Labor Department Serves The Christmas Light Co. & Its Owner With Holiday Season FLSA Lawsuit

November 30, 2012

The U.S. Department of Labor (Labor Department) kicked off the 2013 Holiday Season by filing a lawsuit against The Christmas Light Co. Inc. and owner William F. Rathburn to recover approximately $240,881 in wages and an additional amount in liquidated damages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) on behalf of 233 employees who installed and removed lights for the company.  Yet another in a growing list of lawsuits against U.S. employers accused of failing to comply with FLSA minimum wage and overtime rules, the lawsuit reflects the significant risks that U.S. businesses risk by failing to properly track and pay employees covered by the FLSA as required.

Holiday Season FLSA Suit Casts Shadow Over The Christmas Light Co. Inc.

According to the Labor  Department, an investigation by its Dallas Wage and Hour Division office found that The Christmas Light Co. Inc. violated the FLSA by failing to pay 233 installers and removers the minimum and overtime wages and keep records required by law.  The complaint filed in the Northern District of Texas seeks back wages and liquidated damages of nearly $500,000 and an injunction against future violations of the FLSA.

The Labor Department says that its investigation determined that the company violated the FLSA by paying non-exempt workers a flat rate for installing and removing Christmas lights without regard to the number of hours the employees had worked. Investigators also found that in most cases employees were paid “straight time” rather than overtime at time and one-half their regular rates for hours worked over 40 in a week, as required. Additionally, the Labor Department found that the company failed to keeprecords required by the FLSA. 

The lawsuit against The Christmas Light Co. Inc. spotlights a growing emphasis by the Labor Department on investigation and enforcement of employer violations of the FLSA.  “The Labor Department holds employers accountable when they do not properly pay their workers,” said Cynthia Watson, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the Southwest. “Failing to pay minimum and overtime wages is unacceptable. Such behavior robs workers of their rightful wages and undercuts those hardworking and conscientious employers who obey the law. This lawsuit demonstrates that the department will use all enforcement tools available, including litigation, to recover workers’ wages and ensure a level playing field for law-abiding employers.”

FLSA Violations Generally Costly;  Enforcement Rising

The enforcement record of the Labor Department confirms that the Labor Department’s suit against the Christmas Light Co. Inc. lawsuit is reflective of a strong enforcement commitment targeting U.S. employers using aggressive worker classification or other pay practices to avoid paying minimum wage or overtime to workers.  Under the Obama Administration, DOL officials have made it a priority to enforce overtime, record keeping, worker classification and other wage and hour law requirements.  See e.g.,  Boston Furs Sued For $1M For Violations Of Fair Labor Standards Act; Record $2.3 Millh ion+ Backpay Order; 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 In an effort to further promote compliance and enforcement of these rules,  the Labor Department is using  smart phone applications, social media and a host of other new tools to educate and recruit workers in its effort to find and prosecute violators. See, e.g. New Employee Smart Phone App New Tool In Labor Department’s Aggressive Wage & Hour Law Enforcement Campaign Against Restaurant & Other Employers.    As a result of these effort, employers violating the FLSA now face heightened risk of enforcement from both the  Labor Department and private litigation. 

Employers Should Strengthen Practices For Defensibility

 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 take other actions 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 position current classified as 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 the characterization of on-call and other time demands placed on employees to 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, self-initiation of proper corrective action after consultation with qualified legal counsel;
  • Review of existing documentation and record keeping practices for hourly employees;
  • Exploration of available options and alternatives for calculating required wage payments to non-exempt employees; and
  • Re-engineering of work rules and other practices to minimize costs and liabilities as appropriate in light of the regulations and enforcement exposures.

Because of the potentially significant liability exposure, employers generally will want to consult with qualified legal counsel before starting their risk assessment and assess risks and claims within the scope of attorney-client privilege to help protect the ability to claim attorney-client privilege or other evidentiary protections to help shelter conversations or certain other sensitive risk activities from discovery under the rules of evidence. 

For Help With Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs

If you need help in conducting a risk assessment of or responding to an IRS, DOL, Justice Department, or other federal or state agencies or other private plaintiff or other legal challenges to your organization’s existing workforce classification or other labor and employment, compliance,  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. The 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 often 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 more information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to get access to 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 including the following:

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 about 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.


Boston Hides and Furs Ltd. Sued For $1 Million For Alleged Willful FLSA Wage & Hour Law Violations

November 28, 2012

U.S. employers using aggressive worker classification or other pay practices to avoid paying overtime should heed the expensive lesson that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) hopes to teach employer Boston Hides & Furs Ltd. and members of its management in a lawsuit filed in Boston.

Citing “knowing, deliberate and intentional” violations of federal wage and hour law, the DOL is suing Boston Hides and Furs Ltd. and company officials seeking at least $500,000 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages for allegedly underpaying employees of the Chelsea wholesale animal hide business. See Solis v. Boston Hides & Furs Ltd., Anthony Andreottola, Angelo Andreottola and Antoinetta Andreottola Parisi, CV-1:12-CV-11997-MLW.  The suit illustrates the significant liability that companies or their owners or management risk by failing to properly pay workers covered by the FLSA and meet other FLSA requirements.

FLSA Generally

The FLSA generally requires that an employee pay each covered employees at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour as well as time and one-half their regular rates for every hour they work beyond 40 per week. When the state minimum wage is higher than the federally mandated wage, and employees work more than 40 hours in a week calculated in accordance with applicable state laws, employees paid at the minimum permissible level are entitled to overtime compensation based on the higher state minimum wage.  Time credited may be determined differently under state law versus the FLSA.  Employers must make sure proper crediting, record keeping and payment in time to meet both applicable requirements.

The FLSA also requires employers to keep accurate records of covered employees’ wages, hours and other conditions of employment and prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under the law. Special rules also may apply to the employment of children or other special populations.

The rules generally establish a legal presumption that a worker performing services is working as a covered employee of the recipient.  Unfortunately, many businesses that receive services often unintentionally incur liability because they ill-advisedly misclassify workers as performing services as independent contractors, salaried employees or otherwise exempt by failing to recognize the implications of this presumption.  The presumption that a worker is a covered employee generally means that an employer that treats a worker as exempt bears bear the burden of providing that a worker is not a covered employee and keeping accurate records to show that it has properly tracked the hours of and paid each covered employee.

The FLSA provides that employers who violate the law are, as a general rule, liable to employees for back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages.  State wage and hour laws also typically provide for back pay and liquidated damage awards.  Attorneys’ fees and other costs often also are recoverable.  In certain instances where the violations are knowing, deliberate and intentional, violators often may risk criminal as well as civil liability. 

