Alera Group Strengthens Employee Benefits Division with Acquisition of Customized Benefit Solutions, Inc. (CBSI)

Posted on November 30th, 2021

Alera Group, a top independent, national insurance and wealth services firm, announced today the acquisition of Customized Benefit Solutions, Inc. (CBSI), an employee benefits and insurance firm based in Hightstown, New Jersey.

“At Customized Benefit Solutions, Inc. we are dedicated to helping businesses truly connect with their employees,” said Vladimir St. Phard, President & CEO of CBSI. “Studies have shown employees are more satisfied with their jobs when educated on their benefits. By using health insurance and employee benefits as a tool, we help reduce employee stress and increase productivity and retention. The pandemic has proved that many of the old ways will not work, and what feels right is community and connectedness with each other. Many of our clients have done virtual happy hours and scavenger hunts or similar and we see a positive difference with these clients.”

From group employee benefits to Medicare enrollment, payroll processing and management, and individual plans, CBSI unlocks employee engagement through education and customized insurance solutions. The agency engages in a multi-step process to listen to, learn and clarify employee concerns, creating solutions that align company benefits with employee wants and needs. CBSI provides an array of services including group health insurance, dental, vision and group life.

“It was an obvious choice to join Alera Group with their culture of collaboration. Alera Group understands that we are built for community and that is where I want my team to be. We are excited to grow with them,” added Vladimir St. Phard.

CBSI joins Alera Group through CRISP, an Alera Group company in New Jersey. The CBSI team will continue serving clients in their existing roles. Terms of the transaction were not announced. CBSI was represented and advised on the transaction by Helfer & Associates LLC, located in Englewood, NJ.

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About Alera Group

Alera Group is an independent, national insurance and wealth management firm with more than $850 million in annual revenue, offering comprehensive employee benefits, property and casualty, retirement plan services and wealth services solutions to clients nationwide. By working collaboratively across specialties and geographies, Alera Group’s team of more than 3,000 professionals in more than 120 offices provides creative, competitive services that help ensure a client’s business and personal success. For more information, visit www.jmjwebconsulting.com or follow us on LinkedIn.   

How Your Peers and Competitors are Responding to COVID-19

Posted on November 30th, 2021

When the world went into lockdown in March 2020, few expected the pandemic that necessitated such emergency measures would still be with us 21 months later. Yet on the eve of Thanksgiving 2021, in the state where the holiday originated, the lead story in the region’s largest news publication declared, “As our second COVIDs-giving dawns, clarity feels even further away.” 

Alera Group invites you to join us on Thursday, December 16, for a webinar designed to provide some clarity — at least as it pertains to the workplace. “Survey Results Are In: How U.S. Employers Are Tackling Their Next COVID-Related Decisions” will review the findings of our 2021 Employer Pulse Survey, which asked close to 800 U.S. employers of various sizes in multiple industries and regions about how they’re handling COVID-19 issues such as: 

  • Vaccination mandates and incentives 
  • Benefit premiums and surcharges based on vaccinations 
  • Remote work and work-from-home policies. 

During the webinar, you’ll gain valuable insights to how other employers — your peers, your neighbors, your competitors — have responded to the pandemic and what they plan to do as we approach Year 3 of a continually evolving work environment. 

What We Found 

This is the third time since the start of the pandemic that Alera Group has examined steps employers have taken and plan to take to adapt to the challenges and changes brought on by COVID-19. Conducted online from October 18 to November 4, 2021, the survey asked employers around the country: What are you doing? What are you not doing? What are you considering? What are your greatest challenges and concerns? 

The results reflect both common challenges and diverse responses, with many of the latter corresponding to industry, organization size or region.  

It probably comes as no surprise that the top challenge facing employers is attracting and retaining talent, particularly among those with more than 500 employees. Employee mental health is another leading concern, though here again the challenge appears to be greater for larger organizations, especially those with a workforce of more than 1,000. 

Because the survey concluded in early November, it does not include response to the emergence of Omicron, the COVID-19 variant first identified during Thanksgiving week by researchers in South Africa. With Omicron cases since reported in at least 18 countries, excluding the U.S., as of Tuesday morning, November 30, responses to the variant were emerging by the hour

The survey does reveal that employers are generally better positioned to new developments in the pandemic, with 67% reporting that they have implemented infectious disease response plans and another 18% reporting that they were either in the process of putting a plan in place or planning to do so. In addition, a quarter of respondents said that more than half of their employees were working remotely at least some of the time, with work-from-home and hybrid arrangements made easier by virtual collaboration tools, upgraded conference rooms and more. Large employers are far and away the most likely to implement hybrid work arrangements, with only 10% reporting that all employees were physically back in the workplace and 74% saying their workforce was a mix of onsite and remote. 

