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Ask the Experts: Employee on modified assignment due to a workers’ comp claim | Maryland Benefit Advisors

 

Question: We have an employee who is on modified assignment due to a workers’ comp claim. Do we have to pay for the time spent away from work for doctor appointments or does the employee have to use PTO time?

Answer: You may not necessarily have to pay for the time an employee spends at the doctor’s office, but rules vary based on state workers’ compensation laws governing the injured or ill worker’s time off and the details of the situation. The first thing we recommend is determining how your state workers’ compensation laws address this subject.

Typically, when an employee experiences a work-related injury or illness, the employee is referred to a medical provider selected by the employer. When an employee receives medical attention at your direction during normal working hours on working days, it constitutes hours worked. Hours worked are compensable hours therefore you would pay for time spent at those doctor’s appointments.

If, on the other hand, the visits are to the employee’s personal doctor, and the visits are not at your direction, then the time spent away does not qualify as compensable hours. In this case, you treat the absences for medical appointments the same way you treat time away from work for medical absences for any other employee. You should refer to your company’s policy because this time may or may not be compensable. If the time is not compensable, the employee may use paid time off (PTO) or sick leave to go to a doctor’s appointment. This is permissible if your employee is not using PTO while receiving workers’ compensation benefits.

To reiterate, policies regarding employee absences for medical treatment should be governed by your state’s applicable laws and documented in your company policies and handbook. Now is the time to update your policies and handbook if they don’t contain this information. If applicable, review and follow your collective bargaining agreement covering payments for workplace injuries and illnesses. Finally, as an extra precaution, it is always a good idea to consult your counsel with questions regarding workers’ compensation and other employee benefits and leave concerns.

 

Originally posted by www.ThinkHR.com

How to Make the Most Out of Your FSA at Year-End | Maryland Benefit Advisors

As 2017 comes to a close, it’s time to act on the money sitting in your Flexible Spending/Savings Account (FSA). Unlike a Health Savings Account or HSA, pre-taxed funds contributed to an FSA are lost at the end of the year if an employee doesn’t use them, and an employer doesn’t adopt a carryover policy.  It’s to your advantage to review the various ways you can make the most out of your FSA by year-end.

Book Those Appointments

One of the first things you should do is get those remaining appointments booked for the year. Most medical/dental/vision facilities book out a couple of months in advance, so it’s key to get in now to use up those funds.

 

Look for FSA-Approved Everyday Health Care Products

Many drugstores will often advertise FSA-approved products in their pharmacy area, within a flyer, or on their website. These products are usually tagged as “FSA approved”. Many of these products include items that monitor health and wellness – like blood pressure and diabetic monitors – to everyday healthcare products like children’s OTC meds, bandages, contact solution, and certain personal care items. If you need to use the funds up before the end of the year, it’s time to take a trip to your local drugstore and stock up on these items.

Know What’s Considered FSA-Eligible

Over the last several years, the IRS has loosened the guidelines on what is considered eligible under a FSA as more people became concerned about losing the money they put into these plans. There are many items that are considered FSA-eligible as long as a prescription or a doctor’s note is provided or kept on file. Here are a few to consider:

Acupuncture. Those who suffer from chronic neck or back pain, infertility, depression/anxiety, migraines or any other chronic illness or condition, Eastern medicine may be the way to go. Not only are treatments relatively inexpensive, but this 3,000 year old practice is recognized by the U.S. National Institute of Health and is an eligible FSA expense.

Dental/Vision Procedures. Dental treatment can be expensive—think orthodontia and implants. While many employers may offer some coverage, it’s a given there will be out-of-pocket costs you’ll incur. And, eye care plans won’t cover the cost of LASIK, but your FSA will. So, if you’ve been wanting to correct your vision without the aid of glasses or contacts, or your needing to get that child braces, using those FSA funds is the way to go.

