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Archive for the ‘Employee Benefits’ Category

Paid Family Leave a Standard Benefit?

1703 EB 2 Family Leave Standard Benefit - Paid Family Leave a Standard Benefit?

Both left and right have suggested concepts for paid family leave. This is an outcome of the fact that most Americans support some form of federally mandated family-leave law.

It may be surprising for business owners and managers to hear that the U.S. is the only developed country that doesn’t offer guaranteed time off for parents and other caregivers.

But there is a shift taking place. New York passed a generous state-backed family program in 2016. It allows for 12 weeks of paid time off for new parents. It also allows for time off for anyone who needs to care for a family member with a serious medical condition.

Minnesota, Rhode Island, & California all have established family-leave policies.

Big companies are joining the fray. From Cambell’s to American Express they are introducing or expanding their paid-leave programs. These include offering more time off and allowing for more ways to qualify for coverage.

While the trend is increasing, universal mandatory family leave is a way’s off. Congress is not unified on what should be included in a program or whether one should exist at all…

Yet younger workers are particularly interested in family leave options. Employers are taking notice. Employers are realizing this is a significant way to compete and offer unique benefits.

One challenge facing businesses is that benefit plans are often built around older concepts of family care. These assume that women will take on most of the child care duties early on. Yet fathers have become much more involved.

One concern is whether the company’s culture is fully supportive of the paid leave options they offer. Some paid leave laws don’t include job protection. Employees feel pressured to return to work earlier than they otherwise would prefer because their career depends on it.

One progressive program is offered by Earnst& Young which has more than 230,000 employees world-wide. It is expanding parental leave to cover 16 weeks for new mothers & fathers. This includes time for birth, of course. But it also includes surrogacy, adoption, or legal guardianship as well. Their program is robust and considered to be a trendsetter. The point? To be the most attractive potential employer.

Small companies are not as disadvantaged as you might imagine. Often times a small business can be more flexible with their workforce vs. larger companies. Small companies can also be more responsive.

Small Business Options and Challenges

Small businesses tend to be lean operations. Having a team member leave is challenging. Offering paid time off for 16 weeks at a time may feel impossible.

Yet the key is in finding flexible options that can be appealing to workers while being affordable for the employer. This could include flex time as well as working from home.

Why is it important to be flexible? Because the median cost of replacing a worker is roughly 21% of their annual salary. With that in mind, finding flexible leave options becomes more affordable.

If the employer works with employees to plan, workloads can often be divided. Likewise projects can be scheduled around an individual’s absence. By carefully evaluating options, a small business can often find a path that can absorb the impact of leave.

If you are thinking about a flexible leave program, the best first action is to talk with your benefits adviser who can help you explore your options.

Encouraging Healthy Eating in the Workplace Pays Dividends!

1703 EB 1 Encouraging Healthy Eating at Work - Encouraging Healthy Eating in the Workplace Pays Dividends!

Have you thought about a workplace wellness program? They can be extremely helpful in creating a happy & healthy workforce. They can also result in decreasing sick days while creating significant gains in productivity.

One important aspect of a good wellness program is helping employees learn how to make healthy and balanced eating decisions. Helping team members make sensible food choices can have a big influence on the effectiveness of a wellness program.

One important thing is to help your employees understand that any such program is voluntary. In fact, it is critical to listen to employees closely to help determine if a healthy eating program would be a good fit for your office. Surveys and conversations can help uncover team concerns. They can also help to uncover “evangelists” who’ll keep co-workers excited about the program.

Some general guidelines include:

  • Know your employees – find out what has and hasn’t worked for them in the past.
  • Work with your team to develop a plan the entire team can be excited about.
  • Determine how long the plan will go and what support will be included.
  • Pay employees a little extra to help organize the program and keep it going.

