Effective Benefit Plan Communication

The way that employers communicate benefits information to employees has a tremendous impact on how well the programs are understood, utilized and perceived by employees. Providing your employees with ample informative resources will help better convey your message. 

Managers and supervisors play a crucial role in effectively communicating essential information about executive benefits, self-insured and fully-insured plans, employee wellness programs, and insurance for small businesses to their employees. The use of scripted or “canned” materials can be particularly beneficial in ensuring accurate and consistent dissemination of these details.

Given their direct interaction with employees, managers and supervisors are well-positioned to gauge their team’s understanding and tailor the presentation of benefits information accordingly. They also serve as approachable points of contact for any questions or concerns that employees may have about these various benefit programs.

Encouraging open dialogues between employees and their supervisors or managers regarding benefits information is essential. Employees should feel comfortable seeking clarification, expressing dissatisfaction, and discussing any problems related to executive benefits, self-insured and fully-insured plans, employee wellness programs, and insurance for small businesses.

However, while utilizing managers and supervisors as conduits for sharing benefits information is common practice, caution should be exercised. To ensure accuracy and avoid misunderstandings, employers should provide proper training and support to their managerial staff. This will help them deliver the information effectively and address any complex inquiries confidently.

Communicating inaccurate information to employees is always a major concern when using managers and supervisors to relate benefits information. Keep in mind that misinformation not only causes an employee relation problem, but has the possibility of causing litigation as well. Consider these tips to avoid problems: 

  • Consider allowing only specific Human Resources personnel to discuss benefits information with employees. 
  • Remind those who may be asked questions regarding benefits, such as supervisors and managers, to review their plan documents carefully. They should refer to the HR department any question they are at all unsure how to address. 
  • Whether formal or informal, do not make promises regarding any aspect of the benefits plan that the company will not be able to keep. 
  • State in the plan documents that plan amendments are to be made only in writing and approved by the corporate representative or plan administrator, if applicable. 

Even if written material about benefits information is not an official plan document, informal written promises can still prevail in court. As a result, make sure even informal written communications about the plan is consistent with the official documents before distributing. 

When it comes to understanding their rights under a specific employer-sponsored group health plan, employees often turn to summary plan descriptions. These documents play a critical role, and in case of any discrepancies between the summary plan document and the plan documents themselves, the summary plan description can have significant legal weight, even holding up in court. Given this, ensuring the accuracy, currency, clarity, and alignment of the summary plan document with the plan documents, handbooks, and all other benefits information becomes paramount.

To safeguard against potential issues, it is crucial to explicitly state in the summary plan description, handbooks, and other benefits communications that the plan document takes absolute precedence over them. This essential information should be prominently positioned in a separate paragraph, employing larger, italic, or boldfaced type, or using a distinct border to ensure its immediate visibility.

Furthermore, these considerations apply not only to the employer-sponsored group health plan but also extend to other benefits like the CEO benefits package, wellness programs, and employee wellness resources. Keeping all these aspects in mind will help foster clear and accurate communication, empowering employees to make informed decisions about their benefits and rights.

As a safety measure, be sure that the summary plan description, handbooks and other benefits communications state clearly that the plan document has absolute authority over them. This information should appear in a separate paragraph in a prominent position. Consider using larger, italic or boldfaced type, or by using a distinct border to make the information readily apparent. 

Other general helpful tips include: 

  • Keep a copy of each communication or disclosure sent to employees, however informal. 
  • Grant discretion to fiduciaries in the plan document. 
  • Make sure all documents relating to the plan do not include any misleading information before distributing. Request additional information from the plan administrator regarding information that you believe may be misleading. 
  • Reserve the right to amend the plan at any time for any reason. 

Since Sept. 23, 2012, health insurance issuers and group health plans have been required to provide an easy-to-understand summary about health plans benefits and coverage. 

Utilizing these simplistic health plan summaries can help you explain health benefits with your employees.

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