Thursday July 19, 2018

Health savings accounts: Not your parents’ retirement plan

With the rise in health savings account (HSA) enrollment among younger employees and the decline in company matching rates of 401(k)s, HSAs have emerged as a retirement account option for new employees. In this guest post, Sean Hanftm, a flexible compensation specialist with, explains the many benefits of these savings vehicles and compares them to the most popular retirement accounts.

You’re young. You’ve just graduated college and have your first “real” job. You have the world in front of you. Retirement is the farthest thing from your mind because, let’s face it, that’s a lifetime away. And so it goes, younger workers continue to lag in their savings habits, particularly when it comes to long-term savings.

In fact, a census data report in 2014 showed 66 percent of millennials have absolutely nothing saved for retirement (CNN Money), and this doesn’t include many more who may be saving but are far behind in their retirement goals.

As with most things, the new workforce is breaking the mold and shifting the workplace paradigm. Numerous studies exist that explore the psyche of the millennial and Gen Z workers, as employers and human resource professionals strive to attract and retain top talent from this generation that will dominate the workforce for the foreseeable future.

Ironically, millennials and Gen Z employees have more options than ever when it comes to retirement savings. Where older workers may be more likely to pursue 401(k)s and other traditional retirement plan options, younger millennials and Gen Z have sparked a growth in health savings account (HSA) enrollment and may have improved their retirement potential in the process.

According to The State of Employee Benefits 2017 report, published by employee benefits firm BenefitFocus, the number of eligible millennials under age 26 enrolling in an HSA rose by 40 percent in 2017. The same study found that millennials increased their HSA contributions by an average of $200 in 2017.

An HSA is an attractive savings option because it can provide an immediate boost to your retirement earning potential, while letting you cover immediate healthcare costs. HSAs were created in 2003 and are similar to flexible spending accounts (FSAs) in that they’re funded with pre-tax dollars, and subject to yearly contribution limits (2018 limits are $3,450 for individuals, $6,900 families). However, HSAs have additional benefits, including:

? Rollover of unused funds from year to year
? Triple-tax savings (contributions, interest and withdrawals for health expenses are not taxed), and
? Ability to invest a portion of unused dollars in mutual funds and other long-term savings vehicles.

HSA funds can even be used to pay for copayments, prescription medicines and thousands of over-the-counter medical products.

Where HSAs really pique the interest of millennials is in their long-term retirement potential. HSA funds can be used tax-free for qualifying healthcare expenses, but if you withdraw this money and use it on a non-medical expense, it’s subject to a 20 percent tax penalty. But once you reach Medicare age at 65, you can withdraw that money without a tax penalty and it is just taxed as income. So, not only can working professionals fund an account to cover health expenses, any remainder can be used to fund the user’s retirement in the future.

A comparison of retirement savings options

Can an HSA really be a standalone retirement option for millennials? Not on its own. Let’s examine how HSAs stack up against the earning potential of the most common traditional retirement plan options over the course of a young professional’s career.

For this exercise, we’ll consider an unmarried professional who begins saving at age 30, contributing the HSA maximum ($3,450) annually in 2018.

  • HSA: With an annual contribution of $3,450 (2018 limits) that earns 2% interest rate — $176,568.00 (after 35 years)
  • 401(k): With a starting salary of $50,000,  a contribution rate 6.9% ($3,450/year), an average salary increase of 4% an average rate of return of 7% and a 0% employer match — $803,051 (after 35 years)
  • Traditional IRA: With an annual contribution of $3,450 and average rate of return of 7% — $510,301 (after 35 years)

The takeaway

While HSA enrollment rates are taking off and their retirement savings potential is finally getting the attention it deserves, HSAs should be seen as more of a supplemental retirement option rather than a primary solution to long-term savings. There’s certainly more fluctuation in the aforementioned numbers for avid investors looking for a larger return. But for those who want a simple, long-term savings plan with little hands-on management, retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s are still the best options for long-term savings.

It’s important for millennials and Gen Z employees to understand that, while HSAs won’t provide the major retirement windfall they may have hoped, enrolling in a qualifying high-deductible health plan with an HSA is still a valuable addition.

