Periodically Reevaluate Employee Business Expense Reimbursement Practices

April 5, 2017

Employers looking for cost-effective opportunities to sweeten the perceived value their compensation and fringe benefit packages periodically should re-examine their policies for reimbursement of employees for ordinary and necessary business expenses an employee incurs in connection with the performance of his duties, such as:

  • Required work clothes or uniforms not appropriate for everyday use.
  • Supplies and tools for use on the job.
  • Business use of a car.
  • Business meals and entertainment.
  • Business travel away from home.
  • Business use of a home.
  • Work-related education.

Businesses generally consider a wide range of factors when deciding what expenses to reimburse to employees.   In arriving at these decisions, however, many businesses overlook the opportunity to stretch the overall compensation dollars by reimbursing employees for business expenses in lieu of paying cash compensation to the employee but requiring the employee to use after tax dollars to pay business expenses not reimbursed by the employer.

While many employers believe “cash is king” when paying employees, paying employees more cash in lieu of reimbursing employees for business often increases the employment tax liability of the employer while also unwittingly diminishing the value of the cash compensation paid to the employee because of federal tax rules governing individual deductions a business expenses.

While the Internal Revenue Code and associated Internal Revenue Service regulations impose special rules for certain categories of employment, federal tax law generally allows businesses both:

  •  To deduct from the gross income of the business for purposes of determining its adjusted gross income those amounts the business pays as wages as well as amounts paid to reimburse an employee for ordinary and necessary business expenses expended by the employee in the performance of his duties and to exclude such amounts for calculating the employment tax liabilities of both the employer and the employee; and
  • In many, but not all instances, to exclude all or some of the reimbursement amount from the taxable wages of the employee for income tax and/or employment tax purposes.

The income and employment tax treatment of business expenses paid by an employee generally is much less favorable when an employee seeks to deduct or exclude xpenditures made for ordinary and necessary business expenses from taxable income.

While federal income tax rules generally allow businesses to deduct ordinary and business expenses directly from gross income to arrive at their taxable adjusted gross income, federal tax rules are more restrictive concerning the deduction of business expenses by employees for income tax purposes and provides no easy mechanism to claim credit for such amounts for employment tax purposes.

In general, the Internal Revenue Code generally only allows employees who otherwise have sufficient deductible expenses to itemize deductions to claim any business expenses as a deduction when calculating their federal income taxes. Depending on the income of the workforce and particularly in the case of lower income workers, the itemization  requirement effectively bars a large percentage of employees from any possibility of deducting business expenses incurred in the performance of their work.

Beyond the requirement to itemize, the Internal Revenue Code also imposes a second hurdle that further restricts the deductibility of business expenses when claimed by an employee versus a business.  Specifically, the Internal Revenue Code generally only allows an employee to deduct  business expenses paid by the employee to the extent those expenses exceed 2% of the employee’ adjusted gross income.  This means that even those employees who qualify to file itemize deductions cannot deduct the initial 2% of the ordinary and necessary business expenses the employee pays and connection of the performance of his job even though the Internal Revenue Code would allow the employer to deduct the full amount of amounts paid to reimburse the employee for those same expenses.

Since most employees understand that the purchasing power of any cash compensation they receive from the employer is reduced by the amount of any expenses that they pay but are not reimbursed for, considering reimbursing employees for expenses in lieu of paying the employee cash, then requiring the employee to pay those expenses out of taxable income.

Of course, when considering whether to pay or reimburse employee expenses, employers also should evaluate and verify that their planned treatment of an expenditure and its reimbursement otherwise complies with any union or other contracts, as well as any applicable federal and state occupational safety, wage and hour and other laws.

Regardless of whether the employer or the employee plans to claim a business expense for tax purposes, an employer should encourage its employees to keep, and if reimbursing the employee, submit good records for proof of income and expenses.  Employers reimbursing business expenses may wish to educate employees about both the tax and financial value of these reimbursement benefits as a part of the overall compensation package provided to employees.  Even where an employer does not reimburse its employees all or part of an otherwise deductible business expense, however, it also may want to share Internal Revenue Service resources like “IRS Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions,” and “Publication 463, Travel, Entertainment, Gift and Car Expenses” with employees to help educate employees about these tax rules and their opportunities and responsibilities.

About The Author

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

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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


DOL Barred From Forcing Employers To Report Labor Relations Advice Under Persuader Rule Injunction

November 18, 2016

Employers paying lawyers or other labor relations consultants for advice or help deterring or responding to unionization organizing activities do not have comply with the controversial “Persuader Rule” reporting and disclosure requirements the Department Of Labor (DOL) tried to impose as part of the Obama Administration’s broader aggressive efforts to empower unions and worker organizing efforts.  That’s the effect of U.S. District Court Justice Sam Cummings’ November 16, 2016 National Federation of Independent Business v. Perez decision striking down as invalid and permanently enjoining the DOL from enforcing its regulation officially titled “Interpretation  of  the  ‘Advice’  Exemption  in  Section  203(c)  of  the  Labor-Management  Reporting  and  Disclosure  Act,” commonly referred to as the “Persuader Rule.”

Before DOL adopted the Persuader Rule, there was no requirement to when lawyers or consultants spoke with or advised employers about opposition to union efforts unless the consultant had direct contact with workers.  As revised by the Obama Administration, however, the Persuader Rule required employers and consultants—including lawyers—to report both direct contact with workers as well as advice or other help provided to employers by lawyers or consultants about persuading employees on union issues such as training supervisors or employer representatives to conduct meetings; coordinating or directing the activities of supervisors or employer representatives; establishing or facilitating employee committees; drafting, revising or providing speeches; conducting union avoidance seminars; developing or implementing employer personnel policies; involvement in disciplinary action, reward, or other targeting of workers; or various other activities designed to influence union organization matters.

