New IRS guidelines for employees’ family members to receive health insurance premium assistance

The state of the health insurance market is constantly changing and those that are business owners or group plan administrators have seen how difficult it can be to keep up and remain compliant. We are committed to helping everyone stay informed to take good care of their employees. Most recently, as of October 11th, there were new guidelines released from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regarding premium tax credits for individuals that may not be the right fit on an employer-provided group health plan.

This change is intended to fix the so-called “family glitch†by extending marketplace subsidies to an employee’s household members that may not have been eligible before. In the past, eligibility was determined by whether or not the premium for single group medical coverage offered to an employee was affordable. Now, it is based on whether the premium for a FAMILY group medical coverage is affordable. For example, if the family plan offered by the employer to an employee is not affordable for them, their spouse and children may be eligible to receive a subsidy and the employee can remain on the group plan.

Subsidies are determined by the Marketplace, established by the Affordable Care Act, and are based on total household income. The plans, as far as coverage, remain the same but the premium may be discounted in tiers depending on their income level. This is reevaluated every year based on their projected income and tax filings.

So what does this mean for an employer? It doesn’t change anything for the group plan administration but it does provide another option for employees’ family members to obtain health care coverage that they can afford. Because this new regulation is focused on the family members of employees, it does not change anything with mandates for large employers to offer coverage to employees or their family.

If you are an employer that offers health insurance benefits, we recommend sharing this information with your team. We are happy to help guide them through the individual health insurance market, should they choose to pursue it for their spouse and/or children. Here is a copy of this new regulation if you’re interested in reading more.

Struggling with disengaged employees on your team?

It’s always fun and exciting to go through the onboarding process of a new employee. Both you, as the employer, and the newest member of team are excited, things are fresh and new, and the future of working together is bright. Of course the hope is that those feelings will continue, it will remain a good fit for all and everyone will benefit from the partnership.

However, sometimes the honeymoon phase wears off and employees can become disengaged. Sure, part of that is natural and happens in all aspects of life. But as Jon Gordon refers to negative or disengaged employees as “energy vampiresâ€, they can be detrimental to your team, clients, and goals as a company. This negativity can be toxic and needs to be addressed sooner than later.

So what can you do as a leader to prevent and recover from disengagement on your team? Here are a few tips we’ve compiled that may be helpful if you’re noticing the morale and engagement heading south.

First, defining and understanding disengagement is important. It can be cause by things such as lack of:

  • Communication
  • Recognition
  • Trust
  • Flexibility
  • Teamwork
  • Autonomy
  • Support

Next, recognizing and identifying when an employee is disengaged can be done by:

  • Poor performance
  • Missed deadlines
  • Lack of interest in development
  • Isolation from coworkers
  • Increased use of PTO

Then, it’s time to approach the employee:

  • Address the issue head on, skip the small talk but be certain to listen well, ask questions and document conversations
  • Discovering that individual’s motivation and what makes them “tickâ€
  • Analyzing where engagement was lost and why
  • Identifying adequate skills and a plan to work to their strengths, even if it’s a change in their role
  • Come to a mutual agreement and commitment to action

The final step in this process is to work together towards a solution that will correct the problem by:

  • Create a specific and realistic development plan that includes your investment in them
  • Set goals and hold each other accountable
  • Encourage participation with the team, while keeping the personal plan confidential
  • Give consistent feedback
  • Recognize improved behavior and performance
  • Cheer them on to their potential and don’t give up!

Should employees be driving their personal vehicles to the job site?

With a (thankfully) booming construction industry these days and growth even happening outside of our home towns, travel and transportation is more of a focus than ever. Safety should always be the first concern but liability is a close second.

Some business owners may question what the right thing to do is when it comes to employees getting to and from job sites daily. Should they drive their own personal vehicle? Or should you provide a company vehicle? What do either of those scenarios look like from a coverage standpoint to be sure you and your company are protected? Here are a few tips that will hopefully help clarify these uncertainties.

Quite simply, it is not recommended that employees drive their own personal vehicles for work purposes. Work use is typically defined by going to or from a job, transporting tools or equipment, and/or other employees riding along as passengers. An accident occurring in this type of situation could be denied coverage by the vehicle owner’s personal insurance policy as well as the business policy since that vehicle is not listed there and the driver is most likely not listed either.

If you decide to provide a company vehicle to an employee, there are a few steps you can take (in addition to adding them to your policy immediately) to avoid what we call “negligent entrustment.”

