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  • Expansion of what is allowed under High Deductible Health Plans | by Jordan Shields, Partner

    July 1, 2020

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    The original idea of HDHPs was to create a consumer-directed vehicle (Health Savings Account), which would “force” policyholders to shop more consciously for health services.  Whether that has or has not succeeded is always a matter of conjecture and even debate, but what is clear is that there are other services that did not exist in abundance at the time the law was passed.  Now the IRS has proposed amendments under Document 2020-12213 which qualifies the following expenses as “medical care” for HSA reimbursement

    • Direct primary care arrangements
    • The premiums paid for “coverage” with a health care share ministry are allowed

  • 4 Steps You Can Take to Feel More in Control Now

    June 26, 2020

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    COVID-19 has upended life as we know it for millions of people around the world. Many of us—including the young and healthy—are seriously contemplating our mortality for the first time.

    As the parent of a toddler, with a baby on the way, I’m definitely in this camp. It’s deeply unsettling to ponder how this virus has cut short so many lives in the span of just a few months.

    I can’t escape the reality that I’m not invincible and never really have been. Whether it’s an accident, a terminal illness or an infectious disease, untimely deaths happen and none of us are assured a long, healthy life.

    That thought paralyzed me before I decided to take a proactive approach to things. The good news is that there are concrete actions you can take today to protect the ones you love and get some peace of mind during these challenging times. Here are four definitely worth doing.

     

    1. Prepare your will. Not even half of Americans have a will, which is a legal document that spells out your wishes for where your assets go and who cares for any minor children in the event you pass away. If you die without a will, your individual state’s laws will decide where your money and belongings go and who takes care of your kids. As if that isn’t bad enough, dying without a will generally delays the process of resolving your estate and can subject it to additional taxes.

    Spare your loved ones from this experience with a will. Many people use a lawyer to draw up a will, especially if they have large or complicated estates. These days, many lawyers can help you via email, phone and teleconference, so don’t let social distancing stop you from getting a will.

    Another option is to create a will online. This is a fast and inexpensive option for anyone on a budget or with uncomplicated needs. A few popular resources include LegalZoomQuicken WillMaker & Trust and Do Your Own Will. (The final option is free!)

     

    2. Create an advanced directive. An advanced directive is another legal document you’ll want to lock down. It explains what kind of medical care you’d want in the event you can’t speak for yourself.

    The most common types of advanced directives are the living will and the durable power of attorney. A living will spells out your health care wishes in the event you’re terminally ill and unable to express your wishes or permanently unconscious. Meanwhile, a durable power of attorney is a document in which you name a trusted person to make health care decisions for you in the event you’re unable to do so.

    An attorney can help you create an advanced directive or you can create one for free online using a form from your state. (Check your state’s website for its individual form.) If you go the latter route, make sure to check your state’s laws about advanced directives. Some require you to sign them in the presence of a witness, while others require them to be notarized. (And yes, you can now get documents notarized online through services like notarize.com.)

     

    3. Look into life insurance. If anyone depends on your earnings or unpaid labor (I’m looking at you, stay-at-home parents and caregivers), it’s absolutely essential to have at least some life insurance in place. From funeral costs to the mortgage to everyday living expenses, life insurance steps in to smooth things over financially if you aren’t in the picture.

    I know the last thing many of us want right now is an added expense. But this is one well worth having—and it’s probably a lot less than you think. A healthy 30-year-old can get a $250,000 20-year level term policy for just $13 a month.

    Any amount of life insurance is better than none at all, so contact an agent today to get a policy that works for your life and budget. (Like lawyers and notaries, many of them can work with you over phone, email and teleconferencing tools!)

     

    4. Consider disability insurance. Illnesses and injuries curtail many people’s careers and lifetime earnings unexpectedly every year. With respect to the current crisis, those hospitalized for COVID-19 often have long roads to recovery as well as lifelong complications. Whether the health challenge leads to short-term or permanent consequences, it’s hard to stay on top of bills when your paycheck stops.

    This is where disability insurance can be a lifesaver. This “insurance for your paycheck” protects your income until you’re able to return to work. Like life insurance, there are policies for every situation and budget. Learn about the three main ways to get disability coverage.

     

    I’m the first to admit that contemplating these realities isn’t a fun way to pass the time. But something far worse is knowing that the people I love the most would be in a bind if the unthinkable happened. Plus, tackling these to-do’s gave me a much-needed sense of control during these unpredictable times—I hope it does the same for you, too.

    By Amanda Austin

    Originally posted on lifehappens.org

  • Ask the Advisor: Can We Deny an Employee’s Use of Accrued Vacation Time?

    June 23, 2020

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    Question:

    Can we deny an employee’s use of accrued vacation time?

