Human Resources

It's The Great Health Insurance Renewal, Charlie Brown!

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It’s you and your health insurance broker.  You’re thinking, this year I’m really going to get tough with this insurance company and I’m gonna ‘em them who’s boss.  I’m gonna be a tough negotiator and this is the year I’m gonna to get a better deal for my employees.  Seriously, you might as well be Charlie Brown saying to himself, “This year I’m really gonna kick that football” and like every other time, Lucy swipes the football away from you at the last second—just like she always does.  There you are, lying flat on your back wondering what just happened.

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Don’t be that guy this year, when your BUCA (Blue Cross, United, Cigna, Aetna) plan sends you this year’s increase—you need to fight back. When you hear your broker tell you that healthcare costs “just go up”, or when they bring you this year’s gimmicky product that’s supposed to make everything better—you need to fight back. Find that broker who is more like Snoopy, the Flying Ace, shooting fake reasons for increasing costs out of the sky. You can find one at www.healthrosetta.org. Or just call me. I’ll fight for you.

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Your employees are counting on you to look for a plan that provides transparency and lowers costs.  They’re hoping you’re going to come up with a plan that reduces out-of-pocket and gives them better access to high-quality healthcare.  I know what you’re thinking, “Better care, lower out-of-pocket? But I’m already paying more than I can afford.  Better care is going to cost even more!”  All I can tell you is that you’re wrong.  You’re not listening to the right advice.  Stop being a blockhead!

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Let me give you an example of what happened at one of my clients this week.  We uncovered that an employee is taking a high cost brand name drug.  After some research, we determined that the brand name is just a quirky dosage of the generic ingredient.  The drug was costing the employer $733.00 per month.  I know that’s not much, but when we found out a local, independent compounding pharmacy could make the same dosage of the generic that the brand had for only $75.00 per month, we rejoiced like we’d won the lottery!  Transparent Advisor = 1, Big Bad PBM = 0.  And that was only one prescription! Imagine what we’ll find when we analyze every drug in their claims report.

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Don’t let your employees be the one kid who looks in their treat bag and all they have is a rock.  That’s no good for anyone. Be the employer everyone wants to work for because your health plan is the best around. It IS possible! You CAN do it! And it’s NOT scary! #letsfixhealthcare

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Need help designing the best health plan in town? You can count on us. Message us at cristy@custombenefits.work. We can help.

How Running a High-Performing Health Plan is Like Driving a Toyota Prius--and that's a good thing!

I finally got myself a Prius which I’ve been wanting for a long time.  Watching the technology “do it’s thing” in the background while I drive really got my "wheels turning” (pardon the pun) about how health plans with great design and technology behind the scenes are similar.

I finally got myself a Prius which I’ve been wanting for a long time. Watching the technology “do it’s thing” in the background while I drive really got my "wheels turning” (pardon the pun) about how health plans with great design and technology behind the scenes are similar.

For about a decade my Mom had a Toyota Prius.  She absolutely loved it and I got to drive it from time to time.  Sometimes I’d meet up with her midway between my NC home and her SC home and I’d swap my GMC Yukon loaded down with my kids and our clothes for the weekend.  Then I’d get to drive the Prius around visiting a few clients on the way to reunite with them in SC.  I loved scooting around in that little thing and set my sights on owning one someday.

Well, it finally happened.  This week I became the proud owner of a cute pearl white Prius and I couldn’t be happier.  There were 9 miles on it when I drove it off the lot and today (2 days later) there are 400 miles on it.  Funny thing is, half of the “free” tank of gas the dealership put in still remains.  I’m in love.

I’m sure I know what you’re thinking…”but you’re supposed to be a successful benefits broker.  Can’t you afford anything better than a Prius?”  Trust me, with the abuse I put my work car through, I can’t be trusted with a car worth any more than this.  It’s just not a good idea.  After all, I’m not Contorno with his big, fancy car and his personal driver.

Yesterday, as I was driving, I began to pay close attention to the monitors and displays that light up with every touch of the gas pedal.  It shows me when the battery is providing all the power, when the power is coming from a mix of battery and gas and when the car is using 100% gas.  This really got my “wheels turning” (pardon the pun).

I was reminded of how a transparent, high performing health plan works and how a successfully run plan only spends about half as much as a traditionally funded plan that has no view into the actual unit cost of healthcare.  What I’ve told clients and prospects is that because of the technology operating behind a transparent, high-performing plan, it allows the plan to save money even when you’re using the high cost sources of funding like hospitals and facilities.  On the other end of the spectrum, you completely level out your exposure to claims costs (why don’t we call this renewable energy) by embedding Direct Primary Care into your plan design.  That’s just like when your Prius is only using the battery to get you from point A to point B.  Everything in between is a mix of great technology and a smarter use of your plan’s resources.  Just like the gas in your car.

Why is this so important?  Well, we all know that the Kaiser Family Foundation just reported that American families and employers are spending around 67% more on healthcare than they were 10 years ago.  Healthcare has exponentially outpaced inflation and it’s killing our economy, causing wage stagnation and keeping workers from being able to retire on time.

Why do we tolerate this?  Because big insurers are marketing geniuses.  And we bought it hook, line and sinker.  Even though the net promoter score of the major insurers is in the single digits, many American employers are too afraid to design a plan that isn’t run by one of them.  Until now.

