OSHA Cites Second Business For COVID Safety Violations

August 25, 2021

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has issued two citations against AMA Health Holdings LLC, for violating an OSHA emergency COVID standard published in June at its Seaside Guest Services transitional housing facility. Like OSHA’s July 23rd $273,064.00 citation of Lakewood Resource and Referral Center Inc. (“CHEMED”), the AMA Holdings citations and proposed penalties illustrate the risks health industry and other employers face for failing to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols. 

The AMA Holdings citations stem from a complaint-driven OSHA investigation at the Seaside Guest Services’ residential housing facility in Trenton, New Jersey where 11 employees and 28 residents tested positive for the coronavirus by late March found numerous violations.

The residential facility provides transitional housing for people attending area behavioral-health programs and those who have completed some level of addiction treatment.

In June OSHA issued an emergency temporary standard to protect healthcare workers from contracting coronavirus. In March, OSHA launched a national emphasis program focusing enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting the coronavirus. The program also prioritizes employers who retaliate against workers for complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions, or for exercising other rights protected by federal law. 

According to OSHA, its investigation of a complaint revealed that while Seaside Guest Services’ continuity of operations plan required that residents with coronavirus be isolated and workers notified, neither happened. Additionally, OSHA inspectors determined the facility provided protective masks to its employees, but did not enforce their use. Seaside also failed to enforce social distancing despite posting signs in its four housing units.

OSHA cited the facility’s operator, AMA Health Holdings LLC, with two citations for failing to develop and implement effective measures to mitigate the spread of the virus and not recording each work-related illness. The agency proposed $10,923 in penalties.

AMA Health Holdings LLC has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

The AMA Holdings OSHA actions demonstrate OSHA’s commitment to investigate complaints of violations is its COVID emergency standards and fine employers that violate them.

The citations against AMA Health Holdings follow OSHA’s earlier citation of CHEMED for retaliating against employees for questioning the adequacy of COVID safety at the dental practice where they worked.

In the face of these enforcement actions, all employers should take care to ensure their ability to demonstrate and defend their operation’s compliance with all applicable emergency COVID safety standards and other safety requirements here

As illustrated by the recently issued Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) nursing home vaccination mandate announced last week, OSHA requirements evolve are likely to evolve rapidly in response to changing CDC guidance. Consequently, employers should remain vigilant for changing requirements and respond accordingly. 

Additionally, employers should keep in mind that improperly handled employee questions or statements of concern about the adequacy of workplace COVID -19 safeguards could create retaliation or whistleblower risks. Accordingly, employers should use care to investigate and respond carefully to these concerns.

More Information

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you to receive future updates by registering here 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. 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. For specific information about the these or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

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 working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce compliance, performance management, internal controls and governance, compensation and benefits, regulatory compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns.

For more information about these concerns or Ms. Stamer’s work, experience, involvements, other publications, or programs, see www.cynthiastamer.com,  on  Facebook, on LinkedIn or Twitter or 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.

©2021 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™


IRS Gives Employers Guidance On Claiming ARP Tax Credits For Paid COVID Leave

April 27, 2021

Small and midsize employers and government employers interested in claiming refundable tax credits allowed by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARP”) to reimburse the employer for the cost of providing ARP-mandated paid sick and family leave to their employees due to COVID-19 (“COVID Leave”) between April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021 should review the new fact sheet designated FS-2021-09 (“FS-2021-9”) published by the Internal Revenue Service on April 21, 2021.

ARP Paid Sick And Family Leave For Which Tax Credits Can Be Claimed

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) required employers with 500 or fewer employees to provide employees with paid sick leave (“COVID Paid Leave”) or expanded family and medical leave (“COVID Unpaid Leave”) for specified reasons (“COVID Events”) related to COVID-19 through December 31, 2020, but provided for Covered Employers to be reimbursed for these expenditures through employment tax credits claimed by the employer.

Although the FFCRA COVID Paid Leave mandate expired on December 31, 2021 and was not revived or extended by ARP, ARP preserved and extended the availability of the employment tax credits for eligible employers opting to voluntarily continue to provide COVID Paid Leave for all employees between December 31, 2021 and September 30, 2021.  Thus, ARP authorizes employers of 500 or fewer employees that voluntarily provide COVID Paid Leave for all employees to claim a tax credit against their employment taxes.

While the FFCRA mandate was in effect, Covered Employers generally were required to excuse from work and pay the a percentage of the employee’s regular pay up to the specified statutory cap (“COVID Pay”) to any employee unable to work due to a COVID Event until the first work shift that begins on or after the earlier of the following dates:

  • The termination of the need for the COVID Paid Leave; or
  • The date the employee exhausts his maximum entitlement to Paid COVID Leave.

Employers Eligible To Claim ARP Tax Credit

The ARP tax credits generally are available to any eligible employer that voluntarily pays the COVID Paid Leave previously mandated by FFCRA through September 30, 2021.  An eligible employer is any business, including a tax-exempt organization, with fewer than 500 employees. An eligible employer also includes a governmental employer, other than the federal government and any agency or instrumentality of the federal government that is not an organization described in section 501(c)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code. Self-employed individuals also are eligible for similar tax credits.  FS-2021-9 clarifies how employers that provide COVID Paid Leave can claim the ARP employment tax credits.

ARP Tax Credit Amounts

The ARP paid leave credits are tax credits against the employer’s share of the Medicare tax. The tax credits are refundable, which means that the employer is entitled to payment of the full amount of the credits if it exceeds the employer’s share of the Medicare tax.

The tax credit for paid sick leave wages is equal to the sick leave wages paid for COVID-19 related reasons for up to 80 hours for full-time employees (or for each part-time employee, up to the average number of hours such employee works over a 2-week period), limited to $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate, at 100 percent of the employee’s regular rate of pay. The tax credit for paid family leave wages is equal to the family leave wages paid for up to twelve weeks, limited to $200 per day and $12,000 in the aggregate, at 2/3rds of the employee’s regular rate of pay. The amount of these tax credits is increased by allocable health plan expenses and contributions for certain collectively bargained benefits, as well as the employer’s share of social security and Medicare taxes paid on the wages (up to the respective daily and total caps).

Claiming The Credit

Eligible employers may claim tax credits for sick and family leave paid to employees, including leave taken to receive or recover from COVID-19 vaccinations, for leave  between April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021.

Eligible employers report their total paid sick and family leave wages (plus the eligible health plan expenses and collectively bargained contributions and the eligible employer’s share of social security and Medicare taxes on the paid leave wages) for each quarter on their federal employment tax return.  Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return is used by most employers to report income tax and social security and Medicare taxes withheld from employee wages, as well as the employer’s own share of social security and Medicare taxes.

In anticipation of claiming the credits on the Form 941, FS-2021-9 confirms eligible employers can keep the federal employment taxes that they otherwise would have deposited, including federal income tax withheld from employees, the employees’ share of social security and Medicare taxes and the eligible employer’s share of social security and Medicare taxes with respect to all employees up to the amount of credit for which they are eligible. The Form 941 instructions  explain how to reflect the reduced liabilities for the quarter related to the deposit schedule.

If an eligible employer does not have enough federal employment taxes set aside for deposit to cover amounts provided as paid sick and family leave wages (plus the eligible health plan expenses and collectively bargained contributions and the eligible employer’s share of social security and Medicare taxes on the paid leave wages), the eligible employer may request an advance of the credits by filing Form 7200, Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19. The eligible employer will account for the amounts received as an advance when it files its Form 941for the relevant quarter.

FS-2021-9 states that self-employed individuals may claim comparable tax credits on their individual Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

Reminder About Complying With ARP COVID-19 Premium Subsidy Mandates

Employers also should keep in mind that while ARP made paying COVID Paid Leave voluntary, compliance with ARP’s COVID Premium Subsidy rule is mandatory for covered group health plans and their sponsors.  Covered group health plans generally include all group health plans sponsored by private-sector employers or employee organizations (unions) subject to the COBRA rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA); group health plans sponsored by State or local governments subject to the continuation provisions under the Public Health Service Act and group health insurance required to comply with state mini-COBRA laws.

ARP’s COBRA Premium Subsidy rules dictate that covered group health plans offer and allow individuals previously enrolled in employee or dependent coverage who qualify as “assistance eligible individuals” to reinstate if necessary and continue health benefits by enrolling in continuation coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act (“COBRA Coverage”) at no charge during their applicable Premium Subsidy Period, but simultaneously allows employer or other sponsors of these group health plans to claim an employment tax credit to reimburse the employer or other health plan sponsor for the amount of the foregone COBRA premiums.

Assistance eligible individuals generally are COBRA qualified beneficiaries who lost coverage under the group health plan due to an involuntary reduction in hours or termination of employment enrolled in COBRA Coverage between April 1, 2021 and September 31, 2021 including those qualifying event was an involuntary employment loss occurring during the 18-month period (29-months for individuals qualifying for extended COBRA eligibility due to disability) prior to April 1, 2021 not enrolled in COBRA as of April 1, 2021.  This generally includes COBRA qualified beneficiaries whose loss of group health coverage results from an involuntary employment reduction or loss for a reason other than gross misconduct after  ARP’s enactment on March 11, 2021 as well as qualified beneficiaries whose involuntary employment loss happened before the effective date who but for their previous failure to elect COBRA or to maintain COBRA Coverage would still be entitled to COBRA Coverage because less than 18 months (29 months for qualified beneficiaries disabled on the date of coverage loss who qualify for extension of the disability coverage period) has elapsed since their employment loss and an event has not occurred following the coverage termination that would terminate their COBRA eligibility before the end of such otherwise applicable maximum COBRA eligibility period.  Group health plans must offer a second opportunity to enroll in COBRA Coverage with COBRA premium assistance to qualified beneficiaries eligible for premium assistance not enrolled in COBRA Coverage as of April 1, 2021.

Assistance eligible individuals who timely enroll in COBRA Coverage with premium assistance generally must receive COBRA Coverage free of charge from the group health plan for any coverage period during the period that begins on or after April 1, 2021 until the earliest of the following dates (the “Premium Subsidy Period”):[1]

  • The date the qualified beneficiary is eligible[2] for coverage under any other group health plan (other than coverage consisting of only excepted benefits,[3] coverage under a health flexible spending arrangement under Code Section 106(c)(2), coverage under a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement under Code Section 9831(d)(2) or eligible for benefits under the Medicare program under title XVIII of the Social Security Act;
  • The date of the expiration of the otherwise applicable maximum period of COBRA continuation coverage under Code Section 4980B (other than due to a failure to elect or discontinuation of coverage for nonpayment of COBRA premium that occurred before April 1, 2021).

To implement these rules, ARP also requires that no later than May 31, 2021, covered group health plan administrators notify eligible qualified beneficiaries eligible to obtain COBRA coverage due to a reduction in hours or termination of employment with premium assistance during their Premium Subsidy Period.  In addition to notifying employees and dependents experiencing employment loss related terminations of group health plan coverage of these rules on or after April 1, 2021, the ARP COBRA Premium Subsidy rules also require covered group health plans to notify certain former covered employees or dependents that lost coverage due to a loss of reduction in hours of employment within the last 18 (or in the case of an individual disabled on the date of the loss of coverage meeting certain other rules, potentially 29) months prior to April 1, 2021 qualify to enroll in COBRA coverage at no cost from April 1, 2021 through the end of the Premium Subsidy Period.  Group health plans also are required to send a notification to assistance eligible individuals that elect to enroll using the COBRA Premium Subsidy when their COBRA Premium Subsidy Period expiration is impending.

Regulatory guidance released by the Employee Benefit Security Administration on April 7, 2021 includes model notices and other preliminary guidance on the COBRA Premium Assistance Rules.

Compliance with these requirements is critical for group health plans and their employer or other sponsors.  Plans and their administrators can face administrative sanctions, lawsuits brought by assistance eligible individuals or the Department of Labor or both.  Additionally, as COBRA is one of the 40 laws listed in Internal Revenue Code section 6039D, employer or other plan sponsors of noncompliant plans could become responsible for self-identifying, reporting, self-assessing and paying excise taxes if the violation is not corrected by the due date of their business tax return (without extensions).

To mitigate the impact of complying with the COBRA Premium Subsidy rule, the employer or other entity that bears the cost of providing the COBRA Premium Subsidy should investigate and, if applicable, claim the ARP authorized employment tax credit.  Section 6432 of ARP authorizes the following party  to claim a quarterly tax credit toward the employment taxes under Internal Revenue Code section 3111(b), or so much of the taxes imposed under section 3221(a) as attributable to the rate in effect under section 3111(b), for each calendar quarter.  The amount of the available tax credit is equal to the premiums paid on behalf of the assistance eligible individuals for COBRA Coverage under the COBRA Premium Subsidy rule:

  • If the group health plan is a “multiemployer plan” under ERISA section 3(37), the plan;
  • If the group health plan is not a multiemployer plan and either (a) subject to COBRA or (b) is a plan under which some or all of the coverage is not provided by insurance, and (c), is not a multiemployer plan, the employer; and
  • In the case of any group health plan not described in paragraph (1) or (2), the insurer providing the coverage under the group health plan.

The credit allowed under these provisions for any calendar quarter can’t exceed the tax imposed under those sections for the calendar quarter (reduced by any credits allowed against such taxes under sections 3131, 3132, and 3134) on the wages paid with respect to the employment of all employees of the employer.  Rather, ARP provides that if the amount of the credit allowed exceeds the amount of tax due for that calendar quarter, such excess is treated as an overpayment refundable under Code sections 6402(a) and 6413(b).   Moreover, ARP allows for the credit, including the refundable portion under subparagraph (A),to be advanced, according to forms and instructions provided by the Secretary through the end of the most recent payroll period in the quarter and authorizes the Secretary of Treasury to waive any penalty under section 6656 for any failure to make a deposit of the employment taxes tax imposed by section 3111(b) or section 3221(a)  where the failure was due to the anticipation of the credit allowed under this section.

ARP includes various other rules regarding the calculation and claiming of the credits and for handling situations where assistance eligible individuals make payments which should have been waived.  The Department of Treasury is expected to issue guidance about these and other details of regarding the COBRA Premium Subsidy rules tax credit provisions soon.  Stay tuned for added guidance.

More Information

If you need assistance or would like additional information about these or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. also invites you receive future updates by registering here 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. 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. For specific information about the these or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

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 working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce compliance, performance management, internal controls and governance, compensation and benefits, regulatory compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns.

Most widely recognized for her work with workforce, health care, life sciences, insurance and data and technology organizations, she also has worked extensively with health plan and insurance, employee benefits, financial, transportation, manufacturing, energy, real estate, accounting and other services, public and private academic and other education, hospitality, charitable, civic and other business, government and community organizations. and their leaders.

Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising, representing, defending and training domestic and international public and private business, charitable, community and governmental organizations and their leaders, employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries and service providers, insurers, and others has published and spoken extensively on these concerns. As part of these involvements, she has worked, published and spoken extensively on these and other federal and state wage and hour and other compensation, discrimination, performance management, and other related human resources, employee benefits and other workforce and services; insurance; workers’ compensation and occupational disease; business reengineering, disaster and distress;  and many other risk management, compliance, public policy and performance concerns.

A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension  project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on these and other legislative, regulatory and other legislative and regulatory design, drafting, interpretation and enforcement, as well as 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.

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-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.

©2021 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™


Model Notice & Related Guidance For Complying With COVID Bill COBRA Subsidy Rules Released; Send Notices & Begin Compliance ASAP

April 7, 2021

Group health plans, their plan administrators and fiduciaries, employer or other sponsors, administrative services providers and insurers should act quickly to distribute required notices using the regulatory guidance just released today (April 7, 2021) and take other actions needed to comply with the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1985 (“COBRA”) coverage and premium subsidy notification, enrollment and coverage continuation requirements created by Section 9501 (the “COBRA Premium Assistance Rules”) of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARP ”) enacted last month.

The guidance package released today by the Employee Benefit Security Administration includes model notices and other preliminary guidance on the COBRA Premium Assistance Rules, which among other things require group health plans to notify “assistance eligible individuals” no later than May 31, 2021 of right under ARP Section 9501 to enroll in free COBRA Coverage during the ARP Premium Subsidy Period that began April 1, 2021.

As the deadline for providing notification to qualified beneficiaries is May 31, 2021 and the 60 day period for enrolling in COBRA coverage under the ARP COBRA Subsidy Rules does not begin until proper notification is provided, group health plan should move quickly to prepare and distribute the notifications and make other necessary plan arrangements.

This article provides an general overview of the ARP COBRA Premium Subsidy Rules and the Model Notices published by the Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (“EBSA”) on April 7, 2021 to assist group health plans and their administrators to comply with their notification obligations under these Rules.  For a more comprehensive discussion of these requirements, see here.

New COVID COBRA Premium Subsidy Rules Overview

Section 9501 of the ARP seeks to help “assistance eligible individuals” continue their health benefits by providing assistance to maintain enrollment in covered group health plans by allowing them to enroll and maintain COBRA coverage under those plans without paying their COBRA continuation coverage premiums.  

Covered group health plans generally include all group health plans sponsored by private-sector employers or employee organizations (unions) subject to the COBRA rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA); group health plans sponsored by State or local governments subject to the continuation provisions under the Public Health Service Act and group health insurance required to comply with state mini-COBRA laws.

In addition to mandating the provision of COBRA Coverage at no cost, no later than May 31, 2021, the ARP requires covered group health plans to notify certain former covered employees or dependents that qualify to enroll in COBRA coverage as “assistance eligible individuals” of their right within 60 days of notification to enroll in COBRA Coverage under the group health plan at no cost from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021 or, if earlier, the date their COBRA eligibility otherwise end (the “Premium Subsidy Period”). 

From April 1 to September 31, 2021, group health plans cannot require an assistance eligible individual to pay any premiums for COBRA Coverage during his Premium Subsidy Period. ARP requires group health plans to provide COBRA Coverage without charge to assistance eligible individuals who qualify for and elect to enroll in COBRA Coverage with premium subsidy unless individual’s eligibility for COBRA or COBRA premium assistance ends before that date.  Specific notifications to qualified beneficiaries also are required.  

To implement these rules, ARP also requires that no later than May 31, 2021, covered group health plan administrators notify eligible qualified beneficiaries eligible to obtain COBRA coverage with premium assistance by applying for enrollment within the 60 day period following notification.

Assistance eligible individuals who timely enroll in COBRA Coverage with premium assistance generally must receive COBRA Coverage free of charge from the group health plan for any coverage period during the period that begins on or after April 1, 2021 until the earliest of the following dates (the “Premium Subsidy Period”):[1]

  • The date the qualified beneficiary is eligible[2] for coverage under any other group health plan (other than coverage consisting of only excepted benefits,[3] coverage under a health flexible spending arrangement under Code Section 106(c)(2), coverage under a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement under Code Section 9831(d)(2) or eligible for benefits under the Medicare program under title XVIII of the Social Security Act;
  • The date of the expiration of the otherwise applicable maximum period of COBRA continuation coverage under Code Section 4980B (other than due to a failure to elect or discontinuation of coverage for nonpayment of COBRA premium that occurred before April 1, 2021).

Assistance eligible individuals generally are qualified beneficiaries who lost coverage under the group health plan due to an involuntary reduction in hours or termination of employment enrolled in COBRA Coverage between April 1, 2021 and September 31, 2021 including those qualifying event was an involuntary employment loss occurring during the 18-month period (29-months for individuals qualifying for extended COBRA eligibility due to disability) prior to April 1, 2021 not enrolled in COBRA as of April 1, 2021.  This generally includes COBRA qualified beneficiaries whose loss of group health coverage results from an involuntary employment reduction or loss for a reason other than gross misconduct after  ARP’s enactment on March 11, 2021 as well as qualified beneficiaries whose involuntary employment loss happened before the effective date who but for their previous failure to elect COBRA or to maintain COBRA Coverage would still be entitled to COBRA Coverage because less than 18 months (29 months for qualified beneficiaries disabled on the date of coverage loss who qualify for extension of the disability coverage period) has elapsed since their employment loss and an event has not occurred following the coverage termination that would terminate their COBRA eligibility before the end of such otherwise applicable maximum COBRA eligibility period.  Group health plans must offer a second opportunity to enroll in COBRA Coverage with COBRA premium assistance to qualified beneficiaries eligible for premium assistance not enrolled in COBRA Coverage as of April 1, 2021.

Sponsoring employers or other plan sponsors may qualify to claim an employment tax credit for COBRA premiums paid on behalf of assistance eligible individuals.  Guidance on these tax rules is pending.

Required Group Health Plan Notifications To Assistance Eligible Individuals

ARP requires group health plans to provide certain written notifications to qualified beneficiaries entitled to qualify to enroll in COBRA coverage with premium assistance.  This generally includes a requirement to provide an initial notification of the availability of premium assistance for COBRA coverage to assistance eligible individuals by the later of May 31, 2021 and subsequently to provide notice of the impending termination of eligibility for the COBRA Premium Subsidy during the 30 day period that begins 45 days before eligibility for COBRA Premium Subsidy ends. ARP dictates the minimum required content of such notices.  Failure to provide the required notification is a failure to meet the notice requirements under the applicable COBRA continuation provision that subjects the group health plan administer and its sponsor to liability.

While ARP allows plan administrators the option of designing their own notices and forms to fulfill this requirement, it also directed the Department of Labor in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop model notices for plans to use for this purpose.  In response to this directive, the Department of Labor EBSA on April 7, 2021 published the following model notices and forms for group health plans to use to fulfill their ARP COBRA Premium Subsidy Rule notification requirements:

More Information

The ARP COBRA Premium Subsidy Rules are only one of a plethora of COVID health care emergency driven regulatory and enforcement changes impacting employers and their employee benefit plans.  If you need assistance or would like additional information about these or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. also invites you receive future updates by registering here 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. 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. For specific information about the these or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

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 working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce compliance, performance management, internal controls and governance, compensation and benefits, regulatory compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns. 

Most widely recognized for her work with workforce, health care, life sciences, insurance and data and technology organizations, she also has worked extensively with health plan and insurance, employee benefits, financial, transportation, manufacturing, energy, real estate, accounting and other services, public and private academic and other education, hospitality, charitable, civic and other business, government and community organizations. and their leaders.

Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising, representing, defending and training domestic and international public and private business, charitable, community and governmental organizations and their leaders, employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries and service providers, insurers, and others has published and spoken extensively on these concerns. As part of these involvements, she has worked, published and spoken extensively on these and other federal and state wage and hour and other compensation, discrimination, performance management, and other related human resources, employee benefits and other workforce and services; insurance; workers’ compensation and occupational disease; business reengineering, disaster and distress;  and many other risk management, compliance, public policy and performance concerns.

A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension  project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on these and other legislative, regulatory and other legislative and regulatory design, drafting, interpretation and enforcement, as well as 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.

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-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. 

©2021 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Group health plans, their plan administrators and fiduciaries, employer or other sponsors, administrative services providers and insurers should act quickly to distribute required notices using the regulatory guidance just released today (April 7, 2021) and take other actions needed to comply with the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1985 (“COBRA”) coverage and premium subsidy notification, enrollment and coverage continuation requirements created by Section 9501 (the “COBRA Premium Assistance Rules”) of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARP ”) enacted last month.

The guidance package released today by the Employee Benefit Security Administration includes model notices and other preliminary guidance on the COBRA Premium Assistance Rules, which among other things require group health plans to notify “assistance eligible individuals” no later than May 31, 2021 of right under ARP Section 9501 to enroll in free COBRA Coverage during the ARP Premium Subsidy Period that began April 1, 2021.

As the deadline for providing notification to qualified beneficiaries is May 31, 2021 and the 60 day period for enrolling in COBRA coverage under the ARP COBRA Subsidy Rules does not begin until proper notification is provided, group health plan should move quickly to prepare and distribute the notifications and make other necessary plan arrangements.

This article provides an general overview of the ARP COBRA Premium Subsidy Rules and the Model Notices published by the Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (“EBSA”) on April 7, 2021 to assist group health plans and their administrators to comply with their notification obligations under these Rules.  For a more comprehensive discussion of these requirements, see here.

New COVID COBRA Premium Subsidy Rules Overview

Section 9501 of the ARP seeks to help “assistance eligible individuals” continue their health benefits by providing assistance to maintain enrollment in covered group health plans by allowing them to enroll and maintain COBRA coverage under those plans without paying their COBRA continuation coverage premiums.  

Covered group health plans generally include all group health plans sponsored by private-sector employers or employee organizations (unions) subject to the COBRA rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA); group health plans sponsored by State or local governments subject to the continuation provisions under the Public Health Service Act and group health insurance required to comply with state mini-COBRA laws.

In addition to mandating the provision of COBRA Coverage at no cost, no later than May 31, 2021, the ARP requires covered group health plans to notify certain former covered employees or dependents that qualify to enroll in COBRA coverage as “assistance eligible individuals” of their right within 60 days of notification to enroll in COBRA Coverage under the group health plan at no cost from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021 or, if earlier, the date their COBRA eligibility otherwise end (the “Premium Subsidy Period”). 

From April 1 to September 31, 2021, group health plans cannot require an assistance eligible individual to pay any premiums for COBRA Coverage during his Premium Subsidy Period. ARP requires group health plans to provide COBRA Coverage without charge to assistance eligible individuals who qualify for and elect to enroll in COBRA Coverage with premium subsidy unless individual’s eligibility for COBRA or COBRA premium assistance ends before that date.  Specific notifications to qualified beneficiaries also are required.  

To implement these rules, ARP also requires that no later than May 31, 2021, covered group health plan administrators notify eligible qualified beneficiaries eligible to obtain COBRA coverage with premium assistance by applying for enrollment within the 60 day period following notification.

Assistance eligible individuals who timely enroll in COBRA Coverage with premium assistance generally must receive COBRA Coverage free of charge from the group health plan for any coverage period during the period that begins on or after April 1, 2021 until the earliest of the following dates (the “Premium Subsidy Period”):[1]

  • The date the qualified beneficiary is eligible[2] for coverage under any other group health plan (other than coverage consisting of only excepted benefits,[3] coverage under a health flexible spending arrangement under Code Section 106(c)(2), coverage under a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement under Code Section 9831(d)(2) or eligible for benefits under the Medicare program under title XVIII of the Social Security Act;
  • The date of the expiration of the otherwise applicable maximum period of COBRA continuation coverage under Code Section 4980B (other than due to a failure to elect or discontinuation of coverage for nonpayment of COBRA premium that occurred before April 1, 2021).

Assistance eligible individuals generally are qualified beneficiaries who lost coverage under the group health plan due to an involuntary reduction in hours or termination of employment enrolled in COBRA Coverage between April 1, 2021 and September 31, 2021 including those qualifying event was an involuntary employment loss occurring during the 18-month period (29-months for individuals qualifying for extended COBRA eligibility due to disability) prior to April 1, 2021 not enrolled in COBRA as of April 1, 2021.  This generally includes COBRA qualified beneficiaries whose loss of group health coverage results from an involuntary employment reduction or loss for a reason other than gross misconduct after  ARP’s enactment on March 11, 2021 as well as qualified beneficiaries whose involuntary employment loss happened before the effective date who but for their previous failure to elect COBRA or to maintain COBRA Coverage would still be entitled to COBRA Coverage because less than 18 months (29 months for qualified beneficiaries disabled on the date of coverage loss who qualify for extension of the disability coverage period) has elapsed since their employment loss and an event has not occurred following the coverage termination that would terminate their COBRA eligibility before the end of such otherwise applicable maximum COBRA eligibility period.  Group health plans must offer a second opportunity to enroll in COBRA Coverage with COBRA premium assistance to qualified beneficiaries eligible for premium assistance not enrolled in COBRA Coverage as of April 1, 2021.

Sponsoring employers or other plan sponsors may qualify to claim an employment tax credit for COBRA premiums paid on behalf of assistance eligible individuals.  Guidance on these tax rules is pending.

Required Group Health Plan Notifications To Assistance Eligible Individuals

ARP requires group health plans to provide certain written notifications to qualified beneficiaries entitled to qualify to enroll in COBRA coverage with premium assistance.  This generally includes a requirement to provide an initial notification of the availability of premium assistance for COBRA coverage to assistance eligible individuals by the later of May 31, 2021 and subsequently to provide notice of the impending termination of eligibility for the COBRA Premium Subsidy during the 30 day period that begins 45 days before eligibility for COBRA Premium Subsidy ends. ARP dictates the minimum required content of such notices.  Failure to provide the required notification is a failure to meet the notice requirements under the applicable COBRA continuation provision that subjects the group health plan administer and its sponsor to liability.

While ARP allows plan administrators the option of designing their own notices and forms to fulfill this requirement, it also directed the Department of Labor in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop model notices for plans to use for this purpose.  In response to this directive, the Department of Labor EBSA on April 7, 2021 published the following model notices and forms for group health plans to use to fulfill their ARP COBRA Premium Subsidy Rule notification requirements:

More Information

The ARP COBRA Premium Subsidy Rules are only one of a plethora of COVID health care emergency driven regulatory and enforcement changes impacting employers and their employee benefit plans.  If you need assistance or would like additional information about these or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. also invites you receive future updates by registering here 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. 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. For specific information about the these or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

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 working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce compliance, performance management, internal controls and governance, compensation and benefits, regulatory compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns. 

Most widely recognized for her work with workforce, health care, life sciences, insurance and data and technology organizations, she also has worked extensively with health plan and insurance, employee benefits, financial, transportation, manufacturing, energy, real estate, accounting and other services, public and private academic and other education, hospitality, charitable, civic and other business, government and community organizations. and their leaders.

Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising, representing, defending and training domestic and international public and private business, charitable, community and governmental organizations and their leaders, employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries and service providers, insurers, and others has published and spoken extensively on these concerns. As part of these involvements, she has worked, published and spoken extensively on these and other federal and state wage and hour and other compensation, discrimination, performance management, and other related human resources, employee benefits and other workforce and services; insurance; workers’ compensation and occupational disease; business reengineering, disaster and distress;  and many other risk management, compliance, public policy and performance concerns.

A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension  project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on these and other legislative, regulatory and other legislative and regulatory design, drafting, interpretation and enforcement, as well as 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.

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-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. 

©2021 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™


Businesses Face Increased Wage Costs & Risks From American Rescue Plan Act Of 2021 FLSA Minimum Wage Changes

March 2, 2021

U.S businesses will face sharply increased wage costs if Senate Democrats succeed in their plan to pass as soon as this week the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (the “Act”) passed by the House of Representatives on Friday, February 24, 2021.    

One of many provisions impacting employers and their employee benefit plans in the Act that Congressional Democrats are pushing through as a COVID-19 relief package, Section 2101 of the Act amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”) to increase immediately upon enactment the federal minimum wage employers covered by the FLSA must pay to most non-exempt employees (“regular rate”) by $2.25 per hour from the current rate of $7.25 to $9.50 per hour, then provides for  additional annual increases the gradual increase of the federal minimum wage that will raise the regular rate to $15.00 per hour over the next four years.  Beginning in 2026, the Act also provides for annual increases in the regular rate based on the median hourly wage of all employees as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics rounded up to the nearest multiple of $0.05.  This means the regular minimum wage employers must pay most hourly employees would more than double by 2025 and continue to increase thereafter.

In addition, the Act also phases out current rules allowing employers to pay tipped employees, new employees under age 20 and handicapped employees less than the regular minimum wage over the next five years and raises the minimum wage the FLSA allows employers to pay those employees gradually over the intervening period, with the initial increases slated to take effect upon enactment.  

As Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has announced plans to bring the Act before the Senate for a vote as early as this week and President Biden committed to promptly sign the Act that is the centerpiece of the Democrats latest COVID-19 relief package, businesses are likely to feel the impact of the increased minimum wage and other mandates within days if not by month’s end.

These amendments will directly and immediately increase labor costs for non-exempt workers as well as employee benefit and fringe benefit costs and obligations tied to compensation or based on FLSA classifications. Other Biden-Harris Administration policies expanding the scope of the FLSA and other federal laws through revisions and enforcement of rules for characterizing workers as employees rather than independent contractors and enforcing expansive joint employer liability rules as well as other announced or expected Biden-Harris Administration proworker regulatory and enforcement changes almost certainly will expand the reach and implications of these changes.  The Biden-Harris Administration’s January 20, 2021 Memorandum on Regulatory Freeze Pending Review suspended the implementation of the Trump Administration led Labor Department’s Final Rule: Independent Contractor Status under the Fair Labor Standards Act slated to take effect on March 8, 2021, which sought to restore and clarify historical more employer friendly policies for distinguishing employee versus independent contractor relationships for purposes of the FLSA, the WHD’s withdrawal of previously issued Trump Administration era opinions that applied that Administration’s more expansive view of independent contractor status, and  WHD’s issuance of new opinions articulating and apply applying significantly narrower definitions of independent contractor and broader definitions of employees. 

Based on the agenda announced by the Biden-Harris Administration, businesses also should expect the Biden-Harris Administration and private plaintiffs to use these more employee friendly interpretation and enforcement policies to attack employer characterizations of workers as contractors to justify nonpayment of minimum wage and overtime to those workers.  Along with being forced to pay unpaid wages and overtime with interest, businesses unsuccessful in defending their worker classification characterizations can expect to face liquidated damage awards to private litigants equal to two times the amount of the back pay liability or in the case of WHD enforcement for repeated or willful violations, civil monetary penalties.

