine above employees. This commodity is based on interviews with assorted accepted and above employees, as able-bodied as three ahead unreported lawsuits.
The allegations absolute in the lawsuits absorb about every aspect of Aflac’s business and accept already led to a alternation of investigations by accompaniment and federal regulators. But admitting Aflac’s top administration and lath of admiral accept accepted about the claims for over a year, they accept not appear annihilation to shareholders in accessible filings with the Securities and Exchange Agency above generalities about bearding awaiting lawsuits that they say they apprehend will not aching the company’s basal line.
The revelations could accident the accessible angel of the Columbus, Georgia-based insurer, a Fortune 500 stalwart that boasts about actuality alleged one of the world’s best ethical companies for 11 consecutive years and one of the best companies to assignment for in America. But abaft Aflac’s facade, according to the above employees, lurks a aggregation that fails to alive up to promises fabricated in abettor recruitment. Indeed, one of the means Aflac exploits workers is by calling them “independent contractors” back they are absolutely employees. For the purposes of this article, we will accredit to these workers as employees.
“What they’re accomplishing is unfair,” said Louis Varela, who spent three years as a sales accessory for Aflac in New York City. The allegations cull calm about every above accumulated aspersion of the able two decades into the behavior of a distinct company, cartoon on the assorted misdeeds of for-profit colleges, Herbalife, Uber, Wells Fargo, Enron, Trump University, and more.
The allegations in the lawsuits include:
Employees initially presented the allegations to administration through official aggregation channels in December 2016, at which point Aflac administration absolutely denied them. However, the aggregation thereafter fabricated several changes to its recruiting materials, advantage plan, and operational metrics, suggesting at atomic some authority to the claims — or a arresting coincidence.
Aflac abettor Jon Sullivan responded to a abundant annual of questions by adage the aggregation “will not animadversion on awaiting litigation.” Afterwards publication, the aggregation appear a annual adage that it had advised the accuse and affairs to action them. “Recent media belief apropos Aflac accommodate apocryphal allegations fabricated by a actual baby accumulation of absolute contractors. Aflac intends to aggressively action these allegations alpha with filing for their dismissal,” the annual read. “The Aggregation has advised these claims and begin them to be afterwards merit.”
Aflac Admiral Paul Amos II, the grandson of the founder, abruptly accommodated in June to accompany a bazaar clandestine disinterestedness firm, accepting a $3.4 actor aureate parachute. Four canicule afterwards the announcement, Amos sold off 222,889 shares of stock, about bisected his absolute holdings, for $17 million. Added Aflac admiral accept awash ample blocs of shares recently; according to Ben Silverman, administrator of analysis at InsiderScore, his alignment letters alone 3,000 shares purchased by assembly in the 2017 agenda year, and 363,512 shares sold.
Amos’s auction triggered a acquired actor accusation in federal cloister in New York brought by the ex-employees, who happened to be shareholders because of baby distributions of Aflac banal as allotment of their compensation. The case accuses Amos and others of cabal trading while captivation material, clandestine information: the allegations of artifice at Aflac.
In November, the ex-employees showed Aflac a 93-page abstract of a class-action clothing adjoin the company, in an attack to achieve the altercation out of court. But Aflac anon filed for a acting abstinent adjustment in two jurisdictions – Georgia and New York – to block the plaintiffs from filing the class-action, citation the affected adjudication article in all abettor contracts. A court in the Georgia case aftermost anniversary disqualified that Aflac could bulldoze adjudication and stop the accusation from actuality filed. However, Aflac put the abstract complaint into affirmation in the Georgia case afterwards requesting that it be placed beneath seal. So Aflac’s attack to advance the clothing into adjudication concluded up advertisement it.
This is the aboriginal chapter of a alternation allegory the employees’ claims. We’ll alpha by attractive at how Aflac treats its workers, which took on acute political accent back Aflac aing in the choir of above companies alms workers bonuses and able calm investments afterwards the access of the GOP tax plan.
But Aflac “employees” by and ample don’t advertise the policies. That assignment avalanche to an army of about 50,000 absolute architect allowance agents, recruited into the aggregation every year. Sales assembly allegation advance bags of dollars into their business and allegation canyon exams to access allowance licenses in all states area they sell, booty licensing classes and binding Aflac training, awning all biking and overhead, and are alike asked to pay for alive amplitude in Aflac offices.
That bullwork creates astronomic churn. “Recruiting is our lifeblood,” wrote Aflac Vice Admiral Michael Chille to agents in July 2012. Commune offices run recruiting contests, and assets and bonuses for commune and bounded managers depend on consistently auspicious food of recruits. “Continual recruiting action is the best important agency in your success,” reads the Aflac Participant Workbook. “Recruit all the time: there is consistently an ‘opening’ for a new associate!”
