Once annual enrollment has come and gone, it’s a good time to brush up on some basic benefit plan requirements, to avoid some of the common mistakes made in employee benefit plan administration. The following list of potential errors is by no means exhaustive, but represents a sampling of issues to steer clear of:
Administrative errors can result in fines and penalties, lawsuits, and employee discontent. An annual plan self-review can avoid these potential costly consequences of common mistakes.
Monday, February 28, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
After several hours of sitting at your work desk, it’s finally time for your break. The moment you stand up for your break, you realize that your legs are numb, stiff, or just won’t work. This is a common scenario experienced everyday by a variety of desk workers. Not that being devoted or working hard is a negative thing, but it can be detrimental to the body if smart work habits aren’t employed.
When workers become immersed in their work, it’s often hours before they even realize that they haven’t moved their lower extremities. This type of prolonged motionless work might seem like something that would increase productivity, but it can lead to an array of health problems, such as obesity and stress. The resulting problems actually make for a less productive employee.
Obviously, the first smart work habit is to get up and stretch the lower extremities and get blood flowing again. Ideally, workers should get up from their desk every hour for just a few minutes. This can be accomplished simply by walking to the water cooler, bathroom, copier, or such.
The computer is a key source of bad work ergonomics and negative impacts on the health of workers. Experts suggest that computer monitors be positioned directly in front of and arms-length away from workers. To minimize any eye strain from glares on a computer monitor, it should be tilted slightly downward. The worker can help minimize eye strain by blinking frequently to keep the eyes moist. It might be necessary to focus from a different angle, such as by slightly tilting the head upward.
Likewise, the computer keyboard should be placed directly in front of workers. It should be positioned at a comfortable distance. Try the computer at a sloped and flat position to see what feels more comfortable. It might also be helpful to rest and relax the palms when not typing.
Now that the computer and keyboard are positioned properly, workers should make sure that their own body is in good alignment. Make sure that the feet are flat on the floor and the back is supported. A lumbar support may be helpful to support the back. Stores that sell ergonomic office supplies will have work equipment, such as a chair with the lumbar support or a lumbar support insert, that’s been designed scientifically for comfort and ease of use.
Workers who take care of their body at work will feel better at work and at home. Even with the tiny amount of time lost to stretching and ensuring proper body mechanics and equipment positioning, this worker will also ultimately be more productive.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
There are certain phases of life that most of us fall into with little to no psychological effort. Retirement, however, isn’t one of those phases. It’s a time of life that requires both careful forethought and changes to mindset.
Many think of retirement purely on a monetary level, particularly how their finances will change. Indeed, just managing current and future finances can be a full-time job during retirement. However, retirement also involves many psychological aspects.
For the past 40 or more years, your career has been one of the main things that defined your life. Just think about how many times you’ve used your occupation to introduce yourself, give meaning to your life, or describe who you are. There’s often an initial feeling of overwhelming identity loss when retiring. If you’re not defined by the career you’ve spent the majority of your life building anymore, then you’re going to need to reinvent who you are now and who you plan to become in the future.
Start out by composing a list of what you’ve always wanted to do, but have never had the money or time to get done. Maybe you want to be a world traveler or volunteer for a cause close to your heart. Maybe you want to complete your education for personal satisfaction, start an entirely new career, or try your hand at being a business owner. Whatever is going to help you define the new you, it should be something that’s feasible and practical to accomplish.
Be careful about thinking that retirement is the end of monotonous work and the beginning of fun and exciting activity. Research has shown that there are potentially very serious consequences (such as boredom, depression, and feelings of being nonproductive) for many who don’t work after they retire.
Many retirees mistakenly think that a certain leisure activity that they’ve always loved or wanted to try will keep them interested and occupied. But, after just a few months, most usually find that monotony isn’t something unique to work activities. One way to avoid the pitfall of boredom during retirement is to test-drive various activities while you’re still working. It makes sense that if you get tired of playing golf every weekend for a year, then it certainly isn’t going to hold your interest during retirement. Likewise, if you plan on opening a business or starting a new career, then you can test-drive your new identity by taking night classes or working weekends in a business like the one you plan to open. Finding a new you will also help you to stay happy and productive, which will be essential considering you will now most likely be spending more time than ever with your significant other, family, and friends.
