Business meal deductions likely here to stay after new IRS guidelines

Business meal deductions are expected to continue to qualify for deductions. After much confusion following the IRS’s decision to end deductions for client entertainment, they are expected to release guidance regarding business meal deductions. Read on to learn more.


Employers wondering whether they can still deduct business meals from their tax returns may soon be getting an answer from the Internal Revenue Service.

The agency is expected to release guidance saying that business meals will continue to be 50% deductible, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.

The confusion over the deductibility of business meals stems from the IRS’s decision to end deductions for client entertainment, a move that was part of the government’s tax overhaul. Previously, the entertainment-related deduction was 50% of qualified expenses.

The elimination of deductions for client entertainment left many tax professionals wondering whether client meals might be considered entertainment and therefore no longer qualify for deductions.

The anticipated IRS guidance — which comes at the urging of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and other groups — is expected to preserve the 50% deduction for the cost of meals with clients and elaborate on how the 50% meal write-off meshes with entertainment expenses, the Wall Street Journal said.

If a business owner or employee, for example, takes a client to a ballgame, the cost of the tickets is not deductible because the expense is for entertainment. Hots dogs and drinks purchased at the event, however, could still be 50% deductible, the IRS is expected to say, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The IRS, which did not respond to a request for comment, is not likely to change the normal requirements corporate executives must meet to take deductions for client meals.

They must discuss business with the client before, during and after the meal, and the meal must not be “lavish or extravagant,” the Wall Street Journal said.

SOURCE: Correia, M. (28 September 2018) "Business meal deductions likely here to stay after new IRS guidelines" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/business-meal-deductions-likely-here-to-stay-after-new-irs-guidelines?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


The approaching ACA premium tax moratorium – take 2

In 2010, Congress scheduled the 2014 Affordable Care Act premium tax. Then in 2015 Congress introduced a one-year moratorium on the premium tax that would take place in 2017. This past January, Congress placed another moratorium for the ACA premium tax in 2019. Continue reading to learn more.


In 2010, Congress scheduled the 2014 introduction of the Affordable Care Act premium tax (aka the health insurer fee). Then, via the PACE Act of October 2015, Congress placed a one-year moratorium on this 4% or so premium tax for calendar year 2017. You might recall our ensuing discussion a couple of years ago about how employers sponsoring fully insured medical, dental and/or vision plans could leverage this 2017 moratorium to their advantage.

See also: ACA: 4 things employers should focus on this fall

Meanwhile, did you notice back in January that Congress placed another moratorium on this tax, this time for 2019? To review:

  • 2014-2016 – Tax applies
  • 2017 – Under moratorium
  • 2018 – Tax applies
  • 2019 – Under moratorium
  • 2020 – Tax scheduled to return

Fortunately, in moratorium years, fully insured medical, dental and vision premiums should be about 4% lower than they would have been otherwise, with these savings passed along proportionately by most employers to their plan participants.

Unfortunately, the budgetary challenge of this on-again-off-again Congressional approach is that when the tax returns, fully insured renewals naturally go up about 4% more than they would have otherwise. For example, an 8% premium increase becomes 12%.

See also: Proposals for Insurance Options That Don’t Comply with ACA Rules: Trade-offs In Cost and Regulation

Another complication occurs as employers annually compare the expected and maximum costs of self-funding their plans versus fully insuring the plans. Because this tax generally does not apply to self-funded plans, in “tax applies” years, any expected savings from self-funding will show about 4% higher than in moratorium years. This math especially complicates the financial comparison of level funding contracts to fully insured contracts (almost all level funding products are self-funded contracts).

With the Jan. 1 fully insured medical, dental and vision renewals beginning to cross our desks, what should employers do?

First, they should review the renewal’s rating methodology page and ensure that this tax was not included in the proposed 2019 premiums. If the rating methodology page was not provided, request it. If this request fails, ask for written confirmation that this tax is not included in your plan’s 2019 premiums.

Second, when comparing 2019 expected and maximum mature self-funded plan costs to 2019 fully insured premiums, extend the analysis to 2020 and project what will happen when this 4% fully insured tax tide returns.

See also: Pre-existing Conditions and Medical Underwriting in the Individual Insurance Market Prior to the ACA

Finally, complicating matters, several states, including Maryland, introduced new or higher state premium taxes for 2019. Ask your benefits consultant if these actions will impact your plans. For Maryland employers sponsoring fully insured plans, for example, the new additional one-year premium tax will essentially cancel out the 2019 ACA premium tax moratorium.

