HR Elements April 2014
Ideas and Information for Human Resources Professionals

The Cruel Catch-22 Of Long-Term Unemployment

It seems like it's easier for people to find a job if they're already employed. Consequently, it seems like the longer someone is unemployed, then the more unemployable he or she may appear. To combat this perception the Department of Labor has announced the availability of millions of dollars in grants to assist those who have been stuck in long-term unemployment. The money will go toward training and counseling programs as well as job placement. There is also a push to convince HR personnel that people, no matter how long they've been unemployed, deserve a fair shot at an open position.

President Obama announced best-practice guidelines for employers to follow including the assurance that they would not discourage, discriminate against, or even screen out the long-term unemployed. Obama said, "We've got to get these folks back in the game."

According to an article in Human Resource Executive Online, the stage is set for legislation to be proposed making such practices illegal. With the possible eventuality that every state will have its own anti-long-term-unemployment law, employers, HR leaders, and hiring managers would be well-advised to get ahead of the curve and learn all the potential employment laws in the states where they do business.

Besides the altruistic reasons to hire the long-term unemployed -- being a good corporate citizen and helping the economy -- it also makes good financial sense from an employer perspective. Consider that someone who has been out of work for a long time is more likely to accept a job for a lower salary, be grateful for that job, and exceed performance expectations in order to keep their job.

From the standpoint of the long-term unemployed, they can increase their chances of being hired by filling in the gaps on their resumes. According to an article in Forbes magazine, some of the best things to do are:

  • Take temporary or contract assignments
  • Take a class
  • Volunteer
  • Start a business
  • Start a blog
  • Network to make connections

These activities will show a prospective employer that a person is still highly motivated, is continuing to put their skills to good use, and can bring a variety of expertise to any team. In fact, a broad range of activities while unemployed is likely to increase a person's marketability due to their strengthened and expanded skillset.


Mobile Device HR Apps

Most people today have at least one -- if not more -- mobile devices. Smartphones, full-size tablets, mini tablets, "phablets" (smartphones that are usually larger in size and can do more functions than a typical phone), hand-held computers, and wearable technology are fully integrated into most people's lives. Desktops and even laptops are considered relics nowadays by the up-and-coming college graduates.

This is why more and more employees are utilizing human resource applications (HR apps) as their preferred way of accessing information.  For example, they can view:

  • Pay stubs
  • Tax statements
  • Time off requests
  • Attendance and time on the clock
  • Benefit information
  • Retirement accounts

Companies and their HR departments should begin providing apps as a new channel to satisfy the next generation of this wirelessly connected workforce. In addition to how employees benefit from these HR apps, employers also benefit by providing the latest human resource information quickly, efficiently, at any time and from any place. Furthermore, mobile applications are an easily scalable platform for any size business.

In a SHRM: Society for Human Resource Management article, the ability of employers to meet the expectations of members of the behavioral demographic known as "#GenMobile," will determine whether they can obtain and retain top talent. After all, the perception among this demographic is that if a company is not adopting the latest technology, then they're behind the times and will consequently be surpassed by companies that are more technologically advanced.

The article also shed light on the evolution of HR communications from face-to-face, to kiosks, desktops, laptops, and now to mobile devices. No matter the role of the staff member, from white-collar employee to construction worker, that person no longer needs to be tethered to a physical location in order to get relevant HR information.


OSHA's Ladder Safety Outreach

Ladder safety should be paramount on any employer's checklist whether they employ building maintenance staff, construction workers, landscapers, or anyone who needs to perform a task that's out of reach.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), falls are the leading cause of death in construction (in 2010, there were 264 fall fatalities out of 774 total fatalities). As part of a campaign to prevent falls, and save lives overall, OSHA published an e-book in both English and Spanish on ladder safety. This is part of a larger outreach to raise awareness among workers and employers about the hazards of falls from ladders, scaffolds, and roofs.