DOL Sues Boston Hides and Furs Ltd For Knowing, Deliberate & Willful FLSA Violations

The DOL lawsuit seeks to recover more than $1 million from Boston Hides and Furs Ltd and various company officials for allegedly engaging in knowing and deliberate violations of the FLSA minimum wage, overtime and retaliation rules.

The DOL filed the lawsuit in federal court in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts after a DOL Wage & Hour Division investigation found the employer committed willful and repeated violations of the minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions of the FLSA including offering for shipment or sale “hot goods” produced in violation of the law during a period spanning at least three years. The suit also asserts that the company unlawfully retaliated against several workers by firing them after they cooperated with the federal investigation.

In its complaint, the DOL claims the investigation found that 14 Boston Hides & Furs employees worked approximately 10 hours per day, six days per week processing hides and furs for shipping to tanneries. DOL says Boston Hides paid these workers a daily cash wage of $50 to $70, which amounted to an hourly pay rate far below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The employees also were not paid time and one-half the required state minimum wage of $8 applicable for those hours worked above 40 in a week. Additionally, the defendants failed to keep adequate records of the workers’ employment, work hours and pay rates, and a representative of the defendants falsely told investigators that the company’s payroll records included all employees.

The lawsuit also charges that the defendants ordered employees to hide in a nearby house when DOL Wage and Hour Division investigators first arrived at Boston Hides & Furs so they could not be interviewed. Two days after investigators subsequently interviewed the workers, the defendants fired the workers. During their employment, DOL claims company officials threatened and subjected the workers to verbally abusive treatment on an ongoing basis, particularly when they asked about their pay rates.

In addition to back wages and liquidated damages, the DOL lawsuit seeks to permanently prohibit the defendants from future FLSA violations — including a prohibition against shipping any goods handled by workers who were paid in violation of the law — and compensatory and punitive damages for the workers on account of their unlawful firing. The Wage and Hour Division also has assessed $100,000 in civil money penalties against Boston Hides & Furs Ltd. for willful violations of the FLSA.

Overtime & Other Wage & Hour Enforcement Risks Rising

Employers increasingly risk triggering significant liability by failing to properly characterize, track and pay workers for compensable time in violation of the FSLA or other laws.  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.  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.  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, DOL 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.  DOL also is using smart phone applications, social media and a host of other new tools to educate and recruit workers in its effort to find and prosecute violators. See, e.g. New Employee Smart Phone App New Tool In Labor Department’s Aggressive Wage & Hour Law Enforcement Campaign Against Restaurant & Other Employers. Meanwhile, private enforcement of these requirements by also has soared following the highly-publicized implementation of updated FLSA regulations on the classification of workers during the last Bush Administration. See Record $2.3 Million+ Backpay Order; 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 Practices For Defensibility

  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 take other actions 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 position current classified as 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 the characterization of on-call and other time demands placed on employees to 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, self-initiation of appropriate corrective action after consultation with qualified legal counsel;
  • Review of existing documentation and record keeping practices for hourly employees;
  • Exploration of available options and alternatives for calculating required wage payments to non-exempt employees; and
  • Reengineering of work rules and other practices to minimize costs and liabilities as appropriate in light of the regulations and enforcement exposures.

Because of the potentially significant liability exposure, employers generally will want to consult with qualified legal counsel before starting their risk assessment and assess risks and claims within the scope of attorney-client privilege to help protect the ability to claim attorney-client privilege or other evidentiary protections to help shelter conversations or certain other sensitive risk activities from discovery under the rules of evidence. 

For Help With Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs

If you need help in conducting a risk assessment of or responding to an IRS, DOL, Justice Department, PBGC, private plaintiff or other legal challenges to your organization’s existing workforce classification 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. The 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 often 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 more information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to get access to 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 including the following:

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 about 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.


2013 Maximum Yearly PBGC Guaranteed Pension Benefit Amount To Increase Slightly In 2013

November 28, 2012

The yearly maximum guaranteed benefit for a 65-year-old retiree under the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) insurance program will increase to almost $57,500 in 2013, up from $56,000 in 2012.  Beginning in 2013, the PBGC announced November 27, 2012 that the maximum yearly guarantee for a 65-year-old retiree is $57,477.24. The increase is not retroactive.

The slight increase in the  guaranteed benefit is likely to be meaningful for the many pensioners receiving benefits under pension plans covered by the PBGC insurance program. This program insures guaranteed benefits amounts for pensioners of defined benefit plans covered by the PBGC insurance programs that are underfunded under the PBGC rules when terminated and otherwise meet program requirements.  Most retirees who get their pension from PBGC – almost 85 percent — receive the full amount of their promised benefit. In some cases, retirees can receive more than the PBGC maximum guarantee.

The PBGC maximum guarantee is based on a formula prescribed by federal law. Yearly amounts are higher for people older than age 65, and lower for those who retire earlier or choose survivor benefits (see chart).  If a pension plan ends in 2013, but a retiree does not begin collecting benefits until a future year, the 2013 rates still apply. For plans that terminate as a result of bankruptcy, the maximum yearly rates are guided by the limits in effect on the day the bankruptcy started, not the day the plan ended.

The following chart shows the 2013 annual and monthly maximum benefit guarantees for retirees from ages 45 to 75. The maximum amount is lower for retirees who begin getting benefits at ages below 65, reflecting the fact that younger retirees receive more monthly pension checks over a longer lifetime. The maximum amount is higher for benefits starting at ages above 65, because older retirees receive fewer monthly pension checks over their expected lifetimes.

