Benefits Blog

Navigating Transgender Leave

Introduction

The societal understanding of what it means for an employer to be truly inclusive of all diversity groups has expanded exponentially since the turn of the 21st century. Employers are increasingly faced with multifaceted Human Resources related topics including cannabis, cybersecurity, sexual harassment, and a push, in many states, for equal opportunity for paid leave. Equal opportunity accommodations do not just vary between male and female employees but also between groups based on race, religion, and gender identity.

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Supporting Your LGBTQ Employees During Pride Month and Beyond

Each year in June, the LGBTQ community and its allies celebrate Pride Month, showcasing the diversity of the LGBTQ community and exploring the past and present of LGBTQ advocacy. While our society has made great strides when it comes to discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, there’s still plenty of work to be done. As an employer, one of the most meaningful ways you can honor Pride Month is by reviewing your health care benefits to ensure that they fully support the health and wellbeing of all of your employees, including those who are LGBTQ.

Understanding LGBTQ health disparities
Health care equity is a real issue when it comes to the LGBTQ population. People who are LGBTQ are at higher risk than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts for a number of medical conditions, diseases, and infections, including cancer, obesity, and behavioral health issues.1 There are also barriers to health care access for LGBTQ individuals, most of which can be traced back to discrimination and oppression.2

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Prioritizing Women's Health Boosts Community Wellbeing

Women are often the custodians of family health, taking on the role of caregiver for their children, partners, parents, and community. A recent study found that the onset of the pandemic brought on additional responsibilities: In 55% of households, women are twice as likely to have primary or sole responsibility for cooking, cleaning, childcare and education. What’s more, 80% of mothers said they were the ones managing home school since the coronavirus lockdowns.

With these added responsibilities, working moms in particular have expressed feelings of burnout in their daily lives and a sense of being betrayed and abandoned by society. Often faced with a “right choice trap” between taking care of family and work obligations, they’re forced to put their own mental and physical health needs on the back burner.

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Mental Health and the Workplace - Understanding Plus Action

May is a much anticipated and welcomed month for New Englanders. At last, the discolored piles of snow have melted, and shovels and winter jackets are retired. April’s rain has given way to a colorful blooming ecosystem. Some people anticipate the end of homework battles, time spent outdoors socializing (while physically distanced), and warm weather activities they treasure. May, however, is not experienced in these ways by everyone. In fact, for many it can feel gloomy like an endless rainy January afternoon, or full of panic as when a tornado strikes. Perhaps you know one or two people who are experiencing life in these ways.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and an opportunity to raise consciousness and advance the dialogue around mental health impacts, what to say to someone who is struggling, and how to promote help-seeking behavior. Let us consider how employers can support employees in distress by being observant, connecting with empathy, and guiding them to professional support and resources.

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3 Methods to Bend the Cost Curve in 2021

Employers and benefits consultants looking to bend the cost curve in 2021 will have their work cut out for them. In response to recent legislative changes and the uncertainty the pandemic has brought, here are three fail-safe methods you can use to bend the cost curve for your employees and your organization.

For Employees
Benefits for unique needs and times
One of the many disparities the pandemic threw into sharp relief was how few employees were equipped to work from home. While certain workers may have had a slightly easier time, many were left turning bedrooms and kitchens into makeshift cubicles.

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The Big Rebrand: 3 New Categories of Benefits in a Post-COVID World

A workplace observance that’s been around less than twenty years, National Employee Benefits Day well deserves its spot on the annual calendar. Recognizing all those administrators, insurers, and professional advisors who balance the broad spectrum of plan design, day-to-day benefits administration, affordability within budgets, ever-evolving compliance rules and emerging trends is smart business. These teams shape “wellbeing,” literally by stewarding finite resources to bundle what American employees need AND want. Isn’t that the definition of wellbeing? Who’s with me on replacing the current “employee benefits” lexicon with “employee wellbeing”??…that’s a topic for another day.

When I asked rising executive and thought-leader, Alexa Baggio, to be NEEBC’s blogger for National Employee Benefits Day, I knew first-hand her talent for recognizing the pulse on the employee benefits landscape and her ability to translate it into actionable opportunities. In her blog below, she exceeded my expectations for delivering fresh, crisp, poignant perspective on designing and offering meaningful benefits, including distinguishing three new benefits categories. 

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Women are Disproportionately Impacted by the Pandemic – Your Call to Action for Women’s History Month

My first career milestone came in 1982 when one of the nation’s premier financial institutions welcomed me into its formal training program. Having never viewed my gender as career relevant, imagine my surprise on Orientation Day when one other woman and I sat among twenty black men with a flip chart – prominently positioned – with the words “Welcome to our Minority Internship Program.” While my title recollection may not be precise, learning I was a “minority” has never faded. In America, the needle for women has moved in the last four decades. But, enough?

