Biden-Harris To Require many Employers To Mandate Employee Vaccinations

September 9, 2021

The Biden- Harris Administration today announced it will require a multitude of US employees to adopt and enforce workplace COVID-19 vaccination mandates for their workers.

The mandate requirement generally will apply to all federal workers, government contractors and subcontractors, health care workers of facilities participating in Medicare or Medicaid And any employer with more than 100 employees.All Medicare and Medicaid certified health care facilities, and a broad range of other employers must prepare to meet impending new federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates announced by the Biden-Harris Administration today.

According to today’s announcements all healthcare facilities participating in Medicare or Medicaid, Federal government employees, federal government contractors or subcontractors and any business employing 100 or more employees will be required to ensure all staff are vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Biden-Harris Administration says the new health industry COVID-19 vaccine will be implemented through emergency regulations to be issued in October.

According to today’s announcement, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service (“CMS”) in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) will issue an Interim Final Rule with Comment Period for health care providers in October that will apply vaccine mandates hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings, nursing homes and home health agencies, among others, as a condition for participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. This announcement expends the healthcare industry mandate beyond it’s originally planned applicability to nursing homes when announced last month.

In addition to the health industry mandate, the Biden-Harris Administration also announcementI it would impose new vaccine mandates for all federal government workers, government contractors and subcontractors, and all employers employing more than 100 employees.

In it’s announcement of the impending vaccination requirements, CDC urged health care facilities to prepare now to meet the new mandate in October. CMS expects certified Medicare and Medicaid facilities to act in the best interest of patients and staff by complying with new COVID-19 vaccination requirements. 

The Administration is urging covered workers not currently vaccinated to begin the vaccination process immediately and facilities and employers to use all available resources to support employee vaccinations, including employee education and clinics, as they work to meet new federal requirements.

Beyond potential federal program participation losses, the new vaccine mandates likely adds vaccination to the list of safety safeguards that employers can expect to be required to enforce as part of the occupational safety rules of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”).

While legal challenges to the mandate requirements are likely, most business andw that have not already adopted vaccine mandates are expected to adopt these mandates rather than face business losses and other sanctions.

Businesses that were supportive of mandates but fearful of the burdens of administering required accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (”ADA”) or other civil rights laws are likely to welcome the Administration‘s new position. Unlike voluntary mandates, the ADA accommodation requirements do not apply to vaccination requirements required by law.

The new mandates also mean that businesses generally need to be concerned about potential OSHA exposure for failing to implement or enforce the mandates. OSHA already is sanctioning employers for violating COVID-19 related OSHA requirements. For instance, OSHA nailed Lakewood Resource and Referral Center Inc., dba Center for Education Medicine and Dentistry (CHEMED) with heavy fines for allegedly violating applicable COVID-19 safety guidelines in January, 2021.

In a July 23, 2021 citation letter, OSH proposes to fine CHEMED $273,064.00 for willfully violating OSHA by not providing a medical evaluation to determine each employee’s ability to use a N95 respirator, before the employee was fit tested or required to use the respirator in the workplace to protect against SARS-CoV-2 virus while testing suspected COVID-19 individuals.

In addition to the proposed fine, the citation also orders CHEMED to take a series of corrective actions and to post notices in the workplace informing workers of the violation. 

Along with the CHEMED citation, OSH also cited a staffing agency contracted to provide nursing staffing to CHEMED, Homecare Therapies for also failing to conduct medical evaluations and fit tests. It received two violations and a proposed fine of $13,653.

In the face of these potential consequences, most covered health care facilities and other employers impacted by the mandate are likely to implement mandates unless and until these requirements are struct down by the courts or withdrawn.

Assuming the Administration follows appropriate procedures to adopt the rules, most legal commentators do not expect the legal challenges opposing the mandate orders to be successful in the courts particularly after the Supreme Court refused to overturn or hear arguments for overturning a unanimous decision of a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Klassen v. Trustees of Indiana University that refused to enjoin a vaccine mandate imposed by Indiana University as a condition of student or staff in person participation in classes or other activities.

While most healthcare and other covered businesses are not expected to challenge the rules, compliance us likely to trigger backlash from some unvaccinated workers strongly opposed to becoming vaccinated. Employers may find that some employees will resign their employment or take other tactics to avoid becoming vaccinated. Even those who elect to become vaccinated to retain their employment are likely to express opposition and dissatisfaction that could create liability exposures for the employers if it becomes a basis for retaliation claim.

Employers in Texas and certain other states that have adopted rules restricting or prohibiting vaccine, mask or other mandates also may face challenges based on the state rules. 

In light of these and other uncertainties and challenges, Healthcare and Other or Employers generally should seek legal advice and assistance from legal counsel experienced with the relevant health care, labor and employment, privacy and other concerns. 

More Information

This article is republished by permission of the author, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  To review the original work, see here.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you to receive future updates by registering here and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here. For specific information about the these or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce compliance, performance management, internal controls and governance, compensation and benefits, regulatory compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns.

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

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

A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension  project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on these and other legislative, regulatory and other legislative and regulatory design, drafting, interpretation and enforcement, as well as regularly advises and represents organizations on the design, administration and defense of workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline, reengineering, regulatory and operational compliance and other management practices and actions.

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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


California Medical Privacy Rules Changed 7/1. https://slphealthcareupdate.com/2021/08/03/california-medical-privacy-rules-eased-new-7-1-2021-rules-allow-greater-flexibility-on-disclosures-a-breach-and-give-agency-more-fine-flexibility-https-www-cdph-ca-gov-programs-ols-cdph%20docume/

August 3, 2021

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

June 26, 2020

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

Retirement Plan Rollover Relief

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

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

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

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

Other COVID-19 Tax Rules & Relief

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

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

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

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

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years legal and operational management work, coaching, public policy and regulatory affairs leadership and advocacy, training and public speaking and publications. As a significant part of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively domestically and internationally on an demand, special project and ongoing basis with health industry, health plan and insurance and other businesses of all types, government and community organizations and their leaders, spoken and published extensively on workforce and other services, compensation and benefits, and related tax; insurance; workers’ compensation and occupational disease; business reengineering, disaster and distress;  and many other management concerns.

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law By the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising, representing, defending and training health care providers, health plans and insurers, employers, community organizations and others about HIPAA and other privacy concerns and has published and spoken extensively on these concerns.

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

Ms. Stamer also serves in leadership of a broad range of professional and civic organizations and shares insights and thought leadership through her extensive publications and public speaking. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.  ©2020 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.


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

June 16, 2020

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

ADA Responsibilities of Employers In Handling Medical Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minimize Exposures By Preventing Unauthorized Media & Other Disclosures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

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

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years legal and operational management work, coaching, public policy and regulatory affairs leadership and advocacy, training and public speaking and publications. As a significant part of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively domestically and internationally on an demand, special project and ongoing basis with health industry, health plan and insurance and other business, government and community organizations and their leaders, spoken and published extensively on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns, as well as other health care and health benefits;  human resources, employee benefits and other workforce and services; insurance; workers’ compensation and occupational disease; business reengineering, disaster and distress;  and many other management concerns.

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law By the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising, representing, defending and training health care providers, health plans and insurers, employers, community organizations and others about HIPAA and other privacy concerns and has published and spoken extensively on these concerns.

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

Ms. Stamer also serves in leadership of a broad range of professional and civic organizations and shares insights and thought leadership through her extensive publications and public speaking. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.  ©2020 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.


2019 OCR Enforcement Shows Getting Defensibly HIPAA Compliant Necessary In 2020!

January 1, 2020

The $65,000 payment and corrective action plan commitments West Georgia Ambulance, Inc. (“West Georgia”) is making to settle Department of Health & Human Services Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) charges it recurrently violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) Security Rule and other 2019 HIPAA enforcement sends a clear warning to other HIPAA-covered health plans, health care providers, health care clearighouses and their business associates (“covered entities”) to maintain and be prepared to defend their own HIPAA compliance.

The Western Georgia Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (“Resolution Agreement”) OCR announced on December 30, 2019 resolves charges resulting from an OCR investigation initiated in response to a HIPAA breach report the Georgia based ambulance company filed in 2013 in which the company, which provides emergency and non-emergency ambulance services in Carroll County, Georgia,  disclosed the loss of an unencrypted laptop containing the protected health information (PHI) of 500 individuals. The breach occurred when an unencrypted laptop fell off the back bumper of an ambulance. The laptop was not recovered.  West Georgia reported that exactly 500 individuals were affected by the breach.

In the course of its investigation of the breach report, OCR’s investigation uncovered long-standing noncompliance with the HIPAA Rules, including failures to conduct a risk analysis, provide a security awareness and training program, and implement HIPAA Security Rule policies and procedures. Specifically, the Resolution Agreement states that West Georgia:

  • Did not conduct an accurate and thorough risk analysis of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all of its ePHI. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(A);
  • Failed to have a HIPAA security training program, and failed to provide security training to its employees. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(5);
  • Failed to implement Security Rule policies or procedures. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.316; and
  • Despite OCR’s investigation and technical assistance, “did not take meaningful steps to address their systemic failures.”

To resolve its exposure to the substantially higher civil monetary penalties that OCR could impose for violations of this nature, West Georgia agreed to pay a $65,000 resolution payment to OCR and implement and comply with a corrective action plan that in addition to requiring West Georgia to correct the compliance deficiencies, also subjects West Georgia to two years of OCR monitoring and oversight.

The Resolution Agreement and corrective action plan carry a number of important messages for other health care providers and other Covered Entities.  First, the OCR enforcement action against West Georgia coming at the end of yet another heavy HIPAA enforcement year by OCR reminds Covered Entities that OCR is serious about HIPAA enforcement on the heels of its 2018 HIPAA record setting collection of $28.7 million in civil monetary penalties and resolution payments including the single largest individual HIPAA settlement in history of $16 million with Anthem, Inc. See OCR Concludes 2018 with All-Time Record Year for HIPAA Enforcement.  While not topping this record, OCR during 2019 now has collected civil monetary penalties and resolution payments totaling more than $15 million from HIPAA Covered Entities and their business associates including:

Second, the Resolution Agreement and various other smaller settlements during the year show HIPAA compliance and enforcement is a concern for smaller provideres and other covered entities, not juswt the huge ones.  While the $65,000 settlement payment required by the Resolution Agreement is substantially smaller than the amounts of the civil monetary penalties and many of resolution payments OCR collected in its other 2019 enforcement actions, the West Georgia and other 2019 enforcement actions demonstrate the teeth behind the warning in the OCR Press Release announcing the West Georgia Resolution Agreement from OCR Director Roger Severino that“All providers, large and small, need to take their HIPAA obligations seriously.”  With OCR promises to keep up its vigorous investigation and enforcement of the HIPAA requirements, every Covered Entity and business associate should take the necessary steps to verify and maintain their HIPAA compliance and to be prepared to defend their compliance under the Privacy, Security, Breach Notification and HIPAA access and other individual rights mandates of HIPAA.

