Author: jamal

Remote Work and the Future of the Workplace

As we’re now seeing glimpses of post-pandemic life, it’s no surprise that one of its biggest impacts has been on the workplace. While previously companies had to stay tethered to an office, many have learned how to innovate and adapt to a remote work environment. 

But with more individuals getting vaccinated and overall COVID-19 cases decreasing, business owners and employees alike are wondering what the future of remote work looks like to them. According to Gartner, more than 80% of company leadership say they’ll allow employees to continue working remotely after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

If you’re considering, or have already implemented, a remote work policy in your workplace, here are some insights on managing your employees from our human resources team.

Remote Work Environment Advantages and Disadvantages

The Pros

While it isn’t practical for all industries, remote work has been proven to reveal many benefits such as:

  • Increased productivity 
  • More flexibility (and a better work-life balance)
  • Reduced stress from commute
  • Possible cost savings (i.e. gas, parking, professional wardrobe and less office space needed, thus lower rent)
  • Higher company loyalty
  • Wider talent pool

These benefits are more likely to be seen from companies that are able to figure out a remote or hybrid model that allows employees to work productively and still meet its business needs.

The Cons

Not every company or employee has seen the benefits of remote working. Sometimes it can lead to:

  • Increased isolation
  • More distractions
  • Lack of community
  • Problems with communication
  • Trouble managing accountability

How to Establish Remote Work Policies

Even if your employees are working on a partially remote basis, there should still be clear policies and procedures in place 

Timekeeping

For exempt workers who aren’t eligible for overtime, this may not be as big of a problem. But if you have non-exempt employees who are eligible for overtime, you’ll want to be careful to continue abiding by FLSA rules.

Some ways in which you can keep employees on task is by having regular check-ins so you know who is working on what, with whom, and when. In addition, employers should make it clear if you have flex hours — where employees are able to work when they’re most productive — or standard business hours. Even with flexible hours, you can establish a period of time when you expect employees to be reachable. 

There are also a lot of tools that can help you keep track of remote employees’ hours. Many payroll systems or timekeeping platforms (which you may already have in place) have the option to allow for tracking hours, if you are not already doing so. 

Equipment

One of the trickier parts of remote work or a hybrid workplace is ensuring each of your employees has the tools and resources they need to succeed.

For many companies, it’s as simple as having access to a laptop. But other companies have to get more creative about supporting their employees’ at-home setups. Here are some potential items workers may need:

  • Desk or work area with sufficient space for equipment
  • Ergonomic office chair
  • Desktop or laptop (including a working webcam and microphone)
  • Mouse
  • Keyboard

Some optional items may include an external monitor, phone and office supplies, depending on your employees’ responsibilities.

Your company must determine how this setup is being provided for and make it clear what is still considered company property. You should also establish expectations of how to return equipment in the event of termination, which leads us to the next point.  

Discipline & Termination

Employers can — and should — still establish performance expectations of employees, regardless of the employee’s working location. Employees who are working remotely can still be disciplined for failing to meet your standards. 

With any disciplinary action, employers should document the steps of discipline, including the conversations with the employee and allow the employee an opportunity to improve their performance.  

Unfortunately, if the employee’s performance doesn’t improve, and you move to terminate, it’s best to do so via video conference. This is generally as close to an in-person termination as you can get for your remote workforce.  

Many employers will plan to pay for a courier to retrieve any company equipment or send the terminated employee a prepaid packing slip. Some employers may opt to hold final payment until equipment is returned, but this could be a violation of state law. Employers should continue to adhere to final paycheck laws in the state the employee is working in. 

Remote work is the future of working. How will your company adapt and ensure your employees are set up for success? Get in touch with your Cornerstone human resources representative to ensure your remote work policies are sound. Contact us today!

COBRA Subsidy 2021: What Should I Know?

It was recently announced that there would be a new 100-percent COBRA premium subsidy under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This coverage — which extends from April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021 — has been the source of a lot of confusion.

If you’re an employer, here are some things you need to know about the COBRA subsidy.

Who is Covered By the COBRA Premium Subsidy?

The temporary 100 percent COBRA premium subsidies cover eligible current and former employees. These Assistance Eligible Individuals (AEIs) are COBRA-qualified beneficiaries who may be eligible because they experienced:

  • An involuntary job loss
  • A reduction in hours that made them eligible for COBRA

This includes both the employee and their dependents. These AEIs should also meet one or more of the following requirements:

  • Be enrolled in COBRA as of April 1, 2021, or
  • Became eligible for COBRA between April 1 and September 30, 2021, or
  • Would have been eligible for COBRA on April 1, 2021, but did not choose to be covered or dropped coverage altogether.

