Health Plans Should Act Quickly To Prepare Affordable Care Act Required Summary of Benefits & Communications & Update Other Health Plan Communications

March 20, 2012

Save The Date For SLP Webinar

 “Health Plan Communications Update: New Affordable Care Act SBC Rules & Beyond” April 25, 2012

Time is running short for health insurers and employer, union and other health plans, their sponsors and administrators to complete the necessary arrangements to be prepared to give the new “Summary of Benefits and Coverage” (SBC) and “Uniform Glossary” disclosure documents mandated by the summary of benefits and coverage requirements enacted under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act).

Final SBC Regulations[*] implementing the Affordable Care Act’s summary of benefits and coverage requirements jointly published February 14, 2012 by the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury (the Departments) will require most health plans and health insurers begin providing the SBC and Uniform Glossary meeting Department standards to covered persons and coverage applicants beginning on the opening day of the first enrollment period beginning after September 22, 2012.

Completing the preparations to meet this deadline won’t be easy for most health plans and insurers.  Expect to need significant lead time to tailor a SBC and Glossary to your health plan, and complete other necessary arrangements to timely comply with the Final SBC Regulations. Most health plans will need significant time to complete the analysis needed to prepare a SBC appropriately tailored to their health plan.  In addition, most group health plans and insurers, their sponsors, administrators and fiduciaries also generally want to identify and make changes to their health plan design, documents, summary plan descriptions and other materials and practices in response to the new requirements.

The SBC Regulations contained detailed requirements about the required content of the SBC, as well as dictate that health plans and insurers covered by the SBC rules provide a Uniform Glossary of terms, many of which are likely to differ from definitions of the same or similar terms in plan documents, summary plan descriptions or other plan related documents. To help further clarify these requirements, the Departments on March 19, 2012 published a new FAQ[†] that clarifies certain information about the SBC Regulation and its deadline and other requirements.  In addition, the Affordable Care Act also requires that the SBC and other documents be translated where necessary to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health plans and insurers communicate in culturally and linguistic manner. 

Taking time to make changes needed to identify and resolve potential conflicts and other ambiguities between required terms of the SBC and Glossary and existing health plan documentation, communications and procedures is particularly important in light of the United States Supreme Court’s May 16, 2011 ruling in Cigna Corp. v. Amara  In Amara, the Supreme Court ruled that federal courts may use equitable remedies provided for under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act to give a remedy to individuals hurt because summary plan descriptions or other communication or disclosure documents provided by the health plan contain terms that conflict with the official health plan documents under certain conditions.

April 25 Briefing Helps Health Plans, Fiduciaries, Insurers & Administrators Prepare

Solutions Law Press, Inc. plans to help health plans, their fiduciaries, employer and other sponsors, insurers and administrators prepare to comply with the new SBC and other requirements by hosting a webinar on  “Health Plan Communications Update: New Affordable Care Act SBC Rules & Beyond” April 25, 2012” from Noon to 1:30 Central Time on April 25. 2012.  For an invitation or more details about becoming an advertising sponsor or a participant, e-mail here.

For Help or More Information

If you need help preparing to comply with the SBC requirements or other help with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials concerning regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns. 

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern Health Care and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For important information concerning this communication click here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TOU.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  All rights reserved.


[*] See 26 CFR 54.9815-2715, 29 CFR 2590.715-2715, and 45 CFR 147.200, published February 14, 2012 at 77 FR 8668.

[†] See FAQS About Affordable Care Act

Implementation (Part VIII) at http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/pdf/faq-aca8.pdf.


Small Employers Should Evaluate Eligibility For Small Business Health Care Tax Credit

March 14, 2012

Small employers that provide health insurance coverage to their employees should consider whether they qualify for and should claim the small business health care tax credit authorized by Congress as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act).

The small business health care tax credit enacted two years ago may provide a tax credit for certain small employers that pay at least half of the premiums for employee health insurance coverage under a qualifying arrangement may be eligible for this credit. The credit is specifically targeted to help small businesses and tax-exempt organizations provide health insurance for their employees.

