PCORI Fee Is Due by July 31 for Self-Insured Health Plans

The annual fee for the federal Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is due July 31, 2019. Plans with terms ending after September 30, 2012, and before October 1, 2019, are required to pay an annual PCORI fee. Read this article from SHRM to learn more.


An earlier version of this article was posted on November 6, 2018

The next annual fee that sponsors of self-insured health plans must pay to fund the federal Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is due July 31, 2019.

The Affordable Care Act mandated payment of an annual PCORI fee by plans with terms ending after Sept. 30, 2012, and before Oct. 1, 2019, to provide initial funding for the Washington, D.C.-based institute, which funds research on the comparative effectiveness of medical treatments. Self-insured plans pay the fee themselves, while insurance companies pay the fee for fully insured plans but may pass the cost along to employers through higher premiums.

The IRS treats the fee like an excise tax.

The PCORI fee is due by the July 31 following the last day of the plan year. The final PCORI payment for sponsors of 2018 calendar-year plans is due by July 31, 2019. The final PCORI fee for plan years ending from Jan. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2019, will be due by July 31, 2020.

In Notice 2018-85, the IRS set the amount used to calculate the PCORI fee at $2.45 per person covered by plan years ending Oct. 1, 2018, through Sept. 30, 2019.

The chart below shows the fees to be paid in 2019, which are slightly higher than the fees owed in 2018. The per-enrollee amount depends on when the plan year ended, as in previous years.

Fee per Plan Enrollee for Payment Due
July 31, 2019
Plan years ending from Oct. 1, 2018, through Sept. 30, 2019. $2.45
Fee per Plan Enrollee for Payment Due
July 31, 2018
Plan years ending from Oct. 1, 2017, through Dec. 31, 2017, including calendar-year plans. $2.39
Plan years ending from Jan. 1, 2017, through Sept. 30, 2017 $2.26
Source: IRS.

Nearing the End

The PCORI fee will not be assessed for plan years ending after Sept. 30, 2019, "which means that for a calendar-year plan, the last year for assessment is the 2018 calendar year," wrote Richard Stover, a New York City-based principal at HR consultancy Buck Global, and Amy Dunn, a principal in Buck's Knowledge Resource Center.

For noncalendar-year plans that end between Jan. 1, 2019 and Sept. 30, 3019, however, there will be one last PCORI payment due by July 31, 2020.

"There will not be any PCORI fee for plan years that end on October 1, 2019 or later," according to 360 Corporate Benefit Advisors.

The PCORI fee was first assessed for plan years ending after Sept. 30, 2012. The fee for the first plan year was $1 per plan enrollee, which increased to $2 per enrollee in the second year and was then indexed in subsequent years based on the increase in national health expenditures.

FSAs and HRAs

In addition to self-insured medical plans, health flexible spending accounts (health FSAs) and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) that fail to qualify as “excepted benefits” would be required to pay the per-enrollee fee, wrote Gary Kushner, president and CEO of Kushner & Co., a benefits advisory firm based in Portage, Mich.

As set forth in the Department of Labor's Technical Release 2013-03:

  • health FSA is an excepted benefit if the employer does not contribute more than $500 a year to any employee accounts and also offers a group health plan with nonexcepted benefits.
  • An HRA is an excepted benefit if it only reimburses for limited-scope dental and vision expenses or long-term care coverage and is not integrated with a group health plan.

Kushner explained that:

  • If the employer sponsors a fully insured group health plan for which the insurance carrier is filing and paying the PCORI fee and the same employer sponsors an employer-funded health care FSA or an HRA not exempted from the fee, employers should only count the employees participating in the FSA or HRA, and not spouses or dependents, when paying the fee.
  • If the employer sponsors a self-funded group health plan, then the employer needs to file the form and pay the PCORI fee only on the number of individuals enrolled in the group health plan, and not in the employer-funded health care FSA or HRA.

An employer that sponsors a self-insured HRA along with a fully insured medical plan "must pay PCORI fees based on the number of employees (dependents are not included in this count) participating in the HRA, while the insurer pays the PCORI fee on the individuals (including dependents) covered under the insured plan," wrote Mark Holloway, senior vice president and director of compliance services at Lockton Companies, a benefits broker and services firm based in Kansas City, Mo. Where an employer maintains an HRA along with a self-funded medical plan and both have the same plan year, "the employer pays a single PCORI fee based on the number of covered lives in the self-funded medical plan (the HRA is disregarded)."

Paying PCORI Fees

Self-insured employers are responsible for submitting the fee and accompanying paperwork to the IRS, as "third-party reporting and payment of the fee is not permitted for self-funded plans," Holloway noted.

For the coming year, self-insured health plan sponsors should use Form 720 for the second calendar quarter to report and pay the PCORI fee by July 31, 2019.

"On p. 2 of Form 720, under Part II, the employer needs to designate the average number of covered lives under its applicable self-insured plan," Holloway explained. The number of covered lives will be multiplied by $2.45 for plan years ending on or after Oct. 1, 2018, to determine the total fee owed to the IRS next July.

To calculate "the average number of lives covered" or plan enrollees, employers should use one of three methods listed on pages 8 and 9 of the Instructions for Form 720. A white paper by Keller Benefit Services describes these methods in greater detail.

