If you follow this blog, you know that we’ve been writing about the inevitable arrival of IRS Form 1095 since early August, and the resulting questions and chaos that it’s bound to generate. To further help you (and just as important, your employees) through this new experience, we’ve put together a suggested 1095 communication plan for you to use at your company.

The goals of this plan are to (1) give your employees a heads up about the upcoming arrival of a new tax form, (2) put them at ease that this isn’t a big deal and (3) give them some guidance on what to do with the form.

Because the 1095 is due to employees by January 31st, we’ll use that date as a sort of line in the sand to mark the before and after communications.

What To Do Now

Create a jargon-free, easy-to-understand 1095 FAQ page and produce two versions of it:

(1) a digital version (for posting on your intranet or as a link on a company web page where employees get their payroll and/or IRS forms information) and

(2) a document that you can share and print as needed.

You’ll use this FAQ page and/or the link to it in all of your upcoming communications. (See this prior post about how to write in a non-intimidating, non-panic-inducing way that will get the attention of your employees).

Key questions (and some suggested answers):

1. What is this Form 1095?
The 1095 is a new tax form that is sent to you by your company that includes information about your healthcare insurance coverage. Almost all employees will get this. It serves as a ‘proof of insurance statement’ that shows the IRS that you have been properly covered by your company. You’ll take information from it to use in your tax filing, similar to how you take information from your W-2 form and transfer it to your tax forms.

You can see what the 1095-C (there are three versions: A, B and C. C is used by companies with 50 or more employees) looks like here.

[NOTE: If you can, provide an image to the form in the body of your communication and include it as part of the printed version.]

2. Why am I even getting a 1095 form?
You’re getting it because it’s required that you get it as part of the new healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act.

3. When will I be getting my 1095?
You should receive your 1095 form by early February.

4. What the heck do I do with it?
As mentioned in the previous question, your 1095 will contain information that you will transfer to your 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ tax form. You do not need to submit the 1095 form with your 1040. In fact, most people will only have to check a box on their 1040s stating that they (and their dependents if applicable) were covered by their company for the year.

5. Where can I get more information about the 1095?
You can find more 1095 information here on the IRS website: http://www.irs.gov/Affordable-Care-Act/Individuals-and-Families/Understanding-Form-1095C.

6. Who can I contact if I have questions?
[Insert your specific information here.]

Create a short, engaging 1095 video that walks people through these questions and the form itself. You could embed this on the page that includes your FAQs.
(Or–if that sounds interesting but you don’t have the resources–take a look at ALEX: 1095.)

Train your team so that they’re knowledgeable about Form 1095 and armed and ready to answer the questions and emails that are bound to come in about it. Your 1095 FAQs will be a great resource for them to pass along to confused employees.

What to do prior to January 31
Prior to the arrival of the 1095 form to all of your employees, you’ll want to alert people that it’s coming using as many channels as you can. In all of your communications, link to (or include) your 1095 FAQs.

1) Take advantage of your established and regular communication channels like:
– Company / HR newsletter
– Company intranet
– Payroll portal
– Check stub mailings
– Manager meetings
– Table tents or posters in common areas

2) Talk to your payroll processor and piggyback on its communication, or be sure that your processor has plans to communicate the upcoming arrival of the 1095. You could create an envelope stuffer that calls out the 1095 and drives people to your FAQ page.

3) Bonus suggestion: Come up with a creative way to make the 1095 arrival stand out. Let’s face it, most people’s eyes will glaze over when they hear ‘New tax form on the way.’ Given that, your challenge is to come up with inventive messaging that captures people’s attention and makes them want to learn more. In a prior post, we likened the announcement of the 1095’s arrival to the British Invasion during the Revolutionary War and Paul Revere’s midnight ride. Feel free to co-opt that if you like it and let us know how it goes!

What to do on / near January 31st
Close to the time when people will be receiving their W-2s and 1095s, consider the following steps:

1) Create a standalone email that’s exclusively focused on the 1095. Tell your employees that they should expect this shortly and provide them with a link to your FAQs.

2) Include the 1095 FAQs when you (or your payroll manager) sends out the W-2s and the 1095s.

3) If you have financial wellness or tax advisor resources for your employees, confirm with them that they will cover the ins and outs of the 1095 with your people.

What to do after January 31st

– Odds are, many people have not paid attention to your pre-delivery 1095 communication (unless of course you took my advice and made your communication especially interesting/compelling/intriguing :)). Now that the 1095 has landed, your colleagues will start paying attention for real–and they’ll start looking for answers.

– To that end, continue to post links to the FAQs in all of your regularly established communication channels.

– Additionally, during the week of the tax filing deadline (April 15), consider sending out a Tax Deadline Reminder email with a mention of the 1095 and a link to your FAQs.

– You can wrestle the 1095 to the ground with a good communication plan. Stay consistent with regular communication in all relevant channels and support all of your communications with your 1095 FAQs.

Best of luck!

P.S. if you’re looking for a super great way to put together a communications plan, check out our ebook “The Ultimate Benefits and Open Enrollment Communications Playbook.” Though it’s focused on OE, many of the same tactics can be used for all of your HR communications needs. Download it here.

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