Blog Archives

Employer Impact of The SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

What Employers Should Know

The Supreme Court’s decision impacts the legality of same-sex marriages throughout the country. By ruling that state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, the Supreme Court has effectively legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Same-sex couples will be allowed to marry in any state, and will be entitled to the all the rights, benefits and obligations given to opposite-sex spouses under both federal and state law.

Also, due to the Supreme Court’s ruling, employers will generally be required to treat employees in same-sex marriages the same as employees in opposite-sex marriages for many federal and state law purposes.

Many federal laws have already been interpreted to include both same-sex and opposite-sex marriages due to the Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA. The Supreme Court’s most recent ruling will expand these legal rights and protections to additional couples.

Also, many state law leave rights for legally married spouses should extend to employees with same-sex spouses. Same-sex married couples should also be subject to the same state tax rules as opposite-sex married couples. State insurance laws may require employers with insured health plans to offer equal health plan coverage to opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court did not consider whether federal nondiscrimination laws should be expanded to protect workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, a number of states have laws that prohibit such workplace discrimination. Employers should keep any applicable laws in mind when providing any rights or benefits to employees.

Call us today for a full analysis. It’s up to you to make sure you and your business are compliant with the law, both Federally and within your particular State….and we can help!

Human Resources Brief from CIBC of Illinios

Supreme Court Rules on Abercrombie Religious Discrimination Case

On June 1, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Abercrombie & Fitch in a high-profile religious discrimination case. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Muslim woman who was denied employment with Abercrombie due to wearing a headscarf, or hijab, in violation of the company’s “look policy.”

The Supreme Court held that to prove a violation of federal law, an applicant must only show that the need for a religious accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision. Whether the employer had actual knowledge of the need for an accommodation is irrelevant. An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice—confirmed or otherwise—a factor in employment decisions.

Samantha Elauf, a practicing Muslim woman, was determined to be eligible for employment at Abercrombie after her first interview. The assistant store manager asked upper management whether Elauf’s headscarf, which she thought may be for religious reasons, conflicted with Abercrombie’s policy against caps. The assistant store manager was told not to hire Elauf because her headscarf would violate Abercrombie’s “look policy.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued on Elauf’s behalf, claiming violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The question presented to the Supreme Court was whether the prohibition on discrimination under Title VII applies only when an applicant has informed the employer of the need for an accommodation. The Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals, holding that an applicant does not need to prove an employer had actual knowledge of a need for a religious accommodation. Rather, a job applicant can prove discrimination if he or she can show the need for accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision.

The Supreme Court’s decision confirms current practice for many employers. However, the ruling establishes a lower standard to prove discrimination. Employers should not base hiring decisions on an assumption that an applicant may require some form of accommodation. You should also consider whether you can accommodate applicant requests without undue hardship.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) certification forms expired Feb. 28, 2015. Since that date, the Department of Labor (DOL) extended the expiration date of the forms by 30 days while the revised FMLA forms were under review with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The DOL has now posted new model FMLA medical certifications and notices with an expiration date of May 31, 2018. The new forms are identical to the previous forms. However, the new medical certifications include instructions not to provide genetic information in accordance with the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

DOL Sends Proposed FLSA Regulations to OMB

In March 2014, President Barack Obama directed the Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, to revise the overtime pay provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to increase the number of workers who are eligible for overtime pay.

Over a year later, the DOL has sent proposed regulations that aim to “modernize and streamline the existing overtime regulations for executive, administrative, and professional employees” to the OMB for review. After the review, the proposed regulations will be made available to the public for comment.

The proposed regulations may affect the number of employees at your company who are eligible for overtime pay. In addition to staying up to date on the proposed regulations, you should assess your current workforce to prepare for possible changes.

For example, complete an audit to make sure your organization’s job descriptions are current and accurately reflect the duties and required skills of each position. This will be a powerful tool when navigating the proposed regulations.

Employee Benefits Update from CIBC of Illinois, Inc.

Agencies Plan to Issue Final Rules for SBC Requirements

On March 31, 2015, the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Treasury (Departments) issued Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) announcing their intention to issue final regulations for the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) summary of benefits and coverage (SBC) and uniform glossary requirement. These regulations will finalize the proposed regulations from Dec. 22, 2014.

The ACA requires these disclosure tools—the SBC and uniform glossary—to help consumers compare available coverage options. The requirement to provide them applies to both grandfathered and non-grandfathered plans.

Health plan issuers must provide the SBC to applicants and enrollees free of charge. The SBC is a concise document that provides simple and consistent information about health plan benefits and coverage.

The final regulations are expected to be released in the near future and will apply for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2016 (including open enrollment periods in fall of 2015 for coverage beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2016).

The updated template and related documents, including sample language and instructions, for the SBC and uniform glossary will not be issued until January 2016. The updated template will then apply for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2017. Until further guidance is issued, the previously updated template provided on the DOL’s website on April 23, 2014, continues to be authorized.

The March 31 FAQ guidance leaves a lot of uncertainty for employers in regard to their SBC documents. The changes included in the final regulations may require health plans to update their SBC documents before the new template is released.

The forthcoming final regulations may address this issue. In some cases, the Departments have provided temporary enforcement safe harbors when guidance is not issued sufficiently in advance of an effective date. However, at this time, no safe harbors or other relief has been provided on this issue.

Plan Offerings Now Diverging by Group Size

A new trend of health plan offerings has emerged over the past few years. Group size appears to be a determining factor in whether employers are offering more generous health plans or working on implementing more cost-sharing strategies for health benefits.

