12 Steps Every Employer With A Health Plan Should Do Now No Matter Who Wins the Election

October 29, 2012

Business leaders concerned about what to do to manage health benefit costs, responsibilities and liabilities over the next year and to position to cope with impending shifts in the health plan regulatory landscape ahead should check out the “12 Steps Every Employer With A Health Plan Should Do Now” article by Cynthia Marcotte Stamer in the October 26, 2012 online edition of Texas CEO Magazine.

Nationally recognized for quarter century of work advising businesses and governments about health benefit and other employee benefits and human resources matters, Ms. Stamer says regardless of who wins the Presidential election next week, employers need to get moving to deal with current health plan obligations and exposures and brace for new future challenges.

Ms. Stamer writes, “While most employers and insurers of employment-based group health plans view with great concern radically expanded health plan responsibilities taking effect in 2014, many are failing to take steps critical to manage exposures and costs already arising from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other federal health plan regulations.” 

In the article, Ms Stamer discusses the following 12 steps that she suggests most businesses consider to help catch up with current responsibilities and to help position their business to anticipate and manage future costs and responsibilities:

  1. Know The Cast Of Characters & What Hat(s) They Wear
  2. Know What Rules Apply, and How They Affect a Group Health Plan
  3. Review and Update Health Plan Documents to Meet Requirements and Manage Exposure
  4. Update the Plan For Changing Compliance Requirements and Enhanced Defensibility
  5. Consistency Matters: Build Good Plan Design, Documentation and Processes, and Follow Them
  6. Ensure the Correct Party Carefully Communicates About Coverage and Claims in a Compliant, Timely, Prudent, Provable Manner
  7. Prepare For ACA’s Expanded Data Gathering and Reporting Requirements
  8. Select, Contract and Manage Vendors With Care
  9. Help Plan Members Build Their Health Care Coping Skills With Training and Supportive Tools
  10. Pack The Parachute and Locate The Nearest Exit Doors
  11. Get Moving On Compliance and Risk Management Issues
  12. Provide Input On Affordable Care Act Rules

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 to respond to emerging health plan regulations, monitoring or commenting on these rules, defending your health plan or its administration, or other health or employee benefit, human resources or risk management concerns, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. To read the full article, see here. To learn more, check out some of Ms. Stamer’s upcoming speaking engagements, her many publications or contact Ms. Stamer directly at (469) 767-8872.

About Ms. 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 registerto receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns  see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mail to  cstamer@solutionslawyer.net.

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, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources at www.solutionslawpress.com including:

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 at here or e-mailing this information here.   

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Boost Employee Recognition of Value Of Employer & Other Retirement Savings Tools & Plans

October 22, 2012

Studies suggest that employees need to save an estimated 40% of current earnings to have sufficient savings to fund the anticipated cost to keep up their lifestyle post retirement for their expected post retirement life expectancy.  Although times are tough, American workers need to understand the importance of taking advantage of employer sponsored and other retirement saving and funding tools. Here is a free Department of Labor resource that employers might want to include in their retirement education toolkit.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need help reviewing or responding to the defined benefit plan funding or other employee benefit, compensation or employment regulations or other related matters please contact Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or (469)767-8872.

About Ms. Stamer

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, an American College of Employee Benefits Counsel Fellow, past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co_Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefit & Other Compensation Group, a Council Member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, current TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, Vice Chair, and Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has more than 25 years experience advising and representing employers, health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries and plan administrators, consultants, vendors, outsourcers, insurers, governments and others about employment, employee benefit, compensation, and a wide range of other performance, legal and operational risk management practices and concerns.  As a part of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with clients to manage risks and defend practices under a wide range of laws and circumstances.  Her experience includes extensive work advising and representing employers, plans, plan fiduciaries, trustees, investors, and others about managing and resolving risks relating to distressed pension and other employee benefit plans, downsizing and other workforce re-engineering and other similar matters.  A prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer also publishes, conducts client and other training, testifies, speaks and consults extensively on other employment and employee benefit risk management practices and concerns for the ABA, World At Work, SHRM, American Health Lawyers Association, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society for Professional Benefits Administrators, HCCA, Southwest Benefits Association and many other organizations.  An Editorial Advisory Board member and contributing author of HR.com, Insurance Thought Leaders, Employee Benefit News and many other publications, her insights on these and related topics have appeared in Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, various ABA publications and a many other national and local publications. To learn more about Ms. Stamer, her experience, involvements, programs and publications, see here or contact Ms. Stamer.

Other Resources & Developments

If you found this information of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing other recent Solutions Law Press updates including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates and notices about upcoming programs and events, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here.   For important information concerning this communication click here.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


Texas Landscaper’s $106,000 In Minimum Wage & Overtime Settlement Reminds Employers To Prepare For FLSA Enforcement

October 17, 2012

Midland, Texas-based landscaper, Turf Specialties Inc. (TSI) will pay $106,818 in back wages to 70 current and former landscape workers to settle charges made by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (DOL) that TSI payment of workers a fixed, bi-weekly salary violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) minimum and overtime provisions. The settlement is a reminder to landscape and other U.S. employers of the importance of insuring that their company designs and administers worker classification, salary and other wage and compensation practices and data to defend against wage and other charges and claims.

FLSA & Other Minimum Wage & Overtime Violations Risky

The FLSA requires that properly classify covered non-exempt workers and pay the workers at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all regular hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week.  Employers treating workers performing serves as exempt from the FLSA minimum wage, overtime and other rules generally bear the burden of proving that the worker either is not properly classified as a common law employee or qualifies as exempt from the FLSA requirements under one of the applicable FLSA exemptions.  For non-exempt employees, the applicable employer also generally is responsible for collecting and maintaining records of hours worked and its proper payment of minimum wage and overtime in accordance with the FLSA requirements.  In addition to these federal rules, employers generally also are subject to various state minimum wage and overtime requirements.  Beyond the risk of enforcement by the DOL and state labor officials, employers violating these rules also generally run the risk of lawsuits brought by employees or groups of employees, seeking actual damages, attorneys fees and costs and punitive or other awards.

TSI Action Illustrates Big Risks of Misclassification Or Other FLSA Violations

The TSI settlement announced today highlights some of the risks that employers run when they get caught playing fast and loose with the FLSA or other wage and hour laws.

According to today’s announcement, a DOL investigation of TSI uncovered a series of FLSA wage and hour DOL investigators found that TSI paid the landscape employees a fixed, biweekly salary that in many workweeks amounted to less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and did not compensate the employees at time and one-half their regular rates of pay for hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a particular workweek.  DOL also says that TSI committed other minimum wage and overtime violations by improperly deducting from employees’ paychecks amounts for uniforms, broken tools and equipment damage. Investigators also found that several employees working as “crew leaders” were improperly classified as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime provision and consequently denied proper overtime compensation.