Friday, February 25, 2011
During the past few decades, Term Life insurance seemed to be best way to provide for your family if you were to die. It was affordable and paid out well, but after years of renewing policies that did not guarantee any benefits, people have started to turn back to Whole Life insurance coverage.
Whole Life coverage has gotten a reputation for being a little expensive when compared with Term Life plans, but then again, your money stays your money with a Whole Life plan.
There are many reasons why these Life insurance policies have become so popular recently.
First of all, interest rates are presently at all-time lows, but Whole Life policies pay out guaranteed rates that go far beyond what could be earned in a savings account or certificate of deposit with a similar duration. Better yet, taxes do not apply to the cash value growth of a Whole Life policy.
Also, insurance companies offer a variety of Whole Life plans that can help policyholders to reinvest dividends and increase interest on its cash value, further protecting the investment.
Taxes are another reason people are turning to Whole Life insurance. Although taxes on capital gains and dividends have been recently reduced, the proceeds of Whole Life policies are generally not taxed, even when the benefactor dies.
In all, Whole Life policies can do things that Term Life coverage just cannot offer. For instance, once premium payments accrue enough cash value in the policy, premium costs might be reduced or even eliminated, without affecting the benefits or coverage terms. Policyholders can even borrow money from their Whole Life policy’s cash value without needing to go through a lengthy loan approval process. And since it’s actually the policyholder’s money, there’s no rush to pay it back.
There are few guarantees in life, but people can count on the guaranteed benefits of Whole Life coverage. Every time a Term Life policy gets renewed, the process of investing begins anew, not to mention that Term Life coverage can be canceled if a payment is missed or late. Watch your money grow and rest assured that it will be there during times of need with Whole Life insurance.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
There’s nothing like a celebration to bring co-workers together and make them feel as though they’re one unified work family. Although a celebratory meal or party can bring cohesiveness, employers should be careful not to let celebratory events become a liability. Of course, the entire point is to allow attendees to relax, have fun, and interact on a more personal level. But, the double-edge comes from attendees mistaking a relaxed atmosphere as leeway to behave in an inappropriate manner or attendees becoming so relaxed that they behave in a way that they normally wouldn’t. Out-of-bounds behavior should be of particular concern if there’s alcohol involved in the workplace celebration.
In order to avoid lawsuits, there are several elements that employers should consider prior to any celebratory workplace event. Before the event, employers should make sure that they have informed the attendees of what will be considered improper behavior. It’s a good idea to remind and caution employees that even though the event is a party, it’s still a business event and that inappropriate touching, gifting, and off-color or offensive remarks are still considered inappropriate behaviors. Employers should be mindful that under Title VII, it only takes one inappropriate incident to bring about a timely and costly lawsuit. It might be helpful to have supervisors or managers go over the company policy with employees, especially the sexual harassment section. While going over the company policy, the supervisor or manager can also inform employees if there will be any exceptions to normal company policy made specifically for the party, such as attire varying from the normal dress code.
In the event that clients will be attending a workplace party, employers might have additional concerns that should be addressed beforehand. For example, what should an employee do if a client is making inappropriate advances or conversation? It’s usually pretty clear to employees how to handle such a situation during normal workplace hours, but sometimes employees are specifically told to make sure clients have fun at a party. This can create a recipe for legal disaster if not addressed properly. Make sure to set up a way for any employee that’s been given such an assignment to exit the situation if it becomes uncomfortable for them. This can be accomplished by setting up a room as a coffee bar or lounge and ushering clients that become unruly to the room to calm down or sober up. It’s also a good idea to have a buddy system in place for all employees handling clients. If a client becomes unruly or inappropriate he/she can be passed off to their designated buddy.
If alcohol is served, employers might consider having only a specific time frame for it. This can help to prevent party-goers from becoming intoxicated, belligerent, or driving home intoxicated. It’s also a good idea to have a transportation system, such as cabs or designated drivers, in place for party-goers that overdo it on alcohol.
Although inappropriate behavior directed toward an employee’s guest or family member might not be considered workplace harassment, it can cause a great deal of unnecessary workplace conflict. It should be made clear that inappropriate behavior toward any guest will have disciplinary actions.
