Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Name CEO in New Venture that Could Change Healthcare for Employers

Contributed by Suzannah Wilson Overholt, June 20, 2018

As promised earlier this year, we have an update regarding the new health care company being formed by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase, which still lacks an official name.  In February, Warren Buffett announced that a CEO would be named within a year.  The group later announced that a search was underway, and then, in early June, announced that a new CEO had been identified and would be named in two weeks.

12837750 - stethoscope wrapped around health insurance policies, soft focusTrue to their promise, on June 20, 2018, the triumvirate of Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway), Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Jamie Dimon (JPMorgan Chase) announced that Dr. Atul Gawande will serve as CEO of the new company starting July 9.  Dr. Gawande currently practices general and endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and is a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health and Medical School. He is also the founding executive director of Ariadne Labs, which, according to the Ariadne Labs website, is a joint center between Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard’s School of Public Health.  Its mission is to “create scalable health care solutions that deliver better care at the most critical moments in people’s lives, everywhere.” The web site indicates that Dr. Gawande is also chairman of Lifebox, “a nonprofit reducing surgical deaths globally.” CNBC reported that Dr. Gawande will not be giving up his positions at Harvard or Brigham and Women’s Hospital and is transitioning to the position of chairman of Ariadne Labs.

When initially announced in January, the primary purpose of the new company was portrayed as an effort to reduce health care costs for employers. The appointment of Dr. Gawande adds a bit more insight into how that goal may be achieved. According to Bloomberg, the selection of Dr. Gawande has led analysts to conclude that the new company will take an expansive look at how to approach fixing health care.  In a letter to his shareholders, Dimon indicated that the new company’s agenda will include aligning incentives among doctors, insurers and patients; reducing fraud and waste; giving employees more access to telemedicine and better wellness programs; and figuring out why so much money is spent on end-of-life care. Some have been critical of his statements, indicating that they are focused on the wrong issues.

The new company will be headquartered in Boston, most likely because that is where Dr. Gawande is located. Bloomberg reported that additional details such as the size, budget and authority of the new company are still not available. However, it will be “an independent entity that is free from profit-making incentives and constraints.”  We will continue to monitor this and provide updates.

2018 Has Shown A Significant Increase in ICE Form I-9 Audits – Is Your Company Ready?

Contributed by Sara Zorich, June 18, 2018

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

“U.S. Citizenship and  Immigration Services” text with American flag in background 

We have seen a major increase in 2018 of Form I-9 audits from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). First we saw 122 companies audited in California in February 2018. Next, we saw a number of companies in the Chicagoland area and throughout the Midwest receive Form I-9 audits in March 2018. Then, just weeks ago ICE made a number of arrests in the Chicagoland area.

This increase in activity is not showing any signs of slowing. In fact, we anticipate I-9 audits to increase and are aware of ICE hiring additional agents in the Chicago area to assist in the increase of Form I-9 audits.

What should a company do in light of ICE’s increased audits?

First, you need to ensure that your employees responsible for the Form I-9 process understand the Form I-9 requirements. The Form I-9 has changed a number of times over the last couple of years and we are finding that those changes are not necessarily understood by employers. Make sure you are using the most recent form.

Second, you should audit your Form I-9’s, either on your own, or have an attorney assist you to help identify and correct technical Form I-9 errors. A self-audit before ICE arrives can assist in reducing your liability during an ICE audit.

Third, you need to have a plan if ICE audits your Form I-9’s. Your plan needs to include what to do the day ICE arrives along with what to expect from the audit process and potential ramifications on your business.

Employer Stock in Qualified Plans: Recent Developments Largely Good News for Fiduciaries

Contributed by William Scogland, June 13, 2018

Many employer sponsored defined contribution (DC) plans qualified under Section 401(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”) maintain employer stock funds. Many such stock funds long antedate the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA).

In the wake of the Great Recession, plaintiffs’ counsel successfully prosecuted numerous ERISA fiduciary stock drop cases. The allegation was that fiduciaries breached their duties under ERISA by maintaining employer stock in a plan when they should have sold it.

16306823 - 3d illustration of scales of justice and gavel on orange background

scales of justice and gavel on orange background

Four years after a unanimous Supreme Court ruling (Fifth Third Bancorp. v. Dudenhoeffer) provided guidance on stock-drop lawsuit pleading standards, plaintiffs are having increasing difficulty in avoiding dismissal of such suits. Under Dudenhoeffer, plaintiffs cannot avoid a motion to dismiss by pleading merely that the stock went down and that the fiduciaries should have caused the plan to sell it before the decline. The plaintiffs must plead “special circumstances” to convince lower courts to let a lawsuit proceed. While the meaning of “special circumstances” is not totally clear, it appears that they must be extreme. In the Arch Coal case, the  court stated that “Plaintiffs’ allegations of Arch Coal’s ‘serious deteriorating condition’ and ‘overwhelming debt’ are evidence of the company’s slide into bankruptcy but do not establish a special circumstance under Dudenhoeffer.”

