The unpaid caregiver crisis is landing on employers’ doorsteps

According to new data, 43 million Americans currently are tending to a family member in need, which can be both physically and emotionally taxing on the caregiver. Read this blog post for more on the unpaid caregiver crisis.


Scott Williams knows firsthand what it is like to support a sick relative. But even after spending 20 years tending to his ailing mother, he didn’t consider himself a caregiver.

“She suffered from multiple chronic conditions, but I never considered myself a caregiver,” he says. “I just thought I was a son who loved his mom.”

Williams, who is vice president and head of global patient advocacy and strategic partnerships at the biopharmaceutical company EMD Serono, realized that because he didn’t think of himself as a caregiver, he wasn’t able to take advantage of the benefit offerings his company had in place for these workers.

“Until I really started to think about it, I didn’t realize how burned out I really was,” Williams says. “I was in that sandwich generation, which is a situation that many caregivers find themselves in sometimes.”

Williams dilemma is not uncommon. There are 43 million Americans currently tending to a family member in need, according to data from LIMRA. AARP estimates that caring for a loved one can cost close to $7,000 out of pocket.

"I never considered myself a caregiver, I just thought I was a son who loved his mom.” Scott Williams

It is also both physically and emotionally taxing — 57% of caregivers need medical care or support for a mental health condition, according to an Embracing Carers survey. About 55% of caregivers say their own physical health has diminished, 54% say they don’t have time to tend to their own medical needs and 47% report feeling depressed.

The caregiving crisis puts employers in a unique position to offer benefits, policies and resources that can ease some of this stress. Indeed, there are some employers that already stepped up. For example, Starbucks launched a new caregiver benefit last year. Amgen and Brinker International, use digital tools to offer caregiving benefits to their workers.

Regardless, the need for employer-provided backup child, adult and senior care options is still largely unmet. Only 4% of employers offer backup childcare services and only 2% offer backup elder care, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management.

The breakdown of communication between the company and the worker may be keeping the majority of employees from accessing the assistance they need. If employers ignore this issue or simply fail to communicate with employees, it can end up becoming a burden that costs the company money or result in the loss of a worker.

But there are some steps employers can take. The first is to identify the responsibilities of the family caregiver so that employers can better address their needs. One of the biggest responsibilities caregivers face is the amount of time they have to spend transporting loved ones, says Ellen Kelsay, chief strategy officer for the National Business Group on Health citing recent data on the subject. These employees often have to leave work early, come in late or take off to get an ill family member to their doctor’s appointments.

“The financial impact is considerable, many of these employees are paying out of their own pocket to support the medical care of a loved one. So there is financial assistance that they need,” Kelsay says. “When you think about the impact on the employee, they [struggle from a] physical, mental and emotional wellbeing perspective.”

About half of unpaid caregivers work full time outside of their home and many have to take leaves of absence or cut back their work hours due to the demands of caring for a family member, LIMRA research shows. A significant portion of employees had to stop working in order to better care for their loved one — about 22% say they voluntarily quit their jobs, 18% had their employment terminated and 13% chose to retire early.

Unlimited PTO, remote work, shared sick time and an employee resource group are just a few offerings employers can offer staff, Williams says. For instance, EMD Serono created an employee resource group for caregivers, a peer to peer network where employers can find dedicated resources, while also having an exchange with colleagues who are going through similar situations.

But there is still more that can be done, Williams says. Training managers to be more understanding of an employee’s needs can go a long way toward bridging the gap. Another option companies should consider is enhancing employee assistance programs to include caregivers, he adds.

“One of the things we see employers doing that can really help is being able to raise the visibility of [the available] resources,” Williams says. “To really ensure that whether you’re a new employee or an established employee in an unpaid caregiving situation that you have access to them.”

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (11 July 2019) "The unpaid caregiver crisis is landing on employers’ doorsteps" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/improving-caregiving-challenges-through-the-workplace


Giving onsite clinics an engagement booster shot

In efforts to reduce healthcare spend and increase the population's health, many employers are offering a variety of employee wellness services and programs. Read this blog post to learn more about increasing engagement in onsite clinics.


Employers of all sizes and industries are currently offering a variety of wellness services that include preventive, acute, primary, chronic disease and occupational healthcare programs at or near the worksite. These benefits are intended to reduce healthcare spend, increase the population’s health and productivity and positively impact recruitment and retention efforts.

In fact, according to two 2018 studies by the National Association of Worksite Health Centers, more than one-third of all employers and close to 50% of large firms are now operating worksite clinics. But just because employers offer such benefits doesn’t mean employees will take advantage of these services, even when they’re free.

But many employers are frustrated to find that 20% or less of the targeted or covered workers utilizes their programs — with millions of dollars in benefits wasted.

Failure can be caused by lack of promotion, inadequate incentives, poor communications or providers who don’t fit into the culture of the employer. However, one of the most significant problems than can undermine a benefit program, especially a worksite clinic, is when employees don’t trust that their personal health data will be confidential and fear it will be used for employment decisions.

Employers who achieve high benefit utilization build the foundation for success by informing their workforce, prior to a benefit or clinic being available and on an ongoing basis, of the many federal and state confidentiality and privacy laws that dictate who can receive personal and occupational health information and the limitations placed on employers.

Communications, posters, presentations and other marketing vehicles must assure employees that the employer will only see aggregate, not personal data from the offered benefit programs. Emphasize that the program’s or clinic’s medical providers will be the only individuals dealing with this information, and that by law they are legally and ethically obligated to keep this confidential.

Understanding the culture and labor-management dynamics of an organization are also critical to building trust. To increase use, it’s often best to market the program or facility under a new brand name, such as “The Healthy Life” or use the name of the provider who manages the program or clinic, rather than the employer’s name.

