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.


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

March 16, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For More Information

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


Congress Expected To Pass COVID-19 Relief Bill With Paid Leave Mandates & Expanded Unemployment Funding This Week

March 15, 2020

U.S. employers need to prepare for their likely need to deal with paid family medical leave, paid sick leave, unemployment insurance and other employer impacting provisions of the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” (H.R. 6201) passed by the House of Representatives last week and expected to pass the Senate in some form this week as part of Congressional efforts to mitigate impacts of disruptions of the COVID-19 containment disruptions. Since the paid leave mandates would take effect 15 days from enactment, employers will want to prepare to comply and take into account the likely mandates when planning and communicating with workers and dealing with other financial and operational disruptions from the crisis.Solutions Law Press, INC. is planning to host a briefing for employers on the requirements after passed by Congress. For an invitation, register at http://www.solutiinslawpress.com or email here.

Paid Family Medical Leave

As passed by the House, the paid leave requirements currently only apply to employers with fewer than 500 employees and are accompanied by tax credit provisions intended to help covered businesses pay the cost of compliance. The bill’s paid leave requirements add special job-protected paid leave to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for employees who have been working for at least 30 calendar days. In particular, covered employees would be entitled to 12 weeks of paid family leave, of which the first 14 days may be unpaid, to respond to quarantine requirements or recommendations, to care for family members who are responding to quarantine requirements or recommendations, and to care for a child whose school has been closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (“COVID Leave”). The bill also provides employees may. but employers can’t require employees to use accrued personal or sick leave during the first 14 days. After the initial 14 days, covered employers must compensate employees in an amount that is not less than two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay. Because the leave is FMLA covered, employers should expect to be required to continue health coverage during the leave at usual employee contribution rates and to reinstate the employee to their position with all benefits and employment rights and seniority upon timely return. The provisions will take effect 15 days after the date of enactment and expire on December 31, 2020.

Paid Sick Leave

Employers with fewer than 500 employees will be required to provide full-time employees 2 weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave for COVID-19 specific circumstances related to COVID-19 such as self-isolating, doctors’ visits or the like. Part-time employees would be entitled to the number of hours of paid sick time equal to the average number of hours worked over a 2-week period.

Employers must pay employees for any paid sick time taken at their regular rates of pay and will be required to post a notice informing employees of their rights to leave.

Since the bill expressly does not, as currently drafted, the bill expressly provides that it does not preempt existing state or local paid sick leave entitlements, employers also could face additional requirements under state or local law.

Like the COVID leave, these provisions also will go into effect 15 days after the date of enactment and expire on December 31, 2020.

Unemployment Insurance

The bill also includes $1 billion in emergency unemployment insurance (UI) relief to the states: $500 million for costs associated with increased administration of each state’s unemployment insurance (“UI”) program and places $500 million in reserve to help states with a 10 percent increase in unemployment. To receive a portion of this grant money, states mustveclerience the required increase in unemployment and temporarily ease certain UI eligibility requirements, such as waiting periods and work search requirements.

Prospects For Enactment

Although some Senators raised questions about certain provisions of the bill, it is expected to pass in some form this week as Congress and the Administration rush to provide relief for workers and business impacted by the economic effects of the COVID-18 pandemic containment efforts. Accordingly, covered employers should expect Congress to pass and President Trump to sign the bill this week. Meanwhile all employers also should brace for added legislation and regulation as well as continued operational and financial disruption as the COVID-19 virus impacts continue to roll out across the U.S. and around the World.

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 Group, HR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. As a significant part of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively domestically and internationally with business, government and community leaders to prepare for and deal with pandemic and other health and safety, financial, workforce and other organizational crisis, change and workforce, employee benefit, health care and other operations planning, preparedness and response for more than 30 years. As a part of this work, she regularly advises businesses and government leaders on an an demand and ongoing basis about preparation of workforce, health care and other business and government policies and practices to deal with management in a wide range of contexts ranging from day to day operations, through times of change and in response to operational, health care, natural disaster, economic and other crisis and change.

Author of “Privacy and the Pandemic Workshop” for the Association of State and Territorial Health Plans, “How to Conduct A Reduction In Force,” and a multitude of other highly regarded publications and presentations on workforce, compliance, health care and health benefits, pandemic and other health crisis, workers’ compensation and occupational disease, business disaster and distress and many other topics, Ms. Stamer has worked with employers, insurers, health industry organizations and providers and domestic and international community and government 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 privaitization project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on crisis preparedness and response, workforce, health care and other reform, 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.

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 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 http://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

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 considering the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at the 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 constantly and often rapidly evolves, subsequent developments that could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion are likely. The author and Solutions Law Press, Inc. disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify anyone of any fact or law specific nuance, change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

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

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


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

May 20, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

 

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

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


Join Project COPE: Help Develop Real Tools To Meaningfully Empower Patients & Improve Health Care Access, Affordability & Quality

May 15, 2010

With all the recent debate about health care policy reforms, it is important to keep the focus on the practical needs of patients and their families in dealing with an illness or disability, and simple steps that health care providers, employers, insurers and other payers, churches and other community organizations, and regular people can do to meaningfully help patients and their families effectively access and pay for care and meet other related challenges attendant to illness and disabilities.