    Answer:

    Yes, the decision to approve or deny the use of accrued vacation time is up to you, assuming you do so in a consistent and non-discriminatory manner. It would be acceptable, for example, to deny a vacation request because approving it would leave you without adequate coverage or because the employee asked with less notice than is required by your time off policy.

    You should, however, ensure that certain employees are not denied vacation disproportionately. For instance, if an employer’s administrative staff (who are all women), or their software engineers (who are all men), are consistently denied vacation because arranging coverage is difficult and deadlines are abundant, this could lead to claims of discrimination.

    If you have “use it or lose it” vacation policy, you may want to change it (permanently or for 2020) to a system where hours roll over from one benefit year to another (up to a reasonable cap) so that employees don’t feel like they need to use up their vacation by a certain date or risk losing the benefit. If you already roll over hours, you might consider raising the rollover cap for this year in response to COVID-19. In any case, be sure to notify employees of any changes to your policy.

    By Emily Schlaudecker

    Originally posted on thinkhr.com

  • Effective Leadership Begins with You

    June 17, 2020

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    If you search Merriam-Webster for the meaning of “leader,” you will find some interesting definitions:

    1. Something that leads: such as something that ranks first
    2. A person who leads: such as a person who has commanding authority or influence

    Now, think of those in leadership in your life. Do they line up with these definitions of a leader? What about you? Would others say you lined up with these descriptions? Effective leadership is achievable when you work at building the leader-muscles in you. Here’s a quick list of the traits that leaders possess so you can begin exercising these muscles in your next leadership workout:

    1. Self-manage: Make a list in your planner or phone that outlines your goals for the week and how you plan to achieve them. You cannot manage others if you cannot manage yourself.
    2. Good communication: Many of us have heard the phrase “You have two ears and one mouth so you can listen twice as much as you talk.” An effective leader “knows when to talk and when to listen.” Leaders can communicate company goals and tasks to all levels in the organization and can gather information from all levels by listening.
    3. Accountability: A successful manager gives credit where it is due and is not afraid to take responsibility for mistakes made by them or the team. Shifting blame does nothing more than undermine your team. Taking all the praise does the same thing. Leaders evenly distribute both in a respectful manner.
    4. Promote teamwork: When building a team it is important for the leader to create a culture of teamwork. This is beyond the task of sharing workload, it is also the leader’s skill of team-led problem-solving, communication, and reliability.
    5. Set clear goals with vision: Good employees can follow instructions and complete tasks. Good leaders share vision and good employees are motivated by it. “Vision can be defined as a picture in the leader’s imagination that motivates people to action when communicated compellingly, passionately and clearly.”

    Just as you cannot build strong muscles in your body by occasionally going to the gym, you cannot shape leadership muscles by sporadically flexing these traits—you have to work them out daily. This means you are doing the hard work of leading a team at all times and as you build your team’s culture of respect and cooperation, you will prove yourself to be effective.

  • Too Big to Fail? No…Haven may no longer be that for those hoping to solve the medical care cost crisis | Jordan Shields, Partner

    June 11, 2020

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    They said they couldn’t lose.  With the combined purchasing power of their three companies, the right motivation, a highly visible CEO and money to make it happen, Haven is a not-for-profit, healthcare-focused entity created to reshape health care.  Instead, its shape has been affected by changes of its own.  Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway and Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase all started Haven in January 2018, determined to find a way to control the runaway costs of health care.  In June 2018, Atul Gawande, a renowned surgeon and professor at Harvard University, was appointed as chief executive officer of Haven Healthcare.  There was no way this could miss.  Even when they formed the company, the share price of health insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers across the industry dropped.

    On May 13, however, Dr. Gawande resigned abruptly, though oddly stayed on as Chairman, while another top executive left after just eight months.  This amid the fact that no one has really heard how Haven is going to make the impact it promised.  So far, since launching its first health insurance plans in November, it has given 30,000 JPMorgan employees access to plans operated by Cigna and Aetna for 2020. Those plans are designed to inform employees about the true costs of care and services in order to bring costs down.  Not exactly as earth-shaking as promised.

  • While Shelter in Place Tightens, Some Regulations Loosen – Cafeteria Plans | Jordan Shields, Partner

    June 9, 2020

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    The IRS has issued two notices which give employers more flexibility with Flex Plans.

    None of this is required, but these changes are permitted in the current plan:

    • Employees who previously waived participation may enroll off anniversary
    • Employees who did not include dependents previously may now do so
    • Employees may drop coverage for themselves or their dependents
    • Employees may change the amount they have set for Dependent Care Plans
    • For non-calendar plan years, may extend claims submission period to December 31
    • If there is a carryover plan in place for Healthcare FSA, employer may increase the carryover limit from $500 to $550 to the subsequent year

  • Mental Health Exercises for a Strong Mind

    June 8, 2020

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    When someone says they want to get healthy, you naturally think of physical health. However, we do have the ability to do a mind workout so that we are mentally fit. We’ve collected some exercises to help you build your mental-muscle-strength and, in turn, build a strong and healthy body.

