Id & Manage Hidden Employee Benefit Exposures In Business Insolvency Or Other Transactions

June 5, 2013

The June 4, 2013 announcement of the Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) provides a timely reminder to businesses sponsoring employee benefit plans, their owners and management, plan fiduciaries, banks, administrative service providers and other plan vendors, employee benefit plan and bankruptcy trustees, corporate receivers, creditors, and others looking to expedite the windup of abandoned  401(k), profit-sharing and other individual account pension plans of the challenges that can result when employee benefit plan responsibilities are mishandled when companies fail or experience other significant events, as well as the availability of tools to help mitigate or prevent these challenges through responsible proactive action.

Hidden Employee Benefit Exposures For Unwary Abound For Parties In Business Insolvency Or Other Transactions

A complex maze of ERISA, tax and other rules make, administration and termination of employee benefit plans a complicated matter. When the company sponsoring a plan experiences a significant workforce or other restructuring, becomes distressed, goes bankrupt or liquidates, merges, sells assets or engages in other significant business transaction impacting the plans or its workforce, the rules, as well as the circumstances, can create a liability and operational quagmire for everyone from the sponsoring business, its management, buyers, vendors, plan fiduciaries, plan participants and beneficiaries, related entities, asset purchasers and others.  While tough economic times may tempt business leaders to cut corners, more than 3o years of litigation and enforcement precedent make clear that cutting corners on the assessment and handling of employee benefit and other workforce responsibilities amid business distress or in other business transactions or events presents risks for all parties involved.  See e.g., Tough Times Are No Excuse For ERISA Shortcuts;  Mishandling Employee Benefit Obligations Creates Big Liabilities For Distressed Businesses & Their Business LeadersWhile many business leaders and plan fiduciaries lack a strong understanding of these rules and their implications in times of business or benefit plan distress or other significant business transactions, even those experienced with these concerns need to use caution to understand and respond to the series of ongoing changes in these rules, regulations and precedent that impact on the handling of plan related responsibilities in these and other special situations. 

The Internal Revenue Code (Code) requires contains a maze of requirements that companies sponsoring pension, profit-sharing, health and other employee benefit plans, their plans, and plan administrators must follow when maintaining, administering, or terminating these plans including in many instances, special rules on the termination of the plans, distribution of assets, and the liabilities that attach to affiliated companies, successors, and assets resulting from transactions involving employee benefit plans or their sponsors.

In addition to the Code’s rules, companies and other individuals that in name or in function have or exercise discretionary responsibility or authority over the maintenance, administration or funding of employee benefit plans regulated by ERISA also generally must meet ERISA’s high standards  for carrying out these duties based on their functional ability to exercise discretion over these matters, whether or not they have been named as fiduciaries formally. Under many circumstances these rules, or the handling of transactions can broaden the scope of responsibility or create exposures for a surprising range of parties dealing with the plan sponsor, related corporations or their stock, assets, benefit plans or workforce in corporate bankruptcies, mergers, asset or stock acquisitions, liquidations or other transactions.

Beyond these basic tax and fiduciary obligations, ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code (Code) create additional responsibilities and liabilities for when dealing with defined benefit or other pension plans subject to ERISA’s minimum funding and plan termination rules that when violated trigger a plethora of funding and notification obligations, penalties, liens on assets, and other obligations that can create significant traps for unwary plan fiduciaries and administrators, the sponsoring corporation, its management, affiliates and successors, as well as creditors or purchasers of stock or assets and others dealing with them.

Despite these well-documented responsibilities and a well-established pattern of enforcement by the Department of Labor, Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, Internal Revenue Service and private plaintiffs, many businesses and business leaders fail to appropriately understand these and other basic responsibilities and liabilities associated with the establishment, administration, termination and windup of employee benefit plans and other details about how their or others mishandling of employee benefit plan related responsibilities can undermine business goals and create unanticipated liability exposures.

Frequently, companies sponsoring their employee benefit plans and their executives mistakenly assume that they can rely upon vendors and advisors to ensure that their programs are appropriately established. The establishment and maintenance of these arrangements with limited review or oversight by the sponsoring company or its management team can be risky.

In other instances, businesses and their leaders do not realize that ERISA’s functional definition to determine fiduciary status means that individuals participating in discretionary decisions about the employee benefit plan, as well as the plan sponsor, may bear liability under many commonly occurring situations if appropriate care is not exercised to protect participants or beneficiaries in these plans.

In yet other instances, purchasers, related entities, bankruptcy trustees and creditors or others don’t appreciate the way their own or others mishandling of employee benefit plan obligations or exposures can impact their transactions and associated risks.

Proactive Action Can Mitigate Exposures & Costs

For this reason, companies providing employee benefits and their management, service providers, and related entities and the businesses dealing with them need a clear understanding of the rules and responsibilities Federal law imposes on the funding, administration and termination of these programs, how these rules can impact their responsibilities and goals, and the steps necessary to avoid or mitigate exposures likely to result if they or others mishandle employee benefit plan related responsibilities or assets and how to avoid or mitigate these concerns.

The challenges of winding up an abandoned plan discussed in the EBSA news release yesterday highlights just one of these complications, the problem of dealing with abandoned plans.

When companies and their management abandon plans, they leave their plans, participants and beneficiaries, service providers and others in limbo, without the authority or funds to wind up the plans.  When employers abandon their individual account pension plans, custodians such as banks, insurers and mutual fund companies are left holding the assets of these abandoned plans but without the authority to terminate such plans and make benefit distributions even in response to participant demands. Service providers often find themselves in the legally awkward situation of having continuing plan responsibilities without necessary direction or compensation for performance.  Meanwhile, participants and beneficiaries can’t manage, access or often even get information about their funds until the situation resolves.  Dealing with these issues usually requires cumbersome, time-consuming and costly processes often requiring complex, lengthy, highly formalistic and expensive judicial and administrative procedures to resolve while fiduciary, tax and other liabilities mount.  Meanwhile, participants and beneficiaries often lose access to their accounts or benefits or even see plan value decline as plan assets that could go to benefits are diverted to cover administrative costs of winding up the plan.

The EBSAs abandoned plan program is just one of many examples of tools that parties struggling with these issues can use to mitigate these challenges and exposures.  EBSA uses its abandoned plan program to facilitate a voluntary efficient process for winding up the affairs of abandoned individual account plans so that benefit distributions are made to participants and beneficiaries when this occurs.

The EBSA Abandoned Plan News Release  and the EBSA’s related response Response to ADP/JP Morgan published June 4, 2013 show an example of how EBSA used its abandoned plan program to give critical relief to JP Morgan Chase Bank NA and ADP Inc. to use to wind up certain abandoned plans without exhausting the 90-day waiting period that ordinarily applies before the termination of a retirement plan based on the best interest of participants pursuant to 29 CFR §2578.1.  By exercising its discretion to waive the 90-day notice period, the EBSA allowed JP Morgan Chase Bank NA and ADP Inc. to terminate immediately and wind up approximately 180 defined contribution pension plans abandoned due to corporate crises or neglect.

Requesting relief from the EBSA like that granted to JP Morgan Chase Bank NA and ADP Inc. in the announcement made yesterday is just one of various types of relief that legal counsel experienced with dealing with workforce and employee benefit plan challenges that can arise when companies or their plans become inadequately funded, bankrupt, or experience other significant transactions or events, can use to help debtors, and other plan sponsors, their management, affiliates, successors, buyers, plan fiduciaries, vendors, bankruptcy creditors and trustees.

