To 2/18 Complimentary Update On Proposed COVID Relief Provisions Impacting Employers & Employee Benefit Plans

February 12, 2021
Register for 2/18 Complimentary Zoom Briefing

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ invites employers, employee benefit plan fiduciaries and vendors and other impacted business leaders participate in a complimentary briefing on the employer and employee benefit requirements of the H.R. 6379, Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act as approved by the Ways & Means Committee as of February 12, 2021. The live Zoom briefing now will begin at 9:00 a.m. Central Time on Thursday, February 18, 2021 to avoid potential weather-related power and other disruptions associated with winter storms at its originally scheduled presentation time on Monday, February 15.

Employers and employee benefit plan fiduciaries and vendors should get up to speed on a new mandate to subsidize health coverage continuation and other requirements of the Act that the House Ways & Means Committee voted on February 11, 2021 to include in the lasted COVID-19 relief package the Democrat Majority plans to fast track through Congress.  By the end of February if not before, Congress is expected to pass a final COVID-19 relief package including these employer and employee benefit plan mandates in substantially the same form as approved by the Ways and Means Committee. As these provisions will require quick action by employers and plans, employers, employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries and plan vendors should begin preparing now to comply with the anticipated new requirements

Registration & Program Details

Solutions Law Press, Inc. will host the 30-minute Zoom briefing beginning at 9:00 a.m. Central Time on Thursday, February 18, 2021 on the current provisions of the Act. The briefing will be conducted attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Participation is complimentary, but space is limited. Accordingly, registration is required and registration and participation will be granted on a first come, first serve basis here.

About Presenter Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, 30+ years working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, employee benefit plan, health care, insurance, financial service, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce, employee benefits and compensation, performance management, internal controls, governance, regulatory and operational compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns.  Best known for her leading edge work and thought leadership on workforce management and reengineering and health and other employee benefits concerns, Ms. Stamer regularly advises and represents organizations on the design, administration and defense of workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline, reengineering, regulatory and operational compliance and other management practices and actions.  Along with advising and representing management organizations, Ms. Stamer also has worked continuously throughout her career internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on health care, savings and retirement, workforce, and other legislative and regulatory design, drafting, interpretation, enforcement and other domestic and international public policy.

Ms. Stamer also serves in leadership of a broad range of professional and civic organizations and provides insights and thought leadership through her extensive publications, public speaking and volunteer service with a diverse range of organizations including as Chair of the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Intellectual Property Section Law Practice Management Committee, Vice Chair of the International Section Life Sciences and Health Committee, Past ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group Chair and Council Representative and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, past Region IV Chair and national Society of Human Resources Management Consultant Forum Board Member,  past Texas Association of Business BACPAC Chair, Regional Chair and Dallas Chapter Chair, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and many others.

For more information about these concerns or Ms. Stamer’s work, experience, involvements, other publications, or programs, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via e-mailhere.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy Group.


Use Prudent Process To Manage Workforce & Other Business Changes To Help Minimize Business & Management Liabilities & Protect Future Recovery

March 16, 2020

The financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and containment efforts has many businesses flailing to reconfigure their staffing and other business models even as Congress is preparing to impose paid COVID related leave mandate on employers with less than 500 employees.   With the sharp falloff in business threatening their current liquidity and operations, many business leaders understandably feel pressure to substantially reduce their workforces or make other radical changes in business operations to stem their business’ resulting COVID-19 created financial crisis.  When choosing and implementing their options, however, business leaders should carefully weigh all of their options and use care when designing and implementing their workforce and other business adjustments strategically to best position their businesses to survive the current crisis without triggering unanticipated employment, employee benefit, compensation or other liabilities as well as to best position their organizations and its leaders to retain the trust and respect their business will need to regain the customer, vendor, workforce and other business respect and loyalty their business will need to recover once the crisis has past.

Many business owners and leaders understandably feel the COVID-driven economic downturn forces them to act quickly to implement workforce reductions, close plants, or shut down all or portions of their business operations.  Where a distressed business contemplates a plant closing,  mass layoff or other substantial change, however, the business and its leaders need to fully understand the various financial and legal effects and costs of the proposed workforce and other business changes and act strategically to manage their resulting obligations and obligations.   Businesses owners and leaders dealing with these issues are invited to check out the COVID-19 Workforce Change Planning & Implementation Process Flow tool and other resources available here.

While financial and other business exigencies unquestionably makes speedy action critical for many businesses, owners and management need to recognize that poorly chosen or improperly implemented strategies or actions raises significant risks that unanticipated costs and liabilities will undermine or wipe out anticipated benefits of the contemplated actions, undermine, the business future recovery opportunities, expose the business, its ownership and management to substantial liability and other risks.

While the current economic freefall may tempt many business leaders to see shutting down their operations or other mass layoffs as the best option for protecting their businesses, it is important to keep in mind that layoffs and other employment terminations as well as early terminations of other services contracts typically trigger legal and finanncial exposures.  Businesses leaders need to recognize and account for these obligations and their financial and operational costs when weighing their options and plan to manage the obligations and costs and other liabilities when implementing the strategy chosen by their business.  This can be particularly important where a realistic likelihood exists that the business may file for bankrutpcy protection and/or fail to meet certain of these obligations as some obligations may create personal liability for business owners or leaders if not fulfilled by the company.

When anticipating or executing potential employment terminations, businesses and their leaders should recognize and address properly the employment, unemployment, employee benefit, compensation and other responsibilities attendant to any employment termination. Whether planning to furlow workers for a short period or planning a longer term layoff or shutdown, businesses leaders must fully understand their probable fixed obligations including any accellerated or added liabilities and costs likely to be triggered by the workforce action. Accordingly businesses should prepare to handle the fallout from COVID-19 impacts to their workforce and other business operations by on their existing or contemplated voluntarily imposed and legally mandated employment, compensation, benefit, safety, contractual and other related obligations obligations.

While planning for workforce or other actions, businesses and leaders also should are urged to confirm the availability of their cash flow to meet current requirements to timely fund payroll and associated taxes, health, disability and defined benefit pension, and other costs where nonpayment or untimely payment carries substantial entity and/or personal exposure to penalties or other liabilities likely to survive bankruptcy or other restructuring.  In the case of health and pension benefit liabilities, for instance, nonpayment of premiums and other required funding could carry fiduciary liability for business owners, board members and other management with responsibility or discretion over these programs and their funding.  Accordingly, if a business anticipates any risk of inability to fund already accrued or impending funding obligations, management should contact experienced legal counsel for immediate assistance with addressing these potential risks.

Additionally, businesses and their leaders contemplating offering special leave to workers absent or furloughed during leave need to take into account and handle properly both applicable federal, state and local mandated benefits and other rights, the legal requirements for adopting and implementing paid or other voluntarily provided leave, the benefit benefit, recall and other rights of workers terminated, furloughed or absent due COVID-related illness or other events.

COVID-19 Related Since Leave Or Other Absences  From Ongoing Workforce

Regardless of whether a business plans additional workforce changes, all businesses need to be prepared to deal with absences resulting from contractions or exposures of COVID-19 by employees or their families or other COVID-19 associated absences.

Employees taking voluntary or involuntary leave likely already are entitled to certain paid or unpaid leave and associated benefit, reinstatement and other rights under a hodgepodge of voluntarily established company policies and other federal, state and even local regulations.  Beyond any existing accrued rights to paid or unpaid leave due an employee under voluntary company policies and/or federal, state or local mandates, businesses need to understand and be prepared to meet their obligations to provide continued health benefit coverage and reinstatement to benefits as mandated by the Family & Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) for FMLA covered workers, health plan continuation coverage rights for employees experiencing reductions in hours triggering losses of health plan eligibility as required by the Consolidated Omnibusiness Budget Reconciliation Act (“COBRA”).  These obligations are expected to be expanded later this week if the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” (H.R. 6201) passed by the House of Representatives last week passes the Senate and is signed into law by President Trump as expeted later this week as part of efforts to mitigate impacts of disruptions of the COVID-19 containment disruptions. While H.R. 6201 is expected to include tax credits for employers to help mitigate the financial effects of its paid leave mandates for covered employers, employers will want to understand and take into account these requirements and the potential tax credits when deciding what leave to offer beyond the mandated paid leave and properly plan for, anticipate costs of and integrate those obligations with their other leave obligations.

Aside from the likely increase in the frequency of the occurence of these usual employment absence, termination, unemployment, compensation, and benefit liabilities and costs, businesses planning or contemplating some or all of their employees will termiinate employment due to long-term illnesses, employer  layoffs or other COVID-related events need to anticipate and prepare to deal with other likely additional consequences. For instance:

  • Illness and other absences generally trigger added potential exposure for discrimination, retaliation, privacy and other employment claims and risks if not properly recognized and managed;
  • The selection and implementation of workers to be affected by furloughs, layoffs and other workforce actions should be conducted carefully to manage potential Relatively small declines in the size of a business’ workforce can trigger pricing changes or even termination rights for vendors providing coverage or services for group health or other insurance, stop-loss insurance coverage on self-insured health plans or other human resources, payroll, benefits or other related services or coverage;
  • Changes in workforce size and compensation can affect whether an employer sponsored health, 401(k) or other savings or retirement plan or other benefit program fulfills applicable coverage, participation and nondiscrimination requirements resulting in tax consequences for the employer and in some instances, key or highly compensated employees, obigations for the business to make additional funding contributions, in the case of employers with health plans covered by Internal Revenue Code Section 4980H, mandatory contributions for health insurance exchange coverage for uncovered employees or other consequences.
  • Reductions in hours or terminations of employment that reduce participation in 401(k) and other savings or retirement programs by 20 percent or more generally trigger obligations to fully vest and for retirement plans, accellerate funding of benefts of terminating workers under the “partial termination” rules applicable to those programs.
  • Severance, paid or unpaid leave, and other arrangements voluntarily adopted in response to the COVID-19 disruptions or covered by other voluntarily adopted programs or practices need to be appropriately documented and administered in accordance with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) or other applicable federal law as well as properly integrated with other federal, state, and local leave or other mandates to manage unanticipated costs and avoid unanticipated fiduciary and financial liability for the business, its management or both.
  • Financial disruptions that prevent a business from timely making required contributions to fund defined benefit or other pension plans insured by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation can trigger funding notice, excise tax penalty and other obligations for the employer and its fiduciaries.
  • For certain employers, reductiions of all or a significant portion of a workforce companywide or at certain locations by a distressed or other business usually triggers a host of special obligations and attendant costs for businesses.  Businesses anticipating these changes need to take into account the financial costs and legal obligations and expossures of proposed workforce or other actions and where applicable, make appropriate arrangements to comply or implement their workforce and other business restructurings to restructuring to minimize and meet these obligations.

Of course, For instance, layoffs and other reductions in force or closings by businesses often trigger a host of legal and financial obligations.  at certain businesses or business locations often trigger obligations to provide advance notifications under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) or other statutes or contracts.  Where these obligations are triggered, the business not only will need to arrange to provide required notitications  but also needs to take into account their business’ likely financial exposure for payment of pay in lieu of notice or other costs and liability arising from the employment.  WARN, business contemplating or implementing a plan closing, mass layoff or other reductions in force also should evaluate and make appropriate arrangements to address potential obligations under state plant closing laws, the ARRA Stimulus Bill Extension Rules amended and extended earlier this month and other requirements of COBRA, voluntary or contractually obligated termination pay or other severance obligations, employee benefit, unemployment, and other laws.

The COVID-19 Workforce Change Planning & Implementation Process Flow tool  provides an overview of the type of process flow tthat business owners and  leaders dealing with these issues may find useful to help guide their process for planning their business’ workforce management response to the unexpected business exigencies created by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

For More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about this or other labor and employment developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Law and Labor and Employment Law and Health Care; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services, construction, manufacturing, staffing and workforce and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns. As a part of this work, she has continuously and extensively worked with domestic and international employer and other management, employee benefit and other clients to assess, manage and defend joint employer and other worker classifications and practices under the FLSA and other federal and state laws including both advising and and assisting employers to minimize joint employer and other FLSA liability and defending a multitude of employers against joint employer and other FLSA and other worker classification liability. She also has been heavily involved in advocating for the Trump Administration’s restoration of more historical principles for determining and enforcing joint employer liability over the past several years.

Author of hundreds of highly regarded books, articles and other publications, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her scholarship, coaching, legislative and regulatory advocacy, leadership and mentorship on wage and hour, worker classification and a diverse range of other labor and employment, employee benefits, health and safety, education, performance management, privacy and data security, leadership and governance, and other management concerns within the American Bar Association (ABA), the International Information Security Association, the Southwest Benefits Association, and a variety of other international, national and local professional, business and civic organizations including highly regarded works on worker reclassification and joint employment liability under the FLSA and other laws published by the Bureau of National Affairs and others.  Examples of these involvements include her service as the ABA Intellectual Property Law Section Law Practice Management Committee; the ABA International Section Life Sciences and Health Committee Vice Chair-Policy; a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former JCEB Council Representative and Marketing Chair; Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits and Other Compensation Group and Vice Chair of its Law Practice Management Committee; Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group; former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Southwest Benefits Association Board member; past Texas Association of Business State Board Member, BACPAC Committee Meeting, Regional and Dallas Chapter Chair; past Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits Committee Executive Committee; former SHRM Region IV Chair and National Consultants Forum Board Member; for WEB Network of Benefit Professionals National Board Member and Dallas Chapter Chair; former Dallas World Affairs Council Board Member; founding Board Member, past President and Patient Empowerment and Health Care Heroes founder for the Alliance for Health Care Excellence; former Gulf States TEGE Council Exempt Organizations Coordinator and Board member; past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here such as:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.

NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advice or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The author and Solutions Law Press, Inc. disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify anyone any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department 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.

©2020 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.


PBGC Simplifies Coverage Determination Process

July 10, 2019

The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (“PBGC”) has released its new form and instructions for requesting a determination about whether a plan is covered under Title IV of ERISA. PBGC created the form to streamline and simplify the coverage determination process. The instructions explain that in limited circumstances, under a one-year pilot program, employers may also use the form to request an Opinion Letter about whether a plan in the process of being created is likely to be covered by PBGC. The form and instructions are available on PBGC’s Coverage webpage.

Additional information for practitioners is available on our Employers & Practitioners page.

We also invite you to share your own best practices ideas and resources and join the discussions about these and other human resources, health and other employee benefit and patient empowerment concerns by participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update Group or COPE: Coalition On Patient Empowerment Groupon LinkedIn or Project COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment Facebook Page.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of management focused employment, employee benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer’s clients include employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors; domestic and international public and private health care, education and other community service and care organizations; managed care organizations; insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations; and other private and government organizations and their management leaders.

Throughout her 30 plus year career, Ms. Stamer has continuously worked with these and other management clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend hiring, performance management, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline, reduction in force and other workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government, accreditation and quality organizations, regulatory and contractual audits, private litigation and other federal and state reviews, investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; prepare and present training and discipline; handle workforce and related change management associated with mergers, acquisitions, reductions in force, re-engineering, and other change management; and a host of other workforce related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcy and other crisis and change management; management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of workforce and other operations management to improve performance while managing workforce, compensation and benefits and other legal and operational liability and performance.

Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, heavily involved in health benefit, health care, health, financial and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career, and scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues. She regularly helps employer and other health benefit plan sponsors and vendors, health industry, insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health and insurance industry clients design, document and enforce plans, practices, policies, systems and solutions; manage regulatory, contractual and other legal and operational compliance; vendors and suppliers; deal with Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA, state insurance law and other private payer rules and requirements; contracting; licensing; terms of participation; medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, and other provider-payer relations; reporting and disclosure, government investigations and enforcement, privacy and data security; and other compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; HIPAA administrative simplification, meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other technology, data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, antikickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA, HEDIS and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care; internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; 1557 and other Civil Rights; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.

A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompasses advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.

Author of leading works on a multitude of labor and employment, compensation and benefits, internal controls and compliance, and risk management matters and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; an ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources here such as the following:

Plan Ahead to Celebrate National Apprenticeship Week 11/12-18

CMS Hosts 11/6 Health Plan EDGE Server Webinar for Insurers & TPAs

Businesses Urged To Comment Positively On Proposed NLRB Joint Employment Rule By 12/13/18

Maintaining Current Enterprise Wide Security Risk Assessment Critical To Managing HIPAA Security Rule & Other Breach Risks

Record $16M Anthem HIPAA Settlement Signals Need to Tighten Your Health Plan HIPAA Compliance & Risk Management

Senate Confirms Charles Rettig As Next IRS Commissioner

House W&M Committee To Markup Retirement and Other “Tax Reform 2.0” Bills Thursday

Markup Tomorrow On Retirement & Other Republican‘s TCJA Tax Reform 2.0 Bills

Free Poster for Upcoming October National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2018 Available

Employer’s Employment Tax Fraud Indictment Warns Employers To Properly Pay Withheld Employment Taxes

Flurry of Reform Activity Sign Employers, Health Plans Should Prepare To Respond To Last Minute Health Reforms This Fall

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Relationships Matter

OFCCP Extends TRICARE Affirmative Action Moratorium

Trump Blue Print To Reduce Drug Costs Announced

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 your profile here. We also invite you to join the discussion of these and other human resources, health and other employee benefit and patient empowerment concerns by participating and contributing to the discussions in our Health Plan Compliance Group or COPE: Coalition On Patient Empowerment Groupon LinkedIn or Project COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment Facebook Page.

NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advise or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department 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.

©2019 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication or the topic of this article, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.


$23M Penalty Small Part of 21st Century’s Data Breach Fallout; Offers Data Breach Lessons For Other Businesses

January 5, 2018

Continuing Fallout of 2015 Data Breach Provides Many Lessons For Other Businesses & Their Health Plans

Read the rest of this entry »


IRS Updates Defined Benefit Plan Guidance

October 13, 2017

Qualified profit-sharing and pension plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and service providers should check of this recent guidance on various qualified pension and profit sharing plan qualification:

Organizations and service providers involved in defined benefit plans should review their programs and make adjustments as warranted.

About The Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for management work, coaching, teachings, and publications.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her day-to-day work encompasses both labor and employment issues, as well as independent contractor, outsourcing, employee leasing, management services and other nontraditional service relationships. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with all aspects for workforce and human resources management, including, recruitment, hiring, firing, compensation and benefits, promotion, discipline, compliance, trade secret and confidentiality, noncompetition, privacy and data security, safety, daily performance and operations management, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

Well-known for her extensive work with health, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, governmental and other highly regulated employers, her nearly 30 years’ of experience encompasses domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service as a management consultant, business coach and consultant and policy strategist as well through her leadership participation in professional and civic organizations such her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment;a member and policy technical adviser to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; ABA Real Property Probate and Trust (RPTE) Section former Employee Benefits Group Chair, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, and Defined Contribution Committee Co-Chair, past Welfare Benefit Committee Chair and current Employee Benefits Group Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair, Substantive and Group Committee member, Membership Committee member and RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author, highly popular lecturer, and serial symposia chair, who publishes and speaks extensively on human resources, labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation, occupational safety and health, and other leadership, performance, regulatory and operational risk management, public policy and community service concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, Insurance Thought Leaders, and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.

Want to know more? See here for details about the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please provide your current contact information and preferences including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here including:

NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and uhave no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department 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.

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions  Law Press, Inc.™   For information about republication, please contact the author directly.  All other rights reserved.


SHOP Marketplace Still Health Coverage Option For Small Employers; All Employers Should Confirm Health Plan Compliance

May 10, 2017

While Congress continues to debate the future of the Obamacare health reforms and its exchanges, the Department of Health & Human Services is reminding employers with less than 50 employees that wish to offer group health coverage for their employees to check out their coverage options offered the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace established as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Before or when offering health coverage for employees or their dependents, employers and their management should confirm they fully understand and appropriately arrange for fulfillment of all applicable federal, contractual and other requirements to avoid unfortunate and often expensive liabilities.

The SHOP Marketplace is intended to offer an opportunity for for small employers who want to provide health and dental insurance to their employees.  Use of the SHOP Marketplace to obtain coverage may be an option for an employer if it is a business or non-profit organization with 50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs).  An employer that qualifies to get group health coverage through the SHOP doesn’t have to wait for an annual enrollment period;  it can start offering SHOP insurance to your employees any time of year by completing the enrollment process by the applicable deadline prior to the first day of the month that the employer wants to start offering coverage through the SHOP.

In addition to the option to buy coverage through the SHOP, employers with 25 or fewer employees also may be eligible to use the Small Employer Health Care Credit created by the ACA to help defray the costs of providing this coverage to their qualifying employees.  For instance, Monday, May 15 is the sign up deadline for small employers and nonprofit employees interested in obtaining small group health plan coverage for their employees through the the SHOP Marketplace beginning on June 1. See HealthCare.gov/Small-Business to enroll your small business or non-profit employees or get more details.

While many excellent reasons may exist for a business to offer group health coverage for qualifying employees, all employers regardless of size considering offering group health coverage obtained through the SHOP or other sources should keep in mind that employers that establish and maintain group health coverage, the group health plans they establish and the company or persons with discretionary authority or responsibility for the maintenance, management or administration of these programs or their plans are required to comply with a variety of federal tax, labor and other rules.

Businesses and their owners or management leaders making these decisions should confirm that they fully understand these responsibilities and take appropriate steps to ensure their fulfillment before establishing or maintaining a group health plan to avoid exposing their business, its management or owners or others to unexpected and often substantial liabilities that can result from violation of these requirements.  While small employers plans sometimes qualify for some relief from a few of these requirements, depending on their size,  the majority of these federal rules apply to most if not all group health plans.  Furthermore, businesses sponsoring these programs and their leaders involved in deciding whether and what health coverage to offer for employees and their dependents should not presume that their organization, the resulting plan or its fiduciaries will fulfill these requirements simply by purchasing coverage through the SHOP Marketplace, directly from an insurer, or with the assistance of a broker or consultant.  Fulfillment of applicable requirements generally requires that sponsoring employers and individuals within the management responsible for or appointed to oversee the program to take other steps.  The scope of responsibility and resulting liability to a sponsoring employer and members of its ownership or management also typically are impacted by the plan design and contracts used to establish and maintain the program, its funding, and various other factors.  These factors generally include contractual language in insurance, consulting or brokerage, administrative services and other contracts presented by vendors for use in purchasing and maintaining the program that often shift responsibility for many duties an employer otherwise might assume would be born by the vendor.  For these and other reasons, most businesses and their leadership will want to consider arranging for their proposed program and its associated contracts  and arrangements to be reviewed by legal counsel experienced in group health plan and associated labor, tax and other laws and arrangements.

About The Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for work, teachings and publications.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her day-to-day work encompasses both labor and employment issues, as well as independent contractor, outsourcing, employee leasing, management services and other nontraditional service relationships.  She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with all aspects for workforce and human resources management, including, recruitment, hiring, firing, compensation and benefits, promotion, discipline, compliance, trade secret and confidentiality, noncompetition, privacy and data security, safety, daily performance and operations management, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

Well-known for her extensive work with health, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, hospitality and governmental employers, her nearly 30 years’ of experience encompasses domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; a member and advisor to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group; immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on human resources, labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation, occupational safety and health, and other regulatory and operational risk management.  Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include the “Texas Payday Law” Chapter of Texas Employment Law, as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.

