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Outsource COBRA to Avoid the Deadly Bite

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Following the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), one question that may linger on employers’ minds is this: “How will this reform affect COBRA?”

With the ACA’s health care reform, the business of employee benefits is even more complicated, yet almost all employer groups are required to comply. COBRA – aka the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act – especially applies to private-sector companies offering group health care to 20 or more employees. If mishandled, COBRA can strike and the repercussions could be detrimental to your business.

Smaller companies may take on the task of administering COBRA in-house, but they run a higher risk of mistake. Businesses that cannot keep up-to-date with COBRA’s ever-changing regulations pay for it in the end.

ACA changes

In connection with the new ACA Marketplace notices, which should be supplied to employees within 14 days of their start date, the Department of Labor also updated its COBRA Model Election Notice for single-employer group health plans. The revised notice adds references to coverage alternatives, in lieu of COBRA, that may be available through the ACA Marketplace.

The reason for the change is because the health insurance marketplace is believed to all but replace COBRA coverage in years to come, and both the employer and the former employee stand to benefit.

For employers with former employees who choose to be insured through the ACA Marketplace, it allows them to save on their group plans, as COBRA participants traditionally cost nearly twice as much as active workers. For this reason, be sure your COBRA notice is updated accordingly.

Common mistakes

One of the most common mistakes is forgetting to send the initial letter outlining the individual’s rights regarding COBRA. In this case, the “deadly bite” may result in a hefty lawsuit that many small businesses cannot afford. In addition to that letter, four additional steps often are overlooked:

1. Deadlines must be met. The initial notice must be sent within 90 days of the benefit’s effective date, and the election notice must be sent within 44 days of the qualifying event. On top of that, there are 25 additional notices and 29 possible deadlines to meet.

2. The format of delivery must be correct. Per COBRA guidelines, the acceptable form of delivery is a certificate of mailing to safeguard against litigation. This form provides evidence that mail has been presented to the United States Postal Service for delivery.

3. The correct individual must be addressed. With COBRA, the individual who receives the benefits must receive a notice. That is not necessarily the employee; in many cases, it may be an employee’s dependent or spouse.

4. COBRA covers health, dental, vision and flexible spending accounts (FSAs). While many people know about the first three options, some are unaware of FSAs being covered.

The smarter choice

Because of all of the above, outsourcing COBRA administration may be the smarter choice for your business. For starters, outsourcing it greatly reduces the risk for errors. It also ensures that your company is under compliance, not under scrutiny.

Outsourcing COBRA also:

  • allows for more time spent on your product and with customers.
  • confirms and maintains airtight documentation to guard against potential lawsuits.
  • eliminates the administrative burden.
  • sends appropriate notices in a timely manner.
  • ensures deadlines are met.

When shopping for a payroll provider to handle COBRA for you, make sure it offers all of these quality services. COBRA is not an animal to mess around with, so take the precautions to ensure the safety of your company is a No. 1 priority.



Author Bio:

Lauren is an enthusiastic writer who is passionate about numerous topics surrounding the HCM industry including talent management and acquisition, technology, document management and leadership, just to name a few. Lauren has been with Paycom for over a year and has taken on roles as a blogger, social strategist and community relations coordinator. In her spare time she enjoys DIY“ing,” exploring the city and keeping up with her two dogs, Deacon and Cookie.

ACA Employer Shared Responsibility Payments

IRS Quietly Prepares to Assess ACA Employer Shared Responsibility Payments

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Late last week, without announcement, the IRS amended a FAQ about its planned process for assessing employer shared responsibility payments (ESRPs) under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Previously, the document suggested that further guidance would be forthcoming, prior to notifying affected applicable large employers (ALEs) about potential penalties owed under the federal health care law’s employer mandate.

That statement is now gone. In its place are several questions and answers detailing how the IRS will notify companies that they may owe an ESRP. In addition, the IRS intends to send assessments for the 2015 tax year in “late 2017,” which gives the agency approximately six weeks to do so.

Deadlines

The IRS notification will take the form of Letter 226J, which will include a month-by-month payment summary and a list of employees who:

  • were full-time employees for at least one month of the tax year
  • also received a premium tax credit
  • and did not allow the employer to qualify for an affordability safe harbor or other relief

While Letter 226J will indicate the employer’s deadline to respond, recipients generally will have 30 days from the letter’s printed date to contest its information. Then, following correspondence between the IRS and the ALE, if the agency determines the employer indeed is liable for an ESRP, the IRS will issue a demand and instructions for payment, via Notice CP 220J.

The FAQ’s changes to describe specific procedures and deadlines represent the clearest indication we have received that the IRS soon will notify ALEs that they may owe an ESRP for 2015. If such notifications are sent within the next few weeks, it will mark significant news.

