Lessons Learned From Open Enrollment During the Pandemic
The pandemic presented many learning opportunities for organizations as they pivoted and learned how to be resilient during uncertain times. The 2020 open enrollment season was one such opportunity, and many employers rose to the challenge by exploring new ways to engage and educate their employees about their benefits.
With open enrollment approaching and hybrid/remote workplaces still a reality, employers can use last year’s experiences to shape their open enrollment planning and processes. Here are some key lessons from last year’s open enrollment season that can increase plan participation this fall.
Open Enrollment Planning Needs To Begin Sooner
The most successful open enrollment campaigns engage employees months before enrollment opens. That means organizations need to start reviewing their offerings sooner rather than later so there’s ample time to develop and execute a successful open enrollment strategy or campaign. During the pandemic, employees leaned heavily on employer-sponsored mental health resources, employee assistance programs and other virtual resources. Simply put, benefits mattered even more to employees last year. This year, employers have the opportunity to showcase the perks available to employees as soon as possible to thoughtfully engage and retain employees.
Virtual Open Enrollment Tactics Are Effective, Regardless of Remote Work
The pandemic undeniably pushed employers to digitize open enrollment processes. Virtual open enrollment fairs successfully educated and engaged employees, both remote and on-site. Employees have embraced many activities and processes as they’ve gone virtual or digital, so it’s not necessarily a surprise that employees have generally accepted virtual enrollment as well. If employers don’t have an existing benefits website available, they could consider building an internal digital destination so employees have a year-round benefits resource. HR departments can post evergreen partner resources and continue to share any other relevant benefits updates.
Furthermore, if employers have yet to switch to virtual open enrollment, but plan to, they must allow extra time to properly implement new technology or platforms in advance of open enrollment. Focusing on the employee experience can help keep employees engaged in the enrollment process and keep morale high. Benefits administration technology can help streamline decision-making and other processes, explain benefits and thoughtfully guide employees as they make the best choices for themselves and their dependents.
Open Enrollment Should Be More Personalized and Interactive
Now more than ever, employees want to know that their employers care about them, and open enrollment isn’t just a transaction. Everyone has unique personal needs and physical, mental or financial challenges brought on by or amplified by the pandemic. It’s also essential for employers to make themselves available to quickly address any individual employee questions and help guide them through the process or their available options. This personalized touch can help increase benefits utilization.
Additionally, the pandemic has hurt employees’ mental, physical, and financial wellness. Employers have a unique opportunity to support employees and make it easier to get help through their benefits. If employers are ready to revamp their benefits, the following are the top perks employees are looking for right now:
- Flexible or hybrid scheduling/telecommuting
- Mental health resources
- Caregiving benefits
- Developmental opportunities
Although the 2020 open enrollment season presented considerable challenges, it also provided valuable lessons to engage and support employees better. Now’s the time for employers to review these general lessons and their workforce’s specific needs and wants. Start now to thoughtfully plan and communicate 2021 open enrollment to increase plan participation and combat turnover potentially on the horizon.
Reach out to Higginbotham for additional open enrollment support, including online benefit enrollment solutions, enrollment guides, employee communication resources and more.
DOL Announces Final Rule on Tip Regulations
On Sept. 23, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a final rule that will amend Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations for tipped employees. The final rule is expected to become effective on Nov. 23, 2021.
The final rule prohibits managers and supervisors from keeping any portion of an employee’s tips, regardless of whether the employer takes a tip credit. New language in the FLSA regulations clarifies that managers and supervisors may only keep the tips they receive directly from customers based on the services they directly and solely provide.
The final rule also prohibits employers, managers and supervisors from receiving tips from—but not contributing tips to—an employee tip pool.
However, the final rule allows employers that do not claim a tip credit (meaning they pay their tipped employees the full minimum wage rate instead of the tipped employee minimum wage rate) to impose a tip pooling arrangement that includes employees in the establishment who are not employed in an occupation in which they customarily and regularly receive tips (e.g., dishwashers, cooks).
The DOL is of the opinion that civil money penalties are “an important equalizer in the economy by helping to ensure fair competition for responsible employers.” For this reason, the final rule restores the DOL’s ability to impose penalties of up to $1,100 per violation against employers that take tips earned by employees, regardless of whether the violations were repeated or willful.
Employers that have tipped employees should review their policies and procedures for paying those employees to ensure compliance with these final regulations.
Guidance Issued on Vaccine Mandate for Federal Contractors
On Sept. 24, 2021, the Biden administration clarified its September 9 Executive Order (the “Mandate”), announcing that employees of federal contractors and subcontractors will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 8, 2021 even if the employees are not working directly on a government contract. The guidance, which can be found here, gives employers with more than 100 employees a glimpse into the potential rules to be released by OSHA under the President’s COVID-19 Plan.
Employers that may be subject to the potential OSHA standard should begin to prepare for compliance with the rule. For those interested, please check out our pre-OSHA guidance preparation checklist, as well as a survey that you can share with employees.
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