Cyber Risks & Liabilities: September/October 2018

In this Issue

Who’s to Blame if a Security Breach Affects Your Organization?

A recent survey found that 70 percent of consumers expect businesses to take responsibility in the event of a data breach. But who within your organization should take the heat?

Acronyms All Businesses Need to Know

As cyber security evolves, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the terms and acronyms used. This article lists some of the most common acronyms in cyber security.

Increase in Attacks Against 911 Call Centers Highlight Need for New System

There have been 184 cyber attacks on public safety agencies and local governments since 2016, and 42 of those attacks targeted 911 call centers

Who’s to Blame if a Security Breach Affects Your Organization?

If a security breach affects your organization, your main focus may be to solve the problem as quickly as you can, not point the finger in blame. But your customers want to know why it happened and who was responsible, even if the breach occurred because of their own lax security measures (e.g., sharing passwords or opening suspicious emails). In fact, a recent survey found that 70 percent of consumers expect businesses to take responsibility in the event of a data breach. But who within your organization should take the heat?

The CEO

If an organization doesn’t budget enough for security solutions, the fault will likely be placed on whoever makes the financial decisions, stemming from the CEO. In fact, 29 percent of IT decision-makers who took part in a recent VMware survey thought that the CEO should be held responsible in the event of a large-scale data breach.

The CISO

If a data breach occurs even after your company adequately budgets for cyber security solutions, 21 percent of IT security professionals surveyed would still hold your CISO accountable in the event of a data breach.

IT Personnel

According to a 2014 report, 95 percent of cyber security incidents are due to human error. That’s why personnel who manage IT security on a regular basis are easy targets for blame.

Other Employees

While accountability may start with the CEO and board of directors, everyone in your organization should take responsibility for cyber security. Even if you have the most modern cyber security technology, its return on investment will be nonexistent without full employee participation

Increase in Attacks Against 911 Call Centers Highlight Need for New System

There have been 184 cyber attacks on public safety agencies and local governments since 2016, and 42 of those attacks targeted 911 call centers, according to cyber security firm SecuLore Solutions.

Over half of the attacks involved ransomware, in which hackers used a virus to control the emergency systems and hold them hostage for payment. Most of the remaining attacks were denial-of-service attacks, which involved a flood of fake calls that prevented call centers from addressing valid emergency calls.

Due to the vulnerabilities in the current 911 system and the fact that it doesn’t address the ways people communicate in the modern world—such as through texts—the emergency response industry is encouraging state and local governments to adopt a system called Next Generation 911.

The Next Generation 911 system will have advanced security and be able to seamlessly move incoming calls to other centers when needed. The new system also gives callers the choice of calling from a phone line or sending data through approved telecommunications carriers and internet service providers.

Next Generation 911 is expensive, however, and governments have been slow to adopt it. Plus, its increased connectivity also opens new potential means of attack, according to industry experts. Sophisticated defense systems run by in-house cyber security teams will be vital as the emergency response industry adopts any new technology.

Acronyms All Businesses Need to Know

Newsletter Provided by: Hierl's Property & Casualty Experts

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Seeing beyond size in vision care networks

There are many other factors to consider when it comes to deciding which vision care network best fits the needs of your employees. Read this blog post to learn more.


Most people believe that “size matters” in regards to provider networks, but in the world of vision care there are other important factors to consider when deciding which network matches the needs of employees. Network members usually see their vision provider for routine services just once per year. When an employer changes vision administrators, employee in-network utilization is more than 90% regardless of the new network size. Why? Employees are not concerned about changing providers to access in-network benefits. Plus, the new vision provider network will always provide access to multiple providers wherever the employee lives and works.

But what about the quality of the vision care network? To properly assess this measurement of competing networks, employers and benefit advisers need to ask several different questions.

Determine the network’s quality
The quality of the network is vital. Start asking these questions: How are vision care providers credentialed? Do they follow the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) guidelines developed to improve healthcare quality? Are there provider audit programs provided on an ongoing basis? Is the vision care provider re-credentialed and how often? How frequently are reviews conducted of the Office of Inspector General and Medicare and Medicaid disbarment lists?

Establish the network’s effectiveness
Once you know you have a quality network, now you must ask how effective the network is. How diverse is the network? Are there ample ophthalmologists, optometrists and optical retailers we can access? Are some private practitioners? You want to make sure that a solid provider mix is available to give employees options when choosing a vision care provider.

