How to make on-demand fitness work for wellness

Does your business offer on-demand, virtual fitness to their employees? This new technology is making it easier for people to engage in physical activity. Continue reading to learn more.


The way we work out is changing. Technology makes it possible to watch movies, order meals, even rent bikes on our own terms, and people increasingly expect their fitness options to be just as easy. Enter on-demand, virtual fitness.

The demand for virtual fitness is booming. In the United States alone, the virtual fitness market is expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2022. Whether people are too intimidated to go to the gym, have difficulty finding time in their schedules to attend a class, or have difficulty finding classes that fit their needs — virtual fitness makes it easy for them to engage over time.

As a result, more employers are realizing the value of investing in employee health and the benefits of keeping employees physically active. Lack of physical activity contributes to numerous health risks, which can lead to increased healthcare costs and lost productivity. Physical activity has also been found to have a positive impact on mental health and well-being. For example, it’s been estimated that employees who are in poor health are twice as likely as their healthier coworkers to be disengaged from work.

On-demand, virtual fitness is an option that can be more affordable than establishing an on-site gym, and with 35% of employees working remotely, on-demand fitness allows employers to offer the workouts to more employees.

As would-be fitness fanatics increasingly turn to apps to help tone their abs, what should employers know to ensure success? Here are a few strategies.

1. Make it personal. It’s a simple concept: People will be more likely to exercise if they find a workout that appeals to them. The best on-demand options offer classes for a wide range of interests — from cycling to yoga to kickboxing, to mom-and-baby fitness or simple stretching.

2. Make it flexible. People come in all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels. Make sure classes work even if your employees aren’t super fit. Even better, look for something that offers users a natural progression from wherever they start to higher levels of fitness.

3. Make it accessible. The whole point of virtual fitness is that people can take part anytime and anywhere. Look for programming that makes classes available online from a desktop or laptop computer and on both Android and iOS-based smartphones or tablets. This allows employers to make fitness available during lunchtime in the break room, while also giving employees access to short exercises they can do during a break at their desks or even on the road.

4. Make it trackable. Virtual fitness programming can be integrated into your benefits portal to allow for tracking of wellness incentive points. This encourages employees to track their progress and to create a virtual community that encourages the success of all its members.

Today’s workforce is tech-savvy, and that dynamic is only going to become more prevalent. Using mobile devices or apps to give employees what they need to balance life and work will continue to be a smart move for employers.

SOURCE: Von Bank, J. (30 November 2018)  "How to make on-demand fitness work for wellness" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/tips-to-make-on-demand-fitness-work-for-your-wellness-program?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


How To Not Get Stuck With Other People's Work Over The Holidays

Begin preparing yourself at work for the holiday season so you aren’t stuck with others work during the holidays. Read on for more tips that will help you to avoid being overloaded with work.


Few people find themselves happy when they are inundated with work on vacation days that had been planned in advance. The month of December is a busy month. People are trying to finish up projects before the holidays and leaving for vacation. Sometimes, finishing up a project involves dumping it or part of it onto someone else’s work plate, many times a junior employee or someone in a non-management position. You don’t have to feel helpless. Here are three tips that will help you to avoid being overloaded with work:

1. Plan ahead.

When you are approaching a time of year in which you know that many people take off from work, take time to plan ahead. Know when your deadlines are, break the work into chunks and get to work now. If you know that a particular colleague has a tendency to hand off work just before they leave for their vacation, inquire with them ahead of time to give yourself more time to complete the work. Stay on top of your work so that you have some room for projects that arise unexpectedly.

2. Distribute the workload among your teammates.

Just because you receive a work assignment does not always mean only you have to complete it. Work can be shared, and allowing others to take on some of the work is an important management skill. The higher you rise in your career, the more you will depend on others to support you in achieving work goals.

If you are part of a team, ask your manager if the work can be distributed among multiple people. The more you spread out the work, the less work each person has to do and the more efficient and productive each person can be.

3. Prioritize the work.

Not all work has to be completed now. Some tasks can be done later. Look at the work that has been passed on to you, and break the work down into individual tasks. Successful people prioritize. Can the tasks be completed after the holidays? If you are unsure, ask your manager or the person that passed the work along. Make no assumptions. Ask for information to make a decision that ensures the quality of the work product and that your vacation is not compromised.

