A More Effective Open Enrollment Season

Just the thought of an approaching open enrollment period can cause stress for employers and their workers.  But with proper planning and a well-developed strategy, open enrollments can be organized, effective and a positive experience for all involved.

Development of a detailed timeline well in advance of the start of open enrollment season is a great first step.  The employer and their benefit consultant can analyze the company’s specific objectives, style and demographics to develop a customized approach.  Included in this stage should be the scheduling of webinars, benefit fairs, seminars and opportunities, as applicable.  Likewise, the framework of an employee communication campaign can be developed, leaving specific details (like plan data, contribution schedules, etc.) to be inserted at a later time.

As soon as renewals are made available by the carrier(s), plans and contribution schedules can be selected by the employer and a communication piece should be distributed to all employees outlining the planned process, any critical information and any important dates and deadlines.

Benefit plan and contribution information should be presented to employees in a manner that encourages employees to become engaged in the process.  The communication material should present the range of benefit details in a simple, understandable and even exciting, if possible, manner…customized as much as possible to the profile of employees in each organization.

Technology should be used whenever possible.  Utilization of emails, webinars and online open enrollment tools all enhance the experience for today’s technology-oriented workforce and help to streamline the entire process. 

Once open enrollment ends and everything settles down, the process can be reviewed and employee feedback solicited in order to better understand the components that worked well and those that didn’t.  In this way, the experience can be further perfected for the following year’s open enrollment season.

The Columbia-Montour Chamber of Commerce offers its members access to My Benefit Advisor as a solution for employee benefits, including voluntary offerings.  For more information about My Benefit Advisor, visit our website at cmcc.mybenefitadvisor.com or contact Glynis Roberts at (800) 377-3539.

Wage and Workforce Information Aids in Employee Recruiting & Retention

With the challenges of hiring and retaining quality employees, employers have been increasingly benchmarking their wage rates to ensure they are competitive. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry provides labor market information by county and wage rate information by Metropolitan Statistical Area. Links to those resources are available on the Facts & Figures page of the Chamber’s website

The wage rate information provided by L&I is from 2020. Advance Central PA, the regional workforce board, accesses a database that pulls from a variety of sources, including current job postings. The contact for that most up-to-date information is William Berry, Research Analyst, at 570-568-6868 or [email protected]

L&I Secretary Provides UC Update to House Committee

Adapted from the PA Chamber of Business & Industry

Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Jennifer Berrier provided updates regarding the agency’s challenges in paying out unemployment compensation benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic; their efforts to fight fraudulent UC claims that have skyrocketed since the pandemic began; new technology infrastructure and more at a hearing last week with the House Labor and Industry Committee.

The massive number of pandemic-related jobless claims last year overwhelmed the UC system and led to a backlog of thousands of Pennsylvanians waiting months for payments and unable to reach anyone from the department for assistance. The department reported that long-awaited updates to the system were completed this year which brought the backlog from around 320,000 to 91,826 pending determinations; and more than 525,000 people receiving more than $3 billion in benefits since June.

As the department tackled pandemic-related backlogs, a related challenge began to emerge and wreak havoc on the UC system – a significant uptick in UC fraud. L&I has struggled to root out fraudulent claims, and although the UC system upgrades have been generally lauded, it is suspected the transition likely opened a window of opportunity for fraudsters. In September, L&I representatives told a group of chambers that the ID.me verification system had reduced fraudulent claims dramatically. However, members of The Columbia Montour Chamber are still reporting fraudulent claims, including from employees that have never received benefits. The Chamber has provided that feedback to L&I but has not received a response.

L&I representatives were questioned if they believe a former employee should be eligible for UC if they quit because of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. “It’s very much on a case-by-case basis,” Deputy Secretary for Unemployment Compensation Susan Dickinson said. “If we determine that the person quit, then the burden of proof is on that person to show that they had a good reason to quit. If the case is discharge, then the burden of proof is on the employer to show that the discharge was necessary,” Dickinson added.

President Biden’s Vaccine Mandate for Large Employers

From the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

In September, President Biden issued executive orders (EOs)—a summary of which can be found here regarding new policies to combat the COVID virus. 

On Tuesday, October 12th, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sent the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which will require employers with at least 100 employees to ensure their employees are vaccinated or that they submit a negative COVID test on a weekly basis.

The specifics of the ETS or how long it’s expected to remain at OIRA have not been released, but it could take effect within a week.

The ETS will take effect once published in the Federal Register—at which point it will also be open for comments. Under the OSH Act, the ETS will remain in place for six months. After the six months, OSHA can either replace it with a permanent standard that reflects the comments or discontinue the standard altogether. At this time, we expect that the ETS will require employers to provide some paid time off for employees to get vaccinated or to recover from getting vaccinated—though the specificities are unknown.

As more information becomes available on the ETS, this post will be updated.


Bloomsburg Council Candidates Share Their Views

Candidates for Bloomsburg Town Council discussed a variety of issues including the downtown, infrastructure, and taxes during a candidate forum held Tuesday, October 12th. Incumbents Bonnie Crawford and James Garman along with challengers Eric Bower, Nicholas McGaw, and Janine Penman participated in the forum. The event was co-hosted by Downtown Bloomsburg Inc. and Bloomsburg University’s American Democracy Project at Bloomsburg University’s McCormick Center.

Among the questions asked of the candidates was if they support a pledge developed by The Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Bloomsburg Inc. To date, candidates Bonnie Crawford and James Garman have signed the pledge. Mayor Bill Kreisher also signed the pledge earlier this year. 

A recording of the forum is available on the Chamber’s YouTube channel, which can be viewed HERE