The physical design or location of a benefit program or clinic also needs to be kept in mind. Clinical or counseling activities should be separate from business offices or fitness centers where a person taking advantage of the benefit could be seen by their peers, managers and supervisors.

Achieving engagement in a health benefit program or clinic is key to its success, as well as obtaining the resources and support of senior management for its expansion and continuance. The design, marketing and location of benefit programs need to be well-planned so the workforce is confident that the confidentiality of their patient records will be maintained and not used for employment decisions.

SOURCE: Boress, L. (9 July 2019) "Giving onsite clinics an engagement booster shot" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-to-increase-employee-engagement-in-healthcare-benefits


PCORI Fee Is Due by July 31 for Self-Insured Health Plans

The annual fee for the federal Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is due July 31, 2019. Plans with terms ending after September 30, 2012, and before October 1, 2019, are required to pay an annual PCORI fee. Read this article from SHRM to learn more.


An earlier version of this article was posted on November 6, 2018

The next annual fee that sponsors of self-insured health plans must pay to fund the federal Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is due July 31, 2019.

The Affordable Care Act mandated payment of an annual PCORI fee by plans with terms ending after Sept. 30, 2012, and before Oct. 1, 2019, to provide initial funding for the Washington, D.C.-based institute, which funds research on the comparative effectiveness of medical treatments. Self-insured plans pay the fee themselves, while insurance companies pay the fee for fully insured plans but may pass the cost along to employers through higher premiums.

The IRS treats the fee like an excise tax.

The PCORI fee is due by the July 31 following the last day of the plan year. The final PCORI payment for sponsors of 2018 calendar-year plans is due by July 31, 2019. The final PCORI fee for plan years ending from Jan. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2019, will be due by July 31, 2020.

In Notice 2018-85, the IRS set the amount used to calculate the PCORI fee at $2.45 per person covered by plan years ending Oct. 1, 2018, through Sept. 30, 2019.

The chart below shows the fees to be paid in 2019, which are slightly higher than the fees owed in 2018. The per-enrollee amount depends on when the plan year ended, as in previous years.

Fee per Plan Enrollee for Payment Due
July 31, 2019
Plan years ending from Oct. 1, 2018, through Sept. 30, 2019. $2.45
Fee per Plan Enrollee for Payment Due
July 31, 2018
Plan years ending from Oct. 1, 2017, through Dec. 31, 2017, including calendar-year plans. $2.39
Plan years ending from Jan. 1, 2017, through Sept. 30, 2017 $2.26
Source: IRS.

Nearing the End

The PCORI fee will not be assessed for plan years ending after Sept. 30, 2019, "which means that for a calendar-year plan, the last year for assessment is the 2018 calendar year," wrote Richard Stover, a New York City-based principal at HR consultancy Buck Global, and Amy Dunn, a principal in Buck's Knowledge Resource Center.

For noncalendar-year plans that end between Jan. 1, 2019 and Sept. 30, 3019, however, there will be one last PCORI payment due by July 31, 2020.

"There will not be any PCORI fee for plan years that end on October 1, 2019 or later," according to 360 Corporate Benefit Advisors.

The PCORI fee was first assessed for plan years ending after Sept. 30, 2012. The fee for the first plan year was $1 per plan enrollee, which increased to $2 per enrollee in the second year and was then indexed in subsequent years based on the increase in national health expenditures.

FSAs and HRAs

In addition to self-insured medical plans, health flexible spending accounts (health FSAs) and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) that fail to qualify as “excepted benefits” would be required to pay the per-enrollee fee, wrote Gary Kushner, president and CEO of Kushner & Co., a benefits advisory firm based in Portage, Mich.

As set forth in the Department of Labor's Technical Release 2013-03:

  • health FSA is an excepted benefit if the employer does not contribute more than $500 a year to any employee accounts and also offers a group health plan with nonexcepted benefits.
  • An HRA is an excepted benefit if it only reimburses for limited-scope dental and vision expenses or long-term care coverage and is not integrated with a group health plan.

Kushner explained that:

  • If the employer sponsors a fully insured group health plan for which the insurance carrier is filing and paying the PCORI fee and the same employer sponsors an employer-funded health care FSA or an HRA not exempted from the fee, employers should only count the employees participating in the FSA or HRA, and not spouses or dependents, when paying the fee.
  • If the employer sponsors a self-funded group health plan, then the employer needs to file the form and pay the PCORI fee only on the number of individuals enrolled in the group health plan, and not in the employer-funded health care FSA or HRA.

An employer that sponsors a self-insured HRA along with a fully insured medical plan "must pay PCORI fees based on the number of employees (dependents are not included in this count) participating in the HRA, while the insurer pays the PCORI fee on the individuals (including dependents) covered under the insured plan," wrote Mark Holloway, senior vice president and director of compliance services at Lockton Companies, a benefits broker and services firm based in Kansas City, Mo. Where an employer maintains an HRA along with a self-funded medical plan and both have the same plan year, "the employer pays a single PCORI fee based on the number of covered lives in the self-funded medical plan (the HRA is disregarded)."

Paying PCORI Fees

Self-insured employers are responsible for submitting the fee and accompanying paperwork to the IRS, as "third-party reporting and payment of the fee is not permitted for self-funded plans," Holloway noted.

For the coming year, self-insured health plan sponsors should use Form 720 for the second calendar quarter to report and pay the PCORI fee by July 31, 2019.

"On p. 2 of Form 720, under Part II, the employer needs to designate the average number of covered lives under its applicable self-insured plan," Holloway explained. The number of covered lives will be multiplied by $2.45 for plan years ending on or after Oct. 1, 2018, to determine the total fee owed to the IRS next July.

