Preventive HR Strategies to Minimize Post Holiday Celebration Legal Hangovers

November 30, 2009

As the 2009 Holiday Season moves into full swing, your company may want to take some common sense precautions to minimize the risk of waking up with a post-Holiday Season business liability hangover. The music, food, game playing, toasting with alcohol and other aspects of the celebratory atmosphere at holiday parties and in the workplace during the Holiday Season heighten the risk that certain employees or other business associates will engage in, or be subject to, risky or other inappropriate behavior that can create liability exposures or other business concerns for your business.

Discrimination & Sexual Harassment

Whether company-sponsored or not, holiday parties and other celebrations where employees celebrate with other employees or clients tend to fuel bad behavior by inviting fraternization, lowering inhibitions and obscuring the line between appropriate and inappropriate social and business behavior.

The relaxation of the environment heightens the risk that certain employees or clients will make unwelcome sexual advances, make sexually suggestive or other inappropriate statements, or engage in other actions that expose the business to sexual harassment or other employment discrimination liability. To minimize these exposures, businesses should take steps to communicate and reinforce company policies and expectations about sexual harassment, discrimination, fraternization and other conduct viewed as inappropriate by the company.  The company should caution employees that the company continues to expect employees and business partners to adhere to company rules against sexual harassment and other inappropriate discrimination at company sponsored and other gatherings involving other employees or business associates.  To enhance the effectiveness of these reminders, a company should consider providing specific guidance about specific holiday-associated activities that create heightened risks.  For instance, a business that anticipates its employees will participate in white elephant or other gift exchanges involving other employees or business associates may wish to specifically include a reminder to exercise care to avoid selecting a gift that may be sexually suggestive or otherwise offensive.  Businesses also may want to remind employees that the company does not expect or require that employees submit to unwelcome sexual or other inappropriate harassment when participating in parties or other social engagements with customers or other business partners. 

Businesses also should use care to manage other discrimination exposures in the planning of holiday festivities, gift exchanges, and other activities.  Exercise care to ensure that business connected holiday parties, communications, gifts and other December festivities reflect appropriate sensitivity to religious diversity.  Businesses also should be vigilant in watching for signs of inappropriate patterns of discrimination in the selection of employees invited to participate in company-connected social events as well as off-duty holiday gatherings sponsored by managers and supervisors.

Alcohol Consumption

The prevalence of alcohol consumption during the Holiday Season also can create a range of business concerns.  Most businesses recognize that accidents caused by alcohol intoxication at work or work-related functions create substantial liability exposures both to workers and any third parties injured by a drunken employee.  Businesses also may face “dram shop” claims from family members or other guests attending company sponsored functions injured or injure others after being allowed to over-imbibe.  To minimize these risks at company-sponsored events, many companies elect not to serve or limit the alcohol served to guests at company sponsored events.  To support the effectiveness of these efforts, many businesses also choose to prohibit or restrict the consumption of guest provided alcohol at company events.

Businesses concerned with these liability exposures should take steps to manage the potential risks that commonly arise when employees or clients consume alcohol at company sponsored events or while attending other business associated festivities. Businesses that elect to serve alcohol at company functions or anticipate that employees will attend other business functions where alcohol will be served need to consider the potential liability risks that may result if the alcohol impaired judgment of an employee or other guest causes him to injure himself or someone else.  Any company that expects that an employee might consume alcohol at a company sponsored or other business associated event should communicate clearly its expectation that employees not over-imbibe and abstain from driving under the influence.  Many businesses also find it beneficial to redistribute information about employee assistance programs (EAPs) along with this information.  You can find other tips for planning workplace parties to minimize alcohol related risks on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website here.

When addressing business related alcohol consumption, many businesses will want to consider not only alcohol consumption at business related events as well as potential costs that may arise from off-duty excess alcohol consumption. Whether resulting from on or off duty consumption, businesses are likely to incur significant health and disability related benefit costs if an employee is injured in an alcohol-related accident.  Furthermore, even when no injury results, productivity losses attributable to excess alcohol consumption, whether on or off duty, can prove expensive to business.  Accordingly, virtually all businesses can benefit from encouraging employees to be responsible when consuming alcohol in both business and non-business functions.

Businesses also may want to review their existing health and other benefit programs, liability insurance coverage and employment policies to determine to ensure that they adequately protect and promote the company’s risk management objectives.  Many health and disability plans incorporate special provisions affecting injuries arising from inappropriate alcohol use as well as mental health and alcohol and drug treatment programs.  Similarly, many businesses increasingly qualify for special discounts on automobile and general liability policies based upon representations that the business has in effect certain alcohol and drug use policies.  Businesses can experience unfortunate surprises if they don’t anticipate the implications of these provisions on their health benefit programs or liability insurance coverage. Reviewing these policies now to become familiar with any of these requirements and conditions also can be invaluable in helping a business to respond effectively if an employee or guest is injured in an alcohol-related accident during the Holiday Season.

Concerned employers may want to listen in on the “Plan Safe Office Parties this Holiday Season” seminar that the National Safety  Council plans to host on December 9, 2009 from 10:30 a.m. -11:30 a.m. Central Time. For more information or to register call (800) 621-7619 or see here.

Gift Giving & Gratuities

The exchange of gifts during the Holiday Season also can raise various concerns. As a starting point, businesses generally need to confirm that any applicable tax implications arising from the giving or receiving of gifts are appropriately characterized and reported in accordance with applicable tax and other laws.  Government contractors, health industry organizations, government officials and other entities also frequently may be required to comply with specific statutory, regulatory, contractual or ethical requirements affecting the giving or receiving of gifts or other preferences.  In addition to these externally imposed legal mandates, many businesses also voluntarily have established conflict of interest, gift giving or other policies to minimize the risk that employee loyalty or judgment will be comprised by gifts offered or received from business partners or other outsiders.   Businesses concerned about these and other issues may want to review the adequacy of current business policies affecting gifting and adopt and communicate any necessary refinements to these policies.  To promote compliance, businesses also should consider communicating reminders about these policies to employees and business associates during the Holiday Season. Even a simple e-mail reminder to employees that the company expects them to be familiar with and comply with these policies can help promote compliance and provide helpful evidence in the event that an employee engages in an unauthorized violation of these rules.

