IRS bumps up 401(k) contribution limit for 2019

Do you offer a retirement plan to your employees? The IRS recently raised the annual contribution cap for 401(k) and other retirement plans. Continue reading to find out what the new contribution caps are.


Participants in 401(k) and other defined contribution retirement accounts will see their annual contribution cap raised from $18,500 to $19,000 in 2019, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

The catch-up contribution limit on defined contribution plans remains unchanged at $6,000.

Savers with IRAs will see the annual contribution cap raised from $5,500 to $6,000 — the first time the cap on IRA deferrals has been raised since 2013. The annual catch-up contribution for savers age 50 and over will remain at $1,000.

Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) increases will also be applied to the deduction phase-out scale for IRA owners who are also covered by a workplace retirement plan:

  • for single filers the scale will be $64,000 to $74,000, up $1,000
  • for joint filers where the spouse contributing to an IRA is also covered by a workplace plan, the phase-out slot increase to $103,000 to $123,000
  • for an IRA contributor whose spouse is covered by a plan, the income phase-out is $193,000 to $2003,000

Single contributors to Roth IRAs will see the income phase-out range increase to $122,000 to $137,000, up $2,000 from last year. For married couples filing jointly the range will increase to $193,000 to $203,000, up $4,000 from last year.

More low and moderate-income families may be able to claim the Saver’s Credit on their tax returns for contributions to retirement savings plans. The threshold increases $1,000 for married couples, to $64,000; $48,000 for head of households, up $750; and $32,000 for singles and single filers, up $500 from last year.

The deferred compensation limit in defined contribution plans for pre-tax and after-tax dollars will increase $1,000, to $56,000. And the maximum defined benefit annual pension will increase $5,000, to $225,000.

SOURCE: Thornton, N. (1 November 2018) "IRS bumps up 401(k) contribution limit for 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/11/01/irs-bumps-401k-contribution-limit-for-2019/


Are Your Workers Sleeping on the Job?

A recent survey by Accountemps revealed that approximately three-quarters of American adults surveyed reported feeling tired at work often. Consistent tiredness can be a big risk for companies even if employees aren’t actually falling asleep on the job. Continue reading to learn more.


The occasional Monday-morning yawn is a common sight at most offices—but, according to new research, a staggering number of employees report being tired at work. Even if workers aren’t actually sleeping on the job, consistent tiredness could spell big trouble for productivity and retention.

Staffing firm Accountemps surveyed 2,800 American adults working in office environments, finding that nearly three-quarters report being tired at work often (specifically, 31 percent said very often, and 43 perfect reported feeling tired somewhat often). Twenty-four percent said it’s not very often that they’re yawning on the job, while just 2 percent said they never feel tired at work.

The report also ranked the top 15 “sleepiest” cities based on survey responses, with Nashville, Tenn. claiming the No. 1 spot, followed by a three-way tie between Denver, Indianapolis and Austin, Texas.

Michael Steinitz, executive director of Accountemps, noted that on-the-job errors would naturally follow if you have a workforce of tired employees. And, he says,  “Consider the underlying causes of why employees are sleepy: If it’s because they’re stretched too thin, retention issues could soon follow.”

Those ideas are bolstered by research from Hult International Business School, which found that the 1,000 workers in its study average about 6.5 hours of sleep per night, lower than the seven to eight hours recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Even a half-hour less than the optimal sleep time, researchers found, led to poorer workplace performance. Tired workers reported a lack of focus, needing more time to complete tasks, struggling with creativity, lacking motivation to learn and challenges to multitasking. Many of those side effects of being tired at work, the researchers wrote, are often mistakenly attributed to poor training or work culture when, in reality, they may stem from sleeplessness.

Lack of sleep has a well-documented impact on physical health, and Hult also noted its effects on mental wellness. A vast majority of respondents (84 percent) said they feel irritable at work when they’re tired, and more than half reported feelings of frustration and stress—all of which, researchers noted, can impact teamwork and collaboration.

Accountemps suggested a number of ways employees can guard against being tired at work: physical exercise, being more communicative with managers and leaving work at the office, such as by not bringing a phone or laptop to bed to decrease the chances of letting work communications keep them up at night. On the employer side, the firm recommended managers set reasonable office hours, increase face-to-face meetings with subordinates to see where support is needed and encourage workers to unplug when they leave the office.

