Improve Your Benefits Communications

For most employers, the number one objective of their compensation and benefits planning is recruiting and retaining top talent. And so many employers invest a great deal of money in premium, fees and matching contributions in order to provide a competitive compensation package for their employees.

But too many employers stop there. They have a fantastic selection of benefits, and pay all the expenses of maintaining them for their employees – but they do not receive full value for their investment because the value of that benefits package has not been communicated to their work force. After all, it does no good to pay for the benefits for these employees if they don’t know what they are, or they don’t realize their value.

A recent survey from payroll firm ADP found that 4 out of 10 workers didn’t understand their own benefit packages.

Here are several ideas to help you communicate the value of your benefits package to your employees.

1.)   Brand it. Give the package a name. Prominent retailer Target calls their package “Bullseye Benefits,” for example. Then once it has a name, sell it to employees like your sales force would sell the benefits of your product or service. Set it up as something that differentiates your company from other employers. That way, every change you make to the plan gives you a chance to talk up your value package to your employees. For example, “We’re excited to announce an enhancement to your Loyal Employee Rewards Package.”

Create posters, flyers and brochures that all use your branding to describe your employee benefits package. You’ll know you’re doing it right when employees begin to use the term among themselves, and brag about it to their friends and acquaintances. That will make recruiting new talent much easier.

2.)   Employ multiple media. Not everybody spends a lot of time online. And not everyone is going to open their mail. Different people connect with different forms of communication. If you have a message to get out, get the word out in at least three ways across digital and print media.

For example, according to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, employers have adopted the following communications platforms to transmit the benefits of their employment packages:

 

  • Print mailers sent to employee’s homes:   89 percent
  • Email:                                                   73 percent
  • Print materials distributed at work:            69 percent
  • Internal websites/intranets:                      66 percent
  • External Websites: 58 percent:                 58 percent

 

3.)   Leverage vendor websites. These are excellent for communicating a lot of technical information about a specific benefit and how it works. It’s also great as a data capture technique. The downside: Unless you have a custom portal, it’s somebody else’s brand on those benefits, not yours. So if you use a vendor website, do something else, in addition to that, to put your own stamp on your employee benefits.

4.)   Set up in-service workshops. You can have these every time you roll out a new benefit, or at the beginning of open enrollment. If you are adding one brand new benefit, use the opportunity to talk up the package as a whole. Spend a few minutes going over the entire package before focusing too much on the new one.

5.)   Don’t rely on HR to do all the communicating. It’s HR’s job to prepare the materials and support. But management and executives should be visible and up front in selling the benefit package to rank and file employees.

6.)   Communicate the total value as much as you can. For example, send out a total compensation statement every quarter or every six months. Include premiums paid on employees’ behalf.

For many smaller employers, it can be tough to execute an entire benefits communications strategy alone. However, your employee benefits expert, consultant or insurance agent is standing by and ready to support you.

Why a Corporate Liability Shield does not Replace Liability Insurance

Business owners who form corporations or limited liability companies (LLC’s) may question the need for the business to carry insurance. A major benefit of these forms of business organization is that they shield the owners’ personal assets. Because of this, the owners may believe insurance is unnecessary.

A corporation is a legal entity separate from its owners. It acts as an artificial legal person. It can do the things that individuals may do, such as:

  • Enter into contracts
  • Incur debts
  • Earn income
  • Make investments
  • Sue others and be the target of lawsuits

It gives its owners a legal shield against many of its obligations. In other words, an individual owner of a corporation (called a “stockholder”) does not have to pay for the business’s debts out of his own funds.

An LLC also shields its owners (known as “members”). However, tax laws apply differently to LLC’s than they do to corporations. If a corporation earns $10,000 in income, it must pay tax on that $10,000. If an LLC earns $10,000, the money is distributed to the members and they individually pay taxes on it.

Corporations and LLC’s shield their owners and members from liability for the entity’s debts. Suppose someone sues the business, claiming that its product injured him. A court orders the business to pay the injured man $1,000,000. The business must pay that amount out of its assets. However, the individual owners or members do not have to cash in their bank accounts or homes to pay it. The most they stand to lose is the amounts of their investments in the business.

