Don’t be Unprepared Because of Health Care Reform Myths

Tracey Gavin of Apex Benefits Group wrote a notable column for Inside INdiana Business recently, pointing out the dangers for employers of not being prepared for fallout of the Affordable Care Act. She lists eight common myths that you need to be aware of:

Those answers could help implement solutions that go beyond compliance, but help minimize the financial impact and even capitalize on strategic opportunities through proper planning and preparation.

Myth No. 1: I don't need to worry about Health Care Reform or make any decisions until January 1, 2014.

Truth: Employers need to plan now. Some need to determine their status as "large employer" under the federal statute. Others need to begin the process of determining full-time status for certain classes or types of employees. Failure to do so can trigger maximum penalties – or worse, fines for non-compliance.

Myth No. 2: It is less expensive to terminate our medical coverage plan and just pay the penalty.

Truth: Aside from the impact on employees, many employers will find that once the penalties and tax consequences are accounted for, there may be little to no savings to terminate their coverage. In fact, some will actually pay more by terminating their plan.

Myth No. 3: An employer may ignore the law the first year or two – since they believe the worst that can happen is they end up paying some sort of penalty around $2000 per employee –minus 30.

Truth: No! A dangerous myth. An employer that is subject to the federal law – and willfully avoids compliance – is subject to a fine of $100 per day, per affected person. An employer with 50 equivalent full-time employees that ignored the law (versus an honest mistakes while trying to comply) could be fined $5000 (or more if dependents are included) per day — until the employer corrects the noncompliance. It is clearly noted in the regulations this fine can be levied at up to $500,000 per employer.

Myth No. 4: After health care reform is implemented, most employers will stop offering medical benefits.

Truth: There may be changes to plan offerings and contribution strategies, but few employers plan to drop coverage, according to a Towers Watson and National Business Coalition on Health survey. The reasons to offer coverage to employees have not changed just because health care reform was passed. For example, attracting and retaining employees remains important part of the business operating efficiently.

Myth No. 5: My carrier and broker will take care of everything.

Truth: Some will. Others may not be able to. An advisor's inability to help employers maintain compliance and quantify the financial risks leaves employers vulnerable to serious fines, penalties, excess costs and tax implications. Employers must be proactive and understand the financial viability of their employee benefits programs and impact to their organization.

Myth No. 6: A simple calculation for "pay or play" will provide our company with an accurate projection of financial risk under PPACA.

Truth: Unfortunately, this myth is perpetuated by the many online – or – "black box" calculators in the marketplace. The truth is employers need to do an analysis that captures all the inter-related and moving parts of PPACA that can impact the financial sustainability of their plan. Cost drivers such as plan design, contributions, migration, and many other factors. To complicate this, scenarios need to be modeled precisely and include projecting how changing one factor can in turn impact all the others.

Myth No. 7: Employers that offer a self-funded plan will have very little compliance costs or issues.

Truth: Self-funded plans do in some ways have more plan design flexibility under health care reform and potentially avoid some tax assessments. However, the majority of regulatory requirements apply to groups irrespective of their plan funding. Regardless of funding status, all employers will need to understand the financial ramifications of health care reform to their business and employees.

Myth No. 8: Employees would be financially advantaged by obtaining coverage through Medicaid or the Exchange.

Truth: Maybe. Certainly most individuals qualifying for Medicaid would be advantaged. Individuals who could qualify for tax subsidy may or may not be financially advantaged when premiums and out-of-pocket expenses are compared to employer-sponsored health coverage. Those whose household income is greater than 400 percent Federal Poverty Level (FPL) would be faced with much greater premiums and out-of-pocket expenses compared to employer-sponsored coverage.

American Paychecks to Shrink, to Chagrin of Employers and Employees

Get ready for a heaping dose of bummersauce: They say the only certainties are death and taxes — but you can also count on your 2013 checks being smaller because of those taxes. CNN Money has the bad news:

Payroll taxes are key for financing Social Security, and the break of the past two years has forced the government to replenish the funds with borrowed money. The tax break was always meant to be temporary.

Workers earning the national average salary of $41,000 will receive $32 less on every biweekly paycheck. The higher the salary (up to $113,700), the bigger the bite, but business owners say their lower wage employees will feel it most.

Deborah Koenigsberger, who owns the Noir et Blanc fashion store in Manhattan, has yet to have the talk with her only part-time employee, a college student.

"It's going to hurt me to tell her this. She can't afford a decrease," Koenigsberger said. What unnerves her is the feeling that she's lost control as a business owner watching out for her employees.