SOURCE: Pace, Z (27 September 2018) "The approaching ACA premium tax moratorium – take 2" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/the-approaching-obamacare-premium-tax-moratorium?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Senate passes bill to combat opioid epidemic

Recently, the Senate passed a bill to help battle the opioid crisis. This bill is designed to battle opioid and other prescription drug misuse within the United States. Read this blog post to learn more.


Both parties got behind a bill designed to fight the misuse of opioids and other addictive medications, with a sole Republican voting against it as it passed in the Senate.

See also: Employers take steps to address opioid crisis

As reported by the Associated Press, Utah Republican Mike Lee was the sole dissenting voice as the bill was passed 99-1.

According to the reports, the legislation’s reach is broad, with provisions for deeper scrutiny of arriving international mail that could contain illegal drugs; money for the National Institutes of Health research on nonaddictive painkillers; paving the way for pharmaceutical companies to conduct research on alternatives; approval for the Food and Drug Administration to require drug manufacturers to provide opioids and similar drugs in smaller quantities and packages; and provides federal grants for treatment centers, emergency worker training and prevention research.

See also: The days of employers ignoring the opioid crisis are over

It also would push physicians to discuss pain management alternatives with Medicare patients, something that could have an effect on Department of Health and Human Services data indicating that a third of Medicare Part D prescription plan users in 2017 were prescribed opioids.

“I recognize these provisions are just a start, but we are losing 116 lives every day. And we need to save as many as we can—as soon as we can,” Sen. Gary Peters (D., Mich.) told the Senate.


Funding for the provisions of the measure will have to come from separate spending bills, and for the bill to become law, it will have to be reconciled with legislation that passed the House back in June. Despite the high level of tension between Democrats and Republicans at present, according to the Wall Street Journal, “Senate aides are optimistic the measures can be reconciled and passed by the end of the year.” Still, opioid use is definitely a bipartisan issue, hitting red and blue states alike, with preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that in 2017 U.S. overdose deaths from all drugs set a record and ballooned to more than 72,000.

SOURCE: Satter, M. (18 September 2018) "Senate passes bill to combat opioid epidemic" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/09/18/senate-passes-bill-to-combat-opioid-epidemic/


30 employee handbook do’s and don’ts from the NLRB

Recently, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) released a list of rules to help employers comply with the National Labor Relations Act. Read this blog post to learn more.


To help employers craft handbooks that don’t violate the National Labor Relations Act, the National Labor Relations Board has issued a compilation of rules it has found to be illegal — and rewritten them to illustrate how they can comply with the law.

It was issued as a memorandum by NLRB General Counsel Richard F. Griffin, Jr. to “help employers to review their handbooks and other rules, and conform them, if necessary, to ensure they are lawful.”

Specifically, the memorandum points out employer policies found to violate and conform to Section 7 of the NLRA.

The main area of concern

Section 7 mandates that employees be allowed to participate in “concerted activity” to help improve the terms and conditions of their work.

The NLRB has made it abundantly clear recently that it’s on the lookout for rules that:

  • explicitly restrict protected concerted activity, and/or
  • could be construed to restrict protected Section 7 activity.

One thing the memorandum makes very clear: extremely subtle variations in language could be the difference between having a legal policy in the NLRB’s eyes and having one that’s viewed as violating the NLRA.

What to say, what not to say

Here are many of the dos and don’ts highlighted by the memorandum, separated by topic:

Rules regarding confidentiality

  • Illegal: “Do not discuss ‘customer or employee information’ outside of work, including ‘phone numbers [and] addresses.'” The NLRB said, in addition to the overbroad reference to “employee information,” the blanket ban on discussing employee contact info, without regard for how employees obtain that info, is facially illegal.
  • Illegal: “Never publish or disclose [the Employer’s] or another’s confidential or other proprietary information. Never publish or report on conversations that are meant to be private or internal to [the Employer].” The NLRB said a broad reference to “another’s” information, without clarification, would reasonably be interpreted to include other employees’ wages and other terms and conditions of employment.
  • Illegal: Prohibiting employees from “[d]isclosing … details about the [Employer].” The NLRB said this is a broad restriction that failed to clarify that it doesn’t restrict Section 7 activity.
  • Legal: “No unauthorized disclosure of ‘business “secrets” or other confidential information.'”
  • Legal: “Misuse or unauthorized disclosure of confidential information not otherwise available to persons or firms outside [Employer] is cause for disciplinary action, including termination.”
  • Legal: “Do not disclose confidential financial data, or other non-public proprietary company information. Do not share confidential information regarding business partners, vendors or customers.”

The NLRB said the last three rules above were legal because: “1) they do not reference information regarding employees or employee terms and conditions of employment, 2) although they use the general term “confidential,” they do not define it in an overbroad manner, and 3) they do not otherwise contain language that would reasonably be construed to prohibit Section 7 communications.”