TSI Settlement Highlights Rising Risks

One of a growing number of costly wage and hour law settlements, the TSI settlement is a relatively small reminder of how costly a mistake employers can make by engaging in overly aggressive worker classification or pay practices.  Through the settlement, TSI avoided potentially much greater fines by agreeing to pay all back wages of more than $106,000 due to the affected workers and committing to future compliance with the FLSA.  It comes on the same day as another employer might not get off that lucky.  Along with the TSI announcement, DOL also announced that it sued to recover $285,000 in back wages for 171 Ohio restaurant workers working under restaurants three restaurants doing business as El Rancho Grande.Highlighting the growing exposure employers generally face from the heightened Labor Department emphasis on overtime and other wage and hour law enforcement, .the settlement also demonstrates the significant risks that employers face from mischaracterizing or failing to properly pay for on-call, standby or other similar times required of non-exempt employees.  Employers and others providing workforce staffing should check and tighten existing worker classification, timekeeping and classification, record keeping and other practices and take other steps to strengthen the defensibility of their practices.  As the DOL and private plaintiffs become increasingly aggressive about enforcing these rules, settlements of hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars are increasingly common.  See, e.g. Record $2.3 Million+ H-2A Backpay Order Plus Civil Money Penalty Reminds Businesses Employing Foreign Workers To Manage Compliance; Employer Charged With Misclassifying & Underpaying Workers To Pay $754,578 FLSA Back pay Settlement; March 21 New Deadline To Comment On Proposal To Extend Minimum Wage, Overtime Rules To In Home Care Workers$1 Million + FLSA Overtime Settlement Shows Employers Should Tighten On-Call, Other Wage & Hour Practices;   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. 

Unfortunately, many employers often are overly optimistic or otherwise fail to properly understand and apply FLSA rules for characterizing on-call or other time, classifying workers as exempt versus non-exempt or making other key determinations. 

Employers wearing rose-tinted glasses when making wage and hour worker classification or compensable time determinations tend to overlook the significance of the burden of proof they can expect to bear should their classification be challenged.  Under the FLSA and applicable state wage and hour laws, employers generally bear the burden of proving that they have properly paid their employees in accordance with the FLSA. Additionally, the FLSA and most applicable state wage and hour laws typically mandate that employers maintain records of the hours worked by employees by non-exempt employees, documentation of the employer’s proper payment of its non-exempt employees in accordance with the minimum wage and overtime mandates of the FLSA, and certain other records.  Since the burden of proof of compliance generally rests upon the employer, employers should take steps to ensure their ability to demonstrate that they have properly paid non-exempt employees in accordance with applicable FLSA and state wage and hour mandates and that employees not paid in accordance with these mandates qualify as exempt from coverage under the FLSA. 

These mistakes can be very costly.  Employers that fail to properly pay employees under Federal and state wage and hour regulations face substantial risk.  In addition to liability for back pay awards, violation of wage and hour mandates carries substantial civil – and in the case of willful violations, even criminal liability exposure.  Civil awards commonly include back pay, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees. 

The potential that noncompliant employers will incur these liabilities has risen significantly in recent years.  Under the Obama Administration, Labor Department officials have made it a priority to enforce overtime, record keeping, worker classification and other wage and hour law requirements. While all employers face heightened prosecution risks, federal officials specifically are targeting government contractors, health care, technology and certain other industry employers for special scrutiny.  Meanwhile, private enforcement of these requirements by also has soared after the highly publicized implementation of updated FLSA regulations on the classification of workers during the last Bush Administration. See Minimum Wage, Overtime Risks Highlighted By Labor Department Strike Force Targeting Residential Care & Group Homes; Review & Strengthen Defensibility of Existing Worker Classification Practices In Light of Rising Congressional & Regulatory Scrutiny; 250 New Investigators, Renewed DOL Enforcement Emphasis Signal Rising Wage & Hour Risks For EmployersQuest Diagnostics, Inc. To Pay $688,000 In Overtime Backpay.

Employers Should Strengthen Worker Classification & Pay Practices For Defensibility

As a result, most employers should check and document the defensibility of their existing practices for classifying and compensating workers under existing Federal and state wage and hour laws and take proper steps to minimize their potential liability under applicable wages and hour laws.  To minimize exposure under the FLSA, employers should review and document the defensibility of their existing practices for classifying and compensating workers under existing Federal and state wage and hour laws and tighten processes as needed to minimize their potential liability under applicable wages and hour laws.  Steps advisable as part of this process include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Audit of each that the employer treats as either contract labor, salaried or otherwise exempt to assess its continued sustainability and to develop documentation justifying that characterization;
  • Audit characterization of workers obtained from staffing, employee leasing, independent contractor and other arrangements and implement contractual and other oversight arrangements to minimize risks that these relationships could create if workers are recharacterized as employed by the employer receiving these services;
  • Review situations where the employer pays a worker salary, flat fees for weeks of work, on-call, standby, per job, per diem or other ways other than on an hourly basisto confirm that all compensable time is properly identified, tracked, documented, compensated and reported;
  • Review of existing practices for tracking compensable hours and paying non-exempt employees for compliance with applicable regulations and to identify opportunities to minimize costs and liabilities arising out of the regulatory mandates;
  • If the audit raises questions about the appropriateness of the classification of an employee as exempt, consult with qualified, experienced legal counsel about options and the advisability of  corrective action;
  • Review of existing documentation and recordkeeping practices for hourly, salaried, and other employees and contractors to build a safety net to help mitigate exposures in the event of reclassification or other challenges;
  • Explore available options and alternatives for calculating required wage payments to non-exempt employees;
  • Reengineer work rules and other practices to minimize costs and liabilities as appropriate in light of the regulations;
  • Re-evaluate these arrangements periodically, as well as in the event of a challenge by a similar worker; and
  • Stay vigilent.

Because of the potentially significant liability exposure, employers generally will want to consult with qualified legal counsel before beginning an assessment and to conduct the assessment within the scope of attorney-client privilege to minimize risks that might arise out of communications made in the course of conducting this sensitive investigation.  Because conversations among leadership, with vendors, or with accounting or other consulting service providers about worker classification, wage and other compensation arrangements typically do not enjoy the protection of attorney-client privilege, employers also should exercise caution about securing the assistance of these service providers to conduct risk audits, or when discussing concerns or possible remedies with these parties unless and until proper arrangements are made to include those discussions within the scope of attorney-client privilege or making other suitable arrangements to manage the risks of these disclosures. 

For Help With Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs

If you need help in conducting a risk assessment of or responding to an IRS, Labor Department or other agency or private plaintiff legal challenges to your organization’s existing workforce classification, pay or other labor and employment, employee benefit or compensation practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469) 767-8872 .

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 23 years of work helping employers; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices. A member of the Editorial Advisory Board of HR.com, the immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer frequently has worked, extensively on these and other workforce and performance 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.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ 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 in exploring other Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™ tools, products, training and other resources here and reading some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ human resources news here such as:

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. For important information concerning this communication click here. 

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, Inc.™  All other rights reserved.


