Taking control of health care expenses is on the top of most people’s to-do list for 2018.  The average premium increase for 2018 is 18% for Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans.  So, how do you save money on health care when the costs seems to keep increasing faster than wage increases?  One way is through medical savings accounts.

Medical savings accounts are used in conjunction with High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP) and allow savers to use their pre-tax dollars to pay for qualified health care expenses.  There are three major types of medical savings accounts as defined by the IRS.  The Health Savings Account (HSA) is funded through an employer and is usually part of a salary reduction agreement.  The employer establishes this account and contributes toward it through payroll deductions.  The employee uses the balance to pay for qualified health care costs.  Money in HSA is not forfeited at the end of the year if the employee does not use it. The Health Flexible Savings Account (FSA) can be funded by the employer, employee, or any other contributor.  These pre-tax dollars are not part of a salary reduction plan and can be used for approved health care expenses.  Money in this account can be rolled over by one of two ways: 1) balance used in first 2.5 months of new year or 2) up to $500 rolled over to new year.  The third type of savings account is the Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA).  This account may only be contributed to by the employer and is not included in the employee’s income.  The employee then uses these contributions to pay for qualified medical expenses and the unused funds can be rolled over year to year.

There are many benefits to participating in a medical savings account.  One major benefit is the control it gives to employee when paying for health care.  As we move to a more consumer driven health plan arrangement, the individual can make informed choices on their medical expenses.  They can “shop around” to get better pricing on everything from MRIs to prescription drugs.  By placing the control of the funds back in the employee’s hands, the employer also sees a cost savings.  Reduction in premiums as well as administrative costs are attractive to employers as they look to set up these accounts for their workforce.  The ability to set aside funds pre-tax is advantageous to the savings savvy individual.  The interest earned on these accounts is also tax-free.

The federal government made adjustments to contribution limits for medical savings accounts for 2018.  For an individual purchasing single medical coverage, the yearly limit increased $50 from 2017 to a new total $3450.  Family contribution limits also increased to $6850 for this year.  Those over the age of 55 with single medical plans are now allowed to contribute $4450 and for families with the insurance provider over 55 the new limit is $7900.

Health care consumers can find ways to save money even as the cost of medical care increases.  Contributing to health savings accounts benefits both the employee as well as the employer with cost savings on premiums and better informed choices on where to spend those medical dollars.  The savings gained on these accounts even end up rewarding the consumer for making healthier lifestyle choices with lower out-of-pocket expenses for medical care.  That’s a win-win for the healthy consumer!

Our February 1, 2018 blog post reported on the late February release of the Form W-4 and guidance on the income withholding rules that changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. On February 28, 2018, the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released the new 2018 Form W-4 and an updated withholding calculator.

Why a Withholding Calculator?

The IRS encourages the use of the withholding calculator for a quick paycheck checkup in light of the changes to the tax law for 2018. According to the IRS, employees may be encouraged to use the calculator to ensure the correct tax amount is being withheld from their paychecks. For example, reviewing withholding may help protect employees against having too little tax withheld and facing an unexpected tax bill or penalty during next year’s tax season. Alternatively, with the average refund being $2,800, the IRS anticipates that some employees may have less tax withheld up front and instead receive more in their paychecks. If an employee needs to make changes to his or her withholding, the calculator provides the necessary information to fill out a new W-4.

Next Steps

Make sure your employees know about the availability of the calculator. Only employees changing their withholding need to complete a new W-4, and they may use results from the calculator to complete the new form. Encourage those employees to submit updated W-4s as soon as possible to ensure their withholdings are accurate.

The IRS also suggests that if employees follow the calculator’s recommendations and change their 2018 withholding, they should recheck their withholding at the beginning of 2019 to protect against having too little withheld. This is important where an employee reduces his or her withholding sometime during 2018 because a mid-year withholding change in 2018 may have a different full-year impact in 2019.

Originally Published By ThinkHR.com

This year’s flu season is a rough one. Although the predominant strains of this year’s influenza viruses were represented in the vaccine, they mutated, which decreased the effectiveness of the immunization. The flu then spread widely and quickly, and in addition, the symptoms were severe and deadly. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the 2017 – 2018 flu season established new records for the percentage of outpatient visits related to flu symptoms and number of flu hospitalizations.