Rules regarding conduct toward the company and supervisors

  • Illegal: “[B]e respectful to the company, other employees, customers, partners, and competitors.”
  • Illegal: “Do ‘not make fun of, denigrate, or defame your co-workers, customers, franchisees, suppliers, the Company, or our competitors.'”
  • Illegal: “Be respectful of others and the Company.”
  • Illegal: “No ‘[d]efamatory, libelous, slanderous or discriminatory comments about [the Company], its customers and/or competitors, its employees or management.'”

The NLRB said the rules above were unlawfully overbroad because: “employees reasonably would construe them to ban protected criticism or protests regarding their supervisors, management, or the employer in general.”

  • Illegal: “Disrespectful conduct or insubordination, including, but not limited to, refusing to follow orders from a supervisor or a designated representative.”
  • Illegal: “‘Chronic resistance to proper work-related orders or discipline, even though not overt insubordination’ will result in discipline.”

The NLRB said the rules above, while banning “insubordination,” also ban “conduct that does not rise to the level of insubordination, which reasonably would be understood as including protected concerted activity.”

  • Illegal: “Refrain from any action that would harm persons or property or cause damage to the Company’s business or reputation.”
  • Illegal: “[I]t is important that employees practice caution and discretion when posting content [on social media] that could affect [the Employer’s] business operation or reputation.”
  • Illegal: “Do not make ‘[s]tatements “that damage the company or the company’s reputation or that disrupt or damage the company’s business relationships.”‘”
  • Illegal: “Never engage in behavior that would undermine the reputation of [the Employer], your peers or yourself.”

The NLRB said the rules above “were unlawfully overbroad because they reasonably would be read to require employees to refrain from criticizing the employer in public.

  • Legal: “No ‘rudeness or unprofessional behavior toward a customer, or anyone in contact with’ the company.”
  • Legal: “Employees will not be discourteous or disrespectful to a customer or any member of the public while in the course and scope of [company] business.”

The NLRB said the rules above are legal because they wouldn’t lead an employee to believe they restrict criticism of the company.

  • Legal: “Each employee is expected to work in a cooperative manner with management/supervision, coworkers, customers and vendors.” The NLRB says employees would reasonably understand that this states the employer’s legitimate expectation that employees work together in an atmosphere of civility.
  • Legal: “Each employee is expected to abide by Company policies and to cooperate fully in any investigation that the Company may undertake.” The NLRB said this rule is legal because “employees would reasonably interpret it to apply to employer investigations of workplace misconduct rather than investigations of unfair labor practices or preparations for arbitration.”
  • Legal: “‘Being insubordinate, threatening, intimidating, disrespectful or assaulting a manager/supervisor, coworker, customer or vendor will result in’ discipline.” The NLRB said: “Although a ban on being  disrespectful’ to management, by itself, would ordinarily be found to unlawfully chill Section 7 criticism of the employer, the term here is contained in a larger provision that is clearly focused on serious misconduct, like insubordination, threats, and assault. Viewed in that context, we concluded that employees would not reasonably believe this rule to ban protected criticism.”

Rules regarding conduct between employees

  • Illegal: “‘[D]on’t pick fights’ online.”
  • Illegal: “Do not make ‘insulting, embarrassing, hurtful or abusive comments about other company employees online,’ and ‘avoid the use of offensive, derogatory, or prejudicial comments.'”
  • Illegal: “[S]how proper consideration for others’ privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory, such as politics and religion.”
  • Illegal: “Do not send ‘unwanted, offensive, or inappropriate’ e-mails.”

The NLRB said the rules above were unlawfully overbroad because employees would reasonably construe them to restrict protected discussions with their co-workers.

  • Legal: “[No] ‘Making inappropriate gestures, including visual staring.'”
  • Legal: “Any logos or graphics worn by employees ‘must not reflect any form of violent, discriminatory, abusive, offensive, demeaning, or otherwise unprofessional message.'”
  • Legal: “[No] ‘[T]hreatening, intimidating, coercing, or otherwise interfering with the job performance of fellow employees or visitors.'”
  • Legal: “No ‘harassment of employees, patients or facility visitors.'”
  • Legal: “No ‘use of racial slurs, derogatory comments, or insults.'”

The NLRB said the rules above were legal because: “when an employer’s professionalism rule simply requires employees to be respectful to customers or competitors, or directs employees not to engage in unprofessional conduct, and does not mention the company or its management, employees would not reasonably believe that such a rule prohibits Section 7-protected criticism of the company.