To calculate "the average number of lives covered" or plan enrollees, employers should use one of three methods listed on pages 8 and 9 of the Instructions for Form 720. A white paper by Keller Benefit Services describes these methods in greater detail.

Although the fee is paid annually, employers should indicate on the Payment Voucher (720-V), located at the end of Form 720, that the tax period for the fee is the second quarter of the year. "Failure to properly designate 'second quarter' on the voucher will result in the IRS's software generating a tardy filing notice, with all the incumbent aggravation on the employer to correct the matter with the IRS," Holloway warned.

A few other points to keep in mind: "The U.S. Department of Labor believes the fee cannot be paid from plan assets," he said. In other words, for self-insured health plans, "the PCORI fee must be paid by the plan sponsor. It is not a permissible expense of a self-funded plan and cannot be paid in whole or part by participant contributions."

In addition, PCORI fees "should not be included in the plan's cost when computing the plan's COBRA premium," Holloway noted. But "the IRS has indicated the fee is, however, a tax-deductible business expense for employers with self-funded plans," he added, citing a May 2013 IRS memorandum.

SOURCE: Miller, S. (2 July 2019) "PCORI Fee Is Due by July 31 for Self-Insured Health Plans" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/2019-pcori-fees.aspx


Financial Fitness Benefits Take Center Stage as Debt Worries Grow

According to speakers from the Society for Human Resource Management 2019 Annual Conference & Exposition, employees who are taking advantage of financial health benefits have less stress, reduced distraction and lower absenteeism. Read this blog post for more on financial fitness benefits.


LAS VEGAS—Employers that help workers improve their financial health are seeing increased productivity, job satisfaction and retention. Employees taking advantage of these benefits have less stress, reduced distraction and lower absenteeism, according to speakers at the Society for Human Resource Management 2019 Annual Conference & Exposition.

"Your employees are financially stressed, and it's affecting your business," said Dan Macklin, CEO of Salary Finance, a financial technology firm, during a June 24 panel discussion on financial wellness benefits. A survey conducted by his firm, with responses from 10,484 U.S. employees, found that 48 percent were worried or stressed about their finances. Financially stressed employees lost nearly one month of productive workdays per year.

Money management problems exist across all income levels, Macklin noted.

"Financial worries are the No. 1 cause of employee stress," said Kent Allison, national leader for employee financial education and wellness at PwC. The consultancy's 2019 Employee Financial Wellness Survey, with responses from 1,686 full-time employees, showed that 59 percent cited financial or money matters as their chief source of stress, followed by their job (15 percent) and relationships.

Nearly half (49 percent) of all employees said they find it difficult to meet household expenses on time each month, PwC found.

"Employees are seeking personalized financial guidance and coaching," Allison said. "Successful financial wellness programs find the optimal way to combine technology and human interaction" to help employees get back on track financially.

Organizations are more likely to thrive when they help employees "bring their healthiest and happiest self to work," said Felicia Cheng, wellness benefits program manager at HR technology firm SalesForce.

Organizations are more likely to thrive when they help employees 'bring their healthiest and happiest self to work.'

Have meaningful conversations with employees, said Wendy Myers Cambor, Northeast U.S. HR leader at consulting firm Accenture. "Ask what they want, what they need and how we might be in a position to accommodate them."

Accenture, like many companies, has five generations of employees in its workforce, whose concerns range from "managing student debt and affording to have a child and buy a home, to helping to care and provide for aging parents while preparing for their own retirement," Cambor noted.

Physical wellness and financial wellness are deeply interrelated, said Allison, because financial distress can lead to health distress.

Similar to health risk assessments, he said, financial wellness assessments can be helpful because "how can you change behaviors if you don't know what these behaviors are?" He advised, "Assess employees to know where they are financially and what their needs are, and what behaviors they may need to change."

Financial health assessments could be stymied if employees don't feel comfortable revealing their distress—and don't trust their employers with this information, panelists noted. Cheng said it was important to help employees overcome taboos around admitting to money problems, because, if employers don't understand the scope of the challenges their employees face, they can't provide the help that employees need.

Macklin noted that younger workers seem more willing to discuss their financial difficulties and are grateful for the guidance and assistance employers provide.

Younger workers seem more willing to discuss their financial difficulties and are grateful for the assistance employers provide.

"Engage employees at the right time to provide help when needed," Allison suggested.

"People are suffering," Cambor said. "There are opportunities for HR to make a difference in peoples' lives."

"Employees' stories are powerful," Cheng said. HR should "bring them to the leadership team, coupled with data on the positive impact of financial wellness," to make the case for financial wellness benefits.

Student Loan Benefits Are in Demand

Student loan debt affects employees at all stages of their careers, said Kevin Fudge, director of consumer advocacy at American Student Assistance, a nonprofit that helps students manage their education debt, during a June 25 conference session.

He noted that more than 3 million Americans ages 60 and older currently owe more than $86 billion in unpaid student loans, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Employees face different concerns at different career stages, Fudge pointed out, including:

  • Early career: Paying off student loans and related debt.
  • Mid-career: Supporting a family and saving for children's college education.
  • Late career: Helping children and grandchildren by co-signing loans and preparing for retirement.

Fudge pointed to innovative ways employers are helping with student loans. For instance:

  • Abbott Laboratories allows employees to save for retirement and pay down their student loans. If an employee is paying off student loans (using 2 percent or more of their pay), Abbott will put the equivalent of 5 percent of the employee's pay into his or her 401(k) account.
    Abbott received a private letter ruling from the IRS to allow this practice. The IRS is expected to sanction similar plans with broader guidance. Legislation has also been introduced to allow this practice.