Large organizations—with more than 500 lives—tend to offer generous health plans, likely in an effort to use their benefits packages as recruiting and retention tools in a market that is becoming increasingly fierce.

Smaller groups are cutting back on benefits and using cost-sharing efforts with employees. This trend of leaner benefits with smaller groups is likely an effort to bring down expenses associated with rising health care costs and other costs related to the ACA.

For more information on how your benefits offerings compare to other employers, contact CIBC of Illinois, Inc. for benchmarking information.

DID YOU KNOW?

On May 4, 2015, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Revenue Procedure 2015-30 to announce the inflation-adjusted limits for health savings accounts (HSAs) for calendar year 2016.

The following limits apply for 2016:

  • The HSA contribution limit is $3,350 for self-only and $6,750 for family.
  • The minimum deductible for high deductible health plans (HDHPs) is $1,300 for self-only and $2,600 for family.
  • The maximum out-of-pocket for HDHPs is $6,550 for self-only and $13,100 for family.

HR Briefing from CIBC of Illinois: May 2015

Supreme Court Issues Ruling in Pregnancy Discrimination Case

On March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a former employee of United Parcel Service (UPS). The employee was faced with the choice to either continue working her labor-intensive job during pregnancy or take unpaid leave.

In its Young v. UPS decision, the Supreme Court held that the employee should be given the opportunity to prove that UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) by not providing her the same light-duty accommodation that was given to other UPS employees who were considered injured or disabled. The PDA requires that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition be treated the same for all employment-related purposes as “other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”

The employee in this case, Peggy Young, worked as a part-time driver for UPS. In 2006, Young became pregnant and was advised by her doctor that she should not lift more than 20 pounds. However, UPS required drivers to be

able to lift up to 70 pounds and denied Young’s lifting restriction.

Young sued UPS, alleging that it violated the PDA because it had a light-duty policy for other types of workers, including those who were injured on the job or disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but not for pregnant workers. UPS argued that it treated her as it would treat other relevant individuals and therefore did not discriminate against her based on pregnancy.

In 2008, the ADA’s definition of “disability” was expanded, requiring employers to accommodate employees with temporary lifting restrictions originating outside of work. In 2014, the EEOC also issued guidance requiring employers that provide light-duty assignments to employees who are unable to perform their full duties to make similar accommodations for pregnant employees. Many employers may have already changed their policies in light of this guidance.

The Supreme Court sent the case to the lower court for further review and also outlined standards for PDA cases. An individual may show discrimination by showing that her employer did not accommodate her while pregnant but did accommodate others who are similar “in their ability or inability to work.”

The decision is a victory for pregnant workers because it establishes an easier framework to prove illegal discrimination. Employers should review their policies to make sure that they do not discriminate against pregnant workers in violation of applicable laws. A significant factor in determining whether discrimination occurred will be if the employer accommodates a large percentage of nonpregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers.

HR Summertime Checklist

Employers and HR departments that take time to prepare for the summer months may be able to enjoy them a bit more. Now is a good time to start considering the employee management areas outlined below to ensure a smooth summer. Think about how each area impacts your organization and whether any action should be taken.

PTO/Vacation Requests – Do managers and supervisors know how to administer employee requests to make sure appropriate staffing levels are maintained and employees are treated fairly?

Summer Hours – Will your company begin or continue a “summer hours” policy? Will it be company-wide?

Dress Code – Does your company allow for a more relaxed dress code during the summer? How long does this last?

Staffing – Are you a seasonal employer who should start hiring for the summer? Are there layoffs to be administered prior to summer? Will you be hiring interns?

Of course, the above is not an all-inclusive list and each organization is unique. Think about what the summertime season means for your organization and get prepared.

DID YOU KNOW?

Many employers have implemented wellness programs to control health care costs. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed several lawsuits against employer-sponsored wellness programs it says violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

Until more clear guidance is available, you should take note of the issues highlighted in the EEOC cases. Specifically, you should review your wellness plan to ensure participation is voluntary and that employees are not excessively penalized for refusing to participate. In addition, you should evaluate whether the information collected about employees is protected under the ADA, GINA or any other employment benefit law.

For help with any part of the Employee Benefits spectrum, call us today at 877-936-3580.

Compliance Alert: EEOC Issues Proposed Rule on the ADA and Wellness Programs

On April 16, 2015, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a proposed rule that describes how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to employee wellness programs that include questions about employees’ health or medical examinations. Although the ADA limits when employers may inquire about employees’ health or require them to undergo medical examinations, these inquiries and exams are permitted if they are part of a voluntary wellness program.

The long-awaited proposed rule would provide much needed guidance for employers on how to structure employee wellness programs without violating the ADA. Most importantly, the proposed rule addresses the amount of incentives that may be offered under employee wellness programs that are part of group health plans. This amount is generally consistent with HIPAA’s limits on wellness program incentives, although the proposed rule does not fully incorporate HIPAA’s increased incentive limit for tobacco cessation programs.

Implications for Employers

The EEOC is seeking comments on the proposed rule and may make revisions to its guidance before it is finalized. While employers are not required to comply with the proposed rule before it is finalized, they may choose to do so. According to the EEOC, it is unlikely that a court or the EEOC would find an ADA violation where an employer complied with the proposed guidance until a final rule is issued.

Wellness Programs

Many employers offer workplace wellness programs as a way to help control health care costs, encourage healthier lifestyles and prevent disease.