PBGC Maximum Monthly Guarantees for 2013
Age Annual Maximum Monthly Maximum Monthly Joint and 50% Survivor Maximum*
75 174,730.80 14,560.90 13,104.81
74 158,867.04 13,238.92 11,915.03
73 143,003.40 11,916.95 10,725.26
72 127,139.64 10,594.97 9,535.47
71 111,275.88 9,272.99 8,345.69
70 95,412.24 7,951.02 7,155.92
69 85,641.12 7,136.76 6,423.08
68 77,019.48 6,418.29 5,776.46
67 69,547.44 5,795.62 5,216.06
66 63,225.00 5,268.75 4,741.88
65 57,477.24 4,789.77 4,310.79
64 53,453.88 4,454.49 4,009.04
63 49,430.40 4,119.20 3,707.28
62 45,407.04 3,783.92 3,405.53
61 41,383.56 3,448.63 3,103.77
60 37,360.20 3,113.35 2,802.02
59 35,061.12 2,921.76 2,629.58
58 32,762.04 2,730.17 2,457.15
57 30,462.96 2,538.58 2,284.72
56 28,163.88 2,346.99 2,112.29
55 25,864.80 2,155.40 1,939.86
54 24,715.20 2,059.60 1,853.64
53 23,565.72 1,963.81 1,767.43
52 22,416.12 1,868.01 1,681.21
51 21,266.52 1,772.21 1,594.99
50 20,117.04 1,676.42 1,508.78
49 18,967.44 1,580.62 1,422.56
48 17,817.96 1,484.83 1,336.35
47 16,668.36 1,389.03 1,250.13
46 15,518.88 1,293.24 1,163.92
45 14,369.28 1,197.44 1,077.70
* Both spouses the same age

The PBGC insurance program is funded through insurance premiums paid by covered plans.  In recent years, the number of underfunded plans has increased due to a lagging economy, declines in market performance and other factors.  The demands on the PBGC insurance program prompted Congress to increase premiums, modify pension funding rules and enact various other reforms in an effort to shore up the PBGC insurance program.  The PBGC also has undertaken a number of regulatory and operational reforms.  Companies sponsoring plans covered by the PBGC insurance program should review their existing funding and insurance requirements to ensure that they are in compliance with existing rules and taking advantage of  the most favorable opportunities under these rules.  In addition, companies sponsoring defined benefit plans govered by the PBGC insurance program and/or the Internal Revenue Code and Employee Retirement Income Security Act’s minimum funding rules or entities that are  part of commonly controlled or affiliated groups of companies, purchasing stock or assets from such company groups or lending to or investing in such entities should evaluate the funding status of these programs and the responsibilities and liability exposures that might impact their interests.

For additional information, see PBGC’s fact sheet “Pension Gurantees” and for information about the benefits guaranteed by the PBGC, see “Making Sense of the Maximum Insurance Benefit.”

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your 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.

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.


New OCR HIPAA De-Identification Guidance Among Developments Covered In 12/12 HIPAA Update Web Workshop

November 27, 2012

Get Up To Date On Details of New De-Identification Guidance & Other HIPAA Developments By Participating In 12/12 HIPAA Update Web Workshop

Health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses (covered entities) and their business associates and leadership should check and update their policies and practices for the de-identification of protected health information (PHI) in light of newly-released Guidance Regarding Methods for De-identification of Protected Health Information in Accordance With the Health Insurance Portability and Accountablity Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule (Guidance) released by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights yesterday (November 26, 2012). 

Solutions Law Press, Inc. will host a one-hour, online HIPAA Update Workshop on the Guidance and other recent regulatory and enforcement developments under HIPAA for covered entities and their business associates on Wednesday, December 12 beginning at Noon Central Time. To register, see here.

PHI collected by health care providers, health plans, their management, sponsors, and vendors often includes a wealth of information valuable for use for functions unrelated to the HIPAA-covered functions and activities that leads covered entities or their business associates to collect or keep this data.  While it might be tempting to repurpose this information for business planning and marketing purposes, covered entities and their business partners or associates frequently assume that covered entities and others that they deal with must take proper steps to that no PHI is used, accessed, disclosed or shared unless that action is allowed under the Privacy Rules, properly de-identified, or both.

When planning to rely upon the de-identification of PHI to engage in these activities,  parties planning to rely upon HIPAA’s exception for de-identified PHI will want to consult new guidance just released by OCR about the de-identification requirements before moving forward. Existing Privacy Rules and the Guidance recognize two alternative methods that covered entities and their business can use to properly de-identify PHI for purposes of the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

OCR published the Guidance to help covered entities to understand what qualifies as de-identification, the general process by which de-identified information is created, and the options available for performing de-identification for purposes of the HIPAA Privacy Rule.  The publication of this guidance was mandated as part of amendments to HIPAA enacted by Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).  Section 13424(c) of the HITECH Act requires the HHS to issue guidance on how best to implement the requirements for the de-identification of health information contained in the Privacy Rule.  

De-identification & Its Rationale Under Privacy Rule

The Privacy Rule was designed to protect individually identifiable health information through permitting only certain uses and disclosures of PHI provided by the Rule, or as authorized by the individual subject of the information.  However, in recognition of the potential utility of health information even when it is not individually identifiable, §164.502(d) of the Privacy Rule permits a covered entity or its business associate to create information that is not individually identifiable by following the de-identification standard and implementation specifications in Privacy Rule §164.514(a)-(b).  These provisions allow the entity to use and disclose information that neither identifies nor provides a reasonable basis to identify an individual provided the Covered Entity can show that the PHI has been de-identified in accordance with either the Expert Determination Method or the Safe Harbor Method of the de-identification standard of the Privacy Rule and is not re-identified.  Regardless of the method used to de-identify PHI, the Privacy Rule does not restrict the use or disclosure of de-identified health information, as it is no longer considered PHI and is not re-identified.

Privacy Rule De-Identification Implementation Standards Permit Alternative Methods of De-identification

Section 164.514(a) of the HIPAA Privacy Rule provides the standard for de-identification of protected health information.  Under this standard, health information is not individually identifiable if it does not identify an individual and if the covered entity has no reasonable basis to believe it can be used to identify an individual. See Privacy Rule § 164.514.

Sections 164.514(b) and (c) of the Privacy Rule contain the implementation specifications that a covered entity must follow to meet the de-identification standard. As summarized in Figure 1, the Privacy Rule provides two methods by which health information can be designated as de-identified:

  • The formal determination by a qualified expert in accordance with the Privacy Rule (Expert Determination Method); or
  • The removal of specified individual identifiers as well as absence of actual knowledge by the covered entity that the remaining information could be used alone or in combination with other information to identify the individual (Safe Harbor Method).

In order for PHI to qualify as de-identified under the “Expert Determination Method, Privacy Rule § 164.514(b)(1) requires that a person with appropriate knowledge of and experience with generally accepted statistical and scientific principles and methods for rendering information not individually identifiable:

  • Applying such principles and methods, determines that the risk is very small that the information could be used, alone or in combination with other reasonably available information, by an anticipated recipient to identify an individual who is a subject of the information; and
  • Documents the methods and results of the analysis that justify such determination.

