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Over 100 Employees? COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements are Coming

  • Ensure that 100% of their workforce is vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, with any of the emergency or fully FDA-approved vaccines; OR
  • Receive a weekly negative COVID-19 test result from all unvaccinated employees prior to coming to work.

In addition to this vaccination and/or weekly testing requirement, employers must also provide paid-time off benefits for the time needed to get tested and post-vaccination recovery, if necessary. OHSA should release its ETS in the coming weeks, outlining the specifics of this new ruling and how to comply with its requirements, including information on payment responsibility for vaccinations and testing and the timeline for implementation.

There are many compliance concerns raised by this plan under ERISA, HIPAA, certain wellness program rules, and other regulations that will need to be contemplated by employers. Upon OSHA’s issuance of the ETS, we will provide further guidance and information on compliance with the requirements. We also recommend you reach out to your legal counsel for assistance. If you are a large employer and would like to discuss the above requirement in more detail or if you are a healthcare entity, federal contractor, or federal government employer and would like information on how the other pieces of this plan apply to you, please visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/covidplan/ or contact Launchways directly for additional HR and compliance support.

Are Your Employees Working as Digital Nomad? What They Need to Know About Tax Implications

The coronavirus pandemic has proven a broad and nearly universal view that American’s relationship with technology will deepen, including their ability to work from almost anywhere.

If you work remotely in the same state as your business location, you can follow the same state laws for income taxes and employment taxes. But as a remote employee, you need to weigh in the tax implications of cross-border work arrangements.

Below are the laws and taxes considerations to make as a remote employee working abroad:

Be Aware of Your Tax Obligations

You will want to consider your current tax situation and see how it may change if you leave the country. While the U.S. tax code applies to all tax citizens and green card holders no matter how long they live and work remotely outside the United States, some exclusions are available.

You may qualify for a foreign tax credit or the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE), which lets you reduce or eliminate all or a portion of your foreign earned income (up to $108,700 from U.S. taxes). This exclusion is not valid for passive, or investment income such as interest and dividend and only includes earned income, such as:

  • Salary
  • Wages
  • Bonuses
  • Commissions
  • Self-employed income

Generally, many countries have bilateral tax treaties which prevent you from paying tax on the same thing twice.

Determine Your Primary Residence or Tax Home

Before you qualify using the credit or FEIE, it’s crucial to make sure your tax home is outside the United States.

For instance, countries like Portugal will let you claim to be their tax resident if your primary residence is registered there, and you stay for 183 days or more in any tax year. On the other hand, the U.K. implements a “Statutory Residence Test,” which considers the amount of time you spend and work in each tax year, separately.

According to the IRS,

  • Your tax home is the general area of your principal place of business, employment, or post of duty, regardless of where you maintain your family home
  • Your tax home is the place where you are permanently or indefinitely engaged to work as an employee or self-employed individual.
  • Having a “tax home” in a given location does not necessarily mean that the given location is your residence or domicile for tax purposes.
  • If you do not have a regular or main place of business because of the nature of your work, your tax home may be the place where you regularly live.
  • If you have neither a regular or main place of business nor a place where you regularly live, you are considered an itinerant, and your tax home is wherever you work.

As U.S. citizens, the foreign income exclusion comes into effect only if you spend at least 330 days of the tax year abroad, not including time on planes. Then, if you qualify, you can use Form 2555 to figure your foreign earned income exclusion and your housing exclusion or deduction.

Comply With Foreign Reporting Requirements

Many digital nomads and expats may also be subject to additional tax reporting, such as filing a Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR).

An FBAR reports your money that resides in offshore bank accounts. Any U.S. tax resident with a foreign account balance of $10,000 or more during a specific tax year needs to file an FBAR.

This account balance is calculated in its totality, which means it is a sum of all your foreign bank accounts. Individuals who have signing authority for an overseas account or a joint account also need to file an FBAR.

FBAR is filed individually to the Dept. of Treasury and submitted electronically through the BSA e-filing site.

Know Regulations Around State Taxes

Certain U.S. states require ‘verified’ state residents who work outside to pay state taxes, or they have to prove they are no longer state residents. For example, the state of Colorado requires proof of non-resident status, and other places such as California need you to pay state taxes even if the federal government has certified you as a foreign resident.

