Category: HR

Affordable Care Act and Benefits Compliance Part 2: Safe Harbors

Now that we’ve looked at the general refresher of how to stay compliant with the Affordable Care Act, let’s review the ways ACA makes health benefits more affordable through its three safe harbors. 

What Does ACA Say About Affordability?

Employers are required to offer health coverage to eligible full-time employees at an affordable rate. You need to look at what the employee pays for their own coverage on the lowest benefit plan that you offer. 

For plans beginning in 2022, the required contribution for employee-only coverage should not exceed 9.61% of the employee’s household income. 

Safe Harbors of the Affordable Care Act

Because employers may not know their employee’s household income, the IRS provides three safe harbors for affordability: 

  • Federal Poverty Level (FPL)
  • Rate of Pay
  • W-2 

Federal Poverty Line Safe Harbor

Under the Federal Poverty Level Line Safe Harbor, affordability is determined based on the federal poverty line for a single individual. Under this safe harbor, employer-provided coverage offered to a single individual is considered affordable if the employee’s cost for self-only coverage does not exceed 9.61% of the FPL for a single individual. The 2022 FPL for an individual is $12,880.

$12,880 x 9.61 = $1,237.77

$1,237.77 / 12 months = $103.14

Employee coverage for the Federal Poverty Line Safe Harbor is $103.14.

Rate of Pay Safe Harbor

The rate of pay safe harbor works great for hourly employees. Under the rate of pay safe harbor, affordability can be determined without the need to analyze every employee’s wage and hours. Use the hourly rate for the lowest-paid employee at the beginning of the plan year. For instance, you can use the lowest hourly rate at $11.50. 

$11.50 x 130 hours = $1,495

$1,495 x 9.61 = $143.67

The employee coverage for the rate of pay safe harbor for hourly employees in this example is $143.67.

W-2 Safe Harbor

The W-2 safe harbor works well for salaried employees, employees who receive tips or employees who consistently work more than 30 hours per week. Estimated wages are entered by the employee on their W-2 forms. 

It is a bit of a guess as to what W-2 wages will be next year. If the employee notes estimated wages at $20,000, this is the number we base our equations on. 

$20,000 / 12 months = $1,922

$1,922 / 12 months = $160.17

The base amount is $160.17 for employee coverage. This option allows the employer to charge more for the employee-only coverage and still be compliant but is sometimes a gamble because the rate is based on the employees’ estimated wages.  

How Can Cornerstone Help With Benefits Compliance?

Because the legislation is ever-changing, we know it can be difficult to keep up with benefits compliance information. AssuredPartners Cornerstone is here to help you make sense of ACA so you can keep your employees informed. Looking for more information on ACA? Here are previous blogs from Cornerstone on changing ACA and CARES Act legislation as well as previous appeals to legislation. 

Whether you need help with benefits administration or are looking to create a wellness program that meets your workplace’s needs, our team has the expertise to assist you.

If you have any questions or concerns about the Affordable Care Act and how it affects you or your employees, contact Cornerstone today.

Affordable Care Act and Benefits Compliance: A Refresher

The Affordable Care Act or ACA was passed back in 2010, but what affected you as an employer was enacted in 2014 and later. With about 23,000 pages of legislation, some aspects of the ACA are unchanged from the original law, but some look very different today.

As an employer, benefits compliance is necessary. Cornerstone Insurance stays up to date on changing ACA and CARES Act legislation and can help you stay informed of any potential appeals to legislation. 

What is Included in the Affordable Care Act?

Important components of ACA include: 

  • Dependent coverage is available to anyone ages 26 and older
  • No cost-sharing for preventative care services such as: 
    • Physicals
    • Mammograms
    • Flu shots
  • Medical loss ratio rebates
  • Enhanced preventative care for women
  • HSA & Health FSA limit
  • W-2 reporting for over 250 W-2s
  • SBC (summary of benefits and coverage) and exchange notification requirements

Before we discuss the employer mandate under the ACA, note that the individual mandate is still in place, but the tax penalty has been reduced to zero dollars, so for all intents and purposes, the individual mandate is not in effect today. 