Scheduled to take effect in July, 2016, DOL’s implementation and enforcement of the Persuader Rule originally was delayed by a June 27, 2016 preliminary injunction issued by Justice Cummings that nationally enjoined DOL from implementing any and all aspects of the Persuader Rule based on his findings, among other things, that the plaintiffs likely would succeed on the merits in showing the Persuader Rule:

  • Violated their right to hire and consult with an attorney, free speech, expression and association rights protected by the First Amendment;
  • Was overly broad and unacceptably vague;
  • Violated the Regulatory Flexibility Act; and
  • Would irreparably harm employers.

After a hearing on the merits, Justice Cummings ruled that the June, 2016 injunction should be made permanent.  His November 16, 2016 final order in National Federation of Independent Business v. Perez, permanently enjoins DOL from implementing the Persuader Rule nationwide.  Accordingly, employers and their labor attorneys and other labor management consultants are excused from responsibility to comply with the reporting requirements of the Persuader Rule.

About The Author

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

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares 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 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, 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; former Board Compliance Chair and Board member of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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


Manage Retaliation Risks In Response To Updated EEOC Enforcement Guidance, Rising Retaliation Claims

August 31, 2016

U.S. employers, employment agencies, unions, their benefit plans and fiduciaries, and their management and service providers should move quickly to review and strengthen their employment and other practices to guard against a foreseeable surge in employee retaliation claims and judgements likely to follow the August 30, 2016 issuance by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) of its new final  EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues and concurrently published Question and Answer Guidance(Guidance).

Updating and superceding 2008 guidance previously set forth in the Retaliation Chapter of the EEOC Enforcement Manual, the Guidance details the EEOC’s current policy for investigating and enforcing the retaliation prohibitions under each of the equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws enforced by EEOC, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) as well as the ADA’s separate “interference” prohibitions, which prohibit coercion, threats, or other acts that interfere with the exercise of ADA rights.  Among other things, the Guidance discusses :

  • What “retaliation means” and the scope of employee activity protected by the prohibitions against retaliation included in all laws enforced by the EEOC as well as the interference prohibitions of the ADA;
  • Legal analysis the EEOC will use to determine if evidence supports a claim of retaliation against an employer or other party;
  • Detailed examples of employer actions that the EEOC says may constitute prohibited retaliation; and
    Remedies available for retaliation.

Understanding and properly responding to the Guidance is critically important for employers and other subject to the EEO laws because in light of the substantial and growing liability exposures retaliation claims present and the likely that the issuance of the Guidance will further fuel these risks.

Even before the EEOC published the Guidance, retaliation and interference exposures were a substantial source of concern for most employers.  Employers, employment agencies and unions caught engaging in prohibited retaliation or intimidation in violation of EEO laws can incur compensatory and (except for governmental employers) punitive damage awards, back pay, front pay, reinstatement into a job or other equitable remedies, injunctive or administrative orders requiring changes in employer policies and procedures, managerial training, reporting to the EEOC and other corrective measures, as well as substantial investigation and defense costs.

These substantial liability exposures have become particularly concerning as retaliation and interference claims also have become increasingly common over the past decade. According to the EEOC, for example, EEO law retaliation charges have remained the most frequently alleged basis of charges filed with the EEOC since 2009 and in Fiscal Year 2015 accounted for 44.5 percent of all employment discrimination charges received by EEOC.
Since the EEOC’s issuance of the Retaliation Regs are likely to encourage additional retaliation or interference claims, employers, employment agencies, unions and their management, service providers and agents should quickly to evaluate the updated guidance provided in the Retaliation Reg and act to mitigate their exposure to retaliation retaliation and interference claims under these EEO laws.

Retaliation Risks Under EEO Laws

Federal EEO laws generally prohibit employers, employment agencies, or unions from punishing or taking other adverse actions against job applicants or employees for “asserting their rights” (often referred to as “protected activity”) to be free from harassment or other prohibited employment discrimination as well as certain other conduct. Such claims generally are referred to as “retaliation claims.”
Prohibited retaliation in violation of EEO laws occurs when an employer, employment agency or union takes a materially adverse action because an applicant or employee asserts rights or engages in certain other activities protected by the EEO laws.

To prevail in a retaliation claim, an applicant, employee or other individual generally must show that:

  • The individual engaged in prior protected activity;
  • The employer, employment agency or union took a materially adverse action; and
  • More likely than not, retaliation caused the adverse action by the employer, employment agency or union.

Persons Protected By EEO Retaliation Rules

EEO retaliation prohibitions protect both applicants and current and former employees (full-time, part-time, probationary, seasonal, and temporary) against retaliation under the EEO laws.  The retaliation prohibitions bar an employer from refusing to hire or otherwise taking adverse action against any current or former applicant or employee because of his EEO complaint or other protected activity under applicable EEO laws.  The EEOC interprets the retaliation rules as prohibiting an employer from giving a false negative job reference to punish a former employee for making an EEO complaint or engaging in other protected activity as well as as prohibiting an employer from refusing to hire or otherwise retaliating or discriminating against an applicant or employee based on a complaint made or other protected activity engaged against any a prior employer.  The Guidance also makes clear that the retaliation prohibitions apply regardless of an applicant or employee’s citizenship or work authorization status.

Protected Activity

“Protected activity” generally means either participating in an EEO process or reasonably opposing conduct made unlawful by an EEO law.