Plaintiffs must also convince the courts that an alternative action by a prudent fiduciary to keeping company stock in a DC plan wouldn’t do more harm than good.

For example, the “more harm than good” standard was cited by the district court in dismissing a suit against IBM. “The complaint is bereft of context-specific details to show how a prudent fiduciary would not have viewed the proposed alternatives as more likely to do more harm than good.” The standard has also been cited by, at least, one other district court.

Also, in the good news column is the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Tatum v. RJR, a reverse stock drop case. Here the plaintiffs alleged that the RJR fiduciaries breached their duties by eliminating the Nabisco stock fund when its stock price later increased. The Fourth Circuit held that those plan fiduciaries were not liable for any losses related to their procedural imprudence because a “hypothetical prudent fiduciary” would have made the same decision, even though they failed to engage in the process ERISA requires.

It is unlikely that ERISA fiduciary cases regarding stock funds have ended, and the ERISA fiduciary process is still important. Although the fiduciaries finally won, it was after an extended period of time and the expenditure of huge amounts of the employers’, fiduciaries’ and/or insurers’ money.

ERISA plaintiffs’ lawyers will probably keep filing such cases. In the past, ERISA plaintiffs’ counsel has succeeded in morphing their approaches, and they can be expected to do so in this context as well.

More Technology, More Headaches for Employers

Contributed by Noah A. Frank, June 7, 2018

Technology is great. I can use my smartphone to change a million TV channels without getting up (of course, there’s still nothing to watch until Game of Thrones returns).

technology

Close up of business man working on blank screen laptop computer 

Employers, too, are reaping the benefits of technology for the most routine areas of employee and facilities management – including timekeeping and building security. But with the transitions from handwritten and manually punched time cards to fingerprint scanner timeclocks, and mechanical keys to retinal scanners, employers face significant risk under privacy laws.

As a result, many states are beginning to pass employee privacy laws related to biometric data (including but not limited to retina or iris scans, fingerprints and voiceprints, and hand and face geometry). And with laws and regulations, comes the need for compliance to stave off lawsuits, including private causes of action and class actions.

For example, a Federal Court in Illinois recently found that, despite no concrete damage, an employee (and her putative class) might have a triable cause of action for violating her privacy and right to control her biometric data. The employer and its timekeeping vendor allegedly failed to:

  • inform the employee of the specific purpose or length of time fingerprints were to be collected, stored or used;
  • make available any biometric data retention policy or guidelines (if there was one);
  • obtain  employee releases and authorizations for the collection and use such biometric data;
  • and implement reasonable procedural safeguards.

The employer is further alleged to have systemically disclosed the biometric data by sharing it with the timekeeping vendor.

Biometric Data Done Right.

Biometric data is not something to be afraid of, as long as it is administered and used appropriately. The following key steps can help businesses ensure that they are complying with relevant laws:

  1. Establish a written policy that addresses the purpose(s) of biometric data use, how it will be collected, and how it will be stored.
  2. Be prepared to address any requests for reasonable accommodations based on disability, religious, or other reasons.
  3. If biometric data might leave a closed system, ensure that there are proper safeguards in place, including contractual liability shifting.
  4. Ensure that employees whose biometric data is used acknowledge the policy, and authorize its use and collection.
  5. Train supervisors on the company’s policies and practices to ensure consistency.
  6. Have the biometric data systems audited to ensure that data is not open to the public or a systems breach.
  7. Finally, consult with competent employment counsel to ensure that policies and practices comply with relevant law.

 

Save the Date! SmithAmundsen Complimentary Webinar – June 13th – Hiring 201: A Deeper Dive into Employee Interviewing and On-boarding

Join Jon Hoag and Mike Wong on Wednesday, June 13 at 12:00 PM CT for the latest installment of our Labor & Employment Quarterly Series. Jon and Mike will teach employers how to effectively hire the right person and minimize threats of litigation.

Specific topics covered include:

  • Avoid job posting and employment application pitfalls
  • Effective and legal interviewing techniques
  • Legal landmines associated with pre-employment screening/background checks
  • The job offer and related legal documentation
  • On-boarding to increase employee retention and reduce exposure to employment lawsuits

Who should attend? HR professionals, managers, and business owners. We hope you can join us!

 

Register for the webinar here!

 

Should Employers Be Grieving the Impending Death of the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule?

