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July 2, 2014

Employers Score a Win in PPACA Contraception Mandate

Filed under: Benefits,Insurance,Legal Issues — Tags: 10:19 am

Monday, June 30, 2014, the United States Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling sided with Hobby Lobby when they decided that closely held private corporations do not have to include four of the twenty mandated contraceptive methods in their group health plans due to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the owners.  These four exempted methods of contraception will have to be paid from the employees’ pocket, or possibly the federal government will seek a way to cover the costs in accordance with the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act.




March 27, 2014

Uninsured? Are You Prepared to Pay the Penalty?

The deadline is quickly approaching to sign up for health care insurance using the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) federal website – March 31, 2014, to be exact.  The ACA made provision for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to collect fees for those individuals not insured by their employer, the government, or directly through an independent insurer.  The fee/penalty sounds fairly reasonable for the tax year 2014, $95, per adult or 1% of income, whichever is greater.  However, did you know the penalties increase over the next couple of years?


Per Adult OR Percentage of Family Income

(whichever is greater)





2016 and beyond


The penalties are pro-rated if an individual, their spouse, and children* have partial-year coverage.  If they lack coverage for less than three months in the year, they will have no penalty.  The fees for the uninsured were to encourage and motivate individuals to seek health care insurance coverage, but the law does include a provision to exempt some.

Employers need to stay abreast of the new health care law and its provisions, because they are very detailed and being clarified often.  Communicating regularly with employees about the current status of the law will help employees be prepared to meet the requirements on an individual basis as well.


*A child’s penalty is one-half of the adult dollar amount, e.g. $95 per adult is $47.50 per child.

Source:  Luhby, Tami.  “Uninsured next year?  Here’s your Obamacare penalty.” See article here.


February 27, 2014

Are You Ready for a Vacation?

I remember as a child returning to school after summer break.  It was so exciting because on the first day of school, as a method for young students to get to know each other, the teacher would ask what we did on our summer vacation.  We would then share our stories with all the other students of our visits to Grandma’s house, our trip to Mexico, playing outside in the hot summer sun, and swimming every day possible.  Summer vacations as a child were really a lot of fun!

This made me wonder why so many employees find it hard to take time off from work for vacation.  It could be a number of reasons.  Heavy workloads may place added pressure on an employee, the boss’s negative attitude toward those employees using their earned benefit, and the squeeze of the economy could all add to an employee’s hesitance to take their time off.

According to a survey by U.S. Travel Association, “Americans left an average of 3.2 PTO days on the table in 2013, totaling 429 million unused days among U.S. workers.”  The survey went on to say that “nearly 34 percent of employees indicated that their employer neither encourages nor discourages leave, and 17 percent of managers consider employees who take all of their leave to be less dedicated.”  (Fortunately, that leaves 83 percent of managers who do not feel that way!)

In fact, most employers recognize the importance of providing time off for employees to relax, refresh, and rejuvenate.  Employees personally and physically benefit by disconnecting for a short time and companies enjoy happy, more engaged workers and increased productivity.  When vacation time is encouraged by management, it works as an excellent retention tool as well.  So, what are your vacation plans?


Source:  U.S. Travel Association.


February 13, 2014

ACA “Play or Pay” Undergoes More Refinements

Filed under: Benefits,Insurance,Legal Issues12:07 pm

It was announced this week that additional delays in the “Play or Pay” provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for some small businesses has been delayed yet again.  Employers with 50-99 employees have been relieved from the requirement to provide suitable health insurance coverage or pay a penalty until January 2016.  These smaller employers still have to comply with reporting requirements starting in 2015, though.

As you will recall the ACA has a requirement that employers with 50 or more employees must provide health insurance coverage meeting specific criteria outlined in the law to their employees working 30 or more hours a week or they face penalties for not complying.  This provision was scheduled to begin January 2014, but was delayed last summer postponing the implementation to January 2015.  Employers with 100-plus employees must still comply by 2015.


February 6, 2014

Strange Employee Behavior May Notify Employer of FMLA Need

Filed under: Benefits,FMLA2:24 pm

A federal court in South Carolina has ruled that an employer must go to trial on a Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) claim involving an employee who exhibited strange behavior but was not given notice of his FMLA leave rights.

The case involved an employee whose supervisor knew he previously had been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and was on anti-depressants and receiving counseling. His coworkers also reported that he was engaging in strange behavior. The employee did not ever ask for FMLA but did ask to take vacation time because he was stressed and needed to unwind. The employer denied the requested vacation time because it had scheduled mandatory training at the same time. When the employee did not show up at work for the training, he was fired for uncooperative behavior. The employee sued for alleged FMLA and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations. The court dismissed the ADA claims, but ruled that in this context, the reports of strange behavior may have put the employer on notice that it should have offered FMLA leave to the employee. As a result, the court allowed the employee’s claim that the employer interfered with his FMLA leave rights to go to trial.

