Who let the dogs in? More companies are welcoming pets

Do you have bring your pet to work policies set in place? Seven percent of employers are now allowing employees to bring their pets to work. Read on to learn more about setting up pet policies.


The list is growing of companies that now have bring your dog to work “paw-licies.” Is yours next? 

Google, Zappos and Amazon are some big companies that are pet-friendly, but smaller businesses are going to the dogs too, adding to the now 7% of employers that permit pets.

‘Ruff’ day? Take your dog to work

For example, electronics maker Crutchfield Corp. has a dog-friendly office, which the company says reduces stress.

Walking a dog helps to keep its owner fit, says Adrienne Webster, HR VP, Carfax, another pet-friendly company. But she adds that her employees are responsible for making sure their pets are well behaved.

Many companies implement policies that stipulate dogs need to be healthy, clean and up-to-date on vaccinations.

Dog-friendly office? ‘Paws’ for a foolproof pet policy

If you’re not quite ready to let the dogs in on a full-time basis, you might “paws” to allow your folks’ four-legged friends to sit, stay and play for a day, and see how it works out.

“Policies around bringing pets to work should be clear,” says employment attorney Karen Michael. “To be successful, careful attention and respect for all employees must be considered.”

Since allowing pets into the workplace creates a whole list of concerns – “from unruly, jumpy, biting, irritating dogs, to those that relieve themselves inside to those that bark and disrupt the workplace,” she urges employers to put certain rules in place:

  • Written pet policy that dictates a pet owner’s responsibilities, who’s responsible for animal bites, etc.
  • Sign-up calendar (to prevent too many pets at the same time)
  • Zero-tolerance policy for bad-behaving pets (barking, biting, etc.)
  • Pet-free zone (for those with allergies or a fear of animals)
  • Liability insurance (employers might ask workers to get as well)
  • Employee discipline (for those who fail to clean up after their pets)

SOURCE: Mucha, R. (30 November 2018) Who let the dogs in? More companies are welcoming pets" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://www.hrmorning.com/who-let-the-dogs-in-more-companies-are-welcoming-pets/


How to make on-demand fitness work for wellness

Virtual fitness is making it easier for people to engage in physical activity. The demand for this new technology is growing. Continue reading to learn more about virtual fitness.


The way we work out is changing. Technology makes it possible to watch movies, order meals, even rent bikes on our own terms, and people increasingly expect their fitness options to be just as easy. Enter on-demand, virtual fitness.

The demand for virtual fitness is booming. In the United States alone, the virtual fitness market is expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2022. Whether people are too intimidated to go to the gym, have difficulty finding time in their schedules to attend a class, or have difficulty finding classes that fit their needs — virtual fitness makes it easy for them to engage over time.

As a result, more employers are realizing the value of investing in employee health and the benefits of keeping employees physically active. Lack of physical activity contributes to numerous health risks, which can lead to increased healthcare costs and lost productivity. Physical activity has also been found to have a positive impact on mental health and well-being. For example, it’s been estimated that employees who are in poor health are twice as likely as their healthier coworkers to be disengaged from work.

On-demand, virtual fitness is an option that can be more affordable than establishing an on-site gym, and with 35% of employees working remotely, on-demand fitness allows employers to offer the workouts to more employees.

As would-be fitness fanatics increasingly turn to apps to help tone their abs, what should employers know to ensure success? Here are a few strategies.

1. Make it personal. It’s a simple concept: People will be more likely to exercise if they find a workout that appeals to them. The best on-demand options offer classes for a wide range of interests — from cycling to yoga to kickboxing, to mom-and-baby fitness or simple stretching.

2. Make it flexible. People come in all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels. Make sure classes work even if your employees aren’t super fit. Even better, look for something that offers users a natural progression from wherever they start to higher levels of fitness.

3. Make it accessible. The whole point of virtual fitness is that people can take part anytime and anywhere. Look for programming that makes classes available online from a desktop or laptop computer and on both Android and iOS-based smartphones or tablets. This allows employers to make fitness available during lunchtime in the break room, while also giving employees access to short exercises they can do during a break at their desks or even on the road.

4. Make it trackable. Virtual fitness programming can be integrated into your benefits portal to allow for tracking of wellness incentive points. This encourages employees to track their progress and to create a virtual community that encourages the success of all its members.

Today’s workforce is tech-savvy, and that dynamic is only going to become more prevalent. Using mobile devices or apps to give employees what they need to balance life and work will continue to be a smart move for employers.

SOURCE: Von Bank, J. (30 November 2018)  "How to make on-demand fitness work for wellness" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/tips-to-make-on-demand-fitness-work-for-your-wellness-program?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


4 trends in employee wellness programs for 2019

According to a white paper by MediKeeper, employee wellness programs will be impacted by intelligent personalization, social recognition, virtual wellness and smarter analytics. Continue reading to learn more.


Employee wellness programs will likely be transformed in the coming year by intelligent personalization, social recognition, virtual wellness and smarter analytics, according to MediKeeper’s white paper, “Four Emerging Employee Wellness Trends for 2019.”

