Employers, Plan Administrators Confirm All Form 5500s Timely Filed; Valuable Relief Options Available For Non-Filers

July 28, 2015

Businesses sponsoring 401(k) or other defined contribution or defined benefit pension plans, health plans or other employee benefit plans should verify that any required Form 5500s, Annual Returns of Employee Benefit Plans were timely filed and if any were not, should contact legal counsel about whether  they can come into compliance and avoid painful penalties by taking advantage of a newly announced Internal Revenue Service (IRS)  low-cost penalty relief program  for IRS penalties and a Department of Labor (DOL) voluntary compliance resolution program for Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) penalties.

In most cases, the Internal Revenue Code and ERISA each separately require that a Form 5500, Annual Return of Employee Benefit Plan be filed each year for the plan by the end of the seventh month after the close of the plan year. For plans that work on a calendar-year basis, as most do, this means the 2014 return is due on July 31, 2015.   Businesses sponsoring employee benefit plans and the plan administrator of an employee benefit plan face substantial penalties under the Internal Revenue Code and ERISA if the required Form 5500 is not timely filed.  Under the Internal Revenue Code, a business that fails to file a required Form 5500 can incur IRS penalties of up to $15,000 per return per plan year.  In addition, the plan administrator (often the sponsoring business or a member of its management) of an employee benefit plan with unfiled Form 5500s separately also can incur DOL penalties of up to $1000 per day per plan per plan year.  By simultaneously filing the late returns under both the new IRS penalty relief program and the long-standing DOL voluntary compliance resolution program, however, qualifying employers can resolve these exposures much more cost effectively.

While the DOL for many years has allowed plan administrators of retirement and other employee benefit plans the opportunity to resolve ERISA late or non-filing penalties through late filing under its Delinquent Filer Voluntary Compliance Program (DFVCP), the IRS only recently has established a companion program  for small employers to use to resolve Internal Revenue Code penalty exposures of employers failing to file the required Form 5500 for their retirement plans.  Based on its positive experience from a one-year pilot program, however, the IRS in May, 2015 now has implemented a new permanent penalty relief program that allows qualifying employers to resolve the Internal Revenue Code penalties for failing to file a Form 5500 required by the Internal Revenue Code.

The DOL DFVCP is available for use by plan administrators of retirement or welfare benefit plans sponsored by employers of all sizes. Plan administrators of employee benefit plans with unfiled required Form 550s can fix the penalty to resolve their ERISA penalty exposures for non- or late-filing of a required  Form 5500s for all unfiled years at $1,500 per submission for “small plans” (generally, fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year) and $4,000 per submission for “large plans” (generally, 100 participants or more at the beginning of the plan year).   A single filing for each plan for all plan years for which a required Form 5500 for that plan has not been timely filed can resolve the potential ERISA penalties for all unfiled plan years.  Further reduced penalty caps are applicable to submissions for certain 501(c)(3) organizations and for Top Hat and Apprenticeship programs. However, by filing late returns under this program, eligible filers can avoid these penalties by paying only $500 for each return submitted, up to a maximum of $1,500 per plan.

In contrast, the new IRS program is only offers penalty relief from the Internal Revenue Code’s penalties for failure to file a required Form 5500 for plans sponsored by small businesses with plans covering a 100 percent owner or the partners in a business partnership, and the owner’s or partner’s spouse (but no other participants), and certain foreign plans. While employers sponsoring employee benefit plans with broader coverage do not qualify for relief under the new IRS penalty relief program, employers sponsoring these employee benefit plans nevertheless should visit with legal counsel about options for resolving their existing penalty exposures for non-filing as legal counsel often can negotiate reductions in penalties with the IRS for employers voluntarily late filing forms.  Such relief generally is not available under the new penalty relief from for small employers or otherwise if the IRS already has assessed a penalty for late filing.  Accordingly, it is important for employer and plan administrators to evaluate whether there are any unfiled required Form 5500s for any plan year for their employee benefit plans and act promptly to voluntarily resolve these issues through late filing before the IRS or DOL discovers the omission.

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

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.

A practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., a member of Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC, Ms. Stamer’s more than 27 years’ of leading edge work as a 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.

Recognized as a “Top” Employee Benefits, Labor and Employment and Health Care Lawyer, Board Certified in Labor and Employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the State Bar of Texas and the American Bar Association, 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, and an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, Ms. Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on health, pension, severance and other employee benefit, human resources, and related insurance, health care, privacy and data security and tax matters and policy.

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 with a special emphasis on employee benefits, compensation and management controls. 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.

As a key part of this work, 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, expatriot and medical tourism, on site 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. In these and other engagements, 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. She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to health plans, their sponsors, administrators, insurers and many other 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 www.cynthiastamer.com, or http://www.stamerchadwicksoefje.com the member of 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 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.

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


New Obama Administration Affirmative Action Guidance Highlights Organization’s Need To Tighten Nondiscrimination Practices

December 3, 2011

HR Key Player In Managing Rising Race & Other Discimination Suits Under Obama Administration Justice Department

The Obama Administration’s December 2 announcement of its revocation and replacement of Bush Administration policies on affirmative action in education highlights the heightened aggressiveness under the Obama Administration on the implementation, interpretation and enforcement of race, sex, disability, national origin and other federal discrimination and Civil Rights laws.

The new guidance discussed in more detail at http://wp.me/p1hsKH-1k makes clear the Administration’s view that schools can and should be doing more to promote integration and other affirmative action efforts in the schools and other organizations.  It also gives a number of examples of the types of steps that the Administration believes schools should be pursuing.  While specifically directed in schools, it provides insights about the affirmative action expectations of the Administration that merit notice by all public and private organizations and businesses.

The Justice Department under the Obama Administration in making discrimination in schools and other state and local agencies as well as by private businesses a priority.  For instance, in addition to tightening and enforcing race discrimination laws, the Justice Department on November 23, 2011 sued the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK), the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska and employees of UNK for violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against students with disabilities. 

These and other activities are part of a growing number of regulatory and enforcement actions under the Obama Administation that illustrate the growing risk created for private and public organizations by failing to manage compliance with discrimination or other civil rights laws in the conduct of their business operations, as well as employment practices.

While most governmental agencies and businesses recognize the need to manage compliance with discrimination laws in their employment practices, many fail to adequately recognize and provide policies, management controls and training to maintain compliance with federal discrimination laws prohibiting discrimination in dealing with customers, vendors or other swith whom they do business. 

 Human resources and other management leaders should position their organizations to guard against rising enforcement of these laws by updating policies, oversight and training to ensure that their workers and business partners recognize and know how to conduct themselves properly to fulfill responsibilities with whom the business deals who may be protected under Federal or state race or other discrimination laws.  In addition to adopting and training workers on policies requiring compliance with these laws, businesses should include contractual provisions requiring compliance with these laws in leases and other relevant business contracts.  Most businesses also may want to provide and post information about processes that customers or others who may have a concern about potential prohibited discrimination to position the business to address concerns that otherwise might go unnoticed until they arise to the level of an agency or other legal  complaint.

If you need assistance in conducting a risk assessment of or responding to a challenge to your organization’s existing policies or practices for dealing with the issues addressed in these publications or other compliance, labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, internal controls or other management practices, contact attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

For Added Information and Other Resources

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

For Help Or More Information

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

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 24 years of work helping employers and other management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend union-management relations, wage and hour, discrimination and other labor and employment laws, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on management, reengineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

About Solutions Law Press

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

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


HR Key Player In Managing Rising Risk of Disability, Other Discimination Suits Under Obama Administration Justice Department

November 26, 2011

Latest Action Shows Obama Justice Department Aggressively Enforcing Discrimination Laws

The Justice Department on November 23, 2011 sued the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK), the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska and employees of UNK for violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against students with disabilities.  The latest in a growing string of disability and other discrimination suits brought by the Justice Department since the Obama Administration took office, it highlights the growing risk created for private and public organizations by failing to manage compliance with disability or other civil rights laws in the conduct of their business operations, as well as employment practices.

The lawsuit  filed in the U.S. District Court for Nebraska, charges that UNK and its employees engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the Fair Housing Act or denied rights protected by the act by denying reasonable accommodation requests by students with psychological or emotional disabilities seeking to live with emotional assistance animals in university housing.

The Justice Department suit also charges that UNK requires students with psychological disabilities to disclose sensitive medical and other information that is unnecessary to evaluate their accommodation requests. 

The latest in a growing series of disability discrimination lawsuits brought by the Justice Department against public and private landlords and a growing list of other businesses, the UNK lawsuit arises from a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by a student enrolled at UNK who sought to live with an emotional assistance dog that had been prescribed.  The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the defendants, monetary damages for those harmed by the defendants’ actions, and a civil penalty.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability. With regard to disability discrimination, the Fair Housing Act requires housing providers to give reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities so that all have equal housing opportunities and limits the medical information that landlords can require from persons seeking disability accommodation in order to receive an accommodation.

The Obama Administration Justice Department has made enforcement of disability and other federal discrimination laws a key priority.  Businesses should tighten policies, practices and training to minimize exposures to Justice Department or private plaintiff complaints for violations under these laws.

While most businesses recognize the need to manage compliance with the ADA and other discrimination laws in their employment practices, many businesses and business leaders fail to adequately recognize and provide policies, management controls and training to maintain compliance with federal disability and other discrimination laws prohibiting discrimination against disabled or other customers or others with whom they do business.  Human resources and other management leaders should position their organizations to guard against rising enforcement of these laws by updating policies, oversight and training to ensure that their workers and business partners recognize and know how to conduct themselves properly to fulfill responsibilities to persons with disabilities or others with whom the business deals who may be protected under Federal or state disability discrimination laws.  In addition to adopting and training workers on policies requiring compliance with these laws, businesses should include contractual provisions requiring compliance with these laws in leases and other relevant business contracts.  Most businesses also may want to provide and post information about processes that customers or others who may have a concern about the needs of persons with these special needs to position the business to address concerns that otherwise might go unnoticed until they arise to the level of an agency or other legal  complaint.

If you need assistance in conducting a risk assessment of or responding to a challenge to your organization’s existing policies or practices for dealing with the issues addressed in these publications or other compliance, labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, internal controls or other management practices, contact attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

For Added Information and Other Resources

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

For Help Or More Information

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

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 24 years of work helping employers and other management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend union-management relations, wage and hour, discrimination and other labor and employment laws, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on management, reengineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

About Solutions Law Press

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

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


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

February 23, 2010

 By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

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

Covered Entity Breach Notification Requirements

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exposures Significant & Growing

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

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

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

Expanded HIPAA & Other Federal Prosecutions & Remedies

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

HITECH Amendments Expand Liability Exposures

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

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

State Attorney General Lawsuit Exposures

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

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

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

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

Stepped Up Federal Enforcement

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

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

State Civil Lawsuits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Assistance With Compliance Or Other Concerns

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

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

Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 22 years experience advising clients about health and other privacy and security matters.  A popular lecturer and widely published author on privacy and data security and other related health care and health plan matters, Ms. Stamer is the Editor in Chief of the forthcoming 2010 edition of the Information Security Guide to be published by the American Bar Association Information Security Committee in 2010, as well as the author of “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security Beyond HIPAA,” and a host of other highly regarded publications. She has continuously advises employers, health care providers, health insurers and administrators, health plan sponsors, employee benefit plan fiduciaries, schools, financial services providers, governments and others about privacy and data security, health care, insurance, human resources, technology, and other legal and operational concerns. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management matters.  Her insights on health care, health insurance, human resources and related matters appear in the Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  For additional information about Ms. Stamer, her experience, involvements, programs or publications, see here.  

Other Recent Developments

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

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

Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Can Help

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

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

Other Information & Resources

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

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

 

©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


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

February 22, 2010

 

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

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

Nationally recognized for her more than 22 years of work on managed care and other health and other employee benefits, human resources, insurance, and health care matters, Ms. Stamer assists employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend managed care and other medical benefit programs and practices. She also regularly advises and assists these and other clients to monitor and respond to evolving legislation, regulations, enforcement activities by federal and state regulators, evolving product and market changes, and private litigation and other disputes.  Past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the Current Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Compensation Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council member, Chair of the Curran Tomko Tarski Labor, Employment & Employee Benefits Practice and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these and other employee benefit and human resources matters.  Some other recent updates on these topics recently published by Ms. Stamer include :

For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

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

You can review other recent human resources, employee benefits and internal controls publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of Ms. Stamer here and learn more about  other Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information to Cstamer@CTTLegal.com or registering to participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our Solutions Law Press distributions here. For important information concerning this communication click here.    If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to here.

©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


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

February 15, 2010

Connecticut AG Lawsuit Highlights Expanding Civil Damage Exposure Risks Of Noncompliance 

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIPAA Enforcement & Liability Exposures Real and Rising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Can Help

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

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

Other Information & Resources

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

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

 ©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


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

January 14, 2010

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If your business or employee benefit plan needs assistance evaluating or responding to these or other employee benefit, or other employment, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance or other concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. 

Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, a representative to the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 22 years. She is experienced with assisting employers, insurers, administrators, and others to design and administer group health plans cost-effectively in accordance with these and other applicable federal regulations as well as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employee benefit, labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators.  Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

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

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

©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


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

December 28, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

You can review other recent human resources, employee benefits and internal controls publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of Ms. Stamer here /the Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information to Cstamer@CTTLegal.com or registering to participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here. For important information concerning this communication click here.    If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


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

December 23, 2009

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

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

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

Other Helpful Resources & Information

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information to cstamer@cttlegal.com or registering to participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our CTT HR & Employee Benefits Update distributions in blog form via RSS feed here.  You also may be interested in staying abreast of emerging internal controls and compliance challenges by reviewing and registering for our Corporate Compliance, Risk Management & Internal Controls distributions.  For important information concerning this communication click here.  If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to support@cttlegal.com.

©2009 Curran Tomko Tarski LLP.  All rights reserved.

If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to the  Proposed Regulations, the Q&As, or other employment, compensation, employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance practices, concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation and employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 20 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

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

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

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


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

December 22, 2009

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

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

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

Original COBRA Subsidy Rules

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

H.R. 3326 COBRA Subsidy Rules Extension

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

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

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

If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to these or other employment, health or other employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance or other concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  The author of the “Health Plan Eligibility Toolkit,” Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers, insurers, administrators, and others to design and administer group health plans cost-effectively in accordance with COBRA and other applicable federal regulations as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators.. Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, a representative to the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 22 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters.  For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

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

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

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


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

December 8, 2009

 By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Employee Benefit Regulations Planned

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

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

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

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

Other Information & Resources

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

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

 ©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


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

December 5, 2009

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

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

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

Other Information & Resources

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

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

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


Rising Defined Benefit Plan Underfunding & Changing Rules Create New Obligations & Risks For Business

December 4, 2009

Underfunded defined benefit pension plans raise significant liability risks for businesses that sponsor or who belong to control or affiliated service groups that include a business that sponsors an underfunded defined benefit plan as well as for businesses contemplating lending to, investing in, or purchasing stock or assets of these businesses.

Radical drops in plan asset values attendant to the economic downturn and Congress’ amendment of federal funding rules to accelerate the funding of defined benefit plans have triggered a defined benefit plan underfunding epidemic.  Indeed, challenges of meeting their defined benefit plan funding obligations increasingly are resulting in an unprecedented number of distress terminations and forcing many businesses to restructure or even file bankruptcy.  Currently, recently released Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) guidance makes it necessary or desirable that sponsoring businesses or fiduciaries of defined benefit plans take action before year end or shortly thereafter  to meet critical compliance deadlines.  

