HHS Releases Inflation-Adjusted Federal Civil Penalty Amounts

Are you up-to-date on the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Annual Civil Monetary Penalties Inflation Adjustment? Read this blog post to learn about the new changes.


The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued its Annual Civil Monetary Penalties Inflation Adjustment. Here are some of the adjustments:

  • Medicare Secondary Payer:
    • For failure to provide information identifying situations where the group health plan is primary, the maximum penalty increases from $1,157 to $1,181 per failure.
    • For an employer who offers incentives to a Medicare-eligible individual to not enroll in employer-sponsored group health that would otherwise be primary, the maximum penalty increases from $9,054 to $9,239.
    • For willful or repeated failure to provide requested information regarding group health plan coverage, the maximum penalty increases from $1,474 to $1,504.
  • Summary of Benefits and Coverage: For failure to provide, the maximum penalty increases from $1,105 to $1,128 per failure.
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA):
 Tier Penalty
1. Did Not Know:
Covered entity or business associate did not know (and by exercising reasonable diligence would not have known) that it violated the provision of the Administrative Simplification regulations.
$114 - $57,051 for each violation, up to a maximum of $1,711,533 for identical provisions during a calendar year.
2. Reasonable Cause:
The violation was due to reasonable cause and not to willful neglect.
$1,141 - $57,051 for each violation, up to a maximum of $1,711,533 for identical provisions during a calendar year.
3. Willful Neglect – Corrected:
The violation was due to willful neglect, but the violation is corrected during the 30-day period beginning on the first date the liable person knew (or by exercising reasonable diligence would have known) of the failure to comply.
$11,410 - $57,051 for each violation, up to a maximum of $1,711,533 for identical provisions during a calendar year.
2. Willful Neglect – Not Corrected:
The violation was due to willful neglect and the violation is not corrected as described in Tier 3.
$57,051 minimum for each violation, up to a maximum of $1,711,533 for identical provisions during a calendar year.

The adjustments are effective for penalties assessed on or after October 11, 2018, for violations occurring after November 2, 2015.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (29 November 2018) "HHS Releases Inflation-Adjusted Federal Civil Penalty Amounts" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from 


HRL - White - House

DOL reverses course on ‘80/20’ limitations for tipped employees

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently released four new opinion letters, providing insight into their views on compliance with federal labor laws. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


Last week, the DOL issued four new opinion letters providing both employers and employees further insight into the agency’s views regarding compliance with federal labor laws.

While the letters touch on a variety of issues, perhaps the most notable change involves the DOL’s about-face regarding the amount of “non-tipped” work an employee can perform while still receiving a lower “tip-credit” wage.

Essentially, this new guidance does away with the previous “80/20” rule regarding tipped employees. Under the 80/20 rule, businesses were barred from paying employees traditionally engaged in tip-based work, like servers and bartenders, a lower minimum wage and taking a tip credit for the other portion of the employee’s wage up to applicable state and federal minimum wage requirements when those employees’ side work, like napkin folding or making coffee, accounted for more than 20% of the employee’s time.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of litigation across the country over the 80/20 rule, questioning whether the tipped employee’s “side work” amounted to more than 20% of the employee’s duties and time. Likewise, in many of those same suits, plaintiffs would challenge individual tasks associated with their side work, attempting to claim that those tasks were not so closely related to their tipped duties, but rather rose to the level of a completely different or “dual job,” meaning that the employer should not be permitted to take the tip credit for hours worked performing those tasks.

What followed was case after case of lawyers, courts and employers quibbling over minutes spent folding napkins, wiping counters, slicing lemons, and painstakingly calculating and arguing as to whether those tasks added up to 20% and whether those tasks were not closely related enough to be included in the 20% calculation.

In these kinds of cases, we’d see arguments over circumstances like the server that moonlights as a “maintenance man” versus the server that changed the lightbulb or helped sweep underneath the tables.

The ultimate result: confusion, chaos and, frankly, a treasure trove for plaintiff’s attorneys who had another arrow in their quiver in which to seek additional purported wages for clients from employers that would find it difficult, if not impossible, to account for all minutes and tasks employees were performing in busy restaurants.

Following the DOL’s opinion letter, the landscape will change. Recognizing that the existing guidance and case law had created “some confusion,” the DOL expressly stated that they “do not intend to place a limitation on the amount of duties related to a tip-producing occupation that may be performed, so long as they are performed contemporaneously with direct customer-service duties...”