“Embracing change and knowing what organizations need to keep driving wellness offerings forward in the next few years will help them lay the groundwork for building stronger employee wellness programs and increasing employee engagement,” says MediKeeper’s CEO David Ashworth. “With health care costs on the rise, companies that pay attention to these key trends will have the greatest success investing in their employees’ overall well-being.”

Intelligent Personalization

Intelligent personalization allows companies to make more informed decisions based on understanding risks and their causes and identifying what is driving present and future cost, according to the white paper.

“Every person is different, so it only makes sense that everyone’s wellness portal experience should also be different — this includes personalization, targeted messages and offerings.,” the authors write. “Adding business intelligence/data mining capabilities delivers the ability to take data captured within the portal, manipulate it, segment it and merge with other sets of data to perform complex associations all within each population groups’ administration portal will be the key to truly managing the population’s health.”

Social Recognition

In the coming year, workplace wellness programs will also implement a multitude of ways to include social recognition that fosters a team-oriented atmosphere intended to encourage people to perform to the best of their abilities, according to the white paper.

“Through social recognition, which can include posting, sharing, commenting and other virtual interactions, employees can help motivate each other to reach their goals,” the authors write. “These interactions foster both a competitive and team-oriented atmosphere that encourages people to perform to the best of their abilities.”

In addition to support from coworkers, managers can also promote their employees’ achievements by offering praise in an online public forum or even further boost morale by handing out incentive points that can be redeemed for tangible rewards.

Virtual Wellness Programming

In 2019, the importance of offering virtual wellness programming will grow as more employees work remotely or set flexible hours, according to the white paper.

“Since employees may work variable hours or work in several locations around the world, it simply doesn’t make sense to solely rely on lunchtime health seminars that may not be accessible to much of the workforce,” the authors write. “Instead of providing physical classes, consider hosting virtual programs that can be viewed at any time or any place. By making your wellness program available online, you’re able to reach a broader audience and make more of an impact within the entire working population.”

Smarter Analytics

Smarter analytics will also be at the forefront in 2019, according to the white paper.

“Now you can generate reports targeted specifically to the information that you are seeking, as well as layering various reports including biometrics, incentives, health risk assessments and challenges, to see what is working and what is not,” the authors write. “You can use these results to inform and better customize the intelligent personalization side of your wellness program. You’ll also be able to send messages from the reports, making them actionable instead of just informative.”

As employers continue to evaluate the effectiveness of their wellness programs, they should keep these four emerging trends in mind in order to ensure that their business is providing all the tools necessary to keep their employees both happy and healthy, according to the white paper.

“Remember that just because you’ve seen success in the past, you can’t just sit back and relax now,” the authors write. “Continual advances in wellness technology mean that you need to stay on top of the trends and adjust frequently in order to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive workplace environment.”

SOURCE: Kuehner-Hebert, K. (28 November 2018) "4 trends in employee wellness programs for 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/11/28/4-trends-in-employee-wellness-programs-for-2019/


Association Health Plans Meet the 2018 Form M-1

The 2018 version of the Form M-1 can be used to register for a new plan and to file the annual report for an in-force plan. Continue reading this blog post for more information about the new Form M-1.


The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) is continuing to do what it can to help bring the new class of association health plans (AHPs) to life.

EBSA, an arm of the U.S. Department of Labor, unveiled the 2018 version of the Form M-1 Monday.

Administrators of multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs) that provide medical benefits use Form M-1 to report on the MEWAs’ operations to the DOL.

The administration of President Donald Trump completed work on major new AHP regulations in June. The administration is hoping small employers will use the new AHPs to shield themselves from some state and federal mandates and to get a chance to benefit from being part of a large coverage buyer.

Any AHPs out there, including any AHPs formed under the new regulations, will need to file the 2018 Form M-1 with the Labor Department, EBSA said Monday.

An AHP, or other MEWA, can use Form M-1 both to register a new plan and to file the annual report for an in-force plan.

The 2018 annual report for an AHP or other MEWA in operation now will be due March 1, 2019.

If agents, brokers, benefit plan administrators or other financial professionals are trying to start AHPs, they are supposed to use Form M-1 to register the AHPs at least 30 days before engaging in any AHP activity.

“Such activities include, but are not limited to, marketing, soliciting, providing, or offering to provide medical care benefits to employers or employees who may participate in the AHP,” EBSA officials said in the form release announcement.

Resources

Links to AHP information, including information about the 2018 Form M-1, are available here.

SOURCE: Bell, A. (4 December 2018) "Association Health Plans Meet the 2018 Form M-1" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2018/12/04/association-health-plans-meet-the-2018-form-m-1/


It’s Flu Season...Again

Employee absenteeism and productivity is affected when flu season hits. One step employers can take to combat the flu is by offering their employees the flu vaccine every year. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


When flu season hits, absenteeism skyrockets and productivity drops. In a recent articleEmployee Benefit News points out that the first step is the "ounce of prevention,” the flu vaccine. Providing for vaccination can be a smart benefit to offer employees, and it requires navigating misinformation about the vaccine, motivating employees to act, and contending with supply issues. For employers who want to increase vaccination rates, experts suggest making the process more convenient or incentivizing getting a shot. On-site programs are more effective since they are not only more convenient but also allow employees to be motivated by seeing their coworkers getting the shot. Regardless of approach, careful planning – from scheduling to ordering to addressing employee concerns – can help an office place stay healthier.

