Counting sleep: New benefit encourages employees to track their shut-eye

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about one-third of U.S. adults reported getting less than the recommended amount of sleep. Read on to learn about a new benefit employees are using to track their sleep.


It’s one of employers’ recurring nightmares: Employees aren’t getting enough sleep — and it’s having a big impact on business.

Roughly one-third of U.S. adults report that they get less than the recommended amount of rest, which is tied to chronic health issues including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression, the Centers for Disease Control reports.

That lack of sleep is also costing businesses approximately $411 billion a year in lost productivity, according to figures from global policy think tank RAND Corporation.

But one company thinks it has a solution to the problem: A new employee benefit that helps workers track, monitor and improve sleep.

Welltrinsic Sleep Network, a subsidiary of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, this month launched an online sleep wellness program to help workers get more out of their eight hours of shuteye. Employees use the online tool to create a sleep diary, which tracks the quantity and quality of rest, says Dr. Lawrence Epstein, president and CEO of Welltrinsic. Employees manually log their time or upload data from a fitness tracker, like a Fitbit, to the platform.

Employers can offer the program as a benefit to complement broader wellness initiatives. The program allows companies to track how often an employee uses the platform and offer incentives like days off or reduced health insurance premiums if they are consistent, Epstein says. Welltrinsic charges an implementation fee to set up a company’s account, plus a per-user fee determined by the number of participants.

“Sleep affects a lot of aspects of how people feel about their work and their productivity,” Epstein says. “If you can help improve their health and morale, it will help with retaining staff.”

Epstein says lethargic workers are more likely to miss work or not be productive when they are in the office. But there are actionable ways employees can improve the quality of their rest, he adds.

Welltrinsic’s program gives employees a comprehensive review of their sleep. Then employees set a sleep goal — the goal can be as simple as getting to bed at a particular time or improving sleep quality. After employees have logged their data, Welltrinsic provides them with custom tips for improving sleep, which may include reducing light exposure or increasing mindfulness and relaxation.

Still, sometimes an employee may have a more serious issue, Epstein says. If numerous efforts to improve a nighttime ritual have fallen short, an employee may need to be examined for a sleep disorder, he explains. To that end, the program also offers sleep disorder screening tools. If it appears an individual is at risk for a disorder, Welltrinsic provides workers with a list of specialists who can help.

“If we feel they are at risk for a sleep disorder, we can direct them to somebody close to them who will be able to address their problem,” Epstein adds.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine is providing Welltrinsic’s sleep program as a benefit to its own roughly 60 workers. Meanwhile, Epstein says Welltrinsic recently engaged in a beta test of the program with multiple employers but did provide additional names.

“It’s a way that they can help motivate their employees to improve their own health,” he says.

Epstein doesn’t think that employees are aware that they aren’t getting enough sleep — ­and demanding work schedules aren’t helping. He’s hoping the program will help people realize that sometimes they need to turn off their email and take a rest.

“We are built to spend about a third of our lives sleeping, and there are consequences for not doing that,” he says. “Hopefully this helps get that message and information out to people.”

SOURCE: Hroncich, C. (20 November 2018) "Counting sleep: New benefit encourages employees to track their shut-eye" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/counting-sleep-new-benefit-encourages-employees-to-track-their-shut-eye?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


Facebook Unveils New Career-Development Portal

Social networking company, Facebook, recently revealed that they are launching a career-development portal that provides accessible, relevant content to entry-level job seekers. Read on to learn more.


Facebook is jumping into the learning market in a big way, announcing the launch of Learn with Facebook at its New York offices yesterday, a big step toward the social-networking giant’s recently stated goal of equipping 1 million business owners in the U.S. with digital skills by 2020.

Learn with Facebook is a career-development portal that offers introductory, free-of-charge courses in both hard and soft skills. It’s aimed at people hoping to re-enter the workforce after a period of absence as well as those wishing to acquire skills that will help them compete for entry-level jobs in the digital economy, says Fatima Saliu, Facebook’s head of policy marketing.