However, in attempting to provide additional clarity, the DOL may have instead opened up the proverbial Pandora ’s Box of uncertainty. In identifying the list of duties that the DOL would consider “core or supplemental,” the DOL refers to the Tasks section of the Details report in the Occupational Information Network (O*NET). It goes without saying that no document can provide an exhaustive list of tasks in today’s changing marketplace. While the DOL attempted to recognize the changing nature of today’s environment in a savings-type footnote, one does not have to look too far ahead to foreshadow the response from the plaintiff’s bar arguing over the related duties listed on O*NET.

While the DOL’s new position on the 80/20 rule will certainly come as a relief to many employers with tipped employees, employers should still be mindful in evaluating tipped employees’ job duties on a regular basis. Employees that are engaged in “dual jobs” are entitled to the full minimum wage, without the tip credit.

SOURCE: Kennedy, C. (15 November 2018) "DOL reverses course on ‘80/20’ limitations for tipped employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/dol-reverses-course-on-80-20-limitations-for-tipped-employees?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001

This article originally appeared on the Foley & Lardner website. The information in this legal alert is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as specific legal advice.


2019: A Look Forward

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

 Changes for 2019 

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

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

Expected Changes

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

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

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


End-of-year FSA expenses: An employer cheat sheet

Reminding your employees what expenses their flexible spending accounts (FSA) cover can help alleviate the issue of unspent FSA funds at the end of the year. Read on to learn more.


The scenario is all too familiar for employers and human resource managers: The year ends, and employees still have unspent funds in their flexible spending accounts. Whether employees forget that the money in their FSA must be used or it will be lost, or they simply aren’t aware of which expenses can be covered by FSA funds, their frustration at losing money often falls on the employer.

Reminding employees which expenses are eligible to be covered by an FSA can help mitigate headaches for employers and HR departments in the new year and shed light on lesser-known options for making the best use of remaining funds before the end of the plan year.

As a general rule, an eligible expense is any medical expense the health plan doesn’t cover. This includes things such as out-of-pocket costs, co-pays, co-insurance, hospital visits and prescription drugs. Employees also can apply their FSA funds to dental and vision expenses, which often are not covered in health insurance plans.

Some eligible expenses employees might not be aware of include flu shots, prescription sunglasses, sunscreen that is 30 SPF or higher, grooming for service dogs, acupuncture, arch supports and nutritional consultations. Employees can also use money from FSA to cover pregnancy tests and prenatal vitamins, hearing aids, canes and wheelchairs. They can also use funds to cover personal trainer fees, as long as a letter of medical necessity accompanies the claim.

The IRS determines which expenses qualify for FSAs and maintains a list on its website. Most FSA administrators have lists on their websites as well. FSA-holders can either search for individual expenses or scroll through the list to see what opportunities they might be missing. But it’s a good idea for employers to provide those lists for employees.

In addition to reminding employees what types of expenses are eligible for coverage by FSA funds, employers should review if their plan has a grace period, runout or rollover. If so, employers should communicate the details with employees, as this can help them take full advantage of the time they have to incur expenses and submit receipts for reimbursement.

A grace period is the amount of time an FSA-holder has after the end of the plan year to spend unused funds or incur expenses. A typical grace period is up to 2.5 months after the plan year ends. A run out is the amount of time an FSA-holder has after the end of the plan year to submit claims for reimbursement. In this case, expenses must be incurred before the end of the plan year. An FSA rollover allows up to $500 to be carried over from one calendar year to the next.

Employees also might not be aware that they can use FSA funds on a medical dependent, whether that dependent is covered by the FSA holder's health plan or not. For instance, if an employee has a 24-year-old daughter not covered by the employer health plan who needs a co-pay for a doctor appointment covered, the employee can use their FSA.

Lastly, it’s also important to make it clear to employees the distinction between an FSA and a health savings account. While many of the same expenses are eligible for coverage by either an FSA or HSA, make sure to remind employees about a few key distinctions. An HSA is not “use it or lose it.” All funds roll into the new year and do not need to be used up before the end of the plan year. And for an employee to use his or her HSA to cover a dependent’s medical expenses, the dependent must be a tax dependent.

