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The change in the regulations that would increase the salary threshold for overtime exemption that was all over the news for the last several months may now be decided by the end of June.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has granted the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) another 60-day extension of time to file its final reply brief in the in the pending appeal of a nationwide injunction issued by a federal district court in Texas blocking implementation of the DOL’s final overtime rule. As we reported at the time, the final rule, which raised the salary threshold for the white collar overtime exemptions, was scheduled to go into effect on December 1, 2016. The final brief is now required to be filed by June 30, 2017. In its unopposed motion, the DOL stated that the extension was necessary “to allow incoming leadership personnel adequate time to consider the issues” and noted that the nominee for Secretary of Labor has not been confirmed.

As a result of the extension, it is not likely that employers will see any resolution of this issue until midsummer at the earliest. This also assumes that President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, is confirmed within the next few weeks.

By Rick Montgomery, JD
Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

One might describe the series of events leading to the death of the American Health Care Act (Congress’s bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act) as something like a ballistic missile exploding at launch. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal debate began nearly a decade ago with former President Barack Obama’s first day in office and reemerged as a serious topic during the 2016 presidential election. Even following the retraction of the House bill, repeal of the ACA remains a possibility as the politicians consider alternatives to the recent bill. The possibility of pending legislation has caused some clients to question the need to complete their obligation for ACA reporting on a timely basis this year. The legislative process has produced a great deal of uncertainty which is one thing employers do not like, especially during the busy year end.

While the “repeal and replace” activity is continuing, it is imperative that employers and their brokers put their noses to the grindstone to fulfill all required reporting requirements. To accomplish this, employers will need brokers that can effectively guide them through this tumultuous season. We recommend that employers ask their brokers about their strategies for

  • Implementing the employer shared responsibility reporting
  • Sending all necessary forms to the employer’s employees
  • Submitting the employer’s reporting to the IRS
  • Closing out the employer’s 2016 filing season

Employers should also inquire about any additional support that the broker provides. They should provide many of the services that we at Health Cost Manager provide to our clients: They should apprise their clients of the latest legislative updates through regular email communication and informational webinars. Brokers should also bring in experts in the field that have interacted with key stakeholders in Washington. And most important, they should remain available during this uncertain period to answer any questions or concerns from clients.

We know employers would prefer not to have to comply with these reporting obligations – many have directly told us so. We understand this requires additional work on their part to gather information for the reporting and increased compliance responsibility. Knowing how stressful the reporting season can be for employers, brokers should go out of their way to help their clients feel confident that they can steer through the reporting process smoothly. The broker’s role should be to take as much of the burden off the employer’s shoulders as possible to enable them to reach compliance in the most expedient manner possible. Sometimes this involves stepping in to solve data or other technical issues, or answering a compliance-related question that helps the client make important decisions. It’s all part of helping employers navigate through the ACA’s strong headwinds during these uncertain times.

Audit-proof your company with UBA’s latest white paper: Don’t Roll the Dice on Department of Labor Audits. This free resource offers valuable information about how to prepare for an audit, the best way to acclimate staff to the audit process, and the most important elements of complying with requests.

The IRS updated its longstanding Q&A guidance on codes that employers should use when completing Forms 1094-C and 1095-C. For information on the IRS’ updated guidance, including COBRA reporting information that had been left pending in earlier versions of the IRS guidance for the past year, view UBA’s ACA Advisor, “IRS Q&A About Employer Information Reporting on Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C”.

By Michael Weiskirch
www.ubabenefits.com

Flex Work.  No doubt you’ve heard this term (or some variation) floating around the last decade or so, but what exactly does it mean? Flexible work can vary by definition depending on who you ask, but one thing is for sure, it’s here to stay and changing the way we view the workforce. According to a recent study by Randstad, employer commitment to increase the amount of flex workers in their companies has increased 155% over the last four years. If fact, 68% of employers agree that the majority of the workforce will be working some sort of flexible arrangement by 2025.