Alternatively, Privacy Rule § 164.514(b)(2) provides that PHI will qualify as de-identified under the Safe Harbor Method if:

  • All of an extensive list of identifiers of the individual or of relatives, employers, or household members of the individual, are removed from the data; and
  • The covered entity does not have actual knowledge that the information could be used alone or in combination with other information to identify an individual who is a subject of the information.

As long as the data is not re-identified, the Guidance indicates that a covered entity may prove fulfillment of the de-identification standard of Privacy Rule §164.514(a) by showing satisfaction of all applicable requirements of either method.  Under the Privacy Rule, de-identified health information created following these methods is no longer protected by the Privacy Rule because it does not fall within the definition of PHI.  Of course, de-identification leads to information loss which may limit the usefulness of the resulting health information in certain circumstances. Consequently, covered entities may wish to select de-identification strategies that minimize such loss.

Both alternatives for de-identification under the Privacy Rule require that covered entities and their business associates decide whether and how to keep the option for re-identification of PHI slated for de-identification and where applicable, appropriately manage the re-identification opportunity and data to avoid violation of the Privacy Rule.

According to the Privacy Rule, if a covered entity or business associate successfully undertook an effort to identify the subject of de-identified information it maintained, the health information now related to a specific individual would again be protected by the Privacy Rule, as it would meet the definition of PHI.  Disclosure of a code or other means of record identification designed to enable coded or otherwise de-identified information to be re-identified is also considered a disclosure of PHI.  In this regard, Privacy Rule §164.514(c) specifies that if the covered entity assigns a code or other means of  record identification to allow information de-identified under this section to be re-identified by the covered entity, themeans of record identification is not derived from or related to information about the individual and is not otherwise capable of being translated so as to identify the individual; it can’t use elements of the protected PHI as the re-identification key,must safeguard the key, and can’t use or disclose the key or other re-identification tool for any other purpose.

Preparing For, Guiding & Documenting The De-identification Process For Defensibility

The Guidance stresses that importance of documentation for which values in health data correspond to PHI, as well as the systems that manage PHI and its risk of identification or re-identification in the de-identification process cannot be overstated. 

The Guidance provides guidance to help guide covered entities and their business associates through the steps and analysis of using the Expert Determination versus Safe Harbor Method.  A review of this Guidance makes clear that the design and administration of the de-identification process under either method requires careful and well-documented planning, analysis and implementation to fulfill and to keep the documentation that a covered entity or business associate might need to defend its decision to treat and use PHI as de-identified under the Privacy Rule against a potential audit or enforcement inquiry.  The Guidance also seeks to further illuminate the requirements for effective de-identification  through a series of questions and answers, supplemented by work flow and other charts, examples and other illustrations and tips on the proper use of each alternative Method and managing risks and the process associated with that Method. A Glossary of Terms also is shared.  The discussion in the Guidance makes clear that covered entities and their businesses associates using either Method to de-identify PHI should be prepared to make a number of judgments about which Method to use, whether and how to make arrangements for re-identification, and how to properly manage the process to meet the requirements of the implementation standard and manage re-identification or other risks.

Register For 12/12 HIPAA Update Web Workshop To Catch Up On De-Identification Guidance & Other HIPAA & Texas HIPAA Regulatory & Enforcement Developments

Training and compliance mandates applicable to covered entities and their business associates under the newly strengthened Texas HIPAA law and HIPAA’s Privacy and Breach Notification Rules make it more  important than ever that covered entities and their business associates get the timely training and other assistance needed  to properly comply with requirements for the protection of PHI under the new Guidance and other HIPAA and Texas  HIPAA mandates. 

To aid in this process,  Solutions Law Press, Inc. will host a  2012 HIPAA Update Web Workshop covering the new Guidance on de-identification and other regulatory and enforcement developments under HIPAA and the newly amended Texas HIPAA law on December 12, 2012 from 1:00 P.M.-2:00 P.M. Eastern | Noon – 1:00 P.M. Central | 11:00 A.M-Noon Mountain | 10:00A.M-11:00 A.M. Pacific Time.

Expanded health care privacy mandates of the Texas Medical Records Privacy Act that take effect September 1, 2012 and HIPAA regulations require covered entities and their business associates conduct training and take other steps to protect the privacy and security of PHI.

Complete HIPAA Training While You Catch Up On The Latest On HIPAA & Texas Medical Records Privacy Rules & Get Helpful Compliance And Risk Management Tips!

Health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses face new imperatives to strengthen their HIPAA and other procedures for handling protected health information and other sensitive information to manage expanding risks and responsibilities arising from evolving rules, expanding enforcement and oversight, and rising penalties and other liabilities. 

Expanded health care privacy mandates of the Texas Medical Records Privacy Act that take effect September 1, 2012 and HIPAA regulations require covered entities and their business associates conduct training and take other steps to protect the privacy and security of personal health information (PHI) and certain other information.

The $4.3 million HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty and growing list of $1 million plus resolution payments announced by the Office of Civil Rights coupled with its commitment to investigate all large breaches reported under the HITECH Act Breach Notification Rule and other stepped up enforcement and newly initiated audit activities send a clear signal that HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates face significant exposures for failing to appropriately manage their HIPAA and other responsibilities when handling protected health information.  Meanwhile, Texas House Bill 300 has raised maximum state civil penalties for unlawful disclosures of Protected Health Information under the Texas Medical Records Privacy Act to from $5,000 to $1.5 million per year.  Meanwhile HITECH Act amendments to HIPAA require covered entities provide notification of certain breaches while Texas House Bill 300 adds its own specific requirements to provide notice of certain breaches of computerized data containing sensitive personal information.

With Texas House Bill 300 expanding covered entities responsibilities and liabilities and OCR issuing new regulations and other guidance to implement amendments to the HIPAA Privacy & Security Standards and implement and enforce the HITECH Act Breach Notification Rule, health care providers, health plans and insurers, their brokers, third-party administrators, and other covered entities, as well as their business associates and employer and union clients must review and tighten their policies, practices, business associate and other contracts, and enforcement to manage HIPAA and other compliance and manage risks arising from the access, collection, use, protection and disclosure of PHI to meet expanding mandates and to guard against growing liability exposures under HIPAA and other federal and state laws. 

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you to catch up on the latest on these and other key HIPAA requirements and enforcement and learn tips for managing risks and liabilities by participating in the “HIPAA Update Workshop” on Wednesday, December 12, 2012 via WebEx for a registration fee of $125.00. 