For more on ACA, check out the October 2017 article: Trump Announces 2 Changes to ACA 

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Posted in ACA, Blog, Featured

Erin Maxwell

by Erin Maxwell


Author Bio:

As a compliance attorney for Paycom, Erin Maxwell monitors legal and regulatory changes at the state and federal level, focusing on health and employee benefits laws, to ensure the Paycom system is updated accordingly. She previously served as assistant general counsel at Asset Servicing Group in Oklahoma City. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Oklahoma and a J.D. from the University of Oklahoma. Outside of work, Maxwell enjoys politics, historical mysteries and spending time with her family.

Affordable Care Act (ACA)

Trump Announces 2 Changes to ACA

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Update 10/18/2017 – On October 17, Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray announced a tentative bipartisan deal to help stabilize the ACA Marketplaces and potentially fund Cost Sharing Reduction payments for two years. The bill must pass both the Senate and the House before it becomes effective, and would also require President Trump’s signature.

On Oct. 12, President Donald Trump ordered comprehensive changes to the nation’s health insurance system while also, in a separate move, ended health care subsidies to insurers for low-income Americans. The White House billed the decisions as relief to those suffering under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), while the opposition condemned these changes as actions aimed at undercutting the ACA.

Expansion of association health plans and short-term insurance

The executive order signed by Trump directs federal agencies to make it easier to set up “association health plans,” which are groups of small businesses that pool together to buy insurance. The order also seeks to broaden the definition of short-term insurance from three months to almost a year in duration.

By expanding both these types of plans, the administration expects insurance to be less costly than the plans sold on the state-based insurance exchanges, which provide more extensive coverage options. One concern, however, is healthy customers will jump out of the individual markets for cheaper plans, leaving sicker customers on the underwritten exchanges.

Health care subsidies to end

Trump also will end health care subsidy payments to insurance companies that used them to pay out-of-pocket costs for low-income people receiving coverage through the exchanges. The future of these payments have been in doubt for months – dating back to the Obama administration – because of a lawsuit filed by House Republicans. The lawsuit alleged the Obama administration was paying these subsidies illegally because Congress had never authorized the cost-sharing arrangement.

Until now, the Trump administration had continued the payments on a monthly basis. A group of state attorneys general has indicated it will sue to block the administration from ending these payments, which it claims will cause the individual markets to unravel.

ACA Awaits Repeal or Repair

What this means for employers

Neither of these changes is aimed primarily at employers subject to the ACA employer mandate, so clients using Paycom’s ACA services likely won’t see a direct impact to their obligations under the law. However, the tweaks indirectly could result in higher costs to employer-sponsored plans.

Disclaimer: This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal problems.

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Posted in ACA, Blog, Compliance, Employment Law, Featured

Jason Hines

by Jason Hines


Author Bio:

Jason Hines is a Paycom compliance attorney. With more than five years’ experience in the legal field, he monitors developments in human resource laws, rules and regulations to ensure any changes are promptly updated in Paycom’s system for our clients. Previously, he was an attorney at the Oklahoma City law firm Elias, Books, Brown & Nelson. Hines earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Oklahoma and his juris doctor degree from the Oklahoma City University School of Law, where he graduated cum laude. A fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Hines also enjoys exploring the great outdoors with his wife and daughter.

Addressing Employer Confusion With Pregnancy Related Laws: What to Expect When Your Employees Are Expecting

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The best way to prevent pregnancy discrimination is to understand the laws which can be implicated.  Such laws include the Family and Medical Leave Act, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act and the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, understanding the intricacies of each of these laws can be difficult and confusing, so let’s review each in an effort to provide clarity.

1. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Not all employers are required to provide FMLA benefits, and not all employees will be entitled to such benefits.

  • Only “covered employers” must provide FMLA benefits. A “covered employer” may be private-sector employers with 50 or more employees, public agencies and public or private elementary or secondary schools.
  • Eligible employees are those who have worked for the employer, for at least 12 months and for at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months.

Employees are entitled to FMLA leave for the birth of a son or daughter and also for serious health conditions that make the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job.

  • This includes leave for the birth of a child, prenatal care, incapacity related to pregnancy (such as morning sickness) and any serious health conditions that the mother might have following childbirth.

When an employee takes FMLA leave, the employer must maintain the employee’s health benefits.

When an employee returns from FMLA leave, the employer generally is required to restore the employee to the same job that was held when the leave began, or to an equivalent job.

FMLA regulations allow employers to run paid leave concurrently with FMLA leave.

  • This means that employers can require employees to substitute accrued paid leave for unpaid FMLA leave. This, however, will not increase the total amount of leave allowed.
  • This also applies to short-term disability benefits.

The amount of leave allowed under FMLA does not have to be used all at once and can be used during pregnancy, after birth or spread across both time periods.

