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.


Stamer Talks About “Handling Health Plan Spouse, Dependent & Other “Family” Matters in Post-DOMA World” at SPBA 2014 Spring Meeting

April 8, 2014

Health plans, their sponsoring employers and administrators face new challenges and responsibilities under a slew of regulations on the treatment of same-sex domestic partners issued by the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor and other federal government agencies since the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the Defense Against Marriage Act’s prohibition against the recognition of same-sex partnerships as marriage for purposes of federal law.

Attorney and industry thought leader Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will join officials from the Internal Revenue Service National Office in discussing “Handling Health Plan Spouse, Dependent & Other ‘Family’ Matters in Post-DOMA World” on Thursday, April 17, 2014 at the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators (SPBA) Spring 2014 Meeting at the Capital Hilton in Washington, DC.

The SPBA Spring Meeting scheduled to take place May 16-18 will cover a broad range of timely topics on health care reform and other issues and concerns for self-insured health plan administrators and their clients.

In addition to her April 17 DOMA presentation, Ms. Stamer also is scheduled to share her insights and experiences financial, ethical and legal concerns that third party administrators of self-insured employee benefit plans should consider when their client stops funding the plan due to illiquidity, bankruptcy or otherwise as a panelist on the April 18, 2014 panel on “Action Steps When a Client Stops Funding Claims.”

For additional details about the SPBA or its Spring Meeting, see www.spbatpa.org.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need help labor and employment, health and other employee benefit, compensation, privacy and data  other internal controls and management concerns, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experience with health matters,  Ms. Stamer works extensively with employers, employee benefit plan sponsors, insurers, administrators, and fiduciaries, payroll and staffing companies, technology and other service providers and others to develop and run legally defensible programs, practices and policies that promote the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  Ms. Stamer has more than 25 years experience advising these and other clients about these matters  and representing employer, employee benefit and other clients before the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, Immigration & Customs, Justice, and Health & Human Services, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Trade Commission, state labor, insurance, tax and attorneys’ general, and other agencies, private plaintiffs and others on health and other employee benefit, labor, employment and other human resources, worker classification, tax, internal controls, risk management and other legal and operational management concerns.

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

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

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. For important information concerning this communication click here.

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.   ©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Stamer Speaks On “Action Steps When A Client Stops Funding Claims” at 2014 SPBA Spring Meeting

April 8, 2014

Health plans and their administrators face significant practical legal and operational challenges when the employer sponsoring the plan goes bankruptcy, has financial trouble or otherwise stops funding the plan.

Attorney, industry thought leader and Solutions Law Press, Inc. Publisher and Editor, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will join a panel of distinguished attorneys discussing financial, ethical and legal concerns that third party administrators of self-insured employee benefit plans should consider when their client stops funding the plan due to illiquidity, bankruptcy or otherwise as a panelist on the April 18, 2014 panel on “Action Steps When a Client Stops Funding Claims” on Friday, April 18, 2014 at the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators (SPBA) Spring 2014 Meeting at the Capital Hilton in Washington, DC.

The SPBA Spring Meeting scheduled to take place May 16-18 will cover a broad range of timely topics on health care reform and other issues and concerns for self-insured health plan administrators and their clients.

In addition to her April 18 presentation, Ms. Stamer also is scheduled to join officials from the Internal Revenue Service National Office in discussing “Handling Health Plan Spouse, Dependent & Other ‘Family’ Matters in Post-DOMA World” on Thursday, April 17, 2014.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need help labor and employment, health and other employee benefit, compensation, privacy and data  other internal controls and management concerns, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experience with health matters,  Ms. Stamer works extensively with employers, employee benefit plan sponsors, insurers, administrators, and fiduciaries, payroll and staffing companies, technology and other service providers and others to develop and run legally defensible programs, practices and policies that promote the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  Ms. Stamer has more than 25 years experience advising these and other clients about these matters  and representing employer, employee benefit and other clients before the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, Immigration & Customs, Justice, and Health & Human Services, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Trade Commission, state labor, insurance, tax and attorneys’ general, and other agencies, private plaintiffs and others on health and other employee benefit, labor, employment and other human resources, worker classification, tax, internal controls, risk management and other legal and operational management concerns.