Complex New Rules Increase Underfunding Risks & Obligations

The new rules seek to implement Congressional amendments to the pension funding requirements intended to short up the security of the U.S. pension system and the pension guarantee insurance program run by the PBGC under the Pension Protection Act of 2006, as amended (PPA). Under the PPA, single-employer plans that are between 60 and 80 percent funded may not pay lump sums or other accelerated distribution forms with values in excess of: (1) 50 percent of the amount that would be paid absent the restriction or, if smaller (2) the present value of PBGC’s maximum guarantee computed under PBGC guidance. The PPA also requires certain funding certifications, notices and other requirements.

Enacted while the economy was strong, the burden of meeting the added pension funding demands resulting from the decreased earnings and acceleration of benefits associated with the economic downturn combined with the new rules’ expedited funding requirements are overwhelming many plan sponsors.  With the economic downturn, however, the prospects for Congressional or other regulatory relief are not good.  The PBGC is straining to keep up.  The 2009 Annual Management Report submitted to Congress in November shows the PBCG ended fiscal year 2009 with an overall deficit of $22 billion, compared with the $11.2 billion deficit for fiscal year 2008.    The deficit in the PBGC’s insurance program for single-employer pension plans widened to $21.1 billion for the year, $10.4 billion more than the prior-year’s $10.7 billion shortfall. The separate insurance program for multiemployer pension plans posted a deficit of $869 million, exceeding last year’s $473 million shortfall by $396 million.   Accordingly, the PBGC and the IRS have continued to roll out a series of complex new regulations to implement the new rules.

New Defined Benefit Plan Regulations Complex Maze of Burdensome Requirements

Single employer pension plans generally must begin complying with final funding regulations published by the IRS in October during 2010; however, many plan sponsors are likely to find it desirable to adopt certain amendments or take other steps during 2009.  Under these rules, underfunded plan benefit accruals and certain amendments will be curtailed and certain notifications, certifications and other actions required. Timely compliance with these mandates can help to mitigate some of the otherwise draconian liability associated with pension plan underfunding while helping to mitigate the continuing growth of these liabilities in an already underfunded pension plan.

Under section 101(f) of ERISA and guidance issued by the Department of Labor, starting with plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2008, single-employer plans with liabilities that exceed plan assets by $50 million or more must provide PBGC with a copy of the Annual Funding Notice by the Annual Funding Notice due date.  Single-employer plans with liabilities that exceed plan assets by less than $50 million must provide PBGC with a copy of the Annual Funding Notice within 30 days of receiving a written request from PBGC.  See Department of Labor Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2009-01 (Feb. 10, 2009), here.

In addition, defined benefit pension plans, their sponsors and fiduciaries also must contend with a host of complex new PBGC insurance, premium, certification and reporting and other requirements and guidance. For instance:

On March 16, 2009, PBGC published a Final Rule that amends its regulation on Annual Financial and Actuarial Information Reporting (29 CFR part 4010).  The final rule implements Pension Protection Act of 2006 changes to ERISA section 4010 and makes other modifications and clarifications to the reporting requirements.  PBGC expects to update the e-4010 filing application and related materials (e.g., filing instructions) within a few days.  Until the application is updated, filers should not attempt to enter data for post-PPA filing; such data will be lost when the application is updated.  However, first-time filers may log on to the application to set up an account and familiarize themselves with the application, through here. The first filings under the new rules were due April 15, 2009.

On November 23, 2009, PBGC published:

  • A Request For Public Comment on purchases of irrevocable commitments to provide plan benefits before initiating a standard termination under ERISA section 4041. Comments are due by January 22, 2010;
  • A Proposed Rule that would conform PBGC’s reportable events regulation under section 4043 of ERISA and several other PBGC regulations to statutory and regulatory changes resulting from the Pension Protection Act of 2006. The proposed rule also would eliminate most of the automatic waivers and filing extensions, add two new reportable events, and make some other changes and clarifications. Comments on the proposed rule are due by January 22, 2010;
  • Asked the Office of Management and Budget a request for approval of changes to the reporting requirements under ERISA Part 4043; 
  • Issued Technical Update 09-4, which extends guidance provided in Technical Update 09-1 and Technical Update 09-3 for 2010 plan years. PBGC expects to supersede the guidance in Technical Update 09-4 with a final rule amending the reportable events regulation sometime during 2010.

On December 1, 2009, PBGC:

  • Published a Final Rule amending its valuation regulation by substituting a new table for selecting a retirement rate category. The new table applies to any plan being terminated either in a distress termination or involuntarily by the PBGC with a valuation date falling in 2010.
  • Published a Final Rule removing the maximum guarantee table from its benefit payment regulation and telling the public where to find maximum guaranteeable benefits on its Web site. The maximum guaranteeable monthly benefit for 2010 is $4,500.00 (unchanged from 2009).
  • Published a Notice stating that the per-participant flat-rate premium for single-employer plans for plan year 2010 is $35.00 (up from $34.00 for Plan Year 2009) and $9.00 (unchanged from Plan Year 2009) for multiemployer plans. By law, the premium rates are adjusted for inflation each year based on changes in the national average wage index. The notice states that no further flat premium rate notices will be published in the Federal Register and tells the public where to find flat premium rates on its Web site.  

On December 4, 2009, PBGC  submitted draft information requirements to the Office of Management and Budget in connection with PBGC’s pending Proposed Rule on Reportable Events are now available on PBGC’s Web site. PBGC has posted the information that would be required (under the proposed rule) to be reported on Form 10, Form 10-A, and Form 200 and the corresponding draft instructions.

Previously, during 2009, the PBGC also:

  • Announced an increase in the per-participant flat-rate premium for plan year 2010 to $35.00 for single-employer plans (up from $34.00 for plan year 2009) and to $9.00 for multiemployer plans (unchanged from plan year 2009).
  • Published certain relief for certain small plans from part 4043 reporting requirements if a required quarterly contribution for the 2009 plan year is not timely made to a plan, and the failure to make the contribution is not motivated by financial inability under Technical Update 09-3.. The Technical Update waives reporting in such cases if the plan has fewer than 25 participants and provides a simplified reporting requirement if the plan has at least 25 but fewer than 100 participants.
  • Issued Technical Update 09-2, which allows 4010 filers to determine benefit liabilities for 4010 reporting purposes using the form of payment assumption described in 29 CFR § 4044.51 (generally an annuity form of payment).  This is an alternative to the form-of-payment-assumption under § 4010.8(d)(2)(i) of PBGC’s Final Regulation On 4010 Reporting, which requires filers to use the form-of-payment assumption for determining the minimum required contribution.
  • Updated the e-4010 filing application and related materials have been updated to reflect changes in the March 16, 2009 Final Rule. The application is now available to accept post-Pension Protection Act of 2006 filings.

Free December 10 Study Group Teleconference Examines New Requirements

Persons concerned about these issues may wish to consider participating in a free one hour “Study Group” conference call that the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group (Group) plans to host December 10, 2009, at 1 PM Eastern, Noon Central, 11 AM Mountain and 10 AM Pacific.  The Study Group will explore a number of current/breaking issues of interest to practitioners and their clients dealing with single-employer defined benefit plans. Key topics will include:

  • Recent Regulatory Guidance on Funding and Benefit Restrictions
  • Mandatory and Optional Amendments to be Adopted by 2009 Plan Year End
  • PBGC Proposal to Eliminate Most Reporting Waivers and Extensions (and PBGC Interim Guidance)
  • Pre-Standard Termination Irrevocable Commitment Purchases (PBGC Comment Request)
  • Update on PBGC Pursuit of “Downsizing” Liability (ERISA Section 4062(e)).

The conference call will be moderated by:

  • Group Chair, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP, Dallas, TX;
  • Group’s Plan Termination Committee Chair, Harold Ashner, Keightley & Ashner LLP, Washington, DC, and
  • Group’s Plan Termination Committee Vice-Chair, Henry Talavera, Hunton & Williams LLP, Dallas, TX.

Interested persons can participate in the Study Group by dialing 1-800-504-8071 and entering the passcode 9885683.  To assist the Group in anticipating the number of participants, the Group encourages those planning to participate to e-mail Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at here to RSVP.

Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Attorneys Can Help

If your business needs assistance with distressed or bankruptcy company, defined benefit plan funding or other employee benefit, human resources, corporate ethics, and compliance practices, or other related concerns or in responding to restructuring and bankruptcy, employment or employee benefits related charges, audits, investigations or suits, please contact Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Corporate Restructuring & Bankruptcy Chair G. Michael Curran at mcurran@cttlegal.com, (214) 270-1402, Employment Practice Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at cstamer@cttlegal.com, (214) 270-2402, or your favorite Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP attorney.

Mr. Curran provides legal counsel on all aspects of out-of-court reorganizations and workouts, as well as bankruptcy proceedings. He has represented debtors, debtors’ and creditors’ committees, and third party purchasers in a variety of complex factual and legal scenarios, and has also acted as special counsel.  His experience includes substantial experience addressing defined benefit and other employee benefit and human resources issues arising in connection with restructuring, bankruptcy and other significant business events and transactions.

Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers, fiduciaries, bankruptcy trustees, investors, purchasers and others about defined benefit plan and other employee benefit, labor and employment, compensation and other related concerns involved with distressed businesses or benefit plans, bankruptcy and restructuring transactions and other corporate or plan related events. Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a Joint Committee on Employee Benefit Council Member, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented these and other business clients on employee benefit, labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 20 years.  Her experience includes significant experience representing and advising employee benefit plan sponsors,  fiduciaries, and service providers and their affiliates; investors, creditors, bankruptcy trustees, and others about employee benefit, labor and employment and related services and compensation concerns affecting transactions involving bankrupt or distressed corporations.  Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters.  Among her many publications is her November, 2009 publication, “Calculation of Minimum Contributions Required For Single Employer Pension Plans: The Final Rules for The Measurement of Assets and Liabilities For Pension Funding Purposes under Final Treasury Regulation Section 1.430(d)-1.” Persons interested in a copy of this publication may contact Ms. Stamer.  See here for additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, here to review other recent updates, here  for other articles and publications, and review selected training and presentations here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

Other Information & Resources

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

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

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


Preventive HR Strategies to Minimize Post Holiday Celebration Legal Hangovers

November 30, 2009

As the 2009 Holiday Season moves into full swing, your company may want to take some common sense precautions to minimize the risk of waking up with a post-Holiday Season business liability hangover. The music, food, game playing, toasting with alcohol and other aspects of the celebratory atmosphere at holiday parties and in the workplace during the Holiday Season heighten the risk that certain employees or other business associates will engage in, or be subject to, risky or other inappropriate behavior that can create liability exposures or other business concerns for your business.

Discrimination & Sexual Harassment

Whether company-sponsored or not, holiday parties and other celebrations where employees celebrate with other employees or clients tend to fuel bad behavior by inviting fraternization, lowering inhibitions and obscuring the line between appropriate and inappropriate social and business behavior.

The relaxation of the environment heightens the risk that certain employees or clients will make unwelcome sexual advances, make sexually suggestive or other inappropriate statements, or engage in other actions that expose the business to sexual harassment or other employment discrimination liability. To minimize these exposures, businesses should take steps to communicate and reinforce company policies and expectations about sexual harassment, discrimination, fraternization and other conduct viewed as inappropriate by the company.  The company should caution employees that the company continues to expect employees and business partners to adhere to company rules against sexual harassment and other inappropriate discrimination at company sponsored and other gatherings involving other employees or business associates.  To enhance the effectiveness of these reminders, a company should consider providing specific guidance about specific holiday-associated activities that create heightened risks.  For instance, a business that anticipates its employees will participate in white elephant or other gift exchanges involving other employees or business associates may wish to specifically include a reminder to exercise care to avoid selecting a gift that may be sexually suggestive or otherwise offensive.  Businesses also may want to remind employees that the company does not expect or require that employees submit to unwelcome sexual or other inappropriate harassment when participating in parties or other social engagements with customers or other business partners. 

Businesses also should use care to manage other discrimination exposures in the planning of holiday festivities, gift exchanges, and other activities.  Exercise care to ensure that business connected holiday parties, communications, gifts and other December festivities reflect appropriate sensitivity to religious diversity.  Businesses also should be vigilant in watching for signs of inappropriate patterns of discrimination in the selection of employees invited to participate in company-connected social events as well as off-duty holiday gatherings sponsored by managers and supervisors.

Alcohol Consumption

The prevalence of alcohol consumption during the Holiday Season also can create a range of business concerns.  Most businesses recognize that accidents caused by alcohol intoxication at work or work-related functions create substantial liability exposures both to workers and any third parties injured by a drunken employee.  Businesses also may face “dram shop” claims from family members or other guests attending company sponsored functions injured or injure others after being allowed to over-imbibe.  To minimize these risks at company-sponsored events, many companies elect not to serve or limit the alcohol served to guests at company sponsored events.  To support the effectiveness of these efforts, many businesses also choose to prohibit or restrict the consumption of guest provided alcohol at company events.

Businesses concerned with these liability exposures should take steps to manage the potential risks that commonly arise when employees or clients consume alcohol at company sponsored events or while attending other business associated festivities. Businesses that elect to serve alcohol at company functions or anticipate that employees will attend other business functions where alcohol will be served need to consider the potential liability risks that may result if the alcohol impaired judgment of an employee or other guest causes him to injure himself or someone else.  Any company that expects that an employee might consume alcohol at a company sponsored or other business associated event should communicate clearly its expectation that employees not over-imbibe and abstain from driving under the influence.  Many businesses also find it beneficial to redistribute information about employee assistance programs (EAPs) along with this information.  You can find other tips for planning workplace parties to minimize alcohol related risks on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website here.

When addressing business related alcohol consumption, many businesses will want to consider not only alcohol consumption at business related events as well as potential costs that may arise from off-duty excess alcohol consumption. Whether resulting from on or off duty consumption, businesses are likely to incur significant health and disability related benefit costs if an employee is injured in an alcohol-related accident.  Furthermore, even when no injury results, productivity losses attributable to excess alcohol consumption, whether on or off duty, can prove expensive to business.  Accordingly, virtually all businesses can benefit from encouraging employees to be responsible when consuming alcohol in both business and non-business functions.

Businesses also may want to review their existing health and other benefit programs, liability insurance coverage and employment policies to determine to ensure that they adequately protect and promote the company’s risk management objectives.  Many health and disability plans incorporate special provisions affecting injuries arising from inappropriate alcohol use as well as mental health and alcohol and drug treatment programs.  Similarly, many businesses increasingly qualify for special discounts on automobile and general liability policies based upon representations that the business has in effect certain alcohol and drug use policies.  Businesses can experience unfortunate surprises if they don’t anticipate the implications of these provisions on their health benefit programs or liability insurance coverage. Reviewing these policies now to become familiar with any of these requirements and conditions also can be invaluable in helping a business to respond effectively if an employee or guest is injured in an alcohol-related accident during the Holiday Season.

Concerned employers may want to listen in on the “Plan Safe Office Parties this Holiday Season” seminar that the National Safety  Council plans to host on December 9, 2009 from 10:30 a.m. -11:30 a.m. Central Time. For more information or to register call (800) 621-7619 or see here.

