Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Tara Marshall
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all
— Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides, Now”
And like that song from 1969, it appears that most employees really don’t know cloud computing at all. In an article on the Society for Human Resource Management’s website titled, “Public Enemy No. 1 for Employers? Careless Cloud Users, Study Says,” a North American IT solutions and managed services provider called Softchoice found that 1 in 3 users of cloud-based apps (e.g., Google Docs and Dropbox) download the app without letting their IT department know. Cloud computing became popular a few years ago because people could store all their documents, photos, and other information and then access that data from anywhere at any time and on any device.
What makes this such a bad situation is not the cloud computing itself, but that the vast majority of employees lack any sense of cybersecurity. That same study found that 1 in 5 employees:
Complicating this further is that the employees who actually do use passwords usually have weak passwords. That is, they are easy to guess (e.g., “1234,” “password,” or their username). Rather than leave a company and its network vulnerable to attack, some IT people suggest a ban on cloud accounts for work.
Security breaches involving a company’s intellectual property can be very costly. Sometimes referred to as “ransomware,” the important data of an organization will either be stolen or encrypted and will not be released until a fee is paid.
A better solution to a ban on cloud accounts would be to educate employees on the necessity for cyber security, train them to improve their online security habits, and remind them that IT rules are in place to make a company more secure, not make it more difficult for employees to be productive. Cyber thieves are clever and when they can’t break into a system using technology, they often rely on the flaws of human nature.
As we become more and more connected to the Internet, we leave ourselves and the companies where we work more accessible to cyber threats. It’s imperative that employees keep everything locked down.
See the original article Here.
Marshall T. (2017 March 14). Workplace cybersecurity begins with employees [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/workplace-cybersecurity-begins-with-employees
Make sure to stay up-to-date with the most recent changes to the ACA, thanks to our partners at United Benefit Advisors (UBA).
In March, the employee benefits world watched as the House Speaker unveiled a proposal to replace parts of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) with the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The AHCA bill was withdrawn from consideration by the full House on March 24 because it appeared that there would not be enough votes to pass the AHCA.
On March 13, 2017, the U.S. Senate approved Seema Verma as the new administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which spends more than a $1 trillion annually on health care programs.
The IRS updated its Q&As to address whether family members of an employee who declines employer-sponsored coverage would be eligible for a premium tax credit for Marketplace coverage. The IRS updated its Publication 969 regarding health savings accounts and other tax-favored health plans. The IRS released its Information Letter regarding the treatment of cafeteria plan forfeitures. The Department of Labor (DOL) released an advisory opinion on whether an association’s administrative services program was an ERISA employee welfare benefit plan or a multiple employer welfare arrangement (MEWA).
UBA released one new resource in March: Important News Regarding the Employer-Tax Exclusion for Health Insurance
UBA updated existing guidance:
IRS Updates Guidance on Premium Tax Credit Eligibility When Employer-Sponsored Health Plan Coverage is Offered to an Employee’s Spouse and Children
The IRS updated its Questions and Answers on the Premium Tax Credit. Specifically, Q&A 15 addresses a situation in which an employer offers minimum value, affordable coverage to an employee, the employee’s spouse, and the employee’s children. The plan only allows the spouse and dependent to enroll if the employee enrolls. The employee declines to enroll.
The IRS determined that all three family members are not eligible for a premium tax credit for Marketplace coverage because they could have enrolled in the employer-sponsored coverage through the employee’s coverage and the coverage would have been minimum value and affordable.
IRS Updates Its Publication 969
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) updated its Publication 969 Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Health Plans for use in preparing 2016 tax returns. The publication describes HSAs, MSAs, FSAs, and HRAs, including eligibility requirements, contribution limits, and distribution information.
IRS Releases Information Letter
IRS released Information Letter Number 2016-0077, in which it explains how an employer may dispose of a flexible benefit plan’s unused funds when an employer ceases business operations and terminates a plan and when a participant forfeits funds to an ongoing plan.
The plan documents will determine how an employer may dispose of unused funds when a cafeteria plan terminates. Unused funds will not revert to the U.S. Treasury.
