Adopting an Inside Out Approach to Cybersecurity

Posted on September 30th, 2020

Cyber hygiene is a reference to the practices and steps that users of computers and other devices take to maintain system health and improve online security. These practices are often part of a routine to ensure the safety of identity, data and financial assets that could be stolen or corrupted. Much like physical hygiene, cyber hygiene is regularly conducted to ward off natural deterioration and common threats.

One can think of cyber hygiene as the countermeasures that are implemented on a network to keep the system and data safe from hackers, fraudsters and negligent employees. It is most effective when implemented in layers. These levels build up a protective defense against all network threats. The idea is to create robust detection and prevention measures that monitor, identify, alert and stop threats to the network.

Many Small and Medium-sized Enterprises do not have IT reporting to the C-Suite. Therefore, leaders tend to manage cybersecurity based on assumptions about the level and scope elements in place, such as:

  • All elements of the firewall are 100% activated
  • Malware detection is fully functional
  • Established access management parameters
  • Appropriate wireless security protocols
  • Endpoint security (mobile devices, tablets, laptops)
  • All software registration certificates are up-to-date
  • Vendor connections are working correctly and secure
  • Security patch management

What’s missing is the validation that the information surrounding an organization’s cyber defense is accurate. Therefore, businesses need to validate controls in a continuous manner, rather than viewing measurement of security as one snapshot at a time.

Understanding inside weaknesses and vulnerabilities is more important than ever. To truly prepare for the cyber threats, it’s crucial that organizations start operationalizing a view of security from the inside out while focusing on cyber hygiene right at the heart.

For this reason, Alera Group recommends all companies adopt Continuous Threat Monitoring (CTM). CTM is aligned to give real-time visibility into security systems. Instead of penetration tests or audits, which are static, continuous monitoring gives more holistic visibility into systems over a longer period of time. Businesses can then quantifiably validate whether their controls are protecting critical assets. At the same time, security leaders and teams can manage their cybersecurity programs with more meaningful metrics to drive decision-making, optimize operations, and, ultimately, improve their cyber posture over time.

Companies can approach cybersecurity with an “inside out” view by doing the following:

  1. Identify exact points of vulnerability within the attack life cycle. For example, the first point of vulnerability is your organization’s own people. Security leaders should focus on helping their teams understand an attacker’s behavior in a particular segment they’re trying to defend. Then validate defenses by testing the incident response process. By understanding how teams currently respond to threats with practice scenarios, leaders can determine where to make defenses stronger. Then systematically proceed to identify points of entry and vulnerabilities.
     
  2. Measure ROI on cybersecurity investments. Businesses must ensure trust with their partners and clients. At the same time, to ensure cybersecurity businesses are incurring new expenses that previously had not been contemplated. This is why it’s especially important to verify that your organization is attaining the expected ROI out of cybersecurity investments — rather than assuming so. Security leaders need data that shows exactly where the security gaps are and where you need to invest more heavily.
     
  3. Apply risk-based decision-making, not compliance-based. Traditional models of measuring cybersecurity effectiveness tend to be siloed and compliance-based, where cybersecurity measures are managed across separate enterprise channels and important data is underutilized. This also tends to result in a “checklist” mentality, which can leave your company vulnerable. Instead, cybersecurity must be aligned with your organization’s biggest risks and mission-critical business needs with products that deliver holistic and actionable insights. Further, IT must have a seat at the management table to share knowledge and be held accountable. 
     
  4. Determine which technologies can be improved and which can be removed from the stack. For cybersecurity personnel, there are many products they have to manage. But it’s important to verify which products in the environment are working and which are not. Solutions for one organization may not be the right match for yours. Determine what technology products can give you the most value and what fits best with your current architecture so that you’re not purchasing redundant products that you already own. Having security controls mapped in an automated fashion also makes it easier to tag and label identified threats.
     
  5. Develop close relationships with cybersecurity resources. When it comes to cyber threats, and how they continue to evolve, businesses are faced with the known and massive unknown. Many businesses are under-prepared and/or under-insured for their growing cyber peril. Therefore, it’s imperative for businesses to have a quantifiable way to understand their own digital network security posture. As cyber perils looms, the focus must shift from a reactive position to an intentional, proactive approach engaging risk management, incident prevention and response. Success is about integrating technology and forging relationships with third-party providers, such as Cybersecurity Operation (Sec Ops) experts. These Sec Ops deliver an end-to-end solution that identifies a company’s network vulnerability, closes gaps, educates employees on how to avoid exposing their network to hackers, provide 24×7 monitoring and establish a post-incident event plan. These best in class attributes reduce the chance of cyber disruption for an improved risk profile

When you approach security from the outside in, you’re simply trying to deny intrusion. When you approach from the inside out, you are protecting your mission-critical data by determining the most vital applications and using a risk-based strategy, which focuses on the most valuable and vulnerable assets.

 

About the Author

Steve Paulin, CIC is a Risk Management professional and Workers’ Compensation Practice Leader for Orion Risk Management, an Alera Group Company. Steve has over 35 years of experience helping mid-market businesses reach their profit goals by optimizing the insurance program’s financial efficiency and risk management outcomes. Steve has extensive experience with Cyber Risk, and Loss Sensitive plans, including Large Deductible and forming Captive programs.