  • An employee may take leave by reducing normal daily or weekly hours.

Employers must provide notice of FMLA eligibility either orally or in writing within five days of the employee’s request for leave or when the employer becomes aware that the employee’s leave may be for FMLA-qualifying reasons.

Some states may have broader maternity-leave laws that override the FMLA. These state laws will be discussed in a later post.

2. Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

The PDA states that discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions will constitute unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The PDA does not require employers to provide any leave to pregnant workers, except to the extent the employer provides leave to other individuals suffering from temporary disabilities.

Lactation is a pregnancy-related condition protected under the PDA and denial of an appropriate location to express breast milk could amount to pregnancy discrimination.

The PDA has been interpreted as not requiring reasonable accommodations to pregnant women, unless the employer also provides such accommodation to nonpregnant employees with temporary conditions (accommodations may, however, be required under the American’s with Disabilities Act Amendments Act.

3. American’s with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA)

The ADAAA applies to employers with 15 or more employees, and does not set any minimum service requirements for employees to qualify and the ADAAA is implicated only when a person is discriminated against because he or she is disabled.

  • A “disability” is a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity. This can include short-term impairments, which are substantially limiting.

A normal pregnancy will not constitute a disability, but pregnancy-related medical conditions may rise to the level of a disability under the ADAAA. (See our previous post, “EEOC Cracks Down on Pregnancy Discrimination,” for examples of pregnancy-related medical conditions that have been considered a disability.)

A pregnant employee may be entitled to an accommodation under the ADAAA for pregnancy-related medical conditions. This may include things such as altered break and work schedules, or elimination of marginal job functions.

  • Employers may not reduce the employee’s pay because she needs an accommodation to do her regular job.

There is no specific time limit on the amount of leave that may be taken by the employee or the length of accommodations if no undue hardship exists for the employer. The length of an accommodation or the period of time off must only be reasonable.

  • Courts have held that anywhere from six months to a year can be considered a reasonable period of time off from work.

Employers will not be required to hold the employee’s job open while the disabled employee is on leave, if doing so would create a hardship for the employer.

4. Affordable Care Act (ACA)

Generally, the ACA requires employers with at least 50 full-time employees to offer employees minimum essential health coverage that is affordable, or to make an employer shared-responsibility payment to the IRS. Please note that employers will face hefty fines for not providing coverage that meets the minimum requirements.

Employees cannot be denied health coverage or charged more because they are pregnant. This applies whether employees get their insurance through their employer or if they buy it on their own.

The ACA explicitly identifies pregnancy, maternity and newborn care as part of the essential benefits package that must be offered by plans.

  • Most plans must cover preventative services for pregnant women or women who may become pregnant, without charging a copayment or coinsurance.
    • This includes things such as anemia screening, gestational diabetes screening or folic acid supplements.
  • Employers’ health insurance plans also must provide breastfeeding support and counseling, and equipment for the duration of breastfeeding.

The ACA also requires that employers provide time and space for new mothers to express breast milk until the child turns 1 year old.

  • This provision overlaps with the PDA, which requires employees to be compensated for time that is used to pump or breastfeed if other employees are compensated for their break times.

 

Conclusion

Many laws are implicated when it comes to pregnant employees and most charges of pregnancy discrimination today result from seemingly neutral policies that adversely impact pregnant workers. It is important to understand that:

  • pregnancy discrimination can happen in all aspects of employment
  • some pregnant employees may be entitled to certain accommodations or specified leave
  • an employer’s policies pertaining to nonpregnant employees can impact how pregnant employees are treated
  • all pregnant employees may not be treated in the same manner

 

These laws, while all very different, overlap in many areas, and understanding the various parts of each is vital for employers.

For more about the EEOC’s current focus on pregnancy-related limitations and to address potential confusion with pregnancy related laws, be sure to read EEOC Cracks Down on Pregnancy Discrimination and for more details about terms associated with leave taken for pregnancy or childbirth-related purposes, check out “Leave Only a Mother Could Love: The Care of Pregnancy and Parental Leave.

Disclaimer: This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal problems.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in ACA, Blog, Compliance, Employment Law, Featured

Kristin Fisher

by Kristin Fisher


Author Bio:

As a compliance attorney for Paycom, Kristin Fisher monitors legal and regulatory changes at the state and federal level, with a focus on labor and employment laws, to ensure the Paycom system is updated accordingly. Previously, she served as an attorney at the Oklahoma City law firm Derryberry & Naifeh LLP. Fisher earned a bachelor’s degree and MBA from the University of Central Missouri, and her Juris Doctor from the Oklahoma City University School of Law. Outside of work, she enjoys cooking, hiking, going to the movies and spending time with her fiancé.

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