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

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

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. For important information concerning this communication click here.

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.   ©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


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

April 10, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Help With These Or Other Matters

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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


Company President, Officer Can’t Use Bankruptcy To Avoid Liability For Using Plan Money For Company Operations

December 27, 2012

John Dombek III and John Dombek Jr. cannot use personal bankruptcy to avoid complying with a federal court order to restore $69,521 in health-care premiums and retirement plan contributions withheld from the paychecks of employees at several companies that are part of the JJD Industries in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).  The recent judgement against the two men in Solis v. John Dombek Jr., John Dombek III, Wisconsin Tool & Stamping Co. 401(k) Profit Sharing Plan & Trust, J.D. Acquisition 401(k) Profit Sharing Plan and Trust, and the JJD Industries Group Health Plan is a reminder to business owners, management and others with discretionary control over employee contributions or other plan assets of the importance of ensuring that all employee contributions withheld from pay and other plan assets are used only for appropriate plan expenses and timely deposited in trust or otherwise appropriately  applied.  Businesses owners and managers should treat these and other similar judgmentsas a wake-up call to meet employee benefit funding obligations, not to use plan monies for company operations and to take other required steps to make sure that retirement, health and other employee benefit plans moneys and other responsibilities are properly handled.

Company Leaders Ordered To Restore Misdirected Monies

A Chicago federal court ordered the two men to make restitution of $69,521 of employee contributions withheld from employee pay that the court ruled the Dombeks mismanaged by failing to ensure the timely deposit of these funds with the plans.  See

Dombek III, who is president of the JJD Industries Group, and Dombek Jr. were co-fiduciaries of the Wisconsin Tool & Stamping Co. 401(k) plan and have been ordered to restore $22,164.45 in unremitted contributions and lost opportunity costs to the plan. Dombek III is also liable for an additional $2,222.78 in unremitted contributions and lost opportunity costs to the J.D. Acquisition 401(k) plan.

Dombek III must also restore $45,134.08 in unremitted contributions and lost opportunity costs to the JJD Industries sponsored group health plan. The company contracted with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois to provide health and dental benefits to the employees of its related companies, including Wisconsin Tool & Stamping Co., J.D. Acquisition Corp., Akorat Metal Fabricators Inc./Smithco Fabricators Inc. and Pavo Inc./Injection Plastics Corp. The companies paid their premiums separately, and premiums were partially funded through weekly employee payroll deductions.

The judgment also bars Dombek Jr. and Dombek III from serving as fiduciaries or service providers to any employee benefit plan subject to ERISA for a period of five years. An independent fiduciary will oversee the termination of the 401(k) plans of both Wisconsin Tool & Stamping and J.D. Acquisition, as well as the distribution of plan assets to eligible participants.

The Dombeks will not be able to claim bankruptcy protection to avoid liability for the judgments.  Dombek Jr. and Dombek III both previously had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. The Labor Department filed separate complaints to determine the dischargeability of these obligations and seek the enforcement of any monetary judgment against both individuals to restore the funds to the employee benefit programs. On October 5 and October 16, 2012, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted the Labor Department’s motions for default judgment, finding that the debts Dombek Jr. and Dombek III owed to the plans were not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

Business Leaders Risk Personal Liability When Employee Contributions Used In Company Operations

The judgement is another reminder to business owners and leaders not to allow employee contributions or other plan assets to be used to pay company expenses or otherwise misdirected.  The judgment is one many enforcement actions that the Department of Labor regularly takes against businesses and business leaders that allow plan assets to be used for company operations or other improper purposes.

“Failing to administer health insurance premiums properly demonstrates a total lack of concern for employees and their families,” said Steve Haugen, director of the Chicago Regional Office of the Labor Department’s Employee Benefit Security Administration. “Incorporating employees’ voluntary salary contributions into the general assets of a company and failing to forward them to the retirement plan are violations of both the law and the trust workers have placed in their employers.”