In an article in SHRM: Society for Human Resource Management, OSHA is hoping that by putting this information in an electronic format, this will allow Latinos and Millennials (people whom the agency considers high risk for injuries from falls) to easily view it on their smartphones while at the work site. It is suggested in the article that ladders, while commonly used, might not always be the best option.

OSHA recommends the following steps: plan, provide, and train. When planning ahead to get the job done safely, the agency urges workers and employers to consider the following:

  • Will a worker have to hold heavy items while on the ladder?
  • Is the elevated area high enough that it would require a long ladder that could be unstable?
  • Will a worker be performing tasks from this height for a long time?
  • Does the worker have to stand on the ladder sideways to do the work required?

OSHA advises that if the answer is yes to one of the above questions, then an employer should provide and an employee should use something other than a ladder. Equipment such as a scissor lift could be a better and safer option. Workers who are six feet or more above lower levels are at risk for serious injury or death if they should fall. To ensure a safe working environment, it's necessary to have not only the right equipment for the job, but also the proper safety gear for protection against falling.

Workers who understand the proper setup and use of equipment dramatically reduce the chance that they will be injured. Therefore, training on the specific equipment they will use should be mandatory. It's the responsibility of the employer to provide training that also includes hazard recognition and the correct care of the equipment in addition to how it's used on the job.

OSHA has provided numerous materials and resources that employers can use. The SHRM article offers a few safety measures to take when using ladders:

  • First ensure that the ladder has no visible defects and is in good working condition (no bent or missing steps and a functioning locking device if so equipped).
  • Use a ladder that's high enough to reach the work area without having to stand on the top rung.
  • Secure the ladder's base.
  • Wear proper footwear -- for example, nonslip, flat shoes.
  • Place the ladder on stable, level ground.
  • Ensure that the ladder is fully extended before starting work.
  • Prevent passers-by from walking under or near ladders by using barriers such as cones or having a co-worker act as a lookout.
  • Maintain three points of contact with the ladder at all times (one foot and two hands, two feet and one hand).
  • Don't carry any tools or materials by hand when climbing a ladder.
  • Don't lean away from the ladder to perform a task. Workers should always keep their weight centered.
  • Don't use a ladder near a doorway, or if this is necessary, then make sure the door is locked.

Why Generic Drugs Can Be The Better Choice

By Carol Taylor
Employee Benefit Advisor
D&S Agency, A UBA Partner Firm

Several years ago, I went to the doctor for a sinus infection. While waiting for the doctor to return with a prescription, I happened to look over and notice that every jar, pen, notepad, etc. on the counter had the name of a recently released brand name antibiotic. Sure enough, when the doctor returned, the prescription was for that particular drug. I asked the doctor what the cost of the drug was, since I was covered under a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) and would be paying the full cost. When he responded that it would run about $360 for six pills, I immediately demanded a generic prescription. The generic drug was less than $15 and took care of the infection. To add insult to injury, no one knew at the time, but the brand name later was found to have some unknown side effects -- several people died, and the drug was "black-boxed" by the FDA shortly thereafter and removed from the market. I was quite glad that my frugal side had taken over when I read that in the news.

What's my point? The newest drug on the market may not be the best thing for you!

At nearly every medical plan enrollment meeting, we hear the question: "Are generics really as effective as brand names?" What many don't realize is that the active ingredients in a generic drug are the same as the brand name drug. The difference between brand name and generic lies in the non-active ingredients. Each manufacturer of a generic may use different inactive ingredients, so if one does not work, another manufacturer's product might.

Will the generic work just like the brand name? Not necessarily. Everyone's chemical make-up is different, so the inactive ingredients may cause an issue for you. At the same time, not every brand name will work for everyone either.

The most noticeable benefit to you for taking a generic drug over the brand name, however, is the COST! In my example above, the difference was $245, but on some more expensive drugs, say for heart disease or cancer, the difference can be thousands of dollars! Another way generics can save you money - in some cases significantly -- is through your insurance coverage.