No easy, one-size fits all cure exists to help patients and their families deal with illness or disability.  Paying for care is only a small part of the health care challenge for any patient and his or her family.  The good news is that health treatment and disease management advances increasingly are converting once deadly illnesses and disabilities into chronic conditions.  The challenge is that patients living with these conditions often survive with ongoing (often expensive) medical treatments, work-life adjustments and other continuous partial but imperfect fixes that come at great financial, productivity and personal costs to themselves, their families and society.  The government and its public policies can’t change this anymore than the patients, families, employers, friends and communities that live and deal with these patients.  Indeed, the process of reform and the confusion it will foster is likely to create new complications in the upcoming years.

Consequently, to make any real and meaningful difference in the empowerment of  patients and the mitigation of the financial and other challenges that patients and their families, health care providers, employer and other business and community leaders, health plans, insurers and others experience in dealing with ill or disabled person starts with recognition of basic realities of illness and disabilities and pursuing the many small practical opportunities to mitigate these challenges, including the following:  

No One Easy Fix; Just Many Small Ones

Being old or being sick (or having a loved one who is) stinks. Not everyone was born with a BMW for a body and even some BMW’s are lemons. Even for a car, there isn’t always a clear “evidence based” answer to the unavoidable “why me/us” questions every patient and their family must face.  However, the answers to these and other tough questions often are must less clear and more intractable for patients and their families:

  • What’s wrong with this body?
  • Can it be fixed and if so, how do I fix it?
  • If it can’t be fixed, what do I do?
  • How do I pay for the fix? How do I find the money and other resources?
  • How do we keep working and keep pursuing the cure at the same time?
  • I am scared, lonely, confused, tired, hurting, alone, uneducated, unemployed, etc.

Money only can do so much to fix or mitigate the experience of being ill, old or disabled and there isn’t enough money to pay for all the fixes that exist for those people with broken or aging body parts.  While dollars play a critical role in a patient’s ability to access certain resources, it can only partially answer these questions.  All patients and their families still struggle to deal with these intractable questions.

Communication & Understanding Key Tools

The best way to get Americans to make better choices about the health care they choose is to provide better communications and other tools to empower them with improved understanding needed to make better choices and better cope.  Misunderstanding and miscommunications in the system fuel much pain and inefficiency.

  • When families and patients get good information that indicates that the $20,000 spent for a procedure will only cause a lot of suffering and expense to extend a life already suffering for another 48 hours, they usually chose quality of life over length of life.
  • Studies show that physicians and the RNs working with them agree in less than 70 percent of the times about the care ordered and how to administer it. Communication elsewhere among health care providers further erodes cost effectiveness and quality.
  • Government regulation and the tension that results from regulation and practices that break up health care teams makes this worse contributes to this problem. 

Better communication and understanding between health care providers and the patients and their families and friends that help the patients will improve quality and efficiency of care.

  • All Americans need to be taught basic communication and coping skills to be better and more responsible health care patients, and effective health care buddies for their family and friends.
  • Providers need to communicate effectively with patients, family members, payers and each other. Patients and families need to learn to take responsibility to insist on answers to the questions they have that are necessary to meet their care needs.
  • Health plans, insurers and other payers need to communicate effectively with patients and their families, as well as health care providers about what coverage is being purchased, what is and is not covered, what must be done to qualify for coverage, care choices affecting coverage, and the availability of other alternatives when coverage is limited or not available.

Demographic Realities Ensure Inadequacy Of Funding

The aging population means that the gap between patients that need money for care and the available dollars to pay for care will continue to grow unless care is rationed in some way that limits or denies certain care to some ill, disabled or aging people.  Decisions about rationing by necessity require individual specific, personal decision-making. Just because the most health care dollars are spent in the last months of life doesn’t mean that these dollars are necessarily wasted. The question should be what quality of life was realized for the dollars spent.  This is a qualitative decision that is of necessity highly personal for each patient and his or her family.  It cannot be fully accounted for or decided based on actuarial and accounting curves. Many old and sick people are extraordinary functional, valuable and important to someone.

