Discover how to help your employees achieve personal success.

  • IRS Issues Clarification on Current State of the ACA Pay or Play Penalties

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    There is still a lot of confusion among employees with regard to the current status of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Because of this, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Office of Chief Counsel has recently issued several information letters regarding the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual and employer mandate penalties. These letters clarify that:

    • Employer shared responsibility penalties continue to apply for applicable large employers (ALEs) that fail to offer acceptable health coverage to their full-time employees (and dependents); and
    • Individual mandate penalties continue to apply for individuals that do not obtain acceptable health coverage (if they do not qualify for an exemption).

    These letters were issued in response to confusion over President Donald Trump’s executive order directing federal agencies to provide relief from the burdens of the ACA.

    The ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules require ALEs to offer affordable, minimum value health coverage to their full-time employees or pay a penalty. These rules, also known as the “employer mandate” or “pay or play” rules, only apply to ALEs, which are employers with, on average, at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), during the preceding calendar year. An ALE may be subject to a penalty only if one or more full-time employees obtain an Exchange subsidy (either because the ALE does not offer health coverage, or offers coverage that is unaffordable or does not provide minimum value).

    The ACA’s individual mandate, which took effect in 2014, requires most individuals to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage for themselves and their family members or pay a penalty. The individual mandate is enforced each year on individual federal tax returns. Individuals filing a tax return for the previous tax year will indicate, by checking a box on their individual tax return, which members of their family (including themselves) had health insurance coverage for the year (or qualified for an exemption from the individual mandate). Based on this information, the IRS will then assess a penalty for each nonexempt family member who doesn’t have coverage.

    On Jan. 20, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order intended to “to minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens” of the ACA until the law can be repealed and eventually replaced. The executive order broadly directs the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies to waive, delay or grant exemptions from ACA requirements that may impose a financial burden. However, the executive order does not include specific guidance regarding any particular ACA requirement or provision, and does not change any existing regulations.

    IRS Information Letters

    Office of Chief Counsel issued a series of information letters clarifying that the ACA’s individual and employer mandate penalties continue to apply.

    • Letter numbers 2017-0010 and 2017-0013 address the employer shared responsibility rules.
    • Letter number 2017-0017 addresses the individual mandate.

    According to these letters, the executive order does not change the law. The ACA’s provisions are still effective until changed by Congress, and taxpayers are still required to follow the law, including paying any applicable penalties. We will continue to keep you updated as changes will likely continue to occur throughout this year and beyond. For now, it is best to proceed and plan as though the ACA will remain unchanged.

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    A Plus BenefitsIRS Issues Clarification on Current State of the ACA Pay or Play Penalties
  • 4 Things Great Leaders Say to Get New Employees Engaged

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    Getting employees up to speed quickly is important at every organization. Especially at this point in the employment relationship, your leaders can make all the difference. According to research by Gallup, managers are responsible for up to 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement. From a recent article in Inc., here are four discussions your leaders can have with new employees to get them engaged quickly.

    Describe how the business creates value
    In order for employees to be engaged, they need to understand what the company does that sets them apart. All employees want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Help employees see how the work they are doing directly relates to the value the organization creates in the community. Employees need to understand the why of the business and the why of their specific position in the company.

    Define who the stakeholders are
    Helping employees understand how all of the pieces of your organization work gives them a better idea of the big picture of the organization. Employees need to understand who the stakeholders are, both inside and outside the organization. Make sure they know the important people inside the organization and how everyone’s job interact. Also make sure they understand who your customer s and vendors are\ and what those relationships are like. Providing this clarity gives employees a better understanding of the organization as a whole.

    Immediately set goals and provide feedback
    Help employees set goals very early on (within the first couple days of work) that will allow them some quick wins. This allows you to provide feedback immediately and start the process of constructive performance communication.

    Reinforce the reasons you hired them
    Don’t assume your employees understand the reason they were selected for the position. Remind them what characteristics and experience they have that led you to make the decision to hire them. Praise employees for their skills, experience, attitude and work ethic. Reinforce those positive behaviors you want to see continue, early on.

    It can be a huge competitive advantage for an organization to not only have productive employees quickly, but also engaged ones. Make sure your leaders are doing these four things with all new employees. It can also be a great reminder of the ongoing conversations they should be having with existing employees as well. Looking for more ideas to get employees up to speed quickly?  Check out our Onboarding Toolkit.

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    A Plus Benefits4 Things Great Leaders Say to Get New Employees Engaged
  • Does Your Company’s Vacation Time Need to be Revamped?

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    It’s hard to believe that summer is already winding down. Kids will be back in school soon and your employees will likely be scaling back their time off requests. Summer is typically the most popular times for employees to take family vacations, so it’s likely you had the opportunity to observe your time off policies and procedures in action over the past few months. Now can be a great time to review that and start making plans for what you might want to change for next year. Here are some simple steps you can take to begin that review process.

