Health and Welfare Plans

Avoid the culture wars and legal issues post-transaction. Join our lawyers Kristin E. Michaels, Maureen O’Brien and moderator Judith Wethall for a discussion of how to best integrate employees and employee benefit plans after a transaction.

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On February 26, 2018, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (covering Connecticut, New York and Vermont) ruled that workplace discrimination on the basis sexual orientation violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).

The language of Title VII does not expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, in 2015, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) took the position that Title VII prohibits sexual orientation discrimination under the purview of prohibited sex discrimination. In 2016, the EEOC began filing sexual orientation discrimination lawsuits enforcing that position.

Circuit courts are divided on the question of whether claims of sexual orientation discrimination are viable under Title VII. In March of 2017, the Eleventh Circuit held that sexual orientation discrimination does not violate Title VII. The Seventh Circuit held the opposite the following month, and the Supreme Court declined to decide the split in December. With its en banc decision in Melissa Zarda et al. v. Altitude Express, dba Skydive Long Island, et al., the Second Circuit sided with the EEOC and the Seventh Circuit.

As a result of the decision, employers may see increased litigation in the area of sexual orientation discrimination. To protect against potential lawsuits, employers should consider updating their nondiscrimination policies to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, employers should perform sexual orientation harassment training for employees and managers.

The decision also raises potential concerns for employee benefit plans. Although the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA) generally preempts state laws that relate to employee benefit plans, ERISA does not preempt other federal laws, including Title VII. While certain spousal benefits and rights under qualified retirement plans are required by federal law to be extended to same-sex spouses, the same explicit mandates do not apply to welfare plans. Employers should consider whether any of their employee benefit plans discriminate against employees with same-sex spouses (e.g., excluding same-sex spouses from coverage under a self-funded medical plan). Such distinctions may be ripe for legal action as a result of the decision and the EEOC’s ongoing enforcement efforts.

McDermott’s Benefits Emerging Leaders Working Group provides benefit professionals with tools to better serve employees in an ever-changing and evolving benefits landscape.

Presentations will tackle the latest benefits hot topics and best practice solutions, supplemented with important networking opportunities aimed to connect tomorrow’s benefit leaders with a broad network of professionals.

Planned agenda topics include:

  • What’s Happening in Washington?
  • Lessons from an RFP
  • Lunch Discussion: Changing Behavior through Benefits Communication
  • Global Benefit Plans
  • Moderated Group Discussion (including Voluntary Benefits)

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The Bipartisan Budget Act helped avoid another government shutdown, but did it cause problems for your benefit plans? Sarah L. Engle and D. Finn Pressly will discuss everything you need to know about the new legislation, including changes to hardship distributions and new wildfire relief. The panel will also bring you up to speed on other key developments in the employee benefits sphere over the last month.

Register now.

Partners Judith Wethall and Finn Pressly discuss the impact of tax reform on popular fringe benefit programs including relocation costs and pre-tax transportation programs.

Access our Tax Reform Resource Center for more of our Tax Takes video series, along with other strategies and tools that will continue to help you lead your organization through the opportunities and risks brought about by the new legislation.

The Department of Labor announced increased penalties for employee benefit plans under ERISA. The increases generally apply to penalties that involve employee benefit reporting and disclosure failings if the penalty is assessed after January 2, 2018, and if the violation occurred after November 2, 2015. We’ve compiled a resource outlining the ERISA penalty amounts assessed for violations on or before January 2, 2018, and those amounts assessed after January 2.

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Throughout 2017, the health care and life sciences industries experienced a widespread proliferation of digital health innovation that presents challenges to traditional notions of health care delivery and payment as well as product research, development and commercialization for both long-standing and new stakeholders. At the same time, lawmakers and regulators made meaningful progress toward modernizing the existing legal framework in a way that will both adequately protect patients and consumers and support and encourage continued innovation, but their efforts have not kept pace with what has become the light speed of innovation. As a result, some obstacles, misalignment and ambiguity remain.

We are pleased to bring you this review of key developments that shaped digital health in 2017, along with planning considerations and predictions for the digital health frontier in the year ahead.

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After some speculation about a delay in implementation of the final rules on claims adjudication of disability claims under welfare and retirement plans (the Final Rule), the US Department of Labor (DOL) confirmed that the Final Rule will be applicable beginning April 1, 2018. McDermott’s article detailing the new requirements in the Final Rule can be found here. A disability welfare or retirement benefit claim, as well as claims under certain executive compensation arrangements, severance plans and other payment plans subject to ERISA’s claims procedures, will be subject to the Final Rule if the benefit is conditioned upon a claimant’s disability, and the claims adjudicator must make a determination of disability in order to decide the claim. However, if a plan links the finding of disability to a determination made by a party other than the plan (e.g., a finding made under the employer’s long-term disability plan or a determination of disability made by the Social Security Administration), then the special rules for disability claims are not applicable to a claim for benefits under such plan.

Plan sponsors and administrators should review retirement, welfare, executive compensation and severance plans to determine whether such benefits are subject to the Final Rule’s additional requirements. Any language detailing claim procedures in plan documents and summary plan descriptions should be updated, and disability claim and appeal administrative practices and procedures, as well as disability claim and appeal notices should be revised to comply with the Final Rule.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was signed into law last year. From biking benefits to leave tax credits, we’ll discuss the employee benefit provisions and strategies for compliance, as well as opportunities your company won’t want to miss! Join the McDermott team on Friday, February 2 for a discussion of how the new law impacts fringe benefit plans, executive compensation and retirement plans.

Friday, February 2, 2018
10:00 – 10:45 am PST
11:00 – 11:45 am MST
12:00 – 12:45 pm CST
1:00 – 1:45 pm EST

Register Here.

On January 22, 2018, Congress passed an interim funding bill to end the three-day government shutdown that also pushed back the effective date of the Affordable Care Act’s controversial “Cadillac Tax.”  The Cadillac Tax imposes an excise tax on group health plans that provide benefits in excess of certain thresholds.  The new legislation pushes the effective date back an additional two years to January 1, 2022.