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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-friendly.

The 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.  And in the interest of full disclosure, I had a lot of help from my wife, a working mom of two children, when writing this blog. 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

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, Affordable Care Act, Compliance, Company Culture, Flexible Schedules

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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 The majority of the time, it’s hokey, outdated videos full of unrealistic scenarios that completely miss the nuances of personal interaction, followed by a series of questions with very obvious answers.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: Compliance, Company Culture, Employee Engagement, Culture, Training

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Ducey's Plan for Arizona's CHIP Program

David Rook

Governor Ducey is working on a plan to fund Arizona’s CHIP program until Congress either passes a new budget or finds a way to pass an independent CHIP bill, which would require some legislative maneuvering with very few legislative days left in the year and a tremendous backlog of bills.

On September 30, 2017, the government’s fiscal year ended without passing a new budget, essentially cutting off all federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) across the country. Because 9 million children in the U.S. (and their parents) depend on the insurance CHIP provides, states are trying to find extra cash to sustain the program.

Who Does CHIP Cover?

CHIP was created to fill in the gaps for families that make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not necessarily enough to pay for private or employer-sponsored health insurance.

Children up to age 19 are eligible for the program, but states have discretion over further eligibility standards, including those related to income. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) also expanded CHIP eligibility to children of state employees.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Compliance, employee health, Arizona

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Keeping Your Wellness Program Compliant

Dr. Christine

You don’t have to be a health insurance expert to know that healthcare coverage makes up a significant portion of businesses’ operating costs. Looking ahead to next year, Willis Tower Watson predicts the average annual per-employee cost for health insurance will increase 5.3% to $12,850 (up from $12,200 in 2017). Understandably, employers are always looking for ways to get a firmer handle on rising healthcare costs and often turn to wellness programs as a possible solution.   

Three Important Federal Laws That Affect Wellness Plans

Before you launch a wellness program, it’s important to do your homework. Mistakes can be costly for both your employees and your bottom line. One area you should pay particularly close attention to is the intersection of wellness plans and federal law. There are several comprehensive federal statutes that impact workplace wellness plans, so before you put your plan in place, make sure you consult with a legal expert who can help you stay on the right side of the law.

1. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) includes nondiscrimination rules that apply to wellness plans being offered in connection with group health plans. Under HIPAA, workplace wellness programs are divided into two categories: participatory wellness programs and health-contingent wellness programs.  

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Compliance, wellness, employee wellness, wellness program

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Arizona Healthcare Could Improve with New Legislation

David Rook

State lawmakers are currently reviewing a piece of legislation that could improve Arizona healthcare for a number of residents. Senate Bill 1441 seeks to solve a common Arizona healthcare problem: surprise medical bills from out-of-network physicians after receiving treatment or having surgery through in-network providers. It’s a frustrating (and confusing) situation, especially for those who have done their research beforehand to make sure all providers were covered by their insurance policy. How are people getting unexpected bills? And what will this legislation do about it?

The Arizona Healthcare Problem: Surprise Bills

In the state of Arizona, people seeing in-network doctors and utilizing in-network hospitals systems frequently receive surprise bills from out-of-network providers. It’s become a common Arizona healthcare narrative these days. If it hasn’t happened to you, you probably know someone who has encountered this issue in the past.

How does this happen? Well, it’s actually pretty complicated.

Let’s say you need surgery. You do your necessary diligence by researching the hospital, the surgeon, and the other doctors you know you’ll be in contact with. You make sure they’re all in-network so you’re minimizing the bills you receive after the fact. Everyone (including the hospital network) is covered. You should be all set, right?

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Compliance, Legislation, Arizona

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6 Ways Employee Benefits Administration Automation Can Save You Time (and Money)

David Rook

Some employers choose to take on employee benefits administration with paper forms and spreadsheets, thinking they’ll save money. They see the cost of online automation, coupled with the monthly commitment — usually per employee, per month (PEPM) — and find it hard to believe the benefits of the software would be worth the investment. It’s true that employee benefits administration software is not free, but the benefits of automation far outweigh the cost.

The reality of the situation is that regulation complications, paperwork, and human error end up costing employers far more time than it's worth. And of course, that doesn’t include the fines your business could incur as a result. Here are six ways employee benefits administration automation can save you time and money.

1. Increased Efficiency for Both Employer and Employee

Automated employee benefits administration increases efficiency for both you, the administrator, and your employees who use it. Regardless of the task you are trying to complete, it will, in short order, take less time when it’s automated as opposed to old-fashioned spreadsheets, or worse, paper. 