At a very grassroots level, employers of all sizes and makeups are seeing the Direct Primary Care practices build a presence in their communities.  Many seek out that care and then decide they want to try it out for themselves.  They’re hooked instantly.  They want to provide it as an option to the rest of their workforce.  They ask their current broker to help them implement it and that’s where the difficulties start.  They hear things like, “this is just an added expense” or “your employees already have all of the doctors in the network” or “this won’t work with your health savings account”. 

As a Health Rosetta Advisor that’s music to my ears.  My most recent client acquisition told me just before I was hired that it was refreshing to hear someone say “yes you can” when cost containment solutions like DPC, transparent pharmacy benefits and bundled surgical agreements were inserted into the conversation.  They told me all they heard from their incumbent broker was how the status quo was the best they could do. 

But not all employers are so bold.  Many are too afraid that their employees are going to revolt at the mere mention of a different insurer.  Well, I’ll just describe the open enrollment meeting at this new client.  The changes were explained, the booklets were passed out, heads knodded, frowns turned to smiles and several employees were giving high fives to the CFO as they walked out of the conference room.  I’d say those employees were pretty happy with those changes.  Here’s the difference.  Instead of employees being given bad news, they were told the following:  “your primary care visits are free” and “your generic prescriptions can likely be dispensed right in your DPC provider’s office, no need for a separate trip to the pharmacy” and “if you follow the surgical advocate’s recommendation of the high-quality provider for your procedure, it’ll be no cost to you.”  I’m no genius, but that sounds a whole lot better than “copays, deductibles, co-insurance and premiums are going up again.”

What’s my point?  As an employer you have options.  More importantly, so do your employees.  Someday you may have to come to the sad reality that your outdated benefits package just cost you the great new hire you were recruiting.  When that day comes you know where to reach me.  I’ll show up in my cute, pearl white Toyota Prius that got me there at a rate of about 60 miles per gallon.

Hot Trends in HR

2019 has ushered in many new trends such as retro cartoon character timepieces, meatless hamburgers, and 5G networks to name a few. Not surprisingly, trend-watching doesn’t stop with pop culture, fashion, and technology. Your company’s human resources department should also take notice of the top changes in the marketplace, so they are poised to attract and retain the best talent. These top trends include a greater emphasis on soft skills, increased workforce flexibility, and salary transparency.

SOFT SKILLS

Gone are the days of hiring a candidate solely based on their hard skills—their education and technical background. While the proper education and training are important factors in getting the job completed, a well-rounded employee must have the soft skills needed to work with a team, problem solve, and communicate ideas and processes. According to Tim Sackett, SHRM-SCP and president of HRU Technical Resources in Michigan, “Employers should be looking for soft skills more and training for hard skills, but we struggle with that.” While hard skills can be measured, soft skills are harder to quantify. However, soft skills facilitate human connections and are the one thing that machines cannot replace.  They are invaluable to the success of a company.

WORKFORCE FLEXIBILITY

As millennials begin to flood the workplace, the traditional view of the workweek has changed. Job seekers report they place a high importance on having the flexibility of when and where to work. The typical work day has evolved from a 9am – 5pm day to a flexible 24-hour work cycle that adjusts to the needs of the employee. Employers are able to offer greater flexibility about when the work is completed and where it takes place. This flexibility has so much importance that job seekers say remote work options and the freedom of an adaptable schedule have an higher priority to them over pay.

SALARY TRANSPARENCY

In the wake of the very public outing of the gender and race pay gaps, companies are opening up conversations about wages in the workplace. Once a hushed subject punishable by termination, salary information is now often being shared in the office. Employers have found that the more transparent and open that they are about the compensation levels in their organization, the more trustworthy they appear to their workforce. One way to stay educated on the welcome trend of pay equality is to visit the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website to review wage ranges across the nation. Another great resource is the Department of Labor’s free publication called “Employer’s Guide on Equal Pay.”

By watching the trends in the marketplace, employers can focus on what is important to their staff. Honest discussions about salary and compensation, when and where to work, and developing the employee as a whole, including soft skills, sets your company up for success. When you listen to what the market is saying, you show you are sensitive to what their priorities are—and this is always on trend.

 

2019 Minimum Wages | North Carolina Employee Benefits

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Eighteen states rang in 2019 with new, higher minimum wage rates. These states (AK, AZ, CA, CO, DC, FL, ME, MN, MO, MT, NV, NJ, NV, NY, OH, OR, SD, and WA) have scheduled annual adjustments for their minimum wages based on approved legislation, via ballot initiative, or varying formulas.

Thirty states have a minimum wage higher than the federal rate, sixteen states’ minimum wages are equal to the federal rate, and five states have no minimum wage requirement at all. The higher rate (state or federal) always prevails when the laws differ.

Get the Details

The 2019 State and Federal Minimum Wage Chart is available for free download on the ThinkHR website. They track all state minimum wage rates throughout the year and provide information on changes.

This post originally appeared on ThinkHR.com.

Get Back to Work! | North Carolina Employee Benefits

Managing the Intersection of Workers’ Compensation with Other Leave Regulations

You’re ready when the call comes in. Your client’s employee was seriously injured on the job. You reassure the client that your team has them covered, and you outline their workers’ compensation policy provisions, administrative claim filing process, and accident site investigation protocols.