Ease of use

Employees of all ages, but in particular millennials and Gen Z employees, are looking for online options to manage all aspects of their lives and to connect the disparate areas of their lives in an effort to streamline and simplify. Numerous online HSA tools exist for this purpose, including those that allow account holders to select the best HSA for their needs, to estimate their long-term HSA earnings, and to manage their HSA utilization and investments.

Sean Hanft is a flexible compensation specialist with, companion websites dedicated exclusively to consumer education and selling products that are eligible for reimbursement with an FSA or HSA.

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5 ways to help an employee going through a hard time

Try as we might, sometimes keeping work and personal issues separate is impossible. 

And when an employee is struggling due to a sick family member or recent divorce, it can be tough to know exactly how to help.

The right balance

It’s up to HR pros to be both compassionate and professional — to be empathetic, yet keep everything running smoothly. It can be a tricky balance to strike.

But Harvard Business Review contributor Carolyn O’Hara shared five things HR pros should do to help an employee going through a personal crisis:

  1. Build solid relationships. Employees aren’t going to want to tell you about their personal problems unless they feel comfortable. Focus on making connections with employees and promoting a culture of compassion, and they’ll come to you when something’s wrong. Plus, the better you know your employees, the easier it’ll be to tell when someone seems to be struggling.
  2. Don’t ask too many questions. It’s important not to pry too much into personal matters — remember, you’re not their shrink. Just ask for the information you need to know, and let the employee keep the rest private.
  3. Listen, then speak. You may be tempted to interrupt the employee to offer a solution, but don’t. Listen to everything they say to make sure you’re on the same page, then ask, “How can we support you?” The employee might already have something in mind. You don’t want to hastily suggest a leave of absence if that’s not what the employee had in mind.
  4. Know what you can offer. You might want to give the employee leave or the ability to work from home … but can you? Make sure you know your company’s policies and restrictions on leave or other assistance you could give. If you’re unsure about something you can offer the employee, explain you’ll need to check and get back to them.
  5. Check in regularly. Even if you and the employee have come to a solution, it’s important to follow up. This can be face to face or in a brief email. Try something like, “Do you feel like you’ve got a handle on everything?” Remind them to keep in touch and to come to you if any more issues pop up.

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Trump’s driver sues for years of unpaid overtime

Donald Trump’s former driver claims to be owed years of overtime pay, and the potential FLSA violation could end up costing the President hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Noel Cintron was Trump’s personal driver for more than 25 years. And while he was paid an annual salary of $75,000, Cintron now claims he was incorrectly classified as an exempt employee, and should be paid for roughly 3,300 hours of overtime.

Was he exempt?

As Trump’s driver, Cintron was on duty from 7 a.m. until whenever he was no longer needed. This resulted in him working an average of 55 hours a week. Due to the statute of limitations, Cintron can only sue for the past six years of unpaid overtime instead of the full 25. Still, overtime pay of $54 an hour for 3,300 hours would result in a big payout of more than $175,000.

The FLSA requires employers to pay workers one and a half times their normal rate once they exceed 40 hours in a week, unless they meet certain exemptions. Some of these exemptions include managing other employees or being an educated professional. Since Cintron didn’t meet any of these FLSA exemptions, it would appear he is classified as a non-exempt employee who can be paid overtime.

However, there’s another law that complicates Cintron’s claim. The Motor Carrier Act allows drivers to be exempt from overtime if their vehicle weighs more than 10,000 pounds. So, Cintron’s claim could come down to the weight of the car he drove.

Trump’s team also argues that Cintron gladly accepted his $75,000 salary and never made one complaint about the lack of overtime pay over the past 25 years.

Employer takeaway

Whether or not Cintron wins his claim, there’s an important lesson in this case for employers. Even if employees are satisfied with how they’re compensated, that doesn’t mean employment laws don’t apply. It doesn’t matter if an employee would rather have the salary you offer them — you must follow FLSA provisions, have them properly classified and pay them accordingly.


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Opioid epidemic in the workplace: Is Congress’s ambitious new legislation the answer?

Employers everywhere are struggling to handle the opioid crisis and its impact on the workplace, so Congress is looking to step in. 

A new bill, H.R. 5892, has been introduced in the House.

It aims to establish an advisory committee to guide the Secretary of Labor on ways to reduced and address opioid abuse in the workplace.