10/16 NTHCPA Free Study Group Meeting On “Health Care Compliance Spooks & Goblins” Participatory Roundtable Study Group

October 14, 2012

Texas healthcare compliance professionals and other health care leaders concerned about managing their compliance risks and exposures may wish to consider joining the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association on October 16, 2012 for lunch and a lively roundtable discussion of health care compliance concerns.  “Health Care Compliance Spooks & Goblins” to be led by Erma Lee, JPS Health Network District Compliance Officer and NTHCPA President on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Dallas Ft Worth Hospital Council Offices at 250 Decker Drive, Irving, TX 75062-2706.  Parties wishing to take part should RSVP here by 6:00 p.m. on October 15, 2012.

With North Texas area health care providers increasingly among those targeted for attention by the high-profile HEAT Task Force and other health care fraud stings, audits, and enforcement and requirements and enforcement tightening a myriad of other compliance areas, health care world increasingly makes health care facilities and providers negotiate a challenging spookhouse full of compliance and enforcement risks for health care organizations and their compliance teams.

The NTHCPA invites health care compliance professionals and other health industry leaders to share their  top compliance spooks and exchange strategies for finding and managing your health care compliance demons with other North Texas health care compliance leaders by participating in this  lively  participatory roundtable discussion at this month’s NTHCPA Meeting.

RSVP & Register For Invites & Updates

The meeting will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on October 16, 2012 at the offices of the Dallas Ft Worth Hospital Council, 250 Decker Drive, Irving, TX 75062-2706.

There is no charge to take part in the meeting. To help us to arrange for adequate space and refreshments for this meeting, however, advance registration is required. RSVP here by 6:00 p.m on October 15, 2012. A complimentary light lunch will be provided for those who timely R.S.V.P. Walk in guests will be accommodated on a space-available basis. While we welcome last-minute attendees, please let us know you are coming and update us if your plans change so that we can plan for appropriate space and meals!

Mark Your Calendars & Save The Date

The NTHCPA has an exciting series of future programs planned for upcoming months. Interested persons should also mark their calendars and save the date to take part in these upcoming NTHCPA Meetings and programs:

November 20, 2012 – “After November-Lame Duck Sequestration: Implications for Health Care”

Steve Love, President, and Chief Executive Officer, Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council

December 18, 2012 - No Study Group Meeting In Celebration of The Holiday Season

January 15, 2013 – “Physician Compensation Compliance Risks & Performance Management Tools”

Alice L. King. National Practice Leader Physician Compensation and Alignment, Towers Watson

February 19, 2013 – “CHNAs, 501(r)(9), Governance & Other Tax Challenges Facing Exempt Organizations”

Nancy Z. Evetts, Mid-America Region Leader, Not-For Profit Tax, Deloitte Tax LLP

About the NTHCPA

NTHCPA exists to champion ethical practice and compliance standards and to provide the necessary resources for ethics and compliance Professionals and others in North Texas who share these principles. The vision of NTHCPA is to be a pre-eminent compliance and ethics group promoting lasting success and integrity of organizations within North Texas.

Would you or someone you know like to join the NTHCPA, get notice of upcoming meetings or events and network on relevant professional developments with other health care professionals? Stay on top of information about upcoming meetings and share and dialogue with other NTHCPA members about health care compliance challenges and developments by participating in our meetings and events, joining our Linked In Group here and checking out the NTHCPA News here. To be added to our invitation list, we also encourage interested persons to make sure we have your current contact information by sending your current contact information including name, title, company, preferred mailing address, e-mail, and telephone number to Vice-President Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here.

Please share this invitation with others who might be interested in this topic or other NTHCPA events!

Stay In Touch. Check Out NTHCPA’s Newsletter, the NTHCPA News here!


NLRB’s Nailing of Bel Air Hotel Reminder RIFs, Other Reengineering & Transactions Impacting Workforce Requirement Proper Risk Management

October 5, 2012

Severance Deals Get Hotel Bel-Air Nailed By NLRB For Labor Law Violations

A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision that nails Hotel Bel-Air (Hotel) for offering severance packages to unionized workers highlights one of a range of potentially costly missteps that businesses conducting reductions in force or other re-engineering risk if they fail to properly understand and manage legal requirements when designing and implementing the change.

Since labor and other workforce-related risks are long-standing, some businesses, their leaders and consultants may be tempted to assume that prior experience means these are handled. The fact specific nature of the risks and changing rules and enforcement, however, makes it critical not to be over-confident. Legal and operational mismanagement of these risks can disrupt achievement of the purpose of the change and add significant added cost and exposure for the business and its management. Proper use of qualified legal counsel as part of the process is important both to help identify and properly manage risk and to leverage attorney-client privilege to help shield sensitive communications in the planning and implementation of these activities from discovery.

Employer’s Obligations To Negotiate & Deal With Union

Once a union is recognized as the certified representative of employees in a workplace, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) generally prohibits the employer from unilaterally changing term and conditions of employment or from going around the union to bargain directly with employees over layoffs, the effects of layoffs and other material terms and conditions of employment. As part of this responsibility, the NLRA and other federal and state laws generally require that employers provide notification to the union of planned reductions in force, plant closings or other operational changes that might impact the workforce and bargain in good faith with the union before conducting layoffs, or offering or making in work rules, compensation, severance or other benefits or other terms or conditions of employment.

In general, an employer’s duty to bargain with a union generally also continues to apply when the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the employer expires unless and until the parties reach agreement or impasse.  While negotiations continue, the employer’s obligation to refrain from making unilateral changes generally encompasses a duty to refrain from implementation unless and until an overall impasse has been reached on bargaining for the agreement as a whole. See Pleasantview Nursing Home, 335 NLRB 96 (2001) citing Bottom Line Enterprises, 302 NLRB 373 (1991). The NLRB considers negotiations to be in progress, and will not find a genuine impasse to exist, until the parties are warranted in assuming that further bargaining would be “futile” or that there is “no realistic possibility that continuation of discussion .  . . would be fruitful.” Saint-Gobain Abrasives, Inc., 343 NLRB 542 556 (2004).

Because the existence of impasse is a factual determination that depends on a variety of factors, including the contemporaneous understanding of the parties as to the state of negotiations, the good faith of the parties, the importance of the disputed issues, the parties’ bargaining history, and the length of their negotiations, Taft Broadcasting Co., 163 NLRB 475, 478 (1967), parties to the negotiation often do not necessarily agree when they have reached impasse.  As the September 28 decision by the NLRB against the Hotel shows, employers that act unilaterally based on an overly optimistic determination of impasse suffer significant financial and other operational and legal risks for engaging in unfair labor practices in violation of Section 8 of the NLRA. 

NLRB Nails Hotel Bel-Air For Failing To Bargain, Offering Severance Around Union

In its September 28, 2012 Bel-Air Hotel Decision, the NLRB ruled the Hotel engaged in unfair labor practices in violation of the NLRA when it offered severance packages to laid off workers in return for the workers’ waiver of recall rights without bargaining to impasse with the union representing its workers, UNITE HERE Local 11 (Union), about the effects of the temporary shutdown.  