In assessing and managing these risks, businesses should evaluate their potential joint employer exposure to liability for unpaid minimum wage and overtime violations by other businesses providing labor or other services as the Biden-Harris Administration also is expected to seek to apply the much more expansive interpretation of joint employment applied during the Obama Administration abandoned during the Trump Administration.

These misclassification mistakes can be particularly costly.  FLSA liabilities arising from misclassification of workers as independent contractors carry significant risk both because businesses often fail to pay required minimum wages or overtime as well as don’t keep required time records.  The Biden-Harris Administration has made clear that it plans to move quickly to reimplement the regulatory and enforcement practices used during the Obama Administration to aggressively challenge employers’ characterization of workers as exempt from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime rules as independent contractors.

Considering these developments, all U.S. businesses and business leaders are well-advised both to begin preparing to comply with anticipated increases in federal minimum wage rates, as well as well as assess and take appropriate steps to mitigate their exposure to anticipated aggressive efforts to reclassify service providers considered to perform work as independent contractors, as contractors or employees of subcontractors or other businesses or both. 

More Information

The FLSA reforms are only one of a number of provisions of the Act impacting employers and their employee benefit plans. For more a more comprehensive discussion of the FLSA amendments included in the Act, see here.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. also invites you receive future updates by registering here 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. 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. For specific information about the these or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

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 working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce compliance, performance management, internal controls and governance, compensation and benefits, regulatory compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns. 

Most widely recognized for her work with workforce, health care, life sciences, insurance and data and technology organizations, she also has worked extensively with health plan and insurance, employee benefits, financial, transportation, manufacturing, energy, real estate, accounting and other services, public and private academic and other education, hospitality, charitable, civic and other business, government and community organizations. and their leaders.

Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising, representing, defending and training domestic and international public and private business, charitable, community and governmental organizations and their leaders, employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries and service providers, insurers, and others has published and spoken extensively on these concerns. As part of these involvements, she has worked, published and spoken extensively on these and other federal and state wage and hour and other compensation, discrimination, performance management, and other related human resources, employee benefits and other workforce and services; insurance; workers’ compensation and occupational disease; business reengineering, disaster and distress;  and many other risk management, compliance, public policy and performance concerns.

A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension  project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on these and other legislative, regulatory and other legislative and regulatory design, drafting, interpretation and enforcement, as well as 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.

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-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. 

©2021 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™


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.


Businesses Should Confirm Using Benefits, Meeting Mandates Of Special COVID-19 Tax Rules

June 26, 2020

Earlier this week, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) announced that employee benefit plan participants that already took a required minimum distribution (RMD) in 2020 from certain retirement accounts now has the opportunity through August 31, 2020 to roll those funds back into a retirement account following the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act RMD waiver for 2020.  The announcement of this relief covers one of a long and growing list of special tax and other COVID-19 responsive special rules and requirements that may change requirements, provide special relief or both for businesses and individuals that every business leader and individual should carefully monitor and respond to appropriately.

Retirement Plan Rollover Relief

On July 23, 2020, the IRS announced its extension of the 60-day rollover period for any RMDs already taken this year to August 31, 2020 to give taxpayers time to take advantage of this opportunity in Notice 2020-51 (PDF).  The Notice also answers questions regarding the waiver of RMDs for 2020 under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act.

The CARES Act enabled any taxpayer with an RMD due in 2020 from a defined-contribution retirement plan, including a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, or an IRA, to skip those RMDs this year. This includes anyone who turned age 70 1/2 in 2019 and would have had to take the first RMD by April 1, 2020. This waiver does not apply to defined-benefit plans.

In addition to the rollover opportunity, an IRA owner or beneficiary who has already received a distribution from an IRA of an amount that would have been an RMD in 2020 can repay the distribution to the IRA by August 31, 2020. The notice provides that this repayment is not subject to the one rollover per 12-month period limitation and the restriction on rollovers for inherited IRAs.

The notice provides two sample amendments that employers may adopt to give plan participants and beneficiaries whose RMDs are waived a choice as to whether or not to receive the waived RMD.

Other COVID-19 Tax Rules & Relief

The guidance and relief in Notice 2020-51 highlights only one of a long list of special COVID-19 associated tax rules and relief that could apply to a business, its employees or employee benefit plan participants or both including the following:

Along with these tax rules, businesses and their employees also may be impacted by a broad range of special federal and state labor and employment and other rules adopted in response to the continuing COVID-19 health care emergency and its fallout.  Businesses and their leaders should carefully review and monitor these and other COVID-19 specific rules to ensure that their businesses don’t trigger unanticipated liability by failing to meet critical requirements or to ensure that they take full advantage of all available relief.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy 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 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 legal and operational management work, coaching, public policy and regulatory affairs leadership and advocacy, training and public speaking and publications. As a significant part of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively domestically and internationally on an demand, special project and ongoing basis with health industry, health plan and insurance and other businesses of all types, government and community organizations and their leaders, spoken and published extensively on workforce and other services, compensation and benefits, and related tax; insurance; workers’ compensation and occupational disease; business reengineering, disaster and distress;  and many other management concerns.

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law By the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a former Council Representative, 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 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 a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising, representing, defending and training health care providers, health plans and insurers, employers, community organizations and others about HIPAA and other privacy concerns and has published and spoken extensively on these concerns.

Her involvement with HIPAA and other privacy and data concerns has taken place as part of her more than 30 years involvement working with with public and private health industry, health insurance and other employers and organizations of all sizes, employee benefit plans, insurance and financial services, health industry and a broad range of public and private domestic and international business, community and government organizations and leaders on pandemic and other health and safety, workforce and performance preparedness, risks and change management, disaster preparedness and response and other operational and tactical concerns throughout her adult life. A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension  project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on crisis preparedness and response, privacy and data security, workforce, health care and other policy and enforcement, as well as regularly advises and defends organizations about the design, administration and defense of their organizations workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline and other management practices and actions.

Ms. Stamer also serves in leadership of a broad range of professional and civic organizations and shares insights and thought leadership through her extensive publications and public speaking. 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.  ©2020 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.


Ezekiel Elliott COVID-19 Diagnosis Disclosure Outrage Highlights Need To Handle COVID-19 & Other Medical Information With Care

June 16, 2020

While most COVID-19 test results won’t draw the widespread coverage and public interest that Elliott’s diagnosis did, businesses generally and health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses specifically need to recognize that coverage of the Elliott outrage will heighten awareness and therefore their need to properly handle and protect COVID-19 or other infectious disease and other testing, diagnosis, treatment and other medical and disability information collected or encountered in the course of their operation through the current COVID-19 health care emergency and otherwise in their own organizations.

ADA Responsibilities of Employers In Handling Medical Information

Protecting COVID-19 testing and other medical information isn’t just a concern for covered entities and their business associates, however.  Businesses that are not covered entities also generally should use care in their collection, use, protection and disclosure of COVID-19 testing and other medical information to mitigate their potential liability under the disability discrimination requirements of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act  and other laws.   For instance, along with prohibiting employers covered by the ADA from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities and requiring those employers to provide reasonable accommodations to such employees, the ADA also regulates the ability of covered employers to perform or require medical testing and imposes specific medical confidentiality requirements on all covered employers.  See e.g., What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.

The ADA’s medical confidentiality requirements dictate that covered employers maintain medical information and records about employees and applicants in separate, confidential files.  Covered employers are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of medical information and records and cannot disclose it without authorization from the subject employee except under the specific conditions allowed by the ADA.

EEOC guidance provided in its publication entitled Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans With Disabilities Act as updated as of March 19, 2020 emphasizes that covered employers remain accountable for complying with the requirements of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act during the current COVID-19 health care emergency and other pandemics.

While the EEOC Technical Assistance Questions and Answers in its publication What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws
Technical Assistance Questions and Answers as updated on June 11, 2020 recognizes temperature checks and certain other COVID-19 inquiries to screen for COVID-19 exposure or infection might be permitted under the safety exception to the ADA during the current COVID-19 health care emergency, that and other EEOC guidance makes clear that covered employers remain responsible for ensuring that the ADA medical confidentiality requirements are met with regarding to testing and related medical information.  As a result, all ADA-covered employers generally and health care employers specifically are urged to use care both in the administration and collection of information regarding COVID-19 testing and diagnosis, and the protection of the confidentiality of COVID-19 and other medical information and records collected in the course of administering employment, safety, medical leave or other absence or other operations throughout the COVID-19 health care emergency.

Added HIPAA & Texas HIPAA Concerns For Health Plans & Other HIPAA Covered Entities

Assuming that the disclosure of Elliott’s information is traced to a testing provider, laboratory or other health care provider, health plan or insurer, health care clearing house subject to HIPAA (“covered entity”), a service provider acting as a business associate to a covered entity, or a member of their workforce, the unauthorized release of Elliott’s test results, that he underwent the testing, or other medical information, Elliott’s complaint about a possible HIPAA violation could be well-founded as both HIPAA and the somewhat broader provisions of the Texas Medical Privacy Act (“Tex-HIPAA”) (hereafter collectively the “HIPAA Laws”) both generally prohibit unauthorized disclosure of protected medical information such as his COVID-19 test or test results to the media.

The COVID-19 test results and of “individually identifiable personal health information” about Elliott and his encounter created, used, access or disclosed by the testing facility or other health care provider, a health plan, health care clearinghouse (“covered entity”) or a member of its workforce or a subcontractor acting as a business associated qualify as “protected health information subject to HIPAA’s privacy, security, breach and privacy rights protections of HIPAA and Tex-HIPAA.

The HIPAA and Tex-HIPAA prohibition against unauthorized disclosure of protected health information to the media stem from the HIPAA Laws’ broader requirement that covered entities and business associates affirmatively safeguard protected health information against unauthorized use, access or disclosure and sweeping prohibition against their disclosing or allowing the disclosure of protected health information without a HIPAA-compliant authorization except under the narrow and specifically delineated exceptions identified in the rule, none of which appear relevant to the media disclosure objected to by Elliott from the currently available public information.

Both HIPAA Laws expressly prohibit unauthorized disclosure of protected health information by covered entities or their business associates except under the specifically detailed conditions specified in one or more exceptions to this general rule.  Assuming all relevant conditions to qualify for the exception are met, HIPAA does allow covered entities and business associates treatment, payment, operations, public health activities or another situation meeting all applicable requirements of an express exception to the HIPAA prohibition against disclosure.

The federal agency primarily responsible for the implementation and enforcement of HIPAA, the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) regulatory guidance and enforcement history clearly communicates OCR’s view that covered entities or business associates violate HIPAA by disclosing protected health information to the media or other third parties without first obtaining a HIPAA-compliant authorization from the subject of the information except under the specific circumstances described in an applicable Privacy Rule exception.

In its May 5, 2020 Guidance on Covered Health Care Providers and Restrictions on Media Access to Protected Health Information about Individuals in Their Facilities (“5/5 Guidance”), for instance, OCR specifically reminded HIPAA covered health care providers that the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not permit them to give media and film crews access to protected health information including access to facilities where patients’ protected health information will be accessible without the patients’ prior authorization. has made clear that testing facilities and other health care providers generally remain accountable for complying with the HIPAA Privacy Rule that prohibits unauthorized use, access or disclosure of test results and other protected health information except   as specifically allowed in the applicable HIPAA Law.

The 5/5 Guidance specifically states, “The COVID-19 public health emergency does not alter the HIPAA Privacy Rule’s existing restrictions on disclosures of protected health information (PHI) to the media.’  Additionally, it states confirmed that even during the current COVID-19 public health emergency, covered health care providers remain required to obtain a valid HIPAA authorization from each patient whose PHI will be accessible to the media before the media is given access to that PHI. In this regard, the 5/5 Guidance states, As explained in prior guidance,1 HIPAA does not permit covered health care providers to give the media, including film crews, access to any areas of their facilities where patients’ PHI will be accessible in any form (e.g., written, electronic, oral, or other visual or audio form), without first obtaining a written HIPAA authorization from each patient whose PHI would be accessible to the media. 2 Additionally, covered health care providers may not require a patient to sign a HIPAA authorization as a condition of receiving treatment.  The guidance clarifies that masking or obscuring patients’ faces or identifying information before broadcasting a recording of a patient is not sufficient, as a valid HIPAA authorization is still required before giving the media such access.  Additionally, the guidance describes reasonable safeguards that should be used to protect the privacy of patients whenever the media is granted access to facilities.

OCR’s positions on disclosures to the media in the 5/5 Guidance reaffirm OCR’s longstanding interpretation and enforcement of HIPAA as prohibiting disclosures of PHI and media access to areas where patients or their protected health information might be visible or accessible is long standing.

In June, 2013, for instance, OCR sent a clear message to covered entities and business associates not to make unconsented disclosures of protected health information to or allow media access to areas where patients or their protected health information could be accessed or observed when it required Shasta Regional Medical Center (SRMC) to pay $275,000 to resolve OCR HIPAA charges stemming from SRMC’s unauthorized disclosure of protected health information to multiple media outlets as part of a public relations effort to mitigate damage from fraud and misconduct allegations made against it by the patient.  See HIPAA Sanctions Triggered From Covered Entity Statements To Media, Workforce.

OCR subsequently reinforced its warning to covered entities and business associates about  unauthorized disclosures of protected health information in a 2016 Frequently Asked Question (Media FAQ) that discussed covered entities HIPAA responsibilities when dealing with the media.  The Media FAQ was issued in conjunction with OCR’s collection of its $2.2 million settlement with New York-Presbyterian Hospital and a series of other settlements totaling $999,000 from three other health care providers accused of violating HIPAA by allowing media personnel into treatment or other areas where patients or patient protected health information was accessible without first obtaining a HIPAA compliant written authorization from each patient or other subject present or whose protected health information otherwise would be accessible to the media.  See $999K Price Hospitals Pay To Settle HIPAA Privacy Charges From Allowing ABC To Film Patients Without Authorization.

In the Media FAQ, OCR stated HIPAA required covered entities to obtain prior written authorization before disclosing protected health information to the media or allowing media to film or access exam rooms or other areas where patients or protected health information could be observed or accessed.  The Media FAQ also stated that masking or blurring the identity of the patient or their specific information was not an adequate substitute for written authorization and that covered entities also were responsible for ensuring that reasonable safeguards were in place to protect against impermissible disclosures or to limit incidental disclosures of other PHI in areas where media is allowed access where prior authorization has not been obtained.  While stressing the importance of compliance with these requirements, however, the Media FAQ clarified that the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not require health care providers to prevent members of the media from entering areas of their facilities that are otherwise generally accessible to the public like public waiting areas or areas where the public enters or exits the facility In addition, the Media FAQ states a health care provider or other Covered Entity also highlighted certain other limited circumstances where HIPAA might allow limited disclosure of protected health information to the media in accordance with specific provisions of the Privacy Rule about an incapacitated patient when in the patient’s best interest; or disclose a patient’s location in the facility and condition in general terms that do not communicate specific medical information about the individual to the media or any other person any person where the individual has not objected to his information being included in the facility directory and the media representative or other person asks for the individual by name.

In the intervening years, OCR periodically has issued additional reminders to covered entities about HIPAA’s general prohibition against unconsented disclosures to the media as well as sanctioned harshly various covered entities for violating these prohibitions.  In 2017, OCR required the largest not-for-profit health system in Southeast Texas, Memorial Hermann Health System (MHHS), to pay OCR $2.4 million to settle charges it violated HIPAA by issuing a press release to the media that shared the name and other protected health information about a patient suspected of using a fraudulent insurance card to obtain care at a clinic without the patient’s prior HIPAA-compliant authorization. While OCR concluded a report made MHHS made to law enforcement about the patient was allowable under the Privacy Rule, OCR found MHHS violated the Privacy Rule by issuing the press release disclosing the patient’s name and other PHI without authorization from the patient and also by failing to timely document the sanctioning of its workforce members for impermissibly disclosing the patient’s information.  See $2.4M HIPAA Settlement Warns Providers About Media Disclosures Of PHI.

While OCR has announced certain temporary enforcement relief from a narrow set of HIPAA requirements during the COVID-19 health care emergency as applied to certain qualifying testing facilities, telemedicine providers and other specific health care providers engaging in certain  types of health care during the COVID-19 health care emergency, OCR consistently has made clear that its COVID-19 HIPAA relief is very limited in scope, applicability and duration and in no way waives the prohibition against unauthorized disclosure to the media or other third parties not generally permitted under HIPAA.  See e.g., 5/5 Guidance; OCR Issues Guidance on How Health Care Providers Can Contact Former COVID-19 Patients About Blood and Plasma Donation Opportunities; OCR Announces Notification of Enforcement Discretion for Community-Based Testing Sites During the COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health EmergencyOCR Announces Notification of Enforcement Discretion to Allow Uses and Disclosures of Protected Health Information by Business Associates for Public Health and Health Oversight Activities During The COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency; OCR Issues Bulletin on Civil Rights Laws and HIPAA Flexibilities That Apply During the COVID-19 Emergency; OCR Issues Guidance to Help Ensure First Responders and Others Receive Protected Health Information about Individuals Exposed to COVID-19; OCR Issues Guidance on Telehealth Remote Communications Following Its Notification of Enforcement Discretion; OCR Announces Notification of Enforcement Discretion for Telehealth Remote Communications During the COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency.  To the contrary, OCR’s announcement of the 5/5 guidance quotes OCR Director Roger Severino, as stating “Hospitals and health care providers must get authorization from patients before giving the media access to their medical information; obscuring faces after the fact just doesn’t cut it,” Severino added.

Minimize Exposures By Preventing Unauthorized Media & Other Disclosures

Even without Mr. Elliott’s outrage heightening awareness about HIPAA’s prohibitions against unauthorized disclosures of protected health information to the media, the recent warning about HIPAA’s restrictions on media disclosure and access to protected health information and patient treatment areas in OCR’s 5/5 Guidance alone should serve as a strong incentive for covered entities and business associate promptly to reverify that the adequacy of their current policies, practices and training to prevent inappropriate media disclosures of protected health information and otherwise defend their compliance with OCR’s interpretation of HIPAA’s requirements for dealing with the media.  Predictable heightened patient and public awareness and expectations about these and other HIPAA responsibilities fueled by the widespread media coverage of Mr. Elliott’s COVID-19 test results and his outrage about the unauthorized disclosure of his test results makes it more important than ever that health care providers and other covered entities and business associates take steps to prepare to respond to foreseeable complaints and questions by other patients, their families and others.

As part of these efforts, most covered entities and business associates may want to consider, at minimum, reconfirming the adequacy and understanding of their current media and other disclosure policies and practices, as well as sending strategic communications to their business associates and members of their workforce reminding them of the covered entity’s policies regarding media access and disclosures.

As part of these activities, covered entities should consider conducting a well-documented assessment of their current policies, practices and workforce training on disclosure of information to the media and other parties generally, as well as policies on allowing media or other parties to enter, film, photograph or record within their facilities or otherwise disclosing or allowing media access to their facilities.  Along with these efforts, most covered entities also may want to consider also reminding workforce members that their patient privacy responsibilities also requires that they not share or discuss patient protected health information, film, photograph, or otherwise record, patients or areas where patients or patient protected health information is or might be present without prior written consent of the patient and the consent of their organization.

Since covered entities and members of their workforce also are likely to be subject to other statutory, ethical, contractual or other privacy or confidentiality requirements beyond those imposed by the HIPAA Laws such as medical confidentiality duties applicable to physicians and other health care providers under medical ethics, professional licensure or other similar rules, contractual responsibilities, as well as common law or statutory privacy, theft of likeness or other statutory or common law tort claims and exposures.  Covered entities and business associates generally should consider whether other steps are advisable to manage these exposures along with managing their HIPAA Law compliance.

Given the high incidence of COVID-19 exposure and infection within their workplace, covered entities, business associates and other employers should use care fulfill their HIPAA Law relevant employment law confidentiality responsibilities when dealing with testing or other medical information about employees.  In this respect, along with any HIPAA Law obligations that a covered entity or business associate has in handling medical information about a patient who also is an employee or family member of an employee, covered entities also should use care to ensure that medical confidentiality requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and other applicable employment laws are met.

Since this analysis and review in most cases will result in the uncovering or discussion of potentially legally or politically sensitive information, Covered Entities should consider consulting with or engaging experienced legal counsel for assistance in structuring and executing these activities to maximize their ability to claim attorney-client privilege or other evidentiary protections against discovery or disclosure of certain aspects of these activities.

Finally, covered entities should keep in mind that HIPAA and other medical privacy compliance and risk management is an ongoing process requiring constant awareness and diligence.  Consequently, covered entities and business associates also should use care both to monitor OCR and other regulatory and enforcement developments as well as exercise ongoing vigilance to monitor and maintain compliance within their organizations.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy 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 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 legal and operational management work, coaching, public policy and regulatory affairs leadership and advocacy, training and public speaking and publications. As a significant part of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively domestically and internationally on an demand, special project and ongoing basis with health industry, health plan and insurance and other business, government and community organizations and their leaders, spoken and published extensively on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns, as well as other health care and health benefits;  human resources, employee benefits and other workforce and services; insurance; workers’ compensation and occupational disease; business reengineering, disaster and distress;  and many other management concerns.

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law By the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a former Council Representative, 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 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 a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising, representing, defending and training health care providers, health plans and insurers, employers, community organizations and others about HIPAA and other privacy concerns and has published and spoken extensively on these concerns.

Her involvement with HIPAA and other privacy and data concerns has taken place as part of her more than 30 years involvement working with with public and private health industry, health insurance and other employers and organizations of all sizes, employee benefit plans, insurance and financial services, health industry and a broad range of public and private domestic and international business, community and government organizations and leaders on pandemic and other health and safety, workforce and performance preparedness, risks and change management, disaster preparedness and response and other operational and tactical concerns throughout her adult life. A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension  project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on crisis preparedness and response, privacy and data security, workforce, health care and other policy and enforcement, as well as regularly advises and defends organizations about the design, administration and defense of their organizations workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline and other management practices and actions.

Ms. Stamer also serves in leadership of a broad range of professional and civic organizations and shares insights and thought leadership through her extensive publications and public speaking. 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.  ©2020 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.


Don’t Get Stuck Paying Another Employer’s Overtime Or Other Backpay

January 13, 2020

No business wants to get hit with a bill or judgement for unpaid overtime or other wages and penalties under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). It’s even worse when the order to pay is for back pay another business owed but didn’t pay. New FLSA joint employer regulations released today update the rules about when your business could get stuck paying another business’ backpay. That’s why all U.S. employers should re-evaluate their potential minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping and other Fair Labor Standards Acts (“FLSA”) liability exposure from work performed by workers employed by subcontractors or contractors, staffing, leasing, manpower and workforce and other separate business entities in light of the new Final Rule: Joint Employer Status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“Final Rule”) on determining joint employer status under the FLSA released by the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (“Labor Department”).  The Labor Department released a copy of the Final Rule to the public today today (January 13, 2020) in anticipation of its scheduled official publication in the Federal Register on January 16, 2019.

Joint Employer Liability Long Standing FLSA Risk

Many businesses and their management are unaware that if their business meets the definition of a “joint employer” for purposes of the FLSA, their businesses could be required to pay unpaid wages and penalties another business owes for failing to pay minimum wage or overtime or other FLSA violations. even though their business never directly employed those workers.  This is because the FLSA also makes business that are “joint employers” as defined for purposes of the FLSA  jointly and severally liable with the direct employer for proper payment of wages and other compliance with the FLSA.  The FLSA requires covered employers to pay their employees at least the federal minimum wage for every hour worked and overtime for every hour worked over 40 in a workweek. To be liable for paying minimum wage or overtime, an individual or entity must be an “employer,” which the FLSA defines in Section 3(d) to include “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee[.]” Under the FLSA, an employee may have—in addition to his or her employer—one or more joint employers. A joint employer is any additional “person” (i.e., an individual or entity) who is jointly and severally liable with the employer for the employee’s wages under the applicable Labor Department regulations.

While both the Labor Department and private litigants have used the joint employer rules and precedent to nail businesses for other employer’s wage and hour liability frequently for the past sixty plus years, Obama Administration changes in the Labor Department’s interpretation and enforcement of the joint employer rule have significantly broadened the scope of relationships found to constitute joint employment to include a broad range of subcontractor and other business relationships not historically recognized as triggering joint employer liability.  Historically, joint employer determinations were reached by applying highly subjective, fact specific analysis heavily reliant upon decades of court decisions which required some evidence that the alleged joint employer possessed or exercised some control over the employees to support the finding of joint employment.   Under these historical tests, mere benefit from work performed by individuals employed by another employer did not establish a presumption, much less proof of joint employment.

During the Obama Administration, however, the Department of Labor both stepped up its efforts to identify and enforce these joint employer provisions and concurrently without formally issuing new regulations adopted interpretive and enforcement guidelines for finding joint employer status that that significantly broadened the employment relationships that the Labor Department treated as joint employers in a manner that presumed the existence of a joint employment relationship whenever the alleged joint employer benefitted from the performance of work even when the facts showed little or any evidence that the alleged joint employer possessed or exercised any control over the employee or the details of his work.  As a consequences, construction and other businesses uses contractors, health care organizations, and a host of other entities were surprised to be nailed with wage and hour liabilities arising from work performed by subcontractors, contractors, and other businesses including overtime liability attributable to work performed for the benefit of other customers of the employer.

Final Joint Employer Rule Changes Rules Effective March 16, 2020

Prompted by the Trump Administration’s broader effort to roll back these and other Obama Era pro-labor rulemaking and enforcement, the new Final Rule seeks to restore and reaffirm the requirement of evidence of the possession of authority or exercise of some traditional employer control by the alleged joint employer.  Scheduled to take effect on March 16, 2020, the new Final Rule will continue to recognize two potential scenarios where an employee may have one or more joint employers based on a highly subjective analysis of the factual realities of an alleged joint employer with another business or businesses under two scenarios:

  • The employee has an employer who suffers, permits, or otherwise employs the employee to work, but another individual or entity simultaneously benefits from that work (“Scenario One”); versus
  • One employer employs an employee for one set of hours in a workweek, and another employer employs the same employee for a separate set of hours in the same workweek (“Scenario Two”).

The Final Rule modifies and clarifies the Labor Department’s historical joint employer rule as it relates to the determination of joint employment status in Scenario One situations but leaves substantially unchanged its existing rules on joint employer determinations in Scenario Two situations.

Finally, the Final Rule provides several examples of how the Department’s joint employer guidance should be applied in various factual circumstances

Final Rule Modifications To Existing Rules On Joint Employment in Scenario One Situations

Under the Final Rule in a Scenario One situation under which an employee performs work for the employer that simultaneously benefits another individual or entity, the Final Rule adopts a four-factor balancing test to determine whether the potential joint employer is directly or indirectly controlling the employee, assessing whether the potential joint employer:

  • hires or fires the employee;
  • supervises and controls the employee’s work schedule or conditions of employment to a substantial degree;
  • determines the employee’s rate and method of payment; and
  • maintains the employee’s employment records.

Businesses should keep in mind that proof of the exercise of exercise direct control over these details of employment of an employee is not required for a finding of joint employment. Indirect exercise of control is sufficient.  Examples of indirect exercise of control recognized in the Final Regulations as supporting joint employer liability include control over an employee through mandatory directions to another employer that directly control the employee. However, indirect control does not include the direct employer’s voluntary decision to accommodate the potential joint employer’s request, recommendation, or suggestion. Similarly, acts that incidentally impact the employee do not indicate joint employer status. For example, a restaurant could request lower fees from its cleaning contractor, which, if agreed to, could impact the wages of the cleaning contractor’s employees. However, this request would not constitute an exercise of indirect control over the employee’s rate of payment.

Like under the prior rules and standards, whether a person is a joint employer under the new standards established in the Final Rule will continue to depend upon all the facts in a particular case, and the appropriate weight to give each factor will vary depending on the circumstances. Moreover, all of these factors need not be present for joint employment to exist.  However, the Final Rule states the potential joint employer’s maintenance of the employee’s employment records alone will not lead to a finding of joint employer status.  For purposes of its provisions, the Final Rule defines the “employment records” referred to in the fourth factor to mean only those records, such as payroll records, that reflect, relate to, or otherwise record information pertaining to the hiring or firing, supervision and control of the work schedules or conditions of employment, or determining the rate and method of payment of the employee.

Additionally, the Final Rule also notes that additional factors may also be relevant in determining whether another person is a joint employer in this situation, but only when they show whether the potential joint employer is exercising significant control over the terms and conditions of the employee’s work.

The Final Rule also identifies factors that are not relevant to the determination of FLSA joint employer status. For example, the Final Rule specifies that whether the employee is economically dependent on the potential joint employer, including factors traditionally used to establish whether a particular worker is a bona fide independent contractor (e.g., the worker’s opportunity for profit or loss, their investment in equipment and materials, etc.), are not relevant to determine joint employer liability. Economic dependence was an evidentiary factor promoted as evidence of joint employment in several Obama Administration era enforcement actions.

The Final Rule also identifies certain other factors that do not make joint employer status more or less likely under the Act which had been relied upon by the Labor Department under the Obama Administration era interpretation of the FLSA, including:

  • operating as a franchisor or entering into a brand and supply agreement, or using a similar business model;
  • the potential joint employer’s contractual agreements with the employer requiring the employer to comply with its legal obligations or to meet certain standards to protect the health or safety of its employees or the public;
  • the potential joint employer’s contractual agreements with the employer requiring quality control standards to ensure the consistent quality of the work product, brand, or business reputation; and
  • the potential joint employer’s practice of providing the employer with a sample employee handbook, or other forms, allowing the employer to operate a business on its premises (including “store within a store” arrangements), offering an association health plan or association retirement plan to the employer or participating in such a plan with the employer, jointly participating in an apprenticeship program with the employer, or any other similar business practice.

Additionally, the Final Rule makes clear that a finding of joint employer status in Scenario One situations must be based on an actual exercise of control by the alleged joint employer.  In this respect, the Final Rule provides that although an individual or entity’s power, ability, or reserved contractual right to exercise control relating to one or more of the factors may be relevant in determining whether they are an FLSA joint employer, such power, ability, or reserved contractual rights are not in themselves sufficient to establish FLSA joint employer status without some actual exercise of control.

Final Rule Retains Existing Rules On Joint Employment In Scenario Two Situations

The Final Rule did not make any substantive changes to the standard for determining joint employer liability in Scenario Two situations. If the employers are acting independently of each other and are disassociated with respect to the employment of the employee, the Final Rule continues to provide that each employer may disregard all work performed by the employee for the other employer in determining its liability under the FLSA. However, if the factual realities show that the employers are sufficiently associated with respect to the employment of the employee, the Final Rule continues to state that the two businesses are joint employers and must aggregate the hours worked for each for purposes of determining if they are in compliance.

For purposes of the Scenario Two analysis, the Final Rule provides that employers generally will be sufficiently associated if there is an arrangement between them to share the employee’s services, the employer is acting directly or indirectly in the interest of the other employer in relation to the employee, or they share control of the employee, directly or indirectly, by reason of the fact that one employer controls, is controlled by, or is under common control with the other employer.  Employers using manpower, staffing, employee leasing or other shared or part time workforces should keep in mind that a finding that their business is a joint employer with the supplier of the workers can result in liability for their business associated both for hours of work performed for the benefit of their business as well as any work the employee worked for another client of the supplier business.  As these shared workforces often perform work for several competitors, ironically this often means that a joint employer often ends up payment overtime liability attributable to unpaid overtime or other wages performed for a competitor business or businesses that also are clients of the same partial workforce supplier.

Businesses Should Act To Assess & Mitigate Joint Employer & Other FLSA Liability

The Labor Departments that its adoption of the revisions to the joint employer rule made by the Final Rule will add greater certainty regarding what business practices may result in joint employer status: and promote greater uniformity among court decisions by providing a clearer interpretation of FLSA joint employer status.  While the clarifications may help businesses to better predict certain relationships and arrangements that carry a higher risk of joint employer liability exposure, businesses must keep in mind that joint employer determinations under the Final Rule will continue to turn on highly subjective analysis of facts and circumstances that existing precedent suggests often finds the requisite evidence to find a joint employer relationship in many circumstances surprising to many business owners even taking into account the modifications made by the Final Rule,  For this reason, virtually all businesses generally will want to critically evaluate their existing and prospective relationships for potential joint employer liability under the FLSA in light of the Final Regulations.

Businesses should look to the guidance in the new Final Rule initially to evaluate whether their existing or prospective relationships meet, or could be restructured to meet all of the requisites to avoid or reduce the risk of findings of joint employer status.  When possible, businesses should seek to structure their contractual relationships and business dealings with other businesses to fit as closely as possible with those arrangements that the new Final Regulations identify as not constituting joint employer relationships in form and operation.  When engaging in these efforts, businesses need to look beyond their contractual agreements to examine the factual realities of their relationships with other businesses realistically based upon a clear understanding of the historical precedent to avoid mischaracterizing their relationships and their associated risks.  For added protection, businesses also should consider seeking contractual representations of compliance, coupled with requirements that other businesses whose employment practices could create joint employment risk provide records and other documentation needed to verify compliance and defend against potential joint employer liability claims.

