Free CDC COVID-19 Communication Resources

July 13, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) One-Stop Shop provides quick access to communication resources. Topic-specific toolkits make it easy to access, leverage, and share CDC resources. These new toolkits contain videos, social media posts, PSAs, print resources, checklists, FAQs, and web resources for the following populations

• Young Adults: Age 15-21

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• K-12 Schools

• Business and Workplaces

• Community and Faith-based Organizations

• General Public

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For More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about this or other labor and employment developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations Group, HR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Law and Labor and Employment Law and Health Care; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services, construction, manufacturing, staffing and workforce and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns. As a part of this work, she has continuously and extensively worked with domestic and international employer and other management, employee benefit and other clients to assess, manage and defend joint employer and other worker classifications and practices under the FLSA and other federal and state laws including both advising and and assisting employers to minimize joint employer and other FLSA liability and defending a multitude of employers against joint employer and other FLSA and other worker classification liability. She also has been heavily involved in advocating for the Trump Administration’s restoration of more historical principles for determining and enforcing joint employer liability over the past several years.

Author of hundreds of highly regarded books, articles and other publications, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her scholarship, coaching, legislative and regulatory advocacy, leadership and mentorship on wage and hour, worker classification and a diverse range of other labor and employment, employee benefits, health and safety, education, performance management, privacy and data security, leadership and governance, and other management concerns within the American Bar Association (ABA), the International Information Security Association, the Southwest Benefits Association, and a variety of other international, national and local professional, business and civic organizations including highly regarded works on worker reclassification and joint employment liability under the FLSA and other laws published by the Bureau of National Affairs and others. Examples of these involvements include her service as the ABA Intellectual Property Law Section Law Practice Management Committee; the ABA International Section Life Sciences and Health Committee Vice Chair-Policy; a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former JCEB Council Representative and Marketing Chair; Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits and Other Compensation Group and Vice Chair of its Law Practice Management Committee; Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group; former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Southwest Benefits Association Board member; past Texas Association of Business State Board Member, BACPAC Committee Meeting, Regional and Dallas Chapter Chair; past Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits Committee Executive Committee; former SHRM Region IV Chair and National Consultants Forum Board Member; for WEB Network of Benefit Professionals National Board Member and Dallas Chapter Chair; former Dallas World Affairs Council Board Member; founding Board Member, past President and Patient Empowerment and Health Care Heroes founder for the Alliance for Health Care Excellence; former Gulf States TEGE Council Exempt Organizations Coordinator and Board member; past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see http://www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

©2020 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.


Jennifer A. Abruzzo Named NLRB Acting General Counsel

November 1, 2017

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced today the appointment of Jennifer A. Abruzzo to serve as NLRB’s Acting General Counsel.

Although Ms. Abruzzo original began her legal career as a civil litigation attorney in the medical malpractice division of a South Florida firm, she has spent almost twenty-three years working for the NLRB in various capacities, including as Field Attorney, Supervisory Field Attorney and Deputy Regional Attorney in the Miami, Florida office, as well as Deputy Assistant General Counsel in the Division of Operations-Management in Washington, DC, where she oversaw Regional operations in the Northeast and Midwest.

Prior to becoming Deputy General Counsel, Ms. Abruzzo served as the Executive Assistant to Acting General Counsel Lafe E. Solomon, and detailed in that role for General Counsel Ronald E. Meisburg.   In 2011 her involvement at the NLRB drew public attention when an e-mail sent to her by then NLRB Deputy Assistant General Counsel Joseph Baniszewski forwarding a political cartoon mocking the state of South Carolina with regard to Boeing Corporation’s decision to locate its manufacturing facility to South Carolina was made public.

During her career with NLRB, she has participated in the litigation of numerous high profile cases.

About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


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

September 13, 2017

Employers beware of potential National Labor Relations Act unfair labor practices risks that may arise from their adoption or enforcement of overly broad or restrictive workplace recording, acceptable use, workplace conduct, commitment-to-integrity or other policies that might be construed to prohibit or deter employees from exercising protected organization or other collective bargaining rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in light of the Fifth Circuit’s July 25, 2017  T-Mobile United States, Inc. v. Nat’l Labor Relations Bd. decision.

In T-Mobile v. NLRB, the Fifth Circuit upheld and ordered the enforcement of a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that telecommunications industry employers T-Mobile and MetroPCS (T-Mobile) engaged in unfair labor practices in violation of Section 8 of the NLRA by maintaining a policy that prohibited all photography and audio or video recording in its workplace without the employer’s prior permission (“Recording Policy”).

The Fifth Circuit’s ruling arose from an appeal filed by T-Mobile with the Fifth Circuit, challenging a NLRB ruling that the Recording Policy, a workplace conduct policy, a commitment-to-integrity policy and an Acceptable Use Policy included in the T-Mobile employee handbook violated the NLRA because “employees would reasonably construe the language to prohibit Section 7 activity and therefore constituted unfair labor practices prohibited under Section 8 of the NLRA. (Note:  T-Mobile did not appeal the NLRB’s findings that 7 other policies also violated the NLRA).

While the Fifth Circuit’s decision only upheld the unfair labor practice determination based on the Recording policy, the decision makes clear that its findings concerning each of the four employment policies subject to the appeal as well as other employment policies could come out differently in other cases based on the contextual evidence reflected in the factual record concerning the particular employment policy and the context in which it is implemented and enforced. Employers maintaining or administering similar workplace rules will want to scrutinize carefully their own policies to assess their potential for exposing the employer to unfair labor practice charges and take appropriate action to minimize these risks.

Policies Chilling Organizational Rights Protected By NLRA  § 7 Create Unfair Labor Practice Exposures

Section 7 of the NLRA  protects workers’ right “to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” 29 U.S.C. § 157.  NLRA § 8(a)(1) makes it an “unfair labor practice” for an employer to “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights” protected by NLRA § 7.

According to existing Fifth Circuit precedent, a workplace rule violates Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA if the rule either:

  • “Explicitly restricts activities protected by Section 7″ or
  • Employees would reasonably construe the language to prohibit Section 7 activity even if the rule does not explicitly prohibit or has not been enforced to prohibit or restrict Section 7 protected activity.

A careful analysis of the Fifth Circuit’s decision makes clear that its decision about each of the four challenged policies covered by T-Mobile’s appeal turned upon the Court’s careful analysis of the surrounding context under which the applicable policy was implemented and administered reflected in the factual record.  While the Fifth Circuit overruled as erroneous the NLRB’s findings that three other challenged policies violated the NLRA under this analysis, it agreed with and ordered enforced the NLRB’s ruling that T-Mobile’s Recording Policy violated the NLRA by impermissibly chilling worker’s exercise of their Section 7 rights.  Construing the Acceptable Use Policy as prohibiting all recording in the workplace without the employer’s consent, the Fifth Circuit concluded that the policy would “discourage” a reasonable employee from engaging in protected activity” because a reasonable employee would construe the Policy as prohibiting employee unionizing or other concerted activity protected by the NLRA.

Context Protected Workplace Conduct, Commitment-To-Integrity, No Arguing or Fighting & Acceptable Use Policy

Based upon its review of the contextual facts shown in the record, the Fifth Circuit overruled the NLRB’s unfair labor practice orders with respect to T-Mobile’s workplace conduct, commitment-to- integrity, no argument or fighting and Acceptable Use policies.  Employers should note, however, that the Fifth Circuit’s ruling does not give blanket enforcement to the defensibility of these policies in all circumstances.   Rather, noting that “context matters” when determining whether a work rule violates the NLRA, the court found  the policies read in the context of the workplace established common sense civility guidelines that a reasonable employee would not read as chilling or discouraging organization activities protected under Section 7.  Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit declined to enforce the NLRB’s unfair labor practice orders against T-Mobile with respect to those policies in this instance.  Employers considering the implications on this decision on their own policies should keep in mind, however, that the Fifth Circuit based its decision on the context reflected by the facts in the record.  Accordingly, there remains a risk that these or other policies could be found to violate the NLRB if adopted or administered under circumstances that could chill reasonable workers from exercising their Section 7 organizational rights.

Context Invalidated Recording Policy

The critical significance of the factual context in determining the defensibility of each of these policies under Sections 7 and 8(a) of the NLRA is driven home by the Fifth Circuit’s explanation in the opinion of its decision to enforce the NLRB’s order with respect to the following Recording Policy as well as its explanation of its distinguishability from the Acceptable Use Policy that the Fifth Court found permitted.:

To prevent harassment, maintain individual privacy, encourage open communication, and protect confidential information employees are prohibited from recording people or confidential information using cameras, camera phones/devices, or recording devices (audio or video) in the workplace. Apart from customer calls that are recorded for quality purposes, employees may not tape or otherwise make sound recordings of work-related or workplace discussions. Exceptions may be granted when participating in an authorized [T-Mobile] activity or with permission from an employee’s Manager, HR Business Partner, or the Legal Department. If an exception is granted, employees may not take a picture, audiotape, or videotape others in the workplace without the prior notification of all participants.

In determining this Recording Policy impermissibly deterred employees from exercising their Section 7 rights in violation of the NLRA, the Fifth Circuit’s opinion makes clear that “the broad reach of the recording ban” strongly influenced this determination, stating:

The ban, by its plain language, encompasses any and all photography or recording on corporate premises at any time without permission from a supervisor. This ban is, by its own terms alone, stated so broadly that a reasonable employee, generally aware of employee rights, would interpret it to discourage protected concerted activity, such as even an off-duty employee  photographing a wage schedule posted on a corporate bulletin board. …

Unlike the “workplace conduct” policy and the “commitment-to-integrity” policy, the recording policy forbids certain forms of clearly protected activity. We have earlier held that held those two policies would not be interpreted by a reasonable T-Mobile employee as forbidding protected activity. By contrast, a reasonable T-Mobile employee, aware of his legal rights, would read the language of the recording policy as plainly forbidding a means of engaging in protected activity.

In the face of this possibility, the Court similarly considered the factual record before rejecting T-Mobile’s argument that the Policy was defensible to promote its legitimate business interests “[t]o prevent harassment, maintain individual privacy, encourage open communication, and protect confidential information” on the grounds that “merely reciting such justifications does not alter the fact that the operative language of the rule on its face prohibits protected Section 7 activity, including Section 7 activity wholly unrelated to those stated interests.”

In reaching this determination, the Fifth Circuit distinguished these findings from its findings with regard to the Acceptable Use policy.  In explaining its finding the Acceptable Use Policy valid, the Fifth Circuit’s opinion explains that the NLRB’s decision concerning the Acceptable Use Policy disregarded the context in which the acceptable use policy is to be read and understood, stating:

The “Scope” section of the acceptable use policy explicitly states that the policy “applies to all non-public T-Mobile information.” Thus the policy only prohibits employees from sharing non-public information. 

