How to Take your 2020 Benefit Change Rollout to the Next Level

Employers are faced with the challenge of how to engage employees each year during open enrollment. Instead of printouts and email campaigns, try a new communication method this year. Read this blog post for easy tips to try this open enrollment season.


With open enrollment right around the corner, employers are faced with the annual question: how are we going to get employees engaged, while helping them make the smartest benefit decisions for their individual situations?

This year, instead of plain old printouts and email, try a new method. Whether you are changing providers, introducing new features, or simply showcasing existing options, switching up your enrollment process can be easier and more enjoyable than you’d think. Give these quick and easy tips a try for a better time come January 1.

Have a Lunch & Learn

Who doesn’t love a lunch & learn? Free food and a little break from the status quo is a much-welcomed way to get on board with the changes 2020 will bring. Whether you are opting for an informative webinar or an in-person presentation, providing a free lunch is a great way to encourage employee participation while boosting team morale.

If you are hosting an in-person benefits presentation, be sure to have your information nicely (and concisely!) summarized. Having a paper takeaway or a digital follow-up is key, as sometimes open enrollment can be overwhelming. Many people prefer to have something they can reference at a later date to help make their decision, so be sure those materials are available.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

If it’s possible, why not get the whole team involved in asking questions and brainstorming? Benefit changes can be complex and confusing, and sometimes people feel too shy to ask questions during a formal presentation. Try breaking up into smaller groups and challenging each mini-team to answer ten questions related to open enrollment and benefits. The group that gets the most right answers wins a prize!

Design Your Rollout Mobile & Digital First

Mobile. It might seem like a no-brainer, but employees are going to be quicker to respond to changes if there’s an easy process that meets them where they are: their mobile devices. Reminding employees of a mobile registration option is a great way to capture high engagement rates. The key to a user-friendly registration is making it as turnkey as possible. If employees have to fish around for URLs, passwords, group numbers, et cetera, they are going to be less likely to complete these items in a timely fashion. Provide all the information you can upfront.

Add Social to Your Strategy. If you are not taking advantage of a social strategy such as Facebook, Slack, LinkedIn, Twitter, and more, the time is now! Digital quizzes, surveys, and chat channels can work wonders for engaging your employees during the open enrollment process while facilitating knowledge sharing. Why not create an internal Facebook group or Slack channel where your team can ask questions and exchange information? The outcome of benefits decisions usually lasts all year, so it’s important for people to have their questions answered in a casual, user-friendly environment. A big benefit for your HR team is that a digital-first strategy will cut down on “random question” drop-ins and interruptions at your office. Send everyone to one place in the digital space!

SOURCE: Olson, B. (15 October 2019) "How to Take your 2020 Benefit Change Rollout to the Next Level" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved fromhttp://blog.ubabenefits.com/how-to-take-your-2020-benefit-change-rollout-to-the-next-level


DOL Issues Updated Medicaid / CHIP Model Notice

An updated Premium Assistance Under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Model Notice was recently issued by the Department of Labor (DOL). Read this post from UBA to learn more.


The Department of Labor (DOL) issued an updated Premium Assistance Under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Model Notice. Employers should distribute the updated model notice before the start of the plan year if they have any employees in a state listed in the notice.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (10 October 2019) "DOL Issues Updated Medicaid / CHIP Model Notice" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/dol-issues-updated-medicaid-/-chip-model-notice


The Open Enrollment Checklist: Are You Poised for a Successful Season

Did you know: Fifty-six percent of U.S. adults with employer-sponsored health benefits said health coverage satisfaction is a key factor in deciding whether they should leave their current job. Read the following blog post for an open enrollment checklist.


It’s here… the moment we’ve all been waiting for — or, in the case of HR, preparing for (at least we’d hope). That’s right, open enrollment season has arrived.

