3 Voluntary Benefits Trends to Watch in 2021

Voluntary benefits have always been great tools for rounding off employee benefits offerings. These add-on perks allow for more personalization that can help satisfy the unique needs of each individual. And that value isn’t lost on employers—at least 50% offer some sort of voluntary benefits, according to an Alera Group report.

Voluntary benefits include dental, vision, critical illness, pet insurance and similar offerings that are paid for partially by employees. During the COVID-19 pandemic, having additional benefits options like these could be exactly what employees need.

This article outlines three voluntary benefits trends to watch for in 2021.

1. Expanded Voluntary Benefits Offerings

The voluntary benefits market has been growing steadily over the years and will continue to do so in 2021. More employers are understanding their employees’ desire for benefits options beyond health care. During the COVID-19 pandemic, voluntary benefits that may have once been disregarded are now being utilized by employees. Perks like elder care and critical illness insurance could be of particular importance amid the pandemic. As such, a larger number of employers are expected to offer a wider selection of voluntary benefits in 2021.

2. A Focus on Financial Wellness

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a dire toll on employees’ finances. In fact, 84% of U.S. adults fear the pandemic will affect their long-term financial security, according to a recent Northwestern Mutual study. As voluntary benefits options are expanded, employers can expect to see a greater number of financial-related offerings.

The specifics of these offerings will vary by employer, but may include 401(k) vesting, financial planning services, budget counseling, and student loan payback or purchasing programs.

3. Greater Customization

Employees want personalized, a la carte benefits—they want to pick and choose what’s best for them. Employers are recognizing this and will likely increase their selections accordingly. Traditional voluntary benefits—such as disability or life insurance—are among the most popular, non-traditional offerings gaining traction, especially among millennial workers. These nontraditional perks include pet insurance, identity-theft protection and student loan services. Employers will likely continue expanding their breadth of offerings to cater to the individual tastes of their employees. This might prove to be a savvy recruiting technique as well, especially among a multigenerational workforce.

Summary

Voluntary benefits can be a great value-add for employees during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. And, since employees cover a significant portion of the costs, they can also help free up employer budgets.

As has been the case since 1950, the professional agents and underwriters at Morris & Reynolds Insurance are happy to help you. Reach out for more workplace guidance or to learn more about the power of voluntary benefits. Please contact us at any time at 305.238.1000.

5 HR Trends to Monitor in 2021

HR departments are given more and more responsibility each year, oftentimes with budgets that don’t match. This means HR teams must constantly seek ways to innovate and stay on top of trends if they want to compete in the marketplace, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

To that end, here are five HR trends to watch for in 2021. When reviewing them, employers should consider how their organizations may benefit by implementing similar strategies.

1. Employee Well-being

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed the perception of what qualifies as a “safe and healthy” work environment. A couple years ago, any business with a wellness program may have fit that definition. And, even then, a company lacking those qualities wasn’t always a deal breaker for some employees.

Now, “safe and healthy” means something much different. In 2021, expect an increased focus on more rounded employee well-being. Baseline efforts will include safeguards against COVID-19, but many employers will likely go beyond illness prevention.

Already, some organizations have transitioned to a more holistic well-being approach, and others will undoubtedly follow suit. These initiatives examine the larger picture and aim to help employees better themselves, even outside the workplace. Efforts include mental health programs, dependent care assistance and flexible scheduling. Focusing on these areas can lead to healthier, happier and more productive employees.

2. Greater Inclusivity

While much of last year was defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant portion was also devoted to stemming racial inequity. Months-long protests forced a national conversation about diversity in the workplace and beyond. This prompted many businesses to make statements about committing to more diverse representation in their ranks.

While public statements and private company actions don’t always align, some workplaces are keeping good on their word. Notable efforts include consciously trying to diversify leadership, scrutinizing hiring processes to identify barriers to diversity and developing training to foster greater cultural and racial inclusivity. Employers can expect an uptick in these types of efforts in the new year.

3. Expanded Remote Work

Many businesses were forced to shut down or migrate to remote work during the pandemic. Now, even with a vaccine in sight, a large number of those employers will likely continue offering remote work opportunities. In fact, some tech giants like Twitter and Google have indicated workers may not be required to return to the office ever again.

