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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. 

New COVID-19 FAQ For Employers

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to bring forth a variety of questions for businesses. Employers can take a number of preventive steps to help keep employees safe, but they should also prepare to respond to various situations that can occur in the workplace.

This article provides COVID-19 general business FAQs from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These FAQs build on the CDC’s interim guidance for businesses and employers and its guidance for critical infrastructure workers. The CDC’s guidance is intended to supplement—not replace—federal, state and local mandates regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

What should I do if an employee comes to work with COVID-19 symptoms?

Employees who have COVID-19 symptoms when they arrive at work or become sick during the day should immediately be separated from other employees, customers and visitors, and be sent home. Employees who develop symptoms outside of work should notify their supervisors and stay home.

Sick employees should follow CDC-recommended steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Employees should not return to work until they have met the criteria to discontinue home isolation and have consulted with a health care provider. Employers should not require sick employees to provide a COVID-19 test result or health care provider’s note to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave or return to work. Health care provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely manner.

What should I do if an employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19?

In most cases, an employer does not need to shut down their facility, but should close off any areas used for prolonged periods of time by the sick person, and:

  • Wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize potential for other employees being exposed to respiratory droplets. If waiting 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible.
  • Follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations:
  • Clean dirty surfaces with soap and water before disinfecting them.
  • To disinfect surfaces, use products that meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and are appropriate for the surface.
  • Be sure to follow the instructions on the product labels to ensure safe and effective use of the product.
  • Individuals may need to wear additional personal protective equipment (PPE) depending on the setting and disinfectant product they are using.

If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Employees who test positive for COVID-19 (using a viral test, not an antibody test) should be excluded from work and remain in home isolation if they do not need to be hospitalized. Employers should provide education to employees on what to do if they are sick.

Employers may need to work with local health department officials to determine which employees may have had close contact with the employee with COVID-19 and who may need to take additional precautions, including exclusion from work and remaining at home.

Most workplaces should follow public health recommendations for community-related exposure and instruct potentially exposed employees to stay home for 14 days, telework if possible and self-monitor for symptoms.

Critical infrastructure workplaces should follow CDC guidance for dealing with critical infrastructure employees who may have had exposure to a person with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection.

Sick employees should follow CDC-recommended steps. Employees should not return to work until they have met the criteria to discontinue home isolation and have consulted with a health care provider. Antibody test results should not be used to make decisions about returning employees to the workplace.

Employers should not require a sick employee to provide a negative COVID-19 test result or health care provider’s note to return to work.

What should I do if I find out several days later, after an employee worked, that they were diagnosed with COVID-19?

If it has been less than seven days since the sick employee used the facility, clean and disinfect all areas used by the sick employee following the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations. If it has been seven days or more since the sick employee used the facility, additional cleaning and disinfection is not necessary. Continue routinely cleaning and disinfecting all high-touch surfaces in the facility.

Other employees may have been exposed to COVID-19 if they were in “close contact” (within approximately 6 feet) of the sick employee for a prolonged period of time.

If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, but maintain confidentiality as required by the ADA. 

Those who have symptoms should self-isolate and follow CDC-recommended steps. In most workplaces, those potentially exposed—but with no symptoms—should remain at home or in a comparable setting and practice social distancing for 14 days.

Critical infrastructure employees should follow this guidance if they potentially had exposure to a person with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection. A critical infrastructure employee who is symptom-free and returns to work should wear a cloth face covering at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after their last exposure.

Employees not considered exposed should self-monitor for symptoms. If they develop symptoms, they should notify their supervisor and stay home.

If an employee has been exposed but is not showing symptoms, should they be allowed to work?

Employees may have been exposed if they were in “close contact” with someone who is infected, which is defined as being within about 6 feet from a person with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time.

Potentially exposed employees who have symptoms of COVID-19 should self-isolate and follow CDC-recommended steps.

Potentially exposed employees who do not have symptoms should remain at home or in a comparable setting and practice social distancing for 14 days.

All other employees should self-monitor for symptoms and wear cloth face coverings when in public. If they develop symptoms, they should notify their supervisors and stay home.

How can I protect employees who may be at higher risk for severe illness?

