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A Closer Look at the Employment-related Provisions of the American Rescue Plan

Jeff Griffin

While my blog post yesterday provided an overview of the American Rescue Plan of 2021 (ARPA), I thought it might be helpful to take a closer look and deeper dive into the employment-related provisions of the ARPA, which President Joe Biden signed into law last night before his televised address to the nation.

Along with providing financial relief to individuals, schools, businesses, and state and local governments, the law contains the following measures of which will undoubtedly be of special interest to employers and their employees:

  • A subsidy for COBRA premiums, funded through employer tax credits
  • Extension of employer tax credits for FFCRA employee leave voluntarily provided through Sept. 30, 2021
  • Expansion of employee earnings eligible for the FFCRA tax credit
  • Inclusion of testing and immunization as reasons for FFCRA leave
  • Extension of $300 increase in weekly unemployment benefits
  • Extension of weekly unemployment benefits for workers who otherwise wouldn’t qualify for these benefits
  • Expansion of subsidy for ACA premiums
  • Increase in DCAP contribution limits
  • Extension and expansion of the employee retention tax credit

Let’s discuss each of these in further detail;

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Topics: Legislation, COVID-19

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Overview of the American Rescue Plan Act

Jeff Griffin

Seven weeks into President Biden’s term, the American Rescue Plan Act, his first major piece of legislation, is set to become law. The House passed a final version of the $1.9 trillion relief bill yesterday afternoon, and just moments ago the President signed it into law, in advance of his first prime time address to the nation later today.

Most experts agree that the relief package is more than just a stopgap measure to shore up the economy or respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The bill contains major federal investment in low- and middle-income Americans, intended to drive economic growth by aiming money at people who are more likely to spend it versus those who might be more likely to save the money. (Critics of the bill argue that many of its provisions are aimed at strengthening the country’s social safety net and have little to do with the coronavirus pandemic.)

Highlights of the bill include extended unemployment benefits, direct checks to individuals, housing assistance, aid to schools and child care, and more.

While some of the bill was changed during its time in the Senate, it’s largely similar to the initial version passed by the House. However, some key provisions, such as a higher minimum wage, were scrapped amid efforts to pass the bill swiftly.

In addition, the bill does not include an extension of the eviction moratorium or an expansion of mandated paid sick and family and medical leave. While neither were included in the original House bill, these were popular provisions contained within one of the previous bills.

The $1.9 trillion package enjoys broad public support, with 70 percent of Americans expressing a favorable opinion of it, according to a Pew Research Center poll released yesterday. That includes nearly all Democrats and more than two in five Republicans, although it should be noted that no Republican lawmakers in Congress voted for the bill.

Here are the most relevant provisions included in the bill.

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Topics: COVID-19

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Employer Guidance for Creating Workplace COVID-19 Vaccination Programs

Jeff Griffin

As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available, many employers are starting to consider setting-up onsite COVID-19 vaccination programs.

For many employers, operationalizing an onsite service like this may seem like nothing new since many have offered onsite flu shots as part of their workplace wellness programs for quite some time. That said, and as we all know by now, COVID-19 is nothing like the seasonal flu. Therfore, employers need to take heed of this advice as they begin planning for onsite vaccination efforts.

Most of the advice that follows comes by way of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of this writing, vaccine programs are not yet available to very many employers. Nevertheless, vaccination programs will eventually extend to additional workplaces as vaccine availability increases, meaning that employers should begin planning accordingly. 

As I addressed in an earlier blog post about employer rights with regards to offering and/or requiring workforce COVID-19 vaccinations, employers are in a unique position to help propel vaccinations, accelerating the country towards the 75% vaccination target that has been cited by top infectious disease experts as being required to fully eliminate the need for social distancing.

Company leaders find themselves in this unique position because it's widely believed that they can, in most cases, legally compel most of their employees to get vaccinated, making it compulsory and a requirement for returning to work. Regardless, just making vaccinations more convenient and easily accessible will also go a long way in helping to accelerate inoculations.

As I stated in my earlier blog post, and wish to reiterate here, just because something can be done doesn't necessarily mean it should be done. Setting that aside, today's blog post simply addresses the guidance the CDC is currently providing with regards to employer-led vaccination programs.

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Topics: COVID-19

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5 HR Technology Trends to Monitor in 2021

Jeff Griffin

With the pandemic entering its second year, many organizations have adopted remote work as part of their everyday business operations. Many employers plan to continue this practice, in whole or in part, once the pandemic subsidies. 

The sustainability of this practice is putting increased pressure on organizations to optimize their remote technology solutions for collaboration, communication, monitoring, security, and performance evaluation when working from a distance.

Of course, applying technical solutions to workplace challenges is nothing new for HR. For almost two decades, technological innovations have helped HR departments become far more efficient, eliminating redundancies while vastly improving data integrity.

By automating a wide range of time-consuming business functions, HR professionals have been liberated to shift their focus from rote administrative tasks to high-impact tasks like strategy, employee engagement, and change management. 

In fact, according to PwC’s 2020 Human Resources Technology Survey, the core issues driving HR technology decisions today include: 

  • Finding, attracting, and retaining talent 
  • Developing people to reach their full potential
  • Improving the employee experience 
  • Creating collaborative work environments 
  • Workforce planning 
  • Ensuring employee well-being, diversity, and inclusivity 

With HR technology solutions in abundance to help enhance the overall employee experience, transform businesses, and assist organizations responding to change, here are five HR technology trends to watch for in 2021.

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Topics: Technology, Telemedicine, COVID-19

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5 Telehealth Trends to Watch in 2021

Jeff Griffin

Employers that are interested in cutting their health care expenses are likely familiar with telehealth. This is the process of communicating with a doctor via an app, or a webcam and computer. During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth usage skyrocketed, making it one of the most popular ways to receive health care.