Want to know more?  See here for details about the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please provide your current contact information and preferences including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.

NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department 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.

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved.

 

 


Employers Review Health Plans Now To Avoid Excise Taxes & Other Current Law Plan Risks & Ready For Health Reform

April 25, 2017

While Congress and the Trump Administration continue to ponder and debate what if anything to do with the health care reforms of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), employer and other health plan sponsors, health plan insurers, plan fiduciaries and others responsible for health plan design, administration or funding must take steps to verify their past and continuing compliance with the ACA and other federal mandates while laying the groundwork to respond quickly to any eventual reforms.

Regardless of what, if anything, the existing Congress or the Trump Administration does to repeal or reform the ACA or other federal health plan rules, all health plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators should act to mitigate their substantial and ever-growing health plan exposures by arranging for an independent compliance audit of their health plan terms, materials and operations for potential uncorrected past or current violations of the 40 federal mandates covered by the Form 8928 reporting and associated Internal Revenue Code excise tax liability exposure, as well as other applicable plan liabilities under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Social Security Act, the Internal Revenue Code and other federal laws within open statute of limitation periods.

The cost, complexity and riskiness of health plan sponsorship and administration has grown exponentially over the past two decades.  Thanks to the ACA and the continuous stream of other federal laws and regulations implemented over the past 20 years, sponsoring employers, as well as their health plans and those responsible as fiduciaries for administering, funding and insuring these programs now face huge costs, responsibilities and liabilities.  While the ACA substantially expanded the federal health plan mandates and liabilities, the ACA is not the lone cause and its amendment or repeal alone won’t fully resolve these risks prospectively or retrospectively insulate sponsoring employers, their plans or their fiduciaries and insurers from the liabilities and costs of compliance issues occurring before Congress repeals or amends the ACA.

Of particular note for employer and other sponsors of group health plans are the self-reporting and excise tax self-assessment and payment requirements for employers coupled with the companion responsibilities and liabilities fiduciaries, plan administrators and others face under these federal mandates make it important that employers and others sponsoring group health plans and their management or other leaders overseeing or participating in plan design or vendor selection, plan administration or other plan related activities get advice and help from qualified legal counsel experienced in health plan matters:

  • To conduct an independent compliance review and risk assessment of their health plans,
  • To recommend and assist in the performance of recommended steps to correct or mitigate risks from any potential past or existing violations or other exposures that have arisen or are likely to arise from existing contractual, plan design or other health plan actions;
  • To explore the potential advisability of taking additional steps to prevent or mitigate health plan associated compliance or other risks going forward whether or not health reform happens; and
  • To begin preparing to take advantage of any impending health care reforms by evaluating the requirements and procedures that existing plan terms, contracts, vendors and arrangements are likely to require to implement changes necessary to respond to any reforms as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Spring Clean Your Health Plan House

Since any reforms eventually enacted are unlikely to retroactively eliminate liability of employers, their health plans or fiduciaries for violations of federal health plan mandates, health plan terms, or associated contracts occurring before the effective date of reform, employer and other health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and administrators should begin by identifying,  cleaning up any existing, unresolved, and preventing any new health plan compliance problems.

While overall compliance with applicable federal mandates and health terms generally should be the goal, employers or others sponsoring group health plans need to be particularly concerned with their responsibilities and potential liability under the Internal Revenue Code to self-identify, report and pay stiff excise tax penalties of $100 per day per violation of any of 40 federal health plan mandates imposed by the ACA and various other federal laws when the sponsor files its annual tax return.

This employer or other plan sponsor excise tax liability generally arises in addition to the liabilities that plans, their fiduciaries and their insures face for failing to administer and pay benefits under the plans in accordance with the listed 40 federal mandates, whether actually written into or imputed by operation of law into the plan, the costs of which sponsoring employers often will bear responsibility for funding in whole or in part pursuant to their contractual liabilities under the health plan contracts, as plan fiduciaries or both.  See, Businesses Must Confirm & Clean Up Health Plan ACA & Other Compliance Following Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell Decision;  More Work For Employers, Benefit Plans Following SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Ruling; 2016 & 2017 Health Plan Budgets, Workplans Should Anticipate Expected Changes To SBCs. 

Sponsors and plan fiduciaries also need to be concerned about other risks beyond sponsoring employers’ excise tax liability exposures for sponsoring a non-compliant group health plan.  Among other things, group health plans and their fiduciaries can face audits, litigation and enforcement actions by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and other health plans for improperly coordinating plan claims with other coverage as well as lawsuits from covered persons, their health care providers or other beneficiaries, the Department of Labor and CMS, or others seeking to enforce rights to benefits, penalties in the case of CMS or the Department of Labor, and attorneys’ fees and other costs of enforcement. Beyond benefit litigation, the employer or representatives of the sponsoring employer, if any, named or acting as fiduciaries, insurer or third-party service providers named or acting as fiduciaries, also could face fiduciary lawsuits seeking damages, equitable relief, and attorneys’ fees and costs of court, for failing to prudently administer the plan in accordance with its terms and the law brought by covered persons or their beneficiaries or the DOL as well as fiduciary breach penalties if the fiduciary breach action is brought by the DOL. If the plan fails to comply with claims and appeals procedures or other ERISA notification requirements, parties named or functioning as the plan administrator for this purpose also could face penalties of up to $125 per violation per day in the case of enforcement actions brought by participants and beneficiaries or $1025 per violation per day in the case of actions brought by the DOL, plus attorneys’ fees and other costs of enforcement.  Unless the employer previously took steps to draft its health plan documents and negotiate its vendor contracts to provide otherwise, most vendor provided plans typically assign these liabilities to the sponsoring employer or a member of its management by naming that employer or the management person the “plan administrator” and/or “named fiduciary” responsible for those activities and liabilities, requiring the plan sponsor to indemnify the vendor for costs and liabilities arising from the performance of actions under the plan even when those actions don’t comply with ERISA fiduciary or other legal standards applicable to the performance of those duties under the plan, or both, and other contractual or plan provisions that shift liabilities and costs to the plan sponsor.

To mitigate their exposure to these liabilities and costs, employer or other health plan sponsors should consider arranging for an independent legal compliance and risk assessment of their health plan, its terms, materials and operations to help mitigate the sponsoring employer’s exposure to self-identify, self-report on IRS Form 2848 and pay the $100 per day per violation excise tax liability now generally required under the Internal Revenue Code for any such violation.

Beyond mitigating a plan sponsor’s Form 8928 reporting and associated excise tax exposures,  an independent compliance audit also can mitigate other risks and exposures for the sponsoring employer, the plan and its fiduciaries, the cost of which the sponsoring employer often bears financial responsibility for funding pursuant to the contractual indemnification and funding obligations entered into in connection with the establishment and maintenance of the plan, the fiduciary role, if any, of the employer with respect to the plan, or both.  Accordingly, a timely and appropriate review is likely to help mitigate other risks and liabilities such as:

  • Fiduciary liability that can arising from failing to administer the plan in accordance with these and other federal health plan mandates  under ERISA;
  • Unanticipated benefit costs and liabilities, which for self-insured plans are likely to be particularly burdensome if compliance issues are not identified and corrected before applicable deadlines to pay and submit claims to the stop-loss or other insurer expire (usually at or shortly after the close of a plan year or if earlier, contract termination);
  • Benefit costs and penalties for wrongful coordination of benefits with Medicare, Medicaid, DOD and certain other plans or coverage in violation of Secondary Payer and other mandates; and
  • Costs of defending and settling audits, litigation and other government or participant enforcement actions.

Since  prompt self-audit and correction can help mitigate all of these liabilities, business leaders of employers sponsoring health plans should act promptly to engage experienced legal counsel experienced with health plan laws and operations to advise the plan sponsor about how to audit their group health plan’s plan documents, materials and operations for compliance with these and other federal health plan rules within the scope of attorney-client privilege while managing tax, financial, benefit and fiduciary liability exposures to deal with potential compliance concerns that the review might discover as well as mitigate risks that could result if the audit is improperly structured or conducted.

Prepare To Respond To Potential Health Reform & Other Health Plan Improvement

Beyond identifying and addressing existing compliance concerns and other risks associated with prior or existing plan design or administration, most employer and other sponsors also will want to  review the health plan document and materials and associated insurance, third-party administration and other health plan vendor contracts pursuant to which the health plan is established, maintained and administered to identify requirements and opportunities to respond quickly to make changes when and if health care reform happens as well as for other opportunities to mitigate existing risks and costs.

As most commentators expect some type of regulatory or statutory health plan relief to result from the current health care reform debates in Congress, employer and other health plan sponsors desiring to accelerate their ability to take advantage of any forthcoming relief should familiarize themselves with the procedures required under existing plan terms, contracts and rules to modify their programs in response to these changes.  Almost certainly, plan sponsors should anticipate needing to adopt some amendments to plan documents, summary plan descriptions and other materials to take advantage of any legislative or statutory relief.  Plan sponsors also need to keep in mind that their vendor contracts with administrators, group, stop-loss or captive insurers, and other vendors likely also will require the plan sponsor to notify and negotiate with its vendors to secure their agreement before adopting these changes to avoid violating those vendor agreements and prudently to arrange for appropriate implementation and administration of the modified plan design and terms.  Identification of the contractual and plan requirements and commencement of discussions with the relevant vendors can help expedite the planning and implementation of any desired plan modifications the plan sponsor elects to make in response to any statutory or regulatory reforms.

While preparing for anticipated health care reforms, most plan sponsors also will want to review their plans and vendor contracts for other potential opportunities to mitigate risks or expenses.  With respect to existing and future liability mitigation, each plan sponsor generally should carefully assess the allocation of fiduciary responsibility and liability between the sponsoring employer, members of its management or other workforce team, and vendors to identify potential areas where the contract may assign named or other plan administrator or other fiduciary status and liability to the plan sponsor or a member of its workforce for duties outsourced to a vendor.   Sponsoring employers or their management may want to initiate negotiations with the vendor to reallocate the fiduciary role and responsibility to the party responsible for performance of the specific duties, enhancement of performance guarantees, indemnifications and insurance coverage for proper performance of the outsourced duties by the vendor in accordance with the plan terms, including any mandates imposed by the ACA and other federal laws in form and operation, and other safeguards or, if the vendor is unwilling to consider these changes, begin searching for a replacement vendor willing to provide better accountability for its actions with respect to the services it is hired to perform.

Except in rare circumstances where the sponsoring employer has carefully contracted to transfer fiduciary liability to its insurer or administrator and otherwise does not exercise or have a fiduciary obligation to exercise discretion or control over these responsibilities, employers sponsoring group health plans that violate federal mandates like the out-of-pocket limit often ultimately bear some or all of these liabilities even if the violation actually was committed by a plan vendor hired to administer the program either because the plan documents name the employer as the “named fiduciary” or “plan administrator” under ERISA, the employer or a member of its management named in the plan generally bears fiduciary responsibility functionally for selection or oversight of the culpable party, the employer signed a contract, resolution or plan document obligating the employer to indemnify the service provider for the liability, or a combination of these reasons.

Since prompt self-audit and correction can help mitigate all of these liabilities as well as help to preserve access to stop-loss or other reinsurance coverage, if any, applicable to help pay for some or all of any additional benefit liabilities resulting from these benefit mandates, business leaders of companies offering group health plan coverage should act quickly to engage experienced legal counsel for their companies for advice about how to audit their group health plan’s compliance with these and other federal health plan rules within the scope of attorney-client privilege while managing tax, financial, benefit and fiduciary liability exposures to deal with potential compliance concerns that the review might discover as well as mitigate risks that could result if the audit is improperly structured or conducted.

While businesses inevitably will need to involve or coordinate with their accounting, broker, and other vendors involved with the plans, businesses generally will want to get legal advice in a manner that preserves their potential to claim attorney-client privilege to protect against discovery in the event of future enforcement or litigation actions sensitive discussions and analysis about compliance audits, plan design choices, and other risk management and liability planning as well as to get help identifying potential plan design, contracting, procedural or other changes that may be needed to fix compliance deficiencies and mitigate other risks, particularly in light of complexity of the exposures and risks.

About The Author

Recognized by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as a “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%/ the highest) and “Top Rated Lawyer,” with special recognition as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Health Care,” “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, the author of this update is widely known for her 29 plus years’ of work in health care, health benefit, health policy and regulatory affairs and other health industry concerns as a practicing attorney and management consultant, thought leader, author, public policy advocate and lecturer.

Throughout her adult life and nearly 30-year legal career, Ms. Stamer’s legal, management and governmental affairs work has focused on helping health and othre employee benefit, financial services, health care and other organizations and their management use the law, performance and risk management tools and process to manage people, performance, quality, compliance, operations and risk.

Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer supports these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis as well as outsourced operations or special counsel on an interim, special project, or ongoing basis with strategic planning and product and services development and innovation; workforce and operations management, crisis preparedness and response as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

Throughout her career, she has helped a diverse array of clients manage, administer and defend employee and other workforce, vendors and suppliers, their recruitment, selection, performance management, contracting, investigation, discipline and termination; health and other employee benefits; compensation;  safety; governance; compliance and internal controls; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; change management; trade secret and other privacy, data security and data breach;; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party reporting relations, audits, investigations and enforcement; government affairs and public policy; and other compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.

The American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively throughout her career with employers, health and other employee benefit plans, insurers, managed care organizations, health care clearinghouses, health care providers, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, management services organizations, professional and trade associations, accreditation agencies, auditors, technology and other vendors and service providers, and others on benefit and insurance program legal and operational compliance, risk management,  public policies and regulatory affairs, contracting, payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations and matters including extensive involvement advising, representing and defending plan sponsors, fiduciaries, service providers, managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers. Her experience includes both leading edge work designing and administering programs, as well as defending clients in connection with audits and enforcement actions by OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC, OSHA, Department of Insurance, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigation, enforcement including insurance or other liability management and allocation; process and product development, contracting, deployment and defense; evaluation, commenting or seeking modification of regulatory guidance, and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns for public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, employers, and others.and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions.

Heavily involved in health care and health information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations innovation and a Scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years who has authored numerous highly-regarded works and training programs on HIPAA and other data security, privacy and use, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues including meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security and data breach and other information privacy and data security rules and many other concerns. Her work includes both regulatory and public policy advocacy and thought leadership, as well as advising and representing a broad range of health industry and other clients about policy design, drafting, administration, business associate and other contracting, risk assessments, audits and other risk prevention and mitigation, investigation, reporting, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected violations or other incidents and responding to and defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, DOJ, OCR, FTC, state attorneys’ general and other federal or state agencies, other business partners, patients and others.

A lead policy advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension privitization project and involved in U.S. federal and state as well as cross border workforce, pension, health care, Social Security, immigration, and tax regulatory and statutory reform throughout her adult life, Ms. Stamer also is widely sought out for her thoughtleadership and assistance with domestic and international public policy concerns in Pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, privacy and data security, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; a ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposium and chair, faculty member and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, Insurance Thought Leadership and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations.

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved. For information about republication or other use, please contact Ms. Stamer 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.

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™. All other rights reserved.


Latest HIPAA Resolution Agreement Drives Home Importance Of Maintaining Current, Signed Business Associate Agreements

April 24, 2017

Health plans, their fiduciaries and sponsors, health insurers, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (“covered entities”) and their business associates must get and keep your business associate (BA) agreements (BAAs) in place, up-to-date, and readily available for inspection in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule, 45 C.F.R. Part 160 and Subparts A and E of Part 164 (Privacy Rule).  That’s the clear message to covered entities and their business associates in the April 17, 2017 HIPAA Resolution Agreement just announced by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) with the Center for Children’s Digestive Health (CCDH).

While the Resolution Agreement relates to breaches of the BAA requirements of a small pediatric practice, all health plans, health care providers and other covered entities and business associates should focus on the adequacy of their BAAs  and their BAA record keeping.  HIPAA compliance surveys reflect deficiencies with the BAA rules are common throughout the industry.  These findings and the involvement of BAs in data breaches or other OCR enforcement activities suggest a high probability that many other covered entities and business associates may be sitting ducks for similar sanctions.  See e.g., HIPAA Compliance Survey Churns Up Many Business Associate Problems (January 3, 2017).  Consequently, all covered entities and business associates generally should treat the CCDH Resolution Agreement as a message to review and correct as necessary their organizations’ compliance and recordkeeping to minimize their exposure to potential sanctions from violations of the HIPAA business associate rules.

The HIPAA Business Associate Agreement Requirements

OCR’s announcement of the CCDH Resolution Agreement is the latest in a growing series of HIPAA enforcement actions showing the growing risk covered entities and their business associates face for failing to take appropriate steps to comply with the BAA and other Privacy Rule requirements of HIPAA.

As compliance audits and surveys of covered entities and business associates suggest a high level of noncompliance with the business associate agreement requirements among covered entities and business associates, While the ever-growing list of Resolution Agreements and Civil Monetary Penalties announced by OCR cover a variety of categories of HIPAA violations, the CCDH Resolution Agreement highlights the importance of covered entities and their business associates ensuring that before the BA creates, accesses, receives, discloses, retains or destroys any PHI for the covered entity,  a BAA meeting the Privacy Rule requirements is signed and retained for at least the six-year period the Privacy Rule requires in a manner easily producible when and if OCR or another agency asks for a copy as part of an investigation or other compliance audit.  See Privacy Rule §§ 164.502(e), 164.504(e), 164.532(d) and (e).

The Privacy Rule requires that covered entities and business associates enter into a written and signed business associate agreement that contains the elements specified in Privacy Rule § 164.504(e) before the business associate creates, uses, accesses or discloses PHI of the covered entity. Meanwhile, the Privacy Rule recordkeeping requirements require that covered entities and BAs maintain copies of these BAAs for a minimum of six years.

Violations of the Privacy Rule can carry stiff civil or even criminal penalties  Pursuant to amendments to HIPAA enacted as part of the HITECH Act, civil penalties typically do not apply to violations punished under the criminal penalty rules of HIPAA set forth in Social Security Act , 42 U.S.C § 1320d-6 (Section 1177).

Under Section 1177, the criminal enforcement provisions of HIPAA authorize the Justice Department to prosecute a person who knowingly in violation of the Privacy Rule (1) uses or causes to be used a unique health identifier; (2) obtains individually identifiable health information relating to an individual; or (3) discloses individually identifiable health information to another person, punishable by the following criminal sanctions and penalties:

  • A fine of up to $50,000, imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both;
  • If the offense is committed under false pretenses, a fine of up to $100,000, imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both; and
  • If the offense is committed with intent to sell, transfer, or use individually identifiable health information for commercial advantage, personal gain, or malicious harm, a fine of up to $250,000, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

In contrast, as amended by the HITECH Act, the civil enforcement provisions of HIPAA empower OCR to impose Civil Monetary Penalties on both covered entities and BAs for violations of any of the requirements of the Privacy or Security Rules.  The penalty ranges for civil violations depends upon the circumstances associated with the violations and are subject to upward adjustment for inflation.  As most recently adjusted here effective September 6, 2016,  the following currently are the progressively increasing Civil Monetary Penalty tiers:

  • A minimum penalty of $100 and a maximum penalty of $50,000 per violation, for violations which the CE or BA “did not know, and by exercising reasonable diligence would not have known” about using “the business care and prudence expected from a person seeking to satisfy a legal requirement under similar circumstances;”
  • A minimum penalty of $1,000 and a maximum penalty of $50,000 per violation, for violations for “reasonable cause” which do not rise to the level of “willful neglect” where “reasonable cause” means the “circumstances that would make it unreasonable for the covered entity, despite the exercise of ordinary business care and prudence, to comply with the violated Privacy Rule requirement;”
  • A minimum penalty of $10,000 and a maximum penalty of $50,000 per violation, for violations attributed to “willful neglect,” defined as “the conscious, intentional failure or reckless indifference to the obligation to comply” with the requirement or prohibition; and
  • A minimum penalty of $50,000 and a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per violation, for violations attributed to “willful neglect” not remedied within 30 days of the date that the covered entity or BA knew or should have known of the violation.

For continuing violations such as failing to implement a required BAA, OCR can treat each day  of noncompliance as a separate violation.  However, sanctions under each of these tiers generally are subject to a maximum penalty of $1,500,000 for violations of identical requirements or prohibitions during a calendar year.  For violations such as the failure to implement and maintain a required BAA where more than one covered entity bears responsibility for the violation, OCR an impose Civil Monetary Penalties against each culpable party. OCR considers a variety of mitigating and aggravating facts and circumstances when arriving at the amount of the penalty within each of these applicable tiers to impose.

While criminal enforcement of HIPAA remains relatively rare, a review of the OCR enforcement record in recent years makes clear that civil enforcement of HIPAA and the sanctions imposed is growing. See e.g.,  $400K HIPAA Settlement Shows Need To Conduct Timely & Appropriate Risk Assessments$5.5M Memorial HIPAA Resolution Agreement Shows Need To Audit.  For more examples, also see here.

CCDH Sanctions For Violation Of HIPAA Business Associate Agreement Rules

The CCDH Resolution Agreement arises from violations of this requirement that OCR says it discovered as a result of a compliance review conducted in response to an OCR investigation of a CCDH business associate, FileFax, Inc.  According to OCR, OCR found from the compliance review of CCDH triggered by OCR’s investigation of FileFax that while CCDH began disclosing PHI to Filefax in 2003 and that Filefax stored records containing protected health information (PHI) for CCDH, neither CCDH nor Filefax could produce a signed Business Associate Agreement (BAA) covering their relationship for any period before October 12, 2015.

Based on the resulting investigation,  OCR concluded:

  • CCDH failed to obtain a BAA providing written assurances from Filefax that it would appropriately safeguard the PHI in Filefax’s possession or control satisfactory assurances as required by Privacy Rule §164.502(e); and
  • Because CCDH failed to secure the required BAA, it violated the Privacy Rule by impermissibly disclosing the PHI of at least 10,728 individuals to Filefax when CCDH transferred the PHI to Filefax without obtaining the requisite BAA from Filefax (Covered Conduct).

In the Resolution Agreement, CCDH agrees to pay HHS $31,000.00 (Resolution Amount) and enter into and comply with a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) in return for OCR’s release of CCDH from liability for “any actions it may have against CCDH under the HIPAA Rules” for the Covered Conduct.  The Resolution Agreement only settles the civil monetary penalty and other OCR enforcement liabilities of CCDH with respect to the Covered Conduct.  Its provisions expressly state the Resolution Agreement does not affect any exposures of CCDH to CCDH to OCR civil monetary penalties or other enforcement for any HIPAA violations other than the Covered Conduct.

Perhaps even more noteworthy given the HITECH Act’s provisions coordinating the civil and criminal sanctions of HIPAA, while  the Resolution Agreement provides no clear indication that the Justice Department might be considering criminally prosecuting CCDH or any other party in relation to the Covered Conduct, the Resolution Agreement also expressly states that its provisions do not affect CCDH’s potential exposure, if any, to criminal prosecution by the Justice Department for a criminal violation of the Privacy Rules under Section 1177 of the Social Security Act.