In a June 24 conference session on student loan benefits, Meera Oliva, chief marketing officer at Gradifi, a loan benefits administrator; Jane Fontaine, senior vice president of HR at Digital Federal Credit Union; and Chad Carter, vice president of benefits at Fareway Stores, shared these examples, showing the range of student loan aid employers are providing:

  • AECOM, a Fortune 500 engineering firm, offers student loan refinancing along with student loan counseling and financial wellness content.
  • Carvana, an e-commerce platform for buying cars, offers up to $1,000 per year to help full-time employees pay off their student loans.
  • Connelly Partners, a Boston-based advertising agency, offers a total benefit of $10,000 with contributions starting at $100 a month for the first year and then increasing $25 a month for the next four years. In another effort to retain employees, the firm gives a $1,000 retention bonus at the end of the fifth year of employment.
  • Sotheby's, an auction house and private sales firm, offers $150 per month contribution toward student loans indefinitely until employees are no longer in debt, including parents who have taken on debt for their children.
2019 Student loan graph.png

SOURCE: Miller, S. (27 June 2019) "Financial Fitness Benefits Take Center Stage as Debt Worries Grow" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/financial-fitness-benefits-take-center-stage.aspx


Federal Appeals Court Takes Up Case That Could Upend U.S. Health System

A federal appeals court in New Orleans has taken up a case against the Affordable Care Act. If the lower court's ruling in the case, Texas v. United States, is upheld, it has the potential to shake the nation's health care system. Read this article to learn more about this case.


The fate of the Affordable Care Act is again on the line Tuesday, as a federal appeals court in New Orleans takes up a case in which a lower court judge has already ruled the massive health law unconstitutional.

If the lower court ruling is ultimately upheld, the case, Texas v. United States, has the potential to shake the nation’s entire health care system to its core. Not only would such a decision immediately affect the estimated 20 million people who get their health coverage through programs created under the law, ending the ACA would also create chaos in other parts of the health care system that were directly or indirectly changed under the law’s multitude of provisions, such as calorie counts on menus, a pathway for approval of generic copies of expensive biologic drugs and, perhaps most important politically, protections for people with preexisting conditions.

“Billions of dollars of private and public investment — impacting every corner of the American health system — have been made based on the existence of the ACA,” said a friend-of-the-court brief filed by a bipartisan group of economists and other health policy experts to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Upholding the lower court’s ruling, the scholars added, “would upend all of those settled expectations and throw healthcare markets, and 1/5 of the economy, into chaos.”

Here are five important things to know about the case:

It was prompted by the tax bill Republicans passed in 2017.

The big tax cut bill passed by the GOP Congress in December 2017 eliminated the penalty included in the ACA for failure to maintain health insurance coverage. The lawsuit was filed in February 2018 by a group of Republican attorneys general and two governors. They argued that since the Supreme Court had upheld the ACA in 2012 specifically because it was a valid exercise of Congress’ taxing power, taking the tax away makes the entire rest of the law unconstitutional.

Last December, Judge Reed C. O’Connor agreed with the Republicans. “In some ways the question before the court involves the intent of both the 2010 and 2017 Congresses,” O’Connor wrote in his decision. “The former enacted the ACA. The latter sawed off the last leg it stood on.”

State and federal Democrats are defending the law.

Arguing that the rest of the law remains valid is a group of Democratic attorneys general, led by California’s Xavier Becerra.

“Our argument is simple,” said Becerra in a statement last Friday. “The health and wellbeing of nearly every American is at risk. Healthcare can mean the difference between life and death, financial stability and bankruptcy. Our families’ wellbeing should not be treated as a political football.”

The Democratic-led House of Representatives has also been granted “intervenor” status in the case.

The Trump administration has taken several positions on the lawsuit.

The defendant in the case is technically the Trump administration. Traditionally, an administration, even one that did not work to pass the law in question, defends existing law in court.

Not this time. And it is still unclear exactly what the administration’s position is on the lawsuit. “They have changed their position several times,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters on a conference call Monday.

When the administration first weighed in on the case, in June 2018, it said it believed that without the tax penalty only the provisions most closely connected to that penalty — including requiring insurers to sell policies to people with preexisting conditions — should be struck down. The rest of the law should stay, the Justice Department argued.

After O’Connor’s ruling, however, the administration changed its mind. In March, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department said it had “determined that the district court’s comprehensive opinion came to the correct conclusion and will support it on appeal.”

Now it appears the administration is shifting its opinion again. In a filing with the court late last week, Justice Department attorneys argued that perhaps the health law should be invalidated only in the GOP states that are suing, rather than all states. It is unclear how that would work.

Legal scholars — including those who oppose the ACA — consider the case dubious.

In a brief filed with the appeals court, legal scholars from both sides of the fight over the ACA agreed that the lawsuit’s underlying claim makes no sense.

In passing the tax bill that eliminated the ACA’s tax penalty but nothing else, Congress “made the judgment that it wanted the insurance reforms and the rest of the ACA to remain even in the absence of an enforceable insurance mandate,” wrote law professors Jonathan Adler, Nicholas Bagley, Abbe Gluck and Ilya Somin. Bagley and Gluck are supporters of the ACA; Adler and Somin have argued against it in earlier suits. “Congress itself — not a court — eliminated enforcement of the provision in question and left the rest of the statute standing. So congressional intent is clear.”

It could end up in front of the Supreme Court right in the middle of the 2020 election.

Depending on what happens at the appeals court level, the health law could be back in front of the Supreme Court — which has upheld the health law on other grounds in 2012 and 2015 — and land there in the middle of next year’s presidential campaign.