Helping employees make the best use of their FSA funds before the end of the year not only positions the employer as a hero for saving employees’ hard-earned money, but it inevitably saves the employer from a headache heading into 2019.

SOURCE: Peterson, M. (19 November 2018) "End-of-year FSA expenses: An employer cheat sheet" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/end-of-year-fsa-expenses-an-employer-cheat-sheet?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Hierl's Holiday Favorites

Welcome to our monthly Dish segment. This month, we’ve provided some of our holiday favorites. We hope you have a safe and happy holiday season!

Creme Brulee French Toast

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1 (8 to 9) inch round loaf Challah bread
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. In a small heavy saucepan melt butter with butter with brown sugar and corn syrup over moderate heat, stirring, until smooth and pour into a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish. Cut 6 (1-inch) thick slices from center portion of bread, reserving ends for another use, and trim crusts. Arrange bread slices in one layer in baking dish, squeezing them slightly to fit. In a bowl whisk together eggs, half and half, vanilla, Grand Marnier and salt until combined well and pour evenly over bread. Chill bread mixture, covered, at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and bring bread mixture to room temperature. Bake uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed and edges are pale golden, 35 to 40 minutes.

This recipe was provided by Food Network. If you’d like to visit the original source, please click here.


Lobster Mac and Cheese

Ingredients

  • Kosher salt
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 pound cavatappi or elbow macaroni
  • 1 quart milk
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (4 cups)
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 pounds cooked lobster meat
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it. In a large pot, melt 6 tablespoons of butter and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. Still whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, the pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and lobster and stir well. Place the mixture in 6 to 8 individual gratin dishes.
  4. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

This recipe was provided by Food Network. If you’d like to visit the original source, please click here.


Buckeye Fudge

Ingredients

  • 3 cups Reese’s™ peanut butter chips
  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped cocktail peanuts
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions

  1. Line 9-inch square pan with foil; spray with cooking spray.
  2. In a large microwavable bowl, microwave peanut butter chips uncovered on Medium (50%) in 1-minute increments 3 to 4 minutes or until melted and smooth, stirring well after each minute.
  3. Stir in condensed milk, peanut butter and peanuts until blended. (Mixture will be thick.) Press mixture evenly in pan. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
  4. In a small microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips and cream uncovered on High 60 to 90 seconds; stir until smooth. Spread evenly over chilled fudge. Refrigerate about 2 hours or until chocolate is set. Cut into 8 rows by 8 rows. Store covered in the refrigerator.

This recipe was provided by Betty Crocker. If you’d like to visit the original source, please click here.


**Holiday Hours

Our offices will be closed the following days in December and January:

Christmas Eve: Monday, December 24

Christmas Day: Tuesday, December 25

New Year’s Eve: Monday, December 31

New Year’s Day: Tuesday, January 1

We wish you all a warm and happy holiday season filled with family, friends and good times!

Thank-you for joining us for this month’s Dish! Don’t forget to come back next month for a new one.


Are Your Workers Sleeping on the Job?

Roughly three-quarters of American adults surveyed reported feeling tired at work often, according to a recent survey by Accountemps. Read on to learn more.


The occasional Monday-morning yawn is a common sight at most offices—but, according to new research, a staggering number of employees report being tired at work. Even if workers aren’t actually sleeping on the job, consistent tiredness could spell big trouble for productivity and retention.

Staffing firm Accountemps surveyed 2,800 American adults working in office environments, finding that nearly three-quarters report being tired at work often (specifically, 31 percent said very often, and 43 perfect reported feeling tired somewhat often). Twenty-four percent said it’s not very often that they’re yawning on the job, while just 2 percent said they never feel tired at work.

The report also ranked the top 15 “sleepiest” cities based on survey responses, with Nashville, Tenn. claiming the No. 1 spot, followed by a three-way tie between Denver, Indianapolis and Austin, Texas.

Michael Steinitz, executive director of Accountemps, noted that on-the-job errors would naturally follow if you have a workforce of tired employees. And, he says,  “Consider the underlying causes of why employees are sleepy: If it’s because they’re stretched too thin, retention issues could soon follow.”

