6 key features your employee training program needs – and how LMS can help

One way employers can keep the right employees around and happy is by providing opportunities for professional development and training. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


Hiring the right employees is important, but keeping them around and happy is just as essential. One way to do that is to provide opportunities for professional development and training as a way to encourage workers to improve their skills and engage further with their jobs.

While you likely have a solid training program for new employees to get them accustomed to your organization, the training options for ongoing employees are often more limited.

It’s always a good idea to encourage all employees to continue learning new skills, perfecting old ones and developing as professionals. Having well-rounded workers with a range of skills boosts your business and opens up opportunities for their advancement.

Beyond making workers happier and more productive, there are revenue benefits associated with comprehensive training, too. Companies that offer workers training programs have 24% higher profit margins than those that don’t, according to the American Society for Training and Development.

And if you don’t yet have a learning management system (LMS) solution, consider investing in one. It can help streamline the training process and strengthen your entire program while offering a range of other benefits.

Whether you already have a training program you’re looking to improve, or you’re aiming to implement one, there are certain elements every successful training and development program has.

Short, specific sessions

You know better than anyone that employees’ attention spans aren’t long. No one wants to sit through hours of training, no matter how valuable the information is.

Focus instead on short, specific bursts of information that will interest workers and guarantee they retain the information.

This strategy, called microlearning, emphasizes brief (usually three to five minutes) sessions designed to meet specific outcomes. You can use it for both formal training and informal, but it’s generally more successful when applied to informal skills training instead of intense or complex processed-based training.

There are four essential characteristics of microlearning to hone in on. Make sure your training is:

  • Lean: It shouldn’t need a mob of people to implement
  • Adaptable: There should be ways to apply the training to many employees across a range of departments and locations. Although specificity is a key component of microlearning, it can’t be so specific that only one employee will benefit, otherwise, it’s not worth the time and resources.
  • Simple: Avoid over-complicating things and confusing workers.
  • Seamless: Use the technology at your disposal. Your solution shouldn’t require in-person sit-downs, but instead should be transferable to employees’ mobile devices and laptops when possible.

Many LMS solutions are accessible on mobile devices and desktops and allow you to create your own courses to provide the exact content you want to employees.

Remember: Microlearning doesn’t have to be the centerpiece of your training program. After all, there are some topics that simply can’t be condensed into bite-sized pieces. But integrating this method can help spice up your program and supply a new way of doing things.

Assessments

An effective training program is only as good as what employees retain, so you’ll want a way to measure where they started and how the training has impacted them.

A pre-training assessment can also shine a light on what workers are looking for and what they still need to learn. This allows you to target specific skills training and development to the employees who need it, while not wasting the time of workers who’re all caught up.

Post-training assessments, meanwhile, help you see who’s mastered the training and who still needs help. They can also show you where your training program could be improved.

To ensure assessments are as helpful as possible:

  • Avoid yes or no questions, instead of allowing workers to provide a variety of feedback.
  • Look over how the training objectives line up with workers’ perceptions of their professional development.
  • Offer both task- and skill-based evaluations that look at performance and adaptation of the skill, rather than memorization ability.

Note: These evaluations don’t need to take the form of traditional tests. Very few people enjoy taking tests, so taking the time to turn assessments into a game or more fun activity encourages workers to participate and provide their honest opinions without worrying about being “graded.”

With some LMS solutions, assessments can be taken online with the information stored right where you can access it easily. Often, you can also compile the results into reports that give you at-a-glance clarity on who benefited most from the training and who still needs improvement.

Collaboration

Providing chances for your workers to interact and form connections has multiple benefits for your training program and organization at large.

When employees have bonds with their co-workers, they’re more engaged in their tasks and more productive. Getting them to collaborate during training can help convince them to take the course seriously while encouraging teamwork beyond the training.

Collaboration tools, such as built-in messaging systems and discussion boards, are prevalent among LMS solutions and give workers the chance to learn together and develop along the same paths.

Multimedia options

You’ll also want to expand your horizons beyond basic text-based training. We’re living in an age with constantly evolving technology, and your training program should take advantage of the options at your disposal.

Workers will be more engaged with the content you offer if it’s more than words on a page. And with LMS solutions, creating and importing multimedia content into your training is easier than ever.

This doesn’t mean you can’t implement text into your training, of course, but rather that you should also have:

  • video
  • interactive content
  • images, and
  • audio.

Video and images are already extremely popular in training, and if you have a current program it’s likely there are already videos and photos in it. Don’t forget about graphs and other diagrams that could help clarify certain concepts.

Interactive content can take a range of forms, from quizzes given to workers after each module to games employees play to help them retain the information they’ve learned.

These games can also increase collaboration during training, which helps participants stay engaged in what they’re learning and form connections with co-workers. Bonding with co-workers is one of the benefits offered by in-house training programs and these bonds often strengthen employee engagement with your company.

Another option is audio content, like podcasts. Offering audio content allows workers to train while performing other tasks, since they don’t have to be in a specific room or looking at something to follow along.

If you’re worried about carving enough time out in employees’ workdays to add training or professional development, podcasts and other audio content are a good bridge to get them learning new skills while still able to complete their jobs.

Easy access

A training program won’t work if its inaccessible. If workers have to show up on a specific day and time to a certain conference room, it’s significantly less likely they’ll take you up on the offer.

And if the training is mandatory, employees won’t be excited to learn and may resist absorbing the info.