Concurrently, businesses looking at FLSA joint employer liability risk management also should keep in mind that the new Final Rule only addresses joint employer determinations under the FLSA.  This Final Rule does not address “joint employer” status or other characterizations of relationships under other federal employment laws, such as the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, state labor, tax, unemployment, workers’ compensation or other laws, which often apply different standards for finding joint employment or other imputed liability of businesses other than the direct or nominal employer.  While different rules apply for those laws, government agencies and private litigants also increasingly successfully assert joint employer or other theories to impute liability to businesses that are not the nominal employer of workers protected by these laws.  To effectively plan for a control their broader joint employer risk, most businesses benefit from looking at their exposure holistically taking into account the potential characterization and liabilities under all of these rules concurrently.

Before beginning these assessments, businesses and their leaders are encouraged to engage an attorney experienced in FLSA and other joint employer and other worker classification laws in light of the legally sensitive evidence and discussions inherently involved in this process.  Conducting this analysis within the scope of attorney-client privilege helps protector limit the discoverability of sensitive discussions and work product in the event of a Labor Department investigation or litigation.

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 Group, HR & 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.


2018 US National Health Expenditures Grew Again

December 10, 2019

Total U.S. national healthcare spending in 2018 grew 4.6 percent according to a study conducted by the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS reports this growth rate was slower than the 5.4 percent overall economic growth as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Consequently, the share of the economy devoted to health spending decreased from 17.9 percent in 2017 to 17.7 percent in 2018. 

Growth in overall healthcare spending has averaged 4.5 percent for 2016-2018, slower than the 5.5 percent average growth for 2014-2015, that was affected by expanded Medicaid and private insurance coverage and increased spending for prescription drugs, particularly for drugs used to treat hepatitis C. 

The growth in total national healthcare expenditures was approximately 0.4 percentage point higher than the rate in 2017 and reached $3.6 trillion in 2018, or $11,172 per person.

According to the report, private health insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid experienced faster growth in 2018.  The faster growth for these payers was influenced by the reinstatement of the health insurance tax which was applied to private health insurance, Medicare Advantage, and Medicaid Managed care plans. The health insurance tax was a fee imposed on all health insurance providers beginning in 2014 as a part of the funding for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and was subsequently amended to institute a one-year moratorium on the fee for 2017.

  • Private health insurance spending(34 percent of total health care spending) increased 5.8 percent to $1.2 trillion in 2018, which was faster than the 4.9 percent growth in 2017.  The acceleration was driven in part by an increase in the net cost of private health insurance, which was a result of the reinstatement of the health insurance tax in 2018 following a one-year moratorium in 2017.
  • Medicare spending (21 percent of total health care spending) grew 6.4 percent to $750.2 billion in 2018, which was faster than the 4.2 percent growth in 2017. The faster growth in Medicare spending in 2018 was influenced by faster growth in the net cost of insurance of Medicare private health plans (mostly Medicare Advantage plans) due to the reinstatement of the health insurance tax in 2018, faster growth in Medicare spending for medical goods and services, and an increase in government administration spending after a reduction in 2017.
  • Medicaid spending (16 percent of total health care spending) increased 3.0 percent to $597.4 billion in 2018.  This was faster than the rate of growth in 2017 of 2.6 percent.  The faster rate of growth in 2018 was driven by faster growth in the net cost of insurance for Medicaid managed care plans, also due in part to the reinstatement of the health insurance tax.  
  • Out-of-pocket spending (10 percent of total health care spending) includes direct consumer payments such as copayments, deductibles, and spending not covered by insurance.  Out-of-pocket spending grew 2.8 percent to $375.6 billion in 2018, which was faster than the 2.2 percent growth in 2017. Faster out-of-pocket spending growth for retail prescription drugs, durable medical equipment, and dental services more than offset a slowdown in out-of-pocket spending for hospital care.

Health care spending growth was mixed in 2018 for the three largest goods and service categories – hospital care, physician and clinical services, and retail prescription drugs.

  • Hospital spending (33 percent of total healthcare spending) increased at about the same rate in 2018 as in 2017, growing 4.5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively, to reach $1.2 trillion in 2018.  The steady growth in 2018 was driven by an acceleration in hospital price growth that was offset by slower growth in the use and intensity of hospital services.
  • Physician and clinical services spending (20 percent of total healthcare spending) increased 4.1 percent to reach $725.6 billion in 2018.  This was slower than the rate of growth in 2017 of 4.7 percent.  The deceleration in 2018 was driven by slower growth in the use and intensity of physician and clinical services, as physician and clinical price growth accelerated in 2018. 
  • Retail prescription drug spending(9 percent of total healthcare spending) grew 2.5 percent in 2018 to $335.0 billion following slower growth of 1.4 percent in 2017.  This faster rate of growth was driven by non-price factors, such as the use and mix of drugs consumed, which more than offset a decline of 1.0 percent in prices for retail prescription drugs.

Additional highlights from the report include:

  • Sponsors of Healthcare. In 2018, the federal government’s spending on health care increased 5.6 percent, accelerating from growth of 2.8 percent in 2017, and was driven by faster growth in the federally-funded portions of Medicare and Medicaid expenditures.  Private businesses’ health care spending increased 6.2 percent in 2018 due primarily to faster growth in employer-sponsored private health insurance premiums. The federal government and households accounted for the largest shares of spending (28 percent each), followed by private businesses (20 percent), state and local governments (17 percent), and other private revenues (7 percent).

The National Health Expenditure estimates have been revised to reflect the most recent and up-to-date source data that is available (and may not have been available for last year’s vintage of the National Health Expenditure Accounts).

The 2018 National Health Expenditures data and supporting information will appear here.

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 and join 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 LinkedIn Solutions Law Groups and registering for updates on our Solutions Law Press Website.

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 health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

As a primary focus of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and 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, health industry advocacy and other service providers and groups and other health industry clients as well as federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies.

Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is noted for her decades-long leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and other privacy and data security and other health industry legal, public policy and operational concerns. This involvement encompasses helping health care systems and organizations, group and individual health care providers, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients prevent, investigate, manage and resolve sexual assault, abuse, harassment and other organizational, provider and employee misconduct and other performance and behavior; manage Section 1557, Civil Rights Act and other discrimination and accommodation, and other regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; contracting and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other payers and other provider-payer relations, contracting, 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; 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 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; 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. to establish, administer and defend workforce and staffing, quality, and other compliance, risk management and operational practices, policies and actions; 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; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry actions: regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement; and other strategic and operational concerns.

Author of leading works on HIPAA and a multitude of other health care, health plan and other health industry matters, 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 and a former Council Representative, 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 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 a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her 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 available 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

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 for the suitability, completeness, accuracy or other content or 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.

©2019 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.


SBA Hosts Employee Benefits Roundtable 11/21

November 18, 2019

The Small Business Administration (“SBA”) Advocacy Office will is host an Employee Benefits Roundtable on Thursday, Nov. 21 from 10:00 AM until 12:00 noon at the SBA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. with the following agenda:

Welcome and Introductions (10:00 am – 10:15 am)

  • Charles G. Jeane, Assistant Chief Counsel, SBA Office of Advocacy

Discussion of Small Business Use of Cafeteria Plans (10:15 am – 10:45 am)

  • Gary Kushner, President and CEO of Kushner & Company

Discussion of MEPs and Open MEPs (10:45 am – 11:15 am)

  • Sandra Turner, President of Retirement Plan Specialists, Inc.

Discussion of Adding Annuities as An Option for Plan Participants (11:15 am – 11:45 am)

  • Chantel Sheaks, Executive Director, Retirement Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Open Discussion/Other Small Business Issues (11:45 am – 12:00 pm).  

The purpose of these roundtable meetings is to exchange opinions, facts, and information and to obtain the attendees’ individual views and opinions regarding small business concerns.  The meetings are not intended to communicate or achieve any consensus positions of the attendees.

Roundtable meetings are open to all interested persons, except the press. Press are excluded in order to facilitate an open and frank discussion about small business-related issues.

About The Author

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation; Former Chair of the RPTE Employee Benefits and Compensation Committee, a current Co-Chair of the Committee, and the former Chair of its Welfare Benefit and its Defined Compensation Plan Committees and former RPTE Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council (JCEB) Representative, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate, author and lecturer repeatedly recognized for her 30 plus years’ of work and pragmatic thought leadership, publications and training on health, pension and other employee benefit,  insurance, labor and employment, and health care  fiduciary responsibility, payment, investment, contracting  and other design, administration and compliance concerns as among the “Top Rated Labor & Employment Lawyers in Texas,” a “Legal Leader,” a “Top Woman Lawyer” and with other awards by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell®; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the field of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, in International Who’s Who of Professionals and with numerous other awards and distinctions.

Highly valued for her ability to meld her extensive legal and industry knowledge and experience with her talents as an insightful innovator and pragmatic problem solver, Ms. Stamer advises, represents and defends employer, union, multi-employer, association and other employee benefit plan sponsors, insurers and managed care organizations, fiduciaries, plan administrators, technology and other service providers, government and community leaders and others about health and other employee benefit and insurance program and policy design and innovation, funding, documentation, administration, communication, data security and use, contracting, plan, public and regulatory reforms and enforcement, and other risk management, compliance and operations matters.

Her experience encompasses leading and supporting the development and defense of innovative new policies, programs, practices and solutions; advising and representing clients on routine plan establishment, plan documentation and contract drafting and review, administration, change and other compliance and operations; crisis prevention and response, compliance and risk management audits and investigations, enforcement actions and other dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission, Education and other federal agencies, state legislatures, attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, and other agencies and regulators, and various other foreign and domestic governmental bodies and agencies.

She also provides strategic and other supports clients in defending litigation as lead strategy counsel, special counsel and as an expert witness. Alongside her extensive legal and operational experience, Ms. Stamer also is recognized for her work as a public and regulatory policy advocate and community leader with a gift for finding pragmatic solutions and helping to forge the common ground necessary to build consensus. Best known for her domestic public policy and community leadership on health care and insurance reform, Ms. Stamer’s lifelong public policy and community service involvement includes service as a lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its pension privatization project, as well as extensive legislative and regulatory reform, advocacy and input workforce, worker classification, employee benefit, public health and healthcare, social security and other disability and aging in place, education, migration reforms domestically and internationally throughout her adult life.

In addition to her public and regulatory policy involvement, Ms. Stamer also contributes her service and leadership to a professional and civic organizations and efforts including her involvement as the Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE; Coalition on Patient Empowerment, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; Vice Chair, Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group; current Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair and Membership Committee member of the ABA RPTE Section; former RPTE Employee Benefits and Other Compensation Group Chair, former Chair and Co-Chair of its Welfare Plans Committee, and Defined Contribution Plans Committee; former RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council; former RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Counsel; 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, former Board Member, Continuing Education Chair and Treasurer of the Southwest Benefits Association; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; 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; past Dallas World Affairs Council Board Member, and in leadership of many other professional, civic and community organizations.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular public speaker, symposia chair 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, the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators, 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, serves on the faculty and planning committee of many workshops, seminars, and symposia, and on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.

Beyond these involvements, Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other public policy advocacy and other professional and civic organizations and involvements. Through these and other involvements, she helps develop and build solutions, build consensus, garner funding and other resources, manage compliance and other operations, and take other actions to identify promote tangible improvements in health care and other policy and operational areas.

Before founding her current law firm, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., Ms. Stamer practiced law as a partner with several prominent national and international law firms for more than 10 years before founding Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. to practice her unique brand of “Solutions law™” and to devote more time to the pragmatic policy and system reform, community education and innovation, and other health system improvement efforts of her PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment initiative.

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.

©2019 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.


Health Plans Must Share PHI To Apps When Members Request, Responsible For Security On Plan-Sponsored Apps

April 30, 2019

Health plans must deliver electronic protected health information (“ePHI”) to electronic applications or software (“apps”) used by plan members, and are responsible under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) Privacy and Security Rules for the security of electronic protected health information (“ePHI”) on apps they sponsor or provide, according to new guidance from the Department of Health & Human Services (“HHS”) Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”).

With health plans and their sponsors and insurers increasingly offering or promoting the use of apps to plan members members to access, maintain and use their health information, health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses and their business associates (“covered entities”) covered by HIPAA must understand and be prepared meet their HIPAA responsibilities to provide and protect ePHI to and on these apps, but may want to rethink sponsoring or providing a particular app for that purpose.

New HIPAA FAQ guidance (the “FAQs”) from OCR that addresses the implications of HIPAA on covered entities responsibility when asked to share or for ePHI shared or stored on apps or application programming interfaces (“APIs”) systems, covered entities have a legal obligation to disclose ePHI to an app when subjects of the ePHI or their personal representatives request such disclosures. However, the FAQs also state a covered entity or its business associates won’t be responsible for the security of the data shared to the app unless it sponsors or provides it. 

pends upon whether the AP or API interface provider is a business associate of the covered entity versus just a third-party provider whose involvement and receipt of the PHI is requested and arranged by the subject of the PHI.

Covered Entities Obligated To Disclose ePHI to Apps Chosen By Individuals

The FAQs make crystal clear that covered entities do not have the option of refusing to share ePHI to an app when requested to do so by the subject of the ePHI or its personal representative. The FAQs states that covered entities cannot refuse to disclose ePHI to an app chosen by an individual because of concerns about how the app will use or disclose the ePHI it receives. In this regard, the FAQs state that the HIPAA Privacy Rule generally prohibits a covered entity from refusing to disclose ePHI to a third-party app designated by the individual if the ePHI is readily producible in the form and format used by the app. See 45 CFR 164.524(a)(1), (c)(2)(ii), (c)(3)(ii).According to the FAQ, the HIPAA Rules do not impose any restrictions on how an individual or the individual’s designee, such as an app, may use the health information that has been disclosed pursuant to the individual’s right of access. For instance, a covered entity is not permitted to deny an individual’s right of access to their ePHI where the individual directs the information to a third-party app because the app will share the individual’s ePHI for research or because the app does not encrypt the individual’s data when at rest.According to the FAQs, the liability a covered entity or business associate bears for sharing ePHI to an App under the HIPAA Privacy, Security, or Breach Notification Rules (HIPAA Rules) depends on the relationship between the covered entity and the app.

Breaches of Health Information Disclosed To An App

If an app that is neither a covered entity nor a business associate of the covered entity under HIPAA receives ePHI at the request of the subject or its personal representative, the FAQ states that the shared ePHI is no longer subject to the protections of the HIPAA Rules. Thus if the individual’s app – chosen by an individual to receive the individual’s requested ePHI – was not provided by or on behalf of the covered entity (and, thus, does not create, receive, transmit, or maintain ePHI on its behalf), the covered entity would not be liable under the HIPAA Rules for any subsequent use or disclosure of the requested ePHI received by the app. For example, the covered entity would have no HIPAA responsibilities or liability if such an app that the individual designated to receive their ePHI later experiences a breach. See also, See also OCR FAQ 2039, “What is the liability of a covered entity in responding to an individual’s access request to send the individual’s PHI to a third party.In contrast, however, the FAQ states that if the app was developed for, or provided by or on behalf of the covered entity – and, thus, creates, receives, maintains, or transmits ePHI on behalf of the covered entity – the covered entity could be liable under the HIPAA Rules for a subsequent impermissible disclosure because of the business associate relationship between the covered entity and the app developer. For example, if the individual selects an app that the covered health care provider uses to provide services to individuals involving ePHI, the FAQs state that the health care provider may be subject to liability under the HIPAA Rules if the app impermissibly discloses the ePHI received.

Transmission of ePHI to App Using Unsecured Method

The FAQs also address the potential exposures of covered entities and their business associates arising from the transmission of ePHI to an App using an unsecure method. According to the FAQs, the access rights HIPAA guarantees to individuals allows an individual to request that a covered entity to direct their ePHI to a third-party app in an unsecure manner or through an unsecure channel. See 45 CFR 164.524(a)(1), (c)(2)(ii), (c)(3)(ii). For instance, an individual may request that their unencrypted ePHI be transmitted to an app as a matter of convenience. The FAQ states that a covered entity that transmits ePHI through an unsecured means under such circumstances would not be responsible for unauthorized access to the individual’s ePHI while in transmission to the app. With respect to such apps, however, the FAQs also suggest that the covered entity may want to consider informing the individual of the potential risks involved the first time that the individual makes the request.

Post Transmission Exposure of Covered Entity’s EHR Systems Developer

The FAQ also discusses the potential exposure of a covered entity’s electronic health record (EHR) system developer under HIPAA after completing the transmission on behalf of a covered entity of ePHI to an app designated by the subject of the ePHI. According to the FAQs, the exposure of the HER system developer depends on the relationship, if any, between the covered entity, the EHR system developer, and the app chosen by the individual to receive the individual’s ePHI. A business associate relationship exists if an entity creates, receives, maintains, or transmits ePHI on behalf of a covered entity (directly or through another business associate) to carry out the covered functions of the covered entity. A business associate relationship exists between an EHR system developer and a covered entity. If the EHR system developer does not own the app, or if it owns the app but does not provide the app to, through, or on behalf of, the covered entity – e.g., if it creates the app and makes it available in an app store as part of a different line of business (and not as part of its business associate relationship with any covered entity) – the EHR system developer would not be liable under the HIPAA Rules for any subsequent use or disclosure of the requested ePHI received by the app.If the EHR system developer owns the app or has a business associate relationship with the app developer, and provides the app to, through or on behalf of, the covered entity (directly or through another business associate), however, the FAQs state the EHR system developer then potentially could face HIPAA liability (as a business associate of a HIPAA covered entity) for any impermissible uses and disclosures of the health information received by the app. For example, if an EHR system developer contracts with the app developer to create the app on behalf of a covered entity and the individual later identifies that app to receive ePHI, then the EHR system developer could be subject to HIPAA liability if the app impermissibly uses or discloses the ePHI received.

Covered Entity’s Duty To Enter Into Business Associate Agreement Depends Upon Relationship

Likewise, the FAQs also state that whether HIPAA requires a a covered entity or its EHR system developer to enter into a business associate agreement with an app designated by the individual in order to transmit ePHI to the app depends upon the relationship between the app developer and the covered entity and/or its EHR system developer. A business associate is a person or entity who creates, receives, maintains or transmits PHI on behalf of (or for the benefit of) a covered entity (directly or through another business associate) to carry out covered functions of the covered entity. An app’s facilitation of access to the individual’s ePHI at the individual’s request alone does not create a business associate relationship. Such facilitation may include API terms of use agreed to by the third-party app (i.e., interoperability arrangements).HIPAA does not require a covered entity or its business associate (e.g., EHR system developer) to enter into a business associate agreement with an app developer that does not create, receive, maintain, or transmit ePHI on behalf of or for the benefit of the covered entity (whether directly or through another business associate).  However if the app was developed to create, receive, maintain, or transmit ePHI on behalf of the covered entity, or was provided by or on behalf of the covered entity (directly or through its EHR system developer as the covered entity’s business associate), then a business associate agreement would be required.

Health Plan & Other Covered Entity Take Aways

The new FAQ raises several action items for health plans, their sponsoring employers or unions, fiduciaries, administrators, brokers and insurers as well as other covered entities.  Among other things, health plans and other covered entities must recognize and be prepared currently to provide PHI to subjects of that information on the apps of the requesting individual’s preference within the time frames dictated by HIPAA.  Health plans and other covered entities need to recognize that the FAQs reflect this is a current, not future responsibility.

Second, health plans, health care providers and others that have or are considering providing apps or other tools to health plan members or patients for use in accessing or using PHI also generally need to recognize that the health plan or health care provider generally will bear responsibility under HIPAA for the adequacy of the security of the apps provided by or on behalf of the health plan or health care provider.  Given the general responsibility to provide PHI to any apps designated by a subject of PHI, many health plans and health care providers may wish to reconsider whether providing or endorsing a particular app continues to make sense taking into account the HIPAA data privacy and security responsibilities and risks attendent to maintaining the security of PHI stored and accessed using those tools.  Those electing to provide apps or other tools need to take steps to ensure the current and future adequacy of the data security of the app and its associated storage and other components including any future modifications to those tools. 

Furthermore,  health plans and other covered entities also should consider the advisability of revising existing notices and authorizations in response to the new FAQs.  For instance, health plans, health  care providers and others supplying PHI to an app designated by the requesting individual may want to consider revising forms to document the direction and consent of the requestor to the electronic delivery of the PHI to the designated app to better position themselves to claim the protection against liability for breaches on these subject designate apps described in the FAQs.  Meanwhile, health plans or other covered entities providing apps also may wish to weigh options for supplementing disclosures to mitigate potential risks from use or failure to upgrade apps that might be viewed as covered entity provided or sponsored.   

Certainly, before sponsoring or allowing a business associate to offer or provide an app or other similar solution, health care providers and other covered entities must ensure that the business associate agreement requirements of HIPAA are met from the app developer and others providing services or the app as business associates to the covered entity.  Covered entities also should take steps to ensure that the interfaces between the apps and other systems are properly secured at the point of implementation and during any subsequent upgrades keeping in mind that OCR guidance expects covered entities to reconfirm security for any system, software or app upgrades.  Meeting this expectation for apps within the possession of patients or plan members can present special challenges requiring careful planning. 

Have questions about the new FAQs or other health care regulatory developments or their implications on your organization, contact the author.  You also are invited to stay abreast of these and other health care developments by participating in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Linkedin HR & Benefits Update LinkedIn Group or COPE: Coalition On Patient Empowerment Group 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 health industry, health and other 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;  managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers and their management; public and private, domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, health care accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; managed care organizations, insurers, third party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations;  billing, utilization management, management services organizations; group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; claims, billing and other health care and insurance technology and data service organizations; other health, employee benefit, insurance and financial services product and solutions consultants, developers and vendors; and other health, employee benefit, insurance, technology, government and other management clients.

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 encompassess 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.

Beyond her public policy and regulatory affairs involvement, Ms. Stamer also has extensive experience helping these and other clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend 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; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other 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, and change management; workforce and operations management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of their operations.

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.

Ms. Stamer has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending plan sponsors, administrators, insurance and managed care organizations, health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and employer and association 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. Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with HHS OCR, she also has worked extensively on health and health benefit coding, billing and claims, meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical, workforce, consumer financial and other data confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security, data breach and mitigation, and other information privacy and data security concerns.

Author of leading works on a multitude of health care, health plan and other health industry matters, 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 and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, 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’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.

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.

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:

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 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, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.

 


Proposed FLSA Base Pay Rule Clarifies Overtime Treatment Of Perks

March 28, 2019

Employers frustrated with the current Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) rules defining what forms of payment employers must count as part of an employee’s “regular rate” when calculating overtime should evaluate and consider expressing support for the Department of Labor’s proposal announced today (March 28, 2019) to update its more than 50-year old regulations implementing the regular rate requirements under section 7(e) of FLSA  in 29 C.F.R. Parts 548 and 778.  Officially scheduled for publication in the May 28, 2019 Federal Register, employers and other interested persons may review the unofficial text of the  Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Proposed Rule”) released with the Labor Department’s announcement of its proposal today.  The Proposed Rule also will make substantive changes to the Labor Department’s current FLSA regulations about the treatment of “call back pay” and its base pay rules.

Regular Rate For Overtime

The FLSA generally requires employers to pay non-exempt employees overtime pay of at least one and one-half times the “regular rate” of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per workweek. Regular rate requirements define what forms of payment employers include and exclude in the “time and one-half” calculation when determining workers’ overtime rates. The existing rules define the regular rate to include both the base hourly rate of pay and certain bonus and other compensation and perks.  As the Trump Administration supports these proposed changes, employers should start evaluating their implications in anticipation of the Labor Department’s adoption of a Final Rule.  At the same time, businesses supporting the rule or desiring refinements to its provisions also will want to submit comments to the Labor Department no later than the May 18 comment deadline.

Ambiguities in the current more than 50-year-old Labor Department regulations implementing the regular rate requirement rules discourage employers from offering more perks to their employees because of uncertainty about whether the perks are required to be included in the regular rate of pay for purposes of calculating overtime pay.  In many other cases, employers that mistakenly fail to include bonuses, benefits and other perks often experience the unfortunate surprise of getting nailed with unexpected back pay and penalties obligations through Labor Department audits or private litigation.

The Proposed Rule primarily focuses on defining when employers must count bonuses, benefits, and other perks in an employee’s regular rate of pay when calculating overtime.  As proposed, the Proposed Rule would confirm that employers may exclude the following from an employee’s regular rate of pay:

  • the cost of providing wellness programs, onsite specialist treatment, gym access and fitness classes, and employee discounts on retail goods and services;
  • payments for unused paid leave, including paid sick leave;
  • reimbursed expenses, even if not incurred “solely” for the employer’s benefit;
  • reimbursed travel expenses that do not exceed the maximum travel reimbursement under the Federal Travel Regulation System and that satisfy other regulatory requirements;
  • discretionary bonuses, by providing additional examples and clarifying that the label given a bonus does not determine whether it is discretionary;
  • benefit plans, including accident, unemployment, and legal services; and
  • tuition programs, such as reimbursement programs or repayment of educational debt.
  • that employers do not need a prior formal contract or agreement with the employee(s) to exclude certain overtime premiums described in sections 7(e)(5) and (6) of the FLSA; and
  • that employers may exclude pay for time that would not otherwise qualify as “hours worked,” including bona fide meal periods,from an employee’s regular rate unless an agreement or established practice indicates that the parties have treated the time as hours worked.

In addition, the Proposed Rule also would make two substantive changes to the existing regulations on “call-back pay” and to its “basic rate” regulations.

Call-Back Pay

The Proposed Regulation would eliminate the current restriction in Labor Regulation §§ 778.221 and 778.222 that “call-back” pay and other payments similar to call-back pay must be “infrequent and sporadic” to be excludable from an employee’s regular rate, while maintaining that such payments must not be so regular that they are essentially prearranged.

Basic Rate

The Proposed Rule also  proposes an update the Labor Department’s “basic t rate” regulations.

Under the current regulations, employers using an authorized basic rate may exclude from the overtime computation any additional payment that would not increase
total overtime compensation by more than $0.50 a week on average for overtime work weeks in the period for which the employer makes the payment.

The Proposed Regulation would  change the current $0.50 limit to 40 percent of the federal minimum wage (currently $2.90.”  The Labor Department is inviting comments on if 40 percent is an appropriate threshold in its request for comments on the Propsoed Regulations.

Comment on the Proposed Rule & Other FLSA Rule Changes

Employers commenting on the Proposed Rule also should keep in mind that its publication comes on the heals of the Labor Department’s proposal of a new Proposed Salary Threshold Rule  that if adopted will increase to $679 per week the minimum salary an employee must earn to qualify for coverage by the “white collar” overtime exemption.  This would effectively raise the amount an employer must pay any worker it wants to treat as exempt under the white collar overtime exemption  from $23,660 annually to $35,308 annually. The adoption of this proposed Salary Threshold Rule as proposed overnight will disqualify a million plus currently salaried workers to hourly employees entitled to overtime under the FLSA.

Businesses concerned about the Proposed Rule or the Proposed Salary Threshold Rule should submit their feedback as comments to the applicable proposal during the applicable comment period.  May 28 is the deadline for employers and other interested persons to submit comments of support or other input on the Proposed Rule to change the regular rate determination rules.

Other Defensive Actions To Minimize FLSA Exposures

Whether or not the either of these proposed rule changes takes effect, U.S. businesses will want to strengthen their existing practices for classifying and compensating workers under existing Federal and state wage and hour laws, tighten contracting and other compliance oversight in relation to outsourced services, weigh options to clean up exposure areas, review insurance coverages and consider other options to minimize their potential liability under applicable wages and hour laws.  Conducting this analysis within the scope of attorney-client privilege is important because the analysis and discussions are highly sensitive both as potential evidence for wage and hour and other legal purposes.  Consequently, businesses and their leaders generally will want to arrange for this work to be protected to the extent by attorney-client privilege, work product and other evidentiary protections against discovery by Department, employees or others for FLSA or other workforce enforcement actions.

As a part of this process, businesses and their leaders generally should plan to:

  • Review subcontractor, temporary, lease employee, independent contractor and other outsourced labor and services relationship for potential risk of worker reclassification and tighten contracting and other procedures;
  • Audit the position of each employee currently classified as exempt to assess its continued sustainability and to develop documentation justifying that characterization;
  • Audit characterization of workers obtained from staffing, employee leasing, independent contractor and other arrangements and implement contractual and other oversight arrangements to minimize risks that these relationships could create if workers are recharacterized as employed by the employer receiving these services;
  • Review the characterization of on-call and other time demands placed on employees to confirm that all compensable time is properly identified, tracked, documented, compensated and reported;
  • If the employer hires any individuals under age 18, audit and implement appropriate procedures to ensure its ability to demonstrate compliance with all applicable FLSA child labor rules;
  • If the employer is a government contractor or subcontractor or otherwise performs any services on projects funded with federal or state funds, evaluate the applicability and fulfillment of any special wage, fringe benefit, recordkeeping or other government contracting wage and hour requirements;
  • If the employer hires foreign agricultural or other workers subject to special conditions and requirements, to review compliance with those special requirements;
  • Review and tighten existing practices for tracking compensable hours and paying non-exempt employees for compliance with applicable regulations and to identify opportunities to minimize costs and liabilities arising out of the regulatory mandates;
  • If the employer uses leased, temporary, or other outsourced labor, evaluate contractual, process and other options to support the employer’s ability cost effectively to respond to an audit, investigation or enforcement action by the Labor Department or private litigants and if necessary, obtain indemnification or other recovery in the event the employer incurs liability due to the use or practices of the outsourced labor supplier;
  • If the audit raises questions about the appropriateness of the classification of an employee as exempt, self-initiation of proper corrective action after consultation with qualified legal counsel;
  • Review and document all workers classified as exempt;
  • Review of existing documentation and record keeping practices for hourly employees;
  • Evaluate potential exposures under other employment, labor, tax or related laws or contracts that might be impacted by the findings or actions taken in response to those findings;
  • Explore available options and alternatives for calculating required wage payments to non-exempt employees and assessing and resolving other concerns;
  • Identify and calculate other employee benefit, tax or other corrections and associated costs and procedures that may be required as a result of findings or corrective actions resulting from their redress;
  • Re-engineer work rules, policies, contracts and practices to minimize costs and liabilities as appropriate in light of the regulations and enforcement exposures;
  • Explore insurance, indemnification and other options for mitigating risks and associated investigation and defense costs; and
  • Consider self-correction within the new PAID Program or otherwise.

If you need more information or have questions, contact the author, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  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 onLinkedIn.

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 wage and hour and other 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  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; transactional and other 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 wage and hour and 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 services, 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:

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 Linkedin or Facebook

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.


Give Labor Department Feedback On Proposed $124 Per Week Increase In FLSA Salary Threshold & Other Burdensome Rules

March 19, 2019

Employers concerned about minimum wage, overtime and other liability from the Proposed Salary Threshold Rule (“Proposal”) that if adopted will increase the minimum salary for the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) “white collar” overtime exemption from $23,660 annually to $35,308 annually. If adopted as proposed, the Proposal overnight will disqualify a million plus currently salaried workers to hourly employees that their employers will be required to pay minimum wage and overtime under the FLSA.  Businesses concerned about the Proposal or other burdensome minimum wage or overtime requirements under the FLSA need to tell the Labor Department about these rules burdensome effects on business.

Proposal To Raise Minimum Salary For Overtime Exemption

The Labor Department Proposal if adopted will increase to $679 per week the minimum amount that an employer must pay an employee to treat that employee as exempt from the minimum wage or overtime rules of the FLSA regardless of the role or position of the employee.  This means that an additional million plus employees overnight no longer would qualify to be paid as salaried rather than hourly employees.  The Proposal

Under currently enforced FLSA rules, employers generally must treat any employee earning less than $455 per week ($23,660 annually) as a non-exempt employee.  This generally means that the employer must pay the employee at least minimum wage for regular time and must pay overtime to the worker for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week.

The Labor Department set the minimum weekly earnings level of $455 per week in 2004.  The Proposal if adopted will increase the minimum required earnings an employee must earn to qualify for exemption from minimum wage and overtime rules more than $124 per week to $679 per week (equivalent to $35,308 per year).

The Department also is asking for public comment on the Proposal’s language for periodic review to update the salary threshold. An update would continue to require notice-and-comment rule making rather than calling for automatic adjustments to the salary threshold for inflation.

Speak Up About Proposal & Other FLSA Burdens On Business

Businesses concerned about Proposal to increase the salary threshold or other burdensome FLSA rules or enforcement policies should seize the opportunity to provide feedback.

To start with, businesses should submit comments about the Proposed Rule electronically at www.regulations.gov as soon as possible before the 60-day comment period runs in mid-May.

