Hot Topics in Total Rewards

  • 04 May 2021 3:53 PM | Bill Brewer (Administrator)


    PUBLISHED WED, APR 28 20214:59 PM | EDTUPDATED WED, APR 28 20216:48 PM EDT

    Annie Palmer

    Amazon announced Wednesday it will give more than 500,000 workers a raise.

    Amazon will hike pay by between 50 cents and $3 an hour for over half a million of its U.S. operations employees, Darcie Henry, vice president of global human resources for Amazon, said in a blog post on the company’s website. Amazon will spend more than $1 billion on incremental pay for these workers, Henry said.

    The pay raises will start to take effect in mid-May through early June of this year, Henry said. Amazon said it moved up annual pay review for positions across its customer fulfillment, delivery, package sorting and specialty fulfillment teams from fall to this spring.

    The raises are meant to help incentivize hiring for tens of thousands of operations jobs across the U.S., Henry said. The jobs will add to the hundreds of thousands of workers Amazon brought on in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic pushed the company to go on a hiring spree to keep up with a spike in online orders.

    As the economy has started to reopen, some businesses say they’ve struggled to find workers and are pointing to expanded jobless benefits as a possible reason for the staffing shortage. Critics have argued that employers should consider raising wages to attract workers.

    Amazon in 2018 raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour for all U.S. employees, following pressure from politicians and worker advocacy groups. The company has thrown its weight behind the Raise the Wage Act, a bill backed by President Joe Biden and top Democrats that would increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from $7.25 an hour by 2025. Amazon also touted its starting pay of $15 an hour as part of its argument against unionization amid a high-stakes election at one of its warehouses in Alabama earlier this month.

    The e-commerce giant is the second-largest private employer in the U.S., behind retail rival Walmart, with more than 800,000 employees nationwide.

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    Source: CNBC

  • 04 May 2021 3:50 PM | Bill Brewer (Administrator)

    Ginger's on-demand mental healthcare services are now available to Cigna's 14 Million behavioral health customers nationwide. (Graphic: Business Wire)

    April 28, 2021 08:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time

    SAN FRANCISCO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Ginger, the leader in on-demand mental healthcare, today announced it is joining the Cigna network of providers to bring Ginger’s full suite of virtual mental health services to 14 million Cigna behavioral health customers nationwide. Now, Cigna customers with employer-sponsored or individual and family (IFP) insurance plans can access Ginger’s behavioral health coaching, therapy, and psychiatry services as an in-network benefit.

    Cigna customers can get started with Ginger by downloading the Ginger app (available via the iOS App Store and Google Play) and providing their insurance benefit information, which Ginger will verify in real-time. Eligible customers will have the option to begin texting with a Ginger behavioral health coach within 60 seconds, in addition to accessing Ginger’s robust library of self-guided content and skill-building activities. For individuals who need higher levels of care, a therapist or psychiatrist can be added to their care team for video-based sessions.

    With this new addition to its network, Cigna is the first national health plan to offer Ginger’s behavioral health coaching as an in-network benefit. Behavioral health coaching takes an active, goal oriented approach to address a wide array of sub-acute mental health challenges, ranging from sleep issues to relationship struggles. Available 24/7, Ginger’s behavioral health coaching offering is:

    • Prevention-focused: Behavioral health coaching is designed to prevent the onset of more serious mental health conditions before they start.
    • Collaborative: Coaches are trained to identify the need for higher-level care, and can help to escalate customers into therapy or psychiatry services when needed. Coaches support individuals through their entire care journey with Ginger.
    • Evidence-based: Ginger’s team-based approach is proven to decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression, as published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. Ginger’s providers are supported by artificial intelligence technology, which helps to surface care insights, support collaboration, and improve quality assurance.
    • Cost-effective: Ginger’s behavioral health coaching services support the needs of 80% of the population. One month of care costs less than a single traditional therapy visit.