March, encompassing both Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, celebrates, honors and remembers the women on whose shoulders we’ve stood. And, these observances invite deep reflection and resolve. Using COVID-19 as a lens, as well as seeking a future where gender equity is secure, we share below some pandemic-related examples and questions to consider.

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World Oral Health Day Spotlights the Importance of Dental Care to Your Overall Health

March 20 marks World Oral Health Day – an annual reminder that taking care of your mouth is critical to taking care of your overall health and well-being. In 2021, preventive oral health care is especially important after many people delayed scheduled appointments when dental offices were closed to all but emergency services at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, an August 2020 Biomedical Journal article suggests that a healthy mouth could decrease the severity of COVID-19 symptoms and reduce associated morbidity1. As an employer, you can play a key role in helping to improve health outcomes for your employees by prioritizing oral health care in your organization. Solutions that make dental care affordable for employees, such as dental benefits that include preventive care, along with policies that make it easy for employees to make and keep dental care appointments, are a great place to start.

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Retirement Planning Tips for Women

Women often face special challenges when planning for retirement. For example, if they are the primary caregivers in their families, their careers may be interrupted to care for children or elderly parents, which means they may spend less time in the workforce and earn less money than men in the same age group. And even if they remain in the workforce, women still tend to earn less than men, on average. As a result, their retirement plan balances, Social Security benefits, and pension benefits are often lower.

In addition to earning less, women generally live longer than men, which means having to stretch potentially limited retirement savings and benefits over many years.

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Prioritizing Workplace Flexibility As A Cultural Imperative

While the pandemic’s effects forced employers into an uncomfortably reactive position, managing their way through this experience proved that flexibility is a critical asset. The work environment has undergone some lasting changes, and acknowledging this shift frees employers to focus on overcoming the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Prioritizing workplace flexibility has become a cultural imperative that’s more than a single decision or policy change. It’s a value that nurtures the ability of organizations to respond resiliently to future change, helping ensure business continuity and growth.

Formal processes to approve and transition a relatively small number of employees to a nontraditional work setup are no longer a perk. As a new normal takes hold, work-at-home and other flexible arrangements are becoming a new standard.

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6 Health Benefits Trends for 2021

Health insurance has always been a top priority for employees, and with so much economic uncertainty due to the pandemic, employers are working hard to avoid shifting more costs to employees. In fact, as a result of COVID-19, most employees think access to health benefits is more important than ever before.

The pandemic has prompted the health care industry to transform and innovate at a rapid pace. It has also caused many people to prioritize their health and rethink how they find and receive care. This has created a shift in how people view their benefits, what they value, and what carriers can offer.

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2020 Impacts and the Future of HSAs

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) have been an integral part of health insurance and employer benefit offerings for almost 20 years. Signed into law in 2003, HSAs were created to help individuals covered under a compatible health plan, known as a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), set aside funds on a tax-free basis to pay both current and future medical expenses, allowing Americans to be more empowered healthcare consumers and better prepared for their retirement expenses.

HSAs continue to grow exponentially. As of June 30, 2020, according to research conducted by Devenir, an estimated $73.5 billion is held in more than 29 million HSAs. The incredible growth of HSAs since their inception points to the improved spending and saving experience for the employee, while showing measurable value for employers as well. Despite the uncertainty of 2020, HSAs have become integral to employee benefits, and 2021 will continue to see positive evolution of this healthcare, savings and retirement solution.

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Caring for Caregivers

Employees bring their whole selves to work each day which allows for the highly efficient, effective, and creative workforce we enjoy. As Human Resource professionals, we appreciate the diversity of our workforce and continue to adjust within our employee benefit programs to meet the changing needs of our employees and their families. Top employers know that thinking more strategically about caregiving will help them fight for top talent and provide the corporate culture employees are seeking especially in this more complicated caregiving landscape brought on by COVID-19.

The concept of caregiving is not new but as our workforce evolves it is becoming more critical to consider caregiving as an area of opportunity within employee benefits. This shift, further amplified by the pandemic, highlights a cavern between top tier employers who appreciate the multitude of responsibilities employees must navigate versus those that hire people despite them.

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Beware of the Hidden Effects of Reduced 2020 Healthcare Costs — Bold Solutions Can Help Address These Challenges

Amidst the pain, anxiety, and budget hits caused by the coronavirus, one bright spot has been reduced healthcare spending. Medical claims dropped precipitously as provider groups closed or limited their practices to ensure capacity for coronavirus patients. Most elective procedures were canceled or postponed. Patients also stayed away to avoid potential exposure. After a drastic reduction of costs in March, April, and May, claims costs returned to normal levels in June and July, as reported at the New England Employee Benefit Council’s October 15 Healthcare Cost Control Solutions Program.

