Georgia Has a New Transit Bill

Last year, the Georgia General Assembly created The Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority (ATL) to oversee transit planning in metro Atlanta. Today, lawmakers are proposing new legislation that would create another eight ATL’s and would cover the entire state.
These eight additional areas, called “mobility zones”, would allow local citizens to give input into Georgia transit planning and provide consistently funded transit projects for the first time in state history.

This funding would be sourced from eliminating the state sales tax on taxis and limos with a standard charge of 50 cents per ride that would also apply to ride sharing services. The charge is decreased to 25 cents for any passenger who pools their rides.

The fee, estimated to raise between $30 million – $60 million, is to be used exclusively on transit improvements in Georgia. With the lack of transportation to and from work being a leading cause of rural unemployment, the bill is expected to have a large positive ripple effect throughout the state. Source: Atlanta Business Chronicle

Out of Pocket Maximums Could be Increasing Soon

Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published its proposed Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2020. This proposed rule describes benefit and payment parameters under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that would be applicable for the 2020 benefit year. Proposed standards included in the rule relate to:

  • Annual limitations on cost-sharing
  • The individual mandate’s affordability exemption
  • Direct enrollment in the Exchanges
  • Special enrollment periods in the Exchanges

HHS is also seeking comments on other issues, like “silver loading,” automatic re-enrollment through the Exchanges, and any measures that would potentially reduce eligibility errors and government misspending.

Proposed Changes

The out-of-pocket maximum (OOPM) and the ACA’s affordability exemption threshold would both increase with the new rule.

  • OOPM: $8,200 for self-only coverage and $16,400 for family coverage in 2020
  • Affordability threshold: 8.39 percent of household income

The proposed rule would also expand opportunities for individuals to directly enroll in Exchange coverage by enrolling through the websites of certain third parties rather than through HealthCare.gov.

40% of People Have Shockingly Little Saved to Retire

Cultivating a culture of wellness at organizations is a common trend for employers across the country. In fact, according to the Employer Health Benefits 2018 Annual Survey, 82 percent of large firms and 53 percent of small firms offer some sort of wellness program.

Historically, many of these programs focus on physical well-being, with employers creating programs intended to encourage smoking cessation and exercising. Unfortunately, health-conscious employers and employees alike often overlook one important component to wellness: financial health.

The Hard Truth

A recent Bankrate survey revealed that 65 percent of Americans save little or nothing at all from each paycheck. This, compounded with the fact that over 40 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for when they retire, is alarming.

How You Can Help

When employees are stressed about money and saving for their long-term goals, the chronic stress can be detrimental to their overall health and workplace engagement. Investing in employee financial wellness can be beneficial to both you and your employees.

Consider implementing a financial wellness program that focuses on planning for the future and budgeting. You may want to bring in a financial expert or consultant for your employees as well.

Contact us today to learn more about our financial planning assistance resources.

7 Weight Loss Myths That Keep You from Losing Weight!

In your quest to lose weight by improving your diet and getting more exercise, you might be confused by all the information out there. Maybe you read something in a magazine. Maybe you saw an infomercial. How do you separate fact from fiction? Let’s look at some common misbeliefs—and get the lowdown on what’s actually legit.

No pizza. No ice cream. Ever.

This simply isn’t true. You can still enjoy your favorite fattening foods as long as the portions are small. Of course, the more you avoid these foods the better, because they are high in calories.

You have to exercise for hours at a time to make a difference.

Not so. It’s recommended that we get a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity. Spread that out over the week in any way you choose. Of course, if you go above the 150, that’s even better. And don’t forget to do strength training twice a week to build muscle.

Gluten-free is good for me.

Nope. Only if you have an issue with gluten or have celiac disease. And some gluten-free foods lack important nutrients. Gluten-free does not mean calorie-free.

Lifting weights just bulks you up.