Pre-approved for various types of continuing and professional education credit, the December 12, 2012 HIPAA Update Workshop will brief participants on the De-Identification Guidance as well as the latest on other regulatory and enforcement guidance under the HIPAA Privacy, Security and Breach Notification rules and guidance and share compliance and risk management lessons emerging from recent OCR enforcement and audit activities and other selected federal and state litigation and enforcement actions impacting the handling of protected health information.  Among other things, the workshop will cover:

  • The De-Identification Guidance just released by OCR on November 26, 2012;
  • The latest HIPAA Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Guidance, Audits & Enforcement
  • Highlights Texas House Bill’s Amendments To Texas Medical Records Privacy Law That Took Effect September 1, 2012
  • Post HITECH Act Heightened Liability Risks:  Audits, Civil Penalties, Criminal Penalties & State Lawsuits
  • Expansion of HIPAA Responsibilities & Liabilities To Business Associates & What Covered Entities & Business Associates Should Do In Response
  • HIPAA Data Breach Notification Requirements
  • Practical Challenges & Strategies For Managing These Responsibilities
  • Tips For Coordinating HIPAA & Other Federal & State Medical Privacy, Financial Information, Identity Theft & Date Security Compliance and Risk Management
  • Practical Strategies For Monitoring & Responding To New Requirements & Changing Rules
  • Participant Questions

About The Speaker

The workshop will be conducted by attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, recognized in International Who’s Who, North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association Vice-President and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, attorney  Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has 25 years experience advising and representing private and public health care providers, employers, employer and union plan sponsors, employee benefit plans, associations, their fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors, group health, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, and other insurers, governmental leaders and others on privacy and data security, health care, health and other employee benefit. employment, insurance and related matters. A well-known and prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with heath care providers, health plans and other payers, health and insurance IT and data systems, and others on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns.  She served as the scrivener for the ABA JCEB Agency Meetings with the Office of Civil Rights on HIPAA Privacy for the past two years.  She presently serves as Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Representative, an Editorial Advisory Board Member of the Institute of Human Resources (IHR/HR.com) and Employee Benefit News, and various other publications.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security privatization law with extensive domestic and international regulatory and public policy experience, Ms. Stamer also has worked extensively domestically and internationally on public policy and regulatory advocacy on HIPAA and other privacy and data security risks and requirements as well as a broad range of other health,  employee benefits, human resources, insurance, tax, compliance and other matters and representing clients in dealings with OCR and other HHS agencies, as well as the Departments of Labor, Treasury, Federal Trade Commission, HUD and Justice, Congress and state legislatures, and various state attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, medical licensure and disciplinary and other agencies and regulators. A prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer regularly authors materials and conducts workshops and professional, management and other training on HIPAA and other privacy, health care, employee benefits, human resources, insurance and related topics for the ABA, Aspen Publishers, the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators and many other organizations. Her insights on privacy and other matters are quoted in Modern Healthcare, HealthLeaders, Benefits, Caring for the Elderly, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications.  She also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees of a multitude of symposium and other educational programs.  For more details about Ms. Stamer’s services, experience, presentations, publications, and other credentials or to ask about arranging counseling, training or presentations or other services by Ms. Stamer, see www.CynthiaStamer.com.

Registration

The Registration Fee is $125.00 per person.  Registration Fee Discounts available for groups of three or more. Pre-payment required via website registration required via website PayPal.  No checks or cash accepted.  Persons not registered at least 48 hours in advance will only participate subject to system and space availability.

 Continuing Education Credit

The HIPAA Update Workshop is approved to be offered for general certification credit by the State Bar of  Texas, Texas Department of Insurance, HRCI and WorldAtWork education credit  for the time period offered subject to fulfillment all applicable accrediting agency requirements, completion of required procedures.  Note that the applicable credentialing agency retain the final authority to determine whether an individual qualifies to receive requested continuing education credit.  Neither Solutions Law Press, Inc., the speaker or any of their related parties guarantees the approval of credit for any individual or has any liability for any denial of credit.  Special fees or other conditions may apply.  CANCELLATION   & REFUND POLICY:  In order to receive credit, cancellation (either fax or mail) must be received at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting and are subject to a $10.00 refund processing fee.  Refunds will be made within 60 days of receipt of written cancellation notice.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business and management information, tools and solutions, training and education, services and support to help organizations and their leaders promote effective management of legal and operational performance, regulatory compliance and risk management, data and information protection and risk management and other key management objectives.  Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ also conducts and assist businesses and associations to design, present and conduct customized programs and training targeted to their specific audiences and needs.  For additional information about upcoming programs, to explore becoming a presenting sponsor for an upcoming event, e-mail your request to info@Solutionslawpress.com   These programs, publications and other resources are provided only for general informational and educational purposes. Neither the distribution or presentation of these programs and materials to any party nor any statement or information provided in or in connection with this communication, the program or associated materials are intended to or shall be construed as establishing an attorney-client relationship,  to constitute legal advice or provide any assurance or expectation from Solutions Law Press, Inc., the presenter or any related parties. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future Alerts or other information about developments, publications or programs or other updates, send your request to info@solutionslawpress.com.  If you would prefer not to receive communications from Solutions Law Press, Inc. send an e-mail with “Solutions Law Press Unsubscribe” in the Subject to support@solutionslawyer.net.  CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: 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. If you are an individual with a disability who requires accommodation to participate, please let us know at the time of your registration so that we may consider your request.

©2012 Solutions Law Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


SLP Hosts Complimentary 11/27 WEB Briefing On 11/20 ACA Wellness, Pre-Ex & Essential Benefits Guidance

November 26, 2012

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites employer and other group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, insurers, brokers and consultants and others involved in the design and administration of employment-based group health plans to take part in a complimentary Health Care Executive Study Group internet briefing on new and proposed guidance interpreting audit pre-existing condition limitation, wellness and disease management and essential health benefit rules of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) published by Departments of Labor and Health & Human Services on November 20, 2012 to be conducted by attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

How To Participate

To take part in this complimentary 30 minute briefing, please follow the following steps:

  1. Register here before Noon Central  Daylight Time on November  27; then
  2. Join the meeting on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 by 12:00 PM Central Standard Time by connecting over the internet  at https://www2.gotomeeting.com/join/606483282   
  3. To listen to the presentation, either:
    • Use your microphone and speakers (VoIP) – a headset is recommended;
    • Call in using your telephone using the following:
      • Dial +1 (312) 878-3082
      • Access Code: 606-483-282
      • Audio PIN: Shown after joining the meeting
      • GoToMeeting®[*] Meeting ID: 606-483-282

Persons having questions or wishing to get more information about participation in the briefing should send an e-mail here or call (214) 452.8297.

