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


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


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


Denied Life Insurance? Here Are Your Next 3 Steps

Were you denied life insurance coverage? Many applicants who fall into the “impaired risk market” understand they're up against a hurdle or two when applying for life insurance, but it doesn't make it any easier when they're denied coverage. Read this blog post for the next steps you should take after being denied life insurance coverage.


It’s tough to learn that the life insurance company you applied to will not be offering you coverage, especially if you were fully expecting a yes!

You may fall into the “impaired risk market,” which means you have something in your background that makes you a higher risk for dying prematurely—think things like diabetes, obesity, a previous cancer diagnosis or even a history of DUIs.

While many applicants with this type of history understand they’re up against a hurdle or two, it’s not any easier to be denied life insurance coverage. But, often times, it doesn’t mean the hunt for an approval is over.

There may still be options, which include applying to a more suitable company or applying for a different policy type.

Here are three actionable steps you should take if you’ve been denied life insurance.

1. Collect information. Before an insurer denies an application, they collect lots of data from several sources to evaluate your risk. If the risk is high enough, you are either rated, postponed or denied. In any of these circumstances, requesting more information on the reason for denial is your right.

Upon request, the carrier can provide detailed information on why an applicant is declined, whether it was due to medical history, current exam results, driving record or something else. Denials from current exams tend to be the most shocking, as you may not know about an illness or disease beforehand.

2. Confirm the results. Errors can happen. Wires can be crossed. Double check the data that was provided to the underwriter. If poor exam results were cited as the cause, confirm it with your primary care physician. In some cases, a company may simply deny coverage because of new, undiagnosed lab results, even if there is little cause for concern.

In other scenarios, you could be denied for occupational or recreational hazards, criminal records and even financial distress. Having records such as these, which aren’t updated or detailed enough, can lead to postponement or declines because the underwriter simply can’t assess a proper risk profile.

3. Work with an agent. Even with proper research, the first company you apply to isn’t always necessarily the best. Passing along detailed information to an agent can allow them to search into better options. A well-trained high-risk life insurance agent can assess information thoroughly and find a better fit for you.

But you also need to understand that applying to another carrier is an option only if the reason for denial (such a diabetes) is one another may accept (because your diabetes is under control with medication). Each life insurance company adheres to its own set of underwriting guidelines, meaning identical applications to separate carriers could yield different results.

If the root cause for denial is too great, a different type of life insurance policy altogether may be the last resort. Utilizing “graded” or guaranteed products make life insurance possible for those with pre-existing conditions or unfavorable risk profiles. While they cost more and typically come with maximum death benefits, they can be a solution.

Saving in the Long Run

After being approved for life insurance, keep an eye out over the next few months or years. Depending on your situation, you might have options to lower your rate. Here two quick examples:

Let time pass. Certain impaired risks simply require more time to pass between diagnosis and the time of application. As medical records and follow-ups are recorded, and symptoms pass or become stable, your rates can come back down. In addition, concerns related to a driving record or criminal record may also just require a certain amount to have elapsed where the offense is either removed or settled.

Check the workplace. If life insurance is offered through group benefits in the workplace, it could end up being more affordable, based on the program offered. It could also lead to filling in coverage gaps a graded or guaranteed policy left behind.

There is no one-size-fits-all regimen to combat a declination. However, taking these steps could alleviate the stress and annoyances that make finding coverage so daunting.

SOURCE: Fisher, J. (10 June 2019) "Denied Life Insurance? Here Are Your Next 3 Steps" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://lifehappens.org/blog/denied-life-insurance-here-are-your-next-3-steps/


Understanding Group Health Insurance

Health insurance can easily be defined as bookended in volumes of mystery. You know you need the coverage, you want to have the coverage for your employees, but chances are you simply do not know enough about it to make the first two points happen. For an employer thinking about introducing group health insurance to your employees, it can be unclear why you should provide something that is surrounded with much confusion. In this installment of CenterStage, Kelley Bell, a Group Health Benefits Consultant at SAXON, sheds some light onto the darkness that group health insurance so often casts.

What is Group Health Insurance?

In its most basic definition, group health insurance is a plan that covers all the employees who work for a given company or organization, and it potentially covers their spouses and other dependents. As the individual marketplace continues to change, Kelley noted the “increasingly difficult task of finding desirable plan designs, lower deductibles and doctors and hospitals that are in the network”. “Individuals with marketplace plans have even been told by many doctors and hospitals,” Kelley added, “that they will not accept the ACA plans from the individual marketplace. Here are reasons that considering a group plan makes more sense than leaving your employees at the mercy of the exchange:”

  1. Group Health Insurance has larger networks of doctors and hospitals.
  2. Employee premiums can be deducted pre-tax. The premium can be divided among pay periods, allowing them the convenience of paying less in from a total income perspective and allowing the premium to be broken in pieces versus a monthly sum income.
  3. The employer still selects the health insurance plan(s) to offer, thus choosing an appropriate plan for the staff versus allowing them to choose the “cheapest” that will hurt them financially if they need to pay for the large deductible.
  4. Employer contributions are tax deductible, allowing the company to save versus paying payroll tax on any compensation provided to the employee in lieu of offering health insurance.

Do I Need Group Health Insurance?

Why should you consider a group health insurance plan? Outfitting your team with health benefits simplifies the process for employees to include regular and urgent doctor visits, hospital stays and medical treatments such as physical therapy.

Health plans are the primary benefit (aside from compensation) individuals seek out when applying for employment. Your overall benefits offerings are crucial to your company or organization’s ability to attract and retain employees. Therefore, why would you not want to offer health coverage as a part of your overall compensation package?

Group health insurance involves assuming the shared risk and shared costs. Kelley defines shared risk as covering a multitude of individuals who are fairly, healthy people. “This can help keep your premium rates lower than individual plans whose rates are based solely on a person’s age and assumed risk versus the sharing of risk over a pooled premium. This relationship creates savings that reward good behavior,” Kelley said. Shared costs mean the premium can be shared between you the employer and employees. Employers have the flexibility of paying varying percentages of the premium, which could reduce the amount the employee pays versus the individual market premiums.

Working alongside a broker such as SAXON is highly recommended for smaller businesses. SAXON specializes in assisting employers with 1 to 50 employees on how to discover and purchase the benefits they need within their budget. SAXON begins each engagement process by listening to you – the employer – to develop and discover the best course of action for your business or organization. We have a proven history of discovering healthcare plans that are vital to the recruitment and retainment of talented employees.

Saxon’s Role When Considering Group Health Insurance

It is important to understand the needs of every client and educate their employees on how to use their healthcare. SAXON values client education and service above all else. We make educating employees a priority and ensure their benefits are understood and easy to use, making them value the relationship they have with you that much more. SAXON represents you, allowing us to secure the best plans and rates for you and your staff, which we review annually.

If you are considering offering group health insurance to your employees, contact Kelley Bell today at (513) 774-5493 or (937) 672-1547 or via email at kbell@gosaxon.com to begin exploring the benefits of adding this superior level of coverage today.


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Short, specific sessions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assessments

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

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

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

To ensure assessments are as helpful as possible:

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

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

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

Collaboration

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

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

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

Multimedia options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easy access

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

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

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

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

Professional development

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

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

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

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

Bottom line

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

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

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

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

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


Today’s workforce never learned how to handle personal finances

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Employee wellness programs and compliance: What to know right now

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The truth is somewhere in the middle.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

View the digital Compliance Assistance Tool here.

Read the DOL's full press release here.

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