Experienced counsel can help companies understand and negotiate the complex rules of the EBSA, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation and the Internal Revenue Service governing dealings with these plans and where appropriate and available by taking advantage of relief or other options to mitigate these challenges.  Involving experienced counsel to explore and use these options early can help all parties get participants and beneficiaries their benefits while minimizing legal risks, time and expenses associated with the wind up of these troubled or abandoned plans.  Even where special dispensation is not available, the early involvement of experienced legal counsel as early as possible after the possibility that a business or its plans or assets will be impacted by underfunding, insolvency, a bankruptcy or liquidation, workforce reduction, sale, merger or other significant event can help plan and administer the steps necessary to handle cost effectively employee benefit related responsibilities and impacts.

For Help or More Information

If you need help with assessing or handing employee benefit or workforce challenges arising from business or employee benefit plan insolvency, stock or asset sales, mergers, bankruptcy or liquidation, reductions or other workforce changes or other significant business transactions or events, or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 25 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 including extensive experience handling workforce and employee benefit challenges arising from plan underfunding, company restructurings, workforce change,  insolvencies, bankruptcies, mergers, stock or asset acquisitions, or other significant business or plan transactions.

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, and insurers, bankruptcy trustees and receivers, asset purchasers, creditors and others dealing with plans and their sponsors, 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 about regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns.  Her experience includes involvement in the planning, execution and resolution of workforce and employee benefit related details of a multitude of high and low profile restructurings, bankruptcies and other significant transactions throughout her more than 25 year career.

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

Other Resources

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

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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved


IRS Witholding Calculator Can Help Avoid Over & Underwithholding

April 21, 2013

If you have employees that had too much or too little tax taken out of their paychecks, refer them to this new YouTube video about using the IRS withholding calculator at inbox:body:0000000001510000020000000800000000000000:Read#Third.

For Help With These Or Other Matters

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 labor and employment, employee benefit or compensation practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising and representing employer, employee benefit and other clients before the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, Immigrations & Customs, and other agencies, private plaintiffs and others on worker classification and related human resources, employee benefit, internal controls and risk management matters.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experience worker classification and other employment, employee benefits and workforce matters, Ms. Stamer works extensively with employers, employee benefit plan sponsors, insurers, administrators, and fiduciaries, payroll and staffing companies, technology and other service providers and others to develop and operate legally defensible programs, practices and policies that promote the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.

A featured presenter in the recent “Worker Classification & Alternative Workforce: Employee Plans & Employment Tax Challenges” teleconference sponsored by the American Bar Association Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these and other employee benefit and human resources matters who is active in many other employee benefits, human resources and other management focused organizations.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Council, 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, the Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, the Gulf States Area TEGE Council Exempt Organizations Coordinator, past-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 the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, 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.

You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, find out about upcoming training or other events, review some of her past training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer at www.CynthiaStamer.com.

About Solutions Law Press

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

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.

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


Administration Proposes To Let PBGC Board Set Premiums In Effort To Shore Up Finances

April 10, 2013

The Obama Administration again is proposing that the Board of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) get the power to set premium rates based on the financial soundness of company sponsors to shore up the agency’s finances in hopes of heading off the need for a government bailout of the agency’s liabilities. 

PBGC, which insures traditional pensions offered by non-governmental employers  continues to struggle for funding to meet the costs of funding its program of insuring failed private defined benefit pension plans.  Always challenging, maintaining financial solvency has become particularly problematic with company failures soaring and investment returns down in the ailing economy.  On November 16, 2012, the agency said its deficit increased to $34 billion, the largest in PBGC’s 38-year history.

The PBGC currently relies exclusively on premiums set by Congress and assets recovered from failed plans to operate and fund its private pension guarantee obligations.  It presently doesn’t receive taxpayer dollars. Premiums, set by Congress, have historically been too low to meet the agency’s needs.

 The Government Accountability Office issued a report saying Congress should consider “revising PBGC’s premium structure to better reflect the agency’s risk from individual plans and sponsors

The proposal to give the PBGC authority to determine premiums is intended to shore up the agency’s funding.  “Without premium increases PBGC will be faced with requesting a taxpayer bailout or shutting down,” said PBGC Director Josh Gotbaum.  “The current system punishes responsible companies by making them pay for the mistakes of others and punishes plans by raising rates just when companies can least afford it.  Tha’s why administrations of both parties, and recently GAO, have supported giving PBGC what the FDIC has long had — the ability to set its own rates and to set them in ways that are fair.”

The Administration originally introduced the idea of allowing the PBGC to set its own premiums in 2012.  It now has reintroduced the effort that ties premiums to company risk in its 2014 budget. Under the current proposal, the PBGC Board, which consists of secretaries of Labor, Commerce, and Treasury, with the secretary of Labor as chair, wouldn’t get the authority to set rates until 2015. The budget requires the board to perform a one-year study with a public comment period. Additionally, premium increases would be gradually phased in to give company sponsors time to prepare for the new rates.

For Help With These Or Other Matters

If you need help dealing with pension or other employee benefit funding, design or administration challenges, dealing with the PBGC,  IRS, Labor Department or other agency or legal challenge to your organization’s existing employee benefit or other practices, or other workforce re-engineering, labor and employment, employee benefit or compensation practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

Ms. Stamer has more than 26 years experience advising and representing employer, employee benefit and other clients on human resources, employee benefit, internal controls and risk management matters including extensive work on workforce re-engineering and other human resources and employee benefits challenges of distressed and other companies, and related matters.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experience worker classification and other employment, employee benefits and workforce matters,  Ms. Stamer works extensively with employers, employee benefit plan sponsors, insurers, administrators, and fiduciaries, payroll and staffing companies, technology and other service providers and others to develop and operate legally defensible programs, practices and policies that promote the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.   Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these and other employee benefit and human resources matters who is active in many other employee benefits, human resources and other management focused organizations.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Council, 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, the Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, the Gulf States Area TEGE Council Exempt Organizations Coordinator, past-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 the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, 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.

You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, find out about upcoming training or other events, review some of her past training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer at www.CynthiaStamer.com.

About Solutions Law Press

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

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.

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


Businesses Urged To Strengthen Their Worker Classification Defenses As IRS, Other Agencies Step Up Audits & Enforcement

March 10, 2013

Businesses using non-employee workers should heed the recently announced expansion of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Voluntary Classification VCS Program (VCS Program) as yet another warning to clean up their worker classification practices and defenses for all workers performing services for the business in any non-employee capacity. 

