The pandemic has had an enormous impact on every aspect of our lives, including the way employees view employee benefits. A recent Wall Street Journal article chronicled the changing attitudes of workers who are working remotely or in hybrid settings. In virtually all cases, needs have shifted to things that contribute to employee well-being beyond the office.
When popular job search site Indeed surveyed 1,000 remote workers about the future of work, results made it clear that the need to support people’s mental and physical health outside of the workplace will continue long after the pandemic is over. Perks such as paid time off, flexible and remote working options and paid family leave are giving employees the support they need in a changing world. Depending on age and other workforce demographics, free therapy, personal financial planning advice and access to parenting coaches are doing a great deal to improve quality of life.
Changes to Family Leave
The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans reports that 63 percent of employers have made at least some change to their leave policies because of the pandemic. For employees who are also parents or caregivers, many have introduced emergency leave for childcare and eldercare. More than 10 percent are identifying resources and referrals for childcare, tutoring and backup or emergency child and eldercare with some providing financial assistance.
Companies are also supporting mental and physical health by instituting mandatory time off. Some do this by adding holidays or creating 4-day weekends while others have shut down for entire weeks because workers are unable to take customary vacations. Either way, employers and employees view these changes as some of the best things their companies could have done during the pandemic.
Research reported by the Execu Search Group shows that flexibility may very well be the key to keeping millennials engaged. Allowing more vacation time, better training and a more flexible work schedule, including the ability to work at home when needed, are keys that will make young people happier and more productive. The SHRM says that more companies are offering these benefits in order to retain young workers in today’s competitive labor market.
Another recent proposal of the Trump Administration would allow employers to fund tax-exempted Health Reimbursement Arrangements to help pay for an employee’s individual health insurance premiums. In addition, the proposal would also allow employers that offer group health coverage to fund an HRA of up to $1,800 to reimburse employees for “qualified” medical expenses. Easing restrictions in this manner is seen by many as a big boost for small businesses that are unable to provide employer-sponsored healthcare. Comments are being accepted through December 28, 2018 and if approved, the new rules would apply for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2020.
With unemployment for college-educated people age 25 and above at just 2.2%, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a jobs market this tight. To attract and retain workers in this environment, growing companies are offering more than just competitive health benefits, and this is especially true for smaller companies forced to compete with larger companies.
Executive search firms have shared examples of employers going above and beyond their health plan by offering additional compensation to cover a candidate’s projected out-of-pocket medical expenses going forward. Technology-related firms in competitive markets are adding wellness benefits like on-site clinics or pre-arranged access to nearby fitness centers. For early to mid-career employees, companies are expanding their family leave or flex-time policies to provide easier transitions for young parents returning to work.
Flexibility and More
Whether it be more paid time off or arranging your work day to meet outside demands on your time, flexibility is becoming increasingly important, especially when you’re dealing with millennials or X-ers. Equally important to young workers is the culture present at an organization and the opportunity to make a difference – to know that what they are doing is helping their community or the world at large.
From unique apprenticeship programs at manufacturing and industrial companies to help with retiring outstanding student debt, more employers are looking for creative ways to gain an edge that will appeal to qualified, prospective employees. In a really tight job market, it pays to be creative.
Health and wellness are integral to employee performance, which helps explain why employers are investing more in their employee benefit offerings.
In June of 2018, the average cost of benefits rose by 2.9%, while wage costs rose by 2.7%, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also on the rise is paid leave, which has seen a 4% cost per employee increase since 2017. This includes paid parental leave, which allows time off for a birth, adoption or foster placement of a new child.
After numerous articles advocating technology and social media as the only sources of information valued by young workers, a recent study by MetLife has shown that nearly two-thirds of millennials favored a one-on-one discussion with a benefits specialist when trying to understand their employee benefits.
Believe it or not, millennials even lead other generations in consulting with family and friends on benefit-related issues, showing that they value the personal experience when it comes to complex matters. Because they have become accustomed to the way technology streamlines information, they are looking for the facts without a lot of fluff. Nonetheless, one-on-one consultations and phone conversations are proving to be effective in giving young people the personalized information they need to understand their healthcare benefits and make informed decisions.