Health-boosting Supplements. While you cannot just walk into any health shop and pick up performance-enhancing powder or supplements and pay with your FSA card, your doctor may approve certain supplements and alternative options if they deem it to benefit your health and well-being. A signed doctor’s note will make these an FSA-eligible expense.

Smoking-cessation and Weight-Loss Programs. If your doctor approves you for one of these programs with a doctor’s note deeming it’s medically necessary to maintain your health, certain program costs can be reimbursed under an FSA.

 

Talk to Your HR Department

When the IRS loosened guidelines a few years ago, they also made it possible for participants to carry over $500 to the next year. Ask Human Resources if your employer offers this, or if they provide a grace period (March 15 of the following year) to turn in receipts and use up funds. Employers can only adopt one of these two policies though.

Plan for the Coming Year

Analyze the out-of-pocket expenses you incurred this year and make the necessary adjustments to allocate what you believe you’ll need for the coming year. Take advantage of the slightly higher contribution limit for 2018.  If your company offers a FSA that covers dependent care, familiarize yourself with those eligible expenses and research whether it would be to your advantage to contribute to as well.

 

Flexible Spending/Saving Accounts can be a great employee benefit offering tax advantages for employees that have a high-deductible plan or use a lot of medical. As a participant, using the strategies listed above will help you make the most out of your FSA.

 

Ask the Experts: Can a well qualified older candidate fit on a much younger team? | Maryland Benefit Advisors

Question: We recently interviewed an older candidate for a position. She’s well qualified, but the team she would be working with is made up of people who are much younger, and we are worried about how she will fit in. Can the criteria to hire for cultural fit outweigh potential age discrimination concerns?

Answer: Your obligations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that protects workers from discrimination on the basis of age still apply, and you should weigh any employment decisions you make based on nondiscriminatory factors that include the applicant’s ability to do the job over age or generational concerns. While you should certainly think about company and even team culture when considering new hires, you may be putting the cart before the horse by worrying about how this new employee might fit, or not fit, with her new team. And, you might be overlooking the notion that older workers and millennials have more in common than you think.

For example, older workers may appreciate flexible work hours or alternative working arrangements, like many younger people in the workforce. Their responsibilities to children in the home may be done, while their younger counterparts may be pre-child-rearing stage. Older workers’ life-long experience, along with their work experience, may be highly valued and respected on a younger team. Older workers may be driven to learn new skills and new ways of working, just like their younger counterparts.

The experience of learning isn’t just about your older worker teaching or mentoring her younger teammates, however. Older employees benefit from working with younger generations in many ways, such as learning new technology, expanding mindsets to think more out-of-the-box when problem solving, and even finding encouragement to learn new skills and to think more creatively.

Adding a new employee of any age will pose challenges to a well-established team. If your candidate has the experience and the drive that will fit the position, assume all involved will enter into the relationship with open minds and will listen and learn from each other.

Originally posted by www.ThinkHR.com

IRS Announces 2018 Retirement Plan Contribution Limits | Maryland Benefit Advisors

On October 19, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Notice 2017-64 announcing cost-of-living adjustments affecting dollar limitations for pension plans and other retirement-related items. The following is a summary of the limits for tax year 2018.

For 401(k), 403(b), and most 457 plans and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plans:

  • The elective deferral (contribution) limit increases to $18,500 for 2018 (from $18,000 for 2017).
  • The catch-up contribution limit for employees aged 50 and over who participate in these plans remains at $6,000.

For individual retirement arrangements (IRAs):

  • The limit on annual contributions remains unchanged at $5,500 for 2018.
  • The additional catch-up contribution limit for individuals aged 50 and over is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $1,000 for 2018.

For simplified employee pension (SEP) IRAs and individual/solo 401(k) plans:

  • Elective deferrals increase to $55,000 for 2018, based on an annual compensation limit of $275,000 (up from the 2017 amounts of $54,000 and $270,000).
  • The minimum compensation that may be required for participation in a SEP remains unchanged at $600 for 2018.

