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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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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: Compliance, Education, HSAs, Retirement Planning, Savings Plans, QSEHRA, HDHPs, FSAs

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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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Why Your Employees Aren’t Enrolling In Your HDHP

Jeff Griffin

Employers looking to decrease their healthcare costs often rely on workforce adoption of High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs), which offer both employers and employees lower premiums. Unfortunately, this strategy doesn’t always work out if enrollment in HDHPs (assuming employees are given a choice) fall short of forecasts.

Rightly or wrongly, HDHPs have been saddled with some baggage. Many people have difficulty making the cognitive leap from traditional healthcare plans to HDHPs for a variety of reasons; in part because change is generally difficult for people, but sometimes, it’s simply a fear of the unknown and a matter of not understanding how they work.

While we certainly aren’t advocating that HDHPs are suitable for everyone, they’re a great fit for some — especially those who are otherwise overpaying for health insurance, meaning that they’re paying high premiums, but rarely using their plans.

Here are some reasons your employees might not be enrolling in your HDHP — and how you can overcome them.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Education, HSAs, High Deductible Health Plans

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Employee Benefits Glossary: Insurance Terminology Defined (with downloadable asset!)

Jeff Griffin

Insurance terminology sometimes makes discussions about healthcare feel like we’re all speaking in different languages. The jargon insurance companies use is oftentimes confusing for the average person to understand, only further exacerbated by the legalese in which everything insurance-related is written. It feels like we all need a translator just to figure out what insurance policies cover and what participants will be responsible for.

The truth of the matter is that people understand less about health insurance than they like to believe. A 2016 survey by PolicyGenius found that just 4 percent of those polled could correctly identify four common insurance terms: copayment, copay (some people think they mean something different), deductible, and coinsurance. And while 83 percent of people believed they understood the word “copay,” only 52 percent could actually define it correctly. To make matters worse, only 36 percent of millennials could define any of the four terms properly.

As a member of the human resources team, the responsibility of bridging this knowledge gap and educating your workforce oftentimes falls to you. An educated workforce will make better employee benefit enrollment decisions, and will be less of a burden on your employee benefits hotline.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a glossary of common insurance terminology that you can easily slip into your employee benefits enrollment guide or your employee handbook. While we’ve included 11 of the most common terms here, you can download another 52 by clicking here.  

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Education, Employee Communications, employee communication, CHRO

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How You Know it's Time to Fire Your Employee Benefits Broker

Jeff Griffin

Many companies stick with their employee benefits broker for years on end, not giving too much thought to whether a change is warranted. HR directors always have long to-do lists full of time-sensitive issues, so finding a new broker is typically the last thing on their minds — except maybe during contract renewal season if the news isn’t good (and it never seems to be with health insurance these days).

The issue here is that there is a point when it’s time to fire your broker, but recognizing it when the time comes is difficult because you have a million things on your mind and far more pressing matters at hand. There are some definite signs it’s time to find a new employee benefits broker and it’s important to keep an eye out for them. Here are some of the big ones.

They’re Not Helping You Contain Costs Year-Round

Employee benefits brokers should not only be reaching out when it comes time for your annual renewal. Top-notch benefits consultants are working with you year-round to make sure you’re taking every possible step to keep your benefits costs contained.

True cost containment strategy requires constant effort in the form of chronic condition identification and management, medication adherence, large-scale claim intervention, consistent execution of a sound wellness program, financial oversight, and diligent carrier reconciliations.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Compliance, Education, Disruption, Strategy

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Why America's Healthcare System Is Broken

David Rook

According to The Commonwealth Fund’s most recent study of 11 different countries’ healthcare systems, the United States comes in dead last. This study measures overall industry performance and each country is ranked by five factors that contribute to their score: care process (in which the U.S. placed 5th), access (11th), administrative efficiency (10th), equity (11th), and outcomes (11th).

For being one of the richest countries in the world, the U.S. just can’t seem to get a grip on their healthcare system. No matter the proposed solution over the past century, the system has slowly but surely become more and more expensive, which means it’s also becoming less and less accessible.

If you were to ask 10 people why America’s healthcare system is broken, you’re sure to get 10 different answers — and you might even get into a debate about what “broken” means, both of which could help explain why we haven’t been able to fix it yet. Experts have many opinions, but one thing is for sure: the problems with our healthcare system don’t point back to just one cause. There are multiple issues at hand and none of them are easy fixes. 

5 Major Ways Our Healthcare System is Broken

Lack of Cost Transparency

One of the most common complaints among consumers is the lack of cost transparency in our healthcare system. You’d be hard-pressed to find another industry where this is the case. Even in other insurance situations, such as a car repair after an accident, the driver can figure out a fairly accurate estimate before ever paying a dime. The same goes for a homeowners claim.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Affordable Care Act, Cost Containment, Education, ACA

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