The IRS explained that the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 125 rules apply to funds forfeited by a participant in an ongoing plan. Per IRC Section 125, the participants’ forfeited funds may be:
Finally, the IRS explained that when an employee terminates employment, IRC Section 125 prohibits the plan from reimbursing health care expenses incurred after the employee terminates employment and no longer participates in the plan.
DOL Issues Advisory Opinion
On January 13, 2017, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued Advisory Opinion 2017-01A. The DOL determined that an association’s administrative services program for its members’ employee benefits plan is not an ERISA employee welfare benefit plan and not a multiple employer welfare arrangement (MEWA).
As background, the association is comprised of large employers that sponsor self-insured benefit plans through administrative services only (ASO) agreements with insurance companies. The association has a member-owned and member-funded cooperative that analyzes health care spending, utilization, and outcomes; however, the association does not and will not provide insurance services to its members; determine benefit levels, administer plans, benefits, or claims; facilitate payment of ASO fees to insurers; or file or process claims.
The DOL determined that the program is not an ERISA employee welfare benefit plan because it has no employee participants and it does not offer or provide benefits to employees or their dependents.
The DOL determined that the program is not a MEWA because it is not an arrangement established or maintained to provide welfare benefits to employees of two or more employers. Further, the DOL determined that the program does not operate as a MEWA because no component of the program underwrites or guarantees welfare benefits, provides welfare benefits through group insurance contracts covering more than one employer, pools welfare benefit risk among participating employers, or provides similar insurance or risk spreading functions.
Question of the Month
Q. What obligations does an employer have when it receives returned Form 1095-Bs marked as undeliverable by the U.S. postal service?
A. Under IRS guidance, the employer fulfills its responsibility to furnish the statement to an individual if it mails the statement to the recipient’s last known permanent address (unless the recipient affirmatively consented to receive the statement in electronic format).
Practically speaking, the employer should keep the mailing which shows that the employer sent the statement to the recipient’s last known permanent address and that the statement was returned undeliverable. That way, the employer has proof that it mailed the statement to the recipient’s last known permanent address.
To download the full recap click Here.
Did you know that there is a direct corelation between financial and physical health? This article from Benefits Pro is a great read explaining the link between an employee’s financial and physical health by Caroline Marwitz
LAS VEGAS — Are poor physical health and poor financial health connected? The benefits industry is making the link, if you consider how many deals between health-related benefits companies and retirement providers have occurred lately.
Obviously, the poor, at least in America, have a more fragile state of health than the more affluent. And as we age, the potential for unplanned health events to hurt us financially increases — and that’s important for retirement advisors and plan sponsors to remember. But what about your typical employees who are neither poor nor elderly?
A study in the journal Psychological Science looked at worker attitudes and actions to find out whether poor physical health and poor financial health might be linked, and how.
The researchers studied employees who were given an employer-sponsored health exam and were told they needed to change certain behaviors to improve their health. Which employees made the changes and who blew them off?
The researchers accounted for external factors such as different levels of income and physical health, and differences in demographics. Yet the results were still startling:
“Employees who saved for the future by contributing to a 401(k) showed improvements in their abnormal blood-test results and health behaviors approximately 27% more often than noncontributors did,” the researchers concluded in Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Retirement Planning Predicts Employee Health Improvements.
The employees who made the behavior changes to better their physical health were also the ones who were taking action to better their financial health.
Employee attitudes about the future and how much control they have over it affect whether they take care of their physical health and their financial health. That sense of control, or conversely, that feeling of no control, and thus, no investment in long-term results, is one reason why some employees might not participate in retirement plans, and, maybe, wellness and well-being programs.
What if, along with the retirement health-care cost calculators many retirement plan providers offer, there was a fatalism calculator too? That way you could see right away each person’s sense of control or feelings of inevitability about their future and help them more efficiently.
Because if someone is more fatalistic, telling them about their 401(k) match or pension options isn’t going to make them enroll in a retirement plan. Scaring them with statistics about the high costs of health care in retirement isn’t going to do the trick either. Instead, consider the following points for such employees:
Look behind employee behavior for the unexamined biases and long-held assumptions that are causing it. If they can see that it’s not who they are that determines their future but what they do, it’s a start.