It’s critical to know what languages are spoken within the employee population as well as the providers who care for them. If you have a large population who speak a certain language you want to make sure your network gives them access to people who can truly understand them and with whom they feel comfortable.

Finally, look at the hours of operations. With schedules being busier now than ever before, people need flexibility when it comes to visiting hours. Do they offer evening hours? Weekend hours? This is particularly important for single parents who work during the week and need the flexibility to visit an eye care professional with his or her child after work.

Having a diverse, quality vision care provider network with convenient access helps keep employees happy, healthy and in-network.

Other factors to consider
One of the other factors to be cognizant of is network ownership. Today, many managed vision care companies are involved in not only providing coverage for vision care but also in delivering it. This means the vision benefits company you’re considering may own optical laboratories, frame companies or retail locations, which can pose conflicts of interest between you, your employees and the managed vision care company. Their need to produce profits can lead to undo pressure on your employees to purchase expensive and potentially unnecessary lens types, materials and options. Coupled with direct to consumer advertising and the expansion of brands, eyeglasses have become even more expensive.

This leads to another factor for consideration. Does the potential vision benefit administrator provide meaningful information to help your employees make informed decisions about what they really need, when it comes to the myriad of options available for frames, lenses and lens options?

Network matching
Start by remembering two things when matching networks. First, if you’ve changed vision carriers in the past, you selected a network that was not identical to your previous one. Vision networks never match each other. Some have higher proportions of independent providers and lower percentages of large retailer chains. Second, the infrequency with which the vision benefit is available to be used mitigates the impact of changing providers. People don’t have the same attachment to their eye care professional as they do with their physician.

Beyond quality and effectiveness is the important factor of access. The vision industry has grown to a point where there are often many more providers than would ever be necessary to provide convenient access for your membership. The reality is that two networks may be equally sized in an area and yet there may be little overlap, making the selection of the best network with the lowest overall cost a better strategic direction than simply selecting the one with the highest provider match.

The vision industry has long demonstrated that employees are willing to select new providers, especially when costs are more competitive, and services are more convenient.

SOURCE: Moroff, C (22 August 2018) "Seeing beyond size in vision care networks" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/seeing-beyond-size-in-vision-care-networks?feed=00000152-a2fb-d118-ab57-b3ff6e310000


Safety Focused Newsletter: September 2018

Staying Safe When Traveling for Work

Many jobs require employees to travel for work, sometimes even abroad. While this can be a fun experience, staying safe can be much more difficult if you are in an unfamiliar area. To keep yourself safe when traveling for work, remember the following tips:

  • Familiarize yourself with local customs and laws, as you are subject to them while traveling.
  • Avoid hailing taxis on the street when possible. Instead, have your hotel’s concierge service book a reliable driver or car service for you.

Research is essential when it comes to ensuring a successful business trip and maintaining your safety.

  • Keep hotel doors and windows locked at all times. When you arrive, and any time you leave and return to the room, make sure the locks are working.
  • Ensure that your room has a working peephole and use it to verify the identity of anyone visiting your room. If an unexpected visitor claims to be a hotel employee, call the front desk to confirm.
  • Take photos of important documents and information, like your passport and driver’s license, and leave copies at home.

Research is essential when it comes to ensuring a successful business trip. Planning ahead and remaining vigilant can make all the difference.

Ways to Communicate with Peers You Disagree With

In your professional career, you’re bound to have to work alongside people you don’t agree with. For some, this can be a source of stress, particularly if you have to go out of your way to keep the workplace relationship civil.

In these situations, it’s important to know how to interact professionally. Not only will this display a high level of maturity to your co-workers and managers, but it can also help you avoid making a bad situation worse.

To work with peers you disagree with, do the following:

  • Listen more than you speak. Diversity of opinions is important, and allowing yourself the time to process what another person wants can help you understand where they’re coming from.
  • Think before you respond. Choose your words carefully when responding to something you disagree with. Doing so ensures that you can justify your arguments in a sincere, respectful tone.
  • Try to find common ground and avoid dragging others into an argument.
  • Avoid personal insults. Discussions should be civil and focus on workplace issues.
  • Ask questions. Sometimes disagreements come from a lack of understanding. Asking questions in a friendly tone can be a good way to steer a conversation into a more positive direction.