Although the fee is paid annually, employers should indicate on the Payment Voucher (720-V), located at the end of Form 720, that the tax period for the fee is the second quarter of the year. "Failure to properly designate 'second quarter' on the voucher will result in the IRS's software generating a tardy filing notice, with all the incumbent aggravation on the employer to correct the matter with the IRS," Holloway warned.

A few other points to keep in mind: "The U.S. Department of Labor believes the fee cannot be paid from plan assets," he said. In other words, for self-insured health plans, "the PCORI fee must be paid by the plan sponsor. It is not a permissible expense of a self-funded plan and cannot be paid in whole or part by participant contributions."

In addition, PCORI fees "should not be included in the plan's cost when computing the plan's COBRA premium," Holloway noted. But "the IRS has indicated the fee is, however, a tax-deductible business expense for employers with self-funded plans," he added, citing a May 2013 IRS memorandum.

SOURCE: Miller, S. (2 July 2019) "PCORI Fee Is Due by July 31 for Self-Insured Health Plans" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/2019-pcori-fees.aspx


DOL Offers Wage and Hour Compliance Tips in Three Opinion Letters

On July 1, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released three opinion letters that address how to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regarding wage and hour issues. Continue reading this blog post to learn how the agency would enforce statutes and regulations specific to these situations.


The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued three new opinion letters addressing how to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) when rounding employee work hours and other wage and hour issues.

Opinion letters describe how the agency would enforce statutes and regulations in specific circumstances presented by an employer, worker or other party who requests the opinion. Opinion letters are not binding, but there may be a safe harbor for employers that show they relied on one.

The DOL Wage and Hour Division's July 1 letters covered:

Here are the key takeaways for employers.

Rounding Practices

One letter reviewed whether an organization's rounding practices are permissible under the Service Contract Act (SCA), which requires government contractors and subcontractors to pay prevailing wages and benefits and applies FLSA principles to calculate hours worked.

The employer's payroll software extended employees' clocked time to six decimal points and then rounded that number to two decimal points. When the third decimal was less than .005, the second decimal was not adjusted, but when the third decimal was .005 or greater, the second decimal was rounded up by 0.01. Then the software calculated daily pay by multiplying the rounded daily hours by the SCA's prevailing wage.

Employers may round workers' time if doing so "will not result, over a period of time, in failure to compensate the employees properly for all the time they have actually worked," according to the FLSA.

"It has been our policy to accept rounding to the nearest five minutes, one-tenth of an hour, one-quarter of an hour, or one-half hour as long as the rounding averages out so that the employees are compensated for all the time they actually work," the opinion letter said.

Based on the facts provided, the DOL concluded that the employer's rounding practice complied with the FLSA and the SCA. The rounding practice was "neutral on its face" and appeared to average out so that employees were paid for all the hours they actually worked.

For employers, the letter provides two significant details, said Marty Heller, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Atlanta. First, it confirms that the DOL applies the FLSA's rounding practices to the SCA. Second, it confirms the DOL's position that computer rounding is permissible, at least when the rounding involves a practice that appears to be neutral and does not result in the failure to compensate employees fully over a period of time, he said.

Patrick Hulla, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Kansas City, Mo., noted that the employer's rounding practice in this case differed from many employers' application of the principle. Specifically, the employer was rounding time entries to six decimal places. Most employers round using larger periods of time—in as many as 15-minute increments, he said.

"Employers taking advantage of permissible rounding should periodically confirm that their practices are neutral, which can be a costly and time-consuming exercise," he suggested.

Exempt Paralegals

Another letter analyzed whether a trade organization's paralegals were exempt from the FLSA's minimum wage and overtime requirements. Under the FLSA's white-collar exemptions, employees must earn at least $23,660 and perform certain duties. However, employees whose total compensation is at least $100,000 a year are considered highly compensated employees and are eligible for exempt status if they meet a reduced duties test, as follows:

  • The employee's primary duty must be office or nonmanual work.
  • The employee must "customarily and regularly" perform at least one of the bona fide exempt duties of an executive, administrative or professional employee.

Employers should note that the DOL's proposed changes to the overtime rule would raise the regular salary threshold to $35,308 and the highly compensated salary threshold to $147,414.

Because "a high level of compensation is a strong indicator of an employee's exempt status," the highly compensated employee exemption "eliminates the need for a detailed analysis of the employee's job duties," the opinion letter explained.

The paralegals described in the letter appeared to qualify for the highly compensated employee exemption because all their duties were nonmanual, they were paid at least $100,000 a year, and they "customarily and regularly" perform at least one duty under the administrative exemption.

The letter cited "a litany of the paralegals' job duties and responsibilities—including keeping and maintaining corporate and official records, assisting the finance department with bank account matters, and budgeting—that are directly related to management or general business operations," the DOL said.

The DOL noted that some paralegals don't qualify for the administrative exemption because their primary duties don't include exercising discretion and independent judgment on significant matters. But the "discretion and independent judgment" factor doesn't have to be satisfied under the highly compensated employee exception.

