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Practical Issues to Consider in Expanding Benefits Coverage to Transgender Employees

David Rook

Best-in-class employee benefits evolve with the times and our changing values. We saw marriage equality granted to all people in this country after Obergefell v. Hodges, opening employee benefits to many additional spouses and families. Now, we’re seeing more and more employers (including Fortune 100 and 500 companies) embrace transgender-inclusive health insurance plans as gender identity awareness improves. However, medical professionals have been stressing the importance of transgender health for years.

In 2008, the American Medical Association (AMA) first voiced its concerns for the discrimination of transgender individuals when it published a guidance supporting “public and private health insurance coverage for treatment of gender dysphoria as recommended by the patient's physician.” (This policy was updated in 2016).

In order to truly be an equal opportunity employer, you should have at least one transgender-inclusive health insurance plan in your employee benefits package. It’s not as complicated or expensive as it may sound. In fact, right here in our home state of Arizona, there are quite a few employers already offering such benefits.

Here are some practical issues you should consider when expanding your employee benefits to make sure they include transgender employees and how doing so could help you recruit and retain the workforce of the future — namely, millennials and generation Z, who see inclusivity as an important attribute of prospective employers.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, employers, Plan Design, Culture, PPACA, Arizona, employee culture, Retention, Recruiting, ACA, Company Culture, Affordable Care Act, LGBTQ

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FMLA Rules and Regulations: What is Required of Employers?

Jeff Griffin

At some point or another, every human resources employee helps to facilitate a leave of absence under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). HR personnel can probably recite FMLA regulations in their sleep, but the average employee is pretty much out of touch with what the law entitles them to, and quite often they don't realize what’s actually required of their employers.

FMLA rules are designed to protect both the employer and the employee. From an employee’s perspective, they’re able to take necessary medical leave without fear of losing their job. For employers, it helps them work toward the goal of true, equal opportunity employment for both men and women.

To help make your life as an HR professional just a little bit easier, we’ve put this handy guide of FMLA rules and regulations together for you — including some that are specific to our home state of Arizona's FMLA laws. Feel free to download this additional resource guide to include it in your employee handbook or to email to employees who are inquiring about FMLA guidelines.

About the Family Medical Leave Act

The Family Medical Leave Act took nearly a decade to become law, with its first draft being written in 1984 by the Women’s Legal Defense Fund. It was introduced every year from then until 1993, and was even passed by Congress in 1991 and then again in 1992, but was vetoed both times by President George H. Bush. Congress passed the legislation once more in 1993, which President Bill Clinton signed into law just 16 days after taking office.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Paid Time Off (PTO), Compliance, Company Culture

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5 Ways to Make Pregnancy (and the Return to Work) Easier for Working Moms

David Rook

Even though the majority of the working population in America are parents, employers seem to be largely in the dark about how to cater benefits packages to people who are raising kids, especially working moms. Thanks to the openness of the internet and highly successful working moms (like Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook) talking about their experiences, a whole new avenue of conversation has started about making the workplace more family-friendlyThe law provides a starting point, but there are little things (even free things) you can do to help make pregnancy and the return to work easier for working moms. 

First, a disclosure before I go on - I had a lot of help from my wife, a working mom of two children, when writing this particular article. She had a lot of thoughts about what she wished she would have had access to when our children were young and what employers could do now to make the return to work easier. With that out of the way, let's continue...

What’s Required of Employers by Law

Employers with 50 or more full-time equivalents are required to allow men and women to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Most employers will allow their employees to use vacation or sick time during their leave so that part of the weeks are paid. Some even offer partially paid leave.