Prepare yourself at work for the holiday season so you don’t get stuck with other people’s work. Plan ahead, share the load and prioritize. Leaders don’t work harder. Leaders work smarter. Be happy this holiday season. Work smarter, and demonstrate your leadership.

SOURCE: Blank, A. (4 December 2018) "How To Not Get Stuck With Other People's Work Over The Holidays" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/averyblank/2018/12/04/how-to-not-get-stuck-with-other-peoples-work-over-the-holidays/#2ce47b263006


Who let the dogs in? More companies are welcoming pets

More and more companies are welcoming pets. Seven percent of employers are now allowing employees to bring their pets to work. Read this blog post to learn more about setting up pet-friendly policies.


The list is growing of companies that now have bring your dog to work “paw-licies.” Is yours next? 

Google, Zappos and Amazon are some big companies that are pet-friendly, but smaller businesses are going to the dogs too, adding to the now 7% of employers that permit pets.

‘Ruff’ day? Take your dog to work

For example, electronics maker Crutchfield Corp. has a dog-friendly office, which the company says reduces stress.

Walking a dog helps to keep its owner fit, says Adrienne Webster, HR VP, Carfax, another pet-friendly company. But she adds that her employees are responsible for making sure their pets are well behaved.

Many companies implement policies that stipulate dogs need to be healthy, clean and up-to-date on vaccinations.

Dog-friendly office? ‘Paws’ for a foolproof pet policy

If you’re not quite ready to let the dogs in on a full-time basis, you might “paws” to allow your folks’ four-legged friends to sit, stay and play for a day, and see how it works out.

“Policies around bringing pets to work should be clear,” says employment attorney Karen Michael. “To be successful, careful attention and respect for all employees must be considered.”

Since allowing pets into the workplace creates a whole list of concerns – “from unruly, jumpy, biting, irritating dogs, to those that relieve themselves inside to those that bark and disrupt the workplace,” she urges employers to put certain rules in place:

  • Written pet policy that dictates a pet owner’s responsibilities, who’s responsible for animal bites, etc.
  • Sign-up calendar (to prevent too many pets at the same time)
  • Zero-tolerance policy for bad-behaving pets (barking, biting, etc.)
  • Pet-free zone (for those with allergies or a fear of animals)
  • Liability insurance (employers might ask workers to get as well)
  • Employee discipline (for those who fail to clean up after their pets)

SOURCE: Mucha, R. (30 November 2018) Who let the dogs in? More companies are welcoming pets" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://www.hrmorning.com/who-let-the-dogs-in-more-companies-are-welcoming-pets/


How To Stay Sane During The Holidays

Do the holidays cause your stress levels to rise? The holiday season can be the most stressful time of the year for many people. Read on for tips on remaining balanced, healthy and happy during the holidays.


The holiday season can often be the most stressful time of the year. It's often when we gather with our family, sit through a performance review with our boss, and plan for the new year. One cannot help but feel a mix of joy and anxiety as they approach this time. If you're feeling the pressure of the next few weeks, you're not alone!

As fitness and wellness expert Carrie Dorr says, "When it comes to being healthy, few of us realize that mental well-being is key to holistic health and remaining balanced in busy times. Our social calendars can take a toll on our mental and physical health." As the founder of Life Smart, Carrie is a go-to online wellness guide dedicated to providing women with the tools they need to enhance their holistic health through fitness, nutrition, and mental care.

She shares her best tips for remaining balanced, healthy and happy during the holidays:

Fitness

Even a 5 or 10-minute workout can significantly improve your overall well-being both physically and mentally. As Carrie explains, "Exercise makes your body stronger and also stimulates the production of endorphins which combat stress."

If your schedule doesn't allow for workout classes or gym sessions, at the very least, make time to breathe and stretch—every day. "Breathing relaxes our nervous system and helps to lower both heart rate and blood pressure. Flexibility and range of motion are key to posture, dexterity, and vitality!" Carrie says. She recommends doing both together daily.

Last but not least, don't forget to put together a workout playlist. Music is a powerful motivator and can have an amazing impact on your exercise. From Carrie's experience, matching the song to the pace of your workout helps optimize it. Higher beats per minute (BPMs) for faster exercise like cardio and lower BPMs for slower exercise like strength training and yoga. Check out Carrie's playlist for this month here.

Nutrition

Snack well and often to keep your metabolism humming and to avoid binging. Keeping nutrient-dense snacks on-hand, such as nuts, is a good way to build the habit. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Keep a bottle on your desk for a visual reminder.

