IRS Shares Initial CARES Act Plan Loan & Distribution Relief Guidance

May 5, 2020

Section 2202 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), enacted on March 27, 2020, provides for special distribution options and rollover rules for retirement plans and IRAs and expands permissible loans from certain retirement plans.

While it anticipates issuing further guidance, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) on May 4 provided preliminary guidance in question and answer format titled Coronavirus-related relief for retirement plans and IRAs questions and answers.

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 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 business, government and community organizations and their leaders, spoken and published extensively on human resources, employee benefits and other workforce and services, tax, health care and health benefits, insurance, workers’ compensation and occupational disease, business disaster and distress and many other management topics, As a key focus of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked with public and private employers 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 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 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 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. 


ONC New Emphasis On Health IT Interoperability Promises New Demands & Opportunities

January 8, 2019

Interoperability will be a key priority for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (“ONC”) going forward.

That’s the message in the just released 2018 Report to Congress: Annual Update on the Adoption of a Nationwide System for the Electronic Use and Exchange of Health Information (“Report”).

The planned shift to demand greater interoperability promises to create new demands for employer-sponsored health plans, health insurers and others involved in the healthcare delivery and payment processes. Health plans and their insurers and sponsors should begin preparing for these new demands, as well as to leverage the new opportunities and manage the new risks they will create.

The Report describes barriers, actions taken, and recommendations as well as ONC’s path forward to implement the 21st Century Cures Act.

Under the 21st Century Cures Act, Congress gave HHS authority to enhance innovation, scientific discovery, and expand the access and use of health information through provisions related to:

  • The development and use of upgraded health IT capabilities;
  • Transparent expectations for data sharing, including through open application programming interfaces (APIs); and
  • Improvement of the health IT end user experience, including by reducing administrative burden.

These priorities seek to increase nationwide interoperability of health information and reduce clinician burden..

Current Status

The Report says increases in the adoption of health IT means most Americans receiving health care services now have their health data recorded electronically. However, this information is not always accessible across systems and by all end users—such as patients, health care providers, and payers—in the market in productive ways. For example:

  • Despite the individual right to access health information about themselves established by the HIPAA Privacy Rule, patients often lack access to their own health information, which hinders their ability to manage their health and shop for medical care at lower prices;
  • Health care providers often lack access to patient data at the point of care, particularly when multiple health care providers maintain different pieces of data, own different systems, or use health IT solutions purchased from different developers; and
  • Payers often lack access to clinical data on groups of covered individuals to assess the value of services provided to their customers.
  • The Report says these limitations create several problems, including:
    • Patients should be able to easily and securely access their medical data through their smartphones. Currently, patients electronically access their health information through patient portals that prevent them from easily pulling from multiple sources or health care providers. Patient access to their electronic health information also requires repeated use of logins and manual data updates.
    • For health care providers and payers, interoperable access and exchange of health records is focused on accessing one record at a time.
    • Payers cannot effectively represent their members if they lack computational visibility into which health care providers offer the highest quality care at the lowest cost. Without the capability to access multiple records across a population of patients, health care providers and payers will not benefit from the value of using modern computing solutions—such as machine learning and artificial intelligence—to inform care decisions and identify trends.
    • Payers and employer group health plans which purchase health care have little information on health outcomes. Often, health care providers and payers negotiate contracts based on the health care provider’s reputation rather than on the quality of care that health care provider offers to patients. Health care providers should instead compete based on the entire scope of the quality and value of care they provide, not on how exclusively they can craft their networks. Outcome data will allow payers to apply machine learning and artificial intelligence to have better insight into the value of the care they purchase.
  • Current Barriers
  • According to the Report, HHS heard from stakeholders over the past year that barriers to interoperable access to health information remain, including technical, financial, trust, and business practice barriers. These barriers impede the movement of health information to where it is needed across the care continuum. In addition, burden arising from quality reporting, documentation, administrative, and billing requirements that prescribe how health IT systems are designed also hamper the innovative usability of health IT.
  • Current and Upcoming Actions
  • The Report states HHS has many efforts to help ensure that electronic health information can be shared safely and securely where appropriate to improve the health and care of all Americans.
  • ONC also reports Federal agencies, states, and industry have taken steps to address technical, trust, and financial challenges to interoperable health information access, exchange, and use for patients, health care providers, and payers (including insurers). HHS aims to build on these successes through the ONC Health IT Certification Program, HHS rulemaking, health IT innovation projects, and health IT coordination.
  • In accordance with the Cures Act, HHS is actively leading and coordinating a number of key programs and projects. These include continued work to deter and penalize poor business practices and that HHS conducted multiple outreach efforts to engage the clinical community and health IT stakeholders to better understand these barriers, challenges, and health care provider burden.
  • Recommendations
  • The Report makes the following overarching recommendations for future actions HHS plans to support through its policies and that the health IT community as a whole can take to accelerate progress:
    • Focus on improving interoperability and upgrading technical capabilities of health IT, so patients can securely access, aggregate, and move their health information using their smartphones (or other devices) and health care providers can easily send, receive, and analyze patient data.
      Increase transparency in data sharing practices and strengthen technical capabilities of health IT so payers can access population-level clinical data to promote economic transparency and operational efficiency to lower the cost of care and administrative costs.
      Prioritize improving health IT and reducing documentation burden, time inefficiencies, and hassle for health care providers, so they can focus on their patients rather than their computers.

    The Report also says interoperable access underpins HHS’s efforts to pursue a health care system where data are available when and where needed.

    ONC intends to particularly focus on promoting open APIs. Open APIs are technology that allow one software program to access the services provided by another software program and can improve access and exchange of health information. ONC says APIs can:

    • Support patients’ ability to have more access to information electronically through, for example, smartphones and mobile applications. HHS applauds the emergence of patient-facing applications that allow patients to access, aggregate, and act on their health information; and
    • Allow payers to receive necessary and appropriate information on a group of members without having to access one record at a time.
    • Increase institutional accountability, support value- based care models, and lead to competitive medical care pricing that benefits patients.

    The Report claims patients, health care providers, and payers with appropriate access to health information can use modern computing solutions to generate value from the data. Improved interoperability can strengthen market competition, result in greater quality, safety, and value for the healthcare system, and enable patients, health care providers, and payers to experience the benefits of health IT.

    Prepare For Enhanced Operability Requirements

    ONC’s plan to achieve greater interoperability presents new business and compliance planning opportunities and challenges for health care providers, health insurers and other payers, health data and information technology (IT) providers and others. Among other things, participants in the healthcare system and their suppliers will need to prepare to comply with new expectations and mandates for interoperability. Meeting these demands will require financial expenditures as well as present technological challenges.The increased availability and access to electronica medical records and information resulting from these changes also a can be expected to drive new challenges and demands. Among other things, businesses relying on control of health information or records to influence or control patience, reimbursement, or other business value need to reevaluate and adjust their business models accordingly.

    Improve accessibility and interoperability also is likely to create new expectations and demands by patients, payers, other providers and perhaps most significantly for providers and payers, regulators. Participants in the system will need to understand these applications and prepare to both defend their business performance as well as their compliance taking into account these new demands.

    Amid all of this, of course, providers, pears, and their business associates can anticipate continued if not enhanced demands for enhanced data security and privacy protections and accompanying enforcement of these standards.

    As ONC move forward on its plans to enhance interoperability, all concerned stakeholders will want to monitor developments and provide thoughtful and timely input. The time to get started is now. ONC and it’s sister agency, the Office of Civil Rights currently are inviting public comments about how to achieve these and other health IT and privacy improvements. Those interested in providing input should make sure their comments are submitted by the applicable deadlines next month.

    ONC and it’s sister agency, the Office of Civil Rights currently are inviting public comments about how to achieve these and other health IT and privacy improvements. Read the full Report here and share your input by the specified deadlines.

    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 managed care and other health industry, health and other benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

    Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer has been continuously involved the design, regulation, administration and defense of managed care and other health and employee benefit, health care, human resources and other staffing and workforce arrangements, contracts, systems, and processes.  As a continuous component of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked closely with these and other clients on the design, development, administration, defense, and breach and data recovery of health care, workforce, insurance and financial services, trade secret and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career.

    Scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues.

    Ms. Stamer’s clients include employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors;  managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers and their management; public and private, domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long-term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, health care accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; managed care organizations, insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations; group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; claims, billing and other health care and insurance technology and data service organizations; other health, employee benefit, insurance and financial services product and solutions consultants, developers and vendors; and other health, employee benefit, insurance, technology, government and other management clients.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


    1/18 Deadline To Comment on OCC Child Care Plan Preprint

    December 13, 2017

    January 8, 2018 is the deadline to comment on the Office of Child Care (OCC) FY 2019–2021 Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Plan Preprint including plans to grant waivers for childcare background checks.

    The Preprint introduces the process and criteria for requesting additional time to complete background check requirements for interstate check components and for addressing the backlog of completing background checks for existing providers.

    According to the Request for Comments, OCC is committed to granting additional waivers of up to 2 years, in 1-year increments (i.e., potentially through September 30, 2020), for background check requirements only in recognition of the significant challenges to implementing the CCDF background check requirements, . To receive these time-limited waivers, states and territories will have to meet milestones to ensure that they have requirements in place for a particular portion of the components and that they are conducting checks for new staff on those components (i.e., FBI fingerprint checks and the three in-state checks). The details on the milestone prerequisite and how to apply for the waiver are included in section 5.4 of the FY 2019–2021 CCDF Plan.

    OCC has requested that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) grant approval under procedures for emergency processing of the FY 2019–2021 CCDF State/Territory Plan Preprint to ensure that states and territories have sufficient time to complete the OMB-approved Plan Preprint by July 1, 2018. The emergency clearance provides for a single 30-day comment period. Both the Federal Register announcement and a copy of the draft FY 2019–2021 CCDF Plan Preprint are posted on the OCC website. Accordingly, Comments are due no later than January 8, 2018,

    About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

    DOL Proposes Changing FLSA Tipped Employee Pay Rules

    Consider Internal Investigation & Defense Costs When Administering Compliance Programs

    Recruiting Qualified Workers Biggest Challenge US Manufacturers See In Otherwise Optimistic 3rd Quarter 2017

    Government Retirees Get New Thrift Plan Distributing Choices

    Jennifer A. Abruzzo Named NLRB Acting General Counsel

    Bill Mandating E-Verify, Raising Employer I-9 Penalties Approved By House Judiciary Committee

    Address Workplace Harassment During October Stop Bullying Month

    NIOSH Proposed Updated Occupational Safety Chemical Monitoring Rules

    2018 Social Security COLAs Set

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    Read Trump Health Care Executive Order

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Address Workplace Harassment During October Stop Bullying Month

    October 21, 2017

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

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

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

    Checkout StopBullying.gov for more information and free resources.

    About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

    DB Plan Sponsors Check Out New Bifurcated Distribution Model Amendmentsy

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

    Use Lessons Of Past Mistakes or Injustice To Build Better Future

    Prepare For Turnover, Other Challenges From Rising Workforce Competition

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

    Withholding Calculator Tool Helps Workers Figure Withholding

    Better Preparing U.S. Workers To Fill Your Jobs

    SCOTUS Ruling Bars Many State Arbitration Agreement Restrictions

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

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

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

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

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


    Read Trump Health Care Executive Order

    October 12, 2017

    President Trump today (October 12, 2017) issued the following that he promised to be the first in a series of executive orders and other administrative actions that his administration will roll out to provide Obamacare relief  for consumers, employers and others by promoting healthcare choice and competition given the continued difficulty by the Republican-led Congress to pass legislation repealing or replacing the health care law.

    What actually will result remains to be seen.  Like the January 20, 2017 Executive Order Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal that President Trump signed as his first executive order, the new Executive Order doesn’t actually change anything; it merely directs the agencies to review and propose for implementation changes to regulations and other guidance allowed by law.

    On the heels of his announcement of the Executive Order, President Trump moved forward on his promise to take other action on Obamacare by announcing that the Administration will not continue funding for individual subsidies that currently are continued under an Obama Administration action in the absence of Congressional action funding those subsidies.

    Concerned parties should monitor and inform themselves about proposed changes in the Executive Order and other actions as they are proposed and develop, and provide timely comments and other input to help influence the shape and content of any changes proposed or adopted in response to the Executive Order.  Solutions Law Press, Inc. will be monitoring developments.   Stay tuned for updates.

    Language of Executive Order

    By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

    Section 1. Policy.

    (a) It shall be the policy of the executive branch, to the extent consistent with law, to facilitate the purchase of insurance across State lines and the development and operation of a healthcare system that provides high-quality care at affordable prices for the American people. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), however, has severely limited the choice of healthcare options available to many Americans and has produced large premium increases in many State individual markets for health insurance. The average exchange premium in the 39 States that are using http://www.healthcare.gov in 2017 is more than double the average overall individual market premium recorded in 2013. The PPACA has also largely failed to provide meaningful choice or competition between insurers, resulting in one-third of America’s counties having only one insurer offering coverage on their applicable government-run exchange in 2017.

    (b) Among the myriad areas where current regulations limit choice and competition, my Administration will prioritize three areas for improvement in the near term: association health plans (AHPs), short-term, limited-duration insurance (STLDI), and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs).

    (i) Large employers often are able to obtain better terms on health insurance for their employees than small employers because of their larger pools of insurable individuals across which they can spread risk and administrative costs. Expanding access to AHPs can help small businesses overcome this competitive disadvantage by allowing them to group together to self-insure or purchase large group health insurance. Expanding access to AHPs will also allow more small businesses to avoid many of the PPACA’s costly requirements. Expanding access to AHPs would provide more affordable health insurance options to many Americans, including hourly wage earners, farmers, and the employees of small businesses and entrepreneurs that fuel economic growth.

    (ii) STLDI is exempt from the onerous and expensive insurance mandates and regulations included in title I of the PPACA. This can make it an appealing and affordable alternative to government-run exchanges for many people without coverage available to them through their workplaces. The previous administration took steps to restrict access to this market by reducing the allowable coverage period from less than 12 months to less than 3 months and by preventing any extensions selected by the policyholder beyond 3 months of total coverage.

    (iii) HRAs are tax-advantaged, account-based arrangements that employers can establish for employees to give employees more flexibility and choices regarding their healthcare. Expanding the flexibility and use of HRAs would provide many Americans, including employees who work at small businesses, with more options for financing their healthcare.

    (c) My Administration will also continue to focus on promoting competition in healthcare markets and limiting excessive consolidation throughout the healthcare system. To the extent consistent with law, government rules and guidelines affecting the United States healthcare system should:

    (i) expand the availability of and access to alternatives to expensive, mandate-laden PPACA insurance, including AHPs, STLDI, and HRAs;

    (ii) re-inject competition into healthcare markets by lowering barriers to entry, limiting excessive consolidation, and preventing abuses of market power; and

    (iii) improve access to and the quality of information that Americans need to make informed healthcare decisions, including data about healthcare prices and outcomes, while minimizing reporting burdens on affected plans, providers, or payers.

    Sec. 2. Expanded Access to Association Health Plans.

    Within 60 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of Labor shall consider proposing regulations or revising guidance, consistent with law, to expand access to health coverage by allowing more employers to form AHPs. To the extent permitted by law and supported by sound policy, the Secretary should consider expanding the conditions that satisfy the commonality‑of-interest requirements under current Department of Labor advisory opinions interpreting the definition of an “employer” under section 3(5) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. The Secretary of Labor should also consider ways to promote AHP formation on the basis of common geography or industry.

    Sec. 3. Expanded Availability of Short-Term, Limited‑Duration Insurance.

    Within 60 days of the date of this order, the Secretaries of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services shall consider proposing regulations or revising guidance, consistent with law, to expand the availability of STLDI. To the extent permitted by law and supported by sound policy, the Secretaries should consider allowing such insurance to cover longer periods and be renewed by the consumer.

    Sec. 4. Expanded Availability and Permitted Use of Health Reimbursement Arrangements.

    Within 120 days of the date of this order, the Secretaries of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services shall consider proposing regulations or revising guidance, to the extent permitted by law and supported by sound policy, to increase the usability of HRAs, to expand employers’ ability to offer HRAs to their employees, and to allow HRAs to be used in conjunction with nongroup coverage.

    Sec. 5. Public Comment.

    The Secretaries shall consider and evaluate public comments on any regulations proposed under sections 2 through 4 of this order.

    Within 180 days of the date of this order, and every 2 years thereafter, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of the Treasury and Labor and the Federal Trade Commission, shall provide a report to the President that:

    (a) details the extent to which existing State and Federal laws, regulations, guidance, requirements, and policies fail to conform to the policies set forth in section 1 of this order; and

    (b) identifies actions that States or the Federal Government could take in furtherance of the policies set forth in section 1 of this order.

    Sec. 7. General Provisions.

    (a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

    (i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

    (ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

    (b) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

    (c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

    DONALD J. TRUMP

    THE WHITE HOUSE,

    October 12, 2017

    Implications & Actions

    The impact of this and other Executive Orders and other Presidential actions depend upon what actions, if any, the agencies determine they are allowed by law to take and how those changes are implemented.  Concerned persons and organizations should begin preparing input to the agencies and monitoring and commenting on proposals and other guidance to help shape the outcome.

    Solutions Law Press, Inc. is preparing initial analysis of this Executive Order and will be closely monitoring and updating this analysis.  Follow up to learn more and stay abreast of new developments.

    About The Author

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

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

    Well-known for her extensive work with health, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, governmental and other highly regulated employers, her nearly 30 years’ of experience encompasses domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes. Author of numerous works on privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer‘s experience includes involvement in cyber security and other data privacy and security matters for more than 20 years.

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

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

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

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


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

    October 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    About The Author

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

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

    Well-known for her extensive work with health, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, governmental and other highly regulated employers, her nearly 30 years’ of experience encompasses domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes. Author of numerous works on privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer‘s experience includes involvement in cyber security and other data privacy and security matters for more than 20 years.

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

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

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

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

    DB Plan Sponsors Check Out New Bifurcated Distribution Model Amendmentsy

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

    Use Lessons Of Past Mistakes or Injustice To Build Better Future

    Prepare For Turnover, Other Challenges From Rising Workforce Competition

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

    Withholding Calculator Tool Helps Workers Figure Withholding

    Better Preparing U.S. Workers To Fill Your Jobs

    SCOTUS Ruling Bars Many State Arbitration Agreement Restrictions

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

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

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

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

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


    Learn About Rising Group Health Plan Mental Health Mandate Risks From 6/27 “2017 Federal Group Health Plan Mental Health Rules Update”

    June 22, 2017

    Register Now To Participate In 

    “2017 Federal Group Health Plan Mental Health Rules Update

    Solutions Law Press, Inc™ Health Plan Update WebEx Briefing  

    Tuesday, June 27, 2017

    10:30 A.M.-11:30 P.M. Eastern | 11:30 A.M.-12:30 P.M. Central

    EXPANDING REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS & ENFORCEMENT SPELL TROUBLE FOR HEALTH PLANS AND THEIR SPONSORING EMPLOYERS.

    Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ invites employer and other group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, administrative service providers, plan brokers and consultants are invited learn critical information about their expanding risks and responsibilities arising from existing and proposed changes to rules and enforcement of federal group health plan mental health and substance abuse (MH/SUB) coverage and privacy rules under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA), as supplemented by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act) and the Privacy Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) conducted by attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits recognized as among the “Best Lawyers” in employee benefits for her health and other benefit knowledge, experience, policy advocacy and thought leadership.  Register here now!

    Tightening Health Plan Mental Health & Substance Abuse Rules & Enforcement Make Group Health Plan Compliance Critical

    New and proposed guidance jointly published June 16, 2017 by the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health & Human Services (HHS) and Treasury is the latest in a series of regulatory and enforcement developments over the past year alerting  group health plans and their employer and other group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, administrative services providers, plan brokers and consultants involved in health plan design, funding, or administration to get serious about their group health plans’ compliance with the MHPAEA federal group health plan mental health and substance abuse coverage and benefit requirements, as supplemented by the ACA and the Cures Act without running afoul of the Privacy Rules of HIPAA.

    Building upon federal group health plan mental health parity mandates originally implemented under the Mental Health Parity Act, the MHPAEA generally requires that any financial requirements or treatment limitations group health plans impose on mental health and substance use disorder (MH/SUD) benefits not be restrictive than the predominant financial requirements and treatment limitations that apply to substantially all medical and surgical benefits. MHPAEA also imposes several disclosure requirements on group health plans and health insurance issuers.  Not satisfied with the MHPAEA coverage and disclosure protections, however, Congress subsequently broadened federal MH/SUD benefit rights under group health plans through the enactment of the ACA and the Cures Act.  Congress also has imposed special requirements and protections for mental health treatment records adds additional responsibilities for group health plans and their service providers when dealing with information and records in connection with the administration of MH/SUD benefits.

    After a long period of lax oversight and enforcement of these federal group health plan mental health rules, the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury (collectively, the Departments) since October, 2016 have begun both tightening the rules and acting to increase oversight and enforcement.  The Departments have issued a series of joint guidance clarifying and broadening their interpretations of these MH/SUD benefit and disclosure mandates while simultaneously taking steps to increase awareness and enforcement of these rights.  As part of these ongoing efforts, Departments’ on June 16, 2017 expanded this guidance with their publication of new Mental Health Parity Implementation FAQs Part 38 discussing their joint interpretation of the broadening effect of the enactment of the ACA and the Cure Act on these plan requirements.  Concurrently, the Departments signaled their intention to add additional responsibilities for group health plans and insurers by publishing along with FAQ Part 38 a Draft MHPAEA Disclosure Template and request for comments.  This latest guidance package reaffirms that the Departments are continuing efforts to increase oversight of and enforcement of MH/SUD compliance against group health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, and their administrative and other service providers.  In the face of these developments and the reported initiation of enforcement actions by the Departments, the group health plans, their employer and other sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, and their administrative and other service providers should move quickly to understand and update their plans and practices to comply with these recent developments while bracing for the likely need to deal with further expanded disclosure and other additional responsibilities under the MHPAEA jointly proposed by the Departments on June 16, 2017.

    Beyond fulfilling these expanding MHPAEA responsibilities, health plan fiduciaries, administrators, insurers and sponsors also must ensure their health plan and its business associates comply with  special rules concerning the protection, use and disclosure of mental health treatment records and information that may impact certain mental health treatment and other records received, used, retained or disclosed in the course of administering mental health, substance abuse or other provisions of their group health plans under the HIPAA Privacy Rules.  Keeping in mind that HHS audit and enforcement of compliance by health plans and other HIPAA covered entities with HIPAA’s medical privacy and data security rules, health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and administrative and other service providers also should take the opportunity to verify that their plans and practices comply with special HIPAA rules impacting authorizations and other dealings with certain mental health and substance abuse health information and records and other HIPAA medical privacy and security requirements.

    Given these developments, group health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and administrator must take steps to verify and maintain compliance with these federal MH/SUD requirements.  Ensuring proper compliance with these federal rules is particularly important to avoid triggering the substantial liability that health plans, their employer and other sponsors, insurers, and administrators can incur if their health plan violates these mandates.  Obviously, plans and their sponsors, insurers and fiduciaries can expect to pay additional plan expenses necessary to pay wrongfully denied benefits and other expenditures these plan or its fiduciaries expend to investigate, defend and resolve claims or compliance audits, investigations, litigation or actions brought by the Departments, state insurance regulators with respect to state governments or insurers, or private litigation by participants or beneficiaries.  Many employer or other plan sponsors may be unaware that these violations also generally expose employers and other health plan sponsors to liability to self identify, self-report on Internal Revenue Service Form 8928 and self-pay and excise tax of up to $100 per participant per day per uncorrected violation by the due date for filing of their annual corporate tax return.

    With oversight and enforcement already rising and the Departments proposing to expand further both disclosure duties and enforcement, group health plans, their employer and other sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators clearly need to take prompt action to verify their existing health plan provisions and administrative practices are up-to-date and administered to withstand challenge from the Departments, participants, beneficiaries, health care providers and others. Consequently, employer and other group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, administrative services providers, plan brokers and consultants involved in health plan design, funding, or administration should act quickly to verify their plan terms and practices are updated to comply with existing rules and share their input in response to the Departments June 16, 2017 requests for comments.

    ABOUT CYNTHIA MARCOTTE STAMER

    Recognized as “Legal Leader™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in both Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law, a “Texas Top Lawyer,” and an  “AV-Preeminent” and “Top Rated Lawyer” by Martindale-Hubble, singled out as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” in employee benefits by D Magazine; Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely recognized for her nearly 30 years’ of work and pragmatic thought leadership, publications and training on health coverage and health care, health plan and employee benefits, workforce and related regulatory and other compliance, performance management, risk management, product and process development, public policy, operations and other concerns.

    Throughout her legal and consulting career, Ms. Stamer has  drawn recognition for combining extensive knowledge and experience with her talents as an insightful innovator and problem solver when advising, representing and defending employer and other plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries, insurers, electronic and other technology, plan administrators and other service providers, governments and others about health coverage, benefit program design, funding, documentation, administration, data security and use, contracting, plan, public and regulatory reforms and enforcement, and other risk management and operations matters  as well as for her work and thought leadership on a broad range of other health,  employee benefits, human resources and other workforce, insurance, tax, compliance and other matters.  Her experience encompasses leading and supporting the development and defense of innovative new programs, practices and solutions; advising and representing clients on routine plan establishment, plan documentation and contract drafting and review, administration, change and other compliance and operations crisis prevention and response, compliance and risk management audits and investigations, enforcement actions and other dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Justice, state legislatures, attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, and other agencies and regulators,  She also provides strategic and other supports clients in defending litigation as lead strategy counsel, special counsel and as an expert witness.

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

    Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications.  She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients, serves on the faculty and planning committee of many workshops, seminars, and symposia, and on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via email to here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

    About Solutions Law Press

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

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    Parties accessing or using any of Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The publisher and the author expressly disclaim all liability for this content and any responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify anyone of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

    ©2017 Solutions Law Press. All rights reserved.


     

     

     

     

     

     

     


    Health Plans & Other HIPAA Entities Should Learn From $2.75M UMMC HIPAA Settlement

    July 28, 2016

    Employers, insurers and other health plan sponsors or issuers (health plans), health care providers, healthcare clearinghouses (covered entities) and their business associates should reevaluate the adequacy of their practices and procedures for the protection of electronic protected health information (ePHI) on or accessible through laptops or other mobile devices in light of the $2.75 million penalty and other schooling the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) just gave the University of Mississippi (UM) Medical Center (UMMC) documented in a July 7, 2016 Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (Resolution Agreement) resolving OCR charges of multiple violations of the privacy, security and breach notification requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) OCR says it uncovered while investigating UMMC’s breach notification report to OCR of the loss a laptop containing 328 files containing the ePHI of an estimated 10,000 patients.

    UMMC Report of Missing Laptop Leads To Multiple Charges & Resolution Agreement

    Mississippi’s sole public academic health science center, UMMC provides patient care in four specialized hospitals on the Jackson campus and at clinics throughout Jackson and the State as well as conducts medical education and research functions.  Its designated health care component, UMMC, includes University Hospital, the site of the breach in this case, located on the main UMMC campus in Jackson.

    The settlement agreed to by UMMC stems from charges resulting from an OCR investigation of UMMC triggered by a breach of unsecured electronic protected health information (“ePHI”) affecting approximately 10,000 individuals.

    Like many prior resolution agreements previously announced by OCR, UMMC’s HIPAA woes came to light after a laptop went missing.  OCR learned of the breach and opened its investigation in response to a March 21, 2013 notification UMMC filed with OCR.  UMMC made the breach notification to comply with HIPAA’s Breach Notification Rule requirement that health care providers, health plans and healthcare clearinghouses (Covered Entities) timely notify affected individuals, OCR and others of breaches of unsecured ePHI.

    UMMC’s breach notification disclosed that UMMC’s privacy officer had discovered a password-protected laptop containing ePHI of thousands of UMMC patients missing from UMMC’s Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU). UMMC additionally reported that based on its investigation, UMMC believed that the missing laptop likely was stolen by a visitor to the MICU who had inquired about borrowing one of the laptops.

    After discovering the loss, UMMC disclosed the breach to local media and on its website and notified OCR of the breach but apparently did not individually notify the subjects of the missing ePHI.

    In keeping with its announced policy of investigating all breach reports impacting 500 or more individuals, OCR opened an investigation into UMMC’s breach report.  Based on this investigation, OCR concluded that while the laptop apparently was password protected, UMMC had breached the Security Rules because ePHI stored on a UMMC network drive was vulnerable to unauthorized access via UMMC’s wireless network because users could use a generic username and password to access an active directory containing 67,000 files including 328 files containing the ePHI of an estimated 10,000 patients.

    While OCR’s investigation confirmed that UMMC had implemented policies and procedures pursuant to the HIPAA Rules, OCR’s additionally found that the theft of the laptop that prompted UMMC’s breach report resulted from broad deficiencies in UMMC’s implementation and administration of these policies and its practices.

    Based on these findings, OCR charged UMMC with the following HIPAA violations:

    • From the compliance date of the Security Rule, April 20, 2005, through the settlement date, UMMC violated 45 C.F.R. §164.308(a)(1)(i) by failing to implement policies and procedures to prevent, detect, contain, and correct security violations, including conducting an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all of the ePHI it holds, and implementing security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level;
    • From January 19, 2013, until March 1, 2014, UMMC violated 45 C.F.R. §164.310(c) by failing to implement physical safeguards for all workstations that access ePHI to restrict access to authorized users;
    • From the compliance date of the Security Rule, April 20, 2005, to March 14, 2013, UM violated 45 C.F.R. § 164.312 (a)(2)(i) by failing to assign a unique user name and/or number for identifying and tracking user identity in information systems containing ePHI including, for example, allowing workforce members to access ePHI on a shared department network drive through a generic account, preventing UMMC from tracking which specific users were accessing ePHI; and
    • While UMMC provided notification on UMMC’s website and in local media outlets following the discovery of the reported breach of unsecured ePHI,, UMMC violated the Breach Notification Rule by failing to notify each individual whose unsecured ePHI was reasonably believed to have been accessed, acquired, used, or disclosed as a result of the breach.

    Finally, OCR determined that UMMC was aware of risks and vulnerabilities to its systems as far back as April 2005, yet took no significant risk management activity until after the breach, due largely to organizational deficiencies and insufficient institutional oversight.

    To resolve these charges, UMMC agrees in the Resolution Agreement to pay OCR $2.75 million and implement a comprehensive compliance plan which among other things, requires UMMC to conduct a sweeping review and correct its HIPAA privacy, security and breach notification policies and their implementation and administration to comply with HIPAA as well as implement and administer detailed management and OCR oversight and reporting processes over the implementation and administration of these procedures.

    Lessons For Other Covered Entities From UMMC Resolution Agreement

    The UMMC charges and Resolution Agreement contains several key lessons for other covered entities and their business associates, which OCR’s July 21, 2016 announcement warns other covered entities and business associates to heed..

    Certainly, the $2.75 million settlement amount reaffirms that covered entities and their business associates risk substantial liability for failing to properly assess and protect the security of ePHI in accordance with HIPAA’s Privacy and Security Rule.

    Furthermore, the charges and Resolution Agreement also adds a new twist to OCR’s now well established to stiffly sanction covered entities and their business associates that fail appropriately assess and address risks to the security of their ePHI on or accessible from laptops or other mobile devices. Through previous resolution agreements and guidance, OCR has made clear that it interprets the HIPAA Security Rule as generally requiring that covered entities and business associates encrypt all laptops or other mobile devices containing ePHI.  The UMMC charges and Resolution Agreement makes clear that the responsibility to protect ePHI on or accessible through laptops or other mobile devices does not end with encryption.  Rather, the Resolution Agreement makes clear that covered entities and their business associates also must take appropriate, well-documented steps to monitor, assess, identify, and timely and effectively address other potential risks to the security of the ePHI.