Where a company policy prohibits the disclosure of non-public information, courts presume that a reasonable employee would not construe the policy to prohibit the disclosure of information that may be properly used in protected activity, such as wage and benefit information, so long as the policy does not explicitly state that it encompasses such information.  … Here… the policy does not define “non-public T-Mobile information” in a way that would lead a reasonable worker to believe that it includes protected wage and benefit information.  Instead, the policy only applies to the sort of proprietary business information that an employer may properly restrict its employees from sharing outside of the company. …

Thus the NLRB’s finding that a reasonable worker would construe the acceptable use policy to discourage protected activity is unreasonable, and we deny enforcement as to that part of its order.

Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit upheld enforcement of the NLRB’s order striking down the Recording Policy but denied enforcement and overruled the NLRB’s unfair labor practice finding with regard to the other three policies.

Contextual Basis of Decision Requires Employer Tread Carefully, Manage Risks

While the Fifth Circuit only enforced the NLRB’s unfair labor practice finding with respect to T-Mobile’s Recording Policy in T-Mobile,  the opinion makes clear that similar or identical policies could be treated differently depending upon whether the contextual evidence reflects that the policy could be reasonably construed by employees as prohibiting or restricting conduct protected by Section 7 of the NLRA.  Employers maintaining or administering similar workplace rules will want to scrutinize carefully their own policies to assess their potential for exposing the employer to unfair labor practice charges and take appropriate action to minimize these risks.

About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


Prepare For Turnover, Other Challenges From Rising Workforce Competition

August 8, 2017

U.S. employers recruiting or employing workers with high demand skills or experience in the U.S. labor market should reevaluate existing employee retention and recruiting packages and policies and intellectual property safeguards to deal with the increasingly competitive job market reflected in June, 2017 employment data and trends reflected in U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data released today (August 8, 2017). Employers relying on workers within these industries should re-evaluate and update as necessary their existing budgeting, hiring, recruitment and retention, trade secret, noncompetition and other policies and practices to proactively position their companies to effectively compete to ensure they retain and recruit the necessary workers to operate effectively.

The BLS statistics offer employers and others key insights into various workforce and employment trend, not the least of which are signs of growing competition among employers for high demand workers arising from the continued growth in job openings reported in the BLS statistics. See, e.g. Table A. Job openings, hires, and total separations by industry, seasonally adjusted and Job Openings and Labor Turnover Technical Note; Table 1. Job openings levels and rates by industry and region, seasonally adjusted; Table 2. Hires levels and rates by industry and region, seasonally adjusted; Table 3. Total separations levels and rates by industry and region, seasonally adjusted.

BLS statistics showing new hires lagging behind the continued growth in job openings signal that employers in impacted industries and regions should prepare to face growing competition for qualified workers.

According to BLS, the U.S. job openings level increased by 461,000 to 6.2 million openings as of the last day of June.  Among these 461,000 new openings, the overwhelming majority – 417,000 openings were for private sector positions, with the largest increases occurring in professional and business services (+179,000), health care and social assistance (+125,000) and construction (+62,000) while job openings decreased for other services by 62,000.

Meanwhile, BLS statistics showing that hires and total separations did not keep up with the growth in job openings sends a strong message that employers employing workers from increasingly competitive talent pools should focus as much on their ability to retain existing workers as to recruit new workers to fill new positions or replace workers. Aside from the gap between job openings and hires generally, quit rate statistics reported by BLS merit special consideration.  As quits are voluntary separations initiated by the employee, the quit rate can serve as a measure of workers’ willingness or ability to leave an existing position for a new opportunity.  BLS statistics showing continued stability in the quit rate and number of quits during June suggests that as of the end of June, reflected that many employed workers in high growth industries had not yet decided to make the leap to a new position. See Table 4. Quits levels and rates by industry and region, seasonally adjusted. Table 10. Quits levels and rates by industry and region, not seasonally adjusted.

Amid growing competition for workers, however, it is foreseeable that employers seeking to fill open positions will turn their attention to employers already employed.  Accordingly, in addition to evaluating their ability to recruit qualified workers away from other employers, employers should anticipate and prepare for the likelihood that other employers increasingly will target their workers for recruitment.

Adequate analysis and preparation now could help position their businesses both to retain valuable workers and recruit new or replacement workers to fulfill their staffing leads.  Beyond considering the adequacy of current recruitment, compensation, benefits, work rules and culture to compete effectively amid the evolving labor market, business leaders also generally will want to evaluate the adequacy and enforceability of trade secret, noncompetition and solicitation, and other legal and operational controls to protect their organization’s workforce and intellectual property from turnover related threats and dilution both as they relate to new hires and potential departing employees.

About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


Actions, Not Titles or Words, Make Leaders

March 17, 2017

Great leaders build great performance by  inspiring each team member to perform their best and helping provide the tools and training to help each team member’s best be better every day.

The ability to recruit great teams is a valuable asset.  In an age where businesses and business leaders often tout the value of teamwork, however, many businesses inadvertently undermine their most effective team players and the teamwork they claim to desire by failing to properly measure and reward team players and their teamwork.

Employers and other business leaders looking to maximize performance frequently overly-rely upon personally assigned or claimed performance credit, without making provision for measuring or rewarding teamwork.

The most meaningful  measure of leadership, though, is how well a leader coaches, inspires and credits the least talented team member to extraordinary performance while keeping star players motivated and focused on the team.   Arriving at a performance measurement and reward program that appropriately rewards leaders and team members for teamwork, while at the same time encouraging the highest individual performance within the team requires that employers reevaluate performance and its measurement both in terms of the individual contributions of members of the team, and their interaction and support for others on the team.

If your organization truly considers teamwork valuable, your performance management measures and resulting performance management and rewards must identify and reward team contributors and the team appropriately.

Developing and communicating these measures and rewards requires management clearly understand, communicate, measure and reward both the desired performances of the team and the respective roles and responsibilities of the individuals on the team.  Where management views teamwork as valuable, performance measurement and associated rewards should measure the expected teamwork, as well as team performance.  Concurrently, however, management also needs to continue to appropriately monitor, measure and reward individual performance within the team.  The focus on team performance should both incorporate appropriate individual performance measures and rewards to encourage and reward superior individual performance for, but not at the expense of, the team that elevates the team to its ultimate potential.  At the same time, management also will want to use individual measures to identify and incentivize or weed out underperforming team members, whose lacking performance otherwise undermines the team and its overall performance.

Amid all of these activities, management should keep  both team and individual performance measurements and rewards each offer their own opportunities for gamesmanship and abuse. At minimum, all performance and reward systems should be designed and administered for defensibility under wage and hour, employment discrimination, safety, tax, benefit, whistleblower and other federal and state laws as well as other potential operational misuse and manipulation inconsistent with the goals of the business and its operations.

To best promote the desired performances and minimize potential contractual or other legal or operational risks, management should carefully document and communicate its expectations, performance measures and rewards for clarity and defensibility, while reserving appropriate discretion to interpret, administer and where necessary, modify these expectations, measures and rewards in response to ongoing business needs and goals.

Once established, to promote optimal performance with minimum legal and operational risk, management should use care to administer their programs consistent with announced terms until it notifies the team of changes when and if business needs change.

At the end of the day, teamwork and individual performance ideally should combine synergistically where each person’s presence and performance on the team matters, regardless of how great or small.

Struggling to help your leaders and their team members understand the concept?  Don’t overlook the opportunity to draw from inspirational examples in sports such as the one captured here.

About The Author

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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

 


DOL “Persuader Rule” Changes Broaden Employer & Consultant Anti-Union Contract Disclosure Duties

March 23, 2016

By: Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

The Obama Administration is moving forward on yet another effort to empower union organizing efforts and disempower employer efforts to fight union organization efforts by changing its regulations implementing the “persuader rule” of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) to expand the circumstances under which the Labor Department’s “persuader rule” requires employers to disclose arrangements made with consultants to assist the employer to oppose union efforts by filing the Form LM-10 (employer report) and consultants providing anti-union services to file the Form LM-20 (agreement and activities report). See DOL persuader rule Fact Sheet, Overview/Summary and a Question and Answers.  Employers, consultants and others involved in labor-management relations management or training will want to review and update their risk management and compliance practices in light of this impending change.

Current U.S. Department of Labor Office of Labor-Management Standards (Labor Department) regulations implementing Section 203 of the Labor-Management Reporting Disclosure Act (LMRDA) generally require employers and labor relations consultants to with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) a Form LM-10 Employer Report, Form LM-20 Agreement and Activities Report, and Form LM-21 Receipts and Disbursements Report whenever the employer and the consultant enter into an agreement or arrangement for the consultant directly to undertake activities with either of the following objectives:

  • To persuade employees about exercising their rights to organize and bargain collectively or
  • To supply an employer with certain information concerning the activities of employees or a labor organization in connection with a labor dispute involving the employer.

Employer Report Form LM-10

Specifically, Labor Department Regulations generally require employers to report by filing with the Labor Department the Form LM-10 if they make certain expenditures or engage in certain activities, including entering into agreements or arrangements with any third party consultant, to persuade employees concerning their collective bargaining or organizing rights or to obtain certain information. Employers currently are not required to file Form LM-10 reports covering attendance at union avoidance seminars, though consultants who present at these seminars must file LM-20 reports, however. The Form LM-10 must be signed by the president and the treasurer or corresponding principal officers of the reporting employer, or by the sole proprietor, as appropriate. Employers also should be aware that Labor Department rules also require employers to report other items not related to persuader activities or expenditures on Form LM-10. Pursuant to LMRDA Section 203(a), employers must also file the Form LM-10 to report certain payments to unions and individuals affiliated with unions, including any officer, employee, shop steward, or agent of a labor organization. There are exceptions to the filing requirements, and these are noted in the Form LM-10 instructions. The Form LM-10 report must be filed electronically within 90 days after the end of the employer’s fiscal year. Employers are required to file only one Form LM-10 report each fiscal year covering all instances of reportable activity even if, for example, activity occurs at multiple locations or the employer enters into more than one consultant agreement

Consultant Report Form LM-20 and 21

In addition to the employer reporting requirements, Labor Department implementing rules for Section 203(b) requires any person, including a labor relations consultant, to file a report, Form LM-20, to disclose agreements or arrangements with any employer pursuant to which the person undertakes activities with the intent to persuade employees concerning their collective bargaining or organizing rights or to obtain certain information. The required LM-20 report is due within 30 days after entering into a reportable agreement, except for reports covering union avoidance seminars, which are due 30 days after the conclusion of the seminar.  Such individuals or organizations must file a separate Form LM-20 for each agreement or arrangement they make with an employer, and attach a copy of any written agreement. The report must be signed by the president and the treasurer or corresponding principal officers of the consultant firm or, if the filer is self-employed, by the individual consultant.