“We’re facing a major skills gap in this country, and Learn with Facebook is our attempt to address that,” she says. Learn with Facebook has already been launched in France and Germany, says Saliu, and will expand to other markets as well.

Learn with Facebook is a direct move into LinkedIn’s territory, although Facebook representatives denied yesterday that it was seeking to compete directly with the business-focused social network. LinkedIn has steadily built up its own learning offerings since it acquired Lynda.com in 2015 and rebranded it as LinkedIn Learning. Last week, Harvard Business Publishing announced a new partnership with LinkedIn that will allow customers of HBP to access its content directly via LinkedIn Learning’s platform.

The courses currently available on Learn with Facebook include tutorials on digital marketing as well as resume writing and job interviewing. Facebook is working with the Goodwill Community Foundation to develop course material and adapt it to the needs of local communities, says Saliu. “Our goal is to provide accessible, relevant content to entry-level jobseekers,” she says.

Facebook is also enhancing its Jobs on Facebook services by allowing businesses to share their job postings on Facebook groups as well as on their own pages and newsfeeds. The company says more than 1 million people have found jobs via Facebook since it launched the service last year.

Facebook is also making updates to its Mentorship tool, which is designed to make it easier for members of Facebook groups to connect with others who have specific experience or expertise. Users will now be able to sign up to share information on what they’re offering or looking for, making it easier for other Group members to find and connect with them on their own rather than going through a Group administrator first, says Michelle Mederos, Facebook Mentorship product designer.

Facebook Groups have enabled people working in high-stress, low-prestige occupations such as certified nursing assistant obtain mentoring and support, says Seth Movsovitz, founder of a Facebook Group called CNAs Only.

Although LinkedIn currently remains the dominant social-media player in the jobs space, it’s clear that Facebook is determined to be a big player as well. For employers that are desperate to fill jobs in a tight labor market, more competition between the two can only be a good thing.

SOURCE: McIlvaine, A. (15 November 2018) "Facebook Unveils New Career-Development Portal" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://hrexecutive.com/facebook-unveils-new-career-development-portal/


Poor employee health costs employers half trillion dollars a year

Poor employee health costs employers half a trillion dollars each year and almost 1.4 billion in missed work days, according to a recent report from the Integrated Benefits Institute. Read this blog post to learn more.


Poor employee health is costing employers in a big way — to the tune of half a trillion dollars and nearly 1.4 billion days of missed work each year.

That’s according to a new report from the Integrated Benefits Institute, which finds that employees miss around 893 million days a year from illness and chronic conditions, and another 527 million days because of impaired performance due to those illnesses. Those days add up to $530 billion in lost productivity.

“To put this in further context, the cost of poor health to employers is greater than the combined revenues of Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, eBay and Adobe,” says Thomas Parry, president of Integrated Benefits Institute, an independent nonprofit that serves more than 1,250 employers including Amazon, Kroger, McDonald’s and Walmart.

The $530 billion price tag is on top of what employers already spend on healthcare benefits. Employers pay $880 billion in healthcare benefits for their employees and dependents, which means that poor health costs amount to “60 cents for every dollar employers spend on healthcare benefits,” according to the study.

“There’s not a CEO or CFO that can placidly accept their business expending the equivalent of almost two-thirds of their healthcare dollars on lost productivity,” Perry says. “Illness costs this country hundreds of billions of dollars, and we can no longer afford to ignore the health of our workforce.”

Employers invest in healthcare benefits to maintain a productive workforce. But this new study suggests that more needs to be done to keep employees healthy, or strategies need to be put in place to lower spending. Or both.

“It’s critical that employers understand how strategies for managing healthcare spend — such as cost- shifting to employees or ensuring better access and more cost-effective care — can impact the kinds of conditions that drive illness-related lost productivity,” says Brian Gifford, director of research and analytics at IBI.

The study broke down the estimated costs of poor health into several categories:

Wage and benefits (incidental absence due to illness, workers’ compensation and federal family and medical leave): $178 billion.

Impaired performance (attributed to chronic health conditions): $198 billion.

Medical and pharmacy (workers’ compensation, employee group health medical treatments, employee group health pharmacy treatments): $48 billion.