Performance, Attendance & Time Off

Businesses also commonly face a range of attendance and productivity concerns during December.  The winter cold and flu season and other post-celebration illnesses, vacations, and winter weather inevitably combine to fuel a rise in absenteeism in December. Managing staffing needs around the legitimate requests for excused time off by employees presents real challenges for many businesses.  Further complications can arise when dealing with employees suspected of mischaracterizing the reason for their absence or otherwise gaming the company’s time off policies.  Meanwhile, performance and productivity concerns also become more prevalent as workers allow holiday shopping, personal holiday preparations, and other personal distractions to distract their performance.  Businesses concerned with these challenges ideally will have in place well-designed policies concerning attendance, time off and productivity that comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act and other laws. Businesses should exercise care when addressing productivity and attendance concerns to investigate and document adequately their investigation before imposing discipline. Businesses also should ensure that their policies are appropriately and even-handedly administered.  They also should exercise care to follow company policies, to maintain time records for non-exempt workers, to avoid inappropriately docking exempt worker pay, and to provide all required notifications and other legally mandated rights to employees taking medical, military or other legally protected leaves. In the event it becomes necessary to terminate an employee during December, careful documentation can help the business to defend this decision.  Furthermore, businesses should be careful to ensure that all required COBRA notifications, certificates of creditable coverage, pension and profit-sharing notice and distribution forms, and other required employment and employee benefit processes are timely fulfilled.

Timely Investigation & Notification

Businesses faced with allegations of discrimination, sexual harassment or other misconduct also should act promptly to investigate any concerns and if necessary, take appropriate corrective action.  Delay in investigation or redress of discrimination or other improprieties can increase the liability exposure of a business presented with a valid complaint and complicate the ability to defend charges that may arise against the business.  Additionally, delay also increases the likelihood that a complaining party will seek the assistance of governmental officials, plaintiff’s lawyers or others outside the corporation in the redress of his concern.

If a report of an accident, act of discrimination or sexual harassment or other liability related event arises, remember to consider as part of your response whether you need to report the event to any insurers or agencies.  Injuries occurring at company related functions often qualify as occupational injuries subject to worker’s compensation and occupational safety laws.  Likewise, automobile, employment practices liability, and general liability policies often require covered parties to notify the carrier promptly upon receipt of notice of an event or claim that may give rise to coverage, even though the carrier at that time may not be obligated to tender a defense or coverage at that time.

If your organization needs assistance with assessing, managing or defending these or other labor and employment, compensation or benefit practices, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer or another Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorney of your choice.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a nationally recognized author and speaker, Ms. Stamer is experienced with advising and assisting employers with these and other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, risk management  and internal controls matters. Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation, health and other employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment laws, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. She has counseled and represented employers on these and other workforce matters for more than 22 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Examples of other recent updates you may have missed include:

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


Employer H1N1 Virus Risk Management Requires Employer Care To Manage Virus Risks Without Violating Employment Discrimination or Other Laws

November 30, 2009

As the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) continues cautioning Americans to expect a resurgence of the H1N1 virus, employers should continue to take prudent steps to defend their organization and their workers against a widespread H1N1 outbreak and the attendant lost time, health and disability costs, OSHA and other liability exposures and other personal and financial consequences likely to result from an outbreak. 

Employers wishing to deter the spread of the disease in their workplace should educate workers about these recommendations and consider taking steps to encourage workers to comply with these recommendations. When planning or taking steps to protect their workplaces from the H1N1 virus pandemic or other outbreaks of communicable diseases, however, employers must use care to avoid violating the Americans With Disabilities Act or other employment laws.

Preventing, Recognizing & Mitigating Risks of H1N1

Although the number of reported cases of H1N1 virus cases has declined in many states in recent weeks, CDC officials are warning American’s that the crisis is not over yet.  CDC officials last week warned Americans to expect H1N1 infection to rise as the holiday approaches and the winter progresses. With flu activity already higher than what is seen during the peak of many regular flu seasons and the H1NA virus accounting for almost all of the flu viruses identified so for this season,  Accordingly,  the CDC continues to encourage Americans to be alert for symptoms of H1N1 or other flu and to take other precautions including to get vaccinated.

Employers should continue to encourage workers and their families to take precautions to avoid catching the virus, to be on the watch for H1N1 virus or other flu infection and to respond appropriately if they, members of their families or others in the workplace exhibit these symptoms.   To help promote health habits within their workforce, many businesses may want to download and circulate to employees and families the free resources published by the CDC here.  Businesses and other concerned parties also can track governmental reports about the swine flu and other pandemic concerns at here.   

For those not already suffering from the virus and particularly for those at higher risk, the CDC continues to recommend vaccination. People recommended by the CDC to receive the vaccine as soon possible include:  health care workers; pregnant women; people ages 25 through 64 with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes; anyone from 6 months through 24 years of age; and people living with or caring for infants under 6 months old.  As the vaccine becomes available, many employers are encouraging workers and their families to get vaccinated by offering vaccination clinics at or near their worksites, arranging for health plan coverage for vaccinations with reduced or no co-payments or deductibles, and/or sharing information about government sponsored or other vaccination clinics. 

While the CDC says getting employees and their families to get a flu shot remains the best defense against a flu outbreak, it also says getting employees and family members to consistently practice good health habits like covering a cough and washing hands also is another important key to prevent the spread of germs and prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like the flu.  Employers should encourage employees and their families to take the following steps: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too;
  • Stay home when you are sick to help prevent others from catching your illness;
  •  Cover your mouth and nose;
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick;
  • Clean your hands to protect yourself from germs;
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth;
  • Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth; and
  • Practice other good health habits.  Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

Employers also should encourage workers and their families to be alert to possible signs of H1N1 or other flu symptoms and to respond appropriately to possible infection.  According to the CDC, all types of flu including H1NA typically include many common symptoms, including:

  • Fever
  • Coughing and/or sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches and/or body aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue

Patients suffering from H1N1 flu usually report these same symptoms, but the symptoms often are more severe. In addition to the above symptoms, a number of H1N1 flu cases reported vomiting and diarrhea.

CDC recommends individuals diagnosed with H1N1 flu should:

  • Stay home and avoid contact with others for at least 24 hours after a fever (100°F or 37.8°C) is gone without the use of fever reducing medicine except to get medical care or for other things that must be done that no one else can do;
  • Avoid close contact with others, especially those who might easily get the flu, such as people age 65 years and older, people of any age with chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, young children, and infants;
  • Clean hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub often, especially after using tissues or coughing/sneezing into your hands;
  • Cover coughs and sneezes;
  • Wear a facemask when sharing common spaces with other household members to help prevent spreading the virus to others. This is especially important if other household members are at high risk for complications from influenza;
  • Drink clear fluids such as water, broth, sports drinks, or electrolyte beverages made for infants to prevent becoming dehydrated;
  • Get plenty of rest;
  • Follow doctor’s orders; and
  • Watch for signs for a need for immediate medical attention. Suffers should get medical attention right away if the sufferer has difficulty breathing or chest pain,  purple or blue discoloration of the lips, is vomiting and unable to keep liquids down, or shows signs of dehydration, such as feeling dizzy when standing or being unable to urinate.