Personal Responsibility For Self & Neighbor Best Investment

The most overlooked opportunities for quality and cost improvements rest with the people in health care:

  • The patients, their families and friends
  • Health care providers
  • Employers, churches, social organizations and other community organizations and resources that deal with patients and their families;
  • Health plans, insurers, and others that administer care; and
  • Others that encounter patients and their families.
  • 

Caring for ourselves, our families, our friends and others in our community is our right, our privilege and our job. The best opportunity to improve access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans is for every American, and every employer, insurer, and community organization to seize the opportunity to be good Samaritans.  The government, health care providers, insurers and community organizations can help by providing education and resources to make understanding and dealing with the realities of illness, disability or aging easier for a patient and their family, the affected employers and others. At the end of the day, however, caring for people requires the human touch.  Americans can best improve health care for ourselves, our loved ones, our friends and Americans generally by stop waiting for someone else to do it. Noone is better qualified to care about your loved ones than you.  Do what you can and celebrate what you can do.  Speak up, step up and help bridge the gap when you or your organization can do so by extending yourself a little bit.  Speak up to help communicate and facilitate when you can.  Building health care neighborhoods filled with good neighbors throughout the community is the key.

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

We also encourage you and others to help develop real meaningful improvements by joining Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here by sharing ideas, tools and other solutions and other resources. 

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

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

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


Employer H1N1 Virus Risk Management Requires Employer Care To Manage Virus Risks Without Violating Employment Discrimination or Other Laws

November 30, 2009

As the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) continues cautioning Americans to expect a resurgence of the H1N1 virus, employers should continue to take prudent steps to defend their organization and their workers against a widespread H1N1 outbreak and the attendant lost time, health and disability costs, OSHA and other liability exposures and other personal and financial consequences likely to result from an outbreak. 

Employers wishing to deter the spread of the disease in their workplace should educate workers about these recommendations and consider taking steps to encourage workers to comply with these recommendations. When planning or taking steps to protect their workplaces from the H1N1 virus pandemic or other outbreaks of communicable diseases, however, employers must use care to avoid violating the Americans With Disabilities Act or other employment laws.

Preventing, Recognizing & Mitigating Risks of H1N1

Although the number of reported cases of H1N1 virus cases has declined in many states in recent weeks, CDC officials are warning American’s that the crisis is not over yet.  CDC officials last week warned Americans to expect H1N1 infection to rise as the holiday approaches and the winter progresses. With flu activity already higher than what is seen during the peak of many regular flu seasons and the H1NA virus accounting for almost all of the flu viruses identified so for this season,  Accordingly,  the CDC continues to encourage Americans to be alert for symptoms of H1N1 or other flu and to take other precautions including to get vaccinated.

Employers should continue to encourage workers and their families to take precautions to avoid catching the virus, to be on the watch for H1N1 virus or other flu infection and to respond appropriately if they, members of their families or others in the workplace exhibit these symptoms.   To help promote health habits within their workforce, many businesses may want to download and circulate to employees and families the free resources published by the CDC here.  Businesses and other concerned parties also can track governmental reports about the swine flu and other pandemic concerns at here.   

For those not already suffering from the virus and particularly for those at higher risk, the CDC continues to recommend vaccination. People recommended by the CDC to receive the vaccine as soon possible include:  health care workers; pregnant women; people ages 25 through 64 with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes; anyone from 6 months through 24 years of age; and people living with or caring for infants under 6 months old.  As the vaccine becomes available, many employers are encouraging workers and their families to get vaccinated by offering vaccination clinics at or near their worksites, arranging for health plan coverage for vaccinations with reduced or no co-payments or deductibles, and/or sharing information about government sponsored or other vaccination clinics. 

While the CDC says getting employees and their families to get a flu shot remains the best defense against a flu outbreak, it also says getting employees and family members to consistently practice good health habits like covering a cough and washing hands also is another important key to prevent the spread of germs and prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like the flu.  Employers should encourage employees and their families to take the following steps: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too;
  • Stay home when you are sick to help prevent others from catching your illness;
  •  Cover your mouth and nose;
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick;
  • Clean your hands to protect yourself from germs;
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth;
  • Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth; and
  • Practice other good health habits.  Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

Employers also should encourage workers and their families to be alert to possible signs of H1N1 or other flu symptoms and to respond appropriately to possible infection.  According to the CDC, all types of flu including H1NA typically include many common symptoms, including:

  • Fever
  • Coughing and/or sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches and/or body aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue

Patients suffering from H1N1 flu usually report these same symptoms, but the symptoms often are more severe. In addition to the above symptoms, a number of H1N1 flu cases reported vomiting and diarrhea.

CDC recommends individuals diagnosed with H1N1 flu should:

  • Stay home and avoid contact with others for at least 24 hours after a fever (100°F or 37.8°C) is gone without the use of fever reducing medicine except to get medical care or for other things that must be done that no one else can do;
  • Avoid close contact with others, especially those who might easily get the flu, such as people age 65 years and older, people of any age with chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, young children, and infants;
  • Clean hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub often, especially after using tissues or coughing/sneezing into your hands;
  • Cover coughs and sneezes;
  • Wear a facemask when sharing common spaces with other household members to help prevent spreading the virus to others. This is especially important if other household members are at high risk for complications from influenza;
  • Drink clear fluids such as water, broth, sports drinks, or electrolyte beverages made for infants to prevent becoming dehydrated;
  • Get plenty of rest;
  • Follow doctor’s orders; and
  • Watch for signs for a need for immediate medical attention. Suffers should get medical attention right away if the sufferer has difficulty breathing or chest pain,  purple or blue discoloration of the lips, is vomiting and unable to keep liquids down, or shows signs of dehydration, such as feeling dizzy when standing or being unable to urinate.