"With cold and flu season, increased travel and exposure around more people over the holidays," Carrie says, "it’s important to eat foods that help boost your immune system so you can prepare for the cold and flu season ahead." Some examples include fruits and vegetables (they pack a serious antioxidant and fuel your body with the essential vitamins and minerals), bone broth (an amazing tonic that helps repair the gut lining and reduce inflammation) and meals seasoned with ginger, turmeric, onions or garlic (they are well-known fighters of infection, bugs and bacteria).

Another key aspect of your nutrition is your sugar intake. As refined sugar tends to alter your immune system for hours after consumption, it makes you more vulnerable to germs. Replace high-sugar treats such as soda, candy bars and cupcakes with slices of apples, pear or a cup of blueberries. If you're really craving one of those sweets, Carrie recommends trying out healthy cookie recipes here.

Mental health

Anticipating losing sleep? Do not let that happen! It's essential for your body to repair itself and while most of us love to do it, there are times when insomnia will creep in. To reduce the anxiety and pressure around sleep, Carrie finds it helpful to maintain an evening practice that sets the stage for a relaxing night. Write down five wins (big or small) of the day before bed in a journal. What's a better way to enhance your mood?

Surprisingly, another way to feel good about yourself is to put your time and energy in service to others. Do something kind for another person without expectations. "Kindness can shift you out of your own singular perspective, where it’s easy to be consumed by personal obligations and problems, into a place where you remember that we are all in this together!" Carrie Says. There are so many simple ways to do this on an ongoing basis and even more opportunities around the holidays. Among other things, you can adopt a family for gift-giving, help feed the homeless in your community or visit the elderly at a local senior center and sing with them.

Most importantly, during the holidays, be sure to have FUN! If you are feeling overwhelmed by the season, shift your focus to the memories that await you. Plan out some seasonal things to do: go see a local play, bake cookies, play holiday songs on the piano, or be goofy with friends in public and laugh. A little laughter goes a long way.

SOURCE: Joseph, S. (2 December 2018) "How To Stay Sane During The Holidays" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/shelcyvjoseph/2018/12/02/how-to-stay-sane-during-the-holidays/#596473932750


From HSA to 401(k) contribution limits, 11 numbers to know for 2019

Do you offer HSAs, FSAs or 401(k)s to your employees? There are many important numbers companies and employees need to know regarding HSAs, FSAs and 401(k)s. Read this blog post to learn more.


There are a slew of important figures companies and employees need to know regarding health savings accounts, 401(k)s and flexible spending accounts. While the IRS announced HSA changes in May, the agency only recently announced annual changes to FSAs and 401(k)s. From contribution limits to out-of-pocket amounts, here are the figures employers need to know — all of which take effect in January.

$19,000: 401(k) pre-tax contribution limits

The IRS in November said it is increasing the pre-tax contribution limits for employees who participate in a 401(k), 403(b) and most 457 plans to $19,000 from $18,500. That limit also applies to the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan.

$6,000: 401(k) catch-up contribution limit

For participants ages 50 and over, the additional 401(k) catch-up contribution limit, which is set by law, will stay at $6,000 for 2019.

$6,000: IRA contribution limits

IRA contribution limits are being raised to $6,000 from $5,500 — the first time the IRS has increased the limits since 2013. The catch-up contribution limit for people 50 and over will still be $1,000.

$3,500: Annual HSA contribution limit for individuals

The 2019 annual health savings account contribution limit for individuals with single medical coverage is $3,500, an increase of $50 from 2018.

$7,000: HSA contribution limit for family coverage

For HSAs linked to family coverage, the 2019 contribution limit will rise by $100, to $7,000, above the family cap set for 2018.

$1,350: HDHP minimum deductible for individual

The minimum deductible for a qualifying high-deductible health plan remains unchanged for 2019: $1,350 for individual coverage.

$2,700: HDHP minimum deductible for family

The minimum deductible for a qualifying high-deductible health plan remains at $2,700 for family coverage.

$6,750: HDHP maximum out-of-pocket amounts (individual)

Deductibles, copayments and other amounts that do not include premiums will have a maximum limit of $6,750 for individual coverage next year, up $100 from 2018.

$13,500: HDHP maximum out-of-pocket amounts (family)

Deductibles, copayments and other amounts that do not include premiums will have a maximum limit of $13,500 for family coverage, up $200 from 2018.