Depending upon how they are structured, eligible small employers are likely subject to one of the following three tax-filing deadlines, which fall in coming weeks:

  • March 15: Corporations that file on a calendar year basis can figure the credit on Form 8941 and claim it as part of the general business credit on Form 3800, both of which are attached to their corporate income tax return.
  • April 17: Individuals have until April 17 to complete and file their returns on Form 1040. This includes Sole proprietors, as well as people who have business income reported to them on Schedules K-1—partners in partnerships, S corporation shareholders and beneficiaries of estates and trusts. They also attach Forms 8941 and 3800 to their return. The resulting credit is entered on Form 1040 Line 53.
  • May 15: Tax-exempt organizations that file on a calendar year basis can use Form 8941 and then claim the credit on Form 990-T, Line 44f.

Taxpayers needing more time to determine eligibility might consider obtaining an automatic tax-filing extension, usually for six months. See Form 4868 for individuals, Form 7004 and its instructions for businesses and Form 8868 for tax-exempt organizations.

Businesses that have already filed and later find that they qualified in 2010 or 2011 can still claim the credit by filing an amended return for one or both years. Corporations use Form 1120X, individuals use Form 1040X and tax-exempt organizations use Form 990-T.

Some businesses and tax-exempt organizations that already locked into health insurance plan structures and contributions may not have had the opportunity to make any needed adjustments to qualify for the credit for 2010 or 2011. These employers can still make the necessary changes to their health insurance plans so they qualify to claim the credit on 2012 returns or in years beyond. Eligible small employers can claim the credit for 2010 through 2013 and for two additional years beginning in 2014.

The recently-revamped Small Business Health Care Tax Credit page on IRS.gov provides additional information and resources designed to help small employers see if they qualify for the credit and then figure the amount of the credit, if any, that the employer qualifies to claim. These include a step-by-step guide for determining eligibility, examples of typical tax savings under various scenarios, answers to frequently-asked questions, a YouTube video and a webinar.

 For More Information Or Assistance

If you need help reviewing or updating your health benefit program for compliance with ACA or other laws or with any other employment, employee benefit, compensation or internal controls matter, please contact the author of this article, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A 2011 inductee to the American College of Employee Benefits Council, immediate past-Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPPT Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Arrangements, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plan Committee Vice Chair, former ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group Chair, past Southwest Benefits Association Board Member, Employee Benefit News Editorial Advisory Board Member, and a widely published speaker and author,  Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising businesses, plans, fiduciaries, insurers. plan administrators and other services providers,  and governments on health care, retirement, employment, insurance, and tax program design, administration, defense and policy.   Nationally and internationally known for her creative and highly pragmatic knowledge and work on health benefit and insurance programs, Ms. Stamer’s  experience includes extensive involvement in advising and representing these and other clients on ACA and other health care legislation, regulation, enforcement and administration. 

Widely published on health benefit and other related matters, Ms. Stamer’s insights and articles have appeared in HealthLeaders, Modern Health Care, Managed Care Executive, the Bureau of National Affairs, Aspen Publishers, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News, the Wall Street Journal, the American Bar Association, Aspen Publishers, World At Work, Spencer Publications, SHRM, the International Foundation, Solutions Law Press and many others.

For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see www.CynthiaStamer.com.


Health Plan BCBST To Pay $1.5 Million In 1st OCR Enforcement Action Prompted By HITECH Breach Report

March 13, 2012

Resolution Agreement Also 1st Announced With Health Plan

Health plans and other covered entities beware and prepare!  Health plans and other covered entities that report large breaches of unsecured protected health information to the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights and face potential civil monetary penalties (CMPs) for violating the Privacy & Security Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). 

The HIPAA investigation and exposures to CMPs likely to result following the report of a large breach of unsecured protected health information is demonstrated by a new Resolution Agreement announced March 13, 2012 by OCR.

 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST) has agreed to pay the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) $1,500,000 and to take certain other actions specified in a corrective action plan to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules.  The BCBST Resolution Agreement is particularly significant, both as:

  • The first reported enforcement action directly resulting from the filing by a covered entity of a breach report required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act Breach Notification Rule; and
  • The first reported resolution agreement reached with a covered entity that is a health plan.

These notable enforcement firsts prove both the importance  the HITECH Breach Notification Rule’s significance as an OCR HIPAA enforcement tool, and the readiness of OCR to sanction health plans that breach HIPAA’s Privacy or Security Rules.

