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/


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/


HRL - White - House

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2019: A Look Forward

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

 Changes for 2019 

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

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

Expected Changes

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

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

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


Compliance Recap - October 2018

October was a busy month in the employee benefits world.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released final forms and instructions for 2018 ACA reporting. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released inflation-adjusted civil monetary penalty amounts. The Treasury, the Department of Labor (DOL), and HHS released a proposed rule on health reimbursement arrangements. The IRS released a proposed rule regarding penalties for failure to file correct information returns or furnish correct payee statements.

Congress and the President enacted a law to prohibit pharmacy gag clauses. The IRS released an information letter regarding dependent care assistance plan funds’ forfeiture. The IRS provided tax relief to victims of Hurricane Michael in Florida. The DOL released FAQs for plan participants affected by Hurricanes Florence and Michael. HHS released a proposed rule to require drug pricing transparency. The DOL and HHS released their regulatory agendas.

UBA Updates

UBA released three new advisors:

UBA updated or revised existing guidance:

IRS Releases Final Forms and Instructions for 2018 ACA Reporting

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released instructions for both the Forms 1094-B and 1095-B and the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C and Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C. There are no substantive changes in the forms or instructions between 2017 and 2018, beyond the further removal of now-expired forms of transition relief. There is a minor formatting change to Forms 1095-B and 1095-C for 2018. There are dividers for the entry of an individual’s first name, middle name, and last name.

Reporting will be due early in 2019, based on coverage in 2018. For calendar year 2018, Forms 1094-C, 1095-C, 1094-B, and 1095-B must be filed by February 28, 2019, or April 1, 2019, if filing electronically. Statements to employees must be furnished by January 31, 2019.

All reporting will be for the 2018 calendar year, even for non-calendar year plans.

Read more about the final forms and instructions.

HHS Releases Inflation-Adjusted Federal Civil Penalty Amounts

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 to $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 to $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 to $57,051 for each violation, up to a maximum of $1,711,533 for identical provisions during a calendar year.
4. 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.

Treasury, DOL, and HHS Releases Proposed Rule on Health Reimbursement Arrangements

The Department of the Treasury (Treasury), Department of Labor (DOL), and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (collectively, the Departments) released their proposed rule regarding health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and other account-based group health plans. The DOL also issued a news release and fact sheet on the proposed rule.

The proposed rule’s goal is to expand the flexibility and use of HRAs to provide individuals with additional options to obtain quality, affordable healthcare. According to the Departments, these changes will facilitate a more efficient healthcare system by increasing employees’ consumer choice and promoting healthcare market competition by adding employer options.

To do so, the proposed rules would expand the use of HRAs by:

  • Removing the current prohibition against integrating an HRA with individual health insurance coverage (individual coverage)
  • Expanding the definition of limited excepted benefits to recognize certain HRAs as limited excepted benefits if certain conditions are met (excepted benefit HRA)
  • Providing premium tax credit (PTC) eligibility rules for people who are offered an HRA integrated with individual coverage
  • Assuring HRA and Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA) plan sponsors that reimbursement of individual coverage by the HRA or QSEHRA does not become part of an ERISA plan when certain conditions are met
  • Changing individual market special enrollment periods for individuals who gain access to HRAs integrated with individual coverage or who are provided QSEHRAs

Public comments are due by December 28, 2018. If the proposed rule is finalized, it will be effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2020.

Read more about the proposed rule.

IRS Releases Proposed Rule Regarding Penalties for Failure to File Correct Information Returns or Furnish Correct Payee Statements

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its proposed rule relating to penalties for failure to file correct information returns or furnish correct payee statements. The proposed rule contains safe harbor exceptions that apply in circumstances when an information return or payee statement is otherwise correct, is timely filed or furnished, and includes a de minimis dollar amount error.

A dollar amount error is a de minimis error if the difference between any single amount in error and the correct amount is not more than $100, or, if the difference relates to an amount of tax withheld, it is not more than $25.

Generally, when the safe harbor exception applies to an information return or payee statement and the return or statement is otherwise correctly and timely filed or furnished, no correction is required and, for purposes of Sections 6721 or 6722, the document is treated as having been filed or furnished with all of the correct required information.

The proposed safe harbor exception would apply to information reported on the Forms 1094/1095, Form W-2, and Form 1099-R.

Public comments are due by December 17, 2018.

Congress and the President Enact Law Prohibiting Pharmacy Gag Clauses

Congress and the President enacted the Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act (Act) that prohibits any restriction on a pharmacy’s ability to inform customers about certain prescription drug costs.