    “Cigna's mission is to improve the health, well-being and peace of mind of those we serve by making healthcare simple, affordable and predictable,” said Cigna’s Dr. Doug Nemecek, chief medical officer for behavioral health. “Right now, more than ever, individuals are seeking out mental health support, and our relationship with Ginger creates more access to that care, when and where customers need it.”

    "We're facing a nationwide supply-demand crisis in mental healthcare, with demand reaching unprecedented levels, and fewer providers entering the industry than ever before," said Russell Glass, CEO of Ginger. "We're proud to partner with leading organizations like Cigna that recognize not only the scope of the nation's mental health crisis, but the importance of taking a preventative approach to this challenge. Together, we are opening up access to incredible mental healthcare for millions, at a fraction of the cost of traditional care."

    Ginger and Cigna have had a longstanding relationship, including an investment by Cigna Ventures in early 2020.

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    Source: Business Wire

  • 26 Apr 2021 8:16 AM | Bill Brewer (Administrator)

    Remote Workers Expect Pay to Reflect Their Locations

    By Stephen Miller, CEBS | April 21, 2021

    More employers are adopting 'geographic pay' policies

    Geographic pay policies that set and adjust pay for far-flung workers based on local compensation factors, such as cost of labor and cost of living rates, are becoming more common among employers, new research shows.

    With 67 percent of employees expecting their compensation to reflect their location, geographic pay has become a pressing issue for employers, according to WorldatWork's Geographic Pay Policies Study, based on a February survey with responses from 1,063 organizations and 503 employees.

    "Work is no longer a place," said Scott Cawood, CEO of WorldatWork, an association of total rewards professionals. "With remote working requests continuing to emerge and surprise leaders, companies are re-evaluating how to create cohesive, consistent and fair geographic pay policies."

    Of the 62 percent of organizations with existing geographic pay policies, 44 percent are considering modifying or have recently modified their policies due to the increase of full-time remote work, the survey found. Among other results:

    • The top two considerations for organizations addressing localized compensation are expanding (38 percent) or consolidating (20 percent) pay differentials by geographic area.
    • The more locations an organization has, the more likely it is to consider creating a U.S. geographic pay policy, especially as full-time remote work rises.
    • 41 percent of organizations apply pay differentials as a premium/discount to either a jobs-based pay structure or to individual pay, and 33 percent create separate base pay structures for each different geographic location where employees are working.

    Localized Pay Factors

    Over half (55 percent) of organizations use city/metro areas for setting geographical pay differences. Cost of labor is overwhelmingly a greater influence than cost of living for determining the pay policy approach, employers said.

    Almost all organizations are somewhat or moderately flexible regarding voluntary relocations for full-time remote workers. As for their employees, 50 percent say that a pay adjustment—either higher or lower—would be very or extremely influential in their decision to voluntarily relocate.

    A determining factor for many employers will be if pay localization policies affect retention. Remote work, which "used to only be an occasional issue is now a frequent request, and savvy employers will need to respond with fair, transparent and attractive geographic pay policies for distributed workforces if they wish to remain competitive," Cawood said.

    Limits on Adjustments

    While more companies are adopting geographical pay policies, the extent to which pay rates will vary by location is unclear.

    Silicon Valley tech firms that adjust pay for those who moved out of the San Francisco Bay Area, for instance, make smaller downward adjustments than might be expected, Tauseef Rahman, a partner at HR consultancy Mercer in San Francisco, observed last year.

    "National data would suggest that a job paid $100,000 in San Francisco would be paid about 13 percent less in Puget Sound" in Washington state, he noted. "However, our research indicates that the current pay differential is smaller—closer to 6 percent less. So instead of expecting a $13,000 pay cut, the hypothetical reduction would be closer to $6,000."

    Rahman concluded, "The tech job market will soon be national, and 'local market rates' will be replaced by some variant of 'Silicon Valley tech rates less 10 percent.' " In the end, "candidate pools and pay will be less about city address and more about availability and capability."