Democrats are already sharpening their rhetoric for that possibility.

“President Trump and Republicans are playing a very dangerous game with people’s lives,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters on a conference call Monday.

Murphy said he is most concerned that if the lower court ruling is upheld and the health law struck down, Republicans “won’t be able to come up with a plan” to put the health care system back together.

“Republicans tried to come up with a replacement plan for 10 years, and they couldn’t do it,” he said.

SOURCE: Rovner, J. (9 July 2019) "Federal Appeals Court Takes Up Case That Could Upend U.S. Health System" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/federal-appeals-court-takes-up-case-that-could-upend-u-s-health-system/


DOL Offers Wage and Hour Compliance Tips in Three Opinion Letters

On July 1, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released three opinion letters that address how to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regarding wage and hour issues. Continue reading this blog post to learn how the agency would enforce statutes and regulations specific to these situations.


The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued three new opinion letters addressing how to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) when rounding employee work hours and other wage and hour issues.

Opinion letters describe how the agency would enforce statutes and regulations in specific circumstances presented by an employer, worker or other party who requests the opinion. Opinion letters are not binding, but there may be a safe harbor for employers that show they relied on one.

The DOL Wage and Hour Division's July 1 letters covered:

Here are the key takeaways for employers.

Rounding Practices

One letter reviewed whether an organization's rounding practices are permissible under the Service Contract Act (SCA), which requires government contractors and subcontractors to pay prevailing wages and benefits and applies FLSA principles to calculate hours worked.

The employer's payroll software extended employees' clocked time to six decimal points and then rounded that number to two decimal points. When the third decimal was less than .005, the second decimal was not adjusted, but when the third decimal was .005 or greater, the second decimal was rounded up by 0.01. Then the software calculated daily pay by multiplying the rounded daily hours by the SCA's prevailing wage.

Employers may round workers' time if doing so "will not result, over a period of time, in failure to compensate the employees properly for all the time they have actually worked," according to the FLSA.

"It has been our policy to accept rounding to the nearest five minutes, one-tenth of an hour, one-quarter of an hour, or one-half hour as long as the rounding averages out so that the employees are compensated for all the time they actually work," the opinion letter said.

Based on the facts provided, the DOL concluded that the employer's rounding practice complied with the FLSA and the SCA. The rounding practice was "neutral on its face" and appeared to average out so that employees were paid for all the hours they actually worked.

For employers, the letter provides two significant details, said Marty Heller, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Atlanta. First, it confirms that the DOL applies the FLSA's rounding practices to the SCA. Second, it confirms the DOL's position that computer rounding is permissible, at least when the rounding involves a practice that appears to be neutral and does not result in the failure to compensate employees fully over a period of time, he said.

Patrick Hulla, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Kansas City, Mo., noted that the employer's rounding practice in this case differed from many employers' application of the principle. Specifically, the employer was rounding time entries to six decimal places. Most employers round using larger periods of time—in as many as 15-minute increments, he said.

"Employers taking advantage of permissible rounding should periodically confirm that their practices are neutral, which can be a costly and time-consuming exercise," he suggested.

Exempt Paralegals

Another letter analyzed whether a trade organization's paralegals were exempt from the FLSA's minimum wage and overtime requirements. Under the FLSA's white-collar exemptions, employees must earn at least $23,660 and perform certain duties. However, employees whose total compensation is at least $100,000 a year are considered highly compensated employees and are eligible for exempt status if they meet a reduced duties test, as follows:

  • The employee's primary duty must be office or nonmanual work.
  • The employee must "customarily and regularly" perform at least one of the bona fide exempt duties of an executive, administrative or professional employee.

Employers should note that the DOL's proposed changes to the overtime rule would raise the regular salary threshold to $35,308 and the highly compensated salary threshold to $147,414.

Because "a high level of compensation is a strong indicator of an employee's exempt status," the highly compensated employee exemption "eliminates the need for a detailed analysis of the employee's job duties," the opinion letter explained.

The paralegals described in the letter appeared to qualify for the highly compensated employee exemption because all their duties were nonmanual, they were paid at least $100,000 a year, and they "customarily and regularly" perform at least one duty under the administrative exemption.

The letter cited "a litany of the paralegals' job duties and responsibilities—including keeping and maintaining corporate and official records, assisting the finance department with bank account matters, and budgeting—that are directly related to management or general business operations," the DOL said.

The DOL noted that some paralegals don't qualify for the administrative exemption because their primary duties don't include exercising discretion and independent judgment on significant matters. But the "discretion and independent judgment" factor doesn't have to be satisfied under the highly compensated employee exception.

Calculating Bonuses

The third letter discussed whether the FLSA requires an employer to include a nondiscretionary bonus that is a fixed percentage of an employee's straight-time wages received over multiple workweeks in the calculation of the employee's regular rate of pay at the end of each workweek.

Under the FLSA, nonexempt employees must be paid at least 1 1/2 times their regular rate of pay for hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek, unless they are covered by an exemption—but the regular rate is based on more than just the employee's hourly wage. It includes all remuneration for employment unless the compensation falls within one of eight statutory exclusions. Nondiscretionary bonuses count as remuneration and must be included in the calculation.

"An employer may base a nondiscretionary bonus on work performed during multiple workweeks and pay the bonus at the end of the bonus period," according to the opinion letter. "An employer, however, is not required to retrospectively recalculate the regular rate if the employer pays a fixed percentage bonus that simultaneously pays overtime compensation due on the bonus."