If you plan to work abroad, this can be a problem for many reasons. In some cases, owning personal property such as a car or even a library card can make you liable to pay state income tax.

That’s why know more about state taxes and/or relocate to a low or no-tax state before you depart, rather than being caught unaware by years of unpaid penalties.

Self-Employment Taxes

Whether in the U.S. or abroad, if you have an employer, they are required to pay social security and Medicare for you. But as a self-employed digital nomad, you may be liable for SECA (Self-Employed Contributions Act), based on your country of residence.

However, you may be exempt from SECA tax if the U.S. has a Totalization Agreement with the country you are residing in. Under this agreement, SSA will account for your periods of U.S. coverage that qualify for benefits under the social security program of an agreement country.

Depending on your situation and the period spent in a foreign country, you may have freed yourself of commutes, but knowing your tax obligations will help you navigate through the complexities of U.S. taxes no matter where your work takes you.

3 Post-Pandemic Employee Benefits Trends Employers Must Know

As we enter the halfway point in the year following the year of the pandemic, by now most of us are familiar with the term “return to work.” Many businesses have brought their employees back to the workplace, while some have adopted a more hybrid model of maintaining some people on-site and allowing others to remain remote work employees.

Even though we have begun to return to a pre-COVID way of life, the way of 2021 is not the same as that of 2019. According to writer, Amy Quarton, “Trying to make the workplace what it used to be before the pandemic is not only impractical and untenable for many reasons, it is just as (if not more) disruptive than the initial work-from-home transition.”

Post-Pandemic Employee Benefits Trends

The way employees view benefits has changed. Some benefits that were high priority a year and a half ago are no longer as important as they once were, while benefits that may have seemed unnecessary or less important have made their way to the top of the priority list for many employees.

Reporter, Kristen Beckman states, “This shift in the work environment is an ideal time for employers to begin thinking about how they want to work with employees to help them recover financially and emotionally from the disruptions and stress of the pandemic.”

With this new perspective on benefits in mind, here are a few that will have an impact on how employee benefits evolve moving forward.

Employee Financial Health Benefits

For most employees, the financial impact brought by the pandemic was heavy. While some were fortunate enough to have retirement or emergency savings to fall back on, they likely had to use a good portion of those funds to maintain their lives. According to Beckman, “The resulting financial instability can cause a strain on employees that can impact productivity especially at a time when they are transitioning back to work.”

Here’s what we are seeing as a result:

  • Increasing numbers of providers are offering education and coaching, budgeting and savings tools, and financial advising and planning.
  • Various emergency savings programs are now offered by payroll vendors, retirement plan providers, and others, but no matter the vendor, the key feature is easy employee access to those funds.
  • Typically administered through a third party, student loan repayment assistance benefits are enabling employers to make regular contributions directly to workers’ student loan servicer.

More Benefits Options

For several employees, there was a realization of just how flexible the workplace could be when businesses were forced to begin working remotely. Flexibility in the workplace and having more options provides the employee to have more control of their daily life and the work/life balance.

Here’s what we are seeing as a result:

  • Flexible work hours ”will likely be made widely available and be in high demand as physical workplaces reopen,” writes Quarton, and many new scheduling tools have been launched to help employers maintain social distancing.
  • The most helpful option for addressing mental health is to offer better insurance coverage for mental health care. Other options include adding more visits via EAPs and providing apps for meditation, mindfulness, and stress relief.
  • Help with caretaking includes reimbursements for or assistance finding daycare, elder care, after-school care, remote tutoring, remote safety monitoring, and more.
  • Vendors have brought telehealth capabilities not just to computers but to phones, and virtual appointments are remaining an option, post-pandemic.

Tech at the Center

Many have become far more comfortable interacting virtually whether it be through zoom meetings, virtual schooling, and even online court appearances. And while occasional technical difficulties can be problematic, reliance on tech is becoming more and more acceptable and even preferred for many tasks.