Workers’ compensation other costs (absence due to illness, reduced performance): $25 billion.

Opportunity costs of absence (missed revenues, costs of hiring substitutes, overtime): $82 billion.

For its study, IBI used 2017 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as its own benchmarking data from 66,000 U.S. employers.

SOURCE: Paget, S. (20 November 2018) "Poor employee health costs employers half trillion dollars a year" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/poor-employee-health-costs-employers-half-trillion-dollars-a-year?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


What’s in store for voluntary benefits in 2019

What does the New Year have in store for voluntary benefits? Employee purchase programs allow employees to pay for items even if they don't have the funds or credit available. Read this blog post for more 2019 voluntary benefits trends.


Benefit managers are still catching their breath as the curtain closes on this year’s open enrollment season. But smart benefits managers are already evaluating new products and benefit changes for the 2019-2020 season.

Themes around cost-saving strategies concerning healthcare premiums will continue to resonate — but what else will happen in the upcoming year? Voluntary benefits will continue to hold the key for many benefit managers looking to lower costs and maintain value for employees by providing flexibility to a diverse workforce.

Voluntary benefits offer pivotal advantages to employers and employees alike. By offering these programs through an employer, employees often receive better pricing, plan designs and underwriting support compared to what is available on the individual market. Payroll deduction capability and enrollment as part of their normal core enrollment process and portability are also available.

Here are three voluntary benefits to watch in 2019.

Employee purchase programs.

Nearly one-quarter of all Americans do not have adequate emergency savings, according to a survey by consumer financial services company Bankrate. This means that if they need to make a significant purchase, they are likely to withdraw a loan from their 401(k) plan.

Employee purchase programs help employees pay for items they may need immediately, but may not have the funds or credit available. These programs generally allow employees to spread out the payments on the purchased products — such as appliances, car tires or computers — over a period of time through payroll deduction. Young employees who are trying to establish credit while managing student loan repayments — and may be strapped for cash — can especially benefit from an employee purchase programs.

Group legal insurance plans.

Group legal plans are not new, but they are still valuable for employees. For a cost that is less than a cup of coffee, group legal plans provide employees with access to attorneys for will preparation, estate planning, dealing with elderly parents, traffic violations, real estate purchases, and document review and preparation. These plans offset the expense of professional legal representation and the time it takes to locate the right representation to handle legal matters.

These plans may be especially valuable to employees who are thinking of buying a house, adopting a child or planning for their estate. Still, group legal insurance plans are available to all employees, and can provide a buffer for workers who may need to navigate identity restoration after a theft or combat an unforeseen traffic ticket. These plans also save employees time and money when the need for a legal professional arises.

Student loan benefits.

Student loan benefits have been one of the hottest topics in voluntary benefits in 2018 and it’s not going away any time soon. An IRS private letter ruling this past August allowed one company to amend its 401(k) plan to allow employer contributions of up to 5% to individuals who contribute at least 2% to their student loan. This may just be the start to more legislation concerning student loan debt solutions.

In the interim, as the tuition debt crisis grows, employers are seeking ways to support their employees. There are several strategies that can be employed.

Some solutions can be offered at no cost, while others have administrative charges and the cost of contributions to factor in. For employers who have the budget, a student loan repayment plan may be the answer. There are many vendors who can partner with an employer to help develop a plan that is designed to meet the company’s goals.

Employers without a budget can seek a student loan solution partner that offers comprehensive educational tools such as written materials, debt navigation tools, FAQs, one-on-one counselors and webinars. Another option is to offer student loan refinancing. These lenders can help employees manage their debt. Even though refinancing is not for everyone, well-vetted student loan refinancing partners should be considered as part of a comprehensive student loan debt solution strategy. Understanding the approval rate is important, as well as whether there are any other incentives, such as a welcome bonus, that may be applied to the loan principal.

SOURCE: Marcia, P. (28 November 2018) "What’s in store for voluntary benefits in 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/whats-in-store-for-employers-and-voluntary-benefits-in-2019


Compliance Recap - November 2018

Compliance Recap

November 2018

November was a busy month in the employee benefits world.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) extended the due date for employers to furnish Forms 1095-C or 1095-B to individuals, extended “good faith compliance efforts” relief for 2018, and issued specifications for employer-provided substitute ACA forms. The Department of the Treasury (Treasury), Department of Labor (DOL), and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released two final rules on contraceptive coverage exemptions.