Calculating Bonuses

The third letter discussed whether the FLSA requires an employer to include a nondiscretionary bonus that is a fixed percentage of an employee's straight-time wages received over multiple workweeks in the calculation of the employee's regular rate of pay at the end of each workweek.

Under the FLSA, nonexempt employees must be paid at least 1 1/2 times their regular rate of pay for hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek, unless they are covered by an exemption—but the regular rate is based on more than just the employee's hourly wage. It includes all remuneration for employment unless the compensation falls within one of eight statutory exclusions. Nondiscretionary bonuses count as remuneration and must be included in the calculation.

"An employer may base a nondiscretionary bonus on work performed during multiple workweeks and pay the bonus at the end of the bonus period," according to the opinion letter. "An employer, however, is not required to retrospectively recalculate the regular rate if the employer pays a fixed percentage bonus that simultaneously pays overtime compensation due on the bonus."

The annual bonus, in this case, was not tied to straight-time or overtime hours. Based on the facts provided by an employee, the DOL said that after the employer pays the annual bonus, it must recalculate the regular rate for each workweek in the bonus period and pay any overtime compensation that is due on the annual bonus.

For the quarterly bonuses, the employee received 15 percent of his straight-time and overtime wages so they "simultaneously include all overtime compensation due on the bonus as an arithmetic fact," the DOL said.

SOURCE: Nagele-Piazza, L.(2 July 2019) "DOL Offers Wage and Hour Compliance Tips in Three Opinion Letters" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/DOL-Offers-Wage-and-Hour-Compliance-Tips-in-Three-Opinion-Letters.aspx


IRS Seeks Comments on Form W-4 Overhaul for 2020

A draft of the 2020 Form W-4 was released on May 31, by the IRS. This new version includes included major revisions that were designed to make accurate income-tax withholding easier for employees. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


On May 31, the IRS released a draft 2020 Form W-4 with major revisions designed to make accurate income-tax withholding easier for employees, starting next year. The IRS also posted FAQs about the new form and asked for comments on the changes by July 1.

The form is not for immediate use, the IRS emphasized, and employers should continue to use the current Form W-4 for 2019.

"The primary goals of the new design are to provide simplicity, accuracy and privacy for employees, while minimizing burden for employers and payroll processors," IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said.

The new form reflects changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which took effect last year. For instance, the revised form eliminates the use of withholding allowances, which were tied to the personal exemption amount—$4,050 for 2017, now suspended. It also replaces complicated worksheets with more straightforward questions.

Addressing a key employer concern, the IRS said that employees who have submitted Form W-4 in any year before 2020 will not need to submit a new form because of the redesign. Employers can compute withholding based on information from employees' most recently submitted Form W-4, if employees choose not to adjust their withholding using the revised form.

Easier for Employees, More Complex for Employers

"Generally, the new Form W-4 is an improvement for employees," said Pete Isberg, vice president of government relations at payroll and HR services firm ADP. It shifts the burden of several calculations from employees to the employer, he noted. "For example, previously. employees would complete a difficult worksheet to convert expected deductions to a number of withholding allowances. With the new form, they'll just enter their full-year expected deductions over the standard deduction amount."

Because existing employees won't have to complete a new Form W-4, "employers must still observe their current Form W-4 withholding allowances," Isberg said. "However, for employees hired after 2019—and anyone that wants to adjust their withholding after 2019—the 2020 version will be the only valid Form W-4."

Not requiring employees to submit the new W-4 will ease HR's burden, but it also means that "payroll systems will need to accommodate the existing withholding allowance calculation, as well as the new method," which could make reprogramming payroll systems more arduous, said Mike Trabold, director of compliance at Paychex, an HR technology services and payroll provider.

In addition to supporting two distinct withholding systems, employers will need to accommodate three sets of withholding calculations, Isberg said:

  • The old system based on withholding allowances.
  • The 2020 system with a checkbox for optional higher withholding.
  • The 2020 system that allows employees to input new data, listed below in the W-4 forms comparison chart.
2019 Form W-4 2020 Form W-4 (draft)
Number of withholding allowances. Checkbox for multiple jobs or optional higher withholding.
Per-payroll additional amount to withhold. Full-year child and dependent tax credits.
  Full-year other (non-wage) income.
  Full-year deductions (over the standard deduction amount).
  Per-payroll additional amount to withhold.

"One interesting question is how long employers might need to support the old and new systems simultaneously," Isberg said. "It will probably be many years before the last withholding allowances [used by current employees] drop off."

Addressing Privacy Concerns

In June 2018, the IRS issued an earlier revision of Form W-4 and instructions for 2019. But in September 2018, the IRS said it would delay major revisions until 2020 to respond to criticism about the form's release date and complexity.

"We anticipate this version will be better received than the prior draft," Trabold said. The earlier version "asked for much more specific information on other sources of income, such as second jobs, spousal income, non-earned income, etc., which was intended to increase withholding accuracy but which many taxpayers may have felt to be invasive and wouldn't necessarily want to share with their employer."

With the new version of the form, taxpayers can check a box "to indicate their desire to have more tax withheld, without having to share details with their employer," Trabold said. Although this may lead to too much withholding for some taxpayers, "it will help address concerns of those who prefer to get a refund check every year or who may have had to unexpectedly pay tax when filing this year," he explained.