Open enrollment is a major opportunity for HR to contribute to their company’s performance — both in terms of healthcare savings and employee productivity. The better employees understand their benefits, the more likely they are to make cost-conscious decisions about their plan choices and their healthcare — saving themselves, and their employers, money. Not only that, but a recent survey found that 56% of U.S. adults with employer-sponsored health benefits said that whether or not they like their health coverage is a key factor in deciding to stay at their current job. And, interestingly, satisfaction with benefits and benefits communications have a tremendous impact on job satisfaction and engagement.

Not sure you’ve done everything you could to turn this annual necessity into a true financial, educational game-changer for your organizations? Ask yourself, did you:

Take stock of last year’s enrollment?Before diving into enrollment for 2020, employers should have taken stock of how the company fared last year. Post-mortem meetings with the enrollment team (along with key internal and external stakeholders) to assess what went well (or didn’t) can ensure the coming enrollment season runs smoothly.

In particular, identify the most time-consuming tasks and discuss how they could be streamlined in the future. Second, determine what questions employees asked the most about last year — and be prepared to answer them again this year. Third, consider whether the company achieved its overall open enrollment goals, and what contributed to those results. By addressing the peaks and pitfalls of last year’s season, HR should have a head start on planning for 2020.

Plan your communications strategy?With a defined approach to open enrollment in place, HR at this point should have developed an organized, well-communicated strategy to keep employees informed about their plan options at enrollment and throughout the year. Have you:

· Defined corporate objectives and how to measure success? · Assessed what messages to share with employees, especially anything that is changing — such as adding or eliminating plans or changing vendors? · Determined what information is best delivered in print (e.g. newsletters, posters, postcards, enrollment guides), online or in person through managers or one-on-one enrollment support? Adopting a multi-channel engagement strategy will ensure key messages reach the intended audience(s).

Make sure employees understand the deadline and process for enrolling — and the implications of missing the enrollment window. They must understand whether their existing coverage will roll over, if they’ll default to a specific plan and/or level of coverage (perhaps different from what they currently have), or end up with no coverage at all.

Take a pro-active approach to open enrollment?Ninety percent of employees report that they roll over their same health plan year over year — though this doesn’t indicate overwhelming plan satisfaction. More typically, it’s because they’re intimidated about what they don’t know, are confused about their choices or just don’t care. Employees don’t have the information they need, and aren’t likely to seek it out on their own.

Offering — or even requiring — one-on-one meetings with benefit experts during open enrollment provides a forum for employees to discuss their individual needs and ensure they are selecting the right coverage. These services — often available through brokers or outside engagement firms — provide employees with a safe space to ask specific questions about their health conditions, family history and potential life changes that could affect their insurance needs. This is the ideal time to remind employees that there is no one-size-fits-all plan, and that the least expensive plan on paper may not, ultimately, be the most cost-effective plan over time.

Revisit your SPD?The document we all love to hate, summary plan descriptions (SPDs) remain the best source for information about how each plan works, what it covers and the participant’s rights and responsibilities under that plan.

Having an SPD that is current, appealing (or at least not off-putting) and easy to access can answer many employee questions before they find their way to HR. Simple fixes like adding charts, callout boxes or icons can make your SPDs easier to navigate. Many employers are taking it a step further and offering interactive SPDs, which include robust search functionality and links to definitions, important forms, modeling tools and calculators, vendor sites and even short video clips. By making SPDs digital and interactive, employers can provide employees access to important information about their coverage 24/7 via any device. And, by adding a data analytics component, HR can track which sections employees visit most and pinpoint knowledge gaps about their benefit options to enhance understanding and drive increased benefits usage.

Account for all demographics?With all the focus on today’s multigenerational workforce, it’s important to remember that there’s more to “demographics” than age and gender. Worksite (office vs. shop floor vs. construction site vs. road warrior) can have a tremendous impact on the communications channels you use and when you use them.