    Anxiety disorders are the highest reported mental health issue in the US with 42.5 million Americans claiming to suffer from this illness. We can only assume that now, due to the state of the world in the middle of a global pandemic, those numbers will be increasing. It’s natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during a crisis. But, rather than camp out in those feelings, it’s a better choice to work out of those feelings.

    Let’s get to work and train our brain to be healthy.

    1. When you feel anxiety or stress growing, take regular breaks from whatever is causing that stress. Go for a walk. Do breathing exercises. Turn up your music and sing and dance. If you like to garden, go outside and get your hands in the dirt!
    2. Make healthy food choices. What you eat has an impact on how you feel. Carbohydrates increase serotonin, which is known to contribute to feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Protein increases alertness and fruits and vegetables feed all the cells of your body and help with regulating your mood.
    3. When you think positively, you act positively. Keep a gratitude journal to help you focus on the things that you appreciate in your life. Practice the art of random acts of kindness. When you help others, it not only benefits the receiver, but also the giver! Speak positively to yourself and to others. Your words carry so much weight—make sure they are filled with the right kind of load.
    4. Limit your exposure to news and social media if you find these are areas that bring you more unease than joy. Consider only watching/reading the news once a day. The same idea goes for checking in on social media since you can so easily go down a Facebook bunny trail that leads to negativity. You can even choose to follow those stories that you know will brighten your thoughts like John Krasinski’s “Some Good News.”
    5. Connect with those who lift you up. We all have that friend whose natural bent is to be negative. This is not who you want to have speaking into you. Instead, seek out those friends that are naturally great encouragers and let them fill your emotional tank. In the same vein, when you need help, speak with trusted authorities like your pastor or counselor or those suggested through your work’s Employee Assistance Program.

    As you bulk up your mind with healthy thoughts, you will find your body follows suit. Mental health requires the same dedication to good habits and choices that physical health does. And, when you make daily decisions to think on those things that are good and noble and uplifting, your strong mental health will carry you through the rough patches of life without letting you down.

  • Data Drop: The Latest Workforce Surveys for HR Professionals to Read

    June 3, 2020

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    It’s an interesting time for the workforce as big changes are in store for everyone across the spectrum of the professional landscape. Every industry has been impacted COVID-19 and the continuous evolution of the situation, the economy and the workplace means that data and our understanding of all these things is shifting with it.

    More reliable than the data itself sometimes is people thirst for more of it. We love our numbers and there are no shortage of people looking to provide it. Luckily, a good amount of that data ends up in our inbox!

    So here are some of the latest workforce surveys that have caught our attention and what statistics you need to know as you look to address the issues within your own organization.

    People Feel Isolated, but Want to Stay Home

    According to a recent survey from Finance Buzz, around half of remote workers say they feel isolated, but less 20% of them want to go back to the office.

    The perks of remote work are becoming clear to employees, with the ability to work from anywhere, flexibility of schedule and time saved from not commuting proving to be the most universal of the bunch.

    But at the same time, in addition to feelings of isolation, employees are finding it harder to build relationships with co-workers, they struggle to separate work time and personal time and they aren’t getting enough face time with their leaders. Most of the issues can be addressed simply by committing to the principles that make operating remotely different.

    “Remote work is not traditional work which is simply conducted in a home office instead of a company office,” says Darren Murph, Head of Remote for Gitlab. “There is a natural inclination for those who have not personally experienced remote work to assume that the core (or only) difference between in-office work and remote work is location (in-office vs. out-of-office). This is inaccurate, and if not recognized, can be damaging to the entire practice of working remotely.”

    Employers are Ready to Return Workers, but at What Pace?

    Dykema, a national law firm for businesses, surveyed employers asking about their plans to return employees to the office. One thing that became clear is their intent to do so. But what was less clear is how they plan to do it.

    According to the data, 58% were planning to phase employees back into the office over the course of a month. Meanwhile, 21% want to get things back up and running much quicker than that, and another 21% say they won’t reopen until all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines have been met.  Only about half of all respondents have established a criteria for which employees will return to the office.

    How Prospects are Prepping for Your Interview

    Employee screening and background check service, JDP, released a new survey looking at how candidates prepare for job interviews and the results reveal how vital it is to manage digital assets and the organization’s reputation.

    On average, prospects spend around seven hours researching a company before taking an interview. As you might expect, they start by examining the company website, search engine results for the company name, LinkedIn and Glassdoor. Aside from looking at your reputation, they want to know who your customers are, what kind of leadership the organization has, who your competitors are and last but not least, the financial health of the company.

    Around 64% look to research the person who will interview them. Their biggest fears include speaking in front of a group, not knowing how to answer a question and looking nervous. Despite this, 63% do not do a mock interview with someone.