SOURCE: Schappel, C. (18 July 2018) "30 employee handbook do’s and don’ts from the NLRB" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://www.hrmorning.com/employee-handbook-dos-and-donts-from-the-nlrb/


Oct. 15 Deadline Nears for Medicare Part D Coverage Notices

Are you prepared for the Medicare Part D coverage notice deadline? Plan sponsors that offer prescription drug coverage must provide notices to Medicare-eligible individuals before October 15. Read on to learn more.


Plan sponsors that offer prescription drug coverage must provide notices of "creditable" or "non-creditable" coverage to Medicare-eligible individuals before each year's Medicare Part D annual enrollment period by Oct. 15.

Prescription drug coverage is creditable when it is at least actuarially equivalent to Medicare's standard Part D coverage and non-creditable when it does not provide, on average, as much coverage as Medicare's standard Part D plan.

The notice obligation is not limited to retirees and their dependents covered by the employers' plan, but also includes Medicare-eligible active employees and their dependents and Medicare-eligible COBRA participants and their dependents.

Background

The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 requires group health plan sponsors that provide prescription drug coverage to disclose annually to individuals eligible for Medicare Part D whether the plan's coverage is creditable or non-creditable.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has provided a Creditable Coverage Simplified Determination method that plan sponsors can use to determine if a plan provides creditable coverage.

Disclosure of whether their prescription drug coverage is creditable allows individuals to make informed decisions about whether to remain in their current prescription drug plan or enroll in Medicare Part D during the Part D annual enrollment period.

Individuals who do not enroll in Medicare Part D during their initial enrollment period, and who subsequently go at least 63 consecutive days without creditable coverage (e.g., because they dropped their creditable coverage or have non-creditable coverage) generally will pay higher premiums if they enroll in a Medicare drug plan at a later date.

Who Must Receive the Notice?

The notice must be provided to all Medicare-eligible individuals who are covered under, or eligible for, the sponsor's prescription drug plan, regardless of whether the plan pays primary or secondary to Medicare. Thus, the notice obligation is not limited to retirees and their dependents but also includes Medicare-eligible active employees and their dependents and Medicare-eligible COBRA participants and their dependents.

Notice Requirements

The Medicare Part D annual enrollment period runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. Each year, before the enrollment period begins (i.e., by Oct. 14), plan sponsors must notify Medicare-eligible individuals whether their prescription drug coverage is creditable or non-creditable. The Oct. 15 deadline applies to insured and self-funded plans, regardless of plan size, employer size or grandfathered status.

Part D eligible individuals must be given notices of the creditable or non-creditable status of their prescription drug coverage:

  • Before an individual's initial enrollment period for Part D.
  • Before the effective date of coverage for any Medicare-eligible individual who joins an employer plan.
  • Whenever prescription drug coverage ends or creditable coverage status changes.
  • Upon the individual's request.

According to CMS, the requirement to provide the notice prior to an individual's initial enrollment period will also be satisfied as long as the notice is provided to all plan participants each year before the beginning of the Medicare Part D annual enrollment period.

An EGWP exception

Employers that provide prescription drug coverage through a Medicare Part D Employer Group Waiver Plan (EGWP) are not required to provide the creditable coverage notice to individuals eligible for the EGWP.

The required notices may be provided in annual enrollment materials, separate mailings or electronically. Whether plan sponsors use the CMS model notices or other notices that meet prescribed standards, they must provide the required disclosures no later than Oct. 14, 2017.

Model notices that can be used to satisfy creditable/non-creditable coverage disclosure requirements are available in both English and Spanish on the CMS website.

Plan sponsors that choose not to use the model disclosure notices must provide notices that meet prescribed content standards. Notices of creditable/non-creditable coverage may be included in annual enrollment materials, sent in separate mailings or delivered electronically.

What if no prescription drug coverage is offered?

Because the notice informs individuals whether their prescription drug coverage is creditable or non-creditable, no notice is required when prescription drug coverage is not offered.

Plan sponsors may provide electronic notice to plan participants who have regular work-related computer access to the sponsor's electronic information system. However, plan sponsors that use this disclosure method must inform participants that they are responsible for providing notices to any Medicare-eligible dependents covered under the group health plan.

Electronic notice may also be provided to employees who do not have regular work-related computer access to the plan sponsor's electronic information system and to retirees or COBRA qualified beneficiaries, but only with a valid email address and their prior consent. Before individuals can effectively consent, they must be informed of the right to receive a paper copy, how to withdraw consent, how to update address information, and any hardware/software requirements to access and save the disclosure. In addition to emailing the notice to the individual, the sponsor must also post the notice (if not personalized) on its website.

