Employers

The Risks are Real

Even when you proactively anticipate all the people risks that have the potential to impact your workplace, it’s easy to convince yourself there is no risk to youthat it will never happen here.

You may think no one at your workplace will harass anyone, no one will sue you over an honest mistake made in administering workers’ comp, no one will accidentally cause a data breach, or no one will ever bring a weapon to the office. You might think managing people risk is extremely time consuming and not worth the effort. Rationalizations like this may lead you to believe you don’t need to do anything to prevent these risks.

However, these risks are very real and can happen anywhere, at any time. It’s imperative you cover all of your bases, and it’s actually very straightforward, especially if you have a partner on your side.

Ideally, you will integrate people risk management (PRM) with your business practices so it’s not something extra to do; it’s a way of doing things you already do. PRM can be a lens through which you look through when evaluating your policies, procedures, and other aspects of how you run your company.

Acknowledging and Preventing Risk: A Four-Step Plan

When you are anticipating risk, you are thinking about what might happen. Then you need to look at what you should do when something actually happens and it’s time to acknowledge the risk.

Maybe a law passes or regulation is finalized, you realize your pay policies are not in compliance with the law, or an employee informs you they have been prescribed medical marijuana but you have a very strict drug use policy. What tools to do you have to deal with that?

Once you acknowledge the risks inherent in these issues, there are four steps to putting a plan of action into place to prevent the risks from causing damage to your company’s bottom line, its reputation, or to its level of employee engagement:

  1. Understand when and how the risk will impact you. If it’s a law or regulation, when does it go into effect? Is it an ongoing issue or something that can be addressed and then set aside? What are the potential penalties or pitfalls presented by the risk?

  2. Determine the best course of action. Does the situation require simple changes to operations or a more complicated approach? Where do changes need to be implemented — in handbook policy updates, procedural documentation, or new training programs?

  3. Craft communication strategies around the risk. Who needs to know what, and how much information should be given to people at each level? What information should be held back to preserve confidentiality? What information is only relevant to a handful of people (such as when an OSHA report is due) and what information is relevant to everyone (such as who needs sexual harassment training in your state)?

  4. Decide what change management activities are required to get buy-in. It’s one thing to decide to do something but getting people ready to embrace the change is another thing. If change management is good, then the changes will take hold, the implementation will be smooth, and the risks will be lower.

by Larry Dunivan, CEO ThinkHR
Originally posted on ThinkHR.com

Legislative Cleanup: California Senate Attempts to Clear Up S.B. 1343 Sexual Harassment Training Confusion | California Benefits Agency

On February 26, 2019, California Senate Bill 778 was introduced to clear up confusion about when employers are required to provide employees with sexual harassment prevention training and education under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (as amended by Senate Bill 1343) and when retraining is required. Read about S.B. 1343 in our blog.

What is the Law Now?

As the law reads now, an employer with five or more employees must provide classroom or other effective interactive training and education regarding sexual harassment prevention (at least two hours to all supervisory employees and at least one hour to all nonsupervisory employees in California) within six months of an employee’s assumption of a position. Current law also states that employers who have provided this training to employees after January 1, 2019, are not required to provide sexual harassment training and education by the January 1, 2020 deadline.

What are the Proposed Changes?

Senate Bill 778 only changes about three sentences in the law, but these small changes will carry significant weight if the bill passes as predicted. Here are some of the key portions of the FEHA, at Cal. Govt. Code § 12950.1, that would be amended (current law in regular type, new law in italics, removed law in bold) by 778:

“By January 1, 2020, an employer having five or more employees shall provide at least two hours of classroom or other effective interactive training and education regarding sexual harassment to all supervisory employees and at least one hour of classroom or other effective interactive training and education regarding sexual harassment to all nonsupervisory employees in California within six months of their assumption of a position. position, and thereafter refresher training to each employee once every two years. An employer may provide this training in conjunction with other training provided to the employees. The training may be completed by employees individually or as part of a group presentation, and may be completed in shorter segments, as long as the applicable hourly total requirement is met. An employer who has provided this training and education to an employee after January 1, 2019, 2018, is not required to provide refresher training and education by the January 1, 2020, deadline. After January 1, 2020, each employer covered by this section shall provide sexual harassment training and education to each employee in California once every two years. until after December 31, 2020.”

If enacted as written, this would mean the following for covered employers under S.B. 778:

  • After providing the mandatory training and education, employers must provide a “refresher training” for each employee once every two years; and

  • If an employer provided sexual harassment prevention training and education to employees after January 1, 2018, then they are not required to do so again until after December 31, 2020.

Of note, the bill does not provide a description of a “refresher training.”

If enacted, S.B. 778 clarifies the issue of whether employees need to be retrained even if they were trained in 2018. The answer is no.

Just to rephrase, under the terms introduced by S.B. 778:

  • Training must be provided to employees by January 1, 2020;

  • Thereafter, refresher training must be provided to each employee once every two years; and

  • If an employer provided training in 2018, then it would not need to retrain in 2019 but rather, refresher training and education would not be required to be provided until after December 31, 2020.

How Does This Impact My Workplace?