Alera Group Promotes Key Employees William Corrigan, Brian Caracciolo and Carolyn L. Cox

Posted on September 28th, 2020

Deerfield, IL — Alera Group today announced promotions of key employees within the company’s executive leadership team.  Brian Caracciolo will assume the role of Chief Financial Officer; and Carolyn L. Cox will assume the role of Executive Vice President, General Counsel.  William Corrigan, the agency’s former Chief Financial Officer, has been promoted to Chief Operating Officer.

Since April of 2017, Brian Caracciolo has served as Alera Group’s Corporate Controller, overseeing all aspects of the company’s accounting and finance function.  During this time, Caracciolo has been responsible for executing the company’s centralized accounting shared service strategy and building the company’s treasury and investor relations function.  Prior to joining Alera Group, Caracciolo served as Director, Finance at Baxter and Chief Accounting Officer at HUB International and was formerly a senior manager at PwC where his clients included a variety of public and private companies in the insurance industry.

Carolyn L. Cox has been Deputy General Counsel at Alera Group since April of 2018.  Cox has played a key role in several of the company’s strategic initiatives, including its M&A activities, and also manages the day-to-day legal needs of the enterprise. Cox has substantial experience in the insurance industry and has served as both outside and in-house counsel to several financial services firms over the course of her legal career, focusing primarily on transactional and regulatory matters. Prior to joining Alera Group, Cox was Assistant General Counsel – M&A at DaVita Inc. and has also worked as Corporate Counsel at Marsh & McLennan Companies.

William “Billy” Corrigan has served as Alera Group’s Chief Financial Officer since Alera Group’s formation in January 2017. Corrigan was instrumental in leading Alera Group’s continued organic and acquisitive growth. In his new role, Corrigan will be concentrating on the further development of organizational infrastructures to support Alera Group’s local market presence while enhancing the client experience.  Prior to joining Alera Group, Corrigan held the position of Chief Financial Officer for the International Division at Marsh.

“Brian, Carolyn and Billy have proven to be leaders within the company and have played instrumental roles in building Alera Group since its initial formation. They have deep functional knowledge and their tremendous experience in the insurance distribution industry will continue to provide great strength to the company and its leadership team going forward,” said Alan Levitz, CEO of Alera Group. “This will further help Alera Group execute on its continued growth strategy while delivering exceptional client experiences.”

This announcement highlights the latest developments on Alera Group’s industry-leading team of experts across the United States. For more information about Alera Group, visit www.jmjwebconsulting.com.

# # #

About Alera Group

With over 90 locations across the country and nearly 2,000 teammates, Alera Group works together to deliver solutions in employee benefits, property and casualty, retirement services and wealth management. Built on a unique model of collaboration, Alera Group is now the 17th largest independent insurance agency in the United States. For more information, visit www.jmjwebconsulting.com.

 

Weekly Wellbeing Resources: Motivation, Coronasomnia and Remote Recognition

Posted on September 28th, 2020

Each week, we release a curated list of fantastic wellbeing resources that hit the major facets of your holistic wellness. We hope that you enjoyed our weekly list! Tune back in next week for more great finds. 

Interested in MORE wellbeing content? Join our 2020 Virtual Wellbeing Fair by registering here

Career Wellbeing

  • Why Motivation Matters –Todd Henry, the author of Motivation Code, shares a few key insights from the beginning of his new book to help unlock why motivation is critical, and how to begin to leverage it daily.

Social & Family Wellbeing

  • Anxiety in ourselves and in our children – Anxiety is miserable but also manageable.  In this podcast, child and family therapist, Jennifer Kolari, shares essential tips for calming your own fear and anxiety as well as how to model this for your children.  

Financial Wellbeing

  • Medical Debt: What to Do When You Can’t Pay – Medical debt is not a personal failure.  Millions of Americans struggle with high medical bills.  If you are faced with medical debt you can’t pay, here are some tips for reducing what you owe so you can minimize the effects of your bills on your finances, health, and future. 

Physical Wellbeing

  • 14 Stretches to Counteract the Effects of Sitting – Sitting for long stretches of time can really take a toll on your body, even if you are getting a daily workout in.  Here are some stretches from a Physical Therapist to minimize the effects of sitting.
  • Do you suffer from Coronasomnia? Due to the stress of the pandemic, more people than ever are fighting a serious loss of sleep. Here are some tips you can try to break the cycle of sleeplessness. 

Emotional Wellbeing

  • Your True Power Lies in your Willingness to be Vulnerable – We are taught that vulnerability is a weakness.  But vulnerability allows us to show up more fully in the world.  This piece by Gabby Bernstein shares some thoughts on how to be more vulnerable and authentic both in our personal life and at work.

Community Wellbeing

Employer Focused Wellbeing

  • The New Workplace: How to Help People Thrive During Change – We’re experiencing change like never before both at home and at work. While some organizations are struggling, others are thriving. Why?  Join this webinar on how to help people thrive in the new workplace, featuring Adam Grant and Chevron's VP and CHRO, Rhonda Morris on Tuesday, September 29 at 1 PM ET.
  • The Remote Workplace Needs Recognition Rituals Too – Many remote workers — even while still employed — are likely to feel adrift, lost, forgotten in their new work environment. Here are a few ways leaders can initiate a remote culture of recognition.

