DOL Sues PBI Bank For Alleged Fiduciary Breach In Sale of ESOP Stock

December 26, 2013

Labor Department files suit to restore losses to the Miller’s Health Systems Employee Stock Ownership Plan

Bank or other plan trustees and fiduciaries of Employee Stock Ownership Plans or other employee benefit plans holding company stock, sponsoring employers and their management should heed the new Perez v. PBI Bank, Inc. lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Labor of the importance of not running afoul of the fiduciary responsibility rules of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act when conducting business sales, bankruptcies or other corporate business transactions involving stock or other plan assets.

The U.S. Department of Labor filed the PBI Bank, Inc.  in U.S. District Court to recover losses to the Miller’s Health Systems, Inc., Employee Stock Ownership Plan. The suit alleges that PBI Bank, Inc., the trustee of the plan, authorized the purchase of company stock for $40 million, an amount far in excess of the fair market value of the stock. The suit also alleges that PBI Bank approved financing for the transaction at an excessive interest rate. Miller’s Health is a Warsaw-based company that manages long-term care and assisted-living facilities. The lawsuit also seeks to remove PBI as a fiduciary and service provider of the plan and to permanently bar it from serving as a fiduciary or service provider to ERISA-covered plans in the future.

ERISA’s fiduciary responsibility rules generally require trustees and other fiduciaries of employee stock ownership or other employee benefit plans to act prudently and for the exclusive benefit of participants and beneficiaries and abstain from self-dealing or prohibited transactions involving the plan.  Fiduciaries that violate these rules risk personal liability for damages incurred by the plan, restoration of profits realized from prohibited transactions or other fiduciary breaches, as well as attorneys fees and other costs as well as disqualification from serving as a fiduciary for employee benefit plans and other potential civil or criminal relief.

The PBI Bank, Inc. case highlights how these risks can arise when a trustee or other fiduciary is asked to approve the sale of company stock held as a plan asset of an employee stock ownership or other employee benefit plan.

An investigation by the Chicago Regional Office of the department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration focused on a September 2007 stock purchase. The suit alleges that PBI violated ERISA by imprudently and disloyally approving the purchase of stock by the plan.  The suit seeks to require PBI to restore all losses suffered by the ESOP, plus interest. As of September 30, 2012, the ESOP had 2,939 participants and assets of $12,848,000.

At the time of the stock purchase, Miller’s Health managed 31 long-term care facilities under the name of Miller’s Mary Manor and 10 assisted living facilities under the name Miller’s Senior Living. Miller’s Health also operated Theracare, Inc., an Indiana corporation, which primarily provided physical and occupational therapy and speech-language pathology to residents in Miller’s Health facilities.

After conducting its investigation, the department concluded that, as a result of the design of the transaction and the fiduciary breaches of PBI, the stock purchase was not for the primary benefit of participants and did not promote employee ownership in Miller’s Health. As a result, the department concluded that PBI was responsible and liable for violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

When announcing the lawsuit, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefits Security Phyllis C. Borzi said,  “Fiduciaries must act with undivided loyalty to plan participants.  When it comes to ESOP stock purchases, they must ensure that the plan receives full value for its money.”

The PBI Bank suit highlights the challenges that trustees and other fiduciaries often face when dealing with employee stock ownership or other employee benefit plans holding stock of the sponsoring company.  Valuation, purchase, sale, and other decisions about the stock fall within the prudence, exclusive benefit and other fiduciary responsibility rules of ERISA.  These duties attach when the stock is purchased and continue thereafter as long as the stock remains a plan asset.  Additionally sales or other transactions which result in the sale or other disbursement of the stock as asset of the plan, as well as a decision to continue to hold the stock during market or value changes also trigger these responsibilities.

A trustee or other fiduciary exercising discretion or control in name or functionally generally must be prepared to prove not only that its actions are prudent, but also that the value of the stock and other actions involving the plan and its assets were made for the exclusive benefit of the plan and its participants and beneficiaries.   Because of the special issues and perception of potential conflict of interest that often inherently arise when a trustee or other fiduciary makes or influences decisions involving stock held by an employee stock ownership or other ERISA-covered plan, fiduciaries involved in these transactions should exercise particular care to act, and document appropriate evidence that he or it complied with these and other fiduciary requirements.