Highly unlikely, unless you’re training to be an NFL player. Doing strength training at least twice a week is super good for you. And it can help you lose weight because more muscle means you burn more calories.

Carbs are a big no-no.

No, no, not true. Sure, carbs in sugary foods like cookies and cake should be avoided, but whole grains, fruit, and other complex carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet.

The only way to lose weight is to do it slowly.

This can be true for some people, but not for all. Check with your doctor on the best way for you to lose weight and keep it off long term.

No fats for you.

In fact, the body needs certain fats to function properly. But you should avoid saturated fats and, even more important, trans fats. “Good” fats like olive oil and avocados are higher in calories than foods like proteins and carbs, so keep portion size in mind.

The big takeaway.

The formula for losing weight through diet and exercise is really, really simple: Unless you burn more calories than you take in, you will gain weight. If you burn more than you eat, you’ll lose. And if you take in the same number of calories as those you burn, your weight will stay the same. No fad diet or exercise contraption will make a bit of difference unless you adhere to that basic fact.

Be sensible.

Eat healthy foods most of the time. If you have a treat, exercise more to make up the difference. Move your body—every little bit helps. And make sure the information you get about weight loss comes from sources you can trust.

HR Elements: Working Families

Some Companies Are Going Above and Beyond to Support Mothers and Fathers

While the last two decades witnessed a steady rise in pregnancy discrimination claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there is good news out there for working families.

Many companies are opting to create innovative and forward-thinking ways to support working parents and, in some cases, companies are blazing the trail ahead of state or federal legislation. There is no mandated federal parental-leave policy to follow, so many employers are opting to craft their own, according to HR Executive.

While high-profile companies like Patagonia have decades of practice, and generate significant positive publicity, offering benefits and perks for families ranging from multi-month leave to adoption and fertility assistance to on-site daycare, there are models for companies looking to simply get started.

Getting started may mean expanding benefits available to employees by offering health and dental coverage for immediate family members or a discounted rate on family plans. Providing a bonus for childcare or exploring a partnership with a local childcare provider shows that there may be different ways to approach a single challenge, in this case the cost of child care. Or, if a company can’t financially support childcare, it may be able to offer flexibility when time off is needed for a sick child, or to attend a school function, as explored in Forbes.

Sometimes an employer may decide to offer a highly specific benefit. Benefit News reports that some benefits for new moms, like breast milk shipping for women who are traveling while nursing, will continue to become more popular with larger, well-known companies potentially leading the charge. A nursing-friendly workplace may offer comfortable, private lactation areas, time to pump built into a day or other policies addressing a concern that might otherwise keep a talented new mom out of the workforce.

Thoughtful, responsive policies need not only focus on working mothers who recently gave birth. Prenatal considerations, maternity leave, and flexible post-baby work options are still very much up for discussion. But today, the changing face of the American family requires companies to be mindful and draft policies that support the diverse ways families form and function.

While the number of parents who don’t work stayed about the same, dads are staying home in higher numbers than in years past. As more millennial and Gen Z workers become parents, pregnancy and family support will not only continue to be on the forefront of desirable benefits for employees, those benefits will very likely continue to evolve.

Worried how babies may impact your bottom line? In good news to businesses, many family-friendly policies could be very good for business too, according to HR Dive. The already constricted talent market could see an influx of more than five million workers if more robust parental leave policies or other creative family-friendly solutions were implemented. Helping future and current parents join the workforce can be beneficial for everyone. Likewise, efforts to keep parents on leave connected and engaged, or to allow for a phased return, would also potentially help with post-leave retention.

Making family-forward policies an HR priority in 2019? You don’t need to reinvent the wheel or overhaul your entire workplace culture to make a difference. Consider involving the voices of your employees for small, practical steps you can take and to get a pulse read on the bigger concerns on their minds. Before you start, and if you have 15 or more employees, Workforce offers a refresher on some of the required protections. Be sure to review your state’s minimums with requirements detailed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The Ins and Outs of Warming Up and Cooling Down

OK, you’ve made it to the gym, you’ve donned your sneakers, and you’re ready to go! Or are you?