Working with people you disagree with can be difficult, but it’s an important part of most jobs. If you are concerned that you and a peer will never get along, consider speaking to a supervisor.

Newsletter Provided by: Hierl's Property & Casualty Experts

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5 steps to improving employees’ mental health

Many employees are making themselves available 24/7. This “always on” mentality is costing businesses big time due to workplace stress. Read this blog post to learn more.


Technology has transformed the way many of us work, but it also has almost completely eliminated our ability to unplug, de-stress and take care of our mental health. Many employees make themselves available 24/7, checking email before they go to sleep and as soon as they wake up. This “always on” mentality is costing everyone — businesses spend $300 billion each year on absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover and insurance fees due to workplace stress.

Stress and mental health are increasingly important issues in the office. Elevated stress levels lead to mistakes, lower productivity, lower employee morale, higher rates of absenteeism and even physical illnesses such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

Up to 14% of mental health issues could be completely avoided by reducing workplace stress, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. Now, more than ever, employers need to make sure their employees have the right resources to help combat depression, anxiety, stress and job strain.

Here are five ways employers can improve employees’ mental health.

Remove the stigma. Improving the mental health of your employees starts with talking openly about it. Employers should focus on mental health as part of a wider wellbeing program — calling attention to the need to relieve stress and seek help for mental health problems.

Workplace training to help employees and managers recognize the signs of stress and poor mental health can also bring attention to the issue.

Provide and promote stress-relief activities. Employers can build in activities to help relieve stress during the workday. Yoga, exercise classes and walking groups can help employees cash in on the feel-good endorphins that come from physical activity.

Some larger companies take stress relief to the next level. Office gyms, weight rooms and boxing gyms provide stress relief outlets. Some companies even employ in-house psychologists and other professionals to help teach employees how to manage their stress and fears.

Consider a flexible work policy. On a more basic level, creating a more flexible work policy throughout the day can also help. Everyone needs to take care of personal business from time to time, whether it’s a doctor’s appointment or a home maintenance issue. Take advantage of technology and allowing your employees to work from home or change their hours can help reduce stress.

Develop a financial wellness program. Financial fears are stressing out your employees. More than half of workers say they are stressed about money, and the younger the worker, the more likely he or she is to be worried. Creating a financial wellness program that educates employees on how to better manage their money can help remove this stress. A program could include helping younger generations balance paying back student debt with budgeting and saving, while older generations may focus on putting their kids through college while saving for retirement. Other topics to cover include making big purchases, such as a home or a car.

Highlight your employee assistance program. Draw attention to benefits that can help people cope with mental health issues. You very likely already offer an EAP, but you may not stress enough how it can help employees who may need assistance. Generally, an EAP includes telephone-based or in-person counseling, referrals and other resources to help assess and treat mental health issues. Communicate the details of your company’s EAP often (not just during open enrollment) to give employers another way to improve their wellbeing.

Your employees are your greatest asset; ensuring they are healthy is in your best interest. Facing mental wellbeing head-on can help you keep your employees happy and healthy, and help you boost your business.

SOURCE: Newman, H (25 June 2018) "5 steps to improving employees’ mental health" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/improving-mental-health-in-the-workplace?tag=00000151-16d0-def7-a1db-97f03ad90000


Here’s how HR pros can breeze through open enrollment

Open enrollment is quickly approaching and can often make the most experienced HR professionals shudder. Read this blog post to learn how you can breeze through open enrollment this year.


Three words have the power to make the most experienced HR professional shudder: open enrollment season.

Open enrollment season is a challenge, no matter how well the HR department prepares. Costs for medical and pharmacy benefits continue to rise, which means there are adjusted employee contributions to present to an audience who’s unlikely to understand the reasoning behind cost increases. There may be new benefits offerings that require employees to pay close attention during the decision-making process. There are open enrollment education campaigns and communications meetings to plan and launch.

Employers with multiple generations of workers must accommodate a wide range of health and welfare benefit needs. New laws (like the federal tax law) plus evolving regulations around benefits add more to HR’s already full plate. (No wonder you don’t have time for lunch.)

But, there’s good news. First, open enrollment is made easier if you plan throughout the year for it. Second, these four tips can help HR professionals make open enrollment much easier.

Review trends and projections ASAP. Focus on the renewal rate long before the renewal date. If your employee benefits renew at the beginning of the year, you may not have received your rate yet. But frankly, by now you should have a very good idea where the rate is projected to land. Reviewing claims and trend data alongside benchmarking and industry analyses throughout the year can help you and your broker project, within a few percentage points, how your renewal rate will increase or decrease.