Who is an Applicable Large Employer?

The employer mandate requires “applicable large employers” (ALEs) to provide affordable health care coverage to full-time employees or pay a penalty.

You are an ALE if you employ 50 or more full-time employees, including full-time equivalents, on average through the previous calendar year. You may be required to calculate each year. All commonly owned entities need to be considered in order to determine the status of ALE. Generally, if two entities have 80% common ownership, they would be considered commonly owned. Since this is a general rule, check with your legal counsel or CPA with any questions. 

Employers need to count anyone who works full-time as one full-timer. All the part-timer employees’ hours are totaled and divided by 30 hours. For example, an employer has 35 full-time employees and 30 part-time employees who work a total of 29,780 hours. 

29,780 hours / 52 weeks / 30 hours = 19 full-time employees

The total of 35 full-time employees plus 19 full-time employees based on part-time hours equals 54 employees. This measurement determines your status for the following year.  

ALE Requirements to Avoid Penalty

If you are an ALE, you are subject to the play or pay mandate and must do the following in order to avoid the penalty: 

  • Establish who is considered to be a full-time employee
  • Offer those full-time employees health insurance that meets “minimum essential coverage”
  • Offer that health coverage to eligible full-time employees at an “affordable” rate
  • Report offer of coverage to the IRS annually

According to the ACA,  there are three types of employees: 

  • Full-time employees who work 30+ hours per week
  • Employees who work less than 30 hours per week
  • Employees who work an unpredictable number of hours per week

A full-time employee is an employee who regularly works 30 or more hours per week — you must offer them coverage. Employers do not need to offer coverage for employees who never work 30 or more hours a week, but there are some employees who you don’t know how many hours a week that they will work. For these employees, you will need to measure hours to determine potential full-time status. 

You must establish a corporate measurement period and consistently measure variable hour employees to determine if they are eligible for health insurance. Employers will need to measure new hires in an initial measurement period to determine if they are eligible for health insurance. If these employees are determined full-time (if they work an average of 30 or more hours during the measurement period), you must offer these employees coverable for an established stability period. 

Most payroll platforms assist with this measurement process. If your payroll does not, please reach out to Cornerstone Insurance for help on setting up the best way to create a measurement process for your variable hour employees. Once you’ve established how many employees you need to offer coverage to, you will need to establish the coverage plan and affordability. 

What is Minimum Essential Coverage?

To be considered a minimum essential coverage plan, a health insurance plan must meet the minimum threshold of coverage as defined by the ACA. These include:

  • No annual lifetime limits
  • No pre-existing conditions
  • Must comply with MLR rules
  • Provide substantial coverage for in-patient care and physician treatment
  • Many others 

Cornerstone can help you provide a healthcare plan to your employees that offers minimum essential coverage and are fully ACA compliant

ACA Penalties — What’s my Risk?

With the ACA requirements, there are potential penalties. The only way you can be penalized is if an employee goes to the exchange or the healthcare marketplace and obtains subsidized coverage as opposed to taking your health insurance. The IRS section 4980H covers the penalties. 

The two questions employers should ask themselves are: 

  • Do you offer minimum essential coverage to 95% of the eligible employees (a)
  • Is your coverage offered at an “affordable” rate (b)?

If you can’t answer yes to part (a), the 2022 penalty is $2,570 or $229.17 per month per eligible employee. There is relief from the IRS for the first 30 employees. The penalty to 4980H (b) in 2022 is $4120 or 343.33 per month per employee who received subsidized coverage on the exchange.

affordable_care_act

The above image maps out the full process of how a penalty from the IRS is triggered. As the employer, you offer employees a healthcare insurance plan on January 1. The employee may or may not take your insurance. But, if the employee chooses to go to the healthcare market exchange for a subsidized healthcare insurance plan, this triggers an investigation by the IRS. 