Younger, healthy adults were hit harder than is typical, which had impacts on the workplace. In fact, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. recently revised its estimates on the impact of this flu season on employers, raising the cost of lost productivity to over $21 billion, with roughly 25 million workers falling ill.

Fortunately, the CDC is reporting that it looks like this season is starting to peak, and while rates of infection are still high in most of the country, they are no longer rising and should start to drop. What can you do as an employer to keep your business running smoothly for the rest of this flu season and throughout the next one?

  1. Help sick employees stay home. Consider that sick employees worried about their pay, unfinished projects and deadlines, or compliance with the company attendance policy may feel they need to come to work even if they are sick. Do what you can to be compassionate and encourage them to stay home so they can get better as well as protect their co-workers from infection. In addition, make sure your sick leave policies are compliant with all local and state laws, and communicate them to your employees. Be clear with the expectation that sick employees not to report to work. For employees who feel well enough to work but may still be contagious, encourage them to work remotely if their job duties will allow. Be consistent in your application of your attendance and remote work rules.
  2. Know the law. Although the flu is generally not serious enough to require leaves of absence beyond what sick leave or PTO allow for, in a severe season, employees may need additional time off. Consider how the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), state leave laws, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may come into play for employees who have severe cases of the flu, complications, or family members who need care.
  3. Be flexible. During acute flu outbreaks, schools or daycare facilities may close, leaving parents without childcare. Employees may also need to be away from the workplace to provide care to sick children, partners, or parents. Examine your policies to see where you can provide flexibility. Look for opportunities to cross-train employees on each other’s essential duties so their work can continue while they are out.
  4. Keep it clean. Direct cleaning crews to thoroughly disinfect high-touch areas such as doorknobs, kitchen areas, and bathrooms nightly. Provide hand sanitizer in common areas and encourage frequent handwashing. Keep disinfecting wipes handy for staff to clean their personal work areas with.
  5. Limit exposure. Avoid non-essential in-person meetings and travel that can expose employees to the flu virus. Rely on technology such as video conferencing, Slack, Skype, or other platforms to bring people together virtually. Consider staggering work shifts if possible to limit the number of people in the workplace at one time.
  6. Focus on wellness. Offer free or low-cost flu shots in the workplace. If your company provides snacks or meals for employees, offer healthier options packed with nutrients.

Get it all

AGENCY RESOURCES: Get the latest weekly flu stats from the CDC. Learn more about how the FMLA and ADA may be used during pandemic flu from the U.S. Department of Labor.

By Rachel Sobel

Originally published by www.ThinkHR.com

IRS Releases Publication 15 and W-4 Withholding Guidance for 2018

On January 31, 2018, the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Publication 15 — Introductory Material, which includes the following:

  • 2018 federal income tax withholding tables.
  • Exempt Form W-4.
  • New information on:
    • Withholding allowance.
    • Withholding on supplemental wages.
    • Backup withholding.
    • Moving expense reimbursement.
    • Social Security and Medicare tax for 2018.
    • Disaster tax relief.

Read Publication 15 and further details here.

EEOC Penalty Increases for Failure to Post Required Notices

On January 18, 2018, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a final rule increasing the penalty amount from $534 to $545 for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) notice posting requirements.

The final rule is effective February 20, 2018.

Originally Published By ThinkHR.com

If you’ve been getting questions from your employees about completing new 2018 W-4 forms to take advantage of the tax reform rules, we’ve finally received some answers. You can continue to rely on the current W-4 forms for now until the new 2018 form is released in late February.

The January 29th Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Notice 2018-14 provides additional guidance on the income withholding rules that were changed under the recently passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The guidance:

  • Extends the effective period of Forms W-4 furnished to claim exemption from withholding for 2017 until February 28, 2018.
  • Permits employees to claim exemption from withholding for 2018 by temporarily using the 2017 Form W-4. This procedure will expire 30 days after the 2018 Form W-4 is released.
  • States that employees experiencing a change in status that causes a reduction in the number of withholding exemptions are not required to furnish employers with new withholding certificates until 30 days after the 2018 Form W-4 is released.
  • Provides that employees who have a reduction in the number of withholding allowances solely due to changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are not required to furnish employers with new withholding certificates during 2018. However, employees may choose to update their withholding at any time in response to the act. Employees who choose to update their withholding may use the 2017 Form W-4 instead of the 2018 Form W-4 to report changes in withholding allowances until 30 days after the 2018 Form W-4 is released.
  • Confirms that the optional withholding rate on supplemental wage payments is 22 percent for 2018 through 2025.
  • Specifies that, for 2018, withholding under IRC 3405(a)(4) on periodic payments when no withholding certificate is in effect will be based on treating the payee as a married individual claiming three withholding allowances.