The shield is not absolute. A court may hold individual stockholders and members liable in some situations. If they personally and directly injure someone, the shield does not protect them. It may also decide that the corporation is a sham entity. It could do this if the business has not conducted the normal activities of a corporation, such as:

  • Holding regular stockholder meetings
  • Keeping business records separate from those of the owners
  • Investing adequate capital in the business.

Regardless of the shield, the business should carry insurance. The shield cannot protect the time and effort that goes into building a business. An uninsured accident can wipe out all of the business’s assets. Without large additional investments, the business might not survive. The stockholders’ investments in money, time and work will have been wasted.

Also, an individual acting on the business’s behalf may incur personal liability. For example, while driving on company business, a member may injure someone in a car accident. Business liability and auto insurance policies usually insure individual stockholders and members for acts they perform in their roles with the business. Without this coverage, the individual would have to hire his own lawyers and pay judgments out of pocket.

For these reasons, wise business owners buy insurance. They should insure the business’s buildings, property, and liability risks. The personal liability shield is no substitute for insurance protection.

Your Likelihood of Disability Before you Retire

For many American families, the possibility that a breadwinner will become disabled is among the most devastating financial risks that can befall them. In some cases, the purely financial consequences of a severe mid-career disability can be more significant than the death of a breadwinner. This is because life insurance policies don’t pay out in the event of a disability not likely to result in death, and also because a disabled person still requires food, clothing, shelter and care, including medical care – and all these things require money that must come from somewhere.

Disability income insurance, of course, exists to replace the essential income an individual earned prior to becoming disabled. A typical disability policy may replace between 50 percent and 65 percent of pre-disability earnings – tax free if the individual also paid the premiums for his or her policy. That’s not enough for everything, but it’s normally enough to provide for the essentials, while still providing an incentive to get back to work.

Disability insurance premiums can be significant – often between 2 and 4 percent of income and sometimes more than that, depending on age, medical history, amount of coverage and the details of the policy. But is it worth it? Consider these facts, compiled by the Council for Disability Awareness:

  • Any given 20-year-old has a 1 in 4 chance of becoming disabled prior to reaching retirement.
  • About 12 percent of the population – some 37 million Americans, are classified as disabled.
  • 5 percent of the work force – 1 in 20 – were receiving Social Security Disability Benefits as of the close of 2012.
  • Half of them – 2.5 million, were in their 40s or younger and receiving SSDI benefits.
  • One worker out of every eight will be disabled for five years or longer during his or her career.
  • The majority of all personal bankruptcies filed – 62 percent – listed medical debt or medical problems as a contributing factor in 2007.
  • Most disability insurance claimants are women. 56 percent of new claims approved in 2013 were for women beneficiaries. Women are at significant risk of disability relating to child-bearing and childbirth, for example.

 

Think your workers compensation insurance is likely to cover your disability? Think again. Workers compensation only covers injuries arising directly from work-related causes and incidents. That’s only about 5 percent of the total number of disabilities. Your workers compensation insurance generally will not cover you in 19 out of 20 disability cases.

Not all disabilities are total and permanent. But they can still play havoc with your ability to earn a living, as well as your family’s savings. The average individual disability claim lasts for 31.6 months

Top Causes of Disability

Musculoskeletal system and connective tissue disorders account for about 29 percent of new disability claims each year.

Cancer is the 2ndleading cause of new disability claims (15.1 percent) and the fourth leading cause of ongoing claims, according to the Council for Disability Awareness 2014 CDA Long Term Disability Report.

Other top causes of new claims include:

  • Injuries and poisoning (10.3 percent)
  • Mental illness/disorders (8.3 percent)
  • Cardiovascular and circulatory problems (8.7 percent)

Nervous system related disorders account for 7.7 percent of new cases, but 15.2 percent of existing/ongoing claims, making them the 2ndleading cause of ongoing disability.