According to the 2013 UBA Health Plan Survey special Pharmacy Report, 27.9% of employers surveyed are now using a four-tier drug plan -- up 11.5% since 2012. That fourth tier pays for biotech or the highest cost brand name drugs. This usually requires significantly higher copays, or costs are completely out-of-pocket until the major medical deductible has been met, and then you still face a copay or coinsurance.  The survey data shows that the median pharmacy retail copays for fourth-tier drugs increased by 25% from $80 in 2012 to $100 in 2013, and many are charging between 10% and 30% of the cost of tier four drugs.

Another strategy employers and insurance carriers use to control pharmacy costs is to place generics before the deductible and brand names after -- creating further incentive to give generics some serious consideration.

A lesser-known, but even more significant, benefit is that generics are rarely taken off the market due to side effects. The newest drug on the market has not had that test of time, and all side effects may not be known when the drug is released on the market. Since a generic, at minimum, has been around for at least seven years, the side effects are known.

The point that we like to drive home in those enrollment meetings is this: Don't hesitate to ask your physician for a generic drug. It might very well save your life, and will certainly save you money. Generics have stood the test of time; it is a very rare occurrence when a generic is pulled from the market. Plus, you may have the added benefit of a significant cost difference.

If you really must take a brand name drug, at least do a quick search online about it. Read the known side effects from the manufacturer's website and see if any headlines come up about it. Also, if you are taking any other medications, make sure the pharmacist knows about those and can ensure that a newly prescribed drug won't cause adverse interactions.

Employers interested in finding out the latest trends in pharmacy benefits strategies should download a copy of the 2013 UBA Health Plan Pharmacy Report.

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 In This Edition


Employer Webinar Series for April

Counting Employees Under Health Care Reform - Part 2
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
2:00 p.m. EDT / 11:00 a.m. PDT

Counting employees under health care reform is not as easy as 1-2-3. The rules are quite complicated and, if not done correctly, can have serious repercussions for your business. The final employer-shared responsibility ("play or pay") regulations have been issued, and beginning in 2015, larger employers will need to either offer health coverage that meets the requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) or pay penalties. Although the requirement is not effective until 2015, employers need to be gathering data and making decisions now.

In this 90-minute intermediate-level webinar, we'll discuss in detail which employers are affected and what you must do to provide coverage that meets PPACA's requirements. We'll also detail the two methods employers can use to determine which employees need to be offered coverage, the recently issued reporting regulation, and how penalties will be calculated if the requirements aren't met. (This webinar builds on information provided in our March 11 webinar.)

To review the slides for that presentation, go to the UBA website. Scroll down to "Webinar Archive" and click on the appropriate link for "Counting Employees Under Health Care Reform, Part 1."

About The Presenter:
Randal M. Limbeck is a Shareholder in the Omaha office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He specializes in representation of clients in the areas of ERISA, employee benefits, and executive compensation. Mr. Limbeck has represented clients in a broad range of industries and size, with respect to design, document drafting, employee communications, litigation, and assistance in dealings with the IRS and Department of Labor.

Register here for the webinar. The presentation slides will be posted on the UBA website the day before the webinar.

WisdomWorkplace Webinar for April

Managing Benefit Costs - A Top Business Priority
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
2:00 p.m. EDT / 11:00 a.m. PDT

Employers of all sizes are challenged to rethink employee benefits in this new world of health care reform. Tight budgets and a still-recovering economy are spurring benefits managers to think beyond health insurance and look at their benefits as a whole. They must think creatively and more broadly. They must step up their communications to help employees manage the changes ahead. The task requires commitment, but the payoff is more than worthwhile: a benefits program that helps employers of all sizes compete more effectively in tomorrow's marketplace. Although the employer-based benefits landscape is radically changing, several truths are certain:

  • Employees will need reliable, actionable information to make wise decisions about benefits.
  • Voluntary offerings that are mostly untouched by the hand of health care reform are more attractive tools than ever to enhance employment recruitment and retention.
  • Voluntary benefits continue to offer valuable and affordable financial protection for working Americans.
  • Benefits communication that is meaningful and personalized provides an effective means to combat the confusion of health care reform and create an environment of choice, value, and security.