    Analyze your compensation and benefits strategy
    Most companies (91% in the US according to SHRM) offer some paid time off or vacation time to employees. That is pretty much a given at most organizations. But how you structure your vacation policy is an important piece of your overall benefits strategy. Decide what you hope to accomplish and what you hope to communicate to employees through your time off policy.

    Keep long term viability in mind
    It is important to find a balance of what your company can afford in terms of productivity loss and compensation for employees along with examining what competitor companies are doing to determine if you are more or less competitive from that standpoint. It is much easier to add additional benefits than it is to remove them from employees. Only commit to what you know is sustainable for your organization moving forward.

    Plan the structure of your policy
    Time off policies are often as unique as the companies they come from. You really do have a lot flexibility in your plan design. Here are some of the important questions to ask yourself:

    • How much paid time off will employees receive?
    • How many hours per week must an employee work to qualify for paid time off?
    • Will employee receive a lump sum, or will it accrue over time?
    • What will happen to accrued paid time off when an employee terminates? (check your state laws)
    • Will employees have a deadline to use paid time (use it or lose it)? (check your state laws)
    • Will hourly employees receive the same amount of vacation as salaried employees?
    • Do you need a bona fide leave bank for salaried exempt-level employees?

    Plan and communicate your implementation strategy
    Almost as important as your plan structure, it is important to plan for the actual implementation of that policy. Develop an employee vacation tracking and planning system to help you plan business needs and employee schedules. You will also want to determine how employee vacations during peak business times or during employee absences. Having a plan in place and clearly communicating that to employees prevents future issues.  Some questions to consider include:

    • How will employees submit requests for time off?
    • Will you do a first come first serve basis when employees request time off, or will seniority be considered?
    • Who will determine whether time off will be approved and how will this be communicated to employees?
    • Will you have deadline for vacation requests or blackout dates during busy business periods?
    • How will you divvy out employees’ duties during employees’ vacation periods?
    • Will you offer incentives for employees who work during peak vacation periods?

    Once you have a plan, this needs to be communicated clearly to employees, so they understand the benefit and the process by which to use it.

    Consider other types of leave
    While you are considering your vacation policy, you may also want to take a look at other types of paid and unpaid leave. Other things to consider besides just a vacation policy include:

    Setting up a vacation policy that will best fits your company culture will help ensure your employees are healthy, happy and feeling they are being fairly compensated. If you aren’t sure what types of leave are important to your employees, ask them. This can help you gain insight to how employees really feel about the policy and make them feel included in the process. If you would like assistance with creating a written time off or other type of policy, contact one of our HR experts at

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    A Plus BenefitsDoes Your Company’s Vacation Time Need to be Revamped?
  • 5 Ways to Increase Employee Autonomy Today

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    The workforce is changing and employees are now expecting more autonomy than ever before. Employees want to have more power over how (and often when and where) they perform their jobs. Research by Gallup has repeatedly found that employees highly value flexibility and autonomy in a job. If you are striving to attract and retain the best employees, you’ll need to move your company in that direction. Here are five ways you can increase employee autonomy in your organization beginning today.

    Hire the right people.
    Increasing employee autonomy requires a great level of trust. This must begin at the very start of the relationship. Ask questions during the job interview that help you begin to build that trust early on. Some examples are:

    • Tell me about a time you managed a project with little to no oversight or direction.
    • Have you ever been in a situation where your role or responsibilities haven’t been clearly defined? What did you do?
    • Can you give me an example of a time you went above and beyond the call of duty to help either a customer or co-worker?
    • Tell me about a time when you felt you needed to immediately address a difficult situation with your boss or supervisor when others wouldn’t.

    Focus on quality training.
    This begins on day one with a strategic onboarding process. Provide new employees with the information they need to begin making good decisions early on in their employment. Reward and celebrate early wins in this area and redirect employees who may be off track. We also encourage employers to set up a mentorship program for new employees. This allows current employee to model good behaviors for new employees.

    Help employees to “Ask for forgiveness, not permission.”
    Empower employees to make decisions rather than requiring management approval for every decision. This requires a certain level of transparency with employees as they will need to understand the goals of the organization as well as relationships with stakeholders. Set clear boundaries and then allow employees to solve problems their way. Role play difficult situations and encourage employees to practice quick, thoughtful decision making. As with anything, your employees will become better the more they practice.

