Last year about this time, we wrote of how far we had come collectively in the world of employee benefits roughly one year after the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic. We reveled at how we kept on keeping on, what we were able to accomplish in the face of unprecedented everything, and admirably pivot with every new challenge. Now, two years out, and with some additional resources in our benefits and public health toolkits, we look back and ahead with some of the same questions, new concerns, and the recurring question, what day is it?
The last year was filled with the rush of reactive planning for COBRA subsidies, health and dependent care FSA carryovers and mid-year changes, open-ended extensions of ERISA-related deadlines, the stop and start of the return to the office, and complicated decisions related to vaccination mandates and health plan surcharges for the unvaccinated.
Now, faced with the Great Resignation, labor shortages, a here to stay remote workforce, and a reimagining of “work,” with a geopolitical conflict and historical inflation thrown in for good measure, the work for benefits professionals remains much the same. How do we steady the ship, provide what employees need, stay compliant with changing legislation, regulation and enforcement, and attract and retain a workforce?
The good news is that we again have the opportunity to reevaluate the role of Employee Benefits and the value proposition it offers. This provides the ability to design the benefits platform for the new workplace proactively.
Of course, important compliance work remains. The U.S. Department of Labor remains committed to enforcing mental health parity rules for group health plans and ensuring plan fiduciaries carefully monitor cybersecurity. New rules on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing for retirement plans are also expected in the near term. Coverage mandates for at-home COVID tests, telehealth services, and other pandemic-related benefits remind us that employer-sponsored group health plans remain a crucial player at the forefront of an ongoing public health emergency.
Bipartisan support for new retirement plan legislation (SECURE Act 2.0), which the House recently passed, suggests we will continue to enhance and expand savings opportunities, including the potential for employer matching contributions based on student debt repayments, delay of minimum required distributions to age 75, and additional catch-up opportunities for older savers. Retirement plan sponsors will also need to act by year-end to amend plans for SECURE Act and CARES Act provisions if they haven’t done so already.
More and more employers are conducting surveys and town halls to understand their employee base’s evolving needs and wants. There is a growing desire to tailor benefits to specific employee needs, from childcare to student debt and remote work to pet insurance. Increasing offerings of financial wellness, greater employer 401(k) contributions, and retention bonuses are some of the more tangible offerings employers are looking to implement in an environment of rising inflation and volatile markets. Enhanced wellness benefits, a fulsome array of voluntary benefits, and a steady focus on employee mental health and burnout are also at the top of the priority list.
Whatever the next year brings, employee benefits remain a central part of the formula for employee retention, recruitment, and rising to meet the many evolving challenges ahead.
The members of the Jackson Lewis Employee Benefits Practice Group wish you a happy and healthy National Employee Benefits Day and the same for the coming year!!!