SOURCE: Colletta, J. (26 October 2018) "Are Your Workers Sleeping on the Job?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://hrexecutive.com/are-your-workers-sleeping-on-the-job/


7 Steps to Running Better Meetings

A recent Accountemps survey revealed that office workers spend 21 percent of their time in meetings and feel that 25 percent of it is wasted. Read this blog post for seven steps to running better meetings.


We love to hate meetings. We groan about how annoying they are. We crack jokes about how much time gets wasted, about bureaucracy run amok.

But it’s not really a laughing matter.

Poorly run meetings can sap the lifeblood out of an organization. Not only are they mentally draining, but they can leave staff disengaged and demoralized, experts say.

On average, office workers spend 21 percent of their time in meetings and feel 25 percent of it is wasted, according to the results of a recent survey of 1,000 employees by Accountemps. One of the top complaints was that meetings are called to relay information that could have been communicated via e-mail.

Managers are also dissatisfied. In a Harvard Business School study last year, researchers found that 71 percent of the 182 senior managers interviewed said meetings were unproductive and inefficient, and 65 percent said meetings kept them from completing their work.

Fortunately, leaders can help improve how meetings are run. Indeed, their behavior is critical to achieving better results and a more positive outlook and engagement from employees, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies. In an earlier University of North Carolina study, researchers found a link between how workers feel about the effectiveness of meetings and their job satisfaction.

Other studies have found that dysfunctional communication in team meetings can have a negative impact on team productivity and the organization’s success.

What happens in these gatherings is a reflection of the workplace culture, experts say.

“It gets down to identity and performance,” says J. Elise Keith, co-founder of Lucid Meetings in Portland, Ore., and author of Where the Action Is (Second Rise, 2018). “The way in which an organization runs its meetings determines how it views itself.”

“Bad meetings are almost always a symptom of deeper issues,” Keith notes in her book.

Unfortunately, many business leaders don’t receive adequate training on how to manage or facilitate meetings, she says. “I believe that a lot of leaders have bought into the idea that poor meetings are inevitable.”

Here are 7 steps to making the time employees spend together more meaningful:

1. Prepare. Are you clear on the meeting’s purpose? What is your desired outcome? How will you achieve that?

More prep time is typically devoted to senior-level meetings compared to those held for individuals in lower-level positions, says Paul Axtell, a corporate trainer and author of Meetings Matter (Jackson Creek, 2015). He says that executive get-togethers are more effective “because people take them seriously.”

2. Limit the number of participants. The most productive meetings have fewer than eight participants, Axtell says. A larger group will leave some disengaged or resentful that their time is being wasted.

3. Send an agenda and background material in advance. If you want a thoughtful discussion, give your team members time to think about the problem or proposal that the meeting will focus on, he says.

4. Start and end on time. Don’t punish people for being punctual by waiting on late stragglers to get started. At the same time, it’s best not to jump right to the heart of the discussion in the first few minutes, Keith says. Provide a soft transition that will help those coming from other meetings to refocus.

5. Make sure all attendees can participate. One common complaint about meetings is that a few people tend to dominate the conversation. Call on other individuals to share what they think, Axtell says. Who is most likely to hold a different view? Who will be most affected by the outcome? Who has institutional knowledge that might be useful? Think about who to draw out on specific topics as you prepare. You’ll collect more ideas and leave participants with a more positive experience.

To feel good about work, people need to feel included and valued. “That means you have a voice and are allowed to express your opinions,” Axtell says.

Because you’re a leader, your views already hold more weight. If you share them too early, you may discourage others from presenting alternate perspectives. Focus on listening, and stay out of the discussion as long as you can, he says. You might learn something.

Avoid PowerPoint slides or other technology if it’s not required for an agenda item. They tend to shut down dialogue, Axtell says.

A surefire way for leaders to alienate participants is to use up most of the meeting time presenting a proposal and leave only a few minutes for questions and comments, Keith says. When people do speak up, thank them for their contributions. And use their ideas, she says.