The NLRB also ruled the Hotel engaged in unlawful direct dealing by contacting the employees about severance packages without going through the Union even though the Hotel’s contract with the union had expired when the Hotel contacted the laid off union employees to offer severance in return for waivers.  As a result, the NLRB ordered the Hotel to rescind the waiver and release forms signed by the Union members and to meet and bargain with the Union on these terms.

Bel-Air Hotel Decision Background

The NLRB order against the Hotel resulted from unfair labor practice charges that the Union filed against the Hotel after the Hotel offered severance packages directly to workers in exchange for the workers’ waiver of their recall rights while the workers were laid off during the Hotel’s temporary closure for renovations in 2009. 

Before the Hotel offered the severance package directly to the laid off workers, the Hotel and the Union bargained for nine months about the terms of a separation agreement and recall rights for employees who would lose their jobs during a planned 2-year shutdown of the facility for renovation.  In April, 2010, the Hotel gave the Union what it said was the “last, best, and final offer” on severance pay for unit employees laid off during the temporary renovation closure.  While the Union and the Hotel did talk after the Hotel made this final offer. Unfortunately, the parties did not reach an agreement before their existing collective bargaining agreement expired or before the Hotel shut down the facility for renovation.  After the shutdown, the Union and the Hotel stopped formal negotiations but had some “off the record” informal communications until June.  With no resolution by the end of June, the Hotel moved forward unilaterally to offer severance directly to the laid off employees as outlined in its final offer. 

Although the facility was closed and the employees already laid off when the Hotel’s contract with the Union expired, the Union claimed the Hotel remained obligated to negotiate with the Union.  The Union said a flurry of “off-the-record” discussions between the Hotel and the Union leading up to and after the termination showed the parties had not reached impasse. The Union also separately charged that the Hotel violated the NLRA by going around the Union to directly contact employees to offer severance payments in exchange for waiving their right to return to their jobs when the Hotel reopened after renovation.

In response to unfair labor practices charges filed by the Union, Hotel management among other things argued that the Union no longer represented the employees when it offered severance and because the parties’ contract had expired and the parties were at impasse when the Hotel made the offer.

  • Union Remained Representative Despite Layoff & Temporary Facilities Shutdown

The NLRB found “meritless” the Hotel’s effort to rely upon the NLRB’s decision in  Sterling Processing Corp., 291 NLRB 208 (1988) to support the Hotel’s claim that it had no duty to bargain or extend the severance offers through the Union because it made the unilateral severance offer when the facility was closed and the employees were already laid off.

In Sterling, the NLRB found the employer’s unilateral modification of preclosure wages and working conditions did not violate Section 8(a)(5) of the NLRA because when the employer acted unilaterally, there were no employees for the union to represent because when the employer took its unilateral action, the employer already had permanently closed the facility and terminated all employees with no reasonable expectation of reemployment.   

The NLRB ruled that the circumstances when the Hotel acted were distinguishable from Sterling because the unit employees on layoff from the Hotel retained a reasonable expectation of recall from layoff since the Hotel’s closure was only temporary and the Hotel had only laid off, and not yet discharged the employees when it made the unilateral severance offers.  According to the NLRB, the terms of the severance offer evidenced the existence of an expectation of recall because under the terms of that offer, employees who accepted a severance payment waived their recall rights.  See, Rockwood Energy & Mineral Corp., 299 NLRB 1136, 1139 fn. 11 (1990), enfd. 942 F.2d 169 (3d Cir. 1991)(finding that lengthy suspension of production did not relieve employer of its bargaining obligation where laid off employees had “some expectation of recall,” and distinguishing Sterling).

  • No Impasse Because Of Informal “Off The Record” Communications

The Hotel also separately and unsuccessfully argued that its direct offer of severance benefits to laid off employees was not an unfair labor practice because the parties had bargained to impasse before the offer was made. In response to the Union’s claim that a series of “off-the-record” exchanges between the Union and Hotel after the contract expired reflected a continuation of bargaining, the Hotel argued that an impasse existed because the Union was not engaged in good faith negotiations and there was not any possibility that the informal discussions between the Union and the Hotel would result in any fruitful change in the parties positions. 

In an effort to support its position, the Hotel management argued that the Union’s negotiation behavior with other Los Angeles hotels showed the Union had a practice of “artificially extend[ing] negotiations in bad faith” that supported the Hotel’s claim that continued negotiation would be futile. The NLRB rejected this argument too.  It said evidence that the Union did not bargain in good faith to string out negotiations when negotiating with other businesses as part of a campaign to coerce all hotels city wide to agree to a standard contract had no probative relevance for purposes of determining if the Hotel and the Union had bargained to impasse in their negotiations and did not prove bad faith by the Union for purposes of its negotiation with the Hotel.

Having rejected these and other Hotel arguments and evidence of impasse, the NLRB ruled that the evidence indicated that the parties continued communications had narrowed their differences before and after the Hotel made its last final offer on April 9.  Given this progress, the NLRB ruled that parties’ participation in informal off the record discussions well into June were sufficient to show the existence of some possibility that continued negotiations might result in a fruitful change in the parties position sufficient to obligate the Hotel to continue to bargain with the Union.

NLRB Order Carries Heavy Cost for Bel-Air Hotel

Complying the NLRB’s orders to remedy the breach will be painful and expensive for the Hotel, particularly since by the time the order was issued, the renovation was substantially completed. 

To fulfill the requirements of the Order, the Hotel must, among other things:

  • Bargain with the Union as the recognized and exclusive collective-bargaining representative of the employees about the effects on bargaining unit employees of the temporary shutdown of the hotel for renovation and, if an understanding is reached, embody the understanding in a signed collective bargaining agreement;
  • Not deal directly with bargaining unit employees about severance, waiver and release or other terms or arrangements relating to the impact of the temporary shutdown on the bargaining unit employees
  • Rescind the waiver and release agreements signed by individual bargaining unit employees which included the waiver of rehire rights; and
  • Post a NLRB-mandated written notice in the workplace for 60 consecutive days in conspicuous places.

This means that the Hotel will have to work through issues about how to find positions for employees, if any, who originally agreed to waive their rehire rights who now wish to be rehired, as well as engage in expensive bargaining and the implementation of the terms of any resulting collective bargaining agreement.

Union Duties One of Many Potential HR RIF & Deal Traps

The NLRB’s prounion ruling is unsurprising. Since the Obama Administration took office, its NLRB appointments, rule changes and other activism are intended to and are promoting the strength and efforts of labor.  See e.g. Labor Risks Rising For Employers Despite NLRB Loss Of Arizona Secret Ballot Challenge : HR Article by Ms. Cynthia Marcotte Stamer .

Collective bargaining responsibilities like those that resulted in the NLRB order against the Hotel are only one of many potential labor, human resources and benefits-related traps that businesses need to negotiate carefully when planning and executing layoffs or other workforce restructurings in connection with cost or other restructurings, business transactions or other activities impacting the workforce. 