Right now, S.B. 778 has zero impact on your workplace. Is the bill interesting? Yes! Does it change anything today? No! That is because the bill has merely been introduced and is not an enacted law.

Additionally, the history of actions on the bill (viewable on this page) states that it may be acted upon on or after March 29, 2019.

What Now?

Experts predict this bill will move to enactment without modification. So if it is enacted, then your workplace could be directly impacted.

But don’t forget, California AB 1825 training is still required on a two year cycle! So as always, in implementing a best practice approach, employers that did not provide sexual harassment prevention training for their supervisory employees in 2018 (because their two-year cycle hit in 2019) must ensure the AB 1825 training is met this year.

Moreover, we recommend that employers provide non-supervisory employees with the sexual harassment prevention training and education as required under S.B. 1343. The intent of S.B. 778 is to clarify timelines, not circumvent or deviate from training. Moreover, the spirit of the law remains the same, to ensure that employers provide ALL employees with the necessary education and training to function and conduct themselves in a workplace that is free from sexual harassment.

by Samantha Yurman
Originally posted on ThinkHR.com

The Right Information at the Right Time | California Benefits Partners

We are all drinking from a firehose of news and information — all day, every day. With this deluge of information, it can be difficult to determine what’s truly important to know. But being reactive is not acceptable. You need to know what’s coming, what affects you, and how it affects you.

Take, for example, legislative changes — 80 percent don’t require your attention, but the 20 percent you need to act on can easily get lost in the noise. It’s the 20 percent that expose your business to risk, but how do you know which 80 percent of information you can safely ignore?

Paying attention to the right information at the right time and setting the rest aside – knowing what you need to know – is essential to anticipating and understanding risk.

Where People Risk Management Comes In

People risk management starts with anticipating and understanding what presents risks to your business. It’s the idea you can look at something, understand it, digest it, and know if and how you need to act on this information. It’s a complicated sequence that no one has time to do, which is why you need a trusted and knowledgeable partner who:

  1. Knows what’s in the pipeline, such as newly-introduced bills that have the potential to become law.

  2. Keeps an eye on at what’s actually happening that may affect employers, such as when bills pass, agencies issue directives, or courts rule on cases.

  3. Determines what presents any type of risk to employers – such as litigation, noncompliance, or reduced employee engagement – and what doesn’t require action.

  4. Communicates promptly, consistently, and effectively, so you can use this knowledge to update your policies, stay on top of compliance requirements, and incorporate best practices in a way that reduces risk for your unique business.

Understanding People Risks: An Example

Often, when we think about risks to employers, we focus on insurable risks because they are well understood and easily quantifiable. It’s important to address these risks with solid prevention plans and insurance products, but it’s the uninsurable categories of risks, particularly people risks, that can catch us off guard and unprepared.

People risks can result not just in financial loss, but damage to employee engagement and company culture. They tend to be more subject to interpretation and can be very abstract.

Take, for example, the consequences of hiring the wrong employee or losing a valued employee. When this happens, you bear the cost of lost productivity and the time and money invested in recruiting, hiring, and onboarding. You also risk litigation if policies are not adequately documented, communicated, and followed should the employee claim discrimination, harassment, or disability accommodation is to blame for their separation from the company.

Hiring the wrong employee or losing a valued employee also carries the risk of negatively affecting employee engagement, which is a well-documented predictor of business outcomes. If it happens regularly, or there is even one instance handled poorly, your employment brand can be tarnished. For example, it could result in bad reviews on recruiting sites, chipping away at your recognition as an employer of choice.

by Larry Dunivan
Originally posted on ThinkHR.com

PCORI Fee Increase for Health Plans | California Benefits Consultants

On November 5, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Notice 2018-85 to announce that the health plan Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fee for plan years ending between October 1, 2018 and September 30, 2019 will be $2.45 per plan participant. This is an increase from the prior year’s fee of $2.39 due to an inflation adjustment.

Background

The Affordable Care Act created the PCORI to study clinical effectiveness and health outcomes. To finance the nonprofit institute’s work, a small annual fee — commonly called the PCORI fee — is charged on group health plans.

The fee is an annual amount multiplied by the number of plan participants. The dollar amount of the fee is based on the ending date of the plan year. For instance:

  • For plan year ending between October 1, 2017 and September 30, 2018: $2.39.

  • For plan year ending between October 1, 2018 and September 30, 2019: $2.45.

Insurers are responsible for calculating and paying the fee for insured plans. For self-funded health plans, however, the employer sponsor is responsible for calculating and paying the fee. Payment is due by filing Form 720 by July 31 following the end of the calendar year in which the health plan year ends. For example, if the group health plan year ends December 31, 2018, Form 720 must be filed along with payment no later than July 31, 2019.

Certain types of health plans are exempt from the fee, such as:

  • Stand-alone dental and/or vision plans;

  • Employee assistance, disease management, and wellness programs that do not provide significant medical care benefits;

  • Stop-loss insurance policies; and

  • Health savings accounts (HSAs).