    The Resolution Agreement makes clear that these additional responsibilities include, but are not necessarily limited to ensuring that proper safeguards are implemented and enforced to secure access not only to the ePHI contained on the laptop as well as other data bases and systems containing ePHI accessible through the laptop.  In this respect, the Resolution Agreement particularly highlights the need for covered entities and their business associates to assess risks and take appropriate steps:

    • To safeguard the physical security of laptops and other mobile devices;
    • To prevent the use of generic or other unsecure passwords to access ePHI on or accessible through the laptop or other mobile device;
    • To establish and administer appropriate, well-documented processes for assessing and addressing the adequacy of safeguards for and potential threats to the security of ePHI both initially and on an ongoing basis in a manner that meaningfully assesses the actual risks and effectiveness of safeguards against these risks, including those resulting from nonadherence to required safeguards and practices such as the sharing of passwords, changing systems or circumstances, and other developments that potentially threaten the adequacy of ePHI security.

    Furthermore, OCR’s July 21, 2016 press release concerning the Resolution Agreement also sends a clear message to all covered entities and business associates that OCR views HIPAA as requiring organizations not only to adopt written policies and procedures that comply on paper or in theory with HIPAA, but also to take steps to monitor and maintain the effectiveness of their safeguard by continuously assessing and monitoring their HIPAA risks and acting as necessary to ensure that required safeguards of protected health information and ePHI and other HIPAA requirements are effectively implemented and administered in operation as well as form.

    In OCR’s Press Release announcing the Resolution Agreement, OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels. Stated, “We at OCR remain particularly concerned with unaddressed risks that may lead to impermissible access to ePHI.”  She also warned “In addition to identifying risks and vulnerabilities to their ePHI, entities must also implement reasonable and appropriate safeguards to address them within an appropriate time frame.”

    Additionally, the Resolution Agreement also illustrates need for covered entities and business associates to timely provide all individual and other notifications and otherwise fully comply with all requirements of the Breach Notification Rules.

    Since the risk of a breach is ever-present even for Covered Entities and business associates exercising the highest degree of care to safeguard PHI and maintain compliance with HIPAA, Covered Entities and business associates are wise to take steps to position themselves to be able to demonstrate the adequacy of both their written policies and procedures and the effectiveness of their implementation and enforcement including ongoing documented practices for assessing, monitoring and addressing security risks and other compliance concerns as well as prepare to comply with the breach notification requirements in the event they experience their own breach of unsecured ePHI.

    About The Author

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, current American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, former scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and JCEB Council Representative, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section,  the former Board President and Treasurer of the Richardson Development Center for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, and past  Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, is AV-Preeminent (the highest) rated attorney repeatedly recognized for her nearly 30 years of experience and knowledge representing and advising healthcare, health plan and other health industry and others on these and other regulatory, workforce, risk management, technology, public policy and operations matters as a Martindale-Hubble as a “LEGAL LEADER™” and “Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law, Labor and Employment Law, and Business & Commercial Law and among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” by D Magazine.

    Ms. Stamer’s health industry experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

    Ms. Stamer also is known for her experience in HIPAA and other privacy and data security and breach concerns.  The scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers and other plan sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA, FACTA, trade secret and other information privacy and data security rules, including the establishment, documentation, implementation, audit and enforcement of policies, procedures, systems and safeguards, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others. In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

    A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical  staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.

    You can get more information about her health industry experience here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

    About Solutions Law Press Inc.™

    Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides 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.

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

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


    Business Associate Rule Violations Behind $750K HIPAA Settlement

    April 21, 2016

    Health Plans, Sponsors & Business Associates Should Verify Plan’s HIPAA Compliance

    Employers and other health plan sponsors and the health plan fiduciaries and business associates providing services involving dealings on behalf of the plan with protected health information just received another reminder to confirm and be prepared to prove all required business associate agreements are in place and that the health plans otherwise properly are administering all policies, practices, safeguards and procedures for handling, using and disclosing electronic and other protected health information from the April 20, 2016 Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announcement of its latest resolution agreement settling Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rule charges OCR made against a HIPAA-covered entity for violating HIPAA’s business associate agreement rules.

    OCR Charges Brought For Business Associate Agreement Violations

    HIPAA’s Privacy Rules generally apply to “covered entities,” which under HIPAA are health plans and insurers, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and “business associates,” which are individuals or entities that perform services that aid the  Covered Entity to perform its duties as a Covered Entity.

    The Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (Resolution Agreement) with Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic, P.A. of North Carolina (Raleigh Orthopaedic) announced by OCR on April 20th requires Raleigh Orthopaedic to pay $750,000 to settle  charges OCR it violated the Privacy Rule by handing over protected health information of approximately 17,300 patients to a potential business partner without first executing a business associate agreement.

    Raleigh Orthopaedic is a provider group practice that operates clinics and a surgery center in the Raleigh, North Carolina area. OCR initiated its investigation of Raleigh Orthopaedic after receiving a breach report on April 30, 2013.  OCR’s investigation indicated that Raleigh Orthopaedic violated the Privacy Rules by releasing the x-ray films and related protected health information of 17,300 patients to an entity that promised to transfer the images to electronic media in exchange for harvesting the silver from the x-ray films.  Raleigh Orthopaedic failed to execute a business associate agreement with this entity before turning over the x-rays and PHI.

    OCR says this sharing of the x-ray files and other protected health information by Raleigh Orthopaedic violated the Privacy Rules.

    Specifically, the Privacy Rules prohibit Covered Entities and their business associates from using, accessing and disclosing protected health information except as specifically permitted in the Privacy Rules. As part of these rules, the “Business Associate” requirements of the Privacy Rule prohibit Covered Entities from disclosing or allowing business associates to use, and business associates from receiving or using protected health information unless the parties first enter into a written business associate agreement that complies with the requirements of the Privacy Rules.

    The Resolution Agreement settles OCR charges that Raleigh Orthopaedic violated this Business Associate Agreement requirement by sharing the x-rays and other protected health information with the service provider without first entering a business associate agreement. Under the Settlement Agreement, Raleigh Orthopaedic must pay a $750,000 payment, as well as revise its policies and procedures to: establish a process for assessing whether entities are business associates; designate a responsible individual to ensure  business associate agreements are in place prior to disclosing PHI to a business associate; create a standard template business associate agreement; establish a standard process for maintaining documentation of a business associate agreements for at least six (6) years beyond the date of termination of a business associate relationship; and limit disclosures of PHI to any business associate to the minimum necessary to accomplish the purpose for which the Covered Entity hires the business associate.

    Although the Resolution Agreement only addresses charges OCR brought against the Covered Entity, Raleigh Orthopaedic, business associates need to keep in mind that both Covered Entities and business associates now are responsible for ensuring compliance with the business associate agreement requirements of the Privacy Rules since the Stimulus Bill amended HIPAA to make most provisions of the Privacy Rule directly applicable to business associates as well as Covered Entities.

     Take Aways For Covered Entities & Their Business Associates 

    OCR’s announcement of the Resolution Agreement includes a strong message for other Covered Entities and business associates of the importance of taking seriously their responsibility under the Privacy Rule to ensure that the business associate agreement requirements of the Privacy Rule are met before business associates are allowed to receive, access or use protected health information. The announcement quotes Jocelyn Samuels, Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) as stating.  “It is critical for entities to know to whom they are handing PHI and to obtain assurances that the information will be protected.” and “HIPAA’s obligation on covered entities to obtain business associate agreements is more than a mere check-the-box paperwork exercise.”

    In light of the Business Associate Rule and Director Samuels’ comments, Covered Entities and business associates alike should review the adequacy of their documentation, policies and practices regarding dealings with service providers who are or could collect, receive or use electronic or other protected health information to propose or perform services in the capacity as a business associate. Certainly both Covered Entities and business associates to ensure that they possess and are able to produce if needed signed business associate agreements for each current business associate agreement as well as that appropriate policies, practices and procedures are in place to ensure that all required business associate agreements are implemented before any disclosure or use of protected health information to the business associate in the future.  As part of these activities, both Covered Entities and business associates also should ensure their policies and practices appropriately provide for the retention of signed copies of all business associate agreements and other records, and the implementation of all other processes and procedures required to position the entity to be able to demonstrate it not only had policies requiring compliance, but appropriately implemented and administered those policies in accordance with the Privacy Rule.

    When conducting this review, Covered Entities and business associates also generally should consider the advisability of also reviewing their business associate agreements and the adequacy of these arrangements in light of any other contractual confidentiality and or contractual rights and commitments, regulatory requirements and other operational and risk management concerns that impact or interrelate with the relationship between the business associate and the Covered Entity. It is important to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to evaluate and properly integrate the confidentiality and other commitments that the Privacy Rules mandate a business associate agreement include with audit, performance assessment, and other data access or disclosure, trade secrets, confidentiality, performance standards and guarantees, indemnity and other contractual obligations of other agreements that could impact or be impacted  by the business associate agreements. Steps also should be taken to incorporate appropriate processes and procedures for ensuring that the Covered Entity and members of its workforce understand and consistently administer and document their use of appropriate processes to ensure that the business associate agreement and other requirements of the Privacy Rules are fulfilled.  In the case of employer sponsored plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, for instance, the selection and proper oversight of business associates and the management of plan data both are subject to the fiduciary responsibility rules of ERISA.  Meanwhile, insurers, business associates and other plan vendors also generally should anticipate that beyond HIPAA, they also may be subject to data security, privacy and other mandates and exposures under state HIPAA-like rules for protected health information, as well as other obligations under insurance, data security, identity theft, breach, privacy and other state laws.

    The process of evaluating the adequacy of current arrangement and considering the advisability of changes to tighten existing practices in many cases will result in the discovery and discussion of potentially sensitive information about the adequacy of current or past compliance with the Privacy Rules or other matters. For example, it is possible that in the course of review, parties may be unable to locate a signed business associate agreement governing a relationship that the Privacy Rules require be subject to a business associate agreement or in the course of review, information indicating breaches of protected health information or other Privacy Rule violations may have occurred.  For this reason, most Covered Entities and their business associates will want to consider arranging for this review and analysis to be conducted within the scope of attorney-client privilege by or under the direction of qualified legal counsel with HIPAA experience that has entered into a business associate agreement with the Covered Entity or business associate.

    About The Author

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a noted Texas-based management lawyer and consultant, author, lecturer and policy advocate, recognized as among the “Top Rated Labor & Employment Lawyers in Texas” by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® and as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the field of “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits” and “Health Care” by D Magazine who works, writes and speaks extensively about HIPAA and other data privacy and security concerns.

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

    Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer helps management manage. Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce management operations and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.  Well-known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.  Common engagements include internal and external workforce hiring, management, training, performance management, compliance and administration, discipline and termination, and other aspects of workforce management including employment and outsourced services contracting and enforcement, sentencing guidelines and other compliance plan, policy and program development, administration, and defense, performance management, wage and hour and other compensation and benefits, reengineering and other change management, internal controls, compliance and risk management, communications and training, worker classification, tax and payroll, investigations, crisis preparedness and response, government relations, safety, government contracting and audits, litigation and other enforcement, and other concerns.

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

    Throughout her career, Ms. Stamer has advised these and other clients about health care, health plan, financial information, trade secret, privacy and other related compliance, data breach response and remediation and related compliance, risk management and related concerns.  In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated an impressive resume of experience advising and representing clients on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns. The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights for several years, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employer and other sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health plans, health insurers, health care providers, banking, technology and other vendors, and others.

    Beyond advising these and other clients on privacy and data security compliance, risk management, investigations and data breach response and remediation and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She also is the author of numerous highly acclaimed publications, workshops and tools for HIPAA or other compliance including training programs on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

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

    Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers.  Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.  She will share updates on HIPAA and other health care and data security concerns when returns to speak and chair at the 4th Annual Healthcare Privacy and Security Forum scheduled on May 20, 2016 in Los Angeles.

    Beyond these involvements, Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly by email here or by telephone at (469) 767-8872.

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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    ©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press. All other rights reserved.


    Sponsoring Employers Face Excise Taxes, Other Liabilities Unless Health Plans Comply With ACA Out-Of-Pocket & Other Federal Rules

    August 21, 2015

    Employers sponsoring health plans and members of their management named as plan fiduciaries or otherwise having input or oversight over the health plan should verify their company’s group health plan meets the out-of-pocket maximum rules of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) § 1302(c)(1) as well as a long list of other federal health benefit rules to minimize the risk that violations will obligate the sponsoring employer to self-assess, self-report on IRS Form 8928, and pay a $100 per day per violation excise tax penalty and while expose the plan and its fiduciaries to fiduciary or other liability under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ACA).  Consequently, sponsoring employers and their management generally will want to ensure that their plan documents are properly updated to comply with the out-of-pocket maximum and other federal requirements, to require contractual commitments to administer the health plan in compliance with and to report, correct, and indemnify for violations of these requirements in vendor contracts with their health plan insurers, administrators and other vendors, and conduct documented audits to verify the health plan’s operational compliance with these requirements as interpreted by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in form and operation.

    Employers, Insurers & Plan Fiduciaries Face Big Risks From Out-Of-Pocket Limit & Other Federal Health Plan Rule Violations

    As amended by ACA, health plan violations of ACA and various other federal health plan mandates carry big risks for health plans, their sponsoring employers, and representatives of sponsoring employers, insurers and third party administrators responsible as fiduciaries for administering a group health plan in accordance with these federal rules. As amended by ACA, federal law imposes significant penalties against plans, their fiduciaries and even the sponsoring employer if the group health plan violates the ACA out-of-pocket limit or a long list of other ACA and other federal group health rules. Group health plans can face lawsuits from covered persons, their health care providers as assignees or the DOL, to enforce rights to benefits, plus attorneys’ fees and other costs of enforcement. Beyond benefit litigation, the employer or representatives of the sponsoring employer, if any, named or acting as fiduciaries, insurer or third party service providers named or acting as fiduciaries, also could face fiduciary lawsuits seeking damages, equitable relief, and attorneys’ fees and costs of court, for failing to prudently administer the plan in accordance with its terms and the law brought by covered persons or their beneficiaries or the DOL as well as fiduciary breach penalties if the fiduciary breach action is brought by the DOL. If the plan fails to comply with claims and appeals procedures or other ERISA notification requirements, parties named or functioning as the plan administrator for this purpose also could face penalties of up to $125 per violation per day in the case of enforcement actions brought by participants and beneficiaries or $1025 per violation per day in the case of actions brought by the DOL, plus attorneys’ fees and other costs of enforcement.

    Except in rare circumstances where the sponsoring employer has carefully contracted to transfer fiduciary liability to its insurer or administrator and otherwise does not exercise or have a fiduciary obligation to exercise discretion or control over these responsibilities, employers sponsoring group health plans that violate federal mandates like the out-of-pocket limit often ultimately bear some or all of these liabilities even if the violation actually was committed by a plan vendor hired to administer the program either because the plan documents name the employer as the “named fiduciary” or “plan administrator” under ERISA, the employer bears fiduciary responsibility functionally for selection or oversight of the culpable party, the employer signed a contract, resolution or plan document obligating the employer to indemnify the service provider for the liability, or a combination of these reasons. Even where the employer avoids these direct or indirect ERISA exposures, however, employers now also need to be concerned that out-of-pocket limitation or other federal health plan rule violations will trigger expensive excise tax liability for the sponsoring employer.

    As part of ACA, the Internal Revenue Code now generally requires employers sponsoring a group health plan that violates the ACA out-of-pocket limit or a long list of other federal health plan rules after 2013 to self-assess, report and pay stiff new excise tax penalties of $100 per day per violation when filing their annual tax return. See, Businesses Must Confirm & Clean Up Health Plan ACA & Other Compliance Following Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell Decision;  More Work For Employers, Benefit Plans Following SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Ruling; 2016 & 2017 Health Plan Budgets, Workplans Should Anticipate Expected Changes To SBCs.

    Since prompt self-audit and correction can help mitigate these liabilities, business leaders should act quickly to engage experienced legal counsel for their companies for advice about how to audit their group health plan’s 2014 and 2015 compliance with the out-of-pocket limit and other federal health plan rules within the scope of attorney client privilege while managing fiduciary exposures that could result if the audit is improperly structured or conducted, as well as options for addressing potential 2014, 2015 and future years excise tax and other exposures that compliance deficiencies with these rules could trigger.

    Of course, health insurance issuers, administrative service providers, brokers and consultants also face risks when health programs they sell or help administer are not properly designed, documented or administered in compliance with federal health plan rules.  Since ACA generally extends the duty to comply with its out-of-pocket and many other reforms directly to insurers, insurers that issue non-compliant group or individual health plans generally risk direct liability for violations.  Even where the violation doesn’t trigger direct liability for an insurer, third party or other administrative services provider, broker or consultant to an employer or fiduciary of a noncompliant health plan, these vendors generally need to be concerned about liability risks under a variety of theories.  When the involvement includes discretionary involvement in the plan administration, of course, the vendor or advisor could face liability for breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA as ERISA defines fiduciary functionally.  Even when not a fiduciary, however, insurance, administrative services or other plan vendors and consultants also should keep in mind that employers and fiduciaries that incur unexpected excise tax or other liability for an improperly designed or administered plan are likely to look to the consultants and brokers, administrative or other services or other vendors or advisors they relied on to help design or administer the group health plan. As a consequence, such vendors and consultants should use care to advise, and appropriately document their efforts to fully inform their clients and the appropriateness of their actions both to promote and preserve the client relationship and to guard against potential malpractice, deceptive marketing, breach of contract or other claims that unhappy employers or fiduciaries are likely to lodge against advisors or vendors who the employer or fiduciary relied upon to help design or properly document or administer the group health plan. Ensuring that clients obtain proper legal advice and review both helps mitigate liability for the client and, when done with sufficient timeliness to prevent or mitigate a compliance problem, the legal and relationship risks of the broker or consultant or other vendor that foreseeably often follow when a plan sponsor or fiduciary gets nailed for a noncompliant plan.

    When working to manage risks, all parties should recognize the potential benefits of proper involvement of legal counsel in the process.  While sponsoring businesses inevitably will need to involve or coordinate with their accounting, broker, and other vendors involved with the plans, businesses generally will want to get legal advice in a manner that preserves their potential to claim attorney-client privilege to protect against discovery in the event of future enforcement or litigation actions sensitive discussions and analysis about compliance audits, plan design choices, and other risk management and liability planning as well as to get help evaluating potential future plan design changes or proposed solutions to known or suspected liability exposures, particularly in light of complexity of the exposures and risks.

    Since the Form 8928 self-reporting and $100 per day excise tax penalty against employers sponsoring plans violating the out-of-pocket maximum and many other federal health care reforms became effective in 2014, time is of the essence.  The Supreme Court’s recent King v. Burwell decision makes it particularly important that employers and other group health plan sponsors, and those named or serving functionally as the plan administrator or other fiduciary responsible for properly administering the group health plan in accordance with these rules move quickly to manage these risks. With the continued limited Republican majority in the Senate, Republicans lack sufficient votes to override a promised Presidential veto of any legislation that would repeal or substantially modify ACA. Accordingly, employers and fiduciaries should not expect relief for current or 2014 violations to come from Congress anytime soon.  What they can expect, however, is enforcement to accelerate.  resident Obama is moving to help ensure that his Presidential Legacy includes implementation of ACA and to mitigate ACA’s budgetary impacts by collecting excise tax and other penalties from insurers, plan administrators and employers by instructing the Tri-Agencies to move forward on full implementation and enforcement of ACA and other federal health plan rules.  As a consequence, employers that sponsored group health coverage in 2014 need to confirm that their plan complied with the out-of-pocket maximum and other specified federal health plan rules or take timely action to self-assess, report on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 8928, and pay the $100 per day per violation penalty required by the Internal Revenue Code for 2014 when filing their 2014 business tax return.  Consequently, employer and other group health plan sponsors, their management, fiduciaries and vendors should move quickly to assess 2014 and current compliance and take corrective action as needed as quickly as possible.

    Allowable Out-Of-Pocket Limit Amounts For 2014-2016

    The ACA out-of-pocket maximum limitation is one of many broad health care reforms enacted by ACA.  Under its provisions, federal law now limits the amount of the maximum deductible, co-payments or other cost sharing that most employer or union sponsored group health plans can impose on essential health benefits to the out-of-pocket limitation allowed by ACA § 1302(c)(1).  See Public Health Service (PHS) Act §2707(b).

    The out-of-pocket limitations of $6,350 for individual only coverage and $12,700 for other than self-only coverage that first took effect with the 2014 plan year, are subject to annual adjustment for inflation under ACA §1302(c)(4) by the premium adjustment percentage beginning this plan year.  The IRS recently announced the adjusted limitations that will apply to the 2015 and 2016 plan years.  The applicable limits for 2014-2016 are as follows based on this guidance:

    Plan Year Individual Coverage Only Other Than Self-Only
    2014 $6,350 $12,700
    2015  6,600  13,200
    2016  6,850  13,700

    Since noncompliance with this limitation is one of a long list of federal health plan mandates that triggers a duty for the sponsoring employer to self-assess, report and pay an excise tax of $100 per day per violation for post-2013 plan years, employers that sponsored health plans in 2014 generally will want to verify that their plan complied with this out-of-pocket rule in 2014 and ensure that its 2015 plan has been updated to reflect the adjusted limit and otherwise comply with its requirements.

    In this respect, the final HHS Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2016 (2016 Payment Notice) clarifies that the self-only maximum annual limitation on cost sharing applies to each individual, regardless of whether the individual is enrolled in self-only coverage or in coverage other than self-only.

    While employers can design their group health plans to apply higher out-of-pocket limitations on coverages for non-essential benefits and out-of-network care, plans designed to take advantage of this permitted distinction must be carefully administered to ensure that the limits allowed for non-essential benefits are not improperly applied to essential benefit coverages under the plan.  Employers are cautioned to use care to avoid this from occurring by drafting the plan terms and requiring fiduciaries to administer the plan to ensure that:

    • The plan properly essential and non-essential health benefits, both in terms and in operation;
    • The limit is properly applied and calculated with respect to all benefits considered essential health benefits; and
    • The application of higher out-of-pocket limitations for non-essential benefits does not violate other federal health plan rules such as special federal health plan rules regarding out-of-network emergency care, mental health coverage parity, coverage for newborns and mothers, or the like.

    Ensure Plan Language & Operations Comply With Tri-Agency Out-Of-Pocket Guidance & Other Federal Health Plan Rules Harder Than Might Seem

    Updating the out-of-pocket maximum rules of a group health plan to comply with the ACA out-of-pocket maximum rule can be more complicated than many employers or plan fiduciaries might realize since the plan terms, and its administration must comply in form and operation with the regulations and other interpretations of the three agencies jointly responsible for administration and enforcement of this and various other federal health plan rules: the Departments of Health & Human Services (HHS), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Labor (DOL) (collectively, the “Tri-Agencies”).

    In the case of ACA’s out-of-pocket maximum rules, the Tri-Agencies already have supplemented the guidance in their implementing regulations by publishing a FAQ that gives additional clarification and examples that the Tri-Agencies intend to help explain the proper administration of the rule. Group health plans, their insurers or other fiduciaries, as well as sponsoring employers should take into account all of this existing guidance when reviewing and assessing the compliance of their group health plans, as well as stay vigilant for the publication of additional guidance.

    Existing guidance on the out-of-pocket maximum rule states that group health plans and insurance policies generally must count toward the out-of-pocket maximum limit all deductibles, coinsurance, copayments, or similar charges and any other expenditure the group health plan requires a covered person to pay for a qualified medical expense that is an “essential health benefit” within the meaning of ACA other than premiums, balance billing amounts for non-network providers and other out-of-network cost-sharing, or spending for non-essential health benefits.

    One of the first considerations should be to ensure that the plan document and parties responsible for administer it properly understand and apply the rule to all charges falling within coverage for “essential health benefits.” Technically, the out-of-pocket limitation only applies to coverage of “essential health benefits” within the meaning of ACA, in any group health plan, whether insured or self-insured.  What benefits are considered “essential health benefits” is defined by Tri-Agency regulations.  The definition of “essential health benefits” in these Tri-Agency regulations is complicated and generally varies by state, even when the group health plan is self-insured. Sponsors of self-insured group health plans and employers sponsoring plans covering individuals in different states generally will want to seek legal advice about the adequacy of their group health plan’s essential health benefit definition to make sure that these rules and their limitations are met.

    When applying these limits, employers, insurers, and administrators of group health plans attempting to distinguish non-essential health coverages such as prescription drug, behavior health, or dental coverages provided separately from otherwise applicable major medical coverage should consult with legal counsel to confirm that those arrangements comply with existing guidance on ACA’s out-of-pocket maximum and other federal mandates in form and operation.  This analysis generally should both verify that the plan documents and administrative processes incorporate these requirements generally into the plan document as well as include provisions to ensure that these requirements are properly integrated with other federal mandates requiring cost-sharing for emergency care in the case of behavioral health coverage, the applicable federal mental health parity mandates, and other federal health plan rules. Special care and scrutiny should be applied if the group health plan uses multiple service providers to help administer benefits (such as one third-party administrator for major medical coverage, a separate pharmacy benefit manager, and a separate managed behavioral health organization).

    Special care also is needed if a group health plan uses separate plan service providers to administer the plan or certain of its provisions.  Separate plan service providers may impose different levels of out-of-pocket limitations and may utilize different methods for crediting participants’ expenses against any out-of-pocket maximums. Administrators, insurers or other fiduciaries responsible for administration of these coverages must properly coordinate, and sponsoring employers should consult with legal counsel about auditing their plans for proper coordination of these processes across these different service providers.

    Along with making specific plan document and process changes to provide for proper implementation and administration of the out-of-pocket and other federal coverage and benefit mandates, all parties also should review the claims and appeals procedures used in connection with the processing and notification of covered persons about claims and appeals determinations made about denials to ensure that they fully comply with both the DOL’s reasonable claims and appeals regulations and, in the case of non-grandfathered health plans, ACA’s special independent review and other heightened requirements for administering and notifying covered persons or their beneficiaries about claim denials or appeals as any of these violations could trigger the obligation for the sponsoring employer to self-report on IRS Form 8928 and pay the $100 per day per violation ERISA liability for the plan and its fiduciaries, as well as other penalties under ERISA §502(c).

    Sponsoring Employers, Plan Fiduciaries and Vendors Should Act To Manage Exposures

    Since violations trigger substantial excise tax liability for the sponsoring employer, as well as expose the group health plan and its sponsor, members of management or others acting as fiduciaries to judgments, regulatory penalties, and associated investigation, defense settlement and other costs and disruptions, most sponsoring employers and their leaders generally will want to consult with qualified legal counsel knowledgeable about these health plan rules and their management about steps that they should take to prevent or mitigate legal and financial exposures that violations of the out-of-pocket maximum and other federal health plan mandates can trigger. Timely action generally both can help prevent future violations and their expensive redress and mitigate penalties and other exposures incurred for violations, if any, that may have or in the future inadvertently occur.

    Such risk management steps generally might include:

    • Having their plan document reviewed and updated as necessary to comply with the out-of-pocket maximum and other federal health plan rules;
    • Using care in when selecting and contracting with plan insurers or other vendors, by credentialing the vendor and its practices, including provisions requiring insurers, administrators and other group health plan vendors to provide contractual commitments that the policies and other plan documentation, systems and practices provided by the vendor are and will be administered in accordance with the out-of-pocket and other legal mandates, to provide certification of compliance and notice of violations, correction and indemnification of compliance deficiencies, and other related assurances and taking other documented prudent safeguards to require compliant practices;
    • Auditing as part of the vendor selection and renewal process and at other times throughout the year the operational compliance of the administration of the group health plan and taking corrective action as needed;
    • Ensuring that stop-loss, group or other insurance coverages are drafted to include catchall language to help ensure that the employer does not get left unexpectedly self-insuring the cost of funding benefits mandated by law that the carrier asserts fall outside the policy coverage because of gaps between drafting and the law;
    • Arranging for fiduciary liability, directors and officers or other coverage, indemnification from financially secure vendors, or other backup funding to help protect or mitigate the potential costs or liabilities that the sponsoring employer or its plan fiduciaries can expect to incur in the event of a challenge to the compliance of their group health plan or its practices; and
    • Work with qualified legal counsel experienced with these matters to help structure, conduct and document compliance efforts and learn what steps should be taken to prevent or quickly mitigate compliance concerns and contain risks and seeking advice promptly about remediation of risks in the event a compliance concern arises.

    For Legal or Consulting Advice, Legal Representation, Training Or More Information

    If you need help reviewing your group health plan or responding to these new or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, help updating or defending your workforce or employee benefit policies or practices, or other related assistance, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

    Recognized as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law extensively involved in health and other employee benefit and human resources policy and program design and administration representation and advocacy throughout her career, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., a member of Stamer│Chadwick│Soefje PLLC, author, pubic speaker, management policy advocate and industry thought leader with more than 27 years’ experience practicing at the forefront of employee benefits and human resources law.

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on health and other employee benefit, human resources and insurance matters and policy.

    Ms. Stamer helps management manage. Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her 27 plus year career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

    Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce management operations and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy. Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes. Common engagements include internal and external workforce hiring, management, training, performance management, compliance and administration, discipline and termination, and other aspects of workforce management including employment and outsourced services contracting and enforcement, sentencing guidelines and other compliance plan, policy and program development, administration, and defense, performance management, wage and hour and other compensation and benefits, reengineering and other change management, internal controls, compliance and risk management, communications and training, worker classification, tax and payroll, investigations, crisis preparedness and response, government relations, safety, government contracting and audits, litigation and other enforcement, and other concerns.

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

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

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

    Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see http://www.cynthiastamer.com or the Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC website or contact Ms. Stamer via email to here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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    ©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™. All other rights reserved.


    Legal Review Of Health Plan Documents, Processes Needed To Mitigate Employer’s Excise Tax & Other Health Plan Risks

    August 21, 2015

    Employers sponsoring health plans and members of their management named as plan fiduciaries or otherwise having input or oversight over health plan concerns should verify their company’s group health plan meets the out-of-pocket maximum rules of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) § 1302(c)(1) as well as a long list of other federal health benefit rules to minimize the risk that violations will compel the sponsoring employer to self-assess, self-report on IRS Form 8928, and pay a $100 per day per violation excise tax penalty and while expose the plan and its fiduciaries to fiduciary or other liability under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ACA). Consequently, sponsoring employers and their management generally will want to ensure that their plan documents are properly updated to comply with the out-of-pocket maximum and other federal requirements, to require contractual commitments to administer the health plan in compliance with and to report, correct, and indemnify for violations of these requirements in vendor contracts with their health plan insurers, administrators and other vendors, and conduct documented audits to verify the health plan’s operational compliance with these requirements as interpreted by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in form and operation. The new self-reporting and excise tax self-assessment and payment requirements for employers coupled with already long-standing fiduciary and other liabilities for fiduciaries, plan administrators and others makes it important that employers sponsoring group health plans and their management or other leaders overseeing or participating in plan design or vendor selection, plan administration or other plan related activities seek the advice and help of qualified, experienced legal counsel for assistance with conducting an appropriate compliance review and risk assessment of their health plans, correcting or taking other steps to mitigate risks from any past or existing violations, and steps to take to tighten documents, vendor contracts, and processes to mitigate compliance or other risks going forward.