Broadening Of Actions Subject To Persuader Rule

Presently, the Labor Department generally only required reporting of an employer-consultant agreement only if the consultant communicated directly to the workers. Under the new “persuader rule” scheduled for publication in the March 24, 2016 Federal Register, however, the Labor Department will expand the duty to report to include both direct communications and other “indirect” activities by a consultant to assist an employer with anti-union efforts.

As amended by the persuader rule, Labor Department regulations generally will require employers and their consultants to file the Form LM-10 employer report and the Form LM-20 agreement and activities report disclosing an anti-union employer-consultant agreement whenever a consultant engages “any actions, conduct, or communications that are undertaken with an object, explicitly or implicitly, directly or indirectly, to affect an employee’s decisions regarding his or her representation or collective bargaining rights.” The final persuader rule scheduled for publication on March 24, 2016 also will provide that consultant activities that trigger reporting include direct contact with employees with an object to persuade them as well as the following categories of indirect consultant activity:

  • Planning, directing, or coordinating activities undertaken by supervisors or other employer representatives, including meetings and interactions with employees;
  • Providing materials or communications for dissemination to employees;
  • Conducting a union avoidance seminar for supervisors or other employer representatives; and
  • Developing or implementing personnel policies, practices, or actions for the employer.

Prepare To Meet Broadened Requirements

Following its publication in the March 24, Federal Register, the persuader rule is scheduled to take effect on April 25, 2016 and apply to arrangements, agreements, and payments made on or after July 1, 2016.

The Labor Department’s final adoption of the persuader rule tomorrow comes despite widespread criticism by employers, management consultants and many management legal counsels as overly broad and potentially infringing on management’s attorney-client privilege rights with respect to advice provided by legal counsel to management. As a result of these and other concerns, most commentators expect the changes to the persuader rule to face widespread challenges in the courts.

Whether or not these challenges materialize, employers as well as consultants and legal counsel involved in anti-union organization efforts will need to carefully evaluate the revised reporting requirements to take into account the persuader rule’s expansion to the reporting requirements. Employers anticipating potential union activity or training and the lawyers and labor consultants and labor-management educators providing or offering services will want to carefully evaluate the changes and modify practices in light of the impending changes to the rule.

About The Author

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

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

Ms. Stamer helps management manage. Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her nearly 30- year career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here ©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™. All other rights reserved.

41614421-modified-one-way-signs-indicating-management-and-labor


Improve HR Value To Company By Making HR A Performance Rather Than People Department

August 25, 2015

Human resources and other management leaders searching for ways to take their businesses from good to great should critically evaluate their workforce recruitment, management, compensation and benefit practices are properly designed to support business success or inappropriately detract from performance.   When designing and administering the human resources and other workforce processes for any business, human resources managers and consultants and the business leaders they support should stop thinking of and administering human resources as the “people” department and start thinking and running the department as the “performance management” department.

The primary responsibility of management is to define the business goals and manage its people and other details to accomplish the goal. Businesses leaders determined to succeed usually take steps to promote achieve desired well-defined goals by adopting detailed implementation plans that depend upon properly qualified workers reliably delivering the required performances their business needs to succeed.

As businesses technically only act through the performances of their people, everything that goes right or wrong or better or worse in a  company ultimately depends on what its people do, when and how.  Human resource and associated workforce performance both are key drivers of business performance and costs as well as major contributors to liabilities and expense.    even the most promising businesses experiences difficulty succeeding unless its people reliably perform as needed to implement the business plan.  While businesses can struggle or fail if management chooses a poor business path, even the most promising businesses will experience difficulty achieving success if it can’t get its people to reliably implement the business plan. Therefore, effective workforce management critically impacts every company’s performance and ultimately, its success.

As with any other company resource used in its operations, management must manage workforce resources to meet the needs of the business.   Management and its people must understand that the “people department” exists to drive business performance not to maximize employee satisfaction.  When recruiting, hiring and promoting workers, business leaders should and must objectively define the tangible education, experience, skills, compensation and other employment terms to fit management expectations of the business needs. However hiring someone who has the capability of doing the job is only part of the equation.  Getting the employee to actually do the job as desired for the compensation and other benefits of employment offered by the business is where management comes in to play.

While it’s great when the business needs align with the needs of its people, the management has a duty to put the success of the business ahead of employee satisfaction when these needs do not align.  While management can admire the success realized by the management by survey human resource consulting businesses in promoting the idea that  management will be unable to hire sufficient employees unless it restructures its business operations and workforce expectations to match survey responses of Gen-X and Millennial workers, the business failures and setbacks of the automobile, steel, airlines and numerous other businesses clearly document the perils to the business and its workers that the business failures and setbacks of the automobile, steel, airlines and numerous other businesses  when management pander to compensation or other expectations of workers at the expense of responsible management.   Therefore, while management generally should consider the market competitiveness of the company’s employment, compensation, benefits and  culture, the implications on the company’s ability to recruit, retain and motivate the workforce talent and performances needed to best operate the business with the least management effort, expense and liability ultimately must determine whether and to what extent to accommodate a particular worker or group of worker’s demands or expectations about hours of work, compensation, benefits and other job satisfaction issues on business performance.

Once management defines the position, its required qualifications and performance requirements, compensation, benefits and other terms based on the business needs of  the company, management helps qualified candidates perform their best by clearly defining and communicating management expectations.  Management should make clear what the job is, how performance will be judged and the compensation and other benefits and opportunities of the job.

Thus, while surveys and other invitations for members of the team to provide input and feedback can provide valuable insights to management where the performance needs of the business might be advanced by such input, management generally should use care not to send mixed messages by inviting input by workers on matters which management already has determined the course of action required to meet the business needs.   Similarly, while management can and should design and administer workforce policies and management to include appropriate flexibility to allow employees flexibility in the performance of their assigned duties, compensation, or other terms of employment within the parameters established by management, unless legally required, management generally should be cautious about accommodating workers’ requests for special treatment or accommodation of the employee’s preferences or needs do not fit the business performance needs determined by management.  Likewise, teaming does not mean the team doesn’t have a head coach.  While input from employees has a valuable role in businesses, failing to clearly define the parameters and expectations within which employees are expected to perform, inviting input on decisions management already decided, or tolerating diversity in performance where the business needs uniformity undermines the effectiveness of the business and the performance of the worker by confusing or misdirecting the workers.

While occasionally the unique skills and talents of a particular worker may be so valuable that the business needs justify accommodating his demands for prima donna treatment,  management should carefully weigh the costs of accommodation of these preferences.  Unfortunately, management frequently wastes significant time, money and legal fees apparently qualified candidates that lack perhaps the most important qualification for the position:  a desire and enthusiasm for the job management offered rather than another mythical position with duties, titles, responsibilities, compensation or other perks that the candidate wishes he could obtain. In many cases, accommodation of one demand or foible leads to additional demands from the accommodated worker while either alienating or inviting other demands for special treatment for other workers on the team.

Ultimately, the workforce of a business is a team whose success depends on how well the players execute the game plan set by management.  Regardless of how great the player’s credentials look on paper, his value to the company’s team depends upon how well his performance fulfills and furthers the performance of the team. The best candidates and employees are competent if not talented workers that have the skill and find fulfillment performing the duties contemplated by management under the leadership of its management for the pay and other offered perks as an opportunity too good to miss. A business that hires and retains workers that readily and enthusiastically perform in accordance with the business strategy and performance expectations established by management generally require less management.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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


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

August 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adjusted Out-Of-Pocket Limit Amounts

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

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

Plan Year

Individual Coverage Only

Other Than Self-Only

2014

$6,350

$12,700

2015

6,600

13,200

2016

6,850

13,700

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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


Obama Administration Proposal Would Extend FLSA Minimum Wage & Overtime Requirements To 5 Million+ Workers

June 30, 2015

U.S. should brace for potentially huge increases in their federal minimum wage overtime costs and liabilities if the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) implements a Proposed Fair Labor Standards Act Rule Change (Proposed Rule) that would extend overtime pay rights to nearly 5 million additional workers by guaranteeing overtime pay to most salaried workers earning less than an estimated $50,440 next year.  While the Proposed Rule has not yet been published in the Federal Register, the WHD released a prepublication copy for public review in connection with President Obama’s announcement of plans to implement the change yesterday.

The FLSA currently requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers also must maintain accurate time and payroll records. The FLSA provides that employers who violate the law are liable to employees for their back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages. Liquidated damages are paid directly to the affected employees.

These FLSA rules generally apply to all common law employees other than those that the employer can prove meet the requirements of one of a limited number of exemptions to these rules.  The Proposed Rule would change the requirements for one of the exemptions most commonly relied upon by employers for not paying overtime to salaried workers – the “White Collar Exemption.”

Since 1940 and last updated by the WHD while President George W. Bush was President, generally have required an employer prove that an employee meets each of three tests for one of the FLSA’s White Collar Exemptions to apply:

  • The employee must be paid a predetermined and fixed salary that is not subject to reduction because of variations in the quality or quantity of work performed;
  • The amount of salary paid must meet a minimum specified amount; and
  • The employee’s job duties must primarily involve executive, administrative, or professional duties as defined by the regulations.

Among other things, the Proposed Rule if adopted as presently proposed would update current WHD regulations governing which executive, administrative, and professional employees (white collar workers) qualify as exempt from the FLSA minimum wage and overtime requirements often referred to as the “White Collar Exemption”:

  • Immediately raise the threshold under which most salaried workers are guaranteed overtime to equal the 40th percentile of weekly earnings for full-time salaried workers. As proposed, this would raise the salary threshold from $455 a week ($23,660 a year) to a projected level of $970 a week ($50,440 a year) in 2016.  WHD says nearly doubling the minimum salary threshold for a worker to qualify as exempt “minimizes the risk that employees legally entitled to overtime will be subject to misclassification based solely on the salaries they receive, without excluding from exemption an unacceptably high number of employees who meet the duties test.”;
  • Increase the total annual compensation requirement needed to exempt highly compensated employees (HCEs) to the annualized value of the 90th percentile of weekly earnings of full-time salaried workers ($122,148 annually); and
  • Establish a mechanism for automatically updating these qualifying standard salary and HCE total annual compensation requirements.

Beyond these changes, the WHD also is considering various changes to the duties test and invites suggestions for additional occupational examples in the current White Collar Exemption as well as comments on whether its regulations should require employers to take into account nondiscretionary bonuses when determining whether an employee meets the standard salary requirement.

