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Government Shutdown Raises Employee Benefit Questions For Private Sector Employers Too

Jeff Griffin

Staff of private sector employers – those who have immediate family members affected by the government shutdown - are asking employee benefit questions of their employers which are entirely new to them.

Chief among them is the question of if the government furlough is considered a Qualifying Life Event (QLE) for any affected government employee. A QLE would allow the impacted individual to move over to their family’s private sector, or unaffected public sector health plan if the worker is otherwise eligible. This event would also trigger a Special Enrollment Opportunity.

According to benefits compliance experts ThinkHR, employees who choose to quit their jobs during this tumultuous period do, in fact, create a QLE. This would simply be considered a “change in employment status”, which includes:

  • Quitting a job or being laid off
  • Being hired (keeping in mind waiting periods, if applicable)
  • Gaining or losing benefits by moving from part-time to full time employment status (or vice versa)

What’s less clear is if a furloughed employee who doesn’t intend to quit their job can jump to their family member’s health coverage, either permanently, or for a shorter period of time.

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Topics: Qualifying Life Events, Spousal Coverage, Dependent Coverage, Special Enrollment Opportunity, Special Enrollment Periods

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Why Short-Term and Long-Term Disability Insurance Might Be The Second Most Important Employee Benefit You Offer

Jeff Griffin

While dental and vision care are typically the second and third most popular employee benefits after health insurance, employers should look long and hard at short term disability and long term disability insurance as "must haves" in their benefits portfolio.

Why? Well, when someone in the organization misses a considerable amount of work due to an injury or illness, there isn't a business owner we've met who doesn't then struggle with the incredibly difficult decision of how best to resolve the issue. 

Not only is the impacted employee struggling with a loss of income, but the employer is also struggling with compensation decisions regarding this individual during their absence, not to mention compensation investments that might have to be made to fill the position left open in this person's absence. 

Everyone is spared these difficult decisions if disability insurance is in place. That's because disability insurance protects your employees from a disruption in income in the event of an injury or accident. (This should not be confused with Workman's Compensation. While they are similar, the main difference is that Workman's Compensation only covers employees for illnesses or injuries which are work-related.)

So let's examine the trends in long term and short term disability insurance and discuss tactics to improve employee participation. 

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Multi-Generational, Voluntary Benefits, Long-Term Disability, Short-Term Disability

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The Best Time In The Hiring Process to Discuss Your Employee Benefits Program

Jeff Griffin

Employers who excel at talent recruitment have a real edge when it comes to competing for talent in an ever tightening labor market. 

Savvy employers with a best-in-class and/or competitive benefits package strategically use their benefits program as an invaluable tool to seal the deal with candidates they really want to bring on board. Unique, memorable, demographically-relevant, and out-of-the-box benefits can also help an employer stand out amongst the crowd.

While leaning on your benefits program to help with recruiting is always a wise hiring strategy, when in the hiring process you bring it up should be somewhat calculated. Here are a few tips employers and hiring managers might choose to consider when discussing benefits during the hiring process.

Recruiting and Job Posting 
 

For candidates you really want to hire, there's typically nothing wrong with discussing benefits right out of the gate. This assumes, of course, that you are comfortable with each candidate's assessment of you, the employer as the right place for them; interviewing should be a two-way street after all.

That said, in most recruiting situations there typically isn't one specific person or ideal candidate in mind to fill a slot. Instead, most employers recruit to attract as many qualified candidates as possible. In this instance, you'll want to entice candidates with a competitive benefits package in your job posting, but you don't want to be too explicit for two primary reasons.

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Topics: Recruiting

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When Employees Should Take Sick Time

Dr. Christine Maxwell

We all have Cal Ripken-like employees in our offices - the ones who pride themselves on never missing a day of work. They are the ones who come in when the snow drifts are two feet high, when the highway is washed out due to a hundred year flood, or when they are on the cusp of falling over due to a cough and fever that would most likely kill the more feeble in our population.

And while we love that these attendance superstars overcome most of these obstacles, it’s the last one which should be of the most concern when caring for the overall health of your workforce. 