Policies and procedures related to vaccines, testing and masks varied the most widely. For example, 47% of respondents in the healthcare industry and 40% in education said that they will require employees to be vaccinated by a certain date, compared to only 1% in construction and 7% in manufacturing. Overall, only 1 in 5 employers said they were requiring employees to be vaccinated, with another 18% considering mandatory vaccination.  

Mental Health 

Although there were regional distinctions in how survey participants responded to questions regarding employee mental health, employer size appears to have been a greater determinant. Overall, about half said the mental health of their workforce had deteriorated during the pandemic and about half said it had remained the same, but the percentage soared to 83% for organizations with more than 1,000 employees. Among businesses with fewer than 25 employees, on the other hand, only 31% reported a decline in mental health. 

Most employers who responded to the Alera Group Employer Pulse Survey said they are actively attempting to support their workforce’s mental health. More than half said they were communicating with employees about mental health and wellbeing, with nearly as many saying they were offering more flexible work schedules. About 42% were providing mental health services, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs), while 16% indicated they were doing nothing at all to address employee mental health. 

Labor Market 

Of the top four concerns among employers, attracting and retaining employees was overwhelmingly No. 1, with 55% describing their level of concern as extreme and another 21% describing it as moderate. “Impact of the pandemic on employee mental health and wellbeing was a distant second, with 31% extremely concerned and 29% moderately concerned. Maintaining company culture in a remote work environment was third among concerns, followed by lawsuits alleging labor and employment violation related to COVID-19. 

Employers struggling the most with worker attraction and retention were those with between 100 and 1,000 employees, particularly in the healthcare, manufacturing and transportation/warehousing industries. Businesses in finance and insurance appeared to be relatively immune to the employment-related effects of COVID-19.  

What’s Ahead 

One inescapable conclusion to draw from the results of Alera Group’s third COVID-19 Employer Pulse Survey is that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to pandemic era challenges. In discussing the results during our December 16 webinar, our goal is to give you a stronger sense of what solutions are available and what comparable organizations are doing in your industry and your region. In developing a better understanding of your competitors and peers, you may develop a stronger vision of your organization’s future amid a period of unprecedented change. 

To register, click on the link below. 

REGISTER FOR THE WEBINAR 


About the Author 

Lai-Sahn Hackett
Vice President of Market Research
Spring Consulting Group, an Alera Group Company 

Contact Information: 

Legal Alert: IRS Proposes Permanent 30-day Extension to ACA Reporting Deadline

Posted on November 30th, 2021

This alert is of interest to all ALEs, as well as any non-ALEs who sponsor self-funded plans. 

On November 22, 2021, the IRS filed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Proposed Rule”) that among other things, provides for an automatic 30-day extension of the deadline for applicable large employers (“ALEs”) to furnish annual Forms 1095-C to individuals for calendar years beginning after December 31, 2021. Further, the Proposed Rule allows ALEs to voluntarily adopt this extension for calendar years beginning after December 31, 2020, which means this would apply to calendar year 2021 Forms 1095-C, which are due in 2022.

Generally, the deadline is January 31 each year, and current regulations allow the IRS to grant an extension of time of up to 30 days to furnish Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to individuals for good cause shown; however, recognizing the current January 31 deadline is difficult to meet, the Proposed Rule eliminates the good cause shown standard and simply allows for an automatic 30-day extension to March 2, 2022. In years where the deadline falls on a weekend or holiday, the forms are due the next business day.  

The deadline to file the Forms 1094-B or C and 1095-B or C with the IRS are not extended and will remain February 28 for paper filings and March 31 if filed electronically, though pursuant to current regulations, companies may receive an automatic 30-day extension of time to file the forms with the IRS by submitting Form 8809, Application for Extension of Time to File Information Returns, on or before the due date for filing the forms.

