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​Reports on new benefits that have attracted employers' attention—even if many employers have not yet adopted those options—were among readers' favorites this year. Stories on controlling health costs and complying with new regulations also proved popular. Here are seven benefit articles from SHRM Online that grabbed readers' attention.


No. 1: States Impose Paid Family Leave as Congress Weighs National Policy

What employer doesn't look forward to dealing with a patchwork of state and municipal laws mandating paid leave? Well, almost none, it seems. As momentum builds for federal paid-family-leave legislation, employers can help shape government policies so they make sense for both companies and employees.

Compensation and benefits are often intertwined. For example, employers complying with the Department of Labor's final rule raising the salary threshold for overtime pay in January 2020 should not overlook how the new requirements may affect employee benefit plans, especially if they have separate benefit tiers for salaried/exempt and hourly/nonexempt workers or use exempt and nonexempt status to determine benefit eligibility and contribution levels.
Large U.S. employers expect their 2020 health care costs to rise 6 percent without any cost management adjustments and by 5 percent if they make changes to their plans. Here's what employers are doing to rein in plan premiums, including promoting telehealth services and offering decision support and claims assistance tools. True, these offerings add to current costs, but, the thinking goes, they can help to save money in the long term by improving health outcomes.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Health Care Costs]

No. 4: IRS Final Rule Eases 401(k) Hardship Withdrawals, Requires Amending Plans

Making hardship withdrawals from 401(k) plans will be easier for plan participants starting in 2020—and so will starting to save again afterward, under a new IRS final rule that had many employers amending plan documents before year-end. The new rule also prompted plan administrators to consider changes to summary plan descriptions and other 401(k) materials. From small changes flow big compliance and communications adjustments.
Employers continue to roll out innovative approaches to helping employees pay down student debt. Last year, a big story was that some companies had figured out how to let workers who are paying down their loans through salary deferral receive employer-matching contributions to their 401(k) plans. This year, the story had a twist: Some companies now allow employees to exchange accrued but unused paid time off (PTO) for payments to their student loans. Whatever form it takes, student loan repayment aid can help hire and retain loan-burdened graduates.

No. 6: New Final Rule Lets Employees Use HRAs to Buy Health Insurance

Beginning in January 2020, a new regulation lets employers of all sizes fund individual coverage health reimbursement arrangements (ICHRAs)—pronounced "ick-rahs"—a new kind of HRA that gives employers without a group coverage plan a way to help workers purchase their own health insurance on the Affordable Care Act's public exchange. Some see a revolutionary transformation to employer-provided coverage down the road while others think ICHRAs are generating a lot of buzz and not much else. The next few years may tell.

No. 7: Many Older Workers Would Prefer to Ease into Retirement

Phased retirement programs allow older workers to reduce their working hours and transition into retirement while sharing their knowledge with other employees. This is why forward-looking organizations are more likely to offer phased retirement opportunities. This article was the first part of a popular four-part series on benefits for older workers and includes links to the installments that followed.

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