Your benefits broker should be analyzing your program data on an ongoing basis to estimate the renewal rate and avoid a nasty surprise. The broker should also challenge the first carrier rate offered — there’s almost always room for negotiation. Doing pre-renewal work throughout the year can help you prepare for plan changes and position you to make the best decisions for the organization and employees. It will also help facilitate a smoother open enrollment season.

Keep new benefit options simple. After reviewing benefits and trends, you may find that adding a pre-tax benefit, such as a health savings account, flexible spending account or a health reimbursement account, can help the organization save money while giving employees a way to better plan their healthcare and finances. However, with their alphabet soup acronyms, HSAs, FSAs and HRAs are confusing. Even if you did a whole campaign on the topic for the last open enrollment season, it makes sense to repeat it.

The same goes for voluntary benefits: keep them simple. There is a dearth of voluntary benefits available for a multi-generational workforce. While adding voluntary benefit sounds appealing —especially if your core benefits are changing — which products are right for your organization? Survey your employees to get their feedback; they’ll appreciate that you’re asking for their opinion. Once you tally the feedback, resist the urge to offer a slew of voluntary products. Keeping it simple means adding the one (or a few) that are most desired by your workforce.

Voluntary benefits require significant education and engagement — especially products that are newer to the market. (Student loan debt assistance is a good example.) When it comes to a successful voluntary benefits program, timing is everything. If you plan to add student loan debt repayment, pet insurance, long-term care, or any other new voluntary product, the open enrollment season is not the recommended time to do it. Running a voluntary education and communications campaign and open enrollment off cycle will allow employees to focus on their main menu of options during the open enrollment season, then decide later what they want to add for “dessert.”

Educate. Rinse and repeat. You offer employee benefits to help recruit and retain the best talent. But if your employees don’t understand the core and voluntary benefits you offer, you’re unlikely to increase engagement or retention — and you might even see costs rise.

The health and welfare benefits landscape is changing drastically, which means the onus is on the employer and the HR department to educate the workforce on how the plan is changing (if at all). This means putting decision-support tools, such as calculators, in employees’ hands to help them estimate how much insurance they will need to make the best decision. You could run a whole campaign around that topic.

In addition, try using new methods of communication such as social media messages, text messaging, small-group meetings, your company’s intranet, and one-on-one sessions to help employees avoid mistakes at decision time.

Create a 21st-century experience. Manual benefits enrollment and tracking is so 1999. Moving away from paper-based enrollment will save trees — and possibly your sanity — during the open enrollment season and throughout the year. Benefits administration technology allows employees to ponder their options and enroll at their leisure. A decision-support platform enables better enrollment tracking and eliminates typos and mistakes that can pose major issues for the plan participant and the HR team.

Benefits administration technology provides checks and balances that streamline important tactical functions. Mistakes can put you in a world of hurt when it comes to benefit laws and regulations, such as missing those all-important annual HIPAA and COBRA notifications. You can avoid potential government penalties, fines and employee lawsuits with automatic notifications by the benefits administration platform. Technology can also help you identify ineligible dependents, provide employee data to a COBRA provider if employment ends, interface with your payroll platform — the list is almost endless.

The bottom line: Employees won’t enroll in what they don’t understand — which could lead them to choose a benefits plan that is more expensive, or with fewer options, than what they need. Being prepared for open enrollment season, keeping plans simple, focusing on employee education and communications (and the employee experience) can help mitigate issues for plan participants and HR.

Putting all of your ducks in a row throughout the year will ease headaches during the open enrollment season. You might even be able to take a lunch break.

SOURCE: Newman, H (30 August 2018) "Here’s how HR pros can breeze through open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-human-resources-can-breeze-through-open-enrollment?feed=00000152-a2fb-d118-ab57-b3ff6e310000


ACA: 4 things employers should focus on this fall

Employers who fail to comply with certain Affordable Care Act (ACA) rules are still subject to penalties. Read this blog post to learn about the four things employers should focus on to avoid financial liabilities.


During the coming months, employers may have questions about whether they still need to worry about the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The answer is yes; the ACA is alive and well, despite renewed legal challenges and the elimination of the individual mandate beginning next year.