HRAs and QSEHRAs

A traditional health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) is exempt from the PCORI fee, provided that it is integrated with another self-funded health plan sponsored by the same employer. In that case, the employer pays the PCORI fee with respect to its self-funded plan, but does not pay again just for the HRA component. If, however, the HRA is integrated with a group insurance health plan, the insurer will pay the PCORI fee with respect to the insured coverage and the employer pays the fee for the HRA component.

A qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement (QSEHRA) works a little differently. A QSEHRA is a special type of tax-preferred arrangement that can only be offered by small employers (generally those with fewer than 50 employees) that do not offer any other health plan to their workers. Since the QSEHRA is not integrated with another plan, the PCORI fee applies to the QSEHRA. Small employers that sponsor a QSEHRA are responsible for reporting and paying the PCORI fee.

PCORI Nears its End

The PCORI program will sunset in 2019. The last payment will apply to plan years that end by September 30, 2019 and that payment will be due in July 2020. There will not be any PCORI fee for plan years that end on October 1, 2019 or later.

Resources

The IRS provides the following guidance to help plan sponsors calculate, report, and pay the PCORI fee:

Originally posted on thinkhr.com

Be the Boss You Want to See in the World | CA Benefits Advisors

An article in the Harvard Business Review suggests that the traits that make someone become a leader aren’t always the ones that make someone an effective leader. Instead, efficacy can be traced to ethicality. Here are a few tips to be an ethical leader.

Humility tops charisma
A little charisma goes a long way. Too much and a leader risks being seen as self-absorbed. Instead, focus on the good of the group, not just sounding good.

Hold steady
Proving reliable and dependable matters. Showing that—yes—the boss follows the rules, too, earns the trust and respect of the people who work for you.

Don’t be the fun boss
It’s tempting to want to be well liked. But showing responsibility and professionalism is better for the health of the team—and your reputation.

Don’t forget to do
Analysis and careful consideration is always appreciated. But at the top you also have to make the call, and make sure it’s not just about the bottom line.

Keep it up!
Once you get comfortable in your leadership role, you may get too comfortable. Seek feedback and stay vigilant.

A company that highlights what happens when leaders aren’t the ones to champion ethics is presented in Human Resource Executive. Theranos had a very public rise and fall, and the author of the article cites the critical role compliance and ethics metrics might have played in pushing for better accountability. The article also makes the case for the powerful role of HR professionals in helping guide more impactful ethics conversations.

One high profile case study of a company recognizing that leadership needed to do more is Uber. Here, leadership realized that fast growth was leading to a crumbling culture. A piece in Yahoo! Sports shows how explosive growth can mean less time to mature as a company. Instead of focusing of partnerships with customers and drivers, Uber became myopically customer-and growth-focused. This led to frustrations for drivers and ultimately a class-action lawsuit. New initiatives, from tipping to phone support to a driver being able to select riders that will get them closer to home, have been rolled out in recent months. These changes have been welcome, but, as the leadership reflected, could have been more proactively implemented to everyone’s benefit. The mindset of bringing people along will also potentially help Uber maintain better ties with municipalities, which ultimately, is good for growth.

Harvard Business Review - Don’t Try to Be the “Fun Boss” — and Other Lessons in Ethical Leadership

Yahoo! SportsHow Uber is recovering from a ‘moral breaking point’

Human Resource Executive An Ethics Lesson

by Bill Olson

Originally posted on ubabenefits.com

Choosing the Right Flexible Benefit for Employees | Cupertino Benefits Agency

Trying to decide which of the many employer-sponsored benefits out there to offer employees can leave an employer feeling lost in a confusing bowl of alphabet soup—HSA? FSA? DCAP? HRA? What does it mean if a benefit is “limited” or “post-deductible”? Which one is use-it-or-lose-it? Which one has a rollover? What are the limits on each benefit?—and so on.

While there are many details to cover for each of these benefit options, perhaps the first and most important question to answer is: which of these benefits is going to best suit the needs of both my business and my employees? In this article, we will cover the basic pros and cons of Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSA), Health Savings Accounts (HSA), and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRA) to help you better answer that question.

Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSA)

An FSA is an employer-sponsored and employer-owned benefit that allows employee participants to be reimbursed for certain expenses with amounts deducted from their salaries pre-tax. An FSA can include both the Health FSA that reimburses uncovered medical expenses and the Dependent Care FSA that reimburses for dependent expenses like day care and child care.

Pros:

  • Benefits can be funded entirely from employee salary reductions (ER contributions are an option)

  • Participants have access to full annual elections on day 1 of the benefit (Health FSA only)

  • Participants save on taxes by reducing their taxable income; employers save also by paying less in payroll taxes like FICA and FUTA

  • An FSA allows participants to “give themselves a raise” by reducing the taxes on healthcare expenses they would have had anyway

Cons:

  • Employers risk losing money should an employee quit or leave the program prior to fully funding their FSA election

  • Employees risk losing money should their healthcare expenses total less than their election (the infamous use-it-or-lose-it—though there are ways to mitigate this problem, such as the $500 rollover option)

  • FSA elections are irrevocable after open enrollment; only a qualifying change of status event permits a change of election mid-year

  • Only so much can be elected for an FSA. For 2018, Health FSAs are capped at $2,650, and Dependent Care Accounts are generally capped at $5,000

  • FSA plans are almost always offered under a cafeteria plan; as such, they are subject to several non-discrimination rules and tests

Health Savings Accounts (HSA)

An HSA is an employee-owned account that allows participants to set aside funds to pay for the same expenses that are eligible under a Health FSA. Also like an FSA, these accounts can be offered under a cafeteria plan so that participants may fund their accounts through pre-tax salary reductions.