    Much less certain, however, is whether the trend among big tech companies toward a national labor market, give or take 10 percent of pay, will be repeated by industries where competition for talent is less severe.

    The desire to keep pay policies simple could be a factor here. "Multinational companies are already well-versed in the practice of differential pay policies at a global scale," wrote Brett Christie, managing editor of WorldatWork's Workspan Daily. However, for companies with offices exclusively in the U.S., "the prospect of overhauling pay structures to account for geographic differences might seem daunting."

    Employees Don't Want a Pay Cut When Relocating
    (with an Exception)

    Craftjet, a company that connects local home service professionals with homeowners, recently asked if employers should adjust salaries down—making a locality adjustment—when an employee moves from a more expensive area to a less expensive one.

    The answer from workers was a resounding no—87 percent believe they should be paid the same amount they're currently being paid, no matter where they move.

    However, when people were asked what pay cut they would take to relocate to their ideal spot, most Americans (83 percent) would take a 10 to 20 percent pay cut to make that move, with 60 percent saying 10 percent would be the maximum they would tolerate.

    The survey was conducted March 29 to April 9, with 2,888 respondents, including 50 to 150 residents in each of 24 major American cities. Respondents' average age was 38 years old.

    Among other survey responses:

    • When asked if they would move if given the opportunity to work permanently remote, most Americans living in cities (61 percent) said yes. Many of the most expensive and densely populated cities contained the highest percentages of people looking for a change.
    • Of those who would leave their current city, when asked what reasons would most compel a move, desire for a bigger, better home and lower cost of living were the top reasons cited, followed by desire for more access to nature and being closer to family and friends.

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    Source: Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

  • 26 Apr 2021 8:12 AM | Bill Brewer (Administrator)

    Workplace Experience: Why Evergreen Is Everything | Avanade Insights Blog

    NEWS PROVIDED BY: WorldatWork  |  Apr 20, 2021, 08:53 ET

    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., April 20, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Sixty percent of employees are currently working remotely, and 76% indicate they would like to continue in that capacity after the pandemic. However, employers anticipate that 34% of employees will continue working remotely after the pandemic setting up possible future tension between organizations and their workforces. Also, thirty-two percent of employees state they would not return to work and look for a new job if they cannot work remotely. These findings are in the "WorldatWork COVID-19 Employer Plans and Employee Perceptions" survey, conducted in partnership with SalesGlobe. The comprehensive survey, a follow-up to April 2020's "COVID-19 Employer Response Survey" covers vaccine policies/incentives, hazard pay, financial impact/forecasting, business travel, remote work, investment in software solutions, work-from-home expense reimbursements, worker protections, employee recruitment, PTO policies, and vacation stances, among other topics. (Journalists: contact for survey reports.)

    Sample Findings:

    • 60% of organizations report they will not require employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine prior to returning to work, an indication that organizations are opting to maintain a personal vs. professional line by not, as of now, requiring the vaccine. And most employees are choosing to obtain the vaccine; 72% of employees have received a vaccine or plan to get one when it becomes available to them.    
    • Organizations and HR professionals successfully adjusted their business and people operations in 2020 to help sustain financial viability. Only a handful of organizations (9%) report their financial performance has decreased by 30% or more under plan over the past 12 months. Among those that have experienced financial losses, 66% believe their organization will be able to recover in two years or less.
    • 31% percent of organizations are providing hazard pay for essential workers who are required to be on-site during the pandemic and organizations that are providing hazard pay have increased by eight percentage points since last year's survey. This positive trend shows that employers recognize the importance of providing fair compensation to essential workers for the additional risk they incur. 
    • 38% of organizations reimburse expenses related to working from home, a 13 percentage-point increase from June 2020's "WorldatWork Back to Work Playbook," and 92% of employees feel their organization provide sufficient reimbursement for work from home expenses.
    • Organizations are still managing travel expenses conservatively and adjusting the way they do business to incorporate less travel, with 68% of organizations expecting the same level of business travel or less in 2021, as compared to 2020. 