Some examples of other issues and risks that businesses involved in changes impacting their workforce also may need to manage include but are not limited to the need to manage discrimination, federal and state leave, whistleblower and retaliation, and other general employment-related legal risks and responsibilities; to give Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act (WARN) or state law required plant closing or other notifications to workers, unions, government officials, vendors, customers, lenders or other creditors, insurers or others; to disclose, review,  modify or terminate contracts, employee benefit plan documents, communications and other materials; to modify fiduciary, officer, board or other assignments and other related insurance, indemnification, bonding and related arrangements; to comply with employee benefit and compensation related plan document, fiduciary responsibility, discrimination, communication, benefit funding or distribution, reporting and disclosure and other Employee Retirement Income Security Act, Internal Revenue Code, securities and other laws and regulations; privacy, trade secret, and other data integration, confidentiality, and information security and management concerns; Sarbanes-Oxley  and other securities, accounting or related requirements; system and data integration; and many others.

Because improper handling of these or other responsibilities in connection with these responsibilities can significantly undermine the businesses’ ability to realize the financial and operational goals behind the action, as well as expose the business to potentially costly liability, businesses anticipating or conducting reductions in the force or other activities that will impact their workforce should seek advice and help from qualified legal counsel experienced with these concerns early to mitigate these concerns.

If you have any questions or need help with these or other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

About The Author

Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 25 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mail to  cstamer@solutionslawyer.net.

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, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources at www.solutionslawpress.com including:

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 at here or e-mailing this information here.   

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Tighten Employment Disability Risk Management As Obama Declares 12/10 National Disability Employment Awareness Month

October 1, 2012

President Obama’s declaration today (October 1, 2012) of October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month reminds business that U.S. businesses and their leaders need to tighten their disability discrimination risk management and compliance in light of the Obama Administration’s emphasis on aggressively interpreting and enforcing disability discrimination laws, rising private plaintiff lawsuits and other recent regulatory and judicial changes.

In his proclaimation today, President Obama reaffirmed his often stated commitment to the aggressive enforcement of disability laws and other efforts to promote opportunities for disabled individuals, stating:

“[My Administration remains committed to helping our businesses, schools, and communities support our entire workforce. To meet this challenge,… we are striving to make it easier to get and keep those jobs by improving compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

As the administration marks the month, U.S. employers and other business leaders can expect the Obama Administration will be stepping up its already aggressive outreach to disabled Americans to promote awareness of their disability law rights and tools for asserting and enforcing these rights.

Business Faces Growing Employment Disability Exposures

As part of his administration’s commitment, the Obama Administration has moved to aggressively enforce the disability and accommodations of teh Americans With Disabilities Act, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and other federal disability discrimination laws.  The reach and effectiveness of these efforts has been enhanced by statutory and regulatory changes that require employers to exercise greater efforts to meet their compliance obligations and manage their disability and other discrimination risks.

ADA Exposures Heightened

The ADA, for instance, generally prohibits disability discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities as long as this does not pose an undue hardship.  Violations of the ADA can expose businesses to substantial liability. Violations of the ADA may be prosecuted by the EEOC or by private lawsuits.  Employees or applicants that can prove they were subjected to prohibited disability discrimination under the ADA generally can recover actual damages, attorneys’ fees, and up to $300,000 of exemplary damages (depending on the size of the employer).   

In recent years, amendments to the original provisions of the ADA have made it easier for plaintiffs and the EEOC to establish disabled status of an individual.  Businesses should exercise caution to carefully document legitimate business justification for their hiring, promotion and other employment related decisions about these and other individuals who might qualify as disabled.  Provisions of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) that expand the definition of “disability” under the ADA,  As signed into law on September 25, 2008, the ADAAA amended the definition of “disability” for purposes of the disability discrimination prohibitions of the ADA to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that that has a disability within the meaning of the ADA.  The ADAAA retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. However, provisions of the ADAAA that took effect January 1, 2009 change the way that these statutory terms should be interpreted in several ways. Most significantly, the Act:

  • Directs EEOC to revise that portion of its regulations defining the term “substantially limits;”
  • Expands the definition of “major life activities” by including two non-exhaustive lists: (1) The first list includes many activities that the EEOC has recognized (e.g., walking) as well as activities that EEOC has not specifically recognized (e.g., reading, bending, and communicating); and (2) The second list includes major bodily functions (e.g., “functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions”);
  • States that mitigating measures other than “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses” shall not be considered in assessing whether an individual has a disability;
  • Clarifies that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active;
  • Changes the definition of “regarded as” so that it no longer requires a showing that the employer perceived the individual to be substantially limited in a major life activity, and instead says that an applicant or employee is “regarded as” disabled if he or she is subject to an action prohibited by the ADA (e.g., failure to hire or termination) based on an impairment that is not transitory and minor; and
  • Provides that individuals covered only under the “regarded as” prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation.

The ADAAA also emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis.In adopting these changes, Congress expressly sought to overrule existing employer-friendly judicial precedent construing the current provisions of the ADA and to require the EEOC to update its existing guidance to confirm with the ADAAA Amendments.  Under the leadership of the Obama Administration, the EEOC and other federal agencies have embraced this charge and have sigificantly stepped up enforcement of the ADA and other federal discrimination laws.

Recent enforcement, regulatory and other activities by the EEOC demonstrate that the EEOC is enthusiastically moving forward to exercise its regulatory and enforcement powers under these enhanced ADA provisions to tighten requirements for employers and to enforce its rules. See e.g.,  Leprino Foods To Pay $550K To Settle OFCCP Charge Pre-Hire Screening Test Illegally Discriminated « As EEOC Steps Up ADA Accommodation Enforcement, New DOD Apple App, Other Resources Released; Wal-Mart Settlement Shows ADA Risks When Considering Employee Return To Work Accommodation Requests & Inquiries; Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Worker’s.

Rehabilitation Act Risks For Government Contractors

Beyond the generally applicable risks applicable to all employers of more than 15 employees under the ADA, federal and state government contractors face additional responsibilities and risks. 

Subject to limited exceptions, government contractors providing services or supplies on ARRA or other government funded contracts or projects must comply both with generally applicable employment discrimination requirements and special statutory and contractual nondiscrimination, affirmative action, and recordkeeping requirements applicable government contractors. For instance, federal law generally requires government contractors to comply with the special equal employment opportunity requirements of  Executive Order 11246 (EO 11246); Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 503); and the Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA).   Pursuant to these laws, business with the federal government, both contractors and subcontractors, generally must follow a number of statutory and contractual requirements to follow the fair and reasonable standard that they not discriminate in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability or status as a protected veteran. OFCCP generally audits and enforces these requirements. Memo to Funding Recipients: Compliance with Applicable Nondiscrimination and Equal Opportunity Statutes, Regulations, and Executive Orders.  

OFCCP has made clear that it will conduct compliance evaluations and host compliance assistance events to ensure that federal contractors comply and are aware of their responsibilities under EO 11246, Section 503 and VEVRAA. 