Marwitz C. (2017 March 19). Employee financial health connects to physical health [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/03/19/employee-financial-health-connects-to-physical-hea?ref=hp-top-stories
Do you know which question you can ask any employee requesting FMLA leave? Look at this great article from HR Morning about what employers can and cannot say to an employee on FMLA leave Christian Schappel
You know when employees request FMLA leave, those conversations have to stick to the facts about what the workers need and why. The problem is, a lot of managers don’t know that — and here’s proof some of their stray comments can cost you dearly in court.
Three employers are currently fighting expensive FMLA interference lawsuits because their managers didn’t stick to the facts when subordinates requested leave.
The real kick in the pants: Two of the lawsuits were filed by employees who’d received all of the FMLA leave they requested — and the courts said the interference claims were still valid. How’s that even possible? Keep reading to learn about the latest litigation trend in the FMLA world.
Here’s what happened in each case (don’t worry, we’ve cut to the chase in all of them) — beginning with the words/phrases managers must avoid when a worker requests leave:
James Hefti, a tool designer, was in hot water with his company, Brunk Industries, a metal stamping company.
Reason: Let’s just say he called a lot of people at work “my b____.”
After he ignored multiple warnings from management to stop using obscenities at work, the company planned to fire him. But it didn’t pull the trigger immediately.
Then, just prior to his termination, Hefti requested FMLA leave to care for his son, who was suffering from various mental health problems.
His manager, upon hearing of Hefti’s request, told him Brunk paid for his insurance and thus expected him to be at work.
When Hefti was fired a few days later, he sued for FMLA interference.
The company tried to get the suit thrown out, claiming his conduct and ignorance of repeated warnings gave it grounds to terminate him. But it didn’t win.
The court said the manager’s interactions with Hefti did raise the question of whether he was fired for requesting FMLA leave, so the judge sent the case to trial.
Cite: Hefti v. Brunk Industries
Lisa Kimes, a public safety officer for the University of Scranton’s Department of Public Safety, requested FMLA leave to care for her son, who had diabetes.
Kimes was granted all the time off she requested. But in a meeting with her supervisor she was told that since the department was short staffed it was “inconsiderate” of her to take time off.
When her relationship with the department soured, she sued claiming FMLA interference.
The department tried to get her suit tossed before it went to trial. It had a seemingly reasonable argument: She got all of the leave she requested, so it couldn’t have interfered with her FMLA rights.
But Kimes argued that her supervisor’s comments prevented her from requesting more FMLA leave – thus the interference lawsuit.
The court sided with Kimes. It said she had a strong argument, so the judge sent her case to trial as well.
Suit: Kimes v. University of Scranton
Judy Gordon was an officer with U.S. Capitol Police when she requested intermittent FMLA leave for periods of incapacitating depression following her husband’s suicide.
But before Gordon used any FMLA leave, a captain in the police department told her that an upper-level manager had said he was “mad” about FMLA requests in general, and he’d vowed to “find a problem” with Gordon’s request.
Then later, when she actually went to take leave, her manager became irate, denied her request and demanded a doctor’s note. He later relented and granted the request.
In fact, she was granted all the leave she requested.
Still, she filed an FMLA interference suit. And, again, the employer fought to get it thrown out before a trial on the grounds that Gordon had no claim because all of her leave requests were granted.
But this case was sent to trial, too. The judge said her superiors’ conduct could have a “reasonable tendency” to interfere with her FMLA rights by deterring her from exercising them — i.e., the comments made to her could’ve persuaded her not to request additional leave time to which she was entitled.
Suit: Gordon v. United States Capitol Police
Based on a thorough read-through of the court documents, each of these employers appeared to have a pretty good chance of winning summary judgment and getting the lawsuits thrown out before an expensive trial — that is, if it weren’t for the managers’ stray comments in each.