If you are submitting your ACA reporting, you are informing the IRS who is eligible for what plans. The employee files a tax return, so the IRS knows what the household earns and ensures the plan you are offering is 9.61% of the household income.

If a penalty is triggered, the IRS provides form letter 226J to ALEs that may owe a penalty for prior tax years. This includes an employer shared responsibility penalty (ESRP) Summary Table itemizing your proposed ESRP by month. The IRS relies on the information from Forms 1095-C and 1094-C filed by ALEs as well as individual tax returns. If you receive a penalty, you have 30 days to respond.

What Can Cornerstone Do for Your Benefits Compliance?

As an employer, it’s important to ensure your employees understand their benefits. You are required to provide an SBC to all eligible employees at open enrollment, upon request and within 90 days of HIPAA special enrollment qualifying event. Cornerstone Insurance can help you keep your employees informed with updated benefit information. 

Cornerstone Insurance is here to offer you assistance with every step of the benefits process. Our skilled team can ensure you offer a healthcare plan for your employees that is ACA compliant.   

If you have any questions or concerns about the Affordable Care Act and how it affects you or your employees, contact Cornerstone today.

Health Plan Transparency Requirements Coming in 2022

At the end of August, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Treasury delayed enforcing previously created transparency rules for health plans. However, these health plan transparency requirements are now scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of 2022. 

There are multiple layers to the new requirements, and it’s important to understand what they are and be aware of how and when these new requirements will be put into effect. Our employee benefits company wants to keep you informed so you can help your employees be knowledgeable of the changes to their health insurance plans.  

What the New Health Plan Transparency Entails

Beginning in 2022, the new requirements for transparency in coverage will require health insurance groups to provide information about health care costs with in-network provider information, out-of-network provider information and prescription drugs. Transparency requirements aim to help keep your employees better aware of the costs to their health care. Here are a handful of criteria included in the new ruling.

Identification Cards 

An identification card will be issued to all participants and beneficiaries to include information about deductibles or out-of-pocket maximums for in-network and out-of-network care. It must also include a telephone number and a website for consumer assistance. If physical, the cards will have a QR code to access the website. Electronically, there will be a link for additional resources on the website. 

No Surprise Bills

The “No Surprises Act” addresses out-of-network care by a provider or a facility, including emergency situations. This requirement for all group health care options prevents your employees from receiving a surprise medical bill in an emergency situation or in the case of an air ambulance. 

If it is not an emergency, the facility or provider will have to send a detailed notice or an estimate of charges approximately 72 hours prior to receiving out-of-network care. Ensure your employees are aware of their right to know the cost of medical care prior to receiving it and protect them from any surprise payment that is a strain on mental health and causes stress and distraction.  

Prescription Drug Information

In an effort to increase transparency, insurers can no longer write gag clauses into their contracts with pharmaceutical companies. Pharmacies will now be required to share costs in order to help individuals navigate prescription drug costs which can be high out-of-pocket expenses. 

An annual report on certain information regarding prescription drugs is now required. It will contain the top 50 brand prescription drugs paid for by your plan and the total number of claims for each drug. This information will be reported to the secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Labor as well as the Treasury, but it will be available in a public area for your employees to access information on what is included in the group health plan. 

Accurate Provider Information

Effective as of 2022, insurers and plans will have to provide accurate information about in-network providers with verification of information and timely updates to any changes in provider information. Individuals who relied on inaccurate data and received a surprise bill from an out-of-network provider will be granted relief.

If the person visited an out-of-network provider, the bill must reflect the in-network maximum cost of service because the provider information in the database was inaccurate. The payment will be applied towards the enrollee’s deductible. 

If the cost is higher than it would be if the patient was in-network, and the patient paid the bill, the out-of-network provider will reimburse the patient of the excess amount with interest.