This is where an LMS solution comes in handy the most. It provides a central location for training and courses to be stored and accessed. Workers can check out training from all of their devices and tackle the topics individually or in groups, depending on what works best for them.

Having an LMS solution also helps if you employ remote workers or have multiple locations, since you don’t have to coordinate a time for them to come in or run multiple training sessions at once.

Professional development

Workers, especially younger ones, want a way forward in their careers. They don’t want to just learn skills applicable to their current jobs. They want options and the chance to develop further and pick up skills that will serve them well as they advance.

Clearly define how your training program will factor in professional development, so employees can see what the payoff will be down the line. This also motivates them to stay with your company in the long run, since you’re enabling them to develop and practice new abilities and investing in their futures.

Most LMS solutions have the ability to create customized learning paths depending on where employees are in their careers and what they’re aiming to learn and accomplish.

Laying out the ways forward can also help with recruiting and hiring, since prospective employees can see the opportunities for advancement and growth available to them.

Bottom line

Training matters for every employee, not just new hires or recent transfers. A strong comprehensive training program is essential to building up your workforce and keeping workers engaged in their jobs.

When given the chance to boost their skills and develop professionally, employees are also happier and more productive, making the potential expense of implementing training programs worth it.

Plus, LMS solutions can help improve your training and offer a variety of features to employees and trainers alike in a cost-effective way.

Your training doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to be helpful for your workers and provide benefits for your business. It just has to work for your company and employees.

SOURCE: Ketchum, K. (18 February 2019) "6 key features your employee training program needs - and how LMS can help" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://www.hrmorning.com/employee-training-program-lms/


Today’s workforce never learned how to handle personal finances

A bill was recently proposed in South Carolina that would require all students to take a personal finance course before they graduate. Continue reading to learn how this proposal could help today's workforce learn how to handle personal finances.


A bill was recently proposed in the South Carolina state legislature to require all students to take a half-credit personal finance course and pass a test by the end of the year in order to graduate.

This proposed legislation could prove to be a breakthrough idea because frankly, much of the high school-educated—or even college-educated—workforce has never had a formal education on how to take care of their personal finances, pay off their student loans, open an appropriate retirement account, select an insurance provider or generally prepare for personal financial success.

Without taking these now-required personal finance classes in high school, how is the current workforce expected to learn how to stay afloat and become financially stable?

For those in other states or for individuals who are past high school, the most logical solution for solving this problem is to put the onus on employers and business owners to teach their employees how to properly handle their financial well-being.

Having a staff full of financially prepared employees is in any businesses’ own interest, and there are statistics to show it. Numerous research studies have proven that companies with robust employee financial wellness programs are more productive because employees don’t have to spend company time handling personal financial problems. This results in an average three-to-one return for the organization on their financial wellness investment, according to studies from the Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp.

Employees who practice good financial wellness are also proven to stay with the company longer, be more engaged at work, less stressed and healthier—all of which add significant dollars to a company’s bottom line.

While understanding that HR, executives, and accounting have little time to spend teaching lessons in the workplace, how does a company go about offering financial wellness information to their employees?

There are several options available to companies when it comes to financial wellness. One of the most sought-after benefits in recent years is online financial wellness platforms that digitize the financial education process. This allows employees to work on their financial education on their own time from the privacy of their home computer, using a friendly and simple interface. And benefits solutions providers have access to a number of these resources – all companies need to do is inquire with their provider.

It is important to remember that not all financial wellness platforms are created equal in what they offer. Depending on the specific needs of an organization, they should assess the offerings available through each service provider to ensure they receive the program they intend to offer to their employees. Most platforms offer partial solutions and tools that could include financial assessments, game-based education, budgeting apps, student loan assistance, insurance options, savings programs, and even credit resources to help those who don’t have money saved to afford an emergency cost.

Not everyone goes to school to learn accounting, so we can’t assume that everyone knows what they are doing when it comes to personal finances. South Carolina is taking a major and important step towards improving their citizen’s futures by suggesting everyone take a personal finance course in high school. This could have a massive and positive effect on the economy in the future.

Finding a financial wellness solution that checks most, if not all, of these boxes will enable employees to take the initiative to either continue what they’ve learned (in the case of South Carolina students) or start down the path of gaining financial independence. Implementing a complete financial wellness toolset to give employees the ability to prepare for financial success is a huge step towards significantly increasing productivity.

As an engaged employer who cares about the well-being of their employees, it is important to offer as many resources as possible to encourage employees to stay financially well, decrease stress, and increase productivity in the workplace.


Millennials and money — How employers can be a financial literacy resource

Recent reports show student loan debts reached a $1.5 trillion crisis in 2018, leading many to believe Americans need a little help with money. Read on to learn how employers can help with financial literacy.


It’s clear that Americans need a little help with their money — in 2018 student loan debts reached a staggering $1.5 trillion crisis, employees continue to retire at a later age every year, and studies have shown that 65% of Americans save little to nothing of their annual income.

One subset of the American population that has even greater troubles with their finances is millennials, or those aged 23 to 38 as of 2019. This age group has lofty goals — 76% believe that they’re headed for a better financial future than their parents and 81% plan to own a home — but many millennials aren’t saving money in a way that actually leads them towards that future. In the last year, 43% of young adults had to borrow money from their parents to pay for necessities and 30% had to skip a meal due to lack of funds. Where’s the disconnect between millennials’ financial optimism and the reality of their financial circumstances?

