One of the latest things trending right now in business is the importance of office culture. When everyone in the office is working well together, productivity rises and efficiency increases. Naturally, the opposite is true when employees do not work well together and the corporate culture suffers. So, what are these barriers and what can you do to avoid them?

According to an article titled, “8 ways to ruin an office culture,” in Employee Benefit News, the ways to kill corporate culture may seem intuitive, but that doesn’t mean they still don’t happen. Here’s what organizations SHOULD do to improve their corporate culture.

Provide positive employee feedback. While it’s easy to criticize, and pointing out employees’ mistakes can often help them learn to not repeat them, it’s just as important to recognize success and praise an employee for a job well done. An “attaboy/attagirl” can really boost someone’s spirits and let them know their work is appreciated.

Give credit where credit is due. If an assistant had the bright idea, if a subordinate did all the work, or if a consultant discovered the solution to a problem, then he or she should be publicly acknowledged for it. It doesn’t matter who supervised these people, to the victor go the spoils. If someone had the guts to speak up, then he or she should get the glory. Theft is wrong, and it’s just as wrong when you take someone’s idea, or hard work, and claim it as your own.

Similarly, listen to all ideas from all levels within the company. Every employee, regardless of their position on the corporate ladder, likes to feel that their contributions matter. From the C-suite, all the way down to the interns, a genuinely good idea is always worth investigating regardless of whether the person who submitted the idea has an Ivy League degree or not. Furthermore, sometimes it takes a different perspective – like one from an employee on a different management/subordinate level – to see the best way to resolve an issue.

Foster teamwork because many hands make light work. Or, as I like to say, competition breeds contempt. You compete to get your job, you compete externally against other companies, and you may even compete against your peers for an award. You shouldn’t have to compete with your own co-workers. The winner of that competition may not necessarily be the best person and it will often have negative consequences in terms of trust.

Get rid of unproductive employees. One way to stifle innovation and hurt morale is by having an employee who doesn’t do any work while everyone else is either picking up the slack, or covering for that person’s duties. Sometimes it’s necessary to prune the branches.

Let employees have their privacy – especially on social media. As long as an employee isn’t conducting personal business on company time, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with an employee updating their social media accounts when they’re “off the clock.” In addition, as long as employees aren’t divulging company secrets, or providing other corporate commentary that runs afoul of local, state, or federal laws, then there’s no reason to monitor what they post.

Promote a healthy work-life balance. Yes, employees have families, they get sick, or they just need time away from the workplace to de-stress. And while there will always be times when extra hours are needed to finish a project, it shouldn’t be standard operating procedure at a company to insist that employees sacrifice their time.

 

By Geoff Mukhtar

Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

Workplace wellness programs have increased popularity through the years. According to the most recent UBA Health Plan Survey, 49 percent of firms with 200+ employees offering health benefits in 2016 offered wellness programs. Workplace wellness programs’ popularity also brought controversy and hefty discussions about what works to improve population health and which programs comply with the complex legal standards of multiple institutions that have not really “talked” to each other in the past. To “add wood to the fire,” the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) made public some legal actions that shook the core of the wellness industry, such as EEOC vs. Honeywell International, and EEOC vs. Orion Energy Systems.

To ensure a wellness program is compliant with the ACA, GINA and the EEOC, let’s first understand what each one of these institutions are.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a comprehensive healthcare reform law enacted in March 2010 during the Obama presidency. It has three primary goals: to make health insurance available to more people, to expand the Medicaid program, and to support innovative medical care delivery methods to lower the cost of healthcare overall.1 The ACA carries provisions that support the development of wellness programs and determines all rules around them.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) is a federal law that protects individuals from genetic discrimination in health insurance and employment. GINA relates to wellness programs in different ways, but it particularly relates to the gathering of genetic information via a health risk assessment.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency that administers and enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination. In 2017, the EEOC issued a final rule to amend the regulations implementing Title II of GINA as they relate to employer-sponsored wellness program. This rule addresses the extent to which an employer may offer incentives to employees and spouses.