In seeking to contain the spread of the virus within their workplace, employers also should be sensitive to workplace policies or practices that may pressure employees with a contagious disease to report to work despite an illness and consider whether the employer should adjust these policies temporarily or permanently in light of the ongoing pandemic.  For instance, financial pressures and the design and enforcement of policies regarding working from home and/or qualifying for paid or unpaid time off significantly impact the decisions employees make about whether to come to work when first experiencing symptoms of illness.  Employers of workers who travel extensively – may wish to delay or restrict travel for some period. 

Employers Must Employment Discrimination & Other Legal Compliance Risks

Many employers may want to evaluate and appropriately revise existing policies with an eye to better defending their workforce against a major outbreak.  Whether or not the disease afflicts any of its workers, businesses can anticipate the swine flu outbreak will impact their operations – either as a result of occurrences affecting their own or other businesses or from workflow disruptions resulting from safeguards that the business or other businesses implement to minimize swine flu risks for its workforce or its customers.  Many businesses also will want to prepare backup staffing and production strategies to prepare for disruptions likely to result if a significant outbreak occurs. 

Employers planning for or dealing with an H1N1 or other epidemic in their workplace should exercise care to avoid violating the nondiscrimination and medical records confidentiality provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), the Family & Medical Leave Act of 1990 (FMLA), the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and applicable state wage and hour laws, and other employment and privacy laws.

Improperly designed or administered medical inquiries, testing, vaccination mandates and other policies or practices intended to prevent the spread of disease may expose an employer to disability discrimination liability under the ADA or GINA.  For instance, the ADA generally prohibits an employer from making disability-related inquiries and requiring medical examinations of employees, except under limited circumstances permitted by the ADA. Likewise, improperly designed or communicated employer inquiries into family medical status which could be construed as inquiring about family medical history also may raise exposures under genetic information nondiscrimination and privacy mandates of GINA that took effect November 21, 2009.

During employment, the ADA prohibits employee disability-related inquiries or medical examinations unless they are job-related and consistent with business necessity. Generally, a disability-related inquiry or medical examination of an employee is job-related and consistent with business necessity when an employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that:

  • An employee’s ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition; or
  • An employee will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition.

This reasonable belief “must be based on objective evidence obtained, or reasonably available to the employer, prior to making a disability-related inquiry or requiring a medical examination.”

Additionally, the ADA prohibits employers from making disability-related inquiries and conducting medical examinations of applicants before a conditional offer of employment is made.  It permits employers to make disability-related inquiries and conduct medical examinations if all entering employees in the same job category are subject to the same inquiries and examinations.   All information about applicants or employees obtained through disability-related inquiries or medical examinations must be kept confidential. Information regarding the medical condition or history of an employee must be collected and maintained on separate forms and in separate medical files and be treated as a confidential medical record.  The EEOC Pandemic Preparedness In The Workplace and The Americans With Disabilities Act Guidance makes clear that employer inquiries and other H1N GINA’s inclusion of information about the “manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members” is likely to present a liability trap door for many unsuspecting employers H1N1 and other epidemic planning and response activities should be carefully crafted to avoid violating these proscriptions.

GINA’s inclusion of information about the “manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members” also could present a liability trap door for some employers designing pandemic or other workplace wellness, disease management or other programs.  GINA defines “genetic information” broadly as including not only information about genetic tests about an individual or his family member as well as information about the “manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members of such individual, GINA also specifies that any reference to genetic information concerning an individual or family member includes genetic information of a fetus carried by a pregnant woman and an embryo legally held by an individual or family member utilizing an assisted reproductive technology.  For more information about the new GINA genetic information employment discrimination rules, see here.

As part of their pandemic planning, employers also generally should review their existing wage and hour and leave of absence practices.  Employers should ensure that their existing or planned practices for providing paid or unpaid leave are designed to comply with the FLSA and other wage and hour and federal and state leave of absence laws. Employers also should review and update family and medical leave act and other sick leave policies, group health plan medical coverage continuation rules and notices and other associated policies and plans for compliance with existing regulatory requirements, which have been subject to a range of statutory and regulatory amendments in recent years.  If considering allowing or requiring employees to work from home, employers also need to implement appropriate safeguards to monitor and manage employee performance, to protect the employer’s ability to comply with applicable wage and hour, worker’s compensation, OSHA and other safety, privacy and other legal and operational requirements. 

Businesses, health care providers, schools, government agencies and others concerned about preparing to cope with pandemic or other infectious disease challenges also may want to review the publication “Planning for the Pandemic” authored by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer available at hereFLU.gov is a one-stop resource with the latest updates on the H1N1 flu. An additional resource is CDC INFO, 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636), which offers services in English and Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Schools, health care organizations, restaurants and other businesses whose operations involve significant interaction with the public also may need to take special precautions.  These and other businesses may want to consult the special resources posted  here

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer and other members of Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with advising and assisting employers with these and other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, and internal controls matters. If your organization needs assistance with assessing, managing or defending these or other labor and employment, compensation or benefit practices, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a nationally recognized author and speaker, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation, health and other employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment laws, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, health and other employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 22 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Examples of other recent updates you may have missed include:

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


New GINA Genetic Information Based Employment Discrimination & Confidentiality Mandates Take Effect

November 24, 2009

Updated Employment Poster, Policies & Procedures Required Immediately

Employers, unions, employment agencies, employment training agencies and their agents face significant new employment discrimination liability risks if they violate new genetic information-based employment non-discrimination or fail to comply with genetic information confidentiality requirements that took effect under Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) on Saturday, November 21, 2009.  Employers need immediately to update their employment posters, carefully audit their existing records and practices to identify existing information and practices that may create special risks under GINA and take appropriate action to comply with the GINA rules. Employers needing an updated poster can find a copy on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website here.

Under the newly effective employment provisions of Title II of GINA, Federal law now prohibits employers of 15 or more employees and certain other entities from using individuals’ “genetic information” when making hiring, firing, job placement, or promotion decisions, requires “genetic information” be kept separately and confidential, and prohibits retaliation. 

