Looking ahead in 2014 to health law compliance, options for business and benefit planning

As the glow of the New Year’s ball fades and we enter 2014 in a very real sense, we all turn our thoughts to what lies ahead for employee benefits: Enrollment completion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act individual mandate during the first quarter of the year and implementation of PPACA for business, beginning now.

While the Obama administration altered the law and deferred the business mandate last summer, most businesses that could deferred implementation of the PPACA until their renewal THIS year, whether mid-year or end-of-year decision.

Either way, it will be here before we know it.  With the myriad technical fixes and bureaucratic twists and turns, BCN has continued to implement and prepare for compliance, including development of employee management reports to determine eligibility and restructuring our dental offering to include PPACA compliant pediatric dental.

Equally, if not more importantly, we continue to assess options for small to medium sized business.  There are several key cost containment options to consider in order to comply with the law, while not completely upsetting the balance that you created over years of careful employee benefit planning.

Certainly the concept of Total Compensation is of great importance when you offer substantial benefits to your staff.

When maintaining a part time workforce is not possible, there is a movement afoot to offer a mini-med or bare-bones type plan parallel to PPACA compliant plans for employees that prefer to opt out and keep costs down.  While these sorts of plans are not for everyone, the PPACA allows them in a complementary setting, subject to the rules.

BCN has put several, new guaranteed issue gap offerings in place designed to complement the new health plans, or, in some cases, offer alternatives to more expensive plans.   These new complementary plans are issued by Aflac Group … yes The Duck.  The difference is:  online enrollment, no underwriting, guaranteed issue and rates! Easy.

Watch our short videos here or watch for our offerings as they roll out this winter and spring.  We look forward to giving you the choices you need to run your businesses successfully in 2014!

 

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Andrew (Andy) C. Hans, CEO

Take precautions: Keep the flu from infecting your workplace productivity

Flu season is upon us and according to a recent survey this illness costs businesses $76.7 million dollars per year through employee absenteeism, employee presenteeism (when an employee attends work while sick) and other indirect costs.  A typical employee has flu symptoms for 5-6 days causing them to miss anywhere from between half a day to 5 days of work.

The flu is most commonly spread from person-to-person within about six feet so it is very common to see the flu virus spread through a workplace quickly affecting many employees.  Following are some steps that employers can take to prevent the spread of the flu in the workplace:

  1. Offer a flu vaccination clinic at the worksite or educate employees on where they can obtain the flu vaccination and if/how much of the vaccination is covered by their employer-sponsored health plan.
  2. Stock vending machines and cafeterias with immunity boosting foods such as oranges, veggie slices, whole-grain-fortified cereals, nuts and water.
  3. Clean shared items such as phones, keyboards, handles and door knobs with alcohol wipes or other sanitizing wipes.
  4. Encourage employees to stay home if they are sick.
  5. Emphasize hand hygiene and cough etiquette in the workplace An employee should:
  • Wash hands after blowing his or her nose, coughing, sneezing or coming into contact with contaminated objects or surfaces by applying soap and water and rubbing hands together for at least 20 seconds.  Use a paper towel to turn off the water faucet and open any doors.  Dispose of the paper towel in a wastebasket.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue or upper sleeve.

BCN Services has Human Resources and Safety experts who can offer tips about keeping the workplace free of illness and injury.  Contact us for more information or if your business needs help managing HR needs.

 

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Alicia Jester, Manager Benefits and Payroll

Document employee performance issues to avoid problems down the road

Employee performance issue can create multiple problems if managers don’t document the problem.

A recent court case in Northern Iowa shows, once more, the importance of addressing and documenting performance issues with employees. In this case the defendant was Eric Holder Jr., the Attorney General of the United States.

The case revolved around an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Northern District of Iowa. This Assistant U.S. Attorney sent a memo suggesting that her supervisor, the U.S. Attorney in the office, made statements that might be discriminatory relating to age discrimination and that were hostile to workers in the office over the age of 40.

The 53-year-old employee complained that after sending the memo she was subjected to surveillance, her work was scrutinized, she was reprimanded, threated with suspensions and was subject to a proposed involuntary transfer to an office 250 miles away. Her employment was eventually terminated and filed an age discrimination lawsuit as a result.

The U.S District Court reviewed the employee’s complaint and found that her performance issues might have been sufficient to support termination, but because of lack of action by the supervisor, there was a question as to whether the reasons for discipline or termination were a pretext to these actions. The court allowed the case to go to trial.

While this case may ultimately end up in the favor of the employer, the problem here is that the poor performance of the employee was not previously addressed. If the court agreed that her performance was weak enough to support termination, the employer could, and should have, dealt with those issues long ago and either helped the employee to improve her performance or disciplined and terminated her.

Failure to promptly address and document performance issues ultimately allowed this age discrimination claim to be filed and moved forward through the courts. The defense costs, inconvenience to the management team and potential for damages should be a good wake-up call to all business owners.

The costs of poor performance, both operational and financial, along with potential issues as seen in this case, far outweigh the time and effort to address performance issues promptly and effectively.

If you have an employee that is not performing to your expectations, contact BCN Service’s HR department to discuss the best way(s) to address the issue. Actions could include coaching, performance improvement plans (PIP’s), discipline or other options specific to the situation.

 

 

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Jeff Walsh, Partnership Manager

Weathering the cold: How to survive the Polar Vortex!

Protect your skin!   With temperatures at 10 degrees or below and wind chills between -10 degrees and -40 degrees, you or your child’s skin can get frostbitten in minutes.  Areas most commonly affected are the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes.  Older adults with reduced blood circulation should take special precautions .

Here are some general tips for weathering the cold:

  • Limit outdoor activity to 15-20 minutes at a time
  • Dress properly : use layers, head covering, wind protection and keep dry
  • Take care to protect against injury causing falls

Orthopedic surgeons offer the following suggestions:

  • If you are crossing icy walkways or roads, shuffle your feet and bend your knees
  • Warm up indoors with light exercise and stretches before shoveling snow
  • Push the snow, don’t lift it if possible.  If you have to lift, do it the correct way:

-Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight.

-Lift your legs, pushing through with your heels.

-Do not bend at the waist and do not over reach

  • Avoid twisting.  Push, small steps, toes in front of you, never twist!

These simple but effective tips can keep you and the people you care for safe.

 

 

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Rick Dyer, Vice President of Sales

Resolve to Update Your Employee Handbook for 2014

The start of the New Year is a good time to review your Employee Handbook to make sure it’s up- to- date and consistent with your current business practices.

Don’t have an Employee Handbook? BCN Services can help you create one.  Employee Handbooks communicate the rules and performance standards to employees, encourage employees to behave in a certain way, help ensure that employees are treated in a consistent fashion, make known the benefits you offer and help you to win unemployment claims and lawsuits.

A handbook is a good way to communicate to employees that the company intends to comply with all federal, state and local law. It also allows you to address a wide variety of policies without restricting your ability to respond on a case-by-case basis. A handbook provides a framework for dealing with various circumstances, but should not act as a step-by-step guide for how to deal with every situation that may arise.

Generally policies should be written and shared on a company wide basis to avoid any types of miscommunication or claims of discrimination.

Having different policies for different departments can get you into trouble if you don’t have a legitimate business reason for doing so. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits not only intentional discrimination but also neutral job policies that affect people of a certain race or color and that are not related to the job and needs of the business.

BCN Services can help you examine your workforce as a whole and in specific departments to ensure that there is no unintended discrimination and develop policies and an Employee Handbook that will best serve your business and workplace.  Call us for assistance anytime.

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Amanda Cline, HR Generalist