While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced the tax penalty for individuals who don’t have health coverage to $0, effective for 2019, employers are still subject to penalties for failing to comply with certain ACA rules. For example, the IRS is currently enforcing “employer shared responsibility payments” (ESRP) penalties against large employers who fail to meet the ACA requirements to offer qualifying health coverage to their full-time employees. For this purpose, large employers are those with 50 or more full-time or full-time equivalent employees. Here are four things about the ACA that employers should focus on to avoid significant financial liabilities.

1. The IRS is currently assessing penalties using 226-J letters

In 2017, the IRS began assessing ESRP penalties against large employers that failed to offer qualifying health coverage to at least 95 percent of their full-time employees. An ESRP penalty assessment comes in the form of a 226-J letter, which explains that the employer may be liable for the penalty, based on information obtained by the IRS from Forms 1095-C filed by the employer for that coverage year, and tax returns filed by the employer’s employees. The employer has only 30 days to respond to the 226-J letter, using IRS Form 14764, which is enclosed with the 226-J letter. The employer must complete and return IRS Form 14765 to challenge any part of the assessment.

The short timeframe for responding to a 226-J letter means that staff who are likely to be the first to receive communications from the IRS should have a plan in place to react quickly. Training for staff should include information about who to notify and what documentation to keep readily available to support an appeal. Not responding to the IRS 226-J letter will result in a final assessment of the proposed penalty. These penalties can be significant. In the worst case, an employer with inadequate health coverage could pay for the cost of the coverage, as well as penalties of $2,000/year (as indexed) for every full time employee (less 30), even those who received health coverage from the employer.

Depending on the employer’s response to the initial assessment, the IRS will then send the employer one of four types of 227 acknowledgment letters. If the employer disputes the penalty, the IRS could accept the employer’s explanation and reduce the penalty to $0 (a 227-K letter). But if the IRS rejects any part of the employer’s response, the employer will receive either a 227-L letter, with a lower penalty amount, or a 227-M letter, a notice that the amount of the initial assessment hasn’t changed. These letters will explain steps the employer has to take to continue disputing the assessment, including applicable deadlines. The next phase of the appeal might include requesting a telephone conference or meeting with an IRS supervisor, or requesting a hearing with the IRS Office of Appeals.

2. ACA reporting requirements and penalties still apply

Along with the ESRP penalties, the Form 1094-C and 1095-C reporting requirements still apply to large employers. The IRS uses information on Forms 1095-C in applying the ESRP rules and deciding whether to assess penalties against the reporting employer. Large employers must file Forms 1095-C every year with the IRS and send them to full-time employees in order to document compliance with the ACA requirement to offer qualified, affordable coverage to at least 95 percent of full-time employees. Technically, the forms are due to employees by January 31, and to the IRS by March 31, each year, to report compliance for the prior year. In the past, the IRS has extended the deadline for providing the forms to employees, but not the deadline for filing with the IRS. 

Penalties can apply if an employer fails to file with the IRS or provide the forms to employees, and the penalty amount can be doubled if the IRS determines that the employer intentionally disregarded the filing requirement. These penalties can apply if an employer fails to file or provide the forms at all, files and provides the forms late, or if the forms are timely filed and provided, but are incorrect or incomplete.

In some instances, the IRS has assessed ESRP penalties based on Form 1095-C reporting errors. So, in addition to the reporting-related penalties, inaccurate information on Forms 1095-C can lead to erroneous ESRP assessments that the employer will then need to refute, using the IRS forms and procedures described above.

Employers should carefully monitor their ACA filings and reports, and consider correcting prior forms if errors are discovered. Employers should also continue tracking offers of coverage made for each month of 2018, to prepare for compliance with the Form 1095-C reporting requirement early in 2019.

3. “Summary of Benefits and Coverage” disclosure forms are still required

The ACA added a new disclosure requirement for group health plans, called a “Summary of Benefits and Coverage” or “SBC,” that’s intended to help employees make an “apples to apples” comparison of different benefit plan features, such as deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums, and copayments for various benefits and services. This requirement still applies, and SBCs must be provided during open enrollment, upon an employee’s initial eligibility for coverage under the plan, and in response to a request from an employee. The template SBC form and instructions for completing it were updated for coverage periods starting after April 1, 2017. For 2018, a penalty of $1,128 per participant can apply to the failure to provide an SBC as required. 