Relying upon misclassifications of workers as nonemployed service providers presents many financial, legal and operational risks for businesses.  When businesses treat workers as nonemployees who render services in such a way that makes the worker likely to qualify as a common law employee, the business runs the risk of overlooking or underestimating the costs and liabilities of employing those workers.  The enforcement records of the U.S. Department of Labor Wage & Hour Division contains a lengthy and ever-lengthening record of businesses subjected to expensive backpay and penalty awards because the business failed to pay minimum wage or overtime to workers determined to qualify as common law employees entitled to minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  See, e.g.,  Employers Should Tighten Worker Classification Practices As Obama Administration Moves To Stamp Out Misclassification Abuses; $1 Million + FLSA Overtime Settlement Shows Employers Should Tighten On-Call, Other Wage & Hour Practices;  Employer Charged With Misclassifying  & Underpaying Workers To Pay $754,578 FLSA Back Pay Settlement

Originally announced on September 22, 2011 in Announcement 2011-64,  the VCS Program as modified by Announcement 2012-45 continues to offer businesses a carrot to reclassify as employees workers misclassified for payroll tax purposes as independent contractors, leased employees or other non-employee workers backed by the enforcement stick of the IRS’ promise to zealously impose penalties and interest against employers caught wrongfully misclassifying workers.  While the IRS’s VCS Program and stepped up audits of worker classification provide a strong incentive for business to address their worker classification risks, the IRS is only one of many agencies on the alert for worker misclassification exposures.  Worker misclassification also impacts wage and hour, safety, immigration, worker’s compensation, employee benefits, negligence and a host of other obligations. 

All of these exposures carry potentially costly compensation, interest, and civil and in some cases even criminal penalty exposures for the businesses and their leaders.  Consequently, businesses should act prudently and promptly to identify and address all of these risks and move forward holistically to manage their misclassification exposures.

Agencies charged with enforcement of these other laws as well as private plaintiffs also are on the alert for and pursing businesses for aggressive misclassification of workers in these other exposure areas.   Since most businesses uniformly classify workers as either employees or non-employees for most purposes,  business leaders must understand and manage the full scope of their businesses’ misclassification exposures when charting and implementing their strategy in response to the VCS Program or another voluntary compliance program, responding to an audit or other agency action, addressing a private plaintiff suit or conducting other risk management and compliance activities impacting or affected by worker classification concerns. 

VCS Program Offers  Limited Worker Misclassification Exposure Relief

Worker misclassification impacts a broad range of tax and non-tax legal obligations and risks well beyond income tax withholding, payroll and other employment tax liability and reporting and disclosure. A worker classification challenge or necessity determination in one area inherently prompts the need to address the worker reclassification and attendant risks in other areas.

Typically, in addition to treating a worker as a non-employee for tax purposes, a business also will treat the worker as a non-employee for immigration law eligibility to work, wage and hour, employment discrimination, employee benefits, fringe benefits, worker’s compensation, workplace safety, tort liability and insurance and other purposes.

Health Care Reform To Increase Worker Classification Risks

Businesses can look forward to these risks rising in 2014, when the “pay or play” employer shared responsibility, health plan non-discrimination, default enrollment and other new rules take effect under the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Given these new ACA requirements and the government’s need to get as many workers covered as employees to make them work, as well as existing laws, IRS and other agencies are expanding staffing and stepping up enforcement against businesses that misclassify workers.

Whether and how ACA’s “pay-or-play” employer shared responsibility payment, default enrollment, insured health plan non-discrimination and other federal health plan rules apply to a business’ health plan requires a correct understanding of what workers considered employed by the business and how these workers are counted and classified for purposes of ACA and other federal health plan mandates.  

ACA and other federal health plan rules decide what rules apply to which businesses or health plans based on the number of employees a business is considered to employ, their hours worked, their seasonal or other status, and other relevant classification as determined by the applicable rule.  The ACA and other rules vary in the relevant number of employees that trigger applicability of the rule and how businesses must count workers to decide when a particular rule applies.  Consequently, trying to predict the employer shared responsibility payment, if any under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 4980H or model the burden or cost of any other federal health benefit mandates requires each business know who counts and how to classify workers for each of these rules.  Most of these rules start with a “common law” definition of employee then apply rules to add or ignore various workers.  Because most federal health plan rules also take into account “commonly controlled” and “affiliated” businesses’ employees when determining rule coverage, businesses also may need to know that information for other related or commonly owned businesses.  

For instance, when a business along with all commonly controlled or affiliated employers, if any, employ a combined workforce of 50 or more “full-time” and “full-time equivalent employees” (Large Employer) does not offer “affordable,” “minimum essential coverage” to every full-time employee and his dependents under a legally compliant health plan that provides “minimum essential value” within the meaning of ACA after 2013, the business generally should expect to pay a shared responsibility payment under Code Section 4980H for each month after 2013 that any “full-time” employee  receives a tax subsidy or credit for enrolling in one of ACA’s health care exchanges.  The amount of this required shared responsibility payment will be calculated under Code Section 4980H based on the plan design and coverage the employer health plan offers and the required employee contribution for employee only coverage.

If the business intends to continue to offer health coverage, it similarly will need to accurately understand which workers count as its employees for purposes of determining who gets coverage and the consequences to the business for those workers that qualify as full-time, common law employees not offered coverage.

In either case, ACA uses the common law employee test as the basis for classification of workers both to determine what businesses have sufficient full-time employees to become covered under these rules, the payment, if any, required under Code Section 4980H’s new employer shared responsibility payment requirements, as well as the workers entitled to benefit from these rules under employer sponsored health plans.  Accordingly, These the already significant legal and financial consequences for employers that misclassify workers will rise significantly when ACA gets fully implemented beginning in 2014.

Consider VCP Program Relief In Context Of Other Worker Classification Risks

As part of a broader effort to get businesses properly to classify and fulfill tax and other responsibilities to workers, the IRS is offering certain qualifying businesses an opportunity to resolve payroll liabilities arising from past worker misclassifications under the VCS Program. The VCS Program settlement opportunity emerged in 2011 as worker misclassification amid rising scrutiny and enforcement by the IRS and other agencies against businesses for misclassification related violations of the Code, wage and hour, safety, discrimination, immigration and various other laws.

Touted by the IRS as providing “greater certainty for employers, workers and the government,” the VCS Program offers businesses that meet the eligibility criteria for the program the option to resolve past payroll tax liability for the misclassified workers by paying a settlement payment of just over one percent of the wages paid to the reclassified workers for the past year and by meeting other program criteria. When a business meets the VCS Program requirements, the IRS promises not to conduct a payroll tax audit or assess interest or penalties against the business for unpaid payroll taxes for the previously misclassified workers covered by the VCS Program.  For more detail, see New IRS Voluntary IRS Settlement Program Offers New Option For Resolving Payroll Tax Risks Of Misclassification But Employers Also Must Manage Other Legal Risks; Medical Resident Stipend Ruling Shows Health Care, Other Employers Should Review Payroll Practices; Employment Tax Takes Center Stage as IRS Begins National Research Project , Executive Compensation Audits.

The IRS hoped the threat of much larger liability if the IRS catches their misclassification in an audit would induce businesses to settle their exposure and come into compliance by participating in the VCS Program. 

Part of the low participation stemmed from restrictions incorporated into the VCS Program.  Not all businesses with misclassified workers qualified to use the program.  The original criteria to enter the VCS Program established in 2011 required that a business:

  • Be treating the workers as nonemployees;
  • Consistently have treated the workers in the past as nonemployees;
  • To have filed all required Forms 1099 for amounts paid to the workers;
  • Not currently be under IRS audit;
  • Not be under audit by the Department of Labor or a state agency on the classification of these workers or contesting the classification of the workers in court; and
  • To agree to extend the statute of limitations on their payroll tax liabilities from three to six years.