Calculate Your Own Chances of Becoming Disabled

The Council for Disability Insurance has created an online tool to help you assess the statistical probability that you will eventually become injured or sick and unable to work, based on your age, weight, profession, sex, and a few other factors. To use this tool, the Personal Disability Quotient Calculator, click here.

In most cases, it’s clear that a relatively small disability insurance premium looks affordable, compared to the devastating potential consequences of becoming disabled and unable to work.

 

66 Percent of Small Employers Are Enhancing Their Benefits Package. Here’s How to Keep Up.

Employees are struggling. 41 percent of Millennial employees report they are living paycheck to paycheck, according to a recent report from MetLife. And the Generation X crowd, now sandwiched between the financial burden of child care and caring for aging parents, isn’t doing that much better: 34 percent of them also report they are living paycheck to paycheck – with a similar percentage reporting they feel overwhelmed by the burdens of financial decision making.

And more than ever, today’s workers are looking to employers to step up to provide a relevant package of pay and benefits that meets their needs. 62 percent of employees surveyed reported that they are looking to their employers for more help in gaining more security, specifically via employee benefits. About half of them agree strongly that their benefit package they receive from their employers allow them to experience less anxiety about health and financial issues.

70 percent of employees surveyed also told MetLife researchers that a flexible, customizable benefits package would increase their loyalty to their employer.

Furthermore, smaller employers are ramping up their benefits package to attract talent: Two thirds of all employers nationwide with fewer than 99 employees are planning to add non-medical benefits to their compensation mix.

‘Must-Have’ Benefits

The popularity of medical insurance is well established. And now, under the Affordable Care Act, employers with more than 50 full-time equivalent workers don’t have a choice: They must offer a qualified health plan to their employees working over 30 hours per week.

However, a number of other benefits are proving extremely popular – and many employees are considering these benefits “must haves,” and moving them to the top of the list when they consider their employers’ value proposition.

Among these must-have benefits:

  • Prescription drug coverage
  • 401(k)s or other retirement plan
  • Dental insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Vision care
  • Accident insurance
  • Long term and short-term disability insurance
  • Accidental death & dismemberment insurance
  • Defined benefit pension plans
  • Critical illness insurance
  • Hospital indemnity insurance
  • Financial planning and education workshops
  • Cancer insurance
  • Legal services
  • Pet insurance

 

Workers value one-to-one communication

There has been a tremendous migration to online enrollment and benefits education in recent years. It’s been good for employers, who experience substantial cost savings and reduced strain on HR staff. And on the whole, employees appreciate the additional information available and the convenience that technology provides.

However, an overwhelming majority – 71 percent – say they appreciate and value employer’s efforts at communicating with them face-to-face – especially with non-sales staff. It doesn’t all have to be in-house: Employees also appreciate it when outside benefits professionals come into work to educate and coach them about their benefits package.

One to one communication outdid websites, mobile apps, automatic enrollment and everything else. There’s also some benefit for employers as well: Workers whose employers did engage them in face-to-face, in-person education about their benefits were much more likely to believe that their benefits package was easy to understand and actually did understand much more about their packages than workers who did not have access to in-person help.

Best Practices

The study’s authors recommended employers consider the following measures:

Have a spectrum of non-medical benefits that are relevant for employees in every age group that works for you.

Recognize the importance of supplemental benefits such as accident and critical illness insurance that provide vital “gap” coverage. If many employees are living paycheck to paycheck, this could be invaluable in the event of a crisis in their lives – for very little in premiums.

Beef up your communication and education efforts, both in person and via technology. Partner with an enrollment communication firm.

Integrate financial wellness into your employee wellness plan. Consider workshops, lunch & learns, brown-bag events and other forms of outreach.

Source: Opportunity is Knocking: How Benefits Lay the Groundwork for a Thriving Workplace. MetLife: 2016

Insurance Can Save Landlords Accused of Wrongful Eviction

It’s every landlord’s greatest fear: The problem tenant. The one who swears he’ll have the two months’ rent he owes next week. The one who makes unauthorized changes to the property, then tries to credit the cost against the rent. The one who causes significant damage. At some point, their landlords decide to evict them.

