Spring Team Member Named DMEC Emerging Leader

We are delighted to announce that Lai-Sahn Hackett, Spring’s Director of Market Research, was recently recognized by the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) as one of two recipients of their Emerging Leader Award for 2021. Lai-Sahn has been a self-starter since she started with Spring as a Consulting Analyst.

Lai-Sahn continuously takes on more to proactively become an expert in her field, making real contributions to not only our company and clients, but to the industry at large. Committed to professional development, Lai-Sahn helped create educational content for DMEC’s micro credentialing courses. She also plays a pivotal role in Spring’s industry-leading benchmarking and survey capabilities. She is adept at turning data into meaningful insights, cutting through the clutter so that organizations understand the areas of their programs that need action. Last year, Lai-Sahn was instrumental in launching a COVID-19 related benefits survey, gauging different reactionary measures taken by employers. She also took the findings of our annual healthcare benchmarking survey and created an innovative, digital benchmarking dashboard so that we can filter through client data in a range of ways for different comparisons.

Lai-Sahn is certainly deserving of the DMEC Emerging Leader Award and we couldn’t be more proud and lucky to have her on our team!

 

 

Congress Passes the American Rescue Plan Act

Congress has passed, and President Biden has signed, the American Rescue Plan Act, 2021 (ARPA), the third COVID-19 stimulus bill.  This new $1.9 trillion stimulus package includes several health and welfare benefits-related provisions relevant to employers and plan sponsors, as summarized below. COVID-19 law

FFCRA Paid Leave Extended and Enhanced

While COVID-19 vaccines are starting to become more readily available, the pandemic continues. In recognition, Congress extended through September 30, 2021, the refundable payroll tax credits for emergency paid sick leave (EPSL) and extended family and medical leave (E-FMLA), which were enacted pursuant to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.  As with the extension through March 31, 2021 under the second stimulus package (the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021), only the tax credits are extended, which means compliance with the EPSL or E-FMLA requirements is voluntary for employers after December 31, 2020.

The ARPA expands FFCRA leave in several ways for employers who choose to offer it from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021:

  • The 10-day limit for EPSL resets as of April 1, 2021. Employees were previously limited to 80 hours from April 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021.
    • Paid leave continues to be limited to $511 per day ($5,110 total) for an employee’s own illness or quarantine (paid at the employee’s regular rate), and $200 per day ($2,000 total) for leave to care for others (paid at two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate).
  • A new “trigger” is added under both the EPSL and E-FMLA provisions.  Employees qualify for leave if they are:
    • seeking or awaiting the results of a diagnostic test for, or a medical diagnosis of, COVID-19, and the employee has been exposed to COVID–19 or the employee’s employer has requested such test or diagnosis;
    • obtaining immunization related to COVID–19; or
    • recovering from any injury, disability, illness, or condition related to such immunization.
    • MBWL Note:  The ability of an employer to receive a tax credit for providing paid time off for an employee to receive the vaccine is a clear indication of the federal government’s desire to facilitate employees receiving a vaccine.
  • Leave under the E-FMLA provision is increased from $10,000 to $12,000, with $12,000 being the maximum an employer may claim for an employee in 2021.
  • Leave under the E-FMLA provision is expanded to be available for any EPSL-qualifying reason, which is when an employee is unable to work or telework because the employee:
    • is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
    • has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
    • has COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking medical diagnosis;
    • is caring for an individual who is subject to a quarantine or isolation order;
    • is caring for a child if the school or day care center has been closed, or the child-care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 precautions; or
    • is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the regulatory agencies.
  • E-FMLA leave taken on or after April 1, 2021 is not subject to the 10-day elimination period that applied previously under FFCRA.
    • An employee’s eligibility for E-FMLA may depend on when they used E-FMLA previously and how the employer establishes its 12-month FMLA period (e.g., calendar year, fixed period, measure-forward, or “rolling” 12 months).
  • For leave taken on or after April 1, 2021, the employers may take a credit against Medicare payroll tax only (1.45%); however, the credit continues to be refundable.
    • ESPL and E-FMLA credits are available for qualified health plan expenses and for the employer’s share of Medicare and Social Security taxes.
  • ARPA clarifies that refundable credits may be received by state and local governments that are tax exempt under Code 501(a).
  • ARPA adds a new nondiscrimination requirement that eliminates the credit for any employer that discriminates in favor of highly compensated employees, full-time employees, or employees based on tenure.

