Cascom Inc. Owner Must Pay Nearly $1.5 M After Company Misclassified Employees As Independent Contractors

August 30, 2013

The owner of a now-defunct Ohio business, Cascom Inc., will pay a heavy price for now defunct Cascom, Inc.’s misclassification of workers as independent contractors and resulting wage and hour and overtime violations.  U.S. businesses, their owners and their leaders should heed the strong warning to employers about the risks of misclassification of workers provided by the judgment and statements included in the Department of Labor (DOL) announcement of the court’s decision and take appropriate steps to audit and correct as necessary worker classification and other practices that Another in the growing tidal wave of judicial and administrative orders and settlements nailing businesses, their owners and management for misclassifications of workers resulting in violations of Federal employment, tax or other laws, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio has ordered Cascom Inc. back wages and liquidated damages totaling $1,474,266 to approximately 250 cable installers that the court ruled that the Cascom Inc. misclassified as independent contractors in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The misclassification of employees as something other than employees, such as independent contractors, presents a serious problem for affected employees, employers and the economy. Misclassified employees are often denied access to critical benefits and protections — such as family and medical leave, overtime, minimum wage and unemployment insurance — to which they are entitled. Employee misclassification also generates substantial losses to the Treasury and the Social Security and Medicare funds, as well as to state unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation funds.  To nix these and other concerns, the DOL, Internal Revenue Services, Department of Health & Human Services, Customs & Immigration and other federal agencies increasingly are going after businesses that misclassify workers as non-employees.

Cascom Inc. In A Nutshell

The Cascom Inc. decision is one of a fast-growing list of situations where DOL or other agencies or private plaintiffs obtained judgments or settlements under the FLSA for employers that failed to comply with these FLSA obligations because the business treated workers that under the facts and circumstances were common law employees as independent contractors or otherwise exempt from the FLSA.  See Solis v. Cascom Inc.

The FLSA generally requires that a business pay covered, nonexempt employees at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers also are required to maintain accurate time and payroll records.

For purposes of determining if a worker is an employee protected by the FLSA, the FLSA distinguishes an employment relationship from an independent contractor or other non-employed contractual relationship.  The protections of the FLSA apply only to employees.  An employee — as distinguished from a person who in a business of his or her own — is one who, as a matter of economic reality, follows the usual path of an employee and is dependent on the business that he or she serves. For more information, visit here.

The judgment jointly against Cascom Inc. and its owner, Julia J. Gress, arose following a damages hearing held in connection with a lawsuit originally filed by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) in 2009 based on a DOL Wage and Hour Division investigation which found that Cascom Inc. failed to pay overtime and engaged in other FLSA violations as a result of its wrongful classification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees.  The court previously ruled in September 2011 that Cascom Inc. and its owner, Julia J. Gress, violated the FLSA by failing to compensate employees for hours worked in excess of 40 per work week because they were misclassified as independent contractors.

The installers were found to be employees covered by the FLSA, rather than independent contractors. The court found Cascom Inc. liable for $737,133 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages, collectible from both from the company and its owner. Since the litigation began, the company has ceased operations.  Consequently, DOL plans to collect damages from owner Gress.

Employer Misclassification Audits & Enforcement Significant Risk For US Businesses

The prosecution by DOL of Cascom Inc. under the FLSA reflects the increased readiness of the DOL and other agencies to scrutinize and challenge the characterization by a business of workers as independent contractors exempt from the FLSA or other federal requirements on the obligations of an employer to an employee.  DOL and other federal agencies increasingly scrutinize the treatment by employers of a worker as an independent contractor and prosecute employers when DOL determines that FLSA or other legal obligations that the employer violated because the employer misclassified the workers.

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

The enforcement record of the Labor Department confirms that employers that improperly treat workers as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime, minimum wage and recordkeeping requirements run a big risk.  The Labor Department and private plaintiffs alike regularly target employers that use aggressive worker classification or other pay practices to avoid paying minimum wage or overtime to workers.  Under the Obama Administration, DOL officials have made it a priority to enforce overtime, record keeping, worker classification and other wage and hour law requirements.  See e.g.,  Boston Furs Sued For $1M For Violations Of Fair Labor Standards Act; Record $2.3 Million+ Backpay Order; Minimum Wage, Overtime Risks Highlighted By Labor Department Strike Force Targeting Residential Care & Group Homes; Review & Strengthen Defensibility of Existing Worker Classification Practices In Light of Rising Congressional & Regulatory Scrutiny; 250 New Investigators, Renewed DOL Enforcement Emphasis Signal Rising Wage & Hour Risks For EmployersQuest Diagnostics, Inc. To Pay $688,000 In Overtime BackpayBanks’ $1Million Overtime Settlement Shows Risks of Misapplying FLSA’s Administrative Exemption;  Employer Charged With Misclassifying & Underpaying Workers To Pay $754,578 FLSA Backpay Settlement; $1 Million + FLSA Overtime Settlement Shows Employers Should Tighten On-Call, Other Wage & Hour Practices.

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

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

The uptake in worker misclassification related prosecutions is no accident.  In her November 3, 2011 testimony to the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. Labor Department Wage & Hour Division (WHD) Deputy Administrator (WHD) Nancy Leppink confirmed that the Labor Department is joining a growing list of federal and state agencies that are making ending employee misclassification an audit and enforcement priority.  Ms Leppink testified that “employee misclassification is a serious and, according to all available evidence, growing problem” that the Obama Administration is “committed to working to end.”  See Testimony of Nancy J. Leppink, Deputy Wage and Hour Administrator, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor before the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. House of Representatives (November 3, 2011).

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

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

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

Statements by the DOL in its announcement of its victory in Cascom Inc. confirm that the DOL’s enforcement resolve remains strong.   The DOL sent a clear warning to employers that DOL and other agencies are targeting employers that violate minimum wage and overtime, tax, and other laws by misclassifying workers that are employees as independent contractors in its press release about the Cascom, Inc. ruling, which states:

“The misclassification of employees as something other than employees, such as independent contractors, presents a serious problem for affected employees, employers and the economy. Misclassified employees are often denied access to critical benefits and protections — such as family and medical leave, overtime, minimum wage and unemployment insurance — to which they are entitled. Employee misclassification also generates substantial losses to the Treasury and the Social Security and Medicare funds, as well as to state unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation funds.”.

Employers Urged To Audit & Strengthen Worker Classification Practices

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

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

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

For Help or More Information

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

Other Resources

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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

 

Government Contractors To Face Hiring “Targets” for Vets & Disabled Under Impending Rules.

August 27, 2013

U.S. employers Federal government contractors and subcontractors will be required to set a hiring goal of having 7 percent of their workforces be people with disabilities and hiring goals for veterans, among other requirements when the Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) moves forward in upcoming weeks to finalize proposed changes to OFCCP regulations originally proposed on December 9.  Coupled with other enforcement and regulatory activism by the Administration, the plan announced today by Vice President Biden to move forward to finalize the new hiring target requirements will further heighten the need for government contractors as well as other U.S. businesses to guard against rising disability, veterans and other discrimination law exposures.  Employers that are government contractors should review the proposed regulations to determine its anticipated effect.  Employers concerned about the proposed tightening of hiring standards or other provisions of the proposed regulation also should consider commenting on the proposed regulation.  Meanwhile, all employers should heed the proposed regulation as yet another sign of the heightening of their exposures and responsibilities to disabled and other workers protected by federal discrimination laws under the Obama Administration.

Tighter Disability & Veterans Discrimination Rules For Government Contractors Coming

According to today’s announcement by Vice President Biden, the Administration plans to finalize a new Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) VEVRAA Rule and Rehabilitation Act Rule  in the Federal Register “soon” and will take effect 180 days after publication.   The action will finalize plans to adopt these rules that the Administration previously announced last December, reported on by Solutions Law Press, Inc. in DOL Plans To Tighten Employment Protections For Disabled Veterans & Other Disabled Employees Signals Need For Businesses To Tighten Defenses.

The new OFCCP’s rules will raise the affirmative action requirements for federal contractors and subcontractors to ensure equal employment opportunities for qualified workers with disabilities and veterans.

The proposed regulatory changes detail specific actions contractors must take in the areas of recruitment, training, record keeping and policy dissemination — similar to those that have long been required to promote workplace equality for women and minorities. In addition, the rule would clarify OFCCP’s expectations for contractors by providing specific guidance on how to comply with the law.