    Openly discuss career plans.
    While we are on the topic of transparency, discussing development options with employees helps improve their autonomy as well. Leaders should have weekly one on one meetings with employees that help to push the employee forward. Ask employees what they hope to get out of their role and where they see themselves going in the future. Small businesses often feel disadvantaged in this area, where there are not many roles that an employee could move into. Career planning doesn’t have to mean switching roles or getting a promotion. There are plenty of ways employers can encourage development without those things. Perhaps they could improve existing skills or learn new skills through an online course. Or maybe they would be interested in joining a professional association and attending trainings and conferences with peers in their industry. Ask your employees to find out what is important to them.

    Provide employees with more choices.
    Whenever possible, increase the number of choices your employees are allowed to make. Perhaps you can improve their benefits options, allowing them more options to choose from. Maybe you could add flexible working schedules where employees could choose their start and end times. Anytime you can allow an employee to choose what is best for them, you will reap the rewards for employee autonomy.

    Increasing employee autonomy not only increases employee engagement, but also frees up your managers for more important strategic planning and execution. It is a win-win situation for everyone. Demonstrating you trust your employees by giving them flexibility and choice also makes them trust your company and your leaders. Looking for more ideas? Reach out to our HR experts at

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    A Plus Benefits5 Ways to Increase Employee Autonomy Today
  • 3 Simple Questions You Can Ask to Increase Employee Retention

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    Employee retention is one of the things we hear most often when we ask businesses owners what their greatest challenge is. National statistics are right in line with that. Research from Future Workplace and Kronos, found that 87% of employers felt that improving retention is a critical priority for their organization. Retention doesn’t have to be that difficult. Here are three simple questions from a recent article in Inc. that your leaders can ask employees today to immediately improve retention.

    Do we have a high level of trust?
    Trust is a critical part of any relationship, including an employment relationship. You need to trust that employees will do the work they have been hired to do and your employees need to know that you will fulfill your promise to compensate them for their work and treat them fairly. Earning and keeping trust requires work. If you find that trust is lacking with any of your employees, your next question needs to be, “how can we rebuild trust and continue to work together?”

    Do you feel like you have space to voice your concerns and be heard?
    This is one of the ways you can earn trust from your employees. Providing them with opportunities to express their concerns gives employees a sense of security. Employees need to be able to tell you if they think your expectations are unrealistic. One way to ensure this opportunity is not missed is for leaders to have weekly one on one meetings with each employee they supervise. Set the expectation that the employee owns this meeting and that it is a time for them to share their ideas and concerns in addition to sharing their accountability report. Spend most of your time in this meeting listening to understand and get to know the employee.

    What can I do to help you be more successful?
    Great employees are usually great because they push themselves to keep getting better. High performers want opportunities to learn and develop their skills. Asking this question not only shows your employees that you care and are invested in their development, but also provide s opportunities to have conversations about the things the employee might like to do moving forward. Especially in a small business, where career advancement opportunities may be scarce, offering professional (and personal) development opportunities can give employees the growth they need to stick around.

    Asking these questions does very little if leaders do not act upon what is learned from the conversations with employees. But taking a few minutes each day and 30 minutes a week to check in with employees and ask them a few simple questions can help your leaders learn what is important to employees, aiding in employee engagement and retention long-term.

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    A Plus Benefits3 Simple Questions You Can Ask to Increase Employee Retention
  • Help Employees Destress to Reduce Employee Burnout

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    We all have times where we feel stressed, because of personal relationships, work, or other obligations. Stress isn’t always bad. It can sometimes be positive. Research suggests that a moderate level of stress that can be overcome often helps an individual feel stronger and more productive. Stress becomes a problem when it impedes our ability to be productive and reduces morale.

    There are many things that can cause negative levels of stress in the workplace. Poor communication, lack of accountability and distrust are just a few.


    You can evaluate the level of stress you may be adding to your team by asking yourself these simple questions:

    • Are my employees working in careers that have high depression rates? If so, what help can I offer to help them minimize stress?
    • Are my employees overworked? Do we have a high turnover rates? Do we have fair compensation?
    • Do I trust my employees and in turn do they trust me?
    • How often am I communicating one on one with my employees about not only their careers by their lives as a whole?
    • Am I holding m y team accountable for their work?
    • Am I treating employees fairly?
    • Is my management style adding or reducing to my employee’s stress?

    We cannot control all the stress our employees experience. Employees may have problems outside the workplace that increase their stress levels. This makes finding ways to minimize stress in the work environment even more important to improving employee productivity and morale.

    Here are some stress-reducing activities to try with your employees:

    • Get out of the office and go on a walk
    • End the day doing ten minutes of meditation
    • Create a game area for your employees to hang out and build personal relationships during breaks
    • Take your team to lunch away from the office
    • Find ways to recognize employees or departments for their hard work or accomplishments
    • Do a fun service project to help everyone get engaged and give back

    What ideas have you implemented to help employees destress? We would love to hear about them on our Facebook page

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    A Plus BenefitsHelp Employees Destress to Reduce Employee Burnout