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Flexible and Remote Working – Powerful Benefits for You and Your Employees

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus and increasing mandates for people to remain at home, organizations are having to rethink ways to continue operations. What was once considered a nice-to-have benefit has now become the new normal for many Americans – remote working. What’s surprising to many organizations is how effective remote and flexible working can be. When we get back to business as usual, it will be interesting to see how many organizations continue to offer these benefits as our research indicates considerable value, even in normal times.

Our Research
Over the past few months, Fidelity Investments® conducted two studies on how employers and employees value their benefits. From the employer research that we conducted in 2019, we saw that offering flex-time was one of the most valuable benefits to improve an organization’s recruitment rates, as employees are looking to work with progressive employers that understand that having authentic work-life balance is important.

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Nontaxable Payments to Employees? A New Way to Help Employees in the Age of COVID-19

On March 13, 2020, the President issued a determination under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the “Stafford Act”). A consequence of that action is that payments from employers to employees that meet the requirements of a qualified disaster relief payment under Internal Revenue Code Section 139 are excludible from income, a rather unusual result, for the reasons discussed below.  Although Section 139 cannot be used to exempt income replacement payments (wages), other amounts may be considered exempt.

Background – The tax law has long wrestled with the issue of when various payments are subject to income tax in light of the general rule that gross income means all income from whatever source derived. Various exceptions to taxation have existed over the years for payments in disaster-related situations. A “general welfare” exception, for example, excludes from income payments made by a governmental unit under a social benefit program designed to promote the general welfare. This exception has been relied on in excluding federal and state payments to disaster victims. In a similar vein, relief payments made by charities are generally not taxable because the tax law views those payments as gifts.

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Emerging Family-Friendly Benefits Provide a Competitive Edge

It was just a few weeks ago – although it hardly seems possible – that HR departments had more mundane concerns on their minds, such as how to attract and retain talent in a time of low unemployment rates. Today’s pandemic concerns make these worries appear trite, but the tactics that forward-thinking employers are using to stand apart from their competition is worth celebrating. I hope these strategies not only give you inspiration but also put a smile on your face during these difficult times. 
— Be well, Cindy McGrath

It’s a bleak time with ever-changing news on the coronavirus pandemic. Human Resources Departments are under stress as they navigate the ramifications to their company’s workforce and personal lives. In the midst of this crisis, here’s some positive benefits news to consider when we return to our new reality. 

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World Oral Health Day Spotlights the Importance of Dental Care to Your Overall Health

Want to improve your bottom line and help your employees live healthier lives? Encourage them to take care of their teeth and gums. A 2018 study found that not being able to afford dental care was associated with more work hours lost to unplanned dental visits, and that cost is the number-one reason adults skip dental care1. These lost employee work hours can have a big impact on your company’s overall productivity.

March 20 marks World Oral Health Day – an annual reminder that taking care of your mouth is critical to taking care of your overall health and well-being, particularly at this time. As an employer, you can play a key role in helping to improve health outcomes for your employees by prioritizing oral health care in your organization. Solutions that make dental care affordable for employees, such as dental benefits that include preventive care, along with policies that make it easy for employees to make and keep dental care appointments, are a great place to start.

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What Employers Need to Know About Health Plans and the Coronavirus

We want to share with you our views on some benefits-related questions affecting group health plans recently posed by employers dealing with the coronavirus.

HIPAA in the Age of COVID-19 – In February, the Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance reminding covered entities and health care providers of their HIPAA privacy obligations. Because a group health plan is a "covered entity" for this purpose, the plan cannot generally share information with the plan sponsor/employer about who, for example, is getting tested or what the results of the test may be.

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Coronavirus and the Workplace – COMPLIANCE Issues for Employers

Employers are obligated to maintain a safe and healthy work environment for their employees but are also subject to a number of legal/compliance requirements protecting workers. For example, employers must comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in their approach to dealing with COVID-19.  

As the number of reported cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to rise, employers are increasingly confronted with the possibility of an outbreak in the workplace.

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How Managers Can Help During Times of Uncertainty

We continue to experience turbulent times, politically, socially, and economically, which are now further complicated by fears of a pandemic. What can managers do during these uncertain times?