Specifically, the two new rules for the first time require federal government contractors to establish “hiring benchmarks” that the Administration intends to use to provide “real accountability” by measuring federal contractors’ progress toward achieving equal opportunity for people with disabilities and protected veterans.

  • The VEVRAA rule requires contractors to establish an annual hiring benchmark, either based on the national percentage of veterans in the workforce (currently 8%), or based on the best available data and factors unique to their establishments.
  • The Section 503 rule establishes an aspirational 7% utilization goal for the employment of individuals with disabilities.

Since taking office, the Obama Administration already has stepped up enforcement and oversight of federal laws prohibiting discrimination against veterans and individuals with disabilities.  The new requirements for benchmarking and reporting required by these new rules will make it easier for OFCCP to identify and target for audit or enforcement government contractors whose lower statistical hiring of veterans and other disabled workers.  Since government contractors and subcontractors can expect greater exposure to contract and compliance audits, enforcement and other risks to rise when the new rules take effect,  all government contractors and subcontractors are encouraged to evaluate their current and historical hiring practices and compliance in light of these new rules and begin preparing their strategy for both commenting on the anticipated rules, and minimizing potential risks and exposures within the scope of attorney client privilege.

Among other things, the proposed rule would:

  • Set a 7 percent hiring goal for the employment of individuals with disabilities, the highest level ever;
  • Require enhanced documentation and recordkeeping of requests and processing of requests for reasonable accommodation and other matters;
  • Provide for annual self-reviews of employers’ recruitment and outreach efforts; and
  • Add a new requirement for contractors to list job openings to increase their pools of qualified applicants.

These new rules would expand already significant nondiscrimination, affirmative action and recordkeeping requirements applicable to government contractors.  The expansion of these rules comes as the reach of federal employment discrimination laws has expanded to include many employers not historically covered by these requirements due to participation in Stimulus Bill or other government-funded programs which with broader than historically applicable affirmative action requirements.  Settlement of OFCCP Employment Discrimination Charge Reminder To ARRA, Other Government Contractors Of Heightened Enforcement Risks.

Meanwhile, enforcing federal discrimination laws is a high priority of the Obama Administration. The Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, Education, Justice, Housing & Urban Development, and others all have both increased enforcement, audits and public outreach, as well as have sought or are proposing tighter regulations protecting the disabled, veterans, and others.  See, e.g. New Obama Administration Affirmative Action Guidance Highlights Organization’s Need To Tighten Nondiscrimination Practices; HR Key Player In Managing Rising Risk of Disability, Other Discrimination Suits Under Obama Administration Justice Department;  Employer Assistance and Resource Network Offers Free Webinars For Employers During October In Honor of Disability Employment Awareness Month on Thursdays in October from 2:00 – 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Topics will include Employer Preparedness to Include Veterans with Disabilities; 4/19 Deadline For Comments On Proposed Rules For Selecting State Employment Service Delivery Systems Providers For Veterans; Justice Department Charges Employer, Pension Plan With Violating USERRA Reemployment Rights; Tighten Employment Disability Risk Management As Obama Declares 12/10 National Disability Employment Awareness Month; Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Worker’s; Obama’s Reaffirms Commitment Prosecute Disability Discrimination To Mark Omlstead Anniversary.

The expanding applicability of nondiscrimination rules coupled with the wave of new policies and regulatory and enforcement actions should alert private businesses and state and local government agencies of the need to exercise special care to prepare to defend their actions against potential disability or other Civil Rights discrimination challenges under employment and a broad range of other laws.

Business Should Get Serious About Discrimination Risk Management

Government contractors and subcontractors as well as other employers should review these rules to assess their potential impact, as well as evaluate the adequacy of already existing practices and documentation with discrimination and other laws with the help of qualified legal counsel experienced with advising government contractors and other businesses about these and related non-discrimination rules within the scope of attorney-client privilege.

In anticipation of these activities,  these and other employers may want to participate in one of the following “introductory webinars” on the new rules this week (with repeats in September) to provide overviews of the key points of the rules

  • OFCCP Webinars on the VEVRAA Final Rule on August 29, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. (Eastern) – Register or September 11, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. (Eastern) – Register; and
  • OFCCP Webinars on the Section 503 Final on August 30, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. (Eastern) – Register or September 18, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. (Eastern) – Register.

All organizations, public or private, government contractor or not, should act to ensure both that their organizations, their policies, and people in form and in action understand and comply with current federal nondiscrimination laws and that these compliance activities are well-documented to help defend against potential charges or other challenges.  Because of changing regulatory and enforcement trends, organizations and their leaders should avoid assuming the adequacy of current compliance and risk management. Most organization should reevaluate their assessments about whether their organization is a federal government contractor or subcontractor to minimize the risk of overlooking critical obligations.

Many organizations need to update their understanding, policies and practices in light of tightening rules and enforcement. The scope and applicability of federal nondiscrimination and other laws has grown and evolved in recent years by the differences in perspectives of the Obama Administration from the Bush Administration, as well as statutory, regulatory, judicial precedent and enforcement changes.  In addition, all organization should conduct well-documented periodic training and take other actions to monitor and enforce compliance by staff, contractors and others with whom they do business.

For Help With Compliance & Risk Management and Defense

If you need help in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your organization’s 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 24 years of work helping private and governmental organizations and their management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; schools and other governmental agencies and others design, administer and defend innovative compliance, risk management, workforce, compensation, employee benefit, privacy, procurement and other management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend union-management relations, wage and hour, discrimination and other labor and employment laws, procurement, conflict of interest, discrimination management, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  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 management, re-engineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to reach other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

Other Resources

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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


Impending 10/1 Exchange Notice & Other New Notice Deadlines Cut Time Short For Employers To Finalize 2014 Health Plan Terms & Contracts

August 21, 2013

Employer and union group health plan sponsors and insurers of group and individual health plans (Health Plans) agonizing over 2014 plan design decisions are running out of time. Impending deadlines to update and deliver the initial Exchange Notice by October 1, 2013, the Summary of Benefits and Communications (SBC) disclosure before their next enrollment period begins, and 60-day prior notice of material reductions in benefits or services under the plan mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) require employers or other sponsors to finalize design decisions and amendments well in advance of January 1, 2014.  These new notification obligations create added urgency and pressure for Health Plans and their employer and other sponsors to finalize and implement their decisions on their Health Plans 2014 plan designs and coverages and make the necessary determinations to prepare and timely deliver the required notifications in accordance with these new notification mandates well before the start of the 2014 plan year or its enrollment period. Employers who in the past have put off these decisions until the last month of the plan year no longer can legally do so.

ACA Exchange Notices Due By October 1

One of the biggest time constraints for finalizing 2014 plan designs, contracts and terms is the impending October 1, 2014 deadline for employers to provide the notice required by Fair Labor Standards Act Section 18B.

Regardless of if the employer sponsors a health plan or when the next plan enrollment period begins, all employers covered by the FLSA generally are required deliver a notice to employees about the new option beginning January 1, 2014 to get health care coverage through a health care exchange (now rebranded by the Obama Administration as a “Marketplace”)(Marketplace) created by ACA that meets the requirements of new FLSA Section 18B enacted Section 1512 of ACA.

Absent a delay or other reprieve from the Obama Administration or Congress,  Open enrollment for health insurance coverage through the Marketplace begins October 1, 2013.  Individuals and employees of small businesses beginning October 1, 2013 can apply for and, beginning January 1, 2014 to buy health care coverage offered through the Marketplace established under ACA for their state (including the Federal Marketplace for states that did not elect to establish their own Marketplace). Some individuals who earn less than 400% of the federal poverty level and meet certain other conditions also are slated to qualify to receive federal subsidies that will pay all or part of the cost of buying coverage through a Marketplace.

To promote awareness among employees of the Marketplace as an option for getting health coverage, creates a new FLSA Section 18B requiring a notice (Exchange Notice) to employees of coverage options available through the Marketplace.  Originally required by March 1, 2013,[*] the Department of Labor (DOL) extended the deadline for providing the Exchange Notice to October 1, 2013.  Employers must provide a notice of coverage options to each employee, regardless of plan enrollment status (if applicable) or of part-time or full-time status. Employers are not required to provide a separate notice to dependents or other individuals who are or may become eligible for coverage under the plan but who are not employees.