The IRS released indexed Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fees and inflation-adjusted limits for various benefits. The DOL, IRS, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) released advance informational copies of the 2018 Form 5500 annual return/report and instructions.

For survivors of the 2018 California wildfires, the IRS provided tax relief and the DOL released employee benefit guidance. The IRS provided guidance to employers who adopt leave-based donation programs to provide charitable relief for victims of Hurricane Michael. The Treasury released its Priority Guidance Plan that lists projects that will be the focus of the Treasury and IRS for the period from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019.

UBA Updates

UBA released one new advisor: 2019 Annual Benefit Plan Amounts card

UBA updated or revised existing guidance:

IRS Extends Due Date to Furnish ACA Forms to Participants and Provides Good Faith Penalty Relief

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2018-94 to extend the due date to furnish 2018 Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to individuals. The due date moves from January 31, 2019, to March 4, 2019.

The IRS also extends “good faith compliance efforts” relief for 2018. As in prior years, this relief is applied only to incorrect or incomplete information reported in good faith on a statement or return. The relief does not apply to a failure to timely furnish a statement or file a return.

Read more about the notice.

IRS Issues Specifications for Employer-Provided Substitute ACA Forms

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Publication 5223 General Rules and Specifications for Affordable Care Act Substitute Forms 1095-A, 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C that describes how employers may prepare substitute forms to furnish ACA reporting information to individuals and the IRS.

Treasury, DOL, and HHS Release Two Final Rules on Contraceptive Coverage Exemptions

The Department of the Treasury (Treasury), Department of Labor (DOL), and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (collectively, Departments) released two final rules on contraceptive coverage exemptions. These rules finalize the Departments’ interim final rules that were published on October 13, 2017. HHS also issued a press release and fact sheet on these final rules.

The first final rule provides an exemption from the contraceptive coverage mandate to entities (including certain employers) and individuals that object to services covered by the mandate on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs.

The second final rule provides an exemption from the contraceptive coverage mandate to nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and individuals that object to services covered by the mandate on the basis of sincerely held moral convictions.

The final rules will be effective on January 14, 2019.

Read more about the final rules.

IRS Releases Indexed PCORI Fee

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes a fee on insurers of certain fully insured plans and plan sponsors of certain self-funded plans to help fund the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). The PCORI fee is due by July 31 of the year following the calendar year in which the plan or policy year ends.

The Internal Revenue Service issued Notice 2018-85 to announce the PCORI fee of $2.45 for policy years and plan years that end on or after October 1, 2018, and before October 1, 2019.

Plan/Policy Year

Last Year Fee Is
Due (2.45,
indexed/person)

Nov. 1, 2017 – Oct. 31, 2018

July 31, 2019

Dec. 1, 2017 – Nov. 30, 2018

July 31, 2019

Jan. 1, 2018 – Dec. 31, 2018

July 31, 2019

Feb. 1, 2018 – Jan. 31, 2019

July 31, 2020

March 1, 2018 – Feb. 28, 2019

July 31, 2020

April 1, 2018 – March 31, 2019

July 31, 2020

May 1, 2018 – April 30, 2019

July 31, 2020

June 1, 2018 – May 31, 2019

July 31, 2020

July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019

July 31, 2020

Aug. 1, 2018 – July 31, 2019

July 31, 2020

Sept. 1, 2018 – Aug 31, 2019

July 31, 2020

Oct 1, 2018 – Sept. 30, 2019

July 31, 2020

Read more about the PCORI fee.

IRS Releases 2019 Inflation-Adjusted Limits

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its inflation-adjusted limits for various benefits. For example, the maximum contribution limit to health flexible spending arrangements (FSAs) will be $2,700 in 2019. Also, the maximum reimbursement limit in 2019 for Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangements will be $5,150 for single coverage and $10,450 for family coverage.