For employers, managing employees’ sick time is a challenge and even struggle. Some employees take sick time when they really shouldn’t, while others don’t take time when they ought to for the good of themselves and their fellow workers. The latter is especially harmful, as one person’s communicable disease can quickly spread to others. A study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that working sick costs employers across the nation a cumulative $160 billion in lost productivity each year.

The following are some clear guidelines on when employees should and shouldn't take sick time, along with how employers can communicate the guidelines for the benefit of the entire workforce.

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Topics: Education, Culture, Population Health, Employee Communications

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Employee Benefits in 2019: Trends in Health Insurance, Time Off and More

Jeff Griffin

The past year’s tight labor market has made finding new hires more challenging than usual for employers, and it looks like the trend will continue throughout much of 2019. In order to attract and retain qualified talent, employers aren’t merely offering competitive salaries; they’re also revising their benefits packages, which many employees heavily scrutinize when entertaining job offers. As we enter 2019, here are some of the employee benefits trends that will shape overall compensation in the coming year.

Health Insurance: Promoting Services While Mitigating High-Cost Claims 
 

Health insurance remains the most trying employee benefit for employers to manage (and not only because many are required to offer it). Health insurance has always required a balancing act between giving employees valuable coverage and managing company costs.

In 2019, employers are approaching this balancing act by promoting convenient and high-level service while mitigating the costs associated with major claims (the top 1 percent of which use more resources than the bottom 75 percent of policyholders). Employers are accomplishing this via five methods:

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Topics: Education, Paid Time Off (PTO), HSAs, Mental Health

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Nonprofits Get Tax Relief on Certain Employee Fringe Benefits

Jeff Griffin

Earlier this week, the IRS announced a reprieve to nonprofit organizations with regards to taxing fringe benefits. This comes as good news to those nonprofits concerned about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which President Trump signed into law in December of last year.

Due to overwhelming pressure placed on top Republican leaders from nonprofit organizations, as well as opposition from the Senate, requests were made to the Treasury Department to delay the implementation of the tax until 2019.

While the reprieve is specific to the 2018 tax year; it will remain in place until such time as when Congress changes the law.

Effects of the Reprieve 

The reprieve offers a financial break to nonprofit organizations specific to calculating the cost of their qualified transportation and commuting benefits. This financial break also extends to penalties that would otherwise be assessed in the event of under-calculating these expenses.

What the Law Includes

The new law includes a provision that imposes a 21 percent tax rate on certain fringe benefits for employees of nonprofit organizations, effective January 1, 2018. These benefits, under Internal Revenue Code sections 132(f) include:

  • Qualified transportation and commuting
    • Transit passes
    • Transportation in a commuter highway transportation vehicle between the employee’s home and workplace paid by the employer
  • Qualified parking
  • Onsite athletic facility

According to estimates from the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, the new law, specific to disallowing transportation deductions, will save some $17.7 billion over a ten-year period, though these figures include both nonprofits and for-profit organizations.  Of course these figures will now have to be adjusted given this reprieve. 

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Topics: Education, Compliance, nonprofits

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Employee Benefit Perks That Make The Holidays Merry

David Rook

Employee Benefit Perks That Make The Holidays Merry


It’s that time of year again: the time when employers ponder ways to express their appreciation to staff for a job well done. 
 
This year-end recognition almost always coincides with holiday festivities. How can you ensure that the holiday perks and year-end recognition you have in mind are the ones that will really resonate with your employees?

Give the Gift of Time

Around the holidays, one of the scarcest commodities anyone has is time. Savvy employers discern that employees highly prize generous holiday leave policies.

Some small, locally-owned industries manage to arrange their production schedules in such a way that they can close their doors between Christmas and New Year’s every year. While juggling the production schedule requires forethought and fine planning skills, companies that manage this perk reap the rewards of high employee morale as the holidays near.