Recruiters, who are paid $20 for anniversary abettor they assurance up, abrade online resume sites and angle affairs on acceptable Aflac sales associates, its entry-level position. New academy graduates and abandoned professionals attractive for a arch to retirement accomplish up the aggregate of the recruits, according to the complainants.
Current and above advisers adduce that recruiters accomplish outsized promises about the job. “There’s a lot of money to be fabricated at Aflac,” says Trevor Fennell in a video presentation apparent in advisory sessions with recruits. “I anticipate that’s what bodies are attractive for in an ambiguous economy.” Recruits are accustomed a “Ten-Year Assets Example” at interviews. According to the handout, if recruits administer to address $266,760 in anniversary premiums, they could acquire $125,000 in commissions in the aboriginal year, growing to $236,000 in Year 10, with accession $116,000 in accumulated banal bonuses.
Buoyed by these assurances, new assembly assurance up with Aflac. But backward in the game, they apprentice that the job is 100 percent commission-based. “At first, they positioned it that it was a job, and I wasn’t acquainted until the actual end that there was no bacon involved,” said one accepted sales associate. Indeed, adherent into the basal of assorted advice bedding announcement balance abeyant and the allowances of “flexible working” is a baby disclaimer: “Aflac agents are absolute contractors and are not advisers of Aflac.”
This puts a new circuit on Aflac’s agreement afterwards access of the Republican tax bill, accustomed by Donald Trump in his “Big Brother” video annual to the press, of acceleration its 401(k) bout to workers. Best of Aflac’s sales force aren’t advisers and thus, are bald assemblage of Aflac’s accessible action of generosity, rather than recipients of it. “My mom saw [CEO] Dan Amos on TV talking about this 401(k) match,” one accepted abettor told The Intercept. “She alleged me and said, ‘Oh my God, that’s abundant news,’ and I said, ‘Mom, this does not accommodate me, I’m a 1099.’ She said, ‘Those sons of !’”
Martin Conroy, a nine-year Aflac adept and the antecedent bigmouth in the case, said, “On a circadian basis, hundreds of bodies are accepting buzz calls and emails that accomplish you anticipate it’s a job. Those who bulk out the betray get out of it. Some bodies go into banking ruin.“
Sharecroppers afterwards the Civil War were abundantly answerable amaranthine fees and hire for agriculture accessories and use of the land, an arrangement that feels reminiscent for Aflac’s white-collar version. “I got answerable for accepting a desk, $300-$600 a month,” said a accepted employee. “They alike answerable for the ducks,” he added, apropos to blimp beastly ducks accustomed out to clients.
Despite touting the adaptability of “being your own boss,” Aflac directs best facets of the job. Administration dictates area an accessory works and whom they assignment for. It controls the accounts and can reassign them at will. Binding civic and bounded training sessions, like a four-week affairs at the company’s Wall Street appointment alpha the Monday afterwards actuality hired, bang-up a new associate’s aboriginal assignment schedule. Assembly allegation address sales results, participate in appointment calls, in-person meetings, and online courses, and allegation acquire and bear sales scripts in which they accredit to themselves as advisers of Aflac.
Even commune sales coordinators, notionally the administration of sales associates, are advised as absolute contractors, admitting accepting to address business plans, appear binding trainings and workshops (including multi-day retreats), and added responsibilities accepted to managers. Accompaniment sales coordinators were additionally contractors until converting to salaried advisers in 2014. While Aflac presented this as a titanic about-face in strategy, “nothing absolutely changes on Monday except my title,” wrote Ken Meier, sales coordinator for the New York busline region, in a 2014 email to his adherent Conroy.
“It sounds like Aflac is alleviative their workers like advisers while classifying them as absolute contractors,” said Marni von Wilpert with the Economic Action Institute, which estimates that 10 to 20 percent of all administration misclassify at atomic one employee. The convenance can save companies boatloads of money. Companies don’t pay bulk or unemployment allowance taxes for absolute contractors, or accord them allowances like overtime pay, minimum wage, or workers’ compensation. They additionally don’t accept to attach to guidelines beneath the Fair Activity Standards Act or acquiesce workers to collectively bargain. Misclassification artificially reduces activity costs compared to competitors who accept employees.
Misclassification has been attributed to app-based companies like Uber, Lyft, or TaskRabbit, area advisers get assignments through an app. But in Aflac’s case, workers appearance up to their desk, appear affairs and trainings, booty administration from a bang-up — aggregate a salaried abettor would do, except afterwards the bacon or the 401(k).
Effectively banishment sales assembly to hire appointment amplitude and computers is a accepted way to avoid the law, von Wilpert said. “One of the tests for misclassification is if the workers accumulation their own equipment. So companies force workers to hire out the desks and the phones. You get about accepting workers own their own accessories by banishment them to buy it from you.”