In seeking to contain the spread of the virus within their workplace, employers also should be sensitive to workplace policies or practices that may pressure employees with a contagious disease to report to work despite an illness and consider whether the employer should adjust these policies temporarily or permanently in light of the ongoing pandemic.  For instance, financial pressures and the design and enforcement of policies regarding working from home and/or qualifying for paid or unpaid time off significantly impact the decisions employees make about whether to come to work when first experiencing symptoms of illness.  Employers of workers who travel extensively – may wish to delay or restrict travel for some period. 

Employers Must Employment Discrimination & Other Legal Compliance Risks

Many employers may want to evaluate and appropriately revise existing policies with an eye to better defending their workforce against a major outbreak.  Whether or not the disease afflicts any of its workers, businesses can anticipate the swine flu outbreak will impact their operations – either as a result of occurrences affecting their own or other businesses or from workflow disruptions resulting from safeguards that the business or other businesses implement to minimize swine flu risks for its workforce or its customers.  Many businesses also will want to prepare backup staffing and production strategies to prepare for disruptions likely to result if a significant outbreak occurs. 

Employers planning for or dealing with an H1N1 or other epidemic in their workplace should exercise care to avoid violating the nondiscrimination and medical records confidentiality provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), the Family & Medical Leave Act of 1990 (FMLA), the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and applicable state wage and hour laws, and other employment and privacy laws.

Improperly designed or administered medical inquiries, testing, vaccination mandates and other policies or practices intended to prevent the spread of disease may expose an employer to disability discrimination liability under the ADA or GINA.  For instance, the ADA generally prohibits an employer from making disability-related inquiries and requiring medical examinations of employees, except under limited circumstances permitted by the ADA. Likewise, improperly designed or communicated employer inquiries into family medical status which could be construed as inquiring about family medical history also may raise exposures under genetic information nondiscrimination and privacy mandates of GINA that took effect November 21, 2009.

During employment, the ADA prohibits employee disability-related inquiries or medical examinations unless they are job-related and consistent with business necessity. Generally, a disability-related inquiry or medical examination of an employee is job-related and consistent with business necessity when an employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that:

  • An employee’s ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition; or
  • An employee will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition.

This reasonable belief “must be based on objective evidence obtained, or reasonably available to the employer, prior to making a disability-related inquiry or requiring a medical examination.”

Additionally, the ADA prohibits employers from making disability-related inquiries and conducting medical examinations of applicants before a conditional offer of employment is made.  It permits employers to make disability-related inquiries and conduct medical examinations if all entering employees in the same job category are subject to the same inquiries and examinations.   All information about applicants or employees obtained through disability-related inquiries or medical examinations must be kept confidential. Information regarding the medical condition or history of an employee must be collected and maintained on separate forms and in separate medical files and be treated as a confidential medical record.  The EEOC Pandemic Preparedness In The Workplace and The Americans With Disabilities Act Guidance makes clear that employer inquiries and other H1N GINA’s inclusion of information about the “manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members” is likely to present a liability trap door for many unsuspecting employers H1N1 and other epidemic planning and response activities should be carefully crafted to avoid violating these proscriptions.

GINA’s inclusion of information about the “manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members” also could present a liability trap door for some employers designing pandemic or other workplace wellness, disease management or other programs.  GINA defines “genetic information” broadly as including not only information about genetic tests about an individual or his family member as well as information about the “manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members of such individual, GINA also specifies that any reference to genetic information concerning an individual or family member includes genetic information of a fetus carried by a pregnant woman and an embryo legally held by an individual or family member utilizing an assisted reproductive technology.  For more information about the new GINA genetic information employment discrimination rules, see here.

As part of their pandemic planning, employers also generally should review their existing wage and hour and leave of absence practices.  Employers should ensure that their existing or planned practices for providing paid or unpaid leave are designed to comply with the FLSA and other wage and hour and federal and state leave of absence laws. Employers also should review and update family and medical leave act and other sick leave policies, group health plan medical coverage continuation rules and notices and other associated policies and plans for compliance with existing regulatory requirements, which have been subject to a range of statutory and regulatory amendments in recent years.  If considering allowing or requiring employees to work from home, employers also need to implement appropriate safeguards to monitor and manage employee performance, to protect the employer’s ability to comply with applicable wage and hour, worker’s compensation, OSHA and other safety, privacy and other legal and operational requirements. 