As such, employers should stay apprised of notable telehealth trends to ensure they stay competitive and provide the best health care options to their employees. This article discusses five telehealth trends to watch for in 2021.

1. More Patient Utilization of Telehealth

As was stated, telehealth exploded in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. To put that into figures, nearly half (43.5%) of Medicare primary care visits in April 2020 were made using telehealth, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. And even before the pandemic, year-over-year utilization was up 33% in early 2020, according to Medical Economics.

If these statistics aren’t enough to prove that telehealth is here to stay, look instead at market projections. The telehealth market is estimated to surmount $185 billion by 2026, according to Fortune Business Insights. Considering the market was only worth around $34 billion in 2018, this shows how much of an impact telehealth has made on the health care industry.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Telemedicine, COVID-19

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The Growing Incompatibility of Social Media and Workplace Mental Health

Jeff Griffin

A global pandemic. Social unrest. A presidential election. Now a Supreme Court confirmation. A perfect storm if ever there was one. Never before have I seen the country so divided over such a confluence of events, and never before have I seen such tremendous stress placed upon our collective workplace and individual mental health. I see it in my family, my friends, my neighbors, and even my employees.

With this in mind, I sat down over the weekend to watch a new Netflix documentary called The Social Dilemma. Frequent readers of this blog know that I've never really used it in the past to recommend a particular piece of media, except for some excellent Ted Talks related to the workplace and others tangentially related to employee benefits.

Nevertheless, I found The Social Dilemma so riveting, so concerning, and so timely, that I feel compelled to recommend that everyone sit down with their families and watch this film. In fact, I'm asking my entire workforce to do just the same.

This documentary cuts between "conscientious Silicon Valley defectors" from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google to sound the alarm about the incursion of data mining and manipulative technology into our social lives and beyond.

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Topics: wellness, Social Media, Mental Health, COVID-19

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Working Parents Struggle With Caregiving And Childcare In Midst of Pandemic

Jeff Griffin

Even before the pandemic hit, working parents struggled to meet the needs of their employers and families. Then came the school and daycare closings, and working parents who were already at their breaking points got pushed even further. 

Seven months into the pandemic, things aren't much better for this group of caregivers. With most child care centers still closed around the country and the vast majority of schools practicing remote learning, working parents are dealing with the overwhelming task of once again juggling caregiving and work responsibilities as we head into the Fall.

And while much attention has been given to parents trying to balance their professional responsibilities with home-schooling and taking care of their children, there are also millions of people who are juggling remote work and eldercare for aging parents and other relatives.

Balancing work and caregiving responsibilities is contributing to decreased productivity, poor mental health, and increased stress among employees. All this is leading to lower morale, higher absenteeism, an increased risk for all sorts of health conditions, and higher health care costs.

Just consider a few of the stunning findings from a survey from Boston Consulting Group (BCG), conducted earlier this summer;

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Topics: COVID-19

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Pandemic-Driven Changes To Employee Benefits for 2021

Jeff Griffin

Last week we addressed how this open enrollment season is shaping up to be like no other benefits enrollment period we've ever experienced. In that blog post, we offered a number of suggestions for how employers can best prepare for the choppy seas which lie ahead.

This week we want to share the shifts we're seeing in the employee benefits employers are offering, due to the altered landscape brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic; from products and services to policies and medical premiums.

What we've found to be most surprising is that despite some companies cutting costs through layoffs, furloughs, cuts in pay, and reductions to 401(k) matching programs, employers who can afford to do so are broadening their benefit programs due to the pandemic.  

Here are some of the most significant changes we're helping our clients roll-out.

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Topics: COVID-19

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Preparing for an Unprecedented Benefits Open Enrollment

Jeff Griffin

Fall is just around the corner, which also means we're about to enter an employee benefits open enrollment season like no other that has come before. Many organizations are still operating fully remote. Others are still trying their best to reopen as safely as possible amid mixed messages and fluid guidelines from state and local governments.

Suffice to say, open enrollment planning is the last thing on anyone's mind, except that is, for your employees, who are more concerned than ever about having the right coverage and savings options in place during these uncertain times.

Procrastinating or allowing yourself to get too distracted from benefit decisions and enrollment planning is a recipe for disaster, given what's at stake this open enrollment season.

Here's what we're seeing out there and our advice on how best to prepare for open enrollment.

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Topics: Communications, open enrollment, COVID-19

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Six Things Employers Can Likely Expect From Congress's Phase 4 COVID-19 Relief Bill

Jeff Griffin

As of yesterday, Congress is back in session, but only for a few short weeks. If lawmakers can work together to produce another COVID-19 relief package, it's likely to be the last major piece of legislation passed before the 2020 election.

With prior stimulus measures slated to expire over the next few weeks, the economy continuing to falter as the pandemic resurges across the country, and a presidential election looming, the stakes simply couldn't be any higher.

Back in May, the House of Representatives passed its Phase 4 bill, known as the HEROES Act. The bill has been up for review since early July, though Senate Republicans, who prefer a measure with a far more tempered price tag, have been reluctant to consider it.

The House's $3.5 trillion relief bill would extend enhanced unemployment benefits, offer additional direct payments to taxpayers, and provide assistance to state and local governments, among other things.

The Senate is expected to introduce their own version of a relief bill this week that will have to be reviewed and negotiated between the two chambers before they recess in early August.

Several economic proposals impacting small and midsize businesses have been gaining consensus among lawmakers for weeks, so the final version of the Senate bill could contain elements of all of them.

Here are six things employers can likely expect from the Phase 4 bill; 

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Topics: Legislation, COVID-19, Coronavirus

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