They may feel fully justified in the decision. However, there are serious legal considerations involved. Any landlord who wishes to evict a tenant must understand applicable laws and follow them closely.

Every state has laws that limit the ability of landlords to evict tenants. They permit landlords to evict only for certain specific reasons. They also lay out the process landlords must follow. The laws vary from one state to another, but they tend to require three steps:

  • The landlord must give the tenant a formal notice of a problem. For example, the landlord would send a notice about overdue rent.
  • If the tenant does not resolve the problem, the landlord can take legal action against the tenant.
  • If the judge rules in the landlord’s favor, the tenant must move out of the premises. The landlord has the right to ask law enforcement to forcibly remove a tenant who will not leave voluntarily.

A “wrongful eviction” is one where the landlord violates the eviction laws. One form of wrongful eviction is to order a tenant to leave without following the required process. Another is to make conditions intolerable for the tenant. A tenant who believes he was wrongly evicted may decide to sue the landlord.

Commercial general liability insurance policies include “personal and advertising injury liability coverage.” This insurance pays amounts the insured business owes because of certain offenses against someone else. It also pays the cost of the business’s legal defense.

The definition of “personal and advertising injury” in most policies includes a number of offenses. Among them:

  • Wrongful eviction from
  • Wrongful entry into, or
  • Invasion of the right of private occupancy of

A room, dwelling or premises that a person occupies.

Therefore, the insurance will apply if a former tenant accuses a landlord of wrongful eviction.

The insurance does not apply to every act of wrongful eviction. The landlord will not have coverage for:

Intentionally violating the tenant’s rights. This would include knowingly kicking a tenant out in violation of the eviction laws.

Criminal acts, such as assaulting the tenant or endangering the welfare of her children.

Breach of the rental agreement, such as failing to comply with a condition of the lease.

In all of these situations, the insurance company will not provide a legal defense for the landlord, nor will it pay for any judgments or settlements.

Other provisions in the policy may limit or eliminate coverage. Property owners should discuss these with their insurance agents to gain a full understanding.

Landlords who bend over backward to comply with the laws and treat tenants fairly may still become targets of lawsuits. This important insurance coverage can keep them from financial ruin.

How will you cover your Share of Liability above your Coverage Limits?

Do you have enough liability insurance?  If there were a vehicle accident for which you were at fault, and a family breadwinner for whom you are liable were disabled or killed, would your auto liability policy offer enough coverage to pay for a lifetime of lost wages due to an accident you may have caused?  Keep in mind, the legal system holds you accountable for injuries you cause to others. This may include garnishing your wages and seizing any assets you have to pay off a legal judgment. We’d all like to believe that such events will not have any financial impact on our lives, but if you are a medium to high income earner or own a home, it can financially ruin you and can further result in a huge setback in your standard of living.

Consider what would happen if there were a settlement (or judgment, if it goes to court) of $2,500,000 as a result of an auto accident for which you were liable.  Let’s say you have insurance with a limit of $500,000 per accident.  What would happen?  The auto insurer would pay its $500,000.  Then virtually everything you own would can be fair game for seizure to pay off the additional $2,000,000.  Furthermore, your earnings could be garnished for years to come.   With stakes this high, and considering the relatively modest cost of additional liability coverage, it just makes sense for many people to purchase the added protection of an umbrella policy.

An umbrella policy is insurance that provides additional coverage once the liability limits on your homeowner’s or auto insurance policy are exhausted.  Umbrella policies are typically sold with limits of $1 million to $10 million.  In the example above, if you had a $3 million umbrella policy, the auto insurer would pay the auto policy limit of $500,000, and your umbrella insurance would pay the other $2,000,000 of the $2,500,000 settlement or verdict.  Your assets would not be at risk.

One myth about an umbrella policy is that it’s only needed by the wealthy.  These days the cumulative value of homes, vacation homes, rental property, cars, boats, savings, investments, and so on, owned by many people who don’t consider themselves wealthy, make them vulnerable to liability beyond their auto or homeowner’s insurance limits.  A good question to ask yourself is whether you have assets that you don’t want to put at risk in the event of a catastrophic liability.