All FLSA-Covered Employers Must Provide Exchange Notices Beginning October 1, 2013

Under FLSA Section 18B of the FLSA, each applicable employer must provide each employee at the time of hiring (or with respect to current employees, by October 1, 2013), a written notice that fulfills the applicable Exchange Notice requirements as set forth in the DOL Regulations.

The FLSA section 18B requirement to provide a notice to employees of coverage options applies to all   employers subject to the FLSA. In general, the FLSA applies to employers that employ one or more employees who are engaged in, or produce goods for, interstate commerce. For most firms, a test of not less than $500,000 in annual dollar volume of business applies. The FLSA also specifically covers the following entities: hospitals; institutions primarily engaged in the care of the sick, the aged, mentally ill, or disabled who reside on the premises; schools for children who are mentally or physically disabled or gifted; preschools, elementary and secondary schools, and institutions of higher education; and federal, state and local government agencies.  Employers questioning whether their business is subject to the FLSA should seek the assistance of legal counsel experienced with the FLSA.

Timing and Delivery of Notice

Employers are required to provide the Exchange Notice to each new employee at the time of hiring beginning October 1, 2013. For 2014, the Department will consider a notice to be provided at the time of hiring if the notice is provided within 14 days of an employee’s start date.

For employees who are current employees before October 1, 2013, employers must provide the Exchange Notice no later than October 1, 2013.

The Exchange Notice must be provided in writing in a manner calculated to be understood by the average employee. Employers may deliver the Exchange Notice by first-class mail or, if the electronic notification requirements of the Department of Labor’s electronic disclosure safe harbor at 29 CFR 2520.104b-1(c) are met, electronically.

Required Content of Exchange Notice

The Exchange Notice content mandated by FLSA Section 18B is fairly limited.  Section 18B requires that the Exchange Notice only dictates three required elements:

  • Inform employees of coverage options, including information about the existence of the new Marketplace as well as contact information and description of the services provided by a Marketplace;
  • Inform the employee that the employee may be eligible for a premium tax credit under Section 36B of the Code if the employee purchases a qualified health plan through the Marketplace; and
  • Include a statement informing the employee that if the employee purchases a qualified health plan through the Marketplace, the employee may lose the employer contribution (if any) to any health benefits plan offered by the employer and that all or a portion of such contribution may be excludable from income for Federal income tax purposes.  At minimum, this generally requires that the Exchange Notice distributed by an employer must inform the employee.

Interim DOL guidance implementing these requirements construes the content requirements as requiring that the Exchange Notice tell the employee:

  • Of the existence of the Marketplace (referred to in the statute as the Exchange) including a description of the services provided by the Marketplace, and the way the employee may contact the Marketplace to request assistance;
  • That the employee may be eligible for a premium tax credit or subsidy under Section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code (the Code) if the employee purchases a qualified health plan through the Marketplace and the employer does not offer coverage to the employee under a group health plan that is considered to provide “Minimum Value” for purposes of ACA; and
  • That if the employee purchases a qualified health plan through the Marketplace, the employee may lose the employer contribution (if any) to any health benefits plan offered by the employer and that all or a portion of such contribution may be excludable from income for Federal income tax purposes.

Allow Adequate Time To Do Analysis, Complete Other Steps To Prepare Exchange Notices

Employers should resist the urge to allow the shortness of the list of information required that FLSA Section 18B requires in the Exchange Notice lure them into underestimating the time and effort required to prepare the Exchange Notification.  For many employers, determining if the Health Plan provides Minimum Value can be time-consuming and complex.

For this, the SBC notice discussed later in this update and other purposes, Code Section 36B(c)(2)(C)(ii) provides that an employer-sponsored Health Plan provides Minimum Value if the ratio of the share of total costs paid by the Health Plan relative to the total costs of covered services is no less than 60% of the anticipated covered medical spending for covered benefits paid by a group health plan for a standard population, computed in accordance with the plan’s cost-sharing, and divided by the total anticipated allowed charges for covered benefits provided to a standard population is no less than 60%.  See Patient Protection and ACA: Standards Related to Essential Health Benefits, Actuarial Value, and Accreditation Regulation.

Existing regulations require the employers to get an actuarial certification to determine if its Health Plan provides Minimum Value unless the employer can show that the Health Plan fits the criteria to use and satisfies this test using either the Minimum Value Calculator or an applicable safe harbor design approved by HHS, Treasury and DOL.  These determinations often are time consuming and complex requiring careful review and analysis of the group health plan coverage and benefits.  Many self-insured or other group health plans have plan designs that prevent the employer from relying on the Minimum Value Calculator or design safe harbors.  If the employer cannot rely upon the Minimum Value Calculator or one of the design safe harbors, an actuarial certification will be needed.  Employers need to allow sufficient time to make these determinations in time to complete and deliver the Exchange Notices.

Employers should particularly expect to need to obtain an actuarial certification to determine if the Health Plan provides Minimum Value determination if the Health Plan is taking advantage of temporary relief from the cost sharing limitations of ACA for 2014 announced by the Obama Administration in February and reconfirmed in July, that for 2014 allows Health Plans to apply a separate ACA-compliant out-of-pocket maximum to prescription drug benefits from the ACA-compliant out-of-pocket maximum applied to all other benefits subject to ACA’s cost sharing restrictions.   Since the Minimum Value Calculator cannot take into account this option, however, employers planning to apply a separate out-of-pocket maximum for prescription drug coverage versus other plan benefits should be prepared to get an actuarial certification of whether the plan provides Minimum Value.

DOL Model Exchange Notices Not Panacea

Employers may want to use some or all of the language that the DOL included in Model Notices that DOL published in conjunction with its publication of interim guidance on FLSA Section 18B in Technical Release No. 2013-02 on May 8, 2013 here. Because employers must tailor the content of the Exchange Notice for their group health plan based on specific information about their group health plan, employers are cautioned not to underestimate the time or effort that will be required to properly prepare the Exchange Notice for their group health plan, whether or not the employer makes use of the Model Notices in whole or part.

DOL published three model exchange notices (Model Notices) to assist employers in preparing the Exchange Notice for their Health Plan for 2014. One Model Notice is intended for employers who do not offer a Health Plan.  The second Model Notice is designed for employers who offer a health plan to some or all employees. The third Model Notice is designed for employers to use to notify individuals who are enrolled or eligible to enroll in continuation coverage  under the Health Plan under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA).   Technical Release No. 2013-02 says employers may use the applicable of these models or a modified version, provided the Exchange Notice meets the content requirements described above.

Despite the availability of these Model Notices, preparing and providing the required Exchange Notices required by Section 18B typically requires significant evaluation and presents a variety of challenges for most employers.  While intended to facilitate the ability of employers to prepare and provide the required Exchange Notices, preparing the Model Notices generally is challenging for many employers.

First, even using the Model Notices, the employer must decide if the Health Plan provides Minimum Value.

Another challenge with wholesale use of the Model Notices involves deciding how much of the optional language contained in the Model Notices to include in the Exchange Notice and what optional information, if any, to provide as part of that Notice.

For one thing, the Model Notices propose that the Exchange Notice include statements that many critics view as inappropriately promoting enrollment in coverage through the Marketplace rather than employer sponsored group health plans.  Critics complain, for instance that the Model Notice’s statement that the Marketplaces offer “one-stop shopping” that allows the employee to get coverage that the Model Notice states is more “affordable” are inaccurate or misleading. Many critics view the assertion that coverage obtained through the exchange is more “affordable” to be inaccurate as it does not take into account a comparison of the actual benefits and costs of the respective plan options and whether the employee can afford the typically richer (and therefore often more expensive) benefit packages ACA’s essential health benefits mandates require be included in coverage offered for sale through the Marketplaces and presumes that these higher costs will be defrayed by tax credits or subsidies that are only available if the employee earns less than 400% of the federal poverty level and is not offered the option to enroll in an employer sponsored group health plan coverage that provides “minimum essential coverage” (MEC) and Minimum Value and is “affordable” within the meaning of ACA.

Employers considering using the Model Notices also need to decide if their Exchange Notices will include the optional factual disclosures about their group health plan suggested in the Model Notices, but not required to fulfill the requirements of FLSA Section 18B.