Those ideas are bolstered by research from Hult International Business School, which found that the 1,000 workers in its study average about 6.5 hours of sleep per night, lower than the seven to eight hours recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Even a half-hour less than the optimal sleep time, researchers found, led to poorer workplace performance. Tired workers reported a lack of focus, needing more time to complete tasks, struggling with creativity, lacking motivation to learn and challenges to multitasking. Many of those side effects of being tired at work, the researchers wrote, are often mistakenly attributed to poor training or work culture when, in reality, they may stem from sleeplessness.

Lack of sleep has a well-documented impact on physical health, and Hult also noted its effects on mental wellness. A vast majority of respondents (84 percent) said they feel irritable at work when they’re tired, and more than half reported feelings of frustration and stress—all of which, researchers noted, can impact teamwork and collaboration.

Accountemps suggested a number of ways employees can guard against being tired at work: physical exercise, being more communicative with managers and leaving work at the office, such as by not bringing a phone or laptop to bed to decrease the chances of letting work communications keep them up at night. On the employer side, the firm recommended managers set reasonable office hours, increase face-to-face meetings with subordinates to see where support is needed and encourage workers to unplug when they leave the office.

SOURCE: Colletta, J. (26 October 2018) "Are Your Workers Sleeping on the Job?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://hrexecutive.com/are-your-workers-sleeping-on-the-job/


Changing the conversation on mental health

Are you looking to change the conversation on mental health? Bell is creating a set of guidelines employers can use to encourage conversations around mental health, helping change the landscape for mental health in Canada. Continue reading to learn more.


NEW ORLEANS — With no existing standard for how to deal with mental health issues from a workplace perspective, one Canadian employer aimed to tackle the stigma around discussing mental illness, using steps that U.S. employers can follow.

Bell, the telecom giant headquartered in Montreal, has helped change the landscape for mental health in Canada by creating a set of guidelines employers can use as they put in place policies that encourage conversations around mental health.

“When we first went on our journey to establish workplace best practices, we couldn’t find any established guidelines,” Monika Mielnik, senior consultant, human resources, workplace health at Bell, said last week at the Benefits Forum & Expo, hosted by Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser.

So the company helped fund the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety to provide a voluntary set of guidelines, tools and resources employers can use.

There are 13 psychological factors within the guide, ranging from workload management and organizational culture to engagement, recognition and reward, which Mielnik says is “low-hanging fruit” for employers looking for a place to start.

Mielnik offers five steps for employers looking to build a successful program that promotes psychological health in the workplace: Commitment and awareness, support services, mental health training, return to work and accommodation processes, and the ability to measure progress.

Before starting out, Mielnik added, “it’s important to engage individuals across the organization to establish successful mental health initiatives.” Getting executive support and sponsorship, a dedicated mental health leader, and cross-functional involvement are also key.

And while commitment is important, awareness is equally necessary, she added. Bell has three annual campaigns with events aimed at engaging and educating employees across the country to address stigma and create a supportive and inclusive environment: Bell Let’s Talk (January), Mental Health Week (May) and Mental Illness Awareness Week (October).

“Understanding there is stigma and taboo around mental health, we want to make sure our employees are educated and aware of the impact it can have on them, their spouses, and others,” she said.

Bell partnered with digital wellness platform LifeSpeak in 2013 to provide employees with around-the-clock access to tools and assistance programs. In addition, Bell created a dedicated intranet page to provide weekly articles and an on-demand video library.

Bell employees access LifeSpeak 97% of the calendar days, said panelist Danny Weill, VP of partnerships at LifeSpeak. “This has become part of their culture. I like how Bell walks the walk. They do all this amazing stuff in the community, and then they do this stuff in the workplace, which is ultimately good,” he said.

In addition to access, mental health training is a huge part of the culture at Bell.

All employees are required to complete the building blocks to positive mental health training – which includes six interactive modules to help improve and maintain their own mental health.

Further, workplace mental health leadership is mandatory for all leaders within the organization. “This training equips leaders with a better understanding of mental health and [helps them to] be better equipped to have a conversation with employees,” she said. “That has been very key for us.” More than 10,000 leaders have been trained to date.

Part of leadership training includes return-to-work processes, as well as accommodation programs, she noted.

Measuring progress within the organization is an important final component of her five-step plan.

“When we took on this cause in 2010, we did it to make a lasting and significant impact,” she said. Dollars and percentages linked to such things as long- and short-term disability rates, utilization of benefits, etc., can all be measured for success, she added.