Some examples of group health plans (GHPs) that are not covered under this subsidy include:

  • Healthcare FSAs and HSAs
  • Church plans that aren’t subject to ERISA
  • Retiree-only plans

Nearly all qualified beneficiaries aged 65+ will not be eligible for the COBRA subsidy since they are eligible for Medicare, but more on that later. 

A Note On Involuntary Termination

One of the biggest questions since the COBRA subsidy was announced was what exactly is involuntary termination? For instance, if a teacher is employed under a one-year contract and that contract has finished, is it a voluntary or involuntary termination? 

While we wish there was a black and white answer, this is entirely situational (for instance, was the employee given the opportunity to renew their contract and they turned it down?). 

We recommend staying in close contact with your legal counsel to ensure you’re making the right decisions for your past and current employees. 

What is the Amount and Duration of the COBRA Subsidy?

Coverage for the COBRA subsidy is at 100 percent, is free and is not taxable to the AEI. The period is a maximum of six months, from April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021. 

The COBRA subsidy will end for the qualified beneficiary if any of the following situations occur: 

  • The individual is eligible for Medicare (first day of the month on or after)
  • The individual is eligible for other GHP coverage (first day of the month on or after)

There are penalties if an AEI fails to notify the appropriate parties about their eligibility for Medicare or other GHP coverage. 

How Do Individuals Validate Their COBRA Subsidy Status?

Employers are required to provide a notice to AEIs and their qualified beneficiaries of the COBRA premium subsidy and the ways in which they may qualify. Remember that the only qualifying event for being an AEI is to have either been involuntarily terminated or had a reduction of hours. 

If this is the case, your COBRA vendor will send eligible employees a second-chance election where they confirm they are eligible. At that point, employees will fill out a form and elect their free coverage.

If an employee or former employee is an AEI who prepaid for coverage during the six-month COBRA subsidy period, they will be refunded for those premiums. 

If you’re looking for more information, check out the Department of Labor’s COBRA Premium Assistance FAQ page. 

Need help navigating the COBRA subsidy or have other health plan questions? Cornerstone’s employee benefits team is here to help. Contact us today.

COVID-19 Vaccination Programs in the Workplace

Now that eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine has expanded to all U.S. adults, many employers are trying to determine the best ways to disseminate vaccine information as well as face the decision of whether or not to hold in-workplace vaccination programs.

If you’re an employer considering holding a COVID-19 vaccination program, here is some additional information from the Employee Wellness team at Cornerstone Insurance Group that may help you in your decision.

Who Should Hold a Vaccination Program On-site?

While employers should strive to make vaccine information accessible to all employees, many workplaces should think about holding programs on-site. 

You may consider an on-site program if:

  1. A large number of your employees work on-site with regular schedules.
  2. You’re able to enroll within your jurisdiction’s immunization program as a vaccination provider (this may include conducting appropriate training).
  3. You have a workplace that’s large enough to accommodate a clinic while maintaining social distancing each step of the way.

How Do I Plan an On-Site Vaccination Program?

If you’re planning to hold a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at your workplace, there are a few tasks you need to prepare ahead of time:

Contact the Health Department

Your local health department will have the resources and information you need to set up the clinic properly and within guidelines. They can also offer guidance on how to make it efficient as well as eligibility requirements.

Consider Partnering with a Vaccine Provider

There are likely many vaccination providers in your community that help run events just like this one. They typically deliver worksite flu vaccination services but many have expanded their offerings to include COVID-19 vaccinations. These providers have trained nursing staff available, can take care of billing insurance for any administration fees and can also take care of reporting your workplace’s vaccine administration data to immunization registries.

Vaccination partners should also be aware of the warning signs of vaccine reactions, such as anaphylaxis.

Provide Easy Employees Access to Vaccines

If you’re thinking about hosting a vaccine clinic at your workplace, make sure it’s a day and time during which the majority of employees can attend (i.e. during work hours). You should also be mindful to make vaccine access easy for all employee types, whether they’re full-time, part-time, contractor or temporary. 

In addition, consider offering more than one opportunity for employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Mobile clinics should be able to return to your workplace multiple times on a rotating schedule.