Have conversations with employees if they express concerns about COVID-19 infection. Some people may be at higher risk of severe illness. This includes older adults (65 years and older) and people of any age with serious underlying medical conditions. By using strategies that help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, employers can help protect all employees, including those at higher risk. These strategies include:

  • Implementing telework and other social distancing practices
  • Actively encouraging employees to stay home when sick
  • Providing sick leave
  • Promoting hand-washing
  • Providing supplies and appropriate PPE for cleaning and disinfecting workspaces
  • Requiring all employees to wear cloth face coverings

In workplaces where it is not possible to eliminate face-to-face contact (such as retail), consider assigning employees who are at higher risk of severe illness tasks that allow them to maintain a 6-foot distance from others, if feasible.

Employers should not require employees to provide a note from their health care provider when they are sick. Instead, allow them to inform their supervisors or employee health services when they have conditions that put them at higher risk for diseases.

When is a cloth face covering not appropriate while at work, and what can employees wear instead?

Cloth face coverings can prevent the wearer from spreading COVID-19 to others, but they may not always be appropriate. Employees should consider using an alternative under certain conditions at work, including:

  • If they have trouble breathing
  • If they are unable to remove it without help
  • If it interferes with vision, glasses or eye protection
  • If straps, strings or other parts of the covering could get caught in equipment
  • If other work hazards associated with wearing the covering are identified and cannot be addressed without removal of the face covering

Cloth face coverings should not be worn if their use creates a new risk (e.g., interferes with driving or vision, or contributes to heat-related illness) that exceeds their benefit of slowing the spread of COVID-19.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggests that an employee wear a face shield if a cloth face covering is recommended but the employee cannot tolerate wearing a cloth face covering. If used, a face shield should cover the entire front and sides of the face and extend below the chin.

Are cloth face coverings the same as PPE?

No, cloth face coverings are not PPE. These face coverings are not respirators and are not appropriate substitutes for them in workplaces where respirators are recommended or required for respiratory protection.

How often should employees wash their hands while at work?

The CDC recommends employees protect themselves from respiratory illness with everyday preventive actions, including good hand hygiene. Employees should wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not readily available, especially during key times when persons are likely to be infected by or spread germs, including:

  • After blowing one’s nose, coughing or sneezing
  • Before, during and after preparing food
  • After using the toilet
  • After touching garbage
  • Before and after the work shift
  • Before and after work breaks
  • After touching objects that have been handled by customers or other employees

What is social distancing and how can my workplace do that?

Social distancing means avoiding large gatherings and maintaining distance (at least 6 feet) from others when possible. Strategies that businesses could use include:

  • Allowing flexible worksites (such as telework)
  • Allowing flexible work hours (such as staggered shifts)
  • Increasing physical space between employees at the worksite.
  • Increasing physical space between employees and customers (such as a drive-thru and partitions)
  • Implementing flexible meeting and travel options (such as postponing nonessential meetings or events)
  • Delivering services remotely (e.g., phone, video or web)
  • Delivering products through curbside pickup or delivery

Should employers screen employees for COVID-19 symptoms, such as with temperature checks?

Screening employees is an optional strategy that employers may use. Performing screening or health checks will not be completely effective because asymptomatic individuals or individuals with mild, nonspecific symptoms may not realize they are infected and may pass through screening. Screening and health checks are not a replacement for other protective measures, such as social distancing.

Consider encouraging individuals planning to enter the workplace to self-screen prior to coming on-site and not to attempt to enter the workplace if any of the following are present:

  • Symptoms of COVID-19
  • Fever equal to or higher than 100.4F
  • Are under evaluation for COVID-19 (for example, waiting for the results of a viral test to confirm infection)
  • Have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and not yet cleared to discontinue isolation

The ADA permits employers to make disability-related inquiries and conduct medical exams if job-related and consistent with business necessity.

Generally, measuring an employee’s body temperature is a medical examination. Because the CDC and state and local health authorities have acknowledged community spreading of COVID-19 and issued precautions, employers may measure employees’ body temperatures.

Inquiries and reliable medical exams meet this standard if they are necessary to exclude employees with a medical condition that would pose a direct threat to health or safety. Direct threat is to be determined based on the best available objective medical evidence. The guidance from the CDC or other public health authorities is such evidence. Therefore, employers will be acting consistently with the ADA as long as any screening implemented is consistent with advice from the CDC and public health authorities for that type of workplace at that time.

The ADA requires that all medical information about a particular employee be stored separately from the employee’s personnel file, thus limiting access to this confidential information. An employer may store all medical information related to COVID-19 in existing medical files. This includes an employee’s statement that they have the disease or suspect they have the disease, or the employer’s notes or other documentation from questioning an employee about symptoms. For example, this may include continuing to take temperatures of everyone entering the workplace and asking questions about symptoms (or requiring self-reporting).