Gift Giving & Gratuities

The exchange of gifts during the Holiday Season also can raise various concerns. As a starting point, businesses generally need to confirm that any applicable tax implications arising from the giving or receiving of gifts are appropriately characterized and reported in accordance with applicable tax and other laws.  Government contractors, health industry organizations, government officials and other entities also frequently may be required to comply with specific statutory, regulatory, contractual or ethical requirements affecting the giving or receiving of gifts or other preferences.  In addition to these externally imposed legal mandates, many businesses also voluntarily have established conflict of interest, gift giving or other policies to minimize the risk that employee loyalty or judgment will be comprised by gifts offered or received from business partners or other outsiders.   Businesses concerned about these and other issues may want to review the adequacy of current business policies affecting gifting and adopt and communicate any necessary refinements to these policies.  To promote compliance, businesses also should consider communicating reminders about these policies to employees and business associates during the Holiday Season. Even a simple e-mail reminder to employees that the company expects them to be familiar with and comply with these policies can help promote compliance and provide helpful evidence in the event that an employee engages in an unauthorized violation of these rules.

Performance, Attendance & Time Off

Businesses also commonly face a range of attendance and productivity concerns during December.  The winter cold and flu season and other post-celebration illnesses, vacations, and winter weather inevitably combine to fuel a rise in absenteeism in December. Managing staffing needs around the legitimate requests for excused time off by employees presents real challenges for many businesses.  Further complications can arise when dealing with employees suspected of mischaracterizing the reason for their absence or otherwise gaming the company’s time off policies.  Meanwhile, performance and productivity concerns also become more prevalent as workers allow holiday shopping, personal holiday preparations, and other personal distractions to distract their performance.  Businesses concerned with these challenges ideally will have in place well-designed policies concerning attendance, time off and productivity that comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act and other laws. Businesses should exercise care when addressing productivity and attendance concerns to investigate and document adequately their investigation before imposing discipline. Businesses also should ensure that their policies are appropriately and even-handedly administered.  They also should exercise care to follow company policies, to maintain time records for non-exempt workers, to avoid inappropriately docking exempt worker pay, and to provide all required notifications and other legally mandated rights to employees taking medical, military or other legally protected leaves. In the event it becomes necessary to terminate an employee during December, careful documentation can help the business to defend this decision.  Furthermore, businesses should be careful to ensure that all required COBRA notifications, certificates of creditable coverage, pension and profit-sharing notice and distribution forms, and other required employment and employee benefit processes are timely fulfilled.

Timely Investigation & Notification

Businesses faced with allegations of discrimination, sexual harassment or other misconduct also should act promptly to investigate any concerns and if necessary, take appropriate corrective action.  Delay in investigation or redress of discrimination or other improprieties can increase the liability exposure of a business presented with a valid complaint and complicate the ability to defend charges that may arise against the business.  Additionally, delay also increases the likelihood that a complaining party will seek the assistance of governmental officials, plaintiff’s lawyers or others outside the corporation in the redress of his concern.

If a report of an accident, act of discrimination or sexual harassment or other liability related event arises, remember to consider as part of your response whether you need to report the event to any insurers or agencies.  Injuries occurring at company related functions often qualify as occupational injuries subject to worker’s compensation and occupational safety laws.  Likewise, automobile, employment practices liability, and general liability policies often require covered parties to notify the carrier promptly upon receipt of notice of an event or claim that may give rise to coverage, even though the carrier at that time may not be obligated to tender a defense or coverage at that time.

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

Other Information & Resources

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

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

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


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

November 30, 2009

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

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

Preventing, Recognizing & Mitigating Risks of H1N1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CDC recommends individuals diagnosed with H1N1 flu should:

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

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

Employers Must Employment Discrimination & Other Legal Compliance Risks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Information & Resources

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

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

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


Proposed Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Bill Would Obligate Chemical Facilities To New Background Check, HR & Other Safety & Security Safeguards

November 16, 2009

“The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2009” (“Act”) recently passed by the House of Representatives and awaiting Senate consideration, if enacted, will require U.S. businesses that own or operate “chemical facilities” to conduct security background checks on employees and certain other individuals and implement a detailed and expensive list of other new security processes.

By tightening the regulation of security practices at chemical facilities, Title XXI of the Act seeks to strengthen the security of chemical facilities against terroristic acts or other threats. Businesses manufacturing or handling chemicals or other substances that could cause them to be considered “chemical facilities” should carefully watch this legislation and, if appropriate, communicate any relevant input or concerns to members of the Senate promptly. 

The Act would require any facility (“chemical facility”) at which the owner or operator of the facility possesses or plans to possess at any relevant point in time a substance of concern or that that meets other risk-related criteria identified by the Secretary of Homeland Security (the “Secretary”) to implement processes and procedures that would comply with a broad range of risk-based standards established by the Secretary to ensure or enhance the security of a chemical facility against a chemical facility terrorist incident referred to in the Act as “chemical facility security performance standards” (the “Standards”). 

By their express terms and inherently as part of other requirements, the Standards would require that chemical facilities implement a host of new processes and procedures impacting on the selection, credentialing and management of employees and other service providers.  Among other things, for example, the Act would require chemical facilities to:

  • Administer a regularly updated identification system that checks the identification of chemical facility personnel and other persons seeking access to the chemical facility and that discourages abuse through established disciplinary measures;
  • Restrict access to facilities and secure site assets, systems, and technology;
  • Screen and control access to the facility and to restricted areas within the facility by screening or inspecting individuals and vehicles as they enter, measures to deter the unauthorized introduction of dangerous substances and devices that may facilitate a chemical facility terrorist incident or actions having serious negative consequences for the population surrounding the chemical facility;
  • Perform personnel surety for individuals with access to restricted areas or critical assets by conducting appropriate background checks and ensuring appropriate credentials for unescorted visitors and chemical facility personnel, including permanent and part-time personnel, temporary personnel, and contract personnel, including measures designed to verify and validate identity, to check criminal history, to verify and validate legal authorization to work and to identify people with terrorist ties;
  • Develop and require that employees and other member of the workforce comply with new processes, plans and procedures for preventing and responding to chemical facility terrorist incidents and other required procedures for deterring and responding to chemical facility terrorist incidents and threats of those incidents; and
  • Appoint new security officials responsible for overseeing and administering compliance under the Act.

Beyond these and other specific staffing requirements, the Act also would require chemical facilities implement, retrain and require that members of its workforce comply with a broad range of new procedures required under the Standards, including procedures to:

  • Deter chemical facility terrorist incidents through visible, professional, well-maintained security measures and systems, including security personnel, detection systems, barriers and barricades, and hardened or reduced value targets;
  • Deter theft or diversion of a substances of concern, insider sabotage, cyber sabotage, unauthorized onsite or remote access to critical process controls; and other critical product elements, data or systems; and
  • Comply with a host of other mandates.

As part of some of these required procedures, chemical facilities could expect to be required to adopt and train employees on their specific roles or responsibilities for deterring or responding to a chemical facility terrorist incident

Furthermore, the oversight and enforcement powers granted to the Secretary under the also would create a host of new employer retaliation and whistleblower exposures.  The Act would prohibit employer retaliation, implement new whistleblower safeguards and remedies and grant the Secretary the right to offer non-supervisory employees the opportunity to confidentially communicate information relevant to the employer’s compliance or non-compliance of the chemical facility with the Act or its implementing regulations;  It also would grant “an employee representative of each certified or recognized bargaining agent at the covered chemical facility, if any, or, if none, a non-supervisory employee … the opportunity to accompany the Secretary during a physical inspection of such covered chemical facility for the purpose of aiding in such inspection, if representatives of the owner or operator of the covered chemical facility will also be accompanying the Secretary on such inspection.”

These and other provisions could impose significant new burdens, costs and liabilities on businesses considered to be operating chemical facilities.  Since the precise list of businesses likely to fall within that definition would be decided by the Secretary, businesses in manufacturing, energy, pharmaceutical, or other industries that could fall within the scope of this definition should evaluate the potential implications and if appropriate, communicate any relevant input to Congress.

If you have questions about or need assistance with evaluation and responding to the provisions of the Act or any other employment, compensation, employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance practices, concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation and employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 20 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

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

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

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


US and UK Agree to Share Information & Cooperate On Pension Security As US Defined Benefit Plan Sponsors Face Tough New Defined Benefit Plan Funding Requirements

November 5, 2009

Rising business failures, constricting budgets, employment losses and other business and workforce dislocations associated with the recent economic downturn are adding new urgency to efforts by U.S. and international leaders to act to mitigate threats to the security of worker pensions.   

In response to these concerns, the U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC), the United Kingdom’s The Pensions Regulator and Pension Protection Fund recently have reached an information sharing agreement intended to help the agencies in both countries protect retirement benefits earned by workers and retirees on both sides of the Atlantic.  Meanwhile, businesses that sponsoring defined benefit pension plans now are required to comply with newly released final Internal Revenue Service regulations that increase minimum contributions required by many sponsors, and impose other new mandates designed to accelerate plan funding and otherwise promote greater security of these benefit programs in an economically challenged business environment. 

Under a Memorandum of Understanding, signed on November 4, 2009, the three agencies will share any unrestricted information that advances the security of defined benefit plans sponsored by private sector companies. Confidential financial information from those companies will not be shared. While the agreement facilitates broad access to data, intelligence, and other records, it is not legally binding. Additionally, the agencies are not compelled to lend assistance to each other, especially if legal proceedings are underway, and such assistance would be contrary to the interests of either country.  The agreement can be canceled at any time by any party.

The Pensions Regulator oversees private sector defined benefit plans in the UK and is charged with protecting the retirement benefits of plan members. The Regulator is also charged with reducing the risk of claims for compensation from the Pension Protection Fund (PPF). The PPF was created to pay compensation to members of eligible defined benefit pension plans when the plan’s sponsor was unable to pay benefits.

The PBGC is a federal corporation created under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. It currently guarantees payment of basic pension benefits earned by 44 million American workers and retirees participating in over 29,000 private-sector defined benefit pension plans. The agency receives no funds from general tax revenues. Operations are financed largely by insurance premiums paid by companies that sponsor pension plans and by investment returns.

The Memorandum of Understanding is one of a variety of actions that the U.S. regulators are taking as part of their efforts to shore up the security of private retirement benefits and funding. On October 15, 2009, the Internal Revenue Service published final regulations regarding the “Measurement of Assets and Liabilities for Pension Funding Purposes; Benefit Restrictions for Underfunded Pension Plans” construing the amended single employer defined benefit plan minimum funding rules in Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) §§ 430(d), 430(f), 430(g), 430(h)(2), 430(i), and 436, added to the Code by the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA ’06), Public Law 109-280 (120 Stat. 780) taking into account subsequent amendments made by the Worker, Retiree, and Employer Recovery Act of 2008 (WRERA ’08), Public Law 110-458 (122 Stat. 5092). These new final regulations implement new federal rules that accelerate the time within which employers are required to fund defined benefit retirement benefit commitments made in single employer defined benefit pension plans and impose other complicated new requirements intended to improve the funding and security of these programs.  As implementation of these new rules proceeds, the PBGC is working to respond to the growing wave defined benefit pension plans whose plan sponsors have already gone bankrupt or otherwise have proven unable to meet already existing funding obligations.

If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating or complying these minimum funding rules or other employee benefit, employment, compensation, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance practices, concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer has more than 20 years experience advising and representing employers, plan sponsors and fiduciaries, and others about these and other related workforce, benefits, compensation and compliance matters.  Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

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

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

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 

 


EEOC Prepares To Broaden “Disability” Definition Under ADA Regulations

September 18, 2009

Proposed regulations modifying existing Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rules concerning the conditions that an individual must meet to qualify as having a “disability” for purposes of claiming protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are expected to be published in the Federal Register the week of September 21, 2009.

On September 16, 2009, the EEOC announced that Commissioners had approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Proposed Regulation) which would make several significant changes to the its current regulatory definition of the term “disability” for purposes of the ADA.  The EEOC announced this week that the Proposed Regulation is expected to be published in the Federal Register the week of September 21, 2009.  Interested persons will have 60 days from the publication date of the Proposed Rule to submit comments to the EEOC concerning the Proposed Regulation.

Why The Change?

The proposed changes are intended to respond to amendments enacted under the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), which took effect January 1, 2009.   Enacted on September 25, 2008, the ADAAA made a number of significant changes to the definition of “disability” in the ADA as well as directed EEOC to amend its existing ADA regulation to reflect the changes made by the ADAAA.

The ADAAA amendments to the ADA definition of “disability” make it easier for certain individuals alleging employment discrimination based on disability to establish disability status under the ADA’s definition of “disability” by overruling various Supreme Court holdings and portions of EEOC’s existing ADA regulations considered by many members of Congress as too narrowly applying the definition of “disability.”  

While the ADAAA retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment, provisions of the ADAAA that took effect on January 1, 2009 change the required interpretation of these terms.  Under the ADAAA, “major life activities” now include both many activities that the EEOC has recognized (e.g., walking) as well as activities that EEOC has not specifically recognized (e.g., reading, bending, and communicating), as well as major bodily functions (e.g., “functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions”). 

In addition to these clarifications, the ADAAA also broadens the reach of the ADA’s definition of “disability” in various other respects.  For instance, the ADAAA:

  • Asserts that mitigating measures other than “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses” shall not be considered in assessing whether an individual has a disability;
    Clarifies that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active;
  • Changes the definition of “regarded as” so that it no longer requires a showing that the employer perceived the individual to be substantially limited in a major life activity, and instead says that an applicant or employee is “regarded as” disabled if he or she is subject to an action prohibited by the ADA (e.g., failure to hire or termination) based on an impairment that is not transitory and minor; and
  • Provides that individuals covered only under the “regarded as” prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation.

As part of the required implementation of its provisions, the ADAAA also mandates that the EEOC revise that portion of its existing regulations defining the term “substantially limits” and “major life activities” to comport to the changes enacted by the ADAAA.  In response to this statutory direction, the Proposed Regulation to be published next week proposes changes both to the ADA regulation itself and to the Interpretive Guidance (also known as the Appendix) that was published at the same time as the original ADA regulation. See 29 C.F.R. section 1630.  The Appendix provides further explanation from the EEOC on how its ADA regulations should be interpreted.

About The New Guidance and Proposed Regulations

In anticipation of the publication of the Proposed Regulation, the EEOC on September 16, 2009 sought to provided a peek into its new post-ADAAA construction of the ADA definition of disability by releasing its “Questions and Answers on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the ADA Amendments Act of 2008” Questions and answers on the Notice of Proposed Rulingmaking for the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (the “Q&As”). 

The Q&As and other EEOC statements released this week indicate that the Proposed Regulation will emphasize that the definition of disability — an impairment that poses a substantial limitation in a major life activity — must be construed broadly. It will provide that that major life activities include “major bodily functions;” that mitigating measures, such as medications and devices that people use to reduce or eliminate the effects of an impairment, are not to be considered when determining whether someone has a disability; and that impairments that are episodic or in remission, such as epilepsy, cancer, and many kinds of psychiatric impairments, are disabilities if they would “substantially limit” major life activities when active. The regulation also will provides a streamlined means through which persons claiming disability may demonstrate a substantial limitation in the major life activity of working, and implements the ADAAA’s new standard for determining whether someone is “regarded as” having a disability.