Additionally, concerned businesses also should consider participating in events like the Small Business Roundtables that the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) Office of Advocacy plans to host to discuss the Proposal to hear directly from small businesses about the impact of the proposed rule.  Currently SBA plans to host three roundtables:

  • Thursday April 4, 2019 –  2:00 pm – 4:00 pm (EDT) at the University of South Florida Port Tampa Bay, Building 1101 Channelside Dr., Suite 210, Tampa, FL 33602;
  • Thursday April 11, 2019 – 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm (EDT) at the SBA Headquarters, Eisenhower Room B 409 Third Street SW, Washington, DC 20416 (Call-in option available); and
  • Tuesday April 30, 2019 – 9:00 am – 11:00 am (CDT) at the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce 451 Government St., Mobile, Alabama 36602

Interested parties must RSVP to Janis.Reyes@sba.gov to participate.  Note that while SBA reports that SBA has invited Labor Department staff, the Labor Department has not confirmed its acceptance of these invitations yet.  Also, because comments expressed during these roundtables do not take the place of submitting written comments to the regulatory docket, concerned businesses should also still comment on the Proposal.  However adverse feedback from business expressed at this meeting could help to motivate SBA to express opposition or other negative feedback on the Proposal.

Other Defensive Actions To Minimize FLSA Exposures

Whether or not the Proposal takes effect, all U.S. businesses will want to strengthen their existing practices for classifying and compensating workers under existing Federal and state wage and hour laws, tighten contracting and other compliance oversight in relation to outsourced services, weigh options to clean up exposure areas, review insurance coverages and consider other options to minimize their potential liability under applicable wages and hour laws.  Conducting this analysis within the scope of attorney-client privilege is important because the analysis and discussions are highly sensitive both as potential evidence for wage and hour and other legal purposes.  Consequently, businesses and their leaders generally will want to arrange for this work to be protected to the extent by attorney-client privilege, work product and other evidentiary protections against discovery by Department, employees or others for FLSA or other workforce enforcement actions.

As a part of this process, businesses and their leaders generally should plan to:

  • Review subcontractor, temporary, lease employee, independent contractor and other outsourced labor and services relationship for potential risk of worker reclassification and tighten contracting and other procedures;
  • Audit the position of each employee currently classified as exempt to assess its continued sustainability and to develop documentation justifying that characterization;
  • Audit characterization of workers obtained from staffing, employee leasing, independent contractor and other arrangements and implement contractual and other oversight arrangements to minimize risks that these relationships could create if workers are recharacterized as employed by the employer receiving these services;
  • Review the characterization of on-call and other time demands placed on employees to confirm that all compensable time is properly identified, tracked, documented, compensated and reported;
  • If the employer hires any individuals under age 18, audit and implement appropriate procedures to ensure its ability to demonstrate compliance with all applicable FLSA child labor rules;
  • If the employer is a government contractor or subcontractor or otherwise performs any services on projects funded with federal or state funds, evaluate the applicability and fulfillment of any special wage, fringe benefit, recordkeeping or other government contracting wage and hour requirements;
  • If the employer hires foreign agricultural or other workers subject to special conditions and requirements, to review compliance with those special requirements;
  • Review and tighten existing practices for tracking compensible hours and paying non-exempt employees for compliance with applicable regulations and to identify opportunities to minimize costs and liabilities arising out of the regulatory mandates;
  • If the employer uses leased, temporary, or other outsourced labor, evaluate contractual, process and other options to support the employer’s ability cost effectively to respond to an audit, investigation or enforcement action by the Labor Department or private litigants and if necessary, obtain indemnification or other recovery in the event the employer incurs liability due to the use or practices of the outsourced labor supplier;
  • If the audit raises questions about the appropriateness of the classification of an employee as exempt, self-initiation of proper corrective action after consultation with qualified legal counsel;
  • Review and document all workers classified as exempt;
  • Review of existing documentation and record keeping practices for hourly employees;
  • Evaluate potential exposures under other employment, labor, tax or related laws or contracts that might be impacted by the findings or actions taken in response to those findings;
  • Explore available options and alternatives for calculating required wage payments to non-exempt employees and assessing and resolving other concerns;
  • Identify and calculate other employee benefit, tax or other corrections and associated costs and procedures that may be required as a result of findings or corrective actions resulting from their redress;
  • Re-engineer work rules, policies, contracts and practices to minimize costs and liabilities as appropriate in light of the regulations and enforcement exposures;
  • Explore insurance, indemnification and other options for mitigating risks and associated investigation and defense costs; and
  • Consider self-correction within the new PAID Program or otherwise.

If you need more information or have questions, contact the author, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

 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.

The author of the “Texas Payday Act,” and numerous other highly regarded publications on wage and hour and other human resources, employee benefits and compensation publications, Ms. Stamer is well-known for her 30 years of extensive wage and hour, compensation and other management advice and representation of restaurant and other hospitality, health, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, governmental and other 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; 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 policy 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; 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, 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 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 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 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, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.

 


IRS Updates 2019 Compensation Table

March 14, 2019

Employee benefit plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and advisors should review and update their benefit and compensation plan designs and testing in response to the just released tables of covered compensation under § 401(l)(5)(E) of the Internal Revenue Code and related regulations for the 2019 plan year in new Revenue Ruling 2019-06.

The new tables are available in the advance release copy of Revenue Ruling 2019-06, scheduled for official publication in Internal Revenue Bulletin 2019-14 on April 1, 2019.

The Revenue Ruling provides tables of covered compensation under § 401(l)(5)(E) of the Internal Revenue Code and related regulations for the 2019 plan year.

For this purpose, covered compensation is average of the contribution and benefit bases in effect under section 230 of the Social Security Act for each year in the 35 year period ending with the year in which an employee attains social security retirement age.

As the change will impact plan contribution limits, discrimination testing and other plan and contribution design and administration, employer and other plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and service providers should evaluate the effects of the adjustments so as to maximize their ability to anticipate and respond to the adjustments.

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:

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 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.


Labor Department Proposes Increasing FLSA Salary Threshold To $679 Per Week

March 7, 2019

Employers concerned about managing their overtime liability should review and provide prompt feedback to the U.S. Department of Labor (Department) on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would make an additional million plus American workers eligible for overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) by increasing the minimum amount an employee must earn to be eligible for treatment as FLSA exempt to $679 per week.

Under currently enforced FLSA rules, employers generally must treat any employee earning less than $455 per week ($23,660 annually) as a non-exempt employee.  This generally means that the employer must pay the employee at least minimum wage for regular time and must pay overtime to the worker for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week.

The minimum weekly earnings level of $455 per week was set in 2004.  The proposed regulation would increase the salary threshold using current wage data projected to January 1, 2020 from $455 to $679 per week (equivalent to $35,308 per year).

The Department also is asking for public comment on the NPRM’s language for periodic review to update the salary threshold. An update would continue to require notice-and-comment rulemaking.

The NPRM maintains overtime protections for police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, nurses, and laborers including: non-management production-line employees and non-management employees in maintenance, construction and similar occupations such as carpenters, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, iron workers, craftsmen, operating engineers, longshoremen, and construction workers. The proposal does not call for automatic adjustments to the salary threshold.

The proposal to change the salary threshold in the NPRM follows a prior attempt by the Department of raise the threshold in 2016.  The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas enjoined a 2016 final regulation that would have raised the threshold on November 22, 2016.  Since November 6, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has held in abeyance the Department’s appeal of the District Court’s ruling pending further rulemaking by the Department.  In the 15 years since the District Court enjoined its 2016 final rule, the Department consistently has enforced the 2004 salary threshold level.

Employers concerned about the proposed increase in the salary threshold or other elements of the NPRM should submit comments about the proposed rule electronically at www.regulations.gov within the 60 day period following publication, in the rulemaking docket RIN 1235-AA20.

The NPRM proposing to increase the salary threshold for qualification as a FLSA-exempt employee is only one of a number of proposed rule changes that could significantly impact employer liabilities and costs.

Coupled with the Department’s continuing aggressive attacks against contract labor and other worker misclassification as well as other minimum wage, overtime and other FLSA rules, all employers should shore up the defensibility of their existing practices for classifying and compensating workers under existing Federal and state wage and hour laws, tighten contracting and other compliance oversight in relation to outsourced services, weigh options to clean up exposure areas, review insurance coverages and consider other options to minimize their potential liability under applicable wages and hour laws.  Conducting this analysis within the scope of attorney-client privilege is important because the analysis and discussions are highly sensitive both as potential evidence for wage and hour and other legal purposes.  Consequently, businesses and their leaders generally will want to arrange for this work to be protected to the extent by attorney-client privilege, work product and other evidentiary protections against discovery by Department, employees or others for FLSA or other workforce enforcement actions.

As a part of this process, businesses and their leaders generally should plan to:

  • Review subcontractor, temporary, lease employee, independent contractor and other outsourced labor and services relationship for potential risk of worker reclassification and tighten contracting and other procedures;
  • Audit the position of each employee currently classified as exempt to assess its continued sustainability and to develop documentation justifying that characterization;
  • Audit characterization of workers obtained from staffing, employee leasing, independent contractor and other arrangements and implement contractual and other oversight arrangements to minimize risks that these relationships could create if workers are recharacterized as employed by the employer receiving these services;
  • Review the characterization of on-call and other time demands placed on employees to confirm that all compensable time is properly identified, tracked, documented, compensated and reported;
  • If the employer hires any individuals under age 18, audit and implement appropriate procedures to ensure its ability to demonstrate compliance with all applicable FLSA child labor rules;
  • If the employer is a government contractor or subcontractor or otherwise performs any services on projects funded with federal or state funds, evaluate the applicability and fulfillment of any special wage, fringe benefit, recordkeeping or other government contracting wage and hour requirements;
  • If the employer hires foreign agricultural or other workers subject to special conditions and requirements, to review compliance with those special requirements;
  • Review and tighten existing practices for tracking compensable hours and paying non-exempt employees for compliance with applicable regulations and to identify opportunities to minimize costs and liabilities arising out of the regulatory mandates;
  • If the employer uses leased, temporary, or other outsourced labor, evaluate contractual, process and other options to support the employer’s ability cost effectively to respond to an audit, investigation or enforcement action by WHD or private litigants and if necessary, obtain indemnification or other recovery in the event the employer incurs liability due to the use or practices of the outsourced labor supplier;
  • If the audit raises questions about the appropriateness of the classification of an employee as exempt, self-initiation of proper corrective action after consultation with qualified legal counsel;
  • Review and document all workers classified as exempt;
  • Review of existing documentation and record keeping practices for hourly employees;
  • Evaluate potential exposures under other employment, labor, tax or related laws or contracts that might be impacted by the findings or actions taken in response to those findings;
  • Explore available options and alternatives for calculating required wage payments to non-exempt employees and assessing and resolving other concerns;
  • Identify and calculate other employee benefit, tax or other corrections and associated costs and procedures that may be required as a result of findings or corrective actions resulting from their redress;
  • Re-engineer work rules, policies, contracts and practices to minimize costs and liabilities as appropriate in light of the regulations and enforcement exposures;
  • Explore insurance, indemnification and other options for mitigating risks and associated investigation and defense costs; and
  • Consider self-correction within the new PAID Program or otherwise.

If you need more information or have questions, contact the author, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

 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.

The author of the “Texas Payday Act,” and numerous other highly regarded publications on wage and hour and other human resources, employee benefits and compensation publications, Ms. Stamer is well-known for her 30 years of extensive wage and hour, compensation and other management advice and representation of restaurant and other hospitality, health, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, governmental and other 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; 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 policy 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; 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, 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 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 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 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, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.

 


Creative Pay & Time Keeping Requires FLSA Compliance & Risk Management

December 27, 2018

Today’s diverse business environment creates a demand for businesses to think creatively about their employment relationships, including creative scheduling and pay arrangements. While many of these arrangements produce win/win solutions for both the business and its employees, businesses need to use care properly to evaluate and manage minimum wage, overtime, and other wage and hour law responsibilities under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and applicable state law.

A new Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) opinion letter published December 21 illustrates this point. WHD Opinion Letter FLSA 2018-28 (Dec. 21, 2018) evaluates FLSA minimum wage and overtime compliance of one employer’s innovative strategy of paying certain hourly employees one hourly rate while the employee was working with clients and a second, lower hourly rate of pay for time that the employee spent traveling between client sites throughout the day.

In WHD Opinion Letter FLSA 2018-28 (Dec. 21, 2018), the WHD expresses reservations about whether the specific practices of the requesting employer for calculating overtime for workers paid different hourly rates for different categories of work during the same work week fulfill the FLSA overtime requirements under certain circumstances, but blessed the compliance of the practice of the employer with the FLSA minimum wage rules.

While only the employer that actually requested the ruling that resulted in the Opinion actually may rely upon the Opinion, the ruling highlights both the potential opportunity for businesses to structure innovative compensation and scheduling arrangements within the requirements of the FLSA and other laws, as well as the legal exposures that employers using innovative staffing and compensation arrangement risk by failing to appropriately manage these responsibilities.

FLSA Minimum Wage & Overtime Requirements Generally

The FLSA generally requires that employers pay covered, nonexempt employees receive at least the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25 per hour) for all hours worked. See 29 U.S.C. § 206(a)(1). According to previously published WHD guidance, WHD will consider an employer to have fulfilled this requirement “if the employee’s total wages for the workweek divided by compensable hours equal or exceed the applicable minimum wage.” See WHD Opinion Letter FLSA2004-8NA (Aug. 12, 2004)(different pay rates for trucking company workers); WHD Field Operations Handbook § 30b02.

In addition to the requirement to pay at least the minimum wage, the FLSA also requires that covered, nonexempt employees receive overtime compensation of at least one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for time worked in excess of 40 hours per workweek. See 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). To  determine the regular rate of pay for purposes of calculating the required overtime, an employer generally divides the employee’s “remuneration for employment” (subject to the exclusions in 29 U.S.C. § 207(e)) by the total hours worked for the workweek. See 29 C.F.R. § 778.109.

WHD Opinion Letter FLSA 2018-28

In WHD Opinion Letter FLSA 2018-28 (Dec. 21, 2018), WHD addressed its views regarding a home health provider’s practice for calculating the wages due to home health aide services that traveled to home health clients’ homes, who were required to travel to different client home locations during the workday. The employer establishes different rates of pay for time spent working with clients versus time spent traveling from location to location.  To calculate weekly pay, that employer multiplied an employee’s time with clients by his hourly pay rate established by the employer for time spent working with clients.  The employer then divides the product by the employee’s total hours worked, which includes both the client time and the travel time. The employer guarantees that the quotient meets both federal and state minimum wage rate requirements.

According to the facts published in the WHD Opinion Letter, the home health provider represented that a typical standard rate of pay is $10.00 per hour with a client including travel time,” and that “[i]f any employee works over 40 hours (total paid hours and [travel] time) in any given workweek, the employer pays the employee time and a half for all time over 40 hours at a rate of $10.00.”

Based upon the factual representations made by the home health agency, WHD ruled the employer’s compensation plan complies with the FLSA’s minimum wage requirements but expressed concern about whether the employer’s practices for calculating overtime complied with the FLSA.

Concerning the FLSA minimum wage compliance, the WHD found that the employers practice fulfilled the FLSA minimum wage requirements because even though the employee’s average hourly pay rate varied from workweek to workweek, the employer always ensured that the average hourly pay rate exceeded the FLSA’s minimum wage requirement for all hours worked.

In contrast, however, WHD expressed concern about the compliance of the employer’s compensation plan with the FLSA’s overtime requirements under certain circumstances. WHD states in the Opinion that the employer will not pay all overtime due to employees whose actual rate of pay exceeds $10 per hour if the employer always assumes a regular rate of pay of $10 per hour when calculating overtime due.  See  29 C.F.R. § 778.107.

The Opinion notes that “neither an employer nor an employee may arbitrarily choose the regular rate of pay; it is an “actual fact” based on “mathematical computation.” Walling v. Youngerman-Reynolds Hardwood Co., Inc., 325 U.S. 419, 424–25 (1945); 29 C.F.R. § 778.108.

On the other hand, the Opinion also states that the employer’s compensation plan would comply with the FLSA’s overtime requirements for all employees whose actual regular rates of pay are less than $10 per hour, as an employer may choose to pay an overtime premium in excess of the required amount. See, e.g., Molina v. First Line Solutions LLC, 566 F. Supp. 2d 770, 779 (N.D. Ill. 2007).

The cautionary lessons from FLSA Opinion 2018-28 echo those WHD previously has issued alerting businesses to the need to use care to properly understand and meet FLSA requirements when structuring and administering two-tier hourly pay or other innovative pay and scheduling arrangements.

The need to attend to the details of FLSA compliance when adopting and administering customized pay arrangements is further illustrated by WHD’s review of the FLSA compliance of a school district employer’s customized pay arrangement for its drivers in FLSA2004-8NA in 2004.  While the WHD found issues with the FLSA compliance of the special arrangement as administered by the school district, guidance provided by the Opinion also makes clear the type of adjustments to the arrangement the employer would need to adopt and apply to continue using the arrangement in its modified form. 

Specifically, FLSA 2004-8NA considered a school district’s contractually negotiated arrangement to pay its drivers pursuant to a contractual arrangement under which the employer agreed to pay regular drivers a specified hourly rate with a minimum guarantee of two hours driving time pay per route/additional assignment. The contract also provided that for an assigned trip of less than two hours, a driver that wanted to receive pay for hte minimum guaranteed time had to perform regular maintenance in the bus garage or other work as assigned by the School District to complete the two hours.  Furthermore, the contract also specified that “Any regular driver may complete a voucher for payment for additional time if their morning or afternoon route exceeds his/her assigned time by one half hour or more” and that the employers only would pay additional wages for the actual added time worked to employees that worked at least 30 minutes or more without rounding to the next hour for calculating wages.  Thus,  an employee that worked an additional twenty-five minutes beyond his/her normal shiftwould not be compensated for the extra time worked.  Meanwhile, a bus driver that returned fifty minutes past the scheduled time received pay for an additional 50 minutes of work.

WHD’s issue with the arrangement was that the rounding practices applied under the arrangement meant that the school district did not ensure that workers were paid at least the minimum wage per hour for all hours worked and might under some circumstances not properly pay overtime due to workers.

While acknowledging that Labor Regulation Section 785.47 allows employers to disregard ‘insubstantial or insignificant periods of time outside the scheduled working hours that cannot practically be precisely recorded as de minimis,  WHD noted that the de minimis rule applies only where a few seconds or minutes of work are involved and where the failure to count such time is due to considerations justified by industrial realities.  It does not allow an employer by contract or otherwise to arbitrarily fail to count as hours worked any part, however small, of the employee’s fixed or regular working time. Where an employer fails to pay an employee for any part of the employee’s fixed or regular working time, however small, this would be considered a violation of the FLSA.

Concerning the FLSA’s requirement that the employer pay hourly employees at least the minimum wage, WHD noted that in non-overtime workweeks or in workweeks in which the overtime provisions do not apply, WHD would consider the employer to have met the minimum wage requirement  if the employee’s total wages for the workweek divided by compensable hours equal or exceed the applicable minimum wage.  WHD added that this principle would apply even if the employer technically did not compensate the emploeye for time which is compensable under the FLSA.

Concerning the overtime requirements of the FLSA, however, WHD had greater reservations.  As WHD noted in the 2004 Opinion, when a covered and non-exempt employee works overtime, a different rule applies. The FLSA overtime rule requires that an employer pay the employee for all hours worked at the agreed rate plus the overtime premium (one-half the regular rate) for all overtime hours.  Therefore, before an employee can be said to be paid statutory overtime compensation due, the employee must first be paid all straight time wages due for all hours worked under any express or implied contract or under any applicable statute (see 29 CFR Part 778.315).  As a result, WHD found that the FLSA overtime requirements would require the employer both to ensure that the employee actually was paid for each hour of straight time at the regular rate of pay plus time and a half of the regular rate of pay for each overtime hour worked.

WHD additionally noted in the 2004 Opinion that the employer also risked violation of Labor Regulation 516.2(a)(7)’s requirement that the employer maintain accurate recordkeeping of hours worked each workday and total hours worked each workweek for covered, nonexempt employees if the payroll records do not accurately record the number of hours worked in one or more of the workdays.

Takeaways For Other Employers About Using Variable Pay Rates & Other Innovative Scheduling & Pay Practices

While other employers actually cannot rely upon  either WHD Opinion Letter FLSA 2018-28, FLSA 2004-8NA, or most other WHD Opinion Letters, WHD Opinion Letters and other publishe guidance, as well as judicial precedent and the enforcement conduct by WHD provide a wealth of valuable insights for other employers about the potential FLSA opportunities and pitfalls of using variable rates of pay or other innovative compensation, scheduling and timekeeping practices for compensating hourly employees.  Employers using or contemplating using innovative compensation, scheduling or recordkeeping practices should should seek assistance from experienced legal counsel with accessing and using this guidance to help reduce the risk that a proposed innovative compensation or other practice for scheduling or paying nonexempt hourly workers will trigger unanticipated FLSA or other liabilities..

Make Wage & Hour Compliance & Risk Management Priority To Reduce Exposures

Aside from using caution to properly calculate and pay overtime for workers paid different rates for different types of work, employers also need to use care to avoid other common FLSA and other wage and hour overtime violations.

With the Trump Administration U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) continuing its aggressive investigation and enforcement of minimum wage, overtime and other Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and other wage and hour laws it used to recover more than $1.2 billion in back pay for workers over the past five years, Agriculture, Amusement, Apparel Manufacturing, Auto Repair, Child Care Services, Construction, Food Services, Guard Services, Hair, Nail & Skin Care Services, Health Care, Hotels and Motels, Janitorial Services, Landscaping Services, Retail, and Temporary Help and other U.S. employers should evaluate their current and past potential liability exposures and consider using the new pilot WHD self-audit Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program announced by WHD on March 6 or other options to mitigate their liability for their own or temporary or other contract labor’s existing or past minimum wage and hour law violations.

U.S. employers and leaders with wage and hour management authority risk substantial liability from unresolved violations of the FLSA and other federal and state wage and hour laws.

One of the most frequently violated and litigated federal employment laws, the FLSA generally requires that U.S. employers pay nonexempt employees at least $7.25 per hour for all regular compensable hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. In general, FLSA “hours worked” includes all time an employee must be on duty, or on the employer’s premises or at any other prescribed place of work, from the beginning of the first principal work activity to the end of the last principal activity of the workday. Similar state or local laws often also impose higher minimum wage, compensable hour, break and other requirements than federal law requires.

The FLSA and most applicable state and local wage and hour laws also mandate that employers maintain records of the hours worked by employees by non-exempt employees, documentation of the employer’s proper payment of its non-exempt employees in accordance with the minimum wage and overtime mandates of the FLSA, and certain other records and prohibit retaliation by an employer or other person again an employee or other person for asserting rights under the law or cooperating in a WHD investigation about FLSA compliance.

Beyond these FLSA minimum wage and overtime requirements, WHD regulations and court decisions provide guidance on when an employer must treat “on-call” time, travel time, meal and break times, and certain other time periods as compensable hours worked by a non-exempt employee, when “comp time” in lieu of the payment of wages is permitted, various alternative methods for calculating overtime under certain special circumstances, and various other rules applicable to various special circumstances. Other special rules also can apply to businesses employing tipped employees, home workers, child labor, certain farm workers, workers working with special visas, and other special classes or workers.   Furthermore, collective bargaining agreements or other contracts or other federal, state or local laws also sometimes impose additional requirements for employers to pay higher “prevailing wages,” apply special rules for counting compensable work hours, and provide specified fringe benefits or other special compensation or protections or other wages, when the employer is a government contractor or subcontractor covered by the Service Contract Act, the Davis Bacon Act or other similar federal or state statutes.

Over the past decade, WHD and private enforcement of the FLSA and other wage and hour laws generally has skyrocketed in part driven by the Obama Administration’s prioritization on raising the minimum wage, extending federal wage and hour protections, and expanding WHD and other enforcement.  WHD’s success in recovering more than $1.2 billion in back pay for workers over the past five years and other achievements in expanding its own and private oversight and enforcement and the continuation of these efforts under the Trump Administration means all employers need to view wage and hour law as a major liability risk requiring conscientious management.   However, the risk of enforcement is particularly acute for businesses in the following industries, designed for heightened enforcement and other attention as “Low Wage High Violation Industries” based on their particularly high record of noncompliance:  Agriculture, Amusement, Apparel Manufacturing, Auto Repair, Child Care Services, Construction, Food Services, Guard Services, Hair, Nail & Skin Care Services, Health Care, Hotels and Motels, Janitorial Services, Landscaping Services, Retail, and Temporary Help.

Scrutiny & Challenges To Contract & Outsourced Labor Relationships Rising

Beyond assessing their FLSA and other wage and hour compliance and associated exposures from the worker on their own payroll, U.S. employers and their leaders also should take care to carefully evaluate potential exposures from nontraditional services relationships and act to manage those risks.

Misclassification of workers providing services as non-employees increasingly causes U.S. businesses to incur unanticipated FLSA and other wage and hour law liability for back pay, liquidated punitive damages, civil monetary penalties and other liability, in part because of WHD’s stepped up worker education, scrutiny, investigation, and enforcement challenging employers’ treatment of workers as non-employees.

The FLSA and state and local rules generally apply to any workers that the employer who receives its services cannot prove is not its common law employee or an exempt employee within the meaning of the FLSA. The FLSA and most other wage and hour laws generally rules presume that workers rendering services are common law employees of the business in most circumstances. Businesses should evaluate their FLSA exposures from both workers they recognize as common law employees and those performing services in capacities that the business typically does not view as common law or otherwise covered by the FLSA when managing FLSA compliance and evaluating exposures, employers should exercise care not to overlook potential responsibilities and exposures associated with outsourced services provided through relationships characterized by the employer as subcontractors, independent contractors, lease employees, or other common outsourced relationships.

Court decisions and regulations provide guidance for determining when leased, contract, jointly employed, independent contractor or other non-traditionally employed workers will be treated as employees of a business,  As in many other enforcement areas, The WHD and many other agencies increasingly view the misclassification of workers as something other than employees, such as independent contractors, leased employees and other common “outsourced” relationship as a serious problem for affected employees, employers and to the entire economy.

According to the Labor Department, misclassified employees are often denied access to critical benefits and protections, such as family and medical leave, overtime, minimum wage and unemployment insurance and other rights.  The Labor Department also says employee misclassification also generates substantial losses to state and federal treasuries, and to the Social Security and Medicare funds, as well as to state unemployment insurance and workers compensation funds. To address these and other concerns, the Labor Department has joined other agencies like the Internal Revenue Service increasingly is challenging employers’ treatment of workers as exempt from FLSA and other legal obligations as independent contractors or otherwise.

In response to these concerns, WHD published guidance warning employers about misclassification of workers about potential violation of the FLSA by improper misclassification of workers as independent contractors or non-employed. See Department of Labor Issues Guidance of Misclassification of Workers.  DOL’s key points in the guidance are that:

  • Most workers are employees under the broad definitions of the FLSA;
  • No single factor is determinative;
  • Employers should be wary of classifying workers as independent contractors merely because the workers control some aspects of their work; and
  • The ultimate question is whether a worker “is really in business for him or herself (and thus is an independent contractor) or is economically dependent on the employer (and thus is an employee).

Other guidance makes clear that WHD and other agencies concerns about misclassification extend beyond workers labeled independent contractors to include scrutiny of subcontractor, day labor, temporary, leased employee and a broad range of other outsourced services relationships.  See here,

Consistent with these principles, WHD and private litigants in recent years have increasingly scrutinized and successfully challenged employers’ failure to comply with the FLSA’s minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping and other rules with respect to these outsourced workers.  See e.g., $1.4M FLSA Back Pay Award Demonstrates Worker Misclassification Risks; Employer Faces $2M FLSA Lawsuit For Alleged Worker Misclassification; $754,578 FLSA Settlement Shows Employer Risks From Worker Misclassification, Underpayment;   WHD now both conducts significant worker education outreach and regularly requests and scrutinizes the characterization of and FLSA compliance of outsourced workers in connection with its FLSA investigations and audits.  See e.g. Get the Facts on Misclassification Under the FLSA; Am I an Employee?: Employment Relationship Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); Compliance Assistance Page – Fair Labor Standards Act; Elaws: Independent Contractors; Know Your Rights Video Series: Misclassification as an Independent Contractor; WHD Press Releases about employee Misclassification as Independent Contractors.  These and other developments are significantly increasing the likelihood that businesses will face WHD or private litigants challenges to its FLSA compliance relating to workers rendering services as independent contractors, subcontractors or other outsourced services providers.

Employers often face substantial challenges responding to, much less, containing their FLSA exposures when a WHD or a private litigant successfully challenges the employer’s classification of the worker as a non-employee for a variety of reasons.  Beyond the likelihood of violations resulting from the employer’s failure to recognize it might owe minimum wage and overtime duties to the worker, an employer often lacks records and other data needed to fulfill recordkeeping and posting requirements and to accurately demonstrate hours worked and hourly rates to limit resulting back pay exposures because these workers are not treated as part of the employer’s workforce. Obtaining the necessary records to respond to a WHD or other investigation, lawsuit or other action often proves challenging because the independent contractor, leasing company, or other provider or of the services often becomes unavailable, is disincentivized by its own noncompliance or other interests, has failed to maintain necessary documentation or otherwise fails to cooperate in the delivery of these materials.  Furthermore, as leased employee, staffing, independent contractor and other outsourced arrangements invoice services at higher rates of compensation payment than the employer might otherwise have paid a traditionally employed worker, the lack of records and elevated compensation rates tend to push up the compensation used to calculate back pay and other awards. Accordingly, employers utilizing these arrangements should use care in structuring and administering these arrangements properly to evaluate their likely FLSA and other treatment and to manage these risks.

FLSA Big Liability Risk

Under the FSLA and applicable state wage and hour laws, violations of the FLSA and other federal or state wage and hour laws expose employers to substantial back pay, interest and punitive damages, civil monetary penalties for willful or and in the case of willful or repeated violations and in the case of willful violations, criminal prosecution.

Because of the ability to recover liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees in addition to unpaid back pay, private enforcement of the FLSA is common.  The FLSA generally allows employees wrongfully denied wages in violation of the FLSA to bring lawsuits to enforce their rights provided that the WHD has not or does not intervene to enforce those rights on the worker’s behalf.  Workers successfully proving an employer violated their FLSA rights typically can recover back pay, plus liquidated damages, interest, attorneys’ fees and other costs of enforcement from the breaching employer.  In some cases, Corporate officers such as CEOs, CFOs or COOs and other management leaders with control over the breaching employer’s financial affairs also be held personally liable for the unpaid wages  See e.g., Lamonica v. Safe Hurricane Shutters+2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 4599 (11th Cir. 2013)(ruling personal liability for FLSA violations can attach to any individual with control over an employer’s financial affairs who could potentially cause an employer to violate FLSA).

As an alternative to private litigation, the FLSA empowers the WHD to supervise or if necessary, enforce through litigation the rights of workers against a breaching employer to recover back pay plus  liquidated damages in an amount equal to the wrongfully denied wages. WHD also can pursue injunctive relief against noncompliant employers.

When the employer is a repeat offender or willfully violated the FLSA, additional consequences attach.  A violation is “willful” for purposes of FLSA criminal prosecution if it is deliberate, voluntary, and intentional. A fine of up to $10,000 on the first conviction

When an employer’s violation of the FLSA is repetitious or willful, the FLSA empowers WHD to impose civil money penalties (CMPs) against the noncompliant employer in addition to the recovery of back pay and liquidated damages. Intended to discourage future noncompliance by an employer guilty of violating the FLSA, CMPs for a “repeated” violation are assessable when the employer had previously violated the minimum wage or overtime requirements of the FLSA. CMPs for a “willful” violation may be assessed when it can be shown that the employer knew that its conduct was prohibited by the FLSA or showed reckless disregard for the requirements of the FLSA.  CMPs ordinarily are imposed based on violations occurring within the normal two-year investigation period. Where violations are determined to be willful, the investigation will cover a three-year period.

The applicable 2018 CMP amounts, which are adjusted annually for inflation, are as follows:

 

Type of Violation Statutory Citation CFR Citation Maximum Civil Monetary Penalty on or before 1/2/2018 Maximum Civil Monetary Penalty on or after 1/3/2018
Homeworker:

Violation of recordkeeping, monetary, certificate or other statutes, regulations or employer assurances.

29 USC 211(d) 29 CFR 530.302 $1,005 $1,026
Child labor:

(1) Violation of child labor standards (sec 212 or 213(c));

29 USC 216(e)(1)(A)(i) 29 CFR 570.140(b)(1) and 29 CFR 579.1(a)(1)(i)(A) $12,278 $12,529
(2) Violation of child labor standards (sec 212 or 213(c)) that causes the serious injury or death of a minor; 29 USC 216(e)(1)(A)(ii) 29 CFR 570.140(b)(2) and 29 CFR 579.1(a)(1)(i)(B) $55,808 $56,947
(3) Willful or repeated violation of child labor standards (sec 212 or 213(c)) that causes the serious injury or death of a minor 29 USC 216(e)(1)(A)(ii) 29 CFR 570.140(b)(2) and 29 CFR 579.1(a)(1)(i)(B) $111,616 $113,894
(4) Repeated or willful violation of section 206 or 207. 29 USC 216(e) 29 CFR 579.1(a)(2) $1,925 $1,964
Minimum Wage and Overtime:

Repeated or willful violation of section 206 or 207.