One last concern is the first workday following the party. Everything that happened or didn’t happen will be discussed and scrutinized. Conversation and actions that might have been laughed at during the party or intended innocently might not always be so funny or acceptable by the next day. It’s important to encourage an open and honest dialogue about any gossip topics so that misconceptions and hard feelings can be prevented.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Anyone that has ever moved can attest that the process has a considerable impact on everything from transportation to and from work to how and where free time is spent. When considering a move, one change that’s often overlooked is insurance coverage. Often a move will affect whether or not various insurance coverage policies are still adequate.
Homeowners insurance is usually a concern when moving. For the average person, a home will be one of the largest investments they make in their lifetime. What was adequate for previous housing might not apply to the new home. The homeowner will need to assess the differences in their new home versus their previous location carefully to determine if a new policy or transferring previous coverage is best; for example, the new home might be in a flood area or other high-risk area or contain more property to cover. It’s always prudent to research the rates and coverage from several insurance companies.
Auto insurance is also usually impacted in moves further away or closer to employment. A move closer to employment or to a suburb might translate to a lesser risk. Safer driving conditions could mean lower rates. Conversely, a further distance equals a greater amount of driving time. And, this is an equation that insurers view as the driver being a greater risk. A drive that now involves a more congested roadway may also translate to a greater risk. In any event, when an insurer views a driver as a greater risk, higher rates soon follow. In the event that rates are increased from a move, there are a few steps that can help return the premiums to the previous level or at least lower them. The driver might consider increasing the deductible, buying multiple policies through the same insurer for a discount, or installing anti-theft hardware on the vehicle to lower the overall cost of the insurance.
After attending to Homeowners insurance and Vehicle insurance, the next insurance that should be examined is Life insurance coverage. How moving affects Life insurance coverage might not be so obvious as Homeowners and Vehicle insurance. Those that are upgrading their home or purchasing a home with a much higher price tag will most likely no longer have adequate Life insurance. The coverage ideally should be adjusted to account for the increased monetary commitment of a higher mortgage and household expenses. Yes, this is an added cost, but necessary to prevent leaving loved ones unable to maintain the home.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
We hear this question many times in the course of a year. While no one anticipates a catastrophic loss, unfortunately they do occur. And no industry or class of business is immune. Brent Rasmussen was on company business when he suffered a life changing accident. Fortunately his employer carried a workers' compensation policy. Our claim service can make an enormous difference even in the worst of circumstances. When a catastrophic injury occurs we strive to treat the "whole person" in a partnership that extends throughout their lifetime.
Feel free to share Brent's story with your employer and friends. You may also link it to your website. Many small business owners view employees as extended family members and would want their employees to receive help in dealing with the physical and emotional impact of a workers' compensation injury. No other agency understands small business owners like American Business Insurance. Partner with American Business Insurance to protect your business in 2011!
Posted by American Business Insurance, Inc. at 3:30 PM
A former employee with a grudge against his supervisor enters the workplace armed with a gun and kills the supervisor and three other employees before turning the gun on himself.
After the incident, co-workers said that when the employee was fired, he threatened to “get” the supervisor.
Unfortunately, nobody took him seriously.
You’ve heard stories like this on the evening news, and maybe there’s even been an incident in your area
No one should fear violence on the job. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, workers rank feeling safe in the workplace as their third-highest job satisfaction priority.
To help prevent violence and make your workers feel safe, take these steps:
- Communicate and enforce a zero-tolerance violence prevention policy that prohibits workers from bringing into the workplace any weapon or other objects that could be used in a threatening way, assaulting or threatening to assault someone, or engaging in such hostile behavior as destroying property, stalking fellow workers, or obsessing on a grudge.
- Investigate any violation of this policy, and take appropriate disciplinary action (up to, and including, dismissal in severe cases). For less serious violations, counseling in addition to discipline, might be more effective. Employees who need help dealing with personal or work problems that generate anger or hostility should be able to take advantage of an Employee Assistance Program.
- Make it easy for employees to report threats or incidents of violence, whether they involve co-workers, customers, suppliers, visitors, or even people unrelated to the workplace – for example, a violent spouse or partner who comes into the workplace to act out domestic violence. Make sure your workers understand that anyone who comes forward or who participates in any investigation of workplace violence will not face retaliation and will receive protection from predators.