6. Keep a written record. Posting the meeting agenda and taking notes that everyone can access will help keep participants on track. Unfortunately, many organizations fail to do so, Keith says. The written record ensures that faulty memories or differing interpretations don’t lead people down the wrong path. Are the notes detailed enough to allow you to tackle the action items days later? Are the deadlines reasonable? Be realistic. It doesn’t help the team to accept a giant list of action items that it likely can’t complete, she says.

7. Follow up. What percentage of the action items get completed by the deadlines? If you don’t achieve 85 percent, participants’ sense of effectiveness breaks down and they may disengage, Axtell says. Most groups complete just 50 percent to 60 percent.

“Whether you pay attention to them or not, meetings are in fact where your teams and your people are learning how they should behave and what they should be doing,” Keith says. “So identify the specific types of meetings your organization needs to run. Find great examples of how to run those meetings. You shouldn’t have to invent it. And set up a system that people can use successfully to become the organization that you want to become.”

SOURCE: Meinert, D. (30 October 2018). "7 Steps to Running Better Meetings" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/1118/pages/7-steps-to-running-better-meetings.aspx/


When Companies Should Invest in Training Their Employees — and When They Shouldn’t

Do you invest in training and development activities at your organization? According to an industry report, U.S. companies spent $90 billion in 2017 on training and development activities. Read on to learn more.


According to one industry report, U.S. companies spent over $90 billion dollars on training and development activities in 2017, a year-over-year increase of 32.5 %. While many experts emphasize the importance and benefits of employee development — a more competitive workforce, increased employee retention, and higher employee engagement — critics point to a painful lack of results from these investments. Ultimately, there is truth in both perspectives. Training is useful at times but often fails, especially when it is used to address problems that it can’t actually solve.

Many well-intended leaders view training as a panacea to obvious learning opportunities or behavioral problems. For example, several months ago, a global financial services company asked me to design a workshop to help their employees be less bureaucratic and more entrepreneurial. Their goal was to train people to stop waiting around for their bosses’ approval, and instead, feel empowered to make decisions on their own. They hoped, as an outcome, decisions would be made faster. Though the company seemed eager to invest, a training program was not the right way to introduce the new behavior they wanted their employees to learn.

Training can be a powerful medium when there is proof that the root cause of the learning need is an undeveloped skill or a knowledge deficit. For those situations, a well-designed program with customized content, relevant case material, skill-building practice, and a final measurement of skill acquisition works great. But, in the case of this organization, a lack of skills had very little to do with their problem. After asking leaders in the organization why they felt the need for training, we discovered the root causes of their problem had more to do with:

  • Ineffective decision-making processes that failed to clarify which leaders and groups owned which decisions
  • Narrowly distributed authority, concentrated at the top of the organization
  • No measurable expectations that employees make decisions
  • No technologies to quickly move information to those who needed it to make decisions

Given these systemic issues, it’s unlikely a training program would have had a productive, or sustainable outcome. Worse, it could have backfired, making management look out of touch.

Learning is a consequence of thinking, not teaching. It happens when people reflect on and choose a new behavior. But if the work environment doesn’t support that behavior, a well-trained employee won’t make a difference. Here are three conditions needed to ensure a training solution sticks.

1. Internal systems support the newly desired behavior. Spotting unwanted behavior is certainly a clue that something needs to change. But the origins of that unwanted behavior may not be a lack of skill. Individual behaviors in an organization are influenced by many factors, like: how clearly managers establish, communicate, and stick to priorities, what the culture values and reinforces, how performance is measured and rewarded, or how many levels of hierarchy there are. These all play a role in shaping employee behaviors. In the case above, people weren’t behaving in a disempowered way because they didn’t know better. The company’s decision-making processes forbid them from behaving any other way. Multiple levels of approval were required for even tactical decisions. Access to basic information was limited to high-ranking managers. The culture reinforced asking permission for everything. Unless those issues were addressed, a workshop would prove useless.

2. There is commitment to change. Any thorough organizational assessment will not only define the skills employees need to develop, it will also reveal the conditions required to reinforce and sustain those skills once a training solution is implemented. Just because an organization recognizes the factors driving unwanted behavior, doesn’t mean they’re open to changing them. When I raised the obvious concerns with the organization above, I got the classic response, “Yes, yes, of course we know those issues aren’t helping, but we think if we can get the workshop going, we’ll build momentum and then get to those later.” This is usually code for, “It’s never going to happen.” If an organization isn’t willing to address the causes of a problem, a training will not yield its intended benefit.