The Administration claims that the Proposed Rule is needed to workers and their employers with greater “clarity” about when workers qualify for overtime.  Employers concerned about minimum wage, overtime and other wage and hour costs should recognize that the Proposed Rule would accomplish this clarification by substantially expanding the income and number of white collar workers that entitled to be paid in accordance with the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime rules.

Even without the adoption of the Proposed Rule, U.S. businesses already face huge and ever-growing FLSA minimum wage, overtime and recordkeeping exposures.  The availability of substantial actual and punitive damages plus attorneys fees and difficulties that unprepared employers frequently encounter meeting their burdens of proof make wage and hour and overtime claims attractive lawsuits for disgruntled employees and their plaintiff’s counsel.  Meanwhile, the pro-worker’s rights Obama Administration has made enforcement of these rules a high priority.  Increasingly, the reach of these exposures has expanded further as plaintiffs and the WHD have challenges effectively many employers’ classification of workers as independent contractors.  See  $1.4M FLSA Back Pay Award Demonstrates Worker Misclassification Risks.  Amid these already substantial exposures, most employers will view proposals to expand the scope of workers eligible for FLSA rights and protections as extremely concerning.

Employers concerned about the potential implications of this rule should begin reviewing the Proposed Rule in preparation of providing comments and feedback to members of Congress, the WHD through its rulemaking comment process, and the public.  The deadline for commenting to the WHD will be 60 days from the date of publication of the Proposed Rule in the Federal Register.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Prompt Business Action Needed To Mitigate Post-King Employer Health Benefit Costs & Liabilities

June 30, 2015

With the Obama Administration construing the United States Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell decision as a green light for its full implementation and enforcement of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA), U.S. businesses should brace for both increases in health benefit costs and liabilities over the next year as well as take prompt action to identify and mitigate potential excise tax and other exposures from any unaddressed compliance deficiencies in their 2014 or 2015 health plans as soon as possible and no later than the due date for filing their 2014 business tax return.

As health benefit costs continue their upward trend, many businesses and their leaders plan to look for new options to manage costs and liabilities following the King decision.  In most cases, businesses assume they can delay these actions until the beginning of their upcoming health plan year, not realizing their company’s potential liability exposures from existing and past defects.  Businesses and their leaders who have held off updating their health plan compliance and expect to delay completion of these activities until the beginning of their upcoming health plan year are likely to be in for a rude awakening, however, particularly since a much underappreciated Sarbanes-Oxley style provision of the Internal Revenue Code will require employer or other group health plan sponsors to self-report, self-assess and pay stiff excise tax penalties when filing their company’s 2014 business tax return unless their group health plan complied with a long list of ACA and other federal health plan rules in 2014.

Employer Health Benefit & Other Compensation Up, Costs Exposures Projected To Continue To Rise

While many businesses delayed making tough choices  about their health plan design and compliance over the past several years in hopes of some judicial or Congressional relief from the mandates and costs of ACA, businesses generally have continued to struggle with ever-rising compensation and benefit costs, with health benefit costs the biggest challenge.  Recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data confirms what business leaders already know.  Compensation and benefit costs rose over the past year, with health benefit costs remaining a big factor in these increased costs.  According to BLS, employer compensation costs rose slightly and health benefit costs remained the largest individual benefit cost for employers during the 12-month period ending March 31, 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). See BLS Employment Cost Index News Release (April 30, 2015).

The BLS Employer Costs For Employee Compensation Report, March 2015 released June 10, 2015 Report) shows private employers spent an average of $31.65 per hour worked for compensation in March 2015 with health benefits accounting averaging 7.7 percent of this average employer total compensation cost per employee.  This compares to BLS showing that in March 2014, In March 2014, total employer compensation costs for private industry workers averaged $29.99 per hour worked, with wages and salaries averaging $20.96 per hour (69.9 percent) and benefits averaging $9.03 per hour (30.1 percent). See BLS Employer Costs For Employee Compensation, March 2014 (June 12, 2014)(2014 Report).

BLS data on health benefit and other compensation and benefit costs and trends provides many interesting insights for business as well as government leaders and the role health benefit cost increases play in these increased expenditures.  For instance, BLS statistics show for private employers on average during the 12-month period ending March 31, 2015:

  • Compensation costs for private industry workers increased 2.8 percent over the year, higher than the March 2014 increase of 1.7 percent;
  • Wages and salaries increased 2.8 percent, also higher than the March 2014 increase of 1.7 percent;
  • Benefits costs rose 2.6 percent, which was higher than March 2014, when the increase was 1.8 percent; and
  • Health benefits on average increased 2.5 percent over during the 12-month period that ended on March 31, 2015, rising from the March 2014 increase in compensation costs of 1.8 percent.

Businesses Must Prepare For Impending ACA Enforcement While Dealing With Upsurge In Health Benefit Costs

While the continued rise in the average hourly cost of health benefits for employers is significant in its own right, the reported health benefit cost and employer health cost data in the Report does not include additional reporting and other compliance and risk management costs, which in light of the explosion in employer group health plan mandates since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Research indicates that the employer plan design changes slowed the upward trend in employer health benefit expenditures that otherwise would have occurred in 2015.  This upward trend is projected to continue if not accelerate in 2016, however.

The 2015 Report shows these upward increases in employer costs for health benefits and other compensation continued in the first quarter of 2015.  Concerning health benefits, for instance, the 2015 Report shows health benefit costs paid by employers averaged $2.43 per hour worked (7.7 percent of total compensation)in private industry in March 2015, compared to the average health benefit costs BLS reported.  In comparison, the 2014 Report indicated in March, 2014, the average cost for health insurance benefits in private industry was $2.36 per hour worked in March 2014 (7.9 percent of total compensation).

Overall health benefit costs and associated compliance expenses of employers that elect to continue to offer health benefits for employees are projected to rise throughout 2015 and 2016 as ACA driven mandates and market changes drive up employer’s direct health benefit costs.  See, e.g. Employers’ Health Costs Projected to Rise 6.5% for 2016.

The trend data and judicial and political developments indicate that business leaders can look for these trends not only to continue, but accelerate. With an impending responsibility to self-report violations of ACA and various of federal health plan mandates imminent, business leaders should brace to deal with any deficiencies in compliance in their 2014 and 2015 health plans much sooner than they might have expected following the Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell decision last week.  President Obama made clear last week he views the King ruling as giving the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor and Department of Health & Human Services the all clear for full implementation and enforcement of ACA and other federal health plan rules.  While these overall enforcement exposures will play out over the next several years, many employers are poised to experience the first bite of these new enforcement exposures over the next few months, when the Internal Revenue Code will require that employers that offered health coverage for employees in 2014 self-assess, report and pay stiff new excise tax penalties of $100 per day per violation when filing their 2014 tax return unless their program complied with all of a long list of ACA or other federal law mandates in addition to otherwise applicable exposures under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and other laws. See, Businesses Must Confirm & Clean Up Health Plan ACA & Other Compliance Following Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell Decision.  Since prompt self-audit and correction can help mitigate these liabilities, business leaders should act quickly to engage experienced legal counsel for their companies for help in evaluating, within the scope of attorney client privilege, the adequacy of their 2014 and 2015 health plan compliance, options for addressing potential exposures from any compliance deficiencies, and for advice and assistance to decide whether to offer health benefits going forward and if so, aid in designing and implementing their future health benefit program to enhance its defensibility.  While businesses inevitably will need to involve or coordinate with their accounting, broker, and other vendors involved with the plans, businesses generally will want to get legal advice in a manner that preserves their potential to claim attorney-client privilege to protect against discovery in the event of future enforcement or litigation actions sensitive discussions and analysis about compliance audits, plan design choices, and other risk management and liability planning as well as to get help evaluating potential future plan design changes or proposed solutions to known or suspected liability exposures, particularly in light of complexity of the exposures and risks.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Congress Passess Joint Resolution Overturning NLRB “Quickie Election Rule”

March 27, 2015

The new Republican Majority in Congress is moving quickly to attack and overturn a series of pro-union rules implemented under the leadership of the Obama Administration. Today, for instance, a Joint Resolution that seeks to invalidate the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) “election now, hearing later” “quickie election rule” was presented for signatures to President Obama.

Passed by the Senate March 4, 2015 and the House on March 19, 2017 and presented to the President on March 27, 2015, S.J.Res.8 provides Congressional disapproval of, and specifies that the quickie election rule is to have no force and effect on union representation case procedures.

Adopted by the NLRB December 12, 2014 at 79 Fed. Reg. 74308 (Dec. 15, 2014), the quickie election rule would make it more difficult for employers to oppose union organizing elections by subjecting employers to what some commentators refer to as “ambush elections.” The procedural changes to NLRB election procedures implemented by the quickie election rule place employers at a significant disadvantage when faced with a union demand for an election,

Incorporating most of the procedures contained in a 2011 NLRB proposal previously invalidated by the District of Columbia’s district court in Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. NLRB, 879 F. Supp. 2d 18, 21, 25, 30 (D.D.C. 2012), the quickie election rule as finalized by the NLRB among other things requires that:

  • Union elections generally be held within 10 to 21 days after the petition filing, rather than the previous rule’s 42 days;
  • Any pre-election hearings occur eight days after the petition filing;
  • Employers to file before the pre-election hearing a position statement addressing threshold issues such as unit appropriateness, bargaining unit exclusions, and the proposed date, time and location of the election;
  • Scheduling of post-election hearings 14 days after the filing of objections;
  • Employers seeking a pre-election hearing to provide the union with two lists identifying employees in the challenged petitioned-for unit and in what the employer argues is the appropriate unit;
  • Within two days after the unit is decided, the employer to provide an electronic list of employees including names, addresses, phone numbers, work locations and classifications. Employees’ personal phone numbers and email addresses must be provided if available to employer.
  • Once a union is certified, barring employees from seeking to decertify the election until the later of one year or the expiration of the first collective bargaining agreement.
  • At the pre-election hearing, the parties generally to litigate issues necessary to determine the appropriateness of conducting an election but allowing deferral of the decision of certain eligibility and inclusion issues decided by an NLRB regional director until the post-election stage.

The Joint Resolution to overturn the quickie election rule is part of an ongoing battle between Republicans, who following the November 2014 elections now hold a slim majority of the seats in both the House and Senate, and President Obama and Congressional Democrats, who since Mr. Obama’s election have acted aggressively to promote and expand union rights and safeguards. Since the November, 2014 elections, President Obama has promised to act aggressively to continue to promote pro-union and other policies opposed by Republications by executive order, rulemaking, veto and enforcement authority. Look for more battles over these and other contested policies in the months ahead.