Making Sense of Health Plan Rules

These full health plan transparency requirements must be disclosed in three machine-readable files. The information will include rates on in-network providers for all covered items and services, billed charges and covered amounts on out-of-network providers and historical pricing on prescription drugs provided by in-network providers. These free publicly accessed files and requirements were set to be in effect January 1, 2022, and will require monthly updates. 

Educating your employees on these transparency requirements can set them up for success as they navigate the complicated but critical world of healthcare. Cornerstone Insurance Group is always here to answer questions and help you give your employees the best health insurance plan and health care possible. Do you have any questions or concerns? We’re here to help.

We know how difficult it is to navigate new policies related to health insurance and benefits administration, and we want your organization to remain as educated as you can be. Have questions on the new health plan transparency requirements? Contact our employee benefits team today

Topics: HR

Adapting to Changing Workforce Trends in a Post COVID-19 Environment

Coronavirus-19 forced us to time travel to a workforce that may have developed gradually over the next few decades but became the new norm almost overnight. We watched a rapid shift to virtual work and education as well. The recovery isn’t over, but businesses must continue to adapt to the changing workforce trends. 

Addressing Evolving Recovery Concerns

The workforce reacted and responded to the pandemic with unprecedented levels of flexibility, new partnerships and adaptability in just weeks. Businesses experienced rapidly evolving organizational priorities.

Given the severity, intensity and impact on both employees and business, the recovery for workforce strategies moving forward requires actions based upon informed and continuous reflection.

Reflection

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Index shows 65% of business owners were optimistic that the worst of the pandemic passed by mid-year 2021. But, employers’ are now reflecting on the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

The contagious virus is not necessarily the top concern for organizations looking forward. After almost a year and a half of quickly shifting and adapting to the situation, other issues like sustainability, navigating a hybrid work environment, and competing for talent are taking precedence.   

Employers are more vigilant than ever in reflecting on what has worked during the pandemic and which opportunities were missed. In reflecting upon the changing workforce, employers are bringing in the employees’ perspectives and concerns. 

Prioritize Human Resources

Looking forward, businesses are choosing different operational models and alternate resources to use dependent on the employer/employee situation. Businesses and employees are able to focus on addressing

  • Individuals or families contracting the Delta virus
  • Compliance with ever-changing laws and regulations
  • Job protection/reduced layoffs

These pressing business and workforce priorities pivot around human resource departments to address concerns regarding compliance for the safety and protection of their employees to increase productivity, so businesses can financially benefit. 

One of the major contributing factors to these concerns is financial stress and limited resources which affects employee productivity. A never-ending cycle of reflection on alternative options and prioritization is required to keep businesses moving in the right direction. It’s all cyclical. Cornerstone Insurance is here to help provide you with solutions and clear direction to create an exceptional HR team

Improving Employee Well-Being

Focusing on the physical, psychological, and financial concerns of your employees through employee well-being and benefits has a positive and significant impact on COVID-19 recovery. 

Flexibility

Employers need to recognize the diversity of workers’ individual expectations and support them in the transition to recovery, which includes being flexible. Workers may return to onsite work, but others may continue to work remotely. Some will adopt a hybrid approach.

Organizations need to help prepare employees with the skills and capabilities required for such a wide range of workforce approaches and practices to address a worker’s mental and emotional health.  

The evolving recovery will require a shift in focus to new priorities, new work routines and schedules. How organizations prepare and support their workforces will be a key driver to workforce performance and retaining talent. 

The Growing Importance of Benefits

Employers are challenged to attract and retain the workforce they need. Employee benefits can play a pivotal role because they provide protection and support when employees need it most. 

As we approach a new benefits enrollment period, now is the perfect time to reflect on what your employees utilize or require to address their concerns that could be impacting their productivity during this COVID-19 recovery period.