For Assistance or More Information

If you have questions or need help with these or employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 25 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters.

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

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, HR.com, Insurance Thought Leadership, Solutions Law Press, Inc. and other publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations. She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications. Her widely respected publications and programs include more than 25 years of publications on health plan contracting, design, administration and risk management including a “Managed Care Contracting Guide” published by the American Health Lawyers Association and numerous other works on vendor contracting.  You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

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

Recent examples of these publications include:

For important information about this communication click here.

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


Agencies Proposes To Treat Certain EAP, Dental and Vision Only Plans As ACA & HIPAA Excepted Benefits

December 26, 2013

February 24, 2014 is the deadline for interested employers, health insurers and plans, administrators and others to comment on proposed changes to rules defining what arrangements qualify as “excepted benefits” for purposes of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) eligibility, nondiscrimination and other portability mandates and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) health coverage reform mandates jointly published December 24, 2013 by Internal Revenue Service (IRS) , the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), and the Health and Human Services Department (HHS)(collectively the “Agencies”).

The Proposed Amendments To Excepted Benefits Regulation (Proposed Rule) published by the Agencies jointly in the December 24, 2013 Federal Register would add certain employee assistance programs (EAPs) and certain vision and dental only plans as  excepted benefits for purposes of HIPAA and ACA and make certain other changes to the excepted benefits definition . The Proposed Regulations would also provide added options for employees and employers in connection with ACA.

The definition of “excepted benefits” is critical for employers and insurers as   HIPAA and ACA exempt from certain of their mandates arrangements that qualify as excepted benefits under the Agencies rules.    Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, ambiguities and confusion have persisted about when and if certain arrangements qualify as excepted benefits.  Since HIPAA took effect, widespread abuse, debate and confusion about the treatment of certain mini-med and certain other benefit plans as excepted benefits prompted the Agencies to publish additional guidance.  Despite this guidance, many continue to debate the treatment of certain of these and other arrangements.  As the effective date of ACA’s employer and individual mandates and Heath Insurance Exchange premium tax credits, employers, employees and other stakeholders expressed concerns that the past HIPAA definition of excepted health benefits needed updating to prevent undesirable consequences for employees offered these arrangements.

The Proposed Regulations would amend current regulations to treat certain EAPs as excepted benefits, effective immediately. EAPs are typically free programs offered by employers that can provide wide-ranging benefits to address circumstances that might otherwise adversely affect employees’ work and health. Benefits may include short-term substance abuse or mental health counseling or referral services, as well as financial counseling and legal services. Under the Proposed Regulations, EAPs would be considered excepted benefits if the program is free to employees and does not provide significant benefits in the nature of medical care or treatment. As excepted benefits, EAPs would be exempt from private insurance market reforms, and EAP coverage would not make individuals ineligible for a premium tax credit under ACA for enrolling in qualified health plans through the Health Insurance Marketplaces created by ACA.

Similarly, under the Proposed Regulations, vision and dental benefits provided by employers on a self-insured basis would be able to qualify as excepted benefits effective immediately under the conditions specified in the Proposed Regulations, even if they do not require contributions from employees. Insured vision and dental benefits, as well as self-insured vision and dental coverage that requires employee contributions, already qualify as excepted benefits.

The proposal to treat EAPs and stand alone dental and vision benefits require that the arrangements meet the specific requirements set forth in the Proposed Regulations.  For instance, to keep benefits like dental benefits and vision benefits from coming under ACA mandates, an employer must offer the benefits separately from any group health plan and charge a separate premium for the excepted benefits.