You check in later in the week. As a result of the accident site investigation, the employer’s worksite processes are updated, equipment is modified, and employees are being trained to prevent future accidents like this one. Employee training records are updated, the OSHA injury/illness logs are completed, and the safety team is monitoring the new processes and systems.

The employee is not back to work, but is progressing well with medical treatment and is receiving wage replacement provided by the policy. Everything is well documented so that the client is ready in the event of an OSHA or state safety audit/inspection.

The client appreciates the extra service and professional advice you’ve given to make the best of the unfortunate accident. You’re satisfied that this situation is under control and make a note to follow up with them in the next few weeks. Your job on this claim is done … or is it?

Important Leave Details Cannot be Overlooked

Your goal is to advise your clients of all risks affecting their business, and it’s likely you haven’t spent much time thinking about the impact of uninsurable HR-related business risks or opportunities to mitigate them. In this situation with an injured worker, there are other employment laws and benefits considerations besides state workers’ compensation rules that your client should factor in when managing time off and return to work.

Although workers’ compensation eligibility, coverage, and benefits rules vary from state to state, most employees are covered when the occurrence is job-related. Depending upon the employer size and type of injury or illness suffered by the employee, the employee also may be entitled to medical and/or disability-related protections under two federal laws: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). To make things even more complicated, some states have enacted their own disability and family and medical leave laws, some of which provide greater amounts of leave and benefits than the federal rules. Failure to look at the entire situation and take these laws into consideration can prove costly to your client.

Counsel your client to consider the following:

  • If the employee has a serious health situation requiring time off the job, then FMLA may apply.

  • If the employee is disabled, the ADA may apply.

The bottom line is that when employees need time off because of a medical or disability-related issue, it is important to remember that they may have rights under all of these laws at the same (or different) times for the same illness or injury. Each situation needs to be reviewed very carefully, so that the right amounts of time off to manage the condition are provided, and that benefits, compensation, notifications, and other protections are managed.

Avoidable Mistake #1

The most common mistake that employers make with work-related employee injuries/illnesses: Not considering and/or designating FMLA leave concurrently with a workers’ compensation claim. This can result in legal claims for failure to provide benefits, as well as additional costs to the business.

For the claim you just handled, let’s say that the injured employee is off work on temporary total disability for 16 weeks. His doctor then releases him to return to light-duty work, and your client offers him a light-duty job. If they had not properly designated that employee’s time off as FMLA leave, the employee may be able to reject the offer of light-duty work and then be entitled to up to 12 additional weeks of unpaid FMLA leave. Additionally, your client would also be required to keep the employee on their health insurance through those 12 additional weeks of unpaid leave and return him to his former job when he finally returns to full-duty work.

If the client had designated the leave concurrently at the time of the injury, the FMLA job and benefits protections would terminate after the first 12 weeks, while the employee was still on temporary total disability. The employee would then have four more weeks of workers compensation temporary disability, without FMLA protections for additional time off or benefits continuation beyond the wage replacement and benefits provided under workers compensation.

Here’s why: FMLA is a federal law that provides employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for specific reasons, including a serious health condition due to a work-related injury or illness. FMLA applies to:

  • Private employers with 50 or more employees working within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite; and

  • All public agencies and private and public elementary and secondary schools, regardless of the number of employees.

Employees are eligible to take FMLA leave if they have:

  • Worked for their employer for at least 12 months;

  • Worked for at least 1,250 hours over the 12 months immediately prior to the leave; and

  • There are at least 50 employees working within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite.

Note: The 12 months of employment do not need to be consecutive, which means that any time previously worked for the same employer can be used to meet the requirement unless the break in service lasted seven years or more. Some exceptions apply.

Within the context of a work-related injury or illness, the most common serious health conditions that qualify for FMLA leave are:

  • Conditions requiring an overnight stay in a hospital or other medical care facility; and

  • Conditions that incapacitate the employee for more than three consecutive days and have ongoing medical treatment (either multiple appointments with a healthcare provider, or a single appointment and follow-up care such as prescription medication).

Generally, basic first aid and routine medical care are not included unless hospitalization or other complications arise.

Employers must also consider compliance with state “mini-FMLA” laws that cover an employee’s serious health condition. California, Connecticut, Maine, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia have enacted medical leave laws impacting private employers. Massachusetts medical leave law provides for leave benefits beginning January 2021, with proposed regulations to be published in March 2019. Other states are considering similar laws.

Avoidable Mistake #2

The second common mistake that employers make with work-related employee injuries/illnesses: Not considering the ADA requirements for entering into an interactive process for reasonably accommodating an employee’s return to work.

The ADA is a federal law that prohibits covered employers from discriminating against people with disabilities in the full range of employment-related activities. Title I of the ADA applies to employers (including state or local governments) with 15 or more employees and to employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees with any number of employees.