In addition to the guidance, the IRS also released a new Publication 15, (Circular E), Employer Tax Guide, for 2018. Publication 15 includes the 2018 withholding tables and explains an employer’s tax responsibilities, such as withholding, depositing, reporting, paying, and correcting employment taxes.


Originally Published By ThinkHR.com

As the first month of 2018 wraps up, companies have already begun the arduous task of submitting budgets and finding ways to cut costs for the new year. One of the most effective ways to combat increasing health care costs for companies is to move to a Self-Funded insurance plan. By paying for claims out-of-pocket instead of paying a premium to an insurance carrier, companies can save around 20% in administration costs and state taxes. That’s quite a cost savings!

The topic of Self-Funding is huge and so we want to break it down into smaller bites for you to digest. This month we want to tackle a basic introduction to Self-Funding and in the coming months, we will cover the benefits, risks, and the stop-loss associated with this type of plan.


  • When the employer assumes the financial risk for providing health care benefits to its employees, this is called Self-Funding.
  • Self-Funded plans allow the employer to tailor the benefits plan design to best suit their employees. Employers can look at the demographics of their workforce and decide which benefits would be most utilized as well as cut benefits that are forecasted to be underutilized.
  • While previously most used by large companies, small and mid-sized companies, even with as few as 25 employees, are seeing cost benefits to moving to Self-Funded insurance plans.
  • Companies pay no state premium taxes on self-funded expenditures. This savings is around 5% – 3/5% depending on in which state the company operates.
  • Since employers are paying for claims, they have access to claims data. While keeping within HIPAA privacy guidelines, the employer can identify and reach out to employees with certain at-risk conditions (diabetes, heart disease, stroke) and offer assistance with combating these health concerns. This also allows greater population-wide health intervention like weight loss programs and smoking cessation assistance.
  • Companies typically hire third-party administrators (TPA) to help design and administer the insurance plans. This allows greater control of the plan benefits and claims payments for the company.

As you can see, Self-Funding has many facets. It’s important to gather as much information as you can and weigh the benefits and risks of moving from a Fully-Funded plan for your company to a Self-Funded one. Doing your research and making the move to a Self-Funded plan could help you gain greater control over your healthcare costs and allow you to design an original plan that best fits your employees.

WHD Revises Test for Unpaid Internships

On January 5, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) released a Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB No. 2018-2) establishing that the primary beneficiary test, rather than the six-point test, will determine whether interns at for-profit employers are employees under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The primary beneficiary test requires an examination of the economic reality of the intern-employer relationship to determine which party is the primary beneficiary of the relationship. The following seven factors are part of this test:

  1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee — and vice versa.
  2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.
  3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
  4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
  5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
  6. The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
  7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job after the internship.

According to the WHD, under the primary beneficiary test, no one factor is dispositive and every factor is not required to be fulfilled to conclude that the intern is not an employee entitled to the minimum wage. The primary beneficiary test is a distinct shift in analysis because per the six-part test every intern and trainee would be an employee under the FLSA unless his or her job satisfied each of six independent criteria. Courts have held that the primary beneficiary test is an inherently “flexible” test and whether an intern or trainee is an employee under the FLSA necessarily depends on the unique circumstances of each case.

The WHD announced it will conform to the federal court of appeals’ determinations and use the same court-adopted test to determine whether interns or students are employees under the FLSA.

Read the field bulletin

Increased Penalties for Federal Violations

On January 2, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced in the Federal Register that penalties for violations of the following federal laws have increased for 2018:

  • Black Lung Benefits Act.
  • Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act.
  • Employee Polygraph Protection Act.
  • Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
  • Fair Labor Standards Act (child labor and home worker).
  • Family and Medical Leave Act.
  • Immigration and Nationality Act.
  • Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.
  • Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act.
  • Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act.

These increases are due to the requirements of the Inflation Adjustment Act, which requires the DOL to annually adjust its civil money penalty levels for inflation by no later than January 15.

These increased rates are effective January 2, 2018.