3. The training solution directly serves strategic priorities. When an organization deploys a new strategy — like launching a new market or product — training can play a critical role in equipping people with the skills and knowledge they need to help that strategy succeed. But when a training initiative has no discernible purpose or end goal, the risk of failure is raised. For example, one of my clients rolled out a company-wide mindfulness workshop. When I asked a few employees what they thought, they said, “It was interesting. At least it got me two hours away from my cubicle.” When I asked the sponsoring executive to explain her thought process behind the training, she said, “Our employee engagement data indicated our people are feeling stressed and overworked, so I thought it would be a nice perk to help them focus and reduce tension.” But when I asked her what was causing the stress, her answer was less definitive: “I don’t really know, but most of the negative data came from Millennials and they complain about being overworked. Plus, they like this kind of stuff.” She believed her training solution had strategic relevance because it linked to a vital employee metric. But evaluations indicated that, though employees found the training “interesting,” it didn’t actually reduce their stress. There are a myriad of reasons why the workload could have been causing employees stress. Therefore, this manager’s energy would have been better directed at trying to determine those reasons in her specific department and addressing them accordingly — despite her good intentions.

If you are going to invest millions of dollars into company training, be confident it is addressing a strategic learning need. Further, be sure your organization can and will sustain new skills and knowledge by addressing the broader factors that may threaten their success. If you aren’t confident in these conditions, don’t spend the money.

SOURCE: Carucci, R. (29 October 2018). "When Companies Should Invest in Training Their Employees – and When They Shouldn’t" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/10/when-companies-should-invest-in-training-their-employees-and-when-they-shouldnt


Interact Sensitively with Employees Addicted to Opioids

Opioid addiction is running rampant across the U.S. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 8-12 percent of patients prescribed opioids develop an opioid use disorder. Read this blog post to learn more.


Employees who abuse opioids often are given a second chance by their employers. But well-meaning employers could wind up being sued for discriminating against those workers in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if they don't handle the situation very carefully.

Opioid addiction has been rampant in the U.S. for some time. More than three out of five drug overdose deaths last year involved an opioid, and overdoses rose 70 percent in the 12 months ending September 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So what can HR professionals do about it? If a worker admits to the problem, the path is fairly clear. But if the employer merely suspects that an employee is addicted to prescription pain relievers but has no real proof, the employee should be treated like any other employee who is having attendance or performance issues, said Kathryn Russo, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Melville, N.Y.

An employer should never accuse someone of having an addiction, because if the employer is wrong, the accusation could lead to an ADA claim, Russo cautioned. Although current drug use isn't considered an ADA disability, a history of drug addiction is. Moreover, someone using prescription drugs might have an underlying condition covered by the ADA.

Statistics on opioid use

If an employee admits to opioid abuse, or the problem is discovered through drug testing, the employer should discuss it with the employee to determine if he or she needs a reasonable accommodation, such as leave to obtain treatment, Russo said. The illegal use of drugs need not be tolerated at work, she added.

Reasonably accommodate the employee so long as there's no direct threat to the health and safety of himself or herself, or others, recommended Nancy Delogu, an attorney with Littler in Washington, D.C.

Drug Testing

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has opined that employers may ask about an employee's use of prescribed medicine or conduct a drug test to determine such use only if the employer has reasonable suspicion that its use will interfere with the employee's ability to perform the job's essential functions or will pose a direct threat.

Many employers are expanding their drug-testing panels to include semisynthetic opioids such as hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone and oxymorphone, in addition to traditional opioids such as heroin, codeine and morphine, Russo said. This is lawful in most states as long as the employer does not take adverse employment actions when drugs are used legally, she noted, which is why an employer should use a medical review officer in the drug-testing process. If the medical review officer concludes that the positive test result is the result of lawful drug use, the result is reported to the employer as negative.

Sometimes an employer will say it has reasonable suspicion that the employee came to work impaired by drug use and is considering a mandatory drug test. At that point, some employees will say the drug test would be positive and the test consequently is not necessary.