Third, OCR’s statement in the Resolution Agreement about the failure by West Georgia to meaningfully act to correct compliance deficiencies and cooperate in other corrective action during the period following the breach report highlights the importance for covered entities involved in a breach or other dealings with OCR on a potential compliance concern to behave appropriately to  express and exhibit the necessary concern OCR expects regarding the compliance issue to position themselves to request and receive the clemency OCR is empowered under HIPAA to extend when deciding the sanctions for any noncompliance.

Of course meeting the requirements of HIPAA is not the only concern that covered entities should consider as they review and tightened their HIPAA and other privacy and data security procedures.  Health care providers and other covered entities also should keep in mind their other obligations to protect patient and other confidential information under other federal laws, the requirements of which also are ever-evolving.  For instance, on January 1, 2020 Texas providers like other Texas businesses will become subject to a shortened deadline for providing notice of data breaches under a new law enacted by the Texas Legislature in its last session.  Arrangements should be designed to fulfill all of these requirements as well as any ethical or contractual.

Covered entities also should keep in mind that violations of HIPAA can have implications well beyond HIPAA.ramifications beyond HIPAA itself.  For instance, heath care providers can face disqualification from federal program participation, licensing and ethics discipline and other professional consequences.  Health plans and their fiduciaries also may face Department of Labor and other fiduciary claims, while insurers can face licensing and other regulatory consequences. The Labor Department followed up on previous warnings that health plan fiduciaries duties include a fiduciary duty to protect health plan data by adding HIPAA compliance to certain health plan audits. Insurers, third of art administrators and others also can face duties and liabilities under state insurance and data privacy laws from regulator or private litigant actions.

For More Information

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

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

About the Author

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

Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer has extensive legal, operational, and public policy experience advising and representing health care, health care and other entities about HIPAA and other privacy, data security, confidentiality and other matters.

Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services, public and private primary, secondary, and other educational institutions, and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.  As a part of this work, she has recurrently worked extensively with public school districts and public and private primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, academic medical, and other educational institutions, insured and self-insured health plans; domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; EMR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, employers; and federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies on health care, education, and other data privacy, security, use, protection and disclosure; disability and other educational rights; workforce, and a host of other risk management and compliance concerns.

Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her decades-long leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and other privacy and data security and other health industry legal, public policy and operational concerns.  This  involvement encompasses helping health care systems and organizations, group and individual health care providers, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients prevent, investigate, manage and resolve  sexual assault, abuse, harassment and other organizational, provider and employee misconduct and other performance and behavior; manage Section 1557, Civil Rights Act and other discrimination and accommodation, and other regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; contracting and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other payers and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other technology,  data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, ant kickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care;  internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns. to establish, administer and defend workforce and staffing, quality, and other compliance, risk management and operational practices, policies and actions; comply with requirements; investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry actions: regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement;  and other strategic and operational concerns.

Author of leading works on HIPAA and a multitude of other health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

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


$3 Million OCR Touchstone Settlement Warns Health Plans of Perils of HIPAA Violations

May 6, 2019

Health plans, their sponsoring employers and unions, insurers, fiduciaries, administrators, insurers and other service providers should learn from the $3 million lesson a Franklin, Tennessee-based diagnostic medical imaging services provider is learning about the heavy penalties a health plan, health care provider, health care clearinghouse  or business associate  (“Covered Entity”) risks if a post-data breach investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”)  shows  the Covered Entity breached the privacy, data security, business associate agreement and breach notificataion rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security and Breach Notification Rules before or after the breach.

Under a new OCR Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan announced May 6, 2019, Touchstone Medical Imaging (“Touchstone”) must pay $3,000,000 to OCR and adopt a corrective action plan to settle OCR charges it violated HIPAA arising from an OCR investigation of Touchstone’s handling of a 2014 breach.  Around May 9, 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) and OCR notified Touchstone that one of its FTP servers allowed uncontrolled access to PHI that allowed search engines to index the PHI of more than 300,000 of Touchstone’s patients, which remained visible on the Internet even after the server was taken offline.   While Touchstone initially claimed that no patient PHI was exposed,  in the course of OCR’s investigation, Touchstone subsequently admitted PHI of more than 300,000 patients was exposed including, names, birth dates, social security numbers, and addresses.  As a result of its delayed acknowledgement of the occurrence of the breach on May 9, 2014, Touchstone did not provide notice of the breach until October, 2014, months after OCR and FBI notified it of the breach.   See here.

OCR’s investigation found Touchstone breached HIPAA before and after the breach.  OCR’s investigation  found before the breach, Touchstone failed to conduct an accurate and thorough risk analysis of potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all of its electronic PHI (ePHI), and failed to have business associate agreements in place with its vendors, including their IT support vendor and a third-party data center provider as required by HIPAA.   OCR also found Touchstone did not thoroughly investigate the security incident until several months after notice of the breach from both the FBI and OCR.  Consequently, Touchstone’s notification to individuals affected by the breach also was untimely.

To resolve OCR charges arising from these events, Touchstone agreed to pay OCR $3,000,000.  In addition to the monetary settlement, Touchstone will undertake a robust corrective action plan that includes the adoption of business associate agreements, completion of an enterprise-wide risk analysis, and comprehensive policies and procedures to comply with the HIPAA Rules.

The Resolution Agreement illustrates the expensive price Covered Entities risk from failing to conduct risk assessments, obtain business associate agreements and fulfill other HIPAA requirements before a breach, then failing to promptly investigate, provide notification and redress a breach when discovered.  Covered Entities should learn from the painful lesson learned by Touchstone by reconfirming the adequacy of their current HIPAA  compliance and using care to timely and adequately investigate and provide notification if and when a breach occurs.

About the Author

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

Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer’s clients include employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors;  managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers and their management; public and private, domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, health care accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; managed care organizations, insurers, third party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations;  billing, utilization management, management services organizations; group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; claims, billing and other health care and insurance technology and data service organizations; other health, employee benefit, insurance and financial services product and solutions consultants, developers and vendors; and other health, employee benefit, insurance, technology, government and other management clients.

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

Beyond her public policy and regulatory affairs involvement, Ms. Stamer also has extensive experience helping these and other clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government; accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, and change management; workforce and operations management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of their operations.

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

Ms. Stamer has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending plan sponsors, administrators, insurance and managed care organizations, health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and employer and association group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions. Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with HHS OCR, she also has worked extensively on health and health benefit coding, billing and claims, meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical, workforce, consumer financial and other data confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security, data breach and mitigation, and other information privacy and data security concerns.

Author of leading works on a multitude of health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

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


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

April 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

Covered Entities Obligated To Disclose ePHI to Apps Chosen By Individuals

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

Breaches of Health Information Disclosed To An App

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

Transmission of ePHI to App Using Unsecured Method

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

Post Transmission Exposure of Covered Entity’s EHR Systems Developer

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

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

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

Health Plan & Other Covered Entity Take Aways

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

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

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

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

Have questions about the new FAQs or other health care regulatory developments or their implications on your organization, contact the author.  You also are invited to stay abreast of these and other health care developments by participating in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Linkedin HR & Benefits Update LinkedIn Group or COPE: Coalition On Patient Empowerment Group or Project COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment Facebook Page.

 

About the Author

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

Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer’s clients include employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors;  managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers and their management; public and private, domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, health care accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; managed care organizations, insurers, third party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations;  billing, utilization management, management services organizations; group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; claims, billing and other health care and insurance technology and data service organizations; other health, employee benefit, insurance and financial services product and solutions consultants, developers and vendors; and other health, employee benefit, insurance, technology, government and other management clients.

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

Beyond her public policy and regulatory affairs involvement, Ms. Stamer also has extensive experience helping these and other clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government; accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, and change management; workforce and operations management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of their operations.

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

Ms. Stamer has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending plan sponsors, administrators, insurance and managed care organizations, health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and employer and association group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions. Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with HHS OCR, she also has worked extensively on health and health benefit coding, billing and claims, meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical, workforce, consumer financial and other data confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security, data breach and mitigation, and other information privacy and data security concerns.

Author of leading works on a multitude of health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

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

 


Proposed FLSA Base Pay Rule Clarifies Overtime Treatment Of Perks

March 28, 2019

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

Regular Rate For Overtime

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

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

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

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

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

Call-Back Pay

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

Basic Rate

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

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

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

Comment on the Proposed Rule & Other FLSA Rule Changes

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

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

Other Defensive Actions To Minimize FLSA Exposures

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

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

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

If you need more information or have questions, contact the author, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  We also invite you to share your own best practices ideas and resources and join the discussions about these and other human resources, health and other employee benefit and patient empowerment concerns by participating and contributing to the discussions onLinkedIn.

About the Author

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

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

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

Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, heavily involved in health benefit, health care, health, financial and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career, and scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues. She regularly helps employer and other health benefit plan sponsors and vendors, health industry, insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health and insurance industry clients design, document and enforce plans, practices, policies, systems and solutions; manage regulatory, contractual and other legal and operational compliance; transactional and other change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation; and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.  We also invite you to join the discussion of these and other human resources, health and other employee benefit and patient empowerment concerns by participating and contributing to the discussions Linkedin or Facebook

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

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


Employers Risk FMLA Violation By Delaying FMLA Notification, Designation While Employees Use Other Leave

March 19, 2019

A new U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) opinion letter says warns employers not to delay providing FMLA notice or designating a leave as FMLA-covered when coordinating FMLA protected leave with otherwise available paid or unpaid leave.

FMLA Opinion 2019-1-A states that a FMLA-covered employer must designate as FMLA protected and, absent extenuating circumstances, must provide notice of the designation of the leave as FMLA protected within five business days of the date the employer has enough information to determine an employee has experienced a FMLA qualifying event. The Opinion says this designation and notice must happen even if the employee would prefer that the employer delay the designation of the absence as a FMLA protected leave until the employee exhausts other available leave.