Many companies still have employees fill out paper forms, which an HR director or assistant then has to manually enter into a payroll system, an HR system, and the health insurance system. What took two or three people to accomplish could have taken one — the employee — if an employee benefits administration platform was used. With well-organized systems, all those different parts talk to each other and disperse the information where it needs to go, which means you get to focus on real work instead of paperwork.

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Topics: Compliance, Enrollment, Disruption, Technology, Automation

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Protecting Your Employee Benefits Plan Through a Dependent Eligibility Audit

David Rook

As the end of the year approaches, it a good time to talk about making a fresh start in the new year. One way to ensure your employee benefits program gets off to a good start in January is through a series of audits.

Two of the more popular benefits audits are Dependent Eligibility Audits and Claims Audits; both are typically conducted to drive longer-term health plan objectives as well as to receive immediate, short term returns or a one-time recovery of funds. 

By making use of these periodic audits, businesses can more easily control the rising costs of employee benefits, while protecting the program from purposeful fraud or accidental waste. These audits also protect your workforce from unnecessary expenses and possible denials of coverage which could prove financially disastrous.

We'll cover the "ins and outs" of claim audits in another post, but for now, here are some general guidelines to follow with Dependent Eligibility Audits.

Dependent Eligibility Audits 101

Eligibility audits identify plan participants who should be purged from the rolls because they no longer qualify for benefits. Examples include divorced spouses, adult children who age-out of eligibility, and nieces or nephews living with an employee.

According to AON, these audits typically find 5 to 7 percent of dependents do not meet eligibility criteria. Other sources peg the number at closer to 20 percent. With the average cost of covering a dependent costing an employer $3,500 a year, companies can easily lose upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars when providing health care to ineligible dependents. Losses of this magnitude can affect a company's bottom line, and its ability to fund other important employee benefits.

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Topics: Compliance, Cost Containment, Audits

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Stay Compliant: Notices to Include in Your Annual Employee Benefits Open Enrollment Materials

David Rook

Whenever an employer offers a group health plan, it's imperative to properly administer all of the health plan notices required under the DOL, PPACA, ERISA, COBRA and HIPAA. Failure to comply with these directives can lead to costly penalties.

So when it comes to your employee benefits communications this open enrollment season, how confident are you in providing your employees (and their dependents) with all of these legally-required notices in the time and manner in which the law specifies?

Savvy employers can generally minimize both the administrative burden and cost of sending these notices by simply including them with the health plan enrollment materials they distribute each year. Although yearly distribution is not required for most federally mandated health plan notices, employers should consider including some of them with enrollment materials anyway. Doing so may cure any previous failure to give the notice, and it demonstrates an employer’s good faith effort to apprise plan participants of their rights.

Here is a rundown of the notices you might wish to include in your open enrollment communication efforts. Note that these notices, in general, apply to all types of group health plans, including both fully-insured and self-funded group health insurance plans. That said, some of the requirements vary by the type of health plan offered as well as the size of your company.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Communications, Compliance

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Crossing State Lines: Multi-State Employee Benefit Challenges

David Rook

There can be no denying the fact that the landscape of employee benefits is a challenging one at best. And for multi-state workforces, employee benefits challenges multiply exponentially. HR departments around the nation struggle with the unique issues surrounding multi-state employment.

Compliance is the Sticking Point

One of the main issues complicated by multi-state work is proper risk assessment and management of compliance issues. Employers hiring multi-state employees must comply with all federal laws and state laws in all the states in which they conduct business.

This is more easily said than done. Here are just a few areas where compliance can be an issue:

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Compliance

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Should Vaping be Encouraged as a Smoking Cessation Tool?

David Rook

Should Vaping be Encouraged as a Smoking Cessation Tool?

A reader of last week’s blog post on vaping asked us if employers should actively promote e-cigarettes in their wellness programs as a smoking cessation tool. This is an excellent question. It’s admittedly tough to ascertain if e-cigarettes are going to be the next major health hazard or the most effective smoking cessation technique ever created. Unfortunately, there’s not a straightforward answer to this question, but we will attempt to answer it as best we can.

What is Vaping?

For the uninitiated, vaping is the act of inhaling atomized liquid, usually nicotine dissolved in propylene glycol plus flavoring and colors. The device used for this activity is called an e-cigarette; a battery-operated device, often shaped like a cigarette, which is designed to deliver nicotine in the form of an inhalable vapor rather than tobacco smoke.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Compliance, wellness, Legislation

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