Archive for 2014

Proposed 2016 Benefit and Payment Parameters – Employee Benefits Panama City Beach

December 30th, 2014 by United Benefit Advisors

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued its proposed Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2016. While these amounts and dates are not yet final, they may be of help for planning purposes.

Should Benefit Communications Go Mobile? Three Reasons Why the Answer is YES! – Employee Benefits Panama City

December 29th, 2014 by United Benefit Advisors

Today, more than 4 billion (out of 6.8 billion) people own a mobile phone. This includes people across all socio-economic classes around the world. They have become part of everyday life.

United Benefit Advisors Says Aloha to First Hawaii Partner Firm, Atlas Insurance Agency, Inc.

December 23rd, 2014 by United Benefit Advisors

Prestigious Hawaii Agency With A Deep History Adds To UBA’s Growing Network Of Independent Employee Benefits Advisory Firms Spanning North America And Europe

Adoption of Private Insurance Exchange Products on the Rise, But Employers Demand More Flexibility – Employee Benefits Panama City

December 23rd, 2014 by United Benefit Advisors

UBA Benefits Passport Offers a Fully-Customizable Solution

Decoding Dress Codes – Employee Benefits Panama City

December 22nd, 2014 by Clemons

Most places of business have some sort of dress code, but what if a large company doesn’t and then decides it wants to implement one? Such was the case with Wal-Mart and the backlash its new policy triggered. This can provide useful information for employers that may be thinking twice about instituting new rules.

Regardless of where one works, there are always certain rules to follow. If a business does have a dress code, in an office setting it’s usually to keep people from wearing unprofessional attire. In an industrial setting, this ensures that people are wearing safety-related gear.

In the Wal-Mart example, they decided to implement a dress code that mimicked a uniform policy. The difference, according to an article in Human Resource Executive Online titled What to Wear, is that most uniforms require an employer to pay for, maintain, and clean the items. If safety gear is required for compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, then a business must pay for them.  But Wal-Mart found a loophole in that they simply stated a dress code of khaki pants and a collared shirt, defined by the U.S. Department of Labor as “street clothes.” Furthermore, the senior-level staff at Wal-Mart probably reasoned that most people already have these articles of clothing in their wardrobe.

While that may be true, the backlash came when employees who were already making a low salary now had to add the expense of these clothes.  This dress code requirement quickly ballooned into a public relations nightmare for Wal-Mart and highlights the fine line that a business must walk to keep its costs in check, while maintaining good morale among its employees and the public.

If a business decides to introduce a new, or modify an existing, dress code policy, it should consider all ramifications before implementation. Plus, the decision makers need to figuratively put themselves into the shoes of the employees being affected by the policy. Will the added cost be too much of a burden? Will the public look at this as a good thing in terms of an improved, professional appearance, or will they look at it as just another way the company is shifting costs to its already weary workforce? And finally, can such a requirement spur the heavy burden of a class action lawsuit?

It’s clearly important for a company to have its employees looking their best, but at the same time it should tread carefully when enforcing a new and unpopular dress code policy.


OSHA’s New Reporting and Recordkeeping Rule Goes into Effect on January 1, 2015 – Employee Benefits Panama City

December 18th, 2014 by Clemons

On September 11, 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a final rule which updates the reporting and recordkeeping requirements for injuries and illnesses, found at 29 C.F.R. 1904. The rule goes into effect on January 1, 2015.

Changes to recordkeeping requirements

Under OSHA’s recordkeeping regulation, certain covered employers are required to prepare and maintain records of serious occupational injuries and illnesses using the OSHA 300 Log. However, there are two classes of employers that are partially exempt from routinely keeping injury and illness records:

  • Employers with 10 or fewer employees at all times during the previous calendar year; and
  • Establishments in certain low-hazard industries.