The prohibition against an employer retaliating against an individual for “participating” in an EEO process means that an employer cannot punish an applicant or employee for filing an EEO complaint, serving as a witness, or participating in any other way in an EEO matter, even if the underlying discrimination allegation is unsuccessful or untimely. As a part of these prohibitions, the EEOC says that an employer, employment agency or union is not allowed to do anything in response to EEO activity that would discourage someone from resisting or complaining about future discrimination. For example, depending on the facts of the particular case, it could be retaliation because of the employee’s EEO activity for an employer to:

  • Reprimand an employee or give a performance evaluation that is lower than it should be;
  • Transfer the employee to a less desirable position;
  • Engage in verbal or physical abuse;
  • Threaten to make, or actually make reports to authorities (such as reporting immigration status or contacting the police);
  • Increase scrutiny;
  • Spread false rumors, treat a family member negatively (for example, cancel a contract with the person’s spouse); or
  • Take action that makes the person’s work more difficult (for example, punishing an employee for an EEO complaint by purposefully changing his work schedule to conflict with family responsibilities).

The Guidance clearly states that the EEOC views participating in any capacity in a complaint process or other protected equal employment opportunity as protected activity which is protected from retaliation under all circumstances.  The EEOC views other acts to oppose discrimination also as protected as long as the employee was acting on a reasonable belief that something in the workplace may violate EEO laws, even if he or she did not use legal terminology to describe the issue. EEOC’s view is that protections against retaliation extend to participation in an employer’s internal EEO complaint process, even if a charge of discrimination has not yet been filed with the EEOC. The EEOC also takes the position that participation in the EEO process is protected whether or not the EEO allegation is based on a reasonable, good faith belief that a violation occurred. While an employer is free to bring these to light in the EEO matter where it may rightly affect the outcome, the Retaliation Regs state it is unlawful retaliation for an employer to take matters into its own hands and impose consequences for participating in an EEO matter.

In addition to prohibition for participation in protected activities, EEO law also prohibits retaliation against an individual for “opposing” a perceived unlawful EEO practice.  The EEOC construes prohibition against retaliation for opposition as prohibiting an employer or other covered entity from punishing an applicant or employee for communicating or taking other action in opposition of a perceived EEO violation if the individual acted reasonably and based on a reasonable good faith belief that the conduct opposed is or could become unlawful if repeated.

According to the EEOC, opposition also can be protected even if it is informal or does not include the words “harassment,” “discrimination,” or other legal terminology. A communication or act may be protected opposition as long as the circumstances show that the individual is conveying resistance to a perceived potential EEO violation such as, for example:

  • Complaining or threatening to complain about alleged discrimination against oneself or others;
  • Taking part in an internal or external investigation of employment discrimination, including harassment;
  • Filing or being a witness in a charge, complaint, or lawsuit alleging discrimination;
  • Communicating with a supervisor or manager about employment discrimination, including harassment;
  • Answering questions during an employer investigation of alleged harassment;
  • Refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination;
  • Resisting sexual advances, or intervening to protect others;
  • Reporting an instance of harassment to a supervisor;
  • Requesting accommodation of a disability or for a religious practice;
  • Asking managers or co-workers about salary information to uncover potentially discriminatory wages;
  • Providing information in an employer’s internal investigation of an EEO matter;
  • Refusing to obey an order reasonably believed to be discriminatory;
  • Advising an employer on EEO compliance;
  • Resisting sexual advances or intervening to protect others;
  • Passive resistance (allowing others to express opposition);
  • Requesting reasonable accommodation for disability or religion;
  • Complaining to management about EEO-related compensation disparities;
  • Talking to coworkers to gather information or evidence in support of a potential EEO claim; or
  • Other acts of opposition.

In order for the protection against opposition to apply, however, the individual must act with a reasonable good faith belief that the conduct opposed is unlawful or could become unlawful if repeated.  Opposition not based on such a good faith belief is not protected. Employers should note that the EEOC takes the position that opposition by an employee could qualify as reasonable opposition protected against retaliation when an employee or applicant complains about behavior that is not yet legally harassment (i.e., even if the mistreatment has not yet become severe or pervasive) or to complain about conduct the employee believes violates the EEO laws if the EEOC has adopted that interpretation, even if some courts disagree with the EEOC on the issue.

Furthermore, an individual opposing a perceived violation of an EEO law is disqualified for protection against retaliation for his opposition unless the individual behaves in a reasonable manner when expressing his opposition. For example, threats of violence, or badgering a subordinate employee to give a witness statement, are not protected opposition.

Subject to these conditions, however, the Guidance states that retaliation for opposing perceived unlawful EEOC practices need not be applied directly to the employee to qualify for protection. If an employer, employment agency or union takes an action against someone else, such as a family member or close friend, in order to retaliate against an employee, the EEOC says both individuals would have a legal claim against the employer.

Moreover, according to the EEOC, the prohibitions against retaliation for participation and opposition apply regardless of whether the person is suffers the retaliation for acting as a witness or otherwise participating in the investigation of a prohibited practice regarding an EEO complaint brought by others, or for complaining of conduct that directly affects himself.

Materially Adverse Action

To fall within EEO law prohibitions against retaliation, the retaliatory actions must be “materially adverse,” which the Guidance defines to include any action that under the facts and circumstances might deter a reasonable person from engaging in protected activity.  This definition of “materially adverse” sweeps broadly to include more than employment actions such as denial of promotion, non-hire, denial of job benefits, demotion, suspension, discharge, or other actions that can be challenged directly as employment discrimination. It also encompasses within the scope of retaliation employer action that is work-related, as well as other actions with no tangible effect on employment, or even an action that takes place exclusively outside of work, as long as it may well dissuade a reasonable person from engaging in protected activity.

Whether an action is materially adverse depends on the facts and circumstances of the particular case. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that transferring a worker to a harder, dirtier job within the same pay grade, and suspending her without pay for more than a month (even though the pay was later reimbursed) were both “materially adverse actions” that could be challenged as retaliation. The Supreme Court has also said that actionable retaliation includes: the FBI’s refusing to investigate death threats against an agent; the filing of false criminal charges against a former employee; changing the work schedule of a parent who has caretaking responsibilities for school-age children; and excluding an employee from a weekly training lunch that contributes to professional advancement.