Part of the problem lies in a lack of financial literacy. A study conducted by the National Endowment for Financial Education found that only 24% of millennials answered three out of five questions correctly on a survey looking at financial topics, indicating only a basic level of literacy. This same survey found that only 8% of millennials who took the test were able to answer all five questions correctly.

That’s not to say that understanding the intricacies of financial planning is easy. Everything from taxes to investing often requires professional advice. It’s no wonder that millennials are struggling with their finances: only 22% of those in this age group have ever received financial education from an educational institution or workplace. Millennials are struggling to pay for basic necessities and financial advice is simply not a priority. Many avoid seeking the help they need because they perceive it to be too costly.

This is an opportunity for employers that want to provide valuable resources to their employees, as financial wellness programs are likely to be the next employee benefit that millennials ask for.

Right now, millennials are the largest segment in the workforce, and by 2030 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that this age group will make up a staggering 75%. In a tight labor market, current job seekers can be more selective when deciding where they want to work. For employers, studies have shown that 60% of people report benefits and perks as a major deciding factor when considering a job offer.

To stand out from competitors and provide true value to young employees, companies should consider including financial wellness plans in their overall benefits package. The most comprehensive financial wellness plans generally include access to advice from a certified financial planner in addition to legal, tax, insurance and identity theft support. For millennials trying to get in control of their finances, these types of programs can be invaluable. For example, young employees can get assistance setting up a 401(k) account, dealing with taxes for the first time or learning to save and invest.

In 2019 and beyond, millennials are going to be looking for employers that support them not only in the office but outside the office as well. By providing financial planning tools in the workplace, companies can be a valuable resource to younger employees who will appreciate early and frequent conversations around how to manage their money.

SOURCE: Freedman, D. (19 February 2019) "Millennials and money — How employers can be a financial literacy resource" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-employers-can-be-a-financial-literacy-resource?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


Employee wellness programs and compliance: What to know right now

How do you decipher any given wellness program's compliance under the law? Under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) current guidance, employers need to assess whether the plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent.” Read this blog post to learn more about wellness program regulations.


Defining “wellness” for any one person is no simple task, and neither is deciphering a given wellness program’s compliance under the law.

In 2016, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its final regulations defining a “voluntary” program under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the entire landscape — at least what can be seen on a hazy day — appeared defined. But thanks to AARP’s successful challenge to these regulations and the EEOC’s recent acknowledgment of the demise of its incentive limitations, employers find themselves back in the “Wild West” of sorts for wellness compliance.

That being said, the uncertainty is not new for employers with wellness programs, and there is now more guidance than before, so let’s take a moment to take in the current view.

The current guidance under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) remains unchanged, so any wellness program integrated with a health plan or otherwise constituting a health plan itself, employers need to assess whether the plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent.” The health-contingent plans (which condition the award of incentives on accomplishing a health goal) will require additional compliance considerations, including—but not limited to—incentive limitations, reasonable alternative standards (RAS), and notice requirements.

The RAS should be of particular importance because they can be missed most out of the compliance parameters. Often there is an “accidental” program such as a tobacco surcharge, and the employer does not even realize the wellness rules are implicated, or the employer’s RAS is another health-contingent parameter that actually necessitates another RAS.

The Department of Labor is actively enforcing compliance in this area, so employers will want to take care.

Additionally, the EEOC’s ADA (and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) regulations are still largely in force. This seems to be a common misconception—ranging from a celebration of no rules to a lament for the end of incentivized wellness programs that include disability-related questionnaires (like an average health risk assessment) or medical examinations (including biometric screenings).

The truth is somewhere in the middle.

The ADA’s own RAS and notice concepts still apply, along with confidentiality requirements. All that has changed is that the EEOC has declined (again) to tell us at what point an incentive turns a program compulsory. So employers sponsoring wellness programs subject to the ADA have three choices, based on risk tolerance (In truth, there are four options, but charging above the ADA’s previous incentive limitations would be excessively risky):

  • Run incentives for ADA plans up to the 30 percent cap that existed before. This is the riskiest approach. To take this route, an employer must rely upon HIPAA’s similar (though not exactly the same) incentive limitations as indicative of non-compulsory levels. The fact that Judge Bates did not accept this argument in the AARP case advises against this approach, but this case does not have global application. If this path is chosen, it will be imperative to document analysis as to why this incentive preserves voluntariness for your participants.
  • Keep the incentives below the previous 30 percent cap but incentivize the program. This approach does have risk because no one knows at what point an incentive takes choice away from participants. However, the incentive is a useful tool to motivate and reward health-conscientious behavior. The wellness incentive limitations stood at 20 percent under the HIPAA regulations for quite some time without much concern, so this could be a relatively safe target. But the most important thing is to carefully assess the overall structure of the program(s) offered, consider the culture and demographics of the employees who may participate, and balance the desire to motivate against the particular tensions of the program to decide on a reasonable incentive. Make sure to document this analysis and reconsider it every time a program changes.
  • Not incentivize the program at all. This is the most conservative approach from a compliance perspective but ultimately not required. Before the EEOC’s 2016 regulations, employers were incentivizing programs subject to the ADA, and nothing about the AARP case or the EEOC’s response to it prohibits incentives.

There’s no doubt the wellness compliance landscape has changed a little over this last year, but this is also just the tip of the iceberg. With enforcement heating up, it is imperative for employers to carefully consider compliance, document the reasonableness of incentive choices and lean on trusted counsel when necessary to avoid potentially costly and time-consuming issues.