An umbrella policy is not limited to covering liability incidents that occur in your car.  Do you have a swimming pool, trampoline, swing set, or other recreational equipment that can lead to accidents? If someone drowned in your pool and you had $500,000 of liability under your homeowners policy, the chances are that the surviving family members will not settle for such a small amount. You umbrella will pick up coverage after that. Most Umbrella policies can save the day if you accidentally posted something on your social media that results in a legal action. This is because most of these policies includes a “Personal Injury” clause which covers things like libel and slander.

How Much Do You Need?

People often reason that the amount of umbrella coverage they need should be the value of their assets, but this might not be adequate.  If, for example, you have assets of $2 million and buy $2 million of coverage, what happens if you’re found liable for a $4 million judgment?  Insurance would pay the first $2 million, plus the limit of the underlying homeowner’s or auto policy, but you could lose a significant amount of your assets because of the shortfall in coverage. The more coverage you get, the more bullet proof your assets become. This is an item of discussion you should have with your insurance agent.

The cost of an umbrella policy is relatively inexpensive. The rate will depend on how many cars you have, if you have rental properties and younger drivers under the age of 21, which will slightly increase the rate. In most cases you can get a 2 million dollar umbrella for about a dollar a day if you have the basics, such as two cars and a home. However even though these policies are inexpensive,  securing an umbrella to protect you should never be done based on cost. It should be done based on what is the best amount of coverage to help prevent any loss of assets. The key is to preserve your quality of life.

Employers Should Protect Themselves Against Employee Benefit Lawsuits

Employment practices and employee benefit-related lawsuits are on the rise – and employers have to be eternally vigilant when it comes to meeting their compliance obligations as plan sponsors.

One recent case in point: Visteon, a global automotive industry supplier, outsourced their payroll and enrollment/disenrollment functions to outside plan administrators – a common practice in just about any industry other than payroll!

The Visteon Case

But because of internal mistakes at the firms that Visteon outsourced these noncore HR functions to, some former employees who should have received COBRA eligibility notices after leaving the firm reported that they never received them. At first it was just a handful. But ultimately 741 coworkers signed on to the class action lawsuit.

Visteon argued that it was not its own mistakes that caused the error. They made a good faith effort to hire outside experts to take over this function for them. Payroll and enrollment, after all, are not core competencies for an auto parts supplier. They were relying on the expertise of these other payroll companies to properly execute these functions and provide these notices.

The court didn’t buy their argument. Rather, they held Visteon responsible for poor internal tracking systems, negligence in overseeing their third party administrators, and failure to accept responsibility for their COBRA notification efforts. That exposed them to the statutory penalty of $110 per worker per day for failure to provide notification.

In the end, for doing what tens of thousands of employers are doing nationwide – relying on third-party administrators to handle payroll functions that are regulated under COBRA, they were slapped with $1.8 million in penalties.

Employers Are Frequent Lawsuit Targets

As much as companies rely on their employees to generate profits, simply having them around and administering their benefit plans potentially exposes employers to significant possible liability. According to a survey from CNA, employment-related disputes are the fastest-growing category of civil lawsuits in America.

Employers face tremendous risk from the potential of lawsuits employees may bring for alleged failure to fulfill their fiduciary duties as sponsors of retirement plans under ERISA, for example, or for accidental or unauthorized leaks of personally identifiable information (PII), which carries significant penalties under HIPAA. Sponsors of defined contribution pension plans, such as 401(k)s, are particularly frequent targets of lawsuits for various fiduciary failures, errors or omissions.

So short of going out of business, how can employers protect themselves against the potential costs of employee benefit-related litigation?