And while some “generational generalizations” hold true — many older workers prefer paper, and most young people prefer mobile communication channels — it’s more important to look at employee cohorts from the perspective of differing priorities (planning for retirement vs. retiring student debt), different levels of education and healthcare literacy, and experience with choosing and using benefits. Employees just starting their careers are likely to need more support and different information than a more seasoned worker who’s had years of experience with the enrollment process. Consider the most effective ways to engage the different demographics of your population to gain their attention and interest in choosing the right plan for them.

Equip employees for smart healthcare choices year-round?For most employees, becoming an educated healthcare consumer is a work in progress — which is why many employers offer year-round resources to support smart healthcare choices. That said, these resources are often under-utilized because employees don’t know they exist.

Open enrollment is the perfect time to spread the word about these programs and address the key question for employees: “What’s in it for me?” For example, many employers offer transparency services, which enable employees to research the potential cost of care and compare prices across several providers in their area.

Other resources, such as benefits advocates, can answer questions from employees in real time — including where to get care, how to get a second opinion and what the doctor’s instructions really mean. When used in conjunction, transparency and advocacy services can lower out-of-pocket spending for the employee and reduce costs for the employer. Does your open enrollment communications strategy highlight that these resources exist, outline how they work and explain how they benefit the employee?

What if open enrollment is only a week away and you haven’t taken most, if any, of these steps? It’s not too early to start your to-do list for next year — perhaps by first tackling your SPD and drafting that communications plan. Most important, get that post-mortem meeting on the schedule now, while the lessons learned from this year’s open enrollment are still fresh.

SOURCE: Buckey, K. (3 October 2019) "The Open enrollment checklist: Are you Poised for a successful season" (Web Blog Post) https://www.benefitnews.com/list/the-employers-open-enrollment-checklist


Why 24/7 Work Culture is Causing Workers to Burn Out

Burnout was recently classified by the World Health Organization as an "occupational phenomenon" that is characterized by chronic work stress. Workplace cultures that encourage employees to be available 24/7 may be causing burnout, according to Dr. Michael Klein. Read the following blog post to learn more.


Workplace culture that encourages employees to be available 24/7 may be causing burnout and other mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

That’s according to business psychologist and workplace adviser Dr. Michael Klein, who says companies that encourage employees to work anytime and anywhere is making it more likely that burnout will occur.

“The problem now is when you have the ability to work from wherever you want,” he says. “It’s so important for general wellness to make time to exercise, time for family and to not check work email.”

In May, the World Health Organization classified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” that is characterized by chronic work stress that is not successfully managed. Research shows that continued stress at work can lead to more serious mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

As a result, Klein predicts the next few years will see an increased need for on-site mental healthcare which could be offered through employee assistance programs. Offering EAPs, flexible work options and family-friendly benefits like onsite childcare are just some of the ways employers can reduce stress for workers.

And HR may need to take the lead. Misty Guinn, director of benefits and wellness at Benefitfocus, says finding HR professionals that can handle difficult conversations around mental health may be key to addressing the problem. But many are not comfortable enough to have those kinds of conversations.

“Most have yet to achieve that level of comfort with conversations around mental health,” she says, noting that younger generations are often more comfortable talking about mental health issues. “We’ve got to enable people, especially within HR, benefits and management to have those conversations and be comfortable with them.”

Guinn also says that EAPs alone may not be enough to address mental health issues for workers because these programs are often scarcely utilized. Subsidizing mental health co-pays, work-life balance and PTO policies are benefit options employers to create a meaningful difference for workers mental health, she adds.

“Too often employers make the mistake of believing that offering an employee assistance program sufficiently checks off the mental health box in a complete benefits package,” she says. “In reality, these programs generally have low utilization because employees don’t have confidence in how confidential they are.”

Klein and Guinn agree that employers should consider more ways to support the total well-being of employees. Companies who prioritize their people will do better in the long term, Guinn adds.

“Employers need to take purposeful actions within their policies and programs to reinforce their support of total well-being for employees and their families,” she says.

