5 ways to help employees with special needs dependents

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The emotional toll of caregiving or living with a disability can often be unintentionally overlooked by employers, but doing so could limit the full potential of some members of your workforce. If employers are committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment, they must also consider adjusting the benefits they offer to make all employees feel they are valued and integral to the success of their company.

To get started, here are five important considerations for employers to keep in mind when structuring workplace benefits to better accommodate individuals with special needs and disabilities, and their caregivers.

Provide the right level of support. A recent survey from and National Family Caregivers Association found 64% of working parents who care for a child with special needs believe those responsibilities negatively affect their work performance. As an employer, addressing the level of support and guidance needed by this subset of your workforce is important. If you don’t already have the following resources in place, consider offering them to your employees:

· Access to an employee assistance program for counseling services and emotional support

· Access to backup caregiving services when a caregiver’s typical adult or child care arrangements fall through

· Personal leave policies to tend to a matter outside “normal circumstances,” such as the birth of a child or bereavement

· Access to insurance that provides ad-hoc legal and financial services such as document preparation, financial guidance or representation in court

Offer a health savings account. Most benefit administrators know that HSAs can be a powerful tool when it comes to saving for healthcare costs in retirement. They can also be particularly important for employees with disabilities who might anticipate higher-than-normal prescription drug costs during their retirement years. HSAs also offer many benefits: contributions are tax-free, money within an account grows on a tax-deferred basis and there is no tax penalty when funds are used to cover the cost of qualified medical expenses. Most importantly, unspent funds can remain in the account from year to year and can be passed on to a beneficiary.

If an HSA isn’t in line with your benefits offering, consider providing your employees with the right contact for a local bank or financial institution where they can purchase one on their own. To qualify, they must be under age 65 and carry a high-deductible health insurance plan.

Inform employees about beneficiary choices. Many HR professionals know to advise their employees against naming a minor or even young adult child as beneficiary on a retirement plan. We now that they often lack the financial and emotional maturity to manage a large sum of money. For parents of children with disabilities, the advice is the same, but the reasoning is often very different. Adults with disabilities are only eligible for Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid if their total assets are below $2,000. So, if a child were to become a beneficiary of his or her parents’ retirement savings, this could undercut that child’s ability to receive government benefits after age 18.

When it comes to beneficiary elections, engage in conversations with your employees to ensure they are making choices that protect their financial security in both the long and short term.

Discuss the value of protection. Disability insurance becomes especially relevant for employees with a condition or injury that could keep them out of work for long periods of time, or for parents of children with disabilities whose income must sustain two generations. Not only do parents of children with disabilities have to save for their own retirement, but they also have to save enough to ensure their child can live out the rest of his or her life comfortably with the care they require. As an employer, offering a group life insurance policy could be a good starting point. It could also be beneficial to give employees the option to pay extra for additional coverage as needed. This typically comes at a minimal expense to your company.

The importance of life insurance is magnified for caregivers, and selecting the right policy can be extremely complex. Despite this need, a Voya Financial survey found only 28% of employees report that their organization provides financial and retirement planning resources geared to employees with disabilities or their caregivers. Employers can help by providing a referral or access point to an outside financial professional who is experienced with estate planning for individuals with disabilities and their caregivers.

Don’t assume your employees know what is available to them. Selecting benefits can be overwhelming. Many employees spend the majority of their time focused on retirement and health coverage, glazing over the rest. Be sure to stay connected with your employees throughout the year, offering more hands-on guidance and support during open enrollment. Consider scheduling seminars and lunch-and-learns, and open your door for one-on-one meetings upon request.

It’s important that your employees know you support them — both as members of your workforce and as people. Remember, in offering a holistic benefits package, you’re making an investment in your employees. By tailoring these offerings for a diverse population, you are investing in diverse perspectives and skill sets that will contribute to the success of your organization now and in the future.

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Disability insurance Disability discrimination ADA Benefit management Benefit strategies Benefit compliance