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.


Stamer To Present “2010 Health Plan Checkup” At Annual DFW ISCEBS Employee Benefits Fundamentals Workshop

February 22, 2010

 

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will discuss the latest changes and requirements affecting employer sponsored group health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and vendors during her presentation titled “2010 Health Plan Checkup” at the Dallas/Fort Worth ISCEBS Annual Fundamentals Workshop currently scheduled for May 13, 2010 in Dallas. 

With Congress and federal regulators turning up the heat on health care, keeping up to date with the latest developments is both critical and increasingly challenging for employers, their employee benefits and human resources staff, and the fiduciaries, insurers, administrators and others dealing with health plan design and administration. Coming as U.S. employers continue to struggle to provide health benefits in the face of skyrocketing health benefit costs, tighter health plan medical privacy, nondiscrimination, mental health and other benefit mandates, and a host of other tighter new federal regulations impacting employment-based health plans and their sponsoring businesses, fiduciaries and administrators increasingly are forcing U.S. business leaders to make appropriate health plan cost and compliance management a key management priority. Ms. Stamer will discuss key developments, highlight new developments on the horizon, and provide tips to participants for monitoring and responding to these and other developments.  To register or for additional information, contact the Dallas/Fort Worth ISCEBS here.

Nationally recognized for her more than 22 years of work on managed care and other health and other employee benefits, human resources, insurance, and health care matters, Ms. Stamer 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 managed care and other medical benefit programs and practices. She also regularly advises and assists these and other clients to monitor and respond to evolving legislation, regulations, enforcement activities by federal and state regulators, evolving product and market changes, and private litigation and other disputes.  Past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the Current Chair of the ABA 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 Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these and other employee benefit and human resources matters.  Some other recent updates on these topics recently published by Ms. Stamer include :

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.


New Mental Health Parity Regulations Require Health Plan Review & Updates

January 31, 2010

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

Employer and union-sponsored group health plans and insurers generally must update their group health plans to comply with expanded federal “mental health parity” regulations (MHP Regulations) published on Friday, January 29, 2010 will require changes to most covered group health plans to comply with the new rules and to make adjustments to broader benefit provisions as appropriate to mitigate potential cost implications no later than the first plan year beginning after June 30, 2010.

Jointly published by the Treasury, Health & Human Services and Labor Departments and available for review here , the MHP Regulations interpret and implement federal rules prohibiting group health plans and their insurers from imposing certain special limits on benefits provided for mental health and substance abuse treatments not applicable to general medical or surgical benefits. 

The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addition Equity Act of 2008, Public Law 110-343 (MHPAEA) expands the scope of prohibited restrictions on mental health benefits beginning after June 30, 2010.   Under the MHPAEA amendments, any covered group health plan that includes mental health and substance use disorder benefits along with standard medical and surgical benefits generally cannot apply more limited benefit limits, out-of-pocket cost limitations, prior authorization and utilization review or other benefit restrictions than apply to medical or surgical benefits.  In addition, group health plan utilization review, medical necessity and appropriateness and other rules and procedures used to decide mental health and substance abuse benefits generally must be based on the same level of scientific evidence used by the group health plan or insurer to determine medical and surgical benefits.

Before the MHPAEA amendments took effect, the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 (MHPA) generally only prohibited group health plans from applying more restrictive aggregate lifetime and annual dollar limits on mental health benefits than applied to general medical or surgical benefits and did not extend these restrictions to substance use disorder benefits.

The MHP Regulations generally apply to group health plans of employers with 50 or more workers that offer mental health or substance use disorder benefits for plan years beginning on or after July 1, 2010.  Until then, covered group health plans and their insurers generally must continue to comply with the more limited mental health parity requirements imposed under the MHPA, as well as other federal group health plan mandates.

Federal law increasingly is curtailing the significant latitude that employers and unions once enjoyed in deciding the benefits, eligibility and other terms and conditions of their group health plans, including many significant changes that took effect or will take effect during 2009 and 2010.   You can learn more about some of these developments by reviewing the 2009 Health Plan Update presentation posted here.  In light of the liabilities and costs arising under these and other rules, plan sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries and executives with responsibility over these plans, their establishment, funding or administration should take prompt and prudent steps to verify that their plan documents, communications, agreements and practices are updated to minimize risks and avoid unanticipated expense.

If your organization needs assistance with monitoring, assessing, managing or defending these or other health or other employee benefit, labor and employment, or compensation 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 assisting employers and others about compliance with health and other employee benefit, labor and employment laws, safety, compensation, insurance, and other laws.  She also advises and defends employers and other plan sponsors, fiduciaries, employee benefit plans and others about litigation and other disputes relating to these matters, as well as 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 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.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


Health Plans & Employers Can Expect Pressure To Pay For Childhood Obesity Counseling From New American Academy of Pediatrics Report

January 25, 2010

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

New American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations calling for early intervention and intensive behavioral therapy to treat childhood obesity promise to increase demands for employer sponsored and other health plans to reimburse the costs of these treatments.

With health care providers and government officials increasingly emphasizing the need for prevention and intervention, employers and health insurers face greater pressure to offer health benefit coverage for weight management and other obesity prevention and treatment. Aside from determining what treatments to coverage generally, recent changes in the Americans With Disabilities Act statute and its enforcement and interpretation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the recently effective employment and health plan nondiscrimination rules of the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act, health information and other privacy rules and other legal changes make the appropriate design and administration of obesity and other wellness, disease management and other programs targeting obesity or other chronic conditions legally and operationally challenging.  Employers and insurers concerned with these issues should exercise care to properly understand and appropriately manage the legal and operational complexities, risks, costs and benefits when designing health and other programs to manage health care, disability and other costs of obesity and other chronic diseases.

Read the report and about discrimination and other issues that employers and insurers may need to manage under evolving federal rules when deciding how to design and manage obesity and other wellness and disease management programs here.

If you have questions about wellness, disease management or other health and wellness benefit, disability prevention and management, or other employee benefit, employment, compensation, 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. 

Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Member, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Group and RPTE Welfare Benefits Committee and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer is experienced advising and assisting government leaders, employers, health and other employee benefit plans and their fiduciaries, insurers, financial advisory services, and administrators, health care providers, and others about obesity and other disease management and wellness programs, as well as other related employee benefit and employment matters.  A widely published author on these and other health and disability benefit and management concerns, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers, health plans and others on these and other matters for more than 20 years. Author of the Personal Health Care Toolkit, Ms. Stamer also has lead the development of wellness and disease management initiatives for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas and other organizations. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes 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. 


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:

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.


DOL Shares 2010 Regulatory Plans Monday, December 7; Get A Sneak Peek on Its Plans

December 5, 2009

Get a peek at the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) regulatory plans for 2010 on Monday, December 10, 2009.

On Monday, Dec. 7, the DOL will release its annual regulatory agenda for the upcoming year.  The same day, it also will video cast remarks by Secretary Hilda L. Solis outlining the department’s regulatory agenda beginning at 10 a.m. EST.  From 2 to 3 p.m. EST Ssecretary Solis alsowill host a live Web chat open to the public to discuss the contents of the agenda. Questions may be submitted in advance of the chat following the video presentation. Register to join the chat on Monday here.

If your organization needs assistance with assessing, managing or defending 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:

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.


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

November 30, 2009

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

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

Preventing, Recognizing & Mitigating Risks of H1N1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CDC recommends individuals diagnosed with H1N1 flu should:

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

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

Employers Must Employment Discrimination & Other Legal Compliance Risks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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