About The November 20, 2012 ACA Guidance

The briefing with discuss highlights of the guidance that Departments of Labor and Health & Human Services issued published on November 20, 2012 implementing ACA provisions that make it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, as well as guidance impacting wellness and disease management programs and the “essential health benefits” definition that plays  a key role in defining the benefits package mandates applicable to exchange and other health plans and policies required to comply with ACA’s mandates.  This guidance includes:

  • A proposed rule that, beginning in 2014, prohibits health insurance companies from discriminating against individuals because of a pre-existing or chronic condition;
  • A proposed rule outlining policies and standards for coverage of essential health benefits and companion letter sent to states on the flexibility in implementing the essential health benefits in Medicaid; and
  • A proposed rule implementing and expanding employment-based wellness programs under ACA.

With this guidance impacting key plan design and cost concerns, employers and other health plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries and administrators, insurers and their vendors will need to act quickly to evaluate the potential implications of this guidance in light of already existing rules and enforcement positions, their plan design and costs, and market and other factors.

The guidance published today is the first in an expected deluge of regulatory pronouncements that HHS, DOL, the Internal Revenue Service and state insurance agencies are expected to issue as the rush to complete arrangements and guidance governing the implementation and enforcement of the ACA health care reforms scheduled to take effect and to tweak guidance on provisions already effective under the law. 

Attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer To Conduct Briefing

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 watch 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 author 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 about regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns. 

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns  see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mail to  cstamer@solutionslawyer.net.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.

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.

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 Solutions Law Press, Inc..  All rights reserved.


[*] GoToMeeting® Online Meetings Made Easy®.


Rare Court Order Telling Union To Stop Filing Grievances Example Of Employer Risks When Caught Between Competiting Unions

November 23, 2012

A district court judge in Washington has ordered the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) to stop processing grievances and filing lawsuits against a competitive union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and, pending the outcome of further litigation, employers assigning work of plugging in, unplugging and monitoring refrigerated shipping containers at the Port of Portland to IBEW.  The litigation between the two competing unions shows how employers can get caught in risky, no-win liability exposures as a result of power battles between competing unions over the right to represent workers performing services for the employers.

The injunctive order steps from a dispute between both unions over which union is entitled to represent a group of workers. Both unions claim the work, citing various contracts and collective bargaining agreements. In August 2012, the National Labor Relations Board issued a decision concluding that the employees represented by the IBEW are entitled to the work. Despite that ruling, the ILWU and two of its locals have continued to file and process grievances against employers serving as carriers at the port, seeking lost wages for work assigned to the IBEW. The ILWU also filed a claim against the IBEW in federal court under the Labor-Management Relations Act.

In granting the petition for injunctive relief from the NLRB’s Regional Office in Seattle late Wednesday, November 22, 2012, U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon found that, by filing grievances and seeking enforcement of subsequent awards despite the Board’s decision, the ILWU had the unlawful secondary object of pressuring shipping carriers to stop doing business with the Port of Portland. He enjoined the union from filing, processing, maintaining, prosecuting, or threatening grievances or new lawsuits in the matter against the union as well as the carrier employers. With respect to the dispute with IBEW, the court ruled that the continued filing of the grievances against the IBEW constituted an unfair labor practice because the NLRB ruling already had recognized the IBEW as the authorized representative of the covered employees performing the work.

Concerning his decisions to also bar the ILWU from suing and filing charges against the employing carriers that have been caught in the war between the two unions, the Court issued a temporary injunction pending the outcome of the litigation. The court noted that the question of whether the NLRB ruling prohibited the carrier employers from subcontracting work covered by the NLRB order could not be permanently resolved based in the facts on the record, but that the IBEW had produced sufficient evidence of likely success on merits and irreparable harm to justify the court’s issuance of a temporary injunction.

While federal courts rarely enjoin unions under the National Labor Relations Act, the federal court in this matter found in light of the NLRB ruling in favor of the other union, the court’s decision in favor of the IBEW allows the IBEW to move forward for the time being as the  representative of the workers.  Concurrently, the court’s decision allows the employers caught between the two unions to continue operations for the time being by assigning work to the IBEW workers unless and until the ILWU proves its entitlement to that work.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your 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.

About Ms. Stamer

A Board Certified Labor & Employment attorney and 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. 

Ms. Stamer is widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other labor and 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.


IRS OKs Retirement Plans Allowing Plan Loans & Hardship Withdrawals To Hurricane Sandy Victims

November 23, 2012

Retirement plan fiduciaries of plans covering participants impacted by Hurricane Sandy seeking loans or hardship withdrawals received some welcome guidance from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 

The IRS announced November 16 that 401(k)s and similar employer-sponsored retirement plans can make loans and hardship distributions to victims of Hurricane Sandy and members of their families. Read News Release IR-2012-93. For more information, read Announcement 2012-44.

Plan fiduciaries dealing with requests or  wishing to offer this option to participants affected by Hurricane Sandy should check this guidance along with existing plan terms and associated loan and hardship withdrawal rules to confirm that  their plan terms contain  all necessary provisions to use this guidance and their plan’s loan or  hardship withdrawal provisions before moving forward.  Assuming that the plan contains appropriate provisions and the necessary requirements are met,the guidance says plan fiduciaries can  authorize these requests.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your 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.

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.


Agencies Release ACA Wellness, Adult Pre-Existing Condition, Essential Health Benefits Guidance; Briefing Planned

November 20, 2012

Employers and other health plan sponsors, insurers, and their administrators and service providers should consider the advisability of updating health plan cost projections, plan documents and procedures, communications and other practices in response to new and proposed guidance interpreting federal health plan rules under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) released today (November 20, 2012).

Solutions Law Press, Inc. plans will host a webex executive study group briefing to update its members and other interested persons on this new and proposed guidance on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at Noon Central Time.  Interested persons wishing details about registration for this briefing should send an e-mail here.