While there will be a worksheet to help taxpayers with the new form, "it will not be provided to the employer, further assuring privacy," Trabold noted.

What's Next

The IRS said it plans to release a "close to final" version of the form in late July, after which employers and payroll administrators can start making programming changes to their systems. A final version, expected in November, will contain only minor adjustments.

The IRS also plans to release instructions for employers in the next few weeks for comment.

In the meantime, the IRS encouraged employees to use its online Paycheck Checkup tool to ensure they're having the right amount of tax withheld. While useful in its current form, the tool will be updated to reflect the new W-4 when it becomes final.

SOURCE: Miller, S. (6 June 2019) "IRS Seeks Comments on Form W-4 Overhaul for 2020" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/compensation/Pages/IRS-seeks-comments-on-Form-W-4-overhaul-for-2020.aspx


3 summer workplace legal issues and how to handle them

Issues such as hiring interns, dress code compliance and handling time off requests can cause legal issues for employers during the summer months. Continue reading this blog post for how to handle these three summer workplace legal issues.


Summer is almost here and with that comes a set of seasonal employment law issues. Top of the list for many employers includes hiring interns, dress code compliance and handling time off requests.

Here’s how employers can navigate any legal issues that may arise.

Summer interns

Employers looking to hire interns to work during the summer season or beyond should know that the U.S. Department of Labor recently changed the criteria to determine if an internship must be paid. In certain circumstances, internships are considered employment subject to federal minimum wage and overtime rules.

Under the previous primary beneficiary test, employers were required to meet all of the six criteria outlined by the DOL for determining whether interns are employees. The new seven-factor test is designed to be more flexible and does not require all factors to be met. Rather, employers are asked to determine the extent to which each factor is met. For example, how clear is it that the intern and the employer understand that the internship is unpaid, and that there is no promise of a paid job at the end of the program? The non-monetary benefits of the intern-employer relationship, such as training, are also taken into consideration.

Though no single factor is deemed determinative, a review of the whole internship program is important to ensure that an intern is not considered an employee under FLSA rules and to avoid any liabilities for misclassification claims.

Companies also should be aware of state laws that may impact internship programs. For example, California, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland and New York consider interns to be employees and offer some protections under various state anti-discrimination and sexual harassment statutes.

All employers should be clear about the scope of their internship opportunities, including expectations for the relationship, anticipated duties and hours, compensation, if any, and whether an intern will become entitled to a paid job at the end of the program.

Summer dress codes

Warmer temperatures mean more casual clothing. This could mean the line between professional and casual dress in the workplace is blurred. The following are some tips when crafting a new or revisiting an existing dress code policy this summer.

If the dress code is new or being revised, the policy should be clearly communicated. Sending a reminder out to employees may be helpful in some workplaces. In all cases, the policy should be unambiguous. List examples to make sure there is no confusion about what is considered appropriate and explain the reasoning behind the policy and the consequences for any violations.

To serve their business or customer needs, companies may apply dress code policies to all employees or to specific departments. They should also make sure the dress code does not have an adverse impact on any religious groups, women, people of color or people with disabilities. Company policies may not violate state or federal anti-discrimination laws. If the policy is likely to have a disparate impact on one or more of these groups, employers should be prepared to show a legitimate business reason for the policy. Also, reasonable accommodations should be provided for employees who request one based on their protected status. For example, reasonable modifications may be required for ethnic, religious or disability reasons.

Finally, failure to consistently enforce a neutral dress code policy or provide reasonable accommodations can expose a company to potential claims. As always, dress codes and any discipline for code violations should be implemented equitably to avoid claims of discrimination.

Time off requests

Summer time tends to prompt an influx of requests for time off. Now is a good time to review policies governing time off, as well as the implementation of those policies to ensure consistency. Written time off policies should explicitly inform employees of the process for handling time off requests and help employers consistently apply the rules.

An ideal policy will explain how much time off employees receive and how that time accrues. It also will include reasonable restrictions on how time off is administered such as requiring advance approval from management, and how to handle scheduling so that business needs and staffing levels are in sync.

Most importantly, time off policies and procedures must not be discriminatory. For instance, if a policy denies time off or permits discipline for an employee who needs to be out of the office on a protected medical leave, the policy could be seen as discriminating against employees with disabilities. Companies should train their managers on how to administer time off requests in a non-discriminatory manner. Employers generally have the right to manage vacation requests, however protected leave available to employees under federal, state and local laws adds another layer of complexity that employers should consider when reviewing time off requests.

To minimize employment issues this summer and all year around: plan ahead, know the relevant employment laws and train managers and supervisors to apply HR best practices consistently throughout the organization.

SOURCE: Starkman, J.; Rochester, A. (23 May 2019) "3 summer workplace legal issues and how to handle them" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-employers-can-handle-summer-workplace-legal-issues


Employers Must Report 2017 and 2018 EEO-1 Pay Data

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is requiring that all employers report their pay data, broken down by race, sex and ethnicity, from 2017 and 2018 by September 30. Continue reading this post from the SHRM to learn more.


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has announced that employers must report pay data, broken down by race, sex and ethnicity, from 2017 and 2018 payrolls. The pay data reports are due Sept. 30.