Employers may offer participatory wellness programs, which do not require individuals to meet a health-related standard in order to obtain an incentive. Participatory wellness programs include, for example, subsidized fitness club memberships, reimbursement of smoking cessation classes (without regard to whether the employee quits smoking) or rewards for completing a health risk assessment (HRA) without any further action required by the employee with respect to the health issues identified by the HRA.

Employers may also offer health-contingent wellness programs, which require individuals to satisfy a standard related to a health factor in order to obtain an incentive. For example, health-contingent wellness programs may require participants to participate in exercise programs, remain tobacco-free or attain certain results on biometric screenings (for example, low cholesterol, blood glucose and blood pressure levels) to obtain an incentive.

Wellness program incentives can be framed as rewards or penalties and often take the form of prizes, cash, or a reduction or increase in health care premiums or cost-sharing.

Legal Concerns for Wellness Programs

Employee wellness programs must be carefully designed to comply with the ADA and other federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, religion, compensation, age or genetic information.

Additionally, wellness programs that are part of group health plans must be designed to comply with HIPAA’s nondiscrimination requirements, as amended by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Under HIPAA, health-contingent wellness programs are required to follow certain standards related to nondiscrimination, including a standard that limits the amount of incentives that can be offered. The maximum reward under HIPAA for health-contingent wellness programs is 30 percent of the cost of health coverage (or 50 percent for programs designed to prevent or reduce tobacco use).

EEOC Guidance

Background

The ADA prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Under the ADA, an employer may make disability-related inquiries and require medical examinations after employment begins only if they are job-related and consistent with business necessity. However, these inquiries and exams are permitted if they are part of a voluntary wellness program.

Neither the ADA nor prior EEOC guidance addressed the extent to which incentives affected the voluntary nature of a wellness program. Recently, the EEOC filed well-publicized lawsuits against a number of employers, alleging that their wellness programs violated the ADA and other federal fair employment laws. In response, Congress called on the EEOC to issue guidance on wellness programs and introduced legislation, the Preserving Employee Wellness Program Act, to provide more certainty for employers regarding wellness programs.

Proposed Guidance

The EEOC’s proposed rule would establish the following parameters for permissible wellness program designs under the ADA.

  • Reasonable Design: A wellness program must be reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease. A program that collects information on an HRA to provide feedback to employees about their health risks, or that uses aggregate information from HRAs to design programs aimed at particular medical conditions is reasonably designed. A program that collects information without providing feedback to employees or without using the information to design specific health programs is not reasonably designed.
  • Voluntary: Wellness programs must be voluntary. Employees may not be required to participate in a wellness program, may not be denied health insurance or given reduced health benefits if they do not participate, and may not be disciplined for not participating. Employers also may not interfere with the ADA rights of employees who do not want to participate in wellness programs, and may not coerce, intimidate or threaten employees to get them to participate or achieve certain health outcomes.
  • Employee Notice: For wellness programs that are part of group health plans, employers must provide employees with a notice that describes what medical information will be collected as part of the wellness program, who will receive it, how the information will be used and how it will be kept confidential.
  • Limited Incentives: For wellness programs that are part of group health plans, employers may offer limited incentives for employees to participate in the programs or to achieve certain health outcomes. Consistent with HIPAA, the amount of the incentive that may be offered for an employee to participate or to achieve health outcomes may not exceed 30 percent of the total cost of employee-only coverage. For example, if the total cost of coverage paid by both the employer and employee for self-only coverage is $5,000, the maximum incentive for an employee under that plan is $1,500.

This incentive limit only applies to wellness programs that include disability-related inquiries or medical examinations. According to the EEOC, a smoking cessation program that merely asks employees whether they use tobacco (or whether they stopped using tobacco upon completion of the program) is not a wellness program that includes disability-related inquiries or medical examinations. Thus, the EEOC’s proposed guidance would allow an employer to offer incentives as high as 50 percent of the cost of employee coverage for that smoking cessation program, consistent with HIPAA’s requirements. However, an incentive tied to a biometric screening or medical examination that tests for the presence of tobacco would be limited to 30 percent under the proposed rule.

  • Confidentiality: Medical information obtained as part of a wellness program must be kept confidential. Generally, employers may only receive medical information in aggregate form that does not disclose, and is not reasonably likely to disclose, the identity of specific employees.

Wellness programs that are part of a group health plan may generally comply with their obligation to keep medical information confidential by complying with the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Employers that are not HIPAA covered entities may generally comply with the ADA by signing a certification, as provided for by HIPAA regulations, that they will not use or disclose individually identifiable medical information for employment purposes and abiding by that certification.

Practices such as training individuals in the handling of confidential medical information, encryption of information in electronic form, and prompt reporting of breaches in confidentiality can help assure employees that their medical information is being handled properly.

  • Reasonable Accommodations: Employers must provide reasonable accommodations that enable employees with disabilities to participate and to earn whatever incentives the employer offers. For example, an employer that offers an incentive for employees to attend a nutrition class must, absent undue hardship, provide a sign language interpreter for a deaf employee who needs one to participate in the class. An employer also may need to provide materials related to a wellness program in alternate format, such as large print or Braille, for someone with vision impairment. An employee may need to provide an alternative to a blood test if an employee’s disability would make drawing blood dangerous.

More Information

To help employers understand the proposed guidance, the EEOC provided a fact sheet and a set of questions and answers or call us at 877-936-3580.