What About Off-Site Vaccination Programs?

If your workplace is not eligible to host an on-site clinic — or if it’s not feasible or the best option — you might consider hosting an off-site vaccine program. This is also a good option for companies that:

  • Are small or midsize
  • Have mobile or remote employee populations
  • Have workers with varying schedules
  • Have a majority of employees who would prefer a community-run clinic than one in the workplace

If you’re planning an off-site vaccine program, you may consider working with a mobile vaccination clinic to set up at a community location. You can also work with pharmacies that are enrolled in the Federal Retail Pharmacy program, or local healthcare provider offices and health centers. 

How Can I Encourage My Employees to Get the Vaccine?

Whether your workplace is able to host a clinic on-site, partners with a community clinic or cannot do either, there are many ways in which you can encourage your employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

  • Allow employees to get vaccinated during work hours
  • Educate employees with the resources and information they need to know how, when and where they can get vaccinated as well as what they need to bring
  • Identify any potential barriers that are unique to your workforce that may prevent team members from getting the vaccine
  • Encourage your leaders to be vaccine champions and communicate with employees

Building confidence in the vaccine increases the likelihood of your workplace returning to a more normal state of being. Healthy workers are happy workers!

Still have questions about holding vaccinination programs through your workplace? Let the wellness specialists at Cornerstone help. Contact our team today.

What We Can Learn From the 10 Most Cited OSHA Standards for 2020

Workplace safety will always be a trending and important topic, but many companies fall short of achieving a hazard-free workplace. Each year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) releases its 10 most frequently cited standards from the year before. 

At Cornerstone Insurance Group, our loss control team wants to keep clients informed on how to maintain the safest and most efficient workplace possible. 

Take a look at what your company can learn from these common OSHA citations.

1. Fall Protection – General Requirements

Falls are the most common causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths. In 2020, there were 5,424 violations in this category. It’s imperative that your workplace is set up to prevent employees from falling off of overhead platforms, elevated workstations or into holes in the floor and walls. 

Make sure you review OSHA’s guidelines on fall protection to know the specific requirements your company must follow.  

2. Hazard Communication

With 3,199 violations, hazard communication — which looks at chemical safety — is an often-cited category for OSHA. The Hazard Communication Standard outlines how businesses must disseminate chemical safety-related information to its employees.

Read OSHA’s hazard communication standard to make sure your workplace is compliant.

3. Respiratory Protection

There are millions of workers in the U.S. who are required to wear respirators at work to protect themselves from harmful dust, smoke, vapors and other respiratory hazards. However, when employers fail to provide their employees with sufficient respirator equipment, they’ll receive a citation. This category increased in ranking from 5 to 3 from 2019 to 2020, with 2,649 violations last year.

Take a look at OSHA’s respiratory protection page for resources such as standards and training videos.

4. Scaffolding

With an estimated 65 percent of construction workers utilizing scaffolding, it’s vital that companies protect their employees from injuries and deaths. There were 2,538 scaffolding violations in 2020. Injuries often occur when the structure’s support gives way or an employee loses their footing. The most common causes of accidents involving scaffolds involve the planking or support giving way, or the employee slipping or being struck by a falling object

Consult with OSHA’s scaffolding standards to check that your worksites meet these requirements. 

5. Ladders

Working on or around ladders presents many potential hazards for employees. While in the top 10 in 2019, this citation climbed to the top 5 last year. There were 2,129 violations in this category. 

If your workplace requires the use of ladders, it’s vital that they are properly inspected, set up and used as intended. You can find guidelines under OSHA’s ladder safety requirements.

6. Lockout/Tagout

Lockout/tagout is commonly known as the control of hazardous energy. Energy sources may include electrical, mechanical, pneumatic, hydraulic, chemical and even gravity. While servicing and maintaining machines and equipment, the unexpected startup of stored energy can be dangerous to workers. There were 2,065 total violations in 2020.

Review OSHA’s guidance on proper lockout/tagout practices.

7. Powered Industrial Trucks

Commonly called forklifts or lift trucks, powered industrial trucks are used in many industries to move, raise and lower materials. There are many hazards associated with these trucks, and in 2020 there were 1,932 total violations related to their operation.

Take a look at what your workplace needs to do to adhere to OSHA’s powered industrial trucks standards.