Read the Federal Register

OSHA Penalties Increased

On January 2, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor announced in the Federal Register that Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) penalties will increase for 2018 as follows:

  • Other-than-Serious: $12,934
  • Serious: $12,934
  • Repeat: $129,336
  • Willful: $129,336
  • Posting Requirement Violation: $12,934
  • Failure to Abate: $12,934

These increases apply to states with federal OSHA programs; rates for states with OSHA-approved State Plans will increase to these amounts as well; State Plans are required to increase their penalties in alignment with OSHA’s to maintain at least as effective penalty levels.

These new penalty increases are effective as of January 2, 2018 and apply to any citations issued on that day and thereafter.

Read the Federal Register

Agencies Release Advance Copies of Form 5500 for Filing in 2018

The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) released the advance informational copies of the 2017 Form 5500 and related instructions. For small employee benefit plan reports, advance short form copies of 2017 Form 5500-Short Form (SF) and 2017 Instructions for Form 5500-SF were also released with supplemental materials including schedules and attachments.

Read about and download the Form 5500 Series

Originally Published By ThinkHR.com

On January 11, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service released its income tax withholding tables for 2018 reflecting changes made by the December 2017 tax reform legislation. The updated withholding information provides the new rates for employers to use during 2018. Employers are encouraged to use these tables as soon as possible but must use them by no later than February 15, 2018. Employers should continue to use the 2017 withholding tables until they implement the 2018 withholding tables.

According to the U.S. Treasury, an estimated 90 percent of paycheck recipients are likely to see an increase in their take-home pay by February. However, when employees see these changes in their paychecks depends on how quickly the new tables are implemented by their employers and how often they are paid (usually weekly, biweekly, or semimonthly).

To help individuals identify the correct amount of withholding, the IRS is releasing a revised withholding calculator by the end of February, which will be posted on IRS.gov. The IRS encourages taxpayers to use the calculator to adjust their withholding once it is released.

Changes for 2018 and Looking Forward

The new law makes many changes for 2018 that affect individual taxpayers, including an increase in the standard deduction, repeal of personal exemptions, and changes in tax rates and brackets. In relation to Form W-4, these new withholding tables are designed to work with employees’ current W-4, as filed with their employer; so, there are no steps employees must currently take regarding the new tables and law.

The IRS is also working on revising the Form W-4 to reflect the newly available itemized deductions, increases in the child tax credit, the new dependent credit, and repeal of dependent exemptions. However, there is no set release date for the revised form.

Once released, employees may use the new Form W-4 to update their withholding in response to the new law or changes in their personal circumstances in 2018, and by workers starting a new job. Until a new Form W-4 is issued, employees and employers should continue to use the 2017 Form W-4.

For Now

At this time, employers should be reviewing these new tables and implementing necessary changes. For 2019, the IRS has said that it anticipates making even more changes involving withholding. But don’t despair; the agency provides FAQs, which employers and employee may find useful, and pledges to work with the business and payroll community to encourage workers to file new Forms W-4 next year while sharing information on changes in the new tax law that impact withholding.

Stay tuned though, because 2018 has only just begun.

Originally Published By ThinkHR.com

The ACA requires employers to report the cost of coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan. Reporting the cost of health care coverage on Form W-2 does not mean that the coverage is taxable.

Employers that provide “applicable employer-sponsored coverage” under a group health plan are subject to the reporting requirement. This includes businesses, tax-exempt organizations, and federal, state and local government entities (except with respect to plans maintained primarily for members of the military and their families). Federally recognized Indian tribal governments are not subject to this requirement.

Employers that are subject to this requirement should report the value of the health care coverage in Box 12 of Form W-2, with Code DD to identify the amount. There is no reporting on Form W-3 of the total of these amounts for all the employer’s employees.

In general, the amount reported should include both the portion paid by the employer and the portion paid by the employee. See the chart below from the IRS’ webpage and its questions and answers for more information.

The chart below illustrates the types of coverage that employers must report on Form W-2. Certain items are listed as “optional” based on transition relief provided by Notice 2012-9 (restating and clarifying Notice 2011-28). Future guidance may revise reporting requirements but will not be applicable until the tax year beginning at least six months after the date of issuance of such guidance.