The judgement shows that owners, operators and managers of businesses that exercise discretion and control over the funding, investment or administration of employee benefit plans or their assets face significant liability for failing to properly fulfill their responsibilities with respect to their employee benefit plans.  Businesses, their owners, board members, officers, and other members of management making decisions about the maintenance, funding, administration, termination, hiring or appointment of fiduciaries or service providers or other matters impacting the employee benefit plan should ensure that they understand the potential implications and responsibilities associated with these activities for themselves and their companies.  Individuals who have authority or responsibility for employee benefit plans who also perform or take part in the performance of other company management functions also should pre-educate themselves about when ERISA may require that their plan responsibilities be put before otherwise applicable responsibilities to their company, appropriate processes for documenting decisions and activities, and other procedures to help position activities to mitigate exposures and promote defensibility.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices or with other employee benefits, human resources, health care or insurance matters, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on leading health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

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

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and registerto receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


2013 Maximum Yearly PBGC Guaranteed Pension Benefit Amount To Increase Slightly In 2013

November 28, 2012

The yearly maximum guaranteed benefit for a 65-year-old retiree under the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) insurance program will increase to almost $57,500 in 2013, up from $56,000 in 2012.  Beginning in 2013, the PBGC announced November 27, 2012 that the maximum yearly guarantee for a 65-year-old retiree is $57,477.24. The increase is not retroactive.

The slight increase in the  guaranteed benefit is likely to be meaningful for the many pensioners receiving benefits under pension plans covered by the PBGC insurance program. This program insures guaranteed benefits amounts for pensioners of defined benefit plans covered by the PBGC insurance programs that are underfunded under the PBGC rules when terminated and otherwise meet program requirements.  Most retirees who get their pension from PBGC — almost 85 percent — receive the full amount of their promised benefit. In some cases, retirees can receive more than the PBGC maximum guarantee.

The PBGC maximum guarantee is based on a formula prescribed by federal law. Yearly amounts are higher for people older than age 65, and lower for those who retire earlier or choose survivor benefits (see chart).  If a pension plan ends in 2013, but a retiree does not begin collecting benefits until a future year, the 2013 rates still apply. For plans that terminate as a result of bankruptcy, the maximum yearly rates are guided by the limits in effect on the day the bankruptcy started, not the day the plan ended.

The following chart shows the 2013 annual and monthly maximum benefit guarantees for retirees from ages 45 to 75. The maximum amount is lower for retirees who begin getting benefits at ages below 65, reflecting the fact that younger retirees receive more monthly pension checks over a longer lifetime. The maximum amount is higher for benefits starting at ages above 65, because older retirees receive fewer monthly pension checks over their expected lifetimes.

PBGC Maximum Monthly Guarantees for 2013
Age Annual Maximum Monthly Maximum Monthly Joint and 50% Survivor Maximum*
75 174,730.80 14,560.90 13,104.81
74 158,867.04 13,238.92 11,915.03
73 143,003.40 11,916.95 10,725.26
72 127,139.64 10,594.97 9,535.47
71 111,275.88 9,272.99 8,345.69
70 95,412.24 7,951.02 7,155.92
69 85,641.12 7,136.76 6,423.08
68 77,019.48 6,418.29 5,776.46
67 69,547.44 5,795.62 5,216.06
66 63,225.00 5,268.75 4,741.88
65 57,477.24 4,789.77 4,310.79
64 53,453.88 4,454.49 4,009.04
63 49,430.40 4,119.20 3,707.28
62 45,407.04 3,783.92 3,405.53
61 41,383.56 3,448.63 3,103.77
60 37,360.20 3,113.35 2,802.02
59 35,061.12 2,921.76 2,629.58
58 32,762.04 2,730.17 2,457.15
57 30,462.96 2,538.58 2,284.72
56 28,163.88 2,346.99 2,112.29
55 25,864.80 2,155.40 1,939.86
54 24,715.20 2,059.60 1,853.64
53 23,565.72 1,963.81 1,767.43
52 22,416.12 1,868.01 1,681.21
51 21,266.52 1,772.21 1,594.99
50 20,117.04 1,676.42 1,508.78
49 18,967.44 1,580.62 1,422.56
48 17,817.96 1,484.83 1,336.35
47 16,668.36 1,389.03 1,250.13
46 15,518.88 1,293.24 1,163.92
45 14,369.28 1,197.44 1,077.70
* Both spouses the same age