This suggests remote work, at least part time, will remain for the foreseeable future. As such, employers should consider expanding their own remote opportunities, as applicable. This won’t be feasible in all situations, but it might be for some positions. Doing so will not only provide a safeguard

against COVID-19, but it can also serve as a tantalizing recruitment perk. Moreover, remote positions give employers greater hiring flexibility, allowing them to expand talent pools to any area with an internet connection.

4. Increased Employee Monitoring

A natural counterpart to remote work is employee monitoring software. When a number of employees operate outside the workplace, employers sometimes need other ways to keep track of productivity. That’s where these tools come in.

Employee monitoring software is what it sounds like—software that tracks computer usage. Depending on the software, it might record and employee’s website traffic, app activity and time spent idle. Some solutions even give employers access to employees’ webcams.

While some of these monitoring capabilities may seem extreme, the demand for such tools has only increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That means employers with remote workers should consider whether monitoring software is right for them. Particularly, employers should weigh the need to manage workers against the consequences of infringing on employee privacy. In other words, a heavy hand in this area might actually breed more resentment than encourage productivity.

5. Reimagined Onboarding

Onboarding is yet another workplace facet that was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This critical process of hiring, training and welcoming new employees into an organization is one of the most important functions of HR. What was once a series of carefully outlined in-person meetings has now been upended.

Employers had to reimagine the onboarding process in 2020 and will likely continue adapting it in the new year. For many, this means transitioning to an entirely virtual onboarding process, while maintaining the same level of quality. Virtual onboarding may include remote meetings via webcams, online quizzes, video tutorials and other creative methods of educating new employees remotely. Even among employers that have reopened, developing these processes now will better position HR teams in the event of another COVID-19 wave and shutdowns.

Summary

COVID-19 affected nearly every workplace function last year, and that influence will linger into 2021 and beyond. Entire functions are being reimagined and reevaluated. Employers will need to adapt quickly if they want to compete in this innovative landscape.

As has been the case since 1950, the professional agents and underwriters at Morris & Reynolds Insurance are happy to help you. Whether you have a question about this topic or need help with any form of insurance, please contact us at any time at 305.238.1000.

SBA’s PPP Portal Opens for Second Round of Loans

The U.S. Department of Treasury and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) recently announced that beginning Monday, Jan. 11, applications will be accepted for the second round of loans in the SBA’s Payment Protection Program (PPP). This second round includes $284 billion in funding that was allocated for the PPP in the stimulus bill passed on Dec. 27, 2020. This round of funding will run through March 31, 2021.

The second round of PPP loans provides eligibility to new borrowers and certain existing PPP borrowers. As eligibility opens up, small businesses and lenders should prepare to adhere to the new requirements detailed below. 

Application Schedule

Monday, Jan. 11, marked the opening of the portal. Initially, the portal opened to borrowers applying for their first PPP loan (known as “First Draw PPP Loans”) through “community financial institutions.” These “community financial institutions” are lenders that serve minority, underserved, veteran and women-owned businesses.

On Wednesday, Jan. 13, borrowers applying for a second PPP Loan (known as “Second Draw PPP Loans”) also became eligible. Again, at this date, the SBA is only accepting applications from lenders designated a “community financial institution.”

On Friday, Jan. 15, borrowers applying for First and Second PPP Draw Loans are eligible to apply through PPP-eligible lenders with $1 billion or less in assets.

Lastly, on Tuesday , Jan. 19, the portal will open for borrowers to apply for First and Second Draw PPP Loans through all participating lenders.

Information About the Second Round of PPP Loans

For the most part, the rules for this round are very similar to the initial round of PPP loans. However, there are updates to the first round of funding. According to the Treasury, key PPP updates include:

  • PPP borrowers can set their PPP loan’s covered period to be any length between eight and 24 weeks to best meet their business needs;
  • PPP loans will cover additional expenses, including operations expenditures, property damage costs, supplier costs and worker protection expenditures;
  • The program’s eligibility is expanded to include 501(c)(6)s, housing cooperatives and direct marketing organizations, among other types of organizations;
  • The PPP provides greater flexibility for seasonal employees;
  • Certain existing PPP borrowers can request to modify their First Draw PPP Loan amount; and
  • Certain existing PPP borrowers are now eligible to apply for a Second Draw PPP Loan.