If you’re headed for a workout, whether by yourself or in a group, it’s really important that you warm up before you get into it, and cool down when you’re done.

Feel the Heat

Why warm up?

It gets your body ready for activity by getting your blood flowing to your muscles. As your blood vessels dilate, your muscles get more oxygen to help them do the work you’re asking them to do. Warming up also raises your body temperature, increases respiration, and lets your heart rate rise gradually. This all helps your body get ready for the more vigorous activity you’re prepared to do. It’s kind of like pre-heating your oven before cooking.

In general, warm up with an easier, slower, less intense version of the exercise you’re planning to do. For instance, before going for a run, warm up by walking quickly for five or ten minutes. Your warm-up shouldn’t tire you out, but you might work up a mild sweat. Slightly longer warm-ups are best for people who are newer to exercise and for those who are getting ready for some extra-intense activity.

Too Cool To Cool Down?

Think cooling down is just for wimps? Think again. When you stop exercising suddenly, the blood that’s been helping your muscles work can pool. And the heart and brain won’t get the oxygenated blood they need quite fast enough, which can cause you to feel dizzy or lightheaded, nauseous or even faint.

You want your heart to get back to its resting rate gradually and allow your body the chance to recover. Many people skip the warm-up and cool-down. After all, they make your workout last longer, and we’re always pressed for time these days.

But to get the most out of your exercise routine — and to feel extra great afterwards — a few added minutes on either end of your workout will be well worth it.

 

Healthy Recipe of the Month: Twenty Minute Chili

The hardest part of this recipe is opening the cans of beans, tomatoes and hominy. The chili’s flavor is deep and full, as if it simmered all day.

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 15-ounce (450g) can low-sodium pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1 14.5-ounce can (435g) Mexican-style stewed tomatoes, crushed

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon chopped chipotle or jalapeño peppers (from a can)

optional:

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/8 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa

1 pinch cinnamon

1 16-ounce (440g) can yellow hominy, rinsed

Chopped cilantro or green onion

Lime wedges

Preparations

1. Spray a large, heavy saucepan with cooking spray and set over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer.

2. Stir in beans, tomatoes, chili powder, chipotles (if using), cumin, oregano, cocoa and cinnamon. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes to blend the flavors. Add hominy and cook until heated through.

3. Ladle into bowls and garnish with cilantro or green onions. Serve lime wedges alongside.

Makes: 4 servings

It’s That Time of the Year Again for ACA Reporting

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created reporting rules under Code Sections 6055 and 6056 that require certain employers to provide information to the IRS about the health plan coverage they offer (or do not offer) or provide to their employees. Each reporting entity must annually file all of the following with the IRS:

  • A separate statement (Form 1095-B or Form 1095-C) for each individual who is provided with minimum essential coverage (for providers reporting under Section 6055), or for each full-time employee (for ALEs reporting under Section 6056)
  • A transmittal form (Form 1094-B or Form 1094-C) for all of the returns filed for a given calendar year

Reporting entities must also furnish related statements (Form 1095-B or 1095-C) to individuals.The final forms for 2018 have been published, which means it’s time for you to take action. Fortunately, the 2018 forms and instructions are substantially similar to the 2017 versions. The most significant change is that Form 1095-C clarifies that the “Plan Start Month” box in Part II will remain optional for 2018. The IRS previously indicated that this box may have been mandatory for the 2018 Form 1095-C.

These forms must be filed with the IRS no later than Feb. 28, 2019 (April 1, 2019, if filing electronically). However, the IRS extended the due date for furnishing individual statements for 2018 an extra 30 days, from Jan. 31, 2019, to March 4, 2019.

Please contact us today to get assistance with ACA reporting or to request employee communications on this topic.