Don't forget the disclosure to CMS

Plan sponsors that provide prescription drug coverage to Medicare-eligible individuals must also disclose to CMS annually whether the coverage is creditable or non-creditable. This disclosure must be made no more than 60 days after the beginning of each plan year—generally, by March 1. The CMS disclosure obligation applies to all plan sponsors that provide prescription drug coverage, even those that do not offer prescription drug coverage to retirees.

SOURCE: Chan, K.; Stover, R. (10 September 2018) "Oct. 15 Deadline Nears for Medicare Part D Coverage Notices" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/medicare-d-notice-deadline.aspx/


How to evaluate an applicant tracking system

How are you evaluating applicant tracking systems? Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are supposed to fix any inefficiencies in your recruiting process. Read this blog post to learn more.


Unemployment is at 3.9%, a 17-year low. Competition for talent is fierce, especially when you’re trying to hire sellers, mid-level managers, professional staff and skilled labor. When hiring gets this tough, inefficiencies in your recruiting process that could otherwise be ignored will become code red emergencies.

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are supposed to fix those problems. Some do; many don’t. To tell the difference, HR professionals must do their research. Here are the three most important questions to ask before you invest in an ATS.

1. Will the ATS help or hurt my employment brand? If you’re not an employee at Google or Apple, you’ve probably daydreamed about having your own nap pod in Silicon Valley or being toted around in an automated car. You know the amazing benefits and the free-spirited culture at these organizations. That’s employment brand. Granted, not every organization can hope for Google-level brand awareness, but every company — for better or worse — has a brand of their own, made up of every interaction and detail of the recruiting and hiring process.

See also: What’s ahead for HR technology?

You should know that most ATS are made by software engineers, not recruiters. The downside there is that most systems don’t deliver a candidate experience designed to convey an impression of what it would be like to work for your company. If your ATS isn’t helping bolster your employment brand, it’s not working hard enough.

To ensure that candidates can get a feel for your company culture before they even submit an application, you’ll want to find an ATS that can offer fully-branded career pages that match your website. This means having the same colors, fonts, brand messaging and imaging will be crucial to your employment brand. And this is only the beginning. Your ideal ATS should allow you to integrate with major job boards and social media platforms (branding 101: Hang out with the cool kids), allow for one click application submission through mobile devices and keep the application process all in one browser No one wants their employment brand to be “clunky” and “unfriendly”.

2. Will the ATS help speed up the process or will it slow us down? Recruiters and hiring managers either love or hate their ATS. There’s not much middle ground. That’s because they often have to invent ingenious workarounds to use the system, which drives them crazy because it’s time wasted.

See also: LinkedIn voice messaging aims to connect HR with job seekers

When searching for the right ATS system, make sure that it can provide customizable email templates for hiring teams during the recruiting process. It’s important to remember that the system should allow you to send those emails in bulk to potential candidates. You need to be able to set reminders and schedule alerts for users to follow up with candidates or completed tasks. This ensures that you’re saving time and no candidate gets lost in the ether.

Know that dashboards are a great way to get a bird’s eye view on the recruiting process but they’re not the end all. Plenty of HCM providers will have flashy demos and dashboards that seem to work flawlessly, but after implementation you’ll be left with a clunky and glitchy product.

To avoid that outcome, ask these questions during your search: Can we see the step-by-step process for reviewing applications, approving candidates, and moving them through interviews? Look beyond the demo screens. You want to see how the system really works, step by step. Can we import and export candidate information? How are potential candidates scored?

3. Does the ATS offer compliance and reporting capabilities? This one’s a biggie. Recruiting and hiring compliance is complex, and so reporting and analytics is a must-have. You need to be able to drive recruiting and hiring decisions in real-time with powerful analytics rather than sloppy excel sheets and poorly filed assessment papers. An ATS will allow you to quickly view the metrics that matter to you, see where your best candidates are coming from, find bottlenecks and catch missed opportunities. With clear and easy to use reporting features that captures all pre-hire compliance data in one place, you’ll never have to worry about fines or tarnishing your reputation.

See also: 7 Ways Employers Can Support Older Workers And Job Seekers

Of course, there’s plenty more you could ask. Implementation, data security, mobile capabilities and ongoing service and support are all tires worth kicking. But this initial list of questions is a great place to start. Finding and hiring top talent requires lightning-fast action and decisions. When you’re shopping for an ATS, however, it pays to slow down long enough to get the facts.

SOURCE: Neese, Bill (12 September 2018) "How to evaluate an applicant tracking system" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-to-evaluate-an-applicant-tracking-system


The days of employers ignoring the opioid crisis are over

What do employers need to know to help their employees and help reduce the risk of the opioid crisis? The opioid crisis is affecting companies' productivity, medical claims, work injuries and their bottom line. Read this blog post to learn more.