Additionally, because the penalty for the individual mandate is currently $0, for any calendar year in which it remains $0, the Proposed Rule provides relief (consistent with relief provided for tax years 2019 and 2020) from furnishing Forms 1095-B to individuals, if the responsible reporting entity:

  1. Posts a clear and conspicuous notice in location on its website that is reasonably accessible to individuals stating that individuals may receive a copy of their 1095-B upon request, accompanied by an email address, phone number and a physical address the request can be sent;
  2. Furnish an individual with a Form 1095-B within 30 days of a request; and
  3. Retain the notice in the same location of its website until October 15 – or the first business day following October 15 if October 15 falls on a weekend or holiday – of the next calendar year. This would be October 15, 2023 for the tax year 2021 Form 1095-B.

The website notice must be written in plain, non-technical terms and with letters of a font size large enough, including any visual clues or graphical figures, to call a viewer’s attention that the information pertains to tax statements reporting that individuals had health coverage. Per the IRS a statement or link on the company’s main page reading “Tax Information”, which takes users to a secondary page that includes a statement in capital letters such as “IMPORTANT HEALTH COVERAGE TAX DOCUMENTS”, would meet this requirement. This relief from providing the B-series forms typically applies to insurance companies (who are required to file and furnish Forms 1095-B to participants in their fully insured plans), non-ALEs with self-insured plans, and ALEs who provide coverage under a self-insured plan to individuals who were not full-time employees during any part of the year (e.g., part-time employees, or retirees or COBRA participants in the year following retirement or termination of employment).

ALEs are still required to furnish Form 1095-C to their full-time employees. They must also complete Part III if the employee is enrolled in self-insured coverage. Further, the relief from furnishing Form 1095-B does not extend to IRS reporting. Forms 1095-B must still be submitted to the IRS, as applicable. 

Finally, consistent with Notice 2020-76, per the Proposed Rule, the IRS intends to eliminate the good faith effort to comply relief that was in effect from tax years 2015-2020. The good faith effort to comply provided reporting entities relief from accuracy-related penalties if they could show a good faith effort to comply. However, for calendar year 2021 reporting and beyond, reporting entities will no longer have this relief available and must ensure accurate information is reported. Employers who are penalized for accuracy-related errors may have an opportunity to appeal under the “reasonable cause” standard, which is stricter than the good faith standard.

Conclusion

Based on the Proposed Rule, ALEs have until March 2, 2022, to furnish Forms 1095-C to individuals, but still must meet the February 28 (paper filing) or March 31, 2022 (electronic filing) deadlines to file Forms 1095-C with the IRS. Moreover, as long as the individual mandate penalty remains $0, insurance carriers, non-ALEs with self-funded plans, and ALEs with self-funded plans who provide coverage to part-time employees or non-employees, are not required to furnish Forms 1095-B to individuals if they meet the requirements for posting information regarding how individuals may receive copies of their Form 1095-B.

Further, because there is no longer good faith relief from reporting errors, it is important for employers to review the Forms 1094-B or C or 1095-C before they are filed with the IRS to ensure information is accurate and correct any inaccurate information as soon as possible after discovery of the error.

 

About the Author. This alert was prepared for Alera Group by Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP, a national law firm with recognized experts on the Affordable Care Act. Contact Stacy Barrow or Nicole Quinn-Gato at sbarrow@marbarlaw.com or nquinngato@marbarlaw.com

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 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.

© 2022 Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP. All Rights Reserved.

Wellbeing Resources: Navigating Family Conflict, Sticking to a Holiday Budget and More

Posted on November 23rd, 2021

Happy (almost) Thanksgiving! When it comes to wellbeing, employers often find themselves challenged by how to approach a shift from a traditional wellness model to a comprehensive and holistic program that supports the whole person. Here's how we can help

Career Wellbeing

  • Staying Sane at Work – Are you losing motivation and starting to wish you could hit the reset button? In this episode of the podcast Ten Percent Happier, Dan Harris interviews Dr. Laurie Santos to discuss science-based strategies for once again finding happiness in your career.

Social and Family Wellbeing

  • Headspace for Teens – In the last couple of years, there has been a significant spike in mental health problems among teens. Parents continue to struggle with the best way to help their children cope and manage their stress and anxiety. Recently, the app Headspace (designed to provide meditation and mindfulness exercises) has announced that all teens in the U.S. between the ages of 13 and 18 will be able to download their app for free.