Required Response

Employers face increasing exposure to disability claims as a result of the ADAAA amendments, new genetic information nondiscrimination rules enacted under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), and a heightened emphasis on disabilities discrimination law enforcement by the Obama Administration.  In light of this rising exposure, employers and others covered by the ADA should evaluate their existing practices in light of the Q&As and make adjustments, submit comments regarding the Proposed Regulations or both as part of their efforts to manage their organization’s ADA liability exposure.  Because the ADAAA already is in effect, employers already face the possibility of being called upon to defend their hiring and employment practices under the amended ADAAA definition of disability, even though the EEOC has not issued final guidance.  For this reason, it is important that employers take timely action both to update relevant written policies and procedures, as well as to change hiring and other operational processes, conduct training, implement appropriate oversight and monitoring and take other steps to mitigate these exposures.

If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to the  Proposed Regulations, the Q&As, or other employment, compensation, employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance practices, concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation and employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 20 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here

Other Information & Resources

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

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

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


Register Now For HITECH Act Health Data Security & Breach Update: Learn What You Must Do This Month To Comply With New Health Data Breach Regulations

September 2, 2009

September 10, 2009 – Noon to 1:30 P.M. Central Time       Participate In Person or Via Remote!

Health care providers, health plans, health clearinghouses and their business associates (Covered Entities) must comply with the new “Breach Notification For Unsecured Protected Health Information” regulation (Breach Regulation) by September 23, 2009. 

Catch up on what the Breach Rule means for your organization and how it must respond by participating in the “HITECH Act Health Data Security & Breach Update” on Thursday, September 10, 2009 from Noon to 1:30 P.M. Central Time for a registration fee of $45.00. Registrants will have the option to participate via teleconference or in person at the offices of Curran Tomko Tarski LLP, 2001 Bryan Street, Suite 2050, Dallas Texas 75201.  For information about registering for this program or other questions here,

The Breach Rule requires Covered Entities to notify affected individuals following a “breach” of “unsecured” protected health information. Just published August 24th, the Breach Regulation is part of a series of guidance that HHS is issuing to implement new and stricter personal health information privacy and data security requirements for Covered Entities added to HIPAA under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act signed into law on February 17, 2009 as part of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).  The briefing will cover:

  • Who must comply, health plans, employers, others?
  • What your organization must do
  • How to qualify protected health information as exempt from the breach regulations as “secure” protected health information
  • What is considered a breach of unsecured protected health information
  • What steps must a covered entity take if a breach of unsecured protected information happens
  • What liabilities do covered entities face for non-compliance
  • What new contractual requirements, policies and procedures Covered Entities and Business Associates will need
  • How the Breach Regulation, the Privacy Regulation, impending FTC red flag rules and state data breach and privacy rules interrelate
  • Other recent developments
  • Practical tips for assessing, planning, moving to and defending compliance
  • Participant questions
  • More

About The Presenter

The program will be presented by Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP Health Care & Employee Benefits Practice Leader and Partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Ms. Stamer is nationally known for her work, publications and presentations on privacy and security of health and other sensitive information in health and managed care, employment, employee benefits, financial services, education and other contexts.  Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 20 years experience advising clients about health and other privacy and security matters.  A popular lecturer and widely published author on privacy and data security and other related health care and health plan matters, Ms. Stamer is the Editor in Chief of the forthcoming 2010 edition of the Information Security Guide to be published by the American Bar Association Information Security Committee in 2010, as well as the author of “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security Beyond HIPAA,” and a host of other highly regarded publications. She has continuously advises employers, health care providers, health insurers and administrators, health plan sponsors, employee benefit plan fiduciaries, schools, financial services providers, governments and others about privacy and data security, health care, insurance, human resources, technology, and other legal and operational concerns. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management matters.  Her insights on health care, health insurance, human resources and related matters appear in the Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  For additional information about Ms. Stamer, her experience, involvements, programs or publications, see here

We hope that this information is useful to you.  If you need assistance monitoring, evaluating or responding to these or other compliance, risk management, transaction or operation concerns, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, at (214) 270-2402, cstamer@cttlegal.com or another Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Partner of your choice.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information 

If you find this of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on our electronic Curran Tomko Tarski LLP publications available for review here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here. You can access other recent updates and other informative publications and resources provided by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys and get information about its attorneys’ experience, briefings, speeches and other credentials here.

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

©2009 Solutions Law Press.   All rights reserved.


Employer & Other Health Plans & Other HIPAA-Covered Entities & Their Business Associates Must Comply With New HHS Health Information Data Breach Rules By September 23

August 24, 2009

Employer and other health plans, health care providers, health clearinghouses and their business associates must start complying with new federal data breach notification rules on September 23, 2009.   

The new “Breach Notification For Unsecured Protected Health Information” regulation (Breach Regulation) published here  in today’s Federal Register requires health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses and their business associates (Covered Entities) covered under the personal health information privacy and security rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) to notify affected individuals following a “breach” of “unsecured” protected health information.The Breach Regulation is part of a series of guidance that HHS is issuing to implement new and stricter personal health information privacy and data security requirements for Covered Entities added to HIPAA under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act signed into law on February 17, 2009 as part of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). 

You are invited to catch up on what these new rules mean for your organization and how it must respond by participating in the “HITECH Act Health Data Security & Breach Update” on Wednesday, September 9 2009 from Noon to 1:30 P.M. Central Time.  

HITECH Act Data Breach and Unsecured PHI Rules 

Published in the August 24, 2009 Federal Register, the new Breach Regulation implements the HITECH Act requirement that Covered Entities and their business associates notify affected individuals, the Secretary of HHS, and in some cases, the media, when a breach of “unsecured protected health information” happens and the form, manner, and timing of that notification. Covered Entities must begin complying with the new Breach Regulation on September 23, 2009.

Part of a series of new HHS rules implementing recent changes to HIPAA enacted under the HITECH Act to strengthen existing federally mandates requiring Covered Entities to safeguard protected health information, the Breach Regulation will obligate Covered Entities and business associates to provide certain notifications following a breach of “protected health information” that not secured at the time of the breach through the use of a technology or methodology meeting minimum standards issued by HHS pursuant to other provisions of the HITECH Act.

Under the HITECH Act, the breach notification obligations contained in the Breach Notification only apply to a breach of “unsecured protected health information.” The Breach Regulation exempts breaches of protected health information that qualify as “secured” under separately issued HHS and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) standards for encryption and destruction of protected health information from its breach notification requirements.  

 For purposes of the HITECH Act, electronic protected health information is considered “unsecured” unless the Covered Entity has satisfied certain minimum standards for the protection of that data established pursuant to the HITECH Act.  Earlier this year, HHS and the FTC issued interim rules defining the minimum encryption and destruction technologies and methodologies that Covered Entities must use to render protected health information unusable, unreadable, or indecipherable to unauthorized individuals for purposes of determining when protected health information is “unsecured” for purposes of the HITECH Act.  Concurrent with its publication of the Breach Regulation, HHS also released guidance updating and clarifying this previously issued guidance. 

Read the Breach Regulation here .  To review the HITECH Act Breach Notification Guidance and Request for Information, see here .

Register For September 9, 2009  “HITECH Act Health Data Security & Breach Update”

Interested persons are invited to register here now  to learn what these new rules mean for your organization and how it must respond by participating in the “HITECH Act Health Data Security & Breach Update” on Wednesday, September 9, 2009 from Noon to 1:30 P.M. Central Time. For a registration fee of $45.00, registrants will have the option to participate via teleconference or in person at the offices of Curran Tomko Tarski LLP, 2001 Bryan Street, Suite 2050, Dallas Texas 75201.  For questions or other information about this program, e-mail here.

Conducted by Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP Partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, the briefing will cover: 

  • Who must comply
  • What your organization must do
  • How to qualify protected health information as exempt from the breach regulations as “secure” protected health information
  • What is considered a breach of unsecured protected health information
  • What steps must a covered entity take if a breach of unsecured protected information happens
  • What liabilities do covered entities face for non-compliance
  • What new contractual requirements, policies and procedures Covered Entities and Business Associates will need
  • How the Breach Regulation, the Privacy Regulation, impending FTC red flag rules and state data breach and privacy rules interrelate
  •  Other recent developments
  • Practical tips for assessing, planning, moving to and defending compliance
  • Participant questions
  • More

About The Presenter

The program will be presented by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Ms. Stamer is nationally known for her work, publications and presentations on privacy and security of health and other sensitive information in health and managed care, employment, employee benefits, financial services, education and other contexts. 

 Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and currently the Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Section and a Council Representative of the ABA Joint Committee On Employee Benefits, Ms. Stamer has more than 20 years experience advising clients about health and other privacy and security matters.  A popular lecturer and widely published author on privacy and data security and other related health care and health plan matters, Ms. Stamer is the Editor in Chief of the forthcoming 2010 edition of the Information Security Guide to be published by the American Bar Association Information Security Committee in 2010, as well as the author of “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security Beyond HIPAA,” and a host of other highly regarded publications. She has continuously advises employers, health care providers, health insurers and administrators, health plan sponsors, employee benefit plan fiduciaries, schools, financial services providers, governments and others about privacy and data security, health care, insurance, human resources, technology, and other legal and operational concerns. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management matters.  Her insights on health care, health insurance, human resources and related matters appear in the Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  For additional information about Ms. Stamer, her experience, involvements, programs or publications, see here.  

We hope that this information is useful to you.  If you need assistance monitoring, evaluating or responding to these or other compliance, risk management, transaction or operation concerns, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, at (214) 270-2402, cstamer@cttlegal.com or another Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Partner of your choice.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on our electronic Curran Tomko Tarski LLP publications available for review here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here. You can access other recent updates and other informative publications and resources provided by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys and get information about its attorneys’ experience, briefings, speeches and other credentials here.

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

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.   All rights reserved. 


Health Plans Must Comply with New HHS Interim Final Data Breach Rules Beginning September 24; Register to Participate In September 10th Briefing on New Rules In Person or Via Telephone

August 20, 2009

Employers and other health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and service providers need to move quickly to prepare to comply with  “breach notification” regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) yesterday (August 19, 2009).  The new data breach regulations will require health plans, as well as  health care providers, business associates and other covered entities (Covered Entities) under the personal health information privacy and security rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability  (HIPAA) to notify affected individuals following a “breach” of “unsecured” protected health information. Scheduled for publication in the Federal Register on August 24, 2009, the new breach notification regulations are part of a series of new rules that implement new electronic personal health information data security and data breach notification requirements for Covered Entities added to HIPAA under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act signed into law on February 17, 2009 as part of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).  Covered entities must begin complying with the new rules no later than September 24, 2009.

Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP Health Practice leader Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will conduct a briefing on these new protected health information data security and data breach rules on Thursday, September 10, 2009 from Noon to 1:30 P.M. Central Time. For a registration fee of $45.00, registrants will have the option to participate via teleconference or in person at the offices of Curran Tomko Tarski LLP, 2001 Bryan Street, Suite 2050, Dallas Texas 75201.  For more information, e-mail here.

 HITECH Act Data Breach and Unsecured PHI Rules

The new data breach notification rules are part of a series of recent HIPAA enacted under the HITECH Act to strengthen the federal rules requiring HIPAA covered entities to safeguard electronic and certain other protected health information. Enhanced data security and data breach rules added as part of these HITECH Act amendments obligate  covered entities and business associates to provide certain notifications following a breach of “unsecured”  “protected health information” within the meaning of HIPAA, as amended.  “Unsecured protected health information” is defined as protected health information that is not secured through the use of a technology or methodology specified by the HHS Secretary.

The new data breach regulations implement the HITECH Act requirement that Covered Entities and their business associates notify affected individuals, the Secretary of HHS, and in some cases, the media, of a breach and the form, manner, and timing of that notification.  For purposes of the HITECH Act, electronic protected health information is considered “unsecured” unless the covered entity has satisfied certain minimum standards for the protection of that data established pursuant to the HITECH Act.  HHS and the Federal Trade Commission previously issued certain initial guidance concerning the HITECH Act standards for determining when electronic personal health information qualifies as secure.  To help further define when electronic health information is treated as “unsecured” and therefore subject to the breach notification requirements, the data breach rules also update and clarify the previously issued existing HHS guidance specifying encryption and destruction as the technologies and methodologies that render protected health information unusable, unreadable, or indecipherable to unauthorized individuals published earlier this year by HHS to for purposes of determining when protected health information will be considered “unsecured” for purposes of the HITECH Act data breach rules.  Entities subject to the HHS and FTC regulations that secure health information as specified by the guidance through encryption or destruction are relieved from having to notify in the event of a breach of such information.  

The HHS interim final regulations are effective September 24, 2009, which is the date 30 days after the date they will be published on the Federal Register and include a 60-day public comment period. To review the interim final data breach regulations, see here.  To review the HITECH Act Breach Notification Guidance and Request for Information, see here.

For More Information

The author of this article, Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP Labor and Employment and Health Care Practice Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting employer and other health plan sponsors, insurers, managed care providers and other health and insurance industry clients about HIPAA and other privacy and data security matters, as well as a diverse range of health care, employment, and emplyee benefit policy, regulatory, compliance, risk management and operational concerns. 

Current Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) Real Property, Trusts & Estates Employee Benefit & Other Compensation Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council member, past chair of the American Bar Association Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, Martindale Hubble AV-rated and recognized in International Who’s Who of Professionals, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health care providers, health care payers and administrators, employers, governments and others about health care, insurance, human resources, privacy and data security, technology, and other legal and operational concerns.  A popular lecturer and widely published author on privacy and data security and other related health care and health plan matters, Ms. Stamer also writes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management matters.  She currently serves as the Editor in Chief of the forthcoming 2010 edition of the Information Security Guide to be published by the American Bar Association Information Security Committee in 2010.  Examples of her other works include “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security Beyond HIPAA,” and a host of others.  Her insights on health care, health insurance, human resources and related matters appear in the Atlantic Information Service Privacy Report, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a various other national and local publications.  For additional information about Ms. Stamer, her experience, involvements, programs or publications, see here.  

We hope that this information is useful to you.  If you need assistance monitoring, evaluating or responding to these or other proposed health care or other regulatory reforms or with other health care compliance, risk management, transaction or operation concerns, please contact the author of this update, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Health Practice Group Chair, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, at (214) 270-2402, cstamer@cttlegal.com or your other favorite Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Partner.

We also encourage you and others to join the discussion about these and other health care reform proposals and concerns by joining the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform Group on Linkedin, registering to receive these updates here.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please register to receive this Solutions Law Press Health Care Update here and be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here. You can access other recent updates and other informative publications and resources provided by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys and get information about its attorneys’ experience, briefings, speeches and other credentials here.

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

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  All rights reserved. 


HHS Reassignment Of HIPAA Enforcement Duties Signals Rising Seriousness of Enforcement Commitment

August 3, 2009

The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) today (August 3, 2009) transferred authority for the administration and enforcement of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Security Rule to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).  Prior to this announcement, responsibility for interpretation and enforcement of the Security Rule rested with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).  The change reflects the growing seriousness of HHS and others about enforcing federal privacy and data security mandates for health information.  HHS anticipates the transfer of authority will eliminate duplication and increase efficiencies in how the department ensures that Americans’ health information privacy is protected.

HHS has the authority for administration and enforcement of the federal standards for health information privacy called for in HIPAA. The Privacy Rule provides federal protections for personal health information held by covered entities and gives patients an array of rights with respect to that information. OCR has been responsible for enforcement of the Privacy Rule since 2003. The Security Rule specifies a series of administrative, technical, and physical security procedures for covered entities to use to assure the confidentiality of electronic protected health information. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), mandated improved enforcement of the Privacy Rule and the Security Rule.