The Act prohibits a group health plan (or a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage, or a pharmacy benefits management service working with a health plan or health insurance issuer) from taking the following actions against a pharmacy that dispenses a prescription drug to an enrollee in the plan or coverage:

  • restricting, directly or indirectly, the pharmacy from informing an enrollee of any difference between the enrollee’s out-of-pocket prescription drug cost under the plan or coverage and the amount that the enrollee would pay for the prescription drug without using any health plan or insurance coverage, or
  • penalizing the pharmacy for informing an enrollee of any difference between the enrollee’s out-of-pocket prescription drug cost under the plan or coverage and the amount that the enrollee would pay for the prescription drug without using any health plan or insurance coverage.

IRS Releases Information Letter Regarding DCAP Fund Forfeiture

The Internal Revenue Service released Information Letter 2018-0027 (Letter) to confirm that a participant’s dependent care assistance plan (DCAP) funds can be forfeited if a participant does not timely submit documentation of dependent care expenses. The Letter explains that, although the Treasury’s regulations do not specify a length of time for submitting expenses, the cafeteria plan document should specify the deadline for submitting expenses.

The Letter also explains that the plan administrator should apply the deadline to all participants on a uniform and consistent basis. A cafeteria plan must operate according to its written plan or the employees’ elections between taxable and nontaxable benefits are includible in the employees’ income.

Tax Relief for Victims of Hurricane Michael in Florida

Victims of Hurricane Michael that took place beginning on October 7, 2018, in Florida may qualify for tax relief from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The President declared that a major disaster exists in Florida. 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.

Last month, the IRS extended deadlines for victims of Hurricane Florence in certain counties of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

DOL Releases FAQs for Plan Participants Affected by Hurricanes Florence and Michael

The Department of Labor (DOL) released its FAQs for Participants and Beneficiaries Following Hurricanes Florence and Michael 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

HHS Releases Proposed Rule to Require Drug Pricing Transparency

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its proposed rule that would require direct-to-consumer television advertisements of prescription drugs and biological products to include the Wholesale Acquisition Cost (WAC or list price) of that prescription drug or biological product.

The proposed rule would require the following written statement to appear at the end of an advertisement, against a contrasting background, for sufficient duration, and in font that allows the statement to be easily read:

‘‘The list price for a [30-day supply of] [typical course of treatment with] [name of prescription drug or biological product] is [insert list price]. If you have health insurance that covers drugs, your cost may be different.’’

The advertising requirement would only apply to prescription drugs and biological products that cost $35 or more per month and for which reimbursement is available, directly or indirectly, by Medicare or Medicaid.

To enforce the advertising requirement, the proposed rule would require HHS to maintain a public list that identifies prescription drugs and biological products that are advertised in violation with the rule. HHS would post this list on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) website at least annually.

Public comments are due by December 17, 2018.

DOL and HHS Release Their Regulatory Agendas

The Department of Labor (DOL) released its regulatory agenda and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its regulatory agenda. Each agenda provides a list of regulations that the agency is currently working on, including rulemaking stage, to help employers anticipate potential change in certain areas of employee benefits.

Question of the Month

Q: What is the status of the Form 5500 proposed rule, that if adopted as a final rule, would generally apply for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2019?

A: Although the Department of Labor (DOL), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) proposed Form 5500 filing changes in 2016, the agencies have not released any final rules regarding Form 5500 filing.

At the American Bar Association’s ERISA Basics National Institute in October 2018, a DOL representative unofficially said that, due to President Trump’s Executive Order, the DOL has some other higher priority items that the DOL needs to address before it can address the Form 5500 proposed regulations. The DOL representative also unofficially said that it’s likely that new proposed Form 5500 regulations would be issued to allow for another round of public comment. However, the DOL representative didn’t have a timeline on when the additional proposed regulations might be released.

**This information is general and is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal advice. You should not act on this information without consulting legal counsel or other knowledgeable advisors.


IRS bumps up 401(k) contribution limit for 2019

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently increased the annual contribution cap for participants of 401(k) and other retirement plans. Read this blog post to learn what the new contribution caps are.


Participants in 401(k) and other defined contribution retirement accounts will see their annual contribution cap raised from $18,500 to $19,000 in 2019, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

The catch-up contribution limit on defined contribution plans remains unchanged at $6,000.

Savers with IRAs will see the annual contribution cap raised from $5,500 to $6,000 — the first time the cap on IRA deferrals has been raised since 2013. The annual catch-up contribution for savers age 50 and over will remain at $1,000.

Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) increases will also be applied to the deduction phase-out scale for IRA owners who are also covered by a workplace retirement plan:

  • for single filers the scale will be $64,000 to $74,000, up $1,000
  • for joint filers where the spouse contributing to an IRA is also covered by a workplace plan, the phase-out slot increase to $103,000 to $123,000
  • for an IRA contributor whose spouse is covered by a plan, the income phase-out is $193,000 to $2003,000

Single contributors to Roth IRAs will see the income phase-out range increase to $122,000 to $137,000, up $2,000 from last year. For married couples filing jointly the range will increase to $193,000 to $203,000, up $4,000 from last year.

More low and moderate-income families may be able to claim the Saver’s Credit on their tax returns for contributions to retirement savings plans. The threshold increases $1,000 for married couples, to $64,000; $48,000 for head of households, up $750; and $32,000 for singles and single filers, up $500 from last year.

The deferred compensation limit in defined contribution plans for pre-tax and after-tax dollars will increase $1,000, to $56,000. And the maximum defined benefit annual pension will increase $5,000, to $225,000.

SOURCE: Thornton, N. (1 November 2018) "IRS bumps up 401(k) contribution limit for 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/11/01/irs-bumps-401k-contribution-limit-for-2019/


How to create a strong communication plan for open enrollment

Do you have a communication plan for open enrollment? Once businesses have their plan changes locked in, it’s time to focus on communicating those changes to their employees. Continue reading to learn how to create a strong communication plan for open enrollment.


Ready or not… the Benefits Super Bowl is here! Whether you are a broker, benefits manager or anywhere in between, you have been knee-deep on plan updates, rate reviews and benefit changes for months. Now that the plan changes are locked, it’s go-time! The focus is now on communicating and educating employees about their benefit options.

It takes an enormous amount of planning and execution to provide a productive open enrollment experience for employees. But, it is well worth it as this is often the only time during the year that employees stop to consider their benefit options.

Learn from past wins and misses

Consider previous years’ open enrollment communications and ask yourself the following:

  • What is the feedback you received from employees (the good, the bad and the ugly)?
  • What were the most common questions?
  • Were there key pieces of information employees had difficulty finding?

Learn from the answers to these questions and then craft your content in a clear and concise manner that is easier for employees to digest.

The communication medium is key to your success

Now that you’ve developed the content to communicate, the next equally important step is determining how, when and where you deliver this information. Is there a centralized location where employees can find information for both core and voluntary benefits? Is the information in a format that the employee can easily share with his or her significant other?

It is critical to have multi-channel communications to reach your audience. Some employees may naturally gravitate to a company-wide email and the company intranet, while others lean on more interactive mediums like E-books, text messages, webinars or lunch and learns. Providing a variety of communication avenues ensures you are reaching employees where they want to receive information.

Make sure your communications campaign provides educational materials at each of the key milestones during the open enrollment journey–such as prior to enrollment, midway through enrollment, and right before enrollment closes. Wherever possible, always support employees through the process and give them options to reach out for help.

How to communicate the same benefits to a diverse workforce

You are likely communicating to a group of employees with diverse needs and wants. What may be appealing to an entry-level recent grad may not resonate with a senior-level employee nearing retirement. For example, employees with young children may be especially interested in accident insurance or pet owners might look to pet insurance to help offset the costs of well-visits and routine care. If possible, tailor your communications to different segments of the employee population.

Communicating voluntary health-related benefits

Core medical benefits are what employees gravitate to during the enrollment period. Are you offering voluntary benefits to employees? The most successful voluntary benefit programs are positioned next to core medical plans on the enrollment platform. This shows employees how those voluntary benefits (critical illness, accident insurance and hospital indemnity) complement the core offerings with extended protection.

When voluntary benefit programs are positioned as an integral part of the employee benefits experience, employees are more likely to understand the value and appreciate the support provided by their employer. For example, a critical illness program can help to bridge the gap of a high-deductible health plan in the case of a covered critical condition. Communicate that voluntary benefits can be an integral part of a “Total Rewards Package” and can contribute to overall financial wellness.

Review and refine

Finally, don’t miss your opportunity at the end of enrollment to review how your communication campaign performed. Pull stats and analyze your communication campaign for next year’s open enrollment… it is never too early to start! HR managers can glean valuable information and metrics from the employee experience.

SOURCE: Marcia, P. (1 November 2018) "How to create a strong communication plan for open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/11/01/how-to-create-a-strong-communication-plan-for-open/


When Companies Should Invest in Training Their Employees — and When They Shouldn’t

A recent industry report revealed that U.S. companies spent over $90 billion on employee training and development activities in 2017. Read this blog post to learn more.