Discussions with Employees

If there are performance problems and the employee has admitted to opioid addiction, some employers tell employees that they can remain employed so long as they go through inpatient treatment. Delogu discourages that approach. Employers aren't workers' doctors, so they shouldn't be deciding whether someone needs a treatment program, she explained.

But if someone voluntarily seeks to enter an addiction-recovery program, that person may have legal protections under state law, said Wendy Lane, an attorney with Greenberg Glusker in Los Angeles. For example, California has a law requiring employers with 25 or more employees to reasonably accommodate alcohol and drug rehabilitation.

Delogu recommended that employers that believe there is a problem with substance abuse ask if the addicted employee needs assistance from the employee assistance program.

An employer can require that an employee who has violated a policy be evaluated by a substance abuse professional and complete treatment prescribed for them, without dictating what that treatment will be, she said. The employer may choose to forgo disciplinary action if an employee agrees to these terms and signs an agreement to this effect. The employer then would not have to be informed about the person's decided course of treatment, whether inpatient, outpatient or no treatment at all, she said. The employee typically will be subjected to follow-up drug testing to make sure he or she hasn't resumed the use of illegal drugs.

Many employers are willing to give employees with performance problems resulting from opioid addiction a second chance, she noted.

SOURCE: Smith, A. (1 November 2018) "Interact Sensitively with Employees Addicted to Opioids" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/employees-addicted-to-opioids.aspx


8 scary benefits behaviors employees should avoid

Nothing is more scary to benefits professionals than employees failing to review their open enrollment materials. Continue reading for eight of the scariest benefit mistakes and tips on how you can correct them.


Halloween is already frightening enough, but what really scares benefits professionals are the ways employees can mishandle their benefits. Here are eight of the biggest mistakes, with tips on correcting them.

Participants don’t review any annual enrollment materials

Why it’s scary: Employees are making or not making decisions based on little or no knowledge.

Potential actions: Employers can implement a strategic communications campaign to educate and engage employees in the media and format appropriate for that employee class, or consider engaging an enrollment counselor to work with participants in a more personalized manner.

Employees don’t enroll in the 401(k) or don’t know what investment options to choose

Why it’s scary: U.S. employees are responsible for much of their own retirement planning and often leave money on the table if there is an employer match.

Potential actions: Employers can offer auto-enrollment up to the matching amount/percent; consider partnering with a financial wellness partner, and provide regular and ongoing communications of the 401(k)’s benefits to all employees.

Employees don’t engage in the wellness program

Why it’s scary: The employee is potentially missing out on the financial and personal benefits of participating in a well-being program.

Potential actions: Employers need to continuously communicate the wellness program throughout the year through various media, including home media. Employers also should ensure the program is meeting the needs of the employees and their families.

Employees don’t update ineligible dependents on the plan

Why it’s scary: Due to ambiguity where the liability would reside, either the employee or the plan could have unexpected liability.

Potential action: Employers can require ongoing documentation of dependents and periodically conduct a dependent audit.

Employees don’t review their beneficiary information regularly

Why it’s scary: Life insurance policy proceeds may not be awarded according to the employee’s wishes.

Potential action: Employers can require beneficiary confirmation or updates during open enrollment.

Employees do not evaluate the options for disability — whether to elect a higher benefit or have the benefit paid post-tax

Why it’s scary: Disability, especially a short-term episode, is very common during one’s working life; maximizing the benefit costs very little in terms of pay deductions, but can reap significant value when someone is unable to work.

Potential action: Employers can provide webinars/educational sessions on non-medical benefits to address those needs.

Employees do not take the opportunity to contribute to the health savings account

Why it’s scary: The HSA offers triple tax benefits for long-term financial security, while providing a safety net for near-term medical expenses.

Potential actions: Employers can select the most administratively simple process to enroll participants in the HSA and allow for longer enrollment periods for this coverage.

Employees do not use all of their vacation time

Why it’s scary: Vacation allows an employee an opportunity to recharge for the job.

Potential actions: Employers can encourage employees to use their vacation and suggest when the workload might be more accommodating to time off for those employees who worry about workloads.

SOURCE: Gill, S. & Manning-Hughes, R. (31 October 2018) "8 Scary Benefits Behaviors Employees Should Avoid" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/slideshow/8-scary-benefits-behaviors-employees-have?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


How to Handle Employee Requests for Time Off to Vote

Do you know how to handle employee requests for time off to vote? In some states, it is a requirement to give employees time off to vote. Read this blog post to learn more.