According to WHD, its FMLA regulations require employers to provide a written “designation notice” to an employee within five business days—absent extenuating circumstances—after the employer “has enough information to determine whether the leave is being taken for a FMLA-qualifying reason.”  Failure to provide timely notice requirement may constitute an interference with, restraint on, or denial of the exercise of an employee’s FMLA rights. 29 C.F.R. §§ 825.300(e), 825.301(e).  Consequently, the Opinion concludes that the employer is responsible in all circumstances for designating leave as FMLA-qualifying and giving notice of the designation to the employee within five days of learning if events triggering the FMLA eligibility. 29 C.F.R. § 825.300(d).

The Opinion also emphasizes that employers cannot delay the designation of a leave as FMLA protected and provision of notice while a FMLA-eligible employee uses otherwise available leave.  While acknowledging that the FMLA permits an employer to require, or to permit an employee to elect, to “substitute” accrued paid leave (e.g., paid vacation, paid sick leave, etc.) to cover any part of the unpaid FMLA entitlement period,the Opinion states that  “[t]he term substitute means that the paid leave provided by the employer … will run concurrently with the unpaid FMLA leave.” 29 C.F.R. § 825.207(a) (emphasis added).   While acknowledging that the FMLA allows employers to adopt leave policies more generous than those required by the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2653; see 29 C.F.R. § 825.700, the Opinion also says an employer may not designate more than 12 weeks of leave—or more than 26 weeks of military caregiver leave—as FMLA-protected. See, e.g., Weidner v. Unity Health Plans Ins. Corp., 606 F. Supp. 2d 949, 956 (W.D. Wis. 2009) (citing cases for the principle that “a plaintiff cannot maintain a cause of action under the FMLA for an employer’s violation of its more-generous leave policy”).

Furthermore, the Opinion also openly rejects and disagrees with the Ninth Circuit’s holding in Escriba v. Foster Poultry Farms, Inc., 743 F.3d 1236, 1244 (9th Cir. 2014) that an employee may use non-FMLA leave for an FMLA-qualifying reason and decline to use FMLA leave in order to preserve FMLA leave for future use. Instead, the Opinion adopts the position that once an eligible employee communicates a need to take leave for an FMLA-qualifying reason, neither the employee nor the employer may decline FMLA protection for that leave. See 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(d) (“Employees cannot waive, nor may employers induce employees to waive, their prospective rights under FMLA.”); Strickland v. Water Works and Sewer Bd. of City of Birmingham, 239 F.3d 1199, 1204 (11th Cir. 2001) (noting that the employer may not “choose whether an employee’s FMLA-qualifying absence” is protected or unprotected by the FMLA).  Accordingly, the Opinion concludes that when an employer determines that leave is for an FMLA-qualifying reason, the qualifying leave is FMLA-protected and counts toward the employee’s FMLA leave entitlement.  Once the employer has enough information to make this determination, the employer must, absent extenuating circumstances, provide notice of the designation within five business days.  Therefore, the employer may not delay designating leave as FMLA-qualifying or providing notification, even if the employee would prefer that the employer delay the designation.

The Opinion also clarifies the WHD’s interpretation of the FMLA limits the protection of the FMLA to the statutory period set by the FMLA.   In this respect, the Opinion states, “An employer is also prohibited from designating more than 12 weeks of leave (or 26 weeks of military caregiver leave) as FMLA leave.”  Thus, while acknowledging that “[a]n employer must observe any employment benefit program or plan that provides greater family or medical leave rights to employees than the rights established by the FMLA.” under 29 C.F.R. § 825.700, the Opinion also states that “providing such additional leave outside of the FMLA cannot expand the employee’s 12-week (or 26-week) entitlement under the FMLA.” Therefore, the Opinion states that if an employee substitutes paid leave for unpaid FMLA leave, the employee’s paid leave counts toward his or her 12-week (or 26-week) FMLA entitlement and does not expand that entitlement.

As many employers currently coordinate and administer their FMLA and other leaves inconsistently with the positions stated in the Opinion, employers generally should consult with experienced legal counsel within the scope of attorney client privilege about the implications of the guidance set forth in the Opinion on their existing practices and about whether any corrective action or modifications are advisable in light of the Opinion to minimize potential exposure to FMLA liability.   In connection with this review, employers also generally will want to evaluate their other paid and unpaid military, medical, maternity/paternity, adoption and other absence and leave policies and associated employee benefit plans to confirm that these designs continue to operate as intended and that current coordination practices comport with existing guidance.

About the Author

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

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

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

Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, heavily involved in health benefit, health care, health, financial and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career, and scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues. She regularly helps employer and other health benefit plan sponsors and vendors, health industry, insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health and insurance industry clients design, document and enforce plans, practices, policies, systems and solutions; manage regulatory, contractual and other legal and operational compliance; vendors and suppliers; deal with Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA, state insurance law and other private payer rules and requirements; contracting; licensing; terms of participation; medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, and other provider-payer relations; reporting and disclosure, government investigations and enforcement, privacy and data security; and other compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; Civil Rights; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

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


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

March 19, 2019

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

Proposal To Raise Minimum Salary For Overtime Exemption

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

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

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

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

Speak Up About Proposal & Other FLSA Burdens On Business

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

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

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

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

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

Other Defensive Actions To Minimize FLSA Exposures

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

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

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

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

 About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

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

 


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

March 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

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

 


Creative Pay & Time Keeping Requires FLSA Compliance & Risk Management

December 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

FLSA Minimum Wage & Overtime Requirements Generally

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

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

WHD Opinion Letter FLSA 2018-28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scrutiny & Challenges To Contract & Outsourced Labor Relationships Rising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FLSA Big Liability Risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Repeated or willful violation of section 206 or 207.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pilot PAID Program May Offer New Option To Resolve WHD Exposures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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©2018 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.

 


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

April 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scrutiny & Challenges To Contract & Outsourced Labor Relationships Rising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FLSA Big Liability Risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Repeated or willful violation of section 206 or 207.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

HIPAA Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Rule Responsibilities & Risks

The Privacy Rule requires that health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their vendors that qualify as “business associates” under HIPAA comply with detailed requirements concerning the protection, use, access, destruction and disclosure of protected health information.  As part of these requirements, Covered Entities and their business associates must adopt, administer and enforce detailed policies and practices, assess, monitor and maintain the security of electronic protected health information (ePHI) and other protected health information, provide notices of privacy practices and breaches of “unsecured” ePHI, afford individuals that are the subject of protected health information certain rights and comply with other requirements as specified by the Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules.  In addition, Covered Entities and business associates also must enter into a written and signed business associate agreement that contains the elements specified in Privacy Rule § 164.504(e) before the business associate creates, uses, accesses or discloses PHI of the Covered Entity. Furthermore, the Privacy Rule includes extensive documentation and keeping requirements require that Covered Entities and BAs maintain copies of these BAAs for a minimum of six years and to provide that documentation to OCR upon demand.

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

Resolution Agreements the just announced FileFax Resolution Agreement allow Covered Entities and business associates to resolve potentially substantially larger civil monetary penalty liabilities that OCR can impose under the civil enforcement provisions of HIPAA for HIPAA violations through a negotiated settlement process.  As amended by the HITECH Act, the civil enforcement provisions of HIPAA empower OCR to impose Civil Monetary Penalties on both Covered Entities and BAs for violations of any of the requirements of the Privacy or Security Rules.  The penalty ranges for civil violations depends upon the circumstances associated with the violations and are subject to upward adjustment for inflation.  As most recently adjusted here effective September 6, 2016, the following currently are the progressively increasing Civil Monetary Penalty tiers:

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

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

In addition to these potential civil liability exposures, Covered Entities, their business associates and other individuals or organizations that wrongfully use, access or disclose electronic or other protected health information also can face civil liability under various circumstances.  The criminal enforcement provisions of HIPAA authorize the Justice Department to prosecute a person who knowingly in violation of the Privacy Rule (1) uses or causes to be used a unique health identifier; (2) obtains individually identifiable health information relating to an individual; or (3) discloses individually identifiable health information to another person, punishable by the following criminal sanctions and penalties:

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

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

FileFax, Inc.  Breach & Resolution Agreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCR Enforces HIPAA Against Covered Entities & Business Associates In Bankruptcy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIPAA & Data Breach Enforcement A Growing Health Plan Risk

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

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

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

While criminal enforcement of HIPAA remains relatively rare and OCR to date only actually has assessed HIPAA civil monetary penalties against certain Covered Entities for violating HIPAA in a couple isolated instances, the growing list of multi-million dollar resolution payments against Covered Entities and with the FileFax Resolution Agreement announcement, now also business associates for violating HIPAA make clear that HIPAA enforcement is both meaningful and growing.   See e.g., Learn From Children’s New $3.2M+ HIPAA CMP For “Knowing” Violation of HIPAA Security Rules ($3.2 million Children’s Medical Center HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty);  1st HIPAA Privacy Civil Penalty of $4.3 Million Signals CMS Serious About HIPAA Enforcement;  $400K HIPAA Settlement Shows Need To Conduct Timely & Appropriate Risk Assessments; $5.5M Memorial HIPAA Resolution Agreement Shows Need To Audit.  For more examples, also see here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

Repeatedly recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for health and managed care, employee benefits, insurance and financial services, data and technology and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Nationally recognized for her work, experience, leadership and publications on HIPAA and other medical privacy and data use and security, FACTA, GLB, trade secrets and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with clients and the government on cybersecurity, technology and processes and other issues involved in the use and management of medical, insurance and other financial, workforce, trade secrets and other sensitive data and information throughout her career.  Scribe or co-scribe of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR since 2011 and author of a multitude of highly regarded publications on HIPAA and other health care, insurance, financial and other privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer is widely known for her extensive and leading edge experience, advising, representing, training and coaching health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, business associates, their information technology and other solutions providers and vendors, and others on HIPAA and other privacy, data security and cybersecurity design, documentation, administration, audit and oversight, business associate and other data and technology contracting, breach investigation and response, and other related concerns including extensive involvement representing clients in dealings with OCR and other Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Labor, Department of Treasury, state health, insurance and attorneys’ general, Congress and state legislators and other federal officials.

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

©2018 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.