Effective for plan years starting in 2015, the Proposed Regulations also would treat as excepted benefits certain limited coverage provided by plan sponsors that “wraps around” an individual market policy. The “wraparound” coverage would be available to employees for whom the plan sponsor’s primary group health coverage is not affordable and who instead get coverage through a nongrandfathered individual market policy. The wraparound coverage would provide extra benefits or broader networks, and may also reduce cost sharing. The proposal in the Proposed Regulations would not allow the wraparound coverage to substitute for employment-based coverage. The value of the wraparound coverage could not exceed 15 percent of the value of the primary coverage offered by the plan sponsor, which the Proposed Regulations would require to be affordable for at least the majority of employees.

The Obama administration may create a new type of benefit program for employers that send some workers to the individual exchanges to get health coverage.

A “limited wraparound plan” would give employers a way to beef up the benefits of some workers who get their coverage from an individual exchange rather than enrolling in the employer’s group health plan.

 

Some employers provide dental and vision plans along with health plans, without charging workers extra. The employers complained that they might have to start collecting small premiums just to keep their dental and vision plans from becoming PPACA plans.

The federal agencies have proposed letting employers keep the self-insured dental and vision benefits out from under PPACA without having to collect separate premiums.

The federal agencies also have made good on previous promises to clarify the rules stating how sponsors of employee assistance plans can keep the EAPs from becoming PPACA plans.

In the section on limited wraparound plans, the agencies talk about strategies for keeping the plans from giving employers a way to drop their group health plans and send all workers to the individual health insurance exchanges.

To offer a wraparound plan, an employer would have to offer a good group health plan. The employer could offer the wraparound plan benefits only to workers who bought “qualified health plan” coverage from an exchange because they found that the group health coverage was unaffordable.

An employer could use a wraparound plan to give workers with QHP coverage benefits similar to what workers in the group health plan have.

The cost of the wraparound coverage would have to be 15 percent or less of the cost of the group health coverage.

Speak Up On The Proposed Changes

Employers, health plan fiduciaries and administrators, health insurers, and others concerned about the scope and effect of the excepted benefit definition should review the proposed changes as soon as possible and provide comments to encourage tailoring the definition optimally.  Input on the proposed changes and other feedback on the definition of excepted benefits and its effect on health care coverage or other health care coverage or reform concerns should be carefully prepared and submitted to the Agencies as well as where appropriate, with Congress.  In addition , we also encourage you and others to help understand the rules and their implications by sharing your thoughts on these and other concerns in the Coalition For Responsible Health Care Policy linkedin group.  The Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy is a group hosted by Solutions Law Press, Inc. hosts to  provides a resource that concerned Americans can use to share, monitor and discuss the Health Care Reform law and other health care, insurance and related laws, regulations, policies and practices and options for promoting access to quality, affordable healthcare through the design, administration and enforcement of these regulations.

For Assistance or More Information

If you have questions or need help with these or employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 25 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters.

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

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, HR.com, Insurance Thought Leadership, Solutions Law Press, Inc. and other publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations. She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications. Her widely respected publications and programs include more than 25 years of publications on health plan contracting, design, administration and risk management including a “Managed Care Contracting Guide” published by the American Health Lawyers Association and numerous other works on vendor contracting.  You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

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

Recent examples of these publications include:

For important information about this communication click here.

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


1/1/14 Exchange Enrollment Deadline Extended As Enrollment Still Lags

December 24, 2013

With enrollment in the new Federal and State Health Insurance Exchanges, which the Obama Administration calls “Marketplaces” lagging and Americans attempting to use the Federal and state Exchange enrollment platforms continuing to experience technical “glitches,” the Obama Administration is extending again the deadline for Americans who want to get  health coverage offered through the Exchanges to begin January 1, 2014.

The Administration quietly revised the Exchange enrollment page at Healthcare.gov to instructs visitors that Americans who weren’t able to enroll in an insurance plan by December 23 because of problems you had using HealthCare.gov and want coverage that starts January 1, 2014 to contact the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596 (available 24/7; closed December 25. TTY: 1-855-889-4325).

Are you concerned about health care coverage or other health care issues or policy concerns?  Join the discussion and share your input by joining Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here.

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

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

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

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

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

For Assistance or More Information

If you have questions or need help with these or employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 25 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters.