Dependent Care Assistance Program Limit Increase

In February, the IRS released Notice 2021-15, which provides guidance related to the relief for health FSAs and dependent care assistance programs (DCAPs) contained in the second stimulus bill. Unfortunately, the Notice failed to clarify with any certainty whether an employee may be taxed on any DCAP reimbursements in excess of $5,000 for the calendar year.  That issue is now settled by the ARPA, which increases the DCAP exclusion from $5,000 to $10,500 (from $2,500 to $5,250 in the case of a separate return filed by a married individual) for 2021. This relief is only available for calendar year 2021; however, it also implies that an employee could elect to increase their DCAP election to the newly available $10,500 limit for 2021 (based on the relief in Notice 2021-15).  A DCAP must be amended by the end of the 2021 plan year to take advantage of the increased exclusion limit.

Temporary Premium Tax Credit Enhancements

The Affordable Care Act’s premium tax credit program is significantly enhanced for 2021 and 2022. The existing income limit of 400% of the federal poverty level, after which individuals will no longer qualify for a premium tax credit, is lifted for 2021 and 2022. In addition, the applicable percentage of household income that individuals must pay for Marketplace coverage has been reduced at all income levels.  Special rules also apply to those individuals receiving unemployment compensation during 2021.

MBWL Note: The increased eligibility for premium tax credits makes it ever more important for applicable large employers (ALEs) to offer affordable, minimum value coverage to their full-time employees to avoid potential penalty exposure.

Temporary PTC Percentages Under ARPA
In the case of household income (expressed as a % of poverty line) within the following income tier: The initial premium percentage is— The final premium percentage is—
Up to 150.0% 0% 0%
150% to 200% 0% 2%
200% to 250% 2% 4%
250% to 300% 4% 6%
300% to 400% 6% 8.5%
400% and up 8.5% 8.5%

 

2021 PTC Percentages (Pre-ARPA)
In the case of household income (expressed as a % of poverty line) within the following income tier: The initial premium percentage is— The final premium percentage is—
Up to 133.0% 2.07% 2.07%
133% to 150% 3.10% 4.14%
150% to 200% 4.14% 6.52%
200% to 250% 6.52% 8.33%
250% to 300% 8.33% 9.83%
300% to 400% 9.83% 9.83%
400% and up Ineligible for PTC

COBRA Subsidy

The ARPA provides significant assistance to employees and their families who are eligible for COBRA (or state mini-COBRA) due to an involuntary termination of employment or reduction in hours.  The law provides a 100% subsidy for COBRA premiums from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. The subsidy applies to group health plans other than health FSAs.

Employers who are subject to COBRA under ERISA (private employers) or the PHS Act (state and local governmental employers) are responsible for complying with the COBRA subsidy provisions.  Insurance companies are responsible for complying with the COBRA subsidy provisions for insured group health plans that are not subject to federal COBRA (e.g., when state “mini-COBRA” requirements apply to small plans that are not subject to federal COBRA, or to large group plans after federal COBRA is exhausted).  Additional highlights include:

  • The subsidy applies to an “assistance eligible individual” (AEI) who is any COBRA qualified beneficiary who is eligible for, and elects, COBRA during the period of April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021, due to an involuntary termination of employment or reduction in hours.  (The reduction in hours is not required to be involuntary.)
  • AEIs must be offered at least a 60-day window within which to elect COBRA coverage.
    • The 60-day period begins April 1, 2021 and ends 60 days after the date the notice is provided to the individual.
    • AEIs include individuals in their COBRA election period, and individuals who would be AEIs but whose COBRA coverage lapsed due to non-payment prior to April 1, 2021.
    • MBWL Note: Many AEIs will still be within their COBRA election period as a result of the Department of Labor’s disaster relief (Notice 2021-01).
  • COBRA coverage elected during the subsidy period will be effective April 1, 2021; employees are not required to elect retroactive to the date of their qualifying event or any other date prior to April 1, 2021, nor are they required to pay outstanding premiums for prior periods of coverage in order to secure subsidized coverage.
  • Employers will be entitled to an advanceable, refundable tax credit against Medicare payroll taxes (1.45%) to pay for coverage during the subsidy period. The DOL will provide forms and instructions for employers to apply for the credit.
    • Additional guidance is expected for multiemployer (union) plans and professional employer organizations (PEOs).
  • The subsidy is available until the first to occur of:
    • the qualified beneficiary becoming eligible for other group health plan coverage (other than coverage consisting only of excepted benefits, such as dental or vision, coverage under a health FSA, or coverage under a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement (QSEHRA));
    • the qualified beneficiary becoming eligible for Medicare;
    • the end of the qualified beneficiary’s maximum COBRA duration; or
    • September 30, 2021.
  • Qualified beneficiaries who fail to notify the plan that they are no longer assistance-eligible can be liable for a $250 penalty, which may be waived if the failure was due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect. An intentional failure can result in a penalty of $250 or 110% of the amount of premium assistance received, if greater.
  • Employers may allow currently enrolled AEIs to select new plans.  An individual has 90 days from the date they are notified of the enrollment option to elect a different plan.  This option is available only if:
    • the premium for such different coverage does not exceed the premium for coverage in which such individual was enrolled at the time such qualifying event occurred;
    • the different coverage in which the individual elects to enroll is coverage that is also offered to similarly situated active employees; and
    • the different coverage is not coverage consisting only of excepted benefits, such as dental or vision, coverage under a health FSA, or coverage under a QSEHRA.
  • Required Notices to Individuals
    • General Notice / Notice of Subsidy Availability. Individuals who become eligible to elect COBRA during the subsidy period (April 1, 2021 – September 30, 2021) must be provided a notice that describes the availability of the premium assistance. The notice requirement may be satisfied by amending existing notices or by including a separate attachment. The notice must include:
      • the forms necessary for establishing eligibility for premium assistance;
      • the name, address, and telephone number to contact the plan administrator and any other person maintaining relevant information in connection with such premium assistance;
      • a description of the extended election period;
      • a description of the obligation of the qualified beneficiary to notify the plan when they are no longer eligible for a subsidy and the associated penalty for failure to do so;
      • a description, displayed in a prominent manner, of the right to a subsidized premium and any conditions thereon; and
      • a description of the option to enroll in different coverage if the employer so permits.
    • Notice of Extended Election Period. AEIs must be offered at least a 60-day window within which to elect COBRA coverage.
      • The 60-day period begins April 1, 2021 and ends 60 days after the date the notice is provided to the individual.
      • This includes:
        • individuals terminated on or after April 1, 2021;
        • individuals in their COBRA election period on April 1, 2021 (including any COVID-19-related extensions); and
        • individuals who would be AEIs but whose COBRA coverage lapsed due to non-payment prior to April 1, 2021.
    • Notice of Subsidy Expiration. Informs AEIs that the subsidy period is ending.
    • The notice must disclose that:
      • premium assistance for the individual will expire soon and the date of such expiration;
      • the individual may be eligible for coverage without any premium assistance through COBRA or coverage under a group health plan.
    • The subsidy expiration notice is not required if the subsidy is ending due to the individual becoming eligible for another group health plan or Medicare.
    • This notice must be provided not more than 45 days but no less than 15 days before the premium assistance ends.
    • Model Notices. The DOL must issue model notices of subsidy availability and extended election period within 30 days of enactment, and a model notice of subsidy expiration within 45 days of the law’s enactment.

What Does This Mean For Employers?

Employers and plan sponsors should consider whether they will adopt the extended FFCRA leave provisions and/or use them to incentivize employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. They should also ensure their COBRA vendors are prepared to assist in identifying and notifying assistance eligible individuals within 60 days of April 1, 2021.  The DOL also plans to provide outreach consisting of public education and enrollment assistance relating to premium assistance. Their outreach will target employers, group health plan administrators, public assistance programs, States, insurers, and other entities as the DOL deems appropriate. The outreach will include an initial focus on those individuals eligible for an extended election period. We also expect the DOL and other agencies to issue guidance on various issues related to the subsidy in the coming weeks.