Through a separate delegation, CMS continues to have authority for administration and enforcement of the HIPAA Administrative Simplification regulations, other than privacy and security of health information.

The transfer of Security Rule enforcement authority comes as guidance about new data breach rules for electronic protected health information is impending.  This impending guidance relates to  the implementation of new breach notification rules for covered entities and their business associates concerning their obligation to use of technologies and methodologies that render protected health information unusable, unreadable, or indecipherable to unauthorized individuals, as required by amendments to HIPAA enacted under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act passed as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) last February.  OCR officials have stated that they are working to publish the next set of regulations regarding these new breach notifications before the end of August, 2009. 

In addition to adding the breach notification requirements, the HITECH Act also tightened the HIPAA mandates in several other respects.  Among other things, it amended HIPAA to:

  • Broaden the applicability of the HIPAA’s Privacy Rules and penalties to include business associates;
  • Clarify that HIPAA’s criminal sanctions apply to employees or other individuals that wrongfully use or access PHI held by a covered entity;
  • Increase criminal and civil penalties for HIPAA Privacy Rules violators;
  • Allow State Attorneys General to bring civil damages actions on behalf of certain state citizens who are victims of HIPAA Privacy and Security Rule violations;
  • Modify certain HIPAA use and disclosure and accounting requirements and risks;
  • Prohibits sales of PHI without prior consent;
  • Tighten certain other HIPAA restrictions on uses or disclosures;
  • Tighten certain HIPAA accounting for disclosure requirements;
  • Clarify the definition of health care operations to excludes certain promotional communications; and
  • Expand the Business Associates Agreement Requirements.

These and other developments make it imperative HIPAA covered entities and their business associates take prompt action to immediately review and update their data security and privacy practices to guard against growing liability exposures under HIPAA and other federal and state laws. Covered entities must update policies and practices to avoid these growing liabilities. Business associates that have not already done so also must appoint privacy officers and adopt and implement privacy and data security policies and procedures fully compliant with HIPAA and other applicable federal and state rules, including amendments enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 signed into law on February 17, 2009.

For more information about today’s announcement, see here.  See here for the initial guidance and request for comments issued by HHS regarding these new security standards.

Chair Elect of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Compensation Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits  Council member, and Chair of the Curran Tomko Tarski Labor, Employment & Employee Benefits Practice, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is  nationally and internationally recognized for her work assisting businesses, employee benefit plan fiduciaries and vendors, governments, and other entities to develop administer and defend cost-effective employee benefit other human resources programs, policies and procedures to meet their budgetary, risk management and compliance and other objectives.  Board certified in Labor & Employment law, Ms. Stamer applies her extensive experience regarding employment, employee benefit, tax, privacy and data security and other related laws to assists clients in a wide range of business and litigation contexts.   The co-founder of the Solutions Law Consortium, Ms. Stamer also makes extensive use of cloud computing and other technology in her own practice and provides input to human resources and other clients others about the use of these and other technology tools to manage employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other operations.  In connection with this work, Ms. Stamer has works, writes and consults extensively with a diverse range of clients about  the development, use technology and other processes to streamline health and other benefit, payroll and other human resources, employee benefits, tax, compliance and other business processes and the management and protection of sensitive personal and other information and data.

If your organization or employee benefit plan needs assistance managing or evaluating options or responsibilities associated with the use of technology and data in connection with its health care, employee benefits, tax or other operation or other human resources, employee benefits or and compliance concerns, please contact Ms. Stamer at cstamer@cttlegal.com, (214) 270-2402; or your favorite Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP attorney.  For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see here.

More Information & Resources

You can review other recent human resources, employee benefits and internal controls publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of Ms. Stamer here /the Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information to Cstamer@CTTLegal.com or registering to participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here. For important information concerning this communication click here.    If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to support@SolutionsLawyer.net.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


Businesses Cautioned To Strengthen Investigation & Employment Practices To Minimize Potential Exposure To Retaliation Claims In Light Of Recent Supreme Court Retaliation Decision

July 22, 2009

Businesses that fire or discipline employees increasingly face retaliation claims by disgruntled workers claiming the protection of nondiscrimination and other federal and state whistleblower and anti-retaliation laws. 

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Crawford v. Metropolitan Gov’t of Nashville and Davidson County, No. 06-1595, highlights the need for employers to exercise constant vigilance to potential retaliation claims and the need to act to avoid retaliating, or appearing to retaliate against employees when conducting internal investigations, terminations, promotions or other workforce management activities. While the decision specifically addressed retaliation under Title VII, the use of similar language in other federal laws regulating business conducting – including those covered by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines – makes it likely that the decision has much broader implications.

Technically, the Crawford decision specifically applied to retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) in the context of a sexual harassment complaint investigation.  However, business should anticipate that creative plaintiffs and their legal counsel soon will ask courts to apply the Crawford holding beyond sexual harassment to reach to claims brought by employees claiming injury in retaliation for statements made in relation to investigation of other federal statutes prohibiting retaliation.  A host of federal and state employment and other laws prohibit businesses from retaliating against employees for reporting possible prohibited conduct or seeking to exercise certain rights legally protected rights.  Because many of these statutes use the same or similar language to the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VI, share the same or similar purpose, or both,  businesses should anticipate that certain courts will be inclined to view the Crawford  rationale, if not its holding, as applicable to retaliation claims under certain of these other federal statutory prohibitions.  Accordingly, pending further guidance, most businesses interested in minimizing exposures to retaliation claims will want to design and administer investigations to avoid the impression of illegal retaliation against witnesses in sexual harassment investigations as other investigations where similar anti-retaliation provisions may apply.  Accordingly, most U.S. businesses will treat Crawford as having potential implications both in relation to sexual harassment and other investigations under Title VII as well as investigations conducted other federal laws containing similar anti-retaliation provisions.

The Crawford Decision

In its February 2, 2009 unanimous Crawford decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII protect employees against retaliation for giving a “disapproving account” of unlawful behavior when responding to questions asked during the employer’s investigation of a sexual harassment discrimination, even if the employee took no further overt action to complain about, seek to remedy or stop the misconduct.

Vicky Crawford sued the employer under Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision, which prohibits an employer from terminating a worker because she “has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice” under Title VII.   The Crawford case arose from statements Ms. Crawford made in response questions addressed to her as part of her employer’s investigation of sexual harassment rumors.  Asked if she’d witnessed any inappropriate behavior by a supervisor, Ms. Crawford answered told the employer about a series of harassing acts by the supervisor toward herself.  Besides reporting her experience in reply to employer questions during the investigation, however, Ms. Crawford did not file a sexual harassment complaint or otherwise report her alleged sexual harassment experience to the employer.  Following the interview, the employer did not discipline the supervisor.  However, the employer subsequently fired Ms. Crawford and two other employees who also reported being harassed by the supervisor.  As part of its defense, the employer argued that Ms. Crawford’s report during the course of the investigation did not qualify as “opposition” prohibited under Title VII.  

The question before the Supreme Court was whether simply disclosing an act of harassment in answer to a question constitutes “oppos[ing]” an unlawful practice, or whether – as the court of appeals had held – opposition within the meaning of the provisions requires something more assertive.

 Applying the ordinary meaning of “oppose,” the Supreme Court unanimously found that “When an employee communicates to her employer a belief that the employer has engaged in . . . employment discrimination, that communication virtually always constitutes the employee’s opposition to the activity.”  Accordingly, the Supreme Court ruled that protected opposition under Title VII includes giving a “disapproving account” of unlawful behavior, even if the employee takes no further action on her own to seek to stop or remedy the conduct.

Explaining its conclusions, the Supreme Court stated that a contrary rule that would require a worker to engage in “active, consistent” behavior in order to engage in protected opposition would be inconsistent with common usage.  For example, the Court explained, one can “oppose capital punishment” without doing anything active to end it.  The Supreme Court rejected as “freakish” an interpretation of “opposition” that would protect an employee who reports discrimination on her own initiative but not one who reports the same discrimination in the same words when her boss asks a question.”

While concurring in the unanimous opinion, Justices Alito and Thomas cautioned against reading that opinion too broadly. Their opinion clarifies that in their view, covered opposition must be “active and purposive” to qualify as protected.  Consequently, they warned that the Court’s opinion should not be read to suggest that Title VII protects merely opposing a practice in principle (like opposing capital punishment) without taking any action at all to express that opposition.

 

Other Broader Potential Implications & Lessons From Crawford

Although the report by Ms. Crawford involved her notification to the employer that she too may have been sexually harassed, the implications of the Crawford decision reach more broadly. 

Crawford specifically construed the anti-retaliation provisions of 42 U. S. C. §2000e–3(a), which makes it unlawful “for an employer to discriminate against any . . . employe[e]” who (1) “has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter”, or (2) “has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter”.  This provision of Title VII and other equal employment opportunity laws, as well as the Family & Medical Leave Act and various other employment laws commonly contain similar prohibitions against an employer or business discriminating against protected persons for opposing unlawful practices or making charges, testifying, assisting or participating in investigation of practices prohibited under the applicable employment law.  Consequently, there exists a significant probability that courts will apply the Crawford holding to retaliation claims brought by employees for testimony or other participation in investigation in other equal employment opportunity charges under Title VII and other employment laws.

It also is possible that employees ask the courts to extend the holding of Crawford to retaliation claims brought by employees claiming to have been retaliated against for participating in the investigation of or expressing opposition to illegal practices under a wide range of other statutes.  Beyond the employment context, many other federal laws incorporate similar prohibits against employer discrimination against employees for opposing practices made unlawful under their provisions or providing testimony or participating in investigations of potential violations of their provisions. For example,  in connection with its criminal prohibition of major fraud against the United States, paragraph (h) of 18 U.S.C § 1031 creates a right for individuals discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of employment by an employer because of lawful acts done by the employee on behalf of the employee or others “in furtherance of a prosecution under this section (including investigation for, initiation of, testimony for, or assistance in such prosecution)” to recover for job and seniority reinstatement, 2 times the amount of back pay, interest, litigation costs and reasonable attorneys fees and other special damages.

Given these similarities, pending further guidance, U.S. businesses generally will want to exercise sensitivity when dealing with employees who express opposition, testify or otherwise participate in investigations or prosecutions of potential violations under Title VII and other federal laws that contain the same or similar anti-retaliation provisions. 

Read from this perspective, the Crawford decision highlights the advisability for businesses not to overlook the potential significance of the statements and conduct by employees involved in any internal investigation, performance, or other activity that might later form the basis of a retaliation complaint.  

Businesses generally should listen carefully when conducting investigations, employee counseling and discipline meetings, and exit interviews with an eye out for the need to investigate potential legal violations, defend against retaliation charges, or both.

Although businesses should continue to require employees to report known or suspected discrimination or other prohibited conduct in accordance with a specified formal procedure, the Crawford decision reminds businesses not to overestimate the protection afforded by the establishment of formal reporting procedures. 

Crawford also highlights the need for businesses to be careful to investigate and properly respond to new charges of discrimination or other potential legal or policy violations that may be uncovered in the course of an investigation, disciplinary meeting or exist interview.   

Additionally, businesses also should seek to evaluate the potential implications of their dealings with employees who previously have made charges, participated in investigations, or claimed other protected rights such as taking a protected leave or the like. 

Likewise, as in the defense of other employment claims, Crawford also reflects the value and importance of businesses appropriately documenting performance concerns relating to a specific employee and legitimate business challenges motivating employment actions as they arise, in the event that it subsequently becomes necessary to present evidence of a valid performance or business justification to defend against allegations by an employee claiming to have been discharged or otherwise discriminated against in retaliation for engaging in protected conduct under Title VII or other similar federal anti-retaliation laws.

Finally, businesses should keep in mind the potential value of strong documentation.  When seeking to defend against claims of discrimination or retaliation, the strength of the employer’s documentation often can play a significant role in the cost and ease of defense of the claim or charge.  Businesses should work to prepare and retain documentation not only of allegations, investigations and determinations regarding both employee performance and discipline, as well as the handling of alleged violations of equal employment opportunity or other laws.  Documentation should be prepared and retained on a systematic basis with an eye to strengthening the organization’s ability to prevent and defend against charges that the organization violated the core obligations under the applicable law as well as to defend employment decisions involving employees who may be in a position to assert retaliation claims.

The importance of good investigation and documentation practices takes on particular importance in the current tough economic environment.  While retaliation claims have been rising for many years, the recent economic downturn is fueling an increase in the number of employees seeking to claim protection in the tightening economy based on retaliation or other employment law protections.  Workforce dissention and changes in personnel also can complicate further the ability to defend these claims just as the Department of Labor and other federal regulators are turning up the enforcement heat.  As a result, appropriate investigation and documentation procedures are particularly important in the current environment.

Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Can Help

If your business needs assistance auditing, updating or defending its human resources, corporate ethics, and compliance practices, or responding to employment related or other charges or suits, please contact Ms. Stamer at cstamer@cttlegal.com, (214) 270-2402; or your favorite Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP attorney.  For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see here.

The author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer and other members of Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity and other labor and employment, compensation and employee benefit compliance and risk management concerns, as well as advising ad defending employers against federal and state employment discrimination and other labor and employment, compensation, and employee benefit related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations.  

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on wage and hour and a diverse range of other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 20 years.  

More Information & Resources

You can review other recent human resources, employee benefits and internal controls publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of Ms. Stamer here /the Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information to Cstamer@CTTLegal.com or registering to participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here. For important information concerning this communication click here.    If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to support@SolutionsLawyer.net.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


September 8, 2009 New Deadline For Government Contractors, Subcontractors Deadline To Use E-Verify

June 9, 2009

September 8 now is the deadline for federal government contractors and subcontractors to begin using U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) E-Verify system to verify the eligibility of employees to work in the United States. 

The Obama Administration recently delayed implementation of the final rule requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to use E-Verify to confirm the eligibility of employees to work in the U.S. The Civilian Agency Acquisition Council and the Defense Acquisition Regulations Council (collectively known as the Federal Acquisitions Regulatory Councils) published an amendment in the Federal Register on June 5, 2009, postponing the applicability of the final rule until Sept. 8, 2009. 

As originally published November 14, 2008, the final rule requiring that federal government contractors and subcontractors agree to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their employees went into effect January 19, 2009.  However, the compliance deadline was delayed in January and again in April, 2009 by the Obama Administration.  Prior to the delay granted this month, the deadline to begin using U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) E-Verify system was delayed to June 30, 2009.

Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer and other members of Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with advising and assisting employers and others to respond to proposed legislation and regulations and addressing other leave and other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, and internal controls concerns. If your organization needs assistance with assessing or responding to H.R. 2450 or assistance with leave and absence management or other labor and employment, compensation or benefit concerns or regulations, please contact Ms. Stamer at cstamer@cttlegal.com, (214) 270-2402; or your favorite Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP attorney.  For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

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 Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys at here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information to Cstamer@CTTLegal.com or registering to participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our HR & Employee Benefits Update distributions here. Also stay abreast of emerging internal controls and compliance challenges by registering for our Corporate Compliance, Risk Management & Internal Controls distributions. For important information concerning this communication click here.    If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to support@SolutionsLawyer.net. 

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


Stamer Moderates June 25 ABA Teleconference On When Benefits Lawyers and Other Service Providers Be Sued for Malpractice for Services to ERISA Plans

June 9, 2009

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will moderate a June 25, 2009 teleconference on “Can Benefits Lawyers and Other Service Providers Be Sued for Malpractice for Services to ERISA Plans?”