Financial Wellbeing

  • 4 Tips for Your Pandemic Holiday Budget – With all the changes in the economy this year, many of us are starting to feel more anxious about the approaching holiday season. Fear of not getting all the gifts you need in time due to shipping delays coupled with rising inflation can lead to overspending. Here are some tips for managing your budget as you prepare for the holidays.
  • 12 Best Discount Shopping Apps – As you start your holiday shopping, having the right tools to maximize your savings can help you shop smarter.

Physical Wellbeing

  • Live Longer By Optimizing Your Immune System – In the midst of the pandemic and flu season, many of us are looking for the best way to boost our immune systems to fight off illness. In this episode of the School of Greatness podcast, Mike Mutzel discusses the effects fasting, exercise and getting out in nature have on your immune system.

Emotional Wellbeing

Community Wellbeing

  • USPS is in need of volunteers to handle letters to Santa – Are you looking for a way to give to families in need this holiday season? USPS has created a program that provides volunteers the opportunity to buy gifts for families who have written letters to Santa. Participating in a project like this is guaranteed to rekindle your belief in the magic of Santa.

Employer Focused Wellbeing

  • Caregiving and the Workplace –The pandemic has had a major effect on the role of caregivers. This Talking Benefits podcast episode discusses how employers can support the health of caregivers in the workplace.
  • The CEO of management consultancy Korn Ferry on How to Become a 'Radically Human' Leader –Now more than ever workplaces are realizing the importance of emotional intelligence. In this Insider article, Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn Ferry, explains why managers not only have to understand empathy, but adapt it into their own lifestyles to become more “human” leaders. 

Alera Group Expands Michigan Footprint with Acquisition of Becker Insurance Agency, P.C.

Posted on November 22nd, 2021

Alera Group, a top independent, national insurance and wealth management firm, today announced it has acquired Becker Insurance Agency, P.C., an independent insurance agency based in Portage, Michigan.

Becker Insurance was established over 50 years ago with an emphasis in the property and casualty markets. The firm caters to both commercial and personal lines.

“Coming together with the Alera Group provides us the tools and resources to benefit our clients internally. Our mission has always been to maintain the highest level of customer service while never giving up the small town feel,” said Jeff Gless, President of Becker Insurance.

Becker Insurance Agency joins Alera Group through Lighthouse Group, an Alera Group company based in Michigan. The Becker Insurance Agency team will continue serving clients in its existing roles. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

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About Alera Group

Alera Group is an independent, national insurance and wealth management firm with more than $850 million in annual revenue, offering comprehensive employee benefits, property and casualty, retirement services and wealth management solutions to clients nationwide. By working collaboratively across specialties and geographies, Alera Group’s team of more than 3,000 professionals in more than 120 offices provides creative, competitive services that help ensure a client’s business and personal success. For more information, visit www.jmjwebconsulting.com or follow us on LinkedIn.

Legal Alert: CMS Omnibus COVID-19 Healthcare Staff Vaccination Interim Final Rule

Posted on November 19th, 2021

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released an interim final rule regarding mandatory vaccinations of healthcare staff to protect against COVID-19. The interim final rule is effective as of November 5, 2021. CMS found good cause to take immediate action without comment period expiration before the effective date, although stakeholders have 60 days to submit formal comments on the emergency regulation. The comment period officially closes on January 4, 2022; over 588 comments have been received from the public, healthcare providers, doctors, lawyers and healthcare workers. You can view the interim final rule and comments here. You can view the CMS FAQ release here. Facilities covered by this regulation must establish a policy ensuring all eligible staff have received the first dose of a two-dose vaccine Pfizer or Moderna or a one-dose vaccine, Johnson & Johnson before providing any care treatment or other services by December 6, 2021, and be fully vaccinated no later than January 4, 2022. Currently, a booster is not a requirement for fully vaccinated status. The rule does not permit weekly (or more regular) testing in lieu of vaccines.

What facilities are covered under this regulation?

  •  Ambulatory Surgical Centers, Hospices Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly Hospitals
  • Home Infusion Therapy suppliers
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Home Health Agencies
  • Community Mental Health Centers
  • Clinics (rehabilitation agencies, and public health agencies as providers of outpatient physical therapy and speech-language pathology services)
  • Rural Health Clinics/Federally Qualified Health Centers
  • Intermediate Care Facilities for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities
  • Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facilities
  • End-Stage Renal Disease Facilities
  • Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities
  • Critical Access Hospitals

The staff vaccination requirements apply to Medicare and Medicaid certified provider and supplier types that are regulated under the Medicare health and safety standards known as CoPs (conditions of participation) CfCs (conditions for coverage). These are health and safety standards established by CMS to protect individuals receiving healthcare services from Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities.