According to one industry report, U.S. companies spent over $90 billion dollars on training and development activities in 2017, a year-over-year increase of 32.5 %. While many experts emphasize the importance and benefits of employee development — a more competitive workforce, increased employee retention, and higher employee engagement — critics point to a painful lack of results from these investments. Ultimately, there is truth in both perspectives. Training is useful at times but often fails, especially when it is used to address problems that it can’t actually solve.

Many well-intended leaders view training as a panacea to obvious learning opportunities or behavioral problems. For example, several months ago, a global financial services company asked me to design a workshop to help their employees be less bureaucratic and more entrepreneurial. Their goal was to train people to stop waiting around for their bosses’ approval, and instead, feel empowered to make decisions on their own. They hoped, as an outcome, decisions would be made faster. Though the company seemed eager to invest, a training program was not the right way to introduce the new behavior they wanted their employees to learn.

Training can be a powerful medium when there is proof that the root cause of the learning need is an undeveloped skill or a knowledge deficit. For those situations, a well-designed program with customized content, relevant case material, skill-building practice, and a final measurement of skill acquisition works great. But, in the case of this organization, a lack of skills had very little to do with their problem. After asking leaders in the organization why they felt the need for training, we discovered the root causes of their problem had more to do with:

  • Ineffective decision-making processes that failed to clarify which leaders and groups owned which decisions
  • Narrowly distributed authority, concentrated at the top of the organization
  • No measurable expectations that employees make decisions
  • No technologies to quickly move information to those who needed it to make decisions

Given these systemic issues, it’s unlikely a training program would have had a productive, or sustainable outcome. Worse, it could have backfired, making management look out of touch.

Learning is a consequence of thinking, not teaching. It happens when people reflect on and choose a new behavior. But if the work environment doesn’t support that behavior, a well-trained employee won’t make a difference. Here are three conditions needed to ensure a training solution sticks.

1. Internal systems support the newly desired behavior. Spotting unwanted behavior is certainly a clue that something needs to change. But the origins of that unwanted behavior may not be a lack of skill. Individual behaviors in an organization are influenced by many factors, like: how clearly managers establish, communicate, and stick to priorities, what the culture values and reinforces, how performance is measured and rewarded, or how many levels of hierarchy there are. These all play a role in shaping employee behaviors. In the case above, people weren’t behaving in a disempowered way because they didn’t know better. The company’s decision-making processes forbid them from behaving any other way. Multiple levels of approval were required for even tactical decisions. Access to basic information was limited to high-ranking managers. The culture reinforced asking permission for everything. Unless those issues were addressed, a workshop would prove useless.

2. There is commitment to change. Any thorough organizational assessment will not only define the skills employees need to develop, it will also reveal the conditions required to reinforce and sustain those skills once a training solution is implemented. Just because an organization recognizes the factors driving unwanted behavior, doesn’t mean they’re open to changing them. When I raised the obvious concerns with the organization above, I got the classic response, “Yes, yes, of course we know those issues aren’t helping, but we think if we can get the workshop going, we’ll build momentum and then get to those later.” This is usually code for, “It’s never going to happen.” If an organization isn’t willing to address the causes of a problem, a training will not yield its intended benefit.

3. The training solution directly serves strategic priorities. When an organization deploys a new strategy — like launching a new market or product — training can play a critical role in equipping people with the skills and knowledge they need to help that strategy succeed. But when a training initiative has no discernible purpose or end goal, the risk of failure is raised. For example, one of my clients rolled out a company-wide mindfulness workshop. When I asked a few employees what they thought, they said, “It was interesting. At least it got me two hours away from my cubicle.” When I asked the sponsoring executive to explain her thought process behind the training, she said, “Our employee engagement data indicated our people are feeling stressed and overworked, so I thought it would be a nice perk to help them focus and reduce tension.” But when I asked her what was causing the stress, her answer was less definitive: “I don’t really know, but most of the negative data came from Millennials and they complain about being overworked. Plus, they like this kind of stuff.” She believed her training solution had strategic relevance because it linked to a vital employee metric. But evaluations indicated that, though employees found the training “interesting,” it didn’t actually reduce their stress. There are a myriad of reasons why the workload could have been causing employees stress. Therefore, this manager’s energy would have been better directed at trying to determine those reasons in her specific department and addressing them accordingly — despite her good intentions.

If you are going to invest millions of dollars into company training, be confident it is addressing a strategic learning need. Further, be sure your organization can and will sustain new skills and knowledge by addressing the broader factors that may threaten their success. If you aren’t confident in these conditions, don’t spend the money.

SOURCE: Carucci, R. (29 October 2018). "When Companies Should Invest in Training Their Employees – and When They Shouldn’t" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/10/when-companies-should-invest-in-training-their-employees-and-when-they-shouldnt