The PBGC Acts to Level Withdrawal Liability’s Procedural Playing Field

shutterstock_pensionThe recent action by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (“PBGC”) to rein in run-away filing fees imposed by the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) brings to mind Homer Simpson’s declaration that alcohol was “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” In a like manner, the PBGC can be seen as the cause of, and now (happily) the solution to, the very steep filing fees previously imposed by the AAA on withdrawn employers.

By way of background, for many years, employers assessed withdrawal liability faced a Hobson’s choice: either pay the fees demanded by the AAA to initiate arbitration, or forego any chance to challenge the assessment. Of course, by failing to initiate arbitration, the amounts demanded by the pension fund become, in the words of the statute, “due and owing on the schedule set forth by the plan sponsor.”

This unpleasant situation for employers – pay up, or else – was set in motion by a PBGC regulation that allows pension funds to impose the AAA rules (and the required filing fees) on withdrawn employers. That regulation purports to allow Continue reading

DOL Releases Final Rule for Determining Joint Employer Status

Department of LaborEarlier this week, on January 12, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced the release of its final rule revising and updating its regulations interpreting joint employer status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  According to DOL, “The final rule provides updated guidance for determining joint employer status when an employee performs work for his or her employer that simultaneously benefits another individual or entity, including guidance on the identification of certain factors that are not relevant when determining joint employer status.”  The DOL published its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on April 9, 2019, and received over 12,000 comments within the 30-day comment period.  The final rule becomes effective on March 16, 2020, 60 days after publication in the Federal Register today, January 16, 2020.

As a threshold matter, under the FLSA, an employee working for one company may be found to be the joint employee of a second, independent company, depending on the nature and extent of control over the employee’s work.  Joint employer status is important for numerous reasons, including the fact that a joint employer can be held joint and severally liable for FLSA wage and hour obligations.  In 1958, DOL published an interpretive regulation, 29 C.F.R. § 791, explaining that joint employer status depends on whether multiple persons are “not completely disassociated” or “acting entirely independently of each other” with respect to the employee’s employment. 

Specifically, the regulation provided three situations where two or more employers are generally considered joint employers: (1) where there is an arrangement between the employers to share the employee’s services (e.g., to interchange employees); (2) where one employer is acting directly or indirectly in the interest of the other employer (or employers) in relation to the employee; or (3) where the employers are not completely disassociated with respect to the employment of a particular employee and may be deemed to share control of the employee, directly or indirectly, by reason of the fact that one employer controls, is controlled by, or is under common control with the other employer.  The DOL issued its NPRM out of concern that Continue reading

SSA No-Match Letters Are Back: How Should Employers Respond?

Capitol BuildingRecently, the Social Security Administration (SSA) resumed their practice of sending Employer Correction Requests (informally “no-match letters”) to employers advising them that information submitted on an employee’s Form W-2 does not match SSA records.  The SSA stopped sending no-match letters in 2012, but in recent months, employers across many industries have received letters.

The no-match letter states that there is an error with at least one name and the Social Security Number (SSN) on a W-2 that is submitted by the employer.  Importantly, the no-match letter does not imply that the employer or the employee intentionally reported incorrect information.  They are educational in nature to advise employers that a correction may be needed for the SSA to post the correct wages to the right record because discrepancies could occur due to typographical errors, unreported name changes (such as changes due to marriage or divorce) and inaccurate employer records.

If your company has received a no-match letter, consider taking the following action: Continue reading

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Legal Challenge to Auer Deference Standard

shutterstock_gavelIn 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Auer v. Robbins, establishing the standard for what has become known as Auer deference (or Seminole Rock Deference from Bowles v. Seminole Rock and Sand Co. (1945)).  This decision and the standard it set is significant for employers because it gives substantial latitude to federal agencies, like the Department of Labor, to interpret their own ambiguous standards.  Specifically, in Auer, the Supreme Court held that an Agency’s, in this case the Department of Labor, interpretation of its own standards is “controlling unless ‘plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.’”  In other words, if it’s not clear what is required by the plain language of the standard, the Court will generally defer to the Agency’s own reasonable interpretations of its regulations.

However, the Supreme Court will now have the opportunity to reconsider Auer deference in the case of Kisor v. Wilkie.  On December 10, 2018, the Court agreed to review Question 1 of the petition for certiorari, which specifically asks “[w]hether the Court should overrule Auer and Seminole Rock.”  Continue reading