As for topics, there are many you can leverage to build an excellent program…

  • Pros & cons of going vegan
  • How to eat healthy when on business trips
  • Understanding the basics of healthy eating
  • Weight administration
  • Stretching healthy dinners into healthy lunches the next day
  • Understanding the impact of things like salt, sugar, fats, and cholesterol
  • How stress management impacts eating habits

The list is nearly endless!

You should also ask your insurance professional if integrating a healthy eating / wellness program could have a positive effect on your group health insurance rates…

And for more thoughts on creating a program, here’s a great resource out of Canada.

Paid Time Off & Parental Leave Make Employers More Competitive

Paid Time Off & Parental Leave Make Employers More Competitive

To remain competitive in a tightening employment market, companies are increasing the amount of PTO (paid time off) given to workers. This is especially true for parental leave. Another major adjustment becoming popular is a change how paid leave is structured. We’ll start with that first.

Companies are realizing they have to innovate to be competitive employers. They are finding that paid leave is more attractive when compared to other pay and benefit options.

One program that’s become popular is PTO banks. These incorporate holiday, sick days, and earned time off into one united account. A survey of companies performed by WorldatWork in 2002 showed that 28% of respondents were leveraging PTO banks. As of 2015, the number had shot up to 43%.

More traditional PTO approaches separate vacation, sick, and paid holidays into separate accounting. They are still more widespread but they are in decline.

One advantage for the PTO bank approach is that plans are easier to administrate. Another advantage is that they help reduce absenteeism. And 69% of companies with PTO banks report that they are critical in attracting new employees.

One negative aspect of PTO banks is that they have to be allocated as a liability on the company’s financial reports.

It’s best to consider a PTO bank in situations where the company has a culture that encourages employees to feel like they have more agency and control over their circumstances.

But the big benefit that has everyone talking lately is Paid Parental Leave. More than 18% of companies surveyed have indicated they are offering more family friendly leave options that surpass the mandates in the FMLA. (Family Medical Leave Act.)

For companies that offer advanced paid leave options, 16% report that they offer 6 weeks. Another 16% report they offer 12 weeks.

Here’s one example. As of 2017, American Express is leading the way by offering a full 20 weeks of paid parental leave for mothers and fathers. They are also offering 6 to 8 weeks of extra paid time off for women who give birth and require medical leave.

Employers can set requirements so that employees must meet requirements before they can utilize this benefit. The most generous programs require tenure of 12 months or more before employees can use the benefit.

So should you implement a robust Parental Leave Program?

  • Can your business afford it?
  • Will employees support it?
  • Will all managers from the top down fully embrace the policy?

And as with PTO Banks, the real question is how will this help your company beat out your competitors for talent. Will offering extended parental leave give you an edge?

And even if you can’t afford to offer PTO Banks or 4 months of paid parental leave, look for creative alternatives! Think about ways you can help new parents with their work / life balance. For example, more flexible hours or telecommuting options.

And if you want to review all of your benefit options, be sure to check with us for ideas. We’ll help you find creative ways to show your employees that you care.

Best of 2016: Health Tops Retirement in Financial Resolutions

Health Tops Retirement in Financial Resolutions

Life expectancy is increasing, Social Security benefits are shrinking, and a recent study shows that 54 percent of Americans have too little saved to ensure an adequate income stream after they collect their last paycheck. Given these facts, you’d expect more of your workers’ New Year’s resolutions to focus on retirement—but that’s not the case.

According to the New Year’s Resolutions Survey from Allianz Life Insurance Company, 44 percent of respondents plan to put their focus on health and wellness this year. Only 29 percent were pledging to improve their financial security in 2016, followed by 13 percent who were going to make changes to their career or employment and 9 percent who were determined to enhance their education.

If you’re not currently offering benefits to help your employees meet this highly popular goal, you may want to do so as soon as possible. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Strategic Benefits Survey, 69 percent of companies offer some type of wellness program, resource or service to their workers. Among them, 40 percent increased their investment in employee wellness initiatives in 2015.