SOURCE: Hroncich, Caroline. (June 10th, 2019) "Why 24/7 Work Culture is Causing Workers to Burn Out" (Web Blog Post) https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/24-7-work-culture-is-causing-workers-to-burn-out


‘Eye’ spy a savings opportunity for health and vision benefits

Traditionally, vision benefits were offered as an elective, with coverage is focusing on vision tests or discounts for corrective eyewear, but this often can result in inadequate coverage for employees and their dependents. Read this blog post to learn more about vision benefits.


Sixty-one million adults are at high risk for serious vision loss, according to the National Eye Institute, but most U.S. employers don’t include eye care as part of their benefits package. Vision benefits have traditionally been offered as an elective, where coverage is focused on vision tests or discounts for corrective eyewear.

This often results in inadequate coverage for employees and dependents, which can result in unrecognized and untreated issues that impact employee health and productivity, as well as an employer’s bottom line.

Comprehensive eye exams are recommended for adults under the age of 65 at least every two years, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA). These exams are the only way a doctor can detect signs and symptoms of serious conditions without cutting into or scanning body parts.

The total economic burden of eye disorders and vision loss in the U.S. was $139 billion in 2013, which includes $65 billion in direct medical costs strictly due to eye disorders and low vision. Loss of vision among workers results in $48 billion in lost productivity per year.

When it comes to benefit management priorities employers often focus more on chronic condition management. Yet, eye health is often linked to common chronic conditions including diabetes and hypertension. Without early detection of eye and vision health issues, employees cannot properly manage these conditions. Delaying medical treatment can lead to increased absenteeism and reduced productivity, eventually resulting in treatment that comes too late, and at a much higher price tag for employers, employees and family members.

About 68% of Americans with diabetes have been diagnosed with eye complications, many of which could have been prevented through a comprehensive eye exam. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among adults, according to the National Institutes of Health. Its prevalence is increasing as one in 10 people worldwide may be affected by 2040, according to research from the International Diabetes Federation.

Nearly half of Americans don’t know that diabetic eye diseases have visible symptoms, according to a 2018 AOA survey. More than one-third of respondents didn’t know a comprehensive eye exam is the only way to determine if a person’s diabetes will cause blindness. These exams, considered the gold standard in clinical vision care, should be covered under the employees’ medical benefits.

Three years ago the Midwest Business Group on Health began a collaboration with the AOA to better understand how employers think about and implement eye health and vision benefits. As part of this partnership, a no-cost eye care benefits toolkit was developed to support employers in evaluating their current eye health and vision care benefits to:

  • Understand the importance of early detection so that employees can effectively manage chronic and more serious conditions
  • Recognize how to integrate primary and preventive eye care into an overall medical benefit design
  • Educate employees on the importance of periodic eye examinations

It’s important that employers better understand the impact of vision care benefits, including lower costs, better employee health, improved job satisfaction, better employee quality of life, and work productivity.

SOURCE: Larson, C. (20 September 2019) "‘Eye’ spy a savings opportunity for health and vision benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/vision-loss-resulting-in-billions-in-lost-productivity


Addressing Marijuana Usage and Testing in the Workplace

With the legalization of cannabis around the country, many employers find themselves asking how they should address drug testing in the workplace. Read this blog post from UBA for more on addressing cannabis usage and testing in the workplace.


Recreational cannabis legalization is rolling out across the United States, and many employers are faced with a big, hazy question: how should they address drug testing in the workplace? Eleven states have legalized recreational marijuana and 33 others have legalized medical marijuana. It’s safe to say that in the next few months or years this topic will hit nearly every employer nationally.

Your leadership team may have questions as you unpack this issue. How is cannabis influencing safety and productivity on the job? Is your company at risk for a lawsuit if medical marijuana use doesn't align with the organization's zero-tolerance drug policy? How can you develop a defensible policy that is logical and effective?