Contributed by Rebecca Dobbs Bush, May 31, 2018

Every employer offering a 401(k) plan is faced with decisions about what investment options to make available to participants. Investment options carry different risks as well as different costs. In designing available investment options, most plan sponsors rely on a third-party advisor. Industry estimates indicate that approximately 90% of these financial advisors are brokers, i.e., commissioned-based sales consultants.

Third-party financial advisors may or may not maintain fiduciary status in regards to the 401(k) plan (this depends on the specific terms of each individual plan). Where an advisor does not maintain fiduciary status, an employer is ultimately the party responsible for selection and monitoring of available investment options.

Employer

Person sitting at desk with a sign that says “Employer”

The final rule, issued back on April 8, 2016, increased the level of responsibility for every third-party advisor to a 401(k) plan from a weaker “suitability” standard to a “best interests” standard, meaning they must only offer advice in the best interests of plan participants and beneficiaries and must disclose any potential conflicts of interest. Understandably this is an incredibly difficult standard for a broker/financial advisor to meet and the financial industry has protested the rule vigorously. In March of 2018, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the Department of Labor (DOL) rule and the DOL has indicated they won’t be challenging that decision. On May 7, 2018, the DOL went a step further and issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2018-02 announcing a temporary non-enforcement policy.

Should employers be grieving the death of the fiduciary rule? Perhaps, but not necessarily. Ultimately no one will work for free and third-party advisors are no different. If broker/financial advisors can’t collect adequate compensation through commissions, they will likely change their fee structure to charge more direct service fees. At the end of the day, the costs to the plan and its participants would arguably be equivalent. That said, employers relying on third-parties for financial advice in designing and maintaining their plans need to keep this in mind. Blind trust is not an option when there is an inherent conflict of interest due to commission-based compensation. Employers are fiduciaries regardless of the death of the DOL’s fiduciary rule and need to be diligent in ensuring they understand their plan and are protecting the participants.

 

In a Dramatic Turn, an Arbitrator Finds that the Substitutes Act Does Not Prohibit Municipality from Shutting Down Ambulance Services

Contributed by Julie Proscia and Carlos Arévalo, May 25, 2018

In an unprecedented fashion, an arbitrator recently issued an award limiting the scope of Public Act 095-0490, otherwise known as the Substitutes Act. In doing so, the City of Mattoon successfully fought, through SmithAmundsen attorneys Julie Proscia and Carlos Arévalo, and won the right to close their ambulance service. So why is this award important? This award now serves as a basis for municipalities to be able to have the autonomy to review their scope of services and determine which services are best for their community as opposed to the scope of services being dictated by the union.

ambulance

Ambulance driving on street with lights and sirens on

The case, involving the City of Mattoon and the IAFF, started in July 2017 when after a months’ long internal and comparative evaluation, the city determined that due to rising operational, personnel and pension related costs, its ambulance service was no longer sustainable.  Accordingly, the city adopted a resolution seeking the future elimination of its ambulance service effective May 1, 2018, the expiration of the current contract. Once implemented, ambulance services would be solely performed by area private ambulance companies. Not surprisingly, the union filed a grievance attacking the city’s resolution primarily basing its challenge on the Substitutes Act, which was specifically incorporated into the contract. The city denied the grievance and, to no avail, sought to bargain the impact of its decision with the union.

During arbitration, the union argued that the Substitutes Act specifically prohibited the city from replacing qualified firefighters or paramedics with unqualified persons, and that only those who have gone through the appointment process before the City of Mantoon’s Fire and Police Commissioners are properly qualified. As a result, the union claimed, the ambulance service could only be performed by full-time firefighters belonging to the union. The Substitutes Act has been used as both a veritable sword and a shield by unions attesting that no non-bargaining unit members can ever be given work that is currently or previously performed by the unit. If successful, the union would have made it virtually impossible to ever eliminate a service.

The arbitrator rejected the union’s arguments and found that the “Substitutes Act imposes no limitation on the elimination of ambulance services in any municipality… [but] only prevents municipal fire departments from hiring persons “not qualified” for regular appointment…to be used as a temporary or permanent substitute for a municipality’s fire department.” Further, the arbitrator continued, “the Employer is not planning to hire unqualified or uncertified firefighters to staff the ambulance service. The Employer seeks to completely eliminate the city-operated ambulance service…There is no language in the Substitutes Act preventing private ambulance companies from providing ambulance services to municipalities.”

In rejecting the union’s arguments, the arbitrator weakened unions’ typical stance that they need not engage in bargaining pursuant to the Substitutes Act. This award establishes that municipalities are not as hamstrung by the act as unions suggest, and may pursue discontinuing services if doing so presents a more viable alternative to facing a financial crisis. While impact bargaining and other procedural hurdles associated with discontinuing services will still have to be addressed, municipalities now have the latitude to determine the scope of services that are most appropriate for their community.