These cases have created two important teaching points for HR:
The best way to stay safe: Re-emphasize that managers must stick to the facts when employees request FMLA leave, as well as keep their opinions and other observations to themselves.
Schappel C. (2017 March 17). 3 things managers can’t say after FMLA requests [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/3-things-you-cant-say-after-fmla-requests/
Have you ever thought about the future of employee benefits advisors? Take a look at this interesting article from Benefits Pro about the growth of robotic employee benefits advisors by Caroline Marwitz
LAS VEGAS — Some advisors see robo-advisors as a competing force.
At the NAPA 401(k) Summit, you might expect some hostility to the concept. After all, the market for algorithm-based, non-human decision-making robo-advisors is expected to grow.
Business Insider’s research service, BI Intelligence, forecasts that by 2020, robo-advisors will manage $8 trillion in assets.
But the questions for two executives at two robo-advisor firms during a technology panel demonstrated more curiosity than hostility. Betterment for Business’s Cynthia Loh and blooom’s (yes, three Os) Chris Costello fielded them and got in some marketing in the process.
The questions ranged from whether advisors can get data and metrics about results (yes), how good is the security and encryption of participant information (as good as a bank’s), whether rebalancing is participant-driven (no), whether there was a process to update employee risk tolerance and other information over time, as it changes (yes), to whether these robo-advisors partner with advisors to offer compensation (Betterment: yes, we have a separate arm of the business for that; blooom: ten dollars per participant doesn’t make a partnership conducive, though advisors can offer this service to differentiate themselves to plan sponsors).
The common wisdom is that robo-advisors, at least in the retirement industry, are aimed at people with fewer assets.
However, in the wider investment industry, the BI Intelligence research report noted: “Consumers across all asset classes are receptive to robo-advisors — including the wealthy. 49% of this group would consider investing some of their assets using a robo-advisor.”
For blooom, its market is not intended to be the wealthy, CEO and cofounder, Chris Costello, said, but rather “the people who don’t understand stuff.”
“All the way up the food chain, people are messing up their 401k plans,” Costello said. “We are targeting a segment of market most advisors aren’t targeting, most are well below 250,000 dollars.”
The stereotypical user of a robo-advisor is, of course, a millennial. But now, said Betterment’ for Business GM Cynthia Loh, “Everyone expects technology.” Even the clients have changed, she said. Where in the past it might be a tech company, within the last year companies of other kinds have come on board — medical, legal, and financial services firms.
Taking aim at the traditional, minimalist way many employers offer information on retirement plans, Costello noted that there are always going to be employees who like to study their options and do their homework. “But that is not most Americans. Most Americans need this to be done for them. When I had wealthy clients, I didn’t tell them to go home and study up. We did the work for them. This brings the services that wealthy people have been getting for decades.”
Still, Loh added, Betterment embraces both the technology and the human side. “We recognize there’s always going to be a place for human advice.”
Because ultimately it comes back to the human side, not the technology side. Of course, the technology behind the algorithms is important. But something as warm and fuzzy as the participant questionnaire is also crucial.
In fact, recent guidance on robo-advisors from the Securities and Exchange Commission concerns itself with a robo-advisor’s questionnaire. Which makes sense, as it’s the information the algorithms use to make their decisions and the basis of their advice. Garbage in, garbage out. And the ability, which both firms offer, to consult with a human advisor, whether it might be by phone or by chat, is also important, at least to what we know about what plan participants want.
And the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule has made many in the retirement industry feel that knowing as much as possible about a participant or client is key to successfully helping them as well as being in compliance.
Marwitz Caroline (2017 March 19). Is industry coming around to robo-advisor concept [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/03/19/is-industry-coming-around-to-robo-advisor-concept?ref=hp-top-stories
Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Danielle Capilla
Entities such as employers with group health plans that provide prescription drug coverage to individuals that are eligible for Medicare Part D have two major disclosure requirements that they must meet at least annually:
Because there is often ambiguity regarding who in a covered population is Medicare eligible, it is best practice for employers to provide the notice to all plan participants.
CMS provides guidance for disclosure of creditable coverage for both individuals and employers.
Who Must Disclose?