Pros:

  • HSAs are “triple-tax advantaged”—the contributions are tax free, the funds are not taxed if paid for eligible expenses, and any gains on the funds (interest, dividends) are also tax-free

  • HSAs are portable, employee-owned, interest-bearing bank accounts; the account remains with the employees even if they leave the company

  • Certain HSAs allow participants to invest a portion of the balance into mutual funds; any earnings on these investments are non-taxable

  • Upon reaching retirement, participants can use any remaining HSA funds to pay for any expense without a tax penalty (though normal taxes are required for non-qualified expenses); also, retirees can use the funds tax-free to pay premiums on any supplemental Medicare coverage. This feature allows HSAs to operate as a secondary retirement fund

  • There is no use-it-or-lose-it with HSAs; all funds employees contribute stay in their accounts and remain theirs in perpetuity. Also, participants may alter their deduction amounts at any time

  • Like FSAs, employers can either allow the HSA to be entirely employee-funded, or they may choose to also make contributions to their employees’ HSA accounts

  • Even though they are often offered under a cafeteria plan, HSAs do not carry the same non-discrimination requirements as an FSA. Moreover, there is less administrative burden for the employer as the employees carry the liability for their own accounts

Cons:

  • To open and contribute to an HSA, an employee must be covered by a qualifying high deductible health plan; moreover, they cannot be covered by any other health coverage (a spouse’s health insurance, an FSA (unless limited), or otherwise)

  • Participants are limited to reimburse only what they have contributed—there is no “front-loading” like with an FSA

  • Participant contributions to an HSA also have an annual limit. For 2018, that limit is $3,450 for an employee with single coverage and $6,900 for an employee with family coverage (participants over 55 can add an additional $1,000; also, remember there is no total account limit)

  • Participation in an HSA precludes participation in any other benefit that provides health coverage. This means employees with an HSA cannot participate in either an FSA or an HRA. Employers can work around this by offering a special limited FSA or HRA that only reimburses dental and vision benefits, meets certain deductible requirements, or both

  • HSAs are treated as bank accounts for legal purposes, so they are subject to many of the same laws that govern bank accounts, like the Patriot Act. Participants are often required to verify their identity to open an HSA, an administrative burden that does not apply to either an FSA or an HRA

Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRA)

An HRA is an employer-owned and employer-sponsored account that, unlike FSAs and HSAs, is completely funded with employer monies. Employers can think of these accounts as their own supplemental health plans that they create for their employees

Pros:

  • HRAs are extremely flexible in terms of design and function; employers can essentially create the benefit to reimburse the specific expenses at the specific time and under the specific conditions that the employers want

  • HRAs can be an excellent way to “soften the blow” of an increase in major medical insurance costs—employers can use an HRA to mitigate an increase in premiums, deductibles, or other out-of-pocket expenses

  • HRAs can be simpler to administer than an FSA or even an HSA, provided that the plan design is simple and efficient: there are no payroll deductions to track, usually less reimbursements to process, and no individual participant elections to manage

  • Small employers may qualify for a special type of HRA, a Qualified Small Employer HRA (or QSEHRA), that even allows participants to be reimbursed for their insurance premiums (special regulations apply)

  • Funds can remain with the employer if someone terminates employment and have not submitted for reimbursement

Cons:

  • HRAs are entirely employer funded. No employee funds or salary reductions may be used to help pay for the benefit. Some employers may not have the funding to operate such a benefit

  • HRAs are subject to the Affordable Care Act. As such, they must be “integrated” with major medical coverage if they provide any sort of health expense reimbursement and are also subject to several regulations

  • HRAs are also subject to many of the same non-discrimination requirements as the Health FSA

  • HRAs often go under-utilized; employers may pay an amount of administrative costs that is disproportionate to how much employees actually use the benefit

  • Employers can often get “stuck in the weeds” with an overly complicated HRA plan design. Such designs create frustration on the part of the participants, the benefits administrator, and the employer

For help in determining which flexible benefit is right for your business, contact us!

by Blake London
Originally posted on ubabenefits.com

Making a Remote Team Work | California Insurance Agents

In a tight labor market, a candidate’s potential commute can make a job more or less attractive. HumanResources reports that a quarter of employees surveyed had left a job because of the commute. When looking at just Millennials, the number jumps to one third. Employees can be choosy, selecting a job that offers more of what they want, and that means less of a commute. Companies can work around this by offering transportation amenities, flexible scheduling or more remote working opportunities.

