As the Trump administration settles in, those of us who counsel employers have cautioned to “expect the unexpected.” Certainly, the last five weeks have brought a bevy of twists and turns. However, one consistent theme from the new administration has been a tough stance on immigration-related matters. Accordingly, employers must pay close attention to the newly revised Employment Eligibility Verification — which we all refer to more commonly as the I-9 form — that is now in effect.
Unfortunately, many employers from time to time face the need to restructure or downsize their workforce. While the business climate or customer needs are often the driving force in a restructuring or layoff, there are a number of other factors that employers must consider when planning for the actual implementation of such a change.
As one recent federal appeals case originating in Pennsylvania shows, employers should pay particular attention to the impact of their layoff decisions on certain groups and subgroups of employees. Further, the Pennsylvania case illustrates that while we think of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) as lumping all individuals who are over 40 years of age into one group, employers should not lose sight of the fact that the text of the law prohibits discrimination based on age generally. While this may not seem like an important distinction, the case shows that a singular focus on the 40 and over category can be problematic in some circumstances. Favoring employees in their forties or fifties to the detriment of those who are in their sixties or seventies can be an ADEA violation, even when all involved employees generally fit in the “over-40” protected category.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently issued proposed guidance crystallizing the agency’s expectation that employers be proactive in eliminating workplace harassment. The Proposed Enforcement Guidance on Unlawful Harassment, which was published on January 10th, requires that employers implement programs to combat “known or obvious risks of harassment,” and states that a failure to do so could result in the loss of traditional affirmative defenses to harassment claims.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law that was enacted to ensure protection of individuals’ protected health information (PHI). The Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information (Privacy Rule) issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services established detailed national standards for the protection of PHI. In general, HIPAA protects individuals from the unauthorized use or disclosure any PHI.
As the rules governing retirement and health plans grow more complex, employers often need professional help in order to keep up with the day-to-day management of the employee benefit plans they sponsor. From third-party administrators and financial advisers hired to manage the operations and investments of 401(k) plans to administrative service organizations and pharmacy benefit managers engaged to process health care and prescription drug claims, employers increasingly outsource the administration of their benefit plans.