$1,000: HSA catch-up contributions

Individuals 55 years or older can contribute an extra $1,000 to their health savings account in 2019. The amount remains unchanged from 2018.

$2,700: FSA contribution limit

The health flexible spending account contribution limit for 2019 is $2,700 — an increase of $50 over the 2018 limit. The increase also applies to limited-purpose FSAs that are restricted to dental and vision care services, which can be used in tandem with health savings accounts.

SOURCE: Mayer, K. (6 December 2018) "From HSA to 401(k) contribution limits, 11 numbers to know for 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/from-hsa-to-401-k-contribution-limits-11-numbers-to-know-for-2019


Poor hiring practices costing employers valuable talent

A survey by CareerBuilder and SilkRoad discovered that 68 percent of employees believe that their experience as a job candidate reflects how a company treats their employees. Read this blog post to learn more.


A growing number of employers say they find it hard to land good talent — but their own complicated or outdated hiring process may be partly to blame.

Job candidates today have higher expectations for communication, technology and onboarding during their job-search process, according to a new survey from job site CareerBuilder and onboarding tech provider SilkRoad. In fact, 68% of employees believe their experience as a job candidate reflects how the company treats its people.

Dissatisfaction with the process can begin as early as step one: Close to half of prospective workers (46%) are only willing to spend up to 15 minutes before giving up on an application, according to the report.

Not only is time of the essence, but the application experience is paramount, too. While potential workers won’t discount a company entirely for not having a mobile application option, employees are searching for jobs on their mobile devices more than ever before.

The fight for talent is only going to become more intense, and employers need to deliver on job seekers’ continuously evolving expectations to attract the best candidates, says CareerBuilder CEO Irina Novoselsky. “This starts with streamlining the entire hiring process, from the first candidate engagement to new-hire onboarding, which can be achieved through technological innovation and a more intuitive, mobile-friendly experience.”

A consistent dialogue remains another big must-have for candidates. Expectations among applicants are changing for when and how they hear from a prospective employer, the study found. Once they’ve applied, job seekers want more — not less — communication.

Many applicants cite a lack of acknowledgment or receipt notification from an employer for a submitted application as a top frustration of the job search. Additionally, 76% of job seekers say they expect to receive a personalized email from an employer acknowledging they received the application. This percentage decreases steadily as the age of the job seeker increases, but it’s consistently the top method of communication expected.

Other top notification methods include phone calls (36%) and text messages (18%).

Regardless of the type of communication, a majority of applicants want — and expect — employers to keep them updated throughout the process when they apply for a job. Candidates want a clear timeline for the hiring process and will begin to discount a company if they are left in the dark. When applying to a job, 55% of employees are willing to wait less than two weeks at the most to hear back from an employer before they give up and move on.

And employers shouldn’t end the engagement once an offer is made, the survey results suggest, because with 51% of potential candidates continuing to look for new opportunities after being extended an offer, the use of personalized, ongoing communication through the onboarding process will remain key.

When nearly one in 10 employees have left a company because of a poor onboarding experience, it’s important to understand the full scope of onboarding that is expected by today’s employees, according to the survey. Successful onboarding for a new hire is critical for their long-term vision of culture and career potential at the new company. However, a focus on the mission and growth factors of the company can’t neglect seemingly basic onboarding elements for the employee’s day-to-day experience and overall integration into operations.

“Technology is playing an increasingly critical role in enabling touchpoints along the recruitment and new-hire journey to facilitate human interactions,” says Robert Dvorak, CEO of SilkRoad. “We realize the customer’s journey doesn't end with a purchase, nor does the employee’s end with an offer. By using technology throughout the entire employment journey, employers can intentionally onboard candidates and employees, keeping them engaged at key points over time.”

SOURCE: Otto, N. (28 November 2018) "Poor hiring practices costing employers valuable talent" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: https://www.benefitnews.com/news/poor-hiring-practices-costing-employers-valuable-talent


2019: A Look Forward

A number of significant changes to group health plans have been made since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted in 2010. Many of these changes became effective in 2014 and 2015 but certain changes to a few ACA requirements take effect in 2019.