Guidance Released Today

Earlier today, the Departments of Labor and Health & Human Services issued guidance implementing ACA provisions that make it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, as well as guidance impacting wellness and disease management programs and the “essential health benefits” definition that plays  a key role in defining the benefits package mandates applicable to exchange and other health plans and policies required to comply with ACA’s mandates.  This guidance includes:

  • A proposed rule that, beginning in 2014, prohibits health insurance companies from discriminating against individuals because of a pre-existing or chronic condition. Under the rule, insurance companies would be allowed to vary premiums within limits, only based on age, tobacco use, family size and geography. Health insurance companies would be prohibited from denying coverage to any American because of a pre-existing condition or from charging higher premiums to certain enrollees because of their current or past health problems, gender, occupation, and small employer size or industry that the agencies intend to ensure that people for whom coverage would otherwise be unaffordable and young adults have access to a catastrophic coverage plan in the individual market. See HHS Proposed Regulation – Health Insurance Market Rules available here;
  • A proposed rule outlining policies and standards for coverage of essential health benefits, while giving states more flexibility to implement the Affordable Care Act. Essential health benefits are a core set of benefits that would give consumers a consistent way to compare health plans in the individual and small group markets. A companion letter on the flexibility in implementing the essential health benefits in Medicaid was also sent to states. Related to Essential Health Benefits, Actuarial Value, and Accreditation available here; and
  • A proposed rule implementing and expanding employment-based wellness programs that the agencies intend to promote health and help control health care spending, while prohibiting what the agencies consider unfair underwriting practices that impermissibly discriminate based on health status.  See Proposed regulations here; Study available here; Fact Sheet available here.

With this guidance impacting key plan design and cost concerns, employers and other health plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries and administrators, insurers and their vendors will need to act quickly to evaluate the potential implications of this guidance in light of already existing rules and enforcement positions, their plan design and costs, and market and other factors.

Today’s Guidance Just Tip of Iceberg

The guidance published today is the first in an expected deluge of regulatory pronouncements that HHS, DOL, the Internal Revenue Service and state insurance agencies are expected to issue as the rush to finalize arrangements and guidance governing the implementation and enforcement of the ACA health care reforms scheduled to take effect and to tweek guidance on provisions already effective under the law.  This guidance adds to the extensive list of previously issued guidance previously published by the Agencies since Congress passed ACA.  With the election behind the US and the Supreme Court having rejected initial challenges by businesses and individuals to the employer and individual mandates last Summer, employers and insurers now must get cracking to update their programs and cost estimates to comply with both existing and new guidance while keeping a close eye out for potential changes to ACA or other federal or state health coverage laws as the new Congress is expected to continue to discuss refinements or other changes when the new Congress begins work in January 2013. 

What Should Employers Do To Cope With These & Other Health Plan Mandates?

Facing the operational and financial challenges of meeting these mandates, many business leaders continue report significant concern about what they should do to respond to these requirements.  For some practical steps that businesses confronting these issues should take to cope with ACA and other health plan responsibilities, 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. To read the full article, see here.

Clearly in light of the new guidance, employers, insurers, health plan fiduciaries and their service providers need to act quickly to familiarize themselves with the guidance and make any need adjustments to their plans, communications, practices and budgets warranted by the new guidance and remain vigilent for and prepared to do the same with other guidance and reform proposals as it is released. 

Beyond responding to the new guidance and other future developments, most health plan sponsors, insurers, administrators and other fiduciaries, and their vendors also should consider conducting this specific analysis and update of their health benefit programs in the context of a broader strategy. 

In her 12-Steps Article, 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 their business 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.

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.


New Employee Smart Phone App New Tool In Labor Department’s Aggressive Wage & Hour Law Enforcement Campaign Against Restaurant & Other Employers

November 9, 2012

Restaurant and other U.S. employers should audit and tighten their pay and record keeping practices as the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Wage & Hour Division’s  deploys  its new employee Smart Phone application and other technology tools that DOL plans to use in waging war against employers that violate the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping requirements against employers.

DOL Unveils New Smart Phone Employee App & Other Tools To Promote FLSA Compliance

Under the Obama Administration, the DOL has undertaken a wide range of efforts to promote compliance with and enforce the minimum wage, overtime and other requirements of the FLSA against restaurant and other employers. As part of this enforcement and compliance campaign, DOL is developing and deploying new Smartphone applications and other tools that it hopes with help employees and DOL enforce the FLSA. 

One of the newest of these tools is a new Smartphone application intended for use by employees.   DOL recently has developed a Smartphone application available here that DOL intends will help employees independently track the hours they work and determine the wages their employer owes them. Available in English and Spanish, DOL reports users can track regular work hours, break times and any overtime hours for one or more employers. DOL touts the new application as allowing workers to keep their own records instead of having to rely on their employers’ records.

The new timekeeping application tool for employees is just one of several new resources that the DOL hopes will support its enforcement and compliance initiatives.  For instance, the free mobile application “Eat Shop Sleep” available here from the DOL allows consumers, employees and other members of the public to check if the DOL Wage and Hour Division has investigated a hotel, restaurant or retail location and whether DOL found FLSA violations.

FLSA Wage & Hour Violations Can Carry Big Liability

The FLSA requires that covered nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates for hours worked beyond 40 per week. In accordance with the FLSA, an employer of a tipped employee is required to pay no less than $2.13 an hour in direct wages provided that amount plus the tips received equals at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. If an employee’s tips combined with the employer’s direct wages do not equal the minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference. Employers are required to provide employees notice of the FLSA’s tip credit provisions, to maintain accurate time and payroll records, and to comply with the act’s restrictions applying to workers under age 18.

Violation of these requirements can result in significant civil or even criminal liability.  Under the FLSA’s civil remedy provisions, employers violating minimum wage or overtime requirements can be held liable for back pay plus exemplary damages, attorneys’ fees and other costs.  Additional liability can arise from civil penalties imposed for record-keeping violations.  If the violations are found to be knowing and willful, criminal penalties also are possible.  Since such violations can qualify as a felony under the FLSA, these liabilities can extend both to the employing entity as well as owners or management officials under certain circumstances.

Under the Obama Administration, enforcement of these rules in the restaurant and other industries with low paid workforces has become a key Labor Department priority, as evidenced by recent enforcement actions that the DOL has taken against Oklahoma-based El Tequila LLC restaurants and Florida-based Domino’s Pizza franchise operator PDQ Pizza.   

Lawsuit against El Tequila LLC Seeks $1M In Back pay

On October 25, the DOL announced it is suing Tulsa-based El Tequila LLC and its owner, Carlos Aguirre, for alleged violations of the FLSA’s minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions which DOL claims resulted in a total of approximately $1 million in unpaid wages owed to 221 kitchen and wait staff, hosts and bussers at four restaurant locations.