ACA Update: Summary of Benefits and Coverage and Uniform Glossary Details Remain Fuzzy, FAQ Released

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created new disclosure tools—the summary of benefits and coverage (SBC) and uniform glossary—to help consumers compare coverage options available to them. Generally, group health plans and health insurance issuers are required to provide the SBC and uniform glossary free of charge. This disclosure requirement applies to both grandfathered and non-grandfathered plans.

On March 31, 2015, the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Treasury (Departments) issued a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) announcing their intention to issue final regulations on the SBC requirement in the near future. The final regulations are expected to apply for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2016 (including open enrollment periods in fall of 2015 for coverage beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2016).

However, according to this FAQ, the new template, instructions and uniform glossary will not be finalized until January 2016, and will apply for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2017 (including open enrollment periods in fall of 2016 for coverage beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2017).

Overview of the SBC Requirement

The ACA requires health plans and health insurance issuers to provide an SBC to applicants and enrollees, free of charge. The SBC is a concise document that provides simple and consistent information about health plan benefits and coverage.

The SBC requirement became effective for participants and beneficiaries who enroll or re-enroll through an open enrollment period beginning with the first open enrollment period starting on or after Sept. 23, 2012. For participants and beneficiaries who enroll other than through an open enrollment period (such as newly eligible or special enrollees), SBCs were required to be provided beginning with the first plan year starting on or after Sept. 23, 2012.

The DOL has provided a template for the SBC and Uniform Glossary documents along with instructions and sample language for completing the template, available on the DOL’s website. On April 23, 2013, the SBC template was updated for the second year of applicability to incorporate ACA changes that become effective in later years. Until further guidance is issued, these documents continue to be authorized.

On Dec. 22, 2014, the Departments released proposed regulations on the SBC requirement, which would revise the SBC template, instruction guides and uniform glossary. At that time, the Departments expected that the new requirements for the SBC and uniform glossary would apply to coverage that begins on or after Sept. 1, 2015. The draft-updated template, instructions and supplementary materials are available on the DOL’s website under the heading “Templates, Instructions, and Related Materials—Proposed (SBCs On or after 9/15/15).”

The SBC and Uniform Glossary must be provided in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner. Translated versions of the template and glossary are available through the Centers for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) website.

To the extent a plan’s terms do not reasonably correspond to the template and instructions, the template should be completed in a manner that is as consistent with the instructions as reasonably as possible, while still accurately reflecting the plan’s terms. In addition, the DOL notes that ACA implementation will be marked by an emphasis on assisting (rather than imposing penalties on) plans and issuers that are working diligently and in good faith to understand and comply with the new law.

Thus, during the first and second years of applicability, penalties will not be imposed on plans and issuers that are working diligently and in good faith to comply with the new requirements. This enforcement relief will continue to apply until further guidance is issued.

Overview of the FAQ Guidance

In the FAQ issued on March 31, 2015, the Departments stated that they intend to issue final regulations in the near future. These regulations would finalize proposed changes in the proposed regulations from Dec. 22, 2014, which were proposed to apply beginning Sept. 1, 2015.

However, the FAQ notes that the final rules are expected to apply in connection with:

  • Coverage that would renew or begin on the first day of the first plan year (or policy year, in the individual market) that begins on or after Jan. 1, 2016; or
  • Open enrollment periods that occur in the fall of 2015 for coverage beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2016.

Despite this effective date, the new template, instructions and uniform glossary are not expected to be finalized until January 2016. According to the Departments, this delay is necessary to allow for consumer testing and offer an opportunity for the public to provide further input before finalizing revisions to the SBC template and associated documents.

The revised template and associated documents will apply to:

  • Coverage that would renew or begin on the first day of the first plan year (or policy year, in the individual market) that begins on or after Jan. 1, 2017; or
  • Open enrollment periods that occur in the fall of 2016 for coverage beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2017.

Impact on Employers

This FAQ guidance leaves a lot of uncertainty for employers with regard to their SBC documents. The changes included in the final regulations may require health plans to update their SBC documents before the new template is released.

The forthcoming final regulations may address this issue. In some cases, the Departments have provided temporary enforcement safe harbors when guidance is not issued sufficiently in advance of an effective date. However, at this time, no safe harbors or other relief has been provided on this issue.

For clarification of this information, or to be kept up to date with any and all parts of the Affordable Care Act, contact CIBC today.

HR Update: Pregnant Worker Accommodation Protections Addressed By U.S. Supreme Court

On March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a former employee of United Parcel Service (UPS) who was faced with the choice to either continue working her labor-intensive job during pregnancy or take unpaid leave. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that the employee should be given the opportunity to prove that UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) by not giving her the same light-duty accommodation that was given to other UPS employees who were considered injured or disabled.

The Supreme Court’s decision establishes a legal framework for this type of pregnancy discrimination case. Due to this ruling, it may be easier for employees to succeed on claims that their employers violated the PDA by failing to accommodate them. To help limit liability under the PDA, employers should review their employment practices and policies regarding accommodations to make sure pregnant workers are treated the same as other workers with similar restrictions.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits a covered employer (15 or more employees) from discriminating against any individual with respect to the terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of the individual’s sex. In 1978, Congress added the PDA to Title VII. The PDA has two clauses:

  • The first clause clarifies that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination includes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.
  • The second clause requires that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition be treated the same for all employment-related purposes as “other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.