When assessing their risk under GINA, employers should be careful not to overlook or underestimate the genetic information collected or possessed by their organizations and the risks attendant to this information.  Many employers will be surprised by the breadth of the depth of “genetic information.”   GINA defines “genetic information” broadly as including not only information about genetic tests about an individual or his family member as well as information about the “manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members of such individual.   GINA also specifies that any reference to genetic information concerning an individual or family member includes genetic information of a fetus carried by a pregnant woman and an embryo legally held by an individual or family member utilizing an assisted reproductive technology.  Pending issuance of regulatory guidance, GINA’s inclusion of information about the “manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members” is likely to present a liability trap door for many unsuspecting employers.

Failing to properly address GINA compliance could expose employers to substantial risk.  Violation of the employment provisions of Title II subjects an employer to potentially significant civil judgments like those that generally are available for race, sex, and other federal employment discrimination claims covered by the Civil Rights Act.  Accordingly, employers and others who have not already done so should act quickly to review and update their policies and procedures to manage their new compliance and liability exposures under GINA Title II.

While the agency responsible for construing and enforcing Title II of GINA, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), to date has published only limited guidance about it, the absence of this final guidance should not be read by employers as a sign their compliance may be delayed.  While not yet issued in final form, proposed regulations interpreting Title II of GINA accessible here published by the EEOC in March, 2009  and a subsequently released factsheet accessible here published by the EEOC in May, 2009 titled “Background Information for EEOC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking On Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008” provide insights about how the EEOC may be expected to view its provisions.   While many employers have delayed taking action to update their policies and procedures in hopes that final guidance would be forthcoming before Title II took effect, time has now run out.  Accordingly, employers who have not already done so should act quickly to implement all necessary changes to position themselves to defend against a potential claim that their organization may have violated GINA Title II. 

Employment-Related Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Rules In Focus

Applicable to employers, unions, employment agencies, employment training agencies and their agencies based on genetic information by employers, Title II imposes sweeping prohibitions against employment discrimination based on genetic information.  Title II generally has three components:

Employment Discrimination Prohibited.  Section 202 of GINA makes it illegal for an employer:

  • To fail or refuse to hire, or to discharge, any employee, or otherwise to discriminate against any employee with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment of the employee, because of genetic information with respect to the employee;
  • To limit, segregate, or classify the employees of the employer in any way that would deprive or tend to deprive any employee of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect the status of the employee as an employee, because of genetic information with respect to the employee; or
  • To request, require, or purchase genetic information with respect to an employee or a family member of the employee except as specifically permitted by GINA and otherwise applicable law.

GINA §§ 203 and 204 extend similar prohibitions to employment agencies, labor unions and training programs.

Confidentiality Mandates. Under GINA § 206, an employer, employment agency, labor organization, or joint labor-management committee that possesses genetic information about an employee or member must protect the confidentiality of that information.  Under its provisions, employers and other covered entities must:

  •  Treat the genetic information as a confidential medical record of the employee or member and maintain it on separate forms and in separate medical files in the same manner as required for other medical records required to be maintained as confidential by Americans With Disabilities Act § 102(d)(3)(B); and
  • Only disclose it in the narrow circumstances specifically allowed by GINA.

Anti-Retaliation.  GINA also prohibits retaliation or other discrimination against any individual because such individual has opposed any act or practice prohibited by GINA, for making a charge, testifying or assisting or participating in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under GINA. 

GINA’s Additional Group Health Plan Nondiscrimination & Privacy Rules Also Require Attention

In addition to taking appropriate steps to comply with the employment rules of Title II of GINA, employers and their group health plan fiduciaries and service providers also should ensure that the group health plan has been appropriately updated to comply with the group health plan nondiscrimination and privacy mandates of Title I of GINA. 

Effective for all group health plan years beginning on or after May 21, 2009, GINA’s new restrictions on the collection and use of genetic information by group health plans added under Title I of GINA are accomplished through the expansion of a series of already existing group health plan nondiscrimination and privacy rules.  GINA’s group health plan provisions amend and expand the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Public Health Service Act, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, and Title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act to implement sweeping new federal restrictions on the collection, use, and disclosure of information that falls within its broad definition of “genetic information” by  group health plans.  For individual health insurers, GINA’s restrictions take effect May 22, 2009.  The broad definition of the term “genetic information” in GINA will require group health plan sponsors and insurers to carefully review and update their group health plan documents, communications, policies and practices to comply with forthcoming implementing regulations to avoid liability under new GINA’s rules governing genetic information collection, use, protection and disclosure in a series of areas.  

In this respect, wellness and disease management programs are likely to require special scrutiny and attention. GINA’s inclusion of information about the “manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members” raises potential challenges for a broad range of group health plan health assessment and other wellness and disease management programs which provide financial incentives or condition eligibility on the provision of family health histories or other information that could be construed as genetic information.  The implications of these GINA prohibitions are further complicated by recent changes in the disability nondiscrimination rules and guidance under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Title I of GINA generally prohibits group health plans from collecting genetic information for underwriting or eligibility purposes.  It also expands already existing federal rules prohibiting group health plans from discriminating among individuals for purposes of determining eligibility or setting premiums based on health status previously enacted as part of HIPAA.   These existing rules already prohibit group health plans and health insurance issuers from discriminating based on health related factors including genetic information for purposes of determining eligibility or premiums. GINA expands these existing nondiscrimination requirements to further regulate group health plan’s use and collection of genetic information.   Under GINA’s nondiscrimination rules, group health plans and health insurers may not:

  • Request, require or purchase genetic information for underwriting purposes or in advance of an individual’s enrollment;
  • Adjust premiums or contribution amounts of the group based on genetic information;
  • Request or require an individual or family member to undergo a genetic test except in limited situations specifically allowed by GINA;
  • Impose a preexisting condition exclusion based solely on genetic information, in the absence of a diagnosis of a condition;
  • Discriminate against individuals in eligibility and continued eligibility for benefits based on genetic information; or
  • Discriminate against individuals in premium or contribution rates under the plan or coverage based on genetic information, although such a plan or issuer may adjust premium rates for an employer based on the manifestation of a disease or disorder of an individual enrolled in the plan.

GINA also prohibits insurers providing individual health insurance from establishing rules for eligibility, adjusting premiums or contribution amounts for an individual, imposing preexisting condition exclusions based on, requesting or requiring individuals or family members to undergo genetic testing.