Read more about the 2019 limits.

Advance Informational Copies of 2018 Form 5500 Annual Return/Report

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) released advance informational copies of the 2018 Form 5500 annual return/report and related instructions.

Here are some of the changes that the instructions highlight:

  • Principal Business Activity Codes. Principal Business Activity Codes have been updated to reflect updates to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). For Line 2d, a plan administrator would enter the six-digit Principal Business Activity Code that best describes the nature of the plan sponsor’s business from the list of codes on pages 78-80 of the Form 5500 Instructions.
  • Administrative Penalties. The instructions have been updated to reflect that the new maximum penalty for a plan administrator who fails or refuses to file a complete or accurate Form 5500 report has been increased to up to $2,140 a day for penalties assessed after January 2, 2018, whose associated violations occurred after November 2, 2015.Because the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Improvements Act of 2015 requires the penalty amount to be adjusted annually after the Form 5500 and its schedules, attachments, and instructions are published for filing, be sure to check for any possible required inflation adjustments of the maximum penalty amount that are published in the Federal Register after the instructions have been posted.
  • Form 5500-Participant Count. The instructions for Lines 5 and 6 have been enhanced to make clearer that welfare plans complete only Line 5 and elements 6a(1), 6a(2), 6b, 6c, and 6d in Line 6.

Be aware that the advance copies of the 2018 Form 5500 are for informational purposes only and cannot be used to file a 2018 Form 5500 annual return/report.

ERISA imposes the Form 5500 reporting obligation on the plan administrator. Form 5500 is normally due on the last day of the seventh month after the close of the plan year. For example, a plan administrator would file Form 5500 by July 31, 2019, for a 2018 calendar year plan.

Tax Relief for Victims of November Wildfire in California

Victims of the wildfires that took place beginning on November 8, 2018, in California may qualify for tax relief from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The President declared that a major disaster exists in California. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s major declaration permits the IRS to postpone deadlines for taxpayers who have a business in certain counties within the disaster area.

The IRS automatically identifies taxpayers located in the covered disaster area and applies automatic filing and payment relief. But affected taxpayers who reside or have a business located outside the covered disaster area must call the IRS disaster hotline at 866-562-5227 to request this tax relief.

DOL Releases Employee Benefit Guidance and Relief for 2018 California Wildfire Survivors

The Department of Labor (DOL) released its FAQs for Participants and Beneficiaries Following the 2018 California Wildfires to answer health benefit and retirement benefit questions.

The FAQs cover topics including:

  • Whether an employee will still be covered by an employer-sponsored group health plan if the worksite closed
  • Potential options such as special enrollment rights, COBRA continuation coverage, individual health coverage, and health coverage through a government program in the event that an employee loses health coverage

The DOL also released its Fact Sheet: Guidance and Relief for Employee Benefit Plans Impacted by the 2018 California Wildfires to recognize that employers may encounter problems due to the wildfires. The DOL advises plan fiduciaries to make reasonable accommodations to prevent workers’ loss of benefits and to take steps to minimize the possibility of individuals losing benefits because of a failure to comply with pre-established time frames.

The DOL also acknowledged that there may be instances when full and timely compliance by group health plans may not be possible due to physical disruption to a plan’s principal place of business. The DOL’s enforcement approach will emphasize compliance assistance, including grace periods and other relief where appropriate.

IRS Provides Guidance on Leave-Based Donation Programs’ Tax Treatment

The IRS issued Notice 2018-89 to guide employers who adopt leave-based donation programs to provide charitable relief for victims of Hurricane Michael. These leave-based donation programs allow employees to forgo vacation, sick, or personal leave in exchange for cash payments that the employer will make to charitable organizations described under Internal Revenue Code Section 170(c).

The employer’s cash payments will not constitute gross income or wages of the employees if paid before January 1, 2020, to the Section 170(c) charitable organizations for the relief of victims of Hurricane Michael. Employers do not need to include these payments in Box 1, 3, or 5 of an employee’s Form W-2.