Businesses, health care providers, schools, government agencies and others concerned about preparing to cope with pandemic or other infectious disease challenges also may want to review the publication “Planning for the Pandemic” authored by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer available at hereFLU.gov is a one-stop resource with the latest updates on the H1N1 flu. An additional resource is CDC INFO, 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636), which offers services in English and Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Schools, health care organizations, restaurants and other businesses whose operations involve significant interaction with the public also may need to take special precautions.  These and other businesses may want to consult the special resources posted  here

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer and other members of Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with advising and assisting employers with these and other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, and internal controls matters. If your organization needs assistance with assessing, managing or defending these or other labor and employment, compensation or benefit practices, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a nationally recognized author and speaker, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation, health and other employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment laws, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, health and other employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 22 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Examples of other recent updates you may have missed include:

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

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


New Study Shares Data On Migrant Health Care Challenges Along The Border

August 24, 2009

Health care costs, care concerns and other health care utilization and risk patterns are a common issue of discussion in the continuing health care reform discussion. Meanwhile, employers, health care providers and policy leaders in Border States or elsewhere who employ a significant number of migrant workers frequently express interest in more information about the health care and disability care and benefit needs, understanding and utilization patterns of migrant families for purposes of planning benefit and human resources practices. A new report published by the Texas Department of State Health Services may shed some light on these issues. The Texas Department of State Health Services 2007 Health Risk Factors in the Texas-Mexico Border report presents a summary of health-related risk factors and trends among residents of fifteen Texas counties along the US-Mexico border. Its findings are based on data collected through the 2007 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a nation-wide telephone-based survey of randomly-selected adults that gathers information on many conditions and behaviors known to influence personal health. Data from the fifteen counties were clustered into five areas: the Lower Rio Grande Valley – commonly known as ‘The Valley’ – (Hidalgo, Starr, and Cameron Counties), Webb and Zapata Counties, Val Verde and Maverick Counties, the Big Bend area (Brewster, Culberson, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Pecos, Presidio, and Terrell Counties), and El Paso County. For the purposes of this analysis, “the border” refers to these five areas. Interested persons can review this report here.

About The Author

Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and currently the Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Section and a Council Representative of the ABA Joint Committee On Employee Benefits, Ms. Stamer has more than 20 years experience advising health industry and other clients about labor and employment, health and other employee benefits, public policy and other health care and workforce matters. A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security Privatization law, Ms. Stamer also frequently provides input domestically and internationally on workforce, health care, migration and other policies. A popular lecturer and widely published author on these and other matters, she frequently writes and speaks about health and workforce issues of special populations including migrant workers, ex pats, and others.  Her insights on health care, health insurance, human resources and related matters appear in the Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  For additional information about Ms. Stamer, her experience, involvements, programs or publications, see here.  

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on our electronic Curran Tomko Tarski LLP publications available for review here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here. You can access other recent updates and other informative publications and resources provided by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys and get information about its attorneys’ experience, briefings, speeches and other credentials here. For important information concerning this communication click here. If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to support@cttlegal.net.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


EEOC GIVES EMPLOYERS LIMITED EMPLOYER GUIDANCE ABOUT ADA ISSUES IN SWINE FLU RESPONSE

May 13, 2009

Recent concerns over the H1N1 Swine Flu (swine flu) pandemic and warnings of a possible resurgence of the swine flu pandemic or some other pandemic in the future is forcing many employers to question when concerns that an employee suffers from a contagious disease can justify the employer making inquires about the health of an employee or the exclusion of the employee from the workplace. New guidance set forth in the “U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ADA-Compliant Employer Preparedness For the H1N1 Flu Virus” (Guidance) published by the U.S. Department of Labor Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on May 4, 2009 provides some insights for employers about the EEOC’s perspective on these questions. 

The Guidance details the EEOC’s answers to certain basic questions about when the EEOC views certain workplace preparation strategies for responding to the 2009 flu virus as compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Employers considering updates to their current pandemic and infectious disease response plans are cautioned that in addition to potential ADA exposures, practices for periods after November 21, 2009 also generally must be tailored to comply with new restrictions on employer’s collection of and discrimination based on genetic information based on the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA).  Proposed regulations interpreting the employment provisions of GINA published by the EEOC in March 2009 do not specifically address the implications of GINA on employer planning or response to pandemic concerns.

ADA Concerns Apply To Employers  Planning For & Applying Swine Flu Response 

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects applicants and employees from disability discrimination. Among other things, the ADA regulates when and how employers may require a medical examination or request disability-related information from applicants and employees, regardless of whether the individual has a disability.  The Guidance confirms that the EEOC views this requirement as affecting when and how employers may request health information from applicants and employees regarding H1N1 flu virus.  

Effective January 1, 2009, Congress amended the Americans with Disabilities Act pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) to change the way that the ADA’s statutory definition of the term “disability” historically has been interpreted by certain courts.  The ADAAA amendments generally are intended and expected to make it easier for certain individuals to qualify as disabled under the ADA.  While the Guidance announces that the EEOC intends to revise its ADA regulations to reflect the broader group of persons protected as disabled under the ADAAA amendments, it also indicates that the EEOC does not perceive that the ADAAA changes the actions prohibited by the ADA as they relate to common pandemic planning and response activities.  Consequently, the Guidance states that the EEOC views the  guidance in “Disability-Related Inquiries & Medical Examinations of Employees Under the ADA” published by the EEOC in 2000 and its “Enforcement Guidance: Preemployment Disability-Related Questions & Medical Examinations” published in 1995 as setting forth the governing rules for medical testing, inquires and other pandemic response planning under the ADA.