The Model Notices propose that an employer also voluntarily provide a significant amount of other information about its group health plan that FLSA Section permits, but does not require that the Exchange Notice include.  The DOL says it designed the Model Notices to help employers to identify and disclose information that the DOL expects employees interested in the tax credit to subsidize the employee’s cost of enrolling in coverage through the Marketplace will need to get from employers to show eligibility.  DOL assumes that many employers might want to voluntarily provide this information in the Exchange Notice to avoid receiving a multitude of anticipated inquiries from employees interested seeking tax credits to subsidize their enrollment in coverage through the Marketplace.  Since collection the data necessary to make these optional disclosures can add significant complexity and time to the preparation of the Exchange Notice, employers should carefully weigh the pros and cons of making the optional disclosures.  The anticipated demand for this information has declined since the Obama Administration announced it plans to use an “honor system” approach to determine if individuals can claim eligibility for tax credit subsidies for buying coverage through the Marketplaces in 2014.  Meanwhile, the interim nature of the existing guidance on the Exchange Notice and other key aspects of ACA make it reasonable to expect further changes in the expected content of the Exchange Notice, ACA requirements that it is intended to communicate or both which could impact the need for or accuracy of these disclosures.  For this reason, employers should carefully consider whether and what optional disclosures to include in their Exchange Notices.

Don’t Forget To Notify COBRA Qualified Beneficiaries

Technical Release No. 2013-02 indicates that in addition to sending an Exchange Notice to employees, employers or their group health plan administrators also must notify COBRA eligible or enrolled individuals.

In general, under COBRA, an individual who was covered by a group health plan on the day before a qualifying event occurred may be able to elect COBRA continuation coverage upon a qualifying event (such as termination of employment or reduction in hours that causes loss of coverage under the plan). Individuals with such a right are called qualified beneficiaries. A group health plan must provide qualified beneficiaries with an election notice, which describes their rights to continuation coverage and how to make an election. The election notice must be provided to the qualified beneficiaries within 14 days after the plan administrator receives the notice of a qualifying event.

Technical Release No. 2013-02 says that the DOL considers the required disclosures for the Exchange Notice information to be disclosed to qualified beneficiaries and that the DOL is revising previously published model COBRA notices to incorporate this information.

DOL says in Technical Release No. 2013-02 that the group health plans can use the revised model COBRA election notice to satisfy the requirement to provide the election notice under COBRA including the disclosure of information required by FLSA Section 18B. The DOL cautions that as with the earlier model COBRA notices, in order to use this model election notice properly, the plan administrator must complete it by filling in the blanks with the appropriate plan information. Technical Release 2013-02 states that use of the model election notice, appropriately completed, will be considered by the Department of Labor to be good faith compliance with the election notice content requirements of COBRA.

ACA SBC Mandate Overview

In addition to the Exchange Notice requirement, the need to prepare and timely delivery the “Summary of Benefits and Coverage or “SBC”) required by ACA also pressures employers to finalize their health plan terms and contracts for 2014 as soon as possible.

ACA amended the Public Health Services Act (PHS) Section 2715, Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) Section 715 and the Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 9815 to require that Health Plans and health insurance issuers provide a SBC and a “Uniform Glossary” that “accurately describes the benefits and coverage under the applicable plan or coverage” in a way that meets the format, content and other detailed SBC standards set for ACA as implemented by the Departments regulatory guidance. Like the Exchange Notice, proper preparation of the SBC requires determination of whether the Health Plan provides Minimum Value, as well as other detailed analysis of the plan terms and coverages to complete the other disclosures required in the SBC.

The Summary of Benefits and Coverage and Uniform Glossary Final Regulation  (Final Regulation) implementing this requirement published February 14, 2012 generally requires Health Plans at specified times including before the first offer of coverage under the Plan as well as following certain material changes to the Plan. For Health Plans providing group health plan coverage, FAQs About ACA Implementation (Part VII)[*] set the deadline for Health Plan to deliver a SBC as follows, while at the same time indicating that the Departments would not impose penalties on plans and issuers “working diligently and in good faith” to provide the required SBC content in an appearance consistent with the Final Regulations:

  • To covered persons enrolling or re-enrolling in an open enrollment period (including late enrollees and re-enrollees) as the first day of the first open enrollment period that begins on or after September 23, 2012; and
  • For individuals enrolling in coverage other than through an open enrollment period (including individuals who are newly eligible for coverage and special enrollees) as the first day of the first plan year that begins on or after September 23, 2012. See FAQs About ACA Implementation (Part VIII).

While the SBC doesn’t prohibit an employer from amending its Health Plan terms after the enrollment period begins, employers that change Health Plan terms or designs after distributing a SBC must incur the expense and effort to prepare and redistribute an updated SBC.  Accordingly, most Health Plans and their sponsors or insurers will want to finalize Health Plan terms before the enrollment period begins to avoid the need to and expense of sending updated SBCs as a result of a later change in Health Plan terms.

The Final Regulation and other existing guidance generally dictates that Health Plans follow a required template for providing the SBC and accompanying glossary. When publishing the Final Regulation, the Departments also published the required SBC template form (2013 SBC Template) and instructions for Health Plans to use to prepare and provide the required SBC for coverage beginning before January 1, 2014 and promised updated guidance and templates for use in providing SBCs for post-2013 coverage. While the Agencies clarified certain other details about the SBC rules, they did not materially change the required content or form of the 2013 SBC Template until their April 23, 2013 release of FAQs About ACA Implementation (Part XIV). See e.g. FAQs About ACA Implementation Part IX and Part X.

FAQ Part XIV Requires MEC and Minimum Value Disclosures In SBC

FAQs About ACA Implementation (Part XIV) published April 23, 2013 announces the updated required 2014 SBC Template that the Agencies are requiring to SBCs for periods of health coverage from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014.  Along with the 2014 SBC Template, the Agencies also published 2014 Sample Completed SBC, which provides an example of a SBC completed for a hypothetical health plan prepared by the Agencies.

The 2014 SBC Template updates the 2013 SBC Template and Sample Completed Template to add information the Agencies believe individuals eligible for Health Plan coverage should know in light of the impending implementation of the individual shared responsibility requirements of Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 5000A and the employer shared responsibility rules of Code Section 4980H commonly called ACA’s “pay-or-play” rules.   These were the “penalty” provisions that the Supreme Court ruled are taxes in 2013.

The April 23, 2013 FAQ expressly requires that SBCs for periods of coverage after December 31, 2013 disclose if the Health Plans provide MEC and Minimum Value to enable participants and beneficiaries to understand if enrollment in the Health Plan will suffice to allow the employee to avoid paying the individual penalty under Code Section 5000(a)’s individual “shared responsibility” rules, to compare the coverage and costs to enroll in the employer’s Health Plan versus to enroll in health care coverage through a Marketplace and to predict how their eligibility for enrollment in the employer’s Health Plan will impact their eligibility to qualify to claim tax credits under Code Section 32G to help subsidize the cost to purchase coverage through a Marketplace.

Code Section 5000A generally imposes a penalty tax on individuals that fail to maintain enrollment in MEC within the meaning of Code Section 5000A(f) and not otherwise exempt under Code Section 5000A(d).  As of the publication of this update, the Obama Administration has not announced any delay in the enforcement of this penalty against individuals, but legislation is pending in Congress that would delay its applicability, along with approving the delay of enforcement of the Code Section 4980H penalties previously announced by the Obama Administration.

Although the Obama Administration announced in early July, 2013 that it will not enforce collection of the Code Section 4980H provisions against employers until 2015, Code Section 4980H generally requires employers of 50 or more full-time employees to pay a penalty if the employer fails to offer a group health plan providing MEC and Minimum Value   Minimum Value is determined for this purpose in the same manner that it is determined for purposes of making the required disclosure in the Exchange Notice.

60-Day Advance Notice of Material Changes Requirement

In addition to providing the required Exchange Notice and SBCs, employers, group health plans and their plan administrators also must ensure that participants and beneficiaries are given at least 60 days prior notice before the effective date of any “material reduction in covered services or benefits.” See 29

CFR Section 2520.104b-3(d)(3); also see 29 CFR Section 2520.104b-3(d)(2) regarding a 90-day alternative rule.

Section 102 of ERISA has been amended to require 60-day advance notice of material plan changes for plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2012 before the change can be effective.  The 60-day advance notification requirement is a modification to the summary plan description/summary of material modification requirements generally applicable to employee benefit plans under ERISA.

The rule’s definition of “material modification” is the same as the definition in the summary of material modifications rule generally applicable to employee benefit plans under ERISA Section 102.