It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed by these questions, but it is important to know that you have options for ways to structure your company’s policy on cannabis usage outside of the work environment. We will weigh the pros and cons of pre-employment testing, random testing, selective testing, and not testing at all.

Pre-Employment Testing

Most corporations that rely on manual labor for profit, such as transportation or advanced manufacturing, require a drug screening prior to hire and then routinely afterward. Historically, testing positive for a drug in any category (amphetamines, opiates, narcotics, hallucinogens) has been grounds for termination or retraction of a job offer.

However, these zero-tolerance policies as a barrier to entry are becoming tricky. With the onset of cannabis legalization, many state and local jurisdictions are implementing anti-discrimination laws that protect employees who might test positive for marijuana in mandatory employer screenings. Under these laws, a person could file a hefty lawsuit resulting in expensive settlements for corporations that deny a job offer to a medicinal or recreational cannabis user. Because of this legal risk, many employers are slashing the upfront drug testing to attract and successfully onboard more people, and avoid lawsuits.

Random Testing

It is common sense that employees shouldn’t be impaired while on the job, especially in manual labor operations. However, it is nearly impossible to determine whether someone is high at work with a drug test, because cannabis can remain in the system for up to 30 days or more following even a single usage. The majority of court cases indicate that employers can’t fire someone for using marijuana when they aren’t on the clock. Because of this, more employers will need to use observation and performance review tactics to make termination decisions, and then be prepared to face any legal repercussions the employee may initiate.

For many employers, the risk of not testing is far greater than the implications of hazardous workplace accidents as a result of cannabis impairment. For example, Uber uses routine, random drug screenings to ensure the safety of its independent drivers and their passengers. It is up to each organization to weigh the risks involved in safety, legal, and productivity loss when determining if a random test initiative is the right fit.

No Testing/Selective Panel Testing

If your business or organization does not use manual labor to produce revenue, an option is to forgo testing entirely. For example, in offices and other professional environments, the risk of workplace accidents due to impairment is much lower.

Due to legalization and shifting cultural perceptions, many employer policies treat cannabis usage in an employee’s personal life as a non-issue, comparing it to alcohol. Many millennials say they prefer to smoke marijuana than to drink alcohol, and as that generation ages into corporate leadership roles, their attitudes will begin driving corporate policy.

If your team shares a relaxed perspective on cannabis, but is not quite ready to forgo drug testing entirely, a great option is a selective panel test. These do not test for THC (the active ingredient in cannabis), but can register other illegal substances. Selective panels are available to an employer in up to 14 criteria. This option can ensure workplace safety and productivity without getting into the stickiness of cannabis use.

SOURCE: Olson, B. (11 September 2019) "Addressing Marijuana Usage and Testing in the Workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/addressing-marijuana-usage-and-testing-in-the-workplace


4 pitfalls of paid leave and how clients can avoid them

In efforts to better attract and retain talent, employers are boosting their current benefit offerings by adding paid leave options. Read this blog post for 4 common pitfalls of paid leave and how employers can avoid them.


PaidLeave.5.2.19.pngSmart employers are boosting their benefits packages with paid family leave — the most coveted work perk among all generations. In today’s low unemployment environment, paid leave benefits can be a huge differentiator in attracting and retaining talent.

But some employers are getting themselves into trouble in the process, facing accusations of gender discrimination or improper use of leave.

Here are four potential pitfalls of paid leave, and how employers can avoid them.

1. Be careful what you call “maternity leave.”

Employers have long been granting leave for new moms in the form of disability coverage. In fact, the top cause of short term disability is pregnancy. Disability insurance usually grants new moms six to eight weeks of paid leave to recover from childbirth.

Because this coverage applies to the medical condition of recovering from childbirth, it shouldn’t be lumped in with bonding leave.

Guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says leave granted for new moms for bonding must also be extended to new dads, so separating disability leave from bonding leave is crucial to avoiding gender discrimination.