Implications For Covered Entities & Business Associates

Covered entities and their business associates should heed the CCDH Resolution Agreement as a strong message from OCR to ensure their organizations are complying with HIPAA’s BAA and other requirements.  The Resolution Agreement makes clear that the starting point of this compliance effort must be obtaining and maintaining the requisite BAAs for each BA relationship.

To position their organizations to withstand potential investigation by OCR, covered entities and BAs should start by conducting a well-documented audit within the scope of attorney-client privilege both to verify that an appropriate, signed BAA is in place for each BA relationship as well as adequacy of processes for identifying business associate relationships, ensuring that signed BAAs are in effect before BAs access any PHI, and for investigating, reporting and resolving any breaches of the HIPAA Privacy or Security Rules that may arise in the course of operations.

Conducting this audit as soon as possible is particularly important in light of reported findings of widespread compliance concerns. See HIPAA Compliance Survey Churns Up Many Business Associate Problems (January 3, 2017).  As the audit process could identify potential violations or other legally sensitive concerns,  covered entities and business associates generally will want to arrange for this audit and evaluation to be conducted under the supervision of legal counsel experienced with HIPAA within or pursuant to processes structured with the assistance of legal counsel within the scope of attorney-client privilege.

Beyond confirming all necessary BAAs are in place, covered entities and business associates also generally will want to evaluate the adequacy of BAs’ processes and procedures for maintaining compliance with the Privacy and Security Rules as well as processes and procedures for responding to audits, investigations and complaints, reporting and addressing breaches of electronic and other PHI and other possible compliance concerns under HIPAA and other related laws.  In many instances, parties may n wish to revise and strengthen existing BAAs to more specifically define these policies and procedures more specifically as well as indemnification, cyber or other liability coverage requirements and other contractual provisions for allocating potential costs and liabilities arising from breaches, audits, investigations and other expenses associated with the administration of these provisions.

About The Author

Recognized by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as a “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%/ the highest) and “Top Rated Lawyer,” with special recognition as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Health Care,” “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, the author of this update is widely known for her 29 plus years’ of work in health care, health benefit, health policy and regulatory affairs and other health industry concerns as a practicing attorney and management consultant, thought leader, author, public policy advocate and lecturer.

Throughout her adult life and nearly 30-year legal career, Ms. Stamer’s legal, management and governmental affairs work has focused on helping health industry, health benefit and other organizations and their management use the law, performance and risk management tools and process to manage people, performance, quality, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer supports these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis as well as outsourced operations or special counsel on an interim, special project, or ongoing basis with strategic planning and product and services development and innovation; workforce and operations management, crisis preparedness and response as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

As a core component of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively throughout her career with health care providers, health plans and insurers, managed care organizations, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, management services organizations, professional associations, medical staffs, accreditation agencies, auditors, technology and other vendors and service providers, and others on legal and operational compliance, risk management and compliance, public policies and regulatory affairs, contracting, payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations and matters including extensive involvement advising, representing and defending public and private hospitals and health care systems; physicians, physician organizations and medical staffs; specialty clinics and pharmacies; skilled nursing, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing and management services organizations; consultants; investors; technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers; and other health industry clients to manage and defend compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing and other operations and risk management concerns. A core focus of this work includes work to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; dealings with JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; investigation and defense of private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement; insurance or other liability management and allocation; process and product development; managed care, physician and other staffing, business associate and other contracting; evaluation, commenting or seeking modification of regulatory guidance, and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; and a host of other related concerns for public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, employers, and others.

In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated extensive experience helping health industry clients manage workforce, medical staff, vendors and suppliers, medical billing, reimbursement, claims and other provider-payer relations, business partners, and their recruitment, performance, discipline, compliance, safety, compensation, benefits, and training, board, medical staff and other governance; compliance and internal controls; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; change management; assess, deter, investigate and address staffing, quality, compliance and other performance; meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other data security and breach and other health IT and data; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party reporting, audits, investigations and enforcement; government affairs and public policy; and other compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.

Author of leading works on HIPAA and other privacy and data security works and the scribe leading the American Bar Association Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, her experience includes extensive compliance, risk management and data breach and other crisis event investigation, response and remediation under HIPAA and other laws.

The American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has worked closely with a diverse range of physicians, hospitals and healthcare systems, DME, Pharma, clinics, health care providers, managed care, insurance and other health care payers, quality assurance, credentialing, technical, research, public and private social and community organizations, and other health industry organizations and their management deal with governance; credentialing, patient relations and care; staffing, peer review, human resources and workforce performance management; outsourcing; internal controls and regulatory compliance; billing and reimbursement; physician, employment, vendor, managed care, government and other contracting; business transactions; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; licensure and accreditation; vendor selection and management; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy and other concerns.

Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar, insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions.

Heavily involved in health care and health information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations innovation and a Scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years who has authored numerous highly-regarded works and training programs on HIPAA and other data security, privacy and use, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues including meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security and data breach and other information privacy and data security rules and many other concerns.

In connection with this work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers and other plan sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA, FACTA, trade secret and other information privacy and data security rules, including the establishment, documentation, implementation, audit and enforcement of policies, procedures, systems and safeguards, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others.

Her work includes both regulatory and public policy advocacy and thought leadership, as well as advising and representing a broad range of health industry and other clients about policy design, drafting, administration, business associate and other contracting, risk assessments, audits and other risk prevention and mitigation, investigation, reporting, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected violations or other incidents and responding to and defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, DOJ, OCR, FTC, state attorneys’ general and other federal or state agencies, other business partners, patients and others.

In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, MGMA, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in Pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, privacy and data security, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; a ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposium and chair, faculty member and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security: Beyond HIPAA,” as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, Insurance Thought Leadership and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations.

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources 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 your profile here.

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved. For information about republication or other use, please contact Ms. Stamer here.


Consider Access In Prudent Investment Broker Selection

April 19, 2017

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Health Reform:  Tell Congress Until It Listens

April 19, 2017

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When Trust Matters, Preparations Critical

March 5, 2017

Actual or perceived disloyalty or other reaches of Trece is one of the quickest ways to destroy a working relationship between an a business and its management or other employees or other service providers.

Heading off problems begins with both the management of a business and those providing services to it understanding the  call mama and other conflict of interest, loyalty and other responsibilities of the service provider to the businesses

Historically, the common law has recognized that common law management and other employees – but not necessarily independent contractors or other non common law employee service providers – owe a duty of loyalty to their employer that among other things.  Inventions, knowledge and other value created by an employee and value derived from the employee generally are presumed the property of the employee under the doctrine of “works for hire.”  An employee’s common law duty of loyalty generally also prihibits the employee  from engaging in competition with the employer,  self dealing, or conflicts of interest unless the the employee proves the  employee consented after full disclosure of relevant facts by the employee.

In the age of federal sentencing guidelines and other federal and state internal controls mandates, carefully crafted loyalty, conflict of interest, confidentiality and trade secret, nonsolicitation, noncompete and other provisions in employee contracts, handbooks and policies can promote important regulatory risk management  and compliance goals as well as deter employee breaches of loyalty  by educating the employee of their duty, limit or overrun statutorial restrictions on some of these common law duties, and otherwise strengthen the ability of an employer to enforce these duties in the event of a violation.

As the common law does not necessarily apply these same duties of loyalty automatically businesses of contractor and other no traditional worker or other service provider relationships, however,  ensuring that independent contractors and other nontraditional service providers are engaged pursuant to written agreements that include carefully crafted provisions that clearly reserve the business’ exclusive or other ownership of created products, internal controls mandates,  and loyalty, conflict of interest, confidentiality and trade secret, nonsolicitation, noncompete and other safeguards can be critical to protect the interests of the business.

Whether dealing with employees or other service providers, today’s privacy and other limits on business investigatory powers also create a strong demand for businesses to back up their ability to investigate and redress these and other breaches by adopting and requiring all service providers to consent or otherwise be subject to appropriate disclaimers of privacy, computer and other use and monitoring, pre, concurrent and post terminationinvestigation, disclosure, cooperation, and other policies.


PBGC Table Shows Present Value  PBGC Maximum Guarantee

December 4, 2016

 On December 02, 2016, PBGC posted a table showing the applicable present values for 2017 plan years. For more information see Technical Update 07-04. (12/02/2016).


Criminal Conviction Of Plan Trustee, Outside Legal Counsel Shows Risks of Retaliating Against Whistleblowers For Reporting ERISA Violations

August 1, 2016

The U.S. Department of Labor’s just announced successful whistleblower prosecution in Perez v. Scott Brain, et al of an employee benefit plan trustee, and an individual lawyer and her law firm that served as the employee benefit plan’s outside legal counsel of violating the fiduciary responsibility and whistleblower rules of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) illustrates why employee benefit plan sponsors, trustees or other fiduciaries, their management, legal counsel, auditors and other service providers must both prudently investigate whistleblower allegations or other evidence of potential wrongdoing involving their employee benefit plans and resist the temptation to retaliate against employees or others for reporting or cooperating in the investigation of alleged improprieties involving an employee benefit plan.

The Brain decision highlights the care that employee benefit plan sponsors, fiduciaries, advisors and service providers and their management must use when responding to allegations or other evidence of wrongdoing relating to an employee benefit plan or its administration, investigating and addressing alleged misconduct or other performance or disciplinary concerns involving parties whose report or involvement in investigations of ERISA or other misconduct could form the basis of a potential ERISA 510 or other retaliation complaint.

The decision also makes clear that outside legal counsel advising an employee benefit plan or its fiduciaries in relation to the investigation or response to charges of ERISA misconduct involving an employee benefit plan must use care to avoid actions that could render them liable for participation in acts of illegal retaliation, violating their duty of loyalty to the plan by allowing themselves to become involved in a conflict of interest when investigating or defending potential wrongdoing involving an employee benefit plan, or engaging in other discretionary actions that could constitute a breach of fiduciary duty in violation of ERISA.

In Perez v. Scott Brain, et al., the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled that Cement Masons Southern California Trust Fund’s trustee and Cement Masons Local 600 business manager, Scott Brain (Brain) and outside trust fund legal counsel, Melissa Cook, violated sections 510 and 404 of ERISA by causing the firing a trust fund employee Cheryle Robbins (Robbins) and an employee of the plan’s third party administrator, Cory Rice (Rice), in retaliation for their involvement in filing an internal complaint about and cooperating with the Labor Department’s Employee Benefit Security Administration’s federal criminal investigation of reports of Brain’s wrongful interference as a trustee with collections and contributions from unionized employers.

In 2011, Robbins, director of the trust funds’ audit and collections department, responded to a federal criminal investigation into Brain’s activities with contractors. The same year, she and Rice, who worked for the third-party administrator to the trust fund, American Benefit Plan Administrators, now, Zenith American Solutions (Zenith), participated in an effort to complain about Brain’s interference with efforts to collect delinquent contributions from contractors. Within weeks of this conduct, Robbins was suspended from her employment with the trust fund. Less than six months later, both Robbins and Rice were fired.

The court’s 71-page decision chronicles the coordinated retaliatory campaign orchestrated by Brain and Cook that led to Robbins’ suspension and firing by the employee benefit plan as well as the termination of Cook by his employer, Zenith..

With respect to Robbins’ suspension, the court found that the evidence showed Brain and Cook “were very upset with Robbins due to her contact with the [Department of Labor],” and that Brain and Cook “used their positions and influence to cause the other trustees to vote in favor of” suspending Robbins. To do so, the court explained, Brain and Cook “took the lead at the . . . [b]oard meeting with respect to the discussion of Robbins’ contact with the [Department of Labor]” and “created an environment that was hostile to her,” which “caused the trustees to vote to place her on leave.” The court noted that the two “‘set in motion’ the decision by the Joint Board to put Robbins on leave [.]”

As for Rice’s firing, the court explained how Brain and Cook retaliated against Rice by pressuring his employer, Zenith, into firing Rice and manipulating the Zenith relationship to deter Zenith from rehiring Rice in retaliation for his involvement in efforts to make an internal complaint about Brain.

Based upon evidence introduced during a five-day trial, the District Court ruled that Brain, Cook and Cook’s law firm violated ERISA section 510 by suspending and then discharging Robbins, and causing Zenith to refuse to hire Robbins and to discharge Rice in retaliation for their participation in reporting Brian’s misconduct to the General President of the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association and because Robbins participated in a federal criminal investigation of Brain.  Specifically, the District Court ruled:

  • Brain, Cook and Cook’s law firm wrongfully retaliated against Robbins in violation of ERISA 510 for her communications with the DOL by placing her on administrative leave; causing the work performed by the department that Robbins previously managed to be outsourced to Zenith and by causing Zenith not to hire Robbins to participate in its work;
  • Brain, Cook and Cook’s law firm wrongfully retaliated against Rice in violation of ERISA 510 by causing Zenith to terminate Cook;
  • Brain breached his fiduciary duty under ERISA 404 by retaliating against Robbins and causing her to be placed on administrative leave and that Cook knowingly participated in that breach.

The court held that Brain and Cook’s retaliatory conduct violated section 510 of ERISA, which prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers for complaining of ERISA violations or cooperating with a governmental investigation of such violations. The court also held that the couple’s retaliation against Robbins breached Brain’s fiduciary duties under ERISA section 404 to the trust funds and that Cook participated knowingly in that breach.

In reaching its decision, the court rejected attorney Cook’s argument that she was somehow immunized from her unlawful conduct because she was an attorney to the trust funds.  Among other things, the court noted the “apparent conflict of interest” Cook had in representing the trust funds while being in an undisclosed “romantic relationship” with Brain, which existed as defendants carried out their retaliatory scheme. Reminding lawyers of their ethical duties in California, the court cited California Rule of Professional Conduct 3-310(B), which the court explained “requires that an attorney disclose to a client any personal relationship or interest that he or she knows, or with the exercise of reasonable diligence should know, could substantially affect her his or her professional judgment in advising the client.”

As punishing for these criminal violations of ERISA, the District Court ordered the permanent removal of Brain as a trustee. It also ordered the permanent barring of Brain, Cook and her law firm from serving the Cement Masons Southern California Trust Funds. In addition, the court ordered Cook and her law firm to repay all attorneys’ fees she billed the trust funds for the actions she took in retaliating against whistleblowers Robbins and Rice.  These criminal sanctions were in addition to the $630,000 civil damage award that the Labor Department previously secured in lost wages and damages for Robbins, Rice and another worker victimized by Brain and Cook in August 2015.

In addition to its successful prosecution of Brain, Cook and Cook’s law firm on these charges, the DOL also had sought, but failed to convince the District Court based on the evidence presented at trial to find Brain, Cook, Cook’s law firm and Brain’s fellow trust fund trustee Local 600 business agent and Joint Board of Trustees member Jaime Briceno guilty of wrongful retaliation against another alleged whistleblower or Briceno of breaching his fiduciary duties under ERISA by failing to prudently investigate Robbins’ allegations against Brain; or by voting to use assets of the Trust Funds to pay the cost of the settlement of the civil action brought by Robbins. The District Court also refused to consider a newly raised charge that Brain breached his fiduciary duty by failing to collect all monies owed to the Trust Funds on the grounds that the Labor Department had failed to timely raise the charge. While the court refused to convict Briceno, Brain, Cook or Cook’s law firm on the additional charges, the Labor Department’s prosecution of these claims illustrates that along with abstaining from retaliating against ERISA whistleblowers, employee benefit plan fiduciaries also should position themselves to defend against potential breach of fiduciary duty claims based on alleged inadequacies in their investigation or response to reports or other evidence of misconduct involving the plan by prudently investigating and acting to redress allegations or other evidence of potential wrongdoing in the administration of employee benefit plans or their assets.

About The Author

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, is AV-Preeminent (the highest) rated attorney repeatedly recognized as a Martindale-Hubble as a “LEGAL LEADER™” and “Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law, Labor and Employment Law, and Business & Commercial Law and among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” in ERISA, Labor and Employment and Healthcare Law by D Magazine for her nearly 30 years of experience and knowledge representing and advising employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, service providers and vendors and others on these and other planning, business transaction and contracting, administration, compliance, risk management, audits, investigations, government and private litigation and other enforcement and other related matters.

past Chair and current committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, a former ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative ,

Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her nearly 30-year career has focused on helping management manage.  Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving,  she de[;pus jer her extensive legal and operational knowledge and experience to help organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk.

As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes. Common engagements include internal and external workforce hiring, management, training, performance management, compliance and administration, discipline and termination, and other aspects of workforce management including employment and outsourced services contracting and enforcement, sentencing guidelines and other compliance plan, policy and program development, administration, and defense, performance management, wage and hour and other compensation and benefits, reengineering and other change management, internal controls, compliance and risk management, communications and training, worker classification, tax and payroll, investigations, crisis preparedness and response, government relations, safety, government contracting and audits, litigation and other enforcement, and other concerns.

Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements. She is particularly recognized for her leading edge work, thought leadership and knowledgeable advice and representation on the design, documentation, administration, regulation and defense of a diverse range of self-insured and insured health and welfare benefit plans including private exchange and other health benefit choices, health care reimbursement and other “defined contribution” limited benefit, 24-hour and other occupational and non-occupational injury and accident, expat and medical tourism, onsite medical, wellness and other medical plans and insurance benefit programs as well as a diverse range of other qualified and nonqualified retirement and deferred compensation, severance and other employee benefits and compensation, insurance and savings plans, programs, products, services and activities. As a key element of this work, Ms. Stamer works closely with employer and other plan sponsors, insurance and financial services companies, plan fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors and others to design, administer and defend effective legally defensible employee benefits and compensation practices, programs, products and technology. She also continuously helps employers, insurers, administrative and other service providers, their officers, directors and others to manage fiduciary and other risks of sponsorship or involvement with these and other benefit and compensation arrangements and to defend and mitigate liability and other risks from benefit and liability claims including fiduciary, benefit and other claims, audits, and litigation brought by the Labor Department, IRS, HHS, participants and beneficiaries, service providers, and others. She also assists debtors, creditors, bankruptcy trustees and others assess, manage and resolve labor and employment, employee benefits and insurance, payroll and other compensation related concerns arising from reductions in force or other terminations, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and other business transactions including extensive experience with multiple, high-profile large scale bankruptcies resulting in ERISA, tax, corporate and securities and other litigation or enforcement actions.

A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law Ms. Stamer also is well-known for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, workforce, tax, education, insurance and other policies critical to the workforce, benefits, and compensation practices and other key aspects of a broad range of businesses and their operations. She both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally. Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas, Ms. Stamer for many years acted as the scribe responsible for leading the Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) HHS Office of Civil Rights annual agency meeting and regularly participates in the OCR and other JCEB annual agency meetings, and participates in the development and submission of comments and other input to the agencies on regulatory, enforcement and other concerns. She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to many business, professional and civic organizations.

Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer serves on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and as an editorial advisor and contributing author of many other publications. Her leadership involvements with the American Bar Association (ABA) include year’s serving many years as a Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; ABA RPTE Section current Practice Management Vice Chair and Substantive Groups & Committees Committee Member, RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee Past Group Chair and Diversity Award Recipient, current Defined Contribution Plans Committee Co-Chair, and past Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Chair Co-Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; International Section Life Sciences Committee Policy Vice Chair; and a speaker, contributing author, comment chair and contributor to numerous Labor, Tax, RPTE, Health Law, TIPS, International and other Section publications, programs and task forces. Other selected service involvements of note include Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; past EO Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former Southwest Benefits Association Board of Directors member, Continuing Education Chair and Treasurer; former Texas Association of Business BACPAC Committee Member, Executive Committee member, Regional Chair and Dallas Chapter Chair; former Society of Human Resources Region 4 Chair and Consultants Forum Board Member and Dallas HR Public Policy Committee Chair; former National Board Member and Dallas Chapter President of Web Network of Benefit Professionals; former Dallas Business League President and others. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

 

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For important information concerning 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.

©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. All other rights reserved.

 


Stamer Kicks Off Dallas HR 2015 Monthly Lunch Series With 2015 Federal Legislative, Regulatory & Enforcement Update

November 10, 2014

Human resources and other management leaders are watching Washington to see if the change in Congressional control resulting from the November 4, 2014 mid-term election ushers in a more management friendly federal legal environment. Since President Obama took office, the Democrats aggressive pursuit of health care, minimum wage and other federal pro-labor legislation, regulations and enforcement has increased management responsibilities, costs and liabilities.

Nationally recognized management attorney, public policy advisor and advocate, author and lecturer Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will help human resources and other management leaders prepare for 2015 when she speaks on “2015 Federal Legislative, Regulatory & Enforcement Update: What HR & Benefit Leaders Should Expect & Do Now” at the 2015 Dallas HR monthly luncheon series kickoff meeting on January 13, 2014.

About The Program

While November 4, 2014 Republican election victories gave Republicans a narrow majority in both the House and Senate when the new Congress takes office January 3, 2015, the new Republican Majority may face significant challenges delivering on their promises to move quickly to enact more business-friendly health care, guest worker, tax and other key reforms Republicans say will boost the employment and the economy.

While President Obama and Democrat Congressional leaders say they plan to work with the new majority, President Obama already is threatening to use vetoes, regulations and executive orders to block Republicans from obstructing or rolling back his pro-labor policy and enforcement agenda.   When the new Congress takes office, the narrowness of the Republican Majority in the Senate means Republicans can’t block a Democratic filibuster or override a Presidential veto without recruiting some Democratic support.

As the Democrats and Republicans head into battle again, Board Certified Labor & Employment attorney and public policy advocate Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will help human resources and other management leaders get oriented for the year ahead by sharing her insights and predictions on the legislative, regulatory and enforcement agendas that HR, benefit and other business leaders need to plan for and watch in 2015.  Among other things, Ms. Stamer will:

  • Discuss how management can benefit from monitoring and working to influence potential legislative, regulatory and enforcement developments when planning and administering HR and related workforce policies;
  • Discuss the key workforce and other legislative, regulatory and enforcement priorities and proposals Democrats and Republicans plan to pursue during 2015;
  • Share her insights and predictions about how the narrow Republican majority, Mr. Obama’s lame duck presidency and other factors could impact each Party’s ability to pursue its agenda
  • Share tips management leaders can use to help monitor developments and to help shape legislation, regulation and enforcement through Dallas HR, SHRM and other organizations as well as individually;
  • Learn tips for anticipating and maintaining flexibility to respond to legislative, regulatory and enforcement developments; and
  • More

To register or get more details about the program, DallasHR, or both, see http://www.dallashr.org.

About Ms. Stamer

Board certified labor and employment attorney, public policy leader, author, speaker Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized and valued for her more than 25 years of work advising and representing employers, insurers, employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries and advisors, business and community leaders and governments about workforce, employee benefits, social security and pension, health and insurance, immigration and other performance and risk management, public policy and related regulatory and public policy, management and other operational concerns.

Throughout her career, Ms. Stamer continuously both has helped businesses and their management to monitor and respond to federal and state legislative, regulatory and enforcement concerns and to anticipate and shape federal, state and other laws, regulations, and enforcement in the United States and internationally.