About the Author.  This alert was prepared for Alera Group by Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP, a national law firm with recognized experts on ERISA-governed and non-ERISA-governed retirement and welfare plans, executive compensation and employment law.  Contact Stacy Barrow or Nicole Quinn-Gato at sbarrow@marbarlaw.com or nquinngato@marbarlaw.com.

The information provided in this alert is not, is not intended to be, and shall not be construed to be, either the provision of legal advice or an offer to provide legal services, nor does it necessarily reflect the opinions of the agency, our lawyers or our clients.  This is not legal advice.  No client-lawyer relationship between you and our lawyers is or may be created by your use of this information.  Rather, the content is intended as a general overview of the subject matter covered.  This agency and Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP are not obligated to provide updates on the information presented herein.  Those reading this alert are encouraged to seek direct counsel on legal questions.

© 2021 Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP.  All Rights Reserved.

9 Areas of Focus for HR Right Now – Part 7

Thanks for joining us on this nice little reflective exercise. There has been so much news to keep up with this year, that we thought it would be helpful to put pen to paper on our key COVID takeaways. We hope our numbers 1 through 6 provided some food for thought, and also some helpful advice. We are back this week with number 7, and it’s a big one.

 

  1. Leave & Accommodations

Leave laws are always front and center for us at Spring, but this year we had different considerations. While this topic interplays with many of the other themes on this list, I thought it important to reiterate some key legislative items we’ve been dealt this year.leave management covid

 

Currently there are very few legal parameters for supporting working parents during the pandemic, and no protections for employees worried about exposing people in their household. Any accommodations allowed here are largely based on the discretion of the employer. For working parents, consider flexible hours and different shifts. Further, companies should think about whether teleworking could work more permanently, you are likely to face some employee hesitancy to return to the office. This will be especially important depending on your office location and the case rates in that area.

 

As we think about traditional ADA accommodations processes and try to carry them out in a COVID world, we pose the following questions:

  • If an employee self-identifies themselves as high-risk, should an employer be asking for proof?
  • If an employee states they cannot wear a mask due to a disability, but cannot provide documentation, what does the employer do?
  • If an employee is asking for leave but is not eligible under ADA or FMLA, what other options are available?

I recently presented at DMEC where we suggested implementing short-term accommodations trials, especially when there is difficulty obtaining documentation, which there has been due to closing of medical offices to non-emergency patients and reluctance to visit medical offices out of fear. So if an employee asks for accommodation without documentation, try something that you find reasonable for 3 or 6 months without asking for medical information, and then revisit the trial at that point. Further, exhaust all return to work options (whether in-person or remote) first, and use leaves as a last resort.

With the expiration of the FFCRA, Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) and Emergency Family and Medical Leave (EFMLA) is no longer required, but the tax credit has been extended. Click here for more details on that. All of these complexities are making the case for federal leave law, in which we could avoid this patchwork of different leaves, but speakers remarked that while the desire is there, there are too many challenges to get it going during this economic climate.

Several states have implemented their own leave policies related to COVID: California, New York, New Jersey, Colorado, Washington D.C., with pending legislation in Massachusetts. Employers in these states will need to weave these into their programs.

Further, while there is no leave currently for those afraid to return to the workplace, employers should be cautious as it is possible for debilitating anxiety to occur in these cases, which could trigger a leave.

 

At the end of the day, while employers often worry about misuse of programs, research shows that less than 5% of individuals taking leave are abusing it. Further, as engrained in our culture, people are generally shamed of needing time of work to take care of themselves or others. To this end, we need to take a caring lens when it comes to leave and accommodations. Lastly, communicate your policies often, be proactive, make it easy for employees to find available resources, check in on  your colleagues, and be sure to have formal Stay and Work and Return to Work programs in place and updated.

 

Don’t miss our series wrap-up, numbers 8 and 9, coming to your inbox next week!