DOL guidance indicates that group health plans can meet the 60-day advance notice requirement by providing an updated Summary of Benefits and Coverage if the change is reflected on the summary or by sending a separate written notice describing the material modification.

Group health plan issuers or sponsors that willfully (intentionally) fail to provide the notice of material modification can face a fine of up to $1,000 for each failure. Each covered individual equates to a separate offense for purposes of these penalties.

Employer and other group health sponsors, issuers, fiduciaries and administrators also should keep in mind that courts historically refuse to enforce reductions in benefits or services provided under the plan until participants and beneficiaries are notified of the change.  For purposes of the ERISA notification rules, group health plans, their sponsors, insurers, administrators and fiduciaries are cautioned to take into account whether health care providers or other parties who have assignments of benefits should be provided with notification under these or other ERISA rules in addition to the employees and dependents who are enrolled in coverage under the group health plan.

Notice Deadlines Mean Time Short To Adopt & Communicate 2014 Plan Terms

Employer and other health plan sponsors, insurers, administrators and others involved in 2014 group health plan decisions and preparations must take into account these notification deadlines and allow adequate lead time to properly finalize, adopt and communicate their 2014 health plan terms.

Since group health plan design decisions must be finalized to properly prepare the Minimum Value disclosures required in the Exchange Notice and the SBC and any material reductions required by the 60-day advance notice requirement, time running short to finalize 2014 plan designs.

Employer and other plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, and insurers are cautioned that their preparations should ensure both the necessary disclosures are made and that all disclosures are carefully prepared so that the notifications and the plan terms are consistent.

These preparations should include the critical review and coordination of the language of health plan documents and summary plan descriptions in light of these other notifications to identify and address potential differences between the government-mandated terms and language in the Glossary and SBC, the Exchange Notice and 60-day notice and the plan terms and summary plan description.

Arrangements also must include proper structuring and formatting of all of these documents and timely distribution in accordance with applicable regulations to participants and beneficiaries entitled to receive these documents in a manner that positions the employer, the group health plan and its fiduciaries and insurers to show compliance. In regard to distributions, parties planning to distribute notifications electronically need to ensure that any electronic or other methods of distribution meet applicable requirements and that the Health Plans timely send copies to all entitled parties – employees and dependents – in accordance with the applicable rules.

When planning these activities, group health plans, their sponsors, insurers and administrators also generally will want to minimize distribution costs by coordinating distribution of these ACA mandated notices with other notifications required for group health plans about privacy, coverage for newborns and mothers, mental health coverage, post-mastectomy reconstructive surgery and the like.

For Help or More Information

If you need help understanding or dealing with these impending notification requirements, with other 2014 health plan decision-making or preparation, or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 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.

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

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, HR.com, Insurance Thought Leadership, Solutions Law Press, Inc. and other 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 see 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.


[*] On January 24, 2013, the Department of Labor (the Department) issued guidance stating the Department’s conclusion that the notice requirement under FLSA section 18B will not take effect on March 1, 2013 for several reasons until further guidance setting the extended deadline was published.


Health Plan Pays $1.2M+ HIPAA Settlement For Not Protecting PHI On Copiers

August 15, 2013

Affinity Health Plan, Inc. (Affinity) will pay $1,215,780 and take other corrective actions to settle alleged violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules under the Affinity Resolution Agreement and CAP (Affinity Settlement) with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR).  The settlement comes as the September 24, 2013 deadline for health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates to update the written business associate agreements that HIPAA requires exist before business associates can be allowed to create, use, access or disclose personally identifiable health care information protected by HIPAA (PHI) to carry out HIPAA-covered functions on behalf of a Covered Entity to comply with changes to HIPAA’s implementing regulations adopted by OCR earlier this year.  Health plans and other Covered Entities should take timely action to confirm that their existing procedures appropriate safeguards to protect PHI when using or disposing of copiers or other equipment or media as well as to implement business associate or other policy, procedures or training updates required to comply with the updated HIPAA rules.

HIPAA Updates Require Breach Notification, Tightened Other HIPAA Requirements

HIPAA generally requires that Covered Entities (and after September 24, 2013, their business associates) safeguard and restrict the use, access or disclosure of PHI as required by HIPAA.  The HITECH Act amended these requirements to tighten certain of these requirements and restrictions, to expand the sanctions for violation of these requirements, to require Covered Entities and their business associates to provide notification of breaches of unsecured PHI to individuals whose information was breached, OCR and in some cases, the media, and made certain other changes to the original requirements of HIPAA.  Earlier this year, OCR amended and restated its original Privacy and Security Rules here (2013 Final Rule) to comply with changes in the regulations resulting from these HITECH Act amendments beginning last March, but set the deadline for updating business associate agreements to meet these updated requirements at September 23, 2013.

The 2013 Final Rule and other OCR guidance makes clear that OCR expects Covered Entities and their business associates appropriately to safeguard PHI stored in computers, hard drives, and other digital media until it is properly disposed in accordance with the updated standards required by HIPAA as implemented under the 2013 Final Rule. HITECH Breach Notification Rule requires HIPAA-covered entities to tell HHS of a breach of unsecured protected health information, including breaches resulting from failure to properly secure PHI stored in digital format until it has been destroyed in accordance with the standards established by the 2013 Final Rule.   OCR previously has sanctioned other Covered Entities for failed to properly destroy or safeguard PHI stored in digital format on computer or other equipment before abandoning or disposing of that equipment.  The Affinity Settlement reaffirms OCR’s concern that Covered Entities meet these disposal requirements when replacing or abandoning equipment containing electronic PHI.

Affinity Settlement Highlights

According to the August 14, 2013 OCR announcement of the settlement, the settlement resulted from an investigation initiated after Affinity filed a breach report with OCR on April 15, 2010, as required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act.)

In its breach report, Affinity indicated that a representative of CBS Evening News told Affinity that, as part of an investigatory report, CBS had purchased a photocopier previously leased by Affinity.  CBS informed Affinity that the copier that Affinity had used contained confidential medical information on the hard drive.

Affinity estimated in its breach report that up to 344,579 individuals may have been affected by this breach. OCR’s investigation indicated that Affinity impermissibly disclosed the protected health information of these affected individuals when it returned multiple photocopiers to leasing agents without erasing the data contained on the copier hard drives.  In addition, OCR reports its investigation revealed that Affinity failed to incorporate the electronic protected health information (ePHI) stored on photocopier hard drives in its analysis of risks and vulnerabilities as required by the Security Rule, and failed to implement policies and procedures when returning the photocopiers to its leasing agents.

In addition to the $1,215,780 payment, the Affinity Settlement includes a corrective action plan requiring Affinity to use its best efforts to retrieve all hard drives that were contained on photocopiers previously leased by the plan that remain in the possession of the leasing agent, and to take certain measures to safeguard all ePHI.

Learn From Affinity Lesson On Proper Disposal Procedures

Like prior OCR settlements stemming from inadequate security for PHI when transitioning equipment, media or facilities, the Affinity Settlement sends another reminder to Covered Entities and their business associates again of the importance of using appropriate procedures to protect or dispose of PHI when replacing or redeploying equipment or media that may contain PHI.

“This settlement illustrates an important reminder about equipment designed to retain electronic information: Make sure that all personal information is wiped from hardware before it’s recycled, thrown away or sent back to a leasing agent,” said OCR Director Leon Rodriguez.  “HIPAA covered entities are required to undertake a careful risk analysis to understand the threats and vulnerabilities to individuals’ data, and have appropriate safeguards in place to protect this information.”

OCR has published guidance concerning HIPAA’s requirements for the proper safeguarding and disposal of media and equipment in the 2013 Final Rule and other guidance.  Concerning the proper disposition of copiers that may have PHI stored on their hard drives or in other digital formal, OCR in the Affinity Settlement recommended that Covered Entities and their associates also review the Federal Trade Commission’s Guidance On Safeguarding Sensitive Data Stored In The Hard Drives Of Digital Copiers and the National Institute of Standards and Technology has issued Guidance On Assessing The Security Of Multipurpose Office Machines.  Covered Entities and their business associates should use this and other guidance to ensure that they can demonstrate that appropriate practices and procedures have been used to when disposing of or repurposing copies or other equipment that may contain electronic PHI.