After only about 1000 employers used the VCS Program to voluntarily resolve their payroll tax liability for misclassified workers, the IRS modified the program in hopes of making participation more attractive to businesses in Announcement 2012-45.  As modified by Announcement 2012-45, employers under IRS audit, other than an employment tax audit, now qualify for the VCS Program. Announcement 2012-45 also eliminates the requirement that employers agree to extend their statute of limitations on payroll tax liability from three to six years.   

A business that meets these adjusted criteria for participation now follows the following steps to enter the VCS Program:

  • Files the Form 8952, Application for Voluntary Classification Settlement Program, at least 60 days before the business plans to begin treating the workers as employees;
  • Adjusts its worker classification practices prospectively with respect to the previously misclassified workers;
  • Pays the required settlement fee; and
  • Properly classifies workers going forward. 

While these changes may make participation in the VCS Program more attractive to some employers, many employers may view use of the VCS Program as too risky because of uncertainties about the proper classification of certain workers in light of the highly fact specific nature of the determination, as well as concerns about the effect that use of the VCS Program might have on the businesses non-tax misclassification exposures for workers that would be reclassified under the VCS Program.

Uncertainties Complication Worker Classification Risk Management

One of the biggest challenges to getting businesses to change their worker classifications is getting the businesses to accept the notion that long-standing worker classification practices in fact might not be defensible. 

Although existing precedent and regulatory guidance makes clear that certain long-standing worker classification practices of many businesses would not hold up if scrutinized, business leaders understandably often discount the risk because these classifications historically have continued with little or no challenge in the past.

Even when business leaders recognize that changing enforcement patterns merit reconsideration of historical worker classification practices, they may be reluctant to reclassify the workers. 

The common law employment test applied to decide if a worker is an employee for payroll, income tax, employee benefit plan and other purposes under the Code often relies on a subjective, highly fact-specific analysis of the particular circumstances of the worker.  Employment status typically is presumed under the common law test for purposes of the Code and most other laws.  This means that the business, rather than the IRS or other agency, generally bears the burden of proving the correctness of its classification of a worker as a non-employee for purposes of these determinations. 

Given the business typically bears the burden of proving a worker is not an employee, a business receiving services from workers performing services in a capacity other than as a employee should ensure that the position in structural form and operation will withstand scrutiny under the common law and other applicable tests and retain the necessary evidence to support this characterization in anticipation of a potential future audit or other challenge.

Since the business can expect to bear the burden of proving the appropriateness of a nonemployee characterization, businesses also should exercise special care to avoid relying upon overly optimistic assessment of the facts and circumstances when assessing the defensibility of their characterization of the position. 

When the factual evidence creates significant questions about the defensibility of a worker’s classification as a non-employee, an employing business generally should consider reclassifying or restructuring the position to be more defensible pursuant to a process designed to mitigate or resolve risks of the prior classification.  Often, it also may be desirable for the business to incorporate certain contractual, compensation and other safeguards into the worker relationship, both to support the nonemployee characterization and to minimize future reclassification challenges and exposures.

Consider Importance of Attorney-Client Privilege As Risk Management Tool

Because of the broad reaching and potentially significant liability exposures arising from misclassification, business leaders generally should work to ensure that their risk analysis and decision-making discussion is conducted in a way that positions these discussions for protection under attorney-client privilege and attorney work product privilege.

The availability of the attorney-client and other evidentiary privilege to help shield the investigation and associated decision-making is particularly important because of the potentially significant civil and even criminal liability exposures that often arise from worker misclassification under various relevant laws. 

The interwoven nature of the tax and non-tax risks merits particular awareness by business leaders of the need to use care in deciding the outside advisors and consultants that will help in the evaluation of the risks and structuring of solutions.  With the VCS Program and other tax exposures in the limelight, businesses can expect that their accounting and other consultant advisors will recommend and even offer to lead the review.  While appropriately structured involvement by these non-legal consultants can be a valuable tool, the blended nature of the misclassification exposures means that the evidentiary privileges that accountants often assert to help shield their tax related discussions from discovery in certain federal tax prosecutions are likely to provide inadequate protection against discovery given the broad non-tax related exposures inherent in the misclassification problem.  For this reason, business leaders are urged to require that any audits and other activities by these non-legal consultants to evaluate or mitigate these exposures be engaged and conducted whenever possible within attorney-client privilege to protect and promote the ability to assert evidentiary protections against disclosure and discovery of sensitive discussions. Accordingly, while businesses definitely should incorporate appropriate tax advisors into the evaluation process, most businesses before commencing meaningful discussions with or engaging assessments by their accounting firm or other non-attorney tax advisor will want to engage counsel and coordinate  their accounting and other non-attorney tax advisors” involvement and activities through qualified legal counsel to protect and maximize the ability to conduct the analysis of their risks and options within the protection of attorney-client privilege.

For Help With These Or Other Matters

If you need assistance in conducting a risk assessment of or responding to an IRS, Labor, HHS, DOJ, ICE, private claim or other legal challenges to your organization’s existing workforce classification or other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation practices, compliance, or other internal controls and management concerns, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experience worker classification and other employment, employee benefits and workforce matters,  Ms. Stamer has more than 25 years experience advising and representing employer, employee benefit and other clients before the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, Immigration & Customs, Justice, and Health & Human Services, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Trade Commission, state labor, insurance, tax and attorneys’ general, and other agencies, private plaintiffs and others on worker classification and related human resources, employee benefit, tax, internal controls, risk management and other legal and operational management concerns. 

Ms. Stamer works extensively with employers, employee benefit plan sponsors, insurers, administrators, and fiduciaries, payroll and staffing companies, technology and other service providers and others to develop and run legally defensible programs, practices and policies that promote the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Council, 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, the Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, the Gulf States Area TEGE Council Exempt Organizations Coordinator, past-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 the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these and other employee benefit and human resources matters who is active in many other employee benefits, human resources and other management focused organizations who is published and speaks extensively on worker classification and related matters.   She 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.

You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, find out about upcoming training or other events, review some of her past training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer at www.CynthiaStamer.com.

About Solutions Law Press

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

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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


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

October 22, 2012

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

For More Information Or Assistance

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

About Ms. Stamer

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

Other Resources & Developments

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

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

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


Congress Gives Defined Benefit Plan Sponsors Welcome Funding Relief, Raises PBGC Premiums & Makes Other Reforms

July 31, 2012

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code generally require employers that sponsor defined benefit pension plans make sufficient contributions to their defined benefit pension plans to ensure that their plans meet minimum funding requirements.  

Failure to meet minimum funding requirements triggers a series of complicated reporting and disclosure, funding and excise tax liabilities, liens and other obligations that are serious and require prompt redress through prompt payment of required contributions and penalties, request for funding waivers or termination under a series of complicated rules or both.  Special controlled group, lien and successor liability rules incorporated into these funding requirements often spread the risk of funding deficiencies under these rules by extending liabilities to commonly controlled or affiliated employers, lenders, potential purchasers and others dealing with these plans or the businesses that sponsor them.  