Here is some advice to ensure your wellness program is compliant with multiple guidelines.

  1. Make sure your wellness program is “reasonably designed” and voluntary – This means that your program’s main goal should be to promote health and prevent disease for all equally. Additionally, it should not be burdensome for individuals to participate or receive the incentive. This means you must offer reasonable alternatives for qualifying for the incentive, especially for individuals whose medical conditions make it unreasonably difficult to meet specific health-related standards. I always recommend wellness programs be as simple as possible, and before making a change or decision in the wellness program, identify all difficult or unfair situations that might arise from this change, and then run them by your company’s legal counsel and modify the program accordingly before implementing it. An example of a wellness program that is NOT reasonably designed is a program offering a health risk assessment and biometric screening without providing results or follow-up information and advice. A wellness program is also NOT reasonably designed if exists merely to shift costs from an employer to employees based on their health.
  2. Do the math! – Recent rules implemented changes in the ACA that increased the maximum permissible wellness program reward from 20 percent to 30 percent of the cost of self-only health coverage (50 percent if the program includes tobacco cessation). Although the final rules are not clear on incentives for spouses, it is expected that, for wellness programs that apply to employees and their spouses, the maximum incentive for either the employee or spouse will be 30 percent of the total cost of self-only coverage. In case an employer offers more than one group health plan but participation in a wellness program is open to all employees regardless of whether they are enrolled in a plan, the employer may offer a maximum incentive of 30 percent of the lowest cost major medical self-only plan it offers. As an example, if a single plan costs $4,000, the maximum incentive would be $1,200.
  3. Provide a notice to all eligible to participate in your wellness program – The EEOC made it easy for everyone and posted a sample notice online at https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/regulations/ada-wellness-notice.cfm. Your notice should include information on the incentive amount you are offering for different programs, how you maintain privacy and security of all protected health information (PHI) as well as who to contact if participants have question or concerns.
  4. If using a HRA (health risk assessment), do not include family medical history questions – The EEOC final rule, which expands on GINA’s rules, makes it clear that “an employer is permitted to request information about the current or past health status of an employee’s spouse who is completing a HRA on a voluntary basis, as long as the employer follows GINA rules about requesting genetic information when offering health or genetic services. These rules include requirements that the spouse provide prior, knowing, written, and voluntary authorization for the employer to collect genetic information, just as the employee must do, and that inducements in exchange for this information are limited.”2 Due to the complexity and “gray areas” this item can reach, my recommendation is to keep it simple and to leave genetic services and genetic counseling out of a comprehensive wellness program.

WellSteps, a nationwide wellness provider, has a useful tool that everyone can use. Their “wellness compliance checker” should not substituted for qualified legal advice, but can be useful for a high level check on how compliant your wellness program is. You can access it at https://www.wellsteps.com/resources/tools.

I often stress the need for all wellness programs to build a strong foundation, which starts with the company’s and leaders’ messages. Your company should launch a wellness program because you value and care about your employees’ (and their families’) health and well-being. Everything you do and say should reflect this philosophy. While I always recommend companies to carefully review all regulations around wellness, I do believe that if your wellness program has a strong foundation based on your corporate social responsibility and your passion for building a healthy workplace, you most likely will be within the walls of all these rules. At the end, a workplace that does wellness the right way has employees who are not motivated by financial incentives, but by their intrinsic motivation to be the best they can be as well as their acceptance that we all must be responsible for our own health, and that all corporations should be responsible for providing the best environment and opportunities for employees to do so.

By Valeria S. Tivnan
Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

— Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides, Now”

And like that song from 1969, it appears that most employees really don’t know cloud computing at all. In an article on the Society for Human Resource Management’s website titled, “Public Enemy No. 1 for Employers? Careless Cloud Users, Study Says,” a North American IT solutions and managed services provider called Softchoice found that 1 in 3 users of cloud-based apps (e.g., Google Docs and Dropbox) download the app without letting their IT department know. Cloud computing became popular a few years ago because people could store all their documents, photos, and other information and then access that data from anywhere at any time and on any device.