    Employers, Insurers & Plan Fiduciaries Face Big Risks From Federal Health Plan Rule Violations

    As amended by ACA, health plan violations of ACA and various other federal health plan mandates carry big risks for health plans, their sponsoring employers, and representatives of sponsoring employers, insurers and third party administrators responsible as fiduciaries for administering a group health plan in accordance with these federal rules. As amended by ACA, federal law imposes significant penalties against plans, their fiduciaries and even the sponsoring employer if the group health plan violates the ACA out-of-pocket limit or a long list of other ACA and other federal group health rules. Group health plans can face lawsuits from covered persons, their health care providers as assignees or the DOL, to enforce rights to benefits, plus attorneys’ fees and other costs of enforcement. Beyond benefit litigation, the employer or representatives of the sponsoring employer, if any, named or acting as fiduciaries, insurer or third party service providers named or acting as fiduciaries, also could face fiduciary lawsuits seeking damages, equitable relief, and attorneys’ fees and costs of court, for failing to prudently administer the plan in accordance with its terms and the law brought by covered persons or their beneficiaries or the DOL as well as fiduciary breach penalties if the fiduciary breach action is brought by the DOL. If the plan fails to comply with claims and appeals procedures or other ERISA notification requirements, parties named or functioning as the plan administrator for this purpose also could face penalties of up to $125 per violation per day in the case of enforcement actions brought by participants and beneficiaries or $1025 per violation per day in the case of actions brought by the DOL, plus attorneys’ fees and other costs of enforcement.

    Except in rare circumstances where the sponsoring employer has carefully contracted to transfer fiduciary liability to its insurer or administrator and otherwise does not exercise or have a fiduciary obligation to exercise discretion or control over these responsibilities, employers sponsoring group health plans that violate federal mandates like the out-of-pocket limit often ultimately bear some or all of these liabilities even if the violation actually was committed by a plan vendor hired to administer the program either because the plan documents name the employer as the “named fiduciary” or “plan administrator” under ERISA, the employer bears fiduciary responsibility functionally for selection or oversight of the culpable party, the employer signed a contract, resolution or plan document obligating the employer to indemnify the service provider for the liability, or a combination of these reasons. Even where the employer avoids these direct or indirect ERISA exposures, however, employers now also need to be concerned that out-of-pocket limitation or other federal health plan rule violations will trigger expensive excise tax liability for the sponsoring employer.

    As part of ACA, the Internal Revenue Code now generally requires employers sponsoring a group health plan that violates the ACA out-of-pocket limit or a long list of other federal health plan rules after 2013 to self-assess, report and pay stiff new excise tax penalties of $100 per day per violation when filing their annual tax return. See, Businesses Must Confirm & Clean Up Health Plan ACA & Other Compliance Following Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell Decision;  More Work For Employers, Benefit Plans Following SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Ruling; 2016 & 2017 Health Plan Budgets, Workplans Should Anticipate Expected Changes To SBCs. Since prompt self-audit and correction can help mitigate these liabilities, business leaders should act quickly to engage experienced legal counsel for their companies for advice about how to audit their group health plan’s 2014 and 2015 compliance with the out-of-pocket limit and other federal health plan rules within the scope of attorney client privilege while managing fiduciary exposures that could result if the audit is improperly structured or conducted, as well as options for addressing potential 2014, 2015 and future years excise tax and other exposures that compliance deficiencies with these rules could trigger.

    While businesses inevitably will need to involve or coordinate with their accounting, broker, and other vendors involved with the plans, businesses generally will want to get legal advice in a manner that preserves their potential to claim attorney-client privilege to protect against discovery in the event of future enforcement or litigation actions sensitive discussions and analysis about compliance audits, plan design choices, and other risk management and liability planning as well as to get help identifying potential plan design, contracting, procedural or other changes that may be needed to fix compliance deficiencies and mitigate other risks, particularly in light of complexity of the exposures and risks.

    The Supreme Court’s recent King v. Burwell decision makes it particularly important that employers and other group health plan sponsors, and those named or serving functionally as the plan administrator or other fiduciary responsible for properly administering the group health plan in accordance with these rules move quickly to manage these risks. With the continued limited Republican majority in the Senate, Republicans lack sufficient votes to override a promised Presidential veto of any legislation that would repeal or substantially modify ACA. Meanwhile, President Obama is moving to help ensure that his Presidential Legacy includes implementation of ACA and to mitigate ACA’s budgetary impacts by collecting excise tax and other penalties from insurers, plan administrators and employers by instructing the Tri-Agencies to move forward on full implementation and enforcement of ACA and other federal health plan rules. As a consequence, employers that sponsored group health coverage in 2014 need to confirm that their plan complied with the out-of-pocket maximum and other specified federal health plan rules or take timely action to self-assess, report on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 8928, and pay the $100 per day per violation penalty required by the Internal Revenue Code for 2014 when filing their 2014 business tax return.

    Adjusted Out-Of-Pocket Limit Amounts

    The ACA out-of-pocket maximum limitation is one of many broad health care reforms enacted by ACA. Under its provisions, federal law now limits the amount of the maximum deductible, co-payments or other cost sharing that most employer or union sponsored group health plans can impose on essential health benefits to the out-of-pocket limitation allowed by ACA § 1302(c)(1). See Public Health Service (PHS) Act §2707(b).

    The out-of-pocket limitations of $6,350 for individual only coverage and $12,700 for other than self-only coverage that first took effect with the 2014 plan year, are subject to annual adjustment for inflation under ACA §1302(c)(4) by the premium adjustment percentage beginning this plan year. The IRS recently announced the adjusted limitations that will apply to the 2015 and 2016 plan years. The applicable limits for 2014-2016 are as follows based on this guidance:

    Plan Year

    Individual Coverage Only

    Other Than Self-Only

    2014

    $6,350

    $12,700

    2015

    6,600

    13,200

    2016

    6,850

    13,700

    Since noncompliance with this limitation is one of a long list of federal health plan mandates that triggers a duty for the sponsoring employer to self-assess, report and pay an excise tax of $100 per day per violation for post-2013 plan years, employers that sponsored health plans in 2014 generally will want to verify that their plan complied with this out-of-pocket rule in 2014 and ensure that its 2015 plan has been updated to reflect the adjusted limit and otherwise comply with its requirements.

    In this respect, the final HHS Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2016 (2016 Payment Notice) clarifies that the self-only maximum annual limitation on cost sharing applies to each individual, regardless of whether the individual is enrolled in self-only coverage or in coverage other than self-only.

    While employers can design their group health plans to apply higher out-of-pocket limitations on coverages for non-essential benefits and out-of-network care, plans designed to take advantage of this permitted distinction must be carefully administered to ensure that the limits allowed for non-essential benefits are not improperly applied to essential benefit coverages under the plan. Employers are cautioned to use care to avoid this from occurring by drafting the plan terms and requiring fiduciaries to administer the plan to ensure that:

    • The plan properly essential and non-essential health benefits, both in terms and in operation;
    • The limit is properly applied and calculated with respect to all benefits considered essential health benefits; and
    • The application of higher out-of-pocket limitations for non-essential benefits does not violate other federal health plan rules such as special federal health plan rules regarding out-of-network emergency care, mental health coverage parity, coverage for newborns and mothers, or the like.

    Ensure Plan Language & Operations Comply With Tri-Agency Out-Of-Pocket Guidance & Other Federal Health Plan Rules

    Updating the out-of-pocket maximum rules of a group health plan to comply with the ACA out-of-pocket maximum rule can be more complicated than many employers or plan fiduciaries might realize since the plan terms, and its administration must comply in form and operation with the regulations and other interpretations of the three agencies jointly responsible for administration and enforcement of this and various other federal health plan rules: the Departments of Health & Human Services (HHS), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Labor (DOL) (collectively, the “Tri-Agencies”).

    In the case of ACA’s out-of-pocket maximum rules, the Tri-Agencies already have supplemented the guidance in their implementing regulations by publishing a FAQ that gives additional clarification and examples that the Tri-Agencies intend to help explain the proper administration of the rule. Group health plans, their insurers or other fiduciaries, as well as sponsoring employers should take into account all of this existing guidance when reviewing and assessing the compliance of their group health plans, as well as stay vigilant for the publication of additional guidance.

    Existing guidance on the out-of-pocket maximum rule states that group health plans and insurance policies generally must count toward the out-of-pocket maximum limit all deductibles, coinsurance, copayments, or similar charges and any other expenditure the group health plan requires a covered person to pay for a qualified medical expense that is an “essential health benefit” within the meaning of ACA other than premiums, balance billing amounts for non-network providers and other out-of-network cost-sharing, or spending for non-essential health benefits.

    One of the first considerations should be to ensure that the plan document and parties responsible for administer it properly understand and apply the rule to all charges falling within coverage for “essential health benefits.” Technically, the out-of-pocket limitation only applies to coverage of “essential health benefits” within the meaning of ACA, in any group health plan, whether insured or self-insured. What benefits are considered “essential health benefits” is defined by Tri-Agency regulations. The definition of “essential health benefits” in these Tri-Agency regulations is complicated and generally varies by state, even when the group health plan is self-insured. Sponsors of self-insured group health plans and employers sponsoring plans covering individuals in different states generally will want to seek legal advice about the adequacy of their group health plan’s essential health benefit definition to make sure that these rules and their limitations are met.

    When applying these limits, employers, insurers, and administrators of group health plans attempting to distinguish non-essential health coverages such as prescription drug, behavior health, or dental coverages provided separately from otherwise applicable major medical coverage should consult with legal counsel to confirm that those arrangements comply with existing guidance on ACA’s out-of-pocket maximum and other federal mandates in form and operation. This analysis generally should both verify that the plan documents and administrative processes incorporate these requirements generally into the plan document as well as include provisions to ensure that these requirements are properly integrated with other federal mandates requiring cost-sharing for emergency care in the case of behavioral health coverage, the applicable federal mental health parity mandates, and other federal health plan rules. Special care and scrutiny should be applied if the group health plan uses multiple service providers to help administer benefits (such as one third-party administrator for major medical coverage, a separate pharmacy benefit manager, and a separate managed behavioral health organization).

    Special care also is needed if a group health plan uses separate plan service providers to administer the plan or certain of its provisions. Separate plan service providers may impose different levels of out-of-pocket limitations and may utilize different methods for crediting participants’ expenses against any out-of-pocket maximums. Administrators, insurers or other fiduciaries responsible for administration of these coverages must properly coordinate, and sponsoring employers should consult with legal counsel about auditing their plans for proper coordination of these processes across these different service providers.

    Along with making specific plan document and process changes to provide for proper implementation and administration of the out-of-pocket and other federal coverage and benefit mandates, all parties also should review the claims and appeals procedures used in connection with the processing and notification of covered persons about claims and appeals determinations made about denials to ensure that they fully comply with both the DOL’s reasonable claims and appeals regulations and, in the case of non-grandfathered health plans, ACA’s special independent review and other heightened requirements for administering and notifying covered persons or their beneficiaries about claim denials or appeals as any of these violations could trigger the obligation for the sponsoring employer to self-report on IRS Form 8928 and pay the $100 per day per violation ERISA liability for the plan and its fiduciaries, as well as other penalties under ERISA §502(c).

    Sponsoring Employers, Plan Fiduciaries and Vendors Should Act To Manage Exposures

    Since violations trigger substantial excise tax liability for the sponsoring employer, as well as expose the group health plan and its sponsor, members of management or others acting as fiduciaries to judgments, regulatory penalties, and associated investigation, defense settlement and other costs and disruptions, most sponsoring employers and their leaders generally will want to consult with qualified legal counsel knowledgeable about these health plan rules and their management about steps that they should take to prevent or mitigate legal and financial exposures that violations of the out-of-pocket maximum and other federal health plan mandates can trigger. Timely action generally both can help prevent future violations and their expensive redress and mitigate penalties and other exposures incurred for violations, if any, that may have or in the future inadvertently occur.

    As a part of these efforts, steps that plan sponsors and fiduciaries generally should take include.

    • Having plan documents and other plan materials and communications carefully review and drafted to meet mandates and mitigate risks;
    • Using care in when selecting and contracting with plan insurers or other vendors, by conducting appropriate documented review and credentialing of each vendor and its practices, as well as reviewing and negotiating administrative, insurance or other vendor agreements to appropriately name and allocate fiduciary status as well as include provisions requiring insurers, administrators and other group health plan vendors appropriately designate to provide contractual commitments that the policies and other plan documentation, systems and practices provided by the vendor are and will be administered in accordance with the out-of-pocket and other legal mandates, to provide certification of compliance and notice of violations, correction and indemnification of compliance deficiencies, and other related assurances and taking other documented prudent safeguards to require compliant practices;
    • Auditing as part of the vendor selection and renewal process and at other times throughout the year the operational compliance of the administration of the group health plan and taking corrective action as needed;
    • Ensuring that stop-loss, group or other insurance coverages are drafted to include catchall language to help ensure that the employer does not get left unexpectedly self-insuring the cost of funding benefits mandated by law that the carrier asserts fall outside the policy coverage because of gaps between drafting and the law;
    • Arranging for fiduciary liability, directors and officers or other coverage, indemnification from financially secure vendors, or other backup funding to help protect or mitigate the potential costs or liabilities that the sponsoring employer or its plan fiduciaries can expect to incur in the event of a challenge to the compliance of their group health plan or its practices; and
    • Learning and using appropriate processes to document prudent efforts to appropriately administer the plan in a compliant, legally defensible manner throughout the year.

    For Legal or Consulting Advice, Legal Representation, Training Or More Information

    If you need help reviewing your group health plan or responding to these new or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, help updating or defending your workforce or employee benefit policies or practices, or other related assistance, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

    Recognized as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law extensively involved in health and other employee benefit and human resources policy and program design and administration representation and advocacy throughout her career, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., a member of Stamer│Chadwick│Soefje PLLC, author, pubic speaker, management policy advocate and industry thought leader with more than 27 years’ experience practicing at the forefront of employee benefits and human resources law.

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on health and other employee benefit, human resources and insurance matters and policy.

    Ms. Stamer helps management manage. Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her 27 plus year career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

    Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce management operations and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy. Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes. Common engagements include internal and external workforce hiring, management, training, performance management, compliance and administration, discipline and termination, and other aspects of workforce management including employment and outsourced services contracting and enforcement, sentencing guidelines and other compliance plan, policy and program development, administration, and defense, performance management, wage and hour and other compensation and benefits, reengineering and other change management, internal controls, compliance and risk management, communications and training, worker classification, tax and payroll, investigations, crisis preparedness and response, government relations, safety, government contracting and audits, litigation and other enforcement, and other concerns.

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

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

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

    Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see http://www.cynthiastamer.com or the Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC website or contact Ms. Stamer via email to here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

    ©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™. All other rights reserved.


    New Excepted Benefits Final Rule May Allow Some Employers Limited Opportunity To Offer Individually Insured Wraparound Coverage

    March 20, 2015

    Employers Urged Not Overestimate When Plan Qualifies As Excepted Or Overlook Other Applicable Federal Mandates

    Changes to the definition of “excepted benefits” in Final Excepted Benefit Rules (Rules) published March 18, 2015 by the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury (Tri-Agencies) might allow some employer and union group health plan sponsors, in limited circumstances, to offer wraparound coverage to certain employees purchasing individual health insurance in the private market, including in the Health Insurance Marketplace without violating the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA) if the arrangements are carefully crafted to meet the specific requirements of one of two pilot programs set forth in the Rules.

    Employers contemplating or maintaining arrangements that they or their service providers consider excepted benefits should use care to ensure that their arrangements are vetted in light of the latest guidance by experienced, qualified employee benefits counsel knowledgeable in these and other applicable group health plan rules and products because it is important to meet all of the requirements for qualifying the arrangement as an excepted benefit arrangement under the Rules and other applicable requirements of law to minimize the likelihood that the arrangement does not produce undesirable unanticipated consequences.

    Beyond the new Rules, the Tri-Agencies have published a host of other guidance regarding the arrangements that qualify as excepted benefit arrangements and those that the Tri-Agencies view as not meeting this definition, as well as the implications of these distinctions.  This includes guidance that reflects the Tri-Agencies concerns that many arrangements prompted by certain brokers or other advisors as qualifying as excepted benefits, alone or in conjunction with other arrangements sponsored or offered by the employer, do not qualify as excepted benefit arrangements as well as guidance about potential consequences of these arrangements that the promoter or an employer considering these arrangements should fully understand before moving forward,  For this reason, employers that already provide, or are interested in providing health coverage under an employer sponsored arrangement to employees or their dependents enrolled in individual health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace or other privately provided individual insurance arrangement are urged to carefully review the proposed arrangement in light of the Rules, as well as to understand the treatment and implication of their proposed arrangement under other applicable Federal group health plan mandates and rules.

    As interpreted by the Tri-Agencies, except for excepted benefit arrangements as defined in the Rules, employers generally cannot pay for individual health coverage or offer or provide wrap around or other group health coverage to employees that enroll in individual coverage The Rules amend the definition of excepted benefits to include under very narrow specified conditions an employer to offer specified limited coverage that wraps around individual health insurance when the employer provided coverage is specifically designed to provide “meaningful benefits” such as coverage for expanded in-network medical clinics or providers, reimbursement for the full cost of primary care, or coverage of the cost of prescription drugs not on the formulary of the primary plan and otherwise fulfills the requirements of the Rules.

    The final rules permit group health plan sponsors, only in the limited circumstances identified in the Rules, to offer wraparound coverage to employees who are purchasing individual health insurance in the private market, including in the Health Insurance Marketplace.

    The Rules establish two pilot programs where the Rules treat wraparound coverage as an excepted benefit that an employers can offer to individuals enrolled in health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace:

    • One allows wraparound benefits only for multi-state plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace; and
    • One that allows wraparound benefits for part-time workers who enroll in an individual health insurance policy or in Basic Health Plan coverage for low-income individuals established under the Affordable Care Act. These workers could, under existing excepted benefit rules, qualify for a flexible spending arrangement alternative to this wraparound coverage.

    When the requirements of the Rules are met, the Rules allow employers a narrow opportunity to offer certain employees enrolled in individual coverage wrap around health coverage from the employer to enhance that individual coverage.

    Because the arrangement must qualify as an excepted benefit arrangement under the Rules, employers also need to fully understand the implications of the excepted health benefit status of the anticipated arrangement under related rules like the Portability Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA), the ACA rules and other relevant laws and arrangements.

    Because of the necessity to ensure that any arrangement an employer contemplates offering as an excepted benefit meet all of the required conditions to qualify for that status under the Rules and otherwise meet all other requirements of applicable law, it is important to carefully review any such proposed arrangement with qualified legal counsel.

    Most employers contemplating moving forward to implement such arrangements also should consider seeking written opinions of qualified counsel that meets the Internal Revenue Service’s requirements to be a “tax reliance opinion” as well as the written opinion of the broker, insurer or other vendor promoting or endorsing the arrangement.

    Employers also should keep in mind that with excepted benefit status may excuse the arrangement from the obligation to comply with certain mandates of ACA, the Portability Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act or certain other rules, these arrangements generally remain subject to the requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, various Code rules, and a host of other federal rules. As a result, employers should consult with qualified legal counsel about the implications and compliance of these and other health coverage arrangements to ensure that they properly understand all responsibilities and consequences of these arrangements and manage potential responsibilities and liabilities.

    Employers and their health plan fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors are reminded that the excepted benefit distinction has implications on other compliance obligations and health plan treatment of the arrangement in question. For instance, excepted benefit coverage typically does not qualify as minimum excepted coverage that an employer can count as providing minimum essential coverage for purposes of the Code Section 4980H employer shared responsibility payment rules or as enrollment by the individual in minimum individual coverage for purposes of the employee avoiding liability for the individual shared responsibility payment.

    Beyond ensuring that the proposed wrap around arrangement meets the requirements to qualify as an excepted benefit under the Rules, employers and those working with them on the design or use of these arrangements need to verify that the arrangements and other arrangements of the employer by their terms and in operation comply with other health plan rules and guidance.  With regard to dealings with employees who are enrolled in individual policies, employers must keep in mind the Tri-Agencies rules prohibiting employer payment or subsidization of the costs of those policies.  The Tri-Agencies have made clear that they construe ACA as prohibiting employer payment or reimbursement of the cost of individual health insurance policies (other than excepted benefit only arrangements) p covering employees or dependents whether purchased from a Health Insurance Marketplace or otherwise.  This prohibition extends to any employer payment or reimbursement arrangement, whether pre-tax or after-tax or on a group or individual basis.   See Notice 2015-17 (affirming employer payment plans or other arrangements that reimburse or pay employees for costs of individual health coverage purchased through Health Insurance Marketplaces or private insurance markets are prohibited as previously announced in Notice 2013-54). See also ACA Prohibits Employer Paying Individual Health Premiums For Employees, IRS Says Again.

    About the Author

    If your business need legal advice about the your health or other employee benefit or human resources practices, assistance assessing or resolving potential past or existing compliance exposures, or monitoring and responding to these or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.You can review other recent human resources, employee benefits and internal controls publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of the Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, PC 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 www.cynthiastamer.com or by registering to receive these and other updates here.  Recent examples of these updates include:

    Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit & Other Compensation Arrangements Group, Co-Chair and Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plans Committee, an ABA Joint Committee On Employee Benefits Council representative, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, ABA, and State Bar of Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 25 years’ experience advising health plan and employee benefit, insurance, financial services, employer and health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health plans and insurers about ACA, and a wide range of other plan design, administration, data security and privacy and other compliance risk management policies.  Ms. Stamer also regularly represents clients and works with Congress and state legislatures, EBSA, IRS, EEOC, OCR and other HHS agencies, state insurance and other regulators, and others.   She also publishes and speaks extensively on health and other employee benefit plan and insurance, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, privacy, regulatory and public policy and other operations and risk management concerns. Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.

    About Solutions Law Press

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

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

    NOTE:  This article is provided for educational purposes.  It is does not establish any attorney-client relationship nor provide or serve as a substitute for legal advice to any individual or organization.  Readers must engage properly qualified legal counsel to secure legal advice about the rules discussed in light of specific circumstances. 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.

    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 about this communication click here.

    ©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


    Agencies Release ACA Wellness, Adult Pre-Existing Condition, Essential Health Benefits Guidance; Briefing Planned

    November 20, 2012

    Employers and other health plan sponsors, insurers, and their administrators and service providers should consider the advisability of updating health plan cost projections, plan documents and procedures, communications and other practices in response to new and proposed guidance interpreting federal health plan rules under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) released today (November 20, 2012).

    Solutions Law Press, Inc. plans will host a webex executive study group briefing to update its members and other interested persons on this new and proposed guidance on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at Noon Central Time.  Interested persons wishing details about registration for this briefing should send an e-mail here.

    Guidance Released Today

    Earlier today, the Departments of Labor and Health & Human Services issued guidance implementing ACA provisions that make it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, as well as guidance impacting wellness and disease management programs and the “essential health benefits” definition that plays  a key role in defining the benefits package mandates applicable to exchange and other health plans and policies required to comply with ACA’s mandates.  This guidance includes:

    • A proposed rule that, beginning in 2014, prohibits health insurance companies from discriminating against individuals because of a pre-existing or chronic condition. Under the rule, insurance companies would be allowed to vary premiums within limits, only based on age, tobacco use, family size and geography. Health insurance companies would be prohibited from denying coverage to any American because of a pre-existing condition or from charging higher premiums to certain enrollees because of their current or past health problems, gender, occupation, and small employer size or industry that the agencies intend to ensure that people for whom coverage would otherwise be unaffordable and young adults have access to a catastrophic coverage plan in the individual market. See HHS Proposed Regulation – Health Insurance Market Rules available here;
    • A proposed rule outlining policies and standards for coverage of essential health benefits, while giving states more flexibility to implement the Affordable Care Act. Essential health benefits are a core set of benefits that would give consumers a consistent way to compare health plans in the individual and small group markets. A companion letter on the flexibility in implementing the essential health benefits in Medicaid was also sent to states. Related to Essential Health Benefits, Actuarial Value, and Accreditation available here; and
    • A proposed rule implementing and expanding employment-based wellness programs that the agencies intend to promote health and help control health care spending, while prohibiting what the agencies consider unfair underwriting practices that impermissibly discriminate based on health status.  See Proposed regulations here; Study available here; Fact Sheet available here.

    With this guidance impacting key plan design and cost concerns, employers and other health plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries and administrators, insurers and their vendors will need to act quickly to evaluate the potential implications of this guidance in light of already existing rules and enforcement positions, their plan design and costs, and market and other factors.

    Today’s Guidance Just Tip of Iceberg

    The guidance published today is the first in an expected deluge of regulatory pronouncements that HHS, DOL, the Internal Revenue Service and state insurance agencies are expected to issue as the rush to finalize arrangements and guidance governing the implementation and enforcement of the ACA health care reforms scheduled to take effect and to tweek guidance on provisions already effective under the law.  This guidance adds to the extensive list of previously issued guidance previously published by the Agencies since Congress passed ACA.  With the election behind the US and the Supreme Court having rejected initial challenges by businesses and individuals to the employer and individual mandates last Summer, employers and insurers now must get cracking to update their programs and cost estimates to comply with both existing and new guidance while keeping a close eye out for potential changes to ACA or other federal or state health coverage laws as the new Congress is expected to continue to discuss refinements or other changes when the new Congress begins work in January 2013. 

    What Should Employers Do To Cope With These & Other Health Plan Mandates?

    Facing the operational and financial challenges of meeting these mandates, many business leaders continue report significant concern about what they should do to respond to these requirements.  For some practical steps that businesses confronting these issues should take to cope with ACA and other health plan responsibilities, check out the “12 Steps Every Employer With A Health Plan Should Do Now” article by Cynthia Marcotte Stamer in the October 26, 2012 online edition of Texas CEO Magazine. To read the full article, see here.

    Clearly in light of the new guidance, employers, insurers, health plan fiduciaries and their service providers need to act quickly to familiarize themselves with the guidance and make any need adjustments to their plans, communications, practices and budgets warranted by the new guidance and remain vigilent for and prepared to do the same with other guidance and reform proposals as it is released. 

    Beyond responding to the new guidance and other future developments, most health plan sponsors, insurers, administrators and other fiduciaries, and their vendors also should consider conducting this specific analysis and update of their health benefit programs in the context of a broader strategy. 

    In her 12-Steps Article, Ms. Stamer writes, “While most employers and insurers of employment-based group health plans view with great concern radically expanded health plan responsibilities taking effect in 2014, many are failing to take steps critical to manage exposures and costs already arising from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other federal health plan regulations.” 

    In the article, Ms Stamer discusses the following 12 steps that she suggests most businesses consider to help catch up with current responsibilities and to help their business manage future costs and responsibilities:

    1. Know The Cast Of Characters & What Hat(s) They Wear
    2. Know What Rules Apply, and How They Affect a Group Health Plan
    3. Review and Update Health Plan Documents to Meet Requirements and Manage Exposure
    4. Update the Plan For Changing Compliance Requirements and Enhanced Defensibility
    5. Consistency Matters: Build Good Plan Design, Documentation and Processes, and Follow Them
    6. Ensure the Correct Party Carefully Communicates About Coverage and Claims in a Compliant, Timely, Prudent, Provable Manner
    7. Prepare For ACA’s Expanded Data Gathering and Reporting Requirements
    8. Select, Contract and Manage Vendors With Care
    9. Help Plan Members Build Their Health Care Coping Skills With Training and Supportive Tools
    10. Pack The Parachute and Locate The Nearest Exit Doors
    11. Get Moving On Compliance and Risk Management Issues
    12. Provide Input On Affordable Care Act Rules

    For Help or More Information

    If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other 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.


    12 Steps Every Employer With A Health Plan Should Do Now No Matter Who Wins the Election

    October 29, 2012

    Business leaders concerned about what to do to manage health benefit costs, responsibilities and liabilities over the next year and to position to cope with impending shifts in the health plan regulatory landscape ahead should check out the “12 Steps Every Employer With A Health Plan Should Do Now” article by Cynthia Marcotte Stamer in the October 26, 2012 online edition of Texas CEO Magazine.

    Nationally recognized for quarter century of work advising businesses and governments about health benefit and other employee benefits and human resources matters, Ms. Stamer says regardless of who wins the Presidential election next week, employers need to get moving to deal with current health plan obligations and exposures and brace for new future challenges.

    Ms. Stamer writes, “While most employers and insurers of employment-based group health plans view with great concern radically expanded health plan responsibilities taking effect in 2014, many are failing to take steps critical to manage exposures and costs already arising from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other federal health plan regulations.” 

    In the article, Ms Stamer discusses the following 12 steps that she suggests most businesses consider to help catch up with current responsibilities and to help position their business to anticipate and manage future costs and responsibilities:

    1. Know The Cast Of Characters & What Hat(s) They Wear
    2. Know What Rules Apply, and How They Affect a Group Health Plan
    3. Review and Update Health Plan Documents to Meet Requirements and Manage Exposure
    4. Update the Plan For Changing Compliance Requirements and Enhanced Defensibility
    5. Consistency Matters: Build Good Plan Design, Documentation and Processes, and Follow Them
    6. Ensure the Correct Party Carefully Communicates About Coverage and Claims in a Compliant, Timely, Prudent, Provable Manner
    7. Prepare For ACA’s Expanded Data Gathering and Reporting Requirements
    8. Select, Contract and Manage Vendors With Care
    9. Help Plan Members Build Their Health Care Coping Skills With Training and Supportive Tools
    10. Pack The Parachute and Locate The Nearest Exit Doors
    11. Get Moving On Compliance and Risk Management Issues
    12. Provide Input On Affordable Care Act Rules

    For Help or More Information

    If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other 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. To read the full article, see here. To learn more, check out some of Ms. Stamer’s upcoming speaking engagements, her many publications or contact Ms. Stamer directly at (469) 767-8872.

    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.


    NLRB’s Nailing of Bel Air Hotel Reminder RIFs, Other Reengineering & Transactions Impacting Workforce Requirement Proper Risk Management

    October 5, 2012

    Severance Deals Get Hotel Bel-Air Nailed By NLRB For Labor Law Violations

    A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision that nails Hotel Bel-Air (Hotel) for offering severance packages to unionized workers highlights one of a range of potentially costly missteps that businesses conducting reductions in force or other re-engineering risk if they fail to properly understand and manage legal requirements when designing and implementing the change.

    Since labor and other workforce-related risks are long-standing, some businesses, their leaders and consultants may be tempted to assume that prior experience means these are handled. The fact specific nature of the risks and changing rules and enforcement, however, makes it critical not to be over-confident. Legal and operational mismanagement of these risks can disrupt achievement of the purpose of the change and add significant added cost and exposure for the business and its management. Proper use of qualified legal counsel as part of the process is important both to help identify and properly manage risk and to leverage attorney-client privilege to help shield sensitive communications in the planning and implementation of these activities from discovery.

    Employer’s Obligations To Negotiate & Deal With Union

    Once a union is recognized as the certified representative of employees in a workplace, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) generally prohibits the employer from unilaterally changing term and conditions of employment or from going around the union to bargain directly with employees over layoffs, the effects of layoffs and other material terms and conditions of employment. As part of this responsibility, the NLRA and other federal and state laws generally require that employers provide notification to the union of planned reductions in force, plant closings or other operational changes that might impact the workforce and bargain in good faith with the union before conducting layoffs, or offering or making in work rules, compensation, severance or other benefits or other terms or conditions of employment.

    In general, an employer’s duty to bargain with a union generally also continues to apply when the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the employer expires unless and until the parties reach agreement or impasse.  While negotiations continue, the employer’s obligation to refrain from making unilateral changes generally encompasses a duty to refrain from implementation unless and until an overall impasse has been reached on bargaining for the agreement as a whole. See Pleasantview Nursing Home, 335 NLRB 96 (2001) citing Bottom Line Enterprises, 302 NLRB 373 (1991). The NLRB considers negotiations to be in progress, and will not find a genuine impasse to exist, until the parties are warranted in assuming that further bargaining would be “futile” or that there is “no realistic possibility that continuation of discussion .  . . would be fruitful.” Saint-Gobain Abrasives, Inc., 343 NLRB 542 556 (2004).