29 USC 216(e)(2) 29 CFR 578.3(a) $1,925 $1,964

Although typically reserved for more egregious violations, “willful” violations of the FLSA can trigger criminal prosecution by the Department of Justice. A fine of up to $10,000, or a term of imprisonment of up to six months, or both, on all convictions after the first conviction

In addition to or instead of lawsuits by the Secretary of Labor for back wages or injunctive relief, willful violation of the FLSA also can trigger criminal prosecutions against an employer by the Department of Justice.  Criminal penalties for willful FLSA violations include a fine of up to $10,000, or a term of imprisonment of up to six months, or both, on all convictions after the first conviction.  Since enforcement actions by the DOJ can be brought instead of or in addition to lawsuits by WHD for back wages or injunctive relief, an employer that willfully violates the FLSA can be ordered to pay liquidated damages and back-pay, as well as any court imposed criminal fine or penalty.

Always popular, WHD and private enforcement of the FLSA initially spiked upward following the highly publicized George W. Bush Administration’s implementation of updated FLSA “white collar” regulations regarding the classification of workers as exempt.  The Obama Administration’s highly publicized, but unsuccessful, campaign to increase the minimum wage and aggressive FLSA educational outreach and enforcement further fueled this trend.  While President Trump has opposed proposals to increase the federal minimum wage, he has expressed his commitment to protect workers’ FLSA rights through continued vigorous enforcement of the FLSA minimum wage, overtime and other rules.

As a result of its aggressive enforcement commitments, WHD takes credit for having recovered more than $1.2 billion in back wages on behalf of more than 1.3 million workers over the past five years. See here.  The following WHD enforcement statistics reflect that its commitment to FLSA enforcement has continued during President Trump’s tenure in office.

Cases with Violations Back Wages Employees Receiving Back Wages(duplicated 1)
FY 2011 Minimum Wage 12,450 $29,327,527 89,305
Overtime 11,990 $140,328,012 204,243
FY 2012 Minimum Wage 12,532 $35,270,524 107,005
Overtime 12,462 $148,560,700 218,137
FY 2013 Minimum Wage 12,403 $38,470,100 103,671
Overtime 12,108 $130,703,222 174,197
FY 2014 Minimum Wage 11,042 $36,732,407 106,184
Overtime 11,238 $136,239,001 174,365
FY 2015 Minimum Wage 10,642 $37,828,554 86,229
Overtime 10,496 $137,701,703 173,330
FY 2016 Minimum Wage 10,722 $34,964,350 81,870
Overtime 10,884 $171,917,225 209,819
FY 2017 Minimum Wage 10,687 $31,213,737 69,588
Overtime 10,823 $157,592,682 183,272

Pilot PAID Program May Offer New Option To Resolve WHD Exposures

When an audit uncovers potential violations, some employers may want to explore options to voluntarily resolve their exposures.  To encourage voluntary compliance, the WHD on March 6, 2018 announced a new pilot self-audit Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program that offered employers accepted into the program after voluntarily disclosing violations to resolve their exposure WHD penalties and liquidated damages commonly assessed by WHD against employers for violating the FLSA minimum wage and overtime violations by:

  • Voluntarily disclosing the violations to WHD before becoming subject to investigation or enforcement and requesting admission to the program;
  • Paying affected workers 100 percent of the unpaid back pay due wrongfully denied by the end of the next full pay period after receiving the summary of unpaid wages from WHD confirming the back pay amount;
  • Working with WHD prospectively to correct noncompliant practices; and
  • Taking other actions to correct and prevent a recurrence of those violations.

Originally slated as a pilot program set to expire after six months, the PAID program remains an opportunity offered by WHD on its website, which also shares “testimonials” from various employers that report having participated in the PAID program.

While participation in the PAID program purpoerts to offer allows a participating employer to settle its exposure to prosecution for those violations by WHD without incurring some of themore extraordinary penalties that WHD is authorized to assess, many practitioners and employers report having achieved similar and in some cases even more favorable outcomes through negotiations conducted outside the PAID program.  Furthermore, many employers may face challenges in using the program as a result of the inability to marshal the required capital to pay 100 percent of the back pay due within the required time period.

Beyond this challenge, employers evaluating whether to seek relief through the new PAID program also may need to weigh a variety of other concerns.

For instance, employers considering participation need to understand that the settlement only addresses potential liability from WHD enforcement.  While WHD’s requirement that a participating employer pay affect 100 percent of any wrongfully denied back pay to the impacted employees generally would reduce the actual back pay damages recoverable by an employee in a private enforcement action, WHD says settlements reached with the WHD under the PAID program does not prevent employees wrongfully denied wages in violation of FSLA from bringing private lawsuits.  Rather, WHD states that it will be purely the employee’s choice whether to accept the payment of back wages the employer agrees to pay under the PAID program settlement. If the employee chooses to not accept the payment, the employee will not release any private right of action. Additionally, if the employee chooses to accept the payment, the employee will not grant a broad release of all potential claims under the FLSA. Rather, the releases are tailored to only the identified violations and time period for which the employer is paying the back wages. The WHD also cautions that regardless of whether the employee accepts or rejects the back pay specified in the PAID program, the FLSA will prohibit employers from retaliating against the employee for his or her choice. Furthermore, while the payment of previously unpaid amounts could reduce the amount of unpaid wages for purposes of determining liability for state wage and hour law violations, the WHD settlement does not directly impact or release liability for any state wage and hour violations.

While any FLSA covered employer may use the program, interested employers should understand that acceptance into the program is not automatic and is not available for all FLSA violations.  Rather, the PAID program only covers potential violations of the FLSA’s overtime and minimum wage requirements that an employer self-identifies and voluntarily discloses and resolves in accordance with its PAID program settlement with WHD.  An employer cannot use the PAID program to resolve any issues for which WHD is already investigating the employer, or which the employer is already litigating in court, arbitration, or otherwise. An employer likewise may not initiate the process when an employee’s representative or counsel has already communicated an interest in litigating or settling the issue.   Employers using the Paid program also must be prepared to correct the noncompliant practices that resulted in the violations settled under the PAID program.  According to the WHD, WHD will not allow employers to use the program to repeatedly resolve the same violations, as this program is designed to identify and correct non-compliant practices. By allowing employers to participate in the PAID program, WHD also does not waive its right to conduct any future investigations of the employer.

Employers contemplating participation in the PAID program generally should conduct a self-audit after updating their understanding of WHD program and compliance assistance materials and other WHD guidance.  Because the information, analysis and discussions conducted in this process may be legally sensitive, employers generally will want to engage qualified legal counsel before initiating these processes to advise and assist the employer about the adequacy and risks of its existing practices, recommendations for redressing known compliance issues and other risks as well as opportunities and procedures for qualifying certain of these actions and discussions for coverage under attorney-client privilege, attorney work product or other evidentiary protections.

Whether or not an employer decides based on the audit to pursue compliance resolution through the PAID program, employers generally should work with their legal counsel within the scope of attorney client privilege to organize and retain documentation of their audit, its findings of compliance and, for any potential compliance issues, corrective actions taken to redress those issues retrospectively and prospectively, and other documentation that the employer might need to pursue resolution under the PAID program or otherwise respond to and defend against a WHD or private charges brought by an employee in the future.

If the employer wishes to pursue resolution of potential violations under the PAID program based on review of the audit findings in conjunction with their legal counsel, the employer in coordination with the legal counsel within the scope of attorney client privilege should work together to prepare and assemble the records and information WHD will expect the employer to provide in the initial phases of the process including:

  • A list of the specific potential violations uncovered
  • The specific employees affected
  • The specific timeframes in which each employee was affected, and
  • The calculation of the amount of back wages the employer believes are owed to each employee.
  • Each of the calculations described above—accompanied by both evidence and explanation concerning how the calculations were made;
  • A concise explanation of the scope of the potential violations for possible inclusion in a release of liability;
  • A certification that the employer reviewed all of the information, terms, and compliance assistance materials;
  • A certification that the employer is not litigating the compensation practices at issue in court, arbitration, or otherwise, and likewise has not received any communications from an employee’s representative or counsel expressing interest in litigating or settling the same issues; and
  • A certification that the employer will adjust its practices to avoid the same potential violations in the future.

After preparing this information, the employer generally will want to arrange for legal counsel to make the preliminary contact to the WHD to request that the WHD admit the employer to the PAID program.  During the preliminary contact, the WHD will require that a list of the specific potential violations, and the identity, specific time frame and back pay amount that employer believes it owes to each affected employee as a prerequisite to considering the request for admission to the program.  If the WHD approves the employer’s request, WHD will require that the employer or its legal counsel on its behalf provide the remaining information listed above.  After evaluating this information, WHD will provide notification of the next steps, including the collection of any other information necessary for WHD to assess and confirm the back wages due for the identified violations.

Current published guidance states that after WHD assesses the back wages due, it will issue a summary of unpaid wages. WHD will also issue forms describing the settlement terms for each employee, which employees may sign to receive payment. The release of claims provided in the form will match the previously agreed-upon language and, again, must be limited to only the potential violations for which the employer had paid back wages. The PAID program settlement will require the employers to pay the back pay amounts confirmed in the summary of unpaid wages promptly and in full by the end of the next payroll period after receiving the WHD summary of wages confirming the back pay amounts required.

Audit & Act To Mitigate FLSA & Other Wage & Hour Risks

Regardless of whether an employer elects to pursue using the new PAID program, all FLSA covered employers generally should consult with legal counsel within the scope of attorney-client privilege to assess the defensibility of their existing practices for classifying and compensating workers under existing Federal and state wage and hour laws, tighten contracting and other compliance oversight in relation to outsourced services, and about using the PAID program and other options to minimize their potential liability under applicable wages and hour laws.  Conducting this analysis within the scope of attorney-client privilege is important because the analysis and discussions are highly sensitive both as potential evidence for wage and hour and other legal purposes.  Consequently, businesses and their leaders generally will want to arrange for this work to be protected to the extent by attorney-client privilege, work product and other evidentiary protections against discovery by WHD, employees or others for FLSA or other workforce enforcement actions.

As a part of this process, businesses and their leaders generally should plan to:

  • Review subcontractor, temporary, lease employee, independent contractor and other outsourced labor and services relationship for potential risk of worker reclassification and tighten contracting and other procedures;
  • Audit the position of each employee currently classified as exempt to assess its continued sustainability and to develop documentation justifying that characterization;
  • Audit characterization of workers obtained from staffing, employee leasing, independent contractor and other arrangements and implement contractual and other oversight arrangements to minimize risks that these relationships could create if workers are recharacterized as employed by the employer receiving these services;
  • Review the characterization of on-call and other time demands placed on employees to confirm that all compensable time is properly identified, tracked, documented, compensated and reported;
  • If the employer hires any individuals under age 18, audit and implement appropriate procedures to ensure its ability to demonstrate compliance with all applicable FLSA child labor rules;
  • If the employer is a government contractor or subcontractor or otherwise performs any services on projects funded with federal or state funds, evaluate the applicability and fulfillment of any special wage, fringe benefit, recordkeeping or other government contracting wage and hour requirements;
  • If the employer hires foreign agricultural or other workers subject to special conditions and requirements, to review compliance with those special requirements;
  • Review and tighten existing practices for tracking compensable hours and paying non-exempt employees for compliance with applicable regulations and to identify opportunities to minimize costs and liabilities arising out of the regulatory mandates;
  • If the employer uses leased, temporary, or other outsourced labor, evaluate contractual, process and other options to support the employer’s ability cost effectively to respond to an audit, investigation or enforcement action by WHD or private litigants and if necessary, obtain indemnification or other recovery in the event the employer incurs liability due to the use or practices of the outsourced labor supplier;
  • If the audit raises questions about the appropriateness of the classification of an employee as exempt, self-initiation of proper corrective action after consultation with qualified legal counsel;
  • Review and document all workers classified as exempt;
  • Review of existing documentation and record keeping practices for hourly employees;
  • Evaluate potential exposures under other employment, labor, tax or related laws or contracts that might be impacted by the findings or actions taken in response to those findings;
  • Explore available options and alternatives for calculating required wage payments to non-exempt employees and assessing and resolving other concerns;
  • Identify and calculate other employee benefit, tax or other corrections and associated costs and procedures that may be required as a result of findings or corrective actions resulting from their redress;
  • Re-engineer work rules, policies, contracts and practices to minimize costs and liabilities as appropriate in light of the regulations and enforcement exposures;
  • Explore insurance, indemnification and other options for mitigating risks and associated investigation and defense costs .
  • Pursue self-correction within the new PAID Program or otherwise.

Many employers also will want to consider adopting or strengthening their use of arbitration agreements, strengthening contract compliance, audit, indemnification and other contractual safeguards in staffing and other outsourcing contracts and broadening employment practices and other liability insurance coverage to mitigate and manage these exposures.

For additional information, please contact the author or other qualified legal counsel with health industry wage and hour and other labor and employment experience.

 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 is nationally and internationally recognized for her work assisting businesses, governments, and other entities to develop, implement, administer and defend pragmatic strategies for dealing with employment and other workforce and related compensation, employee benefit,  performance management and internal controls, insurance, health care and finance concerns to manage risk, operations and other business objectives.

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.

The author of the “Texas Payday Act,” and numerous other highly regarded publications on wage and hour and other human resources, employee benefits and compensation publications, Ms. Stamer is well-known for her 30 years of extensive wage and hour, compensation and other management advice and representation of restaurant and other hospitality, health, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, governmental and other 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; 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 policy 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; 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, 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.

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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 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.

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Finalize 2019 Withholding Prep In Light of Notice 2018-92

December 13, 2018

Employers should invite employees to update their Form W-4 withholding and finalize other 2019 payroll and income tax withholding arrangements based on guidance for 2019 published by the IRS and Treasury Department in Notice 2018-92 on November 26, 2018.

Many U.S. employers had delayed making changes to their income and payroll tax withholding pending the anticipated release by the IRS and Treasury Department of a revised Form W-4 and related income and payroll tax guidance updated to reflect changes to the Internal Revenue Code enacted as part of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (P.L. 115-97)(“Trump Tax”) at the end of 2017.

Following the enactment of Trump Tax, most businesses have operated in reliance upon interim guidance published by the agencies at the beginning of the year to carryout their 2018 withholding obligations.

Until recently, the IRS and Treasury Department were expected to complete for use in 2019 the major overhaul of the Form W-4 and related guidance in response to the Trump Tax amendments to Sections 3402, 3405 and other Code rules.  When the revision of the Form W-4 proved more complex than anticipated, however, the IRS and Treasury Department in September, 2018 announced that release of the newly designed and updated Form W-4 would be delayed from 2019 to 2020.

In Notice 2018-92, IRS and the Treasury Department provides interim guidance to employers and their workers on income tax withholding for 2019 pending agencies issuance of regulations implementing the changes, as well as requests comments on certain withholding procedures from concerned parties.  For the most part, Notice 2018-92 continues the interim guidance that IRS and Treasury previously published for 2018.  Specifically, Notice 2018-92:

  • Announces that the 2019 Form W-4 will be similar to the 2018 Form W-4,
  • Addresses new TCJA “withholding allowance” terminology,
  • Continues until April 30, 2019 Notice 2018-14’s temporary suspension of the requirement to furnish new Forms W-4 within 10 days for changes resulting solely from the TCJA,
  • Provides that, for 2019, the default rule when an employee fails to furnish a Form W-4 will continue to be single with zero withholding allowances,
  • Allows taxpayers to take into account the qualified business income deduction under section 199A to reduce withholding under section 3402(m),
  • Announces that the IRS and Treasury intend to update the regulations under section 3402 to explicitly allow taxpayers to use the online withholding calculator or Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, in lieu of the worksheets to Form W-4,
  • Requests comments on alternative withholding methods under section 3402(h),
  • Announces that the IRS and the Treasury Department intend to eliminate the combined income tax withholding and employee FICA tax withholding tables under Treas. Reg. § 31.3402(h)(4)-1(b),
  • Modifies notification requirements for the withholding compliance program, and
  • Provides that for 2019, withholding on annuities or similar periodic payments where no withholding certificate is in effect is based on treating the payee as a married individual claiming 3 withholding allowances  under § 3405(a)(4).

The Code generally requires employees that experience a change that reduces the number of withholding exemptions that the employee qualifies to claim to notify their employer and complete a new Form W-4 within 10 days of a specified event date.  Interim relief published by the IRS and Treasury Department provides relief to workers whether the change in withholding eligibility results solely due to a Code change enacted as part of Trump Tax.  Otherwise, however, employees generally still remain obligated to keep their withholding up-to-date.  Since employees often are unaware of or overlook this responsibility, employers generally should encourage workers to review and update their Form W-4 withholding elections in connection with annual enrollment periods and in conjunction with other life or other changes likely to affect the withholding eligibility of the worker.

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:

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 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.

©2018 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.


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

September 12, 2018

On Thursday, August 13, the House Ways & Means Committee will hold hearings on retirement rule reforms intended to change multiemployer plan rules to make it easier for small businesses to offer and their employees and independent contractors to participate in retirement plans and provide retirement plan relief for participants proposed in the Family Savings Act of 2018, H.R. 6757.

Part of recently 3-bill tax package dubbed “Tax Reform 2.0” introduced on Monday, September 10, H.R. 6757 would remove certain regulatory barriers restricting the types of small-business employers who are permitted to band together to offer a retirement plan through a multiple employer plan (MEP).

H.R. 6757 also includes relief for certain plan participants. Among other things, it would:

  • End required minimum distributions of funds from 401(k) plans and other retirement savings accounts for retirees with balances under $50,000; and
  • Protect the ability of participants invested in lifetime income options through an employment-based retirement plan against losing these investment guarantees when their employer changes recordkeepers.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), and cosponsored by Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX), and all other Ways and Means Committee Republicans, H.R. 6757, the bill enjoys strong support among House Republicans and President Trump.

House Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady expressed strong support for its reforms, saying: “We are creating financial security. The Family Savings Act focuses on helping families save more and earlier for the future by making it easier for businesses to offer retirement savings plans while ensuring workers can easily participate in these plans. This will help give our families the financial stability they need for whatever life throws their way.”

The Ways and Means Committee will address the H.R. 6757 proposals during its scheduled Tax Reform 2.0 markup on Thursday, September 13, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. in Room 1100 of the Longworth House Office Building. Use these links to read these bills:

About The Author

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation; Former Chair of the RPTE Employee Benefits and Compensation Committee, a current Co-Chair of the Committee, and the former Chair of its Welfare Benefit and its Defined Compensation Plan Committees and former RPTE Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council (JCEB) Representative, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate, author and lecturer repeatedly recognized for her 30 plus years’ of work and pragmatic thought leadership, publications and training on health, pension and other employee benefit,  insurance, labor and employment, and health care  fiduciary responsibility, payment, investment, contracting  and other design, administration and compliance concerns as among the “Top Rated Labor & Employment Lawyers in Texas,” a “Legal Leader,” a “Top Woman Lawyer” and with other awards by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell®; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the field of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, in International Who’s Who of Professionals and with numerous other awards and distinctions.

Highly valued for her ability to meld her extensive legal and industry knowledge and experience with her talents as an insightful innovator and pragmatic problem solver, Ms. Stamer advises, represents and defends employer, union, multi-employer, association and other employee benefit plan sponsors, insurers and managed care organizations, fiduciaries, plan administrators, technology and other service providers, government and community leaders and others about health and other employee benefit and insurance program and policy design and innovation, funding, documentation, administration, communication, data security and use, contracting, plan, public and regulatory reforms and enforcement, and other risk management, compliance and operations matters. Her experience encompasses leading and supporting the development and defense of innovative new policies, programs, practices and solutions; advising and representing clients on routine plan establishment, plan documentation and contract drafting and review, administration, change and other compliance and operations; crisis prevention and response, compliance and risk management audits and investigations, enforcement actions and other dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission, Education and other federal agencies, state legislatures, attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, and other agencies and regulators, and various other foreign and domestic governmental bodies and agencies. She also provides strategic and other supports clients in defending litigation as lead strategy counsel, special counsel and as an expert witness. Alongside her extensive legal and operational experience, Ms. Stamer also is recognized for her work as a public and regulatory policy advocate and community leader with a gift for finding pragmatic solutions and helping to forge the common ground necessary to build consensus. Best known for her domestic public policy and community leadership on health care and insurance reform, Ms. Stamer’s lifelong public policy and community service involvement includes service as a lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its pension privatization project, as well as extensive legislative and regulatory reform, advocacy and input workforce, worker classification, employee benefit, public health and healthcare, social security and other disability and aging in place, education, migration reforms domestically and internationally throughout her adult life. In addition to her public and regulatory policy involvement, Ms. Stamer also contributes her service and leadership to a professional and civic organizations and efforts including her involvement as the Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE; Coalition on Patient Empowerment, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; Vice Chair, Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group; current Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair and Membership Committee member of the ABA RPTE Section; former RPTE Employee Benefits and Other Compensation Group Chair, former Chair and Co-Chair of its Welfare Plans Committee, and Defined Contribution Plans Committee; former RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council; former RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Counsel; 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, former Board Member, Continuing Education Chair and Treasurer of the Southwest Benefits Association; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; 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; past Dallas World Affairs Council Board Member, and in leadership of many other professional, civic and community organizations. Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair 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, the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators, 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, serves on the faculty and planning committee of many workshops, seminars, and symposia, and on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.

Beyond these involvements, Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other public policy advocacy and other professional and civic organizations and involvements. Through these and other involvements, she helps develop and build solutions, build consensus, garner funding and other resources, manage compliance and other operations, and take other actions to identify promote tangible improvements in health care and other policy and operational areas.

Before founding her current law firm, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., Ms. Stamer practiced law as a partner with several prominent national and international law firms for more than 10 years before founding Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. to practice her unique brand of “Solutions law™” and to devote more time to the pragmatic policy and system reform, community education and innovation, and other health system improvement efforts of her PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment initiative.

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 such as the following

DOL Spending Reports Required As Taxpayer Tool Need Improvement

Check & Protect Health & Other Electronic Systems & Data Against New Security Threat

April 1 New Deadline To Update Benefit Plan Disability Determination Claims & Appeals Procesures; Hear More on 1/26

Arizona Proposal To Ban Sexual Harassment Confidentiality Agreements Sign Of Growing Employer Risks

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

Take Care of Your Good People

Read Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Conference Report For Tax Reform From Source

Check How IRS 2018 Retirement & Saving Plan Limits and Amounts Cost Of Living Adjustments Impact Your HR & Retirement Plan Administration & Planning

IRS Prepares To Nail Employers Under Obamacare Mandate While Giving Some Individual Mandate Relief

Hiring & Retaining Workers Growing Business Challenge

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.

©2018 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.


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

July 31, 2018

Employees should heed the warning provided by a federal grand jury’s indictment today charging a Walled Lake, Michigan restaurant owner with 24 counts of failing to account for and pay over employment taxes and one count of willful failure to file an income tax return, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.

According to the indictment, Johni Semma owned Bayside Sports Bar & Grill (“Bayside”), a restaurant, and The Coliseum, an adult entertainment business.   As the owner of Bayside, Semma was allegedly responsible for collecting and paying over Bayside’s employment taxes.   The indictment charges that during 2008 to 2015, Bayside accrued employment tax liabilities of more than $1 million and that Semma withheld those taxes from the pay of the restaurant’s employees.  Semma then allegedly failed to fully pay over the amounts he withheld to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The indictment further alleges that in 2012, Semma sold The Coliseum for more than $6 million with approximately $3.5 million of the purchase price paid during 2012.  Despite receiving considerable income from the sale of The Coliseum and other sources, Semma allegedly did not file a 2012 income tax return.

If convicted, Semma faces a statutory maximum of five years in prison for each count of failure to pay over the employment taxes.  He faces a statutory maximum of one year in prison for the one count of willful failure to file his income tax return.  In addition, he faces a period of supervised release, restitution, and monetary penalties.  An indictment is an accusation.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Employers should recognize the indictment as a reminder to ensure they timely collect and deposit all employment taxes withheld in accordance with applicable law.

About The Author

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation; Former Chair of the RPTE Employee Benefits and Compensation Committee, a current Co-Chair of the Committee, and the former Chair of its Welfare Benefit and its Defined Compensation Plan Committees and former RPTE Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council (JCEB) Representative, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate, author and lecturer repeatedly recognized for her 30 plus years’ of work and pragmatic thought leadership, publications and training on health, pension and other employee benefit,  insurance, labor and employment, and health care  fiduciary responsibility, payment, investment, contracting  and other design, administration and compliance concerns as among the “Top Rated Labor & Employment Lawyers in Texas,” a “Legal Leader,” a “Top Woman Lawyer” and with other awards by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell®; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the field of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, in International Who’s Who of Professionals and with numerous other awards and distinctions.

Highly valued for her ability to meld her extensive legal and industry knowledge and experience with her talents as an insightful innovator and pragmatic problem solver, Ms. Stamer advises, represents and defends employer, union, multi-employer, association and other employee benefit plan sponsors, insurers and managed care organizations, fiduciaries, plan administrators, technology and other service providers, government and community leaders and others about health and other employee benefit and insurance program and policy design and innovation, funding, documentation, administration, communication, data security and use, contracting, plan, public and regulatory reforms and enforcement, and other risk management, compliance and operations matters. Her experience encompasses leading and supporting the development and defense of innovative new policies, programs, practices and solutions; advising and representing clients on routine plan establishment, plan documentation and contract drafting and review, administration, change and other compliance and operations; crisis prevention and response, compliance and risk management audits and investigations, enforcement actions and other dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission, Education and other federal agencies, state legislatures, attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, and other agencies and regulators, and various other foreign and domestic governmental bodies and agencies. She also provides strategic and other supports clients in defending litigation as lead strategy counsel, special counsel and as an expert witness. Alongside her extensive legal and operational experience, Ms. Stamer also is recognized for her work as a public and regulatory policy advocate and community leader with a gift for finding pragmatic solutions and helping to forge the common ground necessary to build consensus. Best known for her domestic public policy and community leadership on health care and insurance reform, Ms. Stamer’s lifelong public policy and community service involvement includes service as a lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its pension privatization project, as well as extensive legislative and regulatory reform, advocacy and input workforce, worker classification, employee benefit, public health and healthcare, social security and other disability and aging in place, education, migration reforms domestically and internationally throughout her adult life. In addition to her public and regulatory policy involvement, Ms. Stamer also contributes her service and leadership to a professional and civic organizations and efforts including her involvement as the Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE; Coalition on Patient Empowerment, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; Vice Chair, Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group; current Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair and Membership Committee member of the ABA RPTE Section; former RPTE Employee Benefits and Other Compensation Group Chair, former Chair and Co-Chair of its Welfare Plans Committee, and Defined Contribution Plans Committee; former RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council; former RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Counsel; 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, former Board Member, Continuing Education Chair and Treasurer of the Southwest Benefits Association; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; 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; past Dallas World Affairs Council Board Member, and in leadership of many other professional, civic and community organizations. Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair 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, the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators, 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, serves on the faculty and planning committee of many workshops, seminars, and symposia, and on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.

Beyond these involvements, Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other public policy advocacy and other professional and civic organizations and involvements. Through these and other involvements, she helps develop and build solutions, build consensus, garner funding and other resources, manage compliance and other operations, and take other actions to identify promote tangible improvements in health care and other policy and operational areas.

Before founding her current law firm, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., Ms. Stamer practiced law as a partner with several prominent national and international law firms for more than 10 years before founding Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. to practice her unique brand of “Solutions law™” and to devote more time to the pragmatic policy and system reform, community education and innovation, and other health system improvement efforts of her PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment initiative.

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 such as the following

DOL Spending Reports Required As Taxpayer Tool Need Improvement

Check & Protect Health & Other Electronic Systems & Data Against New Security Threat

April 1 New Deadline To Update Benefit Plan Disability Determination Claims & Appeals Procesures; Hear More on 1/26

Arizona Proposal To Ban Sexual Harassment Confidentiality Agreements Sign Of Growing Employer Risks

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

Take Care of Your Good People

Read Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Conference Report For Tax Reform From Source

Check How IRS 2018 Retirement & Saving Plan Limits and Amounts Cost Of Living Adjustments Impact Your HR & Retirement Plan Administration & Planning

IRS Prepares To Nail Employers Under Obamacare Mandate While Giving Some Individual Mandate Relief

Hiring & Retaining Workers Growing Business Challenge

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.

©2018 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.


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

July 14, 2018

A flurry of activity in the House Ways & Means Committee and other Congressional committees over the past few weeks signals the advisability of keeping a close eye on health care and health benefit reform proposals this Summer in anticipation of both the Fall health benefit enrollment and renewal season and the mid-term November Congressional elections.

Coupled with the Trump Administration’s recent rollout of its long promised association health plan, short-term coverage and other regulatory reforms and promises of more changes to come, the ongoing attention paid by the Administration and Congress  to health insurance and health care reform raises a strong possibility that employer, association, and other health plan sponsors, fiduciaries and their vendors that they and their plan members should be on watch for late-breaking developments that may require or warrant last minute changes to health benefit plan designs, communications, contracts or other key decisions.

With President Trump continuing to push for a wide range of health care reforms and health care and health benefit issues recognized as key voter concerns for the upcoming mid-term elections in November,  the continued emphasis of the Republican-led Congress and federal regulators talking about their health care reform legislative agenda is not surprising. What may be more surprising to many is the intensity of the ongoing efforts in Congress to try to pass reform over the summer when many members of the House and Senate face tightly contested races in November.

Certainly continued Congressional commitment to pursue reform is evident from the House Ways & Means Committee’s health care heavy agenda of hearings and votes that this week alone resulted in its voting in favor of 11 health care reform bills promising new flexibility for employers about how to design their health plans and American families more health care choices and choice about how to pay for it and what coverage to buy popular with many providers, patients and employer and other health plan sponsors. While it remains to be seen if the House and Senate can agree on any or all of these proposal, the bi-partisan sponsorship of many of these proposals and the intensity of the focus of the Committee and others in Congress reflects a strong interest in health care reform by both parties leading up to November that could impact health benefit and other health care choices for providers, employers and American families in the Fall annual enrollment season.

The legislation passed by the Ways & Means Committee this weeks include bills that would:

  • Provide relief for employers relief from the Obamacare’s employer mandate and delay for an additional year the effective date of the widely disliked “Cadillac Tax;”
  • Overrule the “Use it Or Lose It” requirement in current Internal Revenue Regulations for healthcare flexible spending arrangement plans (HFSAs) that currently forces employers sponsoring HFSAs to draft their plans to require employees to forfeit unused salary reduction contributions in their HFSA accounts at the end of the year;
  • Offer individuals and families eligible for Obamacare created health premium subsidies more choice about where to obtain that coverage using their subsidies; and
  • Expand expand the availability and usability of HSAs in a multitude of ways.

Furthermore, a review of the Committee’s schedule makes clear that it isn’t finished with health care reform.  After holding hearings on health savings account reforms and passing a flurry of health care reform bills intended to give employers relief from two key Obamacare mandates, to allow Obamacare subsidy-eligible Americans the choice to use the subsidies to purchase health care coverage not offered by the Obamacare exchanges,  and a host of bills that would expand availability and usability of health savings account (HSA) and health care flexible spending account (HFSA) programs this week, the House Ways and Means Committee will turn its attention to health care fraud oversight and reform next week by holding hearings Tuesday on those health concerns.  Health care providers, employer and other health plan sponsors, individual Americans and their families, and others interested in health benefit and health care reform will want to keep a close eye on these and other developments as Congress continues to debate health care reform in the runup to the upcoming 2018 health benefit plan renewal and annual enrollment season and November’s mid-term elections.

Committee Approved 11 Health Care Reform Bills This Week

As a part of its health reform efforts this week, the Committee voted to advance 11 health care reform bills offering new flexibility for employers about how to design their health plans and American families more health care choices and choice about how to pay for it and what coverage to buy popular with many providers, patients and employer and other health plan sponsors.

Among the approved legislation is a bill that would provide key relief for employers from certain key Obamacare mandates that have been widely unpopular with employers.  H.R. 4616, the “Employer Relief Act of 2018,” sponsored by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), which would give employers sponsoring health plans for their employees retroactive relief from Obamacare’s onerous employer mandate and delay for an additional year the effective date of another Obamacare requirement that when effective, will forces employers to pay the 40 percent tax on amounts paid for employer sponsored health care coverage  that exceeds cost limits specified in the Obamacare legislation commonly known as the “Cadillac Tax.”  Relief from the Cadillac Tax is widely perceived as benefiting bother employers and their employees, as its provisions penalize employers for spending more for employee health coverage than limits specified in the Obamacare law.  These provisions also are particularly viewed by many as unfair because rising health plan costs since Obamacare’s passage make it likely that many employers will incur the tax penalty simply by sponsoring relatively basic health plans meeting the Obamacare mandates.