Because employer funding obligations under these rules depend heavily upon interest and other investment performance used to calculate funding levels, employer funding obligations tend to spike during economic depressions or slowdowns, resulting in sharp increases in funding obligations for employers at a time when the tight economy already makes finances tight.   Congress has faced growing pressure to provide some sort of defined benefit pension plan funding relief as low investment returns and strained corporate budgets during the ongoing economic crisis have fueled an underfunding epidemic among employers sponsoring defined benefit pension plans and threatened the financial viability of many sponsoring employers and the federal insurance program responsible for providing backup insurance for private employer defined benefit commitments administered by the PBGC.

MAP-21 provides immediate defined benefit plan funding relief by changing how the interest rates that employers must use to calculate their current defined benefit plan funding obligations are calculated.  MAP-21 defined benefit plan funding reforms effectively decrease current defined benefit plan funding costs by establishing a minimum and maximum for the interest segment rates defined benefit plans use to calculate currently required funding based on a historic 25-year average of those segment rates. It is important that employers and plan fiduciaries keep in mind that the MAP-21 interest rate change applies to the calculation of current funding obligations that employer.  It does not apply for purposes of calculating lump sum distributions, limits on deductible contributions to single-employer plans, PBGC variable-rate premiums, fi

With many employers continuing to meet defined benefit plan funding requirements driven up by the continued excessively low investment performance of their benefit plan investment in the slow economic environment, defined benefit pension plan funding relief included in the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act”(MAP–21”) signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2012 provides welcome and  much-needed pension funding relief. For many financially strapped businesses that sponsor defined benefit plans, the MAP-21 relief may allow the employer to avoid terminating its defined benefit plan, escape costly underfunding consequences that many defined benefit plan sponsors fear will financially cripple or bankrupt their companies, or both.

MAP-21 provides immediate funding relief for financially strapped defined benefit plan sponsors and makes various other reforms impacting defined benefit pension plans and the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) insurance program that helps to insure certain benefit commitments made under these defined benefit plans.  The MAP-21 funding relief is intended to help employers struggling to meet heightened pension funding obligations brought about by the decline in investment performance resulting from the economic downturn.

nancial reporting under Section 4010 of ERISA, and qualified transfers of excess pension assets to retiree medical accounts.

In addition to changing the rules for calculating interest rates for purposes of determining defined benefit plan minimum funding obligations, MAP-21 also extends rules allowing transfers of excess pension assets to retiree health accounts to December 31, 2021 and expands those transfer rules also to allow transfers to fund retiree group term life insurance accounts.

Finally, in addition to these changes to defined benefit pension plan funding rules, MAP-21 also reorganizes the PBGC organizational structure and increases PBGC insurance premiums.

While the MAP-21 reforms will provide welcome relief, sponsoring businesses, their commonly controlled and affiliated employers, lenders, investors and successors still must exercise care to carefully monitor the funding status of defined benefit plans and the potential liabilities and responsibilities associated with these plans.  Appropriate steps should be taken to maintain required funding levels or, at the first sign of trouble, to seek experienced legal and actuarial advice and help to identify and take prompt steps to pursue options to head off a potential crisis by freezing or terminating the plan, providing required notifications and disclosures to participants and beneficiaries, the PBGC, lenders, investors, and other concerned parties, and other actions to mitigate exposures. 

For More Information Or Assistance

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

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

Other Resources & Developments

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

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

©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


Big Penalty for Lender Shows Risks of Violating Military Service or Vets Rights

November 14, 2011

 Businesses Urged To Review and Strengthen Their Policies, Practices & Training

Today’s (November 14, 2011) Justice Department announcement that a Bank of America subsidiary will pay 160 military service members at least $116,785 apiece for violating their federal credit rights is the latest reminder to businesses and their leaders of the significant liability that they run for failing to honor the legal rights of U.S. military service persons and their families.  The payments are required as part of the terms of a May 26, 2011 settlement agreement reached to resolve charges that BAC Home Loans Servicing LP unlawfully foreclosed on servicemembers’ homes in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).  The settlement represents the largest action taken under the SCRA by the Justice Department to date.

The announcement follows the Justice Department’s September 22, 2011 announcement that ServiceMaster 24-Hour and its owner would pay $15,000 for refusing to reemploy a member of the U.S. Army Reserve following his return from active duty in violation of USERRA.  Together, the settlements together illustrate the growing risks businesses run if they fail to honor these and other rights of members and veterans of the U.S. military. 

With government and private awareness and enforcement of these rights on the rise, U.S businesses should review and tighten their business and employment practices for dealing with individuals in the military and their families in light of growing risks of enforcement of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) and other federal and state protections.

You can learn more details about these settlements and other enforcement of these rules here.

For Help With These Or Other Matters

If you need assistance in conducting a risk assessment of or responding to a challenge to your organization’s existing policies or practices for dealing with servicemembers or with other compliance, labor and employment, employee benefit or compensation practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experience worker classification and other employment, employee benefits and workforce matters, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and representing businesses about managing responsibilities and risks under USERRA, SCRA and other federal rules regarding the rights of military service members and veterans in employment, credit and other transactions as part of her broader human resources and internal controls practice.

Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising and representing employer, employee benefit and other clients before the Department of Labor, Justice Department, Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, Department of Veterans Affairs, Immigrations & Customs, and other agencies, private plaintiffs and others on worker classification and related human resources, employee benefit, internal controls and risk management matters.

 Ms. Stamer works extensively with employers, employee benefit plan sponsors, insurers, administrators, and fiduciaries, payroll and staffing companies, technology and other service providers and others to develop and operate legally defensible programs, practices and policies that promote the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  She works extensively with, speaks and publishes, and conducts management training on compliance and risk management of requirements concerning the handing of servicemember employment and other rights.

A featured presenter of numerous presentations on employment and other responsibilities of U.S. businesses to servicemembers, Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these and other employee benefit and human resources matters who is active in many other employee benefits, human resources and other management focused organizations.  She frequently speaks and conducts training for the American Bar Association, DallasHR, Solutions Law Press and a wide range of other corporations and associations on the management of compliance and risks associated with employment and consumer rights of military service members, veterans and their families  See, e.g., Update on Employment Rights of Emploeyes in The Military & Their Family.

You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, find out about upcoming training or other events, review some of her past training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer at www.CynthiaStamer.com.

For Help With These Or Other Matters

If you would like help reviewing or defending your organization’s practices or programs, need legal representation defending those programs and activities, or wish to discuss arranging for Ms. Stamer to conduct training or speak for your organization, please contact Ms Stamer here

 For important information concerning this communication click here.

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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


New IRS Voluntary IRS Settlement Program Offers New Option For Resolving Payroll Tax Risks Of Misclassification But Employers Also Must Manage Other Legal Risks

September 26, 2011

Program Another Sign of Growing Audit & Enforcement Risks.   Businesses Urged To Strengthen Their Worker Classification Defenses

The September 22, 2011 launch by the Internal Revenue Service of a new Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program (“Settlement Program”) is the latest warning to businesses using independent contractors, leased employees or other non-employee workers of the need to review critically within the scope of attorney-client privilege the defensibility of their existing classification and treatment of those workers as non-employees in light of the in light of stepped up scrutiny and enforcement emphasis by the IRS and other federal and state regulators as well as workers and others in private litigation.

Coupled with growing scrutiny and challenges to businesses efforts to avoid employment-related liability and obligations through the use or workers that the business characterizes as non-employees by other federal and state agencies and plaintiff attorneys, the Settlement Agreement announcement is another sign that businesses using workers who are not employees need to be prepared to defend their worker classification and the legality of their dealings with these workers under applicable federal and state laws.