The committee would include a 19-member group made up of:

  • employers
  • employees and employee reps
  • workplace safety experts
  • HR pros
  • doctors, therapists, academic researchers and
  • state and local officials.

Only 19% of firms feel prepared

Chances are the majority of employers would welcome this, as only 19% of firms said they feel extremely prepared to deal with the opioid epidemic in their workplace.

Plus, seven out of 10 employers have had to deal with the effects of employees’ prescription drug abuse, according to a National Safety Council study.

And those effects run the gamut from absenteeism and selling prescriptions at work, and impaired or decreased performance and overdoses.

While it may seem like there’s little employers can do to prevent issues in this area, that’s not the case.

Painkiller alternatives

CFOs can work with insurers to make sure addictive prescription drugs aren’t the go-to option for every injury or ailment.

How? By giving workers access to insurer-covered alternative therapies.

Alternative therapies – such as acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, hypnosis, etc. – are attempted before addictive prescription drugs are brought into the equation.

Despite plenty of interest, employers seem to be balking at actually giving this option a shot. In fact, even though 88% of firms were interested in their insurer covering alternative treatments, just 30% planned on actually negotiating on that expanded coverage option.

Employers should also review insurance policies and EAP contracts to make sure employees are covered for prescription drug abuse.

3 key safeguards

For many employers, the opioid epidemic also makes it necessary to update key policies. The National Safety Council recommends the following:

Create a drug-free workplace program (DFWP). This states what workers must do if they are prescribed meds that may cause impairment.

Test for prescriptions. Working with an attorney, employers can test for drugs that are legally prescribed and commonly abused.

Spell out what happens when abuse occurs. This should include how the abuse is identified, employees’ options (leave, etc.) and how a return works.

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7 insane bosses that’ll make you thankful for yours

Sure, no one’s boss is perfect. But some are so spectacularly bad they’ll make you happy to deal with your own flawed leader. 

Reader’s Digest had employees share the most ridiculous and strangest interactions they’ve had with their bosses. Here are the best ones:

  1. The Penny Pincher. In an effort to save some money (or maybe the environment), one boss was caught digging used paper cups out of the trash can and putting them back near the water cooler. Some still had lipstick on them.
  2. The Day Drinker. Someone’s boss informed her she was receiving a promotion and a raise. The next day, when she mentioned it, the boss told her she wasn’t really getting promoted. His reason? “You know better than to take me seriously in the afternoon — I’m always drunk then.”
  3. The Convoluted Communicator. One employee’s boss texted them, urging them to check their email. Upon opening the email, the employee found a two word message: Call me.
  4. The Saying Scrambler. This boss could never quite get his phrases right. Some of his greatest hits: “The Greek pyramids weren’t built in a day,” “It’s not rocket surgery,” “It’s all smoke and windows” and “Nothing is nailed in stone.”
  5. The Computer Crusher. One boss had some kind of meltdown at work and hurled a computer out of the 50th story window. Later that day, he was removed from the office in a straight jacket, but returned to work about a month after the incident.
  6. The Determined Driver. Someone’s boss didn’t want to deal with the hassle of city parking, so he tried to park his car in the building. His car initially fit through the doors, but as he backed into the office, the side mirrors were too big to squeeze through. After an hour of moving desks and trying to assist the boss in parking his car inside, everyone was forced to abandon the mission.
  7. The Forgetful Firer. An employee showed up on her first day of work to find someone in the office that was supposed to be hers. Confused, she looked for her boss, but she was out of town. Turns out, the boss had forgotten to fire the person this employee was replacing before she left.

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Trump administration weighs ending current DOL: What it means for HR

DOL overtime rules
The Trump administration has certainly made some major — and mostly pro-employer — changes to Department of Labor (DOL) regs, but those changes pale in comparison to what the administration hopes to do to the agency next.

In the White House’s “Delivering Government Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations,” the Trump administration announced it hopes to merge the DOL with the Department of Education.

Under the proposal, the two agencies would combine to form the Department of Education and Workforce. The goal of the merger: to improve efficiency by sharing the two government resources.

Although specific details are scant at this stage, improved communication and efficiency through shared government resources is being touted as one of the primary reasons for the merger.

4 sub-agencies

If combined, the new agency would be responsible for meeting the needs of U.S. workers through the entire employment life-cycle – beginning with their initial education and skills development, tasks currently handled by the Dept. of Education.