    WorldatWork invited its member and customer base to participate in a survey on employer plans regarding COVID-19. A total of 380 responses were received. In addition, 1,418 full-time business professionals in the U.S. responded to employee view questions via MarketCube, an online panel, and via SalesGlobe. Data was collected in February 2021 over a three-week period.

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    Source: WorldatWork

  • 12 Apr 2021 9:38 AM | Bill Brewer (Administrator)

    Expanded pay equity capability helps companies assess where and why gaps exist

    By:  PRNewswire | March 25, 2021, the compensation management solution providing more of the trusted data and intuitive software organizations need to get pay right, today announced the launch of the CompAnalyst Pay Equity Reporting Toolkit. As companies prioritize identifying potential pay disparities within their organizations, the timely launch of this Toolkit allows for a deeper dive into identifying differences in pay based on gender, race, age, or any basis of comparison that a company finds important. As part of CompAnalyst®’s Reporting and Analytics Module, the Pay Equity Reporting Toolkit provides the tools needed to assess where pay discrepancies exist, giving companies valuable insights into why such gaps exist, and the corrective actions they can take.

    The standard reports in the new Pay Equity Reporting Toolkit are analyzed by job, family, level or grade across gender, ethnicity or age, all of which can be customized. Among the types of reports offered are:

    • Pay Equity at My Company
    • Pay Equity by Ethnicity, Gender or Age
    • Equal Pay for Equal Work
    • Individual Employee by Job
    • Average Pay Spread by Gender

    The Pay Equity Reporting Toolkit is best leveraged in tandem with’s other tools as part of a workforce planning suite, including:

    • JobArchitect™, which streamlines job description management by offering guidelines for jobs with similar duties, responsibilities, and leveling based on matching, which is critical when looking for pay disparities.
    • CompAnalyst Market Data, an HR-reported compensation database that ensures that once the content of jobs is defined, HR can understand any pay differences that might exist compared to the market.

    “Given that today is Equal Pay Day, it’s particularly meaningful to the team to launch this expanded pay equity capability,” said David Cross, senior compensation consultant at “Pay equity legislation and DE&I initiatives have led employers to review their compensation practices on a recurring basis. This renewed focus is proving beneficial to both employers and employees, as paying equitably helps companies acquire and retain the best talent, build employee engagement, increase innovation, and improve business performance. By using our Pay Equity Reporting Toolkit alongside JobArchitect and CompAnalyst Survey Data, organizations have a solid foundation on which they can build a sound workforce plan and get pay right.”

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    Source: HrTech Cube

  • 12 Apr 2021 9:34 AM | Bill Brewer (Administrator)

    Author: Julie Littman | Published: April 12, 2021

    Dive Brief:

    • Taco Bell has expanded benefits for general managers at company-owned restaurants, offering four weeks of accrued vacation annually, four weeks of paid time off for "baby bonding" for new parents and guardians and eight weeks of paid short-term disability following the birth of a child, according to a press release
    • The fast food chain is also hosting its fourth annual hiring parties event on April 21, with plans to hire at least 5,000 team members across nearly 2,000 locations. While open positions will vary, job roles will range from cashier to general manager. Restaurants are also hiring more "bellhops," who use tablets to service drive-thru orders.
    • The expansion of general manager benefits comes just over a year after Taco Bell tested $100,000 annual salaries for restaurant managers at company-owned locations. The company also expanded its sick leave last year at Taco Bell-owned locations, offering at least 24 hours of paid sick leave for all levels of employees.

    ​Dive Insight:

    Taco Bell aims to reach 10,000 locations globally by the end of the decade, and adding 5,000 additional employees will help it reach its goal. Last summer, the chain made a goal to hire at least 30,000 team members. This year, the company is eyeing more reopenings, remodels and new builds, according to the release. Taco Bell collaborated with Diversified Restaurant Group, for example, to open its first drive-thru Cantina in Danville, California, last month. The chain is also opening a kiosk-focused location in Manhattan this year and will roll out more Go Mobile concept stores, which it tested in 2020.  