  • Carefully monitor your plan third-party administrators. Insist that they document their own compliance practices to you. Don’t take their word for it.
  • Reconcile your own lists of recently departed employees with your payroll company’s COBRA notifications
  • Understand your commercial general liability insurance policy usually will not cover you against liability arising from improper administration of employee benefit plans, ERISA, COBRA, USERRA, wage & hour laws, Title VII related lawsuits and the like.
  • Consider employment practices liability insurance. Statistically, employers are more likely to file an employment practices liability insurance claim than they are to have a claim against their general liability insurance.
  • Conduct regular reviews of investments and advisers in pension and 401(k) plans. Investments should be reviewed at least annually – and quarterly is not unusual.
  • Ensure that fees paid to 401(k) and other plan administrators are not excessive. You don’t have to go with the cheapest provider (that can be trouble, too!). But if you do choose a higher-fee vendor, document why you made that decision so that you can show your reasoning in court and defend your decision-making as sound and prudent.
  • Invest in data security and human resources compliance expertise.

Disability Insurance Can Save You from Financial Ruin

You likely already have life insurance to protect your family against the financial adversity they could face after your unexpected death. You’ve probably insured your home, cars, and other personal possessions against the financial loss that can result from fire, theft, or damage but what have you done to protect yourself and your family against an injury or sickness that affects your ability to work? Do you have disability insurance?

The reality of how long you and your spouse could stay afloat if one of you were to lose your income due to a disability is sobering. On one income you may no longer have the ability to pay your mortgage, car payments, and other bills. If you are without disability insurance, tapping into home equity, retirement savings or credit cards can offer a temporary solution with damaging long-term consequences. Disability insurance offers an affordable method to maintaining your lifestyle without creating additional debt for your family.

There are many different ways to obtain disability insurance. You may have group coverage at work, through unions or membership groups and, depending on the nature and cause of your disability, you may also qualify for workers’ compensation, Social Security, and veterans’ benefits. Without the benefit of group insurance, individual coverage is a must.

There are many different types of disability insurance contracts and several definitions of disability. Consider whether your contract includes:

  • A favorable definition of total disability that is consistent with the risk of your occupation and, at a minimum, ensures the payment of benefits in the event you suffer a “loss of income.”
  •  A non-cancellable, guaranteed renewable clause that states the insurance company cannot cancel the policy or increase the premium until a certain age (as specified in the policy).
  • Benefits that are payable until age 65 or later.
  • A waiting period consistent with your overall financial plan. The longer you wait to receive benefits after your disability, the lower your premium. You can purchase coverage that provides benefits on the 31st day of disability or up to two years later. Whichever option you choose, make sure you can handle the financial exposure.

 

How will you cover your Share of Liability above your Coverage Limits?

Do you have enough liability insurance?  If there were a vehicle accident for which you were at fault, and a family breadwinner for whom you are liable were disabled or killed, would your auto liability policy offer enough coverage to pay for a lifetime of lost wages due to an accident you may have caused?  Keep in mind, the legal system holds you accountable for injuries you cause to others. This may include garnishing your wages and seizing any assets you have to pay off a legal judgment. We’d all like to believe that such events will not have any financial impact on our lives, but if you are a medium to high income earner or own a home, it can financially ruin you and can further result in a huge setback in your standard of living.

Consider what would happen if there were a settlement (or judgment, if it goes to court) of $2,500,000 as a result of an auto accident for which you were liable.  Let’s say you have insurance with a limit of $500,000 per accident.  What would happen?  The auto insurer would pay its $500,000.  Then virtually everything you own would can be fair game for seizure to pay off the additional $2,000,000.  Furthermore, your earnings could be garnished for years to come.   With stakes this high, and considering the relatively modest cost of additional liability coverage, it just makes sense for many people to purchase the added protection of an umbrella policy.

An umbrella policy is insurance that provides additional coverage once the liability limits on your homeowner’s or auto insurance policy are exhausted.  Umbrella policies are typically sold with limits of $1 million to $10 million.  In the example above, if you had a $3 million umbrella policy, the auto insurer would pay the auto policy limit of $500,000, and your umbrella insurance would pay the other $2,000,000 of the $2,500,000 settlement or verdict.  Your assets would not be at risk.