- Provide options for employees who are victims of violence, feel threatened, or witness a violent or potentially violent situation. If there are immediate safety concerns, the employee or a co-worker should call 911. Otherwise, first encourage the employee to approach their supervisor or manager. If this person is unavailable, employees can go to Human Resources or the head of company security.
Monday, February 21, 2011
If you missed the webinar, "Are You Ready for a Wage & Hour Audit?," a recording is available in the HR That Works Webinar area or Media Library. During and following the webinar, the presenters received numerous questions about wage and hour law issues -- unfortunately many more than they could respond to during the program.
Here's a response to two questions about deductions from the salary of exempt employees:
Q. When an exempt employee runs out of sick pay, can an employer deduct one day's pay for the sick day?
A. Yes. Generally, you must pay exempt employees on a "salary basis," meaning that they must receive a guaranteed salary for each workweek, without any reduction due to the number of hours worked or the quality or quantity of work performed. However, deductions are allowed in certain limited circumstances, such as the absence of an exempt employee for one or more full workdays due to personal reasons other than sickness or disability, or illness or an accident for an employee covered under a sick-pay policy. If an exempt employee uses up all of their sick days under the sick leave policy, you may still take deductions for any further full-day absences.
Q. Can we allow exempt employees to take sick or vacation time off by the hour or in half-day increments?
A. Yes. However, once an exempt employee exhausts available sick leave, you can only take deductions for any future absences if the employee is absent for a full day, unless the absence is for intermittent or reduced-schedule FMLA leave. Watch the FMLA Webinar for more practical insights on intermittent FMLA leave.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
You have a great group of employees working with you and your business is thriving. You know much of that success is due to one or two key individuals with both skills and personalities that would be difficult to replace. Imagine they were injured and out of work for a while, or even worse, suppose they died unexpectedly? Would your business survive? There are five separate groups that will be most concerned about the immediate financial health and future of the business in the event of the death or disability of an owner or key employee:
- Employees will be concerned about the continuation of the business and their job security.
- Creditors will be worried about the effect of the key employee’s death on the earning power of the business and its future ability to pay back any outstanding debts.
- Suppliers will wonder about the potential loss of a customer.
- Customers will be concerned about the ability of the business to continue providing its products and services, and will consider looking elsewhere to satisfy their needs.
- Tax collectors will be concerned, but only to the extent that there are sufficient funds to pay the necessary taxes, even if it means the ultimate sacrifice of the business.
Key Employee Life and Disability insurance policies can help soften the impact of all of these.
Key Employee Life Insurance. Generally, your business purchases a Life insurance policy on a key employee, pays the premiums and is the beneficiary in the event of the employee’s death. As the owner of the policy, the business may surrender it, borrow against it and use either the cash value or death benefits as the business sees fit.
However, coming up with a dollar value on a key employee’s economic worth can be challenging. There are no specific rules or formulas to follow, but there are several guidelines that can help. The appropriate level of coverage might be the cost of recruiting and training an adequate replacement. On the other hand, the insurance amount might be the key employee’s annual salary times the number of years a newly hired replacement might take to reach a similar skill level. Finally, you might consider the key employee’s value in terms of company profits. The level of insurance coverage might then be tied to any anticipated profit or loss.
Premiums for key employee Life insurance are not a tax-deductible business expense for federal income tax purposes, since your business is the recipient of the benefits. For the most part, the death benefits your company receives as the beneficiary of the policy are not considered taxable income. However, if your business is a C corporation, the death benefits may increase the corporation’s liability for the alternative minimum tax. Consult a tax professional for information on your specific circumstances.
Key Employee Disability Insurance. The death of a key employee isn’t the only threat to your business. What if a key employee is injured or becomes ill and is out of work for an extended period of time? Disability insurance on such a key employee is another way you can protect your business against any resultant financial loss.