In addition to H.R. 4616,  the Committee also voted to approve H.R. 6313, the “Responsible Additions and Increases to Sustain Employee Health Benefits Act of 2018,” sponsored by Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), which would overrule the “Use it Or Lose It” requirement in current Internal Revenue Regulations for HFSAs.  Currently, this rule forces employers sponsoring HFSAs to draft their plans to require employees to forfeit unused salary reduction contributions in their HFSA accounts at the end of the year.  The bill would allow employers to eliminate this forfeiture requirement so that employees could carry over any remaining unused balances in their HFSAs at the end of the year to use in a later  year.

The Committee also voted to advance legislation to offer individuals and families eligible for Obamacare created health premium subsidies more choice about where to obtain that coverage.  H.R. 6311, the “Increasing Access to Lower Premium Plans Act of 2018,” sponsored by Chairman Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Rep. Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX), would provide individuals receiving subsidies to help purchase health care coverage through the Obamacare-created health insurance exchange the option to use their premium tax credit to purchase health care coverage from qualified plans offered outside of the exchanges.  Currently, subsidies may only be used to purchase coverage from health plans offered through the exchange, which often are much more costly and offer substantially fewer coverage options and less provider choice.  In addition, the bill would expand access to the lowest-premium plans available for all individuals purchasing coverage in the individual market and allows the premium tax credit to be used to offset the cost of such plans.

Along with these reforms, the Committee also voted to pass a host of bills that would expand the availability and usability of HSAs including:

  • H.R. 6301, the “Promoting High-Value Health Care Through Flexibility for High Deductible Health Plans Act of 2018,” co-sponsored by Health Subcommittee Chairman Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), which seeks to expand access and enhance  the utility of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) by offering patients greater flexibility in designing their plan design while still being able to maintain their eligibility for HSA contributions.
  • H.R. 6305, the “Bipartisan HSA Improvement Act of 2018,” sponsored by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), which also would expand HSA access and  utility by allowing spouses to also make contributions to HSAs is their spouse has an FSA and lets employers offer certain services to employees through on-site or retail clinics.
  • H.R. 6317, the “Primary Care Enhancement Act of 2018,” co-sponsored by Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), which seeks to protect HSA-eligible individuals who participate in a direct primary care (DPC) arrangement from losing their HSA-eligibility merely because of their participation in a DPC. In addition, it allows DPC provider fees to be covered with HSAs.
  • H.R. 6312, the “Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act,” sponsored by Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) and Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), which seeks to fight obesity and promote wellness by allowing taxpayers to use tax-preferred accounts to pay costs of gym membership or exercise classes, children’s school sports programs and certain other wellness programs and activities.
  • H.R. 6309, the “Allowing Working Seniors to Keep Their Health Savings Accounts Act of 2018,” sponsored by Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN), which would expand HSA eligibility to include Medicare eligible seniors who are still in the workforce.
  • H.R.6199, the “Restoring Access to Medication Act of 2018,” sponsored by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), which would reverse Obamacare’s prohibition on using tax-favored health accounts to purchase over-the-counter medical products and would add feminine products to the list of qualified medical expenses for the purposes of these tax-favored health accounts.
  • H.R. 6306, the “Improve the Rules with Respect to Health Savings Accounts,” sponsored by Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN), which would increase the contribution limits for HSAs and further enhances flexibility in plans by allowing both spouses to contribute to make catch-up contributions to the same account and creating a new grace period for medical expenses incurred before the HSA was established.
  • H.R. 6314, the “Health Savings Act of 2018,” sponsored by Rep. Burgess (R-TX) and Rep. Roskam (R-IL), would expand eligibility and access to HSAs by allowing plans categorized as “catastrophic” and “bronze” in the exchanges to qualify for HSA contributions.

Committee Considers Health Care Fraud Next Week 

The Committee next week will turn its attention to health care fraud by holding two hearings on Tuesday.

Both hearings are scheduled to take place in Room 1100 Longworth and their proceedings will be live streamed on YouTube.

The Committee’s health care reform focus this week and next are reflective of the continued emphasis of members of Congress in both parties on health care reform legislation as they prepare for the impending mid-term elections in November.  As a part of these efforts,  the House and Senate already over the past several months have held a wide range of hearings in various committees and key votes on a multitude of reform proposals.  Numerous other hearings and votes are planned over the next several months as Congressional leaders from both parties work to advance their health care agendas in anticipation of the upcoming elections.

Key health care and health benefit reform  proposals that the Republican Majority has designated for priority consideration include:

  • Prescription drug costs by checking perceived negative effects of health industry and health plan consolidations involving large health insurers, pharmacy benefit  management companies (PBMs), pharmacy companies and other health industry and health insurance organizations on health care costs and patient, plan sponsor and plan sponsor choice and health care quality;
  • Oversight and reform of existing STARK, anti-kickback and other federal health care rules and exemptions relied upon by PBMs and other health industry organizations;
  • Efforts to understand and address health care treatment, health care and coverage costs and related social concerns associated with mental health and opioid and other substance abuse conditions and their treatment;
  • Efforts promote health  benefit and health care choice, affordability and coverage;  improve patient and employer choice; promote broader health care access and quality; reduce counterproductive regulation; and other health insurance and care improvements through expanded availability of health savings accounts, direct primary care and other consumer directed health care options, association health plan and other program options, streamlining quality reporting and regulation, billing and coding, physician and other health care provider electronic billing and recordkeeping,  and other provider,  payer, employer, individual and other health insurance mandates and other federal health care and health plan rules; and
  • More.

Evolving Legislative & Regulatory Warrant Vigilance & Change Readiness

While the recurrent stalling of past reform efforts over the past few years calls into question whether any or all of these proposals can make it through the highly politicized and divided Congress, bi-partisian sponsorship of most of the bills reported out this week at least raises the possibility that some of these proposals enjoy sufficient bi-partisan support to potentially pass before the elections. With both parties viewing health care reform as a key issue in the upcoming elections, voter feedback on these proposals could play a big role in determining the prospects for passage this Summer.

Along with the ongoing Congressional reform efforts, the Trump Administration also continues to move forward on a series of regulatory reforms that also could impact health care and health benefit decisions and responsibilities later this year.  Beyond the Administration’s implementation of its long promised and recently finalized and released association health plan, short term coverage and other health benefit rules, the Administration’s  continued consideration of changes to essential health benefits and other Obamacare regulations, ongoing mental health, substance abuse, and prescription drug reform projects, and other proposed regulatory and enforcement changes are likely to require health plans, their sponsors, insurers, administrators, members and even providers to adapt to changes in federal health plan rules between now and year end.

Amid this shifting legal landscape, employer and other health plan sponsors, their insurers, vendors, providers and participants will want to remain vigilant and work to preserve the flexibility to respond to new rules or guidance likely to rollout over the next several months.

Staying on top of proposed reforms as the Summer progresses is important:

  • To provide timely input to Congress on proposed reforms of particular benefit or concern;
  • To help plan for and deal with rules changes that could impact their options and choices during the upcoming health plan renewal and enrollment season this Fall and going forward; and
  • To be prepared to make informed choices when voting in the upcoming mid-term Congressional elections in November.

Keeping informed about potential changes is only part of the challenge, however.  Employer and other health plan sponsors, fiduciaries and service providers also generally should seek to negotiate vendor contracts that allow them the greatest possible flexibility to respond to changing rules, opportunities and requirements with minimum penalties and disruption when designing, negotiating and implementing vendor contracts, plan designs and plan enrollment and other processes and communications.

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 health industry, health and other 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;  managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers and their management; public and private, domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, health care accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; managed care organizations, insurers, third party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations;  billing, utilization management, management services organizations; group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; claims, billing and other health care and insurance technology and data service organizations; other health, employee benefit, insurance and financial services product and solutions consultants, developers and vendors; and other health, employee benefit, insurance, technology, government and other management clients.

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 encompassess 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.

Beyond her public policy and regulatory affairs involvement, Ms. Stamer also has extensive experience helping these and other clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend 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; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other 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, and change management; workforce and operations management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of their operations.

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.

Ms. Stamer has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending plan sponsors, administrators, insurance and managed care organizations, health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and employer and association 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. Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with HHS OCR, she also has worked extensively on health and health benefit coding, billing and claims, meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical, workforce, consumer financial and other data confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security, data breach and mitigation, and other information privacy and data security concerns.

Author of leading works on a multitude of health care, health plan and other health industry matters, 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 and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, 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’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.

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.

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.™

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Employers Should Weigh New DOL PAID Program, Other Options To Manage Rising FLSA Minimum Wage & Overtime Risks

April 12, 2018

With the Trump Administration U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) continuing its aggressive investigation and enforcement of minimum wage, overtime and other Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and other wage and hour laws it used to recover more than $1.2 billion in back pay for workers over the past five years, Agriculture, Amusement, Apparel Manufacturing, Auto Repair, Child Care Services, Construction, Food Services, Guard Services, Hair, Nail & Skin Care Services, Health Care, Hotels and Motels, Janitorial Services, Landscaping Services, Retail, and Temporary Help and other U.S. employers should evaluate their current and past potential liability exposures and consider using the new pilot WHD self-audit Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program announced by WHD on March 6 or other options to mitigate their liability for their own or temporary or other contract labor’s existing or past minimum wage and hour law violations.

FLSA & Other Wage & Hour Law Exposures & Enforcement Mounting Legal & Business Risk

U.S. employers and leaders with wage and hour management authority risk substantial liability from unresolved violations of the FLSA and other federal and state wage and hour laws.

One of the most frequently violated and litigated federal employment laws, the FLSA generally requires that U.S. employers pay nonexempt employees at least $7.25 per hour for all regular compensable hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. In general, FLSA “hours worked” includes all time an employee must be on duty, or on the employer’s premises or at any other prescribed place of work, from the beginning of the first principal work activity to the end of the last principal activity of the workday. Similar state or local laws often also impose higher minimum wage, compensable hour, break and other requirements than federal law requires.

The FLSA and most applicable state and local wage and hour laws also mandate that employers maintain records of the hours worked by employees by non-exempt employees, documentation of the employer’s proper payment of its non-exempt employees in accordance with the minimum wage and overtime mandates of the FLSA, and certain other records and prohibit retaliation by an employer or other person again an employee or other person for asserting rights under the law or cooperating in a WHD investigation about FLSA compliance.

Beyond these FLSA minimum wage and overtime requirements, WHD regulations and court decisions provide guidance on when an employer must treat “on-call” time, travel time, meal and break times, and certain other time periods as compensable hours worked by a non-exempt employee, when “comp time” in lieu of the payment of wages is permitted, various alternative methods for calculating overtime under certain special circumstances, and various other rules applicable to various special circumstances. Other special rules also can apply to businesses employing tipped employees, home workers, child labor, certain farm workers, workers working with special visas, and other special classes or workers.   Furthermore, collective bargaining agreements or other contracts or other federal, state or local laws also sometimes impose additional requirements for employers to pay higher “prevailing wages,” apply special rules for counting compensable work hours, and provide specified fringe benefits or other special compensation or protections or other wages, when the employer is a government contractor or subcontractor covered by the Service Contract Act, the Davis Bacon Act or other similar federal or state statutes.

Over the past decade, WHD and private enforcement of the FLSA and other wage and hour laws generally has skyrocketed in part driven by the Obama Administration’s prioritization on raising the minimum wage, extending federal wage and hour protections, and expanding WHD and other enforcement.  WHD’s success in recovering more than $1.2 billion in back pay for workers over the past five years and other achievements in expanding its own and private oversight and enforcement and the continuation of these efforts under the Trump Administration means all employers need to view wage and hour law as a major liability risk requiring conscientious management.   However, the risk of enforcement is particularly acute for businesses in the following industries, designed for heightened enforcement and other attention as “Low Wage High Violation Industries” based on their particularly high record of noncompliance:  Agriculture, Amusement, Apparel Manufacturing, Auto Repair, Child Care Services, Construction, Food Services, Guard Services, Hair, Nail & Skin Care Services, Health Care, Hotels and Motels, Janitorial Services, Landscaping Services, Retail, and Temporary Help.

Scrutiny & Challenges To Contract & Outsourced Labor Relationships Rising

Beyond assessing their FLSA and other wage and hour compliance and associated exposures from the worker on their own payroll, U.S. employers and their leaders also should take care to carefully evaluate potential exposures from nontraditional services relationships and act to manage those risks.

Misclassification of workers providing services as non-employees increasingly causes U.S. businesses to incur unanticipated FLSA and other wage and hour law liability for back pay, liquidated punitive damages, civil monetary penalties and other liability, in part because of WHD’s stepped up worker education, scrutiny, investigation, and enforcement challenging employers’ treatment of workers as non-employees.

The FLSA and state and local rules generally apply to any workers that the employer who receives its services cannot prove is not its common law employee or an exempt employee within the meaning of the FLSA. The FLSA and most other wage and hour laws generally rules presume that workers rendering services are common law employees of the business in most circumstances. Businesses should evaluate their FLSA exposures from both workers they recognize as common law employees and those performing services in capacities that the business typically does not view as common law or otherwise covered by the FLSA when managing FLSA compliance and evaluating exposures, employers should exercise care not to overlook potential responsibilities and exposures associated with outsourced services provided through relationships characterized by the employer as subcontractors, independent contractors, lease employees, or other common outsourced relationships.

Court decisions and regulations provide guidance for determining when leased, contract, jointly employed, independent contractor or other non-traditionally employed workers will be treated as employees of a business,  As in many other enforcement areas, The WHD and many other agencies increasingly view the misclassification of workers as something other than employees, such as independent contractors, leased employees and other common “outsourced” relationship as a serious problem for affected employees, employers and to the entire economy.

According to the Labor Department, misclassified employees are often denied access to critical benefits and protections, such as family and medical leave, overtime, minimum wage and unemployment insurance and other rights.  The Labor Department also says employee misclassification also generates substantial losses to state and federal treasuries, and to the Social Security and Medicare funds, as well as to state unemployment insurance and workers compensation funds. To address these and other concerns, the Labor Department has joined other agencies like the Internal Revenue Service increasingly is challenging employers’ treatment of workers as exempt from FLSA and other legal obligations as independent contractors or otherwise.

In response to these concerns, WHD published guidance warning employers about misclassification of workers about potential violation of the FLSA by improper misclassification of workers as independent contractors or non-employed. See Department of Labor Issues Guidance of Misclassification of Workers.  DOL’s key points in the guidance are that:

  • Most workers are employees under the broad definitions of the FLSA;
  • No single factor is determinative;
  • Employers should be wary of classifying workers as independent contractors merely because the workers control some aspects of their work; and
  • The ultimate question is whether a worker “is really in business for him or herself (and thus is an independent contractor) or is economically dependent on the employer (and thus is an employee).

Other guidance makes clear that WHD and other agencies concerns about misclassification extend beyond workers labeled independent contractors to include scrutiny of subcontractor, day labor, temporary, leased employee and a broad range of other outsourced services relationships.  See here,

Consistent with these principles, WHD and private litigants in recent years have increasingly scrutinized and successfully challenged employers’ failure to comply with the FLSA’s minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping and other rules with respect to these outsourced workers.  See e.g., $1.4M FLSA Back Pay Award Demonstrates Worker Misclassification Risks; Employer Faces $2M FLSA Lawsuit For Alleged Worker Misclassification; $754,578 FLSA Settlement Shows Employer Risks From Worker Misclassification, Underpayment;   WHD now both conducts significant worker education outreach and regularly requests and scrutinizes the characterization of and FLSA compliance of outsourced workers in connection with its FLSA investigations and audits.  See e.g. Get the Facts on Misclassification Under the FLSA; Am I an Employee?: Employment Relationship Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); Compliance Assistance Page – Fair Labor Standards Act; Elaws: Independent Contractors; Know Your Rights Video Series: Misclassification as an Independent Contractor; WHD Press Releases about employee Misclassification as Independent Contractors.  These and other developments are significantly increasing the likelihood that businesses will face WHD or private litigants challenges to its FLSA compliance relating to workers rendering services as independent contractors, subcontractors or other outsourced services providers.

Employers often face substantial challenges responding to, much less, containing their FLSA exposures when a WHD or a private litigant successfully challenges the employer’s classification of the worker as a non-employee for a variety of reasons.  Beyond the likelihood of violations resulting from the employer’s failure to recognize it might owe minimum wage and overtime duties to the worker, an employer often lacks records and other data needed to fulfill recordkeeping and posting requirements and to accurately demonstrate hours worked and hourly rates to limit resulting back pay exposures because these workers are not treated as part of the employer’s workforce. Obtaining the necessary records to respond to a WHD or other investigation, lawsuit or other action often proves challenging because the independent contractor, leasing company, or other provider or of the services often becomes unavailable, is disincentivized by its own noncompliance or other interests, has failed to maintain necessary documentation or otherwise fails to cooperate in the delivery of these materials.  Furthermore, as leased employee, staffing, independent contractor and other outsourced arrangements invoice services at higher rates of compensation payment than the employer might otherwise have paid a traditionally employed worker, the lack of records and elevated compensation rates tend to push up the compensation used to calculate back pay and other awards. Accordingly, employers utilizing these arrangements should use care in structuring and administering these arrangements properly to evaluate their likely FLSA and other treatment and to manage these risks.

FLSA Big Liability Risk

Under the FSLA and applicable state wage and hour laws, violations of the FLSA and other federal or state wage and hour laws expose employers to substantial back pay, interest and punitive damages, civil monetary penalties for willful or and in the case of willful or repeated violations and in the case of willful violations, criminal prosecution.

Because of the ability to recover liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees in addition to unpaid back pay, private enforcement of the FLSA is common.  The FLSA generally allows employees wrongfully denied wages in violation of the FLSA to bring lawsuits to enforce their rights provided that the WHD has not or does not intervene to enforce those rights on the worker’s behalf.  Workers successfully proving an employer violated their FLSA rights typically can recover back pay, plus liquidated damages, interest, attorneys’ fees and other costs of enforcement from the breaching employer.  In some cases, Corporate officers such as CEOs, CFOs or COOs and other management leaders with control over the breaching employer’s financial affairs also be held personally liable for the unpaid wages  See e.g., Lamonica v. Safe Hurricane Shutters+2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 4599 (11th Cir. 2013)(ruling personal liability for FLSA violations can attach to any individual with control over an employer’s financial affairs who could potentially cause an employer to violate FLSA).

As an alternative to private litigation, the FLSA empowers the WHD to supervise or if necessary, enforce through litigation the rights of workers against a breaching employer to recover back pay plus  liquidated damages in an amount equal to the wrongfully denied wages. WHD also can pursue injunctive relief against noncompliant employers.

When the employer is a repeat offender or willfully violated the FLSA, additional consequences attach.  A violation is “willful” for purposes of FLSA criminal prosecution if it is deliberate, voluntary, and intentional. A fine of up to $10,000 on the first conviction

When an employer’s violation of the FLSA is repetitious or willful, the FLSA empowers WHD to impose civil money penalties (CMPs) against the noncompliant employer in addition to the recovery of back pay and liquidated damages. Intended to discourage future noncompliance by an employer guilty of violating the FLSA, CMPs for a “repeated” violation are assessable when the employer had previously violated the minimum wage or overtime requirements of the FLSA. CMPs for a “willful” violation may be assessed when it can be shown that the employer knew that its conduct was prohibited by the FLSA or showed reckless disregard for the requirements of the FLSA.  CMPs ordinarily are imposed based on violations occurring within the normal two-year investigation period. Where violations are determined to be willful, the investigation will cover a three-year period.

The applicable 2018 CMP amounts, which are adjusted annually for inflation, are as follows:

 

Type of Violation Statutory Citation CFR Citation Maximum Civil Monetary Penalty on or before 1/2/2018 Maximum Civil Monetary Penalty on or after 1/3/2018
Homeworker:

Violation of recordkeeping, monetary, certificate or other statutes, regulations or employer assurances.

29 USC 211(d) 29 CFR 530.302 $1,005 $1,026
Child labor:

(1) Violation of child labor standards (sec 212 or 213(c));

29 USC 216(e)(1)(A)(i) 29 CFR 570.140(b)(1) and 29 CFR 579.1(a)(1)(i)(A) $12,278 $12,529
(2) Violation of child labor standards (sec 212 or 213(c)) that causes the serious injury or death of a minor; 29 USC 216(e)(1)(A)(ii) 29 CFR 570.140(b)(2) and 29 CFR 579.1(a)(1)(i)(B) $55,808 $56,947
(3) Willful or repeated violation of child labor standards (sec 212 or 213(c)) that causes the serious injury or death of a minor 29 USC 216(e)(1)(A)(ii) 29 CFR 570.140(b)(2) and 29 CFR 579.1(a)(1)(i)(B) $111,616 $113,894
(4) Repeated or willful violation of section 206 or 207. 29 USC 216(e) 29 CFR 579.1(a)(2) $1,925 $1,964
Minimum Wage and Overtime:

Repeated or willful violation of section 206 or 207.

29 USC 216(e)(2) 29 CFR 578.3(a) $1,925 $1,964

Although typically reserved for more egregious violations, “willful” violations of the FLSA can trigger criminal prosecution by the Department of Justice. A fine of up to $10,000, or a term of imprisonment of up to six months, or both, on all convictions after the first conviction

In addition to or instead of lawsuits by the Secretary of Labor for back wages or injunctive relief, willful violation of the FLSA also can trigger criminal prosecutions against an employer by the Department of Justice.  Criminal penalties for willful FLSA violations include a fine of up to $10,000, or a term of imprisonment of up to six months, or both, on all convictions after the first conviction.  Since enforcement actions by the DOJ can be brought instead of or in addition to lawsuits by WHD for back wages or injunctive relief, an employer that willfully violates the FLSA can be ordered to pay liquidated damages and back-pay, as well as any court imposed criminal fine or penalty.

Always popular, WHD and private enforcement of the FLSA initially spiked upward following the highly publicized George W. Bush Administration’s implementation of updated FLSA “white collar” regulations regarding the classification of workers as exempt.  The Obama Administration’s highly publicized, but unsuccessful, campaign to increase the minimum wage and aggressive FLSA educational outreach and enforcement further fueled this trend.  While President Trump has opposed proposals to increase the federal minimum wage, he has expressed his commitment to protect workers’ FLSA rights through continued vigorous enforcement of the FLSA minimum wage, overtime and other rules.

As a result of its aggressive enforcement commitments, WHD takes credit for having recovered more than $1.2 billion in back wages on behalf of more than 1.3 million workers over the past five years. See here.  The following WHD enforcement statistics reflect that its commitment to FLSA enforcement has continued during President Trump’s tenure in office.

Cases with Violations Back Wages Employees Receiving Back Wages(duplicated 1)
FY 2011 Minimum Wage 12,450 $29,327,527 89,305
Overtime 11,990 $140,328,012 204,243
FY 2012 Minimum Wage 12,532 $35,270,524 107,005
Overtime 12,462 $148,560,700 218,137
FY 2013 Minimum Wage 12,403 $38,470,100 103,671
Overtime 12,108 $130,703,222 174,197
FY 2014 Minimum Wage 11,042 $36,732,407 106,184
Overtime 11,238 $136,239,001 174,365
FY 2015 Minimum Wage 10,642 $37,828,554 86,229
Overtime 10,496 $137,701,703 173,330
FY 2016 Minimum Wage 10,722 $34,964,350 81,870
Overtime 10,884 $171,917,225 209,819
FY 2017 Minimum Wage 10,687 $31,213,737 69,588
Overtime 10,823 $157,592,682 183,272

New Pilot PAID Program May Offer New Option To Resolve WHD Exposures

On March 6, 2018, the WHD division announced a new pilot self-audit Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program that for the next six months will allow employers accepted into the program after voluntarily disclosing violations to resolve their exposure WHD penalties and liquidated damages commonly assessed by WHD against employers for violating the FLSA minimum wage and overtime violations by:

  • Voluntarily disclosing the violations to WHD before becoming subject to investigation or enforcement and requesting admission to the program;
  • Paying affected workers 100 percent of the unpaid back pay due wrongfully denied by the end of the next full pay period after receiving the summary of unpaid wages from WHD confirming the back pay amount;
  • Working with WHD prospectively to correct noncompliant practices; and
  • Taking other actions to correct and prevent a recurrence of those violations.

While participation in the PAID program allows a participating employer to settle its exposure to prosecution for those violations by WHD, many employers may face challenges in using the program as a result of the inability to marshal the required capital to pay 100 percent of the back pay due within the required time period.

Beyond this challenge, employers evaluating whether to seek relief through the new PAID program also may need to weigh a variety of other concerns.

For instance, employers considering participation need to understand that the settlement only addresses potential liability from WHD enforcement.  While WHD’s requirement that a participating employer pay affect 100 percent of any wrongfully denied back pay to the impacted employees generally would reduce the actual back pay damages recoverable by an employee in a private enforcement action, WHD says settlements reached with the WHD under the PAID program does not prevent employees wrongfully denied wages in violation of FSLA from bringing private lawsuits.  Rather, WHD states that it will be purely the employee’s choice whether to accept the payment of back wages the employer agrees to pay under the PAID program settlement. If the employee chooses to not accept the payment, the employee will not release any private right of action. Additionally, if the employee chooses to accept the payment, the employee will not grant a broad release of all potential claims under the FLSA. Rather, the releases are tailored to only the identified violations and time period for which the employer is paying the back wages. The WHD also cautions that regardless of whether the employee accepts or rejects the back pay specified in the PAID program, the FLSA will prohibit employers from retaliating against the employee for his or her choice. Furthermore, while the payment of previously unpaid amounts could reduce the amount of unpaid wages for purposes of determining liability for state wage and hour law violations, the WHD settlement does not directly impact or release liability for any state wage and hour violations.

While any FLSA covered employer may use the program, interested employers should understand that acceptance into the program is not automatic and is not available for all FLSA violations.  Rather, the PAID program only covers potential violations of the FLSA’s overtime and minimum wage requirements that an employer self-identifies and voluntarily discloses and resolves in accordance with its PAID program settlement with WHD.  An employer cannot use the PAID program to resolve any issues for which WHD is already investigating the employer, or which the employer is already litigating in court, arbitration, or otherwise. An employer likewise may not initiate the process when an employee’s representative or counsel has already communicated an interest in litigating or settling the issue.   Employers using the Paid program also must be prepared to correct the noncompliant practices that resulted in the violations settled under the PAID program.  According to the WHD, WHD will not allow employers to use the program to repeatedly resolve the same violations, as this program is designed to identify and correct non-compliant practices. By allowing employers to participate in the PAID program, WHD also does not waive its right to conduct any future investigations of the employer.

Employers contemplating participation in the PAID program generally should conduct a self-audit after updating their understanding of WHD program and compliance assistance materials and other WHD guidance.  Because the information, analysis and discussions conducted in this process may be legally sensitive, employers generally will want to engage qualified legal counsel before initiating these processes to advise and assist the employer about the adequacy and risks of its existing practices, recommendations for redressing known compliance issues and other risks as well as opportunities and procedures for qualifying certain of these actions and discussions for coverage under attorney-client privilege, attorney work product or other evidentiary protections.

Whether or not an employer decides based on the audit to pursue compliance resolution through the PAID program, employers generally should work with their legal counsel within the scope of attorney client privilege to organize and retain documentation of their audit, its findings of compliance and, for any potential compliance issues, corrective actions taken to redress those issues retrospectively and prospectively, and other documentation that the employer might need to pursue resolution under the PAID program or otherwise respond to and defend against a WHD or private charges brought by an employee in the future.

If the employer wishes to pursue resolution of potential violations under the PAID program based on review of the audit findings in conjunction with their legal counsel, the employer in coordination with the legal counsel within the scope of attorney client privilege should work together to prepare and assemble the records and information WHD will expect the employer to provide in the initial phases of the process including:

  • A list of the specific potential violations uncovered
  • The specific employees affected
  • The specific timeframes in which each employee was affected, and
  • The calculation of the amount of back wages the employer believes are owed to each employee.
  • Each of the calculations described above—accompanied by both evidence and explanation concerning how the calculations were made;
  • A concise explanation of the scope of the potential violations for possible inclusion in a release of liability;
  • A certification that the employer reviewed all of the information, terms, and compliance assistance materials;
  • A certification that the employer is not litigating the compensation practices at issue in court, arbitration, or otherwise, and likewise has not received any communications from an employee’s representative or counsel expressing interest in litigating or settling the same issues; and
  • A certification that the employer will adjust its practices to avoid the same potential violations in the future.

After preparing this information, the employer generally will want to arrange for legal counsel to make the preliminary contact to the WHD to request that the WHD admit the employer to the PAID program.  During the preliminary contact, the WHD will require that a list of the specific potential violations, and the identity, specific time frame and back pay amount that employer believes it owes to each affected employee as a prerequisite to considering the request for admission to the program.  If the WHD approves the employer’s request, WHD will require that the employer or its legal counsel on its behalf provide the remaining information listed above.  After evaluating this information, WHD will provide notification of the next steps, including the collection of any other information necessary for WHD to assess and confirm the back wages due for the identified violations.

Current published guidance states that after WHD assesses the back wages due, it will issue a summary of unpaid wages. WHD will also issue forms describing the settlement terms for each employee, which employees may sign to receive payment. The release of claims provided in the form will match the previously agreed-upon language and, again, must be limited to only the potential violations for which the employer had paid back wages. The PAID program settlement will require the employers to pay the back pay amounts confirmed in the summary of unpaid wages promptly and in full by the end of the next payroll period after receiving the WHD summary of wages confirming the back pay amounts required.

Audit & Act To Mitigate FLSA & Other Wage & Hour Risks

Regardless of whether an employer elects to pursue using the new PAID program, all FLSA covered employers generally should consult with legal counsel within the scope of attorney-client privilege to assess the defensibility of their existing practices for classifying and compensating workers under existing Federal and state wage and hour laws, tighten contracting and other compliance oversight in relation to outsourced services, and about using the PAID program and other options to minimize their potential liability under applicable wages and hour laws.  Conducting this analysis within the scope of attorney-client privilege is important because the analysis and discussions are highly sensitive both as potential evidence for wage and hour and other legal purposes.  Consequently, businesses and their leaders generally will want to arrange for this work to be protected to the extent by attorney-client privilege, work product and other evidentiary protections against discovery by WHD, employees or others for FLSA or other workforce enforcement actions.

As a part of this process, businesses and their leaders generally should plan to:

  • Review subcontractor, temporary, lease employee, independent contractor and other outsourced labor and services relationship for potential risk of worker reclassification and tighten contracting and other procedures;
  • Audit the position of each employee currently classified as exempt to assess its continued sustainability and to develop documentation justifying that characterization;
  • Audit characterization of workers obtained from staffing, employee leasing, independent contractor and other arrangements and implement contractual and other oversight arrangements to minimize risks that these relationships could create if workers are recharacterized as employed by the employer receiving these services;
  • Review the characterization of on-call and other time demands placed on employees to confirm that all compensable time is properly identified, tracked, documented, compensated and reported;
  • If the employer hires any individuals under age 18, audit and implement appropriate procedures to ensure its ability to demonstrate compliance with all applicable FLSA child labor rules;
  • If the employer is a government contractor or subcontractor or otherwise performs any services on projects funded with federal or state funds, evaluate the applicability and fulfillment of any special wage, fringe benefit, recordkeeping or other government contracting wage and hour requirements;
  • If the employer hires foreign agricultural or other workers subject to special conditions and requirements, to review compliance with those special requirements;
  • Review and tighten existing practices for tracking compensable hours and paying non-exempt employees for compliance with applicable regulations and to identify opportunities to minimize costs and liabilities arising out of the regulatory mandates;
  • If the employer uses leased, temporary, or other outsourced labor, evaluate contractual, process and other options to support the employer’s ability cost effectively to respond to an audit, investigation or enforcement action by WHD or private litigants and if necessary, obtain indemnification or other recovery in the event the employer incurs liability due to the use or practices of the outsourced labor supplier;
  • If the audit raises questions about the appropriateness of the classification of an employee as exempt, self-initiation of proper corrective action after consultation with qualified legal counsel;
  • Review and document all workers classified as exempt;
  • Review of existing documentation and record keeping practices for hourly employees;
  • Evaluate potential exposures under other employment, labor, tax or related laws or contracts that might be impacted by the findings or actions taken in response to those findings;
  • Explore available options and alternatives for calculating required wage payments to non-exempt employees and assessing and resolving other concerns;
  • Identify and calculate other employee benefit, tax or other corrections and associated costs and procedures that may be required as a result of findings or corrective actions resulting from their redress;
  • Re-engineer work rules, policies, contracts and practices to minimize costs and liabilities as appropriate in light of the regulations and enforcement exposures;
  • Explore insurance, indemnification and other options for mitigating risks and associated investigation and defense costs .
  • Pursue self-correction within the new PAID Program or otherwise.

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, is nationally and internationally recognized for her work assisting businesses, governments, and other entities to develop creative strategies for dealing with employee benefit and related human resources, insurance, health care and finance concerns. Ms. Stamer helps businesses design, administer and defend cost-effective employee benefit other human resources programs, policies and procedures to meet their budgetary and other business objectives.

 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.

The author of the “Texas Payday Act,” and numerous other highly regarded publications on wage and hour and other human resources, employee benefits and compensation publications, Ms. Stamer is well-known for her 30 years of extensive wage and hour, compensation and other management advice and representation of restaurant and other hospitality, health, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, governmental and other 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; 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 policy 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; 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, 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.

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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 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.