For Help or More Information

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is recognized among the “Top Rated” Labor & Employment Lawyers in Texas in the 2014 LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® list of Top Rated Lawyers.  An AV® Preeminent™ (the highest Peer Review Rating available) rated lawyer, Ms. Stamer earned the “Top Rated” Distinction based on confidential Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings opinions about her skills and experience submitted by other AV® Preeminent™ lawyers and members with professional knowledge of her work.

A noted Texas-based management lawyer and consultant, author, lecturer and policy advocate, Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally known for her innovative leadership and work helping businesses, governments, and communities manage workforce and other performance and other labor and employment, employee benefits and workforce related challenges

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization,  and a Fellow in the American Bar Association, Texas Bar Association, and the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel,  Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work focuses on helping employers, insurers, employee benefit plans and their administrators, fiduciaries and advisors, community leaders and governments manage people, process and risk.   Throughout her more than 26 year career,

Ms. Stamer has helped management deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce management, including employment and outsourcing contracting and performance management, reengineering and other change management, internal controls, compliance and risk management, compensation and employee benefits, communications, worker classification, tax, government relations, enforcement and litigation defense, and other related matters.  Drawing upon her extensive knowledge base of knowledge and wealth of practical skills, Ms. Stamer helps businesses and their leaders manage their employees and other workers and service providers, their performance, compliance, compensation, benefits, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and operations crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

In addition to her more traditional legal, internal controls and other management consulting work, Ms. Stamer also extensively works with a broad range of business and government clients on health care, pension, social security, workforce, insurance and many other related policy matters critical to their business success and liability management. She both only helps her clients anticipate, monitor and cope with emerging laws, regulations and enforcement and respond to and resolve government investigations and enforcement actions, she also 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 College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Association (ABA) and the State Bar of Texas, Ms. Stamer annually leads the Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) HHS Office of Civil Rights agency meeting.  She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to many business, professional and civic organizations.

Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders, 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. She also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

Beyond these involvements, Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves as Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee and its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its representative to the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; 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 and as a faculty member, editorial advisory board member, speaker and author for numerous human resources, employee benefits, insurance, technology and data security and other professional associations, programs, and publications.  She 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 retirement 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.

You can review other recent human resources, employee benefits and internal controls publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of the Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, PC here.

©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Limited, non-exclusive right to republished granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. All other rights reserved.


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

October 5, 2012

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

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

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

Employer’s Obligations To Negotiate & Deal With Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bel-Air Hotel Decision Background

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

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

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

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

  • Union Remained Representative Despite Layoff & Temporary Facilities Shutdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NLRB Order Carries Heavy Cost for Bel-Air Hotel

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

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

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

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

Union Duties One of Many Potential HR RIF & Deal Traps

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 25 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mail to  cstamer@solutionslawyer.net.

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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


USI Advisors Will Pay $1.27 Million To Settle Charges It Violated ERISA Fee Disclosure Requirements

August 23, 2012

USI Advisors Inc. (USI) will pay $1,265,608.70 to 13 pension plans to resolve charges it violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by failing to properly disclose 12b-1 fees it collected off of fund investments.  The complaint behind the settlement reflects the commitment of the U.S Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) to enforcing Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) fee disclosure and other requirements against service providers to employee benefit plans.  With regulations tightening, the tough economy driving greater scrutiny of plan investments, expenditures and performance, and enforcement rising, plan vendors, and the employee benefit plan sponsors and fiduciaries responsible for their engagement, compensation and oversight need to ensure the adequacy of their processes for deciding and reporting compensation, as well as the qualification, selection and oversight of vendors and fiduciaries generally. 

USI Settlement

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) USI, fiduciary investment adviser made investments in mutual funds on behalf of ERISA-covered defined benefit plan clients and received 12b-1 fees from those funds. A 12b-1 fee is paid by a mutual fund out of fund assets to cover certain expenses. USI Advisors failed to fully disclose the receipt of the 12b-1 fees, and to use those fees for the benefit of the plans either by directly crediting the amounts to the plans or by offsetting other fees the plans would be obligated to pay the company.

“If you, as an investment adviser, are a fiduciary under ERISA with respect to plan investments in mutual funds, you cannot use your fiduciary authority to receive an additional fee or to receive compensation from third parties for your own personal account in transactions involving plan assets. We are very pleased that this settlement addresses the problems we identified with USI’s practices and restores funds to the plans and their participants,” said Phyllis C. Borzi, assistant secretary of labor for employee benefits security. “We are also very pleased that recently finalized fee disclosure regulations issued by the Labor Department will require fiduciaries like USI to be more transparent about the fees they receive when dealing with their plan clients.”

Under the terms of the settlement, USI Advisors has agreed not to provide bundled investment advisory and actuarial services to any ERISA-covered defined benefit plan client without first entering into a written agreement, contract or letter of understanding that specifies the services provided and whether the company or its affiliates will act as a fiduciary to those plans. USI Advisors also will provide to clients a description of all compensation and fees received, in any form, from any source, involving any investment or transaction related to them.

The alleged violations in this case occurred between 2004 and 2010. USI Advisors is a wholly owned subsidiary of USI Consulting Group, a Goldman Sachs Capital Partners Co.

The investigation conducted by EBSA as part of the agency’s Consultant/Adviser Project, highlights the need for employee benefit plan fiduciaries and vendors alike to properly identify and report all vendor compensation received by employee benefit plan investment advisors and other service providers in compliance with ERISA’s fee disclosure and other requirements.  The Consultant/Adviser  Project targets vendors and advisors to employee benefit plans for review, and where applicable, enforcement action when service providers violate ERISA’s requirements.  EBSA has made misconduct by consultants, advisors and other service providers a priority as part of its broader emphasis on enforcement of ERISA’s fiduciary responsibility and reporting requirements.

Tightening Rules, Enforcement & Tough Times Driving Risks

The EBSA’s announcement of the USI settlement comes as it continues to move forward to strengthen the transparency of vendor compensation and other fiduciary regulations and enforcement.  Just shortly before today’s announcement, EBSA recently clarified its guidance about  how its  rules affect 401(k) plan brokerage window arrangements in response to public feedback. Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02R published July 30, 2012, modifies and replaces Q&A 30 of Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02 (issued May 7, 2012) with a new Q&A 39.

EBSA’s final fee disclosure regulation[i] published on requires plan administrators to make to disclose specified information about retirement plan fees and expenses to participants and beneficiaries. The regulation requires plan administrators to give participants and beneficiaries more informationm about administrative and investment fees and expenses in their 401(k) plans.

EBSA issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02, which provided guidance to its field enforcement personnel in question and answer format on the obligations of plan administrators under the fee disclosure regulation on May 7, 2012. In response to questions and concerns about statements in Question 30 regarding brokerage windows and other arrangements that enable plan participants and beneficiaries to select investments beyond those designated by the plan, EBSA issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02 which supersedes Field Assistance Bulletin 2012-02 by modifying its provisions about brokerage windows and inviting more public comments for EBSA to use to consider further clarification of this guidance. 

As did its predecessor, Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02R specifies that while the fee disclosure regulation covers “brokerage windows,” “self-directed brokerage accounts,” and other similar plan arrangements that enable participants and beneficiaries to select investments beyond those designated by the plan, its coverage of brokerage windows is limited to the disclosure requirements in paragraph (c) of the regulation relating to plan-related information. The disclosure requirements for investment-related information in paragraph (d) of the regulation do not apply to brokerage windows, self-directed brokerage accounts, and similar arrangements or to any investment selected by a participant or beneficiary that is not designated by the plan (i.e., any investments made through the window, account, or arrangement).

Beyond meeting the technicalities of the fee disclosure requirements, plan sponsors, fiduciaries and vendors should also ensure that their selection, oversight, determination of compensation and other dealings with plan vendors and consultants meet the general fiduciary responsibility, prohibited transaction, bonding and other requriements of ERISA, as well as any applicable securities and tax requirements.

Through its participant fee disclosure and other stepped up fiduciary regulations and enforcement, EBSA is sending clear signals that it stands ready to investigate and take action against service providers or others that charge excessive fees, failure to adequately justify or appropriately disclose fees or other compensation from plan transactions, or other fiduciary protections of ERISA.  In the face of these requirements, plan fiduciaries, sponsors, advisors and vendors should carefully review the appropriateness of compensation received or promised to plan vendors, as well as the adequacy of practices for identifying and reporting that compensation and the selection and oversight of the vendors receiving that compensation.

For Help or More Information

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

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

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

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

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

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


[i]See 75 FR 64910 (Oct. 20, 2010).

 

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.

 


Employers & Plan Fiduciaries Reminded To Confirm Credentials & Bonding For Internal Staff, Plan Fidiciaries & Vendors Dealing With Benefits

August 13, 2012

Businesses sponsoring employee benefit plans and officers, directors, employees and others acting as fiduciaries with respect to these employee benefit plans should take steps to confirm that all of the appropriate fiduciary bonds required by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA) are in place, that all employee benefit plans sponsored are appropriately covered, and that all individuals serving in key positions requiring bonding are covered and appropriately qualified to serve in that capacity under ERISA and the terms of the bond. Adequate attention to these concerns not only is a required component of ERISA’s fiduciary compliance, it also may provide invaluable protection if a dishonesty or other fiduciary breach results in a loss or other exposure.

ERISA generally requires that every employee benefit plan fiduciary, as well as every other person who handles funds or other property of a plan (a “plan official”), be bonded if they have some discretionary control over a plan or the assets of a related trust. While some narrow exceptions are available to this bonding requirement, these exceptions are very narrow and apply only if certain narrow criteria are met. Plan sponsors and other plan fiduciaries should take steps to ensure that all of the bonding requirements applicable to their employee benefit plans are met at least annually. Monitoring these compliance obligations is important not only for the 401(k) and other retirement plans typically associated with these requirements, but also for self-insured medical and other ERISA-covered employee benefit plans. This process of credentialing persons involved with the plan and auditing bonding generally should begin with adopting a written policy requiring bonding and verification of credentials and that that appropriate bonds are in place for all internal personnel and outside service providers.