 


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

February 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

 

HIPAA Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Rule Responsibilities & Risks

The Privacy Rule requires that health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (covered entities) and their vendors that qualify as “business associates” under HIPAA comply with detailed requirements concerning the protection, use, access, destruction and disclosure of protected health information.  As part of these requirements, covered entities and their business associates must adopt, administer and enforce detailed policies and practices, assess, monitor and maintain the security of electronic protected health information (ePHI) and other protected health information, provide notices of privacy practices and breaches of “unsecured” ePHI, afford individuals that are the subject of protected health information certain rights and comply with other requirements as specified by the Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules.  In addition, covered entities and business associates also must enter into a written and signed business associate agreement that contains the elements specified in Privacy Rule § 164.504(e) before the business associate creates, uses, accesses or discloses PHI of the covered entity. Furthermore, the Privacy Rule includes extensive documentation and keeping requirements require that covered entities and BAs maintain copies of these BAAs for a minimum of six years and to provide that documentation to OCR upon demand.

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

Resolution Agreements like the $3.2 million FMCNA resolution agreement allow covered entities and business associates to resolve potentially substantially larger civil monetary penalty liabilities that OCR can impose under the civil enforcement provisions of HIPAA.  As amended by the HITECH Act, the civil enforcement provisions of HIPAA empower OCR to impose Civil Monetary Penalties on both covered entities and BAs for violations of any of the requirements of the Privacy or Security Rules.  The penalty ranges for civil violations depends upon the circumstances associated with the violations and are subject to upward adjustment for inflation.  As most recently adjusted here effective September 6, 2016,  the following currently are the progressively increasing Civil Monetary Penalty tiers:

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

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

In addition to these potential civil liability exposures,  covered entities, their business associates and other individuals or organizations that wrongfully use, access or disclose electronic or other protected health information also can face civil liability under various circumstances.  The criminal enforcement provisions of HIPAA authorize the Justice Department to prosecute a person who knowingly in violation of the Privacy Rule (1) uses or causes to be used a unique health identifier; (2) obtains individually identifiable health information relating to an individual; or (3) discloses individually identifiable health information to another person, punishable by the following criminal sanctions and penalties:

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

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

Fresenius Breach, Charges & Settlement Agreement Illustrate Civil Exposures

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

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

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

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

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

HIPAA & Data Breach Enforcement A Growing  Health Plan Risk

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

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

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

While criminal enforcement of HIPAA remains relatively rare and OCR to date only actually has assessed HIPAA civil monetary penalties against certain Covered Entities for violating HIPAA in a couple isolated instances, the growing list of multi-million dollar resolution payments that FMCNA and other covered entities caught violating HIPAA make clear that HIPAA enforcement is both meaningful and growing.   See e.g., Learn From Children’s New $3.2M+ HIPAA CMP For “Knowing” Violation of HIPAA Security Rules ($3.2 million Children’s Medical Center HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty); 1st HIPAA Privacy Civil Penalty of $4.3 Million Signals CMS Serious About HIPAA Enforcement;  $400K HIPAA Settlement Shows Need To Conduct Timely & Appropriate Risk Assessments$5.5M Memorial HIPAA Resolution Agreement Shows Need To Audit.  For more examples, also see here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

Repeatedly recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for health and managed care, employee benefits, insurance and financial services, data and technology and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Nationally recognized for her work, experience, leadership and publications on HIPAA and other medical privacy and data use and security, FACTA, GLB, trade secrets and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with clients and the government on cybersecurity, technology and processes and other issues involved in the use and management of medical, insurance and other financial, workforce, trade secrets and other sensitive data and information throughout her career.  Scribe or co-scribe of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR since 2011 and author of a multitude of highly regarded publications on HIPAA and other health care, insurance, financial and other privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer is widely known for her extensive and leading edge experience, advising, representing, training and coaching health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, business associates, their information technology and other solutions providers and vendors, and others on HIPAA and other privacy, data security and cybersecurity design, documentation, administration, audit and oversight, business associate and other data and technology contracting, breach investigation and response, and other related concerns including extensive involvement representing clients in dealings with OCR and other Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Labor, Department of Treasury, state health, insurance and attorneys’ general, Congress and state legislators and other federal officials.

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

©2018 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.


Time To Tighten Business Travel Policies

January 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

©2018 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions  Law Press, Inc.™   For information about republication, please contact the author directly.  All other rights reserved


Consider Internal Investigation & Defense Costs When Administering Compliance Programs

December 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aboaut The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

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


Jennifer A. Abruzzo Named NLRB Acting General Counsel

November 1, 2017

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced today the appointment of Jennifer A. Abruzzo to serve as NLRB’s Acting General Counsel.

Although Ms. Abruzzo original began her legal career as a civil litigation attorney in the medical malpractice division of a South Florida firm, she has spent almost twenty-three years working for the NLRB in various capacities, including as Field Attorney, Supervisory Field Attorney and Deputy Regional Attorney in the Miami, Florida office, as well as Deputy Assistant General Counsel in the Division of Operations-Management in Washington, DC, where she oversaw Regional operations in the Northeast and Midwest.

Prior to becoming Deputy General Counsel, Ms. Abruzzo served as the Executive Assistant to Acting General Counsel Lafe E. Solomon, and detailed in that role for General Counsel Ronald E. Meisburg.   In 2011 her involvement at the NLRB drew public attention when an e-mail sent to her by then NLRB Deputy Assistant General Counsel Joseph Baniszewski forwarding a political cartoon mocking the state of South Carolina with regard to Boeing Corporation’s decision to locate its manufacturing facility to South Carolina was made public.

During her career with NLRB, she has participated in the litigation of numerous high profile cases.

About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

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


Address Workplace Harassment During October Stop Bullying Month

October 21, 2017

This month’s annual October Stop Bullying Month observances are a great time for employers to deter sexual, racial, religious, national Origin, disability discrimination and harassment, retaliation and other illegal or otherwise counterproductive bullying in their workplaces.

Aside from obvious legal exposures that often attend from many versions of workplaces bullying, unfair or heavy handed tactics of workplace bullies often pervasively disrupt workplace productivity and operations by undermining performance, feedback, initiative, employee retention and a host of other ways.

Seize the opportunity to boost your organization’s legal and operational exposures non discrimination, anti-harassment, and other workplace bullying policies by leveraging the visibility and resources of this month’s anti-bullying activities.

Checkout StopBullying.gov for more information and free resources.

About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

RAISE Act Immigration Reforms Touted As “Giving Americans A Raise”

Health Clinic At Houston Convention Center, Other HHS Help For Hurricane Harvey Victims

IRS Updates Amounts Used To Calculate 2017 Obamacare Individual Individual Shares Responsibility Tax Penalties

DB Plan Sponsors Check Out New Bifurcated Distribution Model Amendmentsy

U.S. News Names 2017-2018 “Best” Hospitals; Patient Usefulness Starts With Metholodogy Understanding

Use Lessons Of Past Mistakes or Injustice To Build Better Future

Prepare For Turnover, Other Challenges From Rising Workforce Competition

Employers, Health Plans Should Brace For Tightened Federal Mental Health Coverage Mandate Disclosure And Enforcement

Withholding Calculator Tool Helps Workers Figure Withholding

Better Preparing U.S. Workers To Fill Your Jobs

SCOTUS Ruling Bars Many State Arbitration Agreement Restrictions

$2.4M HIPAA Settlement Message Warns Health Plans & Providers Against Sharing Medical Info With Media, Others

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

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

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


NIOSH Proposed Updated Occupational Safety Chemical Monitoring Rules

October 15, 2017

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is inviting comment on a draft chapter it proposes be published in the NIOSH Manual of Analytical Methods (NMAM) used by the occupational safety and health professionals to measure worker exposures.

NIOSH has updated the chapter used by the occupational safety and health professionals to measure worker exposures covering the application and validation of biological monitoring methods for chemical exposures to entitled ‘‘Application of Biological Monitoring Methods for Chemical Exposures in Occupational Health.”

Comments on the proposed chapter must be received by December 15, 2017.

Get details on how to review and comment on the proposed chapter at https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2017-10-16/pdf/2017-22317.pdf.

About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

RAISE Act Immigration Reforms Touted As “Giving Americans A Raise”

Health Clinic At Houston Convention Center, Other HHS Help For Hurricane Harvey Victims

IRS Updates Amounts Used To Calculate 2017 Obamacare Individual Individual Shares Responsibility Tax Penalties

DB Plan Sponsors Check Out New Bifurcated Distribution Model Amendmentsy

U.S. News Names 2017-2018 “Best” Hospitals; Patient Usefulness Starts With Metholodogy Understanding

Use Lessons Of Past Mistakes or Injustice To Build Better Future

Prepare For Turnover, Other Challenges From Rising Workforce Competition

Employers, Health Plans Should Brace For Tightened Federal Mental Health Coverage Mandate Disclosure And Enforcement

Withholding Calculator Tool Helps Workers Figure Withholding

Better Preparing U.S. Workers To Fill Your Jobs

SCOTUS Ruling Bars Many State Arbitration Agreement Restrictions

$2.4M HIPAA Settlement Message Warns Health Plans & Providers Against Sharing Medical Info With Media, Others

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

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

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


Dealing With HR, Benefits & Other Headaches From Equifax and Other Data Breach

October 6, 2017

As businesses continue to struggle to comply with the growing plethora of federal and state laws mandating data security, the identity theft and cyber security epidemic keeps growing.

As human resources and other business leaders work to guard their own data and respond to employee demands for assistance in responding to breaches of their personal financial and other data, this weeks’ announcement that embattled credit monitoring giant Equifax has been awarded the exclusive contract to provide taxpayer identification and fraud prevention services to the Internal Revenue Service has many questioning whether these investments are futile.

The IRS’ announcement comes despite the September 7, 2017 announcement by Equifax of a data breach of its records impacting sensitive personal information of millions of consumers including:

  • The names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers of an estimated 143 million U.S. consumers;
  • Credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers,
  • Certain dispute documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers,and
  • Personal information for certain U.K. and Canadian consumers.

The huge breach already was creating many headaches for many businesses and their human resources departments before the IRS announced the award of the contract to Equifax. Due to the massive size of the breach, mist companies have been required to respond to concerns of workers impacted directly by the breach as well as requests of employees and identity theft protection companies that the business consider offering cybersecurity protection for employees or customers.