A good lesson from this case is that the “employee did not ever ask” for FMLA.  Yes, that is right!  An employee does not have to come right out and ask for, or use the term FMLA, for it to be an employer’s responsibility to realize they have been put on notice of the employee’s need for leave.  An employer does well to know their employees and the law.  If an employee exhibits strange behavior, he/she may be trying to tell you something!




January 23, 2014

A Workplace Perk that Could Payoff!

Filed under: Benefits,Compliance,General HR Buzz,Legal Issues11:04 am

A recent article caught my eye the other day. reporter, Will Yakowicz, wrote an article about Lending Club, a peer-to-peer lending marketplace, who is in talks with Google to offer employees a new employment perk, low-interest rate loans.  The idea is that a company could lend from their treasury reserves, which only pays them one or two percent interest and the employee could use those monies at the rate of two to four percent interest.  Thus, a greater yield for the company and a great perk for the employee who needs some fast cash.

So, I got to thinking what would happen if Google decides to do this.  Like many other trends, if one company offers a new benefit, word gets around, and other companies feel the pressure to enrich their own benefits and they follow suit.  The argument is that it could be a good recruiting and retention tool.   But, what about HR?  Come on, put on your HR thinking caps and let’s see what some of the hurdles could be that an employer may have to clear.

  1. Would there be regulatory requirements for an employer that is not a financial institution to enlist the services of another entity to engage in lending?
  2. What HR policy would need to govern this new perk?  Is it a benefit?  Is their tax reporting involved?  Payroll deductions?
  3. What if the employee quits or is terminated prior to paying the loan off?
  4. How will this conflict with the possibility of new laws restricting an employer’s use of credit reports in employment decisions?
  5. Who is the decision maker as to whether the employee is eligible for a loan?  And, will loans be made to an employee on a personal improvement plan?
  6. How many loans can an employee have at one time?
  7. Will the employer be responsible for having a loan loss reserve to cover uncollected debt?

I’m sure you can probably think of a few other things worth consideration.  No decision by Google has been made, but what if . . . ?


October 16, 2013

Please, Don’t Email Me!

Filed under: Wellness10:30 am

What would you do if your employer told you it was okay to unplug your company email?  Well, in so many words, that is just what the CEO, Dan Calista, of Vynamic, a healthcare consulting firm, did.  In response to their annual employee engagement survey, where employees reported high stress, the company implemented a new email policy.  The policy reads in part:  “To promote better balance, employees are to refrain from sending non-urgent emails to other employees between 10pm and 6am Monday through Friday, all day Saturday and Sunday, and all Vynamic holidays.  In urgent matters, call or text is preferred over email.”

Wow!  Drastic?  At first glance, it is a curious strategy.  To ensure it would work as designed, though, the company had their managers test the new ‘zmail’ policy.  After a month of successful testing, the managers seemed to like it; so, they introduced the idea to employees.  More than six months into zmail, employees report it has been helpful in reducing some of their stress.   Obviously, no one will be fired for violating this policy, but for their own benefit, it is pretty well self-regulated.  Of course, clients do not suffer from this organizational decision, because Vynamic personnel tell their clients to call if they have urgent matters that need attention.

Generally speaking, technology is in everyone’s hands.  It makes work from anywhere, anytime possible and deceptively productive.  Unplugging can be good for our mental and physical well-being.  We come back to the table feeling refreshed, better focused, and able to meet challenges with a positive outlook.  Calista stated, “Just knowing that your employer is not expecting you to be online between those hours is liberating.  It allows you to mentally disconnect for a few hours.”  What do you think?  Could this be your next wellness initiative?


Vanderkam, Laura, “Should Your Company Use “Zmail”?  The Case for Inbox Curfews.” Fast Company, October, 9, 2013.  Available online here.

Lucas, Suzanne, “Wellness Programs that Work for Small Businesses.”  Inc., May 6, 2013.  Available online here.


July 26, 2013

HR Fact Friday: Fourth Circuit Says ACA Employer Mandate Valid, Insurance Regulation Within Commerce

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit July 11 declared the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate a valid exercise of Congress’s power to regulate commerce under the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution (Liberty Univ. Inc. v. Lew, 4th Cir., No. 10-2347, 7/11/13).

The mandate is “simply an example of Congress’s longstanding authority to regulate employee compensation offered and paid for by employers in interstate commerce,” the court held in an opinion co-authored by Judges Diana Gribbon Motz, James A. Wynn, and Andre M. Davis.

The ruling comes in a case filed by Liberty University Inc. and two individual plaintiffs that challenged both the individual and employer mandates.

The employer mandate requires employers with more than 50 full-time employees to provide health care coverage to employees and their dependents. If an employer fails to do so, or fails to offer coverage that meets the mandate’s affordability requirements, it would be required to make an “assessable payment” collected by the Treasury Department in the same manner as a tax.