Treasury Releases 2018-19 Priority Guidance Plan

The Department of the Treasury (Treasury) released its 2018-2019 Priority Guidance Plan (Plan) that describes the priorities for the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for the period from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019. The Plan contains a list of projects that will be the focus of the Treasury and IRS, including:

  • Guidance on employer shared responsibility provisions
  • Regulations regarding the excise tax on high cost employer-provided coverage (also known as the “Cadillac tax”).

Question of the Month

Q. Under the ACA, which employers must report information on Form W-2 and what information must be reported?

A. The ACA requires employers to report the cost of coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan. Reporting the cost of health care coverage on Form W-2 does not mean that the coverage is taxable.

Employers that provide “applicable employer-sponsored coverage” under a group health plan are subject to the reporting requirement. This includes businesses, tax-exempt organizations, and federal, state and local government entities (except with respect to plans maintained primarily for members of the military and their families). Federally recognized Indian tribal governments are not subject to this requirement.

Employers that are subject to this requirement should report the value of the health care coverage in Box 12 of Form W-2, with Code DD to identify the amount. There is no reporting on Form W-3 of the total of these amounts for all the employer’s employees.

In general, the amount reported should include both the portion paid by the employer and the portion paid by the employee. Please see the chart below from the IRS’ webpage and its questions and answers for more information.

The chart below illustrates the types of coverage that employers must report on Form W-2. Certain items are listed as “optional” based on transition relief provided by Notice 2012-9 (restating and clarifying Notice 2011-28). Future guidance may revise reporting requirements but will not be applicable until the tax year beginning at least six months after the date that the IRS issues its guidance.

Form W-2 Reporting of Employer-Sponsored Health Coverage

Form W-2, Box 12, Code DD
Coverage Type

Report

Do Not 
Report

Optional

Major medical

X

Dental or vision plan not integrated into another medical or health plan

X

Dental or vision plan which gives the choice of declining or electing and paying an additional premium

X

Health flexible spending arrangement (FSA) funded solely by salary-reduction amounts

X

Health FSA value for the plan year in excess of employee’s cafeteria plan salary reductions for all qualified benefits

X

Health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) contributions

X

Health savings account (HSA) contributions (employer or employee)

X

Archer Medical SAvings Account (Archer MSA) contributions (employer or employee)

X

Hospital indemnity or specified illness (insured or self-funded), paid on after-tax basis

X

Hospital indemnity or specified illness (insured or self-funded), paid through salary reduction (pre-tax) or by employer

X

Employee assistance plan (EAP) providing applicable employer-sponsored healthcare coverage Required if employer charges a COBRA premium Optional if employer does not charge a COBRA premium
On-site medical clinics providing applicable employer-sponsored healthcare coverage Required if employer charges a COBRA premium Optional if employer does not charge a COBRA premium
Wellness programs providing applicable employer-sponsored healthcare coverage Required if employer charges a COBRA premium Optional if employer does not charge a COBRA premium
Multi-employer plans

X

Domestic partner coverage included in gross income

X

Governmental plans providing coverage primarily for members of the military and their families

X

Federally recognized Indian tribal government plans and plans of tribally charted corporations wholly owned by a federally recognized Indian tribal government

X

Self-funded plans not subject to federal COBRA

X

Accident or disability income

X

Long-term care

X

Liability insurance

X

Supplemental liability insurance

X

Workers’ compensation

X

Automobile medical payment insurance

X

Credit-only insurance

X

Excess reimbursement to highly compensated individual, included in gross income

X

Payment/reimbursement of health insurance premiums for 2% shareholder-employee, included in gross income

X

Other situations
Employers required to file fewer than 250 Forms W-2 for the preceding calendar year (determined without application of any entity aggregation rules for related employers)

X

Forms W-2 furnished to employees who terminate before the end of a calendar year and rquest, in writing, a Form W-2 before the end of that year

X

Forms W-2 provided by third-party sick-pay provider to employees of other employers

X

11/30/2018


Don't Mistake Perks for Corporate Culture

Employee perks are great but they shouldn't be mistaken for corporate culture. Read on to learn about the difference between great perks and great culture.