    Retaining general managers will be critical to Taco Bell's growth. Chains, in general, were working to improve retention of these employees even before the pandemic, especially since the longer the tenure, the higher the potential sales of the location, CNBC reports. Then the coronavirus hit and shortly after the crisis began, Taco Bell provided a $1,000 one-time bonus to its restaurant general managers at its 1,200 company-owned stores and committed to paying their second quarter bonuses even if restaurant sales performance wouldn't allow them to normally qualify, Yum Brands CEO David Gibbs said during the company's Q1 2020 earnings call

    Taco Bell's hiring parties will include on-the-spot interviews that will take place in patio areas, with some candidates able to participate in drive-up interviews. All participants and interview locations will be at least six feet apart and masks are mandatory. 

    Even with all these safety measures in place, Taco Bell could struggle to meet its employment needs. Including its franchisees, the company has over 34,000 open positions listed on its website. With dining rooms reopening, chains and local restaurants are increasingly pressed to fill positions to meet growing consumer demand as they feel more comfortable returning to restaurants. Many hospitality workers who lost their jobs early in the pandemic turned toward other industries, such as construction and real estate, Reuters reports. 

    During Q1 2021, the restaurant industry added 442,000 jobs according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, with the bulk of its gains occurring in February with the addition of 286,000 jobs. However, these gains are a drop in the bucket, with employment in foodservices and drinking places short 1.7 million jobs compared to January 2020, according to the BLS data

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    Source: HR Dive

  • 25 Mar 2021 5:48 PM | Bill Brewer (Administrator)

    Gov. Newsom signs off on paid COVID leave for most Californians |

    The COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave law will include retroactive payments through January 1st.

    Author: Lena Howland (ABC10)

    Published: 7:31 PM PDT March 22, 2021

    Updated: 6:21 AM PDT March 24, 2021

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Millions of Californians are breathing a sigh of relief after Governor Newsom signed off on the supplemental paid sick leave bill last Friday. The bill is expected to impact 10.4 million workers across the state, for every company with 25 or more employees.

    It's been nearly three months since the Families First Response Act lapsed and families had no supplemental paid sick leave for coronavirus-related reasons.

    "I was seriously concerned about my well being and being able to pay for the bills coming up without pay," said a temp worker for Sacramento County, who didn't want to be identified over fear of retaliation.

    She said after she called out for a day earlier this month for medical reasons, her managers told her she needed to self-quarantine at home for 10 days because her symptoms sounded COVID-related. However, as a temp worker, she only gets three sick days, the rest would be unpaid.

    "I'm already pretty much paycheck to paycheck, like I don't have room, I'm not blessed with my financial situation, I have student loans to pay, I have apartment rent that just keeps getting higher to pay," she said.

    Now that Governor Newsom has signed off on the new supplemental paid sick leave bill, it's people like her that will likely be paid retroactively, upon request, according to employment attorney Jennifer Shaw.

    "If you gave someone time off after January 1 for a COVID reason or reason that is covered by the sick leave, at their request you have to go pay them for that time," Shaw said.

    Last year's supplemental sick leave was for employers with 500 or more employees. This one includes all companies with 25 or more employees. 

    The Center for Workers Rights says because of Prop 22, this does not include ride share drivers, it also means businesses with 25 or fewer employees won't be covered.

    "That's a large portion of California's workers and in particularly our service workers, you know small restaurants, most of those places of employment are 25 or fewer," Daniela Urban, the Executive Director for the Center for Workers Rights said.

    This bill sets aside 80 hours or two weeks of pay for anyone showing symptoms, has to self-quarantine or is diagnosed with coronavirus.

    It also sets aside time to go get your vaccine and it includes time for parents helping their kids with distance learning.