SOURCE: Davenport, B. (13 February 2019) "Employee wellness programs and compliance: What to know right now" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2019/02/13/employee-wellness-programs-and-compliance-what-to-know-right-now/


U.S. Department of Labor's New Compliance Assistance Tool

On February 6, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the launch of the electronic version of their Compliance Assistance Tool (Handy Reference Guide to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)). This new version will assist employers by providing them with basic Wage and Hour Division (WHD) information, as well as links to other resources.

This electronic resource was created as a part of the WHD's efforts to modernize compliance assistance tools, as well as provide easy-to-use, accessible compliance information. In coexistence with worker.govemployer.gov, and other online tools, this tool will help improve employer understanding of federal labor laws and regulations.

View the digital Compliance Assistance Tool here.

Read the DOL's full press release here.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Labor (6 February 2019) "U.S. Department of Labor Announces New Compliance Assistance Tool" (Web Press Release). Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/whd/whd20190206-0


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Analytics are key to wellness success. Here’s why

How can benefits managers utilize analytics to maximize their companies’ investments? Continue reading to learn how analytics can help employers optimize their health, wellness and other benefits programs.


What do benefits managers have in common with Walmart? Both have the power to leverage data to create a sustainable competitive advantage.

Like other leading retailers, Walmart mines vast quantities of data and applies predictive analytics to fuel solutions that improve store checkout processes, maximize inventory turnover and optimize product placement. Data analytics also helps the company identify shoppers’ preferences and personalize their shopping experiences. New parents, as identified by prior purchases, might receive digital coupons for infant products, for instance.

Walmart’s data intelligence gives the international retailer the ability to act upon insights quickly. One Halloween, for example, a novelty cookie generated high sales across the United States, but no sales at all in two U.S. stores. The company’s data analytics swiftly ascertained that the cookies were never put on the shelves at those stores. The problem was resolved immediately through high-visibility product placement.

Employee benefits managers have similar opportunities to maximize their companies’ investments. The effective use of disparate data can help employers optimize their health, wellness and other benefits programs, and pinpoint the true value of their total rewards.

A data-driven approach to benefits analytics

Three out of five U.S. employers use health screenings and risk assessments to help employees detect conditions earlier, when treatment might be more effective and costs lower. However, the majority of employers do not measure the impact of these programs.

Those that do assess a program’s impact typically compare the dollars spent on it with the medical claims saved. Forward-thinking benefits managers, however, are examining the total value of investment (VOI) instead. This innovative approach analyzes not only the effect of a wellness initiative on medical costs but also its influence on productivity, absenteeism, disability costs and other factors.

By aggregating and analyzing different types of data — such as claims and non-claims data — benefits managers can determine crucial correlations between preventive screenings, health outcomes and healthcare costs. Thus, they can develop more targeted benefits packages that reduce costs while improving overall employee health and productivity.

Case Study: Implementation of predictive analytics in preventative screenings

One recent initiative undertaken by a state employee health plan demonstrates the power of data analytics to reveal the VOI of preventive cancer screenings.

The state provides medical benefits to around 205,000 employees and dependents. The agency that administers the benefits program wanted to know whether preventive cancer screenings improved health outcomes, and whether the program was cost effective. Analyzing screening and claims data showed that 6% to 8% of those who underwent screenings for breast, colorectal or cervical cancer received a diagnosis of cancer or a related condition. The follow-up and all-important question was: did those members experience different outcomes than members whose cancers were not detected through screenings?

The results indicated a high VOI for members’ preventive cancer screenings:

  • The majority of new cases of breast, colorectal and cervical cancer were detected through preventive screenings.
  • Among members who received preventive screenings, 5% to 11% underwent treatments because of screening results — and not just for cancer. Treatments included removal of benign tumors or polyps.
  • Those diagnosed with breast, colorectal or cervical cancer through the screenings experienced less invasive treatments and had fewer complications than those diagnosed through other means.
  • New cases of breast and cervical cancer diagnosed through the preventive screenings had lower costs, on average, than cases detected through other means.

Positive action through data

This cancer screening example illustrates how data analysis can empower benefits managers to improve employees’ health outcomes while reducing costs. Analytics can help employers invest in more effective care management resources, as well as design benefits packages that provide positive VOI in wellness, screening and preventive care.

With the cost of health benefits continuing to rise, it’s critical to leverage data to determine the total value of wellness investments. Just as retailers use data analytics to improve the retail experience and increase profits, benefits managers should use data analytics to guide the design and evaluation of benefits and other rewards.

SOURCE: Kramer, M. (21 January 2019) "Analytics are key to wellness success. Here’s why" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/analytics-are-key-to-wellness-success-heres-why


Compliance: Yearly Deadlines for Health Plans

Do you offer group health plans coverage to your employees? Employers that provide coverage are subject to multiple compliance requirements throughout the year. Certain requirements have been around for many years, while others have been recently added by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Continue reading for a summary of the many compliance requirements and their associated deadlines that health plan providers should be aware of throughout the year. Certain deadlines for non-calendar year plans may vary from what is outlined in this summary. This summary only covers recurring calendar year compliance deadlines. Other requirements that are not based on the calendar year are not included below.

January

Deadline Requirement Description

January 31

Form W-2 Deadline for providing Forms W-2 to employees. The ACA requires employers to report the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored group health plan coverage on their employees’ Forms W-2. The purpose is to provide employees with information on how much their health coverage costs. Certain types of coverage are not required to be reported on Form W-2.