What testing does the CDC recommend for testing employees in a workplace?

The CDC does NOT recommend that employers use antibody tests to determine which employees can work. Antibody tests check a blood sample for past infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The CDC does not yet know if people who recover from COVID-19 can get infected again.Viral tests check a respiratory sample (such as swabs of the inside of the nose) for current infection with SARS-CoV-2.

The CDC has published strategies for consideration of incorporating viral testing for SARS-CoV-2 into a workplace COVID-19 preparedness, response and control plan. Different states and jurisdictions may have their own guidance and priorities for viral testing in workplaces. Testing in the workplace could be arranged through an organization’s occupational health provider or in consultation with their local or state health department.

What measures should be taken to protect an employee who must travel for work?

Although travel should be minimized as much as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, many jobs require travel, and it may not be possible to conduct certain job duties using virtual tools. The following measures may be taken to protect employees while traveling:

  • Schedule travel to limit the distance travelled and need for overnight lodging.
  • If multiday travel is necessary, coordinate with travel preparers to identify hotels that disinfect rooms between stays and regularly disinfect surfaces in common areas.
  • Provide employees with forms of transportation that minimize close contact with others, such as fleet vehicles or rental vehicles.
  • If public transportation is used, ask employees to follow the CDC guidance on how to protect themselves when using transportation.
  • If flying is necessary, select seats on flights that provide the greatest distance between other travelers and choose direct flights, if possible.
  • Disinfect surfaces of rental cars or fleet vehicles (e.g., steering wheel, shifter and arm rests) between each use, using products that meet the EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2.
  • Make sure employees are provided with necessary supplies and understand protective measures they can take while traveling. These measures include:
    • Maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from other people (social distancing) as much as possible during travel
    • Using disinfecting wipes to clean commonly touched surfaces inside vehicles and airplanes
    • Considering ordering food for pickup or delivery rather than eating out at restaurants
    • Hand-washing or using hand sanitizer regularly
    • Ensuring that employees know that if they get sick they should stay home (not travel) or return home (if traveling), provided it is feasible for them to travel without endangering themselves or others
    • Making sure employees know who to contact if they are sick

For more information, see CDC guidance for travel in the United States.

How do I know if my business is considered critical?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has developed a list of essential critical infrastructure employees to help state and local officials as they work to protect their communities, while ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety as well as economic and national security. State and local officials make the final determinations for their jurisdictions about critical infrastructure employees.

I don’t provide sick leave to my employees. What should I do?

Employers that do not currently offer sick leave to some or all of their employees may want to draft nonpunitive “emergency sick leave” policies. Ensure that sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of and understand these policies.

In addition to cleaning and disinfecting, what can I do to decrease the spread of disease in my workplace?

Employers can also:

  • Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles.
  • Provide soap and water in the workplace. If soap and water are not readily available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. If hands are visibly dirty, soap and water should be chosen over hand sanitizer.
  • Place hand sanitizer in multiple locations to encourage good hand-hygiene practices.
  • Place posters that encourage staying home when sick, the importance of hand hygiene and coughing and sneezing etiquette at the entrance to the workplace and in other workplace areas where employees are likely to see them.
  • Discourage handshaking.

Summary

These FAQs provide guidance from the CDC. However, employers should be aware that CDC guidance changes over time, and should visit the CDC’s website for current guidance. Employers should continue to monitor updates from CDC and follow direction from local health officials.

What Employers Need to Know About the American Rescue Plan

The $1.9 billion relief bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, has passed Congress and will
head to President Joe Biden for a signature. Highlights of the bill include extended
unemployment benefits, direct checks to individuals and more.


While some of the bill was changed during its time in the Senate, it’s largely similar to the
initial version passed by the House. However, some key provisions, such as a higher minimum
wage, were scrapped amid efforts to pass the bill swiftly.


This article outlines the most relevant provisions included in the bill.


SMALL BUSINESS ASSISTANCE
The bill invests billions toward small business assistance. Here is the current funding
breakdown:
-Emergency Injury Disaster Loan program: $15 billion
-New grant program for bars and restaurants, specifically: $28 billion
-Paycheck Protection Program: $7.25 billion


DIRECT PAYMENTS
Just like the two other COVID-19 relief bills passed during the pandemic, this version also
features direct payments to Americans. This time around, eligible recipients can expect
$1,400 per person ($2,800 for couples), including adult dependents—a family of four could
receive up to $5,600.