Too often, companies confuse perks and culture. Leaders think that to create a great culture, they should go purchase ping-pong and pool tables, get a keg for the office or offer four-day workweeks. But these are all perks, not culture, which are two very different things. If a company only focuses on adding flashy perks, they may attract an employee, but they won’t retain them.

Don’t get me wrong, perks are great, but if there are beanbag chairs and no one likes each other, that doesn’t accomplish much. Allowing your employees to bring dogs to work is a perk. Texting an employee after they had to put their dog down is culture.

Culture is made up of emotion and experiences. It’s the intangible feelings created by tangible actions. It’s about caring for your people and creating a sense of community that allows employees to feel connected to something bigger than their individual role. It’s allowing them to feel comfortable to be themselves. Culture is creating an experience that employees wouldn’t otherwise be able to have. It’s spending the time to actually listen and support them in their personal lives, both good and bad. It’s about asking for their opinion and then acting on the feedback.

Perks are short-term happiness. They will attract talent, but if companies aren’t investing in professional and personal development, if they’re not willing to spend the time listening and gauging individual motivators, if there is a lack of empathy for an employee who is struggling with a personal issue, the employee will leave as soon as they are offered a higher paycheck elsewhere. It’s like a relationship: If all you get are flashy gifts from your significant other without any emotional investment or support, it will fizzle.

Culture is transparency, and that is a two-way-street. If leaders expect their staff to be transparent, they too have to be transparent with their staff. They stand up in front of their co-workers and share their mistakes that have cost money, damaged confidence and produced tears and heartache. They share mistakes to show employees, new and old, that if you are running 100 mph, mistakes will happen, but the future success will overshadow them. That you can learn from them.

What about the companies that have their core values of integrity and honesty painted on their walls, but when influential employees go against them, they’re not penalized? That’s fake. Culture is when leadership removes someone from the organization who is bringing others down regardless of them being the company’s top producer. They are dismissed because that is the right thing to do for the team.

Culture is holding people accountable. Pushing them to be better. Training them to learn how. Developing their skills and then allowing them to execute the directives. When people are challenged and pushed and they become better, you are establishing culture.

Building a culture is hard work. It’s not a one-month or one-year initiative. The truly great places to work—the ones that get all the recognition and accolades—didn’t start investing in employees for the awards. The awards were ancillary.

An employee who thinks of jumping ship can compare perks easily, but culture is much harder to evaluate. Instead of focusing on temporary benefits, leaders should focus on creating an environment which makes your company hard to leave.

SOURCE: Gimbel, T. (14 November 2018) "Don't Mistake Perks for Corporate Culture" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://blog.shrm.org/blog/dont-mistake-perks-for-corporate-culture

Originally posted on LaSalle blog.


3 trends and 4 survival tips for managing millennials in 2019

Millennials are America's most diverse generation and will be the prime engine of the workplace for years to come. Read this blog post for survival tips for managing millennials.


If anyone knows more about millennials than an actual millennial, it’s Brian Weed, CEO of Avenica. Founded in 1998, Avenica’s personnel services are focused exclusively on recent college graduates and the companies who are looking for such talent.

“Our goal is to place recent college graduates on the right career-track, finding entry-level positions for them at companies offering strong professional growth,” Weed says.

Millennials have been given “kind of a bad rap” by being overly stereotyped and studied. “Millennials are America’s most diverse generation. They hold more college degrees than any other generation, and they’ve experienced economic and political turmoil. They’re savvy, educated, skeptical, and on top of it all, they’re idealists. All of this has led to vast changes in the ways today’s workforce views business, engages with their organizations and leaders and makes decisions about their careers,” he says. And yet, just as with any generation, one must be cautious about assuming one profile fits all.

However one feels about this generation, there’s the fact that millennials are going to be the prime engine of the workplace for years to come. “The truth is that companies have to adapt to them, not the other way around,” he says.

Given the company’s focus and its tenure of service, BenefitsPRO asked Weed to identify three top millennial worker trends for 2019. Here’s his list:

1. Shifting motivations

Salary and culture continue to rank high on the list for attracting millennial and Gen Z candidates, but the following factors are increasingly important:

Flexibility: They expect more control over where and when they can work, with the ability (enough PTO and work-life balance) to travel and have other life experiences.