To accomplish this, the merged department would be broken down into the following four main sub-agencies:

  1. K-12,
  2. American Workforce and Higher Education Administration,
  3. Enforcement, and
  4. Research, Evaluation, and Administration.

With the DOL’s focus on enforcement in recent years, employers will obviously want to know more about the “Enforcement” sub-agency. The current proposal says the sub-agency would include the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and “would include worker protection agencies from DOL that are responsible for enforcing statutes relating to workers’ pay, safety, benefits, and other protections, as well as federal workers’ compensation programs.”

What it could mean for HR

Granted, this huge undertaking is far from a done deal, but employers are still likely to wonder, “How would such a merger impact our company?”

In a recent HR Daily Advisor article (a BLR publication), James P. Reidy, an attorney with Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green PA and the co-editor New Hampshire Employment Law Letter, touched on the potential pros and cons of such a merger for employers.

But, as Reidy point out, the success of the merger (if approved) “depends on the resources dedicated to the consolidated agency,” and could take a long time to be running on all cylinders because, “like any other merger or consolidation of different organizations with some overlap or similarities, it could take time to sort things out, reduce redundancies, reassign personnel, and define mission/direction. This could mean that DOL enforcement activities are reduced, delayed, or curtailed for a period of time.”

On top of reducing federal spending by eliminating redundancies, Reidy sees a potential benefit in the “combined resources and efforts focusing education to better prepare students and workers of all ages to adapt to our evolving economy.”

However, he also sees a number of potential problems with the merger. As Reidy put it:

“In addition to partisan bickering in Congress and challenges from unions representing employees in each department, the other disadvantages would include a muddied mission and a much larger agency with a confederation of bureaucrats without a clear direction or purpose.”

Keep checking with HR Morning, as we’ll be sure to keep you posted on this potentially huge change.

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Buried in work? 3 tips when asking colleagues for help

Between the flood of emails constantly coming in and a never ending to-do list, it’s no surprise that plenty of people are completely overwhelmed at work. 

And a lot of stress could be eased by asking colleagues for help … but almost no one wants to admit defeat or impose on others.

Making a clear request

But studies have shown that the majority of people are more than willing to lend a hand – you just have to ask.

Harvard Business Review recently shared three things you should do that’ll make it a little easier to ask for help:

1. Think about what you need. One thing that prevents people from asking for help is confusion over what exactly to ask for. Take a minute to sit down and think about everything you need to get done. Select tasks that someone else could do without significant instruction or supervision, and that would provide the most relief to you.

2. Ask for what you need very clearly. People tend to be uncomfortable asking for help, which can result in vague requests. Saying, “Would you like to” or “If you have time” can make the task seem optional. Clearly state what you need and by when. Also, ensure the colleague you’re asking can actually do what you need them to.

3. Accept what’s offered. If someone doesn’t have the time or know how to do what you need, they still might be able to help. For example, your colleague may not be able to complete the task you need, but they might be able to help direct you toward who can. This will ultimately allow you to accomplish your goal, so remember to be flexible when accepting the type of help you’re offered.

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Baker wins, but Supreme Court religious freedom ruling raises tough issues for HR

When the High Court ruled in favor of a baker who refused to put together a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs, it made national news – and put employers everywhere in a tricky spot regarding free speech.

It also left things pretty open-ended on the issue of Free Speech.

‘Further elaboration in all courts’

In fact, in the ruling Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote:

“the outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

As SHRM reported recently, this ruling is especially troubling for employers that just want to stay in compliance.

Because firms need to be aware of the various anti-discrimination laws in different states, as the trend of bolstering protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity is only expected to gain traction moving forward.

On the other hand, this ruling shows firms also have obligations to make reasonable accommodations for workers’ sincerely held religious beliefs.

Those two components can appear contradictory at times. And because this ruling didn’t answer any key questions about the tension between LGBT rights and the First Amendment right to free speech, we’re likely to see more legal challenges in the future.

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Manager’s one dumb comment triggers race discrimination lawsuit

eeoc discrimination guidance

When an employee wants to transfer to a new department, but isn’t qualified for the job, it seems like a fairly straightforward situation. But one offhand comment can quickly turn an open and shut case into a lengthy legal battle. 

