Workers to Strike at McDonald’s over Sexual Harassment

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McDonald’s Corp., already embroiled in legal action over whether it is a joint employer with its franchisees, now faces the prospect of a walk-out by employees on Tuesday, Sept. 18, over sexual harassment issues.

mcdonalds-faces-strike-over-harassment-claimsThe strike, to be launched at noontime, will hit stores in 10 locations, but not every store in those cities, which are Chicago; Durham, N.C.; Kansas City, Mo.; Los Angeles; Miami; Milwaukee; New Orleans; Orlando, Fla.; San Francisco and St. Louis.

Organizers of the strike are women who filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in May, alleging sexual harassment, including groping and propositioning, at several McDonald’s branches.

The action comes on the heels of an ongoing dispute over workers who joined Fight for $15, a campaign for a higher minimum wage at McDonald’s franchisees, and were terminated for their actions. The group sued McDonald’s Corp., alleging it was a joint employer with the franchisees. The company thought it had settled individually with the wage protesters, but a judge threw out the settlement. Thus the lawsuit is ongoing.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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CMS Issues Guidance on Avoiding Obamacare Tax Penalty

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) today announced a new, more streamlined way for consumers to claim a hardship exemption from the tax penalty imposed for not maintaining health coverage for 2018 on their federal income tax returns, making it easier for taxpayers across the nation to claim their exemption.

cms-issues-guidance-on-avoiding-obamacare-penaltyOf the $3 billion the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) collected from taxpayers in individual mandate penalties in 2015, over 5 million households, or nearly 80 percent, earned $50,000 a year or less. “The individual mandate penalty is yet another example of how the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) hurts low and middle income Americans the most, and today’s action reflects our commitment to minimize the impact of Obamacare’s failures,” according to the CMS announcement.

The ACA requires that all Americans get health coverage that qualifies as minimum essential coverage (MEC) or pay a penalty, commonly known as the individual mandate. Individuals who do not maintain enrollment in MEC or qualify for an exemption must pay a penalty. Individuals may be eligible for a hardship exemption if they experience certain circumstances that prevent them from obtaining coverage, such as homelessness or a fire, flood, or other natural disaster.

Specifically through today’s guidance, CMS is announcing additional details on how the agency is making it easier for taxpayers to claim a hardship exemption on a federal income tax return without presenting the documentary evidence or written explanation generally required for hardship exemptions.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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HHS Sued Over Delay in Drug Discount Rule

Congress in 2010 passed legislation requiring transparency in drug pricing for a hospital program known as 340B, and the Obama administration issued a final rule (finally) in January 2017. Now, the Trump administration is delaying implementation at the cost of a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

hhs-sued-over-delay-in340B-rule-implementationThe American Hospital Association (AHA) and America’s Essential Hospitals have joined five other 340B stakeholders in taking legal action to force the rule’s implementation. Their lawsuit, filed yesterday (Sept. 11) in a federal court in Washington, D.C., seeks to make the 2017 regulation effective within 30 days.

The 340B program, created in 1992 and expanded under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), requires drug manufacturers to provide outpatient drugs to eligible providers at discounts of 20 to 50 percent. The savings are then to be used to treat low-income patients, provide transportation services and offer free vaccinations.

“As prescription drug prices continue to skyrocket, the 340B program is as crucial as ever in helping hospitals and health systems provide access to healthcare services for vulnerable patients and communities,” said Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the AHA.

Critics, however, have contended that some 340B providers are gaming the system by prescribing costlier drugs and pocketing the difference.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Grants Awarded for Obamacare Navigators

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has awarded $10 million in Navigator grants to 39 organizations that will serve as Navigators in Federally-facilitated Exchange states. These awards will support the work of organizations that offer assistance to consumers navigating, shopping for, and enrolling in health insurance coverage for 2019.

cms-issues-grants-for-navigators“We are committed to making sure that consumers have a positive experience. The grants announced today mark a new direction for the Navigator program aimed at providing a more cost-effective approach that takes better advantage of volunteers and other community partners,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

“This new direction will increase accountability and ensure the grants are effective in helping consumers find health coverage that meets their needs. We will continue to monitor the impact of these changes with the primary goal of ensuring consumers have the resources to select a health plan that best fits their needs.”

The $10 million, however, is only one-tenth of the budget the existed under the Obama administration, critics will be quick to point out.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Obamacare Premiums to Moderate for 2019 Plan Year

After double-digit increases for the past couple of years, premiums for health insurance policies purchased on the Obamacare exchanges for 2019 are expected to moderate — or even drop — in 41 states, while six states will see 10-percent-plus increases, according to a study done by Avalere Health and the Associated Press.

obamacare-premiums-to-moderate

Obamacare rates are expected to moderate for 2019

Nationwide, the average increase will be just 3.3 percent. In the 41 states mentioned earlier, premiums for Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) policies will either drop or stay below the 10-percent double-digit threshold. In six other states, including Washington D.C., increases will breach the 10-percent barrier, according to the study.

In addition, some insurers that dropped out of the exchanges will be returning.