 Changes for 2019 

  1. Cost-sharing Limits – Non-grandfathered plans are subject to limitations on cost sharing for essential health benefits (EHB). The annual limits on cost sharing for EHB are $7,900 for self-only coverage and $15,800 for family coverage, effective January 1, 2019.
    • Health plans with more than one service provider can divide maximums between EBH as long as the combined amount does not exceed the out-of-pocket maximum limit for the year.
    • Beginning in 2016, each individual – regardless of the coverage the individual is enrolled – is subject to the self-only annual limit on cost sharing.
    • The ACA’s annual cost-sharing limits are higher than high deductible health plans (HDHPs) out-of-pocket maximums. For plans to qualify as an HDHP, the plan must comply with HDHP’s lower out-of-pocket maximums. The HDHP out-of-pocket maximum for 2019 is $6,750 for self-only coverage and $13,500 for family coverage.
  2. Coverage Affordability Percentages – If an employee’s required contribution does not exceed 9.5 percent of their household income for the taxable year (adjusted each year), then the coverage is considered affordable. The adjusted percentage for 2019 is 9.86 percent.
  3. Reporting of Coverage – Returns for health plan coverage offered or provided in 2018 are due in early 2019. For 2018, returns must be filed by February 28, 2019, or April 1, 2019 (if electronically filed). Individual statements must be provided by January 31, 2019.
    • ALEs are required to report information to the IRS and their eligible employees regarding their employer-sponsored health coverage. This requirement is found in Section 6056. Reporting entities will generally file Forms 1094-B and 1095-B under this section.
    • Every health insurance issuer, self-insured health plan sponsor, government agency that provides government-sponsored health insurance, and any other entity that provides MEC is required to finalize an annual return with the IRS, reporting information for each individual who is enrolled. This requirement is found in Section 6055. Reporting entities will generally file Forms 1094-C and 1095-C under this section.
    • ALEs that provide self-funded plans must comply with both reporting requirements. Reporting entities will file using a combined reporting method on Forms 1094-C and 1095-C.
    • Forms Used for Reporting – Reporting entities must file the following with the IRS:
      1. A separate statement for each individual enrolled
      2. A transmittal form for all returns filed for a given calendar year.
    • Electronic Reporting – Any reporting entity that is required to file 250 or more returns in either section must file electronically on the ACA Information Returns (AIR) Program. Reporting entities that file less than 250 returns can file in paper form or electronically on the ACA Information Returns (AIR) Program.
    • Penalties – Entities that fail to comply with the reporting requirements are subject to general reporting penalties for failure to file correct information returns and failure to furnish correct payee statements. Penalty amounts for failure to comply with the reporting requirements in 2019 are listed below:
Penalty Type Per Violation Annual Maximum Annual Maximum for Employers with up to $5 million in Gross Receipts
General $270 $3,275,500 $1,091,500
Corrected within 30 days $50 $545,500 $191,000
Corrected after 30 days but before August 1 $100 $1,637,500 $545,500
Intentional Disregard $540* None N/A

**Intentional disregard penalties are equal to the greater of either the listed penalty amount or 10 percent of the aggregate amount of the items required to be reported correctly.

Expected Changes

  1. Health FSA Contributions – Effective January 1, 2018, health FSA salary contributions were limited to $2,650. The IRS usually announces limit adjustments at the end of each year. This limit does not apply to employer contributions or limit contributions under other employer-provided coverage.
  2. Employer Shared Responsibility Regulations – The dollar amount for calculating Employer Shared Responsibility 2 penalties is adjusted for each calendar year. Applicable large employers (ALEs) must offer affordable, minimum value (MV) healthcare coverage to full-time employees and dependent children or pay a penalty. If one or more full-time employees of an ALE receive a subsidy for purchasing healthcare coverage through an Exchange, the ALE is subject to penalties.
    • Applicable Large Employer Status – ALEs are employers who employ 50 or more full-time employees on business days during the prior calendar year.
    • Offering Coverage to Full-time Employees – ALEs must determine which employees are full-time. A full-time employee is defined as an employee who worked, on average, at least 30 hours per week or 130 hours in a calendar month. There are two methods for determining full-time employee status:
      1. Monthly Measurement Method – Full-time employees are identified based on a month-to-month analysis of the hours they worked.
      2. Look-Back Measurement Method – This method is based on whether employees are ongoing or new, and whether they work full time or variable, seasonal or part-time. This method involves three different periods:
        • Measurement period – for county hours of service
        • Administration period – for enrollment and disenrollment of eligible and ineligible employees
        • Stability period – when coverage is provided based on an employee’s average hours worked.
      3. Applicable Penalties – ALEs are liable for penalties if one or more full-time employees receive subsidies for purchasing healthcare coverage through an Exchange. One of two penalties may apply depending on the circumstances:
        • 4980H(a) penalty – Penalty for not offering coverage to all full-time employees and their dependents. This penalty does not apply if the ALE intends to cover all eligible employees. ALEs must offer at least 95 percent of their eligible employees’ health care coverage. Monthly penalties are determined by this equation:
          1. ALE’s number of full-time employees (minus 30) X 1/12 of $2,000 (as adjusted), for any applicable month
          2. The $2,000amount is adjusted for the calendar year after 2014:
          3. $2,080 – 2015; $2,160 – 2016; $2,260 – 2017; $2,320 – 2018
        • 4980H(b) penalty – penalty for offering coverage – ALEs are subject to penalties even if they offer coverage to eligible employees if one or more full-time employees obtain subsidies through an Exchange because:
          1. The ALE didn’t offer all eligible employees coverage
          2. The coverage offered is unaffordable or does not provide minimum value.
          3. Monthly penalties are determined by this equation: 1/12 of $3,000 (as adjusted) for any applicable month
            1. $3,120 – 2015; $3,240 – 2016; $3,390 – 2017; $3,480 – 2018

