Every year since 2011, May 4 has skyrocketed in popularity as Star Wars Day—as in, “May the Fourth be with you.” This growing, intergalactic groundswell reveals some truths relevant to the benefits universe: People respond to creativity, and people love their Star Wars.
Plan professionals know that getting trainees to master their benefits education can be like asking them to take a stroll into Jabba’s sarlacc pit. But there’s hope for escape from this trap! International Foundation research, in Benefits Communication Survey Results and other reports, suggests that benefits pros can deliver greater force through unique, customized communications.
In honor of May the Fourth, we thought it would be fun to start a rebellion against convention by using Star Wars themes to help future benefits gurus master the finer points in this or any galaxy. So we turned to Julie M. Stich, CEBS, International Foundation Associate Vice President of Content and Star Wars superfan, and asked for her insights on the following Star Wars benefits scenarios.
Scenario 1: Yoda was 900 years old in Return of the Jedi but still working as a Jedi trainer, with Luke Skywalker as his apprentice. Would an employer be obligated to continue life insurance coverage for Yoda if it offered such coverage to its other active employees?
JS: The first question that needs to be addressed is: Who *is* Yoda’s employer? The Jedi Order? The Rebel Alliance? The Force Is Us? And, is he a regular employee or an independent contractor? For simplicity’s sake, let’s say Yoda is a regular employee of The Force Is Us, a company headquartered in the United States but with locations in a galaxy far, far away. Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), employers cannot discriminate against employees aged 40 and older. (Into this category Yoda falls several many multitudinous times, mmmm.) Nondiscrimination includes benefits. In the case of group life insurance, an employer can only offer lesser benefits to older workers if the cost is the same as offering higher benefit levels to younger employees. While these so-called age reductions in life insurance benefits are allowed, not all employers cut benefits. Some provide the full level of benefits for all employees, no matter their age or the cost.
Of course, this answer doesn’t take into account the inherent risk level of Yoda’s job as a Jedi master. A topic for another day, this is.
Scenario 2: The Millennium Falcon is flying toward Tatooine for legitimate business purposes. Along the way, TIE Fighters attack the Falcon because of a personal grudge against its captain, Han Solo. Injuries occur. Because this incident occurred during a business trip, could Captain Solo’s health plan be on the hook for injuries he sustains before or during his escape through lightspeed?
JS: Because the injuries were sustained while on a business trip for the Rebel Alliance, the injuries should be compensable under galactic workers’ compensation laws. Han Solo’s heroic reputation notwithstanding, Alliance benefits staff may decide to investigate the incident. Was Captain Solo acting recklessly or negligently at the time of the incident? Was he checking his subspace transceiver? Millennium Falcon copilot Chewbacca should be interviewed. If it is determined that Captain Solo was not at fault, the Alliance should cover his medical bills. What about time off to recuperate? Captain Solo is entitled to paid leave under workers’ comp. The Alliance can also consider permitting him to use additional sick or personal time off, if he has time available. This leave can be coordinated with short-term disability leave. The Alliance benefits department should also determine whether the leave should run concurrently with family and medical leave mandated under Galactic law. After Captain Solo is certified as recovered enough to return to work, it should be determined whether he can perform essential job functions (e.g., hand-eye coordination, firing a blaster, rescuing princesses, hiding in garbage chutes) with or without restrictions or accommodations.
Scenario 3: In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker loses his hand during a climactic workplace battle with Darth Vader. If Luke earns a settlement from a lawsuit against the Galactic Empire, could his benefits plan lay claim to a portion of those settlement funds to cover the cost of his hand surgeries? What if, unbeknownst to the family, Darth Vader had been claiming Luke as a dependent through his own health plan? How would the coordination of benefits be determined?
JS: Like the situation above involving Captain Solo, Luke Skywalker’s injury would be compensable under galactic workers’ compensation laws. Because the on-the-job injury was due to the fault of another (Darth Vader, aka Luke’s father), Luke was able to bring a claim against the Galactic Empire. Galactic law says that an employee can’t recover twice for the same injury. Since Luke’s employer, the Alliance, originally covered his medical costs and time off, the Alliance insurance carrier is entitled to recover these costs and can demand reimbursement from Luke’s settlement.
And, lastly, if Darth Vader had claimed his son, Luke, as a dependent on *his* health plan (Galactic Empire) and if Luke has health coverage under his *own* employer health plan (Alliance), which plan pays first for mental health visits and non-work-related injuries? Under galactic coordination-of-benefits rules, the Alliance health plan pays first (primary) and the Empire plan pays second.
We sense your powers growing. But don’t end your training now! Avoid the quick and easy path that Vader chose, and use the comments section to ask another question or create your own Star Wars benefits scenario.
Robbie Hartman, CEBS
Editor, Publications for the International Foundation