While President Donald Trump has talked about several remedies for healthcare, one he mentions often is expanding the use of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) – consumer directed accounts that are typically paired with high deductible health plans (HDHPs). Like flexible spending accounts (FSAs), they offer a convenient way to pay for out-of-pocket costs like doctor visit co-pays and other qualified medical expenses.
No Use It or Lose It Rule
One big advantage HSAs offer is that account balances are not subject to the Use It or Lose It rule that applies to FSAs – surplus funds can roll over from year to year. The IRS maximum annual contribution in 2017 is $3,400 for individuals and $6,750 for those with family coverage under a HDHP. Individuals age 55 and older can contribute an extra $1,000. HSAs can be used to pay for qualified medical expenses, while surplus funds can grow and be used in the future. Employer contributions, where available, can go a long way in meeting future qualified medical expenses. According to the 2016 Devenir HSA Market Survey, nearly a third of all funds contributed to HSAs in 2015 came from employers, with the average employer contribution being approximately $850.
A Triple Tax Advantage
A HDHP with an HSA can make it easy to set aside pre-tax dollars through payroll deductions. Individuals can also fund an HSA with after-tax dollars, which can be taken as a tax deduction on their personal tax return. Finally, all contributions accumulate tax free and can be withdrawn tax free to pay for future qualified medical expenses, including in retirement. No federal tax is due on funds contributed to a Health Savings Account, and many states follow the federal tax law.
Looking ahead, we know that healthcare costs will continue to rise and the need to engage employees will grow. Regardless of actions taken by the new administration, we believe HSAs are a great way to help employees save for future medical expenses and better understand the importance of cost and quality in the process.
The U.S. Department of Labor and other federal agencies have released two proposed rules revising the Form 5500 and Form 5500-SF Annual Returns/Reports that are required to be filed by certain employee benefit plans.
Among other changes, the proposed rules would:
- Introduce basic reporting requirements for all group health plans that have fewer than 100 participants and are covered by Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)–most of which are currently exempt from reporting requirements;
- Create a new schedule (Schedule J), by which applicable group health plans would satisfy certain ERISA reporting requirements added by the Affordable Care Act (ACA); and
- Revise the Schedule C reporting requirements to more closely track the information that plan service providers are required to disclose to plan fiduciaries.
The target for implementing the proposed revisions is the Plan Year 2019 Form 5500 Series Annual Returns/Reports, though some form changes may be made earlier or later.
You may review our Benefits Notices Calendar for additional notice and disclosure requirements that apply to group health plans under federal law.
Employers that do not comply with certain requirements under a number of federal labor laws will face increased fines beginning with civil penalties assessed after August 1, 2016 (whose associated violations occurred after November 2, 2015).
Key Penalty Increases
Penalty increases announced by the U.S. Department of Labor that may be of particular interest include:
- Repeated or willful violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) minimum wage or overtime pay requirements will be subject to a penalty of up to $1,894 per violation (formerly $1,100);
- Willful violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) posting requirement will be subject to a penalty not to exceed $163 for each separate offense (formerly $110) (note: covered employers must post this general notice even if no employees are eligible for FMLA leave);
- Failure to provide employees with a Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) notice will be subject to a penalty of up to $110 per day per violation (formerly $100);
- Failure to provide a Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) will be subject to a penalty of up to $1,087 per failure (formerly $1,000);
- Failure or refusal to file a Form 5500 will be subject to a penalty of up to $2,063 per day (formerly $1,100); and
- Violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s posting requirement will be subject to a maximum penalty of $12,471 for each violation (formerly $7,000).
Our Compliance by Company Size chart features a summary of key federal labor laws that may apply to a company based on its number of employees.
As the rules, restrictions and complexities of Obamacare bring new challenges and increased plan costs to employer groups, it’s time to step back and take a look at what IS working – and make sure that your company is taking full advantage of these opportunities.