So then, since the landscape of a traditional office setting is changing, what exactly is Flex Work? Simply stated, it’s a practice employers use to allow their staff some discretion and freedom in how to handle their work, while making sure their schedules coordinate with colleagues. Parameters are set by the employer on how to get the work accomplished.  These guidelines may include employees working a set number of hours per day/week, and specifying core times when they need to be onsite. No matter how it’s defined, with a new generation entering the workforce and technology continuing to advance, employers will need to explore this trend to stay competitive.

Let’s take a look at how this two-fold benefit has several advantages for employers and employees alike.

Increases Productivity

When employees work a more flexible schedule, they are more productive. Many will get more done in less time, have less distractions, take less breaks, and use less sick time/PTO than office counterparts. In several recent studies, employees have stated they’re more productive when not in a traditional office setting. In a recent article published by Entrepreneur.com, Sara Sutton, CEO and Founder of FlexJobs wrote that 54% of 1500 employees polled in one of their surveys would choose to undertake important job-related assignments from home rather than the office. And 18% said that while they would prefer to complete assignments at the office, they would only do so before or after regular hours. A mere 19% said they’d go to the office during regular hours to get important assignments done.

Flexible workplaces allow employees to have less interruptions from impromptu meetings and colleagues, while minimizing the stress of office chatter and politics—all of which can drain productivity both at work and at home. What’s more, an agile setting allows your employees to work when their energy level is at peak and their focus is best. So, an early-riser might benefit from working between the hours of 4:30 and 10 a.m., while other staff members excel in the evening; once children are in bed.

Reduces Cost Across the Board

Think about it, everything we do costs us something. Whether we’re sacrificing time, money, or health due to stress, cost matters. With a flexible work environment, employees can tailor their hours around family needs, personal obligations and life responsibilities without taking valuable time away from their work. They’re able to tap into work remotely while at the doctor, caring for a sick child, waiting on the repairman, or any other number of issues.

What about the cost associated with commuting? Besides the obvious of fuel and wear and tear on a vehicle, an average worker commutes between 1-2 hours a day to the office. Tack on the stress involved in that commute and an 8 hour workday, and you’ve got one tired, stressed out employee with no balance. Telecommuting reduces these stressors, while adding value to the company by eliminating wasted time in traffic. And, less stress has a direct effect – healthier and happier employees.

Providing a flexible practice in a traditional office environment can reduce overhead costs as well. When employees are working remotely, business owners can save by allowing employees to desk or space share. Too, an agile environment makes it easier for businesses to move away from traditional brick and mortar if they deem necessary.

Boosts Loyalty, Talent and the Bottom Line

We all know employees are the number one asset in any company. When employees have more control over their schedule during the business day, it breeds trust and reduces stress. In fact, in a recent survey of 1300 employees polled by FlexJobs, 83% responded they would be more loyal to their company if they offered this benefit. Having a more agile work schedule not only reduces stress, but helps your employees maintain a good work/life balance.

Offering this incentive to prospective and existing employees also allows you to acquire top talent because you aren’t limited by geography. Your talent can work from anywhere, at any time of the day, reducing operational costs and boosting that bottom line—a very valuable asset to any small business owner or new start-up.

So, what can employers do?  While there are still companies who view flexible work as a perk rather than the norm, forward-thinking business owners know how this will affect them in the next few years as they recruit and retain new talent. With 39% of permanent employees thinking to make the move to an agile environment over the next three years, it’s important to consider what a flexible environment could mean for your company.  Keep in mind there are many types that can be molded to fit your company’s and employees’ needs. Flexible work practices don’t have to be a one-size-fits-all approach. As the oldest of Generation Z is entering the workforce, and millennials are settling into their careers, companies are wise to figure out their own customized policies. The desire for a more flexible schedule is key for the changing workforce—often times over healthcare, pay and other benefits. Providing a flexible arrangement will keep your company competitive.

On April 4, 2017, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that the applicability date for the final fiduciary rule will be extended, and published its final rule extending the applicability date in the Federal Register on April 7. This extension is pursuant to President Trump’s February 3, 2017 presidential memorandum directing the DOL to further examine the rule and the DOL’s proposed rule to extend the deadline released on March 2, 2017.