Of particular concern to many plan sponsors and fiduciaries are the potential implications of these new rules on existing wellness and disease management features group health plans. Of particular concern is how regulators will treat the collection of family medical history and certain other information as part of health risk assessments used in connection with these programs. Although official guidance is still pending, many are concerned that regulators will construe certain commonly used practices of requiring covered persons to provide family medical histories or other genetic information through health risk assessments (HRAs) to qualify for certain financial incentives as a prohibited underwriting practice under GINA.  Even where health risk assessments are not used, however, most group health plan sponsors should anticipate that GINA will require specific amendments to their plan documents, communications and processes.

Taking timely action to comply with these nondiscrimination and collection prohibitions is important.  Under amendments to ERISA made by GINA, group health plan noncompliance can create significant liability for both the plan and its sponsor.  Participants or beneficiaries will be able to sue noncompliant group health plans for damages and equitable relief.  If the participant or beneficiary can show an alleged violation would result in irreparable harm to the individual’s health, the participant or beneficiary may not have to exhaust certain otherwise applicable Department of Labor administrative remedies before bringing suit.  In addition to these private remedies, GINA also authorizes the imposition of penalties against employers and other sponsors of group health plans that violate applicable requirements of GINA of up to $500,000. The minimum penalties generally are set at the greater of $100 per day or a minimum penalty amount ranging from $2,500 for de minimus violations corrected before the health plan received notice of noncompliance to $15,000 in cases in which the violations are more than de minimus.  GINA also includes language allowing the Secretary of Labor to reduce otherwise applicable penalties for violations that could not have been identified through the exercise of due diligence or when the plan corrects the violation quickly.

GINA Amendments To Health Plan Privacy Rules Under HIPAA

In addition to its nondiscrimination rules, GINA also amends HIPAA to make clear that “genetic information” as defined by HIPAA is protected health information protected by HIPAA’s Privacy & Security Standards of HIPAA. This means that it will require that all genetic information be treated as protected health information subject to the Privacy and Security Standards applicable to group health plans covered by HIPAA. Although the statutory provisions that accomplish these changes are deceptively simple, compliance with these requirements likely will require group health plans and their business associates to amend existing privacy policies, notices and practices to appropriately restrict disclosures for underwriting, operations and certain other uses to withstand scrutiny under the GINA privacy rule amendments. 

When contemplating these changes, many plan sponsors and administrators also will want to consider and begin preparing to comply with other refinements to their existing privacy and security practices required in response to HIPAA privacy and security rule amendments enacted as part of the HITECH Act provisions of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (“HITECH Act”) provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).  As GINA specifies that violations of its privacy rule restrictions trigger the same sanctions as other privacy rule violations, group health plans and their business associates also should give due consideration to these penalty exposures.  The HITECH Act amended and increased civil penalties for HIPAA privacy violations in many circumstances effective February 17, 2009.  

GINA’s fractured assignment of responsibility and authority to develop, implement and enforce regulatory guidance of its genetic information rules can create confusion for parties involved in compliance efforts. Because the group health plan requirements of Title I of GINA are refinements to the group health plan privacy and nondiscrimination rules previously enacted as part of HIPAA, GINA specifically assigned authority to construe and enforce its group health plan requirements to the agencies responsible for the interpretation and enforcement of those original rules:  (1) the Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA); (2)  the Internal Revenue Services (IRS), and (3) the Department of Health & Human Services. 

These three agencies in early October published the interim final regulations construing the group health plan manatees of Title II of GINA, which are available for review here.  Group health plans, their employer and other sponsors, fiduciaries and service providers should act quickly to review and update their group health plan documents, procedures and other materials to comply with these new mandates.

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer and other members of Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with advising and assisting employers with these and other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, and internal controls matters. If your organization needs assistance with assessing, managing or defending these or other labor and employment, compensation or benefit practices, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a nationally recognized author and speaker, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation, health and other employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment laws, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, health and other employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 22 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


Senate Finance Chairman Baucus Introduces New Health Care Reform Bill

November 19, 2009

S.1796, America’s Healthy Future Act of 2009 Reflects Chairman’s Response To House’s Passage of HR 3962 & Other Feedback

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) today (November 19, 2009) introduced his latest health care reform proposal, the America’s Healthy Future Act of 2009 (S.1796).  Chairman Baucus’ introduction of S. 1796 follows the November 7, 2009 passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of the massive health care reform proposal sponsored by Representative John Dingell (D-MI) and supported by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Affordable Health Care for America Act (HR. 3962).

Totaling 1504 pages in length, S.1796 proposes a lengthy and complex array of reforms to the U.S. health care coverage and delivery system, which would affect virtually each U.S. employer, health care provider, payer, and resident. As with the provisions of HR. 3962 and other versions of health care reform, the reforms outlined in the provisions of S.1796 include complexities and nuances which may not be apparent in partisan or non-partisan discussions or summaries of its goals or purposes. Consequently, individuals or businesses concerned about the proposed reforms are encouraged to begin and base their review and analysis on the actual text of S.1796, a copy of which as introduced is available for review here.  

The continuing emphasis of President Obama and other members of the Democratic Party Leadership in Congress on the passage of health care reform means that Senator Baucus and other Democratic Leaders in Congress are likely to continue to make passage of health care reform a priority.  U.S. businesses and individuals concerned about the proposed reforms should carefully review both the Senate and House bills and act quickly to provide their input on any matters of special interest and concern.

Selected Health Coverage Reform Highlights

Among other things, S.1796, as introduced, would enact sweeping health insurance coverage reforms that would create new obligations for employers, insurers, and individual workers.  In this respect, S.1796, among other things would:

  • Amend the Social Security Act (SSA) to add a new title XXII (Health Insurance Coverage) to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable and essential health benefits coverage.
  • Require all health benefits plans offered to individuals and employers in the individual and small group market to be qualified health benefits plans (QHBPs).
  • Amend the Internal Revenue Code to: (1) allow tax credits related to the purchase of health insurance through the state exchanges; and (2) impose an excise tax on individuals without essential health benefits coverage and on employers who fail to meet health insurance coverage requirements with respect to their full-time employees.
  • Prohibit QHBP from excluding coverage for preexisting conditions, or otherwise limiting or conditioning coverage based on any health status-related factors.
  • Require QHBPs to offer coverage in the individual and small group markets on a guaranteed issue and guaranteed renewal basis.
  • Amend the cafeteria plan rules of Internal Revenue Code § 125 to, among other things, require that in order for a health flexible spending arrangement (HFSA) to qualify as a qualified benefit eligible to be offered under a cafeteria plan, the cafeteria plan must limit the maximum salary reduction contribution per employee per taxable year to $2,500 beginning in 2011.
  • Increase the threshold for the itemized income tax deduction for medical expenses.
  • Require states to: (1) establish rating areas; (2) adopt a specified risk adjustment model; and (3) establish transitional reinsurance programs for individual markets.
  • Require QHBP offerors in the individual and small group markets to consider all enrollees in a plan to be members of a single risk pool.
  • Require the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish: (1) risk corridors for certain plan years; (2) high risk pools for individuals with preexisting conditions; (3) a temporary reinsurance program for retirees covered by employer-based plans; and (4) a program under which a state establishes one or more QHBPs to provide at least an essential benefits package to eligible individuals in lieu of offering coverage through an exchange.
  • Entitle a qualified individual to the choice to enroll or not to enroll in a QHBP offered through an exchange covering the individual’s state as well as QHBPs in the individual market while at the same time requiring that such individuals to be U.S. citizens or lawful residents.
  • Require each state to establish: (1) an exchange designed to facilitate enrollment in QHBPs in the individual market; and (2) a Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) exchange designed to assist qualified small employers in facilitating the enrollment of their employees in QHBPs in either the individual or the small group market.
  • Direct the Secretary to: (1) establish a system allowing state residents to participate in state health subsidy programs; and (2) study methods exchange QHBPs can employ to encourage health care providers to make increased meaningful use of electronic health records.
  • Dictate the mandated contents of an essential health benefit benefits package, including little or no cost-sharing, no annual or lifetime limits on coverage, and preventive services.
  • Amend the Internal Revenue Code to codify and revise the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) wellness program regulations.
  • Amend the Internal Revenue Code to codify and revise the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) wellness program regulations.
  • With regard to abortions: (1) declare that the Act does not require health care benefits plans to provide coverage for abortions; prohibit QHBPs from discriminating against any individual health care provider or health care facility because of its willingness or unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions; (3) continues application of state and federal laws regarding abortion; (4) prohibit the use of premium credits and cost-sharing subsidies for QHBPs covering abortion services for which federal funding is prohibited; (5) require the plan offeror to determine whether or not the plan provides coverage of abortion services for which federal funding is prohibited or is allowed; and  (6) require the Secretary to assure that at least one QHBP covers abortion services for which federal funding is prohibited or allowed; and at least one QHBP that does not cover abortion services for which federal funding is allowed.

Other Selected Health Care System, Reimbursement & Other Reform Highlights

S.1796 also would expand and modify existing Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP and other federal health care programs and enact a host of other new rules and requirements affecting health care providers, drug companies and other participants in the U.S. health care system.  Other proposed reforms include provisions that would:

  • Require the President to: (1) certify annually in the President’s Budget whether or not the provisions in this Act will increase the budget deficit in the coming fiscal year; and (2) instruct the HHS Secretary and the Secretary of the Treasury to make required reductions in exchange credits and subsidies.
  • Establish a new mandatory eligibility category under SSA title XIX (Medicaid) for all non-elderly, nonpregnant individuals who are otherwise ineligible for Medicaid.
  • Revise Medicaid benefits.
  • Rescind funds available in the Medicaid Improvement Fund for FY2014-2018.
  • Make appropriations for Aging and Disability Resource Center initiatives.
  • Increase the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) for states to offer home and community-based services as a long-term care (LTC) alternative to nursing homes.
  • Create a Community First Choice Option.
  • Add a new optional categorically needy eligibility group to Medicaid for individuals: (1) with income that exceeds 133% of the poverty line; and (2) certain other individuals, but only for benefits limited to family planning services and supplies.
  • Direct the Secretary to establish a grants program to support school-based health centers.
  • Remove smoking cessation drugs, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines from Medicaid’s excluded drug list.
  • Revise requirements for Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments.
  • Direct the Secretary to establish a Federal Coordinated Health Care Office within the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMMS).
  • Direct the Secretary to establish a Medicaid Quality Measurement Program.
  • Revise requirements for the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) under SSA title XXI, Children’s Health Insurance Program.
  • Set forth special rules relating to American Indians and Alaska Indians.
  • Require the Secretary to establish procedures for sharing data collected under a federal health care program on race, ethnicity, sex, primary language, type of disability, and related measures and data analyses.
  • Amend SSA title V with respect to the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) block grant program.
  • Provide funding for abstinence education.
  • Incorporate reforms originally proposed under the Elder Justice Act of 2009 pursuant to which amendments would be made to the provisions of SSA title XX relating to Block Grants to States for Social Services with respect to elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation and their prevention.
  • Establish within the Office of the Secretary an Elder Justice Coordinating Council.
  • Direct the Secretary to establish a hospital value-based purchasing program under Medicare.
  • Extend the Medicare Physician Quality Reporting Initiative program (PQRI) incentive payments beyond 2010.
  • Modify the Physician Feedback Program.
  • Require the Secretary to develop a plan to implement a Medicare value-based purchasing program for home health agencies and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs).
  • Amend SSA title XVIII (Medicare) to direct the Secretary to establish a national strategy to improve the delivery of health care services, patient health outcomes, and population health.
  • Direct the President to convene an Interagency Working Group on Health Care Quality.
  • Amend the General Provisions of SSA title XI to provide for the establishment of a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation within CMMS.
  • Amend SSA title XVIII to direct the Secretary to establish a shared savings program that promotes accountability for a patient population and coordinates items and services under Medicare parts A (Hospital Insurance) and B (Supplementary Medical Insurance).
  • Create a Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program.
  • Direct the Secretary to establish a Community-Based Care Transitions Program.
  • Revise requirements with respect to residents in teaching hospitals.
  • Increase the Medicare physician payment update.
  • Direct the Secretary to establish a Working Group on Access to Emergency Medical Care.
  • Extend the Medicare-Dependent Hospital Program.
  • Amend the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 with respect to the hospital wage index.
  • Establish a Medicare prescription drug discount program for brand-name drugs for beneficiaries who enroll in Medicare part D (Voluntary Prescription Drug Benefit Program) and have drug spending that falls into the coverage gap.
  • Establish an independent Medicare Commission to reduce the per capita rate of growth in Medicare spending.
  • Amend SSA title XI to add a new part D, Comparative Effectiveness Research, under which would be established a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.
  • Establish in the Department of Treasury the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund.
  • Establish a nationwide program for national and state background checks on direct patient access employees of long term care facilities and providers.
  • Direct the Secretary to establish new procedures for screening providers of medical or other items or services and suppliers under the Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP programs.
  • Direct the Secretary to establish a self-referral disclosure protocol to enable health care service providers and suppliers to disclose violations.
  • Requires the Secretary to expand the number of areas included in Round Two of the durable medical equipment (DME) competitive bidding program.
  • Extend the period for collection of overpayments due to fraud.
  • Amend the Internal Revenue Code with respect to: (1) an excise tax on the excess benefit of high cost employer-sponsored health coverage; (2) distributions from health savings accounts for drugs and insulin that are prescribed drugs and insulin only; (3) a limitation on salary reduction contributions by employers to a health flexible spending arrangement; (4) expanded information reporting requirements; (5) additional qualifying requirements for charitable hospital organizations; and (6) a qualifying therapeutic discovery project tax credit.
  • Impose annual fees on: (1) manufacturers and importers of branded prescription pharmaceuticals or of medical devices; and (2) health insurance providers.
  • Prescribe a special rule to limit excessive remuneration by certain health insurance providers.
  • Exclude from an individual’s gross income the value of any qualified Indian health care benefit.