Keval Mehta, CEO of In-R-Food, a smartphone app developer in Durham, N.C., worried the tax increase will threaten morale. "They don't get paid enough for what they do," Mehta said.

The 1-year-old company has yet to make a profit, having just launched software that scans grocery products and lists ingredients and nutritional values. His four employees could make upwards of $80,000 a year elsewhere, but three of them earn less than half that. They put in long hours, must work from laptops while on vacation, and no, there isn't a health insurance plan.

All that made it even more difficult to warn them during the holidays about the oncoming pay cut. Mehta promised them he'd make up the lost pay if the company's finances improve next year.

"Currently, they're working on passion. But that can only drive you so much," Mehta said. "I don't like that I don't have control over this. It wasn't a decision I made. But as a CEO, you take responsibility for everything. You're automatically at fault, because you're the captain of the ship."

Kudos to Trio of Hoosier Companies for Military Support

Three Indiana organizations are among 133 semifinalists for the prestigious Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. The award is the highest honor given by the government to employers for providing exceptional support to their Guard and Reserve employees. There were more than 3,200 nominees nationally.

The Indiana employers named semifinalists are Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana, Inc., Princeton; U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Indianapolis; and Gary Jet Center, Gary. Freedom Award nominations come directly from Guard and Reserve members, or family members acting on their behalf. The Freedom Award provides service members with an opportunity to recognize employers for going above and beyond what is required by law. 

Employers chosen as semifinalists support their Guard and Reserve employees through a variety of formal and informal initiatives, including developing internal military support networks, providing full benefits to employees fulfilling their military obligations, caring for the families of deployed employees, and granting additional leave to Guard and Reserve employees preparing to leave for or return from deployments.
 
ESGR will announce the 2012 Freedom Award finalists next month after a review board comprised of military and civilian leaders selects the 30 most supportive employers from among the 133 semifinalists. The 15 award recipients will be announced early this summer and honored in Washington, D.C. at the 17th annual Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award Ceremony on September 20, 2012.  

Advice for Employers and Employees About Social Media Use

Every week, it seems like there’s another story or controversy surrounding a business and its use of social media. Whether it’s an ill-advised Tweet, improperly disciplining an employee for social media use or an employee venting irresponsibly, the gray area in this arena seems to be spreading like a (computer) virus. Ragan.com offers some tips on what you should consider when it comes to social media use. Keeping these concepts in mind may keep you out of trouble in the future:

1. Training and communication about corporate social media policies are essential: Some companies have no social media policy, but most have come to recognize that existing communication policies are insufficient to protect employers and employees from the nuances and unique risks of social media. Other organizations have a policy but fail to educate employees on the risks and ramifications of their actions in social media; this is almost as dangerous as having no policy at all.

Simply put, your employees—particularly younger ones who are social natives—are ill equipped to understand the corporate, regulatory, and legal risks of their social media activities. If you are not reinforcing to them what is expected, what will get them and the company in trouble, and the consequences of mistakes, your brand is accepting needless risks, and you are not doing your employees any favors.

2. Give employees every opportunity to vent in private and appropriate channels: Nothing a company does will prevent some employees from turning to social media to voice complaints, because social media sharing is second nature to too many people. Nevertheless, that should not prevent companies from trying to prevent as many social media problems as possible.

The answer is not to prevent social media access at work—employees all carry their social networks in their pockets or purses nowadays—but instead to furnish multiple ways for employees to share feedback within the company.

This includes passive solutions, such as offering intranet forums where employees may discuss concerns, and proactive solutions, such as organized employee gatherings and groups to collect feedback. The best solution is nothing new: strong, active, open, and engaged leadership that listens to employees.

3. Do not ask for candidates’ or employees’ passwords: Asking for employees’ and candidates’ social media passwords is problematic for several reasons. First, doing so might expose you to information that the person is in a protected group, which could then open the company up to a discrimination claim. Also, your organization could suffer a blow to its reputation if a candidate or employee discloses the practice.

In hiring situations, you might lose a qualified candidate concerned that your organization demonstrates a hostile and distrustful relationship with employees. Finally, this practice requires employees to violate Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which states, "You will not share your password… let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account."

Some assert there are legal risks to asking employees and job candidates for their passwords. I am not a lawyer and cannot advise you on the legality of checking social media for information on candidates, but asking for passwords is a dangerous and risky policy.

If you’d like more information on this topic, the Indiana Chamber offers the Indiana Employer’s Guide to Monitoring Electronic Technology in the Workplace – 3rd Edition (authored by attorneys from Ogletree Deakins).