Many employees will be eligible to cast their ballot on Nov. 6, but will they have time to vote? Some states require employers to give workers time off to vote, and even in states that don't, some businesses are finding other ways to get employees to the polls.

With Election Day around the corner, employers should be mindful that, while no federal law provides employees leave to vote, many states have enacted laws in this area, said Marilyn Clark, an attorney with Dorsey & Whitney in Minneapolis. Depending on the state, employers may have to give workers notice about their voting rights and provide paid or unpaid time off to vote.

Even in states where there is no voting leave law, it is good practice to let employees take up to two hours of paid time off to vote if there isn't enough time for the employee to vote outside of working hours. "Encouraging and not discouraging employees should be the general rule," said Robert Nobile, an attorney with Seyfarth Shaw in New York City.

Encourage Employees

"Here in the United States, too many people don't vote because they don't have time due to jobs, child care and other responsibilities," said Donna Norton, executive vice president of MomsRising, an organization of more than 1 million mothers and their families. "Getting to the polls can be especially challenging for people in rural communities [or] single-parent households, and those who are juggling multiple jobs."

About 4 in 10 eligible voters did not vote in the 2016 presidential election, according to research conducted by Nonprofit VOTE and the U.S. Elections Project. And voter turnout has been historically lower for midterm elections, such as this year's, which are held near the midpoint of a president's four-year term, according to Pew Research Center.

"Businesses can help solve this problem by making sure that all employees have paid time off to vote," Norton said.

Some employers are offering solutions by making Election Day a corporate holiday, offering a few hours of paid time off for employees to vote and giving employees information about early and absentee voting, according to TheWashington Post.

Giving employees time off to participate in civic or community activities tends to improve worker performance, said Katina Sawyer, Ph.D., an assistant professor of management at George Washington University. Employers who are offering paid time off to vote will likely reap the benefits through improved employee attitudes and performance.

Know the Law

Employers in states with voting-leave laws should be familiar with the specific requirements, as some state laws have a lot of details. Even in states without such laws on the books, employers should check to see if there are any local voting leave ordinances in their cities.

Employers required to give workers time off to vote should plan for adequate work coverage to ensure that all employees can take time off, Clark said.

In many states, the employer may ask workers to give advance notice if they need time off and may require that workers take that leave at a specific time of the workday. In some states where leave is paid, employers might have the right to ask employees to prove they actually voted. Most states prohibit employers from disciplining or firing an employee who takes time off from work to vote.

"Ultimately, fostering an environment that generally encourages employees to exercise this important right is a good practice to mitigate the risk of a potential retaliation claim," Clark said.

Although state laws vary, "the general theme across the U.S. with respect to voting laws is that employees will be given time off to vote if there is insufficient time between the time the polls open and close within the state and the time employees start and finish work," Nobile said. "Typically, two to three consecutive nonworking hours between the opening and closing of the polls is deemed sufficient."

Some state laws provide unpaid leave to vote or do not address whether the leave must be paid. Oregon and Washington no longer have voting leave laws because they are "vote-by-mail" states.

voting leave laws.jpg

In some states, such as California and New York, employers must post notices in the workplace before Election Day to inform employees of their rights. Employers might have to pay penalties if they don't comply.

The consequences for denying employees their voting rights can be harsh, with some states even imposing criminal penalties, Clark noted.

Create a Policy

At a minimum, employers should adopt a policy spelling out the voting rights available to employees under applicable laws, Clark said. For businesses that operate in states that don't have a voting-leave law, employers may still wish to adopt a policy outlining their expectations about time off for voting.

Multistate employers may elect to adopt a single policy that includes the most employee-friendly provisions of the state and local laws that cover them. "By taking this approach, employers avoid the administrative burden of adopting and promulgating multiple policies for employees working in different locales," Clark said. All voting-leave policies should be sure to include strong anti-retaliation provisions, which make clear that the employer will not take any adverse action against employees for exercising their voting rights.

"It's important to remember that the law sets the floor," said Bryan Stillwagon, an attorney with Sherman & Howard in Atlanta. "Companies with the happiest and most-engaged employees recognize that positive morale comes from doing more than what is required."