Here’s what we are seeing as a result:

  • Going virtual can be made interesting and informative with the use of interactive tools such as webinars, virtual booths, and live chats. David Karlin writes that being able to access virtual open enrollment at home “allows family members, like spouses, to be easily included in the decision-making process.”
  • “The range of digital health apps, platforms, services, and new products spawned or accelerated by the pandemic can hardly be mapped,” according to writer Dan Cook. Hundreds of employee benefits apps and tools are readily available, with new ones launching weekly for benefits and health monitoring and management, provider and pharmacy searches, 401(k) funds monitoring, wellness tracking, and more.

While some trends will come and others go, one thing we know for sure is that as we continue to define what normal looks like, employers and the benefits they offer to their employees will certainly have a pivotal role.

Key Considerations For Returning Employees to the Workplace as COVID Cases Decline and Vaccinations Increase

The global COVID-19 pandemic that has altered operations for nearly every business in one form or another is finally beginning to subside. Although concerns over continued spread and new variances continues, cases are trending downward and vaccinations are trending upward.

Because of these encouraging trends, many employers are now asking themselves what they should do in terms of getting their employees back to the workplace. Some businesses may choose to permanently allow some or all of their employees to work from home. However, many other businesses are realizing that it’s time to start making plans to bring their remote workers back to the office on a regular basis.

In this post, we’ll discuss some key things that employers should consider as they make decisions and coordinate the logistics of safely bringing employees back to work.

Specifically, we’ll talk about:

  • Testing
  • Vaccinations
  • Public Health Best Practices
  • Acknowledging the Adjustment Period for Employees

Testing

Testing for COVID-19 in employees has been a very expensive task for most businesses throughout the pandemic. Most businesses have left the testing to their local health departments and encouraged employees who have felt unwell to go through the standard public testing process rather than providing on-site or direct-to-employee testing. Fortunately, this is changing due to recent advances in rapid testing.

Advancements in our understanding of COVID-19 have led to rapid, at-home antigen tests that can be taken by consumers without requiring a prescription from a physician. These tests cost far less that other testing methods, and provide a much more practical tool for employers to encourage regular employee testing.

Vaccinations

Employers should work with their HR and legal teams to determine how to best encourage or require that employees receive the COVID-19 vaccinations. Some ideas for encouraging vaccination include:

  • Be flexible with time off for employees who may need to temporarily leave work to receive the vaccine, or who may need to take time off to take a dependent to get vaccinated.
  • Consider providing an extra day of sick leave for employees who experience side effects from receiving the vaccine. If possible, expand this benefit for employees who may need to care for one of their dependents who experiences vaccine side effects.
  • Offer cash bonuses or other prizes for employees who choose to be vaccinated.
  • Reach out to local health departments to see what educational vaccine materials they have that you could share with employees. This will eliminate the need for staff to create such materials, and you’ll know that the information is accurate.

Public Health Best Practices

Even though the pandemic seems to be nearing its end, the reality is that we will still live in a “new normal,” at least for a period of time. This new normal will require special attention to basic public health best practices to ensure that there is no chance of a late-stage COVID outbreak in your office. Employers should consider the following public health best practices as employees return to the workplace:

  • Continue to encourage or require masks at the office. The CDC will most likely continue to recommend that masks be worn for several more months as the pandemic subsides.
  • Invest in an improved ventilation system. Studies have shown that buildings with higher quality filtration in their ventilation systems can reduce the spread of COVID-19.
  • Encourage hand washing and sanitizing. This can be done by setting up extra hand cleansing stations or putting up signage in restrooms and other common, high-touch areas.
  • Promote physical distancing. Consider rearranging the setup of your office so that employees can work at least six feet away from each other throughout the day. If it makes sense given the layout of your office, tape directional arrows on the floor to decrease close interactions as people move around.

As an added bonus, these strategies should also keep employees safe from other illnesses, such as influenza, moving forward.

Acknowledging the Adjustment Period for Employees

Employers should remember how hard the transition was for many employees when they shifted to primarily working from home. The sudden lack of face-to-face interaction with coworkers, the juggling of at-home school for children, and the sharing of office space with spouses were challenging adjustments to make.

Unfortunately, transitioning back to in-office work will most likely come with similar challenges. Consider the following examples that can be anticipated:

  • Employees will have to readjust to a daily commute, which can cause stress because of lost time during the day.
  • Some employees who are more introverted may have a hard time reengaging themselves socially around the office.
  • Simple office norms and etiquette that were long taken for granted might have to be relearned in some workplaces.
  • After avoiding gathering of people for so long, there will be some employees who experience anxiety as they return to being physically closer to more people throughout the day.