    Because the existence of impasse is a factual determination that depends on a variety of factors, including the contemporaneous understanding of the parties as to the state of negotiations, the good faith of the parties, the importance of the disputed issues, the parties’ bargaining history, and the length of their negotiations, Taft Broadcasting Co., 163 NLRB 475, 478 (1967), parties to the negotiation often do not necessarily agree when they have reached impasse.  As the September 28 decision by the NLRB against the Hotel shows, employers that act unilaterally based on an overly optimistic determination of impasse suffer significant financial and other operational and legal risks for engaging in unfair labor practices in violation of Section 8 of the NLRA. 

    NLRB Nails Hotel Bel-Air For Failing To Bargain, Offering Severance Around Union

    In its September 28, 2012 Bel-Air Hotel Decision, the NLRB ruled the Hotel engaged in unfair labor practices in violation of the NLRA when it offered severance packages to laid off workers in return for the workers’ waiver of recall rights without bargaining to impasse with the union representing its workers, UNITE HERE Local 11 (Union), about the effects of the temporary shutdown.  

    The NLRB also ruled the Hotel engaged in unlawful direct dealing by contacting the employees about severance packages without going through the Union even though the Hotel’s contract with the union had expired when the Hotel contacted the laid off union employees to offer severance in return for waivers.  As a result, the NLRB ordered the Hotel to rescind the waiver and release forms signed by the Union members and to meet and bargain with the Union on these terms.

    Bel-Air Hotel Decision Background

    The NLRB order against the Hotel resulted from unfair labor practice charges that the Union filed against the Hotel after the Hotel offered severance packages directly to workers in exchange for the workers’ waiver of their recall rights while the workers were laid off during the Hotel’s temporary closure for renovations in 2009. 

    Before the Hotel offered the severance package directly to the laid off workers, the Hotel and the Union bargained for nine months about the terms of a separation agreement and recall rights for employees who would lose their jobs during a planned 2-year shutdown of the facility for renovation.  In April, 2010, the Hotel gave the Union what it said was the “last, best, and final offer” on severance pay for unit employees laid off during the temporary renovation closure.  While the Union and the Hotel did talk after the Hotel made this final offer. Unfortunately, the parties did not reach an agreement before their existing collective bargaining agreement expired or before the Hotel shut down the facility for renovation.  After the shutdown, the Union and the Hotel stopped formal negotiations but had some “off the record” informal communications until June.  With no resolution by the end of June, the Hotel moved forward unilaterally to offer severance directly to the laid off employees as outlined in its final offer. 

    Although the facility was closed and the employees already laid off when the Hotel’s contract with the Union expired, the Union claimed the Hotel remained obligated to negotiate with the Union.  The Union said a flurry of “off-the-record” discussions between the Hotel and the Union leading up to and after the termination showed the parties had not reached impasse. The Union also separately charged that the Hotel violated the NLRA by going around the Union to directly contact employees to offer severance payments in exchange for waiving their right to return to their jobs when the Hotel reopened after renovation.

    In response to unfair labor practices charges filed by the Union, Hotel management among other things argued that the Union no longer represented the employees when it offered severance and because the parties’ contract had expired and the parties were at impasse when the Hotel made the offer.

    • Union Remained Representative Despite Layoff & Temporary Facilities Shutdown

    The NLRB found “meritless” the Hotel’s effort to rely upon the NLRB’s decision in  Sterling Processing Corp., 291 NLRB 208 (1988) to support the Hotel’s claim that it had no duty to bargain or extend the severance offers through the Union because it made the unilateral severance offer when the facility was closed and the employees were already laid off.

    In Sterling, the NLRB found the employer’s unilateral modification of preclosure wages and working conditions did not violate Section 8(a)(5) of the NLRA because when the employer acted unilaterally, there were no employees for the union to represent because when the employer took its unilateral action, the employer already had permanently closed the facility and terminated all employees with no reasonable expectation of reemployment.   

    The NLRB ruled that the circumstances when the Hotel acted were distinguishable from Sterling because the unit employees on layoff from the Hotel retained a reasonable expectation of recall from layoff since the Hotel’s closure was only temporary and the Hotel had only laid off, and not yet discharged the employees when it made the unilateral severance offers.  According to the NLRB, the terms of the severance offer evidenced the existence of an expectation of recall because under the terms of that offer, employees who accepted a severance payment waived their recall rights.  See, Rockwood Energy & Mineral Corp., 299 NLRB 1136, 1139 fn. 11 (1990), enfd. 942 F.2d 169 (3d Cir. 1991)(finding that lengthy suspension of production did not relieve employer of its bargaining obligation where laid off employees had “some expectation of recall,” and distinguishing Sterling).

    • No Impasse Because Of Informal “Off The Record” Communications

    The Hotel also separately and unsuccessfully argued that its direct offer of severance benefits to laid off employees was not an unfair labor practice because the parties had bargained to impasse before the offer was made. In response to the Union’s claim that a series of “off-the-record” exchanges between the Union and Hotel after the contract expired reflected a continuation of bargaining, the Hotel argued that an impasse existed because the Union was not engaged in good faith negotiations and there was not any possibility that the informal discussions between the Union and the Hotel would result in any fruitful change in the parties positions. 

    In an effort to support its position, the Hotel management argued that the Union’s negotiation behavior with other Los Angeles hotels showed the Union had a practice of “artificially extend[ing] negotiations in bad faith” that supported the Hotel’s claim that continued negotiation would be futile. The NLRB rejected this argument too.  It said evidence that the Union did not bargain in good faith to string out negotiations when negotiating with other businesses as part of a campaign to coerce all hotels city wide to agree to a standard contract had no probative relevance for purposes of determining if the Hotel and the Union had bargained to impasse in their negotiations and did not prove bad faith by the Union for purposes of its negotiation with the Hotel.

    Having rejected these and other Hotel arguments and evidence of impasse, the NLRB ruled that the evidence indicated that the parties continued communications had narrowed their differences before and after the Hotel made its last final offer on April 9.  Given this progress, the NLRB ruled that parties’ participation in informal off the record discussions well into June were sufficient to show the existence of some possibility that continued negotiations might result in a fruitful change in the parties position sufficient to obligate the Hotel to continue to bargain with the Union.

    NLRB Order Carries Heavy Cost for Bel-Air Hotel

    Complying the NLRB’s orders to remedy the breach will be painful and expensive for the Hotel, particularly since by the time the order was issued, the renovation was substantially completed. 

    To fulfill the requirements of the Order, the Hotel must, among other things:

    • Bargain with the Union as the recognized and exclusive collective-bargaining representative of the employees about the effects on bargaining unit employees of the temporary shutdown of the hotel for renovation and, if an understanding is reached, embody the understanding in a signed collective bargaining agreement;
    • Not deal directly with bargaining unit employees about severance, waiver and release or other terms or arrangements relating to the impact of the temporary shutdown on the bargaining unit employees
    • Rescind the waiver and release agreements signed by individual bargaining unit employees which included the waiver of rehire rights; and
    • Post a NLRB-mandated written notice in the workplace for 60 consecutive days in conspicuous places.

    This means that the Hotel will have to work through issues about how to find positions for employees, if any, who originally agreed to waive their rehire rights who now wish to be rehired, as well as engage in expensive bargaining and the implementation of the terms of any resulting collective bargaining agreement.

    Union Duties One of Many Potential HR RIF & Deal Traps

    The NLRB’s prounion ruling is unsurprising. Since the Obama Administration took office, its NLRB appointments, rule changes and other activism are intended to and are promoting the strength and efforts of labor.  See e.g. Labor Risks Rising For Employers Despite NLRB Loss Of Arizona Secret Ballot Challenge : HR Article by Ms. Cynthia Marcotte Stamer .

    Collective bargaining responsibilities like those that resulted in the NLRB order against the Hotel are only one of many potential labor, human resources and benefits-related traps that businesses need to negotiate carefully when planning and executing layoffs or other workforce restructurings in connection with cost or other restructurings, business transactions or other activities impacting the workforce. 

    Some examples of other issues and risks that businesses involved in changes impacting their workforce also may need to manage include but are not limited to the need to manage discrimination, federal and state leave, whistleblower and retaliation, and other general employment-related legal risks and responsibilities; to give Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act (WARN) or state law required plant closing or other notifications to workers, unions, government officials, vendors, customers, lenders or other creditors, insurers or others; to disclose, review,  modify or terminate contracts, employee benefit plan documents, communications and other materials; to modify fiduciary, officer, board or other assignments and other related insurance, indemnification, bonding and related arrangements; to comply with employee benefit and compensation related plan document, fiduciary responsibility, discrimination, communication, benefit funding or distribution, reporting and disclosure and other Employee Retirement Income Security Act, Internal Revenue Code, securities and other laws and regulations; privacy, trade secret, and other data integration, confidentiality, and information security and management concerns; Sarbanes-Oxley  and other securities, accounting or related requirements; system and data integration; and many others.

    Because improper handling of these or other responsibilities in connection with these responsibilities can significantly undermine the businesses’ ability to realize the financial and operational goals behind the action, as well as expose the business to potentially costly liability, businesses anticipating or conducting reductions in the force or other activities that will impact their workforce should seek advice and help from qualified legal counsel experienced with these concerns early to mitigate these concerns.

    If you have any questions or need help with these or other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    About The Author

    Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 25 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, 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.


    Tighten Employment Disability Risk Management As Obama Declares 12/10 National Disability Employment Awareness Month

    October 1, 2012

    President Obama’s declaration today (October 1, 2012) of October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month reminds business that U.S. businesses and their leaders need to tighten their disability discrimination risk management and compliance in light of the Obama Administration’s emphasis on aggressively interpreting and enforcing disability discrimination laws, rising private plaintiff lawsuits and other recent regulatory and judicial changes.

    In his proclaimation today, President Obama reaffirmed his often stated commitment to the aggressive enforcement of disability laws and other efforts to promote opportunities for disabled individuals, stating:

    “[My Administration remains committed to helping our businesses, schools, and communities support our entire workforce. To meet this challenge,… we are striving to make it easier to get and keep those jobs by improving compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

    As the administration marks the month, U.S. employers and other business leaders can expect the Obama Administration will be stepping up its already aggressive outreach to disabled Americans to promote awareness of their disability law rights and tools for asserting and enforcing these rights.

    Business Faces Growing Employment Disability Exposures

    As part of his administration’s commitment, the Obama Administration has moved to aggressively enforce the disability and accommodations of teh Americans With Disabilities Act, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and other federal disability discrimination laws.  The reach and effectiveness of these efforts has been enhanced by statutory and regulatory changes that require employers to exercise greater efforts to meet their compliance obligations and manage their disability and other discrimination risks.

    ADA Exposures Heightened

    The ADA, for instance, generally prohibits disability discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities as long as this does not pose an undue hardship.  Violations of the ADA can expose businesses to substantial liability. Violations of the ADA may be prosecuted by the EEOC or by private lawsuits.  Employees or applicants that can prove they were subjected to prohibited disability discrimination under the ADA generally can recover actual damages, attorneys’ fees, and up to $300,000 of exemplary damages (depending on the size of the employer).   

    In recent years, amendments to the original provisions of the ADA have made it easier for plaintiffs and the EEOC to establish disabled status of an individual.  Businesses should exercise caution to carefully document legitimate business justification for their hiring, promotion and other employment related decisions about these and other individuals who might qualify as disabled.  Provisions of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) that expand the definition of “disability” under the ADA,  As signed into law on September 25, 2008, the ADAAA amended the definition of “disability” for purposes of the disability discrimination prohibitions of the ADA to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that that has a disability within the meaning of the ADA.  The ADAAA retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. However, provisions of the ADAAA that took effect January 1, 2009 change the way that these statutory terms should be interpreted in several ways. Most significantly, the Act:

    • Directs EEOC to revise that portion of its regulations defining the term “substantially limits;”
    • Expands the definition of “major life activities” by including two non-exhaustive lists: (1) The first list includes many activities that the EEOC has recognized (e.g., walking) as well as activities that EEOC has not specifically recognized (e.g., reading, bending, and communicating); and (2) The second list includes major bodily functions (e.g., “functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions”);
    • States that mitigating measures other than “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses” shall not be considered in assessing whether an individual has a disability;
    • Clarifies that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active;
    • Changes the definition of “regarded as” so that it no longer requires a showing that the employer perceived the individual to be substantially limited in a major life activity, and instead says that an applicant or employee is “regarded as” disabled if he or she is subject to an action prohibited by the ADA (e.g., failure to hire or termination) based on an impairment that is not transitory and minor; and
    • Provides that individuals covered only under the “regarded as” prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation.

    The ADAAA also emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis.In adopting these changes, Congress expressly sought to overrule existing employer-friendly judicial precedent construing the current provisions of the ADA and to require the EEOC to update its existing guidance to confirm with the ADAAA Amendments.  Under the leadership of the Obama Administration, the EEOC and other federal agencies have embraced this charge and have sigificantly stepped up enforcement of the ADA and other federal discrimination laws.

    Recent enforcement, regulatory and other activities by the EEOC demonstrate that the EEOC is enthusiastically moving forward to exercise its regulatory and enforcement powers under these enhanced ADA provisions to tighten requirements for employers and to enforce its rules. See e.g.,  Leprino Foods To Pay $550K To Settle OFCCP Charge Pre-Hire Screening Test Illegally Discriminated « As EEOC Steps Up ADA Accommodation Enforcement, New DOD Apple App, Other Resources Released; Wal-Mart Settlement Shows ADA Risks When Considering Employee Return To Work Accommodation Requests & Inquiries; Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Worker’s.

    Rehabilitation Act Risks For Government Contractors

    Beyond the generally applicable risks applicable to all employers of more than 15 employees under the ADA, federal and state government contractors face additional responsibilities and risks. 

    Subject to limited exceptions, government contractors providing services or supplies on ARRA or other government funded contracts or projects must comply both with generally applicable employment discrimination requirements and special statutory and contractual nondiscrimination, affirmative action, and recordkeeping requirements applicable government contractors. For instance, federal law generally requires government contractors to comply with the special equal employment opportunity requirements of  Executive Order 11246 (EO 11246); Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 503); and the Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA).   Pursuant to these laws, business with the federal government, both contractors and subcontractors, generally must follow a number of statutory and contractual requirements to follow the fair and reasonable standard that they not discriminate in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability or status as a protected veteran. OFCCP generally audits and enforces these requirements. Memo to Funding Recipients: Compliance with Applicable Nondiscrimination and Equal Opportunity Statutes, Regulations, and Executive Orders.  

    OFCCP has made clear that it will conduct compliance evaluations and host compliance assistance events to ensure that federal contractors comply and are aware of their responsibilities under EO 11246, Section 503 and VEVRAA. 

    While many government contractors may be tempted to become complacent about OFCCP exposures based on reports of the OFCCP’s relatively low enforcement in the past, see Report Says OFCCP Enforcement Data Show Infrequent Veteran, Disability Bias Findings | Bloomberg BNA recent enforcement data documents OFCCP is getting much more serious and aggressive about auditing and enforcing compliance with its affirmative action and other requirements against government contractors under the Obama Administration.  See, OFCCP Enforcement Data is Available on a New DOL Website. See also, Affirmative Action Update: OFCCP Enforcement Statistics Show Increase in Violations.  The readiness of OFCCP to enforce its rules is illustrated by the settlement of an OFCCP action filed against federal contractor Nash Finch Co. (Nash Finch) announceed last week.  Under the settlement, Nash Finch to pay $188,500 in back wages and interest and offer jobs to certain women applicants who OFCCP charged Nash rejected for the entry-level position of order selector at the company’s distribution facility in Lumberton, Minnesota.  See Settlement of OFCCP Employment Discrimination Charge Reminder To ARRA, Other Government Contractors Of Heightened Enforcement Risks.

    These government contractor disability discrimination risks are particularly acute where the government contractor works on or provides supplies on contacts or projects funded in whole or in part by monies provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“ARRA”).    When the contract or project in question receives any funding out of the $787 billion of stimulus funding provided by ARRA, special OFCCP rules applicable to ARRA funded projects necessitates that federal contractors exercise special care to understand and meet their responsibilities and manage associated exposures.   See, e.g. Settlement of OFCCP Employment Discrimination Charge Reminder To ARRA, Other Government Contractors Of Heightened Enforcement Risks

    Businesses Should Act To Manage Risks

    The ADAAA amendments, the Rehabilitation Act’s expanded reach, and the Obama Administration’s emphasis on enforcement make it likely that businesses generally will face more disability claims from a broader range of employees and will possess fewer legal shields to defend themselves against these claims. These changes will make it easier for certain employees to qualify and claim protection as disabled under the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and other disability discrimination laws. 

    In light of these and other developments and risks, businesses generally should act cautiously when dealing with applicants or employees with actual, perceived, or claimed physical or mental impairments to minimize exposures under the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act and other laws.  Management should exercise caution to carefully and appropriate the potential legal significance of physical or mental impairments or conditions that might be less significant in severity or scope, correctable through the use of eyeglasses, hearing aids, daily medications or other adaptive devices, or that otherwise have been assumed by management to fall outside the ADA’s scope.  

    Likewise, businesses should be prepared for the EEOC, OFCCP and the courts to treat a broader range of disabilities, including those much more limited in severity and life activity restriction, to qualify as disabling for purposes of the Act. Businesses should assume that a greater number of employees with such conditions are likely to seek to use the ADA as a basis for challenging hiring, promotion and other employment decisions.  For this reason, businesses generally should tighten job performance and other employment recordkeeping to enhance their ability to demonstrate nondiscriminatory business justifications for the employment decisions made by the businesses.

    Businesses also should consider tightening their documentation regarding their procedures and processes governing the  collection and handling records and communications that may contain information regarding an applicant’s physical or mental impairment, such as medical absences, worker’s compensation claims, emergency information, or other records containing health status or condition related information.  The ADA generally requires that these records be maintained in separate confidential files and disclosed only to individuals with a need to know under circumstances allowed by the ADA. 

    As part of this process, businesses also should carefully review their employment records, group health plan, family leave, disability accommodation, and other existing policies and practices to comply with, and manage exposure under the new genetic information nondiscrimination and privacy rules enacted as part of the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) signed into law by President Bush on May 21, 2008.  Effective November 21, 2009, Title VII of GINA amends the Civil Rights Act to prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information and restricts the ability of employers and their health plans to require, collect or retain certain genetic information. Under GINA, employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees face significant liability for violating the sweeping nondiscrimination and confidentiality requirements of GINA concerning their use, maintenance and disclosure of genetic information. Employees can sue for damages and other relief like currently available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination laws.  For instance, GINA’s employment related provisions include rules that will:

    • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating based on genetic information in hiring, termination or referral decisions or in other decisions regarding compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment;
    • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from limiting, segregating or classifying employees so as to deny employment opportunities to an employee based on genetic information;
    • Bar labor organizations from excluding, expelling or otherwise discriminating against individuals based on genetic information;
    • Prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information of an employee or an employee’s family member except as allowed by GINA to satisfy certification requirements of family and medical leave laws, to monitor the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace or other conditions specifically allowed by GINA;
    • Prohibit employers, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from discriminating in any decisions related to admission or employment in training or retraining programs, including apprenticeships based on genetic information;
    • Mandate that in the narrow situations where limited cases where genetic information is obtained by a covered entity, it maintain the information on separate forms in separate medical files, treat the information as a confidential medical record, and not disclosure the genetic information except in those situations specifically allowed by GINA;
    • Prohibit any person from retaliating against an individual for opposing an act or practice made unlawful by GINA; and
    • Regulate the collection, use, access and disclosure of genetic information by employer sponsored and certain other health plans.

    These employment provisions of GINA are in addition to amendments to 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 that are effective for group health plan for plan years beginning after May 20, 2009.

    If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment and/or employee practices in response to the Rehabilitation Act, ADA, GINA or other applicable laws, or if we may be of assistance with regard to any other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Board Certified Labor and Employment Attorney and Management Consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at 469..

    About The Author

    Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 25 years human resource, employee benefits and management experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in numerous human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 214.270.2402 or via e-mail 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 in this electronic Solutions Law publication available for review here including:

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

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


    Settlement of OFCCP Employment Discrimination Charge Reminder To ARRA, Other Government Contractors Of Heightened Enforcement Risks

    September 29, 2012

    Federal contractor Nash Finch Co. (Nash Finch) will pay $188,500 in back wages and interest and offer jobs to certain women applicants who the U.S Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) charged Nash rejected for the entry-level position of order selector at the company’s distribution facility in Lumberton, Minnesota under a consent decree approved by an OFCCP administrative law judge this week.

    Nash Finch Settlement Highlights

    Minneapolis-based and the second-largest wholesale food distributor in the U.S., Nash Finch distributes food products to military commissaries around the world. Since the start of the OFCCP review period on May 1, 2005, Nash Finch has received payments of more than $14 million from the U.S. Department of Defense.

    The consent decree resolves an OFCCP administrative action commenced after OFCCP investigators conducted a review of Nash Finch’s employment practices at the Lumberton facility from May 1, 2005, to Dec. 31, 2006. OFCCP asserted that Nash Finch had failed to ensure qualified female job applicants received equal consideration for employment without regard to sex as required by Executive Order 11246. OFCCP filed a complaint with the Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges on Nov. 30, 2010, alleging that Nash Finch systematically had discriminated against women who applied for jobs as order selectors during a nine-month period in 2006. See Solis v. Nash Finch Co., OFCCP Case Number: 2011-OFC-00004.  Under the consent decree, Nash Finch will pay $188,500 in back pay and interest to the 84 women.  In addition to the financial remedies, the settlement requires Nash Finch to extend job offers to up to 12 women in the original class as order selector positions become available. The company must also submit progress reports to OFCCP for the next two years.

    Reflective of the growing emphasis of OFCCP and other federal agencies on audit and enforcement of compliance with federal employment discrimination and affirmative action laws, the Nash Finch charges and resultant settlement highlight that the Obama Administration’s emphasis on employment discrimination and other civil rights laws expansion and enforcement is resulting in increased liability for employers that fail to take appropriate steps to manage compliance related risks.

    Settlements Remind ARRA & Other Federal Government Contractors To Act To Defend Against Heightened Requirements & Enforcement

    The OFCCP action and settlement against Nash Finch and other recent OFCCP and other employment discrimination law enforcement actions and settlements against government contractors and other U.S. employers remind U.S. businesses that provide services or supplies directly or as subcontractors on federally funded projects or contracts to review and tighten their employment discrimination, affirmative action and other employment practices in light of the Obama Administration’s heightened emphasis on auditing and enforcing OFCCP and other nondiscrimination and affirmative action rules.

    While all U.S businesses face heightened exposures to discrimination-related enforcement risks and liability under the Obama Administration’s enforcement policies, businesses providing services or supplies directly or as subcontractors on projects funded in whole or in part by monies provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“ARRA”) or other federally funded projects or contracts are particularly at risk.  See e.g.,  Leprino Foods To Pay $550K To Settle OFCCP Charge Pre-Hire Screening Test Illegally Discriminated « As EEOC Steps Up ADA Accommodation Enforcement, New DOD Apple App, Other Resources Released; Wal-Mart Settlement Shows ADA Risks When Considering Employee Return To Work Accommodation Requests & Inquiries; Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Worker’s.

    Subject to limited exceptions, government contractors providing services or supplies on ARRA or other government funded contracts or projects must comply both with generally applicable employment discrimination requirements and special statutory and contractual nondiscrimination, affirmative action, and recordkeeping requirements applicable government contractors. For instance, federal law generally requires government contractors to comply with the special equal employment opportunity requirements of  Executive Order 11246 (EO 11246); Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 503); and the Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA).   Pursuant to these laws, business with the federal government, both contractors and subcontractors, generally must follow a number of statutory and contractual requirements to follow the fair and reasonable standard that they not discriminate in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability or status as a protected veteran. OFCCP generally audits and enforces these requirements. Memo to Funding Recipients: Compliance with Applicable Nondiscrimination and Equal Opportunity Statutes, Regulations, and Executive Orders.  OFCCP has made clear that it will conduct compliance evaluations and host compliance assistance events to ensure that federal contractors comply and are aware of their responsibilities under EO 11246, Section 503 and VEVRAA.  While many government contractors may be tempted to become complacent about OFCCP exposures based on reports of the OFCCP’s relatively low enforcement in the past, see Report Says OFCCP Enforcement Data Show Infrequent Veteran, Disability Bias Findings | Bloomberg BNA recent enforcement data documents OFCCP is getting much more serious and aggressive about auditing and enforcing compliance with its affirmative action and other requirements against government contractors under the Obama Administration.  See, OFCCP Enforcement Data is Available on a New DOL Website. See also, Affirmative Action Update: OFCCP Enforcement Statistics Show Increase in Violations

    • Government Contractors On ARRA Funded Projects Particularly Exposed

    When the contract or project in question receives any funding out of the $787 billion of stimulus funding provided by ARRA, special OFCCP rules applicable to ARRA funded projects necessitates that federal contractors exercise special care to understand and meet their responsibilities and manage associated exposures. 

    For one thing, the range of businesses required to comply with OFCCP’s equal employment opportunity requirements for government contractors is broader.  Government contractors who sometimes qualify as exempt from certain OFCCP rules may not qualify as exempt when working on ARRA funded projects.  Government contractors that on other types of federally-funded projects might qualify as exempt from certain OFCCP requirements often are unaware that the range of federal contractors required to comply with the OFCCP equal employment opportunity and related rules of ARRA is much broader than often applies for federal projects funded from other sources. Smaller government contractors run the risk of unknowingly incurring liability by mistakenly assuming that the small size of their contract exempts them from otherwise applicable OFCCP requirements. Consequently, before relying on any assumed exemption, a government contractor providing goods or services for ARRA-funded project directly or as a subcontractor should specifically verify the applicability of those exemptions and document that analysis.  

    Furthermore, all government contractors on ARRA-funded projects need to understand that they operate subject to heightened compliance and enforcement scrutiny.  The OFCCP particularly scrutinizes government contractor equal employment opportunity and other civil rights requirements on ARRA funded projects.  The “Procedures for Scheduling and Conducting Compliance Evaluations of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) Funded Contractors” issued July 7, 2009.  See OFCCP Order No. ADM 0901/SEL the “ARRA Procedures”) subject government contractors on ARRA funded projects to special rules and heightened OFCCP oversight.  OFCCP has established separate scheduling procedures to provide for compliance evaluations of ARRA funded contractors separate from those usually applicable to government contractors because ARRA also obligates OFCCP separately to track its ARRA-related and non-ARRA-related enforcement activities. 

    The ARRA Procedures require that Regional, District and Area offices conduct a full compliance evaluation, including a full desk audit and onsite review, of every ARRA funded contractor establishment scheduled, even in the absence of systemic discrimination indicators. Normally applied by OFCCP to non-ARRA government contract reviews, Active Case Management (ACM) procedures normally allow OFCCP to conduct only an abbreviated desk audit in the absence of systematic discrimination indicators in non-ARRA compliance evaluations.  These ACM procedures will not be used in ARRA compliance evaluations. 

    Due to the special nature of ARRA, OFCCP also has indicated that the ARRA compliance evaluations will not apply the following scheduling exceptions typically applicable in non-ARRA contract compliance reviews.  For instance, OFCCP ARRA procedures state:

    • No more than 25 establishments per contractor exception: Presently, for contractors with multiple establishments, the Federal Contractor Scheduling System (FCSS) limits the number of compliance evaluations scheduled to 25 new evaluations during a scheduling cycle. The 25-establishment limit does not apply to ARRA compliance evaluations.
    • Two year exception: Traditionally, contractor establishments that have been reviewed by OFCCP are excepted from further review for a 24-month period. Under ARRA scheduling procedures, ARRA funded contractor establishments may be eligible for an ARRA compliance evaluation even if they have been reviewed within the previous 24 months. However, pre-award clearance is not required for contractor establishments reviewed by OFCCP within the past 24 months.

    However, ARRA scheduling procedures will apply the following scheduling exceptions:

    • ARRA funded contractor establishments that have undergone an FCSS compliance evaluation will be excepted from scheduling and review under ARRA procedures for six months from the date of the FCSS case closure.
    • ARRA funded contractor establishments that have undergone an ARRA compliance evaluation will not be subject to another ARRA evaluation.
    • ARRA funded contractor establishments that have undergone an ARRA evaluation will also be excepted from scheduling for a standard OFCCP compliance evaluation, pursuant to FCSS, for 24 months from the date of closure of the ARRA compliance evaluation.

    ARRA funded contractors also are subject to other special pre-award clearance, pre-award intake, pre-award classification and other special procedures.  The ARRA Procedures also set for special requirements particularly applicable to construction contracts funded by ARRA.

    The special procedures and heightened compliance review procedures provided for under the ARRA Procedures indicate that government contractors or subcontractors providing services or supplies on projects funded with ARRA funds will want to place special attention on compliance with OFCCP and other federal equal employment opportunity and other employment regulation compliance.

    Government Contractors, Other US Employers Urged To Act To Manage Exposures

    In the face of the rising emphasis of OFCCP, the EEOC and other federal and state agencies on these audit and enforcement activities, government contractors and other U.S. businesses should act to position themselves to defend against likely challenges and scrutiny.  All government contractors and other businesses should review and tighten the adequacy of their existing compliance and risk management practices to promote and document compliance.  These efforts should focus on all relevant hiring, recruitment, promotion, compensation, recordkeeping and reporting policies and practices internally, as well as those of any recruiting agencies, subcontractors or other business partners whose actions might impact on compliance. Among other things, these steps should include the following:

    • Government contractors and subcontractors should specifically review their existing or proposed contracts and involvements to identify projects or contracts which may involve federal or state contracts or funding that could trigger responsibility.  In this respect, businesses should conduct well-documented inquiries when proposing and accepting contracts to ensure that potential obligations as a government contractor are not overlooked because of inadequate intake procedures. Businesses also should keep in mind that ARRA and other federal program funds often may be filtered through a complex maze of federal grants or program funding to states or other organizations, which may pass along government contractor status and liability when subcontracting for services as part of the implementation of broader programs.  Since the existence of these obligations often is signaled by contractual representations in the contracts with these parties, careful review of contractual or bid specifications and commitments is essential.  However, it also generally is advisable also to inquire about whether the requested products or services are provided pursuant to programs or contracts subject to these requirements early in the process. 
    • In addition to working to identify contracts and arrangements that are covered by OFCCP or other requirements, government contractors and other businesses also should reconfirm and continuously monitor the specific reporting, affirmative action, and other requirements that apply to any programs that may be subject to OFCCP requirements to ensure that they fully understand and implement appropriate procedures to comply with these conditions as well as pass along  the obligation to make similarly necessary arrangements to any subcontractors or suppliers that the government contractor involves as a subcontractor. 
    • Throughout the course of the contract, the government contractor also should take steps to maintain and file all required reports and monitor and audit operational compliance with these and other requirements.  
    • The organization should develop and administer appropriate procedures for monitoring and investigating potential compliance concerns and maintaining documentation of that activity.  Any known potential deficiencies or complaints should be promptly investigated and redressed with the assistance of qualified counsel in a prompt manner to mitigate potential risks.
    • Documentation should be carefully retained and organized on a real time and continuous basis to faciliate efficiency and effectiveness in completing required reports, monitoring compliance indicators and responding to OFCCP, EEOC or private plaintiff charges as well as other compliance inquiries.
    • Any audit inquiries or charges should be promptly referred to qualified legal counsel for timely evaluation and response.
    • When available and affordable, management should consider securing appropriate employment practices liability coverage, indemnification from business partners and other liability protection and assurance to help mitigate investigagtion and defense costs.
    • Board members or other senior management should include periodic review of compliance in their agenda.

