Withholding Calculator Tool Helps Workers Figure Withholding

August 1, 2017

Employers and employee benefit plan fiduciaries and administrators should consider sharing the free IRS Withholding Calculator resource offered in English,  Spanish, and ASL formats with workers in annual employee benefit enrollment packages, new hire paperwork, bonus announcement and other wage related materials and other employee communications to help workers better understand and manage the tax and other effects of their annual employee benefit elections on their take-home pay. Including reminders to re-evaluate withholding and if necessary, change their W-4 withholding elections also helps employees and their families ensure that withholding elections that workers complete as part of new hire documentation are updated in response to changing taxable income and other relevant events.

Communicating the availability of these free government-resource tools to workers during the annual employee benefit plan enrollment period, year-end, raise or bonus time or other strategic times throughout the year could help employees better appreciate the tax-preferred benefit offerings provided by the employer as well as provide significant financial education benefits many workers need for little or no employer cost.

While enrollment packages typically tout the potential “tax savings” that employees can enjoy from participating in tax-favored, employer-sponsored health, group term life, qualified pension or profit-sharing, and other tax-preferred employee benefit or fringe benefit programs offered by their employers, few employees truly understand how to determine properly their necessary wage withholding on taxable wages, much less the specific effects of their employee benefit elections on their income or employment tax liability or withholding.

A better understanding of the relative tax benefits and savings of enrollment in tax-preferred benefits offered by an employer and their potential implications on the income tax withholding elected by the workers can benefit both employees and their employer. Aside from illustrating in real, meaningful terms specific to the worker the tax benefits of his election of employer-offered, tax preferred benefits, proper tax withholding helps employees avoid unnecessary over withholding that can reduce employees’ take-home pay as well as helps protect employees from unexpectedly higher year-end tax bills that often surprise workers when an employee sets his withholding too low.

While few employers or plans want to incur the potential financial costs or liability of estimating savings for individual workers, sharing information about free government-provided resources like the IRS calculator or using vendor-provided solutions that incorporate tools in employee enrollment and other communications can help employees appreciate the benefits of tax-preferred employee benefits and make more informed choices about their benefits and their withholding.

Educating employees about the availability of these free resources also is a low-cost way of providing valuable information to workers whether or not the employer or plan has a vendor offered solution that includes the same or similar tool.  However, educating workers about the availability of the withholding calculator and other tools can be a particularly attractive option for an employer when the employer doesn’t have a vendor-provided option that includes that information or can only access the tool for added charges.

While many vendors offer similar tools and materials sold to employers and employee benefit plans, employers or benefit plan fiduciaries generally must pay fees, share promotional materials or meet at the requirements to deliver those resources as part of a vendor-supplied package. Utilizing these vendor supplied resources without fulfilling these preconditions could expose the employer or plan to potential copyright, trademark or other contractual or intellectual property claims from the vendor. In contrast, IRS withholding calculator and many other government tools can be used or shared freely without these concerns.   Moreover, employers and plans are less likely to face challenges for sharing an unfiltered government resource than a similar tool packaged within a vendor communication package promoting other options.

Of course, regardless of whether these or other tools or information are shared as a free-standing tool or as part of a broader communication package, employers, plans and others sharing these government tools and other similar resources generally will want to ensure that the materials are distributed along with and subject to general tax advice and other disclaimers of reliance as well as statements  encouraging users to consult with their own qualified tax or other qualified professionals about the users’ specific circumstance.

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.

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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, 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.


Manage Retaliation Risks In Response To Updated EEOC Enforcement Guidance, Rising Retaliation Claims

August 31, 2016

U.S. employers, employment agencies, unions, their benefit plans and fiduciaries, and their management and service providers should move quickly to review and strengthen their employment and other practices to guard against a foreseeable surge in employee retaliation claims and judgements likely to follow the August 30, 2016 issuance by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) of its new final  EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues and concurrently published Question and Answer Guidance(Guidance).

Updating and superceding 2008 guidance previously set forth in the Retaliation Chapter of the EEOC Enforcement Manual, the Guidance details the EEOC’s current policy for investigating and enforcing the retaliation prohibitions under each of the equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws enforced by EEOC, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) as well as the ADA’s separate “interference” prohibitions, which prohibit coercion, threats, or other acts that interfere with the exercise of ADA rights.  Among other things, the Guidance discusses :

  • What “retaliation means” and the scope of employee activity protected by the prohibitions against retaliation included in all laws enforced by the EEOC as well as the interference prohibitions of the ADA;
  • Legal analysis the EEOC will use to determine if evidence supports a claim of retaliation against an employer or other party;
  • Detailed examples of employer actions that the EEOC says may constitute prohibited retaliation; and
    Remedies available for retaliation.