The OCR investigation that lead to the BCBST settlement began in response to the submission by BCBST of a notice required under the Breach Notification Rule of the theft of 57 unencrypted computer hard drives from a leased facility in Tennessee, which contained the protected health information (PHI) of over 1 million individuals.  Read more details here.

The Breach Notification Rule requires covered entities to report an impermissible use or disclosure of protected health information, or a “breach,” of 500 individuals or more to HHS and the media as well as an annual consolidated report of smaller breeches to HHS.[1] 

To resolve being officially sanctioned for HIPAA violations stemming from these findings under the strengthened enforcement rules and sanctions enacted as part of the HITECH Act, BCBST has agreed to pay $1,500,000 and adopt other corrective actions detailed in a corrective action plan.

Enforcement Actions Highlight Growing HIPAA Exposures For Covered Entities

The BCBST Resolution Agreements, like the 1st-ever $4.3 million HIPAA CMP that OCR imposed against Cignet Health of Prince George’s County, Md. (Cignet) in 2011 and a series of high dollar Resolution Agreements OCR has announced against various health care providers over the past few years highlight the significance of the HITECH Act amendments to HIPAA’s enforcement and CMP rules, as well as use of  its Breach Notification Rule as a tool in OCR’s investigation and enforcement efforts.

“This settlement sends an important message that OCR expects health plans and health care providers to have in place a carefully designed, delivered, and monitored HIPAA compliance program,” said OCR Director Leon Rodriguez. “The HITECH Breach Notification Rule is an important enforcement tool and OCR will continue to vigorously protect patients’ right to private and secure health information.” 

BCBST’s breach notification report clearly prompted the investigation that lead to the Resolution Agreement.  The opening of the investigation in response to the BCBST Breach Notification report reflects the need for covered entities to be prepared to respond to an investigation when these reports are made.  OCR officials previously have stated that it is the practice of OCR to conduct an investigation into all breaches of the protected health information of 500 individuals or more reported to it under the Breach Notification Rule. 

The BCBST Resolution Agreement provides yet another reminder to covered entities and their business associates of the need to carefully and appropriately manage their HIPAA responsibilities. See HIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On WebsiteCovered entities are urged to heed these warning by strengthening their HIPAA compliance and adopting other suitable safeguards to minimize HIPAA exposures.  For more tips, see here.


[1] The Breach Notification Rule also requires that covered entities report smaller breaches annually to OCR as part of a consolidated disclosure.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials concerning regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns. 

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at ww.solutionslawpress.com

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


March 21 New Deadline To Comment On Proposal To Extend Minimum Wage, Overtime Rules To In Home Care Workers

March 9, 2012
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has extended until March 12 the comment period for its proposed rule to provide minimum wage and overtime protections for nearly 2 million workers who provide in-home care services. See here.

In December, 2011, the WHD published a proposed rule that would expand minimum wage and overtime protections to all home care workers employed by third parties, such as staffing agencies. It also would clarify that individuals performing skilled in-home care work are entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay. However, individuals engaged by families for true companionship or fellowship activities, such as visiting with friends or pursuing hobbies, still would be considered “companions” and not be required to meet the act’s labor standards provisions. See Notice of Proposed Rulemaking[1] (NPRM). 

Among other things, the NPRM proposes to revise the companionship and live-in worker regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA):

  • To more clearly define the tasks that may be performed by an exempt companion;
  • To limit the companionship exemption to companions employed only by the family or household using the services; and
  • To provide that third party employers, such as in-home care staffing agencies, could not claim the companionship exemption or the overtime exemption for live-in domestic workers, even if the employee is jointly employed by the third party and the family or household.

When Congress expanded protections to “domestic service” workers in 1974, it exempted casual babysitters and companions for the aged and inform from both the minimum wage and overtime pay requirements of the FLSA and exempted live-in domestic workers from the overtime pay requirement only. While WHD has left regulations governing this exemption substantially unchanged since first issued in 1975, it now believes the in-home care service industry. workers employed by in-home care staffing agencies are not the workers that Congress envisioned in enacting the companionship exemption (i.e., neighbors performing elder sitting).