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

Settlement Program Establishment Should Prompt Review Defensibility of Worker Classifications

The new Settlement Program established under Announcement 2011-64 reflects the widespread emphasis by the IRS and other federal and state regulators on uncovering and redressing misclassification of workers as non-employees by businesses for purposes of tax and other laws.  IRS scrutiny of worker classification practices by businesses has risen significantly over the past decade. 

The IRS’ launch of the Settlement Program follows its announcement in September, 2010 of plans to conduct approximately 6,000 payroll tax audits over a three year period focusing on the appropriateness of employer worker classification and other payroll tax practices.  The announcement of the new Settlement Program signals that the IRS perceives that worker misclassification by business in violation of Federal tax laws is sufficiently widespread and pervasive to merit both efforts to incentive voluntary correction through participation in the Settlement Program, as well as stiff enforcement against businesses that fail to self-correct worker classification compliance concerns.

Designed to increase tax compliance and provide what the IRS says will be “greater certainty for employers, workers and the government,” the IRS says the Settlement Program offers eligible employers concerned about potential worker misclassification exposures that might arise from a payroll tax audit the opportunity to come into compliance by making the required filing, adjusting their practices and paying the required settlement fee effectively equaling just over one percent of the wages paid to the reclassified workers for the past year.  If this settlement fee is paid and the other requirements of the Settlement Program are met, the Settlement Program specifies that employers accepted into the program will not be assessed interest or penalties and not be audited on payroll taxes related to these workers for prior years.

For businesses that can meet applicable requirements for participation, participation in the Settlement Program may offer an attractive option for resolving payroll related tax risks.  However, not all employers will qualify for the Settlement Program.  Employers must meet the eligibility requirements for participation.

Also, employers electing to use the Settlement Program need to understand the implications of that participation on the Statute of Limitations on their payroll tax liabilities. For the first three years of participation in the program, the Settlement Program specifies that participating employers will be subject to a special six-year statute of limitations, rather than the usual three years that generally applies to payroll taxes.  Businesses will need to weigh the benefits of using the Settlement Program, if available, against the risk of reclassification and the availability of other resolution options that may be available under applicable Internal Revenue Code and IRS rules and procedures. Furthermore, many businesses evaluating worker classifications also may find it difficult to determine with certainty the risk of reclassification for certain categories of workers. Whether a worker is properly classified as an employee for most purposes under the Internal Revenue Code’s income tax withholding and reporting, payroll tax and most other employment tax turns on a highly fact specific analysis of under a common law employment test.  When an analysis of the evidence reflects a high degree of certainty that the classification of a worker as a non-employee was not defensible under existing tax authorities, use of the Settlement Program or other tools to resolve liability definitely merits consideration.  Because of the factual nature of the analysis, however, the decision whether to use the Settlement Program where the circumstances under which the worker renders services are less clear may be more difficult.  When making these assessments, businesses should avoid the temptation of being overly optimistic in their assessment of the facts and circumstances given that the Internal Revenue Code generally assigns responsibility to the business to prove the appropriateness of its classification of a worker as a non-employee.  While this allocation of the burden of proof means businesses should exercise caution when engaging workers in non-employee capacities, where the facts support this characterization, classification of a worker as a non-employee can be appropriate.  When deciding to continue the non-employee characterization for purposes of the Internal Revenue Code, however, businesses are urged to document the evidentiary basis and evidence supporting that determination in anticipation of a potential future audit or other challenge.

Learn more about the Settlement Program and worker classification risk management here.

Businesses Should Address Other Worker Reclassification Risks When Conducting Settlement Program Risk Analysis

As welcome as the opportunity to resolve potential payroll tax exposures through participation in the Settlement Program, businesses considering using the Settlement Program also will need to understand and prepared to address various non-tax legal concerns.   Because worker misclassification tends to impact on a broad range of legal obligations and risks, businesses evaluating or planning to use the Settlement Program are act quickly, but carefully, to evaluate and determine whether and how to use the Settlement Program and to identify and take appropriate steps to address both the tax-related liabilities targeted for resolution under the Settlement Program, as well as misclassification exposures likely to arise with respect to workers to be reclassified in connection with the use of the Settlement Program.

When conducting this evaluation and deciding whether to use the Settlement Program, businesses also need to keep the wider implications of the analysis and their decisions regarding how to handle a potential aggressive or misclassification as a worker as a non-employee.  A determination of potential aggressive or misclassification for purposes of the Internal Revenue Code’s payroll tax rules generally will necessitate the need to evaluate potential exposures that may arise from the worker misclassification under other federal and state laws. 

Typically, in addition to treating a worker as a non-employee for tax purposes, a business also will treat the worker as a non-employee for immigration law eligibility to work, wage and hour, employment discrimination, employee benefits, fringe benefits, worker’s compensation, workplace safety, tort liability and insurance and other purposes.   Consequently, a determination that reclassification is advisable for tax purposes generally will prompt the need to consider how to address the worker reclassification and attendant risk for purposes of other legal risks and requirements, as well as those covered by the Settlement Program.  Businesses will need to consider how the voluntary reclassification of workers and settlement under the Settlement Program may impact their exposures and obligations under other laws.  As the Settlement Program does not provide relief from the exposures arising from misclassification under other laws, businesses should be prepared to evaluate the advisability of reclassification of the worker for purposes of these other laws, the potential exposures attendant to misclassification of workers under those laws, and risks, challenges and opportunities for mitigating these exposures.

Businesses Cautioned To Conduct Evaluations & Discussions In Attorney-Client Privilege Due To Complexity & Significance of Potential Exposures

Conducting and discussing the Settlement Program and other related concerns within the scope of attorney-client privilege is particularly important because of the potentially significant civil and even criminal liability exposures that may arise from misclassification of workers for purposes of the various relevant laws.  Because of the broad reaching and potentially significant non-tax exposure inherent in these discussions, business leaders are cautioned that the evidentiary privileges that often provides protection against disclosure of certain discussions with accountants and certain other non-attorney tax advisors for purposes of certain tax laws may be inadequate in scope to protect discussions against discovery for purposes of these other laws.  Accordingly, while businesses definitely should incorporate appropriate tax advisors into the evaluation process, most businesses before commencing meaningful discussions with or engaging assessments by their accounting firm or other non-attorney tax advisor will want to engage counsel and coordinate the involvement of their accounting and other non-attorney tax advisors through qualified legal counsel to protect and maximize the ability to conduct the analysis of their risks and options within the protection of attorney-client privilege.

For Help With These Or Other Matters

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 workforce classification or other labor and employment, employee benefit or compensation practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising and representing employer, employee benefit and other clients before the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, Immigrations & Customs, and other agencies, private plaintiffs and others on worker classification and related human resources, employee benefit, internal controls and risk management matters. 

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experience worker classification and other employment, employee benefits and workforce matters,  Ms. Stamer works extensively with employers, employee benefit plan sponsors, insurers, administrators, and fiduciaries, payroll and staffing companies, technology and other service providers and others to develop and operate legally defensible programs, practices and policies that promote the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  

A featured presenter in the recent “Worker Classification & Alternative Workforce: Employee Plans & Employment Tax Challenges” teleconference sponsored by the American Bar Association Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these and other employee benefit and human resources matters who is active in many other employee benefits, human resources and other management focused organizations.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Council, 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, the Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, the Gulf States Area TEGE Council Exempt Organizations Coordinator, past-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 the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, 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.