Employers had been waiting to learn what pay data they would need to file—if any at all—as litigation on the matter ensued. A federal judge initially ordered the EEOC to collect employee pay data for 2018. The National Women's Law Center (NWLC) and other plaintiffs wanted the EEOC to collect two years of data, as the agency was supposed to under a new regulation before the government halted the collection in 2017.

Judge Tanya Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia sided with the plaintiffs and gave the EEOC the option of collecting 2017 pay data along with the 2018 information by the Sept. 30 deadline or collecting 2019 pay data during the 2020 reporting period. The EEOC opted to collect the 2017 data.

The agency said it could make the collection portal available to employers by mid-July and would provide information and training to employers prior to that date.

Immediate Steps

"We are awaiting confirmation from the EEOC or the contractor it is hiring to facilitate the pay-data collection on how to lay out the data file for a batch upload," said Alissa Horvitz, an attorney with Roffman Horvitz in McLean, Va.

But employers should take some steps immediately. They should reach out to their subject-matter and technical experts and pull together resources to ensure that the required data components can be captured, analyzed and reported by Sept. 30, said Annette Tyman, an attorney with Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago.

Filing the additional reports will impose unanticipated burdens for HR, IT and legal departments, as well as third-party consultants, she noted. "It is unclear whether any further litigation options will impact the Sept. 30 deadline, and we are instructing employers to assume they must comply."

Employers should keep in mind that they still must submit their 2018 data for Component 1 of the EEO-1 form by May 31, unless they request an extension. Note that the EEOC recently shortened the extension period for employers to report Component 1 data from 30 days to two weeks. So the extension deadline is now June 14.

Component 1 asks for the number of employees who work for the business by job category, race, ethnicity and sex. Component 2 data—which includes hours worked and pay information from employees' W-2 forms by race, ethnicity and sex—is the subject of the legal dispute.

Data Collection

Businesses with at least 100 employees and federal contractors with at least 50 employees and a contract with the federal government of $50,000 or more must file the EEO-1 form. The EEOC uses information about the number of women and minorities companies employ to support civil rights enforcement and analyze employment patterns, according to the agency.

The revised EEO-1 form will require employers to report wage information from Box 1 of the W-2 form and total hours worked for all employees by race, ethnicity and sex within 12 proposed pay bands.

The reported hours worked should show actual hours worked by nonexempt employees and an estimated 20 hours per week for part-time exempt employees and 40 hours per week for full-time exempt employees.

"Filling out the added data in the EEO-1 form will present a large amount of work, especially as there's great potential for human error when populating the significantly expanded form," said Arthur Tacchino, J.D., chief innovation officer at SyncStream Solutions, which provides workplace compliance solutions.

Employers should start looking at their data now and conduct an initial assessment of their systems, said Camille Olson, an attorney with Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago. Identify the systems that house the relevant demographic, pay and hours-worked data and determine how to pull the information together, she said.

Pulling EEO-1 data is much simpler for Component 1, she noted, because it only involves reporting the employer's headcount by race, ethnicity and sex—whereas collecting pay information involves more data points. Additionally, employers may use different vendor systems at different locations, some employees may have only worked for part of the year, and other employees may have been reclassified to exempt or nonexempt.

"Employers may want to inquire with their current vendors—payroll or otherwise—or look for outside vendors that may be able to assist them with this reporting requirement," Tacchino said.

Under some circumstances, employers may be able to seek an exemption (at the EEOC's discretion) if filing the information would cause an undue burden. "Mega employers" may not be able to show an undue burden, but this could be an option for smaller businesses, said Jim Paretti, an attorney with Littler in Washington, D.C. But that will depend on how the parties decide to move forward.

The Court Battle

The EEO-1 form was revised during President Barack Obama's administration to add the Component 2 data, but the pay-data provisions were suspended in 2017 by President Donald Trump's administration. The NWLC challenged the Trump administration's hold on the pay-data collection provisions, and on March 4, Chutkan lifted the stay—meaning the federal government needed to start collecting the information.

On March 18, however, the EEOC opened the portal for employers to submit EEO-1 reports without including the pay-data questions. Chutkan subsequently told the government to come up with a plan.

The EEOC proposed the Sept. 30 deadline for employers to submit Component 2 data, claiming that the agency needed more time to address the associated collection challenges. Furthermore, the EEOC's chief data officer warned that rushing the data collection may yield poor quality data. Even with the additional time, the agency said it would need to spend more than $3 million to hire a contractor to provide the appropriate procedures and systems.

Robin Thurston, an attorney with Democracy Forward and counsel for the plaintiffs, said at an April 16 hearing that the plaintiffs don't want the agency to compromise quality. But they also wanted "sufficient assurances" that the EEOC will collect the data by Sept. 30.

On April 25, Chutkan ordered the government to provide the court and the plaintiffs with periodic updates on the EEOC's progress and to continue collection efforts until a certain threshold of employer responses has been received.

SOURCE: Nagele-Piazza, L. (2 May 2019) "Employers Must Report 2017 and 2018 EEO-1 Pay Data" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/eeo-1-pay-data-report-2017-2018.aspx


Can Employers Require Measles Vaccines?