Factual Background

The employee, Peggy Young, worked as a part-time driver for UPS. When Young became pregnant in 2006, her doctor advised that she should not lift more than 20 pounds. UPS, however, required drivers like Young to be able to lift up to 70 pounds. When Young presented UPS with her doctor’s note, she was told that she could not work while under a lifting restriction. Young consequently stayed home without pay during most of the time she was pregnant and eventually lost her employee medical coverage.

Young sued UPS, alleging that her employer violated the PDA’s second clause because it had a light-duty policy for other types of workers, but not for pregnant workers.

Under its light-duty policy, UPS accommodated workers who were injured on the job, those suffering from disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and those who had lost their Department of Transportation (DOT) certifications. According to UPS, because Young did not fall within one of these three categories, it treated her the same as it would treat other relevant persons and therefore did not discriminate against her based on pregnancy.

Legal Decision

The district court granted UPS’ motion for summary judgment, concluding that those who Young compared herself to—those falling under the on-the-job, DOT and ADA categories—were not similarly situated groups of employees. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision.

The Supreme Court vacated the 4th Circuit’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Supreme Court ruled that Young created a genuine dispute as to whether UPS provided more favorable treatment to at least some employees whose situations were similar to hers. Thus, the Supreme Court gave Young another chance to show that UPS violated the PDA when it failed to accommodate her light-duty request.

The Supreme Court also outlined the framework that applies in this type of disparate treatment case under the PDA. Under this framework, an individual alleging pregnancy discrimination may establish a case by showing that:

  • She was pregnant at the relevant time;
  • Her employer did not accommodate her; and
  • Her employer did accommodate others who are similar only “in their ability or inability to work.”

According to the Supreme Court, this burden is “not onerous” for an employee. It also does not require the employee to show that she and the non-pregnant employees who were treated more favorably were similar in all non-protected ways.

The employer may justify its refusal to accommodate the employee by relying on a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason. The employee may then in turn show that the employer’s justification is a pretext for discrimination. An employee may show pretext by providing sufficient evidence that the employer’s policies impose a significant burden on pregnant workers and that the employer’s reasons are not strong enough to justify the burden. A significant factor that will help prove an employee’s case is if the employer accommodates a large percentage of non-pregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers.

Impact of Decision

The Supreme Court’s decision in Young v. UPS is a victory for pregnant workers because it establishes an easier framework to prove illegal discrimination. However, many employers may have already changed their policies to allow light-duty accommodations for pregnant workers due to other recent legal developments.

  • In 2008, Congress expanded the definition of “disability” under the ADA to make it clear that physical or mental impairments that substantially limit an individual’s ability to lift, stand or bend are ADA-covered disabilities. This expanded definition, as interpreted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), requires employers to accommodate employees whose temporary lifting restrictions originate off the job.

In July 2014, the EEOC issued enforcement guidelines that cover employers’ light-duty policies for pregnant workers. According to these guidelines, if an employer provides light-duty assignments to any of its employees who are temporarily unable to perform their full duties, then similar accommodations should be made for pregnant employees who cannot perform their full duties. Although the Supreme Court decided not to take these guidelines into consideration in Young vs. UPS, employers may have reevaluated their accommodations policies based on this guidance.

Q1 2015 Benefits Bulletin: A Look Back, and Ahead

From CIBC of Illinois

IRS Invites Comments on Cadillac Tax Implementation

On Feb. 23, 2015, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2015-16 to describe potential approaches for a number of issues related to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) so-called Cadillac tax. The IRS is seeking comments as it begins developing guidance for the implementation of the Cadillac tax. Public comments may be submitted to the IRS until May 15, 2015.

Proposed or final regulations have not yet been issued on the ACA’s Cadillac tax provision. This notice is intended to invite comment as guidelines are assembled, and taxpayers should not rely on the information provided in Notice 2015-16.

Cadillac Tax Overview

The Cadillac tax will go into effect beginning in 2018. This provision imposes a 40 percent excise tax on high-cost group health coverage. The Cadillac tax is intended to encourage companies to choose lower-cost health plans for their employees.

The Cadillac tax provision is found in Internal Revenue Code Section 4980I. This provision taxes the amount of an employee’s “excess benefit.” The excess benefit is the amount by which the monthly cost of an employee’s employer-sponsored health coverage exceeds the annual limitation.

For 2018, the statutory dollar limits are:

  • $10,200 per employee for self-only coverage; and
  • $27,500 per employee for other-than-self-only coverage.

The tax amount for each employee’s coverage will be calculated by the employer and paid by the coverage provider.

The Cadillac tax applies to “applicable employer-sponsored coverage” (both insured and self-insured). Applicable employer-sponsored coverage is coverage under any group health plan made available to the employee by the employer, which is excludable from the employee’s gross income under Code Section 106.

Applicable coverage also includes health flexible spending accounts (FSAs), health savings accounts (HSAs), on-site medical clinics, retiree coverage, multiemployer plans and coverage only for a specified disease or illness and hospital indemnity or other fixed indemnity insurance (if paid on a pretax basis or if a Section 162(l) deduction is allowed).

 

DOL Issues Final Rule to Expand FMLA Protections for Same-sex Spouses

The Department of Labor (DOL) has issued a final rule that will expand rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for same-sex spouses. Under the final rule, eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages will be able to take FMLA leave in order to care for their spouses or family members, regardless of where they live.

The DOL’s new guidance is effective March 27, 2015, and it replaces guidance regarding FMLA protections for same-sex spouses that was issued following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor.