Beyond helping their workforce understand and cope with the news, many businesses and employee benefit plans also face the added headache of needing to investigate and respond to concerns about their own potential responsibilities to provide breach notification or take other actions. This added headache arises due to their or their plans’ use of Equifax or vendors utilizing Equifax to run employee or vendor background checks or carry out internal employee or employee benefit plan, customer or other business activities. These involvements often give rise to duties to conduct investigations and potentially provide notification or other responses to employees, applicants, benefit plan members, contractors or customers whose data may have been impacted under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) Fiduciary Responsibility rules or various other federal and state laws and regulations, vendor contracts or their own data privacy or security policies.

When notification is recommended or required, human resources and other business leaders also have to consider if modifications should be considered to standard protocols recommended to data breach victims. Notification and registration as an identity theft victim with Equifax long has been a standard part of the federal and state government recommended protocol for recommended to consumers impacted by identity theft or other data breaches. See,e.g., IRS Taxpayer Guide To Identity Theft. Although government agencies as of yet have not changed this recommendation to remove Equifax reporting, many consumers and others view reporting to Equifax as akin to the fox watching the hen house. Consequently, employers and other parties helping consumers respond to the breach often receive push back or questions from consumers about the appropriateness and security reporting to Equifax in light of its breach.

Beyond evaluating and handling their own legal responsibilities to investigate and deal with any breach impacting their data, employers and other business leaders also likely are or should consider what claims against Equifax, other vendors and business partners involved with Equifax and their own liability insurers are available and warranted to help cover the costs and potential liabilities for the business arising from the breach and it’s fall out.

As employers and other businesses work through these issues, They should keep in mind that the fallout is likely to continue for years and be further complicated by past and subsequent breaches impacting other governmental and private organizations. Human resources, employee benefits and other businesses and their leaders can expect to experience challenges dealing with fraudulent uses of misappropriated information as well as demands that they tighten up their background check, data security and usage and other practices and documentation to mitigate risks from the compromised data.

Human resources, employee benefits and other business leaders need to secure the assistance of counsel experienced in guiding their organizations through these and other challenges.

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. Author of numerous works on privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer‘s experience includes involvement in cyber security and other data privacy and security matters for more than 20 years.

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

RAISE Act Immigration Reforms Touted As “Giving Americans A Raise”

Health Clinic At Houston Convention Center, Other HHS Help For Hurricane Harvey Victims

IRS Updates Amounts Used To Calculate 2017 Obamacare Individual Individual Shares Responsibility Tax Penalties

DB Plan Sponsors Check Out New Bifurcated Distribution Model Amendmentsy

U.S. News Names 2017-2018 “Best” Hospitals; Patient Usefulness Starts With Metholodogy Understanding

Use Lessons Of Past Mistakes or Injustice To Build Better Future

Prepare For Turnover, Other Challenges From Rising Workforce Competition

Employers, Health Plans Should Brace For Tightened Federal Mental Health Coverage Mandate Disclosure And Enforcement

Withholding Calculator Tool Helps Workers Figure Withholding

Better Preparing U.S. Workers To Fill Your Jobs

SCOTUS Ruling Bars Many State Arbitration Agreement Restrictions

$2.4M HIPAA Settlement Message Warns Health Plans & Providers Against Sharing Medical Info With Media, Others

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

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

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


Employers Should Manage Potential Unfair Labor Practice Risks From Recording, Acceptable Use, Fighting, Integrity & Other Employment Policies

September 13, 2017

Employers beware of potential National Labor Relations Act unfair labor practices risks that may arise from their adoption or enforcement of overly broad or restrictive workplace recording, acceptable use, workplace conduct, commitment-to-integrity or other policies that might be construed to prohibit or deter employees from exercising protected organization or other collective bargaining rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in light of the Fifth Circuit’s July 25, 2017  T-Mobile United States, Inc. v. Nat’l Labor Relations Bd. decision.

In T-Mobile v. NLRB, the Fifth Circuit upheld and ordered the enforcement of a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that telecommunications industry employers T-Mobile and MetroPCS (T-Mobile) engaged in unfair labor practices in violation of Section 8 of the NLRA by maintaining a policy that prohibited all photography and audio or video recording in its workplace without the employer’s prior permission (“Recording Policy”).

The Fifth Circuit’s ruling arose from an appeal filed by T-Mobile with the Fifth Circuit, challenging a NLRB ruling that the Recording Policy, a workplace conduct policy, a commitment-to-integrity policy and an Acceptable Use Policy included in the T-Mobile employee handbook violated the NLRA because “employees would reasonably construe the language to prohibit Section 7 activity and therefore constituted unfair labor practices prohibited under Section 8 of the NLRA. (Note:  T-Mobile did not appeal the NLRB’s findings that 7 other policies also violated the NLRA).

While the Fifth Circuit’s decision only upheld the unfair labor practice determination based on the Recording policy, the decision makes clear that its findings concerning each of the four employment policies subject to the appeal as well as other employment policies could come out differently in other cases based on the contextual evidence reflected in the factual record concerning the particular employment policy and the context in which it is implemented and enforced. Employers maintaining or administering similar workplace rules will want to scrutinize carefully their own policies to assess their potential for exposing the employer to unfair labor practice charges and take appropriate action to minimize these risks.

Policies Chilling Organizational Rights Protected By NLRA  § 7 Create Unfair Labor Practice Exposures

Section 7 of the NLRA  protects workers’ right “to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” 29 U.S.C. § 157.  NLRA § 8(a)(1) makes it an “unfair labor practice” for an employer to “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights” protected by NLRA § 7.

According to existing Fifth Circuit precedent, a workplace rule violates Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA if the rule either:

  • “Explicitly restricts activities protected by Section 7″ or
  • Employees would reasonably construe the language to prohibit Section 7 activity even if the rule does not explicitly prohibit or has not been enforced to prohibit or restrict Section 7 protected activity.

A careful analysis of the Fifth Circuit’s decision makes clear that its decision about each of the four challenged policies covered by T-Mobile’s appeal turned upon the Court’s careful analysis of the surrounding context under which the applicable policy was implemented and administered reflected in the factual record.  While the Fifth Circuit overruled as erroneous the NLRB’s findings that three other challenged policies violated the NLRA under this analysis, it agreed with and ordered enforced the NLRB’s ruling that T-Mobile’s Recording Policy violated the NLRA by impermissibly chilling worker’s exercise of their Section 7 rights.  Construing the Acceptable Use Policy as prohibiting all recording in the workplace without the employer’s consent, the Fifth Circuit concluded that the policy would “discourage” a reasonable employee from engaging in protected activity” because a reasonable employee would construe the Policy as prohibiting employee unionizing or other concerted activity protected by the NLRA.

Context Protected Workplace Conduct, Commitment-To-Integrity, No Arguing or Fighting & Acceptable Use Policy

Based upon its review of the contextual facts shown in the record, the Fifth Circuit overruled the NLRB’s unfair labor practice orders with respect to T-Mobile’s workplace conduct, commitment-to- integrity, no argument or fighting and Acceptable Use policies.  Employers should note, however, that the Fifth Circuit’s ruling does not give blanket enforcement to the defensibility of these policies in all circumstances.   Rather, noting that “context matters” when determining whether a work rule violates the NLRA, the court found  the policies read in the context of the workplace established common sense civility guidelines that a reasonable employee would not read as chilling or discouraging organization activities protected under Section 7.  Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit declined to enforce the NLRB’s unfair labor practice orders against T-Mobile with respect to those policies in this instance.  Employers considering the implications on this decision on their own policies should keep in mind, however, that the Fifth Circuit based its decision on the context reflected by the facts in the record.  Accordingly, there remains a risk that these or other policies could be found to violate the NLRB if adopted or administered under circumstances that could chill reasonable workers from exercising their Section 7 organizational rights.

Context Invalidated Recording Policy

The critical significance of the factual context in determining the defensibility of each of these policies under Sections 7 and 8(a) of the NLRA is driven home by the Fifth Circuit’s explanation in the opinion of its decision to enforce the NLRB’s order with respect to the following Recording Policy as well as its explanation of its distinguishability from the Acceptable Use Policy that the Fifth Court found permitted.:

To prevent harassment, maintain individual privacy, encourage open communication, and protect confidential information employees are prohibited from recording people or confidential information using cameras, camera phones/devices, or recording devices (audio or video) in the workplace. Apart from customer calls that are recorded for quality purposes, employees may not tape or otherwise make sound recordings of work-related or workplace discussions. Exceptions may be granted when participating in an authorized [T-Mobile] activity or with permission from an employee’s Manager, HR Business Partner, or the Legal Department. If an exception is granted, employees may not take a picture, audiotape, or videotape others in the workplace without the prior notification of all participants.

In determining this Recording Policy impermissibly deterred employees from exercising their Section 7 rights in violation of the NLRA, the Fifth Circuit’s opinion makes clear that “the broad reach of the recording ban” strongly influenced this determination, stating:

The ban, by its plain language, encompasses any and all photography or recording on corporate premises at any time without permission from a supervisor. This ban is, by its own terms alone, stated so broadly that a reasonable employee, generally aware of employee rights, would interpret it to discourage protected concerted activity, such as even an off-duty employee  photographing a wage schedule posted on a corporate bulletin board. …

Unlike the “workplace conduct” policy and the “commitment-to-integrity” policy, the recording policy forbids certain forms of clearly protected activity. We have earlier held that held those two policies would not be interpreted by a reasonable T-Mobile employee as forbidding protected activity. By contrast, a reasonable T-Mobile employee, aware of his legal rights, would read the language of the recording policy as plainly forbidding a means of engaging in protected activity.

In the face of this possibility, the Court similarly considered the factual record before rejecting T-Mobile’s argument that the Policy was defensible to promote its legitimate business interests “[t]o prevent harassment, maintain individual privacy, encourage open communication, and protect confidential information” on the grounds that “merely reciting such justifications does not alter the fact that the operative language of the rule on its face prohibits protected Section 7 activity, including Section 7 activity wholly unrelated to those stated interests.”

In reaching this determination, the Fifth Circuit distinguished these findings from its findings with regard to the Acceptable Use policy.  In explaining its finding the Acceptable Use Policy valid, the Fifth Circuit’s opinion explains that the NLRB’s decision concerning the Acceptable Use Policy disregarded the context in which the acceptable use policy is to be read and understood, stating:

The “Scope” section of the acceptable use policy explicitly states that the policy “applies to all non-public T-Mobile information.” Thus the policy only prohibits employees from sharing non-public information. 