However, payment parameters are stricter this time around than with the previous direct
payment. The full amount will go to individuals earning under $75,000 (or $150,000 for
couples), with payments cut off entirely for individuals earning over $80,000 (or $160,000 for
couples). Individuals earning an amount between those figures will receive a reduced sum.


UNEMPLOYMENT AID
The bill extends two previously established pandemic unemployment assistance efforts: the Pandemic
Unemployment Assistance Program and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation
program. Unemployed gig workers, freelancers, contractors and others who previously qualified for aid
will continue to be eligible under these programs. The financial assistance provided by these two
programs is currently set to expire in mid-March, which pressured legislators to act quickly.
The bill also provides for enhanced unemployment assistance payments of $300 per week. Under the bill,
these programs and their financial aid are extended through Sept. 6.


HOUSING ASSISTANCE
The bill sets aside billions in financial aid to homeowners and renters. Here is the funding breakdown:
-Aid for emergency rental assistance: $22 billion
-Aid for mortgages, utilities and property taxes: $10 billion
-Aid to states and localities to help individuals at risk of becoming homeless: $5 billion


EMERGENCY PAID LEAVE
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), signed into law on March 18, 2020, required certain
employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified
reasons related to COVID-19. That requirement expired Dec. 31, 2020.


The American Rescue Plan maintains the status quo, in that it does not require employers to offer leave
under the FFCRA framework. However, the bill does provide tax credits for employers that voluntarily
provide leave under the FFCRA framework through the end of September 2021.

AID TO SCHOOLS AND CHILD CARE
A significant portion of the relief bill involves aid to states, including schools and child care facilities:
-Aid for getting K-12 schools ready for in-person learning: $125 billion
-Money may be used for purchasing protective equipment, improving ventilation systems
and hiring support staff. However, 20% of the money schools receive must be used to
address pandemic learning loss—for example, extending learning time into the summer.
-Aid for colleges: $40 billion
Institutions will be required to spend at least 50% of their allocated funds on emergency
financial aid grants to students.
-Child care provider assistance: $39 billion
-Funds may be used for payroll, rent, protective equipment and other expenses.


TAX CREDITS
The relief bill provides an overhaul of the child tax credit for the 2021 tax year. The bill increases the
amount of the credit to $3,000 for each child under the age of 18 and $3,600 for children under the age
of 6. The credit will also become fully refundable, meaning low-income individuals would receive the
benefit.


The bill also expands the earned income tax credit for individuals without children. The maximum credit
will be nearly tripled, and eligibility will be expanded as well.


HEALTH INSURANCE
The bill subsidizes private health insurance premiums for unemployed workers through the Consolidated
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). The provision allows individuals eligible for COBRA insurance
coverage to maintain their employer-sponsored coverage after losing employment without having to pay
any portion of the premiums through the end of September 2021.


Additionally, the bill invests nearly $35 billion in premium subsidy increases for those who buy coverage
on the ACA Marketplace. The bill increases the subsidies provided to currently eligible individuals, and
removes the 400% federal poverty level cap (equal to approximately $51,000 for an individual) on subsidy
eligibility.


AID TO STATES, LOCAL GOVERNMENTS, TRIBES AND TERRITORIES
The bill provides billions in financial assistance to states, local governments, tribes and territories. Here is
the current funding breakdown:
-Aid to state and local governments: $325.5 billion
-Aid to tribes and territories: $24.5 billion
-Creation of the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, to carry out capital projects directly enabling
work, education and health monitoring: $10 billion


WHAT’S NOT IN THE BILL
A minimum wage hike of $15 per hour—one of the most discussed provisions from the initial bill—has
been removed from the final version due to strict rules governing budget bills in the Senate. Some
Democrats have suggested this provision may be considered as a standalone bill, but any movement on
that front remains to be seen.


Additionally, the bill does not include an extension of the eviction moratorium, which is set to expire on
March 31, or an expansion of mandated paid sick and family and medical leave. While neither were
included in the original House bill, these were popular provisions contained within one of the previous
bills.


SUMMARY
While there are many complex provisions in this nearly $2 trillion relief bill, Launchways is here to help
employers make sense of everything. Reach out with questions about how this new bill may affect your
organization.

What Business Owners Need To Know About COVID-19’s Impact On 2020 Taxes

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is likely the most discussed of all the federal programs issued to address the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our economy. Millions of employees across the country were left without income after nearly every small business in America was forced to temporarily close its doors. This set in motion the most difficult economic downturn our nation has seen since the Great Depression.