The Paid Leave Momentum

According to SHRM, paid leave may have been 2020’s biggest workplace news.  A number of U.S. companies (between 27% and 52% depending on the study) expanded their paid leave benefits, with paid parental leave growing at a faster pace than paid family care leave1. The states and jurisdictions of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Washington DC have passed paid family and medical leave (PFML) laws to date and at least another ten states are considering them. In addition, numerous localities have passed paid sick and safe leave laws. These can vary across cities and counties, even within a given state.Paid leave in US

On a federal level, laws exist such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), enacted in 1993, which affords unpaid job-protection, and programs such as the Fischer Tax Credit, the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA), and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Federal programs offer limited coverage as wage replacement and job protection may or may not be included in each law. A federal paid leave program is now seemingly supported by both democratic and republican parties, with the biggest difficulty being how to pay for it.

In addition, and to complement paid leave policies, more companies are offering and triggering EAP and wellness programs than they have in the past. About a fourth of companies say they provide a caregiver benefit, separate from EAP, that might include flexible work hours, personal time, counseling services, free programs for finding and managing care, employer subsidized online resources, child, or eldercare.2 You can read more about the landscape for caregiver benefits here.

This momentum has been a positive move towards bringing our country closer to the other 40 nations that mandate some degree of paid leave3, and to help employees balance time for work, family, and medical needs, but creating such programs is not without its challenges.  With no two state PFML jurisdictions sharing the same standards, the varying employer, state, and federal programs result in a “patchwork” of definitions and standards for companies to contend with.  They can also limit employer flexibility to address the unique needs of their workforce, expose employers to financial liability, and create inefficient administration processes4 that result in an increased HR/Benefits workload5.

To overcome these challenges, the time is now for employers to review their state and national employee base and consider how leave benefits can be provided in accordance with their culture, appetite for risk and desired employee experience.  Key questions to begin with include:

  • Where do the bulk of my employees work?
  • What corporate disability, paid family and medical leave and sick or safe leave policies are they subject to?
  • How are these plans being offered, administered, and paid for?
  • To what extent do they coordinate or integrate with other leave of absence, workers’ compensation and sick or PTO policies? Or with broader health and wellbeing programs?
  • To what degree can the process be centralized? Can current vendor partners be leveraged to streamline? Can tools be provided to simplify, educate, and personalize?

Taking these factors into account gives benefit professionals the opportunity to heighten the discussion with senior management, consider plan and policy design more holistically and determine administration that will minimize employee confusion, position managers for stronger engagement, and lead the organization towards better outcomes.

 

 

Sources

[1] Leave and Flexible Working Survey, SHRM Employee Benefits, 2019.  Paid Time Off Survey, WorldatWork and PTO Inc., 2019. Integrated Disability, Absence and Health Management Survey, Spring Consulting Group, 2020.

[2] Integrated Disability, Absence and Health Management Survey, Spring Consulting Group, 2020.

[3] Data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 2018.

[4] Paying the Way, Large Employers and the State Paid Leave Patchwork, The ERISA Industry Committee, 2020.

[5] Paid Leave: Exploring the Impacts to Other Benefits Programs, Spring Consulting Group and ClaimVantage, 2020

9 Areas of Focus for HR Right Now: Parts 5 and 6

Thanks for tuning back in as we share our most noteworthy reflections around how priorities have changed for folks in this industry. We hope you caught numbers 1-4 (link). After over six months of combatting COVID-19, we have figured a lot out, but questions remain. Here we are with numbers 5 and 6 on our list.Women in the workforce COVID

 

  1. Women in the Workforce

Policies like maternal leave and breastfeeding accommodations have long been debated, but this year women are facing even more pressure. For one, it’s been reported that women continue to shoulder the burden of having children while working at home. I am sure there are plenty of involved dads out there, but it does seem to be women who are largely being tasked with homeschooling, activities, meals, etc. and who are being interrupted by children during the workday. They may be struggling to keep up with the demands of work and home, and feeling like they have to choose. We hope that once we start seeing consistent success in education during the pandemic, and eventually vaccines, women will gain back their confidence. However, employers should be thinking about how to be flexible with working mothers so that they don’t have to take leave, as reengagement will be difficult.

Another hot topic related to women is the issue of pregnancy during these COVID times. Many pregnant women have extra fear of being exposed to the virus and are likely to err on the side of caution, meaning they may be reluctant to return to the workplace. Things get tricky here, as pregnancy is not a disability in the eyes of the ADA and therefore does not offer an accommodation to pregnant women. Further, because of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, employers cannot single out pregnant employees. This conundrum has several states trying to fill this pregnancy gap in upcoming legislation. Finally, let us not forget, as employers, about single women lacking a support system at home.

 

  1. EAPs

I got a lot of value out of one DMEC session focused on Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and I thought I would share. EAPs are a severely under-utilized tool. This is due to lack of awareness, stigma around mental health and addiction, company culture, confidentiality concerns, and accessibility or time constraints. Many employees don’t realize the amount of free or discounted services associated with EAPs, with costs being another barrier.  However, as we saw, mental and behavioral health problems are rising at an unprecedented rate, and EAPs could be a critical mitigating factor, but only if they are leveraged.

When it comes to EAPs, you should:

  • Ensure managers are adequately trained on the program(s) offered
  • Partner with your provider to increase communications and remove obstacles
  • Link EAP access to other HR programs such as wellness initiatives
  • Monitor program effectiveness through regular surveys and performance checks
  • Check in with employees before, during and after an EAP request – did they find the resources they were looking for?

We may see EAPs transform from a “nice to have” to a “must have” in the future. If that’s the case, all of us in this industry need to understand how to better drive utilization, because it’s clearly not enough to simply provide one. Spring can help with this!

 

We’ll be back soon with our #7 and beyond.

9 Areas of Focus For Employers Right Now: Parts 3 and 4

We are back with more industry food for thought. We hope you caught #s 1 and 2, telework and workplace safety here. We are continuing on with more unique challenges HR, benefits and absence management professionals are still facing in light of the pandemic.

 

  1. Mental and Behavioral Health

Mental and behavioral health has long been a concern for employers, but COVID-19 complicated this area in a myriad of ways. Research shows that by the end of the year, it’s projected that someone will die by suicide every 20 seconds. This could be the next pandemic, in that COVID-19 will lead to PTSD and increased rates of depression. In conjunction with suicide, overdose rates are rising and alcohol sales have skyrocketed. Domestic violence is also of particular concern as many have been stuck at home in unsafe environments, and with children largely out of schools and programs, there are less opportunities to report issues.employee mental health

One DMEC presentation shared that 45% of employees surveyed reported their mental health being negatively impacted in some capacity by COVID-19, and that it is often more difficult for older adults, those working in healthcare, and those with pre-existing conditions. The rapidly changing news on public health and the crisis is further contributing to anxiety.  However, the number one stressor for employees across the board pertains to finances.

Non-job related factors affecting mental health right now include:

  • Childcare
  • Health of family members and self
  • Social disconnectedness
  • Postponing or canceling of events and celebrations
  • Grief/loss

Then, of course, there are job stressors that may come into play, such as career development and relationships at work.

Now that I’ve painted a very grim picture, let’s talk about what employers can do to mitigate these mental and behavioral health complexities. Here are some ideas:

  • Conduct manager sensitivity training
  • Understand what signs of depression might look like, especially in this virtual world. An example might be morning fatigue from lack of sleep
  • Offer flexibility when possible – this could mean scheduled breaks or a switch from full-time to part-time
  • Treat mental health as you would physical health problems
  • Ensure employees understand what resources are available, such as EAPs
  • Offer benefits like 401(k) and retirement planning, HSAs and/or flexible spending accounts, emergency hardship assistance, etc.
  • Offer thoughtful perks like noise-canceling headphones, as those dealing with depression will have a harder time focusing
  • Leverage your disability carrier for help

Confronting and assisting with mental and behavioral health problems is not only a compassionate move, but a sound business decision as well. An employee with a mental health or addiction issue will be about half as productive; a DMEC presenter stated that this level of lost productivity can cost a company with 1,000 employees a minimum of $2.4 million a year.