What provider and supplier types does this apply under CoPs and CfCs?

  • Ambulatory Surgery Centers
  • Community Mental Health Centers
  • Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facilities
  • Critical Access Hospitals
  • End-Stage Renal 2 Disease Facilities
  • Home Health Agencies
  • Home Infusion Therapy Suppliers
  • Hospices
  • Hospitals
  • Intermediate Care Facilities for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities
  • Clinics
  • Rehabilitation Agencies
  • Public Health Agencies as Providers of Outpatient Physical Therapy and Speech-Language Pathology Services
  • Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities (PRTFs) Programs for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly Organizations (PACE)
  • Rural Health Clinics/Federally Qualified Health Centers
  • Long-term Care Facilities

Vaccine Exemptions

The regulation provides for exemptions based on recognized medical conditions or religious beliefs, observances or practices. Facilities must develop a similar process or plan for permitting exemptions in alignment with federal law.

  • It is important to note that this regulation requires staff vaccination only, there is no weekly covid-19 testing option as there is under the OSHA regulations.
  • These rules apply to staff working at a facility that participates in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, regardless of clinical responsibility or patient contact. This includes facility employees, licensed practitioners, students, trainees, volunteers and those who provide care treatment or other services for the facility and/or its patients under contract or other arrangements.
  • Staff who work offsite are not exempt- the rules apply to all staff who interact with other staff, patients, residents, clients, or PACE program participants anywhere beyond a formal clinic setting such as homes, clinics, administrative offices, off-site meetings, etc. For example, a payroll person who meets with front-line employees would need to be vaccinated.
  • The rule does not apply to full-time teleworkers, if they are providing services 100% remotely with no direct contact- they are not subject to the vaccine requirement.
  • The requirements apply to Indian Health Services facilities
  • Religious Nonmedical Healthcare Institutions (RNHCI’s), Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs) and Portable X-Ray Suppliers are not subject to the vaccine requirement.
  • The regulation only applies to Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities. CMS does not have authority of care settings such as assisted living facilities, group homes, physicians’ offices, schools or provides of home and community-based services.
  • Under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the CMS regulation preempts any state law to the contrary.

Compliance and Enforcement

Compliance with the interim final rule requirements is through established survey and enforcement processes. If a provider or supplier does not meet the requirements, it will be cited by the surveyor as being non-compliant but will be given an opportunity to return to compliance before additional actions occur. CMS works directly with the State Survey Agencies to regularly review compliance with Medicare and Medicaid regulations. CMS expects state survey agencies to conduct an onsite compliance review of the requirements in two ways:

  • State survey agencies would assess all facilities for these requirements during the standard recertification survey.
  • State survey agencies would assess the vaccination status of staff on all compliant surveys.

While onsite, surveyors will review the facility’s COVID-19 vaccination policies and procedures, the number of resident and staff COVID-19 cases over the last four weeks and a list of all staff and their vaccination status. This information in addition to interviews and observations will determine compliance with the requirements.

Penalties

CMS has a variety of established enforcement remedies however the goal is making corrections to come into compliance.

  • For nursing homes, home health agencies and hospices (beginning in 2022).
  • Includes civil and monetary penalties.
  • Denial of payments.
  • Termination from the Medicare and Medicaid Program, as a final measure.

Opportunities to come into compliance for hospitals and other acute and continuing care providers

CMS surveyors cite hospitals and other facilities based on the severity of the deficiency, classified among three levels, from most to least severe: “Immediate Jeopardy”, “Condition” and “Standard.” In all cases, healthcare facilities have an opportunity to return to compliance before termination.

  • Immediate Jeopardy” citations indicate a serious scope of non-compliance, failure of the provider to address deficiencies, and close interaction with patients of unvaccinated staff. Termination of the provider type will occur within 23 days following the citation if not immediately addressed.
  • Condition” level citations indicate substantial non-compliance that needs to be addressed to avoid termination.
  • Standard” level citations indicate minor non-compliance where (with respect to this rule) almost all staff are vaccinated, the provider has a reasonable policy in place to educate staff on the vaccinations, and the provider has procedures for tracking and monitoring vaccination rates. CMS generally allows for continued operation subject to the facility’s agreement to a CMS-approved plan of correction.