While many government contractors may be tempted to become complacent about OFCCP exposures based on reports of the OFCCP’s relatively low enforcement in the past, see Report Says OFCCP Enforcement Data Show Infrequent Veteran, Disability Bias Findings | Bloomberg BNA recent enforcement data documents OFCCP is getting much more serious and aggressive about auditing and enforcing compliance with its affirmative action and other requirements against government contractors under the Obama Administration.  See, OFCCP Enforcement Data is Available on a New DOL Website. See also, Affirmative Action Update: OFCCP Enforcement Statistics Show Increase in Violations.  The readiness of OFCCP to enforce its rules is illustrated by the settlement of an OFCCP action filed against federal contractor Nash Finch Co. (Nash Finch) announceed last week.  Under the settlement, Nash Finch to pay $188,500 in back wages and interest and offer jobs to certain women applicants who OFCCP charged Nash rejected for the entry-level position of order selector at the company’s distribution facility in Lumberton, Minnesota.  See Settlement of OFCCP Employment Discrimination Charge Reminder To ARRA, Other Government Contractors Of Heightened Enforcement Risks.

These government contractor disability discrimination risks are particularly acute where the government contractor works on or provides supplies on contacts or projects funded in whole or in part by monies provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“ARRA”).    When the contract or project in question receives any funding out of the $787 billion of stimulus funding provided by ARRA, special OFCCP rules applicable to ARRA funded projects necessitates that federal contractors exercise special care to understand and meet their responsibilities and manage associated exposures.   See, e.g. Settlement of OFCCP Employment Discrimination Charge Reminder To ARRA, Other Government Contractors Of Heightened Enforcement Risks

Businesses Should Act To Manage Risks

The ADAAA amendments, the Rehabilitation Act’s expanded reach, and the Obama Administration’s emphasis on enforcement make it likely that businesses generally will face more disability claims from a broader range of employees and will possess fewer legal shields to defend themselves against these claims. These changes will make it easier for certain employees to qualify and claim protection as disabled under the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and other disability discrimination laws. 

In light of these and other developments and risks, businesses generally should act cautiously when dealing with applicants or employees with actual, perceived, or claimed physical or mental impairments to minimize exposures under the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act and other laws.  Management should exercise caution to carefully and appropriate the potential legal significance of physical or mental impairments or conditions that might be less significant in severity or scope, correctable through the use of eyeglasses, hearing aids, daily medications or other adaptive devices, or that otherwise have been assumed by management to fall outside the ADA’s scope.  

Likewise, businesses should be prepared for the EEOC, OFCCP and the courts to treat a broader range of disabilities, including those much more limited in severity and life activity restriction, to qualify as disabling for purposes of the Act. Businesses should assume that a greater number of employees with such conditions are likely to seek to use the ADA as a basis for challenging hiring, promotion and other employment decisions.  For this reason, businesses generally should tighten job performance and other employment recordkeeping to enhance their ability to demonstrate nondiscriminatory business justifications for the employment decisions made by the businesses.

Businesses also should consider tightening their documentation regarding their procedures and processes governing the  collection and handling records and communications that may contain information regarding an applicant’s physical or mental impairment, such as medical absences, worker’s compensation claims, emergency information, or other records containing health status or condition related information.  The ADA generally requires that these records be maintained in separate confidential files and disclosed only to individuals with a need to know under circumstances allowed by the ADA. 

As part of this process, businesses also should carefully review their employment records, group health plan, family leave, disability accommodation, and other existing policies and practices to comply with, and manage exposure under the new genetic information nondiscrimination and privacy rules enacted as part of the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) signed into law by President Bush on May 21, 2008.  Effective November 21, 2009, Title VII of GINA amends the Civil Rights Act to prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information and restricts the ability of employers and their health plans to require, collect or retain certain genetic information. Under GINA, employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees face significant liability for violating the sweeping nondiscrimination and confidentiality requirements of GINA concerning their use, maintenance and disclosure of genetic information. Employees can sue for damages and other relief like currently available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination laws.  For instance, GINA’s employment related provisions include rules that will:

  • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating based on genetic information in hiring, termination or referral decisions or in other decisions regarding compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment;
  • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from limiting, segregating or classifying employees so as to deny employment opportunities to an employee based on genetic information;
  • Bar labor organizations from excluding, expelling or otherwise discriminating against individuals based on genetic information;
  • Prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information of an employee or an employee’s family member except as allowed by GINA to satisfy certification requirements of family and medical leave laws, to monitor the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace or other conditions specifically allowed by GINA;
  • Prohibit employers, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from discriminating in any decisions related to admission or employment in training or retraining programs, including apprenticeships based on genetic information;
  • Mandate that in the narrow situations where limited cases where genetic information is obtained by a covered entity, it maintain the information on separate forms in separate medical files, treat the information as a confidential medical record, and not disclosure the genetic information except in those situations specifically allowed by GINA;
  • Prohibit any person from retaliating against an individual for opposing an act or practice made unlawful by GINA; and
  • Regulate the collection, use, access and disclosure of genetic information by employer sponsored and certain other health plans.

These employment provisions of GINA are in addition to amendments to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Public Health Service Act, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, and Title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act that are effective for group health plan for plan years beginning after May 20, 2009.

If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment and/or employee practices in response to the Rehabilitation Act, ADA, GINA or other applicable laws, or if we may be of assistance with regard to any other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Board Certified Labor and Employment Attorney and Management Consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at 469..

About The Author

Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 25 years human resource, employee benefits and management experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in numerous human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 214.270.2402 or via e-mail here.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published in this electronic Solutions Law publication available for review here including:

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 at 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 to support@solutionslawyer.net.

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


Tighten Disability Discrimination Defenses As National Disability Employment Awareness Month Promises To Whip Up New Claims & Awareness

October 1, 2012

President Obama’s declaration today (October 1, 2012) of October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month reminds business that U.S. businesses and their leaders need to tighten their disability discrimination risk management and compliance in light of the Obama Administration’s emphasis on aggressively interpreting and enforcing disability discrimination laws, rising private plaintiff lawsuits and other recent regulatory and judicial changes.  With the Administration expected to step up further its already substantial educational outreach to the disabled and their advocates, U.S. employers should brace for this month’s celebration to fuel even more disability discrimination claims and other activity by the disabled and their activists.

Since taking office, President Obama has make enforcing and expanding the rights of the disabled in employment and other areas a leading priority. 

In his proclamation today, President Obama reaffirmed his often stated commitment to the aggressive enforcement of disability laws and other efforts to promote opportunities for disabled individuals, stating:

“[My Administration remains committed to helping our businesses, schools, and communities support our entire workforce. To meet this challenge,… we are striving to make it easier to get and keep those jobs by improving compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.”

As the administration marks the month, U.S. employers and other business leaders can expect the Obama Administration will be stepping up its already aggressive outreach to disabled Americans to promote awareness of their disability law rights and tools for asserting and enforcing these rights.  See, e.g. October Is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).