Where a company policy prohibits the disclosure of non-public information, courts presume that a reasonable employee would not construe the policy to prohibit the disclosure of information that may be properly used in protected activity, such as wage and benefit information, so long as the policy does not explicitly state that it encompasses such information.  … Here… the policy does not define “non-public T-Mobile information” in a way that would lead a reasonable worker to believe that it includes protected wage and benefit information.  Instead, the policy only applies to the sort of proprietary business information that an employer may properly restrict its employees from sharing outside of the company. …

Thus the NLRB’s finding that a reasonable worker would construe the acceptable use policy to discourage protected activity is unreasonable, and we deny enforcement as to that part of its order.

Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit upheld enforcement of the NLRB’s order striking down the Recording Policy but denied enforcement and overruled the NLRB’s unfair labor practice finding with regard to the other three policies.

Contextual Basis of Decision Requires Employer Tread Carefully, Manage Risks

While the Fifth Circuit only enforced the NLRB’s unfair labor practice finding with respect to T-Mobile’s Recording Policy in T-Mobile,  the opinion makes clear that similar or identical policies could be treated differently depending upon whether the contextual evidence reflects that the policy could be reasonably construed by employees as prohibiting or restricting conduct protected by Section 7 of the NLRA.  Employers maintaining or administering similar workplace rules will want to scrutinize carefully their own policies to assess their potential for exposing the employer to unfair labor practice charges and take appropriate action to minimize these risks.

About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

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


Comment By 7/13 On OSHA Proposed Electronic Reporting Rule Delay To 12/1/17 

July 7, 2017

July 13 is the deadline to comment on a  Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed rule that would delay four months the compliance date of its electronic reporting rule, formally called “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses.” The compliance date would be extended from July 1, 2017, to Dec. 1, 2017 to allow OSHA to further review and consider its final rule the Obama Administration previously published on May 12, 2016. The rule requires certain employers to submit their employee injury and illness logs to OSHA electronically.

Employers and others that support the rule should act promptly to express their support in the form of a comment by the July 13 deadline.

About The Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for work, teachings and publications.
Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, safety and occupational injury, 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, occupational health and safety, promotion, discipline, compliance, trade secret and confidentiality, noncompetition, privacy and data security, daily performance and operations management, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

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

 


Stamer To Moderate, Talk Medical CyberSecurity At 5/19 ISSA-LA IT Security Meedical Privacy Forum

May 12, 2017

Solutions Law Press, Inc. editor and attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will speak and moderate two key panel programs on health care privacy and data security scheduled at the Healthcare Privacy & Security Form hosted on May 19, 2017 by the Information Security Systems Association of Los Angeles County (ISSA-LA) as a component of its 9th Annual ISSA-LA Information Security Summit. The presentations of Ms. Stamer and others at the conference are particularly timely coming on the heels of the May 12 Cyber alerts to U.S. health industry and other businesses about the urgent need to defend against the spread of an epidemic international malware threat targeting U.S. healthcare and other businesses.  See Urgent WannaCry Ransomware Cyber Warning IssuedAlert: Guard Health E-Mail, Other IT Against WannaCry Malware Attack.

The Medical Privacy & Security Summit is part of the 9th Annual ISSA-LA Information Security Summit scheduled for May 18-19, 2017 at the Universal City Hilton in Los Angeles.  Recognized as a premier information security education and networking event, the Summit is expected to bring together 1000 or more health industry and other IT and InfoSec executives, leaders, analysts, and practitioners to learn from the experts, exchange ideas with their peers, and enjoy conversations with the community.

The Healthcare Privacy & Security Forum offered for the 5th year as a component of the annual Summit on May 19 specifically focuses on leading challenges, issues and opportunities confronted by health industry privacy and security professionals and their organizations.  Ms. Stamer has served on the steering committee, moderator and popular faculty member for the 2017 Forum for the 5th consecutive year.  During the 2017 Forum, she will moderate and speak on two panels:

  • “Finding & Negotiating The Mine Fields: CISO, CIO & Privacy Officer’s Playbook for Promoting Compliance & Security Without Getting Fired,” a luncheon interactive panel discussion with the audience exploring the challenging mission CISOs, CIOs and Privacy Officers face to ensure their healthcare, financial and other critical information, data and systems continue to support the patient care and operating functions of their organizations, while at the same time defending these systems, operations and their sensitive, but mission critical data against malicious or innocent misappropriation, use, access or destruction; and
  • The closing panel on “What Initiatives Are on the Horizon in Healthcare, and How Can We Secure Them?”, which will explore likely future emerging privacy and security threats and technologies, regulatory challenges and enforcement, and other trends that Privacy and Security professionals are likely to face and tips and strategies for preparing to leverage these likely new opportunities and manage new challenges.

Register or get the full schedule of programs and other events scheduled at the Healthcare Privacy & Security Forum specifically along with the overall Information Security Summit here.

About Ms. Stamer

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent (Top 1%) rated practicing attorney and management consultant, health industry public policy advocate, widely published author and lecturer, recognized for her nearly 30 years’ of work on health industry and other privacy and data security and other health care, health benefit, health policy and regulatory affairs and other health industry legal and operational as a LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® “LEGAL LEADER™ and “Top Rated Lawyer,” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; a D Magazine “Best Lawyers In Dallas” in the fields of “Health Care,” “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits” and “Business and Commercial Law,” a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation, the Texas Bar Foundation and the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel.

Scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years, Ms. Stamer is well-known for her extensive work and leadership throughout her career on HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, IRC and other tax, Social Security, GLB, trade secret, physician and other medical confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security and data breach and other information privacy and data security rules and concerns.  Ms. Stamer has worked extensively throughout her career with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers and other plan sponsors, banks, insurers and other financial institutions, and others on trade secret confidentiality, privacy, data security and other risk management and compliance including design, establishment, documentation, implementation, audit and enforcement of policies, procedures, systems and safeguards, drafting and negotiation of business associate, chain of custody, confidentiality, and other contracting; risk assessments, audits and other risk prevention and mitigation; investigation, reporting, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected breaches, violations or other incidents; and defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR, FTC, state attorneys’ general and other federal or state agencies, other business partners, patients and others; reporting known or suspected violations; commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance and other regulatory affairs, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns.

Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, employers, payroll, staffing, recruitment, insurance and financial services, health and other technology and other vendors, and others.

Author of a multitude of highly-regarded works and training programs on HIPAA and other data security, privacy and use published by BNA, the ABA and other premier legal industry publishers In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also speaks extensively and conducts training on health care and other privacy and data security and many other matters Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

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

For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly by e-mail here or by telephone at (469) 767-8872. ©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Limited, non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved.


$2.4M HIPAA Settlement Message Warns Health Plans & Providers Against Sharing Medical Info With Media, Others

May 10, 2017

Healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses and their business associates (Covered Entities) can’t disclose the name or other protected health care information about a patient in press releases or other announcements without prior authorization from the patient. That’s the clear lesson Covered Entities should learn from the $2.4 million payment to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that the largest not-for-profit health system in Southeast Texas, Memorial Hermann Health System (MHHS) is paying to settle charges it violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule by issuing a press release with the name and other protected health information (PHI) about a patient without the patient’s prior HIPAA-compliant authorization under a Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (Resolution Agreement) announced May 10, 2017 by HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

The Resolution Agreement resolves OCR charges the operator of 13 hospitals, eight Cancer Centers, three Heart & Vascular Institutes, and 27 sports medicine and rehabilitation centers violated the Privacy Rule that resulted from an OCR compliance review of MHHS triggered by multiple media reports suggesting that MHHS improperly disclosed the name and other details about a patient arrested and charged with presenting an allegedly fraudulent identification card to office staff at an MHHS’s clinic after MHHS clinic staff alerted law enforcement of suspicions the patient was presenting false identification to the clinic. According to OCR, after law enforcement investigated and arrested the patient, MHHS published a press release concerning the incident in which MHHS senior management approved the impermissible disclosure of the patient’s PHI by adding the patient’s name in the title of the press release without securing prior authorization of the patient.

While OCR concluded the report to law enforcement allowable under the Privacy Rule, OCR found MHHS violated the Privacy Rule by issuing the press release disclosing the patient’s name and other PHI without authorization from the patient and also by failing to timely document the sanctioning of its workforce members for impermissibly disclosing the patient’s information.

To resolve and avoid the potential Civil Monetary Penalties that HIPAA could authorize OCR to impose for the alleged Privacy Rule violation, MHHS agrees in the Resolution Agreement to pay OCR a $2.4 million monetary settlement and implement a corrective action plan that obligates MHHS to update and train its workforce on its policies and procedures on safeguarding PHI from impermissible uses and disclosures including specific instructions and procedures to:

  • Address (a) Uses and disclosures for which an authorization is required, including to the media, to public officials, and on the internet; (b) Disclosures for law enforcement purposes; and (c) Uses and disclosures for health oversight activities;
  • Identify MHHS personnel or representatives whom workforce members, agents, or business associates may contact in the event of any inquiry or concern regarding compliance with HIPAA in relation to these activities;
  • Internal reporting procedures requiring all workforce members to report to the designated person or office at the earliest possible time any potential violations of the Privacy, Security or Breach Notification Rules or of MHHS’ privacy and security policies and procedures and MHHS promptly to investigate and address all received reports in a timely manner; and
  • Application and documentation of appropriate sanctions (which may include retraining or other instructive corrective action, depending on the circumstances) against members of MHHS’ workforce, including senior level management, who fail to comply with the Privacy, Security or Breach Notification Rules or MHHS’ privacy and security policies and procedures, including a description of the sanctions; a timeframe in which MHHS will apply and document sanctions for violations of the HIPAA Rules or of MHHS’ privacy, security or breach policies or procedures; the manner in which MHHS will document the sanctions; and where MHHS will store or retain such documentation (e.g., personnel file).

The corrective action plan in the Resolution Agreement also requires all MHHS facilities to attest to their understanding of permissible uses and disclosures of PHI, including disclosures to the media and others.