Even with the price moderation, warns Chris Sloan, an Avalere director, “This is still a market that’s unaffordable for many people who aren’t eligible for subsidies.” Nearly 90 percent of consumers who purchase policies on the exchanges qualify for subsidies, reducing their payments sometimes below $100 a month. Those who don’t qualify for subsides can end up paying steep monthly premiums.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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WHD Targets Hotel Industry for Compliance with H-2B Visa Program

To ensure compliance with federal wage laws, the Department of Labor (DOL) and its Wage and Hour Division (WHD) are conducting a nationwide initiative to strengthen compliance with the labor provisions of the H-2B temporary visa program in the hotel industry.

whd-releases-new-opinion-lettersThe initiative includes providing compliance assistance tools and information to employers and stakeholders, as well as conducting investigations of employers using this program. A key component of the investigations is ensuring that employers recruit U.S. workers before applying for permission to employ temporary nonimmigrant workers.

“Any employer seeking workers under this program must be ready and willing to hire qualified U.S. applicants first,” said Bryan Jarrett, WHD acting administrator. “This initiative demonstrates our commitment to safeguard American jobs, level the playing field for law-abiding employers, and protect guest workers from being paid less than they are legally owed or otherwise working under substandard conditions.”

This past year, WHD investigations found more than $105 million in back wages for more than 97,000 workers in industries with a high prevalence of H-2B workers, including the hotel industry.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Second Shoe of ACA Business Penalties Drops

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in late 2017 began issuing its first wave of Affordable Care Act (ACA) penalties to companies that failed to provide minimum essential health coverage to at least 70 percent of their employees in 2015.

IRS-sends-out-Obamacare-tax-penalty-noticesNow, the IRS is issuing a new round of penalties for companies that provided coverage but had at least one employee who qualified for a premium tax credit (PTC) because the policy was either not affordable or failed to offer minimum coverage.

The ACA took effect in 2014, but the Obama administration waived penalties on applicable large employers (ALEs) that year, and followed up in 2015 by reducing the coverage requirement to 70 percent of the workforce from the 95 percent written into the ACA’s Employer Shared Responsibility (ESR) provision.

As of June, the IRS had issued more than 30,000 claims totaling some $4.3 billion in penalties, along with an upcoming penalty notification onslaught for 2016 and beyond.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Constitutionality of ACA Goes on Trial Today

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor will hear arguments in Texas beginning today in a case brought by 20 “red” states over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare), whose result could have far-reaching consequences in the upcoming national elections and beyond.

obamacare-constitutionality-on-trial-in-texas

Even as Obamacare open enrollment draws near on Nov. 1, a federal judge in Texas is weighing the law’s very constitutionality

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who last week won another ACA case in Texas, is leading the charge, contending the ACA is no longer constitutional after the “tax” associated with the law’s individual mandate was stripped away by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017. Without that tax, Paxton and the other attorneys general argue, the 5-4 vote by the Supreme Court upholding the ACA — based on the mandate’s being a tax — is no longer valid.

First order of business in the Fort Worth courtroom today will be Paxton’s argument that the ACA should be temporarily put on hold while the issue is litigated.

Several “blue” state attorneys general will argue against both that request and the overall argument that the law is now unconstitutional. In April, California’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra announced he would be leading a coalition of 16 state attorneys general to defend the ACA, and he plans on being in the courtroom.

Setting aside the ACA while the case proceeds “would throw the entire [health] system into chaos,” Becerra said last week. That’s because the ACA made major changes not just to the insurance market for individuals, but also to Medicare, Medicaid and the employer insurance market.

Most interestingly, the Department of Justice (DOJ) withdrew from the case in May but filed a brief arguing that only the individual mandate and the provision barring discrimination based on pre-existing conditions are unconstitutional — and that the rest of the law should stand.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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September Is Peak Lawsuit Filing Month for EEOC

Watch Personnel Concepts’ video on Workplace Harassment Investigations.

As the federal fiscal year approaches its end each September, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) traditionally files its largest aggregate of lawsuits for the year. In September 2017, for instance, the EEOC filed 88 lawsuits.

eeoc-position-on-physical-testingThis fiscal year, the commission through the end of August had filed some 112 lawsuits, whereas in the previous year the total had not topped 100. So, as the law firm Seyfarth Shaw notes, far from scaling back on legal actions under the Trump administration, the commission has accelerated its activity.

Interestingly, the EEOC has filed at least 22 sexual harassment lawsuits in this era of the #MeToo movement. The commission in general seems focused on litigating instances of workplace harassment.

As we noted here recently, the commission in August filed seven harassment lawsuits across the country, involving firms as large as United Airlines and Piggly Wiggly.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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After 10-Year Decline, Employers Offering Health Insurance on the Rise

Snapping a decline that began in 2008, employers are more and more offering health insurance to their employers, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

new-jersey-adopts-individual-mandateIn 2017, nearly 47 percent of employers offered health insurance, rising from 45.3 percent the year before. In 2008, the percentage before the long decline stood at 56.4.

The increase was fairly consistent among companies of all sizes. Even companies with fewer than 10 employers saw a yearly increase in 2017 from 21.7 to 23.5 percent.

The percentage of employers with between 100-999 employees that offer health coverage jumped from 92.5 to 96.3 percent between 2014 and 2016. Meanwhile, the percentage of employers with more than 1,000 employees offering health coverage fell slightly, to 99.3 from 99.8.

According to the Institute: “The increase in availability of employer-based insurance is likely due to the strong economy and the nation’s low unemployment rate.”


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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