In contrast, a petty slight, minor annoyance, trivial punishment, or any other action that is not likely to dissuade an employee from engaging in protected activity in the circumstances is not “materially adverse.” For example, courts have concluded on the facts of given cases that temporarily transferring an employee from an office to a cubicle was not a materially adverse action and that occasional brief delays by an employer in issuing refund checks to an employee that involved small amounts of money were not materially adverse.

The facts and circumstances of each case determine whether a particular action is retaliatory in that context. For this reason, the same action may be retaliatory in one case but not in another. Depending on the facts, other examples of “materially adverse” actions may include:

  • Work-related threats, warnings, or reprimands;
  • Negative or lowered evaluations;
  • Transfers to less prestigious or desirable work or work locations;
  • Making false reports to government authorities or in the media;
  • Filing a civil action;
  • Threatening reassignment;
  • Scrutinizing work or attendance more closely than that of other employees, without justification;
  • Removing supervisory responsibilities;
  • Engaging in abusive verbal or physical behavior that is reasonably likely to deter protected activity, even if it is not yet “severe or pervasive” as required for a hostile work environment;
  • Requiring re-verification of work status, making threats of deportation, or initiating other action with immigration authorities because of protected activity;
  • Terminating a union grievance process or other action to block access to otherwise available remedial mechanisms; or
  • Taking (or threatening to take) a materially adverse action against a close family member (who would then also have a retaliation claim, even if not an employee).

ADA Interference Claims

In addition to the need to manage potential exposures for prohibited retaliation, employers, employment agencies and unions also should be careful to manage their exposure to potential liability arising from claims for wrongful interference and individual’s exercise of the disability rights or protections granted under the ADA.

The ADA generally prohibits disability discrimination, limits an employer’s ability to ask for medical information, requires confidentiality of medical information, and gives employees who have disabilities the right to reasonable accommodations at work absent undue hardship and like other EEO laws, prohibits retaliation. In addition to its prohibitions against retaliation, however, the ADA also more broadly prohibits “interference” with statutory rights under the ADA.

Interference is broader than retaliation. The ADA’s interference provision makes it unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or otherwise interfere with an individual’s exercise of ADA rights, or with an individual who is assisting another to exercise ADA rights.

In addition, the ADA also prohibits employers from interfering with ADA rights by doing anything that makes it more difficult for an applicant or employee to assert any of these rights such as using threats or other actions to discourage someone from asking for, or keeping, a reasonable accommodation; intimidating an applicant or employee into undergoing an unlawful medical examination; or pressuring an applicant or employee not to file a disability discrimination complaint.

Prohibited interference may be actionable under the ADA even if ineffective and even if the person subjected to intimidation goes on to exercise his ADA rights.

  • While acknowledging that some employer actions may be both retaliation and interference, or may overlap with unlawful denial of accommodation, the Guidance identifies the following actions as examples of interference prohibited under the ADA:
  • Coercing an individual to relinquish or forgo an accommodation to which he or she is otherwise entitled;
  • Intimidating an applicant from requesting accommodation for the application process by indicating that such a request will result in the applicant not being hired;
  • Threatening an employee with loss of employment or other adverse treatment if he does not “voluntarily” submit to a medical examination or inquiry that is otherwise prohibited under the statute;
  • Issuing a policy or requirement that purports to limit an employee’s rights to invoke ADA protections (e.g., a fixed leave policy that states “no exceptions will be made for any reason”);
  • Interfering with a former employee’s right to file an ADA lawsuit against the former employer by stating that a negative job reference will be given to prospective employers if the suit is filed; and
  • Subjecting an employee to unwarranted discipline, demotion, or other adverse treatment because he assisted a coworker in requesting reasonable accommodation.

According to the EEOC, a threat does not have to be carried out in order to violate the interference provision, and an individual does not actually have to be deterred from exercising or enjoying ADA rights in order for the interference to be actionable.

Strategies To Help Deter Or Rebut Retaliation Charges

Even though individuals claiming retaliation technically bear the burden of proving more likely than not that he suffered an adverse employment action more probably than not as a result of retaliation, an employer, employment agency or union charged with illegal retaliation frequently need to rebut or undermine a claimant’s evidence of retaliation by having and introducing admissible evidence that it a non-retaliatory reason for taking the challenged action such as evidence that:

  • The employer was not, in fact, aware of the protected activity;
  • There was a legitimate non-retaliatory motive for the challenged action, that the employer can demonstrate, such as poor performance; inadequate qualifications for position sought; qualifications, application, or interview performance inferior to the selectee; negative job references (provided they set forth legitimate reasons for not hiring or promoting an individual); misconduct (e.g., threats, insubordination, unexcused absences, employee dishonesty, abusive or threatening conduct, or theft); or reduction in force or other downsizing;
  • Similarly-situated applicants or employees who did not engage in protected activity were similarly treated;
  • Where the “but-for” causation standard applies, there is evidence that the challenged adverse action would have occurred anyway, despite the existence of a retaliatory motive; or
  • Other credible evidence showing a legitimate, non-discriminatory and non-retalitory motive behind the action.

It is important that employer other other potential defendants in retaliation actions recognize and take appropriate steps to create and retain evidence documenting these or other legitimate business reasons justifying the action prior to taking adverse action.  Many employer or other defendants charged with discrimination or retaliation discover too late that a rule of evidence commonly referred to as the “After Acquired Evidence Doctrine” often prevents an employer or other defendant from using documentation or other evidence of motive created after the adverse action occurs.  Consequently, employer and other potential targets of retaliation claims before taking the adverse action would be wise to carefully collect, document and retain the evidence and analysis showing their adverse action was taken for a legitimate, nonretalitory, nondiscriminatory reason rather than for any retaliatory purpose.