The length of the extension differs between certain requirements and/or components of the rule.  Below are the components and when and how applicability applies:

  • Final rule defining who is a “fiduciary”: Under the final rule, advisors who are compensated for providing investment advice to retirement plan participants and individual account owners, including plan sponsors, are fiduciaries. The applicability date for the final rule is extended 60 days, from April 10 until June 9, 2017. Fiduciaries will be required to comply with the impartial conduct or “best interest” standards on the June 9 applicability date.
  • Best Interest Contract Exemption: Except for the impartial conduct standards (applicable June 9 per above), all other conditions of this exemption for covered transactions are applicable January 1, 2018. Therefore, fiduciaries intending to use this exemption must comply with the impartial conduct standard between June 9, 2017 and January 1, 2018.
  • Class Exemption for Principal Transactions: Except for the impartial conduct standards (applicable June 9 per above), all other conditions of this exemption for covered transactions are applicable January 1, 2018. Therefore, fiduciaries intending to use this exemption must comply with the impartial conduct standard between June 9, 2017 and January 1, 2018 and thereafter.
  • Prohibited Transaction Exemption 84-24 (relating to annuities): Except for the impartial conduct standard (applicable June 9 per above), the amendments to this exemption are applicable January 1, 2018.
  • Other previously granted exemptions: All amendments to other previously granted exemptions are applicable on June 9, 2017.

By Nicole Quinn-Gato, JD
Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

What is a Gig Economy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Nicole Federico, eTekhnos Benefits Technology

Last fall, President Barack Obama signed the Protecting Affordable Coverage for Employees Act (PACE), which preserved the historical definition of small employer to mean an employer that employs 1 to 50 employees. Prior to this newly signed legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was set to expand the definition of a small employer to include companies with 51 to 100 employees (mid-size segment) beginning January 1, 2016.

If not for PACE, the mid-size segment would have become subject to the ACA provisions that impact small employers. Included in these provisions is a mandate that requires coverage for essential health benefits (not to be confused with minimum essential coverage, which the ACA requires of applicable large employers) and a requirement that small group plans provide coverage levels that equate to specific actuarial values. The original intent of expanding the definition of small group plans was to lower premium costs and to increase mandated benefits to a larger portion of the population.

The lower cost theory was based on the premise that broadening the risk pool of covered individuals within the small group market would spread the costs over a larger population, thereby reducing premiums to all. However, after further scrutiny and comments, there was concern that the expanded definition would actually increase premium costs to the mid-size segment because they would now be subject to community rating insurance standards. This shift to small group plans might also encourage mid-size groups to leave the fully-insured market by self-insuring – a move that could actually negate the intended benefits of the expanded definition.

Another issue with the ACA’s expanded definition of small group plans was that it would have resulted in a double standard for the mid-size segment. Not only would they be subject to the small group coverage requirements, but they would also be subject to the large employer mandate because they would meet the ACA’s definition of an applicable large employer.

Note: Although this bill preserves the traditional definition of a small employer, it does allow states to expand the definition to include organizations with 51 to 100 employees, if so desired.

By Vicki Randall
Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

While many Americans will remember January 20, 2017 as the day the 45th President of the United States was sworn into office, employee benefits experts will also remember it as the day the IRS Office of Chief Counsel (OCC) released this memorandum that clarifies, among other things, the tax treatment of benefits paid by fixed-indemnity plans.

Fixed indemnity plans are generally voluntary benefits employers offer to complement or supplement group health insurance, such as a hospital indemnity plan that pays a fixed dollar amount for days in the hospital. The plans do not meet minimum essential coverage standards and are exempt from the Affordable Care Act.

In the memorandum, the IRS clarified that if an employer pays the fixed-indemnity premiums on behalf of employees and the value is excluded from employees’ gross income and wages or allows employees to pay premiums pre-tax through the employer’s cafeteria plan, the amount of any benefits paid to an employee under the plan will be included in the employee’s gross income and wages. On the other hand, if employees pay the premiums with after-tax dollars, then the benefits are not included in the employees’ gross income and wages.

While this creates a tax burden for the employee, it also creates a burden for employers, as they are tasked with determining whether an employee has received a benefit and the amount of the benefit to determine wages and applicable employment taxes.