Their employees responded favorably; 52 percent reported that employee participation in wellness initiatives had increased over the prior year, in part due to the incentives or rewards they offered including:

  • Reduced healthcare premiums (45 percent)
  • Gift cards (37 percent)
  • Company gift items (25 percent)
  • Recognition (20 percent)
  • Time off from work (7 percent)
  • Bonus or cash (7 percent)
  • Contributions to HSA/HRA (3 percent)

Assisting your employees with their health-related resolutions (such as to exercise more, lose weight or lower their blood pressure) can help you attract better job candidates and retain your best workers. Twenty-four percent of employee participants in the SHRM survey said workplace wellness programs were a “very important” contributor to job satisfaction.

But that’s not all; wellness initiatives are also good for your bottom line. Seventy-seven percent of employers said the initiatives had been “somewhat” or “very effective” in decreasing their company’s cost of healthcare. Eighty-two percent said the initiatives were “very effective” or “somewhat” effective in improving the physical health of their company’s workers—an important factor in productivity.

If you need a few suggestions to integrate into your own workplace wellness initiative, consider the following—some of which won’t cost you a dime:

  • Walking meetings
  • Onsite fitness classes
  • Onsite preventative screenings
  • Onsite fitness and weight loss tracking
  • Departmental and interdepartmental weight loss competitions
  • Walking or “Steps per Day” challenges
  • Reimbursement for gym membership
  • Stress management assistance
  • Goal-setting assistance
  • Support groups
  • Healthy vending machine alternatives
  • Mandatory vacation
  • Group participation in community running and cycling events

If you’re ready to get started with a workplace wellness program, we can help. Contact us for further suggestions, currently available benefits and more.

Mitigate Your Exposure to ACA Penalties

Mitigate Your Exposure to ACA Penalties

While the current political landscape suggests changes may be looming for the Affordable Care Act, it is important to ensure you are aware of the law in its current state and what penalty risks you may face.

The most complicated component of the ACA for most companies is the Shared Responsibility requirement. It requires people to secure a minimum level of health care protection and they also require companies with more than 50 full-time employees to offer their workers budget friendly health insurance options.

Companies who presently fail to offer coverage considered acceptable under the ACA can face fines of $2,000 per full-time worker.

Companies with high labor costs and minimal profit margins are typically the most exposed to potential ACA penalties. This includes businesses involved in logistics, hospitality, and retail spaces. (Due to rule changes, many formerly part-time employees were reclassified as full-time in 2014.)

Because these industries tend to offer lower wages, an employer’s group health plan may be considered “unaffordable” which would then trigger ACA penalties for the employer should the workers receive additional subsidies to buy protection via the public health care exchange.

If you meet the trigger size and are required to offer minimum, affordable coverage… but at least one worker purchases through a public exchange instead… you can be penalized.

Likewise, if you offer minimum required coverage to all workers but it isn’t economical, making it so the worker can’t afford the cost of protection… you can be penalized if only one staff member purchases through a public exchange.

The key to managing the impact of ACA penalties is to change your plan designs and premium choices to maximize worker participation in the plans.

Naturally understanding the in’s & outs of these complexities is reason enough to rely on the help of someone with health plan benefits experience to ensure you’re crafting the right plan for the right outcome.

And as the law evolves, having someone familiar with the changing landscape will help you maximize the benefits you offer to your employees while helping you mitigate any exposer you might have to fees & penalties.

If you are concerned about changes to the law, your risk exposure, or simply making certain you are offering the right plan for your team, be sure to reach out to your benefits specialist right away.

Compliance Priorities for Next Year’s Benefits Plan

Compliance Priorities for Next Year’s Benefits Plan

Open enrollment for individual and family healthcare plans for 2017 is rapidly approaching. It begins on November 1, and many employers choose a similar timeline when allowing workers to sign up for, or make changes to, their participation in the company’s benefits offerings. As such, now is a vital time to review your benefits package and ensure your plans are in compliance with all government regulations before you roll them out to your workers during the open enrollment period.