Other Defensive Actions & Strategies

Beyond taking care to document and retain evidence of its legitimate motivations for taking an adverse employment action, employers, employment agencies and unions interested in avoiding or enhancing their defenses against retaliation or interference claims also may find it helpful to:

  • Maintain a written, plain-language anti-retaliation and anti-interference policy that provides practical guidance on the employer’s expectations with user-friendly examples of what to do and not to do;
  • Send a message from top management that retaliation and interference are prohibited and will not be tolerated;
  • Ensure that top management understands and complies with policies against prohibited discrimination, retaliation and interference;
  • Consistently and fairly administer all equal employment opportunity and other policies and procedures in accordance with applicable laws in a documented, defensible manner;
  • Post and provide all required posters or other equal employment opportunity notices;
  • Timely and accurately complete and file all required EEO reports;
  • Clearly communicate orally and in writing the policy against prohibited retaliation and interference, as well as procedures for reporting, investigating and addressing concerns about potential violations of these policies in corporate policies as well as to employees complaining or participating in investigations or other protected activities;
  • Conduct documented training for all managers, supervisors and other employees and agents of the employer about policies against prohibited discrimination, retaliation, and interference including, as necessary, specific education about specific behaviors or situations that could raise retaliation or interference concerns, when and how to report or respond to such concerns and other actions to take to prevent or stop potential retaliation and interference;
  • Establish and administer clear policies and procedures for reporting and investigating claims or other indicators of potential prohibited employment discrimination, retaliation, interference including appropriate procedures for monitoring and protecting applicants and workers who have made claims of discrimination or have a record of involvement in activities that might qualify for corrective action;
  • Review performance, compensation and other criteria for potential evidence of overt or hidden bias or other evidence of potential prohibited retaliation or interference and take documented corrective action as needed to prevent improper bias from adversely corrupting decision-making process;
  • Conduct timely, well-documented investigations of all reports or other evidence of suspected discrimination, retaliation, and interference including any disciplinary, remedial or corrective action taken or foregone and the justification underlying these actions;
  • Obtain and enforce contractual reassurances from recruiting, staffing and other contractors to adhere to, and cooperate with the employer in its investigation and redress of the nondiscrimination, data collection and reporting, anti-retaliation and anti-interference requirements of equal employment opportunity and other laws;
  • Incorporate appropriate inquiries and other procedures for documented evaluating and monitoring that hiring, staffing, performance review, promotion, demotion, discipline, termination and other employment decisions and actions for evidence or other indicators of potential prohibited discrimination, retaliation, interference or other prohibited conduct and take corrective action as necessary based on the evidence developed; and
  • Designate appropriately empowered and trained members of the management of the employer to receive and investigate complaints and other potential concerns;
    Arrange for an unbiased third party review of the adverse action or the performance or other decision criteria, processes and analysis that the employer or other defendant contemplates relying on to decide and implement employment decisions for indicators of potential discriminatory, retaliatory or other illegal or undesirable biasand take corrective action as needed to address those concerns before undertaking employment actions;
  • Evaluate and allocate appropriate funds within the employer’s budget to support the employer’s compliance efforts as well as to provide for the availability of sufficient funds to investigate and defend potential charges or public or private charges of illegal discrimination, retaliation or interference through the purchase of employment practices liablity or other insurance coverages or otherwise;
  • If a manager or other party recommends an adverse action in the wake of an employee’s filing of an EEOC charge or participation in other protected activity, conducting or arranging for an another party to ndependently evaluate whether the adverse action is appropriate;
  • Proactively seek assistance from qualified legal counsel with the design and review of policies, practices and operations, investigation and analysis of internal or external complaints or other concerns about potential prohibited discrimination, retaliation or interference, review and execution of termination, discipline or other workforce events to mitigate discrimination, retaliation or interference risks as well as the defense of EEOC or private enforcement actions; and
  • Be ever diligent in your efforts to prevent, detect and redress actions or situations that could be a basis for retaliation or interference claims.

About The Author

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a noted Texas-based management lawyer and consultant, author, lecture and policy advocate, recognized for her nearly 30-years of cutting edge management work 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  “Labor & Employment,”“Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Chair and current 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, a former ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and , Ms. Stamer helps management manage.

Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her nearly 30-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, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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


Obama Offers Grants To States To Boost Paid Leave Availability With State Grants

May 6, 2016

Employers concerned about Obama Administration efforts to expand existing unpaid family and medical leave requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act to require paid family and medical leave also need to watch out for expanding state paid leave mandates as well as the much more widely recognized efforts by President Obama to impose federal paid leave requirements on employers.

Currently, the unpaid family and medical leave mandates of the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applicable to employers with 50 or more employees primarily define the obligation of private sector employers to provide family or medical leave.

As part of the Obama’s Administration’s efforts to fulfill President Obama’s campaign promise to expand the availability of paid family and medical leave before President Obama leaves office in January, 2016 in the face of continuing Congressional roadblocks to its efforts to enact a federal paid leave mandate, the Obama Administration is offering grants to help states develop paid family and medical leave laws and programs in their states.

On May 5. 2016, Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez announced the Department’s Woman’s Bureau is making available $1 million in grant funds for use in helping states, U.S. territories and possessions, counties and cities with at least 50,000 residents, and federally recognized Indian/Native American tribes with a population of at least 10,000 to fund the cost of developing and implementing paid family and medical leave programs at a roundtable discussion hosted to promote the Administration’s paid family and medical leave agenda with Nestlé, Spotify, and certain other employers.

The third year that the Department has offered such grants, the 2016 grant requirements and procedures are set forth in Woman’s Bureau Funding Opportunity Announcement.  In furtherance of its efforts to promote interest by qualified government or other entities, the Labor Department also has announced that the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, along with the Women’s Bureau, will host a Prospective Applicant WebEx webinar on Thursday, May 12, at 2:00 p.m. EDT to provide interested entities with an opportunity to ask questions about the grant opportunity during the webinar. Interested prospective applicants must register for the webinar in advance here. 

