Lighten the Load of HR Departments
Add Value to Your Groups with Trillions of Dollars of New Legislation Knowledge
The human resources department at a Georgia ophthalmology practice worked diligently to upload its employee information to the state department of labor.
The plan was for employees to receive an amount equal to half their typical pay through unemployment compensation, and the rest from the payroll of the multi-office practice, which was – and still is -- open only for emergencies during the COVID-19 crisis.
It didn’t go smoothly, putting it mildly. An overwhelmed DOL, an overworked HR department, and frustrated employees resulted in pandemic pandemonium. Many long nights later, following almost daily Zoom meetings to field complaints and offer updates, the chaos subsided.
Meanwhile, employees whose job was to perform eye exams needed projects to perform at home to justify half a salary. HR took the lead in finding online courses and projects such as sewing masks to donate to hospitals.
Attention then turned to how to protect employees for re-opening. More meetings and long nights.
As true at many businesses, HR has proven itself a linchpin of the company.
We recognize the heroism of healthcare workers, but HR staff far and wide is battered and beleaguered by what measures combatting the coronavirus have thrust upon them.
Want to help?
Distill Changing Laws and Regulations
Of ideas to consider, you might make yourself the go-to source for keeping up with Congress. A trillion here, a trillion there, guidelines and regulations galore, sorting it out can be a nightmare.
Here’s a good place to start.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act[i] parceled out $2.2 trillion beginning in early April. Those who follow the news will recognize some of the legislation’s key provisions:
- $1,200 deposited into the bank accounts most Americans (with lesser amounts going to those of incomes above $75,000)
- $500 per child paid to families
- $349 billion allocated in Small Business Administration loans (after previously providing $7 billion in loans) for the primary purpose of “paycheck protection.”
- $30.75 set aside for educational institutions and suspension of student loan repayment
Each business loan, or some portion of it, can be forgiven in proportion to employee retention. Unfortunately, despite this assistance 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment. For them, the CARES Act waives the one week waiting period on collecting unemployment compensation, plus adds $600 per week through July, extends eligibility an additional 13 weeks, and even covers contractors (form 1099) and not just employees.
Other Stipulations of CARES
This legislation includes a number of provisions that affect employee benefits plans.
- It permanently reinstates over-the-counter products as eligible expenses for Health Savings Account (HSA), Flexible Spending Account (FSA) and Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) funds without a prescription. This reverses a stipulation of the Affordable Care Act that these expenses require a prescription for reimbursement. The change is retroactive to January 1, 2020.
- Menstrual care products now also qualify for funding through HSAs, FSAs, and HRAs, and also retroactive to January 1.
The Relief Bill Before CARES
Before CARES there was the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) passed in mid March.
While those in OptiMed plans receive telemedicine as a value-added non-insurance benefit, FFCRA temporarily allows High-Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs) with an HSA to cover any telemed or remote care expenses, even if the participant hasn’t reached his/her deductible.
This bill also made testing for the virus free, including the cost of a doctor’s visit or testing in an emergency room.
Paid Sick Leave
Up to two weeks of paid leave for an individual affected by the coronavirus in a variety of ways – including family members with the virus or children at home due to school closings -- is also provided through FFCRA. However, businesses with fewer than 50 employees may apply for an exemption from the Secretary of Labor if providing this paid leave creates a financial hardship.[ii]
If you need proof of how much HR could use your help, get into the fine print of the family leave guidelines:
- Businesses with fewer than 25 employees are not required to reinstate an employee after they return from leave, but those with more than 25 are required to do so.
- Businesses with fewer than 50 employees cannot be sued for violating the leave requirement.
- Healthcare and emergency response organizations may exclude employees from paid sick leave during the coronavirus crisis.
- Private companies are entitled to fully refundable tax credits on a quarterly basis for any paid sick leave they provide.
By now, the HR staff should command your deepest respect . Maybe you can zoom in on their next teleconference and sort out the issues to ease a burden and further establish your indispensability to their benefits program.