Custom Benefits Packages

Employers know  a benefits package that is customized to employees’ personal and household needs are: 

  • 18% more likely to be productive
  • 36% more likely to feel engaged
  • 37% more likely to feel resilient
  • 45% more likely to feel motivated
  • 54% more likely to feel valued/appreciated

Many employers can optimize their benefits strategy without significantly affecting the budget but reaping the tremendous impacts, and Cornerstone Insurance Group can help you find solutions

Clear Communication

Cornerstone values the importance of employee education of your benefits program. The value of traditional benefits like health insurance and retirement savings are well-known, but employees may need additional insights to help them recognize how other options can provide just as much support and enhance their financial security. 

Cornerstone Insurance can help you determine the best way to adopt an employee-centric approach to benefits as well as a clear communication strategy to help your employees reap the most from what you can and do offer. 

With a commitment to your team and your business, we can help you navigate the evolving recovery and to adapt to the continuous changes in workforce trends to emerge stronger than ever. 

Are you ready for your business to thrive on the “new normal?” Contact Cornerstone Insurance today with any questions or inquiries. We’re here to help.

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!

Flu Shots: What You Need To Know

Considering the recent events in 2020, it should be more apparent that the seasonal flu is taken seriously. With the COVID-19 vaccine still in preproduction stages, numerous sources are citing it won’t be available until late in 2021. While we are taking more precautions than ever before due to COVID-19, we still need to keep the approaching flu season top of mind.

Protecting yourself against the flu is more important than ever. This fall there will be two respiratory viruses circulating making it possible to contract a double infection. The influenza vaccine can minimize at least one of the potential respiratory infections. If you were to get sick with influenza your body’s immune system is weakened making it more vulnerable to a possible coronavirus infection. Besides protecting yourself, you help prevent the spread of the virus to your family and those in the community who may not be able to get the vaccine.

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the reports of people testing positive for COVID-19, without ever having any symptoms. The same thing is possible with the influenza virus, you can spread it without ever having symptoms of being sick. This is the reason healthcare professionals are required to get the flu vaccine every year, protecting themselves and the people around them.

Transmission

The main mode of transmission is by particles in the air and on contaminated surfaces, making washing your hands and using hand sanitizer important to stopping the spread of the flu virus. An infected person can spread the flu virus to an average of 1.3 other people. This number may be higher in families living together and those who are working in close proximity to each other. The virus can be transmitted one day prior to the infected person experiencing any symptoms and can continue to be contagious 5-7 days after the onset of symptoms. Individuals with compromised immune systems may remain contagious for several days longer than that.

Prevention

The most important step you can take to prevent getting and spreading the flu is getting vaccinated every year. Washing your hands and using hand sanitizer often is are also important ways to reduce the transmission of the virus. Take care to help younger children wash and sanitize their hands often as well. The CDC estimates that over 20 million people each year will contract the flu, however, it is estimated that the flu shot will save around 40,000 lives each year. Even if you are young and healthy, the flu vaccine can prevent you from spending 2 long sick weeks in bed and can save the lives of those around you.

Flu Facts

  • The flu infects an estimated 20-40 million people a year in the US alone.
  • Of those infected, over 61,000 deaths occurred in the 2017-2018 flu season.
  • There were a reported 600,000+ flue related hospitalizations in the 2017-2018 flu season.
  • Each year the CDC watches trends and tracks the different strains or mutations of the virus to formulate the most effective vaccine for the current flu season.
  • The best time to get the flu shot is early on in the season and as it takes up to two weeks for your body to build up an immunity to the virus.
  • Once you have the flu, antibiotics will be useless to help with symptoms. Instead, use of antivirals should be taken under doctor supervision as early as possible for best results.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we need to take care of ourselves and those around us. Be mindful of those who are more vulnerable, or those who can’t get vaccinated due to underlying health issues. Getting vaccinated helps everyone in the long run. For more information on the flu shot, don’t forget to check out our webinar on flu shots.