Business Faces Growing Employment Disability Exposures

As part of his administration’s commitment, the Obama Administration has moved to aggressively enforce the disability and accommodations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and other federal disability discrimination laws.  The reach and effectiveness of these efforts has been enhanced by statutory and regulatory changes that require employers to exercise greater efforts to meet their compliance obligations and manage their disability and other discrimination risks.

ADA Exposures Heightened

The ADA, for instance, generally prohibits disability discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities as long as this does not pose an undue hardship.  Violations of the ADA can expose businesses to substantial liability. Violations of the ADA may be prosecuted by the EEOC or by private lawsuits.  Employees or applicants that can prove they experienced prohibited disability discrimination under the ADA generally can recover actual damages, attorneys’ fees, and up to $300,000 of exemplary damages (depending on the size of the employer).   

In recent years, amendments to the original provisions of the ADA have made it easier for plaintiffs and the EEOC to prove disabled status of an individual.  Businesses should exercise caution to carefully document legitimate business justification for their hiring, promotion and other employment related decisions about these and other individuals who might qualify as disabled.  Provisions of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) that expand the definition of “disability” under the ADA,  As signed into law on September 25, 2008, the ADAAA amended the definition of “disability” for purposes of the disability discrimination prohibitions of the ADA to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that that has a disability within the meaning of the ADA.  The ADAAA retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. However, provisions of the ADAAA that took effect January 1, 2009 change the way that these statutory terms should be interpreted in several ways. Most significantly, the Act:

  • Directs EEOC to revise that part of its regulations defining the term “substantially limits;”
  • Expands the definition of “major life activities” by including two non-exhaustive lists: (1) The first list includes many activities that the EEOC has recognized (e.g., walking) as well as activities that EEOC has not specifically recognized (e.g., reading, bending, and communicating); and (2) The second list includes major bodily functions (e.g., “functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions”);
  • States that mitigating measures other than “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses” shall not be considered in assessing whether an individual has a disability;
  • Clarifies that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active;
  • Changes the definition of “regarded as” so that it no longer requires a showing that the employer perceived the individual to be substantially limited in a major life activity, and instead says that an applicant or employee is “regarded as” disabled if he or she is subject to an action prohibited by the ADA (e.g., failure to hire or termination) based on an impairment that is not transitory and minor; and
  • Provides that individuals covered only under the “regarded as” prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation.

The ADAAA also emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis.In adopting these changes, Congress expressly sought to overrule existing employer-friendly judicial precedent construing the current provisions of the ADA and to require the EEOC to update its existing guidance to confirm with the ADAAA Amendments.  Under the leadership of the Obama Administration, the EEOC and other federal agencies have embraced this charge and have significantly stepped up enforcement of the ADA and other federal discrimination laws.

Recent enforcement, regulatory and other activities by the EEOC show that the EEOC is enthusiastically moving forward to exercise its regulatory and enforcement powers under these enhanced ADA provisions to tighten requirements for employers and to enforce its rules. See e.g.,  Leprino Foods To Pay $550K To Settle OFCCP Charge Pre-Hire Screening Test Illegally Discriminated « As EEOC Steps Up ADA Accommodation Enforcement, New DOD Apple App, Other Resources Released; Wal-Mart Settlement Shows ADA Risks When Considering Employee Return To Work Accommodation Requests & Inquiries; Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Worker’s.

Rising Rehabilitation Act Risks For Government Contractors

Beyond the generally applicable risks applicable to all employers of more than 15 employees under the ADA, federal and state government contractors face more responsibilities and risks. 

Subject to limited exceptions, government contractors providing services or supplies on ARRA or other government-funded contracts or projects must comply both with generally applicable employment discrimination requirements and special statutory and contractual nondiscrimination, affirmative action, and recordkeeping requirements applicable government contractors. For instance, federal law generally requires government contractors to comply with the special equal employment opportunity requirements of  Executive Order 11246 (EO 11246); Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 503); and the Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA).   Pursuant to these laws, business with the federal government, both contractors and subcontractors, generally must follow a number of statutory and contractual requirements to follow the fair and reasonable standard that they not discriminate in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability or status as a protected veteran. OFCCP generally audits and enforces these requirements. Memo to Funding Recipients: Compliance with Applicable Nondiscrimination and Equal Opportunity Statutes, Regulations, and Executive Orders.  

OFCCP has made clear that it will conduct compliance evaluations and host compliance assistance events to ensure that federal contractors comply and are aware of their responsibilities under EO 11246, Section 503 and VEVRAA. 

While many government contractors may be tempted to become complacent about OFCCP exposures based on reports of the OFCCP’s relatively low enforcement in the past, see Report Says OFCCP Enforcement Data Show Infrequent Veteran, Disability Bias Findings | Bloomberg BNA recent enforcement data documents OFCCP is getting much more serious and aggressive about auditing and enforcing compliance with its affirmative action and other requirements against government contractors under the Obama Administration.  See, OFCCP Enforcement Data is Available on a New DOL Website. See also, Affirmative Action Update: OFCCP Enforcement Statistics Show Increase in Violations.  The readiness of OFCCP to enforce its rules is illustrated by the settlement of an OFCCP action filed against federal contractor Nash Finch Co. (Nash Finch) announceed last week.  Under the settlement, Nash Finch to pay $188,500 in back wages and interest and offer jobs to certain women applicants who OFCCP charged Nash rejected for the entry-level position of order selector at the company’s distribution facility in Lumberton, Minnesota.  See Settlement of OFCCP Employment Discrimination Charge Reminder To ARRA, Other Government Contractors Of Heightened Enforcement Risks.

These government contractor disability discrimination risks are particularly acute where the government contractor works on or provides supplies on contacts or projects funded in whole or in part by monies provided under ARRA.    When the contract or project in question receives any funding out of the $787 billion of stimulus funding provided by ARRA, special OFCCP rules applicable to ARRA funded projects necessitates that federal contractors exercise special care to understand and meet their responsibilities and manage associated exposures.   See, e.g. Settlement of OFCCP Employment Discrimination Charge Reminder To ARRA, Other Government Contractors Of Heightened Enforcement Risks

GINA & Other Medical Information Nondiscrimination & Privacy Risks

Employers also need to use care to ensure that their hiring and other employment practices, as well as their employee benefits, workers’ compensation and wellness practices are up to date and properly managed to mitigate exposures under laws like the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA),  the ADA’s medical information privacy requirements,  as well as the privacy and nondiscrimination rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act and other relevant federal and state laws.