According to the State’s Division of Insurance, in Massachusetts:

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Washington “Insiders” provide the latest on benefits-related legislation, court cases and economic policies and how the election could affect each

Attendees of the October 2nd NEEBC 2020 Washington Update – Bringing Washington to New England (at least virtually) program were provided with valuable information and insights from three Washington-based policy experts about recently enacted and potential future employee benefits-related legislation and economic policies.

James Gelfand, Senior Vice President, Health Policy, with ERIC – The ERISA Industry Committee – kicked off the morning by discussing the 2020 health policy landscape from the perspective of the federal legislative, judicial and executive branches, principally focusing on the likelihood of future changes in law and policy.

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How to Keep Participants in the Plan After Retirement

According to Vanguard’s most recent How America Saves1 survey, which looks at Americans’ retirement savings habits, 80 percent of participants eligible to take a distribution chose to preserve their assets for retirement. According to the survey, 62 percent of plans allow retirees to take installments, 32 percent allow for partial ad hoc withdrawals (more than double from five years ago), and only 2 percent force retirees out after a certain age.

Many Plan Sponsors, particularly those with plans over $1 billion, realize the value of asset retention, which improves purchasing power and can lead to fee savings. A PLANSPONSOR survey2 reports that half of Plan Sponsors in the over $1 billion category prefer terminated employees with material balances remain in the plan. Plan Sponsors of smaller plans are beginning to take cues from their larger counterparts.

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Should Employees “Check Their Baggage at the Door?”

World Mental Health Day 2020 is October 10, and many workplaces are re-thinking the old notion of “checking baggage at the door.” This practice came from a belief that work was work, home was home, and the only thing separating them was the commute. It was also centered on the belief that mental health issues were shameful and should be hidden from view at the workplace. This fear relates to the stigma associated with mental illness and the belief that vulnerabilities may impact career mobility.

Now enter the land of COVID-19 and workplaces are re-thinking this position. The line between work and home has been turned upside down by the pandemic, making it challenging on a number of fronts. In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll1, more than half of Americans report that the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health. While at least one in five employees typically suffers from a behavioral health condition, many more now feel down or anxious about the pandemic. With so many people suffering in this way, does it make sense to just ignore it? What are the benefits and risks of acknowledging mental health issues and embracing them?

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Breast Cancer Screening – October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States.1 It’s important to educate your employees about the disease and that early detection is an important factor in the success of breast cancer treatment

Early Detection
The type and frequency of breast cancer screening that is best for you changes as you age. Talk with your doctor about how often you should have a breast exam, and when you should start having mammograms.

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Seven Steps for Creating a Corporate Family-Caregiving Strategy During COVID-19

The first version of this piece appeared on NEEBC’s blog in June 2019. When I submitted it for inclusion, I did not imagine that it would be one of the most popular blogs on NEEBC’s site that year. Recently, NEEBC asked me to update the blog to reflect how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted a company’s ability to create a care culture. Read on.

Introduction
The Coronavirus Pandemic has launched companies and employees into a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty. For months now, human resources and benefits departments have been overwhelmed by the questions and challenging circumstances their employees have as the demands of work and family life collide like never before. Employees are grappling with the challenges of caring for children who may not be attending school or daycare like they are used to, family members who are ill with COVID-19 or other conditions, and what feel like diminishing opportunities to balance their own physical and mental well-being.

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Connecting your employees to valuable health & wellness benefits

For many employers, annual enrollment season is fast approaching. You’ve likely made hundreds of decisions and spent an exorbitant amount of effort to optimize your spend while providing the best benefits package to employees. Why? Because benefits matter. They matter for a variety of outcomes that employers seek – like employee attraction and retention, improved health outcomes, total well-being, and overall satisfaction. But, we know the average employee spends only 17 minutes on their annual enrollment activities1. So, how do you get your employees to pay attention (or even notice) your benefits? We recommend getting them to focus on the most impactful and valuable benefits first.

Our research
At Fidelity Investments®, we have spent the past year conducting and analyzing research on how employers and employees value their benefits. We analyzed the data from many perspectives (recruitment, retention, well-being), but for this discussion, let’s focus on the benefits that impacted employee well-being.

When we looked specifically at health, wellness and work-life benefits, we found that there were seven key benefits that offered an increase in well-being just by being offered, regardless of utilization. A different set of seven benefits required employees to use them to get a meaningful boost to their well-being.


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