Contact one of our advisors for assistance or if you have any questions about compliance in the New Year.

SOURCES: www.dol.gov, www. HHS.gov, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/04/17/2018-07355/patient-protectionand-affordable-care-act-hhs-notice-of-benefit-and-payment-parameters-for-2019, https://www.irs.gov/e-fileproviders/air/affordable-care-act-information-return-air-program


The benefits issue that costs employers big: Ineligible dependents on company plans

Frequently, roughly 10 percent of enrolled dependents are ineligible for the healthcare programs. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


Are you paying insurance premiums for people who aren’t qualified to be on your company plan?

For some employers, too often the answer is “yes.”

In our experience, we find that nearly 10% of dependents enrolled in employee health and welfare plans are not eligible to be in the program. And for a company with a couple of hundred employees that spends around $2 million a year on benefits, ineligible dependents can become a significant financial issue.

When employers pay for ineligible dependents, costs increase for them and employees. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common issue that employers need a solid strategy to combat.

So how do ineligible dependents get enrolled in the first place? There are a couple of common ways that employers end up paying health insurance premiums for ineligible dependents. The most basic factor is a change in a person’s situation — children pass the age of 26, spouses get jobs, people get divorced, etc. — and the employee is unaware of the need to notify the plan sponsor. Most often, these situations arise because the employer doesn’t have a process in place.

But some situations are more nefarious: An employee mischaracterizes someone as a dependent. They may claim that a nephew is a son, or that they’re still married to an ex-spouse. In either of these situations, the employer loses.

Prevent ineligible dependents with best practices

Prevent paying for ineligible dependents by putting into place best practices that begin when a new employee joins the company.

During onboarding, investigate each potential plan member when the employee applies for insurance coverage. That means seeking documentation — such as marriage certificates and birth certificates — to verify that a person is, in fact, married, or that their kids are their kids and not someone else’s. Following these processes at the outset prevents the awkwardness of having to question employees about their various family relationships. Nobody wants to ask a colleague if the divorce is final yet.

To make it easy for employees to verify everyone’s eligibility, provide access to a portal where they can upload scans or images of relevant documents. This will also make it easier to track—and keep track of—onboarding documents and dependent audits when the time comes.

Once this best practice is established, it’s important to conduct periodic dependent eligibility audits, as required by ERISA. The employer can conduct an audit or hire an external auditor. This decision is usually driven by the size of the workforce.

The most logical time to conduct an audit is during benefit enrollment. Employees are already considering options for the next plan year, and they likely won’t be confused by the need to submit verifying documents. (During this exercise, it’s also a good idea to ask plan participants to verify beneficiaries on employer-provided life insurance.)

Some employers — again, depending on the size of the workforce — will conduct random sample audits of 20-25% of their employee population. Obviously, the larger the sample size, the better. Benefits administration platforms typically streamline this process.

What happens when employers identify an ineligible dependent?

Many employers offer workers an amnesty period during which an employee can come forward to say they have someone that should be taken off the plan. If the plan sponsor identifies an ineligible dependent, employees are typically offered a one-time pass. Then, they must sign an affidavit attesting that they can be terminated if it happens again.

If the employer has processed insurance claims for an ineligible dependent, they can declare fraud and seek back payment of claims payouts. Again, most in this situation prefer a more benevolent approach and will ask the employee to make monthly differential payments until the account is even. Conducting regular dependent eligibility audits as part of the benefits administration process needs to be handled with finesse for the good of organizational culture.