The annual bonus, in this case, was not tied to straight-time or overtime hours. Based on the facts provided by an employee, the DOL said that after the employer pays the annual bonus, it must recalculate the regular rate for each workweek in the bonus period and pay any overtime compensation that is due on the annual bonus.

For the quarterly bonuses, the employee received 15 percent of his straight-time and overtime wages so they "simultaneously include all overtime compensation due on the bonus as an arithmetic fact," the DOL said.

SOURCE: Nagele-Piazza, L.(2 July 2019) "DOL Offers Wage and Hour Compliance Tips in Three Opinion Letters" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/DOL-Offers-Wage-and-Hour-Compliance-Tips-in-Three-Opinion-Letters.aspx


Creating an ‘urgent care first’ mindset for employee benefits

With urgent cares continuing to pop up everywhere, it’s important to guide your employees in adopting an "urgent care first" mentality. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


Urgent care centers are popping up everywhere, which means getting quick healthcare is easier and more convenient for patients. But these centers could also help employers minimize expensive emergency room claims. That’s why it’s important to guide employees to adopt an “urgent care first” mentality.

The concept of urgent care has been around since the 1970s, but rising healthcare costs, especially for ER care, have spurred an increase in centers across the U.S. over the last decade. In fact, from 2014 through June 2017, the number of urgent care centers rose by nearly 20%.

Urgent care centers provide care for health problems that aren’t life-threatening, but can’t wait for an appointment with a primary care provider. No one wants to suffer with a sore throat all weekend. Many urgent care centers are staffed with doctors and nurses, and provide more advanced capabilities than what’s typically available at a primary care doctor’s office. For example, some urgent care centers give stitches, provide X-rays and even MRIs.

Patients can also get treatment at urgent care for conditions they’d typically see a primary care doctor for, such as the flu or a fever, mild to moderate asthma, skin rashes, sprains and strains, and a severe sore throat or cough — illnesses that produce unnecessary high claims if treated in an ER.

Still, when a severe sore throat and high fever strike on a weekend and the doctor’s office is closed, employees may gravitate to the ER because they’re sick and need help right now. That’s where the urgent care first mindset becomes good medicine. It typically costs the employer (and often the employee) far less if that sore throat is treated in an urgent care facility.

The high cost of ER care is enough to make anyone run a high temp. From 2009 to 2016 (the most recent data available), the average amount that hospitals billed insurance carriers for an emergency room visit more than doubled, from $600 to $1,322. By contrast, urgent care typically costs about $150 per visit. Members often pay a lower copay for urgent care visits, too.

The urgent care first mindset is starting to take hold. New data analysis from Aetna shows that as urgent care centers began to proliferate, ER visits for minor health issues dropped 36%, while the use of urgent care and other non-emergency health settings increased 140%.

However, the same study shows that plans only saw a decrease in ER visits if there were several urgent care centers in the geographic region where their employees lived. Awareness is key.

Fostering an urgent care first mentality

Employers can’t just include urgent care in a benefits plan and expect employees to use it. They need to design the plan to encourage use and follow up with plenty of education.

Education about the benefits of primary care versus urgent care versus the ER should take place during open enrollment and throughout the plan year so members understand the medical necessity and financial implications of each option. Including the closest urgent care centers to employees, as well as a list of services they provide, can help encourage them to adopt an urgent care first mentality.

A word of caution: not every nearby urgent care center is actually in-network. It literally pays for employees to keep a list of nearby in-network centers handy when that inevitable weekend sore throat strikes.

Reminders about urgent care before spring allergies, summer vacations, fall school physicals and flu season can also help encourage their use.

The too-low ER copay

Plan design is another important piece of the puzzle to help steer employees to the right level of care for their needs. It’s not that unusual to see a $100 copay for an emergency department visit. While no one wants to discourage ER visits for true emergencies, it makes sense to adjust the plan design to encourage primary and urgent care visits instead. That may mean a $20 copay for primary care, a $40 copay for urgent care and a $200 to $250 copay for ER visits — which is waived if the plan participant is admitted to the hospital.

For high-deductible health plans paired with a health savings account, the savings can be even more drastic; patients may pay $200 for an urgent care visit versus $1,200 for an ER visit.

The combination of education and plan design can help curb unnecessary ER visits, which could help employers control healthcare increases from plan year to plan year. For health issues that crop up during off hours, the urgent care first mindset is good for both employers and employees, who will ultimately save time and money.

SOURCE: O'Conner, P. (5 July 2019) "Creating an ‘urgent care first’ mindset for employee benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/creating-an-urgent-care-first-mindset-for-employees


Here’s how to ensure employees know how to pick the right benefits

Open enrollment is an important time for employees, but it's often a stressful one as well. According to recent research, the average employee spends less than 30 minutes selecting their benefits. Read this blog post for more on communicating benefit options to employees.


Annual enrollment is an important time for employees — but it’s also a stressful one. The choices they make can affect their financial health, yet the average employee spends less than 30 minutes selecting their benefits, according to research from benefits provider Unum.

With annual enrollment planning underway, now is the time for employers to ask themselves, “How can we help employees make the right benefits decisions?” The answers may be more valuable than they think.

See Also: Ideas for Effectively Demonstrating Plan Choices

Today’s workforce is the most diverse in history, with four generations actively working, and a fifth connected through benefits and pensions. A robust benefits package is increasingly important for recruitment and retention, challenging employers to provide choices and options that support diverse needs.

About 80% of employees prefer a job with benefits over one with a higher salary but no benefits, according to the American Institute of CPAs. As such it’s vital that employers ensure their workforce is engaged with their benefits and taking full advantage of what is available. Here are five ways employers can make sure that happens.