Steps should be taken to ensure that the required fiduciary bonds are secured in sufficient amounts and scope to meet ERISA’s requirements. In addition to confirming the existence and amount of the fiduciary bonds, plan sponsors and fiduciaries should confirm that each employee plan for which bonding is required is listed in the bond and that the bond covers all individuals or organizations that ERISA requires to be bonded. For this purpose, the review should verify the sufficiency and adequacy of bonding in effect for both internal personnel as well as outside service providers. In the case of internal personnel, the adequacy of the bonds should be reviewed annually to ensure that bond amounts are appropriate. Unless a service provider provides a legal opinion that adequately demonstrates that an ERISA bonding exemption applies, plan sponsors and fiduciaries also should require that third party service providers provide proof of appropriate bonding as well as to contract to be bonded in accordance with ERISA and other applicable laws, to provide proof of their bonded status or documentation of their exemption, and to provide notice of events that could impact on their bonded status. When verifying the bonding requirements, it also is a good idea to conduct a criminal background check and other prudent investigation to reconfirm the credentials and suitability of individuals and organizations serving in fiduciary positions or otherwise acting in a capacity covered by ERISA’s bonding requirements. ERISA generally prohibits individuals convicted of certain crimes from serving, and prohibits plan sponsors, fiduciaries or others from knowingly hiring, retaining, employing or otherwise allowing these convicted individuals during or for the 13-year period after the later of the conviction or the end of imprisonment, to serve as:

  • An administrator, fiduciary, officer, trustee, custodian, counsel, agent, employee, or

representative in any capacity of any employee benefit plan,

  • A consultant or adviser to an employee benefit plan, including but not limited to any entity whose activities are in whole or substantial part devoted to providing goods or services to any employee benefit plan, or
  • In any capacity that involves decision-making authority or custody or control of the moneys, funds, assets, or property of any employee benefit plan.

Because ERISA’s bonding and prudent selection of fiduciaries and service provider requirements, breach of its provisions carries all the usual exposures of a fiduciary breach.

Bonding exposures can arise in audit or as part of a broader fiduciary investigation.The likelihood of discovery in an audit or investigation by the Labor Department in the course of an audit is high, as review of bonding is a standard part of audits and investigations.  The Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) Enforcement Manual specifies in connection with the conduct of a fiduciary investigation or audit:

… the Investigator/Auditor will ordinarily determine whether a plan is in compliance with the bonding, reporting, and disclosure provisions of ERISA by completing an ERISA Bonding Checklist … These checklists will be filled out in fiduciary cases and retained in the RO workpaper case file unless violations are uncovered, developed, and reported in the ROI.

In the best case scenario, where the bonding noncompliance comes to light in the course of an EBSA audit where no plan loss resulted, the responsible fiduciary generally runs at least a risk that EBSA will assess the 20 percent fiduciary penalty under ERISA Section 502(l).  If the bonding lapse comes to light in connection with a fiduciary breach that resulted in damages to the plan by a fiduciary or other party, the bonding insufficiency may be itself a breach of fiduciary duty resulting in injury to the plan and where this breach left the plan unprotected against an act of dishonesty or fiduciary breach by an individual who should have been bonded, may spread liability for the wrongful acts of the wrongdoer to a plan sponsor, member of management or other party serving in a fiduciary role who otherwise would not be liable but  for definiciences in the bonding or other credentialing responsibilities. 

Under ERISA Section 409, a fiduciary generally is personally liable for injuries to the plan arising from his own breach (such as failure to properly bond) or resulting from breaches of another co-fiduciary who he knew or should have known through prudent exercise of his responsibilities. 

Of course, in the most serious cases, such as embezzlement or other criminal acts by a fiduciary of ERISA, the consequences can be quite dire.  Knowing or intentional violation of ERISA’s fiduciary responsibilities exposes the guilty fiduciary to fines of up to $10,000, imprisonment for not more than five years, or both. Even where the violation is not knowing or willful, however, allowing disqualified persons to serve in fiduciary roles can have serious consequences such as exposure to Department of Labor penalties and personal liability for breach of fiduciary duty for damages resulting to the plan if it is established that the retention of services was an imprudent engagement of such an individual that caused the loss. When conducting such a background check, care should be taken to comply with the applicable notice and consent requirements for conducting third party conducted background checks under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and otherwise applicable law. As such background investigations generally would be conducted in such a manner as to qualify as a credit check for purposes of the FCRA, conducting background checks in a manner that violates the FCRA credit check requirements itself can be a source of significant liability.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  All rights reserved.


EBSA Updates Guidance On Fee Disclosure Requirements For 401(k) Plan Brokerage Window Arrangements

August 6, 2012

U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration recently clarified its guidance about  how its  rules affect 401(k) plan brokerage window arrangements in response to public feedback. Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02R published July 30, 2012, modifies and replaces Q&A 30 of Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02 (issued May 7, 2012) with a new Q&A 39.

EBSA’s final fee disclosure regulation[i] published on requires plan administrators to make to disclose specified information about retirement plan fees and expenses to participants and beneficiaries. The regulation requires plan administrators to give participants and beneficiaries more informationm about administrative and investment fees and expenses in their 401(k) plans.

EBSA issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02, which provided guidance to its field enforcement personnel in question and answer format on the obligations of plan administrators under the fee disclosure regulation on May 7, 2012. In response to questions and concerns about statements in Question 30 regarding brokerage windows and other arrangements that enable plan participants and beneficiaries to select investments beyond those designated by the plan, EBSA issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02 which supersedes Field Assistance Bulletin 2012-02 by modifying its provisions about brokerage windows and inviting more public comments for EBSA to use to consider further clarification of this guidance. 

As did its predecessor, Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02R specifies that while the fee disclosure regulation covers “brokerage windows,” “self-directed brokerage accounts,” and other similar plan arrangements that enable participants and beneficiaries to select investments beyond those designated by the plan, its coverage of brokerage windows is limited to the disclosure requirements in paragraph (c) of the regulation relating to plan-related information. The disclosure requirements for investment-related information in paragraph (d) of the regulation do not apply to brokerage windows, self-directed brokerage accounts, and similar arrangements or to any investment selected by a participant or beneficiary that is not designated by the plan (i.e., any investments made through the window, account, or arrangement).

New Q-39 of Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02R addresses when a plan offers an investment platform that includes a brokerage window, self-directed brokerage account, or similar plan arrangement but the fiduciary did not designate any of the funds on the platform or available through the brokerage window, self-directed brokerage account, or similar plan arrangement as “designated investment alternatives” under the plan, if the brokerage account platform or the brokerage window, self-directed brokerage account, or similar plan arrangement is a designated investment alternative for purposes of the regulation.  According to Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02R, it is not.  According to the Field Assistance Bulletin, the regulation does not require that a plan have a particular number of “designated investment alternative” (DIA), and the Bulletin does not prohibit the use of a platform or a brokerage window, self-directed brokerage account, or similar plan arrangement in an individual account plan.  Rather, whether an investment alternative is a DIA for purposes of the regulation depends on whether it is specifically identified as available under the plan.

However Question 39 also cautions plan administrators and fiduciaries about the need to ensure other applicable ERISA obligations are fulfilled. Field Assistance Bulletin 2012-02R notes it does not change the 404(c) regulation or the requirements for relief from fiduciary liability under section 404(c) of ERISA or address the application of ERISA’s general fiduciary requirements to SEPs or SIMPLE IRA plans. Also, fiduciaries of such plans with platforms or brokerage windows, self-directed brokerage accounts, or similar plan arrangements that enable participants and beneficiaries to select investments beyond those designated by the plan are still bound by ERISA section 404(a)’s statutory duties of prudence and loyalty to participants and beneficiaries who use the platform or the brokerage window, self-directed brokerage account, or similar plan arrangement, including taking into account the nature and quality of services provided in connection with the platform or the brokerage window, self-directed brokerage account, or similar plan arrangement.  It also notes that that a 401(k) or other individual account plan fiduciary’s failure to designate investment alternatives to avoid investment disclosures under the regulation, raises questions under ERISA section 404(a)’s general statutory fiduciary duties of prudence and loyalty.

For Help or More Information

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

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

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

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

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

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


[i]See 75 FR 64910 (Oct. 20, 2010).

 

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.

 


Federal Mandate That Employer Health Plans Must Cover 100% Of Contraceptive, Other Women’s Health Services With No Cost Sharing Now Effective

August 6, 2012

August 1 Effective Date Of Obama Administration Addition of Contraception & Other Women’s Health Services To Already Lengthy List of Prevention Services Plans Must Cover

Effective August 1, 2012, federal regulators expanded the list of prevention-related services that the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) requires that non-grandfathered group health plans cover in-network at no cost to covered persons to include eight more prevention-related health services for women including coverage for the mandate to cover certain contraceptive services that has engendered much debate and opposition from various religious organizations and others. 

Employers and other sponsors and insurers of group health plans should review and update their health plan documents, contracts, communications and administration practices to ensure that their health plans and policies appropriately cover these and other prevention-related services that current federal regulations mandate that group health plans (other than grandfathered plans) must cover to comply with the Affordable Care Act.

Non-Grandfathered Health Plans Must Cover Expansive List of Prevention Services

As part of the sweeping reforms enacted by the Affordable Care Act, Congress has mandated that except for certain plans that qualify as “grandfathered,” group health plans and insurers generally must pay for 100% of the cost to cover hundreds of prevention-related health care services for individuals covered under their health plans without any co-payments or other cost-sharing.identified in the  services without cost sharing.

Federal regulations have mandated since 2010 that group health plans and insurers provide in-network coverage in accordance with federal regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act’s prevention-related health services mandates for more than 800 prevention-related services listed in regulations originally published in 2009. See Agencies Release Regulations Implementing Affordable Care Act Preventive Care Mandates.  The Affordable Care Act gives federal authorities the power to expand or modify this list.  Following publication of the original list, the Obama Administration engaged in lengthy discussion considerations about the scope of contraceptive and other women’s health services that would qualify as prevention related services including lengthy discussions and negotiations about mandates to provide contraceptive services viewed as highly controversial by many religious organizations and several other employers. See Affordable Care Act To Require Health Plans Cover Contraception & Other Women’s Health Procedures

Obama Administration Adds Contraceptive & Other Women’s Health Services To Required List Effective 8/1/2012

The Obama Administration moved forward on its promise to add contraceptive services and a broad list of other women’s health services to the list of prevention-related health services that employer-sponsored health plans must cover without cost to employees despite objections from religious organizations and others that the contraception mandate violates the Constitution’s freedom of religion protections.   

The Obama Administration’s announcement earlier this year that it intended to move forward with plans to mandate that group health plans – including those of certain employers affiliated with religious organizations to cover contraceptive counseling and other services as prevention-related services has prompted outcry and legal challenges from a broad range of religious organizations and others.  See e.g., University of Notre Dame v. Sebelius;  Hercules Industries, Inc. v. SebeliusOn July 27, 2012, a Colorado District Court granted a temporary injunction barring enforcement of the contraceptive coverage mandate against  a small, Catholic family-owned business challenging the mandate as a violation of the Constitutional religious freedoms of its owners.  See Hercules Industries, Inc. v. Sebelius.