For savings incentive match plan for employees (SIMPLE) IRAs:

  • The contribution limit on SIMPLE IRA retirement accounts remains unchanged at $12,500 for 2018.
  • The SIMPLE catch-up limit remains unchanged at $3,000 for 2018.

For defined benefit plans:

  • The basic limitation on the annual benefits under a defined benefit plan is increased to $220,000 for 2018 (from $215,000 for 2017).

Other changes:

  • Highly-compensated and key employee thresholds:
    • The threshold for determining “highly compensated employees” remains unchanged at $120,000 for 2018.
    • The threshold for officers who are “key employees” in a top-heavy plan remains unchanged at $175,000 for 2018.
  • Social Security cost of living adjustment: In a separate announcement, the Social Security Administration stated that the taxable wage base will increase to $128,700 for 2018, an increase of $1,500 from the 2017 taxable wage base of $127,200. Thus, with respect to higher-income employees, the maximum Social Security tax liability will increase slightly for both the employee and employer.

The chart below summarizes some of the more common adjustments to employer-sponsored retirement plans.

 

 

Originally posted by www.ThinkHR.com

Are You Ready to Electronically Report Injuries and Illnesses to OSHA? | Maryland Benefit Advisors

December 1, 2017 is the deadline for certain employers to use the Occupational Safety and Health Agency’s (OSHA) Injury Tracking Application (ITA) portal to report information from their 2016 Form 300A regarding employee illnesses and injuries. We previously reported (Breach Forces OSHA to Shut Down Reporting Portal) that OSHA suspended employer reporting through the ITA portal in August due to a possible security breach; however, the ITA portal is currently open for reporting.

OSHA announced that it is considering a proposed rule to modify the final rule on tracking and reporting illnesses, which could change some aspects of electronic reporting. Key topics for consideration include not making the reports public and eliminating the rule’s anti-retaliation provisions. At this point, however, there is no timeline for rule changes or any indication that electronic reporting will not be enforced beginning on December 1.

With just over a month before the reporting deadline, impacted employers are encouraged to review electronic reporting requirements in order to complete the online reporting process on time. Here is a summary of requirements:

Who must comply with the December 1, 2017 deadline

  • Most establishments with 250 or more employees that are currently required to keep OSHA injury and illness records.
  • Employers with 20-249 employees from certain industries with historically high rates of occupational injuries (high-risk industries) and illnesses.

States exempt from electronic reporting

Some states with OSHA-approved state plans have not yet adopted a requirement that illness and injury reports be submitted electronically. Establishments in the following states are currently not required to submit their reports using the ITA portal:

  • California
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

Establishments in these states may contact their state plan for more information about reporting requirements.

State and local governments exempt from electronic reporting

State and local government establishments in the following states with OSHA-approved state programs have not adopted OSHA’s final rule requiring electronic reporting of illness and injury and are not required to submit their reports through the electronic portal:

  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • New Jersey
  • New York

How to submit data and get help

OSHA’s ITA portal offers three options for submitting data. Employers can:

  • Manually enter data on the site;
  • Upload a comma separated values (CSV) file; or
  • Transmit records electronically from an automated recordkeeping system using an application programming interface (API).

OSHA offers instructions for both the CSV and API processes as well as frequently asked questions related to the reporting process.

How long submission takes

For employers with 20-249 employees who are required to report, OHSA estimates that it will take approximately 20 minutes to complete the reporting process.

For employers with 250 or more employees, OSHA estimates it will take 32 minutes to complete the reporting process.

Additional reporting requirements will be rolled out over the next two years for impacted employers.

 

By Nicole Quinn-Gato

Originally posted by www.ThinkHR.com

It’s Open Enrollment Time! | Maryland Benefit Advisors

Fall.  With it comes cooler temperatures’, falling leaves, warm seasonal scents like turkey and pumpkin pie, and Open Enrollment.  It goes without saying; employees who understand the effectiveness of their benefits are much more pleased with those packages, happier with their employers, and more engaged in their work. So, as your company gears up for a new year of navigating Open Enrollment, here are a few points to keep in mind to make the process smoother for both employees and your benefits department. Bonus: it will lighten the load for both parties alike during an already stress-induced season.