A good first step for a manager is to look around his or her workgroup to see how people are doing. Does anyone look particularly “down”? Is there someone who’s been more affected by these disturbing times than others? Has someone experienced personal tragedy or loss this year on top of the uncertainties in the world? Are there employees who are struggling with work-life challenges such as child care, eldercare, or financial worries?

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Fighting for Universal Healthcare: A Call to Women on International Women’s Day

Healthcare is one of America’s most dysfunctional and confusing industries, and women bear the brunt of the problem when it comes to both access and treatment. Women, who make 80 percent of healthcare decisions for their families,1 are disproportionately impacted by the complex nature of our healthcare system—but are also uniquely poised to fix it. 

Through my work as the Founder and CEO of Day Health Strategies, my many years as a personal activist and now, as the author of a new book, Marching Toward Coverage – How Women Can Lead the Fight for Universal Healthcare,2 I endeavor to help transform healthcare.  I hope to do so in part by inspiring a groundswell of activism, led by everyday women, that can create the incentives our political leaders need to change course.

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The Buzz at Health Insurance Market Outlook 2020

I was honored to moderate NEEBC’s annual Health Insurance Market Outlook (HIMO) again this year. HIMO is a thought-provoking review and analysis of the health insurance marketplace from the perspectives of a national keynote speaker and a wide array of local, regional and national health insurers. 

This year's program kicked off with a keynote by Ellen Kelsay, Chief Strategy Officer and Future President & CEO of the National Business Group on Health (NBGH)*. Ellen provided insight into large employers’ views on the rapidly changing health care environment and shared critical benchmarking information on health care cost, plan design trends and employer initiatives and priorities.  Her keynote was based on data collected from the NBGH’s 2019 survey of large corporations in America.

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The reasons benefit communications matter — and how to go about it

Recently I was invited to speak with the NEEBC Mentoring Group for emerging benefits professionals about communications strategies, employee engagement ideas, and best practices. A few of the participants were struggling with how to engage employees in understanding their benefits – or even where to begin. I figure it’s always helpful to start with the most basic question – why bother?

Why Benefits Communications Matter

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The Stats Don't Lie...Workplace Accommodations for Breastfeeding Employees

Breast milk is best for a working mother’s baby. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) latest Breastfeeding Report Card, in the U.S., around 83 percent of babies are breastfed. The increasing trend and high breastfeeding initiation rates are proof that most mothers want and intend to feed their babies breast milk. 

However, as each month passes from the initiation, the number of infants receiving human milk drops, despite the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation of “exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.” These declining rates as time goes on indicate that mothers may not be getting the support they need from family members, health care providers, and employers to meet their breastfeeding goals.

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Win With Wellness -- Attract And Retain Talent

What differentiators does your organization tout when trying to recruit or retain top talent: a low-cost health care benefit, a matching 401(k) plan, unlimited time off? What about your wellness program? Wellness programs can transcend your organization, delivering a message to both potential job candidates and current employees that your organization is an attractive place to work. In fact, a well-designed wellness program can be the difference between signing an employee or sending them in the direction of a competitor -- or losing an integral member of your team to another company.

The quest to attract talent is at an all-time high. With unemployment rates hovering below 4%1, the competition is tough and employers are finding they need to get creative to hire the best of the best. Similarly, smart employers realize that hiring great employees is not the only way to win the talent war. With the average employee tenure at four to five years1, retaining top talent can be as difficult, and as important, as finding it. For industries most affected2 by the current shortage -- high-tech, information technology, software, life sciences, financial advisement and banking -- this is especially true.

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Navigating Transgender Leave

The societal understanding of what it means for an employer to be truly inclusive of all diversity groups has expanded exponentially since the turn of the 21st century. Employers are increasingly faced with multifaceted Human Resources related topics including cannabis, cybersecurity, sexual harassment, and a push, in many states, for equal opportunity for paid leave. Equal opportunity accommodations do not just vary between male and female employees but also between groups based on race, religion, and gender identity.

Gender identity itself varies extensively, but one concentration is the difference between individuals that identify as either cisgender (the same gender as their sex at birth) or non-cisgender (not the same gender as their sex at birth). The non-cisgender identity includes a wide umbrella of individuals who do not identify or present themselves with the sex they were assigned at birth, including transgender (not the same gender as their sex at birth) and non-binary (neither exclusively female or male) individuals. This particular group of individuals has historically faced major roadblocks in society and until recently, had not experienced inclusion and accommodations in the corporate world. Even with the progress that has been made, there is still a gap in today’s employee benefits environment for anyone deviating from “the norm”.