Nagele-Piazza, L. (29 October 2018) "How to Handle Employee Request for Time Off to Vote" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/Pages/How-to-Handle-Employee-Requests-for-Time-Off-to-Vote.aspx

Dana Wilkie contributed to this article. 


3 steps to negotiating a better employee benefit annual renewal

Do you know how to negotiate your annual employee benefits renewal? Employee benefits are commonly the second-highest expense for employers, coming in second behind employee payroll. Read on to learn more.


Employee benefits are typically the second-highest expense for employers — right behind payroll. But unlike payroll, benefits are difficult to budget for each year because the upcoming annual renewal rate can feel like a total mystery.

Not knowing what the renewal rate will be until the end of the plan year complicates the balance that employers must strike between offering rich benefits employees appreciate at a cost the finance team can live with. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Knowing how to approach the annual renewal with your health carrier, pharmacy benefits manager and other players can help the savvy employer save some money while maintaining the same level of benefits as before. The ticket is planning for the annual renewal all year long, which removes the mystery and leads to a predictable rate.

Here are three steps to negotiating the annual renewal with your carrier.

1. Create a good carrier relationship. A great way to gain control of what happens at the end of the benefit plan year is to set the tone from the beginning. This means outlining expectations before signing a contract and communicating wants and needs throughout the plan period. If you’ve developed a good relationship with your carrier, you should have an easier time coming to an agreement on the annual renewal rate.

Building good carrier relationships extends beyond the carrier you’re currently working with to others in the market. One way to maintain a good relationship is to avoid marketing to all carriers for the best rate before each renewal period. Carriers spend time and money responding to requests for proposal (RFPs); if they respond year after year without winning the business, they may lose interest when you are ready to move your benefits plan.

2. Get plan renewals early. Left unchecked, most carriers hold the benefit plan renewal rate as long as possible (60-75 days before the end of a contract). But receiving your carrier’s initial renewal rate earlier gives you more time to evaluate the renewal and negotiate the rate. (Yes, it’s true — you don’t have to accept the first number the carrier offers.) The best way to ensure your request for an early renewal rate is heard and followed is to discuss it before signing a contract.

By receiving your renewal rate approximately 120 days before the end of your contract, you have enough time to evaluate the rate together with your health and welfare benefits broker and underwriting team and then respond with another offer. And if you feel that another carrier can offer better rates, you can also market your benefits plan and still have time to switch carriers before the contract ends.

3. Offer a fair and reasonable rate. After you receive your annual renewal rate, work with your internal team and your benefits broker to begin negotiations. Importantly, this doesn’t mean countering with a number so low that the carrier finds it untenable and unreasonable. In that case, the insurer may not meet your demand and you’ll be forced to turn to other carrier options without having planned for that possibility.

Instead, respond with a fair and reasonable rate increase backed by data. The goal is to counter offer with a number that creates stability and predictability for renewals in the future.

Learning your renewal rate for each plan year can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. Getting information early, negotiating a fair rate and maintaining good carrier relationships can help you create a better annual renewal with better predictability and improved budgeting year after year.

SOURCE: Strain, M (24 October 2018) "3 steps to negotiating a better employee benefit annual renewal" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/3-steps-to-negotiating-a-better-employee-benefit-annual-renewal?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


5 things small business owners should know about this year's open enrollment

The benefits small business owners offer are crucial to the way they attract and retain employees. Read this blog post for five things small business owners should know for 2019 open enrollment.


As a small business owner, offering competitive employee benefits is a crucial way to attract and retain strong talent. Whether you currently provide them and are planning next year’s renewal, or you are thinking of offering them for the first time, here are five things you should consider before your employees enter the open enrollment period for next year on November 1st:

1. Small businesses don’t have to wait until open enrollment to offer benefits to their employees

While your employees won’t be able to enroll in health insurance plans until November comes along, small business owners don’t have to wait at all to secure health insurance for their employees. The sooner you act, the better, to guarantee that you and your employees are protected. According to recent studies, healthier employees are happier employees, and as a result, will contribute to a more productive workplace. And a more positive and constructive work environment is better for you, your employees, and your business as a whole.