Which rule is a given healthcare facility expected to follow: the CMS Omnibus Staff Vaccination Rule, the Executive Order on Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors, the OSHA COVID-19 Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard or the upcoming (or new) OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard?

If a Medicare- or Medicaid-certified provider or supplier falls under the requirements of CMS’s Omnibus Staff Vaccination Rule, it should look to those requirements first. Health care facilities are generally subject to new federal vaccination requirements based on primacy.

If facilities participate in and are certified under the Medicare and Medicaid programs and are regulated by the CMS health and safety standards known as the Conditions of Participation (CoPs), Conditions for Coverage (CfCs) and Requirements for Participation, then they are expected to abide by the requirements established in the CMS Omnibus Staff Vaccination Rule.

This rule takes priority above other federal vaccination requirements. CMS’s oversight and enforcement will exclusively monitor and address compliance for the provisions outlined in the CMS Omnibus Staff Vaccination Rule, while also continuing to monitor for proper infection control procedures as established under previous regulations.

There are rare situations where the Executive Order on Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors or the OSHA COVID-19 Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) may also apply to staff who are not subject to the vaccination requirements outlined in the CMS Omnibus Staff Vaccination Rule. Facilities should review these regulations and comply with any other federal requirements as necessary.

If facilities are not certified under the Medicare and Medicaid programs and therefore not regulated by the CoPs, then the Executive Order on Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors or OSHA COVID-19 Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard apply. The OSHA COVID-19 Employer Emergency Temporary Standard (for facilities with greater than 100 employees) applies to employers that are not subject to the preceding two regulations. Facilities should review the inclusion criterion for these regulations and comply with all applicable requirements. In closing, the FAQs for CMS Health Care Staff Interim Final Rule, the agency made a point of clarity that all federal entities, including CMS, OSHA and others, worked closely together to ensure that all requirements were complementary, ensure maximum coverage of staff across settings and were not overly duplicative.

 

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. Updated as of 11/19/2021.

Schwartz Insurance Agency Joins Alera Group in Latest Acquisition

Posted on November 18th, 2021

Alera Group, a top independent, national insurance and wealth management firm, announced today the acquisition of Schwartz Insurance Agency, an Arizona based firm specialized in commercial insurance.

“We focus on our clients’ objectives and then apply our knowledge, experience and trusted relationships to design programs that achieve the intended outcome,” said Alan “Duke” Schwartz, CIC, Managing Principal at Schwartz Insurance Agency. “Our years of industry experience allow us to consult, develop and implement risk management strategies that pinpoint the most effective action for our clients.”

Schwartz Insurance Agency specializes in providing Commercial Property & Casualty insurance, offering a wide range of services including placement, risk management, claims administration and analysis, training and benchmarking.

Schwartz Insurance Agency will expand Alera Group’s footprint in Arizona and will strengthen the firm’s existing commercial insurance expertise. Schwartz Insurance Agency joins Alera Group through Benefit Commerce Group (BCG), an Alera Group company based in Scottsdale. The Schwartz Insurance Agency team will relocate to the BCG offices in Scottsdale and continue serving clients in their existing roles. Terms of the transaction were not announced.

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About Alera Group

Alera Group is an independent, national insurance and wealth management firm with more than $850 million in annual revenue, offering comprehensive employee benefits, property and casualty insurance, retirement services and wealth management solutions to clients nationwide. By working collaboratively across specialties and geographies, Alera Group’s team of more than 3,000 professionals in more than 120 offices provides creative, competitive services that help ensure a client’s business and personal success. For more information, visit www.jmjwebconsulting.com or follow us on LinkedIn.   

Acquisition of HR | Bizz Boosts Alera Group’s HR Capabilities

Posted on November 17th, 2021

Alera Group, a top independent, national insurance and wealth management firm, announced today the acquisition of HR | Bizz, a human capital consulting firm providing customized human resources solutions for small to mid-sized businesses.

“The most valuable asset of any company is talent and HR | Bizz is a boutique firm that specializes in improving employee morale and motivation,” said Rodney Bolton, CEO of HR Bizz. “We train employers to think strategically about their organization’s human capital and build a strong link between employees and management that will further invest employees in the company’s mission and values.”