The ADA protects individuals with a disability who are qualified for the job, meaning they have the skills and qualifications to carry out the essential functions of the job, with or without accommodations. An individual with a disability is defined as a person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;

  • Has a record of such an impairment; or

  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

The ADA does not set out an exhaustive list of conditions covered by the law, making it more difficult for employers to determine with certainty what conditions actually are considered a disability. These conditions require medical interpretation of the severity of the condition by the employee’s healthcare provider, and it is always a best practice to work with medical and legal experts when in doubt. A good rule of thumb to use in reviewing ADA issues is to look at the medical condition in its entirety. Generally, conditions that last for only a few days or weeks and are not substantially limiting with no long-term effect on an individual’s health — such as basic first aid, broken bones, and sprains — are not considered disabilities under the Act.

The ADA does not specifically require employers to provide medical or disability-related leave. However, it does require employers to make reasonable accommodations for qualified employees with disabilities if necessary to perform essential job functions or to benefit from the same opportunities and rights afforded employees without disabilities. Accommodations can include modifications to work schedules, such as leave. There is no set leave period mandated because accommodations depend on individual circumstances and should generally be granted unless doing so would result in “undue hardship” to the employer.

One of the most common questions — and one of the most difficult to answer — is the definition of what is considered a reasonable accommodation.

In the real world, the definition of what is a reasonable accommodation varies and is based on several factors. Examples include: making existing facilities accessible; job restructuring; part-time or modified work schedules; acquiring or modifying equipment; changing tests, training materials, or policies; providing qualified readers or interpreters; or reassignment to a vacant position. Determining what is reasonable and does not cause undue hardship to the business can be difficult, so be sure to consult with experts and provide documentation regarding why an accommodation would be unreasonable for the business.

The Department of Labor (DOL) suggests that every request for reasonable accommodation under the ADA should be evaluated separately to determine if it would impose an undue hardship, taking into account:

  • The nature and cost of the accommodation needed;

  • The overall financial resources of the company, the number of employees, and the effect on expenses and resources of the business; and

  • The overall impact of the accommodation on the business.

There are two issues that arise with returns to work that are risky for employers: (1) 100 percent healed policies and (2) light-duty rules.

Regarding 100 percent healed policies, employers cannot require an employee to be completely healed before returning to work because those rules violate the ADA’s requirements to allow workers to use their right to an accommodation. Even if the employee is not 100 percent healed, he or she could possibly still work effectively with an accommodation.

Employers may create light-duty positions as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA or as part of the return-to-work plan from workers compensation. The goal is to get employees back to work at 100 percent of the productivity that they had before the injury, and there are times when a light-duty position might be the next step, with lighter physical requirements and reduced productivity expectations.

Caution your clients to design the light-duty position to meet the physical requirements of the partially healed worker, so that there will be no physical reason for the employee to refuse the light-duty position.

Under most workers compensation plans, an employee’s refusal to return to work in a light-duty position that meets his or her medical restrictions can result in termination of workers compensation benefits. Additionally, the ADA does not allow an employee to refuse work that meets the physical requirements of the accommodation.

Without that careful look at the duties of the position as they pertain to the employee’s medical needs, however, the employee can refuse the position and continue to collect benefits until he or she is able to perform the requirements of the position.

Steps for Success

While these laws have different goals, medical circumstances create overlaps between them. It is important to understand the rules and benefits in order to manage them correctly and avoid the risk of legal challenges and more expensive or longer leaves.

Advise your clients to:

  • Designate FMLA leave for eligible employees concurrently with the workers compensation claim.

  • Keep in touch with injured or ill employees throughout their leave.

  • Manage pay and benefits according to each situation.

  • Carefully evaluate requests for intermittent time off, light duty, or other modified work.

  • Consult with your legal advisors and insurance carriers regarding special situations.

  • Handle returns to work and reinstatement of benefits in accordance with the laws.

This article originally appeared on ThinkHR.com.

The Big-Picture View of Risk | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

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Many human resources and business leaders think about compliance in black-and-white terms. We simply check the boxes and evaluate compliance efforts using one measure: “Are we doing it right or not?”

It’s easy to fall into the trap of failing to see the broader implications of our compliance efforts. We need to go beyond, “What’s the law and what should I do about it?” We need to ask questions like, “How does this law intersect with our culture?” or “What best practices will support this requirement?”  We need to understand that risk crosses our desks every day.

That’s where people risk management comes in.

People Risk Management: What It Is

People risk management is simply the strategic and wholistic view of compliance. It’s really all about the end-to-end story; it’s how we deal with all the things that happen in the employee lifecycle in a way that minimizes risk while maximizing employee engagement.

It’s all about how we anticipate risk, reduce the likelihood of risk events, and deal with them when they do happen. The best companies proactively respond to risk in an ethical way that not just protects us from liability, but also builds trust and respect among the workforce.

People Risk Management: An Example

Let’s say a new sexual harassment law goes into effect in your state. This triggering event (the new law) is just part of the issue. You need to take a big-picture view of the entire situation. You’ll need to know what you should anticipate, what you need to do, and how to evaluate your efforts to make sure you’ve addressed every risk.

Because this law is related to how people behave, in addition to administrative requirements, it can be difficult to understand how to simultaneously address both the risk of harassment and the risk of failing to comply with each aspect of the law. You also need to incorporate your response to this issue into your company culture to demonstrate that you care about protecting not just the company, but also your employees.

When engagement and compliance issues intersect, and you do both well, you create a culture that says you deal with stuff in a clear way, but also you protect yourself from legal risks. It’s a double benefit.