HIPAA Regulation Updates Require Other Updates Beyond Disposal Procedures

In addition to addressing the concerns that lead to the Affinity Settlement, Covered Entities and their business associates also should verify that their practices, policies, privacy notices, business associate agreements, and training also are updated to comply with updates to the updated 2013 Final Rule adopted by OCR earlier this year here.

Since passage of the HITECH Act, OCR officials have warned Covered Entities to expect an omnibus restatement of its original regulations.  While OCR had issued certain regulations implementing some of the HITECH Act changes, it waited to publish certain regulations necessary to implement other HITECH Act changes until it could complete a more comprehensive restatement of its previously published HIPAA regulations to reflect both the HITECH Act amendments and other refinements to  its HIPAA Rules. The 2013 Regulations published today fulfill  that promise by restating OCR’s HIPAA Regulations to reflect the HITECH Act Amendments and other changes and clarifications to OCR’s interpretation and enforcement of HIPAA.

In response to the updated Final Regulations and these expanding HIPAA enforcement and exposures, all Covered Entities should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses; and other developments to decide if additional steps are necessary or advisable.   In response to these expanding exposures, all covered entities and their business associates should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses, and other developments to decide if tightening their policies, practices, documentation or training is necessary or advisable.

For Help or More Information

If you need help monitoring or providing input on this legislation or to understand and respond to these or other legislation, laws and regulations, or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 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 on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.  Author of numerous prominent publications on HIPAA and other data security and privacy concerns impacting health plans, health care providers, employers, financial services providers and others, Ms. Stamer also serves as the scribe for the ABA JCEB annual Technical Sessions meeting with OCR and has represented numerous health plans, employers, health care providers and others in investigating, redressing, reporting data breach, identity theft and other compliance concerns.

She advises clients on, publishes, and speaks on HIPAA and other health plan, 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.

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


Report Questions Security As HHS Invites Consumers To Set Up Personal Accounts To Prepare For Exchange Enrollment Period

August 6, 2013

Report Highlights Concerns About Security Of Sensitive Personal Information Americans Will Share With HHS Exchange Portal AS HHS Invites Consumers To Set Up Personal Accounts

The reported finding that the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has yet to complete the necessary security arrangements and testing for the web-portal Incomplete security arrangements and testing necessary to ensure the security of personal health and other information shared by consumers on the health insurance exchange Hub that Obamacare charged the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)  with creating under Obama Care raises concerns about whether these security issues might undermine the security of the sensitive personal information that a consumer might share now or in the future when exploring or enrolling in health coverage options offered through the health insurance exchange.

On Monday, August 5, 2013, HHS sought to beef up interest and anticipation among Americans for the new health insurance exchange option by inviting consumers to prepare for the upcoming enrollment period scheduled to begin October 1, 2013 by creating their personal accounts on HHS’ Healthcare.gov website now.

HHS began encouraging Americans to the HHS website “healthcare.gov” to open a personal account, the first step to buying coverage through one of the health insurance exchanges that HHS is creating under the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act reforms.  See Consumers Can Take First Step To Enrolling In New Insurance Options Today.  HHS is encouraging Americans to prepare for enrollment today by setting up their personal account on the HHS Website, Healthcare.gov.  A HHS Twitter Tweet yesterday announced , “Today you can be 1 step closer to getting health ins. by creating your Marketplace account:.” The Healthcare.gov website main page now invites Americans to “[a]nswer a few questions to get some personalized info here.”

Unfortunately, HHS kicked off this campaign on the same day that the HHS’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report titled Observations Noted During The OIG Review Of CMS’s Implementation Of The Health Insurance Exchange—Data Services Hub (Report) that raises questions about the adequacy of the current security of the data portal and whether HHS will complete the arrangements and testing to verify it appropriately safeguards the security of the sensitive personal information that consumers will share there when the enrollment period begins and thereafter.

Data shared by Americans as part of the process of exploring and enrolling in coverage through the health insurance exchanges will be collected and shared through a data security Hub that will host and transmit that data.  The OIG Report raises clear concerns about the existing security arrangements that CMS has implemented to protect that data, as well as questions about whether CMS will complete the necessary arrangements to secure and protect that sensitive data before enrollment begins October 1.

The findings reported by OIG in the Report raise significant questions about whether Americans should accept the HHS invitation to establish their personal accounts now in anticipation of the October 1, 2013 beginning of the  enrollment period for applying for coverage through the health insurance exchanges that would take effect on January 1, 2014.

The Report makes clear that OIG found reason for concern about the Hub security currently and whether these issues will be adequately addressed by the time the enrollment period begins on October 1, 2013.

OIG reports many critical tasks required to implement and test necessary security controls are unfinished.  It states “[S]everal critical tasks remain to be completed in a short period of time, such as the final independent testing of the Hub’s security controls, remediating security vulnerabilities identified during testing, and obtaining the security authorization decision for the Hub before opening the exchanges. CMS’s current schedule is to complete all of its tasks by October 1, 2013, in time for the expected initial open enrollment period.”

While acknowledging that CMS has affirmed its commitment to complete and implement the necessary security arrangements before enrollment begins on October 1, 2013, the OIG Report also notes that CMS already has missed several critical target dates in its efforts to implement the required security measures.

The Report additionally states: “CMS is working with very tight deadlines to ensure that security measures for the Hub are assessed, tested, and implemented by the expected initial open enrollment date of October 1, 2013. If there are additional delays in completing the security assessment and testing, the CMS CIO may have limited information on the security risks and controls when granting the security authorization of the Hub.” (emphasis added).

The security concerns highlighted in the Report should raise questions about the adequacy of the security of information that an individual might enter on the Healthcare.gov portal in response to the invitation of HHS extended beginning yesterday. 

The importance of the security concerns raised in the reports becomes evident when one considers that consumers establishing their personal accounts must “Choose  your user name and password; Create security questions to add an extra layer of protecting your information.”   While many may be temped to discount the significance of the security concerns because the information that HHS currently asks individuals to share when they create their personal accounts appears relatively harmless, it merits noting that the creation of the login and security password that will be used to control access to the personal account of registrants are among those initial elements. To the extent security deficiencies compromise the security of this information, these security deficiencies could undermine the security of the personal accounts and all of the information they contain.

The Report does not make clear whether the security issues identified in the Report could compromise logon and password security of the personal accounts established by consumers now or in the future. However, it bears noting that securing the logon and passwords used to access electronic resources containing sensitive personal health care information and establishing other appropriate safeguards to protect the security of personal health information is one of the key responsibilities that  the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security Rules require health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses and their business associates to protect and secure.  Failure to implement and administer appropriate safeguards for logons and passwords could compromise all the sensitive data in the personal account now or in the future.   Until questions about the security issues and their implications on the logon, password and other information associated with personal accounts are established,  Americans concerned about the security of their personal information may want to hold off entering data in response to the HHS’s invitation.  Additionally, Americans concerned about these and other security issues also may want to share their feedback with HHS and members of Congress.

Are you concerned about whether health care reform preparations are on track or have other health care policy concerns. Tell us what you think by responding to our poll. 

Join the discussion about health care reform and share your input by joining Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here.

About Project COPE: The Coalition On Patient Empowerment & Its  Coalition on Responsible Health Policy

Sharing and promoting the use of practical practices, tools, information and ideas that patients and their families, health care providers, employers, health plans, communities and policymakers can share and offer to help patients, their families and others in their care communities to understand and work together to better help the patients, their family and their professional and private care community plan for and manage these  needs is the purpose of Project COPE, The Coalition on Patient Empowerment & It’s Affiliate, the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy.

The best opportunity to improve access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans is for every American, and every employer, insurer, and community organization to seize the opportunity to be good Samaritans.  The government, health care providers, insurers and community organizations can help by providing education and resources to make understanding and dealing with the realities of illness, disability or aging easier for a patient and their family, the affected employers and others. At the end of the day, however, caring for people requires the human touch.  Americans can best improve health care by not waiting for someone else to step up:  Step up and help bridge the gap when you or your organization can. Speak up to help communicate and facilitate when you can.  Building health care neighborhoods filled with good neighbors throughout the community is the key.