A crucial part of key employee Disability insurance policies is the definition of disability. Typically, these policies define disability as the inability of the employee to perform his or her normal job duties due to injury or illness. As with Life insurance, your business buys a Disability insurance policy on the employee, pays the premiums, and is named as the beneficiary. If the employee becomes disabled, the insurance coverage pays monthly disability benefits to your business. These benefits can equal a certain percentage of the key employee’s monthly salary, up to either a maximum monthly limit or 100% of their salary. The benefits may be used to pay the operating expenses of the business and to cover the expense of finding a temporary or permanent replacement for the key employee.
Disability policies typically offer elimination periods (i.e. the waiting period between the disability and when the benefits begin) ranging from 30 days to 365 days. Depending on the policy, your business may receive benefits for six to 18 months, which would be long enough to allow the key employee to return to work or for the company to replace the key employee.
Depending on the type of coverage purchased, the premiums you pay for the key employee Disability policy may or may not be a tax-deductible business expense. If the policy is considered business overhead expense insurance, then the premiums are a deductible expense. Although the business would be responsible for paying taxes on any disability benefits received, the business expenses the policy pays for indirectly would result in an offsetting deduction.
Planning ahead can help secure your company’s financial future by preventing a business from having to liquidate to raise cash. Key employee insurance can help assure families, employees, creditors, suppliers and customers that the future of the business is secure. By purchasing Life and Disability insurance on the owner(s) and/or key employees, the business is letting everyone know the financial condition of the business will remain sound despite the loss of a key person.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the second highest cause of death in the construction field is the worker being struck by an object. Most workers in the construction field are very aware of the struck-by hazards they face when doing roadwork. However, many construction workers might be surprised to know that statistics show most struck-by accidents occur on the construction site. Heavy equipment is involved in around 75% of struck-by fatal injuries. Equipment operators that don’t follow proper safety protocols not only put themselves at risk, they put workers on the ground at risk of being struck by swinging equipment, crushed under overturned vehicles, or getting pinned by equipment.
Struck-by injuries statistics prompted OSHA to establish the following procedures for equipment operators to follow in order to avoid creating hazards:
Struck-by injuries statistics prompted OSHA to establish the following procedures for equipment operators to follow in order to avoid creating hazards:
- All vehicles should be checked each shift to ensure that all accessories and parts are in a safe operating order.
- Unless a vehicle has a reverse alarm or the driver has a worker to signal them, vehicles with an obstructed rear view should never be driven in reverse.
- OSHA standard seat belts should be worn unless the equipment is stand-only or doesn’t have a rollover protective structure.
- Operators of lifting and dumping devices should ensure that they and all other workers are clear of the area before lifting or dumping.
- Vehicles and equipment should only be operated on maintained and safely constructed grades and roadways.
- Parked vehicles and equipment should have the parking brake set. If parked on an incline, the wheels should also be chocked.
- If not in use, bulldozer and scraper blades, dump bodies, end-loader buckets, and other overhead equipment should be lowered or blocked, with the controls in a neutral position.
- All vehicles should have adequate safety devices, such as braking.
- There should be a cab shield/canopy on any vehicle loaded by a power shovel, loader, crane, and such.
- The load and lift capacity of a vehicle should never be exceeded.
- Any construction taking place near a public roadway should have traffic signs, flagging system, and barricades.
- Workers must wear warning clothing, such as orange or red vests, to ensure they’re clearly visible. Warning clothing must be reflective if working at night.
- The first line of head protection is having a hardhat on.
- Workers in areas where tools or machines could produce flying particles should wear shields, safety goggles, or safety glasses.
- Materials should be stacked so that they don’t collapse, slide, or fall.
- Scaffolding areas should feature toe boards, guardrails, screens, debris nets, canopies, or platforms to prevent or catch falling objects. Tools and materials should also be secured to prevent them from falling.
- Hazard areas should have warning signs and be barricaded.
- Protective guards on tools, such as lathes and saws, should be inspected for good working condition before use.
- Never use a power-actuated tool unless trained to do so.
- Try not to work in areas where underneath loads are being moved.
- The lift capacity of hoists and cranes shouldn’t be exceeded.