Retirement Plans

In April, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), issued a final rule to address conflicts of interest in retirement advice. This fiduciary standard applies to anyone who provides investment advice to sponsors and participants in workplace retirement plans and individual retirement accounts including 401(k)s and IRAs, and is expected to impact compliance issues and costs for employers who offer employer-sponsored retirement plans as part of their benefits package.

In essence, the definition of ‘fiduciary’ has been expanded by the new rule, and many vendors who service employer-sponsored retirement plans who were not formerly considered fiduciaries now will be. This includes broker-dealers and mutual-fund representatives. Experts recommend that employers carefully evaluate all of their retirement plan advisors and services and cut ties with those who do not want to comply with the new fiduciary standard.

Healthcare Plans

The Department of Health and Human Services continues to update regulations that can have direct effects on the healthcare benefit employers offer. Before you roll out your non-grandfathered 2017 healthcare insurance selections to your workforce, you’ll want to makes sure each one covers all essential health benefits including:

  • Ambulatory patient services
  • Emergency services
  • Hospitalization
  • Maternity and newborn care
  • Behavioral health treatment for mental health and substance use disorders
  • Prescription drugs
  • Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
  • Laboratory services
  • Preventative and wellness services (including chronic disease management)
  • Pediatric services (including dental and vision care)

The medical options offered must also meet established minimum value, minimum essential coverage and affordability standards. For example, in order to avoid making employer shared responsibility payments to the IRS, your employer-sponsored plan must cover at least 60 percent of the total allowed cost of benefits that are expected to be incurred under the plan.

Finally, you must make sure that the healthcare plans you’re offering—and the insurers who back them—meet the final Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, section 1557) which prohibit any discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability when offering or providing health coverage. This includes denying or limiting coverage for health services provided to transgender individuals, categorically excluding all coverage for health services related to gender transition, or denying or limiting coverage for specific health services related to gender transition.

Wellness Plans

If your employee wellness program includes a health risk assessment, biometric screening, asks for a spouse’s information, or includes a financial incentive for participants, you’ll want to ensure it meets new Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rules.

While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) generally prohibit employers from asking for information about their workers’ health conditions or the health conditions of their family members, they do not prevent employers from asking health-related questions or conducting certain medical examinations to determine risk factors as part of a voluntary wellness program.

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) as amended by the ACA, wellness programs are only considered voluntary if they offer incentives that are 30 percent or less than the cost of an individual’s health insurance premium. The maximum incentive for spouse participants is also limited to 30 percent. No additional incentives are allowed in exchange for specific genetic information (such as family history or genetic test results) of an employee, employee’s spouse, or employee’s children. Smoking cessation programs can offer an incentive up to 50 percent of the cost of individual healthcare coverage.

The Bottom Line

Benefits plan compliance has always been complicated and has only become more so in recent years. If you’re uncertain that your 2017 offerings meet government standards and regulations, contact your benefits professional for a review and assistance.


Taking the Guilt Out of Taking Time Off

Taking the Guilt Out of Taking Time Off

Americans are notoriously bad at taking vacations. According to a study commissioned by Project: Time Off, 55 percent of workers had unused vacation days in 2015. This was equal to 658 million days, of which 222 million could not be rolled over or paid out in any way. While that might sound like good news for the employers who didn’t have to work around their employees’ time off or pay for the unused vacation days, constant work without adequate downtime can actually lead to higher stress and lower productivity. And a workforce suffering from either of those is not healthy for your bottom line.

How can you encourage your employees to use their hard-earned vacation time? You can start by reducing their guilt. An Alamo Rent A Car study found that 47 percent of workers feel shame or guilt when asking for vacation time. The percentage jumps to 59 percent among Millennial employees, 42 percent of which do not hesitate to shame their co-workers who do decided to take vacations.