Last year’s flu season was the worst on record, per the CDC. Shared spaces and devices make offices and workplaces perfect places for flu germs to spread. As an article in HR Dive shows, 40% of employees with the flu admit to coming to work and 10% attend a social gathering while sick. Should an employee contract the flu, employers need to have policies in place that empower and encourage workers to stay home when sick.

In “Threat of Another Nasty Flu Season Prompts Workplaces to Be Proactive,” Workforce echoes the importance of the flu shot and a no-tolerance policy toward sick employees coming to the office. Policies and a culture that encourages self-care overpowering through an illness can help foster calling in when needed. The article also reinforces other preventative behaviors like hand washing, staying home while feverish, and coughing into your elbow.

Read more:

HR’s recurring headache: Persuading employees to get a flu shot

40% of workers admit coming to work with the flu

Threat of Another Nasty Flu Season Prompts Workplaces to Be Proactive

SOURCE: Olson, B. (20 November 2018) "It’s Flu Season...Again" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/its-flu-season...again


The benefits issue that costs employers big: Ineligible dependents on company plans

Are you paying insurance premiums for dependents who are ineligible for your company health plan? Almost 10 percent of enrolled dependents are ineligible for the programs they are enrolled in. Read on to learn more.


Are you paying insurance premiums for people who aren’t qualified to be on your company plan?

For some employers, too often the answer is “yes.”

In our experience, we find that nearly 10% of dependents enrolled in employee health and welfare plans are not eligible to be in the program. And for a company with a couple of hundred employees that spends around $2 million a year on benefits, ineligible dependents can become a significant financial issue.

When employers pay for ineligible dependents, costs increase for them and employees. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common issue that employers need a solid strategy to combat.

So how do ineligible dependents get enrolled in the first place? There are a couple of common ways that employers end up paying health insurance premiums for ineligible dependents. The most basic factor is a change in a person’s situation — children pass the age of 26, spouses get jobs, people get divorced, etc. — and the employee is unaware of the need to notify the plan sponsor. Most often, these situations arise because the employer doesn’t have a process in place.

But some situations are more nefarious: An employee mischaracterizes someone as a dependent. They may claim that a nephew is a son, or that they’re still married to an ex-spouse. In either of these situations, the employer loses.

Prevent ineligible dependents with best practices

Prevent paying for ineligible dependents by putting into place best practices that begin when a new employee joins the company.

During onboarding, investigate each potential plan member when the employee applies for insurance coverage. That means seeking documentation — such as marriage certificates and birth certificates — to verify that a person is, in fact, married, or that their kids are their kids and not someone else’s. Following these processes at the outset prevents the awkwardness of having to question employees about their various family relationships. Nobody wants to ask a colleague if the divorce is final yet.

To make it easy for employees to verify everyone’s eligibility, provide access to a portal where they can upload scans or images of relevant documents. This will also make it easier to track—and keep track of—onboarding documents and dependent audits when the time comes.

Once this best practice is established, it’s important to conduct periodic dependent eligibility audits, as required by ERISA. The employer can conduct an audit or hire an external auditor. This decision is usually driven by the size of the workforce.

The most logical time to conduct an audit is during benefit enrollment. Employees are already considering options for the next plan year, and they likely won’t be confused by the need to submit verifying documents. (During this exercise, it’s also a good idea to ask plan participants to verify beneficiaries on employer-provided life insurance.)

Some employers — again, depending on the size of the workforce — will conduct random sample audits of 20-25% of their employee population. Obviously, the larger the sample size, the better. Benefits administration platforms typically streamline this process.

What happens when employers identify an ineligible dependent?

Many employers offer workers an amnesty period during which an employee can come forward to say they have someone that should be taken off the plan. If the plan sponsor identifies an ineligible dependent, employees are typically offered a one-time pass. Then, they must sign an affidavit attesting that they can be terminated if it happens again.

If the employer has processed insurance claims for an ineligible dependent, they can declare fraud and seek back payment of claims payouts. Again, most in this situation prefer a more benevolent approach and will ask the employee to make monthly differential payments until the account is even. Conducting regular dependent eligibility audits as part of the benefits administration process needs to be handled with finesse for the good of organizational culture.

Some employers may shy away from conducting audits out of concern for creating awkward situations. But frankly, it’s the plan sponsor’s job to help them navigate the waters, educate them and keep them engaged in the process by becoming their best advocates. This will not only help enhance the efficiency and accuracy of employee benefit offerings, but it will result in a smoother ride for everyone involved.

Ensuring that a health and welfare benefits program follows eligibility best practices is the responsibility of the plan sponsor. But employees have a share in that responsibility, too.

SOURCE: O'Connor, P.(28 November 2018) "The benefits issue that costs employers big: Ineligible dependents on company plans" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from:


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