One absurd antecedent of new business comes from the recruits themselves. Sales assembly are acerb encouraged to assurance up for at atomic one Aflac policy. “The affinity they fabricated is that if you assignment at Coke, you should alcohol Coke,” Varela said. Because assembly acquire the agency from the behavior they purchase, it’s additionally pitched as an abettor benefit.
Another way to accomplish money at Aflac is through recruiting bodies into the company, which is area the business begins to feel like a pyramid scheme. Assembly acquire 5 percent of all first-year sales produced by recruits they accompany in. Managers basset assembly about recruiting. One bulletin read: “Have you anytime anticipation that you absolutely may be behind your ancestors and accompany by not nominating them?”
As the balmy markets about-face algid and assembly run out of friends, they’re accustomed about annihilation from which to accomplish business. “They accord you SalesGenie, it’s like a buzz book,” said Varela. “I’m thinking, I already accept a buzz book.”
Some bearding comments at job analysis sites, like Glassdoor and Indeed.com, approve these sentiments, admitting others are added absolute about Aflac. “Do you like sitting in a anteroom all day cold-calling abeyant audience affairs ‘voluntary benefits’ alone to get accursed at and get afraid up on?” wrote one commenter. “If so, an Aflac sales abettor career is for you! Go and alive the Aflac dream, accomplish no money, and you will wind up absolutely poor as well.” Accession claims: “Aflac bulk about as abundant in breadth as I was able to make.”
The abstract class-action complaint alleges that the archetypal Aflac sales abettor stays for beneath than a year and earns on boilerplate beneath $10,000 in commissions — and that’s afore accounting for the costs they’ve incurred forth the way. An centralized certificate alleged the “Rule of 24” lays out the algid reality, allegorical coordinators that out of 24 new recruits they’ll get in their offices, 14 will “never get started,” another six will aftermath a basal bulk of business, and alone four will be “keepers.”
Even top recruits are not accepted to ability the heights of the 10-year assets example. Alone 2 percent of Aflac assembly nationally — both veterans and new recruits — aftermath the $266,760 assembly cardinal accustomed in the assets example. Ex-employees adduce that the assets archetype additionally includes aggrandized assumptions about anniversary commissions and doesn’t annual for accepted cancellations afterwards the aboriginal year. So alike if an accessory awash $266,760 in business — which they actual acceptable won’t — they wouldn’t accomplish the promised earnings.
Most assembly cannot survive, their investments ashen and accumulation drained. Marcus Johnson, a sales accessory from California and one of the nine plaintiffs, fabricated beneath than $25,000 in over two years with Aflac, abrogation the aggregation with his abode bankrupt and car re-possessed. Accession plaintiff, Julio Leaty from New York, said he fabricated beneath than $10,000 in seven months, afterwards hundreds of algid calls. In the abstract complaint, he alleged alive at Aflac “purgatory” and “the affliction time in his life.”
Louis Varela told the adventure of a adolescent sales accessory who had formed at Aflac for seven years. “He was allurement me for cafeteria money,” Varela said. “Here’s a adept abettor who needs to borrow $50. They’re demography advantage of accessible bodies in workforce.”
High about-face at Aflac was acclaimed in a 2013 Business Cabal piece, baronial the aggregation second-lowest in boilerplate tenure, with aloof one year of service.
When an Aflac accessory leaves, the accounts they managed to advertise alteration over to the sales coordinators. These “orphan” or “house” accounts again get allocated to added associates, who try to abundance them for new business while the coordinators accumulate the old commissions. The churn, then, is analytical to Aflac’s growth. Recruits are about brought in for their contacts, hitting up accompany and ancestors to buy Aflac policies, and again rotated out, with the allowances of that new business activity to the higher-ups, the costs all borne by the alone non-employees.
After the above advisers declared the allegations to Aflac administration in a December 10, 2016 Altercation Notice, the aggregation nixed the 10-year assets example, replacing it with new recruiting abstracts able a added bashful first-year agency of $64,000. In addition, Aflac removed the Trevor Fennell recruiting video, area he says “there is a lot of money to be fabricated at Aflac,” from its website.
The ex-employees adduce that the changes prove how out of bash the antecedent archetype was. In addition, they say, the new blueprint still overstates accepted balance for sales associates. It’s based on assembly closing two accounts a month, a accomplishment able by beneath than 0.1 percent of all sales associates, according to Aflac’s own centralized reporting.
“I don’t accept that insulates Aflac from the allegation that they were artful the market,” said Dimitry Joffe, co-counsel for the above employees. “These are corrective changes advised to adumbrate the problems we aloft instead of acclimation them.”
Update: January 12, 2017
This adventure was adapted to accommodate a annual from Aflac and capacity on abettor misclassification.
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