The telephone conference hosted by the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) is scheduled for Thursday, June 25, 2009 from 1:00-2:00 pm Eastern Time, 12:00-1:00 pm Central Time, 11:00 am-12:00 pm Mountain Time, and 10:00 am-11:00 am Pacific Time.

The teleconference will feature a discussion by Hogan & Hartson LLP attorney Kurt Lawson and AARP Foundation Litigation attorney Mary Ellen Signorille about how the federal precedent governing when and how ERISA preemption affects state malpractice and misfeasance claims against accountants, lawyers, health care providers, actuaries and others has evolved during the five year period since the United State’s Aetna v. Davila decision reframed when ERISA preempts state law malpractice claims and the implications of this precedent on the viability and litigation of these state law malpractice claims.

To register or for additional information, go to here.

About Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

The immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association’s Managed Care & Insurance Section, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a highly regarded legal advisor, author and speaker recognized both nationally and internationally for her expertise in the areas of health benefits and other human resource compliance matters. Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, “Cindy” recently joined Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP as the Chair of its Labor & Employment and Health Care Practices April 1, 2009.

The Managing Editor of Solutions Law Press and an Editorial Advisory Board Member and author for Employee Benefit News and other publications, Ms. Stamer is a widely published author and popular speaker. In addition to hundreds of publications on health plan and other human resources, employee benefit and internal controls issues, Ms. Stamer is the author of the “Health Plan Eligibility Toolkit.” Her work has been featured and published by the American Bar Association, BNA, SHRM, World At Work, Employee Benefit News and the American Health Lawyers Association. Her insights on human resources risk management matters have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, Managed Care Executive, HealthLeaders, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News and the Dallas Morning News.

Ms. Stamer also serves in a number of professional leadership roles including the leadership council of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Vice Chair of the ABA Real Property, Probate & Trust Section and Employee Benefits & Compensation Group.

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer and other members of Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with advising and assisting employers with these and other health plan and other employee benefit,  labor and employment, compensation, and internal controls matters. If your organization needs assistance with assessing, managing or defending its wage and hour or other labor and employment, compensation or benefit practices, please contact Ms. Stamer via e-mail here, or by calling (214) 270-2402.  For additional information about the experience, services, publications and involvements of Ms. Stamer specifically or to access some of her many publications, see here,   For more information and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see the Curran Tomko Tarski Website.

We hope that this information is useful to you. For additional information about the experience, services, publications and involvements of Ms. Stamer specifically or to access some of her many publications, see here,   For more information and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see the Curran Tomko Tarski Website.

 

You can register to receive future updates and information about upcoming programs, access other publications by Ms. Stamer and access other helpful resources here.  If you or someone else you know would like to receive updates about developments on these and other human resources and employee benefits concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here.  If you would prefer not to receive these updates, please send a reply e-mail with “Remove” in the subject line to support@SolutionsLawyer.net. You also can register to participate in the distribution of these updates by registering to participate in the Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update Blog here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


Registration Open For June 23 Dallas HR 2009 Health Plan Eligibility Update Program

June 9, 2009

Amid soaring health care costs and tightening corporate budgets, employers and other group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries and administrations now also must update their group health plan eligibility and enrollment practices to comply with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the “Stimulus Bill”), COBRA subsidy mandates, HIPAA special enrollment rule amendments and a host of other changes to federal eligibility mandates that already have or will take effect this year.  Meanwhile, employers must keep a careful watch on Congress as it considers enacting sweeping health care reforms that are likely to place more obligations on employers.

Health plan eligibility design and administration plays a critical role in controlling health benefit costs and is a leading and growing source of health plan legal risk for employers, fiduciaries and administrators.  Understanding and properly managing these concerns is imperative for employers and others sponsoring or administering these programs.

Stamer Discusses Health Plan Eligibility Rules June 23

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will explain newly effective COBRA Subsidy Rules, genetic information nondiscrimination rules and other recent and impending changes to federal health plan eligibility mandates will be explained on June 23, 2009 during a 2009 Health Plan Eligibility Update briefing hosted by the Dallas Human Resources Management Association including:

Cynthia Stamer will explain to attendees what they need to know and do about:

  • New Stimulus Bill COBRA Subsidy Rules and other special COBRA rules that took effect on February 17
  • New GINA group health plan information scheduled to take place in 2009
  • Changes to HIPAA special enrollment and nondiscrimination rules
  • Implications for group health plans based on recent changes to FMLA and USERRA regulations
  • Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP nondiscrimination rules
  • Impending college student continuation mandates
  • And more….

Get  details or register on line here or by telephoning Dallas Human Resources Management Association at 214-631-8775.

Stamer’s Health Plan Experience Extensive

The immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association’s Managed Care & Insurance Section, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a highly regarded legal advisor, author and speaker recognized both nationally and internationally for her expertise in the areas of health benefits and other human resource compliance matters. Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, “Cindy” recently joined Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP as the Chair of its Labor & Employment and Health Care Practices April 1, 2009.

The Managing Editor of Solutions Law Press and an Editorial Advisory Board Member and author for Employee Benefit News and other publications, Ms. Stamer is a widely published author and popular speaker. In addition to hundreds of publications on health plan and other human resources, employee benefit and internal controls issues, Ms. Stamer is the author of the “Health Plan Eligibility Toolkit.” Her work has been featured and published by the American Bar Association, BNA, SHRM, World At Work, Employee Benefit News and the American Health Lawyers Association. Her insights on human resources risk management matters have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, Managed Care Executive, HealthLeaders, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News and the Dallas Morning News.

Ms. Stamer also serves in a number of professional leadership roles including the leadership council of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Vice Chair of the ABA Real Property, Probate & Trust Section and Employee Benefits & Compensation Group.

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer and other members of Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with advising and assisting employers with these and other health plan and other employee benefit,  labor and employment, compensation, and internal controls matters. If your organization needs assistance with assessing, managing or defending its wage and hour or other labor and employment, compensation or benefit practices, please contact Ms. Stamer via e-mail here, or by calling (214) 270-2402.  For additional information about the experience, services, publications and involvements of Ms. Stamer specifically or to access some of her many publications, see here,   For more information and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see the Curran Tomko Tarski Website.

We hope that this information is useful to you. For additional information about the experience, services, publications and involvements of Ms. Stamer specifically or to access some of her many publications, see here,   For more information and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see the Curran Tomko Tarski Website.

You can register to receive future updates and information about upcoming programs, access other publications by Ms. Stamer and access other helpful resources here.  If you or someone else you know would like to receive updates about developments on these and other human resources and employee benefits concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here.  If you would prefer not to receive these updates, please send a reply e-mail with “Remove” in the subject line to support@SolutionsLawyer.net. You also can register to participate in the distribution of these updates by registering to participate in the Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update Blog here.

 ©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


102 House Members Back New Bill To Mandate Employers Give 56 Hours Paid Leave Per Year

June 9, 2009

Virtually all employers will be require to allow employees provide up to 56 hours of paid if Congress passes the “Healthy Families Act” (H.R. 2460) introduced by Representative Rosa DeLauro with the support of 101 co-sponsors on May 18, 2009.  Given the significant number of co-sponsors already on record as supporting the legislation, employers concerned about the proposed legislation need to act quickly to communicate their concerns to Congress.

If enacted as currently introduced, H.R. 2460 both would significantly expand the number of employers required by federal law to provide sick leave and overlay a mandate to provide paid sick leave in addition to the existing unpaid leave mandates currently applicable under the Family and Medical Leave Act to employers of more than 50 employees.

As proposed, H.R. 2460 would require all employers of 15 or more employees:

  • To accrue at least 1 hour of paid sick time (up to a maximum of 56 hours per calendar year) for every 30 hours worked by each employee from beginning with the first day of employment of the employee.  Exempt employees generally would be assumed to work 40 hours in each workweek for purposes of calculating accrued sick leave;
  • Guarantee employees the right to begin using accrued paid sick time for one of the purposes qualifying for sick leave under H.R. 2460 beginning with the 60th calendar day following commencement of the employee’s employment and thereafter as he accrues additional paid sick time;
  • To allow employees to carry over earned but unused paid sick time from  one calendar year to the next except under certain limited conditions; and
  • To reinstate accrued but unused leave for any employee rehired within 12 months after separating from employment and continue to recognize additional paid sick time accruals beginning with the recommencement of employment with the employer.

The purposes that H.R. 2460 would require employers to allow employees to use accrued sick leave also would be broader than those currently protected under the medical leave provisions of the FMLA.  Under H.R. 2460, employees could use sick leave for any of the following absences:

  • An absence resulting from a physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition of the employee;
  • An absence resulting from obtaining professional medical diagnosis or care, or preventive medical care, for the employee
  • In absence for the purpose of caring for a child, a parent, a spouse, or any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship (a “family member”), who has any of the conditions or needs for diagnosis or care of a physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition or in the case of someone who is not a child, is otherwise in need of care; and
  • An absence resulting from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, if the time is to seek medical attention for the employee or a family member to recover from physical or psychological injury or disability caused by domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking or obtain or assist a family member in obtaining services from a victim services organization, psychological or other counseling; to seek relocation; or to take legal action, including preparing for or participating in any civil or criminal legal proceeding related to or resulting from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

In addition, H.R. 2460 also would require covered employers:

  • To notify employees about their sick leave rights as dictated by H.R. 2460; and
  • Not to discharge or discriminating against (including retaliating against) any individual, including a job applicant, for exercising, or attempting to exercise, any right provided or for opposing any practice made unlawful by H.R. 2460;
  • Not to use the taking of paid sick time under H.R. 2460 as a negative factor in an employment action, such as hiring, promotion, or a disciplinary action;  
  • Not to count the paid sick time under a no-fault attendance policy or any other absence control policy;
  • Not otherwise to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of, or the attempt to exercise, any right provided under H.R. 2460; and
  • Not to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against (including retaliating against) any individual, including a job applicant, because such individual has filed an action, or has instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding, under or related to H.R. 2450; has given, or is about to give, any information in connection with any inquiry or proceeding relating to any right provided under H.R. 2450; or has testified, or is about to testify, in any inquiry or proceeding relating to any right provided under H.R. 2450.

Even before the current economic downturn, many employers already viewed the unpaid leave mandates imposed by the FMLA and other laws as burdensome.  The added costs and complexities of providing more paid time off under another federally imposed mandate couldn’t come at a worse time for many employers.  Given the number of co-sponsors, many commentators view the proposed mandates in H.R. 2450 as likely to pass the House unless businesses act quickly to educate members of Congress about their concerns.

 Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer and other members of Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with advising and assisting employers and others to respond to proposed legislation and regulations and addressing other leave and other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, and internal controls concerns. If your organization needs assistance with assessing or responding to H.R. 2450 or assistance with leave and absence management or other labor and employment, compensation or benefit concerns or regulations, 

If you need help responding to these proposals or with other questions relating to compliance or risk management under other federal or state employment, employee benefits, compensation, or internal controls laws or regulations, please contact Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at (214) 270.2402 or via e-mail here.   Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, “Cindy” works with businesses, speaks and publishes extensively on these and other labor and employment, employee benefit, internal controls and compensation matters.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. For additional information about the experience, services, publications and involvements of Ms. Stamer specifically or to access some of her many publications, see here,   For more information and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see the Curran Tomko Tarski Website.

 

You can register to receive future updates and information about upcoming programs, access other publications by Ms. Stamer and access other helpful resources here.  If you or someone else you know would like to receive updates about developments on these and other human resources and employee benefits concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here.  If you would prefer not to receive these updates, please send a reply e-mail with “Remove” in the subject line to support@SolutionsLawyer.net. You also can register to participate in the distribution of these updates by registering to participate in the Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update Blog here.

 ©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


Congressional Committee To Hold June 4 Hearing On Expanding Veterans’ Employment Rights

June 4, 2009

Employers will face more changes to their responsibilities to employees serving or returning from military service and their families if Congress adopts certain proposed legislation scheduled for hearings by members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs this week. Concerned businesses should communicate any concerns to members of these committees and other Congressional contacts as soon as possible.

As Congress continues to consider additional expansions to existing federal veteran re-employment rights and retraining programs, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs is holding hearings on several pending proposals.  On Thursday, June 4, 2009, for instance:

  • The Subcommittee on Health of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs plans to mark up H.R. 1211, Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act  and then hold a hearing on “Meeting the Needs of Family Caregivers of Veterans” beginning at 10:30 a.m. Eastern in Room 334 Cannon House Office Building; and
  • The Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs plans to hear testimony about a proposal to extend existing military employment leave and reemployment rights to individuals called to full-time National Guard duty set forth in H.R. 1879, the National Guard Employment Protection Act of 2009, at a hearing to consider several pieces of legislation scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 4, 2009 See Hearing Schedule.  

The June 4 hearings are the latest in a series of Congressional activities hearings focusing on promoting employment and health care rights for individuals serving or returning from service in the military and their families. In addition to H.R. 1879, other legislation scheduled for mark up during the Thursday afternoon hearing includes:

  • H.R. 1037, Pilot College Work Study Programs for Veterans Act of 2009 would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to conduct a five-year pilot project to test the feasibility and advisability of expanding the scope of certain qualifying work-study activities under title 38, United States Code;
  • H.R. 1098, Veterans’ Worker Retraining Act of 2009 would increase the amount of educational assistance payments made by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to individuals pursuing an apprenticeship or on-job training under: (1) the Montgomery GI Bill educational assistance program; (2) the Post-Vietnam Era Veterans educational assistance program; (3) the Survivors and Dependents educational assistance program; and (4) the Selected Reserve Montgomery GI Bill educational assistance program.
  • H.R. 1172, Pat Tillman Veterans’ Scholarship Initiative would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to include on the Internet website of the Department of Veterans Affairs a list of organizations that provide scholarships to veterans and their survivors;
  • H.R. 1821, Equity for Injured Veterans Act of 2009 would increase vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits for certain veterans and provide child care reimbursement for certain rehabilitating single veterans; and
  • H.R. 2180, would amend title 38, United States Code, to waive housing loan fees for certain veterans with service-connected disabilities called to active service.

If you need help responding to these proposals or with other questions relating to compliance or risk management under other federal and state military leave and veterans rights laws or regulations, please contact Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at (214) 270.2402 or cstamer@cttlegal.com.   Board Certified In Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, “Cindy” works with businesses, speaks and publishes extensively on these and other labor and employment, employee benefit, internal controls and compensation matters.


Labor Department Gears Up To Enforce COBRA Premium Subsidy Rules

May 29, 2009

Pressure is mounting for group health plans and their employer and other sponsors and administrators to complete the details required to comply with special medical coverage continuation rules (COBRA Subsidy Rules) added to the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, as amended (COBRA) by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Stimulus Bill). 

The U.S. Department of Labor Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) recently (May 21, 2009) announced its appeal process for assistance eligible individuals to use to complain to the EBSA when they believe they wrongfully have been denied a premium subsidy for their group health plan continuation coverage in violation of the temporary modifications (COBRA Subsidy Rules) to the group health plan medical coverage continuation requirements of the COBRA Stimulus Rules.  These are the expedited complaint and appeals procedures mandated under the Stimulus Bill.

The COBRA Subsidy Rules, new genetic information nondiscrimination rules and other recent and impending changes to federal health plan eligibility mandates will be explained on June 23, 2009 during a 2009 Health Plan Eligibility Update briefing hosted by the Dallas Human Resources Management Association.  Get  details or register here.