In addition, consider implementing the following best practices at your workplace:

  • Formulate a solid vacation policy. Whether you choose to offer a set number of days off for all employees or enable them to earn more vacation days with additional years of service, put your terms in writing. This includes determining how many days—if any—employees can roll over to the next year or setting a cap on the total amount they can accrue, two policies that may help prevent employees from sitting on unused vacation time.
  • Communicate it frequently. Don’t just talk about vacation time when interviewing potential hires. Make sure your vacation benefit is spelled out in your employee handbook and periodically review the details at staff meetings. Keep an eye on vacation time accrued by each employee and encourage them to use it.
  • Help workers redistribute their workloads. The Project: Time Off study also found that 30 percent of employees don’t take time off because they don’t think anyone else can do their job. Thirty-seven percent are afraid they’ll return to a mountain of work. You can encourage your team to use their vacation time by offering to aid in the redistribution of their workload and cross training other employees to cover vital duties.

Set a good example. It’s important for your employees to see you—and your management team—take vacation time off.

How do You Handle Mental Health Issues at Work?

Older Employees: Remember Your Required Minimum Distributions

Mental illness affects more of your workforce than you may realize. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 43.8 million U.S. adults—or approximately one in five—experiences a mental illness in a given year. For 10 million of them, the mental illness is serious enough to substantially interfere with or limit one or more of their major life activities.

While depression and anxiety disorders—including posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias—are the most common, your employees may also be dealing with other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. It is estimated that serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings every year.

Most of your employees who suffer from mental illnesses will do their best to never have to tell you about them. However, it’s up to employers to be proactive and establish ways to handle employee mental health issues at work when they arise. Experts advise addressing them on a case-by-case basis using the following steps.

  1. Acknowledge the issue. Whether an employee comes to you directly or you notice signs and symptoms that seem to point to a possible mental illness, the first step is to acknowledge the issue and speak candidly yet sensitively with the employee.
  1. Gather the facts. Evaluate the effect of the mental health issue on your employee’s job performance. You should discuss this with the employee as well as his or her supervisors and managers. Consider reasonable accommodations you may be able to make to help the employee continue functioning productively.
  1. Learn more about the mental illness itself. Consider speaking with a healthcare provider as well as a lawyer to learn more about reasonable expectations, possible accommodations and any legal requirements associated with the particular mental health issue. Legal obligations in regards to mental health accommodations may vary from state to state. Many mental illnesses are considered disabilities and protected accordingly under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  1. Make any necessary changes. Based on your conversations, legal obligations and what you’ve learned about the nature of the mental health issue your employee is dealing with, adjust job duties and/or expectations. Continue to check in with your employee to make sure the changes are working for them and progress is being made.

Managing mental health issues in the workplace can be challenging. In addition to the steps above, adding an employee assistance program (EAP) to your benefits package may help. EAPs are voluntary, confidential programs that benefit any employee with a personal or work-related problem—not just those suffering from mental illness. Short-term counseling and assessments can help workers deal with alcohol and substance abuse problems, stress, grief and family difficulties as well as psychological disorders. To learn more about your EAP options, contact us today.

Student Loan Repayment: The Next Big Benefit

Hand writing Benefits with white marker on transparent wipe board.

Hand writing Benefits with white marker on transparent wipe board.

Americans are struggling with student loan repayment. Given the hardships this very common debt can cause, consider these reasons a student loan repayment assistance program could be a powerful addition to your company’s benefits arsenal.

It will help you attract more job candidates. According to 2015 data from the Society for Human Resource Management, only 3 percent of employers are currently offering student loan repayment assistance as a benefit—despite the fact that the majority of American workers would find it attractive.  A recent survey of more than 1,700 employees conducted by Student Loan Hero, a financial education website, found that 77 percent of respondents rank student loan repayment assistance benefits as slightly to very important. Only 23 percent were uninterested in this benefit. When asked if they’d prefer student loan repayment assistance or additional vacation/paid time off, 53 percent chose the former.

