The Ultimate Guide to Open Enrollment

Sep 27, 2023 8:00:00 AM

As November 1 looms, HR departments nationwide must start preparing for another open enrollment season. While many companies believe they have mastered the process, a recent study revealed that 41% of employees find their open enrollment process confusing. 

Ask yourself: "Are my employees aware of their choices? Are they familiar with the language and concepts of benefits offerings? Do they know when open enrollment begins and ends?"

Getting all this information across to your employees may pose a challenge. Luckily, we compiled this comprehensive guide with questions to consider and valuable resources to help you. Here is everything you need to know to have a successful open enrollment. 

What is Open Enrollment for Benefits?

During open enrollment season in the U.S., employees get the opportunity to choose or modify their benefit options provided by their employer. These options include essential coverage like health, dental, and life insurance. Additional voluntary benefits may consist of legal services or pet insurance. The employer may cover the total cost of some benefits, while employees may pay others through salary deferral. In other cases, the employer and the employee may share the cost. 

When is Open Enrollment and When Does It End?

For calendar-year benefit plans starting January 1, 2024, open enrollment often occurs in November beginning November 1. 

There are no specific rules around how long open enrollment must last. However, most employers have an open enrollment period of at least two to four weeks. Since many benefits, such as health insurance, are set to kick in at the beginning of the new year, it's common for businesses to wrap up their open enrollment in either November or December. This timeframe provides a comfortable window of a few weeks for employees to submit their enrollment forms t, ensuring that their coverage starts smoothly on January 1.

What's the difference between Open and Annual Enrollment?

Open enrollment allows employees to make changes to health insurance plans only. Annual enrollment lets employees modify all benefits and healthcare plans every year. Typically, the annual enrollment period falls between November and mid-December. However, the specific dates can vary depending on the employer. It's important to note that any changes made during annual enrollment will go into effect on January 1 of the following year.

Do All Companies Follow the Same Open Enrollment Process?

While all companies have the same deadline, their process may look different. Here are a few key differences:

  • Schedule: Many organizations typically hold open enrollment around the same time of the year, but it's worth noting that the specific timing can vary based on financial planning and renewal cycles.
  • Length: Different companies may choose to have a shorter or longer open enrollment window, allowing employees to consider their options and make informed decisions carefully.
  • Online vs. Offline: Certain organizations may provide employees with the convenience of online platforms or portals to review and select their benefits, while others may rely on traditional methods such as paper forms or direct communication with a benefits administrator.


How Should Companies Notify Employees of Open Enrollment? 

Employers must provide annual notices to employees related to open enrollment. The notices include certain disclosures and information about their rights and responsibilities regarding the company's health plan offerings. Note that there are specific timeframes within which you must provide these notices. 

What Is a Special Enrollment Period?

In general, enrollment in a health plan is only possible during the open enrollment period. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, suppose an employee experiences a significant life change or a qualifying life event, such as having a child, getting married, or losing health coverage. In that case, they are eligible for a special enrollment period, also known as SEP. During this period, the employee can switch to a new health plan or apply for one outside the open enrollment period.

How Can Companies Start Communicating About Open Enrollment?

There are three things companies can do to kick off open enrollment successfully.

First, ensure your employees fully understand all terminology with our health benefits terms glossary. Or, download our free PDF version to share with them. 


Second, encourage your employees to consider major health and relationship changes before they make their selections.

Third, share this article or PDF with your employees and have them ask the 10 questions to uncover any plan changes and select the options that work best for them.


As you can see, preparing for open enrollment requires careful planning, thorough research, and effective communication. Engaging with your employees, providing comprehensive support, and ensuring that the enrollment process is streamlined and user-friendly is essential. By reviewing the questions and resources above, you can make open enrollment a positive and satisfying experience for your company and its employees.

About Proliant

Proliant puts the human in human resources. We provide a fully integrated, cloud-based HCM solution that simplifies payroll and HR processes. The company serves small to large clients in multiple industries in all 50 states and is committed to providing the highest quality customer service in the industry.

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