2. Don’t make gender assumptions.

The amount of bonding time for new parents after birth, adoption or fostering must be granted equally for men and women. Companies that don’t provide the same amount of paid leave for men and women may find themselves in a discrimination lawsuit.

It’s not just the time away from work that matters, but also the return-to-work support provided. If new moms are granted temporary or modified work schedules to ease the transition back to work, new dads must also have access to this.

Some companies may choose to differentiate the amount of leave and return-to-work support for primary or secondary caregivers. That’s compliant as long as assumptions aren’t made on which gender is the primary or secondary caregiver.

The best way to avoid potential gender discrimination pitfalls is to keep all parental bonding and related return-to-work policies gender neutral.

3. Avoid assuming the length of disability.

Be careful about assuming the length of time a new mom is disabled, or recovering medically, after birth. Typical coverage policies allot six to eight weeks of recovery for a normal pregnancy, so assuming a new mom may be out for 10 weeks might be overestimating the medical recovery time, and under-representing the bonding time, which must be gender neutral.

4. Keep up with federal, state and local laws.

Mandated leave laws are ever-evolving, so employers should consistently cross-check their policies with state and local laws. For instance, do local paid leave laws treat adoption the same as birth? Are multistate employers compliant? What if an employee lives in one state but works in another: Which state’s leave policies take precedence?

Partnering with a paid leave service provider can mitigate the risk of improperly administering leave. Paid leave experts can help answer questions, review guidelines and provide information regarding job-protecting medical or family leave.

They can also help flag potential pitfalls, ensuring leave requests from all areas of your company are managed uniformly and in accordance with state and federal laws, including the EEOC.

SOURCE: Bennett, A. (12 September 2019) "4 pitfalls of paid leave and how clients can avoid them" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/list/4-pitfalls-of-paid-leave-and-how-clients-can-avoid-them


What would change if your employees were CEO for a day?

New data from Salesforce shows that employees are 4.6 times more likely to contribute their best work when they feel like their voices are being heard. Read the following blog post from Employee Benefits News to learn more about building a strong workplace culture.


When employees feel like their voices are being heard, they are reportedly 4.6 times more likely to contribute their best work, according to SalesForce data. Ultimately, knowing that the company is interested in what employees have to say builds trust and encourages loyalty among members of the workforce.

Respect is the most important leadership behavior, according to a Georgetown University survey of nearly 20,000 employees. More than merely listening, making employees a part of a two-way conversation shows that the company values their opinions.

With this in mind, we set out to develop a process to help Nearmap increase workplace communication. Along the way, we found that creating opportunities for interaction, encouraging honest participation and involving executive participation were all keys to building a stronger corporate culture.

Invite employee interaction

We recognized that we needed a conversation starter to open the lines of communication and spark a little enthusiasm. We discovered that engagement surveys work the best for our circumstances because they’re quick and easy to take, which results in high completion rates.

We like to include thought-provoking questions like “if you were CEO for a day, what is the one thing you would change?” to keep the employees engaged. At first, that particular question provided some of our most entertaining suggestions, including “free umbrellas for all,” “I would like the CEO’s paycheck,” “change my LinkedIn profile,” and “put margarita slushy machines in the kitchen.” When employees saw that the CEO responded to every answer, they realized that we were taking the feedback seriously, and that changed the tone of their responses.

Anonymity invites honest responses

It was essential to Nearmap that we collect unfiltered, honest feedback from our employees. This meant reassuring participants that their responses were completely anonymous. We believe this confidentiality encouraged authentic and candid submissions from employees that otherwise would have remained silent for fear of reprimand or judgment.

For instance, we’ve received excellent insights about driving the strategy and growth of the business, giving Nearmap valuable concepts that we’ve been able to embed into the business.

In addition, we present the survey results back to the employees so they can see how their thoughts align with those of their co-workers. We believe this commitment to being open is an excellent way to motivate honest dialog.