To reduce the worst of the effects of mass closures, the federal government issued the PPP to give the economy a shot in the arm by essentially substituting the lost revenue with government funding. As the name suggests, the purpose of this money was primarily to cover the non-existent wages of the employees affected.

While this helped millions of workers who would have otherwise been left without income, the businesses that utilized this program must now account for it in their tax filings. The PPP was implemented incredibly quickly and underwent several changes in scope and terms. It comes as no surprise that filing the related taxes has left many employers scratching their heads trying to figure out exactly how they are supposed to file. In this article, we discuss some key pieces of information about the tax implications of the PPP. That said, it should be noted that this piece is not intended as tax advice but rather key considerations for employers who signed on to the PPP.

Understanding the Tax Implications of Relief Programs

From a tax standpoint, PPP funds are not considered revenue, despite the fact that the money was intended to offset revenue that was lost. The PPP was issued as a loan – one for which most businesses were able to receive forgiveness. Even if you received PPP funds, you can still claim the Employee Retention Tax Credit, though, some earning are not allowed including earnings paid with PPP funds that are ultimately forgiven, payments through the Emergency Medical Leave Act, and Work Opportunity Tax credits.

Considering the fact that PPP loans can be applied retroactively for 2020, it has a lot of value for many businesses that were hit hard by the pandemic. However, it is essential for employers to understand that that the tax deduction of those wages will be significantly reduced as a business expense by receiving the tax credit. For instance, if you paid $44K in wages and received an Employee Retention Tax Credit of $30K, you would only be able to claim the difference ($14K) as a tax-deductible expense.

Additionally, some employers utilized Social Security deferral. As part of the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), this program included a suspension of employer payments to the government. While the deferral period for this program ended in 2020, the tax liability was only deferred, not waived. Therefore, the money is still owed.

Opportunities for Assistance

Some businesses such as entertainment venues and the like that were forced to close their door due to the pandemic are eligible for a grant for Shuttered Venue Operators, included in the last round of COVID-19 relief. However, by receiving a PPP Loan, you are no longer eligible to receive the grant. Venue operators trying to obtain this grant must provide documentation of the impact that the pandemic has had on their business when applying.

Another major relief measure was an update to the allowed payment methods for employment funding. Section 127 of the tax code allows businesses to help pay off employee student loan debt. This can be a valuable benefit to employees with student loan debt as it allows businesses to help pay employee debt without tax implications. Section 127 was extended through the end of 2025 and is a great opportunity to add more relief.

These are just a few examples of the many opportunities that businesses have with current COVID-19 relief programs. You’ll want to review information from the US Treasury Department for more details on the different relief options and their tax implications.

With all of the new federal programs that have been implemented to provide businesses with relief and the many revisions among them, it is fairly certain that your tax professional will need to do more research to understand the tax implications and how they will impact your business. With this, employers should understand that the process of filing will likely take longer than usual, so they should file as early as possible.

Another great opportunity for employers to find assistance is through Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs). SBDCs are a service of the Small Business Administration that offer free business advice for employers. A consultation would likely help to uncover even more potential opportunities to reduce tax liability and avoid costly filing mistakes.

How Employers Should Communicate With Employees About COVID-19 Vaccines

Navigating all of the challenges and operational changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for both employers and employees. Thankfully communication between the two has played a pivotal role in keeping employees safe and healthy. Now, with the FDA having issued emergency use authorization for two vaccines, the long-awaited relief for COVID-19 is here. While the initial supply of vaccines has been allocated for people in specific groups, it’s important that employers begin planning for when access to the vaccine becomes available to the general public.

Research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 70% of Americans polled said they will get a COVID-19 vaccination. While many feel optimistic about the release of vaccines, the topic doesn’t come without challenges. Employers need to be diligent when considering things such as whether or not the vaccine will be encouraged or required and how they will get buy-in from employees who are hesitant about the idea.

This article covers the important questions employers need to ask themselves, as they navigate the legal risks and the logistics of employee vaccinations.

What to Communicate

When it comes to promoting and providing accurate information about COVID-19 vaccinations, employers play an important role, as many employees will look to their employers for this kind of guidance. The big picture that needs to be reinforced with employees is that getting vaccinated will likely be the driving force that allows for a safe return to work.