Under the ADA, an employer’s ability to make disability-related inquiries or require medical examinations is analyzed in three stages: pre-offer, post-offer, and employment.

  • At the first stage (prior to an offer of employment), the ADA prohibits all disability-related inquiries and medical examinations, even if they are related to the job.
  • At the second stage (after an applicant is given a conditional job offer, but before s/he starts work), an employer may make disability-related inquiries and conduct medical examinations, regardless of whether they are related to the job, as long as it does so for all entering employees in the same job category.
  • At the third stage (after employment begins), an employer may make disability-related inquiries and require medical examinations only if they are job-related and consistent with business necessity.
  • The ADA requires employers to treat any medical information obtained from a disability-related inquiry or medical examination (including medical information from voluntary health or wellness programs), as well as any medical information voluntarily disclosed by an employee, as a confidential medical record. Employers may share such information only in limited circumstances with supervisors, managers, first aid and safety personnel, and government officials investigating compliance with the ADA.

Employers deviating from these requirements when administering their pandemic planning or response risk disability discrimination liability under the ADA unless they otherwise can defend their action under one of the exceptions to the ADA’s disability discrimination prohibitions.  When making post-offer inquiries or requiring post offer examinations or imposing other conditions for safety reasons, the Guidance and EEOC in unofficial discussions have emphasized the importance of the employer’s ability to demonstrate the job or safety relevance of the medical inquiry or examination based on credible scientific evidence such as the latest scientific evidence available from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Other than emphasizing the importance of acting appropriately in response to credible scientific evidence and pointing to preexisting guidance, the Guidance does not extensively address with specificity the circumstances under which the EEOC will view any particular action taken by an employer as defensible under the safety or other exceptions of the ADA.  Likewise, the Guidance does not discuss in any details the conditions, if any, under which the EEOC would view suffering, a history of suffering or association with or exposure to swine flu as qualifying an individual as disabled or perceived to be disabled for purposes of the ADA.  Consequently, employer must rely on other less specifically tailored guidance for purposes of assessing the defensibility of a proposed action on these grounds.

Planning for Absenteeism Under ADA

When planning for a possible pandemic, employers must be careful about when and how they ask employees about factors, including chronic medical conditions that may cause them to miss work in the event of a pandemic.  According to the Guidance, an employer may survey its workforce to gather personal information needed for pandemic preparation if the employer asks broad questions that are not limited to disability-related inquiries.  An inquiry would not be disability-related if it identified non-medical reasons for absence during a pandemic (e.g., mandatory school closures or curtailed public transportation) on an equal footing with medical reasons (e.g., chronic illnesses that weaken immunity). The Guidance includes a sample of what the EEOC views as ADA-compliant survey that could be given to all employees before a pandemic.

The Guidance also indicates that where appropriate safeguards are applied to comply with the ADA, it also may be appropriate for an employer under certain limited circumstances, to require entering employees to have a medical test post-offer to determine their exposure to the influenza virus.  According to the EEOC, the ADA permits an employer to require entering employees to undergo a job relevant medical examination after making a conditional offer of employment but before the individual starts work, if all entering employees in the same job category must undergo such an examination.  Thus, the Guidance reflects that the requirement by an employer as part of its pandemic influenza preparedness plan that all entering employees in the same job categories undergo the same post offer medical testing for the virus in accordance with recommendations by the WHO and the CDC in response to a new influenza virus may be ADA-compliant.

Infection Control in the Workplace Under the ADA

The Guidance also discusses the EEOC’s perceptions about the ADA implications of employer use of certain infection control practices in the workplace during a pandemic provided that the requirements are applied in a nondiscriminatory fashion consistent with the ADA.  For instance, the Guidance states that employers generally may apply with following infection control practices without implicating the ADA:

  • Require all employees to comply with certain infection control practices, such as regular hand washing, coughing and sneezing etiquette, and tissue usage and disposal without implicating the ADA;
  • May require employees to wear personal protective equipment provided that where an employee with a disability needs a related reasonable accommodation under the ADA (e.g., non-latex gloves, or gowns designed for individuals who use wheelchairs), employer provides these accommodations absent undue hardship;
  • Encourage or require employees to telework as an infection-control strategy, based on timely information from public health authorities about pandemic conditions or offer telework as a possible reasonable accommodation.  

In all cases, of course, the Guidance cautions that employers must not single out employees either to telework or to continue reporting to the workplace on a basis prohibited by the ADA or any of the other federal Equal Employment Opportunity laws.