This Form W-2 reporting requirement is currently optional for small employers (those who file fewer than 250 Forms W-2). Employers that file 250 or more Forms W-2 are required to comply with the ACA’s reporting requirement.

January 31 Form 1095-C or Form 1095-B—Annual Statement to Individuals Applicable large employers (ALEs) subject to the ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules must furnish Form 1095-C (Section 6056 statements) annually to their full-time employees. Employers with self-insured health plans that are not ALEs must furnish Form 1095-B (Section 6055 statements) annually to covered employees.

The Forms 1095-B and 1095-C are due on or before Jan. 31 of the year immediately following the calendar year to which the statements relate. Extensions may be available in certain limited circumstances. However, an alternate deadline generally is not available for ALEs that sponsor non-calendar year plans.

 

Update: The IRS extended the deadline for furnishing the 2018 employee statements, from Jan. 31, 2019, to March 4, 2019.  

February

Deadline Requirement Description

February 28   (March 31, if filing electronically)

Section 6055 and 6056 Reporting Under Section 6056, ALEs subject to the ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules are required to report information to the IRS about the health coverage they offer (or do not offer) to their full-time employees. ALEs must file Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C with the IRS annually.

Under Section 6055, self-insured plan sponsors are required to report information about the health coverage they provided during the year. Self-insured plan sponsors must generally file Form 1094-B and Form 1095-B with the IRS annually.

ALEs that sponsor self-insured plans are required to report information to the IRS under Section 6055 about health coverage provided, as well as information under Section 6056 about offers of health coverage. ALEs that sponsor self-insured plans will generally use a combined reporting method on Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C to report information under both Sections 6055 and 6056.

All forms must be filed with the IRS annually, no later than Feb. 28 (March 31, if filed electronically) of the year following the calendar year to which the return relates. Reporting entities that are filing 250 or more returns must file electronically. There is no alternate filing date for employers with non-calendar year plans.

March

Deadline Requirement Description

March 1   (calendar year plans)

Medicare Part D Disclosure to CMS Group health plan sponsors that provide prescription drug coverage to Medicare Part D eligible individuals must disclose to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) whether prescription drug coverage is creditable or not. In general, a plan’s prescription drug coverage is considered creditable if its actuarial value equals or exceeds the actuarial value of the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage. Disclosure is due:

  • Within 60 days after the beginning of each plan year;
  • Within 30 days after the termination of a plan’s prescription drug coverage; and
  • Within 30 days after any change in the plan’s creditable coverage status.

Plan sponsors must use the online disclosure form on the CMS Creditable Coverage webpage.

July

Deadline Requirement Description

July 31

PCORI Fee Deadline for filing IRS Form 720 and paying Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fees for the previous year. For insured health plans, the issuer of the health insurance policy is responsible for the PCORI fee payment. For self-insured plans, the PCORI fee is paid by the plan sponsor.

The PCORI fees are temporary—the fees do not apply to plan years ending on or after Oct. 1, 2019. This means that, for calendar year plans, the PCORI fees do not apply for the 2019 plan year.

July 31

Form 5500 Plan administrators of ERISA employee benefit plans must file Form 5500 by the last day of the seventh month following the end of the plan year, unless an extension has been granted. Form 5500 reports information on a plan’s financial condition, investments and operations. Form 5558 is used to apply for an extension of two and one-half months to file Form 5500.

Small health plans (fewer than 100 participants) that are fully insured, unfunded or a combination of insured/unfunded, are generally exempt from the Form 5500 filing requirement.

The Department of Labor’s (DOL) website and the latest Form 5500 instructions provide information on who is required to file and detailed information on filing.

September

Deadline Requirement Description

September 30

Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) Rebates The deadline for issuers to pay medical loss ratio (MLR) rebates for the 2014 reporting year and beyond is Sept. 30. The ACA requires health insurance issuers to spend at least 80 to 85 percent of their premiums on health care claims and health care quality improvement activities. Issuers that do not meet the applicable MLR percentage must pay rebates to consumers.

Also, if the rebate is a “plan asset” under ERISA, the rebate should, as a general rule, be used within three months of when it is received by the plan sponsor. Thus, employers who decide to distribute the rebate to participants should make the distributions within this three-month time limit.

September 30

Summary Annual Report Plan administrators must automatically provide participants with the summary annual report (SAR) within nine months after the end of the plan year, or two months after the due date for filing Form 5500 (with approved extension).

Plans that are exempt from the annual 5500 filing requirement are not required to provide an SAR. Large, completely unfunded health plans are also generally exempt from the SAR requirement.

October

Deadline Requirement Description

October 15

Medicare Part D – Creditable Coverage Notices Group health plan sponsors that provide prescription drug coverage to Medicare Part D eligible individuals must disclose whether the prescription drug coverage is creditable or not. Medicare Part D creditable coverage disclosure notices must be provided to participants before the start of the annual coordinated election period, which runs from Oct. 15-Dec. 7 of each year. Coverage is creditable if the actuarial value of the coverage equals or exceeds the actuarial value of coverage under Medicare Part D. This disclosure notice helps participants make informed and timely enrollment decisions.

Disclosure notices must be provided to all Part D eligible individuals who are covered under, or apply for, the plan’s prescription drug coverage, regardless of whether the prescription drug coverage is primary or secondary to Medicare Part D.

Model disclosure notices are available on CMS’ website.