    If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment, employee benefits, contracting or other risk management or internal controls compliance practices, responding to an OFCCP, EEOC or other government or private plaintiff charge or investigation, or if we may be of assistance with regard to any other workforce or compliance management, employee benefits, compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    About The Author

    Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 20 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, 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.

     


    $1.25M NLRB Backpay Order Highlights Risks of Mismanaging Union Risks In Health Care & Others M&A Deals

    September 23, 2012

    California nursing home buyer must pay estimated $1.25 million in backpay and interest, recognize union & hire 50 employees of seller following purchase

    Last week’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) order requiring the buyer of a California nursing home to pay approximately $1.25 million in backpay and interest, rehire 50 employees and recognize the seller’s union reminders buyers of union-organized businesses of some of the significant risks of mishandling union-related obligations in merger and acquisition, bankruptcy and other corporate transactions under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and other federal labor laws.  

    Buyer’s Obligations To Honor Seller’s Collective Bargaining Obligations

    Under the NLRA, new owners of a union facility that are “successors” of the seller generally must recognize and bargain with the existing union if “the bargaining unit remains unchanged and a majority of employees hired by the new employer were represented by a recently certified bargaining agent.”  See NLRB v. Burns Sec. Servs., 406 U.S. 272, 281 (1972).   

    In assembling its workforce, a successor employer also generally “may not refuse to hire the predecessor’s employees solely because they were represented by a union or to avoid having to recognize a union.” U.S. Marine Corp., 293 NLRB 669, 670 (1989), enfd., 944 F.2d 1305 (7th Cir. 1991).   

    Nasaky, Inc. NLRB Order

    Last week’s  NLRB Order requires Nasaky, Inc., the buyer of the Yuba Skilled Nursing Center in Yuba City, California, to recognize and honor collective bargaining obligations that the seller Nazareth Enterprises owed the before the sale and rehire and pay backpay and interest to make whole 50 of the seller’s former employees who the NLRB determined Nasaky, Inc. wrongfully refused to hire when it took over the facility from the prior owner, Nazareth Enterprises. 

    Before Nasaky, Inc. bought the nursing home, many of the employees at the nursing home were represented by the Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers West (Union).    After Nasaky, Inc. agreed to buy the facility but before it took control of its operations, Nasaky, Inc. advertised in the media for new workers to staff the facility and told existing employees at the facility that they must reapply to have a chance of keeping their jobs under the new ownership.  

    When Nasaky, Inc. took operating control of the Facility, facility operations continued as before with the same patients receiving the same services.  The main difference was the workforce.  The new staff included 90 employees in erstwhile bargaining unit positions, of which forty were former employees of the predecessor employer and fifty were newcomers.  Nasaky, Inc. then took the position that the change in the workforce excused it from responsibility for recognizing or bargaining with the Union or honoring the collective bargaining agreement between the Union and seller Nazareth Enterprises.

    When the union demanded that Nasaky, Inc. recognize the Union and honor the Union’s collective bargaining agreement with Nazareth Enterprises, Nasaky, Inc. refused.  Instead, Nasaky, Inc. notified the union that it would not allow the Union on its premises, would not honor the Union’s collective bargaining agreement with the seller, and did not accept any of the predecessor’s terms and conditions of employment.  The Union then filed charges with the NLRB, charging that Nazareth Enterprises had breached its obligations as a successor under the NLRA.  

    After NLRB Regional Director Joseph F. Frankl agreed and issued a complaint, California Administrative Law Judge Gerald Etchingham found all the allegations true based on a two-day hearing.  He rejected all of Nasaky’s explanations for why it declined to hire most of those who had worked for the previous employer.  See ALJ Decision.  Since Nasaky, Inc did not file exceptions, the NLRB ordered Nasaky, Inc. immediately to recognize and bargain with the Union, hire the former employees and make them whole.  The amount of backpay and interest is expected to approximate $1.25 million.  

    Managing Labor Exposures In Business Transactions

    The NLRB’s order against Nasaky, Inc. highlights some of the business and operational risks that buyers and sellers can face if labor-management relations are misperceived or mismanaged in connection with business transactions.  Because the existence of collective bargaining agreements or other labor obligations can substantially affect the operational flexibility of a buyer, buyers need to investigate and carefully evaluate the potential existence and nature of their obligations as part of their due diligence strategy before the transaction.  A well-considered understanding of whether the structure of the transaction is likely to result in the buyer being considered a successor for purposes of union organizing and collective bargaining obligations also is very important so that the buyer and seller can properly appreciate and deal with any resulting responsibilities.

    Beyond the potential duty to recognize a seller’s collective bargaining obligations, buyers and sellers also should consider the potential consequences of the proposed transaction on severance, pension, health, layoff and recall and other rights and obligations that may arise.  At minimum, the existence of these responsibilities and their attendant costs are likely to impact the course of the negotiations.

    When a worksite is union organized, for instance, additional obligations may arise in the handling of reductions in force or other transactions as a result of the union presence.  For example, in addition to otherwise applicable responsibilities applicable to non-union affected transaction, the Worker Adjustment Retraining Act (WARN) and other plant closing laws and/or collective bargaining agreements may impose special notification or other requirements before a reduction in force or other transaction related activities. 

    Similarly, the existence of collective bargaining agreements also may trigger obligations for one or both parties to engage in collective bargaining over contemplated changes in terms and conditions of employment, to provide severance, to accellerate or fund severance, benefits or other obligations, to provide continued health or other coverage, to honor seniority, recall or other rights or deal with a host of other special contractual obligations.

    Where the collective bargaining arrangements of the seller currently or in the past have included obligations to contribute to a multiemployer, collectively bargained pension or welfare plan, the buyer and seller also need to consider both the potential for withdrawal liability or other obligations and any opportunities to minimize these exposures in structuring the allocation of the arrangement. In this case, both parties need to recognize that differences exist between the federals for determining when successor liability results under the withdrawal liability rules than typically apply other labor and employment law purposes.  While buyers and sellers often presume that the stock versus assess sale distinction that typically applies for many other legal purposes will apply, this can be an expensive mistake in the case of determining a buyer’s obligation to honor the seller’s collective bargaining obligations post deal.  Likewise, buyers can be exposed to multiemployer successor liability from asset transactions, although it may be possible to mitigate or avoid such liabilities by incorporating appropriate representations in the sale documents or through other steps.  Since these multiemployer withdrawal and contribution liabilities generally attach on a controlled group basis, both parties need to properly appreciate and address these concerns early in the transaction to mitigate their risks and properly value the transaction.

    In light of these and other potential labor-related risks that may affect corporate and other business transactions, parties contemplating or participating in these transactions are urged to engage and consult with competent legal counsel with specific experience in such labor management relations and multiemployer benefit plan matters early in the process.

    About The Author

    Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 25 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate labor and employment, human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer’s experience includes significant experience  advising and representing buyers, sellers, their commonly controlled and affiliated entities, lenders, bankruptcy trustees and committees and others regarding labor-management relations, employment, compensation, employee benefits and other human resources related exposures, strategies and negotiations.  She also has served as counsel to multiemployer and single employer pension, profit-sharing and other retirement, health and welfare, severance and other plans and their fiduciaries and sponsors in relation to these and other transactions.

    Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, 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.

     


    As EEOC Steps Up ADA Accommodation Enforcement, New DOD Apple App, Other Resources Released

    September 18, 2012

    With the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other federal agencies prioritizing disability discrimination law enforcement, businesses and individuals looking to find solutions to help accommodate persons with disabilities may find a new free app for Apple Devices from the Department of Defense (DOD) Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program helpful. 

    New DOD Accommodation Apple App & Other Accommodation Aids

    The DOD Apple application is an example of the many new resources that the federal government is providing to promote compliance with disability discrimination laws and to help people with disabilities under the Obama Administration. 

    The DOD Apple application now available in the iTunes App Store lets users browse the latest news and tips on assistive technology, scan CAP’s calendar of events and stay connected to the disability community. DOD says an Android version is coming soon. 

    CAP works to make the Federal Government a model employer of people with disabilities by providing job accommodations and equal access to electronic and information technology.  With disabilities and other discrimination law compliance audit and enforcement rising, this new application provides another timely resource for government contractors and agencies, and other businesses looking to provide accommodations and manage disability risks.

    The DOD application is just one of many emerging training and other tools that the agencies are rolling out to promote employment and other opportunities for people with disabilities.  The Federal Government is devoting increasing resources to educating the disabled about resources including employment discrimination protections and other aids.  The October 10  Work Incentive Seminar Event webinar is another example.  To be held on October 10, 2012 from 3 – 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time, the webinar is for people who receive Social Security disability benefits and want to learn how the Ticket to Work program can help them earn money and become financially independent. It also will discuss  writing a resume, job interview tips, whether or not to discuss your disability with a potential employer and tips for on the job success. Officials invites interested parties to register online or call 1-866-968-7842 (V) or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY/TDD).

    Rising Liability & Enforcement Make Accommodation & Other Disability Law Risk Management Critical

    Managing disability risks and meeting accommodation obligations is increasingly important as US government agencies place growing emphasis on enforcing disability discrimination laws and regulations that increasingly result in significant liability for U.S. businesses.

    For instance, in June, 2012, the U.S. Justice Department announced a $10,250,000  settlement with JPI Construction L.P. (JPI) and six other JPI firms is the largest-ever disability-based housing discrimination settlement.  The settlement resolves Justice Department charges the JPI and its affiliates illegally discriminated on the basis of disability in the design and construction of multifamily housing complexes.

    Under the settlement of disability charges initiated against JPI a few years ago, JPI will pay $10,250,000 into an accessibility fund to update properties so they comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and to increase the availability of housing that is accessible to people with disabilities.

    The record settlement follows the reaffirmation of the Obama Administration’s continuing committment to find and punish companies that illegally discriminate or fail to provide required accommodations in violation of Federal disability discrimination laws made by President Obama and others to mark the 13th Anniversary of the June 22, 1999 Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C

    As part of that anniversary celebration of Olmstead, the Obama Administration reaffirmed its continuing commitment to fight disability discriminated and touted the success of its “significant progress continuing to enforce Olmstead as well as more broadly helping to level the playing field for people with disabilities.”

    In Olmstead, the Supreme Court ruled in that the unjustified institutional isolation of people with disabilities is a form of unlawful discrimination under the ADA. 

    In marking the 13th anniversary of this decision, President Obama said, “As we mark the anniversary of this historic civil rights decision, we reaffirm our commitment to fighting discrimination, and to addressing the needs and concerns of those living with disabilities.”

    In reaffirming this commitment, the Administration highlighted its past and continuing efforts to enforce disability discrimination laws, as well as other activities to support individuals with disability. 

    As part of its significant commitment to disability discrimination enforcement, the Civil Rights Division at the Department has been involved in more than 40 Olmstead matters in 25 states.   Recently, in Virginia, the Department entered into a landmark settlement agreement with the Commonwealth, which will shift Virginia’s developmental disabilities system from one heavily reliant on large, state-run institutions to one focused on safe, individualized, and community-based services that promote integration, independence and full participation by people with disabilities in community life. The agreement expands and strengthens every aspect of the Commonwealth’s system of serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in integrated settings, and it does so through a number of services and supports.  The Department has a website dedicated to Olmstead enforcement, which includes links to settlements, briefs, findings letters, and other materials. The settlement agreements are a reminder that private businesses and state and local government agencies alike should exercise special care to prepare to defend their actions against potential disability or other Civil Rights discrimination challenges.  All organizations, whether public or private need to make sure both that their organizations, their policies, and people in form and in action understand and comply with current disability and other nondiscrimination laws.  When reviewing these responsibilities, many state and local governments and private businesses may need to update their understanding of current requirements.  The scope and applicability of disability and various other federal nondiscrimination and other laws have been expanded or modified in recent years by statutory, regulatory or enforcement changes. 

    These Justice Department efforts also are reflected in the companion enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute disability discrimination by the Labor Department Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in employment, the HUD and related areas, the Department of Education in education and related fields and a host of other agencies.

    The enforcement of disability discrimination and accommodation requirements in the employment space is even more zealous making big dollar EEOC and private plaintiff judgements and settlements increasingly common.  See, e.g. Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Worker’s.

     Where the entity is a private or government agency that is a government contractor or receiving other federal funds or grants, compliance with the ADA and other nondiscrimination and civil rights laws is particularly important as the contracts or regulations pursuant to which these funds are granted typically require compliance with these and other special nondiscrimination rules.  In the case of funds provided under the 2009 Stimulus Bill, the scope of businesses subject to these requirements and the likelihood of audits was specifically increased in many ways, making recipients of these funds at particular risk for failing to fulfill requirements.

    These Federal enforcement activities are further heightened by rising private litigation of disability claims.  These public and private actions are encouraged by changes made by Congress to the ADA, which make it easier for plaintiff’s bringing disabilities claims to win, as well as the proactive agenda of the Obama Administration in enforcing disability discrimination laws.

    In light of these continuing enforcement efforts, businesses should continue and heighten their diligence against possible disability discrimination exposures by strengthening policies, practices, training and documentation to keep up compliance and to position to defend against possible charges.

    About The Author

    Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 20 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, 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.


    Labor Risks Rising For Employers Despite NLRB Loss Of Arizona Secret Ballot Challenge

    September 6, 2012

    Businesses concerned about Obama Administration-backed efforts to promote its pro-labor agenda must stay diligent despite the set back suffered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in its attempt to a Federal Judge to challenge state laws that purport to require secret balloting in union elections in NLRB v. State of Arizona.

    Federal District Judge Frederick J. Martone handed the NLRB a temporary setback in its campaign to prevent states from enacting legislation that would interfere with NLRB efforts to  strengthen labor organizing powers by restricting secret ballot protections when he rejected the NLRB claims that an Arizona Constitutional Amendment mandating secret balloting in union elections was an unconstitutional infringement on the NLRB’s powers in his September 5, 2012 decision in NLRB v. State of Arizona,  the Court left the door open for a potentially successful challenge to the Arizona secret ballot amendment in the future depending on how Arizona applies the law.  Furthermore, considered in the context of the Obama Administration’s broader pro-union regulatory and enforcement agenda, the NLRB’s challenge to the Arizona and other state secret ballot laws reminds businesses  that their operation face a minefield of mounting labor-management relations risks icluding many that create traps for management sometimes even in the case of non-union workplaces.  In light of these expanding exposures, business leaders should update their policies and practices to mitigate the rising risks while keeping a close eye on the Obama Administration’s ongoing effort to expand the power of organized labor by challenging secret ballot mandates in Arizona and other states and the plethora of other pro-union regulatory and enforcement  efforts.

    NLRB Attacks On Workers’ Secret Balloting Rights

    Undermining worker’s secret ballot rights is a key initiative that organized labor with the support of the Obama Administration has promoted to help union organization efforts.

    Secret balloting of workers in union organizing elections is designed to promote the ability of worker’s to vote their wishes free from the fear of retaliation by unions or management.  It has been a key element of the NLRA since its enactment.

    The current method for workers to form a union in a particular workplace generally is a two-step process that begins with the submission by organizers to the NLRB of a petition or authorization card signed by at least 30% of the employees requesting recognition of the union. Under existing law, once the NLRB verifies that the organizers have met the petition or authorization card requirement, it generally orders a secret ballot election unless more than 50% of the workers have signed authorization cards and either:

    • The employer notifies the NLRB that it is waiving the secret ballot and voluntarily recognizing the union; or
    • The NLRB orders the employer to recognize a union based on the NLRB’s determination that the employer has engaged in unfair labor practices that make a fair election unlikely.

    Since the Obama Administration came to power, however, labor with the support of the NLRB and the Obama Administration have included efforts to eliminate or get around secret balloting as part of their broader campaign to strengthen and promote unions and their power.  These efforts are reflected in the sharp increase in orders by the NLRB with new Obama appointees that employers recognize unions without balloting,  the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats are pushing to enact the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make union recognition mandatory without any balloting when the NLRB verifies that over 50% of the employees signed authorization cards, and challenges to state laws that would impede these efforts like that brought against the State of Arizona.  While Congressional Democrats and the Administration have thus far failed to get the legislation passed, they continue to voice their support for and intention to pursue its enactment after the elections in November.

    NLRB’s Challenge To Arizona Constitution’s Secret Ballot Provision

    In NLRB v. State of Arizona, Judge Frederick J. Martone on September 5, 2012 handed the NLRB a temporary setback in its campaign to prevent states from enacting legislation that would interfere with its efforts to avoid or cut secret ballot protection when it granted the State of Arizona’s motion to dismiss the case but left the door open for future action.

    As Federal legislation and enforcement actions that would limit workers’ rights to vote in a secret ballot rights have continued, Arizona and various other states have enacted laws to protect secret ballot rights in their states.

    In January 2011, the NLRB advised Arizona and three other states that recently adopted “secret-ballot amendments” conflicted with longstanding federal labor law by restricting the methods by which employees can choose a union. When no agreement could be reached, the NLRB filed suit to have the Arizona amendment declared unconstitutional.

    The Arizona lawsuit challenged a 2010 constitutional amendment to the Arizona Constitution that states”[t]he right to vote by secret ballot for employee representation is fundamental and shall be guaranteed where local, state or federal law permits or requires elections, designations or authorizations for employee representation.”  Arizona Constitution, Article 2 § 37.  In its lawsuit, the NLRB asked the Federal Court to declare Article 2 § 37 unconstitutional and preempted to the extent that it applies to private employers, private employees, and labor organizations subject to the NLRA on the grounds that the state secret ballot rule “creates a state forum to protect employee representation rights, a task which Congress assigned exclusively to the NLRB.

    Among its other efforts to defend the statute, Arizona argued there was no preemption because the state’s “guarantee” of a secret ballot election would only apply if the voluntary recognition option is not selected.

    In reaching its ruling, the Federal Court hung its hat on this argument.  “It is possible that state litigation invoking (the amendment) may impermissibly clash with the NLRB’s jurisdiction to resolve disputes over employee recognition, conduct secret ballot elections, and address unfair labor practices,” Judge Martone wrote.  However, because the amendment has not yet been applied, Judge Martone wrote that he could not assume that it would conflict with the NLRA.

    Arizona Decision A Temporary Victory In Battle In Labor-Management Relations War

    While the court rejected the NLRB challenge of the Arizona secret ballot requirement this week, the NLRB’s announced disagreement with the decision coupled with the limited scope of the ruling makes clear that businesses watch for another NLRB challenge based on the implementation of the law as well as other new regulatory and enforcement traps for employers. 

    The court battle over Arizona’s secret ballot amendment is just one of the many areas where the NLRB under the Obama Administration is pursuing a pro-union agenda.  In addition to challenging state laws that might operate to restrict union organizing or other activities, the NLRB also has adopted and is promoting the adoption of other pro-labor rules as well as stepping up enforcement on behalf of labor. See e.g., NLRB Moves To Promote Non-Union Employee Use of Collective Action Rights By Launching Webpage; NLRB Report Shows Rise In Unfair Labor Practice Complaints  Formal Proceedings Comments Feed; NLRB Settlement Shows Care Necessary When Using Social Networking & Other Policies Restricting Employee Communications.  As part of these efforts, for instance, the NLRB increasingly is challenging the authority of employers to enforce mandatory arbitration provisions in employee handbooks or employment agreements, to regulate social media, and to engage in a broad range of other common employer practices while at the same time, it is using its regulatory powers to promote employer posting and other requirements designed to educate workers about their organizational rights.  As many of these new rules apply both to unionized workplaces and ununionized workplace, these and other evolving rules often leave all employers to significant and often underappreciated labor law risks in a broad range of circumstances.  This risk tends to take on particular significance for unorganized workforces  due to a low awareness or appreciation of these changes or their implications on unorganized workforces by their management team.  Mistakes are increasingly costly in the current enforcement environment.

    Costly Consequences For Employers

    The statistics show the cost of management mishandling of labor relations in today’s environment is expensive and growing.  This pro-labor regulatory and enforcement agenda as resulted in a significant rise in NLRB unfair labor practice charges in recent years.  According to NLRB statistics, the number of unfair labor practice charges brought by the NLRB steadily rose from 2009 to 2011.  The number of charges filed by was 1,342 in 2011, 1,242 in 2010, 1,166 in 2009 and 1,108 in 2008.  Moreover, NLRB statistics also document that backpay and other remedies also have risen sharply during this period.  For instance, in 2008, the NLRB ordered a total of $68,800,000 in backpay, fees, dues and fines in 9,400 cases.  In contrast, in 2009, the NLRB ordered $77,700,000 in backpay, fees, dues and fines against employers even though the number of cases dropped to 8,700,000 cases.  This trend continued in 2010, where out of 8,300 cases, the NLRB ordered employers to pay $86,100,000 in backpay, fees, dues and fines.  See NLRB Statistics. See also NLRB Case Decisions.

    In light of this increased activism, employers should exercise care when using mandatory arbitration, compensation gag rule, or other similar provisions; dealing with requests for employee representation by union and non-union employees in organizing, contracting and even disciplinary actions; establishing and administering social networking, communication and other policies; and a wide range of other situations. In addition, employers concerned about these or other labor activities should consult competent counsel for advice about appropriate options and risks for dealing with these activities. 

    If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment and/or employee practices in response to the NLRA or other applicable laws, or if we may be of assistance with regard to any other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    About The Author

    Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks.

    Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 20 years human resource, labor and employment and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, labor management, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally.

    Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mail to  cstamer@solutionslawyer.net

    If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of Ms. Stamer’s other recent updates, 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, Inc. All other rights reserved.


    Wal-Mart Settlement Shows ADA Risks When Considering Employee Return To Work Accommodation Requests & Inquiries

    August 23, 2012

    From handling requests for light duty or other modifications follow a leave to investigating the medical justification for leaves or the fitness of an employee to return to work following a medical absence, employers need to use care to manage disability discrimination exposures.

    Today’s announcement by the  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P.  (Wal-Mart) will pay $50,000 in back pay and damages to settle an EEOC disability discrimination lawsuit highlights the potential disability discrimination risks that employers can face when deciding not to provide a requested accommodation to a worker returning from medical leave while other recent enforcement actions show ADA risks from simply making medical inquiries to a worker on or returning from medical leave.

    In its lawsuit against Wal-Mart, Case No. 2:11-CV-00834, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, the EEOC charged that a Carlsbad, N.M Wal-Mart store violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by firing a part-time sales clerk, Marcia Arney because the store refused to provide temporary accommodations ordered by her physician following a period of medical leave.

    According to the EEOC lawsuit, when Arney, a 22-year Wal-Mart employee, showed the store manager a note from her doctor requesting an accommodation involving periodic breaks off her feet, the manager refused to return her to her job unless she obtained a medical release with no restrictions. The EEOC claims that had Wal-Mart inquired further, it would have known the accommodation need was temporary and in any case, that Wal-Mart easily could have accommodated the restriction. 

    Under the consent decree settling the suit, Wal-Mart will conduct annual live ADA training of management  officials at its Carlsbad store and post a notice on its agreement with the EEOC so that employees are aware  of procedures for reporting disability discrimination. Wal-Mart also committed to not require  disabled workers to produce a full release from their doctor upon returning  from a medical leave. Further, Wal-Mart agreed to engage in an interactive process with disabled employees to find a  reasonable accommodation to assist them in performing their jobs and to report future requests for accommodation, as well as charges and lawsuits alleging disability discrimination to the EEOC for the duration of the decree.

    Title I of the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability in various aspects of employment.  The ADA’s provisions on disability-related inquiries and medical examinations reflect Congress’s intent to protect the rights of applicants and employees to be assessed on merit alone, while protecting the rights of employers to make sure that individuals in the workplace can efficiently perform the essential functions of their jobs.   An employer generally violates the ADA if it requires its employees to undergo medical examinations or submit to disability-related inquiries that are not related to how the employee performs his or her job duties, or if it requires its employees to disclose overbroad medical history or medical records.  Title I of the ADA also generally requires employers to make  reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities as long as  this does not pose an undue hardship or the employer the employer otherwise proves employing a disabled person with reasonable accommodation could not eliminate significant safety concerns.  Employers generally bear the burden of proving these or other defenses.  Employers are also prohibited from excluding individuals with disabilities unless they show that the exclusion is consistent with business necessity and they are prohibited from retaliating against employees for opposing practices contrary to the ADA.  Violations of the ADA can expose businesses to substantial liability.

    As reflected by the Wal-Mart, violations of the employment provisions of the ADA may be prosecuted by the EEOC or by private lawsuits and can result in significant judgments.  Disabled employees or applicants that can prove they fully were denied reasonable accommodations or otherwise subjected to prohibited disability discrimination under the ADA generally can recover actual damages, attorneys’ fees, and up to $300,000 of exemplary damages (depending on the size of the employer).   

    The lawsuit against Wal-Mart is part of a wave of lawsuits in which the EEOC or other agencies under the Obama Administration are aggressively challenging medical examination and other medical screenings by private and public employers.  In the Wal-Mart case, the suit challenged an employer’s refusal to provide requested accommodations.  In other cases, however, the EEOC or other agencies under the Obama Administration also have challenged medical inquiries made by an employer to employees during or returning from leave.  Both types of suits send clear signals that employers should use care in making medical inquiries and responding to requests for accommodation from employees taking or returning from medical leaves.  See, e.g., Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Worker’s.

    To help mitigate the expanded employment liability risks , businesses generally should act to manage their exposures.  Management needs to recognize the likely need to defend medical inquiries, decisions to refuse accommodation requests or other similar actions that arise when dealing with employees taking or returning from medical leave due to a disability, illness or injury.  Employers need to critically check and document the legitimate business justification for making a medical inquiry or refusing a requested accommodation based on a well-documented investigation and analysis tailored to the specific situation of each requesting employee.

    Businesses also should consider tightening their documentation regarding their procedures and processes governing the  collection and handling records and communications that may contain information that could be helpful or hurtful in the event of a discrimination charge.  Businesses need to ensure that all required records and statistics are collected.  In addition, businesses also should consider strengthening record creation and retention efforts to help preserve other evidence that could be invaluable to defending charges and change the way that decisions are made and documented to position their organizations to more effectively demonstrate the defensibility of their employment and other business activities against potential nondiscrimination charges.

    As part of this process, businesses also should carefully review their employment records, group health plan, family leave, disability accommodation, and other existing policies and practices to comply with, and manage exposure under the new genetic information nondiscrimination and privacy rules enacted as part of the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) signed into law by President Bush on May 21, 2008.  Effective November 21, 2009, Title VII of GINA amends the Civil Rights Act to prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information and restricts the ability of employers and their health plans to require, collect or retain certain genetic information. Under GINA, employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees face significant liability for violating the sweeping nondiscrimination and confidentiality requirements of GINA concerning their use, maintenance and disclosure of genetic information. Employees can sue for damages and other relief like currently available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination laws.  For instance, GINA’s employment related provisions include rules that will:

    • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating based on genetic information in hiring, termination or referral decisions or in other decisions regarding compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment;
    • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from limiting, segregating or classifying employees so as to deny employment opportunities to an employee based on genetic information;
    • Bar labor organizations from excluding, expelling or otherwise discriminating against individuals based on genetic information;
    • Prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information of an employee or an employee’s family member except as allowed by GINA to satisfy certification requirements of family and medical leave laws, to monitor the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace or other conditions specifically allowed by GINA;
    • Prohibit employers, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from discriminating in any decisions related to admission or employment in training or retraining programs, including apprenticeships based on genetic information;
    • Mandate that in the narrow situations where limited cases where genetic information is obtained by a covered entity, it maintain the information on separate forms in separate medical files, treat the information as a confidential medical record, and not disclosure the genetic information except in those situations specifically allowed by GINA;
    • Prohibit any person from retaliating against an individual for opposing an act or practice made unlawful by GINA; and
    • Regulate the collection, use, access and disclosure of genetic information by employer sponsored and certain other health plans.

    These employment provisions of GINA are in addition to amendments to 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 that are effective for group health plan for plan years beginning after May 20, 2009.

    If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment and/or employee practices in response to the ADAAA, GINA or other applicable laws, or if we may be of assistance with regard to any other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    About The Author

    Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 20 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mailto  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.

     


    Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Worker’s

    August 13, 2012

    Employers that require employees to submit to medical examinations, question employees about physician or mental conditions or disabilities while on medical leave or for other fitness for duty assessments, or engage in other similar activities should evaluate the defensibility of those practices in light of the growing challenges to these and other employee screening practices by the Obama Administration and private plaintiff attorneys like the Justice Department disability discrimination complaint that lead to a $475,000 settlement against Baltimore County, Maryland.

    Baltimore County Nailed For Health Screening of Public Safety Workers

    On August 7, 2012, the Justice Department announced that Baltimore County, Maryland will pay $475,000 and change its hiring procedures to resolve a Justice Department lawsuit filed that charged the county violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by requiring employees to submit to medical examinations and disability-related inquiries without a proper reason, and by excluding applicants from emergency medical technician (EMT) positions because of their diabetes.  The prosecution is notable both for the Justice Department’s challenge of health screenings of EMTs and other workers in key safety positions generally as well as the Justice Department’s challenges to the employer’s medical inquiries to workers on medical leave.

    Title I of the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability in various aspects of employment.  The ADA’s provisions concerning disability-related inquiries and medical examinations reflect Congress’s intent to protect the rights of applicants and employees to be assessed on merit alone, while protecting the rights of employers to ensure that individuals in the workplace can efficiently perform the essential functions of their jobs.  An employer generally violates the ADA if it requires its employees to undergo medical examinations or submit to disability-related inquiries that are not related to how the employee performs his or her job duties, or if it requires its employees to disclose overbroad medical history or medical records.  Title I of the ADA also generally requires employers to make  reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities as long as  this does not pose an undue hardship or the employer the employer otherwise proves employing a disabled person with reasonable accommodation could not eliminate significant safety concerns.  Employers generally bear the burden of proving these or other defenses.  Employers are also prohibited from excluding individuals with disabilities unless they show that the exclusion is consistent with business necessity and they are prohibited from retaliating against employees for opposing practices contrary to the ADA.  Violations of the ADA can expose businesses to substantial liability.

    As reflected by the Baltimore County settlement, violations of the employment provisions of the ADA may be prosecuted by the EEOC or by private lawsuits and can result in significant judgments.  Employees or applicants that can prove they were subjected to prohibited disability discrimination under the ADA generally can recover actual damages, attorneys’ fees, and up to $300,000 of exemplary damages (depending on the size of the employer).   

    The U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against Baltimore County, Maryland is one in a growing series of lawsuits in which the Justice Department or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is aggressively challenging medical examination and other medical screenings by private and public employers.  In its lawsuit against the County, the Justice Department complaint identified 10 current and former police officers, firefighters, EMTs, civilian employees and applicants who were allegedly subjected to inappropriate and intrusive medical examinations and/or other disability-based discrimination.  Justice Department officials claimed the County required some employees to undergo medical examinations or respond to medical inquiries that were unrelated to their ability to perform the functions of their jobs.  The complaint also alleged the County required employees to submit to medical examinations that were improperly timed, such as requiring an employee who was on medical leave and undergoing medical treatment to submit to a medical exam even though the employee was not attempting to return to work yet.

    According to the complaint, numerous affected employees – some of whom had worked for the County for decades – submitted to the improper medical exams for fear of discipline or termination if they refused.  The complaint also alleges that the county retaliated against an employee who tried to caution against the unlawful medical exams and refused to hire two qualified applicants for EMT positions because they had diabetes.