Communicate Open Enrollment Using a Variety of Mediums

Advertise 2018 benefit changes to employees by using a variety of mediums. The more reminders and explanation of benefits staff members have using more than one mode of media, the more likely employees will go into Open Enrollment with more knowledge of your company’s benefit options and when they need to have these options completed for the new year.

  • Consider explainer videos to simplify the amount of emails and paperwork individuals need to review come Open Enrollment time. These videos can increase the bottom line as well, eliminating the high cost of print material.
  • Opt for placards placed throughout your high-traffic areas. Communicate benefit options and remind employees of Open Enrollment dates for the new year by posting in such areas as the lobby, break room and bathroom stalls.
  • Choose SMS texting. Today, over 97% of individuals use text. Ninety-eight percent of those that use text open messages within the first three minutes of receiving them; 6-8 times higher than the engagement rate for email. Delivering a concise message to employees’ mobile devices creates more touch points along the Open Enrollment journey. The key, however, is making it quick so as to entice your employees to take action.
  • Promote apps and in-app tools. Push notifications and apps like Remind 101 can help drive employee engagement during Open Enrollment season simply by providing short messages reminding them to enroll. Notifications like these can also be tailored to unique employee groups based on location, job level, eligibility status and more.

Utilize Mobile Apps and Web Portals for Open Enrollment

Now that your company has communication down pat for Open Enrollment, simplify the arduous task employees have of enrolling for the coming year by going paperless. Utilize web portals through benefit brokers and companies like ADP to eliminate the hassle of employees having to fill out paperwork both at renewal, and at the time of hire.  With nearly three quarters of individuals in the United States checking their phone once an hour and 90% percent of this time is spent using one app or another as a main source of communication, mobile apps can make benefits engagement much easier due to the anywhere/anytime accessibility they offer.

The personal perks are for employees are great too! Staff members with a major lifestyle event can make benefit adjustments quickly with the ease of mobile apps.  Employees recognize this valuable and time-saving trend and enjoy having this information at their fingertips.

Open Enrollment season can be a stressful time but hopefully these tips will help for a smoother transition into the next year for your business. Simple things like using explainer videos, placing reminders in high traffic areas and utilizing mobile apps and text messaging can save time and stress in the long run for your employees and benefit department.

3 Ways Life Insurance Can Help Maximize Your Retirement | Maryland Benefit Advisors

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who owns a permanent life insurance policy (or are thinking about getting one!) you’ve probably done it primarily to protect your loved ones. But over time, many of your financial obligations may have ended. That’s when your policy can take on a new life—as a powerful tool to make your retirement more secure and enjoyable.

Permanent life insurance can open up options for you in retirement in three unique ways:

1. It can help protect you against the risk of outliving your assets. Structured correctly, your policy can provide supplemental retirement income via policy loans and withdrawals. Having a policy to draw from can take the pressure off investment accounts if the market is sluggish, giving them time to rebound. Some policies may also provide options for long-term care benefits. At any time, you may also decide to annuitize the policy, converting it into a guaranteed lifelong income stream.

2. It can maximize a pension. While a traditional pension is fading fast in America, those who can still count on this benefit are often faced with a choice between taking a higher single life distribution, or a lower amount that covers a surviving spouse as well. Life insurance can supplement a surviving spouse’s income, enabling couples to enjoy the higher, single-life pension—together.

3. It can make leaving a legacy easy. According to The Wall Street Journal, permanent life insurance is “a fantastically useful and flexible estate-planning tool,” commonly used to pass on assets to loved ones. Policy proceeds are generally income-tax free and paid directly to your beneficiaries in a cash lump sum—avoiding probate and Uncle Sam in one pass. Your policy can also be used to pay estate taxes, ensure the continuity of a family business, or perhaps leave a legacy for a favorite charity or institution.