You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, find out about upcoming training or other events, review some of her past training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer at www.CynthiaStamer.com.

About Solutions Law Press

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

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


Borzi Tells House Committee Current Fiduciary Regs Flawed; Must Fix Loopholes In Investment Advisor Definition To Protect Plans

July 28, 2011

Assistant Secretary of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) Phyllis C. Borzi testified Tuesday, July 26, 2011 to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommitte on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions that EBSA a proposed fiduciary regulation  that would update EBSA regulations defining when a person is considered a “fiduciary” by reason of giving investment advice for a fee with respect to assets of an employee benefit plan or IRA will help protect employee benefit plan participants by correcting “loopholes” in a “flawed 35-year-old rule” that allow many parties providing advice about the investment of retirement plan assets to escape coverage by ERISA’s fiduciary responsibility rules.  The proposed regulations and other stepped up regulations and enforcement of ERISA’s fiduciary protections by the EBSA means that plan sponsors, fiduciaries, investment advisors and other plan service providers and others involved in the sponsorship, design, and administration of an employee benefit plan need to act to manage expanding fiduciary responsibilities and exposures.

  • Borzi Says Loopholes & Other Flaws In Existing Regulations Hurt Plans & Their Participants

Borzi told the Committee that EBSA believes its rules about the types of advisory relationships that give rise to fiduciary status under the ERISA on the part of those providing investment advice services need to change because “technicalities” and “loopholes” in the current EBSA fiduciary regulations definition of “investment advisor” in effect since 1975 harms participants and beneficiaries by allowing many advisers to easily dodge fiduciary status.

Borzi testified that the five-part regulatory test used under the current regulations to determine when ERISA’s fiduciary requirements apply to “investment advice” and when the advisor is a “fiduciary” significantly narrowed the plain language of the ERISA statute so that much of what plainly is advice about plan investments is not treated as investment advice as fiduciary conduct under ERISA and the person paid to render that advice is not treated as an ERISA fiduciary.

Under current fiduciary regulation, an investment adviser is not treated as a fiduciary accountable for complying with ERISA’s prudence, exclusive benefit, prohibited transaction and other fiduciary responsibility safeguards if and when providing advice that meets each element of a five part test.

Under the current regulation, a person is a fiduciary under ERISA and/or the tax code with respect to their advice only if and when he or she:

  • Make recommendations on investing in, purchasing or selling securities or other property, or give advice as to their value;
  • On a regular basis;
  • Pursuant to a mutual understanding that the advice;
  • Will serve as a primary basis for investment decisions; and
  • Will be individualized to the particular needs of the plan.

Borzi told members of Congress this narrow definition of investment advisor exempts a wide range of parties receiving compensation for providing advice about the investment of employee benefit funds from coverage by ERISA’s fiduciary responsibility requirements.  Borzi testified that the narrowness of the existing regulation opened the door to serious problems, and changes in the market since the regulation was issued in 1975 have allowed these problems to proliferate and intensify. Borzi says the narrowness of the regulation has harmed some plans, participants, and IRA holders. Research has linked adviser conflicts with underperformance. SEC reviews of certain financial sales practices may also reflect these influences. Finally, EBSA’s own enforcement experience has demonstrated specific negative effects of conflicted investment advice.

  • Borzi Says Proposed Regulation Would Strengthen Protections For Plans & Their Participants

Borzi said the proposed regulation published in the Federal Register on October 22, 2010 would change the rules defining a person is considered to be a “fiduciary” by reason of giving investment advice for a fee with respect to assets of an employee benefit plan or IRA by modifying the current regulation in effect since 1975 would replace the five-part test of “investment advisor” with a broader definition more in keeping with the statutory language while providing clear exceptions for conduct that should not result in fiduciary status.

According to Borzi, types of advice and recommendations that generally would trigger fiduciary status under the proposed regulations include: (1) appraisals or fairness opinions concerning the value of securities or other property; (2) recommendations as to the advisability of investing in, purchasing, holding or selling securities or other property; or (3) recommendations as to the management of securities or other property.

To be a fiduciary for performing these or other activities treated as fiduciary investment advice, Borzi explained that a person engaging in one of these activities must receive a fee and also meet at least one of the following four conditions:

  • Represent to a plan, participant or beneficiary that the individual is acting as an ERISA fiduciary;
  • Already be an ERISA fiduciary to the plan by virtue of having any control over the management or disposition of plan assets, or by having discretionary authority over the administration of the plan;
  • Be an investment adviser under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940; or
  • Provide the advice pursuant to an agreement or understanding that the advice may be considered in connection with investment or management decisions with respect to plan assets and will be individualized to the needs of the plan.

At the same time, Borzi testified that the proposed regulation recognizes that activities by certain persons should not result in fiduciary status. Specifically, these are:

  • Persons who do not represent themselves to be ERISA fiduciaries, and who make it clear to the plan that they are acting for a purchaser/seller on the opposite side of the transaction from the plan rather than providing impartial advice;
  • Persons who provide general financial/investment information, such as recommendations on asset allocation to 401(k) participants under existing Departmental guidance on investment education;
  • Persons who market investment option platforms to 401(k) plan fiduciaries on a non-individualized basis and disclose in writing that they are not providing impartial advice; and
  • Appraisers who provide investment values to plans to use only for reporting their assets to the DOL and IRS.
  • EBSA Still Working To Address Expressed Concerns

The proposed regulation has prompted a large volume of comments and a vigorous debate. Borzi testified that the EBSA is working hard to hear and consider every stakeholder concern and shared some examples of how EBSA is considering addressing certain of these concerns.   Borzi said EBSA is taking multiple steps in its effort to respond to these and other concerns in its efforts to finalize the regulation including:

Borzi told the Committee EBSA is working to better understand how specific compensation arrangements would be affected by the proposed rule and whether clarifications of existing prohibited transactions exemptions would be appropriate. Borzi said EBSA has already begun to issue subregulatory guidance describing some of these clarifications and will continue to do so as necessary as it completes its analysis.

Borzi also said that as EBSA further develops its thinking in this rulemaking, EBSA is paying special attention to the two primary exceptions to fiduciary status under the proposed rule: (1) clarifying the difference between investment education that does not give rise to fiduciary status and fiduciary investment advice; and (2) clarifying the scope of the so-called “sellers’ exception” under which sales activity is not fiduciary advice. In both cases, Borzi said EBSA intends to analyze and address the comments and concerns that were raised during our extensive public comment period.

Finally, Borzi said EBSA is exploring a range of appropriate regulatory options for moving forward, taking into consideration public comments submitted for the record, EBSA’s economic analysis, and relevant academic research. In so doing, Borzi told the Committee EBSA is aiming to address conflicted investment advice while not unnecessarily disrupting existing compensation practices or business models.