Bell noted a positive impact over a two- to three-year period, including a 20% reduction in mental health-related short-term disability and a 50% reduction in relapse and reoccurrence rates.

“One key area, and something we did early, is to take a pulse and baseline check with what’s occurring right,” she said. “Look at your short-term claims or any metric results you have that can speak to the mental health area in your workplace.”

There is a misconception that you have to start big and re-create the wheel when it comes to mental health programs, Mielnik said. “Look at metrics and programs in place and either build off or enhance those programs, but that baseline will be a good place to start.”

SOURCE: Otto, N. (3 October 2018) "Changing the conversation on mental health" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: https://www.benefitnews.com/news/changing-the-conversation-on-mental-health?feed=00000152-18a4-d58e-ad5a-99fc032b0000


8 Ways to Relate to Time as a Realist

Time optimists tend to get overbooked and overwhelmed when things don't get done in time, according to productivity and time management expert Julie Morgenstern. Read on for tips on how to be a better time realist.


Productivity and time management expert Julie Morgenstern believes people can be grouped two ways when it comes to time management: Time realists and time optimists.

Time realists consider how long things take and what is going on in any given day. Time optimists are guided by what they hope to get done.

Morgenstern argues that time optimists get overbooked and overwhelmed when things don’t, or can’t, get done in time. To help people be better realists, she offers these tips in The New York Times:

  1. Pause before the yes
    Think about how long a task will take and clearly let stakeholders know what’s possible, or what will have to be postponed to make a new priority happen.
  1. Plan for two days
    Look ahead and see how the puzzle of your next few days looks as you consider where critical tasks will fit in.
  1. Batch activities
    Your concentration threshold will help you divide your days by administrative tasks, creative ones, and fit in hobbies and socializing. Then, create mini-deadlines for the most dreaded tasks.
  1. Deal with email
    Set aside time for regular email maintenance. If it takes less than five minutes, reply and deal with it immediately. Drowning in old email? Sort unread emails by date, and simply delete the oldest.
  1. Avoid too many tools
    Pick the four communication platforms—including email, texts, phone and social media messaging tools—you can manage and only manage those.
  1. Set a timer
    Work on things you’d procrastinate on in timed intervals and don’t stop until the timer goes off.
  1. Pick a calendar
    Rather than flip between a paper or electronic calendar, pick one and stick with it. Then, add your to-do list to it.
  1. Carve out ”me time”
    The most productive people claim personal time and make it part of their schedule. Whatever it is you love to do, create time for it the same way you do the things you have to do.

Read More:

The New York Times It’s Time to Become a Time Realist

SOURCE: Olson, B. (6 November 2018) "8 Ways to Relate to Time as a Realist" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: https://blog.ubabenefits.com/8-ways-to-relate-to-time-as-a-realist


What Benefits and Perks Do Employees Actually Want?

Employee benefits packages have grown to include much more than just medical, dental and vision coverage. Read this blog post to learn what benefits and perks your employees want.


With open enrollment just around the corner for most companies, employee benefits are top of mind. Today’s offerings have grown to include more than just medical, dental, and vision coverage. Companies are now including perks like scheduling flexibility, tuition reimbursement, and even parental assistance as part of their overall package.

Let’s cut through the hype: what benefits and perks do employees actually care about? As someone who has administered his fair share of open enrollments, I’ve wondered the same thing. But over the years, I’ve learned that you sometimes just need to ask. By running benefits “pulse” surveys, HR teams can get the data and perspective they need to tailor their company’s offerings.

It’s also important to research what’s happening in the marketplace and what your competitors are doing. When was the last time you spoke to your benefits broker? They’ll have the greatest visibility into what types of claims employees are filing and where you might have coverage gaps. Working closely with your broker is one of the easiest ways to ensure you’re meeting employees’ expectations and the job market’s standards.