Productivity, medical claims, work injuries, and the company’s bottom line — what do these things all have in common? They are all being drastically affected by the effects of substance abuse. The opioid crisis that is running rampant across the United States is having an impact on employees at every level.

As an employer, what do you need to know to support your employees and reduce the risk of this national crisis?

First, you need to educate yourself on the facts. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, every day, more than 115 people in the U.S. die after overdosing on opioids. It is not just the deadly heroin/fentanyl combination that we have been hearing about in the news, sources of opioid addiction include prescription pain relievers such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, oxymorphone, morphine, codeine, and other prescribed substances.

See also: Taking A Page From Pharma’s Playbook To Fight The Opioid Crisis

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates prescription opioid misuse in the U.S. cost $78.5 billion per year; affecting medical spend, productivity, and law enforcement supervision.

Substance abuse does not discriminate on any demographic, however if your business is construction, entertainment, recreation, or food service, the National Safety Council found your employees are twice as likelyas the national average to have substance abuse disorders.

Secondly, you need to take action. The most important thing an employer can do is to have a proactive plan in place to help your employees live a healthy lifestyle. It is easy to get in the habit of saying “that does not happen here,” but the reality is substance abuse can — and does — happen anywhere.

Solving the opioid crisis won’t happen overnight, but here are some steps to take to build a better relationship with your employees and quite possibly help someone overcome a substance abuse problem.

Train your staff. Explain what resources are available to help them help your employees. If you have an employee assistance program in place, leverage it, and have the information easily available so any employee can access the information at any time. This will help lower the fear barrier for employees who are not ready to ask someone they know for help. If you do not have the right resources in place today there are many programs available, and it is important that you adopt one that will fit your culture and help employees be high performers.

See also: Employers take steps to address opioid crisis

Show employees you care. Look for signs and symptoms that an employee might have a problem with substance abuse. Make sure supervisors, managers, and team leaders are aware of these signs and what actions they should take. Have an open door policy, and make sure your employees feel they can ask for assistance when they need it. It is important to know how to handle sensitive, often painful, discussions in a professional and action-oriented manner. It is essential that you have the right steps in place to ensure leadership is aligned with the organization’s strategy on how best to help your at-risk population.

Be transparent. Have clear policies in place that promote a drug-free workplace. Consider expanding your drug testing panel to include opioids.

Share the savings. Consider sharing the dollars a successful well-being program will save your organization’s bottom line through lower prescription drug costs and less lost productivity due to illness and time away from work.

See also: A look at how the opioid crisis has affected people with employer coverage

If your organization is struggling with how to successfully address the challenges of substance abuse and opioid addiction, seek out employee benefit consultants to help you develop a strategy for success. Like anyone with an addiction, there is no shame in asking for help.

SOURCE: Panning, C (7 September 2018) "The days of employers ignoring the opioid crisis are over" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/employers-cannot-ignoring-the-opioid-crisis?feed=00000152-a2fb-d118-ab57-b3ff6e310000


Checklist: Updating your employee handbook

Employee handbooks can be confusing to prepare and revise. Ensure you don't miss any information when preparing or revising your company's employee handbook with this simple checklist:


When you are preparing or revising an employee handbook, this checklist may be helpful.

Acknowledgment

  • Do employees sign a signature page, confirming they received the handbook?
  • On the signature page, do employees agree to follow the policies in the handbook?
  • Does the signature page state that this handbook replaces any previous versions?
  • On the signature page, do employees agree that they will be “at-will” employees?
  • Do employees agree that the employer may change its policies in the future?

Wage and hour issues

  • Does the employer confirm that it will pay employees for all hours worked?
  • Before employees work overtime, are they required to obtain a supervisor’s approval?
  • During unpaid breaks, are employees completely relieved of all duties? (For example, while a receptionist takes an unpaid lunch break, this person shouldn’t be required to greet visitors or answer phone calls.)
  • Are employees paid when they attend a business meeting during lunch?
  • Are employees paid for attending in-service trainings?
  • Are employees paid while they take short breaks?

Paid Time Off

  • Has the employer considered combining vacation time, sick time, and personal time into one “bucket” of paid time off?
  • Does the paid time off policy line up with the employer’s business objectives? (For example, does it provide incentives for employees to use paid time off during seasons when business is slower?)
  • Does the handbook say what will happen to paid time off when employment ends? (In Pennsylvania, employers are not required to pay terminated employees for the value of their paid time off. Some employers choose to do this, as an incentive for employees to give at least two weeks’ notice.)
  • If the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to the employer, does the handbook inform employees of their rights?
  • Does the handbook list all types of leave that are available? (For example, does the employer offer bereavement leave? How about leave while an employee serves as a juror or witness? What about municipal laws that provide certain types of leave, such as paid sick leave?)