Is Your Facebook Page an Indicator of Your Job Performance?

Not sure why parents are so irked about what’s on their sons’/daughters’ Facebook pages. They’re just showing potential employers how extroverted and — let’s call it "gregarious" – they can be. The Wall Street Journal wrote an interesting piece on a new study that was actually conducted by the University of Evansville, among others:

Could your Facebook profile be a predictor of job performance?

A new study from Northern Illinois University, the University of Evansville and Auburn University suggests it can.

In an experiment, three "raters"—comprising one university professor and two students—were presented with the Facebook profiles of 56 college students with jobs.

After spending roughly 10 minutes perusing each profile, including photos, wall posts, comments, education and hobbies, the raters answered a series of personality-related questions, such as "Is this person dependable?" and "How emotionally stable is this person?"

Six months later, the researchers matched the ratings against employee evaluations from each of the students’ supervisors. They found a strong correlation between job performance and the Facebook scores for traits such as conscientiousness, agreeability and intellectual curiosity.

Raters generally gave favorable evaluations to students who traveled, had more friends and showed a wide range of hobbies and interests. Partying photos didn’t necessarily count against a student; on the contrary, raters perceived the student as extroverted and friendly, says Don Kluemper, the lead researcher and a professor of management at Northern Illinois University.

The findings show that Facebook could be used as a reliable job-screening tool, he says, especially since candidates would have a hard time "faking" their personalities in front of their friends.

The legality of using social-media sites to screen job applicants is murky, as employers could open themselves up to discrimination lawsuits based on race, gender and religion.

8 Things Bosses Probably Shouldn’t Say

If you manage people at your business, you know it can be tough. You want to walk that balance of being nice and garnering respect and getting the job done. While you shouldn’t be a pushover, BNET does have some recommendations on things you shouldn’t say to your employees unless you don’t mind them taping a picture of your face to a dartboard.

Here are 8 things a good leader should never say to employees:

1.“I’m in charge, so this is what we’re going to do.” Dealing with different opinions or even open dissent is challenging for any leader and can make you feel defensive and insecure.  When that happens you might be tempted to fall back on the golden rule:  She who has the gold makes the rules.  Don’t.  Everyone knows you’re in charge; saying you are instantly destroys any feelings of collaboration, teamwork, and esprit de corps.  When you can’t back up a decision with data or logic, possibly that decision isn’t the right decision.  Don’t be afraid to back down and be wrong.  Employees respect you even more when you admit you make a mistake.

2.“I have a great opportunity for you.” No, you don’t; you just want the employee to agree to take on additional work or the project no one wants.  If you say, “Mary, next week I’m assigning you to work on a new project with our best customer,” she immediately knows it’s a great opportunity.  If you say, “Mary, I have a great opportunity for you; next week I’m assigning you to sort out the problems in our warehouse,” she knows she just got stuck with a less-than-plum assignment.  Any opportunity that really is great requires no preface or setup.  Don’t sell.

3.“Man, this has been a long day.  I’ll see you guys.  It’s time for me to get out of here.” No employee wants to feel your pain. From your perspective, running a business can be stressful, draining, and overwhelming.  From the employee’s perspective you have it made because you make all the rules.  Don’t expect employee empathy; instead talk about how today was challenging and everyone pulled together, or how you really appreciate that employee’s help. Continue reading

Beware of Resume Fabrications in Tough Times

Communications firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas out of Chicago released an article warning employers to be wary of resume fudgers, especially with so many applicants these days. Here is an excerpt for your company to heed:

As millions of Americans struggle with long-term unemployment, the temptation to stretch the truth on one’s resume to gain a competitive advantage is becoming harder to resist. Some desperate job seekers are going so far as to establish fake references. However, the payoff may not be worth the risk, according to one employment authority.

“There is very little proof that any form of resume boosting directly results in a job interview, much less a job offer. In contrast, there are scores of examples of individuals who have been eliminated from candidacy or fired after a fraudulent resume was uncovered,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., the global outplacement consultancy which provides job-search training and counseling to individuals who have been laid off…

They also added this list:

Top Resume, Interview Fabrications

Education: Listing degree from a school never attended; inflating grade point average and graduate honors; citing degree from online, non-accredited "education" institution.

Job title: Making up a title or boosting actual title by one or more levels in hopes of obtaining better salary offers.

Compensation: Inflating current or previous salary and benefits to secure more money from prospective employer.

Reason for leaving: Saying it was a mass downsizing when the discharge was based on performance; asked to leave, but saying you quit; underplaying or completely hiding poor relationships with superiors.