Understanding and properly responding to the Guidance is critically important for employers and other subject to the EEO laws because in light of the substantial and growing liability exposures retaliation claims present and the likely that the issuance of the Guidance will further fuel these risks.

Even before the EEOC published the Guidance, retaliation and interference exposures were a substantial source of concern for most employers.  Employers, employment agencies and unions caught engaging in prohibited retaliation or intimidation in violation of EEO laws can incur compensatory and (except for governmental employers) punitive damage awards, back pay, front pay, reinstatement into a job or other equitable remedies, injunctive or administrative orders requiring changes in employer policies and procedures, managerial training, reporting to the EEOC and other corrective measures, as well as substantial investigation and defense costs.

These substantial liability exposures have become particularly concerning as retaliation and interference claims also have become increasingly common over the past decade. According to the EEOC, for example, EEO law retaliation charges have remained the most frequently alleged basis of charges filed with the EEOC since 2009 and in Fiscal Year 2015 accounted for 44.5 percent of all employment discrimination charges received by EEOC.
Since the EEOC’s issuance of the Retaliation Regs are likely to encourage additional retaliation or interference claims, employers, employment agencies, unions and their management, service providers and agents should quickly to evaluate the updated guidance provided in the Retaliation Reg and act to mitigate their exposure to retaliation retaliation and interference claims under these EEO laws.

Retaliation Risks Under EEO Laws

Federal EEO laws generally prohibit employers, employment agencies, or unions from punishing or taking other adverse actions against job applicants or employees for “asserting their rights” (often referred to as “protected activity”) to be free from harassment or other prohibited employment discrimination as well as certain other conduct. Such claims generally are referred to as “retaliation claims.”
Prohibited retaliation in violation of EEO laws occurs when an employer, employment agency or union takes a materially adverse action because an applicant or employee asserts rights or engages in certain other activities protected by the EEO laws.

To prevail in a retaliation claim, an applicant, employee or other individual generally must show that:

  • The individual engaged in prior protected activity;
  • The employer, employment agency or union took a materially adverse action; and
  • More likely than not, retaliation caused the adverse action by the employer, employment agency or union.

Persons Protected By EEO Retaliation Rules

EEO retaliation prohibitions protect both applicants and current and former employees (full-time, part-time, probationary, seasonal, and temporary) against retaliation under the EEO laws.  The retaliation prohibitions bar an employer from refusing to hire or otherwise taking adverse action against any current or former applicant or employee because of his EEO complaint or other protected activity under applicable EEO laws.  The EEOC interprets the retaliation rules as prohibiting an employer from giving a false negative job reference to punish a former employee for making an EEO complaint or engaging in other protected activity as well as as prohibiting an employer from refusing to hire or otherwise retaliating or discriminating against an applicant or employee based on a complaint made or other protected activity engaged against any a prior employer.  The Guidance also makes clear that the retaliation prohibitions apply regardless of an applicant or employee’s citizenship or work authorization status.

Protected Activity

“Protected activity” generally means either participating in an EEO process or reasonably opposing conduct made unlawful by an EEO law.

The prohibition against an employer retaliating against an individual for “participating” in an EEO process means that an employer cannot punish an applicant or employee for filing an EEO complaint, serving as a witness, or participating in any other way in an EEO matter, even if the underlying discrimination allegation is unsuccessful or untimely. As a part of these prohibitions, the EEOC says that an employer, employment agency or union is not allowed to do anything in response to EEO activity that would discourage someone from resisting or complaining about future discrimination. For example, depending on the facts of the particular case, it could be retaliation because of the employee’s EEO activity for an employer to:

  • Reprimand an employee or give a performance evaluation that is lower than it should be;
  • Transfer the employee to a less desirable position;
  • Engage in verbal or physical abuse;
  • Threaten to make, or actually make reports to authorities (such as reporting immigration status or contacting the police);
  • Increase scrutiny;
  • Spread false rumors, treat a family member negatively (for example, cancel a contract with the person’s spouse); or
  • Take action that makes the person’s work more difficult (for example, punishing an employee for an EEO complaint by purposefully changing his work schedule to conflict with family responsibilities).