     In the proposed consent decree filed on August 7, 2012 and awaiting District Court approval, the County seeks to resolve the lawsuit by agreeing to:

    • Pay $475,000 to the complainants and provide additional work-related benefits (including retirement benefits and back pay, plus interest);
    • Adopt new policies and procedures regarding the administration of medical examinations and inquiries;
    • Refrain from using the services of the medical examiner who conducted the overbroad medical examinations in question;
    • End the automatic exclusion of job applicants who have insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus; and
    • Give ADA training to all current supervisory employees and all employees who participate in making personnel decisions.

     Obama Administration Aggressively Enforcing & Interpreting Employment & Other Disability Discrimination Laws 

    The Baltimore County suit is reflective of the aggressive emphasis that the Obama Administration is placing on challenging employers that require employees to undergo medical screening, respond to medical inquiries or engage in other practices that the EEOC, Justice Department or other Obama Administration officials under Title I of the ADA, as well as its heavy emphasis upon enforcement of the ADA and other disability discrimination laws against U.S. businesses and state and local government agencies generally. 

    The Justice Department action against Baltimore County is part of the Obama Administration’s sweeping effort to enforce employment and other disability discrimination laws against businesses and state and local government agencies alike.  While the Administration’s disability law enforcement reaches broadly, disability discrimination enforcement is particularly notable in the area of employment law.  This enforcement targets both public employers like Baltimore County, and private employers.  In the private employer arena, for instance, the EEOC earlier this year sued Wendy’s franchisee, CTW L.L.C., (Texas Wendy’s) for allegedly violating the ADA by denying employment to a hearing-impaired applicant.  In its suit against Texas Wendy’s, the EEOC  seeks injunctive relief, including the formulation of policies to prevent and  correct disability discrimination as well as an award of lost wages and compensatory damages for Harrison  and punitive damages against CTW L.L.C.   In the suit, the EEOC charged that the general manager of a Killeen,  Texas Wendy’s refused to hire Michael Harrison, Jr. for a cooker position,  despite his qualifications and experience, upon learning that Harrison is  hearing-impaired.

    According to the EEOC, Harrison, who had previously worked for a different fast-food franchise for over two  years, was denied hire by the general manager.  Harrison said that after successfully  interviewing with the Wendy’s shift manager, he attempted to complete the  interview process by interviewing with Wendy’s general manager via Texas Relay,  a telephonic system used by people with hearing impairments. Harrison’s told  the EEOC that during the call he was told by the general manager that “there is  really no place for someone we cannot communicate with.”

    As illustrated by the suits against Baltimore County, Texas Wendy’s and many other public and private employers, employers must exercise care when making hiring, promotion or other employment related decisions relating to persons with hearing or other conditions that could qualify as a disability under the ADA.  

    Defending disability discrimination charges has become more complicated due to both the aggressive interpretation and enforcement of the ADA under the Obama Administration and amendments to the ADA that aid private plaintiffs, the EEOC, the Justice Department and others to prove their case.  Provisions of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) that expand the definition of “disability” under the ADA,   signed into law on September 25, 2008, broadened the definition of “disability” for purposes of the disability discrimination prohibitions of the ADA to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that a person has a disability within the meaning of the ADA.  The ADAAA retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. However, provisions of the ADAAA that took effect January 1, 2009 change the way that these statutory terms should be interpreted in several ways. Most significantly, the ADAAA:

    • Directs EEOC to revise that portion of its regulations defining the term “substantially limits;”
    • Expands the definition of “major life activities” by including two non-exhaustive lists: (1) The first list includes many activities that the EEOC has recognized (e.g., walking) as well as activities that EEOC has not specifically recognized (e.g., reading, bending, and communicating); and (2) The second list includes major bodily functions (e.g., “functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions”);
    • States that mitigating measures other than “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses” shall not be considered in assessing whether an individual has a disability;
    • Clarifies that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active;
    • Changes the definition of “regarded as” so that it no longer requires a showing that the employer perceived the individual to be substantially limited in a major life activity, and instead says that an applicant or employee is “regarded as” disabled if he or she is subject to an action prohibited by the ADA (e.g., failure to hire or termination) based on an impairment that is not transitory and minor; and
    • Provides that individuals covered only under the “regarded as” prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation.

    The ADAAA also emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis. In adopting these changes, Congress expressly sought to overrule existing employer-friendly judicial precedent construing the current provisions of the ADA and to require the EEOC to update its existing guidance to confirm with the ADAAA Amendments.  Under the leadership of the Obama Administration, the EEOC and other federal agencies have embraced this charge and have significantly stepped up enforcement of the ADA and other federal discrimination laws.

    The ADAAA amendments coupled with the Obama Administration’s emphasis on enforcement make it likely that businesses generally will face more disability claims from a broader range of employees and will possess fewer legal shields to defend themselves against these claims. These changes will make it easier for certain employees to qualify as disabled under the ADA.  Consequently, businesses should act strategically to mitigate their ADA exposures in anticipation of these changes. Given the Obama Administration’s well-documented, self-touted activism of the EEOC, Justice Department and other federal agencies in prosecuting disability discrimination and promoting a pro-disability enforcement agenda, businesses are encouraged to review and tighten their employment disability discrimination compliance procedures and documentation. 

    Likewise, businesses should be prepared for the EEOC and the courts to treat a broader range of disabilities, including those much more limited in severity and life activity restriction, to qualify as disabling for purposes of the Act. Businesses should assume that a greater number of employees with such conditions are likely to seek to use the ADA as a basis for challenging hiring, promotion and other employment decisions.  For this reason, businesses should exercise caution to carefully document legitimate business justification for their hiring, promotion and other employment related decisions about these and other individuals who might qualify as disabled taking into account both the broadened disability definition and the aggressive interpretative stance of the Obama Administration. Businesses also generally should tighten job performance and other employment recordkeeping to promote the ability to prove nondiscriminatory business justifications for the employment decisions made by the businesses.

    Businesses also should consider tightening their documentation regarding their procedures and processes governing the  collection and handling records and communications that may contain information regarding an applicant’s physical or mental impairment, such as medical absences, worker’s compensation claims, emergency information, or other records containing health status or condition related information.  The ADA generally requires that these records be maintained in separate confidential files and disclosed only to individuals with a need to know under circumstances allowed by the ADA. 

    As part of this process, businesses also should carefully review their employment records, group health plan, family leave, disability accommodation, and other existing policies and practices to comply with, and manage exposure under the new genetic information nondiscrimination and privacy rules enacted as part of the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) signed into law by President Bush on May 21, 2008.  Effective November 21, 2009, Title VII of GINA amends the Civil Rights Act to prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information and restricts the ability of employers and their health plans to require, collect or retain certain genetic information. Under GINA, employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees face significant liability for violating the sweeping nondiscrimination and confidentiality requirements of GINA concerning their use, maintenance and disclosure of genetic information. Employees can sue for damages and other relief like currently available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination laws.  For instance, GINA’s employment related provisions include rules that will:

    • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating based on genetic information in hiring, termination or referral decisions or in other decisions regarding compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment;
    • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from limiting, segregating or classifying employees so as to deny employment opportunities to an employee based on genetic information;
    • Bar labor organizations from excluding, expelling or otherwise discriminating against individuals based on genetic information;
    • Prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information of an employee or an employee’s family member except as allowed by GINA to satisfy certification requirements of family and medical leave laws, to monitor the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace or other conditions specifically allowed by GINA;
    • Prohibit employers, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from discriminating in any decisions related to admission or employment in training or retraining programs, including apprenticeships based on genetic information;
    • Mandate that in the narrow situations where limited cases where genetic information is obtained by a covered entity, it maintain the information on separate forms in separate medical files, treat the information as a confidential medical record, and not disclosure the genetic information except in those situations specifically allowed by GINA;
    • Prohibit any person from retaliating against an individual for opposing an act or practice made unlawful by GINA; and
    • Regulate the collection, use, access and disclosure of genetic information by employer sponsored and certain other health plans.

    These employment provisions of GINA are in addition to amendments to 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 that are effective for group health plan for plan years beginning after May 20, 2009.  Added together, employment related disability discrimination are large and growing, meriting stepped up risk assessment and management.

    Obama Administration Also Aggressively Prosecutes Disability Discrimination In Other Business Operations

    Guarding against disability discrimination in employment is not the only area that businesses need to prepare to defend against.  The Obama Administration also has trumpeted its commitment to the aggressive enforcement of the public accommodation provisions of the ADA and other federal disability discrimination laws.  In June, 2012, for instance, President Obama himself made a point of reaffirming his administration’s “commitment to fighting discrimination, and to addressing the needs and concerns of those living with disabilities.”

    As part of its significant commitment to disability discrimination enforcement, the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department has aggressively enforced the public accommodation provisions of the ADA and other federal disability discrimination laws against state agencies and private businesses that it perceives to have improperly discriminated against disabled individuals.  For instance, the Justice Department entered into a landmark settlement agreement with the Commonwealth of Virginia, which will shift Virginia’s developmental disabilities system from one heavily reliant on large, state-run institutions to one focused on safe, individualized, and community-based services that promote integration, independence and full participation by people with disabilities in community life. The agreement expands and strengthens every aspect of the Commonwealth’s system of serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in integrated settings, and it does so through a number of services and supports.  The Justice Department has a website dedicated to disabilities law enforcement, which includes links to settlements, briefs, findings letters, and other materials. The settlement agreements are a reminder that private businesses and state and local government agencies alike should exercise special care to prepare to defend their actions against potential disability or other Civil Rights discrimination challenges.  All organizations, whether public or private need to make sure both that their organizations, their policies, and people in form and in action understand and comply with current disability and other nondiscrimination laws.  When reviewing these responsibilities, many state and local governments and private businesses may need to update their understanding of current requirements.  Statutory, regulatory or enforcement changes have expanded the scope and applicability of disability and various other federal nondiscrimination and other laws and risks of charges of discrimination. 

    To help mitigate the expanded employment liability risks created by the ADAAA amendments, businesses generally should act cautiously when dealing with applicants or employees with actual, perceived, or claimed physical or mental impairments to decrease exposures under the ADA.  Management should exercise caution to carefully and proper the potential legal significance of physical or mental impairments or conditions that might be less significant in severity or scope, correctable through the use of eyeglasses, hearing aids, daily medications or other adaptive devices, or that otherwise have been assumed by management to fall outside the ADA’s scope. Employers should no longer assume, for instance, that a visually impaired employee won’t qualify as disabled because eyeglasses can substantially correct the employee’s visual impairment. 

    If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment and/or employee practices in response to the ADAAA, GINA or other applicable laws, or if we may be of assistance with regard to any other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    About The Author

    Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 20 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, 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.


    New EEOC State Discrimination Charge Data Helpful Employer Risk Assessment Tool Discrimination Exposures Grow

    June 26, 2012
     Tables Present Employment Discrimination Statistics in User-Friendly Format

    New employment discrimination charge statistics made available online by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in May, 2012 provide a helpful risk assessment tool for private sector employers looking to understand and decide where to deploy resources to management their employment discrimination exposures. 

    In May, the EEOC put private sector workplace discrimination charge statistics for each of the nation’s 50 states and U.S. Territories for fiscal years 2009-2011 online.  These data provide a look at EEOC charge receipts, broken down by the basis of discrimination, as well as the percent of total state and national charges. The state data tables are available online at http://www1.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/charges_by_state.cfm.

    The EEOC plans to update the state data each fiscal year.

    The availability of these statistics comes at an opportune time.  Disability and other discrimination challenges are rising.   Since taking office, President Obama has made enforcement of disability and other employment discrimination laws a top priority by both pursing enforcement directly and stepping up public outreach and education efforts to promote awareness and encourage private enforcement.  These efforts have been further strengthened by statutory and regulatory amendments to disability discrimination and other discrimination laws.   As a result of these developments and a tightening job market, discrimination claims are on the rise. 

    To help mitigate the expanded employment liability risks , businesses generally should act to manage their exposures.  Management should exercise caution to carefully design and implement employment discrimination and related employment policies.  They should implement exit interview, hotline and other practices  to help detect and resolve potential discrimination exposures early.  They also should carefully document legitimate disciplinary and other non-discriminatory justifications for employment related activities and conduct regular training for management and employees. 

    Businesses also should consider tightening their documentation regarding their procedures and processes governing the  collection and handling records and communications that may contain information that could be helpful or hurtful in the event of a discriminatioj charge.  Businesses need to ensure that all required records and statistics are collected.  In addition, businesses also should consider strengthing record creation and retention efforts to help preserve other evidence that could be invaluable to defending charges and change the way that decisions are made and documented to position their organizations to more effectively demonstrate the defensibility of their employment and other business activities against potential nondiscrimination charges.

    As part of this process, businesses also should carefully review their employment records, group health plan, family leave, disability accommodation, and other existing policies and practices to comply with, and manage exposure under the new genetic information nondiscrimination and privacy rules enacted as part of the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) signed into law by President Bush on May 21, 2008.  Effective November 21, 2009, Title VII of GINA amends the Civil Rights Act to prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information and restricts the ability of employers and their health plans to require, collect or retain certain genetic information. Under GINA, employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees face significant liability for violating the sweeping nondiscrimination and confidentiality requirements of GINA concerning their use, maintenance and disclosure of genetic information. Employees can sue for damages and other relief like currently available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination laws.  For instance, GINA’s employment related provisions include rules that will:

    • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating based on genetic information in hiring, termination or referral decisions or in other decisions regarding compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment;
    • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from limiting, segregating or classifying employees so as to deny employment opportunities to an employee based on genetic information;
    • Bar labor organizations from excluding, expelling or otherwise discriminating against individuals based on genetic information;
    • Prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information of an employee or an employee’s family member except as allowed by GINA to satisfy certification requirements of family and medical leave laws, to monitor the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace or other conditions specifically allowed by GINA;
    • Prohibit employers, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from discriminating in any decisions related to admission or employment in training or retraining programs, including apprenticeships based on genetic information;
    • Mandate that in the narrow situations where limited cases where genetic information is obtained by a covered entity, it maintain the information on separate forms in separate medical files, treat the information as a confidential medical record, and not disclosure the genetic information except in those situations specifically allowed by GINA;
    • Prohibit any person from retaliating against an individual for opposing an act or practice made unlawful by GINA; and
    • Regulate the collection, use, access and disclosure of genetic information by employer sponsored and certain other health plans.

    These employment provisions of GINA are in addition to amendments to 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 that are effective for group health plan for plan years beginning after May 20, 2009.

    If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment and/or employee practices in response to the ADAAA, GINA or other applicable laws, or if we may be of assistance with regard to any other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    About The Author

    Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 20 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mailto  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.

    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.

     


    Obama’s Reaffirms Commitment Prosecute Disability Discrimination To Mark Omlstead Anniversary

    June 22, 2012

    Statements of President Obama  made today (June 22, 2012) in celebration of the 13th anniversary of the June 22, 1999 Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C. are a reminder that U.S. businesses face a continuing and growing need to be on guard to defend against potential disability discrimination liabilities. Coupled with the well-documented activism of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other agencies in prosecuting disability discrimination and promoting a pro-disability enforcement agenda, businesses are encouraged to review and tighten their disability discrimination compliance procedures and documentation. 

    In Olmstead, the Supreme Court ruled in that the unjustified institutional isolation of people with disabilities is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

    In marking the 13th anniversary of this decision, President Obama said, “As we mark the anniversary of this historic civil rights decision, we reaffirm our commitment to fighting discrimination, and to addressing the needs and concerns of those living with disabilities.”

    In reaffirming this commitment, the Administration highlighted its past and continuing efforts to enforce disability discrimination laws, as well as other activities to support individuals with disability. 

    As part of its significant commitment to disability discrimination enforcement, the Civil Rights Division at the Department has been involved in more than 40 Olmstead matters in 25 states.   Recently, in Virginia, the Department entered into a landmark settlement agreement with the Commonwealth, which will shift Virginia’s developmental disabilities system from one heavily reliant on large, state-run institutions to one focused on safe, individualized, and community-based services that promote integration, independence and full participation by people with disabilities in community life. The agreement expands and strengthens every aspect of the Commonwealth’s system of serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in integrated settings, and it does so through a number of services and supports.  The Department has a website dedicated to Olmstead enforcement, which includes links to settlements, briefs, findings letters, and other materials. The settlement agreements are a reminder that private businesses and state and local government agencies alike should exercise special care to prepare to defend their actions against potential disability or other Civil Rights discrimination challenges.  All organizations, whether public or private need to make sure both that their organizations, their policies, and people in form and in action understand and comply with current disability and other nondiscrimination laws.  When reviewing these responsibilities, many state and local governments and private businesses may need to update their understanding of current requirements.  The scope and applicability of disability and various other federal nondiscrimination and other laws have been expanded or modified in recent years by statutory, regulatory or enforcement changes. 

    These Justice Department efforts also are reflected in the companion enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute disability discrimination by the Labor Department Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in employment, the Department of Housing & Urban Development in housing and related areas, the Department of Education in education and related fields and a host of other agencies.

    While the Administration’s disability law enforcement reaches broadly, disability discrimination enforcement is particularly notable in the area of employment law.  For instance, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently sued Wendy’s franchisee, CTW L.L.C., (Texas Wendy’s) for allegedly violating the Americans With Disabilities Act by denying employment to a hearing-impaired applicant.  In its suit against Texas Wendy’s, the EEOC  seeks injunctive relief, including the formulation of policies to prevent and  correct disability discrimination as well as an award of lost wages and compensatory damages for Harrison  and punitive damages against CTW L.L.C.   An example of a growing number of disability discrimination enforcement actions taken against employers and others on behalf of hearing impaired or other persons with disabilities under the Obama Administration, the case against Texas Wendy’s highlights the growing enforcement exposures of U.S. businesses to disability discrimination claims under the Obama Administration. In the suit, the EEOC charged that the general manager of a Killeen,  Texas Wendy’s refused to hire Michael Harrison, Jr. for a cooker position,  despite his qualifications and experience, upon learning that Harrison is  hearing-impaired.

    According to the EEOC, Harrison, who had previously worked for a different fast-food franchise for over two  years, was denied hire by the general manager.  Harrison said that after successfully  interviewing with the Wendy’s shift manager, he attempted to complete the  interview process by interviewing with Wendy’s general manager via Texas Relay,  a telephonic system used by people with hearing impairments. Harrison’s told  the EEOC that during the call he was told by the general manager that “there is  really no place for someone we cannot communicate with.”

    Expanding Disability Discrimination Exposures

    As illustrated by the suit against Texas Wendy’s, employers must exercise care when making hiring, promotion or other employment related decisions relating to persons with hearing or other conditions that could qualify as a disability under the ADA.  

    The ADA generally prohibits disability discrimination and requires employers to make  reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities as long as  this does not pose an undue hardship.

     In recent years, amendments to the original provisions of the ADA have made it easier for plaintiffs and the EEOC to establish disabled status of an individual.  Businesses should exercise caution to carefully document legitimate business justification for their hiring, promotion and other employment related decisions about these and other individuals who might qualify as disabled.  Provisions of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) that expand the definition of “disability” under the ADA,  As signed into law on September 25, 2008, the ADAAA amended the definition of “disability” for purposes of the disability discrimination prohibitions of the ADA to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that a person has a disability within the meaning of the ADA.  The ADAAA retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. However, provisions of the ADAAA that took effect January 1, 2009 change the way that these statutory terms should be interpreted in several ways. Most significantly, the Act:

    • Directs EEOC to revise that portion of its regulations defining the term “substantially limits;”
    • Expands the definition of “major life activities” by including two non-exhaustive lists: (1) The first list includes many activities that the EEOC has recognized (e.g., walking) as well as activities that EEOC has not specifically recognized (e.g., reading, bending, and communicating); and (2) The second list includes major bodily functions (e.g., “functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions”);
    • States that mitigating measures other than “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses” shall not be considered in assessing whether an individual has a disability;
    • Clarifies that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active;
    • Changes the definition of “regarded as” so that it no longer requires a showing that the employer perceived the individual to be substantially limited in a major life activity, and instead says that an applicant or employee is “regarded as” disabled if he or she is subject to an action prohibited by the ADA (e.g., failure to hire or termination) based on an impairment that is not transitory and minor; and
    • Provides that individuals covered only under the “regarded as” prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation.

    The ADAAA also emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis.In adopting these changes, Congress expressly sought to overrule existing employer-friendly judicial precedent construing the current provisions of the ADA and to require the EEOC to update its existing guidance to confirm with the ADAAA Amendments.  Under the leadership of the Obama Administration, the EEOC and other federal agencies have embraced this charge and have sigificantly stepped up enforcement of the ADA and other federal discrimination laws.

    Violations of the ADA can expose businesses to substantial liability. Violations of the ADA may be prosecuted by the EEOC or by private lawsuits.  Employees or applicants that can prove they were subjected to prohibited disability discrimination under the ADA generally can recover actual damages, attorneys’ fees, and up to $300,000 of exemplary damages (depending on the size of the employer).   

     The ADAAA amendments coupled with the Obama Administration’s emphasis on enforcement make it likely that businesses generally will face more disability claims from a broader range of employees and will possess fewer legal shields to defend themselves against these claims. These changes will make it easier for certain employees to qualify as disabled under the ADA.  Consequently, businesses should act strategically to mitigate their ADA exposures in anticipation of these changes.  

    To help mitigate the expanded employment liability risks created by the ADAAA amendments, businesses generally should act cautiously when dealing with applicants or employees with actual, perceived, or claimed physical or mental impairments to decrease exposures under the ADA.  Management should exercise caution to carefully and proper the potential legal significance of physical or mental impairments or conditions that might be less significant in severity or scope, correctable through the use of eyeglasses, hearing aids, daily medications or other adaptive devices, or that otherwise have been assumed by management to fall outside the ADA’s scope. Employers should no longer assume, for instance, that a visually impaired employee won’t qualify as disabled because eyeglasses can substantially correct the employee’s visual impairment. 

    Likewise, businesses should be prepared for the EEOC and the courts to treat a broader range of disabilities, including those much more limited in severity and life activity restriction, to qualify as disabling for purposes of the Act. Businesses should assume that a greater number of employees with such conditions are likely to seek to use the ADA as a basis for challenging hiring, promotion and other employment decisions.  For this reason, businesses generally should tighten job performance and other employment record keeping to enhance their ability to prove nondiscriminatory business justifications for the employment decisions made by the businesses.

    Businesses also should consider tightening their documentation regarding their procedures and processes governing the  collection and handling records and communications that may contain information regarding an applicant’s physical or mental impairment, such as medical absences, worker’s compensation claims, emergency information, or other records containing health status or condition related information.  The ADA generally requires that these records be maintained in separate confidential files and disclosed only to individuals with a need to know under circumstances allowed by the ADA. 

    As part of this process, businesses also should carefully review their employment records, group health plan, family leave, disability accommodation, and other existing policies and practices to comply with, and manage exposure under the new genetic information nondiscrimination and privacy rules enacted as part of the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) signed into law by President Bush on May 21, 2008.  Effective November 21, 2009, Title VII of GINA amends the Civil Rights Act to prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information and restricts the ability of employers and their health plans to require, collect or retain certain genetic information. Under GINA, employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees face significant liability for violating the sweeping nondiscrimination and confidentiality requirements of GINA concerning their use, maintenance and disclosure of genetic information. Employees can sue for damages and other relief like currently available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination laws.  For instance, GINA’s employment related provisions include rules that will:

    • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating based on genetic information in hiring, termination or referral decisions or in other decisions regarding compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment;
    • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from limiting, segregating or classifying employees so as to deny employment opportunities to an employee based on genetic information;
    • Bar labor organizations from excluding, expelling or otherwise discriminating against individuals based on genetic information;
    • Prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information of an employee or an employee’s family member except as allowed by GINA to satisfy certification requirements of family and medical leave laws, to monitor the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace or other conditions specifically allowed by GINA;
    • Prohibit employers, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from discriminating in any decisions related to admission or employment in training or retraining programs, including apprenticeships based on genetic information;
    • Mandate that in the narrow situations where limited cases where genetic information is obtained by a covered entity, it maintain the information on separate forms in separate medical files, treat the information as a confidential medical record, and not disclosure the genetic information except in those situations specifically allowed by GINA;
    • Prohibit any person from retaliating against an individual for opposing an act or practice made unlawful by GINA; and
    • Regulate the collection, use, access and disclosure of genetic information by employer sponsored and certain other health plans.

    These employment provisions of GINA are in addition to amendments to 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 that are effective for group health plan for plan years beginning after May 20, 2009.

    If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment and/or employee practices in response to the ADAAA, GINA or other applicable laws, or if we may be of assistance with regard to any other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    About The Author

    Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 20 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mailto  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.

    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.

     


    EEOC Sues Wendy’s Franchisee For Disability Discrimination

    April 18, 2012

    Killeen Fast-Food  Restaurant Refused to Hire Hearing-Impaired Applicant Despite His  Qualifications, Federal Agency Charges

    Wendy’s franchisee, CTW L.L.C., (Texas Wendy’s) is being sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for allegedly violating the Americans With Disabililties Act by denying employment to a hearing-impaired applicant.  In its suit against Texas Wendy’s, the EEOC  seeks injunctive relief, including the formulation of policies to prevent and  correct disability discrimination as well as an award of lost wages and compensatory damages for Harrison  and punitive damages against CTW L.L.C.   An example of a growing number of disability discrimination enforcement actions taken against employers and others on behalf of hearing impaired or other persons with disabilities under the Obama Administration, the case against Texas Wendy’s highlights the growing enforcement exposures of U.S. businesses to disability discrimination claims under the Obama Administration.

    Wendy’s Suit

    The EEOC charges in its suit against Texas Wendy’s, Case No. 6:12-CV-00091-WSS in U.S. District Court for the  Western District of Texas, Waco Division, that the general manager of a Killeen,  Texas Wendy’s refused to hire Michael Harrison, Jr. for a cooker position,  despite his qualifications and experience, upon learning that Harrison is  hearing-impaired.

    According to the EEOC, Harrison, who had previously worked for a different fast-food franchise for over two  years, was denied hire by the general manager.  Harrison said that after successfully  interviewing with the Wendy’s shift manager, he attempted to complete the  interview process by interviewing with Wendy’s general manager via Texas Relay,  a telephonic system utilized by people with hearing impairments. Harrison’s told  the EEOC that during the call he was told by the general manager that “there is  really no place for someone we cannot communicate with.”

    Expanding Disability Discrimination Exposures

    As illustrated by the suit against Texas Wendy’s, employers must exercise care when making hiring, promotion or other employment related decisions relating to persons with hearing or other conditions that could qualify as a disability under the ADA.  

    The ADA generally prohibits disability discrimination and requires employers to make  reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities as long as  this does not pose an undue hardship.

     In recent years, amendments to the original provisions of the ADA have made it easier for plaintiffs and the EEOC to establish disabled status of an individual.  Businesses should exercise caution to carefully document legitimate business justification for their hiring, promotion and other employment related decisions about these and other individuals who might qualify as disabled.  Provisions of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) that expand the definition of “disability” under the ADA,  As signed into law on September 25, 2008, the ADAAA amended the definition of “disability” for purposes of the disability discrimination prohibitions of the ADA to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that that has a disability within the meaning of the ADA.  The ADAAA retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. However, provisions of the ADAAA that took effect January 1, 2009 change the way that these statutory terms should be interpreted in several ways. Most significantly, the Act:

    • Directs EEOC to revise that portion of its regulations defining the term “substantially limits;”
    • Expands the definition of “major life activities” by including two non-exhaustive lists: (1) The first list includes many activities that the EEOC has recognized (e.g., walking) as well as activities that EEOC has not specifically recognized (e.g., reading, bending, and communicating); and (2) The second list includes major bodily functions (e.g., “functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions”);
    • States that mitigating measures other than “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses” shall not be considered in assessing whether an individual has a disability;
    • Clarifies that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active;
    • Changes the definition of “regarded as” so that it no longer requires a showing that the employer perceived the individual to be substantially limited in a major life activity, and instead says that an applicant or employee is “regarded as” disabled if he or she is subject to an action prohibited by the ADA (e.g., failure to hire or termination) based on an impairment that is not transitory and minor; and
    • Provides that individuals covered only under the “regarded as” prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation.

    The ADAAA also emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis.In adopting these changes, Congress expressly sought to overrule existing employer-friendly judicial precedent construing the current provisions of the ADA and to require the EEOC to update its existing guidance to confirm with the ADAAA Amendments.  Under the leadership of the Obama Administration, the EEOC and other federal agencies have embraced this charge and have sigificantly stepped up enforcement of the ADA and other federal discrimination laws.

    Violations of the ADA can expose businesses to substantial liability. Violations of the ADA may be prosecuted by the EEOC or by private lawsuits.  Employees or applicants that can prove they were subjected to prohibited disability discrimination under the ADA generally can recover actual damages, attorneys’ fees, and up to $300,000 of exemplary damages (depending on the size of the employer).   

     The ADAAA amendments coupled with the Obama Administration’s emphasis on enforcement make it likely that businesses generally will face more disability claims from a broader range of employees and will possess fewer legal shields to defend themselves against these claims. These changes will make it easier for certain employees to qualify as disabled under the ADA.  Consequently, businesses should act strategically to mitigate their ADA exposures in anticipation of these changes.  

    To help mitigate the expanded employment liability risks created by the ADAAA amendments, businesses generally should act cautiously when dealing with applicants or employees with actual, perceived, or claimed physical or mental impairments to minimize exposures under the ADA.  Management should exercise caution to carefully and appropriate the potential legal significance of physical or mental impairments or conditions that might be less significant in severity or scope, correctable through the use of eyeglasses, hearing aids, daily medications or other adaptive devices, or that otherwise have been assumed by management to fall outside the ADA’s scope. Employers should no longer assume, for instance, that a visually impaired employee won’t qualify as disabled because eyeglasses can substantially correct the employee’s visual impairment. 

    Likewise, businesses should be prepared for the EEOC and the courts to treat a broader range of disabilities, including those much more limited in severity and life activity restriction, to qualify as disabling for purposes of the Act. Businesses should assume that a greater number of employees with such conditions are likely to seek to use the ADA as a basis for challenging hiring, promotion and other employment decisions.  For this reason, businesses generally should tighten job performance and other employment recordkeeping to enhance their ability to demonstrate nondiscriminatory business justifications for the employment decisions made by the businesses.

    Businesses also should consider tightening their documentation regarding their procedures and processes governing the  collection and handling records and communications that may contain information regarding an applicant’s physical or mental impairment, such as medical absences, worker’s compensation claims, emergency information, or other records containing health status or condition related information.  The ADA generally requires that these records be maintained in separate confidential files and disclosed only to individuals with a need to know under circumstances allowed by the ADA. 