Covered entities should keep in mind the MHHS Resolution Agreement is the latest in a series of OCR enforcement actions and resolution agreements highlighting the need for Covered Entities to adopt and use appropriate policies and procedures to prevent wrongful disclosures of PHI to the media or public. For instance, in June, 2013, OCR required Shasta Regional Medical Center (SRMC) to pay a $275,000 settlement payment and implement a comprehensive corrective action plan to resolve OCR charges stemming from SRMC’s disclosure of PHI about a patient to members of the media and its workforce in an effort to respond to accusations the patient made that SRMC engaged in fraud and other misconduct. See HIPAA Sanctions Triggered From Covered Entity Statements To Media, Workforce.  In contrast, the $2.2 million resolution agreement that OCR required New York Presbyterian Hospital for improperly allowing a film crew to film hospital patients in violation of HIPAA was almost 10 times greater than the SRMC penalty and was accompanied by OCR’s publication OCR of specific additional guidance warning Covered Entities against improper disclosures to the media. See $2 Million+ HIPAA Settlement, FAQ Warn Providers Protect PHI From Media, Other Recording Or Use.

Following on the heels of this previous guidance and prior enforcement actions warning Covered Entities against wrongful disclosure to the media, the MHHS Resolution Agreement sends a strong message to Covered Entities that they should expect little sympathy if their organizations improperly share PHI with the media. OCR’s announcement of the MHHS Resolution Agreement, for instance quotes OCR Director Roger Severino with stating that “Senior management should have known that disclosing a patient’s name on the title of a press release was a clear HIPAA Privacy violation that would induce a swift OCR response.” The announcement goes on to quote Director Severino further as stating, “This case reminds us that organizations can readily cooperate with law enforcement without violating HIPAA, but that they must nevertheless continue to protect patient privacy when making statements to the public and elsewhere.”

Conduct Entity-Wide Risk Assessment & Review & Tighten Media Relations Policies, Processes & Training ASAP

Covered entities should heed the warning by conducting a risk assessment of their organization’s susceptibility to potential improper disclosures to media or others and reviewing and implementing necessary written policies, procedures and training to prevent the improper disclosure of patient PHI to media or others unless the Covered Entity either secures prior HIPAA-compliant authorization from the patient or can prove the disclosure falls squarely under an exception to the Privacy Rule’s prohibition against disclosure of PHI without authorization except as allowed by the Privacy Rule.

Taking these and other needed steps to evaluate, and strengthen and enforce as needed, risk assessments, policies, procedures, and training to prevent wrongful use, access or disclosure of PHI to the media or others is particularly critical in light of the ongoing tightening of expectations, and rising enforcement and sanctions for HIPAA violations since Congress amended HIPAA in 2009. See OCR Audit Program Kickoff Further Heats HIPAA Privacy RisksHIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On Website

Based on experiences reported in the MHHS and other similar resolution agreements, Covered Entities also generally will want to ensure that their policies, procedures and training extend to all potential sources of communications that could involve patient information and make clear that the Privacy Rule restrictions must be followed even if the circumstances involve allegations of misconduct, special performance by healthcare providers or others that it would benefit the organization or certain individuals to have known to the public, or other circumstances likely to be of interest to the media or other parties.

As part of this process, covered entities should ensure they look outside the four corners of their Privacy Policies to ensure that appropriate training and clarification is provided to address media, practice transition, workforce communication and other policies and practices that may be covered by pre-existing or other policies of other departments or operational elements not typically under the direct oversight and management of the Privacy Officer such as media relations.  Media relations, physician and patients affairs, outside legal counsel, media relations, marketing and other internal and external departments and consultants dealing with the media, the public or other inquiries or disputes should carefully include and coordinate with the privacy officer both to ensure appropriate policies and procedures are followed and proper documentation created and retained to show authorization, account, or meet other requirements.

In conducting this analysis and risk assessment, it will be important that Covered Entities include, but also look beyond the four corners of their Privacy Policies to ensure that their review and risk assessment identifies and assesses and addresses compliance risks on an entity wide basis. This entity-wide assessment should include both communications and requests for information normally addressed to the Privacy Officer as well as requests and communications that could arise in the course of media or other public relations, practice transition, workforce communication and other operations not typically under the direct oversight and management of the Privacy Officer.  For this reason, Covered Entities also generally will not only to adopt and implement specific policies, processes and training in these other departments to prohibit and prevent inappropriate disclosures of PHI in the course of those departments operations. It also may be advisable to pre-established processes for reviewing media or other communications for potential PHI content and require prior review of any proposed public relations and other internal or external communications containing patient PHI or other information by the privacy officer, legal counsel or another suitably qualified party.

Because of the high risk that the preparation or review of media or other public communications reports will involve the use and disclosure of PHI, Covered Entities also generally should verify that all outside media or public relations, legal, or other outside service providers participating in the investigation, response or preparation or review of communications to the media or others both are covered by signed business associate agreements that fulfill the Privacy Rule and other requirements of HIPAA as well as possess detailed knowledge and understanding of the Privacy and Security Rules suitable to participate in and help safeguard the Covered Entity against violations of these and other Privacy Rules.  See e.g., Latest HIPAA Resolution Agreement Drives Home Importance Of Maintaining Current, Signed Business Associate Agreements.

About The Author

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

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

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

Author of leading works on HIPAA and other privacy and data security works and the scribe leading the American Bar Association Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, her experience includes extensive compliance, risk management and data breach and other crisis event investigation, response and remediation under HIPAA and other data security, privacy and breach laws.  Heavily involved in health care and health information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations innovation and a Scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years who has authored numerous highly regarded works and training programs on trade secret, HIPAA and other medical, consumer, insurance, tax, and other  privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues including meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security and data breach and other information privacy and data security rules and many other concerns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

 


Latest $2.5M HIPAA Settlement Warning To Health Plans, Providers: Get HIPAA Compliant

April 26, 2017

A new Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) CardioNet Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan  (Resolution Agreement) settling OCR charges of violations of the Privacy and Security Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act against remote cardiac monitoring provider CardioNet provides important lessons for all health plans, health insurers, telemedicine and other healthcare providers, healthcare clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates about steps to take to reduce their risk of getting hit with big OCR penalty like the $2.5 million settlement payment CardioNet must pay under the Resolution Agreement.

OCR announced the first OCR HIPAA settlement involving a wireless health services provider Monday, April 24.  Under the Resolution Agreement, CardioNet agrees to pay OCR $2.5 million and to implement a corrective action plan to settle potential OCR charges it violated the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules based on the impermissible disclosure of unsecured electronic protected health information (ePHI).

CardioNet Charges & Settlement

As has become increasingly common in recent years, the CardioNet settlement arose from concerns initially brought to OCR’s attention in connection with a HIPAA breach notification report.  On January 10, 2012, OCR received notification from the provider of remote mobile monitoring of and rapid response to patients at risk for cardiac arrhythmias that a workforce member’s laptop with the ePHI of 1,391 individuals was stolen from a parked vehicle outside of the employee’s home. CardioNet subsequently notified OCR of a second breach of ePHI 2,219 individuals, respectively.

Likewise, the HIPAA breaches uncovered by OCR in the course of investigating these CardioNet breaches occur in the operations of many other covered entities.  According to the OCR’s investigation in response to these breach reports revealed a series of continuing compliance concerns, including:

  • CardioNet failed to conduct an accurate and thorough risk analysis to assess the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI and failed to plan for and implement security measures sufficient to reduce those risks and vulnerabilities;
  • CardioNet’s policies and procedures implementing the standards of the HIPAA Security Rule were in draft form and had not been implemented;
  • CardioNet was unable to produce any final policies or procedures regarding the implementation of safeguards for ePHI, including those for mobile devices;
  • CardioNet failed to implement policies and procedures that govern the receipt and removal of hardware and electronic media that contain electronic protected health information into and out of its facilities, the encryption of such media, and the movement of these items within its facilities until March 2015; and
  • CardioNet failed to safeguard against the impermissible disclosure of protected health information by its employees, thereby permitting access to that information by an unauthorized individual, and failed to take sufficient steps to immediately correct the disclosure.

To resolve these OCR charges, CardioNet agrees in the Resolution Agreement to pay $2.5 million to OCR and implement a corrective action plan.  Among other things, the corrective action plan requires CardioNet to complete the following actions to the satisfaction of OCR:

  • Prepare a current, comprehensive and thorough Risk Analysis of security risks and vulnerabilities that incorporates its current facility or facilities and the electronic equipment, data systems, and applications controlled, currently administered or owned by CardioNet, that contain, store, transmit, or receive electronic protected health information (“ePHI”) and update that Risk Analysis annually or more frequently, if appropriate in response to environmental or operational changes affecting the security of ePHI.
  • Assess whether its existing security measures are sufficient to protect its ePHI and revise its Risk Management Plan, Policies and Procedures, and training materials and implement additional security measures, as needed.
  • Develop and implement an organization-wide Risk Management Plan to address and mitigate any security risks and vulnerabilities found in the Risk Analysis as required by the Risk Management Plan.
  • Review and, to the extent necessary, revise, its current Security Rule Policies and Procedures (“Policies and Procedures”) based on the findings of the Risk Analysis and the implementation of the Risk Management Plan to comply with the HIPAA Security Rule.
  • Provide certification to OCR that all laptops, flashdrives, SD cards, and other portable media devices are encrypted, together with a description of the encryption methods used (“Certification”).
  • Review, revise its HIPAA Security training to include a focus on security, encryption, and handling of mobile devices and out-of-office transmissions and other policies and practices require to address the issues identified in the Risk Assessment and otherwise comply with the Risk Management Plan and HIPAA train its workforce on these policies and practices.
  • Investigate all potential violations of its HIPAA policies and procedures and notify OCR in writing within 30 days of any violation.
  • Submit annual reports to OCR, which must be signed by an owner or officer of CardioNet attesting that he or she has reviewed the annual report, has made a reasonable inquiry regarding its content and believes that, upon such inquiry, the information is accurate and truthful.
  • Maintain for inspection and copying, and provide to OCR, upon request, all documents and records relating to compliance with the corrective action plan for six years.