If you have any questions, contact your Alera Group advisor or email us at wellbeing@aleragroup.com! 

The Five Ws, and One H of Affordable Care Act (ACA) Affordability Safe Harbors

Posted on September 23rd, 2020

This is the seventh article in our Compliance 101 blog series where we use six questions to break down important compliance topics. Below you will learn more about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Affordability Safe Harbors. Read more below! 

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Who needs to worry about affordability safe harbors?

Definition: ALE as defined in section 4980H(c)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code, enacted by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), with respect to a calendar year is an employer that employed an average of at least 50 full-time employees on business days during the preceding calendar year.

  • All applicable large employers (ALEs), including nonprofit, and government employers must offer minimum value (MV), affordable coverage to its full-time employees (defined as, for a calendar month, an employee employed on average at least 30 hours of service per week, or 130 hours of service per month) to avoid a penalty, also known as an employer shared responsibility payment.
  • Non-ALEs are not subject to the employer shared responsibility regulations.

What is the purpose of an affordability safe harbor?

  • ALEs when determining whether coverage is affordable for purposes of the ACA’s provisions, are not likely to know the household income of their employees, so the IRS provides three safe harbors: Form W-2 wages, an employee’s rate of pay, or the federal poverty line (FPL)* that an employer may use instead of household income in making the affordability determination.

    *FPL is also commonly referred to as the federal poverty level safe harbor. However, in the final IRS regulations and IRS Q&A 39 on employer shared responsibility provisions the safe harbor is referred to as the federal poverty line safe harbor.

Where is the affordability safe harbor used?

  • Under the ACA, ALEs are required to report, typically using IRS Forms 1094C/1095-C, whether they did or did not offer minimal value, affordable coverage to each full-time employee (and dependents) for one or more months during the calendar year.
  • For a full-time employee who was offered minimal value, affordable coverage but declined, an employer on Form 1095-C, Part II, Line 16, will report to the IRS the reason, (i.e. how affordability was determined) why it should not be subject to an employer shared responsibility penalty with respect to the employee on whom it’s reporting using the applicable safe harbor code for each calendar month.

Why does it matter if an ALE offers affordable coverage?

  • Under the ACA, an employee is not eligible for subsidized Marketplace/exchange coverage for any month in which the employee is offered health coverage under an eligible employer-sponsored plan that provides MV and that is affordable relative to the employee’s household income.
  • If an employer offers MV coverage to at least 95% of its full-time employees in any given calendar month but that coverage is not affordable under one of the safe harbors and a full-time employee is approved for a premium tax credit for Marketplace/ exchange coverage, the employer may be subject to an employer shared responsibility payment, IRC §4980H(b)—The “B Penalty”.

IRC §4980H(b)—The “B” Penalty. This is also referred to as the “tack hammer” penalty. Full-time employees who were offered but declines employer coverage that does not provide minimum value or is not affordable will trigger the “B” penalty. The monthly penalty assessed on an ALE for each full-time employee who receives a subsidy will be 1/12 of $3,860 (in 2020) for any applicable month.

When is coverage considered affordable for the purposes of the employer shared responsibility provisions?

  • Employer-provided coverage is considered affordable for an employee if the employee’s required premiums for the lowest cost self-only ACA compliant coverage does not exceed 9.5% (as adjusted for inflation) of that employee’s household income. e.g.

How are the safe harbors calculated?

Affordability safe harbors are used to determine whether the employer may be subject to an ACA shared responsibility penalty. It is possible for the employer’s coverage to be considered affordable under one of the three safe harbors (and therefore not liable for an ACA penalty) but unaffordable relative to the employee’s household income and the employee is still eligible for a marketplace/exchange subsidy.

  • An ALE may choose to use one safe harbor for all of its employees or to use different safe harbors for employees in different categories, provided that the categories used are reasonable and the employer uses one safe harbor on a uniform and consistent basis for all employees in a particular category. The final regulations clarify that reasonable categories generally include specified job categories, nature of compensation (for example, salaried or hourly), geographic location, and similar bona fide business criteria.
  • If an ALE offers multiple health care coverage options, the affordability test for a particular employee applies to the lowest-cost self-only coverage option that provides minimum value and that is available to that employee.

Form W-2 Wages Safe Harbor

  • Generally requires an employer to look at each employee’s wages at the end of the calendar year as reported on that employee’s Form W-2 in Box 1.
  • Coverage is affordable if the employee’s required premiums for the lowest cost self-only ACA compliant coverage does not exceed 9.5% (indexed) of that employee’s W-2 wages (as reported in Box 1)
  • This requires a retrospective analysis and an employer may not know if they passed until it’s too late.
  • A risky safe harbor to use, especially with an employee population whose schedules and income fluctuate.