Signed into law by President Bush on May 21, 2008 and in effect since November 21, 2009, for instance, Title VII of GINA amended the Civil Rights Act to prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information and to restrict the ability of employers and their health plans to require, collect or retain certain genetic information. Under GINA, employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees face significant liability for violating the sweeping nondiscrimination and confidentiality requirements of GINA concerning their use, maintenance and disclosure of genetic information. Employees can sue for damages and other relief like now available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination laws.  For instance, GINA’s employment related provisions include rules that:

  • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating based on genetic information in hiring, termination or referral decisions or in other decisions regarding compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment;
  • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from limiting, segregating or classifying employees so as to deny employment opportunities to an employee based on genetic information;
  • Bar labor organizations from excluding, expelling or otherwise discriminating against individuals based on genetic information;
  • Prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information of an employee or an employee’s family member except as allowed by GINA to satisfy certification requirements of family and medical leave laws, to monitor the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace or other conditions specifically allowed by GINA;
  • Prohibit employers, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from discriminating in any decisions related to admission or employment in training or retraining programs, including apprenticeships based on genetic information;
  • Mandate that in the narrow situations where limited cases where genetic information is obtained by a covered entity, it maintain the information on separate forms in separate medical files, treat the information as a confidential medical record, and not disclosure the genetic information except in those situations specifically allowed by GINA;
  • Prohibit any person from retaliating against an individual for opposing an act or practice made unlawful by GINA; and
  • Regulate the collection, use, access and disclosure of genetic information by employer sponsored and certain other health plans.

These employment provisions of GINA are in addition to amendments to HIPAA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Public Health Service Act, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, and Title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act that are effective for group health plan for plan years beginning after May 20, 2009.  Under these HIPAA and GINA rules, health plans generally may not make certain medical inquiries or discriminate against employees or their family members based on family or individual medical history or genetic information.  In addition, health plans and others are required to safeguard personal medical information and may only share that information only under very limited circumstances requiring specific documentation be in place and that the parties can prove that the access and use of that information is appropriately restricted.  Violation of these and other rules can have significant civil and in some cases even criminal liabilities for companies, plans, plan fiduciaries and company officials that take part in violations of these rules.

Businesses Should Act To Manage Risks

The ADAAA amendments, the Rehabilitation Act’s expanded reach, and the Obama Administration’s emphasis on enforcement make it likely that businesses generally will face more disability claims from a broader range of employees and will have fewer legal shields to defend themselves against these claims. These changes will make it easier for certain employees to qualify and claim protection as disabled under the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and other disability discrimination laws. 

All U.S. businesses should review and tighten the adequacy of their existing compliance and risk management practices to promote and document compliance.  These efforts should focus on all relevant hiring, recruitment, promotion, compensation, recordkeeping and reporting policies and practices internally, as well as those of any recruiting agencies, subcontractors or other business partners whose actions might impact on compliance.

In light of these and other developments and risks, businesses generally should act cautiously when dealing with applicants or employees with actual, perceived, or claimed physical or mental impairments to minimize exposures under the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act and other laws.  Management should exercise caution to carefully and appropriately assess and identify the potential legal significance of physical or mental impairments or conditions that might be less significant in severity or scope, correctable through the use of eyeglasses, hearing aids, daily medications or other adaptive devices, or that management might be tempted to assume fall outside the ADA’s scope.  

Likewise, businesses should be ready for the EEOC, OFCCP and the courts to treat a broader range of disabilities, including those much more limited in severity and life activity restriction, to qualify as disabling for purposes of the Act. Businesses should assume that a greater number of employees with such conditions are likely to seek to use the ADA as a basis for challenging hiring, promotion and other employment decisions.  For this reason, businesses generally should tighten job performance and other employment recordkeeping to enhance their ability to demonstrate nondiscriminatory business justifications for the employment decisions made by the businesses.

Businesses also should consider tightening their documentation regarding their procedures and processes governing the  collection and handling records and communications that may contain information regarding an applicant’s physical or mental impairment, such as medical absences, worker’s compensation claims, emergency information, or other records containing health status or condition related information.  The ADA generally requires that these records be maintained in separate confidential files and disclosed only to individuals with a need to know under circumstances allowed by the ADA. 

As part of this process, businesses also should carefully review their employment records, group health plan, family leave, disability accommodation, and other existing policies and practices to comply with, and manage exposure under  the genetic information nondiscrimination and privacy rules enacted as part of GINA, the health care privacy rules of the HIPAA, and the medical record privacy rules of the ADA.  Particular care should be used when planning wellness, health risk assessment, work-related injury, family or other medical leave or related programs, all of which raise particular risks and concerns.

In the face of the rising emphasis of OFCCP, the EEOC and other federal and state agencies on these audit and enforcement activities, government contractors should exercise additional compliance and risk management efforts beyond these generally recommended steps.   Among other things, these steps should include the following:

  • Government contractors and subcontractors should specifically review their existing or proposed contracts and involvements to identify projects or contracts which may involve federal or state contracts or funding that could trigger responsibility.  In this respect, businesses should conduct well-documented inquiries when proposing and accepting contracts to ensure that potential obligations as a government contractor are not overlooked because of inadequate intake procedures. Businesses also should keep in mind that ARRA and other federal program funds often may be filtered through a complex maze of federal grants or program funding to states or other organizations, which may pass along government contractor status and liability when subcontracting for services as part of the implementation of broader programs.  Since the existence of these obligations often is signaled by contractual representations in the contracts with these parties, careful review of contractual or bid specifications and commitments is essential.  However, it also generally is advisable also to inquire about whether the requested products or services are provided pursuant to programs or contracts subject to these requirements early in the process. 
  • In addition to working to identify contracts and arrangements that are covered by OFCCP or other requirements, government contractors and other businesses also should reconfirm and continuously monitor the specific reporting, affirmative action, and other requirements that apply to any programs that may be subject to OFCCP requirements to ensure that they fully understand and implement appropriate procedures to comply with these conditions as well as pass along  the obligation to make similarly necessary arrangements to any subcontractors or suppliers that the government contractor involves as a subcontractor. 
  • Throughout the course of the contract, the government contractor also should take steps to maintain and file all required reports and monitor and audit operational compliance with these and other requirements.  
  • The organization should develop and administer appropriate procedures for monitoring and investigating potential compliance concerns and maintaining documentation of that activity.  Any known potential deficiencies or complaints should be promptly investigated and redressed with the assistance of qualified counsel in a prompt manner to mitigate potential risks.
  • Documentation should be carefully retained and organized on a real time and continuous basis to faciliate efficiency and effectiveness in completing required reports, monitoring compliance indicators and responding to OFCCP, EEOC or private plaintiff charges as well as other compliance inquiries.
  • Any audit inquiries or charges should be promptly referred to qualified legal counsel for timely evaluation and response.
  • When available and affordable, management should consider securing appropriate employment practices liability coverage, indemnification from business partners and other liability protection and assurance to help mitigate investigagtion and defense costs.
  • Board members or other senior management should include periodic review of compliance in their agenda.

If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment and/or employee practices in response to the Rehabilitation Act, ADA, GINA or other applicable laws, or if we may be of help with regard to any other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Board Certified Labor and Employment Attorney and Management Consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at 469.767.8872.

About The Author

Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to meet their business and operational goals and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 25 years human resource, employee benefits and management experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mail here.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published in this electronic Solutions Law publication available for review here including:

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


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