Can employers require that their employees get the measles vaccine? The recent measles outbreak is raising the question of whether employers can require that their workers get the vaccine. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


The recent measles outbreak, resulting in mandatory vaccinations in parts of New York City, raises the question of whether employers can require that workers get the vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) or prove immunity from the illness.

The answer generally is no, but there are exceptions.

Offices and manufacturers probably can't require vaccination or proof of immunity because the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) generally prohibits medical examinations—unless the employer is in a location like Williamsburg, the neighborhood in Brooklyn where vaccinations are now mandatory. Health care providers, schools and nursing homes, however, probably can require them because their employees work with patients, children and people with weak immune systems who risk health complications from measles.

But even these employers must try to find accommodations for workers who object to vaccines for a religious reason or because of a disability that puts them at risk if they're vaccinated, such as having a weak immune system.

Proof of Immunity

Proof of immunity includes one of the following:

  • Written documentation of adequate vaccination.
  • Laboratory evidence of immunity.
  • Laboratory confirmation of measles.
  • Birth before 1957. The measles vaccine first became available in 1963, so those who were children before the late 1950s are presumed to have been exposed to measles and be immune.

Measles, which is contagious, typically causes a high fever, cough and watery eyes, and then spreads as a rash. Measles can lead to serious health complications, especially among children younger than age 5. One or two out of 1,000 people who contract measles die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Outbreak Has Spread to 20 States

As of April 11, 555 cases have been reported in the United States this year. This is the second-greatest number in any year since the United States proclaimed measles eliminated in 2000; 667 cases were reported in all of 2014.

On April 9, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in Williamsburg, requiring the MMR vaccine in that neighborhood. Those who have not received the MMR vaccine or do not have evidence of immunity may be fined $1,000.

Since the outbreak started, 285 cases have been confirmed in Williamsburg, including 21 hospitalizations and five admissions to intensive care units.

If a city requires vaccinations, an employer's case for requiring them is much stronger, said Robin Shea, an attorney with Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete in Winston-Salem, N.C. But employers usually should not involve themselves in employees' health care unless they are making an inquiry related to a voluntary wellness program, or the health issue is job-related, she cautioned.

The measles outbreak has spread this year to 20 states—outbreaks linked to travelers who brought measles to the U.S. from other countries, such as Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines, where there have been large outbreaks.

Strike the Right Balance

Health care employers typically require vaccinations or proof of immunity as a condition of employment, said Howard Mavity, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Atlanta. He noted that most schoolchildren must be immunized, so many employees can show proof of immunity years later.

If an employee provides current vaccination records when an employer asks, the ADA requires that those records be kept in separate, confidential medical files, noted Meredith Shoop, an attorney with Littler in Cleveland.

All employers must balance their health and safety concerns with the right of employees with disabilities to reasonable accommodations under the ADA and the duty to accommodate religious workers under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Under the ADA, a reasonable accommodation is required unless it would result in an undue hardship or direct threat to the safety of the employee or the public. The direct-threat analysis will be different for a registered nurse than for someone in a health care provider's billing department, for example, who might not work around patients.

Even if the ADA permitted mandatory vaccines in a manufacturing setting in limited circumstances, such as in Williamsburg now, any vaccination orders may need to be the subject of collective bargaining if the factory is unionized. Shoop has seen manufacturers shut down because employees were reluctant to come to work when their co-workers were sick on the job.

An employer does not have to accommodate someone who objects to a vaccine merely because he or she thinks it might do more harm than good but doesn't have an ADA disability or religious objection, said Kara Shea, an attorney with Butler Snow in Nashville, Tenn.

If someone claims to have a health condition that makes getting vaccinated a health risk, the employer does not have to take the person's word for it. The employer instead should ask the person to sign a consent form allowing the employer to learn about the condition and get documentation from the employee's doctor, she said. Before accommodating someone without an obvious impairment, the ADA allows employers to require medical documentation of the disability.

Courts don't closely scrutinize religious objections to immunizations, Mavity remarked.

"Some people have extremely strong beliefs that they don't want a vaccine in their body," said Kathy Dudley Helms, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Columbia, S.C. If the employer works with vulnerable people but can't find an accommodation for a worker who refuses vaccination, the employee may have to work elsewhere, she said.

SOURCE: SHRM (17 April 2019) "Can Employers Require Measles Vaccines?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/measles-outbreak-2019-vaccinations.aspx


Working interviews: How hiring trend can cause compliance issues

The federal government prefers that companies do not bring in applicants for a working interview and without paying them. Continue reading this blog post to learn how this hiring trend can cause compliance issues for companies.


News flash: The feds don’t like it when you bring in “applicants” for a “working interview” – and then refuse to pay them for the work they perform.

The lesson is going to cost a Nashville dental practice $50,000 after a settlement in federal district court.

The practice will pay $50k in back wages and liquidated damages to 10 employees for FLSA minimum wage, overtime and recordkeeping violations.

According to the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, Smiley Tooth Spa:

  • violated the federal minimum wage requirements by requiring candidates for hire to perform a “working interview” to conclude their application, but failed to pay the individuals for those hours worked
  • failed to pay registered dental assistants and hygienists time-and-a-half for hours worked over 40 in a workweek
  • authorized their accountant to falsify and alter time and payroll records to make it appear that the employer was paying proper overtime for all hours worked, and
  • periodically required employees to attend training during their scheduled lunch breaks without paying them for that time.