Alongside monitoring emerging proposals to enact federal or state paid leave legislation, employers and others concerned with paid leave mandates also need to keep a close eye on the actions that President Obama and government agencies take to require paid leave through executive action, government contracting mandates or other non-legislative efforts.  President Obama already has used his executive powers to expand paid family and medical leave rights for federal government workers, to add paid leave mandates to federal contracting regulations and contracts applicable to government contractors, and otherwise

Even for the millions of employers that already voluntarily provide paid leave, the enactment of additional federal or state paid leave mandates inevitability will limit employer flexibility to structure its compensation and other leave and staffing as well as substantially increase the financial, regulatory and other obligations and risks of employers.   For this reason, employers and others concerned about potential adverse effects of becoming subject to new or expanded paid family, medical or other leave requirements should carefully monitor both federal and state legislative and regulatory enforcement  proposals and other activities, take into account these developments in their short and long range human resources budget, compensation and other business and human resources planning, and provide feedback and input to federal and state legislators and regulators about existing and proposed leave mandates.  As part of their efforts to monitor and respond to state law developments, employers and others interested in more information about the Funding Opportunity Announcement can learn more here.

About The Author

A practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.,  Ms. Stamer’s more than 28 years’ of leading edge work as an practicing attorney, author, lecturer and industry and policy thought leader have resulted in her recognition as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law.

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.

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.  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, Ms. Stamer also advises and represents clients on OCR and other HHS, Department of Labor, IRS, FTC, DOD 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.

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:

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.

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

 


Expect New Fed Regs To Increase Childcare Costs

March 30, 2016

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

Childcare providers, employers sponsoring programs that reimburse childcare expenses and American workers and families can expect increases in childcare costs and possible loss or disruption of childcare providers in response to efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to increase regulation, oversight and enforcement against childcare providers when implementing the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 (CCDBG).  See Child Care and Development Block Grant Act (CCDBG) of 2014: Plain Language Summary of Statutory Changes.  

Affordable Childcare Availability Shared Concern For Employers & Employees

For most employees with young children and their employers, limitations on the availability of affordable, reliable childcare presents a shared concern for both the employer and the employee.  Studies validate the experience of many employers and employees that employee’s struggle as parents to secure high-quality, consistent child care services often impacts employee employment decisions, attendance and performance. See e.g. The impact of child care problems on employment: findings from a national survey of US parents.

Both cost concerns and limitations in the availability of childcare contribute to the childcare crisis experienced by many American families.  See Cost and Availability of Child Care Continues To Burden American Families; 2-1-1 Child Care Affordability and Availability Report;  Annual Child Care Capacity, Availability and Enrollment Survey 2014

While the cost of child care varies widely across states, child care expenses often present a significant financial burden for families with young children.  See Parents and The High Cost of Childcare 2015 Report.   For instance, the Childcare Aware Child Care Cost Data In Each State shows:

  • In California, a year of infant care in a center for a married couple family is 14%, but for a single parent family this figure is three times more at almost 45%. Single parents with two children can expect to pay over 75% of income on center based care and a married couple with two children living at the poverty line will pay over 80% of their income on center-based care. A year of infant center based care is almost 29% higher than the cost of one year’s tuition at a four-year public college in the state.
  • In Texas, single parents pay 66% of their income for two children in a center care. Similarly, married couple families with two children living at the poverty line pay almost 64 % of their income for child care. The cost of infant care is $8,759, nearly identical to the cost of a 4 year public college at $8,830.
  • In South Carolina, single parents pay almost 32% of their income for infant center care. Married couple families with two children at the poverty line pay 46% of their income for child care. The annual cost of child care for an infant and a four-year-old in a center is $11,126.

While many U.S. employers attempt to mitigate some of these challenges by offering employees the opportunity to pay some of these childcare expenses on a pre-tax basis by including dependent care assistance plan options in their cafeteria plans, employer-sponsored or subsidized child care, or family friendly leave and scheduling practices, the substantial cost of child care remains a burden for many employees and their family.  Furthermore, even with American families with young children expending significant portions of their income for childcare, limited availability of childcare to meet existing demand makes finding childcare challenging for many families. See, e.g. Annual Child Care Capacity, Availability and Enrollment Survey 2014.   With U.S. employees with young children already facing difficult choices finding and maintaining affordable childcare, employees with children requiring childcare and their employers generally share concerns about government regulations or other actions that could drive up costs or further restrict the availability of affordable childcare.

Quality Concerns Prompting HHS To See Tighter Federal Childcare Regulations

As part of federal efforts to mitigate the impact of childcare expenses on low income workers, the U.S. Child Care and Development Fund underwrites the care of nearly 1.5 million children from low-income families every month.  In 2015, the U.S. government spent about $5.4 billion of taxpayer dollars to help states, territories and tribes subsidize child care for low-income working families.  Increased federal scrutiny of these programs and their expenditures as well as reports of concerns about the quality of the child care programs they fund are prompting both additional federal regulation and oversight of these programs.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant Act (CCDBG) enacted by Congress in 2014 imposed requirements for childcare worker criminal background checks, CPR training, SIDS prevention planning and other health and safety requirements for childcare providers receiving federal subsidies.  CCBDG also gave HHS authority to set caseload limits for state inspectors, conduct annual inspections and to impose other requirements to regulate, monitor and enforce quality, health and safety and other standards for subsidized child care providers. See Child Care and Development Block Grant Act (CCDBG) of 2014: Plain Language Summary of Statutory Changes.   Based on audits of compliance with current state regulations and other requirements for child care providers by the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) now is gearing up to use this authority to tighten federal requirements for federally subsidized childcare and in anticipation of its announcement of proposed regulations, is conducting an aggressive public relations campaign to generate public support for HHS implementing regulations of the CCDBG that will substantially tighten federal requirements for subsidized childcare facilities.  While HHS as of now has not published the expanded safeguards that it plans to impose, its high profile public relations campaign indicates that it plans both to substantially tighten these requirements and the required oversight and enforcement against childcare providers in light of widespread deficiencies in the compliance of federally funded childcare centers with applicable state regulations that OIG reports it uncovered in a series of OIG health and safety audits.

