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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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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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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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The Traditional Benefits Fair Goes Virtual

A tried-and-true technique for annual enrollment education has been the benefits fair. Employees love them for getting the information they need, along with some freebies.  Unfortunately, benefits fairs don’t lend themselves to a public health crisis where people are working remotely, social distancing is the norm and congregating in groups is curtailed.  

One option to consider is the virtual benefits fair.  Tech-enabled benefits fairs aren’t new. They take advantage of applications that can host multiple types of content as well as live and recorded events to build on the best components of an in-person fair. 

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Nontaxable Payments to Employees? A New Way to Help Employees in the Age of COVID-19

On March 13, 2020, the President issued a determination under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the “Stafford Act”). A consequence of that action is that payments from employers to employees that meet the requirements of a qualified disaster relief payment under Internal Revenue Code Section 139 are excludible from income, a rather unusual result, for the reasons discussed below. Although Section 139 cannot be used to exempt income replacement payments (wages), other amounts may be considered exempt.

Background – The tax law has long wrestled with the issue of when various payments are subject to income tax in light of the general rule that gross income means all income from whatever source derived. Various exceptions to taxation have existed over the years for payments in disaster-related situations. A “general welfare” exception, for example, excludes from income payments made by a governmental unit under a social benefit program designed to promote the general welfare. This exception has been relied on in excluding federal and state payments to disaster victims. In a similar vein, relief payments made by charities are generally not taxable because the tax law views those payments as gifts.

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