    "It's nice that the legislature recognized workers who did sacrifice those weeks of pay in order to do what's right and quarantine or take the time off after a positive diagnosis and allows them to recover the money that they lost as a result," Urban said.

    The latest federal relief bill includes tax credits for businesses that pay for COVID sick leave, so that should help businesses owner worried about the cost.

    The new law will last through the end of September.

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    Source: ABC10

  • 25 Mar 2021 1:52 PM | Bill Brewer (Administrator)

    letter blocks with H S A and coins stacked on top

    One subset of employee benefits that doesn’t always get the spotlight are tax-advantaged benefits.

    By Christa Day | March 25, 2021 at 10:32 AM

    In a year filled with uncertainty, one thing became quite certain in 2020. Employee benefits are an essential part of the American workforce. Just how essential?

    Quite essential, it turns out. According to a recent Prudential report, a majority of workers believe COVID-19 has made benefits much more important. In the survey, 77% of employees said benefits programs were a large part of their compensation with 73% saying benefits are a large reason why they would stay at their company or organization. Because of the pandemic, three-quarters of workers said having benefits through their employer are “now more important than ever before.”

    Like the ability to work remotely, which once was considered a nice option but not a necessity, workplace benefits are clearly viewed as essential by employees. And we’re not just talking health care, which is obviously at the top of the list. One subset of employee benefits that doesn’t always get the spotlight are tax-advantaged benefits.

    What are tax-advantaged benefits?

    Yay for HSAs: Health savings accounts (HSAs) are accounts designed to help employees with high-deductible health plans save for medical expenses. How do we know? A whopping 28.3 million Americans had an HSA last year, a number that has steadily grown over the past decade. Ninety-five percent of employers are now providing account-based plans with HSAs. HSAs are attractive because they allow an employee to set aside pre-tax dollars to get a better handle on unexpected health care costs.

    FSA – can we say, flexible? 32 million Americans have a flexible spending account, or FSA. Similar to an HSA, an FSA allows users to set aside pre-tax dollars. With an FSA, you have access to the entire amount you want to set aside on day 1 of the plan year.

    Enter the HRA: Health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), which are self-insured arrangements that are established and completely funded by employers, help reduce insurance premiums, provide employees with greater control over their health care expenses and reimbursements to employees are not taxable. Approximately 14 million people have an HRA.

    What did we learn about these flexible benefits in 2020? Let’s take a deeper dive into these tax-advantaged benefits and see what’s working and what’s not.

    What’s working with tax-advantaged benefits

    HSAs stay even if job lost: HSAs are definitely helping working Americans as we move through the pandemic. In a year where many people lost their jobs, they did not lose their HSAs, allowing them to continue to spend existing funds on qualified expenses.

    Female products get eligible: In a move that many consider a bit late (but better than never), the CARES Act made feminine care products HSA and FSA eligible for the first time. That means people can spend their tax-free dollars on tampons, pads, liners, and cups. We’ll take it as a win.

    FSAs changing with the times: With 2020 being a year of unprecedented changes, FSAs have been trying to go with the flow. First, employers last year could choose to allow employees with FSAs to change their contribution amount or even open or close an account without having a life-changing personal event. Second, furloughed employees could still be considering full-time employees for purposes of maintaining an FSA, depending on your employer.

    No prescription paperwork for OTC meds: The CARES Act ushered in another win for HSA and FSA eligible expenses with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. Individuals no longer need to obtain prescriptions for OTC medicine in order to use their FSA or HSA dollars to buy them. This paperwork prescription requirement was keeping a lot of people from saving money using tax-free dollars on OTC medicines, and now we’re all free to do so (permanently) without the paperwork trail.

    Yay to new HRA type: In the midst of COVID-19, HRAs have proved resilient and flexible, helping employers maintain benefits. At the start of 2020, HRAs changed considerably with the government allowing employers to provide a new type of HRA called individual coverage HRAs, better known as ICHRAs.