Implications For Covered Entities & Business Associates

The latest in a rapidly-growing list of high dollar HIPAA enforcement actions by OCR, the CardioNet Resolution Agreement contains numerous lessons for other Covered entities and their business associates about the importance of appropriate HIPAA privacy and security compliance, including but not limited to the following:

  • Like many previous resolution agreements announced by OCR, the Resolution Agreement reiterates the responsibility of covered entities and business associates to properly secure their ePHI and that as part of this process, OCR expects all laptop computers and other mobile devices containing or with access to ePHI be properly encrypted and secured.
  • It also reminds covered entities and their business associates to be prepared for, and expect an audit from OCR when OCR receives a report that their organization experienced a large breach of unsecured ePHI.
  • The Resolution Agreement’s highlighting of the draft status of CardioNet’s privacy and security policies also reflects OCR expects covered entities  to actually final policies, procedures and training in place for maintaining compliance with HIPAA.
  • The discussion and requirements in the Corrective Action Plan relating to requirements to conduct comprehensive risk assessments at least annually and in response to other events, and to update policies and procedures in response to findings of these risk assessments also drives home the importance of conducting timely, documented risk analyses of the security of their ePHI, taking prompt action to address known risks and periodically updating the risk assessment and the associated privacy and security policies and procedures in response to the findings of the risk assessment and other changing events.
  • The requirement in the Resolution Agreement of leadership attestation and certification on the required annual report reflects OCR’s expectation that leadership within covered entities and business associates will make HIPAA compliance a priority and will take appropriate action to oversee compliance.
  • Finally, the $2.5 million settlement payment required by the Resolution Agreement and its implementation against CardioNet makes clear that OCR remains serious about HIPAA enforcement.

Clearly, covered entities, business associates and their management should take steps to promptly review the adequacy of their organizations’ HIPAA compliance policies, practices and documentation in light of the deficiencies listed in the CardioNet and other HIPAA OCR settlements and civil monetary penalty assessments.  See e.g., Latest HIPAA Resolution Agreement Drives Home Importance Of Maintaining Current, Signed Business Associate Agreements$400K HIPAA Penalty Teaches Risk Assessment Importance$3.2 Children’s HIPAA CMP Teaches Key Lessons.

Of course, covered entities and business associates need to keep in mind that acts, omissions and events that create HIPAA liability risks also carry many other potential legal and business risks.  For instance, since PHI records and data involved in such breaches usually incorporates Social Security Numbers, credit card or other debt or payment records or other personal consumer information, and other legally sensitive data, covered entities and business associates generally also may face investigation, notification and other responsibilities and liabilities under confidentiality, privacy or data security rules of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA), the Internal Revenue Code, the Social Security Act, state identity theft, data security, medical confidentiality, privacy and ethics, insurance, consumer privacy, common law or other state privacy claims and a host of other federal or state laws.  Depending on the nature of the covered entity or its business associates, the breach or other privacy event also may trigger fiduciary liability exposures for health plan fiduciaries in the case of a health plan, professional ethics or licensing investigations or actions against health care providers, insurance companies, administrative service providers or brokers, shareholder or other investor actions, employment or vendor termination or disputes and a host of other indirect legal consequences.

Beyond, and regardless of if, a covered entity or business ultimately succeeds in defending its  actions against a charge of violating any of these or other standards, however, covered entities, business associates and their leaders should keep in mind that the most material and often most intractable consequences of a HIPAA or other data or other privacy breach report or public accusation, investigation, admission also typically are the most inevitable:

  • The intangible, but critical loss of trust and reputation covered entities and business associates inevitably incur among their patients, participants, business partners, investors and the community; and
  • The substantial financial expenses and administrative and operational disruptions of investigating, defending the actions of the organization and implementation of post-event corrective actions following a data or other privacy breach, audit, investigation, or charge.

In light of these risks, covered entities business associates and their management should use the experiences of CardioNet and other covered entities or business associates caught violating HIPAA or other privacy and security standards to reduce their HIPAA and other privacy and data security exposures.   Management of covered entities and their business associates should take steps to ensure that their organizations policies, practices and procedures currently are up-to-date, appropriately administered and monitored, and properly documented.  Management should ensure that their organizations carefully evaluate and strengthen as necessary their current HIPAA risk assessments, policies, practices, record keeping and retention and training in light of these and other reports as they are announced in a well-documented manner.  The focus of these activities should be both to maintain compliance and position their organizations efficiently and effectively to respond to and defend their actions against a data breach, investigation, audit or accusation of a HIPAA or other privacy or security rule violation with a minimum of liability, cost and reputational and operational damages.

As the conduct of these activities generally will involve the collection and analysis of legally sensitive matters, most covered entities and business associates will want to involve legal counsel experienced with these matters and utilize appropriate procedures to be able to use and assert attorney-client privilege and other evidentiary privileges to mitigate risks associated with these processes.  To help plan for and mitigate foreseeable expenses of investigating, responding to or mitigating a known, suspected or asserted breech or other privacy event, most covered entities and business associates also will want to consider the advisability of tightening privacy and data security standards, notification, cooperation and indemnification protections in contracts between covered entities and business associates, acquiring or expanding data breach or other liability coverage, or other options for mitigating the financial costs of responding to a breach notification, investigation or enforcement action.

About The Author

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

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

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

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

Author of leading works on HIPAA and other privacy and data security works and the scribe leading the American Bar Association Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, her experience includes extensive compliance, risk management and data breach and other crisis event investigation, response and remediation under HIPAA and other data security, privacy and breach laws.  Heavily involved in health care and health information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations innovation and a Scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years who has authored numerous highly regarded works and training programs on HIPAA and other data security, privacy and use, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues including meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security and data breach and other information privacy and data security rules and many other concerns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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


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

April 24, 2017

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

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

The HIPAA Business Associate Agreement Requirements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCDH Sanctions For Violation Of HIPAA Business Associate Agreement Rules

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

Based on the resulting investigation,  OCR concluded:

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

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

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

Implications For Covered Entities & Business Associates

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

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

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

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

About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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


When Trust Matters, Preparations Critical

March 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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


IRS Changing Employee Plans & Exempt Organization Audit Procedures

November 21, 2016

Employee benefit plans and tax-exempt organizations facing Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audits or investigations after April, 2016, their leaders and advisors should prepare for some changes in the practices IRS agents will use to issue and enforce document requests (IDRs) after March 31.

The IRS  Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division (TEGE) just issued updated internal guidance (Guidance) governing the procedures its agents will use to gather information for employee benefit plan and exempt organization examinations including information requests made in connection with:

  • Employee Benefit Form 5500 Examination Procedures
  • Exempt Organizations Pre-Audit Procedures
  • On-Site Examinations
  • Tax Exempt Bonds Examinations
  • Indian Tribal Government Examinations and
  • Federal, State and Local Governments (FSLG) Examinations

The new Guidance follows other recent announcements of changes of IRS employee plan or exempt organization procedures such as recently announced changes in IRS employee plan correction procedures.  See, e.g., IRS Qualified Plan Correction Procedures Changing 1/1/17.

The new procedures defined in the Guidance apply more broadly and take effect April 1, 2017.  The Guidance also requires that TEGE update the following IRMs to specifically reflect the new procedures within the next two years:

  • IRM 4.71.1, Overview of Form 5500 Examination Procedures;
  • IRM 4.75.10, Exempt Organizations Pre-Audit Procedures;
  • IRM 4.75.11, On-Site Examination Guidelines;
  • IRM 4.81.5, Tax Exempt Bonds Examination Program Procedures – Conducting the Examination;
  • IRM 4.86.5, Conducting Indian Tribal Government Examinations; and
  • IRM 4.90.9, Federal, State and Local Governments (FSLG) – Procedures, Workpapers and Report Writing.

Among other things, the new Guidance will require “active involvement” by managers of IRS examiners’ early in the process.  The Guidance also calls for:

  • Taxpayers to be involved in the IDR process.
  • Examiners to discuss the issue being examined and the information needed with the taxpayer prior to issuing an IDR.
  • Examiners to ensure that the IDR clearly states the issue and the relevant information they are requesting.
  • If the taxpayer does not timely provide the information requested in the IDR by the agreed upon date, including extensions, examiners to issue a delinquency notice.
  • If the taxpayer fails to respond to the delinquency notice or provides an incomplete response, for the examiner to issue a pre-summons notice to advise the taxpayer that the IRS will issue a summons unless the missing items are fully provided.
  • For a summons to be issued if the taxpayer fails to provide a complete response to the pre-summons letter by its response due date.

According to TEGE the new procedures set forth in the Guidance are designed to “ensure” that IRS Counsel is prepared to enforce IDRs through the issuance of a summons when necessary while also reinforcing the IRS’ commitment to the respect of taxpayer rights under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.  TEGE says the updated procedures established in the Guidance will promote these goals by:

  • Providing for open and meaningful communication between the IRS and taxpayers;
  • Reducing taxpayer burdens
  • Providing for consistent treatment of taxpayers;
  • Allowing the IRS to secure more complete and timely responses to IDRs;
  • Providing consistent timelines for IRS agents to review IDR responses; and
  • Promoting timely issue resolution.

While it remains to be seen exactly how well the new procedures will promote these goals in operation, leaders, sponsors, administrators and tax advisors to employee benefit plans and exempt organizations tagged for audits after the Guidelines take effect will want to ensure that they review and fully understand the new procedures as soon as possible after receiving notice of the audit.

A clear understanding of the procedures can help the entities and their representatives to take advantage of all available options for mitigating exposures and liability from the audit as well as to avoid unfortunate missteps that could result in forfeiture of otherwise available tax-related rights and options or otherwise increase the tax and other associated risks and liabilities of the entities or others associated with them arising from the audit.

Along with responding to these tax-related risks, leaders and advisors of employee benefit plan and exempt organizations also need to keep in mind the often substantial non-tax related risks that may arise concurrently or evolve from a TEGE or other tax-related audit or investigation. The often substantial tax and non-tax exposures typically makes it desirable if not necessary to involve experienced legal counsel in the process as soon as possible.

To help respond to the audit and manage its tax and non-tax related risks and, leaders responsible for these entities generally not only will want to seek legal advice within the scope of attorney-client privilege from legal counsel immediately after receiving an IDR or other notice of an audit or investigation, as well as consider periodically consulting experienced legal counsel for assistance in conducting pre-audit assessment of compliance and other compliance and risk management planning.

Early involvement of legal counsel generally is necessary both to understand and manage both the tax and non-tax exposures associated with the audit, as well as to preserve and utilize the potential benefits of attorney-client privilege and other evidentiary privileges that could help to mitigate both the tax and non-tax related risks.  While federal tax rules afford some evidentiary privileges to certain accounting professionals when providing tax representation or advice, the protective scope of such privileges generally are more limited than attorney-client privilege and work product evidentiary privileges and typically do not apply to non-tax matters. As a result, most entities and their leaders will want to consider involvement of legal counsel to maximize privilege protections and non-tax related exposures even if the parties plan for a qualified tax professional or other consultant to play a significant role in assisting them to prepare for and respond to the audit.

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 and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for work, teachings and publications.

Ms. Stamer works with health industry and other 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.

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

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

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

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

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein

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