Annual Notices

Type of Notice Description
WHCRA Notice The Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act (WHCRA) requires group health plans that provide medical and surgical benefits for mastectomies to also provide benefits for reconstructive surgery. Group health plans must provide a notice about the WHCRA’s coverage requirements at the time of enrollment and on an annual basis after enrollment. The initial enrollment notice requirement can be satisfied by including the information on WHCRA’s coverage requirements in the plan’s summary plan description (SPD). The annual WHCRA notice can be provided at any time during the year. Employers with open enrollment periods often include the annual notice with their open enrollment materials. Employers that redistribute their SPDs each year can satisfy the annual notice requirement by including the WHCRA notice in their SPDs.

Model language is available in the DOL’s compliance assistance guide.

CHIP Notice If an employer’s group health plan covers residents in a state that provides a premium subsidy under a Medicaid plan or CHIP, the employer must send an annual notice about the available assistance to all employees residing in that state. the annual CHIP notice can be provided at any time during the year. Employers with annual enrollment periods often provide CHIP notice with their open enrollment materials.

The DOL has a model notice that employers may use.

Group health plans and health insurance issuers are required to provide an SBC to applicants and enrollees each year at open enrollment or renewal time. The purpose of the SBC is to allow individuals to easily compare their options when they are shopping for or enrolling in health plan coverage. Federal agencies have provided a template for the SBC, which health plans and issuers are required to use.

The issuer for fully insured plans usually prepares the SBC. If the issuer prepares the SBC, an employer is not also required to prepare an SBC for the health plan, although the employer may need to distribute the SBC prepared by the issuer.

The SBC must be included in open enrollment materials. If renewal is automatic, the SBC must be provided no later than 30 days prior to the first day of the new plan year. However, for insured plans, if the new policy has not yet been issued 30 days prior to the beginning of the plan year, the SBC must be provided as soon as practicable, but no later than seven business days after the issuance of the policy.

Grandfathered Plan Notice To maintain a plan’s grandfathered status, the plan sponsor or must include a statement of the plan’s grandfathered status in plan materials provided to participants describing the plan’s benefits (such as the summary plan description, insurance certificate and open enrollment materials). The DOL has provided a model notice for grandfathered plans. This notice only applies to plans that have grandfathered status under the ACA.
Notice of Patient Protections If a non-grandfathered plan requires participants to designate a participating primary care provider, the plan or issuer must provide a notice of patient protections whenever the SPD or similar description of benefits is provided to a participant. This notice is often included in the SPD or insurance certificate provided by the issuer (or otherwise provided with enrollment materials).

The DOL provided a model notice of patient protections for plans and issuers to use.

HIPAA Privacy Notice The HIPAA Privacy Rule requires self-insured health plans to maintain and provide their own privacy notices. Special rules, however, apply for fully insured plans. Under these rules, the health insurance issuer, and not the health plan itself, is primarily responsible for the privacy notice.

Self-insured health plans are required to send the privacy notice at certain times, including to new enrollees at the time of enrollment. Thus, the privacy notice should be provided with the plan’s open enrollment materials. Also, at least once every three years, health plans must either redistribute the privacy notice or notify participants that the privacy notice is available and explain how to obtain a copy.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has model Privacy Notices for health plans to choose from.

HIPAA Special Enrollment Notice At or prior to the time of enrollment, a group health plan must provide each eligible employee with a notice of his or her special enrollment rights under HIPAA. This notice should be included with the plan’s enrollment materials. It is often included in the health plan’s SPD or insurance booklet. Model language is available in the DOL’s compliance assistance guide.
Wellness Notice HIPAA Employers with health-contingent wellness programs must provide a notice that informs employees that there is an alternative way to qualify for the program’s reward. This notice must be included in all plan materials that describe the terms of the wellness program. If wellness program materials are being distributed at open enrollment (or renewal time), this notice should be included with those materials. Sample language is available in the DOL’s compliance assistance guide.
Wellness Notice ADA To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), wellness plans that collect health information or involve medical exams must provide a notice to employees that explains how the information will be used, collected and kept confidential. Employees must receive this notice before providing any health information and with enough time to decide whether to participate in the program. Employers that are implementing a wellness program for the upcoming plan year should include this notice in their open enrollment materials. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has provided a sample notice for employers to use.

Resources: https://www.ada.gov/; https://www.dol.gov/; https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/guidance/model-notices-privacy-practices/index.html; https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Prescription-Drug-Coverage/CreditableCoverage/Model-Notice-Letters.html; https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/retirement-plan-participant-notices-when-the-end-of-the-plan-year-has-passed; https://www.cms.gov/cciio/programs-and-initiatives/health-insurance-market-reforms/medical-loss-ratio.html; https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/ebsa/about-ebsa/our-activities/resource-center/publications/compliance-assistance-guide.pdf; https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/laws-and-regulations/laws/affordable-care-act/for-employers-and-advisers/preexisting-condition-exclusions; https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/laws-and-regulations/laws/affordable-care-act/for-employers-and-advisers/summary-of-benefits; https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/laws-and-regulations/laws/chipra/working-group; https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/laws-and-regulations/laws/whcra; https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/employers-and-advisers/plan-administration-and-compliance/reporting-and-filing/forms; https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/patient-centered-outcomes-research-institute-fee; https://www.irs.gov/affordable-care-act/individuals-and-families/form-1095-b-what-you-need-to-do-with-this-form; https://www.irs.gov/affordable-care-act/individuals-and-families/form-1095-c-what-you-need-to-do-with-this-form; https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Prescription-Drug-Coverage/CreditableCoverage/index.html?redirect=/CreditableCoverage/; https://www.irs.gov/affordable-care-act/questions-and-answers-on-information-reporting-by-health-coverage-providers-section-6055; https://www.irs.gov/affordable-care-act/employers/questions-and-answers-on-reporting-of-offers-of-health-insurance-coverage-by-employers-section-6056; https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/about-form-w-2;


10 Retirement Lessons for 2019

There are lessons to be learned from recent decisions and settlements about the best ways to protect yourself in 2019. Here are some important takeaways from recent litigation activity.