The Stimulus Bill allows individuals denied the premium subsidy to get expedited review by the EBSA. Under the appeals procedures announced May 21, individuals begin this review process by completing an appeals application available on line at http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/COBRA/main.

Employers and group health plans and their plan administrators and plan insurers have been required to provide notifications and COBRA premium subsidies for certain former employees and their dependents that qualify as assistance eligible individuals and take other actions to comply with the COBRA Subsidy Rules since the COBRA Subsidy Rules took effective on February 17, 2009.  While many employers and plan administrators undertaken some efforts to comply with these new COBRA mandates,  many still have not fully completed all of the compliance arrangements.

With procedures to receive and administer appeals, the EBSA now is prepared to investigate possible violations of the Stimulus Bill COBRA rules.  Accordingly, employers, plan administrators and insurers sponsoring or administering group health plan should prepare to respond to investigations that may be initiated by the filing of a request for EBSA review.

You can read details about the COBRA Subsidy Rules here.

 

Stimulus COBRA Rules In A Nutshell

Congress enacted the COBRA Subsidy Rules that took effect February 17, 2009 to help certain involuntarily terminated former employees and their dependents maintain COBRA coverage by requiring COBRA-covered group health plans temporarily to extend certain special COBRA treatment for “assistance eligible individuals.”

The Stimulus Bill temporarily limits the COBRA premium that a COBRA-covered group health plan can require an “assistance eligible individual” to pay for COBRA Coverage to 35% of the otherwise applicable COBRA premium (the “Reduced Premium”) for a period of up to 9 months (the “Subsidy Period”) beginning with the individual’s first period of COBRA Coverage beginning after February 17, 2009.  The employer or insurer that collects this Reduced Premium must pay the remaining 65% of the COBRA premium (the “COBRA Subsidy”) for the assistance eligible individual during the Subsidy Period.  However, the Stimulus Bill provides for that employer or insurer to claim a payroll tax credit equal to the amount of these COBRA Subsidy payments by complying with applicable IRS procedures. 

The Stimulus COBRA Rules also requires group health plans to offer a second COBRA enrollment period to each assistance eligible individual not enrolled in COBRA Coverage on February 17, 2009.  These second electors must be allowed to elect prospectively to enroll in COBRA coverage until the date that their COBRA Coverage eligibility otherwise would have ended if they had maintained COBRA Coverage since their termination.

Additionally, COBRA-covered group health plans that offer employees different plan options allow assistance eligible individuals the option to change their coverage choice from a higher cost option to a lesser cost option.  Group health plan administrators also must provide certain notifications to assistance eligible individuals concerning these changes.

 

“Assistance Eligible Individuals”

The Stimulus COBRA Rules only apply to qualified beneficiaries whose loss of coverage resulted from the “involuntary termination of employment” of a covered employee. The Stimulus Bill definition of “assistance eligible individual” generally includes any COBRA “qualified beneficiary” who meets all of the following requirements:

ü       Has a loss of coverage within the meaning of COBRA (“qualifying event”) as a result of the “involuntary termination of employment” of a covered employee from September 1, 2008 to December 31, 2009;

ü       Is eligible for COBRA Coverage at any time during the period beginning September 1, 2008 and ending December 31, 2009; and

ü       Elects COBRA coverage when first offered or as during the additional second election period required for assistance eligible individuals not enrolled in COBRA Coverage on February 17, 2009.

IRS Notice 2009-27 defines an “involuntary termination” as “a severance from employment due to the independent exercise of the unilateral authority of the employer to terminate the employment, other than due to the employee’s implicit or explicit request, where the employee was willing and able to continue performing services” based on all the facts and circumstances. 

For COBRA Premium Assistance purposes, the facts and circumstances determine whether a termination is involuntary. Thus, IRS Notice 2009-27 states that a termination designated as voluntary or as a resignation nevertheless will be considered involuntary where the facts and circumstances indicate that the employer would have terminated the employee’s services, and that the employee had knowledge that the employee would be terminated.

Notice 2009-27 identifies as examples of terminations that fall within this definition of “involuntary termination” as including the following facts and circumstances:

ü       The employer’s failure to renew a contract at the time the contract expires, if the employee was willing and able to execute a new contract providing terms and conditions similar to those in the expiring contract and to continue providing the services;

ü       An employee-initiated termination from employment if the termination from employment constitutes a termination for good reason due to employer action that causes a material negative change in the employment relationship for the employee;

ü       An involuntary reduction of hours of employment to zero hours, such as a lay-off, furlough, or other suspension of employment, resulting in a loss of health coverage;

ü       An employee’s voluntary termination of employment in response to an employer imposed reduction of hours of employment where the reduction in hours is a material negative change in the employment relationship for the employee;

ü       An employer’s action to end an individual’s employment while the individual is absent from work due to illness or disability (but not mere absence from work due to illness or disability before the employer has taken action to end the individual’s employment);

ü       A termination designated on account of “retirement” if the facts and circumstances indicate that, absent retirement, the employer would have terminated the employee’s services, and the employee had knowledge that the employee would be terminated;

ü       The covered employee resigned as the result of a material change in the geographic location of employment for the employee;

ü       A lockout initiated by an employer but not a work stoppage as the result of a strike initiated by employees or their representatives; and

ü       A termination elected by the employee in return for a severance package (a “buy-out”) where the employer indicates that after the offer period for the severance package, a certain number of remaining employees in the employee’s group will be terminated

Notice 2009-27 also clarifies that the termination of employment giving rise to the loss of group health plan coverage and the loss of the group health plan coverage both must occur between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009 in order for an individual to qualify as an assistance eligible individual. Consequently, if the involuntary termination occurs before September 1, 2008, but the loss of coverage resulting in eligibility for COBRA Coverage occurs after September 1, 2008 (but no later than December 31, 2009), Notice 2009-28 states that the individual will not qualify as an assistance eligible individual.  Likewise, where an individual’s involuntary termination occurs by December 31, 2009, but the loss of coverage resulting in eligibility for COBRA Coverage occurs after December 31, 2009, the qualified beneficiary will not qualify as an assistance eligible individual for purposes of the Subsidy COBRA Rules.  According to Notice 2009-27, where the involuntary termination of employment and loss of coverage as a covered employee or dependent occur between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009, the election of COBRA Coverage need not occur by December 31, 2009.

Many group health plans are drafted to provide that the date that employee or dependent coverage ends or changes as a result of an employment loss is the last day of the month or some other date after the actual date of the employment termination.  Under group health plans where the loss of coverage due to the qualifying event is delayed, Notice 2009-27 also reminds employers and plan administrators of the need to focus on how group health plan provisions, separation agreements and other related documents define when the loss of coverage occurs under a group health plan when applying these rules.

For purposes of COBRA, Notice 2009-27 states that when a loss of coverage under a group health plan occurs under these circumstances depends on how the group health plan treats the provision of health coverage between the date of the employment loss and the date of the resulting loss of employee and/or dependent coverage. If the plan treats the provision of health coverage as deferring the loss of coverage, Notice 2009-27 indicates the loss of coverage generally occurs when the individual ceases to be entitled to employee or dependent coverage on the same terms and conditions as would have applied had he not experienced the qualifying event.  However, if the plan treats the continued provision of health coverage from the termination date until employee or dependent coverage later ends as a result as reducing the period of required COBRA Coverage, then the loss of coverage occurs on the termination date or other later date.  Appropriate drafting is important to support the desired characterization.

 

Calculation of 35% of COBRA Premium

Based on the guidance in Notice 2009-27, many employers will want to terminate severance or other arrangements under which former employees are allowed to pay less than the maximum COBRA premium for some period of time.  According to Notice 2009-29,.the premium used to determine the 35% share that must be paid by (or on behalf of) an assistance eligible individual is the cost that would be charged to the assistance eligible individual for COBRA Coverage if the individual were not an assistance eligible individual. If absent the Stimulus COBRA Rules, the group health plan would require the assistance eligible individual to pay 102% of the “applicable premium” for continuation coverage, i.e., generally the maximum permitted, the Reduced Premium equals 35% of the 102% of the applicable premium. As no good deed goes unpunished, however, if the premium the group health plan would charge the assistance eligible individual is less than the maximum allowable COBRA premium, the Reduced Premium will be 35% of that lesser amount.  In determining whether an assistance eligible individual has paid 35% of the premium, payments on behalf of the individual by another person (other than the employer with respect to which the involuntary termination occurred) are taken into account.

 

Coverage Eligible For Premium Reduction

Notice 2009-27 also provides guidance about what types of group health plan coverage qualifies for premium reduction.  According to the Notice, the premium reduction is available for COBRA Coverage of any group health plan, except a health flexible spending arrangement (FSA) under section 106(c) offered under a section 125 cafeteria plan. This includes vision-only or dental-only plans, “mini-med plans” and certain health reimbursement accounts (HRAs). 

The Notice 2009-27 distinguishes exempted FSAs from covered health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) for purposes of these rules.  According to Notice 2009-27, while an HRA may qualify as an FSA under section 106(c), the exclusion of FSAs from the premium reduction is limited to FSAs provided through a section 125 cafeteria plan, which would not include an HRA. 

Notice 2009-27 also indicates that retiree coverage can qualify for the premium reduction where the retiree coverage does not differ from the coverage made available to similarly situated active employees.

 

Premium Reduction Period Duration

Notice 2009-27 also provides guidance about when periods of coverage and the Premium Reduction Period begin and end.  Under the Stimulus COBRA Rules, the premium reduction applies as of the first period of coverage beginning on or after February 17, 2009 (February 17, 2009)  for which the assistance eligible individual is eligible to pay only 35% of the premium  and be treated as having made full payment.   For this purpose, a period of coverage is a monthly or shorter period with respect to which premiums are charged by the plan with respect to such coverage.  

According to Notice 2009-27, when the Premium Reduction Period begins for an assistance eligible individual depends on the period the plan charges COBRA premiums.  Where a group health plan requires an individual who loses coverage other than on the last day of the month who wishes to enroll in COBRA Coverage to pay a pro-rata portion of the monthly premium, Notice 2009-27 states the first period of coverage to which the premium reduction applies for an assistance eligible individual who loses coverage after February 17, 2009 generally is the individual’s first partial month of coverage.  A different rule applies when the assistance eligible individual elects COBRA Coverage under the second election period required by the Stimulus Bill Rules, however.  Whether a plan requires COBRA Coverage be paid for based on a calendar month or pro rata basis, March 1, 2009 is the beginning of the first period of coverage within the Premium Reduction Period for any assistance eligible individual enrolling during the second enrollment period and the Reduced Premium only applies to that individual for COBRA Coverage from March 1, 2009 through the end of his otherwise applicable Premium Reduction Period.

 

End Of Premium Reduction Period

An assistance eligible individual ceases to qualify for the premium reduction on the earliest of:

ü       The first date the assistance eligible individual becomes eligible for other group health plan coverage (with certain exceptions) or Medicare coverage,

ü       The date that is nine months after the first day of the first month for which the Stimulus Bill premium reduction provisions apply to the individual, or

ü       The date the individual ceases to be eligible for COBRA Coverage.

Notice 2009-27 confirms that the Premium Reduction Period of an assistance eligible individual ends on the first date he becomes eligible for other group health plan coverage or Medicare effect even if the assistance eligible individual does not enroll in the other group health plan coverage.  

According to Notice 2009-27, whether an offer of retiree coverage that is not COBRA Coverage simultaneously with the offering of COBRA Coverage ends the Premium Reduction Period depends on whether the retiree coverage is offered under the same group health plan as the COBRA Coverage or under a different group health plan.  If offered under the same group health plan, the offer of the retiree coverage has no effect on the Premium Reduction Period.  If offered under a different group health plan, the offer of retiree coverage that is not COBRA coverage ends the Premium Reduction Period.  However Notice 2009-27, however, If offered to someone whose eligibility for COBRA coverage arose between September 1, 2008 and February 17, 2009, the offer render the individual ineligible for the premium reduction only if the period the individual is given for enrolling in the retiree coverage extends to at least February 17, 2009.

Notice 2009-27 also addresses when eligibility for coverage under an HRA ends eligibility for the premium reduction.  It states that becoming eligible for HRA coverage ends the Premium Reduction Period unless the HRA qualifies as an FSA under section 106(c).   Under section 106(c), an FSA is health coverage under which the maximum amount of reimbursement which is reasonably available to a participant of the coverage is less than 500% of the value of the coverage. For this purpose, the maximum amount of reimbursement which is reasonably available is generally the balance of the HRA and the value of the HRA coverage would generally be the applicable premium for COBRA continuation of the HRA coverage.

Notice 2009-27 also clarifies that the Premium Reduction Period of an eligible individual may extend beyond December 31, 2009 for individuals who qualify as assistance eligible individuals on or before December 31, 2009.  For example, the Premium Reduction Period of an assistance eligible individual whose Premium Reduction Period begins on December 1, 2009 could extent until August 31, 2010, assuming the individual does not become eligible for other group health plan coverage or Medicare or lose eligibility for COBRA Coverage before that date.

With regard to the effect of Medicare eligibility on an assistance eligible individual’s Premium reduction Period, Notice 2009-27 indicates that an individual currently enrolled in Medicare when the involuntary termination of employment occurs is ineligible for premium reduction, even though they may be eligible to elect COBRA continuation coverage by paying the otherwise applicable unreduced COBRA premium.

 

Dealing With Assistance Eligible Individuals Not Eligible For Premium Subsidy Based On Eligibility For Other Group Coverage

Under the Stimulus Bill, assistance eligible individuals are required to provide notification and resume paying the unreduced usual COBRA premium when they become eligible for Medicare or other group health coverage.  Where an assistance eligible individual fails to provide the required notice and continues to take advantage of the premium reduction after his Premium Reduction Period terminates due to his becoming eligible for other coverage or Medicare, Notice 2009-27 states the employer is not responsible for recovering the additional premium or otherwise recouping the COBRA premium. 

 

Dealing With Assistance Eligible Individuals Subject to Phase Out of Premium Subsidy Eligibility Based On Income

The Stimulus COBRA Rules include tax provisions designed phase out the COBRA Subsidy for certain highly compensated employees by taxing a portion of those amounts.  Notice 2009-7 discusses the mechanics through which highly compensated employees can avoid this tax liability by electing to waive the Premium Reduction and Premium Subsidy. 

An assistance eligible individual who wants to make a permanent election to waive the right to the premium reduction makes the election by providing a signed and dated notification (including a reference to “permanent waiver”) to the employer or other person who is reimbursed for the premium reduction under the COBRA Premium Subsidy provisions of Code § 6432. No separate additional notification to any government agency. If an assistance eligible individual makes the permanent election to waive the right to the premium reduction, the individual may not later reverse the election and may not receive the premium reduction for any future period of COBRA Coverage in 2009 or 2010, regardless of modified adjusted gross income in those years.

Notice 2009-27 makes clear that these rules don’t allow employers to deny the Reduced Premium to these assistance eligible individuals.  According to Notice 2009-27, “Even if an assistance eligible individual’s income is high enough that the recapture of the premium reduction would apply, COBRA Coverage must be provided upon payment of 35% of the premium unless the individual has notified the plan that the individual has elected the permanent waiver of the premium reduction (or the period for the premium reduction has ended).