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OCR HIPAA Resolution Agreement Against Bankrupt Business Associate Signals Growing Exposures, Need for Tighter HIPAA Compliance By Health Plans & Business Associates

February 15, 2018

Health plans and insurers, their service providers that act as business associates within the meaning of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) and employer and other health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, and other management leaders should heed the warnings contained in the new Resolution Agreement (FileFax Resolution Agreement) with former HIPAA business associate FileFax, Inc. announced by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) about their own need to ensure that they and their business associates comply with HIPAA’s business associate and other Privacy, Security, Breach Notification rules as well as the advisability of tightening up their risk management and oversight of business associates that handle protected health information (PHI).

Significant for business associates as what appears to be the first announced resolution agreement with a business associate directly charged by OCR with violating HIPAA and the second resolution agreement pursued and reached with a HIPAA-regulated entity in bankruptcy, the FileFax, Inc. Resolution Agreement OCR announced February 13, 2018 also contains critical lessons for Covered Entities about their dealings with their own business associates when read in conjunction with the April, 2017 resolution agreement the Center for Children’s Digestive Health (CCDH) agreed to resolve OCR charges CCDC, as a Covered Entity, violated HIPAA by allowing FileFax, Inc. to act as its business associate without adequately complying with HIPAA’s business associate requirements.

With widespread media coverage over large scale breaches of health care and other sensitive information placing further pressure upon OCR and other governmental agencies to act to protect Americans’ privacy and data fueling even greater demands for OCR and other agencies to take meaningful action to enforce HIPAA and other privacy and data security requirements, health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates can expect OCR and other agencies to continue to turn up the heat on investigation and enforcement of HIPAA compliance.

In the face of these developments, Covered Entities, their business associates and those responsible for their leadership and operations need to recognize and take the necessary steps both effectively to manage their own HIPAA compliance and risk management as well as to anticipate and make provision to deal with the likelihood that they may face HIPAA responsibilities, exposures and other fallout from their own or another business partner’s breach of PHI or other sensitive data or other HIPAA violations, bankruptcy or other business distress, or other compliance or business event.

HIPAA Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Rule Responsibilities & Risks

The Privacy Rule requires that health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their vendors that qualify as “business associates” under HIPAA comply with detailed requirements concerning the protection, use, access, destruction and disclosure of protected health information.  As part of these requirements, Covered Entities and their business associates must adopt, administer and enforce detailed policies and practices, assess, monitor and maintain the security of electronic protected health information (ePHI) and other protected health information, provide notices of privacy practices and breaches of “unsecured” ePHI, afford individuals that are the subject of protected health information certain rights and comply with other requirements as specified by the Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules.  In addition, Covered Entities and business associates also must 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. Furthermore, the Privacy Rule includes extensive documentation and keeping requirements require that Covered Entities and BAs maintain copies of these BAAs for a minimum of six years and to provide that documentation to OCR upon demand.

Violations of the Privacy Rule can carry stiff civil monetary penalties 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).

Resolution Agreements the just announced FileFax Resolution Agreement allow Covered Entities and business associates to resolve potentially substantially larger civil monetary penalty liabilities that OCR can impose under the civil enforcement provisions of HIPAA for HIPAA violations through a negotiated settlement process.  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.

In addition to these potential civil liability exposures, Covered Entities, their business associates and other individuals or organizations that wrongfully use, access or disclose electronic or other protected health information also can face civil liability under various circumstances.  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.

Because HIPAA Privacy Rule criminal violations are Class A Misdemeanors or felonies, Covered Entities and business associates should include HIPAA compliance in their Federal Sentencing Guideline Compliance Programs and practices and need to be concerned both about criminal exposure for their own direct violations, as well as imputed organizational liability for violations committed by their employees or agents under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, particularly where their failure to implement or administer these required compliance policies and practices or failure to properly investigate or redress potential violations enables, perpetuates or covers up the criminal breach.

FileFax, Inc.  Breach & Resolution Agreement

While Congress amended the Civil Monetary Penalty provisions of HIPAA enforced by OCR to make many of the requirements and Civil Monetary Penalty sanctions of HIPAA directly enforceable by OCR against business associates as part of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the FileFax Resolution Agreement appears to be the first HIPAA resolution agreement with a business associate announced by OCR.

Indeed, OCR’s enforcement action that resulted in the FileFax Resolution Agreement would never have occurred had FileFax, Inc. not become involved in handling medical records containing PHI in the capacity of a business associate for Covered Entities.

Before filing for bankruptcy in 2016, FileFax, Inc. advertised it provided HIPAA-compliant storage, maintenance, and delivery of medical records for HIPAA Covered Entities including Illinois based health care provider CCDC, which entered into a resolution agreement with OCR in April, 2017 to resolve OCR charges that it violated HIPAA by allowing FileFax, Inc. to handle PHI without fulfilling HIPAA’s business associate agreement requirements.

Like the CCDC Resolution Agreement, the FileFax, Inc. Resolution Agreement resulted from an investigation of FileFax, Inc. that OCR began in response to a February 10, 2015 anonymous complaint filed with OCR about FileFax, Inc. about deficiencies in its delivery of these HIPAA services in its capacity as a business associate to Covered Entities. The complaint to OCR alleged that FileFax, Inc. violated these requirements because an individual transported medical records obtained from FileFax, Inc. to a shredding and recycling facility to sell on February 6 and 9, 2015.

OCR’s investigation of the complaint against FileFax, Inc. confirmed that an individual had left medical records of approximately 2,150 patients at the shredding and recycling facility, and that these medical records contained patients’ PHI.  OCR’s investigation additionally found that between January 28, 2015, and February 14, 2015, FileFax, Inc. impermissibly disclosed the PHI of 2,150 individuals by leaving the PHI in an unlocked truck in the FileFax, Inc.  parking lot, or by granting permission to an unauthorized person to remove the PHI from FileFax, Inc. and leaving the PHI unsecured outside the FileFax, Inc. facility.

After OCR commenced its investigation of the complaint, FileFax, Inc. was placed into bankruptcy and a receiver was appointed to liquidate FileFax, Inc.’s assets for distribution to creditors and others in 2016.  Despite the bankruptcy, OCR continued to pursue enforcement against FileFax, Inc. for the HIPAA violations it found through its investigation.  On February 13, 2018, OCR announced that that the receiver on behalf of FileFax, Inc. had agreed in the FileFax Resolution Agreement to pay a $100,000 monetary settlement out of the bankruptcy estate and to arrange to properly store and dispose of remaining medical records found at FileFax, Inc.’s facility in compliance with HIPAA to resolve OCR’s HIPAA charges against FileFax, Inc.

OCR Previously Sanctioned Covered Entity For Involvement With FileFax, Inc.

Beyond affirming the exposure business associates to OCR civil monetary penalties or other enforcement for violating HIPAA, the FileFax Resolution Agreement in conjunction with OCR’s previously announced April 20, 2017 resolution agreement (CCDC Resolution Agreement) with CCDC also demonstrates the need for Covered Entities to recognize that their organizations are likely to face HIPAA investigations or enforcement from HIPAA violations by or OCR audits or investigations of the conduct of their business associates.

In fact, this is exactly what happened to CCDC.  A small, Illinois based Covered Entity, CCDC used FileFax, Inc. to store and dispose of medical records.  As a consequence of the FileFax, Inc. investigation, OCR conducted a compliance review of CCDC.  OCR reports that its compliance review revealed that while CCDC had disclosed to and allowed FileFax, Inc. to store records containing PHI for CCDC since in 2003, neither party could produce a signed business associate agreement (BAA) prior to October 12, 2015.   As a consequence, OCR charged CCDC with violating HIPAA by disclosing PHI to FileFax, Inc. in violation of HIPAA’s business associate requirements.

To resolve its exposure to potentially much greater civil monetary penalties associated with this charge, CCDC agreed under the CCDC Resolution Agreement to pay OCR a $31,000 resolution payment and take a variety of corrective actions.  Beyond requiring CCDC to implement and maintain  written business associate agreements before allowing business associates to possess or access PHI, the corrective action plan imposed as part of the CCDC Resolution Agreement also expressly requires CCDC to promptly investigate information of a possible violation of its HIPAA policies and procedures by  a “workforce member,” which the Privacy Rule defines to include a business associate, and if the investigation reveals a violation, to report the violation and corrective action taken to OCR.

OCR Enforces HIPAA Against Covered Entities & Business Associates In Bankruptcy

OCR’s announcement of the FileFax Resolution Agreement also is significant in its reaffirmation of OCR to its commitment to HIPAA enforcement, even if the HIPAA-violating Covered Entity or business associate goes bankruptcy.

OCR’s enforcement action against FileFax, Inc. despite its bankruptcy and its successful negotiation of the FileFax Resolution Agreement within the bankruptcy should alert Covered Entities and business associates that OCR does not consider the bankruptcy of a Covered Entity or business associate as an obstacle to OCR enforcement against Covered Entities or business associates that violate HIPAA.   The seriousness of OCR’s commitment to enforcement, even in the face of bankruptcy is driven home by its announcement of the FileFax Resolution Agreement on the heels of its December, 2017 announcement of its first OCR HIPAA resolution agreement secured with the formal approval of a bankruptcy court, a resolution agreement (21CO Resolution Agreement) against bankrupt health care provider, 21CO.

Secured with bankruptcy court approval, the 21CO Resolution Agreement resolved potentially much larger civil monetary penalties that the Fort Myers, Florida based provider of cancer care services and radiation oncology could have faced for alleged HIPAA breaches OCR charged it committed in connection with its failure to adequately act to prevent and respond to hacking and misappropriation of records containing sensitive electronic protected health information (ePHI) of up to 2,213597 individuals.

The OCR charges against 21CO arose from an OCR investigation commenced after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) notified 21CO on November 13, 2015 and a second time on December 13, 2015 than unauthorized third party illegally obtained 21CO sensitive patient information and produced 21CO patient files purchased by a FBI informant.  As part of its internal investigation, 21CO hired a third party forensic auditing firm in November 2015. 21CO determined that the attacker may have accessed 21CO’s network SQL database as early as October 3, 2015, through Remote Desktop Protocol from an Exchange Server within 21CO’s network. 21CO determined that it is possible that 2,213,597 individuals may have been affected by the impermissible access to their names, social security numbers, physicians’ names, diagnoses, treatment and insurance information.

Although it knew of the breaches in November and December, 2015, 21CO waited more than three months after the FBI notified it of the breaches before it sent HIPAA or other breach notifications about the data breach to patients or notified investors in March, 2016. Its March 4, 2016 Securities and Exchange Commission 8-K on Data Security Incident (Breach 8-K) states 21CO delayed notification at the request of the FBI to avoid interfering in the criminal investigation of the breach.

When announcing the breach, 21CO provided all individuals affected by the breach with a free one-year subscription to the Experian ProtectMyID fraud protection service. At that time, 21CO said it had no evidence that any patient information actually had been misused.  However some victims of the breach subsequently have claimed being victimized by a variety of scams since the breach in news reports and lawsuits about the breach.

At the time of the breach and its March 4, 2016 announcement of the breach, 21CO already was working to resolve other compliance issues.  On December 16, 2015, 21CO announced that a 21CO subsidiary had agreed to pay $19.75 million to the United States and $528,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs and comply with a corporate integrity agreement related to a qui tam action in which it was accused of making false claims to Medicare and other federal health programs. See 21CO 8-K Re: Entry into a Material Definitive Agreement (December 22, 2015).  Among other things, the corporate integrity agreement required by that settlement required 21CO to appoint a compliance officer and take other steps to maintain compliance with federal health care laws.  In addition, five days after releasing the March 4, 2017 Breach 8-K, 21CO notified investors that its subsidiary, 21st Century Oncology, Inc. (“21C”), had agreed to pay $37.4 million to settle health care fraud law charges relating to billing and other protocols of certain staff in the utilization of state-of-the-art radiation dose calculation system used by radiation oncologists called GAMMA.  See 21CO 8-K Re: GAMMA Settlement March 9, 2016 ;  See also United States Settles False Claims Act Allegations Against 21st Century Oncology for $34.7 Million.

Based on OCR’s subsequent investigation into these breaches, OCR found:

  • 21CO impermissibly disclosed certain PHI of 2,213,597 of its patients in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.502(a);
  • 21CO failed to conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the electronic protected health information (ePHI) held by 21CO in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(A);
  • 21CO failed to implement certain security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level to comply with 45 C.F.R. § 164.306(A) in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(B);
  •  21CO failed to implement procedures to regularly review records of information system activity, such as audit logs, access reports, and security incident tracking reports as required by 45 C.F.R. §164.308(a)(1)(ii)(D);
  • 21CO disclosed protected health information to a third party vendors, acting as its business associates, without obtaining satisfactory assurances in the form of a written business associate agreement in violation of HIPAA’s business associate rule requirements under 45 C.F.R. §§ 164.502(e) and 164.308(b)(3).

In return for OCR’s agreement not to further pursue charges or penalties relating to the breach investigation, the Resolution Agreement entered into with the approval of the Bankruptcy Court requires that 21CO pay OCR a $2.3 million Resolution Amount and implement to OCR’s satisfaction a corrective action plan that among other things requires that 21CO complete a detailed series of corrective actions to the satisfaction of OCR.

In addition to the OCR investigation that lead to the 21CO Resolution Agreement announced by OCR on December 28, 2017, 21CO experienced other fallout following its March 4, 2016 public disclosure of the breach.  Not surprisingly, the breach notification led to a multitude of class-action civil lawsuits by breach victims and shareholders.  See, e.g., 16 Data Breach Class Action Lawsuits Filed Against 21st Century Oncology Consolidated; 21st Century Oncology data breach prompts multiple lawsuits.  Reports of spoofing and other misleading contacts made to 21CO patients following the breach prompted the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue a specific notice alerting victims about potential false breach notifications and other misleading contacts.  See April 4, 2016 FTC Announcement Re: 21st Century Oncology breach exposes patients’ info.

These and other developments also had significant consequences on 21CO’s financial status and leadership.  By March 31, 2015, 21CO notified the SEC and investors that it needed added time to complete its financial statements.  Subsequent SEC filings document its restatement of financial statements, the departure of board members and other leaders, default on credit terms, and ultimately its filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York on May 25, 2017.

Because 21CO sought bankruptcy court protection from the fallout of its HIPAA breaches and other compliance and business issues, the 21CO Resolution Agreement required bankruptcy court approval. Funds for payment of the required $2.3 million resolution payment and other charges associated with the investigation apparently are being provided in part from breach liability insurance coverage provided under a policy issued by Beazley Insurance, as the Bankruptcy Court order directs Beazley Breach Response Policy No. W140E2150301 to make immediate payment to the OCR of the resolution amount and the payment of fees incurred by 21CO in connection with regulatory defense issues.

HIPAA & Data Breach Enforcement A Growing Health Plan Risk

Health plans and other Covered Entities, plan sponsors and plan fiduciaries, their business associates and other consultants and service providers and members of their workforce need to recognize that the FileFax, CCDC, 21CO and other resolution agreements are part of a growing trend, rather than isolated incidents of enforcement and that their exposure to investigation and enforcement is likely to continue to rise in the face of growing public and Congressional concern about privacy and data security.

While civil monetary penalty enforcement remains much more common than criminal prosecution, Covered Entities, their business associates and members of their workforce must understand that HIPAA enforcement and resulting liability is growing and that this trend is likely to continue if not increase.

While Department of Justice federal criminal prosecutions and convictions under HIPAA remain relatively rare, they occur and are growing.  See e.g.,  Former Hospital Employee Sentenced for HIPAA Violations (Texas man sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for obtaining protected health information with the intent to use it for personal gain); Three Life Sentences Imposed On Man Following Convictions For Drug Trafficking, Kidnapping, Using Firearms and HIPAA Violations (drug king pin gets multiple 10 year consecutive prison terms for unauthorized access to private health information in violation of HIPAA; his health care worker friend sentenced for accessing electronic medical files and reporting information to him); Former Therapist Charged In HIPAA Case; Hefty Prison Sentence in ID Theft Case (former assisted living facility worker gets 37 months in prison after pleading guilty to wrongful disclosure of HIPAA protected information and other charges); Hefty Prison Sentence in ID Theft Case (former medical supply company owner sentenced to 12 years for HIPAA violations and fraud).  While the harshest sentences tend to be associated with health care fraud or other criminal conduct, lighter criminal sentences are imposed against defendants in other cases as well. See e.g., Sentencing In S.C. Medicaid Breach Case (former South Carolina state employee sentenced to three years’ probation, plus community service, for sending personal information about more than 228,000 Medicaid recipients to his personal e-mail account.); HIPAA Violation Leads To Prison Term (former UCLA Healthcare System surgeon gets four months in prison after admitting he illegally read private electronic medical records of celebrities and others.)

While criminal enforcement of HIPAA remains relatively rare and OCR to date only actually has assessed HIPAA civil monetary penalties against certain Covered Entities for violating HIPAA in a couple isolated instances, the growing list of multi-million dollar resolution payments against Covered Entities and with the FileFax Resolution Agreement announcement, now also business associates for violating HIPAA make clear that HIPAA enforcement is both meaningful and growing.   See e.g., Learn From Children’s New $3.2M+ HIPAA CMP For “Knowing” Violation of HIPAA Security Rules ($3.2 million Children’s Medical Center HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty);  1st HIPAA Privacy Civil Penalty of $4.3 Million Signals CMS Serious About HIPAA Enforcement;  $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.

The experiences of FileFax, Inc., CCDC, 21CO and these other OCR HIPAA Resolution Agreements provide strong evidence that that health plans and other Covered Entities and their business associates can anticipate that OCR will continue to zealously investigate HIPAA breaches and other HIPAA violations.  Aside from OCR’s recurrent affirmations of its commitment to HIPAA enforcement, Covered Entities, their business associates and their leaders must recognize that public and Congressional privacy and data security concerns fueled by the ever growing stream of massive data breaches at Alteryx, eBay, Paypal owner TIO Networks, Uber, Equifax and a long list of other previously trusted prominent businesses are creating additional pressure upon OCR and other agencies to pursue even stronger and more aggressive HIPAA oversight and enforcement. Amid this growing concern, OCR, the FTC and other federal and state agencies with regulatory or enforcement authority over HIPAA or other data security and privacy concerns face increasing scrutiny and pressure to take meaningful action to regulate and enforce HIPAA and other laws intended to protect sensitive data even as private litigants enjoy increasing success in obtaining civil judgments from damages resulting from breaches of their PHI or other sensitive personal information using an expanding arsenal of legal theories of recovery.  In the face of these growing concerns about privacy and data security, OCR can be expected to continue, if not increase its HIPAA compliance enforcement and oversight by OCR.

Furthermore, the experiences of FileFax, Inc., 21CO, CCDC and other Covered Entities and business associates that already have become the subject of OCR investigation or enforcement also reflect that HIPAA resolution payments or penalties paid to OCR and other costs and expenses associated with the defense and resolution of OCR’s investigations and enforcement actions typically only a portion of the financial and other business consequences that Covered Entities or business associates might expect to incur as a consequence of a breach of PHI or other substantial HIPAA violation or charge.

Beyond their potential HIPAA enforcement exposures following a HIPAA covered data breach or other violation, health care or other Covered Entities and members of their workforce experiencing breaches of ePHI or other PHI often also face FTC or other government investigations and enforcement relating their data breaches under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) and other federal or state identity theft, data privacy and security, electronic crimes and other laws.  They or members of their workforce may face licensing board, credentialing, accreditation, contractual or other investigations or sanctions.  Victims, business partners, investors and others often bring civil litigation to address losses or other injures associated with the breach or other misconduct.  In addition, losses and disruptions in patients, plan member, vendor, investor, employee, management and other business relationships, and other business disruptions also are common.

Where the breach of other HIPAA violation involves a health plan, health plans, their fiduciaries and sponsors also need to give due consideration to the implications and exposures that might arise under the fiduciary responsibility rules of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Beyond the direct exposure of their health plan to HIPAA and other compliance liabilities, health plan fiduciaries generally will want to consider whether their fiduciary responsibility under ERISA requires that prudent or other steps be taken to safeguard health plan information and maintain and administer their health plan in accordance with HIPAA and other laws.  As a consequence, fiduciaries generally will want to ensure that they take and document prudent steps to evaluate, monitor and address HIPAA and other privacy and data security safeguards to minimize not only the liability exposures of their health plans, but also to help mitigate their own potential personal liability exposures that could arise or be asserted in response to a HIPAA breach or other HIPAA violation involving their health plans.

In the face of these growing risks and liabilities, Covered Entities and their business leaders face a strong imperative to clean up and maintain their HIPAA compliance and other data security to minimize their exposure to similar consequences.  In addition to reaffirming the need for Covered Entities and their business associates to take the necessary steps to maintain and effectively demonstrate the adequacy of their own HIPAA compliance, the CCDC and FileFax Resolution Agreements alert Covered Entities and business associates of the advisability of greater oversight and risk management of their dealings and relationships with the other Covered Entities and business associates with access to or involvement with their PHI or other critical functions.

In light of these rises, leaders, investors, insurers, lenders and others involved with Covered Entities and their business associates should take steps to verify that the Covered Entities and their business associates not only maintain compliance with HIPAA and its business associate and other privacy, data security and breach notification and response requirements, but also maintain appropriate practices, insurance and other safeguards to prevent, respond to and mitigate exposures in the event of a breach of protected health information or other sensitive data.  The bankruptcies and other financial and business fallout of HIPAA or other data breaches experienced by FileFax, Inc. 21CO and other HIPAA-covered and non-HIPAA regulated entities also makes clear that Covered Entities and business associates should anticipate that their own fallout from a breach or other HIPAA event and resulting responsibilities and consequences could be impacted by their own or a business associate’s financial distress or bankruptcy.  Beyond the risk that their own or another entity’s breach, compliance issues, or other financial or business issues could trigger breach investigation, notice or other responsibilities for their own organizations, Covered Entities, business associates and their leaders also should evaluate and revise their HIPAA risk assessments and security plans to address foreseeable threats to the availability, access, retention and security of PHI and associated records and systems.

The Bankruptcy Court’s order to 21CO’s cyber liability insurer to pay the resolution payment required under the 21CO Resolution Agreement and other costs of investigation and defense also strongly suggests that the purchase of insurance and other arrangements for funding costs of defense or settlement should be included in these evaluations.

In light of these rises, leaders, investors, insurers, lenders and others involved with Covered Entities and their business associates should take steps to verify that the Covered Entities and their business associates not only maintain compliance with HIPAA, but also comply with data security, privacy and other information protection requirements arising under other laws, regulations, and contracts, as well as the practical business risks that typically follow the announcement of a breach.  Considering these risks, Covered Entities and their business associates should recognize the advisability of taking meaningful, documented action to verify their existing compliance and ongoing oversight to ensure their organizations can demonstrate appropriate action to maintain appropriate practices, insurance and other safeguards to prevent, respond to and mitigate exposures in the event of a breach of protected health information or other sensitive data.

As part of these efforts, Covered Entities and their business associates should ensure that they have conducted, and maintain and are ready to produce appropriate policies and procedures backed up by a well-documented, up-to-date industry wide risk assessment of their organization’s susceptibility to breaches or other misuse of electronic or other protected health information.  The starting point of these efforts should be to adopt and enforce updated written policies, procedures, technical and physical safeguards, processes and training to prevent the improper use, access, destruction or disclosure of patient PHI.  Processes also should create, retain and be designed to cost effectively track, capture, and retain both all protected health information, its use, access, protection, destruction and disclosure, and the requisite supportive documentation supporting the appropriateness of those action to position the organization cost-effectively and quickly to fulfill required accounting, reporting and other needs in the event of a data breach, audit, participant inquiry or other event.

As part of this process, Covered Entities and business associates should maintain strong and ongoing processes for assessing and monitoring the adequacy of their policies and practices.  In addition to ensuring that their organization has a comprehensive risk management and compliance assessment, Covered Entities and business associates need to conduct documented periodic audits and spot HIPAA audits and assessments.  In doing so, they must use care to look outside the four corners of their Privacy Policies and core operating systems to ensure that their policies, practices, oversight and training address all protected health information within their operations on an entity wide basis. This entity-wide assessment should include communications and requests for information normally addressed to the Privacy Officer as well as requests and communications that could arise in the course of media or other public relations, practice transition, workforce communication and other operations not typically under the direct oversight and management of the Privacy Officer.

In connection with these efforts, the enforcement actions make clear that Covered Entities and business associates should adopt, implement and monitor PHI privacy, and security on an entity wide basis.  These efforts should include general policies, practices and procedures as well as specifically tailored policies, processes and training to protect PHI and preserve HIPAA compliance throughout their organization. Testing and analysis should be conducted on a regular basis.  Documented reassessments and testing should be performed in response to software, hardware or other changes or events that could impact security or other operations.  Beyond security, attention also should cover business or system interruption including losses that might occur from the bankruptcy, termination of business or other disruptions of business associates or other parties.  Attention should be paid both to protecting access and use of PHI and ePHI in the course of business as well as the transmission, transport, storage and destruction of records or systems containing such information.

Careful attention should be devoted to ensuring that business associate agreements   as well and other processes provide for HIPAA compliance with respect to all PHI created, used, accessed or disclosed to business associates or others not part of their direct workforce or operating outside the core boundaries of their facilities.

Covered entities and their business associates also must recognize and design their compliance efforts and documentation recognizing that HIPAA compliance is a living process, which require both constant diligence about changes in systems or other events that may require reevaluation or adjustments, whether from changes in software, systems or processes or external threats.

Because the cost of responding to and investigating breaches or other compliance concern can be quite burdensome, Covered Entities and their business associates also generally will want to pursue options to plan for and minimize potential expenses in the design and administration of their programs as well as to minimize and cover the potentially extraordinary costs of breach or other compliance investigation and results that commonly arise following a breach or other compliance event.  As a part of this planning, Covered Entities and their business associates also generally will want to add consideration of changes to federal tax rules on the deductibility of compliance penalty and other related compliance expenditures.

While the Internal Revenue Code traditionally has prohibited businesses and individuals from deducting penalties, fines and other expenditures arising from violations of federal or state laws under Section 162(f) of the Internal Revenue Code, Section 13306 of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Creation Act creates a new exception for amounts  (other than amounts paid or incurred any amount paid or incurred as reimbursement to the government or entity for the costs of any investigation or litigation) that a taxpayer establishes meet the following requirements:

  • Constitute restitution (including remediation of property) for damage or harm which was or may be caused by the violation of any law or the potential violation of any law, or
  • Are paid to come into compliance with any law which was violated or otherwise involved in the investigation or inquiry into a violation or potential violation of any law;
  • Are identified as restitution or as an amount paid to come into compliance with such law, as the case may be, in the court order or settlement agreement, and
  • In the case of any amount of restitution for failure to pay any tax imposed under this title in the same manner as if such amount were such tax, would have been allowed as a deduction under this chapter if it had been timely paid.

Because the true effect of these modifications will be impacted by implementing regulations and a number of other special conditions and rules may impact the deductibility of these payments and the reporting obligations attached to their payment, Covered Entities will want to consult with legal counsel about these rules and monitor their implementation to understand their potential implications on compliance expenditures and penalties.

About The Author

Repeatedly 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, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for health and managed care, employee benefits, insurance and financial services, data and technology and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Nationally recognized for her work, experience, leadership and publications on HIPAA and other medical privacy and data use and security, FACTA, GLB, trade secrets and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with clients and the government on cybersecurity, technology and processes and other issues involved in the use and management of medical, insurance and other financial, workforce, trade secrets and other sensitive data and information throughout her career.  Scribe or co-scribe of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR since 2011 and author of a multitude of highly regarded publications on HIPAA and other health care, insurance, financial and other privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer is widely known for her extensive and leading edge experience, advising, representing, training and coaching health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, business associates, their information technology and other solutions providers and vendors, and others on HIPAA and other privacy, data security and cybersecurity design, documentation, administration, audit and oversight, business associate and other data and technology contracting, breach investigation and response, and other related concerns including extensive involvement representing clients in dealings with OCR and other Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Labor, Department of Treasury, state health, insurance and attorneys’ general, Congress and state legislators and other federal officials.

Ms. Stamer also has an extensive contributes her leadership and insights with other professionals, industry leaders and lawmakers.    Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, SHRM, HIMMS, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (214) 452-8297.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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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 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.

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$3.5M HIPAA Settlement Highlights Need To Prioritize Health Plan HIPAA Compliance in 2018

February 2, 2018

The $3.5 million payment that Fresenius Medical Care North America (FMCNA) is paying to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to settle potential liability for potentially much higher Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) to OCR for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules violation charges under a voluntary resolution agreement illustrates the need for group health plans and their employer and other sponsors, fiduciaries, and vendors to make HIPAA compliance a key priority for 2018.

Widespread publicity and fallout from data breaches involving Equifax, Blue Cross, the Internal Revenue Service and many other giant organizations have ramped up public awareness and government concern about health care and other data security.  The resulting pressure is adding additional fuel to the already substantial concern of OCR and other agencies about compliance with HIPAA and other data security and breach laws.  Like the $2.3 million HIPAA resolution agreement OCR announced with now bankrupt radiation oncology and cancer care provider 21st Century Oncology, Inc. (21CO) earlier this year,  see, e.g., $23M Penalty Small Part of 21st Century’s Data Breach Fallout; Offers Data Breach Lessons For Other Businesses, the growing list of OCR resolution agreements and other enforcement actions against FMCNA, 21CO and other covered entities and other legal and market fallout that covered entities and other organizations experience following the announcement of breaches or other security deficiencies make the case for why HIPAA-covered health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates (covered entities) must prioritize HIPAA compliance and other medical and other data security protection, privacy and risk management a top priority in 2018.

When weighing the importance of HIPAA compliance and risk management for their health plans, health plans, their employer or other sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators and their business associates should resist the temptation to underestimate the exposure because providers, rather than health plans, have been  the most common target of the majority of the announced OCR enforcement actions resulting in substantial civil monetary penalties or resolution payments.

Rather, they should take note of resolution agreements and other enforcement actions against health plans such as the $2.2 million settlement payment APFRE Life Insurance Company of Puerto Rico (MAPFRE) paid under a 2017 resolution agreement to resolve HIPAA violation charges OCR brought based on its investigation of a September 29, 2011 breach report MCPFRE made to OCR.  The breach report indicated that a USB data storage device (described as a “pen drive”) containing ePHI was stolen from its IT department, where the device was left without safeguards overnight.   According to the report, the USB data storage device included complete names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers.   The report noted that the breach affected 2,209 individuals.   MAPFRE informed OCR that it was able to identify the breached ePHI by reconstituting the data on the computer on which the USB data storage device was attached. OCR’s investigation revealed MAPFRE’s noncompliance with the HIPAA Rules, specifically a failure to conduct its risk analysis and implement risk management plans, contrary to its prior representations, and a failure to deploy encryption or an equivalent alternative measure on its laptops and removable storage media until September 1, 2014.  MAPFRE also failed to implement or delayed implementing other corrective measures it informed OCR it would undertake.

 

HIPAA Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Rule Responsibilities & Risks

The Privacy Rule requires that health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (covered entities) and their vendors that qualify as “business associates” under HIPAA comply with detailed requirements concerning the protection, use, access, destruction and disclosure of protected health information.  As part of these requirements, covered entities and their business associates must adopt, administer and enforce detailed policies and practices, assess, monitor and maintain the security of electronic protected health information (ePHI) and other protected health information, provide notices of privacy practices and breaches of “unsecured” ePHI, afford individuals that are the subject of protected health information certain rights and comply with other requirements as specified by the Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules.  In addition, covered entities and business associates also must 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. Furthermore, the Privacy Rule includes extensive documentation and keeping requirements require that covered entities and BAs maintain copies of these BAAs for a minimum of six years and to provide that documentation to OCR upon demand.

Violations of the Privacy Rule can carry stiff civil monetary penalties 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).

Resolution Agreements like the $3.2 million FMCNA resolution agreement allow covered entities and business associates to resolve potentially substantially larger civil monetary penalty liabilities that OCR can impose under the civil enforcement provisions of HIPAA.  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.

In addition to these potential civil liability exposures,  covered entities, their business associates and other individuals or organizations that wrongfully use, access or disclose electronic or other protected health information also can face civil liability under various circumstances.  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.

Because HIPAA Privacy Rule criminal violations are Class A Misdemeanors or felonies, Covered Entities and business associates should include HIPAA compliance in their Federal Sentencing Guideline Compliance Programs and practices and need to be concerned both about criminal exposure for their own direct violations, as well as imputed organizational liability for violations committed by their employees or agents under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, particularly where their failure to implement or administer these required compliance policies and practices or failure to properly investigate or redress potential violations enables, perpetuates or covers up the criminal breach.

Fresenius Breach, Charges & Settlement Agreement Illustrate Civil Exposures

The FMCNA resolution agreement is another example of a growing list of resolution agreements various HIPAA covered entities have entered into to resolve their exposure to potentially greater liability should OCR assess civil monetary penalties under HIPAA’s civil sanction scheme.