Well known for her leadership on workforce, health and pension policy through her extensive work with clients as well as through her high profile involvements as the Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment, a founding Board member of the Alliance for Health Care Excellence, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Association (ABA), and the State Bar of Texas leadership and other involvements with the ABA including her annual service leading the annual agency meeting of Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) representatives with the HHS Office of Civil Rights and participation in other JCEB agency meetings, past involvements with legislative affairs for the Texas Association of Business and Dallas HR and others, and many speeches, publications, and other educational outreach efforts, Ms. Stamer has worked closely with Congress and federal and state regulators on the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act and other health care, pension, immigration, tax and other workforce-related legislative and regulatory reforms for more than 30 years. One of the primary drafters of the Bolivian Social Security reform law and a highly involved leader on U.S. workforce, benefits, immigration and health care policy reform, Ms. Stamer’s experience also includes working with U.S. and foreign government, trade association, private business and other organizations to help reform other countries’ and U.S. workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Ms. Stamer also contributes her policy, regulatory and other leadership to many professional and civic organizations including as Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee and its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, a Substantive Groups & Committee Member; a member of the leadership council of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; the current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee, and the past Coordinator of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division.

The publisher and editor of Solutions Law Press, Inc. who serves on the Editorial Advisory Boards of Employee Benefit News, HR.com, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other publications, Ms. Stamer also is a prolific and highly respected author and speaker,  National Public Radio, CBS, NBC, and other national and regional news organization, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs, HealthLeaders, Telemundo, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News, the Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, CEO Magazine, CFO Magazine, CIO Magazine, the Houston Business Journal, and many other prominent news and publications.  She also serves as a planning faculty member and regularly conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns for these and a diverse range of other organizations. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com.

For Added Information and 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 Help Or More Information

If you need assistance 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 employers and other management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend union-management relations, wage and hour, discrimination and other labor and employment laws, 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, 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. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see hereor contact Ms. Stamer directly.

About Solutions Law Press

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile at here or e-mailing this information here.

©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Plan’s Purchase of Company Stock Triggers $6.48 Million Award Against ESOP Sponsor, Shareholder, Board Members & Trustees

November 2, 2014

A $6.48 million judgment against Direct TV satellite television installer, Bruister and Associates Inc.(BAI) its sole owner, Herbert Bruister, and other trustees of  two BAI-sponsored employee stock ownership plans shows plan sponsors and trustees involved in stock purchase transactions where employee stock ownership plans commonly referred to as “ESOPs” and other employee benefit plan buy or hold investments in the stock of plan sponsors or other related businesses the risks of failing to conduct the transactions to ensure that the transactions are prudently performed and otherwise conducted in compliance with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) fiduciary responsibility requirements.

BAI Lawsuit & Judgment Highlights

The BAI judgment stems from a Department of Labor lawsuit that charged BAI, along with BAI board members and plan trustees Bruister and Amy Smith, and plan trustee Jonda Henry  engaged in prohibited transactions and breached other fiduciary duties under ERISA by causing the plans to purchase 100 percent of BAI’s shares for $24 million in three sales transactions conducted between December 2002 to December 2005.

According to court documents, Bruister, Smith and Henry, as plan fiduciaries, engaged in prohibited transactions by causing the plans to pay excessive prices for BAI stock purchased from Bruister. For each purchase, the Labor Department charged the fiduciaries used flawed valuations prepared by Matthew Donnelly and his firm, Business Appraisal Institute.

The court also found that the three fiduciaries breached their duty of loyalty from start to finish. Additionally, Bruister and his attorney David Johanson went so far as to fire the initial attorney representing the plans because that attorney was too thorough. Moreover, the court found that Bruister and Johanson exercised undue influence over Donnelly’s valuations, and that as a result, Donnelly was not sufficiently independent to provide valuations for the plans.

The court concluded that Bruister, Henry and Smith, in their role as plan fiduciaries, failed to properly represent plan participants’ interests, and that they unreasonably relied on an appraiser who so obviously lacked independence. The court reasoned, “An informed trustee would not have remained idle while the seller communicated directly with the employee stock ownership trust’s independent appraiser and financial advisor to elevate the price at the participants’ expense.”

Although Johanson was not a fiduciary, the court found his conduct worthy of comment because he both was the attorney for the seller and structured each sale.   The court noted that Johanson attempted to influence the valuations in Bruister’s favor, and the testimony Johanson gave at trial did not support his denials. The court even  noted that Johanson coached Donnelly during a break in his deposition to retract his testimony that Johanson represented Bruister individually. “History rebuts Johanson’s suggestion that he did not interfere with Donnelly’s valuations and raises doubts as to each of the subject transactions,” the court said.

The order requires Bruister, Smith and Henry to jointly pay $4.5 million in restitution to the plans and requires Bruister to pay an additional $1.98 million in prejudgment interest. The order also held Bruister Family LLC liable with all defendants for $885,065 and jointly liable with Bruister for $390,604.

Company Stock Investments Carry Special ERISA Risks

Purchases of company stock by an ESOP or other employee benefit plan can create a wide range of risks under ERISA’s  fiduciary responsibility rules. When making investment or other decisions under an employee benefit plan, the general fiduciary duty standards of ERISA § 404 generally require plan fiduciaries to act prudently and solely in the interest of participants and beneficiaries. Meanwhile, except in certain narrow circumstances and subject to fulfillment of ERISA § 404,  the prohibited transaction rules of ERISA § 406 among other things prohibits plan fiduciaries from causing the plan to engage in a transaction, if he knows or should know that such transaction is a direct or indirect:

  • Sale or exchange, or leasing, of any property between the plan and a party in interest;
  • Furnishing of goods, services, or facilities between the plan and a party in interest;
  • Transfer to, or use by or for the benefit of a party in interest, of any assets of the plan; or
  • Acquisition, on behalf of the plan, of any employer security or employer real property in violation of section 1107 (a) of this title.

As for all plan investment transactions, detailed, unbiased valuation documentation showing the prudence of any decision to invest or hold the investments of the plan in company stock is critical when determining the initial purchase or sale prices for plan transactions involving company stock.  Since the sponsoring company is a party-in-interest of the plan, holding, must less using plan assets to purchase company stock or other activities resulting in the inclusion of company stock among the plan assets held by the plan creates presumptions of impropriety that impose higher than usual burdens upon the plan, its sponsor and fiduciaries to prove the appropriateness of the transaction.  See e.g., Pfeil v. State Street Bank & Trust Co., 671 F.3d 585 (6th Cir. 2012).  As ESOP transactions to purchase company stock inherently require a host of complicated party-in-interest and other conflict of interest concerns, these risks are particularly heightened.  Employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries and sponsors the need to continuously and prudently conduct documented monitoring and evaluations evaluate and monitor the investment of plan assets in company stock,the analysis and decisions about whether to continue to keep and offer this stock under the plan, as well as the qualifications, credentials and conduct of the fiduciaries and others empowered to influence these decisions. The Labor Department’s statement in announcing the Parrot litigation sums up the messages from these cases. “Plan officials are required by law to manage the ESOP in a careful, prudent manner and to act solely to benefit the plan’s participants,” said Jean Ackerman, director of the Employee Benefit Security Administration’s (EBSA’s) San Francisco Regional Office, which. “This action underscores the department’s commitment to protect the benefits that employers promise to their employees.”

In light of these exposures, plan fiduciaries, sponsors and their management, service providers and consultants participating in these activities need to both act with care and carefully document their actions to position to defend potential challenges.

Plans, their sponsors and fiduciaries also should ensure that appropriate steps are taken in selecting the fiduciaries, management and service providers responsible for administering or overseeing the administration of their plans, the selection of vendors, and other critical details.  Appropriate background checks and other credentialing should be done both at commencement and periodically.  Bonding and fiduciary liability insurance should be arranged and reviewed periodically along with their activities.  Documentation of these and other steps should be carefully created and preserved.

When and if a change in stock value or other event that could compromise the investment occurs, consideration should be given as to the responsibilities that such events create under ERISA.  As company leaders often have dual responsibilities to both the company and the plan, it is important that the company sponsoring the plan, its management and owners learn in advance how these responsibilities impact each other so that they are aware of the issues and have a good understanding of responsibilities and options as situations evolve.

Businesses and business leaders that fail to conduct and maintain the necessary evidence that these requirements are met when involving the plan in these transactions risk significant liability.

“Plan fiduciaries have an obligation to work solely in the interest of plan participants,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefits Security Phyllis C. Borzi.in the Labor Department’s October 31, 2014 announcement of the judgment. “When they fail to do so, the retirement security of workers is put in jeopardy, and we will take action to make plan participants whole.”

 For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices to monitor or respond to evolving laws and regulations,  drafting or administering programs,  resolving or defending audits, investigations or disputes or other  employee benefit, human resources, safety, compliance  or risk management concerns, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

About Ms. Stamer

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile at here or e-mailing this information here.

©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


IRS Releases Updated Healthcare Law Online Resources Publication

August 1, 2013

The Internal Revenue Service’s updated  IRS Healthcare Law Online Resources publication provides a helpful list of resources for employers and individuals to use to get access to laws, regulations and other information about the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its implementing rules and regulations.  The resource publication issued as Department of Treasury Publication 5093 (6-2013), Catalog Number 63920H presents as follows:

For Help or More Information

ACA and other federal group health plan rules are complex and ever-evolving.  If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices or with other employee benefits, human resources, health care or insurance matters, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on leading 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 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:

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.

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


IRS Extends Remedial Amendment On Cycle Opinion Deadline For Some Defined Benefit Plans

August 1, 2013

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is extending the deadline for sponsors and practitioners of defined benefit mass submitter lead plans to submit on-cycle applications.

Announcement 2013-37 extends to January 31, 2014, the deadline to submit on-cycle applications for opinion and advisory letters for sponsors and practitioners maintaining defined benefit mass submitter lead plans for the plans’ second six-year remedial amendment cycle.

Announcement 2013-37 will be in IRB 2013-34, dated August 19, 2013.

For Help or More Information

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

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on leading 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 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:

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.

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


Self-Dealing Or Other Mishandling of Employee Benefit Plan Funds Risky For Fiduciaries & Those Appointing Them

July 31, 2013

New litigation against the former trustee and former investment service provider of four pension plans reminds employer or other employee benefit plan sponsors, business owners or management, investment advisors and others serving as fiduciaries or advisors of employee benefit plans of the need to ensure that employee benefit plans are only used for the benefit of participants and beneficiaries, and prudently and properly invested and administered.  Businesses sponsoring plans and their leaders, as well as others serving as fiduciaries or investment advisors are cautioned that mishandling of plan assets or investments can create significant liability both for those who improperly handle plan responsibilities and the employer or other plan sponsor, business owner or management, and others who are involved in their selection, oversight and retention.  Consequently, parties should ensure act prudently to ensure plan assets are only invested prudently and for the sole benefit of the plan and its members, as well as to appropriately monitor the actions of other plan fiduciaries or personnel, investment managers, advisors, and others handing investments or other plan transactions, and be prepared to prove it.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky on July 26 granted in part the U.S. Department of Labor’s motion for a preliminary injunction against George S. Hofmeister and Bernard Tew, former fiduciaries of four Lexington-based pension plans: the Hillsdale Salaried, Hillsdale Hourly, Revstone Casting Fairfield GMP Local 359, and Fourslides Inc. The injunctions stem from ongoing litigation against the defendants filed by the Labor Department under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). See Perez v. George Hofmeister, et al. Civil Action File Number 5:12-cv-00250-KKC, Perez v. George Hofmeister, et al. Civil Action File Number 5:13-cv-00156-KKC and Perez v. Robert La Courciere, et al. Civil Action File Number 5:13-cv-00158-KKC.

The Labor Department previously filed lawsuits in the same court that named Hofmeister and Tew, among others. Hofmeister was the trustee of the four pension plans, and Tew was managing director of their investment service provider, Bluegrass Investment Management LLC. The court’s order removes Hofmeister as a fiduciary of the plans and prohibits him from taking any actions with respect to the pensions plans or their assets. Tew resigned as fiduciary of the plans a few days before a hearing regarding the Labor Department’s motion. The lawsuits alleged that the defendants engaged in a series of prohibited transactions resulting in the misuse of approximately $12.1 million from the Hillsdale Salaried pension plan, approximately $22.5 million from the Hillsdale Hourly pension plan, approximately $4.4 million from the Revstone Casting Fairfield GMP Local 359 pension plan, and approximately $500,000 from the Fourslides Inc. pension plan. The four plan sponsors are closely affiliated with Lexington-based Revstone Industries LLC and Spara LLC.

The suits follow an EBSA investigation that found violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, including prohibited loans to related companies, prohibited use of plan assets for the purchase and lease of employer property, prohibited purchase of customer notes from affiliated companies, prohibited transfer of assets in favor of parties-in-interest, payment of excessive fees to services providers, and payment of fees on behalf of the companies.

ERISA’s fiduciary responsibility rules compel individuals named as employee benefit plan fiduciaries, or who functionally exercise or have discretion or control over plan assets or their investments, or certain other plan actions to act prudently and for the exclusive benefit of participants and beneficiaries.  Plan fiduciaries must act “solely in the interest” of the plan and its members.  ERISA also expressly prohibits fiduciaries from dealing with the plan or its assets for the benefit of themselves or any third party.  Meanwhile, ERISA’s prohibited transaction rules identify a list of parties and transactions that are per se prohibited and violate ERISA’s fiduciary responsibility rules unless the fiduciary demonstrates that an applicable exception applies.  These transactions commonly are referred to as “prohibited transactions.”

According to the Labor Department brief Hofmeister, Tew and Bluegrass have repeatedly violated ERISA, using nearly $40 million in pension plan assets to benefit themselves or related parties.  The department’s investigation of these pension plans revealed a pattern of prohibited transactions involving the use of these plans’ assets by Hofmeister, Tew and investment adviser firms. Alleged improper use of the plans’ assets began within days or months of Hofmeister assuming control of the pension plans. The department contends that Hofmeister has placed millions of dollars in pension plan assets at risk and has consistently failed to act to protect these assets when required.

Under ERISA, fiduciaries that commit prohibited transactions or breach other fiduciary duties rules of ERISA generally are liable personally to the employee benefit plan for the greater of damages resulting from the breach or profits realized, plus attorneys’ fees and other costs of recovery.  In addition, the Labor Department also can impose penalties of up to 20 percent of the amount of the fiduciary breach, seek to enjoin the breaching fiduciaries from serving in a fiduciary capacity, and refer them to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.  Bankruptcy often does not provide any protection against the obligation to repay.

Employers, members of management, and others with discretion or control over plan assets or the selection, appointment, oversight or retention for those providing fiduciary or other plan services should be careful to act prudently when performing these duties to avoid becoming exposed to liability for bad actors.  Beyond avoiding committing its own breach of fiduciary duties, a plan sponsor, member of management or other party who is a named fiduciary or possesses fiduciary power or authority over the plan also sometimes can be liable for the prohibited transactions or other fiduciary breaches of another fiduciary under ERISA’s co-fiduciary responsibility rules.  These rules generally allow co-fiduciary liability to attach when an otherwise innocent fiduciary either enabled the breach by failing to appropriately fulfill its own fiduciary responsibilities, knew or should have have known of the breach but failed to properly act to prudently intervene to protect the plan and its assets, or later discovers the breach and fails to prudently act to intervene to protect the plan and its assets.

 

In addition to prudently overseeing those handling investments or other plan assets or performing other fiduciary functions, parties engaging these individuals should ensure that all fiduciaries, investment advisors and service providers of the plan handing plan matters are carefully credentialed.  A documented background check should be conducted to confirm that the individuals or their organizations are not disqualified from serving as fiduciaries and have appropriate credentials and reputations to perform those duties.  This analysis should be periodically rechecked and that documentation and its review also carefully preserved.

Furthermore, employers and plan fiduciaries also should confirm and retain documentation that the parties serving as fiduciaries, involved in the handling of plan assets or funds, or acting in certain other capacities are bonded as required by ERISA.  ERISA’s fiduciary responsibility rules require appropriate bonding.  In addition to overlooking the necessity of bonding, many plan sponsors and vendors underestimate the amount and required terms of the bonding and the scope of individuals required to be bonded.

Failing to meet this requirement can broaden the scope of fiduciary liability to a plan sponsor or member of management who selected or appointed the fiduciary or service provider that engages in the prohibited transaction or other inappropriate conduct.  Consequently, in the event of a plan loss, Labor Department investigators typically request documentation of this credentialing and bonding early in the investigation.

Employee benefit plan vendor selection and compensation arrangements made by association and other employee benefit plan sponsors, fiduciaries and service providers are coming under increasing scrutiny by the EBSA.  While ERISA technically grants plan sponsors and fiduciaries wide latitude to make these choices, the exercise of these powers comes with great responsibility.  See e.g., Plan Sponsors. Their Owners & Management & Others Risk Personal Liability If Others Defraud Plans or Mismanage Employee Benefit Plan Responsibilities; New Rules Give Employee Benefit Plan Fiduciaries & Investment Advisors New Investment Advice Options; DOL Proposes To Expand Investment Related Services Giving Rise to ERISA Fiduciary Status As Investment Fiduciary.

Associations, employer and other plan sponsors, and other entities and individuals who in name or in function have or exercise discretionary responsibility or authority over the selection of plan fiduciaries, administrative or investment service providers or other services to the plan or the establishment of their compensation generally must make those decisions in accordance with the fiduciary responsibility and prohibited transaction rules of ERISA.

Since the earliest days of ERISA, the EBSA as well as private plaintiffs have aggressively enforced these and other fiduciary responsibility rules.  In recent years, EBSA has taken further steps to tighten and enforce these protections such as the new fee disclosure rules recently implemented by the EBSA and other fiduciary guidance. See, e.g., Western Mixers & Officers Ordered To Pay $1.2M+ For Improperly Using Benefit Plan Funds For Company Operations, Other ERISA Violations; Plan Administrator Faces Civil & Criminal Prosecution For Allegedly Making Prohibited $3.2 Million Real Estate Investment; Tough times are no excuse for ERISA shortcuts.

Despite these well-document fiduciary exposures and a well-established pattern of enforcement by the Labor Department and private plaintiffs, many companies and their business leaders fail to appreciate the responsibilities and liabilities associated with the establishment and administration of employee benefit plans.  Frequently, employer and other employee benefit plan sponsors fail adequately to follow or document their administration of appropriate procedures to be in a position to prove their fulfillment of these requirements when selecting plan fiduciaries and service providers, determining the compensation paid for their services, overseeing the performance of these parties, or engaging in other dealings with respect to plan design or administration.  In other instances, businesses and their leaders do not realize that the functional definition that ERISA uses to determine fiduciary status means that individuals participating in discretionary decisions about the employee benefit plan, as well as the plan sponsor, may bear liability under many commonly occurring situations if appropriate care is not exercised to protect participants or beneficiaries in these plans. For this reason, businesses and associations providing employee benefits to employees or dependents, as well as members of management participating in, or having responsibility to oversee or influence decisions about the establishment, maintenance, funding, and administration of their organization’s employee benefit programs need a clear understanding of their responsibilities with respect to such programs, the steps that they should take to prove their fulfillment of these responsibilities, and their other options for preventing or mitigating their otherwise applicable fiduciary risks.

In light of the significant liability risks, employer, association and other employee benefit plan sponsors and their management, plan fiduciaries, service providers and consultants should exercise care when selecting plan fiduciaries and service providers, establishing their compensation and making other related arrangements.  To minimize fiduciary exposures, parties participating in these activities should seek the advice of competent legal counsel on their potential fiduciary status and responsibilities on these activities and take appropriate steps to minimize potential exposures.

For Help or More Information

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

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on leading 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 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:

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.

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


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

June 5, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proactive Action Can Mitigate Exposures & Costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Help or More Information

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

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

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, and insurers, bankruptcy trustees and receivers, asset purchasers, creditors and others dealing with plans and their sponsors, and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials about regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns.  Her experience includes involvement in the planning, execution and resolution of workforce and employee benefit related details of a multitude of high and low profile restructurings, bankruptcies and other significant transactions throughout her more than 25 year career.

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

Other Resources

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

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

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


New IRS Guidance On ESOP Investment Diversification Reminder To Tighten Compliance, Risk Management

May 12, 2013

Fiduciaries, administrators, sponsors, advisors, trustees and others with involvement or responsibility for Employee Stock Option Plans (ESOPs) should review these rules and ensure that appropriate steps are taken to update their plan terms and practices to comply with new rules scheduled to be published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin on May 13, 2013 by the Internal Revenue Service on investment diversification.

Maintaining legally compliant and defensible arrangements for investing company stock in employee stock and other defined contribution employee benefit and deferred compensation plans continues to become increasingly complicated in the face of the expanding range of rules adopted by Congress and federal regulators looking to protect participants against stock drop and other actual or perceived abuse.

Among these tightening requirements are new rules announced in Notice 2013-17, which address the circumstances in which an ESOP that satisfied the diversification requirements of § 401(a)(28)(B)(i) by allowing distribution of a portion of a participant’s account has become subject to the diversification requirements of § 401(a)(35).  Notice 2013-17 will be published in Internal Revenue Bulletin 2013-20 on May 13, 2013. 

The new diversification rules are reflective of a host of new and proposed rules and enforcement positions that Congress and federal regulators have or are contemplating to address perceived abuses or risks arising from the investment or retention of company stock in employee benefit plans.  Some of this new regulation arises from decline in retirement plan asset value that results from declines in stock value when the economy or a particular business suffers economic setbacks.  Along with these economic concerns, other regulation seeks to safeguard participants and plans against Enron, Madoff or other activities by plan sponsors, investment advisors, executives or others that Congress or regulators perceive inappropriately put retirement and savings of workers at risk.   Noncompliance with these requirements risks not only tax qualification concerns, but also may expose decision-makers to fiduciary or other liability under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act fiduciary responsibility and prohibited transaction rules, securities laws, and other laws.

In response to Notice 2013-17 and other new rules, fiduciaries, administrators, sponsors, advisors, trustees and others with involvement or responsibility for ESOP should review these rules and ensure that appropriate steps are taken to update their plan terms and practices to comply with this new guidance.  In conjunction with this review, most also will find advisable to review the adequacy of their existing policies and plan terms about their program’s investments in company and other stock in light of evolving fiduciary responsibility and other investment rules and enforcement guidance of the Internal Revenue Service as well as the Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your ESOP or other employee benefit plans, or with any other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Board Certified Labor and Employment Attorney and Management Consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at 469.767.8872.

For Help or More Information

If you need help with preparing these or other ACA compliance 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 concerning regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns.

Extensively published and a popular speaker on HIPAA and other data security matters, Ms. Stamer works extensively with health care providers, health plans, employers, insurance and financial services, technology and other clients on privacy, data seurity and other privacy and cybercrime concerns.  She also serves as the Scribe for the ABA JCEB Agency Techical Sessions Meetings with the Office of Civil Rights which occur each May in Washington, D.C.

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


Study Finds Down Economy, Not Health Care Reform Accounts For Slower Health Care Cost Increases; Projects Renewed Costs When Economy Improves

April 22, 2013

Bad economic times, and not health care reform, account for the record slowdown in U.S. health care spending, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation study, Assessing the Effects of the Economy on the Recent Slowdown in Health Spending (Study).   The Study findings call into question assertions by Obama Administration officials crediting health care reform, pressure on health plans applied by the Obama Administration officials and other regulatory and enforcement efforts with reducing the curve on health care costs.