 Forbes has a recent interview with Tamara Littleton, founder of The Social Element, who’s successfully built a remote team at the social media management agency. She argues culture starts at the top. By treating people well, which includes offering remote opportunities, it sets a tone for the whole company. Creating opportunities for in-person meetings and gatherings balance any isolation that may happen. Then, more regular face-to-face communication, essential to build trust and teamwork, comes via video calls when email might otherwise be the default. Newsletters and webinars keep the team connected and ensure important messages aren’t missed. She can point to the success of her ideas with the hire of many senior team members, willing to sacrifice some pay for more flexibility. 

When implementing remote-friendly strategies, there are plenty of success stories to draw inspiration. Entrepreneur has some tips from Zapier, a company that has been on the forefront of offering alternative working arrangements. In fact, they offer a “de-location” package to encourage employees to move from the cost-prohibitive Bay Area. Tools like Slack facilitate real-time communication, with tools to find ideal meeting times across time zones and channels themed for non-work related conversations. Bots regularly and randomly pair up employees to get a chance to know one another during a brief call. A semi-regular retreat brings people together in person and impromptu video dance parties make slow days more fun.

The takeaway? Being proactive and creative to build remote work policies can get you the employees you want, wherever they may be.

HumanResources
Travelling to and fro office may drive your employees to quit
https://www.humanresourcesonline.net/travelling-to-and-fro-office-may-drive-your-employees-to-quit/

Forbes
How To Build A Culture Of Trust In A Large Remote Team
https://www.forbes.com/sites/brettonputter/2018/10/04/how-to-build-a-culture-of-trust-in-a-large-remote-team/#5d4e5d23188c

Entrepreneur
This Company Hosts Virtual Dance Parties to Help Its 170 Remote Employees Feel Connected
https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/320411


by Bill Olson

Originally posted on ubabenefits.com

The 80s Are Back, According to the NLRB | Cupertino Benefits Agency

On September 14, 2018, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced in the Federal Register a proposed rule to return its joint-employer standard to its 1984 standard — a standard that stood until 2017. It’s returning to the days of Footloose dancing, Sixteen Candles high school sweethearts, Karate Kid champions, and the principle that a joint-employer of another’s employees applies only if:

  • The employer possesses and exercises substantial, direct, and immediate control over the essential terms and conditions of employment; and

  • The employer has done so in a manner that is not limited and routine.

Under the NLRB’s proposed rule, indirect influence and contractual reservations of authority would no longer be sufficient to establish a joint-employer relationship.

Why Does This Matter to Your Business?

You may be asking, “What does a 1984 image of Kevin Bacon dancing in a barn with a Sony Walkman have anything to do with my business?” (By the way, I heard it wasn’t actually him dancing in that scene but that is completely unverified — so it’s off the record.)

Okay, 1980s hit movies don’t have anything to do with your business, but according to the NLRB, re-establishing the 1984 standard best meets the intent of the National Labor Relation Act’s joint-employer doctrine by not drawing third parties, who have not played an active role in deciding wages, benefits, or other essential terms and conditions of employment, into a collective-bargaining relationship for another employer’s employees.

What Happens Next?

The NLRB invites public comments on all aspects of the proposed rule; however, they must be received on or before November 13, 2018. Feel free to peruse our prior blog articles and law alerts on the joint-employer issue because apparently it is in constant flux. (I’d make a Back to the Future reference here but that movie wasn’t released until 1985.)

And here’s the proposed rule. Have at it . . . because you gotta cut loose.


by Samantha Yurman

Originally posted on thinkhr.com

Moments of Clarity: Being Transparent | California Employee Benefits

Aristotle was right when he said, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Companies and politicians like to say that they’re transparent, when in fact, they’re often the opposite. And, as in nature, in the absence of facts, people will often fill their minds with what is perceived.

If you’re working at a company, rather than being one of its customers, and you’ve been told by senior management that they’re transparent about what goes on, then make sure you take a close look at what they’re willing to share.

In the article titled “The Price of Secrecy” in Human Resource Executive Online, employers are quick to cite company policy, yet are reticent to share if and how those policies are being enforced. This has a huge impact on employee trust and can quickly have the opposite effect on employees following said policy.

Basically, employees want to know that if they follow the rules, others will also follow them, or there will be consequences for not doing so. Companies can hide behind the mantra of “it’s being handled,” or “it’s an employee issue,” but what the employer may forget is that gossip will sometimes fill in the unknown. Compounding matters is that employees want to know that if a colleague violates company policy, the appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.

Employers seldom reveal any disciplinary process or policy enforcement simply because it may violate privacy, or it might embarrass either the employee or employer. For example, an employee has been stealing company property for months. Eventually, the employee is caught, but it may reflect poorly on the employer that it took a long time to realize this was happening, or that safeguards were not in place to prevent the theft in the first place. So, while the employer wants to inform its employees about this violation and how it was handled, they also don’t want to expose vulnerabilities that could undermine the employee’s trust in the company.

Another benefit of policy transparency is that it keeps the enforcers honest. That is, if a company employee is responsible for doling out punishment, then that person is more likely to do it fairly and impartially if they know everyone is watching.

by Bill Olson
Originally posted on ubabenefits.com

Redesigned W-4 Form to Launch in 2020 | CA Benefits Partners

W-4 form.jpg

When will the new Form W-4 be released? In 2020, according to a press release published by the Treasury Department on September 20, 2018. The department announced that the IRS will implement a redesigned W-4 form for tax year 2020, a timeline that will allow for continued work to refine the new approach for the form.