While these and other litigants continue to challenge the contraceptive mandates, Obama Administration officials continue to voice their commitment to standby and enforce the contraceptive and other prevention-related services mandates as implemented by current regulation.  Employer and other health plan sponsors and fiduciaries that do not wish to risk exposure for violating these mandates should review and update their health plan documents, summary plan descriptions and other communications, and administrative and other procedures as necessary to comply with the applicable requirements of the regulations.

For Help or More Information

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

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

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

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

Other Resources

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

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

 

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.

 


12 Steps Every Employer With A Health Plan Should Do Now To Manage 2012-14 Health Plan Risks & Liabilities

August 1, 2012

August 1 marked the effective date of yet another Affordable Care Act mandate:  the controversial contraceptive coverage and other women’s health preventive coverage benefits mandates.  Although many mandates have taken effect over the past two years, few employer plans are adequately updated.  Here’s some suggestions about what employers and fiduciaries responsible for group health plan sponsorship or administration and their vendors should do now to manage exposures arising from current Affordable Care Act and other federal health plan rules.  Following the Supreme Court’s June 28, 2012 National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius ruling, most employers and insurers of employment based group health plans now are bracing to cope with radical changes in their health plan related responsibilities scheduled to take effect in 2014. 

While anticipating and preparing to cope with these future changes health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and advisors need to manage the substantial and growing health plan related costs and liabilities that the sponsorship or administration of an employee health plan between now and 2014 is likely to create for their company and its management.  Consequently, while planning for 2014, employers sponsoring health plans and their management, insurers, administrators and vendors must act now to update and administer their group health plans timely to comply with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and other federal rules that have, or in coming months will, take effect pending the law’s full rollout in 2014. 

For most health plans, these steps should include the following:

  1. Know The Cast Of Characters & What Hat(s) (Including You) They Wear & Prudently Select, Contract With & Monitor Them To Manage Risks

Employers and their management rely upon many vendors and advisors and assumptions when making plan design and risk management decisions.  Many times, employer and members of their management unknowingly assume significant risk because of misperceptions about these allocations of duties and operational and legal accountability.   An correct understanding of these roles and responsibilities is the foundation for knowing where the risks come from, who and to what extent a business or its management can rely upon a vendor or advisor to properly design and administer a health plan or carry out related obligations, what risks cannot be delegated, and how to manage these risks.

Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), party or parties that exercise discretion or control over health plan administration, funds or certain other matters are generally called “fiduciaries.” Fiduciaries generally are personally liable for prudently and appropriately administering their health plan related responsibilities prudently in accordance with ERISA and other applicable laws and the plan terms.  Knowing who is acting as a fiduciary and understanding those duties and liabilities and how to manage these risks significantly affects the exposure that an employer or member of its management risks as a result of an employer’s sponsorship in a group health plan or other employee benefit program.  Also, knowing what duties come first and how to prove that the fiduciary did the right thing is critical to managing risks when an individual who has fiduciary responsibilities under ERISA also has other responsibilities in the management of the sponsoring employer, a vendor or elsewhere that carries duties or interests that conflict with his health plan related fiduciary duties.

The plan sponsor or members of its leadership, a service provider or members of their staff generally may be a fiduciary for purposes of ERISA if it either is named as the fiduciary, it functionally exercises the discretion to be considered a fiduciary, or it otherwise has discretionary power over plan administration or other fiduciary matters.  Many plan sponsors and their management unwittingly take on liability that they assume rests with an insurer or service provider because the company or members of its management are named as the plan administrator or named fiduciary with regard to duties that the company has hired an insurer or service provider to provide or allowed that service provider to disclaim fiduciary or discretionary status with regard to those responsibilities.  Also, by not knowing who the fiduciaries are, plans and their fiduciaries often fail to confirm the eligibility of all parties serving as fiduciaries, to arrange for bonding of service providers or fiduciaries as required to comply with Title I of ERISA.   Failing to properly understand when the plan sponsor, member of its management or another party is or could be a fiduciary can create unnecessary and unexpected risks and lead to reliance upon vendors who provide advice but leave the employer holding the bag for resulting liability.

In addition to fiduciary status, employer and other plan sponsors also need to understand the additional responsibilities and exposures that the employer bears as a plan sponsor.  Beyond contractual and fiduciary liabilities, federal law increasingly imposes excise tax or other liability for failing to maintain legally compliant plans, file required reports, provide required notifications or fulfill other requirements.   The Affordable Care Act, the Internal Revenue Code, the Social Security Act, the Privacy, Security, and Administrative Simplification For instance, the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) and various other federal laws also impose certain health plan related obligations and liabilities on employer or other health plan sponsors and other parties.  The Internal Revenue Service interprets Internal Revenue Code § 6039D as obligating employers sponsoring health plans that violate these and certain other federal health plan rules to self-identify, self-report, and self-assess and pay excise and other taxes due under the Internal Revenue Code as a result of this non-compliance.   Knowing what everyone’s roles and responsibilities are is a critical first step to properly understanding and managing health plan responsibilities and related risks.

An accurate understanding of the risks and who bears them is critical to understand the risks, opportunities to mitigate risk through effective contracting or other outsourcing, when outsourcing does not effectively transfer risks, where to invest resources for contract, plan or process review and changes or other risk management, and where to expect costs and risks and implement processes and procedures to deal with risks that cannot be outsourced or managed.

  1. Know What Rules Apply To Your Plan, The Sponsoring Employer, The Plan Its Fiduciaries & Plan Related  Vendors & How This Impacts You & Your Group Health Plan

The requirements and rules impacting health plans and their liabilities have undergone continuous changes.  Amid these changing requirements, health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, and service providers often may not have kept their knowledge, much less their plan documents, summary plan descriptions and other communications, administrative forms and procedures and other materials and practices up to date. These requirements and their compliance and risk management significance may vary depending upon whether the reviewing or regulated party is the plan, its sponsor, fiduciary, insurer or services in some other rules; how the plans are arranged and documented, the risk and indemnification allocations negotiated among the parties, the risk tolerance of the party, and other factors.  Proper understanding of these rules and their implications is critical to understand and manage the applicable risks and exposures.

  1. Review & Update Health Plan Documents, SPDs & Other Communications, Administrative Forms & Procedures, Contracts & Processes To Meet Requirements & Manage Exposures

Timely updating written plan documents, communications and administration forms, administrative practices, contracts and other health plan related materials processes and procedures has never been more critical. 

Federal law generally requires that health plan be established, maintained and administered in accordance with legally complaint, written plan documents and impose a growing list of standards and requirements governing the design and administration of these programs. In addition, ERISA, the Internal Revenue Code, the Social Security Act, federal eligibility and coverage continuation mandates of laws like the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act, the Family & Medical Leave Act, Michelle’s Law and others require that health plan administrators or sponsors communicate plan terms and other relevant information to participants and beneficiaries.

Failing to update documents, communications, administrative forms and processes and other materials and practices can unleash a host of exposures. Among other things, noncompliant plans, communications and practices can trigger unanticipated costs and liabilities by undermining the ability to administer plan terms and conditions.  They also may expose the plan, plan fiduciaries and others to lawsuits, administrative enforcement and sanctions and other enforcement liabilities. 

Beyond these exposures, employers who sponsor group health plans that violate certain federal group health plan mandates have a duty to self-report certain regulatory plan failures and pay excise taxes where such failures are not corrected in a timely fashion once discovered, or are due to willful neglect. Internal Revenue Code Section 6039D imposes excise taxes for failure to comply with health care continuation (COBRA) , health plan portability (HIPAA), genetic nondiscrimination (GINA), mental health parity (MHPAEA) , minimum hospital stays for newborns and mothers (Newborns’ and Mothers’ Health Protection Act), coverage of dependent students on medically necessary leaves of absence (Michelle’s Law), health savings account (HSA) and Archer medical savings account (Archer MSA) contribution comparability and various other federal requirements incorporated into the Internal Revenue Code.   Since 2010, Internal Revenue Service regulations have required employers sponsoring group health plans not complying with mandates covered by Internal Revenue Code Section 6039D to self-report violations and pay related excise taxes.  Under these regulations, the sponsoring employer (or in some cases, the insurer, HMO or third-party administrator) must report health plan compliance failures annually on IRS Form 8928 (“Return of Certain Excise Taxes Under Chapter 43 of the Internal Revenue Code”) and self-assess and pay resulting excise taxes.  The potential excise tax liability that can result under these provisions can be significant.  For example, COBRA, HIPAA, and GINA violations typically carry excise tax liability of $100 per day per individual affected. Compliance with applicable federal group health plan mandates is critical to avoid these excise taxes as well as other federal group health plan liabilities.

For this purpose of deciding what and how much to do, it is critical to keep in mind the devil is in the details.  Not only must the documentation meet all technical mandates, the language, its clarity and specificity, and getting the plan document to match the actual processes that will be used to administer the plan and ensuring that the plan documents and processes match the summary plan description, summary of benefits and coverage, administrative forms and documentation and other plan communications and documentation in a legally compliant way significantly impacts the defensibility of the plan terms and the cost that the plan, its sponsor and fiduciaries can expect to incur to defend it.

  1. Update & Tighten Claims and Appeals Plan & SPD Language, EOBs & Other Notifications, Processes, Contracts & Other Practices For Changing Compliance Requirements & Enhanced Defensibility

Proper health plan claims and appeals plan and summary plan description language, procedures, processing, notification and documentation is critical to maintain defensible claims and appeals decisions required to enforce plan terms and manage claims denial related liabilities and defense costs.  Noncompliance with these requirements may prevent health plans from defending their claims or appeals denials, expose the plan administrator and plan fiduciaries involved or responsible for these activities to penalties, prompt unnecessary lawsuits, Labor Department enforcement or both; and drive up plan administration costs.

Unfortunately, most group health plans, their insurers and administrators need to substantially strengthen their plan documentation; handling; timeliness; notifications and other claims denials; and other claims and other appeals processes and documentation to meet existing regulations and otherwise strengthen their defensibility.  Among other things, existing court decisions document that many plans existing plan documents, summary plan descriptions and explanations of benefits, claims and appeals investigations and documentation and notifications often need improvement to meet the basic plan document, summary plan description and reasonable claims rules of the plan document, summary plan description, fiduciary responsibility, reasonable claims and appeals procedures of ERISA and its implementing regulations.  Court precedent shows that inadequate drafting of these provisions, as well as specific provisions coverage and benefit provisions frequently undermines the defensibility of claims and appeals determinations. In addition to requiring that claims be processed and paid prudently in accordance with the terms of written plan documents, ERISA also requirements that plan fiduciaries decide and administer claims and appeals in accordance with reasonable claims procedures.  Although the Labor Department updated its regulations implementing this reasonable claims and appeals procedure requirement more than 10 years ago, the Department of Labor updated its ERISA claims and appeals regulations to include detailed health plan claims and appeals requirements, many group health plans, their administrators and insurers still have not updated their health plans, summary plan descriptions, claims and appeals notification, and claims and appeals procedures to comply with these requirements.   The external review and other detailed additional requirements that the Affordable  Care Act dictates that group health plans not grandfathered from its provisions and its provisions holding these non-grandfathered plans strictly liable for deficiencies in their claims and appeals procedures makes the need to address inadequacies even more imperative for those non-grandfathered group health plans.  Inadequate attention to these concerns can force a plan to pay benefits for claims otherwise not covered as well as other defense costs and penalties.