Reasonable accommodations

  • How should employees request a reasonable accommodation?
  • Does the employer permit employees with disabilities to bring service animals to work (Employers should avoid blanket policies that ban all animals.)
  • May employees deviate from grooming and uniform requirements for a religious reason, or a medical reason? (For example, an employee may have a religious reason to wear a headscarf, even if the employer has a blanket policy that would otherwise prohibit this.)

Discrimination and retaliation

  • Does the employer inform employees that they are protected against discrimination and retaliation?
  • Is there an accurate list of protected categories? (Confirm all locations where the employer does business. Some states or municipalities may provide employees with greater protection than federal law. Are there any categories, such as sexual orientation, that the employer should add?)
  • Do employees have a clear way to report discrimination and retaliation?
  • Is there more than one way to report discrimination and retaliation? (In other words, employees shouldn’t be required to make a report to the same person who they believe is committing acts of discrimination.)

Restrictive covenants/trade secrets

  • Are employees required to keep the employer’s information confidential?
  • Do employees confirm they are not subject to any restrictive covenants (such as non-compete agreements) that would limit their ability to work for the employer?
  • Are employees prohibited from giving the employer confidential information that belongs to a previous employer?

Labor law issues

  • If employees belong to a union, does the employer state that it doesn’t intend for the handbook to conflict with any collective bargaining agreement?
  • Does the employer have a content-neutral policy on soliciting and distributing materials in the workplace? (In general, if an employer wants to limit union-related communications, the employer must apply the same rules to solicitations which don’t involve a union.)
  • Does the handbook accurately reflect whether employees may wear union-related apparel, such as hats, buttons, T-shirts and lanyards?
  • Are employees permitted to discuss their wages with each other? (Some employers try to prohibit this, but the National Labor Relations Act entitles employees to discuss their wages with each other. This rule applies to all employers—whether or not they have a union.)

Other

  • If the employer has a progressive discipline policy, does the employer reserve the right to deviate from this policy?
  • Does the employer reserve the right to inspect company computers and email accounts?
  • Does the employer have a social media policy, or a medical marijuana policy?
  • If the employer has other policies, how do they fit together with the handbook? (Does it make sense to incorporate the policies into the handbook? Or, should the handbook clarify which other policies will remain in effect?)
  • Does the handbook contain any provisions that the employer is unlikely to enforce? (For example, does the handbook prohibit employees from using all social media? Does it prohibit employees from talking on the phone while driving?)

SOURCE: Lipkin, B (20 August 2018) "Checklist: Updating your employee handbook" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/08/20/is-your-employee-handbook-up-to-date-compare-it-wi/


3 questions to ask about paid leave programs

Paid time off policies are offered by employers for numerous reasons, employee wellness being one of them. Continue reading to learn about the 3 key questions to ask about these programs and their costs.


Employers provide paid time away from work policies for a variety of reasons: to attract and retain talent (responding to employee needs and changing demographics); to be compliant with local, state and federal laws (which are proliferating); and to support general employee well-being (recognizing that time away from work improves productivity and engagement).

While offering paid absence policies delivers value to both employees and the employers, employers recognize the need to balance the amount of available time with the organization’s ability to deliver its products and services.

To help employers balance paid time away drivers, here are three key questions to ask to get a handle on the costs and benefits of paid leave.

1. Do you have a complete picture of the costs associated with your employees’ time away from work?

A challenge for many employers is getting a handle on the cost of time away from work and the related benefits. If an employer cannot quantify the costs of absence, it may not be able to define management strategies or to engage leadership to adopt new initiatives, policies or practices related to paid and unpaid time away programs.

Ninety percent of employers participating in the 2017 Aon Absence Pulse Survey reported they hadn’t yet quantified the cost of absence, and 43 percent of participants identified defining the cost of absence as a top challenge and priority. Though intuitively managers and executives recognize there is an impact when employees are absent from work, particularly when an absence is unscheduled, they struggle to develop concrete and focused strategies to address absence utilization without the ability to measure the current cost and collectively the impact of new management initiatives.

Employers struggle to quantify the cost of absence in the context of productivity loss, including replacement worker costs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017, employers’ cost of productivity loss associated with absenteeism was $225.8 billion, and 9.6 percent of compensation was spent on lost time benefits and overtime.

Employers are expanding their view of absence, recognizing that use of paid and unpaid time away programs are often associated with an employee’s health. As a result, combining data across health and absence programs allows an employer to recognize drivers of absence “work-related value” and define strategies to address not just how to manage the absence benefit, but to target engagement to improve well-being and the organization’s bottom-line.