Employers should ask for feedback from employees to determine other company-specific challenges that employees anticipate with returning to the office. Plans should be made to take appropriate steps to help employees manage these challenges as they readjust to working on-site. 

Key Takeaways

The light at the end of the pandemic tunnel is near. Within a few short months, many business leaders will start to encourage or require their employees to return to working in-person at the office. However, there are some key things employers should consider as they make these organizational adjustments:

  • Provide rapid, affordable COVID-19 testing for employees.
  • Encourage vaccinations by being flexible with time off, offering cash or other prizes for employees who get vaccinated, and curating existing vaccination educational materials. Of course, HR and legal council should be involved with any such program to ensure there are no violations of health privacy laws.
  • Implement public health best practices such as requiring masks, improving ventilation systems, encouraging hand washing, and promoting physical distancing.

Remember that there will be an adjustment period before many employees feel fully comfortable returning to the office. Consult with employees to learn what challenges they anticipate with returning to the office, and make plans to help them overcome those challenges as comfortably as possible.

What Employers Must Know About Employee Mental Healthcare in 2021 and Beyond

Every year, the US spends $3.8 trillion on healthcare. What’s more, 90% of this goes to caring for chronic conditions. In an effort to reduce costs, improve the quality of life for their employees, and improve employee retention, for years, employers have shown support for five major chronic conditions: high blood pressure, diabetes, lack of physical activity, obesity, and smoking. These chronic issues cost employers an estimated $36 billion annually. Therefore, making advances towards addressing these issues can result in a significant impact financially. This is more important than ever because – the inconvenient truth is –  that $36 billion is only expected to increase.

The pandemic revealed many issues facing employers. Among them is employee behavioral health. While behavioral health has often been ignored by employers, it’s all but certain that it will emerge as a sixth vital chronic care condition. With all of the challenges brought on by the pandemic, it’s no surprise that employees are reporting higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than ever before. Research shows that the pandemic could result in a 50% increase in behavioral health issues. This would mean that one-third of all Americans would be in need of care in 2021 and is projected to cost an additional $100-140 billion this year alone. 

With healthcare costs on the rise, the list of conditions growing larger, and the increasing demand for a remote workforce, many employers are turning to technology for solutions. With a growing list of mobile apps that offer guidance for cognitive behavioral therapy in a market that is rapidly expanding, tech solutions are more available than ever before. Here are a few considerations that employers need to be making as they address these new issues:

Behavioral Health is a Chronic Condition

It can no longer be ignored. Behavioral health issues are at an all-time high with 67% of Americans reporting to have increased stress levels in 2021. This comes with a significant financial impact. The global economic losses related to behavioral health are estimated at $16.3 trillion between 2011 and 2030, almost equal to that of cardiovascular disease and surpassing other chronic conditions. In addition, research shows that employees with these behavioral health conditions spend roughly $6,500 more annually than employees without.

Regardless of the growing awareness of this critical issue, studies revealed that there is a looming disconnect among employers. When asked to rank chronic conditions by importance, only 33% ranked behavioral health as being a significant concern, putting it seventh on the list overall. Meanwhile, diabetes was ranked number one for 61% of employers surveyed, despite the fact that data shows behavioral health to have a significantly higher impact financially. In a recent study, research showed that behavioral health conditions cost employers $17 each year per employee in disability wage replacement costs. The next most costly chronic condition is diabetes, costing employees $2 each year per employee. In another study, research showed that lost productivity for those experiencing behavioral health issues cost employers roughly $109 per employee, compared to those with diabetes, costing employers $9 per employee.

With the knowledge of the financial and personal impact that behavioral health conditions have on both employers and employees, employers need to identify solutions for the most prevalent diagnoses. As mentioned above, the solution may be found in tech for chronic care management. Studies have revealed that digital screenings, teletherapy, and digital CBT tools are effective for mitigating both symptoms and costs. Additionally, providing care early on has a significant impact, with the average cost for employees taking leave for a mild form of a condition like depression can be up to 52% lower than the average cost for a severe form of that same condition.