 


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What we heard from "Washington Insiders" at Washington Update

Attendees of the recent 2019 Annual Washington Update – Bringing Washington to Boston received a wealth of information and insights from a great line-up of speakers.

Rachel Leiser Levy, Healthcare Tax and Policy Principal at Groom Law Group, kicked off the program with a comprehensive update on the ever-evolving landscape of health reimbursement arrangements (“HRAs”).  After a fascinating review of the history of HRAs post-health care reform, Levy provided an excellent overview of the critical provisions in the June, 2019 tri-agency final regulations, published in response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13813 (“Promoting Healthcare Choice and Competition Across the United States”).  The regulations address Individual Choice HRAs – or ICHRAs – and Excepted Benefit HRAs – or EBHRAs.

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More than Just a Wellness Room

Fourteen years ago, I started my breastfeeding journey when I gave birth to my first child.  As an assistant vice president in the financial services industry, I couldn’t imagine how I could work 50-60 hours a week, commute an hour and half each way to work, and provide breast milk to my baby.  Fast forward to today, we are seeing so many companies providing exceptional maternity benefits such as work-from-home flexibility, wellness rooms to support new moms who decide to pump at work, breast milk shipping for travelling moms, and new parent gift boxes. After five years as a stay-at-home mom, I am so grateful for the second chapter of my career focusing on women’s health – specifically, the prenatal and postpartum time period.  It is incredibly humbling to see young new moms “want it all,” and in some cases “have it all.” 

The transition from maternity leave back to work is possibly the third largest life event, apart from getting married and giving birth.  It’s a time where career women, full of drive and ambition, realize they have been given the gift of motherhood, and one of the many job requirements is to feed their babies in whichever way, breast milk or formula, is best for them and their family.  Today, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)1, 84% of moms choose to breastfeed.  And although each mom’s goals are personal and most often kept within their most trusted circle of family and friends, it is often a goal that aligns with the recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatric – 6 months of exclusive breast milk and 12 months of breastfeeding.  So here in lies the problem…maternity leave and returning to work straddles that goal.  As a result, the breastfeeding rate at six months postpartum drops to 57% according to the CDC Breastfeeding Report Card1.

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How Benefits Technology Can Transform the Annual Enrollment Experience & Improve Business Outcomes

As planning for Annual Enrollment gets into full swing for many employers, setting goals around benefits choice-making and delivery success makes sense. As part of offering benefits that meet larger organizational goals, HR pros should think critically and strategically about how they are connecting benefits to both employees and their own departments and expect a higher level of function and experience from their benefits technology solutions moving into this year’s Annual Enrollment and beyond.

To paraphrase Tennyson very loosely, at this point in the year, the thoughts of many HR pros turn to Annual Enrollment (AE). AE is effectively the year’s “main event.” The spotlight is on, and it’s time to shine.

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MA FMLA Regulation Update - May 2019

Exemption and Workforce Notification Deadlines Extended

The Department of Family and Medical Leave has announced that exemption and workforce notification deadlines have been extended.

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HRA Mutations: What do the new HRA rules say?

What are HRAs under current rules?

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Seven Steps for Developing a Corporate, Family-Caregiving Strategy

Over 43 million people in the United States currently provide unpaid care to a family member; 52 percent of these caregivers are also employed full- or part-time. The demands placed on caregivers are often overwhelming, exhausting, and unsustainable. Many experts have identified this as an impending public health crisis. 

Fortunately, caregiver advocates have been pushing for public policies to be created at a national level to address this growing stressor on Americans. With the recent enactment of RAISE— the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage Family Caregivers Act—a range of diverse stakeholders including family caregivers, healthcare and social service providers, and employers will soon come together to develop a national family caregiving strategic plan.

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5 Proven Takeaways for Employee Engagement Success from the 2019 Summit and Trade Show (Afternoon Sessions)

There’s a lot of buzz about #EmployeeEngagement, but what does it look like? There are a variety of descriptions, but I like Gallup’s: engaged employees are enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.

High levels of engagement promote retention of talent and foster customer loyalty while improving both organizational performance and stakeholder value.

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