Navigating Multiple Leaves of Absence Requirements

Navigating the different types of leave available for employees can quickly get confusing. FMLA, ADA, Company Leave, FFCRA, PTO, STD, LTD – it’s a sea of acronyms, each with their own set of rules and guidelines that often overlap or weave together. Keeping track of the various types of leave available can be challenging, but employers would be best suited to strategize which leaves may be applicable to them and develop policies around them. Because employees will inevitably need to take time off, employers need to have a basic knowledge of laws and policies that protect both the employee and protect the company.

Types of Leave

Generally, when looking at the wide variety of time the employee can take off, employers should understand that there are two main functions of defining leave: How does the employee receive pay and How long must the employer hold the employee’s job and/or benefits? Both of these items are very clearly defined in the federal FMLA regulations applicable to employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. Outside of the standard FMLA, employers are encouraged to have a company leave policy that defines these same benefits.

Where FMLA protects the employee for not only their own health condition but that of their immediate family member, the ADA may protect just the employee by providing a reasonable accommodation, which could include a short-term leave of absence. The ADA doesn’t require employers to hold the employee’s job or their benefits nor does it require continuation of pay. However, the employee may be eligible to use Short-Term or Long-Term Disability along with company Paid Time Off, Sick Time and or Vacation time during this absence.

Because these leaves can stack together, employers need to closely evaluate every situation to determine what different leave options may apply.

What to Do Now

Take a moment to review your current employee handbook to ensure that you have a clearly defined FMLA policy if applicable.  Even if you are subject to FMLA, all companies should also have a leave policy defined for those employees who are either not yet eligible for FMLA or where FMLA doesn’t apply.  In that company leave policy, the employer can define whether the leave is paid or unpaid and how long the employee is allowed to remain on the company benefit plan during leave.  Additionally, the employer can define how long they will hold the employee’s job during leave.  It is important to be consistent with these guidelines to prevent discriminatory practices.

Returning to Work Post COVID-19

As more and more states begin to loosen their stay at home restrictions, the question many business owners have right now is, “When can we get our employees back to work, and how do we do so, safely?” Many companies were able to transition to a remote working environment and subsequently have seen their employees really step up to the plate and become very productive working from home. As a result, numerous businesses are making the decision to allow their employees to continue to work from home even as regulations begin to allow a return to work. St. Louis County specifically stated that if a business has been able to efficiently operate remotely, they should consider allowing employees to continue to work from home for a little longer.

Getting Back on the Job

However, not all businesses can operate remotely and may be eager to get their employees back to work as soon as possible. First and foremost, those businesses must follow the protocol outlined in the applicable reopening guidelines as directed by their states or counties. This could include limited staff or patrons in the building, or enhanced cleaning and employee health screenings. In order to effectively follow these guidelines, employers may choose to allow employees back in waves, or stagger office hours, thus, limiting the exposure each employee has to other coworkers. This may be a great solution for the manufacturing industry where employees work closely to one another.

Safety and Sanitization

Not only may enhanced sanitization be required, it can also help ease employee’s minds when returning. Sanitizing shared or frequently used work surfaces multiple times per day will help reduce potential exposure to the virus. We recommend providing access to hand sanitizer or hand washing stations for employees. Many companies are requiring all employees who return to work, wear masks and/or gloves to help protect themselves. Though it is not a requirement, it’s recommended that if the organization is requiring employees to wear masks and gloves, those should be supplied by the company. Furthermore, management should also consider putting new policies in place for all employees returning to work, so staff is aware of these expectations and mandates prior to returning to work.

Health Screenings and Considerations

As businesses reopen, they may be required to perform daily health screenings under applicable legislation, or they may choose to do so in an effort to protect staff. These screenings can include daily health questions to confirm the employee is not exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19 and has not been around anyone with those symptoms. It could also include taking the temperatures of staff or visitors. This may cause an issue with privacy concerns, so employers should take great caution with those administering these tests and protecting the data. Employers do have the right to refuse work to anyone who is sick with COVID-19-like symptoms.