According to Kaiser Foundation, government statistics show that the period from 2009-2011 had the slowest growth (3.9%) in health care expenditures since the government began tracking health expenditure data in 1960.   

The Study that evaluated how the economy affects U.S. health spending concluded that economic factors beyond the health system explain 77 percent of the slowdown and predicts more rapid growth when the economy strengthens.  Meanwhile, the Study credits only 23 percent of the slowdown in the growth of expenditures as resulting from higher deductibles and other cost-sharing or other health care system changes.

Based on these findings, the Study warns that Americans should expect health care costs to resume increasing in future years after lags resulting from the economic slowdown resolve.

 “The problem of health costs is not solved and we need to be realistic that health spending increases will return to more typical levels as the economy improves,” Foundation President and CEO Drew E. Altman said. “But the analysis also shows that the economy is not the entire story, and if we could shave even a percentage point or more off annual health care spending increases, we could save trillions of dollars over the next decade.”

Researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation prepared the Study by conducting statistical modeling and analysis of 50 years of health spending and economic trends using data on the U.S. economy and national health care expenditures data from actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services through 2011, and from the Center for Sustainable Health Spending at the Altarum Institute for 2012.

Join Discussion By Participating In Project COPE: The Coalition On Patient Empowerment & Its  Coalition on Responsible Health Policy

Want to share and exchange ideals and information about health care and collaborate about opportunities to make it work?  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.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices to respond to emerging health plan regulations, monitoring or commenting on these rules, defending your health plan or its administration, or other health or employee benefit, human resources or risk management concerns, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested in exploring other Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™ tools, products, training and other resources here.

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:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile at here.

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

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.


Responding To West, Texas, Boston & Other Tragedies: Information and Reassurance Resources

April 18, 2013

As our concern and prayers go out to the citizens of West, Texas struggle to deal with the injuries and damages resulting from the April 17, 2013 explosion in the wake of the Boston bombing tragedy earlier in the week, the Solutions Law Press, Inc. is sharing the following resources and information provided by Congressman Sam Johnson’s office, which may be of help to individuals dealing with or affected by this heartbreaking tragedy in Texas.

Emergency information

Family Phone Lines:
To check on injured residents admitted to Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center call (254) 202-1100

For family inquiries about patients at Scott & White call (888) 394-4947

Family inquiries about patients at Providence Health Center (254) 761-7200

Hotline for information on victims and survivors (254) 826-4115

Blood Donations:
Carter Blood Care Center will accept donations beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday in Waco

Providence Hospital will hold a blood drive between 11 am-5 pm

Scott & White Blood Donation Center accept donations starting at 8 am

Shelter:
First Baptist Church of Lott has room for anyone needing a place to stay. Call (254) 829-2321

The Aquilla ISD opened facilities for those seeking refuge.   Please report to the gym entrance.

Blair’s Cove Apartments in Waco offering housing to any West residents affected by the explosion at 2425 S. 21st St. (254) 447-0810

Latham Springs Baptist Camp is open to displaced residents at 134 Private Road 223 in Aquilla

The Abbott gym is open to displaced residents

Valley mills Nursing Home has rooms available for nursing home residents if placement is needed for any of the West nursing home residents. Call 254-932-6288.

First Baptist Church of Gholson is open for anyone who needs a place to stay

Gholson ISD open for those seeking shelter

Brazos Meadows Baptist Church at 625 S. Hewitt Dr., next to Castleman Creek Elementary will be open for anyone who needs a place to stay

Antioch Community Church at 501 North 20th Street in Waco is open to displaced residents

Alliance Auto Auction between Elm Mott and West on I-35 is open to anyone needing a place to stay

Penelope School is open for displaced residents at 309 Avenue D

Central United Methodist Church off Bagby Avenue near Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center is open overnight

American Legion Post 121 in Elm Mott is open for displaced residents

Sykora Family Ford in West has opened for residents who need a safe place to rest

Town Hall Estates in Hillsboro was taking in displaced residents

Google Document for Housing

Medical Assistance:
Central Texas Urgent Care clinics in Hewitt and Lacy Lakeview will remain open all night to treat those with minor injuries

HEB Pharmacy in the Woodway area is staying open all night to help accommodate West residents who may be injured and need prescriptions filled

Donation Locations:
The Extraco Events Center will be setting up to take donations starting tomorrow at 9:00 am. For information call 254-776-1660

The Home Depot store in Bellmead will be open all night for those who need plywood, generators, etc.

Both Peas & Tots and Smarty Pants consignment stores in Waco are accepting clothing donations in all sizes for those in West

Axtell High School will be taking any kind of donations at the school tomorrow! Please donate anything! The PALS organization is taking all donations and will be accepting tomorrow and Friday during school.

BCBSTX Member Resources

Earlier today, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas also shared an e-mail with its employer group plan sponsors containing resources for members of plans it insures or administers. 

BCBSTX News Alert: April 18, 2013Assistance Available for Members Impacted by Explosion at West, Texas, Fertilizer PlantDuring a crisis situation, you never know where you may end up. We at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX) understand that a number of our members living, working or traveling in the West, Texas, area may be impacted and/or displaced as a result of the explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant that occurred yesterday,
April 17.BCBSTX is prepared to assist our members by:

  • Explaining the options for accessing care
  • Helping to locate a network provider, hospital or dialysis center
  • Assisting with early refills of prescription medications
  • Working to ensure transition of care or continuity of care needs are met
  • Accessing member identification information

Please share this information with your employees:

  • For an emergency situation, members should go directly to the nearest hospital.
  • For non-emergency care needs, members can call the customer service number on the back of their member ID card to locate a network provider.
  • When arriving at the participating doctor’s office or hospital, the member will need to present his/her BCBSTX ID card.
  • If a member does not have his/her member ID card, needs help finding care or has coverage questions, our customer service representatives will assist them. They can also log in to Blue Access for MembersSM on the BCBSTX website or access our mobile site to search for a doctor, access their ID card and more.
  • BlueCard® participants (indicated by a suitcase on the member ID card) can call the National BlueCard access number to be routed to the appropriate customer service center.

Watch for continuing updates as we respond to the needs of our groups and members impacted by this tragedy. Please contact your BCBSTX account representative should you have any questions.

Important Blue Cross Phone Numbers

  • BCBSTX Customer Service for all group plan members: 800-521-2227
  • BCBSTX Customer Service for individual/family policyholders: 888-697-0683
  • BCBSTX Customer Service for Medicare Supplement policyholders: 800-654-9390
  • Federal Employee Information: 800-442-4607
  • National BlueCard access: 800-810-BLUE (2583)

The tragedies in West and Boston are felt across the nation and the world.  The direct impact that these events have on the victims and their families is unimaginable and overwhelming.  Beyond the impact to those injured or killed and their families and friends, the unexpected and devastating losses and powerlessness stemming from these events also significantly impact those who never knew the victims.   As governments, health care providers, and communities work to redress the existing fallout and strengthen our defenses against future similar events and the media obsessively covers all real and suspected development, it is to be expected that these resultant concerns will draw the attention of children as well as adults across the nation.  Business and community leaders should expect that this absorption will naturally result in distraction and concern. In addition to exhibiting empathy for the victims and understanding for the horrid distraction of those observers impacted less directly, consider the opportunity to offer reassurance by reminding those in your workplaces and communities of the planning, resources and procedures that your community and organization has in place to prevent, mitigate and respond in the event of a family or community disaster.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices to respond to emerging health plan regulations, monitoring or commenting on these rules, defending your health plan or its administration, or other health or employee benefit, human resources or risk management concerns, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested in exploring other Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™ tools, products, training and other resources here.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile at here.

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

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.


Justice Department Charges Employer, Pension Plan With Violating USERRA Reemployment Rights

April 17, 2013

The Justice Department’s announcement today of its filing of a lawsuit charging County Employees’ and Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Cook County (Cook Pension Plan) and Cook County with willfully violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) by refusing to allow an employee to make catch up contributions to the employer’s pension plan when she returned from military leave. As the Obama Administration continues to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and other deployments, the suit is a timely reminder to employers of the importance of ensuring that their businesses properly honor the rights of returning service members under USERRA, the expanded military related medical leave rules of the Family & Medical Leave Act and other applicable laws.

USERRA & Other Reemployment Rights

USERRA generally provides that an individual who leaves a job to serve in the uniformed services is generally entitled to continue medical coverage for up to 26 months while absent for a qualifying military leave, reemployment by the previous employer upon timely return from military leave and, upon reemployment, to restoration of service, promotion, benefits and other rights of employment. 

As part of these reemployment rights, qualifying service members timely returning from military leave are entitled to receive credit for benefits, including employee pension plan benefits, that would have accrued but for the employee’s absence due to the military service. USERRA’s pension-related provisions generally require that pension plans treat a service member who is called to active duty as if the service member had no break in service for purpose of the administration of pension benefits when the service member timely returns to employment at the end of a military leave.  In addition to these pension rights, USERRA also requires employers honor other rights to employment, promotion and other benefits and rights of employment.

Beyond these USERRA employment rights, service members taking or returning from active duty often enjoy various other employment and other protections under various other federal and state laws, many of which have been expanded in recent years. Under requirements of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act (SSCRA), for instance, creditors including a pension plan, employer loan program or credit union generally are required to drop interest charges down to 6 percent on debt owed by those called to active duty for the period of such military service. Further, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the loan will not fail to be a qualified loan under ERISA solely because the interest rate is capped by SSCRA.  These and other provisions of federal law often require pension and profit-sharing plans that allow plan loans to change loan terms and tailor other special treatment of participants who are on military leave.

In addition to the specific protection given to a service member, employers also need to be ready to honor certain family leave protections afforded to qualifying family members or caregivers of service members added to the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in recent years.  As amended to include these military leave related protections, the FMLA may require certain employees who are the spouse, son, daughter, or parent of a military member to take to 12 weeks of FMLA leave during any 12-month period to address the most common issues that arise when a military member is deployed to a foreign country, such as attending military sponsored functions, making appropriate financial and legal arrangements, and arranging for alternative childcare. This provision applies to the families of members of both the active duty and reserve components of the Armed Forces.  Meanwhile, the “Military Caregiver Leave” provisions added to the FMLA may entitle certain employees who are the spouse, son, daughter, parent or next of kin of a covered service member to up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave during a single 12-month period to care for the service member who is undergoing medical treatment, recuperation, or therapy, is otherwise in outpatient status, or is otherwise on the temporary disability retired list, for a serious injury or illness incurred or aggravated in the line of duty on active duty. These provisions apply to the families of members of both the active duty and reserve components of the Armed Forces.  The expansion of these requirements, updating of regulation, and rising enforcement by private plaintiffs and the government make it advisable that businesses take all necessary steps to ensure their employment practices, employee benefit plans, fringe benefit programs and other practices are updated and administered to comply with the current requirements of USERAA,  SSCRA, the FMLA and other applicable federal and state laws.

Justice Department Cook County Lawsuit

The latest in a growing number of lawsuits against businesses for violating the employment and other rights of military service members brought by the Justice Department, Department of Labor and private plaintiffs, the lawsuit against Cook County and the Cook Pension Plan highlights the growing enforcement and liability risks that U.S. employers and their employee benefit plans face for failing to properly honor the rights of military service people under USERRA and other laws.

On April 17, 2013, the Justice Department sued Cook County and the Cook Pension Plan with violating USERRA by refusing to allow U.S. Army Reserve Member Latoya Hayward to lawfully contribute to her pension for the time she was serving in the armed forces.

The Justice Department complaint charges that Hayward began working for John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital, which is owned and operated by Cook County in 2008. During her employment with Stroger Hospital, Hayward was mobilized for a two year tour of duty with the Army Reserves starting on July 27, 2009. While on active service, Hayward served as a nurse case manager at Walter Reed Hospital as part of the Warrior Transition Brigade.

The Justice Department complaint alleges that when Hayward returned from duty, the County Employees’ and Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Cook County notified her not only that she was ineligible to make payments into her pension for the 90-day grace period following her active military service, but also that her employee contributions for the two-year period of her active military service would be subject to a 3 percent interest fee. 

According to Hayward’s complaint, both of the County Employees’ and Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Cook County’s requirements for her participation in her employer’s pension plan violated USERRA’s pension protection provisions.

Enforcement of USERRA & Other Rights of Military Service Members Rising

In announcing the suit against Cook County and the Cook Pension Plan, Jocelyn Samuels, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division warned, “The Justice Department is committed to vigorously enforcing federal laws that protect the employment rights of our service members.”

Viewed in the context of a series of other recent suits and settlements, the suit against Cook County and the Cook Pension Plan is one of a growing number of lawsuits brought by the Justice Department, Department of Labor Department of Veterans Affairs and other government and private litigants reflects that the Obama Administration is acting on this commitment. 

The Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment & Training Service (VETS) reported to Congress that in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, VETS reviewed 1,548 new unique USERRA complaint cases, up 110 cases from those received in FY 2010.  Nearly 35 percent of the complaints reviewed by VETS contained allegations of some form of employment discrimination on the basis of past, present, or future, military service, status, or obligations.  An additional 25 percent of the complaints involved allegations of improper reinstatement into civilian jobs following military service.  See  2011 VETS USERRA Report To Congress.  

Recent litigation and settlements by the Justice Department and other agencies bear out that the Obama Administration is continuing to make enforcement of military service member rights a priority during the 2012 FY that began in October.  See, e.g.,  Michael Sipos and Gary Smith v. FlightSafety Services Corporation, Co. Consent Decree (April 4, 2013);  Mervin Jones v. Jerome County Sheriff’s Office, ID complaint (January 7, 2013); Service Members to Receive $39 Million for Violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act; Justice Department Settles Disability Discrimination Case Involving Disabled Veteran in Utah; Justice Department Reaches $12 Million Settlement to Resolve Violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by Capital One; and Justice Department Files Complaint Against Forsyth County, North Carolina, Sheriff for Violating the Employment Rights of Army National Guard Soldier

 

Given this heightened emphasis on enforcement, U.S. businesses should act to update their policies, practices, training and other compliance and risk management practices to ensure that their employment, lending, and other practices for dealing with military service members and their families are properly designed and administered to minimize the risk that their business will become one of these enforcement statistics.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your  human resources, employee benefits or other compliance and risk management practices in these or other areas, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

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

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  As a part of this practice, Ms. Stamer extensively has worked with U.S. businesses and benefit plans to manage, prevent and resolve concerns involving the rights of military service members and others as well as spoken and written extensively on these concerns.  Examples of some of her recent articles on military service members employment and other risks include her workshop and accompanying training manual, When The Military Comes Home: USERRA, VEVRRA, FMLA, COBRA, HIPAA and Beyond, New USERRA Militarty Reservist Regulations; Big Penalty for Lender Shows Risks of Violating Military Service or Vets Rights and others.

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 on 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.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested in exploring other Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™ tools, products, training and other resources here.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile at here.

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

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.


Administration Proposes Expanding Eligibility, Simplifying Small Employer Health Care Tax Credit

April 10, 2013

The Obama Administration’s Fiscal Year 2014 Revenue Proposals include a proposal  to expand the group of employers eligible for the Small Employer Health Care Tax Credit (Health Credit) enacted as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) retroactive to January 1, 2013.  See General Explanations of the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2014 Revenue Proposals pages 39-40.

Current Law

Under long-standing provisions of the Internal Revenue Code (Code), the cost to an employer of providing health coverage for its employees is generally deductible as an ordinary and necessary business expense for employee compensation and the value of employer-provided health coverage is not subject to employer-paid Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax.  Meanwhile, unless the program violates the non-discrimination rules of Internal Revenue Code §105 or the employees are offered a choice in a manner that violates Code §125, employees are generally not taxed on the premiums or the value of employer-provided health coverage for themselves, their spouses and their dependents. 

As an additional inducement for small employers to provide health coverage for low-income employees, the ACA created the Health Credit.  During 2010 through 2013, the maximum credit is 35 percent (25 percent for tax-exempt employers) of the employer’s contributions to the premium. For 2014 and later years, the maximum credit percentage is 50 percent (35 percent for tax-exempts).  The amount of the available credit recently was reduced as part of the reductions implemented under sequester.

To qualify for the Health Credit, the Code currently limits the availability of the Health Credit to amounts paid for health coverage for employees with average annual full-time equivalent wages of no more than $50,000 (indexed beginning 2014) by an employer that employs no more than 25 full-time equivalent employees during the taxable year and pays at least 50 percent of the premium for coverage.  For taxable years beginning in 2010 through 2013, the credit is available for any health insurance coverage purchased from an insurance company licensed under State law. For taxable years beginning after December 31, 2013, the credit is available only for health insurance purchased through a Health Insurance Exchange and only for a maximum coverage period of two additional consecutive taxable years, beginning with the first year in which the employer or any predecessor first offers any qualified plans to its employees through an Exchange.

While for-profit firms may claim the tax credit as a general business credit and may carry the credit back for one year and carry the credit forward for 20 years, the Health Credit only currently is available for tax liability under the alternative minimum tax. For tax-exempt organizations, the credit is refundable and is capped at the amount of income tax withholding for employees and both the employee and employer portion of the health insurance (Medicare) payroll tax.

Eligible employer contributions are limited by the amount the employer would have contributed under the State average premium. Also, the credit is phased out on a sliding scale between 10 and 25 full-time equivalent employees as well as between an average annual wage of $25,000 (indexed) and $50,000 (indexed). Because the reductions are additive, an employer with fewer than 25 full-time employees paying an average wage less than $50,000 might not be eligible for any tax credit.

Proposed Change

The proposal would expand the group of employers who are eligible for the credit to include employers with up to 50 full-time equivalent employees and would begin the phase-out at 20 full-time equivalent employees for taxable years beginning after January 31, 2012. In addition, there would be a change in the coordination of the phase-outs based on average wage and the number of employees (using a formula that is multiplicative rather than additive) so as to provide a more gradual combined phase-out.

According to the Administration, the proposal is intended to ensure that employers with fewer than 50 employees and an average wage less than $50,000 would be eligible for the credit, even if they are nearing the end of both phase-outs. The proposal would also eliminate the requirement that an employer make a uniform contribution on behalf of each employee (although applicable nondiscrimination laws will still apply), and would eliminate the limit imposed by the State average premium.

The Administration says expanding eligibility for the credit and simplifying its operation would:

  • Increase the utilization of the tax credit
  • Encourage more small employers to provide health benefits to employees and their families
  • Incent small employers to join an Exchange, thereby broadening the risk pool
  • Enhance fairness among employers
  • Remove complexity and potential discouragement to small employers claiming the Health Credit resulting from the uniform contribution requirement and the State premium contribution limit.

 Health Care Reform Coping Steps For All Businesses

The proposal to expand the Health Credit comes as many employers continue to struggle to understand the potential implications of ACA’s health care reforms sand determine how to respond. 

For tips about coping with health care reform for employers, check out  13 Employer Tips For Responding To Health Care Reform Now and other resources in the Solutions Law Press, Inc. HR & Benefits Update at www.solutionslawpress.com.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices to respond to emerging health plan regulations, monitoring or commenting on these rules, defending your health plan or its administration, or other health or employee benefit, human resources or risk management concerns, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested in exploring other Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™ tools, products, training and other resources here.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile at here.

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

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.


Test Your Health Care Reform Knowledge On 3rd Anniversary of Reform Passage

March 21, 2013

March 21, 2013 is the 3rd Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act.    With the 2014 rollout of the next round of reforms approaching, the Kaiser Family Foundation invites you to take its latest interactive quiz to test your knowledge about what’s in – and what’s not in – the health reform law and encourage your friends and family to do the same.  You can compare your knowledge with others and share your results on Facebook and Twitter. The quiz also includes links to more information about specific provisions of the law.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices to respond to emerging health plan regulations, monitoring or commenting on these rules, defending your health plan or its administration, or other health or employee benefit, human resources or risk management concerns, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested in exploring other Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™ tools, products, training and other resources here.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile at here.

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

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.


Insured “Expatriate Plans” Get Temporary Reprieve From Affordable Care Act Compliance Thru 2015 If Meet Other Health Plan Mandates

March 13, 2013

“Expatriate health plans” within the meaning of the “FAQS About Affordable Care Act Implementation (Part XIII)”(the “Expat FAQ”) are not required to comply the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirements for pre-January 1, 2016 plan years, as long as they comply with the applicable federal health plan mandates of pre-Affordable Care Act version of Title XXVII of the Public Health Service (PHS) Act and other applicable law under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code (Code) under temporary transitional relief announced in the Expat FAQ jointly announced by the Agencies of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury (collectively, the Agencies) on March 8, 2013.

ACA & Other Federal Health Plan Rules Generally Apply To Expat Coverage

The Expat FAQ makes clear that the Agencies generally view expatriate health plans and other health benefit coverage provided by businesses subject to U.S. law for employees working outside their home country generally are subject to the mandates of ACA, as well as other federal health plan mandates. However, ERISA section 4(b)(4) may exempt from ERISA coverage “plans maintained outside the United States primarily for the benefit of persons substantially all of whom are nonresident aliens.”  Similar exemptions also may be available for certain provisions of the Code or ERISA for these extra-territorial plans for nonresident aliens.  For instance, for purposes of the eligibility non-discrimination rule of Code section 105(h), the Code specifies that an employer can disregard employees who are nonresident aliens and who receive no earned income (within the meaning of section 911(d)92) from the employer which constitutes income from sources within the United States within the meaning of section 861(a)(3).

 Businesses should design and administer their health plans in accordance with all relevant federal health benefit regulations unless qualification for their plan for exemption is specifically verified.

Temporary Transitional ACA Relief For “Expatriate Health Plans”

While the Agencies gather further information and analyze the potential challenges expatriate plans may face in complying with the Affordable Care Act, the Expat FAQ states that for plan years beginning on or before December 31, 2015, the Agencies will treat expatriate health plans as treating the requirements of subtitles A and C of Title I of the Affordable Care Act if the plan and issuer comply with the pre-Affordable Care Act version of Title XXVII of the PHS Act, section 715 of ERISA, and section 9815 of the Code and other applicable law under ERISA and the Code including, for example, the mental health parity provisions, the HIPAA nondiscrimination provisions, the ERISA section 503 requirements for claims procedures, and any reporting and disclosure obligations under ERISA Part 1.

The Expat FAQ also confirms that the Agencies will treat coverage provided under an expatriate group health plan as a form of minimum essential coverage under section 5000A of the Code. If an individual has minimum essential coverage, the individual will not be subject to the “Individual Mandate” tax.  Additionally, an employee who is offered “minimum essential coverage” by his/her employer will not be eligible for a subsidy in the Exchange if the employer coverage is “affordable” and provides “minimum value.” This means the employer will not be subject to a potential penalty under the ACA “Employer Shared Responsibility” provisions of new Code section 4980H.

Definition of “Expatriate Health Plan” Limited To Certain Insured Health Plans

Sponsors and insurers providing or administering health benefits with respect to employees working or living outside the United States are cautioned of the need to confirm that their program falls under the Expat FAQ’s definition of “expatriate health plan.”  For purposes of this temporary transitional relief, the Expat FAQ defines an “expatriate health plan” as  “an insured group health plan with respect to which enrollment is limited to primary insureds who reside outside of their home country for at least six months of the plan year and any covered dependents, and its associated group health insurance coverage.” The Expat FAQ confirms its definition of “expatriate health coverage” also applies for purposes of the Health Insurer Issuer Standards Related to Transitional Reinsurance Program of 45 CFR 153.400(a)(1)(iii) for plans with plan years ending on or before December 31, 2015.   