Accomplishments: Overstating one’s contributions to a team project or company performance; claiming to have received special recognition; exaggerating level of participation in an important aspect of the business.

Just Say “No” to Résumé Blunders

Oh, the agony of job searches. There’s the time-consuming process of developing a summary of your many accomplishments and attributes (as hours pass, you begin to wonder if you’ll be finished when Haley’s Comet reappears in 2062). Nail-biting interviews also take a toll (sadly, willing the telephone to ring won’t guarantee a job offer). Here’s the good news: Your best weapon in the “job search jungle” is something you have complete control over — your résumé.

But, be aware: typos translate to trouble.

A recent article I saw polled senior executives at the country’s largest companies. Forty percent of respondents revealed they would disqualify candidates who submitted résumés containing grammatical errors.

Talk about having one chance to make a first impression!

The story also revealed some sloppy mistakes that sent the candidate packing:

• Hope to hear from you shorty.
• Have a keen eye for derail.
• I’m attacking my resume for you to review.
• Dear Sir or Madman (this is one of my favorites. Unless you really are applying to work for a madman, this salutation won’t earn you any points.)

Evn if re-reading you’re résumé becomes less appealing than other tasks such as tackling outdoor chores – during a blizzard – give it one last look (did you catch my misspelling of “Even” and "your?”). Otherwise, one mistake could bring it a one-way ticket to a potential employer’s trash can.  

How Employers are Using Facebook to Research Potential Hires

We’ve all heard how employers are looking at social media sites to research potential employees during the hiring process. But is the discovered information indicative of future performance? Thanks to a study from professors at the University of Evansville and Louisiana State University, there’s a little social science to answer this question. (Speaking of LSU, one might question if the sometimes volatile and outspoken Shaq would have gotten through admissions had Facebook been around when he attended the school. Then, without hesitation, one should probably answer "yes.")

This article from Inside Indiana Business by UE Asst. Professor Peter Rosen explains the study:

Louisiana State University Professor Don Kluemper and I both thought this was an interesting question, and one worth exploring. So last year, we began a study entitled “Future Employment Selection Methods: Evaluating Social Networking Web Sites.” The goal was to learn whether or not the information found on a person’s Facebook page could serve as an accurate barometer of that person’s personality, IQ and academic performance, which are many of the same things that predict job performance.

The answer, we found, was a resounding “Yes!” Working with 63 LSU students, all of whom had undergone training in what potential employers look for on Facebook, we were able to determine that much of what employers look for can, indeed, create an accurate impression of several personality traits, including:

• Extroversion
• Agreeableness
• Conscientiousness
• Emotional Stability
• Openness to Experience

To do this, we randomly selected six sample Facebook pages from a group of students that had agreed to join our research study. Each of the 63 trained student raters was asked to individually review the six sample pages. Using only what they saw on the site, the students were then asked to rate each Facebook user based on their perception of the person’s personality, intelligence, and academic performance – our proxy for job performance. Continue reading

Facebook Works to Out-Twitter Twitter

Sigh. You know, just when I feel like I’m fairly "with it" in terms of technology, Facebook goes and makes a bunch of changes. I blame the teenagers – though I’m trying not to feel like an old fogy here. But just give me an episode of "All In The Family" and a lukewarm Tab and let’s call it a day. At any rate, Techcrunch reports:

Facebook made a number of announcements today about changes to its home page, profile pages, and activity streams. Taken together, these represent a concerted response to the rise of Twitter as a real-time message broadcasting system that goes beyond members’ personal circle of friends.

One of the biggest changes is that Facebook is getting rid of the distinction between private profiles and public pages. The 5,000-friend limit will be dropped from the public pages. Facebook doesn’t want Twitter to become the way large companies and public figures connect to fans. Up until now, Facebook Pages haven’t really been the place fans go to connect with their favorite celebrities or brands. For that, they’ve started going to Twitter, where they can get updates in real time.

Facebook is also speeding up the updates that populate the news feeds on everyone’s personal page. Before, these would be updated every 10 minutes or so. Facebook’s introduction of real-time updates and a one-sided follow system mimics Twitter’s functionality. While it may be a little late to this part of the game, its user base of 175 million dwarf’s Twitter’s. Explains CEO Mark Zuckerberg:

"What we’re talking about today, is that there’s a philosophical change in that we want to converge these public figures (which are one way) and friends (two way connections)."

Stay tuned for a post in the near future about what employers are learning about applicants through Facebook.