It will keep you keep your employees engaged. Engaged employees are actively invested in their work and committed to their employer. Unfortunately, financial distractions—such as student loan repayment struggles—can interfere with that engagement. According to the results of a survey conducted by American Student Assistance, 62 percent of respondents with student debt report it poses a hardship on their budget when combined with other household spending. Thirty-five percent say student loan payments make it difficult for them to purchase daily necessities. And more than half say student loan debt has affected their decision or ability to make larger purchases such as a car or a home.

It requires little sales effort or benefits education

Unlike 401(k) plans, health savings accounts and life insurance, you don’t have to convince your employees that they need student loan repayment assistance. They’re already dealing with the immediate reality that debt every day. Additionally, a repayment assistance program is much easier to administer. There’s no complex terminology to understand, and no need to spend hours educating your team about options or how the program functions.

It appeals to all employee demographics

Student loan repayment assistance doesn’t just appeal to workers in the Millennial Generation (currently between the ages of 18 and 34). Those from Generation X (ages 35 to 50) are equally burdened by education debt. A Gallup poll found 20 percent of Americans have student loans, including 35 percent of Millennials and 25 percent of Gen Xers. Those from Generation X actually have the largest average loan balances (more than $30,000) outstanding. Six percent of Baby Boomers are also paying off student loans.

It will improve the use of your employer-sponsored 401(k) plan

Many workers postpone contributions to a retirement account until they have their student loan debt under control (50 percent according to one survey). If your employer-sponsored 401(k) plan is underutilized, adding a student loan repayment assistance benefit may help.

If you’d like to explore enhancing your company’s employee benefits package with a student loan repayment assistance program, contact your benefits advisor today.

Cut Healthcare Costs without Cutting Benefits


Cut Healthcare Costs without Cutting Benefits

According to PwC’s Health Research Institute, medical costs in the U.S. will increase 6.5 percent in 2016. Benefit plan changes, such as narrower provider rangers and higher deductibles, will reduce the increase to 4.5 percent, though many consumers and the companies that employ them will continue to struggle to afford healthcare services. What can you do to continue to provide the health insurance coverage your workers need without devastating your budget? The answer is to do what you can to control healthcare costs. Consider the following strategies to help you do so without drastically reducing the benefits you’re able to offer.

Use a level-funded plan. While traditional fully insured plans involve predetermined and fixed payments per employee per month (with the insurer assuming the risk after co-pays and deductibles), and a self-funded plan lays all of the claims on the employer, a level-funded plan is a hybrid of the two. It’s filed as a self-funded plan but the employer is billed a predetermined and fixed premium per employee per month. However, after a certain period, the employer may qualify for a premium refund (if claims are lower than expected) or premium increase (if claims are higher than expected).

Get serious about wellness. Whether you already have an employee wellness program in place or want to establish one, it’s important to tailor it to individual employees if you want to get the most benefit. Offer a program that encourages each worker’s health goals and supports them with comprehensive resources. Some companies have found that they can increase their employees’ wellness engagement even further with incentives and rewards.

Offer a taxed-advantage program in addition to health insurance. These programs are funded with pre-tax dollars, making your employees’ wages or salary go further. They include flexible spending accounts or FSAs, health savings accounts for HSAs, health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and premium offset plans (POPs) and can lighten your company’s rising medical expenses as well as that of your employees.

FSAs are particularly popular, as they allow your workers to save money tax-free to use for the payment of medical expenses. Voluntary and automatic paycheck deductions make FSA deposits convenient for employees. As an employer, you can also make contributions towards your workers’ FSA accounts.

HRAs are also very useful. Funded by the employer, an HRA reimburses employees for their health insurance premiums and qualifying medical expenses. Employer contributions are 100 percent tax deductible when paid out and are also tax-free to the employee. HRAs are a flexible way to supplement the health insurance benefits your company offers and help your team pay for medical expenses that aren’t covered by the insurance plan.

If you’d like to learn more about these strategies for reducing healthcare costs for your business and employees, we’re here to help. Give us a call to review your current benefits plan and explore your options.