Rate of Pay Safe Harbor

  • Provides employers with a method for satisfying affordability prospectively without having to analyze each employee's wages and hours.
  • Avoids the retrospective analysis required under the Form W-2 wages safe harbor and allows an employer to assume 130 hours/mo with some limitations (more below).
  • A beneficial safe harbor to use for employees whose work hours fluctuate.
  • Hourly employees
    • Generally based on the employee’s rate of pay at the beginning of the coverage period, with adjustments permitted, if the rate of pay is decreased (but not if the rate of pay is increased).
    • Coverage is affordable for a calendar month if the employee’s required premiums for the lowest cost self-only ACA compliant coverage does not exceed 9.5 percent (as adjusted) of an amount equal to 130 hours multiplied by the lower of the employee's hourly rate of pay as of the first day of the coverage period (generally the first day of the plan year) or the employee's lowest hourly rate of pay during the calendar month.
    • If an hourly employee's hourly rate of pay is reduced during the year, the rate of pay is applied separately to each calendar month, rather than to the entire year and the employee's required contribution may be treated as affordable if it is affordable based on the lowest rate of pay for the calendar month multiplied by 130 hours.
    • The affordability calculation is not altered by a leave of absence or reduction in hours worked.
      • Example: If a full-time hourly employee earns $10 per hour in a calendar month (and earned at least $10 per hour as of the first day of the coverage period) but has one or more calendar months in which the employee has a significant amount of unpaid leave or otherwise reduced hours, the employer may still require an employee contribution of up to 9.78% (in 2020) of $10 multiplied by 130 hours ($127.14).
  • Non-hourly employees
    • Coverage to a non-hourly employee is treated as affordable for a calendar month if the employee’s required premiums for the lowest cost self-only ACA compliant coverage contribution for the calendar month does not exceed 9.5% (as adjusted) of the employee's monthly salary, as of the first day of the coverage period (instead of 130 multiplied by the hourly rate of pay).
    • If the monthly salary is reduced, including due to a reduction in work hours, the rate of pay safe harbor is not available.
  • Tipped employees or commission only
    • The rate of pay safe harbor cannot be used, as a practical matter, for tipped employees or for employees who are compensated solely on the basis of commissions. Employers can use the two other affordability safe harbors, Form W-2 wages and federal poverty line, for determining affordability for employees whose compensation is not based on rate of pay.
  • Federal Poverty Line Safe Harbor
    • Intended to provide employers a predetermined maximum amount of employee contribution that in all cases will result in the coverage being deemed affordable.
    • Only one calculation is required.
    • Coverage is treated as affordable, if the employee's required monthly contribution for the lowest cost self-only ACA compliant coverage, does not exceed the federal poverty level for a single individual. (Calculated as 9.5 percent (as adjusted) of the most recently published poverty guidelines in effect within 6 months before the start of the plan year, divided by 12.)

Table of Values

NOTE: No guidance has been released that changes any of the affordability analyses for purposes of COVID-19. For instance, for purposes of the W-2 safe harbor, the amount in Box 1 could be significantly less if employee hours were reduced or they were furloughed or transitioned to some type of unpaid status. Employers should ensure they are in compliance with the ACA employer mandate to avoid penalties.

If you have additional questions on the content in this blog, please reach out to your Alera advisor or email us at info@aleragroup.com to be connected with a compliance expert in your area. 

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Disclaimer: This blog was written by Michelle Turner, MBA, CEBS, Compliance Consultant, Alera Group Central Region. This blog post intends to provide general information regarding the status of, and/or potential concerns related to, current employer HR & benefits issues. This blog should not be construed as, nor is it intended to provide, legal advice. The opinions expressed herein are based upon the author’s experience as a Compliance Consultant and may not reflect the opinions of your counsel.

The information contained herein should be understood to be general insurance brokerage information only and does not constitute advice for any particular situation or fact pattern and cannot be relied upon as such. Statements concerning financial, regulatory or legal matters are based on general observations as an insurance broker and may not be relied upon as financial, regulatory or legal advice. This document is owned by Alera Group, Inc., and its contents may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without the written permission of Alera Group, Inc.

This article was last reviewed and up to date as of 09/22/2020.

Why All Businesses Need an Insurance Broker

Posted on September 22nd, 2020

“Why do I need a broker?” This is a question that surprisingly gets asked more than you would expect.  In today’s society of consumerism, the internet, and “do it yourself” mentality, tied with the desire to save money, this is a valid question. I would ask in turn – would you go to court without legal representation? Of course not.  It makes financial sense to use a broker as in most cases, you do not get charged for their services. Typically brokers are paid by the insurance carrier, the one that you jointly decide best meets your needs as an employer.  More importantly, brokers protect your best interests as an objective third party. There is no specific financial incentive for brokers to decide on one insurance provider over another.

An insurance broker acts as an intermediary between you and your insurer, lessening the administrative burden for you and negating the need for you to weed through complex policy jargon. We bring over 200 years of training and experience and our insurance know-how, and our goal is to always find a policy that best suits your coverage needs at the best possible price. Brokers do the shopping and analysis on your behalf, saving you the time of plodding through quotes from various carriers and trying to determine the optimal solution. We provide impartial advice based on the client’s unique situation.

Some of the benefits of using an insurance broker are as follows:

  • We review, listen, and understand to what you are trying to accomplish
  • We search the entire marketplace looking for the best coverage at the most affordable price
  • Once we find the ideal coverage, we review and discuss with you the cost, coverages, and exclusions in simple language so there are no misunderstandings
  • We walk you through the appropriate paperwork and submit it on your behalf to the insurance company
  • Once we have approval, we continually assist and advise you throughout the year to ensure you are getting the most from your plan
  • We assist with issues like billing and claims questions
  • We have compliance experts who will deal with issues like healthcare reform and COVID-19 regulations, ensuring your policies pivot as necessary
  • Come renewal time, we are there to negotiate for you and handle much of the legwork involved

These are very important considerations for you to take into account when deciding if a broker is right for you. The alternative is to spend a lot of your own time educating yourself, taking away valuable time from your day job and family. Insurance brokers go through strict educational and licensing requirements and have significant knowledge in the industry. Our deep understanding of your local market and the players involved ultimately yield enhanced, cost-effective coverage for you.