These disclosure requirements apply regardless of whether the plan is large or small, is self-funded or fully insured, or whether the group health plan pays primary or secondary to Medicare. Entities that provide prescription drug coverage through a group health plan must provide the disclosures. Group health plans include:
Health flexible spending accounts (FSAs), Archer medical savings accounts, and health savings accounts (HSAs) do not have disclosure requirements. In contrast, the high deductible health plan (HDHP) offered in conjunction with the HSA would have disclosure requirements.
There are no exceptions for church plans or government plans.
Capilla D. (2017 March 01). Medicare part D: creditable coverage disclosures [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/medicare-part-d-creditable-coverage-disclosures-1
Change is on the way for employees who get their healthcare through their employer. Take a look at this great article from Employee Benefit News about the mandatory genetic testing that employers can impose on employees on the employer health plan our partner by Richard Stolz
Employers with ambitious health promotion programs may get a break from a thicket of conflicting federal regulation that, critics argue, is discouraging their efforts to address employee health issues holistically.
The “Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act”— or HR 1313 — cleared an important legislative hurdle March 8 when a majority of members of the House Education and The Workforce Committee, in a party-line vote (22 Republicans in favor, 17 Democrats opposed), approved the measure.
HR 1313’s basic purpose is to clarify that employers can obtain biometric information from employee family members who participate in incentive-based wellness programs using financial incentives without violating the Generic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA). That is, the incentives don’t amount to unlawful coercion.
The bill still must be approved by more committees before being voted on by the full House of Representatives, and then the Senate. However, given Republican control of Congress, its prospects appear to be strong, unless it becomes bogged down in a larger battle over the Republican Affordable Care Act replacement legislation.
And, it looks promising for employers.
HR 1313 has been supported by, among other groups, the American Benefits Council and the Society for Human Resource Management.
Key language of HR 1313 states the following: “The collection of information about the manifested disease or disorder of a family member shall not be considered an unlawful acquisition of genetic information with respect to another family member as part of a workplace wellness program…”
Testifying in favor of the measure on behalf of the American Benefits Council, Allison Klausner warned that without such legislation, “the future of workplace wellness programs are at risk.”
“Employers… face complex and inconsistent regulation for the design and administration of [wellness] plans, most recently as a result of regulations relating to wellness programs finalized by the EEOC,” stated Klausner, who also serves as Chair of ABC’s Policy Board of Directors.
SHRM lobbyist Chatrane Birbal expressed similar concerns. She believes HR 1313 will “alleviate the confusing and conflicting requirements for wellness programs and provide employers the legal certainty they need to continue to offer employee wellness programs.”
However, the measure is not without detractors. As noted, all 17 Democrats on the Committee opposed the measure. They have found arguments by opposing groups, such as the American Society of Human Genetics, persuasive. “If enacted, this bill would force Americans to choose between access to affordable healthcare and keeping their personal genetic and health information private,” according to Derek Scholes, director of science policy fir the organization.
The fear is that certain health conditions that can be revealed in biometric testing administered in conjunction with incentive-based wellness programs, especially when both employees and their spouses submit to the testing, give employers ammunition to discriminate against employees deemed to pose a serious risk of future high medical claims, either with respect to themselves, or dependents.
Given the simplicity of HR 1313, it could be enacted as-is, unlike the multifaceted Republican ACA-replacement, American Health Care Act, whose fate will not be determined quickly.
Stolz R. (2017 March 10). New bill would allow employers to force genetic testing on workers [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/new-bill-would-allow-employers-to-force-genetic-testing-on-workers?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000
What’s the key communication platform for employee benefits communication?
“It is not a one size fits all approach, each group needs to take a look at their population and decide what is best for them.” -Tonya Bahr, Hierl Employee Benefit Advisor.
Ding ding ding, round 1! Paper VS Digital communications
Okay, not really because it’s not a competition!
“An online approach works really well for employees but it is also very important for the spouses to be engaged as well. We typically follow up the meetings with a deliverable the employee can bring home to their spouse. This not only allows the spouse to learn more about the benefits available to them, but it also reinforces what was covered in the meeting for the employee.” -Tonya Bahr
To download the full article click Here.