A borrower is generally eligible for a Second Draw PPP Loan if the borrower:

  • Previously received a First Draw PPP Loan and will or has used the full amount only for authorized uses;
  • Has no more than 300 employees; and
  • Can demonstrate at least a 25% reduction in gross receipts between comparable quarters in 2019 and 2020.

For more specifics about the second round of PPP funding, the SBA has provided additional details.

What’s Next?

Borrowers should review the criteria for this second round of PPP loans. Borrowers considering applying should prepare and have on hand all relevant documentation. Lastly, borrowers should direct any questions regarding PPP loans to their lender.

We will continue to monitor any additional developments regarding the PPP and deliver updates as necessary. For more information about the PPP, contact Morris & Reynolds Insurance at any time at 305.238.1000.

Understanding the $900B Stimulus Package

On Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, Congress passed an emergency stimulus package designed to deliver approximately $900 billion in COVID-19-related aid. The bill, which was part of a $1.4 trillion spending package that will keep the government open for the fiscal year, has been sent to President Donald Trump, and he is expected to sign it into law.

Notably, the bill provides funding for unemployment benefits, small businesses, direct economic payments to individuals, vaccine distribution and rental assistance. This article provides an overview of what is included within the emergency relief bill.

Unemployment Benefits Funding and Extension

The bill includes funding for unemployment benefits for out-of-work Americans. Specifically, this bill allows unemployed Americans to receive $300 per week in federal funding in addition to the existing unemployment aid they may be collecting from their state, if those state-level benefits have not already run out. The additional unemployment benefits and extensions included within this bill would provide aid for 11 weeks from their expiration at the end of December 2020 through at least March 14, 2021.

Initial COVID-19 relief for unemployment benefits was introduced by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was enacted on March 27, 2020. The CARES Act provided funding for states to waive any waiting week requirements for unemployment income (UI) benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic and to provide an additional $600 per week to all individuals receiving UI benefits for weeks of unemployment ending before July 31, 2020. President Trump signed a memorandum to extend a portion of unemployment wages after the initial $600 per week expired.

Additionally, the bill includes an extension of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA is a program that allows workers who are not traditionally eligible to receive unemployment benefits, including self-employed and gig workers, to do so. An 11-week extension in base benefits through this program is also included within the bill.

Aid for Businesses

The bill includes approximately $325 billion in funding to the Small Business Administration (SBA) to assist U.S. businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specifically, the bill allocates $284 billion in funding to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides forgivable small business loans to eligible applicants. Under the bill, certain firms that had already applied for, received and exhausted PPP funds will be eligible to apply for another PPP loan. To be eligible for a second PPP loan, a small business must have less than 300 employees and have sustained at least a 30% loss in revenue during any quarter of 2020. Additionally, small 501(c)(6) organizations with 150 or fewer employees that are not lobbying organizations would be eligible for a PPP loan with this round of funding.

The bill also provides the following with regard to the PPP:

  • Expansion of expenses eligible for loan forgiveness to include supplier costs and investment costs related to modifying facilities and obtaining personal protective equipment for safety
  • Simplified loan forgiveness process for businesses that have borrowed $150,000 or less in PPP loans
  • Confirmation that business expenses paid for with PPP loan funds are tax deductible

Businesses interested in applying for a PPP loan should contact their lender for more information.

The bill also directs $15 billion in funding for independent live-venue operators affected by COVID-19 and another $20 billion for small business grants.

Direct Economic Impact Payments

The bill includes another round of economic impact payments—commonly referred to as stimulus checks. The CARES Act provided the first round of stimulus checks for eligible Americans. Under the CARES Act, tax filers with an adjusted gross income of up to $75,000 for individuals and up to $150,000 for married couples filing joint returns were eligible to receive the full payment of $1,200 per individual or $2,400 per married couple. Parents were also eligible to receive $500 for each qualifying child.

The bill follows the same eligibility guidelines as the CARES Act, but the amount of the stimulus check is less this time around. Instead of being eligible for a $1,200 payment, qualifying taxpayers are eligible for a payment of $600 per individual or $1,200 per married couple. Parents will also be eligible to receive $600 for each qualifying child.

Other Provisions Included in the Bill

The bipartisan bill provides funding for a variety of other issues, including:

  • U.S. Postal Service—$10 billion
  • Health Care Provider Relief Fund—$35 billion
  • COVID-19 Testing and Tracing and Vaccine Distribution—$69 billion
  • Transportation Industry Relief (Airlines, Airports, Buses, Transit and Amtrak)—$45 billion
  • Education—$82 billion
  • Housing Assistance (Rental)—$25 billion
    • Additionally, the bill extends the federal moratorium on evictions until the end of January 2021.