Based in Los Angeles, California, HR | Bizz offers human resources services to for-profit and non-profit companies across several sectors including manufacturing, engineering, retail, sales, real estate, healthcare, agriculture, creative arts, finance, utilities, hospitality, law, public services, education and transportation. The firm was founded in 2012 and helps businesses reduce expenditures and increase profits by streamlining the onboarding processes, providing online support and services, conducting turnover analysis and offering harassment prevention training.

HR | Bizz joins Alera Group through Barkley Insurance, an Alera Group company based in California. As part of Alera Group, HR | Bizz will expand the organization’s outsourced human resource solutions and services. The HR | Bizz team will continue serving clients in their existing roles. Terms of the transaction were not announced.

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About Alera Group

Alera Group is an independent, national insurance and wealth management firm with more than $850 million in annual revenue, offering comprehensive employee benefits, property and casualty, retirement services and wealth management solutions to clients nationwide. By working collaboratively across specialties and geographies, Alera Group’s team of more than 3,000 professionals in more than 120 offices provides creative, competitive services that help ensure a client’s business and personal success. For more information, visit www.jmjwebconsulting.com or follow us on LinkedIn.

Alera Group Acquires California’s McSherry & Hudson Insurance Services

Posted on November 16th, 2021

Alera Group, a top independent, national insurance and wealth management firm, announced today the acquisition of McSherry & Hudson Insurance Services, an independent, full-service insurance brokerage firm offering property and casualty, industry-specific risk management, surety, loss control, claims and employee benefits.

“McSherry & Hudson Insurance Services has been in the insurance business for more than 100 years. We’re committed to providing the best service and advice for our clients so they can protect and grow their business for future generations.” said Dave Bachan, Managing Partner at McSherry & Hudson Insurance Services.

McSherry & Hudson Insurance Services, based in Watsonville, California, provides insurance and surety services throughout the Golden State, bridging the gap between liabilities and the protection of assets in construction, agriculture, real estate and beyond. The McSherry & Hudson Insurance Services team takes great pride in understanding the ins-and-outs of commercial property insurance, partnering with clients to develop customized solutions.

“McSherry & Hudson Insurance Services has been ingrained in Central and Northern California for well over a century,” Alan Levitz, CEO of Alera Group. “The team offers strategic and targeted risk management solutions that ultimately increases the bottom-line for their clients. Their industry-specific expertise in agriculture, construction and real estate will bolster our expertise at Alera Group.”

The McSherry & Hudson Insurance Services team will continue serving clients in their existing roles. Terms of the transaction were not announced.

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About Alera Group

Alera Group is an independent, national insurance and wealth management firm with more than $850 million in annual revenue, offering comprehensive employee benefits, property and casualty, retirement services and wealth management solutions to clients nationwide. By working collaboratively across specialties and geographies, Alera Group’s team of more than 3,000 professionals in more than 120 offices provides creative, competitive services that help ensure a client’s business and personal success. For more information, visit www.jmjwebconsulting.com or follow us on LinkedIn.   

Legal Alert: OSHA ETS for COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Stayed By 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

Posted on November 16th, 2021

On September 9, 2021, President Biden announced that he ordered OSHA to develop an emergency temporary standard (ETS) that would require private employers with 100 or more employees to mandate that employees either receive one of the three available COVID-19 vaccines or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. On November 5, 2021, OSHA published its COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard, which included a summary, fact sheet, and FAQs. The ETS was immediately challenged by a number of petitioners, including states and private companies, seeking to permanently enjoin enforcement of the ETS. On November 6, 2021, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, temporarily stayed enforcement of the ETS pending briefing by the parties and expedited judicial review.

After completing its expedited review, on November 12, 2021, the 5th Circuit affirmed its initial stay, holding that petitioners met all four factors to establish the need for further stay, and ordered OSHA to take no further steps to implement or enforce the ETS pending adequate judicial review of the request for permanent injunction. The U.S. Department of Justice disagreed that an immediate stay was necessary given that a “multi-circuit lottery” will occur on or about November 16, after which all lawsuits challenging the ETS will be heard by one federal appeals court.

OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS)

As a reminder, the ETS requires employers with 100 or more employees to develop and implement a mandatory, written COVID-19 vaccination policy by December 5, 2021, or a written policy requiring employees to either be vaccinated or produce a negative COVID-19 test result and wear a face covering at work. Employers are required to begin enforcing the policy on January 4, 2022, meaning most employees of covered employers would have to submit to regular testing and wear a face covering or be fully vaccinated by January 4, 2022.