All that said, it’s important to note that not all brokers are the same. Some have specialized services and products or are focused on specific markets.  For example, there are brokers with expertise in the property and casualty or life insurance areas but that just dabble in health insurance. Today some payroll companies are even offering employee benefit services as well but again, their bread and butter is payroll, not benefits. To offer an analogy – you would not go to a foot doctor to address a heart condition, so make sure your broker’s core competencies are the ones you need.

In summary, your insurance needs are best met by a broker who works for you and not by an insurance company, who have their own interests to look out for. Brokers yield more choices, usually at a much lower cost to you and your business. Unless you happen to be an expert in insurance plans, why risk the headache and lose the resources needed to do it on your own? Further, a consultative broker like Alera Group will take the time to truly understand your business so we can constantly be on the lookout for new and innovative solutions that will align with your objectives.

People are typically the largest investment a company makes. Taking care of those people through employee benefits is a niche area of your business, and you need an insurance broker who has the training and expertise necessary in today’s complicated and competitive marketplace. Alera Group's approach to brokerage is collaborative and strategic, but we ultimately remove the legwork for you and ensure you have the best plan options available.

 

About the Author

John J. Sinibaldi Jr. (“Jack”) has worked for over 30 years in the Employee Benefits and Human Resources fields. With experience as an Insurance Consultant, Broker, and Corporate SVP of HR, has seen all spectrum. Currently, Jack is at Spring Consulting Group, a boutique and widely respected Boston firm. As the Director of Client Services and Practice Leader for Spring Insurance Group, he manages and services thousands of accounts, from the sole practitioners to clients with 40,000 employees nationwide. Prior to Spring, Jack managed a team of client service professionals at Mercer for over five years, handling large national accounts. He was also Senior Vice President of Benefits at Harborside Healthcare Corporation in Massachusetts for 11 years. Jack is adept at organization-wide program administration, benchmarking, budget administration, contract negotiation, employee relations, compensation planning, regulatory compliance, trend analysis and more. He is also a past Chairman for the town of Rehoboth and Halifax Fincom.

To learn more about Spring Consulting Group, click here

Life Insurance is “Love Insurance”

Posted on September 21st, 2020

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love,” John Lennon once said. “When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement and acceptance.”

The late Beatle probably wasn’t thinking about insurance when he said that, but I find Lennon’s words particularly applicable to one particular type of insurance: Life Insurance.

While some may be driven to purchase a policy out of fear for what might become of their family if sufficient financial protection were not in place, love to me is the greater motivator. I encourage clients to purchase Life Insurance not to insulate themselves from fear, but rather to invest in the promise of their loved ones’ future. And when you look at it that way, purchasing Life Insurance really is something to be done with passion, excitement and acceptance.

That’s why I prefer to think of it as “Love Insurance.”

I know that’s the way my father-in-law sees it.

Victor’s story

Victor, my father-in-law, first purchased Life Insurance not long after he and his wife, Heidi, got married — in part because he thought was just something married couples should do and in part because some co-workers recommended their local independent agent. But it was a few years later, after they purchased a house, that he first really thought about why having Life Insurance was important.

“I realized it took two incomes to pay the mortgage,” Victor recalled. “I thought, What if something happens to one of us? We’re not going to be able to keep this house.”

Victor’s first inclination was to purchase mortgage insurance, but his agent had a better solution: 20-year Term Life Insurance policies. Because he knew his clients and understood their needs, the agent also added a rider to the policies, which stipulated that there would be no premium on the policy if the named insured became disabled. When the agent learned that Heidi had been diagnosed with leukemia and could no longer work at the paint store she and Victor owned, he called Victor to express his support and remind him that the premium on Heidi’s policy was now covered due to her disability.

By this time, Heidi and Victor had two young children. And though nothing could compensate for the loss of their wife and mother, the grief Victor and the kids experienced was at least mitigated by not having to worry about losing their home.

“It was awful enough having to deal with losing Heidi,” Victor said. “When it did happen, I knew that losing our home was not a concern because there was Life Insurance in place to help pay the mortgage. Having two children, losing their mother was terrible. But to lose their home too? Life Insurance at least allowed us to continue on in the same lifestyle, and that was huge — huge.

“You think it’s never going to happen to you,” Victor continued. “But to have that protection when your whole life has been turned around and thrown into turmoil — your losing your wife and your children losing a parent — at least your life can go on otherwise seamlessly day to day. Paying the mortgage was absolutely one less worry I had to concern myself with.”

Life Insurance basics

September being national Life Insurance Awareness Month, there’s a good deal of promotion right now about the importance of life insurance. And, with the nation still under the cloud of a deadly pandemic, some of that promotion seeks to capitalize on fear. But, as certified financial planner and “Future Rich” podcast host Barbara Ginty recently told CNBC, “I only would recommend buying life insurance if you have a need for life insurance.”