According to OIG, a series of audits conducted by OIG of federally funded childcare facilities uncovered what OIG considers “major health and safety violations” at many state-licensed day care providers around the country. OIG reports that 96 percent (218 out of 227) of childcare centers by OIG in unannounced site visits had at least one health and safety violation. OIG has posted results of these audits by region here, including two just released reports of findings from audits performed in Florida.  See, e.g. Some Florida Childcare Centers Did Not Always Comply With State Health and Safety Licensing Requirements; Some Florida Family Childcare Homes Did Not Always Comply With State Health and Safety Requirements.

The audit reports identify a wide range of safety concerns.  Some of the deficiencies OIG reports finding at these facilities included:

  • Childcare workers leaving children unattended;
  • Understaffed facilities;
  • Childcare workers with pending criminal charges for corruption of minors, child endangerment or other concerning criminal charges or convictions and others not background checked;
  • Fire hazards;
  • Storage of chemicals, liquor, Tree trimming saw and other lawn equipment or other unsafe items left in unlocked locations accessible by children;
  • Playgrounds with exposed rusty nails; and
  • Others.

Based on these findings, HHS is gearing up to tighten federal requirements for federal funding of childcare and is engaged in an aggressive public relations campaign to publicize its findings to engender support for tighter federal regulation.  As part of this aggressive public relations outreach, OIG has posted a u-Tube video, Eye On Oversight: Childcare Safety Lapses and is conducting an aggressive public relations outreach to expand awareness of its concerns about the childcare industry and its calls for tighter regulation.  In a recent editorial opinion published by CNN, Americans footing bill for substandard child care, for instance, Joanne Chiedi, HHS Principal Deputy Inspector General wrote that families whose children are cared for in childcare centers receiving federal subsidies cannot trust the safety of these environments. While conceding that some childcare facilities passed the OIG audits, Ms. Chiedi writes, “the overwhelming number of problems uncovered make it clear that conditions for the subsidized care of low-income children need to change — and quickly.”

To address these concerns, OIG has announced plans to exercise powers granted under the CCDBG of 2014 to tighten the legal requirements that the federal government states must meet to qualify for federal funding of childcare.  While HHS has not yet published proposed regulations defining the requirements that it plans to impose to address these concerns, it is inviting public input and comment. In the meanwhile, Ms. Chiedi’s CNN editorial opinion provides some insight to HHS’ future plans for regulating childcare when she writes:

Until recently, the federal government gave the money to states so long as each certified that it had certain minimal health and safety requirements designed to protect the health and safety of children. States received the money whether their health and safety requirements were strict or lenient. …

Setting adequate standards is an important step, and effective oversight is necessary to ensure that providers comply. Child Care Aware of America, an organization advocating for quality child care standards, recommends that states employ one inspector for every 50 child care providers. Yet during our visits to the five states that reported their ratios, caseloads ranged from Connecticut’s 332 providers per site inspector to Pennsylvania’s 143 providers per inspector.

The 2014 law also authorized annual inspections for subsidized child care providers and established appropriate caseloads for inspectors.  he Administration for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services must implement the law’s new requirements to the full extent of its authority.

All states should also examine their child care requirements and oversight and make improvements where needed, with the understanding that lax requirements and unsafe conditions risk jeopardizing federal tax dollars.

Our children are precious. They should not be cared for in places that have unsecured weapons, toxic chemicals and blocked fire escapes.

Childcare Providers, Employers & Employees Must Provide Input To HHS About Childcare Regulation

While American families and their employers generally view childcare safety as important, increased federal regulation, oversight and enforcement federal childcare standards are likely both to increase childcare costs and further restrict the availability of childcare. Employees that rely on the availability of affordable childcare and their employers need to ensure that well-intentioned efforts by HHS to promote quality are properly tailored to avoid unduly restricting the availability or affordability of necessary childcare.  Childcare providers obviously need to carefully monitor the HHS analysis and proposals and provide meaningful input by commenting on this analysis and proposals.  However, industry input alone is not sufficient.  American families with young children and their employers concerned about the availability, cost or quality of childcare and their communities also must join the discussion and provide input to HHS about what actions HHS can and should take and other concerns about the cost, availability and regulation of childcare.  Interested persons can start monitoring and participating in HHS’ discussion on twitter at #ProtectOurKids, and can learn more on the Office of Child Care of the HHS Administration For Children & Families at www.occ-cmc.org, and can register to receive Office of Child Care updates here.

About The Author

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 28 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 nearly 30- 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, expat 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 CynthiaStamer.com or StamerChadwickSoefje.com or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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 ©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™. All other rights reserved.cute_school_child_design_vector_535301


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.


Discrimination Rules Create Risks For Employer Reliance On Injunction Of FMLA Rule On Same-Sex Partners’ Marital Status

April 9, 2015

Employers covered by the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) have a temporary reprieve from the obligation to comply with a change to the FMLA regulations’ definition of “spouse” that requires FMLA-covered employers to recognize certain same-sex relationships as marriages for purposes of the FMLA that had been slated to take effect on March 27, 2015 under a preliminary injunction order granted by the District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Texas v. U.S, No. 7:15-cv-00056-O, 2015 BL 84253 (N.D. Tex. Mar. 26, 2015).   However the delay in the implementation of the regulation as a practical matter may present traps for unwary employers in light of federal employment discrimination law rules that prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. 