What makes this such a bad situation is not the cloud computing itself, but that the vast majority of employees lack any sense of cybersecurity. That same study found that 1 in 5 employees:

  • Keep their passwords in plain sight (e.g., on Post-it Notes on their desks).
  • Have accessed work files from a device that was not password-protected.
  • Have lost devices that weren’t password-protected.

Complicating this further is that the employees who actually do use passwords usually have weak passwords. That is, they are easy to guess (e.g., “1234,” “password,” or their username). Rather than leave a company and its network vulnerable to attack, some IT people suggest a ban on cloud accounts for work.

Security breaches involving a company’s intellectual property can be very costly. Sometimes referred to as “ransomware,” the important data of an organization will either be stolen or encrypted and will not be released until a fee is paid.

A better solution to a ban on cloud accounts would be to educate employees on the necessity for cyber security, train them to improve their online security habits, and remind them that IT rules are in place to make a company more secure, not make it more difficult for employees to be productive. Cyber thieves are clever and when they can’t break into a system using technology, they often rely on the flaws of human nature.

As we become more and more connected to the Internet, we leave ourselves and the companies where we work more accessible to cyber threats. It’s imperative that employees keep everything locked down.

By Tara Marshall, Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

Question: Are we required to allow employees (either exempt or nonexempt) to work from home if we must close the office due to bad weather?

Answer: No, employers are not required to allow employees to telework (work from home or another location; virtual work) under any specific weather conditions regardless of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) exemption status. However, employers may allow employees to telework. Company policy should delineate procedures for both teleworking and notice requirements when inclement weather affects the workplace; for instance, notice from the employer that the workplace is closed and notice from the employee that they cannot travel to the workplace due to weather-related or other emergency conditions. These policies should be in the employee handbook, and should also detail whether the employer will allow nonexempt employees to make up missed time.

Note that if the employer closes the workplace for weather-related reasons, nonexempt employees are not entitled to pay because such employees are only entitled to compensation for hours actually worked. However, an employer may allow nonexempt employees to use accrued paid time off so as to receive compensation during such an absence. If paid time off is not available, then the time off remains unpaid.

Alternatively, exempt employees who are able and available to work but do not work because the employer closed the workplace due to inclement weather are still entitled to their full week of pay. This is because the exempt employee is available to work but rather the employer made the work unavailable. As a general rule, if an exempt employee performs any work during the workweek, they must be paid their full salary amount. An employer may not make deductions from an exempt employee’s pay for absences caused by the employer or by the operating requirements of the business. If the exempt employee is ready, willing and able to work, an employer cannot make deductions from the exempt employee’s pay when no work is available. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor specifically states that an example of an improper deduction from an exempt employee’s pay includes deduction of a days’ pay because the employer was closed due to inclement weather.

Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

Question: If an employee has a small health flexible spending account (FSA) balance with a carryover to the next year, and the employee chooses not to participate in the new FSA year, can the employer force the employee to use those funds so as not to incur additional administrative fees in the next plan year?

Answer: An employer can prevent “perpetual carryovers” by carefully drafting the cafeteria plan document with respect to carryover amounts. IRS guidance allows carryovers to be limited to individuals who have elected to participate in the health FSA in the next plan year. Health FSAs may also require that carryover amounts be forfeited if not used within a specified period of time, such as one year. Note that this plan design requires additional administration (to track the time limit for each carryover dollar, for instance) as well as ordering rules (e.g., will carryovers be used first?), so you will need to carefully review the cafeteria plan document. Under no circumstances are amounts returned to participants.