Traditional vs Modern Solutions

A recent analysis of the digital app space showed that there were roughly 300,000 health-related apps available for download on mobile devices. This market is projected to grow to over $230 billion in value by 2023. While new tools are welcomed and many of them show promise, the swift expansion of digital options can make it difficult to know which tools are worth utilizing. It is important that employers are thorough when selecting which tools they will use as it is likely that the more mature digital solutions will become the most robust and engaging tools, ultimately, making them the most effective.

That said, the focus of employers is to find a singular solution. In a recent study, research showed that 71% of employers said that a singular digital solution to behavioral health management was of high importance. The same is true for enterprise-level solutions, with each solution promising mitigated chronic conditions, optimized personal management, and a decrease in employer healthcare costs.

However, regardless of these solutions, the disintegrated nature of behavioral health management creates a significant challenge for employers. The single-issue solutions struggle to have widespread engagement among employees which has a significant impact on the long-term success of their adoption. Studies show that 47% of employers attribute lack of employee engagement as the main obstacle to the adoption of digital solutions. Another study revealed that engagement rates for health insurer’s behavioral health management programs were only 13% on average.

This is why it is important for employees to prioritize more mature digital solutions. The next few years are likely to see many large consolidations as the more mature solutions buy out the single focus tools, creating more robust solutions that deliver better returns. By sticking with more mature solutions, employers will see more engagement as the market and the tools within it grow.

Prevention Over Cures

The obvious real return on behavioral health solutions is that they are positive for both employers and employees. Not only do they improve the health and well-being of employees, but that, in turn, improves the employer’s bottom line. In a recent study from Harvard, research showed that effective workplace wellness programs resulted in a return of $2.37 for every dollar spent on average. Emerging tech solutions help treat behavioral health conditions in ways that were unimaginable before. Teletherapy can connect employees to licensed practitioners with just one click. While they might be costly upfront, immediate returns shouldn’t be the primary focus of employers. The long-term reduction in the cost of behavioral health treatments, drugs, and therapy will undoubtedly result in healthier, loyal employees.

Digital management solutions provide an opportunity to make a significant and real change for your employee’s mental well-being. While it’s easy to be discouraged by growing healthcare costs and troubling statistics on American mental health, now is the appropriate time to provide your employees with a comprehensive behavioral health management solution. In doing so, you will be making progress towards a healthier workforce and a brighter future for all.

The trajectory of behavioral healthcare might be daunting and more unpredictable than ever before, however, digital solutions bring promise. These tools not only help improve the health of your employees, but they can also have a positive impact on costs, retention, and resilience. Employers that embrace the behavioral health concerns, seek out a singular solution, and focus on long-term employee health will be better equipped to handle the issues of rising healthcare costs and the evolving needs of their employees.

Employee Fraud, Waste, and Abuse During the Time of COVID-19

The COVID-19 Pandemic, which began over a year ago, has changed the workplace in many ways. Some of these changes have been for the better, such as reduced office space overhead for employers. Other changes have been for the worse, like employee isolation, mental illness, and low team morale.

One alarming trend that has been shown in recent reports is that employee fraud, waste and abuse have increased during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

In this post, we’ll discuss this trend in detail. Specifically, we’ll cover:

  • Reports show employee fraud, waste, and abuse have increased during COVID
  • How This Trent Relates to the Fraud Triangle
  • What Employers can do to Combat this Trend

Reports Show Employee Fraud, Waste, and Abuse have Increased During COVID

A recent report by the risk mitigation technology firm Oversight reveals that instances of employee fraud, waste, and abuse have increased during the pandemic.  This report specifically describes such instances in terms of spending and purchasing.

According to the report, overall purchasing activity has decreased during the pandemic. This is probably due to reduced revenue and uncertainty about the future of many industries as a result of the world-altering year of 2020. However, the report also found that:

  • Spending risk has nearly tripled in the last year. A comparison between 2019 and 2020 shows travel and expenses decreased by 55%, but violation rate increased by 29%.
  • Out-of-pocket expenses that are considered to be “risky” have increased. Starting in March of 2020, they increased as high as 120% of what they were before the pandemic. One potential explanation for this spike is that many workers had to pay to set up virtual workspaces out-of-pocket. Reimbursements for this type of expenses are complex and inherently carry a lot of risk.
  • Two other risky expense categories are “miscellaneous” and “mail/phone orders.” These two expense categories accounted for a greater portion of overall spending in 2020. The potential issues with these categories are obvious when considering the vagueness of expenses that are classified as “miscellaneous” and the ease of abuse with expenses classified as “mail/phone orders.”