Not qualified

Jerberee Jefferson was a clerk in the finance department at Sewon America. She’d been taking technology classes and expressed interest in transferring to the IT department after discovering an open position. The department manager encouraged her interest and had Jefferson take the skills test required for the job.

But Jefferson didn’t pass the IT skills test. And after undergoing a bad performance evaluation as well, she was officially out of the running for the job.

The manager explained Jefferson didn’t have the required five years of experience. But instead of ending there, he added that he “really wanted a Korean in the position.”

Race discrimination, retaliation

Jefferson reported this interaction, claiming she didn’t get the job because she was African American, but HR told her to “brush it off.” Shortly after that, Jefferson was fired for her poor performance review. She quickly filed a lawsuit, claiming she faced race discrimination and retaliation for reporting the incident.

The company argued Jefferson wasn’t qualified — she failed the skills test and performance evaluation, and didn’t have the necessary IT experience. Sewon went on to say that Jefferson was fired for her poor performance review, not her HR complaint.

But a circuit court agreed with Jefferson. Though there were legitimate reasons for denying the transfer, the manager’s comment along with Jefferson’s termination shortly after reporting it was enough for the court to send the case to trial.

What should’ve been a basic transfer denial turned into an expensive lesson for this employer. It’s important to remind managers to never bring up a protected class as a reason for denying a promotion or transfer, and to take all discrimination complaints seriously.


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Why HRs pros want to kill I-9 and what they want instead

If you’re in favor of ditching the current employment verification process – the paper-based I-9 form – for a mandatory electronic system, you’re not alone.
According to the SHRM Employment Verification Survey, 83% of employers either strongly or somewhat support a mandatory electronic verification system. Plus, employers’ support of such a system would be even higher if it:

  • avoids allegations of employment-based discrimination (cited by 95% of employers)
  • includes a strong safe harbor to protect employers (95%)
  • authenticates identity (94%), and
  • eliminates the Form I-9 (89%).

Review documents, discard excess

But while firms may want to do away with the hassle of I-9 compliance, the reality is they still have to deal with it. And now is the perfect time for a review of your I-9 compliance efforts for a number of reasons.

For starters, the most recently revised form became mandatory in the fall.

Plus, the Dept. of Homeland Security’s Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency (also known as ICE) can investigate your company’s I-9 records on an at-will basis – and has already been increasing these investigations with higher fines.

And because I-9 administration is one of the most routine tasks HR, benefits and payroll pros handle, it’s easy for minor issues to fall through the cracks.

But even the most minor issues can prove costly in the event of a federal visit. That’s why regular self-audits are so important.

Key: Before conducting the self-audit, make sure your roster of employees is up to date.

As employers know, all employees hired on or after Nov. 6, 1986, must have a completed I-9 on file. If you discover an employee doesn’t have an I-9 for whatever reason, make every effort to resolve the issue ASAP.

Review documents, discard excess

During your audit, you’ll want to make sure all documentation is accounted for. Chances are, you may have been hanging on to some unnecessary paperwork.

Employers are only required to keep documentation for former employees for one year after separation or three years, whichever is later.

Keeping documents you don’t need only gets in the way of your documentation process and could slow down your procedures.

4 common problems

During the audit, you’ll want to watch for these common errors:

1. Missing signatures. This error is made by both employees and employers. Recently, a staffing firm didn’t have the correct person signing for its remote workers and wound up getting hit with a $227,000 fine.

Another example: An event planning company failed to notice that Section 2 of the I-9s lacked all workers’ signatures. It wound up with more than 800 violations and a $605,250 fine.

2. Blank fields. Several fields in the I-9 are optional for employees (e-mail, telephone, etc.), but they can’t be left blank. These optional fields must include “N/A” in them. Employers can’t correct even the most obvious omissions, so if you notice a blank field, it’s critical to return the form to the employee to add “N/A.”

Note: Employees’ Social Security numbers aren’t required unless the employer uses E-verify.

3. Failing to help employees with Section 1. While not technically a mistake, not using a trained I-9 staffer to supervise staff filling out Section 1 often leads to mistakes and errors.

4. Failing to fix errors correctly. When mistakes are discovered on Section 2 and 3 of the form, the corrections must be initialed and dated by employers (Section 1 must be completed by the employee only).

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