The breach reports filed on January 21, 2017 reported five separate breach incidents occurring between February 23, 2012 and July 18, 2012 implicating the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of five separate FMCNA owned covered entities (FMCNA covered entities):  Bio-Medical Applications of Florida, Inc. d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care Duval Facility in Jacksonville, Florida (FMC Duval Facility); Bio-Medical Applications of Alabama, Inc. d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care Magnolia Grove in Semmes, Alabama (FMC Magnolia Grove Facility); Renal Dimensions, LLC d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care Ak-Chin in Maricopa, Arizona (FMC Ak-Chin Facility); Fresenius Vascular Care Augusta, LLC (FVC Augusta); and WSKC Dialysis Services, Inc. d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care Blue Island Dialysis (FMC Blue Island Facility).

OCR concluded its investigation showed the breaches resulted because FMCNA failed to conduct an accurate and thorough risk analysis of potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all of its ePHI.  OCR also concluded:

  • The FMCNA covered entities impermissibly disclosed the ePHI of patients by providing unauthorized access for a purpose not permitted by the Privacy Rule.
  • FMC Ak-Chin failed to implement policies and procedures to address security incidents.
  • FMC Magnolia Grove failed to implement policies and procedures that govern the receipt and removal of hardware and electronic media that contain ePHI into and out of a facility; and the movement of these items within the facility.
  • FMC Duval and FMC Blue Island failed to implement policies and procedures to safeguard their facilities and equipment therein from unauthorized access, tampering, and theft, when it was reasonable and appropriate to do so under the circumstances.
  • FMC Magnolia Grove and FVC Augusta failed to implement a mechanism to encrypt and decrypt ePHI, when it was reasonable and appropriate to do so under the circumstances.

In addition to a $3.5 million monetary settlement, a corrective action plan requires the FMCNA covered entities to complete a risk analysis and risk management plan, revise policies and procedures on device and media controls as well as facility access controls, develop an encryption report, and educate its workforce on policies and procedures.

HIPAA & Data Breach Enforcement A Growing  Health Plan Risk

Health plans and other covered entities, plan sponsors and plan fiduciaries, their business associates and other consultants and service providers and members of their workforce need to recognize that the FMCNA and other resolution agreements are part of a growing trend, rather than isolated incidents of enforcement.

While civil monetary penalty enforcement remains much more common than criminal prosecution, covered entities, their business associates and members of their workforce must understand that HIPAA enforcement and resulting liability is growing.

While Department of Justice federal criminal prosecutions and convictions under HIPAA remain relatively rare, they occur and are growing.  See e.g.,  Former Hospital Employee Sentenced for HIPAA Violations (Texas man sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for obtaining protected health information with the intent to use it for personal gain); Three Life Sentences Imposed On Man Following Convictions For Drug Trafficking, Kidnapping, Using Firearms and HIPAA Violations (drug king pin gets multiple 10 year consecutive prison terms for unauthorized access to private health information in violation of HIPAA; his health care worker friend sentenced for accessing electronic medical files and reporting information to him); Former Therapist Charged In HIPAA Case; Hefty Prison Sentence in ID Theft Case (former assisted living facility worker gets 37 months in prison after pleading guilty to wrongful disclosure of HIPAA protected information and other charges); Hefty Prison Sentence in ID Theft Case (former medical supply company owner sentenced to 12 years for HIPAA violations and fraud).  While the harshest sentences tend to be associated with health care fraud or other criminal conduct, lighter criminal sentences are imposed against defendants in other cases as well. See e.g., Sentencing In S.C. Medicaid Breach Case (former South Carolina state employee sentenced to three years’ probation, plus community service, for sending personal information about more than 228,000 Medicaid recipients to his personal e-mail account.); HIPAA Violation Leads To Prison Term (former UCLA Healthcare System surgeon gets four months in prison after admitting he illegally read private electronic medical records of celebrities and others.)

While criminal enforcement of HIPAA remains relatively rare and OCR to date only actually has assessed HIPAA civil monetary penalties against certain Covered Entities for violating HIPAA in a couple isolated instances, the growing list of multi-million dollar resolution payments that FMCNA and other covered entities caught violating HIPAA make clear that HIPAA enforcement is both meaningful and growing.   See e.g., Learn From Children’s New $3.2M+ HIPAA CMP For “Knowing” Violation of HIPAA Security Rules ($3.2 million Children’s Medical Center HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty); 1st HIPAA Privacy Civil Penalty of $4.3 Million Signals CMS Serious About HIPAA Enforcement;  $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.

Beyond the direct exposure of their health plan to HIPAA and other compliance liabilities, health plan fiduciaries also should note that their fiduciary responsibility under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) likely includes taking prudent steps to safeguard health plan information and maintain and administer their health plan in accordance with HIPAA.  As a consequence, fiduciaries generally will want to ensure that they take and document prudent steps to evaluate, monitor and address HIPAA and other privacy and data security safeguards to minimize not only the liability exposures of their health plans, but also to help mitigate their own potential personal liability exposures that could arise or be asserted in response to a HIPAA breach or other HIPAA violation involving their health plans.

Coming on the heels of  an already lengthy and growing list of OCR high dollar HIPAA enforcement actions, the FMCNA and other resolution agreements and civil monetary penalties these and other announced enforcement actions clearly reflect that OCR takes HIPAA compliance seriously and stands ready to impose substantial penalties when it finds violations in connection with breach notice investigations.  Viewed in the context of these and other enforcement actions, the FMCNA Resolution Agreement and others clearly reflect the time for complacency in HIPAA compliance and leniency in HIPAA HIPAA enforcement are passed.  Rather, these and other enforcement actions make clear why health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses and their business associates must make HIPAA compliance a priority now.

Covered entities and business associates also should recognize their potential responsibilities and risks for breaches or other improper conduct concerning patient or other sensitive personal financial information, trade secrets or other data under a wide range of laws beyond HIPAA and its state law equivalents.  As documented by the media coverage of the legal and business woes of Alteryx, eBay, Paypal owner TIO Networks, Uber, Equifax and a long list of other previously trusted prominent businesses have and continue to incur from data breaches within their organizations, health care or other covered entities experiencing breaches often also face FTC or other government investigations and enforcement under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) and other federal or state identity theft, data privacy and security, electronic crimes and other rules as well as business losses and disruptions; civil litigation from breach victims, shareholders and investors, and business partners as well as OCR, FTC, and state data security regulation enforcement.  Amid this growing concern, OCR has indicated that it intends to continue to diligently both seek to support and encourage voluntary compliance by covered entities and their business associates and  investigate and enforce HIPAA against HIPAA covered entities and their business associates that fail to adequately safeguard PHI and ePHI in accordance with HIPAA. In the face of these growing risks and liabilities, covered entities and their business leaders face a strong imperative to clean up and maintain their HIPAA compliance and other data security to minimize their exposure to similar consequences.

In light of these rises, leaders, investors, insurers, lenders and others involved with covered entities and their business associates should take steps to verify that the covered entities and their business associates not only maintain compliance with HIPAA, but also comply with data security, privacy and other information protection requirements arising under other laws, regulations, and contracts, as well as the practical business risks that typically follow the announcement of a breach.  Considering these risks, covered entities and their business associates must recognize and take meaningful, documented action to verify their existing compliance and ongoing oversight to ensure their organizations can demonstrate appropriate action to maintain appropriate practices, insurance and other safeguards to prevent, respond to and mitigate exposures in the event of a breach of protected health information or other sensitive data.

In response to these growing risks and concerns, covered entities and their business associates should ensure that they have conducted, and maintain and are ready to produce appropriate policies and procedures backed up by a well documented, up-to-date industry wide risk assessment of their organization’s susceptibility to breaches or other misuse of electronic or other protected health information.  The starting point of these efforts should be to adopt and enforce updated written policies, procedures, technical and physical safeguards, processes and training to prevent the improper use, access, destruction or disclosure of patient PHI.  Processes also should create, retain and be designed to cost effectively track, capture, and retain both all protected health information, its use, access, protection, destruction and disclosure, and the requisite supportive documentation supporting the appropriateness of those action to position the organization  cost-effectively and quickly to fulfill required accounting, reporting and other needs in the event of a data breach, audit, participant inquiry or other event.

As part of this process, covered entities and business associates should start by reviewing and updating their policies, HIPAA audits and assessments and other documentation and processes.  In doing so, they must use care to look outside the four corners of their Privacy Policies and core operating systems to ensure that their policies, practices, oversight and training address all protected health information within their operations on an entity wide basis. This entity-wide assessment should include both communications and requests for information normally addressed to the Privacy Officer as well as requests and communications that could arise in the course of media or other public relations, practice transition, workforce communication and other operations not typically under the direct oversight and management of the Privacy Officer.

In connection with these efforts, the enforcement actions make clear that Covered Entities and business associates should adopt, implement and monitor PHI privacy, and security on an entity wide basis.  These efforts should include both general policies, practices and procedures as well as specifically tailored policies, processes and training to protect PHI and preserve HIPAA compliance throughout their organization  as well as the business associate agreements and other processes to provide for HIPAA compliance with respect to protected health information created, used, accessed or disclosed to business associates or others not part of their direct workforce or operating outside the core boundaries of their facilities.

Covered entities and their business associates also must recognize and design their compliance efforts and documentation recognizing that HIPAA compliance is a living process, which require both constant diligence about changes in systems or other events that may require reevaluation or adjustments, whether from changes in software, systems or processes or external threats.

Because the cost of responding to and investigating breaches or other compliance concern can be quite burdensome, covered entities and their business associates also generally will want to pursue options to plan for and minimize potential expenses in the design and administration of their programs as well as to minimize and cover the potentially extraordinary costs of breach or other compliance investigation and results that commonly arise following a breach or other compliance event.  As a part of this planning, covered entities and their business associates also generally will want to add consideration of changes to federal tax rules on the deductibility of compliance penalty and other related compliance expenditures.

While the Internal Revenue Code traditionally has prohibited businesses and individuals from deducting penalties, fines and other expenditures arising from violations of federal or state laws under Section 162(f) of the Internal Revenue Code, Section 13306 of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Creation Act creates a new exception for amounts  (other than amounts paid or incurred any amount paid or incurred as reimbursement to the government or entity for the costs of any investigation or litigation) that a taxpayer establishes meet the following requirements:

  • Constitute restitution (including remediation of property) for damage or harm which was or may be caused by the violation of any law or the potential violation of any law, or
  • Are paid to come into compliance with any law which was violated or otherwise involved in the investigation or inquiry into a violation or potential violation of any law;
  • Are identified as restitution or as an amount paid to come into compliance with such law, as the case may be, in the court order or settlement agreement, and
  • In the case of any amount of restitution for failure to pay any tax imposed under this title in the same manner as if such amount were such tax, would have been allowed as a deduction under this chapter if it had been timely paid.

Because the true effect of these modifications will be impacted by implementing regulations and a number of other special conditions and rules may impact the deductibility of these payments and the reporting obligations attached to their payment, covered entities will want to consult with legal counsel about these rules and monitor their implementation to understand their potential implications on compliance expenditures and penalties.

About The Author

Repeatedly 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, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for health and managed care, employee benefits, insurance and financial services, data and technology and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Nationally recognized for her work, experience, leadership and publications on HIPAA and other medical privacy and data use and security, FACTA, GLB, trade secrets and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with clients and the government on cybersecurity, technology and processes and other issues involved in the use and management of medical, insurance and other financial, workforce, trade secrets and other sensitive data and information throughout her career.  Scribe or co-scribe of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR since 2011 and author of a multitude of highly regarded publications on HIPAA and other health care, insurance, financial and other privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer is widely known for her extensive and leading edge experience, advising, representing, training and coaching health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, business associates, their information technology and other solutions providers and vendors, and others on HIPAA and other privacy, data security and cybersecurity design, documentation, administration, audit and oversight, business associate and other data and technology contracting, breach investigation and response, and other related concerns including extensive involvement representing clients in dealings with OCR and other Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Labor, Department of Treasury, state health, insurance and attorneys’ general, Congress and state legislators and other federal officials.

Ms. Stamer also has an extensive contributes her leadership and insights with other professionals, industry leaders and lawmakers.    Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, SHRM, HIMMS, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (214) 452-8297.

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Time To Tighten Business Travel Policies

January 30, 2018

Businesses with employees that travel regularly or for the occasional training or other isolated business trip should review and update their travel related policies, practices, and procedures for evolving laws, risks and management needs.

To start with, 2017 tax reforms impact the tax treatment of various employee relocation and travel related expense. Businesses should review these changes and make appropriate updates now to avoid headaches for the business and its employees later.

While many employers mostly focus upon travel expense management, reporting and reimbursement, smart employers also understand there’s much more to consider.

First and foremost, since employees often forget that the purpose of business travel is carrying out the business of the company and not a boondoggle, business travel policies and communications should make clear to employees that their trip is about work. Policies should make clear to employees their tesponsibility for attending meetings and performing other business-related responsibilities as well as for conducting themselves at all times consistent with company policy and to promote a positive impression of the employer and the company.

Naturally all travel policies also should require compliance with all applicable laws and customs. For international travel, this includes compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the Patriot Act, U.S. and foreign immigration and customs, and other relevant laws, rules and customs. However, domestic travelers also should be reminded if their duty to comply with local laws as well.

Amid the current “Me Too” frenzy, however, companies also should consider addressing other potentially risky behavior that tends to arise when employees travel on business. Unfortunately history proves that many employees actually do need to be told and reminded to abstain from inappropriate alcohol, sexual harassment or other behavior that could create liability or embarrassment for the company when traveling for business or engaging in other activities. Because business travel tends to blur distinctions between business and personal time, most businesses will want to establish and communicate high expectations concerning on and off-duty conduct when traveling on business to head off potential problems. Updated direction about hosting or participating in entertainment and other social activities with co-workers, customers, vendors, prospects and others also often are warranted.

Beyond communicating expectations of employees while on business travel, businesses also should confirm their company’s compensation, expense reimbursement, timekeeping and reporting, hours of work, and other policies comply with current laws and capture and retain appropriate documentation.

Businesses must recognize, for instance, that training and other work related travel typically is considered hours of work for wage an hour, safety and various other purposes. Employers should confirm their policies and practices properly capture and count all required hours of compensable work and pay hourly workers for time on the road properly in accordance with Labor Department requirements. Many employers unfortunately get nailed for overtime violations because of assumptions or misunderstandings of rules. For instance, many employers improperly fail to count air travel and certain other travel time as compensable when required to do so under Labor Department Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) rules. Likewise, improperly structured expense reimbursement policies or practices can bump up overtime pay liability by requiring the employer to include otherwise excludable expense reimbursements payments in the hourly rate of pay when calculating regular and overtime pay. Employers must ensure they understand these rules and take appropriate steps to capture, track, report and pay for time and expenses upfront to defend an audit or other challenge effectively and efficiently.

Reviewing and tightening workforce travel related policies, practices and procedures to meet current laws, business and social expectations and management needs can boost the bang businesses realize for their business travel buck while mitigating a host of legal and business risks.

About The Author

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation; Former Chair of the RPTE Employee Benefits and Compensation Committee, a current Co-Chair of the Committee, and the former Chair of its Welfare Benefit and its Defined Compensation Plan Committees and former RPTE Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council (JCEB) Representative, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate, author and lecturer repeatedly recognized for her 30 plus years’ of work and pragmatic thought leadership, publications and training on health, pension and other employee benefit,  insurance, labor and employment, and health care  fiduciary responsibility, payment, investment, contracting  and other design, administration and compliance concerns as among the “Top Rated Labor & Employment Lawyers in Texas,” a “Legal Leader,” a “Top Woman Lawyer” and with other awards by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell®; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the field of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, in International Who’s Who of Professionals and with numerous other awards and distinctions.

Highly valued for her ability to meld her extensive legal and industry knowledge and experience with her talents as an insightful innovator and pragmatic problem solver, Ms. Stamer advises, represents and defends employer, union, multi-employer, association and other employee benefit plan sponsors, insurers and managed care organizations, fiduciaries, plan administrators, technology and other service providers, government and community leaders and others about health and other employee benefit and insurance program and policy design and innovation, funding, documentation, administration, communication, data security and use, contracting, plan, public and regulatory reforms and enforcement, and other risk management, compliance and operations matters. Her experience encompasses leading and supporting the development and defense of innovative new policies, programs, practices and solutions; advising and representing clients on routine plan establishment, plan documentation and contract drafting and review, administration, change and other compliance and operations; crisis prevention and response, compliance and risk management audits and investigations, enforcement actions and other dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission, Education and other federal agencies, state legislatures, attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, and other agencies and regulators, and various other foreign and domestic governmental bodies and agencies. She also provides strategic and other supports clients in defending litigation as lead strategy counsel, special counsel and as an expert witness. Alongside her extensive legal and operational experience, Ms. Stamer also is recognized for her work as a public and regulatory policy advocate and community leader with a gift for finding pragmatic solutions and helping to forge the common ground necessary to build consensus. Best known for her domestic public policy and community leadership on health care and insurance reform, Ms. Stamer’s lifelong public policy and community service involvement includes service as a lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its pension privatization project, as well as extensive legislative and regulatory reform, advocacy and input workforce, worker classification, employee benefit, public health and healthcare, social security and other disability and aging in place, education, migration reforms domestically and internationally throughout her adult life. In addition to her public and regulatory policy involvement, Ms. Stamer also contributes her service and leadership to a professional and civic organizations and efforts including her involvement as the Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE; Coalition on Patient Empowerment, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; Vice Chair, Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group; current Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair and Membership Committee member of the ABA RPTE Section; former RPTE Employee Benefits and Other Compensation Group Chair, former Chair and Co-Chair of its Welfare Plans Committee, and Defined Contribution Plans Committee; former RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council; former RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Counsel; 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, former Board Member, Continuing Education Chair and Treasurer of the Southwest Benefits Association; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; 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; past Dallas World Affairs Council Board Member, and in leadership of many other professional, civic and community organizations. Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair 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, the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators, 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, serves on the faculty and planning committee of many workshops, seminars, and symposia, and on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.

Beyond these involvements, Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other public policy advocacy and other professional and civic organizations and involvements. Through these and other involvements, she helps develop and build solutions, build consensus, garner funding and other resources, manage compliance and other operations, and take other actions to identify promote tangible improvements in health care and other policy and operational areas.

Before founding her current law firm, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., Ms. Stamer practiced law as a partner with several prominent national and international law firms for more than 10 years before founding Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. to practice her unique brand of “Solutions law™” and to devote more time to the pragmatic policy and system reform, community education and innovation, and other health system improvement efforts of her PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment initiative.

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 such as the following

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.

©2018 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


Check & Protect Health & Other Electronic Systems & Data Against New Security Threat

January 17, 2018

Health plans, their employer, union, insurer or other sponsors, fiduciaries, administrative or other service providers and their vendors and advisors should act immediately to investigate if any action is needed to protect electronic protected health information or other sensitive data and systems in response to the following cyber risk alert from the Department Of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights.

TLP: WHITE: ASPR/CIP HPH Cyber Notice: Meltdown and Spectre Vulnerability Guidance UPDATE #1

January 17, 2018

DISCLAIMER: This product is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) does not provide warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within. HHS does not endorse any commercial product or service referenced in this product or otherwise. Further dissemination of this product is governed by the Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) marking in the header.

TLP: WHITE information may be distributed without restriction (subject to standard copyright rules).

Healthcare and Public Health Sector partners-

The attached report is a technical update to the previously distributed HPH Cyber Notice covering chip vulnerabilities named Meltdown and Spectre. Both Meltdown and Spectre are vulnerabilities in how computer chips handle data that have the potential to expose sensitive information, such as protected health information (PHI), being processed on the chip.  As this information is protected from disclosure under HIPAA, Healthcare and Public Health (HPH) entities should employ risk management processes to address these vulnerabilities and ensure the security of medical records and other PHI.

Major concerns for the HPH sector include but are not limited to:

• Challenges identifying vulnerable medical devices and accessory medical equipment and ensuring patches are validated to prevent impacts to the intended use.

• Cloud Computing: Potential PHI or Personally Identifiable Information (PII) data leakage in shared computing environments

• Web browsers: Possible PHI/PII data leakage

• Patches: Potential for service degradation and/or interruption from patches

The detailed report can be found here: Technical Report on Widespread Processor Vulnerabilities


$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 »


Check How IRS 2018 Retirement & Saving Plan Limits and Amounts Cost Of Living Adjustments Impact Your HR & Retirement Plan Administration & Planning

December 18, 2017

Employers, employee benefit plan sponsors and administrators, vendors and their advisors and service providers should re-evaluate their existing payroll and other settings and elections, planning, testing and related strategies and assumptions in light of the  2018 annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs)  to the dollar limitations applicable to the Internal Revenue Code Section 415 qualified retirement plans benefit and contribution limits announced by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in Notice 2017-64, IRB 2017-45 on November 6, 2017.

H.R. 1, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act  (Tax Refirm Bill) reported out of the Conference Committee last week and scheduled for a vote before Congress tomorrow leaves these limits substantially unchanged.

Notice 2017-64 adjusts the dollar limitations applicable to the Internal Revenue Code Section 415 qualified retirement plans benefit and contribution limits. The Section 415 limitations COLAs are made and published annually to comply with Section 415(d)’s requirement that the Treasury Security annually adjust these limits for cost-of-living increases. Other limitations applicable to deferred compensation plans are also affected by these adjustments under § 415. Under § 415(d), the adjustments are to be made under adjustment procedures similar to those used to adjust benefit amounts under § 215(i)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act.

In addition to impacting contribution limits permitted to defined benefit, 401(k) and other defined contribution and other plans, the changes can impact the definition of highly compensated employees, discrimination testing, plan funding and a broad range of employee benefit, compensation, tax, payroll, union or other contracting and other concerns for employers, employee benefit plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, payroll, plan and other vendors, participants and beneficiaries and others.

The following is a chart of the adjusted limits compared to the currently applicable 2017 limitations. (Download chart)

2018 IRC Retirement Plan COLAs chart only

Employers, employee benefit plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and other vendors, participants and beneficiaries and others working with employee benefit plans or compensation contributed to these arrangements should review these new 2018 COLA limitations to assess their potential impact and make appropriate adjustments to avoid compliance challenges or other unfortunate surprises in 2018.  If they already have not already done so, reviewing the 2018 Social Security Act COLAs also would be wise.  See  2018 Social Security COLAs Set.

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; 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 policy 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; 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, 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 such as the following:

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.™   For information about republication, please contact the author directly.  All other rights reserved


Confirm Your Benefit Plans Ready For New Disability Determination Rules on 1/1/18

December 14, 2017

Employer and other sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and insurers of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)-covered employee benefit plans making disability-based benefit determinations should confirm that their plan documents, summary plan descriptions, procedures and claims and appeals notices are updated and ready to meet tightened new federal rules on disability-based benefit determinations applicable to all post December 31, 2017 claims under the restated Final Rule on Claims Procedure for Plans Providing Disability Benefits (“Disability Claims Rule”).  Given the nature and scope of these new requirements, most covered plans will require specific action be taken before the new rules take effect to update plan documents, summary plan descriptions, notices, contracts, processes and procedures to meet the January 1, 2018 deadline.

The Disability Claims Rule published by the Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (“EBSA”) on December 19, 2016 generally require all ERISA-covered employee benefit plans making any disability benefit or other determination conditioned upon a finding of disability to comply with the new Disability Claims Rule for any claim received after December 31, 2017.

The new Final Disability Claims Rule will apply to all disability determinations made under any ERISA-covered plan after December 31, 2017, regardless of how the plan characterizes the benefit or whether the plan is a health or other welfare, pension, 401(k) plan or other savings plan.

Significant affirmative action is likely required to prepare covered plans to meet these requirements since most plans historically have not followed the detailed claims and appeals notification, independent and impartial decision-making, rescission, deemed exhaustion, “culturally and linguistically appropriate” and other procedural protections and safeguards based on EBSA’s previously adopted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) group health plan claims and appeals rules, which the Disability Claims Rules extend and make applicable to all ERISA-covered plans making benefit determinations based on disability.   Covered plans making disability-based benefit or other covered determinations are likely to require updates to plan documents, insurance or administrative services contracts, summary plan descriptions and other plan communications, claims and appeals notices, and other related processes, procedures and documentation to meet these new requirements. Since certain requirements of the Disability Claims Rules like the summary plan description advance disclosure requirements are required to be provided before the claim is received, plans and their sponsors risk being accused of violating these requirements by waiting to update plans, their processes and materials until after claim involving a disability based determination arises.

Ensuring that impacted plans are updated before the January 1, 2018 deadline is important because the Disability Claims Rule, like the group health plan claims and appeals rules upon which it is based, also states that noncompliance with any of its requirements empowers a participant to immediately sue the plan for enforcement if his rights without further complying the the plan’s administrative procedures. Moreover, failing to comply with summary plan disclosure or claims or appeal adverse benefit determination notification requirements also may subject the plan administrator to administrative penalties under ERISA section 514(c).  Consequently, employers and other plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and insurers will want to act quickly to ensure that their plans, their summary plan descriptions and other communications, notices, processes, contracts and procedures are updated appropriately before January 1, 2018.

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; 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 policy 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; 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, immediatepast 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, BenefitsMagazine, 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 such as the following:

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.™   For information about republication, please contact the author directly.  All other rights reserved.


Consider Internal Investigation & Defense Costs When Administering Compliance Programs

December 5, 2017

The Justice Department’s report Tuesday that the Justice Department spent $3.2 million on Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe its first four-and-a-half months highlights the importance for leaders accountable for their organizations’s Federal Sentencing Guideline, sexual harassment and other corporate compliance programs to appropriately plan and budget for potential investigation and defense costs as part of their compliance and risk management planning.

Conducting an internal investigation or defending a government or other allegation of wrongdoing often proves surprisingly expensive. While how much an internal investigation costs can vary widely depending on the issue, its potential civil and criminal liability and public relations implications on the organization and its management, it’s timing, the adequacy of the pre-event compliance management and record keeping relating to the issue, and a host of other concerns, investigation and defense costs often become largely irrelevant when an organization is required to investigate or defend against charges of legal or other business misconduct that expose the organization or its leadership to potentially devastating legal or business consequences. When these events happen, organizations and their leaders often see little option to spend whatever is necessary to defend their organization and its reputation.

Compared to the reported internal investigation and defense expenditures of private sector organizations that have faced these these make or break investigations, the Justice Department’s reported expenditures to date on the Russian probe look small.

For instance, Twenty-First Century Fox in March, 2017 Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings disclosed spending $45 million tied to litigation related to harassment allegations in the 9 first three quarters of 2017 and $10 million “related to settlements of pending and potential litigations” during its fiscal third quarter as well as having received investigative inquiries and stockholder demands to inspect the books and records of the company which could lead to future litigation in the aftermath of sexual harassment allegations at Fox News.

In contrast, Avon Products spent nearly $500 million conducting its internal investigation before paying a $135m fine to the US government to settle charges it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by giving Chinese authorities $8 million in gifts and cash while it sought to obtain the first “direct sell” license in China.

These and other publicly disclosed expenditures make clear that corporate officers and directors need to reassess their investment in compliance both to strengthen the effectiveness of their efforts and to plan to deal with the financial, legal, operational and other costs of investigating and defending potential charges.

Aboaut 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; 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 policy 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; 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, 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 such as the following:

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.™   For information about republication, please contact the author directly.  All other rights reserved.


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.


Read Trump Health Care Executive Order

October 12, 2017

President Trump today (October 12, 2017) issued the following that he promised to be the first in a series of executive orders and other administrative actions that his administration will roll out to provide Obamacare relief  for consumers, employers and others by promoting healthcare choice and competition given the continued difficulty by the Republican-led Congress to pass legislation repealing or replacing the health care law.

What actually will result remains to be seen.  Like the January 20, 2017 Executive Order Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal that President Trump signed as his first executive order, the new Executive Order doesn’t actually change anything; it merely directs the agencies to review and propose for implementation changes to regulations and other guidance allowed by law.

On the heels of his announcement of the Executive Order, President Trump moved forward on his promise to take other action on Obamacare by announcing that the Administration will not continue funding for individual subsidies that currently are continued under an Obama Administration action in the absence of Congressional action funding those subsidies.

Concerned parties should monitor and inform themselves about proposed changes in the Executive Order and other actions as they are proposed and develop, and provide timely comments and other input to help influence the shape and content of any changes proposed or adopted in response to the Executive Order.  Solutions Law Press, Inc. will be monitoring developments.   Stay tuned for updates.

Language of Executive Order

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Policy.

(a) It shall be the policy of the executive branch, to the extent consistent with law, to facilitate the purchase of insurance across State lines and the development and operation of a healthcare system that provides high-quality care at affordable prices for the American people. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), however, has severely limited the choice of healthcare options available to many Americans and has produced large premium increases in many State individual markets for health insurance. The average exchange premium in the 39 States that are using http://www.healthcare.gov in 2017 is more than double the average overall individual market premium recorded in 2013. The PPACA has also largely failed to provide meaningful choice or competition between insurers, resulting in one-third of America’s counties having only one insurer offering coverage on their applicable government-run exchange in 2017.

(b) Among the myriad areas where current regulations limit choice and competition, my Administration will prioritize three areas for improvement in the near term: association health plans (AHPs), short-term, limited-duration insurance (STLDI), and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs).

(i) Large employers often are able to obtain better terms on health insurance for their employees than small employers because of their larger pools of insurable individuals across which they can spread risk and administrative costs. Expanding access to AHPs can help small businesses overcome this competitive disadvantage by allowing them to group together to self-insure or purchase large group health insurance. Expanding access to AHPs will also allow more small businesses to avoid many of the PPACA’s costly requirements. Expanding access to AHPs would provide more affordable health insurance options to many Americans, including hourly wage earners, farmers, and the employees of small businesses and entrepreneurs that fuel economic growth.

(ii) STLDI is exempt from the onerous and expensive insurance mandates and regulations included in title I of the PPACA. This can make it an appealing and affordable alternative to government-run exchanges for many people without coverage available to them through their workplaces. The previous administration took steps to restrict access to this market by reducing the allowable coverage period from less than 12 months to less than 3 months and by preventing any extensions selected by the policyholder beyond 3 months of total coverage.

(iii) HRAs are tax-advantaged, account-based arrangements that employers can establish for employees to give employees more flexibility and choices regarding their healthcare. Expanding the flexibility and use of HRAs would provide many Americans, including employees who work at small businesses, with more options for financing their healthcare.

(c) My Administration will also continue to focus on promoting competition in healthcare markets and limiting excessive consolidation throughout the healthcare system. To the extent consistent with law, government rules and guidelines affecting the United States healthcare system should:

(i) expand the availability of and access to alternatives to expensive, mandate-laden PPACA insurance, including AHPs, STLDI, and HRAs;

(ii) re-inject competition into healthcare markets by lowering barriers to entry, limiting excessive consolidation, and preventing abuses of market power; and

(iii) improve access to and the quality of information that Americans need to make informed healthcare decisions, including data about healthcare prices and outcomes, while minimizing reporting burdens on affected plans, providers, or payers.

Sec. 2. Expanded Access to Association Health Plans.

Within 60 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of Labor shall consider proposing regulations or revising guidance, consistent with law, to expand access to health coverage by allowing more employers to form AHPs. To the extent permitted by law and supported by sound policy, the Secretary should consider expanding the conditions that satisfy the commonality‑of-interest requirements under current Department of Labor advisory opinions interpreting the definition of an “employer” under section 3(5) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. The Secretary of Labor should also consider ways to promote AHP formation on the basis of common geography or industry.

Sec. 3. Expanded Availability of Short-Term, Limited‑Duration Insurance.

Within 60 days of the date of this order, the Secretaries of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services shall consider proposing regulations or revising guidance, consistent with law, to expand the availability of STLDI. To the extent permitted by law and supported by sound policy, the Secretaries should consider allowing such insurance to cover longer periods and be renewed by the consumer.

Sec. 4. Expanded Availability and Permitted Use of Health Reimbursement Arrangements.

Within 120 days of the date of this order, the Secretaries of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services shall consider proposing regulations or revising guidance, to the extent permitted by law and supported by sound policy, to increase the usability of HRAs, to expand employers’ ability to offer HRAs to their employees, and to allow HRAs to be used in conjunction with nongroup coverage.

Sec. 5. Public Comment.

The Secretaries shall consider and evaluate public comments on any regulations proposed under sections 2 through 4 of this order.

Within 180 days of the date of this order, and every 2 years thereafter, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of the Treasury and Labor and the Federal Trade Commission, shall provide a report to the President that:

(a) details the extent to which existing State and Federal laws, regulations, guidance, requirements, and policies fail to conform to the policies set forth in section 1 of this order; and

(b) identifies actions that States or the Federal Government could take in furtherance of the policies set forth in section 1 of this order.

Sec. 7. General Provisions.

(a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

DONALD J. TRUMP

THE WHITE HOUSE,

October 12, 2017

Implications & Actions

The impact of this and other Executive Orders and other Presidential actions depend upon what actions, if any, the agencies determine they are allowed by law to take and how those changes are implemented.  Concerned persons and organizations should begin preparing input to the agencies and monitoring and commenting on proposals and other guidance to help shape the outcome.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. is preparing initial analysis of this Executive Order and will be closely monitoring and updating this analysis.  Follow up to learn more and stay abreast of new developments.

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.