Some employers may shy away from conducting audits out of concern for creating awkward situations. But frankly, it’s the plan sponsor’s job to help them navigate the waters, educate them and keep them engaged in the process by becoming their best advocates. This will not only help enhance the efficiency and accuracy of employee benefit offerings, but it will result in a smoother ride for everyone involved.

Ensuring that a health and welfare benefits program follows eligibility best practices is the responsibility of the plan sponsor. But employees have a share in that responsibility, too.

SOURCE: O'Connor, P.(28 November 2018) "The benefits issue that costs employers big: Ineligible dependents on company plans" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from:


What’s in store for voluntary benefits in 2019

Voluntary benefits will continue to be popular with benefit managers who are trying to lower healthcare costs and retain employees. Read this blog post for more 2019 voluntary benefits trends.


Benefit managers are still catching their breath as the curtain closes on this year’s open enrollment season. But smart benefits managers are already evaluating new products and benefit changes for the 2019-2020 season.

Themes around cost-saving strategies concerning healthcare premiums will continue to resonate — but what else will happen in the upcoming year? Voluntary benefits will continue to hold the key for many benefit managers looking to lower costs and maintain value for employees by providing flexibility to a diverse workforce.

Voluntary benefits offer pivotal advantages to employers and employees alike. By offering these programs through an employer, employees often receive better pricing, plan designs and underwriting support compared to what is available on the individual market. Payroll deduction capability and enrollment as part of their normal core enrollment process and portability are also available.

Here are three voluntary benefits to watch in 2019.

Employee purchase programs.

Nearly one quarter of all Americans do not have adequate emergency savings, according to a survey by consumer financial services company Bankrate. This means that if they need to make a significant purchase, they are likely to withdraw a loan from their 401(k) plan.

Employee purchase programs help employees pay for items they may need immediately, but may not have the funds or credit available. These programs generally allow employees to spread out the payments on the purchased products — such as appliances, car tires or computers — over a period of time through payroll deduction. Young employees who are trying to establish credit while managing student loan repayments — and may be strapped for cash — can especially benefit from an employee purchase programs.

Group legal insurance plans.

Group legal plans are not new, but they are still valuable for employees. For a cost that is less than a cup of coffee, group legal plans provide employees with access to attorneys for will preparation, estate planning, dealing with elderly parents, traffic violations, real estate purchases, and document review and preparation. These plans offset the expense of professional legal representation and the time it takes to locate the right representation to handle legal matters.

These plans may be especially valuable to employees who are thinking of buying a house, adopting a child or planning for their estate. Still, group legal insurance plans are available to all employees, and can provide a buffer for workers who may need to navigate identity restoration after a theft or combat an unforeseen traffic ticket. These plans also save employees time and money when the need for a legal professional arises.

Student loan benefits.

Student loan benefits have been one of the hottest topics in voluntary benefits in 2018 and it’s not going away any time soon. An IRS private letter ruling this past August allowed one company to amend its 401(k) plan to allow employer contributions of up to 5% to individuals who contribute at least 2% to their student loan. This may just be the start to more legislation concerning student loan debt solutions.

In the interim, as the tuition debt crisis grows, employers are seeking ways to support their employees. There are several strategies that can be employed.

Some solutions can be offered at no cost, while others have administrative charges and the cost of contributions to factor in. For employers who have the budget, a student loan repayment plan may be the answer. There are many vendors who can partner with an employer to help develop a plan that is designed to meet the company’s goals.

Employers without a budget can seek a student loan solution partner that offers comprehensive educational tools such as written materials, debt navigation tools, FAQs, one-on-one counselors and webinars. Another option is to offer student loan refinancing. These lenders can help employees manage their debt. Even though refinancing is not for everyone, well-vetted student loan refinancing partners should be considered as part of a comprehensive student loan debt solution strategy. Understanding the approval rate is important, as well as whether there are any other incentives, such as a welcome bonus, that may be applied to the loan principal.

SOURCE: Marcia, P. (28 November 2018) "What’s in store for voluntary benefits in 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/whats-in-store-for-employers-and-voluntary-benefits-in-2019


Viewpoint: Why Respect, Dignity and Kindness Are Foundational Workplace Principles

Corporate leadership shouldn't wait for disruptive incidents to occur before they focus on the state of their workplace environment. Read this blog post to learn more.