The final rule changes the definition of “spouse” under the FMLA as follows:

Adopts a “place of celebration” rule (which is based on where the marriage was entered into), instead of the “state of residence” rule that applied under prior DOL guidance; and

  • Expressly includes same-sex marriages in addition to common law marriages, and encompasses same-sex marriages entered into abroad that could have been entered into in at least one state.

This change will impact FMLA leave in several ways. Specifically, the definitional change means that eligible employees, regardless of where they live, will be able to:

  • Take FMLA leave to care for their same-sex spouses with serious health conditions;
  • Take qualifying exigency leave due to their same-sex spouses’ covered military service; or
  • Take military caregiver leave for their same-sex spouses.

In connection with the final rule, the DOL also issued a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) to help employers and employees understand the changes to the FMLA’s definition of “spouse.”

To comply with the final rule, employers should review and update their FMLA policies and procedures as necessary. Employers should also train employees who are involved in the leave management process on the expanded eligibility rules for same-sex spouses under the FMLA.

DOJ to Allow Claims Based on Gender Identity Discrimination

On Dec. 18, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a reversal of its position regarding whether discrimination based on sex incudes discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity and transgender status.

The DOJ has now taken the position that discrimination based on sex includes discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity and transgender status.

Although the DOJ’s authority to file discrimination lawsuits is limited to government employers, this announcement solidifies the federal government’s position on gender identity rights.

Background Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin when making employment decisions. In 2006, the DOJ took the position that discrimination based on sex excluded discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity or transgender status. The DOJ has now reversed this position.

Gender identity is an individual’s internal sense of being male or female. An individual’s internal identification may or may not correspond to the individual’s biological gender. Transgender individuals are people with a gender identity that is different from the sex assigned to them at birth.

Effect on Employers Employers can expect to see more individuals file claims based on gender identity discrimination and increased federal support for employee protections against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Employers should review their employment policies to ensure that they are compliant with federal, state and local anti-discrimination regulations.

New Guidance and Relief for Employer Payment of Individual Premiums

Under the ACA, employer payment plans do not comply with several provisions that took effect beginning in 2014. Violations of these rules can result in excise taxes of $100 per day for each employee.

An employer payment plan is an arrangement where an employer reimburses or pays premiums for an employee’s individual health insurance.

New Guidance on Employer Payments
The Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Treasury have released several pieces of guidance clarifying the rules regarding these arrangements. The IRS issued Notice 2015-17 on Feb. 18, 2015, providing further clarification.

Specifically, this notice provides information on several related issues:

  • Reiterates that employer payment plans are group health plans that will fail to comply with the ACA’s market reforms applicable to group health plans;
  • Clarifies that increases in employee compensation do not constitute an employer payment plan, as long as the increases are not conditioned on the purchase of individual health coverage;
  • Provides transition relief from the excise tax for employer payment plans sponsored by small employers (those not subject to the ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules) and to S corporation health care arrangements for 2-percent shareholder-employees;
  • Addresses whether employers may reimburse employees for Medicare or TRICARE premiums for active employees under the ACA; and
  • States that employer payments for individual premiums can be excludable from an employee’s income under the tax code but will still violate the ACA’s market reforms.

Employers should review their benefit and compensation plans and policies to ensure they are not in violation of current guidance regarding employer payment plans.

The information contained in this newsletter is not intended as legal or medical advice. Please consult a professional for more information.

ACA Update: New Guidance and Relief for Employer Payment of Individual Premiums

In the past, many employers have helped employees pay for individual health insurance policies instead of offering an employer-sponsored plan. In recent months, the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Treasury (Departments) have released several pieces of guidance addressing these arrangements.

The Departments’ guidance specifically addresses “employer payment plans,” under which an employer reimburses or pays premiums for an employee’s individual health insurance policy.

According to this guidance, employer payment plans do not comply with several ACA provisions that took effect beginning in 2014. Violations of these rules can result in excise taxes of $100 per day for each employee.

IRS Notice 2015-17

On Feb. 18, 2015, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2015-17. This notice:

  • Reiterates that employer payment plans are group health plans that will fail to comply with the ACA’s market reforms applicable to group health plans;
  • Clarifies that increases in employee compensation do not constitute an employer payment plan, as long as the increases are not conditioned on the purchase of individual health coverage;
  • Provides transition relief from the excise tax for employer payment plans sponsored by small employers (those not subject to the ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules) and to S corporation healthcare arrangements for 2-percent shareholder-employees;
  • Addresses whether employers may reimburse employees for Medicare or TRICARE premiums for active employees under the ACA; and
  • States that employer payments for individual premiums can be excludable from an employee’s income under the tax code, but will still violate the ACA’s market reforms.

The DOL and HHS have reviewed the notice and agree with the guidance provided. The Departments noted that they expect to issue further clarifications regarding other aspects of employer payment plans and HRAs in the near future.

Increases in Employee Compensation

Notice 2015-17 clarifies that, if an employer increases an employee’s compensation, but does not condition the additional compensation on the purchase of health coverage (or otherwise endorse a particular policy, form or issuer of health insurance), it is not considered an employer payment plan.

According to the IRS, providing employees with information about the Exchange or the premium tax credit is not endorsement of a particular policy, form or issuer of health insurance. Because this type of arrangement generally will not constitute a group health plan, it is not subject to the ACA’s market reforms.

Excise Tax Delay for Small Employers

Small employers have often helped employees pay for individual coverage. As noted above, these employers would normally be subject to an excise tax of $100 per day for each employee.