See Also: Ideas to Help Employees Find their "Best Fit" Plan

1. Acknowledge that decision support addresses personalized needs. Tools that demystify the benefits selection process can help employees make choices that align with their risk tolerance, financial circumstances and unique needs. The best tools lead employees to a recommended suite of benefits options that fit their individual physical, emotional and financial health.

2. Know that year-round engagement improves benefits literacy. While employees appreciate benefits, they aren’t experts. Indeed, roughly one-third of employees are outright confused about their benefits, according to recent data from Businessolver. Keeping up a cadence of communication about benefits throughout the year can help address this challenge.

3. Recognize the power of a total rewards statement. It empowers employees to maximize the benefits available to them, and these tools can be accessed at any time, not just during enrollment. The most impactful solutions aggregate all employee benefits options in one integrated offering that demonstrates the full value of compensation and benefits investments made by them and their employer.

See Also: Communicating the Value of Employee Benefits

4. Think about different generations. Customizable benefits options are a crucial step in meeting the needs of today’s workforce. For example, our latest data shows that nearly two-thirds of millennials are concerned with managing their monthly budget, while over 50% of boomers are most worried about a large, unexpected cost. Having core medical plan offerings along with complementary voluntary options helps employees address varying financial needs. Likewise, paid parental leave and different health plan options assist families at any stage, and they make it likelier that your employees will engage with their benefits and remain with your organization.

5. Be sure employees know that savings vehicles contribute to financial well-being. Employees of all ages and income levels are facing financial stressors — but they may not be the same ones. Offering different financial benefits, such as student loan assistance and emergency savings accounts, in addition to retirement benefits, enables your employees to address both their immediate and long-term financial needs.

See Also: Avoiding Communication Overload During Open Enrollment

More than ever, employers have a responsibility to help employees make informed decisions when it comes to selecting the right benefits. Otherwise, they risk losing top talent to organizations that are better implementing benefits strategies and technologies.

By meeting the needs of a diverse workforce with an array of benefits options supported by appropriate decision support resources, employers can ensure they’re meeting their workforce’s needs and retaining valuable employees.

See Also: Incorporating Incentives to Create Educated Benefit Consumers

SOURCE: Shanahan, R. (26 June 2019) "Here’s how to ensure employees know how to pick the right benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/educating-employees-to-pick-the-right-benefits


Top 10 Workplace Trends for 2019

During this year's SHRM's Annual Conference & Exposition, Dan Schawbel discussed the importance of looking forward three to six months or even a few years for new and emerging trends. Factors such as technological developments, economic changes, globalization and automation, all affect how companies do business and attract top talent. Read this blog post to learn more.


LAS VEGAS — HR professionals and organization leaders have a lot to keep up with: technological developments, economic changes, globalization and automation. All of these factors affect how companies do business and attract and retain talented workers.

"If we don't keep up with all the changes going on around us in terms of the tasks we do every day, we become obsolete," said Dan Schawbel, partner and research director at New York City-based Future Workplace, an executive development firm dedicated to rethinking and reimagining the workplace.

It's more important now than ever for business professionals to look forward three or six months or even a few years, he said during a mega session at the Society for Human Resource Management 2019 Annual Conference & Exposition.

Conference attendee Jessica Whitney said she hoped to learn about any new trends for the workplace so she could compare what's discussed to what her company is currently doing—to see what it's doing right and if there are any new ideas she can take back to the office. Whitney is a people partner at Unum Therapeutics in Massachusetts.

These are the top 10 trends that will impact HR departments in 2019, according to Schawbel's research.

1. Fostering the relationship between workers and robots.

One of the biggest trends of 2019 is the partnership between robots and humans. "The human element will never go away," Schawbel said. HR will continue to manage the human workforce, and information technology (IT) teams will manage the robots. "The big opportunity moving forward is for HR to partner with IT and even other departments … in order to collaborate and manage the human experience," he said.

2. Creating flexible work schedules.

"Flexibility is something that we want because we're working more hours than ever before," he said. Regardless of age or generation, employees want to have a life outside of work.

3. Taking a stand on social issues.

Younger workers, especially, want to work for companies that are making a positive difference in the world, Schawbel said. Companies that take a stand on social issues will be unpopular with some people, he noted, but if they want to attract the right talent, they have almost no choice.

4. Improving gender diversity.

Compared to men, few women hold executive positions. The New York Times reported that "fewer women run big companies than men named John." That's the bad news. "The great news," Schawbel said, "is that countries are getting involved, companies are getting involved, and it looks like changes are on the horizon."

5. Investing in mental health.

Many people either have mental disorders or interact with someone who does, and mental health is becoming less stigmatized as more people speak publicly on the topic. Britain's Prince Harry, for example, is partnering with Oprah Winfrey and Apple on a series about mental health and has also asked employers in the United Kingdom to sign a pledge to take a stand on this issue. Schawbel noted that employers who sign the pledge signal to employees that they take mental health seriously.

6. Addressing the loneliness of remote workers.

Many employees today can work from wherever they want. Remote work is great—and employers need to promote flexibility—but there is a cost, Schawbel said. The isolation employees feel when they don't interact enough with co-workers may cause them to check out. Investing in offsite and team-building events can help. Connecting with remote workers in person even once a year can make a huge difference and build trust, he noted.

7. Upskilling the workforce.

There are 7.4 million open jobs in the U.S., and the unemployment rate is 3.6 percent. So employers need to find creative ways to close the skills gap. Companies are starting to hire more older workers, workers with disabilities, workers who were formerly incarcerated and veterans. "The [talent] pool is getting wider and wider, which is great," Schawbel said. "It's great because talent can come from anywhere." Companies are less focused on age, gender and other factors and more concerned with whether the person can do the joband work well with others, he added.

