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The State of the Union Address and What It Means For Employee Benefits

Jeff Griffin

Last week, President Donald Trump delivered the 2019 State of the Union Address (SOTU). The SOTU is an annual message delivered by the president to a joint session of Congress at the beginning of each year.

At this year’s SOTU, President Trump discussed issues that have the potential to impact the employee benefits industry, as well as employers offering healthcare and benefits to their employees. The issues he discussed included pre-existing conditions, lower prescription drug prices, and nationwide paid family leave.

While the SOTU is just a speech, often times packed with lofty aspirations, it does sometimes lead to policy. Here is a recap of what was addressed:

Pre-existing Condition Protection

In a departure from 2018 Department of Justice actions, President Trump announced in the address that people who have pre-existing conditions should receive protections. If the administration holds true to this goal, they will likely find cross-aisle support, as pre-existing condition patient protection was a key campaign issue in the midterm elections.

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Topics: Paid Time Off (PTO), Legislation, Prescription Drugs, Pre-Existing Conditions

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Arizona’s New Mini-COBRA Requirements for Small Businesses (with Sample Notice & Side-by-Side Comparison Table)

Jeff Griffin

At the start of this calendar year, Arizona became the latest state to adopt a mini-COBRA law, which impacts small employers. The new law specifically applies to employer-sponsored medical plans issued or renewed on or after January 1, 2019. (Employers with plans that were issued or renewed prior to this date have a little more time to comply with the law.)

The law requires small employers – those that offer group health plans, including medical, dental and vision - to offer continuation coverage to eligible employees and qualified dependents who experience Qualifying Events that would typically result in a loss of coverage.

These events include such things as loss of employment (for reasons other than gross misconduct), divorce or separation from the covered employee, or death of the covered employee.

Employers impacted by this new legislation are those that have fewer than 20 employees for more than fifty percent of its typical business days during the prior calendar year.

Although the new mini-COBRA continuation coverage requirements are very similar to the Federal COBRA requirements that apply to larger employers, there are some key differences. We invite you to download our side-by-side comparison of COBRA and Arizona’s Mini-COBRA of how these requirements compare with one another.

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Topics: Compliance, COBRA, Arizona Regulations

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Leaves of Absence - Do Employers Need to Provide Health Insurance During These Times?

Jeff Griffin

Employees who take qualifying leaves of absence are provided multiple protections by way of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act (USERRA), and many state laws.

The most well-known protection is the guarantee of the same or an equivalent job when employees return to work, but there are also other protections. For example, many of these laws stipulate employers’ obligations regarding health insurance during employees’ qualifying leaves of absence.

The following is a breakdown of FMLA, USERRA, and some general state laws with regards to employer-provided health insurance coverage.

FMLA and Health Insurance

In order to meet the requirements for an FMLA-qualifying leave of absence, employees must meet four criteria:

  • Have completed 12 months of work for the employer (not necessarily consecutively)
  • Have completed 1,250 hours of work in those 12 months
  • Work at a location where there are at least 50 employees present or within 75 miles
  • Have a qualifying event

There are many qualifying events, ranging from the birth or adoption of a child, to serious health conditions, to providing for family members who have serious health conditions. Having a family member called to active military duty also qualifies (and extends FMLA benefits from 12 to 26 weeks).

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Topics: Compliance, Qualifying Life Events, FMLA, USERRA

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

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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, Employee Communications, Culture, Population Health

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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: Paid Time Off (PTO), Education, 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: Compliance, Education, 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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