The CNBC post in which Ginty is quoted sums up who needs life insurance nicely:

“Generally, the questions to ask yourself before buying life insurance are: Will there be a financial hardship for your loved ones if you pass away? Do you have a spouse, partner or child depending on your income? Did you buy a home with a spouse or partner that is based on two incomes? Did a parent co-sign a student loan that will not be discharged if you die?”

Life Insurance includes two basic options for addressing those concerns: Term Life Insurance and Permanent Life Insurance, with the latter subdivided into two kinds of policies — Whole Life and Universal Life.

What’s best and how much?

What kind of Life Insurance policy is best for you, and how much insurance do you need? There are many factors to consider, such as:

  • your age and the age of any dependents
  • what outstanding financial obligations you have
  • whether you want or need the flexibility of a policy that can provide cash while you’re still living.

Among the available “living benefits”:

  • Tax-deferred growth. When you have a permanent life insurance policy, the cash value grows tax-deferred.
  • Loans. You can borrow against the cash value of your policy for things like tuition payments, emergencies and even to supplement your retirement income. Keep in mind, this still is considered a loan, and if it’s not repaid before you pass away, then your death benefit is reduced by the amount of the loan plus any outstanding interest. Also, failure to pay loan interest could result in the policy lapsing.
  • College savings. If you have kids who will attend college someday, your life insurance cash value could be used to help pay for their schooling and it is currently not considered in federal financial aid calculations.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, which is why it’s best to have a conversation with an agent who knows Life Insurance — someone who will listen to your questions and concerns, talk with you in basic, straightforward terms and instill a sense of confidence that you’ve purchased coverage that meets not only your needs but the needs of your loved ones. Someone, in short, who understands the concept of “Love Insurance.”

 

Wellbeing Resources: Cable Alternatives, Video Calls and Yale Parenting Classes

Posted on September 21st, 2020

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend!  Below please find this week’s curated list of wellbeing resources.  Feel free to share these resources, as appropriate, with your team.

Interested in MORE wellbeing content? Join our 2020 Virtual Wellbeing Fair by registering here

Career Wellbeing

Social & Family Wellbeing

Financial Wellbeing

Physical Wellbeing

  • 7 Functional Glutes Exercises to Try at Home + A Full Workout (by P.volve) – P.volve’s “pre-hab” method helps your body move the way it was physically designed to.  These exercises help your overall mobility and support you in working on your postural imbalances.
  • How Movement Radically Transforms the Brain – In this 20-minute podcast, a functional medicine doctor, psychologist, and personal trainer discuss how exercise can improve the treatment outcomes for depression and anxiety, how exercise decreases our chance of cognitive decline, and simple ways to build exercise into your everyday life.

Emotional Wellbeing

Community Wellbeing

  • How to Help in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sally – On September 16th, hurricane Sally slammed Florida and Alabama leaving heavy flood, destruction, and more than 400,000 homes and businesses without power.  Here’s how you can help.

Employer Focused Wellbeing

  • Real Stories of How Best WorkplacesTM Are Supporting Parents During COVID-19 – Among the Best Workplaces™ making pandemic pivots, many are helping moms and dads manage triple duty. From the need for drastic flexibility to talking to kids about racism — here are some creative and caring ways to support parents battling the legacies of COVID-19.
  • Why Adding a Human Layer is the Key to the “Great Reset” – “A company is only as resilient as its people. If employees are anxious, reactive and burned out, every business metric — from productivity to attrition to customer success — will be affected. That’s why people need to be at the center of whatever re-entry plans or digital transformation strategies companies are formulating right now.”

 

About the Author

Andrea Davis, Director of Wellbeing
Andrea joined Alera Group Northeast (formerly CBP) in July 2013, bringing over 15 years of experience in management consulting and strategic solutions. As the Director of Wellbeing, she is responsible for assisting with the development, implementation and evaluation of comprehensive wellness strategies for existing and prospective Alera Group clients. She provides assistance and support to Alera Group clients by developing personalized programs that fit clients’ unique health management needs, wellness program implementation, committee development, promotion and marketing of their programs to encourage participation. In addition, Andrea conducts program analysis and generates reports related to program participation, health assessment and client utilization. 

What is an Employee Assistance Program?

Posted on September 18th, 2020

Our hearts go out to all of those affected by the wildfires spreading across the west coast. Currently, the fires have spread across California, Oregon, Washington, and other western states. Alera Group has clients and offices throughout those states and sympathy is with all those impacted by the destruction. If you live in the affected or surrounding areas, please take proper precautions and stay safe! 

Trauma, disruption and displacement often cause increased stress, and an employee assistance program (EAP) can help employees develop coping skills to address real or perceived threats in a productive manner.

What is an EAP?

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a confidential workplace service that offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems.

What does an EAP help with?

An EAP can help employees deal with work-life stressors, family issues, financial concerns, relationship problems, and even drug or legal concerns. Some EAPs also extend assistance to family members.

EAPs can assist with:

  • Health & Safety Concerns
  • Financial & Legal Topics
  • Work-Related Issues
  • Relationship & Family Matters

EAP Assistance ChartIn response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many states are offering free support telephonically. The emotional and mental health toll of this crisis will be significant. Additional support and resources can help address the impacts of stress, fear, financial loss, illness, grief and loss, children out of school and isolation created by social distancing.  