This definition of expatriate health plan will not extend to all health coverage provided for employees of U.S. companies working outside the United States.  Employers and administrators of self-insured health plans providing coverage for expatriate employees take note, however. Because this definition presently is limited to “insured group health plans,” it self-insured health coverage provided for expatriate employees presently do not qualify as expatriate health plans covered by the relief contained in the Expat FAQ.  Likewise, the definition also does not apply to health coverage provided for employees working abroad for periods of less than six months.  Sponsors, insurers and administrators of health plans providing coverage for employees of U.S. employer working outside their home countries that fall outside the Expat FAQ definition of an “expatriate health plan” should ensure that their programs timely comply with all applicable federal health plan mandates including ACA.

Agencies Invite Public Input On ACA Application To Expatriate Health Plans

The Agencies request comments on and information about the unique challenges that expatriate health plans may face in complying with provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including information about which particular types of plans face these challenges and with respect to which particular provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  In anticipation of further input and analysis, the Expat FAQ speculates that potential challenges that could complicate Affordable Care Act compliance for an expatriate health plan might include:

  • Reconciling and coordinating the multiple regulatory regimes that apply to expatriate health plans might make it impossible or impracticable to comply with all the relevant rules at least in the near term;
  • Independent review organizations may not exist abroad;
  • It may be difficult for certain preventive services to be provided, or even be identified as preventive, when services are provided outside the United States by clinical providers that use different code sets and medical terminology to identify services.
  • Expatriate issuers may face challenges and delays in communicating with enrollees living abroad.
  • Due to the complex nature of these plans, standardized benefits disclosures can be difficult for issuers to produce.
  • Expatriate health plans may require additional regulatory approvals from foreign governments.
  • In some circumstances, it is possible that domestic and foreign law requirements conflict.

The Expat FAQ invites employers, insurers and other interested persons to provide input to the Agencies by sending their comments by May 8, 2013 to e.ohpsca-expat.ebsa@dol.gov.  Sponsors, insurers and administrators should share their concerns and insights in response to this invitation.

Review and Update Plans To Manage Risks & Improve Effectiveness

Businesses providing health coverage to workers working outside of the United States should review their policies for compliance with the applicable requirements of the Affordable Care Act, to the extent applicable taking into account the Expat FAQ, as well as otherwise applicable requirements of ERISA, the Code, the PHS Act and other relevant federal laws.  When conducting this review, sponsors, administrators and insurers also should consider opportunities to manage risks, improve plan value and cost effectiveness and mitigate other legal or operational concerns. 

Health coverage provided to employees of U.S. businesses working outside the United States typically are provided under policies, plans and programs that often is provided pursuant to products or other arrangements that may not be designed, documented or administered to adequately comply with relevant federal health plan mandates.  Beyond minimizing legal exposures that may result from overlooked compliance obligations, employer or other sponsors, administrators and insurers of these programs generally should familiarize themselves about the health care delivery systems, private and public health benefit programs, regulations and other relevant requirements and circumstances that may impact their business’ obligations to provide or contribute toward the cost of health care coverage, access to quality care by their employees and their families while working outside the United States or their home country, and legal and operational issues that may arise when employees are working oversees, transitioning between countries, have family members residing in different countries or other special circumstances. 

 The Expat FAQ is only one of a deluge of new guidance recently finalized or proposed by the Agencies.  With the effective date of the 2014 Affordable Care Act reforms rapidly approaching, more guidance is impending.  Stay tuned for additional updates about Affordable Care Act and other federal health plan rules and guidance.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health insurance,  employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices to respond to emerging health plan regulations, monitoring or commenting on these rules, defending your health plan or its administration, or other health or employee benefit, human resources or risk management concerns, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

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 on regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns.  She also has helped to design expatriate health and other benefit programs for businesses and insurers and assisted U.S. and foreign businesses with other expatriate and multinational workforce and benefits planning and administration throughout her career.

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, HR.com and other employee benefits and human resources publications. She also is 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.

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Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

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

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

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.


13 Employer Tips For Coping With Health Care Reform Now!

March 5, 2013

Since the Supreme Court’s June 28, 2012 National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius health care reform ruling upholding the “pay or play” mandates of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA), most business leaders, plan fiduciaries, health insurers, administrators of employment-based group health plans have accepted the need to prepare for health care reform changes taking effect in 2014.  

Unfortunately, delays in the release of anticipated regulatory guidance, the development and implementation of federal and state exchanges and other regulatory and market reforms have made it difficult for many businesses to understand their obligations, options, and their associated costs. 

Most business and industry leaders report frustration with the continuing lack of clarity and uncertainty about rules and costs.  Meanwhile, sequester just made life (and costs) worse for many small employers whose current 2013 health plan budget depends upon plans to benefit from he Small Business Health Care Tax Credit (SBHCTC) enacted as part of ACA. 

Despite these continuing uncertainties and challenges, the impending January 1, 2014 deadline for compliance doesn’t allow most businesses the luxury for waiting for clarification.  To complete the necessary arrangements, businesses unfortunately must decide the direction they plan to take and start working to implement their choice despite these existing uncertainties while managing their existing health benefit programs and costs through 2013.

Small Employers Relying On Health Plan Tax Credit Should Adjust Budgets In Response To Sequester Cut

For small employers and tax-exempt employers counting on the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit (SBHCTC) enacted as part of ACA to afford health care coverage for their employees, health benefit planning needs to begin with determining and dealing with any new problems that an almost 9% cut in the 2013 SBHCTC tax credit triggered by sequester may have on the amount of the credit for the current 2013 tax year.

ACA added the SBHCTC to the Internal Revenue Code (Code) to help and encourage qualifying small businesses to provide health coverage for their employees.  For tax years 2010 through 2013, the maximum credit is 35 percent for a qualifying small business employer and 25 percent for small tax-exempt employers such as charities. See IRS 3 Simple Steps Publication for help estimating the credit. An enhanced version of the credit is scheduled to increase the tax credit rate to 50 percent and 35 percent, respectively in 2014.

Many small businesses are unaware that sequester automatically cut their 2013 SBHCTC tax credit.   Under the sequester requirements of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, as amended, certain automatic budget cuts went into effect on March 1, 2013. These required cuts include an 8.7% reduction to the refundable part of the SBHCTC for otherwise qualifying small employers under Code Section 45R. As a result, qualifying employers counting on the SBHCTC credit to pay for employee health coverage need to know that this credit effectively is reduced by 8.7% percent. The sequestration reduction rate will apply until the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2013 or intervening Congressional action, at which time the sequestration rate is subject to change.

Health Care Reform Coping Steps For All Businesses

While the sequester SBHCTC cut uniquely affects small businesses employing 25 or fewer workers, almost all businesses regardless of size are struggling to cope with the challenges of health care reform. The following steps may be helpful for many businesses working to chart a path for moving forward amid these uncertainties:

1.  Know Your Workforce & Proper Worker Classifications For Purposes of Health Plan Rules

Whether and how ACA’s “pay-or-play” employer shared responsibility payment, default enrollment, insured health plan non-discrimination and other federal health plan rules apply to your company’s health plan requires a correct understanding of what workers considered employed by your business and how these workers are counted and classified for purposes of ACA and other federal health plan mandates is the first step to projecting the potential costs and liabilities of your business under Code Section 4980H. 

ACA and other federal health plan rules decide what rules apply to which businesses or health plans based on the number of employees a business is considered to employ, their hours worked, their seasonal or other status, and other relevant classification as determined by the applicable rule.  The ACA and other rules vary in the relevant number of employees that trigger applicability of the rule and how businesses must count workers to decide when a particular rule applies.

Trying to predict the employer shared responsibility payment, if any under Code Section 4980H or model the burden or cost of any other federal health benefit mandate requires each business know who counts and how to classify workers for each of these rules.  Most of these rules start with a “common law” definition of employee then apply rules to add or ignore various workers.  Because most federal health plan rules also take into account “commonly controlled” and “affiliated” businesses’ employees when determining rule coverage, businesses also may need to know that information for other related or commonly owned businesses.  

2.  Make Rough Cost Projection To Preliminarily Decide Whether To “Pay” or “Play”

Under ACA, each business retains the option not to offer any health coverage for any employee or employee groups provided the business can tolerate the resulting consequences.  When a business along with all commonly controlled or affiliated employers, if any, employ a combined workforce of 50 or more “full-time” and “full-time equivalent employees” (Large Employer) does not offer “affordable,” “minimum essential coverage” to every full-time employee and his dependents under a legally compliant health plan that provides “minimum essential value” within the meaning of ACA after 2013, the business generally should expect to pay a shared responsibility payment under Code Section 4980H for each month after 2013 that any “full-time” employee  receives a tax subsidy or credit for enrolling in one of ACA’s health care exchanges.  The amount of this required shared responsibility payment will be calculated under Code Section 4980H based on the plan design and coverage the employer health plan offers and the required employee contribution for employee only coverage. Consequently, most businesses should project the relative cost to their business of paying the shared responsibility payment under Code Section 4980H against the cost of providing coverage to decide if it makes sense to even consider continuing to offer health coverage.

While not yet final, recently proposed Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations that would implement Code Section 4980H (4980H Regulations) provide a fairly good roadmap for business leaders to use to project their likely shared responsibility payment if the business assumes that the cost of offering coverage to avoid paying the shared responsibility payment will not be less than its existing health plan costs.  Starting with this assumption, the 4980H Regulations provide some roadmap that the business can use to project its likely shared responsibility payment if the business fails to offer health coverage under a plan offering minimum essential coverage to each full-time employee and their dependents.  Using this assumption, a businesses also can get a rough comparison of the projected cost difference per full-time employee if the offers a plan providing minimum essential coverage to all full-time employees and their dependents with minimum essential value that turns out to be “unaffordable” to some of these employees under ACA.   

While refinement of the data in the time and other employment records might help a business refine these estimates, the preliminary projections made using existing data and these assumptions generally will help a business decide if it wants to go ahead under the assumption it will pay or play.  If the business plans only to pay the shared responsibility payment, its efforts should focus on collecting and retaining the data needed to prove compliance and minimize its liability by planning its workforce and taking advantage of any safe harbor or other elections available to it under the 4980H Regulations for counting and classifying its workers. 

3. If Business Decides To Offer Health Coverage After 2013, Decide Plan Design

If the business intends to continue to offer health coverage, the business also needs to decide the plan coverage and terms of that plan.  In all cases, any health coverage offered generally must be designed so the business prudently can afford to pay benefit and administration costs of the plan and also meet all applicable mandates.  The mandates applicable to the plan generally are based on the size of the employer as determined by the applicable federal rules. 

Within these parameters, the business generally has the following choices:

  • Offer health plan that provides minimum essential coverage with minimum essential value to all full-time employees, but pay a shared responsibility payment for full-time employees electing exchange coverage whose employee only contribution would be considered “unaffordable” under ACA because it exceeds 9.5% of their wages;
  • Offer health plan that provides minimum essential coverage with minimum essential value to all full-time employees, and subside the cost of coverage for any low-paid workers as necessary to prevent that coverage from being unaffordable for any worker;
  • Offer a health plan providing minimum essential coverage to some but not all full-time employees and pay the shared responsibility payment calculated under Code Section 4980H(b) for any full-time employee that elects coverage under the exchange to whom the plan is either unaffordable or doesn’t offer minimum essential coverage; or
  • Some combination of these options, designed to meet the other federal health plan rules applicable for health plans offered by businesses employing that number of workers.

When making these decisions, uncertainty about the cost of coverage, the income of the workers, and which low-income employees, if any, actually will choose to enroll in the health plan versus choose to get coverage from the exchange creates some uncertainty to the predictions.  As guidance continues to emerge, however, the modeling of these issues becomes increasingly more reliable.  In the meantime, businesses that plan to continue to offer coverage must make their best guess to project costs and design their health programs while keeping a careful eye on the emerging guidance and market cost data.

4.  Understand The Cast Of Characters & What Hat(s) (Including You) They Wear

Employers and their management rely upon many vendors and advisors and assumptions when making plan design and risk management decisions.  Many times, employer and members of their management unknowingly assume significant risk because of misperceptions about these allocations of duties and operational and legal accountability.   Business and plan leaders need a correct understanding of these roles and responsibilities to understand the risks and to what extent they can rely upon a vendor or advisor to properly design and administer a health plan or carry out related obligations, what risks cannot be delegated, and how to manage these risks.

Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), any party that exercises discretion or control over health plan administration, funds or certain other matters generally is considered a plan “fiduciary.” Fiduciaries generally are personally liable for prudently and appropriately administering their health plan related responsibilities prudently in accordance with ERISA and other applicable laws and the plan terms.  Knowing who is acting as a fiduciary and understanding those duties and liabilities and how to manage these risks significantly affects the exposure that an employer or member of its management risks as a result of an employer’s sponsorship in a group health plan or other employee benefit program.  Also, knowing what duties come first and how to prove that the fiduciary did the right thing is key to managing risks when an individual who has fiduciary responsibilities under ERISA also is responsible for carrying out other management duties of the sponsoring employer, a vendor or elsewhere that carries duties or interests that conflict with his health plan related fiduciary duties.

The plan sponsor or members of its leadership, a service provider or members of their staff generally may be a fiduciary for purposes of ERISA if it either is named as the fiduciary, it functionally exercises the discretion to be considered a fiduciary, or it otherwise has discretionary power over plan administration or other fiduciary matters.  Many plan sponsors and their management unwittingly take on liability that they assume rests with an insurer or service provider because the company or members of its management are named as the plan administrator or named fiduciary with regard to duties that the company has hired an insurer or service provider to provide or allowed that service provider to disclaim fiduciary or discretionary status with regard to those responsibilities.  Management also can have fiduciary exposure based on their authority for selecting plan fiduciaries and vendors. 

Also, by not knowing who the fiduciaries are, plans and their fiduciaries often fail to confirm the eligibility of some parties serving as fiduciaries, to arrange for bonding of service providers or fiduciaries as required to comply with Title I of ERISA.  Failing to properly understand when the plan sponsor, member of its management or another party is or could be a fiduciary can create unnecessary and unexpected risks and lead to reliance upon vendors who provide advice but leave the employer or a management member holding the bag for resulting liability.

A correct understanding of the risks and who bears them is critical to understand the risks, opportunities to mitigate risk through effective contracting or other outsourcing, when outsourcing does not effectively transfer risks, where to invest resources for contract, plan or process review and changes or other risk management, and where to expect costs and risks and implement processes and procedures to deal with risks that cannot be outsourced or managed.

5.  Know What Rules Apply To Your Plan, The Sponsoring Employer, The Plan Its Fiduciaries & Plan Vendors & How This Impacts You & Your Group Health Plan

The requirements for health plans and the resulting liabilities have undergone continuous changes.   ACA adds to an already extensive list of complicated federal rules about health plans and their administration.   ACA, the Code, ERISA, the Social Security Act, the Privacy, Security, and Administrative Simplification and Breach Notification rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) and various other federal laws also impose certain health plan related obligations and liabilities on health plan fiduciaries, their employer or other health plan sponsors and other parties.  These ever-expanding requirements increasingly impose civil or criminal sanctions, excise tax or other liability on plan administrators or other parties for failing to maintain legally compliant plans, file required reports, give required notifications or meet other requirements.  In many instances, this includes a requirement to know and self-report violations of some of these federal rules. 

Beyond these exposures, employers who sponsor group health plans that violate certain federal group health plan mandates have a duty to self-report certain regulatory plan failures and pay excise taxes where such failures are not corrected in a timely fashion once discovered, or are due to willful neglect. Code Section 6039D imposes excise taxes for failure to comply with health care continuation (COBRA) , health plan portability (HIPAA), genetic nondiscrimination (GINA), mental health parity (MHPAEA) , minimum hospital stays for newborns and mothers (Newborns’ and Mothers’ Health Protection Act), coverage of dependent students on medically necessary leaves of absence (Michelle’s Law), health savings account (HSA) and Archer medical savings account (Archer MSA) contribution comparability and various other federal requirements incorporated into the Internal Revenue Code.   

Since 2010, IRS regulations have required employers sponsoring group health plans not complying with mandates covered by Internal Revenue Code Section 6039D to self-report violations and pay related excise taxes.  Under these regulations, the sponsoring employer (or in some cases, the insurer, HMO or third-party administrator) must report health plan compliance failures annually on IRS Form 8928 (“Return of Certain Excise Taxes Under Chapter 43 of the Internal Revenue Code”).  Beyond any specific liability under ERISA or the particular law for such violations, the potential excise tax liability that can result under these provisions can be significant.  For example, COBRA, HIPAA, and GINA violations typically carry excise tax liability of $100 per day per individual affected. Compliance with applicable federal group health plan mandates is critical to avoid these excise taxes as well as other federal group health plan liabilities.

6.   Update Health Plan Documents, SPDs & Other Communications, Administrative Forms & Procedures, Contracts & Processes To Meet Requirements & Manage Exposures

Along with knowing what rules apply, timely updating written plan documents, communications and administration forms, administrative practices, contracts and other health plan related materials processes and procedures has never been more critical. 

A tightly written plan document and other plan communications have never been more important.  Federal law generally requires that health plan be established, maintained and administered in accordance with legally complaint, written plan documents and impose a growing list of standards and requirements governing the design and administration of these programs. In addition to the existing and impending ACA mandates, ERISA, the Code , the Social Security Act, federal eligibility and coverage continuation mandates of laws like the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act, the Family & Medical Leave Act, the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), Michelle’s Law, mental health parity and other laws regulate the eligibility, coverage, administration and other design features of employment-based health plans and their administration.    ACA and other laws also require that employers, health plan administrators and fiduciaries protect the privacy of data, as well as comply with claims and appeals, communication, fiduciary responsibility, bonding, record keeping, reporting and other requirements.

Failing to update documents, communications, administrative forms and processes and other materials and practices can unleash a host of exposures. ERISA requires that that all material plan terms be set forth in a written plan document.  Many other federal health plan mandates require that this plan document include certain specific provisions.  Beyond these mandated terms, the ability to uphold and enforce plan terms often can be hurt or hindered by the tightness or sloppiness of the plan language. 

Among other things, noncompliant plan documents, communications and practices can trigger unanticipated costs and liabilities by undermining the ability to administer plan terms and conditions.  They also may expose the plan, plan fiduciaries and others to lawsuits, administrative enforcement and sanctions and other enforcement liabilities. 

For this purpose of deciding what and how much to do, it is critical to keep in mind the devil is in the details.  Not only must the documentation meet all technical mandates, the language, its clarity and specificity, and getting the plan document to match the actual processes that will be used to administer the plan and ensuring that the plan documents and processes match the summary plan description, summary of benefits and coverage, administrative forms and documentation and other plan communications and documentation in a legally compliant way significantly impacts the defensibility of the plan terms and the expense that the plan, its sponsor and fiduciaries can expect to incur to defend it.

7.  Clean Up Claims and Appeals, SPDs & Other Practices To Enhance Defensibility

Proper health plan claims and appeals plan and summary plan description language, procedures, processing, notification and documentation is critical to maintain defensible claims and appeals decisions required to enforce plan terms and manage claims denial related liabilities and defense costs.  Noncompliance with these requirements may prevent health plans from defending their claims or appeals denials, expose the plan administrator and plan fiduciaries involved or responsible for these activities to penalties, prompt unnecessary lawsuits, Labor Department enforcement or both; and drive up plan administration costs.

Unfortunately, most group health plans, their insurers and administrators need to substantially strengthen their plan documentation; handling; timeliness; notifications and other claims denials; and other claims and other appeals processes and documentation to meet existing regulations and otherwise strengthen their defensibility. 

Among other things, existing court decisions document that many plans existing plan documents, summary plan descriptions and explanations of benefits, claims and appeals investigations and documentation and notifications often need improvement to meet the basic plan document, summary plan description and reasonable claims rules of the plan document, summary plan description, fiduciary responsibility, reasonable claims and appeals procedures of ERISA and its implementing regulations.  Court precedent shows that inadequate drafting of these provisions, as well as specific provisions coverage and benefit provisions frequently undermines the defensibility of claims and appeals determinations. In addition to requiring that claims be processed and paid prudently in accordance with the terms of written plan documents, ERISA also requirements that plan fiduciaries decide and administer claims and appeals in accordance with reasonable claims procedures. 

Although the Labor Department updated its regulations implementing this reasonable claims and appeals procedure requirement more than 10 years ago, the Department of Labor updated its ERISA claims and appeals regulations to include detailed health plan claims and appeals requirements, many group health plans, their administrators and insurers still have not updated their health plans, summary plan descriptions, claims and appeals notification, and claims and appeals procedures to comply with these requirements.   

These omissions only become more significant under ACA.  The external review and other detailed additional requirements that the Affordable  Care Act dictates that group health plans not grandfathered from its provisions and its provisions holding these non-grandfathered plans strictly liable for deficiencies in their claims and appeals procedures makes the need to address inadequacies even more imperative for those non-grandfathered group health plans.  Inadequate attention to these concerns can force a plan to pay benefits for claims otherwise not covered as well as additional defense costs and penalties.

8.  Consistency Matters:  Build Good Plan, Then Follow It

Defensible health plan administration starts with the building and adopting strong, legally compliant plan terms and processes that are carefully documented and communicated in a prudent, legally compliant manner.  The next key is to actually use this investment by conducting plan administration and related operations consistent with the terms and allocated responsibilities to administer the plan in a documented, legally compliant and prudent manner. 

Good documentation and design on the front end should minimize ambiguities in the meaning of the plan and who is responsible for doing what when. 

With these tools in place, delays and other hiccups that result from confusion about plan terms, how they apply to a particular circumstance or who is responsible for doing what, when should be minimized and much more easily resolved by timely, appropriate action by the proper responsible party.  This facilitation of administration and its consistency can do much to enhance the defensibility of the plan and minimize other plan related risks and costs.

9.  Ensure Correct Party Carries Out Plan and Communications Plan Functions And Communications Compliant, Timely, Prudent, Provable Manner

Having the proper party perform plan related responsibilities and respond to claims and inquiries in a compliant, timely, prudent manner is another key element to managing health plan risk and promoting enforceability.  Ideally, the party appointed to act as the named fiduciary for purposes of carrying out a particular function also should conduct all plan communications regarding that function in terms that makes clear its role and negates responsibility or authority of others. 

When an employer or other plan sponsor goes to the trouble to appoint a committee, service provider or other party to serve as the named fiduciary then chooses to communicate about the plan anyway, the Supreme Court in FMC v. Halliday made clear it runs the risk that the plan related communications may be considered discretionary fiduciary conduct for which it may be liable as a functional fiduciary.  Meanwhile, these communications by nonfiduciaries also may create binding obligations upon the plan and its named fiduciaries to the extent made by a plan sponsor or conducted by a staff member or service provider performing responsibilities delegated by the plan fiduciary.