Employers that offer employer-paid fixed indemnity plans or allow employees to pay for plans pre-tax are encouraged to work with their counsel, broker, carrier, or other trusted advisor to address their current practices and determine if any changes should be made.

By Nicole Quinn-Gato, JD
Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

One of President Donald Trump’s first actions in office was to make good on a campaign promise to move quickly to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He issued Executive Order 13765, Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal. The one-page executive order (EO) is effective immediately and very light on details, with the goal to minimize the financial and regulatory burdens of the ACA while its repeal is pending. The EO directs the Executive Branch agency heads (those in the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury) in charge of enforcing the ACA to “exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the Act that would impose a fiscal burden on any State or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications.”

While Congress works on the ACA repeal through budget reconciliation, which allows for quick consideration of tax, spending, and debt limit legislation, President Trump is tackling the regulatory enforcement actions of the law. The practical impact of the EO is limited to agency enforcement discretion and requires agencies to implement the EO in a manner consistent with current law, including assuring that any required changes to applicable regulations will follow all administrative requirements for notice and comment periods.

The bottom line is that until the agency heads in Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury are confirmed and take charge of their departments, there will probably be little change in agency enforcement action right away. The broader changes to amend or repeal the ACA will take even more time to implement.

What Employers and Plan Sponsors Should Know Now

While the EO does not specifically refer to the ACA compliance burdens on employers or plan sponsors, such as the employer or individual mandates, required health benefits coverage, reporting or employee notification requirements, the language addresses the actions that the federal agencies can take to soften enforcement until the repeal is accomplished. It does direct the government to address the taxes and penalties associated with the ACA. So what does that mean for employers and plan sponsors now?

IRS employer reporting delay? Not yet. The top concern of employers is whether or not those subject to the shared responsibility provisions of the law would need to submit their 1094/1095 reports of coverage to the IRS by February 28 (or March 31, if filing electronically) and provide their employees with individual 1095-C statements by March 2. These reports are essential for the IRS to assess penalties under the law, and this reporting has been a burden for employers. Unfortunately for employers, the order did not mention delaying or eliminating this reporting requirement.

What employers should do now:

  • Applicable large employers (ALEs) subject to the employer mandate should plan to comply with their 1094/1095 reporting obligations this year.
  • All employers should continue to comply with all current ACA requirements until there is further guidance from the lawmakers.

We’ve Got You Covered

We’ll be monitoring President Trump’s actions to reduce regulatory burdens on American businesses along with Congressional legislative actions that can impact your business operations. Look for ThinkHR’s practical updates where we’ll analyze these developments and break them down into actionable information you need to comply with the changing laws and regulations.

By Laura Kerekes, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

Many employee benefit limits are automatically adjusted each year for inflation (this is often referred to as an “indexed” limit). UBA offers a quick reference chart showing the 2017 cost of living adjustments for health and Section 125 plans, qualified plans, Social Security/Medicare withholding, compensation amounts and more. This at-a-glance resource is a valuable desk tool for employers and HR practitioners.

Here’s a snapshot of a section of the 2017 health plan limits; be sure to request the complete chart from a UBA Partner.

2017 health plan limits

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

 

When you hear the term “paid parental leave”, what do you think of? Here in the U.S., paid leave benefits are somewhat of a luxury. Although the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has made it possible for parents working at companies with 50 or more employees to secure 12 weeks of unpaid leave, the U.S. is one of only three countries on a list of 185 that does not mandate a period of paid parental leave. This leaves the country ranked below Iran and Mexico, who both offer 12 weeks of paid parental leave. On the other end of the spectrum, employees in the UK benefit from up to 40 weeks of paid leave.
 
As a result of having no mandated paid parental leave policy, approximately a quarter of U.S. women who become pregnant while employed quit their jobs upon giving birth, one third of women are forced to borrow money or withdraw from savings to cover time off from work, and 15% utilize public assistance. The June 2015 Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was the first legislation to make a case for offering equal parental leave to mothers and fathers, setting a new precedent for the evolution of the paid leave benefit.
 