As a result of the enactment of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the Treasury Department and the IRS are revising the wage withholding system and Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. In June 2018, the IRS released a draft redesigned form for public comment and received many suggestions for improvements, which they are working to integrate.

For tax year 2019, the IRS will release an update to the Form W-4 that is similar to the 2018 version currently in use. The 2019 form will be released in the coming weeks according to the usual practice for annual updates.

The Treasury Department and IRS will continue working closely with the payroll and the tax community as additional changes are made to the Form W-4 for use in 2020. The intent of these additional changes is to make the withholding system more accurate and more transparent to employees. The IRS will release the 2020 form and related guidance and information early enough in 2019 to allow employers and payroll processors ample time to update their systems.


by Samantha Yurman
Originally posted on thinkhr.com

Wearable Technology in the Workplace | California Benefit Advisors

Don’t lie--we ALL love gadgets. From the obscure (but hilariously reviewed on Amazon) Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer to the latest iteration of the Apple empire. Gadgets and technology can make our lives easier, make processes faster, and even help us get healthier. Businesses are now using the popularity of wearable technology to encourage employee wellness and increase productivity and morale.

Addressing Mental Health Care at Work | California Employee Benefits Advisors

Nancy Spangler, senior consultant at the Center for Workplace Mental Health of the American Psychiatric Foundation, says that one in five adults has a mental health disorder, and one in 10 has a substance abuse problem. In addition, major depression and its associated conditions cost the U.S. over $210 billion every year. Clearly, mental health is an issue we need to investigate both in our offices and across the country.

Many organizations have found that simply by working with employees to recognize depression, build empathy, and find resources, increased EAP utilization while claim dollars did the opposite. In most cases there was no formal program involved—leadership simply began talking about the issue, and the reduced stigma led to better health (and better offices!).

What can we do besides reducing stigma, especially from the top down?At the 2018 Health Benefits and Leadership Conference, experts listed five “buckets” of challenges in addressing mental health: access to care, cost of care, stigma, quality, and integration. Breaking these down into individual components not only helps employees find the support they need and deserve, but it further reduces stigma by refusing to separate mental health from medical coverage or wellness programs. Experts also recommend inviting EAPs to visit offices in person, instead of simply suggesting employees call when they can. Another increasingly popular technique is text-based therapy. This a great fit for many employees because someone is always available and the conversation is always private, even when the client is sitting at a desk in a shared space.

In addition to reducing stigma through transparency and access, employers can also help increase the quality of care available to employees. One key move is simply asking for data. How do vendors evaluate quality, meet standards, and screen for illness? Do health plan members have confidential ways to report their experiences? Mental health care should be seen no differently from other kinds of health care. Employees who have access to quality, destigmatized mental health care build stronger, more functional, and ever-happier workplaces.

 

by Bill Olson
Originally posted on ubabenefits.com

Final Rule on Short-Term Limited-Duration Insurance | California Benefits Firm

On August 1, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Labor (collectively, the Departments) released a final rule that amends the definition of short-term, limited-duration insurance. HHS also released a fact sheet on the final rule.

According to the Departments, the final rule will provide consumers with more affordable options for health coverage because they may buy short-term, limited-duration insurance policies that are less than 12 months in length and may be renewed for up to 36 months.

The final rule will apply to insurance policies sold on or after October 2, 2018.

For more information, contact us!


by Karen Hsu
Originally posted on ubabenefits.com

Affordable Care Act Update | California Benefit Partners

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Recently, the President signed a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act’s Individual Mandate (the tax penalty imposed on individuals who are not enrolled in health insurance). While some are praising this action, there are others who are concerned with its aftermath. So how does this affect you and why should you pay attention to this change?

First, as an individual, if you do not carry health insurance, you are currently paying a penalty of $695/adult not covered and $347.50/uninsured child with penalties going even as high as $2085/household. These penalties have been the deciding factor for most uninsured Americans—go broke buying insurance but they have insurance, or go broke paying a fine and still be uninsured. With the repeal signed in December 2017, these penalties are zeroed out starting January 1, 2019.  While it seems that the repeal of the tax penalty should be good news all around, it does have some ramifications. Without reform in the healthcare arena for balanced pricing, when individuals make a mass exodus in 2019, we can expect higher premiums to account for the loss of insured customers.

As a business, you are still under the Employer Mandate of the ACA. There have been no changes to the coverage guidelines and reporting requirements of this Act. However, with healthy people opt-ing out of health insurance coverage, the employer premiums can expect to be raised to cover the increased expenses of the sick. Some do predict the possibility of the repeal of some parts of the Employer Mandate —specifically PCORI fees and employment reporting. The Individual and Employer Mandates were created to compliment each other and so changes to one tend to mean changes to the other. 

So, why should you pay attention to this change? Because the balance the ACA Individual Mandate was designed to help make in the health insurance marketplace is now unbalanced. Taking one item from the scale results in instability. Both employers and employees will be affected by this tax repeal in one way or another.