1. Your Process Matters.

New York University recently got a lawsuit dismissed by a district court because it provided evidence that it followed a prudent process when selecting investments. If a case goes to trial, you will also need to demonstrate that you made prudent decisions in order to prevail.

2. Put It in Writing.

It’s hard to prove that you followed a prudent process if you don’t write down what you did. People change jobs, die or simply forget the details of what was done if there are not minutes explaining the reasons for decisions. Have clear written policies showing what you will consider when selecting or replacing investments and reviewing fees, and make sure to follow those policies.

3. Know and Review Your Options.

Complaints have alleged that fiduciaries failed to consider alternatives to common investments, such as collective trusts as an alternative to mutual funds and stable value funds as alternatives to money market funds. Employees of investment giants such as Fidelity have sued because they claimed that these companies filled their plans with their own in-house investments even though better performing alternatives with lower fees were available. Even if you don’t select these options, you should investigate them and record the reasons for your decisions. Be especially careful about choosing your vendor’s proprietary funds without investigation.

4. Understand Target Date Funds.

They have different risk profiles, performance history, fees and glide paths. Don’t take the easy way out and automatically choose your vendor’s funds. In fact, you need to have a prudent process to select these.

5. Benchmark Plan Fees.

Be able to demonstrate that your fees are reasonable for plans of your size. But don’t compare apples to oranges. Select an appropriate peer group. Remember, though, that it is not a violation of ERISA to pay higher fees for better service, so long as the fees are reasonable.

6. Retain an Expert to Help You.

Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. If you don’t have internal investment expertise, hire an outside fiduciary to assist you. Insist on written reports of recommendations if the fiduciary is a co-adviser, and that the fiduciary attend committee meetings to answer questions and explain the recommendations.

7. Consult Outside Counsel When Necessary.

See No. 6. Don’t try to guess what the law requires, and listen to counsel’s recommendations about best practices. While both advisers and ERISA counsel are available to provide fiduciary education, your ERISA counsel can give you a better handle on your legal responsibilities as ERISA fiduciaries.

8. Hold Regular Committee Meetings.

The days when committees met once a year are over. Many committees now meet quarterly. These should be formal meetings where committee members sit down together with the plan adviser and, where appropriate, with ERISA counsel.

A secretary should take formal minutes. Plan fiduciaries shouldn’t be meeting over the water cooler or making decisions by exchanging emails without face-to-face discussion in a misguided effort to save time.

9. Review Your Providers.

At least once a year, review whether your vendors are performing in accordance with their proposals and their services agreements, and survey your committee members to determine whether they are happy with the provider’s performance. Follow up to request changes or start an RFP to find a new vendor if necessary.

10. Schedule Regular RFPs.

Even if you are happy with your current providers, new RFPs will give you the opportunity to renegotiate your services agreements and fees and will also let you know whether additional services are available in the marketplace.

content resource: https://401kspecialistmag.com


It might be time for a financial wellness checkup

Forty-six percent of employees spend two to three hours per week at work dealing with personal finances. Read this blog post to learn what employers can do if they want a stress-free and productive workforce.


We’ve all seen the infamous statistics — 56% of American workers struggle financially, 75% live paycheck to paycheck. A majority of Americans can’t come up with $1,000 for an emergency.

It is quite obvious that financial worries have a massive impact on happiness and stress levels, but what business owners, executives and human resource professionals understand is that this lack of financial wellness in the U.S. has a devastating effect on worker productivity, and therefore, employers’ bottom lines.

Employees who spend time during their day worried about bills and loans are less focused on getting their work done. In fact, a staggering 46% of employees spend, on average, two to three hours per week dealing with personal finance issues during work hours. So what can employers offer their workers to help them become more financially sound?

There are a number of ways to help employees improve their financial well-being – including utilizing the help of a financial wellness benefit platform – but at the very least, there are three major benefits that every business should employ if they want a stress-free and productive workforce.

Savings, investment and retirement solutions. Offering employees the ability to automatically allocate their paychecks into savings, investment and retirement accounts will help them more effectively meet their financial goals without worrying about moving money around. These types of programs should allow employees to make temporary or permanent changes at any time to reflect any immediate changes that may occur in their life.

Credit solutions and loan consolidation. Having a reliable source of credit is extremely important, but access to it can also be dangerous for big spenders. Employers should guide workers towards making informed financial decisions and teach them how to use credit wisely. Employers need to be able to refer employees to affordable and trusted sources for things like credit cards, short-term loan options and mortgages, so employees don’t have to spend time doing the research for themselves (or worse, potentially becoming victims of fraud). Companies should also offer resources that teach employees how to organize their finances to pay their debt off on time without accumulating unnecessary interest or fees.