One of the provisions in the Affordable Care Act includes employer requirements for working moms who are still nursing. This stems from the scientific belief that breast milk, for the first year, is what’s best for babies, as well as the reality of breastfeeding — which is that it’s time consuming. Women are more likely to give up on breastfeeding if they don’t feel their employer is supportive of providing work breaks for pumping.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Flexible Schedules, Company Culture, Affordable Care Act, Compliance

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Why Workplace Harassment Training is So Important

Jeff Griffin

Most employers in America have some kind of workplace harassment training in place. The majority of the time, it’s hokey, outdated videos full of unrealistic scenarios that completely miss the nuances of personal interaction, followed by a series of questions with very obvious answers. Pretty much anyone could correctly answer those questions without actually paying attention to the videos. We all know the “right” answers because they’re so obvious.

The recent sexual harassment allegations in the news have left many business owners and HR departments wondering what they can do to improve sexual harassment training in their companies, while enduring push back from staff who are dreading yet another terrible seminar.

It’s important for every company to have effective workplace harassment training and subsequent guidelines for how to handle accusations, as not doing so can leave you vulnerable to lawsuits. But not having proper training and procedures can also create a breeding ground for workplace harassment, giving rise to employees feeling unsafe at work, which doesn’t create the type of environment people enjoy working in — and it’s definitely not the kind of place that recruits and retains the best talent.

Workplace Harassment in the News

Sexual harassment has been prevalent in the news lately, as more and more women (and men) are coming forward about their experiences with workplace harassment. Discussions of harassment and assault have been picking up momentum since the summer of 2016, when 24 women made assault or harassment allegations against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Since then, multiple men have been accused, including former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, celebrity chef Mario Batali, Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine, former host and creator of the radio show "A Prairie Home Companion" Garrison Keillor, former Today Show anchor Matt Lauer, journalist Charlie Rose, hip hop producer Russell Simmons, former Minnesota Senator Al Franken, actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis C.K., defeated Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, and of course, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. The list goes on, and on, and on.

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Topics: Culture, Company Culture, Employee Engagement, Compliance, Training

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How Cell Phone Use at Work is Shaping Company Policies

Jeff Griffin

Now that nearly every adult has a smartphone, employers are realizing the need to develop policies that address cell phone use at work. As useful and helpful as our handheld devices are (and we do use them for everything), they can be distracting, and at times, a security risk.

In many ways, employers have helped foster this problem. Many employers expect their workforce to always be available, which makes it hard to tell employees they can’t use their cell phones at certain times or in certain settings at work. It might sound a bit hypocritical of us to make such demands and then tell employees they’re on their phones too much. All of us — from the top of the organization down — have gotten so used to a device in our hands that it gets admittedly difficult to put it down.

Cell Phone Use at Work and How it Affects Productivity

A survey conducted by staffing firm OfficeTeam found that employees spend about 56 minutes per day using their cell phones for personal business while at work. While managers surveyed assumed their employees were looking at social media, many employees said they were actually reading and responding to personal emails. In addition, 58 percent of workers reported using their cell phones to visit websites that were blocked or banned by their employer.

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Topics: Culture, employee culture, Company Culture, Communications, Employee Communications

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How to Create a Family Friendly Workplace

Jeff Griffin

Being a parent is hard. Being a parent with a full-time job is harder. Being a parent with a full-time job at a company that doesn’t create a family friendly workplace is almost impossible, especially if this is the case for both parents.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “92.8 percent of all men with children under age 18 participated in the labor force,” while the participation rate for women was 70.5 percent. Altogether, this amounted to 34.2 million families with at least one working parent in 2016, which means you’re extremely likely to employ parents — and lots of them.

Creating a family friendly workplace can give employers a major advantage in attracting hard-working employees, and then perhaps most importantly, keeping them long-term. Luckily, some of the most helpful benefits you can offer don’t have to be incredibly expensive.

5 Ways to Create a Family Friendly Workplace

1. Parental Leave

Paid parental leave is a hot topic in America right now. Anyone who has tried to care for a newborn baby knows it’s a full-time job in and of itself — and for the most demanding boss (with the weirdest schedule) you’ve ever had.  