The Obama administration recently announced it will delay implementation of the employer mandate until 2015.

Source:  Bloomberg BNA,, Mary Anne Pazanowski


March 7, 2013

Daylight Saving Time . . . Again!

Filed under: Wellness6:01 am

Yes, that is grammatically correct!  It is daylight “saving” time, not “savings.”  Most people say it incorrectly, because “savings” really does slide off the tongue better!  The time to set your clocks forward one hour is Sunday, March 10, 2013, at 2:00 a.m.

Have you ever wondered why we set our clocks forward?  The short answer is that it moves an hour of daylight to the evening, thus allowing us to make better use of the daylight time.  The long answer is that Benjamin Franklin at the age of 78 and living in Paris wrote a humorous, and sometimes referred to as whimsical, piece titled The Economical Project.  He noted that Parisians, including himself, weren’t early to bed down, nor were they early to rise up.  He fancifully posed an interesting concept that if Parisians were staying up late, they needed more candlewax to light their homes for their evening activities.  If they would rise with the sun, they would have more daylight.  Alternatively, if they went to bed earlier, with the sun, they would save candlewax, thus a savings in energy and money!  As you may have guessed, his idea didn’t catch on right away with the Parisians!  Franklin was a little ahead of his time, but ironically, his imaginative idea did finally rise in popularity.

Similarly today, daylight saving time is recognized as an energy saver and the extra daylight is usually welcome.  It does come with a few demands, though.  This is the time of year to check and change the batteries in our smoke detectors and other home safety devices.  All the non-automatically adjusted clocks in our homes will need to be adjusted.  Probably the most difficult thing to we will need to adjust in relation to daylight saving time is our circadian rhythms – we are all going to lose one hour of sleep!  It doesn’t sound like much, but the Society of Human Resource Management said that according to a 2009 study published by the Journal of Applied Psychology, “losing just an hour of sleep could pose dangerous consequences for those in hazardous work environments.”  It takes most people several days to recover from that one hour loss of sleep.

Besides encouraging employees to be more careful working and driving on the Monday after, employees working overnight  March 10, will only work 7 hours.  Employers are only required to pay the number of hours worked, but may celebrate the extra hour of daylight and pay them for 8 hours just for fun!


November 7, 2012

Open Enrollment Is Just Around the Corner

Filed under: Benefits,General HR Buzz,Insurance,Wellness — Tags: 6:00 am

Benefits open enrollment is usually a very busy and stressful time of year for HR professionals.  It requires much more time and thought than many in an organization realize.  Whether your open enrollment plan year is on the calendar year or on another fiscal year, there are several things to consider when preparing for open enrollment.  Following are some suggestions:

Plan Ahead – - – Begin communicating with your broker or other insurance provider at least three months prior to the plan year.  This will allow them to gather the necessary information on your current plan along with the new proposed costs, so that you and your executive team will be able to make informed decisions whether to continue the current plan, make changes to it, or shop for other options.

Make a List – - – Put your wish list in writing!  If you want to propose additional insurance coverage, such as adding a High Deductible Health Plan with a Health Savings Account option, dental insurance, vision or supplemental insurances, now is the time to do it.  Make sure you have thoroughly prepared and you have the numbers to support the reasons why you have proposed the changes and how they will satisfy your employees’ insurance usage needs.  An employee benefits survey can be of great value in this area when it is completed in the “off” season.

Decide if wellness initiatives will be included in helping employees offset some of the cost of their ever increasing premiums.  Educating them in a healthier lifestyle and teaching them the long term benefits of changing their behaviors can have lasting value.  Assisting employees to make the connection between health care costs and their health can have a huge positive impact on their dollar.  Thus, it is a win-win for both employee and employer.

Communicate with Others – - – Always remember that HR is usually on a different planning schedule than other departments.  Arrange open enrollment meetings with that in mind.  Inquire of managers and make sure your open enrollment meetings won’t interfere with the organization’s other key business plans.  You will gain their support and they will know they have yours!

Keep It Simple – - – Whether you have paperless enrollment or not, communicate any changes in insurance programs to your employees early and educate them as to where they can find answers to their questions.  This will help them to understand how the changes will affect them and their dependents.   Publicizing open enrollment early, will encourage the mindset for employees to begin making their choices in coverage.

Ask for Help! – - -You don’t have to go it alone.  Use other team members to review all documents and communications before publishing to employees to make sure all the information is correct.  This will save lots of time and hopefully keep you from making apologies and corrections later!  Utilize your broker and any representatives from your insurance companies that can be available onsite for interaction with your employees and allow employees to ask them specific questions.

Once the rush is over, keep good notes for the next year to map your strategy.  Record what went well and what needs to be creatively adjusted.  And, by all means, give yourself and your team a pat on the back!

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