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

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, HR.com, Insurance Thought Leadership, Solutions Law Press, Inc. and other publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations. She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications. Her widely respected publications and programs include more than 25 years of publications on health plan contracting, design, administration and risk management including a “Managed Care Contracting Guide” published by the American Health Lawyers Association and numerous other works on vendor contracting.  You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

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

Recent examples of these publications include:

For important information about this communication click here.

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


Businesses Performing Income, Payroll Tax Duties For Employers Confirm Compliance With Updated IRS Procedures

December 14, 2013

Payroll, staffing employee leasing and other businesses that provide workers, staffing, payroll or other related services and the businesses that use these services should review their status to determine if the service provider might be considered to act as the “agent” of their client businesses for purposes of the withholding of income taxes from wages and/or the collection, reporting and payment of income and employment taxes on behalf of another employer business and if so, their responsibilities as agents for these purposes under Revenue Procedure 2013-39

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently released Revenue Procedure 2013-39.  It describes and updates the procedure for requesting the IRS authorize a person to act as agent under section 3504 of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) and §31.3504-1 of the Employment Tax Regulations for purposes of Chapters 21, 22, 24, and 25 of the Code. Special instructions are also set forth for agents authorized to perform acts for purposes of Chapter 23 of the Code.

Chapters 21, 22, 23, 24, and 25 of the Code impose obligations on employers with regard to employment taxes. Specifically, Chapter 21 imposes Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax, Chapter 22 imposes Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA) tax, Chapter 23 imposes Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) tax.  Meanwhile, Chapter 24 imposes Collection of Income Tax at Source on Wages (income tax withholding), and Chapter 25 provides general provisions on employment taxes.

While these Code provisions generally impose these obligations on the common law employer of the employee with respect to whose wages the taxes arise, Section 3504 of the Code authorizes the Secretary to issue regulations to authorize a fiduciary, agent, or other person (“agent”) who has the control of, receives, has custody of, disposes of, or pays the wages of an employee or group of employees, employed by one or more employers, to perform certain specified acts required of employers. Under section 3504, all provisions of law (including penalties) applicable with respect to an employer are applicable to the agent and stay applicable to the common law employer. Accordingly, both the agent and employer are liable for the employment taxes and penalties associated with violations of these requirements.

In addition to updating the procedures generally applicable for parties to act as agents of employers for purposes of income and payroll taxes generally, the Revenue Procedure also sets forth special rules for agents dealing with home health workers as well as certain other special circumstances.

Businesses that could be considered to act as agents of another business should carefully review their status to determine whether their organization could be considered an agent for purposes of these rules either because they openly perform these responsibilities as a declared agent in accordance with current IRS procedures, or because the facts and circumstances under which their business acts as an employee leasing, staffing, professional employment organization (PEO) create a risk that workers treated as employed by the service provider could in fact be recharacterized on audit as common law employees of the customer.

Beyond the employer responsibilities under existing income and employment tax rules, proper classification also may have implications on the parties responsibilities under the employer shared responsibility rules of Code Section 4980H.  In Notice 2013-54, the IRS stated that the IRS might be willing to recognize health coverage provided by a staffing, employee leasing or other firm to a worker where the facts and circumstances reflect that the common law employer of the worker in fact is the customer of the staffing company as coverage provided by the common law employer.  In comments made at an American Bar Association Joint Tax and RPTE Meeting this Fall, however, IRS representatives also commented that they contemplated that this ability would be limited to situations where the staffing entity or other service provider registers as the agent of the customer which was the common law employer of the workers.  Businesses must await further clarifying guidance about whether and how the IRS ultimately implements these rules.

For Assistance or More Information

If you have questions or need help with these or employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 25 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters.

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

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, HR.com, Insurance Thought Leadership, Solutions Law Press, Inc. and other publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations. She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications. Her widely respected publications and programs include more than 25 years of publications on health plan contracting, design, administration and risk management including a “Managed Care Contracting Guide” published by the American Health Lawyers Association and numerous other works on vendor contracting.  You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

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

Recent examples of these publications include:

For important information about this communication click here.

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


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.