Having a policy to draw from can take the pressure off investment accounts if the market is sluggish, giving them time to rebound.

If you do expect your estate to be taxed, you can even establish a life insurance trust, which allows wealth to pass to your heirs outside of your estate, generally free of both estate and income taxes.

Where to start? A policy review
If you’ve had a life insurance policy for awhile, schedule a policy review with your life insurance agent or financial advisor. By the time you reach mid-life, you may have a mix of coverage—term, permanent, group or even an executive compensation package.

Your licensed insurance agent or financial advisor can help you assess your situation and adjust a current policy or structure a new policy to help you achieve your retirement planning goals.

If you have no coverage at all, there’s no better time than today to get started. Life insurance is a long-term financial tool. It can take decades to build permanent policy values to a place where you can use them toward your retirement goals. And, health profiles can change at any time. If you’re healthy, you can lock in that insurability now and look forward to years of tax-deferred (yes!) policy growth.

Retired already? The best thing you can do is meet annually with your personal advisors to ensure your plans stay on track. Market conditions and family circumstances change, so that even the best-laid plans require course adjustments over time.

By Erica Oh Nataren

Originally posted by www.LifeHappens.com

 

President Directs Federal Agencies to Consider ACA Changes | Maryland Benefit Advisors

On October 12, 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order directing the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Treasury to develop new rules to allow some exemptions from the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The Order indicates the Administration’s priorities although it has no immediate effect since any rule changes must first go through a long proposal, review, and public comment process.

The Order’s key directives are:

1. Consider expanding the time period allowed for short-term limited duration insurance (STLDI).
By excluding pre-existing conditions and restricting the scope of covered services, STLDI policies typically offer lower premiums. STLDI policies are already exempt from many of the ACA’s requirements, but are generally limited to three-month coverage periods. Changing the federal rules may allow greater availability for longer coverage periods, although state insurance laws will also need to be considered.

2. Consider allowing employer-funded Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) to reimburse their employees’ premiums for individual medical insurance.
HRAs allow employers to make tax-free contributions to account plans that reimburse employees for eligible healthcare expenses, such as group medical deductibles and co-pays. The ACA currently prohibits employers (other than certain small employers) from paying or reimbursing an employee’s individual policy premiums either directly or through an HRA. This prohibition could be revised or eliminated by changing the current federal rule.

3. Consider loosening restrictions on association health plans and expand availability across state lines.
Association health plans are designed to cover members of professional and trade groups. Generally they are exempt from some of the ACA requirements and state insurance laws that apply to typical “small employer” group health plans. Expanding the availability of association health plans, which generally offer less coverage at lower costs, would likely require changing how group plans are defined under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Also, state insurance laws, particularly in states that are wary of association health plans, may limit the impact of any federal rule changes.

ThinkHR will continue to monitor developments as the federal regulatory agencies consider rule changes. In the meantime, all current ACA requirements and state insurance laws continue to apply.

Originally posted by www.ThinkHR.com

IRS Releases Final 2017 ACA Reporting Forms and Instructions | Maryland Benefit Advisors

The IRS has finalized the forms and instructions that employers will use for 2017 reporting under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Applicable large employers (ALEs) will use the following:

Employers that self-fund a minimum essential coverage plan will use the following:

Background

Applicable large employers (ALEs), who generally are entities that employed 50 or more full-time and full-time-equivalent employees in the prior year, are required to report information about the health coverage they offer or do not offer to certain employees. To meet this reporting requirement, the ALE furnishes Form 1095-C to the employee or former employee and files copies, along with transmittal Form 1094-C, with the IRS.

Employers, regardless of size, that sponsor a self-funded (self-insured) health plan providing minimum essential coverage are required to report coverage information about enrollees. To meet this reporting requirement, the employer furnishes Form 1095-B to the primary enrollee and files copies, along with transmittal Form 1094-B, with the IRS. Self-funded employers who also are ALEs may use Forms 1095-C and 1094-C in lieu of Forms 1095-B and 1094-B.