Another provision included in the bill is a ban on surprise medical bills—to help protect insured patients from large medical bills when they unknowingly receive out-of-network care. The bill also includes enhanced tax credits, including the employee retention tax credit for employers that keep employees on payroll and provide paid sick leave. Under the bill, the earned income tax credit and child tax credit would become available to those who lost wages or their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and expand the low-income housing tax credit. 

Click here to view the full text and see what else is included within the bill.

What’s Not Included in This Bill

Although providing direct aid to state, local and tribal governments and establishing an employer liability shield were included in early drafts of the bill, the two provisions were not included in the final text. These provisions were intensely negotiated by both parties and were the main cause of the stalled negotiations, but were ultimately dropped in order to pass the bill in a timely manner.

While the bill doesn’t provide direct aid to state, local and tribal governments, it does extend the deadline for states and cities to use unspent money provided by the CARES Act. Under the CARES Act, states and cities had until the end of 2020 to spend their funds, and any unspent amount would have to be returned to the Department of Treasury. This bill extends the original CARES Act deadline for a full year.

Lastly, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was not explicitly extended by the bill, and so employers are no longer required to provide federal FFCRA leave past Dec. 31, 2020. There is, as alluded to earlier, a provision in the bill that pertains to FFCRA which provides that employers who voluntarily choose to continue to provide leave in line with FFCRA terms can continue to receive a federal tax credit for leave through March 31, 2021.

Employers should keep in mind that some states and local jurisdictions have passed their own FFCRA-like laws that extend beyond Dec. 31, 2020, and others that were set to end Dec. 31 may be extended well into 2021.

What’s Next?

As previously mentioned, the bill has been sent to President Trump, who is expected to sign the bill into law. We will continue to monitor developments and provide updates as necessary.

As has been the case since 1950, the professional agents and underwriters at Morris & Reynolds Insurance are happy to help you. Whether you have a question about this topic or need help with any form of insurance, please contact us at any time at 305.238.1000.

Last-Minute Open Enrollment Considerations

The COVID-19 pandemic has upturned everything this year. So, it’s understandable if you are a little less prepared for open enrollment at this point. However, there’s still time to address open enrollment with employees in meaningful ways. Doing so will help them get the most from their benefits, which are especially valuable in these uncertain times.

This article outlines a few last-minute strategies for maximizing open enrollment for your employees.

Keep the Communications Coming

If you haven’t already, be sure that all employees know that open enrollment is approaching. This is one of the most important times of the year, and it’s even more important now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Your communications should reflect that. More specifically, they should detail action items for employees prior to enrollment.

Between remote work, kids learning from home, sick relatives and potential family job losses, employees may be struggling to stay afloat. Open enrollment is a time for adjusting benefits based on significant life events, such as a need for increased medical coverage.

With that in mind, your communications should touch on:

  • The importance of considering lifestyle changes and the potential need for additional coverage
  • The different plan options available
  • Any voluntary benefits that may help during the COVID-19 pandemic

Don’t be afraid to bring up other topics that may be affecting employees, like their workloads or mental health. In fact, employees should be encouraged to reach out about those types of issues.

Assign a Point Person

Employees will almost certainly have questions about their open enrollment, especially if it’s happening virtually this year. As such, you should have a designated person tasked with answering all employee questions. Their contact information should be provided in all employee enrollment communications.

Change Up the Medium

People retain information differently, so email communications aren’t always sufficient for conveying a message. Instead, consider diversifying your approaches. Sending an email alongside a video or PDF flyer can be more effective. If time allows, consider sending mailers to employees as well.

Going further, hosting a virtual enrollment webinar could help employee retention even more than individual messages. This would be a time when employees learn about available plan options and notable changes, and ask questions to the moderator.

Summary

Open enrollment may almost be here, but you still have time to help employees maximize their benefits. Speak with Morris & Reynolds Insurance for more open enrollment strategies, guidance and employee deliverables.

As has been the case since 1950, the professional agents and underwriters at Morris & Reynolds Insurance are happy to help you. Whether you have a question about this topic or need help with any form of insurance, please contact us at any time at 305.238.1000.