While studies have shown that traditional medical, dental, and vision coverage are still employees’ top priority, here are some non-traditional offerings that your employees may be clamoring for:

  • Parental assistance and leave: Companies are now enriching their policies with tools that assist new parents, including everything from post-birth specialist care to reimbursements for newborn necessities.
  • Virtual medical care: One of the hottest trends is virtual medical care. Employees can have access to a doctor 24/7 via a laptop or smartphone, all in the comfort of their own home.
  • Tuition reimbursement and assistance: Today, Americans owe over $1.3 trillion in student loans. That’s more than twice what they owed a decade ago. Needless to say, young employees are looking for companies that offer some type of student loan assistance.
  • Mental health: Over 18 percent of adults in the United States experience some form of anxiety disorder. Given the growing national focus on mental health issues, it’s no surprise that workplaces are joining the conversation. Increasingly, businesses are offering workers better access to mental health therapists and coaches.
  • Physical wellness: Two words: gym reimbursements. Sometimes the motivation to work out can be hard to muster, but when your gym membership is paid for by your employer, why not take full advantage? Healthier, more active employees could lead to lower medical insurance costs, too!

Those are just some of the unique benefits that you should consider offering employees. At the end of the day, I’ve learned that each workplace has different needs and wants. Be sure to regularly survey employees on their preferences and keep tabs on what peer companies are offering.

SOURCE: Cosme, J. (14 November 2018) "What Benefits and Perks Do Employees Actually Want?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://blog.shrm.org/blog/what-benefits-and-perks-do-employees-actually-want


Coping with stress: Workplace tips

Identifying your stress triggers is just one way you can cope with workplace stress. The workplace is a common source of stress for employees. Continue reading for tips on how to cope with stress.


The workplace is a likely source of stress, but you're not powerless to the effects of stress at work. Effectively coping with job stress can benefit both your professional and personal life. Here's help taking charge.

Identify your stress triggers

Your personality, experiences and other unique characteristics all influence the way you respond to and cope with stress. Situations and events that are distressing for your colleagues might not bother you in the least. Or you might be particularly sensitive to certain stressors that don't seem to bother other people.

To begin coping with stress at work, identify your stress triggers.

For a week or two, record the situations, events and people who cause you to have a negative physical, mental or emotional response. Include a brief description of each situation, answering questions such as:

  • Where were you?
  • Who was involved?
  • What was your reaction?
  • How did you feel?

Then evaluate your stress inventory. You might find obvious causes of stress, such as the threat of losing your job or obstacles with a particular project. You might also notice subtle but persistent causes of stress, such as a long commute or an uncomfortable workspace.

Tackle your stress triggers

Once you've identified your stress triggers, consider each situation or event and look for ways to resolve it.

Suppose, for instance, that you're behind at work because you leave early to pick up your son from school. You might check with other parents or neighbors about an after-school carpool. Or you might begin work earlier, shorten your lunch hour or take work home to catch up in the evening.

Often, the best way to cope with stress is to find a way to change the circumstances that are causing it.

Sharpen your time management skills

In addition to addressing specific stress triggers, it's often helpful to improve time management skills — especially if you tend to feel overwhelmed or under pressure at work. For example:

  • Set realistic goals. Work with colleagues and leaders to set realistic expectations and deadlines. Set regular progress reviews and adjust your goals as needed.
  • Make a priority list. Prepare a list of tasks and rank them in order of priority. Throughout the day, scan your master list and work on tasks in priority order.
  • Protect your time. For an especially important or difficult project, block time to work on it without interruption. Also, break large projects into smaller steps.

Keep perspective

When your job is stressful, it can feel as if it's taking over your life. To maintain perspective:

  • Get other points of view. Talk with trusted colleagues or friends about the issues you're facing at work. They might be able to provide insights or offer suggestions for coping. Sometimes simply talking about a stressor can be a relief.
  • Take a break. Make the most of workday breaks. Even a few minutes of personal time during a busy workday can be refreshing. Similarly, take time off when you can, whether it's a two-week vacation or an occasional long weekend. Also try to take breaks from thinking about work, such as not checking your email at home in the evening or choosing times to turn off your cell phone at home.
  • Have an outlet. To prevent burnout, set aside time for activities you enjoy — such as reading, socializing or pursuing a hobby.
  • Take care of yourself. Be vigilant about taking care of your health. Include physical activity in your daily routine, get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy diet.

Know when to seek help

If none of these steps relieves your feelings of job stress or burnout, consult a mental health provider — either on your own or through an employee assistance program offered by your employer. Through counseling, you can learn effective ways to handle job stress.

SOURCE: The Mayo Clinic Staff (16 May 2016) "Coping with stress: Workplace tips" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/coping-with-stress/art-20048369