Monitoring & Responding To Health Care Reform Proposals

As was the case with HR. 3962, members of the Senate are likely to debate and weigh a variety of amendments and refinements to the provisions of S.1796 as it deliberates its enactment.  If you or someone else you know would like to receive updates about health care reform proposals and other related legislative, regulatory, and enforcement developments, please:

  • Register for this resource at the link above;
  • Join the Coalition for Responsible Health Policy group at linkedin.com to share information and input and join in other dialogue with others concerned about health care reform;
  • Share your input by communicating with key members of Congress on committees responsible for this legislation and your elected officials directly and by actively participating in and contributing to other like-minded groups; and
  • Be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here

If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to health care or other legislative or regulatory reforms, or any other employment, compensation, employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance practices, concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment/Employee Benefits  Practice Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. 

Ms. Stamer has more than 22 years of experience advising and assisting business, government and other clients to evaluate and respond to health care, pension reform, workforce and other proposed or adopted changes in federal or state health care, employee benefit, employment, tax and other federal and state laws.  A member of the leadership council of the American Bar Association Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Chair of the ABA Real Property, Probate & Trust Section and Employee Benefits & Compensation Group and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group Ms. Stamer is highly regarded legal advisor, policy advocate, author and speaker recognized both nationally and internationally for her more than 20 years of work assisting U.S. public and private employers, health care providers, health insurers, and a broad range of other clients to respond to these and other health care, employee benefit and workforce public policy, regulatory and compliance and risk management concerns within the U.S. as well as internationally.  Her work includes extensive involvement providing input and assistance about health care, workforce, pensions and social security and other reforms domestically and internationally.  In addition to her continuous involvement in U.S. health care, pensions and savings, and workforce policy matters, Ms. Stamer has served as an advisor on these matters internationally.  As part of this work, she served as a lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its social security reform as well as has provided input on ethics, medical tourism, workforce and other reforms internationally.

In addition to her extensive work on health and other employee benefit matters, Ms. Stamer also is Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and has continuously has advised and represented employers and others on labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters throughout her career. Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation and employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer is a widely published author and popular speaker on health plan and other human resources, employee benefits and internal controls issues.   Her work has been featured and published by the American Bar Association, BNA, SHRM, World At Work, Employee Benefit News and the American Health Lawyers Association.  Her insights on human resources risk management matters have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, Managed Care Executive, HealthLeaders, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News and the Dallas Morning News.

If your organization needs assistance with monitoring, assessing, or responding to these or other health care, employee benefit or human resources reforms,  please contact Ms. Stamer via e-mail here, or by calling (214) 270-2402.  For additional information about the experience, services, publications and involvements of Ms. Stamer specifically or to access some of her many publications, see here. For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

Proposed Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Bill Would Obligate Chemical Facilities To New Background Check, HR & Other Safety & Security Safeguards

IRS Rules For Employer Reporting Of Wages Paid to Nonresident Alien Employees Performing Services In U.S. Change

House Passes Affordable Health Care For America, Health Care Reform Debate Focus Now Moves To The Senate

SHRM Tells Members Say “NO!” To Pelosi-Backed Health Care Reform

IRS Updates Procedures Qualifying Small Employers Can Use To Qualify To Report Employment Taxes Annually Rather Than Quarterly

OSHA Proposes To Change Hazard Communication Standard

IRS Proposes Changes In Actuarial Enrollment Standards For Performance of Actuarial Services Under the Employee Retirement

EEOC Prepares To Broaden “Disability” Definition Under ADA Regulations

IRS Proposes To Update Regulations On Exclusion of Damages Received on Account of Personal Physical Injuries or Physical Sickness To Eliminate Tort Test

OSHA Final Rule Updates OSHA Personal Protective Equipment Standards

DOL Proposes Changes To H-2A Temporary & Seasonal Agricultural Nonimmigrant Worker Certification Procedures & Related Rules

ADAAA Amendment Broader ADA “Disability” Definition Not Retroactive, Employer Action Needed To Manage Post 1/1/2009 Risks

New Study Shares Data On Migrant Health Care Challenges Along The Border

Employer & Other Health Plans & Other HIPAA-Covered Entities & Their Business Associates Must Comply With New HHS Health Information Data Breach Rules By September 23

HHS Reassignment Of HIPAA Enforcement Duties Signals Rising Seriousness of Enforcement Commitment

Speak Up America: Where & How To Read & Share Your Feedback About The Health Care Reform Legislation

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


Proposed Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Bill Would Obligate Chemical Facilities To New Background Check, HR & Other Safety & Security Safeguards

November 16, 2009

“The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2009” (“Act”) recently passed by the House of Representatives and awaiting Senate consideration, if enacted, will require U.S. businesses that own or operate “chemical facilities” to conduct security background checks on employees and certain other individuals and implement a detailed and expensive list of other new security processes.

By tightening the regulation of security practices at chemical facilities, Title XXI of the Act seeks to strengthen the security of chemical facilities against terroristic acts or other threats. Businesses manufacturing or handling chemicals or other substances that could cause them to be considered “chemical facilities” should carefully watch this legislation and, if appropriate, communicate any relevant input or concerns to members of the Senate promptly. 

The Act would require any facility (“chemical facility”) at which the owner or operator of the facility possesses or plans to possess at any relevant point in time a substance of concern or that that meets other risk-related criteria identified by the Secretary of Homeland Security (the “Secretary”) to implement processes and procedures that would comply with a broad range of risk-based standards established by the Secretary to ensure or enhance the security of a chemical facility against a chemical facility terrorist incident referred to in the Act as “chemical facility security performance standards” (the “Standards”). 