SHRM has partnered with Security Management magazine to bring you relevant articles on key HR topics and strategies. 

This is the #MeToo era. The great wave of public accusations involving inappropriate conduct such as sexual harassment between managers, employees and co-workers has washed over U.S. workplaces, unsettling everything in its wake.

But sexual harassment is not the only conduct that can help turn a working environment hostile. Given this, employers who take action now to help establish and solidify a welcoming and hostility-free work environment will be better positioned for the future. Such actions can come in many forms, ranging from zero-tolerance anti-harassment policies and violence prevention training to diversity task forces and team-building exercises.

While they vary, these actions all benefit from a proactive approach. Opposing views and opinions are inevitable among a diverse workforce, but leaders of organizations should not wait until disruptive incidents break out before focusing on the state of the workplace environment. Instead, they can start immediately.

Respect and Dignity

Human resources is a team sport. No one HR manager, no matter how talented or knowledgeable, can completely shoulder the burden of protecting his or her firm from employee issues and litigation. A cohesive HR team, on the other hand, is positioned to tackle anything thrown its way. But when one gear gets out of whack, the whole team is affected and compromised.

Take, for example, how an entire company can be impacted by one disruptive manager. Sam's team was led by a small group of managers who worked well together; they collaborated to achieve goals and boost one another to success. However, a new manager, Chris, was brought on.

Chris had a markedly different type of attitude and leadership style. Chris was demanding and sometimes even yelled at employees in public. He occasionally disparaged another manager's directions to team members and would even threaten a firing in an attempt to improve performance.

A few months after this leadership transition, some employees began to leave Sam's team by choice. But those are not the only changes triggered by the new manager. Some of Sam's team members absorbed the negative qualities Chris exhibited, including degrading public chastisements, gossiping and expressing increased agitation in the office. Chris' overwhelming negativity threw a wrench into a once strong team and threatened to break it down into an unproductive group of individuals.

Before Chris took over, Sam's team members respected one another and successfully accomplished goals. Chris' harsh leadership eroded the members' respect and kindness, causing productivity to decrease and spirits to drop.

How can HR help make sure this type of situation is addressed and avoided? When building a team, it is important to establish respect, dignity and kindness as foundational principles. This will very likely increase productivity and reduce the risk of violent workplace behaviors. When employees feel respected and treated with dignity, they are more likely to treat co-workers and customers the same way. This creates a positive culture within the organization.

To facilitate this, HR should go beyond simply asking employees to be civil and respect one another. They should also explain how to do so, and demonstrate what civility means to the organization by providing examples of positive interactions.

Support the Company's Culture

During my time as a line manager, there were key opportunities for me to support the company culture. All managers can take advantage of the same opportunities, if their organizations are willing to provide them.

For example, orientation sessions are an opportunity for HR leaders to introduce themselves, their department and the values of the organization to those who are being onboarded. Time can be devoted to explaining appropriate workplace behavior through the use of scenario-based situations.

In addition, department team meetings offer opportunities for HR professionals to join in to discuss relevant issues and provide training through small group discussion or case study review. Team members can assess a situation and provide feedback on how it should have been appropriately handled. Using both positive and negative behaviors as examples will help employees understand the difference.

Open houses are another possible venue for educating discussions. HR may arrange with company leaders to have a time where employees stop by, ask questions and participate in discussions that help them understand their role as part of the larger effort to maintain a healthy, inclusive workplace.

Finally, it is important to remember that HR staff should help line managers serve as role models of appropriate behavior. If they are behaving badly by being rude, disrespectful or uncivil, how can HR expect them to help the organization promote a culture that values everyone?

In the end, HR cannot assume that people managers understand what is and is not appropriate. Setting expectations from the start, and clearly demonstrating how to positively act and show respect to co-workers is an effective way for HR to set the right tone—and a more active and effective approach than simply hoping for the best. This will have a ripple effect throughout the workforce, and it will help prevent future breaches of conduct from triggering a domino effect of disrespect, such as the one caused by Chris' behavior.

This article is adapted from Security Management magazine with permission from ASIS © 2018. All rights reserved.

SOURCE: Solon, R. (28 November 2018) "Viewpoint: Why Respect, Dignity and Kindness Are Foundational Workplace Principles" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/Viewpoint-Why-Respect-Dignity-and-Kindness-Are-Foundational-Workplace-Principles.aspx