8. Fall Protection – Training Requirements

In addition to the general requirements for fall protection in the workplace, OSHA also sets guidelines for employers to provide a training program for employees who are at risk. In 2020, there were 1,621 total violations of this safety category.

Get familiar with OSHA’s fall protection training program standards if it’s relevant to your business.

9. Personal Protective and Life Saving Equipment – Eye and Face Protection

Last year, there were 1,369 violations that could have been prevented with proper eye and face protective equipment. Workplaces that are frequently exposed to chemical, environmental, mechanical or radiological hazards should offer employees the right eye and face equipment.

Take a look at OSHA’s eye and face protection standards for resources to stay compliant.

10. Machine Guarding

Does your workplace rely on machinery to get tasks done? If so, your employees are at a higher risk of workplace injuries related to the point-of-operation and moving machine parts. There were 1,313 total violations of this safety standard in 2020. 

Learn how to control and minimize hazards with OSHA’s machine guarding resources.


Are you unsure if your workplace’s safety practices are meeting OSHA’s standards? Cornerstone’s loss control services offer expertise related to:

  • Safety program GAP analysis and benchmarking
  • Safety training for employees and leadership
  • OSHA compliance assistance
  • Workplace safety audits
  • … and more.

Let our specialists help your company provide a safe and effective work environment for your employees. Contact Cornerstone today.

Pharmacy Benefit Managers: What Are They and How Can They Help?

Prescription drugs can be exceptionally costly, and prices continue to be on the rise. According to Bloomberg, Americans spend an average of $1,200 per person per year on prescription drugs — more than anyone else in the world. 

But there are ways you can help employees drive these costs down. One of those ways is leveraging a pharmacy benefit manager to control your healthcare spending and make your employee benefits more affordable.

What is a Pharmacy Benefit Manager?

Pharmacy benefit managers (or PBMs) are companies that can help manage your prescription drug benefits on behalf of health insurers, Medicare Part D drug plans, large employers and more. 

By mediating between insurers and other members of the healthcare industry, PBMs can help negotiate customer contracts to get the best rates, ultimately helping employees prioritize their wellness without unnecessary costs. 

How Can a Pharmacy Benefit Manager Help My Business?

At Cornerstone, our clients that are self-funded or have an interest in creating a solution to reduce their prescription drug spend may benefit greatly from working with pharmacy benefit managers. 

PBMs are “behind-the-scenes” negotiators to control drug spending and lower medication costs for your employees. Our clients often see 30 to 35% — often as high as 50% — of their claims costs coming from prescription drugs. An effective PBM and management program can be implemented to save your employees hundreds of thousands of dollars.

How Does Cornerstone Work With Pharmacy Benefit Managers?

As an employee benefits company, Cornerstone works with several PBMs directly to ensure the correct fit for our self-funded clients. We will personally “shop” for the right pharmacy benefit manager for your needs.

You may have lots of questions regarding prescription drug coverage, such as:

  • How are these prescriptions covered? 
  • How are rebates from the manufacturer handled?
  • How do you determine which drugs are eligible for the rebates?
  • What type of clinical management programs are used in conjunction with the prescription drug list to ensure the best fit and correct dosage?

By working with insurance consultants like Cornerstone, we can help you have these conversations — and more — with your PBM. We have access to the tools, knowledge, expertise and relationships to ensure our self-funded clients have the right PBM to keep them as competitive as possible while offering high-quality benefits to their employees.

Cornerstone’s benefits administration specialists also have the technology that can analyze your business’s healthcare claims to know exactly how your benefits are being used so you can rest assured we’re making the best-educated decision for our clients’ programs.

Data analytics continues to be an extremely effective tool for managing claims within a self-funded client and having an efficient PBM can continue to drive your costs down.

Healthcare and employee benefits administration can be complex. Let Cornerstone’s experts help your company find the best rates so your employees can stay happy and healthy. Get in touch today.

What You Need to Know About COVID-19 Prevention in Your Workplace

After having lived in this pandemic for nearly one year, most of us are no stranger to the standard precautions: wash your hands and keep your distance. However, now that more and more people in non-essential industries are returning to work, there are health and safety standards that can keep your employees safe and productive. 

At Cornerstone, our loss control team helps companies of all sizes keep their workplaces as safe and healthy as possible, and COVID-19 has added a new layer to safety programs. Here is what you should know about mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in your workplace.