As an example, musculoskeletal conditions are frequently associated with absence, which is not surprising when 11 percent of the workforce has back pain. It is noteworthy that of those with back pain, 34 percent are obese, 26 percent are hypertensive and 14 percent have mood disorders. The Integrated Benefits Institute reported in 2017 that back pain adds 2.5 days and $688 in wages to absence associated with this condition. It is this type of information pairing that provides employers with the insight to develop strategies to address comprehensive absence.

When absence and health costs are quantified, organizations quickly recognize the impact on the business’s bottom line. As the old saying goes, “we can only manage what we can measure.”

2. What is your talent strategy to improve work-life benefits, inclusive of time off to care for family?

The race for talent is on, and every industry recognizes the huge impact the changing workforce demographics currently has, and will continue to have. The current workforce incorporates five generations, though an Ernst and Young report from 2017 estimates that by 2025 millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce. As a result, the work-life needs of millennials—and their perspectives around benefits—is driving change, including time away from work policies.

It is worth noting that, per a 2015 Ernst and Young survey, millennial households are two times more likely to have both spouses working. The Pew Research Center reported in 2013 that, among all workers, 47 percent of adults who have a parent 65 years or older are raising a minor child or supporting a grown child. Additionally, a 2016 report from the Center for Work Life Law at the University of California Hastings claimed that 50 percent of all employees expect to provide elder care in the next five years.

In response, employers are expanding paid time off programs for care of family members. The paid family leave continuum often begins with a paid parental policy providing time to bond with a new birth or adoption placement. An elder care policy may follow, and the culmination might be a family care policy covering events like those under the job-protected Family Medical Leave Act. An Aon SpecSelect Survey reported that 94 percent of employers offer some form of paid parental leave in 2017; this is a significant change from 2016 when 62 percent offered this benefit. Two weeks of 100 percent paid parental leave was the norm per Aon’s SpecSelect 2016 Survey, but we are finding that many employers are expanding these programs, offering between 4 to 12 weeks.

Offering paid leave programs on their own may meet immediate needs for both time and financial support, but may be incomplete to help the employee address the full spectrum of issues that could affect success at work. In combination with family care needs—even those associated with a happy event such as a birth—there may be other health, social or financial issues. Employers combining their paid leave programs with a broader well-being strategy deliver greater value, improve engagement and increase productivity.

3. If you’re a multi-state employer, how are you ensuring your sick and family leave policies are compliant across all relevant jurisdictions?

Paid leave is a hot legislative topic lately. Last December saw the enactment of a paid FMLA tax credit pilot program as part of the federal Tax Reform The paid sick leave law club now totals 42 states and myriad municipalities. Both Washington state and Washington, D.C. are ramping up to implement paid family leave laws in 2020, joining the four states and one city that already have some form of paid family or parental leave law.

How are multi-state employers keeping up with this high-stakes evolving environment? The 2017 Pulse Survey saw 70 percent of employers report they are aware they have an employee who is subject to a paid sick leave law. Ten percent of respondents said they did not know if they had anyone subject to such a law. If knowledge is the first step in the process of compliance, deciding on a compliance strategy and then successfully implementing it are surely steps two and three.

With respect to paid sick leave, there are three major compliance options: comply on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction level, with as many as 42 different designs and no design more generous than it has to be; comply on a national level with one, most generous design, or meet somewhere in the middle, perhaps with one design for each state where a state- or local-level law is in place, or by grouping jurisdictions with similar designs together to strike a balance between being overly generous and being bogged down by dozens of administrative schemes.

Data analytics can be a key driver in designing a successful compliance strategy—compare your employee census to locations with paid sick leave laws. The ability to track and report on available leave is a requirement in all jurisdictions, and at this point, few if any third-party vendors are administering multi-state paid sick leave.

For paid family leave, the primary policy design issue is how an employer’s FMLA, maternity leave and short-term disability benefits will interact with the various paid family leave laws. So, while there may be fewer employer choices to be made with statutory paid family leave, clear employee communications will be critical to success.

Employers may tackle time away from work program issues individually to meet an immediate need, or collectively as a comprehensive strategy. Such a strategy would include data analytics across health and lost-time programs, absence policies that meet today’s needs for the employer and employee, health and wellness programs targeting modifiable health behaviors, and absence program administration that is aligned to operational goals. The expected outcome for time away from work programs isn’t about the programs themselves: it is about an engaged, productive workforce who delivers superior products/services. How do your programs stack up?

SOURCE:
VanderWerf, S and Arnedt, R (13 July 2018) "3 questions to ask about paid leave programs" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/05/3-questions-to-ask-about-paid-leave-programs/