4. The “Cadillac Tax” has not been repealed

The ACA’s so-called Cadillac tax — an annual excise tax on high-cost health coverage — was initially scheduled to take effect in 2018. The Cadillac tax has been repeatedly delayed, and the federal budget bill passed in January delayed it again through December 31, 2021. Despite the repeated delays, the Cadillac tax has not been repealed and is currently scheduled to apply to health coverage offered on or after January 1, 2022. This might be an issue to consider for employers who are negotiating collective bargaining agreements in 2018 that include terms for health benefits extending beyond 2021. 

While uncertainty continues to surround the ACA, employers should remain aware of continuing compliance requirements to avoid the potentially significant penalties that remain in effect under the ACA. 

Boyette, J; Masson, L (21 August 2018) "ACA: 4 things employers should focus on this fall" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/08/21/aca-4-things-employers-should-focus-on-this-fall/


Checklist: Updating your employee handbook

Preparing or revising employee handbooks can be daunting and confusing. Guarantee you don’t miss any essential information with this simple employee handbook checklist:


When you are preparing or revising an employee handbook, this checklist may be helpful.

Acknowledgment

  • Do employees sign a signature page, confirming they received the handbook?
  • On the signature page, do employees agree to follow the policies in the handbook?
  • Does the signature page state that this handbook replaces any previous versions?
  • On the signature page, do employees agree that they will be “at-will” employees?
  • Do employees agree that the employer may change its policies in the future?

Wage and hour issues

  • Does the employer confirm that it will pay employees for all hours worked?
  • Before employees work overtime, are they required to obtain a supervisor’s approval?
  • During unpaid breaks, are employees completely relieved of all duties? (For example, while a receptionist takes an unpaid lunch break, this person shouldn’t be required to greet visitors or answer phone calls.)
  • Are employees paid when they attend a business meeting during lunch?
  • Are employees paid for attending in-service trainings?
  • Are employees paid while they take short breaks?

Paid Time Off

  • Has the employer considered combining vacation time, sick time, and personal time into one “bucket” of paid time off?
  • Does the paid time off policy line up with the employer’s business objectives? (For example, does it provide incentives for employees to use paid time off during seasons when business is slower?)
  • Does the handbook say what will happen to paid time off when employment ends? (In Pennsylvania, employers are not required to pay terminated employees for the value of their paid time off. Some employers choose to do this, as an incentive for employees to give at least two weeks’ notice.)
  • If the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to the employer, does the handbook inform employees of their rights?
  • Does the handbook list all types of leave that are available? (For example, does the employer offer bereavement leave? How about leave while an employee serves as a juror or witness? What about municipal laws that provide certain types of leave, such as paid sick leave?)

Reasonable accommodations

  • How should employees request a reasonable accommodation?
  • Does the employer permit employees with disabilities to bring service animals to work (Employers should avoid blanket policies that ban all animals.)
  • May employees deviate from grooming and uniform requirements for a religious reason, or a medical reason? (For example, an employee may have a religious reason to wear a headscarf, even if the employer has a blanket policy that would otherwise prohibit this.)

Discrimination and retaliation

  • Does the employer inform employees that they are protected against discrimination and retaliation?
  • Is there an accurate list of protected categories? (Confirm all locations where the employer does business. Some states or municipalities may provide employees with greater protection than federal law. Are there any categories, such as sexual orientation, that the employer should add?)
  • Do employees have a clear way to report discrimination and retaliation?
  • Is there more than one way to report discrimination and retaliation? (In other words, employees shouldn’t be required to make a report to the same person who they believe is committing acts of discrimination.)

Restrictive covenants/trade secrets

  • Are employees required to keep the employer’s information confidential?
  • Do employees confirm they are not subject to any restrictive covenants (such as non-compete agreements) that would limit their ability to work for the employer?
  • Are employees prohibited from giving the employer confidential information that belongs to a previous employer?

Labor law issues

  • If employees belong to a union, does the employer state that it doesn’t intend for the handbook to conflict with any collective bargaining agreement?
  • Does the employer have a content-neutral policy on soliciting and distributing materials in the workplace? (In general, if an employer wants to limit union-related communications, the employer must apply the same rules to solicitations which don’t involve a union.)
  • Does the handbook accurately reflect whether employees may wear union-related apparel, such as hats, buttons, T-shirts and lanyards?
  • Are employees permitted to discuss their wages with each other? (Some employers try to prohibit this, but the National Labor Relations Act entitles employees to discuss their wages with each other. This rule applies to all employers—whether or not they have a union.)