- All components of a hoist and crane, such as wire, hooks, and chains, should be inspected for good working condition before use.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Senior finances is a hot topic. Thanks to advances in medicine and improved living conditions, people are living longer. Of course, the downside to living longer is that more money is needed. The conundrum that living longer causes in relation to financial freedom and retirement planning has been addressed by innumerable experts. Although some are professional experts, others are scam artists trying to build their nest egg off the back of pre-retirees and retirees. There are some key elements of financial planning before and after retirement that are recommended by most professional experts:
Eliminate Debt. Keep in mind that if you aren’t planning on working after you’ve retired from your primary career, then your income will be fixed. There won’t be any more overtime, bonuses, holiday pay, commissions, or raises to supplement your income. Make sure that you’ve planned well and eliminated major sources of debt prior to retirement. Your home and credit card debt should be completely paid-off before retiring. In the event you still have a considerable mortgage remaining, you might consider downsizing or taking out a mortgage with a longer term to lessen the payments. Don’t charge more than you can payoff each month if you continue to use credit cards.
Have a Realistic Budget. There’s a serious problem if you’ve retired and find yourself going over budget each month or drawing on principle. There’s also a problem if you’re a pre-retiree whose expected fixed income isn’t congruent with expected expenses. You need to be realistic and decide how to get your spending under control so that you can live within your fixed income.
Save, Save, and Save. Most experts recommend saving at every opportunity. This might mean that you need to change your lifestyle and make sacrifices to be financially secure during your retirement years. Cutbacks can be made in ways that you don’t feel like a huge sacrifice is being made. For example, if you eat out four times a month, then try only eating out twice a month. Those already retired should also look at their spending habits and budget to see if any money can be put into savings.
Keep Your Job As Long As Possible. Remember, each extra year you work increases your Social Security benefit and is that much longer that you get to take advantage of Health insurance, Life insurance, and other perks that your employer might offer. Working longer also gives you more opportunity to save and decreases the number of years your retirement income must cover. If already retired, you might consider a part-time job.
Don’t Make Health Insurance Mistakes. If possible, you should try to keep your Health insurance. Not understanding the requirements and rules of your plan leaves you at risk of inadvertently losing coverage upon retirement. Many mistakenly assume that Medicare will take care of all their health care needs when they turn 65 years old, but it doesn’t. At that time, you’ll need a Medicare Advantage Plan or Medicap supplemental policy.
Smart Investing. Maintain a balanced portfolio of both bonds and mutual funds. This is because taxation and inflation can take large chunks out of your income and you need a portal for long-term growth.
Understand Your Retirement Funds. Review your retirement fund options with one of our financial advisors, asking as many questions as you need to understand all the options and processes.
Postpone Social Security Benefits. It might be better for you to draw from your IRA or 401 (k) plan before applying for benefits through the Social Security Administration, as this could mean your Social Security benefits will be higher. Typically, someone that postpones drawing benefits from age 62 to age 70 will see an increase of around 76%.
Postpone Annuities. Annuitization should be postponed until you’re in your early 80s or late 70s. This means the fixed monthly payments won’t have to last as long and will be more apt to cover your financial needs.
Postpone Reverse Mortgages. A reverse mortgage is a viable option for those running out of money during their retirement years, but this should be postponed for as long as possible.
Think outside the Box. Some might fall short of their financial retirement goals before or during retirement. Desperate times call for desperate measures. It might be necessary to think about communal living. Depending on family dynamics, living with your children could be a viable option.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and other Faith-Based Organizations require careful review, advice and proper coverage to ensure their safety. American Business Insurance's EXCLUSIVE program makes available some of the "tougher" coverages others may try to avoid or limit.
- General Liability
- Pastoral & Counseling
- Physical/Sexual Abuse
- Admitted Property
- Commercial Auto
- D&O and Foreign Liability
- Separate limits for GL, Pastoral/Counseling & Physical Sexual Abuse
- No Exclusions for Corporal Punishment/Punitive Damages
- Coverage available for Mother's Day Out, Daycare, Schools and Camps
- Exclusive A Rated Program with Underwriting Authority
- Gold Level Service Standards
- Discounted Background Checks and MVRs
- Crisis Response Endorsement, including coverage for:
- Acts of Nature
- Infectious Diseases
- Contaminated Food
- Identity Theft
- Upgrade to Green
- Accident and Foreign Travel coverages available
Posted by American Business Insurance, Inc. at 3:30 PM