Beyond expanding the scope of potential fiduciaries, communications conducted by nonfiduciaries also tend to create defensibility for many other reasons.  For instance, allowing unauthorized parties to perform plan functions may not comport with the plan terms, and are less likely to create and keep required documentation and follow procedures necessary to promote enforceability.  Also, the communications, decisions and other actions by these nonfiduciary actors also are unlikely to qualify for discretionary review by the courts because grants of discretionary authority, if any in the written plan document to qualify the decisions of the named fiduciary for deferential review by courts typically will not extend to actions by these nonfiduciary parties.  Furthermore, the likelihood that the communication or other activity conducted will not comply with the fiduciary responsibility or other requirements governing the performance of the plan related functions is significantly increased when a plan sponsor, service provider, member of management, or other party not who has not been appointed or accepted the appointment  act as a named fiduciary undertakes to speak or act because that party very likely does not accept or fully appreciate the potential nature of its actions, the fiduciary and other legal rules applicable to the conduct, and the potential implications for the nonfiduciary actor, the plan and its fiduciaries.

10.  Clean Up Date Collection, Protection & Reporting

Existing and impending ACA and other federal mandates require that group health plans, their sponsors collect, maintain and administer is exploding. Existing eligibility mandates, for example, already require that plans have access to a broad range of personal identifying, personal health and a broad range of other sensitive information about employees and dependents who are or may be eligible for coverage under the plan.

While employers and their health plans historically have collected and retained the names, place of residence, family relationships, social security number, and other similar information about employees and their dependents, these data collection, retention and reporting requirements have and will continue to expand dramatically in response to evolving legal requirements. 

Already, health plans also from time to time need employee earnings, company ownership, employment status, family income, family, medical, military, and school leave information, divorce and child custody, enrollment in Medicare, Medicaid and other coverage and a broad range of other additional information.  Under the ACA, these data needs will explode to include a whole new range of information about total family income, availability and enrollment in other coverage, cultural and language affiliations, and many other items.   

Collecting, retaining and deploying this information will be critical to meeting existing and new plan administration and reporting requirements.  How this data collection is conducted, shared, safeguarded against misuse or other legally sensitive contact by the employer, service providers, the plan and others will be essential to mitigate exposures to federal employment and other nondiscrimination, HIPAA and other privacy, fiduciary responsibility and other legal risks and obligations. 

To the extent that payroll providers, third party administrators or other outside service providers will participate in the collection, retention, or use of this data, time also should be set aside both to conduct due diligence about their suitability, as well as to negotiate the necessary contractual arrangements and safeguards to make their involvement appropriate. 

Finally, given the highly sensitive nature of this data, employers, health plans and others that will collect and use this data will need to implement appropriate safeguards to prevent and monitor for improper use, access or disclosure and to conduct the necessary training to suitably protect this data.

11.  Monitor, Assess Implications & Provide Relevant Input to Regulators About Emerging Requirements & Interpretive Guidance Implementing 2014 Affordable Care Act & Other Mandates.

While the Supreme Court’s decision upheld as Constitutional ACA’s individual and employer shared responsibility mandates as a tax, many opportunities to impact its mandates remain.

Beyond the highly visible, continuing and often heated debates ranging in Congress and the court of public opinion on whether Congress should change its provisions, a plethora of regulatory interpretations issued or impending release by the implementing agencies, the IRS, HHS and Labor Department, and state insurance regulators will significantly impact what requirements and costs employers, insurers, individuals and governments will bear when the law takes effect.  Businesses sponsoring health plans should carefully scrutinize this regulatory guidance and provide meaningful, timely input to Congress, the regulators or both as appropriate to help influence the direction of regulatory or Congressional actions that would materially impact these burdens.

12.  Help Employees & Their Families Build Their Health Care Self-Management Skills

Whether or not your company plans to continue to sponsor employee health coverage after 2014, providing training and tools to help employees and their families strengthen their ability to understand and manage their health, health care needs and benefits can pay big dividends.  Beyond the financial costs to employees and employers of paying to care for a serious illness or injury, productivity also suffers while employees dealing with their own or a family member’s chronic or serious health care condition.  Wellness programs that encourage and support the efforts of employees and their families to stay healthy may be one valuable component of these efforts.  Beyond trying to prevent the need to cope with illness behind wellness programs, however, opportunities to realize big financial, productivity and benefit value recognition rewards also exist in the too often overlooked opportunity to provide training, education and tools that employees and their families need to better understand and self-manage care, benefits, finances and life challenges that commonly arise when dealing with their own or a family member’s illness. Providing education, tools and other resources that can help employees access, organize and effectively use health care and benefit information to manage care and the consequences of illness, their benefits and how to use them, to participate more effectively in care and care decisions, to recognize and self-manage financial, lost-time and other challenges associated with the illness not addressable or covered by health benefit programs, and other practical skills can help reduce lost time and other productivity impacts while helping employees and their families get the most out of the health care dollars spent.

13.  Pack Your Parachute-Plan Your Defense & Exist Strategies

With the parade of expense and liabilities associated with health plans, businesses sponsoring health plans and the management, service providers and others involved in their establishment, continuation, maintenance or administration are well advised to pack their survival kit and develop their exit strategies to position to soften the landing in case their health plan experiences a legal or operational disaster. 

Employers and other health plan sponsors and fiduciaries typically hire and rely upon a host of vendors and advisors to design and administer their health plans.  When selecting and hiring these service providers, health plan sponsors and fiduciaries are well-advised to investigate carefully their credentials as well as require the vendors to provide written commitments to stand behind their advice and services. 

Too often, while these service providers and advisors encourage plan sponsors and fiduciaries to allow the vendor to lead them or even handle on an ongoing basis plan administration services by touting their services, experience, expert systems and process and commitment to stand behind the customer when making the sale or encouraging reliance upon their advice when tough decisions are made, they rush to stand behind exculpatory and on-sided indemnification provisions in their service contracts to limit or avoid liability,   demand indemnification from their customer or both when things go wrong. 

While ERISA may offer some relief from certain of these exculpatory provisions under some circumstances, plan sponsors and fiduciaries should work to credential service providers and require service providers to commit to being accountable for their services by requiring contracts acknowledge all promised services and standards of quality, require vendors to commit to provide legally compliant and prudently designed and administered services that meet or exceed applicable legal requirements, to provide liability-backed indemnification or other protection for damages and costs resulting from vendor imprudence or malfeasance, to allow for contract termination if the vendor becomes unsuitable for continued use due to changing law or other circumstances and requiring the vendor to return data and other documentation critical to defend past decisions and provide for ongoing administration.  Keep documentation about advice, assurances and other relevant evidence received from vendors which could be useful in showing your company’s or plan’s efforts to make prudent efforts to provide for the proper administration of the plan.  When concerns arise, use care to investigate and redress concerns in a timely, measured fashion which both shows the prudent response to the concern and reflects sensitivity to the fiduciary and other roles and responsibilities of the employer sponsor and other parties involved.

Get Moving Now

Since many compliance deadlines already have past and the impending deadlines allow plan sponsors and fiduciaries limited time to finish arrangements, businesses, fiduciaries and their service providers need to get moving immediately to update their health plans to meet existing  and impending compliance and risk management risks under ACA and other federal laws, decisions and regulations.

Even as businesses move forward to respond to health care reform’s challenges, their leaders should continue to give input to Congress and regulators about the need to improve the rules and reduce business uncertainty and burdens.  With many regulations still in proposed or interim form and health care reform and its costs still a concern for many Congressional leaders, significant opportunity still exists to provide input to federal and state regulators on many key aspects of ACA and its relationship to other applicable laws.  Businesses and other health plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries, insurers and administrators, and other vendors must stay involved and alert.  Zealously monitor new developments and share timely input with Congress and regulators about existing and emerging rules that present concerns and other opportunities for improvement even as you position to respond to these rules before they become fully implemented.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices to respond to emerging health plan regulations, monitoring or commenting on these rules, defending your health plan or its administration, or other health or employee benefit, human resources or risk management concerns, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested in exploring other Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™ tools, products, training and other resources here.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile at here.

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

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.


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

October 22, 2012

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

For More Information Or Assistance

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

About Ms. Stamer

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

Other Resources & Developments

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

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

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


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

July 31, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For More Information Or Assistance

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

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

Other Resources & Developments

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

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

©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


Tighten Defensibility of Criminal & Other Background Check Practices In Light of Labor Department Non-Discrimination Regulation & Enforcement Emphasis

May 25, 2012

Employers, job banks, recruiters and other parties that conduct and rely upon criminal background checks for purposes of screening applicants or making other employment decisions should check and update their practices in response to the announced plans of the U.S. Department of Labor to expand and enforce limitations on employment discrimination against individuals with criminal records as well as the criminal background check requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and other applicable laws.

While criminal or other background checks often are mandated or otherwise business justified, employers and others conducting or using background check information need to understand and comply with legal requirements about the use and administration of criminal or other background checks.

Potential Employment Discrimination Exposures From Criminal Background Checks

Over the past several months, Labor Department officials have identified protection of individuals with criminal backgrounds against employment discrimination as a policy and enforcement priority.

In keeping with this goal, the Labor Department Employment and Training Administration (ETA), with the Civil Rights Center (CRC). on May 25, 2012 published updated training guidance for about exclusions based on criminal records, and how they are relevant to the existing nondiscrimination obligations for the public workforce system and certain other entities that receive federal financial assistance to operate Job Banks, to provide assistance to job seekers in locating and obtaining employment, and to assist employers by screening and referring qualified applicants in Training and Employment Guidance Letter No. 31-11 (TEGL) along with the following accompanying guidance documents:

Meet FCRA Criminal & Other Background Check Requirements

When conducting such a criminal or other background check using a third-party or the internet, care should be taken to comply with the applicable purpose, notice and consent requirements for conducting third-party conducted background checks under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and otherwise applicable law. 

Since criminal and other background investigations generally qualify as a credit check for purposes of the FCRA, employers, recruiters, job banks and other parties conducting background checks for employment related purposes risk significant liability for conducting these activities without providing the proper notifications and obtaining necessary consents.  Additional requirements often also may apply under applicable state laws, labor-management contracts, government contracting requirements or other similar requirements.  Consequently, before doing any credit or other background check, employers or others should ensure that they have the policies, disclosures, data security and written consents required to comply with the FCRA and other laws.

With these procedures in place, employers or others planning to use criminal or other background checks then should work to manage discrimination and other potential risks associated with potential challenges to their use of the information.

Among other things, businesses should carefully document the business justification for their use of the background check and restrict the data they request and receive to information relevant to that purpose.  The collection and receipt of this information should be structured and managed in such a way to mitigate employment discrimination, privacy and other legal risks and to promote defensibility.  For instance, proper procedures should be used to lower the risk of a pattern of prohibited discrimination on race, national origin, disability or other similar employment discrimination laws.  Likewise, collection or receipt of information such as bankruptcy history or other liability sensitive information should be avoided unless a legally defensible need and appropriate procedures governing use can be demonstrated in operation.  Care also should be taken to apply the criteria uniformly. Given ADA, GINA, FACTA and other privacy concerns, employers also should specifically check their data collection and protection procedures for adequacy.

To help with these and other concerns, consider defining and documenting in advance the relevant criteria for the position and why it is relevant.  Where possible, try to avoid getting information beyond that defined as relevant which could raise sensitivities.  Since the FCRA requires notice if adverse hiring decisions are made, employers also should carefully evaluate and document the basis of their decisions when deciding not to hire or promote individuals based on this information and appropriately safeguard this information against improper use or disclosure. 

For Help Or Additional Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your background check or other employee benefits, human resources, health care or insurance matters, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on human resources, recruitment, employee benefits, compensation, credentialing, promotion and discipline and related workforce and risk management matters. 

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 employment and other services arrangements and assocaited employee benefit,  compensation, reductions in force and other severance and other human resources, employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s r 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:

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.

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


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

July 28, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Help With These Or Other Risk Management Matters

If you need assistance in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your wage and hour or with other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation or internal controls practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 23 years of work helping employers; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend wage and hour and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on wage and hour, worker classification and other human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

About Solutions Law Press

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

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



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

May 20, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you need assistance in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your labor and employment, employee benefits, compliance, risk manage or other  internal controls practices or actions, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 23 years of work helping employers; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend wage and hour and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on wage and hour, worker classification and other human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

About Solutions Law Press

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

 

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile at here .

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


Plan Sponsors. Their Owners & Management & Others Risk Personal Liability If Others Defraud Plans or Mismanage Employee Benefit Plan Responsibilities

April 4, 2011

Mitigate Risk With Appropriate Prevention, Monitoring & Response

Executives, board members, and other business leaders of companies providing health, 401(k) or other employee benefits under plans regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA) should heed a series of recent fiduciary liability settlement orders and lawsuits of the U.S. Department of Labor (Labor Department) as important reminders of the potential personal liability exposures executives can may face if their company’s benefit programs are not appropriately maintained and administered.

Recent Enforcement Actions, Changing Regulations Highlight Fiduciary Risks

On March 29, 2011, the Labor Department sued the owner of Eyeglass Factory, Inc. (EGF), Stephen Schaffer, for breach of fiduciary duties under ERISA by failing to ensure that EGF timely forwarded health plan contributions collected from employees to pay health plan contributions to the plan and failing to ensure that he and other plan fiduciaries and service providers were bonded in accordance with ERISA’s fidelity bond requirements.[i]  The Labor Department suit charges that from July 1, 2000 to October 1, 2000, Schaffer and EGF withheld and failed to forward to the health plan contributions deducted from employee pay for health insurance coverage and contributions made to the flexible benefit plan sponsored by EGF from January 1, 2000 to December 4, 2000.  The employees’ paycheck withholdings were commingled with the company’s general assets and used for its general operating expenses. The Labor Department is asking the court to order that Schaffer and other defendants make restitution to the plan for the misapplied contributions, including lost opportunity costs, to correct prohibited transactions and to appoint an independent fiduciary to oversee the plans once Schaffer is removed as the plan fiduciary.

The Schaffer suit follows the Labor Department’s successful prosecution of a breach of fiduciary duty action against Larry Lauterback, the president and former owner of a Minnesota Cement Company, for his role in allowing his construction company to commingle with company assets and divert to company use employee health and 401(k) contributions withheld from employee’s pay.  In Solis v. Larry Lauterback, [ii] the District Court ordered Lauterback to restore $17,273.18 in unremitted employee contributions and lost opportunity costs to the company’s health and dental plan, and $747.20 in unremitted employee contributions to the company’s 401(k) plan and enjoins Lauterback from serving or acting as a fiduciary or service provider to any employee benefit plan for three years..  The order followed the entry of a consent judgment against Lauterback and the plan sponsor, Slate Cement, Inc., for failure to remit employee contributions, failure to forward employee contributions to medical and dental providers, co-mingling employee contributions of the general assets and using those assets for company operations.

The Schaffer and Lauterback actions taken in March, 2011 are only the most recent in a series of enforcement actions taken against business executives, board members, plan vendors and others for their role in committing or failing to take prudent steps to prevent or redress alleged misconduct relating to the maintenance, administration and funding of various employee benefit programs regulated by ERISA.  In recent months and years, the Labor Department has filed several lawsuits against business executives and businesses for alleged breaches of fiduciary duties.  While misuse of employee contributions by plan sponsors is a common focus of many of these actions, plan sponsors, plan service providers and members of their management with discretionary authority or responsibility over plan assets or administration or the election of those appointed to administer those responsibilities often arise out of the failure or these individuals to take prudent steps to prevent, monitor or address misconduct by other plan fiduciaries or service providers.[iii]

Plan sponsors, fiduciaries, service providers and their management should anticipate these risks and their attendant responsibilities will continue to rise as the Labor Department moves forward to adopt and implement revisions and enhancements to its fiduciary regulations such as those provided for in the new “Interim Final Regulation Relating to Improved Fee Disclosure for Pension Plans” scheduled to take effect in July, 2011 and the Proposed Regulation on the “Definition of the Term Fiduciary” published by the Labor Department in July and October, 2010 respectively.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department enforcement activities highlight the longstanding and ongoing policy of aggressive investigation and enforcement of alleged misconduct by companies, company officials, and service providers in connection with the maintenance, administration and funding of ERISA-regulated employee benefit plans.  In its Fiscal Year 2010, the Labor Department closed 3,112 civil investigations, of which 2,301 (73.94%) resulted in monetary recoveries or other corrective action.  The Labor Department referred 264 cases for civil litigation and filed 128 civil lawsuits.  Meanwhile on the criminal side, the Labor Department closed 281 criminal investigations and obtained indictments against 96 people.

In addition to prosecutions brought by the Labor Department, companies and individuals that exercise discretion and control of the administration or funding of employee benefit plans regulated by ERISA also may be sued personally by participants and beneficiaries for breach of fiduciary under ERISA.  A review of the Labor Department’s enforcement record and existing precedent makes clear that where the Labor Department perceives that a plan sponsor or its management fails to take appropriate steps to protect plan participants, the Labor Department will aggressively pursue enforcement regardless of the size of the plan sponsor or its plan, or the business hardships that the plan sponsor may be facing.

Plan Sponsors, Fiduciaries, Service Providers & Their Management Should Act To Manage Exposures

Given these exposures, businesses providing employee benefits to employees or dependents, as well as members of management participating in, or having responsibility to oversee or influence decisions concerning the establishment, maintenance, funding, and administration of their organization’s employee benefit programs need a clear understanding of their responsibilities with respect to such programs, the steps that they should take to demonstrate their fulfillment of these responsibilities, and their other options for preventing or mitigating their otherwise applicable fiduciary risks.  

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

For Help With These Or Other Risk Management Matters

If you need assistance in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your wage and hour or with other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation or internal controls practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 23 years of work helping employers; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend wage and hour and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on wage and hour, worker classification and other human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

About Solutions Law Press

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile at here or e-mailing this information here. To unsubscribe, e-mail here.

 

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


[i] Chao v. Stephen Schaffer, the Eyeglass Factory, Inc., No O2-CV-60197, as announced in EBSA Release No. 11-341-CHI (March 29, 2011).

[ii] Solis v. Larry Lauterback, as announced in EBSA Release No 11-322-CHI (March 14, 2011).

[iii] See, e.g.  Chao v. Associated Plan Administrators, as announced in EBSA Release No. 07-1265-BOS/BOS 2007-298 (October 16, 2007); Chao v. Starkey, as announced in EBSA Release No. 05-747-ATL (May 2, 2005); Chao v. Perry., as announced in EBSA Release BOS 2002-054 (March 21, 2002); Chao v. Mabry, as announced in EBSA Release No. 160 (March 20, 2002).  See also, e.g.,  Baker v. Kingsley, 2006 WL 2027606 (N.D.Ill.2007); In Re Enron Corp Securities Derivative & “ERISA” Litigation, 284 F.Supp. 511 (S.D.Tex. 2003); Varity Corp. v. Howe, 516 U.S. 489 (1996); Brink v. DeLesio, 496 F. Supp. 1350 (D.Md. 1980).


ERISA Leader Nell Hennessy Dies From Cancer

February 4, 2011

Nell Hennessy died February 4, 2011 after a brave battle with cancer.  Her passing was announced earlier today by Phyllis C. Borzi, Assistant Secretary of Labor Employee Benefits Security Administration.

Ms. Hennessy, Chief Executive Officer of Fiduciary Counselors Inc., was widely respected in the employee benefit community for both her professional leadership in the development of employee benefit law and her generous mentorship and friendship to employee benefits practitioners throughout her career.

Ms. Hennessy began her legal career as an attorney in two of the three federal agencies that regulate employee benefits, first in the Office of the Chief Counsel at the Internal Revenue Service (1978-80) and then at the PBGC (1980-81). She later served as Deputy Executive Director and Chief Negotiator of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the federal agency that guarantees private defined benefit pensions. She represented PBGC in negotiations with major corporate pension plan sponsors and unions in a wide range of industries, including auto, steel, chemical, textile and airlines. Working closely with the Department of Labor, she negotiated an agreement with General Motors that permitted GM to contribute employer stock to its hourly plan – the largest such transaction in U.S. history — forming the basis for a ground-breaking prohibited transaction exemption that allowed GM to subsequently spin off its EDS subsidiary. She negotiated the restructuring of TWA’s debt to PBGC and Carl Ichan, which allowed TWA to successfully reorganize. The Early Warning Program she headed at PBGC was awarded one of the first federal Innovations in American Government Awards by the Ford Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. 

In addition to her professional service, Ms. Hennessy also generously mentored others in the profession.  Ms. Hennessy chaired the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits and the Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation Committee in the ABA Section of Business Law. She was a member of the ABA Standing Committee on Technology and Information Systems and was a member of the ABA Presidential Task Force on Corporate Responsibility, which produced the “Cheek Report” cited favorably by the SEC in regulations regulating the conduct of lawyers under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. 

Since 1985 Ms. Hennessy has been an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center, where she helped develop the graduate certificate program in employee benefits. She was a founding Board member of the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel and she a founding member and past President of the Worldwide Employee Benefits Network (WEB). Ms. Hennessy is also a member of the National Bankruptcy Conference, a non-partisan, organization of approximately 60 lawyers, law professors and bankruptcy judges who advise Congress on bankruptcy law.  

Ms. Hennessy received her B.A. from James Madison College at Michigan State University in 1971, her J.D. from the Catholic University of America in 1978 and her L.L.M. in Taxation from Georgetown University Law Center in 1984. Her publications include ERISA—Fiduciary Responsibility and Prohibited Transactions (BNA Tax Management Portfolio No. 365) and the HR and Benefits Guide to Mergers and Acquisitions (Thompson Publishing 2001). 

A memorial service for Ms. Hennessy is planned for Saturday, February 26th at 11 a,m.at St. Joseph’s Church on Capitol Hill, 313 2nd St NE, Washington DC 20002, followed by a reception at the Irish Channel at 500 H St. NW, Washington DC 20001.

According to Ms. Borzi, persons wishing to memorialize Ms. Hennessy are encouraged to contribute to the Nell Hennessy Employee Benefits Scholar Award at the Catholic University of America, Office of Development and Alumni Relations, 3600 John McCormack Rd., NE, suite 339, Washington, DC 20064.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about human resources or employee benefits developments, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here. 

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Proposed New Defined Benefit Plan Annual Funding Notice Rule Reminder of Need to Carefully Manage Pension Plan Responsibilities

November 18, 2010

Plan sponsors and administrators of defined benefit plans must carefully monitor and comply with the funding, notification, insurance and other associated requirements of the minimum funding rules imposed under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and the Internal Revenue Code.  The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration today (November 18, 2010) its Pension Protection Act web page with the Annual Funding Notice for Defined Benefit Plans Proposed Rule, available at here, a fact sheet, available here, a model notice for single employer plans, available here, and a model notice for multiemployer plans, available here.  

Pension plan funding, reporting and disclosure and termination requirements are complicated in non-distress situations.  This complexity and the potential legal exposures of non-compliance can grow exponentially when a pension plan or one or more of its contributing employers becomes distress.  Furthermore, special controlled group, lien and successor liability rules incorporated into these funding requirements often create hidden risks for affiliated employers, lenders, potential purchasers and others dealing with these plans or the businesses that sponsor them.  As a consequence, all parties dealing with these plans should exercise care to understand and properly manage these exposures to avoid unintentionally triggering liability under these rules.