    What’s not working with tax-advantaged benefits

    Let’s ensure PPE/sanitizers are considered qualified medical expenses: Section 213(d) of the Internal Revenue Code defines what expenses are considered “qualified medical expenses” for purpose of the deduction for medical expenses on an individual’s tax return and as a tax-free payment or reimbursement from an employer-provided health plan or HSA. Medical professionals have recommended the use of face masks, hand sanitizers and disinfectants as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19. Under the current provisions of the tax law, it is unclear whether such items are considered to be qualified medical expenses in all cases.

    Representing over 33 million employees through our member companies, my organization ECFC has asked the Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service to provide guidance that would state that face masks and hand sanitizers and disinfectants are qualified medical expenses under Code section 213(d).

    The “care” in “dependent care” needs work: Dependent care FSAs, which lets individuals set aside pre-tax dollars to offset work-related dependent care costs such as preschool, summer day camps and before and after school programs, have traditionally been an effective and simple way to save money while taking care of your loved ones so you can continue to work.

    Unfortunately, the effectiveness of dependent care FSAs has been lessened by the fact that statutory $5,000 limited was set more than 20 years ago and has never been adjusted for inflation. The amount falls far below dependent care costs in most parts of the country.

    With the dependent care FSA limits remaining the same and little flexibility built in for COVIDS-19 factors, childcare became a big problem for parents and families. Many parents had to quit their jobs or reduce their working hours because of a lack of childcare. Essential workers did not have that option. They were often left scrambling for childcare. Congress needs to act to make sure dependent care FSAs have a higher limit and more flexibility for funds to help cover skyrocketing prices for childcare. Dependent care FSAs do work but not as effectively while stuck in their current limit.

    COBRA not cutting it: With unemployment still high and COVID-19 not showing signs of abating, many Americans are concerned that they will not be able to play for all their health care needs this year. Many of those who were furloughed or lost their jobs last year ended up in COBRA, which stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. It is a law that mandates that an employer offer prolonged health coverage if an employee is laid off or quits. COBRA falls into the not working category because it is very expensive as well as confusing for many employees and employers alike.

    COBRA speaks to the larger issue of expanding the portability of health insurance and how it can be used to meet the needs of an ever-changing and transient workforce, particular during this pandemic. COBRA is not cutting it for many Americans. This one requires a more thoughtful and thorough overhaul and is high on the list of overall health care concerns in our COVID-19 economy.

    What’s next?

    The good news is COVID-19 has made benefit offerings a focal point to help workers navigate health care, mental health and family challenges. In 2020, employers had to get creative, stay flexible and apply stop-gap measures. Some of these measures worked, other did not. As this pandemic made frighteningly clear, employee benefits are essential. What’s next? Let’s hope we can improve what’s not working, and close more employee benefit gaps for Americans.

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    Source: Benefits Pro

  • 25 Mar 2021 11:52 AM | Bill Brewer (Administrator)

    AUTHOR: Kate Tornone | PUBLISHED: March 25, 2021

    Dive Brief:

    • Trump-era regulations prohibiting managers from keeping tips and allowing employers to include non-tipped workers in certain tip pools will take effect April 30 as scheduled, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Tuesday.
    • The agency also proposed, however, to delay other portions of that rulemaking a second time, to Dec. 31. Specifically, DOL said it wants to revisit provisions affecting civil money penalties and the application of the Fair Labor Standards Act's tip credit to tipped employees who perform both tipped and non-tipped duties.
    • "The proposals we announced today ensure that we consider all of the circumstances in today's rapidly changing workplace," said Wage and Hour Division Deputy Administrator Jessica Looman in a statement. "These essential workers deserve our careful and thoughtful consideration as we craft and implement rules that affect their well-being."

    Dive Insight:

    Tip rules have been in flux in recent years. Generally, the FLSA requires that employers permit workers to retain gratuities, but allows for some tip pooling.