  1. Consistency Matters:  Build Good Plan Design, Documentation & Processes, Then Follow Them.

Defensible health plan administration starts with the building and adopting strong, legally compliant plan terms and processes that are carefully documented and communicated in a prudent, legally compliant way.  The next key is to actually use this investment by conducting plan administration and related operations consistent with the terms and allocated responsibilities to administer the plan in a documented, legally compliant and prudent manner.  Good documentation and design on the front end should minimize ambiguities in the meaning of the plan and who is responsible for doing what when.  With these tools in place, delays and other hiccups that result from confusion about plan terms, how they apply to a particular circumstance or who is responsible for doing what, when should be minimized and much more easily resolved by timely, appropriate action by the proper responsible party.  This facilitation of administration and its consistency can do much to enhance the defensibility of the plan and minimize other plan related risks and costs.

  1. Ensure Correct Party Carefully Communicates About Coverage and Claims in Compliant, Timely, Prudent, Provable Manner

Having the proper party respond to claims and inquiries in a compliant, timely, prudent manner is another key element to managing health plan risk and promoting enforceability.   Ideally, the party appointed to act as the named fiduciary for purposes of carrying out a particular function also should conduct all plan communications regarding that function in terms that makes clear its role and negates responsibility or authority of others.  When an employer or other plan sponsor goes to the trouble to appoint a committee, service provider or other party to serve as the named fiduciary then chooses to communicate about the plan anyway, the Supreme Court in FMC v. Halliday made clear it runs the risk that the plan related communications may be considered discretionary fiduciary conduct for which it may be liable as a functional fiduciary.  Meanwhile, these communications by non-fiduciaries also may create binding obligations upon the plan and its named fiduciaries to the extent made by a plan sponsor or conducted by a staff member or service provider performing responsibilities delegated by the plan fiduciary. Beyond expanding the scope of potential fiduciaries, communications conducted by nonfiduciaries also tend to create defensibility for many other reasons.  For instance, allowing unauthorized parties to perform plan functions may not comport with the plan terms, and are less likely to create and preserve required documentation and follow procedures necessary to promote enforceability.  Also, the communications, decisions and other actions by these non-fiduciary actors also are unlikely to qualify for discretionary review by the courts because grants of discretionary authority, if any in the written plan document to qualify the decisions of the named fiduciary for deferential review by courts typically will not extend to actions by these non-fiduciary parties.  Furthermore, the likelihood that the communication or other activity conducted will not comply with the fiduciary responsibility or other requirements governing the performance of the plan related functions is significantly increased when a plan sponsor, service provider, member of management, or other party not who has not been appointed or accepted the appointment  act as a named fiduciary undertakes to speak or act because that party very likely does not accept or fully appreciate the potential nature of its actions, the fiduciary and other legal rules applicable to the conduct, and the potential implications for the non-fiduciary actor, the plan and its fiduciaries.

  1. Design and Implement Updated, Properly Secured Payroll, Enrollment, Eligibility and Other Data Collection Features To Meet New Requirements and Prepare For Added Affordable Care Act Data Gathering and Reporting Requirements.

Existing and impending Affordable Care Act mandates require that group health plans, their sponsors collect, maintain and administer is exploding. Existing eligibility mandates, for example, already require that plans have access to a broad range of personal indentifying, personal health and a broad range of other sensitive information about employees and dependents who are or may be eligible for coverage under the plan. While employers and their health plans historically have collected and retained the names, place of residence, family relationships, social security number, and other similar information about employees and their dependents, these data collection, retention and reporting requirements have and will continued to expand dramatically in response to evolving legal requirements.  Already, health plans also from time to time need employee earnings, company ownership, employment status, family income, family, medical, military, and school leave information, divorce and child custody, enrollment in Medicare, Medicaid and other coverage and a broad range of other additional information.  Under the Affordable Care Act, these data needs will explode to include a whole new range of information about total family income, availability and enrollment in other coverage, cultural and language affiliations, and many other items.   Collecting, retaining and deploying this information will be critical to meeting existing and new plan administration and reporting requirements.  How this data collection is conducted, shared, safeguarded against misuse or other legally sensitive contact by the employer, service providers, the plan and others will be essential to mitigate exposures to federal employment and other nondiscrimination, HIPAA and other privacy, fiduciary responsibility and other legal risks and obligations.  To the extent that payroll providers, third party administrators or other outside service providers will participate in the collection, retention, or use of this data, time also should be set aside both to conduct due diligence about their suitability, as well as to negotiate the necessary contractual arrangements and safeguards to make their involvement appropriate.  Finally, given the highly sensitive nature of this data, employers, health plans and others that will collect and use this data will need to implement appropriate safeguards to prevent and monitor for improper use, access or disclosure and to conduct the necessary training to suitably protect this data.

  1. Monitor, Assess Implications & Provide Relevant Input to Regulators About Emerging Requirements & Interpretive Guidance Implementing 2014 Affordable Care Act & Other Mandates.

While the Supreme Court’s decision upholds the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandates, many opportunities to impact its mandates remain. Beyond the highly visible, continuing and often heated debates ranging in Congress and the court of public opinion concerning whether Congress should modify or repeal its provisions, a plethora of regulatory interpretations issued or impending release by the implementing agencies, the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Health & Human Services, Department of Labor and state insurance regulators will significantly impact what requirements and costs employers, insurers, individuals and governments will bear when the law takes effect.  Businesses sponsoring health plans should carefully scrutinize this regulatory guidance and provide meaningful, timely input to Congress, the regulators or both as appropriate to help influence the direction of regulatory or Congressional actions that would materially impact these burdens.

  1. Help Employees & Their Families Build Their Health Care Coping Skills With Training & Supportive Tools

Whether or not your company plans to continue to sponsor employee health coverage after 2014, providing training and tools to help employees and their families strengthen their ability to understand and manage their health, health care needs and benefits can pay big dividends.  Beyond the financial costs to employees and employers of paying to care for a serious illness or injury, productivity also suffers while employees dealing with their own or a family member’s chronic or serious health care condition.  Wellness programs that encourage and support the efforts of employees and their families to stay healthy may be one valuable part of these efforts.  Beyond trying to prevent the need to cope with illness behind wellness programs, however, opportunities to realize big financial, productivity and benefit value recognition rewards also exist in the too often overlooked opportunity to provide training, education and tools that employees and their families need to better understand and self-manage care, benefits, finances and life challenges that commonly arise when dealing with their own or a family member’s illness. Providing education, tools and other resources that can help employees access, organize and effectively use health care and benefit information to manage care and the consequences of illness, their benefits and how to use them, to take part more effectively in care and care decisions, to recognize and self-manage financial, lost-time and other challenges associated with the illness not addressable or covered by health benefit programs, and other practical skills can help reduce lost time and other productivity impacts while helping employees and their families get the most out of the health care dollars spent.

  1. Pack Your Parachute & Locate The Nearest Exit Doors

With the parade of expenses and liabilities associated with health plans, businesses sponsoring health plans and the management, service providers and others involved in their establishment, continuation, maintenance or administration are well advised to pack their survival kit and develop their exit strategies to position to soften the landing in case their health plan experiences a legal or operational disaster. 

Employers and other health plan sponsors and fiduciaries typically hire and rely upon a host of vendors and advisors to design and administer their health plans.  When selecting and hiring these service providers, health plan sponsors and fiduciaries are well-advised to investigate carefully their credentials as well as require the vendors to provide written commitments to stand behind their advice and services.  Too often, while these service providers and advisors encourage plan sponsors and fiduciaries to allow the vendor to lead them or even handle on an ongoing basis plan administration services by touting their services, experience, expert systems and process and commitment to stand behind the customer when making the sale or encouraging reliance upon their advice when tough decisions are made, they rush to stand behind exculpatory and on-sided indemnification provisions in their service contracts to limit or avoid liability,   demand indemnification from their customer or both when things go wrong.  While ERISA may offer some relief from certain of these exculpatory provisions under some circumstances, plan sponsors and fiduciaries should work to credential service providers and require service providers to commit to being accountable for their services by requiring contracts acknowledge all promised services and standards of quality, require vendors to commit to provide legally compliant and prudently designed and administered services that meet or exceed applicable legal requirements, to provide liability-backed indemnification or other protection for damages and costs resulting from vendor imprudence or malfeasance, to allow for contract termination if the vendor becomes unsuitable for continued use due to changing law or other circumstances and requiring the vendor to return data and other documentation critical to defend past decisions and provide for ongoing administration.  Keep documentation about advice, assurances and other relevant evidence received from vendors which could be useful in showing your company’s or plan’s efforts to make prudent efforts to provide for the proper administration of the plan.  When concerns arise, use care to investigate and redress concerns in a timely, measured fashion which both shows the prudent response to the concern and reflects sensitivity to the fiduciary and other roles and responsibilities of the employer sponsor and other parties involved.

  1. Get Moving Now On Your Compliance & Risk Management Issues. 

Since many compliance deadlines already have past and the impending deadlines allow plan sponsors and fiduciaries limited time to finish arrangements, businesses, fiduciaries and their service providers need to get moving immediately to update their health plans to meet existing  and impending compliance and risk management risks under the Affordable Care Act and other federal laws, decisions and regulations.

  1. Monitor, Assess Implications & Provide Relevant Input to Regulators About Emerging Requirements & Interpretive Guidance Implementing 2014 Affordable Care Act & Other Mandates.

While the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate, employer and other health plan sponsors, Congress continues to debate changes to the Affordable Care Act and other federal health plan rules.  Meanwhile, significant opportunity still exists to provide input to federal and state regulators on many key aspects of the Affordable Care Act and its relationship to other applicable laws even as court challenges to contraceptive coverage and other specific requirements are emerging.  Businesses and other health plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries, insurers and administrators, and other vendors must stay involved and alert.  Zealously monitor new developments and share timely input with Congress and regulators about existing and emerging rules that present concerns and other opportunities for improvement even as you position to respond to these rules before they become fully implemented.

For Help or More Information

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

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

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

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

Other Resources

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

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

 

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.