The outcome of this latest health care reform push is only a small part of a continuing process.  Whether or not the Affordable Care Act makes financing care better or worse, the same challenges exist.  The real meaning of the enacted reforms will be determined largely by the shaping and implementation of regulations and enforcement actions which generally are conducted outside the public eye.  Americans individually and collectively clearly should monitor and continue to provide input through this critical time to help shape constructive rather than obstructive policy. Regardless of how the policy ultimately evolves, however, Americans, American businesses, and American communities still will need to roll up their sleeves and work to deal with the realities of dealing with ill, aging and disabled people and their families.  While the reimbursement and coverage map will change and new government mandates will confine providers, payers and patients, the practical needs and challenges of patients and families will be the same and confusion about the new configuration will create new challenges as patients, providers and payers work through the changes.

We also encourage you and others to help develop real meaningful improvements by joining Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here by sharing ideas, tools and other solutions and other resources. The Coalition For Responsible Health Care Policy provides a resource that concerned Americans can use to share, monitor and discuss the Health Care Reform law and other health care, insurance and related laws, regulations, policies and practices and options for promoting access to quality, affordable healthcare through the design, administration and enforcement of these regulations.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available here .  You also can get access to information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here. You can reach other recent updates and other informative publications and resources.

Recent examples of these publications include:

For important information about this communication click here.

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

 


Justice Department Sues Texas Bus Company For Illegal Discrimination Against Citizens When Hiring H-2B Program Workers

August 6, 2013

A federal lawsuit against Houston-based bus company Autobuses Ejecutivos LLC, d/b/a Omnibus Express, reminds U.S employers hiring foreign workers under the H-2B or other special worker visa programs to use care to ensure that they can prove that their need for foreign workers is not the result of recruitment and hiring practices that illegally discriminate against work-eligible members of the U.S. workforce already in the United States.

The Justice Department announced on August 6, 2013 that it and the Executive Office of Immigration Review’s Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) are suing Omnibus Express for allegedly violating the Immigration and Nationality Act’s (INA) anti-discrimination provisions by preferring to hire for bus driver positions temporary nonimmigrant visa holders on H-2B visas over work-eligible U.S. citizens, certain lawful permanent residents and other protected individuals.

H-2B Program Hiring Prohibited If Need Based On Illegal Discrimination

The H-2B program allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs only when there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing or qualified to do the temporary work.  While H-2B program hiring can be invaluable when a legitimate need exists, businesses contemplating or using the program need to be prepared to show their need to hire workers on H-2B visas is not the result of discriminatory hiring practices prohibited by the INA or other federal employment discrimination laws.

The INA generally protects work-eligible individuals in the United States, such as U.S. citizens, certain lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees, from unlawful discrimination in hiring based on their citizenship status prohibiting employers from discriminating in hiring against these protected work-eligible workers based on their citizenship status.

Accordingly, while the H-2B program provides a valid opportunity to hire foreign workers consistent with the H-2B visa program requirements when in fact there are insufficient work-eligible, qualified applicants already in the U.S. to fill the position, employers hiring workers under the H-2B or other visa programs need to ensure that they are not inappropriately discriminating against U.S. citizens, permanent residents or other work-eligible individuals already in the U.S. in their recruitment and hiring practices when taking advantage of the H-2B program to hire workers.

In addition to the anti-discrimination provisions of the INA, hiring practices that discriminate in favor of hiring workers over other qualified applicants based on the respective citizenship, national origin, race or other protected status of the respective applicants or workers also can expose a business to liability under various other laws. In addition to suits brought by the Justice Department, prohibited discrimination by an employer under these other employment discrimination laws may expose a business to liability to actions brought by private litigants, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Office of Federal Contract Compliance (OFCCP) or other agencies, or both.

Omnibus Express Suit Highlights Risks Of H-2B Visa Hiring Need Based On Illegal Discrimination

The Justice Department complaint charges that Omnibus Express failed to fulfill this obligation.  It claims that Omnibus Express violated the INA by actively discouraging or failing to consider the applications of many qualified U.S. citizens and other protected individuals between September 2012 to February 2013 while at the same time petitioning the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for permission to hire up to 50 foreign workers on H-2B visas.    The Justice Department alleges that Omnibus Express violated the INA by hiring 42 H-2B workers during this period based on its representation to the DOL and USCIS that there were not enough qualified workers in the United States to fill the 50 bus driver positions when in fact, its practices illegally discriminated against work-eligible U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and other INA-protected individuals who could have filled the positions.

The Justice Department asks the court to redress these alleged violations of the INA by ordering Omnibus Express to pay back pay for injured parties and civil penalties prohibiting future discrimination by Omnibus Express, and ordering other injunctive relief.

INA Discrimination Prosecution Part Of Obama Administration’s Emphasis on Enforcing Discrimination Laws

Businesses also should keep in mind that the Justice Department’s prosecution of Omnibus Express for alleged illegal citizenship discrimination also is part of the Obama Administration’s larger agenda prioritizing the expansion of non-discrimination safeguards for protected classes and the enforcement of these non-discrimination laws.

Since Mr. Obama took office, the Administration has sought regulatory and statutory changes that expand the federal employment and other anti-discrimination for a broad range of groups. The Administration also continues to proactively seek to expand the individuals protected by these and other Federal anti-discrimination laws even as the Departments of Justice, Labor, Health & Human Services, Education, Housing & Urban Development and other federal agencies have expanded their investigation, prosecution and public outreach of these laws.

In light of these developments, businesses should recognize that this proactive anti-discrimination agenda makes it wise for private businesses and state and local government agencies to take greater care to prevent and position their organizations to defend against potential discrimination and retaliation claims under the INA and a broad range of other employment and other anti-discrimination laws.

While this activist agenda in the anti-discrimination law area merits tighter compliance and risk management for all organizations, government contractors or subcontractors particularly face heightened risk as a result of recent expansions to the reach and requirements of nondiscrimination requirements.

Act To Mitigate Citizenship, National Origin & Other Employment Discrimination Exposures

Accordingly, while the Omnibus Express particularly highlights the importance for businesses subject to U.S. law to use care before hiring foreign workers on H-2B or other special visas to ensure that they can demonstration the need for foreign workers does not stem from recruitment and hiring practices that illegally discriminate against applicants already in and eligible to work in the U.S. who would be qualified to fill those positions.

Furthermore, businesses should use care not to underestimate their exposure to liability from charges of illegal discrimination in violation of the INA or other federal employment discrimination laws.  Prohibited discrimination against workers based on citizenship, national origin or other prohibited grounds exposes employers to private lawsuits by workers seeking damages, attorneys’ fees and costs, and other remedies.  In addition to these private exposures, the suit against Omnibus Express shows that the readiness of the Justice Department to enforce the INA so that work-authorized individuals have equal access to employment in the United States free from prohibited discrimination based on citizenship.

Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division affirmed this commitment in the announcement of the Justice Department suit against Omnibus Express, stating “We are committed to enforcing the INA so that work-authorized individuals have equal access to employment in the United States.”

Accordingly, all businesses should make the tightened risk management of their INA anti-discrimination risks part of a broader emphasis on the prevention and management of their organization’s discrimination exposures generally.

As part of these risk management efforts, organizations should:

  • Review and update their understanding of current anti-discrimination rules under the INA and other laws;
  • Evaluate the adequacy of and tighten existing practices and documentation to mitigate exposures with discrimination and other laws;
  • Update and tighten management controls, investigation and other procedures to promote compliance with anti-discrimination policies and identify and mitigate exposures arising in the course of operations;
  • Conduct well-documented periodic training on these and other anti-discrimination compliance and risk management practices; and take other actions to monitor and enforce compliance by staff, contractors and others with whom they do business.

For Help With Compliance & Risk Management and Defense

If you need help in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your organization’s 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 25 years of work helping private and governmental organizations and their management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; schools and other governmental agencies and others design, administer and defend innovative compliance, risk management, workforce, compensation, employee benefit, privacy, procurement and other management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend against employment and other anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation, union-management relations, wage and hour, and other labor and employment laws, other regulatory requirements, procurement, conflict of interest, discrimination management, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline 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, a member of the HR.com editorial advisory board, a past National Consultants Board Member and Region IV Chair for SHRM, past 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 workforce and risk management, reengineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications.

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.  For information about engaging Ms. Stamer for representation, training or other assistance, contact Ms. Stamer directly at (469) 767-8872.