Please note: carriers may offer embedded EAP programs in your life, disability, medical plans at no cost to you or your employees. Standalone EAP solutions are also available typically based on a per-employee-per-month rate ranging from $1.10-$2.50 depending on services and needs. Contact your local Alera Group consultant for additional information or email us at info@aleragroup.com to be connected with an office near you.

 

To learn more about the western wildfires here are a few resources: 

How to help those affected by the wildfires: 

Alera Group Hires Employee Benefits National Project Manager & Data Analyst

Posted on September 15th, 2020

Taylor Wirth Joins National Team of Experts

Alera Group today announced that Taylor Wirth has joined its Employee Benefits team as Employee Benefits National Project Manager & Data Analyst, effective September 8.

In this role, Wirth will enhance the services and solutions of the employee benefits division through project management and data aggregation & analysis. Her ongoing analysis will strengthen the service offerings of Alera Group firms across the United States, further enhancing the employee benefits client experience.

“We are thrilled to welcome Taylor to the national employee benefits team. Her expertise will advance the services and solutions that support Alera Group firms across the country,” said Sally Prather, Executive Vice President and Employee Benefits Practice Leader at Alera Group

Prior to Alera Group, Wirth served as the Senior Client Operations Lead at Businessolver, managing health and life benefits administration for enterprise clients. Before that role, she was a Service Delivery Specialist at a national private exchange platform.

“I am excited about the national platform I will help to expand as part of the Alera Group team,” said Wirth. “Alera Group’s collaborative culture, combined with their industry excellence, makes them one of the leading insurance organizations in the country. I look forward to the impact of improved data analysis and project management on the employee benefits division.”

Wirth joins Alera Group as the latest member of an industry-leading team of professionals across the United States. For more information about Alera Group, visit www.jmjwebconsulting.com.

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About Alera Group
Based in Deerfield, IL, Alera Group’s over 2,000 employees serve thousands of clients nationally in employee benefits, property and casualty, risk management and wealth management. Alera Group is the 15th largest independent insurance agency in the country. For more information, visit www.jmjwebconsulting.com or follow Alera Group on Twitter: @AleraGroupUS.

DOL Issues Updated FFCRA Regulations In Light Of Recent Federal Court Decision

Posted on September 15th, 2020

On September 11, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) released a temporary rule updating certain FFCRA regulations.  The temporary rule is scheduled to be published on September 16, 2020, and will be effective immediately through the expiration of the FFCRA’s paid leave provisions on December 31, 2020. 

The temporary rule updates FFCRA regulations issued in April 2020 in response to a recent federal District Court decision which found four portions of the initial regulations invalid:  provisions related to whether the FFCRA applies if employers do not have work available for employees; the timing for which employees must request the need for leave; the definition of health care provider; and the availability of intermittent leave. 

While many anticipated that the DOL would appeal the decision, the DOL elected to reaffirm and clarify its position on some of these issues, while choosing to revise or update others. Thus, while the court’s order was limited to companies operating in New York (or potentially only those in the Southern District of New York), the DOL’s revisions to the regulations apply to all employers subject to the FFCRA (inside and outside New York). 

The District Court’s order and the updated regulations are discussed in more detail below.

New York Federal District Court Decision

Soon after the FFCRA regulations were implemented, the State of New York sued the DOL in the United Stated District Court for the Southern District of New York claiming the DOL exceeded its authority when it implemented several provisions of the FFCRA regulations. The District Court agreed in part and, in August, the court issued an order invalidating several portions of the FFCRA regulations.

  • Work Availability Requirement – The original regulations limited the availability of emergency paid sick leave and expanded FMLA leave to certain situations where the employer’s business is open or the employer has work for the employee, but employee is unable to work due to a COVID-19 qualifying reason.  The court vacated this requirement, making the FFCRA available even if the employer does not have work for the employee, such as situations where the employee is furloughed or the business is closed.
  • Documentation – The FFCRA statute requires employees to notify an employer of the need for leave “after the first workday” during which an employee requires paid sick time; however, the initial FFCRA regulations required documentation to be provided to the employer before any sick time is taken. The court determined this was beyond the scope of the statute and vacated this requirement. The content of the documentation and the need for documentation was not eliminated, just the timing of when it must be provided.
  • Definition of Health Care Provider – The initial FFCRA regulations used an expansive definition of health care provider, which included individuals who work in support of health care operations, such as cleaning staff, food service professionals and cooks, maintenance workers, IT staff, or other administrative support staff who support health care operations.   The district court vacated the definition of health care provider, finding it overbroad.
  • Intermittent Leave – The initial regulations allowed employees to take intermittent leave in certain situations with employer approval/agreement.  The court found this inconsistent with the statute and rejected this aspect of the regulation as an impermissible limitation on the availability of intermittent leave. 