The PBGC insurance program is funded through insurance premiums paid by covered plans.  In recent years, the number of underfunded plans has increased due to a lagging economy, declines in market performance and other factors.  The demands on the PBGC insurance program prompted Congress to increase premiums, modify pension funding rules and enact various other reforms in an effort to shore up the PBGC insurance program.  The PBGC also has undertaken a number of regulatory and operational reforms.  Companies sponsoring plans covered by the PBGC insurance program should review their existing funding and insurance requirements to ensure that they are in compliance with existing rules and taking advantage of  the most favorable opportunities under these rules.  In addition, companies sponsoring defined benefit plans govered by the PBGC insurance program and/or the Internal Revenue Code and Employee Retirement Income Security Act’s minimum funding rules or entities that are  part of commonly controlled or affiliated groups of companies, purchasing stock or assets from such company groups or lending to or investing in such entities should evaluate the funding status of these programs and the responsibilities and liability exposures that might impact their interests.

For additional information, see PBGC’s fact sheet “Pension Gurantees” and for information about the benefits guaranteed by the PBGC, see “Making Sense of the Maximum Insurance Benefit.”

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices to respond to emerging health plan regulations, monitoring or commenting on these rules, defending your health plan or its administration, or other health or employee benefit, human resources or risk management concerns, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

About Ms. Stamer

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

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

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and registerto receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns  see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mail to  cstamer@solutionslawyer.net.

About Solutions Law Press

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

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Western Mixers & Officers Ordered To Pay $1.2M+ For Improperly Using Benefit Plan Funds For Company Operations, Other ERISA Violations

May 23, 2012

Businesses owners and managers should treat last week’s judgment against a California fruit and nut supplier Western Mixers Inc. and its officers as a wake-up call to meet employee benefit funding obligations, not to use plan monies for company operations and to take other required steps to make sure that retirement, health and other employee benefit plans moneys and other responsibilities are properly handled.

Under a judgment entered in Solis v. Frank L. Rudy et. al. and Western Mixers Inc. Money Purchase Pension Plan, Western Mixers Inc., its owners and officers will pay a total of $1,287,901 to the company’s pension plan, plus a 20 percent penalty to the Department of Labor.

Following an investigation by the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), the Department of Labor sued Western Mixers Inc. and two officers who served as trustees of the plan for failing to make approximately $952,511 in mandatory employer contributions for the benefit of participants and beneficiaries and improperly using plan monies in the company’s business operations. Investigators also found that the same two officers as well as the company’s chief financial officer made $565,000 in unauthorized withdrawals from the plan accounts, commingling those funds in the company’s general accounts and using them for the benefit of the business. 

Labor Department officials sued the company, and the officers for violation of the fiduciary responsibility rules of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).  ERISA generally requires that plan trustees and other plan fiduciaries carry out duties with respect to an employee benefit plan assets prudently for the exclusive benefit of participants. 

Pursuant to the consent judgment, the company and its officers admitted to violation of ERISA.  During the course of the investigation leading up to the lawsuit, the company previously repaid to the plan $485,000 of the total funds identified as missing by the Labor Department.  According to an announcement of the U.S. Department of Labor on May 14, 2012, Midwest Mixers Inc.’s officers agreed to repay $802,901 to participants’ accounts within 10 day of the judgment.

In addition to repaying the missing funds with interest, defendants also must pay a penalty equal to 20 percent of the recovered amount.  The court also has appointed an independent fiduciary to terminate the plan and to collect, marshal, pay out and administer plan assets. Frank L. Rudy and David H. Bolstad, owners of the company, are removed as plan trustees and fiduciaries. Together with Robert J. Fischer, Western Mixers, Inc.’s chief financial officer, they are permanently enjoined and restrained from violating ERISA and from serving as fiduciary or service providers to any ERISA-covered plan in the future.

