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With hurricane season quickly approaching, human resources professionals should prepare their organizations’ emergency plans now to ensure employees stay updated with crucial information and support, and to make sure business stays on track in the event we’re faced with another storm this summer.

Here’s a checklist organizations can use to prepare for Hurricane Season:

Share Disaster Plans & Emergency Resources Early

In anticipation of a natural disaster, HR leaders are often responsible for setting up communication plans and sharing information so that individual employees can prepare. Some recommended resources to share with those who may be impacted include:

  • National Hurricane Center’s Hurricane Preparedness Guidelines
  • Department of Homeland Security’s Emergency Kit and Supply Checklist
  • Local Evacuation Shelter Information & Maps (including resources for pets)


Test Your Ability to Contact Employees During/After a Disaster, and Vice Versa

It is critical to encourage employees to update their emergency contact information in the organization’s system to ensure you have up-to-date phone numbers and other pertinent details on hand. At Gulfshore Insurance, we activate a secondary disaster hotline for employees only that allows us to convey critical messages before, during, and after a storm. If employees have cellular service, then they are able to call in to receive timely updates on the agency’s status of operations. A phone tree is another widely used method for communicating with employees, particularly if your organization has more than a handful of employees.

Consider an Alternative When Cell Service Becomes Difficult

While cell phone towers may go down and access to the internet or SMS capabilities may be affected, texting may provide one of the best options for staying in touch. Many organizations utilize an SMS instant-messaging system that allows them to notify employees about operations and other pertinent details. As such, it is important to remind employees about the need for extended batteries and backups in order to effectively use this system.

Extend Deadlines, Alert Vendors, and Pre-Schedule Remote Check-Ins

Business, of course, goes on in the rest of the world and deadlines still loom. If you have any vendors outside the affected areas with employee deadlines you should start working with them to get an extension. Leadership and operations teams may want to pre-schedule call-in times and provide access to a conference line. The calls will allow you to effectively plan for business continuity and report on efforts to check in with your employees.

Consider an Advance Payroll

Many of the activities HR teams will need to address in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster will, in some instances, be things that have been prepared for ahead of time. As employees get back in touch, additional needs will be identified, but access to payroll funds and cash, as well as a sense of job security, are often uppermost in the minds of staff members. The first paycheck after a storm can be is critical for employees. Remember that if extreme power outages occur, not only will banks be closed, but ATMs will probably not work either–cash is king!

Be Flexible with Attendance and Time Off Policies

Employees who have been displaced from their homes or have evacuated entirely may be anxious about job continuity even as they’re struggling with basics like getting access to food, shelter, gas, and clothing. Part of the communication prior to the weather event will ideally have provided employees with clarity around items such as pay continuity, use of PTO, or flexibility in the company’s attendance policies. As employees return to work, whenever that may be, they’ll still be dealing with numerous aftereffects. Providing consideration for additional time-off without penalty will be important to employees who must keep appointments with insurance adjustors, rebuild their homes, or find new living arrangements; this time may be with or without pay as appropriate and in alignment with the Fair Labor Standards Act for employers in the U.S.

The IRS recently announced in a revenue ruling that it will let taxpayers stick with the original $6,900 contribution limit for family coverage and not face excess contribution penalties. As you may recall from our previous alert, in March, due to the new inflation-adjustment calculations required under the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, the IRS announced that the $6,900 limit would be reduced by $50 to $6,850. (The contribution limit for single coverage for 2018 is $3,450.)

The IRS is now allowing taxpayers to treat $6,900 as the annual limitation on deductions for an individual with family coverage, and an individual who receives a distribution from an HSA in excess of the $6,850 limit published in Rev. Proc. 2018-18 may treat that distribution as the result of a “mistake of fact due to reasonable cause” under Q&A-37 of Notice 2004-50. The portion of a distribution (including earnings) that an individual repays to the HSA by April 15, 2019, will not be included in the individual’s income under Sec. 223(f)(2) or be subject to the 20% additional tax under Sec. 223(f)(4). The repayment will not be subject to the excise tax on excess contributions under Sec. 4973(a)(5).

Click here to read the IRS Bulletin.

Last June, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law that explains how patients can receive medical marijuana under Florida’s related amendment from 2016. Amendment 2, Florida’s “medical marijuana law” passed with 71% of the vote and took effect January 3, 2017. The amendment required lawmakers to come up with a description of how patients can qualify and receive medical marijuana by July 3, 2017. As an employer or employee in Florida, here’s what the new marijuana laws mean for you.

Employers still have the right to a Drug-Free Workplace

While court challenges may arise, employers are generally safe since the law doesn’t require accommodation for medical marijuana users.The medical marijuana amendment to Florida’s law still preserves employers’ rights to enforce drug-free workplace policies. Despite patients being able to legally qualify and receive medical marijuana, if their employer enforces a drug-free environment, the patient won’t be able to work. The amendment does not limit an employer’s ability to “establish, continue, or enforce a drug-free policy.” It does not make it mandatory for employers to accommodate patients receiving medical marijuana or working under the influence of marijuana. The section also states that it does not “create a cause of action against an employer for discrimination or wrongful discharge.” Since the passing of the amendment in Florida, employers have worried about what it could mean for drug use in the workplace. Until courts rule otherwise, companies must not tolerate testing positive for marijuana under the drug-free workplace.