Executive participation leads by example

When the survey concludes, we group all of the responses under different headings, such as collaboration and communication, marketing, mission, planning, product, compensation, recognition, and general. Then, our CEO, Rob Newman, gets together with other executives to provide answers and comments on many of the submissions. In turn, those responses are shared with the employees via the HR newsletter and on our company collaboration app.

In reply to an inquiry about creating a green initiative for the company, our CEO shared a list of active programs that Nearmap was involved in to reduce not only our carbon footprint but also that of our customers as well.

While we may not know what we would change if we were the CEO for a day, we are convinced that employee interaction, honest responses and executive participation are reliable and important ways to make impactful connections with our employees and build a stronger corporate culture in our company.

SOURCE: Steel, S. (13 September 2019) "What would change if your employees were CEO for a day?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-would-change-if-your-employees-were-ceo-for-a-day


U.S. Jobs Increase by 130,000 in August

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently released a report showing that U.S. employers added 130,000 jobs this past August. The report also showed that the unemployment rate stayed unchanged at 3.7 percent for the third month in a row. Continue reading this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


U.S. employers added 130,000 jobs in August, coming in below economists' expectations, and the unemployment rate held at 3.7 percent for the third straight month, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report.

July's employment total was revised down from 164,000 new jobs to 159,000. In the past three months, job gains averaged 156,000 a month after revisions.

"Today's jobs report shows slowing private-sector job growth and slowing wage growth, which—while expected this late in the recovery—is somewhat disappointing after the rapid gains of the past two years," said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at employment marketplace ZipRecruiter.

On Sept. 5, the ADP Research Institute and Moody's Analytics reported private-sector growth of 195,000 new jobs, better than economists' expectations of about 160,000 jobs.

"Despite the slower growth in jobs added, labor force participation did perk up, a sign that the healthy labor market is still drawing in workers from the sidelines," said Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao.

The labor force participation rate—which includes people who are working and those looking for work—ticked up to 63.2 percent, one of its highest readings in years. The proportion of the population currently employed is at 60.9 percent, its highest point since December 2008. And the employment-to-population ratio for workers aged 25-54 reached 80 percent for the first time since January 2008.

Zhao said that the increases signal that the tightness of the labor market is putting upward pressure on labor force participation despite an aging population pulling it down.

Michael Stull, senior vice president at the staffing and recruiting firm Manpower North America, said other positive takeaways from the report are better than expected wage growth and strong hiring in the professional and business, financial and health care sectors.

Job gains in August were led by professional and business services (37,000 new jobs), which includes many technology jobs and the nation's booming health care industry (23,900). Other industries showing gains include finance (15,000) and construction (14,000).

"Health care and professional services have both grown strongly across 2019, carrying the labor market despite weakness in the goods-producing sectors," Zhao said. "Additionally, the increase in temporary help services [15,400 jobs] is a good sign that employers are not cutting back on the most flexible parts of their workforces in the face of recession chatter."

However, Pollak noted that the BLS reported that the private sector only added 96,000 jobs, marking a slowdown from the pace of job growth over the last two years.

Industries like mining and manufacturing are struggling. Mining employment fell by 5,600 jobs and manufacturers have seen a marked slowdown in job creation, with only 3,000 jobs added in August. "In 2018, manufacturing job growth exceeded 10,000 jobs in 11 of 12 months, but this year job growth has been below 10,000 or even negative in six of eight months," Pollak said. "Trade policy uncertainty and a global manufacturing slowdown seem to have brought the 2017-2018 manufacturing boom to a halt."

The retail sector lost 11,000 jobs in August, continuing a trend of month-over-month declines for the seventh consecutive month. "Despite strong consumer spending, increasing labor costs and the rise of e-commerce are keeping retail hiring down even as we begin to enter the holiday hiring season," Zhao said. "We'll be watching the next few reports for signs that the holiday retail hiring season has slowed or that the latest round of tariffs are having a larger effect on the retail industry."