Impending GINA Rules

 As signed into law, GINA amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Public Health Service Act, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, and Title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act to implement sweeping new federal restrictions on the collection, use, and disclosure of  “genetic information” by employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, joint labor-management committees, group health plans and insurers and their agents.  GINA’s group health plan restrictions are scheduled to take effect May 21, 2009.  The employment related genetic testing rules of GINA take affect November 21, 2009.  Employers and other covered entities will need to carefully review and timely update their pandemic and other infectious disease response practices as well as their group health plan, family leave, disability accommodation, and other existing policies in light of these new federal rules.

Although EEOC has not finalized its implementing regulations for GINA yet, employers should anticipate that GINA will impact their pandemic and other related practices.  The implications of GINA for employers and other entities covered by its provisions because of its broad definition of genetic information. 

Under GINA, “genetic information” is defined to mean with respect to any individual, information about:

  • Such individual’s genetic tests;
  • The genetic tests of family members of such individual; and
  • The manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members of such individual.

GINA also specifies that any reference to genetic information concerning an individual or family member includes genetic information of a fetus carried by a pregnant woman and an embryo legally held by an individual or family member utilizing an assisted reproductive technology.

Pending issuance of final regulatory guidance, Gina’s inclusion of information about the “manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members” raises potential challenges for a broad range of wellness and safety, leave, and other employment and benefit practices, particularly as apparently will reach a broader range of conditions than those currently protected under the disability discrimination prohibitions of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  

Depending on the contemplated inquiry or practice, certain inquiries or actions intended for use as part of an employer’s pandemic preparedness or response activities could fall within the scope of GINA’s protections. For this reason, employers also should consider the potential treatment of a proposed pandemic preparation or response activity intended to be applied after GINA takes effect in light of GINA.  Additionally, employers also should consider the risk that information collected under existing or previously applied pandemic or other infectious disease prevention and response activities might qualify for additional protection when GINA takes effect in November, 2009.

Other Resources

Businesses, health care providers, schools, government agencies and others concerned about preparing to cope with pandemic or other infectious disease challenges also may want to review the following resources authored by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer:

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer and other members of Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with advising and assisting employers with these and other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, and internal controls matters. If your organization needs assistance with assessing, managing or defending its wage and hour or other labor and employment, compensation or benefit practices, please contact Ms. Stamer at cstamer@cttlegal.com, (214) 270-2402; or your favorite Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP attorney.  For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see the www.cttlegal.com.


Mitigating Workplace Fallout of Pandemic Response

May 5, 2009

As the U.S. rushes to try to contain the spread of the swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection (swine flu), businesses increasingly are facing employee leave requests and other employment and operational disruptions plans caused by school, day care or other closures and other business disruptions resulting from efforts to contain the disease while also working to take appropriate steps to prevent the spread of the disease within their own organizations.

Regardless of how deadly it ultimately proves to be, the pandemic proportion of the swine flu outbreak now ensures that most U.S. businesses will experience some disruption in operations as a result of the epidemic and efforts to contain it.

According to officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time, 36 states had reported a total of 236 confirmed cases of swine flu and more cases are expected. That number includes the first U.S. swine flu fatality: a 22-month-old child from Mexico who died of the illness at a Houston, Texas hospital while visiting the United States last week. States currently hardest hit include New York (73 cases), Texas (41 cases), California (30 cases), Delaware (20 cases) and Arizona (17 cases). In the near future, however, CDC officials anticipate confirmed cases in all 50 states.

CDC officials and other experts continue to emphasize that the success of efforts to prevent the unnecessary spread of the disease depends largely on good health habits, limiting exposure to the virus and prompt diagnosis and treatment of afflicted persons. Employers can help reduce the risk that members of their workforce and their families will catch the virus by promoting good health habits and encouraging workers and their families to stay home and seek prompt treatment in the event of an illness. Simultaneously planning for and dealing with absences and other staffing challenges result from school, day care and other closings prevents a greater challenge for many employers, however.

Easy Preventive Safeguards

While the CDC says getting employees and their families to get a flu shot remains the best defense against a flu outbreak, it also says getting employees and family members to consistently practice good health habits like covering a cough and washing hands also is another important key to prevent the spread of germs and prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like the flu. To help promote health habits within their workforce, many businesses may want to download and circulate to employees and families the free resources published by the CDC at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits.htm. These and other resources make clear that Employers should encourage employees and their families to practice good health habits by telling employees and their families to take the following steps:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  • Stay home when you are sick to help prevent others from catching your illness. Cover your mouth and nose.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
  • Clean your hands to protect yourself from germs.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

Many businesses are promoting these and other conducts that help prevent the spread of disease by sharing educational materials such as the growing range of free materials provided by the CDC and others available at the government sponsored website, http://www.pandemicflu.gov. For instance, business can access and download free copies of the following publications at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits.htm:

  • Cover Your Cough
  • Be a Germ Stopper: Healthy Habits Keep You Well
  • Flu Prevention Toolkit: Real People. Real Solutions
  • Stopping the Spread of Germs at Home, Work & School

Dealing With Lost Time & Productivity Challenges

Businesses also should begin preparing backup staffing and production strategies to prepare for disruptions likely to result if a significant outbreak occurs. Whether or not the disease afflicts any of its workers, businesses can anticipate the swine flu outbreak will impact their operations -either as a result of occurrences affecting their own or other businesses or from workflow disruptions resulting from safeguards that the business or other businesses implement to minimize swine flu risks for its workforce or its customers.