Other

  • If the employer has a progressive discipline policy, does the employer reserve the right to deviate from this policy?
  • Does the employer reserve the right to inspect company computers and email accounts?
  • Does the employer have a social media policy, or a medical marijuana policy?
  • If the employer has other policies, how do they fit together with the handbook? (Does it make sense to incorporate the policies into the handbook? Or, should the handbook clarify which other policies will remain in effect?)
  • Does the handbook contain any provisions that the employer is unlikely to enforce? (For example, does the handbook prohibit employees from using all social media? Does it prohibit employees from talking on the phone while driving?)

SOURCE: Lipkin, B (20 August 2018) "Checklist: Updating your employee handbook" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/08/20/is-your-employee-handbook-up-to-date-compare-it-wi/


The big difference between long-term care and long-term disability insurance

Do your employees know the difference between long-term care and long-term disability insurance? Employers should understand the difference between the two and educate their employees on each type. Continue reading to learn more.


The longer people live, the more likely they are to face illnesses that necessitate custodial care either at home, in an assisted-living facility, or in a nursing home. So it stands to reason that there’s a resurgence of interest in long-term care and long-term disability insurance.

While the two types of coverage have similar names, they’re very different. As an employer, it’s important to understand the difference and educate employees on why they’d need each type of coverage. Here is a rundown.

Long-term care insurance

Long-term care insurance covers the cost of custodial care if a person is no longer able to perform at least two activities of daily living. These activities include eating, bathing, dressing, moving from a bed to a chair (called transferring), using a toilet or caring for incontinence.

Most people think LTC insurance is for older people who need to turn to a nursing home for care near the end of their lives — which is also part of the reason more employees are asking for LTC insurance. But LTC insurance can cover anyone who requires extended care.

LTC goes beyond medical care to include living assistance for a severe illness or disability for an extended period of time. Although older people use the most LTC services, a millennial or middle-aged employee who has been in an accident or suffered a debilitating illness might also need long-term care. In fact, 40% of people receiving long-term care services are 18-64 years old, according to America’s Health Insurance Plans. Actor Christopher Reeve was 42 when he was thrown from his horse and was paralyzed. He received long-term care services for nine years before his death.

Most people believe something like that will never happen to them, but it’s important to plan for the possibility. While Reeve had financial resources to cover his healthcare, that’s not typically the case for the average person. LTC can be very expensive, depending on the level of services needed and the length of time the individual needs it. One year in a nursing home can average more than $50,000. In some regions, it can cost twice that amount.

When offering LTC insurance, employees choose the amount of the benefit — typically an amount granted each month — and the length of time the benefit covers — such as two years, three years or 10 years. Obviously, as the benefit amount or length of time increases, so does the premium.

LTC insurance premiums are based on a person’s age, which means the earlier employees buy, the lower the premiums. If a person first buys the insurance at age 32, they lock in a better rate than if they purchase the insurance at age 54. Rates may increase only by a class action that is approved by state insurance regulators. Finally, LTC insurance is portable, which means employees take the policy with them if they move onto another job, or retire.

Long-term disability insurance

Long-term disability insurance may sound somewhat similar to LTC insurance, but the two are very different and important in their own right. Most workers don’t believe they’ll ever become disabled and need LTD insurance. Unfortunately, more than one in four 20-year-olds will become disabled before they reach retirement, according to the Social Security Administration.

LTD insurance is an income-replacement benefit that kicks in when the employee loses income for an extended period of time due to a disability. LTD insurance can be used for living expenses, not just covering care.

LTD insurance starts after short-term disability ends, typically after three to six months. In most cases, it pays 50-60% of an employee’s salary until they can return to work or, in some cases, until they retire. The more working years an employee has in front of them, the more they need LTD. Unlike long-term care insurance, LTD is typically not portable unless the policy contains conversion privileges. It ends when the employee changes employers.

If you offer both types of insurance, make sure your employees understand the difference. These types of insurance will help them in different ways — both important and more beneficial to have at a young age, but for varying reasons.

As an employer, you’re likely employing multiple generations of workers right now. Offering a range of benefits, including long-term disability and long-term care insurance, can help employees prepare for the unexpected now and in the future.