The new rule maintains the exemption for employers with fewer than 10 employees. However, the new rule has an updated list of industries that will be partially exempt from keeping OSHA records. The previous list of partially exempt industries was based on the old Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system and injury and illness data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) from 1996, 1997, and 1998. The new list of partially exempt industries in the updated rule is based on the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) and injury and illness data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) from 2007, 2008, and 2009. As a result, many employers who were once exempted from OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements are now required to keep records. A list of newly covered industries can be found at

Changes to the reporting requirements

In addition to revising the recordkeeping requirements, the new rule expands the list of severe injuries and illnesses that employers must report to OSHA. Under the previous rule, employers were required to report the following events to OSHA:

  • All work-related fatalities.
  • All work-related hospitalizations of three or more employees.

Under the new rule, employers must report the following events to OSHA:

  • All work-related fatalities.
  • All work-related in-patient hospitalizations of one or more employees.
  • All work-related amputations.
  • All work-related losses of an eye.

For any fatality that occurs within 30 days of a work-related incident, employers must report the event within eight hours of finding out about it.

For any in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or eye loss that occurs within 24 hours of a work-related incident, employers must report the event within 24 hours of learning about it.

Employers do not have to report an event if the event:

  • Resulted from a motor vehicle accident on a public street or highway, except in a construction work zone; employers must report the event if it happened in a construction work zone.
  • Occurred on a commercial or public transportation system (airplane, subway, bus, ferry, street car, light rail, train).
  • Occurred more than 30 days after the work-related incident in the case of a fatality or more than 24 hours after the work-related incident in the case of an in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye.

Employers do not have to report an in-patient hospitalization if it was for diagnostic testing or observation only. An in-patient hospitalization is a formal admission to the in-patient service of a hospital or clinic for care or treatment.

Employers do have to report an in-patient hospitalization due to a heart attack, if the heart attack resulted from a work-related incident.

What to report

Employers reporting a fatality, inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye to OSHA must report all of the following information:

  • The name of the establishment.
  • The location of the work-related incident.
  • The time of the work-related incident.
  • The type of reportable event (i.e., fatality, inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye).
  • The number of employees who suffered the event.
  • The names of the employees who suffered the event.
  • The contact person and his or her phone number.
  • A brief description of the work-related incident.

How to report

Employers can use the following three options to report an event:

  • Call the nearest OSHA Area Office during normal business hours.
  • Call the 24-hour OSHA hotline (800-321-OSHA or 800-321-6742).
  • Report an incident electronically (OSHA is developing a new means of reporting events electronically, which will be released soon and will be accessible on OSHA’s website).


It is recommended that employers familiarize themselves with the final rule and train personnel accordingly. All employers under OSHA jurisdiction, even those who are exempt from maintaining injury and illness records, are required to comply with the new severe injury and illness reporting requirements.

ThinkHR will continue to monitor and report on developments in this area.


Hand Washing Helps Defeat the Flu – Employee Benefits Panama City

December 15th, 2014 by Clemons

H3N2 influenza viruses led to record numbers of deaths in the 2004, 2008, and 2013 flu seasons. Doctors are concerned because this type of virus appears to be dominating the 2015 flu season. Employers should stress optimal health and hand-washing behaviors in their workplaces to avoid the threat of flu and keep their workplaces healthy and germ-free.

The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports a majority of cases so far this flu season are H3N2 viruses. When these types of viruses are the most prevalent in a flu season, the result is often more severe illness with greater instances of hospitalization and death. This year the CDC is finding that the flu vaccine’s ability to protect against H3N2 viruses is not as strong as was hoped when the vaccine was being formulated. This reduced protection is the result of mutation in about half of the H3N2 viruses since the season began. The CDC still recommends the vaccine as vaccinated people will likely have a more mild illness if they do become ill. This warning will help employers to see the need to augment vaccination with other preventive health measures.

Effective hand washing is essential to prevent the spread of infectious disease. The bacteria, viruses, and other microbes that spread infection usually are not visible to the naked eye. Everyone should care about the spread of harmful organisms because everyone has the potential to unknowingly spread them to a person with a compromised immune system. Examples of those with compromised immune systems include family members, particularly children and the elderly, or co-workers coping with illnesses like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.