Notice 2015-17 provides a delay in the excise tax penalty for employers that are not applicable large employers (ALEs) under the ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules. These employers may need additional time to obtain group health coverage or to adopt a suitable alternative.

Therefore, an excise tax will not be assessed for violations of the ACA’s market reforms by certain employer payment plans that pay (or reimburse employees) for individual health policy premiums or Medicare Part B or Part D premiums.

This transition relief is available on a temporary basis. Employers may be eligible for relief from the excise tax as late as June 30, 2015. Specifically:

  • For 2014, the relief applies to employers that are not ALEs in 2014.
  • For Jan. 1 to June 30, 2015, the relief applies to employers that are not ALEs in 2015.

After June 30, 2015, these employers may be liable for the excise tax.

This relief does not extend to stand-alone HRAs or other arrangements that reimburse employees for medical expenses other than insurance premiums.

Employers eligible for this relief are not required to file IRS Form 8928 (regarding failures to satisfy requirements for group health plans) as a result of having these arrangements during the period for which the employer is eligible for the relief.

Reimbursement of Medicare and TRICARE Premiums

Notice 2015-17 notes that an arrangement under which an employer reimburses (or pays directly) some or all of Medicare Part B or Part D premiums for employees constitutes an employer payment plan. Similarly, an arrangement under which an employer reimburses (or pays directly) some or all of medical expenses for employees covered by TRICARE constitutes an HRA. In both cases, if the arrangement covers two or more active employees, it is a group health plan subject to the ACA’s market reforms.

An employer payment plan or an HRA may not be integrated with Medicare coverage or TRICARE to satisfy the market reforms, because Medicare coverage and TRICARE are not group health plans for integration purposes.

However, an employer payment plan or HRA that pays for or reimburses Medicare Part B or Part D premiums, or medical expenses for employees covered by TRICARE, is integrated with another group health plan offered by the employer for purposes of the market reforms if:

  • The employer offers a group health plan (other than the employer payment plan or HRA) to the employee that does not consist solely of excepted benefits and offers coverage providing minimum value;
  • The employee participating in the employer payment plan or HRA is actually enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B or TRICARE;
  • The employer payment plan or HRA is available only to employees who are enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B or Part D, or TRICARE; and
  • The employer payment plan or HRA is limited to reimbursement of Medicare Part B or Part D premiums, or cost-sharing, and excepted benefits, including Medigap premiums or TRICARE supplemental premiums.

Note that, to the extent that this type of arrangement is available to active employees, it may be subject to restrictions under other laws, such as the Medicare secondary payer provisions or laws that prohibit offering financial or other incentives for TRICARE-eligible employees to decline employer-provided group health plan coverage, similar to the Medicare secondary payer rules.

An employer payment plan that has fewer than two participants who are current employees (for example, a retiree-only plan) on the first day of the plan year is not subject to the market reforms, and, therefore, integration is not necessary to satisfy the market reforms.

Also, an employer may provide more than one type of healthcare arrangement for its employees (for example, a Medicare Part B employer payment plan and a TRICARE-related HRA), provided that each arrangement meets the applicable integration or other rules.

S Corporation Healthcare Arrangements for 2-percent Shareholder-employees

Under IRS Notice 2008-1, if an S corporation pays for (or reimburses) premiums for individual health insurance coverage covering a 2-percent shareholder, the payment or reimbursement is included in income, but the 2-percent shareholder-employee may deduct the amount of the premiums (provided that all other eligibility criteria for deductibility are satisfied). Notice 2015-17 refers to this as a 2-percent shareholder-employee healthcare arrangement.

The Departments stated that they may issue additional guidance on the application of the market reforms to a 2-percent shareholder-employee healthcare arrangement. However, until further guidance is issued (and at least through the end of 2015), the excise tax will not be assessed for any failure to satisfy the market reforms by a 2-percent shareholder-employee healthcare arrangement.

Furthermore, until additional guidance provides otherwise, an S corporation with a 2-percent shareholder-employee healthcare arrangement will not be required to file IRS Form 8928 (regarding failures to satisfy requirements for group health plans, including the market reforms) solely as a result of having a 2-percent shareholder-employee healthcare arrangement.

However, this guidance does not apply to reimbursements of individual health insurance coverage with respect to employees of an S corporation who are not 2-percent shareholders.

The IRS is also considering whether additional guidance is needed on the federal tax treatment of 2-percent shareholder-employee healthcare arrangements. However, until additional guidance provides otherwise, taxpayers may continue to rely on Notice 2008-1 with regard to the tax treatment of these arrangements for all federal income and employment tax purposes.

To the extent that a 2-percent shareholder is allowed both the deduction described above and a premium tax credit for coverage through an Exchange, Revenue Procedure 2014-41 provides guidance on calculating the deduction and the credit with respect to the 2-percent shareholder.

Notice 2015-17 also noted, however, that the market reforms do not apply to a group health plan that has fewer than two participants who are current employees on the first day of the plan year. Thus, an arrangement covering only a single employee (whether or not that employee is a 2-percent shareholder-employee) generally is not subject to the market reforms, whether or not the reimbursement arrangement otherwise constitutes a group health plan.

However, if an S corporation maintains more than one of these types of arrangements for different employees (whether or not 2-percent shareholder-employees), all are treated as a single arrangement covering more than one employee, so that this exception does not apply.