Insurance (not just health). While many large companies offer the traditional health, dental, vision, disability and life insurance, employers should also be offering resources that give easy access to vehicle, home, renters, boat, pet and other common insurance products. Some insurance carriers even offer volume discounts, so if a large percentage of employees in an organization utilize pet insurance, everyone can save some money.

While it is important for employers to offer these benefits, it is also important to follow up with employees and make sure they are utilizing all of the benefits they have access to. Sometimes people can have too much pride or can be afraid to ask for financial help. The use of these programs should be talked about, encouraged and even rewarded.

Justifying the investment in these benefits is simple. Employers want to increase productivity, and employees want to be more financially sound. The workplace is evolving and so is the workforce, so while you look to add benefits like 401(k), work from home, summer Fridays, gym memberships and free lunch, don’t forget about the financial wellness of the people you employ. Maybe next year, you will see that your workers are focused less on their college loans and are able to put more effort into growing your business.

SOURCE: Kilby, D. (2 January 2019) "It might be time for a financial wellness checkup" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/it-might-be-time-for-a-financial-wellness-checkup?feed=00000152-a2fb-d118-ab57-b3ff6e310000


E-Verify Is Down. What Do Employers Do Now?

Are you questioning what you should do now that E-Verify, the federal government's electronic employment verification system, has expired? Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


What are employers supposed to do now that E-Verify—the federal government's electronic employment verification system—has expired?

Funding and congressional authorization for the program ran out Dec. 22, 2018, as the government went into a partial shutdown after Congress and the White House could not agree on how to fund some agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which administers the system, for fiscal year 2019.

E-Verify compares information from an employee's Form I-9 to DHS and Social Security Administration (SSA) records to confirm employment eligibility. Employers enrolled in the program are required to use the system to run checks on new workers within three days of hiring them.

During the government shutdown, employers will not be able to enroll in E-Verify, initiate queries, access cases or resolve tentative non-confirmations (TNCs) with affected workers.

All employers remain subject to Form I-9 obligations, however. "Remember that the government shutdown has nothing to do with an employer's responsibilities to complete the Form I-9 [in a timely manner]," said Dawn Lurie, senior counsel in the Washington, D.C., office of Seyfarth Shaw. "Specifically, employees are required to complete Section 1 of the I-9 on or before the first day of employment, and employers must complete Section 2 of the I-9 no later than the third business day after an employee begins work for pay."

No Cause for Alarm

Lurie advised employers not to panic while E-Verify is down. "Employers will not be penalized as a result of the E-Verify operations shutdown," she said. "Employers will not be penalized for any delays in creating E-Verify cases. However, employers are reminded that they must continue to complete I-9s in compliance with the law, and when E-Verify becomes available, create cases in the system."

To minimize the burden on both employers and employees, DHS announced that:

  • The three-day rule for creating E-Verify cases is suspended for cases affected by the unavailability of the service. "Normally, the employer enters information from the I-9 into E-Verify within three days of hire, but that won't be possible while the system is unavailable," said Montserrat Miller, a partner in the Atlanta office of Arnall Golden Gregory. "DHS will provide a window of time to submit those held cases once service resumes."
  • The time period during which employees may resolve TNCs will be extended. The number of days E-Verify is unavailable will not count toward the days the employee has to begin the process of resolving a TNC. "Employers can't take any adverse action against a worker with a pending TNC regardless, shutdown or not," Miller said. Currently, an employee who chooses to contest a TNC must visit an SSA field office or call DHS within eight federal government working days to begin resolving it. This period will have to be extended because of the shutdown, she added.
  • Additional guidance regarding the three-day rule and time period to resolve TNC deadlines will be provided once operations resume.

Amy Peck, an immigration attorney with Jackson Lewis in Omaha, Neb., advised employers to keep track of all new hires with completed I-9s for whom there are no E-Verify queries due to the shutdown. She also recommended attaching a memo in a master E-Verify file tracking the days that the program was unavailable. "I've seen the discrepancy come up years later during an audit," she said.

"Once the system is back up, work with counsel on how much time employees have to resolve their TNCs," Peck said. "Someone receiving a TNC the day before the shutdown is a different case than somebody who had 10 days to resolve their TNC when the shutdown occurred. Those circumstances should be considered on a case-by-case basis."

Federal contractors with a federal acquisition regulation E-Verify clause should contact their government contracting officers to extend deadlines. "Federal contractors have a particular concern because nobody is supposed to be working who has not been verified through the system," Peck said. "People can be hired, but whether they are allowed to work on the contract before being run through E-Verify is a critical consideration that should be discussed with counsel."

Prepare for the Resumption of Service

Miller said employers should monitor the shutdown. "When it is over, log in to the system and see what instructions there are for creating and submitting queries," she advised. "There is an obligation to create those queries if you are enrolled in the program, even if enrolled voluntarily."

The backlog created as a result of the shutdown might have a significant impact on employers that process many E-Verify cases and specifically on the HR staff and other team members in charge of the process.

"Not all employers will be able to push all their cases through at once when the shutdown ends," Miller said. "If everyone did that, the system would crash. DHS will provide instructions on how to submit queries. Employers will be asked why the query is being submitted after the required three days. In the past, 'Government Shutdown' was one of the options in the drop-down menu."

Peck reminded employers that the loss of E-Verify does not mean there is a prohibition against hiring. "Companies should continue to hire as they need," she said.

SOURCE: Maurer, R. (3 January 2019) "E-Verify Is Down. What Do Employers Do Now?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/Pages/EVerify-Outage-What-Do-Employers-HR-Do.aspx