THE CARDINAL RULE

Although it’s hard to believe that any employer could think such an approach could fly in this day and age, this case is a good reminder that people who perform duties for the benefit of any organization are, almost universally, entitled to be paid.

Even if they aren’t yet considered an “official” employee, they’re performing the work of one, and must be paid for it.

Some good news: With working interviews, employers don’t necessarily have to pay the position’s advertised salary. The law only says workers must receive at least minimum wage for their work, so companies do have some flexibility.

SOURCE: Cavanaugh, L. (1 March 2019) "Working interviews: How hiring trend can cause compliance issues" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://www.hrmorning.com/working-interviews-how-hiring-trend-can-cause-compliance-issues/


DOL Focuses on ‘Joint Employer’ Definition

On April 1, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced a proposed rule that narrows the definition of "joint employer" under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more about this proposed rule.


The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced on April 1 a proposed rule that would narrow the definition of "joint employer" under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The proposed rule would align the FLSA's definition of joint-employer status to be consistent with the National Labor Relations Board's proposed rule and update the DOL's definition, which was adopted more than 60 years ago.

Four-Factor Test

The proposal addresses the circumstances under which businesses can be held jointly responsible for certain wage violations by contractors or franchisees—such as failing to pay minimum wage or overtime. A four-factor test would be used to analyze whether a potential joint employer exercises the power to:

  • Hire or fire an employee.
  • Supervise and control an employee's work schedules or employment conditions.
  • Determine an employee's rate and method of pay.
  • Maintain a worker's employment records.

The department's proposal offers guidance on how to apply the test and what additional factors should and shouldn't be considered to determine joint-employer status.

"This proposal would ensure employers and joint employers clearly understand their responsibilities to pay at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked and overtime for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek," according to the DOL.

In 2017, the department withdrew an interpretation that had been issued by former President Barack Obama's administration that broadly defined "joint employer."

The Obama-era interpretation was expansive and could be taken to apply to many companies based on the nature of their business and relationships with other companies—even when those relationships are not generally understood to create a joint-employment relationship, said Mark Kisicki, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Phoenix.

The proposed test aligns with a more modern view of the workplace, said Marty Heller, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Atlanta. The test is a modified version of the standard that some federal courts already apply, he noted.

Additional Clarity

Significantly, the proposed rule would remove the threat of businesses being deemed joint employers based on the mere possibility that they could exercise control over a worker's employment conditions, Heller said. A business may have the contractual right under a staffing-agency or franchise agreement to exercise control over employment conditions, but that's not the same as doing so.

The proposal focuses on the actual exercise of control, rather than potential (or reserved) but unexercised control, Kisicki explained.

The rule would also clarify that the following factors don't influence the joint-employer analysis:

  • Having a franchisor business model.
  • Providing a sample employee handbook to a franchisee.
  • Allowing an employer to operate a facility on the company's grounds.
  • Jointly participating with an employer in an apprenticeship program.
  • Offering an association health or retirement plan to an employer or participating in a plan with the employer.
  • Requiring a business partner to establish minimum wages and workplace-safety, sexual-harassment-prevention and other policies.

"The proposed changes are designed to reduce uncertainty over joint employer status and clarify for workers who is responsible for their employment protections, promote greater uniformity among court decisions, reduce litigation and encourage innovation in the economy," according to the DOL.

The proposal provides a lot of examples that are important in the #MeToo era, said Tammy McCutchen, an attorney with Littler in Washington, D.C., and the former head of the DOL's Wage and Hour Division under President George W. Bush.

Importantly, companies would not be deemed joint employers simply because they ask or require their business partners to maintain anti-harassment policies, provide safety training or otherwise ensure that their business partners are good corporate citizens, she said.

Review Policies and Practices

Employers and other interested parties will have 60 days to comment on the proposed rule once it is published in the Federal Register. The DOL will review the comments before drafting a final rule—which will be sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review before it is published.

"Now is the time to review the proposal and decide if you want to submit a comment," Heller said. Employers that wish to comment on the proposal may do so by visiting www.regulations.gov.

"Take a look at what's been proposed, look at the examples in the fact sheet and the FAQs," McCutchen said. Employers may want to comment on any aspects of the examples that are confusing or don't address a company's particular circumstances. "Start thinking about your current business relationships and any adjustments that ought to be made," she said, noting that the DOL might make some changes to the rule before it is finalized.

"The proposed rule will not be adopted in the immediate future and will be challenged at various steps by worker-advocacy groups, so it will be quite some time before there is a tested, final rule that employers can safely rely upon," Kisicki said.

SOURCE: Nagele-Piazza, L. (1 April 2019) "DOL Focuses on ‘Joint Employer’ Definition" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/labor-department-seeks-to-revise-joint-employer-rule.aspx


DOL proposes $35K overtime threshold

Recently, the Department of Labor proposed an increase in the salary threshold for overtime eligibility. The current overtime threshold is set at $23, 660. Continue reading this blog post to learn more about this proposed change.