The Western Mixer’s judgement demonstrates that owners, operators and managers of businesses that exercise discretion and control over the funding, investment or administration of employee benefit plans or their assets face significant liability for failing to properly fulfill their responsibilities with respect to their employee benefit plans.  Businesses, their owners, board members, officers, and other members of management making decisions about the maintenance, funding, administration, termination, hiring or appointment of fiduciaries or service providers or other matters impacting the employee benefit plan should ensure that they understand the potential implications and responsibilities associated with these activities for themselves and their companies.  individuals who have authority or responsibility for employee benefit plans who also perform or take part in the performance of other company management functions also should pre-educate themselves about when ERISA may require that their plan responsibilities be put before otherwise applicable responsibilities to their company, appropriate processes for documenting decisions and activities and other procedures that can help position activities to mitigate exposures and promote defensibility.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices or with other employee benefits, human resources, health care or insurance matters, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on leading health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

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

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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


Free 12/6/10 ABA RPTE Employee Benefit Groups Study Group Conference Call Examines PBGC Enforcement of Downsizing Liability, Updated Reporting & Other PBGC Developments

November 19, 2010

The American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Arrangements Group invites members and other interested legal counsel and benefit practitioners to catch up on the latest Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) enforcement and regulatory developments by participating in its next regular one hour Study Group Conference Call on Monday, December 6, 2010, at 1 PM Eastern, Noon Central, 11 AM Mountain and 10 AM Pacific.  There is no charge to take part in the Study Group Conference call. 

During the call the Plan Transactions and Terminations Committee, chaired by Harold Ashner of Keightley & Ashner LLP (former PBGC Assistant General Counsel for Legislation and Regulations) will discuss recent PBGC reporting, monitoring, and enforcement developments, with a focus on PBGC’s pursuit of “downsizing liability” under ERISA Section 4062(e) and on how to deal with this liability effectively. 

The dial-in information for the call is:

Phone Number:   866/646-6488

Participant Pass code: 7255887619

If your client or organization maintains a PBGC-covered pension plan, you need to understand the various circumstances that may lead PBGC to pursue a claim for as much as the plan’s full termination-based underfunding — even though the pension plan remains ongoing with no intention to terminate it.  These circumstances go well beyond a traditional plant closing, and may include a going-concern asset sale, a stock sale, a transfer of operations to another facility, a temporary suspension of operations, or the discontinuance of one operation with all other operations continuing. 

Topics covered will include PBGC reporting requirements, triggers for 4062(e) liability, issues relating to how the liability is calculated, and options for settling the liability. Come prepared with your questions!

To receive handout materials, please RSVP, email Committee Vice Chair Robert Miller (rmiller@calfee.com) to let the Committee know you plan to attend.  If you have questions you’d like to have discussed on the call, you can include those questions along with your RSVP.  There is no charge for participating.

Membership In RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group Offers Many Benefits

Chaired by Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, membership in the Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Arrangements Group offers attorneys and others employee benefit professionals a broad range of opportunities to develop and expand their employee benefit knowledge, provide leadership and input on evolving employee benefit policies and practices, to network and collaborate with fellow practitioners, and to participate in a broad range of other activities designed to advance employee benefit knowledge and professionalism.  The Group focuses on all aspects of employee benefit plans and other compensation arrangements, including issues relating to qualified plans, medical and other welfare plans and nonqualified deferred compensation plans, the fiduciary responsibilities of plan trustees, plan administrators and other plan fiduciaries, plan administration, plan transactions, plan terminations, and litigation involving this area of practice.   If you would like more information about the Group or getting involved in its activities, please see RPTE Website orcontact its Chair, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, at cstamer@solutionslawyer.net or (469) 767-8872. 

About Ms. Stamer

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefit & Other Compensation Group, a Council Member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has more than 23 years experience advising and representing employers, health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries and plan administrators, consultants, vendors, outsourcers, insurers, governments and others about employment, employee benefit, compensation, and a wide range of other performance, legal and operational risk management practices and concerns.  As a part of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with clients to manage risks and defend practices under a wide range of laws and circumstances.  Her experience includes extensive work advising and representing employers, plans, plan fiduciaries, trustees, investors, and others about managing and resolving risks relating to distressed pension and other employee benefit plans, downsizing and other workforce reengineering and other similar matters.  A prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer also publishes, conducts client and other training, speaks and consults extensively on GINA and other employment and employee benefit risk management practices and concerns for the ABA, World At Work, SHRM, American Health Lawyers Association, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society for Professional Benefits Administrators, HCCA, Southwest Benefits Association and many other organizations.  Her insights on these and related topics have appeared in Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, various ABA publications and a many other national and local publications. To learn more about Ms. Stamer, her experience, involvements, programs and publications, see here or contact Ms. Stamer.