Employee vaccinations need to be lead with facts and transparent communication. Employee communication is the most important factor in seeing vaccination plans come to fruition. With that, as employers develop their plans for COVID-19 vaccinations, they must consider sharing the following information with their employees:

  • General COVID-19 vaccine information:
    • Overview of available vaccines and their differences
    • Facts and myths about the vaccine
    • How vaccines work
    • Benefits
    • Efficacy and safety
    • Possible side effects
  • Vaccination timelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including distribution phases for targeted groups and the general public
  • Vaccination timelines for the organization
  • Organization vaccination policy
  • Vaccination sites (whether at authorized clinics and pharmacies, or on-site)
  • Vaccination costs (including potential paid time off for getting vaccinated or recovering from any side effects)
  • Workplace COVID-19 safety precautions or protocols, such as continuing to wear a mask and avoiding close contact in the workplace
  • Educational resources to learn more about COVID-19 vaccines

A thoughtful and proactive approach to employer communication efforts will undoubtedly be more effective than a reactive approach. Employers need to anticipate the most common vaccine objections and develop a plan for responding in a way that mitigates concerns and doubts. This should be done by providing accurate information, engaging with concerned employees, and offering educational resources on the vaccines.

It should also be stated that to provide continuity in what hesitant employees might be hearing about the vaccines, your messaging should also reflect what is being communicated by local health officials and healthcare providers. Point to research and guidance from the CDC and other public health experts, but keep in mind that CDC guidelines continue to evolve and are subject to frequent changes.

How to Communicate

The opinions and attitudes toward the vaccinations are certain to vary among your employees. It’s important for employers – as with any communication – to tailor their approach to their individual employees. An effective approach isn’t one-size-fits-all. Employers need to be mindful of this and conduct some research to better understand their employees. Depending on what your workforce looks like, you might consider things like, pretesting content ideas or making the information available in different languages if necessary.

Sticking to the Facts

There is a lot of opinion surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines, so it’s important that you stick to the facts and avoid using charged jargon or strong language. Building a strong case supported with science and data in concert with a sensitive and respectful tone will likely be more successful when communicating with employees who are unsure about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Compassion and transparency will help to create employee buy-in and overall support of workplace vaccination plans.

Highlighting values such as unity and interconnectedness will likely be effective in communications as they motivate employees to act. Ultimately, the end goal here is to protect employees and make their communities safe from the threat of COVID-19. The pandemic has certainly taken a toll on most employees. By leading with values, you emphasize protection for the employee, their loved ones, and the coworkers around them.

Using Communication Channels

In order to best communicate with employees, employers should consider their existing communication channels and how they can be leveraged to relay information about the COVID-19 vaccination. Here are few tools that could help to build workplace confidence in the vaccine:

  • Company intranet
  • Emails
  • Fact sheets
  • FAQs
  • Meetings or town halls (including virtual town halls)
  • Posters
  • PowerPoint presentations
  • Social media
  • Testimonials
  • Videos

The overall goal of this effort is to reach all employees, so it’s important to note that information consumption differs between on-site employees, non-wired employees, and remote employees. The most effective communications strategy for informing and engaging employees is one that leverages multiple channels.

Listening

Just as important as what and how employers are communicating to employees, is listening to what employees have to say. It’s important that employers aren’t ignoring the concerns of their employees about the COVID-19 vaccines. Employers should identify a point person within their organization who can field and address questions or concerns and provide information in response. If the workforce is spread across multiple locations or working remotely, it is especially important that there is two-way communication between employers and employees. Not only is it important to stay in touch with how employees feel, but offering tailored content that addresses their concerns will help increase employee buy-in. Employers have an opportunity to demonstrate that they are truly listening to and care for their employees.

When to Communicate

Because the vaccines are out and already being administered to people across the country, the time to start communicating with employees is now. While it might take some time before the general public has access to the COVID-19 vaccines, it’s important to start planning with employees now. It’s all about starting the dialogue and meeting employees where they are. Use this time to be thoughtful and sympathetic to employee concerns.

Employers should start communicating that they are monitoring the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and developing a plan for when they become available to the general public while highlighting how it will have a positive impact on the workplace and other organization needs. Most importantly, employers must listen to and address the concerns of their employees to help build the necessary buy-in for the COVID-19 vaccinations.

For More Information

In addition to the considerations above, employers should consult employment law counsel to determine whether there are unique risks to consider for their specific organization and industry.

Employers are playing a vital role in helping promote COVID-19 vaccines. For more information on the pandemic and keeping your workforce safe and informed, be sure to check out our COVID-19 Resource Center.