2. Health literacy is important

Whether you’ve provided health insurance to your employees before, or you’re looking into doing so for the first time, it is always worthwhile to prioritize health insurance literacy. There is a host of terminology and acronyms, not to mention rules and regulations that can be overwhelming to wrap your head around.

Thankfully, the internet is full of relevant information, ranging from articles to explainer videos, that should have you up to speed in no time. Having a good understanding of insurance concepts such as essential health benefits, employer contributions, out-of-pocket maximums, coinsurance, provider networks, co-pays, premiums, and deductibles is a necessary step to being better equipped to view and compare health plan options side-by-side. A thorough familiarization with health insurance practices and terms will allow you to make the most knowledgeable decisions for your employees and your business.

3. Offering health insurance increases employee retention

Employees want to feel like their health is a priority, and are more likely to join a company and stay for longer if their health care needs are being met. A current survey shows that 56 percent of Americans whose employers were sponsoring their health care considered whether or not they were happy with their benefits to be a significant factor in choosing to stay with a particular job. The Employee Benefit Research Institute released a survey in 2016 which showed a powerful connection between decent workplace health benefits and overall employee happiness and team spirit—59 percent percent of employees who were pleased with their benefits were also pleased with their jobs. And only 8 percent of employees who were dissatisfied with their benefits were satisfied with their jobs.

4. Alleviate health insurance costs

High insurance costs can be an obstacle for small business owners. A new survey suggests that 53 percent of American small business owners stress over the costs of providing health care to their employees. The 2017 eHealth report reveals that nearly 80 percent of small businesses owners are concerned about health insurance costs, and 62 percent would consider a 15 percent increase in premiums to make small group health insurance impossible to afford. However, there are resources in place to help reduce these costs, so they aren’t too much of a barrier. One helpful way to cut down on health insurance costs is to take advantage of potential tax breaks available to small business owners. All of the financial contributions that employers make to their employees’ premiums are tax-deductible, and employees’ financial contributions are made pre-tax, which will successfully decrease a small business’ payroll taxes.

Additionally, if your small business consists of fewer than 25 employees, you may be eligible for tax credits if the average yearly income for your employees is below $53,000. It is also beneficial to note that for small business owners, the biggest driver on insurance cost will be the type of plan chosen in addition to the average age of your employees. Your employees’ health is not a relevant factor.

5. Utilize digital resources

You don’t have to be an insurance industry expert to shop for medical plans. There are resources and tools available that make buying medical plans as easy as purchasing a plane ticket or buying a pair of shoes online – Simple, transparent. Insurance is a very complex industry that can easily be simplified with the use of the advanced technology and design of online marketplaces. These platforms are great tools for small business owners to compare prices and benefits of different plans side-by-side. Be confident while shopping for insurance because all of the information is laid out on the table. Technological solutions such as digital marketplaces serve as useful tools to modernize the insurance shopping process and ensure that you and your team are covered without going over your budget.

SOURCE: Poblete, S. (15 October 2018) "5 things small business owners should know about this year's open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/10/15/5-things-small-business-owners-should-know-about-t/


Pecans, Marshmallows and Sweet Potatoes?

Happy Holidays! In celebration of the holidays, the Saxon crew has decided to share one of our favorite holiday recipes for this month’s Fresh Brew! We hope you all have a safe and happy Thanksgiving! 

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Pecan and Marshmallow Streusel

Ingredients

  • 12 large sweet potatoes
  • 3/4 cup (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup toasted pecan pieces
  • 1 cup miniature marshmallows

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Wash the sweet potatoes, scrubbing them well to remove any dirt. With a fork, prick the sweet potatoes in a couple of spots and place them on a sheet pan. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center goes in easily.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the butter, brown sugar, and flour together until it’s crumbly-looking. Add the cinnamon, salt, pecans, and marshmallows; fold the streusel topping together to combine.
  4. Slice the sweet potatoes lengthwise down the center and push the ends towards the middle so it opens up. Stuff the sweet potatoes generously with the streusel topping and return to the oven. Bake for another 20 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and brown.

This recipe was provided by Food Network. If you’d like to visit the original source, please click here.

**Holiday Hours

Our office will be closed Thursday, November 22. We will be open Friday, November 23 from 8:30 a.m. – noon. We wish you a happy Thanksgiving filled with family, friends and good food!

Give It A Try & Share It!