Other Resources & Developments

If you found this information of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing other recent Solutions Law Press updates including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates and notices about upcoming programs and events, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here.  To unsubscribe, send an e-mail with “Unsubscribe” in the subject here.  For important information concerning this communication click here.

©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


Certain Workforce Reductions Trigger Plant Closing Notice & Other Obligations

January 6, 2010

While some businesses report improved business or hiring outlooks for 2010, many others are running out of time before the economic downturn and financing restrictions will force them to implement workforce reductions, close plants, or shut down all or portions of their business operations.  Where a distressed business contemplates a plant closing or mass layoff, the business and its leaders should consider its potential responsibilities under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) and where applicable, make appropriate arrangements to comply or implement the restructuring to minimize or avoid triggering WARN obligations.

In addition to 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.  Read more.


Mishandling Employee Benefit Obligations Creates Big Liabilities For Distressed Businesses & Their Business Leaders

December 18, 2009

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

Business owners, executives, board members, and other business leaders of companies facing financial challenges should heed a mounting series of recent fiduciary liability settlement orders, judgments and prosecutions as strong reminders of the potential personal risk they may face if their health, 401(k) or other employee benefit programs are not appropriately funded and administered as required by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA). 

Businesses leaders struggling to deal with economic setbacks frequently may be tempted to use employee benefit plan contributions or funds for added liquidity or otherwise fail to take appropriate steps to protect and timely deposit plan contributions or other plan assets.  A long and ever-mounting series of decisions demonstrates the risks of yielding to these temptations for businesses that sponsor these plans and the business leaders that make these decisions.

EBSA Prosecutes Businesses & Executives That Bungle ERISA Obligations

The mishandling of employee benefit obligations by financially distressed companies during the ongoing economic downturn is fueling an increase in Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) enforcement actions against distressed or bankrupt companies and their officers or directors for alleged breaches of fiduciary duties or other mishandling of medical, 401(k) or other pension, and other employee benefit programs sponsored by their financially distressed companies.

EBSA enforcement activities during 2009 continue to highlight the longstanding and ongoing policy of aggressive investigation and enforcement of alleged misconduct by companies, company officials, and service providers in connection with the maintenance, administration and funding of ERISA-regulated employee benefit plans. A review of the Labor Department’s enforcement record makes clear that where the Labor Department perceives that a plan sponsor or its management fails to take appropriate steps to protect plan participants, the Labor Department will aggressively pursue enforcement regardless of the size of the plan sponsor or its plan, or the business hardships that the plan sponsor may be facing.

EBSA reports enforcing $1.3 billion in recoveries related to pension, 401(k), health and other benefits during fiscal year 2009. EBSA has filed numerous lawsuits to compel distressed companies and/or members of their management to pay restitution or other damages for alleged breaches of ERISA fiduciary duties, to appoint independent fiduciaries, or both for plans sponsored by bankrupt or financially distressed companies.

Recent settlements and judgments obtained by the Labor Department and through private litigation document that officers and other members of management participating, or possessing authority to influence, the handling of heath, 401(k) and other pension, or other employee benefit plans regulated by ERISA may be exposed to personal liability if these benefit programs are not maintained and administered appropriately. This risk is particularly grave when the sponsoring company becomes financially distressed or goes bankrupt, as the handling of employee benefit and other responsibilities becomes particularly disrupted and the lack of company liquidity often leaves executives and service providers as the only or best source of recovery for government officials and private plaintiffs.