Although the report we’ve referenced in this post only discusses financial abuse in terms of purchasing and expenses, it’s easy to consider how other forms of business fraud, waste, and abuse may have increased during the last year. In the following section, we’ll explore these causes.

How This Trend Relates to the Fraud Triangle

Organizational behavior experts have historically explained workplace fraud, waste, and abuse in terms of the “Fraud Triangle.” The Fraud Triangle presents three factors that heavily influence whether an employee will engage in behavior that could be considered fraudulent, wasteful, or abusive. The three elements in the fraud triangle are:

  1. Opportunity
  2. Pressure
  3. Rationalization

Let’s take a moment to consider each of these elements as they relate to working remotely during the pandemic. For the purposes of this section, we’ll refer to “fraud, waste, and abuse” simply as, “fraud.”

Opportunity

Employees are more likely to engage in fraud when the there are many opportunities to do so. Generally speaking, whenever there is less supervision over employees, there will be more opportunities for fraud. Fewer interactions with management and supervisors may cause an employee to feel like they will be able to get away with fraud more easily.

This presents a problematic dilemma for employers in the era of remote workers. With employees potentially scattered all over the country, how can an employer properly make sure employees are not wasting resources or participating in other abusive or fraudulent behavior?

Pressure

As we’ve explained in recent posts, employees are experiencing more stress now than ever before. This is especially true for younger workers who are working remotely. Uncertainty about the future can be a primary cause for this stress.

If employees feel worried about the future, those feelings will likely coincide with feelings of added pressure to care for themselves and their families. The fear of being laid off or experiencing other employment hardships could cause employees to make rash decisions to engage in fraud to help them mitigate perceived financial risk.

Rationalization

The third and final element of the fraud triangle is rationalization. Just like fear of an uncertain future can make an employee feel added pressure to commit fraud, the same fear could make them try to rationalize their fraudulent decisions.

For example, consider an employee who uses company money to purchase a personal item. The employee might say to themselves, “This has been a hard year for me and my family. I’ve had bad luck. I deserve this item. It’ll help me be a better employee in the long run, so it’s no big deal that I spent company money on it.”

What Employers Can Do to Combat This Trend

After reading the previous sections about the fraud triangle and trends related to fraud, waste, and abuse trends in the workplace, you may find yourself concerned about the status of your workforce. Managing these unique and unprecedented circumstances is no easy task. Consider the following tips:

  • Make sure you are regularly checking in with your employees, especially if they are working remotely. Every employee should have a short phone call or virtual meeting with their immediate supervisor at least once a week, if not more. The more often they touch base with you about their projects and other priorities, the less likely they will be to seize an opportunity for fraud.
  • Do everything you can to reduce stress for your employees. Talk with your company’s health care provider and your HR staff to make sure mental health options are available for your employees. Provide perks such as gym reimbursement or exercise incentives to help your employees relieve stress in healthy ways. Doing so will reduce the chances of employees committing fraud due to pressure or rationalization.
  • Don’t be afraid to consider installing monitoring software on your employees’ computers to catch certain types of fraud, waste, or abuse. However, you’ll want to be fully transparent about this practice. If you decide to implement a new software to help the company reduce fraud, make sure employees are involved in that decision process and help them understand how it is for the good of the company.

Key Takeaways

The COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities, pressure, and rationalization for employees in the modern workplace to commit acts of fraud, waste, and abuse. Data provided by leading risk mitigation firms shows that this is certainly the case for purchasing fraud. A thoughtful consideration of the “Fraud Triangle” makes it easy to see how other aspects of fraud are more common now as well.

To help reduce the chances of fraud in their workplace, employers should consider doing the following:

  • Make sure you are regularly checking in with your employees.
  • Do everything you can to reduce stress for your employees.
  • Don’t be afraid to consider installing monitoring software on your employees’ computers to catch certain types of fraud, waste, or abuse. However, involve your employees in this process.