As major provisions of health care reform come online, employers face a balancing act to remain competitive and to ensure employees have access to an attractive portfolio of benefits. Despite the heightened focus on health insurance, employers must not lose sight of their entire benefits program and its value in attracting and retaining employees. Join Belinda Maffei, director of broker market development at Colonial Life, for a webinar on how voluntary benefits and benefits education and communication can be tremendous assets to employers looking for a cost-effective way to offer a competitive benefits package.

About The Presenter:
Belinda Maffei is the director of broker market development at Colonial Life. She is responsible for planning, developing, and implementing high-impact marketing initiatives across distribution channels and broker market segments, providing strategic counsel as well as hands-on tactical execution of activities.

Register here for the webinar. This webinar has been submitted to the Human Resource Certification Institute to qualify for 1.25 HRCI credit hours. Register today to learn more about cost-effective ways to offer a competitive benefits package.


More Time Spent Finding A Restaurant Than Planning An IRA
Where do you want to eat? It's a question heard every day and Employee Benefit News featured an article that stated, according to TIAA-CREF's annual IRA survey, adults in the U.S. spend more time choosing a restaurant for a special occasion than they do for planning their IRA. Based on the data collected on the more 1,000 adults surveyed, only 15% spent two or more hours planning their IRA investment. Given that same amount of time, 25% said they'd instead select a restaurant, 21% allocated this to buying a flat screen TV, and 16% reported buying a tablet.

The cause of this is most likely that retirement planning can be confusing for individuals even though help can be found from advisers and online tools. In addition, employers who offer retirement plans have information to help educate employees about their options. Yet, employees seldom take the time necessary to investigate everything available to them.

One of the solutions to resolve this apparent apathy is to boost retirement education. This was based on the findings in the survey, where more than 30% of the respondents did not understand the difference between an IRA and an employer-sponsored plan. Worse, the lack of comprehension reached 45% for the Generation Y/Millennials population (people born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s).

Coverage For Same-Sex Spouses
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that insurers, but not employers, must offer the same health coverage to a spouse in a same-sex marriage as they offer to a spouse in a traditional marriage. According to an article in Kaiser Health News, the change means that same-sex married couples will now be able to buy family policies if they have previously been unable to do so.

Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia authorize same-sex marriage, and same-sex couples who were married in any of those locations are entitled to equal access to spousal coverage regardless of where they currently live or where the policy is offered. However, couples who are in domestic partnerships or civil unions do not receive this benefit.

Based on an HHS FAQ, unequal access to health care coverage is against the health law's prohibition of marketing practices or health insurance benefit designs that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The federal guidance requires insurers to bring their policies into compliance by January 1, 2015, at the latest.

The FAQ clarifies that HHS is not requiring group health plans to cover same-sex spouses. However, if the employer chooses to offer this coverage, then the insurer must honor this choice.

Workplace Depression
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 1 in 10 U.S. adults report symptoms of depression. In an Employee Benefit News article, it claims that while navigating employee mental health can be tricky for HR since not all symptoms are noticeable, a few hidden indicators can hinder overall productivity. Those indicators are:

  • Procrastination and missed deadlines
  • Difficulties with memory and learning
  • Team morale -- if one person is depressed, it often affects the entire department or project team

The recommendation is to be proactive and create a preventive culture. HR professionals can do this by referring employees to available resources, such as an employee assistance program. However, in some instances this approach may not be enough. Employers should encourage face-to-face communication with employees in order to enhance trust and reduce the feelings of isolation. Managers should be trained on how to handle emotionally difficult conversations and identify at-risk employees. HR staff should also be flexible with their methods of intervention and adjust these as needed.

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