Adjustment Period

The environment employees are returning to may look very different from the environment they left a few months ago. The dynamic in the office will be a little foreign and helping employees get back into the swing of things and adjusting to the changes, is important. Reminding and enforcing guidelines on sanitization, masks, social distancing, and health screenings can help ease concerns of employees apprehensive of returning. However, there may be employees who are simply too scared to return, and these situations should be handled carefully. Overall, employers should strive to provide peace of mind to know staff and remind them the primary concern is employee safety.

As we continue to navigate this uncharted territory as a society, we will start to learn more about what works best and create new best practices for our businesses. Below are some helpful links from the CDC and OSHA that will help you make informed decisions on how to proceed with safely opening your businesses and getting back to work. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.

https://www.osha.gov/pls/publications/publication.html#c19
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-small-business.html
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/general-business-faq.html
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/reopen-guidance.html

How To Support Your Employees in a Time of Uncertainty

WellnessTo say these are uncertain times is an understatement. COVID-19 has our nation on edge and your employee’s well-being and safety is your top priority.  Many employees are teleworking for the first time, isolated from co-workers, friends and family.  Disruption of their daily routine can cause anxiety and stress – physically, mentally, and financially.  It is imperative that business owners and managers step back, remain calm, and show support for their employees.
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HR Update: Coronavirus Information

As the world health community continues to closely monitor the Coronavirus, also referred to as COVID-19 companies are wondering how this will impact their employees and business. At this time, no one truly knows how severe this outbreak will be, however, given the uncertainty of Coronavirus’s path, we recommend taking proactive steps in your workplace.  This is not only to prevent the spread of illness but also to establish policies that define how you will handle long-term illnesses.

Protect Yourself and Those Around You

First and foremost, ask your employees to assist in taking steps to reduce the transmission of communicable diseases in the workplace. Employees should be reminded of the following:

  • Stay home when they are sick.
  • Wash their hands frequently with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Cover their mouth with tissues whenever they sneeze or cough, and immediately discard used tissues in the trash. If a tissue is not available, use the “vampire sneeze” by sneezing or coughing into their elbow versus their hands.
  • Avoid people who are sick.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces, including their phone, keyboards or remote.

Within the workplace, employers should take measures to routinely clean common surfaces like door handles, coffee pots or copy machines or possibly provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers throughout the workplace and in common areas.  You may even elect to offer cleaning sprays or wipes for employees to use to disinfect objects that often get overlooked like their telephone, monitors and keyboards.

Alternate Work Options

This is also a good time to evaluate travel and determine if it is really necessary. Although it may not always be possible, encourage employees to use telephone or video conferencing versus traveling to a remote worksite – not only could this save the company money, but it could also prevent key employees from becoming sick and missing time.

Furthermore, review which positions, if any, can work remotely. You may not have a policy that routinely allows work-from-home, but this could be something that your organization may want to consider, especially if someone does show symptoms of illness. Allowing employees to work from home may prevent the spread of illness through the department. Establishing a remote work program can be done by informing employees telecommuting will be considered on a case-by-case basis for positions with primary job duties that can be performed remotely.

Even with all these measures in place, it’s still very possible that employees will get sick. Take this opportunity to review your sick time or PTO policy and examine the option of granting additional time, or allowing employees to borrow time from next year, in the event of a serious health threat. Reminding your employees of the company’s sick or PTO policy is recommended because it is important employees understand these policies are designed for them to stay home for short-term illnesses.

These policies are in place not only so the employee can stay home to get better, but also so they don’t spread their germs throughout the office. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that employees remain at home until they are fever-free (100 degrees F or 37.8 degrees C) for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.