  Form W-2, Box 12, Code DD
Coverage Type Report Do Not
Major medical X    
Dental or vision plan not integrated into another medical or health plan     X
Dental or vision plan which gives the choice of declining or electing and paying an additional premium     X
Health flexible spending arrangement (FSA) funded solely by salary-reduction amounts   X  
Health FSA value for the plan year in excess of employee’s cafeteria plan salary reductions for all qualified benefits X    
Health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) contributions     X
Health savings account (HSA) contributions (employer or employee)   X  
Archer Medical Savings Account (Archer MSA) contributions (employer or employee)   X  
Hospital indemnity or specified illness (insured or self-funded), paid on after-tax basis   X  
Hospital indemnity or specified illness (insured or self-funded), paid through salary reduction (pre-tax) or by employer X    
Employee assistance plan (EAP) providing applicable employer-sponsored healthcare coverage Required if employer charges a COBRA premium   Optional if employer does not charge a COBRA premium
On-site medical clinics providing applicable employer-sponsored healthcare coverage Required if employer charges a COBRA premium   Optional if employer does not charge a COBRA premium
Wellness programs providing applicable employer-sponsored healthcare coverage Required if employer charges a COBRA premium   Optional if employer does not charge a COBRA premium
Multi-employer plans     X
Domestic partner coverage included in gross income X    
Governmental plans providing coverage primarily for members of the military and their families   X  
Federally recognized Indian tribal government plans and plans of tribally charted corporations wholly owned by a federally recognized Indian tribal government   X  
Self-funded plans not subject to federal COBRA     X
Accident or disability income   X  
Long-term care   X  
Liability insurance   X  
Supplemental liability insurance   X  
Workers’ compensation   X  
Automobile medical payment insurance   X  
Credit-only insurance   X  
Excess reimbursement to highly compensated individual, included in gross income   X  
Payment/reimbursement of health insurance premiums for 2% shareholder-employee, included in gross income   X  
Other situations Report Do Not
Employers required to file fewer than 250 Forms W-2 for the preceding calendar year (determined without application of any entity aggregation rules for related employers)     X
Forms W-2 furnished to employees who terminate before the end of a calendar year and request, in writing, a Form W-2 before the end of the year     X
Forms W-2 provided by third-party sick-pay provider to employees of other employers     X

By Danielle Capilla
Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

On December 22, 2017, the IRS released Notice 2018-06 to extend the due date for employers to furnish 2017 Form 1095-C or 1095-B under the Affordable Care Act’s employer reporting requirement. Employers will have an extra 30 days to prepare and distribute the 2017 form to individuals. The due dates for filing forms with the IRS are not extended.


Applicable large employers (ALEs), who generally are entities that employed 50 or more full-time and full-time-equivalent employees in 2016, are required to report information about the health coverage they offered or did not offer to certain employees in 2017. To meet this reporting requirement, the ALE will furnish Form 1095-C to the employee or former employee and file copies, along with transmittal Form 1094-C, with the IRS.

Employers, regardless of size, that sponsored a self-funded (self-insured) health plan providing minimum essential coverage in 2017 are required to report coverage information about enrollees. To meet this reporting requirement, the employer will furnish Form 1095-B to the primary enrollee and file copies, along with transmittal Form 1094-B, with the IRS. Self-funded employers who also are ALEs may use Forms 1095-C and 1094-C in lieu of Forms 1095-B and 1094-B.

Extended Due Dates

Specifically, Notice 2018-06 extends the following due dates:

  • The deadline for furnishing 2017 Form 1095-C, or Form 1095-B, if applicable, to employees and individuals is March 2, 2018 (extended from January 31, 2018).
  • The deadline for filing copies of the 2017 Forms 1095-C, along with transmittal Form 1094-C (or copies of Forms 1095-B with transmittal Form 1094-B), if applicable, remains unchanged:
    • If filing by paper, February 28, 2018.
    • If filing electronically, April 2, 2018.

The extended due date applies automatically so employers do not need to make individual requests for the extension.

More Information

Notice 2018-06 also extends transitional good-faith relief from certain penalties to the 2017 employer reporting requirements.

Lastly, the IRS encourages employers, insurers, and other reporting entities to furnish forms to individuals and file reports with the IRS as soon as they are ready.

Marginally Published By ThinkHR.com

Dear Ron, Thank you so much for generously supporting [us] and our AIDS walk team this year. It was a lovely foggy Sunday morning in Golden Gate Park, with thousands of folks walking to fight AIDS. It has been a pleasure working with you over the years. You have saved us LOTS of money! I want you to know how much we appreciate all that you do!

- San Francisco, Non-profit organization