    As part of this process, businesses also should carefully review their employment records, group health plan, family leave, disability accommodation, and other existing policies and practices to comply with, and manage exposure under the new genetic information nondiscrimination and privacy rules enacted as part of the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) signed into law by President Bush on May 21, 2008.  Effective November 21, 2009, Title VII of GINA amends the Civil Rights Act to prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information and restricts the ability of employers and their health plans to require, collect or retain certain genetic information. Under GINA, employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees face significant liability for violating the sweeping nondiscrimination and confidentiality requirements of GINA concerning their use, maintenance and disclosure of genetic information. Employees can sue for damages and other relief like currently available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination laws.  For instance, GINA’s employment related provisions include rules that will:

    • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating based on genetic information in hiring, termination or referral decisions or in other decisions regarding compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment;
    • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from limiting, segregating or classifying employees so as to deny employment opportunities to an employee based on genetic information;
    • Bar labor organizations from excluding, expelling or otherwise discriminating against individuals based on genetic information;
    • Prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information of an employee or an employee’s family member except as allowed by GINA to satisfy certification requirements of family and medical leave laws, to monitor the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace or other conditions specifically allowed by GINA;
    • Prohibit employers, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from discriminating in any decisions related to admission or employment in training or retraining programs, including apprenticeships based on genetic information;
    • Mandate that in the narrow situations where limited cases where genetic information is obtained by a covered entity, it maintain the information on separate forms in separate medical files, treat the information as a confidential medical record, and not disclosure the genetic information except in those situations specifically allowed by GINA;
    • Prohibit any person from retaliating against an individual for opposing an act or practice made unlawful by GINA; and
    • Regulate the collection, use, access and disclosure of genetic information by employer sponsored and certain other health plans.

    These employment provisions of GINA are in addition to amendments to 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 that are effective for group health plan for plan years beginning after May 20, 2009.

    If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment and/or employee practices in response to the ADAAA, GINA or other applicable laws, or if we may be of assistance with regard to any other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP Labor & Employment Practice Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at 214.270.2402.

    About The Author

    Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 20 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in numerous human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 214.270.2402 or via e-mail 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 in this electronic Solutions Law publication 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.

    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@solutionslawyer.net.

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


    Stamer To Discuss “Health Care Reform’s Implications For Employers, Health Plans & Employee Benefits Practitioners” At May 5 Dallas Bar Association Meeting

    March 22, 2010

    Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will discuss “Health Care Reform:  Implications for Employers, Health Plans and Employee Benefits Practitioners” at the May 5, 2010 meeting of Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits/Executive Compensation Section to be held from 12:00 noon – 1:00 p.m. in the Haynes & Boone Ballroom of Dallas Bar Association Belo Mansion located at 2101 Ross Avenue in Dallas, Texas.

    Narrowly passed by Congress in March after a year of contentious debate, the comprehensive health care reform legislation imposes a complex array of reforms impacting employment based health plans, employers, and the insurers and other vendors and administrators of these programs.  Ms. Stamer will explore key elements of these reforms impacting employers and employment based health coverage and their implications for employers, employment based health plans, and employee benefits and other attorneys providing advice about these arrangements.

    Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Compensation Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council member, Chair of the Curran Tomko Tarski Labor, Employment & Employee Benefits Practice and former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Section, Ms. Stamer is nationally recognized for more than 22 years of work with employer and other health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrative and other service providers, insurers, and other clients on health benefit program and product design, documentation, administration, compliance, risk management, and public policy matters.  The publisher of Solutions Law Press, Ms. Stamer also publishes, conducts training and speaks extensively on these and related concerns for the ABA, the Bureau of National Affairs and many other organizations.  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.

    If you need assistance with evaluating or responding to this new legislation or other employee benefits, employment, compensation or other management concerns, wish to inquire about compliance, risk management or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at cstamer@cttlegal.com, 214.270.2402; or your other preferred Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorney.

    If you found this information of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing other updates and publications by Ms. Stamer including:

    You can review other recent human resources, employee benefits and internal controls publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of Ms. Stamer here and learn more about  other Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys 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 or e-mailing this information to Cstamer@CTTLegal.com or registering to participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our Solutions Law Press distributions here. For important information concerning this communication click here.    

    ©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


    Extension of Unemployment Benefits Signed Into Law & Immediately Effective As Filibuster Ends

    March 3, 2010

    By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

    Effective yesterday, the Temporary Extension Act of 2010, H.R. 4691,extended unemployment benefits to April 5, 2010.  It also extended  and expanded the COBRA premium  subsidy requirements originally established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and plan sponsor penalties for noncompliance.

    In recent days, H.R. 4691 drew great media attention when its enactment was delayed by a filibuster by Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning.  As media coverage of the Bunning filibuster focused almost exclusively on its unemployment benefit extension provisions, many U.S. employers and others are unaware of its provisions extending and expanding the COBRA premium subsidy mandates and authorizing higher pay for Medicare doctors and funding for federal highway programs. President Obama signed H.R. 4691 into law on March 2, 2010 just hours after Senator Bunning ended his highly publicized filibuster.

    Unemployment Benefit Extensions

    H.R. 4691’s unemployment insurance benefit provisions became immediately effective when signed by the President.  These provisions:

    • Extend the period during which individuals may file applications for Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) from the current end date of February 28, 2010 to April 5, 2010 and extend  the period during which individuals may claim and be paid EUC from July 31, 2010 to September 4, 2010.
    • Extend from the current end date of February 28, 2010 to April 5, 2010 the period during which individuals may qualify for the Federal Additional Compensation (FAC), the extra $25 weekly benefit amount on state and federal unemployment compensation, while also providing for weekly payment during the phase out period for weeks ending October 5, 2010 instead of August 31, 2010.
    • Extend the period during which 100% federal reimbursement for weeks of regular federal extended benefit payments to April 5, 2010, with the state option to continue the extended period from July 31, 2010 to September 4, 2010.

    COBRA Premium Subsidy Extended & New Penalties Added

    In addition to extending unemployment benefits, H.R. 4691 also extends and expands the availability of the temporary COBRA subsidy rules originally added to the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) medical coverage continuation requirements by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“AARA”) last February.  For details about these COBRA premium subsidy amendments, see here.  To minimize their COBRA rights under the amended COBRA premium subsidy rules, group health plans, their employer or union sponsors, administrators, insurers and service providers will need to act quickly to prepare and provider required updated notifications to assistance eligible individuals of these extended eligibility periods and their resulting rights, and otherwise update their plan documents, procedures, and COBRA notifications in light of these new rules. 

    For Added Information or Assistance

    If your organization need advice or assistance with these or other labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation or related matters, consider contacting Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and representing management about labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation and other related management matters.  A nationally recognized author and lecturer, 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 that may be of interest 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.

     ©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


    Privacy Rule Changes & Posting of Breach Notices On OCR Website Signal New Enforcement Risks For Health Plans, Their Sponsors & Business Associates

    February 23, 2010

     By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

    The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has begun disclosing on its website the employer and other health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses and their business associates (Covered Entities) that report breaches of unsecured protected health information (UPIC) affecting more than 500 individuals as required by new rules enacted as part of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act). This posting of Covered Entities reporting breaches comes just days after these and other Covered Entities became subject on February 17, 2010 to a host of other tighter federal requirements for the use, access, protection and disclosure of protected health information under Privacy & Security Standards of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) also enacted as part of the HITECH Act. As failing to comply with the amended rules effective February 17, 2010 can trigger obligations under the Breach Regulations and other exposures, prompt action to manage risk under both the Breach Regulations and the revised HIPAA rules is critical to minimize Covered Entity and business associate exposures under both these rules. With criminal, administrative and civil prosecutions of such violations increasing and likely to expand, timely action to manage compliance and other risks is warranted. Health plans and their business associates also should prepare for increased awareness and oversight of the adequacy of their medical information safeguards as these disclosures and other enforcement actions heighten interest and awareness of employees and others in these rules.

    Covered Entity Breach Notification Requirements

    OCR posted the initial list of Covered Entities disclosing these breaches on its website for the first time yesterday (February 22, 2010) to comply with breach notification requirements imposed by Section 164.408 of the interim “Breach Notification For Unsecured Protected Health Information” regulation (Breach Regulation) published here

    The Breach Regulation requires Covered Entities subject to the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) to notify affected individuals, OCR and certain other parties following a “breach” of “unsecured” protected health information occurring on or after September 23, 2009.  The Breach Regulation implements new breach notification requirements added to HIPAA by Section 13402(e)(3) of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act). It and the posting of Covered Entities reporting breaches of protected health information are part of the ongoing implementation and enforcement of new and stricter personal health information privacy and data security requirements for Covered Entities added to HIPAA under provisions of the HITECH Act and expanded remedies for violations signed into law on February 17, 2009 as part of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

    You can review the list of Covered Entities that have reported breaches on the OCR website here.  Learn more about the Breach Regulation requirements here.

    Broader & Stricter Medical Privacy Mandates Effective 2/17/210

    Just last Wednesday (February 17, 2010) Covered Entities and their business associates also became subject to tighter federal requirements for the use, access, protection and disclosure of protected health information under amendments to HIPAA’s Privacy & Security Standards enacted by the HITECH Act. The changes that became effective on February 17, 2010 generally require that Covered Entities and their business associates make specific changes to update their written policies, operational procedures, privacy notices, business associate agreements, training, and other management procedures in several respects. For more details, see here.

    While the HITECH Act gave Covered Entities and business associates a year to complete the necessary arrangements to comply with these HITECH Act changes, many Covered Entities and business associates have remain unnecessarily exposed under these new requirements by not completing or otherwise failing to adequately implement the necessary arrangements despite expanding liability exposures that can result from noncompliance. To mitigate these exposures, Covered Entities and their business associates should act quickly to review and update their policies, procedures, training, business associate and other services agreements, and other practices and procedures, as well as to implement the training, oversight, and other management necessary to comply with the HITECH Act changes and to mitigate other HIPAA risks.

    Exposures Significant & Growing

    Covered Entities and business associates failing to devote adequate attention and resources to  managing HIPAA compliance and associated risks risk increasing peril.  Aside from the potential implications that disclosures of violations may have on patients and others impacting their business, the legal risks of noncompliance for Covered Entities, business associates and others mishandling protected health information are real and growing.   

    Timely action to comply with the amended HIPAA requirements and Breach Regulations is important both to preserve critical trust in the business, to avoid triggering breach notifications that can undermine this trust and fuel legal complaints, and to avoid exposure to an expanding range of sanctions that can result when a violation occurs. 

    Amendments made under the HITECH Act have expanded the size and availability of remedies that can be imposed for HIPAA violations as well as the parties empowered to pursue these remedies.  Wrongful use, access or disclosure of protected health information in violation of HIPAA subjects participating health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses, their business associates and other workforce members and others to civil penalties,  criminal prosecution and, since February 17, 2009, civil lawsuits brought by state attorneys general on behalf of citizens of their states whose HIPAA rights were violated.  Since September 23, 2009, health plans and other HIPAA Covered Entities as well as their  business associates also became obligated to provide breach notification under new mandates imposed by the HITECH Act.  Coupled with increased enforcement emphasis by regulators, these expansions to HIPAA’s remedy provisions increase the risk that Covered Entities or business associates violating HIPAA face investigation and sanction.  Furthermore, the wrongful use, access or disclosure of protected health information or other confidential information also increasingly is the basis of civil or criminal actions brought under a variety of other federal and state laws.

    Expanded HIPAA & Other Federal Prosecutions & Remedies

    The expanded requirements imposed under the Breach Regulation and the other HITECH Act changes that took effect on February 17, 2010 follow the implementation changes to HIPAA’s civil and criminal sanctions that took effect on February 17, 2009, when President Obama signed the HITECH Act into law. The HITECH Act amendments to HIPAA’s remedies significantly increase the risk that health plans and other Covered Entities and their business associates will face civil lawsuits, civil or criminal penalties or other consequences for violating HIPAA. Noncompliance with these and other HIPAA requirements subjects Covered Entities and business associates to civil penalties, criminal prosecution, civil damage awards under lawsuits brought by state attorneys general, and other legal remedies.  In addition, timely update written policies, procedures, business associate agreements, training and documentation is imperative in order for Covered Entities and their business associates to fulfill their breach notification obligations under new rules enacted as part of the HITECH Act. 

    HITECH Amendments Expand Liability Exposures

    The expanded risks stem in part from the HITECH Act’s amendments to HIPAA’s remedy provisions.  Among other things, the HITECH Act amended HIPAA to:

    • Allow a State Attorney General to sue health plans or other Covered Entities, business associates or both that harm state citizens by committing HIPAA violations after February 16, 2009;
    • Expand the mandate by OCR to investigate violations and audit compliance with HIPAA;
    • Require Office of Civil Rights to impose civil sanctions against Covered Entities and business associates involved in violations of HIPAA in accordance with tightened standards added to HIPAA by the HITECH Act;
    • Revise the criminal sanctions that the Department of Justice can seek against Covered Entities, their business associates and others for violations of HIPAA; and
    • Amend HIPAA to make clear that HIPAA’s criminal sanctions also can imposed on business associates, workforce members and other persons that improperly use, access and disclose protected health information in violation of HIPAA.

    State Attorney General Lawsuit Exposures

    Covered Entities and their business associates now also need to be concerned about the potential that a state Attorney General may bring civil suit to remedy damages caused to state citizens by a breach of HIPAA. 

    The HITECH Act empowers a state attorney general to sue Covered Entities or business associates engaging in HIPAA violations that harms citizens of the state for statutory damages equal to the sum of the number of violations multiplied by 100 up to a maximum of $25,000 per calendar year plus attorneys fees and costs

    A HIPAA civil lawsuit filed on January 13, 2010 demonstrates the willingness of at least some states to exercise the new authority created by the HITECH Act on February 17, 2009 to sue Covered Entities and business associates that violate HIPAA for civil damages.

    On January 13, 2010 Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal sued Health Net of Connecticut, Inc. (Health Net) for failing to secure private patient medical records and financial information involving 446,000 Connecticut enrollees and promptly notify consumers endangered by the security breach.   The suit also names UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Oxford Health Plans LLC, who have acquired Health Net.  The first attorney general enforcement action brought based on amendments made to HIPAA under the HITECH Act, Connecticut charges that Health Net violated HIPAA by failing to safeguard protected medical records and financial information on almost a half million Health Net enrollees in Connecticut then allowing this information to remain exposed for at least six months before notifying authorities and consumers.

    Stepped Up Federal Enforcement

    Even before the HITECH Act amendments, however, OCR and Department of Justice already were stepping up HIPAA investigation and enforcement.  The Department of Justice has obtained a variety of criminal convictions against violators of HIPAA.  See, e.g., 2 New HIPAA Criminal Actions Highlight Risks From Wrongful Use/Access of Health InformationMeanwhile, OCR also is emphasizing HIPAA enforcement.  In February, 2009, for instance, OCR announced that CVS Pharmacies, Inc. would pay $2.25 million to resolve HIPAA charges.  This announcement followed OCR’s announcement in July, 2008 that Providence Health Care would pay $100,000 to resolve HIPAA violation charges.  OCR also has taken HIPAA enforcement actions against a broad range of other Covered Entities to redress HIPAA violations or other compliance concerns.  To review examples of these other actions, see hereWhile not resulting in the significant payments involved in CVS or Providence, all Covered Entities involved in these and other enforcement actions or investigations have incurred significant legal and other defense costs, loss of community trust, or both.

    In addition to these HIPAA-specific exposures, wrongful use, access or disclosure of medical information also can give rise to liability for health plans and other Covered Entities, business associates, employees and other members of their workforce and others improperly using, accessing or disclosing protected health information.  Federal and state prosecutions may and increasingly do criminally prosecute individuals for improperly accessing or using medical or other personal information under a variety of other federal or state laws .  See e.g., Cybercrime & Identity Theft: Health Information Security Beyond HIPAA; NY AG Cuomo Announcement of 1st Settlement For Violation of NY Security Breach Notification Law; Woman Who Revealed AIDs Info Gets A YearAdditionally, State courts also increasingly are permitting individuals harmed by HIPAA violations to use HIPAA as the foundation of state law duties used to maintain state negligence, invasion of privacy, retaliation or other claims for damages. Read more here

    State Civil Lawsuits

    Along side these governmental actions, state courts also increasingly are willing to allow individual plaintiffs to rely on violations of HIPAA as the basis for bringing state privacy, retaliation or other actions.  While prior to the recent HITECH Act amendments, federal courts had ruled that private plaintiffs could not sue under HIPAA for damages they incurred from a Covered Entity’s violation of HIPAA, state courts have allowed private plaintiffs to use the obligations imposed by HIPAA as the basis of a Covered Entity’s duty for purposes of certain state law lawsuits.  In  Sorensen v. Barbuto, 143 P.3d 295 (Utah Ct. App. 2006), for example, a Utah appeals court ruled a private plaintiff could use HIPAA standards to establish that a physician owed a duty of confidentiality to his patients for purposes of maintaining a state law damages claim.  Similarly, the Court in Acosta v. Byrum, 638 S.E. 2d 246 (N.C. Ct. App. 2006) ruled that a plaintiff could use HIPAA to establish the “standard of care” in a negligence lawsuit.

    Meanwhile, disgruntled employees or other business partners also increasingly raise alleged HIPAA misconduct as a basis of their legal complaints.  For instance, private plaintiffs employed by Covered Entities also are increasingly pointing to HIPAA as the basis for their retaliation or wrongful discharge claims. See, e.g.,  Retaliation For Filing HIPAA Complaint Recognized As Basis For State Retaliatory Discharge Claim.  Coupled with the HITECH Act changes, these and other enforcement actions signal growing potential hazards for Covered Entities and their business associates that  fail to properly manage their HIPAA compliance obligations and risks.

    Given these and other developments, Covered Entities and their business associates generally should resist the temptation to underestimate their potential HIPAA exposure for a variety of reasons.  In fact, a number of factors demonstrate that the risks are significant and growing for Covered Entities, business associates and others that breach HIPAA’s mandates or otherwise inappropriately access protected health information. 

    Covered Entities & Business Associates Urged To Act Promptly To Manage Expanded HIPAA Risks & Obligations

    As a consequence of these collective HITECH Act changes and growing HIPAA-related and other exposures, Covered Entities, their business associates and business associates generally will find it necessary or advisable among other things to:

    • Conduct well-documented due diligence within the scope of attorney-client privilege on their own practices and procedures;
    • Review the adequacy of the practices, policies and procedures of the Covered Entities, business associates, and others that may come into contact with protected health information;;
    • Renegotiate their service provider agreements to detail the specific compliance obligations of each party relating to for auditing compliance, investigating potential breaches; providing required breach notifications; specify leadership and required cooperation in the event of a breach, charge, or other concern; indemnification and other liability allocations; and other related matters;
    • Update policies, privacy and other notices, practices, procedures, training and other practices as needed to promote compliance and defensibility;
    • Conduct well-documented training as necessary to ensure that business associates and other members of the Covered Entity’s workforce understand and are prepared to comply with the expanded requirements of HIPAA, can detect potential breaches or other compliance concerns, and understand and are prepared to follow appropriate procedures for reported suspected violations; and
    • Pursue appropriate liability and other protection as appropriate to improve their ability to demonstrate both their commitment to compliance and their realistic efforts to ensure that these commitments are both appropriately documented on paper and operationalized in performance.

    As part of these compliance and risk management efforts, most Covered Entities and their business associates will find it advisable to devote significant attention to the business associate relationship and its associated business associate agreements. Proper management of the expanded compliance obligations and liability exposures created by the HITECH Act generally will necessitate that Covered Entities and their business associates focus significant attention on the reworking of their operating and contractual relationships including the definition of detailed procedures for monitoring, reporting, investigating, and resolving potential breaches or other compliance concerns.

    Even before the impending HIPAA changes scheduled to take effect on February 17, 2010, a strong need for more detailed contracting and planning of these relationships already existed. Since the enactment of HIPAA, the practice of many Covered Entities and their business associates of appending generic “business associate” representations onto existing services contracts without specific tailoring and planning has created undesirable ambiguities in these agreements. Further updating and tailoring of these and other provisions of services agreements has become even more important over the past year in light of the new breach notification mandates that took effect under the HITECH Act in September, 2009, changes to HIPAA’s civil and criminal sanctions that took effect on February 17, 2009, and the impending extension by the HITECH Act to business associates of direct liability for compliance with HIPAA scheduled to occur on February 17, 2010.

    These and other stepped up oversight and enforcement activities make it critical that all Covered Entities and their business associates update their policies and practices, conduct training, tighten their compliance and data breach monitoring processes, strengthen their internal controls and documentation, and take other steps to prepare to defend their actions under the newly strengthened Privacy Rules.  Covered Entities and their business associates more than ever must ensure their ability to demonstrate to federal regulators the effectiveness of their HIPAA compliance efforts by both adopting the written policies and procedures required by HIPAA and continuously monitoring and administering these safeguards.  Covered Entities should consider reviewing the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance practices taking into consideration the Corrective Action Plan, published OCR noncompliance and enforcement statistics, their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses, and other developments to determine if additional steps are necessary or advisable.

    For Assistance With Compliance Or Other Concerns

    If your organization need advice or assistance in reviewing, updating, administering or defending its HIPAA or other privacy policies, practices, business associate or other agreements, notices or other related activities, consider contacting the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at (214) 270-2402 or via e-mail  here

    Ms. Stamer is nationally known for her work, training and presentations, and publications on privacy and security of health and other sensitive information in health and managed care, employment, employee benefits, financial services, education and other contexts. 

    Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 22 years experience advising clients about health and other privacy and security matters.  A popular lecturer and widely published author on privacy and data security and other related health care and health plan matters, Ms. Stamer is the Editor in Chief of the forthcoming 2010 edition of the Information Security Guide to be published by the American Bar Association Information Security Committee in 2010, as well as the author of “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security Beyond HIPAA,” and a host of other highly regarded publications. She has continuously advises employers, health care providers, health insurers and administrators, health plan sponsors, employee benefit plan fiduciaries, schools, financial services providers, governments and others about privacy and data security, health care, insurance, human resources, technology, and other legal and operational concerns. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management matters.  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 Recent Developments

    If you found this information of interest, you also may be interested in information about upcoming programs to be presented by Ms. Stamer, acquiring a copy of a recording or materials from previous programs she has presented, or arranging training for your organization.  For more information about these opportunities, contact Ms. Stamer directly.

    If you found this information of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the following recent Updates available online by clicking on the article title:

    Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Can Help

    If your organization need advice or assistance in reviewing, updating, administering or defending its HIPAA or other privacy policies, practices, business associate or other agreements, notices or other related activities, consider contacting Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    A widely published author and speaker on HIPAA and other employee benefit and human resources related matters, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising health plans, their employer and other sponsors, health insurers, TPAs and other business associates and others about HIPAA and other health plan and privacy matters. Currently serving as both Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and as an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative and Former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer has more than 23 years experience assisting employers, insurers, plan administrators and fiduciaries and others to design, implement, draft and administer health and other employee benefit plans and to defend audits, litigation or other disputes by private parties, the IRS, Department of Labor, Office of Civil Rights, Medicare, state insurance regulators and other federal and state regulators. A nationally recognized author and lecturer, 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 that may be of interest 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.

     

    ©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


    SouthWest Benefits e-Connections Highlights Stamer Article About Importance For Health Plans, Their Sponsors & Business Associates To Update HIPAA Policies, Practices & Agreements

    February 22, 2010

    Cynthia Marcotte Stamer’s article Health Plans & Business Associates Face 2/17 Deadline To Comply With HIPAA Privacy Rule Changes is featured in the Winter, 2010 edition of the SouthWest Benefits Association e-Connection.  The article originally published in the Solutions Law Press HR & Benefit Update highlights the need for health plans, employer and other plan sponsors, administrators, and health insurers as well as the brokers, advisors, and other service providers performing functions on behalf of these entities to update their plans, policies, vendor agreements, practices, privacy notices and other communications and other materials, conduct training and take other steps in response to tighter federal requirements for the use, access, protection and disclosure of protected health information under Privacy & Security Standards of HIPAA, as amended by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act).

    Founded in 1975, SouthWest Benefits is a regional, non-profit association designed to foster relationships and support the educational growth of professionals in employee benefits through an annual schedule of professional educational conferences and workshops. As part of these activities, the SWBA is scheduled to host its 35th Annual Conference on May 12th-14th at the Westin Riverwalk in San Antonio.  For information about these and other SWBA, see here.

    A former Southwest Benefits Association board member who remains active in the organization, Ms. Stamer is a board certified labor and employment attorney recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 22 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on employee benefit and related matters.  As a core focus of her role as the Chair of the Curran Tomko Tarski Labor, Employment & Employee Benefits Practice, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators 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 programs and practices. Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Compensation Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council member, 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  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.

    If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about federal or state regulatory compliance audits, risk management or training, assistance investigating or responding to a known or suspected compliance or risk management concern, or need legal representation on other matters please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, CTT Labor & Employment Practice Chair at cstamer@cttlegal.com, 214.270.2402; or your other preferred Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorney.

    You can review other recent human resources, employee benefits and internal controls publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of Ms. Stamer here and learn more about other Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys 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 or e-mailing this information to Cstamer@CTTLegal.com or registering to participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our Solutions Law Press distributions 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 here.

    ©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


    Health Plan Liability Heats Up As Plans & Businesses Face New Obligations, Costs & Exposures under New HIPAA Privacy Rules Effective 2/17 & Other Expanding Federal Health Plan Mandates

    February 17, 2010

    Today (February 17, 2010), employer and other health plans and health insurers (“covered entities”) and service providers performing functions on behalf of these entities (“business associates”) must begin complying with tighter federal requirements for the use, access, protection and disclosure of protected health information under Privacy & Security Standards of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA), as amended by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act). Coming as U.S. employers continue to struggle to provide health benefits in the face of skyrocketing health benefit costs, these and other new federal regulations impacting employment-based health plans and their sponsoring businesses, fiduciaries and administrators are forcing U.S. business leaders to make appropriate health plan cost and compliance management a key management priority.

    2/17/10 & Other HIPAA Privacy Rule Changes Require Prompt Attention

    The HIPAA Privacy Rule changes scheduled to take effect February 17, 2010 are likely to require that health plans and their business associates update their written policies, operational procedures, privacy notices and business associate agreements in several respects.

    While the HITECH Act gave covered entities and business associates a year to complete the necessary arrangements to comply with these impending HITECH Act changes, many health plans and business associates have not completed the necessary arrangements despite expanding liability exposures that can result from noncompliance. To mitigate these exposures, covered entities and their business associates should act quickly both to update their services agreements, plans and policies, practices, and procedures, and to implement the training, oversight, and other management procedures necessary to comply with the HITECH Act changes and to mitigate other HIPAA risks.

    The risks of noncompliance for health plans, business associates and others mishandling protected health information are real and growing. Wrongful use, access or disclosure of protected health information in violation of HIPAA subjects participating health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses, their business associates and other workforce members and others to civil penalties,  criminal prosecution and, since February 17, 2009, civil lawsuits brought by state attorneys general on behalf of citizens of their states whose HIPAA rights were violated.  Since September 23, 2009, health plans and other HIPAA covered entities as well as their  business associates also became obligated to provide breach notification under new mandates imposed by the HITECH Act. 

    In addition to these HIPAA-specific exposures, wrongful use, access or disclosure of medical information also can give rise to liability for health plans and other covered entities, business associates, employees and other members of their workforce and others improperly using, accessing or disclosing protected health information.  Federal and state prosecutions may and increasingly do criminally prosecute individuals for improperly accessing or using medical or other personal information under a variety of other federal or state laws .  See e.g., Cybercrime & Identity Theft:Health Information Security Beyond HIPAA; NY AG Cuomo Annoucment of 1st Settlement For Violation of NY Security Breach Notification Law; Woman Who Revealed AIDs Info Gets A Year.  Additionally, State courts also increasingly are permitting individuals harmed by HIPAA violations to use HIPAA as the foundation of state law duties used to maintain state negligence, invasion of privacy, retaliation or other claims for damages. Read more here

    To manage these and other HIPAA-related risks, sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, administrators, insurers and their vendors should begin with carefully and timely reviewing and updating existing plan documents, vendor agreements, privacy notices and other communications and associated practices and policies.  The focus of these efforts definitely should seek both to adopt the specific technical changes necessary to make the health plans and their contracts technically comply on paper with these and other HIPAA mandates, and to tailor these documents, communications and practices promote operational compliance and minimize exposure to associated risks.  In relation to these efforts, sponsoring employers, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators also should ensure that required certifications from employers and other plan sponsors, representations from business associates, training and other compliance conditions are properly in place.  In this respect, employers sponsoring health plans should not overlook the potential need to adopt appropriate policies and implement needed training and safeguards to enable the health plan and the employer demonstrate, if necessary that HIPAA’s requirements for sharing protected health information with members of the employer’s workforce for plan administration, underwriting or certain other purposes have been satisfied.

    Other Health Plan Updates Also Required

    The HIPAA Privacy Rule changes effective today are only part of the ever-growing list of federal mandates that group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators and service providers need to be concerned about.  In addition to the new HIPAA Privacy Rule requirements taking effect today, health plans, their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries, insurers, business associates and other service providers face a host of other new federal health plan and privacy mandates that have taken effect over the past year, and will become subject to additional mandates in upcoming months.  Consequently, while focusing on HIPAA compliance, health plans, their employer or other sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries, administrators and service providers also should not overlook the need to review and update their health plans in response to a host of other changes in federal health plan mandates.

    In addition to otherwise applicable civil damage awards and civil penalty exposures that can result from violations of these requirements, new Internal Revenue Service regulations that took effect January 1, 2010 also require that employers, health plans or others self-report violations of certain of these requirements and self assess and pay resulting excise taxes arising under the Internal Revenue Code.  See, e.g., COBRA, HIPAA, GINA, Mental Health Parity or Other Group Health Plan Rule Violations Trigger New Excise Tax Self-Assessment & Reporting Obligations

    The highly volatile health plan regulatory environment makes it likely that many health plans are not appropriately updated to comply with these and other federal requirements. In recent months, health plans, their employer or other sponsors, administrators and others also have become obligated to comply with a host of other expanded federal health plan rules and requirements. See e.g., New Mental Health Parity Regulations Require Health Plan Review & Updates; New Labor Department Rule Allows Employers 7 Days To Deliver Employee Contributions To Employee Benefit Plans; Newly Extended COBRA Subsidy Rules Require Employers, Administrators Send Required Notices & Update Health Plan Documents & Procedures Quickly;  Employer & Other Health Plans & Other HIPAA-Covered Entities & Their Business Associates Must Comply With New HHS Health Information Data Breach Rules By September 23.

    These and other developments make it imperative that health plans, their employer or other  sponsors, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and service providers get serious about complying with these and other federal health plan mandates and managing health plan related liabilities and costs. Sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators should ensure that health plan documents, insurance and other vendor contracts, policies, procedures and communications are timely updated to comply with these and other emerging mandates.  When implementing these updates, parties concerned about costs or liabilities also should exercise care to ensure that plan documents, communications, contracts, administrative forms and procedures are optimally designed and drafted not only to be technically compliant, but also to support the enforceability of plan design and cost expectations, minimize administrative and other avoidable costs, and minimize liability exposures.  In furtherance of these efforts, employer and other plan sponsors also should consider tightening their practices and requirements for credentialing, selection, oversight and contracting with administrators and vendors, and take other prudent steps to manage health plan related risks.

    Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Can Help

    If your organization need advice or assistance in reviewing, updating, administering or defending its HIPAA or other privacy policies, practices, business associate or other agreements, notices or other related activities, consider contacting Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    A widely published author and speaker on HIPAA and other employee benefit and human resources related matters, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising health plans, their employer and other sponsors, health insurers, TPAs and other business associates and others about HIPAA and other health plan and privacy matters. Currently serving as both Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and as an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative and Former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer has more than 23 years experience assisting employers, insurers, plan administrators and fiduciaries and others to design, implement, draft and administer health and other employee benefit plans and to defend audits, litigation or other disputes by private parties, the IRS, Department of Labor, Office of Civil Rights, Medicare, state insurance regulators and other federal and state regulators. A nationally recognized author and lecturer, 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 that may be of interest include:

    For important information concerning this communication click here.   