This article originally appeared on ThinkHR.com.

5 Ways to Update Your Employee Handbook by Year’s End

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How long has it been since your organization updated its employee handbook? It’s time to brush off any layers of dust that have accumulated over the years and make it a priority to conduct a review prior to the year’s end. This article highlights five evolving areas employers can focus on now to start the quickly-approaching new year off on the right foot.

1. #MeToo

The #MeToo movement has shone a spotlight on equal employment opportunity, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation in the workplace. Employers may want to carefully review their policies on these subjects, including their complaint and investigation procedures. Harassment policies can include prohibitions against harassment based on any legally protected category in addition to addressing sexual harassment. As a best practice many employers include in their policies clear, complaint procedures that allow for multiple reporting avenues and are available during all shifts. In fact, employers may have an affirmative defense to a harassment claim if an aggrieved employee unreasonably fails to take advantage of an employer’s complaint procedures and other corrective measures. Appropriate training and consistent disciplinary enforcement are also key.

2. The NLRB’s New Guidance on Handbook Rules

In the recent past, much has been made regarding the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) exercising authority over employers’ social media policies and other handbook policies. Yet, things appear to be shifting to a more employer-friendly direction. On June 6, 2018, on the heels of the Boeing decision, the Board’s general counsel (GC) issued an advice memorandum on the new standard for analyzing whether a work rule violates employees’ rights.  

The GC’s memorandum analyzes common employer rules and provides guidance as to whether a complaint should be issued in terms of three categories of work rules: (1) those that are generally lawful, (2) those that require case-by-case evaluation, and (3) those that are unlawful. The memorandum emphasizes that the agency’s focus is now on whether a rule in question would actually be interpreted to cover protected concerted activity under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. Specifically, the memorandum states that “ambiguities in rules are no longer interpreted against the drafter, and generalized provisions should not be interpreted as banning all activity that could conceivably be included.” Thus, the time is ripe for employers to reconsider their policies regarding civility, photography/recording, insubordination, disruptive behavior, confidentiality, disparagement, and conflicts of interest, among others.

3. Data Privacy

On March 28, 2018, Alabama followed the lead of 49 other states in requiring protection of sensitive consumer information and notice of data breaches, as well as imposing consequences for failing to comply with the law. Due to the prevalence of federal and state data privacy laws impacting the workplace, along with the implementation of the European Union’s new privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), employers may want to scrutinize their existing privacy rules to ensure compliance.

4. Superfluous Language

Most employers have learned that including an at-will policy in an employee handbook reinforces the principle that employment may be terminated at any time for any lawful reason. Likewise, at-will policies can explicitly clarify that a handbook is not a contract and that employers may revise policies without prior notice.

Employers may also want to take caution to avoid potential promises made by superfluous language. Unnecessary purpose statements, rigid progressive discipline steps, and unrealistic commitments to provide training or a mutually enjoyable work environment can expose employers to liability. To prevent estoppel arguments, employers may want to ensure that they do not label personal or extended leave as falling under Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when it does not.

5. Employee Acknowledgments and Training

Employee acknowledgements demonstrate evidence that employees have received a handbook. Employers can obtain these acknowledgments each time they update their handbooks. Employers can utilize acknowledgements to reiterate an at-will policy and to direct employees to raise any complaints or questions about the handbook or other personnel policies. An acknowledgment can also note that violations of any policy, whether or not identified in a handbook, can lead to discipline.  When employers significantly update their handbooks, they also might want to take the opportunity to train their managers and employees.

Employers will find that dedicating the time and resources to reviewing employment policies on an annual basis may be well worth the investment. 



This post originally appeared on Ogletree.com.

Ask the Experts: Flu and FMLA

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Question: Is the common flu considered a serious health condition under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

Answer: Most cases of the common flu do not meet the definition of “serious health condition” and would not be eligible for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave.

Some cases of the flu, however, are severe or result in complications, and these have the potential to meet the FMLA definition of “serious health condition.” This is defined as an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a healthcare provider. Continuing treatment means:

  • The employee has been incapacitated for a period of more than three full days; and

  • Consults with a doctor two or more times within 30 days, or

  • Has one consult with a doctor and a regimen of continuing treatment.

If an employee is out sick with the flu for more than three days, consider whether the need for FMLA leave may exist. This doesn’t mean that you need to go through the whole FMLA process to determine eligibility for each flu absence; just that you shouldn’t automatically reject FMLA requests for the flu either.

Review each case based on the facts, keep the “serious health condition” definition in mind, and if the illness is severe, ask the employee to submit certification from a health care provider to support the their need for leave protection under the FMLA.

This post originally appeared on ThinkHR.com.

Easy Ways to Increase Workplace Wellness | North Carolina Employee Benefits

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Picture this: You’re sitting at your desk at 3 pm and realize you haven’t gotten up from your chair for hours. You realize you’ve been snacking instead of eating a lunch. You have read the same sentence four times and still can’t figure out what it means. Your back hurts, your eyes feel dry, and you feel totally blah. You, my friend, are a victim of a sedentary lifestyle. How can we combat this lack of energy and inattentiveness in our workplace? By adopting healthy workplace initiatives, you will reap the benefits of a more engaged workforce and a healthier environment.  