Essentially, those who were experiencing anxiety, addiction, or depression before are facing magnified conditions now, and we have a larger subset of people who were not struggling in these areas prior to COVID-19 but now are. Your employees could be worried their spouse is going to lose his/her job so they are putting in overtime to secure their own job. Others are dealing with pre-existing conditions, aging parents who need extra care, children at home, a lack of social life, and so on.

As mental and behavioral health problems continue to soar, everyone can benefit from an employer proactively addressing them.

 

  1. Travel

The vast majority of employers have banned non-essential business travel. For personal travel, quarantine policies may come into play. The future of business travel, business travel policythat is, in a post-COVID world, remains unclear. One DMEC presentation cited a poll that showed 28% of employers planning on reducing business travel after the pandemic, and 51% of companies are unsure what they will do. On the other hand, 62% of employees surveyed stated they would prefer to travel less when the pandemic is over than they did before it started.

 

Be sure to check back in for #5 and beyond!

Caring for Caregivers

Employees bring their whole selves to work each day which allows for the highly efficient, effective, and creative workforce we enjoy.  As Human Resource professionals we appreciatecaregiver benefits the diversity of our workforce and continue to adjust within our employee benefit programs to meet the changing needs of our employees and their families.  Top employers know that thinking more strategically about caregiving will help them fight for top talent and provide the corporate culture employees are seeking especially in this more complicated caregiving landscape brought on by COVID-19.

The concept of caregiving is not new but as our workforce evolves it is becoming more critical to consider caregiving as an area of opportunity within employee benefits.  This shift, further amplified by the pandemic, highlights a cavern between top tier employers who appreciate the multitude of responsibilities employees must navigate versus those that hire people despite them.

The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving recently released Caregivers in Crisis:  Caregiving in the Time of COVID-19.  This thoughtful piece attaches hard data to the burden we have all experienced over the last 6 weeks.  The data indicates that 83% of caregivers have increased stress since the start of the pandemic, and 42% have indicated that the number of other caregivers available to help them has declined.  Caregivers themselves – in addition to those requiring care – are experiencing an increased burden from isolation, stress, financial concerns, and general instability.

Defining Caregivers

AARP estimates that each year approximately 40 million American adults provide support to others with basic functions (i.e. activities of daily living).  Many of those, including 75% of millennial caregivers are working.

For millennials in particular the stress of caregiving can be more challenging since they are typically providing care for more hours in a week, making less money and having less support from other family members (i.e. reduced family size).  Also of note, millennials are the most diverse caregiving community to date (i.e. racially, ethnically and more likely to identify as LGBTQ+) which can be important to consider related to diversity and inclusion.

Employers that are new to the concept can consider caregiving solutions as a continuum or suite of solutions; not a one size fits all approach or something that has to be implemented all at one time.  A core offering typically includes:

  • Educational resources
  • Advocacy support
  • Self-service tools

Enhancements allow for 24/7 live support and paid time off when necessary to address caregiving emergencies.

It is important to think broadly about caregiving solutions.  In addition to introducing separate solutions, it is equally important to shift our mindset and expand common employer benefits that could be leveraged for extended family members (i.e. second opinions, medical guidance with challenging health diagnoses, etc.).  The term caregiving must also extend beyond elder care of medical conditions but include children struggling with online school or developmental disabilities or Medicare eligibility and financial planning when moving into retirement.  The goal of caregiving solutions is to support your employees as both caregivers and those needing care.

We have all heard the announcement on the airplane about putting on your own mask before helping others; employer sponsored caregiving is building on that logic and allowing your employees to more efficiently:

  • Find educational information related to their caregiving needs
  • Direct employees toward potential solutions
  • Provide tools to support decision making
  • Pair employees with short term and long-term caregiving solutions

Caregiving support as an employee benefit is still in its infancy.  Unfortunately, many employers do not realize the need, the impact on employee performance and the demand that exists at the employee level.  A 2019 Harvard Business School Study, The Caring Company, indicates that while only 24% of employers surveyed believed employee caregiving influenced their employees’ performance at work, 80% of employees surveyed admitted that caregiving had an effect on their productivity.  In addition, 32% of employees surveyed indicated that they left a job because of their caregiving responsibilities.