  • Plan Sponsors, Fiduciaries, Service Providers Should Prepare For Tighter Rules While Continuing To Provide Input To EBSA

The proposed changes to the definition of investment advisor is one of many steps that EBSA is taking to tighten the regulations implementing ERISA’s fiduciary requirements and to enforce the protections of ERISA.  The proposal to expand the conditions that providing investment advice regarding retirement plan assets will trigger the fiduciary protections of ERISA is designed to expand the reach of those regulations.  Service providers involved in providing these or other related services generally will want to review and update their processes, documentation and training to manage new exposures likely to arise from these proposed regulations, while continuing to share feedback to EBSA and other rulemakers. 

Service providers are not the only parties that need to update practices and provide input about these rules.  Plan sponsors, fiduciaries, service providers, participants and beneficiaries also are impacted.  Employers and other plan sponsors, fiduciaries and others need to anticipate and respond effectively to the inevitable efforts by providers of investment advice and other services to avoid or shift liability.  Parties securing or relying on advice or services about investments or other responsibilities should:

  • Carefully, prudently conduct a documented investigation and critical analysis of existing and proposed advisors and other service providers credentials, analysis, performance, contract, recommendations and other conduct;
  • Carefully review contracts and other materials and secure appropriate constractual and other safeguards;
  • Require indemnification, insurance and other protections;
  • Ensure that appropriate action is taken to appoint parties intended to perform fiduciary advisory or other services to manage risks
  • Secure and maintain appropriate fiduciary and other liability insurance coverage;
  • Carefully conduct an appropriate, well-documented prudent review of performance, credentials and other relevant factors on a regular basis to preserve ongoing evidence of prudence; and
  • Other appropriate safeguards to manage risks and liabilities.

To help guard and position themselves to defend against fiduciary exposures plan sponsors, fiduciaries, service providers and others involved in the administration of health or other employee benefit plans should seek the advice of legal counsel with appropriate experience with employee benefit and other related matters to develop an understanding of ERISA and other laws and the duties and liabilities that these rules may create for their organizations and themselves personally.  For additional tips and information about managing these risks, see here.

For Help With These Or Other Risk Management Matters

If you need assistance in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your wage and hour or with other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation or internal controls 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. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend wage and hour and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  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, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on wage and hour, worker classification and other human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

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 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. To unsubscribe, e-mail here.

 

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.



Spectrum Healthcare NLRB Charge Settlement Highlights Need To Defend Against Possible Unfair Labor Practices & Other Union Exposures

May 20, 2011

The National Labor Regulations Board (NLRB)’s announcement of a settlement against a Connecticut nursing home operator this week in conjunction with a series of other enforcement actions highlight the need for businesses to tighten defenses and exercise other caution to minimize their organization’s exposure to potential NLRB charges or investigation.    As reflected by many of these enforcement acts, the exposures arise both from active efforts by businesses to suppress union organizing or contracting activities, as well as the failure to identify and manage hidden labor law exposures in the design and administration of more ordinary human resources, compliance, business operations and other policies and practices.

On May 17, 2011, the NLRB announced here  that Connecticut nursing home operator Spectrum Healthcare has agreed to settle a NLRB case involving multiple allegations of unlawful suspensions, discharges and unilateral changes in violation of the National Labor Relations Act and other federal labor laws by offering reinstatement and back pay to all discharged and striking workers and signing a new three-year collective bargaining agreement with its employees’ union, New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199, SEIU.

Along with the contract and reinstatement of all employees, the company agreed to pay $545,000 in back pay and pension benefits to employees who were harmed by the unfair labor practices, and to expunge any disciplinary records related to the case. As a result, all NLRB charges against the company have been withdrawn. Spectrum admits to no wrongdoing in the settlement.

The settlement, reached midway through a hearing before an NLRB administrative law judge in Connecticut and approved by the judge yesterday, ends a long-running dispute which grew into a strike by almost 400 employees at four nursing homes in Connecticut operated by Spectrum Healthcare, LLC.  Complaints issued by the NLRB Regional Office in Hartford alleged that, beginning in the fall of 2009, several months after the prior collective bargaining agreement expired, Spectrum discharged seven employees and suspended three others to retaliate against their union activities and to discourage other employees from supporting the union. In addition, one employee was discharged and seven others were suspended after the employer unilaterally changed its tardiness discipline policy without first bargaining with the union.

The complaints further alleged that in April 2010, employees at the four nursing homes — in Derby, Ansonia, Winsted, and Hartford — went on strike to protest the unfair labor practices. When the strikers offered unconditionally to return to work in late August, the employer refused to take them back. Under federal labor law, if a strike is called because of an unfair labor practice, employees are entitled to reinstatement after an unconditional offer to return to work.

The reinstated employees are due to return to the facilities this week.

The Spectrum Healthcare settlement is reflective of the growing number of NLRB enforcement orders against employers generally and health care providers specifically under the Obama Administration. The Obama Administration has close ties and has expressed its strong and open support for union and union organizing activities.  The adoption of a series of union friendly labor law reforms was one of the key campaign promises of President Obama during his election campaign.  While other legislative priorities and the change in the leadership of the House of Representatives appears to have slowed efforts to push through this agenda, it has not slowed the Administration’s efforts to support unions with strong enforcement activities.  Empowered by a difficult economic and job situation and an awareness of the Obama Administration’s strong support for union organizing and other activities, unions are stepping up organizing efforts and more aggressively challenging employers actions.

Over the past few months, public awareness of the Obama Administration’s aggressive enforcement agenda on behalf of unions has drawn new attention as a result of the widespread media coverage of NLRB actions challenging Boeings planned relocation of certain manufacturing jobs intervention in a planned relocation of certain manufacturing operations.  See, e.g., Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon releases statement on Boeing complaint; National Labor Relations Board issues complaint against Boeing Company for unlawfully transferring work to a non-union facilityHowever, the Boeing and Spectrum Healthcare actions represent only the tip of the iceberg of the rising number of NLRB enforcement activities, most of which take place with little media or public attention.

Along side the Spectrum Healthcare and Boeing actions, in recent weeks, the NLRB also has been busy with several other enforcement activities.  For instance:

  • On May 9 2011, the NLRB issued a complaint against Hispanics United of Buffalo (HUB), a nonprofit that provides social services to low-income clients, that alleges that HUB unlawfully discharged five employees after they took to Facebook to criticize working conditions, including work load and staffing issues. The case involves an employee who, in advance of a meeting with management about working conditions, posted to her Facebook ; and
  • On May 17, the NLRB secured a temporary injunction from a U.S. District Court in San Jose California against San Jose area waste hauling company OS Transport LLC,   charged with engaging in unfair labor practices including the termination of a lead organizer and another Union supporter, retaliation against Union efforts in the form of unfavorable assignments, threats to Union supporters, and promises of improved treatment of employees who disavow the Union for the alleged purpose of defeating a union. o offer reinstatement to two drivers and restore full assignments to other drivers who had expressed support for a union during an organizing campaign. More Details here.,

In addition, in recent weeks, the NLRB also has:

 Amid this difficult enforcement environment, business leaders should exercise special care to prepare to defend their actions against both potential organizing efforts, to understand the types of actions and activities that may help fuel charges, and take steps to manage these and other union organization and other labor risks.  

For Help With Labor & Employment, Employee Benefits Or Other Risk Management and Defense

If you need assistance in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your labor and employment, employee benefits, compliance, risk manage or other  internal controls practices or actions, 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. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend wage and hour and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  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, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on wage and hour, worker classification and other human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

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 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 .

 ©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


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