8. Focusing on soft skills.

"Soft skills are the new hard skills," Schawbel said. Ninety-one percent of HR professionals surveyed by LinkedIn believe soft skills are very important for the future of recruiting. "You can train for hard skills, but soft skills take a long time to learn," Schawbel noted. "If you hire someone who has a positive attitude, good organizational skills, is able to delegate work … they're going to be incredibly valuable in today's world."

9. Preparing for Generation Z.

Employers need to understand Generation Z, the demographic born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s. Many in this cohort identify anxiety as a major issue that gets in the way of their workplace success, which relates to addressing mental health, Schawbel said. And even though Generation Z workers self-identify as the digital generation, they say they want more face-to-face interaction at work. Additionally, they tend to expect quick promotions, so employers should set realistic expectations, he noted.

10. Preventing burnout.

Employees must grapple with an "always on" work culture, and many employees leave their companies as a result of being overworked. Employers should recognize what causes burnout and aim to fix it, because it may cost them more over time if they don't, Schawbel said.

"We have to think about work differently," he added. "The future is uncertain … but we can make changes today that will give us a better tomorrow."

SOURCE: Nagele-Piazza, L., J.D., SHRM-SCP (27 June 2019) "Top 10 Workplace Trends for 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/Pages/Top-10-Workplace-Trends-for-2019.aspx


No Gym Required for These (Financial) Fitness Tips

While getting "healthy and fit" is important, it's also important to be concerned about your financial fitness. Read this blog post for tips to stay financially fit at any age.


If you’re like me, your social media feeds are jammed with headlines about getting “healthy and fit” in the new year. Of course, they’re referring to diet and exercise and common resolutions to drop pounds and work out more often.

But it’s just as important to be concerned about your financial fitness—where you can also drop some baggage and get some strength training without going near a gym. (In fact, if you have a subscription to a gym membership but aren’t going, that’s one financial fix you can make right now.)

Here are some tips to consider for any age:

IN YOUR 20s:

Workout: Have a portion of each paycheck deposited into your savings account, or take advantage of bank programs that “round up” or have other automated savings features. Trust me, you won’t feel this burn.

Diet: Start making coffee at home or at the office instead of going for expensive lattes. Fewer calories, and more money in your pocket. This is a good time to consider getting life insurance (whether you are single or attached) as it is less expensive the younger and healthier you are.

You also need to consider disability insurance, which pays you a portion of your salary if you are sick or injured and unable to work—because who would pay your bills if you couldn’t? Your work may offer this as an employee benefit, so check with your HR department to find out if you have it and what it covers (short-term, long-term disability, etc.)

IN YOUR 30s:

Workout: You probably have a retirement program at work or some other preliminary retirement planning in place. If you don’t, start.

If you do, why not increase the amount you divert into retirement by a percentage point each year—equaling your company match percentage, if they have it, is a good target.

Diet: You may not have gotten life insurance beyond what you have through your workplace, but now is the time to consider an individual policy that you own. Remember, when you leave a job, you typically lose that life insurance offered through your workplace. And, given that life insurance through the workplace usually equals one or two times you salary (or a set amount like $50,000), it’s no longer going to cut it if you have a growing family.

If money’s tight, as it often is with a growing family, lingering student loans, and perhaps a mortgage, a term life insurance policy can protect you through the lean years. But don’t overlook the long-term benefits of a permanent life insurance policy. The cash value can be tapped later for needs that may arise. Plus, there’s nothing that says you can’t have a combination of both.

Also, consider an individual disability insurance policy that you personally own and follows you throughout your career. If you’re relying on work coverage, know that it goes away when you leave that job, and often these policies have bare-bones coverage.

IN YOUR 40s:

Workout: Do you have a financial professional helping you out? Navigating the ins and outs of a growing investment portfolio can be tricky as you move through your career and want to use traditional or Roth IRAs, and the tax benefits of various planning strategies. This may also be the time that you can add a permanent life insurance policy, if you haven’t before, which allows you to accrue cash value and obtain benefits that extend later into your life.

Diet: If you’re still carrying extra debt at this point, it’s time to get that paid down. Tackle higher-interest debts first, and celebrate each paid-off card or loan with … a bigger payment to the next one on the list.

IN YOUR 50s:

Workout: Max out your retirement contributions, especially once your kids are through college. This is also a good time to start researching things like long-term care insurance, and to make sure that your investment portfolio is built in such a way that you can reach your goals.

Diet: It may be very tempting to take on a new debt now: some folks want a vacation home, or the time may be right to start a business. But beware of any super-risky moves that can spell catastrophe with limited time to recoup losses, or that leave you with unexpected bills.

IN YOUR 60s and beyond:

Workout: Evaluate your Social Security situation against your retirement portfolio to determine the best time to retire. Understand the “living benefits” of your life insurance policies and how annuities may help you create a retirement income stream that you can’t outlive.

Diet: Is it time to downsize? It can be hard letting go of “stuff” so that you can go from that four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom condo. But the financial benefit of doing so may surprise you—plus there is less to clean and take care of (not to mention the ease of jetting off at a moment’s notice with no need for someone to look after your home.)

A lot depends on factors like your relationship status, your career path, whether you have kids or not, and what your long-term goals are, and these can change at any time in our lives.

The long and short of it is that just as when it comes to “health and fitness” goals, you’d get an annual physical. Need to know if you’re financially fit? Talk to an insurance professional or financial advisor today.

SOURCE: Mosher, H. (10 January 2019) "No Gym Required for These (Financial) Fitness Tips" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://lifehappens.org/blog/no-gym-required-for-these-financial-fitness-tips/