    In 2011, former President Barack Obama's DOL issued rules prohibiting tip pools that included non-tipped employees, even if employers also paid all workers involved minimum wage. (Employers with tipped employees can take a "tip credit," applying some gratuities toward minimum wage obligations.) Federal circuit courts split on that specific issue, with one declaring the regs invalid.

    Despite the Biden administration's pro-worker stance, the agency said it will allow the Trump-era plan to reverse that rule to take effect in just a few weeks. Employers will soon be cleared to operate tip pools that include both tipped and non-tipped employees as long as all involved are paid minimum wage. In other words, employers may not take a tip credit based on those gratuities.

    It hopes to delay and revisit, however, the Trump administration's attempt to change limits on when employers can take a tip credit for an employee who performs both tipped and untipped work, known as the "dual job" or "80/20" rule.

    Stakeholders may submit comments on both actions.

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    Source: HR Dive

  • 11 Mar 2021 9:25 AM | Bill Brewer (Administrator)

    AUTHOR: Ryan Golden | PUBLISHED: March 10, 2021

    Dive Brief:

    • Employers paid "close to $4 million" to more than 3,500 employees last year to resolve Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) violations alleged by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Helen Applewhaite, director of DOL's Division of FMLA and Other Acts, said during the 2021 DMEC Virtual Compliance Conference March 3.
    • In total, Applewhaite said the agency conducted more than 4,200 FFCRA investigations and continues to enforce the law's emergency paid leave requirements for the effective period, which ended Dec. 31, 2020. She added that DOL continues to do virtual presentations on COVID-19 and its impacts on the workforce and will do so "for whatever period of time in order to reach the people we need to reach."
    • Applewhaite said that other department initiatives have continued, including DOL's Request for Information on paid leave programs and the Family Medical and Leave Act. The agency received "about 100" comments from stakeholders on the RFI and "is still looking at those," Applewhaite said.

    Dive Insight:

    Much of Applewhaite's presentation discussed the wide-ranging, sometimes overnight changes DOL made during the initial months of the pandemic. She noted that the agency's website, which typically received 500,000 visitors per week prior to the pandemic, saw more than 6 million visitors in a single week last year.

    She described the process of implementing FFCRA regulations as "intense" and "unprecedented." Staff performed online presentations and outreach, with investigators answering "hundreds of thousands" of phone calls and providing technical assistance. DOL published regs implementing the FFCRA without the opportunity to gather public comments and feedback.

    "To say that we published regulations in two weeks — it still kind of chills me every time I say that," Applewhaite said. "It's just not done."

    During the temporary non-enforcement period instituted following the FFCRA's enactment, DOL took a compliance assistance approach, Applewhaite said; "If we had a complaint, we would contact the employer, provide information needed for compliance, and if we gained agreement to comply and the issues were remedied immediately we didn't pursue further." But DOL did take a more "vigorous" approach "if we didn't find a willing employer," she noted.

    As a result of legislation passed in December 2020, employers were not required to provide paid leave via the FFCRA beyond the end of the year, but they may continue to do so on a voluntary basis in exchange for a tax credit through March 31, 2021. In his American Rescue Plan document, President Joe Biden called on Congress to strengthen and extend the FFCRA's mandatory paid leave provisions through Sept. 30, 2021.

    However, that provision does not appear in the version of H.R. 1319 — also known as the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 — the Senate passed March 6. The bill would instead establish a tax credit for employers that voluntarily provide paid leave between April 1, 2021 and Sept. 30, 2021. In addition to the qualifying reasons for taking such leave described in the FFCRA, the tax credit would also apply to leave taken to receive a COVID-19 vaccination or to recover from any injury, disability, illness or condition related to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

    DOL continues to publish FAQ-based guidance on its website as well as field assistance bulletins that allow employers to see how DOL will approach enforcement, Applewhaite said, adding that last year's experience showed how the agency can adapt to the needs of the U.S. workforce; "We can be far more flexible than we ever thought possible."

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    Source: HR Dive

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