    Automation is Expected Post COVID-19

    It’s no surprise people believe automation is on the way, with research showing that the biggest believers fall into the 35-44 age group, according to research from global business process outsourcing firm SYKES. The survey showed that in all, around 59% of participants believe that COVID-19 will lead to more automation.

    The findings expand upon previous research from SYKES that has shown people don’t fear automation taking their jobs. A November report found that 73% of American workers said the idea of humans and automation working together interested them and 68% said they would be more likely to apply to work for a company investing in new automation technologies.

    By HR Exchange Network Editorial Team

    Originally posted on hrexchangenetwork.com

  • How to Support the Mental Health of Your Employees During COVID-19

    May 25, 2020

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    The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health. People have experienced financial hardship, additional challenges with childcare and school cancellations, job loss, reduced hours, sickness, and grief. The future is uncertain, and the present is extra stressful. And to make matters worse, many of the networks and practices that people use to support their mental health are currently unavailable due to social distancing.

    In this environment, where people are increasingly anxious and may be socially isolated, it’s even more important that managers support the mental health of their team members — both those who are coming into the workplace and those working from home. High stress can quickly destroy trust, inhibit empathy, and break down teams — each of which makes it more difficult for people to do their jobs. Fortunately, employers can provide some support. Here are some things employers can do to help employees manage stress and tend to their mental health:

    When possible, give employees a little extra time to slow down and rest
    Employees may need a moment to breathe or a day to regain their peace of mind, and they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for time to take care of themselves. The ability to occasionally function at a medium (or even slow) pace should be built into performance expectations so that employees can avoid burnout or breakdown.

    Offer PTO, mental health benefits, and flexible schedules if appropriate
    In some cases, employees who want to get the mental health care they need can’t afford it. Losing pay from a missed work shift might be too great a hardship, and effective treatments might be financially out of reach. These financial hindrances can exacerbate conditions like anxiety and depression. In other cases, employees can afford the time off and the treatments, but they can’t make regular appointments work with their schedules. If you can offer paid time off, health insurance benefits, or flexible schedules, these can help employees get the care they need.

    Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
    An EAP gives employees access to expert, confidential assistance for substance abuse issues, relationship troubles, financial problems, and mental health conditions. These services are offered through an outside provider that connects employees with the appropriate resources and professionals. These programs enable you to provide professional assistance to employees while allowing them confidentiality at work. EAPs are also inexpensive, costing between just 75 cents and 2 dollars per employee per month.

    Make reasonable accommodations when possible
    If an employee informs you that they have anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition, and they request an accommodation, you should begin the interactive process to determine what reasonable accommodation(s) you can provide in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA applies when an employer has 15 or more employees, but many states have similar laws that require employers to make accommodations at an even lower employee count. You can learn more about the ADA on the HR Support Center.

    Create digital spaces for friendships to grow
    Loneliness in the workplace can be a serious issue, with significant negative effects on both employees and the workplace. Right now, with many employees working from home, it’s harder to spot signs of it. Employers can facilitate friendships and connections between employees by setting up virtual chat programs and video conferencing apps.

    Employees also need to be reassured that it’s fine for them to take a little time during the workday to reach out to others about non-work matters and participate in virtual games and other fun group activities. Managers can set the tone by participating in fun chats and activities and encouraging employees to join in. Helping employees foster friendships is not only the right thing to do, it can also reduce turnover and increase engagement.

    Promote good mental (and physical) health in the workplace
    Healthy habits are important for everyone to practice. Consider setting time aside during the week or month for employees to participate in activities like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness that develop and strengthen these habits. If you aren’t familiar with these practices, solicit the help of your employees. One or more of them may know a lot about these activities and be able to assist you in setting up a workplace program or modifying a program for employees currently working from home.

    Make use of additional resources
    During this time, employees might benefit from this three-page list of several virtual recovery resources from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and this COVID-19 resource and information guide from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

    By Kyle Cupp
    Originally posted on thinkhr.com

  • Well, well, well – it’s not just the physical but the fiscal – employers using Financial Wellness | Jordan Shields, Partner

    May 21, 2020

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    The number of employers offering Financial Wellness programs is expected to nearly double within the next few years.  The head of client management for MassMutual, says, “financial wellness has become a huge priority for employers across the country as Americans struggle with managing a wide variety of financial issues from paying down credit card debt and handling emergency medical expenses to saving for retirement and planning for long term care”

    • 86% characterize financial wellness programs as important
    • Chief motivation of 90% of those offering is that they “really care about their employees”
    • 80% feel financial wellness is on the cutting edge of benefit offerings
    • 47% said an effective program should address an employee’s full financial picture
    • Most popular programs (all over 75% approval): retirement, financial planning and retirement tools, protection products (e.g. life insurance), access to a financial advisor for financial or retirement planning

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