According to IRS guidance, a health FSA may limit the availability of the carryover of unused amounts (subject to the $500 limit) to individuals who have elected to participate in the health FSA in the next year, even if the ability to participate in that next year requires a minimum salary reduction election to the health FSA for that next year. For example, an employer sponsors a cafeteria plan offering a health FSA that permits up to $500 of unused health FSA amounts to be carried over to the next year in compliance with Notice 2013-71, but only if the employee participates in the health FSA during that next year. To participate in the health FSA, an employee must contribute a minimum of $60 ($5 per calendar month). As of December 31, 2016, Employee A and Employee B each have $25 remaining in their health FSA. Employee A elects to participate in the health FSA for 2017, making a $600 salary reduction election. Employee B elects not to participate in the health FSA for 2017. Employee A has $25 carried over to the health FSA for 2017, resulting in $625 available in the health FSA. Employee B forfeits the $25 as of December 31, 2016 and has no funds available in the health FSA thereafter. This arrangement is a permissible health FSA carryover feature under Notice 2013171. The IRS also clarifies that a health FSA may limit the ability to carry over unused amounts to a maximum period (subject to the $500 limit). For example, a health FSA can limit the ability to carry over unused amounts to one year. Thus, if an individual carried over $30 and did not elect any additional amounts for the next year, the health FSA may require forfeiture of any amount remaining at the end of that next year.

Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

 The latest round of regulations in the area of wellness (what employers can and can’t do) is proving to be a hotly contested topic. Employers are eager to offer incentives as a way to both encourage wellness and also lower health care costs. However, employee privacy is on the line, and some argue, at risk. Even though many employers may never see the data collected, there is a philosophical debate brewing about what should – or should not – be permitted.

According to UBA’s new free special report, “2016 Trends in Employer Wellness Programs,” 67.7 percent of employers who offer wellness programs have incentives built into the program, an increase of 8.5 percent from four years ago. Major lawsuits are pending against employers with particularly robust wellness programs and the regulatory environment is becoming increasingly restrictive. As a result, employers are continuing to pursue wellness programs, but they are being very cautious with program design, avoiding implementing high penalty and incentive programs.

Incentives are the most prevalent in the Central U.S. (76.1 percent), among employers with 500 to 999 employees (83.2 percent), and in the finance, insurance, and real estate industries (74.7 percent). Last year, employers in the Southeast were the regional leaders in wellness incentives (75.9 percent), growing 24 percent since 2012. But this year, prevalence of incentives dropped more than 17 percent in just one year, perhaps indicating regional caution amid the uncertain regulatory environment. The West offers the fewest incentives, with only 48.3 percent of their plans having rewards.

Across all employers, slightly more (45.4 percent) prefer wellness incentives in the form of cash toward premiums, 401(k)s, flexible spending accounts (FSAs), etc., versus health club dues and gift cards (40 percent). But among larger employers (500 to 1,000+ employees) cash incentives are more heavily preferred (63.2 percent) over gift certificates and health club dues (33.7 percent). Conversely, smaller employers (1 to 99 employees) prefer health club-related incentives (nearly 40 percent) versus cash (25 percent).

The smallest employers (fewer than 25 employees) have seen significant shifts in wellness incentive design over time. Prior to 2016, health club incentives were on the decline and cash incentives had been increasing 80 percent since 2012. But 2016 shows a dramatic pendulum shift from 36 percent of plans featuring cash incentives in 2015, to only 16.2 percent of plans offering this design in 2016.

2016HPS_WellnessIncentives_111716.jpg

Also, dramatically shifting away from cash incentives are construction, agriculture, mining, and transportation employers (going from 63.8 percent in 2015 to 48.4 percent in 2016). The finance, insurance, and real estate industries offer the most health club-related incentives (50.0 percent).

Southeast employers, on the other hand, are shifting away from health club-related incentives to cash toward premiums, 401(k)s, and FSAs with nearly a 60 percent increase in this type of incentive (going from 47.1 percent to 74.7 percent over four years).

Offering paid time off (PTO), historically a seldom-offered wellness incentive, is becoming rarer with 4.5 percent of employers offering this incentive, nearly a 20 percent decrease from four years ago. The majority of these PTO-based wellness incentives are seen in the Southeast U.S. (13.1 percent – a nearly 50 percent increase from 2015) and within the finance, insurance, and real estate industries (10.6 percent).