The Guidance clearly states that the EEOC views participating in any capacity in a complaint process or other protected equal employment opportunity as protected activity which is protected from retaliation under all circumstances.  The EEOC views other acts to oppose discrimination also as protected as long as the employee was acting on a reasonable belief that something in the workplace may violate EEO laws, even if he or she did not use legal terminology to describe the issue. EEOC’s view is that protections against retaliation extend to participation in an employer’s internal EEO complaint process, even if a charge of discrimination has not yet been filed with the EEOC. The EEOC also takes the position that participation in the EEO process is protected whether or not the EEO allegation is based on a reasonable, good faith belief that a violation occurred. While an employer is free to bring these to light in the EEO matter where it may rightly affect the outcome, the Retaliation Regs state it is unlawful retaliation for an employer to take matters into its own hands and impose consequences for participating in an EEO matter.

In addition to prohibition for participation in protected activities, EEO law also prohibits retaliation against an individual for “opposing” a perceived unlawful EEO practice.  The EEOC construes prohibition against retaliation for opposition as prohibiting an employer or other covered entity from punishing an applicant or employee for communicating or taking other action in opposition of a perceived EEO violation if the individual acted reasonably and based on a reasonable good faith belief that the conduct opposed is or could become unlawful if repeated.

According to the EEOC, opposition also can be protected even if it is informal or does not include the words “harassment,” “discrimination,” or other legal terminology. A communication or act may be protected opposition as long as the circumstances show that the individual is conveying resistance to a perceived potential EEO violation such as, for example:

  • Complaining or threatening to complain about alleged discrimination against oneself or others;
  • Taking part in an internal or external investigation of employment discrimination, including harassment;
  • Filing or being a witness in a charge, complaint, or lawsuit alleging discrimination;
  • Communicating with a supervisor or manager about employment discrimination, including harassment;
  • Answering questions during an employer investigation of alleged harassment;
  • Refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination;
  • Resisting sexual advances, or intervening to protect others;
  • Reporting an instance of harassment to a supervisor;
  • Requesting accommodation of a disability or for a religious practice;
  • Asking managers or co-workers about salary information to uncover potentially discriminatory wages;
  • Providing information in an employer’s internal investigation of an EEO matter;
  • Refusing to obey an order reasonably believed to be discriminatory;
  • Advising an employer on EEO compliance;
  • Resisting sexual advances or intervening to protect others;
  • Passive resistance (allowing others to express opposition);
  • Requesting reasonable accommodation for disability or religion;
  • Complaining to management about EEO-related compensation disparities;
  • Talking to coworkers to gather information or evidence in support of a potential EEO claim; or
  • Other acts of opposition.

In order for the protection against opposition to apply, however, the individual must act with a reasonable good faith belief that the conduct opposed is unlawful or could become unlawful if repeated.  Opposition not based on such a good faith belief is not protected. Employers should note that the EEOC takes the position that opposition by an employee could qualify as reasonable opposition protected against retaliation when an employee or applicant complains about behavior that is not yet legally harassment (i.e., even if the mistreatment has not yet become severe or pervasive) or to complain about conduct the employee believes violates the EEO laws if the EEOC has adopted that interpretation, even if some courts disagree with the EEOC on the issue.

Furthermore, an individual opposing a perceived violation of an EEO law is disqualified for protection against retaliation for his opposition unless the individual behaves in a reasonable manner when expressing his opposition. For example, threats of violence, or badgering a subordinate employee to give a witness statement, are not protected opposition.

Subject to these conditions, however, the Guidance states that retaliation for opposing perceived unlawful EEOC practices need not be applied directly to the employee to qualify for protection. If an employer, employment agency or union takes an action against someone else, such as a family member or close friend, in order to retaliate against an employee, the EEOC says both individuals would have a legal claim against the employer.

Moreover, according to the EEOC, the prohibitions against retaliation for participation and opposition apply regardless of whether the person is suffers the retaliation for acting as a witness or otherwise participating in the investigation of a prohibited practice regarding an EEO complaint brought by others, or for complaining of conduct that directly affects himself.