Employer Payment Plans under Code Sections 105 and 106

The notice also addresses Revenue Ruling 61-146 (Rev. Rul. 61-146), which has been cited by some as authority permitting employer payment plans under the tax code. Under Rev. Rul. 61-146, employer reimbursements of an employee’s individual insurance premiums are excluded from the employee’s gross income under Code Section 106. This exclusion also applies if the employer pays the premiums directly to the insurance company.

According to the IRS, this guidance regarding the tax exclusion continues to apply. This means only that the payments are excludable from the employee’s gross income under Section 106 (regardless of whether the employer includes the payments as wages on the Form W-2).

However, the IRS stated that Rev. Rul. 61-146 does not address the application of the ACA’s market reforms, and should not be read as containing any implication regarding the application of those market reforms.

An arrangement under which an employer provides reimbursements or payments that are dedicated to providing medical care (such as cash reimbursements for the purchase of an individual market policy) is, itself, a group health plan. Accordingly, the arrangement is subject to the ACA’s market reform rules applicable to group health plans, without regard to whether the employer treats the money as pre-tax or post-tax to the employee. These employer health care arrangements cannot be integrated with individual market policies to satisfy the market reforms and, therefore, do not comply with the ACA.

The notice supplements two Information Letters previously issued by the IRS Office of Chief Counsel. Letter 2014-0037 and Letter 2014-0039 addressed the ability of employers to reimburse employees’ medical expenses with pre-tax dollars under Code Section 105. These letters note that, although the ACA has not changed the tax treatment under Section 105 or 106, these arrangements violate the ACA’s prohibition on annual limits because they reimburse medical expenses up to a fixed amount.

Prior Employer Payment Plan Guidance

  • 24, 2013: Department FAQs addressed compliance of HRAs with the ACA’s market reforms.
  • 13, 2013: IRS Notice 2013-54 and DOL Technical Release 2013-03 clarified that HRAs, certain health FSAs and other employer payment plans are considered group health plans subject to the ACA’s market reforms, and they cannot be integrated with individual policies to satisfy those requirements. As a result, effective for 2014 plan years, these plans are essentially prohibited.
  • May 13, 2014: IRS FAQs addressed the consequences for employers that reimburse employees for individual health insurance premiums. These arrangements may trigger an excise tax of $100 per day for each applicable employee ($36,500 per year for each employee) under Code Section 4980D.
  • 6, 2014: Department FAQs clarified that employer payment plans do not comply with the ACA’s market reforms and may subject employers to penalties, whether provided on a pre- or after-tax basis.

Individual Health Insurance: Reporting Coverage and Paying Penalties

A key provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the individual mandate, which requires most individuals to purchase health insurance coverage for themselves and their family members or pay a penalty.

Starting in 2015, individuals will have to report on their federal tax return whether they had health insurance coverage for 2014 or were exempt from the individual mandate. Any penalties that an individual owes for not having health insurance coverage will generally be assessed and collected in the same manner as taxes.

How will coverage be reported under the individual mandate?

Starting in 2015, when you file a federal tax return for 2014, you will have to:

  • Report that you, your spouse (if filing jointly) and any individual you claim as a dependent had health care coverage throughout 2014; or
  • Claim a coverage exemption from the individual mandate for some or all of 2014 and attach Form 8965; or
  • Pay an individual mandate penalty (called a shared responsibility payment) for any month in 2014 that you, your spouse (if filing jointly) or any individual you claim as a dependent did not have coverage and did not qualify for a coverage exemption.

If you and your dependents all had minimum essential coverage for each month of the tax year, you will indicate this on your 2014 tax return by simply checking a box on Form 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ; no further action is required.

If you obtained a coverage exemption from the Marketplace or you qualify for an exemption that you can claim on your return, you will file Form 8965, and attach it to your tax return.

For any month you or your dependents did not have coverage or a coverage exemption, you will have to make a shared responsibility payment. The amount of the payment due will be reported on Form 1040, Line 61, in the “Other Taxes” section, and on the corresponding lines on Form 1040A and 1040EZ.

Who is exempt from the individual mandate?

You may be exempt from the individual mandate penalty if you:

  • Cannot afford coverage
  • Have income below the federal income tax filing threshold
  • Are not a citizen, are not considered a national or are not lawfully present in the United States
  • Experience a gap in coverage for less than a continuous three-month period
  • Qualify as a religious conscientious objector
  • Are a member of a health care sharing ministry
  • Are a member of certain American Indian tribes
  • Are given a hardship exemption by the Department of Health and Human Services
  • Are incarcerated

How much will the individual mandate penalty cost me?

The penalty for not obtaining acceptable health care coverage is being phased in over a three-year period. The amount of the penalty is either your “flat dollar amount” or your “percentage of income amount”—whichever is greater.

For 2014, the annual penalty is either:

  • One percent of your household income that is above the tax return filing threshold for your filing status; or
  • Your family’s flat dollar amount, which is $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, limited to a family maximum of $285.

Your payment amount is capped at the cost of the national average premium for a bronze level health plan, available through the Marketplace in 2014. For 2014, the annual national average premium for a bronze level health plan available through the Marketplace is $2,448 per individual ($204 per month), but $12,240 for a family with five or more members ($1,020 per month).

Calculating your payment requires you to know your household income and your tax return filing threshold.

Household income is the adjusted gross income from your tax return plus any excludible foreign earned income and tax-exempt interest you receive during the taxable year. Household income also includes the adjusted gross incomes of all of your dependents who are required to file tax returns.

Tax return filing threshold is the minimum amount of gross income an individual of your age and filing status (for example, single, married filing jointly, head of household) must make to be required to file a tax return.

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