Employers are beginning to use the regulations proposed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as their guidelines for program development, and the wellness guide provided by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) have re-empowered employers to implement premium differentials for wellness participation and cessation of tobacco use. However, many are likely wary of the EEOC’s new guidance regarding wellness programs that include health risk assessments, biometric screenings, and medical exams. How those regulations influence plan design remains to be seen

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

As an increasing number of Baby Boomers retire and leave the workforce, millennials are positioned to take on more leadership roles in the business world. Millennials bring with them a unique and evolving knowledge of technology and innovative HR practices that differ greatly from their Baby Boomer predecessors. As managerial roles are transferred from the Baby Boomer generation to millennials, forward-thinking businesses will create plans that adapt to the innovative processes and practices millennials bring to the table. Worthwhile risks and changes must be made to ensure companies keep up with their rapidly evolving competitors. To successfully transition millennials into top management positions, here are a few factors companies should keep in mind.

Millennials are technology-driven.

75% of millennials believe that technology helps them operate more efficiently in the workplace. Millennials are the first generation to truly incorporate technology as an imperative tool for maximum efficiency. Millennials look for efficiency, digital communication, and mobility founded in technology in the workplace, and use of technology helps facilitate innovation, engagement and clarity.  Baby Boomers in management who are getting ready to hand over the reins to their younger counterparts can facilitate a smooth operational transition by embracing new systems and processes led by technology.

Efficiency is key.

Millennials have grown up in a fast-paced culture where new technologies are constantly being developed, and because of this they find it natural to lean on technology to efficiently tackle daily work tasks. As opposed to previous generations, millennials are used to instant gratification and desire work to be completed in the most practical and timely manner. One example of state-of-the-art technology is automated task management systems which allow you to complete work ahead of time. For example, social media scheduling platforms like Hootsuite allow you to schedule posts ahead of time and select when you want them to post automatically. The automation process creates a more efficient way to complete time-consuming, yet simple tasks.  Another task management tool is Asana. Asana provides a single outlet for companies to manage projects, assign tasks and track progress, all through one system. Asana ensures a safe and organized portal for your company to complete tasks in the most practical manner.  Invest time in researching technological tools your millennial employees find helpful in their day-to-day work, and start implementing them now.

Digital communication is here to stay. 

Communication is vital to facilitating an engaged company culture. Being able to communicate well with not only clients, but with employees, is crucial. Millennials have grown up utilizing technology as a main form of communication, and they have mastered the art of making it work for them in the office as well. The mass amount of information that must be learned when implementing a new technology company-wide can be overwhelming, and keeping track of relevant news within your company can be difficult. To create an organized and effective internal communication strategy many companies are turning to social intranet software. This type of software creates a portal that keeps all of the company’s internal information in one place making mass communications easier to streamline. Digital communication fosters more efficient and timely transfer of information and problem solving. The impact of incorporating digital technology reaches beyond the office and can even help you prepare your employees to be social media advocates for your brand in their off time.

Mobility is the new norm. 

One of the most attractive assets of technology is mobility. Technology has completely disrupted the workplace by allowing employees to work anywhere at any time. Employees no longer have to complete their typical workday in the office. Working from home or remote locations provides room for great work/life balance and creative inspiration. A prime example of an effective technology when it comes to remote work and flexible hours is video conferencing through apps like Skype or FaceTime. By incorporating video conferencing, companies can easily expand their client base country wide and even internationally, at a much more cost effective price.

As millennials continue to take over the workforce and we see more innovations and improvements made to current technology, be sure your company stays up to date on the latest trends. Ensuring your employees are engaged with and fluent in technologies that are being globally implemented is vital to your company’s success in this digital age.

Thank you for putting the Plan Document together for us!  It is a big accomplishment knowing that we are in compliance!   Once again we are grateful and thankful for your continuing support and enjoy the relationship that we share.

- Office Manager, Food Distribution Company

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