Mission driven: They are more in touch with the environment, society, and the future of both. They feel they are not only representative of their organization, but their organization also represent who they are as individuals and want to be a part of organizations that share similar views. They look for leaders who will make decisions that will better the world, not just their organizations, and solve the problems of the world through their work.

Development and training opportunities: Because millennials have seen such dramatic shifts in the economy, they seek to have more control over the future of their careers. Not only to “recession proof” but also to “future proof” their careers by constantly learning and developing.

2. Declining levels of loyalty and increased job hopping

These phenomena, well-known to employers or millennials, are largely due to:

Shifting motivations (outlined above): The key to managing this group is understanding the shifting motivations and finding ways to meet those needs/wants will help organizations attract and retain top talent.

Higher value placed on experiences, constantly wanting to try and learn new things: Managers need to give these employees opportunities to grow and develop in their roles is essential, but also opportunities to explore different fields and disciplines is also key. Keeping the work and the environment interesting and diverse will keep millennial employees engaged for longer.

Less patience, with a desire for frequent indicators of career progress (higher pay and/or promotions): Job hopping often allows the quickest opportunity to make more money and climb the career ladder. As a result, organizations are building in a quicker cadence for promotions and pay raises.

3. An increasing lack of basic professional skills/awareness

Many of these talented young people lack essential knowledge about what to wear, how to act and how to/engage in an office setting. Here’s how to respond:

Managers need to be ready to guide these new workforce entries into the professional skills areas. They often don’t have a network of older (parents/relatives) professionals around them to set an example and advise on what “professionalism” looks like and means. And colleges often don’t provide education in professionalism in an office setting: aside from business schools, many colleges don’t prepare students—especially those in the liberal arts—on meeting etiquette, business apps and technology, and other everyday professional practices.

Corporate onboarding of new entry-level employees often excludes the “basics” (meeting protocols, MS Office skills, etc.). While companies typically have some type of job-specific training programs, they often assume these basic office skills are there and aren’t able to see a candidate’s potential when lack of professional skills/awareness is present. This can create a barrier for highly qualified but more “green” candidates, especially first-generation graduates. Effective companies will develop training, coaching, and mentorship programs can help once on the job.

Weed’s 4 survival tips to managers of millennials

1. Create clear and fast-moving career tracks.

  • Create distinct career tracks with clear direction on how to advance to each level.
  • Restructure promotion and incentive programs that give smaller, more incremental promotions and salary raises, giving more consistent positive reinforcement and closer goals that make it more enticing to stay.
  • Create professional development opportunities that help them advance in those career tracks and build other skills they need and want.
  • Create ways young employees can explore other career tracks without leaving the company. Millennials and Gen Z’s have a higher propensity for changing their minds and/or wanting different experiences, so consider ways that enable employees to make lateral moves, or create rotational programs that allow inexperienced professionals to get experience in a variety of business capacities and are then more prepared to choose a track.

2. Alongside competitive compensation packages that include 401k matching programs and comprehensive insurance offerings, provide benefits that allow them to have a sense of flexibility when it comes to how they work.

  • Working remotely, flex schedules/hours
  • Floating holidays–especially beneficial as the workforce becomes more and more diverse
  • Restructure PTO that gives employees more autonomy and responsibility for their work
  • Tuition reimbursement programs to increase retention and build leaders internally

3. Create a strong company culture: company culture is one of the strongest recruiting and retention tools. Go beyond the flashy tactics of having an on-site game room and fun company outings and bring more focus to the company’s mission. Create and live/work by a set of core values that represents your company’s mission. People will be more engaged and move beyond just being their role or position when they feel connected to the mission.

4. Challenge without overworking. Boredom and stress are equally common as factors for driving millennials out of a workplace. Allow involvement in bigger, higher-level projects and discussions to provide meaningful learning opportunities, and create goals that stretch their capabilities but are attainable.

SOURCE: Cook, D. "3 trends and 4 survival tips for managing millennials in 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/11/13/3-trends-and-4-survival-tips-for-managing-millenni/


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 


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