The ETS permits covered employers to allow for reasonable accommodation for employees who cannot be vaccinated and/or wear a face covering due to a disability, as defined by the ADA, or if vaccination, and/or testing for COVID-19, and/or wearing a face covering conflicts with an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.

Further, the ETS requires employers to provide employees with time off for obtaining their vaccinations. Specifically, the ETS requires employers to provide employees with a reasonable amount of paid time (up to 4 hours at their regular rate of pay per dose, as applicable) to travel to and receive their COVID-19 vaccine dose(s). Further, employers are required to provide reasonable time and paid sick leave to employees who need the time to recover from the side effects of either dose, as applicable, of the vaccine.

Temporary Injunction Order

As the 5th Circuit recognized, OSHA rarely implements an ETS, as this is an extraordinary power provided to the agency. The OSHA ETS powers have only been used ten times in fifty years. Six ETS’s were challenged in court; only one survived. In this instance, the 5th Circuit found many issues with the ETS, including that it appears to be overly broad as it applies to employers in almost all industries and workplaces in the country without accounting for obvious differences in risks facing employees given these differences, and for not addressing how the ETS purports to save workers from grave danger in workplaces with 100 or more employees, but workers, including vulnerable workers, in workplaces with fewer than 100 employees do not require similar protection.

While OSHA attempted to address its basis for focusing on larger employers in its ETS (i.e., larger employers it believed would be better equipped to administer the mandate), the 5th Circuit points out that the agency’s mission is to ensure “safe and healthy working conditions and to preserve human resources.” Thus, if COVID-19 is a true workplace emergency, then it should be targeted to ensure workplace safety for all employees. Moreover, the 5th Circuit recognized that taking almost two months (from the date of the President’s directive) to develop an ETS when we are almost two years into the pandemic calls into question the true “emergent” need for the ETS.

In its motion to oppose the stay, OSHA explained that it acted now because voluntary safety measured proved ineffective, COVID grew more virulent (e.g., the Delta variant), and fully approved vaccines and tests are increasingly available. OSHA believes the contention that it incorrectly applied the ETS to all job sites and employees of all ages disregards OSHA’s explanation, supporting evidence, and permitted exemptions (e.g., for those working from home, alone, or outdoors). OSHA noted that its standards are not required to operate on an employer-by-employer basis or employee-by-employee basis.

Moreover, OSHA believes the petitioners did not show that their claims would outweigh the harm of staying the ETS, which OSHA believes will save thousands of lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations. OSHA’s analysis indicates that the stay would likely cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day. OSHA believes that the petitioners’ claims are speculative and remote and do not outweigh the interest in protecting employees from COVID-19 while the case progresses.

What Does This Mean for Employers?

With the temporary stay in effect, covered employers are, at this time, not required to meet the December 5, 2021, and January 4, 2022 deadlines to, among other things, develop their vaccine policies and require employees to be fully vaccinated or submit to regular testing and wearing face coverings at work, respectively.

It is unclear when the ETS will, if at all, be effective and enforceable against covered employers, though it is likely that this issue will move quickly through the courts. The next step for the ETS involves consolidating all outstanding lawsuits challenging it via a “multi-circuit lottery” to determine which federal appeals court will decide them. The lottery is expected to occur on or about November 16, 2021.

It is worth noting, however, the 5th Circuit’s order only applies to OSHA’s ETS and does not prevent employers from mandating on their own that their employees be vaccinated, subject to the ADA and Title VII if a reasonable accommodation is required. Employers have already successfully implemented such mandates that have withstood challenges in federal court. In the meantime, employers should be prepared to implement a mandatory vaccine policy if the 5th Circuits temporary stay is lifted or overturned.

Finally, because the ETS does not apply to federal contractors (who must comply with the President’s Executive Order and the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force COVID19 Workplace Safety: Guidance for Federal Contractors and Subcontractors) or employees providing healthcare services or healthcare support services who are subject to the Healthcare ETS while the Healthcare ETS is in effect, the 5th Circuits stay does not impact employers covered by these requirements. Employers and employees subject to these requirements must continue to comply at this time.

 

About the Author. This alert was prepared for Alera Group by Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP, a national law firm with recognized experts on the Affordable Care Act. Contact Stacy Barrow or Nicole Quinn-Gato at sbarrow@marbarlaw.com or nquinngato@marbarlaw.com

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 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.

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