Juiced by Census Hires

U.S. jobs data is now—and will for some time be—inflated by a temporary spike in government hiring for 2020 Census workers. The federal government added 28,000 workers (excluding U.S. Post Office hires) to its payrolls in August. The majority of those—25,000 temporary workers—will go door-to-door over the next several weeks to verify addresses ahead of the 2020 count.

The Census Bureau expects to hire about 40,000 people for this preliminary duty and about 500,000 workers next year for the actual canvassing.

Unemployment Stays Low

The BLS data showed that the national unemployment rate remained below 4 percent for the 18th consecutive month. The number of unemployed people held at 6 million.

"The unemployment rate remains near its lowest level in 50 years, again signaling the strength of the labor market for workers as the number of job openings continues to exceed the number of unemployed workers," Zhao said.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) rose from 1.1 million to 1.2 million in August and accounted for 20.6 percent of the unemployed.

The U-6 unemployment rate—a broader measure capturing both the unemployed, underemployed and those too discouraged to seek work—continued its long decline and held at 7.3 percent for the second month in a row. There were 467,000 discouraged workers in August, about the same as a year ago.

"There are still more discouraged workers than we would expect, given the low unemployment rate," Pollak said. "Discouraged workers are those who are out of work but have not applied for a job in the past four weeks because they think there are none available or none for which they qualify," she explained. "If there were fewer discouraged workers, labor force participation and employment rates would be higher, and more vacancies would be filled."

Wages Inch Up

Average hourly earnings increased 11 cents to $28.11, following 9-cent gains in both June and July. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.2 percent.

"At this point in the expansion, we'd expect wage growth to pick up, but it is continuing to stall," said Nick Bunker, a Washington, D.C.-based economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab. "Wage growth continues to be strongest for workers in lower-wage industries."

SOURCE: Maurer, R. (06 September 2019) "US Jobs increase by 130,000 in August" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/bls-hr-jobs-unemployment-august-2019.aspx


Illnesses, Deaths Tied to Vaping

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a health alert warning that severe pulmonary disease is associated with vaping products. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more about vaping and how to address it in the workplace.


The use of electronic cigarettes, also known as vaping, is believed to be responsible for five deaths and 450 severe lung injuries in what appears to be a nationwide epidemic, according to new reports.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated and produce vapor that simulates smoking. They can resemble regular cigarettes, cigars, pipes, pens, USB sticks and other everyday items. They do not burn tobacco, but the device heats a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals.

While most employers ban smoking in the workplace, their policies don't always extend to e-cigarette products. However, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health alert on Aug. 30 warned that severe pulmonary disease is associated with using e-cigarette products. The agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, launched a multistate investigation into the lung illnesses on Aug. 1.

"Although more investigation is needed to determine the vaping agent or agents responsible," wrote Dr. David C. Christiani of the Harvard School of Medicine, "there is clearly an epidemic that begs for an urgent response." He shared his comments in the Sept. 6 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, along with the preliminary report "Pulmonary Illness Related to E-Cigarette Use in Illinois and Wisconsin."

The CDC is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, states and other public health partners and clinicians to determine what is sickening users, and in some cases resulting in fatalities. On Friday, it suggested that people refrain from using e-cigarette products during its investigation.

SHRM Online has collected the following articles about this topic from its archives and other trusted sources.  

5 Deaths Linked to Vaping. Officials Are Urging Consumers to Stop. (Chicago Tribune)

How Are You Handling Vaping at Work? (SHRM Online)

More States Ban Vaping, E-Cigarette Use in Workplaces (Bloomberg)

Florida Adds Vaping to Regulated Indoor Smoking (SHRM Online)

SOURCE: Gurchiek, K. (6 September 2019) "Illnesses, Deaths Tied to Vaping" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/Pages/Illnesses-Deaths-Tied-to-Vaping-.aspx