 

DOL Updates the Employer CHIP Notice | Cupertino Employee Benefits

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has updated the model notice for employers to use to inform employees about the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). All employers with group health plans are required to distribute a CHIP notice at least once a year to employees living in certain states. There is no need to send another notice to workers who received the prior version in the past year, but employers should use the updated notice going forward. This also is a good time for employers to review their procedures for distributing CHIP notices.

The following are the most frequently asked questions we receive from employers about CHIP notices.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of the CHIP notice?
The CHIP notice informs benefits-eligible employees that their state’s CHIP or Medicaid program may offer premium assistance to help them pay for group health coverage at work. Many states offer some form of premium assistance to residents based on their family income. The updated notice includes contact information for each participating state (currently 37 states) and explains that persons approved for premium assistance have a special 60-day enrollment period to join their employer’s group plan without having to wait for the employer’s next annual enrollment period.

Does the CHIP notice requirement affect all employers?
All employers that offer a group health plan providing medical benefits, whether insured or self-funded, must consider the CHIP notice requirement. Each employer then will determine if it must distribute the notice depending on whether any of its employees live in one of the states listed in the notice.

Further, all group health (medical) plans must offer a special 60-day enrollment period when an employee becomes eligible for premium assistance (for the employee or a family member) from a state’s CHIP or Medicaid program.

Is the notice required for all employees or just for those enrolled in our group health plan?
The notice must be given to all employees living in any one of the listed states and eligible for the employer’s group health plan, whether or not currently enrolled. That is the minimum requirement. Many employers, however, choose to distribute the notice to all employees, regardless of benefits eligibility or location, to avoid the need for separate distributions when an employee’s status or location changes.

How do we prepare and distribute the notice? How often?
The DOL provides a model notice that employers can copy and distribute. Although employers have the option of creating their own notice to list only the states where their employees are located, most employers simply use the DOL model notice as it is. The model notice also is available in Spanish.

The notice must be distributed when employees initially become eligible for the employer’s health plan and then at least once a year thereafter. For convenience, most employers provide the notice at the same time as they distribute new hire materials and annual enrollment materials.

When combined with other materials, the CHIP notice must appear “separately and in a manner which ensures that an employee who may be eligible for premium assistance could reasonably be expected to appreciate its significance.” For instance, the notice may be a loose item in the same envelope with other material. If the notice is stapled inside other material, however, there should be a note on the top page or cover alerting the reader to the placement of the CHIP notice and its importance.

Do we have to mail out paper copies or can we distribute the notice electronically?
The notice may be sent by first-class mail. Alternatively, it can be distributed electronically if the employer follows the DOL’s guidelines for electronic delivery of group health plan materials. That means that the employer first must determine whether the intended recipient has regular access to the electronic media system (e.g., email) as an integral part of his or her job. If so, the notice can be sent electronically provided the employer takes steps to ensure actual receipt, along with notifying the employee of the material’s significance and that a paper copy is available at no cost.

For persons who do not have regular access to the electronic media system, the notice cannot be sent electronically unless the intended recipient provides affirmative consent in advance. The guidelines for obtaining advance consent are fairly cumbersome, so employers are advised to distribute paper copies in these cases.

Summary

Employers offering group health plans are encouraged to review their procedures for distributing CHIP notices. At a minimum, the notice must be given annually to all employees eligible for the employer’s health plan who live in any of the states listed in the notice. Many employers choose to distribute the notice to all workers in an abundance of caution. The DOL provides model notices in English and Spanish that do not need any customization, so employers can simply copy and distribute one or both versions as needed.

 

by Kathleen Berger
Originally posted on thinkhr.com

Trust Equation | California Benefits Partners

We are currently living in a low-trust society as a whole — we keep hearing that news is fake, science is fake, and so on. That makes it hard for us to trust anyone and is why we need to work on building trust in the workplace more than ever. Human resources professionals and business leaders have an imperative to instill a culture of trust — not just because it is key to employee engagement, satisfaction, and performance, but also because it’s just the most human thing to do.

When you look at the foundations of trust, they are simple: People want to trust that they are going to be treated with respect, that their leaders are credible, and what they do matters. They want to know that they are secure.

There are three building blocks of trust: protection, presence, and progress. I call them my “Three Ps.”

Protection

Feeling protected is a foundational need. To earn the trust of someone else, you need to provide this protection. Your employees want to feel that the organization and their bosses are looking out for them, and that they genuinely care. Underlying the protection we all need and desire are “BLT” (just like the comforting feeling of the classic BLT sandwich): balance, love, and truth. When people feel protected, they are going to demonstrate kindness, loyalty, courage, and generosity.

When you don’t instill a sense of protection, it will stifle innovation and slow down the organization.

Presence

Presence is simple. It’s literally being present in all your interactions — meetings, one-on-one discussions, and interviews. We talk a lot about mindfulness these days, but it extends beyond the personal to the relational. Today, it feels like no one is ever present — we are all tuned in to our devices all the time. So turn off your computer, phone, tablet, watch, etc. when someone comes into your office, stay focused in conversations, and don’t bring your devices to meetings. Put your attention into what you value. Enjoy the present moment and truly experience it.