Materially Adverse Action

To fall within EEO law prohibitions against retaliation, the retaliatory actions must be “materially adverse,” which the Guidance defines to include any action that under the facts and circumstances might deter a reasonable person from engaging in protected activity.  This definition of “materially adverse” sweeps broadly to include more than employment actions such as denial of promotion, non-hire, denial of job benefits, demotion, suspension, discharge, or other actions that can be challenged directly as employment discrimination. It also encompasses within the scope of retaliation employer action that is work-related, as well as other actions with no tangible effect on employment, or even an action that takes place exclusively outside of work, as long as it may well dissuade a reasonable person from engaging in protected activity.

Whether an action is materially adverse depends on the facts and circumstances of the particular case. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that transferring a worker to a harder, dirtier job within the same pay grade, and suspending her without pay for more than a month (even though the pay was later reimbursed) were both “materially adverse actions” that could be challenged as retaliation. The Supreme Court has also said that actionable retaliation includes: the FBI’s refusing to investigate death threats against an agent; the filing of false criminal charges against a former employee; changing the work schedule of a parent who has caretaking responsibilities for school-age children; and excluding an employee from a weekly training lunch that contributes to professional advancement.

In contrast, a petty slight, minor annoyance, trivial punishment, or any other action that is not likely to dissuade an employee from engaging in protected activity in the circumstances is not “materially adverse.” For example, courts have concluded on the facts of given cases that temporarily transferring an employee from an office to a cubicle was not a materially adverse action and that occasional brief delays by an employer in issuing refund checks to an employee that involved small amounts of money were not materially adverse.

The facts and circumstances of each case determine whether a particular action is retaliatory in that context. For this reason, the same action may be retaliatory in one case but not in another. Depending on the facts, other examples of “materially adverse” actions may include:

  • Work-related threats, warnings, or reprimands;
  • Negative or lowered evaluations;
  • Transfers to less prestigious or desirable work or work locations;
  • Making false reports to government authorities or in the media;
  • Filing a civil action;
  • Threatening reassignment;
  • Scrutinizing work or attendance more closely than that of other employees, without justification;
  • Removing supervisory responsibilities;
  • Engaging in abusive verbal or physical behavior that is reasonably likely to deter protected activity, even if it is not yet “severe or pervasive” as required for a hostile work environment;
  • Requiring re-verification of work status, making threats of deportation, or initiating other action with immigration authorities because of protected activity;
  • Terminating a union grievance process or other action to block access to otherwise available remedial mechanisms; or
  • Taking (or threatening to take) a materially adverse action against a close family member (who would then also have a retaliation claim, even if not an employee).

ADA Interference Claims

In addition to the need to manage potential exposures for prohibited retaliation, employers, employment agencies and unions also should be careful to manage their exposure to potential liability arising from claims for wrongful interference and individual’s exercise of the disability rights or protections granted under the ADA.

The ADA generally prohibits disability discrimination, limits an employer’s ability to ask for medical information, requires confidentiality of medical information, and gives employees who have disabilities the right to reasonable accommodations at work absent undue hardship and like other EEO laws, prohibits retaliation. In addition to its prohibitions against retaliation, however, the ADA also more broadly prohibits “interference” with statutory rights under the ADA.

Interference is broader than retaliation. The ADA’s interference provision makes it unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or otherwise interfere with an individual’s exercise of ADA rights, or with an individual who is assisting another to exercise ADA rights.

In addition, the ADA also prohibits employers from interfering with ADA rights by doing anything that makes it more difficult for an applicant or employee to assert any of these rights such as using threats or other actions to discourage someone from asking for, or keeping, a reasonable accommodation; intimidating an applicant or employee into undergoing an unlawful medical examination; or pressuring an applicant or employee not to file a disability discrimination complaint.

Prohibited interference may be actionable under the ADA even if ineffective and even if the person subjected to intimidation goes on to exercise his ADA rights.

  • While acknowledging that some employer actions may be both retaliation and interference, or may overlap with unlawful denial of accommodation, the Guidance identifies the following actions as examples of interference prohibited under the ADA:
  • Coercing an individual to relinquish or forgo an accommodation to which he or she is otherwise entitled;
  • Intimidating an applicant from requesting accommodation for the application process by indicating that such a request will result in the applicant not being hired;
  • Threatening an employee with loss of employment or other adverse treatment if he does not “voluntarily” submit to a medical examination or inquiry that is otherwise prohibited under the statute;
  • Issuing a policy or requirement that purports to limit an employee’s rights to invoke ADA protections (e.g., a fixed leave policy that states “no exceptions will be made for any reason”);
  • Interfering with a former employee’s right to file an ADA lawsuit against the former employer by stating that a negative job reference will be given to prospective employers if the suit is filed; and
  • Subjecting an employee to unwarranted discipline, demotion, or other adverse treatment because he assisted a coworker in requesting reasonable accommodation.