Executives Ordered To Pay To Make Things Right

In the December 2, 2009 decision in Solis v. Struthers Industries Inc., for instance, a federal district judge ordered business leader Jomey B. Ethridge liable to pay $303,084.61 to restore assets belonging to the 401(k) plan of bankrupt Struthers Industries in an ERISA fiduciary responsibility action filed by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA). Filed by the EBSA in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, the Struthers Industries lawsuit alleged that Ethridge and Struthers Industries allowed employee contributions to be used for purposes other than providing benefits resulting in losses of $310,084.57.  According to court documents, Struthers Industries designed and built heat transfer and pressure vessels at its Gulfport facility. In 2001, its 401(k) plan had 278 participants and assets totaling $8,279,083. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2003, and its assets were auctioned off in 2005. An independent fiduciary was appointed by the court in 2007 to manage the plan’s assets.  The ordered Ethridge personally to pay $303,084.61 in restitution to the plan for his involvement in the mishandling of the plan’s assets. The order also bars Ethridge from acting as a benefit plan fiduciary in the future.

The Struthers Industries decision comes on the heels of EBSA’s success in Solis v. T.E. Corcoran Co. Inc. last month in recovering more than $89,000 from business owners and operators found to have breached fiduciary duties to the participants of the T.E. Corcoran Co. Inc. Profit Sharing Plan by improperly loaning plan assets to he plan sponsor and an affiliated company. The Labor Department sued T.E. Corcoran Co. and its owners, John F. Corcoran and Thomas E. Corcoran Jr., alleging that the company and its owners caused the plan to lend money to the two companies at below market interest rates, without terms of payment and without documentation in violation of ERISA. The suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, also named as a defendant Coran Development Co. Inc., a company co-owned by the Corcorans.  T.E. Corcoran Co. Inc. was the sponsor and administrator of the plan, while John and Thomas Corcoran were trustees of the plan, making all three fiduciaries and parties in interest with respect to the plan. ERISA specifically prohibits the use of employee benefit plan funds to benefit parties in interest.

The Corcoran judgment requires that the plan account balances of defendants John F. Corcoran and Thomas E. Corcoran Jr. be offset in the amount of $89,273 plus interest to be allocated to the accounts of the other plan participants. The offset will make whole all of the accounts of the non-trustee participants. In addition, the court order appoints an independent trustee to oversee the final distribution of the plan’s assets and the proper termination of the plan, requires the defendants to cooperate fully with the independent trustee in this process, and then prohibits them from serving as fiduciaries to any ERISA-covered plan for 10 years.

A complex maze of ERISA, tax and other rules make the establishment, administration and termination of employee benefit plans a complicated matter. When the company sponsoring a plan goes bankrupt or becomes distressed, the rules, as well as the circumstances can make the administration of these responsibilities a powder keg of liability for all involved. Companies and other individuals that in name or in function possess or exercise discretionary responsibility or authority over the maintenance, administration or funding of employee benefit plans regulated by ERISA frequently are found to be accountable for complying with the high standards required by ERISA for carrying out these duties based on their functional ability to exercise discretion over these matters, whether or not they have been named as fiduciaries formally.

Despite these well-document fiduciary exposures and a well-established pattern of enforcement by the Labor Department and private plaintiffs, many companies and their business leaders fail to appreciate the responsibilities and liabilities associated with the establishment and administration of employee benefit plans. Frequently, companies sponsoring their employee benefit plans and their executives mistakenly assume that they can rely upon vendors and advisors to ensure that their programs are appropriately established the establishment and maintenance of these arrangements with limited review or oversight by the sponsoring company or its management team.

In other instances, businesses and their leaders do not realize that the functional definition that ERISA uses to determine fiduciary status means that individuals participating in discretionary decisions relating to the employee benefit plan, as well as the plan sponsor, may bear liability under many commonly occurring situations if appropriate care is not exercised to protect participants or beneficiaries in these plans.

For this reason, businesses providing employee benefits to employees or dependents, as well as members of management participating in, or having responsibility to oversee or influence decisions concerning the establishment, maintenance, funding, and administration of their organization’s employee benefit programs need a clear understanding of their responsibilities with respect to such programs, the steps that they should take to demonstrate their fulfillment of these responsibilities, and their other options for preventing or mitigating their otherwise applicable fiduciary risks.

If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to these or other employment, health or other employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance or other concerns or claims, 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, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation and employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment, 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, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 20 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.

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