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Company Culture, Culture, Employee Retention, Flexible Schedules

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Telecommuting and Employee Mental Health

Jeff Griffin

Telecommuting is becoming increasingly common in the American workforce. Employees usually enjoy this perk because it means less time in traffic and fewer distractions, which leads to more productivity, in addition to more flexibility in caring for children and elders living in the home. Even if it’s only one or two days a week, telecommuting can decrease stress and actually increase productivity. Some employers even prefer it because they can downsize their offices and save money on property costs.

But one of the possible downfalls of telecommuting (especially when employees spend more time at home than in the office) is a feeling of disconnect from their coworkers and a growing sense of loneliness. Employees who feel this way may end up with more mental health issues, needing medication to help regulate depression, experience decreased productivity, or even switch jobs for one that allows them to be back in an office.

If telecommuting is part of your employee benefits package, it’s important for you to understand the effects of loneliness so you can take measured steps to combat them, as well as to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Loneliness is a Health Hazard

According to a study conducted by Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, social isolation and the resulting feelings of loneliness are as hazardous to our health as obesity. The study is careful to note that the risk associated with loneliness is from actual social isolation, as well as perceived isolation.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Flexible Schedules, Company Culture, Telecommuting

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5 Ways to Encourage Employees to Enjoy Their Paid Time Off Over the July 4th Holiday

David Rook

Many employees feel like they have to check-in with work even when they’re supposed to be enjoying paid time off. More often than not, this is a cultural issue within a company. Supervisors might be checking-in and sending emails in the evening or on weekends. This leads their direct reports to believe they need to respond immediately, and they may even start adopting these behaviors themselves. 

Yet, research has shown time and time again that workers need frequent breaks and unfortunately, Americans leave a lot of that paid time off on the table every year. It might seem like workers would be more productive if they aren’t using all their vacation time, but in reality, skipping our vacations actually makes us less productive. To keep employees operating in top shape, we need to encourage them to enjoy their downtime — and perhaps it’s fitting to begin with the July 4th holiday. Here are 5 ways to encourage employees to enjoy their independence...and their paid time off this weekend.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Paid Time Off (PTO), Company Culture, Employee Retention

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11 Innovative (& Mostly Inexpensive) Employee Benefits

David Rook

An image of five light bulbs hanging on long strings.Employers are struggling to assemble impressive employee benefits packages under the crushing weight of ever-increasing healthcare costs. While these escalating expenses may be forcing companies to cut back on their overall benefits package, there are still plenty of innovative ideas that can enrich a company’s offerings without costing them a fortune. Here are 11 out-of-the-box employee benefits that won’t frustrate your finance department.

8 Affordable Employee Benefits

Convenience Benefits

Dry Cleaning Pickup

Picking up the dry cleaning is something no one wants to do. It’s certainly an unappealing errand before or after a long work day, so offering an on-site pickup and delivery service can be a welcome employee benefit. Employees will pay for the cost of the actual cleaning, so at most, the employer will only be on the hook for a delivery fee from the dry cleaner. It’s a cost-effective way to give some time back to employees.

Flexible Schedules

Allowing employees to work a flexible schedule is essentially free for employers. As work-life balance becomes an increasingly hot topic, workers will appreciate that they can get to their kid’s school event at lunchtime and make up the hours later that evening or on the weekend.

This is an easy employee benefit to offer — as long as there’s some sort of tracking system in place. Some companies use the honor system (assuming everyone will get their 40 hours in), while others use tracking websites, such as Toggl to “clock in and out” so supervisors can be assured their employees are all on task.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Flexible Schedules, Company Culture, Plan Design

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The Evolution of Black Friday

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.

The Origins of Black Friday

While the term "Black Friday" wasn’t coined until the 1960s, the day after Thanksgiving has been known as the official start of the Christmas shopping season since Macy’s established its Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924. The term "Black Friday" is associated with by-hand accounting practices, where red ink was used to indicate a loss and black ink to indicate a profit: holiday shopping moves retailers from the red to the black.
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Topics: Employee Benefits, Company Culture, Education

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