What’s the problem?

  • The average worker sits 7.5 hours at a desk every day

  • Add in couch time, sitting to eat meals, commute, and sleeping, and it could mean that the average adult is only active for 3 hours in a 24-hour period

  • Prolonged sitting is directly related to higher risk of heart disease, weight gain, and diabetes

  • Poor posture can lead to chronic health issues such as arthritis and bursitis

  • Staring at computer screens for long amounts of time lead to higher instances of headaches and migraines

What’s the solution?

  • Healthy snack options in vending machines—SnackNation and Nature Box have healthy snack delivery services for offices of all kinds and sizes. 

  • Fitness challenges—Encourage different office-wide challenges to promote a more active lifestyle. 

  • Standing desks—Companies such as Varidesk make standing desks or sit/stand desks that lower and raise so that you vary your position during the day

    • Reduces back pain

    • Burns more calories during the day

    • Increases energy

    • Some insurance companies will cover all or portion of the cost if they deem it “medically necessary.”

  • Practice gratitude—keep a daily log of things to be thankful for that day

    • Shown to ease depression, curb appetite, and enhance sleep

    • Spirit of gratefulness leads to more sustainable happiness because it’s not based on immediate gratification, it’s more of a state of mind

  • Get moving during the day—if your office doesn’t have sit/stand desks, schedule time to move each day.

    • Stretch time/desk yoga

    • Computer programs to remind you to move such as “Move” for iOS and “Big Stretch Reminder” for Windows

  • Extra happiness in the office—

    • Add a plant

    • Aromatherapy

    • Host a cooking class to encourage healthy meal plans

    • Pet-friendly office days

 

By showing your employees that you care about their physical and mental health you are showing that you care about them as people and not just employees. This results in higher motivated staff who are healthier. The Harvard Business Review even says that “employers who invested in health and wellness initiatives saw $6 in healthcare savings for every $1 invested.” You cannot always measure ROI on personnel investment, but it looks like for workplace wellness, you can! Now get moving and get your office moving!

Celebrate the Season Safely | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

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As the holiday season approaches, the economy is humming along, unemployment is low, and companies are enjoying the fruits of corporate tax breaks. Time to celebrate? Not so fast, according to the 2018 Holiday Party Survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The survey found that just 65 percent of companies are holding holiday festivities this year, the lowest rate since the 2009 recession.

While in 2009, holiday parties were skipped for financial reasons, the 2018 causes are more complex. Andrew Challenger, VP of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, speculates that the two biggest factors are #MeToo and an increase in the number of remote employees.

If your company is among those celebrating the holiday season this year, what can you do to avoid liability from sexual harassment, alcohol consumption, and other categories of risk?

Risk: Harassment Allegations

  • Communicate behavior expectations to employees ahead of time. Consider using this language to set standards of conduct. You may even choose to redistribute your sexual harassment policy. Be sure to emphasize that all employee policies apply at the party, even if it is off-site or after work hours. Racial or sexual jokes, inappropriate gag gifts, gossiping about office relationships, and unwelcome touching will not be permitted during the holiday party, just as they are not allowed in the office.

  • Do not allow employees to get away with bad behavior. Remind your supervisors to set a good example and keep an eye out for employee behavior that needs managing at the event.

  • Follow up immediately on allegations of inappropriate behavior and conduct a thorough investigation of the facts, even if the alleged victim does not file a complaint and you only hear about the behavior through the grapevine. If corrective action is warranted, apply it promptly.

  • Invite significant others or families. Employee behavior tends to improve at company events when spouses or partners and children are present. If your budget allows, include the entire family in the celebration. Be sure to review your liability coverage with your broker first.

  • Avoid incidents related to relaxed inhibitions by following the tips for reducing alcohol-related risks (see below).

Risk: Alcohol-Related Incidents

  • Take steps to limit alcohol consumption. If alcohol will be served, provide plenty of food rich in carbohydrates and protein to slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. You can also have a cash bar, limit the number of drink tickets, or close the bar early to deter over-consumption. Also have a good selection of nonalcoholic beverages or a tasty signature “mocktail” available. Make sure water glasses are refilled frequently.

  • Get bartenders on board. If you have underage workers or invite children of employees, be sure that servers ask for ID from anyone who looks under age 30. Ask servers to cut off anyone who appears to be intoxicated.

  • Make sure employees get home safely. Offer incentives to employees who volunteer to be designated drivers, offer to pay for ride shares or taxis, or arrange group transportation or accommodations. Planning for safe transportation can potentially minimize your liability if an employee causes an accident while driving under the influence.

  • Do not serve alcohol if your party is at the office and your policies do not permit drinking on company premises or during work hours. Deter employees from an informal after-party at a bar or restaurant where the alcohol could flow.

Risk: Workers’ Compensation Claims

  • Keep the party voluntary and social. Typically, workers’ compensation does not apply if the injury is “incurred in the pursuit of an activity, the major purpose of which is social or recreational.” If the carrier determines that the company party was truly voluntary and not related to work, you may not be liable for injuries sustained at the party.

  • Go offsite. Hosting your holiday party at an offsite location is a smart idea. Your employees will be thankful for the change in setting, and this could reduce insurance liabilities for your company, especially when it comes to third-party alcohol and injury policies.