Information is reported on a calendar-year basis regardless of the employer’s health plan year or fiscal year.

Changes for 2017

The 2017 forms and instructions are similar to the 2016 materials, although there are some changes for items that no longer apply or to simplify or clarify the information. Some of the changes include:

  • Removing references to transition relief options that are no longer available to ALEs.
  • Confirming the multiemployer interim relief rule remains in place for ALEs that contribute to a multiemployer plan (e.g., union trust).
  • Updating references for items that have been adjusted for inflation, such as the affordability percentage (9.69 percent for 2017).
  • Adding a note in the instructions for Form 1095-C, line 16, stating that “There is no specific code to enter on line 16 to indicate that a full-time employee offered coverage either did not enroll in the coverage or waived the coverage.”

In general, the forms and instructions are very similar to the versions used last year. Since the reporting requirements have been in place for several years now, employers and their advisors should have little trouble in working with the new materials for 2017.

Due Dates

The due date to furnish 2017 forms to individuals is January 31, 2018, while the due date to file copies with the IRS, including the appropriate transmittal form, will depend on whether the employer files electronically or by paper. Entities that provide 250 or more forms to individuals are required to file electronically with the IRS.

The due dates for 2017 reporting are:

  • January 31, 2018: Deadline to furnish 2017 Form 1095-C (or 1095-B, if applicable) to employees and individuals.
  • February 28, 2018: Deadline for paper filing of all 2017 Forms 1095-C and 1095-B, along with transmittal form 1094-C or 1094-B, with the IRS.
  • April 2, 2018: Deadline for electronic filing of all 2017 Forms 1095-C and 1095-B, along with transmittal form 1094-C or 1094-B, with the IRS. (April 2 is the first business day following the usual due date of March 31.)

Summary

Employers are encouraged to work with experienced vendors, tax advisors, and payroll administrators to review how the ACA reporting requirements apply to their situation. The required forms are important IRS documents and preparers should use the same level of care that would apply to employee W-2s.

Originally posted by www.ThinkHR.com

Life Insurance for a Family of One | Maryland Benefit Advisors

We spend a lot of time talking about how couples, families and businesses can protect their financial futures with life insurance. But what about if you are single—do you need life insurance, too?

There are those people who have no children, no one depending on their income, no ongoing financial obligations and sufficient cash to cover their final expenses. But how many of those people do you really know? And, more importantly, are you one of them?

I think it’s important, then, to illustrate how a life insurance purchase can be a smart financial move for someone who is single with no children. Asking yourself these three questions can help you get at the heart of the matter:

  • Do you provide financial support for aging parents or siblings?
  • Do you have substantial debt you wouldn’t want to pass on to surviving family members if you were to die prematurely?
  • Did family members pay for your education?

Don’t Take My Word for It

Life insurance is an excellent way to address these obligations, and in the case of tuition, reimburse family members for their support. But don’t just take my word for it. Instead, “do your own math.” This Life Insurance Needs Calculator can help you quickly understand if there is a need—a need you might not be aware of—that could be easily addressed with life insurance.

“The most important reason for

you to consider life insurance may

be the peace of mind you’ll have.”

In addition to addressing any financial obligations you might have, the current economic climate has made permanent life insurance an attractive means to help you build a secure long-term rate of return for safe money assets. The cash value in traditional life insurance can provide you with money for opportunities, emergencies and even retirement.

For young singles, keep in mind that you have youth on your side. I don’t mean to sound trite. Instead, I’d like you to think about the fact that purchasing life insurance is very affordable when you’re young and allows you to protect your insurability for when there is a future need—perhaps, in time, a spouse and children.

While all of these reasons are valid, the most important reason for you to consider life insurance may be the peace of mind you’ll have knowing that your financial obligations will be taken care of should anything happen.

By Marvin H. Feldman

Originally posted by www.LifeHappens.org