For More Information Or Assistance

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

About Ms. Stamer

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefit & Other Compensation Group, a Council Member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has more than 23 years experience advising and representing employers, health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries and plan administrators, consultants, vendors, outsourcers, insurers, governments and others about employment, employee benefit, compensation, and a wide range of other performance, legal and operational risk management practices and concerns.  As a part of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with clients to manage risks and defend practices under a wide range of laws and circumstances.  Her experience includes extensive work advising and representing employers, plans, plan fiduciaries, trustees, investors, and others about managing and resolving risks relating to distressed pension and other employee benefit plans, downsizing and other workforce reengineering and other similar matters.  A prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer also publishes, conducts client and other training, speaks and consults extensively on GINA and other employment and employee benefit risk management practices and concerns for the ABA, World At Work, SHRM, American Health Lawyers Association, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society for Professional Benefits Administrators, HCCA, Southwest Benefits Association and many other organizations.  Her insights on these and related topics have appeared in Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, various ABA publications and a many other national and local publications. To learn more about Ms. Stamer, her experience, involvements, programs and publications, see here or contact Ms. Stamer.

Other Resources & Developments

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

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©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.

 


Extension of Unemployment Benefits Signed Into Law & Immediately Effective As Filibuster Ends

March 3, 2010

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

Effective yesterday, the Temporary Extension Act of 2010, H.R. 4691,extended unemployment benefits to April 5, 2010.  It also extended  and expanded the COBRA premium  subsidy requirements originally established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and plan sponsor penalties for noncompliance.

In recent days, H.R. 4691 drew great media attention when its enactment was delayed by a filibuster by Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning.  As media coverage of the Bunning filibuster focused almost exclusively on its unemployment benefit extension provisions, many U.S. employers and others are unaware of its provisions extending and expanding the COBRA premium subsidy mandates and authorizing higher pay for Medicare doctors and funding for federal highway programs. President Obama signed H.R. 4691 into law on March 2, 2010 just hours after Senator Bunning ended his highly publicized filibuster.

Unemployment Benefit Extensions

H.R. 4691’s unemployment insurance benefit provisions became immediately effective when signed by the President.  These provisions:

  • Extend the period during which individuals may file applications for Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) from the current end date of February 28, 2010 to April 5, 2010 and extend  the period during which individuals may claim and be paid EUC from July 31, 2010 to September 4, 2010.
  • Extend from the current end date of February 28, 2010 to April 5, 2010 the period during which individuals may qualify for the Federal Additional Compensation (FAC), the extra $25 weekly benefit amount on state and federal unemployment compensation, while also providing for weekly payment during the phase out period for weeks ending October 5, 2010 instead of August 31, 2010.
  • Extend the period during which 100% federal reimbursement for weeks of regular federal extended benefit payments to April 5, 2010, with the state option to continue the extended period from July 31, 2010 to September 4, 2010.

COBRA Premium Subsidy Extended & New Penalties Added

In addition to extending unemployment benefits, H.R. 4691 also extends and expands the availability of the temporary COBRA subsidy rules originally added to the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) medical coverage continuation requirements by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“AARA”) last February.  For details about these COBRA premium subsidy amendments, see here.  To minimize their COBRA rights under the amended COBRA premium subsidy rules, group health plans, their employer or union sponsors, administrators, insurers and service providers will need to act quickly to prepare and provider required updated notifications to assistance eligible individuals of these extended eligibility periods and their resulting rights, and otherwise update their plan documents, procedures, and COBRA notifications in light of these new rules. 

For Added Information or Assistance

If your organization need advice or assistance with these or other labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation or related matters, consider contacting Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and representing management about labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation and other related management matters.  A nationally recognized author and lecturer, Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. 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 or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Examples of other recent updates that may be of interest include:

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

 ©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


New Labor Department Rule Allows Employers 7 Days To Deliver Employee Contributions To Employee Benefit Plans

January 14, 2010

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

Regulations published by the Department of Labor today (January 14, 2010) offer employers the opportunity to know their deposit of employee contributions and other amounts withheld from wages or otherwise received from employees with a pension, profit-sharing, health, or other welfare benefit plan is timely for purposes of the fiduciary responsibility requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) and the prohibited transaction rules of the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”) by depositing those amounts with the plan within the seven day period specified in a new safe harbor included in the Regulations.

Certainty about the timeliness of these deposits is important, as mishandling of these employee contributions, participant loan repayments or other employee benefit plan assets frequently triggers judgments, fines and penalties against companies that sponsor employee benefit plans as well as owners, board members, or other members of management. See Mishandling Employee Benefit Obligations Creates Big Liabilities For Distressed Businesses & Their Leaders.  Consequently, businesses sponsoring employee benefit programs and owners, officers, directors or other members of management with authority over or responsibility for the handling or application of amounts withheld or collected from employees as employee contributions or plan loans should make arrangements for these amounts to be properly handled and timely deposited with the appropriate employee benefit plan in accordance with these new plan asset regulations.

Title I of ERISA generally requires that employee benefit “plan assets” be held in trust, prudently handled and invested, used for the exclusive benefit of the plan and its participants, and otherwise used and administered in accordance with ERISA’s fiduciary responsibility rules.  Meanwhile, the use of “plan assets” of certain employee benefit plans in a manner prohibited by the Code’s prohibited transaction rules also may trigger excise taxes and other penalties.

For purposes of both ERISA and the Code, Labor Department Regulation § 2510.3-102, specifies that amounts (other than union dues) that an employer withholds from wages or otherwise collects from employees as employee contributions or loan repayments to an employee benefit plan generally become plan assets subject to these fiduciary responsibility rules “as of the earliest date on which such contributions or repayments can reasonably be segregated from the employer’s general assets.”  Since employers, business owners, members of management can risk exposure to damages, administrative penalties and/or excise taxes, knowing when amounts collected from employees are considered plan assets is a critical first step to managing these risks.

Unfortunately, the subjectivity of this standard leaves room for much uncertainty and debate about the precise deadline by which employee contributions, plan loans and other amounts from employees must be received by the plan. The subjectivity inherent in this standard leaves many employers uncertain about the adequacy of their compliance efforts and frequently fuels debate among plans, debtors, creditors, regulators or others about the when amounts earmarked to be withheld from employee wages cease to be assets of the debtor employer and become plan assets.

To mitigate debate and uncertainty about the timing of these events, Labor Department Regulation § 2510.3-102 as published in final form today includes a new “safe harbor” rule for plans with fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year. Under the safe harbor, employee contributions, plan loans and other amounts withheld from wages or received from employees for payment to an employee benefit plan are treated as treated timely paid to the plan if deposited with the plan not later than the 7th business day following the day on which such amount is received by the employer (in the case of amounts that a participant or beneficiary pays to an employer), or the 7th business day following the day on which such amount would otherwise have been payable to the participant in cash (in the case of amounts withheld by an employer from a participant’s wages).  While this safe harbor assures employers and others that withhold from wages or receive employee contributions or participant loan payments owing to less than 100 participant plans that their deposit will be considered timely if received by the plan within seven days, the plan asset regulations leave open that deposit with the plan more than 7 after receipt might still be considered timely deposit with the plan under certain circumstance. 

Where deposit with the plan is not made within the seven-day period established by the safe harbor, the plan asset rules continue to leave room for great subjectivity in the determination of the deadline for deposit.  In addition to the seven-day safe harbor, the plan asset regulations clearly establish bright-line deadlines after which the deposit of employee contribution or plan loan amounts always will be considered untimely. Thus, the plan asset rules provide that the deadline for depositing employee contributions and plan loans with the plan in no event ever extends beyond the applicable of the following dates (the “Latest Date”)

  • For pension plans, the 15th business day of the month following the month in which the employee contribution or participant loan repayment amounts are withheld or received by the employer;
  • With respect to a SIMPLE plan that involves SIMPLE IRAs the 30th calendar day following the month in which the participant contribution amounts would otherwise have been payable to the participant in cash; and
  • For health and other welfare benefit plans, 90 days from the date on which the employee contribution is withheld or received by the employer.

In all other instances, the plan asset regulations leave open to uncertainty and debate when and if an employer’s deposit of employee contributions and plan loans more than seven-days after payroll deduction or receipt but before the Latest Date will qualify as timely for purposes of ERISA Title I or the Code’s prohibited transaction provisions.

Companies and owners, officers and directors of businesses that harm plans by failing to ensure that these amounts are timely deposited into an employee benefit plan or otherwise are involved in the mishandling of these funds frequently become subject to prosecution, damage awards, civil penalties and excise taxes.  To mitigate potential exposure to these risks, businesses and leaders of businesses that withhold from wages or collect employee contributions or plan loan payments from employees should make arrangements to ensure that these amounts timely are deposited with the appropriate plans and otherwise handled appropriately in accordance with ERISA and the Code.

If your business or employee benefit plan needs assistance evaluating or responding to these or other employee benefit, or other employment, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance or other concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. 

Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, a representative to the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 22 years. She is experienced with assisting employers, insurers, administrators, and others to design and administer group health plans cost-effectively in accordance with these and other applicable federal regulations as well as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employee benefit, labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators.  Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. 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 or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


Certain Workforce Reductions Trigger Plant Closing Notice & Other Obligations

January 6, 2010

While some businesses report improved business or hiring outlooks for 2010, many others are running out of time before the economic downturn and financing restrictions will force them to implement workforce reductions, close plants, or shut down all or portions of their business operations.  Where a distressed business contemplates a plant closing or mass layoff, the business and its leaders should consider its potential responsibilities under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) and where applicable, make appropriate arrangements to comply or implement the restructuring to minimize or avoid triggering WARN obligations.

In addition to WARN, business contemplating or implementing a plan closing, mass layoff or other reductions in force also should evaluate and make appropriate arrangements to address potential obligations under state plant closing laws, the ARRA Stimulus Bill Extension Rules amended and extended earlier this month and other requirements of COBRA, voluntary or contractually obligated termination pay or other severance obligations, employee benefit, unemployment, and other laws.  Read more.


Newly Extended COBRA Subsidy Rules Require Employers, Administrators Send Required Notices & Update Health Plan Documents & Procedures Quickly

January 6, 2010

Employer and union sponsored group health plans, their sponsors and administrators must act quickly to provide required notifications and implement other plan document and procedural changes required to comply with the extension and expansion of temporary “COBRA Subsidy Rules” for “assistance eligible individuals” signed into law as part of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326).  In some cases, required notifications are due in early February, 2010.

The COBRA Subsidy Rules originally were added to the group health plan medical coverage continuation requirements of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, as amended (“COBRA”) by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“AARA”) last February and extended and expanded just before Congress recessed for the Holidays.  H.R. 3326 extended the period that employer and union-sponsored group health plans must allow employees and members of their family that lose group health plan coverage due to an involuntary employment loss to continue their group medical coverage under the reduced premium and other temporary ARRA COBRA Subsidy Rules and lengthened the period during which an involuntary employment loss can qualify an otherwise COBRA-eligible employee or dependent as an assistance eligible individual.  Health plan administrators must provide notifications to assistance eligible individuals and restore COBRA eligibility and coverage at reduced premiums for certain assistance eligible individuals who allowed their coverage to lapse before the extension. Legislation that would reduced the premiums health plans are allowed to charge and further extend the rules to June, 2010 still is pending in Congress.  Curran Tomko Tarski LLP already has worked with several clients to understand these changes, amend their documents and prepare notices.   Read more.

Group health plans, their employer or union sponsors, administrators, insurers and service providers will need to act quickly to prepare and provider required updated notifications to assistance eligible individuals of these extended eligibility periods and their resulting rights,  and otherwise update their plan documents, procedures, and COBRA notifications in light of these new rules. 

If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to these or other employment, health or other employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance or other concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  The author of the “Health Plan Eligibility Toolkit,” Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers, insurers, administrators, and others to design and administer group health plans cost-effectively in accordance with COBRA and other applicable federal regulations as well as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators.. Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, a representative to the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 22 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. 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 or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

 

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


3 Articles On Employee Benefit Risk Management Published In ABA RPTE E-Report

December 23, 2009

Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer  the author of three articles in the December  2009 Issue of the American Bar Association Real Property Probate & Trust Section E-Report:

Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Compensation Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits  Council member, and Chair of the Curran Tomko Tarski Labor, Employment & Employee Benefits Practice, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is  nationally and internationally recognized for her work assisting businesses, employee benefit plan fiduciaries and vendors, insurers, administrative services providers, governments, and other entities to develop administer and defend cost-effective employee benefit other human resources programs, policies and procedures to meet their budgetary, risk management and compliance and other objectives.  Board certified in Labor & Employment law, Ms. Stamer applies her extensive experience regarding employment, employee benefit, and other related laws to assists clients in a wide range of business and litigation contexts.   The co-founder of the Solutions Law Consortium, Ms. Stamer, also is the publisher of Solutions Law HR & Benefits Update. She speaks and writes extensively about employee benefits and other human resources, compensation and internal controls matters.

If your organization or employee benefit plan needs assistance with employee benefits, labor and employment or other internal controls and risk management matters, please contact Ms. Stamer at cstamer@cttlegal.com, (214) 270-2402; or another Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP attorney of your choice.  For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see here.

Other Helpful Resources & Information

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 or e-mailing this information to cstamer@cttlegal.com or registering to participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our CTT HR & Employee Benefits Update distributions in blog form via RSS feed here.  You also may be interested in staying abreast of emerging internal controls and compliance challenges by reviewing and registering for our Corporate Compliance, Risk Management & Internal Controls distributions.  For important information concerning this communication click here.  If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to support@cttlegal.com.

©2009 Curran Tomko Tarski LLP.  All rights reserved.

If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to the  Proposed Regulations, the Q&As, or other employment, compensation, employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance practices, concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation and employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 20 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. 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 or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


President Signs Law Extending & Expanding Temporary AARA COBRA Subsidy Requirements For Group Health Plans

December 22, 2009

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

Employer and union sponsored group health plans, their sponsors and administrators must act quickly to comply with the extension and expansion of temporary “COBRA Subsidy Rules” for “assistance eligible individuals” originally added to the group health plan medical coverage continuation requirements of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, as amended (“COBRA”) by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“AARA”) last February.

The Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326) signed into law by President Obama on December 19, 2009 extended the period that employer and union-sponsored group health plans must allow employees and members of their family that lose group health plan coverage due to an involuntary employment loss to continue their group medical coverage under the reduced premium and other temporary ARRA COBRA Subsidy Rules and lengthened the period during which an involuntary employment loss can qualify an otherwise COBRA-eligible employee or dependent as an assistance eligible individual.

Original COBRA Subsidy Rules

As originally enacted, the ARRA COBRA Subsidy Rules limited the COBRA premium that a COBRA-covered group health plan could charge a COBRA-eligible employee or dependent whose group health plan eligibility ended due to an involuntary employment loss between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009 (“assistance eligible individual”) to 35% of the otherwise applicable COBRA premium (the “Reduced ARRA Premium”) for a period of up to 9 months (the “Subsidy Period”).  ARRA dictated that employers sponsoring these group health plans must pay the remaining 65% of the COBRA premium (the “COBRA Subsidy”) for the assistance eligible individual during the Subsidy Period, but allowed employers to seek reimbursement by claiming a payroll tax credit for these COBRA Subsidy payments by complying with applicable IRS procedures.  AARA also mandated that group health plans offering a choice of coverage options offer assistance eligible individuals the option to switch coverage options and required group health plans to notify assistance eligible individuals of the special COBRA Subsidy Rules.

H.R. 3326 COBRA Subsidy Rules Extension

As signed into law on December 19, 2009, H.R. 3326:

  • Extends the period during which an involuntary employment loss can qualify an otherwise COBRA-eligible employee or dependent as an assistance eligible individual for an additional two months (from December 31, 2009 to February 28, 2010);
  • Adds an additional six months (from 9 to 15 months) the Subsidy Period during which an assistance eligible individual experiencing an involuntary loss of employment between September 1, 2008 and February 28, 2010 is entitled to pay the Reduced AARA Premium;
  • Requires group health plans to notify assistance eligible individuals of the extension; and
  • Requires group health plans to allow additional time for assistance eligible individuals who had exhausted their original 9-month Subsidy Period before H.R. 3326 extended the Subsidy Period to 15 months to pay the Reduced AARA Premium related to the extension.

Group health plans, their employer or union sponsors, administrators, insurers and service providers will need to act quickly to prepare and provider required updated notifications to assistance eligible individuals of these extended eligibility periods and their resulting rights,  and otherwise update their plan documents, procedures, and COBRA notifications in light of these new rules. 

If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to these or other employment, health or other employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance or other concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  The author of the “Health Plan Eligibility Toolkit,” Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers, insurers, administrators, and others to design and administer group health plans cost-effectively in accordance with COBRA and other applicable federal regulations as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators.. Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, a representative to the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 22 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters.  For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. 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 or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


Mishandling Employee Benefit Obligations Creates Big Liabilities For Distressed Businesses & Their Business Leaders

December 18, 2009

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

Business owners, executives, board members, and other business leaders of companies facing financial challenges should heed a mounting series of recent fiduciary liability settlement orders, judgments and prosecutions as strong reminders of the potential personal risk they may face if their health, 401(k) or other employee benefit programs are not appropriately funded and administered as required by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA). 

Businesses leaders struggling to deal with economic setbacks frequently may be tempted to use employee benefit plan contributions or funds for added liquidity or otherwise fail to take appropriate steps to protect and timely deposit plan contributions or other plan assets.  A long and ever-mounting series of decisions demonstrates the risks of yielding to these temptations for businesses that sponsor these plans and the business leaders that make these decisions.

EBSA Prosecutes Businesses & Executives That Bungle ERISA Obligations

The mishandling of employee benefit obligations by financially distressed companies during the ongoing economic downturn is fueling an increase in Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) enforcement actions against distressed or bankrupt companies and their officers or directors for alleged breaches of fiduciary duties or other mishandling of medical, 401(k) or other pension, and other employee benefit programs sponsored by their financially distressed companies.

EBSA enforcement activities during 2009 continue to highlight the longstanding and ongoing policy of aggressive investigation and enforcement of alleged misconduct by companies, company officials, and service providers in connection with the maintenance, administration and funding of ERISA-regulated employee benefit plans. A review of the Labor Department’s enforcement record makes clear that where the Labor Department perceives that a plan sponsor or its management fails to take appropriate steps to protect plan participants, the Labor Department will aggressively pursue enforcement regardless of the size of the plan sponsor or its plan, or the business hardships that the plan sponsor may be facing.

EBSA reports enforcing $1.3 billion in recoveries related to pension, 401(k), health and other benefits during fiscal year 2009. EBSA has filed numerous lawsuits to compel distressed companies and/or members of their management to pay restitution or other damages for alleged breaches of ERISA fiduciary duties, to appoint independent fiduciaries, or both for plans sponsored by bankrupt or financially distressed companies.

Recent settlements and judgments obtained by the Labor Department and through private litigation document that officers and other members of management participating, or possessing authority to influence, the handling of heath, 401(k) and other pension, or other employee benefit plans regulated by ERISA may be exposed to personal liability if these benefit programs are not maintained and administered appropriately. This risk is particularly grave when the sponsoring company becomes financially distressed or goes bankrupt, as the handling of employee benefit and other responsibilities becomes particularly disrupted and the lack of company liquidity often leaves executives and service providers as the only or best source of recovery for government officials and private plaintiffs.

Executives Ordered To Pay To Make Things Right

In the December 2, 2009 decision in Solis v. Struthers Industries Inc., for instance, a federal district judge ordered business leader Jomey B. Ethridge liable to pay $303,084.61 to restore assets belonging to the 401(k) plan of bankrupt Struthers Industries in an ERISA fiduciary responsibility action filed by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA). Filed by the EBSA in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, the Struthers Industries lawsuit alleged that Ethridge and Struthers Industries allowed employee contributions to be used for purposes other than providing benefits resulting in losses of $310,084.57.  According to court documents, Struthers Industries designed and built heat transfer and pressure vessels at its Gulfport facility. In 2001, its 401(k) plan had 278 participants and assets totaling $8,279,083. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2003, and its assets were auctioned off in 2005. An independent fiduciary was appointed by the court in 2007 to manage the plan’s assets.  The ordered Ethridge personally to pay $303,084.61 in restitution to the plan for his involvement in the mishandling of the plan’s assets. The order also bars Ethridge from acting as a benefit plan fiduciary in the future.

The Struthers Industries decision comes on the heels of EBSA’s success in Solis v. T.E. Corcoran Co. Inc. last month in recovering more than $89,000 from business owners and operators found to have breached fiduciary duties to the participants of the T.E. Corcoran Co. Inc. Profit Sharing Plan by improperly loaning plan assets to he plan sponsor and an affiliated company. The Labor Department sued T.E. Corcoran Co. and its owners, John F. Corcoran and Thomas E. Corcoran Jr., alleging that the company and its owners caused the plan to lend money to the two companies at below market interest rates, without terms of payment and without documentation in violation of ERISA. The suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, also named as a defendant Coran Development Co. Inc., a company co-owned by the Corcorans.  T.E. Corcoran Co. Inc. was the sponsor and administrator of the plan, while John and Thomas Corcoran were trustees of the plan, making all three fiduciaries and parties in interest with respect to the plan. ERISA specifically prohibits the use of employee benefit plan funds to benefit parties in interest.

The Corcoran judgment requires that the plan account balances of defendants John F. Corcoran and Thomas E. Corcoran Jr. be offset in the amount of $89,273 plus interest to be allocated to the accounts of the other plan participants. The offset will make whole all of the accounts of the non-trustee participants. In addition, the court order appoints an independent trustee to oversee the final distribution of the plan’s assets and the proper termination of the plan, requires the defendants to cooperate fully with the independent trustee in this process, and then prohibits them from serving as fiduciaries to any ERISA-covered plan for 10 years.

A complex maze of ERISA, tax and other rules make the establishment, administration and termination of employee benefit plans a complicated matter. When the company sponsoring a plan goes bankrupt or becomes distressed, the rules, as well as the circumstances can make the administration of these responsibilities a powder keg of liability for all involved. Companies and other individuals that in name or in function possess or exercise discretionary responsibility or authority over the maintenance, administration or funding of employee benefit plans regulated by ERISA frequently are found to be accountable for complying with the high standards required by ERISA for carrying out these duties based on their functional ability to exercise discretion over these matters, whether or not they have been named as fiduciaries formally.

Despite these well-document fiduciary exposures and a well-established pattern of enforcement by the Labor Department and private plaintiffs, many companies and their business leaders fail to appreciate the responsibilities and liabilities associated with the establishment and administration of employee benefit plans. Frequently, companies sponsoring their employee benefit plans and their executives mistakenly assume that they can rely upon vendors and advisors to ensure that their programs are appropriately established the establishment and maintenance of these arrangements with limited review or oversight by the sponsoring company or its management team.

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

For this reason, businesses providing employee benefits to employees or dependents, as well as members of management participating in, or having responsibility to oversee or influence decisions concerning the establishment, maintenance, funding, and administration of their organization’s employee benefit programs need a clear understanding of their responsibilities with respect to such programs, the steps that they should take to demonstrate their fulfillment of these responsibilities, and their other options for preventing or mitigating their otherwise applicable fiduciary risks.

If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to these or other employment, health or other employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance or other concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation and employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 20 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

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