  • Check with your broker before the party. Review your insurance policies and party plans to make sure you do everything you can to avoid risk and know how to handle any incidents that result from the party.

Risk: Perceptions of Unfairness

  • Determine how to handle pay issues in advance of the party. You’re not required to pay employees who voluntarily attend a party after hours. However, nonexempt employees need to be compensated if they are working the party or if attendance is mandatory. If the party is held during regular work hours, then all employees must be paid for attending the party.

  • Decide in advance whether and how to include remote employees, independent contractors, temporary employees, or agency workers. Be consistent in sending invitations, and if a category of workers will not be invited to the party, consider other ways to reward them for their hard work throughout the year, such as gifts.

  • Do not penalize employees who choose not to attend. The message may be misinterpreted and could create employee relations concerns. Be considerate of those who do not attend the event due to religious beliefs, sobriety, mental health issues, family obligations, child care conflicts, or any other reasons. Avoid religious symbols or themes as they could offend individuals of different faiths.

Are You Ready for Election Day? | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

Election Day is next Tuesday, November 6. Do you know what provisions, if any, you must make to accommodate your employees’ rights to vote? Time off for voting is not a federal requirement; however, 30 states have voting leave laws impacting the workplace.

These state laws vary significantly. Not all leave is required to be paid, and the amount of time varies. For some states it’s described as “reasonable time” necessary to vote, and in other states the law specifically states two, three, or even four hours to vote. Furthermore, some states, such as California and New York, require you to post notices of employees’ rights for time off to get to the polls.

Twelve of the 30 states also impose penalties for employers who prohibit employees from voting. For example, Colorado and New York employers could lose their corporate charter and Arizona, Missouri, and Kansas supervisors could face fines up to $2,500. While 20 states and the District of Columbia do not have voting leave laws in place, there are other provisions you should be aware of when it comes to your employees exercising their voting rights.

Even if your state doesn’t have a law in place requiring you to provide voting leave, that does not preclude you from having a company policy in place that provides voting leave. In addition to offering employees time on election day to vote, you could also remind employees about absentee or early voting options in your community.

Be ready for the midterm elections this November by knowing your time off rules and encourage your employees to exercise their civic duty to vote!

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Ask the Experts: Mandatory Flu Shots | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

While there is no law that prohibits employers from mandating flu shots, you should carefully determine if the benefits to your business outweigh the risks. Read the article to determine the best course of action, from incentives to suggestions about policy wording.

Look Backward to Plan Forward | North Carolina Employee Benefits

We have entered Open Enrollment season and that means you and everyone in your office are probably reading through enrollment guides and trying to decipher it all. As you begin your research into which plan to choose or even how much to contribute to your Health Savings Account (HSA), consider evaluating how you used your health plan last year. Looking backward can actually help you plan forward and make the most of your health care dollars for the coming year.

Forbes magazine gives the advice, “Think of Open Enrollment as your time to revisit your benefits to make sure you are taking full advantage of them.” First, look at how often you used health care services this year. Did you go to the doctor a lot? Did you begin a new prescription drug regimen? What procedures did you have done and what are their likelihood of needing to be done again this year? As you evaluate how you used your dollars last year, you can predict how your dollars may be spent next year and choose a plan that accommodates your spending.

Second, don’t assume your insurance coverage will be the same year after year. Your company may change providers or even what services they will cover with the same provider. You may also have better coverage on services and procedures that were previously not eligible for you. If you have choices on which plan to enroll in, make sure you are comparing each plan’s costs for premiums, deductibles, copays, and coinsurance for next year. Don’t make the mistake of choosing a plan based on how it was written in years prior.

Third, make sure you are taking full advantage of your company’s services. For instance, their preventative health benefits. Do they offer discounted gym memberships? What about weight-loss counseling services or surgery? How frequently can you visit the dentist for cleanings or the optometrist? Make sure you know what is covered and that you are using the services provided for you. Check to see if your company gives discounts on health insurance premiums for completing health surveys or wellness programs—even for wearing fitness trackers! Don’t leave money on the table by not being educated on what is offer

Finally, look at your company’s policy choices for life insurance. Taking out a personal life insurance policy can be very costly but ones offered through your office are much more reasonable. Why? You reap the cost benefit of being a part of a group life policy. Again, look at how your family is expected to change this year—are you getting married or having a baby, or even going through a divorce? Consider changing your life insurance coverage to account for these life changes. Forbes says that “people entering or exiting your life is typically a good indicator that you may want to revisit your existing benefits.”

As you make choices for yourself and/or your family this Open Enrollment season, be sure to look at ALL the options available to you. Do your research. Take the time to understand your options—your HR department may even have a tool available to help you estimate the best health care plan for you and your dependents. And remember, looking backward on your past habits and expenses can be an important tool to help you plan forward for next year.

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Back to School Time Off Tips | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

The coals from the Labor Day barbecues have cooled, the beach chairs have been returned to their sheds, the ice cream shops have scaled back their hours, and the white shoes have been set aside for the next nine months. Whatever the end of summer means to you, for millions of families, it signals the return to school for children in preschool through college.