One myth about an umbrella policy is that it’s only needed by the wealthy.  These days the cumulative value of homes, vacation homes, rental property, cars, boats, savings, investments, and so on, owned by many people who don’t consider themselves wealthy, make them vulnerable to liability beyond their auto or homeowner’s insurance limits.  A good question to ask yourself is whether you have assets that you don’t want to put at risk in the event of a catastrophic liability.

An umbrella policy is not limited to covering liability incidents that occur in your car.  Do you have a swimming pool, trampoline, swing set, or other recreational equipment that can lead to accidents? If someone drowned in your pool and you had $500,000 of liability under your homeowners policy, the chances are that the surviving family members will not settle for such a small amount. You umbrella will pick up coverage after that. Most Umbrella policies can save the day if you accidentally posted something on your social media that results in a legal action. This is because most of these policies includes a “Personal Injury” clause which covers things like libel and slander.

How Much Do You Need?

People often reason that the amount of umbrella coverage they need should be the value of their assets, but this might not be adequate.  If, for example, you have assets of $2 million and buy $2 million of coverage, what happens if you’re found liable for a $4 million judgment?  Insurance would pay the first $2 million, plus the limit of the underlying homeowner’s or auto policy, but you could lose a significant amount of your assets because of the shortfall in coverage. The more coverage you get, the more bullet proof your assets become. This is an item of discussion you should have with your insurance agent.

The cost of an umbrella policy is relatively inexpensive. The rate will depend on how many cars you have, if you have rental properties and younger drivers under the age of 21, which will slightly increase the rate. In most cases you can get a 2 million dollar umbrella for about a dollar a day if you have the basics, such as two cars and a home. However even though these policies are inexpensive,  securing an umbrella to protect you should never be done based on cost. It should be done based on what is the best amount of coverage to help prevent any loss of assets. The key is to preserve your quality of life.

Employee Handbook Serves as a Vital Communications Tool

An employee handbook serves as a vital communications tool between a company and its employees. When well prepared, it informs employees about their employer’s mission, its employment policies and perks, and the consequences of not following the rules-all in a tone appropriate to the reading audience. A comprehensive, clearly written employee handbook also can be a protective shield for an employer to use in a lawsuit or less formal employee confrontation situation.

Set the tone for your handbook by opening with a bit of history about your company, what are its goals and mission, and how employees fit in to this. Your employees, and the products they produce or services they provide, are the face of your company, and your handbook should inspire them to strive for excellence, both individually and as a team. Review the process for employee evaluation and opportunities for employee advancement.

Your handbook should summarize the benefits provided to employees. Briefly describe the health, disability, life, other insurance and retirement benefits plans your company offers, along with work/life programs, absence, vacation and leave policies, and government-mandated benefits. Only brief summaries are appropriate, as the employee handbook is not intended to provide the level of detail found in a summary plan description.

 Safety in the workplace is important for all companies, regardless of industry, and guidelines ensuring this belong in an employee handbook. Rules regarding building security, drugs and alcohol, weapons, and workplace violence should be covered, along with issues specific to the line of work your company is in that impact safety, such as workplace chemicals, protective gear, etc. Also let employees know the procedures to follow in case of an emergency.

Your employee handbook should also cover workplace rules that comprise what amounts to an employee code of conduct. These include, for example, policies on harassment, discrimination, any dress code, and the like.

The handbook is also the place to inform employees of the consequences of not following company rules, whether they be regarding attendance, company property, workplace decorum or job performance. Clearly spell out grounds for firing, along with procedures for disciplinary action, including warnings, probationary periods and termination.

Advances in technology-and its availability in the workplace-have added new layers to employee handbook content. In addition to the topics covered above, today’s employee handbook needs to address appropriate uses of technology in the workplace, and what employees can and can’t do while on the job (blogging, visiting Facebook and Twitter, online shopping, etc.). Parameters of email communications also should be addressed, including transmission of chain mails and links to inappropriate Web sites.

The process of writing the handbook can be farmed out to a firm specializing in employee communications, or undertaken in house. Templates are available that can be used for this purpose; they contain the basic information common to most employee handbooks, and beyond this can be customized to your company. If using the template approach, be sure to run the finished product past your company legal counsel or human resources professional for a final review.