Are your employees being properly educated on the benefits on their financial well-being? If not take a look at this article from Benefits Pro about the value of educating your employees in financial wellness by Jack Craver
Money Management International, a nonprofit credit counseling organization, is touting the results of a recent survey it conducted as evidence that employers can significantly reduce stress among their employees by offering them financial counseling resources.
MMI announced recently 86 percent of the 150 employees it provided financial counseling to at an Oregon-based nonprofit health agency say they have less stress related to money as a result of the counseling.
In addition, most of the employees at Samaritan Health Services say the counseling led to them achieving certain financial goals, such as reducing debt (60 percent), setting aside more money for retirement (38 percent), boosting their credit score (30 percent) or buying a home (8 percent).
“At MMI, we know that financial coaching, counseling, and education work, but seeing the incredible, positive impact this program has made on the financial outlook of these clients is simply amazing,” says Julie Griffith, Mapping Your Future account manager, in a statement accompanying the study’s release.
Other research has shown employers are increasingly viewing financial counseling as a key component of wellness initiatives due to the significant psychological and emotional toll money-related anxiety takes on employees.
In addition to causing depression, sleep deprivation and all sorts of health problems that reduce an employee’s productivity, financial stress often distracts employees from their work. A survey last year showed that 37 percent of U.S. employees report spending time on the job thinking about or dealing with personal finances.
The awakening to the importance of financial wellness coincides with a number of studies which shed light on young Americans’ lack of savings. One study found a solid majority of Americans have less than $500 in savings. Another found that the U.S. personal savings rate was just 5.7 percent, roughly half of what it was 50 years ago.
Craver J. (2017 March 08). The benefits of financial wellness counseling [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/03/08/the-benefits-of-financial-wellness-counseling
Interesting article from the Society of Human Resources about the benefits of leveraging caregiving benefits in your employee benefits program by Hank Jackson
Whether caring for an aging parent, welcoming a newborn child or handling family medical situations, life events can create some of the most stressful and demanding challenges in our personal and work lives. For those without employer-provided paid leave, the burden is even heavier. People often need extended periods of time off to cover responsibilities at home, but many are forced to rely on the federal floor of unpaid leave guaranteed by the Family and Medical Leave Act.
High costs are cited as the biggest barrier to paid leave, but now, more than ever, companies risk losing great talent to rivals with more robust policies—here and abroad. In addition, employers struggle with a growing patchwork of state and local leave laws that hinder innovation and add compliance costs. This is why SHRM is advocating for public policies that would provide relief to employers while guaranteeing paid leave and expanded flexibility options for full-time and part-time employees. The issue of paid leave is a hot one—featured during the presidential campaign and poised to be a focus of congressional consideration in 2017.
Last year, more than two dozen large U.S. employers—including American Express, Deloitte, Ernst and Young, Campbell’s, First Data and Etsy—announced they would significantly strengthen paid family leave benefits. Their approaches vary, ranging from extending the time employees can take paid leave to broadening categories of eligible individuals and covered situations. But in all instances, a powerful business case was behind the decision. They believe it is a winning strategy and are promoting it widely to stakeholders and shareholders.
A carefully analyzed and applied family leave benefit can be a differentiator in today’s hyper-competitive talent marketplace. Even medium-sized and small enterprises can offer budget- and family-friendly policies, such as flexible schedules. The important thing is to develop a workplace where an employee’s work-life needs are valued and supported, balanced with the right benefits, rewards and adaptability across an employee’s life cycle.
Paid parental leave and other work-flexible programs are not only about competing or compliance. They are about doing the right thing for the organization and the employee. As HR professionals, it’s up to us to help our organizations grow a culture where both employees and employers win. This is part of the compact to create the 21st Century workplace employees of all ages want—innovative, fair and competitive with other businesses.
Jackson H. (2017 March 09). Caregiving benefits can sharpen your competitive edge [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://blog.shrm.org/blog/caregiving-benefits-can-sharpen-your-competitive-edge