SOURCE: Granfors-Hunt, L (24 August 2018) "The big difference between long-term care and long-term disability insurance" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-long-term-care-long-term-disability-insurance-differ?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Do employees know where to go in a health crisis?

Often, employees are unsure who they should go to first when they have a health crisis at work. Many employers don’t have a consistent process in place for addressing health crises. Read this blog post to learn more.


When talking to employers about their disability programs, I often ask, “Who do your employees go to first for assistance when they have a health condition?”

If I ask that question of a direct supervisor, it’s met with a quick response of “Me!”, which is quickly followed by the statement, “My employees know that my door is always open and I’m here to help them!”

Sadly, this is not true. Another insurance company recently surveyed employees who experienced a health condition in the workplace and asked that same question: Who did you go to for assistance? The responses varied.

For example, we found that at midsize companies with 100 to 499 employees, it varied:

· 44% went to their HR manager
· 33% went to their direct supervisor
· 18% went to their HR manager and direct supervisor
· 5% went elsewhere

What this shows is that many employers don’t have a consistent process in place for addressing employees with health conditions. This confusion or misunderstanding about whom to approach for assistance can create an inconsistent process for your clients and their workforce — potentially resulting in a negative experience for employees and lost productivity for employers.

Based on the survey findings, employees who worked with their HR manager tended to have a more positive experience and felt more valued and productive after speaking with them about their health condition.

For instance, 54% of employees felt uncomfortable discussing their health condition with their direct supervisor, versus only 37% of employees who went to their HR manager. In addition, 73% of employees who worked with their HR manager felt they knew how to provide the right support for their condition versus 61% of employees who worked with their direct supervisor.

There are several reasons why working with an HR manager can be more beneficial for employees, and ultimately, your clients. Typically, working with an HR manager can lead to more communication while an employee is on leave. Our research shows employees who worked with an HR manager were more likely to receive communication on leave and returned to work 44% faster than when they worked with their direct supervisor.

HR managers also are usually more aware of available resources and how to connect employees to necessary programs to help treat their condition. HR managers who engaged their disability carriers saw a 22% boost in employees’ use of workplace resources, such as an EAP, or disease management or wellness program, when involved in a return-to-work or stay-at-work plan.

This connection to additional resources is essential, as it can help employees receive holistic support to manage their health condition — whether it’s financial wellness support, connection to mental health resources through an EAP or one-on-one sessions with a health coach. HR managers also are usually able to better engage their disability carrier to provide tailored accommodations, which can help aid in stay-at-work or return-to-work plans.

Providing your client with these findings can help them understand the importance of creating a disability process that puts HR as the main point of contact. Not only does this create a consistent experience that helps provide employees with the support they need, it can improve employee morale and reduce turnover.

SOURCE: Smith, Jeffery (16 August 2018) "Do employees know where to go in a health crisis?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/do-employees-know-where-to-go-in-a-health-crisis


6 Reasons Self-Funded Plans Are Gaining Popularity

After the establishment of the ACA eight years ago, employers have been re-examining their employee benefits packages. Read on to learn more.


Since the ACA was enacted eight years ago, many employers are re-examining employee benefits in an effort to manage costs, navigate changing regulations, and expand their plan options. Self-funded plans are one way that's happening.

In 2017, the UBA Health Plan survey revealed that self-funded plans have increased by 12.8% in the past year overall, and just less than two-thirds of all large employers’ plans are self-funded.

Here are six of the reasons why employers are opting for self-funded plans:

1. Lower operating costs frequently save employers money over time.

2. Employers paying their own claims are more likely to incentivize employee health maintenance, and these practices have clear, immediate benefits for everyone.

3. Increased control over plan dynamics often results in better individual fits, and more needs met effectively overall.

4. More flexibility means designing a plan that can ideally empower employees around their own health issues and priorities.

5. Customization allows employers to incorporate wellness programs in the workplace, which often means increased overall health.

6. Risks that might otherwise make self-funded plans less attractive can be managed through quality stop loss contracts.

If you want to know more about why self-funding can keep employers nimble, how risk can be minimized, and how to incorporate wellness programs, contact your local UBA Partner Firm for a copy of the full white paper, "Self-Funded Plans: A Solid Option for Small Businesses."

SOURCE: Olson, B (16 August 2018) "6 Reasons Self-Funded Plans Are Gaining Popularity" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/6-reasons-self-funded-plans-are-gaining-popularity