The Labor Department proposed to increase the salary threshold for overtime eligibility to $35,308 a year, the agency announced late Thursday.

If finalized, the rule’s threshold — up from the current $23,660 — would expand overtime eligibility to more than a million additional U.S. workers, far fewer than an Obama administration rule that was struck down by a federal judge in 2017.

Unless exempt, employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act must receive at least time and one-half their regular pay rate for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek.

The proposal doesn’t establish automatic, periodic increases of the salary threshold as the Obama proposal had. Instead, the department is asking the public to weigh in on whether and how the Labor Department might update overtime requirements every four years.

The department’s long-awaited proposal comes after months of speculation from employers and will likely be a target of legal challenges from business groups concerned about rising administrative challenges of the rule. The majority of business groups were critical of Obama’s overtime rule, citing the burdens it placed particularly on small businesses that would be forced to roll out new systems for tracking hours, recordkeeping and reporting.

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said in a statement that the new proposal would “bring common sense, consistency, and higher wages to working Americans.”

Under the Obama administration, the Labor Department in 2016 doubled the salary threshold to roughly $47,000, extending mandatory overtime pay to nearly 4 million U.S. employees. But the following year, a federal judge in Texas ruled that the ceiling was set so high that it could sweep in some management workers who are supposed to be exempt from overtime pay protections. Business groups and 21 Republican-led states then sued, challenging the rule.

The Department said it is asking for public comment for periodic review to update the salary threshold.

SOURCE: Mayer, K. (7 March 2019) "DOL proposes $35K overtime threshold" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/dol-proposes-35k-overtime-threshold?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


Everything employers need to know about employee job classifications

FLSA job classifications can confuse even the most experienced HR managers. Continue reading this blog post for everything employers should know about employee job classifications.


Chief among the issues that keep employers up at night is staying compliant with federal and state employment laws.

Arguably, wage and hour rules are the most complex and cause the most issues for companies. Job classifications under the FLSA can confuse even the most experienced HR managers.

In fact, some of the costliest wage and hour lawsuits and penalties on record could have been avoided if only the employer properly classified an employee as either exempt or nonexempt. It’s critically important to understand the law — and the devil is in the details.

Exempt or nonexempt?

Most employers understand that an exempt employee is not entitled to receive overtime pay for hours worked in excess of forty hours per week, according to the provisions of the FLSA. Conversely, nonexempt employees are required to receive overtime pay and should be classified as nonexempt from these same overtime provisions.

While it may sound straightforward, figuring out an employee’s exempt status is not that simple. Different types of exemptions exist and each has its own unique set of requirements that are outlined in the FLSA. Most of these exemptions are specific to certain jobs or industries, for example, some exemptions only apply to specific types of agricultural workers, or to truck drivers who transport goods in interstate commerce. But for most businesses, exempt employees will usually fall into one of the following three exemption categories: executive, administrative and professional. Collectively, these are referred to as the white collar exemptions.

A common error that employers make is to classify all their salaried employees, or all employees with the word manager in their title, as exempt. Neither of these factors alone is enough to make the exempt designation. Each of the white-collar exemptions has two components: a salary requirement and a duties requirement. The salary requirement is the same for each of the three exemptions, but the duties requirements are different.

The salary basis test

For any employee to be considered exempt under any of the white-collar exemptions, they must be paid on a salary basis. This means that any employee who is paid by the hour, per day, or is commission-only, regardless of their title or position, will not meet the criteria for any of the white-collar exemptions. How the salary is paid as well as the amount are also subject to certain restrictions. The salary basis test determines the minimum amount, which is subject to change from time to time. The minimum salary is currently $455.00 per week (or $23,660 per year). This test also provides restrictions on when and how an employer can make deductions from an exempt employee’s salary.

An increase to the minimum salary per week from $455 to $913 (or $47,476 per year) was originally scheduled to go into effect back in December 2016, but industry groups against the measure successfully lobbied to block it. The U.S. Department of Labor is exploring alternatives that could appease these industry groups while keeping the regulations in line with the times. The DOL is scheduled to re-start the rulemaking process in March 2019, and prior statements of the current DOL Secretary, Alexander Acosta, suggest that the new rule may propose a more modest salary increase to around $634 per week (or around $33,000 per year).

Job duties

In addition to the salary, each white-collar exemption has its own unique set of duties requirements. Employers must look at the actual duties that each employee performs to determine whether they meet the criteria and their title or position does little to influence the outcome. So, simply naming an employee a manager does not automatically qualify the worker as an exempt employee. To be considered exempt under the executive exemption, which is the most common exemption for managers, this employee would need to supervise two or more full-time employees (or the equivalent) and have the authority to hire and fire employees. Otherwise, they would need to meet the requirements for one of the other exemptions to be paid in this manner.

Knowing that these regulations exist and being well-informed of the framework is the first step in understanding overtime obligations – and reducing wage and hour worries. Employers should seek a qualified employment law attorney for additional guidance on the specifics of each requirement to ensure compliance with applicable overtime laws.

SOURCE: Starkman, J.; Nadal, A. (15 February 2019) "Everything employers need to know about employee job classifications" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-employers-need-to-know-about-job-classifications?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001