As a result of these determines, WHD is moving to modify its existing rules to broaden protections for professionally employed home care workers as well as outreaching to inform employers and workers about the requirements that it perceives employers of these workers must meet.  

The proposed tightening of regulations for home health workers follows a general toughening by WHD of its regulation and enforcement of wage and hour laws in the health care industry.  See, e.g. Home health care company in Dallas agrees to pay 80 nurses more than $92,000 in back wages following US Labor Department investigation; US Department of Labor secures nearly $62,000 in back overtime wages for 21 health care employees in Pine Bluff, Ark.; US Department of Labor initiative targeted toward increasing FLSA compliance in New York’s health care industry; US Department of Labor initiative targeted toward residential health care industry in Connecticut and Rhode Island to increase FLSA compliance; Partners HealthCare Systems agrees to pay 700 employees more than $2.7 million in overtime back wages to resolve U.S. Labor Department lawsuit; US Labor Department sues Kentucky home health care provider to obtain more than $512,000 in back wages and damages for 22 employees; and Buffalo, Minn.-based home health care provider agrees to pay more than $150,000 in back wages following US Labor Department investigation.

Many have expressed concerns about the potential added costs that changes proposed in the NPRM would trigger in providing in home health and companion care for aging and disabled family members.   The extension of the comment deadline provides added time for members of the public concerned about these rules to share their input.

Whether or not the proposed rule is adopted, the growing aggressiveness of the WHD and private plaintiffs to bring actions against employers violating minimum wage and overtime rules means health care and others employing home care workers should take well-documented steps to manage their risks.  These employers should both confirm the adequacy of their practices under existing rules, as well as evaluate and begin preparing to respond to the proposed modifications to these rules.  In both cases, employers of home care or other health care workers are encouraged to critically evaluate their classification or workers, both with respect to their status as employees versus contractor or leased employees, as well as their characterization as exempt versus non-exempt for wage and hour law purposes.  In addition, given the nature of the scheduled frequently worked by home care givers, their employers also generally should pay particular attention to the adequacy of practices for recordkeeping.

For Help or More Information
If you need help with these and other human resources or health care concerns controls matters, please contact the author of this article, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization,management attorney, author and consultant  Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 24 years of work helping private and governmental organizations and their management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; schools and other governmental agencies and others design, administer and defend innovative compliance, risk management, workforce, compensation, employee benefit, privacy, procurement and other management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers carry out, audit, manage and defend worker classification,union-management relations, wage and hour, discrimination and other labor and employment laws, procurement, conflict of interest, discrimination management, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions. 
Widely published on worker classification and other workforce risk management and compliance concerns, the immediate past-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Section Employee Benefits Committee,  a Council Representative of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on management, worker classification, re-engineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at www.solutionslawpress.com

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press. All other rights reserved.

 

NLRB Report Shows Rise In Unfair Labor Practice Complaints & Formal Proceedings

March 9, 2012

The National Labor Relations Board Summary of Activities for Fiscal Year 2011 (Summary) released by NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon this week reflects the increased activism and streamlined handling of matters by the NLRB in 2011

Statistics in the Summary reflect an increase in unfair labor practice complaints as well as an increase in the number of complaints that NLRB Regional offices found to merit formal prosecutions.  According to the Summary, In FY 2011, the Regional Offices issued 1,342 complaints as compared to 1,243 in FY 2010.  In addition to issuing almost 100 more complaints, the percentage of unfair labor practice cases in which a Regional Director determined that formal proceedings were warranted (the merit factor) rose from 35.6% in FY 2010 to 37%. Since 1980, the merit factor has fluctuated between 32% and 40%.

In addition to these results, the General Counsel chose to highlight accomplishments by the NLRB in expediting the handling of investigations and proceedings in several areas.  NLRB cut its working inventory of cases by moving matters through faster.  The working inventory of cases at the end of FY 2011 was 4,421, compared to 4,063 at the end of FY 2010. Other processing efficiency highlights included:

  • 91.7% of all initial elections were conducted within 56 days of the filing of the petition.
  • Initial elections in union representation elections were conducted in a median of 38 days from the filing of the petition.
  • A 93% settlement rate was achieved in the Regional Offices in meritorious unfair labor practice cases.
  • The Regional Offices won 87% of Board and Administrative Law Judge unfair labor practice and compliance decisions in whole or in part in FY 2011.
  • A total of $60,514,922 was recovered on behalf of employees as backpay or reimbursement of fees, dues, and fines, with 1,644 employees offered reinstatement.
  • The Agency exceeded two of its three ambitious overarching goals and came close to achieving the third, closing 84.7% of all representation cases within 100 days (target 85%), 72.5% of all unfair labor practice cases within 120 days (target 71.2%), and 83.2% of all meritorious unfair labor practice cases within 365 days (target 80.2%). The target for each 2011 overarching goal was higher than in FY 2010 and has been increased for FY 2012.
  • Agency representatives participated in over 600 outreach events during FY 2011.

Other statistics of note include:

  • The NLRB”s total case intake during FY 2011 declined to 24,990, compared to 26,585 cases in FY 2010, representing a 5.9% decrease in overall intake.  Unfair labor practice case intake declined 5.1% compared to 2010..Total representation case intake declined 2,813, a 12.2% decrease from the FY 2010.
  • Petitions filed in certification and decertification decreased 11.2% from 2,969 in FY 2010 to 2,634 in FY 2011. Petitions filed in unit deauthorization, unit amendment and unit clarification (UD, AC and UC) cases decreased by 23.8% from the previous year’s intake, with the filing of 179 petitions in FY 2011 compared to 235 filed in FY 2010.
For Help or More Information
If you need help with labor and employment or other human resource, performance management, internal controls or compliance and risk management matters, please contact the author of this article, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization,management attorney, author and consultant  Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 24 years of work helping private and governmental organizations and their management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; schools and other governmental agencies and others design, administer and defend innovative compliance, risk management, workforce, compensation, employee benefit, privacy, procurement and other management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers carry out, audit, manage and defend worker classification,union-management relations, wage and hour, discrimination and other labor and employment laws, procurement, conflict of interest, discrimination management, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions. 
Widely published on worker classification and other workforce risk management and compliance concerns, the immediate past-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Section Employee Benefits Committee,  a Council Representative of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on management, worker classification, re-engineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at www.solutionslawpress.com

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press. All other rights reserved.

 

Sullivan University System to Pay $483,000 in Back Wages Overtime Violations Stemming From Worker Misclassifications

March 8, 2012

Sullivan University System, Inc. learned the hard way that U.S employers that misclassify workers as independent contractors, as exempt for wage and hour law purposes or otherwise increasingly risk investigation and enforcement from federal and state agencies targeting perceived misclassification abuses.

Following an investigation by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, Kentucky based Sullivan University System Inc. will pay $483,201 in back wages to 248 employees who the Department found it wrongfully denied overtime pay while working as admissions officers and high school representatives. The investigation found that employees were incorrectly classified as exempt from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the employer failed to keep accurate records of the employees’ hours.

The Sullivan University System, Inc. settlement provides another example of the growing risks that U.S. employers face from misclassifying workers as exempt employees for purposes of wage and hour and overtime laws.    As a result of the mischaracterization of workers as contractors that the Labor Department determined to qualify as employees for purposes of wage and hour and overtime laws, the Labor Department found the employer failed to pay required overtime and to maintain required time records in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Wage and hour laws are only one of a myriad of areas in which the Department of Labor, Internal Revenue Service and other federal and state regulators increasingloy are scrutinizing worker classifications to uncover violations of applicable law resulting from the mischaracterization of workers as exempt or as non-employee service providers.

The Obama Administration is targeting employers that misclassify workers for enforcement.

Agency officials and members of Congress have sent numerous messages to U.S. employers to clean up their worker classification practices.  For instance, Labor Department enforcement actions increasingly show its employer misclassification audit and enforcement emphasis.  See, e.g.Employer Charged With Misclassifying & Underpaying Workers To Pay $754,578 FLSA Backpay Settlement; $1 Million + FLSA Overtime Settlement Shows Employers Should Tighten On-Call, Other Wage & Hour Practices.

Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) continues to conduct worker classification audits while encouraging employers to self correct existing payroll tax misclassifications by participating in a new Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program (“Settlement Program”) announced in September. However the limited scope of the relief provided makes use of the program challenging for most employers. See New IRS Voluntary IRS Settlement Program Offers New Option For Resolving Payroll Tax Risks Of Misclassification But Employers Also Must Manage Other Legal Risks; Medical Resident Stipend Ruling Shows Health Care, Other Employers Should Review Payroll Practices; Employment Tax Takes Center Stage as IRS Begins National Research Project , Executive Compensation Audits.  

While these and other agencies continue to keep the heat up on employers that misclassify workers, Congress also continues to consider legislation that would further clarify and tighten worker classification rules.  See e.g., Review & Strengthen Defensibility of Existing Worker Classification Practices In Light of Rising Congressional & Regulatory Scrutiny; New IRS Worker Classification Settlement Program and Its Risks.

In her November 3, 2011 testimony to the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. Labor Department Wage & Hour Division (WHD) Deputy Administrator (WHD) Nancy Leppink confirmed that the Labor Department is joining a growing list of federal and state agencies that are making ending employee misclassification an audit and enforcement priority.  Ms Leppink testified that “employee misclassification is a serious and, according to all available evidence, growing problem” that the Obama Administration is “committed to working to end.”  See Testimony of Nancy J. Leppink, Deputy Wage and Hour Administrator, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor before the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. House of Representatives (November 3, 2011).

Her testimony also makes clear that interagency coöperation and sharing of information among agencies is an increasingly valuable tool to this effort. Ms. Leppink told the Subcommittee that the Labor Department is a part of a multi-agency Misclassification Initiative that seeks to strengthen and coördinate Federal and State efforts to enforce violations of the law that result from employee misclassification.

According to Ms. Leppink, the WHD’s exchange of information about investigations with other law enforcement agencies is as “particularly important with respect to our efforts to combat the violations of our laws that occur because of employees who are misclassified as independent contractors or other non-employees.” On September 19, 2011 the Labor Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to share information about investigations with each other.  The MOU helps the IRS investigate if employers the Labor Department has found in violation of federal labor laws have paid the proper employment taxes. Similarly, the WHD also entered into MOUs with several state labor agencies that allow the Labor Department to share information about its investigations and coordinate misclassification enforcement when appropriate.

“These agreements mean that all levels of government are working together to solve this critical problem,” she said.

Employers Urged To Audit & Strengthen Worker Classification Practices

As Federal and state regulators take aim at misclassification abuses, U.S. employers need to review each arrangement where their business receives services that the business treats as not employed by their business, as well as any employees of their business that the business treats as exempt employees keeping in mind that they generally will bear the burden of proving the appropriateness of that characterization for most purposes of law.  

To guard against these and other growing risks of worker classification, employers receiving services from workers who are not considered employees for purposes of income or payroll should review within the scope of attorney-client privilege the defensibility of their existing worker classification, employee benefit, fringe benefit, employment, wage and hour, and other workforce policies and consult with qualified legal counsel about the advisability to adjust these practices to mitigate exposures to potential IRS, Labor Department or other penalties associated with worker misclassification.

Review and management of these issues is particularly timely in light of the opening by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of a new settlement program for resolving payroll tax issues resulting from misclassification.  Given broader labor and other risks, however, before taking advantage of a new Internal Revenue Service program offering employers the opportunity to resolve potential payroll tax liabilities arising from the misclassification of workers, employers should consider and develop a risk management their overall worker misclassification liability exposures.  See “New IRS Worker Classification Settlement Program and its Risks,” in the January, 2011 issue of the Dallas Bar Journal To read her article, see page 8 of the January, 2012 Dallas Bar Journal here.

For Help or More Information

If you need help with worker classification or other human resources or internal controls matters, please contact the author of this article, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization,management attorney, author and consultant  Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 24 years of work helping private and governmental organizations and their management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; schools and other governmental agencies and others design, administer and defend innovative compliance, risk management, workforce, compensation, employee benefit, privacy, procurement and other management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers carry out, audit, manage and defend worker classification,union-management relations, wage and hour, discrimination and other labor and employment laws, procurement, conflict of interest, discrimination management, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.
Widely published on worker classification and other workforce risk management and compliance concerns, the immediate past-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Section Employee Benefits Committee,  a Council Representative of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on management, worker classification, re-engineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at www.solutionslawpress.com

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press. All other rights reserved.

 

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