By their express terms and inherently as part of other requirements, the Standards would require that chemical facilities implement a host of new processes and procedures impacting on the selection, credentialing and management of employees and other service providers.  Among other things, for example, the Act would require chemical facilities to:

  • Administer a regularly updated identification system that checks the identification of chemical facility personnel and other persons seeking access to the chemical facility and that discourages abuse through established disciplinary measures;
  • Restrict access to facilities and secure site assets, systems, and technology;
  • Screen and control access to the facility and to restricted areas within the facility by screening or inspecting individuals and vehicles as they enter, measures to deter the unauthorized introduction of dangerous substances and devices that may facilitate a chemical facility terrorist incident or actions having serious negative consequences for the population surrounding the chemical facility;
  • Perform personnel surety for individuals with access to restricted areas or critical assets by conducting appropriate background checks and ensuring appropriate credentials for unescorted visitors and chemical facility personnel, including permanent and part-time personnel, temporary personnel, and contract personnel, including measures designed to verify and validate identity, to check criminal history, to verify and validate legal authorization to work and to identify people with terrorist ties;
  • Develop and require that employees and other member of the workforce comply with new processes, plans and procedures for preventing and responding to chemical facility terrorist incidents and other required procedures for deterring and responding to chemical facility terrorist incidents and threats of those incidents; and
  • Appoint new security officials responsible for overseeing and administering compliance under the Act.

Beyond these and other specific staffing requirements, the Act also would require chemical facilities implement, retrain and require that members of its workforce comply with a broad range of new procedures required under the Standards, including procedures to:

  • Deter chemical facility terrorist incidents through visible, professional, well-maintained security measures and systems, including security personnel, detection systems, barriers and barricades, and hardened or reduced value targets;
  • Deter theft or diversion of a substances of concern, insider sabotage, cyber sabotage, unauthorized onsite or remote access to critical process controls; and other critical product elements, data or systems; and
  • Comply with a host of other mandates.

As part of some of these required procedures, chemical facilities could expect to be required to adopt and train employees on their specific roles or responsibilities for deterring or responding to a chemical facility terrorist incident

Furthermore, the oversight and enforcement powers granted to the Secretary under the also would create a host of new employer retaliation and whistleblower exposures.  The Act would prohibit employer retaliation, implement new whistleblower safeguards and remedies and grant the Secretary the right to offer non-supervisory employees the opportunity to confidentially communicate information relevant to the employer’s compliance or non-compliance of the chemical facility with the Act or its implementing regulations;  It also would grant “an employee representative of each certified or recognized bargaining agent at the covered chemical facility, if any, or, if none, a non-supervisory employee … the opportunity to accompany the Secretary during a physical inspection of such covered chemical facility for the purpose of aiding in such inspection, if representatives of the owner or operator of the covered chemical facility will also be accompanying the Secretary on such inspection.”

These and other provisions could impose significant new burdens, costs and liabilities on businesses considered to be operating chemical facilities.  Since the precise list of businesses likely to fall within that definition would be decided by the Secretary, businesses in manufacturing, energy, pharmaceutical, or other industries that could fall within the scope of this definition should evaluate the potential implications and if appropriate, communicate any relevant input to Congress.

If you have questions about or need assistance with evaluation and responding to the provisions of the Act or any other employment, compensation, employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance practices, concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation and employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 20 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


IRS Rules For Employer Reporting Of Wages Paid to Nonresident Alien Employees Performing Services In U.S. Change

November 13, 2009

Employers of nonresident aliens performing services in the U.S. should review and update their existing practices for reporting and withholding income taxes on wages paid to these employees in response to impending changes in Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules. 

Effective for wages paid on or after January 1, 2010, IRS Notice 2009-91 IRS Notice 2009-91 implements new rules for determining the amount of income tax to be withheld from the wages of nonresident alien employees performing services within the United States.  These new rules will be set forth in the new revision of Publication 15 (Circular E), Employer’s Tax Guide, and other IRS publications. Notice 2009-91 will appear in IRB 2009-48, dated Nov. 30, 2009. An advance copy of the Notice 2009-91 is available for review here.

Notice 2009 modifies the rules for employers to use in calculating income tax withholding on nonresident alien employees to reflect two tax benefits for which nonresident alien employees are not eligible: (1) the standard deduction; and (2) the Making Work Pay Tax Credit.

Beginning with wages paid on or after January 1, 2010, employers are required to calculate income tax withholding under section 3402 of the Code on wages of nonresident alien employees by making two modifications:

  • Employers need to add an amount to wages before determining withholding under the wage bracket or percentage method in order to offset the standard deduction built into the withholding tables; and
  • Employers need to determine an additional amount of withholding from a separate table applicable only to nonresident alien employees to offset the effect of the Making Work Pay Tax Credit built into the withholding tables.

The specific steps to be followed for each of these two modifications will be set forth in Publication 15 and other IRS forms or publications.

Under the Obama Administration, the IRS is placing renewed regulatory and enforcement emphasis on employer classification of worker and proper wage reporting and income and employment tax withholding and payment. In light of these liabilities, employers should ensure that their current practices are properly updated and administered.

If you have questions about or need assistance with these or other employment, compensation, employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance practices, concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation and employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 20 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


House Passes Affordable Health Care For America, Health Care Reform Debate Focus Now Moves To The Senate

November 9, 2009

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the massive health care reform bill introduced by Representative John Dingle and backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act (HR 3962) by a recorded vote of 220 – 215 late Saturday, November 7, 2009 after a day of debate which lead to the adoption of an amendment prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortion services in the public option.  The health care reform debate now moves to the Senate. 

As of this morning (November 9, 2009), the U.S. Government Printing Office had not released an official copy of the text of H.R. 3962 revised to reflect the amendments adopted by the House on Saturday prior to its passage of H.R. 3962.  However, a record of the amendments approved by House members before passage of H.R. 3962 along with text of the bill prior as originally introduced on October 29, 2009 are available for review online here.

We also encourage you and others to join the discussion about these and other health care reform proposals and concerns by joining the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform Group on Linkedin, registering to receive these updates here

If you have questions about or need assistance monitoring, evaluating, commenting on or responding to this or any other health care reform proposal or other federal or state health care, workforce or other legislative, regulatory or other developments or concerns, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state health care, employee benefit, workforce and other legislation and regulation. Ms. Stamer has advised and represented clients about these and other health care labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 20 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. Her public policy experience includes ongoing involvement in these concerns within the U.S. for 30 years, as well as serving as a policy advisor on Social Security Reform to the Government of Bolivia and providing input or other representation to various other clients on workforce, health care and other policies in various other regions of the world. 

For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 528 other followers