COVID-19 Prevention Programs in the Workplace

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has recently published guidelines for workplaces to help mitigate and prevent the spread of COVID-19. While these do not imply any legal obligations — though OSHA can cite workplaces under their General Duty Clause — they are standards that should be implemented to reduce transmission. 

Conduct a Hazard Assessment

See where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work. Involve employees in this process as they are often the most familiar with conditions within the workplace. Depending on your workplace, you may be able to classify workers as lower risk, medium risk or high risk. This will depend on their job description, their health status, and where they live and work. Consider additional protections for higher-risk employees.

Assess your occupational hazards to which your employees may be exposed, which may require the need for additional PPE or distancing measures.

Identify and Implement Tactics that Limit Spread

Go through your workplace and identify the measures that can be implemented to limit the spread of COVID-19. This may include:

  • Implement physical distancing in all communal work areas or install barriers where physical distancing can’t be maintained
  • Encourage or require the use of face coverings
  • Evaluate and improve (if needed) office ventilation
  • Offer applicable PPE to protect workers (this may be industry-dependent)
  • Provide necessary supplies for good hygiene practices
  • Conduct routine cleaning and disinfection of all spaces

Adopt Measures for Infected Employees

Unfortunately, you may encounter an employee who has been infected or potentially infected with COVID-19. Instruct those in that category to stay home and isolate or quarantine. Make sure your current policies do not encourage workers to come to work sick and that, when possible, your employees are set up for success at home or in isolated areas. If this is not possible, allow workers to use paid sick leave or consider implementing paid leave policies to reduce the risk for those in the workplace. 

If someone has been infected or exposed, conduct a more thorough cleaning and disinfection process in your facilities. 

Implement Protections from Worker Retaliations

Section 11(c) of the OSH Act prohibits the discharging of and discrimination against an employee for participating in occupational safety and health activities. In terms of COVID-19, this may mean they have raised a reasonable amount of concern regarding infection control in the workplace. Ensure that workers know who they need to contact with questions or concerns about COVID-19 and safety measures. 

The COVID-19 landscape — as well as its accompanying rules, regulations and recommendations — are still changing. If you have any questions on how to create a safe workplace, please contact your Cornerstone Insurance Group representative today.

What Can Benefits Administration Technology Do For My Company?

Benefits administration is a necessary piece to running a company — but it can be both complex and expensive. There is a good chance you or your human resources team are looking for ways to simplify the benefits administration process and lighten the burden of everyday tasks. 

That’s where benefits administration technology comes in.

Benefits Administration Technology: An Overview

In the past, in order to administer company benefits to employees, companies would have to embark on a very manual process, with a higher risk of reporting errors and employee frustration. 

But with benefits administration technology, companies can implement a simpler, streamlined solution to manage their employee benefits. The tools can automate manual processes and provide a better employee experience.

How Benefits Administration Technology Can Help

Here are other ways in which these tools can help your business run more smoothly: 

Reduce HR’s Workload

By automating processes — such as creating a checklist that sends employees reminders to enroll — HR can spend less time tracking people and information down.

One of the biggest problems that it can solve for HR departments is related to compliance around benefit enrollment. It’s much simpler to look through a system to ensure all employees are compliant than it is to shuffle through papers to do so. 

Benefits administration systems also provide the ability for companies to manage eligibility and easily add, change or terminate employees with the insurance carriers — without having to deal with paper enrollment forms. 

More good news for HR teams: these systems can integrate with various payroll providers which reduces the need for additional information input. 

Better Employee Experience

These systems can incorporate artificial intelligence to help employees make decisions that are best suited to their needs. This boosts their perception of the company creating a happier more informed workforce.

From onboarding a new hire, conducting open enrollment virtually or running different initiatives that are important to your company, this technology can increase the overall efficiency of your office. Benefits administration technology provides a single source that houses all benefit information, can simplify processes and boost ROI on your healthcare spend. 

How Cornerstone Implements Benefits Administration Technology

While human resources departments can utilize this technology themselves, you can also work with a group like Cornerstone to implement the tool for you. We walk through your unique situation and evaluate what solution would be the best fit. These systems are customizable so clients receive what is valuable to their organization. 

Once the platform is chosen, we then take over all of the heavy lifting required to implement and roll this out to your employees. In most cases, we can bring a solution like this to you through our partnerships with various companies.

Interested in implementing benefits administration technology, or have any other questions? Feel free to contact the employee benefits experts at Cornerstone Insurance Group today.