HR Q&A: What does the law say regarding harmful employee social media activity?

An employee’s right to comment on his or her employer may be protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Provisions of this act, such as the right of employees to discuss, question or criticize their terms and conditions of employment, extend to unionized and nonunionized workers.

Under the NLRA, if an employee is addressing group concerns or is acting on behalf of others, those activities are protected and employers may not take disciplinary action against the employee. This protection extends to social media posts and situations where employees have commented on or “liked” co-workers’ online posts made during or outside of working hours.

However, this protection does not apply to outrageously disgraceful or shameful conduct and reckless or maliciously untrue communications. In addition, individuals are not protected by the NLRA when they act in their own interests or address purely personal complaints.

To avoid violating NLRA protections for employees using social media, employers should adopt policies that are narrowly tailored to:

  • Prevent discriminatory remarks, harassment, bullying, threats of violence and other behavior that is unacceptable at the workplace;
  • Request that employees identify that their comments are their personal opinions and do not represent their employers’ official positions on any specific issues; and
  • Request that employees do not disclose trade secrets, publish internal reports, provide tips based on inside information or participate in other activities that may be considered inside trading.

Employers wishing to manage their online reputation should refrain from participating in controversial practices such as requiring employees to disclose their personal social media login information. Many states have laws prohibiting such conduct by employers.

See What the Buzz is All About: Counting Macros

Click Here to Access ARISTA’s October Wellness Calendar

Chances are you’ve probably heard someone talking about their macros, whether it’s in the lunchroom, at the gym or on social media. The “if it fits your macros” (IIFYM) diet was first popular with bodybuilders who used this program to stay fit for competitions. Now, it’s popular with gym-goers and even those who don’t workout.

What’s a macro?

Macronutrients, or macros, are the core components that make up the food that we eat: carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

How does counting macros work?

Instead of counting calories, you count the grams of each macronutrient in the food you eat. A quick internet search will turn up a handful of reputable calculators designed to help you determine how many grams of each macronutrient you need, based on your health goals and activity level.

Is the IIFYM diet just another fad diet?

Counting macros is a trendy diet program, but it’s not technically a fad diet. The concept behind IIFYM is that it’s a long-term plan and it doesn’t restrict or ban certain food groups like fad diets.

As long as you keep your macros in check, you can eat healthy one day and splurge on fried chicken the next without derailing your program. The flexibility of the IIFYM diet makes it much easier to stick to the program, which is likely why it’s so popular.

If you’re interested in trying the IIFYM diet, please check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you before starting.

More Common Than You’d Think: Workplace Bullying

National Bullying Prevention Month is recognized every October. What many people don’t realize is that workplace bullying affects more than 35 percent of adult Americans.

What is workplace bullying?

Generally, workplace bullying is defined as the use of intimidation through power, influence, tone or language to affect a person negatively. Often, bullying is intentional, but sometimes the bully is not aware of their hurtful actions or words. Workplace bullying affects safety, productivity, trust and the workplace culture.

What are the signs of workplace bullying?

Some common signs of workplace bullying include:

  • Ignoring, isolating or excluding an employee
  • Reprimanding or humiliating an employee publicly
  • Name-calling or insulting an employee

Workplace bullying is a serious issue, and if you feel like you’re being bullied, you should take steps to address it. For more information, talk to your HR department.

Healthy Recipe of the Month: Pumpkin and White Bean Soup

1 ½ cups apple juice

1 15-ounce can white beans (drained)

1 small onion (finely chopped)

1 cup water

1 15-ounce can pumpkin

½ tsp. cinnamon

⅛ tsp. nutmeg

½ tsp. black pepper

¼ tsp. salt

Preparations

Mash white beans, onion, and water with a fork or blender until smooth. Set aside.

In a large pot, add the pumpkin, juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and salt.

Add the bean mix to the pot.

Cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes, until warmed through.

Makes: 6 servings