     ©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


    Health Plans & Business Associates Face 2/17 Deadline To Update Policies, Contracts & Procedures For HIPAA Privacy Rule Changes

    February 15, 2010

    Connecticut AG Lawsuit Highlights Expanding Civil Damage Exposure Risks Of Noncompliance 

    By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

    By Wednesday, February 17, 2010, employer and other health plans and health insurers (“covered entities”) and service providers performing functions on behalf of these entities (“business associates”) must begin complying  with tighter federal requirements for the use, access, protection and disclosure of protected health information under Privacy & Security Standards of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA), as amended by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act). The changes scheduled to take effect February 17, 2010 are likely to require that health plans and their business associates update their written policies, operational procedures, privacy notices and business associate agreements in several respects.

    While the HITECH Act gave covered entities and business associates a year to complete the necessary arrangements to comply with these impending HITECH Act changes, many health plans and business associates have not completed the necessary arrangements despite expanding liability exposures that can result from noncompliance. To mitigate these exposures, covered entities and their business associates should act quickly both to update their services agreements, plans and policies, practices, and procedures, and to implement the training, oversight, and other management procedures necessary to comply with the HITECH Act changes and to mitigate other HIPAA risks.

    2/17/10 Deadline To Comply With HITECH Act HIPAA Amendments

    On February 17, 2010, health plans and other covered entities and their business associates will become subject to the latest to take effect in a series of amendments to the HIPAA enacted under the HITEC Act.  The new rules are part of a broader series of changes to HIPAA made by the HITECH Act that collectively both significantly expand the obligations of covered entities and their business associates to regarding the use, protection and disclosure of protected health information and the liability exposures that can result when covered entities or business associates violate these requirements.

    The changes scheduled to take effect February 17, 2010 are likely to require that health plans and their business associates update their written policies, operational procedures, privacy notices and business associate agreements in several respects. For instance, effective February 17, 2010, the HITECH Act generally requires that covered entities and their business associates revise their written privacy policies, privacy notices and operating procedures:

    • To meet expanded requirements to honor individual’s requests for special restrictions on uses and disclosures of protected health information to health plans for payment purposes
    • To restrict protected health information disclosures to the minimum necessary required to accomplish otherwise allowable purpose;
    • To comply with new rules that require that the covered entity and its business associates treat any use, access or disclosure of any protected health information made for purposes of making communications about products or services as made for marketing, rather than operational, purposes which are prohibited by HIPAA except where HIPAA’s requirements are met;
    • To comply with new restrictions on certain fundraising communications made for operational purposes including expanded obligations to allow recipients to opt out of further fundraising communications;
    • To prohibit covered entities or business associates from selling protected health information without meeting the amended requirements of HIPAA that a valid HIPAA authorization from the subject of the information and specific reassurances from the purchaser concerning its subsequent use of the protected health information except as otherwise permitted by HIPAA;
    • To take into account these tightened restrictions on the use, access or disclosure of protected health information for purposes of complying with new HITECH Act breach notification requirements that took effect in September, 2009, which apply when a covered entity or its business associate knows or should know a breach of “unsecured protected health information” has occurred and for purposes of making the necessary changes in written policies and business associate agreements, training and operational procedures necessary to comply with these rules;
    • To directly require business associates comply with HIPAA’s requirements in the same manner as other covered entities and make it necessary or advisable that that service provider agreements between health plans and business associates be updated to reflect these and other changes to HIPAA; and
    • To implement the necessary written policy changes, notification updates, business associate agreement amendments, training, management oversight and other procedural changes necessary to demonstrate fulfillment with these requirements.

    Noncompliance with these and other HIPAA requirements subjects covered entities and business associates to civil penalties, criminal prosecution, civil damage awards under lawsuits brought by state attorneys general, and other legal remedies.  In addition, timely update written policies, procedures, business associate agreements, training and documentation is imperative in order for covered entities and their business associates to fulfill their breach notification obligations under new rules enacted as part of the HITECH Act. 

    Under the HITECH Act, health plans and other covered entities and their business associates have been obligated since September 23, 2009 to notify individuals who are the subject of protected health information, the Department of Health & Human Services and in some cases the media if and when a breach of “unsecured protected health information occurs. Failing to timely update written policies, procedures and training increases the likelihood that health plans, other covered entities or business associates will be obligated to provide breach notifications under these new rules, in addition to their otherwise applicable exposures under HIPAA.

    HIPAA Enforcement & Liability Exposures Real and Rising

    Health plans and other covered entities, their business associates and others involved in health plan design and operations generally should resist the temptation to underestimate their potential HIPAA exposure based on the limited enforcement of HIPAA by the Office of Civil Rights between 2003 and 2009 for a variety of reasons.

    First, the changes taking effect on February 17, 2010 follow the implementation changes to HIPAA’s civil and criminal sanctions that took effect on February 17, 2009, when President Obama signed the HITECH Act into law and the new breach notification requirements added by the HITECH Act that took effect on September 23, 2009. The HITECH Act amendments to HIPAA’s remedies significantly increase the risk that health plans and other covered entities and their business associates will face civil lawsuits, civil or criminal penalties or other consequences for violating HIPAA. 

    The expanded risks stem in part from the HITECH Act’s amendments to HIPAA’s remedy provisions.  Among other things, the HITECH Act amended HIPAA to:

    • Allow a State Attorney General to sue health plans or other covered entities, business associates or both that harm state citizens by committing HIPAA violations after February 16, 2009;
    • Expand the mandate by the Office of Civil Rights to investigate violations and audit compliance with HIPAA;
    • Require Office of Civil Rights to impose civil sanctions against health plans and other covered entities and their business associates involved in violations of HIPAA in accordance with tightened standards added to HIPAA by the HITECH Act;
    • Revise the criminal sanctions that the Department of Justice can seek against health plans and other covered entities, their business associates and others for violations of HIPAA;
    • Amend HIPAA to make clear that HIPAA’s criminal sanctions also can imposed on business associates, workforce members and other persons that improperly use, access and disclose protected health information in violation of HIPAA.

    A HIPAA civil lawsuit filed on January 13, 2010 demonstrates the willingness of at least some states to exercise the new authority created by the HITECH Act on February 17, 2009 to sue covered entities and business associates that violate HIPAA for civil damages.

    The HITECH Act empowers a state attorney general to sue covered entities or business associates engaging in HIPAA violations that harms citizens of the state for statutory damages equal to the sum of the number of violations multiplied by 100 up to a maximum of $25,000 per calendar year plus attorneys fees and costs

    On January 13, 2010 Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal sued Health Net of Connecticut, Inc. (Health Net) for failing to secure private patient medical records and financial information involving 446,000 Connecticut enrollees and promptly notify consumers endangered by the security breach.   The suit also names UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Oxford Health Plans LLC, who have acquired Health Net.  The first attorney general enforcement action brought based on amendments made to HIPAA under the HITECH Act, Connecticut charges that Health Net violated HIPAA by failing to safeguard protected medical records and financial information on almost a half million Health Net enrollees in Connecticut then allowing this information to remain exposed for at least six months before notifying authorities and consumers.

    Even before the HITECH Act amendments, however, the Office of Civil Rights and Department of Justice already were stepping up HIPAA investigation and enforcement.  The Department of Justice has obtained a variety of criminal convictions against violators of HIPAA.  See, e.g., 2 New HIPAA Criminal Actions Highlight Risks From Wrongful Use/Access of Health InformationMeanwhile, the Office of Civil Rights in February, 2009 announced that CVS Pharmacies, Inc. would pay $2.25 million to resolve HIPAA charges.  This announcement followed the Office of Civil Rights announcement in July, 2008 that Providence Health Care would pay $100,000 to resolve HIPAA violation charges.  While not resulting in the significant payments involved in CVS or Providence, the Office of Civil Rights also taken HIPAA enforcement actions against a broad range of other covered entities to redress HIPAA violations or other compliance concerns.  To review examples of these other actions, see here

    Along side these governmental actions, state courts also increasingly are willing to allow individual plaintiffs to rely on violations of HIPAA as the basis for bringing state privacy, retaliation or other actions.  While prior to the recent HITECH Act amendments, federal courts had ruled that private plaintiffs could not sue under HIPAA for damages they incurred from a covered entity’s violation of HIPAA, state courts have allowed private plaintiff’s to use the obligations imposed by HIPAA as the basis of a covered entity’s duty for purposes of certain state law lawsuits.  In  Sorensen v. Barbuto, 143 P.3d 295 (Utah Ct. App. 2006), for example, a Utah appeals court ruled a private plaintiff could use HIPAA standards to establish that a physician owed a duty of confidentiality to his patients for purposes of maintaining a state law damages claim.  Similarly, the Court in Acosta v. Byrum, 638 S.E. 2d 246 (N.C. Ct. App. 2006) ruled that a plaintiff could use HIPAA to establish the “standard of care” in a negligence lawsuit.  Meanwhile, private plaintiffs employed by covered entities also are increasingly pointing to HIPAA as the basis for their retaliation claims. See, e.g.,  Retaliation For Filing HIPAA Complaint Recognized As Basis For State Retaliatory Discharge Claim.  Coupled with the HITECH Act changes, these and other enforcement actions signal growing potential hazards for covered entities and their business associates that  fail to properly manage their HIPAA compliance obligations and risks.

    Health Plans & Business Associates Should Take Timely Action To Comply & Manage Risks

    As a consequence of these collective HITECH Act changes and growing HIPAA-related exposures, both health plans and business associates generally will find it necessary or advisable among other things to:

    • Conduct well-documented due diligence on each other’s practices and procedures to improve their ability to demonstrate both their commitment to compliance and their realistic efforts to ensure that these commitments are operationalized in performance;
    • Renegotiate their service provider agreements to detail the specific compliance obligations of each party relating to for auditing compliance, investigating potential breaches; providing required breach notifications; specify leadership and required cooperation in the event of a breach, charge, or other concern; indemnification and other liability allocations; and other related matters; and
    • Pursue appropriate liability and other protection as appropriate.

    As part of these compliance and risk management efforts, most covered entities and their business associates will find it advisable to devote significant attention to the business associate relationship and its associated business associate agreements. 

    Proper management of the expanded compliance obligations and liability exposures created by the HITECH Act generally will necessitate that health plans and other covered entities and their business associates focus significant attention on the reworking of their operating and contractual relationships. 

    Even before the impending HIPAA changes scheduled to take effect on February 17, 2010, a strong need for more detailed contracting and planning of these relationships already existed. Since the enactment of HIPAA, the practice of many covered entities and their business associates of appending generic “business associate” representations onto existing services contracts without specific tailoring and planning has created undesirable ambiguities in these agreements.

    Further updating and tailoring of these and other provisions of services agreements has become even more important over the past year in light of the new breach notification mandates that took effect under the HITECH Act in September, 2009, changes to HIPAA’s civil and criminal sanctions that took effect on February 17, 2009, and the impending extension by the HITECH Act to business associates of direct liability for compliance with HIPAA scheduled to occur on February 17, 2010.

    Given these changes and the associated obligations and risks, both health plans and other covered entities and their business associates generally should act quickly to manage their own compliance and to minimize exposures that may result from the other’s compliance deficiencies.  As part of these efforts, both covered entities and their business associates generally should review and tighten business associate and other service agreement provisions to provide for more specific and comprehensive HIPAA-related contractual assurances, as well as improved cooperation, coordination, management and oversight.

    Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Can Help

    If your organization need advice or assistance in reviewing, updating, administering or defending its HIPAA or other privacy policies, practices, business associate or other agreements, notices or other related activities, consider contacting Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    A widely published author and speaker on HIPAA and other related matter, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising health plans, their employer and other sponsors, health insurers, TPAs and other business associates and others about HIPAA and other health plan and privacy matters. Currently serving as both Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and as an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative and Former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer has more than 23 years experience assisting employers, insurers, plan administrators and fiduciaries and others to design, implement, draft and administer health and other employee benefit plans and to defend audits, litigation or other disputes by private parties, the IRS, Department of Labor, Office of Civil Rights, Medicare, state insurance regulators and other federal and state regulators.  As part of this work, she regularly assists clients to review and update policies, practices, contracts, notices and procedures to comply with HIPAA and other requirements.  A nationally recognized author and lecturer, 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 that may be of interest 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.

     ©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


    St. Louis Employer’s OSHA Violations Trigger Contempt Order and Penalties

    February 11, 2010

     By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

     The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued contempt of court orders against Brian Andre, former owner of Andre Tuckpointing and Brickwork (AT&B), Andre Stone and Mason Work Inc. (AS&MW) and Regina Shaw, owner of AS&MW. Now the employers must pay more than $258,000 in fines and comply with other sanctions.

    Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees.  OHSA enforces these requirements.

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued the contempt orders against the St. Louis-area company and individuals for failing to comply with court orders enforcing citations of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC).

    The contempt citations stem from numerous citations OSHA issued to AT&B and its successor, AS&MW, for willful, repeat and serious violations related to fall hazards, scaffolding erection deficiencies, power tool guarding and other hazards in connection with multiple projects in the St. Louis area.  When the companies failed to comply with a court’s order enforcing OSHRC’s final order, the Labor Department sought and was granted the contempt orders by the Court. Based on determinations and recommendations of a Special Master to the Court of Appeals, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals found all three parties in contempt, and imposed sanctions. Under the order, Brian Andre, AS&MW and Regina Shaw must pay outstanding monetary penalties, which continue to accrue interest, and other miscellaneous fees, in the current amount of $258,582.08.  AS&MW and Regina Shaw also must pay a $100 daily penalty, calculated from the time of default, in early 2008, on the OSHRC final order.   AS&MW must provide OSHA weekly notification of all current jobs, and known future jobs, at least 72 hours prior to commencement of work for a period of three years. Meanwhile, AS&MW must provide “competent person” training to all people currently and subsequently designated as jobsite “competent persons,” prior to beginning any work, and provide the secretary records of such training.

    If your organization needs assistance with employment, employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance practices, 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, Ms. Stamer has more than 22 years experience advising and assisting employers and others about these and other workforce management and compliance matters.  She also advises, assists, trains, audits and defends employers and others regarding the federal and state Sentencing Guideline and other compliance, equal employment opportunity, privacy, leave, compensation, workplace safety, wage and hour, workforce reengineering, and other labor and employment and defends related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the ICE, IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer also speaks, writes and conducts training extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see here 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.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

    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.

    ©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 

     


    New Labor Department Rule Allows Employers 7 Days To Deliver Employee Contributions To Employee Benefit Plans

    January 14, 2010

    By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

    Regulations published by the Department of Labor today (January 14, 2010) offer employers the opportunity to know their deposit of employee contributions and other amounts withheld from wages or otherwise received from employees with a pension, profit-sharing, health, or other welfare benefit plan is timely for purposes of the fiduciary responsibility requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) and the prohibited transaction rules of the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”) by depositing those amounts with the plan within the seven day period specified in a new safe harbor included in the Regulations.

    Certainty about the timeliness of these deposits is important, as mishandling of these employee contributions, participant loan repayments or other employee benefit plan assets frequently triggers judgments, fines and penalties against companies that sponsor employee benefit plans as well as owners, board members, or other members of management. See Mishandling Employee Benefit Obligations Creates Big Liabilities For Distressed Businesses & Their Leaders.  Consequently, businesses sponsoring employee benefit programs and owners, officers, directors or other members of management with authority over or responsibility for the handling or application of amounts withheld or collected from employees as employee contributions or plan loans should make arrangements for these amounts to be properly handled and timely deposited with the appropriate employee benefit plan in accordance with these new plan asset regulations.

    Title I of ERISA generally requires that employee benefit “plan assets” be held in trust, prudently handled and invested, used for the exclusive benefit of the plan and its participants, and otherwise used and administered in accordance with ERISA’s fiduciary responsibility rules.  Meanwhile, the use of “plan assets” of certain employee benefit plans in a manner prohibited by the Code’s prohibited transaction rules also may trigger excise taxes and other penalties.

    For purposes of both ERISA and the Code, Labor Department Regulation § 2510.3-102, specifies that amounts (other than union dues) that an employer withholds from wages or otherwise collects from employees as employee contributions or loan repayments to an employee benefit plan generally become plan assets subject to these fiduciary responsibility rules “as of the earliest date on which such contributions or repayments can reasonably be segregated from the employer’s general assets.”  Since employers, business owners, members of management can risk exposure to damages, administrative penalties and/or excise taxes, knowing when amounts collected from employees are considered plan assets is a critical first step to managing these risks.

    Unfortunately, the subjectivity of this standard leaves room for much uncertainty and debate about the precise deadline by which employee contributions, plan loans and other amounts from employees must be received by the plan. The subjectivity inherent in this standard leaves many employers uncertain about the adequacy of their compliance efforts and frequently fuels debate among plans, debtors, creditors, regulators or others about the when amounts earmarked to be withheld from employee wages cease to be assets of the debtor employer and become plan assets.

    To mitigate debate and uncertainty about the timing of these events, Labor Department Regulation § 2510.3-102 as published in final form today includes a new “safe harbor” rule for plans with fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year. Under the safe harbor, employee contributions, plan loans and other amounts withheld from wages or received from employees for payment to an employee benefit plan are treated as treated timely paid to the plan if deposited with the plan not later than the 7th business day following the day on which such amount is received by the employer (in the case of amounts that a participant or beneficiary pays to an employer), or the 7th business day following the day on which such amount would otherwise have been payable to the participant in cash (in the case of amounts withheld by an employer from a participant’s wages).  While this safe harbor assures employers and others that withhold from wages or receive employee contributions or participant loan payments owing to less than 100 participant plans that their deposit will be considered timely if received by the plan within seven days, the plan asset regulations leave open that deposit with the plan more than 7 after receipt might still be considered timely deposit with the plan under certain circumstance. 

    Where deposit with the plan is not made within the seven-day period established by the safe harbor, the plan asset rules continue to leave room for great subjectivity in the determination of the deadline for deposit.  In addition to the seven-day safe harbor, the plan asset regulations clearly establish bright-line deadlines after which the deposit of employee contribution or plan loan amounts always will be considered untimely. Thus, the plan asset rules provide that the deadline for depositing employee contributions and plan loans with the plan in no event ever extends beyond the applicable of the following dates (the “Latest Date”)

    • For pension plans, the 15th business day of the month following the month in which the employee contribution or participant loan repayment amounts are withheld or received by the employer;
    • With respect to a SIMPLE plan that involves SIMPLE IRAs the 30th calendar day following the month in which the participant contribution amounts would otherwise have been payable to the participant in cash; and
    • For health and other welfare benefit plans, 90 days from the date on which the employee contribution is withheld or received by the employer.

    In all other instances, the plan asset regulations leave open to uncertainty and debate when and if an employer’s deposit of employee contributions and plan loans more than seven-days after payroll deduction or receipt but before the Latest Date will qualify as timely for purposes of ERISA Title I or the Code’s prohibited transaction provisions.

    Companies and owners, officers and directors of businesses that harm plans by failing to ensure that these amounts are timely deposited into an employee benefit plan or otherwise are involved in the mishandling of these funds frequently become subject to prosecution, damage awards, civil penalties and excise taxes.  To mitigate potential exposure to these risks, businesses and leaders of businesses that withhold from wages or collect employee contributions or plan loan payments from employees should make arrangements to ensure that these amounts timely are deposited with the appropriate plans and otherwise handled appropriately in accordance with ERISA and the Code.

    If your business or employee benefit plan needs assistance evaluating or responding to these or other employee benefit, or other employment, 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. 

    Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, a representative to the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, 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 22 years. She is experienced with assisting employers, insurers, administrators, and others to design and administer group health plans cost-effectively in accordance with these and other applicable federal regulations as well as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employee benefit, 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 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.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

    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.

    ©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


    Stamer Speaks To CPAs About “Privacy & Information Security: Managing Your Accounting Practice’s Liabilities & Counseling Your Clients” January 12, 2010

    December 28, 2009

    Accountants and their clients face increasing regulatory and business pressures to protect the sensitive business and personal information collected and maintained in the course of their operation to minimize their exposure to personal identity theft and other cybercrime scams by employees, business partners and others. Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will speak about “Privacy & Information Security: Managing Your Accounting Practice’s Liabilities & Counseling Your Clients” to members of the Dallas CPA Society on January 12, 2010 beginning at 2:00 p.m.

    Part of the Dallas CPA Society Member Appreciation CPE Series Meeting, Ms. Stamer’s presentation will be part of four hours of free CPE training to be provided at a program open to members only at the Hilton Lincoln Centre Hotel located at 5410 LBJ Freeway, Dallas TX  75240 from 1 p.m. to 4:50 p.m. Central Time.  (Parking at the facility costs $5.00).  To register or for additional information, see here.

    If you need help responding to these developments or other legislative, regulatory or enforcement concerns, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP can help.  Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP and its attorneys have significant experience assisting businesses and business leaders to manage and defend privacy, data security, tax employee benefit, employment, health care, environmental, safety, securities and other compliance and risk management concerns.

    Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP Partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has more than 22 years experience helping businesses to use the law, process and technology to manage people and processes, and to manage technology, privacy and data security, employment and other legal and operational risks affecting their businesses.  Author of “Privacy & Securities Standards-A Brief Nutshell,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” and “E-Health Business and Transactional Law Other Liability-Tort and Regulatory;” published by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., and many other publications, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising a accounting firms, law firms, banks and financial services organizations, insurers, consultants, health plans, health care providers and others about HIPAA, FACTA, and other privacy, trade secret and other information security and data breach risk management and compliance concerns.  Ms Stamer also speaks, publishes and provides public policy input extensively on data security, technology and other internal controls and risk management matters.   Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Compensation Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits  Council member, and Chair of the Curran Tomko Tarski Labor, Employment & Employee Benefits Practice, Ms. Stamer also is Board Certified in Labor & Employment law.  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.

    If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about federal or state regulatory compliance audits, risk management or training, assistance investigating or responding to a known or suspected compliance or risk management concern, or need legal representation on other matters please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, CTT Labor & Employment Practice Chair at cstamer@cttlegal.com, 214.270.2402; or your other preferred Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorney.

    You can review other recent human resources, employee benefits and internal controls publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of Ms. Stamer here /the Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys 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 or e-mailing this information to Cstamer@CTTLegal.com or registering to participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions 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 here.

    ©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


    3 Articles On Employee Benefit Risk Management Published In ABA RPTE E-Report

    December 23, 2009

    Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer  the author of three articles in the December  2009 Issue of the American Bar Association Real Property Probate & Trust Section E-Report:

    Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Compensation Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits  Council member, and Chair of the Curran Tomko Tarski Labor, Employment & Employee Benefits Practice, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is  nationally and internationally recognized for her work assisting businesses, employee benefit plan fiduciaries and vendors, insurers, administrative services providers, governments, and other entities to develop administer and defend cost-effective employee benefit other human resources programs, policies and procedures to meet their budgetary, risk management and compliance and other objectives.  Board certified in Labor & Employment law, Ms. Stamer applies her extensive experience regarding employment, employee benefit, and other related laws to assists clients in a wide range of business and litigation contexts.   The co-founder of the Solutions Law Consortium, Ms. Stamer, also is the publisher of Solutions Law HR & Benefits Update. She speaks and writes extensively about employee benefits and other human resources, compensation and internal controls matters.

    If your organization or employee benefit plan needs assistance with employee benefits, labor and employment or other internal controls and risk management matters, please contact Ms. Stamer at cstamer@cttlegal.com, (214) 270-2402; or another Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP attorney of your choice.  For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see here.

    Other Helpful Resources & Information

    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 to cstamer@cttlegal.com or registering to participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our CTT HR & Employee Benefits Update distributions in blog form via RSS feed here.  You also may be interested in staying abreast of emerging internal controls and compliance challenges by reviewing and registering for our Corporate Compliance, Risk Management & Internal Controls distributions.  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.com.

    ©2009 Curran Tomko Tarski LLP.  All rights reserved.

    If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to the  Proposed Regulations, the Q&As, or other employment, compensation, employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance practices, 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.

    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.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

    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.


    President Signs Law Extending & Expanding Temporary AARA COBRA Subsidy Requirements For Group Health Plans

    December 22, 2009

    By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

    Employer and union sponsored group health plans, their sponsors and administrators must act quickly to comply with the extension and expansion of temporary “COBRA Subsidy Rules” for “assistance eligible individuals” originally added to the group health plan medical coverage continuation requirements of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, as amended (“COBRA”) by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“AARA”) last February.

    The Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326) signed into law by President Obama on December 19, 2009 extended the period that employer and union-sponsored group health plans must allow employees and members of their family that lose group health plan coverage due to an involuntary employment loss to continue their group medical coverage under the reduced premium and other temporary ARRA COBRA Subsidy Rules and lengthened the period during which an involuntary employment loss can qualify an otherwise COBRA-eligible employee or dependent as an assistance eligible individual.

    Original COBRA Subsidy Rules

    As originally enacted, the ARRA COBRA Subsidy Rules limited the COBRA premium that a COBRA-covered group health plan could charge a COBRA-eligible employee or dependent whose group health plan eligibility ended due to an involuntary employment loss between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009 (“assistance eligible individual”) to 35% of the otherwise applicable COBRA premium (the “Reduced ARRA Premium”) for a period of up to 9 months (the “Subsidy Period”).  ARRA dictated that employers sponsoring these group health plans must pay the remaining 65% of the COBRA premium (the “COBRA Subsidy”) for the assistance eligible individual during the Subsidy Period, but allowed employers to seek reimbursement by claiming a payroll tax credit for these COBRA Subsidy payments by complying with applicable IRS procedures.  AARA also mandated that group health plans offering a choice of coverage options offer assistance eligible individuals the option to switch coverage options and required group health plans to notify assistance eligible individuals of the special COBRA Subsidy Rules.

    H.R. 3326 COBRA Subsidy Rules Extension

    As signed into law on December 19, 2009, H.R. 3326:

    • Extends the period during which an involuntary employment loss can qualify an otherwise COBRA-eligible employee or dependent as an assistance eligible individual for an additional two months (from December 31, 2009 to February 28, 2010);
    • Adds an additional six months (from 9 to 15 months) the Subsidy Period during which an assistance eligible individual experiencing an involuntary loss of employment between September 1, 2008 and February 28, 2010 is entitled to pay the Reduced AARA Premium;
    • Requires group health plans to notify assistance eligible individuals of the extension; and
    • Requires group health plans to allow additional time for assistance eligible individuals who had exhausted their original 9-month Subsidy Period before H.R. 3326 extended the Subsidy Period to 15 months to pay the Reduced AARA Premium related to the extension.

    Group health plans, their employer or union sponsors, administrators, insurers and service providers will need to act quickly to prepare and provider required updated notifications to assistance eligible individuals of these extended eligibility periods and their resulting rights,  and otherwise update their plan documents, procedures, and COBRA notifications in light of these new rules. 

    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.  The author of the “Health Plan Eligibility Toolkit,” Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers, insurers, administrators, and others to design and administer group health plans cost-effectively in accordance with COBRA and other applicable federal regulations 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.. Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, a representative to the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, 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 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.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

    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. 


    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.

    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.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

     

    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.


    Labor Department To Expand Employee Benefits, Wage & Hour, OSHA & Other Reporting & Disclosure Requirements & To Implement Other New Employee Benefit Regulations

    December 8, 2009

     By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

    The U.S. Department of Labor (Labor Department) plans to implement a host of new employee benefit and employment regulations seeking to strengthen employee benefit, wage and hour, safety and other protections with greater transparency and disclosure, the Labor Department announced yesterday.

    Employee Benefits, Wage & Hour, OSHA & Other Rules Seek To Protect Workers With Transparency

    Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) plans to implement a host of new rules designed to strengthen retirement security by expanding the private employee benefit plan disclosure requirements and enhancing the availability of information to pension plan participants and beneficiaries and employers, according to the Department of Labor (DOL) 2009 Regulatory Agenda (the “Regulatory Agenda”) announced yesterday.

    According to the Regulatory Agenda, EBSA plans to promote these goals through the implementation of a host of new rules including: 

    • Fiduciary Requirements for Disclosure in Participant-Directed Individual Account Plans, which would increase transparency between individual account pension plans and their participants and beneficiaries by ensuring that participants and beneficiaries are provided the information they need, including information about fees and expenses, to make informed investment decisions.
    • Amendment of Standards Applicable to General Statutory Exemption for Services, which would require service providers to disclose to plan fiduciaries services, fees, compensation and conflicts of interest information.
    • Annual Funding Notice for Defined Benefit Plans, which would require defined benefit plan administrators to provide all participants, beneficiaries and other parties with detailed information regarding their plan’s funding status.
    • Periodic Pension Benefits Statements, which would require pension plans to provide participants and certain beneficiaries with periodic benefit statements. 
    • Multiemployer Plan Information Made Available on Request, which would require pension plan administrators to provide copies of financial and actuarial reports to participants and beneficiaries, unions and contributing employers on request.

    The 2009 Regulatory Agenda highlights the most noteworthy and significant regulatory projects that the Labor Department has established for the EBSA, the Employment Standards Administration (ESA), Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and Employment and Training Administration (ETA) for the upcoming year.  In addition to the transparency rules planned for EBSA, the 2009 Regulatory Agenda also indicates that employers can expect new Labor Department regulations targeting transparency in other areas.  These include:

    • The MSHA to propose a rule on Notification of Legal Identity, which would require mine operators to provide increased identification information, would allow the agency to better target the most egregious and persistent violators and deter future violations.
    • The Office of Labor-Management Standards’ to propose regulations on Notification of Employee Rights Under Federal Labor Laws, which would implement Executive Order 13496 and require all Government contracting agencies to include a contract clause requiring contractors to inform workers of their rights under Federal labor laws.
    • The Wage and Hour Division to update its regulations about Records to be Kept by Employers Under the Fair Labor Standards Act to enhance the transparency and disclosure to workers as to how their wages are computed and to allow for new workplace practices such as telework and flexiplace arrangements.
    • OSHA to modify its Hazard Communication Standard to require standardized labeling requirements and order of information for safety data sheets and to update its Occupational Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting Requirements rule, which would propose the collection of additional data to help employers and workers track injuries at individual workplaces, improve the Nation’s occupational injury and illness information data, and assist the agency in its enforcement of the safety and health workplace requirements.

    Other Employee Benefit Regulations Planned

    Beyond its planned EBSA transparency initiative, the 2009 Regulatory Agenda reflects that other EBSA regulatory priorities for the year ahead include:

    • Issue guidance implementing the group health plan Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) amendments to ERISA which generally prohibit group health plans from discriminating in health coverage based on genetic information and from collecting genetic information.  This will be a joint rulemaking action with the Departments of Health and Human Services and the Treasury. 
    • Provide guidance regarding the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) amendments to ERISA.  MHPAEA creates parity for mental health and substance use disorder benefits under group health plans by mandating that any financial requirements and treatment limitations applicable to mental health and substance abuse disorder benefits to be no more restrictive than predominant requirements or limitations applied to substantially all medical and surgical benefits covered by a plan. 
    • Issue guidance clarifying the circumstances under which health care arrangements established or maintained by state or local governments for the benefit of non-governmental employees do not constitute an employee welfare benefit plan for purposes of ERISA.
    • Propose amendments to its regulations to clarify the circumstances under which a person will be considered a fiduciary when providing investment advice to employee benefit plans and their participants and beneficiaries of such plans.
    • Explore steps it can take by regulation, or otherwise, to encourage the offering of lifetime annuities or similar lifetime benefits distribution options for participants and beneficiaries of defined contribution plans. 

    Employers and employee benefit plan sponsors, fiduciaries, and service providers should take into account these planned regulatory changes for budgeting and program design purposes and keep alert for announcements of proposed or final regulations or other guidance in these and other areas.

    If your organization needs assistance with monitoring, 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 or another Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorney of your choice.  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 advising and assisting employers with these and other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, risk management  and internal controls matters. 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. She has counseled and represented employers on these and other workforce 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: