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Monthly Archives

September 2015

What’s more secure; financial records locked in a filing cabinet or financial records stored in the cloud?

By Cyber Security Awareness | No Comments

microsoftblog-week3Pop quiz time. What’s more secure; financial records locked in a filing cabinet or financial records stored in the cloud?

If you don’t understand how cloud security works, you probably said the filing cabinet. It’s time for a little mythbusting about how secure your paperless office could be.

Last week, Cindy Bates posted on the Microsoft SMB Blog about the benefits of a completely paperless office. Like Delta Airlines, who recently switched to the paperless cockpit, it’s possible for any office or organization to ditch the dead trees and move entirely into the digital space.

One of the first questions decision makers ask when considering the paperless office is “how secure is this?” It’s a fair question, so let’s consider Delta’s paperless cockpit example and overall data security.

The problem with paper is that, well, it’s paper. Paper gets lost, it burns, it can be misfiled and disappear. It’s only as secure as its physical location. If that location is a locked filing cabinet (or a vault under Fort Knox), if someone really wanted to get to it, they could.

A file in the cloud cannot burn, be stolen, accidentally left behind in a restroom, or any other number of things that could affect a hard copy of important information. For a recent example, take a look at the Internet Archive, whose scanning facility in San Francisco recently caught fire. Although no data was stored in their San Francisco office, if it had been, cloud redundancies would have prevented any loss.

But what about a data center, such as what powers Windows Azure or Office 365? Let’s start with physical security: data centers are monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A team of ninjas could, in theory, break in, but they’d still have to know which of the thousand machines contained your exact data—so unless you’ve upset the cast of Ocean’s 11, it’s significantly less likely than an office fire that could destroy physical data.

In addition, with Office 365, data transmitted across networks is encrypted—so if some agency (or other villain) happens to tap the wires, they still won’t be able to read your files.

While a move to a paperless office does not entirely guarantee data security—there are still those ninjas to think about—it is significantly more secure than leaving your information in paper form, where it could be destroyed or stolen with greater ease.

It’s just one more reason to go paperless.

 

Five Health Insurance Options for College Students

By Life and Health | No Comments

collegestudentCollege students usually don’t think about illness as they decorate their dorm rooms and prepare for classes, but the common cold, the need for birth control and medical emergencies are reality on college campuses. Health insurance ensures students can access the medical treatment they need. This year, students can be prepared thanks to five health insurance options.

1. Stay on the Parents’ Plan

Health care reform allows students younger than 26 to remain on their parents’ health insurance plan. For the best medical care, students should verify that their parents’ plan includes in-network doctors close to campus. Otherwise, they could face large medical bills if they need treatment or they would have to wait until vacations when they can see their family doctor.

2. Buy an Obamacare Policy

Students who have limited income may qualify for a subsidized Obamacare policy. They may enroll on November 1.

3. Apply for Medicaid

Low-income students who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level may qualify for Medicaid insurance coverage. The parents will need to apply if the student is considered a dependent.

4. Purchase Catastrophic Coverage

This type of insurance policy features a low premium and high deductible. Students find it attractive because they can afford the monthly premiums and then are covered if they are in a car accident or other medical disaster. Unfortunately, deductibles can be as high as $6,000, which strains most college student’s budgets, and some students may not seek routine treatment because they can’t afford the deductible.

5. Sign up for the College’s Health Plan

Many colleges provide health insurance to students who would not otherwise be covered. This option is beneficial for older students, and a student’s financial aid package can pay for it. These plans may include limited physician participation and may not cover treatment for a student who’s hurt while intoxicated.

With five health insurance options, college students can receive the emergency medical treatment and routine care they need. That’s good news for students and their families who should discuss their options with an insurance agent today.

Is a Health Savings Account Right for You?

By Life and Health | No Comments

healthWhen choosing a health insurance plan, you may also have the option to select a Health Savings Account (HSA). It helps to offset the out-of-pocket costs associated with the high-deductible health insurance plans that are so popular today. As many as 17.4 million or 6.2 percent of insured Americans are enrolled in an HSA. Is this type of account right for you?

What is an HSA? 

Created in 2003, HSAs allow you to save tax-free money in a checking account or investment account. You can use that money to pay your deductible and a variety of other qualified medical expenses.

Do you Qualify for an HSA?

The High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) you choose determines if you qualify for an HSA. These plans usually feature a low monthly premium and allow you to save money in an HSA for medical expenses. Eligible plans include an individual deductible of $1,300 with an out-of-pocket maximum under $6,450.

Do You Have Significant Qualified Medical Expenses?

If you expect to need surgery, have a chronic illness or want to become pregnant, an HSA will come in handy because it allows you to save money in preparation to pay for these expenses. Additionally, IRS Publication 502 outlines qualified medical expenses. They include:

  • Dental visits and procedures
  • Vision exams and eyeglasses
  • Deductibles and co-pays
  • Lab and testing
  • Medical procedures
  • First aid supplies

Can You Afford the Contributions?

According to IRS rules, you as an individual can contribute up to $3,350 per year in your HSA. Elect to have money deducted from your paycheck, and it’s not taxed. You may also deposit after-tax money into the account regularly.

Do you Want to Save Money for Your Future?

The money you invest in an HSA accumulates interest, rolls over each year and can sit in the account indefinitely. As you age, you can use the funds to pay for Medicare premiums, nursing care and other qualified expenses.

Is an HSA right for you? Talk to your insurance agent for more details. With this investment, you can afford to take care of your health.

How to Switch From Whole to Term Life Insurance

By Life and Health | No Comments

life insWhole life insurance is one of several life insurance options you can invest in. It provides coverage for as long as you pay the premiums, and you can withdraw cash from the benefits balance before you die and pay for travel, medical care or other expenses.

Whether your parents purchased a whole life policy for you when you were young or you purchased it as an investment for your future, you can convert it to a term life policy. A term policy offers coverage for a specific length of time. Since it’s often more affordable than a whole life policy, many people convert and invest the money they save into a retirement account. To convert your policy, follow these steps.

1. Decide how much coverage you need.

Insurance experts recommend you buy an insurance policy with coverage that’s at least eight times and as much as 12 times your annual salary. This way, your survivors can pay your funeral expenses, repay debt and provide financially for your dependents.

2. Purchase a term life policy that works for you. 

Before you cancel your whole life policy, purchase a term life policy. Most term policies require a medical exam, and companies screen for risks like smoking, obesity or risky hobbies. There’s a chance you won’t qualify for a term policy or be able to get the amount of coverage you need, so always have a term policy in place before you convert.

3. Cancel your whole life policy.

Now that your term life policy is in place, cancel your whole life policy. Don’t just stop paying premiums, though. Contact your whole life insurance agent and request to cash out your policy and have the funds transferred to the account of your choice. Otherwise, you may lose any money you had invested.

Switching from whole life insurance to term life insurance is pretty simple. When you decide you’re ready to convert, talk to your insurance agent. He or she can assist you in following these three steps and in getting the coverage you need at a price you can afford.

Should You Buy Life Insurance Through Work?

By Life and Health | No Comments

heartMany employee benefits packages include basic life insurance. If your employee offers this benefit, ask yourself a few questions as you decide if you should buy it or not.

How much coverage is offered?

Typically, employee-sponsored life insurance policies provide benefits that equal one year’s salary. This coverage may be adequate to pay for the funeral and other expenses of a single person with no dependents, but you’ll need more coverage if you have a family, mortgage or debt. Ideally, your life insurance policy benefits should total eight times your annual salary.

Can you keep the policy if you quit or lose your job?

Because your employer-sponsored life insurance policy is part of your benefits package, you may be unable to keep it after you lose your job, switch to part-time status or quit or if your employer goes out of business. Buy an individual policy if you want to guarantee coverage no matter what happens with your job.

Can you afford the premiums?

The life insurance policy your employer offers may be free, but you still want to shop around. Another company may offer better coverage for an affordable lower price.

Is there a medical exam?

Most life insurance policies require medical exams and charge higher premiums to consumers with preexisting medical conditions like diabetes or heart disease or who smoke or are overweight. If your employer’s life insurance coverage does not include a medical exam, sign up for the maximum coverage.

Is the insurance company reputable?

To save money, your employer may choose a life insurance company with a low rating, which means you may not get a payout when you need it. Check the company’s A.M. Best rating to make sure it’s reputable. If not, search elsewhere for reliable coverage.

Purchasing your employer’s group life insurance makes sense in some cases. Do your homework, though, to make sure you’re getting enough coverage at the best rate. If not, purchase an individual policy that gives you and your loved ones peace of mind.

Off-Site Events Can Result in Workers’ Comp Claims

By Workplace Safety | No Comments

teamworkWhen most employers think of workers’ comp claims, they understandably focus mainly on situations and equipment within the workplace that may cause an injury to employees. However, many fail to consider that even some injuries that occur outside the workplace may still qualify as a workers’ comp claim. While these off-site events bring many benefits, such as a morale boost, they bring risks to the employer as well.

Company-Sponsored Off-Site Functions
Company-sponsored, off-site functions serve a variety of purposes ranging from company league softball games and picnics which boost morale, to retreats aimed at discussing strategic initiatives. Many employers believe that if they state that the event is voluntary that it relieves them of any responsibility for injury, but that isn’t the case. If the employee can prove that mandatory attendance at the event was implied, then their injures fall under workers’ comp. Additionally, courts have ruled that such injuries are valid workers’ comp claims even though they were not received while performing regular job duties.
To complicate matters even further, some employee claims may fall under workers’ comp while others would not. For example, if the company appoints someone to organize an event, there is an implied expectation for them to attend. Thus, their injuries would be covered under workers’ comp. However, other workers may not have felt they had to attend. Thus, their injuries would not fall under workers’ comp.

Employee-Organized Events
Even events that are not specifically company sponsored but that are organized by the employees themselves can bring workers’ comp woes. This could include a bowling night organized by one of the departments or even a going away party for another employee. In the case of employee-organized events, the business owner, executive leadership and the HR department should be very careful to not encourage attendance, which would change the event from a voluntary one to one that has implied mandatory attendance. Additionally, it’s imperative that the company not provide any financial assistance for the event, even in renting the location or purchasing food or drinks.

Do You Need Business Interruption Insurance?

By Workplace Safety | No Comments

00_closed-largeBusiness owners understand the importance of maintaining adequate insurance coverage to prevent large out-of-pockets costs in the event of a catastrophe. However, many don’t consider the additional loss of income that they will suffer while a business is closed for repairs. Renovations and rebuilding due to a fire or damage from a natural disaster can result in significant loss of income while the business is shut down. Purchasing business interruption insurance can help replace this lost income.

Business Interruption Coverage Basics

A business interruption insurance policy provides monetary assistance in the case of lost revenue due to a business being forced to shut down. The reasons for business closure are typically limited to damage from a natural disaster, a fire or a limited number of other events included in the policy. Additionally, there is typically a 48 hour waiting period before the coverage begins after a claim is submitted. The business interruption policy will reimburse business owners for the following expenses:

  • Lost revenue that would have been earned had the business remained open. This amount is based on past financial records for the business.
  • Operating expenses such as rent, utilities or other expenses that continue even though the business is not currently operating.

The prices for business interruption coverage vary because they are based on the amount of risk that the individual business presents. For example, a law office presents a much lower risk of fire than a restaurant and thus would have lower premiums.

Which Businesses Benefit? 

Each company must measure its risk of financial loss to determine if business interruption insurance would benefit them. In performing an evaluation, business owners should consider the following aspects of their day-to-day operations.

  • Does the business have other locations which could continue running and producing income while one was shut down?
  • Does each location have specific revenue-generating tasks that can’t be performed by the other locations?
  • Does the business location or locations have specialized equipment or facilities that would take a significant amount of time to repair or service?

 

Task Training: Tools, Ergonomics, Personnel, Safety

By Workplace Safety | No Comments

Standard Operation Procedures (SOP) direct employees to complete tasks correctly, the first time, safely. Effective SOPs are written and cover five areas of concern:
takss

  1. Task Protocol. How to complete the task. This instruction may be step-by-step or simply a quality standard. Be as specific as the results you seek.
  1. Include the list of tools, equipment or machinery required to complete the task correctly. With this list, describe inspection procedures to assure tools are in good working order. For example, inspect screwdriver or chisel edges for any chipping or cracking. Chipped or cracked tools can splinter and injure the operator. Make sure machine or power tool guards are in place and functioning properly. Again, be specific.
  1. Will the planned work area force an employee into an unusual or uncomfortable posture? Is safety better served by removing a component and repairing it on a bench or fixing it in place? The weight of the component and ease of removal may be mitigating factors. Think through the process before beginning the task.
  1. Do you have enough labor assigned to a task to complete the operation safely? Do you have the correct skill leveled employees? If not, can you outsource the operation?
  1. Walk through the process as a mental exercise to assure completeness of instruction. Add notes for proper personal protection equipment, and warnings against poor apparel choices, like loose clothes around spinning shafts. List safety requirements at the beginning and end of the SOP.

So why go through this process of SOPs? First, they set quality and safety standards. Second, most businesses, and consider construction, experience new processes or conditions on an ongoing basis. Things happen which require a quick response.

The thought process described above becomes second nature to employees faced with new tasks but no SOP. They learn how to plan a job as step one towards completion. Completing work correctly the first time is profitable and safe operations. Implementing these disciplines together as part of the planning stage helps your labor productivity.

Preventing the Major Causes of Workplace Back Pain

By Workplace Safety | No Comments

office backOne of the most common causes of workplace injury is basic back pain. Persistent back pain is caused by a variety of reasons and can affect those in physically demanding jobs, such as construction, as well as those in office jobs. In addition to increasing absenteeism and lowering production and efficiency, back pain also causes a significant number of workers’ comp claims each year.

Causes of Workplace Back Pain
Although many things can contribute to back pain in the workplace, there are three main causes that occur most frequently.

  • Excessive lifting- Lifting objects that are too heavy or lifting them incorrectly often leads to back pain that can persist for long periods of time.
  • Repetitive motion- Those who perform the same tasks daily for extended periods of time are more prone to experiencing back pain. This is particularly true of individuals who work in a factory or production line and for office workers.
  • Improper posture- Improper posture also contributes to back pain and is primarily a problem for office workers who sit at a desk for most of the day and those who must stand for long periods.

Preventing Back Pain Injuries in the Workplace
No injury can be completely avoided, but employers can help employees prevent back pain injuries by training them on the proper techniques that can prevent back strain. Office staff and those who stand for long periods should be encouraged not to slouch, which causes muscle strain. When sitting, knees should be at a 90 degree angle to properly align the spine. If needed, a stool to support the feet can help achieve this.

Employers should provide back braces to those who are required to lift objects as part of their duties. Signs should also be posted in the workplace indicating the proper lifting technique and the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted by an individual. Finally, modify the workplace to eliminate repetitive tasks as much as possible. For example, a phone operator can use a headset to avoid repetitive motions on a switchboard.

Loss Prevention Plans: Not Just for Retailers

By Personal Perspective | No Comments

loss preventionLoss prevention is typically associated with retailers and businesses that sell tangible goods. However, the problem also affects businesses of other types as well. In addition to the theft of physical inventory, loss can occur in the monetary sense. In fact, every business that has employees or allows anyone other than the owners to access computer systems and cash registers is susceptible to potential losses.

Types of Business Losses

In addition to the loss of physical merchandise, such as clothing and household goods, there are many other forms of losses. Restaurants, coffee shops and markets much be alert for the loss of food products. Other businesses which conduct financial transactions must be vigilant for the loss of money or the lack of reporting of sales. These business losses occur in three major ways including internal employee theft, external theft by customers or strangers and loss due to errors in accounting or sales processes.

Spotting the Signs of Loss

Spotting the signs of these various types of losses requires that owners look for specific indicators.

Internal employee theft can be identified by:

  • Missing cash from registers
  • Unexplainable refunds or voids in sales transactions
  • Unusual or frequent discounts applied to sales transactions
  • Individuals who hang around but only purchase from a certain employee

The signs of external theft are slightly easier to identify and include:

  • Missing merchandise
  • Empty hangers or empty packaging with no product inside
  • Inventory audits that reveal a substantial numbers imbalance

Errors are a common cause of loss at all types of businesses and can be identified by the following:

  • Employee’s assigning improper coding numbers to sales or transactions
  • Not checking shipments to ensure that the proper merchandise is delivered
  • Improper discounting of merchandise or sales transactions

Stopping Losses

Stopping losses requires various monitoring methods. One of the most effective is security cameras. Cameras stop both external and internal theft if mounted above sales registers or computer terminals. In addition, business owners must initial regular weekly audits of transactions. Ensure that there are no missing cash register tapes and that all computerized transactions are tracked via individual employee identification numbers.