Updated Regulations

In the updated regulations, DOL reaffirms its regulations related to the work availability and intermittent leave requirements, but provided further clarification or explanation of its regulations.  The DOL revised regulations related to the definition of “health care provider” and notice requirements.  The rationale and changes are discussed more fully below:

Work Availability

Specifically, for purposes of the work availability requirement, the DOL affirms that neither emergency paid sick leave nor expanded FMLA under the FFCRA may be taken unless the employer has work available for the employee (the “work availability” requirement).  The FFCRA statute provides that leave under the FFCRA is available if an employee is unable to work (or telework) “because of” or “due to” a qualifying reason under the FFCRA.  The DOL cites to U.S. Supreme Court authority that interprets “because of” or “due to” language to create a “but for” test or analysis. Thus, FFCRA leave must be the “but for” cause of the employee’s inability to work.  Furthermore, the DOL reasons that the plain meaning of the word “leave” in this context, and based on longstanding DOL interpretation, means that someone has to be absent from work at a time the employee would otherwise be working. Thus, the DOL stands by its original regulation and provides that an employee cannot take FFCRA leave if there was no work available from the employer for the employee to perform. 

Finally, the DOL explains that this requirement was intended to apply for all qualifying reasons under the FFCRA, not just those that were initially listed in the original regulations.

Intermittent Leave

The FFCRA is silent about the availability of intermittent leave, but as the DOL notes in the preamble to the updated regulations, the DOL was given broad authority to develop rules under the law.  Thus, consistent with FMLA regulations, the DOL interpreted the availability of intermittent expanded FMLA leave for employees working onsite similar to how it applies for purposes of FMLA, which may also require employer approval.  For emergency paid sick leave, however, there is opportunity for spreading COVID-19 in the workplace.  Thus, it would be contrary to the purpose of the FFCRA to allow someone to take emergency paid sick leave intermittently (unless caring for a child whose regular day care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19). Therefore, for employees working on-site, the DOL reaffirms its decision to only allow intermittent leave for expanded FMLA leave purposes.  The DOL confirmed, however, as originally provided, that intermittent leave may be available for any FFCRA qualified reason if an employee is teleworking, as there is no risk the employee would spread COVID-19 at a worksite.  In any intermittent leave context, however, permission from the employer is still required.

Health Care Provider Definition

In an effort to ensure the public health system could maintain its necessary function during COVID-19 pandemic, the FFCRA allowed employers to exclude employees who are “health care providers” or “emergency responders” from eligibility for expanded FMLA leave and emergency paid sick leave.

The DOL took an expansive approach in defining “health care provider” in its initial FFCRA regulations to ensure health care operations would not be hampered, such as ensuring maintenance to health care facilities, trash collection, food services for hospital workers, and other similar services.  The District Court found this approach to be overly broad and, therefore, per the District Court’s order, the DOL opted to revise its definition of health care provider.  In the updated regulations, health care providers include employees who are health care providers under existing FMLA regulations and “any other employee who is capable of providing health care services such as diagnostic services, preventive services, treatment services, and other services that are integrated with and necessary to the provision of patient care and, if not provided would adversely impact patient care.”

This could include a variety of health care practitioners other than doctors, including nurses, nurse assistants, medical technicians, and laboratory technicians.  The preamble and rule provide numerous examples of what would constitute diagnostic, preventive or treatment services, and services integrated with these that are necessary for patient care, such as bathing, dressing, or feeding patients, among several others.  Food service professionals, IT professionals, building maintenance workers, HR professionals, or other individuals who do not provide health care services even though their work impacts health care services are no longer included in the definition of health care providers.

Employees falling within the new definition of health care provider can work in a variety of settings including, but not limited to, hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, medical schools, local health departments, nursing or retirement facilities, nursing homes, home health providers, laboratories, or pharmacies.

 

 

Notice of the Need for Leave

In the updated regulations, the DOL clarifies that notice of the need for emergency paid sick leave must be provided as soon as practicable (instead of before emergency sick leave is taken), which is consistent with the position the plaintiffs took when they challenged the original regulations.

Additionally, the DOL revised the regulations regarding notice of expanded FMLA leave.  For a foreseeable need to expanded FMLA leave, the employee must provide notice as soon as is practicable, which may mean the employee may have to provide advance notice of the need for leave if the facts and circumstances support prior notice.  Prior notice is not required for unforeseeable need for expanded FMLA leave.  Finally, the employer may require an employee to substantiate the need for leave as soon as practicable, which may be at the same time notice is provided.

The DOL also updated its FFCRA FAQ’s consistent with the updated regulations.

Conclusion

As mentioned previously, the DOL’s updated regulations impact all employers subject to the FFCRA, not just those with employees in New York. Thus, all impacted employers should familiarize themselves with the updated regulations and administer them accordingly moving forward. 

To the extent an employer has employees impacted by the revised regulations, such as individuals previously included in the DOL’s broad definition of health care provider or employees who were denied emergency paid sick leave for failing to provide advance notice, they should consult directly with counsel to discuss how to address those specific situations.

About the Author.  This alert was prepared by Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP, a national law firm with recognized experts on the Affordable Care Act.  Contact Danielle Capilla (danielle.capilla@aleragroup.com) with questions.

The information provided in this alert is not, is not intended to be, and shall not be construed to be, either the provision of legal advice or an offer to provide legal services, nor does it necessarily reflect the opinions of the agency, our lawyers or our clients.  This is not legal advice.  No client-lawyer relationship between you and our lawyers is or may be created by your use of this information.  Rather, the content is intended as a general overview of the subject matter covered.  This agency and Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP are not obligated to provide updates on the information presented herein.  Those reading this alert are encouraged to seek direct counsel on legal questions.

© 2020 Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP.  All Rights Reserved.

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