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 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


Legislation Proposes To Change Obama Care Full-Time Employee Definition

August 5, 2013

Businesses and workers concerned that the definition of “full-time” employment as 30 hours per week in the “pay-or-play” penalties of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to by the public  as “Obamacare”) is hurting American workers may want to share their input on recently introduced legislation that would raise the number of hours an employee must work to qualify as “full-time”  for purposes of the pay-or-pay penalty from 30 to 40 hours per week with members of the key Congressional Committees that will decide whether this legislation advances when Congress returns from its Summer vacation.

Growing concern about the costs and other implications of Obamacare are fueling renewed debate in Congress about the pay-or-play and other provisions of Obamacare.  Only 57 days before enrollment in coverage slated to be available as an alternative to employer coverage beginning January 1, 2014 through new federally mandated health insurance exchanges is prompting renewed debate in Congress about the full-time employee, pay-or play and other provisions of Obamacare.  As Congress takes its summer break, both sides are talking and listening to voters about health care reform. Concerned parties should share their input on Congress during this break to help shape the decisions Congress makes when it returns to work in September.

“Full-Time Employee” Definition Key Element Of  Employer’s “Pay-Or Play” Liability

Originally scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2014 until the Administration on July 2, 2013 announced it would not enforce its provisions until 2015, the employer “shared responsibility” or “pay-or-play” rules of Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 4980H enacted as part of Obamacare have been widely criticized as killing jobs and reducing employment.

When effective, Code Section 4980H will require that businesses employing 50 or more “full-time” employees (Large Employers”) pay a tax penalty calculated in accordance with Code Section 4980H unless the Large Employer offers each “full-time employee” the opportunity to enroll himself and each of his dependent children in coverage under a qualifying health plan that meets the minimum essential coverage, minimum value and affordability standards of Obamacare.

Under the current provisions of Code Section 4980H, the amount of the penalty that a Large Employer must pay is:

  • $168 per employee per month for any month that the employer doesn’t offer minimum essential coverage to each full-time employee and has at least one full-time employee who receives a subsidy or tax credit for enrolling in coverage under one of the health insurance exchanges created by Obamacare (Subsidized Employee);
  • $250 per employee month multiplied by the number of full-time employees of the business that are Subsidized Employees if the employer offers coverage under the health plan that provides minimum essential coverage but the health plan fails to meet the minimum value or affordability standards of Code Section 4980H; or
  • $0 if the employer either offers health plan coverage that meets the minimum essential coverage, minimum value and affordability requirements of Code Section 4980H or doesn’t have any full-time employees who are Subsidized Employees.

30-Hour Full-Time Definition Reducing Full-Time Employment Opportunities

As the original January 1, 2014 implementation date of Code Section 4980H has approached, original largely Republican concern about its unintended adverse impact on employment increasingly has grown amid widespread reports that businesses are avoiding hiring and reducing employee hours to minimize exposures to Code Section 4980H-driven costs. See, e.g. Obamacare’s Employer Penalty And Its Impact On Temporary Workers;  States Cutting Employee Hours To Avoid Obama Care Costs; Americans Who Voted For Obama Now Seeing Weekly Job Hours Slashed Below 30 As Obamacare Kicks In.  Particularly embarrassing among these reports include the recent report that even a call center hired by the Administration to help promote enrollment coverage offered through the Obamacare-created  exchanges is limiting the hours its employees can work to under 30 hours per week.  ObamaCare Call Center To Keep Employees Under 30 Hours/Week.

As businesses already struggling to deal with a tough economy moved to minimize the number of their full-time employees, even labor unions that originally supported Obamacare joined the cry for reform of its provisions to mitigate employment losses resulting from employer efforts to minimize Code Section 4980H exposures.  See Companies Cut Hours Of Full-Time Employees To Avoid Providing Health Care Under New Rules.

S. 1188/H.R. 2575 Would Make Full-Time Mean 40 Hours Per Week

Prompted by growing concern about the apparent adverse impact of Obamacare on job opportunities for hourly workers, legislation now is pending in both the House and Senate to amend the Obamacare’s definition of “full-time.” In June, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) Collins introduced a bill to amend  Code Section 4980H to change the definition of full-time employee for purpose of the shared responsibility provisions of Obamacare,  S. 1188: Forty Hours Is Full Time Act to change the definition of “full-time” from 30 to 40 hours per week and the number of hours counted toward a “full-time equivalent” employee to 174 hours per month.  Representative Todd Young (R-IN) then introduced a similar provision in the House on June 28, 2013, H.R. 2575, Save American Workers Act of 2013

H.R. 2575 has garnered the support of 144 Cosponsors.  H.R. 2575.  Following its introduction, the House assigned H.R. 2575 to the House Ways and Means Committee, whose members now must decide when and if the bill will advance in the House.  Key members of the House Ways and Means Committee who will make this decision on include the following Committee Members:  Dave Camp; Sander Levin; Charles Boustany Jr.; Kevin Brady (Chair, Subcommittee on Health); Sam Johnson; Devin Nunes; David Reichert (Chair, Subcommittee on Human Resources);  Patrick “Pat” Tiberi; Xavier Becerra; Diane Black Earl Blumenauer; Vern Buchanan; Joseph Crowley; Danny Davis; Lloyd Doggett;  Jim Gerlach; Tim Griffin; Lynn Jenkins; Mike Kelly; Ron Kind; John Larson; John Lewis; Kenny Marchant; Jim McDermott; Richard Neal; Bill Pascrell Jr.;  Erik Paulsen; Tom Price; Charles Rangel; Tom Reed II, James Renacci; Peter Roskam; Paul Ryan; Aaron Schock; Allyson Schwartz; Adrian Smith; Linda Sánchez; Mike Thompson; and the Bill’s sponsor, Todd Young.

Although introduced before H.R. 2575, S. 1188 to date has drawn less interest among members of the Senate.  The Senate referred S. 1188 to the Senate Finance Committee, where to date, that Committee has not taken any further action. It presently has 8 cosponsors, 7 of which are Republicans.  See S. 1181 Cosponsors.  With Democrats the Majority Party in the Senate, many expect the bill to require significant public pressure and support for the Committee to report the bill out from the Committee, which presently is Chaired by Democrat Max Baucus.  Other Senate Finance Committee members include Orrin Hatch; Michael Bennet; Sherrod Brown; Robert “Bob” Casey Jr.; John “Jay” Rockefeller IV; Debbie Stabenow; Ron Wyden; Richard Burr; Maria Cantwell; Benjamin Cardin; John Cornyn; Michael Crapo;  Michael Enzi; Charles “Chuck” Grassley;  John “Johnny” Isakson; Robert “Bob” Menéndez; Bill Nelson; Robert “Rob” Portman; Pat Roberts; Charles Schumer; John Thune; and Patrick “Pat” Toomey.

This past weekend, S. 1188’s sponsor, Maine Senator Susan Collins sought to beef up support for the bill.  In urging support for her bill, Senator Collins said the health care law’s 30-hour per week definition kills jobs. “Obamacare is actually discouraging small businesses from creating jobs and hiring new employees,” she said. “The law also has perverse incentives for employers to reduce the number of hours that their employees can work.”

How To Contact Key Committees To Show Support or Share Other Feedback

Individuals wishing to share their support or other input about S. 1181 with the Senate Finance Committee can call (202) 224-4515 or  send their written input to the Senate Committee on Finance members via fax to (202) 228-0554.

Support or other input on H.R. 2575 should be sent via fax to House Ways & Means Committee members via fax to (202) 225-2610 or by calling the Committee office at (202) 225-3625.

Committee members and other members of Congress also generally can be contacted via e-mail through the link provided on each member’s webpage.  Because security precautions generally delay delivery of mail to members of Congress for 7-10 days, concerned individuals generally are encouraged to contact the Committee or other members of Congress via fax or e-mail.

Stay In Touch & Join The Discussion On Health Care Reform

Want to stay in touch with the latest developments on health care reform and get involved with helping to share  meaningful improvements in U.S. health care and workforce policy and our health care and health care insurance system?   The Coalition For Responsible Health Care Policy provides a resource that concerned Americans can use to share, monitor and discuss the Health Care Reform law and other health care, insurance and related laws, regulations, policies and practices and options for promoting access to quality, affordable healthcare through the design, administration and enforcement of these regulations.  We also encourage you to participate in our Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment initiative here to share ideas, discuss issues, and access and share tools and other resources.

For Help or More Information

If you need help monitoring or providing input on this legislation or to understand and respond to these or other legislation, laws and regulations, or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 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 on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.

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

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