For most companies, however, business processes must continue throughout the holiday season. Larger companies are often unable to make a grand gesture such as closing down for a whole holiday week. The good news is that a little creative thinking often yields positive results.
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Topics: Company Culture

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2019 IRS Limits for Commonly Offered Employee Benefits

Jeff Griffin
The IRS recently finalized adjustments to 2019 limits on various tax-advantaged medical and dependent care spending accounts, retirement plans, and other inflation-adjusted employee benefits such as adoption assistance and qualified transportation benefits.
 
The 2.2 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index (PCI) for the 12 months ending this September was just enough to meet the thresholds required to extend these rate adjustments.
 
Despite some of these updates being issued nearly a month later than normal, these new financial caps still go into effect January 1, 2019. While some of the limits are unchanged, many have increased for 2019, affording employees the opportunity to contribute more money into their Health Spending Accounts (HSAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), and retirement plans, just to name a few.
 
In preparation for these 2019 plan year changes, employers should update their benefit plan designs for the new limits, ensure that their plan administration will be consistent with the new 2019 limits, and communicate the new benefit plan limits to their employees. 
 
Here is a convenient set of side-by-side comparison tables outlining the changes:
 
Tax-Advantaged Employee Benefits
HSA & HDHP Contribution Limits
The IRS has increased the 2019 annual HSA contribution limit for self-only HDHP coverage by $50, to $3,500, and by $100, to $7,000, for family HDHP coverage. HSA contributions can be made by the HSA account holder or any other person on their behalf, including an employer or family member.
 
 
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Topics: Education, Savings Plans, Retirement Planning, FSAs, HDHPs, QSEHRA, HSAs, Compliance

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Cyber Monday Slowdown; Four Ways To Maintain Some Semblance of Worker Productivity

David Rook
Long holiday weekends are typically an excellent opportunity for employees to relax and recharge their batteries. While the first day back is admittedly a bit crazy, the backlog of calls and emails eventually subsidies, with one dreaded exception...Cyber Monday. 
 
According to the research firm Robert Haft Technology , nearly a quarter of your workforce will shop online during their work-hours on Cyber Monday. And while 46 percent will browse during their lunch breaks, almost a third of employees will shop all day long.
 

So what can be done about this employee productivity killer? In a nutshell, not much. Resistance is futile, as they say. So here are four ways that you, as an employer, can embrace Cyber Monday in ways designed to minimize workplace disruption and maintain employee productivity.

Sanction Shopping Time
 
Rather than prohibiting or admonishing online shopping throughout the day (it’s going to happen anyway), bring it out from the shadows. In doing so, you might turn this covert experience into something far more social - an activity which can even perhaps foster some group camradery.
 
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Topics: Employee Benefits, Company Culture, Education, Employee Productivity

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Black Friday Revolt Continues; Employers Put Family Time First

David Rook
Black Friday has become an enormous "tent pole event" for both retailers and consumers. The day after Thanksgiving has become synonymous with outrageous deals – but also outrageous lines, all-night camp outs, poorly-staffed stores, and sometimes violent confrontations between shoppers vying to be the first to hit the shelves. 
 
For a long time, Black Friday was seen as simply a good day to get a head start on Christmas shopping and save some money. However, in recent years, store openings have crept earlier and earlier, even into Thanksgiving itself, and viral videos of stampeding shoppers, brawls, and even some deaths have contributed to a growing sense that the infamous “holiday” has gone too far. Add to this the numerous complaints from employees on social media and the rise in popularly of online/mobile shopping,  and one gets the sense that the importance of Black Friday is finally waning.
 
As demonstrated by REI for the fourth consecutive year, retailers who take the brave stance of sticking to normal business hours, can not only engender goodwill from their employees by adhering to tenets of their corporate culture, but also, in certain situations, can endear themselves to loyal customers - a true win / win if ever there was one. This year, not only will REI close their physical locations during Thanksgiving and Black Friday, but they also plan to take it a step further by not processing online orders during this time either. Though REI is one retailer willing to push the limits by completely closing up shop on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, countless other retailers have curtailed the practice of opening their doors Thanksgiving evening. In fact, according to BestBlackFriday.com, a record number of stores will remain closed that day.
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Topics: Employee Benefits, Company Culture, Education

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