This means your employees will likely need to take a few hours out of their workday occasionally to participate in their children’s education. Parents’ fall calendars are often packed with school events, parent-teacher conferences, and/or parent meetings – some of which will inevitably occur during their usual working hours – and any flexibility you give them to attend these events, or even volunteer in the classroom or chaperone a field trip, will be greatly appreciated.

Where it’s the law

Nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws protecting parents’ rights to take small increments of time away from work to attend to school matters. They vary widely in their specifics regarding eligibility for leave, whether the time is paid or unpaid, and the amount of time available for use. (ThinkHR customers can get details about each state’s provisions by clicking the act titles listed below after logging into to your ThinkHR account.)

Even if it’s not the law

It’s a best practice to offer flexibility to all employees so that they can meet the obligations of daily life while still performing at their peak at work. It goes a long way toward making an employee feel good about where they work when they can see their child perform in a school play, take their dog to the vet, or accept an appliance delivery without worrying about missing a couple hours of work or needing to take a full day off.

The beginning of fall is a great time to review your established time off policies to see how you can accommodate parents and guardians who need to meet school obligations as well as giving all employees the flexibility to attend to the other small necessities of life.

In many cases, your established policies may not need to change. Depending on the needs of your workplace, your state laws, and the employee’s position, this could mean allowing employees to make up a few hours of work, take an extended lunch period, shift their schedule to start earlier or later to still get a full day in, or use personal, vacation, or PTO time in small increments.

Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

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Fitness Incentive Program Ideas

Corporate fitness programs not only build camaraderie and morale, they can improve company bottom lines considerably. Improved worker health results in lower absenteeism, improved productivity, decreased health care costs and fewer lawsuits, according to the Wellness Council of America. Incentives and contests can help your company increase employee participation in wellness programs.

Benefits

A corporate fitness program improves employee health in several ways. Workers lose weight, reduce stress, lower blood pressure and sleep better. All of these can reduce sick days, doctor visit and workplace injuries. For example, lower-back injuries cause employees to miss 100 million work days annually, according to the Wellness Council of America. The DuPont corporation decreased disability days at its Tennessee plant by 14 percent after instituting a wellness program, saving almost $120,000 annually.

Motivation

While employee education is an important part of any corporate wellness program, a fitness incentive program motivates employees to participate. Holding a team competition or offering cash or other prizes can create a buzz throughout your workplace and get more employees participating.

Team Competitions

One way to increase fitness program participation is to create a team contest. You can draw names at random to create teams, pit management against staff, place workers from different departments on teams to create more interaction or have different offices face off against each other.

Weight-loss Challenge

Weight loss is one aspect of fitness that concerns or interests many people. Create a weight-loss challenge as either an individual contest or team competition. You can award a prize or prizes based on total number of pounds lost or percentage of individual or team weight lost.

Fitness Challenge

If you don't want to focus on weight loss only, have a broader fitness competition. Track total number of verifiable hours participants exercised during the competition period, how much each person or team lowered their cholesterol or a fitness challenge, with participants or teams competing in tests such as number of sit-ups and push-ups, minutes on a treadmill or jumping rope, timed laps swum or other measurements. Work with a fitness professional and your insurance company to create a test that is safe for all participants.

Incentives

You can use a variety of incentives to motivate employees to participate in a fitness program. You can award cash prizes, trips, gift certificates, extra vacation days or other tangible rewards. You can add prestige with winners names on plaques displayed at headquarters, a mention in the company newsletter and press releases sent to local papers. With team events, the winning team might get to name the charity that receives a donation from the company. Whenever you award prizes, make sure the rules are clear, the judging criteria are objective and that all employees are eligible -- if you set up a contest for one department or employees with more than one year's service, you may create ill will among other employees.

Originally published by www.livestrong.com

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Avoid Costly Mistakes with FMLA

Avoid Costly Mistakes with FMLA

Having a paid family leave policy reinforces an organization's commitment to a family-friendly culture.  More importantly, there is more competition these days for talent and with more millennials entering the workforce they are seeking family-friendly policies that will allow them to have more work/life balance. 

Custom Benefits Solutions Expands Services

Custom Benefits Solutions Expands Services

With the desperate need to control healthcare costs, employers are eager to have a solution that allows them the advantage of large numbers but the autonomy to create their own destiny.  The current constraints and opaque pricing models of the provider-payer relationship as well as “secret” PPO contracts have yielded a healthcare system that is confusing, hard to navigate and, in some situations, bankrupting to healthcare consumers. These days it takes an employee benefits consultant who understands how to think around problems before they ever really become problems.

Employers are Calling for Innovative Solutions

Employers are Calling for Innovative Solutions

Perhaps the most notable change in this movement toward self-funding is the number of smaller employers getting in the game. Although most of these are level-funded arrangements, employers see the value in gaining control of their plan with a focus on what’s important to their specific employee base. Plus, the tax advantage isn’t bad either, as state taxes are eliminated on most self-insured plans. 

Stress Comes from Many Sources

Stress Comes from Many Sources

Research has shown that employee engagement is clearly linked to an employee's well-being, so it makes sense that companies are focusing on wellness initiatives. But a person's well-being is impacted by much more than their physical health. What about mental and emotional health? Many employees experience near-constant stress because of financial, medical and legal issues that can eat away at their overall well-being and even cause physical issues like high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.