Employers who take a proactive position on caregiving support – along with the tools needed for successful roll out and measurement – will see a direct impact on attraction, retention, productivity, and corporate morale.

 

If your organization is interested in exploring caregiving support as an employee benefit, or is ready to identify partners for a best practice roll out, please reach out to our team.

9 Areas of Focus for Employers Right Now: Parts 1 and 2

2020 has been a crazy year, and guess what? It’s not over yet. While we are still dealing with unusual circumstances and different challenges, we have all, to some degree, learned to roll with the punches over the last six month or so.
But as we all devised solutions for issues we did not anticipate facing, questions still remain. As we reflected on DMEC’s annual (virtual conference) and our discussions with our employer clients and vendors, we started jotting those blurry areas, and came up with nine items that are top-of-mind for benefits, HR, and absence management professionals.

HR Lessons 2020

  1. Telework

For the most part, employees that are able to telework are still doing so, a practice largely encouraged or required by employers. This is a safer and, in some ways, easier alternative and we are lucky to have technology to support remote working. Each employee has a different home situation, and their preference for remote working versus office working will depend on things like:

  • Where are their more distractions – at home, or at the office?
  • Do they have children at home that they are also homeschooling?
  • Do they have at-risk individuals in their home?
  • Do they have adequate space for a work setup conducive to productivity?

As teleworking continues for many employers further into 2020 and possibly beyond, companies need to be thinking about:

  • Do employees in remote areas have sufficient internet access?
  • Do employees have the equipment and amenities they need to do their job?
  • How will long-term or permanent teleworking affect corporate culture and camaraderie? What about the impacts on mental health?
  • Rethinking communications and management strategies in a virtual world.
  • Work-life balance issues and difficulties with shutting off work when working from home.

The consensus seems to be that regular communication, check-ins and different types of collaboration are a must. Employers may want to conduct surveys to gauge employee stress levels, the support they feel while teleworking, and family and home situations. One DMEC session reported that employers rated their teleworking experience as better than their employees did. Be sure to stay connected to ensure alignment.

Encourage employees to set boundaries and stick to them. Maybe they need an extended lunch hour to tend to their children’s needs, or they need a hard stop at the end of the day to ensure they disconnect from work, or they need 30 minutes a day to go for a walk to make sure they leave their house that day. Flexibility and compassion are key themes this year.

 

  1. Workplace Safety

To be clear, teleworking is strongly encouraged when possible, but depending on the job itself or the in

dustry of the employer, there are going to be people who cannot do their job remotely. When that’s the case, workplace safety takes on a lot more weight these days. Some of our recommendations are:

  • Creating a social distance plan, which could mean spreading out workspaces and/or designated one-way aisles for walking.
  • Requiring temperature checks each time an employee enters the building (this must be done confidentially and consistently for all employees). This might even include returning from a lunch or coffee break.
  • Installing plexiglass around workspaces.
  • Providing hand sanitizer, masks and thermometers for staff.
  • Installing antimicrobial door handles.
  • Propping doors open when possible so people can avoid high-touch areas.
  • Prohibiting non-employees from entering the office, such as vendors.
  • Implementing visual displays so people understand the proper distance to keep, where they should walk, where the high touch areas are, etc.
  • Assessing air ventilation in the office for possible improvements.

As a note, it is permissible for employers to require personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace, as well as to require testing for employees. In some cases, and when possible, some employers are going further and considering things like changing job responsibilities or moving the location of the job to a safer area. For example, perhaps you have a satellite office in a less infected region than headquarters that an employee can report to. Commuting concerns are something metropolitan businesses will need to address.

Some of these changes may be costly and timely, but some are simple. While the wellbeing of employees should always be top of mind for employers, there are other things at stake too. Failing to take preventative safety measures in the workplace could easily lead to workers’ compensation claims and OSHA lawsuits.

 

Stay tuned for #’s 3 and beyond…