Lack of presence sends a message of lack of trust.

Progress

As humans, we constantly make progress, minute by minute. We want to know that we are moving in the right direction. How are we helping our employees make progress? Are we focused on helping them move ahead? Supporting your employees’ efforts and making progress is vital to helping them feel that you care about them fundamentally.

I have a personal philosophy of growth and recommend setting weekly growth plans. I pick one personal topic, like last week was protein, and I investigate to understand it. I also pick one work topic, like running better meetings and investigate that for the week. It’s not complicated — just pick a topic and spend the week growing at it.

Ask the Right Questions

Communicating needs is important, but it takes trust to do that. One way to develop the three Ps of trust is by asking the right questions, then really listening to the answers and acting on them. It shows you care and that you want to help people not feel like they are stranded or drowning. It tells your staff it’s safe to say that they are overwhelmed or hung up somewhere, or they don’t have the answers.

Questions for one-on-ones can include:

Protection

  • How is life?
  • Do you have any decisions you are hung up on?
  • Am I giving you the resources or information you need to do your job?
  • Do you have too much on your plate?

Presence

  • What are you worried about right now?
  • What rumors are you hearing?
  • Would you like more or less direction from me?

Progress

  • If you could pick one accomplishment to be proud of between right now and next year, what would it be?
  • What are the biggest time-wasters you encounter?
  • What type and amount of feedback works best for you?

 

by Dan Riordan
Originally posted on thinkhr.com

Solving Problems - While Increasing Employee Satisfaction | Cupertino Benefits Consultants

“Design thinking” is a fairly common term. Even if the phrase is new to you, it’s reasonably easy to intuit how it works: design thinking is a process for creative problem solving, utilizing creative tools like empathy and experimentation, often with a strong visual component. The term dates from 1968 and was first used in The Sciences of The Artificial, a text written by Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon.

For Simon, design thinking involved seven components, but today it’s usually distilled to five: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test. In this way, creative tools are employed to serve individuals in a group, with a solution-driven focus. It’s important to note that these components are not necessarily sequential. Rather, they are specific modes, each with specific tools that contribute equally to solving an issue.

Most significantly, as Steve Boese of HR Executive noted in a recent column, design thinking is a rising trend in HR leadership. “Those using this strategy,” he says, “challenge existing assumptions and approaches to solving a problem, and ask questions to identify alternative solutions that might not be readily apparent.”Design thinking helps teams make decisions that include employees in meaningful ways, personalize target metrics, work outside the box, and produce concrete solutions. Even teams with established, productive structures use design thinking in the review process, or to test out expanded options.

Boese says that the key shift design thinking offers any team is the opportunity to troubleshoot solutions before they’re put into real-time practice. The main goal of design thinking is not process completion, low error rates, or output reports, as with other forms of HR technology, but employee satisfaction and engagement. More often than not, this leads to increased morale and even more opportunities for success.

 

by Bill Olson
Originally posted on ubabenefits.com

 

Ask the Experts: Marijuana and the ADA | Cupertino Benefits Firm

Question:
Is medical marijuana use protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? If so, what accommodations would be considered reasonable?

Answer:
You are not required to accommodate medical marijuana use under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Even though medical marijuana is legal in many states, under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), marijuana is still illegal. The ADA expressly excludes people who use illegal drugs from its definition of “qualified individual with a disability.”

However, as a best practice, you should still engage in the ADA interactive process if a request for a reasonable accommodation for medical marijuana use is made. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities unless doing so would cause an undue hardship on the employer. Any request for a reasonable accommodation triggers an interactive process with the employee to determine:

  1. Whether the employee or applicant is a qualified individual with a disability, meaning they can perform the essential functions of the job with a reasonable accommodation; and
  2. What the employee’s needs are, and which appropriate accommodations could be made.

If the employee’s physician has determined that medical marijuana is the most effective treatment, a possible reasonable accommodation would be a waiver of your anti-drug policy. However, if the employee is in a safety-sensitive position, it may pose an undue hardship to make that accommodation and you should consider any other possible accommodations before denying the request.

There are no reasonable accommodations that would work in every circumstance. You will need to review the essential functions and safety requirements of the job with the employee to determine what types of reasonable accommodations may be acceptable while not imposing an undue hardship.

The Courts May Not Concur

While medical marijuana use is not protected by the ADA, this is being challenged at the state level. For example, in July 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held in Barbuto v. Advantage Sales and Marketing that an employee who was fired after testing positive for marijuana could proceed with a “handicap discrimination” claim under the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act.

In allowing the employee’s discrimination claim to go forward, the Court expressly rejected the employer’s argument that, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, requiring an employer to accommodate medical marijuana use is per se unreasonable.

Instead, the Court held that, at a minimum, the employer was obligated to engage in an interactive dialogue concerning the employee’s ongoing medicinal marijuana use before terminating her employment. The Court did not rule out the possibility that accommodating medicinal marijuana use could pose an undue hardship, leaving that issue open for the employer to address at a later date.


Originally posted on thinkhr.com