The preliminary injunction issued by Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on March 26 rule enjoins the Labor Department from enforcing a final regulation that would require employers covered by the FMLA to grant workers in legal same-sex marriages to take job-protected leave under the FMLA to care for a seriously ill spouse even if the state where the employee lives or works doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.

The preliminary injunction resulted from a lawsuit brought by the attorney generals of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Nebraska questioning the validity of change to the definition of “spouse” in DOL Regulation § 825.102 and § 825.122 to expand the definition of the term “spouse” for purposes of the FMLA to include same-sex relationships recognized as marriage under the state law of the location of the marriage celebration.

The Final Regulation redefining the term “spouse” for purposes of the FMLA is one of a host of changes to federal employment, tax, immigration and other regulations and enforcement policies announced by the Obama Administration in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675, 118 FEP Cases 1417 (2013).

In Windsor, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional and struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which sought to preclude same-sex couples from being treated as married for purposes of federal law including the FMLA by restricting the definition of marriage for federal law only to relationships between persons of the opposite sex.

If and when implemented, the FMLA Final Regulation will revise the DOL’s FMLA regulations to provide that “Spouse” means

a husband or wife. For purposes of this definition, husband or wife refers to the other person with whom an individual entered into marriage as defined or recognized under state law for purposes of marriage in the State in which the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside of any State, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and could have been entered into in at least one State. This definition includes an individual in a same-sex or common law marriage that either:

  1. Was entered into in a State that recognizes such marriages; or
  2. If entered into outside of any State, is valid in the place where entered into and could have been entered into in at least one State.

According the DOL, the adoption of a place of celebration standard for determining marital status in the Final Rule ensures that all legally married employees have consistent FMLA leave rights regardless of where they live. The Department believes that this place of celebration rule will give fullest effect to the purpose of the FMLA to let employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave to care for a spouse for an FMLA-qualifying reason.  Thus, whether a same-sex or other couple qualifies as married for purposes of the FMLA turns upon whether the couple is in a relationship legally recognized as a married in the state in which the ceremony was performed.  However, the Final Regulation does not require employers to treat same-sex civil unions, as well as opposite-sex civil unions, as marriages and as such are not guaranteed the right to take FMLA spousal leave nor do have other protections of the Act, including from retaliation. As noted above, an employer may offer an employment benefit program or plan that provides greater family or medical leave rights to employees than the rights established by the FMLA, including voluntarily offering other types of leave for couples in civil unions. In addition, eligible employees in civil unions can take FMLA leave for their own serious health condition, for the birth of a child or the placement of a child for adoption or foster care and for bonding, to care for their child or parent with a serious health condition, and for qualifying military family leave reasons.

In Texas v. U.S., the states jointly argued that the Final Rule unlawfully interferes with state laws that prohibit same-sex marriage and bar recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages.  Explaining his finding that the states had demonstrated a substantial likelihood of prevailing on the merits on their claim that the Final Regulation violates the Full Faith & Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Judge O’Conner wrote, “Congress has not delegated to the Department the power to force states defining marriages traditionally to afford benefits in accordance with the marriage laws of states defining marriage to include same-sex marriages.”  Accordingly, Justice O’Conner ordered the Labor Department to stay implementation of the Final Regulation pending a decision on the merits of the states’ claims.

Even as Judge O’Connor issued his preliminary injunction, the Obama Administration was moving ahead to implement new mandates extending sweeping new protections prohibiting government contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against workers based on sexual orientation or gender identity under an Executive Order issued by President Obama that took effect April 8, 2015.  See Obama Executive Order’s Prohibition Of Government Contractor Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Discrimination Creates Challenges For All US EmployersSince the preliminary injunction issued by Judge O’Connor does not apply to that Executive Order, employers contemplating holding off granting FMLA rights to employees involved in same-sex relationships should consult with legal counsel about the potential that such delay, despite Judge O’Connor’s order, might form the basis of employment discrimination, government contracting regulation violations or both.

 For  Advice, Representation, Training & Other Resources

If you need help 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, Ms. Stamer is a practicing attorney Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, author, pubic speaker,management policy advocate and thought leader with more than 25 years’ experience advising government contractors and other employers, their management, benefit plans and plan fiduciaries, vendors and service providers and others about OFCCP, EEOC, and other employment discrimination, government contracting compliance, and other workforce and operational performance, compliance, risk management, compensation, and benefits matters. As a part of this involvement, Ms. Stamer throughout her career specifically has advised and represented a broad range of employers across the U.S., their employee benefit plans and plan fiduciaries, insurers, health care providers and others about the implications of DOMA and other rules relating to rights and expectations of LBGT community members and others in federally protected classes under Federal and state employment, tax, discrimination, employee benefits, health care and other laws.

In addition to her extensive client work Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author, management policy advocate and thought leader, and management policy advocate on these and other workforce and related matters who shares her experience and leadership in a wide range of contexts.  A current or former author and advisory board member of HR.com, Insurance Thought Leadership, SHRM, BNA and several other the prominent publications, 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, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, former President of the Richardson Development Center Board of Directors, and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, An American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, American Bar Association (ABA) and State Bar of Texas Fellow, Martindale Hubble Premier AV Rated (the highest), Ms. Stamer publishes and speaks extensively on these and other staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, health care, privacy, public policy, and other operations and risk management concerns. As a part of these activities, Ms. Stamer is scheduled to speak about Same-Sex Marriages and Domestic Partnerships: Lessons Learned, Unanswered Questions and Best Practices on May 1, 2015 for the ABA RPTE Section 2015 Spring Symposium in Washington D.C.  See also Stamer Talks About “Handling Health Plan Spouse, Dependent & Other “Family” Matters in Post-DOMA World” at SPBA 2014 Spring Meeting  Her publications and insights appear in the ABA and other professional publications, HR.com, SHRM, Insurance Thought Leadership, 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.

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 participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our HR & Employee Benefits Update here including:

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Pressâ„¢ 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.

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