By Carrie Cherveny and Stacy Kuehler

Open enrollment season is an exciting time of year to share with employees one of the biggest value propositions employers provide: Group health benefits.

However, there’s a fine line that employers must balance between engaging employees with their marketing efforts and compliance. It can sometimes be a tricky undertaking.

Of course, you want your employees to be inspired and educated on their options. For best results, you must develop an effective employee communication strategy that meets your goals of distributing engaging materials with the right message via the right channel at the right time.

Not to be underestimated is the opportunity to thoughtfully drive home your overarching goals of ensuring employees appreciate the benefits and are invested in your organization, even as you gain an important differentiator in the ongoing battle to win and retain top talent.

What can complicate your efforts, though, is the careful stepping required in order to avoid running afoul of compliance requirements, like ERISA rules over what documents must be provided and how.

That makes it critical to ensure that compliance is woven in as a consideration as you do your open enrollment communicatioins planning.

Consideration #1 – Last Year’s Open Enrollment Communication
It starts by revisiting your open enrollment communications strategy from last year to be guided by what worked and what didn’t. For example, engagement surveys or post-OE surveys conducted after last year’s period will help gauge the effectiveness of your information, from messaging to format, to channels, to determine what is appealing to your particular employee demographics.

Compliance is important even at these early stages. Those surveys, for example, are an important component of your fiduciary file, demonstrating to regulators the efforts you put into educating and informing employees as to their benefits. Likewise, other records, like post office receipts for hard copy mailings, should be added to the file to prove delivery of information.

Consideration #2 – Plan Changes
Next, let’s consider any major plan changes that you are considering for this year. They will require special attention to ensure compliance. From a communications perspective, they need to be called out and followed up on after open enrollment is over. Some audiences may need additional, targeted messaging if they are particularly affected by changes to ensure they have enough time to act. Plan changes are also important as they may trigger SMM requirements under ERISA. Updated plan documents will also need to be provided to employees – and what better time to do that than at open enrollment?

Consideration #3 – How you get the message to employees
Whether your open enrollment communications strategy involves webinars, or e-mailed FAQs, or mailed brochure updates on what’s new and different this enrollment period, your tactics should keep other compliance requirements in mind, as well. ERISA has delivery rules that need to be factored into your planning.

While educating employees about their options under your group benefits has always been important in order to drive optimal participation, the Department of Labor’s audits include reviews of your education and enrollment materials. What you choose to provide and what you must – to ensure your employees are able to make informed decisions, requires compliance to avoid fines and penalties. Isn’t that a goal worth sharing?

To learn more about open enrollment communications strategies and areas where compliance takes a front and center role, listen to the replay of our open enrollment webinar.