DOL charges that  El Tequila LLC violated the FLSA by paying FLSA-covered employees, who in some cases worked as many as 72 hours in a week, a fixed salary without overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a week.   In addition to overtime violations, DOL charges this practice resulted in minimum wage violations because employees did not always receive at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. DOL also claims investigators found that wait personnel were required to turn their tips over to management at the end of every shift, which caused their pay to fall below the minimum wage. Finally, the suit charges employer did not keep proper records as required.

The suit filed in the Northern District of Oklahoma, Tulsa Division, seeks to recover the full amount of nearly $1 million in back wages for the employees as well as an injunction prohibiting future violations of the FLSA.

Florida-Based Domino’s Pizza Franchise To Pay $371,675 Back pay Settlement

DOL’s announcement of its El Tequila LLC lawsuit follows on the heels of DOL’s October 24 announcement that Melbourne, Florida-based PDQ Pizza, doing business as Domino’s Pizza, has paid $371,675 back pay to settle DOL charges that it violated the FLSA’s overtime, minimum wage and record-keeping provisions.

According to DOL, PDQ operates Domino’s Pizza franchises in 19 locations in Palm Beach, Indian River and Brevard counties.

DOL says its Investigators found systemic violations resulting from the company’s failure to properly compensate tip-earning employees, such as delivery drivers, for all of their hours worked. Even when performing nontipped duties such as cooking, cleaning and stocking, DOL says PDQ Pizza paid the workers as if they were tipped employees, with hourly wage rates as low as $5.15 rather than the required federal minimum wage of $7.25.

DOL also charges that the employer made illegal deductions from employees’ wages for uniforms, and failed to properly calculate and compensate tipped employees for all overtime hours (those worked in excess of 40 in a week).

Finally, DOL charged the employer failed to record and designate hours worked as tipped or nontipped in order to pay employees correctly, which violates the FLSA’s record-keeping provisions.

Following the investigations, DOL reports PDQ Pizza paid all back wages owed and agreed to support future compliance with the FLSA. The company also committed to changing its timekeeping and payroll practices to ensure that all hours worked by tipped and nontipped employees are properly recorded and compensated in accordance with the FLSA.

South Carolina Ponchos Restaurants Pay $486,000 Backpay Settlement

PDQ Pizza’s settlement isn’t unusual.  Earlier in October, Poncho’s Inc. – doing business as Poncho’s Mexican Restaurant I, II and III – and Papa’s and Beer Mexican Restaurant  agreed to pay 85 employees a total of $485,913 in back wages under a FLSA settlement covering DOL charges of overtime, minimum wage and record-keeping violations at  all four restaurant locations.

At Pancho’s Mexican Restaurant I, II and III, investigators found that employees were not properly compensated for all work hours. By reviewing payroll records and conducting employee interviews, investigators determined that tip-earning employees such as servers were made to rely primarily on tips for pay and consequently earned wages that fell below $2.13 per hour in violation of the FLSA’s minimum wage provision. Additionally, other employees such as kitchen staff were paid flat salaries each month — without regard to hours worked — that did not satisfy minimum wage or overtime pay requirements. The employer also failed to maintain accurate records of employees’ work hours and wages. As a result, 38 employees will receive a total of $414,079 in back wages.

DOL says the Papa’s and Beer Mexican Restaurant investigation revealed that the employer made impermissible deductions for uniforms and other expenses from the wages of tip-earning employees, causing their hourly wages to fall below the federal minimum wage. Additionally, other employees such as kitchen staff were paid flat salaries each month — without regard to hours worked — that did not satisfy minimum wage or overtime pay requirements. The employer also failed to record the hours worked by kitchen staff. As a result, a total of $71,834 in back wages is owed to 47 employees.

The restaurants have agreed to maintain future compliance with the FLSA by keeping accurate records of all hours worked by all employees, paying them at least the federal minimum wage, providing overtime compensation, and informing employees in advance that the tip credit will be used.

Restaurant & Other Employers Of Low-Paid Workers Face High Enforcement Risks

While the Obama Administration has made FLSA enforcement in general a priority, it is particularly targeting restaurant and certain other categories of employers who employ low-income workers for scrutiny and enforcement.  “The restaurant industry employs some of our country’s lowest-paid, most vulnerable workers,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “When violations of the FLSA are discovered, the Labor Department will take appropriate action to ensure workers receive the wages they have earned and to which they are legally entitled.”

The Ponchos investigations were conducted under a multiyear enforcement initiative focused on the restaurant industry in South Carolina, where widespread noncompliance with the FLSA has been found. Since the start of fiscal year 2009, the division’s Columbia District Office has concluded more than 300 investigations under the initiative, resulting in more than $2.5 million in back wages recovered for more than 2,500 workers.

“We found many low-wage employees working up to 65 hours a week without any overtime compensation and receiving pay below the federal minimum wage. Unfortunately, significant labor violations like the ones we found in this case are all too common in the restaurant industry,” said Michelle Garvey, director of the division’s Columbia office in the announcement concerning the Ponchos settlement. “We are pleased that these workers finally will be paid their rightful wages and, as demonstrated by our ongoing initiative, we will continue to investigate South Carolina restaurants to remedy violations and ensure sustained compliance with the law.”

In light of these enforcement emphasis and the growing range of tools that the Labor Department is deploying to find and prosecute FLSA violations, restaurant and other employers should use care to ensure that their practices for classifying workers as exempt or non-exempt, recording hours worked and compensating non-exempt workers comply with the FLSA and other relevant laws.  When evaluating and deciding how to address potential FLSA exposures, it is critical that employers avoid the temptation to wear role tinted glasses when making wage and hour worker classification or compensable time determinations or take for granted the legal defensibility of past practices within their own or industry workforces.

 Under the FSLA 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, recordkeeping, 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 following the highly-publicized implementation of updated FLSA regulations regarding 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 Practices For Defensibility

As a consequence, most 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 take appropriate 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 take appropriate steps 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 position current classified as 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 the characterization of on-call and other time demands placed on employees to 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, self-initiation of appropriate corrective action after consultation with qualified legal counsel;
  • Review of existing documentation and recordkeeping practices for hourly employees;
  • Exploration of available options and alternatives for calculating required wage payments to non-exempt employees; and
  • Reengineering of work rules and other practices to minimize costs and liabilities as appropriate in light of the regulations.

Because of the potentially significant liability exposure, employers generally will want to consult with qualified legal counsel prior to the commencement of their 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. 

For Help With Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs

If you need assistance in conducting a risk assessment of or responding to an IRS, Labor Department or other legal challenges to your organization’s existing pay, workforce classification 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. The immediate Past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-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 and HR.com editorial advisory board member, 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 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 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.


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