  • On the written job application, include a place to list all driving violations or accidents for the past 5 years. You should also include a section authorizing the employer to obtain and review motor vehicle records (MVR) on a regular basis.
  • Before allowing anyone to drive a vehicle for company purposes, have the individual provide proof of a valid driver’s license.
  • If the individual has lived in other states during the previous 5 years, obtain drivers’ license information for those states.
  • Require all drivers to report any violations they receive or accidents they are involved in as soon as possible. This includes incidents involving personal vehicles.
  • Check all drivers’ MVRs at least once a year.

Other important factors include:
• Vehicle Condition and Maintenance
• Driver Training
• Policy of Restricting Personal Use of company vehicles (including those vehicles that go home with employees after work hours)

Evaluating the current status of your company’s fleet safety and risk management program is extremely important. And a step further, making the effort to improve those policies where needed on a regular basis will help limit your company’s exposure to a negligent entrustment judgment, as well as help control your future insurance costs.

Have you thought about what HR really looks like after COVID?

Although the COVID pandemic may not be quite over yet, there are several considerations all business owners and anyone in HR should be thinking about. In addition to new processes, this is also a great opportunity to revisit current procedures to ensure things are operating as they should. Here are a few steps you can take to cover your HR bases today and in the future of our new “normalâ€.

Be sure you have a plan in place for things such as:

o Remote work and technology
o Policies on employee termination, furlough vs layoff, pay cuts, time off
o Return to work (after injury or exposure) protocol
o Safety measures and screenings
o Office closure in the event it is mandated
o Handling an exposure within the workplace
o Mental health support
o Communication methods with both staff and clients

You should also have a structured plan for how you will stay current with resources like:

o Families First Coronavirus Response Act
o Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act
o Centers for Disease Control, local and state government guidelines

This is extremely important in an effort to remain compliant at all times. Something like COVID is a very fluid and ambiguous situation with requirements as little as a poster you’re instructed to have up at your business’s front entrance so you want to be sure you’re adhering to all instructions given.

2020 may have felt like a bit of an HR roller coaster… or even a nightmare. However, let’s look ahead to 2021 and beyond. There is no better chance to prove your care and consideration for your staff than the way you react to a crisis. Your employees are watching. Your efforts and actions when they need you most will leave a lasting impression and be an invaluable reason they remain loyal to you.

What is your protocol for employees returning to work after an injury?

It may sound alarming but it’s reality that almost all employees of a company will, at some point in their career, either be injured or contract an illness of some kind. The way their employer reacts to and handles that leave of absence, as well as their return to work, will speak volumes. Studies have shown that employees feel more valued and want to work harder when they know their leader is in their corner and wants them back as soon as possible.

Establishing a solid, realistic and fair return-to-work program is extremely important for business owners. First and foremost, there are some legal considerations to comply with. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have guidelines in place to protect employees from losing their job if they are unable to perform, given their disability or injury. These, along with state non-discrimination laws, require that employers provide reasonable accommodations for employees returning to work but unable to perform at the same level they did prior to their injury or illness. Two important things for business owners to consider here are:

1. An employer cannot refuse the employee’s return to work unless they pose as a “direct threatâ€.
2. The fact that an injury or illness occurred does not necessarily mean they can no longer do their job, assuming they are not a “’direct threatâ€.

Deeming an employee able to return to work, either in their pre-injury/illness capacity or a different position, may fall on the employer’s own discretion, which can be very difficult. The most commonly advised strategy for business owners in this position is to consult with the physician releasing the employee to work, get legal guidance if it’s questionable, and have a plan in writing that is agreed upon with the employee. The goal is to bring the employee back in to the work force safely and in a way that is productive for themselves, the rest of the team and the company as a whole.
Developing a return-to-work program that will apply to any position is the key here. It will keep things organized, efficient and consistent. Here are a few tips in creating a return-to-work plan:

• Define which employees or positions this program applies to
• Document the job duties of each position in the company
• Reporting process — to whom, frequency of reporting, and if advance notification is needed
• Medical evaluation documentation and use of a medical provider process
• How physical limitations will be assessed for reasonable accommodations
• Process for limited duty or transitional assignments to bring employees back sooner than later
• Consequences if an employee refuses to participate in the return-to-work program

Good and open communication throughout will undoubtedly make this program a success. Don’t forget the details though… it’s more than just checking in:

• Date of injury/initial clinic visit
• Physician status reports and follow-up visits
• Contact between employee and manager or HR (phone calls, emails, etc.)
• Interactive process to determine potential reasonable accommodations
• Written transitional duty offer letter
• Acceptance/refusal of or modified transitional duty agreement

A great way to keep all of this together and organized is in a return-to-work kit or section of your employee handbook. Nothing shows more support from an employer than being there for your team in their time of need and helping them get back on their feet to be an asset to the company.