Hands should be washed frequently. You may be surprised to discover how many times you inadvertently touch your face in the course of a day, which is often the method that introduces contaminates to our bodies through our eyes, nose, or mouth. At a minimum, wash your hands several time per day to lessen the risk of inadvertently spreading harmful organisms.

Wash hands both before, during, and after food preparation as well as before eating, treating a wound, or adjusting contact lenses hands. Hands may need to be washed multiple times during food preparation. For example, Salmonella is a bacteria that can be found on raw meats and vegetables, and is a serious concern in the United States. According to the CDC, each year over one million people acquire the illness, leading to 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths. In addition to cooking food properly and cleaning work surfaces, Salmonella  abatement requires hands to be cleaned before handling cooked meat or other ingredients to prevent the transfer of organisms from raw items.

To minimize the spread of respiratory infections and diarrheal illness, wash hands after using the toilet, coughing, blowing your nose, changing a diaper, or touching garbage, soiled laundry, shoes, an animal, or anything touched by an animal. This preventive step lessens the amount of germs transferred to key boards, handrails, door knobs, or toys.

Soap and Water

Soap and clean running water are two elements of optimal hand washing. The surfactants in soap lift soil and microorganisms from the hands, enabling the running water to carry the undesirable elements away without posing the risk of recontamination caused by standing water. Water of cool or warm temperature works equally well in removing undesirable organisms. Another helpful part of the process is the mechanical action created when hands are scrubbed or rubbed together continuously.

Best practice for hand washing requires wetting the hands, turning the water off to prevent waste, applying soap, and spreading the soap across all surfaces of your hands for 20 seconds, being sure to include fingernails, back of hands, and wrists. Importantly, don’t rush the hand-washing process. Often parents will teach children to wash hands to the time it takes to sing the A-B-C song or another jingle that reliably takes 20 seconds. After scrubbing for 20 seconds, rinse hands thoroughly under running water. If the faucet is not operated by a sensor, use a towel or your elbow to turn it off in a manner avoiding hand recontamination. Finally, dry hands with a clean cloth, new disposable towel, or air blower.

Alcohol as an Alternative

An alcohol-based sanitizer can be an effective alternative to soap and water where a sink or clean water is unavailable. Examples of locations where sanitizer may be practical include conference rooms, break rooms, reception areas, or just outside of restroom doors.

According to the CDC, effective use of waterless hand sanitizer requires an alcohol-based solution containing at least 60 percent alcohol. For hand sanitizers to be effective, it’s important that enough solution is used, that it stays on the skin and is not wiped or washed off prematurely, and that the solution is allowed to thoroughly dry on the skin.

Similar to the use of soap and water, mechanical action or friction caused by scrubbing or rubbing hands together is essential for waterless hand sanitizer to stop the spread of microorganisms. Additionally, the hands must be free of organic matter prior to applying hand sanitizer. Using the appropriate amount of sanitizer requires placing enough sanitizer to cover a dime in the palm of one hand. Hands must then be rubbed together in a manner that covers all surfaces, including the back of the hands, until they are dry.

For additional information, see:


IRS Ups Retirement Contribution Levels – Panama City Employee Benefits

December 12th, 2014 by United Benefit Advisors

Due to cost-of-living adjustments, the IRS made a welcome announcement that, starting in 2015, it will allow people to add a little more to their retirement plans.

Can Employers Assist Employees with Premiums for Individual Plans? – Employee Benefits Panama City

December 9th, 2014 by United Benefit Advisors

On November 6, 2014, the collective Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor (DOL) and the Treasury released three Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) directed at employer payment plans for the purchase of individual insurance

Preparing for 2015 – Key PPACA Requirements – Employee Benefits Panama City

December 3rd, 2014 by United Benefit Advisors

As we approach 2015, employers should be taking steps to ensure they are prepared to meet the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) requirements that begin in 2015 and those which must be completed in 2014.