 

Second COBRA Election Period

The Stimulus Bill also requires group health plans to offer a second election period to assistance eligible individuals not enrolled in COBRA Coverage on February 17, 2009 whose employment terminated between September 1, 2008 and February 16, 2009.  Notice 2009-27 confirms that any individual (including a dependent) who did not have an election of COBRA Coverage in effect on February 17, 2009, but who would have been an assistance eligible individual if the election were in effect must be offered this second election period. For those electing COBRA Coverage during this second election period, the resulting coverage begins with the first period of COBRA continuation coverage beginning on or after February 17, 2009.   Notice 2009-27 confirms that this extended election period is available for all individuals who are qualified beneficiaries as the result of an involuntary termination during the period from September 1, 2008, through February 17, 2009, even if they still have an open COBRA election period as of February 17, 2009. If these individuals elect COBRA under their original COBRA election period, COBRA coverage is retroactive to their loss of coverage and the premium reduction does not apply to the periods of coverage prior to the first period of coverage beginning on or after February 17, 2009 (generally, periods of coverage before March 2009 for plans with monthly coverage periods).

If, as a result of the extended election period, an assistance eligible individual becomes eligible for COBRA Coverage under a group health plan that requires payment of COBRA premiums on a calendar month basis, the individual’s first period of coverage will begin on March 1 and the Reduced Premium only applies prospectively from that date. According to Notice 2009-27, this does not change even if the plan otherwise requires individuals who lose coverage before the last day of the month and who wish to enroll in COBRA continuation coverage to pay a pro-rata portion of the monthly premium for the first partial month of coverage.

In contrast, where a group health plan determines the required COBRA premiums based on the loss of coverage, Notice 2009-27 states that the first period of coverage begins on the first day after the loss of coverage and ends on the day of the following month corresponding to the day of the loss of coverage. For example, if the last day of coverage was October 3, 2008, the period of coverage runs from the fourth of the month to the third of the following month, and thus the first period of coverage on or after February 17, 2009, is the period March 4, 2009, through April 3, 2009.

Notice 2009-27 also discusses the operation of these rules as applied to certain HRAs

 

Who Pays The Premium Subsidy & Claims The Payroll Tax Credit

In previously issued guidance, the IRS indicated that between the sponsoring employer or union and a group insurer, the party that collects the Reduced Premium bears responsibility to pay the 65% Premium Subsidy then claiming the payroll tax credit under the Stimulus COBRA Rules.  According to Notice 2009-27, if the insurer and the employer of insured, single employer group health plan have agreed that the insurer will collect the premiums directly from the qualified beneficiaries, the insurer must treat an assistance eligible individual paying 35 of the premium as having paid the full premium, even before the employer pays the insurer the remaining 65%. If the insurer fails to treat a 35% payment by an assistance eligible individual as a payment of the full premium, the insurer may be liable for the excise tax under Code § 4980B(e)(1)(B), which applies to persons responsible for administering or providing benefits under the plan and whose act or failure to act caused (in whole or in part) the failure, if the person assumed responsibility for the performance of the act to which the failure relates.

 

For More Information or Assistance

If your organization needs help responding to the COBRA Subsidy Rules or other group health plan or other employee benefit or human resources matters, please contact Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Ms. Stamer and other members of Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with advising and assisting employers with these and other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, and internal controls matters. If your organization needs assistance with assessing, managing or defending its wage and hour or other labor and employment, compensation or benefit practices, please contact Ms. Stamer at e-mail, (214) 270-2402; or your favorite Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP attorney.  For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see the Curran Tomko Tarski Website or Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Website.

We hope that this information is useful to you. You can register to receive future updates and information about upcoming programs, access other publications by Ms. Stamer and access other helpful resources at CynthiaStamer.com For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly. If you or someone else you know would like to receive updates about developments on these and other human resources and employee benefits concerns, please be sure that we have your Currant contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at CynthiaStamer.com.  If you would prefer not to receive these updates, please send a reply e-mail with “Remove” in the subject line to support@SolutionsLawyer.net. You also can register to participate in the distribution of these updates by registering to participate in the Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update Blog here.  For important information concerning this communication click here.


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

May 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning for Absenteeism Under ADA

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

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

Infection Control in the Workplace Under the ADA

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

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

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

Impending GINA Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Resources

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

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


DOJ Antitrust Enforcement Actions Signal Need to Audit Adequacy of Employment, Ethics & Internal Controls Policies & Practices To Minimize Rising DOJ & Other Antitrust Exposures

April 23, 2009

U.S. businesses should review the adequacy of their existing antitrust Federal Sentencing Guidance Compliance policies and internal controls in light of a series of recently announced antitrust enforcement actions recently announced by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”).  U.S. and other businesses and their employees and agents who engage in prohibited antitrust activities face substantial criminal and civil penalties in actions brought by the DOJ, civil judgments brought by private plaintiffs, or both.  To effectively manage these exposures, businesses and leadership must ensure that their organization has in place appropriate employment, corporate ethics and internal controls and procedures for preventing, investigating and redressing potential violations.  The management and discipline of employees and other service providers that violate these and other compliance policies is an increasingly important responsibility of human resources and other management leaders.

 

On Monday (April 20, 2009), DOJ announced that two subsidiaries of the Swedish company Trelleborg AB, one based in Virginia and the other in France, have agreed to plead guilty and pay a total of $11 million in criminal fines for participating in separate conspiracies affecting the sales of marine products sold in the United States and elsewhere.  The plea agreements are among at least 9 major antitrust enforcement actions announced by the DOJ since the first of the year, including the longest sentence yet imposed for an antitrust criminal conviction.

 

Trelleborg Engineered Products Inc. &

Trelleborg Industries S.A.S. Plea Agreements

The plea agreement resolves a two-count felony charge filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, Va., against Virginia Harbor Services Inc., formerly known as Trelleborg Engineered Products Inc. (VHS/TEPI), a manufacturer of foam-filled marine fenders, buoys and plastic marine pilings headquartered in Clearbrook, Va.  Foam-filled marine fenders are used as a cushion between ships and either fixed structures, such as docks or piers, or floating structures, such as other ships. Foam-filled buoys are used in a variety of applications, including as channel markers and navigational aids. Plastic marine pilings are substitutes for traditional wood timber pilings and are often used in port and pier construction projects in conjunction with foam-filled fenders. According to the charges, VHS/TEPI participated in a conspiracy between December 2002 and August 2005 to allocate customers and rig bids for contracts to sell foam-filled marine fenders and buoys, and also participated in a separate conspiracy between December 2002 and May 2003 to allocate customers and rig bids for contracts to sell plastic marine pilings. Under the terms of the plea agreement, which is subject to court approval, VHS/TEPI has agreed to pay a $7.5 million criminal fine and to cooperate fully in the Department’s ongoing antitrust investigation. To date, six individuals and two corporations have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty in the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation of fraud and collusion in the marine fenders and pilings industries.

 

In addition, a one-count felony charge was filed today in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., against Trelleborg Industries S.A.S. (TISAS), a manufacturer of marine hose headquartered in Clermont-Ferrand, France. TISAS is charged with participating in a conspiracy from at least as early as 1999 and continuing until as late as May 2, 2007, to allocate market shares, fix prices and rig bids for contracts to sell marine hose to purchasers in the United States and elsewhere. Marine hose is a flexible rubber hose used to transfer oil between tankers and storage facilities. Under the terms of the plea agreement, which is subject to court approval, TISAS has agreed to pay a $3.5 million criminal fine and to cooperate fully in the Department’s ongoing antitrust investigation. To date, three corporations have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty in the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation in the marine hose industry. Twelve individuals have also been charged to date, nine of whom have pleaded guilty.

 

The plea agreements announced this week are part of a continuing DOJ investigation, which already lead to five former executives of TISAS and VHS/TEPI entering guilty pleas to participating in the conspiracies charged. Former VHS/TEPI president Robert B. Taylor was sentenced in January 2008 to serve 24 months in prison and pay a $300,000 criminal fine. Former VHS/TEPI chief financial officer Donald L. Murray was sentenced in March 2008 to serve 18 months in prison and pay a $75,000 criminal fine. William Alan Potts, a former vice president of VHS/TEPI, was sentenced in June 2008 to serve six months in prison and six months in home detention, and to pay a $60,000 criminal fine. Former TISAS executives Christian Caleca and Jacques Cognard were each sentenced in December 2007 to serve 14 months in prison and to pay criminal fines of $75,000 and $100,000, respectively.

 

Other Recent Antitrust Enforcement Activities

The plea agreements announced this week are the latest in a series of antitrust enforcement actions recently taken by the DOJ.  Since the first of the year alone, DOJ also has announced a series of other major antitrust enforcement actions, including, for instance:

 

On April 9, 2009, DOJ announced that Cargolux Airlines International S.A., Nippon Cargo Airlines Co. Ltd. and Asiana Airlines Inc. plead guilty and agreed to pay a total of $214 million in criminal fines to settle price fixing charges.

  • On March 31, a San Francisco federal grand jury indicted Hitachi Displays Ltd. executive Sakae Someya with conspiring with unnamed co-conspirators to suppress and eliminate competition by fixing the price of Thin Film Transistor-Liquid Crystal Display (TFT-LCD) panels sold to Dell Inc. for use in notebook computers.  With this indictment, four companies and eight individuals have been charged in the Department’s ongoing antitrust investigation into the TFT-LCD industry and more than $585 million in fines have been imposed as a result.
  • On March 10, Somey’s employer, Japanese electronics manufacturer Hitachi Displays Ltd., agreed to plead guilty and pay a $31 million fine for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices in the sale of TFT-LCD panels sold to Dell Inc.
  • On February 10, 2009, a federal grand jury in San Francisco indicted former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd. with conspiring with others to suppress and eliminate competition by fixing prices, reducing output and allocating market shares of color display tubes (CDTs) to be sold in the U.S. and elsewhere.  The indictment also charges C.Y. Lin with conspiring with others to suppress and eliminate competition by fixing prices for color picture tubes (CPTs) to be sold in the U.S. and elsewhere.
  • On February 3, 2009, a San Francisco federal grand jury indicted two former executives from Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd. (Chunghwa) and one former executive from LG Display Co. Ltd. (LG) for participation in a global conspiracy to fix prices of Thin Film Transistor-Liquid Crystal Display (TFT-LCD) panels.
  • On January 1, 2009, former high-level shipping executive Peter Baci was sentenced to serve the longest jail sentence ever imposed for a single antitrust charge, 48 months in jail, and to pay a $20,000 criminal fine for his role in an antitrust conspiracy involving the transportation of goods to and from the continental United States and Puerto Rico by ocean vessel by agreeing to allocate customers, agreeing to rig bids submitted to government and commercial buyers, and agreeing to fix the prices of rates, surcharges, and other fees charged to customers. Related antitrust charges remain pending in the U.S. District Court in Jacksonville against three other shipping executives: R. Kevin Gill and Gregory Glova, of Charlotte, N.C. and Gabriel Serra, of San Juan, Puerto Rico. A related obstruction of justice charge is also pending against a fifth shipping executive, Alexander Chisholm, of Jacksonville. 
  • On January 22, 2009, three air cargo carriers, LAN Cargo S.A. (LAN Cargo), Aerolinhas Brasileiras S.A. (ABSA), and EL AL Israel Airlines Ltd. (EL AL), plead guilty and agreed to pay criminal fines totaling $124.7 million for their roles in a conspiracy to fix prices in the air cargo industry, the Department of Justice announced today. Under the plea agreements, LAN Cargo, a Chilean company, and ABSA, a Brazilian company that is substantially owned by LAN Cargo, have agreed to pay a single criminal fine of $109 million. EL AL, an Israeli company, has agreed to pay a criminal fine of $15.7 million. According to the charges against the airlines, each airline engaged in a conspiracy in the United States and elsewhere to eliminate competition by fixing the cargo rates charged to customers for international air shipment.
  • Under a plea agreement announced January 15, 2009, Chang Suk “C.S.” Chung, a Korean LG executive, Chieng-Hon “Frank” Lin, a Taiwanese former executive from Chunghwa, and Chih-Chun “C.C.” Liu and Hsueh-Lung “Brian” Lee, Taiwanese current employees of Chungwha, agreed to serve a term of imprisonment, pay a criminal fine and assist the government in its ongoing TFT-LCD investigation.  

Businesses & Business Leaders Must Have

Effective Internal Controls & Compliance Practices

These DOJ actions and a host of others in recent years document provide examples of DOJ’s willingness to investigate and prosecute price-fixing, bid-rigging and other antitrust violations.  The felony penalties associated with federal antitrust violations bring antitrust sanctions within the purview of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.  As a result, businesses that fail to take adequate steps to prevent or redress antitrust violations risk vicarious liability for violations committed but their employees or agents.  Furthermore, business leaders investigating suspected violations must exercise caution to appropriately investigate and redress alleged or suspected violations to both protect themselves and their organization against liability based on allegations of endorsement by tolerance, potential cover up or other misconduct in connection with the investigation and redress process. At the same time, timely investigation, oversight and redress can substantially mitigate these liability exposures under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.  Accordingly, to prevent and position themselves and their organizations to defend against potential antitrust complaints, businesses and businesses leaders should both adopt appropriate policies prohibiting their organizations and its employees and agents from engaging in price-fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive practices prohibited by federal or state antitrust laws, as well as establish and administer well-documented training and oversight practices to prevent, detect and redress potential or attempted violations of these policies.

 

To effectively manage these exposures, businesses and leadership must ensure that their organization has in place appropriate procedures for preventing, investigating and redressing potential violations.  Among other things, businesses and their leaders should be certain their organization: 

  • Has up to date policies in place and a process to monitor regulatory and enforcement developments for necessary updates;
  • Can demonstrate that it is appropriately administering well-documented audit, training and enforcement practices to prevent and redress potential violations as part of its corporate ethics and human resources practices;
  • Uses appropriate vendor selection, contracting, audit and oversight processes to promote compliance by business partners, agents and others with which it does business;
  • Has identified experienced counsel and developed a process for engaging counsel to assist in the audit of ongoing compliance efforts as well as the timely conduct of internal investigations of possible infractions within the scope of attorney-client privilege;
  • Designated an ethics or compliance officer, or other appropriate party to receive and investigate suspected compliance concerns and reports;
  • Has effective privacy, investigations, employment and other policies and procedures to enable the business to investigate, discipline and defend employment actions against employees or other workers for improper conduct;
  • Has appropriate processes and procedures for responding to government investigations and private compliance complaints; and
  • Promptly investigates and responds to reports of infractions or other compliance concerns in an appropriate and well documented manner.

 

Curren Tomko and Tarski LLP and its attorneys have significant experience assisting businesses and business leaders to establish, administer, enforce and defend antitrust and other compliance and internal control policies and practices to reduce risk under federal and state antitrust and other laws covered by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.  If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, CTT Labor & Employment Section Chair, at cstamer@cttlegal.com, 214.270.2402; Edwin J. Tomko, CTT White Collar Crime Section Chair, at etomko@cttlegal.com, 214 270-1405 or any of the other following members of the Curren Tomko Tarski LLP team experienced in these and other internal controls matters.

 

 

 

For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curren Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see the Curren Tomko Tarski Website or Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Website.

More Information

We hope that this information is useful to you. You can register to receive future updates and information about upcoming programs, access other publications by Ms. Stamer and access other helpful resources at CynthiaStamer.com.  For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer directly. If you or someone else you know would like to receive updates about developments on these and other human resources and employee benefits concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at CynthiaStamer.com or registering to receive these Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update at the above link.