Why Should You Offer Paid Parental Leave to Employees?
The EY & Peterson Institute for International Economics recently released a study revealing that 38% of millennials would move to a new country if they would be afforded better paid parental leave benefits. Millennials now make up the largest demographic in the American workforce, and companies will need to increasingly take statistics like this into account when building benefit plans that will attract and retain top talent.
 
Aside from talent acquisition, the study goes on to show the positive impacts a paid parental leave benefit can have on keeping women in the C-Suite, as men who would usually be considered secondary caregivers take advantage of the time off and allow women to get back to work more quickly. In addition, change.org, who has implemented a generous paid parental leave policy, observed that dads who took leave in their company encouraged other new fathers to take advantage of the benefits as well, creating a culture of safety in which to utilize leave and invest more fully in their family life.
 
Ultimately, employees are happier and are empowered to do better work when they are allowed to honor their priorities. Whether this means a new mother is allowed to take stress-free, paid time off to bond with her child, or a father takes advantage of leave to be with his family or allow his partner to return to work, the ability to balance work and life is of the utmost importance to younger generations.
 
Case Studies – Top Companies Doing it Right
 
American Express
American Express recently announced that they were changing their paid parental leave policy from three months for primary caregivers and two weeks for secondary caregivers to five months of paid parental leave for all full-time and part-time employees.
 
All genders are eligible for the benefit, and employees may become parents via birth, adoption or surrogacy. In addition, American Express offers up to $35,000 for adoption or surrogacy fees with a limit of two events.  A lifetime maximum of $35,000 is also allotted for fertility treatments.
 
The company also announced a unique supplemental benefit of 24-hour lactation consultants available to nursing mothers, and a breast milk shipment program available to mothers traveling for business who need to send milk home.
 
Bank of America
Bank of America offers 16 weeks of paid leave for biological and adoptive parents. A unique feature of their policy allows parents to take leave any time during the first year of the child’s life, enabling partners to take overlapping or subsequent time off, whichever best fits their family’s needs. The company values providing this option, as they see almost half of parents in today’s society raising their kids together at home while both holding jobs.
 
The banking giant also tries to make life after baby easier for working parents by offering a more flexible work-from-home program and providing $240 in monthly childcare reimbursement for employees whose household income comes in under $100,000 annually.
 
Netflix
Netflix took the spotlight when it comes to paid parental leave benefits when they announced that the company would offer unlimited paid leave with no loss of benefits during the first year after a child’s arrival. Leave can be taken at any time during the year, and employees may choose to work part-time, or come back to work and then leave again if desired.
 
Netflix chief talent officer, Tawni Cranz, said of the monumental decision, “Experience shows people perform better at work when they’re not worrying about home.”
 
Twitter
While Twitter offers 20 weeks of paid leave for mothers and 10 for fathers and adoptive parents, the most innovative benefits this company offers come through its pre and post-natal programs for parents. Twitter offers quarterly “New Moms and Moms-To-Be” roundtables, a Mommy Mentor Program, Working Mom lunches and most lately, “Dads on Leave” roundtables. In-house support for employees when it comes to family life provides a safe place to embrace new roles as parents while still progressing in their careers.
 
How Can You Adopt This Benefit?
Job participation by women in peak years is declining, and paid parental leave is a way to help remove barriers in the workplace that leave women in only 5% of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies. Karyn Twaronite, EY global diversity and inclusiveness officer, said, “Companies that view parental leave as something solely for mothers are becoming extinct, as more modern and enlightened companies are realizing that many people, especially millennials, are even more interested in co-parenting given most are part of dual career couples.”
 
If your company is unable to keep up with the generous paid leave packages larger businesses can afford, consider taking a page out of Twitter’s book and offering mentoring programs and support groups for new parents. Budget for childcare reimbursement costs like Bank of America. Even smaller changes that are made thoughtfully, with the employee in mind, will increase the appeal of your benefits package.
 
As the benefits landscape changes with shifting demographics, consider carefully how offering paid parental leave could positively impact your employees, and ultimately, your bottom line as workers are motivated to work harder and smarter, knowing things are taken care of at home. 
 
By Kate McGaughey, eTekhnos