For many employers, however, planning for and dealing with requests for time off or other workplace disruptions resulting from pandemic containment efforts presents special challenges. While most employers have well established policies and procedures for providing medical leave to employees during periods of their own or a family member’s illness under the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or otherwise, many employers are experiencing difficulty in responding to leave requests of healthy employees necessitated by school or day care closings, suspected exposures, or other pandemic response disruptions.

Certainly, whether or not legally mandated, the CDC and other official advisories make clear that sick employees should not be in the workplace. Employers of course must provide medical leave as required by the FMLA or other similar state laws as well as any contractually agreed to leave. To better insulate their workforce against potential exposure to the virus, however, many employers also may wish consider temporarily modifying existing leave or other work policies with an eye to better defending their workforce against a major outbreak. In this respect, employers need to consider both how to respond to the present wave of the virus and to plan for the possible need to respond to another potentially stronger outbreak of the swine flu virus that the CDC and other experts caution likely may arise in the Fall or Winter.

As part of their efforts to insulate their workplaces against exposure to the virus, employers generally should discourage workers from coming to work if they or a family member are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to the virus. For this reason, businesses generally evaluate workplace policies or practices that may pressure or encourage employees with swine flu or any other contagious disease to report to work. Employers should consider whether the potential risks make advisable adjustments to their current attendance, telecommuting, leave and paid time off and other policies.

In light of the current situation, many businesses may want to consider temporarily adjust their leave, telecommuting and other policies in light of the impending health risk. For instance, recognizing that the decision to close a school or child care facility in response to a known or suspected infection seeks to minimize the spread of the disease through exposure to other then undiagnosed cases, businesses generally should think twice about allowing employees to bring these potentially exposed children into the workplace. Instead, employers may wish to consider being more flexible in allowing employees to work from home or take leave to care for children whose schools or child care facilities are closed due to concerns about possible exposure to reduce the risk of creating unnecessary exposure in their workplace.

To help minimize financial pressures on workers to report to work when they may be ill or exposed to the virus, many employers also may want to consider providing or offering short-term disability insurance, expanding the availability of paid or unpaid leave or both.

Regardless of the specific choices a particular business makes, businesses need to take appropriate steps to document, implement, and communicate their decisions. If considering allowing or requiring employees to work from home, employers need to implement appropriate safeguards to monitor and manage employee performance, and to protect the employer’s ability to comply with applicable wage and hour, worker’s compensation, safety, privacy and other legal and operational requirements. They also should review and update family and medical leave act and other sick leave policies, group health plan medical coverage continuation rules and notices and other associated policies and plans for compliance with existing regulatory requirements, which have been subject to a range of statutory and regulatory amendments in recent years.

If considering allowing or requiring employees to work from home, for instance, employers need to implement appropriate safeguards to monitor and manage employee performance, and to protect the employer’s ability to comply with applicable wage and hour, worker’s compensation, safety, privacy and other legal and operational requirements. They also should review and update family and medical leave act and other sick leave policies, group health plan medical coverage continuation rules and notices and other associated policies and plans for compliance with existing regulatory requirements, which have been subject to a range of statutory and regulatory amendments in recent years.

In light of the growing responsibilities and exposures of business to medical privacy and disability liabilities associated with knowledge, collection, protection and use of information about the health and medical conditions of workers and their families, businesses also should review and update their procedures regarding the use, collection, disclosure, and protection of this and other sensitive information. Businesses, health care providers, schools, government agencies and others concerned about preparing to cope with pandemic or other infectious disease challenges also may want to review the publication “Planning for the Pandemic” authored by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer available at http://www.cynthiastamer.com/documents/speeches/20070530%20Pan%20Flu%20Workplace%20Privacy%20Issues%20Final%20Merged.pdf. Schools, health care organizations, restaurants and other businesses whose operations involve significant interaction with the public also may need to take special precautions. These and other businesses may want to consult the special resources posted at http://www.pandemicflu.gov/health/index.html.

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer and other members of Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with advising and assisting employers with these and other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, and internal controls matters. Ms. Stamer in particular has worked extensively with health care providers, government officials, and businesses to plan for and deal with pandemic and other absence, disease management and disaster preparedness concerns. If your organization needs assistance with assessing, managing or defending its wage and hour or other labor and employment, compensation or benefit practices, please contact Ms. Stamer at cstamer@cttlegal.com, (214) 270-2402, or your favorite Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP attorney. For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see the http://www.cttlegal.com.