Medical marijuana and employee drug testing

According to the new medical marijuana law, patients must have a “qualifying condition” to receive medical marijuana. Conditions include cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, seizures, and terminal illness. Since the passing of the new law, employers and employees have wondered what it might mean for drug use in the workplace. The answer? Not much, thanks to the section not granting employees the right to use marijuana at work if an employer has a policy against it. If an employee qualifies for legal marijuana use, he or she must still obey an employer’s rules for using drugs at work or having marijuana in the system. If an employer wishes to maintain or implement drug testing rules prior to hiring an employee, he or she has this right.

Under current statutory and case law, an employee that does not pass the drug test, even if they have a prescription for medical marijuana use, does not have a case for discrimination against the employer because the Statute that governs the Florida Drug Free workplace still prohibits use of any drugs scheduled as Class One by the Federal government.. Of course this will be eventually be played out in courts and the possibility remains that the courts could at some time rule in favor of employees – especially as the opioid epidemic worsens and more and more states are looking to medical marijuana as a better alternative to chronic pain relief. Until that time, the statute is clear that marijuana use, medical or otherwise, is not permitted under the Florida Drug Free Workplace rules.

The IRS just announced that the 2018 HSA contribution limit for individuals with family coverage (which includes employee/spouse and employee/child[ren], as well as employee/family elections) under a high deductible health plan (HDHP) has been reduced from $6,900 to $6,850. The individual contribution limit remains unchanged at $3,450.

The IRS recalculated the limit because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that passed at the end of 2017 applies the so-called chained consumer price index (chained CPI) to increases in HSA and a few other employee benefit contribution limits.

Action Steps:
As an employer who offers one or more Qualified High Deductible Health Plans (QHDHPs) with the corresponding HSA contribution allowance, you should notify your employees of this reduction in the family HSA contribution limit, and advise them that adjustments in contributions for the remainder of 2018 may be needed. Employees may need to change their HSA elections going forward to comply with the new limit. Also, any individuals with family QHDHP coverage who may have already contributed $6,900 for 2018 must receive a refund of the excess contribution in order to avoid an excise tax.

Click here to read the Internal Revenue Bulletin.

As you stock up on water, sandbags, supplies, don’t forget to refill any prescriptions you might need. Even if you aren’t due for a refill, the state Office of Insurance Regulation has issued a notice to all health care providers that they are obligated to waive time restrictions of prescription refills.

On September 4, Governor Rick Scott declared a State of Emergency in those areas and counties that may be impacted by Hurricane Irma. To support our members who live in areas affected by the Declaration and to comply with state law, Insurance Companies will allow members to get their medications filled early upon request.

By statute, in the event of a declared state of emergency or a National Weather Service hurricane warning, insurers must authorize payment to pharmacies for at least a 30-day supply of prescribed medications. This statutory obligation has kicked in with the Governor’s Executive Order for Hurricane Irma, and Florida residents may refill their prescriptions early in all 67 counties.

The memo to insurers reads as follows:

Hurricane Irma – Early Prescription Refill Reminder Notice
DATE: September 5, 2017
TO: All Health Insurers, Managed Care Organizations and Other Health Entities
RE: Florida Law Reminder for Early Prescription Refills
DECLARATION OF EMERGENCY BY GOVERNOR
This notice is a reminder that all health insurers, managed care organizations and other health entities must comply with the provisions of section 252.358, Florida Statutes, which allows for early prescription refills in the event that the Governor issues an Executive Order declaring a State of Emergency or when a county Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is activated. This mandate remains in effect until the Governor’s Executive Order is rescinded or expires. See below for reference materials:
Florida Statute language:
Section 252.358 – Emergency-preparedness prescription medication refills.
—All health insurers, managed care organizations, and other entities that are licensed by the Office of Insurance Regulation and provide prescription medication coverage as part of a policy or contract shall waive time restrictions on prescription medication refills, which include suspension of electronic “refill too soon” edits to pharmacies, to enable insureds or subscribers to refill prescriptions in advance, if there are authorized refills remaining, and shall authorize payment to pharmacies for at least a 30-day supply of any
prescription medication, regardless of the date upon which the prescription had most recently been filled by a pharmacist, when the following conditions occur:
(1) The person seeking the prescription medication refill resides in a county that:
(a) Is under a hurricane warning issued by the National Weather Service;
(b) Is declared to be under a state of emergency in an executive order issued by the Governor; or
(c) Has activated its emergency operations center and its emergency management plan.
(2) The prescription medication refill is requested within 30 days after the origination date of the conditions stated in this section or until such conditions are terminated by the issuing authority or no longer exist. The time period for the waiver of prescription medication refills may be extended in 15- or 30-day increments by emergency orders issued by the Office of Insurance Regulation. This section does not excuse or exempt an insured or subscriber from compliance with all other terms of the policy or contract providing prescription medication coverage. This section takes effect July 1, 2006.
The Governor has issued an emergency order for all counties and many counties have activated their EOC’s.
PLEASE BE GOVERNED ACCORDINGLY