Also remind employees they should not report to work if they are experiencing symptoms such as fever (100 degrees F or 37.8 degrees C), cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills or fatigue. If you choose to send employees home who exhibit these symptoms, we would recommend advising your staff in advance that employees who report to work ill will be sent home in accordance with these health guidelines.

FMLA Guidelines and the WARN Act

Cornerstone also recommends familiarizing yourself with appropriate state or federal laws and your company’s policies concerning long term illnesses. If your organization has 50 or more employees FMLA guidelines prevail, but if your company falls under that threshold or certain employees do not yet qualify for FMLA, we recommend establishing a leave policy for employees who will be out longer than just a few days. Your policy should define whether the leave is paid or unpaid, how long the company will hold the employee’s job, and how long the employee will be allowed to remain active on benefits.

In the event COVID-19 escalates so greatly that it impacts business operations or global commerce, you may be faced with temporary shutdowns, layoffs or even permanent downsizing. Before making any decisions regarding layoffs, closures or terminations, familiarize yourself with laws that may protect employees in these instances like the WARN Act, which requires a minimum of 60 days’ notice in advance of plant closure or mass layoff. In addition to the federal WARN Act, there may be similar state or local laws defining notice requirements that must be adhered to.

We recommend establishing these preventative measures so that your organization has a procedure in place in advance of anyone getting ill.

For additional information, contact Bethany Holliday.

Topics: HR

Welcome to Our 2019 summer Interns!

A great internship is a first step towards a successful career, and we are committed to giving college students real, valuable experience in a variety of fields through our hands-on summer internship program.

Our 2019 summer interns bring a variety of business and finance interests and skill sets with them, and we are so excited to help them grow over the next several weeks.

Photo for Blog - Courtney

Courtney Long will be graduating in December with a major in Finance from the University of Central Missouri. She is from the suburbs south of Chicago.

Her long-term career goal is to someday own an investment property or to renovate a property – but before that time comes, she hopes to get a job in either the banking or insurance industry after graduation. She loves going on hikes, preferably in the mountains, but the Missouri Ozark mountains work just fine. She is excited to start working with such a large wonderful group of people!

 

 

 

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Topics: HR

Risks to Consider When Developing a No-Smoking Policy

Blog Heading 2 (15)-1.jpgWe’re all familiar with the down-sides of cigarette and tobacco use – it increases health risks, raises medical costs, and it often lowers productivity in the workplace. It’s costly for the employer and the individual smoking, so many companies are implementing no-smoking policies and even minimizing the number of smokers they hire. As a risk management and human resources company, Cornerstone Insurance Group decided to weigh in on this important topic.

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Employee Discipline and Terminations: Objective Disciplinary System

Cornerstone Human Resources blog image: Employee Discipline and Terminations: Termination Process Developing policies for discipline and termination is a great way to prevent employee claims, especially when the policies are clearly communicated to new hires and maintained throughout the company.

The experts at Cornerstone Insurance Group have over 50 years of experience in Human Resources and compliance solutions, and have seen how the lack of a solid disciplinary policy can negatively impact an organization.

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Topics: HR

Employee Discipline and Terminations: Types of Employee Claims

Cornerstone risk management blog: types of employee claimsAwareness of the various types of employee claims will help strengthen your human resources strategy and prepare your company for any possible litigation.

Employees can make internal, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or Human Rights Campaign complaints, or file a lawsuit against the employer with a formal Complaint and Summons. As experts in human resources and risk management, Cornerstone Insurance Group wants to help your team gain the knowledge they need to be prepared.

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Topics: HR

Employee Discipline and Terminations: Company Policies and the Employee Handbook

Employee Discipline and Human Resources PoliciesLawsuits are expensive and time consuming. When employees take legal action, it can also cause emotional discomfort and tension in the workplace. 

In hopes of avoiding any business interruption related to employee discipline, companies may discontinue a relationship with a troublesome employee immediately — but a snap decision can lead to more problems down the road.

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Topics: HR