According to the EEOC, a threat does not have to be carried out in order to violate the interference provision, and an individual does not actually have to be deterred from exercising or enjoying ADA rights in order for the interference to be actionable.

Strategies To Help Deter Or Rebut Retaliation Charges

Even though individuals claiming retaliation technically bear the burden of proving more likely than not that he suffered an adverse employment action more probably than not as a result of retaliation, an employer, employment agency or union charged with illegal retaliation frequently need to rebut or undermine a claimant’s evidence of retaliation by having and introducing admissible evidence that it a non-retaliatory reason for taking the challenged action such as evidence that:

  • The employer was not, in fact, aware of the protected activity;
  • There was a legitimate non-retaliatory motive for the challenged action, that the employer can demonstrate, such as poor performance; inadequate qualifications for position sought; qualifications, application, or interview performance inferior to the selectee; negative job references (provided they set forth legitimate reasons for not hiring or promoting an individual); misconduct (e.g., threats, insubordination, unexcused absences, employee dishonesty, abusive or threatening conduct, or theft); or reduction in force or other downsizing;
  • Similarly-situated applicants or employees who did not engage in protected activity were similarly treated;
  • Where the “but-for” causation standard applies, there is evidence that the challenged adverse action would have occurred anyway, despite the existence of a retaliatory motive; or
  • Other credible evidence showing a legitimate, non-discriminatory and non-retalitory motive behind the action.

It is important that employer other other potential defendants in retaliation actions recognize and take appropriate steps to create and retain evidence documenting these or other legitimate business reasons justifying the action prior to taking adverse action.  Many employer or other defendants charged with discrimination or retaliation discover too late that a rule of evidence commonly referred to as the “After Acquired Evidence Doctrine” often prevents an employer or other defendant from using documentation or other evidence of motive created after the adverse action occurs.  Consequently, employer and other potential targets of retaliation claims before taking the adverse action would be wise to carefully collect, document and retain the evidence and analysis showing their adverse action was taken for a legitimate, nonretalitory, nondiscriminatory reason rather than for any retaliatory purpose.

Other Defensive Actions & Strategies

Beyond taking care to document and retain evidence of its legitimate motivations for taking an adverse employment action, employers, employment agencies and unions interested in avoiding or enhancing their defenses against retaliation or interference claims also may find it helpful to:

  • Maintain a written, plain-language anti-retaliation and anti-interference policy that provides practical guidance on the employer’s expectations with user-friendly examples of what to do and not to do;
  • Send a message from top management that retaliation and interference are prohibited and will not be tolerated;
  • Ensure that top management understands and complies with policies against prohibited discrimination, retaliation and interference;
  • Consistently and fairly administer all equal employment opportunity and other policies and procedures in accordance with applicable laws in a documented, defensible manner;
  • Post and provide all required posters or other equal employment opportunity notices;
  • Timely and accurately complete and file all required EEO reports;
  • Clearly communicate orally and in writing the policy against prohibited retaliation and interference, as well as procedures for reporting, investigating and addressing concerns about potential violations of these policies in corporate policies as well as to employees complaining or participating in investigations or other protected activities;
  • Conduct documented training for all managers, supervisors and other employees and agents of the employer about policies against prohibited discrimination, retaliation, and interference including, as necessary, specific education about specific behaviors or situations that could raise retaliation or interference concerns, when and how to report or respond to such concerns and other actions to take to prevent or stop potential retaliation and interference;
  • Establish and administer clear policies and procedures for reporting and investigating claims or other indicators of potential prohibited employment discrimination, retaliation, interference including appropriate procedures for monitoring and protecting applicants and workers who have made claims of discrimination or have a record of involvement in activities that might qualify for corrective action;
  • Review performance, compensation and other criteria for potential evidence of overt or hidden bias or other evidence of potential prohibited retaliation or interference and take documented corrective action as needed to prevent improper bias from adversely corrupting decision-making process;
  • Conduct timely, well-documented investigations of all reports or other evidence of suspected discrimination, retaliation, and interference including any disciplinary, remedial or corrective action taken or foregone and the justification underlying these actions;
  • Obtain and enforce contractual reassurances from recruiting, staffing and other contractors to adhere to, and cooperate with the employer in its investigation and redress of the nondiscrimination, data collection and reporting, anti-retaliation and anti-interference requirements of equal employment opportunity and other laws;
  • Incorporate appropriate inquiries and other procedures for documented evaluating and monitoring that hiring, staffing, performance review, promotion, demotion, discipline, termination and other employment decisions and actions for evidence or other indicators of potential prohibited discrimination, retaliation, interference or other prohibited conduct and take corrective action as necessary based on the evidence developed; and
  • Designate appropriately empowered and trained members of the management of the employer to receive and investigate complaints and other potential concerns;
    Arrange for an unbiased third party review of the adverse action or the performance or other decision criteria, processes and analysis that the employer or other defendant contemplates relying on to decide and implement employment decisions for indicators of potential discriminatory, retaliatory or other illegal or undesirable biasand take corrective action as needed to address those concerns before undertaking employment actions;
  • Evaluate and allocate appropriate funds within the employer’s budget to support the employer’s compliance efforts as well as to provide for the availability of sufficient funds to investigate and defend potential charges or public or private charges of illegal discrimination, retaliation or interference through the purchase of employment practices liablity or other insurance coverages or otherwise;
  • If a manager or other party recommends an adverse action in the wake of an employee’s filing of an EEOC charge or participation in other protected activity, conducting or arranging for an another party to ndependently evaluate whether the adverse action is appropriate;
  • Proactively seek assistance from qualified legal counsel with the design and review of policies, practices and operations, investigation and analysis of internal or external complaints or other concerns about potential prohibited discrimination, retaliation or interference, review and execution of termination, discipline or other workforce events to mitigate discrimination, retaliation or interference risks as well as the defense of EEOC or private enforcement actions; and
  • Be ever diligent in your efforts to prevent, detect and redress actions or situations that could be a basis for retaliation or interference claims.

About The Author

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a noted Texas-based management lawyer and consultant, author, lecture and policy advocate, recognized for her nearly 30-years of cutting edge management work as among the “Top Rated Labor & Employment Lawyers in Texas” by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® and 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.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Chair and current committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, a former ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and , Ms. Stamer helps management manage.

Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her nearly 30-year career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

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

For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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 control and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at www.Solutionslawpress.com.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here. ©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™. All other rights reserved.


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

August 1, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

 

If you found these updates of interest, you may be interested in other recent Solutions Law Press, Inc. updates like the following:

Go here to register to receive other Solutions Law Press, Inc. updates and announcements about other upcoming briefings, training or other programs, products, services, and activities or to learn more about Solutions Law Press, Inc., its publications, programs and training, PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment community service and education projects, event management and other resources and services.

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

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

 


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

November 10, 2014

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

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

About The Program

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

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

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

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

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

About Ms. Stamer

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

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

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

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

For Added Information and Other Resources

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

For Help Or More Information

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

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 24 years of work helping employers and other management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend union-management relations, wage and hour, discrimination and other labor and employment laws, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on management, reengineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters.Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see hereor contact Ms. Stamer directly.

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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


IRS Witholding Calculator Can Help Avoid Over & Underwithholding

April 21, 2013

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

For Help With These Or Other Matters

If you need assistance in conducting a risk assessment of or responding to an IRS, Labor Department or other legal challenges to your organization’s labor and employment, employee benefit or compensation practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

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

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

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

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Council, the immediate past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, the Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, the Gulf States Area TEGE Council Exempt Organizations Coordinator, past-Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, and the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications.

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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


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

April 10, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Help With These Or Other Matters

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

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

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

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Council, the immediate past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, the Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, the Gulf States Area TEGE Council Exempt Organizations Coordinator, past-Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, and the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications.

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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


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

March 10, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

VCS Program Offers  Limited Worker Misclassification Exposure Relief

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

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

Health Care Reform To Increase Worker Classification Risks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider VCP Program Relief In Context Of Other Worker Classification Risks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncertainties Complication Worker Classification Risk Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider Importance of Attorney-Client Privilege As Risk Management Tool

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

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

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

For Help With These Or Other Matters

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

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

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

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Council, the immediate past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, the Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, the Gulf States Area TEGE Council Exempt Organizations Coordinator, past-Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, and the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these and other employee benefit and human resources matters who is active in many other employee benefits, human resources and other management focused organizations who is published and speaks extensively on worker classification and related matters.   She is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications.

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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